|The Silent Man
Author: threadfinjack PM
Mercy doesn't come without a price for the guardian of the dead. Thanatos is banished to Earth, where he grows weaker by the day. He cannot speak a word. "Do not hasten in your anger, brother. It is fair. After all, what is more persuasive than death? Whose song beckons man with greater inevitability?" A dozen days to fill a dozen graves, and then he meets his maker.Rated: Fiction T - English - Supernatural - Chapters: 2 - Words: 3,920 - Favs: 1 - Updated: 11-27-12 - Published: 11-18-12 - id: 3075585
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"I've never heard a single story about a haunted river, Stella," the man said. Twigs snapped purposefully under his feet as he ambled a path from the porch to the woods. "How would someone haunt water?"
The sun sank below the mountains early at this time of year, but the stars and the moon, when they deemed it appropriate to be present, made the night glow.
Another branch snapped beneath the man's foot, and Stella sniffed at the air passively; he paid her no mind. It was certainly possible that she was looking for attention, or that the cold was biting at her nose. Probably both, he thought.
After an hour, the man's feet were leading him back to the cottage. His arms were full of enough dry tinder to last the night, and Stella followed close with a branch that was thicker than her legs. The man made a show of arranging the wood in the fireplace, and Stella paid close attention to his hands as he lit the match. He knew she craved the spark of light and more importantly, the warmth that followed.
But then Stella broke the silence. Her ears swished in the air and her eyes locked onto the door, the match forgotten. He crouched down and followed her gaze.
On the other side, someone let out a faint wheeze.
He rose up, running his hand below the crown of Stella's head at the back of her neck. She let out an anxious, eager whine in reply. The moment he rose to move past her, she ran away from the door and jumped onto the couch, looking out the window.
"I told you," he said, drawing the shades, "rivers aren't haunted. Least of all that one." He nodded in the direction of the water. She stuck her nose between the curtains and kept watch, ignoring him. "You always forget so easily at the beginnings."
A noise came from the back bedroom of the cottage again after they ate. Stella cocked her head at the door. She was asking a question, and he hummed an affirmative in reply, picking up her empty plate and putting it in the sink. A soft groan came from the bedroom; they both ignored it.
Later on, when he blew out the candles and turned out the lights, she jumped up on the couch to lie beside him.
"Tomorrow," he reminded her quietly, his palm between her shoulder blades. They both fell asleep in the firelight.
Miles below them, city lights were dancing between skyscrapers and buildings. The bright little dots punctuated the border between the valleys and the mountains. Somewhere on that borderline, a river lay dormant. The stillness of the river made it look like a strip of sky that had fallen to the ground — a perfect mirror for the stars.
And suddenly, the mirror rippled.
Beams of strange light began to creep up from a crevice that was appeared in the riverbed. It moved independent of the river's undercurrent, twisting freely on the floor of the river and glowing a pale, cold green.
A hand broke through the sandy bottom, easily pushing the sediment away. Long fingers pierced the current. Not five minutes passed before an entire silhouette rose out of the mouth of the abyss. The figure did not break the surface of the water when it emerged; not a single ripple rang out in warning. It was simply there.
Dawn came and went before the man came banished sleep from his eyes. His head felt significantly heavier this morning than it had the last, and it hadn't been this hard to get up yesterday — he felt weak. Even Stella was awake before him today.
The man poured a glass of water and watched the wind passing over the mountains. It blew the tree-covered ridges as if it could rearrange the skyline with just a breath. He knew in time it would be so.
"It's easy to pack your things when they fit in your pockets, huh?" he asked Stella as she watched him work. He let her out the front door afterwards and watched her lope off to the south. "No more hunting." Her body disappeared between the dead trees, but he knew she wouldn't stray far. It was almost time.
The man went back inside and shut the door quietly, treading softly through the halls. In the back bedroom lay a man covered in flannel sheets that time and moths had eaten away, and Thanatos thought it was time he paid the man a visit.
He passed into the room silently and listened to the man's heartbeat, which growing weaker by the minute. The man's soul flickered behind half-lidded eyes, and his breath rattled in his lungs. The moment had come. Thanatos took the man's wrist, and a final sigh trickled out of the man's mouth.
Thanatos took a coin out of his pocket and sat on the edge of the bed. He extended his palm and placed the coin on the man's lips. The second the coin met flesh, the man's eyes opened. The sheets and the house were emptied of their guests.
Stella joined Thanatos and the man at the bank of the river; the night blew cold air off of the water's surface and onto their cheeks. Neither man felt it, of course, but the wind was persistent. Thanatos beckoned to Stella as he bent down and examined the dark water. It's finally time.
"Come, friend," he said to the man. "It's time to go."
The man stared at him strangely, as if he was expecting a different sort of voice to come from Thanatos' mouth. The man's eyes traveled to study his companion; Thanatos wore a thick leather jacket that made his pale skin stand out, and his eyes were hooded in black. He wore a sigil ring on his middle finger; it was obsidian set in silver.
"Yo-you're not from here," the man said shakily. He choked when he heard how ridiculous his question sounded in the face of the man who had seemingly just killed him. "You're not dressed for camping."
Thanatos looked the man in the eye again, nodding solemnly. It always helped when he looked them in the eye. "We're here to keep you company."
The man grew more apprehensive. Most of them usually do. Thanatos knew the man couldn't see Stella, and he couldn't feel the wind bite as it should. The man took a step backward, closer to the edge of the water, and turned to face him. The wind picked up, and Stella barked twice.
"I know that you are afraid," Thanatos began, keeping his eyes on the man and extending his right hand into the air between them. "Ελάτε μαζί μου."
Come with me.
The man's tore his eyes away from the river at the words; they were foreign and yet he understood. The man stared at the hand that reached out for him. Suddenly he realized where he was, and with whom he was speaking. Death was waiting for an answer.
It was always easier for Thanatos to breathe when he was home. Stella seemed more alert and refreshed, too. An extended stay on mortal ground will do that to you, he thought, although he didn't know why. He walked along in tandem with his dog, coursing through tunnels of clay and stone. Eventually the mouth of the passage they followed opened up, and a great cavern spread before them.
High above their heads was a roof riddled with gaps and holes that revealed a network of stars. The distant sound of rushing water whispered in their ears as they walked. Thanatos lazily brushed his palm against low-hanging willow limbs that reached out for his shoulders as he passed. Eventually they came to a large building that sat upon the edge of a sunken precipice. Thanatos knew Stella would not follow.
"Go play," he said affectionately, rubbing her head with his palm; she danced out of his grasp almost immediately. He scratched his chin and kept his eyes low to the ground as he made his way into the room where Hypnos was waiting.
"It is late, brother." The slow greeting rumbled forth from the base of his chest like the groan of a drowsy lion.
"I am aware of that," Thanatos replied. His voice seemed too clear, too alert to share a room with his brother's. "He was afraid."
"Fear often quickens the pace of the heart," his brother breathed in reply, drifting from the corner of the room to take a seat at his table. "Just as decisiveness quickens the actions of a man. You were gone three days this time."
Thanatos stood blankly, waiting for his brother to continue berating him. He had been given two days to see to the end of the man's life. Time, like a life, was valuable to his family – they invested in the business of mortality. Regardless of how sick or reluctant or fearful of death a person might be, Thanatos' job was to coax him peacefully to his grave.
"Think of it as service," he'd been told. "Όταν ο άνθρωπος πρέπει να πληροί ο θάνατος ο ίδιος δεν θα περπατήσουν μόνοι." What came afterward was out of his control; for that he was thankful. The pay wasn't bad, either.
Hypnos breathed a heavy sigh and placed a gold card onto the table, sliding it slowly toward his brother. "Rest now, brother. See to it that you stay on schedule."
Thanatos took the card and swept it into his pocket. His brother had already sunken low into the chair, resting his head on the back of the tall seat. For now, he was dismissed.
Thanatos stood outside for a while, kicking small pebbles into the cracks of the sidewalk. He was exhausted. He knew he couldn't fall asleep right there on the pavement, but the idea of more travel seemed so taxing. It was all he did. Home was just a storage closet.
He pushed off the wall of the building and picked up a steady walk. The faster he moved, the faster he could be still, and he planned to do that slowly. Stella joined him halfway through his journey.
"I didn't think I'd see you until morning," Thanatos said. She yawned in reply, letting her nose sink a little lower to the pavement as she walked beside him. Above their heads, the stars began to shine brighter. They threw shadows down on his face, which looked more skeletal than was usual. If anyone noticed, they were not surprised.
Eventually his hand engulfed a cold doorknob and his shoes lay abandoned in the corner. His jacket found a home on the back of the couch he rested upon. Thanatos breathed out once and let Stella jump up to curl at his feet; he reached over to her neck and unfastened her chain collar. It pooled on the coffee table in a series of clinks, and then it was quiet enough for the two travelers to sleep.