Mordecai, his eldest son and heir, was finally married. Milo and Miranda were both thriving and flourishing. His new daughter-in-law, Lily, was expecting a baby... yet another grandchild who was bound to make him proud. And by all accounts, Matthias, Aaron and Tamara were doing wonderfully, too. All of the pain of the past - the suffering he had brought upon himself and his loved ones through that foolish deal - was ancient history: long forgotten, and not something that would ever trouble them again.
Or so he thought.
One Autumn afternoon, Montague sat in his study, working on a compendium of his best jokes and routines. Now well into his twilight years, he intended for the work to be released after his death, to help ensure his future relatives would always have some income - just in case of a rainy day.
As he focused intensely, trying to wring out his greatest hits from the murky recesses of his memory, his calm concentration was broken by the sound of shattering glass.
Then a thud.
And finally, a scream.
Leaping to his feet, Montague scurried as fast as he could to the doorway of his study. As he threw open the door and peered through it, looking into the kitchen... he felt his knees go weak, and his heart being torn out of his chest. Letting out a breathless gasp, he stumbled against the door frame, utterly horrified by what he saw.
Mordecai and Lily, trembling and weeping... over the dying body of his wife.
"No... Rebekah..." Montague whispered. "Oh God, not my Rebekah..."
The room grew darker. Montague felt a cold wind coming in from the window behind him, rushing over his shoulders. A dark cackle echoed in his ears. Looking over his shoulder, he found himself staring into the empty eye sockets of an old enemy.
The Grim Reaper.
"You thought you would be free of me so easily, mortal?" the shadowy figure scoffed. "I permitted your son and his half-breeds to survive. Now, I will take my payment in another way. And such perfect timing, wouldn't you agree?"
Montague reviewed the situation in his head.
A child, unborn, and a grandparent eager to meet it.
Them passing away a matter of weeks before it was due to arrive - desperately hoping that they might have had more time.
That's exactly what had happened to Myron.
Only Montague had saved him. At an alarming cost.
Too horrified to take a step, Montague turned back towards Rebekah. Her breath was becoming laboured now. Faint. She was beyond help. Her time was running out... and soon, it would be up.
This was torture. Unbearable punishment. As Montague broke down into a flood of tears, the Reaper cackled once again.
Hatred and anger replaced the fear in Montague's heart. Growling, he snapped his head up, like a snake catching his prey, and stared down the Reaper, face to face.
"She did nothing wrong, you bastard," he roared. "Why are you punishing her? I'm the one who should suffer!"
"And you will, mortal... once you have to face life without her. With great mercy, she forgave you when you told her of your dealings with me. Her love has kept you strong. What shall become of you without it?"
He relented for a moment.
"Still, I agree with you. She was a good woman. It's such a shame that will have to face this frightening journey alone."
Montague shuddered at his words. Then, a terrible, yet understandable, idea formed in his mind.
"I wish to make a deal with you," he said to the Reaper. "This time, on my terms."
"Oh? And what terms are those, mortal?"
"After today, you will leave my family alone. No more curses, no more punishments. I caused all of this to happen, so after today, it all ends."
"And what do you offer me in exchange for this guarantee?"
Montague swallowed nervously.
"Me," he answered, firmly. "I will die as well. Right here, right now. Two for one... a bargain, right? I will not let Rebekah leave this world on her own... but for that, I will not live to see my next grandchild born. I made a deal with you to win Myron that right, so for my family's sake, it's one I will now freely surrender - if you agree to let them live in peace."
The Reaper was stunned.
"You... would die of your own volition, mortal?"
"You know that you have years left in you, do you not? Oh, you would suffer now, yes - but you would see many moments of joy in your remaining time, even more than the birth of your next darling grandchild. Yet, you freely offer me all of those days, in order to save your family?"
"That is my offer," Montague reiterated. "Take it or leave it."
The Reaper sighed.
"You are an honourable man, Montague Miskin," he said. "Foolish, but honourable."
He reached out his skeletal hand. Montague grasped it, shook it amiably... and felt his entire body go limp.
A second thud echoed through the house. Mordecai, who was already struggling to comprehend what was happening to his mother, rushed into his father's study, and almost lost all sanity when he saw his father lying on the floor.
"Dad... not you, too... oh, please, God, no..."
With great effort, Montague rolled onto his side. He looked up at his son, and managed to choke out a few words between gasps.
"Son... let this be... it's time..."
"Dad, no... please, don't leave me..."
"Tell me this... you... Lily... the children... are you all happy?"
"How can you ask that of me now?"
"Will... you... be... happy?"
Mordecai looked into his father's eyes. Montague's expression was one of desperation... a deep need for validation.
Choking back tears, Mordecai nodded. A small smile spread across Montague's face.
"Then... it was worth it. Everything I did... it was worth it..."
With those words, Montague breathed his last.
Rebekah and Montague were buried side by side, next to Myron and Katrina. In a gesture of love and respect, Mordecai planted red blossoms all over the graves. Once again, gardening gave him comfort in grief.
Losing both his mother and father was devastating to Mordecai. Indeed, the whole family was wrecked with sadness. Although in mourning herself, Lily knew that she had first entered the Miskin household to be a source of support, and so, she did her utmost to keep everyone strong... especially for the sake of the baby she was carrying.
And indeed, the arrival of Rosie Miskin provided a much needed ray of sunshine amongst the family's gloom of grief.
On the night Rosie was born, as the family slept in their beds, a hidden figure entered their home. Unseen and unheard by the residents, he made his way through the kitchen, and headed towards the staircase... moving softly and silently as a gentle breeze.
Montague Miskin was going to meet his grandaughter.
In recognition of his noble sacrifice, the Grim Reaper had given Montague a special gift... as well as a pledge to honour his side of the bargain. For one night, and one night only, Montague was able to return to the land of the living, and meet the newest member of his family. He had been given the chance to say hello... and goodbye.
Rosie's cradle was in her parents' room. As Montague entered, passing through the brick wall as though it wasn't there, he caught sight of his son and daughter-in-law sleeping peacefully side by side. Knowing that they would now lead safe and happy lives had allowed Montague to fully rest in peace... although seeing them again, even for one moment, brought him joy that was indescribable.
He hovered over to Rosie's cradle, cooing happily at the little lady who was in residence there. She was truly beautiful. Filled with pride, Montague blew kisses over her head, and attempted to brush his hand against her cheek... only for it to pass through. Montague knew that it didn't really matter - merely seeing her was enough of a blessing. Leaning towards her ear, he whispered a goodbye, and floated off into the night.
At her gravestone, Rebekah hovered around eagerly, anxiously awaiting the return of her husband. When she saw his familiar ghostly figure heading towards her, she smiled joyfully.
"How is she?" she asked.
"Gorgeous," Montague told her. "Utterly gorgeous. Another jewel in the Miskin crown."
"And everyone else? Are they well?"
"They will mourn us for some time. That is to be expected. But they will be happy again soon, my darling. They will all have wonderful lives. That has been promised."
Rebekah took hold of her husband's hands. Both being spirits, they were thankfully able to embrace one another still.
"I will never understand why you chose to give up your life for me," she said.
"Because you were my life, Rebekah. Without you, I am nothing."
"Come on," she said gently. "We have to go. Myron and Katrina are waiting for us."
The two shared a quick kiss, and then, hand in hand, descended together into the Netherworld.
No cheats here, folks... Montague and Rebekah really did die in the game at the exact same time. I thought it was quite touching, so I figured this section of the story should be quite emotional to reflect that. I hope you feel that I did an OK job.