Mortality's End

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
In a dark room somewhere in the world, five people are convening for a special purpose. They do not know each other, but they have no need to. They are as different from one another as the sun and the moon - and yet, they have come to the same place, drawn by a common goal. In this room, all is laid bare - secrets, shames and skeletons alike will all be dug out from their closets.

Five enter, but only one can leave. A sole survivor, given the honour of being the only one to see an end to mortality...

Submitted: May 13, 2013

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Submitted: May 13, 2013

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Mortality’s End

The door opens, and someone steps in.

“You’re late,” remarks the woman in red. She doesn’t bother to look up at the newcomer, focusing instead on the cards that lie before her. Amongst the amalgamation of mystics, magicians, priests, virgins and infinitely larger cornucopia of characters she finds that one has appeared again. She stares at it, and it stares back – the skeletal figure on the white horse, raising his dark banner with the white rose emblazoned on it. She has seen him many times now, both in her dreams and in her cards. Too many times.

The elderly man lighting the candles turns around and gives the newcomer a grim smile. Another one of us trying to escape the inevitable, he thinks, as his heart pounds painfully against his chest. It is a weary heart – a heart that has been ravaged by time and feelings alike, felt so much and so little at the same time. The elderly man shuffles to the shelf nearby and gently grasps another candle to light for the newcomer.

“I didn’t realize there was going to be a fifth participant,” said the young man sitting in his chair at the main table. He is young, but already old of heart. His childhood is a broken bird, singing painfully while perched on one leg, pitifully trying to attract the attention of the faceless people at home. But the young man has long since gotten over that. Or more accurately, he no longer has the capacity to want to feel such emotions. He prides himself on this, although deep down in the darkest recesses of his lonely mind the broken bird still sings.

The newcomer gives him a slight smile and responds, “But here I am. It’s strange how fate works.”

The woman in red raises an eyebrow at the fifth man’s words. She finds it ironic that he would say such things, and yet choose to be with them in this very room.

“Well then, shall we begin?” she says.

The elderly man finishes lighting the candle for the fifth man – it has taken him several tries now, his fingers shaking with the caress of disease. But he finally does it and places all five lit candles onto a tray before walking over to the main table and placing them down.

“One each,” dry lips rasp.

The woman in red and the young man each take one and stare into the flame intently. They see something in it, and for a moment they are both entranced by the way the citrine flame dances.

The fifth man does the same.

Two candles remain. The elderly man looks over to the corner of the room, where the nervous girl sits. She still has this vaguely terrified look in her eyes, which dart around the room in a perpetual search of something. Salvation, perhaps? Or assurance? The elderly man does nothing to encourage either, and gently motions for her to come over and join them.

She gets up, slightly unsteady on her feet, and walks in a trance-like state to the table.

“There’s…no going back once it starts, is there? It’s a one-way thing?” she asks with trepidation.

The elderly man merely nods. The young man remains stolid but inside he is already scoffing at her indecisiveness. Such weakness is deplorable to him, and he feels like she does not even deserve to be in the same room with the rest.

The nervous girl pauses for a moment, and takes her own candle.

The elderly man gives a soft sigh and clutches the last one, as he settles down into his seat. The table is momentarily silent – the five people sitting around it are either lost in old memories within the flame or staring with anticipation at the others.

There is a slight draft in the room. The nervous girl shivers and pulls her coat tightly around herself while the fifth man merely rubs his elbow.

The woman in red fingers a card in her pocket, and makes up her mind. “I will go first,” she solemnly declares.

“The Gift should be mine because I can do the most good with it. I have seen how some people abuse what they have, and I will never let that happen. If I possess the Gift, I will be able to use my powers to help people – now and forever. I will be able to guide people to their true destiny and show them they can do something more with their lives, something special, something that gives them purpose. And that, I think is what it should be used for – to help others, not for personal gain or otherwise.” She finishes off proudly. The woman barely believes her own speech, but she is not showing it otherwise.

“And what is your profession?” the young man asks.

“I am one who peers into the mystic fog of the future, one who guides others to their destinies.”

The young man snorts. “I’m sorry, I should have said, do you have a real job?”

She smiles coldly at him. “This is my job.”

He chuckles, shaking his head. The woman in red is furious inside but decides to keep her feelings in check. Once the Gift is hers, she thinks, she will destroy him.

The elderly man shakes his head too, but out of weariness rather than derision. “One has spoken. Will it become two?” he mutters.

The young man leaps at the opportunity, believing this will be the crowning moment of glory in his entire life. “The Gift,” he proudly proclaims, “should be given to me as I am its rightful owner.” At this arrogant statement it is the woman in red’s turn to snort, and she does so to much dramatic effect.

He ignores her. She is but a minuscule speck of dust in the cosmos, an infinitely small piece of muck that is nothing to him. He is reminded of all the people he has dismissed over the years, the ones the broken bird kept singing to, the people that eventually taught him the meaning of life. Very soon, he thinks, the woman in red will be one of them. And it will be his turn to laugh.

“I am a rich banker with a bright future ahead of me. If I possess the Gift, untold wonders will be realized for humanity. I have many connections to influential organizations over the world and I possess numerous investments – I can use all of them and all the wealth I have accrued to help humanity – research for cancer and AIDS, educational projects in less developed countries – you name it, I can do it. Compared to this fraud over here,” and the young man gives a malicious smirk to the woman in red, “I can do so much more. And I will do so much more. But only if I have the Gift.”

The nervous girl fidgets, clearly uncomfortable in her seat. “But how will we know if you’ll do what you promise? What if you use the Gift for your own selfish purposes?”

The young man shoots her a contemptuous look.

“You don’t. But what you do know is that out of everyone at this table, I am the one with the greatest potential. Would you rather the Gift be passed to her instead?” he points at the woman in red.

The woman narrows her eyes and speaks in a steely voice. “Foolish are those who fail to appreciate their position in the universe. Do you think all of your high and mighty words and false promises will benefit you? Your hubris will be your downfall.”

The young man merely smiles knowingly.

The nervous girl chews her lower lip and thinks of trying to mediate, but she keeps quiet in the end. She has no right to interfere, she thinks.

The fifth man has been observing everything with great interest at one end of the table. He wonders how the young man really feels deep down, if the broken bird buried deep within him will ever realize that it is free to fly away, if only it will step away from its porch. He wonders if the woman in red truly believes she has powers to help others, or if she is only forcing herself to believe she does in order to avoid the fact that she is otherwise a mundane person. And most of all, he wonders what he will say when his turn comes.

The elderly man looks at the two candles which have rapidly melted down, now reduced to short little stumps with flickering flames. Already he can feel his own flame weakening, even though he has not spoken yet.

“Two have spoken. Will it become three?”

It is a long time before the next person speaks up. An uncomfortable silence, a lingering reminder of what each participant chose to give up before they entered the room. But it is the nervous girl who finally breaks the solitude.

“I…I seek the Gift to protect my family and friends. I want to watch over them and ensure that none of them will come to harm. They deserve that much, at least. I know my reason pales in comparison to the two we have already heard, but I swear that if the Gift is bestowed upon me, I will devote every single moment of my time and my energy into being a guardian. The Gift will give me the power. I already possess the will.” She says firmly with conviction in her voice. The girl knows that now is not the time to be weak-willed or unsure, for the Gift will never choose her otherwise. Even though it is a well-crafted mask that she wears, it is rapidly decaying from the inside and it takes all of her willpower to maintain a veneer of calmness.

This time it is the fifth man who questions her. “You would be willing to use the Gift for such a purpose? You do not think you will ever tire of protecting these people, who could well change over the years such that they no longer love you?”

Yet she remains firm in her resolve. “No,” she looks him straight in the eye, and is frightened by what she sees there. There is a coldness that she has never encountered before. “I won’t.”

He merely stares back at her with a penetrating gaze. She squirms in discomfort and casts her gaze down at her own candle, which has similarly morphed into a flaming stump.

The tension in the room is building. 

The people know that the process is quickly coming to an end, what with only two participants left. After that, everything that happens will be left to fate. The young man is still relatively unfazed by what is going on, even cocky, as he is sure that he will leave this room with what he came for. The woman in red, on the other hand, is beginning to have doubts about her true motives and if she can deliver what she promised. But still she acts haughty and confident, all the while fingering the card in her pocket. She tells herself that she will not fall prey to it. It is an option that she cannot fathom, or ever entertain.

The nervous girl retreats into the depths of her mind and finds herself lost in a sea of darkness, but she is completely fine with it. It is nearly time, she thinks. Almost time.

 The elderly man clears his throat.

“Three have spoken. And it will become four.”

The fifth man lies back in his chair, and lazily ponders about the many people he has met over the years.

The elderly man can feel the gazes of the other people on him. They are waiting for him to launch into a diatribe, an exposition, a tearful well-crafted speech about mortality and old age and second chances and regret which will inevitably tug at their heartstrings and make them reconsider their positions. Of course, he does none of that.

“I would like the Gift…because I want to live again. And…that is all.”

He sees the surprise on the woman’s face, the sneer on the young man starting to form and a look of dismay from the girl. The fifth man appears completely puzzled.

The elderly man looks down at his guttering candle and slowly looks up at the last one who will finish the process and bring a judgement to his suffering.

“Four have spoken. Will it become five?”

The fifth man smiles slightly, and looks down at his own candle. It still stands tall and proud with a strong burnishing flame, high and mighty, as though lording over the four other stumps.

The other four anxiously await his speech to begin. They begin to shiver unconsciously as the draft in the room grows stronger, and as their own candle flames truly begin to lose life, wavering weakly. They can feel their own threads begin to unravel, as their grasp on this world becomes increasingly tenuous.

And yet, the fifth man makes no speech. He does not even move in his seat to adjust himself, nor even blink. He has all but become a statue.

Finally, the silence is too much to bear for the young man.

“Speak, damn it! Or do you want us all to die?” he snaps as he pounds the table with a fist.

The fifth man slowly turns to look at him.

“The Gift would be of no use to you. What is the point when you’re already dead on the inside? For all your talk of using material wealth to help the poor and the oppressed and the downtrodden, you fail to see the one who needs the most aid: yourself. You would hate yourself for an eternity if you indeed succeeded in obtaining the Gift, hate yourself for not being more honest, and ultimately see the irony of your situation: that it was you who sealed your own fate.”

The broken bird falls silent. It is singing no longer.

The fifth man turns to the woman in red, who clutches the card tightly in her pocket.

“You see the many lost souls every day, and you reach out to them and help them. You are a shining light in their lives, the one beacon that will lead them to salvation. But you and I both know you don’t really care about them: all this is for your own benefit. You enjoy seeing people suffer and fail in life, because you know they will come to you. And when they do come desperately seeking refuge and guidance, you take advantage of them to feed your own egoistic pleasure. You want to feel needed, respected, revered. And you are. But you have arrived here through the web of lies and deceit you have spun, both to your clients and yourself. You would corrupt the meaning of the Gift. Trapped forever in your own delusions, you would eventually seek death – but of course, you would never find it.”

The card leaves the hand and falls to the ground, face-up. It appears to be the victor after all.

He faces the nervous girl.

“I-“she begins in a frantic tone, but he cuts her off.

His tone is dark and laced with venomous steel.

“I have seen behind your mask, and it is a dark place. Your desire to protect your loved ones seems innocent, but hides a terrible obsession. You are selfish to a fault – even more than that young man there. You cannot bear the thought of anyone else even coming close to loving them like you do – you are the only one who can have them – and you will attempt to use the Gift to ensure no one else ever gets the chance to do so. It is this very obsession that has caused them to spurn you, and it is the same reason why you have come to this place. In the end, your dark desire will destroy the one thing you want the most – your loved ones. And as the ashes fall and the dust settles, you will be left alone in the wake of your destruction with an eternity to ponder your folly.”

The sea of darkness has consumed its host. Nothing remains.

The elderly man says nothing and clasps his hands together, awaiting judgement.

The fifth man turns to him with a blank face.

“And then we come to you. The least reprehensible of this lot, and yet one of the most sinful as well. Your life has been nothing but a canvas – a blank, perfectly pure canvas on which you have allowed people to despoil and desecrate by painting whatever they want on it. And you have done nothing to stop it. Everything in your life has been a reflection, a direction, a representation, of someone else’s whims, desires, wants and needs. You are buried so deep beneath this multitude of personalities that you cannot even find yourself if you wanted to. And it is only at the culmination of your life, at the end of this pathetic cycle, that you have come to this room seeking a second chance.”

The fifth man smiles slightly.

“Your regret is sincere and your heart is beating true, perhaps for the first time in nearly a century. But…”

 “I have seen the inevitable future. If you obtain the Gift, your cycle of ennui and self-loathing will continue. You will harm no one but yourself. You may even help others, but the inescapable path that you tread will ensure that you end up at the same place where you started.”

The heart beating true no longer does so. It will not resonate again.

The fifth man stands up and gazes sternly at the four people in their chairs.

“Not one of you is worthy of the Gift. What a pity. It appears that there is no escaping your mortality after all. ” He leans over and with a one blow, snuffs out the four candles.

The room darkens instantly, illuminated only by a single light.

The man gets up and opens the door, leaving the room. Behind him, four souls follow in a mournful procession.

A second passes – or is it two? It does not matter. Eventually the final candle flame flickers teasingly, before vanishing inexplicably.

And the room is quiet and cold again.


© Copyright 2019 Leo Cantus. All rights reserved.

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