*Nainika's Note* HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! WHOOOOO :) My first story of 2021, and here's to many, many more!!! Enjoy :D
Many say that when you die, you will meet a robed skeleton holding a scythe. Some say you go to Heaven or Hell. Some say that you are reincarnated. Some say you turn into a ghost, while some say you sleep for eternity.
But the truth is, Death is just a figure. A soul. A mystery. I appear to people in their final moments, looking like whatever they believe Death looks like. To those who don’t believe in me, I’m invisible. Just a force leading them to my domain.
The Underworld for the Greeks.
Hell for the Christians.
Nirvana for the Buddhists.
Valhalla for the Celtics.
Reincarnation for the Hindu‘s.
Gender fluid to the different people who see me. I’m not a he or a she. I’m not a they either. I just Am.
It’s really all a matter of perspective. Ever since humanity was a weak fledgling of civilization, their brains sought complex ways to deal with death. To believe what happens to them after they die.
To tell you the truth, it gets pretty boring sometimes. To constantly lead souls to their next destination. But that’s in the job description. My eternal contract. I help people leave their old lives behind.
You wouldn’t believe how many people hate dying. They want to go back to their lives. Most of those people are the ones that I take early. The ones who die while drunk driving or in accidents. And the ones who die from something they can’t control, like a tumor or cancer. In recent centuries, those have become my most received souls.
Don‘t believe me? Still? You humans live in a world filled with the most amazing, dangerous, and imaginative inventions, yet a tale like mine you don’t want to believe?
Fine, I guess I’ll tell you a story. A story about the boy who helped me remember the importance of my job. A story about a boy who made Death realize what he did was worth something.
October 21, 2012
I materialized into a hospital. A pretty normal occurrence for me. Most of the time I come to hospitals to take the elderly or the ones in accidents. But what I paused at was the sign above the ward.
Breckenridge Children’s Hospital
That was unusual. I hadn’t visited a children’s hospital in decades.
When I appear wherever a dying soul needs me, a gold fiber shows up, leading me to my next victim. Ok, maybe victim is too harsh a word, but my next soul to reap. I call the fiber Truth, as nothing can stop or deter it from its destination. This time, Truth led me to the elevator and hovered above the 3rd-floor button. There was a woman in the elevator already, and she shivered as I walked in next to her. Mortals who don’t require Death don’t see me, but rather feel a cold wind or a creeping feeling instead. They don’t know how close Death was to them.
The elevator dinged open and Truth pointed me down the hallway. I gathered my black robes around me and swept after Truth.
Wails greeted me. Not the dying kind, but the newborn kind. I paused in front of the window on my right. The nursery. Now I can’t claim to feel anything, being Death and all that, but of all the souls I claim, newborns who haven’t gotten to experience life are the worst to take.
Never forget. I am not human. I do not feel. I cannot be swayed. The Greek legend of Sisyphus cheating my form as Thanatos was a lie. A story told to children. I took Sisyphus the first time I came around. He did not try and cheat me. As if you humans could possess the brainpower to have some ingenuity. If anything has stayed the same in the 140,000 years mankind has been on this planet, it’s that humans are predictable. But I can still imagine the souls I take living fuller and better lives.
I can see my reflection in the glass. A robed figure with a scythe strapped to my back. The standard form of Death to those who don’t believe in one specific religion. Truth nudges me, impatient as always, reminding me of my duties. Death is swift. Merciless. I move on.
Walking away from the nursery and the baby ward, I find myself in the long-term ward for children. Truth leads me to a door. While the other doors in the ward are decorated with pictures and streamers and all sorts of parental or guardian attempts of cheering their child up, this one is bare. Nothing to show the character of the child within. I wave my hand and the door opens soundlessly. I walk into the room, my gaze immediately going to the occupant of the bed.
His eyes are closed, but being Death and being able to know everything about the souls I reap, I know they are hazel colored eyes, flecks of green scattered within the hazel. His light brown hair is combed away from his face, sticking out every which way on the pillow. Faint freckles dot his light caramel-colored skin, and he’s breathing evenly. At odds with the multiple tubes sticking out of his skinny arms.
Nathanial Jay Hunter. 11 years old. Brain tumor patient.
I didn’t make a sound, but Nathanial’s eyes fluttered open and he looks straight at me, lurking at the foot of his bed. Don’t look at me like that, old habits die hard.
“Are you here for me?” He asked. I started. Usually, humans can’t see me until they actually die, but he must be close enough that he can see me. And also, most people don’t want to see me, believing that if they hold on long enough, I will leave. They forget that Death is eternally patient.
“Yes,” I said simply. I don’t mince words. Nor do I do what you humans excel at, saying one thing and meaning another. He nodded and leaned back into his pillow.
“May I ask you a question?” He asked suddenly, eyes boring into mine. I sighed, thinking he’d ask to prolong his life or come back when he’s 80. Most people do. But instead, he looked at me with an eye far more mature than most kids his age possessed. Let alone most adults.
“When I die, will the pain go away?” I studied him, not quite sure how to respond.
“I can’t tell you for certain, but those whose souls I reap who have died as you soon will, do say that the pain vanishes.” His eyes flickered in relief and he sighed.
“Thank you.” I didn’t know what to say to that. Who thanks Death? “Do you ever get lonely?” He asked. I blinked. Do I ever get…lonely? I thought about it. In my 150,000 years of being Death, I guessed I was lonely. Human lives are over so fast. There’s really nothing or nobody that can keep me company in my realms.
“I do,” I conceded softly, and Nathanial studied me.
“Well, what do you do, other than guide souls to the afterlife?” I pondered his question.
“I help them find their way. I help them let go of their pasts. Not every human wants to die. Restless souls make for a restless realm, then everybody wants to go back to their former lives. I essentially prevent chaos.” I said. I felt free speaking about the importance of my work to somebody. Like a weight had been lifted. Humans are so selfish. They only want to talk about themselves when they died. Not about me, let alone to me.
“So, if you help them let go of their pasts, or their old lives, are you going to do the same for me?” He asked. I looked at him.
“Do you want to hold on to your past?” He sighed and shook his head.
“Nothing in my past is worth remembering, or holding onto.” I didn’t say anything, and after a few minutes, he spoke again. I’m great at loosening people’s tongues. They spill everything to me. It’s a little funny. But I’m really not in charge of their fates. That’s up to their gods. Or their faiths. I just lead them to their…next part. “My parents didn’t want me. As soon as we found out about the brain tumor, they dropped me off here and never looked back. I was a burden to them, and I don’t want to even think about them anymore.” I shifted, silently allowing him to continue.
“You don’t know how sad that made me feel,” Nathanial continued, his voice breaking. His eyes were growing bright, welling with unshed tears. “My own parents, leaving their only child behind like he’s trash. It hurt me more than the tumor did. And that’s when I think I gave up on life. When the nurses had to tell me that my parents didn’t want me.” Nathanial sniffled, wiping away the few tears that had escaped. I could see a golden light around his body, a sign of his soul beginning to break away from his weakening body. He was close. Close to Death.
“And are you still mad at them?” I asked him softly. He sniffled again, then wiped at his runny nose, looking up at me. He took a deep breath.
“No. Not anymore. I forgave them when I knew I was going to die soon.” I smiled.
“Well then, I think you’ve successfully left your past behind. Come, child. Let’s move on. It’s time to finally rest.” I opened my arms. Nathanial’s body began to seize. He clutched the rail of his hospital bed as his body tried to fight the tumor in his brain. His eyes clenched shut as his body gave a fight rivaling most. It was a remarkable event. Not in a macabre way, its just over the millennium I’ve watched humans die in front of me, I hadn’t seen such a strong will to live such as his.
Nathanial’s body gave one last great heave before finally falling still. The monitors beside his bed flatlined. He was dead. Like a shedding of skin, Nathanial’s soul arose from his body, a golden figure of himself. He looked down at himself, then sadly at his body. Nurses rushed in, but we were oblivious to them, and them to us.
I held out my hand, and Nathanial slipped his into mine, looking up at me with the child-like innocence he was robbed of at an early age. I opened a portal to his afterlife with a simple thought and turning led him into his new beginning.
So you see, human. Death is not all doom and gloom. I do have, well a life. As much of an oxymoron as that seems. For years I had struggled to reclaim my purpose in my endless contract of bringing souls to their next part, or not at all, and I finally found it again in the words of a young boy who was all alone in the world.
When I come for you, maybe we’ll have a conversation. Maybe you’ll brag to all the souls in the afterlife you’re headed for that you, a lowly human, helped Death reclaim its purpose in its wanderings. But no matter what god or gods, afterlife or no afterlife, that you believe in, believe in this. Death is watching. And Death will come.