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In Which Death Waits

Death waits for no man…except this one.

Story

Death waited by his shoulder for him to stop being so stubborn. The old man slid into the booth with his sandwich and tea. Death sat across from him, shoving his scythe between the seat and table. He threw back his hood to stare at the old man through empty sockets.

“Seriously,” Death said. “How many years do we have to keep doing this?”

“Til I’m good ‘n ready.”

“That isn’t how this works, you know.”

The old man shrugged. “Been working this long.”

“Can’t you just give it up,” Death said, his head falling to the table in exasperation. “What are you sticking around for? You never married. You hate your job, but you can’t afford to retire. You don’t even have any friends—”

“I have a friend.”

“A friend? You have one friend that’s probably as old as you are. So it’s not like you’ll be missing him for long.”

“If I die, I’ll never see him again.”

“You’re worried about going to separate places? I can make arrangements, just don’t make me follow you anymore.” Death combined a sigh and groan. “You’re killing my numbers.”

“You’re immortal. You have all the time in the universe to catch up.” The old man wheezed a laugh at the horrified look on Death’s hollow face.

“I never should have stopped that first bus,” Death muttered. “It wasn’t your time then, but now it is and you won’t go. Come on, throw me a bone.”

“You’re nothing but bones.” The old man raised Death’s sleeve, revealing his skeleton arm.

Death jerked his arm away. “You shouldn’t even be able to see me, let alone talk to and touch me.”

“Your fault. You said it yourself. Shouldn’t have stopped that bus.”

“I was a young reaper then. How was I supposed to know that any interaction would let you see me?” Death slumped back in the booth, crossing his arms like a surly teenager.

The old man picked up his tuna salad sandwich and took a bite, chewing slowly.

“You look almost as bad as me,” Death said, looking at the old man’s waxen skin. Blue veins flowed beneath webbed wrinkles and clouded eyes hid behind dark circles. “Seriously, put a coffin around you and no one would know the difference.”

“I’m not going anytime soon.”

“Fine. Then tell me about this friend. Why haven’t I met him?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Oh, come on. I’m forced to follow you until you croak. If you’re aren’t going to die, the least you can do is tell me who it is.”

“Nope.”

“You’re impossible. Just tell me.”

He took a bite of his sandwich, deliberately ignoring the order.

“You know what I think,” Death said. “I don’t even think you have a friend. I think you’re making this up.”

“I’m not.”

“Come on, you have a friend that you never see. With your crappy apartment, I would think you’d be dying to get out of the house.”

“I’m out now,” the old man said, pausing to cough into his handkerchief.

“This doesn’t count.”

Bushy brows furrowed. “Why not?”

“Because your friend isn’t here,” Death said, puffing out his ribcage to boast his triumph.

The old man very carefully set down his sandwich and looked straight into Death’s eye sockets. A look that deflated Death’s empty chest as he understood.

“It’s you. You’re my only friend.”

 

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