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.
“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.
Just a rough draft of a new project. Not sure where it’s going yet.
Stay safe and sane, and thanks for reading.
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