Another day, another blog post and for today’s post I have another original artist collaboration. If you are unfamiliar with my blog series, I create a piece of original writing inspired y an artist’s style and body of work and they in turn create an image inspired by my story. For this artist collaboration, I have joined forces with the incredibly talented Ben Toms aka Galleon Art. This London based artist has an eye for the macabre and I was immediately drawn to his dark style. Ben has been drawing for as long as he can remember and his style has evolved over time, finally settling into the gloriously gothic style. To check out more of Ben’s work and perhaps purchase a piece of your own, head to his website here: shop.ben-toms.com.
If you are an artist and would be interested in collaborating, let me know and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog!
The cards don’t decide your fate, they simply reveal it. I don’t know how many times I have had to repeat those words over the years, or how many people I have had beg me to change their message, as if swapping out one card for another would make a shred of difference. The cards are as the cards are and no amount of begging or threatening or bribery will change what they say. It can of course be hard to deliver bad news, but that’s the deal when you have the sight; you see what you see, good or bad and your job is to pass on that message. Sometimes I find myself weeping right along with them when their sad future is there before them. A man whose cancer treatment won’t stop its spread, a woman who will never have a child, the couple with so much hope in their eyes finding out they have a short road to divorce on their horizon. It pains me, each and every time. But not him, not the bone man.
He comes when the news is worst, when it concerns death and decay. He stands behind them, indifferent, impartial, and the second I spot those hollow eyes, I know I don’t need the deck to work out this poor schmuck’s fate. Death doesn’t take sides. He doesn’t care one way or the other. He doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, fat or thin, a supermodel or ugly as sin, everyone has to go some time. That’s the way of things and after all, what meaning has life without death? But like I said, it doesn’t make telling folks any easier.
Twice I pulled his card this week, a skeleton in a black robe, scythe in hand. It’s funny, but he seems so much more alive than the cards suggest, as if invisible skin clutches to the bones. Sometimes, I swear I can almost make out a face, features, a smile. He’s never had a scythe, but he does have the robes, a black leather belt tightening it around his fleshless waist. He never interacts, never speaks or moves, he merely appears, watches me conclude the read and then he disappears as the customers leave, weeping, howling, screaming why. Why? Because, just because.
But tonight, he meets me alone within my bed chambers. I don’t spot him at first as I busy myself getting ready for bed, but then I feel a chill snake its way up my spine and I smell that scent that always follows him around, dirt, rotting leaves, decay. I spot him then beside my bed, watching as he always does, except now he stares at me, not my client. Now, he watches only me. I freeze, surprised to find myself afraid. I knew this day would come, I knew I too would succumb to the fragility of my body. As I have aged, my hair greying, my life etched clearly on my skin, I thought I had come to accept, perhaps even welcome my own visit. But now, stood here with that hollow, expressionless face staring back, I feel scared. I’m not ready, despite everything I’m not ready.
“Are you here for me?”
He says nothing and I expected nothing else, after all these years despite his many visits to my home, not once have I seen him move or interact with the living. As if sensing my thoughts, my trepidation, the slight quiver in my voice, he raises his hand, his wide black sleeve falling to reveal his card, the Death card. I suppose it’s my card now.
Despite myself, I feel tears rising in my eyes. I think of all my mistakes, all the wrong choices and regrets, all the things left undone, put off until tomorrow. I find myself growing angry that despite my intimacy with death, with the brevity of life, I still failed to accomplish all that I planned. I feel foolish.
I can’t stop myself from weeping, tears coming easier now than ever before. This is it for me, this is the end of the road. I feel a hand on mine, that despite its stark white appearance of bone, feels warm and comforting against mine. I look up to find those eyes, except this time, I feel warmth there, like the kind embrace of an old friend. I suppose, after all this time, we are in a way. Slowly he removes his hood, his skull turning side to side, nodding no. Confusion mixes with my fear, dulling its sting slightly, allowing curiosity to bubble to the surface as he places the card in my hand, a hand that starts to change from flesh to bone. I gasp, dropping it, my flesh returning once more. I squeeze it, rub it as if to be sure it is definitely still there, that I am still there.
He picks the card up once more and offers it to me, this time he nods yes to me, his bony hand reaching out, card extended, asking me to take it from him.
“I don’t understand.”
I stare bewildered, as the leather belt is loosened, the black cloak removed. He stands there naked now, exposed. I can see through every rib, the holes in his pelvis. He seems so small, so weak now without his uniform, a shadow of his former self. Realisation dawns as he gently places the garments in my arms. I am not being shepherded to the world beyond this one, I am being asked to become the shepherd.
“You want me to…?”
I trail off. The words seem impossible, unreal even in the strangeness of this night. He nods again, affirming that I am being ushered into death but into an eternal existence, an offer for a job I never applied for.
“But why? Why me?”
He holds the card again and I suddenly understand. I have acted as shepherd in my own way all these years, a guide to those lost and seeking answers. I have already shown people their deaths as I dealt their cards and I have helped them prepare, to come to terms with the inevitable. I suppose, I am more qualified than most in the matters of death.
“What about you?”
A bony finger points towards the blackness of the shadows which now surround us, engulfing what used to be my home, what used to be the land of the living. I hadn’t notice them creeping up, surrounding us, but my fear has left me now. I understand and I feel peace. He points into that black void and I see he is ready to move on like the countless souls who he shepherded to the next life. After an untold amount of time, he has grown tired and yearns for rest and he has chosen me as his successor.
I feel a mixture of emotions. It is quite a burden to take on, to delay my own rest for God knows how long to aid the rest of others, but I already know in my heart that I will accept his offer. I dedicated my life to helping lost souls find direction and understanding, it seems only fitting to dedicate my death to it as well.
I reach my hand out to the bones still clutching the card and I hold it a moment, an unspoken understanding crossing between us. I take the card and slowly as my flesh dissolves, my bones becoming exposed and stark white in the surrounding black, I see the man before me being remade, reborn. As I fade to black and white, he regains colour, flesh, softness and expression. I can see he was a young man, much younger than I, with long jet black hair and hazel eyes, a slight smile upon his brown skin, a smile which conveys more gratitude than words ever could and then, he was gone.
I stare down at what used to be my plump, sagging arms, my bloated legs mapped with the purple lines of varicose veins. There is nothing but bone now, so clean and new. I wonder at how it did not hurt, how all the pain which had inflicted my ageing body had evaporated along with my flesh. There is no more arthritis, no aches or pains, just peace and calm. Even the questions and confusion of mortal life have gone leaving understanding and peace in their wake. I see time, from the souls who have long since passed to the babes yet to be born and I understand my purpose. I am death now, I am the Grim Reaper and I will be the one to show you the way.