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It was a calm evening, free from any suspicion of the strange and unusual, and Mr. and Mrs. Graywater were having a quiet dinner together. They had just started on the topic of what flowers to plant in their new section of the garden when they heard a small, rapping knock at the door.

Mr. Graywater paused mid-sentence, lips formed around the word ‘begonia,’ and cast a curious look toward the door, as did his wife.

“Odd hour for a visitor,” Mrs. Graywater commented as her husband rose and began walking toward the door.

“Ah, it’s old Ms. Cherrybloom,” he called to his wife as he opened the door to welcome the elderly visitor. “Is everything all right, ma’am?” Mr. Graywater asked, concerned. It wasn’t like Ms. Cherrybloom to venture out after sunset in the colder months. It aggravated her bones, she had said.

The old woman leaned on her cane just outside the doorway. “In a way, yes, and in a way, no,” she answered in a somewhat unsteady voice.

Mr. Graywater immediately moved out of the way and gestured for Ms. Cherrybloom to come inside.

“Come on in and have a rest, ma’am,” he insisted.

Mrs. Graywater had picked up on the worry in her husband’s voice and the sadness in Ms. Cherrybloom’s. She was already pouring their neighbor a glass of water. She placed it on the table as the older woman lowered herself gingerly into an open chair.

Mrs. Graywater gently asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”

Ms. Cherrybloom took a few slow, savoring draws from the water, as though it were the finest wine and she were appreciating it all the way down her throat and into her stomach. She blinked a few times and looked between Mr. and Mrs. Graywater as they settled back down in their chairs. Mr. Graywater silently handed her one of the remaining dinner rolls on a small plate. She accepted it graciously.

The old woman nibbled on the roll as she seemed to deliberate. “In truth, I don’t know whether you’ll believe me. You’ll certainly think I’m going senile, but I suppose it won’t matter in the least anyway.”

The couple shared a glance, then Mrs. Graywater said, “You can talk to us, Ms. Cherrybloom.”

The woman waved her cane dismissively. “Oh, call me JoAnna, please. You and Ray have known me plenty long enough, Marie.”

“All right, JoAnna,” Marie Graywater corrected herself. “What is it you think we won’t believe?”

Another nibble of the roll, then she spoke, matter-of-factly.

“It’s time for Death to come for me.”

Another shared glance. “Come now, Ms—I mean, JoAnna,” Ray Graywater fumbled. “How could you possibly know that? I mean, you look as lively as ever.” He truly did mean that. JoAnna Cherrybloom had always been a spritely old woman, full of an energy he hoped for in his old age.

JoAnna could tell when Ray was being sincere, so she cast him a small smile and patted his hand. “That’s very sweet of you, dear, but it is my time. I just… I’m not quite sure I want to go just yet.”

Marie wasn’t so sure herself, only it was whether she wanted to entertain JoAnna’s current line of thought or not. “Well, surely no one is ever completely ready to let go,” she hedged.

JoAnna shrugged. “My aches and pains certainly have me rather close, but there are so many things I wish I had done.”

Ray frowned in thought, then grinned. “Ah, but everything you’ve done is all worth the trouble,” he insisted. “Even the small things, like having your favorite foods and jumping into piles of leaves. There are so many big things we like to think we’d do if we could have it all over again, but… would we really?” He paused, seeming to muse over that himself.

Marie smiled warmly at her husband, matching JoAnna’s expression. “Perhaps Ray is right,” she said. “Your presence has certainly made our lives better, JoAnna.”

Together, Marie and Ray Graywater shared with JoAnna Cherrybloom all the little things she had done that made them happy, made them smile, and JoAnna did the same for them. The three often spent holidays together, having no extended families of their own. JoAnna would prepare such a feast for their birthdays, and they for hers. On some nice days, they would go out for walks and small talk. On occasion, Ray would deliver JoAnna’s medications from the pharmacy when her back was acting up, and from time to time, a basket of sweets would appear on the Graywater’s doorstep.

Several tears came to the elderly woman’s eyes as her neighbors comforted her.

After a few more minutes of conversation, she said, “I thank you for humoring an old woman.” Then she rose, excused herself, and departed with a spring in her step.

“How very strange,” Marie mused.

“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Ray assured his wife.

Outside, Ms. JoAnna Cherrybloom stood in the yard, looking up at a tall figure in a black cloak. JoAnna was of course already dead, and no one could see her or the cloaked figure. “I appreciate this very much, you know,” she told the looming shadow.

Death nodded. “You are most welcome.” The figure gestured forward, along the walkway, and into a simple, black hole in the air—another phenomenon invisible to the living. “Let us go then, you and I.”

JoAnna cast one last look behind her at her friends’ house. “Such a lovely couple,” she commented kindly. Then she gathered herself up and took the Reaper’s hand, and together, they stepped into the Unknowable.

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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