This was my non-winning entry in the Short Story Competition for A day in the life of the Grim Reaper.
He had a feeling in his bones that this would be one of those days. There were no fiery letters in the sky, nor whispers from the hollow dark; but a degree of prescience was part of the job description.
Unfolding himself from the comfort of his cold, dank crypt, he wrapped himself in one of his identical hooded black cloaks, and selected a scythe from the stand next to the entrance. He paused, and exchanged the scythe for one indistinguishable from the first. Then he swung the marble doors silently open and glided out into the crisp morning air.
The Reaper stretched one bony arm skyward, and a scroll materialized in his grasp. He unrolled it and read a dozen or so names scrawled in dark red script. it was not a long list, by any means, and yet he could not shake off a sense of foreboding.
He slid silently out of the graveyard into the city streets. Early morning commuters bustled by, somehow managing to step around him even though they showed no sign they even noticed him – which they did not, with one exception.
A large woman in her thirties, puffing and red-faced, paused at the crosswalk and pressed the button for the crossing signal. She leaned against the signal post, wheezing heavily, and looked straight at the Reaper. The color drained from her face, and she crumpled to the sidewalk and lay still. The Reaper consulted the scroll, and the name Mildred Stevenson faded to grey and blew away into the breeze. Cardiac cases were always the easiest, especially when combined with emphysema.
By noontime, the list had shrunk to three names. The next one was Louis McLeary, age 67. The feeling of dread the Reaper had felt all day peaked sharply. This one would be trouble!
The Reaper drifted toward the First Federal Bank downtown, guided by the sense that always pointed the way to the next soul to cross over. Gliding smoothly into the lobby, he spotted Louis standing in line for the next teller. His dark blue coverall’s were spotted with engine grease, and he held a dirty denim cap in the same hand as a smudged check.
As the Reaper watched, a short, nervous man wearing oversized sunglasses produced a revolver from his jacket before he could point it, the guard by the door shouted, “Freeze!” Louis jumped at the sound and dropped his cap. As he bent to pick it up, the robber fired the gun, and the bullet passed through the space where Louis had been standing. At the same instant, the guard fired two shots at the gunman, who fell to the floor screaming. The teller at the window looked down in surprise at the crimson rose blossoming in her chest, then crumpled behind the counter.
The Reaper looked at the scroll. The name of the gunman, William Kazinsky, turned grey and whirled away in a dusty cloud. But a new name, Lynne Bartholomew, appeared in black with a red border – Untimely Demise.
When the Reaper looked up, Louis McLeary was staring at him with his jaw hanging like the door of an open letterbox. In an instant, he was scrambling toward the door, the cap and the check lying forgotten on the bank floor. The Reaper followed.
Louis looked back with terror in his eyes, and darted across the street. Horns blared and tires squealed, With a resounding crash, a crosstown bus slammed into a fuel truck, and a fireball erupted. Six more black scrawls appeared on the Reaper’s list, followed seconds later by a seventh and eighth. Louis darted through an alley, and headed toward an elementary school.
“Wait!” the Reaper called in dismay. This would not do at all! The adult Untimelies were bad enough, but should the same thing happen at a school! Louis stopped and turned at the sound of the echoing sepulchral voice, terror lighting his eyes. Before he could turn and resume his flight, the Reaper called out again, “I’ll make a deal with you.”
Louis stood his ground, trembling. “What kind of deal?”
The Reaper glided up to him. “You’ve already upset the Balance today. Before it gets any worse, I’m prepared to let you go.”
Louis looked suspiciously at the tall shrouded figure before him. “What’s the catch?”
“You have to leave this town, and abandon your name. No one must know you have outlived your time.” The Reaper waited, as Louis considered.
“I suppose that’s fair. I really don’t want to die.”
The Reaper leaned forward. “This is only a respite. Next time we meet, you will have to cross over.”
Louis nodded slowly. “Thank you. I suppose we have to shake on it, huh?” He looked nervous. “By the way, you don’t really cut people down with that thing, do you?” Louis pointed a shaking finger at the crooked scythe.
The Reaper laughed with a sound like pebbles sliding down a windy slope. He lifted the scythe behind him and ran the tip up and down his spine. “It gets those hard to reach places.”
Louis chuckled in relief, and took the Reaper’s bony hand in his own. He shook it vigorously, and the Reaper rattled all over like castanets. “We have a deal, then. My friends call me Lucky.”
Of course they do, the Reaper thought wryly, as he turned and slid off to deal with the final appointment of the day.
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