"Shall I believe
That unsubstantial death is amorous,
And that the lean abhorrèd monster keeps
Thee here in dark to be his paramour?"
- William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet, Act V Scene iii
"Yes. I'm just calling you let you know that... I'm ready."
"Oh. You mean - ready to try for - ?"
"Yeah. I was thinking... tonight, if you're free?"
"All right. No time like the present, I guess? Should I bring anything?"
"No need - I'll cook. I'll see you around... 8?"
"Perfect. See you then."
Hanging up the phone, I allowed myself an excited giggle - my giddiness building and causing my hands to fumble as I prepared our dinner.
Usually, I thought nothing of my hookups, but this wasn't going to be just another casual fling. Gregory wanted to be with me forever, and his baby would grant me the freedom to pursue that beautiful dream. 8 'o clock couldn't come soon enough.
The eventual knock on the door had me racing towards it. After adjusting myself into the most alluring pose I could muster, I opened it, and was greeted by Gregory's grinning face.
"Hello, handsome," I purred.
"Hi, Amelia," Gregory stammered back. "You look... amazing. I really like that outfit."
"I look even better out of it. Come in - dinner's ready. Eat up. You're going to need energy, I promise you!"
Both of us were chuckling with anticipation as I led Gregory to the dining table. In our eagerness, I doubt either of us tasted the food before we swallowed it.
However, after I'd cleared the plates, it became apparent that the monumental significance of what we were about to do was affecting us both. We began to move more slowly: anxious about, yet also wanting to relish, what was ahead. I took a seat on the sofa, drawing deep breaths, whilst Gregory poured a couple of stiff drinks from the minibar, handing one over to me.
"Liquid courage?" I joked, evoking a low laugh from my suitor.
"Perhaps," he coincided. "You do know that... that I've never done this before, right?"
"Don't worry. I've more than enough experience for the both of us."
"But... what if I'm not as good as the others?"
"We love each other, Gregory. That means it'll be better than anything I've known before. I promise."
Smiling, Gregory raised his glass.
"A toast," he said. "To us, to our baby, and our future together."
Our glasses clinked together in a high beautiful note. I turned on the radio to play some slow, romantic tunes: helping to set the mood as Gregory sat beside me, the two of us sipping our drinks as we made romantic small talk.
Once his glass had been drained, Gregory shuffled his shoulders to the melody, until he could no longer resist its allure. Clambering to his feet, he took hold of my hands tenderly, and pulled me up into his warm embrace, whirling me around in a slow waltz. My heart, meanwhile, was dancing a fandango.
With our arms snaking around one another's bodies, I leaned forward to rest my head on my partner's shoulder. Gregory, however, wonderfully misread my signal, and moved his face to mirror mine - our lips locking together in the sweetest of meetings.
As my pulse quickened, my temperature rose - and with them, my longing. I deepened our kiss, as though I wanted to press our two bodies together into one: my nimble fingers already beginning to unbutton my lover's clothes as he pulled him towards the bedroom.
Despite his lack of experience, it was soon apparent how much Gregory wanted to please me as we tumbled together into my bed. I showed him how to make me feel wonderful, whilst learning with him how to do the same in return: the two of us bonding in a passionate union that put all of my previous trysts to shame.
After our perfect coupling reached its conclusion, we lay together in one another's arms: exhausted, but elated. Yet before I allowed myself to sink into a blissful slumber, I recalled the objective of the activity we had just so thoroughly enjoyed.
"I'm... I'm just going to go the bathroom. I'll be right back."
"Don't... don't leave, OK?"
"I won't. I'm never going to leave you again."
He lay still under the sheets as I tiptoed away to the bathroom - scrambling in the medicine cupboard for a pregnancy test. Later, as I sat upon the porcelain throne, stick in hand, the minutes seemingly dragged on for hours... until finally, two blue lines came into view.
I had kept my promise.
I scurried back to the bedroom as quickly as my feet could carry me.
"Gregory?" I whispered - struggling not to cry out in happiness, for fear of waking the children. "Gregory, darling, I'm - "
I stumbled to a halt. My blood froze in my veins as I beheld my bed... empty and cold.
A sharp tapping on the window stirred me from my agonised thoughts. Turning, I found myself starring through the glass into the hood of the Grim Reaper. Before my eyes, the blackness within it grew greater and began to spread, enveloping everything around me...
As the haze cleared, I found myself redressed in my corseted finery and standing in the grounds of a large mansion: Gothic in style, and bizarrely beautiful in a dark, mysterious way. Before me, stood on an elevated podium, was the Reaper - but stranger still, leading up to him were all of my children, stood rigidly in two lines that formed a guard of honour.
Several of my beloved darlings risked a small smile as they looked upon their mother's face: my own mouth curling into a delighted grin as tears rolled down my cheeks. It had felt like an eternity since I last seen and held so many of them. I had missed them so. However, neither they nor I dared to approach one another despite our longing to reunite, as we could all feel the Reaper's chilling, terrifying stare being cast over us.
"Come forth, Amelia Zara Livingstone," the cloaked figure commanded in a booming tone.
Suppressing my fear, I held my head high as I walked past my assembled brood: mounting the stairs carefully and standing before my ethereal master, looking deeply into his hood once more in an attempt to somehow meet his cold yet unseen gaze.
"I bid you welcome to Mortis - the realm of the Reapers," he went on.
"Am... am I dead?"
"Not at all. I have summoned your living body here of my own volition."
He stretched a skeletal hand over my gathered children.
"You have served me well, mortal. All of your children are, or are still destined to become, the finest of Reapers. And you are now, I believe, carrying the last of the promised?"
"Yes, my lord."
To my amazement, the Reaper sank to his knees before me - resting his head against my stomach, his fingers gently stroking the cloth of my dress.
"Ah, yes," he whispered. "I can sense it. A new and emerging life, its presence growing each day. It... it is a beautiful thing."
My confusion grew as I heard muffled sobs emerging from his hooded face. Then, in tones far more familiar to me, he spoke once more.
"I didn't think it was possible - and yet, here's the proof. Oh, Amelia... my Amelia... you have no idea how happy you've made me!"
I shuddered as he rose up and seized my hands in his own bony grip - but contrary to what I expected, I did not perish. Instead, his touch was warm and soothing, like that of an old friend.
"I will reward you, Amelia," he went on. "To start, your children are now free to live whatever lives they wish. Immortal lives, free from pain. I know how much they have suffered - how much they have sacrificed. I regret asking for them to be brought into existence purely to be my underlings. Henceforth, they will serve me in turn for only two weeks each year. Beyond that, their time is their own, and they can venture between the realms of the Reapers and the living souls as freely as they please."
I gasped in delight. The guilt of bearing and condemning so many children to a bleak fate had haunted me for years. I had learned to suppress it, to desperately try to ignore it for so long that my varied couplings had become almost mechanical, devoid of emotion. I did what needed to be done. Even the prospect of a happy life with Gregory wouldn't, I knew, erase those painful regrets. Now, at least, my children had freedom. The chance to do something else with their existence besides gather the souls of the dead.
"And as for you," my master continued, "I wish to offer you a choice. You can return to the land of the living, freed from your duty - your youth and beauty restored to the moment we first met, your children welcome to visit you whenever you wish, and a long and prosperous life without my presence until the day that you die. However, there is another option that I would far prefer you to take."
"And what is that?"
"Your youth, your beauty and your children restored, with the same freedom they have to pursue your own passions... but in an immortal life. One spent here, with me, in Mortis - forever by my side as my bride."
Dropping to his knees, he held up his hands, conjuring a ball of light between his fingertips. It faded away to reveal a beautiful glowing ring in the shape of a skull: the eye sockets filled with two diamonds that shined in a way I had never seen before.
It was indeed a very heartfelt proposal - one spoken in a caring tone, filled with passion. However, my thoughts turned to the man with whom I had shared a bed only minutes before. He was the man I wanted. I had already promised myself to him. And, as the Reaper knew only too well by now, I wasn't one who broke my promises.
"My lord," I replied anxiously, "I am humbled and flattered by what you have offered. But the truth is... I love someone else. A mortal man. It would be wrong for me to deny that."
"Oh... I see."
He sounded genuinely disappointed.
"But," I went on quickly, "there are millions of mortal women in the land of the living. Surely several of them could grow to love you. So please, tell me this. Aside from my fulfilled vow... what makes me different to any of them?"
He stood up, wrapping his arms around me - whirling me around in a slow waltz.
"Because, Amelia... you're the one who taught me what love was."
Leaning forward, he purred sweetly into my ear.
"You know me, Amelia. Search your heart. You know who I am."
As that familiar voice spoke, I realised that, yes - I did. Everything became clear in that moment. Reaching up to cup the hood of the Reaper's dark cloak with my palm - the closest I could get to caressing his cheek - my eyes widened in shock.
It was him. That was his voice. There was no doubt about it.
"But... but how... ?"
"I first assumed a human form so I could check up on you," he explained. "To make sure you and the children had everything you needed... nothing more. But, as I got to know you as a friend - found myself defending you from the acid-filled words of Agatha Casper - my newfound humanity overtook me more and more. I learned to truly care for you... and soon, I fell in love with you. Hopelessly in love."
"At first, it frightened me. I didn't know I was capable of feeling such things. But the pleasure it brought me was unlike anything I'd ever known. I wouldn't give it up for anything. I knew I didn't want to lose you - either to a mortal man, or to death itself. The prospect of one day reaping your soul brought utter despair. That's why I want you to become immortal - for you, me and your children to dwell here together in Mortis. For all of us to be one big happy family, one that lasts for all time."
He turned his head away, sheepishly.
"I wanted to tell you before," he continued. "In all honesty... I thought my chosen human name, my initials, might give you a clue."
Gregory Ridley. G.R. Grim Reaper.
God, it all seemed so simple now!
"So... what do you say?" he rasped timidly. "Will... will you marry me? Become the queen of Reapers?"
I offered him my hand. As he slid the ring onto my finger, I beheld its otherworldly shine, and grinned.
At long last, I had everything I wanted. My children, their freedom, and an everlasting future with the man I loved.
I really had been rewarded with eternity in Paradise.
"Just one thing, though," I added.
"I call you "Gregory", not "Grim". And the "skeleton and cloak" form stays business only."
Laughing, he shifted himself back into that handsome human male I knew so well.
"As you wish, Mrs. Ridley."
The rising of the Mortis sun brought with it my wedding day, and my coronation. In a ceremony within the Gothic mansion, which I swiftly learned was to be our eternal residence, my new husband and I recited our vows in front of my many children - who, of course, were now Gregory's new stepchildren as well as his part-time workers. As he placed an ebony tiara on my head, he proclaimed me "Amelia Zara Ridley, immortal Lady Death - Mother of Reapers, and Queen of Passing Souls."
My children were free. Beside the fortnight they were each committed to assisting with the ferrying of souls in a given year (twenty-six doubled being fifty-two, which worked out perfectly), they could now spend their ageless existences doing whatever it was they wanted: whether it was studying various subjects...
Enhancing their mystical talents...
Pursuing their dream career...
Or even having a few little Reapers of their own.
As for myself, I was content to dwell in Mortis and care for my youngest children: the ones still unable to live by themselves in spite of their immortality. In between nappy changes and helping with homework (Gregory arranged for a special school bus to travel between the realms), I often spent time in the conservatory - working on my paintings as my husband attended to the needs to the newly dead.
Of course, he always came home in time for supper.
Strictly speaking, my mission wasn't yet complete. When we were wed, Gregory and I were still waiting for that final happy arrival: the child of his own he had so longed for. Having not known if he could even sire children in his human form, he was thrilled that he done so.
However, neither of us knew until that fateful day just how well he had done.
Z for Zoe and Zavier, who conclude our tale.
(Babies 26 and 27 - Zoe and Zavier Livingstone Ridley)
Needless to say, we couldn't have been happier.
And thus, I have reached the end of my mysterious tale. You mortals live with the knowledge that you could die at any moment, just as I once did. However, I implore you, have no fear. Instead, when you finally do come face-to-face with the Reaper, simply smile, and say this.
"Hey there... how are the kids?"
THE FORGOTTEN HOLLOW TINIES
by bookloverblue - inspired by Edward Gorey
A is for Adelaide, first of the lot
B is for Benjamin, sweet little tot
C is for Clara, so tender and mild
D is for Dahlia, most precious child
E is for Einin, beauty and grace
F is for Freyja, with fairest of face
G is for Gabriel, angel on Earth
H is for Henry, bringer of mirth
I is for Ianto, so charming and smart
J is for Jules, with a love-laden heart
K is for Kirsten, sent from above
L is for Lucas, all lightness and love
M for Miranda, who brings us half-way
N is for Nero, all hail, Ave!
O is for Oscar, star that impresses
P is for Paige, so stop all the presses!
Q is for Quade, prince of the night
R for Rebecca, a radiant light
S for Sierra, sweet desert bloom
T is for Tae - and you'd better make room!
U is for Ursula, innocent queen
V is for Victor, with wisdom unseen
W for Waiola, rare island flower
X is for Xanthe, her charm is her power
Y is for Yasmin, whose love shall prevail
Z for Zoe and Zavier, who conclude our tale.