[Recap: When we last left Death, he had been teleported back in time by Time in his pursuit of a girl he was unsuccessful in killing. You can read Part 1 here.]
“Look, ‘Bert, can I call you ‘Bert? Look ‘Bert, I am so sorry you died for a few hours there.” Death was sitting on the side of Albert Einstein’s bed where the genius had passed quietly in the night a few hours earlier. He held Einstein’s hand in his as a consolatory gesture. “You feel okay now? ‘Bert? ‘Berty!” Death snapped his fingers in the scientist’s face. “Wake up, man!”
“I am avake,” Albert said as he turned his head to stare Death in the face. “I have heard ov people talk about a light vhen they die. But I dreamt I vas the light. As you know, a photon does not experience time. It vas beautiful.”
“Jesus, he’s gonna start in with the special relativity in a minute,” Death muttered under his breath. “’Bert! Look, I don’t have a lot of time to explain but I accidently killed you last night. My bad. You’re not supposed to die for another few months, though personally I think you’d rather go the way I took you out last night than the aortic rupture you’re going to suffer in April. But, whatever.”
“But I vill go when I vant to go and no sooner,” Albert insisted. “How did this happen anyvay? I though God does not play dice.”
“Yeah,” Death drawled, “It’s a little more complicated than that but now that you’re safe and sound, I’ve got some other things to do. Enjoy the next few months, kid. Okay now, vortex, go!” Death expected Time to whisk him away asap but he remained in Einstein’s company. “Okay, vortex, go!” Nothing. Frick; he knew Time was going to get him back. Death put his head in his hands. Order was going to be pissed.
“Iv there something I can help vith?” Albert asked. “I vould not think the Angel of Death could ever be so troubled as he iv upon my bedside.”
“Oh, I’m no angel, ‘Bert. I’ve screwed up and Time is paying me back. That’s what this is, he…she…they’re making me late on purpose. I had it coming. It’s my own fault, really. Dammit, all I ever was to do my job.” Death’s head rocked back and forth as if he were sobbing, impossible though that be. It’s why Death had chosen to become embodied all those years ago; you can’t be a drama queen without a body. Death sometimes wondered if Life knew this about him.
“Being late iv all a matter of perspective, of course,” Einstein elucidated. “Surely you vill get vhere you are going on time. Perhaps you already vhere you need to be.”
Death looked up from his dramatic overture. “Whaddya mean, ‘Bert? I need to find someone very in particular in 1968, before they get to George Harrison and tell him to write While My Guitar Gently Weeps. I’m not sure of the significance of the song but the song is so great it could only have been inspired by another force of nature.”
“Vell, I do not know who George Havirson iv or who you are looking vor. Maybe I can help you vith vhen you are looking vor them,” Einstein offered. Death just tilted his head, clearly out of his element. “Iv Death not ever-present?” Albert continued. “Death is everyvhere all the time. Vherever and vhenever you need to be, you are already there. You just need to concentrate on vhat you vere doing in the area vhere you need to be at the right time and you vill be there. That iv because you already are there.”
Death bolted to his feet and shot a pointed finger at the physicist. “You, sir, are a damned genius! The history books sure as hell got that one right. Okay now,” Death shook himself out and touched his fingertips to his head, “It’s astounding. Time is fleeting. Madness takes its toll.”
“Ja, ja,” Einstein urged, “Now jump to the left, step to the right, then vith your hands on your hips, bring your knees in tight.”
Death felt like he was turning into jelly. “I think it’s working, ‘Bert!” The inconsistency throughout Death’s body became more consistent and thorough. “Who knew this damned body was holding me back? Yeah, it’s actually working. Let’s do the time warp again. Let’s do the time…”
Instantaneously, Death was gone.
Albert Einstein laid back down in bed and punched a dent into his pillow. “If I vasn’t frustrated trying to figure out the universe before, now it iv worse.”
“Hold it right there, missy!”
In the middle of George Harrison’s recording studio, Death threw himself between a three-foot tall, four-year old girl with curly golden locks and the glue that held The Beatles together as if he were trying to stop a fistfight. Having successfully separated the little girl and George, Death shoved the little girl back for good measure.
George’s head popped out from behind Death to query the youngster. “Is this the bloke you were talking about? He’s sort of animated for being the personification of death. He looks dehydrated, too.”
Death’s head spun all the way around. “Interesting thing about death, George – there’s a certain lack of water in your life when you die.” Death’s head completed its revolution and set his marbled eyes on the little girl. She looked up at Death unblinking and her nose scrunched up.
“Yeah, this is the guy. Told you he’d get the year wrong and be late.” The young girl looked away, pretending George’s sitar was more interesting than the personification of death.
“Late? Late for what? I’m always on time. Listen kid, I’m not here to stop you from inspiring George to write While My Guitar Gently Weeps. I’m just here to make sure you don’t slip away before you tell me what in blue blazes is going on.” Death reached down and grabbed the girl by the arm and shoved her towards George. “Get it over with, inspire him so we can get on with our business.” Death air-quoted the word ‘inspire’ though he claimed to despise anyone who used air-quotation marks.
“Oh, are ya going to commission me a new song idea, little girl?” George asked.
“New song idea?” Death intoned. “What song did you get him to write already?”
“Taxman,” George answered, “Two years ago she commissioned me to write a song about this fellow who collects taxes and…”
“I know the song!” Death threw his hands in the air. He grabbed the little girl by the arm again and yanked her back towards him. “Why are you commissioning songs, especially about taxes?” Death’s head flopped back. “Oh, dear god. That’s why I couldn’t kill you; the threat of you looming over people’s heads forces you into existence. How the heck did you wind up in a lake?”
The little girl, her command of English excellent for her age, pulled herself towards George while unable to break away from Death. “George, write a song about the world’s unrealized potential for love using your guitar as a metaphor. This one’s on the house.” George’s lips turned down while he nodded, contemplating the idea.
“Death and I have to go have a talk, George. Maybe see you later. Ta!” The little girl snapped her fingers and Death found himself beside the youngster in front of the IRS building on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. It was the middle of the day, birds were chirping, and people walked by and through them oblivious to their presence.
Death may be a little slow on the uptake sometimes but he wasn’t stupid. “If you’re Taxes, you little brat, what happened to the dodgy old guy? There can’t be two of you running around. People wouldn’t stand for it. Order wouldn’t stand for it because it would probably make people prefer death.”
The little girl waved an arm at the despised building. “You’re right about that, Death, people wouldn’t stand for that. The can barely stand taxes as it is. So I asked Order for a favor; I asked her to be reborn.”
“You can ask Order for favors?” Death pondered. “Wait, what? How did you talk Order into being reborn and why?”
The little girl put her arms behind her back and slung her head low. “Because no one loves me, Death.”
“If you haven’t noticed, I’m not high on people’s top ten lists,” Death gestured towards himself.
The girl’s cherub chin raised. “Maybe you’re not loved, Death, but you’re respected. And if you’re not respect, you’re feared. And that’s just it; you’re well regarded regardless of the context. And, you do your job well and able to go home and sleep soundly at night. Me? I’m universally loathed. I’m a burden. The only people I can get to pay their taxes without a litany of swear words are people who produce an unusually consistent and high amount of dopamine and serotonin in their bodies.”
“So what’s this?” Death questioned waving his hands up and down Taxes’ embodiment, “A makeover? You think people are going to be more willing to pay their taxes if a little girl whispers in their ear?”
The little girl turned towards the IRS building and brought praying hands to her lips. “I do. Commissioning George Harrison to write Taxman was an experiment. No one but a complete asshole can hate a Beatles song. So the song wound up a minor hit even though it was about someone people hate dealing with. It’s not going to be easy but in time I’ll change people’s minds about paying taxes. I mean, if Christians can turn the fertility god Pan into the devil, I can change peoples’ perception of taxes. I want people to at least understand the necessity of taxes.”
“Eh, Life and Death are necessary. I thought your existence was contingent upon Life,” Death said.
“And your existence isn’t? Death is only necessary because of Life and of those two things only Death is certain. Of course, the only other thing that is certain is Taxes,” the little girl explained. “I’m not primary like yourself, but I am necessary. Order gets it; he understands the necessity of taxes. Without taxes there’d be more chaos. And you know Order hates Chaos. That guy’s like a bull in a china shop.”
“That’s what I said!” Death enjoined. “But wait, how are taxes necessary in preventing chaos?”
Taxes turned her head towards Death. “Think of all the things taxes pay for. Infrastructure, police and firefighters, education, parks, libraries, social and health programs, science research. The list is long.”
“You left out the military,” Death noted sourly.
“I didn’t want to bring up all the overtime you work,” Taxes answered solemnly. “But all the other things I mentioned contribute to order. They minimize chaos. Even in funding the military, it’s not like war is happening all the time. The standing armies taxes pay for actually keep people from fighting too much.”
“Hmm,” Death sounded. “I never considered you a force of nature before but you make a good point. Your intentions seem to be honorable at any rate.”
“They are!” Taxes slumped with insistence. “Sure, some people corrupt what I stand for. Sure, my nature practically invites corruption. And I can’t help the universe’s tendency towards chaos. But dammit, man, we’ve got to try!”
Death patted the girl on both shoulders and got her to stand up straight. He looked around worried that a force of nature might be seen suffering a moment of weakness having forgotten no one can see them. “C’mon, c’mon, pull yourself together. You’re falling apart like the U.S. tax code. If you’re going to pull this off you’re going to need to toughen up. I’ll…I’ll even help if I can.”
“You will?” Taxes asked with a glint of water in her eyes.
“Yeah, sure,” Death answered while shaking his head ‘no.’ He wanted to say no – it’s what people expected of Death – but even he wanted to be seen as the good guy. He capitulated. “Sure, whatever you need.”
“That’s great!” Taxes jumped up and clapped “‘Cause I need a place to stay. I hear you’ve got a really nice house. And you’ve got a butler, too.”
Instant regret, not nearly as good as the worst instant coffee Death thought. “What’s wrong with your place?” Death probed cautiously.
“Oh, it’s just that it’s really big and gaudy, covered in gold leaf and studded with diamonds. I had to sell it as part of the makeover. Order insisted and I guess I see his point.”
“Okay, okay,” Death relented. “But this does not mean we’re a team. And there’s going to be some ground rules. The butler is actually useless so you have to swear you’re going to help keep Life and her dirty hippie feet out of the house. And no parties; I’ve seen what U.S. Republican senators do when they get together for a convention. And if you need a tool, just ask. I’ve got a toolbox. Don’t go spending a hundred-thousand dollars on a wrench. If you want to do this makeover right, you’ve got to be responsible.”
Death led Taxes down the street, still talking, still spouting rules. As she followed, Taxes thought about how she was in the lake because she asked a priest to wash away her sins, but the priest had a hard time getting the stink off and nearly drowned her. She rolled her eyes behind Death’s back, karma playing itself out to maintain balance, and thus order, in the universe.
All Rights Reserved © November 2018 John J Vinacci