Pale Merciful Death
Some of the dying I was called for, and some I chose.
I had known a reaper who never gathered any extra, who resisted the temptation of collecting. He fooled himself into believing he was merciful.
A low buzzing sound grew until a plague of locusts filled my ears. It began.
A woman screamed for help as she clutched her two year old son in her arms, pushing against broad shoulders and petticoats, making her way to a lifeboat. She failed to move more than several feet.
Grabbing the woman’s upper arm, a man in uniform pulled her into an open space in front of him. He was tall and there was something about his straight spine that had people skirting around him. The man, still holding the woman’s arm with a tight grip, waved his other arm to clear a path to the lifeboat.
I moved in closer, watching the eye contact between these two strangers as he helped the woman and her child into the lifeboat. The child’s cheeks were cherubic; he snuggled close to his mother, thumb stuffed into his mouth. Shock settled into her bones, and the woman was silent. The man nodded at her and moved away. Her eyes followed him until she could no longer crane her neck to keep him in her line of sight.
The uniformed man maneuvered away from the lifeboat, back through the crowd. I brushed his shoulder from behind, my touch feather-light, marking him as mine to collect. He would not survive the night in this place, but he would not be lost either. Dying and moving on were not the worst that could happen.
The big tragedies always resulted in lost souls, no matter how skilled the reapers. There would always be those left dead but unreaped, prey to the scavengers. Desecrated.
My attention turned to a monocled man shoving his nearly grown son into another life boat. The gentleman tossed a book to the lad with the red cowlick. The Secret Garden.
“Remember, son, find your uncle in Syracuse. I will meet you.” The words were lies to everyone who heard.
A woman three times the boy’s age, hair unbound, and clad in only a robe and slippers, eased the book gently from the boy’s clutching fingers and threw it over the side of the boat.
“Dead weight, laddie,” she said and patted his hand.
I pulled the father away, back into the tsunami of bodies, marking him as mine. I danced around the dying, gathering until the locusts stopped and my head cleared.
Some of the harvested floated with me, the others had not yet succumbed. Room for one more, I went back for the first woman’s cherub. A mercy.
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Wordage: book, remember
Image: Titanic Sinking by Willy Stower