Death Sentence


This is a short story that I wrote a few years ago.  It’s a bit rough in a few places, but I think it still accomplishes what I was trying to accomplish.

Death Sentence

It might seem strange if I told you that I vividly remember the night I died.  I was at my company’s social gathering, and I had just sat down when the Death Sentence was whispered in my ear.  I turned around to see the Grim Reaper, smiling victoriously.  With Death’s cold breath against my neck, and the chilling tone of his cold voice in my ear, I knew nothing but defeat.  Ice water ran through my veins, and I collapsed.  But I was not ready to give up.

Though my lips refused to move, my spirit cried out, “WAIT!  I’m not ready!”

“It’s too late,” Death replied, as he peered over my dying body with a haunting grin.  “And you’re not the only one I have taken tonight.  Look around at the rest of the party, I’ve taken many others, too.”

I looked around and saw several of my coworkers – some standing, some sitting; some smiling, some crying – all dead.  Some of the dead were talking with the living.  Some of the dead were in obvious pain, others were masking it, but all were hurt.

“What have you done?!” I cried out.  “What have they done to you?!”

“To me?” Death asked, mockingly.  “They’ve done nothing to me, except live.  Don’t you know that life is the enemy of death?  But death is always victorious.  Death can always end life.  Let me show you.”

Death reached out his blackened hands, and as he took mine we were taken back to the beginning of the night, and I saw my secretary, Sandi, sitting at her desk.  She looked up to speak, but I heard nothing.  Then I saw Death lean over her desk, his lips drawing near to her ear.

“Sandi!” I cried out to warn her, but it was no help.  Death whispered the Death Sentence into her ear, and I watched as the life left her body as she held back tears and continued to type at the computer.  With death at my side again, he laughed out loud.

“That was just the start!” Death bragged.  “Let me show you another!”  He walked me out to the party, which was just starting, and I saw him begin to grin again as he eyed another coworker.  This time it was Andrew, the mail sorter.  Death tapped him on the shoulder and whispered the Death Sentence in his ear, and the life immediately left Andrew’s body, and he turned and walked away, broken.

“One more for you!” Death said with glee.  He pointed to Penny, a woman I despised.  She had just earned the promotion I working toward – so I wasn’t saddened to see that Death was about to claim her too, until I actually watched him do it.  He walked up to her and she smiled, until he whispered the dreaded Death Sentence in her ear.  I watched the horror spread across her face, and immediately I recognized her pain.  I could relate to it.  It is the feeling of all joy being sucked from your body.  It was the very same pain I was feeling.

“Why are you doing this?!” I cried out.  Death just grinned.  “Why are you hurting all these people?”  He just laughed.

“What are you saying to them?” I begged.

This time he responded.  “I’m giving them the Death Sentence.”

“But what are you whispering?”

“It’s different for each of them.  There is no one phrase that kills, but each person has a sentence that destroys their soul.  And every Reaper knows just which Death Sentence to use.”

I became increasingly angry, until I was overwhelmed.  “WHO ARE YOU?” I yelled!

“Who are YOU?” the Reaper sneered, as he cast my body in front of a mirror.  The air was sucked from my lungs when my reflection showed the image of the man I was speaking to.  I was a Reaper.  Death was… me.

Suddenly I remembered the last words I spoke to Sandi as I was leaving the office.  “Sandi, one of these days the company will spring for a decent secretary, but for now we’ll settle for you.”

I remembered the last words I spoke to Andrew, “I hope you’re putting every paycheck into your son’s college account.  It’s humiliating enough to have a father who sorts mail – at least spare him from a life of doing the same.”

And the last words I spoke to Penny.  “I’m glad you got the job, Penny.  Make no mistake, I’m a better candidate.  But with you on the job, people know that beauty isn’t a requirement in this workplace.  Heck, with you around we don’t even need to buy mouse traps.”

Death was me.  I was the one speaking the Death Sentences.  And I realized that the Reaper who whispered in my ear was Penny’s husband, Rick, who came to defend his wife.  “You petty fool,” he said, “you may think my wife is ugly, but when it comes to looks, she’s still beating your late wife’s rotting corpse.”

That’s when I died.

As darkness surrounded me, my soul cried out for a second chance.  I could feel my body as it was cast into the depths of Sheol.  But a voice called out to me, offering refuge from the pits of death.  “You have chosen death for far too long,” said the voice, “but if you want to know victory, you will choose life.  Death only thinks it is victorious – but I am empowering you with words of resurrection.  You have left people with death, but your words also have the power of life.”

Then the voice said the words that restored my soul.  “You are mourning your wife’s death, and you have chosen to hurt others.  But this is the truth:  You are the perfect creation of God.  You are filled with gifts and talents that He has given you, and He loves you more deeply than you will ever know.  It is time to leave behind death and choose life.”

Air filled my lungs again, as I faced the man who was my Grim Reaper.  I looked into Rick’s eyes and recognized the decision that was facing me.  I could continue to choose death, and it would certainly be easier.  Another unkind word would be the end of the conversation, I could turn and walk away.  But if I wanted to know victory, it would require something far more difficult.  It would require sacrifice and humility.  It would require sincerity and vulnerability, because rather than taking the easy way out with words of death, I would need to choose words of life.  I would need to plead for forgiveness, and choose words of truth and affirmation.

And perhaps if life is the path I choose, I will open myself to a new discovery:  That Death was wrong all along – it is not victorious.  It is vicious and desperately fights to overpower, but victory belongs to Life.  But whether or not I will ever know the victory of life depends on my next words.

“You know, Rick,” I said…

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