Then, keep reading…
There is a funny thing that happens when you die- for just a moment, or perhaps two, you are technically in some sort of state in between, that it is to say, neither living nor dead, but on your way from one to the other. And if you are very, very, lucky, as William Hershel was, you find yourself thinking ‘This is it. This is when I find out what happens when you die.’ Which is exactly what William was thinking when Death walked into the room.
When he was much younger, William had had a friend named Lee, at school, who genuinely seemed to believe that he’d met the Angel of Death over winter break one night at about three o’clock in the morning. He described the angel in vague terms. Death, Lee said, was large, dark, and somehow both bigger and smaller than the space he occupied. He had apparently spoken with the sort of deep heavy voice you associated with James Earl Jones, and had actually been very reassuring, in his way. William had been fairly young at the time, and hadn’t placed a bet on how much marijuana Lee had consumed prior to meeting death, but he would have been pretty sure that zero would not have been where the safe money was. Perhaps Death comes to each of us differently, he wasn’t sure. In William’s case, Death’s appearance was so oddly specific that his first impulse after dying was to call Lee up and tell him he was full of shit.
Death walked in dressed like an old guy heading out to shovel snow.
He was wearing a blue wool coat and a red hunting cap, with a set of brown work boots and a pair of leather gloves that had seen better days. Death looked like he was about William’s age, maybe a year or two younger, and in better shape, obviously. A gray coat of stubble covered his face, and he was wearing a dark blue hooded sweatshirt that had the New York Yankees logo on it. For the first time in several days, William opened his eyes. There was no question that it was Death. How William knew him was fundamental, but also inexplicable. Death looked at him, and walked over to the wardrobe where William’s daughter had put his clothing. “Come on,” he said. “We’ve got to get you dressed.”
With great effort, William sat up. Without thinking about it, he started to pull out all of the tubes out of his body. Each tube coming out felt like a razor blade, but it was a relief. He’d been wanting to pull the damn things out since they brought him here. Death handed him a pair of jeans, a black sweater, underwear, and two pairs of socks.
“Have you got boots?” Death said. “It’s cold out there, and the car doesn’t have heat.”
William didn’t know what to say. “Boots?” he asked.
“Are they waterproof? You don’t want your feet to get wet,” Death said.
“Under the bed,” William answered.
Death pulled a pair of brown leather boots out from under the bed. He helped William get dressed. Every movement that Will made felt like shattering glass, but slowly, painfully, he managed to put his clothes on. “Do you have a coat?” Death asked. “I’ve got a spare pair of gloves.”
“It’s in the bottom drawer of the cabinet,” Will said. Death went over to the dresser and got it. Will put it on, with great effort.
“When we leave the room,” Death said, “You’re going to want to look back. Don’t. Just let it go.”
“I don’t think I can walk,” William admitted.
“It’ll hurt,” Death acknowledged. “But we’ll get there.”
They took one step, and then another. Will leaned on Death, giving him as much of his weight as he could. The first step out of bed felt like he had broken his hip, but somehow he managed. As William walked through the doorway, he couldn’t help it, he turned around and looked back at the room.
“Did you look back?” Death said.
“For just a moment,” Will admitted. “I couldn’t help it.”
“What did you see?”
“Myself, and my daughter. She was crying.”
Death nodded. “That’s life,” he mumbled, and made no other reply.
Come back for part three next week, or subscribe to this blog to receive notifications!