Death, part 2

Read Death, part 1 here.

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Death was changing into her swim suit in the locker room. She used to swim a lot when she was Alive, but it had been many years since her job had taken her to a pool and she thought she’d get in a few laps while she was there. Not that she needed the exercise — she was a Skeleton, after all. She wouldn’t be able to feel the cool water on her skin or even smell the chlorine. But Death could remember those sensations and the physical act of jumping into a swimming pool was enough to conjure up the memories. 

Her next Name was scheduled to be at the lap swim in half an hour. Death took a final glance at the spreadsheet on her iPad before closing it into the locker with her Cloak and Scythe. Allison Marie Stevens. 72 years. 5’5” tall. Curly, medium-length blonde hair. Blue eyes. Retired. Widowed, 3 adult children. High School Pool. 

Death activated her Powers of Similarity and assumed a similar look to what she imagined Allison Marie Stevens looked like. She glanced in the mirror on her way to the pool and stopped to stare at her new, freshly-wrinkled skin. Vanity still had a strong pull in the Afterlife, and she had half an hour before her appointment, so she reverted to her Image of Self and became the leggy 24-year-old athlete she had been in her former Life. 

Death had lived through the phases of aging like a person of typical lifespan. She had been an athlete most of her life, slowing down as the decades added up until the day came when she could only take gentle walks with her cane. She counted herself lucky that her End arrived before she was totally bedridden, and because of that, didn’t feel guilt for her assignment at the pool.

But still, why not look like a 24 year old in a bathing suit when you have the chance?

Death did a half-turn to check out her butt in the mirror. Looking good, she thought, and gave herself a flirty little wink as she exited the locker room and walked onto the pool deck. She tucked her hair into her cap, adjusted her goggles over her eyes, and dove into an empty middle lane. 

Even though Death technically didn’t have skin and couldn’t feel the temperature of the water, one of her strongest memories was the shock of the cold when she first dove into a pool. She added some goose bumps to her Appearance for a more realistic experience. 

Swimming is a lonely activity for the most part. With her head underwater and staring down at the tiled black line of her lane, Death could only contemplate her Existence. She remembered when she was in high school, conjugating French verbs as she swam to stave off boredom; she didn’t need to do that anymore, having Infinite Knowledge as one of the job perks. Her work took her around the world occasionally and she needed to speak every language, but only when a war or natural disaster overwhelmed the local offices. 

Her mind turned to her next job as she counted off lengths of the pool with her steady freestyle stroke. Allison Marie Stevens was 72 years old. Had she accepted the idea she might die soon? Death recalled a businessman, 96 years old, who fought his End thinking he still had to control his children’s lives and his material empire; he couldn’t imagine how the world could still spin without him. But an End is an End, and everyone’s got one. Since he refused to Pass quietly and take the Leisurely Option of Afterlife, he was assigned to the Bureau of Timetables and Scheduling and now was one of Death’s most reliable subordinates. He never called in sick, and often opted for overtime when asked.

But Allison Marie Stevens? It was time to find out how she would accept her Fate. Death pulled off her goggles and cap and hopped out of the pool. Better for the lifeguard if she took care of work in the locker room. 

As she walked through the door, Death saw only one woman sitting on the bench in front of the lockers, and since it was Time, it had to be her. Normally, Death wouldn’t chat up her assignments but it was a slow day. She retrieved her towel and Scythe and sat down beside Allison Marie Stevens.

“Did you have a nice swim?” the older woman asked Death, who had so enjoyed being in her 24-year-old body that she forgot to resume Similarity. 

No matter. Most older women didn’t have a problem chatting with a younger woman. At a certain age, or with a certain satisfaction of life, jealousies become irrelevant. Allison Marie Stevens gave Death a quick once-over glance, taking in her long legs and youthful shape and perhaps thought momentarily about her own youth, and smiled into her eyes. 

“The water was cold,” Death replied, knowing no such thing. “Are you prepared?” she asked, although she wasn’t sure if she was talking about the swim or the Afterlife.

“I’m always prepared,” Allison Marie Stevens said, holding up a long-sleeved swim shirt. “At my age, dear, I’m ready for anything.”

That was all the answer Death needed, and touched the woman with her Scythe. 

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Again, just a draft, maybe it’ll be a real project soon. I hope you enjoyed reading.

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Death, part 1

Death walked into a bar. She found an empty stool, leaned her Scythe up against the polished wood counter, and ordered a gin and tonic from the bored-looking bartender. She flung the black hood off her head and looked around as she waited for her drink. 

Is this where I’m supposed to be? she wondered, taking in the faces of the few patrons in the room. She had had a rough day; two of her employees had called in sick, although she was sure they were faking. Death had divided up their lists among the remaining employees but they had grumbled and moaned about the extra work and she had ended up taking most of the assignments herself. She had saved the man at the bar for last, knowing how badly she’d need a drink after such a long day.

It wasn’t like being a Grim Reaper was such a hard job — plenty of worse occupations in the Afterlife. Death picked up her drink and took a sip. Weak. 

She wouldn’t, for instance, want to be one of those called upon to do “parlor tricks,” as she thought of what the Dead summoned to Seances had to do; that was a job best suited for people who always had to be the center of attention in life and couldn’t let it go after they Passed On. If you’re with us now, rap on the table three times! Most people think the gypsy or witch or whoever is running the seance fakes the knocks on the table, but really only when that department is overbooked.

“Can I get you another?” The bartender startled Death as she sipped and the last of her drink came out the holes where her nose used to be. 

“Yes, please, and don’t be so shy with the booze.” 

He sauntered off with her empty glass and began chatting up the woman sitting solo at the end of the bar. Death might get a stronger drink but she’d pay for her remark in the amount of time spent waiting for it. 

She pulled an iPad out of her Cloak to check on her last assignment of the night. Infinite Pocket Space, one of the perks of the uniform. She could have stashed her Scythe in the pocket but no one seemed to notice it anyway. Let’s not forget it at a bar again, she reminded herself. Luckily, as an Unseeable Object, the Scythe was exactly where she had left it after a few too many drinks; she only had to break into the bar the next morning to retrieve it before work.

Still waiting on her drink, Death scrolled through her daily list. All but one name had a check mark next to it, and she read across the columns of the spreadsheet: Kenneth David Black. 51 years. 5’8” tall. Short brown hair. Brown eyes. Construction worker. Single. The Red Hammer. Vital statistics, occupation, and location of death were usually enough data, although occasionally she had to text the secretary at the Office of the Nearly Deceased for more information.

Death leaned over the bar to retrieve a napkin from the plastic container; The Red Hammer was written in block script with, of course, a red hammer below the words. When she first read the name that morning she imagined a sort of Soviet Era decor, but beside the downtrodden workers it seemed typically American. A place near the downtown construction sites for the workers to relax before heading home to their families. Kenneth David Black had remained after his coworkers left, having no family to hurry home to.

A fresh gin and tonic slid across the bar and bumped into the iPad, spraying droplets of drink onto the screen. Rude, she thought.

“What’s your name, honey?” Death asked the bartender in the sweet yet Compelling version of her voice.

“Nicholas Swift,” he answered.

“Middle?”

“Edward.” No one thought to question Death’s Compelling voice.

Death wiped the gin off the iPad with the napkin, sipped her new drink — marginally better — and sent a quick text to her secretary. Find out when Nicholas Edward Swift is scheduled, and put my name down. She didn’t tolerate rudeness.

Knowing she was at the right place, Death swiveled on her stool to analyze the customers. Only four men remained, and only one met the description of Kenneth David Black. An easy one to end her night; much easier than on a crowded subway or in a football stadium. She picked up her drink and walked to the back corner where he sat staring at his phone and sipping a beer. Calling on her Powers of Similarity, Death assumed the guise of an attractive woman with eyes and hair just a shade different from Kenneth David Black, according to the rulebook: When forced to interact with the Nearly Deceased, a similar-looking identity will foster familiarity.

She certainly didn’t need to interact with her target to get the job done but thought she may as well have a couple more drinks while she was at the bar, and company never hurt.

“Hi, I’m Morgan. Do you mind if I sit with you? My friends didn’t show up.”

Kenneth David Black took a last look at his phone, glanced at Death, and gestured to the chair opposite himself.

“Have a seat. I’m Ken.”

“Buy me a drink?” She shook the cubes at the bottom of her glass. He wouldn’t need his money after tonight anyway. “Gin and tonic,” she said. Sweet and Compelling.

Ken gestured to the waitress rolling silverware into napkins and shook his beer bottle at her. He said, “And one for the lady,” as she walked toward the bar.

Death was not one for chitchat, even before her End. Apparently Ken wasn’t either, and they stared at each other awkwardly waiting for the drinks. 

Maybe I should just get it over with, she thought, but she hadn’t yet given any consideration to what Manner of Death he would have. The rulebook stated: Choose a Manner of Death suitable to the location and situation of the Nearly Deceased. The rule was not specific and allowed the Giver a little creativity if he or she chose. The most obvious for Kenneth David Black were heart attack and choking on his drink. Perhaps a slip and fall on the newly washed floor on his way to the restroom. 

“Come here often?” he asked. 

Oh Lord, where’s my Scythe? Death thought. The conversation was obviously going nowhere interesting. 

“Excuse me a moment.” She walked to the bar and retrieved her Scythe as the waitress deposited new drinks on the table. 

“I only ask because you look familiar, maybe I’ve seen you in here before.” He looked Death up and down, his eyes lingering where her breasts would be if she still had them; Ken saw her Image Projection — a compact, athletic build with very little in the way of actual projections on her chest. He stared anyway.

“This is my first time,” she answered. “I just happen to be in the neighborhood for work.” She tried to get him to focus on something more in the area of her face. “Would you say you’re happy with your life, Ken? Did you have dreams and goals? Is this how you saw your life 20 years ago?”

“My dream right now is to get you back to my place. Watta ya say?” He lifted his beer for a sip, flexing his construction-worker arm muscle.

Death sighed, then leaned over and touched him with her Scythe. Kenneth David Black coughed and slumped in his seat, a trickle of beer leaking from the corner of his mouth. 

Sometimes no company was preferable. Death picked up her Scythe and reclaimed her seat at the bar. “One more, please,” she said to the bartender and checked off her final Name for the night.

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Just a rough draft of a new project. Not sure where it’s going yet.

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Stay safe and sane, and thanks for reading.

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