Here's a little something I wrote in my free time, which I will now give away as something of a return gift on my birthday. Then again, it could use some critique. It was actually untitled, but I decided to give it a title for now, at least. I believe it's my only second work that requires two readings to soak in completely, preferably with some time in between.
It was the calmest afternoon the Spring had to offer. An aging sun waned towards the horizon, above a children’s playground that was bustling amidst its regular patrons. Dozens of toddlers, with varying ages frolicked in the open grass; some venturing into the clump of trees, others playing hide and seek across the bushes, while a bolder party settled for a scavenger hunt.
Further still, there lay a section designed specifically for the younger members: an acre of space left entirely to toddlers and kids aged upto 6, who preferred the slide and see-saw to the sophisticated role-play of their elder siblings. Among these was a child who could be seen chasing a boy of her age.
She had the deepest of eyes, which exuded a caring warmth, an understanding that could not have been expected from someone her age. Her shiny black hair was loose, and went well below her shoulders, happily flapping up and down as she scampered across the grassy knoll. Her lips appeared to be in a perennial smile; and not the sort that her playmates had, it wasn’t mischievous or teasing, but a cross between a knowing smile and a perceiving one.
Some would have put her age to have been at 8, judging by the depth of impression her first looks laid. She was, in fact, much younger at merely 6 years old. Her mother explained this for the third time, accepting a compliment from another child’s mother as she relaxed on a bench near the knoll.
It was apparent that the child had inherited her gentle countenance from her mother, who appeared to be as motherly as a woman could be expected to be. She had almost the same smile, albeit lacking in the pristine innocence of the child’s. She had the same eyes and the same dense, black hair. And yet, she conveyed a sense of graveness and sincerity, contrasting with her daughter’s playful compassion.
At one end of the knoll was a cluster of trees or varying types. There, four of the child’s playmates were hidden, two in the branches, one behind the trunk of an especially large oak and one lying prone behind a bush, trying to remain as inanimate as possible. There was another within the grove: there was Death.
Death watched with all the gravity of a predator taking aim at a prey on a perfect day for killing. His cold eyes were transfixed upon the nimble figure of the girl as she raced back, chasing a girl a year younger than her. His pose showed no emotion, his task did not demand it.
As the child hounded her target, the latter made a leap and gained a good deal of ground. The child, not to be outperformed, mimicked the jump and underestimated the leap. She landed headfirst into the soil, digging into it as hard as a gravedigger’s spade, her body following it.
For a second she felt nothing. It was as if she had fallen asleep immediately. She saw the girl she was chasing run further and further. She swiftly turned over to get up and saw him. Death had his hand on her, as if comforting her. His other hand was stretched out to her.
She took it and got up, dusting herself modestly. “Thank you, mister!” she cried and was about to start her dash when she saw that Death’s hand refused to budge from her shoulder. It was firm, like that of the strongest man in the world, but calm at the same time, like a gargantuan ocean sleeping calmly beneath a black sky.
Death smiled courteously at her. “You are welcome, my child.” He spoke. His voice was deep and veiled the trace of an echo in it. But he did not move. The girl tried to struggle, but to no avail. The iron grip refused to budge.
“I need to catch her, mister! I must!” she pleaded.
“You don’t need to catch her anymore, child.”
She now observed him curiously. She had never seen someone like him before. Death was enigmatic, shrouded in a thick black mantle that seemed to be made of shadows and brimstone rather than any mortal textile. He carried a scythe that he now picked up with his free hand. His face was hidden by the cloak, but she did not think it was a human face. Death isn’t, after all, human.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I am the king. I am the conqueror. I am the one who ends, and the one who all fear. I am called Death.”
The little girl didn’t comprehend anything further than the words ‘I am the king’.
“What do you mean ‘I am the king’?” she mocked, “You don’t even have a crown!”
“Kings only wear crowns when they’re not sure if their subjects know that they are the king. These kings have all the time in the world to forge jewellery and wear it. Kings with nothing to do. I always have something to do. I am a very busy king.” He smiled.
“What do you do? Who are your subjects? Who is your queen?” she asked sceptically.
“What do I do? I rule my people and lead them. I judge them and decide them. Who are my subjects? My subjects are all the beings on this planet. And who is my Queen?” he beamed, “My Queen is the most beautiful woman there is in this world.”
Her eyes sparkled with curiosity. “Who is the most beautiful woman? Mommy is, isn’t she?”
“No, my Queen is the fancy of every man and woman in the world. She enthrals them all, trapping them in her beauty. Poets sing to her beauty daily, men come from all across the world to find her and receive her blessings. She is on the canvas of every artist, in the word of every writer and in the eyes of every man.”
The child’s eyes were mesmerised by Death’s words now. She listened intently to him, her curiosity flirting with her imagination. The wonder! The fantasy that this man was talking of! “Who is she?” she finally dared to ask, “Do I know her?”
“I think you do.” Death agreed. “She is called Life.”
“I haven’t heard of her. Can I meet her? Is she pretty?”
“She is most certainly pretty, but you cannot meet her now. The Queen cannot just meet anyone, you know. She is royalty!”
“Can I at least see her then? No harm in seeing her!”
Death beamed across the playground. Dozens of children, all running around and playing in the distance. Here the girl’s friends had begun to gather around where she had fallen. They were staring at the spot: the younger ones in confusion and the older ones in horror. “Get up!” they cried. The fourth time they said this, their voices faltered.
The girl did not notice this. She continued looking expectantly at Death, his haunting visage standing sentinel, scanning the surroundings. “No. You may not see her.” He finally replied. The child’s face fell. In a turn of the minute, the child’s temperament seemingly got the better of her.
“But she is the most beautiful woman! I must see her! I must, I must, I must!” she insisted.
Death went down one knee and comforted the child. He embraced her. As his hooded skull passed her head, he saw the child’s mother come to the site. She gaped in horror at the ground. Her eyes were filled with tears, which came streaming down her cheeks erratically. She was crying, her throat blaring with voice. But none of the sound reached his ears. Two more adults came towards the scene.
“We do not always get what we want.” Death said in his most sincere tone, “Life is unfair. She is truly beautiful, but she is unfair. Perhaps she favours some over the other. Perhaps she has her whims and fancies. But can we not at least allow that to someone who graces us with such splendour?”
The girl snivelled and rubbed her eyes, trying to get rid of the tears that had begun to form. She saw sky was turning dark. “Oh, it’s getting dark! I must go now!”
“But go where, child?”
“I must go home! I will tell mommy about you and the Queen and everything! She will be very pleased! You should come home for dinner sometime. My mommy makes very good food! All my friends love her cooking, they do!” she chirped.
“Hey, wait a minute! If you’re the king, how come Mommy never told me about you? Nobody told me about you!”
“Perhaps they were afraid that I will take you away.”
“Why would they think that!”
“All subjects are afraid of their king. If they weren’t, they would refuse to obey the king. And if nobody obeyed the king, would he still be a king?” Death answered cryptically. The child wasn’t sure if she understood what he said, but had a feeling that he was telling the truth.
“I’m not afraid of you! I think you’re a nice king and you a nice person to talk to! I like you!”
“Well, not everyone sees it that way.” It was the only thing Death could say.
“And are you going to take me away? To your castle?”
“I do not have a castle to go to, my child, but yes, we will go away now.”
“Oh, where will we go then? Where!”
They had already crossed a few metres of the park in a light stroll. Death looked back. At the spot where the child had fallen, where he and the child could now only see an empty patch of grass, the mother and numerous children, alongside adults wept and cried. Time refused to move from that scene, it watched the scene in melancholy, frowning at Death.
“Where will we go?” Death purred. “We will go to the most wonderful place, we will go to my kingdom. Are you ready to leave?”
He expected the child to start chirping about how she has to pack her things or take Mommy with her. But he noticed now that the child was looking back as well. She gazed at the site Time presented before her. Death frowned back at Time.
While Death searched for words, she turned back to him. “Yes. I’m ready to leave.” She spoke, neither solemn, nor joyful. Death nodded and the two ambled away quietly, at peace.