How Not to Kill a Woman
A Story About Death, Told by Death Himself
Part 1: Working Myself to Death (and Other Puns)
Do you hate your job? Do you hate Mondays? Do you want to escape and find a job that you actually enjoy? Go. Do it. I envy you. There is no escape for me. Every day, I come into the office, see my co-workers, try to ignore them because they are all idiots and get to my desk. I am given a list of clients, and then I, well, go do my job. What is that job, I hear you ask. The official title: Mortality Exterminator. I kill people. Don’t think for a second I enjoy it, not like my colleagues. See, each colleague has their own department, and by "department," I mean the method of killing. Mine is suicide. Everyone calls me Su. Welcome to Death Incorporated, UK branch.
I entered my ID card into the slot and the door slid open. My pile of names was already sat on my desk. I walked past the cubicles of "Guns and Knives." Twins, of course, they share the same fiery hair and love of violence. Knives gave me a wave, as her brother gave a small nod. He wasn’t really concentrating, on his phone browsing the social media of the mortal world. That’s one of the perks of this job. You get full bars, anywhere and everywhere. I got to the coffee machine and made myself a cappuccino, took it back to my desk and sat down in my faithful swivel chair. My butt fits perfectly in the dent it has made over the years of this job. It's been so many I’ve lost count.
I wiped the milky foam that had clung to my upper lip and picked up my list to browse a few of the names. Poor souls. What if they end up working here? How awkward would that be? Imagine. It’s a normal day. Hunger tells you there’s a new intern. She walks in. She’s pretty. You smile at her, she smiles back. You hit it off. Things are going great. Suddenly, in the middle of having a lovely and ever so slightly flirty conversation over a couple of coffees (you and your same old cappuccino, she gets a mocha with an extra shot of espresso. She intrigues you). She squints and says, “Wait, don’t I know you?” She pauses. “Weren’t you there on the bridge when I…” She proceeds to throw her coffee all over you, and you are left a wet, scalded mess of embarrassment and whatever is left of the person you used to be.
I was brought back to Earth by a fist slamming down onto my desk. It startled me and I swiveled around to see my least favourite smile. “Still playing catch-up, Suzy?”
“How many times do I have to tell you to stop calling me that?”
Cancer grinned, “Well, maybe when you’re 'Employee of the Month,' you can make fun of me instead!” His sarcasm is always annoying. Little does he know I call him "Tin Can" behind his back. Get it? Sucker.
Cancer is an arsehole. Every office has one. He is the best of all of us, with record affectivity. He even likes to walk around in a suit, just to make himself look more important than he actually is. It’s like Monsters Inc. He’s Randall. I’m Sully. He quickly disappeared down the hall to his desk, which featured upgrades such as an air-conditioning unit that doubles up as a heater in the winter, a mini-fridge, and a freaking lava lamp. Most of the time I wish I could push him off a bridge, or I wish his own illness upon him for a slow, painful death. On the days he really gets on my metaphorical nerves, because I have no real nerves for I am dead. Didn’t I say that already?
Yes, I am dead. We are all dead. It’s not so different really. I guess the teleportation and the ability to become invisible is pretty cool, except we’re not allowed to use it outside of work. No one listens though. Did Harry do magic outside of Hogwarts when he wasn’t allowed? It’s pretty handy for spying on people, specifically Tin Can.
(Anyway, where was I? Coffee… New girl fantasies… Cancer being a twat… Pop culture references… Ahh yes!)
I entered the post code of the first "client" into Google Maps. Yes, even the best Mortality Exterminators have to use Google Maps. Michael Evans, aged 45, Brighton. I did the thing and there I am. I would try to explain how the teleportation thing works, but the truth is I don’t actually know. You just think of the place you want to go, close your eyes and when you open them, you’re there. It made me incredibly sick the first few times, but you quickly get used to it, even if it does feel like every atom in your body has split apart, not that it hurts or anything.
Michael was stood with his back to me, looking out at the city from the roof of his apartment building. He had been crying. He didn’t hear me, so my voice startled him.
He spun to face me, eyes wide and wet. “Wh-Who are you?”
“That doesn’t matter. What are you doing up here?”
He turned back to the skyline. “I can’t do this anymore. It just hurts too much.” He looked down at the ground below, his feet shuffling closer to the edge. “I’ve lost my wife, my kids, my job. Everything.”
I’ve heard it all before. In my first week in this job, I discovered that the more you talk and listen to your clients, the more you feel sorry for them, and the less you want to kill them. I always wonder if anyone else has this problem. I stepped closer. “I’m so sorry, Michael…” I drew back my arms and pushed, teleporting back to my desk before I can see the aftermath and before the police can even find poor Michael—or what’s left of him after falling from the top of a seven-story building. I have already killed at least five or six more clients. My quota is 15 clients each day, seven days a week. I’m lucky I don’t need to do the night shift. That must be a nightmare. I’m pretty sure you don’t want me to list every single person I killed that day, so I’ll just give you the highlights. 10 men, five women, different ages, different locations, different methods of suicide, nothing out of the ordinary.
And then SHE happened…
Part 2: The Girl on the Pier
It was early evening by the time I got to the end of my list. The last person of the day was Harvey Stevenson, aged 38, Bournemouth. I got there, and the view was beautiful. The sky was pink and purple and blue, almost striped, and the sun was just sinking into the sea. The lights from the roads and the pier were glowing all sorts of colours. Everything was perfect. Except, Harvey Stevenson was nowhere to be found. In fact, there was no one to be found. Wait… I caught sight of a black figure at the end of the pier. There you are, Harvey! I teleported to the ground and cut through the arcade in an attempt to seem normal. If there were any people there, seeing a guy appear out of thin air right in front of them might raise a few questions. I loved arcades when I was alive. The sounds, the prizes, the slight but not serious risk of it starting a gambling addiction. My favourite game? The Rock Guitar machine. Play a song, claim your place on the leader board and brag to all your friends, all for the price of one glorious pound.
I made my way outside, spotting the same figure in a black hoodie. It was only a few seconds later that I realised Harvey Stevenson was not Harvey Stevenson. Was it a… girl? I walked closer, clearing my throat as I came so I wouldn’t startle her, even though I’m pretty sure I still did. I opened my mouth, but to my surprise, she spoke first. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
I smiled, “It sure is.”
She kept her back to me, “You can leave me alone now, please.”
I paused for a second before turning to leave. I heard her shuffle around and when I looked back she was stood on the railings.
Her voice was shaky; I knew her eyes were teary without even needing to see them. “You know, I can’t swim, but for some reason, tonight, I wanna try.”
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know this girl. She wasn’t on my list.
“Pretty sure you don’t want to do that,” I said out of panic.
“Shut up, you don’t know that.”
I walked up to her, slow and calm. “Please, for once in my… um… life, I want to do something good, so can you just step down for one second?”
She ignored me.
“Tell me what’s wro—”
The girl interrupted me, “Why? Why do you care? You have no idea who I am. Why should I spill my guts to a total stranger?”
“Because maybe this stranger can save you from doing something you will regret forever.”
I had to stop myself from saying too much. No one is allowed to know about us, only our deeds. I can’t even tell her about the afterlife. She looked at me for the first time. Holy crap. She was even more beautiful than the night around us. She had shining blue eyes, like her irises themselves where tiny planets. Her skin was pale and laced with freckles, and I could just about see slithers of bright purple hair escape from her hood. I realised I was staring and managed to quickly tear my eyes away from hers, offering my hand out to help her down. Her legs were shaky when they returned to the wooden pier and emotion washed over her like the waves underneath it. She burst into tears and pulled me close, burying her face in my shoulder
“I’m sorry…” She said, muffled, “This week has just been so hard…”
I froze, my hand just sort of hovering around her. She looked up at me. She realised what she had done and quickly moved away. It got awkward really fast. We both went silent. Eventually, once she had stopped herself from crying, she smiled (she had such a cute smile) and held out her hand. “My name is Nova, Nova Stevenson.”
“Su-,” I took her hand and shook it without thinking. I can’t introduce myself as ‘Suicide!’ I gave her the first name that came to mind “Sullivan. Sullivan James. People call me Su.”
She didn’t let go “Come on. I owe you.” She dragged me by the hand through the arcade and I struggled to keep up with her. Suddenly she stopped. “Wait!” She had to shout to be heard over all of the noise, “Do you like Rock Guitar?"
And suddenly, one girl changed everything.
Part 3: Dinner Date?
Needless to say, she wiped the floor with me on Rock Guitar. She picked the song (Knights of Cydonia by Muse, an amazing choice I must say) and did not miss a note. I, on the other hand, haven’t played in almost a decade. To say I was rusty would be an understatement. Not content with beating me once, she took my hand and led to the air hockey table. Every good arcade has one. My big brother had taught me how to play when I was alive. “Do you wanna play?” Nova asked, her lips curling into a smirk that suggested she was looking forward to beating me again. “Sure.” I smiled back. She slipped a pound coin into the slot and the lights flashed. The puck came out at my end; it was game time! I hit first, the sounds of plastic hitting metal booming over everything else. The puck went back and forth, back and forth. Nova was good, refusing to let her guard down until bang! I scored. And again. And again. It was at this point Nova began to get annoyed, trying harder and harder but alas, she could not defeat me. I won six points to nil. I shrugged. I was trying to hide how good the victory felt. “How did you do that? That was amazing!” She grinned, which made me smile too. I’m glad she’s not salty about losing. That was a problem my brother and I would often have.
“I probably should have told you I’ve never lost a match,” both dead and alive.
Half an hour later, it was just me and her, in a burger bar. A pretty cool burger bar, I must say. Rock music on the radio, band posters and signed merchandise on the walls, cool American-diner-style booths. It was like it was ripped straight out of Texas and dropped here. Nova ordered us two huge cheeseburgers, even though I said I wasn’t hungry (because I wasn’t. We don’t need to eat now that we’re dead but most people do just out of nostalgia for tastes and smells of the mortal world), and two milkshakes. She picked us out a booth next to the window and, once we were sat down, she took off her coat. I didn’t realise her hair was short. It suited her. She also had a small tattoo on her wrist on three Xs.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing.
She flinched and pulled down her sleeve a little. “Nothing… It’s nothing…”
I had a feeling we were not talking about the same thing.
“Your tattoo, what does it mean?”
“Oh…” She looked relieved, smiling slightly, “It’s a straight edge tattoo”
I questioned further, trying not to be too invasive.
“Long story short, no drugs, no smoking, no alcohol.”
Suddenly I was reminded of every single drunken mistake I have ever made; trying to chat up engaged girls at their own hen parties, running around the streets naked in the middle of January, urinating in my mum’s bed, urinating in my girlfriend’s mum’s bed while she was asleep in it, the list goes on forever.
“Wow, that’s very admirable.”
“No one else seems to think so…”
“What do you mean?”
“People always tell me I just haven’t found the right drink yet. What if I don’t want to?” She leaned back into the leather sofa chair. “Or they say that it makes all your problems just melt away. No, it just covers them up, only for you to find again and worry about later. Why not just face your problems and solve them straight away?”
“I like your philosophy.”
She smiled. I was really starting to like Nova.
The burgers arrived, thick and cheesy, almost dripping with juicy flavour. The shakes were gorgeous, like drinking pure banana ice cream. Banana is the best flavour of milkshake and I will kill you if you say otherwise, not too dissimilar to how I almost killed Nova for saying her favourite is vanilla. Vanilla? Really? The most basic boring flavour? Sorry, I didn’t realise I felt so passionate about milkshakes. We sat eating in silence for a while, just enjoying the food and the music.
“So, who are you?” Nova eventually said, with a mouth full of burger. I froze. “I told you, I’m Sullivan Ja—”
She interrupted me, “No, I mean tell me something about you. Like, how old are you? Where do you work?”
“Um…” How the hell do I explain what I do? “I work in an office.”
She raised an eyebrow. “How specific…”
“Okay, I work for an insurance firm, is that better?” I lied.
Nova took a large sip of the vanilla milkshake she failed to miserably convince me was better than my banana one and nodded, “Sounds fancy.”
“It’s kinda crap.”
“Long hours, bad pay, asshole co-workers…”
“Why don’t you just leave?”
“It’s not quite that simple…” I felt like I was going to spill my secrets all over the table like they were bursting to be let out. I had to change the subject somehow, and as social interactions have taught me if you want to that, you make the conversation about them.
“What do you do then?”
“Retail. Working the tills in some shitty department store in town.”
I smirk. “And how’s that working out for you?” She replied with a glare.
“Dude, you never answered my first question. How old are you?”
Technically, I am immortal, and therefore I don’t age but I was 22 when I… So that’s what I told her.
“Oh cool, so you’re older than me.”
The conversation kind of trailed off from there. We were just making small talk incredibly awkwardly. We finished off the food, Nova paid and we left. It was completely dark outside by the time we were done. I thought about my manager wondering where I am and why I hadn’t handed my papers in. Does he even care? Maybe Nova is right, what if I just never go back?
Part 4: The Hard Part
I soon realised we were walking around not talking because I was too busy thinking about stuff. We came to a bench and Nova sat down. She seemed… troubled. “Su… Why should I believe you?”
I sat down beside her. “What do you mean?”
“You could be anyone. A rapist, a murderer, anything. What if you’re just playing along until you can pounce and make me your next victim?”
“You really think I would wait this long?”
That didn’t come out as reassuring as I wanted it to.
“Listen, from where I’m coming from, I just wanted to stop a random girl from throwing themselves off of a pier and drowning.”
She was quiet, like she forgot, or at least wanted to forget.
“You know, you never did tell me why you wanted to do that either.”
She paused. “You wouldn’t care anyway…”
More silence. I hated the silence, before and after I died. Before death, it always reminded me of how alone I was, and after death, it reminded me that I was, well… dead, and so was everyone else around me. My co-workers, my boss, all dead. That usually ends with me panicking about how much I probably wasted my life. I went off on a tangent again, sorry.
As the silence grew longer and more awkward, I thought a lot about telling Nova who I really was. It was something I was never allowed to tell anyone (boss’ orders) but Nova was different. Maybe it’s just me being one walking cliché, falling in love with the first girl I see without barely even knowing who she is, but I wanted to tell her why I saved her tonight. It’s only right, isn’t it?
To my surprise, she interrupted me. During the silence, she must have been thinking a lot too. I could tell by the way she didn’t look at me. She kept her eyes fixed on the ocean and the dark sky and the line where they meet.
“Can I tell you something, Su?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“I’ve never really felt like I fitted in.”
At last, the explanation began. She told me about how, even from a young age, she hated dresses. She hated dolls and makeup and pink, so matter how hard her mum tried. She told her how her father died when she was four. I remembered his name. His death was my fault. Since then, she’s had a new step-dad that despises everything about her very being. After she couldn’t fit in at home she tried to fit in somewhere else. Her school was a definite no, everyone there hated her. She tried everything.
“Until one day, I saw a poster in a shop for a group of people, just like me. They met every Thursday at the café around the corner. So I went, and it was amazing!” Her smile wasn’t as strong as the tears in her eyes.
“I met some wonderful people. Even a girl…”
A girl? What’s that supposed to mean?
“I finally found somewhere I belonged. And then my stupid step-dad had to come and take that away too. He banned me from ever going there again, threw out half of my clothes because they were too 'manly,' fucking arsehole…”
The tears started to roll down her face again.
“And you know the worst part? My mum couldn’t do jack shit to stop him.”
Wow, that’s tough. But something still didn’t make sense to me.
She chuckled, “Don’t call me that. That’s just some stupid name Mum gave me. I hate that name…”
“So what should I call you, definitely Not Nova?”
She paused. “Call me Harvey.”
“It’s a name I’ve always really liked.”
Suddenly the events of the last few hours flashed before my eyes.
“I’ve always felt like it fit me better.”
The burgers we had.
“I’ve never really liked being a girl…”
“But when I discovered, I don’t have to be a girl any more…”
How I saved her on the pier.
“I found out who I truly am inside.”
And how it all meant nothing. She stood and walked to the railings that blocked off the sea, her arms out.
“I am Harvey Stevenson. And I am free!”
My hand pushed her into the water.