by Grayson Moon
Prompt: You are Death, but in a post-apocalyptic world. Only a few survivors remain.
| My name is Death, as in the opposite of life, and ironically, my very existence is being threatened. For centuries, I've brought a necessary balance to the world. The creatures on earth would live their lives, build their kingdoms, fulfill their goals, and in the end it was my job to snuff out their lights. It was an incredibly morbid job, and reflecting on it I believe I took its simplicity for granted, because now the human race has been reduced to a mere group of survivors, and the earth has become almost uninhabitable. Meaning, once these last few humans die, my purpose is void and I perish with them.
At this very moment, I am watching over them. They've made the unwise decision to trek across the Syrian Desert, with hopes that they will find resources ahead. Their lack of food and water disturbs me to no end, even though I've brought the rains at least three times since the beginning of their journey, and have scared many small creatures in their direction for nourishment. Still, one of the twenty-three survivors was lost in a sandstorm, and another two died of the murderous heat.
Since I am invisible to the human eye, I can hover among them and listen in on their conversations. One argument goes as follows:
"Amal is tired and hungry," a young woman pleads in Arabic, "let us stop so my child can rest and eat."
"We are all tired and hungry," replies the man known as Yousef, "and we don't have enough provisions to spare. Once we make it through the desert-"
"We will never make it through this desert alive!" The woman pulls her boy forward to prove her point. "Look at him! He is skin and bones!" She points to the caravan of weary travelers who have stopped behind them. "They are nearly dead! What is the point of this journey if we all die in its midst?"
Yousef's face twists in rage. This is the first time someone has questioned his leadership during their travels. This is also the first time in his life that an Arabic woman has defied him. I can only note to myself that culture is the last thing these people should be worried about maintaining.
"Silence!" Yousef shouts as he brings his hand down across the woman's face.
She stumbles, but does not fall. Regaining her composure, Jamila unbinds the hijab from her head and slaps Yousef hard across the face. He is so stunned at her action that he trips backwards onto sand.
"Do not tell me to stop!" Her voice is raspy from dehydration, but it does not give out. "I am attempting to save us while you lead us to our graves. You seek safety from a land you cannot see. Nature has protected us more than you have."
With his pride wounded and the heat warping his mind, Yousef lunges at Jamila. Her son Amal cries in anguish as his mother is choked into the sand. A familiar and dreaded sensation grows within me.
One of them must die.
Opposed to what you may think, I do not control when a person dies, I only carry out the action. There are many variables involved as well, such as whether a life can be traded for another. In this case, a life must be taken to restore balance. At this point, it pains me to reduce the population by even one.
In order to come to a conclusion, I study the rest of the survivors. They consist mainly of women and young men, Amal being the only child left. The women are either in awe or frightened, while the young men are unsure and tired. Their mindsets have been affected by reality, it seems; all of them willing to accept change given the circumstances. All except Yousef.
"Very well," I sigh to myself as I descend upon the two, then touch the head of Yousef. "You must die today."
Instantly, the woman grabs a rock and bashes it into her attacker's head. Yousef falls limp. Nineteen lives remain at the cost of one.
It is fulfilling to know that my decision was the right one, for Jamila continues to lead her caravan back out of the desert with no other casualties. In fact, the survivors thrive under her care for the next four months. Not without my help, of course. Although, they begin to suspect an invisible force is helping them along, and Amal is the first to voice it.
"Mother," he asks, running up to her at their camp. "Is Allah watching over us?"
Jamila tilts her head, an amused smile playing on her lips. "Why do you ask?"
"Everywhere we go there are crops already growing!" Amal's excitement escalates. "And the animals run into our traps as if they are blind!"
Jamila gestures for her son to sit next to her. "I am not sure Allah of the old days is protecting us, but I believe something is."
Amal stares silently, waiting for an explanation.
"Life," Jamila finishes, her eyes towards the sky. "Life itself is protecting us."
I'm taken aback. What would possess her to think that life is on their side? From the moment earthquakes tore apart mankind to the tsunamis that swept away millions, were you not doomed by Death? Even now, aren't I only protecting you to save myself from extinction?
I contemplate Jamila's words for years to come, long after the population grows to stability, and even after I have put the original survivors to rest. To this day, despite the ever-present truth of the matter, humankind calls me Life. I can only accept it for whatever new purpose it grants me.