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Death’s Holiday

Bertha sat upon a blanket she had spread out on the deck of the ship, the evening wind blowing through her golden hair. The setting sun and the aft castle behind her cast her white face in shadows.

She raised her wineglass to her red lips. It had been a long time since her mate, Cerdic, and she had been alone together. She intended to enjoy their time together.

Cerdic, clad in a black robe that covered his near skeletal frame from head to toe, silently glided down from the tiller wheel. As he approached Bertha, he looked up to the heavens and the tattered remains of the ship’s sails. When he reached the spot on the deck where Bertha sat, he looked down at her gaunt form in an ethereal blue gray dress.

“Enjoying yourself, my love?” he said to her.

She picked up a second glass of wine as she stood up. “Yes. It seems it has been an eternity since we last had time alone. Have some wine and relax.” Bertha handed Cerdic the glass, which he took in his boney hand. After he took the glass from her, she wrapped her arms around him and rested her head on his cold chest. “I know there is no music, but can we dance?”

The couple swayed together on the deck like a pair of entwined leaves in the breeze for several moments until Bertha looked out over the prow of the ship. She stopped moving and raised her head up. “I think I see another ship,” she said, looking up at Cerdic.

When looking westward, I beheld
A something in the sky.

At first it seemed a little speck,
And then it seemed a mist;
It moved and moved, and took at last
A certain shape, I wist. (Coleridge)

Cerdic looked to the east. “Yes, that is another ship. It appears to be in some destress,” he said with an icy, hollow voice. “Shall we investigate?”

Bertha looked back up at Cerdic and said, “No, let them be. If they are in distress, let that cutie Edwin deal with it. He is supposed to be covering for you.”

“He is incompetent. They’ll be stuck for days,” Cerdic said with a sneer in his voice as he shook his head.

Bertha sighed as she said, “Beauty and competence are not the same. Let them be. What are a few days compared to what awaits them?”

“I am a DEATH and I do what I must,” he said in his hollow voice. “It will only take a moment. A grain of sand on the beach of eternity.”

A fire lit in Bertha’s eyes as she released Cerdic and stepped back. “We were to be alone, away from our tasks, and here you are working. You are always working and never devote yourself to me.”

Cerdic stood rigid as he said, “What about France in 1348? I let you dance in the streets to your heart’s content.”

She put her hands on her hips as her dress and hair fluttered in the breeze. “That is because you had a quota to fill.” The pair stood staring at each other.

It was Bertha who broke the silence. “So, what is their story?” she asked through clenched teeth.

“One aboard that ship killed an albatross. The crew praised the act, so now all are damned.”

“Worse has been meted out for less.” With pursed lips, Bertha nodded several times before she raised her hand and turned it over, revealing dice. “I will play you for them.”

“You can not.”

A sly smile came across Bertha’s blood-red lips. “I am the Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH and I can,” she said as she threw the dice on the deck. “Now I have cast my die, you must cast yours.”

As Cerdic reached into his robes for his dice, Bertha cast her eyes upon the Mariner and the albatross around his neck.

The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice;
‘The game is done! I’ve won! I’ve won!’
Quoth she, and whistles thrice. (Coleridge)

Silently, the two ships passed each. Once the Mariner’s ship was behind them, Cerdic asked Bertha, “What have you done?”

Bertha turned her gaze back to her mate. “A curse, my love. A simple curse.”

He reached out and took her by the hand and deftly and gently spun her around in a pirouette. “I know you too well. It is more elegant than a ‘simple curse.’”

She smiled a warm, impish grin at Cerdic. “The Mariner will be stuck at sea until he repents. Then he will be forced to mesmerize people and tell his tale as an immortal.”

“You whistled three times, so what of the crew?”

Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one. (Coleridge)

“They are stuck between life and death until they ferry the repentant Mariner home. Their final task,” she said.

If he could smile, a grin would have graced Cerdic’s face as he looked at his mate as he wrapped his arm around her. “You realize I will have to explain this.”

“That is your penance for working when we were to be alone.”

He took a sip of his wine before ushering Bertha to the aft castle. “Come then, let us change course.”

Tilting her head slightly, Bertha asked, “To where?”

“Montreal. I have no business there and thought we may dance while we can.”

A longing, joyful smile came to Bertha’s face. “Montreal. That sounds wonderful. But isn’t that Edwin’s domain?”

“It is,” he said, nodding.

“You are not trying to do him a favor,” Bertha said, stiffing some.

Shaking his head, Cerdic said, “No favor. Let us make 1832 an interesting year in Montreal.”

*****

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, Poetry Foundations, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43997/the-rime-of-the-ancient-mariner-text-of-1834. Accessed June, 2022.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Fantasy, Fiction, Paranormal, Romance

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