Dying as if sleeping, Loving as if fearing
by Saliha E. Dogan
Author’s Note at the end
TW: Death, Lots and lots of talk about death, Murder, No Beta We Die Like Men (Not Proofread), Plot Holes, Long, Mild Romance
The night my brother died, it was raining. It wasn’t soft rain, it was the thundering, roaring kind, shaking the foundations of our centuries-old house. I could hear a dripping noise coming from the roof. I’ve always known that there was a hole in the roof, even though my brother had claimed over and over again that there wasn’t one. The rain had been a big phobia of my brother even since his youth. Every single time, he never failed to come to me, begging to be held and comforted. It was ironic that he died under the same thing he feared.
I can’t remember exactly how it happened. One moment we were reminiscing, laughing about the shared experiences from our past. Grieving the bleak memory of our parents, talking about how we should renovate the house for the upcoming winter. Before I could even comprehend what was going on, he was on the ground, below the stairs, his body twisting at an odd shape. Perhaps it was the fall that killed him, or it was the pure shock of falling that stopped his heart. Maybe I was in shock, because I didn’t react. No sound left my mouth, my eyes didn’t ever leave his frail, mangled body. Somehow, I knew there was no saving him. I stood there for several minutes, maybe even hours, then, as slowly as I could, making sure that the stairs never made any creaking noises, I walked downstairs. Past his corpse, past the portraits of our parents, there was the study-room. I took a few of the candles that we stored in the closet, and grabbed a match. Making sure that all the lights were turned off, I placed the candles around him, baring one which I took with me. I lit each and every candle, as slowly as I possibly could, then I rushed to hind behind the arching staircase.
A few breaths passed, and he appeared, emerging from the shadows. He looked.. ethereal, otherworldly, divine. Like something you couldn’t even picture in your wildest dreams. He was cloaked in dark cloth, his face was covered, and his bony hand held tightly onto his scythe. Dark smoke followed his steps, he was deadly quiet as he walked towards my brother.
I had done research about him a long time ago. During my early years, I was always a peculiar child. I was considered a quiet kid, my head always stuck in books and my mind filled with imaginations. It was then that I had discovered him, between the pages of a horror novella.
Thanatos. Personified Death. The Grim Reaper. The collector of souls, and the dead.
He was here, to collect my brother and I knew what I had to do. With self-assurance and misplaced daringness, I walked towards the cloaked figure. Wax dripped from the candle, running down my wrist. The scorching heat didn’t bother me, as I knew it should have.
“Please.” I said, willing my voice to be deeper than it ever had been.
“Again? Do you truly think that this time it’ll be any different?” His voice was drawling and low, almost comforting. I nodded my head as I tried to search for his face. It was still covered by that cloth.
“Alright then.” He murmured, “Join me in our game. If you win, I will grant any request you have.”
I didn’t have the confidence to ask about what would happen if he won, so I didn’t. He took a seat at the two-person chess table we had in our living room. I had witnessed my parents play it with each other countless times, and I had done the same with my brother. Now it was just me against him.
Before I had taken notice, he had chosen the white chess pieces, leaving me with the black ones. It seemed odd to me that death himself takes the white pieces. He moved his pawn two places. The match had begun.
I played instinctively, I had always been great at chess. Letting my mind wander, I thought about the past, the present, and the future. A boy had died last month, the news of his passing didn’t shake our town like it once would’ve. Memories of him were lost amongst tax rises, state elections, and school wide protests. His parents, who were friends of my parents, had called him “An ill-fated boy” and remarked that, “By some miracle, he may live past twenty.” That didn’t happen.
Neighbors always said that our town was cursed; damned by deities and doomed by the crimes of past residents. I couldn’t find fault in their crass accusations, our town had always had a somber feel. Streets covered in cobblestone and quaint family-owned shops still felt unwelcoming when the dimly-lit street lights created moving shadows out of everything and heavy mist covered each and every corner. Still, I was comforted by it, almost drawn to it, like a moth is to the flame.
The deaths had been happening in our quaint town ever since I could understand the weight of the word. It had been a noisy event, the first time one happened. Her parents had sobbed and weeped during her funeral, their tears forever staining the silk they had been wearing. Authorities had gotten involved, as there was no belief that the arrow going through the poor girl’s heart was caused by a suicide. No perpetrator was found and they ruled it as a freak accident.
As time went on and the deaths kept happening, they started getting handled in a silent manner. There were no investigations, nor any news coverings. We showed up at the mortuary, wearing our finest black suits and dresses, quietly listening to the family ramble on about the departed. After that, the deceased were only mentioned in hushed rumors between families and in the scary stories children told each other on the school playground.
The 20-year old grocery clerk, the teen girl who aspired to leave this cursed town, the little boy who collected frogs, the elderly man who greeted his grandchildren with a hug whenever he saw them… they were all forgotten, buried as a footnote in our town’s morbid history. My parents had faced the same fate too.
Which brings me here now.
We are playing chess, both of us paying the utmost attention to the game. I memorized the way his slender fingers move the pieces, each of them held in a gentle but steady grip. His hood covers his whole face, the whole room is dark and ominous, only lit by the multitude of candles still set around the room. Before I notice, something happens:
“…Checkmate.” He whispers. Once toneless and low, his voice is now soft and breathy.
I blink. This has never happened before. We had played so many times, and I had always won. I had actually lost this time.
No. It couldn’t be true- There was simply—I had always- This couldn’t have been—It shouldn’t have turned out this way! I should have won!
I look over the chessboard again and again, checking every single place to make sure that there was a mistake. That I had won. But it was the truth, I had lost. Humiliatingly, devastatingly, I had lost. After several minutes, I let my back hit the mahogany chair, letting out a few breaths. He finally put down my king piece, placing it delicately on the side. He rose up, almost doubling in height.
“It…disappoints me that I could never truly satisfy any of your requests.” He uttered. “So, allow me to..”
He walked over to me and knelt, taking my gloved hand in his. As gently as he could, he took off my glove, all while I observed his bony fingers. He pressed his lips onto the back of my hand and it occurred to me that he was mimicking a hand-kiss. I looked up at the ceiling, ignoring the display in front of me.
I wondered if this is what people meant when they talked about the tragedy of star-crossed lovers.
We were never meant to be, and yet I always yearned to have him with me. Murder after murder, they were all committed only to see him again and again. The grocery clerk drowned and left to be found. The old man, poisoned and hid. My own brother, pushed down the stairs, betrayed by the only person left on Earth he trusted. And yet, I had gotten to see him after every terrible deed I had done. I didn’t regret my actions, a better person would have.
He stood up, and took his scythe from where it had been placed. His hands held the weapon, and his head motioned for me to come closer. And like a fool, I walked towards my executioner. Destiny and fate had prescribed it, and it left him with no other choice than to do what he had always, and will always do. We both knew that I couldn’t be saved. There was no forgiveness or reconciliation that would save me from my own vices. He represented gentle death, he collected souls, and did not judge them. Everything I had done was selfish and needlessly cruel. I knew that I did not deserve this final act of kindness. Yet, I accepted it with open arms, smiling as he placed his scythe around my neck.
The last thing I saw were his eyes, beautiful and bright.
Author’s Note: This was fully written on the night it was due. Like from beginning to end. I thought it might be a bit too risque for the Magazine, but then I realized that I read worse things in 8th grade. Normally, I wouldn’t write something this serious, but it’s an idea I’ve had for a long time so I thought that I should just go ahead and write it! Also, tysm to my friend Nilgün (from Homestead HIgh School) for reading this whole thing at literally 9:20 P.M. Nilgün, you are such a girlboss!!!