I stand and watch as the boy ties the noose to a rafter in his attic. He has been suicidal for a while now; I was there, seeing him deteriorate. He has come close a few times, and his time started to run out more quickly.
Many people believe that they are ‘destined’ for certain lifestyles due to a variety of reasons, ranging form biological to spiritual. It makes them feel happier, somehow. Safer. I will never know why, especially when I know that they are wrong. In my experience, it all comes down to choice – whether that choice is our own or someone else’s is irrelevant. I should know. I am Death.
That does not mean I know everything. But I have been around, watching, waiting, collecting, since the dawn of time itself.
The boy stands on a chair, the noose around his neck. He is alone this time – his father is out of town; his brother has moved out. There is no one to stop him. No one to save him. Not this time. It is just him now, him and me.
THUD. The chair falls. The rope snaps tight, snaps the boy’s neck. No chance of survival.
“Who are you?” The boy’s soul looks just like he did when he was alive, if slightly paler. He can see me now. I look down at myself. I look like a human girl of about sixteen, the boy’s age. Black hair, dark skin, darker eyes, wearing a plain black dress. Everything about this form I chose specifically for him. He has suffered enough in life. No need for Death to be equally cruel.
I am not heartless, you know.
“I think you know.” My voice is soft and articulate.
The boy looks behind him at his lifeless, empty body, then back at me. “This is what you look like?”
“This is what I look like for you.”
“Only for me?”
“I look different for everyone.”
Pause. “Does that mean you don’t carry a scythe?”
I almost smile. The amount of times I have heard this. “Only when it is needed.”
The boy ponders this. I knew from the moment he was born that it would end like this. Intelligence, curiosity and a love for learning, tainted and shattered by creatures of dull wit and circumstance.
He looks at me again. “What will I see when… you know…”
Another common question. “From what I know, you see what you expect to see.”
“So no one’s right or wrong?”
A moment passes. “So, are we going, or…”
I shake my head. “There is something I want you to see first.”
“And what would that be?”
I reach out to the boy. “Come with me.” He takes my hand, and as soon as he does, we are somewhere else entirely. A playground. There are many children there of various ages, but both our focus is on a little brown haired boy by the swings, about five years old.
“Is… Is that me?” The sixteen-year-old by my side asks. I nod. “I remember this,” he continues. “This is where I met Erica.”
“I know.” We watch as the little boy jumps off the swing and runs to a girl in pigtails who fell off the climbing frame and scraped her knee. He tries to cheer her up by pulling something out of his pocket. A toy soldier that had belonged to his older brother. “She still thinks about you, you know.”
“Erica? She does?” This must be the most hope he has felt in a long time.
“Yes. She is wondering if you are okay. She still has that toy soldier.”
Silence is the only reply. We stand and watch as the little boy and the little girl form a friendship that could outlast eternity, if given the chance.
I touch the boy’s hand, and again we change location. This time we are in his living room. This was after his mother had left; it was just him, his father and his brother.
They are playing hide and seek, all three of them. His brother, about five years older, has already been found, and he and his father were looking by the boy who, given nine years, would hang from a noose in the shed. The child was hiding behind the grandfather clock; he is giggling. The smiles on the faces of the other two show that they can hear him. They are just letting him enjoy his victory for now.
No words accompany this memory. We simply watch in silence.
I touch the boy’s hand again. From memory to memory we go. We see his twelfth birthday, a school trip, an art lesson, a date with the crush he’d been dying to ask out for weeks. What we don’t see is people humiliating him at every turn, calling him names, simply because he is different. We do not need to – these images are too vivid in his mind. Instead, we see the love and acceptance of his family when he finally confesses that his lover is another boy, see his own relief. We see only the good, to ease the pain of all else that has happened.
I touch the boy’s hand again, after seeing him get his first tattoo – an angel on his shoulder – while his boyfriend held his hand. We are back in the shed now, beside the empty shell of a defeated soul. We stand there for a long while.
“Why are we back here?” The question is almost aggressive. “Shouldn’t you be taking me to the other side?”
I look at him. “It is not as simple as that.”
“Because you can still choose otherwise.”
Stunned silence. “How? I’m dead. My neck is broken.”
“I can reverse that.”
“Why would you?”
“The purpose of my showing you these memories was to show you that you are not worthless.”
“But you’re… You’re Death.”
“So why do you care if some idiot hangs himself?”
“I am older than time. I have seen empires rise and fall, people live and die, stories being created and forgotten, since the first creatures walked the earth. I have appeared to those who have feared me, and those who have welcomed me, and all those in between. And yet, I have still come to the conclusion that all things, all people, everywhere, are important. Does that answer your question?”
“Kind of.” Pause. “But why offer me a choice? I’ve made my decision.”
“In my experience, when people choose to die, they do so with impaired judgement. You were blinded by pain and sorrow when you made your decision. I have shown you your moments of happiness, the people you love, the events that made you feel the best. I have shown you all you are willing to sacrifice, simply because certain people picked up certain traits and made you feel less human. What you did not realise in your agony was that they, too, will die. They are not permanent. They are not invincible. Every second of every day, they come closer to me, make decisions that they will regret when I come for them. They will not be with you forever. If you choose to live, they will eventually become echoes in your mind.”
I fall silent. I have lost count of how many times I have repeated this, to reactions varying from breakdowns to shock.
This boy has neither. He simply looks at me for a while, letting all that I have just said sink in. Then he looks at his body, hiding the tears that cannot fall.
“I choose to live,” he says simply.
“Are you certain this time?”
I nod. “Then live you shall.” I touch the boy’s head with a single finger. In the blink of an eye, he is back to when I first appeared, noose in hand, looking at the chair.
It is different this time. I made it so that he can remember everything I showed him, everything I said. He will need the evidence in his own mind. He puts the rope down and, with the first smile anyone has seen in months, turns around and walks back to the house. When he gets there, he will find that his lover and his best friend have come to see if he is alright. They have been worried about him. He will just smile and say he has had a change of perspective. It will be years before either of them find out why.
I may be Death, but I do have a heart.