Hello everyone! This month, the short story will be coming from dark fantasy and horror author, Alledria Hurt. Alledria Hurt is a Savannah, GA based horror enthusiast and writer with an unhealthy penchant for dark roast coffee. She has several novels available on Amazon including Dark King Rising, her debut work in the horror genre. When she isn’t putting people in peril on paper, she’s busy keeping others out of trouble while working in insurance. Check her out online at http://www.alledriahurt.com, on Facebeook at Alledriaehurt or Twitter @ourladyofashes.
Happy reading and make sure you pay her a visit.
Sometimes He Comes to Visit
The ICU nurses’ station at Memorial General was quiet at just after midnight. Beatrice, with her silver/blue washed hair, made her rounds through the ward insuring patients were sleeping soundly. Sleep was absolutely necessary to the healing process, after all. Poking her head in each room checking lights were off and patients tucked securely into their blankets.
All seemed to be as it should be.
Nadine sat at the station, her three month old issue of Cosmo in hand. It would be her turn to do the rounds next time, but things were quiet as one could expect on the ward near midnight, so rounds went quick.
Ashton Marks lay in his bed, eyes slitted. He wasn’t asleep when Beatrice stuck her head into his room, but he didn’t turn to look at the intruder. His eyes had already failed. Black and gray hair plastered with sweat from the activity of continuing to live, he wasn’t comfortable, but this level of discomfort was acceptable. There was little pain. The pain was the worst part. He kept waiting, kept wishing, but the one visitor he wanted had not come.
12:45 Nadine looked up from her magazine and a gentleman stood at the counter. One said gentleman because he wore a black suit with a handkerchief folded in the pocket, a white button down shirt with pearl buttons, and a professional double-knotted tie. If she looked, she would have seen his shoes were black as well and shined to dark mirrors. While she sat there trying to make sense of his sudden, silent, appearance, he withdrew a palm-size book from his suit coat and thumbed through it, bringing his thumb to his ink black tongue before doing so. He had elegant hands with manicured nails, the whites like vicious half-moons. She hadn’t found her voice yet when he said,
“Marks, Ashton. I understand he is here. Might you direct me to where?” His voice crawled from behind his lips, yet each word came out clipped and clear. He had the faintest unidentifiable accent as if English were not his first language.
Nadine blinked at him before finally saying, “Visiting hours are over.” Her voice trembled in a way she hadn’t heard since she was a little girl telling her mother she cracked her favorite china plate.
“Yes, my dear.” His soft voice rose just above the drone of the overhead lights and he smiled like an indulgent grandfather. “I am aware. However, I’m sure you’ve realized visiting hours have nothing whatever to do with me.” He shut his book with an echoing snap and tucked it back in his suit jacket. It didn’t bulge as one would expect, just disappeared into the shadows at his chest. “Mr. Marks, if you please.”
A ripple ran down the hallway. Nadine shivered and the man turned his head to look at whence it came. “It appears I will not be needing directions. A pleasure to speak with you, my dear.” He turned, his step like a heartbeat instead of the expected click of heels on tile, and went down the hall.
When Beatrice returned from the bathroom, Nadine sat gripping the edge of the desk, her face and knuckles medical sheet white. Her mouth opened and closed without words several times before she breathed, “That was Death”.
Beatrice nodded. “Well, he does come around here fairly often. You were bound to meet him eventually.”
“You mean?” Nadine spoke despite the hitching in her chest. Tears pricked her eyes. How close had he come? His presence lingered like fading cologne.
“Yes, I’ve met him. You can’t stop him, so don’t try. Sometimes he comes to visit; sometimes he comes to escort.” Beatrice settled in her chair and started a game of Solitaire.
Nadine looked at Beatrice’s back for a long moment before burying her face in her hands and crying.
“Sweetie,” Bea turned and wrapped her arm around her younger companion. “He’s just a part of this business like we are. You get used to him after a while. Don’t think on it too much.”
Ashton heard the door and felt the all too welcome chill waft across the room followed by the feeling of a hand on his. He opened his eyes a little more trying to make out the shadowed shape above him.
“Is it time?” Ashton’s voice leapt from his throat.
“It is indeed, good sir.” Death held out one slender hand with lengthy fingers and a small bottle, cerulean blue with a white wax stopper, appeared in his palm. “Now I’m sure you’re quite ready to see this business concluded, so shall we?”
“One question,” Ashton gasped. “Will I go to heaven?”
“The answer will not change the fact of your death, or your life. Now, if you’re quite ready, just breathe into the bottle.” Death pulled the stopper and held it near Ashton’s lips as the old man breathed out for the last time.
His heart fluttered to a stop and the monitor screamed. Beatrice hustled into the room seconds later as Death tossed the bottle up in the air and watched it disappear. Looking at Death’s back he was all shadows to her eyes. “Is there any hope?”
“No, Madame, there is not.” He moved to walk past her, the lights dimming further with his motion. “It is, as usual, a pleasure to serve.” Then he was gone.
Beatrice shut off the heart monitor. Ashton Marks died at 12:48. No one could say it was anything but a mercy. His life had been over. Let his family breathe easier now.
Nadine found herself looking for him. First she looked inside the ward. Beatrice said he was a regular visitor so she would certainly see him again. Days turned into weeks without a glimpse. She paced the halls at night, ears tuned to the final breathes of her patients. Once, at a glance, she thought she saw him standing at the 11th Street bus stop. She ran over. He had vanished. A young man sat slumped on the bench, his headphones blaring discordant music. Three months later, sitting across from her friend Marcus in Portico, her favorite restaurant, she thought he might have been having coffee with a lady with Renaissance-curled stark white hair. Yet when she looked again, the man sitting across from the woman was corpulent and indulged. Nothing like the man she had seen, even if she could hardly describe him except he might have worn a black Valentino suit and folded his handkerchief to a three point. Once, walking by a playground, she saw him with a little brown skinned girl with a head full of bouncy black curls. The little girl looked right at her, but Death, if it was him, didn’t see. Frozen in that moment, Nadine could only stare. Then they were both gone as if swallowed by the world. She walked the rest of the afternoon in a daze. Death and a little girl?
A year went by. If he came, he never came to her. His memory faded like an oft-handled photograph. Her fevered search became less so. Then, the unexpected.
It had not been raining when she started to work, but by the time she made the I-15, rain poured down. It sheeted until it obscured most of the road and what she could see wobbled drunkenly before her eyes. Nadine hunched over the steering wheel straining to see. Putting her foot on the break, she tried to slow down and hydroplaned into an uncontrolled spin. Another car, going far too fast for the weather, plowed into hers. Her head bounced off the steering wheel. Fiberglass crunched all around her and the driver’s side window shattered showering her with glass. Blood running down her face in crimson rivers, her half aware eyes saw him standing on the side of the road untouched by the rain. Ears ringing Nadine still heard his steps like a softly thudding heartbeat as he moved across the soaked pavement. He reached through the broken window to run his fingers along her face. His touch had no temperature, only pressure. She expected him to be cold.
“No matter how you look for me, my dear, you will never see me coming.”
“Is it time?” The question hung in the air between them as it had between him and so many others.
“No.” He drew back up to his full height becoming a shadow the rain fell through. Red and white lights appeared down the road coming toward her. “Your saviors come. Hold fast to your breath.”
The silver rain washed away the dark figure leaving her gasping for breath alone as the ambulance pulled up on the shoulder.
Death stood back from the accident, but not alone. A little girl stood beside him. He created an umbrella for her, holding it over her curly hair.
“Her time will come.”
“When?” she asked.
“Fate is not something with which I meddle,” he said. “But her time will come as it does for all, Melina. You must understand that.”
He led her away as the paramedics struggled to get Nadine out of her wrecked car. She would not die that day. But her time would come.