If you're new to my stuff or you didn't remember, I'm doing a series for five weeks showing the five stages of grief, each one from the perspective of a different character.
The third stage is bargaining. Only two characters came immediately to mind for this stage. Both characters come from my Blood Kissed series (Of Course I Try, The Ghost of Vampire Present, and future tales), but one of their stories would have greatly spoiled the end game of the series, so the decision was easy. We're sharing another visit with Max, but for this one, we're traveling back in time about a hundred years.
There are certain things they don’t tell you about the military when you sign up. For instance, when you’re in battle, you follow your commanding officer’s orders, even if he’s sending you to your death.
The hardest part about that is simply the knowing.
The machine gun fire ripping through your body follows as a close second.
Lying in a pile of corpses praying for death to take you isn’t too far behind either.
When darkness fell the first night and I still had some strength left, I tried to drag myself back toward the allied lines. My staunch refusal to accept that I was dying lasted until I passed out from the pain, blood filling my mouth from how hard I bit my tongue to keep from screaming.
I woke the next day to more gunfire. Always more.
Only now I’d ground dirt through my shredded uniform and into the wounds that oozed a constant stream of blood. Had I pulled myself into the damnable Somme, at least the blood would’ve run clean again. And I probably would have drowned rather than lying there, waiting for infection or blood loss to take me.
Soon, the smoke and dirt and blood blurred in my sight and images of Lily took over. My wife—standing in the kitchen over a sink full of soap bubbles, sunlight glinting her blond hair as she sloshed water all over her apron and burst into laughter.
That was the moment I realized I couldn’t die. I had to get back to her. Back to the life I’d promised when we’d said “I do.”
As the sounds of fighting quieted a bit and darkness descended again, I began whispering prayers. “God, just let me get home to Lily—let me tell her I love her one more time—and I promise to be a better man. Just let me live.” I didn’t know how long I lay there saying the same things over and over, begging for another chance at life.
Then a lightly accented voice came from right next to me where only the dead had been a moment before. “Will you really do anything to go on living?”
I opened my eyes to a night lit by the glow of the moon and the flash of gunfire. There wasn’t much to see on the ground besides shadows, but a man with long hair completely at odds with current fashion knelt beside me, utterly calm in the madness of the battlefield. “Are you an angel?”
He shifted, and I swore I could hear him smile. “Something like that. What is your name, soldier?”
“Shaw. Sergeant Maxmillian Shaw.”
“A pleasure, and you may call me Remus.” He settled on the ground next to me. “So would you truly do anything to live again? Because I must tell you, you have about five excruciating hours left otherwise.”
I didn’t bother to ponder how he’d come up with the number. “Yes! I want to go home to my wife,” I cried, my voice so weak I didn’t think he could possibly have heard me.
“It is somewhat complicated. I can save you, but you’ll have to spend some time with me before I can send you home.” He leaned closer, the soft blackness of his hair tickling my neck.
“As long as I can see her again. Make her happy.”
Remus laughed and the sound danced in the night like fireflies. “I’m afraid it won’t be quite as simple as you want. You’ll get back to her, but you will never have the life you lived before again. You will have to hide things from her, from everyone you know. Everything will change. Are you certain it’s a sacrifice you can make?”
An icy chill started to seep into my veins, burning its way through my body, and shivers wracked my frame, making every pain flare to life again. And I said what he demanded, even though I knew I’d never lie to her. “I love Lily. Of course, I’ll sacrifice whatever I have to for her.”
“I’ll say this much for you Americans, you have strange ideas about what love means. But so be it—I will save your life.” Fire lit the sky as he threw his head back. And though he may have had the face of an angel—long black hair framing sparkling, intelligent blue eyes—I found myself staring down a demon. His fangs flashed in the light, and before I could say anything, he was on me.
His teeth pierced my flesh, and for a moment new pain blossomed there, and I felt certain it had all been a trick. Some test to get into heaven that I was sure I’d failed. Then, even as I felt my heart slowing, a rich fluid filled my mouth, salty, but sweeter than anything I’d ever tasted. The moment it hit my tongue, the darkness of death retreated, leaving only hunger behind. I latched onto the thing pressed against my lips and drank and drank.
I don’t know how long I stayed there, but with every swallow, the pain lessened, and my strength returned. When at last I opened my eyes once more, I found myself not on the battlefield, but in a cave, the sun casting a circle of light near the entrance. He’d done what he promised—I was whole again. Pushing to my feet, I reached toward the light. Before the glow even touched my skin, the flesh on my fingers erupted in flames. I yanked my hand back, batting the fire away.
“Lesson number one—“ the melodic voice said from behind me, “—daylight is no longer your friend.”
Turning, I found the demon, Remus, in the recesses of the cave. His fangs gone, but the gleam in his eyes the same as I’d seen as I lay dying. And in that moment, I knew I had indeed failed the test, because I’d wakened in hell.