Death is like most big things in life: it’s scary until you try it. Afterward, you can look back and scoff and wonder just what you were afraid of. It’s over quickly, it’s not confusing or difficult to follow—it doesn’t even hurt that badly. Now, don’t get me wrong, dying can hurt. Dying can hurt like hell—that’s why you don’t have to do that part alone. Death is strictly a solo gig, but usually you get a little help with dying.
My dying hurt, I’ll be honest. It was long and slow and painful and worst of all, it was outside. I’ve never been much of an outdoor girl—he knew that too. I never wanted to go camping or hiking or—God, what was it? Ice fishing. The dying was bad enough, but outside? In the wet leaves? That was adding insult to injury.
I don’t remember what it was that drove me to finally agree to go out with him. Isn’t that weird? It seemed like something so important at the time…and now, compared to everything else, it’s lost almost all significance. Instead, I remember the sunlight streaming through the trees, casting the forest into a golden haze. I remember the chill in the air, the feeling of my hands in the pockets of my sweatshirt.
I remember that I didn’t want to—but that didn’t seem to bother him. He held my hands above my head while the sky above me grew hazy and the treetops began to spin. It was then, with this suddenly unfamiliar beast moving on top of me, that I felt the first pinprick of dying.
“If you tell anyone about this,” he panted, his voice cutting through my Technicolor fog, “I swear to God I’ll kill you.”
And here, I thought he was kidding.
With legs that barely held me, I managed to my feet. The forest was on his side that afternoon, spinning and twisting around me so that I couldn’t find my way out. I remember thinking that after the hospital and the police station, that I would go to Amanda’s house and tell her that I was never listening to her again.
“But he really likes you,” she told me again and again. “Half the girls in school would kill to go out with him.”
“Let them,” I had shrugged. “I don’t know what it is…I just don’t feel right about him.”
“Give him a shot,” she rolled her eyes. “He just might surprise you.”
I didn’t hear him come up behind me as I reached for a tree to support myself. I heard my own heart pounding in my ears, felt the blood surging through my veins. If I felt anything at all, it was when I was propelled forward by the blow to the head. I lay there, sprawled amongst the leaves while Dying went slowly, agonizingly to work.
When I awoke, Death was waiting for me. Death had chased Dying away and was staring down at me with a warm smile and an outstretched hand. “It’s better now,” Death promised, helping me to my feet. “You won’t hurt anymore.”
I didn’t let go once I was standing. “You look much different than I thought,” I said, offering a smile.
Death smiled back. “I get that a lot.”
If he hadn’t gone home, I would have followed Death away from him that day. If he had stared down in horror at what he had done, I would have departed on time like I was supposed to. But he didn’t. He kicked a few leaves over my sneakers, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and made his way home where his mother was waiting for him with a hot meal.
I’m still here because of him. Because he left me in the forest under a pile of wet leaves while my parents filled out missing persons reports. My friends are hanging posters of me and holding candle light vigils. He is going on like nothing ever happened.
I’m here and I’m holding up the line. Death returns every night for me, growing impatient when I don’t come along. There is never any talk of it while we wait together, but I know that the situation can’t be good for business.
I’m here and I’m waiting for you to find me. Find me and brush the leaves away from my face before I stop being beautiful. I’m screaming for you at the top of my lungs.
I’m still here.