Meeting the Reaper

Hank Haywood has died.

That’s a weird sentence to think. I mean, I always say ‘kill me now,’ ‘I wish I were dead,’ ‘oh death, please take me away to your humble abode,’ or some crap like that.

Now that I am… now that the end has really come, old jokes seem… well, they still seem funny in their context, I’m not gonna lie. 

I mean, if I weren’t so upset about being dead I’d laugh. It’s just… 

I don’t want to be dead, not at 20, not the week before I turn 21, I was literally days away. Now I get to be buried on my birthday.

Heart attack at age twenty, a mix of low blood pressure, exercising without a proper diet, and high levels of stress triggered that one-in-a-million shot. At least I didn’t die on the toilet, I’m not famous like Elvis, I can’t live that down.

One thing they never tell you about being a ghost is that when you’re walking around the ethereal plane you wear whatever you died wearing. Okay, it’s not really all that ethereal, it looks and feels like I’m walking around like a normal person, it’s just that no one can see me, no one can hear me, and I can just pop in and out wherever I want. 

I wanted to pop in at my funeral. This may seem sadistic or asinine, but I wanted to see how many people cried. How many of my fraternity brothers would sniffle, would my friends from Jersey crack a joke, would my mom prove I’m the favorite child, would my father shed a tear, would my sister give a slanderous speech or a good one… 

I was honestly betting on slanderous, and hey, I wouldn’t blame her. 

Hell, I was half expecting some girl to feel sad about the one that got away… by dying. Stupid, but a guy can dream right? I’m dead, nobody’s going to know what I’m thinking, nobody knew what I was thinking when I was alive anyway.

But here’s the kicker, the day of my funeral, I teleported myself here, and still… no one else is here. 

I’ve been waiting a couple of hours. I know I didn’t fuck the time up, and still, nobody showed. Some guy just lowered my body into a ditch. I watched as I sat in this terrible no-sleeved shirt and shorts I wore to the gym. I just sat on a hill, wishing for some Simon & Garfunkel to start playing and the rain to start so I can brood harder than Batman did after the death of Robin.

Then there are these footsteps coming up behind me that I ignore. I don’t need to see another groundskeeper to get my hopes up. 

But then the feet stop behind me, and I get this cold chill. Are ghosts supposed to get cold? We’re dead, the only thing we’re supposed to feel is pain, sadness, and regret that goes along with the fact that apparently we meant nothing to everyone. That no matter how many times people smile at you, no matter how many times they tell you that they care… they really don’t.

“Mind if I sit with you?” 

It’s a deep, grovely voice, not because they got a cold but because there are no lips. I guess it only makes sense.

I don’t necessarily want to turn around, I mean there are only a few choices for who can see and talk to ghosts, and none of them particularly good. I guess there’s a chance it’s Persephone, Goddess of Flowers, Queen of the Underworld, but if I can’t believe in there being one god why would I believe in there being many? 

That may have sounded offensive, but I’m dead, so fuck you.

“That is very offensive,” the man says. How did I think a Goddess of Flowers could have a man’s voice? “You’d be surprised.”

Okay, with that amount of shade I have to look. 

The Grim Reaper, how surprising… not.

He’s more or less what you expect, big dark cloak, a giant scythe he has to set down on the ground, and skeleton hands and limbs, but no face. Just darkness. Can’t get everything right.

“It’s actually just the Reaper,” he corrects me. 

“Let me guess, you’re not very grim,” I joke with him.

“I can’t not be in my profession.”

“Why not?”

“I see dead people.”

“Point taken.”

I look back at my empty funeral. I figure he must be here to take me somewhere, Oblivion, Hell, the Underworld, whichever. I ain’t going to Heaven, more out of spite than the fact that I don’t deserve it, though then again…

“You upset?” he asks me.

I look at him and remember there’s no face to look at. It psyches me out so I look away as I brood and complain. I’m dead with a funeral no one came to, how much more can I be punished? I can’t imagine they don’t have these things set in stone already.  

“Of course, I’m upset, I went through life thinking that I mattered to people. I thought I helped, that I made real friends, but it turns out I was wrong. Turns out that nobody cares, I didn’t really have friends, I had leeches… or maybe I was the leech. 

“Maybe I just clung to people who were too nice to tell me they hated me. Who would really like someone who stares into space all the time, who wears headphones so he doesn’t have to talk to anyone, who’d rather have a discussion about why Batman would beat the shit out of Superman than a discussion about honest feelings. 

“It can’t be everyone else, it’s impossible that I didn’t meet one good person, which can only mean that it was me. It has to mean that I’m the one who’s fucked up, I’m the one who’s unlikeable, antisocial, creepy, weird, boring, and/or disgusting…”

I look over at the Reaper just listening, silently, waiting for me to finish. “You must get this a lot,” I tell him.

“All the time,” he answers me, and it’s his turn to overlook the graveyard with this empty look in his eye, “every time,” he mumbles, “any time,” he mutters, “all the time…” 

Great, now I’ve depressed the hell out of death himself.

“No, that’s someone else entirely,” he corrects me. You know, it hasn’t bothered me once that he can read my mind. 

Oh shit, he can read my mind.

“Just the loud thoughts,” he tells me.

“Great,” I comment, “wait, whose Death then?”

“Kind of like my mom I guess, is this really what you want to talk about?” 

He’s probably confused after my whole depressed rant about how it must be me who sucks.

“I don’t know,” I admit, “I just want to know, why… why do we go through life with nothing to tell us if we’re doing it wrong? Why do we have to keep pushing and suffering and falling? Batman would say ‘so we can get back up’ but that’s bullshit! Life can’t be this thing where I spent most mornings not wanting to get up, and I don’t mean that in a depressed way, I was fucking lazy as all hell.”

“Hell really isn’t that lazy,” he corrects me.

“Expression,” I remind him.

“Pretty bad one,” he tells me.

I groan, and look out at the empty funeral.

“How did I screw up this badly?” I ask him.

“Do you really want to know?” the Reaper turns to me and asks.

I turn to him, this empty pit of blackness that could swallow me whole and break me even easier with only a word. 

I’m dead… I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m dead… I let that sink in for myself for a second, and realize that I don’t have much to lose. I never really believed in souls, why care about one now?

“Yes,” I tell him, and wait for the soul-wrenching truth.

“You’re at the wrong funeral.”

“Say what?” 

“You’re at the wrong funeral,” the Reaper tells me, and points to the empty funeral in front of me, “I got this asshole earlier, real Ebinenzer Scrooge type without the money. I was so happy when nobody came, gave him his comeuppance. You? You’re just stupid.”

“But, but…” I stammer. This doesn’t make any sense, this can’t be, I can go wherever I want with a thought and I thought about going to my own funeral!

He reads my loud thoughts again and asks me, “Who told you that? You’ve been what, dead for a week? You really think that’s enough time to figure out how everything works? You’re lucky you’re even in the right graveyard,” and then he moves his hand to grab his nonexistent chin, “really lucky actually, most people have to walk.”

“So,” I begin to ask, as I realize the genuine greatness of my stupidity, “can I walk over to my actual funeral?”

The Reaper looks at his wrist, and suddenly there’s a Spongebob watch on there. I’m not going to ask.

“I like Spongebob, big whoop,” he groans as he lifts his head, “and as to seeing your funeral… sure, why not, I have nowhere better to be.”

“Don’t you have other souls you have to reap?” I ask, I mean, I’d figure he’d be really busy with a ton of shit to do.

“The keyword was ‘better’,” he tells me, and I make an ‘oh’ face.

I hurry up to my feet, and the Reaper is already standing nearly 3 feet above me, pointing me in the right direction. I look up at him and tell him, “Thanks,” for everything, for listening and letting me do this. I don’t say this last part, not because he can read minds but for the emotional resonance. 

I’m poetic I think.

“No problem,” he says casually, ruining it, and then tells me, “if we hurry, you can catch your sister crying.”

“Are you serious?” I ask him flabbergasted, I never would have guessed. “I got to see this.”

“Yeah, funerals can be funny like that,” the Reaper admits, as he leads the way.

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