A Story for Halloween: A Death Whimsical

Eh Muerto. Pinche! Me muri.

The realization struck me surprisingly in Spanish. I was third generation Texan and raised in a household that spoke English primarily. I could get by in Spanish but it was not how I usually thought. Still, it meant something, although not as much as the thought itself. I was dead. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I mean, dead was dead, an ending, yet I was not ended and instead adrift with some dim sort of purpose not yet fully realized. A whimsical fancy of something I thought impossible. I was dead. Death was always something that occurred somewhere else, even when it had reached out and taken friends. Death was not something I thought about. Now, death consumed me, took up every spare second. If I didn’t keep active it crept into the dark corners of my mind, depressing me and making me want to find a dark place to hide, where nothing and no one could find me. But death could always find me. Death had already found me. Death now encapsulated me like a coffin.

The knife that had entered into me, sliding so easily, so coldly and yet so incredibly painful had seemed real enough, a natural conclusion to a life spent on the edge like the knife blade itself. I had lived a hard thirty years, and looked older than my chronological age. I had been stabbed before so on thinking back it was probably the fact that this particular knife had slid so coldly inside of me multiple times, seven in fact, with some force and purpose behind the blows. The person who wielded the knife was someone known to me, a casual conversation turned wrong in the bar that I loved so much. I did not tell the cops who my assailant was, as I didn’t feel it was their business. It was simply a natural consequence of both being in the wrong place at the wrong time and arguing with a man with a shorter temper than me who had a viciousness I lacked. I spent a couple of weeks inside of the hospital, some on life support and underwent three surgeries to save what I thought was my worthless life. The fight had started innocently enough at the bar I hung out regularly, El Gato, on the side of Ft. Worth one did not wander into casually, near the stockyards but not close enough to be police protected. Paco, or that’s what everyone called him had a known temper especially when he was drinking which was not that unusual for any of the patrons of El Gato myself included. Still I knew better than to get into a fight with him. I had survived a two year prison sentence on the kind of instincts that should have kept me out of those fights, but I was high, as I sometimes got, on some meth a dealer had given me in exchange for some rough work on a customer who owed him money. It just meant free drugs to me, not that I was an addict, I just liked to partake now and again. Like I said, it was a hard thirty years, my life up until that moment. As I laid on the asphalt that night, paramedics working on me, the world growing dim, I wondered if I were dying. Turns out I was and those paramedics brought me back from the brink and got me to good old John Peter Smith Hospital in record time. At the time, I felt blessed that they had arrived in time.

Lying in the hospital room day after day recovering gave me lots of time to think about those hard thirty years. I needed to change my life and really wanted to although I knew I was going to have some limitations. It wasn’t like I suddenly wanted to get a college education or anything, just that it was time I tried to settle down, do some real honest work for a sustainable time period. It occurred to me that I sort of owed it to those paramedics, doctors, nurses and even to myself. My parents had sat in that room huddled together with my three brothers and they all urged me. I could at least give it a try. So upon discharge I sat in my small one bedroom, one bathroom garage apartment and started to look for jobs. I was honest in the attempt, looking for something that an ex con could do, looking for a place where an ex con would be a possibility. I realize now it was planned, foreordained or something but I kept coming back to the same want ad. It was for a groundskeeper position at Oakwood Cemetery, an old historic cemetery in Fort Worth. Groundskeeper of a cemetery seemed awful close to gravedigger, but something about the ad compelled me, and so I went. It took only a few hours and I was hired. I was Mexican after all, so I ought to make a good gravedigger.

That’s when my problems began, except that was not exactly true. My problems began the night Paco stuck his knife into me seven times. I had been working at the cemetery for a couple of weeks. My boss was nice enough to let me start slow, especially when I showed him my scars. Again, things were happening beyond anyone’s control. I didn’t know that at the time though. Someone wanted me there, someone, or something. I started to see things in the cemetery. I surely was not the first to get the creeps around a bunch of tombstones and crypts, some very old. Oakwood with its history and the trees could be creepy and there were rumors that it was haunted, one of the most haunted places in Fort Worth. Still, fleeting images, shadows and things that were not there, even in the daylight hours started to appear. Then it happened and I was hardly even surprised.

I saw a woman. She wasn’t just any woman, she was a dead woman. Judging from the clothes she was wearing, she had been dead for a very long time. She watched me for most of a day, and it took me some time to finally realize that she was indeed dead. She was not pale, or maybe not like you might expect, more surreal, sometimes seeming of substance and other times not at all. She was not a constant in my day, just flitting in and out, sometimes watching for an hour or so and at other times just a few minutes as if she were checking on me. She was dressed like an old saloon girl, a dress that seemed to have an overabundance of lace and displaying a cleavage that any man could admire, be she dead or alive. She was beautiful too, in that old timey sort of way. I had to catch myself though, realizing that she was dead. No one else seemed to be able to see her at all. A girl like that would draw a lot attention from men, and all I worked with were men. As the work day ended I found her seated on a bench near some very old crypts.

“It’s a nice night,” I said to her, not knowing how to talk to a dead girl any better than a live one. What surprised me most was that I was not even afraid. I had no idea whether she could or even would harm me, but I had no fear. Instead, I felt kindred to her.

“I suppose it is,” she answered, her voice like a whisper on the wind and she seemed surprised to even hear it herself. She looked at me for a long moment and I met her gaze directly. I wanted to show her that I was not afraid of her. “Hey what’s up with you?” She finally asked.

“What do you mean?” I questioned back.

“I mean you’re dead, but you’re walking around talking to all these people,” she said gesturing with your hands. “They can see you. Do they know that you’re dead?”

“Dead? I’m not dead. My heart is beating, I sweat, I breathe. I am fully alive,” I protested.

She stood and then walked up to me putting her hand to my chest. “Interesting,” she finally said. “But you’re still dead.”

She walked away, leaving me perplexed. I had just had a conversation with a dead woman, a woman who thought I was dead. I took the bus home and thought about everything that she had said. Near home I exited the bus and ducked into the church where I had gone as a child I had been raised Catholic but had long since ceased going to mass. I entered the church doors and thought to myself that I should probably light a candle or something. I saw the priest walking towards me, in a hurry. His cross was out and he was pointing it at me.

“Out, you must leave this place dark spirit” he said, still pointing at me. He began mumbling to himself, and I could discern that he was saying a prayer.

“Father I need your help,” I interrupted.

“You are beyond my help dark spirit. You must leave this place,” he said, clearly frightened.

I retreated not knowing what else I could do. If the church was beyond me, where else could I turn, the dead woman’s words still haunting me from earlier, “You’re dead,” I heard her whisper.

When I got home, I decided that I needed a beer and decided to go to El Gato. I had not been there since the knifing. I needed a beer though, and maybe something stronger. It was my favorite bar, and sooner or later I needed to face Paco and let him know that I was not a threat.

El Gato had not changed since my stabbing of a few weeks. El Gato never changed. There probably had been three or four other stabbings since I was last there. As I entered the dingy bar everyone turned to watch me as I went to a table instead of my usual place at the bar. I waved and some waved back turning back to their drinks or beer. I was just a regular and they figured whatever had passed between me and Paco was done or soon would be. I could feel Paco’s eyes stare at me as I walked to the table. I knew he would be there, because he was always there bullying everyone. I ordered a pitcher and was well into my second beer before he approached. I could feel his eyes upon me but I didn’t dare look up. I was afraid of him and I definitely did not want to provoke him. I wanted him to know there were no hard feelings and that I had kept my mouth shut with the cops, something that he should have already known. He would have been arrested long ago if I had said anything.

“What are you doing here?” he asked angrily.

Still not meeting his eyes I replied, “I just wanted a few beers. You got nothing to worry about from me. I don’t want any trouble with you Paco.”

“You damn right you don’t want no trouble with me, or I stick the knife into you some more. You understand. Maybe you like the knife and that’s why you came back. Hey Ese.”

“I understand. I don’t like the knife. Can I buy you a beer?” I asked, hoping to assuage him.

“Buy me a beer? You think I’m your bitch, your old lady or something. I don’t need you to buy me no beer.”

“Sorry Paco, I said, holding my hands up and still not meeting his eyes. It was like dealing with a wild animal.

As before the knife glided so easily out of his back pocket, razor sharp and ready for use. “You damned right you’re sorry; a sorry piece of low life who don’t know to mind his own business. I think I should drag you out into the parking lot and finish what I started, only this time I cut your throat. What do you think?”

And then something snapped inside of me something deep and even with my temper something I had never felt or experienced before. It was like a fire lit somewhere inside, controlled but hot and I lifted my eyes to finally meet his eyes and he saw something there because he flinched and Paco never flinched. I stood up and faced him which I had never seen anyone do before without dire consequences. I thought little of the knife before me. The fire I felt inside seemed to be centered in my hand, but it was a cold fire that also sent chills up my arm. He stumbled backwards.

“What are you?” he asked.

“You are going to go back to your seat Paco, and if I ever see that knife again pulled on anyone, or even hear that you have pulled that knife I am going to finish this in a way you won’t like,” I said, my voice menacing and something frightening.

Before he could move away I grabbed his arm above the wrist of the hand where he held his knife. I would normally have thought this a stupid move but at that moment I felt fearless and the knife clattered to the floor. Paco withdrew, gasping in pain and shaking his hand as if it were numb. The cold fire in my hand was gone and I sat down again. I didn’t understand anything happening to me, but I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. Paco turned and walked back to the bar where his friends were, dumbfounded as to what had happened. It might have been the first time anyone had seen him afraid. He left his prize knife on the floor where it had fallen and I kicked it away. I didn’t care if he later picked it up or not. He was on warning.

Then a man walked in the door, walking to the knife and chuckling. He was dressed in slacks and a short sleeve dress shirt, a tiny moustache like he was Clark Gable or something. His hair was long but neatly arranged falling about his shoulders in brown waves. He walked to my table and I could see his face had not a line on it, his eyes a warm brown. He was the kind of man that women would find attractive and men threatened by. It was in his walk a confident carefree walk as if he had nothing to explain about himself to anyone. He gestured to the seat across from me and all I could do was nod. I didn’t know him, but he didn’t seem to be the kind of man you turned down.

“Who are you?” I asked angrily, still not over Paco.

“Death,” he answered simply.

It was such a matter of fact answer that all I could do was stare at him. He appeared amused so I figured he must have been joking, although by all appearances he did not appear to be the type to kid around much. With my encounters at the cemetery, church and now Paco my greatest fear was that he was telling the truth.

“You have discovered some of my new gifts to you but there are others. You are changed, something different than before, yet the same. I think that’s important. I didn’t really change who you were.”

“What gifts, what are you talking about? Changing me?”

“When I sent you back to serve me, I provided you some gifts. How else could you serve me if I didn’t make you more than you were. I had to change you, “he stated with emphasis.

“You’re Death and you saved my life, sent me back here with some special gifts. Yeah right, this continues to be one messed up day,” I said.

“I didn’t save your life. You are dead. You were dead so you see there was nothing to save. Your heart beats and you breathe on my whimsy alone. Fail me, or if I tire of you then you die, simply, just keel over and it’s done.”

“So I work for you now?” I asked unbelieving.

“You serve me, or choose not to, in which case you are already dead. I just have to release my will and your heart ceases to beat, you forget to breathe. It’s that simple. Watch and learn.”

I waited somewhat anxiously for a sign and then felt it more than anything else, my heart visibly slowing sweat suddenly on my brow and a difficulty drawing in air. My vision dimmed and I gripped the table even as my strength seemed to wane. I didn’t know If this was some sort of trick, I just knew that it was all too real for me. He sat there, without changing at all, watching me almost as in concern.

“Please,” I gasped.

My breath came back in a rush, my heart suddenly pounding in my chest. I sat looking at Death for I don’t know how long. I grabbed my mug and took a long pull.

“Alcohol will have no effect on you by the way. Technically you don’t have a metabolism. So I see that you now perhaps believe a little more. Shall we discuss your new job duties?”

“I have a job,” I said.

He smiled at me, amused, “I expect you will want to keep that one. It’s where I want you to be, so I pulled a few strings. Where better place for a dead person to find you than a cemetery?”

“Why will dead people want to find me?”

“Because they are haunted and they will need your help to release them, and I get to acquire a few long over due souls.”

“Can’t you just take these souls?”

“Hmm yes I could. You will find that death, as in life there are certain rules, certain protocols which can be a bit cumbersome. You will also find that in death as there is sometimes in life one becomes bored and frustrated with the status quo. It is in those times that you try and shake things up a bit. But, if you are not interested, I could always just let you go, let you fade into oblivion. I would think that you would wander awhile, looking for something, something you would like to, so many do. So is our business concluded, you wish for me to find someone else?”

“No I don’t want to die,” I said.

“Well too late for that, because you are dead, it just has not become obvious to everyone else.”

“So how will these dead people find me?” I asked, knowing the answer.

“They’ll find you because you are dead and they will know that. Help them.”

“How?”

He considered the question for a moment, or maybe it was only for effect. “By using the gifts that I have given you.”

“You keep mentioning gifts, will I be able to walk through walls, have superhuman strength, be able to fly? What gifts?”

“Yes to all of that. You will be stronger, you will be able to morph into mist or practically any substance that you like and in that you will be able to fly, move through walls or even people. As you discovered with your friend Paco, you have the ability to touch people with a cold hand, a hand from the grave, a ghostly hand. That touch will numb and even cause hurt and pain depending on how much you want to affect the person. You have the ability of illusion to make any scene, graphic, use it to make your enemies weak and afraid and when they are at their most terrified you will take their soul.”

“Take their soul? How?”

“When the time comes you will know. You will hold onto the soul until I come and relieve you of it. This will not always be easy. These gifts are yours to play with, test, as you did with Paco over there; however I caution you, use them to your own ends and I won’t even give you a warning. You will just cease to be. This is not a contract, this is not a deal. This is a command. You do not have an option that does not include you dying for good. I also am providing you with a helper, someone to help explain the more sordid details of being dead. She will be a go between. I think you have already met her. Use her in whatever way you would like, only treat her well. Do not fail me in this. She is quite special to me.”

I sat there speechless as he stood and walked from the bar. I finished my beer and then ordered three tequila shots. They went down as they always did, but there was not the following glow. Well, I thought I could finally drink as much as I wanted. I made my way home later and spent a sleepless night, wondering if I needed to sleep or eat at all. I finally drifted and dreamed of death, dreamed of dying. When I awoke in the morning I made myself ready for work and made the bus ride with so many thoughts I didn’t know what to do. As I worked that morning, muscles straining I searched for the woman I had seen the day before but she never came. I thought about the gifts that I had supposedly been given, and wondered at how to use them. I tried to force my will on my supervisor but nothing happened. I thought of all the horror pictures I had seen growing up and pictured an image in my mind. I then noticed a visitor to the cemetery, the panic on his face and then he fled in terror, looking over his shoulder to see if something was chasing him. It was not what I had wanted to do frighten someone so badly and I was not even sure if I was the source. The cemetery was old and there were things there. The thought struck me, and I wondered how I knew this. I supposed that being dead gave one some sort of perspective. Still I realized I needed to keep my thoughts to myself, the images in my brain protected. I really didn’t want to hurt anyone. Again this thought so surprised me, as I had never worried about hurting anyone before. Was it my mortality, the fear that death would just end me or something else? I didn’t know. I was not sure I wanted to know. I did know that I needed to control whatever I was thinking, for fear of injuring or frightening an innocent person. The power of illusion was more than I expected. I had not thought of how real I would be able to make those illusions. I wondered if I could make them happy illusions. I wondered if I should even try.

As the day ended I walked through the grounds of the cemetery. I didn’t even have the energy to think. I was lost and dejected.

“You’re dead,” said a voice from the trees.

I turned to look and it was the woman again. “I know,” I answered.

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“Do you always have this much substance?” I asked.

“No. I have been here a long time though. I don’t even know what year it is. Usually I am like mist. I think it has something to do with you. You seem so real, so human, maybe you make me more real.”

“The year is 2011,” I said, watching her expression go to one of awe.

“I have been dead a long time. I died in 1896. I remember it, so well, like it was yesterday. Why are you doing this to me?” she asked sadly.

“I am sorry. I died a few weeks ago, a knife fight outside of a bar. It seems that Death has a purpose for me, and you have been sent to me to help me understand things.”

“I don’t want to help. I want to rest because it’s been so long, walking these grounds, seeing all the sadness. I thought maybe you were here to send me on.”

“On to where?” I asked.

“On to wherever. I don’t care, just something I feel.”

“I am sorry,” I said again. I didn’t know what else to say, but I felt her sadness as much for me as for her. “How did you die?” I finally asked.

“I was knifed like you, outside of a saloon, like you. A gambler did it, and then he rode away. I watched him go, without a thought to my life that he had just taken. I was so sad. I didn’t have much of a life, just a girl who worked the saloons, singing and dancing with whoever wanted me. I was a prostitute. I wanted so much more.”

I again could say nothing but, “I’m sorry. Perhaps this is a way for you to find peace at last.”

“Do you think?”

“Maybe, sure, why not?”

“How am I supposed to help you?”
“I don’t know but I think we’ll be able to figure it out together. Death said that the dead would seek me out, look for justice. I think we just have to wait.”

“Do you think I can leave this place? Finally? I have never been outside the gates before. I always seem to run out of energy.”

I thought about the question, saw that as we had talked she had taken on more substance. “Yes, let’s try.” I held out my hand and she took it, her hand cool but seeming to become warmer.

She seemed to read my mind. “I am warmer. I have not felt warmth in a long time.”

“What is your name?”

“Millicent, everyone calls me Millie.”

“My name is Frank, Frank Cruz. A lot of people just call me Frankie.”

“Frankie and Millie,” she said, smiling. It was a terrific smile, but sad underneath it all. “I like it.”

We left the cemetery with some caution, Millie stepping slowly as if she would be forced back into the cemetery where she had been lost for so long. As we walked along Millie stopped to touch things, look into windows, fascinated with how much the world had changed in a hundred years or more. She could not stop looking at all of the cars passing her so fast and she was more frightened than a ghost should be. I noticed that she was drawing looks which made me realize that other people were seeing Millie too, so we stopped at a second hand store and bought her clothes. She was not like me though, no matter how hard we tried, she was not breathing, her heart so still inside of her. That night we slept in my bed together, enjoying the warmth which she had not felt in so long. She asked me questions about everything, about people she had known, people she thought famous or well known but I could tell her nothing of these people as I did not recognize any of the names. I thought it would be interesting to take her to the old stockyards and let her walk around, listening to her stories. There was nothing sexual about our night together, although I realized that it might have been if I had asked. Yet I was not sure if that is what she wanted, given her life before, or that she might turn to mist if I tried. I woke up sometime in the wee hours of the morning and saw that she was preparing to leave.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied, “but where it is you can’t go so don’t follow. I don’t understand but I am compelled to do this. I will find you later and maybe I can explain.”

With that she was gone. I went back to bed, struggling for sleep. I went to work looking for Millie throughout the day. When the day was over I waited, hoping that she would appear, but she did not. I went to El Gato wishing I could just get drunk but knowing I was now unable. So I sat there downing beers and taking shots. The bar had lost a little of its pull on me, considering that I could not get drunk and the last encounter with Paco. I was now someone to fear, when a lot of the patrons there just wanted to hide in their alcohol. As I left to walk home, Millie suddenly appeared at my side, like the ghost that she was. She was tense but excited.

“Come,” she said taking my hand.

My transformation was a shock to my system, but I could feel my substance slip away and wraithlike I became like mist. I didn’t want to look around for fear of seeing my body like the shell that it was. I was flying, fast taken by Millie to another cemetery, like being compelled and something inside of me was aflame.

“She is very frightened Frank,“ Millie said, “you must help her. She can barely speak but I can communicate with her. I know what she is feeling.”

Millie was excited and full of energy as she led me to a grave. It was a fresh grave and a young girl sat near it, in obvious grief. I could tell from the dirt that the girl had been buried that day, and I could tell from the girl that she was the one buried. It was so sad to me, striking me so deeply to the core. She was young too, not older than fourteen. Too young to die in what I knew instantly was a violent death. Even in death I could see the marks on her neck of a big man who had killed her so brutally. As I sat next to her I felt her eyes turn to me, pleading. Millie sat facing her, taking her hand, two ghost hands shimmering yet together clinging to each other, and Millie’s hands did indeed lose substance when they touched the girl’s. I read the girl’s name on the small metal plate next to the grave.

“Are you Denise?” I asked.

At hearing her name her eyes again desperately sought mine. I could see the pleading there. “Denise, I’m Frank, I am here to help you.”

With those words I felt something fire in me, and Death’s voice chuckling somewhere. It was like a feeling of agreement, something I seemed to understand deeply and Death was smiling. I turned to Millie.

“It’s difficult at first Frank. You give her energy though and she is thinking about her death. Difficult for her but it was someone she knew. Give me a second here Frank it’s coming slowly.”

I nodded and reached out my own hand, slipping it around the girls shoulder, my arm becoming smoky and wraithlike, but Denise seemed to grow strength from it.

“That’s good Frank. My god, it was her neighbor, the father of her best friend. Such pain I feel in this girl Frank. She caught him doing things to her friend that fathers are not supposed to do. Oh Frank I can’t take this.”

Millie let go of the girl’s hand, her form becoming real and she rose and walked away. I patted Denise’s shoulder and gestured to her to wait. I followed Millie to where she stood, even in death crying. I wiped the tears from her face. Then I wrapped her in my arms giving a place for her grief to go, the grief over the girl and the grief over her own life. I seemed to be able to absorb those feelings of pain and sadness drawing them into myself. Millie looked at me in shock and some amazement.

“I didn’t know that someone could hurt worse than me about their own death. I am sorry Frank I didn’t know that this would be how I had to help you. But thank you for whatever you did to help me.”

I nodded at her. “I need to go. This cruel man needs a visit. Will you stay with her?”

She nodded. “How will you know where to find him?”

“I don’t know. I just know that I do.” And then I was gone.

It was like a gps tracker in my head as I drifted like mist drawn like a beacon to the man who had killed that girl, all because she caught him doing horrible things to his own daughter. A man living a secret life, a man unsuspected or Death would not have intervened. I knew I was just a weapon but I found myself liking being used for this purpose. Again I heard the laughter of Death in my mind.

I arrived at the house in the dead of the night. I went through the walls as if I were without substance which I guess I was. Once inside I chose a form that was semi-transparent, semi-substance. As Death had told me, I seemed to just know how to use the gifts that he had given me. They were sleeping and I stood watching them until they started to stir. I wasn’t really sure what to do, so I chose to ensure that the wife remained asleep, providing her with an illusion through dream of all that she had ever wanted. She moaned peacefully in her sleep wrapped up in the illusion I gave her. I visited the daughter’s room and did the same, so surprised that I could compartmentalize so well. I suppose Death knew I would need this ability. Then I turned back to the useless human being that had killed that young girl Denise. I woke him up to the sound of rattling doors.

He awoke with that feeling of panic that we all have felt in the deep of the night. He was not sure if he had awoken from dreams or from some other source so he sat there his breath rapid but slowing. I made another noise and he rose to investigate. He entered the living room with the image of two beautiful women wrapped around each other in obvious passion on the couch, women he knew. Surprised he called their names and I had them motion him towards the couch. He looked around but started walking, urges overriding all caution. As he neared though the visage of the women changed into something grotesque and blood was suddenly everywhere. He stopped in panic and I chose then to move through his body, tasting the sour taste of his soul. I knew then that I could take it whenever I wanted, another gift from Death. I also knew that Death wanted the man as frightened as the little girl he had killed. The room around him shifted, his family tortured and dead around him. It was difficult to provide him with such images, of his mother, of his father and his three sisters, not to mention his wife and his own child but I was compelled to do this. My life or my death was on the line. With his relatives chained to the walls, some of them with nightmare creatures eating them alive I touched him, running my hand down his spine. With all feeling gone, he dropped to his knees in confusion. I became substance and walked towards him, a figure out of dark books, hooded and all in black even though I still wore my jeans, work boots and an old sweatshirt. I was Death’s messenger and I was there for him. He sobbed as I let illusion take him, showing him the girl he had killed so he would know, and I felt his hold on her soul released, and then I took his own swallowing it whole. He would remain alive for a few more minutes I knew, until his body finally gave in. He would be found the next morning dead from terror but I gave his wife peace as well as his daughter. Somehow they would know that it was good and their lives at peace. They would know. It was a powerful illusion, a gift from Death, beyond my capabilities.

I left the house and made my way back to the cemetery and Millie. She was waiting for me at the graveside, softly crying and I went to her and put my arm around her. She buried her head into my shoulder and cried for a long time, cried for the young girl and cried for the life that had been taken from her by a vicious gambler so many years ago on the mean streets of Hell’s Half Acre in Fort Worth. When she was done she pulled away.

“She left so suddenly. She looked around with this incredible look of peace and then told me to tell you thank you. Then she was gone. It made me happy and sad too.”

“What Death is asking us to do is going to be very hard for both of us.”

She nodded, “I can feel his soul inside of you,” she said placing her hand on my chest.

“It is the worst feeling I have ever had. Death told me I would have to keep it until he came for it.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” she asked.

“You’re already doing it,” I said to her smiling.

Millie suddenly stood looking around, intent on something. She seemed to be focusing on one direction and then a small gasp escaped her lips. I could see him coming, Death. As he came into view I could see him wearing a sharp tracksuit from the 1980’s. He somehow made it seem so modern and cool, even in the pitch black and haunting atmosphere of the cemetery.

“Nice outfit,” I said.

“Thank you, it seemed a nice night to jog through a cemetery.”

He walked to Millie and placed a hand on her check. She covered that hand with her own and seemed to lean into it lovingly. “You did so well child, just a little longer. I know it is difficult but you of all people will understand the most.” She nodded in answer, a tear rolling down her cheek. I felt so much sadness for Millie.

He turned towards me and I asked, “Will it always be so hard?”

Death considered for a moment his answer, “Yes and no. You did surprisingly well Frank Cruz. You surprise me, such a vivid imagination. It was a nice touch with the wife and child. I am sorry. I had not considered them, but you did. It reminded me of why I chose you in the first place, your compassion. For all the bad that you have done, the waste of a life, you have always had an underlying compassion. You showed this tonight, even as you showed that more cruel side of you.”

Death considered me for a moment and then whatever he did I felt released as if a thousand pounds had been taken from my shoulders, the weight of a soul. I wondered how I would be able to handle more than one. He seemed to read my mind.

“All souls have a different texture, some will be easier to carry, but this one was too heavy by far. I won’t always be able to relieve you of the burden immediately like this. Since this was your first, I choose to reward your compassion with some of my own. I am busy though, you may have to carry several before I can relieve you of them in the future.”

“So you’re not going to take me, kill me?”

“You’re already dead Frank remember?” he asked smiling impishly.

“I remember,” I said a little defiantly.

He laughed. “Don’t get so feisty Frank. I like you after all. You did very well tonight, so for now I choose to keep you around. Millie will help you and you better treat her right.”

I laughed too, “I will. I will.”

With that he turned and walked away leaving Millie and I there together. I felt drained and I sat on a nearby bench, Millie next to me, huddling, enjoying warmth she had not felt in over a hundred years. I thought about the night and what I had been through, what Millie had been through. It had been strange beyond belief. Mostly I thought about my own mortality.

“Me muri,” I mumbled to myself.

“You are, “Millie agreed. “You did die.”

I looked at her, beautiful in the darkness as she was during the day, “It’s not so bad,” I said meaning every word.

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