The Color of Death

Akshay sat uneasy, while one hand stroked his beard stubble in slow, regular motions. “I’m not really sure when it started. Possibly when I saw my mother die.”

“Don’t misunderstand me”, said Akshay. “It wasn’t that it was a particularly horrible death. I just saw her lie in a hospital bed, breathing slowly. My sister was standing next to mother’s bed, and I was there too. And Dad, of course, was sitting at a small chair and stroking her hand. Then mother looked up, smiled at me – and I saw how she left her body. It wasn’t just that she stopped breathing. I saw her leaving her body with her last breath. There was a shimmer around her mouth, a bit like wetness, then she smiled and in the very moment that she smiled a sort of mist left through her mouth. I could nearly hear it in her long exhalation, how something left her body.”

Akshay smiled. “It was funny, in a way. I was expecting the mist to move straight up into the air, or maybe for a light to appear – but it simply spread around the room and disappeared. It looked as if we were all breathing part of her into our own bodies, but most of the mist just disappeared, fused with the air.”

“But”, Akshay closed his eyes. “I am really not sure if it was the first time. Maybe before my mother’s death I simply wasn’t aware of my gift. I remember a few instances where I am not sure whether I saw something similar. There was this time, when I was very young, my grandfather was at the hospital. I was in the waiting room and while the nurses pushed a bed through the corridor I froze and suddenly saw the woman from above. It was as if I was hovering above her.”

“She was obviously in pain, throwing herself from side to side, but then, just for the fraction of a second, she smiled and I saw something gray slither out of her mouth.” Akshay paused. “Back then I didn’t see the gray thing disappear. The same moment I saw it leave her mouth I was back in my chair and looking at her from the distance. I distinctly remember seeing the heart monitor, how it was still showing that she was alive.”

“It’s been so many times now, that I have seen the gray mist. Sometimes it is very dark, like tar, and sometimes it is very light, nearly white like a cloud in the summer sky. But most of the time it is simply a shade on the continuum of grays. It never has a color. Maybe that’s why I like to see the world in simple terms. I’m looking for good and bad, for the honest and dishonest – and sometimes I can see clearly, right in front of my eyes, what they are.”

“There is something else though”, Akshay leaned forward. “The mist, it doesn’t just disappear. I’m sure of it now; it enters all the things it touches. All the people, all the animals and plants, even the rooms and the air itself. When the mist is white it has a warm, gentle touch. I can feel how it moves around me, how it touches me, how it envelopes me and finally how it enters my body and makes me lighter and better.”

Akshay lowered his voice. “But the dark gray mist, or even the black one, when they touch plants or animals, I can see them recoil and leave the room. And when the mist sees me it always shoots straight towards me and tries to enter my body and heart. I can feel its cold; it feels like an icy wind that catches you by surprise on a warm day, and it scratches the skin like a thousand tiny fingernails or a razor blade just moved gently over the skin.”

Akshay stared at me with a cold calm in his eyes. Then a warm smile returned to his lips. “But that might be a story for another day – how it accumulates, how there are mists move around and how those of different shades circle each other, but rarely touch. And you also don’t want to hear about those that wake up after the mist has left. You came here to hear something else.”

I nodded, and for a moment I had the impression I was talking to a mystic or an oracle, rather than a man dressed in a white hospital robe. I could nearly feel the colorful tent above our heads and the crystal ball on the table.

Akshay had noticed that my thoughts too had drifted. He was still smiling, as if he was waiting for a signal to continue. “Yes”, I said. “If you want to call it that. And, I may remind you, that’s why you are here too.”

For a moment Akshay lost his smile, but his lips quickly recovered.

“Well”, he picked the plastic cup from the table and took a sip of water. “After witnessing my mother’s death, I was just seventeen back then, I didn’t leave my room for a week. I had nightmares and they all ended with the image of her relaxing face and the mist rising from her mouth. My sister was the first one to worry, back then we were close. But even my parents noticed that I barely ate and that the reason I refused to go to school was in my head rather than my body.”

“When my mother confronted me about it, when she asked me what was wrong – I simply couldn’t tell her. I had seen her die right in front of my eyes, and every time I saw her living face it seemed as if I could also see the mist in her body, how it was in turmoil, moving around from side to side, shivering and throbbing and preparing to leave her body. I could not even tell my father about it. I had seen the expression in his face, the expression he had when my mother died, the sadness and suffering – and I couldn’t bear to make him experience that twice.”

Akshay paused again. He smiled and shook his head. “And then, not even a month later, it all became true. I felt her body getting weaker even before she said a word. I knew she was in the hospital even before I got the call. And when we were all standing there, next to her bed, my sister at mother’s side and my father in the chair, holding mother’s hand – I couldn’t even look at her. I had seen it all before, and I knew what would happen. All I could do was to stare at the spot from where I had seen it all. I stared at the foot of her bed, waiting for myself to somehow appear. But the only thing I heard was her gasp, then the shrieking of the heart monitor and the cries of my sister.”

“And when I looked back to her face, convinced that I myself would not appear a second time – I had the impression that the air around her face was darker. Only a moment later I felt the touch on my skin, gentle and soft, but there was some harshness and cold to it. It was like her, how she had been – loving but strict, and demanding but gentle.”

“Since then, of course, the time span has increased. It was just a bit more than a month before my mother’s death. But when I saw the neighbor – how the truck hit her car, and how the mist pierced towards the truck driver, as if it wanted to avenge her death – I saw it nearly two years before it happened. And then, when it happened, I was convinced.”

“Mind you”, Akshay lowered his eyebrows. “I’m not saying that I understand the why or the how. I’m not saying that I know which religion is right or wrong. But I have seen it. I have seen her death two years before it occurred. I have seen the large buildings collapsing, even if I didn’t understand it back then, years before it occurred. I had nightmares of burning stairwells and screaming office workers. I saw the ship sink in Europe; I saw the suffering in North Africa, the many deaths and the tortures they used.”

“I don’t understand why me, or how. It is just that sometimes, during the day, I see a person, or I think of a person, or maybe I just think of a people. And in that moment I can see their end. And if many die at once, I can see how their collective mists rise up, how they accumulate in the sky, not unlike clouds.”

“First I began to preach. I wanted to warn the people, I wanted to write books and tell them how their suffering would come unless they were to change their ways. But nobody listened. They all laughed: the one side at my lack of faith and the other at my having faith. Nobody listens to one man that tells of death and destruction.”

“I was depressed, then. I thought about killing myself. Every day I would see countless deaths. Just like now, while talking to you, I’ve seen how your brother will die.”

I flinched. Akshay nodded apologetically.

“I’ve seen too many deaths. And many of those were brutal. I rarely see the kind death, the one of old age. That only happens with friends of mine, when I am laughing with them, a warm coffee in our hands – and in their laugh I can see the mist lingering at the back of their throats, waiting for the moment it will leave their bodies. It hurts me to think of their deaths, but it is nice to know that they will die after a satisfying life and a kind death.”

“But then”, Akshay raised his hand. “I saw myself in one of the scenes. It was a stranger. Someone I didn’t know, someone I had never seen or heard of. But I saw myself, clearly, how I was driving the knife in his chest. Only when I saw the dark black mist rising from his mouth, then I knew why I would hold a knife in my hand.”

“It should not surprise you”, Akshay said. “That you find in most of their lives crime and violence. But I assure you, even the other ones, the ones that were not caught for their crimes, even those deserved their deaths. I cannot tell you why their mist was black, but not a single one of those I stabbed had a human heart. They were monsters. I am sure if you dig in their gardens or their pasts you will find dead children or men or women.”

Akshay thundered his fist on the table. “Particularly the ones that seemed to be good; those in their suits and happy marriages, they had the thickest and darkest of mists! The last one, the one for which you caught me – he was the worst. I watched him for a while, because I wasn’t sure that I had seen right. But I saw him play with his daughter, and he laughed even as he knew that he had paid her bed and toys with the lives of hundreds of people.”

“He deserved his death. He deserved his death like all the others. And let me tell you a secret: I am not alone. I am not the only one. There are more like me out there, and they too come to the same conclusions. I know it because I have seen my own death. I have seen how a young woman will drive a knife into my chest, and how my own black mist will leave my body. I have seen how she cried after my mist encircled her body.”

“Right now she is out there, maybe still young and ignorant of her fate. And so are hundreds of others. But they too will begin to see. They too will have to watch the deaths of others day and night. And one day they too will decide not to sit idly while light mist is released. They will see the color of your mist. And if it is too dark – they will find you.”

This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.

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