DEATH'S DEAL

1: deal

I tap my foot impatiently as I wait for my little sister, Kaela, to get her candy from the wrinkly old woman standing in her doorway with a smile, dropping a candy bar in the plastic pumpkin. All of the little children scream in excitement as they run down the old wooden stairs and back to their parents, friends, or older siblings. I can't help but roll my eyes at their overly excited selves, aware that I must look very much like the Grinch. Only I'd be a Grinch who tried to steal Halloween. I have no problem with Christmas. I get presents.

But Halloween…no. Not only are the kids ultra hyper due to how much sugar they've consumed, I hate dressing up in tacky costumes. Kaela's dressed as a witch — how original — while I'm standing here in my black sweater, jeans, sneakers and a pair of black cat ears on my head. My long, wavy brown hair is pulled back into a messy ponytail. Earlier I let my sister, who had whined about me not having a costume, draw whiskers on my pale face with my black liquid eyeliner. She even dotted the tip of my nose a bit before scampering off to get her own costume on. She then got me to draw a pumpkin on her cheek, but I only had the color red to work with so it looks like a very angry pumpkin…so I gave it an angry face. It's fitting for my annoyed mood.

Halloween isn't a great time for me. I'm always stuck taking my little sister out trick or treating and she's always running around. It's extremely hard to keep track of her and not lose her in a crowd of people. Last year I lost her. After looking for thirty minutes I had begun to panic. I ran around all the closest blocks until I finally found her in a group with a bunch of other children. Upset, I had marched right up and grabbed her, took her away from the group and yelled at her until she cried. She then proceeded to give me the silent treatment until I apologized. The apology was followed by me explaining to her in a calmer manner how she can't just run off on her own.

"Faith, I got a lot of candy," Kaela shouts with a big goofy smile as she bounces up to me. I don't know what it is about younger siblings that make them so annoying. If she wasn't my little sister I'd be thinking how adorable she is. She looks cute in her black and purple witch costume, her hair as dark and wavy as mine, but kept down. But she is my sister and I can't help but to be annoyed by her.

She reaches for my hand and tugs on it impatiently, pulling me along the sidewalk. The streets are littered with kids and their parents. I hate being surrounded by so many people like this. I feel like they're all sucking my air, taking it from me and making it harder for me to breathe in my fair share.

We go from house to house, Kaela going up to get her candy while I wait on the sidewalk. I raise an eyebrow when an old lady gives Kaela a bible and sticks some sort of church pamphlet in her pumpkin. Okay, seriously, who does this? Who gives books to children for Halloween?

How stupid. This woman is just asking to get egged.

I watch Kaela stare at the book with a deep frown as she walks back to me, her enthusiasm dissolving with each step. She probably doesn't even recognize the book. She's just seven and we're not really from a religious family. We're more spiritual. When she stops in front of me, she gives me a look of pure disappointment.

"She gave me a book," she says, sticking her lower lip out, pointing out the obvious.

"Yeah, I see that. Just stuff it in your pumpkin and let's go to the next house."

She nods and does as I instruct. She then takes my hand and I lead her across the street, already done with all the houses on this side.

As soon as we're almost halfway across, so fast that I don't even see it coming until it hits us, a truck turns the corner, its tires screeching. I only catch a quick glimpse at it before an aching pain abruptly erupts in my side, spreading throughout my whole body. I hear loud screams and realize that one of them is mine.

My feet are no longer touching the black pavement and I know I'm in the air. More pain shoots up my spine as I land hard on my back in the road. I gasp, feeling as though the air has just been forced out of my lungs, making it impossible to breathe for even a split second. My body and mind go into panic mode. Even when I'm able to inhale air back into my lungs, I still find it hard to breathe somehow. My chest feels tight and heavy, like it's closing in on itself. As I fight for oxygen, inhaling greedy amounts, all I can see is a blurry black sky devoid of stars. My eyes wander to the body next to me, to my left — to my sister. My vision is still foggy and my throbbing head feels as if it's about to explode. I'm not sure if she's conscious or not but my body instinctively rolls over to her, covering her up as if it was raining knifes. My instincts tell me to protect her, even though the danger has already passed.

Taking a second to look at her, I whimper in both internal and external pain. She looks so deathly pale, blood coating her bottom lip and smeared on the whole left side of her face. Her long dark eyelashes flutter as she tries to keep them open.

"F-Faith…"

She's cut off by a coughing fit. Her voice sounds so hoarse and scared. I want to tell her that it'll be okay. That I'm with her and I won't leave her. But all I can do is lie my head on her chest and listen to her heartbeat, comforting myself that she's still here. Her heartbeat is very slow…and it feels like it's getting slower. Is that normal? Or am I just so afraid of losing her that my paranoia is making me hear, or feel, things?

I can faintly hear people talking and whispering. I can't make out what they're saying though. They're all gathering around us like moths to a flame. I lick my lips and taste blood. I can feel the sticky liquid on my face and neck and am sure that it's mixed in with my hair as well. The burning sting in my eyes tells me that I'm probably crying too.

I don't know how long we lay there but soon I hear something, a sound (a very annoying sound) faint in the distance. I recognize them as sirens. Doors slam shut and rushed words are spoken. Soon I feel hands prying me away from Kaela, having difficulty due to my illogical reluctance to let her go. They lift me onto a stretcher and strap me down, placing something over my mouth and soon it becomes easier to breathe as I concentrate on providing my lungs with oxygen.

My eyes become heavy and I wonder where they put Kaela. I want to ask but my voice won't work, my lips just move soundlessly. Soon I feel them poke through my skin with something — a needle? — my eyes close against my will and I can no longer hear what's going on around me.

My world is blanketed by darkness.

~*DD*~

I'm surrounded in darkness and have no idea where I am when my eyes finally open. It feels as if it's only been a few seconds, yet I'm sure it's been much, much longer. The light stings my eyes. My body feels numb though. Did they sedate me?

Looking at my surroundings, I realize that I'm lying in a hospital bed. I also realize that I'm alone in the room. Struggling, I manage to sit up. The white sheets fall around me and I notice the bruises and cuts on my body. I feel a sharp pain in my head and wonder if I have a concussion. Letting my fingers run through my hair, I wince with a hiss when I feel stitches. I remember what happened. We got hit by a car. So then…

What about Kaela?

Her body is so small…so fragile… Is she... Did she make it? Panic runs though me, making me shiver at the thought of her not being here any longer. Sure she annoys me but…but she's my sister. Of course I don't want her to be gone – she can't be gone!

I'm about to get up to see if I can find her room, but a foreign voice stops me.

"The night sky is so beautiful," the person sighs.

I freeze. Someone is in the room with me. But I'm sure there wasn't anyone here when I first woke up. How did someone get in without me noticing? Hesitantly, I look over and see a man with his back facing me.

He's wearing a black cloak with the hood down and I can see the back of his short ebony hair. He's looking out of the open window, with his elbows and forearms resting on the sill. His cloak covers his entire body and so it's almost impossible to tell what body type he has, but he looks rather lean. Not skinny or buff.

Slowly, he turns towards me and my breath gets caught in my throat. He has blue eyes with many different shades in them. It's dark around the edges then gets light then dark again around the iris. He has high cheek bones, a straight nose, and full lips. Though he's wearing no expression on his face and for some reason, his lips are set in a straight line. So when he turns around, I feel a shiver of fear take me over.

Why should I fear this man though? I've never met him before. So okay, there's a stranger in my hospital room and I'm getting a bad feeling. Maybe I should ring for the nurse. Because despite his attractive appearance, he doesn't look like a doctor, yet somehow like he belongs here. Before I can ponder on this more, the corners of his lips twitch upwards and he decides to choose this moment to start speaking.

"It's a full moon outside, would you like to see?" he asks sweetly.

I lick my lips that have become uncomfortably dry all of a sudden, adding moister to them. Perhaps they're dry from me being nervous? It doesn't surprise me; this man is making me feel very, very nervous and uneasy. I feel as if I can't trust him, yet at the same time I feel something inside of me screaming out for him.

Odd.

"Who are you?" I finally find my voice, though it's so soft and low that I wonder if he can hear me at all. I clear my throat and he watches me with evident curiosity and amusement. What's there to be curious and amused about though? Nothing about this situation is amusing or anything close to it. I'm in the hospital on Halloween because some drunken idiot probably got behind the wheel thinking, 'Oh I'm fine to drive' like the dumbass he is. And I have no idea where my sister is or if she's okay or…

"I'm here to take you away."

I freeze; my thoughts and pondering coming to an abrupt halt.

Oh.

He's a kidnapper! He's going to kidnap me!

I reach for the button for the nurse but before I can slam my finger down on it a pale hand comes out of nowhere. My wrist is trapped in an iron grasp, stopping its movement and causing me to gasp in surprise and look up at the man. No way could he have walked or even run over here so fast and as so…so quietly. He didn't make a sound at all, almost like he floated over here or teleported, or some other special ability that only superheroes and villains on TV have.

"It's time to go, Faith."

I shiver. How does he know my name?

"I have already taken your sister, now it's your turn," he says in nothing but a whisper, yet I can hear him perfectly. The expression on my face really doesn't do justice to the shock and fear coursing through my entire body at his statement.

"You …you took my sister?" I scream in his face. I hope someone out in the hall can hear me. I need help. This man's crazy. But no one comes. I'm about to scream again, but before I can even gather the air in my lungs I break out in a fit of coughs, giving into the tickling sensation in the back of my throat. My free hand shoots up to cover my mouth.

The man sits on the bed edge of the bed next to me, still holding my wrist to make sure I don't press the button for the nurse. He leans towards me, too close for comfort, and so I lean back, pressing against the metal bars at the head of the bed. His blue eyes lock with my brown ones as my long, messy brown hair falls over my shoulders.

I feel naked under his gaze. Stripped bare. And he can see right through me.

"Your life has ended and so has your sister's. I'm here to take your soul away. Your sister is already on the other side, resting in peace." His voice stays aggravatingly calm and yet serious and firm.

"Are you…joking?" I ask in a hopeless whisper. "Are you serious? Do you honestly expect me to believe that? What a sick joke! My sister's dead? No. No, she can't be dead. No, no, no…" I continue mumbling that one word, shaking my head in complete denial.

She can't be dead. She can't be. No…

My sudden outburst seems to amuse him even more and it causes a spark of fury to unleash itself inside of me. I want to jump at him, strangle him, hit him and claw at him, if only because I'm so angry and scared right now. I want to hurt someone, only because I'm hurting.

What if Kaela really is dead?

What if the car crushed her tiny body beyond repair and she died?

What if he last word was my name, pleading with me to help, telling me she didn't want to die?

What if, after they separated us, she died alone and scared, even though I promised not to leave her?

How can I live with that when I let her…?

I don't even want to think about all of the possibilities anymore. I just want to sleep and pretend that this is all nothing but a bad dream and I'll wake up any second now.

"I can prove to you that this is no joke," the strange man suddenly claims.

Before I can question him on that, he reaches out. His pale hand lands on a leaf of the flower that's growing out of the stem. I watch with interest, wondering if maybe I've gone crazy or if he's the one who's crazy. Maybe I'm just seeing things? Maybe I hit my head harder than even I thought and now I'm delusional. Or maybe we're both crazy and I'm in some sort of mental hospital now.

I watch as he closes his eyes in concentration. Soon the leaves start to change color, going from a beautiful healthy green to a sick grayish color, then darker. The leaf withers away until it's completely dead. My eyes widen in shock.

Oh no, I've lost my mind. This proves it. I'm going crazy. When I hit my head something must have happened to my brain to make me see these things. Like those people who see things that aren't really there. Oh my god, I'm going to end up in a mental institution, surrounded by white walls and with my arms strapped to my body. And what if I get an itch on my arm? How will I scratch it? It'll drive me crazy. Just like that time when I broke my arm and I got an itch under the cast. It was torture, pure and utter torture.

Finally, when the entire plant is dead, he opens his eyes and smiles in satisfaction. Well of course, he must think that he just proved his point. Which I guess he kind of did – wait, no he didn't. All he proved was that I'm crazy or mental.

He puts his hand back in his lap and leans forward to purr in my ear, "You see Faith, I'm Death. And I can end your life too, just like that." I gulp at the sure tone of his voice and the promise of death it brings. "But yours is already up, sadly, and we must be going now."

At this I stiffen.

It's not real, it's not real, it's not real.

"I'm not going to die," I manage choke out, my whole body shaking.

I don't want to die! There's so much I haven't done yet, so much that I want to do. I'm only seventeen! I haven't even graduated from High School yet and I'll be damned if all my hard work goes to waste. I didn't spend all those years of my life studying for tests just to have it all end before I can finish. No, I'm not a quitter. I always see things until the end. Always. He can't take this from me. He can't.

While I go through my inner panic attack, the man tilts his head at me, his smile still in place.

"Oh? But you're not the one in charge of that. You don't get to choose who lives and who dies. I do. I'm the God of Death, not you."

"I can't die! I can't!" I shout, mostly to myself than to him.

"Don't you want to see your sister again?"

"I can't!" I sob and bury my face in my hands, getting the bandages wrapped around my right hand wet with my salty tears, my words directed at him rather than me this time. "My time can't be up yet, it can't be…"

"Most people your age don't want to, or aren't ready to do. But that changes nothing. They cry about how unfair it is and give in."

I look up at him and he has his eyes closed, shaking his head with that infuriating smile.

"Stop smiling," I snap. Death isn't something one should smile about.

Chuckling, he lets his smile die down to a smirk. "You really want to live that badly? If you really cherish your life, how about we make a deal?" he whispers, too close again. Every cell in my body yearns to push him away.

Instead, I try to calm myself down and ask, "A deal? What kind of a deal?"

"I've never been a human before. This is what I've been. Always. I find myself very curious about human emotions, or rather, I find them…interesting. So full of life, something that I'm not. Literally. And you are very full of life. Your soul is radiating it."

My soul radiates life?

That's not something you hear every day from a complete stranger.

"Where are you getting at?" I ask, my voice high and jittery due to fear and nervousness.

"In exchange for letting you keep your life, you have to give yourself to me." The smile is gone and his voice is serious.

"Wha-what?" I just about choke.

"Take it or leave it, darling." His lips are just above mine now. "You either you agree to be mine or I'm taking your soul. Answer now."

"Now?" I squeak. "You're not even going to give me time to think?"

"What's there to think about? Do you want to live or die?"

"What kind of a stupid question is that?" I snap at him again. I really need to get a handle on my emotions, but they're everywhere right now. It's impossible for me to grasp a hold of them. I'm angry, sad, scared, and so many other things I can't even place a name on.

"I'm assuming you want to live, so just agree to be mine," he says offhandedly, as if the decision isn't even that important.

"I…" I try to say yes…or no…I don't know. How does he expect me to agree to something like that in just a few short minutes?

"Decide. Now."

My voice is caught. I don't know. I don't know!

He sighs and then stands up. "Fine, we'll leave now. I hope you've written a will."

"Wait!" I shout. My eyes are wide and pleading. "I will! You win! I'll be yours! Just, please…I don't want to die… I don't want to die!" I clutch onto his arm, fear overlapping all of the other emotions that are flowing through me like a desert storm.

He smiles, obviously pleased.

"Deal."

He then leans down and kisses my forehead. I close my eyes, silently wondering what I had gotten myself into. But my survival instincts tell me to do everything I can to stay alive.

Soon the pressure on my forehead fades and so does he, disappearing from my room.

I can't help but hope he was an illusion, or something my mind just made up to torture me.

"Faith!"

I start and look around to find the owner of that voice, but I find no one.

"Faith sweetie, wake up. Please, please wake up," the voice begs.

Where is it?

"What happened?" the voice demands, sounding farther away but still in the room.

"She hit her head pretty badly and has lost a lot of blood."

I hear a chocked sob being released. "Oh god!"

Mom?

Is that mom?

Where is she? I can't find her!

Where did everything go?

Why does she sound so close, but so far?

It's then that I realize I'm still drugged, that I'm lying down and my eyes are closed. Forcing them open, all I see is the blurry white ceiling with too much light. My mom and doctor are in the room with me. I can hear a beeping sound in the background, reminding me that I'm still alive.

Was it all just a dream?

God, I hope so.

Wait, what am I saying? Of course it was a dream. I mean really, Death coming to visit me in the hospital? What kind of drugs did they put me on? It must have been a heavy dose for me to think up such crazy things, or to dream such morbid things.

"What about Kaela? How is she?" my mother asks with tears running down her face, smudging her make-up. She must not have expected to cry today. But then, who could have expected something like this to happen?

I listen, more than just a little eager to hear what he has to say about my sister's condition. Hope bubbles up in my chest. But it's soon shattered.

The doctor frowns. Neither of them are looking at me, so they have no idea I'm awake. My mother is holding my hand tightly and securely in hers, but she's turned away from me to question the doctor.

"I'm afraid your youngest daughter didn't make it. I'm sorry."

My heart clenches and I feel like I've been hit by a truck for the tenth time tonight. My mother sobs uncontrollably. Tears start to fall down my eyes too, yet I make no sound. I don't want to direct attention to myself right now so I fight down the chokes and sobs that threaten to expose me. I squeeze my eyes tightly shut. The man in my dream was right. She's dead. My little sister is really dead. Does that mean it wasn't a dream, or is it just a coincidence?

I hear a tap on the window. When I turn my head to look, my breathing, my heart beat, the sounds in the background, everything stops as I see Death on the other side. He winks at me and blows me a kiss, then fades into the darkness of the night. I seem to be the only one who witnesses it, but something deep inside of me tells me I'm not delusional. It's all real.

None of this is a dream.