A Grim career change
There wasn't much on TV that night, and Steve found himself slouched on the sofa aimlessly zapping through channels, even the ones he would never usually go to. It was like he was procrastinating from going to bed or doing something he knew was better like reading one of the books that were staring down on him from the living room bookcase. There were too many nights like this, and too much whisky to accompany them. It was then that he heard a knock at the door.
He looked at his watch. 12:12. Who the hell was knocking on his door after midnight? He hesitated for a moment in getting up off the sofa, thinking he had dreamed or imagined it - had he fallen asleep? He looked at the half-empty bottle of scotch and the glass on the coffee table infront of him as if asking if they had anything to do with this. He thought about ignorning it as if it never happened but curiosity more than anything got the better of him.
As he made his way in to the hallway he suddenly stopped in his tracks. He gasped and tensed, frozen to the spot. There in the dark shadows a very tall, cloaked and hooded figure stood before him infront of the open door behind him. It then closed by itself.
"What the fuck...?"
In a milisecond his mind raced, the only thing that could move. He always locked the front door after him out of habit, how the hell did this intruder get in? Was this a trick of the outside that was playing its sinister way in to his hallway? His head swelled from the whisky. The only light came from the porch light in the main doorway outside, largely blocked from the looming frame of this intrusion, though he could see in the hooded figure's right hand a long staff topped with a sharp curve which glinted when dull light bounced off it when the figure shuffled slightly. The hood fell low over his forehead shading and framing two dots of light in there.
The only sound was that of Steve's quickening breath. Fear expelled any effect the whisky was having and took over, routing him to the spot as he tried to stagger his left arm up to the wall to switch on the hall light. His shoulder felt heavy as if tring to lift a dumbell, a paralysing energy this figure had brought in to his house seemed to ooze from the ragged fibres of this thing's cumbersome cloak. His eyes tried to adjust to the shadows, but he realised he did not need to flick the light switch to understand who this was as it spoke:
"It is time." His voice was low, rough and harsh.
This thing - until now a myth to everyone including himself - had come to sever ties between his soul and his body. There was a momentary silent stand off as he processed his entire life, less than four decades worth, nothing in comparison to the billions of years that had come before him and that would continue without him. He thought of his accomplishments, his failures, and realised how the latter outweighed the former. The glint of the scythe brought everything to the table, the Ace of Spades card that was about to exterminate his whole hand - the hand of life he had been wasting each night. And then he thought of his childhood, a time of play and of happiness. He thought of his favourite toys and upon thinking of the He-man cartoons he would be glued to on a Saturday morning, his eyes had adjusted to make out the deep crevasses holding the dots of light of the Grim Reaper's eyes and the white, ravenous structures of its Skeletor face. He was up against the power of grayskull, he was on the brink of good and evil, the scythe was ready to strike.
And then he found that anomoly in the energy field, he managed to catch his breath and break the current to lift up his arm and switch on the hall light. As he did, it was if the wall switch had also flicked something in his brain, charging it in to action, bringing out his He-Man and words to his lips which he almost hissed through clenched teeth:
"No, no, no...no fucking way Skeletor!"
The looming hunch of the the Reaper's broad shoulders straightened and his head tilted, showing more of his bony features under the hood. "Huh? My name is not Skeletor, it's..."
"I know who you are," Steve interrupted, he wasn't taking it any more. "And you are bang out of order!"
"Listen, just turn that light down, will you." Grim scrambled in his cloak pockets and with a bony hand brought out a pair of Ray-Bans to cover his delicate eye sockets.
"Seriously, you wear sunglasses??"
Now the mighty cloaked figure was routed to the spot, for the first time ever hesitant to his next move. This guy wasn't doing as he was supposed to. Strangely he found himself answering:
"Well, you should know I don't do light, but still I need to be prepared I suppose. I have an image to uphold, and after seeing that Stallone film in the 80s, Cobra, I thought that was the best kind of way to get round it, cool but still sinister, and well..." He drifted off, uncomfortably numb for who he was, he was caught off guard trying to justify himself, he was on the defensive. He was never on the defensive.
The flashing of periods of life and the sheer realisation that his time was up propelled Steve to a take an initiative he had never known before. He found himself soon reasoning with the spectre of utter darkness.
"You can't do this, I'm not that bad am I?"
"I do not make those judgements, I just come to collect and make sure of your passing."
Steve continued his protest while it was hot. "No, it's not time, I know it's not, and I know it hasn't been time for so many people in the last few years. You can't keep doing this...scaring people, coming in the darkness and taking good things away like this, who are you to decide?"
Grim looked puzzled. What the hell was going on here? Who the hell was this guy with his political speech? Did he do this for a living? He had to admit the guy had balls standing up to him, usually the menace of his scythe in his hand was enough to take them away with no fuss. This certainly was a whole new situation and critical thinking had never been in his job requirements.
"Well it's my job, I mean, I deal in death, it's what I was born to do, I have done it for so long I...well, I can't even remember for how long" He gazed up to the ceiling. "Actually, come to think of it, I have no idea of time, just darkness."
Despite his courageous stand off, Steve was still shaking a little but he still felt better than a few minutes previous. He strangely felt in control, like he finally had a purpose. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly before speaking.
"Listen, come in for a minute and sit down," he beckoned the Reaper in to his living room.
Leading the way, Steve heard behind him the drag of the scythe and the rough sweep of ragged shroud over the hallway floorboards. He turned back to the towering figure filling the living room doorway and offered him a seat in an armchair. He sat down on the sofa and used the remote control to turn down the volume on the TV. Death propped his scythe against the back of the chair and awkwardly sat down, a little uncomfortable, unsure still of what to do. Shouldn't he actually just use the scythe and get this over with? With the dim table lamp over his right shoulder, he took off his Ray Bans and tried to settle back in to the chair, his bony body cricked as he tried to fit his frame in to the cushioning.
Steve sat propped forward with his elbows on his knees and sighed. "Look, I know I haven't been the best guy, but like I said, it surely isn't time. This year we've seen it with other people you've taken away, good people, people better than me, people too young, ones with so much more to give than me...I don't know, I mean, it doesn't seem right."
He looked up at the still hooded figure sat infront of him looking awkward and almost as if he was in a job interview. The glowing dots we're now bigger and clearly visible in his eye sockets. Grim was just trying to process it all still. He reached a hand up and scratched his skull under his hood. Both of them looked away from each other towards the soundless TV images that flickered in the dull light as if trying to give a bit of space for the other to answer.
"Ok, death is all you've known, I get that, but how about a little innovation or some diversification here?"
Grim's angular jaw was slowly opening to separate his still white teeth. What the hell was he talking about? Innovation? Diversification?
"I mean, you have a job for life." Steve snorted, "Well, better said, for eternity, but ethically speaking is it the right thing to do? You know like burning all that rainforest for cattle herding which is has a devastating long-term effect on the planet, don't they get that?"
Ethics? Rainforests? Grim's skull was now working like never before, even he - the dark lord of death, the most ominous figure of the night ready to cut down life with his tool of wheat, your worst nightmare, not a dream but your worst reality that no pinch will wake you up from - had to admit that this guy was starting to sound interesting. He even started to think of the people in recent times he had taken away without hesitation, with just the usual menace and threat. He settled further in the chair and kept listening.
Steve took a deep breath in and out to keep with his train of thought, he had never had a train so clear in his life, as if instead of taking, the Grim reaper had given him something extraordinary instead.
"How about something like a funeral director?"
Grim would have raised his eyebrows if he had any. He pushed back his hood just a little to show the sheen of his forehead. Of course he knew about funerals, they were concerning death after all and he was pretty much an industry expert in these matters. But actually doing them? This was something new.
"Go on," he was actually quite intrigued. This guy was beginning to sound right, he couldn't take him or his soul, this human had something to give still.
"So think about it, we all die, eventually. There's no getting away with that, but there is never any rush, is there? A funeral company always has business, it's a steady flow, even if we all live a full life to 100, a cushy job if you ask me! Essentially, there's no massive change. You get to do what you know how to do, deal in death as you put it. Just let the good people be, especially where talent is concerned, people like that deserve to live for as long as possible to bring happiness to others and pass that on to the next generations in time."
Grim sat back and crossed his long, intimidating fingers, his bony elbows on the arms of the chair. To be fair he had seen people through time who were on his 'to-do' list in any particular week and had seen them turn things in a different direction. They had changed their lives and had erased themselves from his list. He remembered that old Colonel guy in the white suit years ago who in his sixties established the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain and ended up turning his life around after so many different jobs and failures. He became a millionaire, he gave back to charities and created foundations, Grim had had to knock him back another 25 years or so due to that. If that Colonel could do it, well maybe he could make some kind of change too.
Steve could see that the Reaper was seemingly in deep thought, rigid in the armchair, not even a black straggled thread from his cloak moved. He felt nervous again for a second, as if darkness really was about to close in for good after all, like Death was going to jump up with a sweeping Ninja move to the back of the armchair for the scythe after evaluating Steve's pitch and ending it there regardless. He tried to fill the uncomfortable silence:
"Hey, I work in a bank, it's pretty damn boring to be honest and not that inspiring, I know I need to change that too, but I know numbers and I can help you out with a business plan. It shouldn't be that difficult to do."
Again silence. Then the Reaper shifted forward abruptly in his chair, Steve's heart missed a beat, his breath withheld itself as if that very move had suddenly pushed him to a cliff edge.
"Okay, let's give it a whirl," Grim had strangely lost some graveness in his voice going up a tone. "I can't promise you anything but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?"
So they sat and talked for a little while longer in to the night. How would Grim start? It was going against all his instincts, but if there was still a fragment of grey matter still inside his skull, it was suddenly alight and aligned with this guy. Steve said he would get to work on it at the bank the next morning if Grim wanted to sleep on it.
Steve picked up the bottle of whisky. "Do you wanna a nightcap?"
"No I should be going, I've kept you up long enough, I guess I've got some new plans to make for tomorrow. Gravel had made its way back so slightly in to the Reaper's voice: "But let's say if you keep drinking that you are not helping me in being tempted to come back for you - help me out here, for Reaper's sake." His eye sockets glowed larger and his teeth seemed to bare as if once having facial muscles, it would have been a grin.
"Ha, better up 'long enough' than not up at all, if you know what I mean, eh?" He glanced at the bottle and put it frimly down on the coffee table, pushing it away. "Yeah I suppose you're right."
"Don't forget that," he nodded towards the scythe propped against the armchair. "And next time knock, ok?"
"Yeah sure, no problem, I'll let you know about the business plan."
Steve heard the Reaper trail himself and his tool down the hallway once again, but he wasn't sure if he actually turned the key and the handle and opened the door to let himself out, or if he left in the manner he came in.