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A Conversation with Death


Patrick Luce

This is the tale of Jonathan Switzer in his own words - taken from his diary. He was a man obsessed with death to the point that he believed Death, in human form, was stalking him. Whether or not this truly happened is up to the reader to decide

August 28, 1891

            I have now calmed down from the events that took place this evening, although I am not sure how.  After thinking it over, I decided it would be to my best interest to write down what exactly happened tonight. I hope that I will look back on this next week and laugh to myself for the fear that is consuming me tonight. 

I left the shop at seven this evening, instead of six, because I wanted to finish an article that I had been writing.  It had been raining all day, but had finally stopped as I made my way home.  I locked up the shop and began my walk home.  The humidity this evening was awful, everything was damp and seemed to stick to you.  The streets of London are always so dirty in the evening, but when this type of weather is upon us it seems the dirt becomes one with you. 

I turned into the alley, as is my normal short cut to my home, and noticed a small pub tucked quietly into the corner of Buxin and White Chapel.  Although I have traveled this way since I began my apprenticeship at the shop, I had never noticed this pub.  I now guess most people would find this extremely strange but for some reason I did not.

Now, I am not a drinker, but it had been such a long day and I wanted a spot of ale for my hard work.  I decided to stop in and treat myself.  When I got inside the pub, an ill feeling set into my bones.  There was no light save for a single candle burning at a table.  The entire pub was deserted with the exception of a single man sitting at the candle lit table.  He looked to be a large man, dressed in black over-coat, a top hat resting in the chair at his side.

I decided the place looked too dreadful to stop for ale and turned to leave when the man said over my shoulder, “Don’t run of Jonathan, come sit at my table and share of my ale.”  His tone was deep, as one would expect from a man his size, and the smart thing would have been to leave the place.  For some reason though, my sense failed me and I found myself walking to the table.  There was something about the man that intrigued me, something that seemed magical, even if dreary.  I know now that the smart thing would have been to flee from the place, run and not return.  Instead, I sat down across from him and asked how it was that he knew my name.   

His gravely voice answered,  “I have known of you since the day you were born.”  Again, my brain should have told me to run, but I found myself asking him to explain since I had never seen him before.  He answered, “Drink your ale, Jonathan, do not let simple things clutter your thoughts.”  I tired to drink but the ale just left a bitter taste in my mouth.  I remember what I asked the dark figure.  I said,  “Tell me how it is you know my name, who are you?” 

The next event still burns in my mind.  My mind’s eye still brings into sharp focus the features of his face.  His face was pale, not just white, but like there was no blood at all to give him color.  His facial features seemed more like polished bone than skin.  If I had reached out to touch his skin, I am sure it would have seemed cold as stone.  His eyes were gray, and they seemed to stare right me to my inner soul.

He grinned, teeth yellow and decay, “What I am going to say to you is probably going to shock and scare you, Jonathan.  However, it will be easier on both of us if you just accept it and move on.”  I started to speak, but he interrupted me.  “Jonathan,” he said, “ don’t be afraid.  Just finish your ale, and then you will die.”  I panicked at this point, as a surge of adrenaline rushed through my heart.  I jumped out of my chair, threw his ale on the floor.  As I took a few steps backward, as I yelled that I would not drink his ale or die at his command. 

Quickly, I grabbed up my coat and ran for the door.  I did not stop running until I had reached my home.  I could hear him laughing the entire time I ran.  It was as if he was right behind me.  I could feel his breath on my neck with each step I would take.  Even now I can still hear those words in my ears, still hear his warning.  My hands still shake, and I have lit every candle in the house. 

It is if I am a small child awoken from a nightmare.  I know he was probably just another London crazy.  Yet, even as I feel my nerves returning to me, feel my heart slowing I can hear his voice.  “Jonathan,” he says to me, “you can not escape death, no matter where you run, your time has come, accept it.”  Accept it, lie down and die.  No, No, this night must have been the result of an overworked day, and a tired mind.  Tomorrow my days will return to normal, and this will simply be a humorous memory.

Jonathan Switzer

August 29, 1891, morning

I normally do not write in the morning, but after that dream I wanted to get the details down. I hope that this will serve as a way to cleanse my memory of the dream.  Last night when sleep finally came, I had a dream.  It was not a dream, but a nightmare.  I was back at that pub, only this time it was not empty.  It was full of people, no not just people, but people of my past.  My mother and father were there, along with a friend who died when we were but children.  I heard a voice call my name and when I turned, I saw him.  He was sitting at that same table, the dark look still upon his face.  This time there was someone else sitting with him at the table. 

I started to approach the table, still trying to make out who that second person was, what they were doing, still trying to fathom if this was real or merely a dream.  He calmly asked me to sit, and I did without a second thought.  It was clear to me that he was in complete control.  In the dream I had no self-control, I was but a puppet.  He looked at me with those dead eyes and said, “It was not nice of you to leave that way Jonathan.  Shame on you Jonathan, running out into the street like some kind of mad man.  It is so much easier when you accept me, but of course, I enjoy the ones who choose to fight.  Jonathan do you see these people around you.”  He waved his massive arm in a sweeping motion, as he seemed to gaze at each person.  “They have already taken the journey, Jonathan,” he dryly said.  “None of them fought me, Jonathan, none except her,” he pointed across the table and I found my eyes drifting to her without thought.

Slowly she spoke, “Jonathan, it is me, Elizabeth, do you not recognize me?”  I gazed at her face as my memory exploded into the pictures of my life.  She was sitting across from me, the woman I had loved so long, and lost so quick to the fever.  How could this be, how could he be doing this.  Softly she spoke again, “Jonathan, I am waiting for you, join me please, let us be together again.”  As her voice faded in my ears, the pub was empty again.  Elizabeth was gone, only he remained.

He smiled revealing the darkness that must surely dwell within him.  “Not yet Jonathan,” he said, “you chose to fight me, and fight me you shall.”  His eyes began to glow red, as his bone white face turned even more like the shape of a decayed skull.  I awoke screaming, soaked in my own sweat.  I still refuse to believe this could be real.  The dream must have been brought on by the day.  My conscious brought out the memory of my wife, due to the pain I still feel so deeply for her.  Now, I must face this new day.  I write this as a way to put away this silliness, a way to move on and forget.  Work is the thing that keeps nightmares from seeing the light of day.

Jonathan Switzer

August 29, 1891, evening

I saw him today.  Actually, I saw him all day long.  He just stood across the street staring into the window, staring into me.  I waited until it was dark and slipped out the back door.  I felt like a thief hiding from a suspecting detective.  I did not go home by the front street. I crossed through an old man’s yard, and took a side street.  I have never been more grateful that there are hundreds of ways to get to anywhere in London than I am tonight.  There was no way he could have followed me.  Yet, when I turned a corner there he was, standing right in my path.  I thought I had outsmarted him at last. 

“That was clever Jonathan,” he coyly said, “to bad your thoughts are my own.”  He must have saw me slipping out the backdoor through the window.  All the way home, he spoke to me.  He told me of heaven and of Hell.  He said our fate depends not on how we live, but how we choose to die.  If we go quietly and accept what he says then we obtain Heaven.  Those who resist, and try to live on past their time, find the path to Hell. When I could see my front door, when I felt it was just seconds away from my grasp, I felt a courage build within me.

Quickly I blurted out, “If you really are death then here is my choice.  I choose hell.”  Even before the words were leaving my lips, I was making a mad dash for the door.  Once inside I looked out my window, but he had already gone.  Now, once again, the evening hours have come and I must try to find my way to sleep. 

I have already decided I will not go into work tomorrow.  I have decided to stay within the safety of my home for a few days.  I still do not believe this man is who he claims to be.  I feel he is more my imagination than flesh and bone.  However, I cannot help feeling that my safety depends on avoiding this man.  It is my hope that he will grow tired of waiting on me, and find some other poor soul to torment.  I have enough nourishment stored here to last well over a week.  I intend to use it.

Jonathan Switzer

August 30, 1891

            I had a peaceful nights rest, and a day of doing nothing.  I did not dream of him, and I tried not to even give the whole encounter a single moments thought.  Of course, I thought of how he must look running all over London looking for me.  Sorry, “Mr. Death,” I must be the single man to escape your terrible clutches.  I guess you will have to claim my soul some other time.  I intend to have a big dinner to celebrate, then a nice after dinner cigar, a treat I rarely grant myself.  I feel I have earned it, if nothing else I have been able to calm my mind so that now I can think freely.  He was defiantly nothing but a loon, and my free was nothing more than an active imagination.  I have decided to stay indoors one more day, just to make sure the loon has moved on, and then I will return to work.  I am confident I shall write tomorrow of a great meal and another peaceful nights sleep.

Jonathan Switzer

August 30, 1891, early evening

            I do not know how to write this but I now believe.  Believe what?  There is nothing left for me to believe.  I had my dinner, and now I see I wasted too much food.  After dinner, I sat on my couch, and began to smoke my cigar, when he appeared.  He came through the wall, right through a solid brick wall.  Had this been a dream, I would not feel the same way, but I was wide-awake.  It happened just three hours ago and my body is still shaking, my stomach still queasy from the meal and the vomit.  When I saw him, I was frozen into the chair. I could not even scream out in the horror I was in.  He looked different this time, his eyes seemed to glow red, and he was bigger than before, more overwhelming, and more deadly. 

His voice was low and his words seemed to penetrate my brain without even speaking.  He said, “Clever of you, Jonathan, to hide in here like a scared little rabbit hiding in a rotten tree.  The only problem is the fox knows you are in here.  He has the power to see your every little move.”  I tried to speak, but found my mouth was dry; I lacked the strength to even utter a single word.  He grinned a wicked smile; it seemed to send a blast of cold down my spine.

“What am I going to do with you,” he asked.  “That’s what is rolling around in that frightened mind is it not Jonathan?”  Again, I tried to speak but could not.  It was if my whole body was in a web of fear.  He said, “I am not going to do anything to you Jonathan, have no fear.  I simply wanted to pay you a little visit to let you know I am still waiting.  It is not nice for you to hide in here, Jonathan, not nice at all.  You made your choice so now hear mine.  I will wait for you, Jonathan, wait for courage or desperation to build in that soul of yours.  Understand me, Jonathan, the first time you step foot out of this house, you will join your wife in hell.” 

He turned and walked out through the front door, as if he had been a visitor sharing a cup of evening brandy.  I sat in my chair frozen, unable to move.  I was too scared to breathe, even now his words ring and pound in my ears, as if he is inside my head, tormenting me.  My hand shakes as I try to write this in an attempt to calm the sounds of my mind. 

After much thought, my situation has finally become clear.  I am doomed, I cannot leave this house or I will surely die at his hands.  I have looked out the window since freeing myself from the chair, and he is always there.  He stands on the corner facing my house, grins that nauseated smile and waves as if he is a gentleman.  I am staying in the den tonight.  I do not want to go upstairs.  I am too scared to make the journey up that dark staircase.  He is right, I am a rabbit scared of his own shadow.  What is happening to me?  Death is driving me mad.

Jonathan Switzer

September 10, 1891, day

            I did not sleep last night, as I have not for many nights since he paid me that late night visit.  Maybe there were a few hours where I came close to sleep’s shore but I was always pulled away by my fear.  I saw Elizabeth last night, God help me for what I saw.  She was floating toward me, her arms opened as if to embrace me.  Then, he appeared again.  I saw the evilness in his face and looked to Elizabeth to take away my fear.  Even now I cry, she was no longer beautiful, but bruised and in pain.  Chains hung on her, formed around her ankles, hands, neck, cutting into her tender skin.  She just hovered in the air, as he walked over to her. 

“She is not a pretty sight, is she Jonathan,” he said.  He smiled, God how I hate the fear that builds in me when he smiles, “she is in hell now Jonathan, and she was put there by you.”  My soul cried, as it does now, as he continued, “She was your wife, and where you go, she goes.  In life and in death, your two souls are joined.  You chose to fight your death, so now you will be in hell, with me.  At least, you two will burn together.”

I awoke screaming, as I normally do when sleep comes to me.  I checked the food today, there is not much left.  If I eat only once a day, I might be able to make it last a few more days.  I am not going to give into him, not going to let him win my mind.  I am not stepping out of these doors.  Several people have come by, knocked on my door.  My employer, friends, all looking for me, but I did not answer.  Oh Elizabeth, I am so sorry, I did not know.  I did not know.

Jonathan Switzer

September 20, 1891

            It has been ten days since my last entry.  I ran out of food four days, and have only eaten a few crumbs that I found on the ground.  Over the last ten days, he has visited me frequently.  He always enters the same way, and either just vanishes or leaves through a wall.  He knows this entrance and exit always demonstrates his power.  I have seen Elizabeth three different times, and she gets worse each visit.  My body constantly shakes now, from lack of either sleep or food.  I do not know the cause of the shaking and I no longer care.  It takes too much energy to care.  I have decided to try to write as much as I can, I know that when I die someone will find this journal.  It takes so much energy to write these words, to bring my mind into focus, are they even clear, can these words reflect the way he pounds my brain.  I want other to know what has happened to me, so when he visits them, they will just accept his death.  Rob him of the game he so loves.

Jonathan Switzer

September 26, 1891

I feel a little stronger today, although I am not proud of my nourishment.  The other day, I took notice of a mouse that had somehow got into my house.  I destroyed most of my home in attempt to catch it, but finally I succeeded.  I did not bother cooking or anything, all I could think of was how hungry I was.  I could not keep much of him down.  I am having trouble seeing now, I cannot keep thoughts together, can barely move. I am dying.

Jonathan Switzer

September 28, 1891

I cannot take it anymore.  I have decided I have to get out of this house.  I no longer care if he is out there.  I can no longer take the pounding in my mind, his voice in my dreams, the visions of Elizabeth in hell.  This may be my last entry, so I must warn anyone who might read this journal.  I am not crazy, although that may be how it seems.  I know my actions of late are not those of a sane man.  I am not crazy though.  I am sane.  He is out there, stalking me, tormenting me.  I no longer care if people believe my story or not, death is out there in human form.  He comes for all of us, just accept him when he knocks on your door.  I am doomed to hell, and I sent others there.  The torment of that is already too much for my soul to bear, how will I deal with the flames.  Elizabeth, my dear, I shall see you soon.

Jonathan Switzer

After Jonathan Switzer made his last entry, he opened the door and ran out of his home screaming.  He ran down the street and was struck down by a horse-drawn cabby.  He died minutes later.  The police investigated into the case.  According to the cabby driver the horse went berserk and bolted down the street. 

The cabby driver claimed he tried to slow the horse’s bolt but could not make it stop.  Soon after the interview with the cabby driver, the journal of Jonathan Switzer was discovered.  Investigators read through his journal and found his entries concerning his encounter with a man that Switzer believed to be death.  The investigators read only a few more pages before labeling Switzer just another ‘London Crazy.’

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