Death waited, hidden in a secret room, deep down within the old
manor house. He ran one bony finger down the surface of the
mirror, and smiled in anticipation of what was to come. He
normally didn't get so excited over his work, business and
pleasure shouldn't mix. But this was the exception. Occasions
like this almost made him feel alive again.
Cain Mortimer stood outside his father's house, his closed fist held hesitantly at the door, too afraid to knock, too afraid not to. Old Abraham Mortimer was on the brink of death, and was too stubborn to reveal the beneficiaries of his will. Whenever Cain pushed him, he teared up and yelled at him to leave but Cain was determined to get an answer. This time he needed to know, having just been fired from yet another job, and his wife threatening to take their daughter and leave. He needed to be named in the will, he needed to inherit the family fortune.
He wiped his sweaty palms on his jacket and knocked timidly on the door. Seconds later it opened with an unnerving creak. A tired face appeared in the opening, the maid, Ursula. She'd worked for Abraham for decades, having never taken a break apart from when her sister died twenty years before. Ursula smiled faintly in acknowledgment and lead Cain up to the main bedroom.
Abraham lay in his bed, it was as ancient and rotting as the old man himself.
"Why have you come?" He asked after several minutes. His voice sounded drained and quaky. The old man resembled the print of 'American Gothic' above him, tired, unsmiling, worn-out.
"Father, you know why." Cain had visited several times over the previous months. At first he'd asked nicely, but he grew more and more impatient with every refusal.
Abraham frowned. He put a trembling hand to the large intricate key that hung from a chain around his neck. Cain's eyes following intently as he took it off and held it in his feeble hands. He'd worn it ever since he could remember. He'd asked him numerous times as a child what it belonged to only to receive the same answer, an old African proverb "The key that opens is also the key that locks."
"Find where this key fits and you'll get what's coming to you." His voice was merely a whisper, and held a note of disappointment that almost made Cain feel ashamed. But I need it, Cain reasoned with himself, I need it.
Abraham held the key out in front of him. "Follow the cats deep down within the earth to find your fortune, or you can stay here with me, please stay." Cain was puzzled by the instructions, but he knew which path he wanted. He took the key. It was cold in his hand, and weighed a ton. It brought with it a heavy, unnatural presence.
"Money is a curse, my son. I've tried to keep you far from its
evils." Abraham eyes glistened in the afternoon sun streaming
through the stained glass window. But Cain's eyes burned only
with determination. He for hours for any sign of cats, deep down
within the Earth, his initial thought being to search their small
pet cemetery in the back yard. But as the night grew nearer, Cain
grew more impatient, until he finally gave up his search for the
time being. He sat down in his father's study and let out a
defeated sigh. But looking up across the room at an old tattered
tapestry that he'd never taken the time to notice, his curiosity
was once again aroused. Barely visible in the tapestry's design
where three images of cats. The first showed a ginger cat peering
into a box. In the cat had climbed into the box. The last showed
a cat's skeleton thrown over the side. Cain didn't understand it,
but was pleased to have found a lead. He got up and inspected the
wall hanging, and not to his surprise there was a passageway
behind. Using the small flashlight on his key chain, he shone a
light into the opening revealing a spiralling staircase that
didn't appear to end.
He stepped into the darkness within, the air was stale and caused him to cough, but he kept descending the stairs. The sense of intrigue and anticipation grew with each step downwards. But game of tug-of-war played between his curiosity and his conscience as he thought of the strange scene woven into the tapestry.
Curiosity killed the cat, he shivered at he thought. The air had become staler and harder to breathe in, and Cain was close to losing his nerve. His leg muscles were burning and his mind was weary but just as he'd almost given up, and as his courage slowly slithered away he was met by a door. It was tall and intimidating, intricate in design. Cain pulled the key from his pocket and held it up to compare it to the door. The old, mysterious beauty of the key was echoed in the carved designs in the door. It fit perfectly in the lock and turned with ease. The door swung open without a creak, and the small gust of wind it created blew up the dust from the floor, clouding the room.
Cain entered the room, uncertain of its size or what it held, although his flashlight reflected something through the settling dust. He cautiously placed one foot before the other, feeling around for any objects. About two metres into the room his outstretched hand touched a cold, smooth surface, and a face looked back at him. He jumped back, startled, and heart racing. The face appeared equally frightened. It resembled his father, but younger, and yet somehow older. His forehead was lined and wrinkled with worry and his melancholy eyes seemed trapped, within a glass cage, within himself. Cain inched forward once again and stroked the mirror, he barely recognised himself. Maybe it was the dust distorting the image, or maybe he did indeed look this way.
The haze settled. Suddenly he was aware of something standing behind him, something dark and unnatural. He felt its cold presence as the creature advanced on him. He watched it through the mirror, not turning around. It wore a black cloak, tattered and torn, and it spoke to him.
"Mortimer," it purred in a frightening yet seductive voice.
Cain's voice caught in his throat. The creature was at his back with its cold, bony hand rested on his shoulder.
"Do you know who I am?" Cain didn't answer, unable to speak, unable to move, unable to breathe. "Some call me Grim, others call me Demon. But I am Azrael, I am Death, I am The Angel of Death."
Death blew out a long breath and the dust disappeared, exposing the broken, distorted mirror. It moved a hand over the surface and it fogged then cleared to reveal a different scene. It was his father, lying in bed, crying.
"What is this?" Cain asked, his voice was just a whisper.
"This is what you've caused; pain." Death circled him, it's face inches from Cain's. It's putrid breath smelled of rotting corpses.
"It's not my fault," Cain stammered "He brought it on himself. I need the money, I need it. Isn't a father supposed to help?"
"Isn't a son supposed to care that his father is on his death bed?" Death's words stung. Cain knew he was being insensitive, but he hadn't realised the extent to which he'd hurt his father. The image of Abraham sobbing imprinted in his mind and heart, and Cain vowed to never make him cry again.
"It's too late to say you're sorry Mortimer," Death said coldly.
Cain's mind raced, why was it too late? Was his father going to die so soon? He turned back to the door, ready to run back to see him before it was too late. But he couldn't make it out, his legs wouldn't move any further. An eerie weight pinned him down, and he was unable to move.
"We're not yet finished," Death stated. "There is something more I wish to show you." It waved its hand over the mirror, and another scene played in front of them.
Cain turned, and looked back into the mirror. A younger version of himself and Abraham were playing on the swings outside. Ursula came out and called him inside, telling him he had work to do. Young Cain stayed swinging, but silently crying, feeling abandoned once again.
"This is how it always was, he valued work over me. He always has." Cain explained to Death.
But they kept watching as Abraham trudged back up to his study, complaining to the maid as he went, "I spend all my days up here, never with my son. He'll grow up never knowing my love for him. What a life he'll lead!"
"Would you rather be poor?" Ursula sighed. "Give him no real start in life. Money is more important. He won't survive without it. You promised your wife on her deathbed that you'd give him the life she'd never had. That you'd give him what he deserves!"
Abraham sat down and rubbed his thumbs to his temples. "Money is a curse. He doesn't deserve the pain it brings."
The scene stopped and faded away. Another started.
Teenage Cain was shouting at Abraham, throwing his arms wildly, storming around the room. "I'm seventeen! All my friends have had cars since they were sixteen! How am I supposed to get one if you won't but it for me? You won't even let me get a proper job."
Abraham replied sternly, "You don't need a car when you have me to drive you. We live less than a minute from town, why are you in such a hurry to grow up?"
"You don't understand!" He screamed back. "Or maybe you do, maybe you love your money more than you do me."
Cain left the room, glaring accusingly at his father. Ursula appeared from the same doorway.
"I'm sorry Sir, this is my entire fault," She apologised. "I shouldn't have come to you for the money."
Abraham got up and squeezed her shoulder, "You've worked for me for decades, and helped raise my son when his mother died. Paying for your sister's funeral is the least I could ever do. I'm sorry that I can't by a car for my son, but it's a sacrifice that I owe you."
Middle-aged Cain groaned
with revulsion in himself as he suddenly realised everything his
father had ever done for him, he wasn't a monster, he just cared
too much. The fog cleared from the mirror. He looked into it to
see what he was like. He shuddered with disgust at the sight of
his reflection. To see himself reflected, his face and figure
distorted and perverted by the flaws in the glass. How much this
was like real life. Perhaps this mirror didn't reflect the outer
appearance, but the flaws and perversions were ingrained in his
"I understand now," Cain exclaimed. "I understand! Please let me see him before you take him. I need to tell him I'm sorry, that I love him, and that I didn't mean to hurt him! Please don't take him yet!"
Death chuckled, "I'm not here to take your father, not for several years."
Cain let out a sigh, "So you're like the ghost of Christmas Past, come to show me my bad ways." Cain was relieved, a weight lifted from his shoulders.
Death continued to chuckle, "Not quite. Mr Mortimer I am Death, and I am here to take your soul."
Cain stopped still. His eyes widened, and his mouth fell agape.
"You can't take me!" He cried. "I've only just realised… I can't go. Father will never know that I'm sorry! I'm not ready! You can't tell me all this and kill me!"
His voice was crazed and desperate, and he didn't stop wailing until he'd taken his last breath.
Death ascended the stairs, feeling that rare sense of satisfaction. He liked to see the looks of people's faces when they realised they were too late, that they lived horrible lives and could never go back. When they realised it was entirely they're own fault.
He closed the passage door behind him, and left without saying goodbye to the maid. A tad rude, but he had things to do, people to see, souls to take.