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Someone To Die For
Every time I walk into a hospital, there’s always so much work. It really bothers me. Every day I show up, there’s always someone ready and willing to ruin my whole day by not letting me do my job. Of course, I already know that today’s going to be no exception. I stare down at my list of names, my to-do list of people to transport, and the first one glares up at me, written in my immaculate handwriting. When you’re immortal, with all that time on your hands, your penmanship really improves. I squint, praying that my eyes are misleading me, but, again, 20/20 vision is another perk of living forever.
I roll my eyes. You’ve got to be kidding me, I rant at the ceiling, the white walls, the sterile floors, at pretty much anyone who will gosh-danged listen. This can’t be happening! But it is happening.
The name at the top of my list, bolded so I can’t miss it however much I want to, is Emma Moore. Room 204, Old Age. I sigh, glare once more at my clipboard just to make sure it gets the message that I’m really not pleased, and stride grumpily up the stairs to her room, resisting the urge to stomp. Immortals should not throw temper tantrums.
I pull on the door, hoping against hope that it won’t open. No such luck. This is it. I force myself into the room, and stare at the frail human being on the bed, entwined in a mass of wires and tubes, almost hidden from view by the bulky machines that take up so much space in the cramped cubicle. The figure barely looks human - gaunt and wrinkled, she looks as if she’s already dead. Only the fact that I’m here to kill her proves that wrong. Her hair has the texture and color of angel’s wings, almost transparent, barely there. Her face is wrinkled, her eyes closed. I can’t help but remember how different she used to be.
The first time I met Emma Moore, she was around seventeen, still in the first flush of youth. She wasn’t so decrepit then, obviously. Quite the opposite. She was one of those trouble kids, the ones that spend school waiting until they can go drive along the highway in the middle of the night, just for the freedom and the solitude, for the ability to fly across the ground, to feel in control. Except, that night, she wasn’t in control. It was a cold January evening, and the rain fell gently. Emma didn’t slow down. She lost control, and before she knew it, she and the car crashed headlong into the freeway wall. I was called in to escort her to my home.
It should have been an easy transfer, but it wasn’t.
The first thing I noticed about Emma Moore was her eyes. They flashed with a green light, wry and hurt and full of some unspoken anguish. Then I noticed her face. It was covered with cuts and blood from her collision, but the jaw was set with a striking determination.
She stared up at me as I approached, clearly lucid, although the pain from her broken leg and splintered arm would have been enough to knock out most people. But Emma Moore wasn’t most people.
“You’re Death, aren’t you,” she asked calmly, her voice clear and strong as a trumpet, another surprise. Usually people start screaming or blubbering at the sight of me.
No point in lying. I was about to say that yes, I was, but she cut in before I had a chance.
“Forget that, you’re obviously not. You’re one of his minions. Death wouldn’t come out here just for little old me.”
I wanted to point out that she wasn’t little, she wasn’t old, and I didn’t have any minions, something I frequently complain about, but she kept barreling through.
“You know what? I don’t care who you are. Go tell Death I don’t care if it’s my time to die or whatever, I’m not going.”
I stood there, dumbfounded. She had no chance of survival. Not with a busted leg, a broken arm, probably a concussion, and who-knows-how-much blood loss. Not in the middle of a deserted highway at midnight.
“Well, aren’t you going to go tell Death that I’m not going?” she snapped, irritated I wasn’t moving fast enough. I finally worked up the ability to set my jaw in motion again.
“Miss Moore,” I intoned theatrically, in my best ‘instill terror in the hearts of the masses’ voice, “I am Death.”
She rolled her green eyes. “No, you’re not.”
I was once again taken aback.
“Yeah, I am. Have been since the beginning of time. And if I’m not, then someone’s playing a rather unfunny trick on me.”
She looked at my face, which really isn’t that special, but hey, who was I to begrudge a dying girl a glimpse of the face of Death?
“No, no you’re not.”
I felt a twinge of irritation. “And why not?”
She smiled, as if it was obvious. “You’re not wearing the hood and cloak, duh. Anyone can tell you’re just a minion.”
Of course. She had to bring up the cloak. “Why does everyone always bring up the stupid hood and cloak?” I snapped, furious. “Everyone. Always. I don’t understand. The last time I wore that stupid thing was in the 1600’s. It was fashion. Geez. The stupid thing was a waste in the first place. It had mothballs and was too long and every time I tried to walk, I tripped, which really wasn’t great for the public image, if you must know. I had to use a walking stick. And then someone blabbed about it, and now all any human being ever thinks about is Death - a hooded thing with a cloak and a scythe. It was NOT a scythe. It was a walking stick. Because the stupid cloak DIDN’T FIT!!!” I stopped, caught myself, and wanted to kick myself for losing my cool in front of a mortal. Emma Moore was laughing.
“If you really are Death, couldn’t you have all of the time in the world to order a new one?” she asked, eyes alight with a malicious glee.
“I ordered one,” I said sullenly. “I really did. It was all set to be delivered on March 8, 1604.”
“And,” she prompted gleefully.
“The tailor died before he could finish.”
Emma was guffawing now, wincing every now and then as the pain lanced through her mutilated body. “That’s ironic. So, Death, you going to take me away now?”
I glared. “No. You’d make my life a living hell.”
She thought that was the funniest yet. “Well, heaven help you, I guess!”
I stalked away. This was not the time to sentence myself to a life of torture.
And that was the first time I met Emma Moore.
Age has not been kind to Emma. That jaw is clearly visible, skin stretched like elastic across the bone, and those striking green eyes lay hidden behind walls of wrinkles. Her continued existence depends solely on IVs getting pumped into her blood. Her heartbeat shows up on the monitor, a green line that zigzags irregularly, the peaks and valleys getting closer every second. Soon her time on this planet will be over. Soon Emma Moore will be gone.
When I see her aged face, I can’t help but feel fondness for all of the times we spent together. She seemed to have a fascination with danger, constantly blundering into situations that could do her harm. But the next time I saw her, the danger came from herself.
My checklist had shown a house in Washington, a double story with stairs overlooking a spacious entry room. I walked through the door, expecting to see another elderly man lying prostrate with a heart condition, or an older woman who’d fallen down and broken her neck. But no. On the top of the stairs stood Emma Moore, older and sadder, brown hair falling in a straight cascade down her back. Her sparkling eyes were closed, but her jaw remained set in that resolute grimace. Around her neck was a rope, looped as well to a chandelier in the entry room. She had her legs bent, preparing to jump.
“Emma? Is that you?” I blurted, unable to help myself. Her eyes flew open, hurt more visible in their emerald surfaces. She blinked.
“Death? Why are you here?”
Finally, my turn to state the obvious. “Because you’re going to hang yourself,” I pointed out. “Why?”
She shrugged, her hair getting caught in the rope and getting slightly mussed. “My life was so bad, Death almost seemed like the better option.”
I glared, hurt. “Well, that’s a backhanded compliment if I ever heard one. You know, Death is better than life any day. Take it from someone who knows.”
“Really?” she asked skeptically.
“No. Death stinks. Honestly, for all the jobs, this one’s the worst. It’s just so boring. Twenty-four / seven work, no raises, no bonuses, no vacation time, and no coworkers.”
“And no life insurance,” she added, laughing again.
“Shut up. But yeah, there’s that, and the fact everyone thinks of Death as a scary faceless dude with a hood, a cloak, and a scythe.”
“Come on, Death,” she’d smiled. “That was so 400 years ago.”
“Yeah, thanks. Now you’re bringing up the immortality bit. Do you have any idea how boring it is to be constantly immortal? It’s awful. No one to talk to. No one but my brother, Life, who is such a git I don’t even want to mention him. It gets lonely, too. Everyone hates you. Everyone’s scared of you. Everyone screams when they see you coming. And it’s really not the type of thing you can put on a resume.”
“Not everyone hates you,” said Emma.
“Name one who doesn’t,” I challenged.
“No. Are you kidding? And my life isn’t so great, either, just so you know. I had a kid but the father walked out on me, leaving me with the house, a baby, and pile of debts to pay off. Everyone I turned to pushed me away. Why do you think I’m about to leap off the stairs?” I couldn’t believe her. Who would leave Emma? She was beautiful, one of the prettiest mortals I’d seen after millennia on the job. And witty, too, if she acted the way she acted towards me. And then I looked into her eyes, and saw the heartbreak written oh-so-clearly there.
“And you’re going to abandon the house and a pile of debts to your baby? Come on, Emma, be reasonable,” I sighed.
She took the rope off her neck, flipped her hair back, and sat on the top step.
“You know, I expected Death to be more of a recruiting type. But you’re basically telling me not to come with you. Do you hate me that much?”
I drew back, stung. “No. I just think you should have a chance to live your life, your full life, before you give it all up. Although anyone in their right mind would want to come party with me for all eternity.”
She scoffed. “As if. When’s the last time you did anything fun?”
“I visited a cemetery a century ago,” I said. “And I’m really good at deadpan.”
“I get it. Dead-pan. Oh, so funny.”
“Shut up. Okay, I’m going now. And don’t go committing suicide anymore, okay?”
“You’d have to kill me first.”
And that was my second experience with Emma Moore. She promised she wouldn’t die, not until she had lived out her full life. She kept that promise for as long as she could, until something beyond her power almost forced her to rescind that promise. That was when Emma Moore got cancer.
It was a hospital like this one, white and sterile and remote, appearing inhospitable to human life. All creativity would have been stifled by this cold metal cage, orderly structures of rooms and systems of nurses and doctors. Free spirits like Emma would have hated it.
I walked into her room, 154, praying she was alone because I hated scaring family members. When I saw the contents, I was stunned. In the visitor’s chair sat a girl with Emma’s long auburn hair and her shoulders. But Emma was supposed to be dead, well, almost dead. She turned around at the sound of the door opening, and I knew she wasn’t Emma. The eyes were a steely grey, not the viridian gems I had grown to admire.
“Hey, Hannah,” croaked a voice from the bed. “Could you leave me for a moment?”
The woman obediently got up and left, an identical twin to Emma besides the eyes.
“Death, is that you?”
I strode over to the bed, dragging the chair with me, then sat at Emma’s side. Cancer had not been good to her. Her hair was short and stubbly, growing back from chemotherapy, grey bristles in a streak by her right ear. But her eyes and jaw remained the same, unchanged by the ravages of disease.
“Who’s that?” I asked her. “She looks just like you.”
“My daughter, Hannah. I stayed. I raised her on my own. Got her through college. She’s a lawyer now, one thing I can still be proud of. But I’m sorry, Death, it’s not my time. I want to watch her continue to grow. I can’t leave yet.”
“I believe you. If it makes you feel any better, I don’t want to murder you either.”
“Thanks. I’ll take that as a compliment. So, how’s life?”
“He’s being an idiot again, as usual,” I told her. “Still complaining that I got the easy job, just taking people to their final home, getting to torture people for all eternity if I want to, all that jazz.”
“You get to torture people for all eternity?” Emma grinned, that flash of sarcastic glee returning momentarily to her eyes.
“Yeah, but it’s not worth all the blubbering I get for it,” I sighed. “And it’s not that fun. It gets old after a while. Life has the better job. He gets to mess up people’s existences, and whenever he gets bored he sends them to me to deal with until the end of time. It’s not fair. And you wouldn’t believe some of the idiots I get stuck with. Some of the bullies, the drunkards, the kind of folks people say, ‘I wish they’d just die,’ about. Yeah, it gets them out of Life’s way, but I have to deal with them. Forever. It never ends. I can’t just kill them off, since they’re already dead. And all the requests I get! Don’t even get me started. ‘Go kill my father for me, he ruined my entire existence when he divorced my mother.’ The fools don’t realize that if I kill someone, then they get to deal with them. Forever. Or, ‘Bring me back to life! I miss my sister!’ They don’t get that it’s a one-way trip. Or, the worst, ‘Hey, Death, can you find my bunny for me? He died when I was five and I never got to say goodbye.’ I do not care if your rabbit died. Yes, I killed him. I am Death. This is what I do. But I am not the Rabbit Whisperer. I cannot find your rabbit if your rabbit died a long, long time ago. There are millions of dead rabbits. They. All. Look. The. Same.”
Emma placed a comforting yet skeletal hand on my arm. “Calm down. I get the point. Being Death isn’t to die for. So, speaking of dying, are you going to bring me with you now?”
I shook my head. “No, not today. I came to tell you that now’s not your time. And… I wanted to see you. I remember the first time I met you. You called me a minion.”
“I did, huh. My bad.”
“It was an offense punishable by death.”
“But you didn’t want to deal with me for all eternity.”
I smiled at her, stood up, and moved the chair back.
“I’ll have to see you later, Emma. I have places to go, people to kill, you know.”
“Yeah, I get it. Go leave me to my sorry life. You know, for someone who’s job it is to kill me, you’re not that bad.”
I opened the door and walked away.
That was the last time I interacted with Emma Moore. Although I watched from a distance from then on, she never came close to leaving the planet. I watched her, though. Watched her and her daughter. Emma never told Hannah about me, not that I knew of. I hoped I would never have to kill her. I prayed, although I knew such a thing would never happen, that I wouldn’t have to murder my only friend. But Life happens, and then it stops.
Why do they call it the circle of life? Why not the circle of death? I’m the one who does all of the work, anyway. I kill everything, making the room for more things to inhabit the planet. It never was a problem before. I would kill anything. Beetles, rhinos, paupers, presidents, it didn’t matter. I could suffocate the breath of life from any creature. Except for Emma. She was just so… vibrant, so beautiful. She was an inferno of action, supporting her daughter, watching her grandchildren flourish, giving to charity. From her actions came mountains of good works, and I was loathe to stop her stride. But there comes a day when all things die, even Emma.
So now I stand in her hospital room, room 204, staring blankly at my clipboard and at Emma, wrapped in life-support devices. I gaze at her closed eyes, remembering fondly the emerald glow that used to emanate from them. I stare at that strong jaw, resolute in the face of agony. And the door opens behind me.
It’s a copy of how Emma was, wonderful and perfect, besides her eyes. Hannah, her daughter. She stares at me.
“You’re Death, aren’t you?” Her voice sounds exactly like Emma’s, clear, and vibrant, and beautiful.
I nod. I can’t trust myself to speak. This Emma-that-is-not-Emma brings back too many painful memories, and although I’m not sure if I can cry, I don’t want to find out.
“You’ve come to take my mother away from me, haven’t you?”
I nod again. I wait for her to shout, to yell, to beg. But because she’s Emma’s daughter, she doesn’t.
“You know, she always talked about you,” Hannah tells me. “You were the only person she ever loved until she had me.”
I stare, confused. “She… she mentioned me?”
Hannah smiles sadly. “Yeah. Especially when she got sicker. She’d talk about how you saved her life twice, and gave her a reason to live. You told her that there was a purpose to her life. You were the only person who cared enough to talk her out of killing herself.”
I stare still. “I… I loved your mother. Almost from the first moment I met her. She thought I was a minion, because I didn’t have the cloak and hood she was expecting. Even when I came to kill her, she laughed in my face and said she wouldn’t go. And then, when she tried to kill herself… she was the only person who wasn’t ever afraid of me. I admired her spirit. And I admire her still.”
Hannah tries to laugh, but tears are streaking down her cheeks. “She loved you, too. She said you were to die for. Please, she’s been waiting all of her life for you to come for her. Take care of my mother.”
I nod, try to smile, and soon I’m crying, too, warm pools of tears flowing down my ice-cold face. “I will.”
“Good.” She turns, walks out of the room, and quietly shuts the door behind her.
I’m left staring at Emma, my love. I take her wrinkled hand and press it to my chest.
And then she opens her vibrant green eyes.
“Hey, Death?” she croaks, her voice barely a whisper.
“Yeah?” I say, my voice cracking.
“I’m ready for you to take me home.”