(I wrote this as an entry for Chuck Wendig’s Death Is On The Table flash fiction challenge.)
Let me say, firstly and right off the bat, that I am a fucking nice guy. I just happen to have the world’s shittiest job. The pay is crappy, the benefits are nothing short of dubious, the hours are a nightmare and quite frankly, it’s given me the kind of reputation that, as a god-like figure, you’d rather do without. Man, if I could, I would resign so hard right now.
Anyway, I meet a lot of people in this line of work. And as different as they all are, they still fall under the same general category: scared shitless of me. Except, the other night, I met a special guy. A one in a million human. I even liked him for a bit.
Now, I don’t make grand entrances. That scares people. And I sure as shit have enough of that on my plate. No. More often than not, I look just like a regular guy. Only, of course, I have some really bad news. So… maybe a tax official.
So that evening, I’ve got an appointment to see this guy Eric. Now, make no mistake, Eric had been going straight to hell for a number of years now. Only, his ticket was up and I was going to go and deliver the delightful message that he was about to kick the bucket.
Most evenings, Eric ended up at this bar. He sat in the same chair, in the same corner of the bar, ordering the same drink, from six to twelve. He was a regular, a local. He had a tab. Right then, that tab was way overdue, but because he was a regular, a local, the bartender kept feeding him beer. You could probably guess, but I’ll tell you now: in a few years, that bartender is mine.
I sidled up next to Eric, no problems. I got a couple of looks, but which stranger doesn’t?
“Hey.” Such an imaginative opener, but as it goes, that was Eric’s level and he immediately responded.
“Can I buy you a drink?”
I took a seat, ordered two beers, lit a cigarette. Eric had performed a cursory study of me, but he was drunk, I could tell. He swayed in his seat a little and red lines crawled across his eyeballs. The man was a fucking mess. The beers arrived.
“So who are you, anyway?” Eric asked, grabbing his brew and taking a swig. I noticed not knowing who I was didn’t stop him from exploiting a freebie.
“Weird,” he responded. “Can I have a cigarette?”
Unsure what to say, I handed him the smokes and watched him light one. “No… I mean, I am Death.”
“Yeah,” said Eric, alternating between toking on the cig and gulping down beer.
I had a sudden suspicion that this guy was taking the piss. Now, if there ever was a time to be serious and quit fucking around, it’s when your impending doom is about to be announced. I decided that being nice and pleasant was not going to work with this particular human. I went for a little more authority. You know, deepening the voice and intensifying the gaze. I even added an aura of power for extra measure.
“You’ve sinned, Eric. You’ve sinned plenty and now it’s time to pay for your transgressions. You’ve committed crimes and your sentence is upon you. Beware, for these following moments shall be your last and when you next wake, it will be in my world, where my justice is certainly not as light as it is here. You will pay for what you have done, Eric. Make no mistake.”
I managed to impress myself, even. Eric, on the other hand, just looked at me. I shit you not, he just stared like I’d told him about the weather. And then, almost mechanically, like he wasn’t thinking about it at all, he continued to drink his beer and took the last couple of drags of his smoke.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Dude,” I snapped, “I just told you you’re going to die just now. Do you have anything to say?”
Eric slid off his bar stool and looked at me, suddenly smiling.
“How ‘bout I call you Mr Death?” he said. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do here and really, I hope you’ve achieved your goal, but I’m a busy man and seriously, there must be someone else you can bother. Thanks for the drink, dude.”
And then he turned, and walked out of the bar.
Well, what could I say after that? I let him go and finished my smoke and my beer. I was thoroughly annoyed by this point and paid for the drinks, giving the bartender a nice tip. He deserved to enjoy his evening. They were numbered, after all. I left the bar. Now, this bar was on the side of a major route that ran through the town. And in the distance, I could see Eric, in his all his glory, taking a leak on the side of the road. I lit another cigarette and observed, some ways down, headlights.
The sound of tyres screeching was really loud. But Eric didn’t have much time to look over his shoulder and check what was coming his way. He didn’t even cry out when he was hit and his body almost immediately vanished beneath folding metal as the truck slid across tar, then gravel and finally came to a halt, inches from the bar.
I left the chaos that swiftly followed the accident.
Back at the office, Eric was waiting for me.
“You sure weren’t lying, Mr Death.”
“I sure wasn’t.”
Eric was screaming long before the flames even reached his knees. He was special that one. I liked him. He flummoxed me for a bit. And now, now he’s a trembling ‘I’m terrified of Death’ former shadow of himself. Such a pity. I really liked him. Like I said, this job sucks.