by Josh Rountree
When Death came for
Mia, she told Him a lie.
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 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.
The voice again, like coffin nails being pulled from rotted wood.
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
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
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
“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 www.joshrountree.com for more information.