Death had a headache. He normally only picked one out of a hundred thousand people, to actually see as a representative of all the other ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine he collected simultaneously. But even that one person was becoming blurred. When you harvest souls, day in and day out for all eternity, things, people did become, well ‘samey’ he thought.
His ruminations were interrupted by the noise of someone snoring, loudly. He stopped as he bumped into a side table. A bedside light sprang on and a woman’s voice said, ‘Who’s there?’
Crap he thought, she shouldn’t have heard that. He decided to ignore the voice. But there it was again, ‘Who’s there I said?’
Then he heard the click as the main light went on. Feeling slightly exposed, a new feeling he was surprised to note, he turned towards the voice. He saw an old woman, no surprise there, he was after all in a Care Home, to gather Rose Black.
The woman was pushing a pair of false teeth in which she had taken from a slightly grubby glass on her bedside table, and was squinting short sightedly at him. ‘I said whose there? And what are you doing in those ridiculous clothes? It’s not Halloween. Come here where I can see you properly.’
Death truth to tell felt a bit overwhelmed by the diatribe, which looked set to continue. On the very rare occasions in the past when people had seen him, they screamed and fell over dead. But this was new. Perhaps when he was nearer and she saw him properly, things would go back to normal and she would keel over.
He stepped forward and she grabbed his arm. ‘Pull down that ridiculous hood so I can see your face’ she ordered.
‘You’re sure?’ he croaked.
‘Get on with it.’
He complied and revealed his bony skull, complete with staring dark empty orbs.
‘Hmm’ she grunted. ‘Death I suppose. I see you haven’t had one of these new-fangled makeover thingies.’
He felt slightly affronted by this remark and to be fair also rather bemused. Who was this woman? Why was she responding like this? Had he lost his touch?
‘What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?’ then she cackled, ‘I suppose, skulls don’t have tongues?’ Then she cackled again in amusement.
This was just too much. He pulled himself up straight, jerked his arm from her grasp and scowling snapped, ‘Show some respect Madam. Who do you think you are, anyway?’
‘Elsie, Elsie Rowbottom and proud of it! ‘ She added with emphasis.
He spluttered, ‘Elsie, Elsie Rowbottom indeed. Who is she when she is at home? I came here for Rose, not an Elsie, Rose Black.’
‘Well that’s not my fault is it? If, you can’t read door numbers. I’m number nine and she is number six.’
He turned abruptly, stalked to the door and looked pointedly at the brass number, clearly a six.’
She laughed, ‘That handyman was supposed to fix that ages ago. See’ she said, as she made her way slowly across the room with the help of a rather unusually carved walking stick. She prodded the stick at the number on the door and spun it round. ‘A nine, it just looked like a six because the top screw is missing.’
‘Ah’ said Death, ‘I should have spotted that.’
‘Now I’m awake come in and have a tipple of gin with me. There’s not much choice of company here, they’re nearly all doolally. I could do with a good old gossip.’
‘But are you not worried about’ and he indicated his face this, me, Death?’
She chortled, ‘I am living with death all around me in this place. They might as well all have popped their clogs. After all, they sound like zombies or look like corpses or as good as anyway.’
He looked at her properly. He could see what she had been and what she might have been and indeed what she had become. Yes, she was worth a stop and he sat down on the lone armchair by the window.
‘Take the best seat, why don’t you!’
He got up and this time he took her elbow and led her over to the chair. He then perched on the end of her bed. ‘Better?’
‘Yes, I see you can be a gentleman when prompted,’ as she poured two generous measures of gin. ‘No ice. This place doesn’t run to that.’
‘Nor gin I warrant’ Death wryly observed.
‘You’ve got that right, mister, ‘ she replied as she clinked glasses and settled back more comfortably in her chair. ‘Now what can you tell me about where I’m going. I’ve always wanted to know.’
‘Sorry that’s a trade secret. Why don’t you tell me about yourself?’
‘Me, no. Nothing special about me. What you see you get. I’d rather talk about you, after all it’s not every day a girl gets a visit from Death and lives to tell the tale. I will live to tell the tale?’ She remarked as an after-thought.
‘Seems like it you’re not on my list for today.’
‘That’s good,’ she said visibly relaxing. ‘Now you were saying about your job… a bit frustrating eh? Can’t find Rose what’s its name? I’ll take you there myself when we finish the gin, she’s a right pain in the proverbial, if you know what I mean,’ and sniggered.
Taking a large gulp of the good stuff, she continued. ‘You know I never thought I’d end up in here. I swore I’d never end up in a place like this. The scrapheap. Once you’re in there’s no getting out you know. That’s right there’s no escape, unless you call losing your mind, escape. Mind there’s a lot of them opt for that. Sniffing she took another large mouthful, absentmindedly topped up her glass to the brim, and waved it at Death in invitation.
‘No, thanks I’m OK at the moment’ he said waving his hand in negation.
‘Thought about it myself, but couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. It’s my curiosity you know. I always want to know what’s going on. Take the matron, being looking smug for weeks now. I couldn’t quite fathom it, until I found her phone on her desk. I had a gander didn’t I. Read her texts. And wouldn’t you credit it I found some saucy texts to one of the board members. I send a copy to my phone never know when it might come in handy that sort of information.’ She paused for breath.
Death by this point was in quiet admiration of Elsie’s grip on life, and for that matter apparent grasp of new technology. ‘I’m impressed. How did you know how to do that?’
‘Easy peasy one of the carers snuck her kid in when the school had one of those occasional day things. Never did that in my day. We got our hands slapped with a ruler if we weren’t working and messing about. Come to think of it, we didn’t have to be messing about we just have to have caught the teachers’ eye.’
Death coughed ‘You were saying about how you knew to send a copy…’
‘Oh, the phone, yes well. Any way I found the kid bored out of his skull messing about in the laundry room. So, I just gave him some occupational what’s it’
‘Therapy. You mean occupational therapy.’
‘Yes, that’s it. Occupational therapy, so I got him to show me a thing or two then let him download some game thingies and play on it.’
She waved the gin bottle again, ‘More?’
Death looked at his glass, what the Hell he thought. ‘Hit me,’ he said.
There was a satisfactory glugging sound as she poured another stiff gin for both of them, then she sank back into her armchair once again. ‘Where was I?’ she said as she stared at him for inspiration, then fascination. ‘Where does it go?’
‘Where does what go?’
She waved her glass, ‘This.’
‘Same place as yours, to my head of course!’
She laughed, ‘Ain’t that the truth.’ Silence fell. Her eyelids drooped, then she startled, ‘Jerry’ she exclaimed.
‘You remind me of Jerry. My Jerry. My lovely Jerry’ she mumbled, as she seemed to drift off to sleep. Death tiptoed out of the room.
Elsie woke up with a start. What a strange dream, she thought, as she cast her eyes towards the sun burst clock on the wall. 5.30 am, worth getting out of her armchair and getting into bed. The lazy care workers wouldn’t be in until at least 9.00 am to see if she was up for what passed for breakfast here.
‘Oh, my aching bones’ she grunted as she attempted to lever herself out of the armchair. Her arms trembled with the effort and she collapsed back in frustration. ‘Bugger, Bugger, Bugger. I’m not going to be stuck here again, am I?’ she muttered, ‘The indignity.’ Gritting her teeth and with one almighty effort she managed to rise. First clutching the window sill to steady herself, she tottered over to her bed and flopped down heavily onto the easy wash and dry nylon cover.
Gathering her breath before the final effort of getting in to it, her eyes caught sight of the glasses on the table. Two glasses. Two glasses. She chewed her lip ruminating and realised that she had her teeth in. ‘Well bugger me’ she blurted, ‘it was real.’
About the Author
Christine began writing fiction in 2018 both short stories and a novel featuring an alternative reality. In addition, she set herself the challenge to write a Crime Story, this is part way through at the moment. At the same time, she attended some adult education writing courses to discover the tools, shortcuts etc that writers use. During this she became more interested in writing and performing poetry and since 2019 it has been her primary focus. However, she really likes the character in this short story and will write more about her in the future.