“Hey, Death. How’s it hanging?”
“Same old, same old. You know how it goes.”
“Not me. What do I know about being Death?”
“Yeah. Guess you’ve got a point. Want a smoke?”
“Nah. I got what I want right here.” The twenty-two year old lifted a gallon jug of Jack Daniels to his lips and gulped down a couple of swallows.
“Mind if I?” The spectral figure in black held out his left hand while his cigarette still smoldered in his right.
“Go ahead.” A lot of people thought Sam was goth because of his clothes and make up, but it was all to honor his BFF.
Death grabbed the glass neck, poured brown liquid down his throat, and then handed the bottle back. “Thanks. You’re a pal.”
Sam sat back on the hood of his beat up ’72 VW Bug. It had been harder to get to their usual meeting spot, the middle of a grassy field, because the rain that morning had made the ground muddy and slick. “So, what’s up today?”
“You know the routine. We meet up here any time one of us needs to talk.”
Which one of us this time?”
“I have been meaning to ask you.”
“If you’re here with me, does that mean no one can die right now anywhere in the world? You know, a sort of ‘Death Takes a Holiday’ thing?”
“1934 starring Fredric March as you know who.”
“Good. Infinitely better then that made-for-TV version from the 1970s starring Monte Markham. Where’d you see it?”
“Film class. I needed a few more credits to graduate and it seemed like an easy A.” Sam took another swallow of bourbon.
“Dude. You’ve got to see Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film ‘The Seventh Seal.’ It’s to die for.” Death took a last drag off of his spent smoke before dropping it in a puddle and lighting another.
“You tell the worst jokes.” Sam laughed anyway and passed the bottle back to Death when he motioned with his hand.
“Yeah, I know.” He swallowed another mouthful then gave it back to Sam. “You’d think as long as I’ve been around, I’d have a better sense of humor.
“Yeah, you kill the punchline every time.”
They both giggled like children. “Oh.” Death coughed a couple of times, puffs of smoke accompanying each one. “And you say my jokes are bad.” He took a deep drag and then exhaled, producing a halo around his dark, deep-set eyes. “Anyway, time doesn’t work for me that same as it does for you. People die when they die. I’ll always be there ready to escort their souls to the beyond.”
“No, just highly maneuverable.”
“Then you’re better than this rig.” Sam affectionately patted the orange paint and rust under him.
“Oh, it’s got plenty of life left in it. Trust me. I know.”
They laughed again. Death looked at his fingers and saw his smoke was burnt down to the end. Dropping it next to the first, he crushed it with his foot, pulled out his pack, and lit another.
“Be careful,” chided Sam. “Those things will kill you.” He swirled the whiskey in the bottle and saw it was down by half. Then he rested it next to him, dimpling the VW’s hood.
“Yeah, like that’ll ever happen.”
A sobering thought surfaced in Sam’s inebriated mind. “Do you ever get lonely?”
“Who me? I’m around people all the time.”
“Only their bodies. Their souls are everlasting, just like me.”
“Then why have we been meeting here for the past year?”
Death paused as if composing a reply while sucking in more tobacco smoke. Exhaling, white clouds enveloped both of them. “You know why? Because of your folks, remember?”
“Yeah. That’s what started it I guess. The fucking car accident.” Sam looked at his muddy boots and then back up at Death with a hollow stare. “I wasn’t ready for them to go.”
“I know.” Death laid a comforting hand on Sam’s shoulder for a moment. “I don’t pick the people or the time. I’m just the messenger.”
“But after Hildy committed suicide…I mean what are the odds, your folks and your girlfriend dying within a month of each other.”
“You had to know.”
Tears welled up in Sam’s eyes. “I had to know if you were…you were…” The final word choked in his throat.
“You had to know if I was good to them. You had to know if they suffered.”
“Yeah.” He gazed down again. “Yeah, that’s it.”
“Like I said, Sam. Your parents never knew what hit them. As for Hildy, she just drifted off in a cloud of pain pills and gin. I took them with me. I was gentle. They’re beyond pain now, just like the rest of my clients.”
“What about me?”
“You know I can’t tell you that. No one knows when and where I’ll show up to take them, although you might want to go easy on the booze if you’re driving.”
“Nah. I’m good. Got my camping gear in the back. Figured I’d just sleep it off after you split. I’m not ready to give you up for the great beyond yet.”
“Be careful, Sam. How much time you’ve got left is more up to you than it is to me.”
The college student screwed the cap back on the bottle and put it on the ground. Then he opened his car door, put the seat forward and started dragging out a beat up sleeping bag.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you a question.” Death stamped out his third cigarette and lit the fourth. “What makes you keep coming back to see me. Most people can’t stand the sight of me. Reminds them of their own mortality.”
“Who me?” The makings of a small tent followed the sleeping bag, then a cooler. “I bet you know the answer. Say, I’m ready for that smoke now.”
Death took out a fresh one and lit it from the one he was smoking. Then he handed it over.
“Yeah, I do. You’ve got a death wish.”
Of course, I immediately thought of a personified death, and then his meeting regularly with a young man with a death wish. Naturally, they both engage in risky behavior like smoking and drinking. It’s a strange friendship, but maybe if we were death’s companions, we wouldn’t fear it so much.
Oh, the film “Death Takes a Holiday” has been remade tons of times. I’ve never seen the 1934 original, but I remember viewing the 1971 remake with Monte Markham, Yvette Mimieux, and Myrna Loy. Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 The Seventh Seal is a classic.