written for "What a Character! : Official WDC Contest"
Death ain’t easy.
Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking it is. You see, you? You only get to see a part of it. You get to see the aftermath of death – the funerals, the effect on the family and friends, and maybe if you’re real lucky, you actually get to see the death occur. But there’s always more to death than what you see. You read in the obituaries that some kid died drowning in a river, and you put together the scenario in your head. You ask yourself, why weren’t her parents watching her? Who let an eight year old go play in a river? Maybe she hit her head or got caught in the current or this or that and you know what? You’ll probably never know. You’ll decide in your mind what happened and whatever your decision, it’ll help you sleep at night. It’s not your kid, it’s not your fault, and something you probably don’t think about, it’s not your decision.
Me, on the other hand, that’s what I do. That’s the decision I make, and yeah, usually I have some guidance from above, but we all deviate from the plan now and again and the big guy upstairs, he’s so busy he doesn’t care if you give and take a little here and there. So long as you get the job done. So long as you fill his quota.
It’s the perks of being a reaper.
Most days, the job makes sense. You show up at a scene and you just follow the natural order of things. Guy gets hit by a bus, he dies. Woman falls off a cliff, she dies. Old guy having a heart attack, he dies. Natural order. That’s what this job is about. But then there are the days where you show up and you see what the natural order is and you just can’t help but think, this ain’t right. You think this is going to be one of those stories they’ll show on the news that will have little old housewives upset for a week.
Today is one of those days. It’s a bank robbery. There’s five players, myself not included, and one of them has to die. It’s a quota thing. Doesn’t matter who, just got to choose one. For everyone else looking in, the answer of who should die would be clear and simple. Obvious to a tee: the bank robber. He came in here waving a gun, he should be the one leaving with the bullet. But it’s not that simple. He’s not the one meant to die today.
There are four other people in the room. The bank manager, who sent his employees home early because it’s the day before a holiday. Good guy, right? Then there’s the security guard, an old retired cop who took this gig to make it through retirement. Upstanding citizen. The last two are a father and son. Dad’s the coach of a little league team, kid’s the star player – it’s your All-American apple pie family. So yeah, you think it’s obvious. You’re thinking, you can’t kill any of those people, they’re all innocent bystanders, good people. Take the guy with the gun whose disrupting this peaceful little scene.
Except what if I told you that guy with the gun had a kid? And what if I told you that kid was real sick? And then what if I told you that the only reason he’s trying to rob this bank is to pay for the medicine his kid needs to live? Would you say the same thing? You might, you might not. To each their own, right? If you watched this on the news, you’d see a criminal waving a gun. You wouldn’t give a crap about his dying kid. But to me, standing here in the moment, just a bystander with all the knowledge of each of these people – I see the look in his eyes. I see desperation and fear and believe me when I tell you, this is the first thing this guy has ever done to break the law.
I know where each of these players has been and I know where each of them is going. I know the bank manager has a newborn at home and the security guard lost his wife last year to cancer. I know the Dad sometimes drinks too much and I know the kid is going to grow up and marry a nice young woman from upstate. I know the man with the gun goes to jail and his kid’s going to die and twenty years when he gets out of prison, he’s going to start a campaign for children’s health care and guess what? The state of the world is going to get a little better because of him.
So now I have to make a decision on which one of these lives I’m going to take. Which one of their families am I going to tear apart? It might look a little more obvious on which one to take. You might be thinking to yourself, how about the old security guard? Send him on his way to be with his wife, he’s lived his life, it seems the most fair. Or you might be thinking, the only one you didn’t say anything good about was the Dad, you said he drank a lot, why don’t you take him?
Death ain’t easy. It’s not black and white.
You see, that old security guard, he may be without his wife, but he still has a granddaughter that’s getting married next week and her Daddy died when she was a kid, so guess who’s planning on giving her away at her wedding? And that Dad who drinks too much, he’s a fireman and two years from now, he’s supposed to die pulling a little girl from a fire. He’ll die a hero. Today he’d just die in cold blood.
Now you’re thinking to yourself, well shoot. That bank manager has a newborn baby, that’d be the saddest story I ever heard and you couldn’t possibly kill that little kid, he’s just barely begun to live. And I’m thinking I’m right along there with you. I don’t want to take either of them. I don’t want to take any of them, so then we’re right back where we started. Five players, one of them has to die.
The thing with being a reaper, is that things are predetermined and you can either follow them or not. I know who is supposed to die today. I know which one of these five players is supposed to get the bullet and it’s not who you’re going to expect. It’s going to be a sad story, no matter which way its spun. If you saw it on the news, you may get a tear in your eye, but you’d think to yourself, that’s not my loved one, that’s not my fault, and whether you know it or not, you’ll think that’s not my decision. You’ll go to bed at night and maybe you’ll think about it and think how sad it is, but you’ll forget it. It’s just another death on another day and that’s what it is to be human.
So in the end, does my decision really matter? Does killing one of these five really change the way you’re going to look at the story? You’re probably not going to remember which one died here months from now, and there will be other stories that will tear at your heartstrings after this one. So does it matter? Does who I pick really matter to you? Or a better question, does who I pick really matter to me?
Natural order. It’s there for a reason. Some things are meant to be and sometimes we can tempt and mess with fate, but sometimes we should just stand back and let it take its course. So my decision in this scene? My decision on which of these five players I’m going to take? My decision is to not make the decision. I go with the natural order.
So when the gun goes off, I hold out my hand and I take theirs and I help them get upstairs. They don’t look back and they don’t really question, but then again, no one really does. You’d think that when people die, they would fight it and scream and say they don’t want to. I blame it on the lights from upstairs. It’s always mesmerizing and enchanting and people rarely ever look back once they see it.
I don’t know if he hears the sounds from behind him. The survivors screaming and begging and wailing. I don't know if he hears those things or if he doesn't, because knowing isn't my job. The future of the world, the future of their families and loved ones, and the future of what you get out of this story isn't my job. My job is to make sure they make it upstairs, and that's what I did. And are you better off not knowing? Maybe. Are you better off thinking in your head you know which one you'd pick? Probably. So let this story be one that you can sleep with at night. Let who you would choose, be who I chose. Because in the end, it doesn't really matter which one I picked, just that I picked.
Natural order. Things happen for a reason and we can't always make things happen the way we want them to. Sometimes we just have to know that they happen and deal with it. That's natural order. Sometimes I question it, sometimes I just let it happen. That’s the perks of being a reaper.
Because like I said, death ain’t easy.
Word count: 1,631
Third Place winner in June 2011
"What a Character! : Official WDC Contest"