Here comes the cold again

I feel it closing in

- A Stroke Of Luck / Garbage

I went for a walk one day, and the trees crowded in on me, painted in only dull greens and golds from their own blockage of the light. I waved them away, and they stepped back, seeming to relent – or maybe it was just the wind.

A tall, pale-haired young man on the path was standing, watching the leaves fall from the trees, and he reached out to catch one as it fell. It broke, crumbling in his hand, and he looked almost disappointed; I felt a little unnecessary pity for him. Then he looked up and saw me, sighing and putting his hands in his pockets. "An interesting time of year, this."

I nodded, only half-sure that he was talking to me, and was about to walk on when he continued, "So many small deaths. Not as many as winter. Winter's really my season, but…" He shrugged. Another leaf crumbled as he caught it.

A little weird, I thought, and was about to hurry onwards when he said, "You can't ignore me forever, you know. You'll have to stop for me someday." I shivered, wondering who he was, and had to fight the urge to run. Then I looked into his eyes, and I knew perfectly well.

Death doesn't ride a pale white horse; Death rides a stuttering, ancient red Vespa, and has a haircut that looks like it was done with only a pair of hedge trimmers and a broken mirror for company.

Kevin stares up for a few seconds at the lanky youth – looks about his own age – that offers him a hand, and a leaf falls on his nose with the smallest of sounds. The dead things have been everywhere, these past few weeks. He brushes it off irritably, taking the proffered hand, and gets to his feet with a grunt of annoyance, rubbing his head.


Shouldn't it hurt? he thinks, as he sees the awfully hard-looking tarmac that he's just supposed to have fallen onto. It takes him a moment – maybe it's the shock, maybe it's that he never realised his nose was that big until he saw it on his corpse, or that he never expected there'd be so much blood - before he catches on. The bike looks pitiful, like a dead animal, lying loyally next to his limp form. He looks over his shoulder at the… boy, it looks like, though he's pretty sure now that it isn't, and says flatly, "Oh. It's you."

Death smiles, a small, slightly sheepish thing, and says, "You can call me Az, if you like." Kevin swears he – it – shrugs, a gesture weirdly…human.

He shakes his head, slightly sulkily.

Death raises its eyebrows, huffs out a sigh, shrugs again. "As you wish." It looks Kevin in the eye, and its eyes are… something else. Lands he's never seen, horizons that make no sense. He has to look away before he goes mad.

Death swings a leg over the Vespa, and Kevin absentmindedly notices that the paint-job's beginning to peel. "Hop on," it says, holding out a helmet, and Kevin takes it – why the hell does he need it, anyway, considering how he's just departed from his earthly life? – and climbs onto the back, annoyed and more than a little embarrassed at having to put his hands round an unearthly being's waist. The two of them begin to putter off, the shocked spectators of the accident not registering them at all, and Kevin asks, "Where… where do I go from here?" He hates how small, how scared, he sounds.

Death shrugs, its eyes on the road. "No idea. I just work here."

Marion awakes to a small, steady tap-tapping next to her bed; her eyes open slowly, things staying slightly blurred even after she's mostly awake.

She wonders why it's still dark – she usually wakes to morning light – but then figures that it must be lightening later these days: it's getting close to winter, after all.

She jumps as she abruptly discovers that the tap-tap belongs to the handle of a large scythe, which belongs to a tall, hooded figure sitting cross-legged by her bed, on the only chair – the good, oak one she brought here with her. She stares at it, nauseous and terrified, and for a moment, she swears it stares back, even though it has no eyes, its neck unmoving.

"Not what you were expecting?" it asks after a long pause, seeming almost sheepish, and she shakes her head, the only thing she can move in her terror.

After she blinks, in the space of which she swears she hears a very small curse in a guttural language she's never heard before, she opens her eyes to see a tall, kindly man sitting on the edge of her bed – unnaturally pale haired, especially for his age, only just blond, almost as if all the colour's been leached away (though there are a few streaks of grey round the temples), a friendly crinkle round the eyes. He has the feeling of someone she's seen before – maybe one of the nurses, she thinks.

"Better?" he asks.

"I… I still know what you are," she says quietly, shakily, and he nods, eyes crinkling.

"I don't aim to hide," he says simply, "just to make this less stressful for both of us."

"Stressful?"she says, unable to calm her outrage, jumping out of the bed and stabbing a finger at his face, "You're not the one who's bloody dying!"

"Died," he corrects quietly. "I'm just here to collect your soul."

"Died," she echoes in a deflated breath, and looks down at herself. Why, she's not dead, she's young as ever, with the killer legs she had when she was eighteen -

When she was eighteen. This is how she imagines herself when she closes her eyes, what lies in her half-daydreams when she tries to ignore the sound of the television and the arguments over the remote. This isn't real.

She turns slowly, regards the body she used to occupy, and cocks her head, the anger draining out of her. "You know, I've aged quite well, all things considered."

"Good legs," she hears muttered behind her, and a hand is laid on her shoulder. "We need to leave," he says quietly, and she exhales into the silent room.

"When do you think they'll be here?" she asks, eventually. "When d'you think they'll find me?"

"The staff? Soon," he replies, "and you won't enjoy seeing them panic. Come with me. Please?"

Death begged me, she thinks with a smile. That'll be a story to tell the grand


She nods, turning to look at him. "Come on," she says, after one last look at what used to be her, "let's bugger off."

He gives her a small, curt nod back, and she puts an arm round his waist, making their way out into the grounds, not caring that she's only wearing a nightdress. She is eighteen again, falling leaves crunching beneath her feet.

Roy looks up as the newest customer walks to the bar, leans on it with a sigh. They've been getting more customers lately – a warm pub is appreciated when the cold snap starts to set in.

"Long day?" he asks, and the almost albino, pale-haired man nods. The fellow orders a pint of some kind of hideous lukewarm lager, handing over the money but only nursing the drink; he meets Roy's eye, and something in his gaze unnerves him. It has depths he doesn't want to think about too much. He says quietly, "And it's not over yet."