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A fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm.


A poor man had twelve children and was forced to work night and day to give them even bread. When therefore the thirteenth came into the world, he knew not what to do in his trouble, but ran out into the great highway, and resolved to ask the first person whom he met to be godfather. The first to meet him was the good God who already knew what filled his heart, and said to him, "Poor man, I pity you. I will hold your child at its christening, and will take charge of it and make it happy on earth. The man said, "Who are you?"
"I am God."
"Then I do not desire to have you for a godfather," said the man, "you give to the rich, and leave the poor to hunger." Thus spoke the man, for he did not know how wisely God apportions riches and poverty. He turned therefore away from the Lord, and went farther. Then the devil came to him and said, "What do you seek? If you will take me as a godfather for your child, I will give him gold in plenty and all the joys of the world as well." The man asked, "Who are you?"
"I am the devil."
"Then I do not desire to have you for godfather," said the man, "you deceive men and lead them astray." He went onwards, and then came Death striding up to him with withered legs, and said, "Take me as godfather." The man asked, "Who are you?"
"I am Death, and I make all equal. Then said the man, "You are the right one, you take the rich as well as the poor, without distinction, you shall be godfather."
Death answered, "I will make your child rich and famous, for he who has me for a friend can lack nothing." The man said, "Next Sunday is the christening, be there at the right time."

Death appeared as he had promised, and stood godfather quite in the usual way. When the boy had grown up, his godfather one day appeared and bade him go with him. He led him forth into a forest, and showed him a herb which grew there, and said, "Now you shall receive your godfather's present. I make you a celebrated physician. When you are called to a patient, I will always appear to you. If I stand by the head of the sick man, you may say with confidence that you will make him well again, and if you give him of this herb he will recover, but if I stand by the patient's feet, he is mine, and you must say that all remedies are in vain, and that no physician in the world could save him. But beware of using the herb against my will, or it might fare ill with you."

It was not long before the youth was the most famous physician in the whole world. He had only to look at the patient and he knew his condition at once, whether he would recover, or must needs die. So they said of him, and from far and wide people came to him, sent for him when they had anyone ill, and gave him so much money that he soon became a rich man. Now it so befell that the king became ill, and the physician was summoned, and was to say if recovery were possible. But when he came to the bed, Death was standing by the feet of the sick man, and the herb did not grow which could save him. "If I could but cheat Death for once," thought the physician, "he is sure to take it ill if I do but, as I am his godson, he will shut one eye, I will risk it." He therefore took up the sick man, and laid him the other way, so that now Death was standing by his head. Then he gave the king some of the herbs, and he recovered and grew healthy again.

But Death came to the physician, looking very black and angry, threatened him with his finger, and said, "You have betrayed me. This time I will pardon it, as you are my godson, but if you venture it again, it will cost you your neck, for I will take you yourself away with me."

Soon afterwards the king's daughter fell into a severe illness. She was his only child, and he wept day and night, so that he began to lose the sight of his eyes, and he caused it to be made known that whosoever rescued her from death should be her husband and inherit the crown. When the physician came to the sick girl's bed, he saw Death by her feet. He ought to have remembered the warning given by his godfather, but he was so infatuated by the great beauty of the king's daughter, and the happiness of becoming her husband, that he flung all thought to the winds. He did not see that Death was casting angry glances on him, that he was raising his hand in the air, and threatening him with his withered fist. He raised up the sick girl, and placed her head where her feet had lain. Then he gave her some of the herb, and instantly her cheeks flushed red, and life stirred afresh in her.

When Death saw that for a second time his own property had been misused, he walked up to the physician with long strides, and said, "All is over with you, and now the lot falls on you," and seized him so firmly with his ice-cold hand, that he could not resist, and led him into a cave below the earth. There he saw how thousands and thousands of candles were burning in countless rows, some large, some medium-sized, others small. Every instant some were extinguished, and others again burnt up, so that the flames seemed to leap hither and thither in perpetual change. "See," said Death, "these are the lights of men's lives. The large ones belong to children, the medium-sized ones to married people in their prime, the little ones belong to old people, but children and young folks likewise have often only a tiny candle."
"Show me the light of my life," said the physician, and he thought that it would be still very tall. Death pointed to a little end which was just threatening to go out, and said, "Behold, it is there."
"Ah, dear godfather," said the horrified physician, "light a new one for me, do it for love of me, that I may enjoy my life, be king, and the husband of the king's beautiful daughter."
"I cannot," answered Death, "one must go out before a new one is lighted."
"Then place the old one on a new one, that will go on burning at once when the old one has come to an end," pleaded the physician. Death behaved as if he were going to fulfil his wish, and took hold of a tall new candle, but as he desired to revenge himself, he purposely made a mistake in fixing it, and the little piece fell down and was extinguished. Immediately the physician fell on the ground, and now he himself was in the hands of death.

The summoning had taken him by surprise.

It was an unfamiliar and altogether uncomfortable sensation. He was rarely surprised, these days. Gray mists swirled around him, rising up and engulfing him in a cocoon. Then- just as quickly as they'd come, they'd gone, leaving him in a rare moment of disorientation.

The end of ends, the unquestionable finality, the reaper of souls and physical incarnation of death squinted into the dim light. He sneezed. Someone handed him a hanky. He took it and, while wiping his nose, tried to look around through streaming eyes.

He was in someone's living room. At least, there was a couch and a TV, which -if he understood correctly- were the hallmarks of a living room. He supposed he really wouldn't know much about that, though. Were living rooms also supposed to be filled with fast food wrappers, old pizza boxes and various other bits of trash? This one certainly was.

"Hi," said someone considerably shorter than him.

Death peered down into the eager, rather freckly face looking up at him and sighed.

"Hello, Dory," he said. "What do you want this time?"

The young man frowned and cringed ever so slightly. Death immediately felt like an ass.

"Sorry," he said. "It's been a long day. What is it you needed?"

Dorian Morte smiled and held up what looked to be a dead cat. "Do you think you can do me a favor and fix this? It's the neighbor kids'. They let it get loose and it ran into the street . . . "

"Again?" said Death, peering in a little closer. Yes, it was definitely a dead cat, and a rather familiar one at that. Blood matted its orange and white fur.

"You know I can't just keep doing this sort of thing," Death said, taking the cat. "It's unprofessional."

"And I appreciate it, really."

The cat held in Death's arms began to writhe. Muscle and sinew stitched together. Splintered bones healed. Orange eyes sprang open, and the cat gave off a low growl. Death gratefully let it jump to the floor, where it proceeded to clean itself with as much dignity as it could muster.

"You can't just keep calling me up like this, Dory."

Dory grinned. "You'd miss me if I stopped." He turned and went over to an overstuffed cabinet nestled in the corner. It was, Death noticed, full of junk, most of which was tossed aside or set on the ground as Dory began rifling through the shelves.

Death deigned not to respond and instead focused on the end table beside him. He wiped an unnaturally thin finger across the surface, revealing a bright streak of cherry starkly contrasting the thick dust around it.

"You know," he said, "My other Godchild was already married by your age. He was a doctor, too."

Though he could only see the back of his head, Death could swear Dory was rolling his eyes.

"I know. They still tell stories about that."

"Lies! It's all lies. He lived until the ripe old age of eighty five-"

"And was never sick a day in his life," said Dory in perfect unison. He tucked something into his pocket, then bent down to scoop up the cat. "Heya, Fiddlesticks. How you feelin', buddy?"

The cat made a disgruntled prrumph sound and squirmed in his arms.

"So," said Death as casually as he could manage. "The place looks. . . nice."

Dory turned a shade of red that matched his freckles perfectly. "Yeah, well. I haven't had the time to, you know, clean up. Work. And stuff." He ran a hand through his dark hair, allowing the cat to climb over his shoulder and leap off onto the sofa. His hair, Death noticed, looked like it hadn't been washed in days.

"So. Still no girlfriend?"

"How can you tell?"

Death shrugged. "Call it a hunch."

"Yeah. Still single."

"You know, War has a daughter about your age. . . "

Dory made a face. "Oh, please. Don't."

"I'm just saying. Or if not, Pestilence's niece seems like a nice girl. You met her at the barbeque last summer, remember?"

"Yeah, I remember. Thanks, but no. No offense, but I really don't want your help getting a date, okay?"

"You know I do worry about you."

"I know, dad."

Death brushed off some nonexistent dirt from his robe. When Dory had been little, he could never get the hang of calling him 'Godfather' (Death had the sneaking suspicion that the movie might have had something to do with it). Instead, Dory had called him a number of names ranging from G-Dad to Azzy before finally settling on some variation of dad. Death hadn't objected.

"Well," he said. "If that's all you wanted-"

"Actually, there is one more thing . . ."

He pulled out something from his pocket and held it out.

"Ah," said Death. "What is it?"

"What's it look like?"

Death tentatively picked the object up. "Plain brown paper and scotch tape crudely wrapped around an irregular surface."

"Yes," said Dory, nodding. He was used to this sort of thing.

"I take it you want me to open it?"

"At your leisure," said Dory loftily. "Just a question though. You do know what day it is today, right?"

Death blinked. "In which part of the world?"

"The one I'm standing in."

"June Twentieth."

"Uh-huh. Anything important ring a bell?"

"No. . . " said Death. He frowned. "I don't think so."

Dory nodded. "Yeah, thought as much. Well then," he said, stretching. "I guess I'll be seeing ya. It was nice of you to visit. Thanks for taking care of Fiddle Sticks for me."

Death felt the summoning spell slipping off. He could leave.

"Goodbye, Dory," he said, giving a little wave with the hand holding the gift.

He slipped into the place between dimensions, wondering what his godson had been getting at. It wasn't until he was back home, in his own miniverse that he bothered to open the present.

Packaging paper tore easily and fell to the ground. He stared.

It was a coffee mug. Not a wimpy sort of mug that may as well have been a regular cup, but the overlarge kind reserved for those who –like Death- required at least a pot and a half to get up in the mornings. It was black. On one side, there was a cartoon skull and crossbones with a silly grin. On the other were the words;

Inside the mug was a bag of candy. Tucked beneath the candy was a small card that simply read,

After a long moment, Death carefully took the mug and placed it on his kitchen counter. He started up a pot of coffee, and left the mug beside it.

Half an hour later, Death sat at his desk, a full mug in one hand, a piece of candy in the other. On his desk, right next to the computer monitor where he could easily see it, was the card. He'd made sure to tape it up, so it wouldn't fall down.

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