A short, hooded figure was slowly approaching me with a very uneven gait, albeit a steady pace. There was something strange about the person, some unnerving feeling was starting to creep up my spine as I couldn’t turn my gaze away from the mysterious presence. As the figure grew closer and closer, it became clear that it was not so much a short stature as much a very hunched posture that was causing the illusion of a small man… or woman, that part was not yet clear.
Everything else was growing more and more silent and only the sound of the person’s footsteps remained clear as he was closing the last few metres between the two of us. I caught myself staring intently, yet I was still unable to do otherwise, partly due to curiosity, partly due to the strange aura that surrounded him. The figure stopped only a few steps away from me and removed what looked like something between a black raincoat and a cape like the ones all fantasy tropes perpetuate, but people probably never really wore. Underneath that garment was an even stranger combination of clothes – a yellow jacket with a furry collar, sitting on top of a red and black paisley T-Shirt with some cliché print of a city name and a ton of golden chains and necklaces, almost in a rapper fashion. The pants and sneakers were also flamboyant and impressive, but the most distinctive feature of the figure was the fact that this was not a human, or at least not any more, but an actual skeleton – a bony skull with a few golden teeth was looking at me with a pair of differently coloured eyes.
“Oh, for ***** sake” – the skeleton sounded annoyed.
“What” I asked, almost feeling like I did something wrong.
“Nothing, just… nothing. Just stay there for a couple of minutes.”
The figure turned his head to the side, almost like he didn’t want for our eyes to meet. Actually, it was exactly like that, considering how he kept throwing cautious glances in my direction every few seconds.
“WHAT?” he shouted after about a minute of silence.
“What?” I asked, surprised.
“No, seriously, I…” I started speaking.
“Listen, dude…” the skeleton cut me off. “Can you just chill for a couple more minutes?”
“No, you’re not” he said, even more annoyed. “You’re staring.”
“Well, it’s interesting” I admitted.
“Well, you’re a skeleton…”
“Oh, that… Yeah.” He seemed a bit ashamed now.
“What are you?” I asked, trying to be as polite as possible. “You know, apart from a skeleton…”
“I’m a death” the skeleton sighed.
“I can see that you’re undead, otherwise you can’t be a living skeleton.”
“No, I’m a death.” He was getting annoyed again.
“You’re Death?!” I asked with surprise. In retrospect, I’m not sure what exactly surprised me there.
“No, idiot! I am A death, one of them.”
“Oh, A death, I thought you were Italian or something” I joked. The death didn’t seem to enjoy the joke.
“Yeah, okay, listen…” he started.
“Are you here to take my life?”
“Well, that’s quite obvious.” He seemed to soften up.
“Do all people see Death when they die?”
“A death. And no, most don’t, this is not some kind of manga ********.”
The death stretched and only now I realised that he was actually extremely tall, taller than any live person I had seen before.
“The-e-en…” – I still didn’t understand the situation.
“I messed up, alright… Got here a bit early” – he looked a bit embarrassed again. “It’s all because of this ****** injury” he confessed as he pointed at his foot. “I give myself an extra 20 minutes, because I don’t want to be late.”
“I got injured playing tennis. It’s a really intense sport, you know…” the skeleton said, seeming a bit proud of the fact.
So, here I was, talking to Death, no, A death – the strangest one that I possibly could’ve gotten, and who was about to take me to the afterlife or something, discussing his leisure time activities. I couldn’t resist:
“Let me see.” I leaned forward.
“Get off!” he shouted. “Hurts like hell.”
“Calm down, I’ve done this for most of my life, I’m a doctor.”
The skeleton was hesitant, but after a few seconds of contemplation agreed – “Just be careful okay.”
I examined the injury carefully for about a minute. “Well, given the fact that you don’t have any tendons, ligaments or muscles, I’d say it’s just a matter of bone alignment.”
“What does that mean” the skeleton asked, seeming like a shy, but sassy kid. I was beginning to grow fond of this recent friendship. Well, apart from the fact that he wanted my soul and so on.
“It means that I can do some manual adjustments so that your bones are in the right positions and whatever magical force is sustaining you should take care of the rest.” I sounded like an expert in undead physiology.
“Manual adjustment sounds like it hurts.”
“In this case – like hell” I admitted, “But it’s likely to help.”
“Ah ****, it’s been like this for literal ages” he admitted, contemplating if he should let the person whose soul he was sent to collect. “Okay, but don’t break anything, alright?”
“I’ll try my best.” I smiled as I saw him getting, yet again, annoyed at me. The procedure was not the pinnacle of my career, but it was interesting performing it on a living, screaming skeleton.
“Did they pay you for this?” the death sarcastically asked while rubbing his ankle.
“Just give it some time and you’ll feel better” I reassured him.
“Thanks” he said a bit reluctantly, again with the shy kid demeanor.
“So-o-o, how about we call it even and you let me off the hook this time?” I was half joking, half hopeful.
“You wouldn’t like it, I fear…”
He pointed somewhere behind me. “You have a metal pipe sticking out of you. I don’t think you’ll enjoy being alive with that thing in there.”
I turned around to see my body on the ground, metal pipe indeed sticking out of my liver and possibly kidney. Only then I recalled that the last thing that happened before all of this was me trying to save a little girl from a falling scaffold.
“Yeah, doesn’t look that fun” I jokingly said.
“Hm…” – the skeleton was scratching his jawbone, thinking.
“Maybe I can arrange something with the boss though” he started, seeming a bit enthusiastic, “You can come work for us.”
“Death” he replied.
“No, THE Death this time.”
“What’s the alternative?” I asked, curious about my options in regards to the afterlife.
“How should I know?” He stayed there for another few seconds, contemplating. “Let’s go…” he waved and we started walking in the direction of where he came from. For some reason I didn’t feel afraid or even concerned about all of this, I didn’t even feel the need to turn around and look at my body one last time.
“She survived though” the death said after a minute of silence.
“Yeah, just a couple of bruises. Dies at 89, surrounded by 8 grandchildren” – his voice was calm for the first time as he shared.
“Good”, I smiled. We continued walking without talking for a while.
“What’s your name?” I asked?
“Don’t get familiar with me, John!” He was annoyed again.
“My name is not John” I remarked. I was a bit surprised that a death doesn’t know the name of the person he was sent to collect.
“You’re all John’s to me!” he frustratedly exclaimed.
“Oh… okay” I replied, with nothing to add.
After several meters of sulking in silence, he spoke – “Doesn’t hurt any more.”
“Told ya!” I smiled again, as we continued moving in the direction of his arrival, walking off in the distance like they often do in movies.