Last Words

October 8, 2007
After a lifetime spent dreaming and waking the old man's body has grown tired, and now he is standing suddenly on the brink of Death. Sickness has pulled him into her poisonous embrace; she clutches him tightly in her pallid arms, and her yellow stench permeates the room, bathing it in a murky glow. His son and confidante, Peter, stays with him in that yellow room, even as he moans and coughs up blood and curses at his only son. Peter is a good boy, well-mannered and fearful of conflict, but he keeps too much to himself; his whole life is a tapestry of secrets and not even his father, a writer and a master of secrets, fully understands his lovely child. His son loves him greatly, sometimes to the point where the old man can no longer stand him, and he begins to rave and curse. But Peter is always patient, strangely tranquil in the company of the dying. Though his eyes are always damp with tears, he never cries, and his voice never trembles, even when his father is screaming at him. He is a good boy.

Now his father is leaning out the window, cooling his fevered head in the winter air. Peter notes the time, half past four, and the old man knows that he is going to die soon. Looking down on the on the snowy streets still clinging to the thin mist of winter mornings, he grows delirious. Suddenly the characters of the stories he has written are running through the streets, greeting him in their own peculiar fashions as the pass his window. The old man is happy to see them; they are all his children, and they have come to say goodbye to him, to stand with Peter and watch their father leave the world at last.

The old man realizes that he is going to die very soon, but this realization does not trouble him. His life has been a long and pleasant one; too long, perhaps. And when he dies, he will be buried with his wife, he will spend an eternity safe in the warm earth. But what will happen to his children, those creatures he has created so lovingly through the years? He has written many of them down onto paper and ink; they will stay safely in his stories and books for a long time, perhaps forever. Still, there are many children that the old man has not yet written of, who have lived always in his head and in his heart. Surely they will all perish with him, all terribly annihilated because his flesh is too weak to carry on living.

He voices his fears, and though Peter does his best to console his father, the old man is still stricken, still petrified by his uncertainties. Propelled by fever, he reaches for his pen and some spare paper, and begins to write out furiously all the stories he has kept inside. Peter notes the time, five o'clock, and suddenly Death is in the room, waiting patiently for the old man who feels her presence and begins to laugh because he has just remembered his youth, when he went to church and watched the priest towering high above him in the pulpit. When a saintly man was dying, the priest said, he felt the warm glow of Heaven inside of him, and as a damned man died, he felt the burning fires of Hell. And now the old man knows at last that the priest was wrong; Death is standing beside him now, watching quietly in the murky light, and all he can feel is her bitter cold sinking into his bones.

How dark her eyes are, the old man thinks, and continues to write, forgetting all the pain and weariness of his fever. As his pen races across the paper, he pleads with Death for a little more time, an hour or two in which to expel all of the thoughts still burning in his head. Then he explains how life has been such a perfidious friend, allowing him so many years of freedom and comfort, only to abandon him in his hour of need. But Death says nothing; she only leans towards him as he continues to write as quickly as he can, the words turning to inky scratches on the page before him. His story is almost finished now, and he is scribbling down the final words when an icy hand touches his shoulder gently and the world around him goes suddenly dark.

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