This was one of the stories I wrote for a college class. It has yet to be edited, so I’ll post the edited version later. (:
In a faraway village there lived a freckled-face girl. She wasn’t particularly extraordinary. She had a family, a home, a garden. She was satisfied with life. The village was her home, and no matter how many times the older neighbor boys teased about her carrot hair, she meant every word when she said she’d never leave.
It was only a day later that the silhouetted stranger on horseback appeared. No one knew who he was, where he came from. However, the girl called him by name.
“Why hello, Death,” she said with a half-smile.
Death lowered his head draped behind a black hood. “Hello.”
The girl was alone in her garden, plucking the small weeds threatening to choke her potato plants. She wiped her hands on her white apron. “What are you doing all the way out here? Memphis is still a few hours ride north.”
“I’m not going to Memphis,” Death responded carefully, lowering himself down from the saddle of his black steed. The horse pawed the ground, anxious.
He stepped toward her.
She didn’t move.
“Well, I can put on the tea if you’d like–” she began.
“No. No tea,” he interrupted. He noticed brown streaks of what were once trails of tears across her pale cheeks. “Why have you been crying?”
The girl released a deep breath, and trying to appear strong, swallowed. “Father forgot…” her face sagged unsuccessfully like crumpled wrapping paper. “Father forgot,” she tried again, “to kiss me goodbye.”
Death snorted. “Aren’t you a bit old…” he paused upon seeing her lip tremble. Humans confused him; although he never had a father, he couldn’t imagine wanting to love someone. Instead of continuing, he pointed to her apron. “You smudged dirt on the front of your dress.”
She looked down and sighed. Where she had wiped her hands was a perfect line of black earth. “What a pity. This was my new apron.”
“Where is your father?” Death asked.
The girl opened her mouth to speak, but paused. “He just left for town. He won’t be back for some time. What business do you have with him?”
“It’s a personal matter,” Death said.
“I’m his daughter. He tells me everything.”
A curious smirk lined the mouth of Death. “Are you sure about that, little one? Everything?”
The girl was offended. “Little? I’ll have you know I’m the tallest in my school class. Or at least one of the tallest. I’m taller than Emma-Lou!”
Death held up his hands in defense. “My apology. I didn’t mean to make you mad. Compared to me you are very little, though.”
The girl huffed and changed the subject. “Will you come and sit with me? I’d love the company. My mother is off at the market with James.”
“James?” Death asked, allowing the girl to lead him toward the door of the humble wooden house.
“My younger brother. He is only two.”
The girl sighed. “Are you sure you’re not on your way to Memphis? There’s not much here. Father may not want to see you.”
“Unfortunately, my business cannot wait,” Death said a bit quietly. “I’ll be on my way to Memphis soon enough.”
The girl’s eyes sparkled and she looked up at him, now only a few inches away. “Really? Well, when you do get there, can you tell Cousin Robert hello for me? I miss him.”
Death nodded. “I shall. I believe I may have business with him, too.”
They reached the front door and the girl twisted the knob. Inside was a perfectly cozy home with perfect seating, perfect beds, and a perfect fireplace. Though he said he hadn’t wanted any, the girl poured her guest tea and set the glasses at the table. When returning the kettle to the fire, the girl’s shoulders slumped.
“Are you here to take my father?”
Death sipped his tea, and looked up at her from behind the porcelain cup. “On the contrary.”
The girl looked beyond Death. She saw something, but he hadn’t a clue what. Nothing could, or should, scare Death, but her piercing eyes, smiling with a disbelief of mystery, chilled whatever human was left of him.
A few minutes later with the girl who had strangely gone silent, the rumble of a wooden carriage trembled over loose pebbles outside. The child, expecting her mother and younger brother, stood casually from her seat next to the fire and went to the door to greet them. However, her stained face turned bright when instead she caught glimpse of her father stepping down from his cart.
“Papa!” she yelled happily, rushing out to meet him. They had only been parted a few minutes, but to Death, it seemed that they hadn’t seen each other in a lifetime. The older man, dressed in a well-worn shirt and overalls, held out his arms as the child smashed into his chest. With a painful laugh, the daughter wiped forgotten tears from her eyes. “You didn’t kiss me goodbye.”
“Yes, my sun,” he said kneeling next to her, an even larger grin plastered to his lips. With an apologetic crinkle under his eyes, he touched her damp face. No bullets had hit him so hard than his daughter’s tears. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
The daughter sniffed, and without hesitation, forgave him.
The father, not taking away his grasp on the daughter, finally noticed the guest in black who had curiously made his way to the doorway. His eyes fell back to the girl nervously.
“Oh,” she said, remembering her manners, “we have a guest. He wanted to talk to you, Father.”
“Where is your mother? And James?” His tone frightened her slightly.
“At the market buying medicine.”
His face relaxed a little. “Good.” There was a moment of silence as the father heaved himself back up to his feet. “Now, go put away the horse while I talk to our… guest.”
“But, won’t you still be going to town? Mother says you still need–”
“I’m afraid my journey has been delayed,” he spoke softly, but sternly. “The horse. Go.”
Death watched in amazement as the girl obeyed without second thought. She led the white gelding away, only looking back once. Her eyes scorched Death with the same mystery he had told himself to forget. She didn’t see him. She saw something else, something that, and he thought he had gone crazy, made her smile.
Her gaze left only when she disappeared behind the wall. Death relaxed and watched as the father weakly scraped his boots through the dirt toward him. Though it was appropriate to say that he looked like his daughter physically, Death knew instantly that the older man did not share her courage—or perhaps it was insanity.
The man wobbled uneasily on his feet. Death didn’t move as he attempted to squeeze by in the doorway, very aware of the danger he was in. Stories about accidentally touching Death were not unfamiliar to the village. With a smirk, the father finally succeeded and sat in the chair next to the fireplace.
He motioned Death over.
“You must know why I’m here,” Death spoke, stepping purposely on a squeaky floorboard. It was the only flaw he had discovered in the home.
“Yes,” the man whispered, as if admitting to a sin. “I looked in the mirror for the first time in five years yesterday. My own father died younger. But I have a family. Two children under ten years old. How will my wife survive?”
Death stared at the porcelain cup the girl had offered him, only half empty on the table. He would have tried to drink the rest if it hadn’t gone cold. “I’m not here for you.”
But, perhaps it would have been better that he’d taken him instead.
The father’s eyes grew wide. “No. No.” He shook his head slowly at first, a pendulum of a grandfather clock, before it grew more chaotic and fearsome that Death was sure it would fall off. “No, you can’t take my princess.” He laughed as if Death had recited a bad joke. “No. No.”
For a paranoid moment, Death felt completely human. Grotesque compassion flickered through his fingers and began to thread up his wrists. In a rush, the figure shook out his arms, almost afraid. The tangled string broke when it reached Death’s elbow and slowly fell back through the floorboards of the home.
The father understandably hadn’t noticed.
“Please,” he begged with a stare that wasn’t quite as frightening as his daughter’s. “Don’t take my princess. She is my sun. My moon. My everything.” No longer considering the speculation that he’d disperse into a pile of ash, he reached over and grabbed Death’s cloak. “She is getting better. The doctor said so. He said she’d gotten over the worst of it. She—she’s perfectly fine.”
Death couldn’t help the next question that spilled from his mouth. “Would you take her place?”
He half expected the man to shake away in uncertainty. It was human nature to coward from the unknown, death being the greatest unknown of all. He had witnessed this same fear in every living being just before he claimed their soul, but while one half of him expected the same to occur with the father, the other half wasn’t so sure.
He was still surprised.
“Yes,” said the man, standing quickly. “Yes, I will take her place. She still has a future. I have lived a life; a damn good one, too.”
The door opened and both gentlemen turned. With a heavy water bucket tugged in both hands, the little girl returned with a happy smile. “Papa, I fetched some water for you to clean up.” She turned to Death. “You can also tidy up if you’d like.”
Fate was cruel and unpredictable; Death knew this better than anyone. He had finally found a perfect family, and yet he was here to tear it apart. What if—if only he could—he didn’t?
With a sopping skirt, the daughter put the bucket down and made her way over. Death watched helplessly as the father’s chest began to quake. Up, up, down, up, up. An unnatural rhythm. His chin also quivered, but unless she chose to ignore it, the girl didn’t seem to notice. She wrapped her tiny arms around the father’s waist, not nearly reaching his back. The father only stared.
“What’s wrong, papa?” she whispered into his shirt.
A small squeak left Papa’s throat. His eyes began to redden with moisture, and when he squeezed them shut, deafening tears trickled down the side of his nose, hitting the innocent child on the top of the head. She knew then that he was crying, but she didn’t dare look up in case she also broke. She wanted to be strong for him.
In slow torture, the father’s arms at his side lifted up, and with a sudden burst flew around the child beneath him. He clung to her dress, protecting her from everything and nothing. He fell to his knees, face to face with his first born. His moon. His stars. His face was well beyond wet with memories and a future they would never see together. He loved her. And she knew it.
Twenty years later, the little girl would only remember a father who turned around to kiss her goodbye.
He cupped his daughter’s face with one hand, kissing her forehead softly, before reaching out to Death with the other.
Death decided he always wanted a father.