Young Ronald, his
curly hair the shade of tumbleweed and blue eyes brighter than
the sky, kept watch over his guardian. The child no older than
eleven hugged his knees as the fire crackled on in their damp
cave. Ronald's guardian, a man who was more than that, startled
awake, his charcoal hair disheveled and his eyes of jade wide.
Those fearful eyes searched the wet, glistening rock for whatever
struck fear in the more-than-a-man. His angelic face looked wrong
with that fright in it.
"What is it,
Dominicus?" the boy asked, fright settling into him as
The older one found
his young companion when his voice bounced against the stone, and
in the sight of the boy, he eased.
Wiping the cold sweat
from his brow, Dominicus explained:
"The nightmare that
I've been avoiding for many years."
"What happened in
your nightmare?" The fear in Ronald did not ebb just
"After working a hard
day, I came home to see my girlfriend cradling our child. I
didn't know which was more frightening: seeing my dead girlfriend
and stillborn child or knowing that someone broke into my house
to place them there."
The cave sat silent,
save for the cracks and pops of the kindling. Dominicus rubbed
his eyes with a low and soft exhale. Ronald kept his blues on his
"It was long ago, a
century before your birth," Dominicus explained further. "We were
planned to wed when we received the news that she was with child.
But as the baby grew, she became weak. She did not survive the
birth, and my son never took his first breath outside the womb.
My first brush with Death. This scene comes to me whenever a
passing is near, and I fear that it is yours."
Ronald stood, after a
long minute, and walked out of the cave. Dominicus strode after
him. The boy stared off into the sea, his feet close to the edge
of the cliff. His guardian, who Ronald had thought of more as a
mentor or even a father, approached with caution.
"What kind of man can
you be to tell a child he's about to die?" the boy with
tumbleweed hair struck out when the footsteps ceased.
"I am sorry, Ronald,
but we all die someday. Death comes to all. Such is
"Not you." The words
came over the boy's shoulder, spat with anger and poison.
quiet for a long time, the wind rippling his cloak. There was
nothing but the truth in his companion's words, something he had
always respected in this young one. The more-than-a-man had
cheated Death more times than he could recount. Perhaps to save
his young friend, Dominicus would finally surrender. But how long
until Death claimed this honest and brave boy for his own? Fifty
years? Twenty? Two?
"I can keep you from
Death if you allow me," Dominicus said.
"As long as you'd
Ronald turned his
eyes to the stars, took in a deep breath, and let it out. He
looked down to the basin below, a foot reaching out over the
"And what if this is
where I should meet my end? What if I am to fall
"Then I shall catch
you before you make it to the bottom." Dominicus's hand rested
upon Ronald's shoulder, a simple yet caring motion.
retreated to its place by its mate. A wolf howled somewhere
behind them, its call followed by that of its pack.
And from where
Ronald's foot had been, a bony hand appeared. It stretched for
the boy, who remained unaware. Dominicus, however, spotted the
glaring white bone in the darkness. Pulling his companion back,
they entered the Nothing and came out on the other
The two of them stood
in an old home, vacated for decades. The walls sported large wet
spots and peeling wallpaper. The fireplace sat dark, a black hole
on the wall. The sofa that once was a lovely pink had become a
pale and moldy thing.
"I'm going to check
the rest of the house to make sure we are safe here," the
more-than-a-man told the boy. "Stay here."
The cloak whipped
behind Dominicus as he left the living room. Ronald could hear
the creaking wood under the weight of his guardian as he roamed
the house, but he could also hear something in the room to his
left. Low growls, a busy and greedy jaw, the rip and tear of
flesh. And from the room in which Dominicus first ventured into,
"Psst! Hey! Over
The little girl was
younger than Ronald, nine at the most. Her hair hid up in a black
stocking cap, her white shirt with long red sleeves filthy with
dirt and dried blood. Her jeans did not fare any better. Her
brown eyes, or at least they appeared brown to Ronald, showed her
urgency and fear. A gloved hand beckoned to the boy. And despite
his guardian's command, Ronald went to the girl with careful and
"What's in there?"
the boy asked, motioning to the other room.
"A big monster. Do
you think your daddy can kill it?"
Ronald nodded. "He
can do anything. I'm Ronald."
"Charleen," the girl
answered. "My daddy calls me Charlie, though."
Charlie stepped away
from Ronald, looking behind her. There was a closed door that
Ronald assumed led to the room with the monster. Next to the
door, in the corner, was a square hole in the floor. Charlie
stepped into it and Ronald followed.
The ladder led to the
basement, a dark, open room. Two sleeping bags lay on the cement
floor, a dead lantern between them. Charlie sat atop one, and
Ronald sat next to her. A rat scurried along the wall behind
them, but neither child turned to look.
"So where's your
dad?" Ronald asked, but received no answer. "What about your
mom?" Again, nothing. He contemplated asking about what the
monster was eating up in that room, but as the question formed in
his mind, he knew the answer.
"Skyler tried to kill
the monster," Charlie said, her voice small and morose. "He
thought it would be easy, like hunting."
"I'm sorry," was all
Ronald could offer.
"How did you and your
daddy find us?" Talking about Skyler, whoever they were, was
difficult for her. This was clear to Ronald, but who Charlie
meant as "us" was less so. Skyler, as she made it sound, was
dead. Her silence when asked about her parents told him that they
were dead as well. Maybe there was a fourth member of their
"We just happened
upon this place," Roland told her. "We didn't know if anyone else
"Do you think your
daddy will let us come with you after he kills the
Ronald didn't know,
and he said as much. "I can ask, though," he added.
Something moved above
them. The growl that soon followed the footsteps signaled to the
monster. Ronald's eyes tracked the monster's movements into the
living room, and a familiar voice found its way to the
"Skyler, you damned
beast," Dominicus snarled. "Where is your master?"
Ronald arched an
eyebrow as he looked to Charlie. Her brown eyes turned black and
her gloves came off. Underneath were bony fingers, glaring white
in the darkness.
The girl who was not
really a girl pounced on the boy. Her skeletal claws dug into the
flesh of his stomach, and he let out a cry of agony. Up above, a
body fell hard to the floor. And in the basement, Charlie
continued to rip through Ronald and shred his
The boy went limp as
his blood pooled around him and his attacker. His
brighter-than-the-sky blue eyes rolled and found the narrow
ladder that led to the first story of the house. Something dark
fell through the hole, and in his weariness he thought it to be
his Dominicus to save him. The large mass flowed with every
movement, and soon something shone against the dark. A face, an
wheezed, the air leaving his lungs.
"Get away from my
boy, Death!" Dominicus shouted.
"It's no use, my
friend," Charlie taunted in a voice that was not hers, a deep and
booming noise. "He's almost gone. He is mine."
A beam of light
filled the basement, and Ronald no longer felt the claws of Death
in him. Coldness took him, and he could sense the brink fast
"I am so sorry,
Ronald," Dominicus cried over the boy. "I have failed you." He
raised the boy's head, to look into those eyes once more, and
there he saw a solution.
disappeared as they entered the Nothing once more. They came to a
mountainside, the gusts of wind bringing an icy chill. Dominicus
scaled the rock until they rested upon a safe and flat surface.
He lay the boy down and made a circle around them.
"Death shall not take
you this night," he whispered. This boy had been a friend, a son
to the man who was more than a man.
They had weathered
many storms together in their three years together. They had
saved each other's lives numerous times. Dominicus had brought
the boy to the very mountain on which he lay to save him from
Death thrice before, each time managing to escape his grasp. But
on this night, not even Dominicus believed Ronald would pull
through. It was not a matter of doubting his skill, but of the
boy's willingness to live on.
outside the circle, still in the form of little Charlie. His
brown eyes did not convey the long awaited sense of victory
Dominicus had seen so many times before. Instead, Death waited
with an air of solemnity.
"Dominicus," he said
in Charlie's true soft voice, "Ronald's time has come. Please,
surrender him unto me. No harm shall befall you, of this you have
The guardian, the
mentor, the father looked down to the dead boy. The blue eyes
that had been brighter than the sky were now dull and lightless.
The flow of his blood onto the stony ground stopped. Dominicus
rose with a tear in his eye and a pain in his heart, and broke
the circle. Death stepped through, took the boy's hand, and
disappeared. Dominicus fled into the west with the boy's body in
his arms. Ronald was laid to rest, and Dominicus moved