cold shoulder. (A Short Story)

Through the bare winter branches of the dark cold forest, it is easy to see the tall thin figure in a dark black robe standing near one of the trees in front of him. His face is covered under the shadow of a hood, but two silver slits are just barely visible underneath, oddly soft eyes focused solely on him.

“You’re not as scary as I thought you would be.”

The figure stays perfectly still but for its hands, folding the bony fingers together firmly in front of itself. “People like to judge even when they can’t understand something or someone.”

Jordan nods slowly. “My mom used to tell me that.”

“You miss her, don’t you?” The voice is so calm. It is deep and quiet and almost nostalgic, like an old favorite song playing in an empty room.

“Of course I do,” Jordan answers, his own voice going slow and sad. “She’s my mom.”

“She’s been by your side.” The figure moves, turning its hood to look off in the distance, somewhere to the right. “They all have. But she is the most fierce. I can feel her trying to fight me.”

Jordan follows the gaze, trying to determine what is out there–if there is anything. To him, it is just night sky, stretching off past the forest. It’s a darkness he has never seen before, so clear and still it almost feels like he is trapped in a glass bowl that could shatter at any second. “I don’t think Mom forgives me.”

“You can explain it to her,” the figure says, focused on him again. “You can explain everything to all of them.”

“I don’t think I can.” Jordan’s voice comes out so heavy, and he wonders if he has the ability to cry, because if he does he’s sure he’s about to start. He shoves his hands into his pockets and looks down at the ground in front of him. “I can’t even explain it to myself.”

“But somehow they will understand.” The figure takes one step toward him, but then shuffles back just a bit. “If they did not want to know, they would not be waiting for you.”

Jordan watches a pile of leaves rustle and break apart in a cold wind that pushes through. It hits him hard, and he feels so tired that it seems like that one breeze could just push him over right here.

“I have been holding on to you for a long time now, Jordan.”

He looks up at the figure. “How long has it been?”

“About nine weeks.”

“That’s not…that long.”

“It is a lifetime to them, Jordan. Perhaps two lifetimes for Emma.”

“I’m worried about her,” Jordan says, his voice lowering again and a chill running through him just at the sound of Emma’s name.

The figure’s hood moves in a slow nod.

“I’m worried about Alyssa too.” Jordan releases a heavy breath, feeling a weight pressing down on his chest. “It’s like she’s holding everything back. Eventually she’ll just fall apart, won’t she?”

“Alyssa is much stronger than you give her credit for. She will handle things the best way she knows how, and it may help everyone else.”

Jordan stares forward, losing focus on the figure and seeing more of the trees in the distance. “What are you going to do now? I mean, don’t you just…take me with you?”

“I do not.” The voice is even quieter now, practically a lullaby in the darkness. “Not yet. You have not yet made your choice.”

Jordan looks to the figure, trying to get his eyes to stay on the silver lines. “Choice? I have a choice?”

“We always have a choice, Jordan. You made the choice to move the car. Now you must make the choice to move on and fight, or to walk away and be able to breathe freely.”

“I would be fighting you, then? If I woke up?”

The figure nods. “It is a difficult task for some people. But everyone fights Death every single day. Somehow, people learn how to keep me at a comfortable distance, until I close the distance. Or they close it for me.”

He can cry here. The tears build up in his eyes, causing him to lock his jaw and bring a hand to his chest, the weight becoming almost too much to bear. “I…I don’t know what to do.”

“But you do, Jordan.” Death reaches out, a small, bony palm held open to Jordan. “You know exactly what to do.”

*

 

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