Death Comes for Katie

Reddit writing prompt: Death offers a game for your life. You decide on D&D.
Image source: CanStockPhoto

She looked out the viewport window into the expansive field of glittering stars spread against a sheet of brilliant black. Even after all this time, the view never ceased to take her breath away. 

But it was the only thing that did.

She tried space once. Nearly four thousand years ago, she finally lost it and threw herself out an airlock. She choked and wheezed as the vacuum pulled the air from her lungs, intense pain shooting through her chest. She could feel the ice crystals forming in her blood and a reddish black sheet began to cloud her vision as she slipped into unconsciousness; her last thought as she slipped away, "Finally". 

About two hundred years later her body was picked up by a passing merchant ship and as soon as she was brought on board the life came back to her lungs and her eyes flung open as bright and alive as they were that fateful day so long ago. 

She'd lost count of the years, but she could still remember even the tiniest detail of what happened that night. She lay coughing on a hospital bed, her young children just outside the door having just said their final goodbyes. Cancer was a bitch and it had won. She coughed again and looked up to ask the nurse to pull the plug; but instead of a nurse she saw this strange cloaked figure standing at the foot of her bed. 

It didn't look how she thought Death would look. The cloak was pristine and white. He had no scythe or scary bone arms and his face was soft and peaceful and he seemed to shine as he smiled at her. He looked more like an angel than the frightening monster in stories. He spoke softly, "Katie, you've lived a good life. You've blessed the lives of your husband and family and all who know you, but now it's time to move on to the next phase of your existence." He reached out a gentle beckoning hand, "Come with me, dear."

She started to reach out her hand, tempted to take his and go. But she could still see her family crying in the hallway. She pulled her hand back, coughed twice, and then wheezed in her terribly weak voice, "Ga-"... She fell into a coughing fit trying to speak. When she finally caught her frail breath she whispered, "Game".

Death lowered his hand and frowned. "Are you sure? If you win, there will be untold consequences and you cannot undo this decision."

Katie thought on her children, only four and six years old. They would need their mother. "Yes, I'm sure," she said, with strength in her voice she hadn't felt in months.

Death slumped his shoulders. "OK. What game would you like to play?"

A flood of images washed through her mind - untold numbers and kinds of games. She saw games that she never knew existed. But there was only one game that she was sure she could win. "Dungeons," she coughed and took a thin breath, "Dungeons and Dragons". 

Death bowed his head then waved his hand and everything seemed to freeze. The nurse and family outside the door seemed stopped in their tracks. The heart monitor looked as though it was paused. Time had just stopped except for her and Death, who twirled his hand in a circular motion and the room began to blend with itself and evaporate into a new shape - a table in front of them and two soft chairs. She stepped forward and sat in one, then looked behind her wondering when she stood up only to see herself, as though through a lens, lying on the hospital bed.

She turned back to Death who stood up his DM screen and slapped a pile of rule books on the table. "Are you ready?" He asked, handing her a blank character sheet and a bag of dice.

Death brought her character through adventure after adventure. He was the hardest DM she had ever encountered; he followed every rule and knew every trick. But as they played Katie saw that he was not trying to kill her character. He wanted her to give up, to choose to end the game and come with him, and every time she thought of doing just that she remembered her children right outside the door.

The game went on for what felt like forever. With time on pause, Katie had no way to track how long, but Death was stingy with XP and she had progressed into epic levels. Each level had cost her dearly, leaving scars that would never heal. Death wove a story with depth and breadth that enveloped her within its narrative. Companions she met felt real to her and she developed such strong emotional bonds with each of them - a testament to Death's story telling ability. But as each adventure grew more dangerous and each encounter became more deadly, her beloved companions would fall. One. By. One. But she steeled herself against the emotional torment and pressed on; she would never give up.

Finally, Death took a deep breath. He looked down and sighed then picked his head up and looked Katie straight in the eye. "Are you ready?" he asked.

She was now deep into epic levels, farther than she had ever been. It had felt like months or even years had gone by. Her current adventuring party had been with her for the last 15 of those epic levels and she loved them dearly. But through it all, the image of her body laying on that hospital bed frozen in time still floated behind her, the unmoving shadows of her family still visible through the window in the door. She would sacrifice anything for them.

"I'm ready for anything," she replied, with hard-won confidence.

The last battle was furious and long. Even at such high levels, Death had prepared a terrific challenge for her to face. There were moments she thought her character was about to die, but in each moment one of her beloved companions would leap to her rescue and take the hit in her stead. She wept as Death described the light fading from their eyes, but she would not falter. 

Finally, at last, her character stood breathless in a clearing, the enemy defeated, her victory complete, the bodies of her faithful companions laying beside her.

Death stood and began to pack up his rule books and DM screen. "Congratulations," he said. "You've won."

"That's it?" She asked... she suddenly felt the shock of realizing it was finally over. How long had this game taken? What had it cost her to finally reach the end?

"Yes," Death spoke softly, almost a whisper. A tear visible in his eye. "Your life is now yours, I cannot take it from you."

He waved his hand and the table and room began to spin around her and then she was back in the hospital bed, the heart monitor beeping steadily, her breath as strong and firm as ever. A nurse came in to check on her and gasped in shock, followed by a yell for the doctor and a hurried rush of furor as nurses and technicians began poking and prodding. 

She was cured. It was a miracle.

Katie had been grateful at first, she was so happy to see her children grow. She relished every moment with them knowing how hard she had fought to be a part of their lives. But as time went on she began to notice - they changed, but she never did. One day her husband slowly faded away, a victim of old age as she, a perfect twenty-six year old woman knelt at his bedside. Eventually she knelt by her children's bedsides the same way. Her best friends, her grandchildren and great grandchildren, her faithful companions all passed away while she remained. At last she began to comprehend what Death had tried to teach her.

As she now looked out upon this blanket of stars, countless centuries later, she understood what Death had meant about untold consequences. Her life was her own, death could not take it from her.

"It's lonely, isn't it?" the voice came from a man standing right beside her. She startled, not realizing she wasn't alone. She looked over to see an old familiar face.

"It's so, so lonely," she said, tears welling up in her eyes. "When will it end?"

Death turned away from the pale of stars and looked at Katie, a deep gentleness in his eyes. "Your life is your own. I cannot take it from you." He reached up and softly brushed a tear from her cheek.

Katie fell to the floor of the ship and began to weep, uncontrollable sobs echoing through her small personal quarters. Death knelt beside her and embraced her, holding her as she wept. And wept. And wept.

Finally, her crying softened and she took a deep breath. In a shuddering voice she asked, "Can I give it to you?"

Death smiled and answered her with a question, "Are you ready?"

She faintly nodded against his chest.

He took her by the shoulders and pushed her gently away. Then he stood and reached a hand down towards her, beckoning as he had done so long ago. "Come with me," he said. "It's time to come home."



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