Death haunts this forest. Night after night. He walks alone. He is the gatekeeper and no soul passes through unless he is there to guide it. And tonight is just like any other night…there is work to be done. He searches the fog, gliding from gravestone to gravestone, until he finds what he’s looking for.
The young girl’s skin glistens under the moonlight as she sits hugging her knees in front of a particularly tall gravestone. Someone special to her has been buried there. He already knows who she is. Her name is on his list. “Holly.” He whispers to himself.
He’d taken her father the year before and soon he’ll take her too. It isn’t her time yet but he has nothing better to do than wait. He hides amongst the trees and watches as she uses her finger to draw patterns in the dirt.
Suddenly she jumps up and turns in his direction. She can’t see him but she knows he’s there. Watching. And waiting. “Come on out. I’m not scared of you.” She calls out bravely.
A small gasp escapes her lips once he drifts out into the open but she doesn’t run away. Instead she just stares up at him with her large brown eyes. She almost reminds him of a deer caught in headlights…and he’s taken plenty of those to the other side.
His voice, low and gravelly, echoes around them. “Why are you here?” She shrinks back then and trips over a fallen branch. He makes no move to help her up. As she gets back to her feet, she brushes herself off then looks up at him with a scowl. “I was waiting for you.” She grumbles. “I’m ready to go. Now.”
This was a first. And as curious as he is, he knows that there are rules in place for a reason. “It is not your time yet.” He responds flatly. “Please. I’m begging you. I don’t want to spend another minute here.” Holly pleads. “I won’t last much longer anyways.” She covers her mouth and coughs as she says this.
He then notices the dark circles under her eyes. The way her dress hangs limply against her small frame, and the way her chest heaves each time she takes a breath. The sickness inside of her will destroy her body in less than a year.
Before he can change his mind, he quickly pulls his list from his robe and in a swift stroke, he crosses out Holly’s name. “Take my hand.” He reaches out towards her. “Do not be afraid.” Holly sighs in relief knowing that her fight is nearly over. “Thank you.” She murmurs, giving him a grateful smile before placing her hands in his.
He leads her to a small clearing and in the center of it is an unusual well. “What is this place?” She looks up at him uncertainly. “You have one wish and one wish only. Save yourself.” He tells her as he hands her a single gold coin. Holly gazes at him intently as she traces her fingers over the coin’s engraving. Then she closes her eyes and flips it into the well.
They both take a step back as a black cloud of smoke streams out of the well and surrounds Death. Once it clears, he gazes down at his new form in astonishment. A rush of emotion fills him from head to toe. “What have you done to me?” He asks in a bewildered tone.
Holly beams at him briefly before her eyes roll into the back of her head and she faints, hitting the ground with a soft thud. He runs to her, pulling her into his arms. “What have you done, foolish girl?” He cries. “I gave you back your humanity.” She whispers as she trembles all over. She takes a deep ragged breath and then is still.
He holds her close and runs his fingers through her hair. “You cannot just leave me now.” He feels as he’s been shattered into pieces. “Looks like Death has a heart after all.” Holly speaks as she stirs awake. “What did you wish for?” He begs to know. “I wished to be as you are. But different.” She opens her eyes once more. He watches as she transforms right before him. She is different now too.
Her pale skin is almost ghostly and her eyes are milky white. “What’s the point in living forever if you can’t enjoy it?” She lays her hand on his cheek and presses her cold lips gently to his temple. He feels a flutter in his stomach then…a feeling that he’d long forgotten.
“And what are we?” He rasps as his breath gets caught in his throat. “We are the gatekeepers. We are the only thing standing between this world and the next.” She recites knowingly. “We are the reapers of lost souls.” He finishes for her. He helps her to her feet and she leans against him as he shows her the way back to the fog encased forest. “We are as one.” They whisper into the night.
Death haunts this forest. Night after night. Yet he no longer walks alone.