Lucas’ brow furrowed in confusion as he squeezed the pink udder a second time, then a third.
“What the Hell…” The old man muttered under his breath, staring up at the Dionaea Taurus as its vine-like tail slowly moved back and forth. The plant – or creature, or whatever it was – showed no indication that it had even sensed his attempts to harvest the Aqua Vitae.
I don’t understand… Lucas thought back to everything Death’s book had told him about the Dionaea Taurus. He had followed the instructions perfectly, hadn’t he? This doesn’t make any sense…
“Having a bit of trouble there, eh?” A deep, gravelly voice reached his ears.
For the first time, Lucas did not even flinch at Death’s sudden appearance.
“Alright, what is this?” Lucas asked venomously. “Another one of your tricks?”
“Of course not!” The figure replied jovially. “Typical human… Always assuming I’m to blame for all your problems…” Death shook his head.
“Then why isn’t it working?!” Lucas cried out in exasperation. “I did everything the book told me to!”
Death chuckled softly. “It seems you aren’t as smart as I thought you were, boy.” He paused for a moment sighing. “The Aqua Vitae… It’s the very essence of life itself! You think it’s just going to appear on its own?”
Lucas’ face paled slightly. “What are you saying?”
“That life has to come from somewhere.” Death replied with a shrug.
Lucas stared at the Dionaea Taurus, unable to find his voice as the pieces slowly fell into place. It needs to kill something. He realized. It needs to take a life…
“Ah, now you’re getting it.” The terrifying form beside him spoke as though he had read Lucas’ mind. And for all he knew, maybe he had.
“You knew.” Lucas spoke at last, his face falling. “All along, you knew it would come to this…”
Death nodded. “I did. And when that beautiful wife of yours suggested I let you bring little Evelyn back, well… I realized just how perfect it would be.” Lucas could hear the smile in his voice. “The ultimate act of selflessness… What better way to teach that girl her lesson once and for all?”
Lucas said nothing as Death continued. “When I told your sweet Melanie the truth, she wasn’t too happy.” He admitted. “But in the end, she still wanted me to give you this chance…” Lucas could almost picture the sly smirk beneath his dark hood. “And let you decide for yourself.”
“So… I need to let it kill me.” Lucas replied slowly. It was not a question.
The figure nodded. “Or you could live out the rest of your days with your family, and let me take little Evelyn away… She’ll be happy enough, I assure you.” Death promised. “They always are.”
“But she won’t get a chance to live her life…” Lucas said sadly.
“Afraid not.” Death confirmed, nodding. “But hey, not everyone does.” He shrugged slightly. “So what’s it going to be, boy? I’d say you’ve got three, maybe four hours to make up your mind. The clock is ticking…”
Lucas hesitated, just for a moment. He thought of Krysti, and Danica, and Alex, and Mitch… His family. The people he loved most in the world. Could he really leave them all behind? Lucas knew his years were already numbered – he probably had five, maybe ten left, if he was lucky. But no matter how many he had, those years would be spent surrounded by the people he loved. How could he throw it all away?
But then Lucas understood just how selfish that thought really was. He’d spent nearly fifty years married to the love of his life. He’d lived out his dream of opening his own restaurant. He’d gotten to see his daughter grow up, find love, and start a family. He saw his granddaughter graduate from High School with honors, and his grandson grow into a kind and compassionate young boy…
Lucas had lived an amazing life. How could he deny Evelyn the chance to do the same?
“Okay.” He said quietly. “I’m ready. I’ll do it.”
“Well, that was easy.” Death chuckled. “Alright, boy. If you’re sure…”
“But…” Lucas hesitated. “What about the Ambrosia?” He asked nervously. It was the only thing holding him back now. “Who’ll make it without me?”
“Not to worry.” The figure said happily. “The plant will drain you of your life’s essence… But as long as it still exists, even outside of your physical form, you will live.” Death explained. “It will be quite uncomfortable, of course. You will be very weak… But you will not die. Not until your life is consumed by another.”
“Good.” Lucas replied. As long as I have enough time…
The Dionaea Taurus appeared to have become restless, wiggling back and forth eagerly and snapping its large and powerful jaws, as though impatient.
“Looks like he’s ready when you are.” Death laughed.
Lucas turned to face the Dionaea Taurus and took a slow, deep breath. He thought of Krystina, and how sorry he was to have to leave her behind. He thought of Mel, and how eager he was to see her beautiful face once more. And finally, he thought of Evelyn and the promise he was fulfilling at long last as he reached out a trembling hand toward the beast’s powerful jaws…
“So I did it, Ev.” Lucas finished at last. “It was… really weird.” He confessed. “And painful… But I’d do it again, a hundred times.” He said seriously. “It was worth it.”
Evelyn did not speak for a long time as she struggled to take it all in – the true reason Death had kept her behind all those years ago; the full story behind Mel’s plea for her second chance; and, most importantly, the truth about Lucas’ death and the incredible sacrifice he had made for her.
It was all so much to take, and the girl’s head was practically spinning as she tried to make sense of it all.
“But… Why?” Evelyn spoke at last. Her voice was barely above a whisper. “Why would you do that?”
Lucas just smiled. “Because I love you.” He explained. His form began to lighten to a joyful green as he spoke. “You’re my best friend… And after everything you’ve been through – and everything I’ve put you through… You deserve it, Ev.” The ghost paused for a moment, thoughtful.
“Remember back when this whole thing started?” He asked softly. “Back when I’d first started looking for the cure… You told me I was being selfish. That I was really trying to bring you back for me, not you…” Lucas sighed. “And you were absolutely right. I thought I was doing it for you… But to be honest, I was just thinking of myself.” He confessed.
“I don’t think I really understood that until I was much older…” Lucas paused, and appeared to be lost in thought for a moment. He shook his head slightly before continuing.“And when Death gave me the choice, I knew exactly what I had to do. I couldn’t be selfish anymore.” He smiled gently as he spoke. “I had to do it… For you.”
Evelyn considered his words carefully. It all felt so strangely familiar – selfishness, thinking only of himself… That’s exactly what I used to be like. She remembered. But the more she thought about it, the more uneasy Evelyn began to feel… And then she understood.
Oh my God… She hung her head in shame as the realization finally struck her. What am I doing?
It was a few moments before she found her voice. “Back then, you were only thinking of yourself…” She spoke very slowly as she echoed his words. “And that’s exactly what I’m doing right now.” The girl admitted sadly. “I’ve been so focused on bringing you back… But for all the wrong reasons…” She shook her head. “And I’ve spent so much time feeling sorry for myself… instead of living.”
A few minutes before, when Lucas had explained about the lesson Death had hoped to teach her, it had all made sense, painful though it was to admit. Looking back, Evelyn could see how she’d been selfish in her old life with her parents. She recognized how self-centered she’d been in her relationship with Lucas, and in the jealousy she’d once felt at his happiness.
But it’s like he said… I’m better now. She’d thought. I’ve changed.
But had she really?
This whole thing was supposed to teach me how not to be selfish anymore… Evelyn thought sadly. And look at me now.
She lifted her eyes, meeting Lucas’ gaze as she continued. “I’m sorry, Lucas.” She said sincerely. “For everything. You’ve done more for me than anyone else ever has… You gave your life for me… And look at how I’ve been thanking you for it.” Evelyn shook her head, staring down at the grass below her feet as her eyes grew wet with tears.
Lucas floated forward, placing his hands gently on her shoulders. For a moment, Evelyn wished she could truly feel his touch.
“I understand, believe me. This isn’t how I imagined it happening either…” He said softly. “But bad things happen, Ev. Things you never wanted, or expected…” The ghost shook his head. “And it’s okay to be sad or angry or upset… But sometimes, instead of trying to fight it, you just need to let go.” Lucas shrugged his shoulders slightly. “Maybe that’s a little easier said than done… But you’ve gotta try.”
“I know.” Evelyn replied softly, glancing up at him. “I know I do. It’s… It’s just so hard.” She shook her head slowly.
“It is.” Lucas agreed. “But… Who ever said life was easy?” He smiled crookedly at her as he spoke.
Evelyn could not help but smile back.
Life. She thought to herself, relishing in the sound of the word. She’d been taking it all for granted until now, too blinded by her grief to see things clearly. But for the first time, she was able to truly understand the incredible gift she’d been given.
She was alive again. She could do everything she’d always dreamed of – and maybe even things she’d never dreamed of. She could experience all life had to offer – the good and the bad…
And it was all thanks to that shy little boy who’d tried to run away from home over sixty years ago.
Tears sparkled in Evelyn’s eyes as she looked at the man who stood before her now, and her heart ached knowing that she was seeing him for what would truly be the last time.
But he’s right… I really have to let him go. She realized sadly. Don’t I?
She thought back to many years ago, to an encounter with a fellow lost soul wandering through the darkness. He’d taught her how let Lucas go, and to let him live his life…
And now I have to do it again… So I can live mine.
Evelyn blinked back her tears. “You’re right. It isn’t easy… But I’m going to try.” She said in a whisper. “I’m going to live my life, just like you always wanted… Just like I always wanted, too. I promise.”
Lucas said nothing. He simply reached forward, a warm smile on his lips as he stroked her cheek tenderly with the back of his hand. Her smile widened at his touch and, for just a moment, Evelyn could almost feel it.
“Someday, years from now,” Lucas began, his soft voice breaking the silence. “We’ll see each other again. And when we do, I can’t wait to hear all about the incredible things you’ve done.” He said warmly. “And the wonderful life you’ve lived.”
Evelyn said nothing as she allowed a few of the tears she’d been holding back to slide down her cheek.
The ghost reached forward, and took one of her hands in his. “Take good care of Krysti and the kids for me, okay?” He said gently.
“Of course.” Evelyn breathed, her heart sinking. The sky above had slowly begun to lighten… They were running out of time.
“And please…” Lucas said fervently. “Travel the world. Play music again. Fall in love. Start a family…” He smiled. “Just be happy, Ev. You deserve a life that’s just as beautiful as you are.”
Evelyn said nothing, smiling softly through her tears.
Lucas floated forward then, and brushed his lips gently against her forehead.
Evelyn closed her eyes and bowed her head gently. “I love you, Lucas.” She whispered. “Thank you.”
When she opened her eyes again, he was gone.
Evelyn stood there for a long time, alone in the silence of the tiny churchyard. It’s really over now. She realized. Isn’t it? He’s really gone… For a moment, it felt as though her heart were breaking all over again.
But a few minutes later, as she wiped away the last of her tears, Evelyn found herself doing something she had not done in a long time… Looking forward. She thought of the new and exciting life that lay ahead of her, and all of the amazing possibilities the future held.
Evelyn let out a soft sigh and looked up at the sky above. She watched for a few minutes as its dull grey hue slowly began to brighten, and listened as the first few notes of the birds’ morning song reached her ears. She’d never really stopped to appreciate the sights and sounds of the world around her beginning to wake. Not until now. This is incredible.
Smiling to herself, Evelyn crossed over to the worn stone walkway and began the long journey home.
Evelyn knew it wouldn’t be easy. There was still a deep ache in her heart from losing Lucas. And maybe there always would be. But she was done letting her grief hold her back. She was done wasting the precious gift that had been given to her. She was ready to move on. She was ready to live.
Evelyn felt amazing. She felt free. And for the first time in more than eighty years, she felt truly alive.
The first soft rays of the morning sun glistened over the crystal-clear surface of the river. Its warm orange glow washed over the pink blossoms in the trees, the brightly-colored flowers that dotted the water’s edge, and the winding stone pathway that would guide her home.
Evelyn smiled as her eyes took in all the incredible sights that waited on the path ahead.
It was a beautiful day.