If a year could be classed as a serial killer, 2016 needs to be locked up forever. I won’t go through the list here – it’s too depressing and hurtful and won’t help anyone.
The best way I deal with terrible things is to write stories about them, trap the bad burny feelings in words so they can’t hurt me. This story is my own response to the growing list of talented people passing away. I’ve used a couple of famous Deaths to frame the idea – so I guess that makes this fan fiction. (My first ever – quite probably my last, so enjoy it while it’s here.)
‘YOU’RE LATE.’ A voice like tombstones falling. Then the fragile clatter of cup and saucer as they encounter the table-top two millimetres too soon.
A flash of a charming smile and a deep sigh as she sits down. ‘And hello to you, too. Sorry for being late. There was a family thing I had to clear up after Christmas. My siblings like to quarrel too much.’ Her too-pale hands reach for the cup. ‘Where shall we start?’
‘WE’RE DOING GEOGRAPHICAL THIS TIME?’ Blue star eyes winked off and on again, his too-thin fingers tinking nervously against his mug. ‘CHRONOLOGICAL IS PREFERABLE.’
She blows over the top of her drink, ruffling the frothed milk out of the way. She makes a good show of drinking it, even down to the inadvertent milk moustache. Nothing about her would look out of place to a casual passer-by – they wouldn’t even notice the moustache against the white of her face. But even that’s a hint.
The same observer would not be able to describe her companion, or pick him out of a line-up – not that he was a criminal or anything. They wouldn’t be able to identify him because every time someone looked his way, they found themselves distracted by something else, and their gaze would slide off his face without seeing. Still, he twitches at the edge of his hoodie with his too-thin fingers, uneasy at meeting in a trendy coffee house in this realm, even during the off-season between Christmas and New Year’s Eve at the odd liminal time of twilight.
‘Stop that. You’ll only shred it to bits.’ She grins at him
‘Lower your voice, if you can. You’re scaring the locals.’ Her cheeky grace disappears, replaced by steel. She may look young, but she is as old and endless as time itself.
Her companion shifts in his seat, tilts his head and clears his throat. The sound of boulders hitting a woodchipper bounces through the room. The other patrons glance around for the source of the startling noise, their attention slipping greasily over the dark figure and darting away from the pretty goth girl as she meets their eyes.
He hunches his shoulders up, tugging his hood further forward over his permanent smile. ‘APOLOGIES. I CAN ONLY TRY.’*
‘That’s an improvement,’ and she leans back, young and careless as before, cradling her cup just under her nose. ‘I suggest geographical so that we can choose the timing as we see fit. Last year’s schedule was a nightmare, trying to travel across the globe with mere nanoseconds to spare, just to keep to time. We can choose countries or divide across land masses.’ She mimes drinking again, and licks her top lip clean.
‘THAT IS A FAIR POINT. BUT WE MUST GUARD AGAINST FAVOURITISM.’
She pauses to consider this. ‘Of course. You’re right. But are any of our favourites on the list this-’ Her face opens in shock, remembering too late that his own father passed last year, swept to the next realm by the sound of her wings. ‘I’m so sorry. I haven’t seen you since our last meeting.’ She puts down the cup, reaches across the table, her too-pale skin matching the colour of his too-thin hands. ‘You don’t hate me?’
‘HOW CAN I? WE BOTH KNEW. WE ALL KNEW – EVEN HIM.’ His blue-star eyes flare but do not waver as they meet her own. The silence stretches as he tries to speak, finds only a lump in his non-existent throat. He coughs to clear it and tries again. ‘IT DOES SEEM ODD TO GO ON WITHOUT HIM HERE.’ He allows her to touch his too-thin hand, to hold it briefly in her own, before he pulls it back and hides it in his pocket. ‘YOU WILL SEE WHEN YOUR FATHER PASSES ON.’
‘NO!’ Sharp in the hipster coffee fug, eyes turn towards the shout, and confusion reigns as eyes slither over nothing much and oh drat, I’ve left the cooker on! The coffee house empties abruptly, even the staff running for home without locking up.
She scoffs at him and runs her hands through her night-dark hair. ‘They’re all gone, there’s no need to keep whispering now.’
‘IT’S DIFFICULT TO MODULATE MY VOLUME QUICKLY. TOMBSTONES ONLY FALL AT A DESIGNATED SPEED, YOU KNOW.’
She laughs, shaking her head. ‘It really is a ridiculous voice. But an excellent description.’ Looking up at him, she allows him to see her fear. ‘Not this year, please. He’s getting his act together; he’s still got loads of stories to tell.’ She clasps the pendant resting on her breastbone, her father’s gift to her forevermore. ‘He’s got some years yet, and he’s in good health – for a guy that doesn’t exercise and eats like a writer.’ They both smile.
‘AGREED. WE WILL LEAVE HIM ALONE. THIS YEAR.’
Her relief wavers at the qualifier. She nods, lowering her head in acquiescence.
‘WE BOTH HAVE A SOFT SPOT FOR THE UK. WE MUST NOT BE LENIENT.’ Between them, a slideshow flashes, casting awkward holographic shadows on their bone-white faces. He shows her scores of people: famous, infamous, unknown, loved, treasured, despised.
She holds up her hand, waves it through the slideshow, spinning it back to the beginning. The distinctive eyes, the snaggle-toothed grin, and the thin white face which would not have been out of place at this meeting. She flicks forward again, just by a dozen faces, stopping on another pale face, long nose, knowing eyes; she can almost hear the laconic drawl of his voice dealing insults out like cards.
‘Both of them?! So soon?’
‘YOU KNOW IT ISN’T MY CHOICE.’
‘You really are a bastard.’
‘YOU ARE ABOVE SUCH NAME-CALLING.’
‘You weren’t last year.’
‘I HAVE … GROWN.’
She snorts, and swipes the images again, sending them haring through the year to come. Stops. Stares at gleaming eyes, a wicked smile bedded among so many wrinkles. Sighs. ‘I guess it is her time … but after that loss of those two, do you think we-?’
‘YOU KNOW THAT NO WARNING CAN BE OFFERED.’
She sticks her tongue out and sits back with a huff. ‘Fine. Looks like it’s going to be a very harsh year. Next country?’
Neither asks who compiles the lists for them. Neither acknowledges the silent cloaked figure hiding in-between the shadows, reading the blank pages of his chained book. He merely turns the page, and reads the future.
*Note: The font for the reduced volume of Death’s dialogue is meant to be smaller. However, due to lack of coding skills, I can’t quite manage to get it to do that here. Apologies.