There are many who believe that Death works alone, but he has many relatives all plying the family trade. While Death certainly is the one who comes and plucks the soul in the final moment his Uncle Pestilence and Aunt Famine will often prepare the soul in advance, as will his cousins War, Neglect, and Madness. Of them all the most morbidly playful is Death’s younger sister, Misfortune. She is like a cat toying with a mouse, amusing herself all the while giving her selected playthings a false sense of hope for escape.
A man woke up one morning and found himself served with eviction papers. Through no fault of his own he had been convinced he could afford his home but hadn’t fully realized the nature of economics and was suddenly without a place to live. He sold what possessions he could, stored the keepsakes, and went in search of a temporary housing.
After taking up a spare room with a friend the man suddenly found himself made redundant by his employer who had sent his job overseas to be done at a fraction of the cost. He went in search of new work but discovered he was considered too old for most positions, though the employers couldn’t admit that by law, and they reasoned the man would surely find the work beneath him and leave. Why train a new employee who was worth more than they could pay when they could find a college intern to do the job for free anyway? Without income to contribute to the food and utilities he consumed at his friend’s place the man was forced to move on.
The man knew of a neighborhood where property was often neglected and found a building with a basement that was easily accessible and unoccupied. For the cost of a padlock he was able to secure for himself a suitable room that contained a wash basin with running water and a few electrical outlets that worked. Entering and exiting in the cover of night the man was able to outfit the basement room with discarded furniture and a bed he built from cargo pallets and a piece of foam. Which was all very well as the season had changed and the rains had come. Daily the man would go out in search of work, scrounging meals from the trash cans at cafes and the dumpsters of restaurants. He would collect recyclables as well and used the money he gained to wash his clothes and by essential toiletries in order to maintain whatever level of civility he could. He was destitute, and growing less ashamed to admit it, but did what he could to not make it appear so obvious when you saw him.
But winter came, and the basement was cold and damp. He managed to find a small space heater and hung old wool blankets used them to build a room within the basement room to contain the heat better, but he became sick with cold and it progressed to pneumonia. Too weak to work, barely strong enough to go to the free clinic for antibiotics, the man spent weeks in the cold basement unable to scrounge for food or collect recyclables. His skin grew pale, circles darkened around his dull eyes, and staring into the vibrating red coils of the space heater the man was certain things could not get worse.
He woke to the acrid smell of smoke stinging his nostrils. There was noise and shouting in the night, chaos as people who lived above him hurried to leave the building. A siren in the distance made it clear that the building was on fire. The man grabbed what few possessions he could and stood on the sidewalk with the other residents watching the building burn to the ground. Still weak, the man collapsed and next found himself in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. He was delirious as he looked at the EMT who was tending to him – he was certain that looking over the paramedic’s shoulder was a beautiful woman with kind, warm eyes and a smile that wrinkled as it beamed. In that brief moment he knew Miss Fortune had been with him all along and that it was only in this state that he could see her.
Suddenly there was a jolt. The ambulance had been slammed into by another vehicle and knocked onto its side. Only the man survived the accident and was barely able to free himself from the stretcher before both vehicles were engulfed in flame. The man took his vision to be a sign that Miss Fortune had smiled down him, that she was releasing him from her spell, his surviving the accident was proof. He had survived so much during the previous two years and in that moment of sudden clarity could actually feel himself getting stronger.
He spent the night wandering the streets of his town and a new life became clear to him, a new path. He knew of a shelter that would provide a shower and an opportunity to prepare himself for job interviews, and he knew exactly where he would find a job. He chided himself for not remembering about these things before this moment, but he felt so good that all he could do was laugh at his own folly. As it was early in the morning, too early for the shelter to be open, he took a seat in a bus shelter across the street and waited. As the sun rose a pregnant woman came to wait for the bus and the man stood to giver her his seat.
It was a stupid miscalculation, a clumsiness perhaps brought on by all that had come before, but when the man stood up he stumbled over his own foot and fell head-first into one of the steel corners of the bus shelter. The impact caused the man’s brain to swell and hemorrhage and he died after being in a coma for three days.
Miss Fortune had been with him to the very end, though she had help along the way.
Tales From The New Grimmoire is an on-going project wherein I rework all the stories in The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated and edited by Jack Zipes. Today’s story was adapted from #240 “Misfortune” and is a blend of our current political climate and a dose of personal experience. Or, as they say, “based on a true story…”