October 20, 2017

Please Donate: Only Four Days Left

If you have been waiting to donate to our Fundrazr Campaign, please do it now. We are short of our goal by about $200. They might seem trivial to people reading it, but it’s a huge amount to us!

If you enjoy reading EC. If you love the art. If you are a writer or a poet, please, give. Here’s the link:

Image by Rie Cramer.

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October 17, 2017

Only One Week Left

There’s only one week left on our Fundrazr Campaign and as of this writing, we are short by over $200. We need that money! Every cent will be put to good use.

If you’ve been waiting to donate, please, wait no longer. And, to the folks who have given, so very many thanks!

Image by N.C. Wyeth.
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October 16, 2017

Godfather Death Issue - Table of Contents

October calls to us here at Enchanted Conversation, and we are pleased to present the Godfather Death Issue this month. Here are seven stories and poems that use the classic Brothers Grimm tale as a starting off point to explore themes that fit the mood leading up to All Hallow’s Eve at the end of the month. 

This is an issue where not all godmothers are fairies, and it is best to remember that Death always keeps a promise. If Death can measure a life span, can the depth of a father's love be measured, too? Would you strike up a conversation if you accidentally ran into Death on a city street? Is reality different when seen from four distinct viewpoints?...and would a pure heart ever trick Death? 

Join us where autumn's twilight lingers endlessly before winter's chill sets in. Cozy up around our virtual bonfire and read on because, after all, during the month of October, we are all Autumn People for a brief time...Enjoy!

Lissa Sloan

Evan Purcell

R.A. Goli

Sarah Allison

Gabriel Ertsgaard

Kiyomi Appleton Gaines

Rebecca Buchanan

This issue was edited by Amanda Bergloff, who also created the accompanying art to the stories and poems.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Please help EC continue publishing original fairy tales, art, poetry, and commentary by contributing to the Enchanted Conversation FundRazr Page. Your donation will keep EC around. Fundraising ends October 25th, so don't wait, and thank you for your support!

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The Goddaughter and Death by Lissa Sloan

Not all godmothers are fairies, and it is best to remember that Death always keeps her promises...

Once there was a motherless girl. She had a powerful godmother who helped her get to the palace to win the heart of a handsome prince. But it was not the godmother you think. It was not the girl you think. And her tale does not end with a happily ever after. It ends like all tales, though, as you will see.  

But we must begin at the beginning, not the end, and so we must go back. Back to the birth of the motherless girl. When Death came for the girl’s mother, the dying woman seized Death’s robes in her weakening hands. She knew her baby daughter would face hardships without her. Her husband would not want to be alone; he would marry again. And who would look after her daughter then? Who would put the child first? With her last breath, the mother begged Death to stand godmother to her baby girl. To watch over her and guide her. Death was used to begging, but no one had begged this favor before. Death leaned over the bundle in the father’s arms, examining the child. Then she nodded once. Her robes turned to smoke in the woman’s cold hands and swirled up the chimney. The father and daughter were alone.

But they were not alone for long. As the mother had known, the girl’s father was lonely and married again. The new wife had children of her own, and more children came along afterward, as children will. The motherless girl was thrust aside, and no one thought of her.  Except for Death. Death was true to her promise. She came to the christening, she visited from time to time, and as the girl grew older, she began to make some provision for her future. The family had come upon hard times, and Death knew there would be no money for a dowry. So she decided to give her goddaughter a profession.  

“You shall be a healer,” she told the girl. Together they walked in the woods, and Death showed the girl the right herbs to collect to make a cordial that would cure all but the gravest ills. “If you are summoned to a sickbed and see me at the bed’s head, then give your patient the medicine, and all will be well,” she told her. “Until the next time, at least,” she said, her robes lifting in the slightest of shrugs. Then she put her bony hand under the girl’s chin, forcing her to look into the depths of her black eyes. “But if I am at the bed’s foot, then there is no help for him. And you must not try.” The girl nodded and promised that she wouldn’t.

To begin with, the girl attended only the poorest homes. For who would want the services of a young girl in a shabby dress when they could have a proper physician, or even an apothecary? But plenty of folk had no choice and were grateful for anyone who cared to come. The girl was glad to go where she was wanted and was always careful to obey Death’s instructions.  

Then one day, the word spread throughout the town. The young prince was gravely ill. The apothecaries and physicians had failed, and the king and queen would pay any price to one who could cure him. The girl pitied the prince, but she envied him too. No one would pay any price to save her life. So she set off for the palace. The guards scoffed at the sight of a barefoot girl with nothing but a bottle of green liquid in her hand. But then they saw Death approaching the palace gates, black robes billowing behind her, and their ruddy faces blanched in terror. They hurried the girl inside and barred the gates, practically pushing her up the stairs to the prince’s room.

But Death was there before them, at the foot of the young man’s bed. It was a shame, thought the girl, as she sat on the bed to examine her patient. He was so young; it was not fair for Death to take him now. And then the girl did something brave. Or something foolish. Or maybe both at once. She could not say what made her do it. Perhaps it was the silent weeping of the queen or the reddened eyes of the king. Perhaps it was not. More likely it was the way the prince’s dark locks fell across his forehead and the way he grabbed the girl’s hand as she reached out to touch his fevered brow. Whatever her reason, she called two guards to her, strong men both, and whispered in their ears. At her command, one took the prince’s shoulders and the other his feet. They reversed his position on the bed. The girl tipped the cordial down his throat and looked up at Death, now at the head of the bed.  

Cold filled the room as Death approached her goddaughter. She laid a cold white hand upon the girl’s cheek. “You are young, my child; I shall forgive you. But do not disobey me again.”    
The goddaughter was sorry. Mostly. She shook her head and promised she would never disobey again, a tear of contrition freezing as it trickled down her cheek. Death was gone then, black robes fading into the room like steam from a boiling pot, but no one noticed.The prince was sitting up in bed, the color already returning to his cheeks.The king and queen rejoiced, and the maids and the guards rushed out to share the good news. But the prince had eyes for no one but the girl who had saved his life.

Now though our story has no ever after, it does have some happily, and that begins here. For they married, of course, as you knew they would. The girl became a princess and, in time, a queen. She healed her subjects when she could and nursed them with care when she could not. She was renowned for her knowledge and her wisdom, for she was never tempted to defy Death again. At least, not until the day she came into her firstborn’s room and found the godmother at the foot of the girl’s bed.

Again the goddaughter was brave, and again she was foolish. This time it was the queen herself who lifted the girl off the bed. The princess was only a little thing, so light that the queen reversed her position on the bed in one blink of Death’s black eye. The child drank the cordial and sank back onto the bed.  

The queen was not sorry. But she knew her godmother would be angry, and she stood to face her. Death approached her, placing one skeletal hand on her goddaughter’s chest. Her touch was light, but the queen felt the breath turn to ice in her lungs. “You are old enough to know better, child,” Death said softly. “And from now on, you shall. Next time, you will welcome my coming.” The queen’s heart stopped, and she slumped to the floor in a rustle of silk as Death withdrew her hand. Then the godmother was gone, disappearing in a swirl of fog like breath on a cold morning. And the queen’s heart beat once more.

Death had been right to say the queen would welcome her coming, for the princess did not recover as her father had. She lingered and wasted, begging her mother to let her go, and the queen could do nothing to ease her pain. All she could do was to implore the godmother’s pardon and entreat her to return. But Death chooses her own time, and she came when she was ready. The queen did indeed welcome Death and begged the godmother to take her too. But Death was used to begging. She merely shook her head and disappeared, her robes trailing up into the air like smoke from a blown-out candle.  

The queen could not carry on without her child. But she did carry on, for what choice did she have? She walked with the godmother in the woods, gathering herbs. She healed the sick when she could, nursed them with care when she could not, and curled into her husband’s arms in the dark of the night. And among her grief there was more happily, although no ever after. There was even, when she was almost too old to give up hoping for such things, another child, a son this time.

When Death returned to the palace the queen was not ready, and she knew she never would be. The godmother stood at the foot of the king’s bed, just as she had stood there all those years before when he was only a prince. When the prince and the healer had never even met and the barefoot girl with the bottle of cordial had so much less to lose. But now the girl was a woman, and lose she did. Not all, but enough. Again she begged the godmother to take her too. But Death was used to begging. She merely shook her head, her robes dissipating into the room like mist in the morning sun.  

The queen could not carry on without her husband. And yet she did, for what else could she do? She and the godmother took her little son for walks in the woods, showing him what herbs to pick and how to make the cordial. She ruled her kingdom with wisdom and compassion. She took the prince with her to visit sickbeds, healing when she could and nursing with care when she could not.

When Death returned for her at last, the queen welcomed her with a kiss. She called for the prince. She told the boy, nearly a man now, that he must be brave, and she hoped no more foolish than necessary. She said there would be no need for the cordial this time, and she kissed her son goodbye. Then she took the godmother’s robes in her hand and begged a favor with her dying breath. She asked Death to stand godmother to her son when she was gone. Death was used to begging, but she had grown to like this favor, so she nodded her agreement.  

Before the prince, now the king, could call for the guards to move his mother on the bed, before he could unstopper his cordial or even beg, before he could do anything but grab a fistful of Death’s robes, all was over. Death’s robes turned to smoke in his trembling hand, and the boy was alone.  

But Death was true to her promise, and the young king became a healer like his mother. He was brave at times and foolish at others and sometimes both at once. He knew Death’s rules, and perhaps he obeyed them, perhaps he did not. But that is the godson’s tale. The goddaughter’s tale is over. They will have the same end, though. While we may have some happily, there will be no ever after.  

For Death makes sure that all our stories end the same.

Lissa Sloan's poems and short stories are published in Enchanted ConversationNiteblade Magazine, Krampusnacht: Twelve Nights of Krampus, andFrozen Fairy Tales.  “Death in Winter,” Lissa's contribution to Frozen Fairy Tales, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  Visit her online at her website,lissasloan.com, or on Twitter: @LissaSloan.

Story ART by: Amanda Bergloff

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you enjoyed this story, please help EC continue publishing original fairy tales, art, poetry, and commentary by contributing to the Enchanted Conversation FundRazr Page. Your donation will keep EC around. Fundraising ends October 25th, so don't wait, and thank you for your support!

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Hello, Death. It's a Pleasure. by Evan Purcell

Would you strike up a conversation if you accidentally ran into Death on a city street? 

One day, though I can’t quite remember when, I met Death. I accidentally bumped into him on my way to Timmy McManus’s house in Cleveland. Or was it Pittsburgh? Timmy was a nice kid, though he had an unfortunate overbite.

The contact was sudden and quite jarring. I remember face-planting against his billowing cloak. He was quite cold, because of the whole skinless thing, and his bony fingers dug into my flesh as he pushed me away. I felt a tingle.

He was very cordial about it, Death was, and I said that I admired his work. Not seriously, of course. I just thought it was the polite thing to say. As you might expect, looking into the sockets of a six-foot, hooded person can become intimidating, and not much else would come out of my mouth except the occasional conversation-filling gurgle. Death told me that he was very proud of what he does. Not many other people could say they kill someone every 3.2 seconds. I thought my line of work was difficult, but his seemed a bit more extensive.

Death also said that he was in town to get through a whole building’s worth of burn victims way down on seventy-first. He pointed his bony little pinkie in the direction of the billowing smoke cloud. I asked if he felt sorry for all those people burning up. I mean, someone doesn’t just wake up in the morning and imagine that he’s going to be a pile of sizzling ash by nightfall. Death shrugged, a disturbingly innocent shrug, given that it came from a man completely covered in shadow. “I don’t know,” Death said. “I don’t want to sound insensitive, but it gets kind of repetitive, you know. You’ve seen one third-degree burn victim, you’ve seen them all.”

I nodded, pretending I understood when I really wanted to run and cower somewhere far, far away. I’ve heard the Southwest is nice.

Death smiled at me, his white teeth gleaming through the cloud of black nothingness that was his face. They glistened in the fading sun along with his scythe blade. Twinkle, twinkle, spark, spark. Death took really good care of his teeth. I admire that in a person.

The small talk continued. I asked him what caused the fire. He said something about a cigarette gone haywire. I asked how high the death toll would get. He said thirty-seven, still smiling, as if the grisly change in our conversation’s focal point registered no emotions in that skull of his. He must have really loved his work.

The moon had suddenly come up, giving Death the lighting he needed, just enough to show his immense outline. The wind picked up around the same time, and his cloak twisted and fell in the breeze, writhing about like the cloth version of the fire that was now high into the sky. “Well,” Death said after our conversation slackened (I contemplated asking where he did his dry cleaning but realized that was too much). “I should be going soon. I think I hear the ambulance come. I’d hate to have made this trip for nothing.”

He patted me on the shoulder, and I again felt a distinct tingle. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but it was mostly unpleasant. He cocked his head for a second, and a look of confusion fell over his face-void. Then, as if to test something, he reached forward and poked me in the forehead. I pretended not to notice.

“I guess I’ll see you around,” I said, although I hoped that would never happen.

He turned to leave, slowly walking into the night. I knew he was still only feet away, but it was getting harder and harder to see him. Before he was completely gone, he turned back, his sockets giving me clear eye contact. “By the way,” he said, stroking his chin with those skeleton hands in a comically grim gesture. “I ran into you. How come you didn’t die? I thought only myself and a few of the other Immortals were allowed to live forever.” He seemed very understanding as he said this, treating my continued life as some strange condition that one reads about in medical journals.

I smiled, turned and flew away. I wanted to let him figure it out. After all, little Timmy McManus still needed me to collect his tooth.

Evan Purcell has written five romance novels, as well as over twenty sci-fi and horror shorts for various anthologies. He was a finalist in the 3-Day Novel Contest and the LA Comedy Fest Screenwriting Competition. For his day job, he teaches English at a high school in Bhutan.

Find out more about Evan: http://www.Facebook.com/EvanPurcellWriter

Story ART by: Amanda Bergloff

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you enjoyed this story, please help EC continue publishing original fairy tales, art, poetry, and commentary by contributing to the Enchanted Conversation FundRazr Page. Your donation will keep EC around. Fundraising ends October 25th, so don't wait, and thank you for your support!

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A Flicker of Time, by R.A. Goli

The height of Death's candles are equal to a life span, but even Death can't measure the depth of a father's love...

Merrick Chandler worked tirelessly, rendering down beef fat to make the tallow. He had a busy day ahead due to an unusual number of women about to give birth. He’d already been cooking it for a few hours and his workshop stunk. Fortunately, the quality of fat was good and he knew how to cook it so it wouldn’t smell once the tapers were lit, which was a good thing considering how many candles there were.

While he waited for it to cool, he shifted to his large oak desk and consulted the list. Death had written the names and candle sizes for each baby to be born that day, so Merrick began preparing the wicks by cutting them to size and securing them in the mold.

Once the tallow had cooled a little, Merrick poured it into each section of the mold according to the length of the wick. He remembered when he’d first started candle making, he’d used the technique of dipping the wicks in the tallow repeatedly until the tapers had formed the desired shapes, then trimmed them to the appropriate length. Death had commissioned a blacksmith to make a mold so Merrick could craft hundreds of candles at once. It was physically less demanding and each candle was uniform in width. The height of each was of course based on the life span of each individual.

Once they’d set and hardened, he removed them from the mold, and took them to the candle room where Death waited. Calling it the candle room was not accurate. It was more like a tunnel that stretched for miles, with built in shelves in the brickwork, which house a million candles, all lit and burning brightly.

“Good evening, Merrick,” Death said when he arrived, for it was now early eve.

“Good evening, Death. How fair thee today?”

“Busy as always.”

Merrick pulled his candle-laden cart to the empty section of shelves and began placing the unlit tapers beside the appropriate name plaques. When he was done, Death approached, handed him a scroll for the next day’s crafting, then set to work lighting the wicks. Merrick watched as Death lit the candles as each child was born, saddened by the number of short ones there were in the day’s batch. Death also noticed.

“There’s a pox raging through North Larkhurst,” Death said.

“Such a shame.”

Bored with watching Death work, Merrick went for a stroll through the tunnel of lights, comforted by their warmth and calmed by their flickering glow. He saw the large candles of the healthy children and young adults in their prime, and saw the shorter ones belonging to older folk, those who’d lived many years already, with lives coming to an end.

He smiled when he reached he and his wife’s candle, burning so brightly, both with many, many years to go. He realized how lucky he was, Amelina was in full bloom, almost ready to have their first child. Tired as he was, Merrick almost jogged out of the candle room, suddenly eager to get home.

* * *
When Merrick unrolled the list of names for the day he almost jumped out of his skin. His son, Renick Chandler was on the list.

“Today, he’s to be born today!”

Merrick’s shouts of joy reverberated around his work space, until he read the rest of the entry. He swallowed down rising bile and felt the pulse at his neck jump under the skin.

“No. It can’t be.”

A hard knot tightened in his throat as he stared at the scroll. Then anger washed over him like grey waves and he rushed to Death’s office. Death was seated at his desk and Merrick threw the scroll down in front of him.

“What is the meaning of this?”

Death reached a skeletal hand forward and grabbed the scroll, then turned to him, sympathy was written across the man’s pallid face.

“This is the way of the world, Merrick. You know that. It’s the cycle of life and death. I cannot change it.”

“You must! I know you can.”

Death shook his head. “It is not the way.”

Merrick dropped to his knees and clasped his hands together. “Please Death, you have the power to make this right.”

“I’m sorry, my friend. You must make your son’s candle along with the others.” He handed Merrick the scroll and place a hand on his shoulder to comfort him.   

Merrick shook it off angrily and snatched the scroll, then stood and left without a word.

He went back to his work room, sat at his desk and cried for an hour. How would he explain it to Amelina? That their son would only be with them for such a short time. She’d be devastated, as he was. Eventually he prepared the tallow, sorted the wicks and poured the molds. Once the candles were set, he loaded his cart and took them to Death and once again pleaded with him.

“You must do something, it’s so short. It’s not fair!” He sobbed as he looked at his son’s candle, so small, a few days or weeks’ worth of wick and tallow if he was lucky.

“Life and Death aren’t always fair, Merrick.” Death said as he began lighting the wicks.

“Can’t you give him an extra candle?”

“I cannot. I suggest you go home now if you wish to be there for the birth of your child.”

Merrick stared at the back of Death’s cowl as he bent forward, lighting wick after wick. How can he be so cruel? But Death wasn’t cruel. He knew that already. Death paused in his work and turned to Merrick.

“You may have tomorrow off to spend with your wife and child. I’ll make the candles myself.”

“At least tell me how.”

“The bloody flux,” Death said.

Merrick nodded and turned away, the flickering flames forming a large orange blur through his watery vision.

* * *

Merrick didn't go home to Amelina as Death had suggested. He sat in his work station trying to come up with a way to trick Death. When he did find a solution, it didn't exactly make him happy, but it was all he could think to do. He waited until he was sure Death had retired for the evening and snuck into the candle room.

He stood in front of his candle, watching its happy flickering flame, Amelina's flame the same. They seemed to lean towards each other. When Merrick removed it, his wife's flame shrunk a little, then stood straight and still. He walked to where Renick's sat, so short, its flame so dim compared to a healthy newborn's. He took his son's candle and replace it with his, tall and strong, though not a full life left, but at least he'd given his son many more years.

He walked back to his own name plate and placed the short candle where his used to be. Amelina's flamed leaned down towards it, and he choked back a sob. Such a difference now. He left the tunnel of lights and headed home. He'd need to tell her what he'd done. She'd be heartbroken, but he'd done the only thing he could.

He'd given a mother more time with her son.

R.A. Goli is an Australian writer of horror, fantasy, speculative and erotic horror short stories. Her work has been published by Broadswords and Blasters, Fantasia Divinity Magazine, Grivante Press, Deadman’s Tome, and Horrified Press among others. In addition to writing, her interests include reading, gaming, the occasional walk, and annoying her dog, two cats, and husband.

Check out her website: https://ragolifiction.wordpress.com/
or stalk her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ragolifiction

Story ART by: Amanda Bergloff

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you enjoyed this story, please help EC continue publishing original fairy tales, art, poetry, and commentary by contributing to the Enchanted Conversation FundRazr Page. Your donation will keep EC around. Fundraising ends October 25th, so don't wait, and thank you for your support!
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The Physician's Wife by Sarah Allison

Once, a princess slept and dreamed of Death...

The princess slept.
She dreamed that Death stood by her feet
and called her away in a soft cold voice,
somewhere else, far from the fever,
into a quiet dark that smelled
of earth.

But she woke up.
Her father bid her wed a stranger, a physician,
who had cured her, so would keep her.
She smiled as she had been taught to do.
They were married with flags and trumpets
and the sky rained rice and flowers.

The physician slept.
He did not wake, only sank deeper
with a face full of dread, and she wondered
if he dreamed of Death. They buried him
with flags and trumpets and much weeping,
and she wore widow’s black
though they had been married less than a day.

Her father did not seem to mind.
Over dinner, he remarked
he had a better husband for her.
A wealthy king from a nearby land
who would make a strong ally in war.

Sarah Allison lives in Florida. Her short fiction has been published in Liguorian Magazine and NonBinary Review, and her fairytale blog can be found at writinginmargins.weebly.com. 

Poem ART by: Amanda Bergloff

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you enjoyed this poem, please help EC continue publishing original fairy tales, art, poetry, and commentary by contributing to the Enchanted Conversation FundRazr Page. Your donation will keep EC around. Fundraising ends October 25th, so don't wait, and thank you for your support!

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A Phantom Flame by Gabriel Ertsgaard

A voice from the past calls out to the present, and an old tale is more than a fragment in someone else's myth...

Once upon a time, a princess was very sick. Once upon a time, there was a maiden with countless names. Humor your old grandma, dear. You may have outgrown bedtime stories, but this is a more mature tale, if I can just figure out how to tell it. Once upon a time, a silver-haired woman received a surprising letter—I suppose that will have to do—and the letter went like this:

My dear Caroline,

If you recognize this handwriting, then it must feel like you’re hearing from a ghost—the girl with “strange, sad eyes” back from beneath the lake ice. You were too curious, my friend; I learned, long before we met, to vanish from those who peered beneath my surface. It’s cruel, I admit, decades later to upset your serenity, but I offer a form of payment. I’ll finally give you what you sought back in our college years: the truth about me. 

I’ve enclosed a few photographs: the mugshot of a careless young flapper caught in a club raid; a very recent Starbucks selfie from a millennial with purple hair streaks; and (in case you’ve forgotten how we looked forty years ago) the two of us in our infamous tie-dyed t-shirts, just a few hours before our psychedelic torsos taught us why we shouldn’t have put them on half damp. Lay these pictures side by side, and most would detect a lineage, grandmother to daughter to granddaughter. Do you see past that? Those three women don’t have similar faces, they have the same face. They are all the same woman. They are all me. 

You notice telling details, and more importantly, believe them. That’s why I’m writing you (and why I abandoned you). I had no idea, until you started taking notes, that I still talked in my sleep—much less, to borrow Professor Durand’s phrase, in “an Occitan dialect already archaic by the Napoleonic era.” He just couldn’t decide whether that “oddly scholastic prank” was one you were playing on him, or one I was playing on you. Perhaps, though, you’re no longer someone who can believe what this letter contains. Really, it doesn’t matter. Right now, memory matters more than belief. Make me into a fable or a bedtime story. I just need to be more than a fragment in someone else’s myth.

I was burned alive three times over the course of the Renaissance—let’s start there—twice as a witch, once as a heretic. (That was during my Huguenot phase.) Three times I felt my body caught between the physics of combustion and the metaphysics of, well, whatever I am. Can you even imagine that sensation? I’ll spare you the grotesque similes, but anything you posit, it’s at least that painful. My behavior isn’t always fair, I acknowledge, but my fear of perceptive people has deep roots. Of course, the way biometrics are going, I could be flushed out into the open by the end of this century.

I need to prioritize, though, to focus on the life events that best explain me. My first clue regarding my own nature came when a cholera epidemic swept through Galatia. It took my six-year-old daughter, the only child I ever had the courage or recklessness to birth. That was worse than being burned alive. At midday she was still pretending the staircase was an alpine mountain. Then the vomiting started, and she lost more fluid than her poor body could handle. Dead by sundown. She had cinnamon eyes. It’s the only part of her that I still remember clearly. Just a half century ago, I could have sketched my little girl’s portrait from memory, but time eventually blurs everything.

A shadow stood at the foot of her deathbed, and strangely, I knew him. I knew this Lord Death. He went into a wild panic when I caught the hem of his cloak. Ironic, really, how terrified he was of our reunion. When he finally shook me off, I didn’t land anywhere on Earth. I was lost in a black void. At first, my lungs ached, but the cold soon numbed everything. I felt timeless. Then a strange, celestial light carried me back to terra firma. Aether wind, I suspected, until Michelson and Morley proved that no such thing exists. Angels? Perhaps. There’s a comfort, though, in knowing that some mysteries still dwell beyond one’s ken.

For centuries, I pored over tracts on alchemy, philosophy, and science, searching for the key to my persistence. I should have listened to wrinkled grandmothers telling bedtime stories. They knew. Have you heard the tale of Godfather Death? A new father once sought a fair and just man to serve as his son’s godfather, but it turned out that only Death himself met the man’s high standards. Death comes for us all—the rich, the poor, the great, the humble—what could be more just than that?

According to the tale, Death gave his godson a medicine that would cure any disease. With this, the latter might earn a respectable living as a doctor. “Yet if you see me standing at the foot of someone’s bed,” Death warned the young man, “you must not cure that person, for I’ll be there on dreadful business.” But there was a princess…of course there was a princess. She was gentle, beautiful, and deathly ill. Her desperate father promised the maiden’s hand in marriage to him who cured her. The usual fairy tale stuff. 

Memories from my fever delirium have always been gauzy. A shadow hovering at my feet. A young man’s voice demanding, “Quickly, spin her bed around!” Suddenly, the shadow by my head. The youth with cornflower eyes putting a vial to my lips. His elixir molten in my throat. In the folklore, though, these fragments fit a coherent whole, the tale of the young doctor’s ploy to outwit Death. 

The old wives say that Death, furious over the ruse, dragged his godson down into a mysterious chamber that was lit by the eerie glow of inumerous candles. Nevertheless, there was something the tale weavers missed. In every variant, every version of the story I’ve found, the young doctor collapses dead on the chamber floor. But I recognized him, standing by my daughter’s deathbed. He still had the eyes of that youth who hoped to marry the princess. It’s been ages, though, since we were princess or doctor—ages since he stole his godfather’s cloak and cursed us both. 

You see, I’ve been stalking Death, and now I’ve found the path to his chamber. I intend to claim my birthright, and I don’t mean the crown of a vanished kingdom. One of those candles is linked to me, one that flickers with a phantom flame. I want the real fire back. Now, before I forget my daughter’s eyes, I’ll finally burn out the last moments of my natural life. For the sake of justice, Lord Death must give me that. There’s a last justice, though, that my one-time physician cannot grant—the right to echo on as the heroine of my own story and not just a fragment in his. My dear Caroline, I beg you, grant me that final mercy.

Your friend,

Jean Copper
formerly Princess Joanna of Burgundy
formerly Rufina, the mother of Esperanza 
formerly many women who were, in truth, the same woman

* * *
Once upon a time, a princess was terribly ill. Once upon a time, there was a maiden with so many names. Once upon a time, a silver-haired matron pondered a message from her very old friend...

Gabriel Ertsgaard has served on the English faculties of Caldwell University and Wenzhou-Kean University. He earned his D.Litt. from Drew University with a dissertation on environmental themes in an Irish legend.

Story ART by: Amanda Bergloff

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