The Isles of the Blessed
The Isles of the Blessed
Paint flowed across the canvas, the hues swirling outwards from the colourless figure knelt beneath the open sky. Pale skin and ebony hair, someone from a dream he couldn’t quite grasp. Samuel pulled the brush back, the green paint from the vibrant grass dripping onto the laces of his trainers.
And he stared at the picture, the midday sun shining through both the branches of the trees and the tall window of his dusty studio. The humming of the cars in the street below fell away to the rustling of soft winds in new leaves.
A stream rippled in the background, whispering over the rocks while purple flowers unfurled in the shade. It pulled at him stronger than any déjà vu.
When his mother died in 1902 the maids turned the mirrors against the walls. His sister said it kept the weeping and the grieving from indulging in themselves. But someone, once, an age ago, told Samson that it kept the souls from escaping the grasp of Hades. They’d given him a coin, one old and gold, and told him to take it with him to the grave. He’d asked of Heaven and of God, and they’d said it didn’t matter what you believed when your thread was weaved by Fates.
He drifted through the Plain, the souls around him wandering, restless, without ever knowing why. Those times he’d tried to speak with them, no answers came from their lips, and glassy eyes stared to a place way beyond.
The Plains stretched on forever, and each soul stood alone, lost amongst the greyness of each other, of the ground and of the sky. Samios did not belong there, his memories clear when they should not be so.
Death came for him as he lay curled up at the trunk of a pomegranate tree.
He stumbled through the undergrowth, the tangled roots catching on his leather sandals. His father had brought him out before the sun rose, and led him to the forest. He’d left, giving Samios over to the mercy of the gods.
And Samios, at six years old, had not yet learnt enough to find his way back home.
The sun sat high in the sky, burning through the leaves above. Samios didn’t know how long he’d been alone, just that he had no more tears to cry.
Ten years after his mother had left them and been put beneath the ground, the remainders of his family went to Southampton to board a ship so they could join his father in their new life across the sea. Looking up the gigantic ship, Samson put his hand in his pocket to clutch at the golden coin. His sister called for him from the gangplank and he hurried over. Seven days on the ocean. By April 17th he’d have a brand new home.
The metal of the coin dug into his hand and, for some reason, he didn’t want to let it go.
He soon learnt that the man wasn’t Death but the god of.
“It is close enough,” the god said, “but as you are here now you might as well call me by my name.”
Thanatos asked if, since Samios remembered his life well, he had seen him once before on earth.
“Twice,” he had said.
Black wings fluttered as dark eyes narrowed, “Twice?”
“Once on the battlefield. Once in the forest when I was a child. I thought it had been a dream.”
When his best friend died in a traffic accident, Samuel took in her daughter.
The child would grow up strong, he knew, but until that time came it was on him to protect her. As much as the social worker assured him all would be fine, he couldn’t deny that suddenly being the parent of a two year old panicked him to the core.
As she grew, he learnt and, once the pain of loss had eased, used the knowledge he’d gained to help others who had fallen.
The pounding footsteps in the ship’s corridor pulled Samson upwards, and he woke from his dream of the man with the wings who stood before blood red doors. He could feel the weight of the hand still upon his shoulder. The warmth on his skin lingered, but the words they had exchanged between them faded until only a few remained.
“I’ll be there at the end to bring you home.”
“Yes, or I can take to the Elysium Fields, either way you cannot stay here.”
“What if I wanted to?”
“Then you would become like the rest. No memories, just a shell.”
“And if I go to Elysium?”
“You will stay there forever.”
“And I won’t see you again.”
“Then I know what I want.”
He tried to save as many as he could, but the water rose too fast, trapping him below. As darkness crowded in and ice filled his lungs, he swore he heard the whispered voice from his dreams.
"I’m here, Samson.”
He came across a clearing adorned with purple flowers. Samios clutched the last tree before the open space, his nails digging into the bark, and stared at the two figures kneeling in the grass by the sleepy turquoise stream.
One wore a black chiton, the other strange clothes he couldn’t place, and by their knees a small skeleton lay.
He watched as the dark figure held his hands above the skull, and from the ground muscle and flesh and skin leapt out to wrap tightly around bone. Striped fur sprouted, and a small mew came from a fanged mouth. The kitten stood, and stretched out in the sun.
The dark figure rose to his feet while the other pulled the kitten in close, and stepped toward Samios.
Samios knew he should be afraid, but he just looked up into the void like eyes and tilted his head to one side.
“So it’s you,” the figure said, crouching down in front of him, “I did wonder what you meant.”
He smoothed a hand over Samios’ hair.
“It is best that you forget.”
Samios’ eyes grew heavy, and fluttered slowly closed. As black crowded his vision gentle hands lowered him to lay him in the grass.
“Sleep, child and when you wake you’ll be somewhere safe.”
“Are you sure this is what you wish?”
“I could still take you to the Elysium Fields.”
“And I won’t go. No. I want to be reborn again.”
Thanatos met his gaze, but Samson did not back down.
Thanatos looked away and stared across the greyness of the Plain. “Fine, it’ll be done. Live well, and we will meet again soon.”
He lived his life well, and when he grew sick Samuel rested knowing that the people he had helped would live on and do the things he could not. His daughter stayed beside him, sleeping on the sofa in his hospital room at night.
By the light of the full moon, the figure from his dream came before him, and he knew. He looked to his daughter, before meeting the other’s gaze.
“Will she be okay?” he said, his voice quiet in the dark.
The figure took his hand, “You have made sure of it.”
The stench of blood seeped from the wet ground. Red decorated the legs of the fighters as they stood their ground.
They could not last, only hope to hold out long enough for some to flee the town before the soldiers broke through.
Samios owed twelve years of his life to the ones who’d taken him in, years he would not have lived if they had not found him in the forest as a child.
His father had already been taken, his body lost amongst the rest, and now Samios fought for his mother, and for revenge.
Running his sword through the neck of the soldier in front of him, he spun to block the spear aimed at his chest, but a bronze shield caught his blade and the spear found its mark, piercing though his lungs.
As blood rose in his throat, he turned his head, looking back towards the town.
And there, on top of the high wall, a dark figure loomed, watching the battle from afar, black wings silhouetted against the blinding sun. They turned to him, staring.
Unable to draw another breath, Samios died.
They sat in the clearing side by side, Samuel younger than he had been at the end of his life. Years now he had been there, three good lives had granted him his wish.
He’d seen his daughter once. They had hugged and cried, before she had chosen to move on. Thanatos had said she may return one day, but Samuel knew time didn’t work the same walking beside Death.
He placed a small skull at the end of the skeleton lying in the grass before them, and looked up into those familiar eyes.
Thanatos smiled at him. “Are you ready?” He asked.
“For the beginning of forever? Always.”
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