They say nights are quiet, silent even, but that really isn’t so.
It makes noises of its own.
Even the seemingly silent glide of the hunting owl whistles keen as wings slice wind, and prey screams before talons crack it open, spilling red life like the contents of a leaky whiskey barrel.
A late autumn cricket chirped in vain, born too late for mating. It too, will freeze and die in the grass on cooling mornings, no progeny for spring.
I stared at the wheeling moon and stars, thinking I would stay here. Believing, for a moment, I could.
“I’ll leave tomorrow.”
The freezing breeze seized and shattered my breath’s vapor.
My worn cloak had thinned into little more than a long rag full of holes where the cold poked at my legs like children’s fingers.
I looked all around the cemetery; everyone I knew was here.
The slaughter of my neighbors and family was swift and thorough.
Did they know that I was now among them?
Could they hear my heart, see my breath, and hear the lonely cricket’s solo above the blowing, rustling leaves clattering against the tilted, faded headstones?
Did their wandering ghosts find it as beautiful as I did?
I shuddered in anticipation of the change to come when I heard the voice behind me, as if the very air itself had spoken:
“Are you ready?”
The anticipation turned to fright, the fright to something I couldn’t name.
I half turned, seeing him over my shoulder, smelling the loamy earth on my cloak.
The stink of him was overwhelming; his beauty, unparalleled by anything I would call such.
I used the headstone I’d sat against to pull myself up, not trusting my legs, then brushed off what autumn detritus didn’t fall on its own, as if appearance mattered now. I wanted to run screaming, to call him vile things, to spit in his bloody face after I beheaded him.
No doubt he knew what I was thinking, but he said nothing.
I fell into the power of his silent, evil presence, quiet and feral; he was an old snake full of intelligent insanity.
As he watched me struggle with myself, I sensed his patience start to crumble before the slow rise of his anger.
His deep voice pierced my ears, a spike coated in honey, lethal and sweet, challenging me to defy him, laced with desire to punish me if I did.
“Are you sure?”
In the silence of my trembling, looking into the jade and gold of his gleaming eyes, the tatters of my will fell to the cold, hard ground along with my bedraggled cloak.
It slipped from my shoulders with the cares of this world trapped in its filthy folds, and the cricket’s song abruptly ceased.
My maker held out his hand.
I went to him.