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May 15: A Grim Prospect

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Category: Reading
Forum Name: SFReader Fiction Feature
Forum Description: Monthly Fiction on SFReader
URL: http://forum.sfreader.com/forum_posts.asp?TID=141
Printed Date: Dec-17-2017 at 5:57am
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Topic: May 15: A Grim Prospect
Posted By: SFReader
Subject: May 15: A Grim Prospect
Date Posted: Jun-29-2015 at 10:59am
A Grim Prospect
by Alex Scantlebury

No one wants my job. Hell I don't even want my job, and I'm not even sure why or how I ended up with it…

I remember going to sleep one night after watching a movie with my girlfriend, next thing I knew I was in a dark windowless room. I wanted to call it an office, but it wasn't any office I had ever seen before. I was standing in front of a humongous wooden desk with legs carved with the images of ancient nameless creatures made from the same stuff as my childhood nightmares. Two candles, one on each corner of the desk, burned brightly offering the only light inside the room. The candle flames flickered sporadically even though there was no discernible wind in the room what so ever. 

Was I dreaming? I know I didn't drink enough the night before to illicit this vivid of a dream. I started turning on the spot, panicked as I looked for an exit, but my eyes were greeted by four, cold stone walls without even a single window.

"To answer your question, no, you're most definitely not dreaming. I assure you that this is quite real, and you will not be leaving until we have had a chance to have a little chat."

The mystery voice that flowed seemed to be coming from the chair situated behind the desk, but it could have been coming from anywhere the way the acoustics played across the room. And the voice would have sent Vincent Price himself under the covers crying for his mommy. But hey, as far as I was concerned, this was still a fucking dream. I wasn't going to be pushed around inside my own head.

"What exactly do you have to say to me?" I asked. "Dream or not, I tend to like to be able to see the person I'm speaking to. So why don't you turn around and face me like a man?"

The red-leather wing-back chair began its slow graceful turn. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the bottom dropped out of my stomach. He was neither man nor beast, but more along the lives of a liquid shadow.

"We have a lot to talk about. Starting with what it is that you will be doing for me, being as I own your very existence now."

"I don't know who the hell you think you are, but no one owns me. I do what I want when I want, and right now I was to wake up."

The shadow raised his arms and out of nowhere, gale force winds ripped through the room, knocking me off balance. At the same time the two candle flames erupted into columns of white-hot fire.

It had the desired effect. I was one of those people who remembered things from their dreams, and I had never physically felt the effects of anything from the dream world. I began to think that this might not be a dream after all.

"What are you?" I asked.

"I am Death and you work for me now. There is no choice, no option B, just compliance to my will."

Holy shit. Death, the big daddy reaper. And he was claiming to own me. If this was shit's creek I was stuck neck deep without a fucking boat.

"What do you mean you own me? I've never made any deals or promises."

I couldn't make out his eyes, but the space where they would normally be seemed to be staring directly through my soul. The sheer force of his gaze dropped me to one knee.

"As your father, and his father before him, and so on through the history of your bloodline, the promise was made generations ago and so it remains. That is all you need to know."

Death's voice flowed with the mellifluous tones of a southern gentile. I thought I detected a hint of satisfaction in his words.

I started to laugh hysterically. I was once again sure this was a dream. Both my father and grandfather were still alive and kicking. I started to wonder if someone hadn't slipped something funky into my drink the night before.

"Sorry to burst your bubble Death, but my old man is still alive, in fact I saw him just the other night. So I think I'll change back to the regularly scheduled programming."

As the last word escaped my mouth I was to the floor as if I had been struck by an unseen sledge hammer. The room began to get frigidly cold.

"You called the man who raised you Dad, though he isn't your true father. Pity that you were never told the truth but such is life, or rather the end of yours."

There was no more gentile is his tone. Pure force had replaced it from one moment to the next. My brain was beginning to tell me that maybe I should show some respect… just in case.

"Okay. If you're Death, where's the old scythe and cape?"

"That pitiful Charles Dickens created that image. I enjoyed personally going to gather his soul when he passed on. As it were, that is what you will be doing for me from this moment forward -- gathering the souls of the departed. I will decide who, what, when, where and how, and you will never ask why or disobey."

***

It became quickly apparent that I was not dreaming. Death took me on a little field trip to watch my own funeral. Talk about a humbling experience; only six family members and a couple of friends showed up to see me into the ground. I had seen better turn outs in small town polling stations during the last election. 

Once it was over, I was tossed directly into the fray. Apparently there was no time for training wheels. Death reporting for duty, will you be taking the elevator up or down?

At first it was quite traumatic. I collected the souls of the young and old, the guilty and the innocent, men and women and even the occasional child. The children stuck with me. No matter what kind of person you are, or in my case were, no one likes to see harm come to a child. 

I will say this much for Death, he started me off with an underhand lob. With a simple word he sent me away on my first collection. 

I was standing in a dimly lit hallway belonging to a turn of the century Gothic-style home. It was clean with plain furnishings, but something about the meticulous nature of the decor made me uneasy, as if I was in a dangerous place. 

I heard Death's voice echoing in my head, "You will know what to do." 

As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, the backdoor of the home opened and a middle aged man began backing into the house. He was as meticulously dressed and cleaned as the homes furnishings. So non-descript that he would be hard to pick out of a crowd. He moved with purpose as he heaved a large rolled-up rug through the door onto the kitchen floor.

Regardless of what Death said, I had no idea what I was supposed to do, so I followed the man as he dragged the rug toward another door, this one with an old fashioned crystal door knob. The heavy rug thumped loudly on each polished step down into the belly on the house.

The basement turned out to be an elaborate maze built out far past the original foundations of the home. The journey through the labyrinth only took a matter of minutes until we reached a hallway with a lower than average ceiling, even as basements go. The walls had a series of alcoves roughly cut into them, and in each alcove lay bodies, all in different stages of decomposition. 

As he unrolled the rug, I saw the newest addition to his collection. The man started to sweat profusely and his skin had turned a sickly color.

"Just a few more moments and then bring him to me." Death's voice rang clear as a bell in my head.

I didn't get a chance to consider what he meant because seconds later the man before me keeled over and began convulsing on the uneven dirt floor. Whatever was happening, it was obviously quite painful. What I wasn't expecting was to see his "spirit" -- for lack of a better term -- float up out of his body just like in one of those old Bugs Bunny cartoons.

As he looked down at his own corpse, he saw me for the first time out of the corner of his eye.

"Am I dead?"

"Based at what I'm looking at, I would guess yah," I replied. What can I say? Once a smart-ass, always a smart-ass. "You need to come with me."

"Where are you taking me?"

"My boss wants to see you. After that, it's over my pay grade."

"Am I going to hell?" His voice shook.

I took a moment to think about how to respond. I mean, it's not like I had a chance to go over the Grim Reaper handbook. I looked down the hallway at the rows of dead bodies.

"Are all these yours?" I asked.

He nodded reluctantly, as if he didn't want to admit it. "Yes, but they all deserved it. I was doing God's work."

"Well, I don't consider myself an expert on such matters, but if heaven and hell exist I wouldn't put my money on you taking the elevator upstairs."

***

They say that you always remember your first time. The truth is, I remember them all, every last one. All the pain, the sadness, the fear, the regret and confusion. And every once in a while the joy that the struggle was finally over. 

Like I said, no one with a rational mind would want this job, I wouldn't even wish it on my worst enemy. I never slept, I never ate. I lived death, well-lived in the loose sense of the word.

After my first visit to Death's "office" I never saw him again. Though I always had a sense that he was watching me. I began to see deaths before they happened, letting me know I was needed. This is how it went for years. Time blurred as it became irrelevant to my purpose.

The only gauge I had was the number of souls I had reaped. But after thousands upon thousands, and thousands upon thousands of unanswered questions, I began to lose faith in everything around me. 

I prayed for my time to end, but how do you take the life of something that is already dead?

***

One day, many years after I took up my post as one of Death's reapers, I was standing in a hospital in downtown Manhattan. Hospitals were always a regular stop on my route, and since it was flu season I knew it was going to be a busy day. The old and the young were always fragile this time of year. 

Out of nowhere a voice came from behind me. "It never does change does it?"

I didn't react at first. In all my time, the only people who ever spoke to me were dead already. But when I looked over my shoulder, there was a familiar-looking man staring at me. Not through me, but directly into my eyes.

"He decided it was time for us to talk, thought you might have some questions for me."

I felt as though I'd seen this man before, but I couldn't put my finger on when and where. "Who are you and why can you see me?" I asked.

An expression of sadness crossed his face as his gaze found the floor, suddenly unable to meet my eyes.

"I am the one who gave you up all those years ago. I had hoped that if you stayed hidden you would avoid the fate that has befallen our bloodline. I am your biological father."

It suddenly dawned on me where I had seen him before. Every day of my life, before my transition to the spirit world, I had seen him when I looked in the mirror. It was in the shape of the eyes, the upward curve of the mouth and in the way that our hair grew out of control.

"If you're my father, you must know where my real mother is."

Again, the same look of sadness, but this time with a far deeper cut. "That's another side effect of our curse. Any women who gives birth to one of our sons dies during childbirth. And then we, the fathers, all die within a year of the birth of our sons."

In that one moment I felt like I had been hit by a dump truck. Even after all these years, how was I supposed to process this kind of information? 

"That can't be right," I said. "I never had any kids."

He looked at me and said with a tone of pity, "None that you know of."




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