“Death, my lord, we have a problem,” a rigidly upright butler moaned as he set foot into the library.
Death, his desiccated feet propped up an oak desk, looked up from a section of the newspaper. He mentally rolled his eyes at the servant but physically they kind of just stayed in place. “Ugh, what is it Lloyd?” Death shook his head and put it back in the obitu…horoscopes.
“It’s about one of your appointments this morning, sir. The young girl you killed before breakfast? She’s alive.” The butler held a silver tray with nothing on it, possibly holding the prop out of habit. It’s not like Death really needed anything.
“I don’t have breakfast in the morning, Lloyd. You have breakfast in the morning. And what are you talking about? The kiss of Death is final and absolute. Now go pretend to fix me a drink.”
Death honestly didn’t know why he had a butler. Maybe to tell Death some breaking news that wasn’t in the paper? That was absurd. All news was dead on arrival and therefore redundant. Maybe the butler was there to annoy him what with the need for balance in the universe. No, Death couldn’t simply enjoy the day lounging about until his appointment; his zen always marred sooner or later by some annoyance. This is how the universe worked, though. Even Death had no power over The Rules.
“I’m afraid it is true, sir. The young girl did not drown. I double-checked with the tenants upstairs; they’re not expecting her arrival, ever it seems.” The staunch servant turned on his heels and exited the room as coolly as he had entered.
Death raised his head and his voice after the butler. “That’s not possible because that would mean there are two Lifes out there and there already is one.” Death wasn’t sure the butler heard him so he stood up and slapped his paper on the desk. “I mean, that would tilt things out of balance and that’s against The Rules!” As usual Death found himself talking to himself and normally he was fine with this. He wasn’t like Misery at all. The situation at hand probably meant an investigation, though, which probably meant interrogating people. This made Death…
Perturbed – he was beyond being annoyed now – Death quickly drew a drawer open. The drawer and its contents spilled onto the floor, a gun popping off a round when it hit the floor. The bullet chipped one of Death’s ribs, reminding the force of nature to once again consider abandoning embodiment. Like a butler, he didn’t need a body, it was force of habit perhaps or maybe it was simply comfortable, like your favorite pair of pajamas. Or maybe there was another reason.
Death riffled through the contents on the floor, running a boney hand over a vile of poison, a miniature noose (for fairies), a frayed brake line, and an Adele CD among other things. Ah, there is was, an old-school college-ruled marble notebook. He lifted it off the ground, fruitlessly tried to blow the dust off of it, then wiped the cover with his digits. The Rules was neatly written in black sharpie on the cover. Death rifled through some blank pages until he came upon some very precise handwriting.
The Rules, it read. 1 –Life is miraculous, temporary, and precious. 2 – Death is final and absolute. 3 – The twain shall live in harmony and The Rules followed else there be Chaos. Signed, Order. That’s all there was to it, really, or so Death thought. It seemed someone didn’t get the memo or was deliberately flouting the rules for some unknown reason. No, why would anyone try to invite Chaos into the universe? The guy was like a bull in a china shop. On the contrary, with Death around, there were things you could count on happening – like death – even if you were afraid of it. Yes, even if you were afraid you could still count on Death. And Death loved being a guy you could count on one hundred percent. Who else could boast that kind stat?
As Death picked up the handle of an old black rotary phone – they were reliable – there came the warped and waning sound of the doorbell. He put down the receiver when he heard his butler answer the door in his stoic way, only for the butler’s monotone voice to be pierced by the blistering ray of Life’s vocal chords.
“No, no, no,” Death said with rising concern. He ran out of the library, pointing his finger down the hall at his butler, “Make sure she keeps her shoes on!” But it was too late. Life was already prancing around the foyer, her soiled feet darting about the white shag carpet.
“C’mon, silly,” Life skipped, “You know I never wear shoes.” Golden butterflies flitted through her strawberry red hair as she pirouetted around Death as he groaned.
“I was just about to give you a call, Life,” Death spoke. “Or at least leave you a message – you know how you’re always out doing stuff,” he added on the sly. “What brings you over?” he asked, chicking his fingertips together as he watched his carpet turn rustic.
Life stopped for a moment – which for her meant hopping in place – and stared Death in the eyes. “Do you know anything about this little girl who appeared this morning out of nowhere? I didn’t breathe life into her so naturally that caught my attention. I had my cousin Joy keep an eye on her while I made my rounds and she said you kissed her in the lake but she didn’t die.”
“That appears to be true,” Death acknowledged. “So if you don’t know anything about this and I don’t know anything about this, what the heck is going on? Order can’t be behind this. Do you think this is the work of Chaos? Nooo, we’ve been doing our job, right? Everything should be in balance. Chaos isn’t allowed out unless we screw up. Wait, did you screw up, Life? ”
“You should try to kill her again,” Life pirouetted again. Death was shocked by the pronouncement though you could never read his expressions correctly. Life blew a kiss at the butler whom they both knew to be indifferent.
“You did screw up, didn’t you? I mean, otherwise why would you say such a thing?” Death wasn’t even talking to Life so much as thinking aloud.
“Wasn’t me, babe,” Life pipped. “She’s not one of mine so I figure if you can’t kill her, she must be a new force of nature. But I’m going to leave you to figure it out. I’ve got more appointments to get to. Ta!” The butler opened the door and Life balleted her way down the driveway leaving some of the vibrant flower petals of her dress in her wake.
“Oh, it’s okay. I’ll take care of it,” Death called out after her, “It’s not like I have a mineshaft to collapse in forty-five minutes.” Life was incapable of lying so it had to be true that she had no hand in the recent turn of events. “A new force of nature?” Death rubbed his chin in contemplation. “Shoot. What else do I have going on today…butler?” Death never could remember the butler’s name. Maybe it was ‘Butler.’
Butler spoke up. “After the mineshaft you have a few old ages between 2pm and 3pm, a murder-suicide at 3:05, a bloody revolution in Central America at 3:15, a deadly tourist fail at 3:35, and of course your daily school shooting. Then you have a break until 4:30pm. Sir.”
“That just might give me enough time to track this girl down and try again. Then we’ll see what’s up!” Death had faith in his abilities. After all, he’d never failed before, so why would he now? But what if he did fail? Did this mean he was getting old, senile, maybe facing retirement? That was never in the contract; the position was for the extent of the universe’s existence, wasn’t it? Then again, there was no contract with Order, there was just the notebook with The Rules in it. Everything else was implied.
On his walk back to the library, Death reached for the few strands of hair left on his head. He grasped something resembling a few stands of hay but stopped short of pulling them out. “How far out of balance will things get while this girl is roaming around in the meantime? Should I try to get to her before doing the mineshaft? But if I miss the mineshaft, Chaos is going to show up. Dammit! Maybe I can do the mineshaft early.” Death strongly considered this; like so many other things appointment times were implied, were they not? “No, no,” Death stammered. “Let’s just wait and see how this plays out. No sense of bucking order when I don’t know what the consequences will be.” Death let go of his hair and tried to breathe deeply into his crusty lungs. It was a useless thing to do, physically speaking, but Life had once taught him during World War II that it could prevent panic attacks. God, that war was a lot of work and had been overwhelming at times.
“Do something useful for a change, Butler, and track that girl down,” Death ordered. “I’m going to be on her like flies on a corpse as soon as the school shooting’s over.”
“Where is she?!” the immortal bursting through his own front door needed to know. “I’ve got twenty minutes!”
Although Death had startled him, making him drop the silver platter he’d been carrying, the butler was otherwise unflappable, stoic as ever. “She’s in 1773, sir. December 16th, 1773 to be exact, m’lord.”
Death leaned a hand on the butler’s shoulder not so much out of exhaustion or for dramatic effect as out of confusion. “That doesn’t even make sense, man. Life and I aren’t allowed to time travel. What’s done is done. How is this girl time traveling and why? How am I supposed to get to 1773 in twenty minutes? Frick!” Death suddenly smacked the butler on the cheek making the servant’s eyes flare momentarily. “Are you joshing me?”
The butler rubbed his reddened cheek. “I am not ‘joshing’ you, as they say, sir. She’s in 1773 and will be there another ten minutes before she leaves for 1966 to visit George Harrison and inspire him to write a song.”
“How the hell do you know all this, Butler? Where are you getting your intel?” Death inquired. But no sooner he asked than he realized the answer. “Time. You’ve been talking to Time. Aw, geez.”
Death and Time didn’t exactly get along, not since Albert Einstein proved that time was relative – As Time itself always insisted – and Death manipulated his Kill List to take out Einstein a few months early. At the…time…Death felt this could disturb the order of things but rationalized that since time is relative, blah blah blah, what difference did a few months make? Of course, Death had gotten terribly drunk to work up the courage to actually do the deed as he wasn’t sure how it would affect the universe. Strangely, nothing of consequence happened, or at least nothing Death knew of. Since then, he’d been afraid Time was going to rat him out to Order but Time never had. Maybe Death’s own time had come, he considered. Death cast his dried marble eyes down a red carpeted hall towards a particularly large and meticulously carved grandfather clock and started a death march.
“Some things being relative,” Death started, “I don’t know when and if I’ll be back. If I’m not back in twenty, well, tell Life she doesn’t owe me that fiver for the asteroid that took out the dinosaurs. Even though I told her – I told her – it was clearly going to hit the earth; had the trajectory and all the math worked out. God, she’s so optimistic and naïve sometimes.”
And with that Death bumped his forehead into the clock, knocking him back and down onto his boney rear end. “Right,” Death muttered as he got up and eased the grandfather clock aside to reveal a passageway. The moment he crossed the threshold between dimensions, he was sucked into a violent red vortex.
“Death! If I did not foresee it I would not believe you are here now.” Time sat on a throne of small and large clocks whose hands moved both forward and backwards. He? She? Death was never sure. Time had one of those terribly ambiguous faces when wrapped in their finest Italian threads, rendered any pronoun impossible. Death never it was relevant anyway; he’d always been more spooked by Time’s little clocklike eyes than Time’s ambiguity.
Surrounding the pair in this dimension, the air itself was an infinite number of chattering film strips whipping to and fro, some playing quickly, some crawling along at a snail’s pace. Some strips appeared to wrap back upon themselves. “Ah, Mobius,” Death pointed and quipped trying to soften Time up.
“What do you want, Death?” Time asked sharply. Compared to Time, Death fancied himself lighthearted, even happy-go-lucky on occasion provided all the day’s work was done and done right. But Time was always all business and that hadn’t seemed to change. Considering everything Time had to keep track of, Death figured he’d better not waste Time’s time.
“So, you know normally I’d never intrude on your turf, right? I mean, not without a good reason. But there’s this girl, you see, who I tried to kill…”
“I know the child of which you speak. Are you concerned that I am involved?” Time leaned forward then eased back upon the throne again. “I have no reason to usurp my young brother, Order. I have nothing to do with this…matter.”
Did Time just stutter? It seemed to Death that Time had. Death had never seen this before, at least not up until the time of their falling out. Death pointed a finger at Time.
“You know something.”
Time’s head reared back before snapping back forward. “Yes, I know something! And I’ll be damned if I tell you what it is.”
“Whoa, take a chill pill, Time,” Death lowered his finger.
“Your vernacular is literally thirty years ago, Death. Get with the times,” Time fired back.
Death waved his palms down. “Okay, okay, though you of all people should remember that time’s irrelevant. I mean, that’s your schtick, right? But let’s focus on having a civil conversation here. Look, I know you’re still upset about the whole Albert Einstein thing but Chaos is knocking at Order’s door with that girl running around. I know Chaos doesn’t bother you but he’s a real dick to everyone else. Tell me what you know and, uh, ya know, I’ll do something for you. Mi casa es su casa.”
“That doesn’t even make sense, Death,” Time rolled the second hands in their eyes. “But since you’re being so cordial at the moment, I would rather enjoy taking you up on that offer.”
“Great!” Death clapped. He bopped forward with a little bit of relief. “You know, we used to be friends. See how easy it is to work things out?”
“It is easy to work things out, Death, provided you hold up your end of the bargain first.”
“I’m listening,” Death held his hand to his ear. “Go ahead. Lay it on me.”
“I’m going to send you back in time to resurrect Albert Einstein. Then you will leave him alone until he’s supposed to die.”
“Oh, oo, hmmm. I don’t know about that,” Death backed off. “Death is final, you know. It’s in Order’s rules. I mean, yeah, you could tell Order what I did and he’d probably be pretty upset with me, but bringing back the dead? Who knows what havoc that might wreck. It could be psychologically damaging, too, making the poor guy die twice? Would you like to perhaps, I dunno, ask for some other favor?”
“For Pete’s sake, Order wrote The Rules when the universe was barely a few seconds old. Ask him about The Rules now and he’d probably say he wishes he’d given it more thought. My request stands. I am sending you back in time to resurrect Albert Einstein. After you fulfil your end of the deal I will send you to intercept the girl before she whispers in George Harrison’s ear.” Time raised a hand high above.
“But you haven’t told me anything about the girl,” Death protested.
“I will tell you this, Death. There are some things as certain as life and death. Some things are equally undeniable. And how people think about these things is not up to me. Now be gone, Death, be gone from my realm!”
“But I’ve got a drive-by in fifteen…” Death’s voice trailed off as he was sucked up into a swirling pool of light and vanished.
To Be Continued
All Rights Reserved (c) November 2018 John J Vinacci