Rolph David

The Sixth Guest!

It was one day before Christmas Eve. It was bitterly cold outside and there was a little ice age. A snowstorm had been blanketing our village for days. Winter had a firm grip on all life.
My house was an old building from the 17th century - made of dark granite. People called it a witch's house because it had a crooked chimney and small, crooked windows. Inside, I had an open fireplace in front of which stood a large rustic table made of thick oak.
I had invited four guests for dinner. However, there were six place settings on the table - one of which was for the possible unexpected guest, who was not expected but could certainly be anticipated.
The grandfather clock struck 7 o'clock as the first guests took their seats at the table. Everyone was full of anticipation for tomorrow's Christmas celebrations. Many of my guests talked about their Christmas shopping and the stress of getting the last presents for their loved ones. Finally, I started serving. I prepared a bright yellow Christmas goose that I had stuffed with a mixture of chestnuts and sage. An incredibly dreamy aroma permeated the whole house as I placed it in the centre of the table.
The fire crackled in the fireplace and the many candles in the room created a cosy atmosphere. Holly fronds and bunches of mistletoe and ivy cast long dark shadows across the room, some of which in turn cast strange figures on the floor.
I began to carve the goose and invited my guests to help themselves generously to the side dishes, when suddenly a thud sounded outside the door.
Completely taken aback by the unexpected knock on the door, I put my knife and fork aside to see who wanted something from me so late at night. Astonished, I went to the door and opened it. A sudden, icy gust of wind blew past me in the direction of my guests and extinguished some of the candles standing around.
What my eyes then perceived immediately took my breath away and left me stunned. Standing on the bottom step of the stairs was an emaciated old man in a black, cowled cloak, holding a scythe in his hand. He didn't return my greeting when I wished him a good evening and didn't say a word when I asked him what he wanted from me so late. In his left hand he held a crumpled piece of paper.
He said he had a job to fulfil that could not be delayed. I asked him if it didn't have time to be done in the New Year and as soon as my words died away, he pushed past me into the centre of the room without saying a word. I tried to push him back, but my hand abruptly plunged into the void. His body seemed to be disembodied. I shivered and an icy chill ran through the small room, whose fire barely had the strength to warm against it. I asked him in front of my guests what was so urgent that it had to be done before Christmas and could not be delayed.
He said he had come to get me because my name was at the top of his list. I didn't understand, asked what he meant and he replied very taciturnly that he was the famous Grim Reaper and that he had come to get me because my name was at the top of his list.
A startled murmur escaped the mouths of my guests and I froze into a pillar of salt, unable to mentally process the words my ears had just perceived.
A moment later (it seemed more like ten hours), only a desperate invitation escaped my frozen lips. I told him to join us and savour our modest meal - there was certainly no hurry to die immediately. He should be so kind as to grant me this Last Supper in the company of my friends and enjoy it today.
He said that it had to happen today, that he would not tolerate any delays, but nevertheless, he continued in a few words, he could be my guest for a short time and join the group.
No sooner said than done.
As soon as he had taken his place at the table with the unexpected guest's place setting, I set about draping some goose on the plate for the other guests and for him too, with trembling hands.
I then decanted a strong, blood-red wine called Bellemort from the Bordeaux region and pretended I had to go to the kitchen to fetch something I had forgotten. My guests sat frozen at the table, barely able to move, let alone start eating.
In the kitchen, I hastily searched for a bottle of Narcotan, an extremely effective sleeping pill that had been prescribed to me a long time ago, when sleep was not yet one of my nightly haunts.
When I returned, I toasted to life and everyone, despite their petrified state, raised their glasses to drink in return. Even death. He held his glass the highest.
In a moment of carelessness, namely when I deliberately knocked over his scythe, which he had leant against the edge of the table, I emptied the entire contents of the flask into his wine. My guests looked at everything stoically and frozen, unable to move, and I asked everyone to start eating before everything cooled down. In between, I kept asking for a toast, which everyone complied with. There was an atmosphere at the table that I had never experienced before. Every funeral had more atmosphere than this evening before Christmas. Gradually, our glasses emptied, as did Death's. Sooner or later, I managed to transport him to the realm of dreams. The realm of death was out of the question.
I saw this as my chance, if there was one for me at all.
His head, whose skull was covered in pale green-grey and pale skin and whose eye sockets threatened to sink into the washed-out and cloudy pupils, slammed unexpectedly and with full force onto the slab in front of him. His black hood completely concealed the chaos that had taken place underneath. I quickly asked the guests to help me carry out my plan, which was to save my soul.
As they were unable to help me due to their lethargy, I snatched the list from him myself, which contained numerous names, some of which I was even familiar with.
The shock of some of the names was written all over my face, but I had no time to lose before he regained consciousness.
I quickly began to work through the list. I erased my name, which was at the top of the list, with the help of a candle in front of me. I held it over the flame until the name became illegible. I stopped in time before the flame could break through the paper. I did the same with the names of people who were dear to me, because they too would soon have made the acquaintance of this life robber.
Gradually, the lifeblood stole back into my guests, who immediately rose from their chairs, deathly pale and ashen, and quickly ran away without saying a word of farewell or thanks. They left me alone with this spawn of hell.
As it seemed impossible to escape death in general, I finally put my name at the bottom of the list. A miserable chance - but a chance nonetheless. So I ended up in 23rd place.
After a few hours, Death returned to the living (what a picture!) and asked me where my guests had got to and what had happened. I replied that he probably couldn't stand the wine and had slept for a few hours and that my guests had gone home to their families in the meantime to celebrate Christmas together.
Instead, I had simply waited until he was feeling well again to go with him, because that was his job after all.
He was obviously very embarrassed by the whole incident and tried to keep his composure. He emphasised that he had not been so hospitably received for a long time, because as the personification of death he was used to completely different encounters and treatment. He also emphasised that it had been a long time since he had drunk so well and eaten so well.
He thanked me profusely (almost uncanny for such an undesirable contemporary!) and said that he wanted to show me his appreciation - he had never experienced a "return" (as he called working through his list) like mine before.
His last words were that, out of gratitude for my hospitality, he would start by “returning” the person at the bottom of the list.
All at once, the fireplace went out with a puff, as did the few candles that had survived his windy entry into my house so far. Everything was shrouded in silence and not a single sound filtered through to me.
Everything around me sank into infinite silence and metres of ice covered all living things from then on.

All rights belong to its author. It was published on by demand of Rolph David.
Published on on 03/10/2024.


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