Hello, Death. It's a Pleasure. by Evan Purcell
Would you strike up a conversation if you accidentally ran into Death on a city street?
The contact was sudden and quite jarring. I remember face-planting against his billowing cloak. He was quite cold, because of the whole skinless thing, and his bony fingers dug into my flesh as he pushed me away. I felt a tingle.
He was very cordial about it, Death was, and I said that I admired his work. Not seriously, of course. I just thought it was the polite thing to say. As you might expect, looking into the sockets of a six-foot, hooded person can become intimidating, and not much else would come out of my mouth except the occasional conversation-filling gurgle. Death told me that he was very proud of what he does. Not many other people could say they kill someone every 3.2 seconds. I thought my line of work was difficult, but his seemed a bit more extensive.
Death also said that he was in town to get through a whole building’s worth of burn victims way down on seventy-first. He pointed his bony little pinkie in the direction of the billowing smoke cloud. I asked if he felt sorry for all those people burning up. I mean, someone doesn’t just wake up in the morning and imagine that he’s going to be a pile of sizzling ash by nightfall. Death shrugged, a disturbingly innocent shrug, given that it came from a man completely covered in shadow. “I don’t know,” Death said. “I don’t want to sound insensitive, but it gets kind of repetitive, you know. You’ve seen one third-degree burn victim, you’ve seen them all.”
I nodded, pretending I understood when I really wanted to run and cower somewhere far, far away. I’ve heard the Southwest is nice.
Death smiled at me, his white teeth gleaming through the cloud of black nothingness that was his face. They glistened in the fading sun along with his scythe blade. Twinkle, twinkle, spark, spark. Death took really good care of his teeth. I admire that in a person.
The small talk continued. I asked him what caused the fire. He said something about a cigarette gone haywire. I asked how high the death toll would get. He said thirty-seven, still smiling, as if the grisly change in our conversation’s focal point registered no emotions in that skull of his. He must have really loved his work.
The moon had suddenly come up, giving Death the lighting he needed, just enough to show his immense outline. The wind picked up around the same time, and his cloak twisted and fell in the breeze, writhing about like the cloth version of the fire that was now high into the sky. “Well,” Death said after our conversation slackened (I contemplated asking where he did his dry cleaning but realized that was too much). “I should be going soon. I think I hear the ambulance come. I’d hate to have made this trip for nothing.”
He patted me on the shoulder, and I again felt a distinct tingle. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but it was mostly unpleasant. He cocked his head for a second, and a look of confusion fell over his face-void. Then, as if to test something, he reached forward and poked me in the forehead. I pretended not to notice.
“I guess I’ll see you around,” I said, although I hoped that would never happen.
He turned to leave, slowly walking into the night. I knew he was still only feet away, but it was getting harder and harder to see him. Before he was completely gone, he turned back, his sockets giving me clear eye contact. “By the way,” he said, stroking his chin with those skeleton hands in a comically grim gesture. “I ran into you. How come you didn’t die? I thought only myself and a few of the other Immortals were allowed to live forever.” He seemed very understanding as he said this, treating my continued life as some strange condition that one reads about in medical journals.
I smiled, turned and flew away. I wanted to let him figure it out. After all, little Timmy McManus still needed me to collect his tooth.
Evan Purcell has written five romance novels, as well as over twenty sci-fi and horror shorts for various anthologies. He was a finalist in the 3-Day Novel Contest and the LA Comedy Fest Screenwriting Competition. For his day job, he teaches English at a high school in Bhutan.
Find out more about Evan: http://www.Facebook.com/http://www.simonandschuster.
Story ART by: Amanda Bergloff