Casey is an unusual fourteen-year-old with some unusual friends, one of which she's decided to buy a Christmas present for. But what do you get for someone several millennia-old whose job involves erasing information from a book?
Casey stared into the shop window. The edges were framed by sparkling lights and potential Christmas presents littered the base, surrounded by a pile of white stuff, which she guessed was supposed to be snow. A book about some celebrity… a board game… a cute grey teddy...
Gah! She swung away from the window and walked up the street. She could just imagine Az’s face if she gave him a teddy bear: “Well, he’s great, love, but I’m not sure what I’ll do with him when I get back. Perhaps the Ferryman would like something to cuddle.”
She shuddered. The thought of those bony fingers wrapped around the soft toy, those empty eye sockets staring at its grey fur… Another shiver rippled through her. Yes, OK, everyone needed a little love, but the Ferryman was a walking skeleton! “And don’t you tell me I’m discriminating against the dead, Az,” she mumbled, and shoved her gloved hands further into her coat pockets.
The breeze kicked up, whistling through her jacket. Was that laughter? She rolled her eyes. Trust him to be listening.
So, back to her problem. What did a mere teenager get an all-powerful being that already had everything he could possibly want – except perhaps time?
Hmm… Time. She could work with that.
A few day’s later, after bundling her parents and that golden-haired demon known as her little sister, out to do some late-night Christmas shopping, Casey knelt on her bed, peering out the window. Fake icicles dripped from roofs, lights twinkled in trees, and a bunch of carol singers walked from house to house. She hummed along to, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”.
Her lightbulb flickered. She glanced at it. It dimmed, grew brighter, and died, cloaking the room in shadow. Beneath her, tiny quivers vibrated through the bed. Her chest of drawers shuddered, and the ornaments on her bookcase jangled together.
Casey returned to the street view and tried to suppress a smile. The guy had to make an entrance, didn’t he?
The mini earthquake came to an abrupt halt and light returned to the room.
“Ever heard of a door, Az?”
A deep chuckle came from behind her. “Most people expect the dramatics, Casey, love.”
“Doesn’t drama take more of your time?” She turned.
A man, who appeared to be in his late twenties, rested against her wardrobe, arms folded, as though he was part of the furniture. His pristine suit shone bright white on one side, while the other did its black-as-night thing. The grin stretched across his face spluttered into a frown. “Don’t get me started, love.”
He unfolded his arms and sat on the bed. “What with expectations and a rise in violence, I need all the time the Bosses can give me. Or, maybe just a way to pause it for a while.”
He gave her a wry smile, and she tried to look sympathetic, holding back the grin that wanted to make a break for it. Az was going to love the gift!
“I got you a present.” She pushed the small, gift-wrapped box towards him.
Az’s brows vanished into his black hair. “A present?”
“Goes with this little thing called ‘Christmas’. A season of giving? You might have heard of it?”
“I know what Christmas is, love, but we’re usually not involved with human affairs like these.”
“Well, consider yourself involved.” She grabbed his hand, and slapped the gift on his palm.
Az’s expression mirrored her sister, Lily’s, whenever Casey did something remotely nice for her.
She sighed. “It’s a present, not one of Marcos’s special packages. You see this?” She gestured to the wrapping. “It’s called ‘wrapping paper’”.
His eyes narrowed. “The Ferryman hasn’t been for a visit for a while, has he? Shall I fetch him?”
A shiver went through her. “That’s playing dirty, Az, but, fine. You open it when you want. I’ll just sit over here, and be all angelic sweetness and silence.”
Az’s mouth pulled up at the side. “I doubt you’re capable of that, love, but thanks for the laugh.”
Casey scowled, which only increased Az’s grin. She gave up trying to hold onto the expression when he removed the red, Christmas tree-dotted paper, and opened the little box.
Would he like it?
He extracted the small chrome object, and scanned the white face with its black numbers, followed by the large button on the top. One brow quirked. “A stopwatch?”
She nodded. Good? Bad? Not getting it at all?
“I’m the Angel of Death, love. Not an athlete.”
Not getting it at all. “You’re a jerk. Turn it over, will you?”
He twisted the stopwatch to view the back, and his eyes scanned the inscription engraved there: For someone who needs to stop time every now and then.
She held her breath.
A smile curved his lips, tenderness softening the lines on his face. He caught her gaze, and, for once, his eyes weren’t black holes of nothingness. Light sparked around the edge of the iris, and warmed the emptiness. “Casey, love.” His voice came out husky, none of the usual magnificent resonance. “It’s perfect.”