By @S F Brooke
“Why do cheeseburgers hate me?” Was the one thought that was repeating in Mike’s mind as he coughed and choked on the one piece of hamburger that had gone down the wrong pipe. He beat his chest with his closed fist and cursed himself for staying in when he could have had this happen in front of his friends where someone could have given him the Heimlich maneuver.
Darkness was looming in the corner of his eyes, breathe was getting harder to take in.
Was he dying? By eating a cheeseburger?! This is not how he thought he was going out….to be honest he hadn’t really thought about how he would die, but this definitely wasn’t it!
The TV show he was watching began playing louder, filling his ears with all of the static and noise and the black darkness of his apartment came creeping upon him. Mike’s last thought was how disappointed he was that his ghost’s outfit would be a white t-shirt with a ketchup stain near the bottom and a pair of jeans.
Mike shot up with a gasp, glad that there wasn’t a piece of hamburger stuck in his windpipe anymore. He rubbed his brown tired eyes with his hand to wipe away some of the blurriness. “What a crazy dream,” He mumbled as he stared at his navy blue comforter. Mike’s brows furrowed as he didn’t remember going to bed.
“I wish it was a dream, for you at least, but alas it was not.” Came a voice as smooth as silk and as thick as honey.
Mike’s head shot around to the voice that was sitting beside him. His eyes widened as he noticed a man dressed in a pitch-black suit, so dark it seemed to absorb the light that was around it. The man’s skin was midnight with the same colored hair and the only thing that was light on the stranger’s face was the white of his eyes that traveled to black irises and his white teeth in a smile as he held out his hand for Mike to shake. “Hello, Mike. The name is Grim.”
Mike hesitantly shook Grim’s hand. “Did I die?” He asked after a moment, staring down at the contrast of his tan to the darkness that seemed to be gripping it in a gentle shake.
Grim’s face turned solemn, mouthing turning into a frown, “I’m afraid you did.” He stood up and with a snap of his fingers, Mike’s apartment bedroom changed into a white room. It was blinding as it shined like a glittering diamond wrapped in sparkles at every wall. Grim looked very out of place. “This is the Middle, the Highway, Purgatory, whatever one may wish to call it, this is that place.” Grim explained as he waved a hand towards the empty white room.
Mike’s mind was reeling as he tried to understand what was going on and where he was. “Okay, so wait a minute. Just hold up.” He pointed to himself. “I died?! Like dead in the grave, dead dead.” He threw his hands up before raking them through his hair, “How?”
Grim’s face once again took a downward turn, it was interesting to see expressions on a face so featureless. “Here’s the thing Mike, you’re not dead yet. You have a choice.”
Mike’s heart lifted as he walked closer to Grim, his feet creating giant echoes that ruined the peace that oozed from this place. “I can go back?”
With a nod, Grim explained as a flare shined on the farthest wall. A door illuminated with a blazing amber of flames that went around the rectangular hole like a doorframe. “Through there, you can enter Paradise.” Another door opened up next to the first one, a dazzling grey that sparkled like polished metal and the inside was as dark as Grim was. “Through there is the Emptiness.” A third door opened in the middle of the amber and grey ones, shining like a diamond-like the other walls that Grim and Mike were currently standing in. “That door leads to the Middle, a place for you to wait until you want to decide where you can be whoever or whatever you want.” Grim tilted his head at the human that was in front of him. “However, there’s another choice. I can send you back to Earth, paramedics are coming to your door as I speak…if you wish you can be saved by them. It’s yours to make, Mike.” Grim smiled, with all of his teeth at Mike’s dumbfounded facial expression. “I’ll let you have some time to decide.” With that Grim disappeared in a whoosh of smoke.
Mike felt faint with the choices put in front of him. “What happened to my family? To my friends? What’ll happen if I choose to stay? To go? Why did I have to die choking on a cheeseburger? That’s not the best…or the worst way to go.” Mike rubbed his forehead, wondering how long he’d been sitting and thinking. The white ground was cool underneath him, his legs long gone numb with their crossed position. Finally, he had his decision. “Grim?” He called, looking around the bright room.
“Yes, Mike?” Grim answered, startling the human as he appeared right behind him.
Mike swallowed before answering, “I think I’d like to stay in the Middle for a little bit.” Once the words left his mouth, the room started changing, not to what Mike believed heaven or paradise would look like, no, the room changed to look suspiciously like an In-N-Out? Mike grinned as the smells of grilled onions and cheeseburgers filtered into the room. He was surprised to hear a laugh from Grim as the figure threw back his head and belly laughed at Mike’s chosen reality.
“You are a very different human, I’ll give you that much,” Grim said with an almost feral-looking grin, teeth shining against the ink of his face. “You would choose to spend eternity with the very food that caused your doom.”
Mike shrugged as he plopped himself onto a white and red table and pictured a Double-Double in front of him, including Animal Fries. He grinned as it appeared in front of him, making another for Grim.
Grim thanked him with a nod of his head, sitting down across from Mike, but didn’t touch the food.
Mike took a moment to create the atmosphere that this burger place always had. People busy cooking in the back, lines out the front door, and people sitting next to Mike and Grim while vying for their seats. Stuffing his mouth with fries, Mike nodded towards the figure across from him. “So what are you anyway? A Ghost or something like that?”
Grim smirked, “I’m surprised that you haven’t figured it out yet.” He shoved his food to Mike when Mike finished his cheeseburger in front of him. “Most people call me the Grim Reaper, Death, Charon, or the Bringer. I lead those who are dead to their chosen afterlife.”
Mike grinned around his straw as he took a gulp of his soda, “Ah and you’re so clever to use Grim, aren’t you?” Who knew that Death was easy to talk to.
Grim made the most human gesture so far as he shrugged, “I learned quickly not to introduce myself as the Grim Reaper when that is not when people see me as.”
Mike furrowed his brow, “What do you mean?”
Grim got out of his seat, waving a hand towards himself. “You’re one of the few that seem me in my true form, a form that held darkness in human skin. Most do not.” He changed and suddenly Mike’s Abuela stood in front of him, her voice speaking Grim’s words. “Most people see past loved ones,” Grim changed again, this time into a black lab with dark brown eyes and a puppy grin with a name tag that read Rex. Mike was surprised to hear the dog speak, “Or even as long gone pets come to lead them into the next life of their choosing.” Grim reappeared as himself, brushing down his suit and straightening his midnight-colored tie. “I come as others see me, very view see the real Grim Reaper and live to tell the tale.”
Mike nodded, absorbing the information while munching on another fry. “So why aren’t there more people in the Middle?”
Grim sighed and looked down at the table, “Most choose within the first few moments they arrive, never have I had people stay for very long.” Suddenly a glint appeared in his onyx gaze and he leaned in towards Mike, “How about we make a deal?”
Mike stopped himself from eating a bite of his cheeseburger, “Alright? What’s the deal?”
Grim grinned, his eyes looking over Mike as he practically purred, “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your company Mike, so here’s the deal.”
Mike could help but grin at the idea of making a deal with Death, “Say it.”
Nodding his head, Grim explained, “You have to choose which afterlife to go to after six days or you can stay here with me, as what’s a good human word…a friend, without any pressure into choosing which afterlife you want to go.”
“What’s the catch?” Mike questioned with some hesitancy in his voice.
Grim held up his index finger. “There’s only one catch. If and only if you eat any fruit in your time here, your choice is null and void. You’ll stay in the Middle with me for the rest of eternity. Eating fruit in the realm of Death is a sentence to stay there.”
Mike leaned back against his chair, grinning easily as he took a drink of his soda. He was happy to eat cheeseburgers for the rest of his life. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d eaten a fruit, of any kind. This was too easy. “Deal, Grim. You have a deal.”
Grim gave Mike a long look before it turned into a smile as Grim held out his hand. “Very well.” When they shook hands, Grim was gone by the time their fingers separated.
The next six days were filled with Mike doing whatever it was that he wanted. He made the room change several times over, from a beach to an amusement park. He practiced making different foods and atmospheres. Mike ate as many cheeseburgers, from many different places, as he wanted and sat watching tv for what seemed days on end. He didn’t know how he knew when night and day came, but he went off his natural habits and slept when he wanted.
After a week, Mike was lying on his back starfished in the middle of the endless white. He stared up at even more white and realized that he was beyond bored. He knew that it was day seven so he had to make a choice. Paradise or Emptiness. Getting up with a groan, Mike dusted off his shirt off and called, “Grim?”
A cloud of grey and black smoke appeared and Grim loamed out of the darkness, the white of his eyes the only identifying feature that there was a person in the midnight. He was sitting above Mike, almost on an invisible banister or ledge. Grim held a scythe in his right hand and his suit had changed into a dark robe and hood. In true Grim Reaper fashion.
Mike grinned up at Death, “I think I’m ready to make my choice now.” His smile vanished when Grim laughed.
Grim chuckled, a dark sound that sounded like muffled thunder. “My dear boy, your choice is null and void.”
Aghast, Mike’s eyes widened. “What do you mean? I haven’t touched a fruit since I got here! How!?”
Death stalked closer as Grim jumped from the ledge, landing like a cat, before standing. His scythe scraped against the ground as he spun it around to lean on it. With his hood covering most of the Reaper’s face, his brilliant teeth glistened as he answered, “Mike, Mike, Mike, you have broken the deal several times over. My dear boy, do you not remember what a tomato is?”
His heart plummeting into his stomach, Mike took a step back. “Tomatoes are a vegetable.” His head spun remembering how many cheeseburgers and hamburgers he’d eaten in the last six days.
Grim tsked his tongue, bringing up with a wave of his hand an official document. “The European Union issued a directive in Earth year in December 2001 classifying tomatoes as fruit — along with rhubarb, carrots, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, and melons.” He handed the paper to Mike to read, smirking as the human snatched it from him.
Mike read the document and cursed under his breath, glaring at Grim he added, “You tricked me.”
“No, no, I did not.” Grim argued, shaking his head, “I used your own mind against you, that is manipulation, not trickery. There is a difference.” With a tilt of his head, Grim added. “You’re now destined to stay here, with me.”
Mike walked off, throwing the document back into Grim’s chest with a growl. Over the next few days, Grim tried to talk to Mike, to involve him in all the undertakings and responsibilities of the afterlife, but Mike ignored him. With more than a few choice words, Mike told the Grim Reaper to leave him alone. After a while, it was hard to tell the time in the Middle, Mike realized something. Death was lonely. Grim’s job was transporting the dead to places where they would see other family members and friends, loved ones. Grim was in solitude…except for Mike.
Gritting his jaw, Mike realized that even though Grim had gone such a backward way with it, all he wanted was a friend. With eternity in front of them, Mike wondered if it was just easier to be friends with Death instead of always trying to avoid him in the Middle.
“Grim,” Mike said, coming to stand next to the figure who had just sent another to the Emptiness. “How do you feel about getting something to eat?” He offered, the olive branch of food was one few wouldn’t accept.
Grim managed a smile, dawning his suit, and nodded, “My guess would be cheeseburgers?”
Mike grinned, “You bet it is.”
“Excellent.” Death replied.
Cheeseburgers. Who knew they were so dangerous? Death wanted a friend, Mike wanted a cheeseburger. It seemed it all worked out in the end. So, the next time one thinks of tomatoes remember that they’re a fruit and try not to fall into a deal with the Grim Reaper. Also, if one does meet the Grim Reaper, make sure to say hi to his friend Mike. He’ll probably be eating a cheeseburger.
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