The building stood against the dark sky, almost all windows inside lit, visible from the road to even the most casual of observer. The man in the dark cloak entered, removing the hood and smiling at the guard. The guard nodded, picking up the phone and placing a call to Richardson on floor thirty.
“Yeah. He’s here…”
The man in the cloak moved towards the elevator before the guard even motioned for him to pass. The doors closed behind him. It’s a shame the elevators didn’t move faster; it was already nine and the shrouded man had many, many more appointments to keep before his night was through. To quote Robert Frost, as the shrouded man often did, “Miles to go before I sleep.”
The man in the shroud found it very ironic that the subject matter of the poem was contemplative suicide, among other things, something that the shrouded man was excellent at staging.
It should be noted, that while the elevator rose in the shaft, Terrence Glibbard was busy hustling down the stairwell to the taxi he had called moments ago, idling outside but still charging.
The man in the shroud headed down the equally dark hallway to the undecorated office that hung loosely at the end. The door opened quietly tonight, even though Mr. Exmas had trouble keeping the door from squeaking.
Of course, if you were an ethereal being, squeaking doors wouldn’t quite be much of a challenge.
“Mr. Exmas, I find it very funny that you should contact me.”
“Well… I wasn’t sure about the particulars, you see… But you seemed to have found me rather well. How was it that you did find me?”
“Oh, please, Mr. Exmas. Give me more credit. You don’t live virtually forever without picking up on a few tricks.”
The man in the shroud pulled the solitary chair out from the other end of the desk and sat down, placing his briefcase in front of him.
“Are you familiar with the way this works, Exmas?”
“Vaguely. My colleague, rest his soul, said that you didn’t ask questions.”
“No, I don’t. I’m non-partisan, you see. You have to be, in my line of work.”
“That’s one thing I have a question about. What is it, exactly, that you do?”
The man in the shroud sighed. “Does my demeanor or dress not give it away? Does every one of your appointments bound in with a dark shroud? Perhaps if I put my hood up I would be more up to par with what you would normally associate me with.”
“So, you are… Him?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes.”
“What do I have to do… To get the ball rolling on this?”
“Just fill out this contract. All you have to do is give me a name. Leave the rest to me, and I’ll take care of it.” The man in the shroud pulled a single sheet of paper from the briefcase, and a pen, sliding them across the table.
“A pen? And ink-pen? Shouldn’t I be signing in blood or something?”
“I’m not much of a traditionalist. The name on the paper. Your name on the bottom.”
Exmas signed quickly, printing the name on the top of the paper in bold handwriting.
“I’m not blind, Exmas. I can read the name.”
“I just didn’t want you to… You know… Get the wrong person.”
The man in the shroud laughed. “The paper is a formality. Something real for you to sign. I knew as soon as I set foot in here who you wanted gone.”
“Paperwork. I already said that.” The man in the shroud snapped the briefcase closed. “Not my liking, I’ll tell you that. But the powers that be seem to want a trail wherever I go. They don’t want me to go ‘rogue,’ whatever the hell that means.”
“They don’t want you to just go off on your own. Going ‘rogue.’ I think that’s military.”
The man in the shroud smiled. “That’s funny. The more you know, right?”
He stood up to leave as Exmas stood to show him the door, buttoning the lower button on his sport coat.
“Just one question, Mr…”
“You don’t need to know my name.”
“Alright. How did you find me?”
“People like me, Mr. Exmas, always come on a prayer. Besides… I find people on a need to find basis.”
“A need to-“
The shrouded man firmly grasped Exmas’ hand, squeezing with the care a professional athlete would a chess team players.
“A need to find basis. You assumed I sought you out because I needed work. In my business, you never need to find work.”
Exmas’ eyes bulged in his skull, his tongue swelling in his mouth. He dropped to his knees first, clutching at the robe, before falling completely to the ground in a pathetic fetal position.
“The work finds you.” And with that, the man in the shroud stepped out of the office and back into the elevator, pausing to remove the new contract from his briefcase.
“And miles to go before I sleep.”
Glibbard was busy making macaroni and cheese in his tiny kitchen when the doorbell went off, causing him to drop the metal strainer on his foot. An antique, given to him by his grandmother, throughout his childhood his parents insisted that he never give it up for a cheap plastic model. “They break easy, you don’t want that.” And so he was stuck with the heavy metal strainer that was easily breaking his foot.
“Son of a bitch,” he muttered, heading for the door. The lock slid out and Glibbard opened the door as much as the chain would allow.
“Amanda. Hi. I was going to call-“
“Don’t give me that shit, you stupid son of a bitch. One thing I don’t need is you patronizing me. Open this door.”
“I don’t think that’d be a good idea, Amanda.”
“Oh, you have good ideas now? What, did you think you wouldn’t call me and all of a sudden I would disappear? I would just stop existing because your simple mind couldn’t wrap itself around the concept of breaking up? You are such a faggot!”
Terrence mouthed the final word as she said it. It wasn’t the first time she had called him that, nor the last time, he suspected, if this was going the way he thought it would.
“Now, open the door, Terrence. Open the door. I can break this chain off and then you’d have to pay for it, although I highly doubt you’d be able to do that considering your pay.”
The chain slid out and the door opened. Terrence looked at Amanda, his eyes weary with premature defeat. She stormed in, pushing past him and taking the chair on the left. It should be noted that the only time Amanda would ever take the chair on the left was when they were fighting, or after Terrence had conveniently forgotten about her. He took the chair on the right. The “submission chair,” she called it.
“Terrence, I know you don’t want this. I know there are some things in life that you just can’t live without, and without my support, you would be nothing.”
He nodded, thinking about the macaroni on the stove and whether or not it was burning or if the smell was just his imagination.
“You need me and I need you.”
Like a cancerous frontal lobe, he thought to himself. If only he could will himself to say it.
“So, you found out about Ben and I, then? I take it that’s the reason of this latest charade…”
“Actually, Amanda, I didn’t. I’ve just been busy. The office, Mr. Exmas has been working me extra hours.” That was the truth, although even if he hadn’t been he probably wouldn’t have called. “Ben… As in, my brother Ben?”
She nodded. “But don’t worry. It’s over between us. I’m sorry you had to hear about it from me, but as I always say, honesty is what is truly best for our relationship.”
“So you and Ben have been…”
“I think you need to leave. I was fixing myself dinner and I wasn’t expecting company, and now I think it’s burning and you’re a slut.”
“I’m making macaroni for one. I think you need to leave.”
Amanda sighed. “You’ll come to your senses, you know that?” She paused before she got to the door. “It’s not like you can get anyone better, fa-”
The door slammed, cutting off the last word that Terrence suspected was ‘faggot.’
There had been times before in Terrence’s life when he’d wanted to punch someone. When his brother got the bulk of his grandmother’s inheritance even though Terrence had been the one to care for her and change her diapers until she died. When his same brother got busted for possession and liquidated his assets and gave them to Terrence to watch while he was in prison, and after his release, taking it all back and then some… And finally, this. He was more than angry.
He turned around, heading towards the kitchen. The macaroni was ruined and it made a definitive thud of a chunk of iron falling down a chute as he tossed it into the trashcan, pot and all. This had been the only time in his life he had ever, ever considered-
“I’m sorry, am I interrupting something?” The man in the shroud called from the living room.
“Yes. My home. Who are you and how did you get in and I have a gun in my bedroom.”
“Amanda let me in. She was muttering something or other about a failure or a faggot. She was slurring her words, it was hard to tell. I think she was drunk. Is she yours?”
Glibbered sighed. He officially hated this night. “No. I don’t know. It would seem that I’m sharing her with my brother. Funny, life, isn’t it?”
The man in the shroud smiled. “You honestly have no idea how funny it can be.”
“Yes. You’d be surprised. I’ll just give one example- I think it’s the most profound and confusing at the same time. I think I’m going through a phase with this example; I tell it to almost everyone I meet. I’ll probably outgrow it at some point, but let me continue.
“Life can be funny in the respect that I’ve seen a lot of people cry out for God in my days in this job, crying for God to have mercy on them when none comes. And then, they die, probably hating God in the core of their being. Passing on to the other side not even accepting God anymore, disbelieving. And all the while, I know He exists because He sends me.
“And that, Terrence, is occupational humor. Or irony. I can never tell between the two. Maybe it’s coincidence?”
Terrence took the submission seat, staring at the unfamiliar occupant in his apartment with disbelief. “You’re a terrorist?”
“A terrorist. You’ve come in the name of God to kill me.”
“I- no. That’s absurd. I’m not going to kill you right now. That’s not what I’m here for.”
“So, you’re delusional? One of those whack-jobs that thinks they’re death? One of those fellows?”
“No. I’m not delusional. I know I’m death. You can feel it, can’t you? In the very center of your soul? Besides, the temperature in the apartment dropped almost twenty degrees since I’ve been in here. That’s a sure fire sign that death is around. Didn’t you ever see ‘The Sixth Sense?’”
“Alright. I’ll humor you before I call the police. What is it exactly that you want?”
“To make you an offer, Terrence! An offer,” the man in the shroud burst into his best Brando, “An offer you can’t refuse.”
“That was a horrible impression.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m still here to make you an offer. One that could potentially change your life. First of all, you’re humoring me. So, who am I?”
“Damn Skippy. Death is just one of the names, though. Angel of Mercy, the Peacemaker, I have a bunch of em’. Death is just contemporary… Peacemaker came around during the old west. They named me after a rifle. They were dumb.”
“Stop getting sidetracked or I’m just going to call the police right now,” Glibbard said, rising to his feet.
“You know you won’t. I’ve got something important to say and you’re looking to change your life, so you’ll listen.”
“You know, Death, sir, if there’s one thing tonight that I really could use a little less of, it’s people telling me what I will and won’t do.”
“Alright. Fine. You want to listen to me, and I’m not telling you that you want to, you know you want to.
“The opportunity of a lifetime, Terrence. If you could kill one person in the world, who would it be?”
Terrence sat for a second, thinking about it.
“He’s already dead.”
“Right, but I thought you meant either alive or –“
“No, they have to be currently living.”
Terrence paused again. “No one, really.”
The man in the shroud sighed. “Alright, well, you’re not so keen on the idea, but it’s a good one. Anyone you’d ever want alive, dead, in an instant. You can’t lose. The police can’t track it, you won’t be held accountable for it when you pass over, and the guilt… Well, that depends entirely on what kind of a person you are.”
“There’s really no one I want dead. I mean, yes, I’ve wanted someone dead in the past but those feelings of violence are always fleeting.”
“What are you, a damned Buddhist?”
“No, just in check with my emotions.”
The man in the shroud sank in his seat. “What about Amanda? She’s off screwing Ben, tonight. She said she’d forever be yours and she’s off having an affair with your brother. That doesn’t rattle a screw loose in the ol’ noggin? Make you want to make Amanda or Ben dead?”
“It’ll pass. I’m angry, sure, but I think the world would be much worse off without those two.”
“Because… They’re alive right now and it’s really none of my business to deprive them of that.”
“It’s my business. It’s my job. Contract, see?” The man in the shroud removed a single sheet of paper from the briefcase.
“Death is a contract killer? That idea isn’t exactly novel, is it?”
“I’m not a contract killer.”
“Alright then, Death, explain to me how this works.”
“You put down who you want dead on this sheet of paper –“
“And I go and kill them.”
“A contract killer.”
“Don’t simplify my job like that, Terrence. At least I’m not brown-noser extraordinaire to Exmas. The man’s name is synonymous with Christmas, for Gods sake! How can you take him seriously? He’s the one that put out the contract on you!”
“What? You said you weren’t here to kill me. Alright, fine. I’ll fill one out against him.”
The man in the shroud sighed. “He’s already gone. You weren’t the only person ever displeased by him. You know who it was that filled it out against him, initially? His second grade teacher. The rest of the names just kind of snowballed in.”
“That’s pretty funny. He was kind of a dick, wasn’t he?”
“The second I stepped into his office, I wanted to step out.”
Glibbard laughed. “Well… I’m not going to fill out the contract against anyone. The one person I maybe would have done it against is already dead… So… I guess you can just kill me now. I don’t want to hold you up anymore than you need to be.”
The man in the shroud grabbed a pilled and shoved it against his face.
“What? What are you doing?”
“Do you need a paper bag?”
“No. It’ll pass.”
Glibbard waited. “So… You alright?”
“Oh. Why not?”
“Sometimes, I really hate this job.”
“Why do you keep doing it, then?”
“Job security. Even if I don’t take you tonight, I still have about five hundred thousand other stops to make.”
“How can you do all of that in one night?”
“How long do you think we’ve been sitting here, Glibbard?”
“At least an hour, I’d think.”
“A little under a minute. One of those magic things you get when you have my job.”
“That’s interesting, Death… How does one really, typically get your job?”
“College training. I filled out a resume and three interviews later I had the job.”
“Well, as regular as they can be when you’re being asked questions by God.”
An awkward silence fell over the room. “So,” Glibbard began, “Are you going to kill me or not? I mean, not to be a pressure fiend or anything, but my boss is dead so I don’t really have a job anymore, my dinner is ruined and the rest of my night is pretty much free.”
The man in the shroud picked up the briefcase and headed for the door. “I can’t take you.”
“You won’t put out a contract. God has something about forgiving and forgetting someone for something… There’s something about it in that gaudy biography of His. You won’t cast the first stone or something so you can’t be punished.”
The man in the shroud paused. “The man I work for says so many great and wonderful things, it’s literally filled up a thousand tomes and is still being followed by almost every man woman and child… And He still prefers to make fart jokes. Some things just never go out of style.”
“So, you can’t kill me? I’m immortal?”
“Hold the phone, sonny Jim. Hell no. If, and this is a very slight if, two more contracts are put out on you, I’m authorized to go at you guns blazing. Otherwise, you’ll die in old age. Your body can’t support you forever.”
“You use guns?”
“No. I prefer and handshake that drains the life out of you. Minimal bleeding and pain, and it leaves you looking goofy. Coroner always says heart attack. Coroner and I are good friends –“
“So as long as I don’t really piss anyone else off, I’ll be good? Or… if I do, just make sure they don’t know my name?”
The door slid open. “I guess so.”
“Well… What’s to keep me from staying cooped up in here for the rest of my life? Not to put a damper on your business –“
“No damper taken –“
“But I could live till the end of my days like that, then? What’s to stop me?”
The man in the shroud smiled before putting his hood back up.
“Life is stopping you from doing that.”
The door shut.
“Life, like the physical incarnation like you, or life like –“
“Christ, Glibbard. Learn to take meaning away from something.”
The door slammed. Terrence sat back in his chair, eyes watching the clock. After fifty eight seconds, the minute on the digital timepiece changed.
He sighed. It was going to be a long night.
The last thing Terrence thought before passing out, coincidentally, was the same thing Death said as he entered the taxicab.
“And miles to go before I sleep.”