The first thing they notice about him is his height. The way it angles towards them in a soft arch –he is usually leaning-in during their first encounter. The second thing they notice about him is what they don’t. Or can’t. How their gaze slips every time it reaches for his face. How it wavers at the ends of his fingertips but never manages to climb up to his hands, or arms, or shoulders. How it dances around his outline, never succeeding in bridging the chasm between the air’s emptiness and his solidity. The noticing, or the absence of it, makes them faint or the equivalent of fainting given their condition. And they stay that way for the duration of their short acquaintance with him.
She was different.
When he reached her, she was slumped on the wheel of an old car, a trickle of red streaming down the side of her face, a much larger puddle pooling at her feet. It would be hours before they would find her. Days before they would furnish a conclusive report of the accident. It wasn’t his place to think about these things but he often did. Especially in cases such as hers; he thought about all of them. About their histories which were laid out before him as clear as stars in the night sky, and their futures—all several millions of them – withering, seeping through time like sand through fingertips. About what they had left behind and what came after. He would think about them and forget. Like they would forget and in turn, be forgotten.
She awoke to his touch. Faced with her own body lying limp inside a totaled car, she put two and two together rather easily.
“So, it’s over,” she whispered. ( Stripped from her flesh, all sounds were cacophony. It took some getting used to.)
“In a way, yes,” he said.
“But not in several others, I assume.” She tried to look at him then, and when she couldn’t, she let her attention drop to the ground.
She did not faint.
“Can’t see you,” she said and he detected a frown in her voice.
“No one can.”
“You’re death, then. Was really hoping to catch a glimpse of that scythe,” she chuckled.
“I don’t have one. Neither did I cause your death. I’m only here to take you across.”
“Right. Well, should I be worried?”
“The Path is dangerous. It would be easier if you were…unconscious.”
“Two things. First, I meant should I be worried about what waits for me on the other side. Second, I’m already dead. What could be worse? Third, and I know I said two things, but third, I can’t choose to be unconscious. I mean, if I had a head and you had a scythe, I would ask you to knock me out. But since we’re oh for two, I think you’re stuck with me being fully conscious.”
“A sense of humor, I see. I can arrange for your unconsciousness if you would like that. Everyone does. The path is brutal. There are things worse than death.”
“Hmm. I’m unconvinced. And curious. Let’s put the choosing off for later. So, what about this path?”
This week’s story comes to you in two parts. Why? Because I lost control of it and before I knew it, it was already 2200 words and about a thousand more to come. Luckily, the 1500 wordmark makes a quasi-satisfying mini-ending so it’s still readable. (I hope.) Anyway, this was inspired by this prompt.
Until next week.
This story was written as part of The Ray Bradbury Project. Essentially, I’m aiming to write one short story a week for a year. I predicted a sudden death of this project sometime around mid-July, and it draweth nearer. Let’s see. Anyway, if you’d like to read the stories from the past weeks, check out the tags on the right.