From a burning house stumbled the young boy. Coughing up soot and gasping for air, he trudged through the rain, dilated pupils darting about. Around him danced the shifting shadow of fire.
His striped pajamas were in tatters. He carried nothing in his arms, save a small stuffed animal, which he clutched closer to his soaked chest as he walked through the darkness.
What… just happened, He thought. Pulled out of his room by his mother, he was told to run as fast as he could. As the light tore into his eyes, he had barreled down the burning hallway. Eyes fixated on the doorway, he heard cracks in the ceiling and an ear-splitting wrench…
Then, darkness. Like a switch being flipped, freezing rain was hitting his skin and midnight’s tenebrosity had enveloped his body.
The boy arrived at the street corner. His legs buckled underneath him and he fell to the concrete. Tears welled up in his eyes, sliding down his cheeks as he turned and saw the burning carcass of what was once his home. His parents and sister were nowhere in sight.
Down the street came ambulances and firetrucks, their lights flashing through the nightmare he had woken up to. The sirens were deafening, the smells of smoke and rain overwhelming, the colors too bright for his raw eyes. The boy closed them and covered his ears in despair, shivering on the sidewalk.
Time itself was stretched taut, and around him, the noises began to fade. After a moment of stillness, he opened his eyes again and everything seemed bearable. The colors were less saturated, the rain feeling weightless on his skin. Curiously, he lowered his hands and found that a muffled silence had blanketed the entire street.
How strange. The firemen seemed to be shouting orders, but their voices came from afar. Nobody had noticed him sitting in the darkness.
“Are you okay?” asked a voice behind him. The boy flinched, then let out a deep breath. It was a man he had never seen before; perhaps from a neighboring street. He was not alone; other figures had arrived as quickly as the fire started. They stood on the street, muttering to one another and taking pictures.
The boy remained quiet.
Sitting down gently, the man asked, “Is this your home?”
The stranger’s voice was warm and comforting. The young boy turned his head, and after a moment of hesitation, nodded.
The stranger sat in silence.
“What is happening?” the boy asked, his voice barely a whisper.
“Those men are trying to make sure nobody is hurt.” He paused, observing the firefighters. “It’s their job to save people caught in a fire.”
The boy felt a lump in his throat. “My family. They.. might still be inside. Are they going to help them?”
“They are going to try their best, of course. We can only watch and see what happens.”
They sat quietly, observing the firemen at work. Working with muffled shouts, they forced the flames to retreat deep into the house. With the flames, withdrew the neighbors, returning to their homes and beds.
“I need to go back now,” the boy declared, rising.
The man reached out and rested a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, it is not a good idea for you to return quite yet.”
“Why not! I.. need to find my family..” the boy stuttered.
“Come walk with me. I promise you will have as much time as you want to visit your house after. The firefighters will need some time to help your family,” he replied earnestly.
The boy frowned. “Why should I trust you? I don’t even know you.”
“I know your parents very well,” the man explained. “I was there when they met, actually, along with when they got married.” He paused, then recounted their names, along with the boy’s and his sister’s.
The boy shrugged. Something about the stranger’s demeanor made him seem truthful. The two began walking down the street, cloaked in the darkness that surrounded them.
The man took a deep breath. “In every life, there must be an end. It is inevitable, but dwelling on that forthcoming would be a disgrace to life itself. The only-” he paused, noticing the confused look on the young boy’s face.
The man smiled. “Let me say that slower.
“If we lived forever, then every minute or year we spend alive would not mean anything at all. The end of life is what gives life its meaning. Now, we should not focus on the end, not while we have our full lives to enjoy. But understanding life is treasured and fragile, helps people live to their fullest.
“Sometimes, the end of life happens without any warning. Beautiful lives and their possibilities may end in an instant.
“Do you think this is fair?” The main paused, looking at the young boy, who shook his head.
“Indeed, life is not fair. Some call life cruel, some call it pointless. What is to be recognized is that life needs to be well spent.”
The boy looked up, confused. “Why are you telling me this, sir?”
The man looked into the young boy’s eyes. “Your parents will be saved by those firefighters. Your sister has been hurt by the fire, but she will be okay. They have been brushed by death, tonight.”
The boy stopped walking. “My parents and my sister..? How do you know that?”
“I… know many things.” The man replied. He turned around and pointed.
The boy followed his finger and saw the silhouettes of two adults, accompanied by policemen. They seemed to be his parents, standing on the damp lawn.
He watched as they were escorted into an ambulance. It came rushing down the road seconds later, careening through the darkness and rainwater.
“Hey, HEY!” The boy shouted and waved. “Hey, I’m right here!”
The ambulance did not stop; the boy was hidden in the shadows.
“No, no, no. I’ve got to get back to my family!” he nervously cried.
The man put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “They will be okay, as I have said.” He began walking down the sidewalk, but the boy refused to move.
“How do you know about my sister?” He frowned.
The stranger turned around, observing the young boy. Illuminated under the dim street light, the boy noticed the man’s face. Full of scars and wrinkles, he was undeniably old.
“I have experienced an unimaginable amount of death, my dear friend. I have watched countless men suffer; whether it be on battlefields, cubicles, or deathbeds. I have grown accustomed to the black aura of a passing. I know your sister will cling onto life.”
The man slowly shook his head. “For all the death I’ve seen; the only thing I’ve learned is that life is most cherished when it is nigh lost.”
The little boy did not understand the man’s outburst. He kicked at a rock and asked, “Can you bring me to my family? I need to see my sister.”
The man looked up, piercing dark eyes rising to meet the boy’s own. “My child, you are dead. All that remains is your spirit.”
The boy laughed. “That can’t be! I am right here.. Right?”
He searched for the man’s face, but his companion had turned away. A moment of silence passed, then the man spoke.
“After death, your soul is free to go anywhere, visit anyone. Life is insistent on a moment, however prolonged, for judgment to be lain.
“You are different, my child. How can you come to terms with a life that has not been lived? Such a fate is both cruel and merciful, I suppose.
“At first, your soul denied death, as every past human has. You may have even felt comfortably tethered in reality.” The man pointed at the boy’s hands. “You held a stuffed animal, earlier. Your soul is already beginning to adjust.”
The boy stared at his empty hands, dumbfounded.
“Yet even with this knowledge, when any other would be screaming or pleading, souls like yours remain calm and respectful. Life was perfectly meaningful for you. Your young soul will achieve a satisfied afterlife.
“Not many souls these days achieve that. Regrets plague the lives of nearly every human, festering on unaccomplished dreams. Hell, many live without even daring to dream in the first place.
“If only they knew of their fortunes and forgot about their trivial quarrels. So many lives may have ended happily, the only judgment received after death is one of personal satisfaction.”
The man fell silent.
“Why.. me?” the boy whispered. “Why was I chosen to die?”
“Nature is intertwined with luck. It could have been anyone. Death comes for all, but your string was cut shorter than most others,” the man replied.
“Who.. are you, then? Death?”
“No, I am not Death. I have no name, but I am necessity, inevitability, and destiny. I guard the creations and endings to every story of this world.”
Silence echoed through the night.
The boy looked up. “Will my parents and sister be okay?” he asked.
“They will live wonderful lives, protected by your spirit and memory.”
The boy nodded. “May I look around for a bit?”
“Take as long as you need; this is the journey of your afterlife.
“And only when your memory is long forgotten, will we move on to our next great adventure.”
Will your soul achieve satisfaction? Is happiness your most important goal today?
What do you have? If not anything else- you have life. That’s damn luckier than millions of others.
In the US, hundreds or thousands of children lose their lives in a year. Those numbers pale in comparison to the countless children losing their lives in undeveloped countries (link).
Live better. Donate to charity. Love a little more. Show forgiveness. Treat yourself and the people around you to the wonders life can offer.
Remember your fortunes as much as you can. Your soul will be satisfied.
Rest In Peace, Kaleb Huff. Your memory, along with many of others, will not be forgotten.
Written by Morta