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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Death and Rose

In my time, I’ve met a lot of women. All of them in fact. I’ve known the face that launched a thousand ships, the woman that coined the term ‘radioactivity’ and the one that sewed the first American flag. All of them were beautiful, in their own way. Every last woman, in fact, was beautiful. When you’re in my line of work, you learn to appreciate the beauty where you can find it. Oh, I suppose I should introduce myself. I’m Death, Grim Reaper.

I should explain before we really get into this story that I am just the personification of death, not the actual force of death itself. Death itself is a part of nature. My job is simply to collect the souls of the departed and lead them to their respective afterlives, whatever they may be. Another interesting aspect of my job is that as soon as someone is born, I not only am aware of it, but I know the exact moment and method of that person’s death. This was what first drew me to her.

Rose Legrand had possibly the most intriguing and unique death that had yet been experienced by a human to date. That alone would have been enough to draw me to her. But her birth was just as intriguing, and it was at this momentous occasion that I first met her.

I was already on the airplane as a certain Mr. Edward Smith was having quiet heart failure while he slept in first class. Not that I think anyone would have noticed anyway, because over in business class, Rose’s mother was going into labor. I had just reaped Mr. Smith’s soul from him, and was holding the glowing reddish ball in my hand, when I got the flash of a new soul entering the world, and the image of her death. When I realized that it was just on the other side of the curtain, I had to look.

I walked out and watched as a brain surgeon tried to remember his classes about birth and aided Rose’s mother through the whole processes. If you have never seen a live birth, it’s really quite an amazing thing. I’ve heard many mortals say that it’s a miracle. And let me say that as someone that’s seen his fair share of miracles over the centuries, they’re right.

I watched, invisible to all those who still live. See, one of the perks of my job is that I can’t be seen by anyone unless they are dying or I want to be seen. Makes it easier to carry around this huge scythe. Anyway, I watched as everyone worked together to help Rose’s mother. They got the baby and then went about cleaning everything. It was all rather amazing. But the most amazing thing didn’t happen until almost an hour later, when the little baby opened its eyes for the first time. And I would swear that it looked right at me. She couldn’t have, really, I mean, no one can see me. But there she was, looking right at me. And then she smiled. I just freaked out and teleported away.

I let the incident go and almost completely forgot about it for years. But then, I was drawn back into Rose’s life when her father died. It seemed like a normal job. The man died of a heart attack, collapsed on the floor of his living room. He died before the ambulance arrived, and I got there to reap his soul. I teleported in, and quickly found the body. I started to walk towards it when I noticed something. The little girl was watching me. She was probably about six at the time. I recognized her instantly as the girl from the airplane, the one with the unique death. And she was staring at me.

I figured she was probably just staring at nothing. I mean, her dad just died, poor kid. So, I waved at her and moved on towards her dad. She waved back. I stopped and saw that her eyes had followed me. I moved back and fourth, and sure enough, she was following me.

“Are you here for my daddy?” she asked.

I looked around, to see of there was someone else standing there, but no such luck. She was talking to me.

“You can see me?” I asked.

She nodded. “No one else can, though, huh?” she asked.

Damn, she was a smart kid.

“No,” I said. “And honestly, I’m surprised that you can. And you can here me. This is highly irregular.”

“Are you here for my daddy?” she asked again.

Not knowing what else to do, I nodded my head.

“Do you know who I am?” I asked.

“I think so,” she said. “You’re an angel, right? You’re here to take Daddy to heaven?”

I looked down at her. I always felt sorry for the people left behind after a death. But, I’ve never actually spoken to a living person before. It’s odd, I found myself not knowing what to say. But when I looked at her, my heart just broke. Well, my metaphorical heart. You know what I mean. All I wanted to do was make this little girl feel better. And the truth was, bringing her dad to his afterlife wasn’t all that different than saying he was going to Heaven.

“Yeah, kiddo,” I said. “Something like that.”

“Will I ever see Daddy again?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “Not until you die, anyway.”

“How long with that be?” she asked.

“Oh, no for a very long time,” I said.

She seemed to accept that for an answer and then sat quiet. I decided to take the opportunity and go collect the soul I was there for. She followed me, quietly watching as I passed my scythe through her father’s body, pulling out the glowing ball that was his soul. I plucked it off my scythe and then looked at her. I held it out to her.

“Want to say good bye?” I said. I have no idea what possessed me to do that. Mortals aren’t even supposed to know what a soul looks like, never mind speak to one. Worse would be if she touched it. So, naturally, that’s what she did.

“Good bye, Daddy,” she said, a tear rolling down her cheek. “I’m going to miss you. Yes, I’ll be sure to tell Mommy.”

Then, she let go, and looked back at me. I looked from her to the soul and back. No one has ever done that. I half expected a bolt of lightning to fall from the sky and strike me down there, to be replaced by a different personification of Death. But, nothing. So, instead, I put the soul into my robes and made to leave.

“Mister Angel?” she said. “Will I ever see you again?”

“Most definitely,” I said. And with that, I teleported away. I spent the next month thinking about what happened. Even though I continued about my job per normal, I just couldn’t get my mind off of Rose. She saw me, spoke to me, touched and spoke to a soul! This was a truly unique individual, to be sure. I had to know more. So, I decided to go visit her. It’s pretty easy for me to be in multiple places at once. That’s another perk of being a personification. However, it’s difficult for me to go someplace where there is no death. Thus, going to see Rose wasn’t easy. It took me another month to figure out how to do it.

When I appeared next to her, so was watching TV on her living room couch. She was alone. She looked over to me and smiled. There wasn’t a single bit of surprise in her face, though. It was almost as if she were expecting me.

“I knew you would come back, Mr. Angel,” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “Well, I had to try and figure out how you can do it.”

“Do what?” she said.

“See and hear me,” I replied.

“Oh, that’s simple, silly,” she said.

“Really?” I asked, wondering if it really could be.

“Yeah,” she said. “We’re connected. You’re my angel, so I can see you.”

“I’m… your Angel?” I said, confused.

“Of course you are, silly,” she said. “Why else would you keep coming back to see me.”

“Rose dear?” her mother’s voice called from the other room. “Who are you talking to?”

“It’s my Angel!” she called back. “Remember, I told you about him when Daddy died. He’s back.”

I could feel myself loosing power to stay with Rose when there was no death about.

“Rose,” I said, hearing her name for the first time. “I have to go. But, I will be back. I have to figure this out.”

“Okay,” she said, and waived at me. “I’ll see you later, Mr. Angel.”

“You’re Angel?” her mother said, coming into the room. I had a slight panic attack thinking that she might see me as well, but it was obvious that she didn’t see anything but Rose. “Rose, do you have an invisible friend?”

“Yup,” Rose said. “he’s right here. His name is Mr. Angel, and he’s my friend.”

“Well, hello there, Mr. Angel,” said Rose’s mom to my chest.

“Hi,” I said, waiving. The pull to leave was getting stronger. “Rose, I gotta go. But I’ll be back!”

“Bye, bye Mr. Angel,” she said, waiving as I was pulled away. Staying someplace I’m not supposed to be actually hurts. But for some reason, I felt a lot better for doing it, despite the pain. And I had made a promise, to go back. And go back I did. It took me about a week to get the needed power to make a return visit of about fifteen to twenty minutes. I went back every week for the next two years. I never did learn anything from her, but she and I did become kind of friends during that time.

She asked me a lot of questions, mostly about what it was like to be an angel. I tried to answer as best as I could, but I found that I really didn’t want to lie to her. So I one day told her that I wasn’t really an angel, but that I was Death. When she didn’t get what I meant, I pointed to a cartoon she was watching and asked her if I looked like the grim reaper in said cartoon. She laughed and then stopped, realizing that I did. It started to make some sense to her. That’s why I was there that night, to pick up her daddy. I nodded.

Then, she shook her head and said that I was still an angel. I was the angel that brought people to heaven. I could only smile and laugh at that point. If you’ve never done it before, it’s really hard to argue with the logic of seven year old. She seemed to accept that I had other duties than hanging out with her, but I think that she accepted that because it meant that I chose to hang out with her. She was a terribly smart child, which made it all the harder to lie to her. She would always know when I was lying.

I think the most amazing thing was that at some point during those two years, I stopped hanging around her to try and figure out how she could see me, and started hanging around her because I liked being with someone that loved me for me, and not what they thought I could do for them. And Rose actually loved me, in that no holds barred way only a child can. It was truly refreshing.

And it all came crashing down one day when she told her mother that her invisible friend that she saw once a week was the Angel of Death, and that he was the same Angel that brought Daddy to Heaven. As you can imagine, that did not go over well. I found out about this when I went to go visit, and found myself in a psychologist’s office. Rose was there, talking to the shrink. He was asking her some very disturbing questions. It seemed like he was implying that she still missed her daddy and was using this invisible friend to make Death seem less scary.

When Rose saw me, she smiled, but then put her finger to her pursed lips in that exaggerated way kids to. The shrink saw, and turned around, as if he really expected to see someone. When he started asking Rose questions again, they were very specific, and all about me. She pointed to were I was and described me to the man. I got this knot in my stomach that told me staying there was a bad idea, so I left. When I visited Rose next, she was very sad, but also very distant.

“Go away,” she said. “You’re not real. You’re a hallucination brought about by an unwillingness to accept my father’s death.”

She said these words very slowly, as if she had been practicing them. My heart broke. What the hell had that shrink told her? I had never been more frustrated by the once a week limit.

“Rose, listen to me,” I started to say.

“No,” she said turning away from me. “You’re not real. I want you to go away and never come back. They gave me a pill that will do just that. Can’t you just go away?”

I started to say something, but saw the tear running down her cheek, and instead I deflated.

“Okay,” I whispered. “I’ll leave, and I pomes this. I will never bother you again.”

I saw her briefly turn to face me, more tears running down her cheek, and she reached out to touch me. Unfortunately, I was already teleporting away. I cannot begin to tell you how difficult that was for me to do. But, I stuck to my guns. For nearly eight years, I didn’t see Rose. For the most part, work kept me busy and her out of my thoughts. I thought about her every week around the time I would normally visit her. Rose, however, decided that it was time for things to change.

I was on a rather routine pick-up, nothing exciting or even interesting about it. I can’t even remember which specific soul I was picking up at the time. Regardless, I had just reaped the soul when a teenaged girl appeared in front of me, panting from her exaltations getting to this spot. It was like she ran there on purpose. She skidded to a stop as soon as she saw me. And see she did. I stopped as well, and the two of us just stood there, looking at each other.

“I knew it,” she said, chewing her gum at the same time. “I knew that you weren’t just a hallucination! I knew you were real!”

“Rose?” I said, looking down at her. She had changed. A lot. She was taller, and thinner. Still child-like, but yet, almost womanish in some respects. She had become a teenager. I had seen my fair share of them over the centuries, but it was unusual for me to witness one alive. And here she was, talking to me. It could be no one else.

“Yes,” she said. “YES! I was right all along!”

“How did you find me?” I asked.

“I’ve got an emergency scanner,” she said, pantomiming using radio dials. “Normally, it only gets police bands, but I’ve rigged it so it gets the signals from the local hospital. I’ve been chasing after ambulances for months now. Mostly, no one was dead at the scene, or if they were, they were long dead by the time I got there, so I missed you. But this time, I didn’t!”

“But, when you were a child…” I said, unsure how to continue.

“Yeah, I thought you were a figment of my imagination,” she said. “I was told by shrink after shrink that you were just a way for me to get over the loss of my father. But, somewhere, I knew that it wasn’t true. I started to believe them after a while, but still, part of me always resisted. Then, a few weeks ago, I found this.”

She held up a crumpled piece of paper that looked very worn. On it was a crudely drawn picture of me, complete with scythe and skull face, and a little girl with a yellow dress. It was signed Rose.

“I even had it dated, see?” she flipped it over, and there was a date. I remembered that date. Her mother had taken her to the zoo, and I had shown up for my weekly visit. I walked with her and her mother, looking at the animals. It was a mostly quiet trip, but I did something for her during that trip. I plucked a flower from a very high plant with my scythe, and handed it to her. It took the last of the energy I had at the time, and I vanished after giving it to her, but she seemed to like it.

Rose smiled upon seeing me look at the picture. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the flower. It was dried and pressed, but I recognized it as the same flower I picked that day.

“I knew once I saw this that you were real,” she said, tears starting to fall down her cheek. “I knew. So, I went about finding you. And I did it!”

“Rose,” I said, feeling something I had never felt before. No one went looking for me, at least not unless they wanted me to take them away. Rose actually sought me out just because she wanted to see her friend again.

“Rose,” I said again, this time with more force. I was starting to be pulled away. “I can’t stay, Rose. See, it takes a lot of energy for me to stay somewhere where there are no newly dead, and even more energy when I have a soul to deliver.”

“Don’t worry about that,” she said. “You go. We’ll see each other again. I just got a job volunteering at the local old folks home.”

I had to laugh as I teleported away to deliver the soul. Rose was a smart one, she was. As it turns out it didn’t take long for me to see her again. I went to a nursing home only two weeks later to reap a soul there, one Mr. Jacobs. When I got there, Rose was in the room.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Jacobs,” she said just as I teleported in. “My good friend here will take care of you.”

At first, I thought she was just talking, but then I saw a bluish glow in the chest of the recently deceased Mr. Jacobs. I looked from the body to her and back again.

“What’s that?” she said, leaning in close. “Oh, yeah, I can see him just fine. He’s been a friend of mine since my daddy died. He’s going to reap you now, and then take you to your afterlife. Do you trust me? Then you should trust me now, I know what I’m talking about.”

She seemed to be listening again, and I was shocked to realize she was speaking to a dead man. To his soul. This was unprecedented. Even I couldn’t speak directly to someone’s soul like that. But, there she was, doing it, and the soul was still attached to the body to boot. Finally, she nodded and then turned to me.

“Okay, he’s ready now,” she said, and then turned away. I paused, just looking at her, and then I swiped my scythe through Mr. Jacobs chest and pulled out the blue orb that was his soul. She turned back around.

“Good bye, Mr. Jacobs,” she said as a tear streamed down her cheek. “I’m going to miss you.”

I put Mr. Jacobs’ soul into my cloak. She looked up at me and smiled.

“So, what do you think of working here?” I asked.

“Oh, I love it,” she said right away. “I just love helping people. I was thinking that maybe I would be a nurse after graduation, but one of the nurses here, Jayne, says I should become a doctor instead.”

“I think that’s a brilliant idea,” I said.

She looked up at me, a look of confusion on her face. “You really mean that?” she said. “I mean, if I become a doctor, I’d be actively trying to prevent you from getting people.”

“You would be saving lives,” I said. “I’m not the force that kills people, remember? I just reap the souls when their time comes. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this job, it’s that when your time comes, there isn’t anything that can prevent that. If helping people is what you really want to do, then being a doctor is a great way to go.”

“Wow,” she said. “I really thought you would be upset over that. I mean, I would love to be a doctor. And Jayne, she says that she can even help me get a scholarship. A full scholarship, so my mom wouldn’t have to pay for anything. All I’d need to do is work here, and pledge to put in some time here as a full doctor when I graduate.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said. “I’m happy for you, Rose. Truly happy. You should do this. Hey, listen…”

“You gotta go, I know,” she said. “I was expecting as much. I have a feeling you’ll be back. Mrs. Rossetti down the hall hasn’t been looking too good lately.”

Over the course of the next few years, I saw Rose at the nursing home five times, and another four outside as she continued to chase down ambulances. She told me about her life, including boyfriends, and I listened and offered advice when it was asked for. I have to say that I always felt a slight tinge of jealousy at the boyfriends, but none of them lasted. She told me one time that I was her best friend, and I liked hearing that.

The last time I saw Rose during this period of her life, she was about to graduate from High School.

“Congratulations,” I told her.

“Thanks,” she said, but I noticed that she looked sad about the news.

“Hey, what’s the problem?” I asked.

“When I graduate, I’ll be going off to medical school,” she replied. I was confused. This was what she wanted, why was she so sad? I asked her as much.

“Because,” she said, “when I go, I won’t be able to see you again. I’ll be too busy with classes to work here anymore, and I won’t be able to chase ambulances. We’ll be completely cut off!”

“Oh,” I said, sitting down next to her. “Well, it’s not like people don’t die at College.”

That didn’t seem to really cheer her up any.

“Listen,” I said. “It won’t be the last time we see each other. If all it means is that we won’t see each other until you start your residency at an actually hospital, no big deal. I’m eternal, I’ll be around.”

This seemed to cheer her up some, and she tried to hug me, but passed right through me. It was the first time she had ever tried to hug me, and I found my self feeling like a part of my insides were missing when it didn’t happen.

“Oh,” she said. “I guess that makes sense. Oh, my Grim Reaper, I’m going to miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too,” I said. “At least, until we meet again.”

We parted ways that night, going on our separate ways. During those first three years she was at school, I didn’t see her, but I kept wishing that I could. I wanted to visit her, but I just couldn’t. The power drain to visit her when there wasn’t a dead person was getting to be too much. The best I could do was a few seconds, and then she was either asleep or busy studying and never noticed me. Then, everything changed.

I was reaping a soul one night, when I saw that the man had the television when he had died. He was a bit of a glutton, and died sitting on his couch watching the tube, choking on a piece of popcorn. What was on the TV, though, was a movie called Meet Joe Black. In it, the character of Death (Brad Pitt, I was honored) took the body of a recently deceased man in order to become human for a short period of time. I wondered if this were possible.

I practiced. At first, it was failure after failure, but soon I had the hang of it, and could even extend the time I possessed a body to a few hours. It didn’t even seem to interfere with my regular duties. And possessing a body prevented me from being pulled away by those duties while I was in it. This was going to be my way to be with Rose. But, I needed a very specific body. Someone that went to her school, or at least worked nearby. Someone that died in a manor that didn’t damage the body. I could posses it, but I couldn’t fix the damages. Finally, I found my body.

A young man, a fellow student, though in business and not medicine, so the two had never met. He died of a brain hemorrhage. His body was perfectly healthy, except for his brain, but since I would possess his body, that wouldn’t matter. I took the body and sought out Rose. It turned out to be no where near as difficult as I thought, and I found her at a bar just across the street from the campus. When she saw me, in my new body, she paused, blinked her eyes, and then started at me. I knew then that she knew. I nodded to her. She excused herself from her friends and came up to see me.

“Death?” she asked in a hushed whisper, and I nodded.

“I’ve learned how to posses a body,” I said to her. “I wanted to see you again, so I did this.”

“Wow,” she said. “And it’s a nice looking one too, I approve.”

She excused herself from the evenings drinking with her friends, who all gave her exaggerated winks and cat calls. I found myself blushing, as did Rose. We left and wandered the campus. I told her I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to keep the body, but that I would stay by her side for as long as I was able. Then, she hugged me, and I felt it. She smiled up at me, and kissed me.

“Wow,” I said when she was done. “That was amazing. No wonder you humans are doing it all the time.”

She smiled and nodded. I looked in her eyes, and it felt like my heart was swelling up. I was filled with love, for the first time in my life.

“Rose,” I said, brushing hair out of her face. “I think I’m in love with you.”

She smiled at the words and took my hand. She lead me back around to her dorms, and there we made love. I was an amazing experience. And one that I will never surely forget.

“Death,” she said after we were done. “I love you too.”

And with that, I had to go. My few hours in this body were up. When I returned to normal, I was walking on cloud 9. Rose loved me. Me. Death. No one loved Death. Well, no one sane, at any rate. But, Rose? She loved me. We didn’t see each other for another year, during which time she finished her schooling and went onto her residency, which she took in the ER. I got to see her quite a bit during that time. I seemed unable to possess another body, so we were limited to my duties permitting us to see each other, but we talked a lot as normal, and she did her trick of calming down the recently departed by talking to their souls.

After she became a full-fledged doctor, she stayed in the ER, becoming one of the best in her field. She saved a lot of people’s lives. One night, sever years after my body possession; she was working late in the office, filling out paper work. I was there, this time reaping several souls from a car accident that resulted in the deaths of four people. I wandered around looking for her, and found her pretty quickly. She smiled as soon as she saw me, but I noticed that she wasn’t alone. A young girl, probably in her early teens, was there with her. She seemed bored, sitting in a chair opposite Rose. At first, I thought nothing of it, and waved to Rose, ready to move on. That was when the girl screamed.

“Martha?” Rose asked. “What’s wrong?”

“That!” Martha said, practically screetching. “It’s a walking skeleton. It’s not possible.”

Both Rose and I realized at that moment that she could see me. I stopped and came forward. Rose looked up and down the hall. She waved off someone that was coming down the hallway.

“It’s okay, Jose,” she said. “Martha’s had just fallen asleep and had a nightmare. She’ll be fine.”

She then closed the door to her room and tried to calm Martha down.

“You can see him?” she asked. Martha nodded too.

“You mean, you can’t?” Martha asked.

“I can, but until now, I’ve been the only one,” Rose said.

“Hello Martha,” I said.

“You mean… he’s,” Martha started, staring at Rose. I noticed then that the two of them looked amazingly alike. “He’s Death? The Death, that you used to tell me about when I was a kid?”

“Yes honey,” Rose said. “This is him. Death, This is Martha, my daughter.”

“Wow,” I said. “I don’t remember you ever telling me that you had a daughter.”

“I never did,” she said, looking slightly embarrassed.

“You never told him?” Martha said. “I used to think you were insane, Mom, but now I find out that it’s true, and you never told him?”

“Told me what?” I asked, confused.

“Death,” Rose said. “Martha is your daughter.”

I did a double take. “What?” I asked. “How is that even possible?”

“Remember when you possessed a body?” Rose said.

“Oh,” I said, suddenly realizing what was going on. Martha really was my daughter. The daughter of Death.

“I’m sorry I never told you,” Rose said. I looked at her and just shook my head.

“Rose,” I said. “I love you. I understand why you did it. And Martha, I’m sorry. This must be a hard life for you.”

“Yeah, you’re telling me,” she said. “I can tell when someone’s going to die, you know. Imagine how weird that is for a kid who’s mom works in the ER.”

“I can’t,” I said truthfully.

It was then that I felt myself being pulled away. I told them both that I had to go, but that I would be back. I spent the next ten years visiting. I found that I could visit Martha specifically with the expenditure of very little energy. I watched my daughter grow to adult hood and go off to college. She decided to become a coroner. It was easier for her to deal with people that were all ready dead. I understood completely.

One day, when I came to visit, I saw that Martha was in tears.

“Martha, honey,” I said. “what is it?”

“It’s mom,” she said. “She’s going to die soon. I can feel it.”

I looked down at the floor. “I know.”

Rose walked into the room at that point.

“It’s true, then?” she asked. “I’m going to die? I don’t even get a choice in the matter?”

“A choice?” I said. I knew what her death was going to be like, and I was excited for it, but my duties prevented me from saying anything. “What kind of choice would you like?”

“Death,” she said. “I have never loved a mortal man. My whole life, I have been in love with you. I even conceived a daughter with you. If I die, you will take my soul to my afterlife, right?”

I nodded.

“Then I want the choice to not die,” she said simply.

“I’m afraid that’s not a choice you get to make,” I said.

“Oh, you misunderstand,” she said. “I don’t want to live forever, or at least not here on Earth. I want to skip the dying part and instead leave this world and be with you forever. I choose you instead of dying and going on to an afterlife.”

My heart swelled. It was exactly as I foresaw. Rose was the woman that would chose to stay with Death, as his wife, rather than die herself and move onto her rightful after life. And so, she did. I took her right then, with the permission of Martha. I reached out and touched her. It was the first time I could do so with my own body. She crossed into my realm in an instant, leaving the world behind.

Martha mourned for a few days, publicly telling everyone that her mother died of a stroke, and that the body was cremated. It was all in accordance with Rose’s will, and everyone believed it. Martha went on to live her life, not seeing much of us after that. In the mean time, Rose and I started our lives together. She has been with me ever since, and I wouldn’t want that to change for anything.

I am the personification of Death. And I am in love with the woman that has the most unique death of anyone else in the history of the world.

The End

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