The rain falls in clear sheets over a nicely polished wooden box. It runs down black umbrellas, along black coats, over black mud and into an open grave as a black coffin descends into its depths.
The only sound is of falling water on autumn leaves and the falling tears of those in attendence.
This is a funeral, I observe. How did I get here?
The mourners’ faces are familiar, identically dressed but each a separate instance of my life: a co-worker, a school friend, a sibling, a lover…
I walk over to the headstone. The name comes into view. It looks familiar.
It looks familiar because it’s mine.
My name is Carl Pamei.
Engraved in black capitals, ‘HERE LIES CARL PAMEI.’
This is my funeral.
It makes sense, really. It explains why the rain passes through me and why I don’t feel cold. It explains why I’m the only one not wearing black and it explains why no-one is looking at me, why no-one is speaking to me.
Well, almost no-one.
A lone figure stands in the cemetery, watching my funeral and me. The rain bends around him, afraid to touch the the robe raised over his head and hiding his face. He stands too tall to be human and his hands are of bone, one holding a huge scythe, the other reaching out, index finger extended.
The sight of the Grim Reaper or the Shinigami, in all his undead glory, provokes me to cry.
I can’t help it. The reality is starting to sink in. If this is the God of Death, then I’m…
I can’t bare to think the word and tears begin to pour down my cheeks. Though I can’t see his face, the Grim Reaper’s response is easily readable as he places a skeletal hand on his hip and waits, tapping his foot.
“This is definitely my least favourite reaction,” he mutters and although his voice is only a whisper, he sounds more like an irritated adolescent than a harbinger of death.
I peer into the shadow that instinct tells me that it must contain a skeleton’s eyes, trying to see the face of the one who addresses me in this manner.
“Are you…?” I try to ask, knowing the answer.
“Am I…?” I try again, the words catching in my throat.
Behind message was the silence is broken by a eulogy. I hear my name as a woman tells the congregated few of the great person I was.
I wonder if I should be more unnerved but the truth of my situation is hard to deny. I’m standing by the side of my grave. I’m watching all the people I love drop soft mud onto my coffin. And as I’m talking to the Shinigami, though the disembodied voice beneath his hood is cold, a warmth permeates the air. There is something oddly reassuring about his presence.
I feel a question forming on my lips, one that needs answering.
I speak out in a little tiny voice! “Why are you here?”
“I am here for you,” he replies. “You are dead.”
The word sends a chill down my spine.
“I don’t remember dying,” I protest.
“That doesn’t matter. You are still dead.”
A chill again. “But…”
“But nothing,” he silences me, his skeletal hand rising once more. “You know you are dead. Don’t deny it and don’t fight it.”
I ask him, “How did I die?”
Air enters Death’s hood in a single stream. It reminds me of the breath that precedes a scolding.
“That does not matter. Nothing else matters now, save one thing.”
“And what’s that?”
“It is the reason I’m here,” he replies. “The final part of dying. I am here to take you away from this world and to the Other Side.”
I turn to look down at my grave. In many ways it is as I would have pictured it; my name and two dates representing the brief period of history during which I existed. And then at the base, an epitaph. Something I once mentioned, almost in a joke, that I would have written on my tombstone.
It’s very poetic.
Which said, “Behold, that launch a thousand smile, and thy bringer of happiness.”
A part of me is waiting to get awaken. The other is very aware that this is no dream.
“Take my hand,” the Grim Reaper whisper, stepping forwards and extending his lifeless fingers. “Take my hand and leave this world. It is time.”
I can’t help it. As he asks, I turn to look over my shoulder at the one whose tears are heaviest.
Death draws in a rattling sigh.
“You were in love,” he concludes.
I answered, “Yes I am!”
The Grim Reaper does not react to my correction.
“Which one? The man in the long coat?”
“No, that’s my brother. The woman next to him is the one I love.”
I reach to clasp the ache in my chest where a heart used to beat but my hand runs through the translucent shade of my body, or perhaps it is my body that runs through my hand.
She, your love, does not wail. She does not sob but her tears run thicker than the rain that drenches and drips from her eyelashes. My brother stands at her side, his own face stronger, teeth set, eyes wide, tearless.
Seeing this scene I’m filled with a single thought. How do I fixed this.
“It doesn’t need fixing. Everything is as it should be,” the Grim Reaper replies before the thought ever makes it past my lips. “It’s time for us to go. Take my hand.”
I sense an urgency. The motion of his arm is languid but his words are firm. I look back to my lover standing hopelessly by my open grave. I see my brother with his dry eyes at her side. I think of everything I have done with my life and all the things that I still need to do and I feel the blank space in my memory that saw my last breath.
Why can’t I remember how I die?
I can tell that I’m trying the Grim Reaper’s patience but I don’t care. This is something I need to know.
“Perhaps the reason I cannot remember dying is because I don’t want to. I can’t imagine the experience was particularly pleasant.”
It doesn’t answer my question but the volume of his voice is growing. His extended hand is now more a command than an offering.
What’s on the other side I asked?
“That is not for you to know.”
“Why not? How can I agree to go there if you won’t tell me what ‘there’ is?”
“That is the point,” he replies…
I take the Reaper’s hands.
“Are you sure you’re ready? By taking my hand you will be making the decision to leave behind the only world you have ever known. You will never speak to your family or your loved ones again. You will never see your life’s work come to fruition. You may never know how it is that you met your end. And you have no idea what awaits you on the Other Side,” he said. “Are you sure you’re ready?” he asked again.
“Wait, I’m not ready yet,” I answered.
“It’s a big decision. You must consider it carefully. Or perhaps there is something else you wish to ask before you make your choice?” he said.
“What about all the things I’ll never get to do?”
“Oh, so you’re ambitious too,” Death observes, my emotionless facade slipping once again.
“Would you say you have unfinished business?”
“Yes,” I reply.
Death steps forward, his hand extended insistently. “Then it is all the more important that you take my hand.”
I take his hand. The dark beneath the Grim Reaper’s robe brightens.
He extends his hand to me and I raise mine to him. His skeletal fingers pass right through me.
Eyes turning upwards, I try to see an expression within the depths of Death’s robes but there is none.
“Is that supposed to happen?” I ask. “Why can’t I touch you?”
I can tell that the Grim Reaper must be annoyed beneath his hood as the same sulking voice I heard before returns.
“This is why I hate your kind,” he repeated the sentence.