A Conversation of Bereavement
A short story by Joshua Fraga
Have you ever wanted to live forever? To live old but to stay young?
So have I.
People always wonder about the possibilities. Back in medieval times, people believed that Death would visit those he was about to take. A lot of that was superstition, but still, I know some are true. Some say that Death is an angel, I don’t know about that, I have never felt angelic. What most people don’t know, is that you can best Death, even kill him. Oh, yes, Death can die too, truthfully. I think in secret, Death always wants Death to take them. Confused yet? I thought so. Let me elaborate, since I am the narrator of this particular story. My name was Jacob Faust, that is, before I bested Death.
You see, the upsetting part about killing Death, is that there always must be death in this world, or it would turn into chaos. So whoever’s hand vanquished Death, so shall he be Death’s new hand. So, that is me. I have given up so much to live, or to continue my journey, but the price is more than I can bear. For no one can know Death, no one… But enough of this self-pity, let me tell you the story, the story of how I came to this profession, how I became Death.
I was like all of you once, born of a woman’s womb a baby, then growing to become a child, an adolescent, then an adult. Death was never something I thought about when I was younger. I remember bits and pieces of my youth, playing with friends around my father’s apple orchard. Ah, to be young and carefree! They were the best of my years. I had a little sister, whom I remember picking on when I was younger, yet we became very close. The year was 1749, and my father was an English nobleman who owned an estate, a castle, and very large orchard of apple trees. There were four of us that lived there, my mother, my sister, my father, and myself. I cannot bring myself to mention their names, not after what I did to them.
It started when I was a teen, my father died. He fell off his horse and broke his back, he was dead in two days. Now in the time I lived it was not uncommon for people to die young, there were wars, vandals, and murderers, my father was 38 when Death took him. So at the age of 17 I was the new lord of my family’s manor. With the absence of my father, I became very close to my mother and sister, and very protective of them. Then, as it does in most cases, the new power I had began to corrupt me, and poison my mind. I was becoming increasingly paranoid, I was all too afraid someone would try to take all I had from me. So what was my castle became a fortress. The doors of my castle turned from English oak into stone, and were never opened all they way on account of their large weight. I barred up the window openings, to prevent intruders from scaling the walls and sneaking in. I barricaded my mother and sister in the west wing, which was the safest from the outside world, or at least I thought.
My mother and sister began to worry, they could rarely find me in the large halls and rooms of my father castle. I’ll be the first to admit, I did feel a change in me, even though I knew not what it was. Soon I found that my sickness was in the depths of my mind, in a place where no one can help me. So I began to rot, from the inside out. I was becoming increasingly paranoid. I would hold myself in my chambers for days at a time. After a short while I began to think my servants were conspiring again me and my family, and I remember hanging one of the families for it. I became cold, my heart now fashioned into a block of stone. It was now that I realized I was truly sick, it felt like something was broken in my brain, and I began to fear for my life. That is when I shut everyone out of it.
I kept myself in my chambers, the doors boarded up and blockaded so no one could get in, and so I could not get out. Hours turned to days, and days into weeks. I had stopped eating. I knew the end was coming soon, but I was young, and rich, and crazy as I was, I simply was not ready to die.
My mother and sister were worried, but it wasn’t long before they learned any help they gave me was in vain. I feared they gave up on me as well. I was alone, only with my own insane thoughts to keep me company. Then one day, I received a most unexpected visitor.
It was dark, the coolness of the month of October gave me a slight chill. I remember lighting a fire. I sat there, in my great wooden chair by the fireplace. It was so quiet, I could every sound echo in my ears. Then all of the sudden I felt something turn on inside my head, and instantly I knew I was not alone. I hopped out of my chair, quickly turning with my back now against the wall. The only light in the room was that of the crackling fireplace. I could see no one, but in my soul, I could feel that someone or something was there in the room with me. The cold began to crawl through the tips of my fingers into my veins which sent a shiver down my spine that made my whole body quake. Then, as I began to focus my eyes to look into the darkness of my chamber, I saw the silhouette of a figure standing in the pitch of the west corner of my room. The figure outstretched his arm in my direction, as if beckoning to come, which I did not. Then, as if the figure had no feet at all, it slowly moved toward me, not making a single sound, not a breath, a footstep, or anything to break the silence.
As my visitor came into the dim light of the fireplace, I could feel the temperature drop even more. The flickering light gave me just enough vision to see it’s large black cloak that hung over his shoulders with a large hood that concealed his face. The robes it wore were massive, it was as if when the fabric touched the floor it turned to a black and gray mist hanging over the stones under my feet. “Who are you?!” I screamed at the figure. Now that I think about it, I already knew the answer.
For a brief and lingering moment, I though I had finally gone completely mad, but for some unknown reason, I knew I had not. The Figure stood there, silent, never saying a word, the darkness under this hood was darker than a starless night. Then he began to move again, this time quicker than before. I ran from the warmth of my fireplace to the cold oak of my chamber door, which was now boarded up thanks to me. My fists pounded on the doors like hammers, making loud banging sounds that I was sure would echo down the hall and alert someone… anyone. The Figure slowly turned my direction, and with the fire’s light behind him, I could now see in great detail the horror that stood before me. I could not even see the floor anymore, it was all covered by the mist coming from it’s cloak. Now I could see the outstretched hand was all bone, save a few ligaments that seemed to hold the bones together. And again it began to move slowly toward me. I knew this was Death, coming to collect me, but I was not ready to be collected. Then I made a decision that would change things for me forever.
I don’t know if it was anger, fear, or madness, but I charged at Death as hard as I could. I knew he saw me coming at him, but he did nothing to move or to stop me. He was now only two strides away when with the full force of my body I barreled into Death and knocked him into the lit fire. When I hit him it was like a blast of smoke came from every opening in his robes, filling that part of the room. It was like running into a pillow, I had not expected it. For some reason I thought Death would be heavier than that. The robes began to turn to smoke, not burning, just smoking. The fire crackled and popped as I watched the hooded visitor disappear. It wasn’t long till everything of him was gone, and again I was alone.
I felt different, better, like I had been cured of the sickness that was locked up, hidden in my head. I could think clearly, and see clearly, I thought it was a miracle. I instantly ran back to my boarded up door, and with ease I pulled the pieces of wood of the door and flung it open. I was so excited, I ran to find my mother and sister, so I ran to the west wing. All my servants stared at me as I ran passed them, after all, this was the first they had seen of me in weeks. I made haste, I had no time to converse with anyone but my family. They would be so happy to see their “old Jacob” was back. The feeling was awesome, I forgot what it felt like to look at things in logical and sane way. I smiled all the way to the great wooden doors of the west wing. Again, with ease, I pushed open the doors and the heads of my mother and sister flung around to meet my gaze. They to knew something was different about me, I could see tears of joy beginning to form in my mother’s eyes. I held my arms out hoping they would run to embrace me. My mother of sister quickly got up from their chairs and ran at me, with smiles painted across their beautiful faces, it was like a work of art. But then, everything changed. My family stopped dead in their tracks, the look of love wiped from their face, and now all the color drained from their skin. Their faces turned to pure horror as they stared at me as if they had seen a ghost.
Then as quickly as they ran to me, they ran away, screaming for help. I quickly closed the door behind me and I began to chase them to try and calm them down. Then I had noticed that I could open my mouth, but no words came out. I wanted to tell them not to worry, that it was me, but I could not. I was aghast, I did not know what to do, my family was cowering behind furniture, trying to hide from me, and when I advanced upon them, they ran and screamed even more. I needed to silence them, if my servants heard their yells, they would think I was trying to kill them. So I chased both of them into the same corner. With both my arms outstretched trying calm them down I moved closer to them, which made them scream all the more louder. I needed to silence them, find a way to explain what had happened. So I took both of them, one in each arm, one hand over each of their mouths. Their screams stopped instantly.
I let out a sigh of relief, I was very glad they had calmed down, stopped running and struggling. Now I could try to explain. So I let them go. But instead of standing up before me, when I let them go, they fell lifeless to the floor. All the light drained from their eyes. My mother and sister’s blank stare petrified me. They gazed somewhere past the ceiling, past the roof, past the clouds. What had happened? I didn’t know, I stepped back slowly, in disbelief of what had happened. I needed help, so I ran to the door. I could hear the servants outside, mumbling amongst themselves. Surely they would help. I pulled the great door open, but upon sight of me all the servants ran like cockroaches hiding under a rock. In all different direction they ran. I would have yelled at them to stop, but I still had no means of speaking. So I ran after one and caught up to him, cornering him in the same way I did my family. I grabbed him by the shoulders to shake some sense into him, but as soon as my hands touched him, he became silenced too, permanently.
What was becoming of me? I ran out of the castle to the great stone gate that protected my family’s land. I came to the large stone doors I had put there to replace to wooden ones, thinking it would protect my family from the outside world. They protected them from thieves and vandals, but not from who had killed them… me. I pushed open the stone doors without even trying, and into the woods I ran. There I stayed for a whole month. In that time I was again, alone with my thoughts.
It was then I noticed my speech was not the only thing missing, there was also no hunger, thirst, lust, even the need for sleep, they were all gone. I roamed the woods for that month, hiding in trees and bushes, hoping I would not be arrested for the deaths of my family and my servant. I don’t know why it took me so long to accept what I had become. I know now. Like many others of that time, I sought comfort from the bible. At one point I snuck out of the woods to steal one from a nearby church. I read it cover to cover. It was all I had. It was then I began to learn my new nature.
I know I was not seeing things that fate filled night when I was visited, I knew I had vanquished whatever had come to get me. What I did not know, and did not even think to know, is that with Death gone, someone would have to take his place. I began to fit pieces together by reading parts of the bible over and over again. Phases like, Death is silent, and Death comes to you like a thief in the night raged in my head like echoes in a cave. I, who was not ready for Death to take me, now longed for it as deep as my bones. I wanted to be gone, free of this curse. So I left the woods, in search of the one who would best me.
I came to town, no one recognized me, yet everyone waved. They smiled at me as I walked by. No one made any attempt to talk to me, or even come close to me. It was then I heard the loud cries that could only be that of someone in serious pain. It was coming from cottage on the east side of town. The screams were so loud, I was sure everyone in town could hear it. I came to the door of the cottage, it was locked, but it still opened for me… no door can stop death… and I walked in. Instantly I saw a man, lying broken in bed, his wife by his side, crying. I walked up. “Who are you? How did you get in here?” the woman asked through the tears cascading down her cheeks. I could not answer… death is always silent… so I put my hands up as if to gesture everything was fine. She nodded and turned back to her broken husband. He was still screaming in pain, and even though this was the first time I had ever seen them, I somehow knew what had happened. He had Fallen of his horse, and broke his back and neck on the large jagged rock he landed on. It was then I realized, for the month I was in the forest, Death had not visited the town. Although his back and neck were severely broken, he could not die without my help, all he could feel was the pain. I had to stop it. I took my hand and brought it over his face. His dark doe eyes looked up at me in recognition, he knew who I was, and he smiled… he smiled…I brought my hand down to his forehead and instantly his breathing had ceased, he was finally at peace. His widow looked up at me and smiled, she could see me, but she did not know who I was. I suppose only those who are about to die see Death in his true form. I gave her a nod, and as silently as I came in, I was gone.
That was why… my mother, my sister… paid the price for my greed for life. When I killed Death I did take his place. That was why they ran, they saw me change from Jacob to same hooded figure I saw. Oh Lord, what a horror it must have been to them. Being chased around the room by a hooded skeleton, their last seconds were that of fear and horror. My poor mother, my poor sister… no one can know death… what have I done. That is what my servants had seen as well, no wonder they ran, I ran. I needed to be free of this curse, and I did the only thing I could do, I killed myself. I ran off a cliff and jumped into the rocks that laid below, but I landed, as if I had fallen on a bed of straw. I knew that if I were to ever be freed of this curse, it would never be by my hand. So unable to speak, eat, drink, sleep or die, I began wandering over the world.
Centuries passed, and everything about being Death became normal to me. I wandered the Earth, collecting the souls of those whose time it was to die.
So, it is true, everyone faces Death alone. Only those about to die see me for what I truly am. But I am out there, walking, silently among you. I’m in your cities, your towns, your plains and your deserts. I’m everywhere you look, you just have to look hard enough. I’m in your dreams and in your waking reality. I could be the man at the train station, or the parish member of your church, sadly you won’t know till it’s too late, but I am there, always. Since I cannot speak, I write this in hopes that someone will find it, and maybe want to break me of this curse, and take my place. I do not know what lays ahead of me after this, I can do nothing but do what I am supposed to do. Silently I still follow each and every one of you…no door can stop death… death is always silent…no one can know death… silently waiting, waiting for one to best me.