“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. You would have noticed it’s a bit stormy and the wind is against us. We require a steep manoeuvre through the storm clouds. Passengers are advised to be belted up…” As the captain’s voice droned on mechanically, June’s heart sank. Murmurs erupted as each passenger proceeded to put on their seat belt.
Something was not right with the plane, it jerked repeatedly beneath June’s feet and swayed like it was being flown by a drunk. She sucked in a breath, willed her racing heart to calm and quickened her steps. June cursed herself for thinking it wise to use the toilet at the time she did. If only she had waited a while longer, she would not be walking down the aisle of a wobbly plane, desperately holding on to seats like her life depended on it.
As she walked on, she tried hard to ignore the bright flashes of lightning that momentarily shone through the windows. “One, two, three.” Her voice shook slightly as she tried to count the rows of seats before she reached hers. “Three more, just three more,” she mumbled.
June heaved a sigh of relief as she finally made it to her seat. When she attempted to grab her seat belt, a yellow glow outside her window halted her action. June narrowed her eyes and looked more carefully; sheets of rain interfered with the view but she still recognised the terrifying sight. The wing of the plane was on fire. She stared with wide eyes and the seatbelt she held fell to her laps, forgotten.
“…put on your seatbelt.”
June mindlessly turned in the direction of the voice that spoke. “We’re going to die,” she whispered. Her fear morphed into horror as she finally recognised the inevitable. She raised her hands to her head and clutched her hair as terror consumed her mind, making it blank—she could not think a single decent thought.
“What did you say? You have to put on your seatbelt.” The air hostess said in a shaky voice. She was clutching the backrest of her seat with a worried look on her pretty face, June could see her arms tremble and her nose flare. The woman was also terrified. She could faintly hear some passengers making panicky noises but it felt like it was coming from a tunnel.
“The left wing is on fire.”
June turned back to the window just in time to see it snap in half. She screamed when she felt the plane sharply sway to the right. Like a rag doll tossed about by a toddler, June was snatched off her seat at the same second the oxygen masks fell out like stringy arms of death. Everything was happening so fast, she shut her eyes to pray but all the words abandoned her. She felt a painful jab at her back then another on her head. She was spinning crazily now, hitting people and objects like a Ping-Pong ball. Her eyes flew open when she felt her body suddenly move in the force of rushing wind. A part of the plane had been torn open. The rapidly increasing hole acted like a vacuum, sucking out loose items, small luggage and June.
She tried as hard as her fear would let her. Holding on to a seat, she willed her fingers to clutch, to not slip. The wind won the battle, crushing her struggle to live like a weak, unworthy opponent. It yanked her fingers and kicked her broken frame out of the nose diving plane like a piece of paper against a raging tornado. As June free fell, her mind allowed her a moment of thought, to remember her life—her family. With each icy sleets of rain that pelted her descending body, her mind played short clips like a record. She saw her brother as he waved at her before she was checked in. His crooked smile flashed before her mind eyes like sweet pain. And Abby, her teenage sister—she was going to die and never see her again. The thoughts were too painful.
When June opened her eyes once more, the plane was nowhere in sight. The storm clouds still looked angry and they seemed to be bubbling with grey fury. As she looked on, something unusual occurred, everything went stock still. The rain drops were suspended mid-air like little teardrop diamonds, reflecting the spark of a frozen fork of lightning. June’s eyes moved about warily as she realised she couldn’t move a muscle. Some strands of her wet hair were plastered to her cheek and her beige jacket was spread like wings. She couldn’t flex her arms, they were stretched in front of her, as if she was reaching for an invisible rope.
This must be death, she thought with conviction. But where was the white light they said the dead usually saw? June’s confusion grew when she realised she wasn’t even breathing. She began to wonder if her frozen state was hell, to be paused in time forever. She could not even shudder at the terrifying thought.
June’s eyes moved about in panic. Everything looked the same. Angry storm clouds, frozen rain drops and static forks of lightning as far as her eyes could let her see. Who just spoke?
“You can sit up now…and breathe.” The voice sounded like that of a very young man but she had no idea where it was coming from. Choosing to act on what she was told, she attempted to pull her immobile form to a sitting position. She gasped in surprise when her body obeyed, making it seem like she was sitting on thin air.
June frowned when she turned to her right and saw a man seated beside her. His jean clad legs were folded at the ankle and he wore a thick black hoodie that hid half his face. Why was he barefooted?
“I saw your fall.”
June stared at the hooded figure with misgiving, his voice sounded lazy, like talking was a chore. She pulled her jacket more snuggly around her torso.
“Who’re you? What’s happening? Am I dead?” June fired her questions as they entered her mind. She scowled at the man when she heard him chuckle.
“You are not dead…yet. You blanked out,” the man said in a matter-of-fact tone as he turned to face her. When he pushed his hood back, June saw the man was actually a teenager of about eighteen years. He had unusual eyes, they were slightly slanted with extremely black corneas that seemed to suck in light. The look of his eyes robbed him of whatever innocence his perfect facial features would have afforded him.
“Yep. I figured I’ll die today.” June hugged herself and sighed. It was late afternoon but everything still looked so dark—so sombre. She raised a finger and tapped a suspended rain drop, it split into smaller droplets but did not wet her fingers. The silence between them was comfortable but June’s mind was churning with several questions. One moment, she was plummeting to her death and the next, everything stood still. She knew she should feel deeply disturbed, maybe hysterical but she couldn’t. Her curiosity was the only thing eating away at her mind.
“Who are you?”
“Would you believe me if I told you?” He leaned back a bit with his palms splayed behind him in a reclining position. If June didn’t know better, she would have sworn they were sitting on glass.
“Try me.” She tried to prepare herself mentally for whatever he was about to say. How bad could it be?
That word. Death. It made June turn sharply and gawk at him for a second before bursting into hysterical laughter. As her body jerked under the power of her mirth, tiny droplets of rain water scattered around her.
“What’s so funny?” Death sounded mildly amused by her behaviour.
June shook her head as she gripped her side. “You’re death? Do you know how that sounds? Death is a teenager. Mind blown.” She chuckled again and slapped her thigh.
“What has my looks got to do with it?”
June looked at him—really looked at him this time. His hair was cut really close to his head, his weird eyes looked…well, weird. Every line that made up his facial feature and his physical frame looked perfectly drawn, like he was created with a ruler and careful measurements. The only unusual thing, apart from his eyes, were three lines of strange writings tattooed across the side of his neck.
“In all my years, I’ve always thought of death as a force, you know…not a person. Definitely not one so young and casual looking. I mean, where’s your black cloak? I’ve seen drawings of you with a scythe?” June frowned slightly,”…I always thought that was ridiculous though,” she mumbled in addition.
“Well, now you know what death looks like.” Death shrugged and smiled.
June shook her head to clear it. Death is bad, he is the one that causes untold sorrow all over the world, daily! She should not be having a conversation with him. She thought.
“I am not the process, you know?”
“Huh?” June asked in confusion. “What process?”
“I mean the process. The suffering people endure before they leave their body. I have nothing to do with that,” he said simply, then leaned forward and folded his arms across his chest. When he turned to face her, June saw his eyes held a seriousness that could not be ignored.
“Don’t.” June lifted a hand as if to stop him from speaking.
June scoffed and looked away from his disturbing gaze. “Are you going to tell me you don’t have a hand in people leaving this world in a painful way? I have seen the struggle. I have seen people fight for their lives… the longing to live burning in their eyes. It can be felt, you can be felt when it’s time for them to go. I’ve seen people suffer, unimaginable suffering…” June shivered as she recalled her days at the Accident and Emergency Unit. There was no way she would agree he was not also the process.
“You can feel me when they struggle because I am waiting to do the needful. I don’t go about picking who lives or dies.”
June glanced at him then snorted. She was beginning to feel anger rise on her inside. Why was he here, to make her believe he was a sort of twisted good guy? She shook her head and looked down at her sandaled feet. “Just get it over with.”
“Nope, not ready yet,” Death replied with grating calmness.
June clenched her teeth in fury. “Is this what you do? Play with your victims before you put off their switch? Is this what goes on in the background before people die?” June asked with spite.
“Nah.” He waved his hand dismissively. “I got bored with that several millenniums ago. And this—” he gestured around like he was addressing a crowd “—this doesn’t happen frequently. With you, it just happened and I am finding it all very interesting, despite your obvious anger. You shouldn’t frown like that, it makes you look old.” He gestured to her face, acting totally oblivious to her volatile state.
June refused to speak. She would not give him the pleasure of playing with her. She knew he would still get around to do the needful, she was in no mood to sit and converse with the predator when she was obviously the prey.
“I am just a sting, June. I am like a thorn on a rose, and life is the rose. A long time ago, someone came along and wore a crown full of thorns, full of death. He doused it in his blood. It was a gory sight, blood leaked into his eyes and ran down his face from his punctured skin.”
June turned to face him, he had a faraway look on his face.
“I was there. One of the hardest things to watch, I tell you. I am not the process. I doubt you’ll understand this but it’s the truth. The suffering he went through was so disturbing to watch even for me. I wasn’t responsible for the whipping or the intense suffering that crucifixion brought. The process draws me nearer, but the process is not me. He still experienced my sting though, but what happened after that is a story for another day.”
June frowned. “Why are you telling me this? If you are really Death, why bother explaining yourself when you know I would still die?”
His smile was genuine as he regarded her thoughtfully. “Because I want to. When you’ve been in existence as long as I’ve been, it’s only unusual things like this that really pulls your interest. People’s bodies die every day, I am responsible for that—their body, not their soul. My job is a continuous cycle that holds nothing of interest, I do it because I have to. I am used to the fear of humanity, used to their obsession, and in some cases desire.” He paused and absently played with the rope of his hood. He looked almost ordinary, nothing hinting in the least bit that he was, in fact, death.
“What does your tattoo say?” June eyed the strange looking writing inked on his neck.
She watched him rub his palm over it like it ached. “It’s a clock. I don’t know the time it tells, can’t read it.”
“What type of clock is it?” June openly stared at the tattoo, then sucked in a breath when she saw the strange writing rearrange before her dazed eyes.
“It moved!” She pointed at his neck in shock.
Death laughed and shook his head. “It counts down to the time when I’ll cease to exist. I would never know how to read it or what time it’s telling.”
June looked at him with surprise. Even death can die. “How do you know it’s a clock if you can’t read it?”
“I asked and I was told what it was. I was never meant to exist, you know?”
June was puzzled. “Wha—”
“Time?” June’s voice sounded weak in her ears.
Death refused to answer, instead he stood smartly and looked down at her with a serious look on his face.
“Your time to die, June.” He gave her a curt wave and just like that her fall resumed.
Her scream was frozen on her lips as she continued her tumble downward.
June zoned out when she saw the large body of water beneath her, she knew the impact from her fall would kill her instantly. She no longer heard or felt the wind rushing around her, even the wetness of the rain could not wake her from her shocked state. When she finally hit the water, she felt her body sink like stone before her consciousness ended.
“June, open your eyes.”
She obeyed, frowning slightly at the eerily familiar voice before forcing her reluctant lids open. White, it was the first thing that attacked her sight. She squinted at the assault, forcing herself to focus.
“Awake at last.”
June turned her head with effort and allowed her eyes focus on the figure that spoke. It was Death. He was seated on a white foldable seat with his bare feet resting near where she lay. Upon closer inspection, she noticed she was lying on a bed in what looked like a hospital ward.
“What’s going on?” Her voice sounded rough.
“You lost all sensation from your neck down. You are paralysed. Sad.” Death shook his head as if he was genuinely sorry for her. “You should have died. Just one sting would have saved you from this.”
“Wh-what?” June swallowed uncomfortably as intense panic swirled on her inside. “Paralysed?!”
Her question was answered by boisterous laughter. Death had his head slightly bent as he laughed like it was the only thing he knew how to do. He pointed at her then laughed some more. “You should have seen your face. Priceless.” He laughed again.
June attempted to lift her arm and to her surprise it obeyed. The joker played her! “You think this is funny?” She struggled to seat up while imagining throwing the IV monitor at his obnoxious head.
“Yes.” He stopped laughing and looked at her. “I do think this is funny.” His eyes danced with mirth as he lifted a leather clad ancient looking book and began to leaf through. Before June could give him a reply, he beat her to it.
“They found you floating on some ocean debris, you’ve been unconscious for two weeks. Your siblings would soon be here.”
June raised a trembling hand to her lips as she fought her tears. “Y-you knew I wouldn’t die?” She stammered as she stared at a solemn looking Death.
He shook his head. “Nope. I really thought you were going to die.” He stood to leave, pocketing the book and observing her one last time. “I guess God does work in mysterious ways. Live till we meet again. I’ve got work to do.”
June sighed as she watched him walk away. As strange as it may sound, she already missed his company.
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