Time for another writing prompt! This one’s from Chuck Wendig again, Let Fate Choose Your Title.
by Rick Cook Jr.
I hate it when it’s the pediatric wing. But the job’s the job and I’m not ready to give it up yet.
In the room is the kid, eyes sunken in his skull, tubes connected to his arms. He seems to be sleeping, his chest rising ever so slightly. His parents are to one side, clutching his tiny hands. The mother is whispering words of comfort to her little boy, while tears fall from the father’s eyes to drip on the white sheet. The boy is terminal, anyone could see it. Tonight is the last night of his life and I am here to reap his soul.
They can’t see me, which is probably for the best. I lean over the bed and reach down to the boy’s chest, and with a delicacy that still surprises me I pluck a sewing pin from inside him. It’s not a real pin, by any measure, but it’s what I make it and that’s good enough.
There’s a sudden spike in his vitals. To the parents the moment is here. The father wipes the tears from his eyes and clutches the boy’s hand tighter. His whole body shakes with the cries he’s holding in. The mother stops praying and whispering. I’ve seen eyes like hers before: hollow and dead, accepting. The moment passes, the machines stop beeping, and the boy keeps on breathing. The mother lets go and the father collapses to his knees.
As I step back, sliding the pin through my robe, I listen in.
“I can’t take this anymore. I just can’t.”
“Yes you can,” the mother says, running her hands across the father’s back. “They said it would take a while. We just have to be here for him. You have to be here.”
“It’s not right!” he whispers. “What kind of world is it that allows our son, our little boy, to suffer like this? To be taken from us?”
She pulls back from the father and hugs herself. They sit in silence for a long time, lost in themselves. No one ever truly knows what to say in moments like this. Words are cheap. I wish I could reassure them.
The boy’s eyes flutter and he mumbles something. The parents attend him as if their moment of weakness hadn’t existed.
“We’re here, honey. We’re right here.”
His eyes open and settle on me. I take a seat and pull back the hood from my robe, to let him see my face. I have his pin and that changes things. He stares at the pin in my robe, and like the others he seems to know it is his pin. He smiles a little bit and raises a weak hand to his chest, fingers trailing where I’d pulled the pin.
I tap his chest and then the pin and smile back. I hope he understands.
I stand back up and cover my head once more. The boy turns his attention to his parents, both of whom are struggling to keep the tears out of their eyes now.
“It’s okay,” the boy says. “She came and made it better.”
“Who came?” the mother asks. She does not seem surprised that the boy is making no sense. Probably his final moments are expected to be confused as his body fades away and his mind drifts between dreams and reality.
“The Dark Lady. She came and- came and made the pain go away.”
“Dark Lady?” the father asks.
But the boy has fallen back to sleep. The father covers his face in his hands and weeps.
“Is this it?” he whispers. “They said he might be unintelligible towards- at the end.”
“Shhh,” the mother whispers back. They hold each other now, waiting for the boy to finally give up, for his chest to fall a final time, never to rise again.
They’ll be waiting a long time.
I slip back out and drift through the folds of space and time, back to the place I call home. It is not that different from the flat I had when I was alive. In death we cherish the things we had in life. It is filled with the mementos of an ill-spent youth, dolls and toys and a Frisbee and photographs of first loves and best friends. It is also filled with the tokens of my late teens and early twenties, before I died. Artwork on the walls, jewelry I can no longer wear, DVDs on the shelf.
There’s only one thing of true importance in this place. On the mantle is the tomato-shaped pincushion my grandmother left me when she passed away. She taught me to sew and even though I rarely used the skills, it was the only thing we had in common and so it was the one thing she could count on me to cherish once she was gone. And I do cherish it.
I pull the pin from my robe, the little boy’s pin, and press it into the pincushion. There are a great many pins in the pincushion, each one a life in stasis. Each one I couldn’t bear to reap.
I don’t know all the rules to this Reaper thing, but I do know that the pincushion is almost full. It is heavy with life and each new pin resists more than the one before. I don’t know what I’ll do when I can’t add any more. Perhaps I’ll take up sewing once again.
Hope this one doesn’t hit anybody too hard.
loved this, my favourite one from this challenge, really nice unexpected ending as well.
Hey, thanks for reading and commenting! I actually wrote two vastly different versions of this story, but the first one just wasn’t working for me and I pitched it for this version.
I really love the speaker’s doubt. Nicely turned.
Thanks! I’ve always like the idea that the Grim Reaper is somehow an office or position that has to be filled by human souls, and that each new Reaper has a time of doubt and learning.
We’ll done twist to narrate as a female reaper. Using pins as the source or release valve of pain was a beautiful development, and nicely tied to narrator’s life. Impressive.
Thanks. I try not to toot my own horn on stuff I write but I was pretty proud of this one when I was done with it. The pincushion and pin stuff was a neat way to personalize the reaper’s experience, which let her be a lot more human than I was expecting her to be at the outset.
Very nicely done. Thanks for sharing.