Death has had a lot written about it throughout the years. The tragedy of life's end, the requirement of it for life to continue to exist, and the joy of human beings moving on to something greater than the short lives they had on earth. In a merry coincidence everything that has been written about death is correct. Well, kinda. Life ending is of course very sad. Unless the person dying was a jerk, in that case it is okay to cheer for their death because if no one liked the person it means no one will be there to complain about the party streamers you bought. Likewise, it is an understood fact that death helps keep the planet from overpopulating and becoming a mess. If the planet didn't want you to die then why does it keep ramming tsunamis, freak lightning storms, and earthquakes into itself just to get rid of you? Exactly. It is a lot like having a roach on you and frantically slapping at your own body in the faint hope you will catch it. Sure, like the planet, you will get the roach every now and then, but you always pummel yourself black and blue before you get the job done. You take solace in knowing the roach is dead, the planet takes solace that you are dead. It is funny how that works.
Finally there is the great beyond, the afterlife, heaven. The final resting place for people who have done good deeds in life. It is the reward for a lifetime of sacrifice, good will, and compassion. If you are a good person you get to have a good afterlife because as we all know life has always chiefly been about fairness so why should your next life be any different in this regard? Humanity is correct in their assumption that a place exists but the requirements to get into said place were not quite outlined correctly for the human race. It had been very clear in the original manuscript but sadly even in ancient times no one really wanted to do all of the paperwork so it got lost and in a panic people just decided to make up a lot of stuff that passed as believable in their own minds. One of the writers, Noah, had been particularly fond of animals.
Despite their ignorance it seemed someone out there was in a generous mood because while the men were writing it decided to weave into their minds knowledge that they had no way of having. Knowledge of the divine, of how the fabric of the universe itself worked, and of how everything intertwined beautifully together to form the universe. The men quickly decided they had been drinking too much of the strong stuff and went to bed, the knowledge they had gained never to be heard from again.
This is not a story about those men though, nor is it about anything earthly. It is about a single man who is currently on the ground bleeding out. His name is John and he's had better days. Actually if he was to be asked right this moment it is a pretty safe bet to say he'd take every other day in his entire life over this one. It would be hard to blame him considering that this is going to be his last day alive.
No one likes the thought of dying, especially when they realize it is happening to them that very moment. The elderly have learned to accept the fact with grace for the most part; content enough with everything they have seen and done to recognize the inevitable had to come someday.
John is not an old man, however. John is currently twenty-nine years old and you can feel free to mark that down in permanent marker. He was born in London, England to parents Julia and Winston. They moved to the United States when he was five and he had lost any semblance of a British accent before his seventh birthday. He had attended modest public schools in the greater Chicago, Illinois area and throughout his youth he had picked up a nasty habit that got him killed: humanity. The trait that within it contains kindness, selflessness, and mercy. The nasty habit to ignore your survival instincts and help someone else. That trait had actually worked out well for a lot of people, for not everyone was quite as stupid with it as the guy dying on the floor over there.
John had happened upon a young attractive woman being mugged after he had finished his shift as a waiter at a nice uptown restaurant. Without a second thought he had intervened and had managed to get the mugger's knife away and he told the woman to run for help. She, being nice and selfish, had stopped listening after the word "run" and she wouldn't give poor John a second thought for the rest of her life.
To give credit where credit is due, the mugger actually had a second knife in his jacket which had come as a bit of a surprise for John as he felt the metal slice him nicely in between his ribs. Surprise quickly became shock as he tilted over and fell on the ground. He is there right now and he is growing pale. There has never been a case in history where blood pouring out of someone's body was a good sign for their future. This was always the worst part about the human life. Its end.
Probably not for the reasons you would imagine, though. The end of human life isn't something that I despair over. In fact I, more than most, learned to accept humanity mortality a long, long time ago. Because I understand that everything has a beginning and everything has an end. The problem is every time I go to pick up a human they are just so damn chatty. I am afraid it is a trait that has rubbed off on me.
I look at my scythe and let out a sigh. I can just tell this guy is going to be a headache. Death may be a bastard, but at least I kill you silently.
I am responsible for every single human passing on from the mortal coil, so I've seen a wide variety of reactions to a wide variety of situations. One time this elderly woman attempted to kick my shin and scolded me for being so thoughtless to take her before she had a chance to say goodbye to her grandchildren. The audacity had been so amusing that I almost considered taking her back. Instead I chose to torture her mercilessly for daring to show me disrespect.
That's something everyone should know about me: I am big on respect. For as long as the concept of death has been around I too have existed along with it. My old title had something to do with weeding given the life I was responsible for ending but eventually, and thankfully, evolution kicked in after what seemed like a countless number of eons and I had my request to have my title changed approved.
The first thousand or so years of killing the modern human were some of the best days of my existence. Almost every one of them had some different reaction to me! Some cried, some begged for their life back. Others cradled themselves and muttered that it was all a dream. My personal favorite was when a particular man thought that I was an evil spirit that had to be defeated for him to return to his loved ones. His screams of surrender still make me smile all of these years later. Then again, that could be because I visit him in his dark cell daily. It really is a bad idea to cross me.
John had seemed to understand that fact right away. There was no pleading, no whining, and absolutely no crying. His blue eyes looked me up and down lingering briefly on my face which was covered by a black cowl that to this day I thought was quite stylish as well as mood setting whenever a new mortal soul had to tag along with me. Humans didn't like it when they couldn't see things; it fed into their fear of the dark. I demand respect, but fear is a nice bonus.
John slowly exhaled a breath he probably didn't know he had been holding. "Well that could have gone better," he said. Then he burst out laughing.
I tilted my head. It had been awhile since I had gotten a laugher. The last one had been a king of a country who had been deposed rather violently. You could say he lost his head over it, although you'd be inaccurate. He was stabbed six times in the chest.
"John, you will find that everything that has ever existed could have in some way gone better. Although you did make the classical mistake of exchanging someone's loss of valuables that surely could have been replaced for a stabbing."
"Hey! It seemed like a good idea at the time, alright?" John said defensively. After a brief pause he added, "Plus what kind of mugger packs two knives. That's just a sad lack of confidence!"
I smiled behind my cowl. It was a good thing my face was hidden, I had an image to maintain. It wasn't a hard image to maintain though; I did kill everyone after all. "John not to disrupt your point but you do realize he killed you. I don't think you have pity to spare him."
John waved me off. "My biggest worry about death has already been assuaged: I am still here. Sure I am going to miss a lot of stuff but at least I exist." John paused for a moment. In my estimation he was thinking about either food or a particular woman he would miss. Men rarely think about anything else. "On the other hand," he continued, "that guy who stabbed me must be somewhere thinking about what if I had managed to knock away his second knife. He is going to start taking more and more knives with him in order to compensate. Poor guy is going to be rolling around town with like fifty knives after a while. He'll probably end up stabbing himself or something and then when you go to get him he is going to be so embarrassed."
I stared at John for what seemed to me to be a very long moment. He didn't appear to be all there mentally. There had some indication of that when he had decided to get himself stabbed but now he was thinking about his killer with pity. What an odd man. "You are quite odd, John. I think you might be able to amuse me. Would you like to come to my house for some tea?" I asked while doing my best to be kind. It was so hard to keep up such a ridiculous façade.
John raised an eyebrow. "Um, don't I have an appointment to keep or something? I'd like to go someplace that's nice and peaceful. I could use a nap." To further his point he let out a yawn.
I looked down and did some quick soul math in my mind. Soul math is the math used to calculate how quickly souls degrade outside of sanctuary. The first sanctuary a soul knows is its mortal body. After that there are a number of places that will keep the soul safe and sound. We were not currently in one of those places. I knew John's tiredness was actually his soul slowly being put through the universal shredder, and I also knew that my house counted as sanctuary. It was, of course, a coincidence that I had offered him tea there. Souls usually take much longer to start this process; his was unusually ill-equipped to deal it for some reason. It wasn't as if I liked him or anything and wanted to spare him suffering.
I immediately punched myself in the face for thinking that last thought.
John looked over at me. "Are you alright?"
"Better now than I was before," I replied.
I didn't always have a house. Like a lot of things I copied the idea of living in one from humans. Before I decided to steal my beautiful five bedroom three story house from a nasty French couple in what modern people referred to as the nineteenth century I used any free time I had to stare into the endless abyss. It wasn't as boring as it might sound. Nor as endless, now that I think about it.
I like my house though. It is in the middle of a large black void so there are no annoying neighbors to deal with. I have learned over the years that quite a few people had very annoying neighbors. It seemed to have the terrible misfortune of rubbing off onto the people themselves for every time without fail when they spoke about their neighbors I too became annoyed. I think it was a kindness every time I threw one of them into a deep, dark pit. No more annoying neighbors for them, problem solved. I should have my title changed to that. "Problem Solver", it has a ring to it.
I opened the door and John quickly followed behind me. Immediately after passing the threshold he gasped for air and fell to his knees, panting.
"Your soul is now anchored here for the time being. You probably aren't up for a nap anymore," I said. It was always a delight to know things others didn't. Even when constantly being in that position is just never got old for me.
John looked at me with a particular look. He was confused, how cute. "Yeah
I am feeling much better. So what happens now?"
"You know John I know life didn't have the chance to bake you all the way through before it spit you out but usually when you enter someone's home you compliment the drapes or something."
John turned his head to the windows and noticed that there were, in fact, no drapes to be found before he looked back at me with a small frown.
"Lack of drapes can really make a statement about the quality of the frames," I said without a hint of amusement. I was a good actor.
John looked at me doubtfully but instead of arguing said, "Well the frames are pretty nice. I like what you've done with the place."
"Why thank you John that is very polite of you," I said, accepting the compliment graciously. John stared at me awkwardly. He had no idea what to say to that. I decided to grant a small mercy and added, "Let's go to the library. I have the tea there." I moved past John who followed me silently. I could feel his eyes roam the walls of the house. I think he expected something more supernatural than my quiet home. It made me regret passing on the idea of having bodies hanging on hooks in the hallways, they would have been a delight to show guests.
I entered the library first and saw two tea cups were on the table in front of two chairs still steaming. Truth be told I have not been able to find out who exactly makes the tea that is always here waiting for me whenever I return but since I am incapable of being poisoned I've never had too much of a reason to be suspicious. It is hard to be wary of a warm cup of tea when you cannot be harmed, after all.
I used to believe something went funny when I conjured the house from nothing. You know, like I made the house have an automatic tea making function or something like that. It would have been a neat thing to add to my resume. It'd go right below killing people, "able to accidentally make a house generate tea whenever I enter a room." Sadly this theory had been shot down because on the very rare occasion I have a guest over there were two tea cups. Someone out there liked to give me and mine tea, and I approved of whatever did this despite their apparent shyness.
John walked over to a chair and with mild trepidation sat down. I thought he was adjusting rather well for someone who had just died a short time ago. You could barely notice the flinch every time he looked at me, it was almost admirable.
I sat down next to him and quickly took a sip of the tea. Even after all of these long years I didn't have much of a taste for the stuff. It was just a habit that had come with the house. Go to the library, sip on some tea, go back out to reap more souls. It was an easy enough cycle to lapse into after a long day of treading through a sea of mortal self-pity.
"So, you must meet a lot of people," John said. His attempt at conversation amused me. He could barely stand to be in my presence but that didn't stop him from using small talk.
I didn't used to like small talk but after a while everything big became pretty boring. You can only talk about the creation of the cosmos and the morality of rewriting the universal constants for so long before talking about the weather sounded like a grand idea indeed. For future reference talking about the weather is in fact never a good idea, but that never stopped it from sounding like a good idea at the time.
"I have met everyone who has ever died," I said.
John took a sip of his tea and smiled. "This tea is absolutely delicious." He waited for me to reply which I just couldn't be bothered to do. He had the Grim Reaper himself to chat with and his opening salvo had been small talk and tea. "So
" John continued, "Who is your favorite dead person? Everyone has favorites right?"
I did not hesitate in my answer. "Adolf Hitler."
John spat out his tea.
I smirked. That was the reaction I was hoping for. "I imagine this is going to require an explanation."
"You damn right it is you Nazi loving bastard."
I chuckled. Yes, John was indeed an amusing human.
I believe this would be a good time to clarify what I look for out of a human. Many years ago when I was still but a naïve little reaper of souls I believed I could make a real difference in the universe. I tried my best to be kind to those who had just died believing it wasn't their fault they were sniveling immature brats who had no comprehension of the grand scheme. This had lasted a day before I started to throw them into dark pits just so I could get some peace and quiet.
So it can therefore be reasoned that when I show preference to a man who was as reviled as Hitler was in his life it isn't because I am a bastard. Now mind you, I've never claimed to be anything short of a complete bastard. I kill people, I don't care about their pain, and if it will provide me with any sort of amusement I will rub salt into the wound until they are bawling on the floor. Hitler and I however share a special bond that words cannot properly describe. I tried anyway.
"Hitler has gotten me more favors than just about every other human in history combined," I said.
John blinked at me. "And? He's an evil bastard. You shouldn't like evil bastards."
I raised an eyebrow. I knew he couldn't see it, but when it comes to facial expressions I have found it is the thought that counts. "That's rather petulant don't you think? I am sure that you have had people whom you did not like but you managed to put up with despite their various short comings because they offered a service that was beneficial to you."
"Well yes," John conceded.
"Right. That's how I view all of humanity. Personally I found the man to be a terrible conversationalist. He yelled way too much for my liking. It is amazing how ripping out his tongue fixed that problem." I paused to consider the look of glee on John's face after hearing that. He wasn't quite as gentle as he would like everyone to believe. I could use that. "Long story short I have gotten almost one hundred million favors from dead souls because of Hitler. You might be surprised to learn how many people wanted to at the very least punch the man in the face."
John considered me for a moment. "I am going to estimate it is close to one hundred million," he said after a while.
I sipped on my tea and considered what I had just said prior. "Well at least I know you are paying attention. Due to Hitler's infamy I have acquired many souls to do my bidding. It is a delight to have so many pawns in the afterlife."
"You are the Grim Reaper, why would you need pawns?" John asked before he took a sip of his tea. He had really been sucking that stuff down.
"It always surprises me that mortals think in terms of need when it comes to these matters. Your race has spent most of their modern history trying their best to invent machines and devices to fill your every want. You managed to harness the power of flight, the ability to talk to anyone in the world with the press of a button and you even had a music storage device that at last count I believe stored something like four million songs."
"I don't think it was quite that many-"
"My point is," I interrupted, "That of course I have no need for favors from humans. I have no need for anything, actually. I exist beyond the limitations of the word need. I am on another level of existence." I pause to allow John to be impressed for a moment. "However having so many people owe me one is a fantastic way to pass the time. Getting people to clean my house, for example, is one of my favorite ways to use a favor."
John looked around the library which was currently pristine. "I don't pretend to know you, but you don't seem like the type to require someone to clean up after you."
I chuckled in a manner that I knew would unnerve John. I was not disappointed as John squirmed in his chair. "You and that word again. Of course I do not require anything of the sort, I hardly touch anything here. That doesn't stop me from tearing the place apart and watching a random soul have to spend a long time putting everything back together. It is wonderfully amusing."
"You need some hobbies. Ever consider stamp collecting?" John asked.
I shifted my gaze to the right and John's eyes followed. There, in plain sight, was a very large case that had approximately two million stamps pressed together. I have no idea why anyone collects stamps, it isn't very rewarding. Even when I started to pick them off of dead bodies there wasn't much of a thrill to it and I really enjoy stealing stuff off of newly dead bodies.
"Oh," John said.
"Indeed," I replied. "Hobbies are not my strong suit I confess. I don't usually have time to collect much aside from favors. That in and of itself is a hobby. You may have a point that I could use these favors in a most industrious way. Any suggestions, John?"
John shuddered when I used his name. I had that effect on people. Also small animals, strangely enough. "Well uh, why not have the people do your job? That way you would have more free time."
I held back a sigh. This conversation had been going so well too. I take one final sip of my tea before gently sitting it back down on its platter before brandishing my scythe. "Well you lasted longer than most people do. For that I would like to extend my congratulations."
"Hey what did I do? I was trying to be helpful!" John said as he got up from the chair and started to look for escape routes that I knew full well didn't exist.
"Oh I don't know John. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that you told the Grim Reaper that any random human soul could take on the arduous task that is my duty to the universe. I cannot possibly understand where your error was in the matter." I mentally winced; I really did need to stop hanging around humans so much. Their overuse of sarcasm was simply infectious.
John considered what I had just said for a moment. "Okay when you put it like that I guess I can see why you took offense." He paused. "I challenge you to a game for the right to continue to exist!" he said suddenly.
I stared at him. "Did you just go Bill and Ted on me, John?"
John shrugged. "So what if I did? It was an awesome movie."
The man had a point. "I never said otherwise. Although the torture I am going to unleash upon William Sadler when he dies is going to be legendary throughout the afterlife," I state. After a moment I add, "I have nothing to gain from this competition and everything to lose. Unlike my movie counterpart I am not so easily suckered into a fool's bet."
"No, but you do seem awfully bored. If nothing else it would be amusing, right?" John said hopefully.
I tilted my head. Amusement was in fact a top priority for me this was true. There was only so much amusement that I could squeeze out of torturing someone. It had been a few years since someone had brought up Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey to my face and that had ended pretty well. The idiot had thought that he knew more Sports Trivia than I did when I had to listen to every fan that had ever died moan about their team until I forcefully shut them up. The look on his face when I had named the entire roster of the 1908 Chicago Cubs still brought a chuckle to the forefront.
"Sure, why not. I accept your challenge, John. Know this, however: unlike Bill and Ted there is no coming back from the dead for you. For one you are not going to defeat me, but even if the universe deigns today to be an off day all you gain is my solemn promise that I will not harm you. When you lose you will become my servant for all of eternity. If these terms are acceptable name your game, John." Whatever the challenge I was confident in my victory.
"Monopoly," John said simply.
I frowned for a brief moment before my lips pulled into a tight smile. I can appreciate a bastard when I see one, after all.
"Dick move John, dick move."
It took me a good twenty minutes to find my Monopoly game in the house. I think I had tried my best to forget where it was. Monopoly had never been very kind to me. Actually I think it would have been more accurate to say that Monopoly had never been kind to anyone. It was one of those board games that could end up lasting far longer than anyone participating ever wanted it to and the winner was usually more lucky than good. I still couldn't figure out who thought it was reasonable for the greens to cost that much to build on when the potential gain from them was far less than Boardwalk and Park Place which cost far less to build up to hotels due to their only being two of them. The game makers had kept mum even after days of torture when I had a chance for a little alone time with them.
There have been more murders related to Monopoly than any other modern board game save for one. Apparently saying "Sorry!" just wasn't good enough sometimes.
I sat the box down in front of John. We had stayed in the library and simply moved a few rows back to a bigger table near the center of the room. I wasn't looking forward to this. Two-player Monopoly was the worst type of Monopoly. It was extremely polarizing and all around in poor taste to only play with two people. There were only two reasons people played in this fashion: they only had one friend or they were a sadist. Take this game as an example of that, I am as close to a sadist as anyone and John wasn't exactly swimming in friends at the moment. Just think about every instance of a two player Monopoly you have ever been a part of or ever witnessed and you will know I speak a universal wisdom about the game. You are welcome.
I open the box and everything begins to spill out of its own accord. I had programmed the game to be able to run itself without the aid of any of the players. It would be the banker which distributed the money to start the game as well as take any money when it became required. It would also hand out and shuffle any of the cards throughout the game. My house rules were simple: Players started with double the usual money and all fines went into the middle for Free Parking. If you didn't have that Free Parking rule you were playing a version of Monopoly that I wanted no part of, and I am the guy who has fond thoughts for Hitler. Let that sink in.
As you can probably guess by now I take my Monopoly pretty seriously. That is with good reason: I view every game of Monopoly like its own war. There are no moral victories when it came to the game of Monopoly. Either you win or hours of your time have been wasted in an agonizing pursuit of triumph that is not to be. That is all there can ever be with the game of Monopoly.
John looked at everything being set up and let out an appreciative whistle. "This is a neat version of the game. If I beat you can I have it?"
I looked down at the money currently distributing itself between the two of us and the board that had just unfolded and was now still. I didn't like Monopoly very much and I wasn't particularly attached to this version of the game or anything. On the other hand I never gave anything away for free, even in defeat. "I am going to hang onto it either way."
John shrugged. I could feel the disappoint rolling off of him in waves. Instead of addressing it he changed topics. "What piece do you want?"
"Since I have home field advantage I will allow you to choose the piece you want. Choose wisely, I believe there is a certain amount of luck associated with each piece," I said sternly.
John frowned and rubbed his chin. He was clearly thinking deeply about which piece would be the lucky one. After he had been doing this for a whole five minutes I started to regret saying anything about being careful. Finally, right before I was about to prod him, he spoke up and said, "I choose the car."
"I believe you have chosen unwisely. I have never been bested in Monopoly while my opponent is the car. I choose the top hat." I grab the piece and sit it on the starting point as John looks at me warily. It was probably mean of me to attempt to play mind games with him over a game of Monopoly but I never claimed to be nice so I think that is pretty fair; to say nothing of the fact that he thought it would be a wise idea to challenge me.
"I've never lost a game of Monopoly," John spoke up suddenly.
I looked at John at that declaration. He sounded confident. "And?" I said more rudely than I had meant. I found it amusing that Hitler didn't bother me but Monopoly always managed to ruffle my feathers; that was impressive considering I didn't have feathers. Although if you had the experiences with both that I had you would see it my way too.
"It is my mother's favorite game. She made us play it every Thursday in our family game night for over a decade. I never lost," John repeated his earlier declaration again with confidence.
I looked down at my top hat and frowned. I suddenly did not feel so confident about my choice.
The human condition is a very fascinating one because of the very fact that it is not singular. Each human being, shaped by a countless number of conditions and chance happenings are truly unique. The rest of the universe simply cannot compare to humanity when it comes to all the different ways a single species has to stand out from amongst the crowd, nor would it want to, and how so many of that species want nothing more than to not stand out. I say this because no example better illustrates this point than board games.
Who invented board games? Who knows. Well, I know, but I am not in the mood to tell you. All you need to know is it was someone who thought that what humanity needed to go forward was to sit around a board during their leisure time. How board games ever caught on remains a willful mystery to me. I have one of those ominous feelings and when I get one of those you had damn well better believe something ominous was going to go down that if I were to pry into that particular detail in human history that I might not ever be the same again, and considering how lovely I am that would indeed be quite sad. There I go again, rambling on like some random human. I apologize; my infection appears to be spreading more and more these days. I think John has a little to do with that. A human hasn't lasted this long in my presence in some time and I am afraid it is only going to be exacerbated by a game of Monopoly. This could take years.
To return to my main point I believe board games are going to go down as one of the hallmarks of the downfall of the human race right up there with Finland. It's always the quiet ones. Board games, you see, do something that is very dangerous: It allows people to use their imagination. The human imagination is one of the scariest things I've ever seen and it shouldn't have any chance to be given direction. Instead of kids going outside to enjoy climbing on ladders they ended up holed in some dark room playing Chutes and Ladders which is just a gateway board game to the heavier stuff like Dungeons & Dragons. In Sorry! You bump each other off of the board instead of brutally murdering each other. The overpopulation concerns that Sorry! Caused were thankfully offset by the fact that anyone who was exposed to Dungeons & Dragons for too long never had the opportunity to reproduce themselves, so the two managed to balance each other out.
Monopoly, on the other hand, is a totally different beast. There is nothing to balance about Monopoly. There is no hidden goodness lurking in the depths of Monopoly. There is greed, power, and the thought that ruthless ambition rules the day. Thus, Monopoly reveals something that mortals should have never had the chance to glance upon: the naked truth of their species.
They were all monsters who used emotion, intelligence, and a blissful lack of self-awareness to live their daily lives in comfort and in peace. They can play board games as people are dying because of their very nature. They sit around dreaming of owning property and hoarding it away from the needy while there are actually needy people in the world who could be helped. It was a grotesque insight into the nature of humanity that portrayed them in a rather poor light.
That is why I chose to behead the man who kept prattling on about it. Humans get few things right, but it is when they embrace their basest natures that they truly shine. Savage, ruthless, and without false trappings of pity and consideration. Strip a man down to nothing and most would reveal something more sinister than even my darkest fantasies. It is why they were capable of amusing me so much. They had such great potential for havoc. Well, that and they scream really loudly when I hurt them. That's a definite plus.
"Um, it's been your turn to roll to see who goes first for twenty minutes," John said, interrupting my thoughts.
I stared at him during until he started to once again squirm in his chair. I wasn't being very sporting about the whole affair, I admit. Then again I never had much love for sports as a whole so that shouldn't be particularly surprising. After I felt that John was sufficiently ready to piss his pants I said, "Do not rush greatness, John. Rome was not built in a day. I should know, I had to keep going back to the place because the idiot workers kept falling off of archways."
"You still haven't rolled," was John's reply.
I felt a sudden strong urge to roll my scythe instead and see how many pieces his head came to in order to decide who went first. I instead decided to simply roll the dice. I frowned as the singular dot appeared face up. Compared to John's mighty four it was a pathetic effort out of the dice.
John rubbed his chin as he looked at the dice.
"Aren't you going to roll?" I asked a bit more impatiently than was strictly necessary.
John looked at me and smiled the worst type of smile: an honest one. "No, that's okay. I think I am going to defer to you."
I stared at him.
He guessed what I was thinking. "What? I won the roll. I should be able to choose if I go first or second. By all means, go ahead."
I looked down at the board and frowned. I got the distinct feeling that John was messing with me. When I won I would peel the skin from his flesh for this. As best I could without him technically having skin or flesh, anyway.
If I was in the habit of smiling I would have done so. I am a big believer that it is very easy to set the tone of just about anything by its beginning. When I rolled a twelve and followed that up with a very solid seven on my first turn I knew this game was going to go well. Not only that, but on John's first roll he only managed a four. For those not very well versed with the standard Monopoly board a roll of four from the Go position will always put you on Income Tax. While John muttered about a conspiracy his money floated of its own accord to the middle of the board indicating the start of the Free Parking pot.
"Undefeated did you say?" I asked with just a touch of mocking. Being a bastard is fun and I recommend everyone try it at least once.
"Shut up," John replied morosely. I imagine the following silence sounded particularly smug to John's ears, and with good reason.
I picked up the dice and rattled them against my boney fist for a brief time before letting them go. A moment later I moved three spaces to Chance. After a short delay the top card on the Chance pile floated into the air and an angelic, quite literally there, disembodied voice spoke out.
"Your Christmas fund matures! Collect one-hundred dollars. Well done!"
John had looked up sharply when the voice had begun to speak. "Who was that?" he asked when it had finished.
"Marilyn Monroe," I responded casually.
John blinked at me stupidly. I have noticed that humans do that a lot around me. Actually, I've noticed that humans just do that a lot period. In fact, they do an awful lot of things stupidly now that my mind is on that train of thought
"Why do you have Marilyn Monroe voicing your Chance cards?" John asked after what appeared to be a lot of consideration. I think he had several more questions that he would have liked to ask but had thought better of it.
"Why not?" I countered.
John raised an index finger as if he had at the ready a strong argument but after a moment faltered and just sighed. "So what is she like?"
"I'll tell you after you roll your dice you slow man," I said.
John rolled his eyes and gobbled the dice into his hand and practically slammed them down onto the board. His roll was unimportant and so I obliged him.
"She was, and still is for that matter, quite full of herself," I said before pausing briefly for effect. I like doing that more than I reasonably should. I wasn't a big fan of reason anyway. Just before the silence would have stretched out too long I continued. "I was going to do bad things to her and no, not those bad things until she begged me to spare her. Somewhere in her begging she offered to use her mouth to fulfill my needs. When I not so politely declined that offer she said she had a good voice too and, well, whimsy struck and here we are." Whatever stories you may have heard about Marilyn Monroe were unlikely to be true. She was not nearly as modest as her legends led people to believe.
John said nothing and I took the opportunity to once again roll the dice. I got another small roll and frowned. I sometimes regretted my own rule about waiting a full go around the board before being able to buy properties, but it was one of those rules that if not instituted led to bloodshed. Not that I particularly minded bloodshed but Monopoly took long enough as it was, it could only get worse if there were further delays in the game. I remember visiting a house in nineteen seventy-three that had a triple homicide-suicide because the rules of Monopoly were not made clear before play. When I sat them down for a game of Monopoly the horror in their eyes was quite satisfying. I believe the father had won that particular rematch amidst a stream of tears from everyone involved. Those particular tears were delicious.
I sometimes wonder if I am an evil person. Every time I think about this for more than a few seconds my mind wanders to some hapless fool that is in need of a good torturing and I forget my train of thought. It is probably best if I don't think too much about the subject.
Our next few rolls went quickly and soon enough I was on Boardwalk ready to pass Go for the first time, collect my two hundred dollars, and start a spending spree. I looked over at John's Car which was only a few short spaces away on the nearest Railroad. This was when Monopoly truly began, the preamble was finally over.
"I know what you're thinking," John said. As usual he seemed strangely confident for a mortal confronting me. I have learned over the years though that stupidity is perhaps the greatest source of confidence in the universe and so I never think much of it when someone shows confidence against me of all people. It just makes them exceptionally stupid in comparison to, say, regular stupid.
I looked over at John to see him smiling at me. "Oh?" I said. I doubted he had the first clue about what was going through my mind.
"You are thinking the game is just now beginning now that property buying is about to start," John supplied for me.
"You couldn't be farther away from the truth," I lied through my teeth. It was a good thing he couldn't see my teeth then, now wasn't it?
John frowned at me. "Ah, damn. I thought I was being such a clever guy there and everything. I have played so much Monopoly that I usually am able to read my opponents intentions pretty well," he said.
I tilted my head in thought. "Have you ever considered the fact that your mother's obsession with Monopoly could be considered child abuse?" I asked not impolitely.
John gave me a wry grin. "It's crossed my mind, yeah."
I think my favorite time period in human history is when the Black Death was at its height. It is probably the best thing that has ever been named after me. It was ruthlessly efficient, had a very high clear rate yet not so high that I didn't have free time, and it was very popular at the time amongst the pyromaniac community. Those guys are strangely enough a very tough sell.
I prefer to think of the Black Death in comparison to Monopoly, but sadly I know I have to concentrate on the game. I look to my right and see the handful of properties I own. It hasn't been a bad start by any means. I have two of the Railroads, Reading and Short Line. I also have three colored properties: Baltic of the dark purples, Virginia of the light purples, and Illinois of the reds that I obtained when I was forced by a card to go there. Due to another one of my house rules once a player gains control of a color it is impossible for the other player to purchase any other of the same color. This prevents already lengthy games from entering stalemate territory. This rule was implemented when I had a four year game that only ended after I destroyed my opponent's soul. Oh don't give me that look; he was kind of a dick anyway.
While I had five properties John had six. He owned Pennsylvania Railroad which, not being colored, was an exception to the rule about property splits. He also owned one of those utilities that I never cared about. They were just about worthless as far as I was concerned and thus I didn't bother to remember which one he owned. The real problem was that he owned both St. James Place as well as New York Ave which meant that he only needed one more property, Tennessee, to gain all three oranges. If he were to unite the oranges under his flag it would be quite deadly indeed. I should know after all, I am Death. Aside from those he also had one of the yellows as well as one of the greens.
"I'll trade you-" John started until I interrupted him with a forceful "no."
"Hey, you didn't even hear what I was going to offer. Maybe it is a really good deal," John said.
"It is against my rules to trade in a two person game. There is nothing to gain by doing it. No trades, John. Ever." I think I made myself quite clear.
John frowned and scooped the dice in his hand. "That's exactly what I was expecting to hear anyway," he said glumly.
"Your mind games aren't going to work on me, John. I've met every psychologist who has ever published anything worth a damn about the human mind. Not only that you aren't even dealing with a human mind. Save it for someone a little bit more in your league."
"Okay," John said without complain and then rolled the dice.
I looked at John and mulled over our latest conversation. Ever since we had started the game he had been trying to get in verbal jabs every now and again to absolutely no success. He talked a big game and I could certainly appreciate a good bluff but he didn't really have anything going for him. His buying strategies were mediocre and he didn't possess any forethought in his purchases. I have met liberal arts majors with more real estate sense than John was currently displaying in our game.
"Ah sweet, I rolled two doubles and then landed on Tennessee," John said to bring me back to the game. I looked down and grimaced at the board. "I think I'll buy that and put two houses on each orange property," he continued. At his declaration houses popped onto the board and his money floated back into the bank.
"That was nothing but pure luck, you realize," I said feeling not as generous as I had a few moments prior.
John shrugged. "Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. Isn't that what life is all about? A lot of people get lucky very early in their life and are essentially set for life. You do an awfully lot of complaining for a timeless entity who has supposedly seen the creation of the universe."
"When did I ever say I was any of that?" I questioned.
John pointed behind me and I turned my head to find he was pointing out a very thick book that was sitting on a shelf in plain sight.
"'A Guide to the Universe by an Entity Who Has Seen the Creation of the Universe. Written by Death.' Oh, I suppose I did say that didn't I. It wasn't as popular as I had thought it would be. I think the title didn't appeal to people the way I wanted it to," I said.
"I cannot imagine why," John said with more sarcasm than I thought was strictly necessary.
"It is hard writing a book. You should try it sometime before you judge others," I reprimanded.
"I almost fell asleep just reading the title though. Why not something like 'The Universe' by Death. I am sure a lot of people would have been glad to read that. It sounds all epic and stuff."
Before John was finished speaking I had a marker out and was blacking out the former title of my book. I know a good idea when I hear it.
"Hey we are playing a game here! And it is your roll! Get back to the table and roll into my oranges!" John said testily.
After I had finished renaming my book I sat back down and looked at John. "Know that if I win this game the first thing you will do as my minion is to read that book," I said seriously.
John shuddered. I don't think he was much of a reader.