Saveri Bolsinar cringed at the thought. “But, I’ve been here all night. Struggling to sleep, yes, thrashing the sheets, and in the end, tossing them to the floor. But here. Not out… there.” He shuffled to the window, bent down to inspect the sill. “No,” he breathed, his sallow pallor fading to a sickly candle-wax yellow. Marks, as if from a clawed beast, showed clearly, slashed deep into the wood. He peer out upon the slate shingled roof that angled steeply down from his gabled window. Long scratches, parallel lines tracing far down the rooftop, signs that something had slid headlong down and over the edge.
He twisted his neck searching for the gargoyles that lined the parapet of the gothic castle. With his motion came a wrenching pain. He unbuttoned his nightshirt, “At least my clothing confirms my nighttime vigil.” He examined his pale chest and throat in the faded mirror above the dresser, its silver backing cracked and filigreed. He ran his hand over, not one but three pockmarks that he’d never seen before. “These look like, like bullet wounds.” He reached over his shoulder and found matching holes for two of the wounds. “How…?”
“Vianna!” He strode to the large oiled door and wrenched it open. “Vianna, where are you?” He padded barefoot down the arched hallway, blood-red carpets, showing hunting scenes, men with spears thrusting their points deep into the chests of harts, wolves and bears alike, softened his steps. At Vianna’s door he pounded violently. He let his bewilderment twist his mind—flashes of memories pummeled his mind: blinding streaks of lightening, bone-crushing rumbles of thunder and all the while, torrents of rain streaking down his body, his outstretched w…
“Saveri? What is it, my love?” Vianna stood, her face lifted in supplication, her eyes dripping concern. She went to touch his bare chest but pulled back at the sight of the wide, dimpled scars. “Where… Have you always had those, Saveri?”
“Of course not,” he snapped. “What happened last night? Has the steward made his rounds, yet?”
“It is only just dawn,” she said, meekly. At his tone, she stepped back, pulled her gauzy robe close around her chest. She gave a shudder at his wild look, the mad glare in his eyes. “The place is only just waking.”
At the sight of her tremulous countenance Saveri dipped his chin, relaxed his shoulders and pulled his own nightshirt closed. “Christ, Vianna. I’m sorry. I’ve given you a fright.” He looked past her into her room, its decor, that of rounded shapes and corners, pastel colors—its very presence giving ease to his tension. “May I come in and sit, just for a minute?”
Vianna’s brows arched. She leaned forward and made a cursory glance up and down the hall. “Hmm, yes. Alright. Of course.” She turned, walked to her dressing table and sat on its burgundy cushioned stool rather than on the bed in an obvious defensive tactic, not lost on Saveri.
He closed the door behind him, its loud click causing her to twitch. “The night. It’s undone my mind. I just need to hear your voice.” He regained his own confident demeanor. “Feel your own sweet touch upon my cheek.”
“The night?” Her voice grew strong. “What of it?” She canted her nose up with her query.
Saveri narrowed his focus. He looked about the room, his eyes drawn to the window. To the window’s sill. It showed blatant abuse by a beast. One similar to his own, one that showed little regard to the damage its claws might do to the wood, had already been done to the wood.
He rose, walked over and repeated the inspection of the marks. “My room shares an equal demonstration of, well, demons, I suspect.”
“Don’t be silly, Saveri. If there be demons, they be only in our imagination.” The corners of her mouth lifted in the mildest of smiles, a betrayal of her own thoughts, he imagined.
“Yes,” Saveri replied. He turned from the window, walked up to her, lifted her hand and placed her palm against his temple. “That is indeed what I fear.”
Her sternness melted, but only for a moment. She slipped her hand from his, and patted his cheek. “What you need is a hearty meal. It’s your complexion that belies your own trepidation. Look at you, you’re ashen as a corpse.”
He let his eyes drift to her wardrobe. What appeared to be smudges of dirt trailed up to its doors, footprints made by no creature he could identify. Striding quickly to the tall oaken cabinet he yanked the double doors open. The rich smell of earth and the pungent odor of iron and rot assaulted his nose.
“Oh, don’t, Saveri.” Vianna rushed to close the bureau, but he blocked her efforts.
Inside hung the shredded ribbons of the evening gown she’d worn to the gathering the night before. Alongside it, the equally ruined remains of her evening cloak, the royal blue one that drew out her eyes.
“I don’t understand.” He let his arms fall to his sides and backed away to sit heavily upon the canopied bed. “These wounds of mine. The scratch marks. And now this, remnants of some ravaging, upon you or by… And you, you wish to hide it from me?”
Vianna’s smile widened and the slits of her sapphire eyes glowed. “We are saved, my love. We are… reborn.”
“As… As what?” Saveri’s face twisted as realization bloomed within him. A miasma of anxiety and horror swam across his features. “Do not tell me…”
“We are the evolution of mankind. Homo Diabolus, The Undying Man.”
“Time’s up, Mr. Crawley,” the hooded specter announced, its voice booming across the landscape.
Crawley’s eyes jerked up from the dark soil where his hands had been clumsily searching for the last of the potatoes. “What?” He squinted, attempting to focus on the obscure outline of his visitor. “Oh, it’s you.” Crawley lifted a large dirt-covered orb. “Ah, there you are. Knew there was one more.”
“Me?” breathed the apparition. “You’ve mistaken me for someone else.”
“Mmm, I don’t think so. You’re Death, am I right? We made a deal, a month ago, you said you’d give me a year. And, by my calculations, I’ve still got the lion’s share of it left.”
The phantom shook his cowl from side to side, the sound a whisper of dead leaves. “I see your mistake.”
“No mistake.” Crawley unbent his knees and pushed himself straight, groaning and wheezing. “We shook on it. You’d give me another year if I’d dedicate my life to good deeds.” With that, Crawley waved his arms about the vast garden. “I’m growing food for the poor. Teaching ‘em how to do it for when I’m gone.”
“Your mistake is that you think I am Death.”
“Of course you’re Death.”
The wraith lifted its arms to the folds of its hood and peeled it back revealing a crimson-colored demon’s head: horns, spiked ears, forked tongue and all. “I would be the Devil. I’ve purchased your contract. It’s November 31st, The Devil’s Day, and I’ve come for your soul.”