This was the original story I’d written with Tod in it (referring back to this post, in case I’m losing anyone). I’d written it for my Creative Writing class back in 2012, so it’s old at this point, ha-ha! 🙂 It was just a bitty short story. But this was Tod’s debut!
Bruce is actually based on my grandfather, who passed away earlier this year. We’ve been talking about him lately again and so I wanted to post this up as a sort of tribute to him. Miss you, Grandpa. ❤
Bruce wasn’t ready to die just yet. Sure he was eighty-nine, the oldest anyone had ever been in his family (which he found positively depressing), but the only thing wrong with him now was a heart attack. ‘Stress’ said the doctor. ‘Bull’ he said back. More likely it was too much activity; he got his heart working frequently.
He was still spry and fit, for after his days in the Navy he had made sure he wouldn’t let himself go—he’d been a lazy slob beforehand. His mind and judgment were sound, thank goodness, or his scavenger of a daughter would have pulled the plug just to get at the little money he had. Thomas, his son, would never allow it, though. Not unless it was by his father’s own choice. Bruce had half a mind to yank out the I.V. in his arm and walk out… but what good would that do, really?
Huffing, he grabbed the buzzer next to his stiff bed and, just to be an annoying cuss, pressed it ten times in quick succession. He needed some orange juice, and he was hoping the cute young nurse, Jamie, would be the one to answer his call. He still very much liked the ladies, but always still had a spot for his wife Darlene in his heart, even after her death.
But Jamie wasn’t the one who answered. Or any nurse for that matter. A young man stepped into the room, looking no older than eighteen. He was dressed it what Bruce deemed to be average punk kid attire: a blue jacket with a faded yellow shirt underneath, blue camo-style shorts with a brown belt loosely tightened at the waist, a goofy, puffy looking blue hat with what looked like a dumbed down version of aviator goggles resting on the brim, and a stub of a cigarette in his mouth, unlit. His hair was a mess of blonde tufts under his hat, and his eyes were a cold blue that reminded Bruce of the clear waters near Hawaii.
Then he narrowed his eyes, for he hadn’t even noticed the most important part of the kid’s get-up: a grim, long, sharp scythe was strapped to his back, black as pitch, and glinting menacingly in the fluorescent lighting. He didn’t care for being caught off guard, and was usually more observant. Not noticing this weapon straightaway made him cautious and wary.
“The hell are you supposed to be, a punked out grim reaper?” he snorted, gesturing with his I.V. free hand to the boy’s outfit. “Halloween’s next week, kid.”
The boy smiled nonchalantly and strolled the rest of the way in, sitting in the visitor’s chair (the scythe somehow not being a hindrance) and propping his shoes up on the bed, being careful to avoid Bruce’s body. Bruce moved himself over all the same.
Pulling the stub out of his mouth and sticking it behind his ear, he folded his hands together on his chest. “For an old man,” the boy said slowly, his voice smooth like a conman’s, “you seem to have quite a bit of vigor in you yet.”
“What do you want?” Bruce asked, ignoring his comment. “And who the hell are you supposed to be?”
The boy slouched a bit more in his seat, then, as if noticing it might be a problem, grabbed the scythe from his back and sat up, propping it on the ground and then propping his chin on the top of it. Did that thing shrink? Bruce wondered.
“Well, Mr. Schermer, does this,” he pointed to the scythe under his chin and raised an eyebrow, “Not make you think of anything? Grim reaper wasn’t too far off base. I’m here on business, and unfortunately for you… well, you’re old. Old people die off, you know. And it’s time for you to go.” The boy had a very serious look on his face, no sign of a joke at all in his expression, and he gripped the scythe with one hand.
Bruce’s eyes widened, and then he snorted so loudly the boy jerked, almost dropping the scythe on the bed. “Schermer, you said?” he asked, almost doubling over in a fit of laughs, “My name is Hildebrand, you stupid punk.”
“What?” he cried, a whiny rich kid tone now entering his voice. He stood up abruptly and pulled a small book from his pocket, flipping to a page roughly in the middle. He looked down at the page, then at Bruce, and back again. Then he wandered over to the end of the bed and peeked at the charts hanging from the bar, most likely checking to see if he was lying about his name. “Ohh, I got you two mixed up!” he groaned, flinging his hand to his forehead as if he were a swooning woman.
“How do you manage to screw that up? Our names are nothing alike—”
“You’re German, aren’t you? So is he! I was going by what your names mean, not what they were: etymology. All I remembered was ‘sword.’ Damn it.” He crammed the book back into his pocket and sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. “So… this is awkward.”
“For you, maybe. Obviously I’m still alive and kicking!” Bruce chuckled, raising his eyebrows in a mocking sort of way. Then he sobered himself up and gave the boy a serious look. “So what are you, kid?”
The boy looked at him, as if unsure if he should share anything with this person who was obviously not on his ‘list,’ but he shrugged and sat back down in the chair again, propping the scythe on the edge of the bed carefully.
“Think of me…” he began slowly, picking his words carefully. “Mm, I’m something of an intern, I guess.”
“Dude,” he pointed to the scythe again, “Do I have to spell it out for you? Death is getting old, lazy really, so he has his kids fill in for him more often than not anymore.”
“Death?” Bruce asked dubiously. “So a grim reaper, like I said. Didn’t think they were real.”
“Kind of, yeah. And of course we’re real; how do you think you people die? It’s not old age!” he scoffed, acting like it was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard of. “Sure you have heart attacks and get in car accidents and whatever, but we’re the ones that cut the cord when it counts. If we didn’t then there’d be way too many of you running around.” He tapped the scythe on the bed. “It helps to keep balance and order.”
Bruce sat for a moment and thought. It made sense, he supposed. It wasn’t like he could do much to change things, anyway. People died; it was a fact of life. Finally he asked, “So when am I going down?” Of course it would make anyone curious, if the one who was to do the deed was right in front of you.
“Ah-ha, that,” he laughed, tapping the pocket that the book rested in, “is confidential. If we told you that you might try to prevent it. Have you ever seen the Final Destination movies? It never works out like you want it to.”
He jumped up suddenly, snagging the scythe quickly and flipping it around to snap back on to his back—somehow. Who knew how it attached. “Well. While this was fun, it was just as embarrassing. For me.” He cleared his throat and gave a mock bow. “And so I have prey to hunt down, because apparently I have gone in the complete and utter wrong direction.”
“Yeah, well, just make sure you’re not taking out people you’re not supposed to…” Bruce glared. “If you kill people who aren’t ready—”
“It’s not killing,” the boy interrupted. “It’s… releasing. And much like I did with you, I always say the name first. Usually they’re too shocked to lie, but I always, always make sure.” He walked to the door and paused, turning back to look at Bruce once more. “Just remember that I’m around the corner, though. Just because we chatted a bit doesn’t mean I have mercy.”
The old man gave a solemn nod. “Makes sense. I think I can handle that.”
“Good.” And then he was gone, and the next thing Bruce knew, Jamie was coming in the door with Thomas and Hannah, his little granddaughter. Instantly he smiled and hugged them both, and asked Jamie if she could maybe bring them three glasses of orange juice instead of just one. As she bustled out the door, Hannah climbed up on the bed next to him to show him the get-well card she’d made. Copious amounts of glitter fell onto the starchy sheets, and he gave her a big kiss as a thank you.
Looking at Hannah, though, made Bruce think on what the kid, the child version of Death, had said, and worried for the day that this little princess of his would have to face that herself. He hoped that Death could maybe, at the very least, have a little mercy for someone so adorable and amazing. He would take on a hundred more heart attacks to make it happen.