Edward Rosick is a physician and writer living in the urban wilds of Southern Michigan. He has had poetry published in a number of magazines such as Trillium, Pandora, and The MacGuffin. His works of speculative fiction have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Pulphouse, Sick Cruising, and Creepy Campfire Quarterly. His first horror novel, entitled Deep Roots, has just been published.

You can go to his website HERE

by Edward R. Rosick


Mr. Smith knew Death.

He had known it for decades, and not just in the sense of realizing that all human beings are limited in their time on earth. Mr. Smith knew that while most people knew this fact on at least a superficial level, none, as far as he could tell after a life of eighty-eight years, really knew Death the way he did.

Even though he wished he did not. But he did, and that was that.

Mr. Anthony Fredrick Smith of Clarmont, Michigan, population 3,215, knew the final truth of Death, that it was indeed a permanent end to reality, and therefore, an end to a tiny part of the universe itself, for what, Mr. Smith was fond of saying, is the universe if not the visible perception of life?

He not only knew Death, he knew the exact day—the very minute—when the terrible knowledge was thrust upon his shoulders. He was eight years old, a wonderful age, still innocent and naive, and free from the all the chains that held down adults.

It had been an unusually early and warm spring that year, with the surrounding lakes and rivers thawed and trees already blooming the second week of March. Mr. Smith (known then just as Tony) and his one true childhood friend, Leroy Washington, were playing in their secret tree house. The rickety structure sat in an enormous, ancient oak tree, nestled on the shore of One Mile Lake. To adults, the lake was no more than an oversized pond, with weeds and lily pads covered most of the surface by mid-summer, but to the boys, it was a magical place where Mr. Smith could escape his loneliness and Leroy could escape the bigotry and prejudices of being an African American child born to a Nigerian father and a Finnish mother.

He and Leroy played in the tree house all afternoon. The late winter sun dipped toward the top branches of the nearest trees even as the boys continued their revelry. For the past hour they had been in deep discussion about the existence of UFOs and aliens (Leroy for, Mr. Smith against), the possibility of ghouls and ghosts (both boys adamantly for), and the secrets of sex (both boys agreeing that perhaps it did happen every now and then, but certainly never between their own parents).

Then Mr. Smith brought up the topic of Death.

“Why you gotta bring up something like that?” Leroy said in a perturbed voice. “You’ve been talking about that more and more lately. What’s the matter, you afraid some ol’ bogeyman is gonna come out of your closet one night and get you?”

Mr. Smith shrugged. “I don’t know. Sometimes I just think about it. Sometimes I think about it so much that I can’t even sleep.”

“That’s not good, Tony. My Pa says that if you don’t sleep, you’ll go crazy!”

“I’m not crazy,” Mr. Smith said. “Don’t you ever think about it, about dying? About just going to sleep and never waking up, just gone forever like you were never here?”

“Nope. Not me.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m gonna live forever!” Leroy joyfully said, then crawled out one of the windows of the treehouse onto a large tree limb.

“Where you going?” Mr. Smith asked.

Leroy looked back, smiled. “I figure it’s time to do some swinging!”

Mr. Smith sighed. Leroy fidgeted like a dog with fleas all winter when they couldn’t swing off the oak tree. Over the lake on a large, sturdy limb—so big around that neither boy could wrap their arms around it—a rough-hewn rope was tied. Every summer they would swing on it, back and forth for hours, above the water of the lake. During sweltering hot days they would pretend to lose their grip and fall, laughing all the way down. While both boys were poor swimmers, it never mattered, because the lake was normally only a few feet deep below the tree house; deep enough so that they didn’t hit the bottom when they fell but shallow enough that they could stand up, the water touching their chins but no higher.

“It’s still too early to go swinging,” Mr. Smith protested that second week in March. “You’ll freeze to death if you fall in.”

“Then I guess I just won’t fall in,” Leroy said confidently, tightly gripping the rope before casting himself off the limb into the cool, late-afternoon air.

“Look at me, Tony! I’m flying!” Leroy swung back and forth above the water. Mr. Smith said nothing, watching his only friend with a mixture of envy and dread.

“We should be getting back home,” Mr. Smith said after ten minutes. “It’s gonna be dark soon, and both our Pa’s will give us a whipping if we don’t get back before dark. You know the rules.”

“Those are dumb rules,” Leroy said, “and anyway, my Pa is gone to some other city for work right now, and my Ma never has whipped me, even when I’ve been bad.”

“Well, my Pa has whipped me plenty, and if I don’t get home by dark he’s gonna whip me again.”

“Just a few more minutes,” Leroy huffed. “I’m just having too much fun after not doing this all winter. If I wasn’t getting tired I think I’d stay and—”

The sound of the weathered rope snapping off the tree was as loud as thunder. Leroy plunged into the lake, his eyes wide and mouth open wide in a large O, like a character on the Saturday morning cartoons they loved to watch.

But what happened wasn’t an animated television show. There was nothing but real as Leroy hit the ice-cold water—the lake swollen to high levels from the snow and ice runoff—and immediately went under.

“Stand up, Leroy, stand up!” Mr. Smith screamed. He helplessly watched his friend flail madly in the dark water. For a few fleeting seconds, Mr. Smith thought that Leroy was going to make it, that he was going to be able to somehow swim to shore and that they would laugh about his mishap for years to come.

But Leroy didn’t swim to shore. Mr. Smith last memory of his friend was Leroy looking up, his face contorted in fear and confusion, before sinking forever underneath the water the very instant an amorphous black shape appeared and hovered over the lake for a moment, then disappeared.

Mr. Smith sat in the tree house well after dark, not caring about the whipping his Pa would surely give him, crying uncontrollably. The tears not just for Leroy but for himself. He knew, he knew with all his heart and soul that the black cloud that he had seen was Death itself, unconquerable, unfeeling, a voracious power with an unquenchable appetite for life.

And he knew that it would one day come for him.


Mr. Smith changed from a boy to a teen to a man; not in the usual way of expectations, hopes, and dreams, but with a deep, soul-crushing ache that it was all for naught. He forsook all things in life that filled the lives of those around him—a partner, children, a career—and instead lived alone as a young man, working only for food, clothing and shelter, never pursuing anything that he knew would only come to a bitter end.

There were a few times in those early years of adulthood that he tried to convince himself what he had seen that warm winter afternoon was not Death but rather a low-hanging cloud or a trick of light and shadow in the waning of the day.

But every time he circled back to the image of Leroy—his young face contorted with fear, going under the water and never coming up—he knew that the shape hovering over him that day was like an insatiable supernatural vulture.

As much as he wished, he knew that Death was ever present…an inescapable, concrete fact. And that it lay in wait for him.

As the years passed and Mr. Smith grew from middle-aged to old, he watched strangers, acquaintances, and relatives die; their time and reality passing away, never to return. He used the substantial amount of money from the selling of his parents farmland on doctors, preachers, faith healers, anyone would could give him even a slight hope that there was some way to cheat Death. But all the money was eventually spent and he had nothing except the knowledge that Death was creeping ever closer.

And come to him it did.

It was a cold, late winter day, three days after the eightieth anniversary of Leroy’s death.

Mr. Smith had been having premonitions for months about this time, and in a spurious, last-ditch effort to stave off what he knew was inevitable, he turned his childhood house into a fortress. Every window was boarded; every door bolted and locked, every crack and crevice sealed tight. Hardly any light entered the dusty rooms and hallways, the air hanging heavy with the thick, acrid odors of unwashed dishes and rotting garbage.

It was five minutes to midnight when Mr. Smith realized with dread that all his efforts had been for naught. In the dim light of his bedroom, a darkness appeared, formless and silent, the same shape that he had witnessed over One Mile Lake those many decades ago.

It hovered above his bed in which Mr. Smith lay shaking, then slowly descended like a curtain coming down at the theatre on the last night of a play. He could feel it; a bone-chilling dampness seeped throughout with an insatiable hunger, fingers of malice boring through his pale flesh, cutting through muscle and bone until it completely engulfed his heart and soul.

He cried out like a wild animal caught in a trap, primeval screams echoing throughout the house.  He felt his life-force, his reality slipping away into nothingness, into an empty, bottomless abyss, and he screamed until his voice became feeble and raw.

Mr. Smith did not remember how long he cried out, how long he had been in his bed, his body wrapped tight in thick sheets and blankets. It was only when paper-thin rays of sun crept through shuddered windows that he opened his eyes and realized his was still breathing air, heart still pumping blood throughout his body.

Somehow, still alive!

The cloud of Death which had enveloped him the night before was nowhere to be seen or felt. Cautiously, Mr. Smith moved off the bed. He looked about the room, under the bed, in the closets, searching for any sign that Death might still be present. But all that he found were mounds of dirt and dust and old, moth-eaten clothes.

With a wheezing sigh of relief, he shuffled out to the bathroom down the hall. He had no idea why Death had decided to spare him, and he knew that it only a brief respite, but it was a welcome one all the same.

He turned on the light in the bathroom and glanced at the face in the mirror. It was a hideous visage—bald, skin so pale it was almost translucent, eyes sunken into a skull so deep they were almost impossible to see, a toothless mouth which had not smiled for decades, had spoken no words of love or joy for as long as he could remember. Mr. Smith starred at the horrible face that was his, and then began to laugh. It was a bitter, harsh sound that quickly turned into a mournful wail.

He slowly crumpled onto the grimy tile floor, clutching his skeletal face with claw-like fingers. In his last moments of sanity he finally realized the truth that he had missed almost his entire, tormented life. Yes, Death was real. Death would come for every soul, even his. But Mr. Smith had cheated Death the night before in a true Pyrrhic triumph.

When Death had come calling for Mr. Smith, it had left not because he had won, but because he had already been dead to the world for a long, long time.