This is a short story that I wrote for creative writing this year. It's not my most inspired story since I wrote it in less than a day. Even with my obsessive editting there are bound to be mistakes but they shouldn't take too much from the story. Um, some of the things are based on folklore and fairytales but Death as a man with a shifting face is a character of mine that I've had since way back when I still wrote fanfiction. He's all mine, thoughhe comes off as slightly different from the original in Trick. I hope you enjoy or have...nice criticism. I like feedback as much as anyone on here, I'm sure.
He was running. Running...
Watery, pale moonlight occasionally brightened the damp night, but only in the rare moments when the storm clouds let it shine through. The maddeningly cold rain had stopped an hour or so before, but the threat remained, making him all the more willing to continue his headlong rush to who knew where so long as it meant he might reach his destination before the heavens opened again.
He was running, fast like he always ran in his dreams. But this was not a dream. Not a dream, not a memory, but reality. Dark thoughts and rain clouds drove him onward. Rain that desperately wanted to fall and drench him; memories that desperately wanted to come to the front of his mind and drown him in misery. Memories of running...
Twigs slapped him in the face and brambles caught at his clothes but he dared not stop.
The wailing rose out of the darkness again. He altered his course, realizing he'd been going the wrong way. With no moon or starlight to illuminate the path, the forest was disorienting; no natural light could penetrate the dense foliage. It was as though the entire world did not want him to reach his destination.
His breath came in hoarse, short gasps. His legs felt like they were on fire.
But he dared not stop.
He could only think of what was at the end of this mad race, knew he had to keep moving.
She was sick, so terribly sick. Fever weakened her, and made her cheeks clammy with sweat and tears. When she slept he could hear her whispering to herself, murmuring nonsensical conversations with whatever nightmares plagued her.
And then, two nights past, the Banshee's cries had started.
He collapsed against an ancient tree, felt the rough bark scrape his face. It hurt but it was welcome pain. This was punishment; he deserved to be punished for failing.
Failing…Patrick was failing his wife.
'My wife…my Catherine…'
Catherine's face floated, perfect, in his mind's eye. Every minute detail called to him; encouraged him. Her eyes, clear and blue, full of love, bade him stand up. Her hands, soft and gentle as he knew they were, promised their sweet caresses…if he would just get up; save her. Memories of her amused, bell-like laughter rang in his ears; rejuvenated him.
Catherine depended on him; he dared not stop.
In all likelihood it was an impossible task but he had to find it. Patrick would find it, and silence that ghostly wailing.
Patrick stood shakily and staggering onward, occasionally pausing on a tree to steady himself before pushing off and continuing.
He would find the Banshee.
Trees thinned. He found himself in a small meadow; a tiny opening in the forest that he had no recollection of.
And there it was. The moonlight had appeared again now that there were no trees left to suppress the glow that cast silvery light down on it. Her.
She was not the ugly, evil-looking person he'd expected; far from it, the Banshee had probably been fairly pretty at one point in time. As he saw her though, her haggard face was splotchy red from crying. Long, unruly hair, gray from old age or worry, he wasn't sure which, framed her delicate face.
Gray, red, pink: she was all those things. He'd expected blackness, dark evil, but what he'd discovered was a woman not so different from any other mourning woman he'd seen.
"Please…stop," he cried to her as he fell to his knees, finally too exhausted and desperate to stand tall.
The Banshee's gaze fell upon him. She'd finished her eerie sobbing to stare at him.
"Why have you come to me, Patrick?" she whispered in a tired voice as soft and pleasant as a summer breeze. "Why have you come?"
"You cannot take her away from me. Please. Let her live."
The Banshee blinked, a surprisingly human action that seemed very strange on her face. "I don't understand. Why are you asking me this?"
Patrick shouted back, "You must understand! You're the Banshee! Like from that silly children's rhyme everyone knows!"
"'When the Banshee starts to cry, three nights pass, then "time to die"'" A man's voice spoke from the shadows on the outskirts of the meadow. "Hardly what one would call a children's rhyme but it has a nice ring to it."
Patrick gasped as soon as the man stepped closer. The man was cold; he emanated chills and shivers like a human-sized block of ice.
He also had no face.
'No,' Patrick decided, 'that's not quite true. Not really.' On closer inspection, Patrick saw that the man's face was constantly changing. The molten visage melted, shifted, and flowed into different appearances that promptly morphed into something completely different.
It was very unsettling.
"Was this man bothering you, dearest?"
It was only then that Patrick noticed how stiff the Banshee had gotten as soon as the man walked into view. Her back was straight as a post and she was glaring at the man with an acid stare. "No," she said, far more calmly than she looked. "We were just discussing-"
"Catherine?" the man finished for her. "Yes, that is who you were talking about, isn't it?"
Patrick nodded dumbly; the Banshee sniffed.
"Why'd you talk to her about it? She can't help you like I can."
Patrick finally found his voice again. "Why not; who are you?"
"I am…an idea," he declared grandiosely. "A physical embodiment of a state of being. An angel, perhaps, if that's the sort of thing you believe in."
The Banshee interrupted, "He is Death."
Stunned, Patrick gaped at the man. "Can…can you really save her?"
The man did a joking bow. "My wish is to serve." He grinned. "Of course I can save her. I'm the one who decides who lives and who dies. Now, getting me to see why I should 'save' her could be…difficult."
Patrick found himself crying. As the tears ran down his face, carving rivulets in the dirt there, he explained his love for her. He spoke of beautiful sunsets paling next to the beauty of her face. He spoke of the tender way she healed his hurts, laughingly fussed over his constantly messy hair, and cared for their son. Their son! What would their son do without a mother? He expressed all these things as best as he could, using a mastery of words he never knew he had.
When he glanced at the Banshee, she would not meet his eyes, but Death clapped slowly, mockingly. There was a calculating look in his ever-changing eyes.
"It was a good effort, Patrick. Very good, however I'm just not sure it'll be enough. I came here tonight for a reason."
"If you have to have someone…" Patrick said slowly, "can't you take me?" Catherine would live. He wouldn't have to fail her. "Save her and when I die I'll…I'll…" He didn't know what to say. Death knew he would die eventually; saying he would go quietly was a poor payment.
"You could help me for a while," Death suggested softly. "I'm always in need of some assistants."
"So…if you save Catherine you get my soul to serve you when I die?" Death nodded. "For how long?"
Death pondered that a moment. "I'm not sure. I'll come to it when it's time. Not terribly long, I assure you. Agreed?"
Patrick felt rushed. He needed time to think! But Catherine could not wait. Time certainly wouldn't stop for him; he wasn't important enough.
He looked to the Banshee for support, mentally marveling at his sudden fondness for the fairy woman. The Banshee was watching him again. She was a hawk; hard-eyed and aloof. Her expression was unreadable.
It was his decision.
The world spun around him, or maybe he spun around the world. He couldn't be sure; nothing made sense.
Patrick blacked out.
He was lying on the ground; Patrick wondered if he'd been knocked on the head. He knew he was awake and yet here he was staring at himself, sleeping. There were two of him, or so it seemed to his fogged mind. Frost covered his body; he shivered and all sorts of unfamiliar sensations worked their way up his spine.
Patrick wished the strange double vision would go away.
"It's an unusual feeling, isn't it, Patrick?" he heard Death say.
Patrick rolled his head around on the ground to be able to focus on the shifting man. It was the best he could do; his entire body was numb and his mind was whirling.
Only his eyes and ears seemed to function well enough to be useful; he was completely helpless. Everything confused him. "What happened?" he tried to say but nothing came out of his mouth.
Death seemed to hear his unspoken question. "That was merely part of our deal." Death held up his hand and a shimmering, mirror-like object appeared and hovered there. Patrick was mesmerized; the mirror didn't show the dark meadow but an image of Catherine, still in bed, but obviously healthier. He breathed a sigh of relief.
"As you can see, I've done my part. And now we must discuss your end of the deal." Death was grinning, watching him closely.
Movement was gradually coming back to his sluggish limbs. His vision cleared and he was able to hear more clearly than ever before, as well as smell more clearly. Patrick took a deep sniff of the world around him and cringed. Panic welled up inside him.
"Alarming isn't it? It always astounds me that the ones who are willing to confront Death are the ones most frightened by their own mortality. Ironic, no?"
Patrick had clumsily backed himself up against a tree. Try as he might, he couldn't get the smell or sight out of his head.
His body was right there in front of him. The lifeless odor hung in the air…
He was dead…
"Now, Patrick, you know that's not really true." Death apparently could read his mind. "Your old body is uninhabited: a broken vessel unfit for your use and useless to me. You, however, are very much alive." He produced the shimmering mirror again. This time it reflected the world around them. "Time for you to see your new body."
With sick fascination, Patrick slowly turned away from the corpse that had once been him and looked into the mirror. What he saw made him howl in anguish.
Patrick's mind was reeling. "What is this?! Why am I dead, in this body?" He darted around the meadow in an insane attempt to outrun the horrid stink.
"Old Shuck, Padfoot, Gwyllgi; your kind are feared around these parts. Death omens, apparently, since you appear shortly before someone dies." Death snapped his fingers and Patrick's body froze mid-stride. "Of course, none of you silly humans make the connection that those people were going to die anyway. My hounds, that includes you now, Patrick, just help them along a bit."
Quivering, Patrick fought Death's control. The battle was in vain but it helped him focus some of the rage that was building inside him. "But why did I have to die? I was healthy. There was nothing wrong with that body…this wasn't supposed to happen for a long time. This wasn't supposed to happen!"
The Banshee looked ill as she stepped forward and set a trembling hand on his head. "You died because of me, Patrick. All of this is because you saw me."
Patrick felt like his eyes were going to pop out of his skull. "W-what?"
"For a man who likes his fairy rhymes, you don't seem to retain much about the fairies themselves." Death gestured flamboyantly, as though preparing to give a great speech. "Never seek the Banshee's cries/Her beauty's not for mortal eyes/If you find you still must see/in Death's grasp you soon will be."
This concept took a long time to fully sink into Patrick's overwhelmed brain. But when it did…. "No."
"Yes, love." The Banshee gave him a light kiss on the top of his head before standing up and walking away.
"No…" he moaned.
Death crouched beside him and crooned sarcastically, "Yes, it's a hard reality to face, isn't it Patrick; to finally realize that the Banshee was wailing for you and not your bonny lass. She was never in danger. The fever broke not too long after you left."
"Why?" Patrick croaked. "Why did we do all this?"
"Because it was fun. Because I wanted another hound. Because you needed to learn that you couldn't control who lives or dies. Maybe because I hoped you might someday learn that dying isn't always a bad thing." He paused. "But mostly because it was fun." He patted Patrick on the head and released him from his control.
"You've got a week or two to get used to your new body. Then it'll be time to hold up your end of the bargain." The dog-Patrick-fell in a heap on the ground and stayed there. He didn't see a point to anything anymore.
"You tricked me."
Death halted and turned back, looking insulted. "You foolish mortals think you can figure everything out. It's your biggest flaw. You're all just deluding yourselves. Case in point, I never once said she was the one I wanted." He stormed away.
Deep down, Patrick knew it was true. He had been a fool. Wallowing in self-pity, he curled up into a ball where he'd fallen and refused to budge.
Later, much later, the Banshee knelt beside him on the ground.
Try as he might, Patrick could not tear himself away from his old body. He was still awkward in the body of the big black dog…he assured himself he'd never get used to it but deep down he knew he'd probably live in this particular form far longer than he'd lived as a man.
"He tricked me," he thought bitterly. He didn't even have to wonder if the Banshee would hear him; he couldn't talk as a canine so he figured the two of them, Death and the Banshee, could read his mind to communicate with him. He would learn, a little later, that they were the only ones who could understand him. Patrick faced a lonely existence in that area, but, fortunately, he did not know it yet.
"I thought that for a long time, too." She stroked his soft fur, sending waves of peculiar but strangely pleasurable feelings through his body. Everything was so alien about his new reality, unpleasantly so. He rested his head on her lap and looked at her face. "Bizarre, isn't it, how two people born centuries apart could think the same thing? I told Death I wanted to live forever. He said I had to help him, become his wife, or some such nonsense. It doesn't matter now."
"But why do you cry for people you don't know?"
The Banshee laughed sadly. "His definition of helping others is to tell me who will die next. He shows me…I empathize with the people and hate myself because I must watch their final days. That is my purpose. I am the great fairy witness, destined to be the one who lets the lonely and brokenhearted know that at least one soul will weep for them."
"For eternity?" Patrick shivered. "He won't punish me that long…will he?"
She smiled uncertainly. "No, I don't think so. He's told me he'll leave me alone someday. Not in as many words, of course, but it's been implied. When I 'learn.' He thinks of all this as a learning experience. The world's harshest, perhaps, but educational all the same."
He raised his head and stared at her incredulously. "Educational? It was a trick, nothing more. He tricked us into giving our lives to him."
"Don't call me that! I'm not Patrick. Patrick is dead. His body's over under that tree. I'm nobody, a stupid dog. All because he tricked me!" He stood inelegantly, furiously, and snapped at the air. He wasn't angry with her but he wanted to do something, anything, violent.
The Banshee watched him calmly. "Then what should I call you, love, if I can't call you Patrick?"
He ignored her and continued muttering, "A trick. He tricked me. I was supposed to be able to see her again. Trickster! I hate him. He made me think she was the one who was going to die. He tricked me. It was all a trick. Trick!"
She smiled. "That's it, then."
He paused and cocked his head at her. "What?"
The Banshee pulled something out of the air, just like Death had created the mirror: a thick leather collar. On it, branded into the leather, was his new name.
Trick. It was true; it really was the best name for him.
As she put it on him, he wanted to weep but the dog body could not. The Banshee gave him a sympathetic hug. In his mind, he was screaming.
He hoped the Banshee didn't mind.