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Art by Melissa Mead

Dealing with Death

Brenta Blevins lives and writes in the Appalachian Mountains, where she enjoys hiking with her husband. Her short fiction has appeared in such markets as ChiZine and Sword and Sorceress.
It was 2 a.m., a time of day so thin that nothing seemed real. The tubes cycling in and out of my husband like external blood vessels, his monitors' rhythmic beeps of electronic pulses, the ventilator's hiss and sigh, all kept pulling me back to a reality I didn't want to accept. The doctors had told me Robert was "actively dying." Actively dying? What did that mean? Pale, emaciated, and immobile, Robert's coma seemed the antithesis of any action.
His parents and sister hadn't yet arrived. Unable to resign from their jobs as I had mine, they'd given up their constant vigil months ago, so by the bed I sat alone with my husband of twenty years. My continual presence and loving attention hadn't been enough to bring him back to life, to actively living.
I shivered as a chill breeze sighed like the breath of the room leaking out. When shadows dimmed the fluorescent over the hospital bed, I looked around--until I saw Him. A silhouette of gloom, He stretched out a hand dripping shade onto my husband's face.
Death had finally come for Robert.
I jumped up, shoving my hands over Robert's mouth as if I could protect him from the suffocating shadows. "No! Please! Don't!"
Death drew back suddenly. Somewhere in shade coalescing against the wall, I saw the whites of eyes opening wide.
"Please, no," I begged. "I'd--give anything to save Robert."
Finally, He rasped in rumbles and hisses, like wind from a cave, "You must do something for me."
I met eyes as dark as a cold night sky into which those bereft of hope look for a star to wish upon, but find only emptiness. "Of course."
"Kiss-sss me."
I glanced at Robert--twenty years together!--then swallowed hard and stepped into shadow. An abrupt slash of darkness halted me.
"In the morning." He seized me in an embrace of icy, dark mist and we blew out, weightless, streaking down the hallway. No one saw us, but their arms encircled their torsos, their hands clutched their sweaters closed. We popped through the floor above into the maternity ward.
Desperate, high-pitched cries assaulted us. We floated toward a sobbing bassinet.
No!
He caressed a finger of twilight across a baby's cheek.
"How can you?" I cried.
"It's wracked with pain," He replied, his voice a dusky silhouette of whispers. The infant's face grew sleepy, then stilled into the final peaceful sleep.
"But--"
But He was already whisking me through the doors labeled Oncology, into a room made of plastic where nurses wore uniforms of latex. His indigo shade flowed toward a woman's gray, pain-deformed body, and lowered a hand of gloom to her face to grant her peace. Her twisted body relaxed.
We flew out across the city, street lamps blurring beneath us in embroideries of gold and white light. Here, there, everywhere in the city, he went to victims of car accidents, fires, wounds, and old age. Over and over, He released them from their pain. Before we rode away on the stream of oblivion, I saw pain grip the families of the deceased, dragging them into the abyss of loss. I yearned to reach out and comfort them, reassure them their loved one's pain had ended.
But we always moved on.
At dawn, we returned to Robert's room.
"Why?" I asked.
"You are--special. Others can travel with me only once."
"Oh." Poor, lonely Death. Steeling myself, I opened my arms to the icy shade, puckering my lips, expecting the taste of moldy soil and cold, meaty rot. Instead, His mouth was warm, spicy-sweet, like apples fermenting in autumn sun. As He held me, darkness swirled into a dim image of a graying Robert healthy, dancing, laughing--with another woman. Light flashed, then Robert walked out the front door, a moving truck outside, leaving me--alone.
My vision cleared. Death pulled away.
Robert moaned, his eyes fluttering.
As Death drifted out, darkening the doorway, he said to me, "I would have saved you the pain."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, June 2nd, 2011


I believe that our imaginations ignite when we experience sleep deprivation, making dream and reality hard to distinguish, and also when we face medical situations, leaving us imagining the worst, the best, and even the entire range of outcomes. In the ultimate medical eventuality, death can come too soon, mysteriously, and seem a cruelty. Other times, death can be a blessing, a relief. We may not always know which death has come.

- Brenta Blevins

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