PRW Runner-Up Tour: Breath of Death by Melody Winter
letter, side by side, as if signifying something important. I wrote my message slowly, the dust
of the chalk drifting to the floor.
Different words every night, but always in the same spot – above the bed of the youngest
TWELVE SISTERS ALL SO SWEET – COME TONIGHT AND WE SHALL MEET.
I debated whether to sign my message with a flourish or a grand false name, but settled
on my normal mark – the letter P.
Sitting back in the chair I had selected as mine, I watched the sisters as they jostled
around my message. They read my words eagerly, chattering excitedly about what the night
If they had known of my plans, perhaps they would have questioned their eagerness.
Perhaps they could have been saved.
Seven nights of being good – behaving in a way I was not accustomed to – had got me this far.
I wouldn’t fail now, not when I was this close. I smirked, congratulating myself on my plan.
Twelve sisters, princesses even. Aged between twenty-nine, and seventeen, they were a rare
and beautiful find.
As I shifted a chair from one corner of the room to the other, the sisters shrieked with
laughter, only seeing the chair move with an invisible force. I liked to surprise them by
rearranging their bookshelves, or slamming doors when the silence became too much for me
to bear. Being a spirit, invisible in their world, enabled me to tease the beautiful sisters. But, I
particularly liked playing with one of them – the youngest.
I had tried, on numerous occasions, to single her out. She had noticed when her favourite
book appeared at her side, or the door opened for her as she reached for its handle. I could be
a gentleman when I wanted to. I just didn’t usually have a reason to behave in such a way.
Whenever the youngest princess stepped through my spirit I felt a strange sensation flood
through me. It warmed me in a way I was unaccustomed to, and I revelled in the feeling that
only she could ignite.
The sisters had speculated all week about who I was, what I was, and why I was
leaving them messages. My answers were simple – if I were to give them any. And tonight,
they would get their answers, but for now I remained quiet, floating around like any other
ghostly spirit. They knew not of my importance. But they would later. I had plans – carefully
prepared ones that would satisfy many.
I lived in a world where there were many aimless spirits floating around, lost in a sea of
endless mist, struggling without purpose, fighting without reason, hating their existence. But
not me. I had purpose, I had reason, I had a life – all be it one in which I swept in and out of
with ridiculous ease. The aimless spirits were not the ones I concerned myself with. I looked
after the souls, the remnants of the dead who had no peace in death, and nowhere to go. They
were restless, hungry, desiring what only I could give them.
Seated in my chair, I allowed the princesses to prepare for their evening. But my eyes
never left the princess who had caught my attention. I studied her carefully, smiling at her
proximity as she quietly debated over which gown to wear. The choice seemed to be between
dark green and a deep crimson. Leaning forwards I grabbed the green one and threw it to the
“Red it is then,” she said quietly, looking towards my chair.
I wondered for a fleeting moment whether she could see me, or whether she had got so
used to me being near her, that she could guess where I was. Whatever the reason, it only
reassured me that I had made the right choice. She would be the last princess I spoke to
Beginning to rock in my chair, I enjoying the startled looks and the bashful way the
sisters covered themselves. It amused me. Modesty was not necessary when I was around, I
One of the sisters clapped her hands. “We must hurry, make our selection of gowns.
Father will be here to check on us shortly, and we must pretend to be asleep so that we can
join our admirer.”
I huffed at her assumption as another sister giggled. I stopped rocking the chair. I hated
gigglers. They literally made my short hair stand on end.
“Don’t you think it’s funny that father locks us in?” she exclaimed loudly, “He thinks we
can’t get out!”
The giggling increased and I flew from the chair, throwing books from the shelves to
signify my annoyance. Silence soon filled the room, and I smiled, repositioning myself in
the chair. The princesses hurried around, hiding their selected clothes, and curled up in their
beds, waiting for their father.
As expected, the king checked on his daughters. He muttered as he left the room, locking
them in. I followed him, curious as to whether he would be a suitable person to select for
The king moved quickly for his age, and his bedroom door slammed shut behind him.
I growled before stepping through the solid obstacle. It was an action I didn’t like to do.
My perfect invisibility was disturbed, and I hated the feeling of not being whole. Walls had
the same effect. I avoided both if possible. Traversing through solid items were the times that
I was most likely to be seen. And I preferred not to be seen in this world.
Observing the king as he slipped into bed, alone, I grinned. There was no queen to warm
his bed. The king was alone. He only had his daughters. Soon he would not have them. He
would be perfect for a future visit. His grief would allow me to take him, just as I planned
to take his daughters. The hungry souls would rejoice. The innocence of his daughters was
a delicacy to be fed upon sparingly, lightly. His old age was a feast, ripe, rich, to be fully
Satisfied with my assessment of the king, I returned to the princesses bedroom. They
would already be waiting for me, dressed and ready for our night to begin. I hoped that they
thought they were dreaming. It was easier if they thought that – a nightmare disguised as a
As I stepped through their bedroom door, shivering at the effect, the sisters were huddled
together speaking in hushed whispers. They discussed who would be the lucky one who
danced with the handsome prince tonight. I stifled a chuckle at their words. A handsome
prince, is that what they had decided I was? If only they knew the truth.
Straightening my clothes, and running my fingers through already messed up hair,
I walked to the centre of the room. There were no shrieks or screams of surprise when I
pulled an old rug aside. It hid a trap door which they had gone through several times this
week already. As I threw the door open the princesses, without any instructions from me,
disappeared through it.
For the past twelve nights, in my world through the trap door, I had materialised as a
well-dressed, educated man. I had charmed the princesses, danced with each and every one
of them, laughed and joked with them while the others danced with each other. But I saw
the way they watched me, waiting for the opportunity to catch my eye. They all thought they
were special. They were – but not for the reasons they hoped.
Rushing excitedly along spiral steps, the princesses descended deep under the castle.
Small, almost insignificant torches, lit their way as they urged each other on. Their
excitement was easy to hear and I followed them downwards, a lascivious smile curling at my
lips. My plan was coming together.
Watching the princesses as they saw the world before them, I saw smiles and heard
gasps. Gold, silver and diamond trees illuminated the forest before them. Branches formed a
majestic arch that glistened with even more precious jewels. They were drawn to it, unaware
of what lay beyond. It was all part of the journey they would make tonight.
So busy were they in their awe of the world I had brought them to that they didn’t see
me approach. With a cloak hung over one of my arms I emerged from the shadows and took
the hand of one of the princesses. To her I was the man that always greeted them. I was the
prince who danced all night with each of them. She smiled at me as I walked her through the
arch toward a lake. Trust. She trusted me. They all did. It was exactly what I had worked for
all week. It would serve me well tonight.
“I should like to dance with your sister first, tonight,” I announced to the others.
They all curtsied and dipped their heads.
“But, we will not dance here. I shall take you across the lake to a special place I know
Stepping to the edge of the lake, my boat glided toward me.
“We cannot all travel in that,” one of the princesses stated. “It’s too small.”
“That is why I shall come back for each of you in turn,” I reassured them, “I shall not be
After I helped the selected princess into my boat I threw my cloak around my shoulders.
Moving silently across the water, out of sight of the other sisters, I waited for the mist to
surround us. The princess didn’t look at me, she stared out over the water.
“Why is the water so dark?” she asked.
“Because it is has no end to its depth,” I replied, slowing my pace as the expected mist
began to form. I saw her shiver as the coldness of the air wrapped around her.
“What is wrong princess?” I asked.
“Can you not hear them?”
I knew exactly what she referred to, but I ignored the cries of the dead that echoed
around the boat.
“People moaning, crying…”
“There are no sounds to hear in the middle of the lake. What you are hearing is just your
imagination, nothing else.”
“And that smell?”
The smell of death, it surrounded us.
“Calm yourself. There is no need to worry.”
I stopped rowing to pull the hood of my cloak over my head.
As I crouched down in front of the princess she saw my true self. Once the hood was in
position I became what I really was – the ghost of death.
Protruding bones and torn skin covered my face and hands, and as I reached for her, fear
etched across her face, she screamed.
Breathing into her mouth, her death was instant.
I suspected that this had been her first kiss.
It was also her last.
After removing my cloak, I rowed back to the shore of the lake where the remaining
eleven princesses waited for me. Gone was the ghost that had frightened their sister, and in its
place was the man they had decided to call a prince.
“Who’s next?” I called cheerfully, enjoying the small arguments between the sisters as
they decided on who was to join me. I had never known such eagerness to meet death.
The eldest sister stepped forwards, and I took her gloved hand in mine.
As I rowed the boat into the lake she tried to talk to me, but I only answered with a slight
smile. She would find out all she needed to know very soon.
Once again in the middle of the lake, a mist surrounded us and a moaning, the sound of
many dead soulless bodies, filled the air.
I dismissed the sound, just as I had before.
Pulling my cloak around me, throwing the hood into position, my true form was revealed
to the princess, and she fainted. Leaning in to place first one, then a second kiss on her lips, I
breathed death into her. Throwing her body into the water, she joined her sister and the other
lifeless souls. Skeletal hands clambered over her body as she slowly sank. Taking souls was
easy. Feeding restless souls was even easier.
One by one, I took the princesses on a journey to the middle of the lake. Each time I
returned to the shore there was one less for me to select from.
I left the youngest princess for last.
She remained silent as we glided across the water. It was only when we reached the
middle of the lake that she became anxious. Looking out across the water, narrowing her eyes
to see through the thick mist that had descended, she turned to me. “What is it that makes
such a sad mournful sound?” she asked.
“I hear nothing, for I am struck dumb by your beauty, princess.”
She smiled, cocking her head to the side.
“Are my sisters waiting for us at the other side of the lake?”
“Yes, they are at the other side.”
“Do you mind if we make them wait a little longer?”
I raised my brow, surprised at her suggestive words, but welcoming them all the same. I
was confident I had made the correct choice of sister. She was the last one.
“May I kiss you?” I asked, prepared to play her games for a little while longer.
The princess pushed a finger onto my lips as I leaned forward. “I do not even know your
name, or what kingdom you come from.”
“I shall tell you after I have kissed you. I shall answer all your questions.”
“I must insist that you tell me your name at least. How can I continue to call you the
“It is best that you call me that, if you so wish.”
The princess shook her head. “You play with me, sir, but I am more than willing to play
As I laughed at her stubbornness. Ripples lapped at the boat.
“You selected me last. I assume there is a reason.” The princess was insistent.
“A reason?” I replied, “Oh, yes. I always have a reason.”
“And will you tell me?”
“After I have kissed you. My secrets are only to be shared with the one I have chosen.”
The princess smirked as I placed my cloak around my shoulders, preparing for our
“My kiss?” I asked, impatience, knowing I had to kiss her twelve times, for she was the
twelfth soul I would claim tonight.
“You may kiss me,” she said.
Lifting my hand to the back of her neck to hold her in place, I captured her soft lips.
Sighing, I pushed my breath into her.
“Question?” I asked, my mouth hovering over hers.
Crashing my lips onto hers again, I knew she would already be feeling the effect of the
deathly breaths I passed into her.
“Another question?” I asked. She didn’t respond. I kissed her again, another breath
entered her as I held her close to my chest.
“Are you a prince?” she managed to ask.
“Who are you?”
“Two questions, two kisses,” I said, quickly claiming her lips.
The boat suddenly rocked from one side to the other. The souls were impatient. They
suspected there was another for them on my boat.
I stood up, gripping the oar as I observed the writhing mass of bodies that pulled at the
boat. The waters of the lake churned with their movements.
“Get away, you mindless souls!” I shouted. “You cannot have this one!”
As fingers appeared over the edge of the boat I struck them with the oar. The following
wails and screams filled the air, and the princess in the boat sobbed.
I quickly placed another six kisses on her lips, silencing her tears as I passed my breath
“What’s happening?” she asked. I knew she would be struggling to understand what was
going on, and the way her body was feeling. Numbness, fear, and disorientation would be
overpowering her as my deathly kisses prepared her for her fate.
“You are joining me,” I told her. “One more kiss, and then we are together.”
More tears fell down her face.
I thought about the eleven princesses before her. They were stolen souls now, damned to
a life in a world that greeted them with open arms.
“Twelve kisses for you, as you are the twelfth soul I have taken tonight,” I explained,
although I doubted she understood.
Pulling my hood up I reached for the princess. Dragging her to her feet I looked directly
at her. I saw the fear in her eyes when she focused on my true self – it was all I needed.
I kissed her, my final kiss as I breathed into her, filling her body with the essence of
death. She slumped in my arms, not moving, not breathing.
I had told myself that I had chosen this princess for a reason. My reason – I’d had
enough. I wouldn’t take any more innocent lives, not even their father.
Without further thought, I threw myself into the dark waters taking my princesses with
me. Hand in hand we sank.
I could never be with her while she was alive. But I would ensure I was with her in
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