Short Story: FACING DEATH

 Another original story for you horror fans. I wrote this one about two years ago. 

FACING DEATH

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Elizabeth knew her grandfather was going to die before anyone else had guessed it would happen, the day before it occurred; it showed clear on his face, as if he was wearing a Halloween mask. The mask remained there all day, no matter what he was doing or which way he turned, and in the morning her mother found him in bed, cold and stiff. A surprise heart attack had come upon him while he slept. Elizabeth wept for him, but most of her tears came out of fear of the mask, and the implications it held for her. She was six years old.

After that first encounter, the mask became commonplace for Elizabeth – appearing on the faces of strangers, waiters in restaurants, clerks in shops. Dreaded most were the moments when it would appear in the face of a person she knew. She grew accustomed to its patterns, if not the fear; twenty-four hours before the coming of death, it would hover there flawlessly, and leave only when the moment arrived. She saw it on her friend June at age seven, on her grade school teacher eight months later; at age nine, after a long respite, it showed itself on her grandmother, who lost her battle with cancer the next afternoon. She pushed her friends away slowly but deliberately, for she could not bear to look at them. All who had known her before the first appearance noticed the change, a new nervousness in place of her characteristic buoyancy, but they soon learned that Elizabeth would not answer their questions. She revealed her secret to no one, except once, when she lifted her head to God and asked him for an explanation. He did not answer her.

Years went, and the fear dulled until it became manageable. The faces of her friends and family remained unmarred, and though she still saw it in strangers, it did not faze her so much. She returned herself to society and was glad.

During this period she did wonder far too often about the cause or purpose of her strange ability. It was impossible to stop the event itself from occurring, even if she could see its approach in advance. Why was she allowed to see it at all, then? She no longer expected an explanation; but that did not stop her from lying awake at night, searching for it in the impenetrable darkness.

The sky that day was blue and hazy, the air full of the vibrant warmth of late spring. Elizabeth was sunbathing in the morning rays, sipping the lukewarm remnants of her breakfast tea. It had been six days since the sign had appeared in anybody’s face, and she welcomed the absence.

“Come inside, Elizabeth,” he mother’s voice chimed from the back door. “You’ll get burned.”

Elizabeth sat up, blinked out the red impressions in her eyes, and stood. “Coming mother,” she said.

Her mother’s hair spun around in a golden wave as she turned her head back to Elizabeth. The face that followed stole Elizabeth’s breath and the strength in her knees failed. She could not contain her scream.

“What’s wrong, dear?” said her mother.

“Nothing,” Elizabeth gasped. “You surprised me is all.” She inched past the staring horror until she was inside the house. Once safe, facing away from her mother, she allowed the tears to spill. She hurried to her room and sat on her bed, sobbing, trying to imagine how it would happen. Please, let it not be too horrible, she thought to herself, to the God she only half-believed in. Let her go peacefully. Let her not feel any pain.

“Elizabeth?” her father’s voice called. “Is everything all right?”

She wiped her eyes and cheeks as best as she could. “Yes, daddy,” she said. Her voice was unreliable and cracked. She wondered if she should tell him, but she knew it would be impossible to explain to such a rational man, even if the simple confession eased the pain; but perhaps it would only make it worse.

“Your mother said you were upset about something.” His head appeared in the doorway, and for too short a moment Elizabeth thought she was hallucinating. She did not scream; she remained frozen on her bed, certain that her horror showed, unable to mask it anymore than her father could mask his fate. “Is anything the matter?”

“No, daddy. Everything’s fine.”

She imagined he must have smiled as he left, and wished achingly that she could have seen it. There were no words to describe the hole that opened inside her chest. She thought of her siblings, David and Henry and Julia, and began crying emptily at the image of their infant grief. They would not understand, and she did not know how she would explain it to them, because she did not understand it herself.

Their tinkling laughter floated to her from their playroom across the hallway. With much effort, she stood and went to meet them. Nothing could prepare her for what she saw when she opened the door, and laid her reddened eyes upon the three identical masks that turned to look at her. “Hi Elizabeth,” said Julia, but Elizabeth did not hear her, for she had already run down the stairs and out the front door. She did not feel the sun, or hear the lawnmowers and barking dogs that made up the neighborhood aura. Her mind was invaded by a singular kind of dread. How was she meant to bear it, if she could not stop it from happening? What cruel force chose to reveal this to her?

The voice that spoke to her across the street had no answers for her, only a friendly “Hello.” It was old Mrs. Wilson from three doors down, walking her poodle as she did every morning. Elizabeth composed herself in order to return the gesture, but her composure failed when she saw the old woman’s face. Screaming, she ran down the street. Each house she passed bore another face just like the ones before – Mr. Green on his porch, smoking a pipe; the Paisley twins with their red wagon; the new married couple who had moved in only a week ago, expecting a child. Each of them marked with the same sign, all bound to one fate, and blissfully unaware.

Never in all her nights lying awake and searching did Elizabeth dare believe this would come; yet she knew that if she walked to all the houses in all the world, the same image would greet her on every face.

Ignoring the calls of her baffled neighbors, Elizabeth drifted down the street and into her own home. She avoided the eyes of her family, pretended not to hear the frightened questions that followed her up the stairs, shutting herself in the bathroom and locking the door. It took all of her courage to look into the mirror.

With the calmest of hands she opened the door and walked down the hallway to her own bedroom. Her parents and brothers and sister watched her go. She did not hear them as she unlocked the window and drew it open far enough to fit through. She said, “Don’t worry, you will all understand soon;” then let herself tumble onto the hard, unyielding pavement below.

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