a story from the collection
Death sat at the bar wondering what he had forgotten to do. 11:02 P.M. December 31. There was something he had to do before midnight or the new year would not arrive. Time would stop. Life would be frozen in an endless cold sleep. Souls would have no home.
Change would not continue to shape the universe.
Fates would not be fulfilled.
Death took a sip of his drink and concentrated on his duty.
The potential suicide in the corner vacillated in her decision. Her well-cut red suit looked too bright and cheerful for her mood. She twisted a diamond wedding set around and around her heart finger. Death shouldn’t leave until she made up her mind.
Suicides always disrupted the schedule of appointments. He didn’t like last minute changes.
But there was something else….
He checked his appointment book. The potential suicide wasn’t listed anywhere in the last few pages. In two minutes, a man with a heart condition would run out of time. Death grabbed his staff of office and left the bar. If the woman in the corner made her decision in the next two minutes, she’d still need two more to find a means and a place.
The little black appointment book with magnificent gold calligraphy on the cover burned in the pocket of his flannel shirt beneath a down parka. His staff of office, half again as tall as he, shrank to the length of a walking stick. The ebony end that curved back on itself to form a window for a huge black crystal, dissolved into a knob with the winking crystal set into the end. No flowing black cape and skeletal hands for the heart attack victim. This candidate for death needed the reassurance of a familiar personage to make the transition quietly.
Death sidled through crowded Times Square. He appeared to be just another reveler on New Year’s Eve.
His candidate jumped up and down, waving to friends and strangers alike. He paused in his excited dance only long enough to chug-a-lug the whiskey in his hip flask.
Death tapped his shoulder.
“Hi! I’m George. Who are you?” The candidate greeted Death.
“Hello, George. You have an appointment.”
An over-weight, middle-aged body collapsed on the sidewalk. George turned to look at his former shell. “I guess I have to leave now. Before the New Year.”
“Yes you do.”
“Pity. I’ve never actually been here on New Year’s Eve when the ball dropped.” He looked wistfully at the great ball of light atop a near-by building. “I guess now I never will. Can’t I stay a little longer, just until the ball drops?”
“Sorry, George. 11:07. You are precisely on time. You can’t linger, even to see the New Year.”
George looked back at his former self, one last time. A Good Samaritan had already begun CPR on the limp body.
“He might revive me.”
An ambulance siren wailed in the distance.
“He can’t revive you, I have touched you. Your Fate is determined. If you choose to wait, or refuse my escort now, you will wander aimlessly as a lost soul for all time. Your choice.”
“Some choice.” George looked back on his body with longing in his eyes and posture. Then he nodded in quiet acquiescence. Death took George’s elbow and led him out of the crowd.
Two minutes later, Death blinked his eyes and transported back to the bar. Little Miss Indecision was still dithering, still twisting her rings, occasionally tugging at them. They wouldn’t come off easily. She’d worn
them long enough that her finger and knuckle had grown thicker. Death pulled out the appointment book once more. A little book now with only a few names left. The page with George’s name dissolved under his gaze.
“Who’s next?” he asked the book?
At year’s beginning the book had been a huge tome that had gradually dissipated to this thin reminder. Not many names left. Not much time before one year faded into the next. Choices and change had to continue. Unless….
Death ordered a drink. He took a sip, remembering when alcohol tasted good; made him feel good.
Strange, he wasn’t supposed to remember life, only his duties as Death.
Time. 11:26. There was something he had to do. The appointment book heated up again. A child dying of cancer. A child ready for the release of pain. Too bad his parents weren’t ready to let him go. They had made all of the child’s decisions for him. This last choice had to be his alone.
Death walked into Pediatric Intensive Care at Mercy Hospital dressed as a teenage candy-striper, the staff of office now only a small syringe on a tray with a black crystal plunger. The family of the candidate hovered around the bed. Tears and aching hearts filled the room with an aura of misery.
The candidate smiled at Death. “Hi, I’m Mike. About time you showed up.”
“Hi, yourself, Mike,” Death replied in his feminine voice.
Mike’s body convulsed and gasped for breath.
“No. You can’t die. I won’t let you,” Mike’s mother threw herself onto the little boy’s body, oblivious of tubes and machines. The woman looked up directly into the eyes of Death. “Take me instead. He’s so little. He hasn’t had a chance to live yet. Take me!”
Time stopped until a choice was made. Fate required a death.
“Can you do that? Change the appointment?” Mike asked, eyes wide and wondering. Momentarily he was free of the constraints of his body. Only his soul knew what transpired.
“Fate dictates that my appointment is in this room, at this time,” Death announced to all those present. “The name of the candidate is not known until the actual moment of death. Anyone here may accept the fated death.”
“Take me,” the mother said resolutely. “Spare my little boy.”
“No, Mom.” Mike looked around at his loving family, frozen in time until the choice was made.
Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for.
A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between.