This is the eighth and final installment in TMN staff writer Allison Maschhoff’s serialized fiction series, The Curse of Briar Michaels. You can read part seven here.
Briar was surprised when Aislinn returned to the hospital the next day. In all honesty, Aislinn was surprised by her own actions, but as Dushan and Asuka trailed into Mallory’s room behind her, they were not surprised. They had known Aislinn long enough to know that she was invested at this point. Trying to help Mallory wasn’t just a favor for Briar anymore — Aislinn had developed a sense of duty. She had developed a belief that it was the right thing to do.
After three hours of waiting, Aislinn watched Death slip in through the door. A nurse had left it ajar and Aislinn couldn’t help but wonder if closing it would’ve stopped the creature from entering. Death paused and, to Aislinn’s horror, it gazed at her for a few cold, silent moments. Then it shifted its attention to Mallory.
“Briar,” Aislinn whispered. Her voice shook.
Briar looked at Aislinn and watched her skin grow paler and her body begin to shake. Aislinn raised her arm and pointed, moving her arm to track Death as it moved closer and closer to Mallory. Mallory’s eyes were closed. Her brow furrowed in pain.
Aislinn’s hand stopped moving when she was pointing almost directly at Briar, as if he and Death were occupying the same space. A million thoughts flew through Briar’s mind in that moment. The truth that this was his only chance to save Mallory was one of them, and another was the realization that he also had the chance to justify everything he was putting Aislinn through. But he had questions. Was Aislinn right that this wasn’t in their control? Would pushing off Death for a little bit longer only lengthen Mallory’s struggle? Would she remain in pain? Would she still die too soon for him to let her go quietly?
They say no life is meant to end after a mere twenty-six years, but perhaps some lives are. Perhaps fate is cruel and willing to rip life away at any age. And perhaps fate is unstoppable.
For the first time since he had learned of Death, Briar considered the possibility that the powers which gave him and Aislinn and Dushan and Asuka their sixth senses were not benevolent. It was entirely possible that there were no benefits of their abilities. If fate was cruel, what reason was there to believe that people could not be cursed? What reason was there to believe that people who don’t deserve to suffer won’t?
And in between all the questions, facts and fears, Briar heard a voice in his mind repeating Aislinn’s name over and over.
Aislinn was crying. It was getting harder for her to breathe and she didn’t understand why Briar was just standing there. He wasn’t doing anything. It was almost as if he was just going to let her die and Aislinn wasn’t sure she could live with that. All of this suffering needed to be worth something.
Aislinn tried to scream at Briar, tried to tell him to do something, anything, but she couldn’t find her voice.
Death leaned over.
Dushan’s hands flew to his ears.
Aislinn watched the creature retreat, a delicate soul resting in its arms.
Briar collapsed onto the bed. The only sound in the room was his sobbing. He apologized to her lifeless body over and over again. But she was gone. He had made his choice.
Eventually, Aislinn, Asuka and Dushan left. Asuka was angry. Dushan was tired. Aislinn was filled with grief. She believed Briar had proven that day that he never had been — and perhaps never would be — strong enough to fight for the people he said he loved. He only stayed until he realized the other person was leaving. Aislinn wasn’t sure a person could truly call what Briar Michaels felt for other people “love.” Wasn’t love supposed to be more enduring? Wasn’t it supposed to have faith?
Aislinn’s conclusions were not far from the truth. Though it would take years for him to admit it to himself, Briar had not let Mallory die out of a fear of fate or a desire to end her suffering. He knew Mallory would’ve wanted to live longer. He knew that if Mallory had known the whole truth, she would’ve wanted him to try. But when it came to the moment Briar was caught between Mallory and Death, he couldn’t escape the way his mind yearned for Aislinn. His guilt had finally filled up his lungs and he had been suffocated by the knowledge that he was cursed.
But his curse was not the ability to touch Death. Something so easily avoidable seemed hardly deserving of such a fearsome categorization. No, the curse of Briar Michaels was his love for Aislinn. It was the fact that he would never forget her, never escape her, and he would never have her back.
Aislinn moved back to Chicago after Mallory’s death. She started living with Dushan and Asuka again and eventually she fell in love with a boy who was not cursed, but accepted hers. He helped her carry her burden in a way Briar never had. But she never forgot about Briar Michaels, the man who had taught her more about love than he’d ever know. From loving him she’d slowly learned what love was and what it was not. By the time she found her true love, she knew the difference. She felt the difference in her soul.
Briar never saw Aislinn, Dushan or Asuka again. He lived the rest of his life paying the costly price for learning what truly mattered too late. Its currency was guilt and shame and it left him with the knowledge that he would never fill the emptiness inside him. Some days he regretted letting Mallory die, but other days he regretted ever meeting Mallory at all. Most days he regretted not fighting for the girl he knew had been his soulmate, and everyday he mourned the fact that he hadn’t been hers.