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Twelve Deaths

Morgan Spraker is a sophomore English major at the University of Florida. She loves to write about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. When she isn't looking for new stories, she's reading, spending time with friends and family, or obsessing over Marvel movies.
I tell Jack Henderson's story like it's a fairytale. He was, after all, a prince of sorts, and depending on who you ask, I could play a wealth of roles. You could even say it's truly my story.
So here it goes.
Once upon a time, a man died a dozen times. A woman--me--loved him enough to save him eleven times and let him die the twelfth.
Hello, there. Settled?
I'd had the technology long before his first death. My mother patented it. She came as many physicists do, brilliant and loopy, obsessed with death and second chances. Her vice was quantum physics. Time travel. She left the Turner to me when she died.
Only use it if you mean it, she wrote in the will.
I wore the device around my neck as a courtesy and told half-truths to the curious. I'll give you a whole truth. Mother devised a way to loop a single day until the person controlling the Turner stopped it. She thought it glorious. Me, a firm believer in fate, not as much. But she loved it and I loved her and she was dead, so I wore it. One day, I used it.
Jack was an opera singer. I met him the night of my mother's funeral and knew I had to have him. He fell in love with me in an hour, he claimed. I always wonder if it took the entire hour or if I'd captivated him with minutes to spare. That's the poet in me. An hour is too clean. Too perfect.
We were poor but talented. People liked that, especially liked the potential for tragedy surrounding us. Stories like ours never end well.
Every night he sang, I found my way to the theater, even if I didn't intend to be there at first. I wore my only evening gown, an emerald piece with a flowing skirt, and the Tuner lay dormant on my breastbone.
Jack's singing voice came from an otherwise unreachable universe; it coaxed your nerves to catch fire. Alone on the stage, his cheeks flushed and eyes half-lidded, he burned, too, golden light from the crystal chandelier spilling over him. He rocked on his heels when he sang; he said if he didn't move while he sang, the music consumed him. When he hit the highest note, his green eyes opened, like an enlightened man returning from Heaven, and found mine. He always reduced the audience to tears and ashes.
Not literally, of course.
One can never be too careful in a fairytale.
On a December night, the chandelier crashed from above and crushed him onstage.
My hand touched the Turner before anyone could scream.
He told me the day felt strange the second time it occurred. I told him deja vu was a mysterious force. You may wonder why I didn't tell him the truth, but let me ask you this: would you want to know if you died and could die again? Mother blathered on about variables and side effects of the Turner, too, and I imagined Jack knowing would be the greatest variable.
A darker part of me liked that he didn't know. For once, I was the ethereal one.
I called the theater and told them to check the chandelier. I dressed in my emerald gown. I held my breath as he opened his eyes.
The chandelier didn't fall.
A man rose from the audience and shot Jack twice.
Third occurrence.
He seemed unwell but insisted on performing. The chandelier was tightened, a man with a gun apprehended.
Jack finished the note.
Then, he had a heart attack.
Four, five, six, seven. I love numbers. In fairytales, things often arrive in pairs or triples, but my favorite number is zero. Nothingness implies that somethingness exists, and you only have to find a way to keep it. Is that a word? Somethingness?
I'm distracted. You want to know about Jack.
Stab wound, aneurysm, heart attack, chandelier.
I kept trying.
Eight, nine, ten deaths. His skin, his eyes, his lips all grayed, but his voice endured--the sound became even more enchanting coming from a ravaged body. He sang. He rocked. He died. He never rocked around me, not even when I smiled or unzipped my dress. I know he loved me. He only loved opera more.
Jack died an eleventh time. I don't remember how.
Don't you want to hear more about me? All he did was die. I was clever enough to try to save him, I have a life too, but all you know is that I am a poet, I own an emerald dress, and I loved Jack.
Is that all I'll be when I can't tell my story?
He was a shadow on the twelfth morning--a beautiful shadow, but a shadow all the same.
When he sang, he opened his eyes.
The chandelier crashed. When it hit him, he crumpled, arms splayed out and blood gushing from his fractured skull. His blank eyes were on me. I kept my hands in my lap.
I remembered why I believe in fate.
I wonder, sometimes, what would've become of him if he'd grown old. A haze engulfs talented men who die young and tragically. They become immortal. Jack became immortal. People say his ghost haunts the theater. They say if you listen closely, you can hear the floorboards creak as he rocks, sings.
And me?
If they mention me, they say I went insane after he died. Nobody knew that I tried to save him even though Mother said there would be side effects. Side effects I can't remember. I can't remember a lot these days. My memories loop. I know this. That doesn't make me insane. I'm not a princess who went mad because her prince died. That's not my story. I tried to save Jack.
Have I told you?
I tell Jack Henderson's story--the true story, the one only I know--like it's a fairytale. He was, after all, a prince of sorts, and depending on who you ask, I could play a wealth of roles.
So here it goes.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, December 13th, 2019




- Morgan Spraker
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