Yesterday, his life was simple.
For ages, his day started the same. For centuries, his day ended the same. He got the list and he went to work. After hundreds of years, he had lost the ability to feel. Everybody was born, lived their life, however long they were supposed to, and then they died. It was not rocket science.
Feeling ready to burst out of his skin, Daimhin shoved the list across the wide wooden desk and took an agitated look around the room. “A kid!” He exclaimed.
His manager looked back at him, where he was seated at the top end of the long table. The large windows behind him, with a view of endless clouds, silhouetted him, turning his manager into a dark looming shadow. Daimhin could not see his expression, but he heard from his tone that he was amused. “Too good for you, Daimhin?”
“I have never had to do this before. A baby? Really?”
Daimhin heard Violet smirk, where she sat next to him. He swivelled the leather chair and faced her. “What?” He was feeling tense. He was not sure if he would be able to go out today and to collect a baby. A baby, for crying out loud. A baby who has not yet had the chance to live a full life. Did somebody higher up the chain of command make a mistake of sending this soul back to earth, and now they had to ‘pull the product’ because of some production error.
Daimhin felt as if the walls were closing in on him.
The other guardians stood up from their chairs and then in groups of two or three’s they left the room. Each one of them taking their own list with them.
Violet touched him lightly on his arm.
“No need to be rude to me, Daimhin. We have all had to collect babies from time to time.”
His edginess increased tenfold, driving him to his feet. He expected this morning’s meeting to be the same as every other morning – get his list and do his job. A job he never chose to do but had no choice in doing, because of the choices he made a long time ago when he was also one of the living.
His manager looked across the table at Daimhin. Daimhin saw a glint of light in his eyes – amusement mixed with boredom. Daimhin saw a flash of a smirk on his darkly shadowed face.
Daimhin had no choice. He leaned across the table and pulled the list, printed on parchment paper, names written with a fountain pen in an elaborate cursive, across the glossy surface.
With a quick defiant glance toward his manager, he folded the list in four quarters and pushed it into his denim pants pocket.
Violet followed him from the room. “I can go with you for this one.”
“No. I’ll be fine.”
“Taking your first baby is not easy. I can be there with you for moral support.”
“I said, no.” Feeling sorry for being rude to Violet, the only one who has ever tried to be friendly with him, he stopped and turned toward her. “Sorry. I know you only want to help.”
Curiously, she asked, “How come this is your first baby?”
Daimhin shrugged. “Just been lucky, I suppose.”
“I had to fetch a baby after my first decade. I know newbies don’t collect babies because it can be emotional, but you have been here for – what?” Her eyes glanced at a point beyond his shoulder as she thought. “Three hundred years?” She looked back at him for confirmation.
“Almost three hundred,” he replied dismissively.
The first time he saw Taylor Fergusson she was cocooned in pink. Everything surrounding her was in shades of pink. He stood next to her cradle and he looked down at her beautiful, peaceful face. There was no way he could make himself reach out to touch her. She was so tiny, he could not justify it to himself why he should take her life, her soul with him when she had not even had a chance to live.
It was almost dawn and he was still standing next to her cradle, staring down at her, trying to convince himself to just do it. He left fetching her until last. Most people believed there was a set time when they are supposed to die, but the precise hour is of no consequence, it is the date which is of more importance than the actual second.
Her tiny fist curled up and her tiny pink lips started sucking on her fingers. She turned her head and opened her eyes. She looked up at him. Her clear blue eyes were framed by long dark lashes. A little frown formed between her eyes as if she was not sure whether she should cry or smile, and then a smile tugged at her pink mouth. A dimple sunk in on the side of her face. As Daimhin looked down at her, he could not help smiling at her in return.
He reached for her, to touch her when she let out a piercing yell as if to stop him. Her sweet little face pinched into a sad wrinkled prune as her mouth let out a sharp wail.
Her mother came rushing into the room and Daimhin had to step aside quickly before she moved through him.
Daimhin stood in the corner of the room as he watched the mother lift Taylor out of the crib carefully. He saw the radiant smile pass between them as their eyes met. He could feel the love in the room. He stood there, watching them puzzled until it was time for him to return to the meeting room to receive his list for the day.
When Violet saw him, as he walked into the meeting room, she smiled sympathetically, but she did not ask him outright if he collected Taylor’s soul. It was not negotiable. Every name on the list must be collected on the specified day, otherwise it confused the whole system.
Two years later, the name Taylor Fergusson appeared on his list again as the system tried to correct itself.
Again, he left her soul until last. That afternoon when he stood next to her, he smiled when he looked into her eyes and saw recognition in them. She smiled widely up at him and pointed at him with her chubby fingers. Absent-mindedly her mum looked in his direction, but of course she could not see him. It shocked Daimhin that Taylor was able to see him.
They were sitting at a bus stop, she, and her mother. Her mother kept looking down at her wristwatch, and Daimhin assumed the bus was running behind schedule.
There was no backrest on the seat they were sitting on, and then as fate would have it, she fell backwards. This was all in the plan. When she fell it would be the reason why she died, all Daimhin had to do was touch her.
Her mum grabbed her up from the floor before Daimhin reached her. Daimhin saw the panic in the mother’s eyes as blood gushed and ran in between Taylor’s light blonde hair in little rivulets.
Daimhin reached for her, smiling reassuringly at Taylor. Usually the souls he collected never saw him until he touched them, but Taylor seemed to be different. Maybe this was how it was supposed to be. Maybe little kids were just more susceptible to seeing ghosts or entities. After all Taylor was his first kid, and thanks to the system, still his only kid.
Taylor started crying, shaking her head and little beads of blood sprayed in an arch from the gash at the back of her head. She pleaded as she held onto her mother tightly, “No. No, take me. I scared.”
Daimhin stepped back, shocked. Her voice sent shivers down his spine. He felt an uncomprehending emotion clutch at his heart, his own soul.
He watched as her mother ran down the hill toward a little grocery store, clutching a little body clad in a frilly pink dress tightly to her chest.
Three years later, the system tried to correct itself again.
Daimhin appeared in the bedroom and saw a five-year-old girl with blonde curls framing her little cute face, jumping up and down on a large double bed.
He heard her mother’s voice from down the hall, “Taylor, stop jumping on that bed! You are going to hurt yourself.”
Then fate stepped in, as it is supposed to do. Her foot got stuck within a fold of the bedding covering the bed. Her body lurched forward.
Daimhin stepped forward protectively to catch her, just as her head bounced off the corner of the bedside table. Quickly he pulled back, away from her, as two shock filled aquamarine coloured eyes looked up at him and saw him. Her forehead was covered in a sheen of red blood. The blood flowed freely from the gash.
Her hand came up and touched it. In amazement, she looked at the blood coating her fingers and then she started wailing for her mother.
Daimhin berated himself. All he needed to do was step toward her and touch her. This was how it was supposed to happen.
She looked up at him and smiled, even with her tears mingling with the blood from her forehead, which covered one side of her face. “You cannot take me. I am all my mommy has. Come back later.”
Her mother came running into the room. “Taylor! What did I say about jumping on the bed?”
She scooped Taylor up into her arms and Daimhin followed them out to the garage. He got into the back of the car without having to open the door and went with them to the emergency room. The way the mother was speeding toward the hospital would no doubt cause an accident, and then he would take Taylor.
He knew he was playing with fire. As it was, he got this job because of his own lack of appreciating life. He was supposed to learn that you are not supposed to mess with the system and take your own life. He felt though that it was also not Taylor’s time to go. He felt it in his heart. It was an inexplicable feeling and it resonated in his soul.
In the emergency room, he stood in a corner as they stitched up the gash in her forehead. Her mother had to physically lie down on top of her to hold her down while Taylor screamed blue murder.
When at last the doctor wiped the last traces of blood from her cheeks, Taylor turned her eyes toward Daimhin and smiled gratefully.
A year later, her first day at school, she appeared on his list again.
He stood at the bottom of the stairs as he watched her walk up them to the next floor. He could already see how this was going to happen. He could see the heavy backpack pull back on her little frame.
As if in slow motion he saw the moment gravity and fate worked together as a team. He saw her tumble down the stairs. She fell in front of him, sprawled in a bundle at his feet. All he had to do was lean down and touch her.
Her long blonde hair was tied up in two pigtails on the side of her face. Instinctively her left hand folded around her broken right arm.
She looked up at him and smiled widely. Her smile brightened her eyes. She pleaded, “Please I want to stay. I promise you can take me next time. It’s a deal.”
He leaned down to her, resting his palms on his knees. Softly he said, “Next time I have to take you with me. I am already going to be in a heap of trouble.”
He straightened shocked when she nodded up at him. Did she hear him? He shivered and stepped aside quickly when a teacher walked through him.
“Taylor, are you okay? You must have a guardian angel, my girl.”
Taylor smiled up at her and glanced toward Daimhin where he stood a few feet away from the commotion.
The teacher asked, “Can you stand up?” She leaned forward and lifted Taylor by placing her hands under her armpits. “Let’s phone your mum. Do you feel sore anywhere?”
Bravely Taylor replied, “My arm is very sore, Mrs. O’Neill.”
Daimhin turned away. He convinced himself that now he did not have to feel as if he was not doing his job the way he was supposed to be doing it. The next time her name appeared on his list, he would have to take her with him – they had a deal. If anybody found out that he never took her the very first time her name appeared on his list, his soul would be taken away from him permanently. He had been given a second chance after he committed suicide all those years ago. He had to collect souls so that he could understand how precious life is. He doubted there were any other opportunities beyond a second chance. There had been many people before Taylor who pleaded to stay and never did he consider not taking them with him. There was something about Taylor, a deeper meaning that evaded him.
Her name did not appear on his list again until this morning.
Was she always such a knock-out?
Daimhin stared at her across the room. He had not seen her for several years. How old was she now? Quickly he calculated the years in his head – seventeen. She was only a few months older than seventeen.
He could not tear his eyes away from her. She was sitting cross-legged on her bed, reading a threadbare book. He saw the pages curled in at several points. He wondered if these were the pages with her favourite quotes. He wondered what the story was about – he could not see the front cover.
He looked around her room and saw amused that she had moved on from everything pink. Her room had no particular theme as so many other teens had. There also were no posters on her walls. Instead, her walls were decorated with wallpaper covered in a multitude of little blue and mauve roses. The last time he saw anything this hideous was in the nineteen hundreds, somewhere around the sixties. The room was tiny and the noises from outside seeped through the open window. Her metal frame bed stood in the middle of the room, next to the open window. The wind pushed and pulled the curtains. The children playing in the road in front of her council house was rowdy as they played a game of football, using a black wheelie bin as the goal.
Her soft laughter drew his attention back to her. His eyes lingered on her lush mouth when her teeth bit down onto her lower lip. Her lashes were long and threw shadows on her cheekbones. Her dark blonde hair was pulled into a ponytail behind her head but was long enough to still hang over her one shoulder. She was so slim; his hands could span her waist. His palms itched to do just that. Her arms, bared by a short-sleeved t-shirt were faintly sun-kissed, their warmth another temptation he wanted to touch.
Startled he stepped back when she looked up from her book. Her green-blue eyes narrowed as she stared in his direction, her lush lips pressed together. She could not see him, and Daimhin felt disappointed. No doubt she could feel somebody leering at her. Daimhin gave himself a mental kick, reminding himself to not stare at her to the point where she could sense him.
Taylor looked through him and saw nothing in her room, so she went back to reading her story.
Guilt over all the ways he had failed Taylor seemed to weigh down on Daimhin’s shoulders. Not long now and the ‘Powers who be’ will come for Taylor. They were baffled by the anomalies occurring around her existence. Taylor should have died so many times before, her name has appeared on his list so many, many times. He was amazed it has taken this long for anybody to figure out something seriously was wrong with the universe and especially within the Fergusson family. Her mother should have had a different life, a life without Taylor. With nearly one hundred and fifty thousand people dying on average per day, he never thought anybody would ever find out.
Now, here he was. They had a deal and this morning her name appeared on his list again.
Unexpectedly Taylor spoke, bringing his attention back to her. “Is there somebody here?” Her throaty voice sent sensations up his spine. “Why don’t we stop pretending there is nobody here in the room with me?”
Taylor was right, of course, they might as well get this over with. He would take off his ring and reveal himself to her. Taylor would be shocked, run from him in terror, but then he could proceed to explain everything to her and the tentative plans he had made this morning after he received his list to protect her from death’s inevitable touch.
His fingers wrapped around the ring on his pinkie. The ring that made him invisible to her and the entire human race, until he touched them and escorted them across the great abyss to the great holding area beyond the valley of death. He owed this much to Taylor. He had discussed it with Violet to the point of still not knowing what to do. Daimhin was convinced he would be able to convince Taylor not to be afraid, that he could protect her, to give her a chance at a full life. He needed to show himself to her.
Taylor sat staring unseeingly directly at him. The book lay discarded next to her knee. Her hands were locked together in her lap, her arms pushing her small breasts together. The shadow between them captivated his gaze.
“Is there somebody there?”
His thoughts derailed again. He forced himself to focus on her face, which was not any safer territory with her generous mouth, those intriguing radiant aquamarine eyes. Alarm bubbled up in him and on its heels, irritation. Although she seemed brave sitting there on her bed, asking the empty room if there was somebody there, she would still recoil from him in fear if he suddenly materialized in front of her. She could not possibly believe there was really somebody in her room. Maybe she felt something, but it was impossible that she believed there was an unseen entity with her.
After shaking her head, as if she was trying to get rid of a silly idea, she got up from the bed and walked to the dresser Daimhin was leaning against. She stopped next to him and pulled open the top drawer. She pulled out a pair of flannel pyjamas from the neatly stacked pile.
She stood so close to him, he could see her chest rise and fall as she breathed. He wanted to touch her but touching her would be a perilous thing to do.
Daimhin tilted his head to get a better view of her face. His jawline pulled tight as his eyes dropped to her mouth, lingering there.
Taylor felt eyes on her, and her mouth went dry as her breath caught in her throat. She could feel a shifting in the air around her. Terrifying images crowded her mind. It was as if she could feel the warmth of another next to her, as if she could feel a breath of air brush across her cheek.
For a crazed moment he was leaning into her, her lips mere centimetres away from his own. He was about to kiss her.
Daimhin cursed softly as he wheeled away from her and strode away to the small window. His shoulders were rigid as he merged with the curtains.
At that moment, Taylor felt so foolish, and she was sure she would never pass any test presented by a psychiatrist. Imagine, imagining there were ghosts in her room who wanted to make contact with her. She chuckled softly as she shook her head.
She turned and left her room to walk down the hall. She could smell pork sausages frying downstairs in the kitchen and she felt her stomach grumble with hunger. She decided to have a quick shower, put on her pyjamas, and then go downstairs to see if her mum needed any help preparing the rest of dinner.
Daimhin walked toward Violet. Her name matched her image perfectly. Her hair was coloured a brilliant vivid purple and her eyes were a clear violet with a dense indigo outline. She was in the process of escorting a bewildered soul across the threshold from the living world to the next. Daimhin stayed in the background while Violet reassured the elderly man stooped forward as if gravity was pulling down on his forehead. He knew it was harsh and unfeeling, but escorting this old man across was natural, as it should be. How could he be expected to escort Taylor, touch her, and take her away from her mother? Granted he had escorted a lot of kids round about her age, but Taylor was different.
Violet interrupted his thoughts, “Did you escort her?”
Despondent he returned her gaze and she sighed. “Honestly, Daimhin?” She asked exasperated. “You must go back there now. There is still a couple of hours left in her day. Her clock has not yet ticked over to tomorrow. Luce is coming next week to audit the books himself. Did you think you could get away with this indefinitely?”
Daimhin leaned against the wall behind him and slid down until he was sitting on his haunches. He rested his face in his upturned palms. He felt helpless.
Violet continued, “How have you not realized that this is your purgatory? Your punishment and if you mess it up you will get a one-way ticket to a place you do not want to be.” She pulled his hands away from his face. “Get up, Daimhin and go get her. We have discussed this, a million times. You messed up everything!” Violet turned away from him abruptly and demanded as she walked away from him. “Fetch her and take her across. You have no choice in this.”
Daimhin arrived at her home, just as her mother was dishing up their dinner. Bangers, mash, and mushy peas. Her mother looked sad, and her young face was lined with worry lines. He wondered as he looked at her how her life would have changed if she had walked into that pink room all those years ago to find a baby, dead in a pink cocoon.
He watched them as they spoke. Her mother asked concerned, “How do you feel today, Taylor?”
Taylor smiled up at her mother reassuringly. “Good.”
“Remember, tomorrow we need to be at the hospital early. Must I wake you?”
“No, I’ll set my alarm. I am glad I washed my hair tonight though.” She pulled her fingers through her wet hair, hanging over her shoulder. “It needed a good wash.”
Her mother looked at her with a worried look in her eyes. The tiny lines around her eyes pulling in onto each other. “I wish you wouldn’t wait to wash your hair, when it is already so late, Taylor.”
“Come on, Mum. I am sure in the big scheme of things it really does not matter when I wash my hair.”
Her mother stood up from the table and while she walked to the basin with the dishes, she sighed as she said, “You could catch a chill.”
Taylor stood up and followed her mother to the basin. “You should stop worrying so much, Madam.” Her voice took on a pleading tone. “Please.” She wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist and rested her cheek against her back.
They stood like that for a while. Her mother was staring absent-mindedly through the small window over the basin, small glistening tears appearing in the corners of her eyes.
“Go on. Go and dry your hair, before it gets any later.”
Reluctantly Taylor moved away from her mother. “Do you need any help?”
Her mother turned away from the basin. “Taylor, you need to get to bed. Please.”
Taylor turned away from her mother. “Honestly, you are such a nag pot. You should stop being so worried every time we go to the hospital. Everything is fine, I’ll know when something is changing.”
Taylor walked slowly up the narrow, creaky stairs and she considered how much she would miss her mother when she was gone. Why was it that you only start missing things when you know it might soon be gone?
Daimhin was waiting for Taylor in her room. He watched her walk into her room, across the floor toward her dressing table, where now, for the first time, he saw a chemist decorating the surface.
He followed her to the dresser and looked at the multitude of bottles. With her standing beside him, he watched as she reached for a small white bottle and open the lid before she dropped two pills in her palm.
Inexplicable terror filled him. Quickly frustration, misgivings and second thoughts started piling up in his mind. The beautiful late May afternoon, with its golden sunshine and brilliant blue sky, out there, on the other side of the window, might as well have been a dreary, grey sky. Although he had not seen her for the last eleven years, since the last time her name appeared on his list, thoughts of her occupied him far too much.
A delicate floral scent drifted toward him and he closed his eyes as he once again contemplated taking off his ring. How would she react when he suddenly materialized in her room? Would she even recognize him?
He wanted to know why her mother was so worried and why did she have to go to the hospital?
Why was she drinking so much medicine?
He wished he knew what circumstances would have explained her death if he touched her, as he was supposed to.
He did not expect her to turn and when she brushed past him, he felt it curling up his arm, nesting in his chest. An ache settled in his heart. He wanted to pull her into his arms, to hold her and to feel her arms around him.
He stood in the corner of her room when she climbed into bed.
She leaned over and she switched off her bedside lamp. Motionless he watched as her mother came into the room to tug her in after she had already fallen asleep.
As midnight approached, he was shocked to see her thrash around in her bed, her blankets knotting around her legs, her pained moans clenched tightly around his heart.
Copyright © Lynette Ferreira (published by Fiction for the Soul). All rights reserved.