Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1293108-The-Tender-Mercy-of-Death
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Teen · #1293108
A story of a teenage boy and the encounter that changed his life.
Word Count: 3421

Near the beginning of history, the Greek philosopher Epicurus once said that "Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not." My friend Brody said “Bullshit. Death is everything to us. We spend our whole lives knowing it’s right under our feet.”

I said, “Death sucks. What's for dinner?”

Had I known any better, I would’ve realized that I was dying.

But I didn’t, so I watched with curious fascination as melting droplets of water beaded and jerked down a long icicle which hung from an overhead tree branch. My eyes followed each drop pushing the other forward down the slope, until finally they hung off the curved tip of the ice. I waited for stretched minutes until the molecules threw in the towel and let go of the ice, allowing the droplet of water to free fall through the melting winter air. The drop hit red liquid, disturbing the stillness in my puddle of blood. More drops continued to descend into the lake of red which flowed free from my scalp, into the many crevasses of ice, then down into the gutters of the road.

It was night. Nobody in this suburban neighborhood ventured out at night, especially not on ones with roads slick as olive oil. Then why was I out? Simple- I didn’t want to be in my house anymore, so I left. Everything worth taking was now in the brown leather suitcase that lay next to me on the thick layers of icy winter. I should’ve looked where I was going. But when you’re running away from home, you’ll find that your mind isn’t focused on where you’re stepping.

My thoughts instead revolved mainly around where I could crash for the night, other than the icy roads. I couldn’t stay with Susie. Her mom didn’t like most of her friends, doubly so for me. Definitely not Jack. I could stand sleeping on his Pringles encrusted floor, but his uncle’s fists hurt more than Dad’s. I considered Molly, but quickly remembered that she was a no go considering she was in Connecticut visiting her ‘wonderful’ family.

None of that mattered though. I couldn’t feel my legs or my hands. No matter the pure force of will I drained from every last sweat, no amount of energy could lift me up off the frozen ground. In my mind, I panicked, as I couldn’t move my mouth. I couldn’t call for help. I was stuck surrounded by houses full of people, with slow certain death bleeding from my head, and no hope to save me.

It’s amazing how much you’re able to think in such a condition. I thought about Gwyn, my sister. How she was probably crying now that I had run away, and how my parents didn’t even care. I wish I could tell her I was only down the street, with my arm hanging off the curve of where our old school bus stop used to be. That wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. I sucked at telepathy.

My thoughts turned to Brody. I wondered if he was still at the hospital with his mom, playing Bridge, her favorite game- if he was making that same annoying victory dance each time he won. I smiled inside, betting that once in a while, his mind turned from his mom quick enough to see a picture of me by the phone, waiting for him to call. I didn’t tell him I was running away today. I hadn’t even considered staying at his house. I couldn’t imagine letting him take pity on me. Not ever.

But, again, that didn’t matter. None of it mattered, as I could feel my head become so much lighter as my wine of life spread throughout the Barnes’ front lawn. The world itself became lighter, even though it was near midnight. My cheeks felt warm.

I heard a sound.

Footsteps began to crack over the frozen asphalt. I could sense my head turn ever so slightly, catching sight of a dark figure that slowly came into view. The blood became insignificant as I faced an elderly woman wrapped in a heavy brown cloth. Her arms extended above her head in a circular motion, and in one quick motion, huge black wings erupted out of her back like a blooming rose. They were wings of night; a beautiful, fearsome visage.

Long ago, before I messed up Gwyn’s leg… when my mother still looked at me, read me bedtime stories, she told me stories of the angels, and would describe in wonderful detail the ways their wings moved, like leafs against the wind. I told her that I wanted to be an angel, and each time I told her so, she would say “but you already are”, kiss my forehead and turn off the lights.

I saw my mother’s eyes as the black winged woman stooped down until her gnarled nose was inches from mine. Her breath caressed my face in gentle wisps. It smelt of crushed lilacs and hydrangeas. She spoke in a grainy, filtered voice that came through like an old radio.

“Harbor, is it?” She knew my name.

Suddenly, I could speak, but only in a crying whisper. “Yes.”

Her spidery fingers combed through the thick mess of brown hair that had begun to clump together due to the frozen blood. She straightened my hair out, gently tugging it away from my scalp, cleaning off bits of me that had become entangled in it. I could not feel what she did to me, only see it. And see it I did, in curious fascination.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

Her hands drew back and stroked a tear that had begun to drip down my temple.

“Harbor… I’m sorry, but, you are going to die tonight.”

Another tear replaced the one she wiped away. “Figured as much. It’s not like anyone is coming to help me anytime soon.” I squinted, trying to make out her more defined features. She looked intensely familiar. “Who are you?”

“I’m the Angel of Death, Harbor.”

I coughed a laugh. Another droplet of water hit my blood. “Always thought you’d be a little more intimidating. You know… with hellfire and all that.”

“For some people, I am.” She whispered in serene calm as she combed her fingers through my hair. “I embody whatever the fated person deserves. For you, I am what was lacking in your life, a tender adult.”

“Yep…” My eyes melted in tears. “Could’ve used one of those…”

Death smiled. “I’m here now.”

I closed my eyes, shutting away the pain of night, and welcoming the bliss of ignorance. All I felt was her gentle stroke of hair, her warm breath, the still night. I felt a peace that had left eons ago, revolving through and out my young slow drumming heart. A peace once experienced under the late night glow of the TV, my head resting on my father’s lap as he stroked my hair. Talk show hosts and commercial jingles lulled me to sleep. But he didn’t do that anymore. His hands only served to hurt me now, the only protection between me and those hands being Brody. Bad memories began to pour out my eyes.

Then she spoke.

“I want you to think, Harbor, of everyone you know here in this world of Real.” She wiped another tear. “Who will you miss the most?”

Thousands of names flashed through my mind, most were people I knew from school. My parents’ names were not on my list. Neither was Johnny, that bastard bully in the seventh grade, or Melvin, the boy who drowned himself in self pity. No, only one name burned through my skull and out my mouth.


“Would you like to see him one more time?” She asked, similar to that of a doting grandmother. “I can do that for you.”

“Why for me?”

She smiled, giving way to a row of craggy teeth. “For the dying good, any last requests are possible. But you must ask for them before the time is up.” Her black beady eyes stayed on mine, waiting for a response. A gentle silence flew in with a bitter gust of wind, and left down the main road. “What do you request, good soul?”

What do I request? The answer was obvious.

“To see Brody again.” My voice came through clear, like it would any other day. Death closed her wrinkled eyelids over her pearly black dates, and took one slow deliberate breath. It seemed to last forever. Wisps of steam kept flowing from her mouth until all I could see was the gray matter.

I became a flash of light, watching my surroundings fly by like Sunday afterthoughts. I flew through Mr. Steven’s living room, looking happy as he dressed his cat in a miniature tuxedo. Mrs. Saunders and baby Jean, cuddled close, watching Jeopardy on their twelve inch screen. My sister Gwyn, sleeping in the dark, as my mother stroked her long brunette locks. Before reality dissipated as I flew through my used-to-be life, I could’ve sworn that my mother was crying. Despair- an emotion unfamiliar with her face, if the blotchy mascara was any proof. And in that second as I flew by, I could’ve sworn that I missed her, that I wanted to see her smile again.

Then again, when I was five, I swore that I saw Big Foot in my backyard, playing with my tire swing. Nobody believed me.

Instantly, I had control of my body again. I stretched my legs out. I pulled my arms backward. My hand explored my scalp, which was now devoid of anything violent. I felt my face smile again. Warmth exploded through my body as the gray matter separated and dispersed, landing me softly in the middle of a glowing hospital corridor.

A wrinkled hand found its way on my shoulder.

“He’s waiting for you,” She whispered, “you have five minutes.”

She gently pushed me forward.


As soon as that green light was spoken, my hand drew itself out and onto the circular knob that would open the door to room 55F. Brody was on the other side of this door.

That realization brought my thoughts to full circle. What was I going to say to him? What could I say? There were so many things and only five minutes… Five minutes. What could I possibly say in such a short amount of time?

With a troubled mind, I entered. The door brought a breeze from the hallway into the bedroom, blowing my hair slightly wayward. My eyes had to adjust to the sudden wave of light that hit me as I stepped inside.

His mom was asleep in bed, her blond threads tied back into a fine tail. That looked like his work. He himself was dozing off as well. None had noticed that I had entered. My feet found their ground in front of the chair he slept in. Brody looked so peaceful; I didn’t want to wake him. But when he mouthed my name in his sleep, nothing could stop me from shaking his shoulder.

“Brod… dude, wake up.”

He suddenly woke up and slapped my hand away, then looked instantly sorry as he realized who I was. He started laughing. “Sorry, Harbor…. didn’t know it was you.” He began to rub his eyes. “What are you doing here?”

And there it was. The question for which I had no answer. Well, no answer I wanted to give him. I really had no business for being there for he liked to spend time with his mom alone. I felt bad for interrupting, but this was much too important, even though I had absolutely nothing to say.

“I have to--” My voice stopped itself. What was I doing? There was no way to explain everything. No time to explain that I was going to die. I sighed deeply, preparing myself for my last conversation. “Can we talk outside? Just for a couple minutes.”
Brody glanced back at his mom, then at me. “Um, sure, I guess.”

I kept my eyes on him as we walked out the room and closed the door behind us. The halls were stark empty, and Death was gone for the time being. Brody leaned into the opposite wall, against a bulletin board. I just stood in front of him, no sure what to say. After a moment of shuffling feet and awkward glances, he decided to start the conversation. “So, what’s up?”

I started to talk about random stuff. Like, how I sneezed blood on our mutually hated math teacher, or when I tripped down the main staircase of our school and into Brad Garret, the biggest boy in our school. Brody laughed at it all. For a while, I felt normal, and content. But in my peripheries, I could see grey matter rise up beneath my feet, and I quickly realized that I was running out of time, and that I was going to miss him. I was going to miss that laugh, but more importantly, that voice. I wanted to speak truthfully during the few moments I still had with him.

“Do you remember when we were seven, and you wanted to play Star Commander, and I wanted to play Hide and seek?” I asked.

"Star Commander is awesome."

"Uh, no... Hide and seek is awesome. Star Commander blows."

His laugh rebounded off the white walls. “Is that what you want to talk about? Children’s games?” He shook his head, smiling. “I remember. It was our first fight. God… how do we remember that?”

He was right. It was strange that I could remember our entire history together. So many memories to choose from, our whole friendship on display. Tanks, asteroids, Nintendo, girls, music, food, sleepovers… everything.

“Yeah, well, I was thinking about what you said to me then.”

His face contorted in disbelief. “What could I have possibly said back then that you still remember?”

More than you could possibly imagine, I thought. But I said, “Well, when we stopped fighting, you said that you were sorry.”

“People tend to say that after a fight. Even children.”

My eyes rolled on reflex. “Of course. What I’m trying to say is… I’ve never once apologized to you. You were always the one to apologize first. I was always too stubborn.”

“So? I never needed to hear you say it.” He looked at the floor. “I always knew when you were. Sorry, that is.”

“Well, just for kicks then, I’m sorry that I never said sorry.”

He looked back up at me and offered a smile. “Feel better now?”

I didn’t answer. I just walked forward and hugged him tighter than his piano-wire sneaker laces. He gasped from the abrupt force, but I could feel his muscles relax after a while.

“Jesus, you hug tight.” He sighed. We stood in silence, me in mourning, he in contemplation. I squeezed his body harder, relishing the electricity the contact created. “I’m not going anywhere, if that’s what you’re worried about.” He assured.

No… that wasn’t it. I just wanted to remember everything about my friend before I left this world. Of all the different memories I had collected like fireflies in a glass jar, this one, the feel of Brody, was the one I wanted to keep alive, even after death. Wistful remembrances and uncorked champagne bottles flooded my mind. “Goodbye, Brody.”

“What do you mean, ‘goodbye’?”

It was too late; I was gone. I felt as though I had woken up from a dream of life in my hands, when in fact, I was only holding a crumpled blanket. I cried as light waves flew by my being, my soul hurtling into the great divide between awake and dream. I could see Brody off in the distance, falling onto the floor in surprise, calling out my name. He kept calling until all I heard was soft radio disturbance, like sand paper on asphalt.

Suddenly, all the lights disappeared. The darkness swirled molasses smeared coffee, burning up into a fuzz of perpetual black. I floated around this empty space that I assumed to be the gateway into the Next. I felt incredibly alone, my eyes not able to scope much more than the pure emptiness of it all.

Death’s voice echoed through my hallowed space.

“This is it, Harbor. This is the end. Are you ready?”

I was still crying. I could still hear him calling my name.

“Not nearly.” I had to bend down, the tears were so heavy. A long bitter laugh found its way out my mouth. My red eyes looked up at the dark. How could she expect me to be ready? This was the end of the line for me. No second chances, no redo’s… Everything’s done. I was done.

“Does everyone take it this hard?”

And that was when death took me by the hand, looked me straight in the eye, and told me a painful truth. “Some do, some do not. All you need to know is this: you are doing an amazing job.” Her soft hands held my face like a chalice. “It is a terrible world we live in where the good die young.”

“I don’t want to leave.” By now I was buried in her shoulder, smothering my feelings against her bony skin. “Please… please don’t let me die.” Don’t let me miss my sister, my friends, my graduation, my new job, my future house…. Brody. Don’t let me miss my life.

“I am sorry, Harbor,” She said, her voice whispered and drawn, “but this is how it goes.”

I never stopped crying. Each tear hurt as much as the next. For eternity after eternity, I hung myself on that frail old woman, shuddering in fear, and yelling out in loss. I knew not else I could possibly do, my mind in frenzy, thinking as many thoughts as possible before it all came to an end.

We stood in front of that wooden door, in the empty space, the knob never turned, the space never filled.

Eventually, the eternity ended, and the gray matter brought me back to the ice, breathing hard and fast. The blood never stopped pouring. I lay among the silent houses and weeping streets as the stars brought me back home, back where the spirits of the dead whisper, wander and wait to be remembered again.

I was discovered the next morning. A man in strawberry tights walking his dog found my body. My parents did it all, the funeral, a wake, the works. Neither Gwyn nor my parents cried. They never came by to visit me. But Brody did. Every Sunday, he’d come by, chat, and lay a lily on my headstone. With each lily he gave, a piece of me went with it. When he went to college, it was a bundle of lilies every month. After he got married, a bouquet once a year.

He has children now, and doesn’t come by anymore. My flowers died without his attention, along with the last chain which still kept me bound to this world.

I am a lost soul now, soon to be absorbed back into life's cycles. And when that happens, my soul will scatter into millions of pieces, each one absorbed by one of the millions of new souls born all across the world, to join with their hearts. I will become life itself, so Death has ordained since the beginning of history.

I guess Epicurus was wrong. There is life after death. Not conscious life, not the life I had become accustomed to living throughout my 17 years on Earth. I am part of a web, which connects all matter in a single, pulsing beat. The boy named Harbor and millions upon millions of other souls will keep this Earth revolving, the plants thriving, hearts beating, till the end of history itself. Yet despite all of this, I will still miss sitting, eating, breathing- things I’d normally take for granted on any casual day. I will miss talking to my friend. I always will, for eternity after eternity, even when he is an old man, trying to remember the eye color of a dear friend from high school.

But I don’t mind. I really don't. Just so long as Brody doesn't teach his kids how to play Star Commander.

That game blows like you wouldn’t believe.
© Copyright 2007 Gabriel (nonbeliever at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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