Author: the ticking clock PM
Death has someone he needs to visit. Oneshot. Winner of an Honorable Mention in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Please review!Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Tragedy/Angst - Words: 1,255 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 3 - Published: 01-10-13 - id: 3090913
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Honorable Mention winner in the fantasy category for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
Please, please, let me know what you think?
It is raining the night Maureen Johnson dies.
He feels her death even before her heart stops beating. It is like a winter chill, and seeps through his bones, sends an icy shiver that runs down the length of his spine, tingles through his fingers, hisses in his ears with the sweet sound of a shallow, aching breath.
He knows her name before he steps a foot inside her hospital room.
It has an eery quality to it as it rings throughout his mind, a haunting sad melody. She has led a hard life, this human. Perhaps she will welcome him. Sometimes the young, brave ones do.
The horse that brought him to this girl, who brought him to all of the the souls he had carried home over the millennia, breathes out sharply through his nostrils, impatient to be going.
Silently, he lays a hand on the stallions neck, steadying him. "Soon," he promises.
Helhest stamps a hoof and shakes his head.
Maureen's soul is whispering to him, weeping and singing and shrieking, unsure where to go and who to follow. Compelled by her voice, and trusting the age-old instincts that directed him where to go, he steps through the hospital doors and up the stairs.
The human do not notice him; they never do. He is a shadow that makes them shiver, a distant being that appears in ghost stories and fairy tales. They cannot meet Death until they have died.
Helhest trots after him, his ghost, the thing that makes humans look over their shoulders late at night; he is supersition and unease.
Maureen's spirit calls him to her room, and he steps through the door.
Her body is still and pale, not broken or bleeding like many of the other bodies he has had to view over the years. Death steps over and runs a hand across her ashen cheek, whispering words in a language that one of his first souls had used, a language long-forgetten by humans that he has no name for. It seems to soothe Maureen's wild spirit, and she ceases her wild shrieks.
Closing his eyes, he allows her death to wash over him, her life to course through him in a sudden splash of heat. He is with her as she opens her eyes for the first time, her first steps, her first friend, her first day of school, her first bad grade, her first detention, her first kiss, the last time she saw her family...her experiences soothe him and hum throughout his consciousness, bright and vibrate and so beautiful-
And then as quickly as they had come, the memories vanish, seeping back into a small corner of himself that is still empty, receding deep into his consciousness with the other countless million lives that define him.
Humans are defined by their experiences, and their deaths. He is defined by the dead. Their lives are his. Their hopes are his. Their journeys and triumphs and grief are his own. Death is made up of the people he takes, small pieces of every kind of humanity, and Maureen's life burns and flares near his heart, where the good souls and the best of the human race fade away.
As the last gentle throb of her life slips deeper into him, her spirit stirs, a soft questioning touch in the back of his thoughts. He nods, and calls Helhest forward.
The horse arches his neck and high-steps over to him, the sharp clatter of his hooves only heard by Death, the soft huff of his heavy snort only felt by the arctic wind that slipped in through the cracks of Maureen's door.
"Take her home," Death says, as he has said countless times, and presses the horses reins into the young spirits hands. Her souls whispers a mournful song to him. "No more tears," he tells her, and gives Helhest a gentle slap.
The stallion paws the ground and gallops away, head held high, hooves thundering against the pavement in time with the beat of a human heart as he races to deliver Maureen's soul to Charon's ferry.
Death watches them go for several more moments, savoring the stillness of the world. Helhest will return once Maureen's soul is safely on her way to the Underworld, and for the moment, he can rest.
He leaves the hospital and fades back into the shadows of a nearby forest, cloaks himself in a layer of darkness and listens to humanity, the gentle song that streams in a continuous flow, only interrupted by a death, and he feels no more deaths tonight.
The rain cools and pounds against the earth in a steady, sharp rythm, and he welcomes it. He likes it when it rains during a death. Perhaps it is because of the million souls that make up his thoughts, but he thinks that the water falling from the sky is appropriate for death. It seems almost like tears, as if the soul is being remembered as if passes into his care.
It calms him, and softens his feral nature. Some nights he is angry and vengeful and wild, striking and snatching souls the instant their last breath passes their lips, but tonight with the soothing rain and the vibrant song of Maureen's soul still echoing in his mind, he feels calm.
Death loves nights like this, when he is able to experience the best of humanity. It is what makes him continue his work, makes him want souls to be saved, knowing that there is still good out in this broken, odd world.
Helhest returns in a rush of shadow and the sharp snap of hooves striking stone, and halts beside him.
"Is she safe?" Death asks his horse softly, and the stallion tosses his head and rolls an eye back, letting his oldest friend know that Maureen's souls had passed onto Charon's boat.
He pats the horse's shoulder and swings onto his back. Helhest stiffens underneath him, raising his head high blowing out a quick breath from his flared nostrils.
Death knew what had startled the horse. He could already feel the bitterness in the wind, the silent chill, the stutter in the song of the world that marked another death.
Sighing, he glances back one more time at the hospital, the swaying shadows of the forest, and the place where Maureen's body still lay in her bed. Her soul is far away now, but the soft burn of her memories still hums within his flesh, and he draws on her favorite-the smell of baking cookies and freshly fallen snow-to calm himself as a new spirit starts wailing for him.
Helhest rears up, shrieking a high call in response, and Death nods, steadying his horse with a soft twitch of the reins. "Onwards," he whispers, "I trust you know the way."
The stallion hesitates for a fraction of a second, before he surges forward, blending in with shadows and fears, nightmares and darkness, becoming one with the turn of the world, traveling the secret and forgotten ways that only they knew, in the direction of their next lonely soul.
And Death leans low over his horse's neck, holding Maureen's memories in his mind, and welcoming the sting of the rain on his cheeks.