I Met Death Once
By Kelleen Nolan
I met Death once.  I’d been walking down a small country highway—going nowhere important—when he caught my eye. 
He was lying in a dusty, black wool coat by the side of the road, a small walking stick in hand. His face was etched with pain and he 
was barely breathing. Come to think of it, he probably wasn’t breathing at all, but since he was going through the motions, it was only 
polite of me to play along.
“Are you alright?” I asked. He looked up at me. His eyes were cavernous. They told me exactly who he was.
“I haven’t come for you.” He said flatly.
“I know.” I said. I hadn’t actually. But I’d thought not.
“Just a bit tired, that’s all. It’s been a long night.”
“Oh?”
 I was trying to be polite, but to be honest, I didn’t know what to say to Death. I’d always assumed that when I met Death, I’d go 
running and screaming the other way, dodging his mighty scythe. But here he was, a tired old man lying on the browned grass with 
not so much as a pocket knife on his person. I couldn’t leave. I didn’t really want to.
“Yes yes. You would think that for just one day, just a short period of time for you people, that no one could die. Just for a bit. I 
need a nap. I’m so tired of working all the time.”
“Not to be contrary, sir, but don’t you bring death to people?”
Heh. That is what you would think, isn’t it? No, you people call me. Or, rather, your souls call me. All the bloody time, I tell you...”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“You  kill anyone lately?” a solemn smile.
“Nope.”
“Then you’re doin’ everything you can.”
“ I s’pose.” I shifted my weight. He noticed.
He sat up. “Sit a while?” Death looked hopeful.
“Sure.” I sat. We watched a car drive by. He reached in his pocket.
“You smoke?” he offered me a cigarillo.
I shook my head. “Nah.” He placed it between his tired lips.
“Good call. Delay me a bit longer.”  He lit it expertly.
“Don’t suppose those do much to you.”
He chuckled. “I wish.” The smoke he blew out was just slightly darker than it should have been. It disappeared in the gentle wind. 
We sat there a while longer. Another car breezed by.
“Can I ask you something?” I was dying to know. 
“Can’t promise I’ll answer.” Another puff of too-dark smoke.
“What’s it like?” I paused.  “After, I mean.”
“I knew what you meant.”  He took another draw. The smoke came with his words. “Lemme ask you something. When you’re on 
break at your job, do you like to sit and talk about your work?”
“Point taken.” I looked up at the clouds. I couldn’t find any shapes. I felt him looking at me.
“Sorry, kid. That was harsh.” He looked sorry. “I just get that a lot. A lot. And it’s one of the few questions I can’t answer. Cause 
I don’t know, you know? Just ‘cause the cab driver takes you to the ferry doesn’t mean he knows what’s on the other side of the river.”
I’d never thought of it that way before. I said so.
“No one does.” He tossed the cigarillo. He looked up nervously. Then he relaxed and pulled out another.
“No one dying?” my question came out lacking the proper gravity.
“Not in my district.”
“Quite a few of you out there, then?”
He closed his eyes and leaned back. “We’ve been hiring.” Another car.
I stumbled over words. Opening and shutting my mouth stupidly. I resigned to lying in the grass next to him, hoping for conversation
inspiration.
“You ever wonder what the point is?” he asked without opening his eyes.
“The point? To what?” I leaned up on an elbow.
“Anything. Eating breakfast. Being nice to strangers. Paying your rent. Existing.”
I looked at him, bewildered. I laid back down. I took a deep breath. Then I smiled. “I eat breakfast because I think a morning without 
waffles, maple syrup, and peanut butter should be considered a criminal offense. 
“I’m nice to strangers because you never know which of them will end up being your best friend, the love of your life, or the crazy guy 
who doesn’t shoot you in his rampage because you smiled at him every day.
“I pay my rent because I don’t want to get kicked out, and I think trading my land-lady a roof over my head for her monthly groceries 
is a pretty decent deal. 
“As for existing, I do it because I was given an existence by something, be it a higher being or deformed critter, and I’d be a damn fool 
not to do my best with what I’ve got. By existing, I get my waffles, my friends, and my roof.” 
“Huh.” He was looking me square in the eye. He looked a long time. “Huh.” He turned to blow the smoke, then looked back at me. 
“Good for you. No really, good for you. You get it. Some of it anyway. Heh.” He looked at the road and laughed while grimacing. 
“Doin’ better than most, kid.” 
“Thanks.” I smiled. “I’d like to think so.”
He must have gotten the signal he hadn’t been waiting for. He threw down the cigarillo, planted his walking staff, and pulled himself up. 
“There it is.” He sighed. “It really has been nice chatting with you. Maybe we could do this again some time.”
“Sure.” I towered over his frail form. “In the same, non-cab driver way, right?”
He smiled ruefully. “I’ll see what I can do.” He started to leave. I called after him.
“You know, when I see you again, hopefully, I’ll still be just as grateful as I am now. Or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll be bitter and solemn. 
But either way, I think I’ll be glad to see you again.”
He turned slowly back to me. His wrinkled lips curved as far up as they could manage. His too-deep eyes had a hint of light to them. He 
stayed frozen that way for just a moment, and as he turned back, he disappeared in the sun’s blinding reflection off the passing car’s 
windshield.

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