Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1992036-The-Promise
by JTown
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #1992036
Is it possible to stop death from claiming a life?
I’m telling you this more as a warning than as an account of what got me to where I am now. As a way to help you avoid the same fate that I cursed myself with.

I was twenty when it happened. Twenty years old when we first met. My cousin was moving to another town and my fiancé and I offered to help.

The trip was a long one, we were moving her, along with her possessions, across the state. It was the middle of summer and that meant we had to contend with the heat and dust the road brings. By the time we arrived at our destination we were exhausted, all we had the strength to do was unload the wagon, everything else, arranging the furniture, waiting for her to decide what went where, then change her mind and tell us to put it over there, would have to wait. For now, it was unload and settle in for the night.

My cousin was renting a room from an acquaintance who owned a large, old house. The renter was kind enough to provide my fiancé and myself with a room of our own at no addition charge. It was in the basement and that was probably the reason why it came so cheap. It had no windows and was only accessible by a flight of skinny, wooden, none to safe stairs. Its location kept it separate from the rest of the house and the tenets that were staying there. Simply put, it was the least inviting room in the residence, but the cost was right so we gratefully accepted.

It was small, bordering on cozy, with a desk, chair and bed large enough for two. The lack of windows meant two things: one, there was no cool air circulating through it and two, when the light was out it was pitch black. If you were to close your eyes you would get an idea of just how dark it was.

Once we were settled we wasted no time putting out the lamp and going to sleep.

It was midnight when I was awakened. My fiancé was talking in her sleep, something she had never done before, or at least something I had never noticed, and even though I was exhausted my curiosity won out and I started to listen.

She was talking in a child’s voice, I could tell it was hers, but it was her at a very young age. She was happy. It was her birthday and she had just gotten a doll as a present. She had given it a name and was singing it a lullaby, claiming it as her favorite over all the other gifts she had received. It was a happy time for her, I could hear it in her voice.

Without warning her voice changed. She was older by a few years, playing with a puppy named Tippy.

Again she aged. This time she was climbing a tree against her parent’s wishes. She was high up, higher than she planned to go and was scared, though she wouldn’t let anyone, especially her older brothers who egged her on, know. She reached for a branch and it gave out under her weight dropping her to the ground. The fall hurt her arm, she had shown me the scar shortly after we met and told me the story about how she got it. It was the same story that I was listening to now.

A thought entered my mind, something I heard years earlier, that when a person dies their life passes before their eyes. Everything they did, all that they experienced, from birth to the moment of their death was there for them to see. The thought terrified me. What if it was true? What if you did see your life pass before your eyes at the moment of death? The good times as well as the bad? The smiles and the hard aches? What if that’s what was happening now?

She was growing up before my ears. Getting older and older as I listened. At this pace she would soon be to the point where we first met, then finally… I didn’t want to think where that might lead, but still I listened.

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and she was out riding her horse. She was talking about spying a new boy the previous week and was hoping that she might instigate an accidental meeting. I immediately knew who she was talking about, it was me, it was the day we met. I was horseback riding when I came upon her at a stream. She had stopped to let her animal rest, get a drink and cool down. When she turned her attention to see who was approaching, it broke free and left her stranded. I knew it wasn’t my fault, she hadn’t secured the reigns properly, but I still felt somewhat guilty, or maybe I just saw it as an opportunity to get to know her better, either way we shared my mount back to her home where we found hers patiently waiting to be fed, brushed and penned up. As she recounted the meeting she confessed to deliberately leaving the reigns loose so that it might escape leaving me to be the hero. Her confession made me smile.

A feeling came over me, one that reinforced my thought of earlier. If the dream were to end, if she were to catch up to where we were now, if she were to verbalize this moment she would die. I had no doubt of it.

I immediately woke her, shaking her until she angrily assured me she was awake.

“What’s wrong?” she demanded, both frightened and annoyed. “What is it?”

“You were talking in your sleep,” I explained, trying to mask my concern. “I…, I couldn’t sleep. You were keeping me up.”

I wasn’t lying, not really, her stories were keeping me up, but not for the reason given.

“That’s it?” she answered, glaring at me in the dark. I could feel her eyes scolding me and thanked the windowless room for my blindness. In a moment I could hear her voice soften and feel the anger in her eyes vanish.

“Sorry,” she apologized, snuggling next to me. “Guess that’s something you’ll just have to get used to.” I could hear her smile. “I promise to try and be more quiet.”

“Did you ever have a dog growing up?” I innocently asked.

“What?” she replied, surprised at my question.

“Did you ever have a dog growing up?”

“Yes. When I was eight. Her name was Tippy. She was a hound.”

She paused then asked, “Why do you ask?”

“No reason,” I lied for the second time that night. “Just curious.”

I quizzed her more about the dream, all her answers were identical to what I had just heard. When it seemed that her curiosity for my sudden inquisitiveness was turning to irritation I reluctantly let the conversation end. It didn’t take long before she was back asleep.

I, on the other hand, couldn’t sleep, I had too much on my mind. I lay there thinking about what I had heard. What I believed would have happened if I hadn’t awakened her. That’s when I felt it, a presence of some sort, something was now in the room with us.

The bed we shared was in the corner which meant that it had walls on two sides. I woke her again, this time making an excuse to change places, putting her between myself and one of the walls. It was the safest place that I could think of, the best place for me to protect her without having to answer any questions. Answers that would have either terrified her or showed her that I was insane. She grumbled a bit, but gave in knowing that I wouldn’t let her sleep unless she agreed.

I wasn’t so fortunate, whatever it was that I felt earlier was still in the room with us. I could still sense it. I can’t swear there was anything there because I neither saw nor heard it, but I did feel it. Not in the touch sense, but with the sense that’s not listed among the other five. And as long as I still felt that presence I had no plans of sleep.

I repositioned myself on the bed, pressing my body tighter to hers. A breeze blew across my arm, forcing all the hairs to stand on end and raising the skin beneath them. Whatever it was that was in the room with us had come for Catherine. I knew that, just as I knew it wasn’t pleased with my blocking it’s path, preventing it from getting to her.

I pressed myself closer, ignoring her grumbled objection to being crowded, and waited. For what? I’d no idea, just as I had no clue what to do if it decided to show itself. All I knew, all I felt, all I cared about, was that if whatever it was got to her, just like if she had finished her dream, she would be dead.

I didn’t sleep at all that night, keeping watch in that dark room, listening for the slightest hint of what was there. Waiting for whatever it was to brush against me on its way to my Catherine. But it never happened. It never showed itself.

We stayed a few more days helping my cousin unload and arrange everything before heading for home. At first I was hesitant, but Catherine showed no ill effects from that night and having to explain my reason leaving so soon to both her and my cousin was not something I was eager to do. The remaining nights were uneventful so I felt confident with my decision to stay. Whatever it was that had visited us on the first night never returned.

Catherine and I were married later that year and remained so for almost fifty wonderful anniversaries. In that entire time our visitor from that one night returned only once. I hope he returns again and soon.

He came back on the day she died.

She died in a car wreck, a wreck that should have taken my life too. I’m not saying that out of guilt, but out of fact. I was pronounced dead by the time we got to the hospital with no possibility of revival. The doctors turned their attention to Catherine and tried desperately to save her. That’s when I felt the presence again, in the emergency room, it had come back. It was the same one that had visited all those decades before, I knew it, just as I now know why it was there. This time I didn’t stop it.

I didn’t die like the doctors originally thought I had, I survived. They were amazed, not only that I hadn’t been killed, but also at how quickly I recovered.

Catherine and I never had children, we weren’t meant to, just like we were never meant to marry or live a long, happy life together. You see I realized that day, the day that she finally died, just who our visitor was. It was death. Death had come that night to claim Catherine and I had stopped it. I had cheated it out of its appointed goal.

That was over one hundred years ago. Over one hundred years since my Catherine died. One hundred years of watching family and friends, acquaintances and enemies, all die too. Over one hundred years of being forced to remain alive.

I’ve seen marvelous things, the invention of the automobile, light in every room that turns on with but the touch of a button and not the strike of a match, people flying through the air, even walking on the moon. I’ve seen science find cures to diseases that were once thought incurable. But I’ve also seen unspeakable horrors. Death and destruction, two world wars and the discovery of new diseases more incurable and deadlier than the ones that ravaged my day. And through it all I’ve gotten older in age and appearance. For you see I can’t die. Death refuses to claim me.

I’ve tried. Poison, hanging, even slashing my wrists, but none of it works. I continue to live even if my body ever so slowly continues to die. Eventually my bones will become to brittle to support my weight, what little weight I have left. You see I stopped eating some time ago, there was no longer any reason.

I live alone now, far from everyone else. At over one hundred and seventy years old I’m not pleasant to look at, and certainly not pleasant to smell. I’m Dorian Grey without the painting. Gilgamesh without his kingdom. Methuselah without God’s grace. I’m a living example of death’s pettiness, death’s sense of humor, death’s penchant for irony. For preventing death from claiming my Catherine’s life, he gifted me with immortality, but immortality in age alone and nothing else. He promised me life eternal and it’s a promise that he refuses to break and all for being the protective lover.

So that’s my story, that’s my curse, that’s my penance, for stopping death all those years ago, he’s promised never to visit me again.
© Copyright 2014 JTown (jtown at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
Writing.Com, its affiliates and syndicates have been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work.
Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1992036-The-Promise