It was a bright clear day, the day that Death came to collect Rose’s soul. He appeared behind her as she was sitting on a cliff, overlooking the sea. She was unafraid, dangling her legs over a long drop into the pounding surf that broke and re-formed and broke again on jagged, unfriendly rocks. But there she sat, bright red hair dancing in the wind as she leaned slightly forward, enjoying the brush of the sea-salt breeze on her freckle-dusted face. For a moment, he paused. It wasn’t often that he had to collect someone so in love with life.
With the ease that repetition gives, he whispered to the rock slab she sat upon. She hardly noticed the slight crack as a fault in the rock seemed to suddenly recognize the strength of gravity. It snapped, and she was thrown from her perch, but not before securing a handhold. Her wide eyes were green, he saw, as he stood and looked down at her. Suddenly she was just like the millions of others he’d seen: frightened, desperate, clutching at the last remnants of existence that he was about to rip away from their scrambling fingers. She was just another human.
“Who are you?”
He was taken aback; dumbfounded.
“I’m . . . I’m Death.”
“Well be a dear and help me up, will you?”
“You want to feel the touch of Death?”
“Well I just looked him in the face, so I don’t see how his touch could be much worse,” she grunted as she brought her elbow up over the edge.
Wordlessly, he reached down and pulled her up. Her face went pale, and she fell in a heap at his feet.
“Thanks,” she gasped. It took a while for her color to come back.
Death sat down on the rock and looked at her.
“So you’re Death, huh? That must be a sucky job.”
“Aren’t you frightened?”
“Why? I knew you would come sooner or later. Is it time to go?”
He paused. “No. I’ll come back . . . . Later.”
She nodded. “Do you eat? Can I get you something to drink? Play some chess?”
He cocked his head, paused, and disappeared.
The next day, Death returned. Rose was sitting on the beach.
“It’s funny,” she said, not turning around. “I can feel when you get close.”
He sat down next to her. “It tends to happen once I’ve met someone.” The fresh ocean waves rumbled before them, tumbling over one another in their eagerness to get to shore, only to slink back and trip their brothers.
“What did you do with your extra day?”
“Wrote a few letters, watched the sun rise, ate a lot of chocolate.” Her laugh sparkled like a brook in the afternoon sun. “You know,” she continued, “when you came for me yesterday, your presence felt . . . familiar. And then I remembered. When I was six, I got really sick. They took me to the hospital, and I thought I saw your shadow in the corner. I could almost understand who you were, but my parents said it was just a nightmare, and then the doctors changed my medication and I slept a lot more.”
“I remember,” he said. “I almost took you that night, but it wasn’t yet time.”
She smiled. “Will you dance with me?”
They did not speak, but he held her warm hands, and they danced through the sand and the breeze and the sunlight.
“You’ve always been here, haven’t you?” she murmured as he gently placed her pale body on the white sand, her breath coming shallow and weak, like it had to travel farther than usual.
“Do you ever change? Do you ever . . . get older?”
“I am old as the first sin. But I do not age, and I do not change, anymore.”
“Will it be that way for me?”
“I don’t know. I only take you to the door; I haven’t seen the other side.”
“They say that even you will die, one day. Does that mean I’ll see you again?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well I hope I do.”
They found her body in the afternoon. Her lips were turned up in a little smile, as peaceful as if she’d fallen asleep in the arms of an old friend.