Once A Year

She was relieved of her duties one day every year. She never knew when to expect it, or when it might be coming. The summons was always delivered the night before without any prior warning. It could possibly be around the time of a holiday, but probably not. On reflection, she couldn't actually remember when she had been allowed the break during a festive season. Such were busy times and it was unlikely she'd be allowed to take off on such occasions.

She relished the twenty-four hours of freedom, although she didn't usually spend it doing anything special. Maybe that was the joy of it. For one day, she could be normal...exactly like everybody else. She could laze in bed, if she wanted to, although she seldom did, or take in a movie. It was a wonderful experience.

Most of all, she loved to simply mingle with the public. The people, totally unaware of who she really was, returned her friendly smile with kindness for the most part, although some treated her with indifference. Even that made a nice change from the fear and trepidation with which she was constantly greeted in the course of her employment.

Not that she didn't have a true passion for her career. It came with many obligations and responsibilities, but it was necessary and important. She took pride in her work and the realization that it couldn't be carried out by just anybody. She had been particularly chosen and there was honor in that.

Of course, it wasn't always easy, but she had no say in the selection of names that would appear on the clipboard attached to the door of her office every morning. She never questioned any of the listings. The choices were made by a superior force and, if she disagreed with the decisions, she certainly had no power to change anything.

On the other hand, it wasn't always bad either. Sometimes, she allowed herself to indulge in the pleasure of materializing for that brief moment and noting the apprehension and misgivings in eyes that regarded her with stark terror. She wasn't supposed to, but nobody blamed her for the indiscretion. Perhaps forgiveness came with the fact that she could also be gentle and was, quite often, welcomed with open arms. Those times were the hardest, but also the most rewarding.

As she walked the streets, she smiled, knowing that the multi-car wreck on the highway brought no fatalities; the jet flying overhead would safely reach its destination; the chest pains suffered by the young man across outside the restaurant would be due only to a meal eaten too quickly; and the small child who had unearthed a gun on the top shelf of the closet would find it unloaded.

Tomorrow, it would be different.

On this day, however...the day which for her came but once a year...Death was off-duty and enjoying a well-earned vacation.

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