"Come on, guys, how much further?"
The five battered women trudged up the concrete steps and across the dingy subway platform. Nameless others weaved their way through the group, averting their gaze as they passed. They only had eyes for their destination; these bruised and bleeding women were none of their concern. Nobody stopped to ask them about their injuries or how they had gotten them. Nobody paid them any mind, merely treating them as disquieting obstacles in the way of their daily routine.
The woman at the back raised her voice again.
"Guys, it really fuckin' hurts, can't we stop for a sec?"
Not even her companions seemed to pay her much attention. The women flanking her nodded automatically, engrossed in her own discomfort as they helped her limp across the platform in silence. Focused as they were on catching the next subway train, the other two women at the front of the group didn't make any signs of even hearing her. Both inside the group and out, every living person seemed oblivious to anything that was going on. All but one person, that is, but they could hardly be counted among the living.
Standing in the shadow of the stairs, Death rested their back against a column and watched the women press through the crowd. Most humans thought of Death as a hulking skeleton in a billowing black cloak, but Death never really knew where that idea had come from. Here, in the crowded New York subway tunnel, they wore clothes that any New York native could wear and had a face that any New York native could have, an ambiguous face that could either belong to a clean-shaven young man or one of those thoroughly modern, shorthaired women that hung around in lesser known coffee shops. There was nothing overly impressive or memorable about Death, nothing to look at or notice. Death was just another figure on a subway platform, one among dozens, and they preferred it that way. They could see and be seen if they wished, but were not so out of place as to make people suspicious or nervous. That was the way with humans: always ready to be alarmed despite the true mundanity of their lives.
As the women gathered at the edge of the platform, Death fell into step behind them. The good thing about being in New York City, a place so thoroughly bursting at the seams with people, was that someone could get as close to another person as they wanted and almost nobody would mind. True to form, the women treated Death like any other person and took no notice.
"Finally," the vocal woman at the back groaned. "My foot is killing me."
Death turned their gaze towards the woman and regarded her with wide eyes, as if trying to look through her. Slowly, Death moved from the woman's head down to the foot that was giving her so much trouble.
Julia Reynolds. Aged twenty-three, approximately. Broken foot. Life remaining…Fifty-two years, five days, four hours, thirty-two minutes, fifteen seconds.
Despite the woman's protests, her broken foot would not in fact be the end of her. Death never really understood human kind's propensity towards exaggeration.
"I can't believe that kid didn't even apologize," one of the women next to Julia finally decided to chime in.
"Fuckin' rude," Julia added and everyone nodded in offended agreement.
Death closed their eyes and recalled the event in question.
Five women on stairs: four in front, one carrying bike at the rear. Boy trips behind them. Woman with bike falls, all five go down. Thirteen stairs total until final impact.
Death had not witnessed the event personally, but knew it as if they had been standing there when it happened. Humans seemed to assume that Death was always present to witness a moment of tragedy no matter how impractical that would be in reality, especially if the incident itself was not immediately fatal. Death was far too busy to just hang around and watch things happen. With assumptions like these, it was no wonder that humans always seemed to be in such a hurry.
The familiar metallic whine of an approaching subway train echoed down the tunnel. Everyone turned to watch its arrival except for Death, who stared forward, directly at the woman carrying the bike. The train began screeching to a halt and everyone stepped collectively forward. Death moved in closer and the gap between them and the woman with the bike disappeared. The train doors opened and people poured out onto the subway platform like water out of a breached sea wall.
"Deborah Steinhardt," Death said in a dry and monotone voice. The sound was immediately lost in the shuffle and chatter of a hundred busy people. "Aged twenty-four years, nine months, seventeen days, twenty-two hours, forty-eight minutes, and eight seconds."
The crowd on the platform surged forward as soon as those exiting the train were clear. Julia and the other three women shot past Deborah and towards the entrance.
"Come on, Deb!" one of the women called behind them.
Whether or not Deborah heard the woman, she made no attempts to follow the crowd into the train. She stood rooted at the edge of the platform, body rigid, eyes wide, bicycle gripped tightly in her hand.
"Two fractured ribs - right side - sprained right wrist, internal bleeding."
Deborah began to tremble, very slightly at first, and Death slowly reached out a hand towards the woman.
"Deb, come on!"
The other women were already on the train and were only now turning around to see that their friend hadn't moved. A handful of people were still darting past her, each of them in too much of a hurry to notice the woman. Deborah's whole body shook now and a low gurgling escaped from her lips. It sounded as if something wet was choking its way up her throat. Death's hand was mere centimeters away.
"Deborah Steinhardt," Death repeated. "Return to dust."
As the train door closed, Death touched a finger to Deborah's back and the woman slumped onto the concrete. Her body was a grotesque heap of strangely contorted limbs all held up by the arm that was caught and dangling from the bike she had been carrying. A few stragglers stopped and turned to look at the spectacle with wide eyes and gaping mouths, as did a fresh group of commuters that had just made their way across the platform from the stairs. The four women could only watch helplessly as the train began to pull away, carrying them and their horrified faces away from their fallen companion. Death quietly let themself be engulfed into the growing crowd and eventually disappeared. They had work to do. After all, what was it that the humans often said? Those who weren't busy living were busy dying.
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