Fiction| Dear Death

Creative Corner

An old author, made feeble by the hardships of life, lay on his death bed. His hair was a mess, a little greasy, like he had his hand through it all night. He moved his hand over the blanket, back and forth and buried his face in the pillow. On his arms and legs, hands and feet his flesh was black and dried, clinging to the bone so tightly that the bone might just burst through. It looked like death was already his bedmate, but in reality he still had a few more hours of life to suffer through, and what was left of his human dignity to lose.

Everything was silent, but one thing did move soundlessly. He could feel death’s presence in the room with him, a scent of decay lay heavily in it. Her pace showed she was heading for something important. With growing hunger, her gray eyes flickered over him. He spoke:

“Dear Death, over the years, I’ve seen your handiwork on many times and have suffered personally in your wake. You were in the weeping crowd at my grandmother’s funeral, feminine and so unlike the man in dim attire I’d always envisioned. I’ve felt your chilled touch in my grandfather’s stiffening hands as you escorted him from his body. I even heard your voice, in my father’s soothing alto, in the days before you took him from me. I see how people view you. Their emotions vary at the mention of your name. Most cry in sorrow at the power you hold over them. Their tears drip because of your power to take that which they hold dear.”

There was no reply to the author’s words as he gasped and struggled to breathe. He was dying, like any other creature, despite his marvelous achievements and sagacious books. It galled him. He was an award-winning author with millions of readers, and yet he waited alone for the advance of death. Every passing moment added to his sense of loss. His grey irises were flat as they stared at the ceiling, the light had long since fled. He never loved life, but his approaching end aroused a hidden desire to live.

Years ago, while addressing at a university lecture, he had said, “Life isn’t important for me, I‘m not afraid of death.” Remembering that statement, a wry smile appeared on his wrinkled face, he murmured, “One of the hundred lies which every ‘great man’ utters to make himself worthy of his greatness.”

In his middle years, he’d longed death, back when he’d been forced to obey the orders of depraved masters. Life had been miserable then. Poverty snatched his dignity and freedom until he became a humiliated creature.

Now that he had everything he desired, death approached him with its evolving face, impartial to everything, including his greatness.

He had watched a dog die, one hot summer afternoon in his childhood. He was amazed that his memory took hold at the hour of his own death.

The dog had been injured by an irresponsible hunter. Infection spread throughout the animal’s body. Maggots infested the wound. The dog, with its punctured neck, ran here and there in intolerable pain, nobody cared.

The dog finally lay down and accepted the worms’ victory. It whimpered and fell, gasped its last breath as death claimed its victory. It accepted death’s conquest and allowed the worms their feast.

The author wanted his last moments to be with pleasant memories, but the dying dog preyed on his mind and pawed at his soul. He turned his eyes towards the dangling medals and photographs in the room. The photographs illustrated sights from his youth. His gaze stopped on one image.

“Youth and dreams! My God, if I had just a piece of that life again, I would return to when I only had desires of ever bigger mountains to climb.”

He longed for those days of hunger and misery. Once again, he wanted to face the pangs of failure and anguish of rejection.

His thoughts shifted to beauty, the warm kiss from his beloved for the publication of his first story. It relieved him for a while. The memory of that sweet kiss which at once had healed all the wounds of deprivation — now soothed him in the presence of the shadow of death.

She had spoken with a loving voice: “I am so proud of you.”

Those words were the sweetest in the whole universe; more precious to him than all the medals and praise heaped upon him over the years.

Waves of pain swept through him. He fought it again, lost in his thoughts.

I would surrender all my achievements to once again feel that kiss, returning headlong to the beautiful eyes of my beloved. With her, I’d happily die. I would write our story in words so pure it would melt all the hatred and agony of the world.

The author’s mind lingered on the sweet memory. Oh, how brightly colored was the day we met. Her smile enhanced the colors of the universe. But had all this happened in my head? Did she only walk past? I still feel a tingle in my neck and sharp pain, oh! I must have sprained my neck looking, but I must tell you it was worth it.

The dying sun snuck through the half-opened window as he perched on the edge of the bed, his shape cloaked in shadow. He fell to the floor still desiring to see a living world. He crawled towards that light exerting all the energies of his body to link with the world.

Reaching the window, he opened his eyes to view the day’s end, the gray shadows of dusk crept across the dark purple sky. Birds returned to their nests; the sun disappeared in the deep universe. This turn to night made him think about the odd process of this universe. Every creation had to face an end. Now, observing this cycle of life from a distance, an intense desire to see it one more time came over him. A lone bird, clinging to a branch, in the dim light of sunset added to his suffering.

At that sad moment, a gloomy face appeared. Many years ago, when he left his country in pursuit of dreams, only her eyes wept for him. That cloudy evening when he said goodbye forever, looking into those eyes. The rest of his life had been soulless. All his ties with other bright faces were for his fame… that of being a popular storyteller. But her sadness was from the core of her heart, she cried for him when the rest of the world had laughed at him, a penniless unknown; a striving writer, stumbling in the gloom of rejection. In the dazzling light of fame, he had forgotten her. But now, when he was again surrounded by the darkness of death, she was there, standing behind his pillow, moving her soft fingers through his rough, dry hair. She loved an outcast author whose only possession was a dingy room, infested with rats.

Once, after suffering a brutal head injury from police during an anti-government protest, it was she who had made him alive with her tender care and prayers. She revived his will to live and he returned from the threshold of death.

Standing at the peak, some invisible force dragged him forward. He could see what was next: the dark and dreadful valley of death. He knew very well to fall in that black valley was fateful, but once again he wanted to go back to the foot of that mountain to gaze into those two weeping eyes, which were still waiting for him.

A stroke of pain dimmed sight of her kind eyes. He fell to the ground with the agony of death in his bones. He talked to death:

“I made a promise to myself never to force your hand, and so I wait for nature to take its course. I wait for you, and I will continue to wait.”

“I speak with no lips to move, no tongue to twist, no vocal cords to bend air,” Death finally uttered few words. Her words swirled into the distant void.

The author spoke again:

“I was only nine years old when you came knocking; my mother’s name scrawled next on your list to be claimed. I knew the moment I touched her hand. I knew how she was going to die. But it wasn’t just her; you killed my childhood as well. I know the death date of every single moment I had spent with my mother.”

The author saw himself flying, through the wide spaces over the green trees, and rocks covered with flowers. He inhaled the fragrance that grew across the entire sky. He looked down. The touch of soothing, cool air that relieved his burden… the burden of popularity, of pride, of jealousy, and of praise. As he soared, his innocence returned. He said good-bye to those hypocrites who seduced him towards the path of painful greatness, and gave him nothing except loneliness. Now, for him, the dearest thing was to kiss the beauty of her kind eyes.

He was overjoyed at the revival of his innocent existence, and free of torturing egotism.

The lost face of his beloved appeared. He ran towards her, stood at a distance, not knowing how to meet her. She opened her arms. “I have been waiting for you.” She wiped the dust from his face and combed his hair with her soft fingers.

He fell into her lap, felt the divine pleasure of love and spoke in an exhausted voice, “you took too long to return. I have discovered the truth of life, which is to love and to perish. The rest all is illusion.”

The long journey exhausted him. He sank back down onto the mattress. His sheets were stained with the black fluids leaking from his disintegrating flesh. Wind through the window pulled the blanket over his head, and death overpowered him. The light engulfed him and for a second he cried out, as he was born anew.

Just a few steps away life was still dancing. Chirping birds flew from tree to tree, ants on the path carried little pieces of food, and the wind rustled the leaves that made everything alive.

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Muhammad Nasrullah Khan, the publisher of Creative Corner, is Pakistani-Canadian writer. As an immigrant, he was not greeted by Canada, but now he greets Canadians at East Calgary Registry, in Calgary. His short stories are well-recognized internationally for his unique prose style. His creative work has appeared in Adbusters, Evergreen review, Indiana Voice Journal, Newtopia Magazine, Gowanus Books,Offcourse literary Journal University at Albany, The Raven Chronicles, and many others. His book is available on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08D7WZXVL

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