Death went walking through the woods after just dealing with a village that had been ravaged by an epidemic that no woman, man, or child had survived. It was a child's death who he collected now; a little girl by the name of Lilith. Death found the girl sitting alone on the forest floor, playing with a pile of leaves, humming happy nonsense. Anticipating surprise and terrified tears, Death approached her slowly. But there was none of that from little Lilith, she simply turned her pale face towards him and smiled. Then she pulled a bright red leaf from her pile, and handed it to him. It was only a leaf, a dried out, old, crinkly thing from the earth. But the kindness with which she handed it to him was so innocent and genuine that it broke Death's heart to think of what he was there to do. Until now, he had not been aware that he had a heart.
"Thank you," Death said quietly. He took the leaf and put it inside his cloak, where it promptly shriveled up and dissolved into nothingness.
"Where are your parents, child?" Death asked the girl, for he occasionally when time allowed gave the little ones time with their families.
"Um." Was all Lilith said, furrowing her brow. But it was enough to tell the Reaper what the girl was too young to articulate.
"Oh, yes." Death said, distractedly.
"I had forgotten." Lilith blinked up at him and smiled helplessly. She coughed an awful, wracking cough and Death remembered that he had work to do. He put all thoughts out of his mind, raised his great scythe over his head...and found he couldn't. Just couldn't. Not like this.
"Perhaps I'm getting old." He thought. He sighed and knelt down beside the girl.
"Would you like to be my helper?" He asked her. Lilith thought for a moment and then nodded.
"Alright," Said Death, rising to his feet.
"But first you have to close your eyes." This next part Death did not like so much. But the long list was not to be altered, this he knew. When the job was done, he strapped the blade to his back, and held out a bony hand, into which slipped a small, pale, ghostly one.
"Do you like elephants?" Death asked his new companion, as they walked.
"Next we go to the Circus. I'm afraid someone has had a very bad day."
"Is an elephant sad?"
"I expect so, Little Lilith. But not for much longer."
It was only for a little while, Death told himself. He would take her across the divide soon enough. But his business was the lonely sort and it was nice to have a friend, just this once. Surely no one would fault him for that.
Death, Lilith, and the circus elephant wandered in tranquility, each lost in their own thoughts. There was no sound of crunching leaves as they walked, for the travelers were but spirits in the autumn night. The littlest one was displeased with something. It showed in her pale face, which was presently scrunched up in confusion.
"What's on your mind?" Death asked Lilith.
"Why do they do that?" Asked Lilith.
"Why do who do what?" Death returned. He was thinking of the next name on his list and whether it should be saved for later. He was not necessarily going to be kind to this one, and a little girl should not see such things. Neither for that matter, should elephants. Lilith huffed impatiently and pointed to the deep scars and scabs from years of shackles on the elephant's ankles.
"Ah," said Death in understanding.
"In answer to that, I can only say that the circus men are merely people, little Lilith, and people do not understand the feelings of other creatures. Most of them don't anyway." Lilith frowned.
"Why did he not get away?"
"He tried." Was Death's answer. They continued their journey in silence for a time, until a very low and wrinkly voice interrupted the quiet.
"I think I was very fond of peanuts once," Said the old voice, which belonged to the elephant named Parker.
"Yes, I believe you were." Death replied. Parker flapped his ears.
"I do not think that I could tell you how delighted I would be if I was to have a peanut now."
"I like peanuts," Lilith quietly agreed.
"Then I'm happy to tell you," Death said, smiling. "That where we are going, you can have all the peanuts you wish, forever and ever, if you'd like."
Parker the elephant and Lilith the child were both very pleased. And Death was pleased for them, but he knew in his heart, wherever it might be, that he was also a little sad. It was time to cross them over.