By TG Fuentes
Death had seen it all before. He had seen every pain and joy imaginable. And every single human on earth had experienced their own combination of those. Humans were remarkable that way, he thought.
He did not reap every soul; he did not sit at every bed side. He especially had no interest in pursuing those afraid of him—they came on their own time, willingly or not.
Simply put, he was there to guide the lost, those unable to leave something behind. Or those souls unwilling to face the consequences.
This one was neither, of course. The minute he entered the house, he could feel what was happening.
On the couch laid a woman, deep in sleep, no closer to death than he was. It was not her, he knew.
The man asleep across from her on the recliner? No, he was as well as the woman.
A crib. He should’ve known. He felt it in his bones.
He entered the room, phasing through the door like a ghost, finding himself in a half-finished bedroom.
You could never know what you’d find in a crib. In theory something so young shouldn’t die of its own merits. Maybe someone had done something, but even he knew better than to entertain that thought. Sometimes new humans just die.
Death looked at his hands. Leather gloves to protect from the worst Hell could throw at him. And to protect the live ones from himself. His touch could end the world, start epidemics and plagues—and he had caused some harm—never with malice, but it had happened.
Such was the dance of Death and the Devil.
He reached his hands down and they became one with the human flesh, fishing for the soul. It was warm. Not dead. Not yet. But soon.
The human opened his eyes. Blue eyes that caught the moonlight coming through the blinds.
The baby smiled, barely moving its head to look up, inquisitive about the bird-shaped human above it.
Death scratched his neck, watching the human watching him. The older ones were hardly any trouble, usually knowing what was going on—accepting or not. But the younger ones, the infants, the children—innocent to his intentions. And Death knew that was for the best.
“You’re a small one,” he said.
The human blinked.
He wished they could communicate. Conversation filled the minutes and hours quite well. He had heard many stories that way, and many confessions, as if he had anything to do with their judgement.
Minutes moved on. They stared at each other.
Death snapped his fingers, reminding himself he could least entertain the small one.
These things he could do: speak, guide, comfort. And he found that some humans liked their memories. The good ones, at least. A widower seeing his wife young and happy. A soldier seeing his family.
Death ran his hands over the baby’s head, looking for a memory.
The infant giggled, kicking his feet.
Death chuckled, kneeling next to the crib, letting the baby squeeze his gloved hand.
He felt it all, as he normally did. A mother’s soft voice. A cool summer breeze. Fireworks popping and fading into a July night.
The human smiled wider, kicking his feet.
The face of the woman in the living room came to mind, kissing the infant on the cheek.
Then just as she said I love you—it was gone. A drop in the ocean, among the millions and millions he had had the privilege to see.
Death stood back up, leaning against the crib, locking his eyes on the dead infant.
There were countless memories in the world, countless as grains of sand. And he had witnessed some of the greatest moments of humanity through living eyes. But the simplicity and innocence of this made him wish he had never gotten into this line of work.
Death looked at his reflection in the mirror across the room. The soulless eyes of the plague doctor mask he had worn for centuries stared back at him. Reminding him he had done this all before.
He reached down, finding the soul where it resided. It was cold now.
Then he was holding him, the ghost of this human. And instead of panicking like older humans would, this one just slept, not knowing any better.
Before he could exit the room, the woman stood in the doorway, yawning. Unaware of what he had just taken from her. She moved through him. And for a moment he could feel her think He’s usually awake by now.
He walked out the bedroom as quickly as he could without disturbing the ghost in his arms.
There were sounds even death still hated. And he had heard them since the beginning.
He heard it from Eve, he heard it from Mary, he heard it again and again and again. The awful sound of a Mother outliving her child.
It didn’t matter how it happened; it didn’t matter when. Those cries all sounded the same, and it was something you couldn’t forget. Someone could be murdered, die of cancer, or put a bullet through their head—Eve’s scream never changed.
He could hear it until the end of time if he had to, but he tried not to let the small ones hear it.
Death approached Heaven riding his pale horse. Holding the infant close to him.
He was not allowed in, not yet, anyway.
Angels took the child, paying Death little to no mind. And even as they entered the gates, Death found himself locking eyes with the baby one last time.
Death turned his horse, trotting down the heavens and back to earth, reflecting on the life he had once had, and the eternity he had offered up to God in exchange for reaping the souls of the dead.
Because reaping souls seemed a better fate than entering the gates, forgiven or not.
Once, before time was even traceable, he had been a man. An evil man, according to all those who spoke of him. And if it hadn’t been for his story being told, he might’ve forgotten his own name.
Cain, wanderer of the earth, the first murder—Death.
TG Fuentes is a writer living in rural western Oklahoma. If she’s not writing or working towards publishing her first manuscript, you can find her on Twitter at @backroaddiaries, avoiding all her other adult responsibilities (like writing her second manuscript).