Friday, March 22, 2013

Prompt: Use this phrase: “Facing Death for a stranger”

Expert at the art of subway surfing, I waited for the train doors to stop at my feet. After a few passengers got out, I claimed my preferred seat – second row window. I stared tiredly at the Boston landscape, rolling the charm on my necklace between my fingers. My stop was the end station on the Red Line, so I didn’t have to pay attention to the stops.

With a start, I realized my charm was warm. And glowing. Crap. I took a quick inventory of the other passengers in the car, but no one looked on the verge of death. Then I looked through the window to the next car and saw Him. I shrank back, wanting to hide, wanting to live. It would be so much easier, so much safer to keep my head down, to look away. I always struggled with this moment, this choice. Facing Death for a stranger.

I looked down at the charm and my memory flashed back to that night, so long ago. I was climbing the steps to my brownstone and paused when I saw the young mother in 3C with the infant carrier at her feet and her little boy tugging on her skirt. She was looking in her purse for her keys, and the boy was moaning and chanting something unintelligible. As I took another step, I heard him say, “Mama, Mama, open the door. The Bad Man’s coming, Mama. Open the door!”

Automatically, I looked up and down the street behind us. There was no one in sight. We had streetlights on either side of the building, which always made me feel safer, like no one could lurk in the shadows when I was unlocking the door. “I’m sorry, ever since his daddy died last year—” she trailed off with a pinched look on her face.

I stepped forward, holding out my keys. “Here, let me. I know how it is—as soon as I drop my keys in my purse, they always fall under everything else.”

She looked up and smiled gratefully, picking up the carrier and taking her son’s hand. He looked up at me, still moaning. “Please, hurry, the Bad Man’s coming!”

She seemed embarrassed as she laughed. “He has such an imagination, my Niño!” She tugged him inside as I held the door, pulling it firmly shut behind us. They climbed the stairs ahead of me to the third floor.

“Good night,” I wished them as I turned the corner to continue to my apartment upstairs. She smiled and nodded distractedly as she resumed the search for her keys in front of their door.

Suddenly, I heard a scramble of running steps, and I looked down to see the boy running after me. I turned around and bent down as he reached me, gasping and red-faced. He pulled a charm necklace loose from the several I saw around his neck and drew it over his head. Pressing the charm in my hand, he whispered, “Wear this, and the Bad Man won’t hurt you. Promise?”

He was so serious, I nodded solemnly and dropped it over my head, tucking the charm under my blouse. Satisfied, he nodded and ran back down to his mother, just as she wrestled their door open and the carrier inside.

I don’t know why I kept the charm on. It was a whim really. Until two days later, I was waiting at the crosswalk at lunch and saw Him for the first time. This guy wearing headphones and jamming in his own little world pushed in front of me and stepped ahead, right in front of an oncoming taxi. Before I could think, I grabbed his hoodie and jerked back. He whipped around and almost hit me, and then we were surrounded by a dark wind, as if a tornado had dropped right over the two of us. A skeletal figure with giant black feathery wings stood between us, red eyes blazing. He pushed hoodie-guy out of the tornado and turned to look at me. He pointed to my neck with a bony finger, and I thought I was about to die. I looked down, and the charm was glowing brightly under my blouse. I could feel it burning hot against my skin.

“Charmed One. Protector,” I heard a dry whispery voice inside my head, but the *thing* in front of me didn’t open its mouth. And then it was gone. I was on the street corner with people rushing past me, and no hoodie-guy in sight.

And so it began. Over the years, I don’t know how many times the charm has glowed and He has appeared. Noone has ever seen it with me. Noone ever seems to notice anything, like a miniature tornado and Angel of Death aren’t any more big deal than any given weirdness in Boston. He’s never spoken to me again, but every time I have seen Him, someone who was about to die has lived. I have the feeling I am not His favorite person. I never take off the charm. Ever.

My choice. Right. I jumped up and grabbed my bag, running to the door between the cars. I struggled with the door handle, and I couldn’t get it open. I could see through the windows to the fat guy in a suit, back arched and head dropped back on the bar behind him, like he was having a heart attack or a stroke or something.

I struggled with the door, dropping my bag and pulling the charm out in front of me, banging it against the window. How close did I have to be? He looked up and saw me. I swear He smiled, even though His face never moved. I heard the voice in my head for only the second time in all these years. “Charmed One. Protectorrrrr…” It had a mocking tone, this time.

The kid sitting in front of me shook his head and jumped up. “Jeez, lady, what’s your damage?” he asked as he grabbed the handle and pushed down, sliding the door open. I didn’t even look at him as I pushed through, and suddenly I was in the whirlwind with the fat guy. And Him. He looked at me for a long time, then nodded slowly. The fat guy disappeared, and I heard the voice once more as the darkness disappeared.

“Charmed One. Protector.”

I looked down and saw the fat guy collapsed on his seat. People were already in motion, pulling the emergency stop, and a lady knelt next to him. “I’m a nurse. Help me get him lying down!”

I stepped back. I didn’t know how to do any of these things. My work was done. I went back through the door and ignored the puzzled look of the kid in front. The train would be stuck here for awhile, so I climbed off.

It was a nice night. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like going home and being alone. I thought I’d walk up Comm Ave and stop in at the Alston Pub for a pint.


Dogs in house:
Houdini, Brindle

Panera Musak

Time writing:
~45 minutes

March word count:


  1. Prompt: Use this phrase: “Facing Death for a stranger”

    I thanked the priest and quietly laid out my supplies. The ghost was disorientated, flailing uselessly at the open door, apparently unaware that while it could not cross the herb-laden threshold, sliding through the wall beside would be no problem. Luckily for us, new deaths were generally trapped in the thought-processes of the living. Nobles could afford to encircle a deathroom in herbs; peasants like my current clients spent what usually amounted to half their funerary budget on a thin threshold's worth of herbs plus my services.

    The family, unaware the boy's spirit was anywhere but his body, encircled the bed. The mother held tight another boy's hand, and a toddling child had fallen asleep in his father's arms. The father hid what was probably tears with a face scrunched low into his shirt. An elderly couple assisted the older sister in comforting her despondent mother. When I had first entered training for this profession, I had thought the spiritual elements would be the most trying--I could scare imagine then daily facing Death for a stranger--but it was dealing with the living left behind that was the hardest. Especially when the deceased was young, like today. But I could not afford emotion until my job was done.

    I began a soft chant, trying to disturb the family as little as possible. Death did not need a loud call; I often wondered if Death needed a verbal call at all. I felt Death's presence nearly immediately and lowered my chanting volume even more. Now, it was more to keep my mind on track, to protect my own spirit, than any magical function.

    1. Very nice! I love how different our stories usually are! Great intro with the confused ghost and a little class distinction. Good setting with very few "brush strokes" Strong depiction of the family, grieving - a lot going on, but you could easily refine that. I would split the 2nd half of the 2nd graph to focus her thoughts--huh, I "assume" her but you don't say so. You have 3 Death's in 3rd graph, but I like where it's going and would love to see more, so, mission accomplished in pulling in this reader, at least!

    2. Yeah, I noticed the Death's as I was writing but I was ready to assign a gender to Death just yet...

      And I also assume female narrator for mine, although I did not do anything to make that clear. Interesting that you picked that up.

  2. Love yours! I really got into the story reading it.

    1. Thanks! I think I have more of this story to tell. I wrote some of the boy's story but I think it really starts with his dad. So I may come back to these Death charms sometime...