Grim Garden

How does the grim reaper react to the zombie apocalypse?


I looked over the world with frustration and resignation.

I didn’t really look, of course.  I observed from every eye, heard through every ear.  Every insect and squirrel, even from the eyes of every human alive, I watched the world.  I tasted the soil from the roots of every tree and scented the water from the nares of every fish.  Secrets were not safe from me unless they were safe from life itself. Or . . . unlife.

The zombies provided windows into the world as well. Oceans of mindless darkness outnumbering the tiny flames of human lives millions to one. Something would have to be done. It would break millennia of nonintervention, but the human race was at risk. As unpleasant as their species could be, I had plans for them.

In the moment I’d spent thinking about that, I’d touched hundreds of thousands of souls with an intimacy they’d never known. In the moment of their death, I knew them more closely than their mother, their lover, than themselves. So many, so fast, and so few were left.

I would need an avatar. This time I swept through all the souls of earth, and found her. A young one, a little girl. She had a soul like a bent, rusty nail. Life had beaten her over and over, and sometimes she’d bent under the blows.  The corrosive nature of live had etched her, but beneath the surface damage she was strong, hard, and sharp. Growing up among adversity sometimes forged such extraordinary people.  If she weren’t dying, she might have grown into a formidable woman.

She’d been bitten, and the fever was taking her.  Luckily, I didn’t need her life. I laid a metaphorical hand on her soul, revealing myself to her. They always saw something different.  I was viewed through the lens of their soul, and it drew from their personal experiences to represent the concept of me.

“Gr-grandma?” Her voice wavered. The men around her looked at each other, confused.

“She must be delirous,” her father said. “Her grandmother’s been dead for decades.” The other man – once a dedicated surgeon – just nodded. He was close to choosing weakness over strength; he had seen enough, and would seek the easier way out, soon.

I negated her question. Her mind manifested it as her grandmother shaking her head, in a grandmotherly way. “You are dying, dear. But you want to protect your older brother. You want to protect your father. You even want to protect the coward that wanted to kill you when you were bitten, and leave you behind. You want people to stop hurting.”

She nodded, tears spilling over. The tears weren’t only for the suffering of others; the virus ate at her nerves, and she felt it as a buzzing fire and pain. “You are going to die. I will not interfere; I will not make it easier. But I will help these, after.  I want to use you to create a haven, where one day humans will live again.  To do it, I must inhabit . . . ”

I didn’t have a chance to finish, not at the achingly slow pace of human thought. I felt her acceptance intensely. She didn’t believe me, but she didn’t care. I could tell she’d sell her very soul just for the hope of it.  Luckily for her, I didn’t offer that deal.

I watched over her as she died.  I watched everybody die, of course, but this was more personal, experienced at her pace, in the limitations of her senses.  The pain wracked her, and the fever laid waste to her mind.  Finally, the interwoven tapestry that formed a complete human began falling apart.  Her lungs weakened, her blood fouled, her heart, deprived of oxygen, weakened, and stopped, and finally, the web of consciousness flickering in her brain ceased.

Her life vanished, and a tiny fragment of what I was flowed in to replace it. I kept her soul close, a catalyst and a vessel and a silent judge, lest I break my word. Her father was crying for the dead.  The doctor was staring into space, thinking about the gun in his bag.  And then, I sat up in the small body.

The tiny voice was like a broken bell.  It rang out pure and clear, but it was rough and hoarse from the crying and screaming that went with a painful death. It would be a good voice for what I intended. “Before you touch me, banish any notion from your mind that I am your daughter.  She is dead.”


Her father stared at me, not fully understanding.  His mouth hung open as he struggled to understand what he should say, what questions he should ask. “But you’re ali—“

“She watches, she makes sure I keep my promises, but she is dead.  She is gone, and we have a lot of work to do.  You’re going to help me save the human race.”

Author: Eric Eshleman

I'm not real.

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