Death and all his Friends

Complex and varied are the myriad tales of the creature we call Death. Discover forthwith a collection of such tales - short stories and poems concerning both death and Death.

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3. His Bending Sickle

Alone. The white and grey shadows whip around you, knocking you to the sharp earth. You run through the once-green grass that now glints like steel as it slices at your feet. Ribbons of skin fly around you ankles, dry as bone. There is no blood - only a sea of grey razors. The shadows finally catch you and this time when you fall, you stay down.

The sound of the wind is deafening as you stare at the ice cold sun in its gloomy grey sky. The shadows writhe and roil in your calm gaze, losing definition and becoming mist. They seem confused, but more than that - they seem afraid. And then there is something to be afraid of. You sit up when the wind quiets as if nervous, and the mist sinks to the ground, subdued. Then he is. He does not come. Does not appear. He simply wasn't, and now he is.

Alone upon the hill the reaper man stands. Clad and cowled in black, a steel sword hangs at his belt and silver sickles coil around his shoulders. Unfazed by the raging wind that has sprung up once more and grabs at the rips and tears in the hem of his frayed cloak, he takes graceful strides though the hostile field, each step slicing a new ribbon of black cloth. Behind him is a pale horse, ashen as a corpse, that follows slowly and occasionally tosses its head fretfully. He bends down a picks up a tiny delicate form, reaching for the scythe on his back with his other hand. Holding the mighty instrument near the blade he touches the baby's heart and releases its spirit. Delicately he takes the spirit, a muted replica of the child, and swaddles it in black material. He steps up onto the horse, turning to where you lie.

The pale beast trots towards you, and the reaper wields in one hand a silent scythe of shadows, in the other the spirit of an innocent. He stands above you and looks down, an impossibly tall pillar of vibrant black amongst the noncommittal hues of grey.

He extends with one hand the mighty, merciless blade. It hovers around your throat, emanating an icy aura. Breath held, you wait for the sweet cold kiss of the reaper man's blade and the clean release of sleep you know its touch holds. It does not come. The tip of the blade lifts up a tiny golden hourglass on a fine chain around your neck, the sand within fleeing from one side to the other in terror.
"Your time is not yet up," he intones, his voice quizzical. "There has been a mistake."

He retracts his scythe and instead offers a skeletal hand, pulling you behind him onto his pale steed. And now you see the spirit of the child up close, and its glassy brown eyes pierce your very soul. Suspicion enters your mind, a feeling of sudden inexplicable recognition. But then you are distracted by the material that, where once was black as night, is now stained white in a pool spreading from the spirit.
"Silk," says the reaper man. "For those innocent of life's impurities." His voice is soft, almost... pitying? You reach out and with hands that feel like lead weights, close the baby's eyes. Now it could almost be sleeping - though the empty silver hourglass round its neck would indicate otherwise.

Suddenly the being in front of you nudges the horse, and it explodes into motion, galloping into the air and beyond. Sudden and brutal fear rips into you with the wind, but as you become more comfortable and grip the man's waist ever looser, you begin to laugh, revelling in the wind in your face, the knot in your stomach unwinding.

The horse canters along and you look around as, with the reaper man, you cross the realms of space and time, casting out the boundaries of possibility. Together you forge new ones, and even those you blur as they cool, steaming in the waters of the void. You are borne out even unto the edge of doom, catching glimpses of the yawning chasmic abyss, the barren boughs of eternity and the thundering waterfall of solace. All in a heartbeat. Finally the horse slows, in front of a cast iron archway with intricate cursive lettering inscribed upon it. Past the gate, silhouetted against the snake-slit eye of the great typhoon, is the shape of a man wreathed in shadows.

As he gazes into the vengeful, fiery depths beyond, his perfectly still form entrances you. You barely notice as the reaper man dismounts, leaving the baby nestled within the saddlebag of the horse. Then, with gentle reverence he lifts you from the beast's back. The grass between your bare toes is cool and refreshing, blue in the murky half light. But as you look down you notice the dark red dew upon the midnight blue, and feel your stomach wrench itself into a tight knot.

Behind you the bone white horseman calls out;
"Shadow man, shadow man, what do you see?"
"Reaper man, reaper man. I see the seven seals broken and the seven bells ringing as one. I see the four riders, and the future they bring. I see Conquest loosing his arrows of pestilence, War razing the worlds to the ground and Famine sowing destruction in his wake. And I see you reaper man. You stand above the rest, pale and righteous, and you are the last to fall." The shadow man's voice is thick, strong yet sorrowful, brimming with emotion. "After the worlds fall and existence crumbles, I alone will stand between the Dark and the Light, between Chaos and Order, my arms laden with the blood and bone and bodies of fallen comrades."
"Such is the burden of shadows, brother."
"So it is."

By now the Shadow has made his way towards the archway. He reaches out with one gloved grey hand, and rests the tip of his finger ever so delicately upon the golden hourglass.
"This one has strayed far," he muses. "You will need your sickles, brother." The reaper man turns you towards him and with his bending sickles of vibrant, shimmering steel, encompasses your neck. In one swift motion he pulls the blades clear and you fall backwards into the soft, warm arms of the shadow man. As you cross the dusky partition of the archway, the world glimmers and becomes bright with life once more, unbearably so from the muted tones of the realm before.

Your senses burst alive with a thousand different smells and sounds. The air is thick with fresh-fallen rain, and birds call in the distance. More overpowering, however, are the myriad stenches of death. It is not rain, but droplets of blood that lie upon the grass and cling to your feet like warm, swollen leeches. The birdcalls are the caws of crows, pecking at the far off bodies of the fallen. Worst of all is the smell. The acrid, burning stench that invades your mind and dominates your revulsion. The smell of charred corpses.

It's too much. There are too many things, too fast, you can't cope.  You look up and can finally read the inscription on the arch: ‘to télos erchetai’. The end is coming. The edges of your vision close in, blackness surrounding the horrors you behold. The last you remember is a gentle, bearded face with glinting emerald eyes. "Peace now, little one," It says. "I will carry you safely back to the land of the living." Then the darkness claims you.

 

~~~

 

The woman woke with a violent start, heart racing and pulse pounding furiously. She was confused, blinded by the stark white lights and obtrusive grey walls. She began to hyperventilate as the cloying smell of antiseptic overpowered her senses. Her body convulsed, terrified, and panic clouded her mind. Only he could ground her, sooth her frenzied thoughts and calm her in both body and mind. And only he could break the news.

Neither they nor the doctors that scurried through the room noticed the two figures in the corner. The Reaper and the Shade stood silent and unseen, observing all. The Shade was the first to speak.
“The child-”
“Dead. You know the rules as well as I, and there can be no exceptions. These laws bind all space and time – everything up to the very Gates themselves.”
“I am not from space and time, reaper man. And nor are those bound by shadows.”
“You would claim her then? Yet another to fuel your merry band of thieves? Why the rush?” The Shade is silent, but his silence says more than he could. “I see. It’s near then?” A nod.
“The Fall is coming. The Four horsemen will ride together, and the shadows will be ready.”
“Brother… If the end really is coming, there is no force that can halt it, from either side of the Gate.”
“I know that better than any man – but it does not mean I cannot try.”

They followed as the woman was wheeled from the room on a steel bed, sobbing uncontrollably and clutching her swollen belly.
“Chaos will come, and when it does it will bring the worlds crashing down. But if it takes my dying breath, I will watch it burn one last time before the end.”

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A/N Hi everyone, this piece was written for an English GCSE creative writing task, it was springboarded off of  a line of poetry, 'His Bending Sickle', you may have noticed that and one or two other phrases from sonnet 116 in there. As always, any constructive criticism is very welcome.

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