Prompt: People have stopped dying. Scientists can’t figure out why. You are a priest who has just graduated from seminary. You find Death terrified and hiding in the darkest corner of creation.
I couldn’t believe my eyes at first. It was one thing to hear about him, but another to see him, albeit trembling in a corner of an old monastery in the middle of nowhere, Europe. The same church I resided in and had yet to clean. . . But it was him, from the tip of his ivory bone toe to the top of his shadowy black cloak.
“Hello?” I said, lowly.
His head was shoved into the corner, and from the sound of it, he was weeping. He wiped his face with his arm, then whispered, “Hello.”
I wiped the dust from the front pew and sat, putting my hands together. “What’re you doing here?”
“What do you mean?” He snapped.
“Well, you’re death, the Death. Aren’t you supposed to be out collecting souls, or something like that?”
“Who’re you to tell me what I’m supposed to be doing, Priest? Yes, I know of you, I know of everyone who lives and breathes. But that’s all worthless now, isn’t it? You’ve read the paper, you’ve seen on your precious television.” The words seemed palpable, as if they seeped out his bones in a stream of tarry liquid.
I remembered the front page and any news station you turned to, covering the same story: People stopped dying. They couldn’t explain it, nor could the scientists, but it happened. The video tape recordings of people jumping from bridges, staying underwater for hours on end, setting themselves on fire, and so forth. But none of them died. . . A little hurt, but nothing close to death.
I never grew curious to take my own life, but perhaps I’m less masochistic than the majority of society. Regardless, if people aren’t meant to die, it’s God’s way.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve seen the news. People can’t die, is this true?” As if it came from Death, the news would be more believable.
He took a while to reply, but finally uttered, “Yes. . . It’s true.”
“Do you know how, or why. . .?”
“No, of course I don’t. Why would I know that, Priest? I’m the Collector of Souls, the Bringer of the Dead, the Reaper! You want answers like that, ask your Lord.”
Ignoring his vehemence, I asked, “Why were you crying, just now?”
“I wasn’t crying, merely sleeping.”
“Are you certain, Death? I could swear that I hear—”
He snapped up onto his feet, standing nearly eight feel tall, and looked down upon me through a gloom within his hood. I couldn’t make out his skeletal face, but as if miles and miles away in the shadows, I saw a flicker of fire where his eyes would be. The ends of his cloak rippled like water, and moved around the stone floor as if they had life of their own. If he would’ve possessed his scythe, I probably would’ve soiled my clothes.
“I was not crying, flesh-bag. Sleeping, I was sleeping.” He said, black mist flowing out of the gloom in his hood, dissipating above him.
I patted the seat next to me, asking, “Why don’t you sit over here, and talk to me about this whole mess? Even if you weren’t crying — which you weren’t, of course — it sounds like you need someone to talk to. I’m a pretty good listener.”
He seemed beside himself, I could see the tension inside him as he stood there fidgeting. He wanted to sit and vent, but at the same time, he was Death, not some priest’s parish. At last he came to a decision. He floated over to the pew and sat down next to me, sending small puffs of smoke billowing up around him.
“It’s just,” he began, “what am supposed to do if no one is dying? My whole duty in this universe is to collect the souls and bring them to where they need to go. . . Well except for the good ones, those are out of my hands, but the others, those are my territory. But now no one is dying, no one is getting sick, no one is doing anything but living their damn lives. What about me? I was born into this and now it’s irrelevant. I cannot start anew, I cannot begin to collect lively souls, I cannot do anything of the sort.”
“Maybe it’ll change?”
“Doubtful, Priest. Once He has made a decision, it’s usually forevermore. . . Unless humans create something that can kill themselves off, like curing a disease of some nature. But why would they do that? They already have a million of things that can be used to kill themselves, even the stuff they drink and eat kill them! If nothing now does the trick, what could possibly do it?”
“Bombs?” I said, dumbly.
“You people have bombed countries, and some people still live to this day. God I hate to see what your planet is like in a year or two with all the war that’s going to occur. If no one can die, the next war will be endless.”
I mulled over some thoughts, then suggested, “What don’t you go to another planet? I’ve heard there’s life elsewhere in the cosmos.”
“Maybe, but they’re not human yet. I’d have to wait millions of years to wait for them to get to the point you guys are at now, and even then, do they even have souls? It’s all a big risk to invest time and travel to another planet to find that those people don’t have souls. God. . . this sucks.”
“Have you tried killing the people yourself? You know, the bad ones of course: the rapists, the pedophiles, and so on.”
Death looked up into the air, as if staring off into a vista I couldn’t see. “You know. . .” he began to say, “you might be right. Maybe. . . but are you not a priest, a man of God? Should you not be teaching peace and love and acceptance?”
He was right, but at the same time wrong. “I believe those who do hellish acts upon innocent victims should be punished. . . You’re the cure for it. Perhaps the only way for those to die, is to be killed by Death himself.” I said.
He jumped up into the air, whipped around and grabbed my hand. His fingers were solid like marble, and brought a frigid chill up my arm that settled into my chest. The world went dark and numb. My brain felt heavy, as if filled with lead and my lungs crackled and burned with every breath. Death must’ve noted this quickly, as he released my hand and life came fluttering back into me.
“Sorry, but thank you. That has to be it, I must be the one who kills them. Life is the disease and my scythe is the cure. Now I must be off, hopefully you’re right Priest.”
The ends of his cloak twisted upwards, spiraling in the air, and formed some kind of hellish portal. In a loud echoing pop, he vanished into it. And that was the last time I saw him, though it wasn’t the last I heard of him.
The following morning, as I sat in my kitchenette and drank coffee, there were dozens of reports of people being beheaded. They couldn’t explain how it was happening, or who was doing it, but it was happening. I smiled and whispered, “You’re welcome.”
Read my previous prompt, “Angels’ Haste.”