I'll say it right now, I grew up in a broken home. Dad drank. Mom drank. That might be why I've never touched a drop. But I'm getting on a tangent here.
Most of you already know where this story is going. Dad used to get drunk and blame mom and I for all his problems. Mom used to lock me in my room while he... while you knock what aggressive drunks do when they're upset. i'd say more often than not my mother's screams and my own sobs were what rocked me to sleep.
Then my mom started drinking and became numb to the whole thing. First dad kept hitting her and left me to cry in my room. I guess he got bored eventually. Three days after my fifth birthday dad came up to my room for the first time. He had never done that before. Mom had stopped him. He broke my nose that first night. We went to the hospital and I told the doctor I fell down the stairs. He seemed to believe me.
It was clockwork after that. Mondays dad worked late and we rested. Tuesday nights and Thursday nights he was at the bar until well after my bedtime. Wednesdays were the worst. Fridays were normally insults, an occasional slap. Weekends he drank himself to sleep around four in the afternoon. But Wednesdays. He'd come up to my room and do his business. It I blocked the door, it was a dozen rounds with the belt. If I cried, it was a slap for every tear. But if I was quiet and let his knuckles crack against my jaw and let him pull my short hair, I'd never have to make up stories at school. I was an adventurous boy and no one looked twice when my hands were scraped or I had a bruise on my cheek.
I lived for two years fearing that one night dad would hit me two hard and I'd end up with the angels. Death scared me. One Wednesday, I was sitting in the corner when I saw him. A tall man in my corner.
At first, I thought it was a woman. It looked like a black dress fell from a black face. I realized after a moment that it was a robe. A cloak, but I learned that word years later. I knew what I was looking at. I'd watched TV. I'd read books. I knew what Death was supposed to look like.
But I couldn't cry. Dad would come in. I'd get the belt and Death would take me away. But for all the pain in my life, I knew that I wanted to live.
That night I fell asleep on the floor, huddled in the corner of the room with a halo of moonlight coming from the window resting around my feet. Death simply stood in the darkest corner of my room, behind the door leading to the hall.
He was there every bad night after. Always Wednesdays. Some Fridays when dad was in his worst moods. Every night he got closer. After two months, he would sit on the toy box at the end of my bed, sitting with his back against the wall, turned sideways so I always caught the profile of the shadowy hood.
"Why are you here?" I asked him one night. He stared at me from the toy box, knees pressed against his chest and arms curled around his shins, almost a fetal position, though there was no fear in the position, just boredom.
"TO WATCH" He told me. I swallowed at those first words. I had expected a quiet rasp, like on TV. Death's voice was something more. It was a burly man's confident and strong. It was a caring mother's nurturing tone. a mad man laugh and a child's giggle. It disturbed and comforted me.
"To watch what?" I asked. He simply look at me. I saw his eyes for the first time that night. I had always expected soulless pit there. Instead, I found blue orbs in a bleached skull. Those orbs held galaxies, eternal and nonexistent. everything and nothing lived in the shadows of his cloak. Those contradictions comforted me.
"OVER YOU CHILD" Death responded. I had though he lied to me and I grew upset. I asked him why he never stopped my father.
"IT IS NOT MY PLACE TO INTERVENE." He told me. I asked him what he meant. He told me that he couldn't stop my father if he tried. He simply was there to guide me if my nightmare ever came true.
After that night, Death was more of a father to me in the way my own never was. The next week, he brought a thick leather bound book. Within were fairy tales, dark and light themes in countless languages. He told me stories in the voice of my grandmother, who died when I was four. When I got older, he stopped bringing the book. Stayed up until the crack of dawn talking. I asked him about the afterlife and why things were the way they were. He always answered vaguely, telling me that I'd understand one day. He stayed with me and comforted me until dawn peeked over my neighbor's roof. Then the sunlight would touch his black robe, turning it into blinding white. Then he was gone. He'd be back next week and I'd get ready for school. I never tired when Death spoke to me.
Life went on. When I was twelve, my doctor fixed my nose for the third time and started asking questions. Within three weeks I was taken from that home and put into an orphanage. In a Hollywood moment, my family doctor, who had heard about what had been happening from a friend at the hospital, adopted me. He and his wife had been trying for a child for years. They never did.
I lived a happy life after that. I never forgot what happened to me in my youth though. I followed in my "father's" footsteps and became a physician. Sadly jobs were tight and I took a role in the morgue. All those years around Death helped me work with my new job and I enjoyed it.
My heart broke when my "mother" was in an accident. I was the one who put the tag on her toe. I had to take the rest of the week off. But Death was there that day. He stood in the corner of the storage room when I closed the drawer. Holding his skeletal hand was a little girl with green eyes and chocolate hair. I had seen my mother's family pictures and knew this was her, around seven years old. It hurt me but Death nodded to me and I knew that he would take care of her.
In my lifetime, I've closed the drawer on four parents. Dad drove into a storefront while driving drunk. I had to leave the room when they wheeled him in. I would've spat on his cold husk of a body if I didn't. Mom drank herself into an early grave a year later. I pitied her when I closed the drawer. He had broken her soul and she died in pain. Though my mother left that morgue the same way my "mother" did, I still remember the screams when Death dragged my Dad through the floor, a red hot chain and metal collar strapped around his neck.
My father, the man that saved my life, died four years ago. He went quietly in his sleep. I volunteered to close the drawer on him. When I did, Death arrived and took a little boy with dark hair and blue eyes.
You may wonder why I'm writing this. In truth, I'm not quite sure myself. I guess I want to tell people not to fear Death. He's a gentle being with a crappy job. And he saved my life.
With the life he gave me, I've married, I've raised three children, two girls and a boy who look just like their mother. I have nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren with a third one the way. I lost my wife last year to a heart attack. It hurts me to think about it but I know she didn't fear Death. She knew my story, the one I'm telling you now. She went in her sleep, holding my hand.
As I write these final thoughts, I look to my window. Out there I see a figure in the street, snow blowing white on black robes. A moment ago I opened the window and invited him in. When you live as long as I have, you learn to treat a guest right.
Now he's standing in the corner, patient as the day I met him. When I'm done this I'm going to turn off my laptop, put the little girl he brought with him into my lap and close my eyes. My wife will close her brilliant blue eyes and rest her crimson locks on my chin. I'll take one breath and fall asleep. When I wake up, I'll be with my family. I'll see my mother and father again. I'll see my mom, happier than she was in life. I'll see the four dogs I've had in my lifetime too, hopefully.
"MORTIMER" Death calls from the corner. I sigh and type faster. If I can say one last thing, I'd like to quote Blue Oyster Cult:
"Don't Fear the Reaper" because after all, people are the real monsters.
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