Reaper

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Does the Reaper have a soul? What would he think and feel about his task? What would you, if it was yours?

Reaper

 

Death shuffled across the ground slowly, his bones creaked, and his black cloak and hood fluttered in the wind. He leaned heavily upon Rest, the scythe he had been bidden to carry for eternity. His eyeless skull looked across the sand before him, but he could see only a short distance. He gritted his teeth, as that was one of the few expressions that remained to him. The storm raged around him, sand gusted into his body, pouring down through his empty ribcage to the desert floor. Such was life, he thought.

He could hear the faint music that was calling him forward. It was always different, naturally, the sound of a naked soul upon the Earth. Different for each soul, shaped by the choices of a lifetime. This one was a thin high voice chanting and singing, Death did not understand the words, they were meaningless, and yet they meant so much.

A dim shape appeared in the storm before him, and he found himself standing in front of a dead woman. Her body lay collapsed against the sand, but she stood, hunched over, her eyes downcast. The howl of the storm quieted and the sand and wind ceased. An ocean of calm upon the desert, enveloping Death and the Young Woman. Her soul sang out her misery and despair and Death stopped before her.

As Death's shadow fell across the woman she gasped and looked up at him. She screamed, the mortals often did, Death thought slowly. His ancient and dusty thoughts crept along, a mere shadow of the past, a mirror of his creaking body and shuffling gait. She broke into sobs and began to beg, the song of her soul's despair grew louder. “P-Please” she said, “I don't want to die, I've barely lived. Please, it can't be the end.”

Death shuffled over to her as he always did, he put a bony hand upon her shoulder gently. He spoke then, in a dry dusty voice “I am sorry.” At Death's touch the Young Woman disappeared and her soul's music faded into nothing. Death leaned heavily on Rest as the peace surrounding him was ripped apart by the storm. Slowly he shuffled away, more faint music calling him on to his next task.

 

* * * *

 

Death looked out upon the battlefield, it was night, but the sky was bright with fire and flashes of light. He trudged along, using Rest to keep his balance on the wet, muddy ground. Here Death could hear many souls, a cacophony of overlapping and discordant music, each with its own unique rhythm, pitch, tempo and composition. It was deafening. Despite the noise Death moved with purpose, the soul he was to collect exerted its own special pull upon him, cutting through the din.

An explosion to his right knocked him down into the mud. His bones rattling together as he struck the soft ground. Death groaned in a way that was almost human, the mud covered his dark robes on the side he'd fallen. He retrieved Rest from where it had fallen and used it to lever himself back to his feet. He muttered silent curses and trudged forward.

Ahead Death saw the dead soldier, who stood in no man's land with a confused look upon his face. Death walked over slowly, using Rest as a staff to take his weight.

The Soldier noticed Death approaching. He did not scream, but stood stoically as the reaper approached. “I'm dead then?” he asked.

Death inclined his head slightly.

“Did I take many of them with me?” The man's soul was a mix of drums and trumpets blaring. They surged forwards, passionately, their tempo quick, sanguinary.

Death simply stared back, soldiers were usually like this.

The Soldier looked death up and down and asked “What happened to you? I never expected Death to be so muddy.”

At this, Death moved his hand forward swiftly. With a tap of one bony finger to the head, Death dispatched the soldier to his next life. Death crushed the feeling of annoyance creeping through him. He had an image to maintain, he supposed that was important. He sighed and the mud fell from his tattered robe, leaving it a faded black, it's usual colour.

Death looked over the battlefield again, men screamed in agony as artillery fell. Orders were shouted and men rushed to their demise. Death looked at them all with disgust, was this all life was worth? Was it something to just be thrown away? Death sighed again, he would have much work this night.

 

* * * *

 

Death walked down the streets of New York, Rest tapping on the pavement as he went, its rhythm mocking that of a heartbeat. Music came from all around, there were so many people in the city. The overwhelming music combined to give Death more energy than he usually had, hence the walk. The next mortal was not far, a victim of a car accident, his body lay on the asphalt, a pool of blood spreading around it.

The mortal stood over his body looking at it with dawning horror. Death approached him from behind. The shadow of Death fell over the man, and he turned sharply, his death had made him skittish, Death supposed this was fair. At the sight of Death, the man's translucent face turned a pallid white. “You.” He whispered fearfully.

Death just stood, looking down at the mortal, his soul sounded greasy, the music had a furtive desperate quality, it brought to mind the images of rodents, hiding and scavenging. Under this though, Death could sense a low cunning, violins sawing rapidly at their strings squeaking and whining but driving the music forward. “Me.” Death replied.

“You can't take me yet!” said the man, “I.. I want to play a game with you.” His manner became more confident as Death cocked his head to the side, as if curious. “We can play chess!” he exclaimed, “And! And if I win, you'll let me stay, right? That's how it works right?” The man questioned.

If Death had had eyes he would have rolled them ironically, “And what will you bargain with, what if I defeat you mortal?” There were always mortals like this, that tried to beat death, or bargain. It was a ridiculous waste of time. As much as he was capable of feeling anything, Death detested it.

“Then.. Then you can take my wife and son too!” The greasy man bargained.

Death sighed, “Do you really think, mortal, that Death has time for games?”

“Come on Death! Think about it, three souls!” The man was clearly a Salesman.

Death slowly inclined his head and a chessboard appeared between them. The pieces were set, Death played White, his pieces were carved from bone. The man sat before Black, his pieces glistened, the light sticking and reflecting from them in odd patterns. It was as if they were wet with blood or oil.

Death leaned far over the board, and made his first move, as he set down the pawn, a tremor shook the board and the black king toppled onto it's side. How careless, Death thought whimsically as he reached forward to touch the Salesman's pallid forehead.

“But..” The Salesman began.

He disappeared as Death touched him, fading into the air, the chessboard faded with him. “Death has no time for games,” he said to the city of New York; it could not hear him.

 

* * * *

 

Death had a bad feeling about his next task. He hated it when it was like this. Music beckoned him through the dark night, he shuffled reluctantly through the town. The music was of a quality he heard very very rarely. He could hear it clearly but instinct told him he was still some way from the mortal. The music was beautiful, it rose and fell, a full orchestra of instruments mixing and compounding describing the life of a good man.

He whispered to Rest as he walked, it was something he only did when he was uneasy. “I can't do it this time Rest. It's too hard.” The tall and heavy scythe made no response, it never did. Despite this, Death could never quite shake the feeling it was as alive as he was. Of course, how much that meant was open to debate.

Death trudged slowly, ahead was a burning home, outside stood a small group of people. A woman and a child stood weeping over a man, another two children lay unconscious on the ground next to him. The man was dead. He stood with his back to his body, he paid it no mind. He was bent over the unconscious children. They were young, though everyone was young compared to him, Death thought gloomily.

Death's shadow fell over the man, despite the night, they could always tell when Death approached. He always cast a shadow. The man turned fiercely, and glared at Death, if he was surprised he did not show it. The orchestral music burst into crescendo. “Stay back Reaper, you cannot have them!” The Hero exclaimed, “They are just children, I will not allow it.”

Death felt something he hadn't felt in such a very long time, a feeling of abject and total failure, of complete and utter desolation, of rage and fire against the injustice of the world and his part in it. He held up a bony hand, palm toward the Hero, a calming gesture. “I have not come for them, just for you.”

The Hero grimaced and turned to look back at his body. “I guess that’s me huh. How about that.” He said softly. He turned back, “Give me your word you will not take them this night.” The Hero demanded of Death.

“You have my word mortal.” Death replied, hating the world and the natural order for what he had to do. “It is your time.” He finished.

The Hero nodded and his soul's music changed, becoming resolute, confident, yet sad for what he was leaving behind. It grew from something wonderful to something singularly beautiful. A chorus of two voices sang against the orchestra, two woman's voices. They sang of love and family, of the bond of marriage and the love received from a good father. The Hero turned to look at his wife and daughter, he whispered a quiet goodbye, then turned back to face Death. “I am ready.” He spoke simply.

But Death was not, he realised. Something inside him had broken and flown apart, Rest fell to the ground from his fingers. Pain flooded through him, emotions and sensations he had not felt in a millennia surged back into his consciousness. His hands shaking he reached to his head and lowered the hood of his dark robe. The skull that had been his was gone, replaced by his true face, that of an old man, grey haired but with sparks of fire in his eyes, wilful, defiant.

Somewhere in a small part of his mind Death knew that this was the end of him, that he would cease to exist, that this decision would cost him everything. But he no longer cared, he had lived long enough, he had done enough. The Hero stepped back in shock, the darkness was banished by a bright white light shining from the former reaper.

“Go back mortal!” Death shouted, “Today is not your day.” Death spun away from the Hero, He held out his hand and Rest jumped into it, no longer an ancient and wicked looking scythe, but a simple wooden staff, straight and gnarled at the tip. Before Death stood an array of dark robed figures, each held a scythe and had hoods that covered their skeletal faces.

“You will not take him, not before you take me.” Death challenged the silent array of figures.

“It is not yours to chose,” said a figure.

“You cannot change his fate,” said another.

“It is forbidden.”

“You will die for this.”

“So be it!” Death shouted back to the figures. “I can do no more. I have walked the Earth for centuries uncounted taking them all, good and bad. This one does not deserve that.”

The figures surrounded him and reached out with bony hands. Death made no move to stop them. As they touched him numbness spread though his body and he fell to the ground. But as he fell Death saw the Hero coughing and shuddering back into life, surrounded by his family, they hugged him and cried, and thanked God he was alive.

As his vision faded, Death wondered if he still had a soul, and what music it might play.

 


Submitted: February 27, 2014

© Copyright 2022 Yrael. All rights reserved.

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Comments

J E Hunter

Wow! Such a touching story! The way you actually made Death itself into a sympathetic character and made me feel sorry for him in the end, it's something that I was not expecting. And the fact that you did all this in a small short story confirms to me even more that you have a real talent for creating stories. I look forward to seeing what you come up with next!

Thu, February 27th, 2014 1:08am

Author
Reply

Thanks very much for your comments. I'm really glad you enjoyed it!

Wed, February 26th, 2014 5:27pm

Imagineer

Wow! Really wonderful piece Yrael!

You're first paragraph hooked me to your protagonist and your concepts with music were delightful.

Keeping an eye out for your next story.

Sat, March 1st, 2014 4:30am

Author
Reply

Thanks! Glad you liked it.

Sat, March 1st, 2014 4:38pm

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