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Rated: · Short Story · Gothic · #1347809
A first date which could lead to either Heaven or Hell
The Journal of Jonathan Cubbins

         “To be or not to be,” That isn't the question. It has never been the question. You’re born and you die. The part in the middle is called life and whatever you do to change it, your life is going to keep on moving in the same direction at the same speed. The only difference you might notice is how much of a suntan you get or how much time you want to spend sleeping it away.
         I've been around for a little while and I've learned a few things. Bigfoot, Aliens and Atlantis.... all real. Dogs playing poker, not real. That was never a good idea.

         The year is fifteen eighty something. The play Hamlet just opened at the Globe Theater to the high praises of critics and royalty alike.
          This is the age of enlightenment and the arts are open to all. That's what makes England bearable. Even if you can't get a ticket for the boxes on the second and third tiers, there is always the ground floor. Even a family on a budget, not saying the serfs or anything, but a family on a budget can get in, stand around or sit on the hard wooden benches if you arrive early enough, and laugh at a few good jokes about whatever Willy had decided to throw the way of the “pennylings”, usually about how ugly his wife is or the most comical way of dying, you know, the usual. Most of the time you have to put up with a lot of yammering on about the most recent turns of politics between England and France which is educational and all but what good was it to you if you can't even read music... or a book for that matter, but hidden within the acts, you usually get a good laugh. Oh yeah, there is also usually some pretty good romantic bits, love poems, boy meets girl, boy finds out girl is really boy dressed like girl, boy kills drag queen, drag queens sister who really is a girl shows up to seek vengeance, boy and vengeful sister realize they have more in common that not, fall in love, screw and in the good stories, get married and live happily ever after, or something like that.
         The names are James Cubbins and Elizabeth something, eventually to be Cubbins. Common folk. Their families are not wealthy, but have enough money so that their children won't have to be sold of into servitude. They live in the bustling metropolis of London. The Cubbins' dealt in horses. Not their own horses, but the Lord of something unimportant's horses. They had done so for at least three generations and have amassed a little bit of a savings. The thing about England at this time is that if you didn't have a Lord or Earl or some other title in front of you name, it's tough to get ahead of someone who does.
         Three generations later, the Cubbins' have a modest stables in downtown London, a regular clientele, their own supplier for feed, supplies and a excellent business relation which had gone on for some forty of fifty years with a family of blacksmiths for shoeing the animals, but not their own horses. Sometimes, it's just tough to get ahead.
         They had bought a stables in London proper after Abner, David's father's father had died, which had impressed not only the Lord (not the dying part but the financial leap part) who they worked for. It also impressed a few of the other families who they attended church with and, when not at church,  were social with, when there was any free time, which for the working family was not much.
         The only real free time they had was all day Sunday when they attended about three hours of Church service in the morning and usually about three hours at night. That will eat up a Sunday pretty quick, but at the same point, Master Cubbins would get to talk business with Lord whoever and Young master James Cubbins got to talk to Young Lady Elizabeth something. Church, good for business, good for the soul and good for checking out hot chicks. Now, just saying, if attendance wasn't one of those things that was expected socially, politically, religiously and a whole bunch of other ly's, young Jim probably would have gone none the less, for the hot chicks part. Well, one in particular.
         The only problem with the church was that the priest wasn't blind. No, that didn't come out right. The priest wasn't ..... blind, well, maybe it did. From the front of the congregation, he could look out and see who was talking to who and who was making eyes at who and who was putting money in the dish and he kept a checklist of ever one of these things.
         “Jimmy,” said his father to him for the third time, “You know your going to hell for your lustful and lascivious thoughts concerning that Elizabeth girl.”
“Were those his words exactly dad?” Jim asked as he picked up another bail of hay to load into the wheel barrow.
“Well, there may have been another L word in there, I can't remember now, but he doesn't want to have to excommunicate you.” Jim had to stop his work for a second, wipe his brow and figure out the logic of this argument.
“All right. Now I'm already going to hell for talking to this girl.”
“No, your going to hell for what your thinking when you talk to her.”
“All right, got it. Three times.”
“Thinking three times?”
“No, hell three times.”
“Right, you’re going to hell three times.”
“For what I'm thinking.”
         Jim went over to grab another bail of hay. “But now, I, who am destined for hell three times over, might get excommunicated from the church.”
“Right.” Jim looked at his father with a look so obviously insulting to the canon of the COE that his father couldn't help but crack a smile. “They don't want to kick you out Jim.”
“Well duh. They've got me slated for hell again,”
“A third time.”
“Right, a third time but they don't want me to leave the church.”
“It's a money thing.”
“Ten percent of a saddle scrubber’s wages?”
         “Have you ever seen a priest turn down a penny?” Jim had to laugh at this.
“So what you’re saying is that no matter how many times I'm destined for hell or how many times they plan to excommunicate me, they won't because of my two pennies.”
His father smiled. “And that's why the Cubbins own their own stables. Because we understand the way money works. Now if we only understood the way women work...” This last line was more of an aside he said to himself as he turned around and began back to the stairs which led to the house above the stalls.
         “Dad?” His father paused.
“Hmm?” “How many more times do you think I'll go to hell if I ask Elizabeth to go to a play with me?”
“Hmm?” His father held up his hand and started counting on his fingers. “So the priest says that if you talk to this Elizabeth girl, you'll go to hell?”
“If I think L words about her.”
“Oh yeah, that's what he said.”
“He said that three times?”
“And then the whole excommunication thing.”
“Oh, yeah.” By this time his father was on his second hand. “So, let me get this straight. The priest says don't talk to her or you'll go to hell...”
“Three times”
“three times, and be excommunicated.”
“So you're going to ask her out?”
“That's the long and short of it.”
“I only have ten fingers boy, but if you want to take her to a show, I can't stop you.” With a nod and a smile, Jim went back to the stack of bails and grabbed another.

         The moon was full, unusually full and unusually large that night, David didn't know if it was a sign or an omen but everything that followed would be.
         He felt sorry for the animal. He had never liked spurs and he was pretty sure that the horses didn't like them either. The fact that the royals only used them for status helped neither his plight nor the horses. The fact that the longer and sharper, the better, down right hurt it. It was not until they had been traveling for some time that he noticed the damage the Earl's spur had done to the English Black, but as of now it was bleeding from the flank and because Jim hadn't noticed the depth of the wound, he hadn't stopped to give it time to heal.
         “We have to stop. I can't let this go on. Damn him. That's why I hate royals. Pompous and they have no concern.” Elizabeth who had had a wonderful time with him all that day was now feeling his pains and remorse, but also had all of the manners and training of a proper English lady.
“Don't let them hear you say that.”
“No, I wouldn't be that stupid. We might end up being invited to dinner and fed poisoned wine and stabbed with poisoned blades.” Elizabeth and James both laughed at this, but he was only making light because of his deeper worry. Jim walked to the side of the black horse and looked closer at the gaping hole. “I could put my entire pinkie up in there. He didn't have to use those knifes on his heels. He deserved to be thrown.” Jim rubbed the mount’s side gently and spoke comforting words but knew that the animal was in pain. “Well, what are we to do now?”
         Jim looked at the moon as it sat heavy in the sky just above the horizon. “I can't say we should go on and my father wouldn't either. I say we find a place where the horse can get a meal and all three of us can get a good rest. I know a tavern where we could spend the night.” Elizabeth looked concerned but knew that her family was not expecting to see her until tomorrow morning in church. Her only option was to trust Jim, and, honestly, she did. Jim was speaking as innocently as any work hand could. This was made all the more clear seeing that his mind was on nothing but the horse's well being.
         “You know, whenever one of Master Shakespeare's plays open, we never have any free room.” James was already taking out his purse when the inn keeper interrupted him. “It's not about money lad. Everything is booked up except the stables and...” As soon as he said this the inn keeper realized his mistake. “I don't like the idea. I don't like it.” Jim said nothing but instead just raised his right hand which was smeared with blood from halfway up the forearm to the fingertips. There was a second in which the innkeeper had to fight with his own conscious. “Is she really that bad?” Jim cast him a look that would have melted winter snow.
“He is. I wouldn't even be asking in I thought he could go on.” Again the pause.
“Damn. Fine. Six pennies and he can eat all the hay he needs. I'll also have a stable hand bring out some dressings within the half an hour.” Jim said nothing but simply paid the fellow and, taking Elizabeth by the elbow, walked back out of the crowded inn and out to the stables.
         The inn keeper was truer than his word for within fifteen minutes he had sent out a large clean rag for dressing and also a bowl of potato stew.
         This is where things began to get weird. Not sure if it was something in the stew or the hour of night or just the pure combination of ironic fortune and misfortune that had struck them that day, Jim's mind began to play tricks on him. Kneeling next to the horse’s side, the wound was still bleeding but not as badly as before due to the scab that was forming. Elizabeth, behind him, had torn the rag into two and was prepared to help in any way she could. Even without light, Jim could clearly see from the light of the full moon which was rising directly into clear view above the buildings on the far side of the street and shining into the open doorway. With his face as close as it was to the laceration, he could smell the blood and this also affected his mind's workings.
         “Oh, I can tell a hawk from a handsaw.” David had to turn his head to face Elizabeth. “What did you say?” She was surprised as well as on edge not being used to being in stables and was not expecting this.
“No. I... Did you hear something?”
“It must have been the horses.” He turned his head back to the wound, but he knew something was wrong. Something was rotten in the state of London stables. He extended his hand back to Elizabeth which she quickly put a torn piece of bandage in. Again, the smell of the blood. Turning it's head back to look at him, the horse eyes pierced him. Jim knew the animal was looking directly at him and looking with intent. “Alas, poor James, I knew him, Elizabeth.” His eyes widened as the horse returned it's gaze forward again.
It was the play, the show they had seen. “Liz,” he whispered to her, sounding distant, as he reached up and touched the wound, “What do you remember from the show today?”
         Taken off guard, Elizabeth was more than pleased to think on something a little more light hearted than their present situation. “Oh, most of it really. When he saw the ghost of his father, that was well done as well as most of the fighting bits. I feel sorry for the girl though, Ophelia. He drove her mad enough to drowned herself.” Just now, and for some reason unknown to him, the wound had begun to bleed, and bleed heavily. His fingers were dripping with the blood of the English Black Horse and he was staring at his hand in the moonlight only inches away from his nose. The smell. “Where was the prince when she drowned?”
“Hmmm, wasn't he on his way to England from Denmark, or was he in the graveyard?”
“To be or not to be. That was what he asked.” Without a thought, his fingers were in his mouth and he was sucking the crimson blood from them in gulps. “Whether tis' nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or...” Then it began to fade. He couldn't honestly remember the words clearly but knew their true meaning.
         Shaking his head to clear it as much as he could, he quickly tied the bandages around the wound, but not before, once again, covering his hand with the still hot blood of the animal. Standing up and turning around to face Elizabeth, she looked at him with a soft smile. “Oh James, you have something on your face.” Before she could begin a search for a handkerchief to wipe it away, Jim raised his hand to her mouth. She was shocked but quickly realized what she was supposed to do.  Wrapping her hands around his wrist and closing her eyes, she sucked the blood from his fingers until there was none remaining.         
         When she opened her eyes, he was looking at her with eyes as black as the raven steed he had just bandaged. She wasn't sure if the color of his eyes was a trick of the moonlight but when he leaned into kiss her, see was certain that this was not. Standing and embracing for what must have been a full quarter hour, their two crimson stained faces never breaking contact, the howls from the tavern and the quiet whinnies from the horses created the night for them. Finally parting their heads, the pair of them looked directly into each others souls. James took her hand and led her to the ladder which led to the upper hay loft. Elizabeth ascended, quickly followed by James. That was where and when James Cubbins and Elizabeth something (soon to be Cubbins) gave their virgin bodies ands souls to each other. Under the light of a full moon, in the hayloft of a roaring London tavern under the influence of the blood of a raven colored steed. And yes, that's when I first made my appearance.
         Odd. From what I've been told by others, that's not usually the way it works. I was born about nine months later; we'll get to that in a minute. As of now, I think you can see where this is going.
         “What do you mean you're pregnant!?!....”
“I'll go get the priest!”
“You know your going to hell for this, both of you, and this time, I mean it!”
“I now pronounce you man and wife.”

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