Flash Fiction Month 2015, Day 26
“I think you know why I’m here.”
The merchant stared at the figure in his doorway. In a way, he’d been expecting this visit for many years. However, it was not exactly as he had anticipated. “Shouldn’t you be speaking in all caps or something?” he asked.
The robed skeleton stared blankly at him. “Meh,” it shrugged. “It’s been done.”
“It’s just that caps would be a lot easier to…”
“Silence, mortal,” interjected Death, very quietly. “I have come to claim what you owe. It is…inevitable.”
The merchant shrank back into his hallway as the skeleton stepped inside, the lamps on the wall flickering at its approach. Death drew closer, closer, then paused to peer into the study to its left.
“Is this where you keep your receipts?” it asked.
“What?” The merchant was understandably surprised.
“Your receipts,” explained Death, popping on a pair of reading glasses. It didn’t have the ears or nose necessary to support them, so it simply stuck the ends of the frames into its eye sockets. “I’ll need to see your expenses for the current fiscal year.”
There was a pause.
“What?” asked the merchant again.
“I’ll need to see your expenses for the current fiscal year!” bellowed Death, still very quietly. “Do you have an ear trumpet or something you can use? Only if I have to shout this is going to feel like a very long visit!”
“Oh,” said the merchant, “no, I can hear you. I’m just not sure what’s going on here. You are the Grim Reaper, aren’t you?”
“Well, I am a reaper, yes, but I wouldn’t call myself grim. I try to stay relatively upbeat.” The skeleton opened up its robe, revealing to the merchant the full reach of the universe, the full scale of its vast age, and the brief, pale speck that was all mankind. “See?” it said. “I’ve got one of those wacky piano key ties.”
“That’s…nice.” The merchant struggled feebly to unsee what could not be unseen. “It’s just that you burst in here talking about claiming what I owe and how inevitable it is, and then you start asking about receipts. I mean, you are here to…I am…”
“Ah!” Death bent over laughing, slapping its fleshless thigh with a skeletal hand. The noise was quite awful. “You thought I was here to…that you were…” Its laugh was like a pipe organ full of rattlesnakes falling out of a third floor window into a pond full of arsenic. “No no no. Two things in life are inevitable: death and taxes. I’m here about the second one.”
“Oh.” It took a moment for the relief to properly kick in. “Oh! Right! You know, this may be the first time I’ve been happy about paying taxes.”
“Yes.” Death stepped into the study and began rifling through documents. “I think that’s why they put me on this job.” He paused. “That and the Easter Bunny was having trouble getting people to pay up.”
There was an uncomfortable silence. Death sat down at the desk and got to work.
“Would you like a cup of tea or anything?” asked the merchant, remembering his manners.
“No thanks,” said the skeleton. “Goes right through me.”
There was an even longer and more uncomfortable silence while Death went through all the merchant’s accounts, double-checked its work, and came up with a figure.
“Can you write a cheque?”
“Sure,” said the merchant.
He stepped over to the desk and wrote it out. Death peered over his shoulder the entire time, blasting icy skeleton breath down his neck. It was kind of distracting.
“Have you got the date?”
“It’s the twenty-sixth.”
The merchant finished up.
“I trust that’s all in order?”
Death inspected the cheque for a moment, then took off its glasses and stuffed them back inside its robe. “Yes, that’s all good.” It walked back over to the door. “Well, until next time.”
“Yes.” The merchant prepared to close the door and lock up. “Well, I’ll try and make sure I’ve got my receipts handy for then.”
“Why would you do that?” Death stared at him blankly once more. Having a skull for a face, it was more or less the only way he could stare. “Oh! Right. I do taxes as well now.”
The merchant stared in horror.
“Maybe just forget I said that.”