“Hello there,” a voice said, waking the man.
He was lying on a field of dry, colorless grass. As his eyes opened he shot up to a sitting position, gasping for breath as he looked around.
“Calm down, you’re dead.”
“What?!” the man said. “No…”
He looked to where the voice came from. Crouched by his side was a skeleton dressed in a wrinkled suit, watching him intently.
“Are you supposed to be Death?”
The skeleton nodded.
“Shouldn’t you be wearing the black cloak and hood?” The man pointed at the suit. The coat seemed too small– the skeleton’s arms were showing up to the elbow. The tie looked like a necklace hanging from its bones. The pants, though they seemed to be the proper length, were held up by three different belts. Although that made some sense, seeing as a skeleton didn’t have much for a waist.
“I used to, but I thought it would be more comforting if we wore the same things,” Death replied.
“Maybe you should find a new tailor.”
Death let out a laugh, “Hah! If only I knew what that was! These were all generous donations from other people who have passed through before you. They’re also all I have. It’s quite hard to find someone willing to part with their pants! Speaking of which, since you’re dead and all, do you really still need that watch?”
“I’d rather keep it.”
Death tilted their skull, “I mean, it doesn’t even go with the rest of your outfit.”
Looking down, the man realized he was also wearing a suit.
“Wait, I don’t remember putting this on,” he said, picking at his chest. “Or ever wearing this, for that matter”
“Well, you don’t come here immediately after you die, so many of you think that you won’t get a funeral if it hasn’t happened already. And besides, you don’t want to be stuck in tattered blood-soaked clothes or a hospital gown for who knows how long this will take.”
Death got up showing their real height as over seven feet tall, stretching their sides.
“Well then, let’s get going. I have lots of dead people to bring.”
The man stood up as well, slightly surprised by the height of the figure in front of him, and followed.
“Where are we going?” the man asked, trailing behind Death.
“Honestly, I don’t know. My job is to bring you to the next part of your existence. It’s come in many forms. Doors, Gates, who knows. I’ve never felt like I needed to see what was next for you all, so I haven’t looked,” Death said without turning back.
“Right…” The man continued to trail in silence.
The two crossed the empty field of colorless grass, bridges made of smoke over rivers of light, and through mountains of glass through which you could see through to the other side. Years passed as they walked, but at the same time, only minutes did.
“What are all of these places?” The man said after a long time.
Merely things to keep you from getting bored,” Death responded.
“And when do we reach wherever we’re going?”
“The journey lasts different lengths for different people. We will be there once you are ready.”
The man thought for a second, or maybe a month.
“I guess that makes some sense.”
It’s always nice to have an understanding one. It’s very tiring to tell people the same thing many times. Especially questions about ‘what religion is right’ or ‘where are my friends and family? Like I know. And what is a friend anyway?”
“Oh, a friend is like another person you have a connection to.”
If a skull could raise an eyebrow, it just did.
“I’ve never seen two people come through attached. Are you cut or separated in a way when you die?”
“Oh, no, no. Like an emotional connection, not physical. Someone you spend time with because you both enjoy each other’s company.”
“I understand now.”
They walked in silence for another moment.
“Are we friends?” Death asked.“
I guess if you want to be,” the man responded.
“Great!” Death clapped the best they could with their bony hands.
“Wait, how did I die?” the man said, turning to Death. “Are you even allowed to tell me?”
“I can,” Death said, stroking their imaginary beard. “But from my experience, there weren’t many who could handle knowing. As your new friend, I must tell you that you may not like what you hear. A lot of regrets, tears, you know… all that tends to come out from that who I tell. They all seem so stuck in the past, rather than trying to let go and just enjoy the fact they even have somewhere to go at the end of it all.”
“As your new friend, you shouldn’t hold stuff like this away from me.”
Death sternly waved a finger. “The only time I ever even consider telling someone how they die is if they can prove they’re ready to move on.”
“How can I do that?” the man asked.“One way, perhaps, is if you gave up a material possession of yours.” Death started to eye the man’s wrist. “That watch of yours is something we could consider material. If you were willing to part with that…”
The man took off the shiny silver watch and tossed it. Death caught it with the sound of clattering metal against bone.
“Hit me with it,” the man said while Death fit the watch onto their wrist.
“Car crash!” Death admired the watch, the straps far too large for their boney arms, “You fell asleep at the wheel after a busy day at work. Nobody else was injured. Physically, at least.”
“Oh, that’s good to hear. I guess.” The man fell silent.“
You know what’s funny? I don’t know how to use a watch.” Death looked up from their wrist. “Also time isn’t a thing here, so these don’t even work. But good job!”
As Death continued on, the man followed behind.
“Did it get to you?” Death asked, turning to the man. “Unless friends are supposed to make each other sad, I don’t think I’m doing this right.”
“No, no. If anything it’s my fault for asking,” the man said in a serious tone.
“You’re clearly thinking about this a lot. I don’t know much about you people but I can tell that you are not taking it well.”
“I mean, I always thought I’d know when it was coming. I never thought that all it took was a particularly busy day for me to… die.”
Death placed a hand on the man’s shoulder. It felt cold, but comforting, in a way.“
Trust me, it’s better to pass quickly and suddenly. Some didn’t accept the fact that they were dying while they were alive, and think that at any moment they will wake up like this is all a dream. The sooner you accept your death, the sooner that this all becomes much easier.”
The man stood silently, watching the ground while reflecting on Death’s words.“You’re right. It’s dumb to stay caught up on the past when it feels like I’ve done more here in less than a day or millennia, than in my entire life alive.”
“That’s great! I’m glad that you’re ready to move on. I won’t forget you, and whatever future challenges you may face, I wish you the best of luck!” Death patted the man on the back, pushing him forwards.
“Wait, wait!”The man stopped himself, “What do you mean? We still have the rest of the way to go.”
Death shook their head, “No, I know it when I see it. Your journey with me is over. There isn’t a physical gate because you don’t want this to end. Neither do I, but you need to leave. Go forward on your own, and the next steps you need to take will be clear.”
“Oh,” the man stood stunned for a second, “Then, I guess this is goodbye?”
“For now. I can’t guarantee it, but I feel we will see each other soon. Goodbye friend.”
Death turned and left. Walking back from where they came from, returning to wherever they went to collect another lost soul. It took a minute-day, but the man too walked in the opposite direction of his friend, taking his first steps, alone, past the cotton-candy cliffs and fields of carpet.
Haley Oh is an 11th-grade student in California. They love writing and hope to continue doing so through college.