I was nine when I first saw him. A friend of mine had lost her sister in a car accident, and my parents had made me attend the funeral. He was dressed in all black, wearing a hooded cloak that he hoped would conceal his identity. The way he moved was like shadow itself, graceful yet dark. As he reached out a crooked hand, I glanced around the room to see if anyone else had noticed this uninvited guest. However, I appeared to be the only one who had the ability to gaze at him, a gift that I would learn to develop over time. I cleared my throat, and he looked at me.
This was not the face of a demon: brown hair, piercing blue eyes, and sharp features, like something out of a story. For a moment his face was concerned, but in the next instant, he withdrew his hand, turned away, and wordlessly exited as suddenly as he had entered. Although, after he had gone, the street outside was empty.
That was the first time.
Maybe I had discredited this encounter as an invention of my own imagination, for years went by without me giving it a second thought; or perhaps I thought it was something too similar to a dream to be encountered in my waking hours. Whatever the reason, I saw nothing more of him until I was eighteen. By this point, I had reached the age at which one finds oneself faced with the death of one's colleagues and not just one's elders. Such a colleague of mine—not a friend, but an acquaintance—had made a few too many bad choices to come out of her last endeavor alive. The funeral was held as soon as it could be arranged. And again, as I gazed from across the room at the casket, the cloaked figure glided to stand in front of it. Again he raised his hand, again I made myself known, and again I saw his face, but again he turned away in astonishment, as if a living mortal could frighten him away.
That was the second time, the time I made it my personal resolution to see him again.
The third time looked like an accident. Anything could have caused that tourist to fall off the edge of a cliff: a particularly strong gust of wind, a misstep; one slight motion of my foot was all it took. Again, he was there, at the base of the cliff; and though we stood farther apart now than before, our eyes still locked.
The fourth time seemed like a coincidence. To the police, I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. How was I to know that that woman's drink was poisoned? The bartender took the fall for that one, as I held my cover well. However, this time when he silently glided to the scene of the crime, his expression was no longer concerned or shocked, but mildly annoyed. Still, he disappeared, same as always, without a word in parting.
The fifth time sent me running. There was no mistaking whose fingerprints were on that knife. And as I stood before the body of an innocent passerby who had wandered a little too close to where I had stood in the darkness of an alley, he appeared once more. His expression held even more perturbation this time, but he had the decency to mouth one word: "Run." I took his advice without a second thought, and by the morning I had a new city, a new name, a new life, though my goal remained the same.
This sixth time was in self-defense, a reason more justified than my others, though you could say that I was waiting for this exact moment. There was a reason I'd chosen the most crime-riddled neighborhood to live in. That thief that broke down my door probably didn't know that I was armed with a bat and waiting for him. However, my efforts were not in vain. He glided in as always, reaching out an ashen hand, though this time he did not leave. His annoyance had reached its limit, and for the first time, he truly spoke.
"You can see me." It was not a question, but a statement. His voice was not raspy, but matched what one would expect after considering his features.
"Yes," I affirmed.
"You like to see me."
"Yes," I stated once again.
"Then why do you make my job harder?" His expression had not changed; his face was still cold. This was a point I had not considered before.
"It was the only way to see you."
For a moment, he didn't speak, as he processed this information. After a while, though, he seemed to reach a conclusion. "To see me forever would mean death for you alone."
His logic was perfect, but I could not accept. "But I don't want to die, not yet. I've barely lived."
"Then you shall not," he answered right away. "I will keep you safe until such time as you choose to die, and then you can join me in this eternity."
"You have a deal," I nodded. "Until next time." With a nod, he was gone.
Over the years, I grew older and older as time took its course, and by a series of miracles, any life-threatening situations I happened to encounter always ended in my favor. Over time, I had the misfortune of seeing many friends and relatives die, and each time I got a glimpse of what awaited me in eternity, that same graceful figure, who now smiled upon passing. If life had continued like that for some time, I would have been content.
However, my past life soon caught up with me. With the advancement of technology and introduction of new sources, the police were soon able to connect the dots of my web of coincidences and unsolved murder. After a mess of court appearances, I found myself in prison, on death row, no less, awaiting execution. Though I knew I was safe, one cannot help but fear for one's future as they await their systematic demise. One by one I would see my neighboring cellmates go away and never return, but now I didn't see my old friend, never caught a glimpse of those flowing black robes; and as my situation became more desperate, my fear intensified.
Then I snapped.
I begged him to take me away, to take this all away. I was ready, and if I was to die, I didn't want it to be at their hands, but his. He appeared in my cell almost instantly, his piercing blue eyes scrutinizing me.
"Where have you been?" I asked. "Over the past few months, several people have died here, and I have never once seen you since my sentencing."
But he did not answer my question, only asked one of his own. "Were you afraid?"
"Of what?" I asked.
"Only when I was told that I was awaiting execution," I told him truthfully.
"Then that is why." He must have seen that I didn't understand, because he continued a moment later. "You could only see me for what I really am when you did not fear me."
While this did clarify a few things, it served only to confuse me in regards to my present state. "But even now, as you stand before me here, I fear you."
Now it was his turn to look confused. "But why should you fear me now that you are already dead?"
His words hit me, and sure enough, I glanced down to see that my consciousness was no longer part of my body, which lay on the floor; I realized that the two had been separated the moment he had appeared.
"You see," he said, "everything has beauty. It is only through Death that one can enter eternity. However, those who do not see this beauty fear it. You are the exception, but now you have learned the truth, and eternity waits." He held out his hand, and I took it, embracing the beauty of an eternity spent with him.