A Conversation With Death

Submitted into Contest #149 in response to: Start your story with the flickering of a light.... view prompt

1 comment

American Contemporary

All of the house lights had just flickered again and my heart was racing like a washing machine on the spin cycle. The book I was reading was not particularly scary, but for the past twenty minutes, everything I read was happening outside. First, the wind picked up just as the storm was brewing on the page. Then, a loud banging noise proceeded for exactly fifteen seconds before dulling into the wind. Two cats fighting and screeching made me drop the book, and lastly the lights flickering caused me to stop reading altogether.

           I could feel every hair on my body on end. I clutched the book close to my chest and rose from the couch. I was alone in the farmhouse and every noise was amplified tonight. The 100-year-old floors creaked with every step, the screen door on the porch crashed against the wooden frame because the latch was broken, and tree branches tapped on the glass windows all around the house.

           “This is crazy,” I said aloud to no one, “There is no one here.”

           That’s when lighting lit up the house and the accompanying thunder broke every resolve I had left. I dropped to the floor and covered my ears, and the book fell open on the floor. From the force of the light and shaking of the house, I knew lightning had struck something close. I rose to my feet and proceeded to the kitchen. As I put a glass under the faucet, I saw the apricot tree smoldering. Mesmerized, I put the glass down and walked to the back door.

           Maybe fifty feet from the house stood a medium-sized apricot tree. It was not the tallest tree on the farm by any means and this was the first year it produced fruit. The tree had been completely split down the middle. Both sides of the split still held apricots, leaves, and branches as if the lightning had merely parted the tree like my father used to part his hair. Smoke was rising from the tree and the wet wood in the center of the separated trunk had jagged lines that ran from tip to earth.

           Don’t touch the tree. My mind kept saying over and over again. It just got struck by lightning.

           Before I could argue with my thoughts, a hooded figure began to ascend from the ground in the center of the blasted tree. I started to back up, but I tripped over a branch and fell into a sitting position as the figure stepped forward toward me.

           Time seemed to slow immensely as I tried to imagine which character this figure most reminded me of…a ring wraith… a dementor…Old Scratch…the Ghost of Christmas Future…It didn’t matter in the end. They all embodied death, so I prepared to die in my own backyard. I closed my eyes and waited for a bony hand to reach out and tear my soul from chest.

           “Sorry about the tree,” a gravely voice said rather quietly.

           I blinked my eyes open to see the hooded figure standing a few feet in front of me. The lengths of robe were blowing gently even though there was no more wind. Actually, the entire storm was over and the night sky with a million stars could be seen overhead.

           “I can’t help it,” the scratchy voice offered again, “The only way I can transubstantiate is through a lighting blast like that.”

           “It’s no problem,” I said finally able to form words, “I don’t even like apricots.”

           “Then why do you have an apricot tree?” The figure asked bewildered.

           “It came with the house,” I offered slightly shaking.

           The figure came even closer and raised an arm toward me. I instinctively flinched back awaiting pain, but none came. I opened my eyes and saw a rather young-looking hand reaching from the sleeve of the robe.

           “Let me help you up,” the voice said much less raspy now, “You must have taken quite a fright when the lightning struck so close to your house.”

           I nodded and gingerly accepted the hand. As I was pulled to my feet, I could see actual eyes under the hood. They were strikingly blue.

           “Are you alright,” the figure asked cordially, “Did you hurt yourself falling?”

           I shook my head and tried to figure out how to ask my next question.

           “Are you here to end my life?” As soon as I said it, I regretted my choice of words. However, the being across from me just laughed and lowered her hood. She was chillingly stunning. Her skin seemed to be every shade all at once and her eyes were no longer just blue. They seemed to pulsate different colors constantly. Her hair radiated the same richness of shades. It looked ebony, then turned to garnet, and then changed again to bronze. At first, I could only stare. However, after a few moments the continual kaleidoscopic effect was comforting and not terrifying.

           “I always seem to get that reaction,” she said as her voice now evened out into more of a hum instead of a hoarse whisper.

           “Are you Death?” I asked again more intrigued than afraid. 

           “Technically? Yes.”

           “I thought you were a man,” I said almost instantly.

           “Most do,” she said and nodded slightly, “I am Titania.”

           “Like in Midsummer’s Night Dream?” I asked.

           “Yes. Well done,” Titania replied, “Shakespeare and I were close friends for a while.” Her voice trailed off as she got lost in a memory.

           “That explains a lot as to why his history has so many holes in it,” I said.

           The smile on Titania’s face grew immense.

           “Again, well done.” She looked exceptionally pleased, “Could we take a seat on your porch? I do not have much time and making my way to Earth is rather draining.”

           “Of course,” I said politely, “Can I offer you something to eat or drink?” The question seemed ridiculous, but her response came almost immediately.

           “Do you have Pepsi? Also, I would love a cookie? Sugar is very hard to come by where I reside and do so love a good indulgence.”

           I smiled as I opened the back door to fulfill Death’s request. Any minute, I would wake up and laugh at how vivid this dream was. Until then, I decided to play along. I had just baked a dozen chocolate chip cookies from some frozen dough I had left over from a fundraiser, and I had mini-cans of Pepsi left over from my nephew’s visit last week. As I started back out to the porch, I halted in my tracks as I realized Titania had requested items I normally did not have in the house. My heart started to race slightly, but then I remembered this was all a dream and continued back outside.

           “Excellent,” Titania said and reached for two cookies and popped the tab on her can.

           I sat is the chair opposite Titania, ate a cookie, and opened my own can as she sat rocking on the other foldable, green chair.

           “Humans have made some tremendous advancements, but my favorites still have to be the sweets.”

           I finished my second cookie and tried to think about what other people would talk to Death about, but my mind stayed blank. So, I opted for polite conversation.

           “How long are you on Earth?” I asked politely.

           “I have about an hour left,” Titania said with a sigh.

           “Really? Why not longer?”

           “It’s funny,” she replied, “There are quite a few humans who tell stories that totally understand me and my realm. Take that Johnny Depp movie about pirates.”

           “Pirates of the Caribbean?”

           “Yes, exactly. Anyway, Davy Jones must maintain the balance of souls between this world and the next. That is essentially what I do. If I am away too long, the entire progression of immortality slows and there is a terrible backup of eternity.”

           “I see,” I said despite my confusion. However, I was taught never to argue with a houseguest and since this guest was Death, I felt it was extraordinarily appropriate in this case. “Your entrance reminded me of an Edgar Allan Poe story,” I started to say but was interrupted.

           “Several I should imagine,” Titania said with another brilliant smile, “Posey and I were also quite close for some time.” Her head lowered a little, and I couldn’t be sure, but I thought there was a twinge of some extra red on her cheeks for a moment.

           “I always thought his portrayal of our final argument in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ was quite brilliant while also being a bit overdramatic.”

           “Overdramatic?” I asked.

           “Oh yes. When I told Posey I had to leave, he said it would split him in two and that he would have to die to be released of his anguish and anxiety about our parting. So…”

           I let my head fall into nodding as I realized how autobiographical one of my favorite stories had now become.

           “Did you also befriend Washington Irving?” My interest in gothic literature from childhood was legendary among my family members and appreciated only by my high school writers throughout the academic year. This conversation was opening up the reality behind the imagination of writers whom I found immensely captivating.

           “Why, yes. How did you know?” Titania answered her own question almost immediately, “…the tree. He was certainly fascinated by my entrance too. However, we were acquainted only briefly though.” Titania looked slightly saddened before continuing, “I was a mere comfort after his betrothed died suddenly. Even I could not relieve his sorrow. His anger and loss just ran too deep. He is at peace now,” Titania’s voice trailed off and she began to stand.

           “Are you leaving,” I asked despondently, “I could bake more cookies.”

           “I am afraid I must go,” Titania said and breathed in deeply, “My time is spent, and this friendship may prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.”

           “You and Shakespeare must have been quite close,” I said and smiled. “Could I ask you one more question?”

           “Of course. You have been a most amiable host.”

           “Why did these men write about death as a male?”

           Once again, there was a sly grin from Titania as she spoke, “Did they? Or are you just accustomed to reading it from that perspective? It looks like I may have left you with some homework to do.”

           With that, Titania descended the porch and walked back towards the apricot tree. She turned and lifted her arm to say farewell.

           “And I do hope you will not mind if I flash in again sometime. Thank you for the sweets and conversation.”

           “You’re welcome…um…safe travels,” I stuttered. I was unsure how to best wish Death a pleasant journey.

           Titania smiled one last time, turned, and stepped into the smoldering embers. The tree righted itself and the branches fused back together right before another brilliant flash of lighting forced my hands to cover my eyes. There was one solid clasp of thunder, and all was silent again. I picked up the two empty soda cans and the plate of cookie crumbs and took them inside. After placing them in the sink, I wandered back toward the living room and immediately noticed the book on the floor. This hadn’t been a dream, because there was now writing on the page I left off on:

I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again:

Mine ear is much enamour'd of thy note;

Shakespeare actually borrowed these lines from me too. Thank you again for the visit. Titania

June 10, 2022 16:39

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1 comment

Kayla Keiser
16:25 Jun 14, 2022

Hi Elizabeth, I have visitations with my daughter, Cloie at 2.


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