The Love of Death

By Paul Holbrook

Death appears in all of history's greatest love stories. But perhaps it is time for The Grim Reaper to have a love story of his own.

Somewhere near Caledonian Road stands an abandoned office building, one of many empty spaces in the area. It was locked up for the last time five years earlier when the previous owners, Haberwell and Smale Accountants discovered that they had spent more time looking into other people’s money and not enough their own. They had not noticed that one of their owners, Charles Smale, had used the pension plans of their two hundred and forty-three employees to fund his very large, very plush home in Bermuda. Ever since the day, when it was clear that Smale was did not plan to either return the money or for that matter return to Britain, it had stood empty; five floors of dust laden desks, broken windows, and the occasional rogue pigeon. Smale had not lived long enough to enjoy his stolen retirement however. He had fallen whilst drunk from the balcony and landed badly on the outcrop of rocks below, his body being washed up two days later on a beach five miles down the coast. One of the current occupants of his company’s old premises had been there when Smale met with his demise; he was there when everyone died

It was hardly the ideal spot for a first date, but it would have to do. There was no one else around and he would not be seen appearing out of thin air when he changed the pace of time.

He had run through the streets, past stationary pedestrians and cars at a speed that no human could have managed. He had leapt without effort over fences and sprung over walls as tall as double decker buses, all whilst carrying the body of a woman, frozen in time, over his shoulder; a woman who he had fallen in love with as soon as he had seen her.

Twice he had thought about stopping, turning back and returning her to the scene of her death; drawing out her life force in a way that he had done to billions of others, and leaving it next to the body, where it would presumably be collected. He had not gone back though, he had run as fast as he could, not knowing where he was going. It was madness. How could he even contemplate doing such a thing? There would be ramifications and consequences the like of which he could not even begin to contemplate.

The small matter of what she might think of him when she finally met him was just a little concerning as well. What would he say to her when she was brought out of her rigid and unconscious state?

“Hello, you were meant to die today but I saved you. We have never met before, but you may have heard of me. I am Death, The Grim Reaper, The Harvester of Souls… why are you running away?”

Not exactly the greatest chat up line in the world. He had, however, never had ever had any experience in these matters before. As far as he knew, he had never actually engaged anyone in conversation before. He supposed he must have at some time in the past, but it will have been long ago, and his memory was not at thinking back to anything that happened earlier than a couple of hundred thousand years ago, which he thought was still pretty impressive.

Whenever he tried to think back, to a time before he walked the earth, a cloud would fall over his mind, and he would find himself confused and then quickly distracted. It was almost as if both his mind and the world were conspiring together to stop him from remembering.

He had enjoyed one-sided conversations with humans before, very often in fact. He would often talk to the motionless figures that he encountered, whose lives happened at such an incredibly slower pace than his own. He would sometimes sit next to people in restaurants or at bars; making idle conversation with them, laughing at their jokes, feeling humbled by their compliments and sharing toasts to their friendship. It was a small hobby of his, something which made him feel not as alone in the world and, in his own way, feel as though he was doing his bit to mix with the natives. At least he didn’t talk to himself, that would make him a bit mad, and he knew that he was nothing if not completely sane.

The question of his sanity was one which he generally avoided thinking too much about. It made him uncomfortable to dwell on the thought that the jigsaw puzzle, which made up his mind and inner being, might actually be short of a few pieces. When he did happen to wonder whether he could be a few sandwiches short of a picnic, he consoled himself with the thought that from what he had seen of the world (and he had seen all of it since the beginning) it was other people who drove you crazy. Since the only interaction he had with people was to draw out their life force he felt he was pretty safe. If a madman was stood in the middle of a forest and no one was there to see him loon about, was he really crazy?

If he had to actually converse with people before extracting their souls, he was pretty sure he would, by now, be a long-term resident of some asylum for the spiritually insane. What could he begin to say to them? “Hello, I’m the Angel of Death, sorry, but your life as you knew it is now over.”

Perhaps not. He could not imagine many people taking the news that well.

He felt safe with things how they were; he did his job, took their eternal souls and left, never questioning his role or becoming entangled with those who met, through such oddities as conversation, small talk, and, worst of all, getting to know people.

He was alone forever, he had always been alone, and he would always be alone until the end of time. This phrase had always run through his head daily, like a mantra, reassuring him that he could not be touched or affected by the human race. They get on with their thing, and he got on with his, and may ‘whoever was in charge’ forbid the day when he ever had to interact with one.

He did not like thinking about an all-powerful, all knowing ‘God as the humans liked to call him. He liked to think of himself as an independent being, getting on with his job without any control by management. Of course, he was directed towards those whose lives were about to end; he felt the power of something over him and guiding him to carry out his tasks. However, he still liked to think that he did it with some level of independence, and over thousands of years, he had convinced himself that he did so of his own volition and not through being told what to do.

In truth, humans scared him. He had watched them closely for a very long time and had concluded that they were just stupid, angry children. They were only after their own gain, no matter how well they dressed it up as otherwise; they wanted immediate gratification and had a constant need for attention. The human race were an infection that he was, luckily, immune to.

They could not touch him. Until today.

Sitting in front of him, on an office chair, was a woman frozen in time. Someone for whom he had broken all the rules, someone who had made him do the unthinkable.

He wanted to talk to her.

He wanted to find out all about her, who she was, her name, her favourite colour, her most loved flavour of ice cream. He wanted to tell her about himself, how he was as old as time, how he was not the morbid character he was cracked up to be, and how… and how he thought that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and had ever walked the earth.

The fear within him was immense, bubbling and hissing angrily like cheese left out in the sun. It threatened to destroy him from within unless he made his choice. The decision to take that final step towards damnation or nirvana, misery or happiness… death or life.

He could not wait any longer, somewhere a clock was ticking and very soon there would be others looking for him, demanding answers. He did not know what the outcome would be, but he knew that if he did not do this now he would regret it for eternity.

He took a moment to run his fingers through his hair, check his clothing and, automatically and completely unexpectedly, place his hand in front of his mouth to check if his breath smelled. He closed his eyes, concentrating on his task and, in an instant he, moved into human time.

The noise of an ear-splitting scream hit his ears.

It was not the best start to a first date start, but he could have expected nothing else when he remembered that the last thing that she had seen was a bus about to crush her.

As the screaming stopped he opened his eyes, and found himself face to face with the only woman that he had ever loved.

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