By Sabrina Howard
Death came to the town of Cavitt on quiet feet, just as he always had. The white, distant moon was anchored in the midnight sky, directly above the little town’s main street. It cast its spectral glow down on the cobblestones, and watched as Death moved toward the East, smooth as a shadow and silent as the grave. He stopped before the gate of a large, lonely mansion, whose white walls reflected the moonlight onto the blackness of his cloak.
For a moment, Death remained there, lingering in the cold, listening to the wind as it moaned sorrowfully between the branches of the towering twin pines that stood sentinel just beyond the gate. He watched the branches sway and creak in half-hearted protest, then turned his eyes upon the mansion once more, or more specifically, upon the highest window on the left. The window was black, as inky and unrevealing as the night’s sky. There was no movement, but then again, Death supposed, there wouldn’t be.
The weathered cast-iron gates swung open without sound as Death walked forward, and as he approached the old oak door, it did the same. The stairs too made no protest as he ascended them, and the only sound made was by the room door as its hinges creaked with age. Death stood in the doorway of the chilly, darkened bedroom, and made no further move. A slender figure was seated, immobile, at the window. Death waited in the silence. And finally, the figure turned to face him, with a sigh so slight he could scarcely hear it. The wind could whisper louder.
As the chair swiveled fully around, the figure melted out of the darkness, and was visible. It was an old woman, her short gray hair fluttering ever so slightly in an unseen draft. The woman’s face was wrinkled and wizened, matching exactly her unsteady hands that shook involuntarily in their position atop her lap. She was wearing a dark green velvet dress that imitated the green of her old, old eyes – the eyes that had seen so much. There were laugh lines imprinted on the corners of her eyes, and Death smiled at the sight.
“I saw you,” the woman whispered, and her eyes gazed unflinchingly into Death’s own. “I saw you standing at the gate,” she told him.
“I felt you watching,” Death replied. The woman nodded, more to herself than to him, and lapsed back into silence. Her eyes looked down into her lap, watching her hands, and she lightly fingered the silver ring on her left hand. Tears welled in her eyes suddenly, but she blinked them away with practiced ease. She was strong. Death admired that. He watched her with silent approval, hanging back in the doorway, giving her space. He was in no hurry, and he imagined that she wasn’t either.
“I’ve seen you before,” she said then, looking up at him. Her green eyes glowed with the memory of the past. A soft laugh escaped her lips, not as strong as it once had been, and perhaps not quite so full of life. “I used to cheat you,” she smiled.
“I remember,” Death said, and he did.
“Oh, the crazy things I did in my youth,” she reminisced with a nostalgic smile. “I had such fantastic adventures. It was a thrilling thing, to see you in passing. I’d wave as I went by. Close enough to touch you, and yet out of your reach.” Her smile faded a bit, but the pleasantness remained. Curiosity emerged in her gaze now. “You never took me then,” she remarked. “There were plenty of opportunities, but you never took me.”
“No,” Death agreed. “In those times, you were far too busy living to have any business with me.” This remark brought the smile back full force.
“I suppose I was, wasn’t I?” There was a sudden flash of light from outside the window, and it illuminated the room for a split second. Then the world was plunged into black once again, and was accompanied by the rumble of thunder, long and low and loud.
“There was a time…” the woman began, but she trailed off, hesitant. Another flash of lightning, and the thunder drowned out her unspoken words.
“There was a time?” Death prompted, patiently. The woman looked down, and a small amount of color flushed into her cheeks.
“I’m not sure I want to tell you,” she admitted slowly.
“Who else would you tell?” Death asked. She looked up sharply, taken aback.
“You’re right,” she whispered, an epiphany. “There is no one else.” The woman fiddled her hands again, preparing herself to reveal a truth. “There was a time when I sought you,” she confided, ashamed. Death did not speak, so she filled the silence herself. “It was the time just after you came for my husband. I tried to force you to me, so that you could bring me to him. I missed him so. I still do.” The woman looked up to see Death smiling, and she found herself wondering how he came to be associated with cold, rather than warmth.
“I, like the best of things, do not come when called for,” Death smiled. The woman returned his smile.
“Then when do you come?” she asked.
“People like to imagine that they will be ready for me, and then I will come. But what is often truer is that I simply come. And then they find that they are ready.”
“And so you’ve come.”
“And so I’ve come.”
The woman smiled a tired smile. Her dark eyes danced in ways her body no longer could, and the laugh lines etched themselves into her face, beautiful and right, as if put there by a master sculptor. Her hands, no longer shaking, moved onto the armrests of the chair, and she pulled herself with her lasting strength to her feet. Tentatively, she stepped forward. She took another step. And then another. Before she knew it, she was standing before him, before Death himself, and this time she was not running – not away from him, and not towards him. She watched him watch her, and then he silently proffered an elbow. Grinning, she took it and stood arm-in-arm with Death.
“I’m ready,” she said.
“I know,” he said.