The woods were quiet and still. The only movement was the dance of the snowflakes in the darkness, like thousands of white moths swarming in the night. A horned owl was sitting on the branch of a large oak, watching the small cottage across the clearing. After a while it shook itself, casting off the snow that had fallen on it during its vigil, and then spread its wings and glided through the air to the cottage.
One of the windows of the cottage was open and the owl landed on the windowsill, ruffling its feathers as it ducked inside.
The room was dark but for a lone candle that had already nearly reached the end of its wick, the small pale flame spluttering in a puddle of wax. In the bed by the window lay an old woman. She was bony thin and nearly bald, her closed eyes sunken in her face.
She wasn't breathing.
There were several blankets wrapped around her thin frame to protect her from the cold seeping in through the open window. A small piece of cardboard lay on her chest, with the words I ATEN'T DEAD written on it in shaky handwriting.
The owl showed no fear as it entered the room, landing on the bed post above the woman's head. It looked around and then tilted its head curiously when it noticed a visitor sitting in the chair across the room.
As the bird began to clean its feathers, the bedroom door cracked open with a creak. A white cat slinked into the room and jumped on the bed. It padded over the prone body of its mistress and sat down next to her, gently butting her face with its head.
After a while Granny opened her eyes, taking a deep breath that turned into a coughing fit.
When her breathing finally calmed down, she gave the cat a quick scratch behind the ear and then shooed it away. You the cat hopped off the bed, giving the owl a half-hearted swat as it walked past it, and then walked across the room to the visitor. He picked the cat up, ignoring the disapproving glare Granny gaved him.
"I WAS DELAYED. THERE WAS A SMALL PLAGUE IN EBPHEBE. YOU KNOW HOW IT IS." He gave her a knowing look. "BESIDES, ONE COULD SAY THE SAME THING ABOUT YOU."
You kneaded Death's robes and then curled in his lap. He stroked the cat until it started purring.
"There was a difficult birth in Bad Ass I had to oversee", Granny said. "You know how it is." Another fit of coughs shook her body. "And before you leave, make sure the bird gets out and put out some food for the cat. Looks liked it might be snowing for a few more days."
Death set You down on the floor and stood up, walking across the room to the window. He pushed it completely open and then looked at the owl. The bird returned his gaze, tilting its head this way and that, and then spread its wings and flew to the window. Giving the room one last look it let out a small hooting sound, almost like a goodbye, and disappeared into the night.
Death closed the window after it and turned to look at Granny. Her eyes were closed again, her chest barely moving. He held out his hand, his scythe appearing in his grip. It illuminated the room with its blue glow.
"YOU COULD HAVE JUST FLOWN AWAY."
"I could, but I didn't. It was my choice." Granny opened her eyes for the last time and reached for the piece of cardboard lying on her chest. She crushed it into a ball and dropped it on the floor. "Always has been."