by Kitto Maddrell
‘When shall we two meet again?’ Death asked.
‘When I’ve bought milk,’ Linda replied.
Death hated Tuesdays. They were the days when Linda was at work and he was in the apartment. If he was lucky, and she was generous, the television would be left on. Even then the channel was decided by her capricious whims.
He grumbled while watching repeats of ‘One Foot in the Grave’. For Victor Meldrew death was ever present. This was unfortunate for Death, who did not care for Victor and certainly didn’t want to watch sixty-five episodes of the fucker, not including specials. Every once in a while he tried to change channel through sheer force of will. He had hoped that during his incarceration he may have developed telekinetic powers. He had not.
This was the personal torture she’d devised for him. Who needed a regenerating liver, eaten daily by an eagle, when you had bad sitcoms? That and medical dramas. Did they really say ‘more plasma’ or ‘we’re losing him’ – surely the annoying machine told them that? He was uncertain. He tended to only be present after that part.
Death curled himself into the foetal position, while half watching countless dead actors in black and white. At one point he watched himself – well, a facsimile of – playing chess with Max von Sydow. He hadn’t played chess in years and even then it was against a computer. If he’d been playing, Sydow would have lost before Dover, but then that would have made for a shit film, he imagined.
Littering the floor beyond his chalk circle were countless tomes, lying like garden ornaments or glorified paper weights. They surprised him. He’d thought some of them burned with the great library of Alexandria or lost with the Nazis’ fall.
Inches beyond Death’s circumference was a genuine copy of Clavicula Salomonis. Not one of the ones dating back barely to the renaissance, penned by arrogant aristocrats who knew nothing of true magic, but the true key of Solomon.
Linda would be back soon. In the meantime, Death waited for her.
When Linda returned she ignored the smouldering chill lurking in her living room. Death’s appearance irritated her by being somewhat innocuous or worse incongruent. He was an ugly little man who wore an angry bluish blazer, something which looked like it had been dragged kicking and screaming from the darkest pits of the 70s.
‘Did you get food?’ Death asked her.
‘What do you care? You don’t eat.’
‘Correction, I don’t need to. I still appreciate it.’
She emptied the groceries out and juggled an apple.
‘Ready to break yet?’ she said, offering it. He snorted.
‘What have I ever done to you?’ he asked.
‘You know what. You killed her.’
‘Yes,” Death said, “but that’s not specifically to you. And I didn’t kill her, anyway. Just collected.’
‘If you can’t give her back you’re going to pay instead.’
‘With what? I have no money. Sexual favours?’
She ignored him.
‘How come people are still dying?’ she asked.
‘Like I said, I don’t kill people, just collect. I killed time an eternity ago. She was begging for it, wasting all my energy. Now she doesn’t impede me. One day this circle will break and I’ll be free and my time incarcerated will mean nothing.’ He paused. ‘I will collect you too. You realise that?’
Unfazed, Linda put the TV on Nickelodeon Junior and went to get changed. When she returned Death was swearing at Dora the explorer.
‘He’s fucking there you brain dead child. Yes, I see Swiper. Just knife him you bitch, or legalise fox hunting. Just do something! Argh, I want to kill you so badly.’
‘Where do they go?’ Linda asked him.
‘People. When they’re dead. Where do they go?’
‘Well, funnily enough, I have never died. So no clue. Maybe Switzerland? I hear it’s lovely.’
‘So what happens when the universe reaches heat death, or a big crunch?’
Death leaned in, conspiratorially checking that no one was listening in.
‘How the fuck am I supposed to know?’
‘So it’s possible you could die.’
‘Theoretically,’ he mused. ‘Tell me about Sophia.’
Linda looked angry briefly, but was too tired for it to last long.
‘You met her once. Was she that forgettable?’
‘Be fair, I meet all humanity. From your perspective of the dead that’s currently what, over a hundred billion people more than the population of the Earth? Fifteen for every one alive today.’
She considered it.
‘She…she was like the sun. Blindingly beautiful and could cause cancer. She was killing me but I loved that.’
‘What would you do to get her back?’ Death asked.
She bit her lip.
‘Well, I have an offer. I promise you won’t like it.’
‘What is it?’
‘I can almost give you what you want. Almost.’
‘And what do you want in return for ‘almost’ what I want?’
‘I thought you couldn’t die.’
‘I, the embodiment of death can’t, but I, as in me, can. Quite deep and metaphysical, I know.’
Linda started by lighting scented candles. Then she dimmed the lights. Putting on music, she sighed and broke the circle with her foot.
‘I don’t know why I trust you,’ she said.
‘Maybe because you’re far too insignificant for me to bother lying to?’ Death said, offering his hand.
His touch burnt coldly. It started with a wicked waltz then a terrifying tango. Their arms battled for dominance and he felt her breath against his neck.
Linda accepted Death’s kiss. He was all tongue.
Sophia had walked with no legs to stand on. Behind her Linda was unconscious at the wheel, next to Sophia’s body. Correction. Her corpse. In front the figure of Death coughed politely.
‘It’s alright Sophia. Walk with me.’ Death said.
Uncertain she froze.
‘Correct. Ten out of ten. Full marks.’
‘What about her?’ Sophia gestured to Linda’s crumpled form.
‘Oh she’ll live. She’ll be angry for many years, but she’ll find acceptance. Or it’ll find her, one of the two.’
‘I’m…glad. Will she blame herself?’
‘Of course. For a time.’
Curious, Sophia asked, ‘Did you ever see me perform?’
‘No,’ Death lied, ‘No one ever died at any of your performances. Much the pity for me.’
‘God, I was brilliant. So…what now?’ she murmured.
‘That is the question.’
‘I…I don’t want to go.’ She said with as much confidence as she could muster.
‘I know,’ Death replied, not unkindly.
Reaching out Death took her hand. It was warm and clammy. For some reason, Sophia was no longer afraid. She smiled faintly, and embraced Death.
Death smiled back and went on her way. Linda looked forward to the rest of eternity, and all the paperwork it represented.
Kitto Maddrell is a creative writing student from the Isle of Man who writes largely magical realism and science fiction. Kitto comes from a scientific background having spent several years taking part in projects within the space industry, such as a theoretical Mars mission, which has fueled their writing significantly.