Herewith, a story soon to be published in my local Writers’ Group biannual magazine. 800 words. Here’s hoping you enjoy it! 😀
Nathanael stood still, watching.
The man in the bed next to him didn’t have long to live. He was 87, after all, and had been ill for months now. Nathanael watched him sadly, wheezing in his sleep. It was such a waste, it truly was.
Nathanael had guarded hundreds – if not thousands – of humans before. He’d been assigned to them when they’d finished their terms as innocents, and stayed with them until their last breath. Then he’d been assigned a new human to guard. Every assignment presented its own challenges, its own highlights. No two were identical, just as each of the Master’s creations was unique. But this last assignment left him saddened. It had been easy, but that in itself had been part of the problem. It had been too easy. The man wasting away in the bed next to him had not lived. Not in any meaningful way. Yes, he had been alive, but he had never lived; he had only existed. And they were very, very different things.
This man, his current assignment, was the second child of three. Overshadowed by both his brothers in intelligence, the man had made up his mind at an early age that he would never amount to much. He had lived with the ridicule of his siblings and the disappointment of his parents, and so had found it difficult to make friends at school. His peers didn’t like him; he’d never gone out of his way to be friendly. By graduation, he’d been friendless. Average school marks had meant that further education wasn’t an option, so he’d gone into the workforce, helping out in his father’s business. And he’d stayed there. Sixty years later, when society had forced him to retire, he’d stopped going to work and stayed at home. The home which he’d inherited from his parents after their death, after his brothers had moved on to bigger and better things. Successful careers. Marriages. Families. Houses. Overseas holidays at ski resorts.
This man, though, had had none of those things. He had told himself that he didn’t want to be seen to be ‘ambitious’ – but really, Nathanael thought that it was because he was scared. Scared of what might happen if he had tried. Scared to succeed; scared to fail. Coasting, making as few decisions as he possibly could, carried less risk. So that’s what he’d done.
He’d never married. Never had anyone that he could call friend. Never even owned a pet! The man had deliberately chosen to be responsible for no-one and nothing. He had told himself that he had preferred it that way. Nathanael wondered if that was true.
It wouldn’t be long now, Nathanael knew. The man’s breathing was becoming more and more erratic. With his angelic sight, Nathanael could see the man’s bodily systems labouring with more and more difficulty, then starting to shut down. The man had just minutes to live.
But what is a life? thought Nathanael. Is it just the number of breaths measured out to a man? Is it the seconds that he has between conception and death? Or is it the decisions that he makes in the time allotted to him? The emotions he allows himself to feel? The experiences he chooses to have?
The Master had created humans to be social creatures. He had created them to be part of community. To care for each other. Life was about living. Not just existing, oblivious to those around you. A life without choosing to interact with others was no life at all. Nathanael knew this. He had had enough experience watching lives to be utterly convinced.
This man, who had lived without thought for others, had done little harm to them. But neither had he done any kindness. And that was such a waste. He could have done so much good! He had had the opportunity for wealth – and with it, the opportunity to be generous with that wealth. He had had the opportunity for friendship – and with it, the possibility of choosing to make others happier. To make their lives easier.
But he had chosen to live his life as risk-free as possible. He had chosen a life without social interaction. A life of solitude. A life alone.
A life wasted. It was almost criminal. To have so many opportunities, and to neglect to nurture them. It was so sad.
Nathanael watched as the man took his last breath. He watched as his heart beat its last time. Nathanael watched as his soul departed, to the place where all souls went, ready for the final judgement.
Nathanael sighed. A final reflection on this man’s life. Then he too departed, thinking with hope of the next life that he would guard. He wondered who his next assignment would be.
The man’s body lay almost as still in death as his spirit had been in life. Unremarkable.
So – did you like it? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please feel free to leave any and all comments below.
And have a lovely week, dear reader 😀