Life and Death
By: Kathryn Frye
She is Life, and I am Death, and we are watching the young man from a few feet away. He sits on a splintered bench, its dedication plaque rusted beyond recognition, and leans forward with his elbows on his knees and his phone held in both hands. If he were to look up from the screen, he would see nothing but the determined bustle of campus foot traffic, hear nothing but the wind, the crunch of orange leaves, and the faint music emanating from the dangling earbuds of passersby. He doesn’t notice us. They never do.
“Almost makes you feel bad for him,” Life whispers, perhaps to herself.
“What does?” I say.
“This.” She waves her hand at the boy. Her face is as serious as she can make it, but she never looks serious. She looks young and exuberant, and the golden light that emanates from her always reflects in the sparkle of her eyes. She always looks like she’s on the verge of glorious laughter. Even now, as she shakes her head at the young man. “He doesn’t know what’s coming.”
“They never do.”
The boy’s name is Eli. Eli, the college student, Eli the loving son, Eli the devoted boyfriend. Eli, who lives in a small apartment off campus and who works in his spare time at a thrift store, selling the discarded wares of humans come before him. Eli does not yet know it, but he is about to start thinking about Life and Death very soon.
I walk beside Eli, Life trailing behind us. The boy has a bounce to his steps, and a smile splits his face in two. Every few steps, he bounds out of his way to crunch a leaf into the sidewalk.
“It’s coming,” Life whispers.
Eli stops in his tracks, retrieving a phone from his pocket. He grins at the name on the screen. Ava Lindley. Eli writes back, meet me at the library in an hour?
I watch him start to put his phone away, then frown as it rings. “Hey Mom,” he says, holding it up to his ear. His frown only deepens. A hand covers his mouth. “Oh no. Oh no. Tell Mom I’ll be right there.”
Eli hangs up and he sprints down the sidewalk, veering off towards the parking lot.
Life smiles at me, her head cocked to the side like a child’s. “I’ll follow him.”
I nod, feeling the dread knot in my stomach. “And I have somewhere else to be.”
Later, I find Life in a hospital room, sitting on the edge of a bed. There lies Eli’s mom, eyes closed, monitor beeping with every heartbeat. “I wonder what human guilt feels like,” I say.
Life looks up at me, a ghost of a smile crossing her lips. She points a finger at Eli. “Like him, silly.”
He holds his mom’s hand in both of his. “Please don’t die,” he whispers. “I still need you.”
Eli has no idea. No idea.
Much is unknown to the human mind. Their thoughts, so limited, so wondrous, have no concept of the divine or the damned. That is how I am able to pass through their ranks unseen. That is how Life, as the setting sun signals the time, is able to lay her hand on the mother’s chest, causing her to gasp and bolt awake.
Eli throws his arms around her neck, crying. I look down at my hands, at the lifeblood still dripping off of them despite the countless times I’ve wiped them on my robe. Thousands and thousands of souls have stained my hands red, and I remember each and every one.
“I love making them so happy,” Life giggles.
“Only you are able to.”
She cocks her head at me. “What’s it like to kill
I watch Eli text Ava Lindley, a text she’ll never receive. The last text she ever received was from Eli. Wanna meet in the library? She was still reading his message when she stepped out onto the crosswalk. The oncoming traffic never saw her coming.
If Eli doesn’t know what human guilt is now, he will very soon.
He was lucky though. Ava Lindley’s soul was light in my arms. He will be joining her when his time comes.
“I don’t know. What’s it like to bring someone to life?”
Her brows crease together. “I don’t know why I’m so beloved and you are so hated.”
“You’re the prison sentence and I am the release,” I say. “You represent all the pain, the torture and senselessness, and yet they cling to you all the same. Why am I so hated?” I look to Eli, still smiling at his mother’s return. “Because I am unknown, and humans do so hate the unknown.”
Eli’s phone rings, delivering the message of his beloved’s doom. Life just laughs. She always laughs. She is Life, and I am Death. I never have a reason to laugh.