by Todd Austin Hunt
One knock sounded on his door at 12:01 AM on the first of November, as it had for 250 years.
Anthony hesitated, even though the request was familiar. He glanced out the kitchen window at the moonwashed cliff of Beachy Head and the Channel beyond.
Then a million knocks, a billion, pounding away in unison, a coruscating knot of sound that quaked his small home. The knocking made dishes rattle in their cabinets and his glass of whisky to dance and crash to the floor.
It ceased within moments, and was followed by a single knock, one more than last year. Its singular volume echoed in his ears. Anthony touched the black ouroboros encircling his wrist and opened the door.
His brother Thomas stood on the stoop; the fierce wind off the channel blew his gray hair and robes around like the raised arms of a charismatic congregation. He held a scroll under his arm. The streets of Eastbourne spread out below him, silent and dark except for the moonlight. Bereft.
Thomas smiled at him, which seemed to crease his thin face a thousandfold.
“My brother. Anthony. I see that you are healthy.” He pointed to Anthony’s bracelet.
Anthony held up his arm. “It has worked well these many years.”
“You stole it and then murdered me.”
“I murdered everyone,” Anthony said.
“Not Becka. This aside, it is time for you to die. Relinquish the Ouroboros.”
“I won’t change my mind, Thomas. You let her die.”
Thomas took the scroll from underneath his arm, unrolled it, and held it up to Anthony. It was crammed with the livid signatures of the dead, and every second it flashed to reveal more names. Names of the dead requesting that he die.
“This does not move me,” Anthony said. “I will not cross that river, Brother. I murdered you because you did not create the Ouroboros in time to save my darling. I murdered the world because they were alive and breathing, jubilant and forlorn, while my darling was dead.”
Thomas rolled up the scroll. “Without your crossing, the dead will be forever dead.”
“Death shall not have me.”
Thomas swept his robes open and Anthony gasped. The head of his darling daughter, Becka, was embedded in the flesh of his belly. Her small arms protruded from his hips, holding out a small, empty bag.
“She cannot speak,” Thomas said. “She is one of the frozen dead. It has taken me this long to find her. Unless you surrender the bracelet, her doorway for a new beginning is closed.”
Becka grinned up at him, her face still emaciated by the wasting disease, pocked and suppurating.
Anthony looked at his brother. He closed his eyes, then slipped the ouroboros from his wrist, dropping it into the sack. Upon disconnect, Anthony’s body discorporated into a funnel of ash that poured into the bag.
Becka closed the bag and Thomas his robes. He turned around and vanished into the winds of the empty, empty night.
Todd Austin Hunt was born in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and raised in Central Kentucky. At age 13, he read MISERY by Stephen King, which opened up a new threshold of wonder and purpose. He earned his B.A. from University of Kentucky and M.A. from Eastern Kentucky University. Publishing speculative fiction since 2003, Hunt won an Honorable Mention in the 2003 Annual Ray Bradbury Writing Contest and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2007. He currently lives at the edge of the Wando River in South Carolina, amid the shrieks and squawks of marsh life.
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