RedPaper.in – Short Story
By: Mercy Sangma | RedPaper.in
A form–seemingly a man with black hair, black eyes and pale skin wrapped in a black robe–threaded his way through the cold floor of the Dark Forest. Not a brave soul was crazy enough to walk near this forest, let alone enter its dark abode. Perhaps that is why it was named such; because of its thick canopy which hides the forest from both the warm sun and the full moon. Even then, life still finds its way in spite of the darkness. There were leaves brushing his feet as he walked by and the sound of crickets could be heard from a distance. He could feel savage animals lurking around him but never coming any closer. If he were human, they would have already shredded him to pieces, with nothing but blood and bones left. But they kept clear of him, afraid. Like how humans feared the dark. Like how everyone feared him — Death.
His name was an idea everyone abhors but can never run away from. Even the richest person who ever lived tried to buy his way out of it but Death is not something anyone can buy or haggle with. Death will come uninvited to the most unexpected person. Like lightning — leaving everything until only Death remains.
He stopped when he saw a little girl, about eight years old, crying in the middle of the forest. She was kneeling on the ground, her dress drenched in mud, her hair in disarray. Either she was in bad luck for getting lost in the dark forest or lucky for being alive until now. But then, she still has to die.
Erina Lionheart–the last person on his list.
He strode to her and stopped right in front of her kneeling form. Finally, he was at the end of his century old journey. After he takes her life, he can finally rest, without souls to fetch, without a list to complete. Death took a deep breath to relish the moment. After a long, long time, he could finally stop being Death.
The little girl looked up at him. Her teary green orbs looking directly at his black ones. She didn’t look at him with fear, nor with anticipation. She only looked at him with relief. Like he was her knight in shining armor for whom she had been waiting for a very long time. Her innocence veiled her perception of him– not seeing him as Death but as a savior. She stood up and ran to him but before she could touch his robe, he moved out of her way, making her fall to the ground. She stood again and ran after him, trying to get hold of him. Death moved out of her way every time, not letting her touch his robe.
Even he could not tell why he was preventing her from touching him. Isn’t that the reason why he was here? To let her touch him. To take away her life. So he can finally take her off his list. So he can finally rest. But the way her eyes looked at him without angst, without judgment– a pure innocence.
He just cannot take her life.
He led her out of the forest. Not close enough to touch him and not far enough to let the wild animals pounce on her. She followed him quietly, still sniffling.
He stopped at the end of the forest, a grassy clearing in front of him. The full moon was peeking through the clouds above them, the midnight dew sparkling from its light. The girl stopped beside him, wiping her tears at the hem of her dress. He turned to her just in time to see her face brightened with glee upon seeing the fireflies swarming above the grass.
Death had never seen life like this before. He had always known humans as selfish and greedy. They hold on to life, willingly sacrificing other people for their sake. They cannot let go of it because they are aware that they cannot take their riches to the grave. But this girl, she has nothing to lose. Life itself has forsaken her and her only path leads to death. Yet she continues to glow with life. He then realized–being alive has nothing to do with breathing or beating hearts. Some people die even before Death comes knocking at their door. Living is a state of being — not mere existence.
He led her to a hut sitting in the middle of the clearing, the grass turning to ash under his feet. The girl followed him, skipping over the trail of ashes he left behind. He knocked at the door before disappearing into thin air, leaving the girl outside as a woman opened the door. The nipa hut was a home to a young couple who just lost a child to a miscarriage. At their grief, they received a gift: her. They took her in and raised her as their own.
But then Death never left her side, watching her from the Dark Forest. Her blonde hair growing beautifully down her hips. Her pink lips becoming fuller through the years. She has grown taller. She has grown beautifully. She has turned into a woman.
Death frowned down at her. She has wandered too far from their house, leading her to the edge of the Dark Forest again, where he was resting on a branch of a tree.
“I’m Erina,” she said, her green eyes sparkling with life–like it did years ago. “What’s your name?”
“Death,” he answered. He expected her to run. She is not a child anymore. Surely, her innocence is not as pure as before.
“Death,” she whispered with a grin as if tasting his name on her lips but not finding any bitterness. There was no fear in her voice, not even a hint of mockery. “Thank you for saving me ten years ago.”
Since then, she came to him almost every day. Days turned to weeks. Weeks turned to months. He found himself wanting more. A mere talk was not enough. He wished to be closer to her. He yearned to feel the warmth of her skin against his hand. To taste her soft lips against his. To see himself through her eyes.
But everything he wished for meant the death of her. Sometimes, you have to let go of love in order to keep it. So he did, he continued loving her from atop a tree while she kept on coming back with her stories. She told him of her dreams, of her fears, of everything that’s keeping her alive. Every day he learned about her and every day he fell in love.
Love — is it something Death is capable of? How can he feel something that created life? Yet Death has found his heart melting at the mere sight of her smile. He wanted her. He wanted her heart and all of her. He wanted to live again, so he can be with her.
Indeed, he once lived. Although he doesn’t remember most of it, he can clearly remember why he ended it, why he killed himself: he fell in love with death only to find its grip choking him into the oblivion of nothingness. He didn’t find the relief he was yearning for. It was just nothing.
But death exists to take life and he has to take hers. Because death is inevitable, and it will come in any form.
As so it did.
Two huge men came knocking at Erina’s door one evening. Her parents had gone to visit a friend for the day only to return the next morning. Erina was told never to open the door for strangers but the knocking didn’t stop. It came in urgent pounding until it threatened to unhinge the door. She reached for a knife, the only weapon she wished could save her.
She gasped in fear as the door came flying, allowing the two men to step inside the hut. Erina’s eyes widened at the sight of their malicious grin, their heavily stained teeth showing. She gripped the knife tighter with both hands. She survived the dark forest at the age of eight. She will not die now.
She braced herself as the two lunged at her but before they could even reach her, they turned to ash and disintegrated into the wind. Behind their now gone form, stood Death. He saved her–again.
But Death cannot take life that is not on his list. That is an absolute law and he knows that as well. His hand started turning to ashes–a punishment for his choice. He was no longer Death.
He turned to her, wanting her face to be the last thing he sees — Life. It took him a century of being Death to fall in love with life. To watch life smile at him. To hear her voice.
But what he saw was far from that. Her face is filled with pain as she watched him slowly fading. She didn’t make any sound as tears never stopped falling from her eyes. She walked to him, reaching for a first and last embrace. Even in death, he found warmth. He found life.
How he wished to find love after death. To experience everything for the first time. But how he wished it was never this soon.
“How ironic is it to live because of Death,” she whispered in a failed attempt of humor.
For the last time, Death smiled.
“How ironic is it for Death to fall in love with life.
To fall in love with you.” Were the last words of a man, consumed by love.