Monday, October 03, 2005

Little Death, Part II conclusion

Here is part II of "Little Death". Please forgive typos. I don't dare proof an old story. That would only lead to a bout of editing...

Thanks for the poem RRNN! And Carl V---hope 24 hours wasn't too long.

Again, Happy October. Hope you enjoy the rest of "Little Death" We're going for a walk now, looking for bats....and such.

Little Death, Part II

The boy stared, expressionless, past the old man, not seeing him.

Halloween is for the dead. Heart thumping, Jacob backed out of the doorway and stepped quickly past sepia portraits of long-dead relatives. Happy Halloween. He hurried, panting and wild-eyed down the stairs. Jacob Rabold had unintentionally stepped out of his spectator’s box and re-entered the game.
“Have to …get…some air,” he said, wheezing. He grabbed a sweater from the rack and jerked the front door open to the blinding gold light of late afternoon. He staggered to the rocking chair on the porch and plopped down, breathing raggedly. After a while, he quieted, gazing down the darkening street. A bit later, he began to rock, the chair creaking rhythmically.

If you call Death, Death will answer.

At six o’clock the streetlights flickered on. By seven, Jacob knew that something was coming.

“Okay, Dad, Jimmy is all ready. Don’t let him eat too much candy,” Leslie said, pulling on gloves to match her cat costume, complete with tiny ears and painted whiskers, “The emergency numbers are on the fridge. Treats are in the basket outside the front door.”

Steve wore a long black cape, red vest and plastic fangs. Leslie had colored in a fake widow’s peak. It emphasized Steve’s receding hairline in a way that gave Jacob a touch of satisfaction despite his trepidation. Jimmy looked exactly as he had this morning, but was different somehow, distant in the vague way only children can be. Jacob studied his grandson as though he’d materialized from nowhere. This was the boy who’d drawn Death in crayon.

“Happy Halloween,” Jacob said hollowly. His daughter stopped plucking at her hair and looked at him, puzzled.

The doorbell chimed.

“Well, who could that be?”, she asked, her eyes lingering on her father’s face as she opened the door.

There stood Death, in miniature, framed by the porch columns.

Leslie’s jaw dropped, but she recovered quickly. “Of course! You must be Markie from next door! What a terribly clever costume. I’ve got to get your picture!” She laughed, digging for the disposable camera in her purse. Much later, a very changed Leslie would wake, wandering the dark house in search of that camera, rummaging blindly through drawers and cabinets until Steve, water glass and medication in hand, would find her and lead her back to bed.

For now though, her mind’s defenses were in place. They could still shape the inexplicable into the acceptable. She ignored her gut feeling that something is wrong, and bent to the little hooded figure, “Going Trick or Treat with Jimmy and Grampa?”

It nodded once and held up a plastic pail just like Jimmy’s. In its other hand was a plastic scythe.

Jacob saw the caller quite differently. This wasn’t the little boy from next door.

“I’ll…I’ll be right back,” he said, “I uh, it’s colder than I’d thought.” No one noticed, in the glare of the porch light, the waxy sheen of his face, or his trembling hands. For the third time today, his heart was racing and his gut felt full of worms. For the third time in decades, Jacob was afraid.

“R-right back,” he repeated, not blinking until he reached the stairs. He climbed them fast, grasping the handrail. He was unsettled but resigned and, oddly, excited. He felt …alive, with Death so near.

He reached his room and unlocked his desk drawer to reveal a familiar envelope. The notarized will he’d prepared for this moment. Only, the moment wasn’t like anything he might have expected. Was he truly ready?

He laughed aloud, then started at the unfamiliar sound.

“Death comes as a child,” marveled the old man who had no time for children. He laid the will neatly on his bed. It left everything, his savings and stock portfolio, his books, journals and mementos, to Jimmy. There was nothing left to do.

Laughter and happy conversation drifted up to him. He supposed the others weren’t meant to recognize Death, at least, not tonight. Jacob brushed a finger over his wife’s photo.

“Well, old girl, here I come!” He pulled his favorite jacket on in front of the mirror and offered himself a trembling half-smile.

“You’ve never been a coward, Jacob Rabold,” he said to the mirror, “don’t start now. He closed the door behind him.

“Where’d you disappear to, Dad?” Leslie asked.

“Went to get my jacket,” said Jacob, his eyes scanning the room.

“The boys are ready to go.”

“Well, so am I,” said Jacob, giving his daughter, to her astonishment, a peck on the cheek. He put his hands on her shoulders and said, “You’re a pretty thing, still.”
Leslie raised her eyebrows and giggled nervously, her eyes searching her father’s face.

“Must be the full moon,” She said, hugging him. “We’re all a little weird tonight. Happy Halloween!”

Jacob stepped out into the night. He saw Death and the Ewok under the streetlight swinging their pails and laughing. He fought off a momentary instinct to flee.

There’s no tomorrow.

There’s no tomorrow!

A sudden gust of cold wind washed over Jacob’s face. It left a sense of freedom so clear and bright he was drunk with it.

“Let’s go!” he said.

The trio set out down the street, marched over the rise and disappeared around the corner. Two hours later they plunked down, breathless and laughing, onto the front porch steps. Their feet were cold and their pails filled with all sorts of candies. Jacob’s throat was raw from laughing and hooting in wonderfully cold air that smelled of chimney smoke and pine. His newfound sense of wonder had conquered his fears. He was intoxicated and energized.

“This was the best day EVER, Gram-puh!” cried Jimmy, throwing his arms around the old man’s neck.

Indeed, it had been wonderful. Jacob had been Scrooge, on Christmas morning, greeting everyone they met, surprising the neighborhood with his cheer. He had skipped, danced, swung his grandson about, told corny jokes, marveled at the stars, gobbled sweets…

Like there was no tomorrow, Jacob thought. Because, there wasn’t.

It was all done. Jacob’s life played out before him. It had been a visitor that stayed too long and wore out its welcome. But now, oh now, in parting, Jacob admired its finer traits, loved its ironies, forgave its regrets. Hindsight sharpened his vision. Awe and humility softened his soul. Life had mostly been good, hadn’t it? He envisioned Emma, waiting for him in a pool of light. Emma.

“Time?” he mouthed silently at the small, dark figure, suddenly still.

“Yes, it is, “ said Death, in its child’s voice, “ready?”

“Yes,” said Jacob and Jimmy.

Jacob looked at his grandson, thinking only that he must tell Jimmy how much he loves him before he goes. He froze because, at that moment, Death reached up and pulled its hood back. Jacob stared into an angelic face with eyes of a shade that never existed, that could only be described as silent. A gentle voice said, “Good-bye, Jacob, for now.”

“Wha…?” Jacob gasped. The wind had picked up again. It howled through the trees. “But…I thought..WAIT!”

“Jacob, I have not come for you,” said Death, robes swirling about the voice. Jimmy pulled off his mask and smiled at Jacob. Bits of sugar clung to the corners of his mouth. The mask fell to the steps and the boy dropped lifeless into his grandfather’s arms.

Jacob looked up, his face slack with shock.

“…but, I will,” said a whisper on the wind.

The branches rustled above the empty street. The stars twinkled. And under the autumn moon, in the gentle fall of the last leaves, Jacob Rabold cradled the small, still body of his grandson. He pressed his lips to the boy’s forehead, and began to sob.



Really_Rather_Not_Nice said...

Breathless and cold right now.
Kind of stunned.
Um... yeah.

Carl V. said...

I really didn't see that coming. Great story to read at just a few minutes after midnight this October night. I guess waiting 24 hrs wasn't too long...though it felt like an eternity in this instant gratification age we live in! :) Very nice and spooky...thank you!!!

K said...


Lisa, don't DO that to me. Seemed like it was going to be a story about going gentle into that good night, and then...

I actually started back in my chair.

Cultural question: do adults actually dress up to receive trick-or-treaters in America? Or is that just something they do in sitcoms? Enquiring minds want to know...

ivenotime said...

Ooh, what a good read and much more fun than getting ready for work! A great way to kick off October. K, Halloween is picking up steam in the states in seems - I don't remember any parent dressing up when I was a kid, and now a good percentage of them get into the holiday, with great decorations all around their house and property. Maybe us babyboomers have more fun in life than our folks did...or maybe we're more immature..

Carl V. said...

We dress up occasionally and over the years as my daughter has trick or treated I've seen adults dressed up. Usually its the houses with lots of Halloween decorations that you find the people dressed up to give out candy.

daecabhir said...

Um, woah. Ya got me there... and left me a little teary-eyed.

Quixotic said...

Finally found myself with enough spare minutes to sit and read. Loved the story - was a little stunned by the ending! Spooksome!

Janet said...

jesus h christ, I was getting all teary, thinking the old man was going...what a twist! Eek!