Champagne picnic at The Vyne, Hampshire.

She didn’t much care for the taste of champagne, but the bubbles felt wonderful on her tongue. The entire picnic had been lovely, and when her boyfriend popped the cork and toasted to their love, she felt like a princess. Steadily, dutifully, she emptied her glass, cringing slightly at the acrid taste but also silently giggling at the sensation.

She closed her eyes to tip the last of the liquid into her mouth and then heard the gentle clink of something falling against the inside of the glass. Looking down over her nose, she saw something gleaming more brightly than the sun-soaked stemware. Her heart skipped a beat.

She lowered the glass to get a better look at the ring, then gazed past it to see her boyfriend leaning toward her upon one knee, smiling. He freed her hands of the glass, held the ring out to her, and with the air of an antique gentleman asked, “Will you do the honor of being my bride?”

The proposal caught her by surprise before she had swallowed the last sip of champagne, so when she gasped she also began to cough. Neither she nor he was quite sure whether the tears in her eyes were from the overwhelming emotion or the shortness of breath. But she smiled despite the discomfort and fanned her face with her hand before laying her fingers across her breast. “Oh my God, yes!” she said, then paused to cough before repeating, “Yes!”

She went on trying to stifle her coughing fit as he slipped the ring onto her finger. It fit perfectly, and as she admired it the rest of the world went hazy as if she had slipped into a dream. Her heart beat erratically and she positively swooned at the thought of the life that lay ahead for them. At the same time, rather than abating, her coughing intensified. She struggled to compose herself and looked to her boyfriend for reassurance. She found him still smiling. It seemed strange that his expression hadn’t changed a bit, but she thought nothing of it.

She steeled herself for one large, cleansing breath but found that she could get no air in. The impulse to cough persisted, but now there was nothing for her lungs to expel. Her face turned red and her eyes bulged. Her boyfriend, still wearing the same smile, now held her hand. He said nothing but caressed her skin and thought, “It will all be over soon.”

And so it was. Following an afternoon of joy and a minute of discomfort, the poor girl passed into peaceful oblivion. He reclaimed the ring from her finger, replaced it in the box among the other tablets, and carefully cleaned the residual poison and champagne off his hands. As he folded the picnic blanket into a neat square, he basked in a feeling of pride. His play acting had brought such pleasure to this girl’s life, and her death had brought such pleasure to his. She had died happy and now he was free to start over again.

The ring had served him well this afternoon, as it had served him well last year. And it would do so again months from now, after he inevitably captured the hard of another sad, lonely young woman, desperate for the sort of love that could carry her to another world.

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