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“It is time,” I say. The statement is not meant to be cryptic, though so many try to act as though it were.

The man tilts his head in mostly false confusion. He is facing away from the hospital bed. “I don’t understand,” he claims.

“You do,” I counter with my usual sigh. “Everyone always does.”

The man gulps and casts a glance over his shoulder at the lifeless body, then turns to me with tears in his eyes. “You… don’t look the way I pictured.”

I nod patiently. “That look is only for birthdays and bank holidays,” I say.

The man can’t help but giggle. Then he sobs a little and whispers, “Is there nothing I can do?”

I take a few silent steps forward as he gazes at the floor. “No, there is not.”

I can see him fight the urge to run from me. “I wouldn’t get away,” he realizes, though he ends it like a question.

I shake my head. “You would not,” I confirm. I extend my hand. It appears to be a human one, though I am far from that.

He stares with trepidation at my outstretched appendage. “What happens if I run?”

I smile. “I give chase, and I catch you in short order.”

“There are no other consequences beyond that?” His eyes are fearful, not of me, I know, but of what might follow.

“Indeed not,” I say. “It would be rather petty of the Inevitable to hold a grudge against the Ephemeral.”

The man nods. “I suppose that makes sense.” He thinks for a time, then, until he looks back up at me. My hand is still extended. “Could we make a pit stop?” he asks hopefully.

I lower my hand. “We may. Where would you like to go?”

“Well, there are so many places I’ve never been… but, none of that seems to matter now,” he muses.

I wait calmly as he deliberates. I am never in a rush.

“Could we go to the park?” he finally says.

We walk toward the park just a few streets away, and the man is delighted not to feel the aches of the flesh as he strides along. He skips and spins, jumps and tumbles as I walk beside him. Our feet make no sound upon the sidewalk. It takes him a few minutes to adjust to his lack of solidity, for we move through the living like they do not exist.

“They do not die when you touch them?” he asks curiously.

“That would make my job rather trying,” I point out.

“Fair enough.”

We arrive at the park and sit upon a bench overlooking a large pond with soothing fountains. Several children and dogs play in the grass. At another bench, pigeons flock to a generous soul and gulp down seeds with happy coos. The man looks up at the shining sun and discovers he has no retinas to burn.

“Oh my,” he says in quiet wonder, still staring at the heart of this young solar system. “I never knew it was so beautiful.”

We sit in silence, watching the living enjoy the park, until he turns to me and asks, “Don’t you have so many more people to attend to?”

“I am attending to them right now,” I say with a shrug. “I am one and many. It is complicated.”

“Seems to be,” the man agreed, sounding a little overwhelmed. He cried once more before asking, “Is it time?”

“As it was before, yes,” I answer mildly. “Do you wish to try to run?”

He shakes his head. “No, I don’t think so,” he says. “But I am scared.”

“Most are,” I say. I hold out my hand.

He hesitates. “What waits for me, Death?”

I smile and do not answer, holding my hand steady.

The man stares at me a few moments more. He gives the world one last look, then he takes my hand, and we depart.

Ariel Cross

Ariel Cross is a fantasy author and blogger with a love for representation and subversion. To them, happiness is a warm glass of mead on a cold day.

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