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Mary and the Grim Reaper

Mary skipped down the towpath blithely unaware that Death was waiting for her around the bend.

The day had started sunny and bright, filled with the promise of adventures untold. Slipping from beneath the covers, she pulled on the clothes left in a heap at the foot of the bed last night, patting them gently to remove the worst of the creases. After a quick trip to the bathroom, she ran down the stairs heading straight for the kitchen. Spying a jam sandwich cut into four neat triangles waiting for her at the table, she wolfed it down, only stopping to take large gulps of milk from her favourite Sooty the Bear mug.

The back door opened and the round, dark-haired face of the girl next door popped through the gap. Seeing Mary sat at the table, she put a finger to her lips, warning her to be quiet and beckoned her to come outside. Wiping jam and milk from her mouth, Mary jammed her feet into the plimsolls by the back door and followed.

Brianna had lived next door all Mary’s life and was her go-to playmate during the holidays. The two of them were thick as thieves and often to be found up and down the alleyways near their homes. But this time, Brianna had something extra special up her sleeve. She explained her plan to Mary with great excitement: Fish had been seen in the murky depths of the canal. Using the fishing rod Brianna had fashioned out of a length of cane and a safety pin attached to a string, they were going to catch their tea that day. Being five, she had no idea of the intricacies of fishing. Still, the strategy sounded a good one to Mary, so, with nary a care in the world, the two ran through the fields behind their houses, jumped over the brook meandering lazily through the meadow and proceeded up the slight incline that led to the canal.

On any given day, the canal would be teeming with joggers and dog-walkers sauntering along, leads extended as far as they could go, the heads of their four-legged friends rooting through the undergrowth, they made life difficult for young kids hurtling at full speed. But today, today was different. Not a soul had taken it upon themselves to enjoy the delights of a stroll along the canal banks. Maybe it was the early hour or the threat of impending rain tipping down from a darkening sky; whatever the reason, Mary and Brianna had the towpath to themselves.

The girls stopped to draw breath. Looking up at the sky, Brianna suggested starting beneath the bridge; they would be protected from the rain there. Mary thought that an excellent idea and skipped ahead, innocently ignorant of the fate lurking in the darkness. A shout prevented Brianna from following. Down in the valley, the tall figure of a woman could just be made out. Recognising her mother, Brianna guiltily threw down the rod and started towards her down the hill.

As Mary tripped over the stone, plummeting headlong into the black depths of the waters, her screams echoed off the stone walls of the canal – a canal that had been witness to many an unhappy event over the decades – attracting the attention of Death. Death never slept and never one to miss an opportunity, he picked up his scythe and patiently waited by the ripples slowly spreading across the surface of the water. He marvelled at the complexity and symmetry of the pattern. Death appreciated artistry. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, he would say. He loved to re-examine images of the past, hunting for the charm and allure of events gone by. Embracing their loveliness, he indulged himself in a passion for the sublime. Often misrepresented as an ogre, Death loved life and wanted to own as much of it as he could.

Bubbles slowly floated to the surface and popped as they met the air. Death’s eyesight wasn’t what it was, and he peered into the inky water, moving closer to make out what lay below. As she hit the water, the breath had been taken from Mary’s body. After a moment of initial panic, she flailed her arms and feet, aware of the prams and supermarket trolleys below her, waiting to catch her with their sharp metal sides. Hair floated across her face, wrapping itself around her neck and blinding her wide-eyed stare as she looked into the face of Death. Death smiled. His face split wide from ear to ear. Tilting his head on one side, he gave a little wave to Mary, spreading his arms wide to welcome her to him. Mary could see aeons of experience etched into his skull. She saw the skill with which he wielded his scythe and a peace came over her as she moved towards him. She was totally unprepared for the rude awakening she was about to experience.

Dragged upwards, she fought against the strong arms that held her, only seeing the pain in Death’s eyes as she was removed from his grasp. Days later, she would be reminded of that sadness. Her sleep would be filled with thoughts of him for years to come. Until the day she would see him for one last, final time.

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