He did not want to leave. He never did. Not when his life was so carefree, so organized and so exhilarating. He did not want to leave everything behind, but the choice of staying was not within his power. All he could do was to contemplate and accept his fate.
He lay motionless in his bed, silent and thinking. Usually the bed is warm and comfortable, but tonight it felt rigid and frozen. “I wonder why”, he thought as he chuckled to himself. He knew the answer, but he dared not think about it. He was afraid, yet he was not frightened. He had seen and experienced a myriad of things, but had never been prepared for something like this before. As he watched the shadows on his curtains dance with the wind, he closed his eyes and retreated to the depth of his mind. With a long deep sigh, he let the surrounding darkness take over his senses.
When he opened his eyes again, his dark room was filled with light. Sunlight beamed through the windows and warmed his shivering body. He could hear the birds chirping happily in the distance. It was the most harmonious music to his ears. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. The fresh morning air, with a slight fragrance of blossoms, cleaned his old fragile lungs. He felt content, at peace with his troubled mind. Suddenly, the door swung open and a slim figure stepped into the light. He gasped at the sight of her.
She was more beautiful than he remembered. Long golden curls fell to her shoulders. Her glimmering blue eyes stared deeply into his soul. She wore the same plain white gown as she did at their wedding. The smell of her fragrant perfume gradually diffused into the room. A scent so distinctively hers created a nostalgic atmosphere which surrounded him. Memories of her, of them, enfolded within him. He smiled as he recalled the intense passion they shared. “Mary,” he called out to her but she appeared to remain silent and transfixed in the same spot. Then he remembered what had happened. This is impossible, he thought, she... The smell of poppy had filled the room and a sudden dizziness overwhelmed him. The shocked expression on her face was the last thing he saw before he unwillingly fell asleep.
The bellowing of thunder interrupted his sleep. A storm was raging outside. The room was once again empty. His windows creaked and swung open as if pushed by a spectral hand. Cautiously, he rose up and proceeded to close them. It was daytime, but the sky was darker than night. The beautiful meadow outside had been transformed into a muddy desolation by the ravaging rain. A sudden lightning illuminated his vision and he saw in the distance some figures sluggishly trudging through the mud. They were erecting some form of a barrier out of barbed wires. Instantly, he realised what was happening. The deafening roars of thunder, no, enemy artillery brought him to full attention of his surroundings. Somehow he was wearing his old military uniform. A siren wailed in the distance and he caught a glimpse of the malevolent green mist drifting towards him. He grabbed for the mask around his neck, but it wasn’t there. Cursing, he stumbled for the door. A great flaming surge of pain suddenly rushed from his lower limbs. He fell forward with a loud thud and he knew no more.
He woke up with cold sweat running down his spine. The room was still dark, but he could still make out the faded stripes of his pyjamas. This was reality as it should be, he concluded, and not some haunting hallucinations from the past. He sat up and realised that he was not alone. A hooded figure towered over him, leaning against what appeared to be a large farming tool. It was also holding an hourglass. With an eerie whisper as loud as bells, the figure asked, “Are you ready?” He knew the answer, of course. He had seen and felt the presence of this figure numerous times before. He had experienced many things, and he had witnessed the good and evil within humanity. He knew the answer to that question just like he knew the true meaning of life.
“Yes,” he replied and he grasped the skeletal hands of the figure like an old friend, “I am ready to leave.”