The young man walked swiftly and surely through the dense black leaves of the forest, his cape billowing behind him in the wind. His footsteps made a deep crunching sound as he walked over the Autumnal leaves littering his path. After several minutes, he stopped and, gazing up at the full moon which cast an eerie glow over his journey, he stood there, framed in the light, a giant, black figure, breathing heavily, but otherwise not moving a muscle. He was listening intently to the world around him. Suddenly, he snapped his head round and, with a startled, almost terrified look, surveyed the path down which he had just come. He pulled a large, white handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped his sweating brow. He couldn’t hide it any longer. He was terrified. He turned and ran as fast as he could, gaining speed until he was sprinting as fast as his legs could carry him. Although his legs felt as though they would break, and his heart was beating at his breast as if in an attempt to escape from the confines of his ribcage, he didn’t stop until he had run up to the top of the hill upon which his mansion – old, ruined, and grandiose – stood majestically, a silhouette against the backdrop of the bright, night sky. He bolted the large, oak doors behind him as he ran into his haven. He burst into his bed chamber, and flung himself down onto his bed. He opened his eyes, and saw three shadows hovering over him, brandishing swords, laughing shrilly. He turned his head to the side, screaming, and saw blood dripping off the bedside table next to him. Oh, so much blood! And then, sweating profusely, almost not daring to ever open his eyes again, he woke up.
Sir Charles Winter had been plagued his entire life by the ability to see the future. It had led him to the point he was at now; living alone, in an inherited house, with an inherited title, and no-one to share his great wealth or, indeed, his great loneliness, with.
People were afraid of him. Everyone thought that if you got too close to Sir Charles, he would soon know far more about your future than you could possibly know yourself. Nobody seemed to like this. Charles often thought it quite surprising that people were constantly clamouring for his attention, demanding to have their fortunes told, their palms read, or whatever the gypsy trend was nowadays. Maybe human beings didn’t like to think they weren’t in control of their own life. But none of us are. Charles knew this for a fact. Everything is predetermined, and once he saw your future, there was no away of escaping your fate.
But last night (Charles was sure) he had seen something unlike anything he had ever witnessed before. He had seen it as clear as he now saw the candle he had just lit flickering feebly before him.
He had foreseen his own death, his own murder. But who would want to kill him? And why? He had never harmed anybody. It was true that he had no friends, yes, but furthermore he had no enemies.
Sir Charles rose from his bed, shaking uncontrollably, and wrapped his dressing gown around his large form. Hell! There was an enormous hole in the side. He had known there were rats in his home. He should have got rid of them when he first started having suspicions.
He looked through his entire wardrobe, but it was no good. The rats had devoured part of every item of clothing he owned. This couldn’t be possible. But his eyes told him that it was.
But soon he found something that seemed to have been untouched. His old, black silk cape! It was a flimsy little thing, but it would have to do until he could procure some more garments.
As Sir Charles marched from his bedroom, he suddenly stopped. He gazed down at what he was wearing in horror. The cape! It was the same one from the dream! Had he been dreaming? No. He knew the difference between a vision and a dream by now. He leaned against the banister for support. He began shaking once again. He felt as though he was about to vomit. He now understood why all his old friends had deserted him. No-one wants to know their future, especially if it’s as unpleasant as this.
Sir Charles gazed out of the window, and saw another fragment of his vision. The forest, normally shrouded in darkness, was illuminated by the light from the moon. The moon was abnormally large tonight, and brighter than he had ever seen it before. It swathed the entire forest in its glow. The rain beat heavily against the window, and lightning exploded all around as it made contact with the ground.
Sir Charles began to descend the steps once more, slowly, gingerly, carefully. He fancied he could hear voices coming from downstairs, but he shrugged it off as a figment of his imagination. The events of the evening had made him nervous, that was all. There was nothing to worry about. Absolutely nothing.
But he could still hear the voices. They were only faint murmurs, but they were there sure enough. They seemed to be coming from Sir Charles’ study. As he reached the bottom of the staircase, he reached for the old copper bucket in which he kept his many canes, and proceeded to select one. Sir Charles had had a limp ever since he was a boy, and now had great difficulty walking for too long without the aid of a stick. Today he had chosen a mahogany cane with an ornate, gold falcon’s head as the handle. The beak was particularly sharp, which made it useful for seeing off any unsavoury characters he found lurking about his abode uninvited.
Sir Charles held it firmly by the shaft and tiptoed into his office. He eased the door open and crept gingerly in.
Three men were standing by his desk, their backs turned on him, clearly rummaging through the pot of money he kept on his desk. He couldn’t afford a safe, so kept his sovereigns where he could easily find them.
They were chuckling in deep, monotonous tones. The sound of the laughter removed some of Sir Charles’ fear; the very hum of it sounded stupid, as if these people had a lower number of brain cells than they should have. He straightened his back and, still holding firmly on to the cane, began to speak.
“Excuse me, Sirs, but I do not believe you are supposed to be in here.”
That was surprising, he thought. He was so sure he had regained his composure, and yet his voice had still come out quaking, filled with terror and timidity.
The three gentlemen stopped conversing, but still did not look round.
Sir Charles attempted to gain their full attention once again.
“You are not allowed in here. This area is off limits.”
Slowly they turned around and, when their faces fixed upon him, Sir Charles let out a low exclamation of horror.
They were hideous! They faces were deformed beyond all recognition as members of the human race. They seemed to have no eyes, or if they did they were completely hidden by their heavy brows. Their thick, fat lips; the sagging skin; the rotten teeth which showed clearly whenever they grinned – they were, to put it plainly, absolutely repulsive.
Each of them looked murderously at Charles. He understood immediately. These were thieves, and the worst kind: ruthless thieves. Each of them pulled a sword out from under their coats, and began to advance on Charles slowly. He turned and ran, as fast as he could, out of the house and into the woods. He ran until he could run no farther, and slowed to a steady walking pace, although he continued to move swiftly and surely through the dense black leaves of the forest. As he had indeed seen in his “dream” of the previous night, his cape billowed behind him, caught on the wind which blew bitterly and fiercely at him. His footsteps made a deep crunching sound as he walked over the Autumnal leaves littering his path. After what seemed like and age, but was probably only a handful of minutes, a mere pebble dropping into the vast sea of time, he stopped and gazed up at the full moon which still cast its unworldly glow over his path. He sighed, for he knew that his vision was coming true. There was no escaping his fate now. He just stood there, framed in the light, a giant, black figure, breathing heavily, but otherwise not moving a muscle. He waited, allowing the rain to fall gently on the rough skin of his battered, weary face, which looked old beyond his years, displaying to the world the hardships he had suffered in his lifetime. So this is what all his years boiled down to: death – dying alone, and in fear. He listened intently to the world around him, trying to hear the hooting of an owl – that most majestic of birds – just one last time.
Suddenly, he snapped his head round and, with a startled, almost terrified look, surveyed the path down which he had just come. He pulled his large handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped his sweating brow. He had almost fooled himself into thinking he had lost them, but he knew deep down inside that he had just been fooling himself all along. No mortal can escape their fate.
He couldn’t hide it any longer: he was terrified.
He turned and ran as fast as he could, dropping his cane in the process, but still gaining speed, until he was sprinting as fast as his legs could carry him, forgetting about the pain in his leg which hindered him all the way. Although his legs felt as though they would break, and his heart was beating at his breast as if in an attempt to escape from the confines of his ribcage, he didn’t stop. Soon he found himself within sight of his mansion once again – he must have come round in a large circle! This was perfect; they’d never guess he’d return home while they were still tailing him. He mustered enough energy to aid him with the short sprint up to the top of the hill. He ran inside and bolted the large, oak doors behind him. “Sanctuary!” he screamed, and listened with pleasure at the sound of the echo as it reverberated back at him.
He burst into his bed chamber, and flung himself down onto his bed. He had done it. He was free. Charles kept his eyes tight shut, hugging the darkness to him. He reached for the bottle of red wine he always kept by his bedside, feeling his survival called for a celebration. He opened his eyes, and saw three shadows hovering over him, brandishing swords, laughing shrilly. He flinched, and knocked the bottle over. It smashed, and the liquid within that was its cargo leaked out all over the table and onto the floor. He turned his head back to where he had seen the shadows, and saw that it was simply the shadow of a raven, which had landed on a tree near his window. He laughed to himself. The events of the evening had made him jumpy. There was no longer anything to fear. He looked over to where the smashed wine bottle lay, and observed it, blood red, dripping off the bedside table next to him.
That night, Sir Charles Winter died of a heart attack in his sleep, brought on by the exertion and fear he had subjected it to during the events of that fateful night. He died with an ironic smile on his face, almost as if he had realised, before the darkness swallowed him, that no man could escape their fate.
If a man misses his appointment with Fate, then Fate will always catch up with him at some other point, soon thereafter.