By Emilee (Oklahoma)
“Cancer, you say?” She asked, her teacup falling to its saucer as the fire hummed. The embers danced their way up the chimney and sent a warm glow throughout the room, they must’ve been more alive than she had been her entire life. “I’d always have a chance,” she’d say, but now she suddenly had no grasp on the ledge she held so securely for the past ten years—it was like she slipped and hadn’t even known it until she was bleeding on the ground.
“Oh yes, it’s very peaceful though. I assure you,” spoke the man. He stared into the fire, occasionally shifting his gaze and glancing around the room, but never at her. Never. “Oh, you see, it’s a very fine way to go. I have no arguments myself; there are dozens and dozens of terrible ways to die.” He sipped his tea, hearing a clash with the saucer as he slammed the cup onto the dish. “Though, I will say: illness is probably in my top 50. It is not, however, the absolute worst to stumble upon…”
His laugh echoed through the room, “It’s all very human! Ah, you see, man is a beast––the worst beast of them all! What, with you’ve been evolving for years and years, playing God, doing who knows what—pretending you’re invincible with your oh so clever ideas and religion. Thinking some imaginary figure in the sky can protect you from the inevitable…ha!” He tilted his hat to the side, turning the teacup gently on the saucer, exclaiming proudly and matter-of-fact, “No one will bat an eye at the news though, because we all must come to the end someday. All will be well, dear.”
She thought of the man, how curious he had been. Showing up in the middle of the night, in the worst of rainstorms in since July’s. She huffed, making a disapproving noise and sipping her tea again. She considered what he said and it made sense to her—why, it’s understandable how many would fear what was to come, but she never considered those new breakthroughs in illnesses as ‘playing God.’ Why, it is only man’s desire to prolong the worst, but would he really understand that need? It’s hard to understand humanity when you yourself are not human. That’s something he said that stuck out to her when he first arrived to her doorstep.
She’d been so caught in her own thoughts and never heard the man comment morbidly. “Oh my, how dreadful—simply dreadful. Your own mother—bless her soul—had to have known, giving you the drastic name of Ellen O’Hara,” he laughed. “Oh, what are the odds?” Not being able to contain his giddiness, he stood up and paced around the room slowly. This caught her attention and she eyed the man as he fingered through her books.
“Well,” she said shortly, “how long?” The man smiled a toothy grin and sighed, lightly and airy. He walked away from the bookshelf and fed the fire more logs to burn, then retreated to his chair to gaze into the gluttonous fire once more.
“Oh, I’m not sure,” he sighed, “perhaps a year, perhaps two weeks at best…you can never be sure with nature, Ellen.” The woman hummed in quiet agreement, dismissing the condescending tone. She wasn’t sure what to ask anymore––there wasn’t much else that mattered to know. When faced with the fact that you were going to die, especially so slowly, was it worth knowing more or less?
She remained quiet; the man did too. They sat in silence for a long while, long enough until the large fire began to die down to ashes, until the small embers began to cast long shadows across the walls of the living room. Funnily enough, she hadn’t noticed the man didn’t have one.
Her leg shook in anticipation, preparing herself to ask at least one final question. Before she could though, the man spoke up again. “I know what you’re thinking,” he stated, “why in the world would they be as merciful as to tell me? Little ol’ me, in the whole wide world…” She kept her stare down at her empty teacup. He chuckled, “Well, I guess you could say we’ve been waiting a very long time. Especially for you, Ellen, dear.” She forced her leg still and looked up at him, she cocked her head to the side and wondered sincerely what he meant by that.
As the last embers were giving up, she struggled to make out his figure. “What do you mean?” She asked, voice tiny. He only stood up and wandered to the door, picking up his coat gingerly. She stood up quickly, sending her teacup crashing to the floor. “What do you mean?” She was scared; she was desperate.
“…We all must know purity when we see it, and we’re all jealous of it. What do we do, Ellen? We rush for it, try to catch it…” she stared at him blankly, but he stood facing the door. “We try to catch it before the big man has the chance to take it from us. You are just one of many of the fish we hook…” He turned around slowly. She could tell he was looking at her. “When the time comes, you’ll be joining the rest of us…the rest of us, wherever we may go. Oh, you must know the servants of God…” she nodded very slowly, seeing his bright shark-teeth shine in the night as he grinned widely. “We’re very similar in our ways, but one little thing: the big man isn’t the one we work under.”
She fell to her chair, gripping her armrests, “You mean…hell? I’m going to Hell?” Her chest heaved, “What did I do to deserve this? What did I do?”
The man took a few more steps towards the door, slinging on his jacket, “That’s just it…” he said gently, opening the door.