Don’t Fear the Reaper
I think I need therapy.
It’s the little things, you know? Just tiny irritations that get beneath your skin and stay there. Now, I can guess what you must be thinking. It’s all the wailing. It’s the infants, the children, the violent murder victims.
It’s really not.
I might be Death, but I am the bringer of peace. Or, at least, the end. I’m an INTP, an eight on the enneagram scale, whichever hippie mumbo jumbo personality test you’re into this year. The fact of the matter is I’m a closer. I’ve always preferred finishing a task rather than beginning it. Nothing brings me more satisfaction than ending a human’s suffering.
Especially the children.
The wailing is usually loudest for them, but what humans fail to see is that dying young is the greatest boon the gods grant to a generally miserable species. People fear me, and I get that, but man. That Billy Joel guy? He’s one of my favorites. I will truly enjoy removing him from this temporal existence. He gets it, so he shouldn’t have to stew here and suffer for any longer than necessary.
Only the best die young.
Their souls are earmarked for a short existence in those cases when something upstairs gets mixed up, and they’re not removed from the cycle of birth and death. I don’t know what they do up there, sometimes. Seriously. How hard is it for a bunch of celestial beings to push papers and organize files correctly?
I don’t even have a whole team, and I do my job just fine.
Except when I don’t.
Which brings me back to therapy. It’s not like I’m having an existential crisis. I’m timeless. But, there are times…
Adolf Hitler is a great example. That one pissed me off to no end. The dude mass murdered millions of people (Yes, yes. I know. I already stated death is a release, so it shouldn’t be feared, blah, blah, blah, but hear me out.), and then he goes and kills himself as the authorities are closing in, so he won’t have to suffer.
I left his soul trapped in his rotting corpse for way longer than necessary. Right up until fuckin’ Gabriel showed up to chew my ass out as I was transporting some of the people good ole Adolf had murdered.
God, damn it. (Read that again. Pun absolutely intended.)
So, fine. I retrieved his putrid soul and threw it into the Styx without waiting for the ferry.
And then Beelzebub jumped into my shit. Dude thinks he’s Hades’ right-hand man, but he’s not. Hades has a great sense of humor. I would too if I was getting laid regularly. Don’t look at me like that. Persephone is with him half the year, which is a Hell of a lot more than I get.
Satan didn’t think it was as funny. Kali was super pissed when she was tasked with fishing Hitler’s soul out of the river. She really doesn’t like cleaning up.
In all fairness, I was rather petulant with that one. I can’t quite put my finger on why. It’s not like I haven’t taken mass murderers and damned souls before.
I think I’m just tired.
It’s been eons. I don’t get a wife; no one helps me collect all these souls; most humans hate me; keeping all the latest names of the gods straight gets difficult the more humans branch out from their narrow religious views and/or embrace ancient ways.
And you thought being Death was the mind fuck, right?
Sorry to disappoint you.
There is one soul I’ve been keeping an eye on who never disappoints me. I’m not sure when it first landed on my radar. I’m not even sure if it started out as a Neanderthal or Homo Sapiens. During the Black Death (man, those were the days!), he was a lowly undertaker who welcomed me with open arms, digging graves cheerfully and blessing the corpses for passing out of that time of eternal suffering. But, Hell. There were thousands of grave diggers! People just couldn’t stop dying! I’m still pissed someone leaked my formula for Red Bull to the masses. What does a jinn need with money anyway?
The gods get their ambrosia. Why is it so hard to imagine I need a little extra kick in times of chaos?
But, I digress.
This soul. This beautiful soul. I find no reason for it to still be chained to the earthly cycle. It should have gone to Heaven (or the Illysian fields or Nirvana or Samaawat or whatever the majority of humans are calling it these days) many lifetimes ago.
In this lifetime, this trapped soul has taken the form of a woman. She sings soft lullabies to the dying, washing their frail human bodies with the greatest respect and care. She still doesn’t fear me. She welcomes me with open arms and even smiles when the candle she always lights at a deathbed snuffs out upon my arrival.
She’s smiling now.
She knows I’m here.
She doesn’t know how much I wish I was here for her.
“I think I need therapy.”
Hades rolls his eyes as he lays his cards face down on the table. “Not this again.”
In response, a swarm of flies wraps around my body like a vile blanket. Beelzebub emerges from a dark corner, grinning and licking his lips.
Hades rolls his eyes again, and with a snap of his fingers, the horde disappears.
“You know I hate it when you do that,” I grind out.
He swallows an errant insect. “You know I hate it when you come home for a visit.”
“Jesus Christ,” Hades mutters, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Do I have to separate you two again?”
“Hey! I heard that!” a disembodied voice echoes throughout the room.
“Get over yourself!” Hades yells toward the ceiling.
A flash of blinding light and another form appears in the room. His blinding smile irritates me, too. “Deal me in. I wanna hear all about this.”
Buddha scoffs from his seat at the table. “You can hear it from Heaven. We already started playing. No late comers.”
Jesus points a finger, still with that same smile on his face. “I’ll come whenever I want to.”
Everyone in the room snickers.
“Children. I’m about to play poker with children.” He takes a seat anyway.
“You love us. Admit it.” Hades wears a Cheshire expression.
“I love everyone,” Jesus sniffs. “Now, Death. What seems to be troubling you?”
Hades and I exchange a quick glance. Not that it’ll go unnoticed, but still. It’s true. Jesus does love everyone, but even for a younger deity his interest seems…suspicious.
I take a seat and a deep breath. You know what? Fuck it. I need to get out of this funk I’m in. “There’s this soul…”
“This will not end will for you,” Hades blurts.
“I didn’t say it was a woman!”
“Doesn’t matter. It still won’t end well.”
“It ended well for you!”
“Do you see my wife anywhere around here?”
We would not be sitting at this poker table if it was winter and Persephone was here.
“You get her for half the year and have for thousands of years. Quit complaining,” I volley back.
Hades opens his mouth.
“Shush,” Jesus admonishes. “I swear with you Greek Gods. You’re all so self-centered. This is not about you; this is about Death. You’re acting like…”
Everyone tenses and glances around the room, afraid of even whispering Zeus’s name.
“…you know who,” Jesus finishes.
We all wait a millennium for thunder and lightning that never appears.
Even Beelzebub sighs in relief. “He’s probably busy banging another nymph.”
“Thank God,” I mutter.
And damn it all to Hell because God appears, too. He’s in male form today. Sort of like a loftier Charlton Heston. I swear, I have never laughed so hard at a human movie. Dogma was far closer to the truth.
“You rang?” He takes a seat at the table, and no one questions it.
Well, this just gets weirder and weirder. “I did not. I did not ring.”
Jesus and God exchange a look similar to mine and Hades’s. It doesn’t take a deity to translate their unspoken words.
“Don’t you have a multi-verse to run?” Beelzebub prompts.
Weird doesn’t begin to cover Beelzebub sticking up for me.
God waves off his concern. “The multi-verse is self-sustaining. You know this. The beings have been given free will. Nothing that requires action is going to happen in this instant.”
I stifle a laugh as Beelzebub bristles. An instant to God is an eternity to humankind. He’s not wrong. We all know the end of time isn’t up to us at all. It’s up to the beings.
“So, now. I hear you believe you need therapy, Death. Why is that?”
I really have to learn to stop thinking things let alone saying them out loud. Although, when all I do is collect souls for what feels like forever, it’s hard not to get lost in my own head.
Although, there is a question only He can answer.
“Why is this soul still trapped in the cycle? Why isn’t it free yet?”
I don’t specify which soul. There’s no need. He knows.
God shrugs. It’s hilarious, actually. “That soul was put on Creation for you. It will only be free when you no longer require it.”
What the fuck?
God sighs. The sound reverberates through the Underworld and for a brief second of eternity, all the souls trapped here sigh along. “Yes, for you. You perform a thankless job, and you do it well. We all know you’re lonely and think too much. This soul was created for you. To give you a respite from all the, well…death.”
I’m not sure whether to thank him or hate him.
“That’s not very fair to the soul. Aren’t they all supposed to have the freedom to choose?”
“Yes.” That’s all He gives me.
“Wait.” A sickening thought takes root. “Are you saying you gave me a Theotokos? You made me a Virgin Mary?”
God chuckles, and Hades give him a side eye for it. The residents of Hell are getting far too many reprieves. One more and Satan will be summoned. No one wants that.
“There were many potential Virgin Marys. Just as there were many Souls for you. They each had the freedom to choose. The one you watch now is the one that chose you.”
God tips his head back and forth and again, it’s funny as Hell. “Not the way we know, but she has more of an idea than any of the souls who came before her or who will ever come after her.”
“There will be more after her?”
God smiles, and the third time’s the charm. In a ball of fire, Satan appears. He doesn’t look pleased. So, you know, normal.
His beastly growl returns the Underworld to its misery. “For the love of God, Death, just give it a try. You’re driving all of us crazy with your incessant thoughts of therapy.”
“You’re all in on this?” I don’t care what God said. Surely, the end times are upon us. None of this makes any sense.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Beelzebub finally sits at my right. “But, yes. Your constant sulking is throwing off the balance of this world. People want to die now more than ever, and their belief in any of us is rapidly dwindling. Either pull a Zeus and bang her out of your system or get over it already. All of Creation hangs in the balance.”
My gaze travels to God. That can’t be true. I can’t be the bringer of the End Times. I’m not important enough for Creation to hang on my balance.
God nods. “It’s…more complicated than that, but true in a way as well. More and more, they don’t even believe in the idea of me. They’re slowly realizing their power even as they squander it. When they stop believing in you, however, it could change the very fabric of all existence. Not even gods are truly immortal, but humankind is rapidly approaching an age where they could be. Once that happens, well…”
He leaves the rest unsaid. So many gods have come and gone. God will always exist, but He’s fond of his creations, and He misses the gods who have been forgotten. He loves everyone. Even those of us on the dark side of light.
“So…how am I supposed to do this thing?”
Hades gets a scary glint in his vacant eyes. “I still think this won’t end well, but wooing, I can definitely teach you.”
Everyone groans. Not because Hades is the lone holdout in this chess game. It’s because gods aren’t particularly romantic.
My heart picks up pace; the blood pumps through my veins a little harder, pulsing beneath my chilled skin. The breath from my lungs fogs before my face in the suddenly colder air.
I’ve been waiting.
This poor soul has suffered far longer than necessary, far more than any decent human should have to. She’s been to the brink of death and back so many times, her family doesn’t even come anymore when we call. They no longer believe us when we tell them she’s in her final hours.
They think they’ll have more time.
“Took you long enough,” I whisper. Not to her. Never to my beloved dying.
I don’t normally pay such disrespect to Death. I welcome it with open arms, with a lighter heart for the end of human suffering. But, not this time. This time, I’m angry.
“I know,” a strange voice responds. “When is not my choice. I only come when it’s time.”
I strain my ears, study the lifeless form on the bed.
“She’s gone,” the voice says as if to confirm what I already know.
“Who are you?” There’s no one else in this room. I’m not afraid because the answer is obvious. I simply don’t understand why now. Why after all this time.
“Death,” the voice responds. It’s not even a voice. Not really. More like an indescribable sound that only vaguely resembles words I can understand.
“I have questions.” So many questions. If I’m going to be afforded this opportunity, I’m not going to waste it.
“I know.” The voice is clearer this time, with an almost melodic but deeply soothing tenor timbre. It also has a direction.
I glance to the corner of the darkened room, where a man now sits in the recliner the deceased’s sister sat in earlier this afternoon. He’s tall even seated with his hands clutched in front of his face, his index fingers pointed together and touching his mouth. For all appearances, he looks ready to attentively listen.
He’s also strikingly handsome, no matter the shadows that seem to dance along his shoulders.
“You’re not a skeleton draped in a black robe.”
“That wasn’t a question.” The corner of his mouth lifts in mischief.
Huh. Death has a sense of humor. I suppose it’s only fitting. “Why aren’t you a skeleton draped in a black robe?”
“I’m exactly what you imagined me to be,” he responds, that lift in his mouth gaining a twin at the other corner.
I squeeze my eyes closed and picture a duck.
“You don’t really want me to be a duck,” he chuckles.
Fine. I don’t. “If you can read my mind, then why did I imagine you as a man and not a skeleton?”
“Others imagine me as a skeleton draped in black, and you’re aware of this. You also know skeletons are frail and even they return to dust in time. You know me as powerful, timeless, and ever-present. Your current human form is a beautiful young woman, so you desire a handsome human man, fitting for what you know me to be yet constrained by your humanity in this particular life.”
His words don’t shock me as much as they might someone else. “Have I imagined you differently before?”
“You’ve always known I exist, but in this life, I confirmed it for you. That enabled your mind to free itself from some of its bonds.”
“How many lives have I had?” Like I said before, not wasting this opportunity.
“I don’t know.”
And…back to the anger. “How can you not know? You’re Death. You know everything!”
He tsks, and it’s the strangest sound. One that echoes through the room, reverberates through my bones, and seems to make the very air shimmer with disappointment. Maybe. I don’t know. I’ve never experienced anything like this before.
“I’m not God. I’m Death.”
This gentle statement gives me the sensation of waking from a vivid dream. I can almost recall what happened, almost taste the emotion I felt while I slept, but I can’t quite reach it. I can tell the events of the dream to someone else, but I can never fully recapture the truth of it. I know, yet I don’t.
“You said the form I’ve imagined for you is a byproduct of the constraints of this current life?”
There are a million things someone might think when faced with Death. I’m not sure embarrassment is particularly high on the list. Most people worry about having clean underwear when the unthinkably unexpected happens. I’m concerned Death knows I have zero love life.
“You’ve had other lovers,” he says, again as if to soothe me. “You may continue to do so. It doesn’t bother me.”
Strangely, of all the things he’s revealed to me, this one is the most shocking. “Why would it bother you?”
“Because you are mine.”
My temples throb with a headache. I don’t understand.
He rises from the chair and approaches me at the bedside slowly. Not like he’s afraid that I’m afraid, but more like his steps are weighted with intention. His hand is surprisingly warm and solid when it lands on my shoulder. An entire blanket of relief from only a small amount of contact.
“You have been and still are bound to a human form. If you had known you were mine all along, you would have kept yourself for me only. But, that isn’t fair to you. A human has needs. Needs Death does not share.”
“So, I’m yours, but you aren’t mine. Got it. You probably prefer the morticians and medical examiners, huh? I have friends in those fields. They talk to dead people all day. That’s probably a turn-on for you.”
He barks out a laugh, and it feels in every molecule of my body like the very fabric of existence shakes loose. It’s so incongruent, so…unnatural. Death is laughing.
“I am a man now because your soul longs for me, and in this life your soul is embodied in a woman. You tried being a mortician once, hoping it would bring me to you. You were a man, then. If I had known I was allowed to have you, I would have appeared to you as a woman.”
Oh, yes. I have vague memories of owning a funeral home. I learned a long time ago not to share those memories with anyone. I think I ended up in an insane asylum once.
“You did,” he assures me. “I would prefer that not happen again.”
“You have more questions.”
“So many. Is it okay? You can obviously already read my thoughts.”
He smiles. It’s so weird. Death smiling should be weird, but the weird part is how right it feels. “It is more than okay. You still need to voice your thoughts and hear my answers. I understand.”
I’m bursting at the seams. Where to start?
“Work your way backwards,” he suggests.
Oh, okay. Brilliant plan. “So, you don’t prefer morticians?”
He laughs again, and I laugh, too.
And then immediately slap my hand over my mouth, glancing at the body on the bed.
“It’s okay. You are not being disrespectful. She is already gone.”
Even from Death, that doesn’t relieve my guilt. “Don’t you need to go, too? I’ve kept you so long as it is.”
He smiles again, and this one makes my heart feel as though it’s leaping from my chest. “Time is a constraint you bear, not me. If it makes you feel better, I’ve already carried her soul to where it belongs. I’m here with you, yet I’m not. I’m doing my job all over the planet. Perhaps I should allow you to continue to do yours. Alert the nurses’ station. File your paperwork. Call for the funeral home. I will wait for you. When you are done, we will talk more.”
I hate to press the issue, but… “Are there more inhabited planets than just this one? Aren’t you Death in galaxies my human mind can’t even fathom?”
He touches the tip of his finger to the tip of my nose. Another strange thing for Death to do. “The other planets have other gods they believe in. I am not needed there.”
No, I suppose not. I feel it in my bones. He’s needed here. With me.
Death is eating a donut at 3am in New York City.
“So, you need food and drink just like us?” I stare at the very male form sitting across from me in the booth at an all-night café. His biceps bulge against his soft, worn-looking black t-shirt. His hair is black, his eyes ice blue, and there’s just enough stubble on his strong jaw to suggest a delightful scraping sensation should he brush against my sensitive skin with it.
“Does this current human male form need it?”
“No. This form is an illusion. That’s something the Hindus got right. Everything is maya.” He licks the glaze from his masculine fingers.
How strange. He looks real enough. His hand on my shoulder at the hospice facility felt real. The waitress who took our order didn’t think I was talking to myself even though my fellow nurses at the facility couldn’t see the man waiting in the shadows for me to be done with my shift. “You mentioned you’re not here with me even though it seems to me like you are.”
“That is correct.” He takes a swig of coffee. Black. As expected. Maybe only because I expect it.
“Why are you eating if you don’t need to? I might be human, but I’ve managed to wrap my head around everything you’ve told me so far.”
He stretches on his side of the booth, extending his long legs beneath the table until his feet brush against my own. The contact sends an electric jolt of awareness through me that I must not have experienced in any life before. I would surely remember that.
“Humans bond over food and drink. I am giving you what you desire.”
Hardly. All I desire right now is him in my bed. Naked. I don’t care if it’s an illusion.
My cheeks flame as he grins. “Not quite yet, Beloved. First you must choose. And you can’t do that until I’ve answered all your questions.”
“Beloved?” That flame settles lower in my belly.
He nods, a softer smile replacing the wolfish grin. “It feels good to finally admit that. Your given name will change, but your soul never will. You are my Beloved, regardless of the form you take.”
“Just as you are mine?”
“No. Not necessarily. You are actually freer than I will ever be. Now, ask your questions.”
There’s a pattern in his words I can’t ignore. Beloved, freedom, choices, lovers. I go back to his original suggestion to work my way back. “Why don’t you prefer morticians?”
He laughs, and this time the entire cosmos seems to sigh in relief instead of jolt. “Because I’ve already claimed the souls of the bodies they work with. I’m not around morticians much.”
“Yet you knew I tried being one once to bring you to me. I’ve also been a medical examiner, a grave digger several times, a cemetery guardian many times. Why did you never reveal yourself to me then? Why now?”
He reaches out his hand to tentatively brush against my own. Almost like he fears me more than I fear him. Once again, my skin feels electrified yet also comforted. “I have been with you since the Middle Ages. There was something about your soul that pulled me, called to me. I couldn’t explain it. It honestly concerned me. I am more timeless than you can imagine, and I had never noticed your soul before.”
“How timeless are you?” The breath rushes from my lungs, tugged along with the words. I fear this answer and all the repercussions it may bring.
“Since shortly after Creation.” He withdraws his hand, obviously sensing my dread.
“God created you, too?”
“No. You did.”
“Humans,” he clarifies. “Since the very first death, they needed an embodiment for the end of life. I am it.”
“So, only life on this planet created you? Aliens on other worlds have other versions of Death?” I’m skirting what I’m afraid to ask, and he knows it.
He smirks and gives me the time I need to adjust. “Other beings have other needs and different existences. I fear I can’t adequately explain that to you.”
I nod, accepting some things aren’t for me to know. “Why here? Why now? Why not before? You said you’ve been with me for centuries. You didn’t reveal yourself to me when you first became aware of…my soul.”
He frowns, and the sounds of city life even in the middle of the night suddenly seem more violent, louder. “Humans have this vast impression I reside amidst the dead and decaying, but really I am with the living as they are dying. Perhaps I didn’t notice you before the Bubonic Plague because we simply didn’t cross paths. There has never been more death in such a short span on this planet for humans. Perhaps your soul did not exist before then. I suspect the latter.”
“You suspect? I know you said you’re not God, but you obviously know more than a mere human.”
“That’s true,” he acknowledges. “I am not human, so I am not constrained by the limits of human understanding. I am also not God. I am constrained by Death’s knowledge, which is greater than yours but less than God’s.”
I nod. That all makes sense, but it’s still not an answer. “Why now?”
“How much am I allowed to tell her?” His illusive lips don’t move, and the voice I’ve come to associate with his form changes to something greater. Yet I’m acutely aware he’s allowing me to hear his question to someone other than us. Something other than us.
“You may tell her what you know she can handle.”
My heart stops for a split second. I don’t breathe. I’ve been given a peek behind the veil, and it’s terrifying yet validating. The essence of my being wars with the duality of it all.
“Was that…was that God?”
“No,” he chuckles. “You definitely could not handle that.”
“So, that’s something the Jews got right,” I guess.
“Yes. Every religion gets a bit of it right and a lot of it wrong.”
This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
He doesn’t wait for me to repeat the question he undoubtedly knows is playing on a loop in my head. “I didn’t know you were mine before. I didn’t know why I was drawn to your soul. I didn’t know God created you for me.”
“I never would have guessed Death needed companionship.” As much as I felt like I knew Death before, it was nothing like this. Is it wrong I’m a little bitter about being created solely for him? I feel the truth, but it doesn’t necessarily bring me the relief his revealed presence does.
“I’m an anthropomorphism of the end of life for this world. I assume the form you believe me to be, whomever you is. I’m not a constant essential existence like God. I wasn’t even fully aware of my own shortcomings until very recently. I suppose because I am a creation of mankind, I am also bound by some of the same needs.”
He’s told me secrets of the universe people spend all their lives trying to prove, and yet I cannot wrap my head around the idea that Death isn’t as all-powerful and omniscient as I once believed.
He smiles in response without me voicing these thoughts aloud.
“You’re not offended?”
“Not at all. If anything, I’m offended it took this long.”
“Being told about you, being allowed to speak to you. I wasn’t even sure if I could touch you in any form.” He frowns again at this.
“So…” Screw it. I’m saying it. “You’re not like the stories of all the Ancient Greek Gods, just floating around Earth, knocking up any mortal woman who interests you?”
“Ah.” He taps his index finger against the table. “Now we are getting somewhere. This is what has really been troubling you all along.”
“Yes,” I admit. Aloud. “You said it doesn’t bother you for me to take lovers in any life. Am I also supposed to be okay with you taking lovers whenever and wherever you are?”
A hint of flame appears to thaw his eyes. “You are jealous of something that has never happened. I’m surprised how much this pleases me.”
Death feels emotion. Who knew?
“Not me,” he admits. “But, to answer your question, no. You needn’t worry about me taking other lovers. The Greek Gods are…well, they are what they are.”
“I’m not sure I know what the Greek Gods are anymore. I know what I learned in school, what I read about them. Yet you’re nothing like I imagined. Minus the hot guy part, obviously.”
He cracks a smile at that. It doesn’t last long. “Your mind is running away from you. This is too much. I apologize.”
He says it with such finality, panic seizes me.
“No, no! Don’t leave!”
“I never truly leave. I am always here and always in the Other Worlds. I am always collecting souls and always with your soul.” His frown grows deeper. “No matter how much I tried to shake it off, to let you live your lives alone, I have been unable to sever our connection. Now I know why.”
“But, you know I’ve had other lovers,” I muse out loud, trying to organize my rampant thoughts. “I’ve always known you, and yet I haven’t. Not like this. Is that what you meant about me being freer than you? I can choose to sever our connection, but you cannot?”
That seems unfair, especially knowing other Gods actually exist and are apparently free to make decisions about their romantic interludes.
“We have both been placed in an unfair position, I’m afraid,” Death murmurs.
“Because my soul was created just for you?” Bitterness creeps up my throat, mingling with the flavor of the coffee I sip for no other reason than to calm myself.
“Yes. I have no soul. I was not created by God, and I was not created for you, specifically.” He inches his finger across the table to touch my hand again. Just the barest contact, but once again, there’s no denying the truth of what his touch makes me feel even if it is only an illusion.
I stare at our joined illusions. “You said Death does not share the needs of humans. Does that mean you don’t feel this?”
“Not in the same way you do,” I answer her honestly.
Hades warned me full honesty wasn’t necessarily the best policy, but I feel responsible for this soul. For the way it’s been trapped in the cycle. All because of me.
I may not feel the same sensations she does, but ever since revealing myself to her I feel…peace.
Death needs peace, too.
The Gods are laughing at me even now.
Except the God. He’s just smiling benevolently like He always does.
I sort of hate that. And I want to prove Him wrong.
Prove I can be more than just Death.
But, I know I can’t. And he knows it, too. I am bound by the beliefs of the humans who created me. Just like I am bound to the soul God created for me.
Her mind is desperately trying to break free of its own particular constraints. She’s trying so hard to reconcile what her soul already knows with what her humanity can never understand.
This does not please me nearly as much as her jealousy. “Your body grows tired. It needs rest. Come. Let me take you home.”
She physically jolts from her thoughts. “You…you want to come home with me? Didn’t you say I had to choose first?”
I don’t want to tell her she’s already chosen. She doesn’t know it for herself yet, and I’m still not convinced it’s true. “You don’t have to choose rest and comfort. I can provide that for you anyway.”
Just like I provide the money for our food and drink. Her eyes widen. Her thoughts are so loud.
Do Gods use money? Do they need it? Is it even real? Is this like stealing? Is money an illusion, too?
I detest being the bringer of her suffering. Wrapping my arm around her shoulders to lead her out into the city at night eases her anxiety. “Money and wealth are the biggest illusions of all.”
“Some humans know that,” she mumbles into my shoulder as she shields her face from the wind.
“Some do, yes.” Humans are so much more powerful than they realize. “The longer a soul stays in the cycle of birth and death, the wiser they become.”
“If my soul has been around so long, then why do I still have so many questions?” She yawns. More and more I’m supporting her weight against me. She isn’t concerned about the illusion of it all just now.
“Even the souls who have achieved the peak of this existence can never understand everything.”
“And what happens then? When a soul reaches the peak of this existence?”
“It’s complicated.” She’s too tired to process more, and I don’t want to answer in a way that will lead her to the inevitable conclusion. That she has already achieved the peak, and she can be free of this cycle—of me—anytime she chooses.
I can be selfish for a short amount of her time in this life. I’m not ready to part with this very finite peace in the near-infinity of my existence.
Her exhaustion allows her to surrender fully to the illusion of my presence. I unlock her door without the key, perform the domestic rituals that allow her to relax like feeding the cat she never told me about, setting the coffee maker for in the morning, and turning off the lights and re-locking the door.
She watches me through it all with half-lidded eyes and a half-smirk of mirth.
I’m too tired to even get ready for bed.
It’s clever, this soul of mine. She thinks exactly what she wants me to know already. She’s testing the boundaries of my powers without specifically asking for a display of them.
I’ve brought her so much bad; I would like to be the harbinger of good.
She blinks at the feel of the cooler air of her apartment on her naked skin. Runs her tongue across her teeth that feel freshly brushed. Lifts a hand to her face that feels already washed and moisturized.
“I’m not all powerful, but I do have power.”
What else can you do?
She already knows what else she wants me to do.
She sinks further into the illusion and my embrace in her bed. Relishes for a few precious moments in the feel of my naked body against hers beneath the cool, clean sheets.
“How can this feel so right, so real, when it’s all an illusion? You’re not even really here.”
I’m dreaming this. I’m dreaming all of this.
I kiss her forehead because she needs me to. Needs the reassurance that while I might not be real in her sense of the word, I am very real nonetheless.
And I must be because I have never experienced anything so fulfilling. In all the eons of carrying souls to their final place of existence, all the times I have brought an end to suffering, I have never felt.
I have never truly felt.
I have so much more empathy for humans than I ever have before. They really are the most blessed of God’s creation. To feel anything at all.
I surrender as much as I’m able to the illusion, too. Wrap her more tightly in my arms, almost ask her to describe to me what she feels, wish I could feel even a fraction of it, too.
God smiles more benevolently than ever.
The bastard. He’s been teaching me a lesson. He’s been showing me instead of telling me how to understand these creatures better. He’s given me exactly the therapy I need. I have never lacked sympathy for their suffering. My entire existence is based on bringing an end to it. But, I have never empathized with what makes them wail when the inevitable end comes. Could never understand why—like my soul enveloped in my illusion of earthly arms—they didn’t rejoice at breaking the chains of this miserable existence.
It’s because they become attached.
Attached to things that aren’t ever really theirs to begin with.
Attached in the way I can never fully be to this wise, old soul that knows exactly that.
She looks up at me with more unasked questions and pleading in her eyes. She wants me to belong fully to her in the same way she knows in her very essence that her soul belongs to me.
“I can’t give you that, Beloved.” I stroke her cheek with my finger, all too aware most humans do not recognize this simple gesture as the most intimate of all. But, she does. She knows. “I am not only yours to claim. Not in the way you are mine.”
“It’s so unfair,” she whispers.
It is. And she doesn’t know the half of it. “Life is both unfair and the greatest blessing. You know this.”
Her thoughts are running wild again as she fights her exhaustion. She wonders what it would be like to choose me purposefully because she still doesn’t know her soul chose me ages ago. She thinks I will appear and disappear as my schedule allows because she is constrained by the human bonds of time and physical presence. She questions what it would be like to make love to Death because her body has physical needs and wants so long as she is trapped in this cycle of birth and death.
“Not yet. Not until you know everything. But, I can give you a taste to help better inform your decision.”
She opens her mouth to give voice to the questions dancing in the existence between us, but I selfishly place my hand on her chest.
The beating of a human heart is no stranger to me. Hers is magnified like the sound of God even to my immortal ears. To a human man, her breasts would be considered desirable and among the best females have to offer.
But, I have been drawn to her in all her earthly forms, and this is only a fraction of the pleasure I can give to her that I can never receive.
She should have some perks for being Death’s soul after all. The risks far outweigh the benefits.
The breath rushes out of her chest as her nerves dance and sing in a way she’s never experienced before. No lover who came before me or who might come after me will ever be able to make her feel this way even though it is not by the method her human body is familiar with.
I’m careful not to give her too much, not to overload her frail body with shock. Her eyes are wide nonetheless as she stares at me, those perfect human breasts heaving with labored breath even as her muscles pool in complete relaxation like she’s never felt before.
“That was a taste?”
My human form laughs because my very being does, too. “Choosing me has rewards, but it also has drawbacks.”
“What are the rewards?” She’s still breathless. If I could feel pride, I would be proud. Maybe I am. Only God knows.
“My human form escorting you home through the city in the middle of the night was an illusion, yes, but your soul is protected so long as you are mine. You will never come to harm if you choose me. Never experience some of the suffering others will. Your every earthly need will be provided for and your wants as well, so long as they conform to the nature of your soul.”
“What does that mean?” She cuddles her body closer to mine, recovering from the high of her earthly pleasure, desiring to be closer to another body as humans are created to do.
“It means that you will never have to worry about money or food or shelter, but you will still work because your soul will always care for and minister to the dying. Because you were created for me, to be attractive to me.”
Her mind struggles to comprehend this. “What if I choose to be a teacher in my next life? You said I have the freedom to choose.”
“This is true, but you’re also an old enough soul to recognize souls have callings. Your soul is not called to be a teacher. You have never been drawn to that profession. You have always cared for the dying, about making the transition from this life into the next easier.”
“What are the…drawbacks?”
She’s imagining such human things. The inability to have children, to have a normal, loving family, to hide me from her peers the way she’s learned to hide her memories of her past lives. She fights to understand how I will appear to her if she lives her next life as a transgendered man. What I would mean to her as a mere infant. As a teenager with raging hormones.
I laugh again at her thought she could easily use me as a relief from said hormones.
“The teenager year have stuck with me through all my lives. They were never easy,” she defends.
“No. They are not. Life is hard.”
And therein lies the crux of the matter. No harm will befall her, yes, but she will still be chained to her humanity.
I stroke her hair and am surprised to find it brings me comfort. Perhaps I am falling prisoner to this illusion more than I knew I was capable of.
That cannot be allowed. I’ve been given far more reprieve than ever. Surely, there are limitations even I cannot broach.
I position our bodies until she’s at my eye-level and wrap my hands around her shoulders. Then, I kiss her with all the passion she’s ever imagined is possible but has never experienced. She needs to smell, see, feel, taste, hear me, so she can understand the full meaning of my words.
She’s breathless again when I release her lips.
“If you choose me, you will be chained to this human existence. You will be a dependent babe, a hormonal teenager, a frail old human for all time. You will die and pass out of every life your soul inhabits according to the constraints of time and your physical body. You will watch friends and fellow humans suffer, you will still be called to care for the dying in all their misery.” I take a deep breath which I can feel even through the illusion. “Your soul will be a prisoner here until the end of time.”
She doesn’t push me away. Not even her mind rebels against this revelation.
“What happens after the end of time?”
“I don’t know.”
She doesn’t slap me for my insouciance. For my lack of all-powerful omniscience. She smiles. “I know, I know. You’re Death, not God.”
“I’m Death. Not God,” I confirm again.
She tips her head to the side in contemplation but doesn’t recoil from my embrace. “Why did you reveal this to my frail human mind? It seems a lot for a mere mortal to comprehend. Why not just entice me with all the benefits and leave off the risks? I would never have known any better on my own.”
“Because I love you,” I breathe.
“I want you to have this choice. I want what is best for you, and what is best for you is not necessarily best for me. I cannot even share in the pleasure I gave you.”
She places her hand on my cheek which she understands is real to me but not real to her. “And yet you gave me that pleasure anyway. I can be your respite, Death. I can be your peace. I can serve my fellow human until the end of time.”
“Why?” What a marvelous thing for a human to say. I can barely comprehend it. “Why would you do that for me when I have so little to offer you?”
She pats my cheek. Such a human gesture. “Maybe what the gods don’t understand that some of us old souls do is that…God is love. Existence is love. That is our greatest choice. It may come with great cost, but there is no greater reward.”
This soul is too good for me. “But, you were created for me. That bothers you. I know it does.”
“It does,” she admits. “In a way. What happens if I refuse? What happens if I don’t choose you?”
I hate to admit this, but she’s given me so much. “I’m not sure. Either another soul is created that has free will to choose me or refuse me, or…the end of time. Once humans no longer believe in souls, all time will cease to exist. Apparently, many souls were created who refused me before you. Maybe the cycle will simply repeat itself. Or maybe I will disappear like the gods of ancient times.”
“So, I have power over Death?”
This is not an actual question. She understands the answer.
“Hmm.” She’s already made up her mind. “Then, I have power over Life.”
“You have no idea how much power you have.”
“Oh, I think I have an idea.”
She kisses Death.