Death has hourglasses for every person. One day, during a cleaning, he found a dust covered one that had rolled under his desk.
“Hm,” Death said, twirling the hourglass in his hands. The sand had long trickled out through the cracks and had made a mess about the underside of the desk.
As he spun, golden sand, the sand of lives, flicked out into the open air. Rainbows, faded memories, and twisted things, all twirled together like fine thread into bolts of cloth. Knitted lines of fate, atomized, powdered, with nothing left behind except the assumption on the flow of time.
“You don’t have to do this, you know,” The sand spoke, and he read faces out of it. Then the entire scene, in gossamer, soul wrenching detail. He had once thought that theatres had stolen from him.
But they had not. Mortal ingenuity had come up with the idea themselves.
“But I’m going to do it,” the man said, turning away from his boyhood friend. He straightened his shoulders and stared at the recruitment office. “The money’ll cover my sis’s education, and when I get back…”
“If you get back,” the friend said. Thin. Nearly skeletal.
“When I get back,” the man said, straightening up. “I’ll get my own education. Just you wait, I’ll be a doctor yet!”
His friend laughed. “Doctor Mortimer?”
“It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? But I think you’ll end up being the doctor at the end of it, after all.” the man’s life laughed. “Now, I know you can’t go with me over there, so stay with my family for me, will you?”
“You know I can’t do that Stan,” his friend said, grim.
“Nonsense. They’ll put up with you for as long as you got left,” the would-be soldier said, flashing him a grin. Missing a few teeth, replaced with those rimmed in silver. “You can count on it.”
Then the second hugged the first, tight enough that the first scrambled to breath.
“I’ll be back, you know.”
“I know,” the second said, swallowing. He didn’t know, of course.
But he knew.
He’d make it work.
Mort deserved to come home to something other than a useless grave, other than his family in shambles.
The second watched Mort walk away, and straightened his shoulders.
It wasn’t all that long before he would have his audience with death.
He stopped as the last few grains trickled across the cracks, hesitating as the last fraction of life remained. Death twirled his fingers, skeletal thin, and then twirled it in reverse. Sand flew back from the floor, back from the ephemeral void, and slid smoothly back into the cracks.
Lives didn’t break from a fall. Not a life like this.
He spun, and sand poured in. Faster, Faster, Faster, Faster, and then-
A crack of a gun.
Death paused in her rumination and stared at the bullet etched into the side of the glass. Cracks forming in micro-slowness.
Lazily, he traced his gaze over to the shelf that the glass had been knocked off of, tracing the trajectory with all the slowness and incapability of his position, and placed the glass back on the shelf.
There’d been a trade.
He rarely allowed trades.
“Just… whenever whatever happens to him happens, just ignore it, alright? I’m not asking for that much, I just… I want you to give him the time I was supposed to have, okay? Give him everything I had. Make his family happy again. Make them happy for me.”
It wasn’t very long ago that Death had been mortal himself, when the gods had died and fallen to the ground like rotten fruit, and sometimes…
in the right mood.
Death could be convinced.
His eyes didn’t work well anymore, and his head swam from years of age.
But his hands still clutched the flowers, and while each step made his bones ache and his muscles and the tears fell down his face, framing over old scars, it didn’t stop him from standing in front of the pauper grave.
It had taken a year’s pay, but he’d gotten him a damn tombstone.
Came back from the war and he was gone.
No fair at all.
They were supposed to grow old together dammit.
He was supposed to collect degrees like bottle caps.
They were going to be a family.
Mort opened his finger and roses fell onto the grave like empty bullet casings.
“Why couldn’t it be me?”