Death and The Old Man
written by: Daniel S. Liuzzi
The sun set as the overcast skies began to rain; the open meadow was silent of life with only the sound of rain on the tall grass. Any animal or insect that wanted to make a sound stayed quiet out of fear of the lone cloaked figure slowly gliding through the wet grass towards the small cabin that lay at the edge of the nearby forest. Death stood in the center of the meadow ominously observing the cabin with a thin trail of smoke coming from the smokestack. The lone occupant of the cabin unknowingly had an appointment with Death itself. As Death stood still, the rain fell harder. Gliding across the open landscape Death reached the door and slowly brought its bony hand up and rapped on the door with its knuckles.
Inside the cabin, the old man was sitting by the stove smoking his pipe while reading a book. Hearing the knocking he looked at the door and to his watch noting the time and wondering who it could be at this time. Setting down his book and hobbling to the door he unlatched the lock on the inside and opened the door to see Death standing before him, taller than the doorway. Opening his mouth in fright, his pipe hit the floor as he backed away from the door, falling back into his chair as the tall hooded figure bent down and entered the cabin and approached the old man with his arm stretched out and finger pointing.
“Do not ask for whom the bell tolls.” Death’s ether voice chilled the room, “It tolls for…” Death’s voice shook, “It tolls fo-fa-fa-ACHOO!”
The old Man sat in shock as he felt a misty spray come from the hood of Death as another sneeze came but this time was covered by the bony hand.
“Bless you.” The old man said as he handed death a handkerchief.
“Thank you.” Said Death as he blew his nose or at least the old man thought he did.
The old man noticed Death’s cloak was dripping, leaving a puddle on the floor, “My word!” the old man started, “You’ll catch your dea-” Death’s hood looked up at the man as if to say are you kidding? If the man says he would catch his death... “Never mind.” The old man stammered. “You should get out of those wet clothes; I’ll get you a blanket.” The old man shuffled off to a closet and rummaged around before finding the only blanket left.
After a brief argument and wrestle, the old man hung up Death’s robe by the stove to dry before looking at the chair as the skeletal face poked out from a pink blanket with flower prints on it, Death shivered underneath it. “How degrading…” Said Death as his teeth began to chatter.
“You’ll feel better in a moment, just sit and warm up and let your robe dry off.” Said the old man.
“Many millennia, many millennia I’ve walk among the living to reap the souls of those whose time ran out like grains of sand in an hourglass.” Death muttered as he pulled the blanket tighter around him, “I’ve been under oceans, dark tunnels beneath the earth, battlefields, mountain tops, subways and even dirty toilet stalls in nightclubs but this…this is the first time Death has fallen to the living world. I must have gone weak with my age. Woe to the eternal darkness! Woe to the living, Death’s legacy has been besmirched!”
The old man sat in the chair opposite Death who had now pulled his face into the blanket as if to hide shame. The old man’s one eyebrow perked up as he lit his pipe, “Are you finished?” he said impatiently.
“I’m afraid that I am mortal!” Death began to shiver under the blanket cocoon moaning.
“For Pete’s sake man you just caught a cold!” The old man puffed his pipe.
“I’ve never been ill a day in my existence! This is torture, agony, hell!” Death’s face popped out of the blanket.
“You’re just as bad as a Doctor who gets sick!”
“No, Doctors are worse, they interfere with my work.” Death corrected the old man.
The old man shrugged and got up from the chair and hobbled over into the kitchen area of the cabin and opened a pot on the stove and stirred the contents before pouring some into a bowl and hobbled over to Death and handed him the bowl.
“Here, eat this, you’ll feel better.” The old man said before sitting back in the chair, “Chili is good when you’re cold.”
“Chili huh…well…it smells good.” Death said as he took the spoon and shoveled in a spoonful of the food into his mouth. Death sat still before making an “Hmmm!” sound and continued to eat the chili. Suddenly Death stopped and put down the bowl and sat erect, “Are there beans in chili?!”
The old man sat up, “Yes why?”
“I can’t eat beans! They-they don’t agree with me!” Death said panicking before a loud gurgling sound came from Death who stood with his legs turned inward as he hunched over in pain. “I need a bathroom!”
The old man sat in shock and pointed with his pipe to the door that led into the toilet. Death ran past the man, his bony feet clacking on the wooden floor before slamming the door to the toilet shut. The old man sat in horror as other worldly sounds bellowed from behind the closed door that seemed to lightly shake the cabin, rattling the stovepipe. “My God!” the old man exclaimed.
“There’s no God here for the devil is in my bowels!” cried Death from the toilet.
Almost as fast as it started, the other worldly event ended with the sounds of Death washing his hands in the sink. The door opened and Death shuffled out wrapped in the blanket breathing a sigh of relief as he shuffled over back to the chair. The old man got up and cautiously looked into the bathroom and saw a purple glow coming from the toilet. Against his better judgment the old man carefully looked at what was in the toilet, horrified the old man used his foot to push the handle down flushing the toilet.
“At least flush it when you’re done!” the old man shouted at Death.
“It’s what you get for feeding me beans!” Death’s teeth snapped.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Death’s head snapped around completely with a cracking sound. The old man shuffled over to the door where he was greeted by a couple children, one dressed as a pumpkin and the other as a little sea monster, “Trick or treat!” the children said in harmony. Death hunkered down behind the chair as he watched the old man getting a bag of candy and giving each child a piece for their bag. After the old man closed the door, Death poked his head up.
“What was that just now?” Death asked.
“Trick-or-Treaters” the old man said with a smile.
“You’ve been around as long as you said you have and never heard of Trick or Treat? It’s Halloween!”
“All Hallows’ Eve…I forgot it was today.” Death sank down in the chair. “So they knock on a door, say ‘trick or treat!’ and you give them candy?”
“Yes.” Said the old man as he opened the woodstove and tossed in a couple large chunks of wood. The old man poked the coals with a poker before closing the stove door and turning to see Death rummaging through the bag of assorted candy and pulling out a bite size candy bar.
Death looked over at the man and shrugged, “Trick or treat? Did I do it right?”
The old man smiled and nodded. Death with his bony fingers then unwrapped the candy and popped the small cube of chocolate peanut butter goodness into his mouth. Death stood still for a moment, there was a gurgling sound coming from inside him that made his bones rattle, the old man became fearful that his toilet would be assaulted by another unholy bowel movement.
Death stopped vibrating and looked over to the old man, “I like it!”
The old man exhaled a sigh of relief, “Never had candy before?”
“No, I rarely eat…” Death then looked at his bony hands before correcting himself, “Human food that is.”
The old man sat back down in his chair and pulled out his pipe and looked at his watch, it was only seven now, there would be more visitors soon but what was he supposed to do with his houseguest? The old man looked over at his dinner table where a pumpkin sat, he was meaning to carve it and set it in the window but he had lost track of the time. He was then hit with an idea. He made his way over to the table and turned the pumpkin over, cut a hole in the bottom and pulled out as much of the slime and seeds as he could. Death in the meantime blew his nose and felt his own forehead checking if he had a fever. Death then realized there was a shadow over him and looked up and saw the old man with a pumpkin in his hands.
“Put this on!” the old man said.
Death looked from the old man to the pumpkin and back up to the old man and let out a scream of terror. He stood up from the chair, leaving behind the blanket he was wrapped in, stepped around the old man and tried running into the next room. The old man had the pumpkin tucked under his arm and with his free hand grabbed at the naked skeleton that was crawling over furniture, knocking over chairs and trying to crawl under things the whole while screaming at the top of his lungs which were not visible.
“Get that away from me!” Death shrieked kicking at the old man.
“Just put it on!” The old man shouted back.
“I’m naked you monster!” Death shouted back.
“You just look like a skeleton to anyone else!” The old man pleaded.
“It’s the principle of the matter! I’m not a decoration!” Death said as he turned and with both hands started slapping at the old man.
“It’s just for a few minutes till the children leave!”
“To Hades with the children, I have my principles!”
The whole while the struggle took place and the chase resuming occasionally, outside of the cabin were some children from the local children’s home with their caregivers all dressed up in costumes. The sounds from the inside made them confused if not a bit worried. The one caregiver reluctantly reached her arm out and knocked on the door. As she knocked, the sounds inside suddenly stopped and were replaced with loud hissing whispers before the door opened up.
“Happy Halloween!” the old man said slightly out of breath, “Come in out of the rain!”
The children and caregivers stepped into the warm cabin and the children immediately laughed and pointed at the skeleton sitting in the chair with the pumpkin on its head, there was even what looked to be steam or smoke coming from the pumpkin itself.
“Don’t mind him; he just sort of wandered in here this evening.” Said the old man nervously, not knowing why there was smoke coming from the pumpkin.
In the meantime the old man chatted with the children and caregivers and gave them candy and talked a little bit more with them before they finally left. As he had hoped, these would be the last visitors he would receive this evening since there were not many children in the nearby village. The old man turned to Death and pulled off the pumpkin that was almost hot to the touch. Death’s eyes glowed red as it was apparent that he was angered by what just had transpired.
“That tears it!” Death shouted as he stood up and walked over and grabbed his cloak, “I was willing to put up with your company till I felt better and I reaped you! I overlooked the blanket, I let the poisonous soup you call chili be forgiven but that-” Death pointed to the pumpkin on the floor, “Whoa-ho ho ho, I can’t forgive that!” Death stormed to the door and opened it and put on his cloak before stepping outside and turning to the old man who stood in the doorway, “And one more thing! You my good man are-” Death said as he jabbed his index finger into the old man’s chest and the old man suddenly turned grey and stiffened up falling backwards onto the floor, Death stood dumbfounded. Death looked around as if to make sure nobody saw what he just did before stepping back slowly and closing the front door.
Death walked briskly away from the cabin and back into the field as the rain began to lighten up and soon the moon shown hazily though the thinning clouds and misty air. Death stood in the middle of the meadow and looked at the moon and saw his carriage descend from the heavens before landing near him. Death opened the carriage door and stepped inside and took his seat and sighed, what should have been an easy task that he’d done millions of times turned out to be one of the worse situations he’d ever been in, but it’s over. He’ll go back to the netherworld, have a quick break before coming back to the world of the living to reap.
“Looks like we have a lot of time to kill together now.” A voice from the seat across from Death said.
Death looked up and saw the old man sitting across from him holding onto a pumpkin. The carriage shook as it flew through the night sky, and the silence was filled with Death’s screams as he and the old man wrestled in the back to determine if Death will wear the pumpkin on his head or not.
Daniel had two poems published in the June 2011 issue of the Taj Mahal Review and in the past contributed to Far Horizons E-mag.
Daniel is inspired by the works of Franz Kafka, HP Lovecraft and Vince Flynn.