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Chapter 1 : An Ordinary Day
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I wasn't stupid enough to open the curtains yesterday morning, though. I no longer shared a room with my brother in our family home, 'The Burrow', in country England. Instead I now lived in a cramped two-storey flat in an obscure part of Romania with my girlfriend, Sarah. Sarah looked so serene as she slept in our shared bed, her pale hair spread out on her pillow, slightly tangled from a restless night. We had both had a long day yesterday and I felt she was deserving of a good rest. So I crept downstairs to our little kitchenette and made myself a weak black tea. It was just such a normal morning; a morning like every other morning I had spent in Romania. I pushed open the double doors and carried my tea out onto the landing. I looked out over the Romanian countryside as I sipped my tea. It was all just so ordinary, there was no way I could have imagined myself dead in twenty-four hours time.
The rest of the day was somewhat of a blur. In hindsight I wish I could have slowed down and taken time to remember the details more clearly, after all it was my last day on Earth. Of course it wasn't a particularly interesting day, really, just another day on the reserve. We spent the morning wrangling a new Hungarian Horntail that had been rescued from some illegal dragon hunters. I remember I sustained a nasty burn to my left forearm. After a quick bite of lunch in the mess tent, we spent the afternoon routinely delousing and immunising the dragons on the east side of the reserve.
It really wasn't until last night that I was aware of feeling any different, and even then I thought nothing of it.
"What's wrong?" Sarah asked, her freckled white forehead creased with worry.
"Nothing," I replied.
"You look pale," she said, placing her hands on her hips.
"I'm just tired," I replied, "It's been a long day."
Sarah continued to glare at me, obviously unconvinced, but she let the matter drop.
Maybe she shouldn't have. Maybe she should have made me admit I had a strange throbbing sensation in the back of my head and that my vision was a little hazy, but she didn't. Maybe if she had I wouldn't have died. Maybe if she'd insisted that something was really wrong my life might have been saved. I don't blame Sarah though, how could I? She was so beautiful and kind and determined and ... I could go on for hours listing all of her wonderful traits.
Sarah had arrived on the reserve in Romania only two months after me and we hit it off immediately. She was down-to-earth and not afraid to get her hands dirty. At first sight you could be forgiven for thinking she was this delicate and innocent young woman, but she was really very tough. She could belch, fart and wrestle dragons with the best of us men here. Somewhere along the way our friendship led into so much more. I don't even think I could pinpoint how and when we became a 'couple', because it just seemed to progress that way.
I loved that girl more than she ever realised, I think. From her freckled face right down to her earthworn feet. I was going to propose. I hadn't exactly bought the ring yet, but I had been thinking about it a lot. No one even knew, not my brothers, not my sister Ginny, not my parents, and especially not Sarah. She will never know.
To think the very last words I spoke to her were a lie. I so badly wanted to turn back time and tell her the truth.
"Yes, Sarah, there is something wrong."
But once you're dead, you're dead; there is no turning back the clock. I told her there was nothing wrong, I lied and then I died. Well there was more to it than that, I suppose. I told her I was just tired, then I told her I was going up to have a rest before dinner. I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. Sarah was lying next to me asleep. I hadn't even noticed her coming to bed and I wondered if she had tried to wake me for dinner.
I stumbled downstairs for a glass of water. My legs barely carried me there. Why am I shaking so much? I wondered. I was also aware that I was feeling dizzy. Somehow I managed to make it to the sink and fill a glass of water. The cool liquid felt nice running down my throat and I even felt slightly less dizzy. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: the floor that is. I felt confused, vaguely even aware of how I had managed to find myself face down on the kitchen tiles. Well obviously I must have fallen, but to be honest I don't exactly remember falling. It was as though one minute I was standing at the kitchen sink and then the next minute my cheek was pressed up against the cold floor and I had a splitting headache. I tried to push myself up, but my limbs appeared not to be working. I willed my arms and legs to move, but they were resolutely stubborn and refused to budge. I tried to call out to Sarah, but my voice seemed to be constricted in my throat and not a sound would escape my lips no matter how hard I tried to scream. What's happening to me? I asked myself.
As I lay there waiting for the morning, and for Sarah to find me and call for help, I remembered reading an article once about a woman who was poisoned by her sister (over a man of course). At the end of the article was an information box on recognising the signs of poisoning. Drowsiness. Headaches. Dizziness. Weak limbs. I realised then that I must have been poisoned. I thought back upon the last twenty-four hours of my life trying to pinpoint when and how I might have been poisoned. (And, by the way, I know what you are thinking, but you can forget it, Sarah would never poison me, of that I am one hundred per cent certain.)
I wondered whether I had accidentally jabbed myself with one of the needles while immunising the dragons in the afternoon, but I was sure I would have noticed if I had pricked myself, and anyway, it wouldn't have been enough to kill me. Was it food poisoning from the egg salad sandwich at lunch? But Sarah had eaten the same thing and she was fine. The horntail burn on my arm, although painful, was no cause for poisoning. But then what else was there? The tea. But I had made it myself, so how could I have poisoned myself? I lay there motionless going over everything in my head, trying to locate the source of my poisoning in my mind.
A glint of sunlight peeked through the kitchen window and bathed the kitchen in a faint golden light. As the kitchen's features became clearer I could see the broken shards of my glass littering the tiles where I must have dropped it. Each shard glinted in the morning sun casting little rainbows of light on the white cupboards.
And then I saw it: the cause of my poisoning. It was so small and obscure lying there on the floor. A flicker of a memory materialised in my mind. How could I have forgotten? What was it Sarah had said to me?
"I found a Doxy nest down the side of the stove in the kitchen. I think I managed to get rid of them all, but just make sure you check any packages of food before you use them, just in case there are any Doxy droppings in them."
So it must have been the tea. The droppings must have blended right in with the tea leaves. And there I was only twenty-four hours later lying sprawled out on the kitchen tiles unable to move or speak as my life ebbed away. I had always imagined I would die while trying to wrangle a particularly fierce dragon. I had envisaged myself sustaining a critical burn or being fatally wounded by its sharp claws or teeth. It would have been something exciting that would be talked about and retold until all the facts were obscured. I could not have imagined I would end up dying such a mundane death. Really, who wants to hear about the man who died from accidentally ingesting Doxy droppings? No one.
It had started out as such an ordinary day and it had ended with a very ordinary death. As I closed my eyes for the final time I briefly caught a glimpse of Sarah's freckled legs descending the stairs. The last sound I heard was her voice as it uttered my name, "Charlie?" And then I was dead.
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