Luxury trips to the afterlife.
Every night at midnight, the purple clouds came out to dance with the blushing sky. And floating amongst all its wispy wonder was Dave.
“I’m going to kill him. I’m actually going to kill him!” I say to the sky.
“You can’t kill him,” Blair reminds me, “He’s already dead.”
Blair Bates, so strait-laced she may as well have been in a strait-jacket.
“We have a job to do and he’s busy getting his jollies off in the lavender haze,” I mutter.
I cross my arms and lean back against Dave’s scratched up car. Blair continues her pre-work check of all the necessary supplies. Garbage bags, PPE, spare clothes, body bags and on and on. Above us the bilious clouds of magical pollution colour the sky. And Dave, like some deranged bird flies through it. Breathing it all in.
He is going to be high for hours.
“I will kick him in his jollies if he doesn’t come down soon,” I grumble.
“Can you even kick a ghost in the jollies?”
“I theorise my ghost foot could kick his ghost ass, yes,” I say resolutely as Dave lands a short distance from us. “Should we test my hypothesis?”
“Don’t be spectre phobic, it’s not a good look,” Blair chides.
“I’m not spectre phobic I’m Dave phobic,” I say as he swaggers towards us.
“And what are you wearing?” Asks Blair, pressing her hands down her white business appropriate blouse and skirt. Like Business Barbie complete with the black rimmed glasses. I look down at my combat boots and the fishnets poking out of my ripped jeans. But she is staring at my chest.
“What? Corporate said we needed to wear a tie.” The addition of the red tie over my tank top did make me look a bit like a nineties pop rocker. I wasn’t mad about it.
Dave makes it over to us. He’s wearing a proper white button down over his jeans. But his tie is cinched around his head.
I nod at him in approval. Malicious compliance for the win.
If Blair was straight and proper Dave was the opposite. I was surprised he even owned a shirt that wasn’t tie dye. Even more so that he owned a shirt with sleeves. His wavy brown hair hangs past his shoulders and he has a good amount of artful stubble.
He reaches to ruffle my corkscrew curls and I slap his hand away. Sticking out my tongue. He pulls a face back. We were proper mature business people.
Blair tisks at us and lets herself into the passenger seat. I swipe the keys from Dave’s hands before he can get any ideas.
“We have a long drive,” says Blair. Fiddling with some technical equipment that I thought wasn’t meant to leave the office. “I don’t like leaving Steven alone for long. So, if we could get this done quickly. I’d be much obliged.”
I move to the driver’s side but Dave grabs my arm, pulling me face to face with his baby blues.
“Steven is her new boyfriend, right?” He asks.
“I thought he was her cat.”
We shake and Dave opens the door. Ever the southern gentleman, even when dead and high.
“Didn’t her cat die?” He asks with a smirk.
A bajillion hours and one McDonalds stop later we arrive. Early. This was not looked kindly upon in our profession. People tended to want to stay alive as long as possible.
We flashed our badges at the gate of the esteemed country club. The guard paled as he let us through. We drove down the winding drive surrounded by greenery. People always associated flashy suits and Rolex watches with money. But it was much easier than that. Just look for the green garden in the middle of a drought. While the rest of the country was varying shades of brown and yellow, this property was a tropical oasis.
We park out front. The sight of our crummy car in front of the doors makes the host twitch.
“You can’t park here,” he huffs, practically running toward us in his little blue suit. Dave laughs and hands his badge over. The Hosts eyes glaze in that panicked way they always did. Its the way the words, United Grim Reapers association, register in their brain.
I wave at him over Dave’s shoulder. A flirty wiggle of my fingers and a wink and the man looks like he might puke. I try not to get high off my own awesome power.
“If you could show us to your patron James O’Caster, please,” asks Blair.
“I , ah, he’s not here,” stutters the Host, shoving Dave his badge like it was a venomous snake.
I pretend to sniff the air, “Do you smell that?” I ask Dave, “Smells a bit like bullsh-.”
“What my associate is trying to convey,” cuts in Blair, “is that we know our assignment is here. We are present only to collect his soul.”
“I will have no killing – “ he starts his face growing red and sweaty.
“We collect the soul only sir. The method of death is decided by your patron, likely long before we arrived.” Blair is a pro.
Dave and I hang back as Blair weaves her Business Barbie magic. Soon we are following the clippity clop of her heels. The Host leads us through the white-on-white marble hallway and into an equally white tea room.
“Fancy, fancy,” I muse as we enter the room. Plush wingback chairs clustered around little light wooden tables. The entire far wall of the room is glass, leading to a stone balcony with a view of the pristine green golf course. It looks like a screensaver.
“The décor is uninspired,” sniffs Dave, he lifts his nose and presses his hands behind his back.
“Mmm, yes, yes,” I say copying his fake posh person pose, “I myself prefer the French style.”
Sitting in the middle of two marble pillars is an elderly man and a younger copy with a scowling face. The old man holds a monocle in one withered hand.
“Dear god, have we come to collect the Monopoly man?” I whisper. Please say yes.
Blair shoots me a dark look over her shoulder.
“Sir,” The Host addresses the elderly man, “Some Reapers have business with you.”
The young boys sneer transforms into a smirk. “Times up old man. Good luck limiting my spending from the grave.”
“Oh, no. Sorry,” Interjects Blair, “we are in fact after James O’Caster Junior.”
The scowling youths head snaps up. Oh, this will be good.
“Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars!” Whispers Dave and I have to bite my cheek to keep from laughing.
“I don’t plan on dying today,” Monopoly Junior sneers.
“No one ever does!” I say cheerily.
“Please sir, if we can loosen your soul before your bodies passing we can avoid the pain,” said Blair. Taking one quick efficient step towards him.
He snatches his hand away from Blairs well-manicured fingers.
“I wont!” He says, rising from his chair, eyes darting to the exit behind us.
Don’t run. For the love of god don’t run.
James turns and sprints as fast as his loafers can take him.
Straight through a plate-glass window and over the balcony. No steps sound from the other side.
A large chunk of broken glass falls from the frame, splintering the heavy silence.
Why do they always run?
We edge towards the balcony sidestepping as much of the blood as possible. Together the three of us peer over the edge. There James O’Casters body hangs impaled on the metal picket fence. Blair whirls away, fanning her face with her hands.
Dave and I lean over for a closer look. Dying had given me a morbid fascination with life ending injuries. Two metal spikes shot through his chest. The glass had gouged large streaks into his face, his pale jersey now stained red.
“Nice,” I said.
“I love our job,” sighs Dave.
We turn back to the tea-room. The Host, Monopoly man and several other patrons are staring at us with slack jaws. Another day, another death, another job to do. I collected the stories of peoples demise like puzzle peices. Trying in vain to fill the hole in my memories.
“On the bright side, the red adds a lovely burst of colour to this space,” says Dave. I pretended to look around and nod in agreement. Blair to our left isnt looking so good. This was her assignment, but she wasn’t going down there without gagging.
“Dave, if you please,” I say sweetly.
Dave throws himself over the balcony, Kamakazi style. He returns moments later with a semi translucent Monopoly Junior aka James O’Caster floating by his side. Someone in the tearoom faints. Gotta love Dave. He took every chance to scare the natives.
“What happened?” Asks James. The freshly dead aren’t the smartest.
“You ran,” I say.
“Never run,” Dave adds.
Unfortunately for us, James flies right past logic and into the worst stage of grief. Bargaining.
“I challenge you to a game of chess!” he decrees, “A game for my life and soul!” His smile leans to devious. Like this was an original thought.
I look to Dave, then to a less pale Blair at my side.
“We don’t have chess,” I sigh. We had set it on fire after one-to-many requests.
“What do you have?” James asks, his form fluctuating in and out of focus. The visual is disorientating. I’d be sick like Blair in a moment.
“We have twister,” I admit. I'd noticed it in the car earlier today. James looks at me eagerly.
“I am not playing a game of twister for your immortal soul”.
“I’ll play,” said Dave.
“God danm it, Dave!”
“What,” he shrugs “I like twister.”
Blair and I share a plate of mini sandwiches as Dave and James Junior do twister battle for his soul. His newly grieving family watch on as paramedics pick up the pieces of Jimmy’s body behind them.
A woman in beige bursts into the room. If the snarl was any indication Juniors mommy was here.
“Where are these Reapers!?” She screeches. James wobbles on the twister mat and I hold my breath. But he regains his balance. So, the farce continues.
Beige Mommy rounds on us, looking down her beak of a nose. Her murky green eyes sweep over Blair and land on me. I’d seen that look before. To people like her I have committed two cardinal sins. I am both dead, and black. I know, how dare I have pigment in my spectral form, I really was a heathen.
I imagined a bell ringing overhead. The super smackdown is about to begin, choose your characters!
“Grim Reapers,” she sniffs, “Got the grim part right.”
She reminded me so much of my mother I could have cried. I had three missed calls from my Mumsy. Each message half an hour of, Sydney Payne, you have been so directionless since you died. And she wondered why I didn’t pick up the phone.
Blair clears her throat, “We feel Grim Reapers has a negative connotation. We prefer to be called Soul Transporters.”
“No, we do not,” I say with a smile.
“Its our official term,” Blair mutters through clenched teeth.
“If you call me that I will punch you in the face,” I say, to Beige Momma.
“You can’t punch her in the face, you can’t even touch her face.”
“She can touch her soul, she could punch her soul in the face,” calls Dave from the Twister mat.
“Thank you, David,” I smile.
“You can’t touch us?” Beige Momma asks with a lift of the right side of her mouth. I think she was going for a smile, but atrophy and or Botox seemed to be hindering the expression.
“She can’t,” says Blair.
“It’s a personal choice,” I inform her, “Never liked touching people in life, more so in death.”
It is at that moment that Juniors body is wheeled into the room.
“My boy,” said Beige Momma, pressing a hand to her chest. Her face does its best to crumple in sadness.
A hoot sounds behind us as Dave collapses to the floor. James Junior is jumping for joy.
“You are a shame to the profession David!” I laugh. He flips me off with a grin.
“Do take this seriously, James. You have died!” Scolds his mother. Yes, do die with some decorum for god's sake.
“But mother, I’ve won!” Momma’s eyes light up like Christmas.
“Oh well done my boy,” she turns back to me and her face tries for that triumphant smirk again. The result is unsettling.
“Well?” she asks impatiently.
I get up with a flourish and bow toward him.
“Here is your prize,” I say, fluttering my hands over his corpse. Blair hits her head on the table multiple times. “Jump back into your old body!”
He looks at the meat kebab that he used to be.
“Don’t I get a new body?”
“Where would we get a new body from?” I ask, taking a sip from my frozen coke.
“But he won the game of twister!” his mother protests.
“Exactly!” I said patting my knees like he’s a wayward dog, “Go on jump back in!”
“I’m going to report you to your boss,” scowls Momma.
I look at Dave, then at Blair.
“You’re going to report us?” asks Blair
“To our boss?” smiles Dave.
“Tall guy, black cloak, giant Scythe?” I ask.
Her face pales a little at that. I take an obnoxiously loud slurp from my frozen coke. The day has just begun and it's already far too long.
“Good luck with that,” I say pushing past her. “Come on Junior. We have a long drive back to your lights.”
We move back through the club, pulling man kebab and his soul with us. Dave walks ahead and returns with what looks like a mini vacuum.
“Typical. You Reapers are leeches on society. And what have you done for my boy? He deserves chariots! Trumpets! At least a limousine for his trip to the afterlife and what have you brought? A Holden?”
“That is a Prius!” gasps Dave. Outraged.
“That is not better Dave,” I pinch the bridge of my nose.
“Excuse me for trying to save the planet,” he mutters.
“I know, it's okay honey,” I say, patting his shoulder as he hoists the soul duster over his head.
“Last words?” I ask James.
James turns to his mother and says the most beautiful words I have ever heard.
“There’s a woman in the city, Misty, I owe her pimp a lot of money.” Can you feel the love?
I slow clap from the side, finishing with one large slap on his ghostly back.
“James, you have just made my day.” Dave switches on the soul duster. In moments Juniors soul is safely tucked away ready to be delivered back to HQ and his own individually designed portal to the hereafter.
Another rewarding day.
“Shotgun!” I call racing towards the passenger door.
“Stop them!” screams Momma.
A guard rushes at the woman’s request. He goes to grab my arm, but I clasp his wrist first. My hand phases through his flesh and lands on the live wire of energy inside. With a groan his body falls down and his soul floats in the air.
Holy mother fucking shit!
“Put it back. Put it back!” screams Blair.
“How?!” I screech. I’ve never reaped a live one before.
Meanwhile, Beige Momma is screeching to someone on the phone.
“It’s okay, I’ve done this before,” says Dave, you just need to lay him back down over his body.” Crouching I pull the security guard's soul down to his empty frame.
Pressing it in and letting go.
We all hold our breath.
“Now what?” I ask.
“Leg it!” We spin to the car and I jump in the back. Dave puts us in drive and the smell of burning rubber scorches the air as he presses on the gas.
I not freaking out. I not freaking out.
“I’m freaking out,” I cry.
“It’s okay,” calms Dave, “he will wake up, we have all our clothes, we are doing better than I usually am.”
“What?” I ask.
“Usually when this happens, I’m not wearing pants.”
“When?”- oh god.
“I don’t understand, why weren’t you wearing-“ Blair begins.
“Blair, you don’t want to know,” I cringe. Dave flashes me a smile in the rear-view mirror. Kinky bastard.
By the time we get back to HQ and submit Junior and his body for processing, I’ve calmed down, that was until we got called into the head office. In truth, we lied. Our ultimate boss was Death. But our manager was named Bill. And Bill was pissed.
“How is it that I have a woman on the line, in tears, saying you threatened to punch her?” Bill died of a heart attack at 40. Meaning he looked distinctly like someone that would die of a heart attack at 40. Balding with greasy skin and a beer gut straining the buttons of his shirt. And tiny eyes, like a crab.
“Would you have preferred I actually punched her? I only ask because I would have preferred to actually punch her.” See? Calm, professional, not actively lashing out to hide fear whatsoever. Cool meet cucumber.
“And what is your point?” Spat Bill.
“My point is that you could have been having a much worse phone call so, you’re welcome.”
“We are a service industry-“ he began and I rolled my entire head with my eyes. Blair sits to my left, Dave lounges to my right. We have listened to the company spiel a billion times. Government run service, professionalism, death with a smile. I was surprised that last slogan had passed the focus groups. I stare at the motivational poster over his shoulder. Fear of death follows from fear of life. A man wo lives fully is prepared to die at any time. The poster for some unknown reason has a photo of a dolphin on it. I’m not sure Mark Twain was thinking of dolphins when he wrote it. But it’s the only adornment in this grey office.
Bill ended his lecture with a sigh. “You are the most efficient team I have ever had. But I cannot stand for this blatant circumvention of the protocol. Blair, your fired.”
“What?!” Dave sprung up in his chair.
“My sentiments exactly,” I splutter. Blair is deathly silent. “I threaten to punch someone, and Dave does nearly every job high, but you are firing Blair?!”
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” says Bill. He moved around his desk, to stand in front of Blair.
“Blair, has had several assignments in the past month that were reaped by someone else.” “So, she has a weak stomach, so what?” I protest.
“Blair, If you would clean out your desk.”
“Blair, stay seated,” I grit.
“Its okay,” says Blair, closer to tears than I had ever seen her. She hurries out the door. With every clipity clop of her heels my anger boils.
“Dave if you could please get the door,” I say in my sweetest voice.
“What are you doing?” Asks Bill, straightening from his lean on his cheap chipboard desk.
I crack my knuckles, “I’m about to test out a hypothesis.”
Ten minutes later we are being escorted from the premises and told never to return.
Someone had thrown our desk belongings in a box. A sad dead plant stares up at me between packs of gum and a stapler that wasn’t remotely mine. We find Blair a block away at Spooky Sam’s bar. Hunched in a sticky back booth.
With a quick order of the usual plus more alcohol, we join her in the booth.
“Spirits for the spirits,” says Sam, delivering three tequila shots and a burger with fries.
“You remember I don’t drink right?” Asks Blair with watery eyes.
“Oh, these are all for me,” I slap Dave’s hand away and he grumbles something under his breath.
I give him the stink eye as I down the first shot.
“You didn’t need to do that for me,” says Blair playing with the edge of her napkin.
“Blair I definitely did that for myself,” I shoot the second tequila, breathing through the fire.
She nods sadly to herself, not lifting her gaze.
I move to grab one of Dave’s fries and he covers his plate with his arms.
“Mine,” he splutters. Fries hanging from his mouth.
I stare at him.
“Nothing, just- how do the women keep their hands off you?”
I slide the last shot glass in Dave’s direction. He slides the plate of fries back to me.
“It’s not so bad, I mean, we don’t have to drink or eat right? So money shouldn’t be a problem.”
“I like eating,” grumbles Dave with half a burger hanging from his mouth.
“And I love drinking,” I sigh.
“And I’ll miss shopping. I mean I love a novelty cat toy just as much as the next gal, but come on. We can do it.”
“Novelty cat toy?” I laugh.
“Dying doesn’t stop you from liking toys.”
“Pay up,” I say, pointing at Dave with a limp fry.
“No way, that proves nothing, he could be kinky!”
I hold out my hand and Dave begrudgingly slaps a fifty into it.
“Sugar, Honey, Iced, Tea!” says Blair, smacking the table lightly, “I can't believe we got fired!”
“Calm down the potty mouth you heathen,” I slip the fifty securely into the strap of my bra. I for one was surprised it took us so long.
“Your right,” she looks left then right, “its shit” she whispers. Quickly covering her mouth like she just gave away a state secret.
I fan my eyes. “Blair, I’m rubbing off on you!”
“You’ve been rubbing each other?”
We both hit Dave over the head before erupting into laughter. Soon we were all in fits. I signal Sam for another round, Blair even takes a sip of my beer.
“So what now?” Asks Dave as the bar starts closing for the night.
“We could privatise,” says Blair
“Private Grim reapers service?” Dave laughs, shaking his head.
“Chariots, trumpets and limousines, Luxury journey to the afterlife,” I joked as a lull of silence fills the air.
“That would piss off Bill,” I chuckle.
“We would need our own lights,” says Dave.
“Or just a stolen one?” Blair grinned as she revealed a silver disk-like Frisbee from her bag, no more than the size of a dinner plate. The device she had been playing with in the car this morning.
“You stole a light generator,” I whisper.
She shrugged, “I wasn’t planning on stealing it. Just fixing it.”
We all stared.
“So what do you think?” asked Blair.
“I think it sounds like a direction. I’m gonna have to call my mum.”
This was absolutely hilarious and masterful and vivid—the world, the characters, the dialogue, the action! If this was a series, I would be hooked.
This. Is. Brilliant. I love the whole concept, escorting out dead souls, making wise-cracks and I can see them getting into a shed-load of trouble. I like the call-backs, like the cat bet. And is the twister game a quick nod to Bill and Teds Bogus Journey?