Cool Rejection

by Josh Rountree


When Death came for Mia, she told Him a lie.

Frigid fingers touched her arm, filling her with a second’s longing for eternal blackness.  Her heart caught for an instant, then resumed its labor as her eyelids unlocked and her gaze fell upon man’s greatest enemy.  She clawed her sheets, desperate for salvation, as she watched the shimmering vortex of utterly nothing hover just above her chest.  When Death spoke, His voice sounded like the crackle of breaking bones, and a graveyard stench enveloped Mia in a cool embrace.

“Mia Barrow?”

Mia wanted to hide beneath the covers, shut her eyes tight like a child who thinks unseen terrors cannot harm her.  But she couldn’t look away.  Her eyes followed the absence of light, the soulless essence that had come to end her existence.  Hadn’t she known the recurring pain in her chest was a symptom of something more than just heartburn?  But she’d always thought not knowing was infinitely better than living under the terrible threat of death.  Now she felt foolish and longed for another chance.

“Mia Barrow?”  The voice again, like coffin nails being pulled from rotted wood.

“No!  I refuse you, I’m not Mia.”  There, such a simple lie, though surely one such as Death could not be so easily fooled.  But Mia was an exceptional liar.  Lying to oneself was the most difficult form of deception, and the hardships in her life had given her cause for practice.  It was easier to believe a father’s fists were weapons of love, and a husband's transgressions were just nagging paranoia.  For Mia, fantasy was nothing more than a palatable form of reality.

Death hung in the air, silent save for a windy, swirling sound, like the rustle of graveyard leaves.  Then to Mia’s amazement, the darkness devoured itself.  Mia found herself alone with her tiny lie, flush with the excitement only an encounter with danger can provide, and astonished that she'd managed to reject Death.

It took an hour for her pulse to return to normal.  When slender wedges of sun began to force their way between the slats of her mini blinds, she pushed back her blankets and went to wake Amy for school.  The floorboards of the old house were like slabs of ice beneath her bare feet, and she stepped quickly into Amy’s carpeted bedroom.  Here, the heater labored to warm the tiny room, groaning and wailing like a dying monster struggling to escape from a tin cage.  She could see her own breath escaping in frosty clouds.  As she reached her daughter’s bedside, the threads of her world began to unravel. 

No frosty clouds appeared from Amy’s mouth. The chest beneath her pink flannel pajamas lay motionless, and her wide glassy eyes stared at the ceiling.  Confusion and terror were etched into her ashen face, as if created by the trembling hand of some insane sculptor.  Amy looked as if her eyes had seen Death Himself, and as Mia fell across the stiffening body of her daughter, she knew that was exactly what had happened.

“You can have me!” she said, a desperate overture, a plea for Death’s mercy.  “Just bring her back.”  But her words went unanswered in the stillness of early morning.  And in the terrible moments that followed, Mia learned there are fates worse than death, not the least of which, Death's cool rejection.  


Copyright © Josh Rountree 2004

Photo Copyright © Eric Marin 2004

About the Author:

Josh Rountree lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and two sons.  His fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy and a number of small press publications.  Visit his website at for more information.



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