Challenge #02539-F349: Death Came KnockingsteemCreated with Sketch.

in #fiction2 months ago

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It seemed to him, he was born under a curse. He could always tell, with just a touch, how and when someone was going to die. Out of fear, his mother and step-father had sent him to live with a relative, the relative sent him to an orphanage, and the orphanage, as soon as he was big enough, sent him to live alone in one of the out-buildings, though they at least made sure he didn't starve. He had no friends, and, it seemed to him, no future. Then, as midnight rolled around on his 16th year, a stranger entered the small shack outside the orphanage and settled on the bed. He wore a dark , hooded, cloak which hid the face, and a scythe was held in a gloved hand. The hood was thrown back to show a skeletal head. The scythe was set aside and the stranger reached into his robes to draw out a carefully wrapped gift. A surprisingly deep, and unusually kind voice then spoke to him. "Happy Birthday my son, I've missed you." -- Anon Guest

Once Upon A Time... A child was born like no other known. His differences didn't make themselves known until he was about four, when he started talking in ways that others could understand. Whenever he touched someone, he would say what he knew, and what he knew was a passage of time.

"Fifty years," the boy would say. Or, "Three days." It was when the child said, "One hour," and the person in question dropped dead that hysteria spread like a plague. Some blamed the boy for the deaths. Some feared his touch from that day onwards. His mother wanted to keep him away from the world, and keep him safe... but on the night of that decision, her son announced, "Two days," when she kissed her cheek.

That night, she and her husband packed him up for a distant orphanage. When she kissed him goodbye, he said, "Seventy years," and she wept. The orphanage didn't take long to discover his gift, either. For a time, they used him in the hospice, to find out which children would thrive and which would perish, but that was the year that he learned what a self-fulfilling prophecy was. There were infants they had already chosen to neglect, and he just re-enforced their bias.

Once he started choosing all to live, they sequestered him away in a separate cabin. He had few who would talk to him and fewer he wanted to talk to. Nobody wanted to take him into their family and he understood why. He was fed, cleaned, and cared for, but with the cautious form of care that one might look after a deadly weapon. Care with precision, care with a watchful eye on that which may harm.

As he grew towards adulthood, he did more and more for himself. Less and less with others. He knew something was coming. He had seen it in his mirror. He had known, for the longest time, that Death would come for him on his sixteenth birthday. He had no inheritance. He had no friends. He had no family who could keep him. He was renowned, true, but the people who came to see him only wanted to know how to avoid death. The people who came for that knowledge never wanted to accept, "Be as kind to as many others as you can."

On the eve of the day itself, he took a day of rest, so he could be awake when the Reaper came. He did not wish to sleep through it.

On the stroke of midnight, there was a knock on the door. He expected an assassin. He expected another angry rich man with armed men. He did not expect an otherwise ordinary-looking fellow in a long black robe and cloak. He carried no pack. He had no pouch. There was little at all special about him.

He said, "My son..."

The boy made tea, and a meal, and welcomed Death into what had become his home. Things were explained, like the boy's origins and how all life is linked to death in one way or another. And, eventually, how the boy now had a choice. Death was always busy, of course, because life always ends. Should the boy chose to become an apprentice and leave the mortal world, he could help ease the burden of his father.

He would not likely meet another person again, would not know them longer than a handful of minutes.

The other choice was to stay, and live a mortal life. Enduring the life he was always familiar with. Alone, unloved, visited only by people who would be angry at what he had to say and refuse any advice he gave. Cared for in a specific and meticulous way so as not to attract anger...

Death came for the boy, and the boy left with him. Willingly; as an apprentice.

[Image (c) Can Stock Photo / Frenzel]

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