Nox (By Cat Matchuk)
“He is going to die,” Death says to me. I follow his gaze to a man who appears to be in his late twenties. He’s sporting shaggy black hair and a leather jacket. The man smiles apologetically as he fumbles in his pocket for coffee money. I turn back to Death and with a raised eyebrow the first thing I ask is,
Not when or how, but why. Death does not answer. He ignores my question and keeps his stare unyielding. I should know better than to question the motives of Death. He is inevitable whereas I am unpredictable. I fidget in my chair, trying to get comfortable. The man slides the coins across the counter, mumbles a ‘thanks’, and immediately turns to leave. I stand up suddenly, overwhelmed by an unseen force, and follow him out the door. Death is quick at my heels.
“Why?” Death asks me, echoing my question. We walk in sync, careful to leave several feet between us and the stranger. I want to tell him, ‘why not?,’ but I feel as if I’ve given him enough back talk for one day.
“He’s different,” I finally manage to say. “I don’t believe he should die.” Death scoffs in response.
“You don’t even know the man,” he says, his tone stern.
“Neither do you.” I cringe at my own words. Now I have officially given enough sass to Death. There’s a moment of silence between us, broken only by the sound of our footsteps.
“Perhaps you are right,” he finally says, his voice brimming with intense thought. Careful of walking into a trap, I remain silent. “But,” he quickly adds, “if he is unworthy, you will never question me again. Understand?” I feel his piercing eyes, but concentrate on the movements of the man. I finally nod in understanding. “Good,” he says to himself.
A few minutes later and we’re still following the man as he walks down the busy city street. Death lets out a bored sigh, which is barely audible next to the blazing car horns. The man suddenly turns the corner, leaving my view. In a panic I rush to catch up with him and as I round the corner, I see him at a newsstand. I stop abruptly, careful not to bump into him.
“Hey, Nox!” The woman behind the newsstand shouts, a smile beaming brightly on her face. The man, Nox, waves in response. “It seems you’re the only one keeping me in business. No one buys newspapers so much anymore,” she tells him as she reaches for a copy of the local newspaper.
“Old school is my style,” he replies, his tone awkward.
“Night,” Death tells me, blocking out the rest of their conversation. I had forgotten he was there. I had forgotten that Death is always lingering behind me.
“Pardon?” I ask him, now wondering if I have missed a discussion I was meant to be a part of.
“Nox is Latin for night,” he continues.
“Is that a reason he should die? Because his name means darkness and people don’t like the dark?” I realize the stupidity of my question after the words leave my lips. Nevertheless, Death shrugs.
“We shall see just how dark he is.” I try my best to ignore his menacing tone. As I tune back into Nox’s conversation, he’s saying his goodbyes to the girl. His face flushes as he speaks.
“He likes her,” I point out to Death.
“You are accustomed to those emotions, not I.” I frown at his words. What a buzzkill. I can’t linger on that thought however as Nox is on the move again. He clutches his coffee in one hand and squeezes the paper under his armpit.
“He walks to work,” I state proudly, “how eco-friendly of him, wouldn’t you say?” Death says nothing.
Walking in front of Nox is a tall man in a grey pinstripe suit. A leather wallet peeks out from his back pocket. Slowly, little by little, it’s pushed out until finally it drops to the sidewalk. The man continues to walk, oblivious of his loss. Nox notices this and in one swift swoop, snatches up the wallet.
“I do not think he intends to give it back,” Death says.
The man in the suit is stopped by a disgruntled, ruggedly clothed man. With shaking, dirty hands, he weakly clutches the suit sleeve. With a look of bewilderment and disgust, the man in the suit rips off his hands and shoves, sending him stumbling backwards. He straightens out his suit jacket and walks away. Nox, a few paces behind, stops to stuff the wallet into the man’s cup. The wallet stays wedged in the small opening.
“Keep the change,” Nox tells him with a small wink.
“That was nice,” I say slowly before I realize I’m mainly trying to convince myself. “I’m sure it was.”
Nox’s journey finally takes us to a used book store. A woman with pink framed glasses stands behind the counter. Her lips compress into a thin line as she spots Nox through the shop window. She shows him her watch and taps the glass. Late. Nox lifts up his coffee cup and points to it. Seemingly unimpressed, she returns to her work. Nox stand outside and patiently sips his coffee, bidding his time. Should he die because he’s late?
“No food or drinks. He follows the rules,” I say, pointing to the sign on the door. Death either ignores me or bites his tongue. His gaze follows a small black dot crawling along the sidewalk. It comes closer and closer, until I finally make out the slit yellow eyes and mangled black fur. This small kitten walks unsteadily on its wobbly legs. Nox raises an eyebrow at its presence and looks around for the owner. “Really, Death? You’re running out of ideas.”
“You can tell a lot about a person’s character based on how they treat those who cannot do anything for them.”
Nox puts down his coffee cup and gently picks up the kitten, examining it for a collar.
“Are you lost little guy?” he asks, holding the kitten to his chest. “It’s your lucky day, my brother’s a vet.” He continues cuddling the bundle of fur as he disappears into the store. I almost want to laugh, part overconfidence and part disbelief.
“He littered,” Death mumbles, nodding towards the paper cup placed on the sidewalk. Without a response I enter the bookstore and watch Nox carefully as he talks on the phone.
Throughout the day Death throws obstacles at Nox. Temperamental customers, a lost child, a man who suffers a heart attack. By the end of the day, as the sun lazily sinks in the sky, the features of Nox’s face are sullen and worn down. Much to the dismay of Death, his caring character was prominent throughout the day.
We stand outside the bookstore, waiting patiently for Nox to finish closing up. Death’s arms are crossed tightly across his chest. Maybe I shouldn’t poke the bear but,
“Who would’ve thought his brother would be a vet?” I say in astonishment. “He’s different, like I said.” Nox leaves the bookstore and stares right through us. He double checks the locked door and crosses the empty street. A weight lies heavy in the pit of my stomach at Death’s lack of responses. Without a word he follows Nox and it is in that movement that I know I haven’t won Death over. I have to ask myself, should I defy Death? Nox has barely inhaled the fresh night air before Death comes up behind him. The engine of a car parked on the side of the street roars to life. For a brief second I shake my head in disappointment. Not because of Death’s stubbornness, but his constant use of violence.
As the car picks up speed against a steadying inclining road, Nox, walking on the sidewalk, slowly turns his head. In an instant I swoop in, tackling Nox to the ground, just as the car squeals past us and smashes into a pole.
Nox is disoriented, but manages to stand up on shaking legs. His breathing quickens as he looks at the black car embedded in the streetlamp post. He looks at me, then the car, then back to me again. His mouth moves slowly, but there are no audible sounds. Smoke slowly rises into the chilly air and disappears amongst the only visible star, barely surviving against the city lights.
His eyes suddenly widen in horror before he rushes to the driver’s side. The steering wheel is pushed in deep, there was no airbag. What’s even more troubling, there was no driver.
Nox backs away in astonishment, his eyes darting all around him.
“W-what,” he begins, stopping to inhale deeply, “what just happened?” he asks me. Death appears behind him, frowning deeply. He shakes his head at me while Nox remains oblivious to Death’s presence. Just as I make a move to reach out to Nox, Death grabs him by the shoulders and stumbles backwards. His mouth remains open in horror as he still can’t see Death.
“Help!” He finally manages to shout at me. Who am I to deny Death? Who am I to deny destiny? I stand stunned.
“Wait…” I manage to say quietly. Death stops dragging Nox backwards, but keeps his hands clenched tightly onto his shoulders.
“He is going to die,” Death says to me, immediately overpowering me with a sense of déjà vu. “People think I am the villain and you are hero. I am what they can always count on. I will always exist. You are the one that instills chaos into every living being. You, not me. Life, not Death.” I ignore the sting of his words and reach out to pull Nox from Death’s grasp. I put myself between the two, and slowly back away. Nox, trembling and confused, mirrors my movements.
“Why are you doing this, Life?” Death asks me. His voice almost sounds miserable. There are no words of comfort I can offer. I cannot go back on my actions of defying Death. Instead I shrug and tell him,