LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL – but these surroundings weren't. However, they worked well to remind me of life's humble splendour. We were in a small local park, with a backdrop of grey council houses, in a rundown part of West London. My mom used to bring me here when I was little and sitting here now sharpened my fond memories of our time together.
The giant trees had tinted into handsome orangey-red autumnal colours and encompassed the whole park in a warm embrace. I watched the trees swaying delicately in animation, moved by the slightest of breeze. The sun was starting to climb sleepily in the far off distance, while dark storm clouds hovered above dauntingly. Birds were dancing in majestic unison, rising and falling to the ground in flight, resembling a shaken blanket, before settling back onto the bed of grass. It was perhaps the single most beautiful dance I had ever seen in my life, my own dance with Grim excluded, and a part of me wondered why, only now, I noticed the birds, the sun, and the trees… as if I had been blind this whole time.
"Beauty is everywhere," Grim said as if he'd heard my innermost thoughts. We were sat on a park bench and Grim was stroking a lonesome ginger and white cat as it lazed in his lap purring.
"Did anyone ever tell you that you're pretty cute?" I said grinning at the sight of a Grim Reaper stroking a stray cat so tenderly.
"Yes," he replied mockingly. "All the time. In fact, I can't remember the last time somebody didn't tell me I was… cute," he said mincing his words.
"Touchy!" I laughed. It was good to see that even Death had a flawed personality. He seemed almost human somehow. I patted the cat on its soft furry head and it looked at me through one open eye before going back to snoozing.
"Sorry, I'm just a bit… bored." Grim sighed.
"Well, I'm sorry I can't be more entertaining?"
"It's not you. It's this whole – job," he spat.
"Why don't you just quit?" I asked, turning to face his hunched-over hood. If depressed could be captured by a single dark hood, this is what it would look like.
"I wish I could…" he said, trailing off in thought.
"Well, look at me," I said, scratching the cat under its ear, "Most people just sing in the shower, whereas I go and die."
Grim turned to face me and started shaking slightly, rocking the cat on his lap, before laughter roared out of him, echoing across the parkland. I couldn't help but join in.
Abruptly, our laughter was pierced by a bloodcurdling scream. It vibrated through the trees, almost shaking them in a cold shiver. It sounded as if someone was in uncontrollable pain.
"What was that?" I asked, my heart pounding – or maybe I had just imagined it was pounding?
Grim didn't answer. He just took my hand and raised his scythe, causing the cat to leap out of his lap with a start, and then suddenly we were standing in a dark alleyway.
One dim streetlight slightly flickered and a thin mist slowly dispensed through the air, fogging the surroundings. Another loud cry resounded but this time it was much closer and had a prominent undertone of fear. I looked around for Grim, but he'd already begun walking towards the sound.
"What–" I started to say, but fell silent as I could now see a young teenage boy lying on the road, holding his chest tightly. A single hand was gripping at his mouth as if trying to muffle his own cries. His hands were coated in watery blood and his face was twisted in painful misery.
"We have to help him!" I gasped, running over to the boy who could be no more than sixteen years old. I quickly pressed my hands over his chest, feeling the warmth of the blood tingle my fingers. Evidently my connection to this planet was still strong enough to grant me the gift of touch. I spoke to the boy but he couldn't hear or see me. He choked and wheezed in pain, his breathing becoming more and more shallow. Gradually, the boy's soft brown eyes started dimming before me, until his eyes closed completely.
"Grim! Please do something!" I begged. But Grim only stood in stare, ominously hovering in the shadows as though watching a ticking clock.
I soon realised I couldn't feel the boy's beating heart anymore. I prayed it was just my connection to this world that was fading, and not him. But when I glanced up, the boy was stood beside his body, looking down at it with wide, terrified eyes.
"W-what?" he spoke slowly in shock. He pointed at his body and shook his head dumbfounded. I backed away from the blood stained body on the ground, unsure what I could do now that he was dead.
Grim reluctantly edged closer, his scythe scrapping against the pavement as if unwilling to move. I studied Grim a moment, the weariness in his posture and his listless, solemn movements, as if centuries had finally taken their toll on his very spirit.
Grim was speaking to the boy, probably a similar conversation to the one he'd had with me when I discovered my dead body, but I wasn't listening. My eyes were fixated on the boy who was visibly shaking and seemed unable to comprehend anything Grim was saying. The boy was dressed in jeans and a steel grey puffa jacket, the large red circle on his chest staining the light beige jumper underneath. I could see the boy was crying.
Grim turned to me and said, "Lara, please look away," and placed his hands on my shoulder gently rotating me towards a car parked on the other side of the road.
"Why?" I asked, although I think I knew.
"I have to… send him over," Grim said sadly, glancing back at the boy.
"Send him where?" I went on, feeling a sense of unrest rising within me.
"Where he needs to go…" Grim said softly.
"And me?" I asked stopping the rotation Grim had spun me on.
Grim looked at me through his hood, his leathery silver skin sparkling under the streetlight. His silver lips weaved into a small smile and his eye glowed like two full moons on a clear night.
He leaned in and whispered in my ear, "You can stay with me, Lara."
I scrunched up my face up in deep thought. "Like your companion?" I asked, not disliking the idea but unclear what he meant. After all, we were perhaps both lonesome creatures in a world that didn't quite care for our presence. In an odd way, I felt as though Grim understood me.
Grim nodded reassuringly. The young boy behind us was getting restless. I quickly realised dying wasn't an easy transition for us all and everyone dealt with the loss of life differently.
"Now, turn around," Grim said firmly, and I faced the car with my back to them both.
I heard Grim slowly patter back to the boy who was no doubt confused and hurting, which I knew from seeing my own dead body lying in the bathtub not long ago. But a deep sense of curiosity itched at me. I fought turning around to see what was happening and instead gazed at the car in front of me. I noticed a side mirror on the car and, looking into it, I could see a reflection…
Although slightly vague, Grim was standing next to the boy, offering him his hand. The boy took it almost immediately and held it against his chest, before looking down at his dead body and then back up at Grim repeatedly in a disturbed fashion.
Grim moved closer towards the boy and very gently took him in embrace. The boy appeared to almost sink into Grim's chest, hugging him back snugly. Grim then whispered something in the boy's ear, which I could only hear very faintly, like trickling rain... Then the boy was simply gone, as if dissolved within Grim.
My mouth dropped… My hands started shaking… My eyes became hot with forming tears that wouldn't release, but instead stung... I couldn't understand what I had seen… I felt afraid… confused… unsafe…
Unexpectedly, an unknown sweet voice whispered into my ear – it was the same words Grim had said to the boy just now, but crystal clear. I clutched myself tightly anticipating the end…
Instead, I heard a flutter of wings take off in flight, and suddenly a sense of calmness washed over me. I was still here and more importantly, I knew why.
I turned around and saw Grim walking back towards me, head lowered in gloom. He stopped in front of me, scythe leaning against his chest while he crossed his arms questioningly.
"You looked, didn't you?" he asked me unsure.
"Me? No," I said unconvincingly, fidgeting with my sleeves. I was never very good at deceit. My face was like an alarm blaring and flashing, calling all to attention.
"Lara," he said sternly, and then studying me a moment, he just knew. Grim stumbled back slightly, the scythe almost dropping from his grasp.
We both knew in this grotty London back alley everything was about to change… for the better.
"Grim," I said softly, offering him my hand.
"This – this – can't be…" he stuttered, shaking his head so hard that his hood dropped to reveal his thin delicate face. His features were beautifully prominent, and if not for the worn silver skin which paled him, he would have been a most handsome creature. His luminous eyes stared at me with a mixture of joy and sadness.
Finally he took my hand and placed it lovingly on his chest.
"It's time for you to live, Grim," I said, my joy and sadness diluting together. Pools of tears dripped down my cheeks in a most silly manner. I barely knew Grim. He was just a creature who chauffeured mortals from realm to realm, or so I imagined. But somehow, I had started to care about him. Finally, I actually cared about something.
"What if I don't… live?" he asked, fear creeping into his voice. He slightly backed away, but not far as he still held my hand against his chest.
"You will," I whispered, my eyes holding his. "A second chance at life is reserved for those who truly warrant such a gift. Personally, I can't think of anyone more deserving."
He smiled, perplexed but pleased. "I'm going to miss you Lara," he said softly, moving closer towards me.
"Don't worry, you'll see me again… for your fun funeral," I said winking at him.
"I wouldn't expect anything less from you..." Grim beamed.
We locked in embrace, holding one another close, as two old friends saying a final goodbye. My face brushed against Grim's feeling the deep warmth radiating from him, warmth I wouldn't have believed existed. He was truly a remarkable creature and I certainly had big shoes to fill. I held him tighter and we swayed together in dance for a while.
"Don't forget to find me," he said, handing me his scythe. I held it behind his back and nodded, reluctant to let him go.
"I'm ready," he whispered in my ear, his voice tranquil like a calm ocean.
I closed my eyes and, hesitantly, whispered the words I had heard, unsure what they meant or how I'd remembered them, but just knowing they were the right words.
When I opened my eyes Grim was gone.
I dropped the scythe and fell to my knees. A sense of profound loneliness washed over me. The street was completely deserted, with nothing around to comfort me. The clouds erupted with rain, drenching my sorrow. I knew now why Grim wanted to keep me around. I thought about him and all the millions of years he'd been doing this job, if that's what you'd call it. Someone had to carry it on. It just so happened to be me.
I got up and noticed my attire was now entirely black. A long silk robe and hood perched on my head. I wondered if these too would turn into tattered rags over time like Grim's had, but it didn't matter. My hood wasn't as all encompassing as Grim's as you could see the outline of my face, which I liked. The robe was flattering and had a slight shimmer to it as I moved.
"Okay scythe," I said, unsure about these new powers. I banged the wooden staff on the ground and shakily said, "Let's go!"
I was stood outside a school with busy traffic halted on both sides of the road. Everything was eerily quiet, which instantly struck me as odd. It was obviously the end of the school day as children stood holding their parent's hand, waiting to be lead home, and this amount of traffic not moving without a single beeped horn suggested something wasn't quite right.
Then I felt someone tug at my robe for attention. I looked down and saw a little girl, only five or six years old, standing next to me smiling. I smiled back instinctively.
I quickly glanced up to where a group of people were gathered around and saw her there too. The same little girl, collapsed on the ground, her legs twisted around her red bike, a deep wound to her forehead, eyes closed… dead. A boy, slightly older maybe 8 or 9, on a blue bike was looking down at her in what can only be described as heartbreak.
I knelt beside the little girl and said, "Hello, young lady. I'm Lara, um, Grim."
"Grim? That's a funny name," she sniggered.
"Part of the job I'm afraid," I grinned, "And what's your name sweetie?"
"Tilly," she said, her soft blonde locks blowing in the wind as she swung slightly from side to side.
"Here," I said offering her my hand. She took it at once, cupping it in her two little hands and placed it against her chest.
"So," I said as I lead us down the road past the rows of silent traffic. "What's the most fun you've ever had Tilly?" I asked. My eyes glowed like two tiny stars and Tilly gawped at me in amazement.
Oblivious to the tragedy behind us, Tilly thought a moment and then answered with a finger in the air.
"At my birthday! On a giant bouncy castle! It was so much FUN!" she said excitedly.
"Tilly," I said smiling widely, "Let's go find us the world's biggest bouncy castle, and have lots of fun!"
And that's just what we did.
Author's Notes: Thank you very lovely people for reading my story! As ever, I'd love to hear what you thought. My story was really about trying to add something beautiful to what is the hardest and darkest part of life. It was always meant to end this way and the role reversal seemed a nice way to give them both a new start. Also I reckon Lara would make a great Grim Reaper.
A very special thank you to Aske Nat for editing this story superbly! Also, thanks to all the writers who inspired this story, you know who you are! Love, ZB.
P.S. A shameless plug, but if you enjoyed this make your way over to Deadville Recruitment for some more zany antics and hilarity. Because, what is life without a bit of fun...