When I was in high school I had a creative writing class that forced creative work out of you every other day or so. It might seem like a difficult thing to do, but when you have to do the work its surprising how much you can come up with. Remembering that is making me rethink whether or not I could be an illustrator for a living…
Below is a short story I wrote for that class. I can’t remember the “theme” of this assignment. I was big into World War II history at the time and mostly wrote awful, cliche war stories, but somehow this one slipped through as something different. It was one in my “death as an interesting character” series and it still has that “written-by-a-17-year-old” feel to it, but rereading it has me thinking I could potentially update it into a single-shot web-comic…
Til then I hope you enjoy the original!
A Dismal End
It was a bright well-lit diner. Clean and well taken care of, it was owned by a short fat Italian who made the best canole in town. Many of the workers from the block came there to eat: Construction workers, attorneys, postal workers, DMV workers, everyone knew where the best food was.
It had been a slow night. There were only three people in the place. Two were at a window booth and the third sat munching on his dinner and drinking stale coffee at the counter. The door dinged open and another man stepped through. Dressed all in black with tall shiny riding boots and a velvet cape, which he pulled down exposing his pale face and sunken eyes. After scanning the room he walked to the counter and sat next to the other man.
The pale man nodded, “Hi there.”
“Evening.” The coffee drinker had hardly noticed the man next to him.
“Are you uhh…” pale face fumbled about in his cape before pulling out a stack of old papers. He began to leaf through them, “Ah! Are you Phil Johnson?”
“Yeah. What? Somethin’ wrong?” Phil looked concerned.
The pale took a sip of his coffee, “I’m Death.”
Phil chuckled nervously, “Really? Must be good pay in that line of work.”
“It’s OK, I finally got enough to afford my own place now.”
Phil was getting agitated, “What exactly do you want, Mr. Death?”
Death choked down another big gulp of coffee, “Oh.” He said in between coughs, “You’re gonna die.”
Phil’s eyes widened, “Really?” This was the last thing he needed today.
“Yep, in about ten minutes. Don’t be worried.”
Death held up an inquisitive finger, “How should you not be worried or how are you gonna die?”
“How’m I gonna die?”
“I dunno. It’s not my area. I just come to get’m.”
“Yeah?” Phil tried to keep calm.
“Hey, ya never know, I could be wrong.” Death patted Phil on the shoulder.
There was a long pause. Phil looked up from his coffee, “Does that ever happen?”
“Hmm?” Said Death through his third cup of French roast.
“Does that ever happen? I mean are you ever wrong?”
“Goodness no! What kind of a Death would I be if I didn’t know when people died?”
“Yeah, heh, heh…”Phil looked down at his stale coffee and then to his half eaten burger and mashed potatoes, “I’m screwed.” What kind of life had he led? What had he done? Phil poked at what remained of his food.
The pale death glanced up at the muted football game and then to an expensive Rolex watch “Not long now.”
Phil was awakened from his trance, “No, I guess not. Hey, Mr. Death, am I going to heaven?”
Death looked at him with a puzzled expression then slapping his hand against the counter, burst into a loud series of, “Bwahaha’s” before smacking Phil on the shoulder again, “ Heavens no! I thought you were joking for a second. Almost no one who eats here is gonna go to heaven, except Felini.” Death nodded to the fat cook. Felini nodded back and smiled.
Phil looked stunned by the casual way in which Death revealed his eternity.
The reaper sipped his coffee, “Nope, Phil, buddy, you’re going straight to hell. Yep, it’s torture, pain and torment for you. Press the button and down ya go into the eternal inferno.” Death ended his spiel with yet another pat on the shoulder.
Phil scratched his head and looked at Death. He began to pull Death’s cape like a five year old, tugging his mother’s dress for attention, “Is it really bad down there.”
Death was watching the muted game again. Without so much as tossing a glance at Phil he shrugged noncommittally, “Of course it’s bad, it’s hell.”
Phil tugged harder, “Can I repent or something, I mean, can I get out of it?”
Death was still watching TV, “Nope.”
“Oh.” Phil looked down, he knew he was screwed.
Another man came into the diner and sat down next to Phil on the opposite side from Death, “Hey Phil how ya doin’? How’s the coffee?”
“It’s good.” Phil stared into his empty mug, “It’s good, Ryan.”
Ryan shrugged, “OK, hey Felini, a cup-a of-a coffee-a please-a.”
Felini laughed and poured Ryan a cup, “There’s-a you-a coffee.”
Ryan sipped it, “Hey who’s your friend?”
Phil still did not look up from his mug, “Oh, this is Death. Death, Ryan, Ryan, Death.”
Death still watching TV nodded in Ryan’s direction, “Hey, how ya doin’?”
Ryan nodded back, “Nice to meet ya, heard a lot about ya…” He then glanced at Phil, “That’s Death, huh?”
Phil nodded, “Yep.” He then turned toward Death. “Hey…lemme ask you one thi-” Phil’s face splatted heavily into his cold mashed potatoes.
“Well, that’s that.” Death stood abruptly from his stool. “See you next Thursday, Felini!”
Felini gave him a smile and wave.
Death swung the door open and stepped through into the chill air, “See you next Thursday too…Ryan…”
Ryan nodded, “Uh yeah…see ya…” He gave the door a hesitant look as it drifted slowly closed.