I had a dream.
I was sitting in bar. It was off, the way dreams are. I kept thinking it was the Blue Door even though it looked nothing like the Blue Door. In fact, after I had woken up, I realized it looked exactly like another bar across town, Paladium, down to the cracked leather on the bar stools to the cigarette smoke wafting out from the back. But in my dream, I thought it was the Blue Door.
Which bar it was doesn’t matter, actually. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have dwelled. I was in a bar, that was all that matters. I was sitting in the middle with some sort of drink in front of me. The sort of bright blue, fruity drink you could order at the Blue Door, but if you ordered one at Paladium the only thing you’d get is a glare. There was an umbrella. It was not pink, or blue, or green, but black and decorated with white skulls.
I was alone in the bar. There wasn’t even a bartender, despite the blended drink sitting in front of me. I didn’t question it. You don’t question things in dreams, do you? Unless you’re one of those people who can lucid dream. Never could pull it off, myself.
I was alone. There was soft music playing, too soft. I couldn’t identify it. Sometimes it sounded like a piano, sometimes someone humming. It was nice.
After a few sips of my drink, someone sat down a couple of seats away from me. Still, there was no bartender. But this person who sat had a drink in front of them, all the same. The music stopped. There was a television above the bar, now. Or maybe it had always been there. In the dream, I accepted it either way. It was tuned to the news. Some war, somewhere. I’d vaguely heard of it. I couldn’t tell you which one it was, now. It’s become…hazy. Probably because it didn’t matter. It could have been any of them.
The person who had sat down with me watch for a while, occasionally picking up their drink. Rolling the ice around and taking a sip. After a while of this, during which I sipped at my blue drink and never changed the amount in the glass, this person made a big sigh. The theatrical kind. The sort that invites conversation.
In real life I would have, of course, ignored this. In fact, had it come to being alone in a bar with a complete stranger I would have removed myself from the situation as soon as I could and avoided the whole thing to begin with. But we’re different in dreams, aren’t we? Things feel different. This stranger sat near me and I did not feel awkward. This person sighed, and I did not feel the usual pangs and twists of social anxiety. There was no fear of saying the right thing. I understood it didn’t matter.
So, this person sighs. Before I can say anything, they look at me and say, “Damn shame.”
And I say, “I thought you would have liked to see it.”
Because this person was Death.
I knew it the way I knew the bar was actually the Blue Door even though it looked like Paladium. An obvious fact. How did I come by this knowledge? I didn’t ask. You never do, in dreams. Like a child, you accept everything.
This person did not look like Death, in the way we imagine. No black cloak with the hood over a skull head, no scythe parked next to the door or in the umbrella stand. They were a person. I cannot recall their details just like I cannot recall what music was playing, but I do know they looked entirely human. I distinctly remember a round face, and an impression that youth was a lie.
Death shook their head rather sadly. They were not upset by my assumption, nor surprised. They sounded tired.
“Everyone thinks so. Humanity has painted me looming over conflict since they learned to stain berries onto stone.”
“Oh, is it one of those things where you don’t actually like your job, you just do it because you have to?”
Death made a face at me. “What? Fuck no! I love my job. I love collecting everything. Someday, I’ll have the complete set, and only then will I be happy to stop. But there’s something you forget. Not you you. The royal you. All of you.”
I thought about it for a while, and Death let me. They sipped at whatever they were drinking – it looked like some sort of whiskey drink, I don’t know – and I sipped at my never ending blue drink with the little black umbrella. The news went on and on. Different conflicts. Death, I believe, cried a bit, but I was too busy thinking to say anything.
“You’ll have to forgive me,” I finally said. “I seem to be in a forgetful mood.”
“ ‘A forgetful mood,’” Death mused. “A nice way to describe dreams. Yes.”
They said I was in a dream, but in the way of dreams, I didn’t believe it. Or maybe didn’t even really hear it. I was waiting for Death to tell me what I forgot.
“What you forgot,” they said. “Is that life produces death. Do you see? Everything dies. Everything, everything, everything. There’s no escape.”
They paused, like I should understand now. I still didn’t. Maybe I would have if I had been awake, but the brain asleep is far more soupy and meandering.
“You get them sooner,” I said, gesturing to the television. “Younger.”
Death shook their head. “Don’t care about age. Or if I do, older is better. Because do you know what an eighty year old man has that a twenty year old doesn’t?”
I stared at them blankly. Maybe I had too much blue drink in me.
“Kids. Grand kids. Great-grand kids, maybe. Do you see? Do you understand? I want you all to be healthy. Safe. Long-lived. I’m not War, I hate the way you spill each other’s blood. I’m not Famine, I hate to see the swollen bellies and sunken cheeks of the starving. I’m not Pestilence, I hate the diseases that eat you up from the inside. I want humans to live, for as long as they can. Because then they’ll make more humans. Then I can take them all. See?”
“I do.” And I wasn’t lying. It had finally sunk in. Made sense, and not just dream sense. It still makes sense to me now, when I think of it.
“Is that why I’m here?” I asked. “So you could tell me this?”
Death shrugged then. “No, I can just never stop myself from going off on that tangent. I wanted someone to have a quiet drink with.”
We finished our drinks then in comfortable silence, the sort of silence I usually only share with three other people. I woke up the next morning feeling very depersonalized and ended up calling off from work. Truth be told, it hasn’t really ended.
Because I can see it now. I can’t stop. And every time I see more senseless death, I wonder if Death is there. Reaping the young and crying over the lives they’ll never have.