For me, this story starter was a lot of fun. A main character who dies time and again, but this time coming back to life even throws him for a loop, had a lot of possibilities. It inspired me to dabble in both time travel and magic, which was particularly great because it gave me the opportunity to incorporate my love of sci-fi with fantasy. The Mummy, Highlander, Doctor Who, and Jane Austen were all influences while I wrote this story. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
To Jason: I’m sorry it took so long. I hope you like it!
All right, I remember dying. Again. Well, not like it was the first time, or the tenth, for that matter. But I remember a car accident…and this place looks like it’s never even heard of cars.
There was nothing from here to the horizon that even indicated there was another living soul nearby. After coming back to life so many times over the last few centuries, I had grown used to waking up in strange places. Never had I found myself in the same place that I had died. As if dying and coming back to life wasn’t disorienting enough, but practice has made acclimating easier even if it still took time to recover my memories.
Pulling myself up to a standing position, I cracked my neck. It felt unusually stiff and then I remembered the sharp pain I felt when my neck snapped as my car careened off of the cliff and impacted into the ground. It was a quick way to go, I’d give it that. Far less painful than some, but not one I’d care to repeat. As I remembered the specific how of this death, something else came to mind…the anger I had felt, the desperation, and the surprise when I pressed the brakes on my brand new car and nothing happened. I had been murdered, but I couldn’t remember why.
Hours had passed since I began wandering across the field I had woken up in, and still nothing. Not only could I not remember who it was that would want me dead, but I also began to wonder if I’d ever see civilization. It was beautiful though. The grass seemed greener than normal, the sky so clear and blue, and the air sweet. It reminded me of when I grew up, when the earth and the sky were still pristine, relatively untouched by the march of progress of man. It was eerily familiar.
Everything about this resurrection felt different, felt wrong, and there was a niggling feeling that I couldn’t quite settle upon. Every time it felt close enough to identify, it would recede into an untouchable part of my memory. So I did my best not to focus on it in the hopes that it would come into view on its own. But being all alone, surrounded by nothing but land and air made it difficult to stay distracted and keep my mind blank. I found my thoughts involuntarily drifting back to when I was a young man, to the day I first died. It started out as any other. I donned my cap and made my way to the stables to begin my day’s work. It was a job that I enjoyed immensely. The horses and I had a bond, and I do believe they were as happy to see me as I them and every time I would see the stable come into view I would break out into a smile and run the remaining distance to the entrance. Immediately I would get to work, picking up the pitch fork, so I could muck out the stalls. Granted this was my least favorite part, but if I did it first, I could spend the rest of the day grooming the horses and shining the saddles.
That day in particular, I had hopes of the master giving me permission to ride. He did so once every month as a reward for my hard work. He was a generous man and all of his servants respected him and that day I was going to choose Shade. He was a black horse with white spots, fifteen hands tall, beautiful lines and my favorite. I gave him a sugar cube when I came towards him, which he happily took out of my hand, then I gently patted him on his side as I moved into the stall to clean. It was then that I heard muffled sounds coming from a stall farther down. No one should have been there. It was just after sunrise. Taking a pitchfork firmly in hand, I went to investigate and the sounds grew louder as I approached the stall on the far end. My pulse was racing. Taking a slow breath to gather my courage, I peered into the stall and my eyes grew wide.
The mistress of the house in her fine green velvet dress was carrying on with the master’s friend, Duke Elton. A sound of surprise escaped my lips and they turned towards me. Fear creased the mistress’s brow upon being discovered, but there was something about the Duke’s eyes that was eerie and unsettling. The blacks of his eyes seemed to expand until no white was visible. My breath hitched as I stumbled backwards trying to maintain the distance that the Duke was steadily closing. I moved to position the pitchfork between myself and him then realized I had dropped it in my surprise. The Duke had it now and he pointed the sharp tines in my direction. They began to glow as he chanted something I didn’t understand. Then I felt an excruciating pain pierce my chest. I remember looking down at the pitchfork protruding from my body, still curious as to why it was glowing, but the last thing I remembered as my life faded away was the satisfied smile that sprawled across the Duke’s face.
I hadn’t thought about that day in a long time. It was clear that that moment is what cursed me with my current inability to stay dead. Or was it a gift? I could never decide. But why remember it now? The pain I felt in my feet from the hours of walking broke through my thoughts and I paused to look around and my jaw dropped. In front of me, as if no time had passed, was the stable. It was something I would never forget. Its white walls still a welcoming sight. I ran over to it, ignoring the painful protest coming from my feet, and peered through one of its several windows and there, in the first stall, was Shade. How is this possible? But that question would need to be answered later because the Duke walked in, and I would recognize him anywhere. He carried in his right hand a glass of wine which he sat down on the top of a barrel. He took out a silver blade that glinted in the sun and started chanting. He dragged the blade across his palm causing blood to flow, then let it drip into the cup mixing perfectly with the contents. The mistress of the house, wearing the same green velvet gown I had remembered, entered the stable. “My dear Duke,” she said, “my husband has been looking everywhere for you.”
“Well, you’ve found me,” he replied. “As you can see I was about to enjoy a glass of wine. Would you care to join me?” She looked at him a bit hesitant, but then seemed to think it the polite thing to do, because she said, “Very well.” He handed her the glass he had just spelled and she drank from it. Duke Elton looked quite pleased as he escorted her back to the main house. That niggling feeling in my mind began to eat away at me again, but this time I chased it until it was tangible. Excitement and confusion rushed me when I seized upon the truth. It was the Duke. He murdered me…again. Pieces came flooding back. My running into the Duke at the coffee shop, his unnerving interest in Emily, the love of my long life. I had to get back to her…somehow. I knew with every fiber of my being that she was in grave danger and I was the only one who could save her. In fact, I was on my way to do just that when…I moved to rub my neck once more.
I don’t know how the Duke managed it or if it was his intention, but he had sent me back in time. The question was, how do I get back? I shoved my hands into my pockets frustrated when I felt a piece of paper. Taking it out, I unfolded it. The text was familiar and the paper watermarked with the Duke’s family crest. I wished that I could remember how I got it. I looked at the Latin text more closely and, to my surprise, translated it easily. My memory was still spotty, but clearly I had taken the trouble to learn it. It was the spell that had sent me back in time, I was sure of it. According to the spell, the final thought at the time of death would seal the outcome. As I plunged to my death, I remembered that I was thinking of the first time the Duke killed me and I ended up here.
Every nerve ending seemed to be set on fire as I decided on a plan. I cautiously made my way into the barn remembering that the master of the house always kept a pistol hidden under the floor boards of the farthest stall in case of an emergency. It didn’t do me any good all those years ago, but… I pried up the floor board and removed the weapon, the irony of the situation not lost on me. This is where I died the first time. The gun felt heavier in my hand than I expected, cold and devoid of feeling. It was difficult to get a comfortable grip. Standing on the very spot I had died centuries before, gun in one hand and the spell in the other, I thought to myself, this has to work. I raised the gun to my temple and spoke the spell aloud, letting thoughts of Emily fill my mind. Our first meeting, her brown wavy hair cascading down around her shoulders, the blue of her dress setting her eyes a glow and a smile that could melt the coldest of hearts. As the picture of her enveloped my senses, I felt a sense of calm and certainty take root. I felt a smile spread from ear to ear and I pulled the trigger.