A mother with twelve children — a thirteenth in her belly — had more mouths to feed than money. Their father had gone to El Norte, The North, for work, and he sent back what he could, but it wasn’t enough.
Needing a padrino, a godfather, she visited various family members to see if anyone could help.
Tio Pablo: “I am too old.”
Cousin Juan: “I have too many children of my own.”
Tio Carlos: “I am too busy planting and barely have enough for my own family.”
None were willing or able, until at last she came to her gran-tio, her great-uncle.
As he apologized for being too old and too ill, just that moment arrived a visitor draped in a black robe and wielding a scythe. The mother recognized the visitor as Death — he glanced at the mother and the bump she carried.
Desperate, she asked Death if he would agree to be the unborn child’s padrino. Though perhaps shocked at her audacity, he agreed — and as he took her gran-tio’s hand, he said he would return upon the baby’s birth.
The mother named the baby Muerte, after the child’s padrino.
Muerte was happy and grew into a brave and strong girl. Death was a good choice for godfather — his godchild had no wants or needs unfulfilled. He visited once a year, always on her birthday, and always granting a single wish.
As the years passed, Muerte became a beautiful young lady with long hair and laughing eyes. She and her twelve siblings worked hard in the fields, and the family steadily began to prosper.
Until one day, the mother became ill with la enfermedad, the sickness. While Muerte had always looked forward to visits from her padrino, she knew to fear the next one. When her birthday came and Death arrived, Muerte knew he had come also for her mother. She attempted to stall him, to give her mother more time.
“Welcome, Padrino mio. Instead of a gift, may I ask you a question? How do you know it is time to come for us? Don’t you ever make a mistake?”
Silently, Death led her to a cave. The entrance was dark and Muerte was afraid. But Death gently took her hand and led her deep into the darkness. A dim light grew as they entered a large chamber. Its walls were filled with rows upon rows of candles of every shape and size. Each candle had a dancing flame nipping slowly at the tallow.
Death showed Muerte the candles of her own family. They were mostly tall and thick, except her mother’s candle — it was almost gone — only centimeters remained. The small flame sputtered as it fought to stay alight.
From this she knew Death did not make mistakes. Muerte’s heart sank like her mother’s flame.
“Padrino. Does a candle burn your life away?”
Death stared at her with empty sockets before beckoning with one bony finger.
In a smaller room sat an impossibly tall, fat, solitary candle. Its flame did not flicker or dance. It never wavered. Muerte looked at her godfather and understood.
Death’s flame burned so slowly that he was practically immortal.
A deep sadness engulfed Muerte because she knew she was about to lose someone she loved. Before Death could stop her, she smothered his flame with a rock. At once, the blue-white light was replaced by a curl of smoke — where Death had stood, fell an empty pile of black robes.
Death was gone.
Arriving back at the main chamber, she saw that all the flames had stopped dancing. They were as motionless as Death’s had once been.
Coming back to her family, Muerte happily ran to her mother.
“Mama, everything’s all right — you will live now.”
Her mother’s eyes could barely open. “Foolish girl, what have you done? I have been in such great pain — I’ve longed to leave this world, to finally rest from suffering. What have you done?”
Confused, Muerte ran out crying. Returning to the cave, she knew what she must do — she had to relight Death’s candle.
There was not enough of her mother’s candle to lift, so she took up her own and held the flame to Death’s — the smashed wick took the flame eagerly.
And the girl named for Death felt the smaller candle melt away, as now the impossibly tall candle and black robes belonged to her.
As her mother’s flame began again to flicker and fade away, so did Muerte’s sadness — indeed all emotion dimmed and vanished.
She would see her mother one final time, but as Destino — Destiny.
Josh Flores manifested in Chicago with Spanish as his first language, the struggle to learn English well lead him to read. He devoured comics and men’s adventure novels. Eventually, he exchanged Doc Savage, James Bond, and Sherlock Holmes for authors. He scoured thrift stores and used book stores for Poe, Bloch, Beaumont, Ellison, and Bradbury. Horror wasn’t a specific genre but whenever Josh found it, it never failed to draw out raw emotions.
Those emotions beckoned Josh to write. At ten years old, he two-finger-pecked short stories on an old electric typewriter. He hasn’t stopped writing since. That scares Josh. You can find him on Twitter @JoshFloresAuthr or Facebook at fb.me/JoshFloresAuthor
From Death to Muerte is a Fiction War Finalist entry.
Please do not reproduce without permission from the author.
Originally published at fictionwar.com. Image credit: @labrum777