At times I look on the works of my people and smile. A brief smile in light of my duties, but a smile none the less. I never asked to exist and once I did, I certainly never asked for this fate. Whatever humor my creator sees in it is lost to me, but I have little choice in the matter. What is that fate? Naught but to walk the world as a collector of souls. The first of our kind walks among us unseen as the end of us all. Come to think of it, perhaps I can see the humor in it even if I don’t feel it.
Ever I am called by those dead and dying. Ever I come to them and despite myself I take their essence from the husk of their body to be delivered into what I can’t describe. Whatever the afterlife affords them I suppose, though having never been granted the same passage, I can only guess. Several thousand years and I still hesitate each time. It isn’t as though I expect I can resist. I tested that hope fully in the first two centuries.
No, it is just an inherent loathing of taking the life of anyone that keeps me fighting. That or it is just habit and I tell myself I still care to make myself feel better. It’s admittedly difficult to stay sane and have anything resembling empathy left after so long. Most days I admit I feel nothing but apathy as I am drawn along to do my task.
You’ll be interested to know that this time is different. Ever have I resisted and ever have I been compelled. I hesitate at the door now and am not compelled forward. Whoever is there is dying, I feel that. They are hanging on by so very little, yet I am presented with a choice for the first time ever since I myself died. And the funny thing; I choose to enter.
I finally get to decide and I just go about business as usual. Not really. Honestly I just wonder at what must be happening that I would have a choice at all. The woman sitting there is well aged, but isn’t showing any signs of severe pain or illness. Nothing is happening to cause a sudden death. Curious, I feel the need to move closer and that is when it happens.
No, not sudden death. She looks at me. Not in my direction, at me. She stares strait at me in a way no other being has done since the day I died and acknowledges that I exist at all. It’s a surreal feeling after so long as nothing but a shadow among flames. Wonder further still as I am spoken to!
“I’ve been expecting you for some time.” The woman had a pleasant smile as she spoke.
“How can you see me?”
“I saw you once before, when my husband died. Only for a moment, but I knew you for what you were.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I, at least not that part of it. You are death and I have been waiting for you. It’s enough that we both understand our roles.”
“I’ve hardly been alive for years now really. I suppose I just finally reached the tipping point between being barely alive and actually dying. I’m honestly glad you came before I was too ill to talk or the pain got more severe.”
I have a million questions and even more thoughts, but what do you say to the first person you talk to in thousands of years?
“Thank you.” She offered and sat waiting.
“You are thanking me for taking your soul?”
“Yes. You’re here to ease my suffering and ensure I get to see my husband again. I’ve made my peace in this world. I am ready for the next.”
She was ready to die. Rare enough, but that she could interact. The last thing I wanted to do was see her dead. I wasn’t being compelled, so I simply stood.
“Please,” She opened her eyes again. “I would rather it go quickly. I’m sure you have others to attend to as well.”
I did, but through forces I never really understood, I could get to each without delay even when there should have been overlap. People were dying constantly after all. Right now, in this moment, I could finally talk to someone. I would have as much time as I wanted until she was ill enough for the unseen force to fully compel me. I could be something other than alone for however long there was and that was more precious than anything else.
“Your time left is,” I hesitate at how to say this so that I can have some hope of a lengthy conversation. “Complicated. You aren’t yet dead.”
“I’ve always presumed I wouldn’t be until you came to finish the task.”
“True, but I mean you have more time.”
“Then why are you here?”
“The irony of fate. Can we talk?”
“I should say we already are.”
She smiled and I couldn’t help but smile broadly in return. For once not the passing gesture dulled by the sense of looming duty. When I smiled now it was full of more life than any dead man should be able to muster. Live might not be the right word for it, but I planned to live every moment of this experience. It was good to smile again.