Blake meets Death.
|The Long Walk Home
Blake stayed rather longer than usual at the pub that night. It was, after all, his birthday, and there was nothing to draw him back home on such an occasion. Divorced for several years now, his house had become a cold and functional aspect of his empty life, serving only to emphasise his loneliness.
He sipped at his beer, already tipsy but aware of the long walk ahead of him and not wanting to become too drunk for it. This wasn’t the closest pub to his house but it was his favourite. He had no friends amongst the usual patrons and so was usually left alone with his thoughts. Just as he preferred it.
Misery was his habitual companion, almost as though he was punishing himself for his failure to hold his marriage together. There was some recompense in separating himself from humanity in this way. It had elements of superiority in it, a demonstration of his ability to live for himself alone, without need of company.
He swirled the dregs of his beer around in the glass before throwing it down his throat as a sign that it was time to go. Without a glance at the other customers in the place, he rose from his seat and made his way to the door.
Outside the night was moonless and still. Clouds prevented even starlight from reaching the earth and the lone lamppost at the corner of the pub was the only source of illumination. Blake walked a little unsteadily out of the light and into the darkness beyond. He was well used to the route he must take and it was only the alcohol making his path waver a little. Occasionally he stumbled as his feet met bumps and stones unexpectedly on the pavement, but he did not fall and was making good progress in the dark.
He had left the village and was making his way in the pitch black of the countryside when a voice dragged him abruptly from the doze he had been slipping into, his feet setting one before the other without volition. It was a voice cold and hollow, so quiet that it was a moment before he could decipher the words.
“Where are you going?”
Blake stopped, in the act of taking another step. He swayed in the dark, momentarily in doubt as to the answer he should give. And then his mind cleared and he spoke up.
“Home. And who the hell are you?”
There was silence for a while, as though the voice was choosing its words carefully. But when it came again, the import of its words froze Blake into complete sobriety instantly.
“My name is Death. I thought we might have a few words together before getting down to business.”
Blake stared into the darkness but could make out nothing. It was only the sepulchral quality of the voice that convinced him that this was no game. Even if it was just his imagination fooling him, it was best that he take things seriously.
“So what do you want to talk about?” he asked.
“Well,” answered Death, “you’ve presented me with something of a quandary. I’m supposed to take you home tonight - meaning your eternal home, of course. And you won’t be surprised to learn that you won’t be going up. But I have a little problem in that no one in the other place wants you around. Apparently, your miserable existence has become so famous down there that none of the demons will take you on. They seem to think that you’ll be a total drag to look after and that you’ll have a bad effect on the other members of the team. So I want some sort of agreement from you that you’ll at least make an attempt to be a bit more cheerful. An eternity of misery living next to you would even get me down.”
“Thanks very much,” said Blake. “But what happens if I won’t sign this agreement of yours? What then, hey? Maybe you’ll have to send me up in that case.”
“Not the way it works, I’m afraid,” replied Death. “No, it has to be down but I need to discuss with you some related alternatives that you (and the demons) might prefer. The rules are that you have to agree before I can institute such methods however.”
“Hmm, seems a bit complicated.” Blake went quiet as he struggled to imagine a solution that would send him downwards but without the need for intermingling with its inhabitants. Unable to come up with an answer, he continued, “So what’s the deal? How would it work?”
“Basically, there’s only one way,” came the answer. “The variety is in the setting. I could make a ghost out of you and then you’d be tied to the earth, you see. But then it becomes a matter of location. Easiest would be just to carry on to your house and let you haunt that place. Or, if you prefer, you could be the resident ghost in the pub you’ve just left. Theoretically, it could be anywhere you choose but it has to be in a building. You’d be limited only to that site, without the option of moving or even going for walks. Make your choice and that’s it for eternity.”
Even in his misery, Blake brightened a little at this. “In that case, I wouldn’t mind being at home,” he said.
“Don’t be too hasty,” warned Death. “It’s no cake walk having to stay in the same place all the time. You’ll soon get bored and wish you’d done something different. Doesn’t take more than a few years to read all the books in the house, for instance. And I can’t leave you with the ability to turn on the telly. The utilities will be turned off as soon as the electricity company finds out you’re dead, anyway.”
“I see what you mean,” said Blake. “But, of all the options, I think it’s the one I’d prefer. Can we go for that?”
“Only if you’re sure.”
“As sure as I’ll ever be.”
So the deal was done and Blake signed the document that appeared miraculously out of the darkness. The pair continued on their way to Blake’s place, his eternal destination.
Once inside the house, Blake turned to look at his companion, now revealed in the harsh electric light of the living room. Death was exactly as always portrayed, swathed in a billowing cloak of darkness with only his skull-like face and skeletal hands emerging from the folds. In one hand he held the fabled scythe, its blade reflecting the light from the lamps.
“I suppose we should get on with it then,” said Blake.
“Get on with what?” came Death’s response.
“Well, the dying and all that.”
Death laughed. “Oh, that’s all done already. Did it while we were walking here and you didn’t even notice. It’s time to get haunting, pal.”
Blake looked down and saw that his body had become almost transparent, a grey imprint upon the solid floor and carpet beneath his feet. At the same time he became aware of the infinity of time that stretched before him, the long days and nights without purpose or meaning, the inability to interact ever again with another human, to be bound to this place, even after it had tumbled into ruin and mouldered away into nothingness and him left alone in the bleak and desolate world of the dead.
“No, wait! I’ve changed my mind.”
But Death had gone, slipped away without a farewell, and Blake was left alone in a way he had never experienced before.
Word Count: 1,275
For SCREAMS!!! January 27 2021
Prompt: The long walk home.