I know, I know. You’re probably thinking “Charlie shouldn’t you be asleep?” or “Charlie don’t you have work to do?” The answer to both of those questions is yes. But instead of dwelling on them you should read the story I just wrote. It’s based on a writing prompt I saw on reddit this morning that I will link to at the bottom of this post.
“It really is okay,” I told them.
They all nodded together, holding back tears. They tried to put on a strong face, all of them. The kids, the wife, but I knew they were just doing it for me. I knew that seeing me like that was tearing them up inside. The cancer that had at first seemed beatable had gotten worse and spread. They had had to watch as my body withered and I was forced to entertain well-wishers sent by the White House, university deans with honorary degrees, and foreign dignitaries intending to pay their respects. No one, it seemed, could just leave me in peace while I died. Everyone wanted to get one last word in. Although, I suppose that was partially my fault.
Gathered around my hospital bed were my closest friends and family. Even more were waiting to see me in the lobby. I’ve made a lot of friends in my time, I’ve always been good at it. My friend Richard can fly and pick up a tank if he feels so inclined, Paul can conjure up illusions so convincing you won’t realize what happened until you’ve already walked yourself into the jail cell, Ashley could conjure flame.
Me, I make friends. I’ve got an irresistible charm that makes me people like me no matter how hard they try no to. So, while the others were putting bank robbers behind bars and making sure aliens kept well away, I was always in meetings. I convinced investors to fund the Watch Tower; a huge complex built to train and house the next generation of heroes. I spoke for the UN and through those efforts managed to not only achieve nuclear disarmament, I also got a world wild environmental protection fund established.
I’m not saying all of this to brag, it happened. Okay, maybe I am bragging a little. But it’s important for you to know the context, and why I have Nobel Peace Prize sitting in my office. My power isn’t dramatic, I can’t level a building, or fly, but I can make friends, and I see that as its own superpower. It’s hard to break down barriers and get people to the negotiating table.
I had done a lot. But at that point I just wanted some rest. Some peace. I don’t blame everyone for wanting to see me. It’s hard to say goodbye. For me though it was infuriating to have all of them around me constantly with their failed attempts to hide their sadness and concern. To be completely honest, I hated the looks of concern the most. All through my life, whenever someone learned what my power was, they looked at me with concern. No matter what I accomplished they doubted whether my power to make friends and win people over was a real power at all. Everywhere I’ve ever turned there were people who felt I needed to be shielded. Protected from the dangers of the world.
I was sick of it.
Surrounded by well-wishers and grieving family I did the only thing I could do in order to get some peace. I pretended to sleep. I learned early on during my stay at the hospital that people got quiet if you pretended to sleep. Although I could feel their eyes on me, wondering if I had just died.
Quiet whispers filled the room. Some of them were talking about me while they though I couldn’t hear. Others made small talk about the weather and other boring topics.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the room grew cold. I had first felt the chills that morning as a faint tingling in my fingers. There was no reason to be surprised. Death is a frequent visitor at any hospital, and as the day had progressed, I had felt the cold grow and move up my arms. Death was getting closer.
Eventually the cold spread to the rest of the room. My guests made the requisite comments about a sudden draft – the polite way of saying what they all knew was coming. I didn’t feel cold anymore. Like a man suffering from hypothermia I felt a sudden warmth. I felt myself smile despite myself. It was the first real smile I had had in days. Death was nearly there.
For all human history there have been accounts of the Grim Reaper, or someone resembling him. Countless scholars had debated his exact appearance, his goals, whether he was sentient or just a construct of our own minds. His was a much-dreaded visage around every deathbed. His passing left only sadness in his wake accompanied by tales of a ghastly visage and a terrible scythe. Almost all see him as a butcher culling his human herd. No one understands him.
Except me. He’s more of a lonely shepherd. A protector that sees us on to whatever it is that comes after this, one who cares deeply with his flock but must keep his distance.
The door opened with a slow creak. One of my guests, I think it was my cousin Leah, let out a shrill scream. The rest were silent.
“Jim?” asked a raspy voice.
I felt a grin split my face and I opened my eyes. “Hey Grim,” I said. “It’s been awhile.”
Death’s pale eyes stared at me with his pale eyes for what seemed like an eternity. He no longer carried the scythe and robes that so many knew him bye. He had given up the scythe decades before after its weight had started to give him back problems. He had turned him the robes for a tailored suit at my urging.
“I,” he said. “I didn’t know you were here.”
“Really? I thought you had lists of these kinds of things?” I replied. While we talked, I noticed my guests looking on in horror. Death rarely talked, and whenever he did it would inevitably result in dozens of books and dissertations arguing over the exact meaning and significance. Now Death was in my hospital room, greeting me as an old friend; which I was.
“I do,” said Death almost sheepishly. “But I have so much work these days it becomes a blur. I hardly have time to sit and think. Sorry. I should have thought to check in more.”
I smiled and dismissed his apology with a wave of my hand.
“No problem at all,” I said. “We all get busy. Lunch?”
“I, I don’t know,” said Death. “You don’t look too good.”
“You can fix that.”
Death looked over his shoulder, as if someone was watching.
He sighed. “I’m not supposed to do this. But alright…”
There was no change in Death’s demeanor. No sign that he had done anything at all. But in an instant, I felt all the pain that had troubled me for months slide away. Suddenly I could breathe easy again and strength flowed back into my atrophied legs.
I leapt out of bed. A move which elicited many shocked gasps from my guest. All hint of worry had disappeared and was replaced by a mix of horror and bewilderment. I took a moment to bask in their reactions knowing it would be the last time any of them ever thought of me as weak, then I turned to Death.
“How does Chinese sound?”