It was sunny the day Thomas Bardwell met with his fate. The orchard was alive with blossoms, floating on the breeze, sashaying about like dainty little ladies, holding their velvety pink skirts above their waists.
The sunlight flitted through the pale green shoots, dappling the grass here, kissing the trunks there, vanishing behind a cloud of grey before reappearing again, radiant with heat.
He was leaning against a tree, a purple book lay face down on his slightly raised lap. His hat tipped forward over his face, his jacket spread under him. He felt the cold remains of winter seeping through the thin material beneath him.
A rustle in the grass behind him. He sat very still. His skin prickled beneath his crisp white shirt; the hairs at the back of his neck rose, and he resisted the urge to shiver. A cold finger at the base of his neck.
No, not a finger. An icy, sharp, metal edge. His lips moved slightly. One would think he was muttering an incantation of some sort; a prayer.
These sorts of pickles happened a lot to Thomas Bardwell. However none of them were this morbid. In fact, Thomas Bardwell was quite aware that this time, he was going to die. The how and when of which would become, he supposed, apparent in the next few moments.
There were many ways, Thomas discovered, to die.
There was the scene in the old bookshop, which he enjoyed replaying in his mind’s eye just before he fell asleep on most nights. It involved Thomas with a sword, and an angry villain leaping out of one of the thin pages of the thick volumes on the shelves. It involved a fair young maiden with raven tresses. Her name was Crow. Just Crow.
Her lips were not the ruby jewels the books spoke of, neither was her skin the creamy white writers seemed to lust after. She was brown as a nut, yet powerful. She spoke like a queen, and she fought like a tigress. Her eyes were large and almond and hazel and honey. She was beautiful, yet not in the traditional way. She was plump, yet shapely. She was angry, yet calm. She was a mountain of sturdy, stubborn rock; yet a river of gleaming bubbling water. She fought bravely and died with a loud, anguished cry. It was then that Thomas arrived, just in time to see the pages of all the books flutter open. The villains, clad in black and blue and red leaping out, their wigs askew, their faces spotted with blood and boils. Thomas felled them all with one swoop. One sentence delivered with the harshness of a thousand truths. He gathered the words in his mouth and spat them out in a torrent of ink and fire and blood. He saw the words sprawled on the walls, trailing scarlet and ebony, the carcesses of the men strewn at his feet.
There was the pie incident, where Thomas was a man of great importance, being served a giant pie filled with four and twenty black birds and ten and sixty doves. There was the moment where all breaths were bated, as the server cut the pie open, and out surged a small army of men brandishing butcher’s knives. The chefs! A mutiny! Thomas fought to the death, and in the end lay slumped over the pie, his face spattered with blood and gravy, the butchers dead, the people weeping at such a hefty loss.
Or the incident where Thomas drowned to his death, fighting for justice and for Crow. He saw her wavy figure on the bank as he sank to the depths of a lake, thrashing madly against the evil force he had grabbed with him. Flurries of water and stabs of black in the murky blue. His body was brought up the next day, dripping and punctured, but on his face was the blissful smile of one who has died on justice and truth.
Thomas was a fanciful man. He did not expect to die in an ordinary, boring way. He imagined his father sitting at home, grumbling about breakfast and impudent housemaids. His mother, bustling about on some errand or other, her large earrings swaying like gaudy drunkards. He imagined the telegram which would reach them (it had to be a telegram, it couldn’t be any other way), and the solemn look on his father’s crusty face. He imagined his mother weeping, or even better, falling to the ground with a cry and fainting. He imagined the years of sorrow and gloom afterwards; his sister clad in black, getting married in black, eventually hanging herself for the loss of her dearly beloved brother, a pile of tragic poetry slumped on the floor beneath her dangling feet.
His hat lifted off his head. The bright light which blinded him for a few moments made him think of his eventual, final destination. He prepared himself for pain, for travel, for darkness. His heart thumping madly, his ears hot, his knees trembling.
“Mum says come in for dinner”, the voice by his ear startled him so badly he smashed the back of his head against the tree trunk.
A cry escaped from his parted lips, and, panting with adrenaline and pain, he turned to see Sophia standing behind him, her knees scuffed beneath the cotton print dress she wore to play. Her hair was plain and ginger. Her eyes pale. No black anywhere.
He was little again. With bony knees and schoolboy shorts. He was little and insignificant and he wasn’t going to be murdered today.
“Oh well,” he muttered to himself as he stood up, and brushed himself down, “perhaps tomorrow”
As he picked his jacket up and marched towards the back door after his sister, he thought he saw a shadow flit through the trees to his right. He paused, and held his breath. There it was again. A flash of black hair, a glance of hazel.
He smiled to himself, tucked his purple book under his arm, and walked into the warmth of his mother’s kitchen.