The Gift and the Curse

Dreams waved behind his heavy eyes. They bid Julian farewell and invited him to stay, but stay he could not, for morning had arrived.

Alas, it arrived too soon, again.

He yawned. A slow, deep yawn, that watered his eyes before he stretched.

He blinked.

Darkness filled the room. Julian cursed under his breath. He had hoped the sun would come first.

It had not.

Instead the unwelcomed guest had greeted him.

“You return at last.” A voice echoed that only he could hear. “Have you decided what you are going to do?”

Julian turned over and pulled his blankets close. He relished the warmth of his bed and the comfort of his pillow, but the moment was brief.

“You must choose, Julian.” Said the imp, the creature with dark eyes and even darker thoughts. “You cannot procrastinate any longer.”

If I only had more time, Julian thought to himself.

“Time is an illusion.” The imp said. “For the present has just become the past and the future has just become the present. This is life, and life waits for no one. You must act now!”

Julian inhaled deeply. He raised his eyes. The bottle lay empty on the nightstand, uncorked. The spirit had been freed, but the imp remained.

“Did you think you could rid yourself of me so easily?” The imp snickered. “The power of spirits has its limits. They solve nothing and in the end they do more harm than good.”

Julian sat on the edge of his bed. He struggled to ignore the imp, the wretched demon whose power held sway over Julian’s life.

He wasn’t always this powerful. In fact, when Julian first encountered the imp he was but the shadow of a fleeting thought. Nothing more than a whisper in the wind that no one had ever heard.

But several years ago, Julian had struck a deal with a stranger. The traveling merchant he had heard rumors about, but had never seen. Not until that day in the fall when destiny and chance were the crossroads, and Julian was given a choice.

“Everything today for nothing tomorrow, all for the price of the Devil’s sorrow.”

Julian considered the merchant’s offer. Everything today for—

“Do not think on it too long, for time is life and life waits for no one.”

So it came to pass that Julian exchanged his fate for the fortunes of chance. There on the pier, in the middle of autumn, Julian reached into his pocket before he handed over the last morsels of his soul.

The merchant smiled his wicked smile with eyes that shone like black, wet stones. He handed Julian a box. A red velvet box with a white ribbon tied around it, and an elaborate bow. His instructions were clear, “Keep the box until the winter of your life, and gift it only to the one you love most. But you must never peer inside, even for a moment, lest your heart be filled with doubt. For once you let the light in, you also let the darkness out.”

All Julian had to do was live his life and hope that the honesty of his intentions would lead to happiness. Every day fewer tears left his eyes, and he believed that the future he had bargained for would blossom into a garden of blessings.

However, his curiosity prevailed. As fate would have it, the inherent flaw in humankind led him to peer inside the box, and the darkness came. The shadow of doubt rose like a dark cloud. The imp had emerged and permeated Julian’s thoughts. It crept through his moments of loneliness and led him to question his resolve.

The imp found him every morning before the sun. Taunting him with whispers of self-doubt and reminding him of past failures. Every day became a struggle to avoid the imp and ignore the negativity. The mountain of life’s struggles grew steeper each day. When night fell, Julian turned to the spirits. He released one after another, making wishes with the hope of drowning his sorrow.

After years of heartache, buyer’s remorse lingered like a heavy fog.

He had already cut what he should have untied. Julian sought to learn to live with that knowledge, but the imp made it impossible. Without hope, and without clarity, Julian roamed dark alleys in search of death, but the angel of souls would not oblige.

Not while he carried the box, for Julian was cursed to endure the misery he had been promised. His only hope, if any hope remained, was to gift the box to the one he loved most.

This, he dared not do, for he did not wish to see another shoulder his burden. He sought refuge in addiction, and in the houses of God, but even there the imp had found him, and convinced Julian that there was no escape.

“Redemption is for the sinner whose thoughts are filled with wicked deeds.” The imp had said. “Didn’t anyone tell you about the road to Hell, and good intentions?”

Julian roamed between the veils of faith, and only found another man behind the curtain. Nothing fell from heaven except rain and sunlight.

Hope, for once, had to come from within.

“You must choose.” The imp repeated. “You must live with the curse until you make it a gift.”

“But what is a gift if it does not come from the heart?” Julian wondered. “For the only gift that can come from the heart, is love.”

“That is not for you to decide?” The imp snapped.

“Why not?” Julian stood before the mirror.

He glimpsed the imp behind his tired eyes. The imp appeared uncertain. He backed away into the shadows. He vanished in the morning light.

Julian sighed with relief when daylight came. He’d had an epiphany just before dawn. It was a new day and he realized that his destiny rested in his heart, for when he had bargained with the merchant, he had retrieved his future from the Fates.

When Julian splashed the colder water on his face, he felt the imp relinquish his hold over his heart. There remained no fear and there remained no doubt.

“Life is a clock that does not stop, or slow down for anyone.” Julian mused. “Every second must be lived, filled with passion, until the last.”

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