Chuck Wendig of terribleminds.com challenged us to write a 1000 word limit story that prominently features Death, the concept of death, or an exploration of death. But death must be front and center. I grew this story outward in layers from a skeletal frame. http://wp.me/p1BAlV-2T
Death Visits Louise Sorensen April 15, 2012
I think I’m alone in my office. Then someone clears his throat. A man dressed in a black robe and carrying a sickle stands in front of my desk. I shiver–security will never get here in time. He continues to stand there, swaying slightly, silent.
Nothing to lose, “Sit now,” I say, indicating a chair.
He takes the chair, and I move carefully to an identical one opposite him.
“I don’t have many friends,” he says, with a sniffle. His voice, not quite human, has deep echoes, like a huge empty space. There’s room under that robe to hide electronics. To give myself time to think, I pass him the box of tissues. He takes one. It disappears under his hood, reappearing soaked a minute later. I indicate the waste basket and he tosses the old tissue and takes a fresh one, holding it in one trembling hand. A human hand.
“You don’t have many friends…” I say, to move the conversation along.
“No I don’t you stupid bitch. I’m Death! Why would anybody like me? I kill people.” His voice explodes in the room.
My chest is tight. I struggle to remain calm, to show no fear. “You’re not happy in your job.“ Leaning back in my chair I force deep even breaths.
“I hate my job.”
“But you provide a very important service.” What am I saying?
“Yeah. But I don’t like killing people.”
Good! “You know it wouldn’t be good if you weren’t around.” Shut up! Quit talking! “Unless they… you know… they can find a replacement.”
“They wouldn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.” He looks straight at me.
“Language, please.” There are limits. “You can’t take vacations?”
“I get every second weekend off and two months in the summer.”
“That sounds great!” I babble. “But who takes over for you? I don’t recall anything in the news about the death rate changing every second weekend.”
“Oh. There’s a guy who comes in to do it part time. I think he’s some kind of an angel. Needs the overtime.”
“Ahhh. So will you be doing this job for eternity… forever?” I ask.
“No.” Abrupt. He looks down and stirs a circle in the carpet with one booted foot.
“Well is there any chance of advancement?”
“I don’t know,” he says. I sigh. Why is he here?
“Is there anything you like about the job? Any perks?” I ask, straining to hear if anyone is nearby.
“Oh yeah. I never get tired, or drunk. I can stay out all night. And the girls are all over me.” He looks up. He may have mistaken my consternation for disbelief. He lowers his hood and I gasp. More beautiful than any living man. He raises his hood up again.
“I’m not happy,” he says.
“Why not?” I manage. My heart is a crushing pain. Even if I don’t die on the spot…
“I’m not happy with what I do.”
“Do you do a good job?” …I will never be the same.
“Yes of course!”
I pull myself together and wrack my brain for some intelligent counsel. “You know that people need your services?”
“Yes. But they don’t know it. And they don’t like me. They’re always fighting me. And they cry when I do my job.”
“Well, no. When someone slaughters a cow or a chicken, I’m right there making sure the job’s done well and usually nobody cries. Unless it’s somebody’s pet cow, or chicken, or pig. Or lamb. I had that happen once. They called him Charlie Brown. Funny name for a lamb. A ram, really. One little girl cried and refused to eat him, but the rest of the family, especially the girl old Charlie liked to butt in the knee, well, they laced into those lamb chops like there’d never be another meal. Warmed my heart.” Death babbles too. He pats his chest and it clanks. I’m not exactly sure what’s under there. But that face. I don’t like to think about it.
“I think that you have to understand about boundaries,” I say to him, trying to recover. My heart is beating so fast I think it will burst.
“Boundaries. Boundaries protect us from harm. They help us know what to let in from the world, and what to keep out. You are in a position of power over people. But you can also be affected by them. Psychological boundaries help to protect us from pain. You perform a service that is vital to the survival of life. And although it may not always seem like it, people are grateful.”
“Yeah? Well they’ve got an awful funny way of showing it. They’re always fighting me.” Again with the fighting.
“Well, most of the time. Sometimes they’re happy to see me.”
“Do you ever do anything to hurt them?”
“Outside of taking their life? No. I’m as gentle as I can be. Even for the worst of them.”
“The worst of them?” I swallow.
“I’m not here to judge. I just have a job to do.” I’m beyond fear.
“And you do the best you can?”
“That’s all anybody can do.” I check my watch. An hour has passed. If he’s going to take me, there‘s nothing I can do about it. I pull a book from the shelf. “I can’t loan this out, because it’s my only copy, but you should buy this and read through it.” I consider the insanity of my action, and pass him a pen and a piece of paper. He writes down the name and author of the book and sticks the paper in his pocket.
He stands up to leave, and my heart breaks.
“Come back anytime,” I say, both relieved and sad. “My door is always open.”
“I know. Bye Mom,” he says, fading into nothingness.
“Bye, Hon. Love you.”
“Love you too, Mom,” echoes in my ears.