Catching My Death


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4 min
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William Martindale is a pianist moonlighting as a statistics student  [+]

Image of Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
Well, since you ask me for a tale of the doomy and macabre, I think I may have something which will tickle that spooky bone of yours. Which is to say, any of them. Ugh.

It was on a midsummer morning, or perhaps a midautumn evening, or quite possibly even an unusually warm winter's afternoon. I was pondering, weak and weary, over a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, when suddenly, there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door! Following, I smelt a burning, something not the least concerning, and I turned the knob which led into my floor. But, it was just my good friend Drake, dropping off his hot new album. Only this, and nothing more.

I had just reopened my novel, when, as suddenly as the first, there was again a knocking at my chamber door. I thought about all the trouble it would take to close my book, get out of my chair, open the door, and then undo these steps in reverse order. In the end, I decided it wasn't worth the bother, and kept on reading. But, just as I'd got to a really good bit, here again came that knocking! The nerve of some people! When the good people of America can't even sit in full view of the street without someone expecting us to open the front door for them, we have lost our battle against the devious serpents of Communism!

After thirty or forty minutes of this, I finally relented and deigned to open the door. Before me stood a gaunt man, some five or ten feet tall, with a hood on and an enormous, pearly-white smile. In fact, his skin was painted so white that I would have mistaken him for a goth had I not noticed the scythe in his hand, which indicated to me that he was definitely a farmer.

As I'm rather unfamiliar with the farmers of this area, I asked him his name. "Oh," he said in a leaden voice, "some call me... The Reaper." This was dreadfully irritating since, as I have established, I was already fully aware of the nature of his profession. I explained this and ordered him to tell me exactly who he was and what he was doing at my house.

"No, you don't understand. I'm here for your soul," said the farmer. Oh! said I. I'm afraid you have the wrong address! I explained to him that I don't listen to that kind of music, pointing to the album that my friend Drake had just given me.

"No, no, no! You still don't get it," he growled. "Look at my scythe! Look at my face!" Well, that scythe was very nice, and that smile of his was certainly a dentist's dream, but that didn't clear anything up.

Now, I don't know about you, but I felt at the time that these were perfectly nice compliments, and was absolutely taken aback when the farmer flew into a frightful fury. "You imbecile!" he screamed, raising his scythe with a menacing flourish. "I'm Death, here to collect your immortal soul! Now tremble before the sight of your impending doom!" With that, he swung the scythe at my head.

I'm no agricultural expert, but even I know that one of the primary disadvantages of using a scythe in close quarters is the 1.5-meter-long pole that it's attached to. It took us several minutes and nearly a full bottle of mineral oil to extricate it out of my doorframe. By the end of this I was beginning to suspect that this man, was, in fact, not a man at all. The way no one around us seemed to notice his presence was rather unsettling, and that voice of his was downright unearthly. But what really convinced me, now that I'd had a closer look at him, was the fact that he was a skeleton.

This was Death! The Grim Reaper! The Destroying Angel! The Fourth Horseman! I was now starting to regret helping him remove that scythe. Wait! I said. If you're Death, then you're supposed to let me play a game for my life! "Very well," he said, "but I choose the game. Chess. The classic."

I accepted the challenge and led him into my dining room. It was darkly lit, with nothing but a burning fireplace and a few candlesticks to illuminate our game. Above the fireplace hung a hunting rifle gifted to me by my old friend Anton Chekhov in the middle of the night when I stole it from him. Death asked me if he could turn on a light, but it was so much more dramatic this way. We sat down at the table, set up the chessboard, and the game was afoot!

Now, I consider myself to be a rather good chess player, and pride myself on the myriad victories I have won over my enemies. In fact, in just a few short minutes, the game was over. "Checkmate," he said. But wait! Cried I! That isn't fair! I wasn't ready! And so we settled down to a match of best out of three. This time, I would win. My strategy was unbeatable, and in fact, no one I have used this strategy on has ever gone on to win a game of chess against me.

I shot him.

Death fell back in his chair from the force of the blast. I had inserted a large hole into the middle of his perfect smile. If he had had the lips to do it, I'm sure he would have scowled. "You misherable coward!" he snarled, no doubt lamenting the loss of his front teeth. "Shere'll be Hell to pay for shish!" But I was too fast for him. I dove over the table, accidentally treading on his face as he struggled to lift himself up, and snatched the scythe from his hand.

I had to do it, you know. It was either him or me. And besides, that thing was the greatest killer in the history of the world! When I swung that blade through his neck, I was not merely protecting myself. I was ridding humanity of our worst scourge. His body crumbled in a flash, and drifted away into nothingness. It was, I thought, rather melodramatic of him.

As I examined the empty cloak, scythe in hand, a peculiar thought occurred to me. After all, if Death existed in this world, he must have served some sort of purpose. Certainly, Death prevents overpopulation, spurs evolution, and acts as a deterrent to oppressive dictators. In fact, someone who tirelessly provides that kind of service could be considered one of our greatest heroes. I picked up that velvety cloth, and tried it on for size. Yes, I said. That'll do nicely.

So, I hope you won't mind, as I unsheath my scythe, if you could just stay still for a moment or two. It's not a painful procedure, unless you count the excruciating part, which, I'm afraid, is most of it. It's nothing personal, you'll understand. It's just that I am Death, Destroyer of Worlds.

Good night.
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sam baxter · ago
Good story! I will never play chess with you, though