The hooded figure made his way slowly through the black abyss, humming softly to himself as he headed toward his next appointment. This will be an interesting one… He thought with a small chuckle. There was a special case he’d had his eye on for several years, and the woman whose soul he’d come to collect had been right in the middle of it all.
The Ainsworths had become a great source of amusement to him over the years. Watching their futile attempts at resurrecting the Magee girl had been quite entertaining, and given him more than a few laughs each time he checked-in on their pathetic little lives. What silly mortals… Death thought, shaking his head. If only their simple minds could understand.
He continued floating forward, and before long, a pale, transparent figure came into view out in the distance. Ah, right on schedule. Death smiled to himself and watched as the woman looked around nervously, surveying her surroundings.
She appeared unsure, and almost afraid. He sensed the frantic thoughts that rushed her mind – worry for Lucas and Krystina, sorrow at having to leave them behind, and fear of what sort of fate may lie ahead of her.
He continued watching, eager for what would come next. And then, very slowly, her lips began stretching into a smile. Death could feel the waves of happiness and relief radiating from her. There was no more weakness, or discomfort, or pain. She felt strong. She felt healthy. She truly felt like herself again, for the first time in years.
Death’s own smile widened at the sight. This was always one of his favorite parts – the realization that their mortal pain and suffering had finally come to an end. Why doesn’t anyone understand? He wondered. I’m doing these humans a favor. I’m giving them a gift. Why am I always the bad guy?
Was it so terrible to find some enjoyment in what he did? Take a little pride in his work? Have a little fun once in a while? They think they’re so smart. They think they understand… Death sighed. But they have no idea.
He floated toward her, and raised a hand in greeting. “Melanie Ainsworth.” He said with a hint of amusement. “A pleasure to finally meet you.”
It was a moment before the woman found her voice. “You… You know who I am?”
Death chuckled softly. “My dear, I know everything.” He replied with a smile she could not see.
The woman did not immediately reply. “So… what happens now?” She asked nervously. “Where will you take me?”
“Follow me.” He replied. “And you’ll see.”
He floated away then, with Melanie following close behind. Death silently enjoyed looking into her simple mortal mind as they continued onward, and carefully sifted through her thoughts, as he always did with each new soul he reaped. Hmm… clever mind. He thought to himself, fascinated. Or at least, clever for a human. And a kind heart, too.
The Ainsworth boy had made a good choice, it seemed. Death could still vaguely recall how beautiful she’d once been in her youth. Yes, a very good choice… He laughed softly to himself.
“What’s so funny?” A soft voice asked nervously from behind him.
“Nothing, nothing.” He shook his head as they came to a stop at the edge of the darkness. “Ah, here we are.” With a simple wave of his hand, a large section of the blackness seemed to melt away, revealing a blinding white passageway on the other side.
The ghostly woman beside him hesitated. “So… this is it?” She asked. Her voice trembled slightly as she spoke
He nodded slowly. Why are they always so terrified? Death wondered, amused. “We’re almost there.” He explained. “Come.”
Together, he and the woman passed over the threshold and into the light.
They emerged on the other side on a tiny dirt path surrounded by tall trees and colorful flowers. The sky above was a perfect shade of blue and a cool, gentle breeze floated softly through the still and peaceful air. Death recognized their surroundings immediately. Typical… He shook his head. No imagination! The hooded figure stopped for a few moments, giving the soul he accompanied a chance to adjust to her surroundings.
He turned to glance at Melanie, now restored to her former youth and beauty, with a solid form once more. Her eyes widened in amazement as she looked down at her young and healthy body, then up at the blue sky and fluffy clouds up above.
“Woah… This is incredible!” She breathed.
“Yes, it’s very nice.” Death replied without emotion. How many millions of times had he had the same conversation before? Some days, he truly loved his job. And others, he wondered what he had ever done to be cursed with such a dull, monotonous existence. Today seemed to slowly be shifting to the latter.
Melanie appeared uncertain for a moment as her brown eyes glanced at the empty field of grass around them. “But… where is everyone?” She asked. “I mean, my grandmother, my in-laws, Caroline, Christian…” She muttered with a small shrug. “I figured they’d be here waiting for me.”
“I’m sure they are.” Death said. “But we have a little further to go before we reach the drop-off point. That’s where you’ll find your little welcoming party.” He explained. “We’ll be there soon.”
“Oh.” Melanie replied, her face lighting up a bit. “Well that’s a relief.” She smiled. “I guess the only thing missing is Evelyn… I was kind of hoping we’d run into her on the way here… So I could say goodbye.”
“Oh, don’t worry.” Death laughed. “You’ll be seeing her sooner than you think.”
The woman raised an eyebrow at him. “What are you talking about?”
Death sighed. Maybe not quite as clever as I’d thought… “She’ll be joining you soon.” He explained. “After all these years, she’s finally ready… Once she’s done helping out that husband of yours, of course.” He added. “But I don’t think it will be much longer.”
“Ready?” Melanie’s eyes widened. “Y-you mean ready to… ‘move on’, or whatever you call this?”
“But that’s not what she wants!” Melanie insisted. “It never has been!” The woman shook her head. “Look, I don’t know her all that well, okay? But my husband does. And believe me, that’s never been what she wanted.”
She paused for a moment, as though a realization had suddenly struck her. “You must know that! You’re the one who told Lucas about the cure in the first place…” Her eyes widened suddenly. “And then you turned around and lied to him! You tried to sabotage him! And now you’re doing it again!”
For the first time in a long time, Death could feel himself losing his temper. “That’s right, I know exactly what she wanted.” He replied, a dark edge to his tone as he spoke. “And I also know exactly why she never deserved it, and why I could never let that husband of yours give it to her.” Death shook his head, disgusted. “You silly humans think you know everything… Haven’t you ever wondered why I left her behind in the first place? Weren’t any of you clever enough to figure it out?” Of course, he already knew the answer.
Melanie said nothing and merely stared at him, waiting.
Guess I have to spell it out for her… Death sighed softly in annoyance.
“Look.” He began. “Let me tell you all about your little friend Evelyn. Cute kid, lots of talent, apple of her parents’ eye, yadda yadda…” He waved a scaly grey hand dismissively. “But so selfish… Everything was always about her, and what she wanted…” Death shook his head. “Bit of a brat, if you ask me.”
The woman looked at him questioningly. “Are you sure we’re talking about the same Evelyn?” She asked skeptically.
He nodded. “Now, don’t get me wrong… I never said she was a bad person.” Death continued. “Not at all. Friendly, good sense of humor, always kind to everyone she met – But she wasn’t doing it for anyone else’s benefit. Not really. She’d do a good deed and expect some kind of recognition in return; She’d lend a helping hand, but only if it was convenient for her… You get the idea. Always putting herself first, even when she didn’t realize it.”
“But she was just a kid.” Melanie replied, her tone defensive. “Who isn’t a little selfish at her age?”
“No one.” Death agreed. “And maybe I could have let it slide…” He shrugged. “But after that horrible fire, when she was waiting there in the darkness, just like you were… That was what sealed the deal.”
“What are you talking about?”
Death sighed in annoyance. I really have to explain everything to these people, don’t I?
“It’s almost always the same – I look into your simple little minds, and it’s the same worries over and over again – ‘Oh no, what about my family?’ ‘Will they be okay?’ ‘Can they move on without me?’ Blah, blah, blah…” He shook his head. “But not Evelyn.”
“She’d just watched her own parents die before her eyes, in the very same fire that had taken her life too. And do you know what her first thoughts were? ‘This isn’t fair!’ ‘What about everything I wanted to do?’ ‘Now I’ll never get to live my life!’” He almost laughed.
“It was still all about her… Can you believe it?! She didn’t even think about her parents at all until after I’d left her! If that’s not selfish, I don’t know what is…” Death shook his head. “So I decided she’d stay behind, and hopefully learn a little lesson…”
“And that’s where your precious Lucas comes in.” He continued. “For the first few years, I was a little worried, I’ll admit it. She didn’t do very much, just sit in the darkness and mope around all day – how boring!” Death chuckled.
“But then, as luck would have it, my, uh… ‘higher-ups’ told me about a little boy who’d be needing a lot of help. And he just so happened to be moving into Evelyn’s old house… What better way for Miss Magee to learn her lesson than by helping someone else? Even if she didn’t always realize it…”
Death smirked, though he knew she could not see it. “And she was actually doing a pretty good job of it, at first – She kept him from running away from home, helped him gain enough confidence to make new friends, taught him to stick up for himself when he was being teased… It was all going great, until that boy got started on all this nonsense about bringing her back… And then he fell in love with her!” Death shook his head. “That was never part of the plan… Why the big guy gave you mortals so much free will, I’ll never understand…” He sighed. “So I had to put an end to it all, in whatever way I could.” The hooded figure shrugged.
“And cruel as it may seem, I had good reason – Evelyn still had plenty of growing up to do, and Lucas, well… Fate had other plans for him… and for you too, my dear.” His smile widened beneath his hood.
“You know what they always say about butterflies and hurricanes… Would the two of you ever have met if it weren’t for Evelyn? Would your daughter ever have been born? Of course not! None of it would have been possible if he’d managed to bring her back to life.” He explained. “And it certainly wouldn’t have been possible if they’d stayed together either.”
“The romance fizzled out well enough on its own… But as for the rest, well, that’s where my little lie came in.” Death continued. “The Magee girl had played her part in Lucas’ life… He needed to take what she’d given him and move on — live the life fate had planned for him.” He spoke very slowly and deliberately, as though explaining something to a child. “And little Evelyn needed to learn to let go… Yet another step on her path to redemption, you see?”
Melanie was simply staring at him as he spoke, saying nothing. Death paused, taking a moment to peer inside her mind. He could see all the jumbled memories of conversations she’d had with Lucas about his past with Evelyn. Death watched with interest as she pieced the thoughts together, forming a puzzle of sorts in her mind.
There may be hope for this one after all. He realized happily as he watched her slowly begin to understand.
“But you know it didn’t just end with that husband of yours.” Death continued. “Evelyn helped your daughter too, in more ways than she may even realize… She even helped you.” He added. “Remember that nice little heart-to-heart chat? That was what did it.” The figure said simply.
“That’s what proved it. She’d been doing quite a bit of maturing over the years, I must say… Moving on from a lost love will do that, don’t you agree?” Death wished she could see his sly wink. “But when she said that Lucas should bring you back… When she offered to give up her chance at a second life for you? That’s what I knew that she’d finally done it… And it only took about eighty years.” He added with a laugh.
Death studied Melanie’s face as he finished, and watched as the final pieces fell into place.
The woman did not speak for a long time. “So… all this time, all your tricks and lies… Were actually helping them?” Melanie paused, her brow furrowed in thought. “So they could help each other?” A look of understanding had slowly crept its way onto her face.
He nodded. “Mostly without even realizing it.” Death laughed softly. “But it all worked out so perfectly… You silly mortals always say that ‘everything happens for a reason’… Sometimes I wonder if you even realize how true it really is.” He shook his head.
“And now… After all that… You’re just going to take her away?”
Death shrugged. “Of course. She’s earned it!”
To his surprise, the woman’s face suddenly contorted into an angry scowl. “No she hasn’t.” She said darkly. “She’s earned getting her life back! Don’t just stand there and tell me this was all for nothing!”
“Of course it wasn’t!” He replied defensively. “Haven’t you been listening to a word I’ve said?”
“I have.” Melanie replied, her anger still rising. “And I can buy most of what you told me… But do you seriously think that after everything Evelyn’s gone through – and everything Lucas has gone through too – that this is what they deserve?!”
“There has to be a way to bring her back.” Melanie interrupted. “That old woman wouldn’t have helped us otherwise… She seemed so sure that there was really a way… And you need to help Lucas and Evelyn find it. Do you understand?!” She was nearly shouting, and her tone had suddenly become almost threatening.
For this first time in centuries, Death felt truly flabbergasted. How dare she speak to me this way?! “I knew I should never have let that old hag interfere…” He muttered under his breath.
“So you know her?”
“Of course I do… And you sound just like her right now.” Death shook his head as he recalled their conversation. “That crazy old bat’s spent too many centuries living with you mortals…”
“I don’t understand what the problem is.” Melanie sighed softly as she spoke. “Maybe she didn’t deserve it before, because she was selfish. I get that… But you said it yourself – she’s changed! She’s better now… And she made my family better too.” The woman paused, the anger slowly fading from her face. Her voice was softer now. Pleading, almost. “Evelyn’s sat by for so long, watching Lucas and Krystina live their lives… Doesn’t she deserve a chance to live hers too?”
Against his better judgement, Death decided to give the woman a chance. He paused and considered Melanie’s words for a few moments, and probed gently into her mind, watching her argument take shape in a way her words could not quite convey. And, difficult as it was to admit, she made a few valid points.
He found himself reminded of his long talk with the old woman just a few years earlier, after the boy had caught the angelfish at last. Could the old bat have been right? Am I being too hard on these foolish mortals? He wondered. He and Gaia had been at odds for eons… But despite it all, he still had a certain respect for the woman.
“Oh, Thanatos…” She’d said gently. “I held up my end of the bargain. Can’t you hold up yours? Be reasonable!”
It was true – She’d agreed to help stall them for as long as she could… And only later did he learn why.
Back when this all began, he’d promised her that, if she helped stall their progress on finding the cure, he would help the girl as soon as her unfinished business was complete. The old woman had been quite disheartened to learn exactly what Death’s idea of “help” really was.
But now that the moment had finally come – Now that the girl had finally learned her lesson, and done all she could to help this boy and his family… Death wasn’t so sure. Maybe I should let them try it… This could turn out to be pretty interesting, actually… He almost laughed out loud in amusement as the thought crossed his mind.
It was several more moments before he finally spoke again. “Alright.” He said at last. “I’ll level with you.” Death shook his head. The years sure are making me soft… “There’s one more step to creating the cure. That’s why that husband of yours has been failing… He doesn’t have everything he needs.” He confessed.
“I knew it!” Melanie cried. “We had to be missing something… Please. Please, you have to tell Lucas the truth.” She was practically begging now. The sight amused him greatly.
“I suppose I can…” Death said slowly. “But this isn’t going to be easy. You must know that.”
Melanie just smiled. “My husband has sacrificed so much for this already. He can do it.” She assured him. “This will mean the world to him… To both of them.”
Death paused with a slow, deep breath. “Alright, alright… I guess I can’t resist a pretty face…” He paused. “I’ll have a chat with your husband.”
He could feel the relief and joy radiating from her at his words. “Thank you.” Melanie said seriously.
“Don’t thank me yet.” A sly, hidden smile came to his lips. “I haven’t even done anything…” Death beckoned her closer. “And like I said, it will be difficult.” He explained. “But Lucas is actually much closer than you think…”
The woman eyed him curiously as Death finally revealed the missing piece to the puzzle her husband had been working for so long to solve…