Young Adult -- Sara Baker
The sun shines on this Saturday afternoon in the small town of Dayville Connecticut. I stroll along the sidewalk that leads into the park. I take the antique pocket watch from my vest pocket and look at its face. The second hand ticks, its sound available to my ears alone.
Four minutes and it will be time to collect him.
There are people everywhere. None of them suspect it, but a dark cloud lingers and edges its way closer. A gentle breeze swirls, rustling the turning leaves fading from waxy caterpillar green to shades of lemon zest, saffron red, and those of an orange peel. I squint, looking up at the sun and wonder what its warmth feels like or the chill that goes with the changing of the season.
Around me is nothing but a still silence, except for the ticking clock. I know that happy shouts emerge from the children as they climb, run, and swing… I see it on their just out of focus faces, the smiles, their mouths in laughter. It is this way in the Children’s Heaven. Only there, I can hear their shrieks of delight and do not have to imagine it. I keep the living this way, nothing more than a palate of bright dancing colors.
I focus only on the one I am to collect and keep his image sharp. He flies out from the tunnel of the slide and into the arms of his elder sister that waits for him at the bottom. His blonde hair catches the afternoon light, a golden halo upon his head. His cheeks puff up. Jake smiles with his heart, his eyes dance with pure joy as only a child’s can.
I sigh in disappointment that this soul is so young. There is so much the young ones have yet to experience and never will in this life. Once again there is a stir of hunger within me for the human experience instead of watching from the sidelines. But it will never be; I am not a soul.
I continue to watch only the boy. The female carries him to the bench and sets him down where he squirms, eager to head home. It is his fourth birthday and cake is waiting. She tugs off his shoes, and tips them over, emptying out the fine grains of sand that fill them before returning them to his feet. Her hands are delicate and her fingers nimble as she ties the long laces into bows.
“It’s my birthday, Aamira!” Jake tells her; I read his lips. “It’s my birthday, it’s my birthday!”
She responds; her face turned away, picks up her purse, and holds out her hand.
This is the beginning of the end.
Instead of taking it, he slides off the bench and bolts down the sidewalk towards the parking lot.
He giggles as he runs.
Aamira does not hesitate to race after him.
A squat man with a bulging stomach walking a dog lets Jake race by, watching. He could stop what is about to happen, should he reach out for the child… or move out of her way. His poodle jumps on her and the leash becomes entangled in her feet. Aamira falls to the ground in a heap but scrambles up.
Jake runs, but she is gaining ground.
Aamira reaches out to in a desperate attempt to grab him, missing his shirt by a mere inch. He jumps off the curb and heads for their vehicle. The ticking is at its loudest and its fastest, it has reached its pinnacle.
I am surrounded by complete and utter silence.
We stand together as he looks down. At our feet is the body he has left behind. He studies the silver car that had tried to veer to the side. It had not been enough and there is nothing to be done for it.
His small hand grasps mine and he looks up at me with wide frightened eyes. He is on my plane of existence now.
"Do I get to go home now? I want my Mommy and Daddy." His voice shakes, not quite grasping the events.
"Yes Jake, to your new home. You parents will meet you there later."
"What about Aamira? I want her to come with me now."
I shake my head.
Jake watches his elder sister and his lower lip pouts, "I don't want her to cry."
I do what I swore I would never do again: I break one of my own rules. For the first time since Uriah, the first soul I collected, I fully look at the one left behind.
Aamira is sobbing silently. Tears stream down the gentle slopes of her cheeks as she shakes her head vehemently, as if it will change the outcome, refusing to accept her new reality. She cradles Jake.
This reminds me of when I collected Uriah who was killed in battle. As Aamira does now, his brother had raced to his side, cradled Uriah, and they said goodbye. There was so much heartache. The ticking clock I had been given stopped and Uriah was beside me as Jake is now. It was then I decided to never look again; until now.
Suddenly she looks up. Aamira sees me and her stormy grey eyes pierce mine. She becomes stunningly real to me in this instant, no longer an invisible casualty of my job.
I hear her gasp, a distinct sharp intake of breath. I hear someone from the other side; this has never happened, not even when I watched Uriah’s death. Her eyes, I know those eyes and her soul from a time before, but from where?
I breathe her in. Her hair is the color of hazelnut streaked with honey, her sun-kissed skin still glowing from the summer, and her lips are ripened berries. I have to know her.
It disappears in an instant, as if I imagined it.
Once again she is looking at Jake, rocking him on the warm pavement. But still, I hear them. I hear them all. A crowd of people gathers around. Sirens wail in the distance, coming closer with each moment.
"I don't want her to cry," repeats Jake and tugs on my hand.
With remorse, I tear my eyes from Aamira and back to Jake. I understand the sadness in his eyes.
"She will not cry forever," I tell him. "One day she will be with you again."
Right then and there I desire to trade his soul for hers. I would if I could.
She should be dead.
I find myself longing for her. She has to die, I want… no, need… her to die. Perhaps in her death, I will be made whole.
No. That is wrong. I do not want her life to end. I would rather experience it with her. To live… to feel something, anything real… I shake my head to clear it of impossibilities.
“It is time to go now,” I say although I do not want to.
Death, it is an inevitable part of life. For some, it is a means to an end, whereas for others it is an unavoidable prospect everyone must face. Every life comes to an end at precisely the right time.
Death is immortal. I am immortal. I am Death.