It was brief and unexpected, just the way he preferred it to be.
Not that death was like a flavor of ice cream, where one could consider their options, then point and say, "I'd like that one, please." In fact, if Henry Morgan had such a choice, he would never choose at all. But it seemed that the world didn't work that way. Instead, it goes a little something more like this: if one is allowed to take their time and choose, then most likely the item or method they are choosing never really needs to be chosen at all. Since death is something that must happen, those who fall victim to it are never granted much of a choice on the way at which they 'go'.
This time, though, Henry hadn't felt any pain. One moment, he'd been crossing the street, and the next, he was gasping for breath, flailing his arms in an effort to remain afloat in the wide river. For some unknown reason, he was also always naked when he awoke in water.
But what Henry never realized was that in the fraction of a second between his death and his awakening in the river, lay hours. Hours, hours, and more hours. How does this make sense, one may ask? It does not need to. If an impossible man such as Henry Morgan can exist, then time need not follow a template.
On one particularly chilly Tuesday morning, Henry was on his commute to work. He never saw the vehicle that collided with him, but the amount of force he experienced on impact indicated it was a truck or a van. No matter what hit him, though, one thing was for certain: the accident had left a very confused and frustrated driver wondering why there was a dent in their bender.
The next instant, Henry ebbed away, his vision gone black. He felt a cold creeping upon him, surrounding him like a cradle that he was unable to escape from. Not that he'd have anywhere to go if he did manage to free himself from the invisible cradle, for it was darker than an inky black night out in the country, where the stars were shrouded by clouds of coal and the moon was new. Henry looked down to find that he was unable to even find his body, the darkness was so incomprehensibly overwhelming.
Yet, the man didn't struggle. A serene calm had washed over him.
He was going to be completely fine. After all, he had died many times before this.
A light appeared far away, a pinpoint that called out to him. He reached his arms for it, as though some of the light would fall away into his hand for him to keep. It felt pure, and his eyes drank it up. Henry felt himself being invariably attracted to it, a command he didn't recall giving making his legs and arms work hard to get to it. He swam hard as though stuck in molasses, and his efforts were rewarding. Soon, the pinpoint grew larger, until a figure was discernable, a long gangly shape which was hunched forward and appeared to be clad in a...a suit?
The figure turned around and smiled. His face was long and hallowed and he held a gold-encrusted cane, though he didn't seem to use it once. "Henry...long time no see," he said quietly, in a voice unsuited to his face.
Henry's eyes widened. At this point the light was everywhere, even behind him. When he blinked, a chair appeared before him. Or had it always been there? Henry found himself staring at the back of the chair, his mouth slightly agape. Everything just wasn't computing…when he looked around, he didn't notice small details like usual. In fact, he seemed unable to catch up on any details at all. It was as though he was under a foggy haze.
"Take a seat," said the figure in the black suit, tilting his head to the side as he watched Henry with calculating eyes.
After some hesitation, Henry looked back and forth between the figure and the chair. Disconnectedly and slowly, like he was drugged, he shuffled to his chair and lowered himself into it. He was glad to notice he had all his clothes with him, including his scarf.
After a beat of silence, the figure shifted his cane. "You're an old man, Henry," he said, his tone soft. "But I'm older still. Much older."
Henry raised a pair of brown eyes onto the man. He frowned. "Who are you?"
"I'm called many things." The figure sat in a wooden chair identical to Henry's which had appeared behind him. Again, Henry could not decide whether or not the chair had been there before. It was all very disconcerting. "Maybe that's because I've lived the longest. You'd know me as Death."
Henry wasn't a religious man, but something about the quality of his surroundings made him believe the figure. Everything was all too dream-like...and he had just died, hadn't he?
"You, Henry, are a stubborn one. But this also makes you important. Very...significant."
"Do you know why?"
Death appeared mused by the question. "You've been here many, many times."
Henry was insistent. "Do you know why? Can you tell me why I'm different?"
"I've held this same conversation too many times to count. You've collected quite an impressive amount of deaths over two-hundred years."
"Can you tell-"
Death gestured to the air between the two to them. Suddenly, there was a table, and on it laid an ornate display of fruit. Beside it was a plate of deep dish pizza, still steaming. The smell of it wafted to Henry's nose as Death interrupted him: "Please eat, Henry. You're as skinny as a corpse."
Henry closed his mouth, disposing of what he was going to say. Instead he gawked at Death. "Did you just…?"
"With my job, one must find ways of keeping oneself entertained. And you have have been quite the show over the years."
"No, that's not possible. I don't remember ever being here before." He reached toward the table, plucked an orange from the arrangement, and looked it over closely, squinting. It appeared to be real.
Death smiled grimly. "You won't recall this visit, just as you don't recall the hundreds of others you've paid me. Each time just as clueless as last."
"Can you stop it?" This question elicited a strange look from Death. Henry added, "Can you make me mortal again?
A shadow came over Death's gray face, and the figure suddenly appeared to be exhausted, as though a house of bricks were laying on his hunched shoulders. "You're not the only one to ever ask that question."
"Can you stop it?" Henry said firmly. The insistence in his tone nudged Death out of his trance.
"I'm afraid not. This looks like something you'll have to figure out for yourself."
"But you're Death. What good are you if you can't kill me?"
Death kept his voice low and even, despite Henry's accusation. He had seen enough humans on the brink of death to know that when they were in pain, sometimes they lashed out. The man who sat beside him was no exception, though he was different. Very unique. "I've tried. Something very powerful is binding you to your body."
Henry stood out of his chair. It shrieked as the legs scraped against the ground. Glancing around the room, he spotted a door. Death made no move as he took a few steps toward it.
"Henry, you're extraordinary. Human souls are not meant to last for more than the average lifespan of the species. They grow corrupt over time."
Henry stopped and looked back at Death, who sat still in his wooden chair, his ancient hands folded over his gold-encrusted cane. A small grin played at the corner of Death's lips.
"You are pure of heart, Henry Morgan. Don't think otherwise."
Henry shook his head. "Here," he said, tossing the orange back to Death, who caught it with one hand. Then, he gripped the doorknob, which hummed almost mechanically as he touched his flesh to it. He realized that this was because of the life, the energy that was on the other side of the door. There was a world on the other side, a world where Henry had created a home. A grin cracked across his face as he opened the door and slipped through.