I HAVE A JOB PROPOSITION FOR YOU, the deep booming voice thundered through the filthy alleyway. It echoed the crumbling roar of ancient mountains, the bottomless depths of yawning chasms far underground. THREE MEALS A DAY, AND PROPER LODGINGS WITH GUARANTEED JOB SECURITY.
‘Erm, I don’t think that’s gonna work, mister,’ piped up a ghostly blue figure slumped against the slimy brick wall. The first speaker – a tall black-robed figure – straightened up, adjusting the monstrous scythe over one cloaked shoulder. Pale blue flames burned deep within eyeless sockets, revealing a white skull’s face frozen in a rictus grin.
WHY IS THAT?
The transparent man scratched his head, not far from the throwing knife embedded deep in his right temple. Torn packets of peanuts were scattered around him.
‘Well…’ He thought for a moment. All in all, a very, very weird day – especially if you considered all this accidental-knife-in-head business – so he tried again, aiming for casual, ‘…cuz that’s not what folks usually do. Usually y’say something like, “Here, kitty-kitty”.’
The skeletal figure appeared to consider this for a long while, then nodded and kneeled once more, aiming his words towards one of the trash cans. Behind it a small grey kitten eyed him suspiciously.
HERE. KITTY. KITTY. Dull, flat tones, the clashing of monstrous gravestones in worm-haunted crypts.
The cat remained unmoved. And unimpressed.
‘Maybe you should try some bait,’ the ghost offered. The black-robed figure appeared in deep thought, before rummaging through the folds of his cloak. Eventually he pulled out a tiny skeletal rat, also hooded in black and wriggling furiously.
I SWEAR I WILL PAY YOU WITH ADEQUATE CHEESE FOR THIS.
The Grim Squeaker stopped waving his fists, and jutted out a bony chin. SQUEAK.
The Grim Squeaker folded his arms and fixed the towering figure with something akin to a baleful glare. Green flames flared in eyeless sockets.
FINE. TWO AND A HALF.
After a few seconds, the rat nodded and cracked bony knuckles.
‘I was thinking more like a fish or something…’ the ghost began, but Death raised a hand.
DO NOT WORRY. HE’S GOT THIS. The robed skeleton placed the Grim Squeaker onto the cobbles. The hooded rat rolled bony shoulders, then slowly lowered itself into the traditional four-legged pose of a snuffling rodent. The kitten’s ears perked up, intrigued. The small robed figure sidled closer to the bins, mimicked sniffing around, then turned his back on them. Feline instinct took over: the kitten darted out from behind the bins and pounced. Mid-leap, a large bony hand scooped her up, cradling her into black folds. She hissed and scratched, but her claws only found hard bone and thick robes. Eventually she realised that: A: her attacks had absolutely no effect, B: the curious stranger didn’t hurt her at all, just cuddled her close, and C: it was a very hot summer night, and the robe had a pleasant chillness to it. She ceased struggling. Snuggled closer, and purred.
‘Good job, now you have a cat,’ the ghost shrugged. ‘Now you just have to feed it, buy expensive toys for it, and generally go crazy over it.’
The skeleton pauses its delicate stroking of the kitten’s head. REALLY? IS THAT COMPULSORY? The kitten nudged his hand for more attention.
The ghost scratched his gaping head wound. ‘Dunno, but I wouldn’t see it anyway else. Mind you, might be different with skeletons.’
I DON’T THINK SO, said Death, fondly watching the kitten nibble a bony fingertip. He reached down to lift the skeletal mouse up onto his shoulder.
SQU-EEAK. The Grim Squeaker glared at the kitten.
I WON’T FORGET. TWO AND A HALF WHEELS. With that the robed skeleton turned towards the ghostly figure, and the slowly cooling body that it had recently vacated. The corpse was slumped beside one of the trash bins, with half a dozen knives scattered around him, one in his hand and one deep in his own head.
YOU KNOW, YOU ARE SURPRISINGLY WISE, CONSIDERING… Death let his words hang in the air.
‘Yeah, well, it’s easier to be wise after the fact, y’know,’ the ghost shrugged. ‘So, this is it, then? I’m just…dead?’
MANY PEOPLE HAVE A HARD TIME ADJUSTING, BELIEVE ME.
‘All of my life wondering what’s beyond, and then just…this?’
Death shook his head. THERE’S NO BEYOND. THERE’S JUST ME.
‘But…but the Great Hereafter! Across the endless water, beyond the veil, what is there?’
STILL ME, I’M AFRAID.
‘Well…what happen next?’
Death stroked the mewing kitten some more, then paused.
JUST…BE MORE CAREFUL THE NEXT TIME AROUND. AND…MAYBE TRY LEARNING JUGGLING BY USING BLUNT OBJECTS FIRST. He jabbed a bony finger into the ghost’s chest.
‘WoooOOOOH…’ With that, the ghost shrank into a small white light, and flew away into the night at considerable speed. Death gazed after it. His white horse scuffed a hoof at the end of the alley.
SQUEAK? asked the Grim Squeaker, slowly inching away from the kitten’s claws.
WHAT? OH, YES, I FORGOT TO ASK HIM IF HE BELIEVED IN REINCARNATION OR NOT. OH WELL. Icy blue pinpricks flared in amusement. MUST BE GETTING OLD – NO. PUT THOSE BACK. YOU CANNOT TAKE THE PEANUTS WITH YOU.
SKQUEAF, the Grim Squeaker swallowed hurriedly.
COME ALONG, BINKY. Death swung up onto his waiting steed, the kitten nestled in the folds of his cloak as the Grim Squeaker clung onto his hood. The horse nickered, and with a clatter of hooves the four of them rode off into the darkness.
© 2020 | Tom Burton