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Writing Resources from Fifteen Minutes of Fiction

The following is a piece of writing submitted by Douglas on March 27, 2009
"Can anyone guess what verse of the Bible inspired this little story?"

Zographos Zoes

The king is dying.

There is a sense of quiet expectation and foreboding in the room where he lies, rasping out his final rattling breaths. His eyes open occasionally, and he recognizes his three sons leaning over his bed. He knows that they are waiting. Not waiting for a final word from him, but waiting for his final heartbeat, and for the finality of his death.

So he closes his eyes again. All his life he has fought for power, longed for strength, and dreamed of glory. There was never room for love, only respect and - even more importantly - fear. Now in the eyes of his sons who once respected and feared him there is no fear, and respect has turned to anticipation, for one of them will take his throne.

He doesn't care.

The foreboding comes from the other side of his bed, where the queen stands, hovering over him anxiously. He hasn't looked at her, but he knows she is there. He can smell the stench of her cloying perfumes. She is there to make sure he names an heir before he dies, and she fears that her family will be thrown into chaos and death if he remains silent.

He does not look at her, and he has no intention of speaking.

Let them fight. What is that to him?

The next time he opens his eyes, he notices me. I sit in the corner of the room, watching. His eyes widen, and he opens his mouth to speak. Nothing but tiny droplets of spittle escape his dry and cracked lips.

As he watches, I open my satchel and take out the tools of my trade. The king smiles as he watches me set up an easel and begin crushing my pigments onto the palette. He has sat for portraits before, and this, at least, is familiar to him as he lies on his dying bed.

Then he realizes that I am positioned, not to look at him as I paint, but away from him, so he can see over my shoulder as I paint.

His smile fades to perplexity, then gradually gives way to fear as he watches me paint.

The queen looks in the direction of his fearful gaze, but she does not see me. "Death is in the room," she whispers to her sons. They turn to look, but they, also, cannot see me.

If only it was Death, I thought. That would be the simple way out. How strange that people fear Death. A quick cut of that crooked blade, and it is finished. Instead, the dying man must first face me.

Though I am standing with my back to him, I know that the king is watching, his eyes fixed on my canvas as I paint for him his kingdom. I paint the streets flowing with the blood of both enemies and friends. I paint the war veterans with missing limbs, empty eye sockets, and cruel gashes across their faces. I paint starvation and cruelty and oppression.

I paint despair.

I hear the king's rattling breath become more irregular, and I know that Death will come soon. With quicker strokes I paint the queen, and I paint her truly, with spite and hatred - hatred for the king who neglected and abused her - in every bristle of my brush. None of the queen's beauty is visible in my painting - only the bitterness which grew in her heart with every year she was married to this cruel monarch.

And then come the sons. In my painting every contour of their manly physiques declares both their loathing for their father, and their eagerness for the ancient king to die and get out of their way. The moisture at the corner of their lips is the drool of anticipation.

Behind me, the king gasps. He gasps because, for the first time, he sees the works of his life as I see them. He gasps because, in the moment I complete my painting, the dark hooded figure stands before him. I lift my painting from its easel and turn to stand next to the scythe-wielding specter. I hold the painting in front of me, and by my considerable will I force the king to look upon the creations of his life.

Oh, if only Death were the one to fear! If only it was the simple snip of his scythe and the end of everything! Then this cruel king could have an eternity of peace. But as the scythe descends, I see in his terrified eyes that he understands the truth. Death is the end of the body, but the scythe does not destroy the soul; it merely sets it free from the crumbling shell.

Terrified and floating free above the body it once occupied, the king's evil soul darts about the room looking for something, anything, that feels like home. I hold my painting aloft, and the soul finds it, is drawn to it, approaches it...

And is forever trapped in the hell of its own making.

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