Angel's Burden

When I became the Grim Reaper, the Lord told me that there would be some times when the absolute horror of taking the life assigned would be so crushing that I would feel my wings grow feebler. Which was all right with me because I didn't believe Him at all.

When I go down from Heaven to take my assigned soul, I'm all business. Black robes; cold, cold scythe; leathery, clawed wings; hourglass with the sand running out. Reaper to the emotionless grin. Scythe goes in, scythe comes out, soul tumbles into the hourglass to be taken to Heaven. Up I go and the job is done. It's true; sometimes it's hard. There are times when I have to take someone up that means something to another dark angel, and the pain in their eyes is hard to face. But a lot of the time, scythe goes in, scythe comes out…

Not this time. Not this time at all. This was like nothing I'd ever had to do as the Grim Reaper, as the Angel of Death.

He'd been sick for a long time, most of his life, really. All he'd ever known was suffering. He had no sunlight, no flowers, not even fresh air. All he had was fluorescence, plastic, and clean, recycled air. I was saving him, really. In Heaven you can get sunlight, flowers, and clean, sweet air until it's coming out of your ears. There was no doubt that if he were to live any longer, he'd cry himself dry in pain and fear. He was suffering so much.

I went down not knowing what to expect, and I watched the scene, for a while. I'm not really supposed to—I'm supposed to get the soul and go. But I watched. I watched his father stroke what wisps of hair he had, I watched his mother cradle him, tears streaming down her face.

The shining blade of my scythe was bigger than his entire body. He was two months old.

The living cannot see me, but I was still intruding. This mother and father were spending the last minutes of this child's life with him, and I shouldn't have been there. I was watching what I had no right to see.

But I have a job to do.

With feet made of stone, I dragged myself over. I held my scythe above his tiny, frail body and nearly collapsed. How…how could I do this? I'd never known anything so beautiful, so fragile, so real as this child. I began crying as the scythe came down; I was trembling so hard that I nearly missed. And he was mine, then; no longer theirs. I was hesitant to put this tiny, delicate soul into the hourglass. It would lost among the sands of time, few as his had been.

The soul was still crying—it was so cold. This was birth all over again, twisted as it is. It had left the warmth of fever and pain for this detached cold, and it sobbed. Not knowing what else to do, I stuck my scythe under my arm and instead of storing the soul in the hourglass—

I cradled it. I unfolded my huge, horrid wings and began my ascent. And those few minutes were the hardest thing I've ever known. I died before I could ever achieve motherhood. And I was Death now, the Grim Reaper. I was as far from motherhood as anything.

But I had one arm underneath this cold, naked spirit, the other stroking its head. I cradled it close, hoping to at least give it some comfort. If there is never anything as abrupt as the departure from the womb, there is never anything as unnecessarily long as the death of a child.

With its head resting against my breast, the poor thing began to quiet. I think it was listening to the beat of my heart, the beat of my wings, and remembering that nameless comfort that is a mother. It grew silent, and the cold was not as sharp.

A tiny, ethereal hand clutched at my robe. I was so taken aback that I hovered there, in the middle of the sky, and stared at the little soul. Though it did not breathe, its chest rose and fell evenly. It was asleep in my arms. My arms. The arms of Death.

My body had never felt so heavy as I winged my way to Heaven. Was this motherhood? I found myself terrified that I would drop the little soul. All I wanted was to keep it warm and safe in my arms. I stood for a very long time at the gates of the Garden, not wanting to go in. To go in would be to lose this beautiful little thing!

His mother's eyes were green, but red from crying.

His father had a growth of beard that was being ignored.

Never was there a gaze so intent as theirs in that final moment as I raised my scythe.

Tears coursed down my face as I entered the Garden. My arms were trembling so much that I thought the spirit would wake as I laid it down with its ancestors.

My wings felt weak as I left the Garden. Had that been motherhood? Had that been the love that time will never break?

I hope the little soul is still warm. I need it to be, to carry on.