Short Story | ‘Bartholo’ by Martin Hooijmans, Illustration by Lars de Ruyter
Bartholo was an old man. A very, very old man. Whispers in his village suggested that Death might have passed him by. Rumors were that he had outlived at least five generations. Bartholo was not simply old. He was ancient.
Old age had driven the man to desperation. His life had been filled with cruelties, now replaced by regrets. He had truly come to believe that Death did not want him. Dying was not in the cards, no matter how hard he tried. He had put a gun in his mouth, had thrown himself off a cliff and had even tried to starve himself. Nothing had worked. Instead, the man was now hardly able to speak, was bed-ridden because of countless shattered bones and had a constant ache in his stomach.
Bartholo’s days were filled with thoughts of how his life might be ended. He had come up with diseases, heart and brain removal, even cremation. The problem however, he felt, was not with the flesh. It was with the soul, and what would become of it if the body was destroyed. Only one being could answer that question for him.
“Looking for me?” came a voice from the shadows. Bartholo, unable to turn his head, shifted his eyes to the best of his ability, and saw a dark man emerge. The stranger wore a broad smile, devilish. Bartholo did not need to ask for a name. He knew who he was dealing with.
“You’re…late,” he croaked.
Death pulled up a chair and sat down at Bartholo’s bedside, studying him. “I can see you think it,” he finally said. “Why me?”
Bartholo nodded, grateful not to have needed to speak the words himself. His throat was killing him. Figuratively.
“Supply, Bartholo. You make my work interesting. You provide souls for me, intriguing ones. Immortality is your payment.”
“No…more…supply,” Bartholo said. Everlasting life was the last thing he wanted.
“Are you sure about that?” Death said, just as the bedroom doors flew open. A scrawny, battered man landed on the carpet, spilling blood all over it. One of Bartholo’s cronies followed, grabbing the man by his collar and hoisting him back up.
“He had no money on him, sir,” the crony said.
“Please, mister!” the man pleaded. “My family needed food. Please give me more time.”
“Ohh, he has a family,” Death said, delighted. “Maybe you can give me their lives too!”
Bartholo was struggling. He glared at the beaten man in front of him. In the past he wouldn’t have hesitated. The man owed him a debt. He didn’t live up to the promise. So Bartholo would have taken the most valuable thing he possessed. His life.
“Old habits die hard, Bartholo,” Death whispered. “You know you want to do it.”
Bartholo indeed knew it. He wanted something else more, however.
“What?” Death looked at him for a long time, reading his eyes, then pulled a frown. “You’re serious.”
“Sir?” the crony tried.
“Free…him.” Bartholo gasped for breath. “And all…others.”
The thug looked confused, but nodded. He left the room, dragging the scrawny man with him.
Death stood up. “Disappointing,” he said, straightening his coat. “I will return in one week to take you.”
“Not…now?” Bartholo asked.
Death laughed. “You wish. No, I have plans for you. You’re taking away my fun, and I need entertainment. Something involving you and the countless people whose deaths are in your name. We’re going to have such a good time! Bye!” He vanished in the shadows once more.
Illustration by: Lars de Ruyter