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fear in a handful of dust

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there you felt free.

You are a child, before your mother withheld her kisses and your father enforced his guidance, and you spend many days wandering. Of course, there is always an adult nearby to watch you, help you, forbid you from seeing what you want to see, but with the trees all around you and the grass, and later snow, at your feet, you feel free.

Sometimes, you pretend that you are a sailor, and the grass is your ocean and your coat your ship. You close your eyes, let yourself fall back until you feel your shoulders hit the ground, the deck of your ship, and you are quiet.

All you can hear is the call of birds, the wind rustling through the leaves, and sometimes, if you listen close, you hear a whispering voice. You can’t tell what the whispers say, but something in their timbre instills calm in your heart, and you spread your arms out wide, until you can grasp the blades of grass, feeling them run through your fingers like water.

winter kept us warm.

You are still a child, but you are older, and perhaps wiser, and you know that the forest can hurt you now. You often walk through the trees alone, but you don’t get to take your coat with you anymore. Your grandmother says that this will turn you into a man. You aren’t sure if you want to be a man yet.

The whispers speak to you now with a voice so clear it chills your bones. They say that your mother won’t come to save you, that you have only yourself now. You think you may have known this for a while, but you find yourself reaching, reaching into the darkness. You want the whispers to hold you and tell you that even if all you have is yourself, that you can lean on someone else.

The whispers tell you that the trials in the snow will end soon. You have no choice but to trust these words.

mixing memory and desire.

You are twelve, and you know that what your mother feels when she disappears into the wilderness of faraway cities and farther landscapes is much the same as what you felt when you wandered in the forest as a child. She is the Empress, and she must leave all that she knows in order to feel free. You know that there is irony there, but by now, the disappointment you feel when you wake up and realize that she is gone is all you can discern.

Sometimes, late at night, you open your window and let the breeze come into your bedroom. The cold air brushes your cheeks, and you wonder if that’s what your mother’s hands would feel like. You know by now that your childhood has been far from normal, and you know that your mother will never lay a hand on you, caring or otherwise. The touches you endure are harsh, unforgiving, and they leave bruises and blood and, later, scars. You have resigned yourself to this.

Sometimes, when you hear the whispers, you feel hands upon your cheeks, cool and caressing. You are not sure if this is what you wanted, but this is what you have, so you lean into the touch.

Sometimes, you can still feel this touch days later.

savagely still.

You are sixteen, and the whispers have a face now. The face is angular, cold, and pale, and the hair far paler. You’ve never seen a face like this face before. You cannot discern the gender, but you have an inkling that if this being was human, they might be male. You think you see a ghost, but the whispers tell you that he is not a ghost but rather the one who has the power to make humans into ghosts, to turn bones into dust.

You wonder how you attracted the attention of this being. You think you may have known all along that your friend was Death.

Sometimes, he holds you close, and you can feel his cool breath against your hair. He tells you that soon, very soon, the world will turn on its head. Soon, a voice will call out to the people, and that voice will be your own.

You are not scared of dying. You are scared of the responsibility he tells you that you will soon have.

where the dead men lost their bones.

You are twenty-two now, a full adult in every aspect, and your mother continues to ignore you just as she did when you were a child. You have danced with many girls, felt their warm hands in yours. Sometimes, when you dance with them, you think of your friend, and how cold his touch is.

You have danced with him now, too, and with each step you felt hope depart from your bones. His touches have turned mean, harsh, cold, and you miss when he held you, protected you from the world and its cruelty. Now you see that he is cruel.

He tells you that he has hopes for you, hopes so overwhelming that you could lose yourself in their depths.

Dreams of the future fill your head, and with them comes a nervousness so profound that you wonder if you will soon die from how fast your heart beats in your chest. Fear has sunk into your body, your bones, your mind, and you don’t know if this is how you were made or what your mother, your father, your friend have done to you.

You cannot yet see the reach of their influence upon your mind.

at the violet hour.

You hold a gun in your hand, and bullets in the other. You aren’t sure how you arrived at this moment, fate and fate’s messengers in your hands, but you are certain that this was always destined to happen. Every step you have taken has led you to this moment, to your father’s harsh words, your mother’s averted eyes, to…

Your friend steps out of the darkness, and the firelight illuminates his face. He looks haunting, haunted. He walks towards you, and his shoes make no sound against the floor. His eyes never leave yours.

He puts a hand against your shoulder, and you can feel the aching cold through your shirt, and he pushes you slowly, slowly, slowly down to the bed. You spread your arms out wide, until you can grasp the blankets in your shaking hands. You didn’t realize you had let go of the gun and the bullets.

He is whispering to you now, asking you, telling you, and your mind rebels at orders, but you think that his may come from the highest power in existence, and who are you to disobey? You are but a human, and he is Death, and he takes your hands in his and leans in close, so close you can feel his breath on your too-hot skin, and he asks you if you want him to help you.

He has always helped you before, so why would this time, this place, this fear be any different?

You nod, and he loads the gun with calm hands and presses it against your chest. You take it from him.

we think of the key.

When it is done, you feel yourself floating, and you remember floating through an ocean of trees. Your friend was with you from that moment, from the moments before, and he will be with you in the moments after. You know this now.

Fate is a tricky thing, and you are not sure if you believe in its all-encompassing power or if you believe that you have changed your destiny. You do not know where the responsibility lies. You do not know how you arrived at this moment.

Your death has not made this any more clear than it was when you were living.