by Serena Lake
A last goodbye. For the February prompt of the "Stake & Garlic Contest"
ONE LAST MOMENT...
She looked beautiful, even now, at the end of her life. Hair, once a fiery red, was now as white as snow. Eyes, once so free and innocent, were now closed in the final moments before the eternal, resting sleep. Peace would finally come.
Tearful eyes looked upon her lying on her deathbed. Some belonging to children, others to middle-aged men and women, but all equally pained and saddened. They were the eyes of her family, her greatest joy. She would take them in her heart to wherever she was to go in this final adventure. These last instants showed how much she loved them all and how beloved she was to them.
She always possessed an easy smile, a serene disposition, a beautiful look on life. She was that steady rock that held everyone together when tragedy fell and threatened the harmony she created with those she cared for. She was the shoulder to cry on, the one to advise, to counsel. So easy to love when she was young and carefree, still untouched by the world's cruelty; and still he loved her now, as she lay resting, fragile, sickly, pale as only the near dead, or the undead, can be.
He remembered the first time he saw her. How could he not, when his memory refused to let him forget even one moment of his long, cursed life? So many things he wished to forget... but none of them involved her. She was sitting on a bench, he could recall perfectly, looking ever so thoughtful, bright eyes fixed on something far away, unseen. She looked beautiful.
She became, in that blessed moment, the breath of air he had missed for so long in his existence, the bright sunshine he had been unable to feel until the moment he beheld her with moonlight on her freckled skin, shinning eyes of the purest blue he could ever remember seeing. Such classical beauty he had not glimpsed since... since a long time ago. And then she rose from her seat and ran away, unbound, as if she was kin to the flying birds that hovered above her, astounding in her radiance. Had he any breath to loose he would have lost it just watching her. Had he any beating heart it would have been racing, threatening to jump out of his cold body and into her awaiting hands. From that moment on, light shone where dark reigned, and hope rekindled on a broken soul, where there was none left.
He discovered he was not as dead as he thought himself to be, because he still could find in himself something as glorious as love.
He watched her from then on, as she smiled when she spoke to a friend, as she brushed an errant lock of hair from her face, as she read a book that enthralled her for hours without end, as she laughed from a joke someone told her and even as she gracefully walked down a street. She was the innocence he had lost. She was everything he wished to have and could not, and she was everything he wished to look upon but could not touch. She was perfect to him. And he could not bear to taint her light with his darkness.
He never approached her, never spoke to her, never made her aware of him. Yet he watched her and followed every important and unimportant event of her life. He could surely say no one ever came to know her as well as he did. He felt her tears as if they were his own. Her happiness warmed his chilled heart. He protected her without her knowledge, he veiled over her as if he was her own guardian angel. He suffered when she fell in love, jealousy and sad resignation mixing, but he accepted the one who would take the place he never could by her side, for he knew him to be worthy. He saw as she grew old, as her first child was born and came to be as lovely and gentle as her mother, as her first grandchild came into the world, kicking and screaming... he loved her family as if it was his own.
In the end, he loved her as truly as her husband, and perhaps even more so. Because he thought not of himself but only of her, and he refused to choose the other path -- the tainted path -- the one that would allow him to be happy by her side, to have her forevermore. He refused to become more of a beast than he already felt. He repudiated any dark wish he experienced when his will was weaker, when his need was stronger. In the end, he considered himself blessed for having known such beauty and serenity, which sight awarded him the greatest peace he had ever known. Those years he spent loving her from afar would always remain with him, in his memory, and in the heart he thought himself no longer to possess.
A great wail arose from the room he surveyed from the shadows. All her family, reunited to say their final farewells to such a cherished person, cried together for the one they lost. She took her last breath and lay now, lifeless, in the bed she had shared with her husband since their marriage. He always knew she wished to die in her home. Her wish had been granted.
"Farewell, my beloved. May you find peace wherever you go now, for you are worthy of it, far more than anyone I have met before, in the long time I've been in this world. You deserved everything life had to offer and more", he whispered, his words unheard by the mourning people in the room. "You shall always remain in my memory, for as long as I last. You will find a better place in death than you would have with me, in the life I would but did not offer you. That was my gift to you, in exchange for the light you brought to me. But life will be empty now, without you to love. And yet... I have no regrets. I have loved you and will forever do so. And you will never, ever know."
And for the first time since his nightmare started, five hundred years ago, he did something he thought himself incapable of.