It was a bleak night of November, wolves howled in the gale and drafts slipped in through cracks in the cold stone walls of my small cottage, nipping at my bare heels. The isolation I had experienced for precisely a year and a day kept lunging itself back at me. The loneliness was like a playful child tugging at my hair, softly at first, and soon painfully dragging me under. I could almost feel my lungs fill with water as I struggled, breathless and weary.

Adrianne was gone. Dead. Life seemed futile and every step forwards seemed to drag me back. With no family and no stable income, I couldn’t envision a future. But I could picture her, right now, laughing from her easel trying to make me sit for her to paint. I blinked and the image shifted to the day she was carted away with nobody to attend her burial but myself.

I was drinking too much liquor tonight. Everything was magnifying and becoming grossly vivid. My heart thudded incessantly. The tick-tock of the clock taunted and mocked. I wailed into the night out of sheer desperation. From my window I could see the bridge under the full moon. I longed for death and it seemed inevitable. The perfect escape. Succumbing to the alluring signs, I ran out in my white nightgown towards the bridge.

The quiet stillness of night embraced me. The frore wind sent chills across my bare shoulders. I paused for a moment and took a breath. Gazing at the murky water, I was filled with trepidation. But her face danced in my mind’s eye. Choking back my angst, I plunged; submerging feet first into the icy abyss.

Finally, water consumed me, my dreads and my anguish. Everything faded away as I entered the ether.

*****

Something warm kissed my cheeks, awakening me. I discovered myself in a misty cave. A dark hooded figure, ethereal and winged, was gazing down at me. It was the angel of death, Azrael. He was dragging along the tarnished souls, depressive and grey things. He exuded an aura of warmth and familiarity, but mostly I felt his pity and sympathy. He was like a carer of the dead. My calmness surprised me but soon that also faded away.

An impulsion drew me to join the string of the departed. The moment I linked arms with the last spirit in line, the cavernous surroundings melted away; I was on a caliginous stage accompanied by spectres, masked like villains, all waiting to be swallowed whole by a god, or snatched off the wire by a ravenous demon. I could feel it in my bones, we were all waiting for the final judgement. And suddenly a single word was uttered around the theatre. Erebus… It echoed and reverberated louder each time. Erebus!

The wire trembled and the eyes watching in the dark seemed to cackle and heckle mutely. The stage disappeared from beneath my feet, I fell. Flames replaced the stage walls. Shadows danced; taunting and defiant of the dark. Unholy light licked through the gloom that refused to part, providing a long-lost battle. Miles of mannequins, petrified souls with horror etched on their ashy faces, stared at me with glassy eyes as fire consumed them. I screamed. I could hear bird song suddenly and noticed wretched sparrows mocking from their dark metal cages while silent ravens perched above them, observing patiently. Azrael was standing in a corner, untouched, stroking one as he waited. He sighed wearily, his empty eye sockets watching.

A banshee of bells sounded in the distance. I knew then that I had silenced whatever deranged optimist lived on in my being and reached my amaranthine destination. I squeezed my eyes shut, whispered a delayed and useless prayer. Solid air seemed to caress my cheek. My blood curdled and my breath balled up in my dry throat. I trembled, refusing to look.

Darkness itself had come to claim me. Erebus… I felt my soul within me wither and melt. Like molten lava pouring, oozing out of my being and burning my flesh. I screamed like a heretic. It was unendurable. My eyes opened of their own accord and I slumped to my knees.

For miles around there was nothing but hard, magenta wasteland, flat and unending. A red, hot atmosphere beamed down scornfully. Surely it is a sin of the gods to allow one to suffer so excruciatingly both in life and in death? I howled into the scarlet chaos, begging for reprieve.

Nobody could hear me. There was no life or death here. No time existed but the ticking of an imaginary clock, taunting and ominous, inescapable.

Hours slipped into days, days became weeks and then all sense of time became bereft of me as I wandered with bloody feet through the unchanging landscape. The hunger gnawed at my being, the thirst was unbearable. The loneliness bereaved me of my humanity. Soon, I felt my sanity slip away too.

I was lesser than animal. I was a thing that could only exist in hell. Just as it became too harrowing, something appeared on the horizon. The sight was painfully beautiful.She had almost reached me, whimsical waves lapping at her feet. I stumbled towards her as she drifted nearer.

Impossible! She had remained unchanged, ebony-skinned and crimson-lipped. Ghost tears ran down my cheeks. She reached me and stared almost hungrily. Joy shone from her eyes. I felt unworthy. Did I dare touch her? Was she a demon or an angel?

“I hated being away. I have watched your suffering and felt your pain. Finally we can be together. He summons us to his garden of paradise…” Adrianne whispered, smiling mysteriously. She reached for my hand and the world around annihilated.

I was purified. Cleansed. Grass stretched out under my bandaged feet. Adrianne took my hand and violins sounded.

We waltzed under the moonlight in oblivion and peace while Erebus played the harp.

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