One Day's Battle

by Dana Neily

The numbers are too high again and I shrink into the holes the shame makes in my flesh as I write them down. The doctor asks my opinion but I have none so I repeat his words back at him: “mental stress” “adjustment period” “two-pronged approach.” He hands me the paper slip and shakes the air above my hand and I am tumbling through the doors where Death is leaning against the wall, waiting for me.

Death’s cloak is tucked under his arm but his scrawny frame still seems to waver in its own personal wind. I refuse to look at his face but from the corner of my eye I catch my mom’s worried brows, the nose of a boy who bullied me in high school, the unhinged jaw of a movie alien that had scared me as a kid. He waits a few polite beats before falling into perfectly-synched step behind me.

“What did the old coot have to say this time?”

“Made me take that damn test again. Never thought I’d get graded on depression.” I try to stomp my feet but they brush lightly off the surface; I can barely feel the difference between grass and pavement. I slice with my arms, stretching, but the movement makes no difference on the numb and stale air. “I’m not as bad as it says.”

“Of course you’re not. You still won’t sleep with me.” Death’s head leans into my vision, forcing my gaze as his bangs sweep across in a carefully casual gesture, revealing new eyes, pathetic in their largeness.

“No and I never will.”

“Come now, darling.” His voice doesn’t change, grating alone at the same volume and pitch no matter how close or far he stands from me. I try to push his dark bulk from my path, but the cloak that now covers him turns waxy, clinging to my hairs where it touches my skin. “None of those boys could give you what you want.”

Along my neck now, the moving parts of Death slide. I had forgotten how heavy wearing Death was but a second later I can’t remember that I have known anything else.

“But I know your secrets: the little black box you keep in your head, the one line diary entries you scribble out in every conversation: ‘I think I’m going crazy. I shouldn’t be looking at my friends like that. Do I want a girlfriend?’” Death extends her neck to twine around mine and bends it forward to suck on her own breasts. “I can even mix and match if you prefer.’”

“He gave me Paxil,” I answer, though no question had been asked.

“Pppacks-il.” The sound is a smack and I recoil. “I had a minion called Paxil once.”

“You don’t have minions.”

“Just the one. But it goes by many names.” Death rolls his hips until a bulge bunches the lower fabric of his tight black jeans. His mouth expands until it fills the entirety of my view and then it grins.

“I like the stuff they gave you last summer.” Darkness is in the corners of my vision. “You slept with me then.” His tongue licking his lips is the size of my hand from finger to wrist. “You squirmed in your bed and you begged me. You gave me your blood.”

Underneath the skin of his lips, his true eyes glow with a black fire. My left hand twitches at the wrongness of it and shreds the darkness as my arm pulls free. The cloak ripples into perfect shape as my flesh burns.

I bounce a rhythmless tune against the sidewalk as I dismantle Death’s clothing, wrapping the material instead around the soft soles of my shoes. The boots I create tread on Death with every step.

“That hurts, darling.” I hear Death’s voice floating beside me as his deflated head drags behind my feet.

One Day's Battle by Dana Neily is a Blasted Tree original short story.

Feature Image by Public Domain Pictures