Prose Header

The Preservation of Death

by Ronald Linson

Chad knew it was going to be one of those days when he saw the list of orders for his shift. He had two routine pickups before 9:30, and a priority Intervention scheduled for 9:48 a.m.

Interventions were so rare he’d never had to do one in his eleven years of service. He actually had to look it up in the employee manual. When he found the relevant section, he groaned. Maybe it wasn’t too late to call in sick and have Arthur cover for him.

But no, it wouldn’t be professional. He just had to suck it up and do his job, even if it was more unpleasant than usual.

Chad arrived for his first pickup at precisely 9:03, just as the body hit the pavement. He waited at a discreet distance for the soul to get itself together.

It didn’t take long. A transparent figure emerged from the now deceased body to hover nearby.

Chad approached, assessing the disembodied soul. The spirit resembled its former vessel, a middle-aged man, flabby, balding, and naked. As the saying went, you can’t take it with you, and that applied to clothing, too.

“Good morning,” Chad said cheerfully. “You’re dead.”

The spirit of the man regarded him curiously. “The Grim Reaper, huh? Didn’t expect that.”

Chad held up one skeletal finger. “A grim reaper. I’m one of three who work this area. It’s my shift.”

“Ah,” the spirit said, shrugging.

“Do you have any questions before we move on?” Chad asked.

“Do you actually use that thing,” the spirit asked, indicating Chad’s scythe, “or is it merely for show?”

“Oh, it’s quite functional,” Chad said. “But I use it only when I absolutely have to.”

The spirit shrugged again, then seemed to lose interest in Chad altogether, his gaze wandering. His ties to corporeal world were loosening even further.

That was his cue. Chad reached out, placing a hand on top of the spirit’s head. It felt like warm gelatin, only not as sticky.

With a little force of will, Chad made it retract and shrink into his hand, forming a baseball-sized object. He dropped it into a pocket of his voluminous black robe, and headed for his next pickup.

He made it with time to spare at 9:19. He cringed inwardly when he saw where it was. A children’s hospital. He hated having to pick up the souls of children. It was so sad.

In the cancer ward, he found the spirit, a little girl of about ten beside a bed. There were also three living people, a man and woman who were likely the girl’s parents, and a nurse. All three were frozen, because Death’s retrievals occur outside of time as perceived by the living.

The spirit of the girl, who was bald, as her vessel had been at the moment of her passing, stared at Chad wide-eyed.

“Hello,” Chad said gently. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you’re dead.”

The spirit nodded. “I know. I don’t hurt any more,” she said, then spaced out, staring at the floor.

Chad sighed. “That’s right,” he murmured. “No more pain.” He collected her soul and then whispered a quick prayer for her parents.

He had some time to kill, so to speak, before the Intervention. He dropped the collected souls off at the office, where Ruby, the Know-Your-Customer specialist, would process them, sending them to their final rewards.

Before he went out again, he hit the washroom to splash cold water on his face. “I’ll quit,” he told his reflection in the mirror above the sink. “I’ll quit and join a monastery or something.”

The location of the Intervention turned out to be a university nanotechnology laboratory. Chad walked straight in, passing through doors as if they weren’t there. Nothing stands in the way of Death.

Chad always did things by the book, but the book had said to use his best judgment when it came to Interventions. In other words, it’s all up to you, pal, and it’s your head if you screw it up.

The subject was apparently a young man in his twenties, working at a table loaded with computer equipment, test tubes, and other more arcane stuff. He was holding up a sealed vial containing a purplish-gray liquid, examining it carefully.

Chad stood right behind him and cleared his throat.

The man started, and spun around on his stool. “What the...” he began, then paled when he saw Chad’s working uniform, a grinning skull peering out of a black hood.

Intervention orders gave no details other than the precise time and GPS coordinates. Chad had to determine the facts for himself. He opted for the direct approach. “What are you doing?” he asked.

The man shook his head, terrified. “Working?”

“Yes, but on what?” Chad demanded. He pointed at the vial in the man’s hand. “What is that?”

“Um, they’re microscopic machines.”

Chad gritted his teeth. “Okay, but what do they do? Be honest.” He waggled his scythe meaningfully.

“Th... they infuse a person’s body, preventing them from dying until they can receive medical care or until their body can heal itself.” He swallowed nervously. “Patent pending.”

“I see,” Chad said. “Do they cure illness or heal injuries?”

“N-no,” the man said. “They keep a person alive, that’s all. “

Chad recalled the two pickups he’d made that morning, the man who had fallen to his death and the little girl who had been in so much pain before dying of cancer. “And what if an injury is catastrophic, or the disease is incurable?”

The man smiled proudly. “They won’t die.”

“True, but they will suffer,” Chad growled, and he swung his scythe.

Copyright © 2017 by Ronald Linson

Proceed to Challenge 724...

Home Page