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art by Ron Sanders

Death and His Lover

Getty Hesse is a high school student. He lives in Dallas with his parents and two brothers, and can be found on Twitter.
Death's dead lover sits opposite him, his chest still, his flesh a mirage.
Jerome is naked, as spirits are, and he seems so real Death imagines if he reached out he could stroke the dark satin skin, the rough-hewn muscle underneath. But were he to reach out, his hand would simply melt through air longing to be human, so he doesn't.
Death sips Earl Grey. He prefers Oolong; it reminds him of his late mother, Death before him. But Jerome enjoys it as well, and the first night after he was run over he had gazed at Death's mug, following it with his eyes as Death sipped and placed it back on the mahogany table. The only flavor of tea that Death knows Jerome hates is Earl Grey, so that is what he drinks, and Jerome seems grateful.
The other spirits are loud tonight, Jerome says without saying anything, a ghost-voice, more projected thoughts than anything else.
Death nods in agreement. For seven days, he has not opened the Gates of Going, and a week's worth of dead, at least a million, roar the next room over. But one of the advantages of the voices being merely thoughts is he can repress them, like he would an unpleasant memory.
Jerome fidgets, looks at anything but Death. Death feels something roiling in the pit of his stomach.
Jerome's stare settles on the mattress in the corner of the living room. Remember when you first moved that in here?
Death nods, smiles. When he moved into the apartment a year ago to escape the suspicious owner of the previous complex, the Gates of Going took residence in the bedroom, and he couldn't sleep because of the ever-growing horde of spirits that gathered near his bed. He finally hauled the mattress into the living room at five in the morning, and only woke when Jerome arrived at noon. "You laughed at me, asked why I was afraid of dead people watching me sleep. Which I'm not."
Ah, yes, they were loud.
Death cackles. "Well, they were!"
Jerome grins, a flicker. Then the humor's gone, and he glances away.
Death's nervousness snaps back like a taut wire. "What's wrong?"
Jerome looks at Death for a couple seconds. That afternoon, we made love. We stroked, touched. We reveled in our bodies.
"Oh." Now it is Death's turn to look away.
As long as I stand here, unable to touch you, I will feel nothing but anguish.
Death feels his pulse rising. He pleads to Jerome with his eyes, then his words. "The pain will lessen with time."
This pain will not lessen. It will only grow. Jerome quirks a smile, thumbs the next room over. And that roar, that will only grow too.
Death feels something strange in his chest, as if it were fabric, and it were tearing.
"You cannot ask this of me."
Kaoru, says Jerome, I am asking you to do your job. Jerome smiles again, this time a gentle smile that says he understands, that he feels the pain himself.
Death feels tears rise, scorching floodgates, and stares downward. Everything is too calm, too real. He wishes the spinning of shock would come, but it doesn't because he knew this would happen, much as he doesn't want to admit it.
There are people in there longing to move forward, says Jerome. Open the Gates. Please. This world is torture for those without flesh.
Death looks up. "And what if there is Nothing?"
Death means the question for Jerome personally. Jerome's eyes widen in understanding.
Then there is Nothing, says Jerome. And I embrace it.
Those words sound right. Fitting. Final.
So Death stands. And though each step is a mountain climb he walks the next room over, where the Gates of Going loom over the spirits, all blended together, overlapping, like multiple slides shoved together into a projector. He cries as he opens the Gates and watches the spirits walk through the gap his gaze skips over, and cries when Jerome's spirit stops before him and kisses him on the lips, a ghost-kiss, felt not by the skin but by the soul.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

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