The first encounter
A setting sun, the death of a day. And after night comes to perish, the sun sets out again. A rebirth of sorts...
Some stars were bright and luminous, some just a flickering light on a dark canvas. A few clouds stretched thinly here and there through the vast dark sky while a breeze wheeled them around. Sounds of the forest weren't as loud as in the daytime, still, a slight rustle, a low tap, all of those were a part of the forest shrouded in darkness.
She kept staring into the night, hoping moon would show itself on the side of the horizon seen from her window. But it didn't. The moon wouldn't flash its blemished face today. While connecting the stars almost like dots, something flickered in the periphery of her vision.
Movement. She turned her head towards the motion, squinting into murkiness, trying to locate whatever it was. There! On the old macadam road. A man or a boy, lugging an archaic cart? Why would anyone haul something so old? It seemed he didn't care the cart was bigger and obviously heavier than him, he kept pulling it incessantly almost like he had to do it. It was weird, seeing it in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere where her house stood.
He would pull, then stop. Pull, stop. And again.
Moonlight shone right on him from somewhere behind her house. Such brightness gave him a glow among shadows. Almost as if he was an apparition. His head turned toward the moon, consequently towards her, she finally saw his face. A young face. Not much older than hers, if not younger. But the look in his eyes seemed older, much older than anything she had ever seen to this day. He stopped. No more pulling. Totally motionless, observing that white splotch in the sky as if he was waiting for something. She was lulled by his appearance, watching him shining nearly as the moon itself.
And that was when it happened. A beast. A beast appearing in the night, jumping from his blind spot.
"Watch out!" She heard a shout, then realized it was her who yelled.
It was a female voice that prompted him to move, leaving the cart and slamming into the beast, hitting it with his right hand.
All the time the beast was present, it didn't release even the slightest sound. Like it didn't exist at all. Even when he hit it when the beast started fading away from the moonlight. No reverberation.
After the beast disappeared, he turned to look directly at her. Standing motionless again, just looking. Uncomfortable would be the right description. She felt uncomfortable while pinned by his stare. It seemed like an hour passed. But in reality, it was just 10 seconds before he smiled.
"Thank you." With that, he turned away and grabbed his cart.
Pull. Stop. Pull. Stop...
The second encounter
A strident whistling made a cacophony of sounds. Swish here, whoosh there, hiss and rustle. Peace broken by the wind blowing through trees and unoccupied space. It was dark, darker than usual. Clouds made a thin membrane over the light of the moon. Fortunately, one might encounter a star shining if they wait long enough for clouds to move and make way.
Loneliness was driven away during night-time, the sky and darkness, stars and the moon, her everlasting friends.
A cloud guarding the moon migrated to the west, letting a pale light flash on a landscape. Pastel illumination bathed lonely, old oak standing among other trees at the beginning of the forest, always alone being only of its kind there. To her, it seemed that the oak was old as time itself. But to be honest, she only had that notion because it stood there longer than she could remember. The strength and beauty, alone in the night. Its branches graciously spread out as if the oak was a king of the forest.
During daylight, colors bloomed, however, at this time when darkness engulfs the land, only hues of grey dominated a horizon. Those same hues of grey turned her blond hair into silvery strings, dancing in the wind, unfurling in all directions.
She closed her eyes after dark engulfed the oak, enjoying peace of gentle wind blowing through her hair until it quickened again.
Then she heard it. Pull. Stop. Pull. Stop.
She was startled so much, she stumbled after jumping slightly and catching her feet on things placed on the floor by the window.
He is here again. She thought even though she couldn't see him anywhere near. Where...?
Pull. Stop. Pull. Stop. The sounds of motion continued through the night. Finally, he was there. She wanted to see him again after that night. Curious more than she should be. Unfortunately for her, clouds seemed to work against her. She could see a faint outline of a person and something bigger nearing the oak, to see more clearly, she would need more light. This was the first time she longed for darkness to turn into light. A very peculiar reaction considering she favored the night more than any existing light and color.
"Hello." Silence. He stopped. No answer. Just as she thought he would ignore her, he turned to her, along with moonlight appearing on that very spot he was standing at, surrounding him with a glow that seemed too bright, too unnatural. Once more, he just stood there, no answer. Whether because he didn't want to speak or he didn't know what to say, she couldn't say.
"You can see me." No greeting, just a statement. With that, he turned to where he was going and continued. Pull. Stop.
The light was slowly abating, indicating more clouds chased the moon. And she was restless, she wanted to speak with him, but he was being swallowed by a tinted night.
"Wait!" she said before even thinking about it, she knew she wanted to know more. Looking at his back disappearing into distance and night.
"Be careful what you wish for, 'cause it may come true." Warned the voice that thanked her on the night of their first encounter. After that, when she couldn't see him anymore, only sounds of him pulling that cart could be heard.
Pull. Stop. Pull. Stop...
The third encounter
Each night, she would wait, sometimes basking in the moonlight, sometimes enjoying the wind ruffle her blond strands. He would appear, and then he wouldn't, it was a gamble.
This night she awaited again while a rain poured down, saturating the soil, forming puddles. The sky was dark, moonlight absent since the moon failed to penetrate thick, grey, cloudy coat.
For her, that was the description of a relaxing night. Not this time, not in the least. She was feeling restless. She waited. Awaited him to show up. Why? She wasn't sure. Maybe the loneliness was too much...and maybe...it is just plain old curiosity. She pondered that idea in her head, trying to understand herself, no matter how she put it, just enjoying the night should be enough as it always was. Maybe she was changing and that explained her newfound curiosity.
A few weeks passed since they interacted. A handful of nights she saw him in the distance, every time either he would be too far away to call out to him, or the weather wouldn't let her be heard through a racket of the sounds it made.
Just as she had made up her mind – next time she sees him, she would go after him – she heard something. There he was, beyond the old oak, pulling the already familiar cart behind him. This was her chance. Not even the rain would stop her this time.
She struggled to withstand the heavy rain while running across the slippery mud. Drops ran freely over her drenched body but she didn't stop.
"Hey, wait!" he turned towards her, his face as impassive as it could be. "Can I ask you a question?" she inquired when she stopped about 10 meters from him.
A slight shift in his eyes could be just part of her imagination. After long fifteen seconds of silence, he finally opened his mouth.
"Why?" he demanded coldly.
"Curiosity killed the cat." He deadpanned.
"This cat still has 8 lives left." His eyebrows rose in disbelief and slight amusement. "So, what do you say? Answering a few questions shouldn't be hard." Her voice shook with excitement.
Oh, how he longed for company. Always alone, wandering aimlessly during the night. But it was too dicey. The beasts of the afterlife were after him. He shouldn't stop. He shouldn't answer her questions. And he certainly shouldn't speak with someone who can see him without him having knowledge why is that even possible.
In all of his miserable existence, no one was able to see him. No one was able to hear his questions. No one was able to answer even though he was desperate for answers. And even though they couldn't see them, no one managed to survive being touched by beasts of the afterlife. Even when he listed the reasons why he shouldn't, something wouldn't let him.
"Hmm..." he started speaking, but then he heard a very familiar howl, meaning that he was being pursued. That was when he decided.
"Tomorrow, the same time as today." He gave her another long look and turned to his original destination.
She was left standing in the rain, listening to the soothing sound of him moving away.
Pull. Stop. Pull. Stop...
The fourth encounter
Tomorrow didn't come as slow as one would expect. She had a goal in mind, she waited long enough to make it a reality, a few more hours wouldn't make a difference.
The weather was nice, almost as if her restlessness vanishing kept clouds and wind that lashed out the area last few days at bay. She didn't give much attention to it. No, excitement filled her whole being.
He will be there.
A slight breeze felt divine now when nights began warming up. The moon was full again, finally able to penetrate clouds and coat the land with a silvery glow. Even though it was dark, it was also bright. A perfect combination of opposites existing together at the same time.
A walk around a field in front of her house soothed her crazy heartbeat. The excitement was still present but not to the point of making her nervous, not anymore at least. She wanted to solve the mystery that shrouded 'the boy with the cart'. Yeah, right! Don't make excuses for wanting to make a friend. If she wanted to approach this subject carefully she had to acknowledge what was buried deep in her heart and mind - a desire for the company - and that meant berating herself for being a coward for not confronting her fear of rejection head-on. She would be brave. The night was her first friend and the night would guide her through it.
Shrouded deep in the cover of the forest, he observed. Should he just waltz in front of her or not? Mulling over it would get him nowhere. He took the first step through the macadam road towards the tree line bordering with the grassy area.
The well-known sound of him approaching reached her ears. She was aware he was behind her, coming closer second by second. The sound stopped, and she turned around to look at him. When their gazes met, for a moment, the time stood still.
Without the cover of clouds, moonlight gleamed in his eyes, giving him ethereal appearance. She took her fill watching him, unconsciously being pulled to him.
While they studied each other, his mind was filled with uncertainties – why can she see me?... is this a trap?... the beasts hadn't shown themselves, where are they? ... then he got pulled from his thoughts by a question he didn't hear.
"Sorry, I was deep in my thoughts. Can you repeat that?" he spoke, blinking and concentrating on the person in front of him.
"What is your name?" she repeated. She couldn't just continue calling him 'the boy with a cart', now could she?
He contemplated - should he answer or not?
She thought he won't answer after a minute of silence.
"Duncan." It startled her when he suddenly started speaking. "People called me Duncan."
Called him? Nevermind. She saved that info for later.
"I'm Caroline." She offered with a smile.
"Caroline." He said absentmindedly, feeling syllables on his tongue. This was the first time in his wretched existence he learned someone's name. Abruptly, his eyes raised to hers, his demeanor changed.
"How it is possible for you to see me?" He asked, prepared for something to happen.
"Huh? See you? Why wouldn't I see...you?" then she remembered. "What is granny doing in the corner of the room?" The question that made her family scared of her. She remembered the time when she was three years old, her grandmother had just died, and she asked her mother that question during the funeral. Oh, shit! She thought that was behind her.
"It can't be..." he took in the changes of her facial expressions, from surprised through frightened to determined. She looked beautiful like that, her eyes narrowed while the breeze gently tousling her silvery hair.
"You are not from the world of the living." Not a question, a statement.
"Indeed. You are correct." He took some time to gather his thoughts. "That's why I don't understand. No one could see me before or hear me for that matter. How do you even know that?"
"I-I don't know. I just know that I can see those like you...sometimes." answering that was tough, her eyes somehow looked through him, became unfocused.
"And the beasts?" she whipped her eyes back at him. That beast the first time she saw him. Ugly and deformed, just waiting to pounce.
Just as she wanted to answer, the howl reverberated through the forest. They both turned towards the old oak and saw it...
The final encounter
There was a shift in the air – a storm was rising. An indication of impending conflict. The wind sprang up in a matter of moment, clouds appeared on the horizon as if they were pulled towards them. Soon, thunder and lightning could be heard and seen. The storm was here.
Caroline and Duncan stood in the clearing while the beast was approaching from the direction of the old oak. But the beast wasn't alone. A figure was walking beside it. A dark cloak hiding whoever it was. Duncan took a step ahead of Caroline, unconsciously shielding her.
"Come with me!" a deep voice echoed through the clearing, only one who could have said it was a mysterious man, hidden under a black cloth.
"I'm pretty sure one shouldn't go with creepy people anywhere. No matter how convincing or unconvincing they sound." Caroline was one to break the silence, sarcasm and annoyance broke through her fear.
"Mutineer, you evaded me long enough. It is time." The veiled figure ignored her.
"Who speaks like that, anyway? Politeness is clearly overrated..." she muttered while trying to understand what was going on.
Duncan was standing still, awaiting the Reaper's next move. He was aware of just who the being standing in front of them was but didn't know its' abilities. I must protect her. She can't end up like everyone else. "If I go with you, will you leave her alone?"
Caroline stopped observing the weird man and stared at Duncan with wide eyes. "W-what are you saying?" she asked with a small voice. He couldn't be doing what I think he is. No!
"No harm shall befall the soul-seer." Soul-seer? That explained why she could see him. Doesn't matter now. It was enough for Duncan. He could go in peace. He delayed the inevitable long enough. It really was the time just like the Reaper said. Just as Duncan resigned himself to his destiny, Caroline spoke up.
"Wait! I want to know what's going on. You, cloak guy. Spill the beans." She seemed determined, even the Reaper couldn't feel the fright in her anymore. He tilted his head and watched her. Although, the only indication of giving his attention to her was the slightest shift of his body since the hood which was part of the cape concealed his features in darkness. Very soon he nodded once, confirming something to himself.
"This soul needs to go. It is time." He stated.
"That doesn't tell me anything, try again." Caroline wasn't budging, she wanted to know why her new friend – her only friend – has to go.
Maybe it was the wind, and maybe the Reaper did it on purpose. The hood fell. In place of his eyes were black holes, though his face seemed young and maybe handsome – if he had eyes, that was.
The stillness was profound.
It seemed like he was thinking, but one couldn't be sure for the unnatural calmness he stood facing the two humans. "If I appease your thirst for knowledge, will you work for me? That is my offer." She couldn't distinguish if he was looking at her or not. It seemed frightening. I can't let the fear stop me.
"Caroline, you can't-" Duncan started anxiously but was soon interrupted. "I agree to your terms. I shall offer you my services as much as it is in my power to do." She even bowed to the man.
Duncan couldn't believe it, someone going so far for him. Without even knowing what they consented to.
The reaper stood motionless as he did up to that point, contemplating her sincerity. "Soul-seer, I will give you answers to your questions." He paused and glanced – if that could be considered a glance – at the soul he was chasing, "You have to go with me because you are not complete. You are complete neither here nor in the world of the living."
"What does that mean?" Caroline didn't wait for Duncan to interrupt, narrowing her eyes as she continued with her questions.
"He was reborn, but as it is, only half of his soul went." The reaper continued in that flat voice as if he didn't have any other.
"That would mean the other half is the one here, right?" She looked over at Duncan, "If he – this part of him – goes with you, what will happen?" she asked.
"Nothing. His soul will become complete."
"Fine." She turned towards Duncan with a sad smile gracing her features, "Go. Your other half is waiting for you."
The realization that he couldn't run anymore was heavy. His body felt heavy. And then he grabbed his cart and went.
While walking away, he became more and more transparent. Until he disappeared.
Before it happened, he turned back and gave her one last look.
She could still hear it in the wind, the sound she both loved and hated.
Pull, stop. Pull, stop...
Epilogue: The new encounter
Andrew Duncan Mahroler – named after his great-great-great uncle who died honorably in battle, as much as peasant can die honorably while protecting villagers from bandits while hauling a cart full of whey – woke up with memories he shouldn't have had.
What puzzled him greatly was the fact that his sickly body was feeling refreshed. Ever since he could remember he was sick. Always sick. Today, he wasn't sick anymore. And the dream he had was scary. Reaper, beasts of the underworld, and her... I need to find her! With that thought circling his mind, he jumped out of the bed that was his companion through the life of a person ravaged by diseases.
I moved without pain. No! I jumped. The realization was astounding. He couldn't remember ever moving this fast or moving with no problem at all. His body was normal. He laughed. Not a cynical laugh that regularly parted from his mouth. No, a real laugh filled with happiness. I can't believe it.
The more he tried to remember the more he understood. The sickness, the half soul missing. Oh, how stupid was that part of his soul. He could have been complete a long time ago, not being bed-ridden and weak. But then you wouldn't have met her, a little voice in his head whispered. He sighed. I need to find her...to thank her.
After making his mind, he started doing preparations for a journey. Finally, able to walk normally he was elated for the first trip in his life that didn't include a ride to a hospital.
*in the middle of nowhere – as someone called it recently*
Caroline was sitting at the window waiting for the Reaper to appear. The sun was shining brightly, but that was the time of the day when the servant of death preferred to appear. Once she asked him why and he answered, "I like how the sun reflects in your hair." Since that day she started tying her hair, so it wouldn't attract much attention, sometimes even wearing a hat. She didn't need a guy creepy as him following her because of her blond hair. Nope, she could live without that.
The day was boring as any other. Ever since he disappeared, she was lonely and bored. Yes, the Reaper was a fascinating creature, but interest can last only so far. It has been two months...8 weeks and two days to be exact. Restlessness settled in her bones, but nothing changed, nothing at all. Until...
The car swerved on the macadam road, arriving at the clearing. She frowned. Who could that be? People didn't usually visit this in-the-middle-of-nowhere place, especially not in a fancy car – something akin to a limousine - that would end up with bumps and bruises after the trip through the forest.
The silver color of a car shined brightly on sun rays, it stopped relatively close to her house, but she couldn't see through the tinted window from the window board she sat at.
The door on the driver's side opened and slowly, a man came out. He was about 6 ft tall, lean and willowy, as far as she could see. Dark blond hair was tousled messily and falling along his face. He still didn't turn towards her, and she waited, and waited, all the while feeling restless. Finally, after what seemed to be ages passing, he trotted along the path to a veranda in front of the window.
No way... that face... Duncan!
He caught widening of her eyes in a surprised manner, realizing she recognized at least part of him. Or she could be smitten by my good looks. A part of his mind supplied vainly. Oh, goodness gracious! I shouldn't be thinking like an idiot.
"Hello." She only got the 'hello', very similar to how Duncan acted, expressing himself with just a few words. But the voice was different, less gruff and more youngish.
That was not him, she thought at the second glance. Then she realized, the one she had met was only part of the soul. He could be a completely different person as a reborn one.
"H-hello." A stutter and a squeak made her self-conscious. That feeling was doused by the smile stretching across his face.
"So, you actually exist, that wasn't my imagination getting the better over me." A slight chuckle followed. "Oh, yeah. Almost forgot. How to put it? Um..." he sheepishly scratched his neck trying to find words. "Let's just say that in this life, I'm called Andrew, but Duncan is my middle name, so you choose whichever you prefer..." he trailed off weakly, not sure if he was talking too much. His usual interactions with others were so meager that he wasn't certain how to communicate with people his age.
She finally found her voice. "I'm fine with either. It's your name. What do you prefer?"
He exhaled. "Ok, so, we're both being awkward, that actually makes me feel better." A resolute expression entered his face. "Andrew, I prefer Andrew. Considering I'm me, and not him. Still, I kind of know you, but not. However, I want to get to know you, here and now, not just through his memories. Does that even make sense?" he knew he was talking too much, though he was past caring, just hoping she would understand.
During his speech, Caroline jumped from the window and, when he finished, started walking in his direction. She stopped right in front of him and gave a shy smile that will be carved in his memory until the day he dies.
"Let's start over. I'm Caroline, it's nice to meet you, Andrew." She put out her right hand for a handshake. A handshake which sealed their friendship.
"Caroline, dear, it is my pleasure."