Death is not the end... it's a job. And Danny is hard at work.
| “I tell you,” Uramiah said while shaking her spoon still dripping with melted ice cream. “I am completely overworked! Why, a thousand people were born this last minute and my department has gained only one new Guardian Angel this whole month!”
Her sky blue eyes looked up and to the left as she brushed twilight colored locks behind her right ear with an absent minded motion. The action caused her hair to ripple with the colors of a dying day, a fact that always fascinated me to no end. Uramiah's button nose crinkled, her chubby cheeks puffed out as her mouth puckered in that way I could only describe as cute. Thought she was a little over six hundred years old, she still had the face and demeanor of a child. Her three and a half foot slender frame did nothing to dispel the illusion. I figured since she was the embodiment of innocence and purity, she looked exactly as she was meant to look.
“And there's another thousand newborn!”
I chuckled and took a bite of medium rare steak. All around us, the dining area of the club was active with revelers. Of course, none of them came near our table. It had taken me a few months to get used to this aura of ignorance humans had and the way they willfully shut their eyes to the supernatural things around them. I wondered how they would react if they knew the head of all the Guardian Force and the head of all the Soul Harvesters were enjoying a meal in the middle of their celebration.
“It's not funny! In fact it's your fault Danny Death!”
Uramiah folded her arms and leaned back, trying to look stern and commanding. The effect was ruined by the way her feet swung under the table and her pink frilly dress bunched around her neck. My lip curled upward on the left side and I remained quiet, just watching her. Uramiah's lips finally formed a pout and from there her eyes crossed and she stuck out her tongue before grinning back.
“All right, I know it isn't your fault, but I feel better pretending it is.”
Lifting my right arm, I pulled back the edge of my white glove just enough to check the time. 11:55:03 in the morning. A flick of my hand, and a thought, caused a mirror to appear in my grasp. With one hand I smoothed down my black t-shirt with its cartoon skull, then ran a palm over slicked back hair that flickered between raven black-blue and ebony streaked with white as light caught it from different angles. I stared into the deep black eyes flecked with red over a slightly crooked nose and sighed before tossing the mirror away to vanish mid-air. Uramiah also sighed and put down her spoon.
“I guess it's that time,” she said.
With a nod I tapped a button on the side of my watch while she touched a butterfly hairpin almost hidden in the hair over her left ear. All around us Collectors and Guardians appeared. The Collectors looked straight out of a fairy tale with black hooded robes, skeletal hands, and overlarge scythes strapped to their backs. The Guardians Uramiah had summoned, both male and female, each radiated a golden glow and had pure white wings that extended a foot in either direction.
Uramiah shook her head while sliding out of her chair. “Do you have to make your Soul Harvester initiates look so cliche?”
“Not really, but it amuses me to do so.” I also stood and strolled toward the door outside. “What about you? Giving your initiates a golden glow?”
“Of course. How else would people know they are supernatural beings?”
Removing my left hand glove and tucking it into the back pocket of my black denim jeans, I touched the seam with one finger before turning around to offer my companion a raised eyebrow.
“Really? The wings and the perfect bodies and the whole protecting them from all harm isn't enough of a clue?”
I moved off toward the head table while Guardians posted themselves near their chosen and the Reapers scattered around the room to open gates to Charon's waiting area. Uramiah spread her four golden wings, jumped into the air, and sat cross-legged before folding her wings around her like a cloak.
“For some it isn't,” she replied while floating towards the ceiling
At 12:00:13 exactly, George Smithfield stood and tapped his wineglass with a knife. I waited by his side with thumbs tucked into jean pockets.
“Attention everyone!” George cried out. “I'd like to thank you all for coming. I'm not one for grand speeches so let me not mince words, I gathered you all today because I see your potential and how all of you are of like mind. So let us discuss how to get rid of all the non-American scum that infests our city! Then, after we purify this city as god intends, how to cleanse this state! After the state we can eradicate the filth taking honest American jobs from the entire country! Hitler was not wrong! He just went about it the wrong way!”
Two hundred and fifty of the three hundred men and women let out a cheer, raised their glasses, and took a drink. At 12:03:25 I raised my left hand. At 12:03: 50, I clenched my fist.
The gas lines under the building exploded. If George hadn't been so much of a penny pincher, perhaps the material the construction company used wouldn't have been so defective with cracks and weak spots. Or maybe if he had treated the “non-Americans” working for him half decent, perhaps they may have been more diligent in their tasks and made sure there were no defects in the wiring and gas lines. Perhaps they would have made sure the foundations of George's new private club were more solid, the floors and walls less brittle.
Or perhaps not. It wasn't like I was Lord and Master of Death and Destruction that knew for sure what could have been.
Of the three hundred in the room, a hundred were consumed in an instant as pillars of flame shot up out of the floor. The Harvesters went to work ushering the dead on to their next destination to be sorted by Charon. My Collectors wasted no time and offered the souls no chance to say anything. They just reached into the corpse, pulled out the soul, and shoved it through the nearest portal before moving on to the next just as I had commanded.
Uramiah's angels kept their wards protected as the panic set in and those left alive rushed around screaming. A whispered word, a touch, or simply standing in the way kept the ones meant to live from being trampled underfoot or away from dangerous spots.
One or two tried the door only to find it wouldn't open. More gathered to ram it with their shoulders in an attempt to break out. Two angels whispered in the ear of two women. The women turned and took six steps before the ceiling over the door collapsed to crush the six still there. The two women turned to gaze with wide eyes at the pile inches in front of their face. As another of the chosen survivors rushed towards the back of the room, his Guardian touched his shoulder. He stopped while others ran past and looked behind in search of his wife.
The floor collapsed under those who had kept running, leaving him standing at the edge of the pit. Of the sixty who had fallen, thirty died on impact while the other thirty suffered broken arms and legs. His wife though wasn't so lucky. She dove under the refreshment table for cover, kicking a leg by accident. The butcher knife that had bounced toward the edge fell when I twitched my index finger. The tip sank into the back of her neck a bare inch. She could have survived such a minor wound if the shaking of another explosion hadn't dislodged the crystal bowl of spiked punch and caused it to dump its contents on her head a fraction of a second before it landed on the knife handle like a sledgehammer blow. Those two actions nearly decapitated the woman.
George finally unfroze and began to run. Unlike the rest, he moved with purpose. He dodged falling plaster and brick as he made his way towards the far wall. I kept pace at a sedate walk, sidestepping debris and the ceiling the crumbled like rain. A twitch of my left pinky caused another eruption, this time of water that began to flood the area and eventually drained into the pit with the thirty survivors trying to escape. A twitch of my ring finger clogged the drain points so the water could only rise at a steady pace.
Uramiah came down form the ceiling to float next to me. “Now?”
A look at my watch showed 12:09:44. I pulled the message I had been given from thin air and re-read the words of the One-Who-Is-All. I put it away the same way I had grabbed it and shook my head.
A third spasm of a finger caused a live electrical wire to fall into the face of a man soaked to the skin from climbing out of the pit despite his broken leg. He died in an instant.
“You know, some would think you really like your job.”
I offered the six hundred year old child a sad smile and a shake of the head. “On the contrary Most of the time I detest it. It is hard to stay unemotional as I bring about destruction. Especially when I must take the life of a child.”
“I know I couldn't do it so how do you?”
“I don't,” I replied with a shrug. “That's why I was made head Harvester I guess. I bring compassion to those who need it in their final moments so they don't fear moving on. After all, how can one be afraid of Death when he weeps for them? Or when he holds them like a lover? Or when takes time to answer their last request if he is able?”
We both drifted to the side seconds before a chunk of ceiling fell where we had been. George was busy inches away shoving rubble to the left and right in an attempt to uncover the secret tunnel behind the wall that only he knew about. I glanced around then down at George and grinned.
“Of course, sometimes I can't help but be glad that I get to be the one to bring down such justice on the deserving.”
“Were you non-American when you were alive?”
“As much as anyone,” I told her. “My great-grandparents were immigrants, but my blood was as pure as most of these people. I served my country beside men and women of all color who bled red just as I did and I would have been glad to die for.”
Just then, a woman cried out with face to the sky. “Oh god no! Don't take my baby! Please no! Take me instead!”
At her feet was a four year old child. His skull caved in on one side with a split wide enough to let his brains leak out. He was the only child in the entire building. 12:12:12, right on time.
My companion flicked open her wings, giving sight to the sightless and sound to the deaf. Those still alive suddenly saw the Guardians who protected them and the Collectors who harvested their souls. When they saw, they emitted cries of fear, fell on the ground, and covered their faces. At the same time, George got the secret door open. He glanced over and saw the two of us.
“Who the hell are you?”
I grinned, showing off perfect white teeth. “Not quite from hell, though I've sent quite a few people there.” My eyes traveled the room. “In fact, I sent two hundred and forty-nine of them there just recently.”
I held out my bare hand. “The name is Danny Death and it is time for you to die. Come.”
As I knew he would, he laughed and slithered through his bolt hole before slamming it closed in my face.
“You missed your deadline,” Uramiah commented.
“Nah. He still has a few minutes to live. You can cheat on many things, but you can't cheat death when it is your time. Excuse me.”
With a thought I vanished only to reappear at the bottom of the ladder just as George finished descending. Again I held out my uncovered left hand. “Come, I will at least make it painless. Though not for your sake. Unlike many of your followers who I made sure felt everything up until they were sent off to the other side.”
Again he brushed past me on his way down the narrow corridor. I followed at his side, my sneakers quiet while his loafers echoed. The lights flickered, placing us in near darkness. Only my white sneakers and glove glowed enough to give the illusion that they moved with no body attached.
“You know,” I told him while we walked. “It is a great honor having me collect your soul personally. I mean, I don't do it for just anyone. I'm usually quite busy with paperwork or meetings and I have hundreds of initiates to collect for me. I make exceptions for only very special people and those One-Who-Is-All or All-Who-Was-Once-One ask me to harvest. That means you are extra special because both sides requested that I reap your soul personally. Do you have any idea how rare it is for both factions to agree on anything?”
“Shut up!” George shouted. “I don't know what loony bin you broke out of, but I'm not going to die today! I'm the richest, luckiest, most powerful man alive!”
George started to ascend a second ladder that led out into a nearby warehouse he owned. I reached up with my left hand.
“Riches mean nothing to the factions. And what is the power of a mortal to immortal beings who are all-powerful in their own ways? As for luck, there comes a time when it always runs out.”
At 12:20:16 exactly, the time written in my book of the dead for 42 year old George Ravmovic who had changed his name to Smithfield, I laid a single finger on the heel of his shoe. His foot slipped on the rung, his sweaty palms lost their grip, and his weight pulled him backwards as I turned to the side. His head smashed against the cement and his neck snapped, though that was not what had
killed him. The moment I had toughed him, the heart of the 62 year old man that George had obtained through his illegal black market dealings to cheat death failed. While the heart attack was instant, his suffering would be eternal.
Two spirits, that of George and that of Samuel, rose from the body. George looked around in bewilderment while Samuel let out a sigh. Without a word I put the glove back on my left hand and waited as I had been instructed. The wait wasn't long. Less than thirty seconds passed before the ground opened up and a giant claw shot out to drag George down screaming.
I shook my head at Samuel as the pit closed. “Theatrics. That is all that was. They could have easily had me create a regular door directly to them, or sent one of their dark warriors to collect him. But that isn't my call. That is all it is most of the time you know. Theatrics. Smoke and mirrors. Mortals expect a certain flair, otherwise they don't believe. Even then they sometimes don't believe, always wanting more or bigger.”
I touched the wall and created a door of shining white light. “Go on through, your soul can be at peace now. Your place has been reserved. Because you were a God fearing man and taught your son to be the same, you will be given three options. This much I can tell you. Eternal rest among the Glory Fields, rebirth, or a position among us where you will work for humanity in a job that fits you until you wish to move on to a new life or eternal rest.”
“Are you an angel? Are you my Guardian Angel?”
I released a small chuckle. “I am an angel in the broadest sense of the word. I am Death.”
At that Samuel let out a small laugh of his own. “That's funny. That is my last name.”
“Ha! I guess you would! Of course, you dress more like my son did, God rest his soul, then any Grim Reaper I could ever imagine. I mean, where are the robes and the scythe and the skeleton bones? How can I be afraid of someone who looks so human?”
The edges of my lips curved upward. “How indeed? Now go, your future is waiting.”
Samuel Death took two steps and stopped. “Answer me one thing first. Since you are Death, you would know I'm sure. My son Daniel was murdered about three years ago.” Samuel looked down at the corpse. “Murdered by this man and his people while my son was investigating his illegal activities. He was a private detective you know.” Samuel laughed. “But you know all that I guess.”
“Indeed I do, just as I know they murdered you because of his investigations.”
Samuel nodded. “Funny, I don't feel anything about being murdered. I guess it is because I have no physical body. Anyway, would you happen to know what became of my son? Did he find peace?”
I wrapped an arm around his shoulder and led him towards the door as my eyes began to water. “Samuel Hamilton Death, trust and believe when I tell you that he has more happiness now then he ever had in life. His days are full and his heart fuller because of the things you taught him and the way you brought him up. He has found favor with the One-Who-Is-All and it is because of your son that I am here today to avenge your murder and send you on your way with a lighter heart.”
“Will I see him again?”
The tears wouldn't stop as I answered. “No matter the choice you make when you enter that door, you will see him again as clearly as I see you.”
Samuel embraced me. “Surely I must be loved by God if even the Grim Reaper weeps for me.”
With that my father turned and entered the doorway. With a wave of my hand I closed the portal and wiped my eyes.
“You didn't tell him,” a female voice said seconds before Uramiah melted out of the wall.
“Because I didn't want to sway his choice. I don't want him to take a job, let alone a job he might not want or be suited for, just to see me again. If eternal rest or rebirth is his true hearts desire, who am I to keep him from that?”
“So your name when you were alive really was Death.”
“Yeah. I guess you could say I was born to do this job.”
Uramiah looked up and to the right, then grinned. “It seems I've got a new Guardian Angel trainee. Can you guess his name?”
I half sniffed, half laughed. “Somehow I'm not surprised. I always thought of him as my Guardian Angel when I was alive.”
One of the Reaper initiates appeared. They pulled back the cowl to reveal a head full of blond hair and a woman with suntanned skin.
“What is it Abigail?”