Giorgia picked her way along the orchard path, the fresh snow crunching under her feet. Her stomach growled, but the apples were gone, stolen by an early winter and only leaving their icy ghosts behind on the branches.
She hadn’t had much to eat lately. When she started her journey, she had enough food to last a fortnight, but the early winter was steeling that too.
She needed more and more food just to keep going as the temperature dropped. She hadn’t eaten since yesterday and she hadn’t felt warm in over three days.
Even the sun felt cold and miserly. It hid behind clouds and refused to warm anything.
Giorgia dug her map out of her bag with trembling fingers. Was she still making good time? Was she even still going in the right direction? She didn’t know how long she could continue on without food, but she knew she’d have to eat something soon or face Death, and she never wanted to see her again.
Death was an old family friend, practically an assumed great-aunt. Her visits were often and long and she liked to pinch Giorgia on the cheeks and tell her that her time would come soon.
The night Giorgia left her father’s house, Death was there. She hadn’t seen Giorgia when she came to take her due.
Out into the cold night, Giorgia ran and she never paused to look back. She didn’t know for sure if death was nipping at her heels, but she had the distinct feeling that it was so.
The cold seemed to leach the essence from her bones and her breath barely fogged anymore as she panted along on her way. She didn’t know what would happen when she finally reached her desitnation, but she hoped it would be warm.
Her mother’s family had been know to cheat Death from time to time. They were her best chance for survival. If they would be willing to take her in, that is.
Giorgia shook the troublesome thoughts from her head and soldiered on against the howling wind.
An odd thing happened as she made her way, she began to feel warm. Sweat dripped from her pores as she picked her way along the crunching, squeaking snow.
Giorgia unwound her scarf and draped it on a tree branch as she walked past. Next she dropped her hat on the white ground. Soon her coat was unbuttoned and discarded.
She fanned herself with her fingers as she trekked on. She felt a presence up ahead and she hurried up to meet it.
Death greeted her at the end of the orchard row. Her white hair hung loose and flowing over her white robe. She held her scythe low and her smile seemed to melt the snow falling around her.
Giorgia stopped dead in her tracks. Was this the end?
“No, little one,” Death said gently. “This is just the beginning.” She held out her hand to Giorgia. Hesitantly, she took it.
When she did, she wasn’t hot or cold anymore. She wasn’t hungry or tired. She just was.
Death smiled and reached for something inside her robe. She handed it to Giorgia, who took it and looked at it carefully.
It was a long white robe and a small scythe.
“For me?” Giorgia asked.
“Thank you,” she said as she pulled the white robe over her shoulders and carried her scythe low, as she had seen Death do so many times.
Death turned and left the orchard, Giorgia’s soul followed, leaving her body behind among the ghost apples.