I know. I know everything. It's easy to know everything about a person when you have to know why they're going to die.
No guns blazing. I checked the house; no sharp knives. Bleach is tucked into a corner in the basement. A black widow's made its home outside the front window. Bee's nest somewhere in the back. Allergic to almost nothing.
What's her downfall?
I look around her room. It's decorated in an arrangement of puffy pastel colors. Childhood psychedelia. Pink rug, blue bed, cyan chair, red beanbag. From what I've seen in my time (which is forever), this is the repercussions of childhood.
I glance at the wall behind her broken television. Pictures are taped up against a board. Her and some friends when she was younger. A sticky note with "goodbye" is pasted next to a photo of a smiling girl just her age.
A laptop that's older than her sits on a white desk. Her calendar is a month behind. Three copies of a self-published book are splayed out on the floor. I can tell from the cover that she wrote it herself.
Why do I have to take her tonight?
She's half-awake. I shut the door without a sound and unplug the nightlight in the shape of a moon. It's much better to be in the dark about this. Explanations are long-winded.
"...H... hello?" She sits up in bed, pushing her hands against the old mattress. I look at her, unresponsive.
Her eyes open wide. She doesn't know me-- no one quite does. But she knows what I look like. A close imaginary friend of hers. I tried to find a comforting person to take on the form of, but unfortunately, she has none, so I chose the form of Red. A horned creature with piercing red eyes.
It's not the most kindly look. But if this is her imaginary friend, then so be it. Whatever she finds comfort in. I wouldn't like to scare her.
They say I'm scary. Though I try not to be.
She takes pause. Sits up further, staring. "...Red?"
She never expected to meet Red, I know. She never expected to see him, to catch sight of what he would look like if he was real. Having taken the images from her own imagination, I would think that she would know how he looks, but apparently not. Her face is the epitome of shock.
But that's how it goes. I dress up as either imaginary friends or favorite characters. Who wouldn't want to be taken off by a My Little Pony? It's a much better costume than the Grim Reaper.
I look at her, gently as I can. Knowing that you're going to die is often a surprise. Most people are afraid of it. "Hello."
She gasps quietly. "It is you!"
Not exactly. I am not the Shadow of her first storybook. I have an obligation to tell her the truth.
I stretch my hand out to her. "Come with me."
If she asks, I tell. If she doesn't, I don't. Simple rules. Explanations are hearty when they are dragged out of me. I'd rather not promote the fact that I know everything about her.
"What..." Seemingly accepting the offer, she slides out of bed and stares at my outstretched arm. "I... I would... I have to get ready!"
She must trust her characters a whole lot. I've met imaginative teens, but none of them like her so much.
"Where are we going?"
Where? There is no real location. There never is. The drive to death is, well, unspecified. "Nowhere real," I admit.
She blinks. "B... but... What do you mean?" She walks hurriedly over to her dresser and digs out a pair of white socks, presumably assuming that I'm going to take her to the base of operations from her storybook. Because she thinks that I am Red, and I am a Shadow, even though I am not.
She doesn't have to put the socks on. I watch blankly. Humans have no need to prepare so quickly. They have no need to prepare at all.
"It is not a real place. You don't need to bring anything with you."
She pauses. I see her hesitating underneath blonde locks. She trusts me, obviously-- because she thinks this is a dream, one, and because she thinks I am Red, two, whom she trusts-- but hearing my words has made her falter.
Her thoughts change.
"You won't be coming back," I say.
She waits, then sets the bundle of white socks back into her dresser and shoves the drawer shut. She starts to say "what do you mean," but she stops.
I hate answering these questions. They elongate the process. But at least time stops to ease the confusion of it all. "You can't come back from where you're going."
There's a long moment of silence. I feel like she already knows what's happening. For the past week, she has had rippling chest pain thanks to her erratic heart, but she hasn't told anyone about it for fear of medical expenses and other irrational terrors. She has been afraid of death, like every other living person on this planet. This evening, she had thought she would die because of how horrible it became. She fell asleep eventually, after a while of coaxing herself.
I was in the house. I should know.
"...It's... I'm not going... anywhere, am I."
It isn't a question. She knows. But she does not want to admit it to herself.
I lower my hand back at my side. A touch from me and her heart would stop. That's how it works. "No."
She looks back at me. Her nightgown drapes limply down to her legs. She looks like a ghost (hah, how strange) in the dim lighting of the television. "So then... you're not really Red?"
I shake my head.
She expects me to finish her sentence. I am obligated to do so. "Death."
Her eyes well with tears. I should've expected it, though. Everyone reacts the same way when told that they're about to pass. Something about never getting to say goodbye to such-and-so, or missing a lost pet, or not expressing their love for family... All things that they take for granted, I think. I've seen it too often to think otherwise.
Here it goes. The list.
"But... if you're Death, then you-- then you have to know why I have to... go..." She sniffles. She seems afraid of her parents waking.
Time is paused. They cannot wake.
I look down. "Kawasaki's."
She swallows. "The heart disease?" Before I can nod, she continues. "I thought the doctors took care of that already! When I was 2!"
I shake my head at her. They tried to, but they couldn't anticipate the effects it would have on her later in life. It's a rare instance. If anything, she should be proud of it. It's a new discovery for the medical field.
"It didn't work. Not fully. Your heart is stopping."
Correction: will stop. But I don't want to tell her that she'll die as soon as she touches me. That seems a bit on-the-nose. And, of course, she'll refuse to touch me, and then I'll have to grab her, which is something I don't like doing.
It's not as if everyone chooses a willing death. But there's no reason to put up any resistance-- any and all is futile. I come when I come.
She hiccups back a sob. I can see her trying to be silent.
"No need to be quiet," I say. No one expects comforting words from Death. "No one can hear you."
Whoops. It's terrible, actually. She cries into her hands upon hearing it. Maybe I should practice more. I don't want to sound like "No one hears you cry and no one ever will again!"
I wish I could hug her without killing her.
She wipes at her eyes, clearly upset. "Is it... Will it... hurt?"
"But I can take away the pain."
Pause. "R... really?"
"Yes." I choose what I choose. The peaceful passing is often numbed down. Nobody deserves a painful death-- except maybe Hitler, but I dealt with him accordingly. Anyone else is spared that kind of suffering. Humans have made such a big deal about death that it's become a fad, almost, to try and drown yourself in pain before you die. If only they knew how painless it is.
She hiccups again. "You know about her, right?" She points to the sticky note on the wall. "I... didn't get to say goodbye to her when she left..." Hiccup. "I was too afraid of saying goodbye..."
"Sincerity," I whisper. "Do you speak with sincerity?"
She nods rapidly. But then, when I stay quiet, she slowly shakes her head.
As I knew. No one speaks with sincerity anymore. "Love" has become a natural word of no meaning. "I love you" is a phrase that has no definition. She said "I love you" to her parents before going to bed, but did she say it with sincerity? Did she mean it? Did she put thought into it? Did she consider the possibility of dying?
Yes and no. But mostly no, like everyone.
"It's OK," I sigh. "She knows." Her best friend.
"She will know."
Ouch. The wrong thing to say, again. She sits back on her bed and puts her head in her hands and cries. I hear her mumbling under hear breath the name of a friend long-gone. And the names of her parents. And her brother. And her two dogs, one of which is a sausage-shaped chihuahua staring at me with wide eyes.
"...Are you ready to go?"
"This is serious, isn't it?" She rubs away sleep from her eyes.
I nod again. "It is real."
"Who's ever ready?"
Ow. I try to let everyone have some time to eat ice cream and play games with family before they go. They're not exactly ready, but they've lived happy lives.
I reach out my hand again. I may have to grab her hand if she doesn't say yes. I don't like doing it, but I'll do it in the end. "Are you ready?"
She stares dubiously at my-- at Red's-- outstretched arm. Her stomach churns. "Can I say no?"
I blink. "If everyone could say no, do you think anyone would have passed?"
I should stop sounding so snarky. Maybe it's Red's voice. It can't be my fault.
She complies, after a minute or so. Resistance is futile. And as promised, there is no pain involved. Immediate sedation, except without all the needles.
It's not so hard being Death. But from this venture, I may have to practice beforehand in front of a mirror. My approach is clearly a little offhanded.
About the Creator
A ninth grader. A self-published author. A West Virginian. A lone wolf. An avid writer. A lovely gal to be around. A make-believe astronaut. An owner of many aliases. A leader. A creator of fictional worlds. A homeschooler. A villain-maker.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions