Good morn, Death
I was sitting by the fire when the front door opened and voices of children called out. “Mister Bradford!” they yelled. “Mister Bradford! Elizabeth fell in the creek!”
My father ran from the back of the house, where he’d been keeping my mother company, to the front door and down to the creek. I dropped my embroidery and hurried after him.
Not long after, my sopping-wet sister was brought into the house. Father had had to drag her from the frigid water and carry her on his back.
The both of them were changed into dry clothing. Mother warmed a blanket by the fire and draped it over my sleeping sister as I wrote in my journal by her bedside. I glanced up from the leather-bound pages when my mother walked out the door. The room was quieter than ever without her movements to fill it.
I scanned back around to check on Elizabeth—and that’s when I noticed him.
A rather tall man stood at the foot of my sister’s bed. I jumped up from my seat, my journal toppling into the chair I’d been occupying.
“Who let you in?” I asked him.
The man gave a slightly startled look, as though he didn’t expect me to notice him.
He looked familiar, but I couldn’t place where I’d seen him before. “Why are you here?” I demanded.
“God let me in,” he answered. “I am here to see your sister.”
When he spoke, the air crystallized like winter’s touch. Shuddering sounds crackled through the room. My heart pulled tight against itself as frost crawled across the window closest to the man.
I narrowed my eyes on him. His face taunted me with its familiarity—yet there was no sweetness to the vague, crumbling memory of him. Where had I seen him before?
“Who are you?” I whispered.
“I am Death.” His white-blue eyes bore into me. “Soon, your sister will come with me.”
“No,” I said instantly, glaring into his intense stare. “I will not let you take her.”
Such stubbornness was looked down upon, but I was not going to lose my sister.
“Be glad God stayed my hand last winter,” he said. My ears turned cold at the mere sound of his voice. “Else you would have joined your ancestors in the Land of Spirits.”
A picture of Death reaching out to me found its way to the surface of my memory. I’d seen him in a dream—a fever dream I’d had the year before. At the time, I’d thought he was an angel sent to save me.
“I can’t be glad if you take my sister,” I hissed, trying not to wake her. “She hasn’t yet seen nine summers!”
“Calm yourself, Emilynne. Today, she will recover. Her time is yet to come, and yet soon enough.” He turned and made for the nearest window. I rushed after him—ready to demand when the day would be, so I could prepare—but as he touched the frosted glass, he shattered.
I stepped back as a the tips of his pitch-black cloak collapsed into a blizzard of sparse and lonely snowflakes.
And in that small flurry, he disappeared.
Thunderous footsteps broke the silence just before someone slammed into the doorway. I whirled around to find my freckled friend, Gabe, standing in the doorway, breathing heavily. He must have run all the way from his house. “Is she alright?” he asked, catching his breath.
“For the moment,” I replied. It took all I had to keep my voice from shaking.
“That’s good.” Gabe brushed his hair from his eyes before he noticed my expression.
“No,” I said. “It’s not good, Gabe.” Heat welled up my throat and turned to moisture in my eyes. “Death will take her.”
He approached her bedside. His eyes roamed over her cheeks, and I could take no comfort even as their rosiness returned. “That’s impossible. She looks almost healthy now.”
“You don’t . . .” I tugged anxiously on my hair, biting back tears. “Listen—do you remember my illness last winter?”
“Yes,” he said, turning slowly back to me. “You almost died.”
I hesitated. “Death himself came to me then . . . and he will return for Elizabeth.”
Gabe scratched behind his ear—a nervous habit. His left eye squinted, waiting for me to elaborate.
I took a breath, worried at how he’d react to what I was about to say. “I can see and speak with Death, Gabriel.”
He was quiet for a minute.
“I . . . don’t know whether to laugh or to run,” he finally replied.
“You wouldn’t run,” I said. He’d been sweet on me for years, though sometimes I didn’t know how to feel about it.
He sighed and leaned on the wall. “No, I wouldn’t.” His eyes searched mine before flitting to Elizabeth’s resting body. “Is—is it because you almost died?”
I pulled my dress off the ground to sweep closer to Elizabeth. I stared down at her, my shadow staining her golden curls. I touched the edge of one. It was still a tad damp. Her chest rose and fell softly—steadily.
I shook my head softly. “I don’t know. But Death said he would return for Elizabeth.” I turned and pinned Gabe with a hard stare. He started. “I will not let that happen.”
Gabe’s mouth opened and shut a few times. Then he shook his head and pushed off the wall. “Emilynne, do you know what you’re saying? Death comes for us all, eventually.”
“He will not come for my sister,” I snapped. The room felt colder, somehow, when my words hit the air. But nevertheless, I continued: “Not while I’m still alive to stop him.”