Having a Beer with Death

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I was fired on Tuesday, Marsha left me on Wednesday, and the world ended on Thursday around seven-thirty-ish. It’s Monday now, had a few days for the apocalypse to finally sink in and now I’m utterly bored out of my wits. I can’t watch the TV, power’s been out since Friday morning, not that there was anything exciting on, all the stations were either playing late night infomercials, a news loop of the pope vanishing into a bolt of lightning, and JAG. I can’t get a proper rub-out, you know, the age of information and all its goodies tend to pamper a man. And with the power out, the beer’s already warm, so I can’t really get good and loaded while playing solitaire, now can I? I thought about driving up to the shore and watching the bits of the moon sparkle in the night sky or the first that, I’m assuming, is the burning wreckage of Canada, over Lake Erie; but traffic’s bumper to bumper with those giant insects the size of city buses crawling down Detroit Road. A whole lot of good being the last man on earth is, I’ll tell you, it’s actually pretty boring.

I suppose I could go drink with that DEATH fellow. I’ve seen him looming around the neighbor hood here and there, but he seems to have his hands full, what with all the dead bodies around and all. Plus, I’m not really sure if I get his sense of humor. Not that he isn’t funny, just not my kind of funny. When I first him it was Friday after noon, I was out on the porch watching the waves of locust billowing in the evening sky, something that’s entirely worn out its welcome, while drinking the last cold six pack any man any where would ever drink, when saw him strolling up the street in his oil black cloak, carrying his long scythe, and having his little minions scouring the houses and looking for dead folk.

I got off the porch a few steps as he crossed in front of my lot, and asked him first if the world really ended, and, if it had, how long until all this mess was over with. He just laughed and waved a bony hand at me, “for right now,” he said, and laughed a bit.

The next day, Saturday, I was sitting out on the front porch again, drinking slightly cool beer, I left them in the pool seeing as it was always ice-balls when you jumped in even in the dead heat of August, and i saw DEATH standing outside my neighbor’s house while he watched his minions, these little bony things about shin high with what looks like chewed bubble gum holding them together, struggle as they dragged a body out of my neighbor’s house. The body was fat, half naked, it was clutching the corpse of one of those Chihuahuas, and the body’s face was a tangle of burns and contortions that made it look like a Halloween mask rather than that good old fat woman who used to be my neighbor.

“Hey, what you doing with Nance,” I yelled.

DEATH’s little minions plopped dead old Nance and her little dog right in the center of the cracked driveway as DEATH gave me an unconcerned look with his hollow eyes.

“My job,” he said, politely enough.

“But don’t you usually sneak up, out of the shadows and such?” I asked him.

“Not now seeing as all of you” – he gave me another glance – “well since most of you have done and left. Now if you don’t mind,” and I really didn’t, once a working man and all, I can respect that, “I have to get back to work.”

“Right then,” I said as DEATH raised his scythe over Nance’s bloated corpse, “but just one more thing.”
DEATH stumbled his movement, paused, and then gave a sigh as I walked up to him handing him a beer.

“Seeing as it’s the end of the world and all,” I said, while also apologizing for it not being cold.

As DEATH turned to take the beer he dropped his scythe, as it fell to the ground his minions seemed to just materialize underneath it and caught it before it hit the ground. As his bony fingers touched the beer I could feel the heat being sucked strait from it, frost formed over it so quickly that i almost dropped it.

“There we are,” DEATH said, wiping an imaginary beading of sweat from his ivory brow.

As he opened the can with a satisfying hiss, I asked him: “So, uh, DEATH, this really is the end of the world.” DEATH nodded his head. “And this isn’t just my, uh, you know.”

“Your death?” he asked after taking a sip.

“Yeah,” I said. “Like in one of those Twilight Zone episodes, where the guy finally has the world to himself, so he could read books, only to find out that his glasses or broken.”

“Twilight Zone,” he asked. “Is that the thing with the vampires?”

“No, not at all,” I replied. “It’s a bit older than that.”

“Ah, okay, they got that all wrong though, you know, vampires don’t sparkle, they shimmer. Two completely different things.”

I nodded with agreement, though i know he was missing my point

“So is this my death?”

DEATH didn’t have eyebrows, on account of him just having a skull for a face, but I could read the social ques of anyone’s posture. “Do you feel dead?” He asked.

“No,” I said, then hesitated. “I don’t think so, but in those Twilight Zone shows the people really don’t know if they’re dead or not, they just think everyone else is.”

DEATH nodded absently.

“And then death, I mean you, well, not you but an actor playing you shows up and gives them a challenge.”

“A challenge?” DEATH asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Like a game of chess or something, something the dead guy is usually good at, and then if the dead guy wins, he’s allowed to go back to being alive.”

“Well, that’s a new one to me.” DEATH said absently. “But as above so below, I guess. What are YOU good at?”

If that was the game, a simple game of questions, DEATH would have had me. A nervous, cold chill ran down my back against the boiling heat of the post Armageddon summer. What was i good at? I couldn’t say my job, I lost mine even before the world ended; I hadn’t played chess since high school, and I wasn’t any good at it then; hell, when it came to athleticism i wasn’t even good at Fantasy Football.

I couldn’t say what came over me, perhaps it was a mixture of the pressure and the heat, the way the locust’s miniature death screams made my skin crawl, or maybe it DEATH’s hollow eyes reminded me of dear old dead Marsha; but without even thinking Marsha’s words came pouring out of my mouth: Frank, you’re a “Professional beer drinker”

“Professional Beer drinking, aye?” DEATH asked.

Tried to reply, but I was too busy trying so swallow my words.

DEATH nodded his head for a moment of consideration and looked at me with those empty eyes. There was a silence there, well not really a silence seeing as all around where the sounds of car alarms, ambulance sirens, air raid sirens, locust humming, thunder and lightning, and the sounds of giggling garden gnomes that happened to animate into life when the end of the world happened – as if they weren’t creepy enough as they were. But there was a pause in the conversation, a dense one.

“Well, then… Race ya,” DEATH yelled, and before I could reply he pulled a jingle of keys from somewhere in his ebony black robes, punched a hole in the side of his beer, and started shot gunning the beer.

My college instincts took over, and I followed suit, only I didn’t have a chance to poke of hole in the side of my beer, and my beer was warm. As I got halfway through my can I heard DEATH belch and exclaim

“I win” as he crushed the empty can against his skull and then threw it on the ground.
As he snapped his fingers I almost gagged, seeing that scythe, all oily black wood and a blade longer,
and sharper, than any I’ve ever seen; I suddenly felt very, very afraid. It really hadn’t dawned on me, until that very moment, that maybe this WAS like one of those Twilight Zone episodes, though I was struggling to find a more reasonable explanation. Not to mention that if it was, DEATH was really an unfair sport about the whole thing.

“I’m afraid to inform you, Mr -” he started.

“Frank, Frank Anniston.”

“I’m afraid to inform you, Mr Frank Anniston, that you lose, you’re already dead, ooooooh.”

And then the prick started laughing. Not giggling or chuckling, not even one of those four parted “ha has” you throw out to people who you like, or have to like, who have told an unfunny joke. No, it was a rip roaring laughter that rattle the skeleton hiding inside his pitch black cloak that ended with him, doubled over, skeletal hands on his knees, wheezing sickly strings of black smoke.

“Oh Christ,” DEATH waved a hand and coughed. “You mortals are so funny when you’re shitting your pants in fear. It makes me wonder why you even wear any pants, you die LITERALLY every day, every single day, and are scared to ME every time it happens.”

His laughter sputtered to a halt as he wiped away an imaginary tear off his pale face. “Thanks, Frank,” he said. “It’s been a long couple of days, i really needed that.”

“Don’t mention it,” I think I said, although I can’t be sure that’s exactly what I said, holding back the aforementioned pants shitting and all.

“Now, Frank,” DEATH said, wiping away the black soot from his ivory teeth and fully regaining his DEATH persona, “Thanks for the beer and the laugh and all, but I should probably get back to work, souls to take, quotas to fill, yadda yadda.”

“Oh, I getcha, DEATH,” I said, and then added, “Just one more thing though.”
DEATH drew in a breath and just nodded, his skull made a rattle like there was an acorn bouncing around in there.

“So it really is the end of the world?” I asked

“Yup.” DEATH replied

“And I’m not dead?”

“‘fraid not.”

“So if I’m alive, why can i see you?”

“Well, I don’t really have time to get into the deets,” he replied, “a bunch of technical jargon you probably wouldn’t understand. Not that you’re stupid or anything, you’re the smartest person on the planet, it’s just being mortal and all, you probably wouldn’t even be able to comprehend, even the parts that are in English. But the long short of it has to do with the pile up of unmoved souls, they give off a radiation that makes us visible.”

“Makes US visible,” I repeated. “Like, more, DEATH?” I asked him.

“Stay around long enough and you’ll see,” DEATH said. “Now if you could please step back,” – DEATH motioned towards his scythe – “I don’t want to accidentally reap some one who hasn’t passed, wink wink, nudge nudge, you.”

“Sorry, sorry.” I said as I took a few steps back to let DEATH do his thing.

It was kind of interesting, like watching that show “How It’s Made” or the one where they blow shit up at the end of it. Like watching a real craftsman at work. First DEATH spat imaginary spit into his bony hands and rubbed them together with a hollow clatter, then he gripped the midnight staff of the scythe and raised it above his head, and then he plunged into the gut of my dear old dead neighbor Nance. The head of DEATH’s scythe was instantly buried in the fat woman’s gut, but it didn’t actually cut into her massive frame; instead it looked as if it just disappeared, like he had just put the end of it behind a curtain or something.

“So does this happen often?” I asked him. “I mean, the Armageddon.”

“Every several thousand years or so you guys will get a disease or a rock will fall down and kill a bunch of you, or you’ll make something really cool that explodes really big and keeps me really employed.” He paused for a moment as he began tugging the scythe. If he had a tongue i imagine it would be sticking out in concentration.

“But every million years or so,” he continued with a grunt, “we do a complete clean sweep of the planet.”

“Clean sweep?”

DEATH nudged my direction up to the sky, the blood red clouds seemed to be turning into droplets of purple liquid.

“Oh, right,” I said. “But do you really have to kill everyone?”

“Well,” DEATH started, “at first we would just reorganize things here and there, to make sure reality stayed, well, like reality. But it’s when you frontal-lobe beings started coming around, what with the tampering and inventing and the questioning – this proved to be more fun, well, efficient.”

I raised my eyebrow at DEATH.

“Well, okay, FUN for me, efficient for us.”

“Us who?” I asked, but as I said it DEATH pulled his scythe free from the fat – from Nance, and with it came the smell of celery a blue mist that coiled around the open air just two feet above her body.

“Heads or tails,” DEATH said as he leaned on his scythe, wiping away another imaginary beading of sweat.

“What?”

“Heads or tails, heads or tails, before it’s too late!”

Not understanding the question fully I just picked the first thing that popped into my mind. Tails, and it seemed fitting, being at the tail end of the world and all.

There was an electric poof, and the thin blue mist coalesced into a shimmering silver rain. Below it a small hole opened up, wreaking of rotting eggs, and the silver rain fell into it and the hole disappeared without a trace.

“Wow,” DEATH laughed, “she must have been a pretty crumby neighbor.”

“But I didn’t kn -”

“How about the little one, the, uh, the rat thing?”

“The Chihuahua?”

“Yeah, whatever, this thing?” DEATH reached his hand into the remains of the dead little dog clutched by the dead fat woman and pulled out a smaller, yapping blue wisp.

Still stunned that i had just sent Nancy, dear old Nance, who had baked me pumpkin pies in the fall and brought me ice cold lemonade in the summer, the nice, plump little lady with that yappy little dog, to hell; I figured it’d be better if she didn’t have to go to such a place alone.

“Tails,” I said, and with that the same rotted egg smelling hole opened and the yapping wisp of the dog’s soul turned not into a silver rain, but a black rain, and followed after its master down into the clutches of the eternal abyss.

“That’s how you can tell they were really bad,” DEATH said, dusting off his bony fingers. “Their soul looking all black like that, rotten to core.”

“Dogs have souls?”

“What, well i guess, I dunno really. Not my job to know.”

There was another pause between us again, but was quickly broken by DEATH. “Don’t worry about the fat lady,” he said, sympathetically. “Good souls get damned all the time, I mean, the middle ages and all. What a cluster fuck that was. I’m sure when she gets there they won’t have her paperwork and then they’ll have write a report about it and send her to the reception area until they find out where she’s really supposed to go.”

“You mean purgatory?”

“What? Oh, purgatory, no that place doesn’t exist.” DEATH said. Then he pulled a sharpie from his pocket, marked a large letter D on both Nancy and her dog, and put the marker back in his pocket.
DEATH and I shared another beer after that. Though a bit leery at first, I allowed him to frost my beer for me, which was much needed relief, who knew the end of the world could be so hot; and we shot the shit for a little while. He talked about the last Armageddon, where the dominant species on the planet, the ones that built the pyramids, were actually Squid, explaining why we could never find any bones of them, and I brought him up to speed on Twilight Zone and Fantasy Football and cars.

“I always wondered what those people were doing in those metal things,” DEATH said. “All smashed or on fire. Well, that solves that one.”

Then, just as we finished our beers, DEATH’s little minions began to cackle in their little chittering language.

“Right then,” DEATH said, patting me on the back with his bony fingers. “Well Frank, you’re a funny bloke, and I like you.”

“The feeling’s pretty mutual, DEATH,” I replied.

“I’ll be around here for the next” – DEATH pulled up his black sleeve to reveal a hidden, hairy arm nearly the size of my calf, wrapped with what appeared to be dozens of watches pilfered from dead bodies all around the world. “Tuesday, I’ll be in this area until Tuesday. If you wanna grab a drink, I might be able to set aside a few hours here and there.”

“Sure thing,” I said.

DEATH snapped his finger and the little minions began their march down the street.

“DEATH,” I called for him. The skeleton in the black cloak turned back to look, I was holding up a fresh can of beer. “Do you mind?”

DEATH just chuckled, walked back and tapped the beer with his bony finger. The beer frosted in my hand almost instantly.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Anytime,” he said. I also believed he tried to wink, it looked funny without any skin or eyes or anything, but I winked back all the same, just to be polite – I even threw in a little handgun motion with my fingers, which I don’t think he understood very well. And I spent the rest of the warm after noon sitting on my porch watching DEATH collect souls up and down my street, under the blood red sky.

THE END