Death Visits the
The door opened, and Death entered the
room. He apologised for being late. He
was wearing a lanyard with many colourful
badges attached. One read Access All
Areas. He looked at the five people
seated in a circle on wooden chairs. The door locked behind him, untouched.
Death took his seat and looked around him.
He began to speak. His tone was
friendly, even apologetic.
‘Hello everyone. It would help if I explained
my role. I have been asked to say a few
words here at Sapling Trust. Saplings
grow into something mighty. A huge oak, a sweeping forest. All from small beginnings. As we know, the trust was established for the counselling and
guidance of those who life has treated poorly.
Diligence unrecognized. Sacrifice
disregarded. The great lost tribe of the unappreciated, five of which I see as
I look around. Strangers seen in every
crowd who deserve so much better than life-blind to virtue and ignorant of that
to which you feel entitled-has seen fit to grant you. Mindful of this, I am
here to perhaps
clarify, and certainly emphasise, my enduring sympathy. However, it is my duty
to be honest and frank
with you. I imagine all of you would want nothing less?’ The seated group
nodded and some murmured
quiet though heartfelt assent.
‘Injustice is everywhere. There are
dragons to be slain, but the sword remains sheathed. It will remain so, and
each of you, however
entitled, will continue to have your perceived virtue disregarded….’ The
lights in the room dimmed.
‘I am Death, and I have been many years in
the role. And Death, may I say, doesn’t care what you’ve done. I
am coming for you, I am coming for all your
friends, and for everyone you love. Each and every one of them.
I don’t care if you have pulled orphans from
some smouldering wreck. I am indifferent to your sacrifices and your fevered
clinging to what you—comically, if I may say—regard as your unrecognised virtue.
Unrecognized, and so ignored. You have
come to this Emotional Support Group on the basis of your collective low self-esteem.
The simple truth is that your estimation of
your self-esteem is entirely accurate and probably underestimated. You should have
low self-esteem. You want to
be told that you are better than you are, that you are special. You are not.
When I visit you, each one of
you, in my other capacity, rest assured
I will remind you of this.’
None of the group spoke. Some exchanged glances. Death continued.
‘Each and every one of you.’
room glowed brighter. There was a metallic ring from the door as the lock slid
open. Death stood up, an unprepossessing, bespectacled figure in a t shirt with
a print of a painting by Magritte. The painting was L’heureux
donateur. In English, The Happy
Giver. As he gazed around at the faces, he gave a gentle
‘Next week your regular counsellor,
Samantha, will be here. She asks that
you be punctual to save disturbing the ambience of the meeting. I have enjoyed
our meeting, however brief,
though my preference-my quirk…’ Death smiled.
‘My preference is for one on one. You all have appointments
provisionally scheduled. I am afraid I cannot be more specific at this stage.
But you will know soon enough.’
Death opened the door. He paused before he
left, and turned around. The scholarly, bespectacled face had vanished. In its
place was a skull. A different voice sounded, hollow and a little amused.
‘Soon enough.’ The door closed
quietly, and there was silence in the room.
Paul Radcliffe is based in New
Zealand. Had an aunt who lived in a
haunted farmhouse in England. Haunted by a monk-yes, really-which explains a
lot. Works in Emergency, susceptible to hypnosis by cats. The supernatural is
at its most disturbing when it subtly overlaps the everyday and the boundaries
blur. Has worked in various places that are unlikely to be confused with
holiday destinations. Grew up in Liverpool but missed the Beatles, and always
eager to add to a growing collection of pirate jokes.