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AFTER — a fiction by ollie francis
You might consider Death to be a vindictive character. But he’s nothing like that when you get to know him.
You might consider Death to be a vindictive character. Heartless, disconnected, stoically amoral in the way he takes us from this world. But he’s nothing like that when you get to know him.
His cottage sits in the heart of the wood. Moss-covered branches lean against the dry stone walls. In places the wall has fallen down, the bricks scattered across the floor, allowing the forest animals into the garden to nibble on his flowers. He promises that one day he will fix it, bring someone in who knows what they are doing. But it is a dying art, he tells me, and good craftsmen are hard to find.
He takes the cold bodies of the forest creatures from his overgrown lawn and buries them among the trees.
When he brought me here, he gave me bread and jam and strong tea, served in a chipped cup. I sipped the tea while he told me stories.
In the mornings he leaves me here to do his work. It is the saddest time of day.
Later, when he returns, I ask him how it went. He shrugs and sinks into the rotting armchair while I bring him oatcakes and honey. He eats them in silence, thanks me for my kindness.
In the afternoon we chop wood. His axe is older than mine. One day he will let me use it, he promises. When I am strong enough. When I have grown.
I ask him about my life before this place. It is his favourite conversation. He leans on his axe shaft, smiles as he tells me the stories I have heard before.
It is a wonder to be told about yourself. Sometimes I feel I remember something and tell him it is all coming back to me. He shakes his head, tells me I’m just remembering the last time he told me. Memory is like that, he says. More often than not, you’re not remembering the actual event, but the memory of remembering. You don’t remember your dreams — just the feeling you had when you woke up.
The evenings are long. We take the wood we have prepared and load it next to the old stove inside. It will see us into the night. A whole day of chopping and the pile seems so small. It will last, he tells me.
I ask him why he never brings anyone else to his cottage. Sometimes I might wish for more company than just his skeletal figure in the night. He does not answer me. The fire glitters across the remains of his face.
I wonder how long I have been here.
Originally published on Tumblr