Aged

He felt a hundred years old.

Laying there in the dirt among the leaves and his own blood, he was still able to wonder if that's how it's supposed to feel when dying. It didn't seem right. Even though he couldn't remember who he was or his age, he knew that he wasn't that old. In fact, he was fairly sure of the fact that his age was somewhere in the late twenties. But he couldn't be certain.

At first, he really didn't want to believe he was going to die. He clung to the fragile part of life that he had left. But as the hours passed, his mind grew weaker, and he began to forget. He forgot the face of the woman who had gotten him into this predicament. He forgot how much he had loved her, and how much she hadn't loved him. He forgot his name. He forgot the vicious look on the face of the man whose bullet had pierced his side, granting him a long, painful death.

At this point, however, he couldn't feel anything. The numbness had started somewhere in his feet, traveling up his body until it reached his mind. Needless to say, he could no longer form any coherent thoughts.

The sound of rustling feet in the underbrush did not stir his interest. He barely noticed. When a quick, brusque voice cut through the silence in the forest, he did not hear the words.

"Hurry! Ina said that if we don't find the herbs quickly, she'll be as good as dead, the babe too!"

He closed his eyes against the darkness. It'd be over soon.

"Is this- oh my God!"

And it was. No life was left in him, and he lay there, at the feet of two girls too young to understand what was going on.

"What? What is it?"

The child stared with wide eyes down at the body in front of her as her sister neared her side. The older girl gasped as she too saw the man.

"Is he-?"

The younger one reached out with her hand, grabbing onto her sister's dress with a clenched fist. "It's Mr. Rufie."

"Mr. Rufie?!"

Mr. Rufie was known throughout town for playing the piano down at the tavern on Saturday nights. To see that he was here, dead… They could only think of how quiet Saturday nights at the tavern would be from now on.

"Wonder what happened to him…" The younger girl muttered in awe, staring at the giant dark stain that blossomed across his chest.

"A bullet. Someone shot him," Her sister answered. Then she gasped, realization dawning on her. "We should get out of here."

"But why?"

"Because, you oaf," She lowered her voice to an ominous whisper, eyes darting around in the darkness. "Whoever shot him might still be around…"

The younger of the two jumped, looking around now too. Her hands shook as she drew herself closer to her older sister, certain that she would protect her. "But what about Myrna?"

A branch snapped somewhere off to their right, startling both of them. The younger sister shrieked, and bolted off towards home, the other hot on her heels.

They arrived in town panting and out of breath, their bare feet dirty and aching from the run through the forest. The tavern sat at the edge of the woods, and someone was standing outside, staring up at the night sky above him.

They recognized him immediately.

"Jack! Jack! Something horrible's happened!" The younger girl cried, tears in her eyes.

He started, taking a good look at them. "Millie? Ruby? What's the matter?"

"It's Mr. Rufie! He's dead- shot! Shot right through the chest!" The child flailed her arms uselessly.

"Rufie- Harold? Harold's dead?"

"Yes!" The older sister shouted, stamping her foot.

Jack stared at the faces of the two girls before turning around and heading into the tavern.

"You girls, wait right outside. I'll get the sheriff and tell him, and then I'll take you home, okay?"

They nodded their heads, watching as he slipped inside the tavern.

A moment later they were on their way home, their tiny little minds still reeling from the unfortunate turn of events. It was as they were turning on the street towards their home that the younger sister burst into tears, wailing, "Who's going to play piano on Saturdays now?"

Her sister gave her a punch on the arm. "Be quiet, Millie!"

Jack clucked his tongue at the two of them, pulling them apart so that they couldn't reach each other.

Millie deflated with a wistful little sigh. "And we didn't get the herbs for Myrna…"

They walked up the small path leading to the front door of their house. Jack knocked twice, and a distraught older woman answered the door. A baby was crying somewhere in the house.

"Millie, Ruby! Where have you been?"

The two sisters squeezed inside around her. Jack bowed his head. "Sorry, ma'am. Those two just found Harold Rufie's body outside in the forest, so give them some slack."

The older woman's pale face sagged a bit more with old age. "Harold, huh? Well, that's not the only death tonight, Jack… Myrna's dead."

"Myrna? She-"

"Died in childbirth. The babe is alive, that much you can probably hear, but… My oldest daughter is gone."

Jack reached out a hand hesitantly, letting it rest on her shoulder. "I'm so sorry, ma'am."

Her face contorted into an expression of pain, all the more heartbreaking for the wrinkles and obvious aging she had taken over the years. "I am too, Jack," She replied softly, her voice breaking.

Then he turned down the walk and left, and she closed the door behind him, letting the small baby's cries fill her ears.

They named after the child one of the two who had died that night. His name was Harold, though most everyone called him Rufie. He grew up without a mother or a father; instead, his nurses were his two aunts, Millicent and Ruby. When he was little, he'd ask about his parents, but Millie would change the subject if asked, and Ruby would shake her head and walk away. His grandmother died some years after he was born, and he was left to the devices of his aunts.

So the boy named after a dead man grew up. Eventually, he noticed the dusty old piano sitting in the corner of the tavern and was drawn to it like an old friend. When his fingers touched the keys, he felt an itching to play, though he knew not how. However, some ghostly memory guided his hands, drawing out music from a long forgotten part of his soul.

While playing some nights, he'd catch a glimpse of one of the barmaids. She was beautiful and older than him, thus out of reach. He still watched her, finding himself attracted to her in a way he had never been before.

At night he'd dream of her. During the day he'd see her face. He thought of what he'd do with her, do to her, and the ideas scared him and thrilled him at the same time. He found he could not get her out of his head.

One night, after he had finished playing and was sitting at the bar, he watched her. Each time he thought he'd approach her, he couldn't. He kept gathering up the courage, but it'd always fail him right when he thought he'd do it.

Finally he stood, determined to march right up to the girl whose name he still did not know and ask her to dance.

He hadn't gotten very far when someone stopped him. "Hey, Rufie!" He bumped mugs with the newcomer and sidestepped him, trying to get a glimpse of her- but she was gone.

Finally he asked the tavern owner, an old man named Gregor, who she was. Gregor told him that the girl's name was Myrna, and that she had a fiancé, so he'd better back off soon.

Myrna… He liked the sound of that name. It was familiar and comforting.

But the fiancé! Harold was disheartened by this fact. He'd never get with his dream woman. She was going to marry someone else.

Now that he knew this, he saw the two of them all over the place. They went into town together frequently, holding hands or sometimes just walking side-by-side. The fiancé was a big man, much bigger than Harold.

It hurt just that much more, seeing his beloved with another man, and knowing, yet again, that she'd never be his.

His opportunity came on New Year's. Amid the drunken celebrations, he had somehow managed to introduce himself to her, and before long it was morning, and they were lying side by side in bed together.

She woke up, and, realizing the extremity of the situation, told him good-bye. ("I'm sorry, Harold. This was- this was wrong. It can never happen again.")

They cut off relations. She quit her job at the tavern, but he still played piano there, his sad melodies now pushing the drinkers into a drunken stupor of loneliness and depression. Gregor eventually told him to start playing happy songs again or he'd be fired.

Months passed.

Myrna got pregnant, and everyone thought it was the fiancé's child.

Harold didn't know what to think.

Until a moonlit night in which he found himself in the forest, staring down the barrel of a gun.

"I knew it was you," The fiancé snarled, his hands shaking. "I always knew it was you. I've seen the looks you give her. I've seen the way she doesn't look at you- the way she always avoids looking at you… You did something to her! And now she's pregnant with your kid… You filthy-"

Harold found a small bud of blind courage in his heart and utilized it, speaking quickly and softly, ignoring the sinking feeling that this scene was familiar- too familiar.

"I've loved her far longer than you have. I love her more than you do. Make no mistake- that child was born out of love… You could never hope to have what we do- although you may be the one marrying her, the one in her heart and bed will always be me."

The fiancé narrowed his eyes, cocking the gun.

Harold laughed. "Go ahead. Shoot me. You know it's true."

"She loves me. She's marrying me, not you, you fatherless loser. I have something to give to her. I work hard for my money. And what do you do? You sit on a piano bench all day, spinning out songs that other people have written. You're nothing, and there's no way she would want you," the fiancé replied.

Harold grinned in the moonlight, trees casting shadows across his face that contorted his features into a horrific scowl. He lifted his arms, spreading them on both sides, and took a step away from the fiancé.

"C'mon, J.R. If you want to get rid of the competition…"

The fiancé growled and lowered the gun.

Harold smiled again, dropping his arms. "I knew you weren't going to. You're too-"

It happened too fast for him to see. The gunshot deafened both men, leaving an eerie calm in its wake. Both stood, staring at each other before Harold fell to his knees, gasping.

"You…" He breathed, staring up at his rival. "That… was cheap… Jack."

Jack stared back down at him, wide-eyed. "Good-bye, Rufie."

Harold fell forward as he walked away, landing with a soft thump in the dirt. He felt cold, and the pain in his abdomen was not going away. Rolling over onto his side, he groaned as his stomach flip-flopped, bloodstains all across his front. The sounds of crickets chirping around him made him shiver, and above him, he could see the full moon high in the sky. He landed on his back heavily, shivering in the cool night air.

He felt a hundred years old.

A/N: Okay, so this was a so-called "fiction essay" that my English teacher had me write. My English class has only seven people in it! (We're special. Very special.) But anyway, the prompt was to write a story about reincarnation. My teacher REALLY REALLY liked this essay. In the period before us, she let the students have a little more time to work on their tests just so she could finish reading it... And then she let them all read it. So after fourth period, everyone's coming up to me and saying things like "You should totally be an author!" which is cool, since I want to be one.

Right, so anyway, I got an A++ on it. Woohoo, ego boost! ...But now I have to wait for my Life of Pi essay to get back to me... Probably not the same response...

Review, please?