The hooded figure gave a small shrug as he finished his story. “So I kept my word.” Death explained. “And now I’m here.”
It took Lucas a long time to find his voice again. He simply stared into the endless blackness where the being’s eyes should have been as he struggled to wrap his head around everything Death had told him. The reason Evelyn was left behind, why Death had tricked them all those years ago, the role of the mysterious old woman, and the missing piece to the cure… All questions Lucas feared he would never know the answer to. But now…
Now it all finally made sense. Or at least, most of it did. And it’s all thanks to Mel. Despite everything, the thought sent a rush of warmth through his heart.
“So… Everything that’s happened – all of this… Was just to teach Evelyn a lesson?” The old man spoke at last.
The hooded figure sighed in exasperation. “Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said to you? Yes.” Death paused for a moment, thoughtful. “Though I suppose not ‘just’… This was for you too, boy.” He added with a shrug.
Lucas nodded, recalling what Death had told him. “I know.” He replied weakly, still in somewhat of a daze. And helping me was supposed to help her learn to be selfless… He added mentally.
But was Evelyn really that selfish to begin with? Lucas wondered.
He took a moment, trying to think back to when he was very young… It almost felt like another lifetime.
He remembered all the conversations he’d had with Evelyn in his childhood, and everything she told him about her life before the fire that had killed her. She never told him much about her family or friends… Lucas realized. Just herself, and all the things she felt she was missing out on…
He thought back to when he’d first begun to work so tirelessly on finding Evelyn’s cure, and all the arguments they’d gotten into over it. She was so mad at me for not spending enough time with her… But had she ever shown him any real gratitude for the work he was doing?
But the worst was what had come after. The night they broke up, when Evelyn had hidden herself away and ignored him… for months. And then more than a year. No matter how much he begged, she would not listen.
She was… Lucas realized. She was incredibly selfish. But Lucas held nothing against her for it.
Because after all, so was he.
Lucas been thinking so much of himself when he began the search for a way to bring her back – not Evelyn. He’d hidden the truth about Mel from her not to spare her feelings, but his own. It wasn’t until things got rough with Evelyn – when she got angry, and called him out on his mistakes – that he realized just how wrong he’d been. But by that time, it was too late.
I was so selfish too… But she taught me how not to be. He realized.
Across from him, Death nodded. “Funny little coincidence, huh?” He chuckled softly to himself.
Lucas raised an eyebrow at him. “D-did I say that out loud…?”
The hooded figure cleared his throat softly. “Doesn’t matter.” He muttered quickly. “Anyway, the point is that little Evelyn’s finally learned her lesson, and done all she can to help you, and your family too… So thanks to that wife of yours, I’m finally going to let you do it.”
“Do what?” Lucas asked. “Y-you mean bring Ev back?” He couldn’t even bring himself to smile. It all seemed too good to be true, just like every other breakthrough he’d made over the years… And he feared that, just like every time before, it would turn out to be just that — too good to be true.
Death nodded. “But you have to promise me you won’t breathe a word of what I’ve told you to her. Do you understand? She can’t know about my little lesson. Not yet, anyway. Or the deal is off.” For a moment, the being’s usual light-hearted tone had vanished, and Lucas realized just how serious he was. “Sorry, kid. But there are rules.”
“I won’t tell her.” The man promised. “Just… tell me what I have to do. Please.”
“Good.” Death’s jovial nature seemed to return immediately. “Now, don’t misunderstand… I’m not going to just hand it to you on a silver platter or something.” The being laughed softly. “You’ve still got some work to do.”
Lucas felt an uneasy sensation in his stomach at the words. It had taken so many years to find the flower and the fish… And I’m not getting any younger. He was only 72 years old; Lucas had another good fifteen, maybe twenty years left in him, as long as his heart stayed healthy. But it took over forty years to grow that flower… Another wave of unease swept over him.
“No need to panic.” Lucas could hear the smile in Death’s voice. “Come here.”
The being floated across the kitchen toward the corner counter where the angelfish still sat in its large bowl. “You still have plenty of those flowers.” Death said. “But this little guy here’s your last hope for the fish. Mess this up, and you won’t have another chance. Understand?”
Lucas nodded nervously.
“There’s still one ingredient you’ll need.” Death continued. “This book will tell you everything you need to know.” With a small wave of his scaly grey hand, a thick, leather bound book appeared on the counter in front of him. Lucas’ eyes widened at the sight.
“So… that’s it?” He asked skeptically. “I just read that book, and it’ll tell me everything?”
“Yes.” Death confirmed. “It’s that simple.” There was something in the being’s tone that made Lucas uneasy.
“Why should I even believe you?” He asked, his voice hardening with every word. “I don’t care about your reasons… Justified or not, all you’ve ever done is lie, and try to trick us! How can I know this isn’t just another one of your schemes?”
Death just shrugged. “You can’t.” He laughed a short, cruel laugh. “But you don’t really have any other choice, do you?”
The old man narrowed his eyes. This is all some sort of joke to him! But he was right… he really had no choice. And if Death had really talked to Mel – if she really trusted him, and sent him here to help… Then Lucas had to believe it, didn’t he?
“Just trust me this time, boy. And you’ll see.” Death promised. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should be heading off… So much to do, so little time.” He raised a bony hand in farewell. “A pleasure as always, Mr. Ainsworth. Best of luck to you.”
That’s it? He’s leaving?! Lucas still had so many unanswered questions. He can’t just go… Not now. “Hey, wait!” He reached out toward the tall hooded figure, but it was too late.
In a blink, Death was gone, leaving nothing but a thick cloud of black smoke behind him.
Lucas stood in the empty kitchen for a long time, lost in thought as he watched the trail of dark smoke in front of him slowly disappear. It was simply too much to take. Here he was, still reeling from the loss of his wife, when all the answers he’d been looking for for years were suddenly dropped in his lap.
In that moment, he wasn’t even sure how to feel. Relieved that Mel had safely made it to the afterlife? Upset that she’d moved on where he could not follow? Grateful that she’d sent Death to help? Angry that he’d left so abruptly? Happy that he could finally help Evelyn at last? Nervous that he may fail her yet again?
Lucas tried to fight back the swirl of emotions that rushed through him as he picked up the leather-bound book and brought it into the living room. He sat uneasily onto the soft couch and flipped it open, flicking through several pages.
At first, it did not look very promising. Most of the pages were nearly indecipherable, written in a language Lucas could not even identify. There were unusual charts and diagrams, with symbols that reminded him of the map that had led to the angelfish. But then finally, tucked away near the back, Lucas found something that caught his eye.
There was a small section written entirely in English – a recipe for something the book called ‘Ambrosia’. The food of the gods? Lucas thought curiously, recalling bits and pieces of what he’d learned about Greek mythology over the years. Could this be what he was looking for?
His green eyes scanned the page eagerly. It was described as an ancient recipe that could cure illness, extend longevity, and restore life. Lucas’ breath caught in his throat as he read the words.
The ingredients listed had strange Latin names he had never heard before, but some of the descriptions were strikingly familiar – Lilium Mortem, a flower with deep pink petals surrounding a white, skull-shaped center; Pisces aeternum, a silvery-blue fish that is rumored to be immortal – but the final ingredient was a mystery to him.
Aqua Vitae. He read. A thick white liquid harvested from the rare Dionaea Taurus.
The words meant little to Lucas, but one thing was certain – this book was describing Evelyn’s cure. He was sure of it.
It seemed almost wrong to feel so optimistic and full of joy in that moment. So many decades of disappointment had lead him here. How many times had he failed over the years? Allowed himself to get his hopes up, only to have them crushed before his eyes? It would be foolish to truly believe that he’d found the answer, wouldn’t it? And yet…
We’re so close. We’ve never been this close before. I can feel it.
It was a thought he’d had before, of course. But there was something different this time. Something Lucas could not quite explain. This is it. I know it.
He rose to his feet, still holding the book in his hands. I can do this. He told himself. I finally have what I need. Lucas crossed through the kitchen and into the dining room, feeling a rush of something exciting and wonderful wash over him. It was a feeling he had not experienced in a very long time – hope.
As he looked up at the photos on the wall in front of him, his smile widened.
I love you so much, Mel. Lucas felt the sharp sting of tears in his eyes. But for the first time he could remember, they were not tears of sorrow or pain. And thanks to you, we’re almost there…