“Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same.”
— Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again
It was snowing.
Soft pillows of snow were already beginning to pile up under the windows. It reminded Desirée of an old memory, one that was gray and dusty with age. Out of habit, she almost mentally pushed it away, but she remembered why she was here, in this house, and carefully brought it back.
Gazing out the window from the rocking chair, she let herself recall the sharp scent of fresh snow and the tingly cold of fingertips grasping the edges of a sled. The sound of high, breathless laughter and the sight and sensation of a long, steep hill.
Her sister’s cautious voice jolted Desirée out of her reverie. She looked up. “Yes?”
“Lunch is ready,” Beatrice said quietly. She was wringing her hands again, and Desiree bit the inside of her lip in suppressed irritation.
“Thank you, I’ll be there in a minute,” she said, keeping her face and voice pleasant.
Beatrice didn’t move. She also glanced out the window.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a good snowfall,” she said.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen snow,” Desirée said, letting the implications of that statement hang in the air.
Her younger sister opened her mouth as if to say something, then closed it again. After a tense moment, Beatrice left the room.
Desirée leaned her head back, waiting for the feeling of guilt, but it didn’t come. As with the snow, it’d been a long time since she’d felt anything like that. Like emotion.
That wasn’t Beatrice’s fault, of course, but her being in Desiree’s presence was still stifling. She would never come right out and just say it, but Desirée could see the questions, the curiosity, the accusations in her eyes: Where have you been? Why didn’t you come home? Why haven’t you been here for me? What happened to you? Why are you back now?
She was back because she had no place left to go. Because her time was short. Because she was tired. And cold.
She had thought that maybe she could rekindle what little humanity remained in her by coming back home. By seeing her long-forgotten sister, who had stared at her like she was a stranger when Desirée had knocked on the door. By sitting in the same room in the same chair staring out the same window at the same snow.
But she had felt nothing.
Desirée could hear Beatrice moving around in the kitchen — quietly, as if Desirée was terminally ill. She practically tip-toed around the house and made very polite small talk about the weather and people in town and what her grandchildren had called about this morning and it was enough to make Desirée want to scream.
But she still felt no guilt. No shame. No . . . love.
And then, she knew it was time.
Desirée slipped out the back door, shutting it without a sound due to years of practice. She had her cloak, but for the first time in decades, she wasn’t wearing it. She’d folded it rather clumsily and now held it under her arm as she picked her way carefully across the snow-covered yard toward the back gate. Toward the long, steep hill.
She saw that he was already there. Waiting.
He didn’t turn when Desirée finally reached the top, slightly out of breath.
“It’s a nice view from up here.”
“Once,” she said, moving to stand next to him. She followed his gaze, looking at the town below. There were a lot more buildings than she remembered and far fewer trees and fields. If she tried to slide down this hill now, she’d crash into somebody’s backyard.
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
“No,” she said. She gave him a sideways glance. “But you knew that.”
“I did not.” Now he finally turned to look at her, and she saw that he was wearing a mortal face, one that was dark-skinned and beautiful and wise, with graying hair and a neatly trimmed beard.
“Why do you do that?” she asked him, not for the first time. “No one is around to see you.”
He shrugged. “Why not?” he said, for the last time.
Desirée frowned, but surprisingly, she realized that even now, at this moment, she felt no frustration, no anger, no desperation. She was as empty and cold as the snow still falling around them.
“I met another Reaper a few weeks ago. A young one. I don’t know why you pick them.”
He didn’t say anything, and Desirée didn’t expect him to.
“She was bright and optimistic, like all of them. Thinks she can still have a normal life.” Desirée forced a laugh. “I tried to warn her, but I don’t think she listened. Too confident in her own immortality . . . such as it is.”
She sighed, and watched her breath plume in the chill air.
“I think I’m ready now.”
Death quirked up an eyebrow, then reached into the folds of his overcoat, which seamlessly shifted into a black cloak. Pinpricks of light gleamed in the eye sockets of his now skeletal face as he held up an hourglass. Her hourglass. The sand was no longer flowing, hadn’t in years, but the glass glowed a soft blue.
With a final, lingering glance at it, Desirée handed over her cloak. It disappeared within Death’s own cloak, perhaps merging with it. He then gave her the hourglass.
“Thank you for your service, Desirée Flores.”
“It has been an honor to serve you, Master.”
And she found that she actually meant it.
The familiar dark folds of Limbo began to close around her, and she thought about Death and death and about her cold lunch and her sister — and how relieved she would be that Desirée was gone, though she’d never admit it — and about all the souls she’d carried down this path and all the places she’d been and the things she’d done . . .
Her last view was of Death’s face and his skeleton grin that looked impossibly both kind and melancholy.
And for second time in her life, Desirée died. Then . . . she moved on.
This is part of my Memento Mori series, albeit not connected to the main plot (that I’m slowly slowly working on). Hopefully it can be understood without too much background (though of course, I do recommend reading the original short story), but Desirée is someone Fay talks to during the course of her duties and so this is meant to be what happens after.