On October 13th, 2020, candles flickered in windows around the world as millions mourned the death of actor Jim MacDonald, famous for his roles in “I Can’t Think of a Good Movie Title” and “Insert Clever Idea Here.” He passed away in the hospital after losing a dreadful fight with pancreatic cancer.
Martha MacDonald, Jim’s wife, fainted when she heard the news in the lobby of the hospital. She was rushed to another room, where the doctors found a weakened heart.
“Only a few days,” they whispered.
On October 18th, the MacDonald children prepared a spot for their parents at Rich Cemetery, famous for its, well, famous residents.
(Correction: dead famous residents.)
They returned to the cemetery on October 20th to lower their father into the ground. Martha was too sick to join them. After many tears and blowing of noses, the children left the cemetery to be with their mother for her last moments.
A security guard locked the gate behind them.
Because its residents were famous, Rich Cemetery was kept under lock and key, surrounded by high fences that would impale any climber who dared to get a peek at their favorite celebrity.
(Correction: Favorite dead celebrity.)
A security guard was posted outside the gates at all times, trained to pick up on every flash of movement, every snap of a twig. But on the night of October 20th, the posted security guard didn’t notice anything amiss despite two figures appearing beside Jim MacDonald’s gravestone.
The security didn’t notice anything amiss because the two figures didn’t make a sound. Even more peculiar, when the security guard glanced over the cemetery grounds as part of his hourly walkabout, his eyes glazed right over the newcomers as if he couldn’t see them at all.
The two figures wore black cloaks with hoods drawn over their heads. Peeking out from under the cloaks was an odd sight, one that would greatly alarm the security guard if he could see it: skeleton feet.
Skeleton hands hung from the arm sleeves. They gripped scythes, long and wooden with the silver blades glinting from moon’s light.
“Evening, Azrail,” said one of the figures in a gravelly voice.
“Evening, Than,” said the other.
They rocked on their heels. A hazy fog hovered over the ground, illuminated by the soft light of the full moon.
“Nice night,” mumbled Than.
Azrail scratched his head. “Mm.”
“So...” said Azrail.
“Got some business here, if you could just move along.”
“Me?” Than blinked. “This...this one’s mine, Az. I was here first.”
“I’m--I’m pretty sure I was here first.”
Than crossed his arms.
Azrail lowered his voice. “C’mon, man. You know I need this. I didn’t meet my quota last quarter.”
“Azrail!” Than shook his head. “I’m the one with a baby on the way, man!”
“Oh, so now we’re playing baby card--”
“It’s not a card, it’s my life.”
“You know I’ve got two kids at home, how about that?”
Than growled. Azrail gripped his scythe so hard his knuckles cracked.
“The boss is up my ass this week, Than. You know that, you’ve seen how he looks at me in meetings,” whispered Azrail. He glanced around anxiously, as if their boss would pop up out of the ground at the mere mention of the title.
“That’s not my problem,” huffed Than.
“What the hell, Than? What happened to you?”
“Life happened, Az. Rent happened. Bills happened. I can’t play nice anymore.”
“So our friendship was you playing nice? Ten years, Than. Ten years of playing nice? Of being the best man at my wedding? Of--”
“Don’t try to guilt me, Az, you know I’m just trying to provide for my family here.”
“And I’m trying to provide for mine!”
“You’re not good at the job anyway, you said it yourself--”
“Oh, so now we’re going for low insults? You got a long scythe there, compensating for anything?” Azrail wagged his eyebrows.
Than threw off his hood. His skeleton face bared his teeth. A maggot fell out of his left eye socket. “I’m serious, Azrail. I need this. We can barely put food on the table as it is!”
“And I’m about to be fired.”
The reapers glared at each other.
Suddenly, a shimmering light appeared above the gravestone and the pale apparition of Jim MacDonald materialized in front of them.
“Evening, Jim,” grumbled Than.
“Yeah, hey, or whatever,” said Azrail, still glaring at Than.
Jim looked between the two figures. “Er--who are you? And where am I?” He looked around, his eyes widening. He gasped when he saw the gravestone below. “I died?!”
Jim looked back at them and sighed. “Not too surprising, to tell you the truth. Damn cancer.” He shook his head. “Is--how’s my wife, Martha?”
Azrail shook his head. “Sorry, Jim. Not doing so well there. She’ll probably be joining you soon.”
Jim sniffed. “Well, we were both getting old, I guess.”
Jim looked between them, his eyes hardening. “Who’re you guys, again?”
“I’m Azrail. I’m here to take you to Heaven.” Than shot Azrail a glare and started to open his mouth, but Jim interrupted.
“I made it to Heaven?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Yep. Pretty rare for an actor.”
“And you’re taking me? So… you’re the Grim Reaper?”
“I’m a reaper. Your reaper,” said Azrail, winking.
“It’s first-come first-serve,” said Than. “And I got here first, so I’m actually the one who’s taking you to Heaven.”
“I was here first!”
“Boys, boys!” said Jim, waving his arms. “Now wait just one second. No need to argue. Let’s just find a compromise.”
The reapers blinked.
“Not sure how we’re going to come up with that one, Jim,” said Than.
“Well, why can’t one of you take me, and the other take my wife? She’s coming soon, right?”
The reapers mouths dropped open.
“Of course!” said Azrail. “That’s--that’s a mighty fine idea, Jim.”
“Have to do all the work around here,” muttered Jim.
Than clapped his bony hands. “Alright! Then I’ll take Jim--”
“Hang on, why does Than get to take you?” said Azrail to Jim.
Jim sighed. “Pick a number. Whoever’s closest to the one I’m thinking gets to take me.”
“Nine,” said Azrail.
“Three,” said Than.
“It was four, so Than it is!” said Jim.
Azrail groaned. “Fine. Whatever. Martha’s mine.”
“I know,” said Than, rolling his eyes. Azrail gave him one last glare before nodding at Jim and finally disappearing.
Than turned to Jim. “You ready?”
Jim shrugged. “I guess.”
“That’s good enough for me.”
Than took Jim by the arm and the two disappeared, leaving the security guard alone once more.