In Death's Shadow
In Death's shadow, Charlie pondered life. Everything was different now, everything had fallen into place, and everything made sense. It was a shame no one ever realised it in life.
He'd feared Death for years. He'd always seen Death as a mysterious being whose sole purpose was to snatch people from their lives and loves, leaving nothing but grief in his wake. Surely that nothingness that Death would take him to was worse than anything one could encounter while alive. Life was a treasure, a gift. No matter how bad it got, no matter how he managed to destroy it, it was still a prized possession. And he'd never before parted with his treasures so easily.
He'd long courted Death. So many close encounters; people close to him taken, and on the path he was on he knew it was only a matter of time before he himself was more personally acquainted with Death. Would he go willingly? He didn't think so. He valued life. Many he would argue that he didn't, he couldn't possibly. Why would anyone who valued life work so hard to destroy it, shorten it, demean it? There were others who showed a greater interest in life, who protected it so fearlessly, who nonetheless were snatched by Death "before their time".
An odd expression. What right did mere mortals have to claim what time they should have on Earth? They claimed it showed a love of life, further proof of how much the loved it, a pleading to some greater being not to take it away. In reality, all it showed was how much they feared Death.
His feelings for Death had changed in recent weeks. He imagined all his fellow survivors felt the same. Some had survived, some hadn't. Some had survived only to be taken by Death a few days later. Some believed that this was proof that life was unfair. On the other hand, he was starting to think that Death had a great sense of irony, perhaps even of humour.
He'd been thinking of Death a lot lately. Hard not to, really. He'd had a close encounter with the phantom, but he'd been brought back. Or was it that he was let go? Maybe Death wasn't all he'd once thought he was.
It seemed that Death had spared him, given him a second chance. To straighten his life out, make a difference, leave his mark on the world and in the minds of the people around him. He seized it.
It was difficult. There were days when there seemed to be little point, that Death would still take him one day. It seemed cruel of Death to give him his life back, when they both knew he would one day have to repay the ultimate debt.
One step forward, two steps back. He very nearly settled again on his former path. It was his love for them, that mother and her child, that spared him. Finally, he had something to live for, and he valued life as he never had before.
Apparently, that was all Death wanted for him. Perhaps he needed to see what life could be to realise the impact of Death. Maybe that was all Death wanted. For as soon as he had a life he could love, Death came to snatch it away.
He was angry. Thanks to a friend, he was spared many times. He wondered why Death was so persistent in claiming him.
Then the realisation. By going with Death, he could spare them. Death was apparently merciful, and wanted to take as few people with him as possible. He discovered it was the reason why Death had spared him before. It didn't believe in waste, or injustice. It was a fair being.
He was grateful for Death then.
Death was not his enemy, nor was It his friend. Death was merely an acquaintance, yet he had a sense that they could one day be friends if they only tried to get to know one another a little better. Death was not to be feared.
He realised now what Death's role in the world was. It didn't claim people to cause grief in the world; It didn't feed the world endless fear and misery. Death, more than anything else, provided hope. People couldn't realise that, though, until they'd accepted Death into their lives.
Death promised an end to suffering. It gave life so much more meaning, knowing that it would one day end. And It gave a promise of a reunion, that things didn't really ever end.
Every person who had been taken from him during his life was one more person who would greet him, comfort him, in his death. And in turn, he could be there for those who'd outlived him, waiting to make their passing more bearable.
Most importantly, by going with Death he was ensuring that those two that he loved the most wouldn't have to meet It for many years. He was glad of the pact between him and Death, for their lives were far more important to him than his own.
If he felt one grief, it was that his line was over. It sounded medieval, but he thought he might have been comforted by the fact that a part of him was alive in another human being. But he wasn't, his blood was well and truly dead.
Yet, he felt he wasn't truly gone from the world. He'd made his mark, his sacrifice, and others were alive because of it. He'd given them life, so a part of him would now always be with them, and would be passed down to the following generations. It was his legacy, and would remain so, even after the story of his heroics ceased to be told.
It gave him comfort, and it gave him strength.
And so, he walked towards Death. The fear, the hatred, the injustice was gone. Here was an old friend. He was beginning to see many more familiar faces, some from such a distant past he'd forgotten them in life.
In Death's shadow, he settled down to wait for more friends and loved ones to arrive. He would be here to greet them when they did.
He hoped he'd be waiting awhile.