So it was a Tuesday and I was in the workshop putting a blender back together. Mrs. Freely had brought it in for the fifth time in the last two years and to be honest, I was getting a little frustrated. She kept using it to blend different cat foods for her cat, Smedly, but she was old and occasionally dropped the lid of the tin in as well. Mrs. Freely 7 years, 3 months and 18 days was a nice enough old codger though so I was happy to do the work. After centuries of being around people in their final moments and being unable to do anything about it, it really was quite rewarding to bring something back from the brink of extinction even if it was a 7-speed blender. So I replaced the bent blades with newer models which hopefully would last a little longer... I knew they weren't made for the Mixman 40RJ series but those parts were ancient and the Mixmaster 17A Series blades have the exact same mounting plate, are half the cost and last twice as long. Anyhow, I was feeling quite proud of myself and was just about to test the machine when my counter girl came in. Glenda 32 years, 7 months, 23 days wasn't terribly bright but she was honest and hard working, so I cut her a break and gave her a job. As it turned out she was a savant when it came to bookkeeping, so I put her in charge of basically running the business side of things while I concentrated on repair. "Mr. Grim, Mr. Abbott called and said his refrigerator isn't working again." "I just fixed that on Friday," I replied with a groan. Mr. Abbott 2 years, 4 months, 7 days kept getting me to fix things and then within a week they'd be broken again. It was ridiculous. I was about to complain about it to Glenda when she accidentally dropped the file she was holding onto blender. As the blender sprang to life with a noisy, rattling buzz, I suddenly realized that my hand was still inside. Blood splattered onto the side of the blender as I quickly pulled out my now mangled fingers. Glenda was in hysterics of course and ran to get me a towel, which I used to wrap it up quickly all the while hiding it from her view. "Oh my God Mr. Grim I am so sorry! Are you okay? I'm going to call an ambulance..." she stammered. "No no no, don't do that I'm fine, really," I said, quickly palming my severed thumb with my good hand and secretly dropping it into the wastepaper basket beneath my desk. "It looks worse than it is. It's just a little nick, honestly." Glenda let out a sigh of relief, "Oh thank goodness... can I get you a band-aid at least?" "No, no I'll be alright. There, I think it's already stopped bleeding see?" I unwrapped the towel to reveal a perfectly functional hand with only a few minor scratches. Surprised but satisfied, Glenda returned to her desk and I started cleaning the blender. You see being an envoy of death, I can't be killed, and any harm that comes to me is only temporary. Being immortal has it's advantages, but sometimes it's awfully hard to keep it a secret.
When Your Number's Up...
Danger Sense: Supreme
Later that day I was out on a call to a laundromat. It was one of those family-owned places and I got fairly regular business from them because they refused to replace their ancient Dry-O-Vac 2000s with newer models. As I entered, I was met by the owner's sister, Jun Lee 50 years, 10 months and 17 days and her daughter, Hyun-Sun 72 years, 11 months, 26 days. "Be careful Mr. Grim," said Jun Lee with a thick accent as she hurried out the door, "he's crazy today". Entering, I could see Jun Lee was right. The owner, Mr. Kim, was cursing loudly at one of their industrial washing machines in Korean and quite visibly upset. Upon spotting me, he rushed over, "Mr. Grim, Mr. Grim you fix now." I opened up my toolbox and began to wonder what exactly all the urgency was about anyhow. I mean, there wasn't a single customer in the place. Still, I suppose when you've only got few decades of life at best, you can't afford to be as patient as an immortal like me. You'd think I of all people would understand that better. As I started to unscrew the back plating to the ancient machine, I was suddenly struck by something. I looked back at Mr. Kim, who was busying himself behind the counter, still swearing up a storm in a language he didn't realize I understood. 5 minutes, 32 seconds. Uh-oh. "Mr. Kim? I'm going to need payment for this up front." "Up front? Why you charge up front today?" he scolded angrily. After a minute or two of complaining he eventually offered up the money, and I went back to my work desperately resisting the urge to watch him. In another few minutes, I heard the panicked groan, and then the sudden thud of Mr. Kim hitting the floor. Heart attack almost instantaneous. I put down my tools and stood over his body, watching as his spirit rose up from his twisted old body. "What da hell happen?!" he exclaimed, more confused than frightened. "You have passed on, Byungkong Kim," said a ghostly voice from behind me, "Your time in this world is no more, and I am here to... John? John is that you?" I turned around to witness a tall, thin figure in a long black robe with a hood, clutching a scythe with bony, skeletal fingers. He had stopped addressing Mr. Kim, and was looking straight at me. "Yeah Bob, it's me." "Well, crack my caskets, Johnny it's been what 50 60 years? I almost didn't recognize you with your flesh on!" Bob removed his hood to reveal a bare skull, which only I could tell was smiling. Mr. Kim's spirit jumped back in horror, but I reassured him that everything was okay. "Jesus, John did I get the wrong file? I hate when central gets our assignments mixed up I don't want to step on your toes..." said Bob apologetically as he rifled through his paperwork. "No, no Bob... I retired. A few years back. I'm just here on mortal business." Bob nodded knowingly, "Ah gotcha... well I'd love to stay and chat Johnny-boy but I've got 7 more stiffs lined up behind Mr. Kim here..." "I understand Bob, no problem," I replied before quoting, "Work before pleasure..." "... 'cause the dead don't get deader!" finished Bob as we both had a good laugh. Mr. Kim's spirit eventually made his way into the afterlife with Bob, and finished up the washing machine before calling 911 for Mr. Kim. As I headed back to the office, I started to get all nostalgic about the old days. Up until then, I hadn't really missed it, but now I still get a pang of remorse now and then. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with my new life, but being a Reaper was such a big part of me I guess it was harder to let go of than I thought.
You Can't Escape It...
My last call of the day was Mr. Abbott. I had been putting him off all afternoon but at last I begrudgingly arrived at his apartment building in Lowtown. After quickly surmising that his buzzer wasn't working, I had to bang on the lobby doors for 10 minutes before finally catching the attention of the guy at the security desk, who had been listening to music on his headphones. In the elevator, an annoying, syrupy, instrumental version of "In the Afterlife" droned quietly over the speakers as I approached the 5th floor. Knocking on the door, Mr. Abbott answered almost immediately. "So good to see you Mr. Grim," he said with a desperate smile, "please come in... I don't know what is wrong with that refrigerator." As I tried to make my way to the kitchen, Mr. Abbott continued with his annoying habit of engaging me in constant small talk and offering me food. "Did you see that the Fallen Tower Humanity lost again last night, Mr. Grim?" "Dreadful weather for this time of year isn't it?" "Can I get you anything to eat Mr. Grim? A sandwich maybe?" I did my best to deal with him politely, but my service calls to his place always took twice as long as they needed to. Eventually I made it to the kitchen and pulled the fridge out to take a look, but after 15 minutes of tracing the circuitry I could find a reason for the shaky electrical connection causing it to blink on and off. To make matters worse, it was an old Hampton Freeze-Pro model, so I'd have to remove the entire freon rack at the back just to get at a peek at the central connections. Being impatient, I waited until Mr. Abbott left the room and then poked my head straight through the back coils. I really didn't have much use for my ability to pass through objects like a ghost, but that day it saved me a lot of time. I could see that a fork had somehow gotten jammed into the back of the unit and was blocking the primary circuit router. "Mr. Grim?" said Mr. Abbott suddenly, as I scrambled to pull my intangible face from the back of the appliance. "Umm... yes Mr. Abbott... er... I'll have this fixed in a jiffy." Luckily, he hadn't seen me. I quickly wrestled the fork out with a pair of pliers and it was good as new. After a renewed round of small talk, I managed to work my way back to the front door and out. Another day done.
And You Never See It Coming...
As I loaded my toolbox into my truck outside Mr. Abbot's building, I stopped for a moment to think. How the heck did a fork get lodged into the back of a refrigerator? Thinking back on it, most of the calls I'd had to Mr. Abbots were due to either gross negligence or gross stupidity on his part. I knew he was an old man living alone, and I started to worry that maybe he wasn't able to care for himself safely anymore. I mean, that fork was 2 inches away from electrocuting the poor old codger. Although you might disagree with my decision, I made up my mind to check him out and see just how he was operating those appliances. Sure, maybe it was a violation of his privacy, but at the time I thought of it more as a follow-up service. Anyhow, it'd been a while, but making yourself invisible to mortals is like riding a bike you never quite forget how. Walking straight through the lobby doors and past the clueless security guard, I floated gently into the elevator and then up to the 5th floor. Approaching Mr. Abbott's door, I floated straight through and back into the tiny apartment unseen. Mr. Abbott was sitting in his ratty old chair, holding an old rotary style Telelux model 1-47 phone I had fixed for him 3 months ago to his ear. "Abbott... I'm looking for Dale Abbot. I'm his father..." he said to the person on the other line, "..oh... oh I see... no, no, I already left a message yesterday.... Mm-hmm.. could you please just let him know I called? Okay, thank-you... good day." As he hung up the phone, I could see the sadness in his eyes. I never even knew he had a son in fact, I'd never seen any family at all. As I stood over him, unseen and untouchable, I was suddenly struck with the realization that this poor old man lived here alone, and what that must be like for him. Slowly he got up from his chair and shakily made his way to the kitchen, unknowingly passing right through me as he did. I watched him as he stood staring at his coffee maker, though I wasn't sure what exactly he was pondering. Tears started to well up in Mr. Abbott's eyes as he hesitantly turned the machine around slowly, as though he was fighting his own impulse to do so. With trembling fingers, he removed the backing with a screwdriver, and proceeded to rip out 3 wires connecting the timer to the heating plate. Carefully screwing the backing into place, he shuffled his way back to the living room and picked up the phone. "Hello Glenda? It's Mr. Abbott. I'm sorry to trouble you again but now my coffee machine is on the fritz now... could you get that nice Mr. Grim to come back tomorrow to fix it?" Suddenly, as I watched him hang up the phone with a smile and busily straighten up his apartment it was clear to me now. I was the only company he had. As I floated through the floor and down to the lobby, my heart felt heavier than a ton of bricks. All this time I spent bringing Mr. Abbott's appliances back to life, but what he really needed was a little fixing of his own. I suppose always having been exposed to death, I had a somewhat coloured view of life... we Reapers just naturally assumed that life was a positive, cherished thing y'know? We never saw the darker side of living. All those suicides suddenly made so much more sense, in the proper context. I still don't think I have this whole "life" thing figured out yet, and there are days I look up at that scythe on the wall and wonder if I should just pack it in and beg for my old job back. But I'm still here. Still tinkering, still living, still trying to sort it all out. Refrigerators I've gotten good at but mortals? Let's just say I'm still reading the manual on that one.