How hard can it be to resurrect a human?
The godlet pouted, nibbling her dainty fingernails, considering the corpse. A slight breeze carried dandelion seeds and flower perfume to her button nose. The sun filtered through skeletal branches, casting her glade and the corpse in a lattice of light.
Perilise had watched from on high as the man marched out from his city early that morning to defend his people. He and his warriors strove for hours to throw back the enemy, and he outdid all others in feats of arms, but in the end he fell. His was a good death, a brave one, which intrigued her. Perilise decided to reward his bravery with a second chance at life.
Now he lay broken on the ground before her. One leg twisted the wrong direction. A deep gash crossed his neck, blood caking his trim beard. Perilise wrinkled her nose at the blood’s coppery tang. She scampered from the tree’s shadows into full sunlight, crooked a finger, and summoned the corpse to her.
Death claims too many. Time to tweak the old bugger’s nose.
Perilise knelt, rubbed her hands together, and plunged her fingers into the corpse’s breast, feeling around for his heart.
A figure in black robes, face hidden in inky darkness, appeared next to her. “What are you doing, Perilise?” Death asked, brushing the man’s skin with a fingertip.
“Hello, Uncle.” She stuck out her tongue at him. “I’m saving this man from you, old meanie.” She found the heart and stroked it, releasing a tendril of power. It gave a short, warbling beat.
“This is unwise, child.” Death flicked his finger and the heart stopped.
“Don’t you call me that,” said Perilise. “I’m a real goddess, and I’m using my power to save this man. He’s a doughty warrior who died for his people. He deserves to live again.”
“A goddess?” Death snorted. “Your brothers and sisters wouldn’t appreciate you claiming equality with your elders. Nor would your parents.”
Perilise ignored what Death said and narrowed her eyes at him. “Why do you always hide from everybody?”
“Do I hide? I’m here with you now, in your own little realm, aren’t I?”
“You know what I mean.” She kept her hands in place and nodded at his hood. “You never let anyone see your face. Why?”
“To protect my reputation.”
“You mean you just want everyone to picture you as a big spooky ghoul?”
“Subtlety is lost on you, I see. You still have much to learn, young godlet.”
“Do not! And don’t duck the question.”
“As you wish.” Death reached up and tugged his hood back.
She gasped, beholding the thin black beard lining his firm jaw. Worry lines surrounded his eyes, the only mark of age on his otherwise vigorous young face. They drew down the corners of his eyes. Sad, careworn eyes.
“Now you understand. No one would fear me, the man beneath the hood. It pains me to say, but the world would suffer if no one feared Death.”
“You’re…handsome, Uncle. You should show yourself more often.” He raised a brow at her. “Um, in private. With the family.”
“Thank you, Perilise. Now, what do you plan on doing with this man?”
She set her mouth in a hard line. “I’m going to resurrect him.”
Death shrugged and removed his fingertip from the corpse’s skin. The man gasped, his heart working to force life through his body. He tried to roll onto his side, but didn’t have the strength. Breath whistled through the gash in his throat at the futile effort.
Perilise stroked his hair back, gazing down upon him in pity. “It’s okay, I’m here for you.”
The man let out a primal shriek, low and feeble, unable to pass enough air through his mangled windpipe for a greater sound. His eyes rolled wildly from side to side, and he grasped at his neck.
“Guess I’d better fix his body, too,” she said. Death looked on and said nothing.
Except Perilise didn’t know how. She tried the trick she’d used on his heart to mend his throat. He managed a louder shriek, yet the wound remained. He thrashed away from her, cringing in the grass.
She tried to glare at Death, but his calm gaze melted her resolve. “You win, Uncle. I shouldn’t have brought him back without knowing how to fix him.”
“No, you shouldn’t have.”
Perilise sighed down at the trembling man, tears in her eyes. “All right, you can take him with you now.”
“I’m afraid I can’t,” Death said.
“What? Can’t, or won’t?”
“I’m no monster, Perilise. I wouldn’t keep him alive just to teach you a lesson. You stabilized his condition when you resurrected him. His clock has been reset. I can’t claim him until his time is up once more.”
“But, but… what do I do with him?”
“Care for him. He’s your responsibility now.”
With a small flash of light Death blinked away, leaving them alone together. The man’s piteous eyes gazed up at Perilise. Her heart tore in two to see the intelligence reflected in them.
“I’m so sorry for what I’ve done to you. I hope, in time, you’ll forgive me.”
“Is… my city fallen?” he croaked.
She fought back tears. “Yes.”
“My wife and… children?”
She frowned in thought, casting her gaze over his native land. She beheld a beautiful woman with a soot-streaked face trudging up into the mountains, leading a child with each hand. A boy and girl, both bearing the man’s features.
Perilise gasped in relief. “Still alive.”
The man closed his eyes and relaxed into the ground. “That’s all that matters,” he whispered.
Leaning down, Perilise spoke in his ear. “I’ll protect your family for their entire lives, and your descendants too, for all time. I swear it.”
He shifted his head into her lap, groaning with pain, yet his eyes brimmed with solace as he looked at her. “Thank you.”
Brandon Ketchum is a speculative fiction writer of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. His stories include dark and weird horror and fantasy, science fiction, science fantasy, tech noir, high and urban fantasy, and pulp. He has been published with Nocturnal Press Publication’s Torched, Mad Scientist Journal, Pavor Nocturnus, and Schlock! Webzine, and attended the 2013 Cascade Writers’ Workshop.