General Fiction posted January 16, 2022


Exceptional
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a work of quirk

The Final Conversation

by giraffmang



"the hour close at hand
he hears the marauding band
creeping darkness comes"
 
Jasper sat huddled by the roaring fire; the logs ablaze with dancing flames, giving light and much needed warmth. The old grandfather clock in the corner ticked, keeping steady time; the pendulum swing, visible through the glass front, was hypnotising. Jasper's shadow silhouetted against the purple, heavy-lined curtains, wavered, and swayed in the glow cast by the fire. It was shortly joined by another.
 
"I've been waiting for you to come," Jasper gasped at the visitor.
 
"Sorry, but I've been busy. Quality not quantity, as they say, old boy," came the reply from the well-dressed man, as he removed his gloves. "May I sit a while?" he asked, rubbing his hands together in a vain attempt to generate some heat.
 
"By all means, sir. The fire is warm, and seat is comfortable," Jasper's voice was returning to its normal gravelly tones.
 
Jasper watched as the elegant gentleman removed his scarf, carefully unwinding it from his thin neck, and draping it over the back of the accompanying armchair with a flourish. He unbuttoned his long, black overcoat, and smoothed it out before descending into the red velvet snugness of the chair. He let out a sigh, before crossing his legs, revealing black socks with a small, smiley face embroidered on the side.
 
The sight of the yellow, impish face staring at him from the ankle of the otherwise, impeccably dressed man, caused Jasper to laugh involuntarily. "I am sorry to laugh, sir, but your socks have amused me."
 
The gentleman turned to Jasper, a wry smile upon his face, and an unexpected twinkle in his eye, and replied, "Perfectly fine, my dear fellow. They amuse me, too. I cannot remember where I got them, but they are my little foible. My little bit of lightness in the dark of the world. People expect so much, do you not find? They have their expectations. But you, dear sir, know that better than most."
 
"they sit in the heat
silence and peace a rare treat
comfort in old friends"
 
 
Jasper nodded his head slowly, his emaciated frame almost creaking with the effort. With a sly smirk, he looked at his old friend, and said, "Of course, I would offer you a drink or a morsel to eat, but my cupboards are dry."
 
This elicited a deep, throaty laugh from his companion. "I would expect nothing less from you, my dear Jasper. I have, however, brought a libation of my own," he replied, removing a smooth, silver flask from the inside pocket of his overcoat. "Would you care for some? It looks like it's been some time."
 
"Well, you know I shouldn't. Not with my condition, and all. Would it not be deemed a little hypocritical of me?" Jasper was having a good old laugh now.
 
His visitor shook his head, chuckling himself, "I hardly think anyone would notice. Or, indeed point a finger. Please, join me. One last time?"
 
"Just one thing," Jasper paused, "you didn't get it from Lance, did you?"
 
Another laugh from the tall man, "No, even I don't tempt fate that way! I actually picked this up from Warburton."
 
"Warburton! Why, I haven't seen that old rabble-rouser in an age. I mean, I kept up to date with his work; so prolific and adept. A true artist, one might even venture." Jasper reached for the flask, and took a long, deep sip, "Oh, that hits the spot."
 
"Indeed it does, Jasper, indeed it does. Warburton spoke highly of you, when I visited him last. He felt your work was much more subtle than his. Very, under the radar, so to speak."
 
Jasper turned to stare into the dying fire, thinking about old friends. His former colleague waited patiently, as he always did. He never rushed things. He was the epitome of patience. He would stand back while the other three worked feverishly, never rushing, nor complaining. A true gentleman. Jasper looked at him now, sitting by his own fire, a few questions playing in his mind.
 
"Go ahead, Jasper. What would you like to know?"
 
"How was old Warburton?"
 
Jasper noticed a different look come over his old friend when he spoke of Warburton. He seemed genuinely fond, and sad. A crack in the professional demeanour?
 
"Well, you know Warburton. Full of arrogance and pride. Of course, he was practically drunk when I arrived. What was it he used to say? Oh, yes, drink makes people more pliable and susceptible! Also more aggressive." He leaned back in the comfortable chair, as the cold leeched from his body. A combination of heat and libation. "He didn't seem particularly pleased to see me. He was very argumentative, all guts and thunder, you know?"
 
Jasper smiled at the thought of Warburton fighting to the end. "So, he has gone then?"
 
"Yes, kicking and screaming into the night. I expected no less."
 
"So we are down to three. Your good self, myself and Lance," stated Jasper, reaching to throw another log on the fire, but a finely manicured hand reached out, and stopped him.
 
"Allow me, old boy. We don't want you over-exerting yourself, and rushing you prematurely to an early grave, now do we?"
 
Jasper settled back into his well-moulded position and watched the sparks of the fire leap with vigour as another log was added. He turned and asked, "Will you visit with Lance this evening, also?"
 
"Ah, this is my last call."
 
"You mean, 'the' last call?' Then Lance has already gone?"
 
"Yes, last week. I saw him just before. It was not a pleasant experience. You can't live a life so full of bile, and poison without it taking its toll. How anyone could live in such squalor was always beyond me, but I guess we all had our crosses to bear. Of course, he pleaded, and threatened, pouring all kinds of toxic nonsense at me. I waited him out, you know? I let him get it all out of his system."
 
Jasper felt the cold snaking up at him from the floor, despite the heat from the fire. His friend was now standing behind his chair; a gaunt hand placed on each of his shoulders.
 
"So, only you, and I remain then. Oh, the things we have seen, and the things we have done. What a ride!"
 
"Indeed, my old friend, indeed."
 
Jasper could not see the tears roll down his friend's cheeks. So uncharacteristic, so unprofessional.
 
The visitor knelt down beside Jasper's chair, reached out a hand, and gently closed his friend's eyelids. "Goodbye, Mr Hungerford, perhaps, sometime, we shall meet again."
 
He walked over to the grandfather clock and opened the glass casing. A carefully placed hand stopped the swing of the pendulum. The ticking stopped; silence reigned.
 
And Death, like life, slipped away.
 
"and then, in the end
no difference foe or friend
death comes to us all"



 



Story of the Month contest entry

Recognized


Okay, this is a little bit of a quirky read. For any one struggling with what's going on (and there may be a few)...

All of the characters present or mentioned are based on the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Death (the main character) has visited each in turn as they are the only folk left alive.
Hungerford (the other character present) is Famine
Lance is Pestilance / Plague
Warburton is War

So this is literally the final conversation!
Pays one point and 2 member cents.


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