Story L 'The Gift' by Raelinda Woad

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This is a story of the Inside People, who lived inside a city made of glass and steel and a medusa's nest of electrical currents.

The Inside People hated to go outside. To them, outside was just this uncomfortable realm that you had to go through to get back inside again, and the sooner the better. The problem with outside was you had to take it as it came. If it rained, you had to get wet. If the wind blew, you had to be cold. And if it became dark, you had to reach your hands out in front of you.

But inside, you could decide what time NOW was. Or how big HERE was. And most importantly, you could decide who could come inside. And who could not.

And everyone agreed that Death could not come in.

Now, Death took many forms. And for the Inside People, Death took the form of a huge black bird with a golden eye, a silver eye,

and a blue eye. Any time this black bird came near, people would throw things at it to shoo it away. They would throw sticks, empty bottles,

even curses.

"Go away, nasty thing! Go away!"

Even when Inside People died, Death was not welcomed in. Instead, the people who died were put out. Out into ambulances.

Out into hospitals. Out.

But one night, one night...

A child lay in her bedroom and could not sleep, there was too much happening downstairs. But she had been told to stay upstairs.

"No, do not come down tonight," her mother had said. "Here's a glass of water, if you want more use the upstairs bathroom."

But her mother was so distracted that she had left the girl's bedroom window open a crack, and a little bit of outside air wafted into the room. The child breathed it in, and it felt so good. She hopped out of bed and went closer to the window and breathed in another draft of outside air, it felt so good. And she exhaled it into her room. Then she placed her mouth right up to the little bit of open window. And breath by breath, she breathed the outside into her room.

And when her room was full, in flew Death.

"Have you come for me?", asked the child.

"Not for a long time, by your measure," was Death's reply.

"I have come for your grandmother downstairs. But she wanted to share me with you."

"Hmm," said the child.

Death regarded her with all three eyes. "I suppose you have heard all about me."

"Ooooh yes!", said the little girl. "You are dirty, you are nasty,

you are bedamned and becursed. May I hug you?"

"Of course, my child."

And the child embraced Death. And when she did, NOW spilled out of all the clocks, HERE spilled out of all the rooms, and lifetimes seemed no more than single footsteps on a long journey. Sometimes, a step on tippy toe, barely there. Sometimes, firmly planted, a mountain yoga step. Sometimes, an angry kick step, the beginning of someone's very long need of learning. And sometimes, a dancing step, the bright brief life of a seasoned traveler.

"Oh!", said the child. "May I have a wish?"

"I am Death, not your fairy godmother," Death snapped. Then Death softened. "Ah, what is your wish?"

"I wish that you could be a part of my whole life, not just the end of my life."

"Ah. You have wished for the one thing that I, myself cannot grant you."

And at that moment, the child realized just how generous her grandmother had been.