A Horror of Legacy
A bit of Halloween flash fiction, inspired by a post at Always Well Within on the dubious motivations behind creating a legacy, Make Your Mark in Every Moment.
Ruling From the Grave
He thought Death was staring him in the face, even though he wouldn’t die for several decades yet. And then he began to hear Death talking to him, in whispers at the back of his head: what will happen to all of this when you die? He looked around at his little fiefdom, his land, his work, his family, his people, and he worked harder to provide for them. But Death kept talking to him: Look at the man who has just died. His sons carry on his work, and look at the monument they have erected for him. When people hear his name this is what they see and remember, that he was a great man. Will that happen when you die?
He had no sons, so he did the work of sons as well as his own. He looked up to himself and built himself a legend, telling them stories of his common past that did not seem so common in their eyes. This made him feel better, and even more when they would tell others these stories and beat up anyone who said they lied. He was just as big a man as the great man who died! Death whispered: But those are just stories. What about your worldly goods? What about public opinion?
He made sure everyone saw how hard he worked so they would know he was a man of strong will. His cars were new, his suits were tailored, every hair was in place, and he made certain his family was the same to show he had pride and money to spend. He went to church to prove he was a good man. He expressed his opinions at meetings to prove he was a smart man. And Death still whispered: Are you sure they really think you are a great man? What will be your Legacy?
Legacy! He could not trust that one of greatness would be created for him, but what would stop him from creating his own? So he erected his own headstone full of the things he wanted to be remembered for, and made sure there were brass plaques with his name on them on all his civic projects. He could leave evidence that he was a good man, an important man, a great man! His sons cheered and patted him on the back. His neighbors smiled.
Death’s whispers grew louder toward the end: Are you sure? Are you sure? His sons were the only family he was sure about; the rest did not do what he told them to do, so they were terrible, terrible people. His neighbors watched and listened and said, oh that was terrible, terrible, you are so lucky to have good sons. And they helped the sons take care of him in his last days, helped him sign papers, helped wash his feet, and helped themselves to whatever they needed.
After which, nothing was left.