Free Short: The Lonely Death
This is the first blog freebie that I'll be giving out. It's a short story titled the Lonely Death (a short from my anthology from my book Forfeit (out soon)) that I wrote awhile back. The concept for the story hit me when I was watching a TV show. I didn't think it was fair that people had to die alone so I created an enigmatic character that had no real memory of himself other than his job. Which was to guide souls to the other side so that they weren't alone.
Enjoy! And feel free to comment, share. All that good stuff.
The Lonely Death by Rustin Petrae
I don’t know who I am, where I came from or where I’m going. Sitting here, I can’t even give you a rough estimation of how old I am. Very old is about as close as I can come to it. All I know is what I do. That’s it. Most people, in their eyes, would probably think me evil, or some version of it anyways, but I don’t believe that. It’s about perspective, I guess. Other people, looking at what I do through a view outside of what’s really going on, are the ones that say that. But they can never understand. The only one that does is myself, and not even I do very well.
I’ve been called many things by many different people.
The Harbinger of Death.
The Angel of Death.
The Shadow that Stalks us All.
All of it is ridiculous, really. I do not bring death. Death brings me. It’s hard to explain and even harder to believe, but it’s the truth. Like I said before, I don’t really understand how it works myself. All I know is that it just is. I wish I could elaborate, it might make my tale a little more believable, but sadly, I can’t.
When I say I do not bring death, death brings me, I am completely serious. I’ve reached yet another unexplainable thing and for that I apologize. Bear with me, please because it will make more sense in the end. Just remember that Death brings me. It all comes back to that.
I have walked this earth for a long time. I might not have my memories but of that I’m fairly sure. Walked, perhaps, is a loose term. It’s more like I’ve showed up at certain places and times. Seemingly out of nowhere. I don’t know how long I have been doing this, but to me, it seems an eternity. Maybe it is. The places I go to are different. The times I go to are different too. But one thing is always the same no matter what. Death. It’s what calls me. Like a voice I hear deep inside my head. I hear it and then I’m off to a new place to do what I was made to do. The problem that I have, is my memory. Shortly after each session, I guess that would be the best way to describe it, I wake up in a new place with no recollection of how I got there. I remember bits and pieces of what came before, but even those slowly fade away. The only thing I know for sure is the job. I always remember my job. What I have to do. It’s like a burr that sticks to your clothes and refuses to come off. Only, it’s in my mind. That’s why I’ve decided to write this. The darkness is terrible. The darkness of not knowing who I am, of not knowing where I was before or how I got there. I don’t want to forget anymore. I want to remember. Maybe then, the curse my life has become will break. I doubt that, but one can hope.
“Hey!” A man called out of the window of his large SUV. I was standing on the side of the road, just popped in, I guess you could say and already my memory was degrading. In the back, buckled to a child’s safety seat, was a smiling, beautiful little boy. He had the most wondrous eyes. A dazzling green so bright they were nearly jewel-like. I could see his face through the window, a look of pure curiosity on his cherubic features as he studied the strange man on the side of the road. By that time, my memory was nearly gone and for a moment the confusion of a new place and setting was enough to keep me speechless. I peered around owlishly, the light of the day suddenly seeming too bright and intense for my eyes.
“You okay?” The man asked me with what seemed like genuine concern. I knew enough then to know that genuine concern from a stranger was a rare thing indeed. “You need a lift?”
I wanted to tell him no. I suddenly wanted that more than anything. The boy with the dazzling green eyes was still looking at me with his infinite curiosity. They seemed to pierce me. To know exactly why I’d come. In the end, I could no more tell him no than I could refuse to breathe and still live. It’s the voice of Death. Insistent. Never-ending. It goes on and on, telling me where to go and what to do. It whispered to me on the side of that road with a stranger’s vehicle idling in the shoulder waiting for me to respond.
“That would be great.” I told him, defeated. The voice had won again, as it will always win.
He leaned over the passenger seat and unlocked the door. I opened it and climbed in, glancing back at the boy in his seat. His dazzling eyes never seemed to leave me.
“Where to?” The man asked and I turned to him.
It wasn’t far. Not far at all.
“Okay.” He looked at me curiously. “Name’s Wendell Shoals. That’s my son, Owen. He’s just past fifteen months. Ain’tcha big guy?”
In answer, the little boy let out a peal of laughter and the thought of him broke what passed for my heart.
“What’s yer name?” Wendell asked.
“I don’t know. As far as I can tell, I don’t have one.” There was a questioning, almost disbelieving, look on his face.
“Well, that don’t seem right. You don’t know yer own name?”
“Where ya from?” Wendell asked again and was rewarded with the same vague “I don’t know” from me. “So lemme git this straight. You’ve got no name and ya don’t know where yer from?”
“That’s pretty strange.” He said.
“Yes, I suppose it is.” I replied. He looked at me again, and I could see that his eyes were hazel. Not the brilliant green the boy had.
“How’d ya get on the side of that road?” He asked and I merely shrugged my shoulders. “Ah well. I guess it don’t much matter, so long as you know where yer goin I guess.”
I didn’t respond to him. All I could do was try and keep my gaze away from Owen’s eyes. They had taken on an accusatory look that I didn’t much like. It seemed to me that the little boy already knew the same thing I did. That I was already where I was going. That Wendell’s car was where I was supposed to be at. And in a very short time, too short I kept thinking, my business in that car would be over and I would leave again.
“So what do you do?” Wendell asked him, his voice rich and polite.
“Mostly, I think I’m just a guide.” I told him as honestly as I could.
“Like a tour guide?” He asked, curious.
“Something like that.” Was all I could think of.
“Sorry if the conversation bugs you, son, but I’m sort of a chatty fella. Ask my wife, says I’ll talk a person’s ear off if given half the chance. Ain’t that right, big guy?” He looked quickly over his shoulder and met his son’s gaze. He threw him a large grin, the smile wide and pleasant. It showed a lot about the man. Above all, it showed that he loved tremendously.
Now, you have to understand something at this point. I wanted to scream at him, but my throat locked up. I wanted to do it badly because of those green, accusatory eyes. Because of that adorable little face which seemed to know right then was the instant his father would be gone forever.
That little half-glance over his shoulder played a part in the death of Wendell Shoals. The overworked and drowsy office worker coming home from a long day was the other. She didn’t know it when her car swerved into the other lane.
She hit the SUV I was riding along in. The impact was loud and horrifying. There was a deafening screeching and a whiny squealing sound as the tires‘ forward momentum was ground to a halt.
It’s hard to say for sure what really happened, even though I was along for the ride. Things happen in a blur sometimes and even if I’d had a full memory, I don’t think I would’ve been able to say what really happened. One second we were driving on the road with no trouble and the next, everything was a scattered nightmare. When I finally came back to myself, I heard Owen crying in the backseat, bits of glittering safety glass covering his lap. His eyes, however, were locked on his father. Tears slid down his chubby cheeks.
I turned to look at Wendell, the man that had been kind enough to offer a ride to a stranger. He looked back at me with wide, terrified eyes. A piece of jagged shrapnel had buried itself in his chest. Blood was seeping out of the wound and his breathing was rapidly growing labored. It had punctured his lung and cut a stripe across the left side of his heart. I knew the injuries like they were my own, but I did not know the pain that came with them.
Wendell looked over to me, his hand reaching out for mine. I clenched it without hesitation, for this was my true purpose in life. As I said earlier, I do not bring death.
Death brings me. Maybe this part of the story will help everyone understand that.
I stared at him, holding his hand and waiting. The voice inside my head, Death’s voice, whispered urgently. I listened. That’s what I do. I listen and then I do what I am told. Sometimes, however, there are prices that are meant to be paid and I paid mine that day. The sudden flood of Wendell’s emotions broke over me, causing me to gasp sharply. As far as I knew that had never happened before. Images came next. His family, mostly. His wife, who was very pretty. She tended a couple of rose bushes in their back yard each spring and summer.
And then there was Owen. I saw the day he was born, like I’d been there myself. I felt the insurmountable joy that Wendell had felt when he laid eyes on his son for the first time. I felt the love he had for him when he first cradled that little life in his large arms, rocking him gently back and forth. I saw more than I ever wanted to. Owen’s first words. His first steps. The first time he gave his mother a hug and a kiss.
All of it ran through my mind.
“Wendell.” I said, my voice high and thready. “I’m here. I’m here. It’s okay.”
“My b-boy?” He asked, seeming to not even care about the spike of shrapnel sticking out of his chest or the fact that his life’s blood was spilling from that wound. “Gg-get…O-owen…out of th-the car. M-make s-sure he’s s-safe.”
“Owen is fine, Wendell.” I assured him, taking his hand and squeezing. His eyes found mine again and I could see them clouding. That voice inside my head was telling me it was time. But I couldn’t leave it the way it was. He loved that boy so much. All I could think about was all the things he was going to miss and how he wasn’t going to be there to see his boy grow into a man.
I saw him slipping and with it my chance to help. I reached out a hand and forced him to look at me. When his eyes latched onto mine, I let him see.
Whatever power I have, part of it flowed out of me that day and into Wendell Shoals. I watched him jerk, his body going rigid. Then, a second later, he seemed to sink and go boneless. The pain that had twisted his features was gone now, replaced by a dreamy sort of happiness. I was sucked into wherever he was a moment later and we traveled through his son’s life in mere seconds. To Wendell, it felt like he was there, with his son in all ways but physical as he grew up. He watched him at home after he just turned two. His party was done up with characters from his favorite cartoon. He watched him at three, then four, then five, then the start of kindergarten. He traveled with his son as he went through elementary school. He was always one of the brightest. His brilliant green eyes would always be filled with that infinite curiosity.
He went with his son on his first date. Then through high school and watched as he started dating a girl that he had been in love with for quite some time. He watched his son graduate from high school and then college. He watched Owen as he stood in an expensive tux at the foot of a church’s alter. His best friends were right there along side him. He saw his wife in the pews, crying and grasping her new husband’s hand. When all the people turned and watched the bride walk up the aisle, a real beauty she was, he turned and watched also.
He was there for the birth of his first grandson, then his second. He was there for all of it, and I saw the pride in his glowing hazel eyes. Shining bright and strong.
Wendell watched it all, tears streaming down his cheeks. He turned to me once again, looking at me with undisguised gratitude.
“Why’d ya do this fer me?” He asked and I just looked at him.
“I honestly don’t know.” I responded. “I didn’t know I was going to do that when I did. It just happened. There’s a lot that I don’t understand.”
“Then what do ya understand?” He asked.
“That I am a guide.” I told him. “Death brings me and those he takes are given to me. I guide them to where they’re going. I make sure they’re not alone.”
“Thank you.” He said. “Thank you for doing this fer me and fer being with me. I don’t want to be alone.”
“You aren’t.” I said and grasped his hand again. “I’ll be here with you. It’s what I was made to do.”
“Where am I goin?” He asked and I could feel that he was afraid.
“To a place where you’ll be happy. To a place where you’ll see your wife and Owen again someday.”
“Will you make sure they get there?” He asked.
“Yes.” I said, a sad smile on my face. “It’s what I was made for, after all.”
“I’m ready to go.” He said, a quiet confirmation in his tone.
A bright light suddenly appeared, white and pure. I ushered him toward it and he went with dignity. A tear rolled down my cheek as we stepped into its comforting embrace. All I could see in my mind were his son’s green eyes. Curious at first, and then accusatory. It was like he had known all along why I had come. I wish that it would’ve been different. I wish that I could’ve spared his father. But in the end, I had to do what I was made to do. To guide and to protect the dying from a lonely death. To make sure that they had someone there with them, always. A reassuring presence.
As I look back on this journal that I'm writing, I realize that the words I’ve written have disappeared. Maybe that’s for the best. Writing this tale was a mistake, I think. In some ways, though, I don’t think that at all. I’ve gained, at least as far as my memory will allow, a better understanding of why I don’t remember who I am or where I’ve been. If I’ve been allowed to keep the memories of everyone’s pain, all of their suffering, and their dying hopes that they will live, then I don’t know if I could stand it. The crushing weight of it all would most likely end me.
I can barely stand to remember all the anguish and grief when Wendell had died. Or those jewel-like and accusatory green eyes of a boy not even two.
I don’t know why I was created to protect the dying from their own tortured fears or the threat of a lonely death. All I know is that I was.
AlI I know is, it’s what I was made to do.
This material has been copyrighted by Rustin Petrae.