The Old Man Awaits

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I don’t have a lot for you by way of a progress report today, so I thought I’d share the other of the stories I wrote for my Caladria application. It came out a little odd, but I think I like it. Hopefully, you will too. Let me know in the comments, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

The Old Man Awaits
by Eleanor Musgrove

He hadn’t seen the old man since his mother had passed away, and Tristan had been happy with that.

He’d been very young at the time, too young to understand the basic rules governing strangers in his home. He’d toddled into his parents’ bedroom to answer his father’s call, expecting to meet his new brother or sister, and found his father weeping instead. Tristan had never seen his father cry before. He didn’t like it. He’d scrunched up his little face and begun to sniffle himself, and his mother had made an almost inaudible sound, reaching out with weak arms.

As his father had lifted him into his mother’s embrace, he’d realised she was crying, too.
“What’s wrong?” This only prompted further sobbing, and he’d glanced around the room for the source of her distress. His gaze settled on the elderly man standing by the windowsill, cradling a blanket-wrapped bundle in his arms. “Is it the baby? Don’t you like it?”
“The baby’s gone somewhere better, Tris. We’ll miss her very much, your little sister, but it… it was her time to go.” His father explained.
“But she just got here…”
“I know, son. She couldn’t stay.” Tristan turned to the man in the window.
“But can’t you just ask him to give her back?”
“It doesn’t work that way, love…” He turned to look at his mother as she spoke, and when he looked back to the window, the man was gone.

A week later, he’d seen the man again. Tristan had been sitting on his mother’s bed, holding her hand as she whispered farewells and promises and love. The words had faded away, and she’d sighed, falling asleep. His father had gathered her into his arms, sobbing, and Tristan had had to turn his face away, confused and unsettled by his father’s anguish. The old man caught his eye, reaching out to help his mother up and out of the bed before leading her away. She turned back in the doorway and smiled at Tristan, and then she was gone. But when he turned back, his father still had her limp body in his arms.
“It’s alright, father. Mother feels much better now.”
“She’s… she’s in a good place. With the baby,” his father had choked out, and Tristan had understood that his mother would not return.

He had put the old man from his mind as he grew, half-convinced that he was the product of a child’s fevered imagination. But now, twenty-one years old and no longer given to wild daydreams, Tristan saw a familiar, wizened face watching him from beside a market stall. He stopped in the middle of the street, amazed and confused, staring at the man he’d hoped to forget.

He barely managed to tear his eyes away in time to see the maddened horse charging towards him along the street, to realise that everyone else had moved out of the way, to know that he didn’t have a chance to do the same. The impact as it hit him knocked the breath from him, and his vision clouded as he stared up at the sky, awareness fading of the myriad pains in his body and leaving him numb.

Tristan didn’t know how long he lay there before an old, gnarled hand came into view, and a wrinkled face behind it.
“Come, son, you can’t stay down there in the dirt all day. Your mother will be appalled if you keep her waiting longer than you have to.” Tristan’s heart leapt; he hadn’t seen his mother in nineteen years.

“But my father- my wife-”
“They will miss you, as will your unborn child. But it is too late. Your life is done, lad, and there’s nothing you nor I nor anyone can do to change that.”
“My-?” It was all rather a lot to take in. “Who are you, to know such things?”
“I am death’s messenger, nothing more, nothing less. I lead the dead to their rest. There are far too many lost souls wandering around as it is.”

Tristan took a deep breath.
“Then I have no choice but to go with you now?”
“If you don’t want to be lost, that is your only option.”

Tristan closed his eyes for a moment, thinking of all those he’d miss from this life. Then he opened them again, and reached up to take the man’s hand.

Thanks for reading!

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