When I was five years old, I was hit by a car.
Don’t worry, my story’s all uphill from here.
I was playing in the street and a car came roaring around the curve to the street and ran right into me. The driver was a 19-year-old guy. Kinda scruffy facial hair; ear-length, wavy, jet-black hair. Green eyes. Probably 120 pounds soaking wet. He ran out to help me and called the ambulance himself. I survived. My parents decided not to press charges. I never thought I’d see him again.
See, that accident profoundly affected my life. I died that day, if only for a few moments. Ever since, I was fascinated by medicine. I wanted to help people the way these doctors had helped me. So I went to med school. And I saw that 19-year-old again.
Now, you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I’m not. I promise. Just believe me.
I was at a hospital observing a surgery. A few of my peers were there; the school had organized a field trip to observe the surgery.
As I was watching, something went wrong. The woman on the table flatlined. And when she did, for some reason, I looked at the corner of the room. There, sitting in a chair, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his spindly hands interlocked as he pensively looked at the woman, was the 19-year-old. I looked away at the woman just as the doctors stabilized her condition, and when I looked back, he was gone.
I never mentioned it to anyone. Figured I must have been seeing things.
Then I started working at a hospital.
My duties were to check patients. Make sure they were alright, clean bedpans, administer some medicine if necessary, simple things. Until He showed up again.
It was the graveyard shift. I often volunteered for it; I was always a night owl. There was a patient there, a Mr. Smith, who had come in a day or two prior with stomach pains. Appendicitis. His appendectomy was done that day, and he was recovering. I went in to make sure his IV was still working, and He was sitting in a chair nearby.
I was dumbfounded. It had been 17 years and He was the same. Or so I thought.
“Hello, Jameson.”
I stared at Him blankly.
“Sorry to scare you like this. I have to be here for this man’s time.”
He turned back to Mr. Smith.
“Pancreatic cancer. It will metastasize to the brain tonight. You can’t stop it, I just want you to be ready.”
“He had appendicitis.”
“He had stomach pains and appendicitis. Turns out there were two diagnoses. Whoops.”
“So who are you?”
He turned to me.
“Do you know who this man is?” He asked, looking me in the eye.
“He’s Joseph Smith, a banker.”
“No, no, no, do you KNOW who he is? Who he sees himself as?”
I paused. I could not answer that.
“See, you only see what is written down for you or right in front of you. I can see everything when the time is near.”
He looked down at the man in the bed.
“He is proud of his work, but not of himself. He wishes he had been a better father to his children. He wishes he had spent more time on his own happiness, but knows that he’d just feel guilty for not spending all his time on work. His father was hard on him about making the most of his life. He did the same thing to his children after insisting he wouldn’t. But he has led a good, successful life. He is happy, to some extent.”
He stopped his speech.
“You can lie and omit facts on paper and in person. You can’t lie to Death himself.”
He looked up at me to see my confusion at what was happening.
“I’ll wait until you’re gone to take him. Don’t worry. It’ll be peaceful and quiet.”
“You can control all that?”
He smiled at my question.
“No, just the timing. The peaceful passing is just a convenient coincidence.”
He looked down at the patient again, and his brow furrowed.
“You ought to get back to the other patients, Jameson.”
I nodded and left the room. Sure enough, ten minutes after I left the hospital that night, Mr. Joseph Smith was pronounced dead.
I saw Him again, quite frequently. Smiling at the bedsides of elderly patients, frowning at the bedsides of children. He’d show up in the maternity ward every so often. He was always emotional. Every death affected Him.
I asked Him one night if He spared me for some reason.
“No, that’s not within my power,” He said, “But when we met the first time, we became linked. I look like this to you because that’s what you thought Death had to look like. The arbiters of your fate were one and the same in your young mind.”
He looked at the patient He was waiting for that night: a five-year-old who had been in a car accident. She was totally brain dead. The parents were going to pull the plug the next morning.
“The young ones are always the saddest,” He added with a sigh.
And He looked up at me once again, with the same statement as always:
“You ought to get back to the other patients, Jameson.”
Drew Schackmann is a contributing writer for Gutai-Pravda Assembly. You can contact him on Twitter.
© 2015; David “Drew” Schackmann, Jr.

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