Tea, Cakes, and Bones
The first time I ever encountered Death was two months ago in my grandfather’s retirement house in the small town of Desert Valley. Desert Valley is, as the name suggests, located in the valley of the desert. It is not your typical town, as I would soon find out. The residents kept the cemetery guarded by silver statues and would often check the time on their watch. They had a strange fear in their eyes, one that suggested that something--or perhaps someone--was keeping watch over them. I must point out that I do not think they are insane to have a belief, as I am not religious myself, but I did not understand why they felt very ritualistic about their actions. My grandfather, a recent resident, didn’t as well, but his terminal illness kept him from partaking in the rituals and get-togethers that many people would. The town itself was quaint, rustic, and rich with history of having a silver mine from its Western years. I wouldn’t call it a ghost town, as some of the old buildings had been torn down and replaced with a more modern-day look with some of the small town customs remaining the same.
Before sundown, one of the residents brought me over to the local library and pulled out one of the available books on the Grim Reaper. I wondered to ask if the rest supposedly worshiped the Grim Reaper like any other god over the world, but they had a fearful look in their eyes. Their faces appeared to be wan with dread, though it was presumably because they feared their form of a deity, but then I noticed that their wrists were wrapped up with gauze bandages. I didn’t question about it, nor did I want to. The moment I left the library in a hurry, I felt a strange surge of uncomfortableness in the back of my mind that caused my shoulders to shrug. I only shook the feeling off, not wanting to let this bother me badly. I returned to my grandfather’s retirement house to help tend to him, which was a ritual of its own, but one I was familiar with--my grandmother, his wife for many years, passed from the same illness he had, as I was helping tend to her.
On the stroke of 10:00 p.m., while old cartoons were playing on the cable TV in the living room, there was a knock on the door. It was a rather ominous knock, especially in the dead of night. My past experience with a person knocking on the door was rather a drug dealer trying to use my new house as a hideout from the police coming after them. Considering my first impression of the residents earlier that day, I thought that one of the residents were in need for some company for the night.
Outside of the door was a strange person, looking up through the peephole. This person had a doll face with black eyeliner and striking dark red lips, but there were no eyes to be seen. Then there was the very white hair with black streaks that resembled cracks and large goggles on top of their head, above the doll face. It was rather uncanny, but I had to open the door for them. Then I saw what the person looked like. This person in question appeared to be a young woman with her hair down to her shoulders in low pigtails. Then there was her outfit and it was quite jarring: she wore a dark gray strapless bikini top held back by a halter black strap with a buckle going straight across under her flat bust, small black shorts with a white belt holding it together, a pair of thigh-high fishnet stockings with black combat boots, and a pair of dark gray gloves with black leather fingerless gloves over them. What struck me odd the most about her was that she was more of a fleshed skeleton than an actual person and sported ghostly pale skin. The residents of the town dressed modestly and either sported tans from the sun, sunburns on their faces and arms, or had freckles, so this was a most unusual sight.
“Is Mister Bunny here?” The young woman asked rather innocently and politely with a tilt of her head, much to my surprise. She sounded youthful and friendly, a stark contrast to her peculiar appearance. Yet the one thing that made me grow doubtful of her was how she asked for my grandfather: his favorite nickname in his youth, as well as what my grandmother used to call him during their marriage, was “Mister Bunny”.
“Tell me who you are first,” I responded in a calm tone, hiding my surprise expression from her as she brought her head up.
“What, he didn’t tell you? My name is Missy, how do you do,” she spoke back with a light giggle.
“Okay…” I spoke under my breath, not knowing what brought her here in the first place. I presumed that she was lost. “How do you know who my grandfather is?”
“Correction: ‘was’,” Missy playfully replied, which I started to become a little spooked by that reply. “And yes, I do--he is my friend and I am his, as the other residents are also my friends, too. I love visiting them when they are home, though they never seem to open the door. That’s why I am here to come visit your grandfather, my friend. I am rather confused that he is not out here with you. Where is he, anyway? Please show me the way.”
I grew wary of this Missy girl. She looked as if she was 18 or 19, yet acted like a child. I was frankly confused by her mannerisms, but then again, it was nothing new in this town at all. So I showed her the way to where my grandfather was sleeping, and she seemed to follow close, but a little too close for my comfort. Inside of my grandfather’s room, Missy simply skipped over to his side and carefully held his hand. This caused him to wake up and look up to see that doll face looking down at him with a fake smile. I found this shockingly odd, as he had been sleeping more than the previous weeks. It also gave me a feeling of suspicion about this person, whoever--or whatever--she was.
“Who are you, and what brings you here to my house?” Grandfather asked her in a confused voice as if he was still healthy.
The young woman simply giggled before lightly rubbing his thinned head with her other gloved hand before answering to him, again innocent, “Hello, my friend. Haven’t you forgotten your appointment? You’ve made quite the reservation, Mister Bunny, wanting to stay home for your final days instead of a retirement house or a hospital. I did tell you that I was going to visit you tonight, wasn’t I? After all, Missy G.G. never forgets an appointment nor has a client cancel one.”
My grandfather only frowned before looking away and down at his lap, flabbergasted by her words. He had the courage to speak to her once he looked back at her again.
“You do have a point,” he could only respond back to her quietly as he gave her a light chuckle and a youthful grin, “I simply forgot about your visit.”
I couldn’t tell behind Missy’s doll face if she was peeved by his forgetfulness or amused by his response, but the only thing that I could do for now was to watch.
“Anyway, shall we have some tea? I brought cubes and bags,” the young woman offered to my grandfather in a cheerful tone, to which he smiled to her in acceptance of her offer.
Then my grandfather pointed Missy to where the kitchen was before he asked me to put the kettle on the stove for hot water. It confused me at first, but something brought me to go downstairs and to put water on for the stove. What confused me more, however, was the way that my grandfather was acting. In the previous days, he could barely eat anything that was made into liquids or even sit up by his own or even talk. Once the water in the kettle boiled, I poured the hot water into a white mug for my grandfather and a tall, lean purple mug for Missy before bringing it up to the room.
It was at tea, as I would be quick to observe, that Missy poured in contents from a small packet and placed two sugar cubes into my grandfather’s tea. In this conversation, the young woman had pulled up a nearby chair and sat down, just holding the mug in her hands. Not once did she ever take a sip, nor did she put any flavor or even sugar cubes in her cup, of her tea. Instead, she only asked mundane questions to my grandfather and listened to every story that he told her. What I noticed next was unexpected: normally, my grandfather’s memory would be faded with each day of the illness, but here, he explained every event of his life in incredible detail. One thing I caught upon was, when Missy asked him about his love life, my grandfather would only reminisce with a soft smile spread across his face about the only one he married: my grandmother, and even told her that he would rather wait to see her again than remarry. I never knew this detail before, as he never did bring it up after her passing. Strangely enough, however, the conversation felt one-sided as Missy never once told him about herself nor got to share some of her own stories as well.
After a while, my grandfather finished his tea and placed his mug down with caution before laying back against the pillows and returning to sleep. Missy only stood up and took her mug when she walked away. As soon as I was about to follow her, she was already down the stairs, so I hurried down and approached her. She must have heard me when she stopped and turned around to see me again, with her posture being inquisitive.
“I needed to ask you something real quick before you leave,” I spoke to her, unexpected to look at nothing from where her eyes would have been at. “Is this going to be your only time here?”
“No, I’m returning tomorrow night--I visit for three nights before I make my departure,” Missy corrected me with a shake of her head, causing her pigtails to move with her head, “Tonight is Tea Night. Tomorrow night is Cakes Night.”
“What is ‘Cakes Night’?” I asked as she was starting to leave.
But she giggled and departed through the entry way without an answer, and I was left to wonder about what she said. Upon her departure, the clock chimed as 10:15 p.m., though to me, it felt longer with the old cartoons off of the TV and only static that had appeared on the screen. That’s when I had a strange feeling in my gut that there was something definitely going on, but I needed to keep calm about it. So I simply turned over for the night to forget about that strange feeling.
The next day, while my grandfather was still asleep, I took his mug and sent it up to the local scientist’s office in a neighbor town to see if there was something in there that Missy put during what she called “Tea Night” in the shape of sugar cubes. As they were speaking to a student from the adjacent high school, I waited with the coffee mug in my hand until they were finished. They saw me and greeted me casually before seeing the coffee mug in my hand and slipping into a confused frown on their face; but they took the coffee mug from my hand carefully and examined it. That’s when they told me that there were traces of arsenic within the mug and there was no doubt that my heart dropped at their words. Was Missy attempting to poison my grandfather with her tea? I feared the worst and had nothing to say, just in shock about what was going on. Yet I was hesitant to tell them about Missy herself, since I wasn’t sure if they or the residents of this town were like the other residents of Desert Valley.
The following night, at the stroke of 10:00 p.m., I waited for the young woman to return as I kept an eye on the door. I had a resistance to not check the watch often, but I found myself checking the time frequently. First 10:05 passed, then 10:10 passed, then 10:15, 10:20, and finally 10:30 passed. No Missy came to the door. I wondered if she was late, especially during this time of night. My body began to shake with anxiety that she would not return as assured, especially as to why she put arsenic in my grandfather’s tea. I began to ask myself as to why would someone give another arsenic in their beverage, especially if the person being poisoned in question elderly and with a family member in the same room. I wanted to ask her this, but a part of my mind told me that she would rather make an excuse about it. Still, I had to wait to see if she would show up again like the previous night.
Then 10:35 passed, then 10:40, 10:45, 10:50, and finally 10:55. Still no sign of Missy, so I got out of my seat of the couch and started to make my way back to my room for some rest. Just as I took one step onto the stairs, after the stroke of 11:00 p.m., I heard two knocks on the door and turned my head to it. Then I made my way over to the main door and looked into the peephole. Just as expected, Missy had returned to visit my grandfather and perhaps attempt to poison him again.
“Hello again, my friend,” she greeted to me again in that same playful tone to me before moving to head to the stairs to climb up. “I kept my word and said that I would return. Now then, I need to visit Mister Bunny.”
“Just one question before you go up and visit my grandfather,” I spoke to her firmly, stopping her from going up the stairs, then I asked her, “Why did you put arsenic in my grandfather’s tea last night?”
“You call it arsenic, I call it sugar,” Missy explained to me somewhat nonchalantly with her hands behind her back as if she was innocent, “It all tastes the same if you ask me. If you’re wondering why I put it in your grandfather’s tea, then I won’t give you an obvious answer because he’s told me that you don’t hold secrets in for too long after someone has told you a secret. Therefore, I won’t tell you because it is a secret. You simply need to figure that one out. Now then, it’s Cakes Night, and Mister Bunny is waiting for me to visit him a second time. I don’t want him to keep him hanging.”
I tried to speak, but Missy already made her swift leave upstairs to my grandfather’s room to visit him, much to my bafflement.
In the room, Missy and my grandfather began to discuss over cakes. I was frankly surprised that the cakes were not decorated in a morbid fashion—instead, they were pink and white with frosted rabbit ears sticking out from the top. I was still suspicious after Missy had put arsenic in my grandfather’s tea, so I asked her for a cake to bring it in for a test with the scientist.
“Goodness me! I only brought two cakes for the evening,” Missy exclaimed, again in a playful manner, with her gloved hand over her “mouth”. “If you asked for a cake yesterday, I would have made sure to bring three and not two.” Then she asked me in a rather strange tone, one that was less innocent and more suspicious, mirroring my own, “Ah, but is that why you wanted a cake? Are you going to accuse me of attempting to poison your grandfather? You did ask me why I put arsenic in your grandfather’s tea last night, yes. But when your grandfather doesn’t trust you with secrets, neither will I.”
My grandfather looked over at me with a confused look on his face before resuming the conversation with Missy, almost as if what she had asked me never happened. But she fed him his cake as he, again, got to tell her more of his events that happened in his life in pitch-perfect detail. And again, she only held her own cake, never once take a bite out of it, as she listened to him and asked him more questions. At one point, my grandfather mentioned in a wistful way on how he has always wanted to see his childhood pet named Easter Island again when he leaves for the afterlife. This made me surprised yet again, being that he never once talked about having a pet before, especially one by the name of “Easter Island”. Yet this little piece of information caused Missy to tilt her head to the side in a curious manner, which made me unnerved by the idea that, behind that doll face, she could be smiling.
After a while, like the previous visit, my grandfather was finished with his cake before giving his plate to Missy, who accepted it just as he had fallen back asleep. Just as I got up and walked over to check for the smell of bitter almonds in his mouth, Missy was already gone. It took a quick moment to realize that she was already descending down the stairs, so I followed suit of her. Again, she stopped when she heard me and then turned to see me. Or at least I hope she was actually looking at me.
“You were going to ask if I was going to be returning tomorrow, weren’t you?” She asked me in an innocent yet mocking tone to me, though it was close to mocking than innocent. Then she added with her hands behind her bony back, “Rest assured, I will return tomorrow night for my final visit, my friend.”
“Quick question: why do you call me ‘my friend’ as if we’ve met before?” I asked her, hoping to get an honest answer from her.
“Who’s to say we have met before?” Missy retorted in an unusual aloof tone, almost as if she wasn’t playful or even cheerful as before.
With her rather cold response, she then walked away before leaving the retirement house without any second thoughts. It took me a while to snap back into reality when I saw the time to be 11:15 on the grandfather clock, though my own watch didn’t show the time itself. That really made me unnerved by her presence, something that didn’t happen before.
The next day, while my grandfather was asleep, I quickly swabbed the inside of his mouth to find a lone piece of Missy’s cake that was still left inside of his mouth and took it to the scientist for examination. They tested the contents and soon found that the cake had a higher concentration of arsenic, higher than the tea. They then asked me, in a shocked and disbelieved tone, if I was trying to poison my grandfather. I told them about the previous two nights about the young woman, giving them a description of Missy, but they told me that they haven’t seen anyone with this description. I was certain that I would be determined to prove her existence. Then I remembered the last time I went to the library and headed there again, this time with an idea to look for. I went through various accounts of different encounters with the Grim Reaper from over the years, the oldest one I could find coming from around the Black Plague, where each description followed a pattern and jotted down notes about this pattern. Three nights in a row visited by a cloaked figure with their hood down and a scythe held by black clad gloves, with the person seeming to go mad from each visit. Much like what was going on with me, don’t you agree?
The following night, I waited for her arrival with my camera with shaking hands in anticipation, knowing that she keeps true to her word. I kept watch on the clock, waiting for Missy to return. Yet I was determined to find out what tonight brings for my grandfather from this young woman, especially if she isn’t who she says she is. I could go mad from the idea, I don’t care. On the stroke of midnight, there were three slow and ominous knocks on the door, much like the previous two nights before. I slowly got up from the couch and walked over to the door, seeing her through the peephole again. This time, her doll face looked worn out and more cracked than before.
When I opened the door for her, her posture was far different than her previous visits. It was a rather uncomfortable feeling that I had from looking at her, as she had a more cold and dark presence than before. Just as I let her in, that’s when I noticed an object gripped in her gloved hand and grew afraid right then and there. Based on the object’s appearance, she was holding what looks like a sniper rifle with what appears to be an attached suppressor. I didn’t want to believe it at first.
“Missy, why do you have a rifle?” I asked her in a quiet voice with a sick feeling in my stomach at seeing the firearm.
“I believe you were referring to my scythe,” she corrected me in a passive tone.
Then I felt my heart drop and my body turn into fire when she mentioned “scythe”, realizing why she had been visiting my grandfather for the previous two nights. That’s why the people of Desert Valley feared her the most; that’s why she had been attempting to poison my grandfather; that’s why she was jarringly cheerful about visiting my grandfather again. She was no murderer or devious trickster--she really was the Reaper.
“Now then, if you will pardon me, I need to finish my job,” Missy politely spoke to me before making her way to my grandfather’s room with the sniper rifle in her hands.
I tried to protest, but it felt as if my voice was gone, even with attempts to scream out to her not to go. The only thing I could do was to try and stop her, but when I went after her, she had already made it to the door of my grandfather’s room, going inside and closing the door. When I tried to knock on the door, I was held back from banging my fist on the door in a frantic panic and the same feeling prevented me from grabbing the door handle to try and pry the door open by force. Then I knew that I had to listen to get an idea of what was going on inside. The only sounds that I could hear through the door were whispers and, after a few seconds, a pair of thumps in unison. After a while, the door finally opened again, revealing Missy with her goggles on over her doll face and her rifle drawing out gun smoke as she walked out of the room with a satisfied strut down the stairs.
The only thought that I had was to see what has happened to my grandfather, but the sight of a large hole in the middle of his forehead with his eyes closed almost made me faint. It was uncanny because there was no blood that was dripping down from that hole, though it would have been far worse than I thought it might be. Now one question remained: what will she do now? My grandfather is dead and she has completed her three days of visiting him. Just as I was about to approach her, Missy stopped in her tracks and made a slow and ominous turn to me once more, those empty eyes staring at me.
Then I watched as she placed her scythe down, put her goggles back on the top of her head, and removed the doll face off of her face, revealing black eyes with dark eyeliner stains going down her face and a stitched up Glasgow grin reaching to her ears. This sight shocked me in particular with a shiver down my spine, as her face resembled much like my grandmother in her youth. I didn’t try pinching myself because I knew that I was not dreaming at all.
“Who are you?” I finally asked her with a choke in my throat.
“The very thing you mortals fear the most: Death,” Missy answered in a sincere tone, her expression cold and stoic, “The most natural aspect of Life and the only one humans cannot avoid, no matter how hard they tried to find a way to create their own Fountain of Youth. Yes, I’ve seen how you all mutilate yourselves to make yourselves ageless--” She hissed this with a sneer. “--without knowing what the future will bring. But in the end, age cannot be slowed down or stopped for anyone. It’s natural, my friend.”
“What about my grandfather? How come he didn’t wake up when I was with him?” I asked again, this time feeling as if I was demanding an answer with a raised voice.
“There’s a little secret that I like to have when it comes to my visits and it’s common--and that is a ‘dead conversation’,” she answered to me, a sinister grin coming to her face to reveal a bright yellow jagged set of teeth, “Your grandfather was never awake when he spoke with me. He was already on the verge of dying when Missy Grim-Grin was visiting him. The tea and cakes really were filled with arsenic like you suspected, but they were not meant to poison him--they were to numb his senses for when I take his soul. All it took was for a little pinch of manipulation and assuring to make sure that he wouldn’t have to notice the bitter almonds scent. And here is a little secret, my friend. The conversations that we’re having here is also a ‘soulful conversation’. Withdraw my presence from this, you’re simply staring off into space and feeling the whole room spin around you like a merry-go-round broken down.”
I was left without words from this. Missy is… Missy is… I couldn’t describe what she is out of fear that she would hear my thoughts and say that I would accuse her of being a monster. Would I consider her as a monster if I accuse of Death being a monster? Even her face resembling my grandmother’s youthful face came into question. What does she really look like in the dark? Am I seeing things? My body shook with fear--the same fear that the residents had been feeling.
“Now that my visits are complete, I will leave you be, my friend,” Missy then explained to me in a grim expression, her voice turning dark and her eyes turning a bloody crimson when she leaned to me with widened eyes in a ghastly form, “But do not think I won’t return for you soon.” The only thing I did was nod and took a few steps back from her out of fear that she would come forward.
With those bleak words, Missy turned her body from me with her attention kept on mine, her smile fading into a frown before putting her doll face back on and then exiting into the night. The only motion I made from her leave was falling to my knees and slumping my head down to the ground in pure confusion and shock. By the time I came back to my senses, it was already 6:39 in the morning and my final day in Desert Valley. The batteries on the camera were already dead by the time I got to check on any possible footage of what had happened with me and Missy, but no such luck occurred.
Ever since my return to my own home, I now live a life of daily rituals: checking the time frequently, waking up in endless nights in cold sweats, and fearing the days that Missy would return into my life and then reap it. I now live in the life that I didn’t know that would be possible: the life of paranoia that haunted the residents of Desert Valley. Every time I receive a knock on the door, I tense up in fear that Missy kept true to my word. My neighbors feared that the desert sun has made me rather unhinged after I returned and even attempted to call the police a few times to help calm the situation down. There were nights where I find myself unexpectedly brandishing a kitchen knife in my hand, even without knowing if I picked it up for now.
I believe this is a good time to stop. This completes my account of my first encounter with Death for now. I promise to rest well and update on my condition soon. Now I need to find some gauze bandages for my wrists.