by Serena W. Sorrell
“Death, be reasonable.”
Fate’s appointment with Death was not going at all how he had hoped it would. Though they seldom met–each playing different, yet related parts in the stories of others–Fate had always respected Death’s succinctness, the precision with which he worked. Yes, they both had their roles. Those roles relied on cooperation. And Death was being very uncooperative.
“Yes?” Death answered coolly, as he always did.
His air made it clear Death could not spare even the tiniest molecule of care regarding Fate’s complaint. Death had plans of his own, and these he would follow. This was not simply slacking, it was insubordination, a war. Death stood across the battlefield from Fate, and between them sat a cradle, inside slept a baby, a girl named Vim. That rosy-cheeked baby was Fate’s awful dilemma; that rosy-cheeked baby was Death’s rebellion.
“Why do you refuse? You are the Final Stop and The End.” Fate argued plainly, in a pitch almost whining. “The story was decided too soon. A slight oversight on Rebirth’s part, and my own. It needed a rewrite. Just look at this story’s soul, see for yourself. You’ve met it before, and what trouble it was. Let me finish my writing, return when it’s done, and write the Last Period. Finish the soul’s End. It won’t even hurt.”
It was a rare thing, for Fate to make a mistake, but here he stood across from Death hovering over an error. For his part, Rebirth should have checked the logs more minutely. This soul was no good. It should have never been queued for rewriting. Fate should have remembered the feel of this soul and all the grief it had caused him. But there it was, Vim had a story. She should not, but she did, and Fate never left mistakes unedited. A grievous error such as Vim? It simply would not stand, would not stand a bit. Fate was the story decider, all the turns and twists his to create, and wind to a finish. That was when Death would pen the last punctuation and write The End… or should be, but Death had complaint with Fate’s plan.
“You wrote Vim’s story once. Each soul, reborn or new, gets their story writ once, not again and again. You finished your work, and until this girl’s story ends I won’t write The End.”
Fate baffled. Fate gawked. Fate saw the stories of everything living, knew them all by heart, and so was never surprised, but except for Death’s remark. Death was a conundrum, a story not written, not known. Fate wasn’t sure Death even existed, only he did, and gave Fate a bit of a headache.
“I will not write the The End for any edits to Vim’s story.”
Death insisted again.
After a million millennium of cooperative writing and ending this seemed a miserable time to start having a heart. What were morals or ethics with so much more at stake? Fate lamented the Vim’s story with each and every passing second. Seconds became weeks, and weeks became months, then years! Fate would not, could not, allow Vim’s soul to continue the story he’d written, no matter how well wrote it was. This soul had to End. No more rebirth. It could not have a chance to repeat the horrors it had wrought. Nothing Death could say or do would convince Fate to let this story flow.
Fate rubbed his eyes. Writing the stories of all the world was exhausting, arguing with Death even more so. This soul, this Vim, this reincarnation, this error, it had to be amended. But Death ended the stories, each and every one. Most finished simply with, The End, a very few souls received To Be Continued. Vim’s soul had not. Vim was not supposed to be here. So, Fate looked hard at Death again, where was the harm of editing an error?
“You Ended this soul.”
“I know. I remember every Ending.”
“It was reprinted by mistake, a misprint. If you remember so well you’ll recall all the horrors it caused, this one small soul. It ran away from the story I wrote and scribbled its own. It scribbled through lives, and ended so many. It took you and I years to End this rogue soul, and now you will not End again?”
“I will not.”
“The story it wrote was a wicked one. A tale of darkness, filled with blood and death, hate and malice, wickedness and murder. Oh, how many stories it Ended alone. That story, this soul, was evil.”
“I was there for each victim. I finished their every last prayer and pleas. I hyphenated their their dying breaths. I wrote the Endings to every story this soul ended. I remember them all, their pain and their grief. I remember how they suffered all for the story gone stray, but I will not End this new story.”
Death’s fingers hovered above the tuft of black hair. Fate and Death both reflected in large, dark eyes staring wide from the little girl named Vim who should not exist.
“What if it writes its own stories again? What if it strays and runs from its fate? She could end other’s stories, only partially done.”
“She could, I admit there’s a chance of that route.”
“Then why, Death? After all the Endings it caused you’d give this soul, evil and twisted, a chance? Why? Is it to make amends or redeem itself?”
“Fate,” Death soothed his longtime colleague and friend, “I would give it a chance to live. An evil story Ended. By error its soul rewritten on clean pages with a new story, and you’ve written its fate. Not a bad fate, not a good one, just a regular story. I would see this story until the true End you gave it. No story begins on vile pages.”
“And if it goes astray? If it begins to revel in evil habits it took glee in once more?”
“Then Fate was right all along, and Death wrong. I will watch this one, this Vim, for any signs of what you fear if it will stay your hand.”
“You’ll stay and watch, and alert me at once, if anything goes awry? Do you swear it, Death?”
“I swear it. I am everywhere, and though I try not to linger, I will remain by Vim’s side. I’ll guard this soul’s story from your pen, and guard others’ from her, should the same repeat.”
This satisfied Fate. It was not perfect, but a fine compromise. If this was to be their solution he’d abide. Besides, Fate was behind from wasting this time debating with Death. There were stories to write and fates to create. For Creation and Rebirth did not halt their work while Fate and Death disputed one story’s outcome. With a nod of his head, assent to their deal, Fate disappeared, and left Death with Vim.
Vim was a newborn, that is to say pinkish and ugly. A sprout of black downy hair topped black watching eyes. Death watched back, watched Vim’s soul, watched Vim living the story Fate wrote. Yes, Death would assure Vim stayed on this story, followed its script. For the span of one life Death would protect this girl named Vim.
And so he did. Death was there for Vim’s first stand, her first steps and word. Yet always aware of the squiggle of rot that clung to the soul. Death worked without rest, Ending stories that needed Ending, and Continuing those that deserved. Every day, every minute, every Ending, he stayed by Vim’s side. Vim grew and followed the plot on every page Fate had wrote. It was only when Vim slept Death could not follow, but he stood by her side every night until morning. He listened to her murmurings and watched her sleep tears.
Vim became taller, less ugly and pink, more a person now. Vim spoke and had friends. Vim fell in love and had her heart broke. Vim talked and cried and shouted and laughed and smiled, all according to the story. Death never peeked ahead, he watched every minute of Vim’s life and compared it to the story Fate had mistakenly given her. Vim became, Death was ashamed to admit, a bit of a favorite story of his. He’d never watched one story from beginning, all the way through.
Years turned to decades and Vim found real love, just as Fate wrote she would. Then it was stolen, slowly eaten away; Vim stayed by the story she loved as it withered away. Vim was at Death’s side, crying and begging, when he Ended her love’s tale. Vim became weaker, dimmer, and waned. Death was quite worried, and wondered if this was the start of the End. Yet, days turned to weeks and weeks into months. Vim laughed again, found joy in other parts of her story, and that squiggle of malice continued to shrink as it had over the years.
The story’s pages grew fewer. Vim’s black hair turned gray, her black eyes gone rheumy. Death knew The End was coming. It brought a uncomfortable tickle to his throat, and tingle behind his eyes, but he was glad nonetheless the story would finish proper for Vim. She was old and could not walk, but she smiled to everyone. Always sharing kind words Vim brought joy to the stories around her. Death was glad he had argued for this story, this tiny soul, no longer marred by any hatred it had carried from before. Still, for all their time together it came as a surprise when Vim spoke out loud at last, not following the story’s script Fate wrote.
“Death,” Vim said, like a leaf on a soft breeze, “you’re beside me still, but it’s almost time. I know. I know.”
For his part Death was silent, not for lack of wanting to speak, but because Vim would never hear him if he did. The only time stories heard Death was at the End.
“You’ve been with me from the beginning, I think. I remember something like that, long ago. I dream it sometimes. Two people, shapes, shades of color, talking over a baby’s cradle. The other dreams, I remember what they did before. Did you send me the memories of my soul’s past? All that hatred, all that anger, death and death and death.”
Tears rolled down Vim’s wrinkled cheeks, the lines at her eyes smiling though. Death had never considered what being so close to a soul every moment might have. Had the soul fed off of Death’s own memories to see all the Endings it had created? Had Death been the cause of Vim’s dreaming tears for decades and decades. Endless nightmares of what had been done to others by the hands of her own soul. Death had tortured her every night just by being beside her, watching her, protecting her.
“I don’t think you meant to though.” Vim’s sightless eyes smiled at where Death might be, “You guarded me all this time, guarded my soul. You wanted to make sure I did it right this time, didn’t you, my kind Death.”
Only a page remained of Vim’s story.
“Death. You have been my closest companion and always watched over my life. You saw all my happinesses, and all my sadnesses, all my anger, and all the joy. There was so much joy. Thank you for letting me live, but Death, I’m tired now. Thank you for every second I had, I owe them all to you. I’m happy I got to live my story. I’m ready for the end.”