Light blinds my eyes after what seemed to be a century of darkness. I stood on an unfamiliar highway. I had no idea where I was or how I got there, but I was there now. A man stood in front of me, dressed in a collared shirt and khaki shorts. He seemed to be in his early twenties.
“Where am I?” I asked the man, trying to call back memories of what I was doing before the darkness. The man looked at me, his expression serious, but with a light smile.
“Doesn’t matter, my friend. All that does is that you’re here. I think you’ll find that your memories will return soon. Happens to most people when they die.”
“So…I’m dead?” I asked, unable to hide the fear and sadness in my voice. The man jumped, as if surprised by the conclusion that I had drawn.
“No! Oh God no! That would really mess up the plan, now wouldn’t it? I’m sorry about the vagueness, but I would rather explain things after you’re up to speed.”
“Up to speed? What are you talking abou-” I felt my mind seem to bend and suddenly I remembered. The bridge. The dog that jumped out of the window of the car in front of me. The guardrail breaking as my minivan swerved to avoid the dog, sending me falling into the waters below. The water filling my lungs as I struggled to get out of the car. Then the darkness.
“Wait, what happened after I…well, died?” I asked the man, confused.
“Well, let’s say you were one of the chosen few. You see, when someone dies and is brought back via resuscitation or whatever other ways Man has to restore life, There is a sort of system. It’s all planned. Men have taken to painting a portrait of Death, you know, the hooded skeletal creature with the big sharp scythe. Think of it more like a force. There is no way to control it, and what it chooses happens. One way or another. There is no reason, no cause. But it must happen.”
“Why are you telling me this? And who are you anyway?”
“Who I am, is of no meaning. You are the one that matters here. But if it will calm your nerves, my name was Dennis. Why I am telling you these things, you will find out soon.”
I looked around at the rather busy highway. Several cars sped past where we stood on the side of the road, not paying us any attention whatsoever. I looked far down the road and saw a large truck coming. A long trailer was hitched to the back, filled with what seemed to be thin metal pipes. About five cars ahead of the truck, a pickup truck passed me, throwing out a bottle of beer as it went. The bottle shattered as it hit the blacktop, leaving jagged glass strewn on the road. It was too late to pick it up, but most of the cars seemed to see it and swerved around it. The truck came, and although it attempted to pass the bottle’s remains, the wheels on the right side of the vehicle spun over the glass, popping one tire at least. The truck swerved, and the driver slammed on the brakes. The gate of the trailer must have not been secured correctly, for it fell open and several pipes fell out at a rather high speed. I looked on in horror as a car behind the truck attempted to stop, but by then it was too late. The car slowed to a sickening stop exactly in front of me as I looked at the terrible fate of the poor driver. One of the fallen pipes had crashed through his windshield, impaling him. I stared in horror for some time, not sure how to react. I rushed to the man, but I knew there was nothing I could do. He began to choke on his own blood as it trickled slowly down his chin. The window was down, so I reached into the car to see if I could at least unfasten his seatbelt. It was impossible, and upon realizing this, I stopped trying and pulled my arm out of the car. I brushed his face along the way, and he fell back, dead. A voice behind me startled me from my horrific trance. It wasn’t that of the strange man that I had talked to, so I spun around in surprise. I found myself looking at the man that had just perished before me. He looked from me to the corpse in the driver’s seat, and then back to me. I understood. I was Death. The dead man tried to say something, but was overcome with surprise and emotion. Finally, he managed to stutter out a single word.
“W-why?” he asked, trembling all over. Not knowing at all what to say, I thought back to what the man had told me about death earlier.
“It’s your time. There are no exceptions. Good luck.”
Dennis came from behind him. He put a hand on the man’s shoulder, smiling sadly to him.
“Time to go,” he said in a voice that somehow immediately soothed the man, who then disappeared as if turned into vapor. Dennis turned to me.
“It’s always easier to give the full explanation after the first soul has been passed on. You are now Death, but not forever. You see, there aren’t as many cases where someone is brought back to life as there are deaths, obviously. So right now, you are in a hospital bed, kind of in limbo between life and death. And for the next day or so, you will be Death until a conclusion has been made. You were made for this. This was meant for you.”
“But it doesn’t make sense, if I just watched all this happen in two minutes, how much time has passed for my body where I lay?”
“That doesn’t matter. Although I serve Death by departing souls from Earth, I do not know whether Death is an actual person. But regardless, Death has a system that never fails. If you hadn’t gotten into an accident yesterday and had been home watching the news, you probably would have seen this accident. Death uses a sort of…well, rip in time to allow a new person to work as Death. It’s all so confusing; it’s easier to just continue on. So what do you say? Can we just move on?”
“To the next person for me to kill? No thanks!”
“Remember what I said earlier? It will happen. One way, or another.”
Suddenly we were standing in a small convenience store. I looked around, wondering who could possibly die. A young man stood by the register, and I hoped that it wouldn’t be him. The door opened and the bell jingled lightly. A man walked in with a ski mask covering his face.
Oh God, please no, I thought to myself. The man quickly approached the counter and pulled a small revolver out of the jacket he was wearing. He pointed it at the man, and gestured to the cash register. A woman in the store noticed and suddenly let out a scream. The thief turned to the woman, pointing the weapon at her. The rest happened very quickly. Three shots rang out, and the would-be robber fell to the ground. The cashier stood with a small pistol smoking in his hands. An open draw behind the counter revealed several rounds of ammunition. I looked down at the dying man, let him bleed for a moment, and then put two fingers on his forehead. I turned around to see another form of the man, without the ski mask. He asked the same question as the first one had.
“Because you’re stupid. This is how you spent the rest of your life. Giving a woman a heart attack and making that kid live knowing that he killed someone. Nice life, jackass.”
Dennis touched him and the robber vanished.
“Way to be nice and understanding,” he said as we went to the next death scene.
We were in a hospital room. Simple enough, lots of people died in the hospital. There were voices drifting into the room from the hall.
“You may want to say your goodbyes. I’m very sorry. It has spread too far into his brain. There is no chance. Once again, I am very sorry.” At this, the sound of a woman’s muffled cries loudly filled the room. I looked to see a young boy in bed, his hair gone and his face sickly pale. I looked at Dennis.
“Are you serious?” I asked him. “He’s got to be less than twelve years old!”
“Remember, no exceptions,” Dennis said calmly. I started to approach the boy when there was a knock on the door. I turned to look, and the woman, apparently more composed, entered the room. She walked straight past me and sat in a chair next to the boy’s bed.
“Hi sweetheart!” she said, taking the boy’s hand into hers. He croaked back a hello, hardly able to open his eyes.
“Now, I know that this is all going hard, but everything is going to be just-”
“I heard what the doctor said, Mom. I love you.”
“Screw this,” I said to Dennis. “I’m not doing it.”
“Fine,” he said. “But remember, I warned you.”
We were suddenly in the hallway of the hospital, standing near an older doctor and the woman outside the room we were just in.
“I can’t explain it,” the doctor said. “It’s like the cancer just disappeared.”
The mother rushed into the room, followed by the doctor. Dennis and I followed. The same boy sat on his bed, completely different. His face had color, and he seemed happy.
“It’s some kind of,” the doctor began but then suddenly grew quiet. “Do you hear that sound?”
I listened, and I heard it. It was the sound of bacon on a pan. Or, more accurately, the sound of gas escaping a container. Suddenly, the cord to the television that was currently playing fell halfway out of its socket, and a few sparks flew into the air. This was apparently enough to cause a huge explosion, and causing me to have to take the lives of several people. Including the boy.
“Only one more left to go.” Dennis said cheerily.
“And then I get to go home, right? I’m tired of this.”
I was so excited to start living again. After about two days of taking over others’ lives, it would feel great to actually take a hold of my life again. We were suddenly in another hospital, which happened quite often. In my excitement, I wasn’t even paying attention.
“Clear!” a doctor shouted from a crowd of white coated assistants. A bare male chest lifted up along with the sound of electrical buzzing. I approached the crowd and tried to get through to see my newest victim. I looked down at the table that the person was lying on. To my astonishment, and horror, I looked down to see my own body lying on the table. I looked up for Dennis, but he was gone. I’m not sure how long I stood with the other doctors who were trying to save me. But I finally made a decision based on what I had learned. I placed a hand on my corpse, and I was then thrown back into that deep, dark, never-ending darkness that surrounds Death.