There are some nights meant to be dark and stormy, to fit the mood of the reader and the tone of the events destined to happen. A dark and stormy night is a powerful metaphor. One can liken the personality of a particularly shifty individual to that of a rainstorm or can provide in the story an obstacle to overcome.
The stereotype is overdone, the phrase is dramatized, the words used for the amusement of the writer… and still.
So, for all intents and purposes: It was a dark and stormy night.
Mary Whilladanger had been running her bar since her husband burned their finances to the ground, and she had become quite good at it. Her reputation for the best liquor miles around had attracted alcoholics far and wide, and she could handle them, too. She was a brawny sort of woman who didn’t tolerate annoying drunks or sleazeballs in suits slyly hitting on young women. She threw them out promptly and effectively and they didn’t come back.
Because Mary Whilladanger’s bar was so successful, she attracted more than human customers, sometimes. She’d been alive for over two hundred years thanks to this.
On a dark and stormy night, Death walked into her bar.
Death gloomily stirred his straw around, gazing at the contents of his glass in a way thousands of sad people attempting to drink away their problems had done before. He looked almost human, except for the hooded cloak.
“Mary,” sighs Death. “Get me a cherry soda, please.”
Mary shot him a withering look. Like many proud bar owners, she didn’t approve of such a request. But like many humans, she did not want to die, so she passed his drink across the table, leaned down conspiratorially, and said, “Why you got your cape in a knot?”
“Not a cape.”
Closer, thought Death. He gave another heavy sigh, and somewhere in the countryside a flock of sheep keeled over and died. “I’m tired, Mary.”
“No, I--” Death gestured. “I’m tired of this. Working all the time. You know I’ve never had a vacation? Never even had a weekend off, without some arse jumping off a bridge somewhere, or a small army that just had to raid the radioactive wasteland that very second. Bugger this for a lark.”
“I hate to break it to you, honey,” said Mary, who was quietly trying to figure out what his last sentence meant (she was American) “but I don’t think that’s how you were, well, designed. You’re not supposed to take breaks or get tired. You’re meant to just… keep going, I suppose.”
Death considered that for all of half a second, then said briskly, “Shut up,” and downed his neighbor’s beer in one gulp. Nobody saw it happen. Mary moved on.
Half a mile away, a child drowned in a river. Nobody saw it happen.
Harley Daniels was labeled as a ‘precocious child from an early age, and the word stuck with her, though it had no attachment to her personality whatsoever. Legend has it Harley Daniels the Precocious Little Girl had received her title one dark and stormy night (see? it changes the mood!) when her poor, slightly illiterate father had been sitting at the kitchen table, hands over his ears, while little Harley screamed in the corner. She had been sentenced to a time-out and was not taking it well.
Harley’s mother dropped to the table, exhausted, a second baby nestled against her chest. She and her husband shared a look as Harley’s wailing (appropriate for a two-year-old, yet still horrible) continued. Her father slowly lowered his hands. “Precocious or something, ain’t she?” he shouted over the noise.
His wife laughed. “We’ll call it that.”
And so they did.
Harley was a demon of a little girl, with red pigtails like fire blazing from her head, and lungs put to good use through screaming, threatening, whining, and snarling. It is believed that her father thought ‘precocious’ was a sort of fast-acting medicine that caused intense, all-consuming pain for those who took it.
Anyway, Harley’s dead, but in a new, experimental way. At her funeral are her mother, her father, her younger siblings, her killer, and a naive homeless man who had thought this was some sort of charity event.
Harley and Death stood off to the side, watching the events unfold. Death had distanced himself a careful three feet from the girl, learning quickly she was a biter.
Harley sniffed and examined her nails. “Do they got gels in heaven?”
“How about polish?”
She considers, rocking on her toes. “They got… shoes?”
“Not really,” Death answered, remembering with a slight shudder the open-toed sandals worn by all angels, and the recent habit angels had of pairing them with socks.
“Whatta bout stuffed animals?”
“What do they have? I ain’t going to Heaven if there’s nothing to do there!” She raises her voice into a wail.
“Shut up,” sighs Death, and squats next to her. He racks his brain for something to placate her. “They have... surveys for you to fill out.”
She snaps her mouth shut and glares through one evil blue eye. “What’s a survey?”
“You answer questions. Mostly about your death. They also have rainbows to dance on, and old friends to talk to. You’ll be at peace.”
“Ew,” says Harley. She plunks herself down on the grass and picks at the hem of her pink tutu.
“So,” says Death. “What do you think of the way you died?”
She shrugged. “It was fine, I guess.”
“Fine?” Death says eagerly. “What was good about it? What did you like?”
“I dunno,” says Harley. “I don’ remember much. I just know I was at the supermarket, with Momma, and she wouldn’t get me them Kinder eggs, an’ I got all mad. Only this much, though.” she adds, pinching her fingers together to illustrate how little she was mad.
“Go on,” Death says, adding in a laugh like he’d been taught in a seminar on Human Emotions. On the other side of the planet, a South Korean man furiously hacking his way through the computer of eleven-year-old ‘Whitey’ Scott slumped against his keyboard and died dreaming of the secrets he thought he was uncovering from US politician Mr. Scott’s Fortnite account.
“I didn’ like him jumpin’ out at me,” says Harley, twisting her pigtails around her finger. “That was real scary.”
“But did it work?” asks Death. “Do I need to change the color to blue, or pink, or something more vibrant?”
“Naw, the green was good. Real pretty. But why’d you do it that way, 'cause that ain’t how people normally die, that’s what my momma tells me.” She glances over at her own funeral and swallows. “Tolded me, I guess.”
“Hmmm,” Death murmured, straightening. His black cloak-- dress-- ripples behind him, and his eyes in their skeleton sockets are gleaming. He looks demented, which is his way of representing excitement. Harly glances at him nervously.
“Yes,” Death declares. “Oh, yes, I think this will work out very nicely. Well done, young Harley.” He pats her awkwardly on her fire-bright head, and she’s too puzzled to snap at him.
“Well then, glad we sorted that out. Your Guardian Angel will be along shortly. In the meantime, sit down, relax, watch your funeral for a bit. But try not to wander off, okay, we don’t need any more restless souls stuck on the planet.” Death straightened and gave a little bounce. “Oh Harley, you might have just revolutionized dying! Enjoy Heaven.” He was gone as quickly as he’d appeared, and Harley was left with nothing but a patch of blackened and dead grass.
She frowns for a minute but turns her focus to her funeral. They’ve finished lowering her casket into the ground. She kinda wants to go over and look. Her parents were done saying nice things that weren’t true about her and had started thanking guests for coming. The first person they talked to was her killer.
“Hi there, Harley,” said her Guardian Angel, appearing out of thin air beside her shoulder. She smiled, beautiful blonde hair rippling in the wind. Somewhere, a homeless man found twenty dollars on the ground.
“Ready to go?” she asked warmly.
Harley eyed her, from her glowing features to the open-toed sandals paired with green socks.
“They got gels in Heaven?” she asks.
The day he died, Jason Jackson was destined to suffocate inside the walls of a Taco Bell, when he and his two (admittedly not very bright) best friends decided to rob the restaurant. If he had died the proper way, embarrassingly and stupidly, he would have made headlines in newspapers all over the country and he would have become a beacon for adjustments to the educational system.
I think you can already see part of the problem.
When he woke up the morning he died, there was a green glow somewhere above his head. He tried to squint at it, but couldn't make out the words and gave up in less than twenty seconds.
He stepped from his house and people stared. Jason, bless him, decided that his new shampoo was doing the trick and grinned his way down the street. The words above him read as follows:
ATTENTION: PLEASE KILL THIS HUMAN. ATTENTION: THIS HUMAN NEEDS TO DIE. ATTENTION: DEATH IS TAKING A BRIEF HIATUS. PLEASE. KILL. THIS. HUMAN!
The words lingered in everyone’s minds as though they had been shouted, and the people surrounding Jason had the sudden and inexplicable urge to kill him.
Jason’s grin faded as humanity surrounded him like panthers.
“Is there something on—” he started, but then something hit him on the head and he dropped into darkness as black as the walls of Taco Bell.
And the world lost its ever-loving mind.
As a human, it isn’t hard to imagine people taking to this new method quite quickly.
There were the protesters, of course: the Christians, the charity workers, the nurses, the pack of fools insisting it was the government-- but they were hushed up soon.
It made headlines, of course. The stories-- people who fought back, people who tried to hide, family members who killed each other, the one hilarious story of a newscaster who, in the middle of her segment, suddenly had a green light flashing over her head and was tackled by the cameraman, receiving millions of views and laughing-so-hard-it’s-crying faces on YouTube.
Humans lost all empathy in a short twenty years.
It was quickly a norm-- people would ask, “Ever killed anyone?” on first dates. There were internet dweebs who, upon seeing the green light blaring above their own heads, would quickly press ‘record’ and request their killer that it was uploaded after their death. Mothers and fathers, poor creatures, spent sleepless nights dreading the green light-- or as it was shortly called, the Green Light-- and worried for the occasions children came home murderers, after a dark day on the playground.
Death stretched out on a beach in Hawaii and watched his plan unfold around him with the lazy contentment of a snake whose hunger has been satiated with a large family of mice. Over by the waves, out of nowhere, a green light began flashing over a girl's head, and it was almost funny the number of people who rushed to her right away. He grins as he watches. He rather thought putting in the instinct to know exactly how to kill into their heads had been an excellent idea, and lo, it had paid off.
There was a faint popping sound beside him, and suddenly another Divine Being was standing there, in blue Crocks and lace-up brown robes, glaring at him.
“We need to talk,” said The Human.
Death lolled his head to the side to regard him. “You’ve got sunscreen on you,” he said finally. “Right on your nosey-wosey. Thought you didn’t burn anymore.”
“I don’t, you arse,” snapped The Human, scrubbing furiously at his face. Death grinned, watching him. “Where did-- oh! You jackal.”
“I have fun now,” Death says delightedly. “Did you know I can do that? I sure didn’t.”
The Human shifts his weight in the sand, scowling down at the figure of Death, sprawled out in sunglasses and black shorts that fit him rather well. His skin, usually so moon-pale, seemed to have gotten a bit of a tan. His blond hair had darkened a shade or two from white, and he even had a bit of a scruff around his jaw.
“Thought you were usually a girl,” he finally says, gruffly.
“For a couple hundred years,” Death says, “but nowadays s’alot more dangerous to be a girl. They invented something called trafficking, did you hear about that? Anyway turns out human men are more functional, in certain areas anyway.”
The Human has no dignified response to this.
“What do you want, then, literally?” asks Death, settling himself in a chair that hadn’t been there 0.000002 seconds ago. “I use slang now too.” He smiles.
His good mood is annoying, and The Human remembers his purpose in coming here.
“Listen,” he begins. “This isn’t working. I know you’re tired. I know you’re worn out, but this is really really bad.”
“Why?” Death asks. “People are still dying and the people not-dying are happy.”
“You’ve turned them into savages!” snapped The Human, sitting down in a second chair that hadn’t been there 0.000002 seconds ago.
“They were always savages,” Death argues. “I just brought it out of them a little bit more. Like putting fangs into a cobra’s mouth. They always had the capacity to bite, they just couldn't before.”
“But cobras have self-control,” The Human points out. “You and I both know that humans don’t. Not as a whole.”
“Hey,” Death says, frowning and pushing his sunglasses up his nose. “They don’t have to kill each other, I’m just giving them the option to. It’s their choice. Really, the humans are at fault here.”
The Human took a deep breath. Never in his life was he so vexed as when he was talking to other immortal beings-- particularly the Grim Reaper.
He had started out his life quite normally, lived decently till his death at twenty-seven years old. The next thing he knew, he was standing in front of a large court of deities, and they were announcing he was to be the first Human representative for the next seven hundred years-- from what he could make out, Annie (the universe’s resident witch) had won a bet against Chaos and his employment was the result.
It wasn’t that different, really, from life on Earth. It just meant that once every fifty years or so he had to give a seminar on human emotions and how to better understand them. To do so, he made PowerPoints they promptly mocked.
The Human’s real name had been forgotten to him long ago, along with all evidence of his first stage of existence. He might have minded if he’d known he didn't remember. But generally, he was the voice of reason up above-- the annoying bloke who said things like, “Maybe we should slow down the drinking so we can get home safely,” or “Are you really sure we want to egg her house? Think about the cost of damage we’d have to pay!” You couldn’t exactly hate him because he was always right. But you could say mean things behind his back, and that was what the others did.
“Look,” sighed The Human. “You deserve a break. You’re right. But this isn’t the proper way to go about it. This situation is only going to get worse, and we need to end it now. Get back on the job.”
“Why should I?” glared Death, rising from his seat. “So I can go back to never taking a break and listening to the dead cry and clutch at my robes? ‘Oh, take me back, pleaseeee, I have children to look after! I’m not done living, I have more I want to do! I didn’t mean to jump, not really, I was just very sad but now I’ve changed my mind and it's your job to make me happy again!” He said all this in a horrible, mocking tone. The Human took an involuntary step back.
“I’m sick of it all,” snapped Death. “I’m done. And if humans don’t have enough self-control, or empathy, or willpower, to not kill each other when the option arises, then they aren’t worth the trouble. It’ll be fine!”
“It’s your job!” The Human said angrily. “The sole reason for your creation! You can’t just quit!”
“I--” Death ran a hand through his hair in frustration and fell silent for a minute. He let out a heavy sigh. Annoying, attractive, always-right guy, he grumbled. He couldn’t see a scenario where The Human didn’t convince him. It was very irritating.
“Fine,” he said. “I’ll give it two months. If this thing gets worse, I’ll come back. But it might not be a disaster!”
“It’s already a disaster, my dear,” said The Human, who looked relieved. “But thank you, for being reasonable. Enjoy your soda.” He vanished as quickly as he’d appeared. Death took a sip of the root beer that hadn’t been in his hand 0.000002 seconds ago and gazed out over the beach.
He tasted the words aloud. “It’ll be… fine. Fine. Fine, fine, fine.”
He sighed. He couldn’t lie, even to himself.
Smoothy pushed in the white crest of the waves, the body of a girl who should have been killed by a shark that day washed up. A little boy plodded his way over, squatted to consider her for a moment, then picked up a fistful of sand and began patting it onto her face. His sister hurried to join him and they made dopey delighted noises together, squishing the dead girl’s eyes and lips and cheeks.
Yikes, thought the Grim Reaper, and downed his soda.