The Burden of the Scythe

Death looked, well, like death. He was hunched over the desk, his sunken features palid and stale. His eyes were grayed, and he groaned as he stood up to shake my hand. 

My interviewer looked at me and nodded. “You’re Riley?” He asked, the echo in his voice sounding etheral and tired. He was burnt out. 

“I’m Riley. Nice to meet you.” I shook his hand, the bony fingers hard against my flesh. He merely grunted and gestured for me to sit down. He took a long pause, eyeing me up and down and then sighed.

“Can you lift it?” He asked the simple question.

“Lift what?” I asked back, confused. Was there something I missed in the application? Was I supposed to be able to lift a certain weight? Was I supposed to carry the dead? 

“The scythe.” He answered, sighing as he gestured to the large, ominous symbol of death leaning against the wall behind me. “Can you lift it?”

“Oh! I- I can actually touch it?” My eyes widened, and I was relieved to find out it was just the tool that I had to lift, but also insulted, I’m not exactly a small or unfit person. I stood up to go prove I could lift it. 

“Touch only the handle, not the blade. I don’t want to lose another candidate. Too much damn paperwork.” He grumbled, the ethereal tone losing some of it’s echo. 

I stood facing the scythe, the polished wooden handle, two hand prints had worn into the redwood. The blade, sharp and shining, was dancing in my peripheral. It was almost whispering my name, telling me to come closer. I reached out my right hand to the handle, and the Scythe started to shake. I heard the air cut as the large object flew away from the wall. Suddenly both my hands were grasping the handle, wrapping around to lift it. It was surprisingly lightweight, weighing no more than a feather. I smiled as I triumphantly lifted it and turned to show Death. 

His eyes glimmered and a tear was welling up in the sunken socket. He looked me up and down, smiled and said “Congratulations on being selected. This is now your office.” He smiled, and straightened his back as he stood. He was tall when not hunched over. 

“The scythe grows heavy with burden, and the longer you have it, the heavier it is.”  Tears streamed down his face, but he was smiling. 

“This is the lightest I’ve felt in many years. Thank you. Thank you for taking on the burden. Your first reaping will be me.” 

I stared in shock and horror at the palid old man now before me. What have I done? I have to reap this man?  “I-I thought there would be training, mentorship, something explained to me?” I fumbled out.

 “The scythe chooses the next personification of Death. Not me. It has been far too long since it has selected another to wield it. Listen to the Scythe- that is the Reaper. You are just it’s bearer. You are the face of death, just a conduit for the instrument.”  

The echo in his voice had faded to that of a gravelly old man as he explained. He opened his arms. He looked like he was going to embrace me. “Now close your eyes, listen to the scythe, and set me free, please.” I stared into the man’s eyes, his human irises returning as the grey dripped away with his tears. He was begging me to set him free from the burden.

I had applied for this role because I was curious. I wanted to talk to death. To have a conversation. To ask the burning questions about life. Maybe the Scythe would have the answers. I apparently had something the scythe was seeking. The man, yes, mortal Man, in front of me now, was begging me to take his life. To set him free. This was the role I had inadvertently accepted. 

The scythe whispered, an ethereal echoing whisper, much like what Death had sounded like when I arrived.”Take his hand, and have him touch my blade.” I looked at the man and reached out for his hand. “What is your name?” I asked him. He paused and thought about it before replying.

“Walter. My name is Walter.”

“Well Walter, the Scythe would like to say goodbye properly,” I told him. He clasped my hand tightly and nodded. I placed his hand upon the blade. He faded into nothingness, a peaceful expression on his face. He was free, and I was now the face of Death. 

The Scythe gave a small laugh and whispered “Welcome Riley, It is a pleasure to be in your capable hands. We have a lot to talk about and work to do, let’s begin…”

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