Last Year’s Flash Fiction: The Daughter of Death

Storytelling Collective does a yearly challenge for flash fic, with prompts and a nice community format. Every year I complete a run I pick my ten favourites and collect them into what is basically a zine. I’ve got 2024’s up, so now it’s time to share some faves from 2023.

The Italians call Fear La Figlia della Morte—the daughter of death

An image rendered in faux-photocopy style of a raven's skull centred over a crystalline burst.

Death cupped her hands around the steaming mug of tea and looked at her daughter.

“I know you hate conversations like this.”

“They’re lectures, mom.” Fear was leaned back in the kitchen chair, feet tucked up onto the rungs in the same way she’d sat when she was small and her legs were too short to reach the floor. Now, fully grown, it sent her knees akimbo.

Death wanted to look away from the annoyed eyes of her child, squatting there on the kitchen chair like an angry gnome, but pressed on.

“You know what, yes, I suppose these are lectures, but in the most technical sense. I am trying to impart some knowledge that I have earned through experience and time to you, my beloved daughter.” Death tapped the mug, cycling her finger through Aspects, so now the sound was soft, now it was the click of a long nail, now the chime of bone on ceramic. “It would be nice if you could skip past some of the mess of growing up by using what I’ve learned.”

“But you also are lecturing me in the sense you think I’ve done wrong and don’t want me to eff up again.” Fear was also cycling through Aspects, mirroring her mother’s anxious habit. The feet on the chair rungs, which were sending the knees bouncing in irritated discomfort, were now bird-like claws, now clad in pink socks with little doughnuts on them, now the stretched shape of a wolf’s paws.

Death tilted her head in a mixture of question and confirmation. “I wouldn’t say wrong.”

“You did, actually, at the time.”

“Well, that was wrong of me, actually.” Death stilled her hands on the mug again, trying to will her body to focus. “I think ‘ill-advised’ would be the best word. Or ‘rash’ maybe. But not wrong.”

Fear suddenly thrust her feet off the chair rungs, planting them with a stomp on the worn-out kitchen linoleum. “It’s what they wanted, it’s what they expected.”

“But what did you want?” Death sighed, feeling like she was emptying out her lungs. Forever, maybe. She made herself let go of the mug, lean back in her chair. She gave up looking at her daughter and said the rest of what she needed to say to the ceiling, part of her brain noticing that she needed to dust.

“It doesn’t matter what someone wants. I mean, it does, but if it goes against what you want—then fuck them. They want fear to be cold fingers on the back of their neck, but you think the situation calls for hot breath and the touch of fangs, then consider why you use their choice.”

Somewhere below where she was looking, Death heard her daughter.

“But how will they know who I am if I don’t look like what they expect?!”

Death smiled. “They’ll know. They’ll recognize Fear if it comes to them as an excitement that boils in their stomach rather than a hole in their heart. Just like they know Death if she folds them into nothingness instead of putting them in a chariot.”

Death could hear Fear shifting in the kitchen chair, tucking her feet back up. She added, “it’s fun, sometimes, if they don’t realise who you are right away.”