Quick Author's Note: I wrote this story several years ago and have always liked the ideas and the characters, though I never felt like I got it quite right. I'm thinking now I might be able to expand the story to get a better sense of the character of Time, who is probably my favorite. Let me know if you think it's worth pursuing!! There's also an alternate ending to this somewhere that I wrote and may post later.
Time CandleI blow out the Candle and in the darkness the follows I can hear and feel wind rushing around me. Correction, Time rushing around me. Standing in blackness a shiver runs up my spine much like the first time I blew out the Candle. It was what for me would be twenty years ago when I was only eight. It all began in my father's desert fortress miles far from anyone and anything. We were a self-sustaining community, my father, the servants and I. Within the courtyards of the fortress my father had created a magical oasis from which we grew all our food without ever having to garden. Our fortress was a wonderful place for a child to grow up in, winding staircases and hallways that everyday led somewhere new. It was in this manner that I found the Room, the very thing, I later realized, that my father sought to hide from me with this daily changing labyrinth of a home. But it was his secretive protection that eventually led me to that forbidden place and in turn to the Candle. Had I known, it perhaps could have all been avoided but I am too afraid to go back and change it now that I have the ability for fear that I will forget the things I've seen. Ironically that same fear is my hope which kindles my desire to change the past.
What I've seen and done has made me into something I can never return from. Something I did not think was possible to become. I have become death.
"Eda." Whispers that windy breath which was Time. It moves around me, caressing my face and bare skin, that voice that has grown so familiar to me. In it are the undercurrents of a mortal voice, one that I knew long ago and that in my new occupation I have silenced. I do not answer because I know that if I do Time will rush inside my open mouth and lungs like a dark liquid, the same way it searches out every fold and crevice in my clothing, skin, and hair. Instead I hold my breath and light the Candle again.
In the natural air of a foggy London night I breathe deeply. The heavy moisture infecting my lungs. For once the thickness of the water laden air is preferable to the perfect communion with Time. Of late I have been having thoughts, thoughts that I have no desire to share with that invasive force.
Standing on the deserted London street I feel the threads of lives strung around me, some thin and weak, others strong as a wire cord. When I touch them with my fingertips I feel the pain and joy of each life. Following the weakest thread I make my way through a city that in an alternate time, a time that I destroyed, was the metropolis of the great nation of Ladao. I consider with regret the consequences of my choices as I follow the thread over former polished marble sidewalks now exchanged for dirty cobblestone alleys.
The thread of life I have been following leads me to a small dirty flat where a woman lays in her bed old, withered, and ill. Others are in the room, vultures most of them, all hoping her death will somehow magically reveal a secret stash of treasures she has been hoarding. By the woman's deathbed a young lady is kneeling, her young man's hand resting supportively on her shoulder. As I enter the room the vultures wonder who I am, anxiously debating whether I am friend or foe to their selfish cause. These are the type of people I allow to remember, because I want them to be afraid, to see me and wonder if their time has come.
The old woman whispers in the young lady's ear and I can sense from the touch of the thread that those were her intended final words; she feels my hand on her life cord. With the consent of her closing eyes I break it.
I do not know what happens after death, I merely understand the moment of. There are others who understand it as I do, the murderers and assassins, those who for a brief instant feel the threads and cut them with purpose and malice. These are the people who fear me most because they know what I do and how I do it and that there is no defense for them.
I blow out the Candle once more, leaving the vultures to stare at empty space with eyes as large as saucers. I note somewhere subconsciously with regret that most likely I will never experience a death bed with its vultures hovering over me. It is odd what becoming death causes you to count as a loss.
Time rushes around me once again, searching and insistent. I feel it crawling beneath my clothes, in and out between layers of fabric, blowing my cloak about me.
"Where have you been Eda?" Time asks. I say nothing and breathe shallowly, a maneuver that always keeps Time from even bothering to try and enter that way. I search my belt pouch for the means to relight the Candle. It occurs to me that I should have waited longer before blowing it out again. "No, Eda don't go." Time pleads, "I'm lonely."
Inside my pouch my fingers grasp memories. In all my childhood my father never taught me any of his magic. He was always very careful about the things he showed me and let on that he could do. Only once did he ever share his power with me. It was a gift for my seventh birthday. My father gave me the power to create fire with a touch. Seven carved boxes of magic sticks, one for every year of my life, each bestowed with the gravity of an enormous responsibility. I learned in my later journeys that the magic my father had so graciously given me was actually science, something called matches. Despite my disappointment at learning that I was still not in possession of true magic my father's gift proved useful many a time, as it is now.
I pull out a match and strike it against the base of the candle then light the wick. When I return Time will be angry, a trait it has learned from me.
I find myself in the hard uncaring sun of the desert. With gratitude I inhale the hot oven baked air; this is home to me, the setting of my brief childhood. I stand on a set of curving stone stairs, the color of sand, leading down to a barren sand filled courtyard. In the center of the courtyard a small pool sits fed by some underground spring. Under other circumstances I would find it odd that there was no vegetation around it but I can feel the magic in the water, magic so strong it almost has a life thread of its own. I know now where I am but it has changed so much that my heart denies this new existence of my father's fortress.
There is only one life I feel here, the thick strong cord of an old rat. I touch the cord and feel the animal's satisfaction in life having always been well fed yet limber enough to escape the humans when they lived here.
The rat sends me back in my mind to when I six years old. The first time I had ever seen a rat was in the stables under some straw and I had screamed so loud that I frightened the stable boy into running for Ibim. Aside from my father, Ibim was the only person within the compound who had any control over me despite his being only twelve years older. When Ibim found me I was standing on the oat box fiercely refusing to set foot on the ground. Faced with few options, Ibim hoisted me to his shoulder and carried me from the stables, which on that particular day had been directly connected to the courtyard. Perched on Ibim's shoulder I leaned down to wrap my arms under his chin and rest my head atop his.
"It was horrible." I mumbled into his closely cropped curly thick hair. I couldn't see his face then but I am sure that he must have smiled, quietly laughing at me, one of those laughs that worked its way up to his black eyes with their thick lashes and rested there under his well shaped full dark eyebrows. In fact everything about Ibim was dark except his teeth and personality.
"Poor Eda-Leda." Ibim said weaving his way through the palm trees of the courtyard garden. "You must be hot after all that excitement." Suddenly he dropped me partway down his back so that I hung over his shoulder like a sack of four. "Oh look!" he exclaimed wading into the pool at the center of the courtyard, "there's a waterfall today!" I screamed but couldn't contain my laughter. Just short of the waterfall Ibim stopped.
"Now where did I put Eda." He mused loudly, pretending to have somehow lost track of me. I screamed and giggled some more. "Has anyone seen my Eda-Leda?" he shouted turning completely around so that my head became submerged in the waterfall. Without warning he pulled me back up over his shoulder and out of the waterfall. "Oh there you are Eda." he said walking back to the edge of the pool and wiping water off my face whiled I gasped for air. Ibim set me on the ground, kissed me on the forehead and got out of the pool. "Stay out of trouble Eda." he instructed then headed back to the kitchen. Despite my scare by the rat and my almost being drowned, the kiss, innocent as it was, was the real memory. As I had told Ibim's sister once, I was going to marry him if it was the last thing I ever did. In stead it became the last thing her ever did.
Running my fingers along the life cord of the rat I think once again of Time. I pluck the thread like one would a guitar string and the resulting sound is as rich and full as the life the rat has led. I know that Time can hear the note as well as I can and I can only hope It will be mollified by the sound.
I am startled by an errant strand of spiderweb brushing against my cheek. I reach up and grasp it and am bombarded by the emotions of a lifetime. I have touched upon a life of horrible pain and loneliness. The pain that now courses through my fingertips and up my arm is so intense that I cannot hold back my tears nor can I let go of the thread. Instead I follow it, down the steps and across the courtyard increasing in speed with every footfall. I fear who the thread will lead me to, whose life I might be forced to take. I realize that I am running and stop just outside a door the thread has led me to.
For an instant I consider leaving this place and this solitary person and returning to the darkness and Time. The thought of Time and what it will do to me if I return so soon makes me shudder. The ache of the human life I am holding has worked its way through my system and rests now in the place where my heart once was. I make up my mind. I cannot leave this life behind only to let it suffer longer and then return bearing death. My conscience would be clearer were I to put it out of its misery now.
With a supreme effort I follow the thread though the doorway. I leave behind me the thought of escaping to Time and my own personal world of pain. Under my shoes sand crunches on the stone floor. It is a small room with a tiny slit for a window. The room smells of flour and corn meal being half filled with sacks of the stuff. Against the wall a skeleton of a figure lays sprawled on a makeshift bed. On my entering the room, the head of the near dead body moved. Here there are no vultures, aside from the rat awaiting the moment of ready access to a wealth of food.
"Bennaleda." The dying figure mouths. My blood stops its coursing through my veins. Between my fingertips the thread thins slightly, its strength dissipating. The child I once was knows who this dying man is.
"Yes." I answer. The old wisp of a man begins moving restlessly.
"Bennaleda," he repeats his voice a little louder and more forced. Something in the repetition of my name frees me from where I stand, sending me several steps forward.
"Yes Papa." The child I thought I had lost the ability to be answering for me. I kneel next to the man who was my father and set the Candle on the floor next to him.
"Where is my daughter?" cries the skeletal form of my father, his voice a thin wail. I feel confused at the question, and, for a moment, despair that even this weak semblance of a part of my past can see that I am not what I was.
"I'm right here," I answer, my voice faltering with something I recognize as emotion. I know somehow that I must take some course of action but I cannot think for anything what that action would be. Unsure of myself I reach out my hand to tentatively touch the hand of the dying man. The old creature starts at my touch and stares at me wild eyed. I almost take back my hand fearing that as death the feel of my touch has changed. I have not experienced human contact in years; I had forgotten how warm it is after the cool airy touch of Time. My adrenaline pumping, I manage to leave my hand on my father's in an attempt to momentarily regain my humanity.
"Who?" asks my father simply. I realize now that my touch startled the old man not because I am Death but because over the years he has grown deaf. His restlessness was only misleading coincidence. I can see that this shell of a man's feeble exertions have drained him too much. Between my fingers his life has become sheer and delicate, any moment the mere touch of my fingertip will be enough to break the thread.
"I am Bennaleda," I say mouthing my words clearly that the old man can read them. The dying human wraps his fingers around my hand and squeezes it with the last of his strength. I feel for the first time in years a pulse where my heart should be.
"I miss my daughter," he murmurs, his voice barely more than a breath. In my fingertips the thread breaks. The dead shell's eyes blank and staring. I wriggle my hand out of my father's and close those lifeless organs. My one hand still holds the broken end of my parent's life. The flutter of my revived heart dies. My hope for a return to my past life dying with my only connection to it.
The old rat scampers into the room now occupied solely by death. By me and a dead man. The overweight rodent struggles onto the sacks and lumbers across them to sniff curiously at my father's lifeless fingers. A rage rises up inside me, a burning hatred for this dumb animal that has no concept of respect or love. I drop the last straggling piece of my father's life to grab the thread of the ancient rat and yank it hard. The rat falls over stunned, laboring for breath. I release the life of the rat, my rage somewhat satisfied, it will live but not come near the dead body long enough for me to find a way to bury it. I grab the rat by its tail and carry it out to the courtyard where I drop it carelessly on the hard earth.
For a long moment I stand staring at the rodent at my feet with disgust. Watching it struggle to steady its breath, I contemplate what I should do with my father's body, never once questioning whether I should do anything at all with it or not.
I turn mindlessly to the first door I see to begin my search of the fortress. The magic that had once been the foundation of the place had long since receded to the tiny pool in the courtyard. These were no longer ever-changing halls of intrigue but the plain passageways of any building. I does not take me long to find an abandoned spade left to rot in an old tool room. The dust on it is so thick I am only able to dust off the top layers, the rest of it sticks as though it were part of the surface.
On my return to the grain storage room I wrap my father's body in the sparse blankets he had been lying on. In the courtyard I search for a suitable spot to bury the corpse. Eventually I pass through an archway leading to a walled off section of the courtyard where I find tombstones. Names I recognize. Here I begin the work of digging a grave, nameless I know, though the most important of the names here, because there is nothing to mark it with.
I pat the earth down over my father's lifeless face. No service, no tears. I am not the one to impart such gifts. Death cannot provide the mourning rites for the dead. Some unwritten law prevents it. I have buried the dead man between the only two graves in this place. One the resting place of my mother, a woman I never knew. The other a flat place marked by a marble headstone.
This I am unable to look upon without memories. I dig the cumulated sand out of the letters with my fingernails. I had been lost in and out of the darkness with Time for eight years. Time had shared with me what I had thought to be most of its secrets, it had entered me as my breath on many occasions, filling me until there was not a single part of me it did not know. Then one day after Time had exited me, and I returned to the land of the living, I found that I could feel the life threads of those around me. I did not realize at the time what it meant but it would not have made much difference anyway because that day I returned to the fortress for the first time.
I had returned to what was only four years after my original disappearance for them. I was only aware of this after I tried to tell them who I was. Only my father believed me because he knew of the Candle and its power, but he was a wise man who understood his servants and their suspicions. So with his help I spent six months there living my life as someone else. I was much closer in age to Ibim now and he lived in blissful ignorance. True to my word I married him, and not to prove the sincerity of my childhood infatuation but because I loved him.
Our wedding night the celebration never seemed to end. We felt as though the revelers would never let us retire to spend our first night together as man and wife. Eager to start my life with him and drunk off the wine I placed my hand on Ibim's life cord. I could feel through it the joy that he felt, same as I could feel the pain of letting a child go through my father's. I wrapped my fingers around the thread and held it tight. In the next moment the cord in my grasp had snapped and Ibim lay lifeless across my lap. It was my first act in my occupation as death.
Some screamed the blame upon a scorpion found crawling amidst the revelers' feet. But I knew. Perhaps I had simply held the thread too tightly, or perhaps the wine had awakened some primal desire. Either way I knew what it meant. I left that night and stayed in the darkness with Time for days.
I find myself now kneeling and staring blindly at the headstone with my husband's name on it. My first kill. Decision and determination suddenly fill me. I can no longer continue as Death. I began by ending the life of the man I loved more than any other and I make up my mind in this moment that it will end with the man I killed today, the only other human I ever held as dear.
I stand stiffly not bothering to brush the dust from my long skirts. With determined steps I once again find myself wandering the fortress halls searching. I stop when I realize that I am standing in a room filled with books and lit by the sun streaming through a large round glass window and skylight. Before me stands a tall intricately wrought iron candleholder. It is empty because the Candle that belongs in it still sits on the floor on the storage room where my father died. I stare at the empty Candle holder half expecting at any moment to step back and suddenly realize the Candle is in its rightful place and I am only eight years old again having a terrifying and vivid daydream. But I do not wake up. I am still what I have been for the past twelve years, a monster that walks the earth in the form of a woman sparing no one. I notice now what I never noticed before, the legs of the holder are thin statuettes stretched tall of twisted human forms, their faces in silent screams.
I tear my eyes away from the Candle holder to look wonderingly at a shrine in the far corner. The flowers strewn across it are dried and withered and varying tones of brown are the only colors they have retained. Inscribed in gold lettering are the words "Bennaleda Adonitae Surai don Ladao: Angel of the Adonitae". My gut twists inside me as I read. What kind of perverse irony was this that my father had such a misconception of what I had become. His unseeing eyes had envisioned me as something good and righteous.
Feeling as though I am going to retch upon this monument to what I should have been, I turn to the shelves of books. For an eternal moment my eyes search the titles frantically but helplessly and in a sudden fury of purpose I begin tearing the books off their shelves, ripping through the pages for something useful. I mindlessly create chaos in a room where order had been painstakingly preserved for years. And then, in an instant, I find what I am seeking. Hungrily I read and memorize the words before me, sitting in the middle of the floor in my own personal fortress of scattered books.
Leaving the book open on the floor I rush back to the storage room with the sacks of grain and the Candle sitting where I left it. I organize myself, checking that I have all my things then pick up the Candle and blow out the flame. Time does not rush around me, it is somewhere in the darkness pouting. I am relieved and immediately reach for my matches reciting the words I learned form my father's book. Out of nowhere Time whistles about me, a powerful and panicked wind.
"What are you doing?" it demands angrily, but it never receives an answer because I have already relit the Candle.
I stand in father's study again, the books are all back in their places and the shrine is gone. Before me is an eight year old girl in a dirty sky blue dress with gold embroidered edging, the blonde locks pinned atop her head have already begun to escape their places and fall about her face. She does not see me, she is staring wonderingly at the black lightless flame of a thick white candle resting in an iron wrought candleholder depicting souls in agony. The same Candle that I also hold in my hand, I shiver at the sight of two of them. At the same time the little girl reaches for the Candle I reach for the life thread that flows out from that in her small frame where her heart beats. I feel in that young life a purity and naiveté only found in youth. I wrap the thread once around my arm to be sure of my hold.
"Bennaleda!" I suddenly shout, the girl turns in response to her name. "Bennaleda Adonitae, daughter of Surei, born of the nation of Ladao." My formal name and hers are all I can manage to say. Bennaleda stares at me blankly and I stare back at myself. Fear suddenly stabs at my chest that I will lose my resolve and with a mighty effort I try to break the thread. Bennaleda blinks and as though she were awoken turns back to the Candle. With growing horror and despair I realize that there is nothing I can do to stop the event that changed me. If I destroyed myself I would never exist as I do now and thus would never be here to stop myself. I release the little girl's life thread, feeling as though some cruel trick has been played on me. I cannot watch as the child reaches for the Candle in it holder and so instead I blow out the Candle that I hold in my hand one last time. As the darkness envelopes me I gasp for a final breath to hold before time bombards me with its searching.
"What did you do, Eda?" Time's voice and presence are a shrieking wind. "What did you do," it says menacingly. I can feel my hair whipping my face and my clothes blowing violently about me. In my hand I can feel the thickness of the Candle. With a surge of power I throw the Candle from me subconsciously listening for the sound of it clattering to a floor that I know in this darkness doesn't exist. I sink to my knees blowing a little air out of my nose to keep Time at bay and relieve some of the pressure building in my lungs. I reach into my belt purse and grasp the matches, these too I pitch into the darkness.
"Stop it Eda! Stop!" Time is screaming at me. Despite my aching lungs and splitting headache a sense of peace fills me. Never again will men stare at me in dumbfounded horror knowing me as an emissary of Time and that they cannot stop me any more than they can stop Time itself. I now lay with my head spinning dizzily in the darkness. Though I believe as Death I cannot die this is my death scene. Finally I exhale with an exultant defiant cry.
Like mortals I cannot escape Time. In the end it will overpower me no matter how long I fight it off or manage to keep it at bay. Eventually time will enter my body and take control of it, simple tasks will no longer be in my capacity to make happen. In this measure I am able to regain a portion of mortality. Though my loss to Time takes a different form it is the same basic loss. I gasp for breath and feel Time rush in through my open mouth like ice cold water, a shock to my burning lungs. I feel like I'm drowning, Time swirling around inside me like a thick black liquid. In my mind I laugh morbidly to myself as Time fills me up like the empty vessel I am.
"What are you doing, Eda?" Time asks quietly as it enters my mind. I no longer hear it with my ears but with my thoughts.
"Staying with you." I answer ironically, knowing it to be the thing I dread most about spending an eternity in the darkness.
"Why Eda?" Time asks. It uses Ibim's voice to speak to me. I shudder mentally. Time swirls through me and my body twitches.
"I'm tired of being Death," I answer, "I want to know what it is to die." Time seems to laugh, something which makes my body shudder convulsively.
"You never were Death Eda." Time tells me. Whispers to me like a lover. "I am Death Eda. And you are already dead." I am stunned.
"That cannot be," I whisper in my mind.
"But it is Eda, it is," Time whispers. It laughs softly.
"Then why am I here? Is this what comes after you die?" I ask, disbelieving and desperate.
"Not for everyone," Time answers, moving around inside me, a swirling mass that has moved into my blood stream and pounds through my heart. "You are special. You were meant to take away my loneliness. You were meant to be my kindred. But that is not possible anymore. I see that now. I tried to love you Eda." I try to shake my head but am unable. Time no longer moves just through my body but through my thoughts. "I did love you," Time says nearly inaudible in my own mind.
"You cannot love," I try to answer it. I feel that I am losing control of my thoughts even, now. Soon I will no longer be myself for I am my thoughts. Soon I will no longer be. Only Time will exist. Cold unfeeling Time.
This is worse than dying. This is my last thought that is my own. And then I am no longer.