I don't consider myself a conceited person. This is mostly because I don't consider myself a person, but I don't like getting caught up in the details too much as it makes it easy to lose sight of what is most important: always being right. So since I know I am not conceited in any way when I believe I have gained an upper hand on someone else it is usually a good indication of the events about to unfold. John thought himself clever, and in the world of high stakes Monopoly perhaps he was to a degree, but when he had foolishly tried to match his wits with me he found out that being clever wasn't nearly good enough to emerge victorious. I look down at the board and cannot help the smile that crosses my face as I see the glistening ruby hotels which now adorn Boardwalk and Park Place. Cutting out gems from the fossilized blood of my foes had not only proven to be a wonderful time waster, but also an amazing idea on the back end as well: Those hotels were really pretty. You will have to take my word for it, I suppose.
John grimaced as he eyed the hotels. He did not need to be told the price he would pay if he were to land on one of those places. He surveyed the whole board for a moment longer before letting out a sigh.
"Something the matter, John?" I asked politely. He glared at me as soon as I was done saying his name. I think he has figured out the fact that whenever I am polite I am not, in actuality, being polite. I found myself not caring in the slightest though.
"Yes something is the matter," John said with enough irritation to warm my heart. "You have erected yourself a death row of dark blues and purples. Even if you don't crush me with the dark blues, the purples will slowly murder me."
His whining is like music to my ears. Horrific music mind you, but music nonetheless. I am amused by the fact that John can still use the word murder in that context considering how he and I got to be here. Nevertheless I decide that perhaps a bit of encouragement would keep him from annoying me too much with his whining. I would normally have other options on how I deal with annoyances, but it would be bad form of me to shred his soul while we are competing in a game for said soul. That and it would mean I had played the game of Monopoly for hours for absolutely no reason, and there are some lines I am not willing to cross.
"John, I don't think you should fret quite yet. You still have the oranges which I can land on to give you a sizable amount of my wealth. Not only that, but you have managed to freeze out the light blues, yellows, and are one away from monopolizing the greens. I believe you still have an excellent opportunity to win this game." I need to thank all of those psychologists I've tortured throughout the years, their mastery of bullshit is truly a source of great inspiration in moments like this. Sadly I have a feeling that they wouldn't want to return any of my calls. Or maybe it had something to do with their lack of mouths, I can't be sure.
John smiled. "Thanks. That was really nice of you. You are right, of course. I just need to think positive and believe in myself to see me through this dark period!" John yelled with entirely too much enthusiasm. I think I'd rather have the whining back.
Before I can deliver a punishing series of retorts and all around snarky comments John rolls the dice and gets a seven.
"Oh you've got to be kidding me," I muttered. I watch the board attempting to set it on fire by looking at it, I am displeased that my ability to set things on fire with a look is not as refined as I would like, as John's car quite rudely struts over to Pacific Avenue. That same Pacific Avenue was the last he needed to monopolize them. I began to daydream about melting the car down and forcing John to drink it after the game is over. The image bettered my mood significantly.
John looked over the board before turning to his money whilst chewing on his bottom lip. I know exactly what he is thinking: Boobs. Alternatively, if he was anywhere as smart as me he would be thinking of risk assessment. If he wants to make the greens dangerous right away, possibly even put hotels on them, he has to spend almost all of his money. If he were to land on my blues after doing this it would end the game in my favor then and there. On the other hand if he is able to avoid my big properties I am almost in distance to land on the greens. The smart decision would be to hold off allowing himself to pass Boardwalk and Park Place.
Need I remind anyone this is the man who got himself stabbed over a moderately attractive waitress?
"I am going to build hotels on all three greens!" he proclaims with the same amount of pride that Alexander the Great had when he had finished conquering the known world. Trust me when I say no one should ever have that much pride, and yes I did enjoy smacking Alexander around for a good century or two when he got sent my way. His tears when I showed him the entire universe and how small his accomplishment was in the bigger picture are some of the best tasting tears I have ever had the pleasure of drinking.
The hotels made their way onto the green properties as John smiled at them with something akin to what a doting father might look like as he sees his son ride a bicycle for the first time. If there was any fairness to this game John might have had a shot at pulling this game of Monopoly out. Sadly for John he doesn't know that I led a crusade to stamp Fairness out of the universe several centuries ago after the enlightenment philosophers of Earth had spoken one too many flowery lines to me after their death. Now the cosmic entity known as Fairness resided in a fantastically small box underneath the dirt of Wrigley Field in Chicago as a reminder of how fair the universe was.
I was going to have to make it a point to check on that box that was supposed to contain Fairness after I was done rending someone's soul apart if I ended up losing a game of Monopoly. It was bad enough that I had been forced into this wretched game of torture and capitalism, which is a redundancy I am aware, but it was as if luck herself had decided that she wanted to fuck me. If she wanted me so badly she should have asked rather than show it in a game of high stakes monopoly, it was a matter of ethics. Also something something binding agreement, and the last guy who broke such an agreement keeps getting reincarnated into animals that are slaughtered – and not in the new age hippie humane way either.
"I do believe that is my win," John said quietly, trying his best to hide his smirk from my gaze and completely failing. On second thought, I am not so sure it was in fact his best effort.
I look at my top hat which is mired in a green sea of doom for the third go around the board in a row and know my opponent speaks true. I briefly pondered my course of action before I reached over and flicked my top hat over in forfeit. "Indeed it is John. Well played," I said with quiet dignity. Either that or sarcasm, I get the two mixed up more often than should be possible for someone as old and wise as me. All I know for certain is that William Sadler's future torturing just got much worse.
John performed a tacky fist pump and smiled at me. "Well I guess that is it then, I don't have to become your servant and you can't harm me! This turned out great for me."
I smiled. Immediately John stopped smiling. Perhaps he is a little smarter than I gave him credit for. Only a little, though. "Indeed. I can do you no harm. This I promised and so it shall be." With a wave of my hand my house disappeared from around us and John was instantly on his knees choking. "Of course, I don't have to provide sanctuary for those who choose insult me and then refuse to serve. You were as annoying as I thought you would be, John." I wondered if my next assignment would be as stupid as this one.
"Wait!" John screamed with what was similar to a dying gasp, a sound I am intimately familiar with.
"Yes?" I turned around and humored him. It may be more accurate to say he was humoring me though.
"I don't want to fade. Please, help me." John was starting to sound clingy; I don't like clingy.
"I'll pass," I said.
John stretched out his hand to me as he began to lose his corporeality. "I'll serve you! Please, stop this!"
It never ceases to amaze me how intelligent people become when faced with their own end. Smokers realize they should have kicked the habit years before, slackers regret every moment they had wasted in their entire existence, and people such as John quite suddenly realize that playing games with your soul against an aspect of the universe herself was not a winning proposition. I would have looked further into the phenomenon but honestly all of the stupidity tended to make me chuckle far too much for me to delve too deeply into the matter. With a wave of my hand my house materialized around us and John stopped doing his marvelous impression of a tuna. A pity, that.
John crawled his way to the chair he had occupied during the game and unceremoniously plopped down into it. After he took several breaths he turned his short attention spam back to me and gave something that I vaguely recognized as a human's attempt at a threatening glare. It was adorable. "Was this your plan the entire time? Win or lose, you gained my soul?"
The way John inflected his words almost made it seem like that sort of forethought should be frowned upon. It wasn't my plan, in actuality his smugness had annoyed me enough for his continued existence to become optional. Although I confess I have never been someone to turn down praise, earned or not. "Yes John, that was exactly my plan. You come into my domain as a freshly dead soul and act as if you are familiar with anything. Should I have been more sportsmanlike?"
"Well, yeah," John said with an earnest that only a complete idiot could muster.
"Remind me to school you on the word rhetorical at a later date," I said blithely. The uncertainty of John's eyes following my pronouncement was satisfying. I glance at the Monopoly set on the table and suddenly it and the table underneath it bursts into flames.
"Jesus Christ!" John shouted as he put his newly regained energy to use by leaping away from the table. He took a steadying breath which was wholly unnecessary given that breath itself was only a construct of his puny mind before looking at me. "Why did you do that?"
"It was Monopoly," I said simply.
To my surprise John smiled easily and nodded his head knowingly. "Aye, that it was. So what next, boss?"
I look at John in what some might describe as shrewdly; the fact that these people do so under the threat of eternal torment is largely irrelevant. John's ability to switch gears away from horrible happenstance could prove useful to me going forward, an observation that I realize I have made more than once. "Your coping mechanisms are a little creepy, John."
John gave me a bright smile. "You aren't the first to make that statement."
That did not surprise me in the least. I whipped out my scythe as non-threateningly as I could be expected to, which coincidentally is also as threateningly as I could be expected to, and stand up from my lightly scorched chair. "Well since I probably won't be destroying you on a whim I think now is an excellent time to find you a more permanent home in the afterlife."
John frowned. "What? I can't stay here?"
I tilt my head to the side and stare in John's general direction. "Would you like to share lodgings with the Grim Reaper, John?"
"I'll meet you outside!" Jon said with a markedly false cheerfulness as he practically ran out of the Library.
I chuckle into the empty room. Just when I think that there had been some sort of mishap with John's brain in regards to it actually landing inside of his skull he goes and shows that it is there, at least some of the time. My day couldn't possibly get any worse after having to play a game of Monopoly; finding someone stupid enough to take John in should be child's play in comparison. As soon as the thought crosses my mind a deafening thunderclap chose that precise moment to vibrate the house around me.
I am sure that was a coincidence...
As I met John outside I was already regretting my use of sarcasm when it came to the warning signs that accompanied events surrounding me. While I am normally all for bad things happening, they don't seem so sweet when they happen to me specifically. Mortals feared the uncertainty of death, I on the other hand feared the overwhelming certainty that was humanity's stupidity. There is an irony somewhere in there. The point being that John was doing nothing to help the cause.
As if on cue John turned towards me. "So where are we headed first?"
"We are not headed anywhere, John," I said with undisguised joy in my voice.
John actually had the audacity to pout at my announcement. "Why not? You've been with me so far. I thought, y'know, since I am your employee now you'd stick around for a bit. We could go sight seeing together!"
I have seen collapsed galaxies contain more intelligent thought within them than what John displayed. "John, I have much better things to do than be your tour guide. Such as anything else but that," I pause for a moment before adding, "Do not fret though, when I feel you can be useful to me I won't hesitate to find you." It seemed in poor taste to mention the fact that I would never feel he would be useful to me, so I let that pass unsaid.
John swallowed thickly and for one horrifying moment I thought he was going to try to hug me. Maybe John was not attached to his arms and wanted me to remove them. If he made a step forward that would be arranged with or without his consent. Luckily for everyone involved the weird look in his eyes passed and he simply nodded. "Fair enough. I think I've learned a lot from you about how stuff really works in my short time with you. I will do my best to do you proud."
"I am sure you will." I don't bother to hide the skepticism in my voice before turning away from John and finding myself back on Earth. As I alluded to in my conversation with John my ability to reap everyone in a timely manner isn't exactly within the normal bounds of time and space. It wasn't long after the first civilizations of humanity realized that war was profitable that my ability to keep up with the death toll became a universal impossibility. The Universe, never one to back down from a challenge, promptly fixed that by making me exist outside of the confines of time and space. There was one small caveat with such new found power, and that was my destinations were fixed points. Specifically wherever the Universe felt I was most needed to do my sacred duty of reaping the living. Which is a kind way of saying that I was yanked wherever the Universe wanted me to go, at her leisure. The Universe had an annoying amount of leisure, I soon found out.
Fortunately for me most souls didn't require much attention; fortunately for them too. The common practice of guiding a soul involved my scythe, their exposed back, and me never thinking about them ever again. A wonderful contrast to cases such as John's where the person insisted on being as difficult as possible. Then again many of those cases ended with a soul being thrown headfirst into the local endless abyss accompanied by my laughter or in a new servant for me to test drive. Now that I think about it those test drives usually end up at the endless abyss as well, I need to work on new methods of disposing waste.
Speaking of waste though, as I looked around I didn't see a dead body or a dying one for that matter anywhere around. That was strange because there are few reasons I would be zipped through time and space aside from a dead body, although one such thing could be-
"The Grim Reaper himself graces me with his presence! An honor as always, my dear rival."
That was not the reason I was looking for. Before me stood a being that looked remarkably human. He had a thick brown beard and his hair of the same color reached past his shoulder blades. In short, if you've ever seen a Buddy Christ figurine you've seen this guy. "Hello Bob," I said as unenthusiastically as I could muster. I am capable of mustering quite well.
Bob gave me a big grin in return which was promptly followed up by a thumbs up. It is moments like this that made me wish that sticking my own scythe through my head would do more than give me a mild headache.
Bob is the aspect of life for the Universe the same as I am her aspect for death. You might think that Bob is an odd name choice for the being that oversaw all life in the universe and I suppose you'd want a star sticker if I told you that you were correct. Well too bad, star stickers are for winners and that's why I give myself all of them. I long ago forgot his actual name, but one day I decided to call him Bob in the naïve hope that he would go away and leave me in peace. Instead he thanked me for my ingenuity and baked me an apple pie.
I have since learned to loathe apple pie.
"Not to be rude," like humans I too begin with that when I am about to be exceptionally rude, "But why are you here instead of something that needs to die? I don't see an apple pie either, which eliminates your usual M.O."
Bob's smile widened even further. I knew I wasn't going to like what he was about to say. "I am here to shadow you through some of your cases today!"
Well at least I can be secure in the knowledge that I am never wrong. Sadly I knew from prior experience that it is best to indulge my so called rival whenever he wants to spend quality time. The phase usually passes, and when it doesn't I tell him to fetch some pie and ditch him for decades at a time. "Shadowing, you say? I suppose you could tag along for a few cold bodies. Just remember to keep silent and let me do my work." And if he wanted to trip into a pocket dimension never to be seen again I wouldn't be terribly upset either, but it was best to keep some hopes to oneself.
Bob nodded at me. "Of course, I just wanted to take the time to see the sights with you."
I missed John already.
As I have previously mentioned hope is a dangerous thing to have. Even in quantities as small as a glimmer it can lead to dangerous amounts of optimism which, when dashed, were sure to ruin anyone's day. When I had grudgingly accepted Bob's proposal to join me I had unwittingly allowed a modicum of hope to worm its way into my mind and nest there, hinging entirely on the fact that Bob would indeed shut up and allow me to do my job. I suppose I should be grateful that it only took five minutes for my idiocy to be revealed, but I was always horrible at being grateful. I swung my vision to my right to see Bob crouching by what was supposed to be my first assignment of the session. He hadn't said anything yet to contradict that I am indeed going to get to do my job, but while hope may have found itself in me for a short while I was wise enough to realize when to find and exterminate such a feeling.
"I see you've been watching CSI," I said to Bob.
Bob looked up at me as he finished snapping on a pair of blue latex gloves. "There is a proper way to conduct yourself around the dead. You of all people should know that."
I have been told that it should not be theoretically possible for me to experience stress induced headaches but in fairness the people who have told me this have not been exposed to the long term ills that I have learned to associate with any contact with Bob. As my gaze lingers on the aforementioned deity he continues to poke and prod at the man who is not quite dead yet. "Bob if you would be so kind as to step away from the vessel for this man's immortal soul I can perform my job. I wouldn't want to accidentally clip you after all." It wouldn't be an accident. However, it is somewhere in my contract that I literally have to give forewarning to supernatural beings on the same spectrum as myself before I go around swinging my scythe around them. The term "firing" comes from what I did to my lawyer after I found out that clause had been written in. Did you imagine a lot of fire and horrifying amounts of agony? Keeping adding fire and you might start to get the picture.
"That won't be necessary, Death old friend. This man can be saved!" Bob said with genuine excitement.
And there it was. "Bob, it is time for this man to die. It has been ordained. You know how the higher ups get when ordained things get un-ordained. Remember when the Dinosaurs planted all of those tropical trees too far north? They never saw the asteroid coming." They were near-sighted, it was the damnedest thing; that asteroid was a mile wide!
Bob shrugged. "That was a little different. We all know tropical plants go in the tropics."
Well that was true.
Bob continued. "In any case I've fixed this man's defective heart valve. I know that is well within my rights as the bringer of life. He'll be awake and fighting fit in a matter of minutes. No mess, no boring meetings, we can get right on to the next case. I am saving you time here!"
I have heard several times that if the force that brings life into the Universe was to suddenly vanish the level of disarray that it would unleash upon all of existence could well be catastrophic. I suddenly wonder, with Bob giving me a goofy thumbs up, if bringing about such great ill to everything that has and will exist is grounds for me to be terminated by my employer as well as if being terminated would be so bad. Risk assessment, risk assessment, keep thinking about the risk assessment. Don't look him directly in the eyes...
"Bob, you realize that you aren't going to be able to save everyone we come across today, right?"
Bob looked at me as if I had spoken in a language he had never heard before. Given the fact that what I said qualified as common sense, perhaps I had. He continued to stare at me without response for several moments before I got the picture that this conversation wasn't going to head in the direction I had envisioned.
It is moments like this that make me reflect on my seemingly endless existence as a construct of the grand scheme of things. I, the bringer of death to all things, am perfectly capable of doing my job efficiently and without any ill effects. Now I will grant that some of the more liberal members of the human species may not particularly like some of my methods, which I will happily take into account when they have the ability to observe and establish the rules for Universal Laws that do not have a suspect amount of eraser marks surrounding them. I couldn't wait for the show when their views on relativity got blown the fuck up.
Bob didn't seem to be made of the same material as I was. Which I am partially grateful for, I'd be ashamed if I found out I was any more related to him than I already knew I was. On the other hand an initial part of the mechanics of the Universe can only come around excited about their new "stylish hair" and "awesome threads" so many times before questions about how organized the Universe truly was begin to stir.
"So," Bob said out of nowhere. "Where to next?" He gave me another one of what I am sure he believed to be his signature Buddy Christ thumbs up.
"Bob, you realize that you aren't going to be able to save everyone we come across today, right?" I repeated verbatim.
"I don't understand," Bob said with a disgusting amount of earnest.
I tilted my head and stare a hole into Bob. Unfortunately for everyone no hole actually formed. I admit, my stare has weakened over the years. It's a flaw. "Bob, do you have anything you hold dear?"
"I have a garden I enjoy tending to."
"Would you be sad if this garden burst into flames?" I asked innocently. Well, innocently enough anyway.
To his credit, if such things could be credited, Bob did not seem to get any subtext of the conversation. "Yes, I would be quite sad."
I cracked a smile. "Very well then, let us continue on to the next stop."
Sure, I might have to suffer through a little bit of quality time with Bob, but knowing that he was going to probably cry by the time it was over made enduring it so much easier. Everyone should try their best to return the gift of misery, it is inexpensive and lasts longer than flowers or chocolates.
I am not so prideful that I cannot admit when I have made a miscalculation. Now sure I might shred any souls who have had a chance to bear witness to both the actual mistake as well as the admission, but I think it is being picky to hold that against me. With that out of the way I can safely say that I should have cut my losses with Bob after the first person he insisted on saving from the brink of me. After the first four I stopped questioning him and started to actually read the files that came with my assignments. The fact that I began to care more about the mortals short and insignificant lives than hearing what Bob had to say provides the perfect context for how much I wish Bob would never speak to me again. After ten lives 'saved' I began to believe it to be a good idea to actually remember the files that came with my assignments, which I believe accurately sums up my mental instability at the time.
The eleventh person that Bob had the amazing idea of saving was a man with a list of war crimes that might have stretched a mile long if I had bothered to fully unfurl the parchment they were written on, and he was based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Good ole the Congo, if they kept it up they were going to surpass France soon on number of dead people due to pointless conflicts. That's not strictly fair to the long and storied history of France's failure though, as I did start handicapping them at zero point one of a person after they kept fighting the British Empire over every little thing. Yes, we get that you hate them, you can go without having ten thousand of your countrymen butchered over what time to serve tea whilst calling it tea time.
At any rate I was proactive when it came to war crimes. In that I thought it was a pro that my mind became active with all sorts of fun, imaginative ways to make war criminals suffer. This has led some mortals to believe I am taking a side in a conflict or that certain acts are below me. Those mortals are, as per the usual, horrifically mistaken and unintelligent. I would be glad to mutilate torture victims, slaves, young children, or even tortured young children who happened to be slaves, however they are usually at least partially dead inside already and as we all know from studying science dead tissue can't feel pain. If they can't feel the pain what's the point of ramming pointy objects into their souls? Okay, so it would still be fun for me, but I do like to prioritize whenever possible.
So there I was, all set to cleave this man right down the middle and get with the fun when Bob stepped in.
"Wait a minute! I have had yet another amazing revelation. This man isn't meant to die either!"
I glanced at Bob with what I hoped was a look that would make him explode. The results are unsatisfactory. There I go again with that 'hope', shame on me. "Bob, you aren't meant to fix their problems. You are meant to observe as I kill them. I don't have this scythe as a decorative piece, it is meant to lop off things. Please allow me to do my job." This is in fact the eleventh straight time I have said something similar to him. I hear that chimpanzees can begin to understand human speech if it is repeated to them within context enough times. I am starting to believe I made a grievous error in daring to compare Bob to a chimp.
"Nope! It is only cancer, no big deal for me. Life is a sacred gift, and if I can forestall its end even for but a moment I must dedicate my existence to that pursuit!" With a flourish Bob healed the man from the Congo of his cancer, smiled at me, and went on his merry way.
I stood there, watching silently as the man got to his feet and his name disappeared from my Book of People who are Supposed to Die Today, in complete stupor. I had literally let Bob come with me on my reaping. It went from harmless, to bearable with the thought of making him sad, to this. This is why I don't play Monopoly, folks. Bad stuff happens when you play Monopoly.
We arrived at the next person about to be cured of whatever their ills were, because why the fuck not, and I took out this person's chart. Her name was Melissa and she appeared perfectly lovely. She worked as a nurse, had three young children at home, and did a lot of charity work in the greater Minneapolis area. How utterly wonderful for her. Yes, I am bitter about my work being disrupted, do you have a problem with that? Write me a letter so I know what to call you while I am butchering your soul when I come for you next fall. That's right, next fall. Didn't see that one coming, did you asshole?
Bob had begun to do his CSI routine yet again by the time I was done reading the file. I was a bit surprised he hadn't started to tap people on the forehead as soon as we arrived and laugh cheerfully in my face every time. At least then we could drop the pretense of this charade. He wasn't even copying a good show! It should have ended after season six!
"So what reason is it going to be this time to spare this one's life? I am all ears, please tell me," I said with enough bitterness to make a glass of lemonade.
Bob suddenly conjured a glass of lemonade and took a tip of it as he examined the body. "I'm good, you can do your thing with this one," he said nonchalantly.
Every fiber of my endless being told me right at that moment to take my scythe out, stab the woman, and then run away with whatever dignity I had. "Why?" I asked. So much for that plan.
Bob took another sip of his lemonade before shrugging. "She's pro-choice. If you aren't pro-life, then life won't be pro-you."
If I was a person who cared about sound logic I might have questioned him further. Instead I stabbed the woman, successfully reaping her. There's something about Bob I forgot to mention: he says and does a lot of nice things, and he brings life to everyone, but I've never met a bigger dick in the entire universe than the God of Life. Bob suddenly smiled cheerfully at me as if he had heard what I had thought about him.
I wouldn't rule it out.
I wouldn't blame you if you had been operating under a false assumption about Bob. When I comment on his stupidity what I am actually doing is commenting on his ability to appear stupid while secretly being an evil genius mastermind whose cruelty is only bound by the literal laws that bind the cosmos together. For Universe's sake, he basically patented the technique known as willful ignorance. I could ask him what one plus one was and if he wanted to frustrate me he would fund a new serialization of the hit game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire so that he could be the first contestant on said show to phone a friend in complete puzzlement about such an amazingly difficult math problem. He bakes me apple pies because he knows I don't like acts of random good will, and I'll be damned if me knowing they aren't genuine acts of good will helps the matter. It's still a fresh baked apple pie, they are too damn homely for even I to resist.
"Okay Bob, the fun is over. I am going to get back to my job and you can get back to...whatever it is that you think you are doing," I said as firmly as possible.
Bob took out some cotton candy and began to chew on it. "I don't think I am going anywhere, my rival!"
"For you see the time has come for this Universe to change! For the stars to realign themselves under a new banner!"
Here it comes...
"I, the aspect of Life itself, challenge you, Death, to a match for the fate of your powers! You have been unchecked for too long! I will bring your tyranny to an end once and for all!"
I heave a sigh and begin checking through my robes for my calender.
Bob balked at my less than impressive rebuttal. "How dare you not respond right away! Accept my challenge, you fiend."
I hold up my index finger in an attempt to make the raving lunatic in front of me have a moment of patience as I search my robes with my free hand. After a few more moments I find my calender and flip it open. "Why am I not surprised. It is April 30th in Germany now. You know, you don't have to challenge me yearly."
Bob glared at me. "Yes, yes I do. You stole my kill!"
"That's not how kill stealing works, Bob. Just because you learned a term in a video game fifteen years ago doesn't mean that it applies to my job. The Grim Reaper literally cannot kill steal. It is my job to kill. There is no steal."
Bob pouted. "But I wanted to kill Hitler!"
I imagine this one is going to take some explanation. That's fine, I don't hold it against you. I mean, I am not going to explain or anything, but I still find you a perfectly respectable person. The proceeding sentence was a lie.
As an aside, I am going to do some horrific things to John when I am through with Bob. No reason.
"Bob, I have no incentive to take up this challenge," I said. I know Bob well enough to know that he can be goaded into doing things he normally wouldn't do, and I am confident in my ability to outwit Bob if it came down to it. Outwit in this case means strategically run like a little girl, a tough little girl though, until he forgets what he was doing.
Bob stroked his beard in thought for several minutes as he tried to rise to my challenge. I politely worked on a pie chart as I awaited Bob's answer. Finally Bob spoke. "I will put my mantle on the line as well! If you win, you will become the master of both life AND death!"
"I am feeling offended, Death," Bob murmured in a soft voice.
"I've seen the paperwork on your desk, I'm not quite that senile yet."
"I am starting to get angry, my rival," Bob said.
"It is amazing how little I care." Sometimes the truth is best.
"Perhaps you will care when I shove that scythe down your throat and force you to swallow it."
I could almost hear the Universe herself groan in pain as I felt the first genuine wisps of anger arouse from deep within me. I am not an easy person to make angry, but I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Bob in that particular way. He was, by design, everything that I was not. He was my antithesis and truth be known I wish my antithesis was a bit less of a bother.
I pulled out my scythe and planted the non-business end firmly into the ground, causing the fabric of reality around us to fade away and leave us in a perfectly blank white space in a distant corner of the Universe. I think I could get away with roughing Bob up a bit in the eyes of the Universe. He couldn't possibly need all of those limbs for bringing life, right? You don't have to answer that.
Just as the thought passed through my mind a searing pain ripped through my existence and forced me to my knees. It may seem petty, but my only solace at this moment was the sight of seeing Bob on his knees right along with me.
There was a distinctly feminine sigh as a pair of high heels clicked and clacked on the white floor. "My boys, always fighting. Why can't you just hug and be nice to one another?"
Well, I guess that answers the question about what the Universe thought of this fight; she had decided to grace us with her presence to break it up.
The Universe was not as big as one might imagine. In fact I'd go so far as to call her petite. Beyond that it was impossible to describe her. She would always be shifting her appearance from human to insect to vague lights that did not speak but instead would shimmer when she wished to convey something that was on her mind. I quickly got the hint that whenever the shimmer blinded me she wasn't happy with something I had said. Today she looked remarkably human, a guise I hadn't seen since the actual human race had sprung up now that I think about it, with straight black hair and fair skin. She would have been thought of as short I suppose, standing a few inches north of five foot even with her heels on, and she would not have suffered from any back problems due to her breasts if she was an ordinary mortal. I didn't find humans attractive in the least, but no matter what form she was beheld in there was nobody who could resist the charm that was the Universe.
The Universe turned my way and beamed down at me in obvious delight, Her dark blue eyes sparkled with something undecipherable. Unlike when Bob seemed to read my mind there was no doubt here: she could read my mind like an open book.
"Ah, Death himself. I see you still enjoy your narration of the plot! I am glad you took up that hobby, it is always fascinating to get your perspective on the ways in which I operate. Speaking of which, I recently stopped expanding and I think a certain deity with a scythe noticed! That's so sweet of you Grim. Up you go!" With a wave of her hand the pressure was lifted and I was upright before I could bother to do it myself.
"Thank you," I said obediently. The Universe really liked to be thanked.
"You're welcome!" she responded in a chipper voice before turning towards Bob. "Life himself. I see that you think I've gained a little weight since last we met. That's not a good start to th-"
"Hold on a minute, that's a technicality! Last time I saw you your body was composed of all lights-" was what Bob had time to say before being punched square in the face with the weight of, well, literally everything. It looked like it hurt. I really hope it did.
"Ugh," Bob muttered in clear pain as he rolled on the ground.
The Universe scoffed down at Bob. "It is rude to interrupt me, and you know I am big on the whole rudeness thing. At any rate, I can't stand the thought of you boys fighting without me, so I am here to let you know that I actually agree with Life here, you have been slacking for a fair amount of time now, Death."
My mind went blank, a rare event I assure you, at the Universe's pronouncement. I have the highest clearance rate of dead people in the whole universe. There also happens to be no competition, but I have always believed my fearsome ability to reap has cowed any would be pretenders to the throne. Then again, most don't share my level of insight. Yeah, insight. That sounds wholly accurate in every way. I have done this work for as long as time was a concept, no, before that, and never had the Universe so much as hinted at problem with how I did things.
The Universe, apparently bored waiting for my reply, spoke again. "I remember the days when you begged for me to rain down blood from the skies so that you could be of service. Lest you forget the killing of Egypt's first born was your idea."
"That was a joke!" I said. Honestly, I didn't think Moses had the balls to pull it off. At least I had a good conversation starter when he bit it.
"It has been centuries since you come to me with any ideas as to how to dispense the living. I think you've grown a bit too fond of your charges, my reaper." The Universe tapped a delicate finger onto her chin. "But that's alright. If you can stave off your would-be usurper I have no problem giving you the latitude to do as you like. If you can't, well, that's tragic." The Universe's tone did not betray how tragic she thought it would be, but I was willing to go ahead and assume that the answer was very.
I let out a sigh. This day was getting better and better. For once I was starting to question the Universe's judgment.
"I can still hear you, Death," the Universe reminded me pointedly. Personally I thought putting a knife in her own hand and making wild stabbing motions so I knew she was being pointed was a bit much, but I am a bit of a minimalist compared to the being that consists of trillions of galaxies.
Right. Reads minds. I had mentioned that and everything. "Oh very well. I accept Bob's challenge since it will clear up any doubt you might have about my job performance." And my job security, I added in my head so that Bob couldn't hear. "Should I beat Bob senseless now or would you like to schedule an appointment for the occasion? I'll bring streamers for the after party."
The Universe rolled her eyes but could not stop her lips from jerking upwards in amusement. I was always her favorite. "I am afraid there will be none of that. I can't have the two of you tearing each other apart. You will each select a champion to compete in a best of three competition decided by me."
Bob, who was still on the floor, gave another one of his thumb ups while his other arm clutched his midsection in obvious pain. Seeing Bob derive any pleasure from this situation was paramount to torture for me. On the bright side though I had many souls who owed me quite a large amount of debt. I was sure I could secure the services of someone capable with a little bit of arm twisting. Or severing, whatever worked. I confess I am rooting for the severing being necessary.
The Universe chimed in. "Oh, and your champion must compete for you completely of their own free will."
I stared at her. Fuck mind reading.