Seven Deadly Sins VII: Ira

This final poem in the Seven Deadly Sins series was originally published as a Twitter thread. The previous poem, “Seven Deadly Sins VI: Acedia”, can be found here.


All spent in soul and body
bereft my last sane thought
I struggled with my demons
and hoped it weren’t for naught

I’d left my life behind me
I’d offered up my will
I’d lowered me to doing things
that I regretted still

To kill in name of virtue
to let my skin be touched
To lie, betray and sacrifice
the things I valued much

And heavens know I felt it
the weariness inside
That poisoned with indifference
to if I lived or died

And as I reached the summit of
a tall and rocky hill
I saw the burgh below me and
grew more despondent still

The city was afire
the flames defiled the clouds
And dancing ‘midst the fires I saw
fiends in endless crowds

I almost did give in then,
succumbing to the sight
I knew I was too puny
to ever win this fight

But something kept me going
and please God me remit
For it was pride and anger and
not virtue, not one bit

And then the heavens opened
and spilled its frenzied tears
As I descended slowly to make
battle with my fears

My left hand held the crystal,
my right hand held the blade
Endowed me by the heavens,
my holy quest to aid

The gates swung up before me
the dancing crowd fell back
to make a pathway forward
then re-closed in my track

Then coming forth to greet me
a lesser hellish lord:
The demon they call Amon
already drawing sword

I knew the magic crystal
had room for just one more
And hadn’t foreseen Amon to
stand guard at Satan’s door

I realized that moment
that I would have to dare
A duel with this monster to
the gem for Satan spare

And as the rainfall poured down
Inferno all around
Our blades did crash together with
an all but deafening sound

The battle raged for ages
at least that’s how it felt
Then suddenly a sharp pain as
he cut me and I knelt

The thought that all should end there
was too much to abide
“God help me”, I said quietly
as he swung swift and wide

And then I drew the crystal
and quickly met his blow
The air exploded, all sound died
and all things turned aglow

I came back to my senses
and terror gripped my soul
For though alive I had just lost
all hope to reach my goal

Though Amon was defeated
and could be seen no more
I was now further from my mark
than I had been before

I rose up, gripped by terror
of what I had just done
The crystal was now useless;
the fight could not be won

And then the fires parted
made way as if in awe
For him who now approached me;
I winced at what I saw

For I stood before Satan
the ruler of all vice
The lord upon the wrathful
now stripped of all disguise

His monstrous frame enormous
His head with antlers crowned
My head said “bow” and ‘fore I knew
I knelt down on the ground

“We finally meet”, his voice boomed
I couldn’t even look
I tried to rise or speak or act
but still I only shook

“You’ve beaten all my sergeants,
and prov’n your mettle well.
And finally you’re here to let me
drag you down to Hell.”

I saw it flash before me
not just my life ‘til then
But also scenes he showed me
of torture without end

The devil then approached me
his giant blade was drawn
And I knew I would never live
to see another dawn

But as I saw the shadow of
his blade above my head
A choir rose around me with
the voices of the dead

And at the corners of my eyes
I saw them all take form
The ghosts of those I’d tried to save
their song now like a storm

I felt a surge of strength then
come rushing like a tide
I grabbed the sword of Michael and
met Satan in his stride

The blade crash was like thunder
we circled and attacked
We fought with equal fervor
like angels had my back

The rain turned into embers
the fires turned to ice
This was an ageless battle
of virtue and of vice

But I was growing weaker
still bleeding from before
And realized that I could
not muster that much more

Each blow I parried made me
more weak and tired still
I made mistakes and panicked
and backed against my will

My foe laughed as he fought me
“I knew that you were weak.
Your fate is settled, if you have
a last prayer you should speak”.

But then a voice did echo:
“Don’t fear, for you are blessed”
And I knew it was Michael,
who sent me on this quest.

“This mortal shell you carry
you’re ready now to break
For you were once an angel too,
remember now and wake”.

And memories came flooding
of lives I’d lived before
Of other incarnations
and promises of yore.

And something in me woke then
and other things did break
And Satan must have seen this for
his blade began to shake

“Who are you”, he demanded
“At least no man at all”
I felt my eyes were glowing
“I’m your demise and fall”

And with those words I struck him
with newfound skill and art
And though he tried to parry
I thrust and pierced his heart

The devil stared in shock and
I calmly met his gaze
Now finally remembering
I, too, once fell from grace

I never was a mortal,
a sentence it had been
To prove myself in human guise
in penance for my sin

And as the demon bled out
still pierced upon my blade
I saw all this and also knew
atonement had been made

A hand upon my shoulder
for I was not alone
“You’ve paid your debt, Grigori,
I’ve come to take you home.”

An angel stood before me
abask in heaven’s light
It was my brother Michael
come to put all things right

“You’ve lived just as a mortal
and paid a heavy price
But in so doing you have also
purged yourself from vice”

He took my hand and led me,
as one we walked away
And as dawn broke it was upon
a very different day

Where people ruled themselves just
as things had been before and
The seven deadly sins were but
ideas and nothing more


This final poem in my Seven Deadly Sins series, and all the previous parts, were written in response to a hashtag game series by Marc Tizura/@areyouingrenin. This day’s particular prompt was Wrath – Ira. The Twitter hashtag is and you can find more poetry and flash fiction there

Thank you for reading!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the series, because I sure as hell (literally) have enjoyed writing it.

I’d love to hear your opinions and feedback in the comment below!

Seven Deadly Sins VI: Acedia

This poem was originally published as a Twitter thread. The previous poem, “Seven Deadly Sins V: Gula”, can be found here.


While dragging myself onward
my nerves just barely checked
I reached by noon a city
not sure what to expect

I entered, it was quiet
and nothing moved or stirred
The silence was imposing and
I dared not say a word

But then I came upon them
the people of this town
They lay around despondent,
all grey and beaten down

They lacked even the strength to
take care to eat or drink
The whole town was so hopeless
I knew not what to think

Then suddenly I saw him
enthroned upon a chair
The semblance of an old man
with shaggy, whitened hair

But he was yelling curses in
a foul, unworldly voice
And told the heartsick people they were
worthless with no choice

I realized that this was
indeed the one I sought
That this old man was Belphegor,
demonic prince of Sloth

That he indeed was feeding
on this encumbered crowd
By telling them all’s pointless
until he had them cowed

An anger grew inside then
caused by what I did see
And I just drew my staff when
he turned his eyes on me

And suddenly his words were
resounding in my head
Reminding me of horrors of
abuse and of the dead

The memories played before me
off all I had been through
And insight struck me failure follows
all I say and do

I found myself in shock then
tears streaming down my face
I’d hurt so many people
while focused on my chase

I sat down on the pavement
just staring straight ahead
Eyes empty, spirit dying
limbs heavier than lead

And Belphegor came closer
chair gliding on its wheels
He taunted me and laughed that
I’d failed all my ideals

I knew that he was right then
and that I wouldn’t fight
the demon when he killed me as
it would just serve me right

But suddenly a burning
began to sear my skin
The crystal in my pocket
was waking me from sin

And I blinked my eyes open
at last able to see
That Belphegor had used my plight
to take control of me

I stared into his eyes then
all suddenly awake
And saw his hands were halfway
stretched out my neck to break

With newfound strength and anger
the crystal forth I thrust
And Belphegor gave up a roar
in terror and disgust

When everything was over
I sat there on the ground
While people rose around me
awed at the strength they’d found

I sat there still at twilight
awatching as the town
Was inch by inch recovering from
the time it had been down

And somewhere deep inside me
a thought was taking form
That though I’d failed some others lived
and this fact made me warm

I rose just as the townsfolk
approached to me invite
Cause though I’d love to stay I had
more lives to save tonight

I heard them call behind me
but strayed not from my path
I would soon face the seventh sin
and he would face my wrath.


This poem was written in response to a hashtag game series by Marc Tizura/@areyouingrenin. The theme was “The Seven Deadly Sins”, and this day’s particular prompt was Sloth – Belphegor. The Twitter hashtag is  – go find more flash fiction there!

The next and final part of the series, “Seven Deadly Sins VII: Ira”, can be found here.

Seven Deadly Sins V: Gula

This poem was originally published as a Twitter thread. The previous poem, “Seven Deadly Sins IV: Invidia”, can be found here.


Flies swarmed above the rooftops
each cranny and each nook
Their buzzing close to deafening
I couldn’t bear to look

And worse yet was the odor
that rose up from the town
I felt my stomach turning and
could barely keep it down

Still this was almost nothing
to what I soon would see;
The state inside the city
became too much for me

Each surface cloaked in mucus
both putrid and decayed
And people rolled around here
and ate and drank and played

I almost turned around then,
unable to withstand
The scene that played before me
too gross to understand

Then everything suspended
when somewhere further down
the street was heard a calling
to all the folks in town

And just like that the orgy
was cut without ado
And all the soddy people
walked off as if on cue

I followed at a distance
to where they all were bound
And when I saw what called them
I threw up on the ground

For what had called these people
with such a throaty roar:
A bulbous, monstrous creature
phlegm oozing from each pore

And all these fallen people
were gathering for a feast
To feed upon the liquids
that leaked out from the beast

Now nauseous and trembling
I fought a fainting spell
Aware the swollen demon
would take me if I fell

And that’s when I was spotted
and all the eating ceased
As drooling people closed in
as for another feast

The seconds felt like lifetimes
as I ransacked my brain
In search for the solution
to save me from this bane

And when the answer struck me
I shrank back in disgust
But lacking other options
I still did what I must

I grabbed the closest person
and bit into this boy
While putting up the act this was
a culinary joy

And this confused the people
and soon they looked around
And realized their kinsmen were
a feast of flesh abound

A massacre ensued then,
a gluttonous battue
And there amidst the carnage
I stealthily withdrew

The demon lay there waiting
as I drew close to it
He searched for words to sway me
but glut had cloyed his wit

“It’s you who’ve killed these people”
I said and pointed back
“Your gluttonous infection
has led them down this track”

And Beelzebub struck out then
but glut had made him slow
I parried with the crystal
and trapped him with its glow

The flash lit up the city,
reflected in its gore
And when the light subsided
the demon was no more

But all the fated people
lay sprawling in the dirt
Some dead and other dying
and none of them unhurt

I desperately wanted
to aid them in their plight
But duty called me elsewhere and
I slipped into the night

Five demons in the crystal
another two still free
Would I succeed ‘fore madness
could claim the rest of me?


This poem was written in response to a hashtag game series by Marc Tizura/@areyouingrenin. The theme was “The Seven Deadly Sins”, and this day’s particular prompt was Gluttony – Beelzebub. The Twitter hashtag is  – go find more flash fiction there! The next part of the series, “Seven Deadly Sins VI: Acedia”, can be found here.

Seven Deadly Sins IV: Invidia

This poem was originally published as a Twitter thread. The previous poem, “Seven Deadly Sins III: Luxuria”, can be found here.


The sea was crashing madly
towards the empty shore
And lightning lit the heavens
along with thunder’s roar

The port town seemed abandoned as
I entered in the rain
But looks can be deceiving when
you deal with the profane

Thus I resumed with caution
and soon I reached the sea
And well there I discovered what
fate had in store for me

For there amongst the surges a
monstrosity emerged
A serpent from the depths of Hell
repulsive and unpurged

And as I watched it slither
there rose up from the waves
the people of the village
turned into green eyed slaves

Undead they came towards me
a hunger in their eyes
And moaning accusations
filled with the demon’s lies

They hungered for my life force
they hungered for my quest
Denying me in envy
those things and all the rest

Aversely I conceded
that these people were lost
I could not bring them back from
the line that they had crossed

So I brandished my weapon,
the magic staff of myth
That angels once did grant me
to banish darkness with

The glowing staff before me
I fought my way ahead
Attempting to convince myself
they were already dead

When finally I stood there
right at the water’s brim
The demon pierced me with his gaze;
I stared right back at him

“So this is what it comes to”
the snake hissed with a grin
“You’ve come to meet Invida,
the fourth and mightiest sin?”

I nodded then in silence
and suddenly I knew
That all the power he possessed
was actually my due

For after all my triumphs
why should not also I
Be blessed with all the powers
befalling those up high?

A sudden rage did fill me;
I was worth more than so
And thus I raised my staff again
and fell upon my foe

And I struck out in anger
to take back what was mine
But somewhy the staff failed me and
the snake did me entwine

I fought with all my strength but
the demon only laughed
“Your puny tools can’t harm me when
you’ve fallen for my craft”

With that he bared his fangs and
my will began to shake
For suddenly I realized
my fatal, grave mistake

I’d fallen for his envy
and let it cloud my mind
And now the snake would kill me –
how had I been so blind?

But as fangs closed around me
I struck a final blow
And my relief was endless when
the staff began to glow

The snake screamed out in terror as
I pierced right through its eye
It slithered back in panic but
it still refused to die

The sea parted around me when
I walked to where it lay
And brought forth now the crystal
to catch my fourth big prey

The snake called Leviathan
tried both to beg and bribe
But I had learned the hard way not to
listen to his tribe

The crystal’s light burst forth then,
outshone the thundering sky
And when the flash subsided
alone stood only I

Despite another triumph
a sadness filled my soul
For so many had died here
for me to reach my goal

In silence I retreated,
without turning around
Not looking at the bodies
still lying on the ground

A fourth sin was defeated
but at a heavy cost
And as I journeyed on I knew
that innocence was lost.


This poem was written in response to a hashtag game series by Marc Tizura/@areyouingrenin. The theme was “The Seven Deadly Sins”, and this day’s particular prompt was Envy – Leviathan. The Twitter hashtag is  – go find more flash fiction there! The next poem in the series, “Seven Deadly Sins V: Gula”, can be found here.

Seven Deadly Sins III: Luxuria

This poem was originally published as a Twitter thread. The previous poem, “Seven Deadly Sins II: Avaritia”, can be found here. The next one, “Invida”, can be found here.


Night found me in a city
so normal from without
With market, church and houses
but then I heard a shout

I hurried to the rescue but
imagine my surprise
when insight struck me there was
deep pleasure in those cries

See, underneath the streetlights
in homes and every court
There took place fornication
and orgies of each sort

I found myself so dumbstruck
that I could only stare
Entirely did I forget
to watch and to beware

And punishment came quickly
as from I know not where
I felt hands wrap around me
and tangle in my hair

Before my scream escaped me
there stepped before my gaze
A being oh so perfect
my mind was wrapped in haze

Its body was perfection
no thread obscured its skin
And as it touched my face I burned
with fires from within

My quest now all forgotten
I let the crystal fall
It hit the ground and just like that
I was a helpless thrall

I don’t know what’s the number
of hours, nights and days
I let drift by in mist before
I woke up from this daze

But wake I did in horror
of what I had let pass
In panic and unclothed I scrambled,
searching in the grass

Relief was otherworldly
when suddenly I found
The prison crystal lying there
untouched upon the ground

But barely did I grab it
when somewhere close behind
Seductive words addressed me:
“Oh look, what did you find?”

I turned and faced the demon
for with the crystal back
I saw as clear as day my foe
as masks began to crack

Where once I saw perfection
a monster now prevailed
Three heads and wings and bird’s feet,
completed by a tail

And yet the helpless townsfolk
persisted in their vice
Like they still could not see the fiend
before their very eyes

I had found Asmodeus,
the avatar of Lust
That he had touched me filled me with
both anger and disgust

I hid the gem behind me when
the demon drew in close
“Let you and I lay down here”
and I did not oppose

But as the lustful angel
embraced me for a kiss
I struck him with the crystal
and he let out a hiss

A flash of light, then nothing
the angel was no more
And I stood naked and alone
and shaken to the core

The city also silenced
as all its folk came to
And realized that they were
as used and naked too

As people fled to safety
and hid behind locked doors
I searched and found my clothes and
then walked into the moors

With three sins bound and captured
just four of them remained
Not til it was all over would
I grieve the scars I’d gained.


This poem was written in response to a hashtag game series by Marc Tizura/@areyouingrenin. The theme was “The Seven Deadly Sins”, and this day’s particular prompt was Lust – Asmodeus. The Twitter hashtag is  – go find more flash fiction there! The next poem in the series, “Seven Deadly Sins IV: Invidia”, can be found here.

Two Takes

I know that there are hundreds of stories about the life of Ferdinand Baresi, and while most of them consist of idolizing exaggerations I also know some of them to be true. I also know, however, that there are in circulation just as many stories about his death, and this is the reason behind me at long last sitting myself down to write. Because whichever one of all these stories you yourself have chosen to give credit – be it the one about drugs or one of the more fanciful ones about clever, premeditated murder – I want you to know that you are wrong. Ferdinand was my closest friend, and I think that his memory deserves truth. This account is written in honor of that conviction.

Here follows thus the one true story of Ferdinand’s life and death, as far as I know it. I shall endeavor only to relate the hard facts, and refrain from speculations. There are enough of those already, even though the circumstances of my friend’s demise have confounded me as well. Let us begin.

There was no actor, dead or alive, who could compare to Ferdinand Baresi. He was simply a legend, an uncrowned king of the silver screen. His agreeable appearance, of course, did him some favors, but that was not nearly half of it. For where this trait obviously gave him an edge towards his audience, he also sported another characteristic that made directors and cameramen love him to pieces. Ferdinand, namely, had one fantastical ability: no matter how difficult the setting, he was always able to masterfully complete every scene in no more than two takes.

Ferdinand was not always this mythical movie star hero, however. When I first started knowing him, he was struggling with his beginning career. We were both in our early twenties and found ourselves enrolled to the same college literature class. By that time I was just yet developing the manners and characteristics of the dry scholar I was later to become, while Ferdinand was already the full blown, hopeless romantic that the world would soon come to know and love. Irrespective of our severe differences, however, we found one another in our common love for Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and the three typical Williams: Wordsworth, Blake and Shakespeare.

Our daily talks about literature and poetry soon morphed into drunken late-night discussions about the mysteries of life, love and the future. I told him about my dream to become a teacher, and he told me about his passion for acting. As I nagged him about sociolinguistics and advanced grammar he shared with me the rules of the acting-trade, like how you should never look directly into the camera.

I was never one to entertain many loose acquaintances. Instead I have always preferred to keep a smaller selection of close, trusted friends – and before long I began counting Ferdinand among those. There was simply something about him and his open, honest ways that made me like and trust him.

For the sake of credibility, I feel obliged to here mention that while I am positive that Ferdinand himself never saw me as more than a dear friend, I grew to think and dream of him as something more. I strainedly endured the awkward situations when he helpfully tried to introduce me to girls he knew, and suffered secretly as he dreamily told me about the different women in his own life. This has no impact on the story, however, and I mention it only as a show of scholarly transparency. This account is not about me, after all, and there is still much to be related.

I told you that Ferdinand was struggling, but that choice of words was a staggering understatement. When he first told me about his aspirations as a Hollywood actor, of course, he sounded so sure of himself. His reports of recurring successes in the local field made me think that his breakthrough surely must not be far off into the future. But months turned into years and his participation in some smaller independent productions, that initially had brought him such pride and hope, began to appear sarcastically in his daily speech as proof of tragic failure.

I know that many of these cynic thoughts were pure internalization of his stoical father’s harsh words to him. The old man did not approve of his son’s career choice, and I even came to understand from Ferdinand’s frustrated descriptions of their meetings that his father strongly wished for him to be more like me. It is my deepest hope that this never caused any hatred towards me in my friend’s heart, but I was never able to find out. If this was the case, however, he never let it show.

Ferdinand idolized his father, and although he never expressed any will to follow in his footsteps he often vented a desperate wish to make him proud. He was convinced that were he only able to really succeed as an actor, his disappointed father would change his mind about him. And so he struggled on, worked part time jobs and never gave up hope about that elusive next, defining casting.

During all this time Ferdinand and I had continued studying literature and poetry in different setups. Some semesters we took spontaneous campus classes together, whilst during others we settled for reading and analyzing texts together in cafés, libraries, in my spacious flat or in his rustic attic apartment. I had managed to get an advantageous position as a history teacher at a local school and was getting along rather well in life.

On the particular night of which I am now going to tell you, I was sitting alone in my home, reading. My work was taking up much of my time, and I had to plan my days well in order to keep up with the reading for the class me and Ferdinand were taking together that year. We were reading and analyzing Faust, and I remember this so clearly only because of what happened next.

Suddenly there was a hard knock on the door, and when I opened it I found my friend standing outside in the stairway. He was soaking wet from the rain, but I could clearly see that he had also been crying. Perhaps he still was. I had never seen him in such a rueful state. I quickly ushered him inside and made sure to get him into new, warm clothes. I gave him tea and wine to drink, but he only touched the wine. It did not take me long to realize that this was not the first glass of spirits he had taken that night. After some solacing suasion on my part he finally managed to calm himself enough to tell me about the terrible thing that had happened.

Ferdinand’s father had died earlier that evening. It had not come completely unexpectedly, and Ferdinand had managed to get to the hospital in time to be there with him during his final minutes. But instead of sorrowful comfort, this final visit had only brought Ferdinand excruciating pain. Because what his father had said to him with his dying breaths was almost more than what Ferdinand could bear to recount.

In short, the dying man had accursed the cruel fate that ever endowed him with such a failure for a son. He had told Ferdinand of all the high hopes he had ever had for him, and how it pained him eternally that he had not even tried to live up to them. He had called him names and finally disowned him; Ferdinand had been written out of his father’s will, lest all the old man’s hard-earned fortune be misappropriated by a son too shiftless to use it wisely.

I tried helplessly to comfort my friend as best as I could, but it was futile. His father’s words had broken him completely. He drank more wine and fell asleep on my couch that night, and when the morning came he was gone without a word. Over the next few weeks I tried to get a hold of him in any way that I could, but it was as if the earth had swallowed him entirely – he was gone.

Of course I feared the worst. Given my friend’s emotional and impetuous nature, I was frightened that in his desperation he might have done something to hurt himself. For several weeks I lived in a constant state of rising panic that distracted me from everything else. In the end I was almost completely convinced that my friend was dead; that he had ended his own life in a desperate response to his father’s harsh, final words. My surprise and relief all the greater, then, when Ferdinand one day showed up on my doorstep again. But my surprise did not end there.

The Ferdinand that now stood outside my door was nothing like the sad creature that had last come knocking. He greeted me with a wide smile and a bottle of champagne. He told me that it had finally happened – he had been cast for a big role in an upcoming Hollywood production. As he strode past me into my living room to pour us both a glass of sparkling drink I just stood there, unable to take the whole situation in. During the course of the evening I was given all the more reason to be perplexed.

Ferdinand did not want to tell me what had happened since he left my apartment last, and masterfully avoided all my questions pertaining to the subject. Instead he told me a story about a chance bar encounter with the friend of a famous director, a successful meeting and a splendid audition leading to a fantastic contract.

“There are but two roads that lead to an important goal and to the doing of great things: strength and perseverance”, he said as he raised and downed his third or maybe fourth glass. The words rang an ominous bell within me, but it was not until much later that I was able to place their origin and realize what horrors they might actually have signified.

I was of course incredibly happy for my friend, especially since I knew that this was everything he had always been dreaming of. A part of me could not help but remain suspicious of his incredible story, however. Did he make all this up, or was it maybe symptoms of a stress induced neurosis? The healing, patterned scars across the palms of his hands would certainly support this theory, but when I hesitantly brought them up he hastily changed the subject and hid his hands under the table. I tried my best to likewise hide my own worries and disbelief, and we spent the remainder of the night celebrating. After four bottles of wine he even happened to kiss me, but I am doubtful he meant anything by it or even remembered it the next day.

So Ferdinand went to Hollywood, and even though we promised to keep in touch and visit one another often, things naturally did not happen that way. That first movie became an instant success, and suddenly Ferdinand’s face was on the cover of ever magazine and his name on everyone’s lips. He was given another contract, and then another one. From my place back at home I followed his blossoming career with a smile and a deep longing. Months became years and out letters and calls grew increasingly far apart. I never forgot him, however, and never gave up hope that he might one day return to me. But with the years that hope turned into dreams, and finally I began viewing it as little more than the silly wishes of the young man I once was.

Apart from all his skillful appearances on the silver screen, it was not until the night of my second wedding that I finally saw him again. Many years had passed by that time, and I was not a young man anymore. I had become a literature professor at the same collage as where Ferdinand and I once studied together, and already had one failed marriage behind me. My bride this time was a colleague and dear friend, and although we were both aware that this might not be love in that traditional sense, we were both happily taking this measure to preempt the loneliness that might otherwise come with old age.

He showed up at the wedding reception. It was late by then and many of the guests had already withdrawn for the night. I was standing on the porch of the house smoking that evening’s eleventh cigar when someone suddenly joined me by the banister.

“Congratulations”, he said – and I recognized his voice immediately. In shock I turned towards him, and it was as if all those twenty years spilled off me. He was just as I remembered him, and when I looked into his eyes my heart almost stopped as I realized how much I actually still loved him. I could not help but embrace him, and the relief as he returned the embrace was not of this world. I do not know which one of us suggested it, but we walked off into the night as Ferdinand told me about his life and I told him about mine. Of my new bride I entertained by the time not a singled thought.

I told Ferdinand about my work, my books and my travels, and he told me about his movies and his extravagant life. I do not know if I am to deduce something from it, but for some reason he did not tell me anything about any relationships during our entire walk. When everything else had been discoursed, we went on to talk about our shared youth and all our mutual, happy memories. We went on for hours, and I, for my own part, was in heaven. I never wanted this night to end, and had he asked me at that time to come away with him I would gladly have done so without a thought.

Ferdinand seemed happy as well, but as the hours passed I grew to increasingly scent a hidden, deep sorrow in him – something he hid masterly with his acting skills, but which as an old friend I could not help but to notice. Finally, I could not refrain from asking him about it. At this, he became silent for a long time, as if lost in mournful thought or memory.

“We have led good lives”, he said finally – and now something in his voice – in the entire atmosphere – had changed. I did not know what to say to that, so I remained silent and waited for him to continue.

He sighed, and said: “We have done fabulous things, things we only talked and dreamed of when we were young together. Now that I’m finally nearing fifty, I sometimes find myself wishing that I would have let it all stay at that; as harmless talk and dreams.” He looked absentmindedly down at his palms, and I could briefly glimpse the faded scars that still adorned them.

I asked him what he meant, but I could feel as soon as I opened my mouth that my voice broke some kind of spell. He looked up at me, smiled and dismissively shook his head.

“Never mind the ramblings of an old, drunken fool”, he said. “Let us find a place to go that is still open, and forget about all sorrow. This is a night for celebration, after all, and not for the self-induced melancholy of an old, foolish friend.”

He refused all my attempts to approach the subject again after that, and we ended up drinking our wits away in some bar that I for the life of me cannot remember the name of today. I did not go home that night – a fact that I do not regret but which I will neither ever be able to forgive myself for.

When I woke up late the next day it was in a wide, disorderly hotel bed with no clear recollection of what had happened during those drunken, diffuse hours between night and morning. Ferdinand was gone, and on the pillow next to me was an envelope with my name on it in beautiful, careful letters. With shaking hands I opened it. Neither the envelope nor the piece of paper inside were from the hotel, and I realized that he must have prepared them in advance.

The message inside was short, but I remember it by heart to this very day – especially because it was the last I ever heard from him, and because of what I later realized that it might mean.

“While Man’s desires and aspirations stir, he cannot choose but err.
I hope you will be able to forgive me for my choices,
and that you will never forget me.
Eternally yours,
Ferdinand.”

I never saw Ferdinand Baresi again. I tried to call him on his fiftieth birthday one week later, but his agent told me that he was working. He never called me back. Reading the newspaper the next day, I understood why: Ferdinand had died the night before, in the middle of shooting a scene for his next movie.

I was devastated at learning this, of course. My wife must have realized that my feelings for Ferdinand were more than just those of long-ago friendship, but she was supportive throughout and never said anything to question my grief.

I went alone to see the movie on its eventual release, more to honor my late friend than due to any personal love for the genre. The director, as you might be aware, is well known for his intricate and unconventional takes on the psychologically bizarre, and Ferdinand’s last movie was no exception. In countless interviews reporters had inquired the director about his unusual choice to include in the movie the take that shows Ferdinand dying. The man always defended himself with the claim that the decision was made in honor of Ferdinand’s memory, and that even in dying he had managed to deliver his act perfectly – in the second of two, final takes.

Before seeing the movie I was afraid of what feelings might engulf me at seeing my friend dying on the screen in front of me, but this fear was nothing compared to what reality had in store.

I cannot say that the horror movie itself instilled in me any notable dread, but that might be due to me at the time being preoccupied with thinking about Ferdinand and my grief for him. My friend, as always, had made a masterful job with his character throughout the entire movie, and I found myself smiling amidst the tears at some of his more characteristic intonations and facial expressions. But then came the ending, where both Ferdinand and his character die, and the smile drained from my face.

In the plot of the movie, Ferdinand’s character is chased by a murderer from his past. In that final scene the past finally catches up to him, and the audience can see the character staring in terror and falling to his knees as the killer approaches somewhere outside the camera angle. Then everything dramatically fades to black, and the end credits start to roll.

I have seen the movie many times since then, have tortured myself with watching those terrible, final moments of my friend’s life time and again in an effort to realize what it is that I am actually seeing. But that first time I saw it I froze and could only stare in terror, even as the audience around me burst out applauding and cheering in honor of their fallen hero’s last achievement. And here, for the first time, I will deviate from my promise to refrain from speculations.

Because in those final moments before the cut, Ferdinand looks straight into the camera, and the bottomless horror in his eyes is real. I can feel it in my body every time I see it, and I know it in my heart. My friend saw something in his dying moments that no one else on the set could see, and which frightened him beyond compare.

Make of it what you will, but I for one think often of my friend’s dear wish that suddenly came true, the scars on his hands, his ominous mention of his fiftieth birthday and the two strange things he once said and wrote to me:

“There are but two roads that lead to an important goal and to the doing of great things: strength and perseverance”, and “While Man’s desires and aspirations stir, he cannot choose but err”.

It took me a long time, and my friend’s tragic death, to recognize those lines as the quotes of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that they actually are. But when I finally did, I felt horror engulf me once more.

I am old now, and despite all my efforts to combat loneliness, lonely is exactly what I have become. Lonely with the memory of Ferdinand Baresi, and with the insight that there are things out there that defy sane logic and explanation. Things that might listen to the desperate wishes of a young man distraught with grief after an abusive father, and grant those same wishes – at a terrible price.

And I do not know what about these insane thoughts that frightens me more; that I might be going mad, or that I failed to save my friend from exchanging his soul for the ability to, no matter how difficult the setting, always being able to masterfully complete every scene in no more than two takes.

Chris Smedbakken, 2018-01-07

This story was written as a response to a writing prompt,