Some articles may include Amazon affiliate links. All proceeds go to helping us pay for original stories and to support writers of speculative fiction. Read more here.
Twilight crept over a weary sky, beckoning the night to awaken. Death had gone missing in the graveyard, and Charmeine was tasked with finding him.
She tapped long, alabaster fingers atop the cold granite crypt, thinking. Paschar was last seen kicking tumbleweed through the field of crumbling, nameless headstones, dragging his scythe, leaving singed grass behind him. But why would he be here? He was the only Death Angel in his ranks with an aversion to cemeteries (rotting wastelands, he called them, recycling centers for bones). And why now?
Charmeine scanned the landscape, awash with overgrowth and marble and wilting roses. Decaying leaves blanketed the monuments of those who had moved beyond – many of whom had taken their last steps, their first steps, guided by Paschar’s loving hand.
Under Paschar’s watch, no one ever languished in wait for death. He stood waiting to catch the final, icy breath of his charges, to infuse them with warmth from the moment of their transition. His cloak was a hearth, his scent like June rain, his blue eyes a beacon. A good concierge, Paschar accommodated all their final whims – daffodils sprouting in the snow, butterflies fluttering with a goodbye kiss, blustery windstorms to announce the start of a journey onward.
A scrawny rat scurried across Charmeine’s feet. She recoiled. Wasteland indeed. How she wished Paschar would materialize! As a Death Angel, he was everywhere and nowhere, proximal and distant – like a lone snowflake pushing through a blizzard. Which is what made his absence so palpable.
Merciful Death, he would never forsake the souls assigned to his care. Of that, Charmeine was certain.
She paced, her mauve satin cape fluttering in the autumn breeze, brittle fallen leaves crackling around her. Owls hooted in the distance in unison with a howling coyote, its mournful cry heralding the rising moon and, Charmeine thought, perhaps something more.
She floated across the decaying terrain toward the creatures’ siren and found the missing angel slumped against a mausoleum wall, ivy falling over him like a shroud. A spider scurried across his shoulder, stumbling over the folds of his royal blue cloak. Elbows resting upon his knees, he peeled the bark from twigs and snapped them in succession, tossing the jagged wood to the side. His scythe lay discarded, like the toy of a fickle child.
“Paschar.” Peel. Snap. Toss. “Why are you here?”
Paschar pulled his cloak around him tight, settling deeper into his cocoon. He closed his eyes, ignoring both Charmeine’s question and the luminosity she cast over the shadows.
She inhaled deeply, repeating her query.
Charmeine regarded the scythe laying in the dust. “What’s this?” she asked, extending her hand toward Death’s unwanted tool. The blade glimmered under her gaze, as if awakening, and the scythe floated toward her. She tapped Paschar’s shoulder with the pointed end; his body jerked as a blue arc flashed between Death and his abandoned weapon.
The angel lifted his head. Paschar’s gaze attempted defiance, almost shielding his evident sadness.
Charmeine crouched down, her cloak blanketing the crunchy grass as she allowed the scythe to fall on her lap. “Paschar,” she whispered, her voice velvet. “What’s happened to you?”
Paschar winced, his expression waffling between a smile and a frown. “Don’t you find it amusing,” he said, chuckling softly. “An Angel of Mercy delivering a death knell to an Angel of Death?”
“The Master is worried about you, Paschar. I’m worried. This,” she waved her hand in disdain, “is not you. You don’t belong here.”
“I am an Angel of Death. Perhaps this is where I should be.” Paschar sighed, his shoulders dropping. Charmeine noticed hints of grey faulting his chestnut hair, tiny lines etching the corners of his eyes. The Angel of Death had aged.
“The journey’s changed, Charmeine.” He retrieved another twig from the ground, bending it until it snapped. “Death has changed. Perhaps I have, too.”
Paschar tossed the broken pieces. “I walked away – I came here – after my last charge forced me to use that.” He gestured toward the sickle resting across Charmeine’s lap. “I hadn’t touched it since my fledgling days.”
“Oh, Paschar …”
“His soul was cold, Charmeine. Colder than hell. I offered him mercy and warmth; he countered with chaos and pain.”
She reached out to him. “This is not your fault. Some souls struggle to separate the wheat from the chaff at the end, you know that from your training….”
“In his eyes, I was simply a thief, robbing him of the life he knew. And he attacked me for it.” Paschar wrung his hands together, his brow crinkling. “I took this job to bring peace and comfort to those embarking on the most amazing journey of their existence. But, I can’t do that without their trust. I’m not sure I belong here anymore.”
Charmeine sighed and laid her hand upon Paschar’s shoulder. “You are an old soul, my friend. You’re white-glove service. Handwritten love letters. Lemonade on the front porch. Dressing for church on Sundays. An emissary to simpler times.”
Charmeine shook her head. “Different times. But it is your obligation to carry the charges assigned to you into the afterlife, as wild and manic as they might be. You cannot choose them.” She took his hand. “Just as I have no choice over the fallen angels assigned to my watch.”
Paschar nodded, his jaw tightening.
Charmeine moved the scythe from her lap and leaned in, breathing the sweet summer storm that was Paschar. She brushed her lips across his forehead.
“On behalf of the Maker,” she murmured, “I relieve you of your duty.” She retrieved the scythe, tracing a circle in the air above Paschar’s head. The tip of the blade sliced a hole in the night and a halo rose through, crowning Paschar in celestial light.
Paschar smiled. He faded in a beam of bursting radiance that bathed the cemetery in the warmth of a summer sunrise.
“Go in peace,” Charmeine whispered.
This story previously appeared on Foliate Oak Magazine, May 2018.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Lisa Fox is a pharmaceutical market researcher by day and fiction writer by night. She thrives in the chaos of suburbia, residing in New Jersey (USA) with her husband, two sons, and Double-Doodle puppy. Her work has been featured in Metaphorosis, New Myths, Brilliant Flash Fiction, and Flash Fiction Magazine, among other journals and anthologies. You can find Lisa and her published work via her website Lisa Fox or on Twitter.