Knock First

They say death is always behind you or around the next corner. It is manifest in the chill down your spine, or that fast blur in the corner of your eye which you just can't focus on. Sometimes when you're in a crowd and hear your name whispered in your ear, and then you look around and no one is there. Well, the cause is standing right next to me.

It's here, but not knocking on my door like most would think. Death is next to me in my kitchen eating a turkey sandwich. It's a dream! I'm crazy or in lala land, right? Wrong! I've pinched myself rather hard several times. The only outcome has been a swollen pink arm to go along with the goose bumps that were already there. Now, he (yes it is a he) is starting on his second half of the sandwich. This is all too unreal to be a delusion. I never thought my love of deli meats could become my downfall.

Today should be a normal autumn day the leaves on the trees are still clinging to them and changing color. I guess this all started with me, I was grasping my stomach to ease its painful protests of hunger as I opened the refrigerator. The smell of something similar to the musty sweat socks found only in the guys' dorms welcomed my nose with the creak of the door. It was stale and dead in there, like one of those thousand-year-old Egyptian tombs opened by explorers in mummy movies. But it held the ancient treasures that would make up my sandwich: It only consisted of stale bread (that was a mystery in itself why I found it in the ancient tomb that is my Father's fridge,) soggy lettuce wilted like brown dead grass on our lawn, mayonnaise (its name only known by the faded label,) and a surprisingly red tomato that shone as a gem in a pile of dull rocks. None of that matters; it was the turkey all along that contained the danger. The smoked honey turkey was the only deli meat that hadn't become black or one of my dad's experiments of making a fuzzy companion. How can a grown man be so lonely? Anyway, to my grumbling stomach the pristine vision of poultry seemed to shine though my salivating eyes.

I thought it was the initial touch of the cold steel which caused a frozen shiver to crawl up my spine. "Someone must've walked on my grave," I breathed out, the knife cut hard into the bread denting the wooden cutting board. My shoulders suddenly bent over with a shudder as a stronger chill caused the hairs all across my body to rise as my senses were on the alert. I felt my heart trying to jump out of my mouth, falling back to the pit of my stomach with every pump. I had just heard the back door click shut. No one was supposed to be home! I was alone this weekend, and I could've sworn that something ran past the corner of my eye.

My fingers clenched the knife so hard, my fingers turned bone white. "You really should lock that back door. Just anyone could walk right in, you know." A low voice said.

Turning quickly on the balls of my feet, I let my eyes take in the form that had intruded into my house. One must really wonder what kind of person would randomly walk into some one else's house. Not many would expect to see Death, a pile of old rotting bones cloaked in flowing black robes dark as the holes in his eyes. While a silver, sharp scythe gleamed as it rested in one boney hand, the other free one was ready to grab your very soul. To be standing in your kitchen.

People really have to learn to see with an open mind without any previous preconceptions or stereotypes curving their expectations or perceptions, especially me. There he was, with dark brown hair in a simple bowl cut, his limbs looking lanky from a growth spurt, sheltered in casual black. My heart stopped mid-beat out of relief from its fearful rhythm. He looked just like a normal twelve-year-old boy. At first I thought he may be one of my brother Jeff's numerous nameless friends.

"Do you know how much you scared me? jeeze!" My relief was expressed in tamer language due to his apparent youth.

"I meant no harm," the kid replied, a stoic look on his face. "The door was unlocked," he added flatly.

"You have a point there. I'm sorry, you look familiar. Are you Jeff's friend? If you're here for him, I'm sorry he's with our Mom for the week." He shook his head silently, letting his hair cover his eyes, and continued to be quiet.

"Are you the next door neighbor's kid, Chris? I thought they moved away a few months ago." The same motion as before. This time, he tapped his foot on the checkered tile floor as if waiting for something.

"I'm not Chris, I'm not here for Jeff," He said bluntly. The words cut into me as if he had stolen the forgotten knife in my hand and stabbed me. "I'm here for you." His thin, pale hand pointed from under long black sleeves across the kitchen towards the sandwich.

"You're here for a sandwich? This isn't a deli." My voice was shaky from disbelief.

"I'm also here for your best interest," the boy said, taking a few steps closer to me, the sandwich, or both. I'm not sure.

"What would that be, Mr.?" I realized I still didn't know who this kid was. That made him still a stranger in my kitchen, no matter how young he was. "Wait, what is your name?"

"I never told it. But I will, after the sandwich." He held up the same pale hand to do something like a boy scout's oath sign. Well, death is always upfront. We're either alive or dead.

"How about I give you half upright, you tell me your name, and then you get the rest." My curious nature won out over the forgotten hunger of my stomach. This stranger was much more interesting than a sandwich any day and there was always takeout. He nodded, walked up to the counter, and grabbed the bigger half of the sandwich. It was amazing how he could stuff the whole slice in his mouth, chew once, and then swallow the whole thing in one gulp.

"Your part of the deal is fulfilled. I suppose it's my turn. We have met numerous times before, but it is unlikely you would remember. You were far too young last time I saw you to understand," he said, wiping crumbs that had gathered around his mouth onto his black sleeves, and continued before I could say a word. "The chill up your spine, I am the whisperer that can't be seen. I hold the scythe, which can cut your fragile life in two. Your future, love, dreams, life, and soul are mine to take." He was ruthless when he said it. His lifeless black eyes seemed to light on fire. The harsh look on his face made my hair stand higher on end, and another chill raked up my spine like frostbitten nails tearing through my skin. Someone must not only be walking on my grave but dancing over it. Somewhere, people were spinning, twirling, and probably cackling over the spot where one day I'd be put to rest.

"What? What are you talking about? Is this a game? Stop playing! Tell me who you really are! Tell the truth or I'm going to call the police." He was starting to unnerve me. Death! The kid had basically claimed he was the Grim Reaper. He didn't look like he could fit into those dark robes, let alone be strong enough to even carry a scythe.

"I can prove it," he said flatly. Slowly, "Death" walked towards me. The air seemed to ripple around and distort his gangly twelve-year-old body. The chill made me hug my arms close. I shivered and my teeth chattered, trying to expel the freezing prickling sensation from my body. Colder then ice, he placed those thin hands on my right forearm. The skin on his hands was so tight that one could see the small bones and cartilage that made up his hand. I had the weirdest desire to peel the skin away like I would a banana.

I hid a gasp as those thin hands became sharp as any blade and started to go through my sweater then the very skin and muscle that made my arm. In self defense, I took the knife, and without thinking drove it into his shoulder. I didn't hear its impact as it hit the floor. All my attention was on his hands as they drove into me. They almost seemed to be magnetically pulling something from my body. I would have screamed or fainted if I had breath or the ability to move. I was paralyzed as those thin hands appeared on my sweater, holding a pale silver thread that went back into my arm.

"Don't try to move. If that pretty strand of silver breaks, it will only hurt you." The light from the thread lit his eyes and brought life to them, similar to the brightly colored lights on a dark Christmas Tree. "That, my dear, is what you may call your thread in the grand tapestry of life, or maybe even a part of your soul, all of who you are. Your past, memories, personality, deeds, and your future lie in this thin line. As I said, your past, future, and very soul is mine to take."

If I could've moved, I would've died right there. As long as he held that silver line, I couldn't move. My very mind was in a place where I almost saw my body and "Death" holding the thread like on a TV screen, not out of my frozen terrified eyes. The harder he grasped the thread, the further I felt from my body- it was like I was numb, almost sleeping, and with every second I was slipping deeper.

Suddenly, I was back. Death's hands were now crossed upon his chest, the thread gone. I quickly took in several deep breaths and allowed my eyes to close to try and collect myself. When my arms caressed the place where the boy's hands had been moments ago, it was the same as this morning when I took my shower. Exactly the same, excluding the fresh goose bumps.

"Luckily for you, today is not the time for me to cut your thread."

"How do you know I believe you?" I said slowly, backing away from him. "That could've been a dream. Or maybe I'm crazy."

"Deep down you believe. Besides, you stabbed me with that butter knife." Death pointed to his shoulder, which was still in perfect condition. His shirt didn't even show signs of tearing. "You know as well as I do that you didn't miss." He was right; I remember hitting him squarely in the shoulder. "Besides, I just exposed your thread. If you thought it to be an illusion, the phone would be in your hands and I would be hearing sirens in the distance." His understanding was exact and made me wonder if he'd done this before.

"Ok, maybe I do believe. What are you here for?" I whispered. "Please, don't say you're hungry and just dropped by for a snack. If you were you could've cut all the theatrics and melodrama." I looked to the half of my sandwich that still lay alone on the counter.

"I am here for the sandwich, but I don't hunger. It's just a convenient way to dispose of it." He shrugged.

"You came all the way here to dispose of a sandwich." I stayed away from the phrase "dying of hunger," considering present company. "When I'm here hungry?"

"The turkey in this sandwich, if consumed by a mortal, would poison and ultimately kill," Death said, moving closer to the sandwich. "I am here to preserve your life."

"I probably shouldn't ask this, but why?" I was breathless once again, anticipating the answer.

"People die when it is their time, and that changes based on the choices you and others make. It's all causality. Like ripples in a lake, the position and image change based on where the disturbance in the water starts. Things shifted and this is not your day. Souls are mine to take when it is their time. When it is not, they are mine to save." He grabbed the rest of the sandwich. "Next time, stick to take out."

"Why did you bother telling me all this?"

Death turned and smiled at me, showing shining bleached teeth with a little slices of turkey in between a few. "When I come back the next time, you'll remember, Mary."