A Portrait of Death

 Part 1: A Late Arrival 

    The night sky was obscured by a hard rainfall.

      No thunder, but it felt imminent.

      Everything had been laid out for my guest, but he was late, and given the fact that our meal had gone cold and gelid, I stopped expecting him and enjoyed a cup of dark red wine that held a gem of amber firelight in its ruby hues.

      I sipped, savoring it, and was drifting toward sleep when the knock came, rousing me out of a drifting dream state.

     He’d used the heavy metal bar curved through the jaws of a badly sculpted gargoyle knocker I’d taken a fancy too and purchased; it looked more irritated than menacing, which is how I felt at receiving guests in general.

    But all of the servants were in bed, and in a flash of beneficence I decided to let them sleep, and went to answer the door myself.


    He’d taken a human face for this session, an affectation for which I was grateful, but it was the shimmering black robe that caught my attention. For all the millenia he’d worn it, it wasn’t tattered, frayed, dirty, or worn.

     It seemed made of liquid obsidian, and rippled with his movements, seeming to surround him instead of adorn him, for when he sat down it didn’t spread out.

    “No scythe?” I asked.

     He grinned. “Not needed. It’s symbolism, mostly.”

    “Then how do you…?”

    “It’s fine, don’t worry. Are you prepared to start?”

    “W-well,” I stammered a bit, “it’s just that people are used to seeing you with it.”

    “There are countless pictures of me holding one, but tell me, do you really want to do what everyone else has done?”

    I started to answer, but the question in and of itself gave me pause.

    “I…I suppose not.”

    “Good. Are you prepared?”

    “Yes.” Then I clarified. “To paint you, that is, not to…”

    Again the small grin. “Of course.”


    He posed himself just so, the gentle hues of candlelight reflecting off his robe as if underwater, clear and flowing, not obscured or murky at all.

    There was pristine quality to him that belied his calling.

    I chuckled as I sketched the outline. “Flowing robes.”


    “Oh,” I said, flattered he was even listening, “I said, ‘flowing robes.’ It’s a term used to describe–”
    “I’m aware of its use. I just didn’t hear you.”

    “Well, the thing is, yours actually does, or seems to…”
    He didn’t answer, leaving my unspoken question drift into the air.

    In the distance, I heard the first roll of thunder herald the storm.

Part 2: An Early Departure

    The mix of the wine and lateness of the hour, and the patter of rain and low thunder began to wear on me.

    I thought I saw drops of darkness start at his sleeve, falling and coming to rest on the floor like ink, and slowly spread.

    I blinked, put down the brush, and rubbed my eyes, thinking it to be an illusion, but when I opened them again, they were still there, now drifting toward me.

   I ignored it, and looked at Death’s face.

   Nothing had changed from the time he walked in; his skin hadn’t paled, his countenance was still, and there was an emptiness to his gaze that brought to mind this was more of an annoyance he was doing as a favor to me than an honor. 

   Indeed, it was.

   The obsidian color never lost its shine as more of his robe dripped and pooled, spreading across the floor like an ebon fog.

   I was rooted to the spot, no longer painting.

   “W-w-what’s happening to me? I don’t understand…”

    Again, the grin. “The longer you paint me, the more of me you capture, I also capture you.”

   “But if  you take me, the painting will be unfinished!” I heard the plea of rising panic in my voice as the fog coiled around me and began its slow ascent.

   As the thunder rolled, closer than before, lightning flashed and the rain fell harder.

   His obsidian robe and human guise sloughed from him, leaving only his alabaster bones.

   He rose and walked toward me. 

   “Do you not yet understand, dear painter, that all the portraits of me were finished by me?”

  The flowing obsidian was cool against my flesh as the brush and paints fell, and my vision, as its color began to match his robe, was undisturbed by starlight, save for the amber firelight suddenly captured in the void of his eyes, and on the blade of his shimmering scythe.