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The Shadow of Death - Part Two of Two Parts

Short story By: Alan Dale Dalby
Literary fiction



The Conclusion of this two part story. Romance finds a frustrated married woman in the form of a mysterious masked nightly visitor. As she slowly peels away the many layers of this man who has captured her imagination, she discovers that the truth will turn her entire world topsy-turvy.


Submitted:Sep 3, 2007    Reads: 117    Comments: 1    Likes: 1   


The Shadow of Death

Part Two of Two Parts

Sarah had driven all over the city. Her eyes were dry and they burned. She looked at them in her rearview mirror and was disgusted by their puffy redness. She was pulling up the street heading home, the clock on the radio read just after two a.m. She pulled over to the side of the street and shut off her engine and lights. She left her car parked between two houses out of everyone's way and grabbed her keys.

She began to walk slowly up the hill. The streetlamps were not necessary to light her path along the steep sidewalk. The moon was full and bright. There were no clouds to be seen. Sarah gazed up at the muted stars as she walked, her tennis shoes softly squeaking with each step. Slowly she began to hear something. The more she walked, the closer she came to the sound. A piano was playing somewhere in the neighborhood, the keys being stroked and tickled by a master musician. The music peaked when she reached the end of Francis's driveway.

Sarah stopped and closed her eyes. She listened to the soothing tones and let her body relax for the first time since she found David huddled over her broken mug. A cool breeze snuck through the curls in her long raven hair. The wind seemed to dance to the music and led her mind in this dance. When she opened her eyes she was on Francis's porch as if she had floated there with the breeze. Sarah peeked through the windows. The decorative glass on either side of the door distorted the images inside of the house.

To the left, just beyond the front hallway, she could see the edge of a small brown piano and every once in a while Francis's left elbow would come into view. Such beauty was being created. How sad that it only existed in that moment, that it was only being shared between the two of them. Yet that seemed to make it all the more special. It was a moment that would stay with Sarah for all time. Then without warning, the music ceased. Sarah Stepped back from the window and slowly moved toward the edge of the porch. Sarah suddenly felt herself falling backward. She had not been paying attention and was now in midair, about to smash with full force onto the walkway.

"You should be more careful." Francis said as he caught Sarah in his arms. Sarah looked up at him in shock which quickly turned to a grin of relief.

"How did you get out here so fast?"

"What do you mean?"

"Weren't you just inside?" Sarah looked confused. "I thought I heard you playing the piano."

"Oh my, you heard that?" Francis said as he helped Sarah to her feet. "That piano is monstrously out of tune."

"I thought it sounded lovely." Sarah blushed a bit. "You're very good."

"I do appreciate the compliment." Francis said. "I'm afraid I'm a bit of a perfectionist however. If my music does not sound just right, I find myself fraught with dissatisfaction."

"Well, you can rest assured that I didn't notice any imperfections." Sarah said. "I've never been musically inclined. I just know what I like, and I loved your song."

"Thank you." Francis bowed slightly.

"What were you playing?"

"The piano." Francis said. He waited a moment before chuckling. Sarah giggled back. "What I was playing is called Nocturne. It's by Chopin, one of my favorite composers."

"Nocturne," Sarah smiled and took a deep breath. "That sounds appropriate."

"It does indeed." Francis's voice smiled. The two of them enjoyed the moment and the coolness that embraced them. The fresh smell of the leaves on the trees that would very soon dry up, turning to luscious golden and orange before falling from grace and giving way to autumn. "May I ask you something?"

"Of course you may."

"What has upset you so?" Francis said as he reached out and gently touched the bottom of her puffy right eye with his gloved fingertip. Sarah's mind was drawn back to the incident earlier that night. She sniffled once and turned her head.

"I lost something."

"Something that was very dear to your heart." Francis said as if he knew already what had happened.

"Yes." Sarah said. "My husband was upset over his novel. He made a mistake. It was an accident, I'm sure of it."

"Still, it has hurt you deeply." Francis said. Sarah nodded with another sniffle.

"May I…" Sarah began to ask a question that seemed somehow taboo.

"Go on." Francis nodded.

"May I come inside for a little while?" Sarah finished her question. Francis withdrew his finger from her face and seemed to recoil. "I'm sorry. I know it's late."

"Yes, it is quite late." Francis said. Sarah nodded and made a slight movement as if to leave. "However, we two are children of the night." Sarah paused and awaited an invitation. "So perhaps for us it is early?" He took Sarah's hand and led her to the door. He stepped aside, allowing Sarah to enter first.

Sarah first noticed the large imposing brick fireplace to her right. Candles adorned the wooden mantle, a beautiful crystal vase that contained several white roses in the center. To the left was a couch that looked to be from the turn of the century but still in magnificent condition. Sarah walked further into the room and turned. Behind her was the small brown piano. A large book sat on top of it to the right. It looked very old, bound in leather, and appeared very used. On the opposite side of the piano sat a twin the crystal vase atop the mantle, only this one held roses that were pure black. Sarah tilted her head back to find that the wall above was decorated by masks, each one extremely different from the next; at least thirty masks in all.

"I told you, I am a bit of an eccentric." Francis said. He walked slowly around the room with his arms crossed. He carefully observed Sarah's reactions as she observed the wall of masks.

"This is quite a collection." Sarah said. "You must have worked on it for quite a long time."

"I find them in different places as I travel. Some were purchased, others were gifts." Francis could see that Sarah had an urge to touch one of them. "Feel free to look at them closer. You can pull them off of the hooks quite easily. Most have information on the inside about where they were made, who made them, and what their original purpose was."

"So even masks have a destiny?" Sarah reached out and gently took one from the wall.

"Everything does."

"That's sad in a way." Sarah said as she pushed her face into the papier-mache mask that she held in her hands.

"It gives life meaning." Francis said. "Everyone wants to have a purpose in this world."

"This isn't a mask is it?" Sarah asked as she turned to face Francis. The mask she displayed was blue, with a smiling golden sun on one half, and a smiling silver moon on the other.

"Of course it is." Francis pulled a thin black cigarette out of his shirt pocket.

"But there aren't any eyeholes. What's the purpose of that?" Sarah asked as she hung the mask back on the wall. Francis held his silver lighter to the tip of the cigarette.

"Ask that question of a blind man." Francis said as two thin lines of smoke poured out of the nostril holes in his mask.

"You're such a mystery."

"Am I?" Francis asked as he made his way over to the piano. He noticed Sarah wrinkling her nose. "Does the smoke bother you?"

"No." Sarah said. "My husband smokes. He thinks I don't know that he still does because he has his nicotine gum, but I can smell it. I can smell it on his clothes, and his body." Francis sat down on the piano bench and hit a few random keys with his free hand. "Can I ask you another question? I don't want you to take offense."

"Ask away." Francis turned toward Sarah. She sat down on the bench next to him and built up her confidence. "I want to ask about your mask, the one that you always wear." Francis turned away from her and took a puffed his cigarette.

"It represents something that I believe in deeply." Francis said as he exhaled. "It is duality, the black and silver; two different halves coming together to create a whole." Francis said. "It is love and hate, good and evil, life and death." He said as he flicked some ashes from the tip of his cigarette into an ashtray sitting near the vase on his piano. He then turned to face Sarah, reached out and gently placed his fingers underneath her chin. "It is two lovers coming together to create one being, two hearts that beat in perfect harmony and create the music that lovers dance to." Sarah's eyes melted into Francis's gaze, temporarily powerless over her own body. Unable to move, unwilling to look away, Sarah felt warmth fill her body that was like nothing she had ever felt before. Francis slowly retracted his hand, gently brushing his gloved fingers against Sarah's flesh as they moved away from her chin. "Now then, allow me to play you a song." Francis placed his cigarette in the ashtray and cracked his knuckles. He began to play the soft opening of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.

Sarah stood and walked over to the fireplace as the music filled the room. She looked up at the mantle, at the vase filled with white roses and thought back to an earlier time in her life. She closed her eyes and let her memories flood in. The music accented them perfectly. Sarah turned and opened her eyes. She spoke as if she were in a trance.

"When I first met David, we were both so young. I was working at this little pet store downtown and he was a bartender for a restaurant just down the street. I went there one night with some friends after work. David caught my eye immediately." Sarah smiled as she gently ran her fingers down the bricks of the fireplace. "I didn't even drink, but I just had to meet him. One margarita later and I was ready to pass out. My friends took me home and I quickly fell asleep with that handsome bartender still on my mind." Francis listened as he continued to play. The music circled around Sarah's story as she continued. "Soon after that, I found a single red rose on the windshield of my car after work. The next night I found another one. The roses continued to appear until finally David came into the pet store. He confessed to being the man behind the romantic gestures and vowed that he would continue until he won my heart."

Sarah reached up and took a white rose from the vase on the mantle. She smelled its sweet aroma, bringing her memories further to life. "He said that once I was in love with him, I should leave a red rose on his windshield. So one day David left work to find a white rose, just like this one, with its stem slipped underneath his windshield wiper. I was waiting for him in the parking lot. He looked confused. He asked why I had chosen a white rose. I told him that to me red represented love, and white represented life. I said it symbolized the life that I wanted to share with him. Then I grabbed a dozen red roses out of my car and told him that they represented my love for him." Francis stopped playing and turned to face Sarah.

"That sounds like the start to a perfect romance."

"Yes, it was." Sarah looked at the white rose and frowned. "Unfortunately, people change over the years. Relationships change, life changes." Sarah placed the white rose carefully back into its vase.

"Change is the only certainty in this world."

"Oh? What about your theories on fate?" Sarah grinned. Francis stood and walked over to her. Sarah's curiosity had been growing and each time she looked at his mask, it increased exponentially. "Why do you wear the mask?" She finally asked. Francis lowered his eyes.

"I told you, I am a firm believer in duality." Francis said. Sarah sighed.

"I know what it represents." Sarah said. "I want to know what is underneath it." Sarah slowly lifted her hands and began to reach upward. Francis backed away. "I'm sorry." Sarah lowered her arms.

"To know what lies underneath this mask is to know your own fate." Francis said. "That is far more than the human mind is equipped to handle."

"I don't understand." Sarah said. She walked over to him and took his gloved hands in hers. "You are a beautiful soul. You have no reason to be shy about what lies underneath your mask. I'm ready to see. I want more than anything to see."

"Once I take off the mask, there is no going back." Francis said. Sarah smiled tenderly and caressed his exposed ear. His flesh felt cold, almost frozen.

"I want this." Sarah said. "There is no doubt in my mind." She reached up with her other hand and touched his other ear. She looked into Francis's green eyes and found approval in them. Slowly, she slipped her fingertips underneath both sides of the mask and began to pull. The mask slipped upwards, slowly exposing the terrifying sight underneath.

Sarah stared into Francis's face and froze in horror. She opened her mouth wide in a silent scream before fainting.

As the mask landed on the floor, Francis reached out his arms and wrapped them around Sarah's limp body. He carried her over to his couch and gently laid her down. He looked at his fallen mask lying on the floor, its empty eyes staring back at him. Francis picked the mask up and put it back on. He then wrapped Sarah in a soft warm blanket and lifted her up into his arms. He made his way outside and headed across the connecting yards toward Sarah and David's house.

"Sarah? Honey wake up." A voice sliced into Sarah's nightmare. She opened her eyes to find David shaking her gently. She looked around in confusion. It was early morning. There was a dim light as the sun began to paint the mountains. Sarah shivered and tightened the unfamiliar blanket around her. She was laying on the padded swing on their back deck. "Have you been out here all night?" David asked with concern in his voice. Sarah moaned a bit and shifted about.

"I guess so."

"Well let's get you inside and I'll draw you a hot bath."

"That sounds perfect." Sarah closed her eyes and smiled at the thought. David hoisted Sarah up into his arms and carried her inside. He brought her upstairs and placed her gently on their bed. She was still wrapped in Francis's blanket. Sarah's mind was blank as she listened to the white noise of the tub being filled with hot water. David came back out of the bathroom and sat on the edge of the bed.

"It'll just take a few minutes." David said. Sarah could tell from his voice that he was still feeling guilty about breaking her treasured mug, and was uncertain how she was feeling toward him. Sarah looked David in the face, as she saw his deep remorse over what he had done.

"I love you so much David Elliot." Sarah said. David smiled, still looking ashamed, but her words had taken some of the edge off. He pulled Sarah's shoes off gently and then her socks. He began to massage her feet. They were stone cold. Sarah sighed and closed her eyes. "Don't forget the water baby." Sarah said through a relaxed moan.

"Oh shoot!" David took off into the bathroom and barely made it in time. He drained a bit of the water out of the tub, wetting his shirt sleeve as he reached down to the bottom of the tub. Sarah stood in the doorway and smiled at him. "Everything is under control." David nodded.

"Looks like you got a bit wet." Sarah smiled.

"Oh well. It'll dry off in no time."

"Perhaps," Sarah said as she began to strip. "But I was thinking," She started to walk over to David as she tossed each article of her clothing onto the floor. "Since you're already wet…"

"I'm listening." David said with a corny wag of his eyebrow. Sarah noticed that David's hand was wrapped in some of the leftover bandages he had bought.

"What happened?"

"I cut my hand." David said. "It's nothing."

"My poor sweet baby." Sarah said as she wrapped her arms around him and gave him a passionate kiss. The kiss escalated and soon they were both undressed and in the bathtub together. David started to splash water at Sarah.

"Hey!" Sarah complained playfully before splashing him back. Soon it was all-out war. A cease-fire was reached as Sarah slid over to David and straddled him. David clumsily bumped his head on the water spout. "Oh honey, you're just beating yourself up from head to toe." Sarah said as she rubbed his latest wound. "You're going to have a bump now." She stuck out her lower lip. "Don't worry; I'll make your boo-boos all better."

"Now that was the best bath I've ever had." David said as he and Sarah settled back into bed after their rather steamy encounter in the tub.

"I agree." Sarah sighed and wrapped her legs around him. "You seem tired. Did you sleep at all last night?"

"I couldn't."

"Still trying to finish up that final chapter?"

"I didn't even think about the book last night." David said. "I spent the entire night worrying about you and trying my best to glue your mug back together." He swallowed and licked his lips awkwardly. "Let's just call that a work-in-progress."

"You are such an amazing man." Sarah rubbed her damp hair up and down his chest. "I hope you know that I don't blame you, and I wasn't mad at you. I was just upset over the situation."

"Upset over the situation that I caused." David said with guilt returning to his voice.

"Accidents happen." Sarah said. "Let's just forget about it and get some sleep."

"I'm almost there babe." David said. The couple remained intertwined, their naked bodies providing warmth, comfort, and pleasure as they both drifted off into slumber.

Outside, the sun rose higher, illuminating the city. While most people were off at their jobs and the daily grind, Sarah and David were dreaming away, together in their bed locked in love's sweet embrace.

Sarah awoke in a state of disarray after suffering through a nightmare that had left claw marks on her subconscious. She was cold and alone. She looked around the bedroom, pulling the covers over herself as she stepped out of the bed. She noticed a light outside through the bedroom window. It was coming from Francis's house. Suddenly she remembered that the nightmare was real. She tried to rid herself of the image that was burned into her retinas, into her thoughts. She saw Francis step into view and the two looked at each other through the adjacent panes of glass. Sarah stepped backwards into the darkness of the bedroom. She grabbed some underwear and got dressed. She slipped into a pair of jeans and an old T-shirt. She zipped up a pink sweater over her shirt and pulled her curly hair up into a ponytail. David wandered into the bedroom as Sarah tied her shoelaces.

"Going somewhere?" David asked. Sarah was startled. She looked up at him from her seat on the edge of the bed.

"I thought I'd go grab some groceries."

"You're going shopping at this time of night? Are you sure?"

"Well, the lines are shorter." Sarah smiled.

"Oh that reminds me, where is your car?" David asked. Sarah had forgotten about parking her car down the street the previous night. She thought for a few moments before simply telling him the truth. "Okay. I just wanted to make sure we still had it."

"Did you need anything from the store honey?" Sarah stood and tugged the bottom of her sweater down a bit.

"Some diet soda maybe?" David said. Sarah nodded and headed out of the bedroom. "Do you want me to go with you?"

"No because you my good sir have a novel to finish."

"Be careful."

"I'll be fine baby. I should be back soon." Sarah said. She jogged down the stairs and headed out the front door. She made her way down the sidewalk and up Francis's driveway. She could hear the piano playing a gentle melody as she drew nearer to the front door. The wood creaked beneath the soles of her shoes. As she approached, the door opened. Sarah looked around inside. The entryway was dark. The only light in the house was coming from down the hall in the living room.

"Please come in." Francis said from his seat at the piano. Sarah stepped inside and closed the door behind her. She drifted down the hall toward the music, soon finding herself standing next to Francis. He seemed to ignore her, focusing on his keystrokes as he continued to play. Up on the mantle, the candles were lit. One of the white roses was missing from the vase. Sarah noticed that it was laying on the piano in front of Francis. His old leather bound book was open, and next to it sat a small glass container of black ink with a quill pen sticking out of it. "This one is by Mozart. It's called Requiem." Francis said. Sarah stood there listening impatiently to the music.

"Who are you?" Sarah sounded frustrated. Francis stopped playing and looked down at the keys. "What I saw when I looked into your face," She started. Francis turned slowly and sighed.

"You want to know if it was real or simply your imagination." Francis gripped his thighs with his gloved hands. Sarah waited, looking at him with intensity in her eyes. "I'm afraid that what you saw was very real."

"So that's how it's going to happen?" The anger in her tone was succumbing to fear. "Why would I ever do that? I would never…"

"You have no idea what you are capable of until the situation arises." Francis said. "Life is full of surprises. They are often unpleasant, and many of them tragic."

"Just how exactly do you know how I am going to die huh? How could you possibly know that?" Francis slowly stood and towered over Sarah, his eyes focused on her.

"I think you know the answers to all of your questions Sarah."

"So, what, you're the Grim Reaper?" Sarah snorted in disgust. "I stared Death himself in the face last night and now I know the fate I am doomed to suffer?" Francis did not react; he simply stood there looking at her. Sarah could see in his eyes that she was right. "Wow! I live next door to The Angel of Death!" Sara threw up her arms. "How exciting!" She turned and walked away from him, fighting back the tears that were brewing in her eyes. "Why suicide?" She waited for a moment then turned to face him. "Why in the hell would I ever even consider doing that to myself? How could you possibly think I would do something so horrible to David? Answer me Francis!"

"I can't." Francis said softly.

"So this is the work that takes you around the world huh?" Sarah shook her head. "Well I suppose I must be dying soon now that I know your secret. Otherwise everyone in the world would know about you."

"I'm not supposed to get involved in any way." Francis said. "It's one of the strictest rules."

"So why me then? Why did you have to come into my life and ruin it?" Some tears broke loose as Sarah beat her fists against Francis's chest.

"You're very special to me Sarah." Francis said. "From the moment I saw you, I had to know you."

"Why?" Sarah wrapped her arms around him. Francis put his arms around her and the two embraced.

"In all of my time in Heaven and on Earth, never before have I seen such beauty in a soul." Francis said. "I found myself feeling for the first time, and it was so amazing. From the moment I first saw you I fell in love with you Sarah. I don't know how it happened, but somehow I found myself being capable of love." Francis said. "With that love I also became aware of pain, of sorrow. I long for you every moment, and yet we can never be." Francis whispered.

"Aren't you going to take me with you? Isn't that why you are here?" Sarah sniffled. Francis stepped away from her and out of their embrace. Sarah felt a sharp pain in her chest.

"I'm so sorry Sarah." Francis said. The white rose on the piano slowly began to turn black from the tip of the petals down. "I'm afraid I did not come here for you." Francis backed away from the piano. Sarah saw the rose and her heart nearly stopped. She rushed over to the book sitting on the back of the piano and looked at the page it was opened to. A list of names appeared. All had been crossed out except for the final name: David Elliot.

"Go to him Sarah." Sarah was rushing toward the front door as Francis spoke his final words to her. It was already open. Sarah rushed outside, quickly heading up the sidewalk. She cried out David's name as she burst into her own home and ran up the stairs.

She found David lying on the bedroom floor. He was grabbing the left side of his chest and softly begging for help. Sarah grabbed the phone from David's nightstand and dialed nine-one-one.

"Please help! My husband is dying." Sarah sobbed as David reached out to her. She crouched over him and took his hand, squeezing it tightly. "He's having a heart attack!" Sarah wished she had said that first, said that instead of what she had just said. She stroked David's face with her free hand. "Stay with me honey." She said softly through her tears as help was dispatched. "Stay with me."

Francis watched as the ambulance arrived, followed shortly after by a fire truck. Red and blue lights flashed brightly illuminating the street and all of the sleeping houses along it. Francis watched as David was taken away on a stretcher and placed in the back of the ambulance. As the ambulance pulled away, Sarah rushed down the street. Francis put his hand against the window as she passed. She quickly leapt into her car and took off following the ambulance. Francis stood there in silence as Sarah Elliot drove out of his lonely existence. He would fade back into his world of darkness now, a tortured creature tasked with a job that nobody would want; an invisible beast unseen by human eyes that only Sarah would ever truly know, yet the entire world would continue to curse his presence.

Francis sat down at his piano. He pulled the wooden cover out and over the keys. He reached up and grabbed his book, setting them down in front of him. He then grabbed the bottle of ink and quill pen and set it down next to the book. He looked at the white rose that lay on the piano before him. The blackness spread more quickly now, soon the flower was completely dark. Francis pulled the quill out of the bottle, tapping off some excess ink. He gently touched the sharp tip to the line in his book that held David's name. Francis closed his eyes and hesitated. He then slowly began to drag the pen to the right, crossing out each letter of David's name. One by one they were ripped in half by a thin line of black ink. Francis paused at David's last name: Elliot. He thought of Sarah and looked up at the rose laying on top the piano. "Forgive me." His voice cracked.

Sarah sat in the waiting room sobbing. The security guard looked over his shoulder as someone approached from behind his desk. He hit a buzzer and two large steel doors opened. A doctor emerged and spotted Sarah. He slowly walked over to her. Sarah stood, her entire body trembling as the doctor made his way toward her. She didn't need to hear him speak. The words were written all over his face as he composed himself in a most professional manor. Everything seemed to shift into slow motion and Sarah's knees gave out. She toppled and fell, the doctor catching her just in time to help slow her descent to the floor. She knew that it was all real for certain now. Her beloved David was gone.

Francis sat at his piano completely out of sorts. Unusual things were happening to him. He was feeling emotions again. He picked up the black rose that lay on his piano and twirled it between his gloved fingers. He looked at David's name on the page inside his book, his expansive history of lives that he so wished that he could have somehow found a way to spare. He then looked up at his wall of masks and lamented further. Oh to be anyone else, anything else, he thought. He stood and looked over two of his favorite pieces, a twin set of comedy and tragedy masks. Each was hand-painted half in white, half in green, with a beautiful gold trim that curled out from around the eyes. He pulled off his right glove and laid it on the piano, gently stroking each one of his masks with his deadly bare hands. He pulled the tragedy mask down and placed it on the piano. He took his other glove off. He pulled his black and silver mask off and laid it on top of his gloves.

"I'd say you better suit the occasion." He lifted up the frowning green, white, and gold mask. He turned it over and slipped his face into it. He reached back and tied the silk straps, firmly attaching the new mask to his face. He walked over to the window and checked his reflection. The dramatic frowning eyes and mouth perfectly expressed the way he was feeling. Not only had he taken David's life, but in the process he had doomed Sarah.

"Why do people seek love when it can only lead to certain misery?" He looked at the moon and the stars in the night sky through the thick glass of the window. "The sky holds such beauty, yet without Sarah here, it seems so empty." Francis noticed the white roses on top of his mantle. They were so lovely inside of their fine crystal vase. He slowly returned to his seat and moved the ink and quill back to the top of the piano. He was about to close his book and move it so that he could play a song, but there was no music left inside of him. Then Francis felt something entirely new.

His eyes began to fill with moisture. Francis closed them and leaned over. Two large teardrops fell from his lashes through the openings in the mask and onto the open page of his book. They landed right on David's name. Francis opened his eyes and looked at the dampened page. He reached out his right hand and pressed his index finger against the liquid. He lifted his finger up and found that the 'D' had vanished from David's name. Francis then noticed the rose laying on the piano. A small touch of white had returned to the base of the petals. Francis placed his finger back onto the page and rubbed his fallen tears all the way across the line. When he was done David's name had vanished entirely, and the rose had returned to its original white color.

Sarah continued to sob as the doctor rubbed her back. The large steel doors opened once more and a nurse came rushing out of the emergency room.

"Doctor! You have to come see this!" The nurse exclaimed with excitement. The doctor looked at the nurse and stood up straight. Sarah looked up from her position on the floor.

"What is it?" The doctor asked.

"It's a miracle!" The nurse proclaimed. The doctor took off for the emergency room followed closely by Sarah. The two were led back by the nurse to the bed where David lay. A group of nurses were gathered around blocking the view. The doctor and Sarah shoved their way through. As soon as the nurses saw Sarah, they all stepped back and gave her plenty of room. Sarah's eyes lit up. There, smiling at her from the bed was David, still looking pale, but very much alive.

"Hey beautiful." David said in a weak voice. Sarah chuckled once then burst into gleeful laughter and rushed over to hug him. The couple then kissed once on the lips. Sarah then proceeded to kiss every last inch of David's face.

"Oh I love you, I love you, I love you!" She continued to repeat herself with each kiss. The nurses all watched, as did the doctor. All were completely baffled by David's sudden return to the world of the living.

David was eventually moved to a room on the fourth floor of the hospital. The doctors had checked him over thoroughly and had come to the conclusion that David Elliot was going to be just fine.

"So are you going to take this as a warning?" Sarah sat in a chair by her husband's side.

"What do you mean?"

"Maybe you should work harder on quitting smoking? Maybe take things a little easier and not stress out so much?"

"Those two things kind of contradict each other, but yes." David said. "I promise to start working on some lifestyle changes." David and Sarah smiled at each other. There was a knock at the door and a nurse entered the room with a flower and an envelope in her hand.

"This was left at the desk for you." The nurse said, looking at Sarah. Sarah stood and walked over to the nurse and took the items from her. It was a single white rose, and a small envelope that simply read For Sarah Elliot. Sarah looked at the rose and took a deep breath.

"Do you know who left this?" Sarah asked the nurse.

"I'm afraid not. It just showed up at the front desk a little while ago. Nobody saw who left it." The nurse said. She looked over at David and smiled. "You take care of yourself Mister Miracle."

"I plan to." David said in a friendly tone. The nurse patted Sarah on the shoulder before exiting the room. Sarah took a seat and placed the rose on her lap. She gently opened the envelope and pulled out the card inside. It was blank. Sarah opened it up and found some familiar handwriting.

My dearest Sarah,

I write you now to bid you a fond farewell. Treasure each moment and seize control of your fate. Remember, the only certainty in this life is change.

Your Angel Next Door,

Francis

A single tear rolled down Sarah's cheek as she closed the card. She placed it gently back into the envelope. She took the white rose by the stem and tickled the tip of her nose with the petals, breathing in its sweet smell. She stepped over to the window that overlooked the street below. She saw Francis slowly walking away from the hospital. Once he reached the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street, he turned and looked up at Sarah. She reached up and pressed her hand against the glass. Francis simply stood there looking at her. A car sped by, blocking Sarah's view of Francis for a split second. As quickly as the vehicle passed, Francis disappeared.

Sarah never spoke of Francis to anyone, not even David. Yet she was constantly reminded of him as the months and years passed, for the rose he had sent to her sat in a small vase atop the mantle of her and David's new house in the mountains. No matter how much time passed, the rose never wilted. It lived on beyond the realm of possibility. It was one of the first things that she saw each morning, and it was one of the last things she saw before she curled up in bed with David each night. She took Francis's advice very much to heart and cherished every single moment that she had with David, sitting by the lake and gazing up at the stars. She often wondered what became of Francis after he retired. Did angels move to Florida and sit by the ocean or was there some higher calling for her Angel of Death now?

No, he was not her Angel of Death. He was her Angel of Awakening.

The cool breeze skipped off the water and caressed her face as she marveled at the vast universe hovering above her and all around her, and all of the wonderful and endless possibilities it had to offer.





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