Senior Olivia Kerul wins Falcon Fiction Award

Kerul’s short story “Death’s Eulogy” earned the top spot. Honorable mentions went to Sophia Berry, Jason Zhong, and Sophie Preston.

Senior+Olivia+Kerul+won+this+year%27s+Falcon+Fiction+Award+for+her+story+%22Death%27s+Eulogy.%22+

Senior Olivia Kerul won this year’s Falcon Fiction Award for her story “Death’s Eulogy.”

Lina Graf, Staff Writer

The Falcon Fiction Award is the official Saint Stephen’s short story competition. Every year, the contest accepts 50-100 student submissions to be judged by a panel (Mr. Moore, Ms. Pommer, Mr. Hoonhout, Mr. Carlsen, and Mr. Johnson). The winners receive an award during the Departmental Awards chapel Barnes and Noble gift card

The winner of the 2020 Falcon Fiction Award is senior Oliva Kerul for her story “Death’s Eulogy.” Enjoy the full text below.

Honorable Mentions linked here, in no particular order, go to Jason Zhong for his story “White,” Sophia Berry for “Turning Points,” and Sophie Preston for “Testimony

“Death’s Eulogy”
By: Olivia Kerul

I am death. I am the one who comes when the hospital rooms grow quiet. I am the one who watches as disasters happen when buildings collapse and bodies are crushed. My feet silent, my body a whisper of air. The desire to collect life is overwhelming. Addicting. I can feel the person hanging on the thin line that divides the world of the living and the dead. Most times they don’t see me. Whatever pain has laced their body distracts them from my presence. My body being as hollow as the grave they are going to be placed in. It hides me. There are a few times where they do see me. Eyes of many colors. Piercing. Some are filled with anger, others sympathy. I try at the point to get it over with. I hate it when they look at me.

Like she was right now. The body in front of me was damaged. The result of the twenty-first century and its admiration of automobiles. She was plastered with blood. The deep crimson color distracting. Her body was so broken. Her legs at odd angles, deep gashes all along her arms and torso. Yet the killing blow was the head injury. Outside of the cut there, her head looked fine but inside, inside was what called me to this place. After too long of a time I have come to realize that the human brain is fragile. For the amount of work that it does and the hours it spends running the function of life, the second it is compromised in the slightest it gives up. She was still looking at me. I wondered what was running through her head. How did she see me? To most, I look like the classic image, my original one. The long black cape and hood, the shadow covering my face. In hand my scythe. I leaned over her and bent down. Now on eye level, I could tell she was mumbling something. The injury to her brain caused the words to fall out of her mouth cracking the structure of proper English. But I understood. I have walked this earth for centuries. Languages come easy.

“No,” she said

I looked at her intently. Her answer didn’t shock me. It’s what most people who catch me in the act say. She waited for my reply, her breathing becoming more shallow by the minute. There was a yearning in her gaze. As if what I was going to say was going to make this any easier. She was dying. And I was collecting. What seemed like minutes to her and seconds to me, I made my decision. I said nothing. There was no need. It wasn’t going to change what I was going to do.
The process is rather quick. Once a person is left with their last breath, that’s when I carry out my task. You can hear it. The chest rises so abruptly compared to the shallow breathing it was just doing. When it reaches its apex is when I take the soul. With the scythe, you place the tip of the blade into the chest. There on the end is where the soul attaches. Common myths about me say that I lead you to the afterlife, almost as if we walk hand in hand. The reality is I don’t see anything besides the small bead of glowing light on the end of my scythe. It is no larger than a pearl ironically. All those accomplishments, relationships, memories, and feelings put into one small bead. You think that death is going to be where you confront those things finally. The common phenomenon of seeing your life flash before your eyes. But it’s not. It is not pretty, it’s grim. Hence my name. Her chest rose and in the pivotal moment, I placed my scythe. Within seconds her bead appeared at the end. She was dead. I stood up. Looking around the scene of the accident, I saw the paramedics who were with her moments before going to get a white sheet. When did humanity decide to do this? It only covers the truth. They placed it over her. The two young men grimacing.

“Such a shame,” one said.

“Yeah, let’s get going, I’m starving.”

The blatant dismissal shocked me. Health care professionals should care. It’s their job. Seeing them walk away filled me with what should be anger. I seethed to scythe them. Suddenly I was standing in my childhood home. The bare walls of the small apartment suffocating. We didn’t have much. A small cushion in the corner and four cots laid very closely next to each other. This was the only room besides the washroom to the right. There was no door and all that occupied the space was a tub for bathing and another bin for bodily functions. One window adorned the wall showcasing the building across. Outside Paris was dying. The plague wreaked havoc on every living thing. I was standing at the door watching the doctor standing over my brother. He wore a bird-shaped mask and a long black coat darker than midnight. He shook his head after prodding my sick brother. Standing to face my mother he said in french.

“He is too far gone. I can do nothing for fear of risking myself”

“ Please,” she begged “Not my baby boy.”

“There is nothing else. I must leave” and with that motioned me to move and walked out.”

Nothing. He didn’t even care. Just like these two modern doctors. I wanted to take them. Drag their souls to eternal misery. But I couldn’t. I was only called for collecting death, not serving it. I began the journey to where I would rest her soul. It is not a long one. When collected I know where her soul is going to go. Whatever religion or beliefs you carry, you make the difference between the places. The only absolute I can bring is this. There is one of prosperity and one of misery. Taking a soul comes with the knowledge of where it will be placed. I don’t know how but I always know then. I began walking away. My feet soundlessly crunching the glass from the wreck. I walked through the barrier that divided the roadway. I needed to get to the place. In every city, in every country, there is a place. Sometimes in the middle of nowhere, other times could be on the tracks on underground train cars. It is this palace where I deliver the souls. I go there, chant the Latin, and like a magnet their soul goes. If damned I say FACILIS DESCENSUS AVERNI, if enlightened SALVUS FIERET. The descent to hell is easy and the soul is saved. Here in London, England I would take her to an empty field in a forgotten forest. Swiftly and almost like magic I arrived. I set my scythe in the ground and began. I won’t disclose where she went but when I finished chanting I watched the small bead disappear. Every time, even after centuries, it still is captivating. The way it looks like a small fallen star that is just close enough to look at. Jealousy instantly filled me. To be that beautiful in your final moments. I wasn’t. I remember the brutality, the blood dripping from my mouth. I remember choking on it, a direct consequence of my death. My screams drowned in it. If I could die and I mean before I became what I am now, I’d choose a peaceful one.

After laying her to rest, I was called once more. I felt the urge, the desire. This one was in New York City. A common place I come to, sadly. As I do not experience night and day like the living, I do not feel time pass. I know that I have been around for hundreds of years but only by reading timepieces. If not for those I feel the same as I did when I became this. Stepping into the city, I was greeted with the fluorescent glow of street signs, the whirl of yellow cars, and the bombardment of people. My favorite thing about this palace is the diversity. In my human life, differentiation was frowned upon. Here, though it is pride. One lady stepped past me with fire red hair and bits of metal hanging from her face. Another was an elderly lady whose cart filled with clothes took up most of the sidewalk. She was yelling in Bulgarian.

“Move. I need Shampoo. Walk”

A man on a phone, walking aggressively, yelled: “No, my stocks are crashing. You need to fix this. I don’t pay you for nothing.”

Humanity fascinates me now that I am not a part of it anymore. The desperation of material objects. The desire for paper. The need for a girl. Not anymore is society concerned about survival. They dismiss things that could kill them every day. A common cold not as deadly as it used to be. I walked further, drawn to an apartment building. It was concrete and glass. There were beautiful lights like there would have been in Notre Dame. It was so tall that it could have shattered the sky. Breaking the beautiful blue into millions of pieces. I went inside past a lobby, and through the power of being the reaper, came to floor 17 room 712. I could feel the death radiating in the room. Extremely overwhelming. I knew even before entering how bad this was going to be. And walking inside was all the confirmation needed.

I do not share the common emotions of the living. But I remember how they felt as a human. And walking into this room, feeling nothing was better than what I faced. Bodies strewn across the floor. In front of the door lay a young woman. By the looks of her clothing she was wealthy. The sage silk blouse and perfectly tailored pants. She was face up, eyes wide, and dead. Sometimes I don’t get there within that breath, and though it is an important moment in the process, as long as I am there soon it seems to be fine. Her chest was covered in stab wounds, more than should be physically possible. Some were shallow, others deep and the result of staggering hatred. I placed my scythe. Next in the kitchen was a man. A log of a body. He had been killed first. The evidence of his head was so bashed in that I could not tell what was skull or brain matter. I quickly scythed him. His bead collecting on the blade. But yet there was still one more. I could feel it. In the furthest room in the apartment, in the hallway behind the kitchen. Approaching the door, covered in race car stickers, I halted. A child. Entering, my eyes beheld a brutal scene. The child, all I will say, was soaked in blood. I collected his bead.

On the way to the graveyard where their souls would be placed a funeral was going on nearby, A family of about 16 people all gathered under a pavilion and near a casket. By the looks of them, a child was lost. The casket was small. Ironic it was. Two small children taken on the same day. Funerals became a glorified tradition. Back in the day all they did was throw your body in the ground or burn it with fire. They didn’t care about a ceremony or having you look nice for one last look. No, they had too many to deal with. You were just another number. My brother’s funeral was like this.

We stood silently around a mass hole in the ground. There were already 5 plus bodies wrapped in white in there. A priest, one of the few, said one prayer and then had the doctors toss my brother in. Like a sac being thrown at a mill. 13 at the time, I was huddled next to my mother. A blessing to live that long, a curse to witness so much death. She didn’t cry much as we already had been through this with my father and sister two months earlier. She stood in the only coat she owned, the thin grey wool beginning to tear. We weren’t dirt poor but after my father died we were getting close. All she did was place a hand on my back and led me away.

“My boy, I can offer only this too you, we will probably be the same as them and hope that it is painless,” she said.

“But mother, we must have hope.”

“There is none. Not in this god-forsaken city.”

I continued away from the gathering, delivered the souls, and moved on. Next was Miami, Florida. And before even arriving knew it was the curse of the white powder. Drugs had been popular during the 16th century but not like they were today. They were candy. They were devils. Holding people so tight that without them they became nothing. Telling them that the needle is what makes it feel better. Lying.

Miami was much like New York. Bright lights. But here was a different set of people. Unlike New York, the people were less concerned with the world and more with each other. They didn’t pass each other in mass waves but stopped and chatted. There was a connection between them. But this is where humanity turns. It is when connections are formed that problems are caused. By feelings. What ties them to this world, what drags them down. It was the ultimate drug and caused the ultimate high. What they didn’t realize was what the come-down was like.

An alleyway came up on my left that called to me like ancient sirens. A breathtaking feeling, an inaudible sound. Approaching the garbage cans situated all along the perimeter of the alley, I saw a young man lying on his back. There were bullet holes lining his torso, about 3 in total. A drug deal gone wrong. I placed my scythe just above his chest in a routine manner when his eyes flipped open and a ragged breath escaped his lips. It was so abrupt that I dropped my scythe.

“Hey, hey, man you gotta help me,” he rasped.

I stared.

“Yo, Please I’ve got kids at home. They need me.”

Kids.

Precious. Dainty. Almost glorified in beauty and awe. The kids in Paris during the plague did anything they could with the limited resources. As the mortality rate for the young was exponential, children did all they could with all the time they had. And before the plague, they ruled the world.
I was 11 when the first signs of the black death arose. I was playing in the street with Jean and Luas, kicking a small roll of yarn that we had swiped from a textile cart.

“Jean, pass the ball you imbecile,” shouted Luas as he ran backward.

“Never, I stand alone so I win alone. All the glory.”

I stood a bit further from them. I liked to watch people. The way they moved, laughed. My father said it was because I read too much. That I thought life needed to be seen like a reader reads a page and their head brings the words to life. Jean’s blond was swept by the wind, his blue shirt like a streak of sky that fell down. To combat his lightness was Lua’s short black hair. Brown pants and black shirt. They had been my friends forever. Jean had kicked the ball when his mother appeared at the end of the street towing his little sister.

“Jean,” she called.

“What?”

“What are you doing? Do you know what is happening? How dangerous?”

“Danger?” I piped up.

“Yes, Victor. I was in the market when a doctor came running in to tell everyone to shut down. He cried “Plague” like the one that swept through Spain. It is extremely catchable and everyone must go home and stay there.”

“Plague. Here?” said Luas now next to me.

“Boys go home to your family. Now” she replied ushering Jean towards the main street.

“God be with you,” shouted Jean.

“God be with you”, Luas and I said.

After we both hurried home, we lived in the same apartment building. Approaching my door that was across from Luas’s, I saw a doctor already in my house. I looked at Luas, forcing a smile to my lips. He returned the motion. Casually. Like we had all the time in the world and this was little more than a cold. Little did I know when we departed that would be the last time I ever saw Luas.

The memory hit me so hard I thought that I would fall over. The man in the alley was closer to death, still begging me to help him with his eyes. I contemplated what I could do to help him. Thinking of calling for help or seeking it myself. But no one, no one, but the dying could see me. I looked at the people casually passing the alleyway. They were filled with self-concern and lacking empathy. In the time that passed, 10 plus people had walked by. I was so infatuated with them that I barely heard the man behind me slip away. Emptiness greeted me. It always did. But this feeling was heavier. I picked my scythe up and took his bead. I laid him to rest, turning away. I failed him. However, there was no time to mourn. There were more bodies waiting. Death never sleeps.

I picked up souls from many more cities. I laid more souls to rest. There was, however, a brief moment in Brussels when death ceased to beacon for a moment. Only one other time had this happened, and it was so quick I missed the opportunity to truly be able to experience it. But I caught it now. That one small moment in the infinity that was this life. This time it felt longer and I stood for just a second and looked. Looked at the living. To think that I once breathed the air like they did. And it is at this moment, where I gazed upon life, that I choose to tell how I became death.

A few days after my brother died, my mother fell to the plague. Like my brother the doctors swept in with their masks and planned to carry her out in a white sheet. They told me I had to go to an orphanage now, having no surviving family. They had arranged transportation for me to leave early the next morning when they came to get my mother. Meaning they were leaving me there with her. Alone. I sat in the furthest corner from her body. She was covered with a thin wool blanket. They had left a candle in hopes that it would clean the air. Yet, though the candle made the room feel bright, it was more dirty than ever. The candles light illuminated every wall in the apartment except from the corner next to my mother. It seemed to suck the light in. I stared at it, the empty space, and though nothing visibly was there, the corner still seemed to be occupied. The feeling that someone or something stood there, hidden by the shadows. Death. Lurking in the corner. It seemed to stare at me, probably thinking about why the plague got my mother first and not this young ripe boy. I could feel its presence. I figured if this was it and I was most likely to die soon then why not ask death a question. Talking to the walls seems like a good way to go.

“Hello death,” I whispered.

No response came verbally but I felt him move closer.

“How did you become death?”

No answer.

“When will you get me.”

Nothing happened for a moment but soon I fell to a brutal coughing fit. It came out of nowhere, scrapping my lungs and shaking my body. It knocked me down on the ground, clutching my chest as I fell. Soon my lungs were filled with blood, the metallic taste overwhelming my mouth. I could see it dripping on the floor. This was it. Death takes no mercy. But as I laid there dying, and when I too toed the line between the living and the dead, I saw him. He looked at me with gazing eyes, nothing like the form I would soon take.

“I became death by wishing for it” he simply said. The tongue was not french but I understood it.

“But why, why am I dying now?”

“You wished for death. I could feel it.”

“Yes but not like this.”

“Too late. You and I are the same now. Now you are death”

And like that I died. Rose as a grim reaper and further collected.

I am death. Now and forever.

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