Let’s start at the end, shall we? The end of life, the beginning of rebirth, the continuation of existence. Let’s start with my friend Death.
Before there were humans, before there were plants and animals, before there was Earth, there was Death.
He She They Death was born alongside the universe, for the start of existence already foreshadows its end, and the cosmos came to be in Death’s hands. You are a galaxy born of supernovas and genocides. Without Death, you would have no air to breathe, no ground to walk on, no planet to call home. And yet Death is in this book because you have the gall to call Death a monster.
No matter, I shall set the record straight for my friend. For you, simple mortals, for you bound by Death’s loving hands.
Today, Death visited a woman named Christine. She was mortal, like you reading this. She lived in a house she didn’t own, with a husband she didn’t love, and with children she didn’t want—an average woman in every respect, right down to her bitter, overwhelming fear of dying.
I mean, what is wrong with you mortals? You live your entire life knowing you will one day perish. Flowers wilt and decay in their vases, strewing your dinner table with their corpse. Grey hairs sprout from your scalp. Your skin peels in the aftermath of the sun’s wrath. You die every day a million times as your cells break down and are consumed by the next generation. Some of you eat dead animals. You wear dead plants. The promise that one day everything around you will die sustains you, and you have learned to use Death to your benefit. What happens to your cries of “you only live once” when your time comes? Why should Death be so kind to those who scorn Death so viciously that they’ve spun tales of never-ending as if escaping Death would prevent you from ending?
But I am not telling my story correctly. This story isn’t about your fear and eventual death but Christine’s. It is about Death.
Christine didn’t want to die, but Death came anyways, where Death was unwanted, early in the morning. Death never cared how they had died. What mattered was they were corpses where they stood, or sat, or sobbed, and it was Death’s job to separate the soul from the husk, leave the body to rot as the Earth declared, and take the soul somewhere out of the universe’s grasp. A dance as old as stardust, a story older than light.
Death never appeared to mortals as Death. You have spun stories of Death with a pearl skeleton and ancient robes, a heavy scythe in one hand, and a pale lantern in the other. But Death is immune to your stories and appears as Death wants, as something comforting, familiar, almost friendly. For Christine, Death appeared as her mother, still young and lively like she had been months before her death. Death had blonde hair now, a simple smile, a well-loved sweater. Absolutely nothing like Death is said to be, but Christine knew. She knew in the quiet way that we know that someone is lying to us despite what they say. A knowledge that went against what she had been taught, but she believed nonetheless.
“You are Death.” It was not a question, not a moment of pondering. Instead, it was a cold fact that left a bitter taste in her mouth. She wanted a glass of water to rinse it out.
Death didn’t speak, for the day Death utters a single word is the day the universe collapses back into nothing but absence and negatives, and sat beside her, holding out a single hand.
“I don’t want to die.”
Death was kind enough not to throw her across the room and drag her spirit, kicking and screaming. Death had always been better than me.
Christine stood up, sending her chair skittering across her scratched hardwood floors. “Did you hear me? I don’t want to die! You can’t make me!”
Death lowered the hand, making the edges of Christine’s mother’s smile kinder.
“Are you going to say anything?”
Death shook Christine’s mother’s head.
Christine's rage bubbled like a pot coming to a boil just beneath her skin. How dare Death come into her house wearing her mother’s skin like it was a simple overcoat? Did her mother agree to this? Was her mother okay, or did she have to be destroyed for this?
I was not there to defend Death’s honour, but I’ll do so here. Death was not wearing Christine’s mother. Honestly, the places your mortal thoughts go sometimes say more about you than any of us. The nerve. Christine’s mother was dead, which is the finest you mortals can be in a world like Earth. And Death could never destroy a spirit. Whether that was because Death was too kind or it was impossible, I still don’t know.
But Christine didn’t have me to yell at her, so she went on believing that Death was some sort of monster as most of you mortals do. And Death went on not minding a bit. I sometimes wonder if Death misses a time before mortals. Stars didn’t cry when they died. Meteors didn’t scream and yell as the atmosphere burned them to a crisp. Death didn’t seem to miss simpler times, and Death couldn’t operate with that same level of patience if there wasn’t some sort of love or appreciation behind those false eyes. So maybe not. Maybe Death cared for you mortals despite your scorn. Maybe remember that next time you curse Death’s name.
Christine slammed her hands on the table. “Get out of my house! I don’t want you here.”
Death didn’t flinch. Death didn’t even move.
“I have children! Do you want them to be without a mother?”
Death frowned at that. It happened more often than you would think. Millenia of putting beautiful things to rest didn’t ease the ache Death sometimes felt when mortals did nothing but point out how they would be missed.
“My boys. What will my boys do without me?”
Christine sobbed, laying her head on the wooden table. She never wanted to be a mother, but that didn’t stop her sons from wanting to be her children.
“People depend on me, Death. You should know that.”
Death laid Christine's mother's hand beside Christine’s head.
“How could you do this to me, Death? What will it take for you to realize you’re wrong? I’m not even dead. Look at me.”
Death was looking at her, but Death didn’t waver.
“Hello! Feel my pulse.” Christine lifted her head, shoving her wrist in her mother’s face. “Feel it.”
Death shook Christine’s mother’s head, gently pushing Christine’s wrist away.
Christine only sobbed harder. “Please. You made a mistake. You made a mistake.”
Oh, foolish Christine. Does she not know that mistakes are a mortal’s disease? That Death was born perfect? What would your existence look like if something as undeniable as Death made mistakes?
Thank your lucky stars Death can’t make mistakes, mortals. Otherwise, that word, that little title, wouldn’t be a guarantee. And if you think your world is breaking now, only imagine the stress fractures caused by your lot being immortal. Nothing is made to last forever. Especially not something made of flesh and brittle bones.
“I’m not dead!” Christine pulled her hair so tightly that you could hear it tear. “I’m here! I’m alive! I can prove it to you.”
Death sat back in an invitation, opening Christine’s mother’s arms.
Christine nodded and stood up. “Okay. Watch me.”
She picked up her chair, shaking it in midair. “See? Can a dead person do this?” She set it down again and walked past Death, shoving Death’s chair so that Death couldn’t look away from her. “Can a dead person do that, Death?”
Death folded Christine’s mother’s hands, face completely blank.
Christine laughed. “See? You have to agree with me!” She walked to her dining room wall and flicked the lights off, throwing both her and Death in complete darkness. “Can a dead person do this?” She flicked the lights back on. “Or this?” She kept flicking the lights back and forth so quickly that it was impossible to keep track. “Or any of this?”
Death tapped Christine’s mother’s fingers against the table in a clear sign of impatience. At least, it would be impatience for me. If Christine wasn’t actually dead by this point, I’d change that myself. Some humans were so grating that I was happy their lives were painfully short. The menaces.
Christine walked into her kitchen and grabbed a stack of glass plates from her oak cupboards. She had bought them from a company everybody knew, but she was convinced glass plates made her better than those who could only afford paper ones. Something about the environment and everyone having an equal chance to decent money in life.
She slammed the cupboard shut, disappointed that the wood didn’t splinter on impact, before marching back into her dining room. “Can a dead person carry dishes like this? Can a dead person carry anything?”
Death froze, watching the plates carefully. Death may be an amalgamation of every bit of rearranged matter since the beginning of all, but that didn’t stop Death from being nervous when annoying humans threatened Death with distasteful glassware made by slave labor.
Christine picked up a plate and threw it against the wall. It shattered on impact, each piece of glass falling to the floor like bloodthirsty rain. Death stood up, Christine’s mother’s hands splayed across the dining room table. Christine picked up the next plate and threw that one straight at the ground, sending its shattered corpse skittering across the scratched hardwood floors. A couple of chunks brushed against Death’s shoes. Death brushed them aside.
Christine looked up at Death, her entire being trembling. “Is this not enough for you? Do you need more from me?”
Death met her gaze head-on, completely unwavering.
Christine screamed, grabbing another plate. This time, she aimed right for Death’s face. Her mother was dead, after all. It couldn’t be her mother’s face. She wanted to see it shatter against Death’s face. Maybe she could be known as the one who killed Death. She would save every human from Death’s wicked grasp for all eternity.
The plate was an inch from Death’s face when it stopped. Death hadn’t even moved. It just hovered there in mid-air. Slowly, the plate gently floated down, swaying side to side like a leaf in the wind, right back to the table.
Christine’s chest heaved as she stared in horror. But Death didn’t clench Christine’s mother’s fist. Death didn’t yell or fight back or even scowl. All Death did was lift Christine’s Mother’s hands and wave them through the air before tugging on Christine’s reality, peeling it back like a damp sticker until Christine could see through the cracks.
It was nighttime in the crack, but the dark was interrupted by the constant light of sirens. A child was screaming for his mother, but there was no response.
Christine stepped closer, peering through the opening. Her body was on the ground, bleeding out onto the dark pavement. Paramedics surrounded her, poking at this mirror Christine to no avail. Her eyes were already glassy, her heart slumbering in its ribcage cradle.
“Death, that’s me.” Christine, the real Christine, the Christine who had existed for this entire story, stumbled back. “But I’m right here. I’m right here, Death.”
Death walked silently, putting a hand on Christine’s shoulder as they both stared through the crack. The paramedics lifted mirror Christine’s body into a body bag, zipping it closed.
Christine turned to look at Death. “Which one is real? That Christine or me?”
Death shrugged, putting Christine’s mother’s smile back on. I could imagine the verbal response if Death ever spoke. Why does only one have to be real? Why can’t you be here with me and down there, leaving the world behind?
Death lifted Christine’s mother’s hands and smoothed the crack closed, putting that dimension out of sight once more.
Christine sunk to the floor, burying her face in her knees. “Oh, Death. What happened? How could this happen? My sons. My boys. What will they do?”
Death sat beside her and gently traced a finger across Christine’s thigh, spelling out a single English word. L. I. V. E.
Christine lifted her head, her face covered in tears. “But aren’t you against that? Isn’t that your very opposite?”
Death shook Christine’s mother’s head.
Christine let out a sob. “Do you think they’ll be okay?”
Death nodded, smile never wavering.
Christine leaned her head on Death’s shoulder. “Just give me one more minute. Please.”
Death leaned Christine's mother’s head against Christine’s head in response.
You mortals never really have a good sense of time, so it was only about forty-five seconds by the time Christine sighed. “I’m ready, Death. And I’m sorry.”
Death merely patted Christine on the shoulder before standing. Death offered a hand again, bending slightly to keep smiling at Christine.
She accepted it this time, gripping Death’s warm hand. The warmth only grew, increasing until Christine could feel it in every atom that made up her being. She finally smiled at Death, the tears evaporating off of her newly glowing face.
Death guided Christine to the front door of her home, each step completely silent as Christine’s made the hardwood floors creak. Once they arrived, Death opened the door, blocking the entryway so only Death and Christine could see through. Christine’s eyes widened and slowly, in reverence and awe, she walked through.
I cannot tell you what she saw and why come would run through laughing, and others had to be dragged in screaming. Death has never let me look through the door, but I know I will one day. We all will one day when the universe implodes, and everything’s crushed back down to a howling void, and the only thing that remains is Death and Death’s door and whatever lays beyond its threshold.
Death turned around one last time, smiling into the empty bones of Christine’s house. Death waved farewell before stepping through, closing it with one final thud.