An Invincible Death By SM Prasad

Prompt: Forbidden Places I Word count: 1800 words I Genre: Fantasy

I lie back on the vinyl chaise lounge on the white sand beach with the blinding hot sun above me. The waves are crashing angrily against the rocks of the jetty a little further around the bend. I’ve got a straw hat covering my face but it still feels like its burning through the small holes in it.

The air is still. The sky is so bright, that I can’t see the sun. No one else is on the beach.

The hotel is far away and I’m not sure what time my friend will pick me up.

An older lady wearing a bright orange and yellow wrap and a floppy pink hat shuffles over with a rusty, bent lawn chair. Her tangled long white hair is pinned randomly with various plastic clips. Her face is ridden with deep grooves and is ruddy from too much sun on a very pale face. She’s carrying several old plastic shopping bags, torn magazines, a tote bag, and a huge canvas pocketbook with faded LOVE and Peace-signs, which quite incongruously, has a key chain dangling at the side of a large plastic skull with illuminated red eyes.

“Do you mind if I sit here?” She asks in a raspy voice that sounds like a fork scraping across metal.

My heart sinks. Clearly, she is a chatter and I am not in the mood. I’ve got a lot of pesky questions to sort out in my own mind.

“Are you busy?” She asks with a sarcastic smile.

I curse my instinctually polite reply, “No, no. Of course, please sit down.” I turn away from her and feign a yawn so she’ll know my conversational portal is closed.  My mind has begun racing and I feel as if the rest of me can barely catch up. I close my eyes and focus my thoughts down the long dark hall that they are pulling me towards.

The devastating diagnosis.

The doctor’s carefully parsed explanation.

The hushed tones of the staff.

The funeral had already begun but I was still here.  My family’s anguished expressions which they  veiled poorly have cut me to the quick. Was it better to distract me and stay upbeat? Or should they start their honest goodbyes? None of us knew what the answer was. It was like resigning yourself to the annoying visitor who was probably going to move in against your wishes.

The pain had become so intense sometimes that I didn’t think I would make it through to the other side. But here I am. Alone in the glaring light.

My flowered neighbor’s voice cuts through the air, reprimanding me. “So, what are you thinking about?”

“Just trying to nap.”

“No, really, I want to know.”

I turn back to dismiss her. She’s taken off her hat, combed out her hair and is smearing sun block on her wrinkled, loose skin hanging from her arms. Her face has a fiery glow and her eyes are blazing.

“I’m not the enemy, you know.” Her voice is determined. “There are those who welcome me with open arms. Some people honor me as a deliverance.”

I open my mouth in protest. She beckons me with a crooked finger. I fight the urge to get up.

“I’m here if you want to go with me now.” She smiles. She reaches into her black and white striped, dingy, frayed tote bag and pulls out her cell phone.

“I don’t understand. Why would I go anywhere with you?” I’m drawn to her face. I can’t look away.

“When you’re ready, you’ll know.” She has the same hushed tone I’ve been hearing for the past few months. “You know who I am.”

I take a deep breath and stare at her. My mind is instantly cleared and I feel calm. My breathing goes in and out with the waves.  “Why have you come out here? What do you want?” I ask her angrily. I don’t need to be polite anymore.

“I want you to be my friend.” She smiles sadly.

“You’re Death.  That doesn’t make sense.” I shake my head and close my eyes.

The spell ends.

I feel a loud pounding in my ears and my heart is thumping wildly. I place my hand gently over my chest.   “I think that today is not the day. You can leave. I’ll be fine out here. I’m just waiting for the operation to end. Then I’ll go back to my body. I’ve been hanging out here, deciding what I feel like doing.” I announce. I’m a little shaky but I stand my ground.

The old lady sits back and runs her stubby, shrunken toes through the sand. She starts playing with the cell phone screen. “It’s not really up to you. But if we get along, you’ll be happier.”

“Not now. I have so much left to do, to feel, to see, to say.“ I thought that I would have been pleading but actually my voice is commanding. “Tell me about yourself. Why are you dressed that way?”

The old lady is smiling to herself as she studies the screen on her phone. “You know, I get calls sometimes. And I’ve got some great video games on it. Do you want to play one?”

I refuse to answer.

After a pause, she looks up at me with her determined stare, but I’m ready. I put on my shades, which keeps her from fixing me on her face. “You control my appearance. It’s rare that I get to wear this dress. You’ve got a good sense of humor.” She puts down her phone and stretches her arms over her head. “What’s holding you back? Come hang out with me!”

“I love my family. My husband is one of the kindest men I’ve ever met. My kids are so beautiful. I have so much left to do. The trips I haven’t taken. The fancy desserts I never made. The coupons I’ve clipped and never used because-“

The old lady leans forward toward the ocean and puts her hand up over her eyes to shade them from the intense light that has now got a hot summer haze. A blackbird flies overhead and starts cawing.

She turns back toward me. “Even coupons have expiration dates.” Her shoulders bounce up and down as she laughs silently at her own joke.

“I want more holiday celebrations. More conversations with my daughter. The chance to see my kids come into their own. Do you think I’m being greedy?” I feel a tightening in my chest but I fight to keep the desperation out of my voice.

The old lady opens her mouth and lets out a big yawn. “That’s not for me to say.”

“Why do you do this to people? I’m in the middle years of my life. Does this bring you pleasure?” I am not angry, just curious.

“It’s my job. It’s part of the cycle. It sucks to have a job that makes everyone hate you. Even more than taxes.” She chuckles in delight. She takes out two bottles and then offers me one.

I think back to the Greek myth of Persephone eating the pomegranate seeds in hell which limited her time on earth. I recoil.

“Calm down,” She admonishes. “Sometimes a bottle of water is just that. Get over yourself. Wait, I guess that’s my job.” She laughs again.

“You’re not funny. Mostly, you’re cruel.”

“Keep telling yourself that, sister. We both know you’re wrong. I enjoy getting to know the people that I…transport.” She unwraps a foil-covered sandwich that she’s pulled out from her bag.

“You’ve got to tell me. What kind of sandwich would YOU eat?” I peer closely and lean forward.

“Black Forest Ham.  On a Hero.” She cackles and slaps her thigh. “Want some?” She tears off a piece.

This must have a terrible consequence. I smile politely. “Yeah, I’ll pass. As in Pass over.” I look over at her but she has no reaction.

“OUCH!” She yells and looks up. The sky has darkened suddenly and we see electrical sparks in the air around us. “I hate those shocks. Last week, I got singed right here!” She shows me a burn mark on her left buttock. “Still smarts.” She rubs her scar.

The air fills with murmuring sounds of disconnected voices all around us. The waves recede and don’t return. I stand up and accidentally knock over the old lady’s lawn chair. As she lies in a heap on the ground, her demeanor changes. She’s snarling like a wild animal and I get a glimpse of pointy teeth.

“Help me up!” she demands.

I stand up and automatically start to reach out. Then I wonder whether this could be a trick and stop myself.

“Will you help me or not?” She screeches as I turn my back to her and walk toward where the waves were.

“Come Back! You’re going the wrong way. No cheating!”

I turn and look back at her. She looks so pathetic. She’s dragging her left side along the sand while trying to steady the cracked rusty chair. She is not going to regain her balance.

The waves are gone and the ocean floor is clear. The voices get louder as I walk away from the old lady. Is that my daughter’s strained voice I hear? Do I hear the beeping of monitors, my husband crooning my favorite lullaby, my grandson’s sweet voice with every step I move away?

I look over my shoulder and once again, I see her lying in a heap. She’s not trying to get up anymore. Her shoulders are slumped over. But as I stare at her, I get a nagging sense that she hasn’t given up. No, she’s waiting. Why?

I slowly turn around and the sounds of my parents fill the air. My parents both died many years ago. Why do I hear them now?

I take a deep breath and run towards the old lady. I groan as I pull up her rickety, cracked lawn chair because it’s heavier than it looks. Then I lean down and carefully help her back into her seat. She smiles at me.

“You decided to be my friend. It’s going to be easier for you now.” She gives me a beaming smile and I feel a wonderful light flow through my chest and into my head. I feel calm and at peace.

 

All around me is white. White sheets, white walls and white towels.

Towels?

I look over to my right. Through the bed rail, I see my daughter who is standing by the side of my bed. Holding my hand and smiling as I open my eyes.

“We love you, mom. I’m so glad you’re still here with us.”

I pat her hand softly.

“There’s no place I’d rather be.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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14 thoughts on “An Invincible Death By SM Prasad

  1. Great story! I like that she, in a sense, cheats death. Very cool. I saw a few small grammatical errors that are easi fixable, such as in the line

    I’ve been hanging out here, deciding what I feel like doing.” I announce.

    The period after “doing” should be a comma. I think I only saw one other time this happened.

    Good work!

    • Hi Amanda, Yes, one can say she cheats death. On the other hand, now that she has accepted death for who she is, maybe life will be different for her. Thanks for the grammar points. I will fix those soon.

  2. There have been several great stories of Death acting more “friendly” but still having a job to do. Death takes a Holiday, the comic book character of Death in the Sandman Series….it has many fun elements. I like the idea you state that she is dressed by the dying person. It would have been a lot of fun to go all out crazy…maker he look like Mrs Roper from 3s company.
    I think you got a bit hungup on her. You definately want the dying lady realistic, but Death? Death you should try using a ton of creativity…make her a wacky lady, in whatever cast you want. You can always pull back if you go to far, but its very hard to add in if you don’t go far enough…so go ahead…make her a Drag queen…whatever. and remember, there are a few places in there you show hints of who she it, beyond just death. the sandwich, her hadbag and lawn chair, when she falls down and gets tangled up with her chair….use each of these moments to focus on some aspect of her. Remember that characters reveal the most about themselves when they act…not when they speak.

    • Dear GG Sagen, I appreciate the enthusiasm in your comment. Yes, I had a very clear idea of who Death is in this particular story and I ended up having to pull back so that I could make the word limit. But I was having a great time with her and how incredibly annoying she was. I will maybe add some of that back in if I make the story a little longer. Thanks for your interest in her character. I appreciate it.!

  3. Hi Patty,
    I am glad that you found this story unexpected. I will tell you that I was in a big rush when I wrote this story so I am not sure that I realized that I would end the story in the way I did. I am glad that you like how it ended.
    thanks.

  4. Hi Prasad

    It is a poignant tale about the will to live cheating the call of death. It’s a theme attracting writers since long, and you have handled it well. The narrative is easy, and though the end could be predicted after a while, I read on due to the good language that you write.
    I was hoping for a moment, she will give in, feel like accepting the beacon of the frail, old lady. May be she remembered the neglects, the pains, and most prohibitive, the expenses o getting well. Maybe, she takes some steps with the old lady. Then, the life happened. Hope reappeared. Greed for future overcame the quest for death.. Just my thoughts, cheers!
    Well done job, I must say.
    Please read my story ‘Restricted Entry’ and kindly leave your critique on the piece. Thanks.

  5. I so enjoyed this story. I loved the death character. She was very cool and I enjoyed her wry sense of humour. (I think I’d like her to escort me.) I also enjoyed the pithy insights and descriptive writing. Great transition from the beach to the hospital using the changing weather. Well-done. Look forward to the next story.

  6. Great story, Sudha. I loved the concept of it, and how you went about creating the character of Death. Mentally, I was comparing it with that of Yama (the Hindu God of Death) and found your lady was easier to relate to 🙂 By the way, when she ran away from the lady, and towards the ocean, I thought she would be getting closer to earth, rather than death, but you used the opposite direction. There’s a certain calmness to the writing, which is amazing, considering you wrote this in a hurry. Well-done!

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