“Are you a blacksmith?” The voice from behind was all very sudden that John even flinched. Besides, he did not hear the door to the workshop open and someone went inside.
“Do you ever knock?” he replied rudely, slightly angry at himself and at the nimble client.
“Knock? Hmm… Never.” the voice answered.
John grabbed a rag from the table and, wiping his weary hands, slowly turned around, replaying in his head the rebuke that he was about to give out in the face of this stranger. But the words still remained somewhere in his head, because a very unusual client was standing in front of him.
“Could you straighten my scythe?” the guest asked in a male, slightly hoarse voice.
“Is that all, right? The end?” throwing a rag somewhere in the corner, the blacksmith sighed.
“It’s not over yet, but much worse than before,” Death answered.
“Makes sense,” agreed John. “Can’t argue with that. What do I need to do now?”
“Straighten the scythe,” Death repeated patiently.
“And then sharpen, if possible.”
John glanced at the scythe. Indeed, there were a few chipping marks on the blade, and the blade itself had already begun to wave.
“That’s clear,” he nodded. “But what should I do? Pray or get my stuff? I’m just for the first time, so to say…”
“Ahhh… That’s what you mean,” Death’s shoulders shook in soundless laughter. “No, I’m not after you. I just need to fix my scythe. Can you?”
“So, I’m not dead?” imperceptibly groping himself, asked the blacksmith.
“You know better. How are you feeling?”
“Is there nausea, dizziness, pain?”
“N-n-no,” the blacksmith said uncertainly, listening to his inner feelings.
“In that case, you have nothing to worry about,” Death replied and held out the scythe.
Taking it in instantly stiff hands, John started to examine it from different sides. It would just take half an hour, but the realization of who would sit behind his back and wait for the end of the work automatically extended the period by at least a couple of hours.
Teetering on his rubbery legs, the blacksmith went to the anvil and took a hammer in his hands.
“You… Have a seat. You won’t stand there, will you?!” putting all his hospitality and goodwill into his voice, John suggested.
Death nodded and sat down on the bench with his back against the wall. The work was coming to an end. Having straightened the blade as much as possible, the blacksmith, taking the sharpener in his hand, looked at his guest.
“You don’t mind me saying, but I just can’t believe that I’m holding in my hands an object which so many lives were ruined with! No weapon in the world can match it. This is truly incredible.”
Death, sitting on a bench in a relaxed pose and looking at the interior of the workshop, got all tense. The dark oval of the hood turned slowly towards the blacksmith.
“What did you say?” he said quietly.
“I said I couldn’t believe that I was holding a weapon that…”
“Weapon? You said weapon?”
“Maybe I didn’t put it that way, just…”
John did not have time to finish. Death, jumping up with a lightning movement from its place, in a moment was right in front of the blacksmith. The edges of the hood quivered slightly.
“How many people you think I have killed?” he hissed through his teeth.
“I… I don’t know,” John mumbled, dropping his eyes to the floor.
“Tell me!” Death grabbed his chin and lifted his head up, “how many?!”
“I… I don’t know…”
“How many?!” he shouted right in the blacksmith’s face.
“How do I know how many there were?” The blacksmith squeaked in a miserable voice, trying to look away.
Death dropped the chin and fell silent for a few seconds. Then, hunched over, he returned to the bench and sat down with a heavy sigh.
“So, you don’t know how many there were?” he said quietly and, without waiting for an answer, continued, “What if I tell you that I’ve never, do you hear? Never killed a single person. What do you say to that?”
“But… But what about…”
“I have never killed people. What do I need this for if you are doing an excellent job with this mission yourself? You yourself are killing each other. You! You can kill for notes, for your anger and hatred, you can even kill just for fun. And when this is not enough for you, you start wars and kill each other in hundreds and thousands. You just love it. You are addicted to someone’s blood. And you know what’s the nastiest thing about all that? You can’t admit it to yourself! It’s easier for you to blame me for everything,” he paused for a while. “You know what I was like before? I was a handsome man. I met the souls of people warmly and accompanied them to the place where they were destined to be. I smiled at them and helped them forget about what happened to them. It was a long time ago… Look what happened to me!”
He cried out the last words and, jumping up from the bench, threw off the hood from his head.
A face of a deep old man, covered with wrinkles, appeared Before John’s eyes. Sparse gray hair hung in tangled strands, the corners of chapped lips drooped unnaturally downward, revealing lower teeth that peeked out from under the lip in crooked shards. But the most terrible were the eyes. Completely faded, expressionless eyes stared at the blacksmith.
“Look what I’ve become! And you know why?” he took a step towards John.
“No,” he shook his head, shrinking under his gaze.
“Of course, you don’t know,” he grinned. “You made me like this! I saw a mother kills her children, I saw a brother kills a brother, I saw a person can kill a hundred, two hundred, three hundred other people in one day! … I sobbed looking at that. I howled from misunderstanding, from the impossibility of what was happening. I screamed in horror…” Death’s eyes glittered.
“I changed my elegant suit for these black clothes so that the blood of the people I saw off would not be visible on it. I put on a hood so they wouldn’t see my tears. I don’t meet people with warmth anymore. You’ve turned me into a monster. And then you blamed me for everything. Of course, it’s just that simple…” he stared at the blacksmith with an unblinking look. “I accompany you, I show you the way, I don’t kill people… Give me my scythe, you fool!”
Having snatched his tool from the blacksmith’s hands, Death turned and headed towards the exit of the workshop.
“Can I ask you a question?” was heard from behind.
“You want to ask why I need a scythe then?” stopping at the open door, but without turning around, he asked.
“The road to paradise… It has long been overgrown with grass.”