Five Days of Death

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***

I cup my hands under the steady stream of water and let the faucet run until my fingers are chilled and shaking. Truthfully, I don’t even notice what I’m doing. The big picture is too great to see, and it’s taking all my mental power to process the plot.

“Are you all right, sir?” There’s an attendant behind the door that I either forgot was there or never noticed to begin with. I’m not used to places this full of class, and, in hindsight, I wish I were somewhere else now, like a dirty bar or someplace that didn’t take so much effort to get a table. If we were destined to fall apart tonight, why did I try to make it so perfect?

“Sir? Do you need me to come in there?” I hear him call again.

“Thanks,” I say like a machine on autopilot, faking a smile as if someone were around to notice. “Everything’s great.”

I need to think. I try to think.

How am I going to get of here? I wonder. I can’t leave. I can’t walk right past her without a word or wave. The thought crosses my mind that this may the last time I ever see Rachel and if that’s the case I don’t want it to end like this, defeated by awkwardness without a fight.

Three years are turning to soot before my eyes. No. I won’t let it.

I splash the water in my face, and it hits me like a quickening. I’m alive. I’m aware.

I kneel down on the tile floor and retrieve her engagement ring, the one that I let fall from my hands like a coward. The one she doesn’t want.

I‘ve spent the last five minutes wanting to throw the damn thing in the ocean, wanting to launch it into space. But those would be mistakes. I put so much time into finding it. I worked so hard trying to get this night right.

This ring is my heart. I can’t desert it to get trampled and pissed on. I can’t.

I pick the ring up then rise, taking one last look at my soaking wet face in the mirror.

“Don’t worry, Tim,” I say to my reflection. “Romeo always gets the girl, right? Didn’t you read that in a book or something? It’s poetry. It’s science. It’s textbook. It’s fate. Go, idiot. Now.”

I leave, back into the restaurant, and look for my table, for Rachel. Nothing is as I left it. For a second I think I’m lost then it hits me. I’m not lost at all. I stare at my table from a distance.

All I see is the empty seat where I left her. She was tense because of me and my proposition. Sympathetic. Sorry. Polite. Not mine. Not anymore. But she was here.

I scan the restaurant and confirm what I already know. She’s gone.

The ring again falls from my deteriorating grasp, and I let it. I decide to leave it this time. There’s no need for it. It doesn’t mean anything to anybody.

My shoulders sink. I make my way toward the exit, defeated by awkwardness without a fight, minus a heart.

***

I walk into the Bonnet, a dimly lit bar, looking out of place. My shirt’s un-tucked and my tie is unraveled, each end hanging around my neck to the sides. Funny thing is, I still look over dressed. But it doesn’t matter. The Bonnet’s empty for the most part. It’s just me and Kim, my bartender/psychiatrist. The door slams behind me. A cloud of cigarette smoke seeks shelter in my pores as my irises adjust to the flickering cyan lamps that light this cave. I’m home for the night. I see Kim.

“What the fuck, Tim?” I hear Kimber greet me from behind the bar. She’s smiling. “Don’t you got somewhere else to be tonight? Isn’t tonight the night? You showed me the ring and everything.”

I don’t say a word. I shake my head.

“It didn’t work out,” I say.

It takes a second for her to realize what I’m saying.

“Oh. Oh no. Really?” she asks. “No, darling. You must feel like shit.”

I nod as I walk toward her.

“I’m sorry,” she says as she pops open a beer.

“Yeah.”

“What? Are you gonna quit? You can’t quit now, right? You got a little Romeo in you. I can tell. And you know what they say? Romeo always gets the girl.”

I grip the bottle as I take my seat at the bar.

“Romeo drank himself to death too,” I reply. “I guess we both got that thing going for us. You know what? Fuck this beer. Can I get something stronger? Anything? Vodka? Whiskey?”

“No. That’s not a good idea. I’m not watching you drink yourself to death.”

“You’re a bartender. I bet you see a hundred broken hearted Romeos come in here a night, chasing death. What makes me different?”

“Those old perverted fucktards can drink themselves to hell for all I care. You’re not them. Never will be.”

Kimber and I glare at each other for a moment. My glare is full of contempt, undeserved and misdirected. We don’t break, we don’t blink for two minutes straight as I teeter on the brink of a meltdown.

“Fuck this and fuck you,” I say, throwing up my hands, breaking the silence. “You think you scare me? You think whiskey scares me? You think death scares me? Well, you’re wrong. You don’t know shit about me or shit about shit! I’m not scared of anything! And I’m going somewhere else. Some place that’ll give me what I want. Just once tonight. Just once. Why can’t I have what I want just once.”

I rise to leave. As I spin toward the door, I hear Kimber call my name.

“Tim. Hold up! Wait!”

I walk toward the door, ignoring Kimber, determined to follow in Romeo’s footsteps.

As I walk, my eyes look straight ahead but someone catches my attention from the corner of my periphery. She wasn’t there before or maybe I didn’t notice.

There’s a girl, a woman, someone, something beautiful in front of me. She smiles like a miracle and for a brief moment, I don’t feel so unbalanced.

Her dark reddish brown hair is pulled back and up slightly. Her bangs are combed neatly, parts swooping in front of her face, parts tucked behind her ears. There’s a subtle gold stud jutting out of her left earlobe. She’s dressed very casually, a black t-shirt, short shorts and a mood ring glowing red.

She’s slim, athletic looking without a single blemish to detract from her fair skin. Her lips are a light red. She’s effortlessly gorgeous. I look into her jade eyes. They’re hypnotic. She’s like a siren. I don’t know what she’s doing in a bar like the Bonnet. For a whole second, she’s all I think about.

Then I think of Rachel, and how I wish this beautiful woman in front of me, luring me with her aura now, were Rachel instead. Three years. Three years it took me to realize how much I really loved her and I wasn’t going to forget her tonight or next year.

The new girl waves me down anyway. She’s sitting at the table near the door.

“Sit and drink with me,” she says softly. Her voice is Heaven, euphorically pleasant. But again, she’s not whom I want.

“Sorry. I already made plans for the night,” I say, alluding to my date with a bottle.

“That’s a shame,” she says. “Some other time then.”

I nod, not really meaning it, and walk toward the door.

***

Outside, it’s raining a hard, cold rain. I soldier through, treading through puddles until I’m three feet from my car. I fumble my keys. They hit the concrete then bounce. I bend down to retrieve them.

There’s a flash of light. I hear thunder, as loudly and clearly as one can hear thunder. My teeth are chattering. My body’s convulsing uncontrollably, my skin sizzling. I’m spitting in all directions and I shit my pants.

There’s a pain in my throat.

The convulsions stop. My legs go limp. I hit the ground hard. As my consciousness fades to black, I try to look down at my lower body as I realize what’s happened to me.

I’ve been struck by lightning.

In the dick.

***

I open my eyes to find a plum sky and empty space. My body feels numb, floating like a ghost. My arms and legs are tingly.

I feel like I’ve awoken in a dream.

I look up, and Rachel’s standing on top of the blade of a rainbow. I float up to meet her.

“Tim,” she says. “Is that you?”

“Rach. I missed you, Rach.”

I try to wrap my arms around her, but they touch her skin like a cold fog, and she shivers,

It’s like I’m a ghost, like I’m dead to her. But I’m not a ghost. I can’t be. Whatever I am, she wants no of part me, I’m sure.

“Bye Tim,” she says.

“No! Wait! I need to talk to you! Hold up!”

“Let me go.”

“No. I can’t!”

“Tim. Would it be easier to let me go if I told you that I never cared? That I never gave a shit about you at all? I know it’s what you want to hear now. It’d be a lie. But I’ll say it if it helps you forgot me.”

“Why then? Why’d you leave? Why’d you say no?”

“Honestly, I just got tired of waiting for you. And by the time you were ready to be with me, I’d already moved on. You were too late. And you should move on now too.”

She waves as her body fades to nothing. I blink then suddenly I’ve moved somewhere else.

It’s completely dark. From the abyss, I feel her soft lips press against mine. It’s her. She’s with me again.

I pull the unseen shape of her body against me and feel her pulse. I embrace her fully, my left hand tracing up and down the arc of her back clumsily.

We’re so close. I can feel her heartbeat thump against my chest, faster and faster.

The two of us, we’re part of a circuit, in tune with the ley lines. The electricity that runs through us, our pulse, is the pulse of the Earth. We’re magnets that can’t pull away from each other.

I gasp for air.

Then it hits me. Where am I and whom am I with? I let go and pull myself away. Candlelight fills the room.

It’s as if she doth teach them to burn bright.

“Rachel?”

“No. Not Rachel.”

It’s the girl from the bar, wearing black lingerie, her mood ring burning red. She’s dressed in frills and lace with small pieces of fabric that cover her skin but do nothing to hide her perfect form.

“You?” I say.

“Hello Tim.”

She wraps her arms around my head then starts running her fingers through my hair.

“Come to bed with me. Now,” she says.

For some reason, I want her. But she’s not Rachel. She’ll never be. I try to stall.

“I don’t sleep with people I can’t make small talk with,” I say as I try to move away. She pulls me closer. “And I don’t know you.”

“Then ask me something? Ask me something quick.” Her voice petrifies me, draws me to her. I become a statue, my feet thirty-six inches apart. My legs form an upside-down v. Her right hand moves quickly, tugging my belt undone with ease and grace. She shoves her perfect hands down my pants, one for each pant leg, rubbing up and down my inner thighs like two lost cars teasing their way up a mountain top toward its zenith. Her slender fingers are so warm and I’m so cold. Her touch makes me feel like I’m on fire from the inside.

I can’t let this happen. I got to get back to Rachel.

“Quick, Tim,” she says, again. “Ask me something.”

“Who’s your favorite basketball player?” I ask off the top of my head. It’s not something I particularly want to know, but hopefully it’ll slow her down.

She stops.

“John Ameachi,” she says.

“Really, “ I say. All of a sudden, I find myself intrigued. “Why?”

“Because he’s fearless.”

“Bullshit. Allen Iverson’s fearless. He plays every game with reckless abandoned. Like he’s not afraid of breaking every bone in his body.”

Nameless bites her lip and smirks.

“John Ameachi was a gay man in Utah,” she says. “That’s fearless. A man like him in that bigot, hate town. It’s like he’s not afraid of death. I’m attracted to that. Too bad, he’s not into women. But then again, maybe there’s a reason he’s not for me. Truthfully, I’m more into you anyway.”

Her breath is hot on my skin. I can’t resist. The candles’ flames dissipate in unison.

We go to bed in the dark.

Whoever she is, her voice echoes through the room like a howl in a cave.

“Let your pulse go flat,” she begs. “Stay with me here.”

***

It’s a miracle I survive.

I wake up on paper sheets wearing a paper apron, tubes in my nose and wires monitoring my health. My memories are fragmented, but all my senses scream of aseptic floors and sterile air. I know I’m at a hospital. I recollect the storm.

I peek under the sheets. My pubes are singed. Damn lightning. But I guess I deserve that. The last thing I remember is the rain, and then my dream, and how I cheated on my fiancé with the girl from the bar in a surreal fantasy.

Then I remember I don’t have a fiancé. I sigh out of relief and sadness. I’m guilt-free but alone.

***

A day passes and I regain enough strength to walk. The doctor says my heart rate is normal and it would be all right if I wander the premises a while. I ask the nurse to borrow some pants from one of the orderlies, and she says it’s no problem.

***

Down the hall from me, I see an old man seemingly on his last hour, his breathing strained, his skin pale. He’s nearing the unknown at a crude pace. It’s painful to look at.

That could’ve been me, I think. I could be dead or dying right now. For a moment, I think about how lucky I actually am.

Looking closer, I notice someone outside the old man’s door. It’s Nameless from the bar. My heart skips at the sight of her; memories of things that only existed in reverie draw me to her. Awake now, I want her like I wanted her in my dream. She’s a puzzle I need to solve, a lesson I need to learn.

I want to know her, for real this time. I want to be with her.

Again, for whatever reason, I feel guilty that she’s not Rachel. She’s not the one I love.

But I can’t help but feel drawn to her.

Nameless is a seraph, angelic and pure. But for now, there’s a cold look on her face. That must be her father lying there, I think. Or perhaps her grandfather or great uncle? Whoever he is, he looks important to her.

I don’t know her, but I want to take away her pain. I want to comfort her. I want to be her world, her pillar. I move toward her. She catches me easing up slowly and smiles as I approach. I smile back. As I squint I notice her mood ring. I see it turn from a morose blue to a warm amber. This is encouraging. I keep walking.

I’m twenty feet from her when the most putrid smell in existence hits my nostrils. It reeks of rotten eggs. And that smell is in my nose. And it’s working its way to my mouth. I want to gag. I begin to cough frantically.

This damned hospital is driving me crazy. What the fuck is this smell? I wonder. There’s no way I’m the only one smelling this. I look around and no one is reacting. I must’ve stepped in something, I think as I look down at my feet. Nothing. Maybe I’m going crazy and this is my mind’s way of stopping me from cheating on Rachel. But Rachel doesn’t care about me. What’s really going on? My mind is racing. I can’t figure it out.

Nameless notices me coughing and rises like she’s coming to meet me. I turn immediately and walk in the other direction. I don’t want to take any chances. If the smell is on me then I don’t want to risk leaving a bad impression or, at the very least, look like a smelly guy.

I leave her alone. The smell sticks to my pores for hours after.

***

Doctors clear me to leave the next day. My departure is bitter sweet. I was hoping to see Nameless again before I left, behold her beauty one last time. Sadly, it looks like things weren’t meant to be. It’s time for me to go.

Thunder booms outside of the complex and I jump, clutching at my crotch instinctively. The other patients and visitors glare at me like I’m insane. They’re completely right. I shouldn’t be this jumpy. What are the odds of lightening hitting me again? I ask myself.

With every step toward the door, I hear rain pouring harder. It’s as if something doesn’t want me to leave. It’s all in my head, I tell myself. As I step out outside, the rain turns to hail immediately. No worries. My cab is waiting thirty feet from the door, and I can take a couple hits of ice if it means sleeping in my own bed tonight.

A quarter-sized chunk of hail strikes my shoulder and hastens my exit. I stride quickly over the slick concrete without worry of the rain or the black oil patches in front of me. I move so fast, so carefree that my foot slips and I fall to the ground hard. As I stare at the gray clouds above, favoring my back, a dagger-shaped piece of hail falls from Heaven and pierces my chest, narrowly missing my heart.

I scream out in pain.

“You gotta be kidding me!” I yell.

An emergency team retrieves me, bringing me back inside as doctors rush to my aid.

***

The next few days are like a familiar waltz. All the steps feel the same: cryptic dreams, moping and wandering.

But everything happens for a reason. Everything leads to opportunities.

I see Nameless sitting outside the old man’s room again. Nameless, the great unknown, terrifying and beautiful. I want to comfort her again. I move toward her again.

But as I enter within a thirty-foot radius of her, there’s that smell. It’s returned and is a thousand times worse, in fact. Whatever it is, it smells like a dead corpse fermenting in durian juice. It hits my nose, and I want to throw up.

There’s no way I’m the only one smelling this. There’s no way this is happening. I gotta be going crazy, I think. Maybe it’s just the hospital, I wonder. Maybe there’s something unsanitary about this specific spot of the building. Whatever it is, I can’t chance it.

I turn to retreat. As I do, I see her, my Nameless; I see her see me and wonder what she’s thinking now. I must look insane.

Fuck. I blew it. I blew it again. She’ll never want to speak to me after this. I’m too scary and unbalanced.

What’s that smell? Fuck. I’m going crazy.

***

Through the night, I do my best to block my romantic failing with Nameless from my memory. I try even harder to erase Rachel while I’m at it. I fail at forgetting both. Forget it, I tell myself. You have your whole life ahead of you, I repeat in my mind. You can’t feel down forever.

When the hospital releases me the next day, I check the weather reports to make sure I’m safe. Sunny, it says. No chance of storm, it says. Despite my findings, I run to my taxicab cautiously but quickly, fearing a tornado spontaneously manifesting in my throat or some shit like that.

I make it to the cab safely then begin my way toward home, to my apartment: happy to be safely heading toward familiar settings, sad that Rachel or Nameless won’t be there to greet me when I arrive.

***

I enter the my apartment complex’s hallway to find someone waiting outside my door. Whoever it is, she’s turned away, seemingly staring at nothing in particular. She’s wearing a tan trench coat, which is odd considering how pleasant the weather is today.

“Hey. How’s it going?” I call out from a distance as I approach. “Who’s there?”

She turns. It’s her, my Nameless, sweet Nameless: the untitled mystery. The sight of her makes me forget Rachel.

She doesn’t speak, just smiles and waits; hugging at the sides of her coat and swaying. My heart begins to race. My brain shuts off as I run to her like a mindless drone to his queen. I’m two feet away when she pulls open her coat. She’s wearing nothing but black lingerie, like in the dream, like in that perfect night that I spent with her engulfed in perfect blackness. Her mood ring is on fire now, blood red and glowing. She wants me.

Her body is perfect: flat stomach, smooth legs. Like a photo-shopped goddess composed solely of magic and draped across the gutter of a two-page glossy spread, she’s the highest order of gorgeous. She smiles and I melt.

This can’t be happening, I think. I must be dreaming again. But it feels real.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care. I press on, taking the final two steps until we’re face-to-face.

“Hi,” she says coyly.

I open my mouth to return her greeting but then there’s that smell in the air, the smell from the hospital. It shatters the perfect glamour that surrounds us. That smell, that horrible smell; It smells like two hippie zombies making out in front of me. The scent cuts through my cold and enters my mouth, assaulting my taste buds. I throw up on myself immediately.

She scrunches her face, a deep furrow across her forehead.

“Oh fuck,” I say, wiping bits of vomit from the side of my mouth. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I think I’m going crazy.”

Nameless is speechless.

“Oh shit. This is so fucking unsexy. I should stop talking. Why don’t I stop talking?” I ask a rhetorical question.

Again, she remains silent.

“I think I’m making it worse,” I say, making it worse. “I should go. I should duck in my room for a while and not show my face. No. Wait. Let me explain. I can’t leave without explaining this. I’ve been having a bad week. My girlfriend left me. Lightning struck twice. And I have this scar now. And there’s a horrible smell that’s trailing me wherever I walk. Every time I see you.”

“Wait. What?” she finally speaks. “What smell?”

“It’s the most awful smell like ever. Like in the history of… it’s just bad. I don’t know what it is. I thought it was from the hospital but apparently not.” My mouth keeps moving despite my urge to shut it. “My name is Tim by the way.”

I stick out my hand. Nameless grabs it and shakes it.

“Death,” she says. “Nice to meet you.”

“Ummm…what was that again?”

“Death,” she says again. “Or Azrael, the serphaphic angel of death. But my friends just call me Death. Or D when they’re trying to be cute.”

“Wait. What? The fuck?”

“Darn,” she says, seemingly immune to my reaction. “When you flat lined and came back to life, it must have enhanced your sense of smell to a paranormal sensitivity. That sucks. It’s a one in a billion chance. But that’s probably what happened.”

“Wait? What?”

“Yeah. It’s textbook. You can probably smell supernatural entities and ghosts,” she says, pulling her coat closed.

“What?”

“Well. Enough of this science lecture. You wanna unlock that door so the two of us can go to bed?”

She’s grinning wide.

“Bed? Us?” I say, turning my head. “No. You’re Death. And you smell like Death.”

Her carefree expression crumbles like cigarette ash at my words. I ignore her, moving to the door, my key in hand. I unlock it then jump inside in almost seamless motion. She’s still frozen, apparently shocked at being rejected.

I slam the door quickly, in case she decides to follow me in.

What a crazy girl, I think. She must be crazy. Death doesn’t exist, at least not as a person that I can hold or touch. She’s gotta be insane. She’s gotta be.

I hear her howl from outside of the door. There’s a loud thump. She’s pounding on the wall, I think.

“Fuck you, Tim!” she screams. “Don’t you ever dare show your face on the outside again! Or I will destroy everything you ever loved! Death always gets what she wants! Always!”

I don’t know what to say.

“Fair enough,” I call back through the thin walls and door that do nothing to dampen the sound.

“I could tear through these walls and eat you…oh… oh no. Haha. I know what I’ll do you little piss ant!”

“Great. Could you ummm… leave?”

“You’ll see! Haha. You’ll see.”

I listen to her footsteps fade down the hallway until I think she’s gone. But I’m unsure. Did she really leave?

I sit, curled in a ball at the center of my living room, terrified for the next seven hours. I’m not terrified of Death. I’m terrified of whoever that crazy girl is; terrified that she might still be lurking.

Maybe I should call the cops, I think. I dismiss that option quickly. I’m already the guy from the emergency scanner whom lightning and ice hit in awkward places. Do I really want to be the guy who’s scared of beautiful girls too? To a station full of asshole cops?

But staying in my apartment is destroying my mood. I have to get out. I have to chance it.

“Fuck it,” I say aloud. I can’t sit in my living room all night. But I can’t leave through the door. Crazy people know how to stab me when I leave through the door.

I decide on a destination: the Bonnet, with Kimber and likeminded drunk assholes to share my problems with, sad Romeos.

It’s probably cold out now. I throw on a wrinkled hoodie and move to the window. I’m two stories up and there’s a fire exit. If Death’s stalking me from in the alley, then kudos to her. She deserves to take a shot at me if that’s the case. She’s earned it.

I climb out the window and stare at the street. It’s midnight. The sidewalk outside my apartment is mostly empty. I see no cars, only streetlights.

***

Walking to the Bonnet feels odd for some reason. I feel like I’m in a ghost town. No ones around except for me and a singular couple clutching each other’s arms, bouncing as they walk.

They look so happy. The girl reminds me of Rachel.

I look closer at them.

It is Rachel.

“Rachel?” I say. “What the fuck? Rachel?” She’s with another man, a larger man, a more muscular me; not me. She’s moved on already. It hasn’t even been a week.

My heart shatters for the fifth time in five nights. I can’t speak. I can’t breathe. This can’t be happening. I look again. There’s no mistaking it. It’s Rachel.

But there’s no time to be sad. As I stare at the two, I notice a gang of grizzly bears, five of them, creeping up behind, which is odd considering grizzly bears aren’t indigenous to this region.

This can’t be happening.

Rachel doesn’t even see them. She must not hear them either. I can’t let this happen.

I burst toward the two, Rachel and whoever Muscles is. For the sake of clarity, I’m just gonna call him Muscles.

“Yo! Muscles! Rachel! Watch out behind you!” I scream.

Rachel hears me, sees me sprinting. She cocks a brow at the sight of me.

“Tim! What are you doing, Tim!” she screams. I’m guessing I must look like a crazy ex to her.

“Behind you! Grizzly bears! “ I scream.

The leader of the pack is cocking his paw behind his head, ready to strike her. I can’t let this happen. I move faster.

I’m five feet away now. I leap from the ground. In this instant, I feel like I’m hovering six feet in the air, soaring now like the greats; like Michael Jordan, like Dr. J or Vince Carter, unafraid of hurt like Iverson and Ameachi.

Time bends, slows and stops for this single perfect moment.

I kick the bear in the skull, the side of my foot bending perpendicular to my leg on impact as my ankle yields to the bear’s unmovable face. I feel a sharp pain shoot up my spine as the swelling starts. The bear doesn’t move. Time starts again, and I fall to the ground, my back slamming hard against the concrete.

“Agghhhh! Fuck!” I scream. I clutch at my injured ankle.

I look up and the bear appears more confused than anything, like he’s never seen a guy with guts like mine. He’s never seen someone so dumb. As far as damage, it’s mostly unfazed from what I can tell. The rest of the bears freeze like they’re waiting for further instructions.

I look at Rachel. She’s speechless. I look at Muscles. He’s pissed his pants like a terrified child. I labor to my feet.

“Take five, Muscles. I got this,” I say. I look at Rachel. “You guys gotta a run. I’ll hold them off.”

“Tim,” she says. It’s all she says. It’s like she doesn’t know what to say to me anymore.

“Run, damn it!”

The two begin to sprint in the other direction, away from danger. I continue to stand, telling myself I’m unafraid. The head bear, the leader, huffs his fuming hot breath in my face. Its spit barely misses my eyes.

“Ah yeah, Bear,” I say. “Keep talking. Cuz I’m fixing to knock you the fuck out.”

I raise my hands into a futile guard. The bears look like they’re ready to kill me. I guess this is how I die, I think as I make peace with myself.

“Wait! I have something to ask him!” I hear a familiar voice call out.

It’s her, Nameless. In a split second, I process all the facts, all the strange occurrences. Maybe she’s really Death, I think. And she wants me.

Death walks toward us in a tight black dress like she’s ready kill. The gang of bears turns passive in her presence and sits.

“You’re really some kind of Romeo, huh?”

“You?” I say. “You did this. You’re really Death.”

She nods.

“Then the lightning. That was you trying to bring me to you?” I ask, thinking about how deadly a flirt she really is. “And the fucking ice dagger. That was really creative.”

She nods again.

“Why?”

“Tim, you called out to me first. You wanted me. You remember at the bar. You looked so unafraid of me then. In your coma too. In your dreams that I invaded. You couldn’t turn me away.”

“What. That really happened?” I say. “Well. I’m not afraid of you now either.”

“But you’re different now. Why are you willing to die, again? What’s the reason this time.”

“Because.”

“Because why?”

“Because I love her. There. I fucking said it. It’s dumb. I’m dumb. But I love her. And I shouldn’t but I do. And I won’t let anything bad happen.”

Death laughs at me.

“You’re willing to die for her but not for me?” she asks. “She doesn’t care about you like I care about you. I should kill you right now. And we can live happily away from life.”

I stand up straight and shake me head.

“Give me one good reason,” Death commands.

“Look,” I say. “Don’t take this personal but it’s like the ancient proverb goes. ‘Death is like a stranger’s cunt. When you’re sad and alone, when there’s nothing in your life, it seems enticing. It seems like an attractive alternative. But the more you go near it, the closer you get, the more you realize it’s just a dark place. A place you don’t want to be. A supernaturally pungent place.”

Death furrows her brow.

“That’s an ancient proverb?” she asks.

“No,” I say. “I made it up. It just seemed applicable.”

Death shoulders sink. I know that look. I’ve worn it recently.

I’ve shattered her dream. Her ring begins to glow. I watch its color fade from grey to black, settling into a dull blankness, its sheen lost forever. She takes it off and throws it to me. I catch it.

“When you’re an old man in hospital bed, I’ll come visit you,” she says. “And I’ll think of all the memories we could have had together, that we missed out on. And I’ll weep. And you’ll weep.”

There’s a long silence.

“I have no idea how to respond to that,” I say, after some time passes. “That’s a really weird thing to say to somebody.”

Tears stream down her face. She brushes them quickly, covertly, feeling sheepish maybe. Death manages a smile, perhaps forces one, and walks away; taking her bears with her. I collapse on the street. Sitting with my legs crossed underneath me, resting my ankle as I watch Death vanish in the horizon.

For a moment, I sympathize with her. We’re the same in many ways. We’re both broken-hearted. We both probably could’ve taken it better.

I do nothing but sit for an hour until I remember Death’s ring and look down at my hands. I turn it over in my fingertips and stare into the rich black. This ring is her heart, I think. No one wants it, including me, but it’s mine anyway. She gave it to me. Honestly, I can’t think of worse hands to hold a heart. I can’t even keep mine safe.

I cast it into the air, into the vast black above. I don’t see it vanish. I don’t hear it land. I remember Rachel. As a dry lump forms in my throat, I pray that neither death nor love bother me for the next five days.

(c) Khoa Xuan Pham All rights reserved.

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