~ a short story
Being unafraid of death doesn’t save you from it.
I know that. Even so, like to think it gives me an edge. Especially when it comes to combat.
You have to understand, when I fought Death, it wasn’t anything I had planned for.
One second I am standing on the subway, waiting in tedium, and the next, after briefly catching the eye of a spectre of a man in the crowd, I am facing down God himself amidst an infinite horizon of storms. Transported into a nightmare, aware and cold and alone.
Not God, I soon found out. But just as big. Death towered hundreds of stories into the sky before me, to the heavy clouds, toward the Heavens. Long black cloak the color of space washed over the landscape like a tsunami tide. I’d have been lost in that alone if it wasn’t for his interest in me.
Her? Theirs. Death claims no identity, I must assume. At any rate, Death wanted my blood first and my soul second.
Death’s hand rose to beckon me into a bout.
Their hood shadowed a forever grinning skull animated to life. Through the folds of that Godzilla-cloak came a humanoid form and function, bones and fingers, an ivory scalp crowned with cracks carrying two twin holes, their gaze as black as void. They gripped that patented scythe, nearly as tall, with minute skillfulness; what artists don’t depict, aside from this gargantuan size, is the fact that it’s double-sided, like a yin-yang, a blade on both ends facing either way. Not gonna lie, pretty rad.
Death swung it to the side, wielding the mythic weapon with potential fervor, while they pointed down to me with a long bony finger and curled it inward.
My time had come.
Not so easily reaped, I ran toward Death. I ran and stumbled over the rocky wastes below my feet, the colorless patina of a rotten, forgotten plane. But soon enough, I gathered my loosely-laced J’s into a determined sprint. My athleticism hadn’t left me yet in my old age. (Twenty-eight.)
Armed with only my hands, I ran toward Death to fight them to the death.
At that sight, Death cackled like a god might; with booming joviality, a crashing candor. It wasn’t enough to crush me. Their first swing of the scythe missed me as I rolled underneath it. The backhand sweep I leapt over as if we choreographed it that way.
Confidence gained, I gained on Death’s massive form. Their body became smaller the closer I drew. With each swing, my instincts pinged me into the most efficient response, deftly absorbing the distance to just narrowly avoid a touch. In the flow of the fight, dodging became breathing to me.
Purple lightning struck in between the distant stars of our infinite arena. The thunder never came. No epic orchestration of sound and fury garnered our fight as a spectacle. The only sounds were the woosh of Death’s weapon through air, and my own heaving breaths laboring against the end.
Sliding under the tenth strike from Death, catching the eleventh in between my palms, I rushed forward as I batted the cold pole aside. I was finally within striking distance of the foul fellow.
At the end of my run, Death was about 5’11”, like me.
Punches flew out from me. One two. One two three. One two three four.
Death blocked and dodged; swings became action-cancels. Their scythe spins grew clunky as my hands rained down a steady tempo. Death caught them in the ribs first, and the jaw second.
Death backpedaled. I came on stronger for it, with a roar of vivacity. Chops and forearms struck from my core, hips turned into every one, one after another.
Joy was the thing within me as I gave Death my hands.
Their bones were brittle, contrary to my expectation. They cracked and gave way as my knuckles pulsed and bled. Soon, Death, could no longer gather the strength to bring the double-scythe around. I rose and worked their jaw, seeking unconsciousness.
A foolish endeavor. Death did not falter. They watched my work with a dispassionate gaze; even as bones crinkled under the force of my jabs and hooks, my uppercuts and knees and the occasional roundhouse. I channeled films and exercise vids. With the weight of the rounds upon me, avoiding every lurching counterattack the skeleton gave me, I poured sweat onto the underworld pebbles at my feet. I wasn’t going to stop until Death left their own and lay back in the dirt.
The scythe finally hit the ground as I delivered a bow to their temple. The hardest bone in my body struck home to soften the key component of their skull. At that, Death opened their broken jaw and screeched at me, eyes glowing darker, void-ier. This was the only thing Death gurgled to me.
When I caught my breath, I was back. Back in the subway. The bustle of people swarmed about me, their smells and mumblings captured once more inside of my head. I was sweating harder than I was back there. Fatigue settled into me.
I blinked and looked around. The place was the same I’d started in. Midday subway traffic, the swirl of a listless mob spectacled my Sunday. The mysterious eye of that spectre of a man in near distance was nowhere to be found. That tulpa of Death who’d transported me. Chosen me? Gone. Imagined?
I couldn’t know. I was back. And Death was gone.
You see, whether or not you believe that I washed the Grim Reaper with my bare hands doesn’t really matter to me.
The simple truth is that I did. And even so, I am back here. Dying the same as before, the old-fashioned way.
You can’t defeat Death, not truly. My bout proved that.
And yet, every time I gaze at my scarred knuckles in the sun I remember.
Versus Death, I am undefeated. ~