Aphelion Issue 216, Volume 21
April 2017
 
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Night of the Green Devil

by Christopher Owen


For thirty years Rusher John had wished for only one thing -- to die.

As he lay in his bed in the small, shabby room at the Crow's Nest Inn, thoughts of death whirled in his head. Dusk blued the edges of his shuttered windows; an afternoon's slumber had escaped him once again. His heart seemed to thunder in his chest -- a strong beat, a beat that persisted in spite of his myriad attempts to snuff it out.

A litany of scars tattooed Rusher John's body. He had faced death many times as a hired man-at-arms. But death eluded him in battle as surely as it did when he tried to take his own life. He had slashed at his wrists with daggers, but they had refused to bleed. He'd swallowed vials of poison to no avail. His neck still bore the imprint of the twisted strand of hemp from his attempted hangings.

He had long since given up such endeavors. He could not die -- no mortal weapon could harm him -- but he could still feel pain. Pain ruled his life, intense pain -- pain in his joints, pain in his seventy-year-old heart, and pain in his soul. Thus beer, wine and mead had become his constant companions. A flagon of the latter sat on the small table by his bed. He sat up, downed the liquid, then stood and prepared to dress and go downstairs for another night of the current profession that provided him with drink: bouncing ruffians from the Crow's Nest's tavern.

He heard a knock at his door. "Come," he said in a voice creaked with phlegm.

The door slowly opened. "Rusher John?" said the small voice of the boy, Nicholas, who slowly stepped into the room and shut the door. He smelled of stale beer from the tankards and mugs he washed to earn his keep, and thick clods of dried mud caked his feet from his sojourns with table scraps to the hog pens behind the inn. Rusher John thought him a good boy, reminding him of his own sons, lost so many years ago.

"What is it, lad?"

"Um, a ... a seven-foot-tall demon's come into the tavern. He's asking for you."

"Raphanus!" said John, a look of wonder and surprise brightening his face. "By the gods, I've been waiting for this day."

"You have?"

"Yes, for thirty ... no, for sixty years, I have."

####

Sixty years to the night earlier, Rusher John, then a boy of ten, hid in a cellar. Gelius, his master, had come home early and surprised John. He had been pouring over Gelius' secret books of magic, and he'd had just enough time to dart behind a stack of crates before Gelius entered the cellar.

Luckily, thought John, darkness filled the dank, musty cellar. John prayed Gelius wouldn't smell the scent of burning candle wax which hung in the air. John's fingers burned from quickly snuffing out the candle.

Gelius carried a brazier full of burning coals from the kitchen, fortuitously masking the candle scent, and John sighed in relief. The boy watched as his master, dressed in a simple black robe, tossed the coals in the great stone fire pit in the corner of the cellar. Gelius then added scraps of paper, kindling, and then great logs of oak. Soon a roaring blaze lit the cellar with bright orange light.

John shifted from side to side, his heart racing. He knew that the master practiced black arts and magic down in the cellar, but he had never before witnessed such doings. Gelius, a wealthy man, had gained his fortune through scrying, charm-making, and sometimes by summoning aid from the depths of hell itself.

The fire flashed and crackled as Gelius tossed strange ichors and unguents into it. The flames changed from orange to spectral green.

"By my troth and by my right, give me wisdom, give me sight," chanted Gelius, his voice high and nasal. The fire champed and wavered as if a great breeze blew through the cellar, yet nothing else happened.

"I command you, infernal flames, bend to my will," shouted Gelius. Still nothing happened. He threw more wood into the verdant blaze, and more measures of the strange vials of potions which caused the fire to blaze so brightly that John imagined the flames travelled all the way up the chimney and shot out above the house.

Suddenly, the sound of the fire changed pitch, becoming low and heavy to John's ear. Then the flames parted, and he could see a great darkness between them. The darkness shimmered, and from them a large figure stepped forth.

The hairs on the back of John's neck stood tall as he regarded the green skinned, devilish figure that towered over Gelius. Muscles riddled his body; he wore only a baggy pair of black breeches and iron shod leather boots. A wide leather belt girded his waist, a serpentine short sword hanging from it. Crossing his arms over his broad chest, he rocked his horned head side to side, as if stretching after a long slumber.

"Raphanus!" John's master shouted, stumbling back from the fire.

The Green Devil twisted his bulbous lips into a semblance of a smile. "Thirty years," he said, his voice a booming echo in the cellar. "Thirty years have passed, Gelius. Were you expecting me?"

"Certainly not. I sought knowledge tonight. Not you."

"Well, that is no matter. Three decades have passed."

"Surely not already? Please, I need more time."

"I was prompt with my end of the bargain. You shall be with yours."

"Please, Raphanus."

"We made a deal, sirrah, and I have held up my end. I've given you wealth, power, and a beautiful wife. You agreed to give me what I asked for when I returned, and now I am come, and demand my reward."

Gelius dropped to his knees in supplication, as the Green Devil pulled from his belt the long, slim, serpentine blade and held it out, pommel first, to Gelius. "I want what is most precious to you. Give it to me."

Gelius took the sword, and a cry of pain escaped his lips. He flung it down upon the stones before the Green Devil's boots. "Never! I could never do such a thing!"

The Green Devil picked up the sword, by the hilt this time, and held it high in his left arm. "Then your soul be forfeit to me." He swung the blade through the air, neatly slicing Gelius' head from his shoulders.

The body fell to the ground, blood gushing in torrents from the neck, while the head rolled against the stone hearth, a look of horror still locked on its features.

John began to tremble violently as he hid behind the crates, his teeth chattering like hailstones against a glass window.

The Green Devil heard him and shouted, "Come out, boy!"

John crouched, frozen.

The Green Devil approached and gazed down into John's hiding place.

"You've born witness to these proceedings, boy, and thus are embroiled in them as well. You've disobeyed your master and spied upon him and his things, and that be a sin in the eyes of many. But I have no quarrel with such things. I quite like such behavior." The Green Devil's bulbous lips curled into a smile as he continued. "I may walk upon the Earth for a short while longer this night, and while I be here, perhaps there is some small service I can offer you, my lad?"

John looked from the Green Devil's grinning face to his master's severed head, whose lips still tried to mutter breathless pleas for his life. John resolved that such was the fate of those that would deal with demons, and he scowled at the creature, saying nothing.

"Come now, surely there is something that you wish? A clever lad like you could go far in this world, with a little help."

"I want nothing from you," John rasped. "Nothing!"

"I see," said the Green Devil. "Very well, so be it." He turned and walked toward the fire. "You will have nothing from me, as you wish. But I give you this bit of advice, free of commitment." He scraped his long, black fingernails against the stone chimney. "All of your master's works were built through my aid, and thus they will soon tumble asunder. I'd be gone from them were I you."

He turned and stepped into the flames, and the walls of Gelius' home began to tremble, flames leaping from the hearth and dancing about the room as quick little fire sprites, setting alight to everything. John jumped from behind the crates as they burst into flame, and ran up the stairs and into the hallway, fire already spreading through the ground floor. He started toward the main entrance, but stopped short as he remembered his master's young daughter, Ariana, who slept in her chamber at the other end of the house.

She was just a year younger than John, and Gelius had loved her deeply. A kindhearted soul, she had treated John well over the years, and slipped him morsels of fine food from her meals, and played games with him when Gelius travelled.

John resolved to rescue her from the house before it fell.

Hurrying down the quavering hall, John burst into her chamber where she still slept in her fine feather bed beneath silk sheets, her long, blonde hair spread about her satin pillows like spun gold. For a brief instant, John simply beheld the angelic reverence of her sleeping form. Then suddenly, he saw the Green Devil standing in the shadows beside her bed. John gulped as the beast gestured his gnarled, clawed hand in her direction.

"Such a beautiful little girl. How brave of you to rescue her, John."

John drew in a deep breath, then darted into the room, his mind in a blur. Wincing as he reached the bed, John feared he'd feel the Green Devil's claws at any second, but he merely laughed as John pulled the lithe form of the girl from her sheets. With new found strength fueled by fear, John shouldered the girl, and ran from the room as the flame sprites rushed past him and set fire to her bed.

Ariana stirred slightly, but otherwise stayed limp on his shoulder, seeming trapped in some enchanted sleep as John hurried across the main chamber of the house and out the front door.

As they exited, the cold night air thickened with smoke and the shouts of all the other townsfolk. The whole village burned. People ran madly about as they saw their entire lives go up in flames. They began to fight with one another over the smallest of trinkets, and the whole of the village fell into utter chaos.

John grabbed a fallen cloak which lay in the road and covered Ariana, then ran with her from the town and into the cover of the nearby woods. They found shelter along the river, hidden in the night fog within the washed out roots of an ancient oak tree near the river's bank. He placed her carefully in that hollow, then sat awake throughout the night beside her.

####

The next morning Ariana and John wandered back to the village to find it completely destroyed and everyone dead or missing. The girl, stunned, spoke little, but clung close to John, now the closest thing she had to family.

The two abandoned the smoldering ruins of the town and struck off down the river road, no real idea where to go or what to do. Autumn hung in the air, and they foraged for berries along the banks of the river, and survived for a day or two in that way. At length, they came upon an old rusher panning for gold in the river. They told him of their fate and he took them into his camp. An ancient and somewhat feeble man, Farrell, the old rusher, had very little, but he shared his food and shelter, and they spent their days aiding him in his search for gold.

John seemed to have a knack for the work, and soon had collected a number of small vials of gold dust. Rusher Farrell thrilled at this, and they took it down river and bought more supplies, and a mule to carry them. They then returned, and began to work up in the mountains, and John felt a strong urge to enter a dark ravine, where he found a sizable vein of gold, which they worked until the lode ran dry.

####

Years passed, and when John had become a stout young man of seventeen, he found his fortune had blossomed, as had his love for Ariana, now a beautiful young girl of sixteen. They had grown quite wealthy since they'd met Rusher Farrell, who had bought a fine estate south of Wembly where John and Ariana lived with him. John studied letters and arms, and learned them well. He joined and rode with the King's men as a soldier on his expeditions to the Dark Continent, fighting the desert nomads and wild creatures of that land, winning back treasures long stolen from the kingdom. Indeed, John seemed almost a charmed man, for as many of his comrades fell beside him, or lost limbs, eyes, or worse, John stood practically unscathed in battle. He returned a wealthy and honored man, and on his twenty-first birthday Ariana, clad like an angel in silken finery, gave John her hand in marriage.

Happy times abounded for the two. They shared a great love, and Ariana bore many children. Rusher Farrell passed away, but he left John the estate, and John built a prosperous village around it.

As the years passed, John would often stand in his garden at dusk, sip wine and contemplate how remarkable his life had been. He'd grown from a serving boy to a wealthy gentleman not unlike his old master, Ariana's father.

####

It came to pass on a cool, twilit autumn eve that John smoked his tobacco pipe in his garden. Suddenly he spied through the shimmering air a shadowy figure pass through his gates unhindered and approach from the garden path. John sat unmoving, but knew at once that the Green Devil came. He looked unchanged from that night John had last seen him over thirty years before.

"Good evening, John," he said as he neared and leaned against an elm tree. "Thirty years have passed."

Somehow, John had always known he'd come back, but had reassured himself that he'd never taken anything from the Green Devil, and therefore had nothing to fear. But as he towered over John, that confidence faded.

"Raphanus," John found myself saying, wincing as the name crossed my lips.

The Green Devil smiled as he saw John's discomfort. "You've lived a good life, John, and have many fine things."

"I've earned them all, on my own." John said.

"Have you?"

"Yes, I asked for nothing from you that night in my master's lab, and I've gotten nothing from you all my life."

"Yes, that's true. Nothing from me has come to you, in all these years. Do you understand now, John? Nothing."

Suddenly, John did understand. As a boy, he'd asked for nothing, but the Green Devil had twisted his words, and taken them as a request. By granting it, he had given John nothing from him ... including all the random evil, bad luck, misfortune and even death that every man is due by fate in his lifetime. All the things that come from the Green Devil's realm, John realized, had been absent in his life, and their absence allowed all of John success.

"Yes, you understand now ... you did ask something of me. Nothing proved to be a very good thing, indeed. Perhaps the best request of all."

John reeled. "And now, John, I have held up my part of the bargain, and it is time for me to ask for my desire."

He drew the same wicked sword from his belt, and held it to John, pommel first. "I ask for that which is most precious to you, Rusher John. Give it to me."

Reflexively, John grasped the hilt, and suddenly he saw his beautiful Ariana's face as she slumbered inside the house, and he saw himself doing as Raphanus asked ... walking into the bedroom, drawing her delicate hair aside, and slashing the blade across her throat, sending her to the Green Devil's side in the depths of oblivion.

John cast the weapon to the ground, and the vision vanished. "I cannot," John said, just as Gelius had before.

The Green Devil bent and picked up the sword, and John cowered with closed eyes as he awaited the same fate that had befallen his master. But the blade never fell onto his neck, and he opened his eyes, and saw the Green Devil's tall shape walking up the steps into his house. John knew at once that Raphanus was headed for the bed chamber where Ariana slept, and he leapt up to follow.

All along, John had believed the Green Devil had asked of Gelius the same thing he'd just asked John. He had always believed that Gelius held Ariana most dear, just as John did. But in a sudden moment of clarity, John now knew otherwise. Gelius had held his own soul most dear -- he loved himself above all others -- and thus the Green Devil asked for, and then took, Gelius's soul. But John truly loved Ariana more than anything, and now the beast went to take her from him. John drew his own blade as he ran down the hall to their chamber.

Entering the room, John saw the Green Devil standing beside her, the short sword held in one hand, while the other hovered near her sleeping head. "Thirty more years of wealth and prosperity -- that is what I am offering if you give me my due. Is she worth losing all that? There are many more pretty girls for you in your town ... younger ones, too. Send this one to me. You'll do her a great service ... she'll reign as queen of my realm."

"Never!" John screamed, and tried to lunge for the Green Devil, but found himself -- and his blade -- immobilized.

"Oh, John, always so rash and noble. Very well, keep her," he said, raking his claws gently down the side of her face as he walked away from the bed. "But our bargain is done, and you be left owing. You may soon find life a bit more difficult than you have for some time."

Raphanus walked past John and down the hall. As he heard the front door slam shut, John found himself free and he rushed to Ariana's side.

He shook her awake. In a groggy voice, she said, "I am feeling ill, John."

####

A bitter cold came in from the north during the night. Ariana slept, but she shivered in her slumber, and John lit a fire in the hearth, and covered her with blankets. In the morning she rose, but with a hacking cough and sallow eyes. The wind had brought with it a sickness which fell upon her and all of their children and servants ... everyone in the household but John.

As the days passed, he called forth healers, and even enchanters, but none could help. One by one, John lost each of his children, while Ariana wasted away to nothing.

John sat by her side through the most fell winter he'd known.

The whole of their little village got the plague, and few lasted the season. Ariana made it until spring, but no further. The snows melted, and blossoms and butterflies sprang forth and filled John briefly with new hope, but it did not last. Ariana passed from the world a day after equinox.

John carried her wraithlike little body out that evening, finding it almost as light as when she'd been a child, and he buried her on a flower-clad hillock where she'd once gathered hollyhocks and daisies with which to brighten their home.

At that point, John wished himself dead. He cursed the gods that he'd been spared from the plague. He had nothing then ... all his wealth had been spent on the town and its industry, and with the passing of its occupants, there was nothing. Empty buildings and empty streets, thick with the scent of death and decay, greeted John when he left his home each day. He stayed there until madness began to overtake him, and he dreamed of taking his own life. He tried to cast himself upon his own blade, but found himself still blessed, or perhaps cursed, with the same invulnerability he'd had before. No blade forged by the hand of man could kill him; nor could another mortal man take his life. Such power might be craved by many other men, and yet all John had ever loved had been cast away, and thus such things meant nothing to him. He wanted to die, and could not, and so his doom was to live out his life, and the breadth of its sadness, in full.

After several months, John did finally leave the dead village, and he tried his hand at prospecting again, but found that his knack for finding gold had left him, and he barely got by. He tried to starve himself to death, but found that hunger pangs always got the best of him, and he ate. He began to second guess himself ... to wonder if it would have been better to slice Ariana's throat on that night ... and send her to be the Green Devil's queen. He would dream such things at night, seeing her reign over a hellish feast, dining on lamb's flesh and pomegranates, and lament that He'd denied her such revels and condemned her to sickness and mortal death.

Such visions and a thousand other specters haunted him for decades. He drifted, and at last found a meager existence as a hired man of arms, and when he could no longer stand the hurt of another deathless but painful sword stroke, he fell into bouncing ruffians from the worse pubs and taverns of the world. He also began to find solace in cups of ale, and drank himself into oblivion each night. And in this way, he passed the next thirty years of his life, finally ending up at the Crow's Nest Inn, working for table scraps and cups of ale.

####

"Sixty years?" asked Nicholas.

"It's been sixty years since I first met this ... this green devil. And thirty years since last he cursed my sight. Let us go to him." Rusher John slipped his tunic over his scarred chest, and started toward the door.

"He looks quite mean, sir. I think he means to do you harm."

"I hope so."

Nicolas followed as the gaunt old man exited the room, passed down the hallway, and started down the creaking stairs to the tavern below. The Green Devil stood at the bar, a glass of wine in his hand. Some thirty odd patrons stood gathered by the entrance to the tavern, a few of them still trying to pry open the locked door. As John and Nicholas descended, the Green Devil looked up and his lips curled into a wicked smile. "Thrice met by twilight, John," he said.

"Indeed, Raphanus. What new deviltry bring you?"

"John. Such a harsh greeting for an old friend?"

"You be no friend to me," Rusher John said, reaching the end of the stairs. "You give gifts unasked for, and then demand more than any could give in return. You fill the world with grief and sorrow, and make it all the worse by first giving favor, and then ill fortune."

"I do give good gifts, John, and I ask so little in return. Why, there are many who would find my deals a bargain."

"Well, I do not."

"No, not even if I offered you another thirty years of life like you lived before? You've still many good years left on your coil, sir, and I'd wager you'd like to have an end to these ill days. There's a debt you still owe to me, John. Pay it, and enjoy a prosperous life once again."

"I have nothing to give to you," said Rusher John, clearing his throat and spitting the result on the floor.

"No? I think you do. Once again, I want that which is most dear to you," said the Green Devil ... pulling the rusted, serpentine sword from his belt. He held it to Rusher John, pommel first. "Give it to me."

Rusher John stood unmoving ... his tired, aged mind calculating as best it could. "There is nothing dear anymore in this life, Raphanus."

"Indeed," said the Green Devil, glancing around toward Nicholas, who still stood at the base of the stairs. "Then you won't mind giving me the boy."

"What?" cried Rusher John, his old eyes widening. "The boy means nothing to me."

"Well, I'd have never thought that, the way you enthrall him with stories, and have taught him his letters and some small skill at arms. But, if he truly means nothing to you, then you'll have no trouble dispatching him. Here, take the blade, and send that boy to my side. He'll be a Prince of Darkness, and live a much better life than ever he might in this cursed mortal realm."

Rusher John suddenly found himself faced with the same decision he'd had that fateful night thirty years before, when he'd had the chance to do the same for his beloved Ariana. But he had refused, and she had died a most miserable death. He looked to Nicholas. Indeed, he'd grown fond of the boy over these last few months. Nicholas had been the one glimmer of brightness in his otherwise doomed life. If he did nothing, the boy would surely die a cruel death anyway. Rusher John walked toward the smiling Green Devil, and took the blade.

The foul, jagged weapon felt ice cold in his hand. He turned, and walked slowly to the stairs where the boy stood trembling. A collective gasp rose from the tavern folk as Rusher John walked toward Nicholas.

"No!" shouted the tavern wench, "don't you dare hurt that boy!"

Rusher John looked to all of them, his eyes filled with sadness. "You don't understand," he said with weak lips. "It is for the best."

Some of the braver of the townsfolk tried to rush forth, but found themselves immobilized by the Green Devil's fell magic. Only Rusher John, dark blade in hand, could move.

"Close your eyes, boy," Rusher John said as he reached Nicholas, "It'll be easier that way." Then, his back to the Green Devil, Rusher John winked at him. The boy suddenly felt confused, but closed his eyes in fright as Rusher John raised the blade high over his head, and then plunged it down in a swift arc, into his own chest.

The tavern crowd gasped a second time, and Nicholas' eyes flared wide in time to see Rusher John slowly fall to his knees, and then tumble back flat on the stone floor. A smile grew on Rusher John's face, and as he lay on the floor he said, "No mortal blade could harm me, but at last, this be no mortal blade." Rusher John closed his eyes, and he slipped into the comfortable death that had eluded him for thirty years.

"Oh, John ... always so rash," said the Green Devil, rising from his seat at the bar. "You've unexpectedly bested me once again ... .bravo."

Rusher John's chest fell still as he lay upon the floor. Nicholas burst into tears as he saw the man he'd so admired pass into death. He ran from the stairs and fell to his knees beside the body. The Green Devil walked slowly toward them.

"Why do you cry so, boy?"

"He was like a father to me. I never knew my own. I been in this tavern since Mum died, and he was the only one that was ever nice to me."

"Tis a shame, no? But, Nicholas, I may walk upon the earth for a time longer this night ... perhaps I can do something for you while I'm here?"

Nicholas looked up at the face of the Green Devil. He held silent, shut his eyes and turned away.

"You don't even wish to ask for nothing? My, you are a clever boy. But it is no matter, I know what it is that you wish ... you have already asked it of me."

Nicholas looked up, startled, not knowing what the Green Devil meant until he saw the tall, gaunt figured bend down and grasp the hilt of the wicked sword still sticking in Rusher John's chest. "Get up, John," said the Green Devil, pulling the blade from the dead man's chest. As he did, the blood on Rusher John's tunic faded, and the old man coughed himself back to life. "I'm not through with you, yet," said the Green Devil as Rusher John sat up, eyes blinking.

"What happened?" asked Rusher John, his eyes wide.

"This boy has made a wish of me ... that you still lived to care for him, and I have made it so."

Rusher John's eyes narrowed, and his mouth twisted into a scowl. "How could you, boy? I meant to spare you my fate. Why did you do it?"

"I didn't. I didn't say anything, I swear it!"

Rusher John looked from the boy to the grinning face of the Green Devil. "I believe you, lad," he said, his brow furrowing. "Raphanus, he's just a boy ... he can't be held to the thoughts in his head, or the wishes in his heart."

"Can't he? I care nothing of his age, or how he communicates his desires. He has sinned in this world, and that is all that is required to deal with me. Oh yes, just as you were no innocent lamb at his age, so neither is he. The barkeep might be interested to know that bits of fine morsels intended for his patrons have ended up instead in Nick's belly, or that a crock of copper nippets sits under the boy's cot, skimmed from the money till. Or perhaps the blacksmith might like to know how the boy has lusted in his heart as he's watched his daughters bathe in the river. I could go on."

"Those are trifles, Raphanus, and you know it." said Rusher John, reaching out to pat the boy on the back. Nicholas' face had turned bright red, and he hung his head in shame.

"They are enough to qualify him for my services." The Green Devil turned and walked toward the door. "Be of good cheer, John, you've thirty more years in this world ... and you be free of my doom, as long as you care for the boy." Reaching the door, he thrust it open with a wave of his hand. "You've entertained me well this eve, sirrah," he said as he stepped though the door. "I look forward to our next meeting in thrice times a decade." He cackled out a long, low rumbling laugh as he passed down the road and disappeared into the darkness of night.

Instantly, the dread evil which had hung over the pub seemed to pass, and the lanterns hanging overhead brightened a bit. Some of the patrons hurried out the door, while others clamored for more drink to ease their fears.

The barkeep, suddenly fearless in the Green Devil's absence, started across the room toward Nicholas, who cowered back against the stairs.

"Stealing from me, eh? I'll teach you a lesson for that."

"You'll do no such thing," said Rusher John, standing from the floor. He no longer had the stoop of an old man, but instead stood up to his full height of six feet. "The boy is in my care now, and we will leave this place on morrow morn's first light."

The barkeep stopped short as Rusher John fingered the grip of his sword. He smiled sheepishly, and turned and walked back behind the bar. "Nicholas, lad, go and get your jar of coins, and bring them to my room ... you've earned them. And barkeep, pour me a flagon of mead, and a pint of small beer for the boy ... I'd say he's proved himself old enough for such."

Nicholas retrieved his things, and stowed them in Rusher John's chamber. Returning to the old man's side at the bar, he asked, "Are we really leaving tomorrow?"

"Perhaps even sooner. Word of our dealings with a demon will spread fast. We'll have to take our chances seeking a better life somewhere else in the world. I seem to be a bit more hardy and hale than before I died, so perhaps my fortune will take an upturn as well."

"What was it like ... dying?" asked Nicholas.

Rusher John eyes turned down to stare into his flagon of mead. He sighed, and said, "I expected to find myself in the depths of darkness, cast into a burning oblivion for the life I've lived, and yet, I found myself floating toward the blessed realm. All about me was whiteness and brilliant, golden radiance. Angelic shapes drifted about me, singing sweetly, and in the distance, I saw the winsome form of my beloved Ariana, restored to her peak of beauty. She was smiling and holding out her hands as I drifted toward her ... and then ... he pulled me back."

Tears formed in Nicholas' eyes. "I'm sorry, Rusher John. It's my fault."

"Be not sorry, lad, there is nothing you could have done against that green bastard. And there are worse evils than being given one's life back. I am blessed enough to know that she waits for me in a better place, and I imagine she'll still be there when at last I shake off this mortal coil."

Rusher John tousled the boy's hair, and pushed the clay cup of beer that the barkeep brought toward him. "Here, drink up lad ... I think you'll find it pleasing enough a beverage. And we may need a few more to steel our nerves, after such a night."

The boy took the cup, and downed it in one quick gulp. Rusher John laughed, and took the cup from him and slid it down the bar for another. "Apparently, you've tasted such before."

"Aye," said Nicholas, a small grin forming on his lips. "Food and coins were not all that I've skimmed for myself from the tavern's wares."

THE END


© 2011 Christopher Owen

Bio: Christopher Owen lives in Texas with his wife and two cats. His work has appeared at Daily Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, Mystic Signals, and other places. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop.

E-mail: Christopher Owen

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