A Meeting With Death

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Review Chain

Death listens to the story of an old man she was about to reap.

A Meeting With Death

 

One day, Death paid a visit to an old man living in a farm near the woods.

She found him watering some cabbages on his farm, a small, surprisingly neat patch of land with a house in the middle. An oak tree stood close to the house, its broad canopy made stronger and more majestic by age.

Death walked slowly towards the old man. Her footsteps were quiet, the ends of her black hooded cloak flapping slightly with the gentle wind.

"Walter? How have you been?"

The old man turned around.

There was surprise in the old man's eyes, but also something else - some flash, some glimmer Death can't quite decipher. He fumbled slightly with his hose, dropped it on the ground, and wiped his dirty hands on his denim jumpers.

"Oh, well, uh... That's a surprise." The old man chuckled. "I kind of was expecting you, just not today. It's quite a fine day, you see."

"Apologies. I don't really have much control over such things."

"Of course, of course."

The lady with the hooded cloak looked around the old man's farm. An empty box already moist with water was beside the cabbages. On the other side was a huge box of land with potatoes, ready for harvest in a week or two. There were spaces reserved for lettuce and broccoli, these ones near the side of the house. There were also a bit of red and yellow flowers on a small flower box near the old man's porch. It was a humble farm, but it was worth being proud of.

"Uhm, excuse me?" The old man was wiping his wet hands with a small white towel.

"Yes?"

He was wiping his hands with a towel. "Well, I know that you're probably busy with, you know, your appointments with people and all that, but can I ask for something?"

"And what would that be?"

"Well, maybe we could just take a little walk, you know. I'd really like to go to that hill one last time, if that's okay." He pointed at a small hillock at the distance, its whole body almost covered by the woods in front of it."

Death paused to think, and said, "I think I have some time."

 

 

The old man started speaking a few minutes after they started walking.

"I really like this trail. It's like the one I had when I was little. I was born in a different country, you see. And kids my age would always tease me because I had a lisp."

The old man chuckled. "A lithp, they would say. They'd make snake sounds when I'm around 'cause they knew I can't do it. It made me really angry, so I'd always find some place to be alone."

A sea of grass spread all around them, divided by the thin patch of earth they were walking on. A breeze blew from their right, moving Death's cloak in an opposite direction.

"Did you like being alone?"

"Well, no. I don't think anyone ever wants to be alone," said the old man. "But I didn't really have a choice. I had no friends. And my parents were always at work. Nothing changed when we moved to the city when I was eight or something.

"It's quite ironic, to be honest. There were so many people in the city, but I felt the loneliest there." The old man was looking down on his feet. "But that was in the past. I don't think about it anymore."

"Did you not have friends at school?" Death asked.

"No, no I didn't. No one talked to me, you see, because of the lisp. I was pretty good at school, though. My teachers said I was a smart kid. I didn't get to college, though. I had to work, you know, 'cause my dad said the economy was in shambles and we need extra income."

"Hm." Death pondered on the old man's confession of loneliness. She'd tended to billions, but she still had a hard time grasping the idea. "What kind of work did you do?"

"Well, nothing. I didn't get to work because the war started."

 

 

"I don't understand war. It think it's too violent and too unnecessary. The leaders should just fight each other hand to hand to see who wins. It's easier that way. Bunch o' cowards.

"But what I don't understand even more is the fervor boys have when it comes to war. Everyone my age was crazy about getting drafted. They're so hungry about killing someone, they don't even think about the possibility of them getting killed. It's ridiculous."

They have entered the woods, and the path still continued. Everything around them was earth and wood and foliage. Some insects flew by, some stayed on the leaves of the plants and trees.

"What happened to you in the war? Did you kill anyone?" inquired Death, quite interested in the man’s story now.

"Well, no. You wanna know what I did? Whenever we had to fire, instead of firing on the enemy, I fired on the ground!" The old man let out a throaty laugh. "Ain't no way they'll make us kill each other. At least not for me." He cackled at that.

Death couldn't help but smile. The old man's spunk got to her.

"My stint in the military didn't last long, though. We lost the war, and my motherland was decimated first by war, and then, funnily enough, by the diplomacy of the winners." He shrugged. "I guess she deserved it, though, having tolerated bad people in power. Nevertheless, we immigrated after a few years. Life was just too hard there."

Death remembered that part of history quite well; she was at her busiest during those times. She couldn't say she enjoyed seeing all that pointless carnage, however.

They passed along a stream, and the old man kneeled, scooping water into his mouth.

 

 

Death stared at a small mushroom at the side of a tree in front of her. Sitting down the roots of another old, stolid tree, they had sat down to let the old man rest a little bit.

Death thought about the dynamic between woods and people all throughout their lifetimes. Children would always find wooded places scary, especially during night time. When they grow up into little boys and girls, they'd lose their fears and play with the trees, only with those at the edge at first, and going deeper and deeper as they grow older and more confident.

Then they'd grow even more, and maybe they'd find someone they really like. And the woods would become their reprieve, their own little world inside a bigger, scarier one. They'd meet on some clearing or on some secret tree house, kindling a young fire so warm both of them would be changed by it.

And when they grow even older, the woods will cease to be a playground and will, instead, become a source of replenishment for their needs. They'd chop down wood for lumber and pick fruits for food, and scoop down water on streams and lakes. Maybe there's some river nearby, and they'd fish their food there.

And when they grow even older, so old Death could almost grasp them, the woods will become a refuge, a place of peace and quite that comes very scarcely to people with a lot to bear in mind. Memories weigh people down, Death believed, and the minds of the aged weigh the most. The woods help lighten that burden a tiny bit.

Humans and woods. Something to fear of when young, but something to get closer to the older they get. Just like her, the hooded figure thought.

 

 

"What happened when you moved here?" asked Death.

"Well, life was still hard, but it was more bearable. We lived in the city, and there was no indication of war or destruction, or any of that. I worked odd jobs here and there. Anything to help with the bills and all that."

They had resumed walking, the old man eating some raspberries he picked from a bush a while back. Death tried to pick some for her own, but the berries slowly disintegrated with her touch.

"It wasn't easy, but I had this neighbor, Mary, and she made my days bearable. She was very pretty, you see, short black hair and blue eyes and all that. She was very sweet, too. I was shy because of my lisp, but I forced myself to fix it so I can talk to her. It took some time, but she was very supportive. Not long after, I can speak as clearly as any other man out there. I definitely couldn’t have done that without her help.

"As you can tell, we hit it off, and it turns out she was the love of my life."

The old man had a big smile on his face. Death can't help but smile the same.

"Eventually, we got married. Small ceremony, few people, just her family and her. It wasn't grand, but at least we were together. That's what's important, right? Anyways, it was the happiest day of my life.

"And in a few months, she got pregnant. My life got even better. I had to work harder, you know. I barely slept just to save money for our little baby. But when I get home and sleep beside Mary, all my tiredness just gets washed out, you know?"

This was a narrative Death knew very well. Humans seemed to become better people when they know a smaller version of themselves were about to be brought into the world.

"And how did it go?"

"Well, I really didn't know."

Death looked at the old man.

"I didn't know. I was in jail for the rest of that story, you know."

 

 

Death and the old man had come to a part of the woods that seemed more dead than the others. The trees looked drier, their leaves browner and more fragile. In a few places, only stumps of once great trees remained. The forest floor was pure brown earth, with no other plants or animals to speak of.

"It was a coworker of mine, Anton, from this pizza place I'd clean tables on. He said he needed help with this small delivery job. It looked like easy money, you know - one night job, simple pick up and drop off, good payout and all that. I needed the money, so I said, why not? So we met one night, picked up two black leather bags from this apartment, one heavier than the other, and went on our way.

"Halfway to our destination, we got stopped by these coppers on the street. I didn't know why at first, you know, I just thought maybe they were making sure we weren't lost or something. But Anton suddenly pulled out this gun and shot at the two cops. One died on the spot, but the other shot at Anton on the chest before getting shot at, too. I hid behind the curb while all that was happening."

The old man was staring far ahead into space. Death knew he wasn't really looking at anything.

"The two officers died. Anton died, too. There were some other police just around the block, and they came as soon as they heard the shot. They handcuffed me and threw me in jail.

"I kept on saying I didn't do anything, but it was useless. It turned out that the bag I was carrying, the heavier one, was full of guns. They said there were some rifles in there mixed with some small guns and all that. My fault for not checking first. The smaller bag had packs of drugs in it. Anyways, I was convicted for 20 years. 20 years. I kept on telling them I didn’t know what was inside the bag. They didn’t believe me."

The old man stopped in his tracks. Looking at Death, he asked, "How about you? Will you believe me if I tell you I didn't know what was inside the bag?"

Death replied, without missing a beat, "Dying people don't lie."

The old man nodded. "I guess so."

 

 

"Most of my time in jail, I don't want to remember. But during my stay, my wife left me. I also never saw my son. In my tenth year, my parents died. That was everyone in my life right there, you know."

The woods went on. In some patches, there were nothing but tree stumps, but the ground was starting to get greener. A few trees reached high into the air, casting shadows into the forest floor. The old man continued.

"When I got out, I only had a small amount of money my parents left me as inheritance. I took the money, and found this small farm here. I bought it, and took care of it.

"Starting over wasn't easy. I knew very little about farming, you see. And people were quite suspicious of me, the stranger from another town. As to the farming part, I went past that quite quickly. The people part, I wasn't able to."

The end of the woods was near and Death saw what was outside of it. She felt delighted. She hadn't felt delighted in a long while.

"Anyways, I was wandering around and saw this huge sprawl of grassland. It looked nothing special, you know. But I had a lot of free time, and a lot of flower seeds, and so I started planting. I'd cut the grass on one part, plant some flowers on it, and then do it again on another part. After some time, it was... Well, why don't you see for yourself."

 

 

As they exited the tree line, Death and the old man was greeted with a huge field of flowers, its colors swaying along with the movements of the wind. Brine and amber, fire and gold, the rows of buds and petals covered several acres of land, stopping just short of a hillock to their north east. Death can't help but smile at the expanse of color in front of her, a contrast to the darkness she brings to the world. The old man's lips were spread from ear to ear; his eyes were welling with liquid coming from his soul.

"Took me years to do this. At first it was hard, but the people saw what I was doing. After some time, they started giving me some flower seeds of their own. I became friends with them eventually. They were probably my very first ones.

"People would come here and stop at my house first to check up on me. Some would even help me plant the flowers themselves. Families would come here, and I'd remember the family of my own, but instead of being sad, I'd only feel happy, because at least their family was happy because of me."

They were walking in between a row of blue flowers, some in full bloom, some with still firm buds. There was a small wooden bench near the middle of the field. Death and the old man sat down.

“I’d go here on the weekends to check on the flowers, and sometimes to plant some new ones, too. The people would always talk to me. They’d tell me about their day, how their harvest was, how their sons and daughters were faring in college, things like that. And they’d ask me how my day was, too. It was nice, I guess, especially after a whole childhood of people not wanting to talk to me.

“And the young ones, they’d tell me they stopped meeting their boyfriends and girlfriends in the woods and just bring them here instead. I’d always tell them ‘That’s nice, but don’t lay down on the flowers, okay?’” He let out a hearty laugh.

"My life was hard, you know. Bullied, war survivor, immigrant, ex-con, poor farmer. I was alone for a good portion of my life. But I'm happy that even in the last years of my life, I experienced not being alone. Of having people help you and come over to your home just to say hi. I would not have traded it for anything, not even for money or for some extra years on Earth."

The old man was looking far away, further than his creation and further than the woods they have just walked on. He was looking through time itself, moving back to the time he was a kid with a lisp, to his days sparing people in the war, to the time he got imprisoned and went out. It all flashed in front of his eyes, now an opening where his soul poured out.

Death thought the man looked happy, but it wasn't just that. In his eyes, she saw fulfillment and acceptance. There was no trace of pain, or anger, or loneliness, or self-pity; there was only contentment and happiness.

"Walter?"

The old man looked at her.

"You've lived a good life."

The old man chuckled. "Yeah. I think so, too."

He looked around the field of flowers one last time. He took in all the different hues and colors, all the shapes and movements and shadows and forms. If he could bottle up one moment and bring it to the other side, it would be this, he thought.

He smiled and looked at Death. She met his gaze. He nodded at her and smiled.

Nodding back, Death touched the shoulder of the old man.


Submitted: January 24, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Christian Jerome. All rights reserved.

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Comments

AdamCarlton

Well-written, quite moving. Seems like there might even be some scope to expand it, might work even better 50% longer. Especially the Mary section and the arrest & aftermath.

Tue, January 26th, 2021 3:49pm

Author
Reply

Thanks! Glad you liked it. I agree, it could use more length starting from the middle of the story. Maybe I could rewrite a longer version some time.

Tue, January 26th, 2021 8:53pm

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