Death’s reputation was going down the drain, and he knew it.
Only months ago, the skeletal omen of bad fortune had been in his rightful place of striking fear into the hearts of all cursed to set their eyes upon him. When he appeared as a silhouette against the oncoming storm clouds in a flurry of fear, and cold, and startled crows, the bravest of the brave would fall to their knees and plead with their fate. Yes, those were the days.
But that was then. Now, he was a laughingstock.
For one thing, his cloak was absolutely hideous. It was ripped, as it had always been, but was now past the point of posing a threat and had moved on to looking— well— “just silly,” as many would say, shaking their heads. Along with that, it was dirty, covered with soot and soil and remnants of damned souls. It wouldn’t be hard, they would say, to replace it, now would it?
And Death had been meaning to. For weeks, in fact. But his paycheck, unlike ever before, just wouldn’t allow it.
“BECAUSE GENERALLY, PEOPLE DON’T JUST STOP DYING,” echoed the hollow, empty rasp of Death’s voice. He slammed his teacup down in rage.
The Old Tea Woman Joyce— self-declared town therapist and tea supplier— smiled sympathetically, delicately setting her cup down in its saucer as Death finished his rant. “I’m so sorry, dear. Sounds like such a struggle.”
It was, thought Death. In fact, he would never be talking to the Old Tea Woman Joyce if he wasn’t struggling— normally, at this hour, he’d be busy taking the souls of the newly-dead to appease the gaping Void of Creation. But for now, all he would be taking was a satisfying complaining session.
“IT’S MADNESS,” echoed the rasp. “JUST A FEW WEEKS AGO, EVERYONE WAS DYING ACCORDING TO SCHEDULE. NOW EVEN THE ONES WITH VERY SPECIFIC DEATHS— FORETOLD IN PROPHECIES AND ALL THAT— JUST DON’T.”
With surprisingly perfect timing, a thunderclap from the hellish storm outside sounded (Death had begun the apocalypse the previous week in anger, not that anyone had cared), rattling the cat statues on the mantelpiece and knocking down several of the assorted knitted things that hung on Joyce’s walls. She pursed her lips disapprovingly.
“Do stop shouting, dear. That won’t solve anything.”
Death, begrudgingly, quieted his Underworld tones and settled back into the couch. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine, dear. You’re going through some issues, anyone would be angry. Immortality is, after all, the supreme enemy of Death.”
Had Death had eyebrows, he would have chosen this moment to raise them in question. “Immortality?”
“Yes, dear, it’s the most sensible answer. Someone must be giving folks an immortality draught of some sort, allowing them to evade Death.”
Death considered this. “But who would be doing that? Why?”
“I wouldn’t know, dear, I’m only guessing. Perhaps they’re just some blessed, powerful soul, wanting to share their good fortune with others.”
Death was not convinced. Joyce saw this and shot for a different solution.
“Or perhaps a witch or sorcerer with more sinister intent.”
Death was more fond of this idea and eagerly elaborated.
“Yes. A witch. Giving the immortality to people as a curse. But… what would be their motive?”
“Perhaps not to curse the people, dear. Perhaps to attract attention.”
“From you, of course. You are an all-powerful being, after all.”
Death smiled, flattered. “Of course. But why?”
“Maybe they want to die,” said Joyce, a little too quickly. “Maybe they themselves are immortal and want to attract your attention in order to request their own death.”
It was a strange thing for a little old tea woman to say, and Death was momentarily taken aback. This, he realized, was a quite sensible approach— almost too sensible, in fact. Death may have lost his fashion sense, but he still had his intelligence, and Joyce was acting suspicious.
But Death played along.
“Yes. And they would have to be in contact with many people in order to do that, as well as be trusted,” said Death, “and they would need some sort of unsuspicious way of distributing the potion.”
He narrowed his sockets on her drink. She got the hint and smiled.
“Perhaps. But what would I know?” She picked up her cup. “Drink up, dear.”
Death was not known for his mercy. There were very few that wanted to be sent to the afterlife, after all. Dis-pleasing was practically in his job description, and he rarely wanted to break that code. Especially not for the villains that threatened his popularity. But just this once— mostly because it benefited him as well— he would give her what she wanted.
Lightning flashed outside and the sky rained fire as Death raised his silver scythe and brought it down upon the tea woman.
With surprisingly perfect timing, the apocalypse ended, and several citizens previously enjoying the effects of immortality tea unceremoniously dropped dead. All was well. Death left the house and his antagonist’s corpse behind him.
Riding upon clearing storm clouds— the ones leftover from the temporary world’s end— Death returned to his realm of darkness. Opening the door (he didn’t really need a door, of course, as the realm of darkness was more of an idea than a plausible location, but he had added it simply so he could have a chuckle at the fact that there really was a “Death’s Door”, accompanied by his treasured “Welcome to Hell” rug), Death stumbled upon something. It was a gift box, wrapped with a little pink bow and addressed to him in cursive, grandmotherly handwriting with the note “To be delivered upon my Death.” Death vaguely wondered who had delivered it— whether the Tea Woman’s own magic or one of her accomplices— but forgot his curiosity upon seeing the contents.
And as Death adorned his new cloak, he caught himself hoping, just for a moment, that the Old Tea Woman Joyce would have a pleasant afterlife.
© Cleo Lockhart, Denver School of the Arts