I wrote this story several months ago for a contest with the picture below as the prompt. Enjoy!
My name is Death. No, no, not that death, Death of Body, my annoyingly popular brother. Everyone is infatuated with him, but he’s actually a bore with the unspectacular power of Body Malfunction. He can certainly manifest it dramatically, but even the most sensational murder is simply his dominance over your puny mortal skeletons.
I, however, while less well-known, am far more sophisticated. My victims suffer worse than his, for they die even as they live. You don’t believe me? Very well, then, I shall provide some evidence. What about the case of Rose and David? Yes, that one will do nicely. Journey with me to a farming village in nineteenth-century America.
I first saw them on the lawn behind the school house in their sleepy, sun-drenched town. Death of Body prefers grand exhibitions of his power—mass murders and the like, preferably with famous people—but I have found that the simplest country folk can suit my purposes. And these two… Ah, they were perfect.
School had just let out, and the happy cries of liberated children spilled over the grass carpet behind the brick building. Rose and David, in their late teens, faced each other. She had shining hair and eyes full of light, and he a charming dimple and laugh full of music. As I watched, they began dancing. Dancing!
I sleuthed about and discovered that they’d met the year before, when David’s father moved back to the country after some failed venture in the city. David had taken ballroom dancing lessons there, and Rose had learned country steps from her aunt. They discovered their mutual love of movement and music at one of those ridiculous barn raising affairs, when the men bring out their banjos and the youths spin in the candlelight.
After that, they danced every day behind the school house. Their dancing styles differed radically, a meshing of rough country and prim city, but somehow they managed. In fact—I’ll admit it—they more than managed. They were beautiful, as the sunlight flung itself around them in a shower of gold. How it repulsed me!
Fortunately, others had taken notice of them, rich stars from the cities. They predicted noisily that Rose and David had a bright future together, promises that made absurd dreams explode in the hearts of those two. When I witnessed that, I knew I had to intervene. It wasn’t hard, because I am the strongest of my kin—much to Death of Body’s chagrin. My power can destroy anything, even the blithe hearts of Rose and David. Fools, that they thought no shadows would touch their sunlit lawn!
I began to nudge here and there, planting a glimmer of jealousy in one of Rose’s friend, who hadn’t a graceful bone in her body. People began to murmur, hints that made Rose blush and David clench his hands:
“C’mon, David, be a man! You’re always off dancin’ with that girl. Are you man enough to give it up for a day or two, and come a-huntin’?”
“Oh, Rose, you don’t honestly think, do you, that he really could like you? We’re all a little surprised at you for falling for him so! I really believed, honey, that you’d give up that silly dancing sooner, but I suppose I didn’t realize how far your daydreams would take you!”
Such delicious darts of destruction!
Needless to say, my plan worked. At first they stubbornly continued to dance. It nearly drove me mad. But I noticed how they’d glance around to make sure no one was watching, quickly stop if they heard voices coming, shuffle reluctantly on their way to the lawn. Oh, yes, I noticed.
Less than a year later, my victory was complete, and they only met at holidays, weddings, all that junk. They ignored each other completely, hearts rapidly untwining. I kept at my work, prodding people a bit more to exclaim:
“David, glad to see you finally joining the men! You’ll make a great huntsman, you will.”
“I was telling Susie the other day, Rose, how inspired I am by how you’ve dedicated yourself to learning such practical skills. She’s so smart, I told Susie, not to indulge in the silly fantasies of most girls her age.”
Eventually, Rose got married to some dull-minded fellow who only wanted a woman to clean and cook, not the poet who would value her soul like she’d wanted. David moved back to the city and spent the rest of his days bored and alone in some banking job that stifled the music in his heart. It was a delight to watch them, I assure you.
They met again once, many years later, though I wouldn’t really call it a meeting since they didn’t recognize each other. A now-elderly Rose was visiting her daughter in the city where, unknown to her, David had spent his adult life. They walked past each other in front of an old white clapboard house.
You want proof of my power? Just witness them pass each other by. Behold them dancing right in tune with the expectations of others, the ultimate masquerade. Rose and David had succumbed so perfectly to my power that when they met that once, only their shadows danced.
I never did tell you my full name, did I?
I am Death of Dreams, and my power is Fear.
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