The Duel

sometimes I write.

Image of Long Story Short Award - 2022
Image of Short Fiction
A steel ball, otherwise harmless, hurled through the air, propelled by the ingenious mechanism of metal and gunpowder, an agent of certain doom. A perfect invention of death, the bullet cut through the air, piercing the skin of its target, slicing through arteries, shutting down the life of its victim.

Two bullets fired, two men firing, a hundred spectators watching. Two men drop to the ground, dragged to the void of death by the cool, lifeless touch of the steel bullet.

The black vulture passes overhead, alarmed by the piercing sound of the pistols igniting. By the time the vulture locates the source, two human bodies are laid on the ground, withering in pain in ominous pools of dark red liquid.

An author and a prince. They had resided on opposite ends of society's hierarchy, yet here they lay in utter equality, approaching death's inescapable grasp.

The vulture focuses on the murmurs of the crowd, piecing together the cause of such savagery. A duel between a poor author and a wealthy prince, beset by the author's refusal to bow at the feet of the prince. A prince covered in gold and gems, driven by materialistic goals and urges. An author covered in tattered rags, driven by a love of life and rejection of the status quo.

Death comes for us all eventually, but for these two, their fate has been expedited.

The priest's gaze strains above towards the vulture as he utters in Latin some mandatory superstition. As the author gazes upward, he laughs at the absurdity of the priest's actions: talking to the sky where there is nothing but a blackened vulture awaiting his next meal.

The royal court surrounds the prince crying out, yet behind their masks of sadness lie mischievous intentions. How odd, all of this crying, yet not a single tear is shed. The cheeks of the mourners remain dry in the hot summer sun, illuminated by the shine reflected off the gold beside the prince's middle tooth.

The hole in the prince's chest bursts the dam, allowing the royal blood to flood out of the dying body. His milky white skin stained. The luxurious silks and furs ruined.

Staring into the sky, the prince weeps. He weeps for his royal title, now devoid of meaning. He weeps for the worthlessness of his infinite riches. He calls out to his God, who has forsaken him, yet all he receives back is the raspy hiss of the lone vulture. Beyond the vulture lies emptiness, a godless void ruled by this black bird. A royal at his end, a pitiful sight indeed. A lost soul grasping onto his father's robes as if this all-powerful king can save the condemned.

As the sun reached the apex of its path across the French countryside, its beams shine on our dying author. If one were to be in that awful crowd on this fateful day, they would be taken aback by the distribution of said crowd. The prince surrounded by bodies but no life. The author accompanied solely by his faithful cat, more human than the rest.

The author lay with a smile on his face, blood pouring out of his wound.

The priest knelt beside the prince, a great benefactor of the Church. He had always despised his highness, but without donations, how would he be able to fund his secret vices?

The vulture swooped down, knocking the robed hypocrite to his knees. A man of God looking to an empty sky, praying to a godless bird.

As the pulse of the fated came to a stop, a black storm emerged from behind the rolling hills. The roar of thunder drowned out the cries of the crowd, sending them scattering back into town for shelter. Protection from judgment, hidden from the light of the storm. Swirling winds, fear illuminated by the intermittent flashes of lightning, the sound of life drowned by the all-powerful thunderous blows.

As the chaos subsided, the vulture returned, prepared for his long-awaited meal. As he descended through the dissipating clouds, three bodies lay motionless on the earth, returned to the void from which they were born.

A naked man, skin stained with blood, the remnants of a royal deceased. Even the vulture, a veteran of death, hovered in shock. The prince, unrecognizable in appearance, was robbed of everything but his withering corpse. His bloody jewels and silk robes gone, a hole lay beside his middle tooth, exposing the inner void which had long been masked.

Eleven meters to the right laid a man in peace, still with a smile stretched across his lifeless face. A passerby would perhaps mistake this man for a sleeping peasant freed from the burdens of society. But, alas, this smile belonged to our fated author. The vulture couldn't help but admire the determination of this man in the face of the inevitable end. The vulture, admittedly, was quite a fan of the author's novels. Work which everyone else had condemned as too depressing with its open rejection of society's long-held notions of meaning. Ha! You didn't expect such a vile fowl to be so well read, did you?

Beside the author sprawled his loyal companion, a ball of fluff, observant blue eyes shining through her matted fur. The cause of death for this feline was unknown. Perhaps it was a broken heart? A strike of lightning? She lay with her paw on a darkened leather-bound journal. Claws extended as if to forever hold on to the beautiful prose inside.

As the undertaker approached to retrieve the corpses, he halted five meters away. To his right lay a repugnant mess of naked flesh and exposed bone. Walking over to the corpse, the undertaker stopped, paralyzed yet again. As he stared at the corpse, a disfigured face glared back at him. Eye sockets empty, filled by a dark void beckoning the undertaker forward. The stench of death pierced through his mask, jolting him from his paralysis. A dark figure was seen flying off, the eyes of the dead prince hanging from his beak.

To the left of the undertaker lay quite a different sight. A pristine corpse beside a ball of fluff. Puzzled, the undertaker called out to the bodies. This could not be the corpse of a deceased man. Yet, all that called back to him was the whisper of the afternoon wind. The undertaker resumed his task. He had a job to do.

Rumbling down the road behind the undertaker followed the reaper's coach. A wooden cart, forever stained by blood, a veteran of death. Along for the ride lay three passengers stacked on top of each other. A heap of bones, flesh, rags, and fur.

As the sun set on this fateful day, the townspeople stumbled around in their nightly routine of gluttony. A reward for their obedience to a society that cared not for them. Chatter about the day's events soon shifted to the gossip of the week. Two humans and a cat, notably absent from the night's energy, hardly missed. The vulture returned overhead, awaiting his next meal. A man seen draped in bloody silk retreated into his shack. All that was, had returned.
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