The Last Breath

The old man lay listening to his rattling breath. The walls were barren, antiseptic-white and broken only by an overly cheerful sunflower painting. The room had been closed all winter. The air was stale, windows shut tight, curtains drawn. He pressed the button to summon a nurse.

He remembered back when he could have run a marathon, but now the mere effort to press a button exhausted him. “Always face your enemy from an equal position if you can’t take a superior one,” the chief used to say. He forced himself to sit up. The nurse arrived exuding the cool confidence of the very busy.

An old man struggles to sit up in a large wooden bed, in a very clinically white room. A nurse in blue scrubs has just entered the room.

“Yes?” Even her words were clipped as if to pronounce them fully would take too much of her precious time.

“Can you open the windows? It’s stuffy in here,” he asked.

The nurse stared at him a moment longer than was polite. “It’s only fifty degrees. It might be spring, but it’s not warm yet.”

“Just a crack?” He gave her his best smile. The smile his wife had said could charm the devil himself.

The nurse hesitated, no doubt thinking about foolish old men and their irrational demands. He knew it was cold outside. He wanted to feel the breeze, smell the spring air. For all he knew this was it, and damned if he was going to spent his last day cooped up in a musty old room.

He held his breath. Until with a tiny shrug, she crossed to the windows in four quick steps. She pulled the curtains opened and then pushed a single window open. Just a crack, but it was enough. He leaned back with relief, his battle won.

“Anything else?”

“No, thank you,” he said. She was gone before he could change his mind. So busy these nurses. Always rushing to and fro. He’d love for one to stay a moment, to chat, to really listen.

The spring breeze lifted the curtain, bringing its goose-bump-inducing chill. But the breeze also brought the scent of freshly tilled dirt – too early for mown grass he decided. He pulled the covers up around him, wrestling with the heavy blankets until each breath came as a painful gasp. Settled, he strained to catch a hint of birdsong. His ears caught his neighbor’s windchimes instead. She’d passed away last fall, but no one had removed her chimes. Warm blankets and the sound of the chimes like a lullaby. Head sinking into the pillows, he dozed.

He woke in a panic, his lungs struggled to draw breath. Something wasn’t right. He wasn’t alone. He peered around, straining through eyes foggy with age and sleep. There. A black shape standing back near the chairs. A black shape. Small. The breeze lifted her hair. Her? Yes, a girl. She was too small to be a nurse. Had she gotten lost? The silence between them grew uncomfortable. She was waiting.

From the old man's perspective (we see just a bit of his balding head), and look down the bed. A girl with black hair, black skin, stands at the foot of the bed. The sunflower picture is on the wall behind her.

He coughed to clear his throat before speaking. “Visiting your grandparents?” She shook her head.

No? Why was she here? This was an old folks home. Everyone here was dying while she was…he paused. Understanding seemed to settle around him. She was there for him. Even though he had no children, and so had no grandchildren, she had come to visit him. He sat up. What now? He needed to entertain her, keep her from getting bored. Kids got bored easily, right? Now that she was there, he didn’t want to leave.

“You know, I used to be a detective,” he started. He peered into the spot she stood to gauge her response. The girl seemed to be surrounded in a dark fog, but she tilted her head to one side when he spoke. Encouraged, he continued, “I could tell you about my first murder mystery.”

She moved closer. Yes. What child could resist a scary story? He chuckled. “It was pretty early in my career. Back then, Newcrest didn’t have much crime. Just the occasional missing cat.” He smiled at the memory. “Oh, Miss Penny was always misplacing her cats. And we didn’t think this call was too serious either. A woman had locked herself out of her own house.”

Back in time. Two men in suits walk up to where a lady in a white dress stands. She's been locked out of her house.

“My partner and I arrived to help the lady in distress. I was a fair hand with lock picks – you’ll never believe the places those cats got into – and before long we’d gotten the door opened. Easy enough.”

“But inside we saw a different story. Her husband was lying on the kitchen floor. Obviously dead. Obviously murdered.” The memory was as fresh as if it happened yesterday. You didn’t forget your first dead body.

A man in a black suit with black gloves lies dead on the floor. He is in the foreground. Behind him we see the two men in suits and the woman in her dress, but only up to the knees. The rest of them are cut off.

“We were all shocked. Remember, we didn’t get murders back then. The lady of the house was mess, we had to find out where she kept the smelling salts before we got any sense out of her. Claimed she’d been away all weekend on a knitting trip. Of course she was also our prime suspect. It’s usually a relative or someone the victim knows that does them in. We questioned everybody. The wife, the friends, the coworkers. No one knew a thing. I figured our first murder was headed for the cold case files.”

He closed his eyes remembering his disappointment. When he opened his eyes they were twinkling with merriment. “Then we got a lucky break. I found a man who knew a man who knew a man – you know that kind of thing – who knew our victim from back before he’d moved to Newcrest. Seems he was originally from Willow Creek and he had been part of the mob there. But, on purpose or by accident, he came here, found himself a lonely wife and married into respectability. All seemed well until his past caught up with him in his kitchen.”

The case had been his big break. Made him a proper detective. The girl was hooked on his story, moving closer with every sentence. “It was his wife of course,” he explained. “She was all tears until the truth came out. Then she changed fast. Said she’d found out about his past, and more importantly, about his other wife. Turns out the man was still married when he married her.”

He yawned as his story grew to a close, his eyelids heavy. “She got so mad she hit him in the head with a frying pan, then locked herself out of her own house as an alibi.”

The girl wavered close in front of him, but he was too tired to focus, he closed his eyes. The cool breeze conspired against him and soon he was fast asleep. A deeper, cleaner sleep than the frequent naps he’d grown accustomed to. Naps normally ended all too soon in coughing and panicked gasps for breath. When he woke this time, it was an easy thing. The girl was gone, of course. He sighed. She had been a good listener.

His loneliness was short lived. The next day the girl was back and he told her about his honeymoon trip to Al Simhara. His first, and only, big vacation.  As he spoke he could feel the remembered heat soaking into his aged bones and the tilt-a-whirl feeling of newly in love.

The young man again, he has red hair and glasses, kisses a very blond, very pale woman in a flowery shirt and a pearl necklace. Behind them is a large pyramid shaped building, palm trees, and sand.

His breath came easy as he described the pyramids and markets and spices and the sand. Again, he slept soundly after.

“You remind me of my wife,” he told her when she appeared on the third day. Today she stood close enough that he could see her clearly. Blond and pale with a smile that lit up her sparkling blue eyes. He’d fallen in love with those eyes so many years ago. “You’re like the daughter we never had,” she moved closer and he lifted his hand to touch her cheek. But his arm fell back onto the bed, too heavy to lift. Just like his chest. Each breath caught painfully before completing. The weight of the blanket was suffocating.

“Another story?” he asked, breathless.

Back in the hospital room. The man is sitting up. The girl in black stands with her back to us, but she is very blond now and very pale.

“Does it hurt?” she asked. Her voice surprised him. It echoed softly in the room, as light as the spring breeze. Twice as cold. Her voice made his bones vibrate.


She stepped forward and took his hand in hers and made his lie truth. Her cool skin like felt like cream again his own calloused palms. He took a deep, clear breath, filling his lungs with the fresh spring air. His eyes closed.

The two did not move or speak for a long time. Then a movement, perhaps, or a sound made the girl look up.

The girl is standing by the bed, looking at the door to the room. You can no longer see the man, he's just a lump on the bed. Grim stands a the door with his scythe.

“Hello, uncle,” she said.

Same picture as before, only the girl is no longer blond, she's back to the dark hair and dark skin she had when we first saw her. This is her true form.

“IT IS TIME.” His voice was like the girl’s, only deeper. It made everything living cell tremble.

The girl nodded and let go of the man’s hand. She stepped the foot of the bed.

Back to the foot of the bed, with the sunflower picture behind. Only this time two grims are there. A taller one stands, while the smaller one (the girl) does the grim scythe reaping action.


“He was very sweet. I reminded him of his wife.”


“Yes. He just needed someone to listen to him one last time.”

The grim follows the dark hair, dark skinned girl out of the room. Behind them we see the bed with a figure under the covers.



  1. Wow! At first the little girl was scary but then I felt so bad for the man “Kids got bored easily, right? Now that she was there, he didn’t want to leave.” I feared she would do what she did in the end but because she was evil not because she had to. Then I was confused for a second when I saw the little girl in the blonde hair and thought he was imagining things (I wasn’t entirely wrong XD) until she changed once again. Then, ” He just needed someone to listen to him one last time.” aww maybe she’s not actually bad? I guess what I mean is, I like these kinds of stories, she wasn’t evil, was she? And this one was very entertaining for me. I mean even this short, I was able to go through different feelings and make up endings as I went along. I think I have a new favorite for the short story lol, am I allowed to say that?

    Liked by 3 people

    • You are correct, she’s not evil she’s just Death, and we humans and sims don’t always take kindly to that transition. She is scary, since Death is scary. But she did take away his pain and listen to his stories and was company for a lonely man in his last days.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, this story has been brewing for many years and I never knew how to get it out into the world. So I was grateful for the inspiration of the short story challenge that allowed me to finally write it. There’s so many good entries this month that I’m pretty sure I have a new favorite every time I read one.

      Thanks for taking a ride on my emotional roller coaster!

      Liked by 4 people

      • She looked scary when I first saw her but then things changed. I’m glad you found a way to get it out into the world and thank you for sharing it with us. There are a lot of talented people but I have to say this was the last one I read.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow! This was great and it is almost like a continuation of Munterbacon’s story and that is a good thing. Maybe we can all do an episode in the life of baby death in training lol.

    Was that a Meatball?
    And the windchimes choked me a little. My mom put them up everywhere and I hear them often and it reminds me of her. Like she is speaking to me.
    I love the detailing in this.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yes, that was Vincent. 🙂 I needed someone to fill some pretty tall shoes and be my victim. When I read Munterbacon’s story I laughed as it was very similar and very different at the same time. My girl isn’t nearly so devious. But there’s something about small children and death, isn’t there?

      Oh my! The windchimes, I love the sound of them. And how they transmute the invisible to audible. Hugs.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh. yes. Cheerful. What was that you said? Ridiculously cheerful? Insanely cheerful–that was it! It is beautiful, profound, and such a work of art. So, after 50 mortality becomes something real–not just a myth or a dream any more. And this story–this captured and expressed what is beautiful about that grand transition. There were so many moments for me, reading this, where I entered into the story so clearly, so fully, really feeling what that man was feeling. Visually, this is ingenious! That little girl in her dark dress! Brilliant.

    Liked by 3 people

    • So you didn’t have nightmares? Well, I *am* insanely cheerful so anything I write must be semi-cheerful even if it is about a profound topic. I’m glad my writing expressed a more positive side to the end of life even if it was still a little myth-like (although for sims the grim is not a myth and they must come from somewhere).

      I had a lot of fun writing this, more so than even Derelict so I can’t wait for more challenges!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I love the detail of how he used to be able to run marathons and now struggles to push a button, It rings so true to my experience of knowing what I was capable of in my youth, that I have to accept I may never be able to do again. When he woke in a panic, I thought he may be dying, so you tied that foreshadowing in very effectively, I think (plus the title).

    The way he saw his wife/daughter he never had was so sweet and I really love how he had such good satisfying sleep after she listened to his stories.

    Liked by 2 people

    • My first version was only half as long so the foreshadowing wasn’t as clear nor was the the girl’s transformation. So I’m glad you saw it, I wasn’t sure if I was being too subtle and holding my cards too close for the final reveal of the grim at the end! I thought if fitting that the girl could give him comfort even after she left. My grandmother is 95 and her mobility is what is limiting her. It’s tough watching her struggle or choose not to participate in family activities as much as she might want to.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Oh I love how similar yet distinct our two stories were. I love how you have portrayed Death as ‘What the person needs when their time is up’.

    I thought that the transition from the first girl to the second was genius. The first was just a touch creepy, the hair, the dark, dark skin, the black and grey clothing, the way she seemed to shimmer/waver in front of him. The second, an image of what his daughter may have looked like, a reminder of his wife – who he would be seeing again soon.

    I suspected with the first child, but when I saw the 2nd I was convinced. I didn’t however expect that she was Death’s niece/apprentice, even though you mentioned that our stories were similar. I thought that she was Death itself, so I tip my hat to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know! They are completely different stories, with completely different feels, and yet they echo each other magnificently! And they are both about a first ‘kill’ in a way, or a first reaping.

      I will say you had it right the first time, since technically, in my original story, she is Death, but since this was a story of Firsts, I figured every Death must start somewhere. So I tweaked it. I also couldn’t find tiny grim clothes anywhere and I wanted to keep her small.

      Thank you for the skin tone by the way. It really helped with her creepiness factor. I added more cc to my game (two whole pieces!) than any other story I’ve written. (I only have about 6 pieces of cc).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Very nice. I really enjoyed this new perspective on death – it’s not always tragedy and something to be afraid of, but it can be peaceful and contemplative, in a way. I also like how you added quite a few firsts into your story! It was great to read about the man’s life; to see all he has accomplished in his earlier days. 🙂


    • Thanks! It’s been a story I’ve thought about for a long time. I was glad to be able to make it “real.”

      You noticed all the first, eh? I did sort of sneak a lot of them in. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Ha! The moment the girl appeared, I was like: “That’s Death!” aaand… well, I was kind of right? I really liked this. It was sweet and beautiful. It was kind of sad, but also a good end to what was apparently a very good life. I always like to see different interpretations of Death (both as a character and a concept), and I like the ones with an empathetic Death the most. So yeah, as you can guess, I was happy with your version. The Caps Lock -speaking “Uncle” reminded me a lot of Discworld’s Death, which is always a bonus because he’s one of my favourite characters of all time.

    Liked by 1 person

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