This story was inspired by a haiku and subsequent conversation over on E.Rawls’ blog. Take a look at it, you won’t be disappointed. 🙂 (The link will take you to the page with the Haiku that inspired this story.)
The Phoenix and The Grim Reaper (and his Book)
I step inside the cave. It’s dark. I can’t really see very well.
The book. Where is the book?
Dare I strike a light? Without one, I don’t think I’ll see anything useful. I’ll have to take a chance.
So I take the box of matches from my pocket and blow lightly on it. A small stream of fire passes my pursed lips and the match ignites.
A little pool of light now surrounds me. I hold the match out, casting the light further into the cave. My hand shakes, making the light unstable, the shadows dance.
Please don’t let him come back, I pray. As if the fates are even listening to me.
Last time we spoke, we argued. It wasn’t pretty.
I catch a glimpse of the book on an altar at the back of the room.
My heart rate spikes at the sight of it. It’s actually here. Which means I actually have to cross this unknown room to get it.
I listen. Hard. There is no sound. Unless… no, that’s just me hearing things.
So I step forward, my legs shaking. Is it cold or hot in here? I can’t tell anymore.
Something crunches beneath my foot. I will not look down. I do not want to know what it is.
I keep going.
A gust of wind blows over me, creating little bumps on my bare arms.
Please don’t let that be him…
I can reach out and touch the book now, but I have to put out my match to pick it up. In darkness once more, I tuck the book beneath my arm and light another match. It’s awkward, but I manage it without setting fire to the precious pages.
I start the journey back to the exit. The wind blows at me again and threatens to kill my light. But it holds on, plucky little thing.
I reach the exit.
“What do you think you’re doing?” a large, deep voice, booms into the small space, filling it.
My heart constricts, and I think I might be having a heart attack.
I’m frozen. Do I run? Or turn and face him?
You can’t outrun him.
His black cloak melts into the deep shadows. I can’t see where he starts and ends. But the clock hanging from his neck, and the quill pen beside it reflect my light.
I am afraid. I don’t deny it.
He moves forward. I don’t think he’s walking, the steps are too fluid. I am over-aware of the book in my arm as he says, “You have my book.”
“Yes.” The word is barely audible, even to my ears.
But he hears it. “You need to give it back.”
I clutch onto it harder. “No.”
He is right in front of me now. I feel the chill coming from him, and start to shiver. “Do not fight me. You know you cannot.”
I wonder if he knows what I am.
I take a step back. “I’m leaving now.” The words shake, but I’m just pleased they actually leave my lips.
“No!” That chilled wind whips over me again, stronger this time. But I withstand it. My kind are strong, even in this weak human form.
I start to run down the tunnel. Heat pursues me.
Part way down the flames catch up with me, and consume my body. If he’s sending fire after me, then he definitely doesn’t know what I am.
I burn. It hurts, and I scream, feeling my body charring and falling apart.
Then, there is nothing.
For a while, just a little while, I am nothing. I am ashes on the ground. I have a kind of consciousness. But I do not think. I just am.
Then, awareness trickles back into me. And I feel my body returning to its true form.
The tunnel will barely contain me. The book is in my claws.
I laugh to myself. He burned it when he torched me. Maybe I made him mad. Or maybe he has spares .
But that doesn’t matter. I have what I need.
I waddle awkwardly to the cave entrance, and spread my wings into the mountain wind. I have done it.
I cry out with joy as the wind lifts me up.
They’ll never believe this back home.