Anyways, here it goes.
Death in a StairwellYou have to understand that my only driving desire that day was for a good burger. One of those needs that comes on so suddenly you find yourself half out the door before you even know what it is you're doing. I was headed to Daddio's, the local dive bar. It's crowded, the beer is watered down, but they serve the best double with cheese in the area. It almost seems like the whole thing was planned. Destiny, you know? I was nearly there, just bopping along to the techno beat of the city, car horns, construction, all that. I could even smell the place, that grease smell that permeates the air around any decent burger joint. Not like those fast food places, where you can't smell anything but exhaust and french fries even though the slack jawed teenager has the drive up window open wide. So, I'm picking up my pace when I realize I left my wallet back at home. That kind of thing happens when you get hit with one of those urges.
By: Jeromy K. Smith
By: Jeromy K. Smith
So I head back. I cut through the alley at twentieth and Regal because it will get me there faster. I normally avoid going that way. You can always hear the sound of couples in the apartments fighting. The kind of fight that's just a phone call away from an appearance on Cops. On top of that, is the off chance of regurgitory assault from one of the bums that have taken up residence back there. It's an unpleasant experience. Nearly halfway down the alley I noticed a shoe lying in a pool of something I hope was water. Normally I wouldn't have thought anything of it, you know? There's always plenty of discarded junk laying around in places like that. There was something about the lone shoe that made me think I should pay attention to it though. It was one of those slip on business type shoes, a Penny Loafer. It was staring at me, like it wanted me to know it was there. I walked over to check it out. That's when I noticed the stairwell, about five steps leading down to a landing and a sturdy door. It was pretty dark down there, but in the gloom I could make out a heap. At first I thought it might have been a trash bag, but then I noticed that the trash bag had a leg, the leg had a foot, and the foot had a shoe. It was a Penny Loafer.
All thought of getting a burger slipped away at that point. Before I could think about how bad an idea it might be I was kneeling beside the body. I realized pretty quickly that I was looking at a body by the twist of the guy's neck. He looked like he might be trying to check out his own ass. His eyes were like a couple of marbles gone misty with age. I'm not sure how long I sat there looking at it. Long enough to notice the shards of light bulb scattered across the ground, and the way his arms were spread out in front of him, as if he were a criminal who had been told to assume the position. I guess I should have called 9-1-1 straight away. Not that they could have done anything for him, but they could have called someone to inform them of his passing. By the look of his suit he would have someone in his life who would be interested in his unfortunate condition. Instead I just sat there.
I guess you might think I'm a morbid guy, but I was a bit fascinated by it. I may have been deep in contemplation over the nature of mortality, or I may have been wondering whether I could still get a burger after I answered all the questions that were bound to come out of this, when the body let out a guttural belch. Up until that day I had never known a dead body could do something like that, so I guess no one could blame me for screaming. I was still screaming when I noticed the lump that started in his throat and worked it's way up towards his gaping mouth so I just kept on with it.
I remember the scraping sound when the thing crawled out of his mouth. Its head came first, black like a rotted piece of fruit. Its eyes were so human that looking into them dried my mouth and stopped me screaming. There were four of those eyes. They turned in their sockets before finally falling on me. The rest of it emerged from between his lips with a pop. It was covered in a glistening carapace. I think that's what made the scratching noise, the shell rubbing against the dead mans teeth. It looked at me for quite some time, trying to decide whether I had actually seen it. I think it finally decided I had, because it spoke to me. I'm sure you're wondering what it said. Well I'll relay the conversation to you. It looked at me with those green eyes and it said...
"Oh my god! You talk!??" I said.
"Yes I talk, and I'm also supposed to be invisible." It shook itself then. I think it may have been expressing its frustration, but I could only focus on the viscous ropes of body gunk that flew from its flanks. "Since you can quite obviously see me, I guess I am not."
"What.. what are you?"
It considered me for a long moment before answering.
"I guess it won't hurt any to answer, now that you have seen me. What's your name?"
"Jim. My name’s Jim." I answered.
"Well Jim, I guess the best name for me, the one you would understand, is Death."
The creature said it just like that. In a way that made sure I understood that it was death with a capital D. Not just death, but the Death. Even now I have a hard time reconciling this beetle of a creature with the man in the long black cloak and skull face.
"You're Death? Like, you travel all over the world taking souls, like a nasty Santa?"
"No. Not like that really." Death let out a great sigh that whistled across his perfect line of black chicklet teeth. "I am his death."
"Yes. This is Tom, who has a rather large amount of money stashed away behind this door. He acquired said money in a somewhat uncouth manner, so he hid it in the basement of his rental property. Like many men who suffer from insatiable greed, he became paranoid about the status of his money....."
Now, I will stop here to tell you that I wish I had followed my first impulse at that moment. If I had I would probably be in Mexico right now. In mexico, and rich. Instead I listened to a deeper impulse. I had to know more about this little creature that claimed to hold the keys to the After, with a capital A.
".... That's what brought poor Tom down here, where he fell down these stairs to his death. Of course I knew this long ago. You see when Tom was born I came into being with him. I have spent the last thirty two years awaiting this very moment. Every human has a Death that lives with them."
"I don't believe you. You're just a mutant talking cockroach is all. Or I'm having a hallucination brought on by a lack of some nourishment that my body needs. That's what brought me out for a hamburger."
"You need proof? Well think back Jim. Think back and remember a time when you were doing something foolish. Something dangerous. Do you remember the awful twisting feeling in your gut, Jim?"
"No. You're lying! That's just adrenaline."
I'm not sure if I believed what I was saying at that point. Regardless of whether I believed it then, the next moment would prove me wrong. Death reared up, it's spindly legs clicking together as they writhed in the air. Its mouth opened up and I could see something deep in it's throat. Something awful. My stomach, or something else entirely, squirmed in my midsection like a child that wishes to be put down. A moment later Death returned to his placid state. He stared at me while I fought to control my runaway heart.
"That was your Death, Jim. We get nervous when our human is threatened."
"But you said you know how we will die." I thought I had him there.
"Quite true. We know how you should die, but there are others out there. Others that wish to take our purpose from us."
I could hear the sirens approaching in the distance. Somewhere closer a dog was whining in response to the sound. I knew someone must have called the police when they heard me scream. I should have run for home. Let them discover the body for themselves, but I had to know.
"What comes next?"
"You will find out soon enough, Jim. I believe your Death is waiting for all of that stuff in your arteries to do its work. Now, I must go."
"Wait!" I cried, but Death had gone.
"You believe me right?" I ask the nurse.
"Of course, Jim. Now it's time for your medication. Open wide."
I can feel that thing in my stomach turn in response to the erratic thrum of my heart. Down the hall someone is screaming. I wish someone would give him his medication.