This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
None of you ever notice me, but I always notice you. I sneak up and grab you by the throat when you least expect it, just when you think you’ve escaped me.
I don’t particularly like my job, but I must admit that there’s a certain thrill to it, snipping the thread that binds you to this place. You’d be surprised how easy it is to take you. It’s because I don’t know you, I think. It would be harder if I did. So far I’ve managed to remain cold and impersonal to you, to all of your pain and suffering. I am an estranged relative that everyone must meet eventually.
You’re all so careless in your youth. You don’t realize how fragile you are. In fact, I think that some of you are just a little bit in love with me. Or at least my idea. When you do finally see my face, you cry out in fright and try to flee.
Not Rick Heron though. No, he has seen far too much of me throughout his twenty-two years to be afraid. I became something to be accepted as a part of of his life after a while.
Rick Heron and I first met when I took his mother. She was very young, barely twenty-four, and Mister Heron was only six. He gripped her hand as she sweat with fever, her lungs struggling to provide the air that she needed.
I was quiet by nature, my feet as soundless as a feather falling to the floor when I came, but he looked up and caught me all the same. We stared at each other for several long moments, and in the end it was I who broke our gaze. Rick Heron was but a child. It was his mother’s soul that I sought.
Her thread was thin already; it took just the lightest of snips to sever it. As his mother’s soul joined mine in eternity, Rick Heron’s eyes never left me. They bore into my back as I slipped from the room. Just a child. A child that didn’t know any better than to meet my gaze.
The second time I took his brother. The boy was four, Rick Heron was eight. Oddly enough the younger Heron was afflicted by the same illness that had claimed his mother. It was ironically hilarious in a dark kind of way. Rick Heron and his father were with the boy when I came to collect him. And, just as with the mother, Heron looked up and caught my eye.
He seemed startled, but not very surprised. It was as if Rick Heron could sense what good acquaintances we would become. Notice how I abstained in using the word ‘friend’. No no one could ever know me that well, no matter how often we met.
After I took his brother, Rick Heron tried to touch me. He reached a small, quivering, hand out towards me, but I backed away and he reached only his brother’s young head, already beginning to grow cold. His father cried, but Rick Heron did not. He was too busy watching me.
We spoke, the third time. I thought I’d come for Mister Heron himself but he proved to be a stubborn one. He clung to his thread like the mother I’d taken had clung to him once upon a time. He’d been beaten badly, a limp thirteen year old lying in the school yard. His uniform was red with blood that was sure to stain.
Rick Heron summoned all his strength to stare into my eyes again. Even weak and blood spattered he smiled at me.
“I’d like ta stay here please,” he whispered. “Me dad needs me ya see.”
“You don’t get to choose.”
“Me own life. I ain’t be ready yet. I’ll go when I say so, I will.” Rick Heron’s voice was steady and never wavered for a moment. “See y’again one day. When no one needs me no more, aye?”
“Aye,” my own voice was unsure, startled by the pitiful being’s confidence.
Blood dripped down his chin when he smiled.
He was grown the fourth time. A handsome man of twenty years. There was a woman on his arm and a small girl-child on his leg. They stood before his father as I snipped the thread. Infection. Shame. The man had been an excellent cobbler. Rick Heron did not cry as his wife and child did. Instead he silently nodded to me when they weren’t looking.
I took everything on my fifth visit. Frothing river water choked the woman and child as I severed their threads, and this time the man raged. He threw plates and screamed his pain, cursed me and my name.
“How could ye take them, vile creature?! How could ye?”
But still, he did not cry.
We met for the sixth and last time a month after the drowning. It was bloody and loud and awful, but through it all, Rick Heron smiled. His body, trampled by a horse and it’s carriage, lay broken on the streets of the Irish capital.
“Forgive me, eh?” For last month?” his eyes were pleading. “I was angry. I was.... Just angry.”
“I forgive you,” I whispered.
“That’s a mate.”
A hand, no longer small and quivering, but large and calloused reached towards me. I took it firmly and, eyes never leaving his smiling face, snipped the most resilient thread that I ever met.
Rick Heron never shed a tear.
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