In the old days, when people died, Death did not knock on their door, but people’s souls traveled to meet Death.
This story is how I came to meet Death.
When I was a child, a couple whom I came to call Aunt and Uncle took me into their home and raised me.
They were good people and they took in many children, including a young girl named Angelique, who went away to a special school for smart kids.
When she would return in the summer, Angelique made my Aunt and Uncle very happy. Angelique had eyes as bright as neon signs and you could hear her brain buzzing behind them.
Me and Angelique were about the same age and when both of us reached our teen years, we fell in love.
My Uncle wasn’t okay with the idea that Angelique would become involved with me.
One day he told me he knew of our situation.
Let’s go to the roof, he said. That was my Uncle’s escape area when he needed a break from the family.
There was an old couch up there that he kept under a tarp. He removed the tarp and we sat down.
“Instead of focusing your energy on Angelique, you need to do something with your life,” he said to me.
“You should join the wrestling team at school or take some technical education courses,” he said. Uncle always urged me to join activities or learn a skill.
But I was too easily distracted to stick to the repetition needed to learn wrestling or a trade or just about anything.
But Uncle didn’t give up. He thought for a moment, and then said, “Here’s a moonshot idea. Your Aunt lately has complained of terrible headaches and stays in bed most days. She has lost weight and I fear she may soon be taking that journey to see Death.
“If you were to find Death and bring him here, maybe I could talk him out of…” his voice stopped.
So, off I went on a long journey. I met interesting characters; had profound experiences, both good and bad, that helped me become a better person. But I want to hold off recounting those details.
After long travels, I had not found Death, but the world has a way of figuring things out, so one day I was sitting on the beach in Galveston, Texas when an elderly man motioned to me.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” Death said.
He was sunburned like a shrimper and lived in a 13-foot travel trailer on the beach in a state park.
“I just bought it,” Death said of his camper. He had already strung some flamingo lights around the top. In fact, Death was the official host for the campsite.
I asked Death why he was here. Death said Texas waves were just the right size to keep him company without a lot of noise crowding out his thoughts.
I then told Death about my situation. Could he save my Aunt from her illness and help me and my love?
As we sat in lawn chairs, a fisherman nearby had reeled in a baby shark. Blood dripped down its white belly and the fisherman’s little kids squealed with terror and delight.
Death smiled and told me this story: “God was ready to kill me, but I knew how much he loved to play games.
“So, I begged God for mercy and offered a wager. I said to him, `If there would ever be a seven-second period at any time in the history of the universe where no evil act occurred, then I was history.’ God agreed to the bet.
“That was a long time ago and I’m pretty confident I’ll be around a while,” Death said.
Then Death said, “As far as your situation, I will resolve your concerns but I will retrieve the details from your memory because I think it would be unfair to give you this knowledge and no one else.
“Your Aunt is not dying. Those screaming kids are giving her headaches. Anyway, most people in general should never fear Me. Your life after death will be as you lived. Your deeds — both good and bad — will greet you on the other side. As far as the girl you love now, you’re both young and will have many joys and heartaches before you settle down, but with different people.”
Then Death got quiet and I knew he was going to wipe his words from my memory. But I interrupted him. “Death, I’ve had a long journey. Could I use the bathroom in your new travel trailer?”
Looking a little embarrassed, Death said, “The toilet isn’t working properly. Go out in the dunes.”
“That’s illegal,” I said.
“I’m hosting this area,” Death said.
So, I walked to the dunes and wrote down in a little notebook I kept in my pocket everything Death had just told me, adding that Death was going to erase it from my memory. Later, I wrote my Uncle to let him know that things would be okay for Aunt. And I wrote my love Angelique saying good-bye. That sounds cold but Death was right.
Me? I stayed in Texas and visit Death occasionally. It didn’t take him long to learn of my little trick in the dunes, but that didn’t bother him.
Eventually, I think, Death will die, which means there will be a seven-second period of peace. I told him this once and said I was willing to bet him a beer on that. His flamingo lights twinkled and moved in the breeze. “Forget the beer,” he said. “If I die, you can have my travel trailer.”
I was moved, but also a little scared, because I knew how much his little home meant to him.
Scott Rothschild is an old newspaper reporter now writing fiction.