The crunch of dried leaves, blown by some playful spirit onto the road, escorted me as I traversed the twilit ranch. Shadows danced as I passed, jumping around in the corner of my vision; they would not do so when I turned. More than once I stopped to stare over my shoulder, but nothing moved. I would have to walk alone to the place; no company, not even shadows, would stay near me.
I was early—too nervous to wait—I had left too soon. Still my heart fluttered, my body was caked in sweat—this autumn air was harsh in its chill, yet my shirt was damp as if I had been laboring under the noon sun. I’d have needed a lamp to walk the path this night, to wander in this night under the new moon’s darkness. One could feel it, her absence like a wound in the glistening heavens. It was right for me to leave her when I did, to leave her with a sweet lie. I lied to myself, told her I would be back tomorrow. But the harvest was in—almost in—the scythe would not stay forever.
Yet to which field could it be conducted?
I left her, withering, sick, dying—I promised I would be back. I brought her back here, to her father’s house, her home. I was just going back to our house to get some more of her things, to move her back in as she—as she died.
That’s what I said. I think she believed me. In times past she would have known, known my soul better than I did. She would have known if I had lied. But she was sick, barely awake.
The empty night was silent now but for one lonesome howl, and standing silently I waited at the boarder of my father-in-law’s ranch where two roads crossed.
Had my dreams been lies? Which son of Morpheus visited me? Have I wasted my time on false hope, lost a few precious hours with her whom I love, with her who may not see the end of this moonless night? But I held, I would hold, and no Halloween terrors would roust me. I had come to seek them, not flee them.
But I shivered, with cold or fear I know not. I shivered, waiting, feeling the hours pass, feeling the darkness grow. The weary sun had long retired behind the distant mountains, casting those peaked shadows far. They crept over me like a blanket, wrapping me in the depths of night.
The night had come and I was waiting for it, and for its ambassadors. Then came the moment. It was death itself, cloaked in dust and cobwebs. His scythe was ready, lifted high as if to swing. But it stayed there, hanging in the night.
I spoke. “I heard whispers as I tried to sleep.”
His silence overwhelmed me, and I stopped.
“I’ll give it,” I blurted as cold crept into my lungs. “My life for hers. I’ll give it, please. They said you might take it instead.”
“No,” the answer, it was not spoken, but the whole of reality seemed to bend in unhallowed ways as the phantom’s cowl shook from side to side.
“Then I’ll fight you,” I said. “You won’t take her.”
His scythe fell, the blade lodged into the ground at my feet.
“The dream,” I muttered, remembering what the whispers had said. My life, they had said, for her death.
Death pointed at me, and again the world was twisted as it tried to speak. My stomach turned as weird thoughts, alien thoughts, fought their way into my mind. I felt the countless eons which had withered this poor soul’s body away.
The shaft was rough and worn, but the tool was light in my hands. I pulled the blade from the earth.
“I understand,” I said, and with one swing severed him from this world. I know not whether he went up or down, or if he merely withered away finally and completely. I never know. All I know are bodies, empty and full, and I empty them. And my own body, I know it, withering away to nothing. Yet something remains; I remain.