The robed man stumbled over roots and shrubs, his calloused feet dragging through the soil. Brittle bark crumbled beneath his bloody fingernails as he dug his hands into the unyielding trunks before him. His eyes were unseeing, glazed with medication, but his mind contorted in horror as he heard the baying of the hounds behind him. He thrashed out uncontrollably, trying to force his numbed body to put more distance between him and the jackals. Scratches and bruises marked his rough skin, but the medication prevented him from feeling anything but a dull ache. Low hanging branches whipped his dirt-caked face, stabbing his sides and tearing the robe hanging from his emaciated frame. An upturned root caught his ankle, and as he smashed into the ground, the brittle marrow of his ribs cracked and splintered. The nighttime canopy spiraled blurred and spiraled before him, and he lost consciousness.
Leiv held a bowl of crushed hemlock in his shaking hands as he entered the room. Silently kneeling at her bedside, he parsed a small clump of the hemlock from the bowl with his fingers, and slowly dropped it into her open mouth. Then, he gently gripped her jaw, and closed her mouth, forcing her to swallow the herbs. Once he was sure the herbs had gone down, he removed his hand, got up, and retook his position in the wooden chair near the window. The curtains, yellowed with age, held no life in them. Their laced patterns long undone, they remained stagnant in the gentle breeze. The room contained no color, only various shades of gray. Leiv sat, his gray eyes gazing from the lifeless body on the bed to the doorway, where a servant stood patiently, her gray hands wrapped around the doorframe. Leiv tilted the bowl so the servant could see it was empty.
“It is time,” he whispered. “She will pass within the minute.”
The servant nodded, and left, her footsteps slowly fading upon the rotting gray floorboards. Leiv took the moment to hide the bowl within the dresser across the room. A minute later, the servant returned with a man dressed in black. He clutched a gray bible to his chest, and removed his spectacles as he approached the foot of the bed. The pastor opened his bible, and began to read. Leiv stood up, and took his place next to the pastor. The servant did the same. The man felt the air in the room leave, and the body on the bed shifted. Leiv did not flinch, and the pastor continued reading, no discernible inflection in his voice exhibiting that he had even noticed. The man continued to watch as the bedridden woman’s muscled gently tensed and contracted. Then, the woman’s body seemed to suddenly relax, and deflate before them. The pastor finished his verse, and closed his bible. They both stood in silence for a few seconds, before Leiv shuffled from the foot of the bed, to the side, and peered at the woman’s bony face.
“Goodbye, mother,” he whispered, and for the first time, noticed among the black strands of her hair draping the pillow, a few wisps of gray. And as the woman’s spirit rose from her body, she gazed at her son, in despair of what was to come of him.