The Final Question - A Very Short Story

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The Final Question - A Very Short Story

Postby Graham Smith » Wed Sep 25, 2013 4:52 pm

The Final Question

The old man lay in his bed at home waiting to die. He was 95 and the doctors had done everything they could. Even with all the advances in medicine in Victorian England, there was only so much that could be expected.

His wife had passed on 12 years before and his son had taken over the business about the same time. His daughter had married some Belgian he disapproved of and had moved to some city across the channel. He had not seen her since his wife’s funeral and didn’t much care to see her now.

All his affairs had been put in order and his accountant had his instructions for the disposition of his estate. There really wasn’t that much to deal with since he had long since transferred most of his estate to his son. That just left some money for the housekeeper and a generous retirement for his longtime friend and accountant. Plus, a donation to the church and to the local poor house and that was it.

It was as he was thinking about that last thing that the old man noticed the spectral figure standing near the foot of the bed. He wasn’t sure how long it had been there because he had been involved with his own thoughts.

As he looked at the figure, it began to become a bit more solid looking and he could see the resemblance to illustrations he had seen of Death in various books. At first he attributed this to just his mind wandering but shortly, and somewhat reluctantly, he found himself speaking. “Hello there.” he said. “I assume from your appearance that you are Death?”

“YES,”, Death said. “YOU RECOGNIZED ME. MOST PEOPLE DO.”

“How is it possible that so many illustrators and artists have been able to get your appearance right? Without actually dying, that is?” the old man asked.

“THAT’S ACTUALLY A VERY ASTUTE QUESTION. ALMOST NO ONE EVER THINKS ABOUT THAT.”, said Death.

The old man waited for Death to continue and when nothing else was forthcoming, he asked, “Well, what’s the answer.”

Death looked around a bit then said, “THE TRUTH IS, I’M NOT EXACTLY SURE. I RATHER SUSPECT THAT IT’S ONE OF THOSE QUESTIONS THAT HAS NO RATIONAL ANSWER.”

The old man said, “Well I guess it’s time to go.”

Death reached under his robe and took out an hourglass and looked at it. He tapped it a couple times then put it back. “I SEEM TO BE SLIGHTLY AHEAD OF SCHEDULE TODAY, SO WE TO HAVE A FEW MINUTES YET.”

“In that case,” the old man said, “can you fill me in on what’s next? I mean, regarding the afterlife? Can you tell me what it’s like?”
“SORRY, I REALLY DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT WHAT’S WAITING FOR YOU.”

The old man looked at Death rather puzzled and said, “You are telling me that you, Death, don’t know what happens to someone when they die? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

“IT’S COMPLICATED. I CAN ASSURE YOU THAT YOU WILL FIND OUT SHORTLY, HOWEVER.”

The old man lay there for a minute. Death took the hourglass out and tapped it again, and put it back. By now, the figure of Death was quite clearly visible and looked rather embarrassed, if it’s possible for a skeletal figure to look embarrassed.

“Well, since we seem to have some time, perhaps you could tell me what you do know?”, the old man asked.

“YOU SEE, IT’S NOT THE SAME FOR EVERYONE.”, Death said. “IN A VERY REAL SENSE, IT HAS TO DO WITH WHAT YOU ARE EXPECTING. AND MOST PEOPLE HAVE A VERY CONFUSED SENSE ABOUT WHAT TO EXPECT. SO THEY SORT OF HAVE TO FIGURE IT OUT FOR THEMSELVES.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”, said the old man.

“LIKE I SAID, IT’S COMPLICATED.”

The old man straightened his bed sheet out a bit while he thought and said, “Well, I’ve always tried to be kind and generous to others. Within some limits of course, I had a business to run.” He thought a moment more and said, “I’ve always been good about going to church and donating some to the poor. Old clothes and some money for the soup kitchen and like that.”

“THAT’S NICE.”, said Death. After a pause he went on, “BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT COUNTS. WHAT YOU HAVE DONE IN LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS A REFLECTION OF WHAT IS IN YOUR MIND AND IN YOUR HEART.” Death paused again then said, “AS I SAID, PEOPLE HAVE TO FIGURE IT OUT FOR THEMSELVES AND IT’S THE PART OF THEM DEEP DOWN INSIDE THAT FORMS THOSE IDEAS. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”

The old man could see the room around him starting to fade. He thought about all the things he had kept pretty much to himself. The things he had said in private. The things that he didn’t say to anyone. The dark thoughts. The ones that he kept covered up from the daylight.

With a sigh the old man said, “I’m screwed aren’t I?”

Just before fading from view completely, Death said, “PRETTY MUCH.”
Graham Smith
DataSmith, Delaware
"For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.", Arthur C. Clarke (1917 - 2008)
"X-Clacks-Overhead: GNU Terry Pratchett"
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