It was a cold winter evening, the full moon already making its way slowly up into the stormy sky, sometimes hidden, then shining brightly through angry clouds. There was no other source of light in that cold English graveyard. Something that sounded like a clap of abnormally loud thunder startled a young owl into abandoning his hunt with an indignant hoot, immediately followed by a mad scrabbling sound, eerie until identified as badly laced shoes shuffling through the fallen leaves and twigs scattered all around, and over, the unkempt graves.
A girl scrambled out from behind an old twisted tree, and her eyes were wide with fear. She clutched at her side as she stopped to catch her breath, and the owl gazed sympathetically at the still-bleeding cut on her forehead. A muffled shout in the distance made both girl and owl turn warily towards the distant church, long abandoned to the elements. A shadowy figure emerged from the darkness, and as the moon shone momentarily from between the clouds, it reflected off the steel he carried in his hand.
The girl seemed to have frozen in her place, and she watched the hooded man slowly make his way towards her.
“Don’t make me hunt you down, sweetheart.”, he called out, and she trembled at the toneless sound of his voice.
He kept moving towards her, a deceptively relaxed finger poised above the trigger. She no longer believed he would not shoot her dead if she ran.
“Why are you doing this?”, she asked him, eyes full of grief and confusion.
He was close enough now for her to see him glaring at her, and her eyes widened as he raised his arm slowly until the gun was pointed at her, but she made no other move.
He smirked at her, and then fired.
The bullet flew off into the open sky, and the Owl took flight. She couldn’t stop her heart from sinking at that fitting final act of betrayal as she stood alone before him.
“You don’t have to do this”, she whispered, voice low and steady.
The hooded man took another step towards her, “You know you left me with no other choice.”
She bristled at that, “Don’t pretend like my choices had anything to do with what happened! That was all you!!”, she snapped at him, stepping forward herself.
He waved the gun at her gently, “Stay still, babe.”
“You don’t get to call me that”, she muttered under her breath; nevertheless keeping still, her eyes fixed warily upon his gun.
A moment of silence passed, and the man pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.
The girl watched him as he took one out, lit it and inhaled deeply.
“Are you really going to kill me?”, she asked, plaintively, after he was halfway through his cigarette.
He looked at her thoughtfully, “I think so, yes.”
The girl glared at him, then looked sadly at the ground, “In that case, can I have one as well?”
He raised an eyebrow at her, “I thought you weren’t supposed to be smoking.”
A moment of silence, and then the both of them burst into laughter, the sound echoing strangely across the empty graveyard. They held their sides as they laughed, and she had to kneel down and he had to lean against a tree, and yet they could not stop laughing.
Until she rushed at him with something she had pulled out of her boot, and he instinctively raised his weapon and shot her. She cried out, then smiled, then fell in slow motion to the ground. He kicked over her outstretched hand to find a red rose clutched so tightly that the thorns had poked holes into her skin and embedded itself there, even as she bled around it. And around the bullet wound in her chest. She tried to speak, then coughed up some blood, painfully, and he stared down at her with eyes full of horror.
He knelt down then, cradling her blood soaked hair in his hands, “Why did you do that?” “Why did you make me do that?!”
She smiled at him, and tried to speak again.
He leaned in and pulled her closer even as she whispered something over and over again.
But understanding the 9 words she said in quick succession until he lost her to all the blood seeping into the earth no matter how hard he tried to keep it all inside her, that understanding drove him mad.
And after that night, his face lived under a cloud that never seemed to leave, his laugh never sounded quite the same, and at night, it was said that you could hear him cursing and raging through any thunderstorm, though curiously enough, he appeared perfectly calm and composed the next day, and his loyalest circle of servants made no mention or explanation of the absurd quantities of chinaware, mirrors and glasses they would constantly be acquiring and disposing stealthily off.
And the women he was involved with, only they knew of the nine words he would whisper in his sleep after a tiring, fun-filled evening at home. (Though the ones who mentioned it to him, or anyone at all actually, they never saw him again)
“I love you, I forgive you, We are free.“