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The Conditions This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

He had done everything. It was all ready. The fresh roses, tainted with stains of charcoal. The formerly pure white dress, now spattered with blood. The obsidian candles that wouldn't light, but only stood cold in the shadows, waiting. Outside the small house, snow blanketed the ground, and the air was piercingly cold. The weather had to be cold, that was one of the conditions.

He pressed his nose to the glass of the window and stared out at the street below. The light of street lamps reflected off the unblemished white snow, but otherwise, the street was dark and utterly empty. There could only be one living person within 50 feet of the house, that was the second condition. He looked at the items. Two pure and fresh things, tainted with dark. The third condition. The candles were only optional. The Other had claimed they would help.

He turned his back to the window and looked around the small bedroom, devoid of any furniture or decor of any sort, save the roses, the dress, and the candles. Wood floors, dark walls. The usual arrangement, he understood. Of course he had done this before. He had run many tests, just to be sure. But never once had he called her.

Unbeckoned, a memory ran through his mind, a shadow of many years ago, of sunshine and flowers and grass and kisses. He pushed it back immediately. He had long ago abandoned remembering. The pain it brought was too much. But now, all was prepared, exactly as it should be. The next step was harder though, much harder. The next step was making a decision.

The shadow resurfaced, and a teasing voice ran through his head, laced with laughter. You know i cant wait for you forever. He replied to the voice, silently. Silence had been his refuge for years, a barrier to retreat behind when threatened. No more. He had made his decision.

Hours passed, and the moon was eclipsed by clouds. It had to be completely dark. The fourth Condition. When he was finished, he sat on the unforgiving wood floor and waited. An hour passed. Another. Be patient, The Other had said. It was near sunrise when he heard the voice.

Why have you called me? it demanded, tinted with anger.

"I wanted to hear your voice," he answered, his face an imperturbable mask of calm. The voice softened, and said his name sadly.

Was my life not enough for you? His face didn't change, not even slightly.

"Your life would have been enough... if you had lived it. Life doesn't count if it is too short." Silence for a moment, then,

Is that what The Other told you? Or is that what you told yourself? He paused.

"That is the truth." The voice was angry again.

Truth is a matter of perspective. There is nothing I wouldn't do to be with you again, but The Other does not allow it. He smiled,for the first time in years.

"I have made an... arrangement with The Other. He is understanding, if befriended." The voice was speechless. He spoke.

"A life for a life is the usual bargain, he told me." He gestured to the dress, the roses. "She was young, but miserable. She had lost her loved one, she told me. She didn't understand The Other any more than I once did." The voice was sad, sobbing, though no tears were visible.

You're no longer the man I knew. I would rather serve my meals with The Other for eternity then be with you. Obsession has changed you. Leave now. But the voice was too late.

The blood slowly faded off the stained dress, and the charcoal of the roses had disappeared, leaving them a deep, unmarked crimson. The dress floated upwards a few inches off the ground before being filled with smoke. The obsidian candles were alight with blazing red flame. The thin wisp of smoke in the dress colored and solidified into the form of her young body. He smiled. She was back. Her mouth moved, and the voice came out in strangled rage.

"You bastard. You selfish Bastard." She looked over at the grey and rotting corpse in the corner, bloody and pale. Life for Death. A trade. The fifth condition.




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