“Your Time Has Come” was published on August 15, 2012 in the Spokane River Writers Anthology titled … And Then What Happened? Vol 1.
A copy of the anthology may be purchased here. Please consider purchasing a copy! The proceeds from this book will support NaNoWriMo and Young Writers programs in my area, which foster a life long love of the written word.
“Emily, do you know where we are?”
The little girl put her finger against her chin for a moment and then shook her head at me. “We’re in Vancouver, Washington Grandma Amy. We’re in the nursing home. Mom told me that it’s a place where you live so that people can watch over you and make sure you’re safe.” She grinned as she chided me, “You know I know that.”
I smiled back at my great granddaughter and kissed her cheek. “Yes,” I hugged her as tightly as I could, “Yes, I know. You are a very smart little girl aren’t you?”
Emily’s smile reminded me of myself when I was her age, just six years old. Her brown hair and smile reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of myself at that age. “Emily, get my album out of the drawer will you sweetheart?”
“Sure Grandma!” The girl grinned at me and climbed down off my bed. She looked at the dresser and frowned for a moment, then said in a crystal clear voice, “Dresser: Photo Album.”
The dresser sat still for a moment. Emily stamped her foot then the dresser responded, “Voice recognition complete. Hello Emily. The date is July 12, 2072. Time: 4:02 p.m. The weather is sunny, with clear skies. Temperature is 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Here is your photo album Emily.”
A panel slid out of the dresser and revealed the photo album. Emily took it carefully from the drawer and smiled at the dresser. “Thank you Dresser.”
“You’re welcome. Have a nice day.”
“In my day, we simply opened the drawers and put locks on them if wanted to lock things up.” Emily brought the photo album over to me and set it across my lap on the bed. I smiled and opened it to the first page. “Thank you sweetheart. Now, I have a very important story to tell you before I go to heaven. You know that I am going soon, right?”
Emily nodded and her face took on a somber expression. “I know, but I wish you could stay here with me.”
“Oh no sweetling. No matter how much I want to, it’s not meant to be. But listen closely now. What I have to tell you is something I’ve never told anyone. Besides, my friend, Sam will be here soon and I must tell you before she gets here, sit quietly now little one, turn on your recorder and listen… “Emily reached over and touched the button on her recorder. I pointed out the first picture in my album. The shot was of my brother and me. We were standing in front of an old RV.
It all began when I was six years old. I was camping with my parents, some man driving a VW bug was coming straight at me when I heard: “Your time has come.”
I turned my head and looked up. For a moment, I was filled with pure terror, and then I managed to whisper, “What’s your name?”
He chuckled maniacally as he switched his bladed stick from one hand to the other. “I, am Death and your time has come Amy.”
“But won’t my Mommy miss me?”
“Yes, I suppose she might, but that car is going to hit you and I promise you won’t feel a thing, besides, you’re a child. You’ll certainly be first in line at the gate for a conversation with Saint Peter. Come along now, I haven’t all day.”
My brother ran up from behind and grabbed me about the waist so hard that I swore I couldn’t breathe. He saved my life. In doing so, he began a life long series of twists and turns that would bring me to have many conversations with Death.
You’re thinking I’m crazy. Maybe, I am. With the things I have seen in my life, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. The psychologists told me I am perfectly sane. But, I never bothered to tell them about Death and how often he came to visit me.
By the time I was ten, cars had almost hit me twice. Once I fell off the roof of my parents’ utility shed. I fell down a broken tree house ladder – that one put me in the hospital with a broken leg – and had gotten bitten by a dog that everyone was sure was rabid. The vet checked him out. It turned out that he wasn’t rabid at all. It was just hot outside. He needed a drink of water and had raging ear infections in both ears. I’d accidentally stepped on his ear. No wonder he bit me. I talked my parents into taking that dog in because I felt bad about hurting him and putting him through that entire rigmarole. He ended up being the best pet we ever had, so long as we kept his ears clean.
Every time I had a near miss, Death showed up. Every time, I survived by some stroke of luck. I wonder if it’s because the people who saved me saw Death coming. More likely, it’s just some twist of fate that has kept me from taking the walk down the path that leads to heaven or hell or whatever other dimension we go to after life’s end. Maybe telling this story into the recorder, as I am now, is the reason I am supposed to be here, who really knows?
I was about eight when I saw Death for the second time. I was climbing up the ladder that led up to a tree house, if you could call it that. A tree platform is more likely. It was a sheet of plywood that had been nailed to some support boards, with a hole cut in the bottom of it. Around the outside was a safety rail that I don’t think would have held a fly if he’d leaned on it, and above was another sheet of plywood, just to keep the rain off you in case you found yourself stuck up there. My brother’s friends had used that old tree house when they were my age, his friend bequeathed it to a younger sister when he’d outgrown it and she and I had become fast friends. I often snuck over there to get out of the house when Peter was fighting with our parents.
It was on just such an occasion that I climbed up and found Death awaiting me, sitting cross-legged on the floor. His hood obscured his face. This being the second time I ever saw him I cocked my head to the side and studied him. There had been no opportunity to do so on our previous meeting. “You again? I’m not ready to die.”
“Well you may not be ready, but I got a report from upstairs this morning that says today is your day. Are you prepared?”
Being a haughty eight-year-old, I retorted, “I won’t die now, just like I didn’t die b’fore.”
“Well I admit you are quite troublesome in that, but I can’t imagine that a report from upstairs would be wrong. This time I must be honest, it will hurt. You will break several bones and die a bit more slowly. I will comfort you through the night.”
“Yeah right. I’m supposed to get comfort from a guy wearing a black robe, who won’t even show his face? When he’s carrying around a big shiny bladed thingy?” I pointed at the long stick with a long curved blade that lay across his lap. The hooded head dropped down as if he were looking at it, then the shoulders in the cloak shrugged.
“It’s called a scythe. A bit intimidating, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, just a little.” I wrinkled my nose at him and then sat down on the plywood floor in an imitation of his posture. “So, is this what you do for a living?”
The hooded head snapped up. He seemed surprised by the question, “Aren’t you going to lean against that rail in the corner over there?”
“Why would I do that?”
“Well we could just get on with this, it would make things much easier on my end. As I said, I will comfort you through the night.”
“And as I said, some comfort.”
“You are a churlish child, aren’t you?”
“Mom says I’m gifted.”
”That explains it. Too bright for your own good, no wonder you keep popping up on the list.”
“What is this list anyway?”
“Sorry, can’t tell you, not allowed to discuss it.”
“Do you work for God?”
He was silent for a time, then he seemed to look at me from the depths of that cloak and answered in a quiet voice, “I suppose I could ask you the same question. Do you know the answer?”
“Mom says that my freckles are angel kisses and that I have a pure soul. I guess if I work for anybody, it’s God.”
“It’s so simple for you children. You always assume you work for God or the Devil or someone or something.”
“Do you get a vacation?”
“Vacation? People die every day, I have talents that allow me to deal with numerous deaths at any given time, because you see, someone dies every other minute or so. There’s always someone that has to pass into the great beyond and there must be more than one of me to accomplish the task. How could I ever have time for a vacation?” He stopped and sighed heavily, the feel of his icy breath made my skin prickle with goose bumps. “I suppose I had a vacation once, about three hundred years ago, when no one died for an entire day after the bubonic plague had been wiped out.”
“Wow!” My eyes were round with childish awe, “You’re really old!”
“Do you have to remind me?”
“Sorry…” I recall that, at this point, I stood up and walked over to that corner that he’d told me about with out even thinking. As I leaned up against that old railing, I glanced over my shoulder at Death who seemed to be watching me with some intent. “But, you are really old.”
The railing broke and I fell six feet down out of the tree. I broke my leg and a rib and punctured a lung. I was breathing blood bubbles the whole time I was in the ambulance. The whole time, Death stood over me, watching me. Somehow, he was right. I did get a sense of comfort. When they took me into the emergency room he walked over to me, and then he looked up at the ceiling and muttered “Oh bloody hell.” When I looked for him again, he was gone.
I saw Death many times in between that and this, but my time is short. I regret that I can only tell you of those times I remember most vividly. It was Christmas time. I was thirteen years old. I was helping Dad and Peter hang the lights on the front of the house and was not happy about it. The girls at school were all wearing black lipstick and being gothic and mysterious. I followed suit, but my nose ring was fake. Mom said I couldn’t have a real nose ring until I was 30.
Death came to me on that roof while I was leaning over the side and said “Here we are again Amy, but this time, I am sure you’re coming with me.”
I scoffed, “Like I am supposed to believe that. I’ve seen you six times already in my life and every time you say ‘Here we are again Amy, but this time, I am sure you’re coming with me.’ And every time, someone has saved my sorry ass, so do us all a favor and buzz off. Someone is actually dying somewhere.”
“It is just that sort of attitude that assures me that your end is near.” Death sounded almost gleeful.
“Yeah well, do me another favor then, if you can’t leave, shut up. I learned my lesson with you after the tree house.”
“The tree house was your own doing.”
“Bullshit! You distracted me and made me fall.”
“If I hadn’t been there, you would have fallen anyway.”
“So why don’t you just go away and let me die in my own time. God hates me. Soon enough, I’ll meet my maker, be demised, shuffle off my mortal coil and all that shit. Bugger off!” He did not reply, finally I took a moment to look at Death as I hung the last section and reached out to grab the connector to plug all the lights in. I noticed that his scythe was still shiny as ever, but that robe… it was so… cool. I had to comment, “That robe is totally righteous man.”
“Thanks.” Death’s tone of voice sounded sort of amused. Then I looked to the ground below me and realized that I was sliding off the roof.
“Aaaiiieee!” I hit the pavement. Cracked open my skull, had sixteen stitches and looked like something from an Egyptian tomb for the rest of the school year. My friends said it was cool.
Sixteen years old. High school, I was ready for graduation on the first day, but I was only a junior. Next year, and it would be mine. I made the cheerleading squad, having shed my goth look two years ago in favor of a friendship with one of the most popular girls in school. We shopped at the mall, we both had our licenses so we took turns driving and we both worked after school. It supported our mall habits. Our mothers said it was teaching us responsibility. I was going to go to college to major in journalism. Sam was going to be a veterinarian. She and I were inseparable.
I was driving over to Sam’s house to pick her up for a shopping trip so we could buy dresses for homecoming. The captain of the football team had actually broken up with his girlfriend so he could ask Sam to go, so she would need extra help buying a dress. Not just any dress, mind you. The dress. It was to be the dress that she would remember for the rest of her life. In this dress, she would find true love and become Mrs. Captain of the Football Team or so we hoped.
In the car, I was listening to the radio and a sappy love song came on. I switched it off, checked my blind spot before I turned and Death was sitting beside me.
“Ya know dude, you really need something better to do.”
“Yes well, I double checked this time. Note, you have had two major accidents since I saw you last, and I didn’t bother to show up.”
“Yeah, it was a relief. I figured I wouldn’t see you again until I was 90 or so.”
“Sorry to disappoint.” It sounded like he actually meant it.
“You know, you need a new image.” I stopped the car and pulled off to the side of the road. “Those black robes are just not comforting at all, you should take on the form of a little old grandmother and hold people’s hands and stuff.”
“The uniform comes with the territory.”
“Yeah, but don’t you think softer colors would be a bit more becoming?”
“Becoming to what?”
“Well… to the image you present. You seem so dark and ominous.”
It was then that Death sighed. “Can we just get on with it? Pull out and go on about your business.”
“No! I want to talk to you! I want to know what makes you tick and why you have to wear those drab clothes!”
“Three years ago, you said that my robes were… what was the word… ‘Righteous’ I believe that is it.”
“Yeah well it had to be three years ago. No one says ‘righteous’ anymore.”
“I like the robes.”
“I can’t see how you like being visualized as the bringer of one’s end in a violent way.”
“Do you think I would be here, talking to you, if you were not meant for a violent end?”
“Who would come if my end wasn’t violent?”
“I am always present when there is a death pending.”
“Does everyone always see you?”
“Well, most people only see what they want to see. I find it odd that you see me every time I arrive, but it is not so unusual. It happened with a boy similar to you five hundred years ago.”
“Man, you are old!”
“Yes, I’ve heard that somewhere before. Now, would you mind pulling out?”
“Yes, I mind thank you.”
“I can’t see why it’s an issue for you, you’ll be late to meet Sam if you don’t pull out soon.”
“So I can meet my fate?”
“Well, no… so you and Sam can meet it together.”
“Fine, I’ll go get her, but ya know what? We’ll go shopping tomorrow.”
“As you wish.” I started to pull the car out, confident that I had finally won, and then Death said the words that sealed my fate. “But the sale at the dress shop ends today.”
“Oh God! You are such a pain in the ass!” I stopped the car at a stop sign and looked at him. “How do you know that?”
“Unlike you, I read the local newspaper this morning.”
“Oh… well yeah, I guess it would tell you that huh?”
“You know if you actually read it, you would discover lots of interesting things, but that doesn’t matter now. Once you tell Sam that the sale ends tomorrow she’ll demand to go today and you’ll have no choice in the matter, will you?”
“Are you always this omnipotent?”
“The word you are looking for, omniscient, only God is omnipotent.”
“Well I try to keep up to date on things, it seems there is about to be a plethora of deaths here in your city today, car accidents galore. So, I thought it prudent to read the local paper this morning in case I had any problems with anyone. Imagine my surprise when your name was on the list.” He didn’t even bother to pause before he asked me, “Did you have that word on your spelling test this week?”
I sighed because I knew I was sunk. “Yes.”
“There you are.”
I pulled up to Sam’s house and told her about the sale, as Death had predicted, she insisted that we go today regardless of my gut feelings. I told her if we were going, she was driving. She did, but it didn’t change a thing. Death sat in the back seat and continued to yammer away at me. “It will be a pleasure to finally see you on to Saint Peter, Amy. You’ve been a thorn in my side ever since that Volkswagen back in 1986.” I turned and looked at him with the vilest glare I could muster. He was toying with me because he knew I couldn’t answer back as long as Sam was in the car.
We stopped at a light. Sam continued to gab about how she wanted to get something in a rust color because it would compliment her dark hair while Death sighed and said “Farewell Amy, I have enjoyed our conversations.” Sam and I watched the road ahead, I tried to ignore him and focus on Sam’s concerns over her dress instead. Then we both gasped in horror as a semi flipped over right in front of us. It slammed into six cars that were turning with the signal in the intersection, took out a light pole and slid, with sparks flying all around it, right toward us. Sam whispered, “I love you Amy.” I whispered back to her, “I love you too Sam.” We grasped each other’s hands and waited for the inevitable.
That’s when the semi truck stopped sliding less than an inch from my bumper. I heard Death mutter from behind us, “Christ!” When I looked to the back seat, he was gone.
“As I talk into this recorder, I am ninety-two years old. I am a great grandmother. My great granddaughter, Emily, sits in my lap and talks to my friend who has just arrived. Her mother tells me that she is brilliant; IQ testing has determined that at the age of six, she already qualifies for testing to become a member of Mensa. Her parents, my grandson and his wife, have been happily married for ten years now and Emily is their pride and joy. She is my future. Are you not Emily?”
Emily nodded and shook her brown curls. “I’ll never forget you Grandma Amy. I love you.” She hugged me tightly and Sam looked over at me with a smile.
“I have had a long and happy life Emily, and I haven’t seen Death since that day. Make sure you tell your father and mother that I love them, won’t you Emily?” I felt weak and I knew it wouldn’t be long now. I looked around for Death, but he was nowhere to be found. My vision began to tunnel, and then I heard Emily ask me something.
“I’m sorry Emily, what did you say?”
“Grandma Amy?” Her voice sounded distant, as though she were miles away.
“What is it sweetling?”
“Who is that man in the black robe over there?”