The Nature of Death

It was an early, crisp autumn morning. The strong oak trees were colored brilliant hues of orange, red, and yellow; their leaves littered the small hill that was nestled right against the lake, so close in fact that many of these leaves were floating and twirling with each other in the water against the wind. Dark clouds were beginning to swell in the sky, and the air was thick with the promise of rain.
There were only two people who could be enjoying this tranquil moment. They stood at the top of the hill by a single oak tree, facing each other, staring into each other’s eyes. One was obviously the younger, dressed in a black, expensive looking suit that only accentuated his small, frail frame. The older one was tall and broad and dressed in an equally expensive looking white suit and yellow tie. The boy in black finally broke the stare with a dismissive grunt.
“Fine. Whatever. Stay if you really have to, but you’re not making me leave.”
The man in white, taking out a pack of cigarettes from his pants pocket, watched him walk down the hill. He took in a long drag of his cigarette and smiled as he held the burning sensation in his throat before he let it out with a deep sigh. His smile widened when he caught Edgar flinching ever so slightly.
“Do you have to kill yourself so loudly?” The boy in black asked him. He sat down the hill a ways and pulled his knees up to his chest. He didn’t look away from the lake when he said this.
“Well do you have to be a whiney turd so loudly? It pisses me off,” the man in white countered. He made sure his next sighing drag was even louder.
When the boy didn’t respond, the man, after moving away from the tree and stamping out the cigarette on a leaf, he went to sit down beside the younger boy on the hill.
“You smell like ash,” the boy in black said.
“Yeah well that’s just part of my charm,” the man in white responded, making sure his younger companion caught a good look at his brown-stained teeth as he smiled at him. The boy grimaced before turning back to the lake.
Rings had begun to dot the entirety of the once calm water. It was deathly silent when neither of them spoke for awhile.
“Gotta love the rain,” the man in white said to the boy in black. “It has that damn uncanny way of makin’ the world shut up for awhile, not much else does that, believe me.”
“I hate the rain,” the boy said.
“Well, what?”
“Care to back that up at all? Mr. Doom and Gloom.”
“Why? What does it matter?”
“Well,” the man in white said again, leaning back on his elbows, giving the boy a sideways glance, “when folks disagree with me, I like to hear their side of the story before crackin’ them upside the head.”
“It’s a stupid reason, okay?” the boy in black said, sliding himself a little bit away from the man. He then pressed his mouth into his knees. “Just forget I said anything.”
“Well hey, I can’t argue with that,” the man in white said. The rings appeared more and more frequently. The light droplets began to land on the man’s face and hair.
The boy mumbled something into his knees then. The man glanced at him; some of the orange and red leaves had begun collecting against his backside.
“What was that kid? Didn’t quite hear you over the absolute silence.”
“I said it’s like God feels sorry for me when it happens,” the boy in black said, lowering his knees slightly.
“When what happens? When folks kick the bucket?”
“No, when it rains.”
“Oh, well don’t you feel like you’re the special one. So if little ol’ me is sittin’ here thinking this rains pretty nice God is up there sayin’ ‘No Archie, you fuckin’ stupid? This rain is cause I feel sorry for this one little mopey dopey do-nothin’ right here.’” Archie balled up his right hand into a fist and began shaking it in Edgar’s direction, “You know I might really crack you in that mopey head of yours just for sayin’ something as stupid as that.”
“I told you it was a stupid reason,” the boy said. His grip tightened around his legs.
The man in white stared at him for a moment or two before taking his fist and punching the boy straight into his shoulder. The boy in black fell over, more out of surprise than actual pain. He still clenched his shoulder, however, laid out on the ground, and shouted, “What the hell was that for!?”
“You made me feel bad for sayin’ all that crap to you just now,” the man said, leaning back on his elbows to look back out at the lake.
“So you hit me?” the boy questioned, sitting up and rubbing his shoulder.
“It pissed me off.”
The boy in black sighed. It was beginning to rain more. He could feel his outer jacket beginning to get damp. He stood up to go sit under the oak tree.
“Leaving already?” The man in white asked, watching him.
“No, I’m getting wet,” the boy replied, walking to the tree, “aren’t you?”
“Nope little Eddie, you see I developed this like supernatural ability to keep dry no matter how much it rains. Pretty fuckin’ super huh?”
The boy only looked back at the man. His blonde hair was beginning to mat to his head, and his white suit was starting to dampen. Even more of the tree’s colored leaves were falling. Edgar was pretty sure he wasn’t going to be protected under it very well.
“Don’t call me Eddie.”
“What? You prefer I call you Mr. Crooster? Mr. Eddie Crooster? Its Mr. Eddie Crooster Junior though, isn’t it? How about Junior? I like Junior, it suits you. That’s it, I’m callin’ you Junior.”
“No!” the boy in black snapped, clenching his fists. “You don’t get to decide what to call me! It’s my name and it’s Edgar! Got it? You call me Edgar!”
“Whoa okay there Mr. Edgar sir,” the man in white said, holding up his hands in defense, “I promise I won’t step out of line again Mr. Edgar sir, forgive me Mr. Edgar sir.”
“Just, shut-up,” Edgar muttered, rubbing his face with a hand before sliding down against the trunk of the tree. He felt the jacket rip.
Edgar looked at the man. The man in white had gone back to looking at the lake, which was coming alive with rain. The wind had picked up and all around them the trees and tall grasses were swaying and turning with the wind. Archie remained as still as ever, his clothes and hair so heavy with rain it seemed they could resist the pull of the wind as well.
Edgar saw the soggy remains of the man’s cigarette splayed out against a yellow leaf.
“Why did you follow me?” Edgar asked, staring into the back of the man’s wet head.
For once the man did not respond right away. He shivered in his wet suit, the wind blowing against his back.
“You ever been drunk before, Edgar?” he asked, turning his head around to face the boy in black.
Edgar could no longer see the man’s eyes; his hair fell in long streaks over them.
“I’m seventeen,” Edgar said.
“Happy birthday,” the man said. “So you ever been drunk before?”
“No!” Edgar hissed, gripping his knees, “I haven’t.”
“You’re missin’ out,” the man in white continued, turning his head back before lying down fully against the small hill. “It’s like a whole nother world when you’re drunk, I’m tellin’ you.”
“You aren’t answering my question,” Edgar said. “Why did you follow me?”
“What was that?” the man said. The wind had died back down, and Edgar had been speaking clearly, loudly. “So tell me, that your daddy being buried back there?”
“So you were there!” Edgar said, jumping up this time. “Are you one of my father’s old business friends? Because I’ll tell you right now no one is getting his money, no one-!”
“Would you get your panties out of a bunch, kid? I ain’t anybody’s friend.”
“Then why are you here?” Edgar demanded, stepping out from the small sanctuary of the oaks branches and walking up to where the man in white was laid out. “Who are you?”
The man looked up at Edgar. He could see the man’s eyes now. They were a very bright blue, almost unnaturally so. Edgar, again, found it difficult to maintain eye contact with him.
“You want the truth?”
“Yes,” Edgar said, after a pause.
“I’m the guy whose planning on diggin’ up your daddy’s grave later tonight and seein’ what goodies he was buried with.”
“You, what?” Edgar said. Anything he had planned to say in response to this man’s answer was all but lost now.
“Yup, heard your old man was quite the wealthy business type fellah so I plan on checking out what expensive crap they decided to stick in that hole with him.”
“So, you’re a criminal,” Edgar said, backing away a few steps.
“You could call me that sure,” the man in white replied, following Edgar with his eyes. “I’d like to think that if the folks you steal from don’t give a damn one way or another then whose it really hurtin’?”
“So, what then? Did you follow me because you are going to kidnap me for some sort of ransom money?”
“Boy, you sure are paranoid for a seventeen year old that doesn’t even drink,” the man in white said, sitting back up and noticing quite clearly that Edgar flinched when he did. “No, kid, I ain’t here to kidnap you. I don’t have much interest in people who are still up walkin’ and talkin’, way too much drama. I prefer my company to be a little quieter.”
“Alright then, you’re crazy,” Edgar said. Maybe it was the rain that began to weigh down his clothes, or perhaps it was the way the man stared at him with those cold blue eyes. Either way, Edgar did not move from his spot on the hill.
“Do you gotta keep puttin’ labels on everything?” the man asked. “If you’re gonna keep callin’ me names I prefer if you stick to Archie.”
“What’s that?”
“That’s my name you smart ass,” Archie said turning away from him. “Now if you’re gonna run away I suggest you do it now, you’re startin’ to piss me off again.”
Edgar remained where he was standing. His dark clothes were starting to stick to him now too. He felt rain water drip down from his hair and down his face. It was the closest he could come to crying.
“My father wasn’t buried with anything special,” Edgar said.
“Oh yeah?” Archie said, glancing over at Edgar. “Somethin’ tells me what you think is special and what I think is special are too different things.”
“Like what?”
Archie pointed up at the sky. “The rain, for one thing.”
Edgar looked up at the sky. Right above them on the hill by the lake the clouds were dark and fat with rain. Not too far away, above the small town that stretched out a ways in the distance, the sky was bright and blue. It wouldn’t be much longer until the rain here was chased away by the sun.
“You wanna know why I was followin’ you kid?” Archie said. “I was a little drunk. Saw you standin’ a ways away from all those cryin’ and moanin’ people. You had a look about you, don’t know what to call it, but I thought you were Death, the Death, standing there watching the body gettin’ buried. When you turned and started runnin’ into the woods I figured I would follow you.”
“You chased after me even when you thought I was Death?”
“I had a few questions to ask it.”
“What questions?”
Archie sighed and stood up. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his pack of cigarettes. Edgar watched him take one out and just stick it in his mouth. After a moment, Archie took in a deep inhale and let out a breath of ghost smoke.
“Doesn’t matter,” Archie said, “unless Death is some whiney seventeen year old kid who’s got a thing against smokin’ you ain’t it.”
“I’m not against it,” Edgar said, sticking out an open hand.
Archie just looked back at him.
“Give me one,” Edgar said.
Archie chuckled, cigarette still in his mouth, before walking over and handing Edgar one from his pack.
Edgar placed it in his mouth, took a deep intake of breath and then held the cigarette away from his mouth as he let out an empty gathering of air.
“That’s pretty good,” Archie said, grinning. “I think you’re a natural kid.”
“My father used to smoke a lot,” Edgar said, still holding the cigarette in between his fingers. “Sometimes I’d watch him do it when I thought he wasn’t looking. He never liked it when I stared at him but it was the only time he was calm, when he smoked.”
“Don’t think my daddy ever smoked,” Archie mused, taking in another inhale from the unlit cigarette. “He made up for it with drinkin’, oh boy did he ever. Some smoke in his lungs would have done him good, I tell you.”
“I think they are going to take me to an orphanage,” Edgar said, taking another fake drag of his own cigarette. “I think we have relatives, but none of them showed up for his funeral. Just a bunch of fat business men in expensive suits and my father’s secretary that he screwed a few times. I wish I had told them how sick they made me feel every time one of them showed up at our house.”
“When my daddy died it was just me too, but I was already a man, an adult by that point. I hadn’t seen the bastard in years, and when I went to his hospital the only thing he had to say to me was that he wished I had taken his place. Totally worth the eight hour drive wouldn’t you say?”
Edgar looked over at Archie then. The man in white was back to staring out at the lake. Edgar looked out with him. The rain was already beginning to die down. The calm of the water was only occasionally disturbed by a ring of rain water or a splash by some fish. Bird calls and insect hums were already beginning to return. Edgar suddenly wished that the rain would come back.
“I ran away because I don’t want to live my life anymore,” Edgar said, letting the cigarette fall from his open mouth.
“Well there’s a perfectly good lake right here if you are so inclined,” Archie said, pulling out a lighter to light his own cigarette.
“No, I don’t want to die!” Edgar insisted, shaking his wet head vigorously. “I just don’t want to be Edgar Crooster anymore. My father is dead and I don’t want to have anything more to do with his life. That’s all I have been, like a shadow or something, not a real person. I’ll be living a year in an orphanage and then I’ll be inheriting my father’s money, his business, and I’ll be back in it all. I don’t want to be him. I don’t want his life.”
“Well I’ll tell you Edgar,” Archie said after the boy had quieted down, taking in a deep drag from his cigarette, “I’m hearing a whole lot about the crap you don’t want, what about crap that you do want? Or is runnin’ around in the woods all you’ve got so far?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well then I’ll tell you this, when my daddy died you know what I did? I took a few jobs, got fired from those jobs, I fell in love a lot of times and got rejected a lot of times, when times got hard I started robbin’ from dead folks graves. Now I’ll tell you it ain’t the cleanest or most glamorous of jobs they got out there but hell I’d be lyin’ if I said I didn’t enjoy it. And I’ll tell you somethin’ else, it’s the last thing you’d see my daddy doin’. The bastard might have been a drunk, but he was a damn proud drunk.”
“So I should start being a criminal?” Edgar asked, looking down as his glistening, black shoes. “I don’t know if I-.”
“No, you ain’t listenin’,” Archie said, punching Edgar lightly on the arm. “It don’t matter what the hell you do, what is important that it’s somethin’ your dad would never be caught doin’!”
Edgar looked down at the cigarette at his feet.
“I guess I really shouldn’t start smoking this stuff then, huh?”
“Yeah, that’s probably a bad start,” Archie said matter of factly.
Edgar didn’t quite know what it was. Maybe it was the way Archie said those last words. Maybe it was the sudden realization that he was standing on some hill in the middle of the woods with some grave-robbing stranger that mistook him for Death. But Edgar started laughing. Really laughing. The kind of laughing that starts in the stomach and spreads through your entire body. Archie began laughing too. Edgar had to double over and hold his sides. Archie coughed violently but still laughed through it. The two laughed and laughed until the clouds had fully dispersed and the bright oranges rays of the sun burst through and illuminated the two men, smiling and smiling on their little spot on top of the hill beside the lake.

About William Alfred:

I was born and, for the most part, raised in Louisiana. Writing has been a passion if mine since before I was a teenager. My stories tend to revolve around the literal supernatural, ghosts, monsters, and the like, as well as the supernatural elements of our daily lives like death and how those who are still alive are affected by it. I have recently graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University where I received my Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing. While my main focus right now is making enough money to stay of the streets, I will always continue to improve and develop my writing so that I can share my world with anyone who is interested enough to see it.
Cover photo: Erin Hayden