Autumn (A short story by Tyler Scott Hess)
When she was little, she thought the season was named after her. She detested anyone who dared to call the season fall rather than autumn. After all, she was not known for clumsiness or deterioration, but rather she was known as the little girl whose curiosity was peaked whenever something that was once alive began to falter.
They would say things to her like “little girls shouldn’t be so in tune with the nature of death” or “perhaps you would be more interested in something like flowers or dresses.” But Autumn wasn’t like that back then, and though she has grown to appreciate the more feminine aspects of life in her young adult years, she remains ever curious about the mysteries of life and death.
And so when she takes a step out of her off campus apartment and walks toward the school grounds it is only fitting that so much death would surround her on the way to her first class of her freshman year. The leaves have been slowly drooping for a couple of weeks and will drop one by one until the trees are bare and the ground is paved with orange and yellow and brown foliage throughout the country, but even Autumn has lost interest in such casual signs of the finite. After all, trees will simply regain their vigor in the spring, no more exciting than a snake shedding its skin or a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. There is death, however, from which no one seems to be able to escape permanently.
That’s why Autumn has enrolled in her university’s Thanatology program, because she wants to study the one thing everyone told her to ignore: death. There must be someway to conquer such an undefeated streak of dominance, and if not, at least come to terms with the process and enjoy it for what it is.
But what she didn’t realize when she woke up this morning, not that she could have predicted such a thing, is that she would be seeing such a transformation (the one from life to death) happen before her very eyes on the way to school today. Autumn imagined many things that might happen, all of which she thought might delay her from reaching her class on time, but not this.
It’s about a twelve block hike from her apartment to the auditorium where she was expecting to meet her friends to be introduced to college level biology for the first time. She thought it somewhat odd that she would have to study life in order to understand death, yet she believed discovering how they intertwined would surely improve her job prospects in the future.
It was just past the corner of the eighth block on her walk to class that she came across a peculiar sight. It wasn’t so strange on Friday or Saturday nights in this town that a college student might seem bewildered and lying face down in an open square near the edge of campus, but Monday morning is a different case entirely. Autumn, who had regretted wearing heels no less than four blocks ago, kicked off her shoes and sprinted toward the young man on the sidewalk.
“Are you okay?” she screamed, which she instantly realized was a ridiculous question considering the large amounts of blood seeping down the sidewalk and into the gutter. “What happened?” She asked these questions while looking all around her for someone to help. She pulled out her cell phone to call 9-1-1 because everyone knows that’s what one is supposed to do in such a situation, even though it was clear this young man didn’t have time for an ambulance to reach him.
He looked into her eyes and smiled. It wasn’t the first time a young man had smiled in Autumn’s direction, but it was certainly the first under such conditions. She wondered why he would look at her in such a way, thinking perhaps he didn’t understand the state he was in under such circumstances. Perhaps he was in shock or denial or whatever other delusions someone might give themselves in order to mentally avoid the physically unavoidable.
Autumn thought it to be strange that no one else would have witnessed what happened to this man whose life was fading before her eyes, though the bent bicycle in the bushes ten feet away indicated the general problem that led to his current condition. The emergency operator has explained to her that an ambulance is on the way, but the young man’s life was clearly trickling away.
“What’s your name?” she asked him.
He didn’t laugh, he didn’t cry as she held him in her arms. He certainly didn’t have the strength to get up from his back and lean to her when he said his name was “Carson.”
“Why are you smiling, Carson?” she asked him. “Don’t you know what’s happening to you? Don’t you realize you’re going to die?” She was mad at him. A little bit because he was going to experience the thing which interested her so much, not that she wanted to experience it for herself anytime soon, but mostly because he didn’t seem to care. “Life is not such an unimportant thing to lose without care.”
Carson coughed and blood came with it, but he wasn’t going to waste the opportunity to give his last words. “My life has not been wasted,” he said. “And death will not be the end of mine. I have fought the good fight.”
Autumn did not expect those to be the last words of any human being as they faded from life to death. It was as if he believe he was rather going from death to life. She would find many philosophies on life and death and what it all meant in her years at the university, but nowhere else did she find someone else as interested in what came after death as the young man who died in her arms moments before the ambulance arrived. When she is presented with her cap and gown and a piece of paper that proclaimed she knew everything she would need to know about death, she was left with only the sneaking suspicion that life is what she needed to learn about next.