A Brush with Death
The Man in the Mirror
Isabel gave a most unladylike snort of disgust, then glanced around warily, hoping that no one had heard. She was sitting alone at the farthest table possible from the dance floor, watching irritably as one of her previous suitors made a rather forward advancement on her cousin. Undoubtedly, Edward Buchanan had heard the news of Emily’s father’s financial success and chosen his new suit with almost as much grace as he had the last. She observed them for a few moments, hoping Emily would not be so foolhardy so as to fall for his scheme.
It turned out she was. Isabel tried not to let her brow crease with disapproval as the dandy succeeded in capturing Emily’s next dance. The rather shamelessly expensive tails of his coat waggled enthusiastically as he spun in time to the music, laughing and obviously charming the young miss with practiced ease. For a moment, Isabel had to hold in a bizarre desire to laugh as she envisioned Edward dancing with the pile of money that he so clearly thought Emily would be to him if they were to marry.
Ah, well, thought Isabel, at least it’ll keep him warm as he burns it at the tables of his club. She really should warn Emily, but then again, she really wanted another glass of punch. Perhaps afterward…
Isabel made to stand up, and in doing so, caught the eye of her lady’s maid who bustled over from her position along the far wall.
“Accompany me to the banquet hall, won’t you, Denise?”
Denise smiled sweetly as she took her mistress’s arm. She was a pretty little thing in a light blue gown of fine muslin that she had borrowed from Isabel. Her blonde hair was pulled up into a loose bun at the top of her head, and a few escaped tendrils framed her pleasantly pale countenance.
“Lord Darensby looks a treat, doesn’t he?” giggled Denise into Isabel’s ear as she led her across the room. “He’s been eyeing you this evening.”
“The only thing that man has been eyeing is my father’s accounts,” said Isabel matter-of-factly. Her foot slipped a little, and Isabel stumbled. She clung tightly to Denise’s supporting arm in a vain hope that no one had seen. Unfortunately, that was not the way things worked in the upper crust of England. One slip, one blush, one wrong slip of the tongue and you were under scrutiny for a week or more.
It had been the latter for Isabel. Since her feet had gone numb and her knees had grown weak she had been under the constant eye of the London society. It had even been in the papers the first time she had fallen. The local gossip column had put up a week’s worth of headlines speculating on her ill health.
Well, that was all tosh. She was fit as a fiddle. Alright, her knees sometimes gave way and her vision blurred more easily than usual as of late, but Isabel was sure it was due to nothing more than her stays being too tight. Possibly not eating enough. At any rate, she could not show weakness. As the only child and heir to the Vanderton Estate, she was under constant pressure to marry and marry well.
“Would you like to sit down, Miss? Before we go to the tables?” Denise was clearly concerned about her momentary lapse in stability. Her round blue eyes caught Isabel’s as she steadied herself and began to move forward once more.
“Don’t talk rubbish,” growled Isabel, practically charging out of the ballroom and into the large hallway that led to the banquet hall. The bell-shaped cage around her midriff impeded her chosen speed and she nearly stumbled again, although, thankfully, there was no one around to see this time.
“You must rest, Miss,” said Denise, rushing after her in a nervous flutter. “Your father said that if you were to be allowed to attend the gathering, that you must refrain from exerting yourself in any way.”
Isabel could hear the slight note of hysteria in her lady’s voice. For, if Isabel did not heed her, the woman would likely lose her position, something neither of them wanted.
Isabel’s father seemed to think that her ladies were more in the order of governesses than friends, and expected them to keep a firm hold on Isabel throughout the very dangerous business of attending balls and parties. This put Denise in a difficult position, as she didn’t like to order her mistress around for fear of seeming disrespectful, but could not disobey a direct order from her father.
“I’m quite alright, quit circling me like a mother hen,” Isabel said, waving off her friend’s concerned expression and looking around for the doorway to the next room.
Denise sighed. “I think it’s this way,” she muttered, and she took Isabel’s arm once more. The hallway was dark, the many lit gas lamps that adorned the walls did not entirely illuminate the shadowing crevices. Framed paintings were scattered here and there between the lights, and they could hear the sounds of bubbling laughter and talk coming from the ballroom just behind them.
Isabel could feel eyes on the back of her neck and was sure people were craning their heads through the doorway to keep her in view. She turned back as they walked away, planning to give the onlookers a reprovingly dazzling smile that would put them in their proper place, but there was no one there. Puzzled, Isabel felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end as she allowed Denise to lead her down the hallway. She turned back once more before they entered the banquet hall and was sure she saw the shadows in the dark hallway shift. Repressing a shudder, she hurried inside the shaft of light streaming from the next room, telling herself firmly that she was imagining things. Which would have been an altogether reassuring remonstration, if it hadn’t been for the whisper she had heard in the shadows.
“Isssaabelll,” it had said in a voice of sultry velvet, “Issaaabelll.”
She jolted as Denise made to tug her across the threshold. A chill crept down her spine.
“Did you hear that?”
Denise paused and frowned. “Hear what?”
“That voice,” she said, her spine still tingling.
Denise was looking quite alarmed now. “What voice, Miss?”
“It said- Didn’t you hear it?”
Isabel was gazing into the deepest shadows, her eyes combing the area where she had thought she had seen movement.
Denise was examining her quizzically, and she registered how odd she must look, standing in the pool of light, staring into the shadows and hearing voices no one else could hear.
She spun on her heel abruptly and caught many an eye turning away from her as she sashayed casually across the room to gather herself a plate of food and something to drink.
In all honesty, Isabel hadn’t forgotten the incident, the only change that had come over her since was that she was now questioning her own sanity. She smiled and laughed at the juicy gossip Mrs. Fairweather bludgeoned her with as soon as she entered the room, chatted amicably with an old acquaintance of her father’s, and pretended to eye the available bachelor’s in the room with a practiced gaze.
She saw no visible change in her lady either, apart from sensing Denise’s eyes on her a little more often than was strictly necessary. Several times Isabel caught her eye and grinned sheepishly.
Mrs. Fairweather had found her once more. She droned on and on, first about her nephew, and what a delightful match he and Isabel would make.
“Really, dear, I must introduce him to you.” Then it was about which girl’s dresses were too low cut. “Honestly, I am quite sure Abraham Hardy could see straight down the front of her bodice when he was dancing with her.”
This was the point Isabel excused herself, feigning a headache, which was a mistake. Mrs. Fairweather raised a suspicious eyebrow at her. “Really, dear. We’re all surprised you even managed to attend. I’d hoped your health had improved. You really shouldn’t have come, you know. Not when you were so fragile to begin with.” She gave Isabel’s hand a pat that was plainly supposed to be sympathetic rather than mocking.
Isabel did not take it as such. “There is nothing out of the ordinary about this headache, madam, I assure you. It is common for me around this time of the month.”
“Ah,” said Mrs. Fairweather, giving Isabel a scandalized look, but she looked mollified all the same. “You best get on home and rest then, dear.”
Isabel nodded and glanced around for Denise. She felt a hand on her shoulder. It was warm, heavy and decidedly masculine. She turned, expecting to see her father, for no other man would touch her so familiarly.
There was no one there.
Isabel spun all around, causing Mrs. Fairweather to grasp her elbow. “What are you doing, child?”
“Did you just touch me? Did you take hold of my shoulder, just now?”
Mrs. Fairweather’s wrinkled, watery eyes widened to the size of saucers. “No one touched you, dear. No one at all.”
Isabel felt the numbness in her feet creep up her ankles and into her knees. She began to shake.
Don’t fall apart. Not here, not in front of all these people. They can’t see you like this. The vultures will be on you before the night is out if you let them see.
She stood up straight, inhaling deeply into her chest; feeling her lungs expand. She caught sight of herself in the huge gilded mirror across the room.
Tall for a woman, her normally olive-toned skin was pale and clammy. She looked in danger of passing out. Her dark hair and eyes made the change in her complexion all the more noticeable. Normally admired for her full form, tonight she looked slight and sickly beneath the light of the large, crystal chandeliers that dangled from the vaulted ceiling.
Denise was there in a flash. As she took hold of Isabel’s elbow and steered her towards the nearest chair, as she forced her away from the reflection in the mirror, that was when she saw him.
He stood so close to her in the crowded room that, at first, she had mistaken him as one of the many prestigious guests invited there by their host of the evening. But no. He was tall and lithe, and an impossible, incomprehensible shock to her senses. He was beautiful, like jarringly unfamiliar notes in a childhood song. He looked inhuman, supple and toned and otherworldly.
He was laughing at her, his lips spreading in a wide, capricious smile and she could tell he knew what she had felt. Knew her confusion, because it was he who had caused it.
Isabel let Denise tug her this way and that, let her lady support her. For, it was very clear to her now that she was losing her mind. Because when she had spun around to confront the laughing man in the mirror, when she had turned to accuse him of his all-too-familiar touch, he had not been there.
The tall, impossibly handsome man she had seen standing just behind her…existed only in the mirror.
She said nothing as Denise fussed over her in the carriage on their ride home. Her mind was whirring. There had been a voice. There had been a touch. And now there was a man. Something she was experiencing that no one else was. She glanced up from her deep contemplation of her gloved fingers and shuddered. She could feel the numbness creeping farther still up her legs. She doubted she would be able to stand.
An oddity on the dark, rain-washed landscape outside the carriage window caught her eye, and she bent forward, half curious, half terrified of what she might see.
The shadows swirled blackly and then there was a shape. Isabel gasped and squashed herself quickly back into her seat. She did not look either right nor left as the carriage trundled up the sloping drive to her family’s estate.
When she went to get out of the carriage, she found she had been right to suspect that she would not be able to stand, let alone walk up the steep steps to the front door. Her legs refused to move, no matter how she tried. Denise began to cry.
“Oh, Miss! We never should have gone.”
“Oh, posh, Denise. Quit sniffling and call Michael to assist me inside.”
She waited for a few moments in the cold September air, the rain pattering on the canvas roof of the carriage. The shadows inched closer to her, and at the corners of her vision, she could see a tall figure watching her patiently out of the darkness. Panic settled in her chest. She couldn’t breathe. But rather than turning away from the shadowy figure, she spun in her seat and glared at him. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought she saw his insolent smile widen.
Michael, her father’s right-hand man, came galumphing down the front steps of the manor five minutes later.
“Mistress, what is it?”
“Nothing to fuss about,” said Isabel immediately, trying to dispel her own fear as well as his. Denise hovered anxiously just behind him.
“She says her legs aren’t working properly,” she hissed at Michael, and his eyes widened. Isabel sighed and rolled her eyes.
“Oh, just carry me up to my room, won’t you?”
Michael looked obscenely uncomfortable as he slid his arms around his mistress and lifted her slight form as easily as if she were nothing more than a porcelain doll. He took each step gingerly, as though he was frightened of jolting her, and all the while, the handsome stranger smiled at the edges of her vision.
Denise ran ahead to open the wide, double front doors, and Michael walked straight through to the entrance hall, never minding the muddy footprints he left behind in his wake. He turned left and began to climb the winding staircase that lead to the upper floors of Kingsley Manor, and after a few moments, he sat Isabel down carefully on the side of her bed.
He looked winded and his full cheeks were ruddy with exertion. It had been dreadfully uncomfortable to be in such close proximity with a man of his girth, but Isabel was thankful for his efforts.
“Michael?” she said as Denise side-stepped around him and began unlacing her boots, “Not a word to Father.”
He looked doubtful.
“Not until tomorrow. Let him have his fun. He hasn’t played cards for so long. We can only hope he doesn’t lose the estate to Mr. Pinsworth.” She smiled half-heartedly. Neither Michael nor Denise responded. They both looked worried; on the edge of panic. Isabel let her face fall into her customary stern expression. “Not a word,” she repeated.
Michael exhaled, looking indignant. “He’d want to know.”
“He’ll find out in the morning.” Isabel’s tone had gone snappish. She was used to giving orders. And quite used to having those orders obeyed.
Michael shook his head and went to fetch her a cup of tea.
Isabel struggled to relax through the pain in her legs. She reached blindly for the necklace at her throat. The thin gold chain rarely left her neck. She looked down at the charm, dangling there. A heart-shaped locket that never opened. She’d had it so long that she couldn’t even remember where it had come from. She remembered having it just after her mother had passed. It had been a source of absolute comfort to her ever since.
Denise was now attempting to slide Isabel’s boots off feet that looked and felt as though they had been encased in a thick rubber. She was still crying slightly.
“Denise,” said Isabel consolingly. “I’ll make quite certain you are not the butt of Father’s fury, don’t fret.”
“I’m not scared about being punished, silly!” sniffed Denise, finally succeeding in removing the first boot and moving on to the second. “I’m worried for you.”
“Don’t be!” said Isabel, tilting her friend’s chin up so that she could look into her face. “I’ll be just fine by tomorrow. In fact, I believe I would feel much better if you could just loosen my stays for me.”
Denise nodded and gave the second boot a swift yank. It slid off Isabel’s awkwardly stiff foot and fell onto the floor with a thud. “Can you turn to the side, Miss?”
Isabel used her arms to spin herself obligingly and faced the back of the room. She had to stifle a gasp. He was there, in the dressing table mirror. Inches away from her. Sitting on the opposite side of the bed. If she moved her hand an inch, she would touch him.
“What is it, Miss? Are you in pain? Did it hurt to turn round?” Denise was circling around the bed to examine Isabel’s expression. As she moved, The Man in the Mirror moved too, he slid away from her and out of Denise’s path. Isabel stared into the mirror, he lifted a long finger to his perfect lips and winked.
Isabel looked up at Denise. Her lips were trembling. She couldn’t seem to calm her shaking.
“A hot bath, Miss? Something? What can I do?”
Isabel gestured feebly to the back of her dress. “The stays, Denise, please?”
“Yes, of course.”
Isabel could feel Denise’s fingers shaking too. Slowly, button by button, the bodice of the gown slid from her shoulders. The Man in the Mirror had vanished, but Isabel felt his presence. Was he watching her undress? Enjoying her absolute discomfort and knowing she couldn’t say a word to Denise.
She had cracked but she needn’t make more a fool of herself than she already had. She was having trouble breathing again. He isn’t real. He’s all in your mad mind. He isn’t there. So what did it matter if he watched her undress? He isn’t real.
Isabel squared her shoulders as she felt Denise began loosening her stays. Blessedly, finally, she could breathe. She drew in great lungfuls of air, her heart beat slowing, and looked back into the mirror.
He was not reflected in it. He wasn’t watching her. At least he has some sense of propriety, she thought. Then she chastised herself. He is merely a product of your illness.
She breathed in and out for several minutes, Denise’s hand on her shoulder.
“A hot bath would be good, Denise,” she said, nodding slowly. My legs feel a bit better already. I should very much like to soak. Perhaps with my tea.”
“I’ll draw you a bath.”
A half hour later, with no sight of The Man in the Mirror, Isabel allowed Denise to help her strip and then sunk to her shoulders in the hot water. Her legs were still very weak but the numbness seemed to have receded slightly, enough so that she could stagger across the room with Denise’s help. She hoped a bath would get her blood moving, perhaps wake her sleeping limbs.
Denise brought her a cup a tea and then left her alone, shutting the door quietly behind her. Isabel sighed and let herself sink back into the water, her eyes closed, trying to calm her mind.
Her left leg twitched of its own accord. The ripples caused water to lap at her chin. She opened her eyes and glared down at her bare lower body, ensconced in bubbles. She drew her knees up to her chin and held them there. “You are not allowed to just cease your duties,” she grumbled at them. “If I’m not giving up then neither are you.”
Fear cascaded over her, and she let her tingling legs slide back down the length of the tub. The scent of roses filled her nostrils.
“There is nothing wrong with me,” she said quietly. “It’s an illness, nothing more.”
“That is where you are wrong, my dear.” The voice spoke from the shadows, causing Isabel to jump and shrink into the thick foam of bubbles. Her gaze darted around the room, but she saw nothing and no one. Anger and fury welled up inside her.
“Where are you?” she hissed, “Where are you hiding?”
“I’m right here, beautiful.”
A hand caressed the length of her long, dark hair and she shrieked.
Denise came running into the bathroom, clearly half-way through undressing, one sleeve of her blue gown dangling off her shoulder.
Isabel had grabbed at the nearest towel and sent a lit candle flying in her haste, it went out as it drenched the bathroom floor in hot wax. Denise stared around the room looking terrified. “What is it, Miss?”
Isabel couldn’t catch her breath.
“Get me out, Denise. Help me dress.”
Madness. She didn’t think there was any other way to describe her experiences. She had gone mad, just as she feared from the first whisper of her name in that darkened hallway. She had cracked.
Denise combed out her wet hair, and the Stranger smiled at her in the mirror. He continued to touch her. A hand on her shoulder, a brush of his ice-cold fingers over her heated neck, once she even felt his lips as he whispered in her ear.
She tried not to flinch, or to show any sign of discomfort, but even so, as Denise helped her ready for bed, she could see the terror growing in her friend’s eyes. After all, her mistress was hearing voices no one else could hear. Seeing things. Feeling things. Isabel shuddered as Denise tucked her into bed.
“If you need anything in the night, Miss, ring for me. Don’t hesitate.”
“Of course. Thank you, Denise.”
Her pretty lady gave her hand a squeeze and then moved out of the room, shutting the door softly behind her. Isabel sat up as soon as the door closed and held out her lamp from the bedside table. It illuminated the shadows and flickered into the corners.
“At last, we are alone.”
Isabel jumped and nearly dropped the lamp. The man was sitting right beside her, his black booted ankles crossed on the bed nonchalantly. And what a man he was. Swathed in a long, black traveling coat over a suit of plum velvet, he was eyeing her with the air of a snake deciding whether to swallow its prey whole or bit by bit.
His hair was black, as was the scruff on his cheek and the color of his eyes. It was disturbing, that his pupils had no end. It was like gazing into the depths of the blackness between the stars. His jaw was strong, and his body was lithe, long and toned. Handsome wasn’t the right word. If Isabel could have conjured up her idea of a perfect male specimen, he would be it. His velvet waistcoat was relieved by a froth of fine, white silk at his throat, and he wore a gold pocket watch. This last item, he was examining interestedly.
“It’s getting quite late,” he said, not looking up from his preoccupation with his watch. Isabel stared at him. She could see him sitting there. Feel the pressure of the mattress as it slanted towards his weight, but he could not be there. She reached out a trembling finger, and at last, he looked up. He smiled at her. A smile so capricious it should have frozen her soul, instead, Isabel slapped him. The man tumbled off the bed in shock.
“How dare you!” she breathed venomously, she raised her hand again, and this time he grabbed her wrist. He emanated power and fury in a tangible mass that flooded the room with darkness and Isabel knew instantly that this was not a man. He was something older, and sickly. Something that defied time and distance, and at the same moment would come as surely as a tax on the poor.
“I would suggest you do not raise a hand to me again, dear one. For I hold your very existence between my finger and my thumb.”
He released her wrist, and Isabel could feel heat where he had touched her. Warmth and chill at the same time. It was a terrifying sensation.
“I will not be frightened of you, sir. I request you to leave my room at once.” Isabel sat up straight and pointed a quivering finger at the door. The man laughed.
“You say you will not be frightened,” he chuckled, “but at the brush of my hand you will flee.”
“I shan’t!” Isabel set her two most basic instincts to war in that moment. Something within her told her this was not a being to trifle with, but a stronger voice said she would not be bullied by anything, no matter if it was a creature created by her insane mind or a man creeping into her room in the dead of night.
The man from the mirror chuckled once more, and sat himself back down on her bed with a flourish, despite Isabel’s squeak of protest. He leaned towards her, and Isabel stuck out her jaw in defiance as he brushed a finger that was both fire and ice down the length of her jaw.
“Sweet, brave girl. You have no idea with whom you are dealing.”
“Who are you then?” she snapped, and his eyes flashed at her rudeness.
“Tut, tut. Did your mother never teach you manners?” He waggled a finger reprovingly at her and Isabel glared at him. “I know she did, Isabel. Before I took her. She was a wonderfully pleasant companion.”
Isabel’s mouth had gone dry.
“What do you mean, ‘before you took her’?”
He smiled that smile again. It was nearly a taut leer. One corner of his mouth pulled up as though he were only moments away from consuming her.
“It was her time,” he said simply. “As it is nearly yours.”
It was Isabel’s turn to laugh, and the man looked rather shocked at her reaction. His black eyes grew wide, and he cocked his head to the side wonderingly, as though she was the most interesting thing he had ever seen. He looked rather owlish, peering at her as she continued to chuckle.
“You are not Death,” she choked at last. “Where is your scythe? Where is your cloak of darkness?” She continued to laugh.
Now he looked severely annoyed. “I abandoned them many hundreds of years ago,” he said irritably. “Why is it no one will paint me as I am anymore?”
“Do you leave anyone alive to do it?”
Death paused for a moment and then broke into a strangely sheepish grin. “No, I generally suppose I don’t. All work. No play,” he said. “I’ve no time to waste, you see.”
Isabel’s face fell. “If you are Death, I will go with you,” she said.
Apparently, she had shocked him again, for his dark eyebrows had crept up into his black hair. “Just like that?” he asked. “No begging? No pleading? No ‘just one more day’?”
“I am not one for prolonging the inevitable.” Her green eyes had gone dark. “I supposed it might come to this,” she said sadly. “I just didn’t want to admit it. I knew something was wrong with me from the first moment I stumbled. What is wrong with me?” she asked curiously.
“You have an illness that does not yet have a name,” he said. “It will take your legs, then your arms, and then the rest of you will follow suit.”
Isabel nodded stoically, displaying no more emotion than she would have if someone had just told her it looked as though it might rain the next day and ruin her morning ride.
“You are very beautiful,” he said suddenly, and Death moved nearer to her, his strangely decadent body sliding across the coverlet. “And you have a bravery in your heart that others lack.” He brushed his finger along her jaw once more, and Isabel shivered again at the sensation of his touch. His dark eyes were boring into hers, and she could not look away.
“Will you take me now?” she asked, expecting to feel herself beginning to slip away at any moment.
“No, my dear. Right now, I am going to kiss you.”
He leaned closer to her, but as he made to press his lips to hers, Isabel shoved him away, suddenly furious. She made to get out of the bed and stumbled on her numb legs. Before she had fallen, he was there, lifting her in his strong arms that left trails of fire and ice anywhere they touched.
Isabel kicked out, and when that didn’t help, she slapped him again. He dropped her back onto the bed in a heap, looking outraged. “Is this what you do?” she whispered furiously, scrambling away from him. “You prey on the ones you take? You tell them they are pretty and then do what you like with them? I have not sunk so low, sir. You will not have your way with me. I will not allow it.”
Death crossed his magnificent arms, observing her irritably.
“I did not mean to cause offense,” he grumbled, and his handsome face was suddenly looking discomforted. “I only meant to taste—” he trailed off looking frustrated and Isabel was seized by a sudden thought.
“Is it lonely, being Death?”
He frowned at her and strode to the other side of the room to sink down on the bench next to her vanity. She watched him lean back in his plum suit and observe her with keen interest, his arms folded across his chest and one leg propped over the top of the other.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he scoffed. “Death isn’t lonely, it’s an adventure.”
“For those that go with you,” said Isabel, pulling the coverlet around her cold body, she shivered as she imagined what death must be like for Death himself. “But for you, I would imagine it is always lonely to be left behind.” She paused, then said: “So do you kiss the girls often?”
He shrugged dismissively and shadows crawled over his face. Isabel had the distinct impression she had embarrassed him with her refusal, and with her prying questions. She tried not to think about what was happening. What she was doing, and who she was speaking with. She ignored what it meant for her, and for her father and her friends. There was no help to be had. She was going to die. I am going to die.
“Do they like to be kissed?” she asked. She saw him shrug again. “I can’t decide if it is an honor or a curse,” she said thoughtfully. “Brings a new meaning to the term ‘The Kiss of Death,’ doesn’t it?”
He smiled again. It was odd, the way he melded with the shadows. His white teeth stood out from the darkness as he grinned at her.
“I cannot vouch for the others,” he said, “because there have been no others.” He looked sheepish again.
“Shhh,” he said, chuckling, and Isabel realized her shout might have woken the entire house. They listened together for a moment, then hearing no response to her shout, Isabel ogled him.
“What do you mean there have been no others?”
“Well, I’m not sure that you’re aware how this usually works,” he said still smiling. “But most people don’t get to spend an evening conversing with me before I take them, let alone be kissed by me.”
Anger colored Isabel’s cheeks, now. “So I should just let you take advantage of me because of who you are? Because it’s a first—” she said this scathingly, disbelief bellying her tone. “— for you?”
Death bent forward in his seat, and it creaked as he shifted his weight. He eyed Isabel dangerously. “I don’t have to ask your permission, you know,” he said, and that strange sense of power that emanated from him filled the room once more. He stood and strode over to the bed, the shadows trailing after him like eager dogs waiting on their master. He stood in front of Isabel, who sat still, her arms folded over her night dress, refusing to be intimidated by his show of ferocity.
“I could do what I like to you. I could toy with your mind for decades and leave you shrieking in a corner of an asylum. I could take your life with one snap,” he demonstrated this beneath her nose, “of my fingers.”
“But you could not make me kiss you,” Isabel whispered. “You could not make me love you.”
The depth of these words seemed to have a powerful effect on him. He reeled back from her, and his eyes displayed a loneliness that was a millennium older than she. A sickness that was in his very existence.
“No,” he said quietly, “I cannot make you do that.”
He sat back down on the bed next to her, and Isabel thought of his terrible lot.
“What did you do to deserve such a fate?” she asked him.
He shrugged once more. “I was made for my duty, nothing more…” he wasn’t looking at her. “But for hundreds of thousands of years, I have watched human-kind. Is it so strange that a part of me has slipped?” He shook his head and then stood and faced her. He gave her an ironic bow and then spoke to the floor. “I owe you an apology, Madame,” he said, his voice very formal. “It did not occur to me that my attentions would be unwelcome.”
“That’s rather arrogant of you,” said Isabel bluntly, rolling her eyes to the ceiling. “Women don’t like to just be kissed out of nowhere, you know. We like to be courted.”
“Courted?” said Death in high astonishment, straightening up, “How am I supposed to accomplish that?”
“I’ll leave that up to you,” whispered Isabel through a wide yawn, and then she smiled at him and began to settle down into her bed. “However, if we won’t be going anywhere tonight, perhaps you would be so kind and dim the lights for me before you leave?”
Death smirked at her, reached across the bed, and turned out the light. Then he was gone.
Isabel felt his presence vanish and rolled over onto her back. Her legs ached, but if she wasn’t much mistaken, she had just had a brush with Death himself and lived to tell the tale. Not that she would. She chuckled, lying there in the dark, as she realized that she might indeed need to be committed to the asylum, for she had just issued Death with a formal invitation to court her at his convenience.
A Brush with Death
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