Arthur woke once again in his hospital bed. The steady beeping of the monitor was a familiar background noise. After so long in this bed – he wasn’t exactly sure how long – the rhythm was a comfort that he would miss if it wasn’t there. Of course, if it wasn’t there, he wouldn’t be in a condition to miss it.
There was a rustling sound and the sudden smell of cigarette smoke. Arthur opened his eyes. There were two shadowy shapes moving around the room. Each one had a chair, and he saw that they were two strangers in robes. One was an extremely thin man in black robes, and was the source of the cigarette scent. The other was a bearded elderly man in white robes.
The two men set up their chairs on either side of Arthur’s bed. The dark-robed one on his left leaned something against the wall. Arthur could dimly see a pole with a blade on the end. Then, with sudden clarity, he saw that it wasn’t a man, but a robed skeleton with a scythe. It was time, then. The Reaper had come.
Arthur struggled to turn his head over to see the other man. He wasn’t illuminated by the room’s lights. Instead, a glowing halo floated inches above his head. Two feathery wings sprouted from the man’s back. An angel, then. This should be an interesting night.
The Reaper pulled a deck of cards from somewhere within his robes. He nodded to the angel, then both sat. The Reaper shuffled, then passed the deck to the angel to cut. Then, he dealt the cards onto Arthur’s blankets, ignoring the man under them.
Arthur watched the game down his body. He frowned as he saw the Reaper’s pile of chips grow. He felt his life fading with each hand. Then, the angel rose and pointed at the Reaper’s seat.
“What are those under you?” he asked. The voice echoed in the small room. “You are cheating!”
The reaper slid over to hide the cards. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” His voice was deep, almost beyond the edge of hearing. Arthur felt the vibrations almost as much as he heard the voice. “Count the deck, you will find all fifty-two cards.”
“We have two jokers! There should be fifty-four cards! No wonder your pile is growing! This man’s life is leaning in the balance, and you have the temerity…”
Arthur raised his hand, knocking the chips over. Both spirits were immediately silent.
“It’s OK,” he rasped. “I know that my time has come. Please, let it come easily.”
The angel touched Arthur’s hand. “Are you sure? There is still a chance.”
“I am,” he replied. “The doctor told me that I can live, but I’ll be stuck in this bed for the rest of my life. Let it end now.”
The angel nodded. The Reaper rose and took up his scythe. He swiped it through Arthur’s body. There was a brief moment where time stood still. Then, Arthur’s spirit rose from the body.
The angel took the spirit’s hand. The Reaper started to protest, then fell silent.
All three left the room.
Image Credits: Hu Zheng.