Dot Beenderman carried a dinner tray with two meals on it up the stairs to the second floor of her farmhouse. One plate was pale blue. One cup was a smiling cow with a plastic straw. The other plate was for her husband Carl. The first her four-year-old Mark.
At the top of the stairs, she turned to deliver Carl’s plate first then Mark’s where she would spend more time. But a hard squeal from her son’s room changed her order.
She opened his door. “Hey, honey. Brought you some food.”
He tried to compose himself but curled into his blanket grimacing. “I’m burning in my tummy.”
Dot set the tray down and went to his bedside. She felt his forehead hot with fever. Micro tremors coursed through him. He hadn’t eaten in days. She tried giving him fortified smoothies. He would only take some juice or water at times. He looked up at her through cloudy eyes. A single night light lit the room.
Dot got up to get his apple juice. While her back was turned, she crunched up half a pain pill and put it in the juice. She brought the cup to the bed and sat him gently upright to drink from it.
“Just a couple of sips, Markie.”
Little Mark forced himself to take two sips from the straw. The fluid hitting his dry throat caused him to cough. He rolled back into a ball with his blankets.
“Make it stop Mommy. Please.”
Dot rubbed his back and softly sang Inchworm to him. He fell into a fidgety sleep. She watched Mark’s unpeaceful slumber a moment more then left for her husband.
She heard voices coming from the bedroom she shared with Carl. He listened to the radio since he couldn’t read with his cloudy eyes. Dot opened the door and Carl sat up in bed fixing his hair. Her handsome man trying to gussy up for her.
She set the tray down on a table next to the bed and turned off the radio. She leaned over and kissed her husband on his warm cheek then his dry lips. She wasn’t afraid to catch anything.
She tilted her head to avoid eye contact.
“Was that Raskov on the radio right now.”
Carl nodded. The nod seemed to hurt his head and he touched his temples. “He says the world is trying to put itself in balance with the Forever Plague.”
“It’s a plague, Dot. An epidemic.”
“There hasn’t been a plague since the Middle Ages.”
“Don’t! Don’t act like you don’t know why.”
Dot reddened. She couldn’t meet his gaze again.
“Everyone has stopped dying. Not one death in years. And now the planet is punishing us.”
Dot offered his glass. “Why don’t you have a drink of water.”
He knocked it from her hand. “I’m not drinking your water with the crushed-up pills dammit!”
Dot bolted up. Carl had never raised his hand to her in their whole life. He frowned.
“It’s this damned pain.”
He held his hand out. Dot took it and sat back down.
“There is a natural order to life. We are born, we live, and we die. Now a part of the circle is missing. Life out of balance without death.”
“Isn’t it better without death?”
“Retirement homes with waiting lists, overcrowded hospitals because the terminally ill can’t perish, and so on. Does that burden sound good to you? Death had a purpose.”
His face grimaced and he started to tremor. His grip tightened. “I don’t want to die. No one does. But I don’t want this half-life either. What about Mark?”
“I would take Mark’s pain. And yours.”
His grip eased. “Remember when we met?”
“At St. Elizabeth’s ER. Your arm in a sling.”
“You were on the job. I was leaving and you were coming in. No one else saw you but I did. You were intense back then.”
“You loved me anyway.”
“I loved you for you. Not for what you did.”
“I love you both.”
“Then show us, Dot. Show us how much you care.”
They kissed as they did on that first date. Full of promise and passion.
That night, Dot walked across the pasture towards the large pond. Carl kept the cattle away so the water was always clear. As she neared the shoreline, she heard a couple of bullfrogs’ splash in.
Dot stripped down to her underwear and waded into the cold water. Mosquitos buzzed above her. When the water reached her armpits, she dove under. Dot swam from memory to the bottom. Her hands grazed wood and searched till they grasped a metal handle.
Tugging with all her might she pulled the wooden crate loose from the mud. Once free it had some buoyancy. She swam with it to the surface and dragged it ashore. The wooden crate was long as a guitar case. Two metal bands wrapped around the end with latches and tow padlocks.
Dot took a chain from around her neck that held a small key. She used that key to unlock the sealed crate. Inside was cloth so dark it was as if someone filled the interior with ebony ink.
She carefully unfurled the cloth revealing a long sharp curved blade. Dot placed that on the grass. The moonlight danced along the keen edge. She wrapped the cloth around her wet shoulders and slid her arms into the sleeves.
Back at the crate, she removed a long wooden staff with an S-curve and a handle. She took the blade and attached it to the top of the staff. Once assembled, she pounded the staff down twice on the dirt testing the hold of the blade. The scythe held fast.
She pulled the robe’s hood over her head finalizing her transformation. The robe’s folds and drapes almost floated now. Death with no hesitation turned and marched to the farmhouse. To do her job.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob D. Smith is a common man attempting to write uncommon fiction in Louisville, KY. His work has appeared in Apex Magazine and Shotgun Honey. He co-hosts The Abysmal Brutes podcast that explores pop culture storytelling at https://theabysmalbrutes.podbean.com/ Follow him on Twitter @RobSmith3