by Mike Resnick and Barb Galler-Smith

Our cursed Father limped across the bridge, glancing neither right nor left. Then, like Hamlet’s king on Elsinore’s walls, he disappeared into the icy fog. My brother Neil and I hid in the trees. We knew that only if Father died before the evil could destroy, would there by any hope of salvation for his soul.

Or for us.

Neil pressed the pistol into my hand.  “You’re stronger than I am. Kill him.”

I gripped the cold metal for a moment, then thrust it back to him.  “No,” I whispered. “As heir, you must do it or the evil will seek you next. Come on.”

I pulled him forward, then froze. Something lay crumpled on the pavement ahead.

“Oh God,” moaned Neil. “Please don’t let him be dead yet!”

I knelt over Father, already decayed and stinking of rotten flesh and black earth, and saw there was nothing left to kill.
Thick tendrils of cold rose from the corpse and danced around Neil, who screamed with horror and clawed at his own face. He cringed as the air chilled into dense fog around him and then flailed at it. His efforts were as ineffective as a windmill against a gale.

Finally, arms listless at his sides and eyes brimming with the last tears he would ever shed, he surrendered.

“It’s cold,” he said, “cold as hell.”

And as he spoke, he transformed into the same creature our father had been.

He dropped the pistol, the one filled with bullets we’d made from silver and prayed over, the bullets that might have released Father forever.

I picked it up and without hesitation placed the barrel against his chest.

“I’m sorry,” I said, and squeezed the trigger.

Red blood poured from the wound, the only spot of color in the grayness, the only speck of warmth.

Neil collapsed and looked up at me in surprise.

“It’s for the best,” I whispered.  “You’re free.”

A spot of blood bubbled over his lips and spilled onto his chin.

He closed his eyes and coughed once, then took a single deep breath and let it out slowly. A lifetime passed before he took another, weaker and shallower. He took no more.Suddenly cold as hell, I limped toward the bridge.  Glancing neither right nor left, like Hamlet’s king, I stepped into the rising fog.

Mike Resnick is the author of more than 40 science fiction novels, 12 collections, and 130 short stories, as well as editing 25 anthologies. He has won 4 Hugos and a Nebula, and has won major awards in France, Japan, Spain, Poland and Croatia.

Barb Galler-Smith lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with her husband and two white dogs.  She writes science fiction and fantasy and is currently collaborating on a long historical fantasy.  When not writing she’s a junior high school science teacher and animal behaviour consultant.