"Death could not have foreseen, could not have known, what this next moment would entail."

stories

Tiffany Tang

martinezA native Californian, Tiffany knew she wanted to be a writer when she found herself happily volunteering to diagram sentences in her junior high English class. Deciding then, at 13, that she would be an English major in college, she accomplished her goal at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Her literary studies also took her to England for a year abroad, where she earned a diploma in English and American Literature. Detouring for a bit after graduation to pursue other artistic endeavors, Tiffany received an MFA from the Actors Studio Drama School in New York, but her love of writing never left her. While acting, she has also worked as a newspaper journalist, a speechwriter, and a business writing teacher. She continues to write personal essays, rehearsal blogs, plays, and screenplays, and has recently begun to dabble in the world of fiction.

Other Works


Death Returns

Death paced.

It wasn’t his intention to be here. It never was. He should be long gone by now. Far away, somewhere…tropical. Somewhere with…umbrella drinks. Just not here. Anywhere but here.

The cold hallway was unfeeling and uninviting. He could feel the chill, which was…unusual for him. He shuddered.

The doorway at the end of the hall had been shut for what seemed like an eternity. And when one is actually operating from Eternity, this is a very long time. Still, it stayed shut tight, with only a sliver of light penetrating the outer edges. And in the darkness, Death waited.

There were a dozen places Death wanted to be instead of this cold hallway. He thought about planets and stars and mountaintops. He thought about light and dark and rainbows of colors. He thought about her.

With a clanking sound, the heavy door shifted, and then opened. Blinding light spilled into the hallway. Death did not move, did not acknowledge the light. The voice he heard was not so much spoken as it was felt within him.

“You’re going back.”

It was the last thing he wanted.

Death moved quickly away from the place, away from the hallway of darkness, of eternal waiting. He fought the decision with every fiber of his being. Why was this happening? Why were they torturing him like this? Didn’t they know he couldn’t do this anymore?

Death stopped in his tracks and slunk down to his knees. It had been eating him from the inside for so long now. There was nothing for it. He grasped the sturdiness of the ground and waited for it to pass, this gnawing, gut-wrenching tightness in his heart. No. There was no way he could go back. Not ever.

From behind him, a small sound, almost like the tinkling of bells. He took a deep breath and slowly turned. It was Light who addressed him.

“Stand now.”

Death obeyed, but not because he wanted to.

“There is no choice here,” was all Light said.

Death was silent.

“Prepare yourself.” And Light was gone.

Death could not have foreseen, could not have known, what this next moment would entail.

Death ran.
***

Kat sat in the top row of the football stadium bleachers with her head in her hands. The coldness of the metal bench seat slowly enveloped her until she began to shiver. She pulled the sleeves of her navy blue hoodie sweatshirt down over her hands and used them to wipe at her eyes.

This is ridiculous.

The game had been over for hours. The little football helper people – what were they called anyway? – were running around the field picking up stray articles of uniform and random pieces of left equipment. The stadium cleaning crew was roaming back and forth through the stands. A few people loitered. Not many. Kat, as usual, was pretty much alone.

She took a deep breath and pulled her journal out of her bag. She flipped it open and leafed through the pages. Drawings of darkness, of shadowy figures, of long, empty highways lined with train tracks stretching into the desert, greeted her as she turned page after page, searching for the end.

Finally, a blank sheet stared up at her.

Kat clicked her ballpoint pen and positioned it over the page. She glanced up at the deserted game field, listened to the departing voices in the parking lot, and felt the cold.

“Death power-walked down the desert highway,” she wrote.

Kat smiled to herself. She continued her poem about Death wearing good tennis shoes and needing to escape. She wrote and wrote and 45 minutes later she had filled four pages, went back and crossed out words and rewrote them and filled the margins with inserts and notes. In the end, she had a tiny masterpiece. Another that she would add to her Death Collection.

The lights went out with a loud bang. Kat looked up, startled.

“Guess it’s time to be going,” she said aloud, to no one in particular.

She stood and picked up her black backpack. She pulled a beanie out of her pocket and slid it over her dyed black hair. It was safer not to draw attention to herself if she had to walk home.

The roads were dark but not completely deserted. That was small town living for you. Longfield living. She passed the homes of suburbia and peered into their windows from the sidewalk where she would pause to imagine a house of warmth and candles and laughter. Then, she would continue walking, afraid of appearing a stranger of darkness or a foreboding omen to the perfectly normal contributing members of society inside the houses. Pools of light from street lamps formed breadcrumbs on her path of isolation. She walked on.

She grew up in Longfield. It was a nice, middle class community. Public schools were not the greatest, but she managed to find her place. Well, she managed to figure out how to hide, more like it. As long as no one noticed her too much, she seemed okay. And she knew about being noticed too much. She knew all too well.

This time, she made her way back home without incident.

The house was quiet. Kat was relieved. She slipped in the back door and tiptoed to her room through the darkness. In her sanctuary, she closed her door. She waited until she could confirm that no one was stirring in the house before she snapped on her bedroom light. She turned and gasped.
Her father was passed out on her bed. She clapped her hands over her mouth, fearful that she had woken him. He stirred, but did not wake. She looked down and saw the empty bottle of Jack Daniels by her bed. He was sweaty and smelly. Kat gulped and quietly turned off the light. She picked up her bag and slipped out of the room.

She found some extra sheets in the hall closet and threw them on the couch. She sat down and held her head in her hands. The tears were hot and fast but she just let them fall. She was too exhausted to do anything about them now.
***

Death waited at the train station.

It was easy enough. Just turn your back. Just step away. Just leave it all behind. It wasn’t hard. It wasn’t complicated. There was no shame in this. Death talked to himself while he was waiting on the platform.

He held a rose in his hand. A red rose. Her rose.

Death did not know where he was headed. “Where to” no longer mattered as much as “where from.” When a train finally arrived, he boarded, unconcerned. He could live on the train, he thought. Just running in the night, fast and furious through the desert, back and forth, back and forth, endlessly running. He could just stay here as small and as inconspicuous as possible in the corner of the train car and not go anywhere and yet go everywhere. Nowhere and everywhere. Nowhere and everywhere.

“They’re going to come looking for you, you know.”

Death looked up. The train conductor stood there, considering him.

“They will find you eventually.”
Death turned and looked out of the window.
“They won’t care,” said Death.
“Of course they’ll care. You have a place, don’t you? A thing to do?”
Death continued to stare out of the window.
“What do you know about it?”
“You think you’re the first Death on this train?”
Death turned and peered at the man.
“How do you know what I am?” Death was puzzled.
“Well,” said the conductor. “The dark robes and empty hood sort of give it away.”
“You see me.”
This couldn’t be happening. No one could see him for what he really was. Them. No one could see them. Us. Except Betty. Betty could.
Death held his head in his hands.
“Now, now, don’t fret,” said the conductor. “I see everyone.”
Death didn’t move when he spoke.
“When will the train leave?”
“Soon enough,” said the conductor. “When you’ve made your decision.”
“Ah,” said Death. “A ploy.”
“Look,” said the conductor. “You know there’s a pattern to all of this. Everyone fulfills his or her part of the puzzle. There’s a reason you have to do what you’ve been asked to do.”
“Look, token magical conductor,” said Death. “I see you for what you are.”
The conductor smiled. His smile grew bigger as he slowly disappeared. Light replaced him. Death squinted.
“She needs you,” said Light.
“I can’t,” said Death.
“You must,” said Light.
“No,” said Death.
“Then she will not survive.”
Death paused.
“You know how I have failed?” asked Death quietly.
“There is no failure,” said Light. “Only experience.”
“That’s what you tell them,” said Death.
“That’s the law,” said Light.
Death was quiet for another minute.
“She needs me?” he asked.
“Desperately,” said Light.
Death clutched the rose he held within the depths of his robes.
“Let me go to her, then,” said Death.
***
Kat wandered the hallways of her high school, looking down at the floor. She was hoping no one would notice her. They never did. Why would they now? She breathed in short, small breaths as she chose seats in the back, pulled her beanie down farther, concentrated on her desk.
Eventually, her luck ran out. Her luck ran out in American English during the discussion of Edgar Allen Poe. Her luck ran out when Mrs. Adeline asked her to take off her beanie.
At first, she ignored the request, made a motion as though she was going to do it, but sank further into her seat instead. Minutes later, the second request came. She knew this one couldn’t be ignored, but still Kat found it difficult to pull the wool cap off of her head. Finally, the third request. The staring eyes of her classmates. The gasp when she finally dislodged it from her head.
The next floor she was staring at was that of the principal’s office. The carpet was worn, trod on for years. The chairs had made imprints in the carpet from where they had stood for years. Kat didn’t know what was going to happen next.
The door opened and the principal entered, followed by her father. Kat’s heart sank into her stomach. She felt as though she would vomit, but she didn’t move. They were shaking hands. A ringing started in her ears that prevented her from hearing their words but she understood “misunderstanding” and “fallen” and “clumsy kid.” Then, they were motioning to her. She was expected to go home.
Kat stood. She followed her father out of the office, out of the school grounds. But she couldn’t get into the car. Not today.
Kat ran.
She ran to the football field, which was deserted today. She ran until her legs burned. She ran until she had no breath. The bandage on her forehead fell off from the sweat teaming underneath it. Only in the middle of the field did she sink down to her knees.
And there, Kat screamed. And then, she screamed again. And again. And again. And again.
She let her voice reverberate for minutes, hours. She didn’t know. She just waited for them to come and take her away. But no one came.
Finally, she lifted her head.
On the bleachers, a hooded figure sat watching her. She saw him. But she wasn’t afraid.
They regarded each other for a moment.
The figure stood and moved towards her. It was large. Looming. Overwhelming. Dark and shadowy. She knew him well. She had been writing about him for years. Once he was close she greeted him.
“Hello, Death.”
Death looked down at Kat. Neither one of them moved for a long time. Then, Death reached out his long, bony arm.
Kat watched the arm move toward her. She thought to herself, Maybe this is it. Maybe it’s my time.
She closed her eyes so that the inevitable would take her without fuss.
Nothing happened.
Kat opened her eyes. She looked up at Death.
Death stretched out his other arm and wrapped her in a very bony, very uncomfortable, very tight hug.
“Don’t worry, Kat,” said Death. “I’ve got you.”
Kat still didn’t know exactly what that meant. Nevertheless, she hugged him back.


Editor: LinckeN@WLAC.edu | West Los Angeles College | 9000 Overland Ave, Culver City CA 90230 | www.wlac.edu
Production Mngr: Michelle Long-Coffee | Web Design: Clarissa Castellanos