The day she met Death was the day her sanctuary turned against her. The smoky air surrounded her, squeezing her chest so tightly that she almost collapsed. She huddled into a ball in her secret little cove, her ears ringing with the screams of her sister, telling her to run, run, RUN.
Timidly, she peered out from her small wooden box that sat forgotten underneath the roof of an abandoned warehouse. She saw faceless hooded figures roaming the roads with a tool she only saw farmers use. Fire flickered enticingly, beckoning her to come over and feel. It had always welcomed her for as long as she could remember.
Yet she stayed put, withdrawing back into the darkness within where the smell of smoke and burnt skin lingered. People outside screamed like her sister last did, and it shook the box terribly. Hooves of horses stormed around the city, insane and angry. She retreated back further when she came to recognize another silent sound that howled over all others.
The sound of pain.
“One, two, three,” she began counting quietly, hoping that the magic she so often heard about would work. In three seconds, she would disappear in thin air and watch over the world like an angel. Three seconds. “One, two, three,” she repeated.
The door of the warehouse slammed open, jolting the girl silent.
“Anyone here?” a man called.
His buddy laughed. “Why would anyone answer in the first place?” He asked and stuck his sword through a box.
She peered through the cracks of the box in terror, her little body trembling. The men held longer versions of the knives the girl had so often seen her mother use in the kitchen. Their uniforms were of colors that did not represent her home. The girl scrunched herself up more, screwing her green eyes shut. You will not kick my box. I see you there and you won’t kick my box. As you come along, you will not kick my box.
The men passed her box, kicking the one beside her instead.
Disappointed with their fruitless search, the men left. The girl peeked out once again, eyes staring at the hooded figures that had entered the warehouse and left, following the strange men. Each reached a bony hand for the men’s necks and the moment their white slender fingers brushed against the men’s skin, the men fell to the ground asleep.
The sound of pain slapped against her face, and the girl retreated immediately again, disappointed she couldn’t observe the strange hooded people more.
It was a while before the sound finally stopped. Slowly, she crept out of the box and eagerly out the warehouse, tripping on her own feet and landing in a pool of sticky substance.
The fire still flickered amiably, curling its flames around her.
The girl stood up, staring at her hands of red. Disgusted, she wiped the sticky liquid onto her shirt and scampered off home where her sister was waiting. The street was messy and crowded, filled with people who had lain down to sleep right amongst the fires.
She passed a young boy just a bit older than her. He stared down at two sleeping grownups, sorrow ablaze in his green eyes. The girl stopped, staring at him for a moment. She recognized him. He was the one who had screamed fire, consequently waking up the whole kingdom. He was the one that had miraculously sent her sister home from the palace she worked at.
But before the girl had time to thank the boy, he limped off, his head lowered, his arms hanging helplessly.
The girl watched him walk off, trembling despite the warm air. A hooded man passed the boy, paused to glance at him, before continuing his way down the streets. She tipped her head, watching carefully. Who were those strange men…?
The sound of her sister screaming her name echoed in her head. The girl jumped in fright and quickly scampered off for the sanctuary of her home.
She found her sister sleeping on the floor with her parents in a puddle of the same strange red sticky substance. The girl shuddered at the way her sister slept, her arm still out and hand open as if reaching for something important. “Sister, I’m back! I ran just like you told me to and now I’m back!”
Her sister continued to sleep.
Confused, the girl called out to her sister some more, crawling over to her parents. Her hand touched the edge of a card. She picked the card up gently, immediately noticing the red substance covering the pretty pictures that talked to her as the fire did. Frantically, she began searching her house for all seventy-eight and only managed to recover eight, all ruined in the red.
Overwhelmed and confused by the events of the night, she turned on her still sister who always mischievously teased her by hiding her toys.
“Sister, WHY did you do that?” she yelled angrily. “You BROKE my cards!” She shook her sister hard, persistent on waking her up. When her sister still refused to move, she turned her sister over, stumbling back in shock. Her sister slept with her eyes open, glazed and staring at nothing.
The girl crept forward. “Sister…?”
The fire outside beckoned.
Desperate and confused, she turned her attention to the flames outside, crawling her way to the door and stared at the flickering arms of the creature.
Within the warmth she could see pictures forming. Of a necklace being picked up off the ground. Of the strange men who came storming into her home with hair bright like the sun and eyes dark like mud. Of a young boy who looked like the people she knew, his sword in the air and his eyes gleaming of triumph.
The fire flickered more, and the girl saw, clear as day, a beautiful woman with a crown on her head handing over her baby to a guard before sending him off urgently.
She shook her head, turning back for her motionless sister and stared at the bony hand on her sister’s face.
Startled, she glanced up into the black hood of a faceless man who had wandered the streets the whole night with his farmer’s tool. And it was then she knew who he was.
He was Death.