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 milling about the park. None of them suspect it, but a dark cloud lingers and edges its way closer. A gentle breeze swirls around and through the turning leaves that fade from waxy caterpillar green to shades of lemon zest, saffron red, and rusted orange. I squint, looking up at the sun and wonder what its warmth feels like or the chill in the air that comes with the changing of the season.
The ticking clock echoes in the otherwise deafening silence that surrounds me. I know that happy shouts emerge from the children as they play, their mouths open in laughter… it is on their just out of focus faces. It is this way in the Children’s Heaven. Only there, I can hear their shrieks of delight and without having to imagine it. I keep the living this way, nothing more than a palate of bright dancing colors.
Focusing only on the one I am to collect, I keep his image sharp. He flies out from the tunnel slide and into the arms of his older sister who 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.
Disappointment in knowing that this soul is so young makes me sigh. There is so much the young ones have yet to experience and never will in this life. There is so much the human soul can do. 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. His sister 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 with her face turned away from me. Aamira picks up her purse and holds out her hand. Instead of taking it, he slides off the bench and bolts down the sidewalk towards the parking lot.
He giggles as he runs.
Aamira bolts after him.
A squat man round man walking his dog watches Jakes runs by. 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 with her feet. Aamira falls to the ground.
For a moment, Jake stops and looks back. As soon as he sees her get up, he lets out a happy shriek and resumes his flight. But Aamira quickly gains ground.
She 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. A silver car tries to veer, but clips Jake none the less and he is thrown to the ground. The ticking is at its loudest and its fastest, it has reached its pinnacle.
I am surrounded by complete and utter silence.
His soul is on my plane of existence now. We stand together as Jake looks down. At our feet is the body he has left behind. He studies the silver car. 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.
"I want my Mommy and Daddy. Do I get to go home now?" His voice shakes, not quite grasping the events.
His trembling voice is a sad comfort. I am no longer alone, if but for a brief moment. "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. Please…"
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’s soulless body.
This is similar to when I collected Uriah. Uriah’s brother had fallen to his knees and pulled Uriah into his arms. There, they said goodbye; one begging the other to stay, the other futilely clinging to life. There was so much heartache I had to remove myself. The ticking clock I had been given stopped and Uriah was beside me just as Jake is. It was then, thousands of years ago, 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.
The moment disappears in an instant, as if I imagined it.
Once again she is looking at Jake, rocking him on the 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. It is an overwhelming swirling mass of jumbled noise.
"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 am tempted to linger.
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.