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By Augustian Vu

This is the end. His end. Standing aloft a narrow cement walkway, a hundred story free fall lay before him. Crisp morning air tinged his pale skin and faint reveries of ravens filled his ears. Below, silence was the loudest thing heard. Not a being stirred on the streets or roads, and a supreme irreversible calm, which he thought rather inappropriate, washed around him. Behind his figure a golden iridescent sun rose from the city scarred horizon, its rays a glaring reminder that he still existed. Inhaling one final breath, he slowly but with hesitation lunged forward, and plummeted to his doom.
      Amusingly enough, his final thoughts weren’t, Ah, peace at least, nor were they It finally ends, no more pain or torture or strife…, but rather, Crap, wait, I don’t want to die. No No No. Damn! What am I doing?! Screw my cockwaddling capriciousness. Falling ferociously fast, his final, fallible, and forlorn thought was feebly and simply,
      Damn.
The soft asphalt came closer, as if to hug him, and finally he was left in darkness.

      “Stupendous. I didn’t know you could shape a human into something akin to spaghetti bolognaise. Just. Marvelous.”
He opened his eyes. Before him lay his velvet pulp of messy innards and organs, strewn across the street in a disgusting blooming flower. A man in a black suit was beside him, looking far too concentrated on the mess in front of them.
      “I really love how you got some of your stomach fluids on that feline creature right there. Just smashing. It looks so stunned.”
      “Am … am I dead?”
      “Hm? What? Oh. Yes.”
      “….”
      “….”
      “So … is there an afterlife or …?”
      “One moment. You managed somehow to get your brains scattered all over the television shop window. Heh. Looking at it, it’s not much different from being alive for some people.”
      “You’re Death, aren’t you?”
      The facial folds of the man’s face drifted downward.
      “You know, I’m not so sure. If that’s what people want to call me, then sure.”
      “Wait, so Death has a real name?”
      “Well. Indeed. I’ve labelled myself since there wasn’t anyone up for the task.”
      “Huh. So what is your name then?”
      “My name is … Steven.”
      The dead spirit near crapped himself. “What kind of frickin’ name is Steven for an omnipresent, godly, all powering, all knowing, puissant being?!”
      “Hey! Dick, that’s my title. I rather like the ring to it. Time unmemorable I’ve had it. Go on, Mr ‘Great Fantastic Name’, what’s yours?”
      “My names, er — David. David Smith.”
      “Pleasure to meet you David Smith. Steven, or more commonly known as Death.”
      They shook hands. Death’s grasp was icy but firm.
      “So aren’t I supposed to go to Heaven or Hell or something like that at this point?”
      “First, an inquiry for you Mr Smith. For what reason did you hurl yourself off a sky scraper at 4am in the morning, just before the complete sunrise?”
      “I — uh. Everything I’ve been feeling for the past few years. You know, like, this numbness in my chest. I mean, things haven’t been well. I don’t really know. I’ve never had a girlf — wait. I don’t need to tell you this, just take me where I need to go.”
      “Hmm. You jumped, but you weren’t sure why. It seems the logic of this world is as strange as ever. Or perhaps it’s the logic of the people that’s strange. You are familiar with religion, yes?”
      “Well, yes. Which one in particular?”
      “All of them.”
      “You mean from the most ancient to most modern?”
      “Yes.”
      “Well, okay, maybe not all.”
      “Hmm. The Aztecs believed that the Sun was a god. They cut out the hearts of their own people, in order to satiate that thirsty, all mighty Sun God, lest he might strike his knuckles on the empire with poor fortune. Such misfortunes continued to occur, however their practice ran strong. Such logic was always strange to me. Did they not realize no one was listening to them, whether it be because of their killing their fellows or their insignificance, and not stop these barbaric rituals? Their cessation only took place when the Spanish Conquistadors invaded and destroyed their civilization, or rather, dissolved it.”
      “Right.”
      “The Conquistadors were mainly Christian. Now, this is where humanity truly baffles me. Christianity is the concept of this single, all mighty being looking over the population. In other religions, such as Islamic, it is the same. Actually, Jesus is one of the most quoted prophets in the Qu’ran, which is why it confounds me that these religions are waging war against each other for believing in something just slightly different. I was there in the 1980’s and 2000’s, it wasn’t a pretty sight, Mr Smith.”
      David Smith stared blankly at Steven.
      “In Asia, many countries believe in the idea of ‘rebirth’, or reincarnation. It’s a fascinating topic to me. Some of you humans preach about this cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Funny to think one minute you’re born a baby girl in Feudal China then the next you’re a black, naked, newborn American politician. When you reach the end of your life cycles, you would have become enlightened and able to reside in a different more peaceful afterlife. Similarly, religions like Christianity believe that there is this sort of afterlife, a Heaven, or Nirvana, to be reached as well. I often wonder — is it more comforting not knowing whether your spirit will or will not be safe after your departure, or that after your demise you are reborn to restart as a blank avatar, with no sense of individuality? Would you still believe in these convictions if exact evidence of the contrary was shown to you?”
      David was silent.
      Death chuckled to himself quietly, fixing his tie and straightening his neat hair. He began striding away from the scene of Smith’s gruesome death, as onlookers came to observe the grotesque display. David Smith followed suit. “And so,” Death resumed, “we have you, who killed himself without reason. The Aztecs stole hearts without reason, wars started over religion, again, without reason, and belief without reason. It seems your world is one without logic. But perhaps an insane world with no logic is better than a sane one with reason in its cruelty.” They were approaching a small, luscious, olive park. Under the shade of a great oak tree, Steven and David sat on a park bench that coincidentally, was made from the wooden flesh of the son of that tree. The tree hated that fact, and cursed whoever sat on its offspring’s corpse. Of course, no one heard its cries.
      Death sighed. “Mr Smith, the reason why you haven’t ascended — or descended — into a realm of either pain or glory is because I have chosen you for a once in your existence job offering that is, quite simply, non-negotiable. The qualities I have seen from your resume, which is a list of your life achievements, make me believe you are capable of this job.”
      Steven drew from his suit a fine, yellow post-it note. It read:

DAVID SMITH’S LIFE ACHIEVEMENTS

1.
2.
3.

      David frowned. “Erm,” he said.
      “Okay, you’re actually just a random average person who I decided to take for this job. However, maybe you’re not. An insane person wouldn’t kill themself without a reason. Thus, Mr Smith, perhaps that’s why you would be efficient at this job and why you have been chosen.”
      “If I may be so kind to ask, what’s the position on the table?”
      “Well. Mine.”
      “You … want me to be Death?”
      “Yes.”
      “But why!?”
      “Well, I’ve been working this job for sometime.” Steven counted on his fingers. “Erm … a very long time, actually. I’m in dire need of a vacation.”
      “Death can’t take a damn vacation!”
      “Watch me kid. Alright well, see you later.”
      “Wait, what?”

Life as Death, Act 1: Contradictory Existences

The explosive cacophony of a late model Schrapnellmine violently pulsated the ear drums of David Smith, and bits of red and white phased through his ghostly countenance. Before him, a mass of two armies lay contorted and dead amongst the chaos of metal and artillery, the bodies seeping with red and black. Not a single one was alive. But what animation was true were the hundreds of spirits all moving in a confused and rife manner. Half of the men were drunkenly flaunting and stumbling about, like moths under a light, moving in the ways they were taught, while the other half sat down, talking to among themselves. When the presence of David Smith became known, all the men simultaneously gave him the dirty eye.
      “Oi. You’re that Death guy, ain’t ya?”
      “Erm … yeah?”
      “Well den, tyke us to Heaven.”
      “Shut up! Who said you wankers are even goin’ to Heaven? You bitches goin’ straight to Hell!”
      “YOU WOT MATE?”
      Before David Smith knew it, half of each army were assaulting each other, even though they had died doing the same thing just prior. Over the roaring of the fight, the other half of military men continued their business as if nothing had happened. “GENTLEMAN PLEASE!” and “GOD DAMNIT YOU ARSES!” were no use on the men, they would not be swayed by Smith’s words. Then an idea hatched in the replacement Reaper’s mind: if these people wanted to go to the afterlife, then why not let them go right now? As he thought, a swirling fluorescent and mysteriously oblique tear in space-time appeared. The men were too busy fighting to notice, and the others were none too surprised. A thought, David thought, could mean that I can make my thoughts become a real, thinking, thoughtful reality. He thought some more, and suddenly, in the physical spirit plane, a shower of magazines rained from the clouds. As the fighting military men stopped and picked up the magazines, there was a hasty hushed silence and many approving ‘Mmms!’
      “THIS! Gentleman, is, Playboy Magazine. Step through that portal if you want more.”
      Obsequiously, the men did so in a march, with their heads nose deep in the pages of the refined literature. The idle half followed suit. David Smith was proud of his handy work, and just as he was about to figure out how to leave there was a tap on his shoulder. A boy, no older than fourteen years, asked him politely;
      “So if you’re Death, what’s the meaning of life?”
      David Smith stared blankly at the boy. “Erm … ‘There are more things on Earth, Horatio, then are dreamnt of in your philosophy’,” he said, slowly, and awkwardly shuffled away. The boy, however, harshly took hold of his arm.
      “Okay, if you’re just going to quote Shakespeare to sound deep and philosophical, then I’m going to punch you.”
      “Kid, I don’t know. Just … go and enjoy whatever’s next.”
      “Hmm. Alright,” the kid mumbled, and dissatisfied, he walked through the rift.
      David Smith gave a long sigh. He wondered why he committed suicide. He looked around, alone amongst the catastrophically cataclysmic environment.
      “Funny, isn’t it?”
      “HOLY FREAKING JESUS CHRIST!”
      “Sorry to be a disappointment.”
      David Smith turned around to see Steven looking forlornly around the blackened metal and bleeding corpses. “How sad is it that a good half of these men fought, even after death, because of what they were taught by the governments and politicians? Then again, how enlightening it is to see that a good half simply sat down and had a conversation? You humans are a great humor to me. Always contradicting yourselves in the journey of life.”
      “Well, I did it. I reaped their souls for you.”
      “Yes, and you will continue to do it. A good job you have done. You only can go from place to place to after you reap the souls that needed to be taken. After they have travelled to wherever they go, it’s up to your consciousness to take you to the next place. You have no real control over when or where it takes you. In this job, time is out of joint, more literally than figuratively.”
      “That sort of nullifies your overall godlike power, huh?”
      “I suppose it keeps things ‘fresh’.” Steven paused to consider David without expression. “Until we meet again, David Smith.”
      Steven vanished in an inky glitch and David Smith had found purpose. He was to reap souls. Become the bridge between life and death, and in doing so, perhaps find reason in this strange, nonsensical world.

Life as Death, Act 2: Why?

A young girl lies in her own pool of blood, weeping softly. She didn’t understand. Distant gunfire and explosions were her final lullaby. Her Middle Eastern stone home was shattered around her body, and the rubble crushed her bones and her heart. Her mother cradled her young daughter in her cold, limp arms. They both were still breathing. Barely. The girl called out to her mother, but it was useless, she was unconscious. Despite the war outside, it was quiet. A man trekked from behind the rubble, and slowly made his way to the young girl. She could not resist, and she lay vulnerable as he approached. He stopped beside her.
      “It’s okay. There, there. There, there.”
      The man crouched down and ran his fingers gently over her hair. She was comforted.
      “I feel cold,” she said, weakly.
      “There, there, child. There, there.”
      She was close to the end.
      “I remember something my grandmother used to tell me, before she died. She was a queer lady, my grandma. But so kind. Very kind. A lot of days I was reckless and would often hurt myself playing outside. Other times I would be stressed and angry, but she made it better. She always did. While she bandaged my wounds or kissed away my anxieties, she would say,

‘Our burdens are ours to bear,
strength in ourselves will let us endure,
as too pleasantries and kindness shared.
So fret not on anxieties and woes,
hatred or sorrows,
and remember that oft these times feel leviathan tasks,
remember still,
this too, shall pass’.”

      He sighed. “After that, the anger would seethe away, my sadness walk out, and I would wake up to tomorrow.”
      The girl did not understand, but the man’s words gave her equanimity. She closed her eyes.
      “I’m cold …”
      “I’m so sorry.”
      A meek, but sloven explosion hailed over them, and they were engulfed in black smoke. As the cloud cleared, the man walked away, with the girl’s soul asleep in his arms.

Life as Death, Act 3: Perseverance and Oddities

David Smith walked along the barren, infecund, pale, and dead ground. His breath made small mists and the icy winds chilled him to the bone. He stared off at the horizon, where clouds were in place of a sun. Death was cold. He eyed his surroundings. New York. Or what was left of it. Buildings were in ruin, covered in snowy ash. Everything was frozen, and nothing seemed to be alive. Still, he was there for a reason.
      “Damn, it’s cold outside.”
      David Smith looked around and saw Steven with his hands on his shoulders.
      “Where’ve you been? It’s been … a while.”
      “I thought maybe I’d stick around for this one.”
      “Oh right.”
      “Still, I have only seen this place a few times.”
      “This place?”
      “It seems like the humans have destroyed themselves,” Death said, looking around them. “Your people often said that the world would end in fire, but here we are, standing amongst the ice.”
      “Yeah, so it would seem,” David Smith replied as he closed his eyes. After a moment he then added, “I can’t find the soul.”
      “It’s right there,” answered Steven, pointing at a lone pebble.
      Perplexed, David Smith stooped and picked up the stone. Under it was a cockroach.
      “Is this some kind of joke?” he asked.
      Steven clicked his tongue. “Hey, be nice.”
      “Yeah, I have a wife and kids, you asshole,” snapped the insect.
      “What the –?”
      David Smith peered closer at the cockroach. It was wearing a small tie.
      “Damn, man,” it said. “I don’t have to go do I? I was just about to retire.”
      David grimaced. “Sorry, but your time has come.”
      “Well, okay. I’m glad I got the trust fund for the kids. In this goddamn economy, it’s good they can survive without me. Goddamn politics and their hyperinflation. Freakin’ Tony Abbroach! Ruining the city I tell you!”
      “ … Yes.”
      “Sorry, sorry. I just really hate politicians. Twenty-five weeks of being a statistician and I get sacked because of ‘budget cuts’, bloody ridiculous. I went looking for another job out here and got stuck under this bitch of a rock. Ah well. At least my family’s going to be fine.”
      David Smith admired the roach’s selflessness for his family.
      “It ain’t going to hurt is it? When you take me?” asked the insect.
      “It’ll be fine.”
      “I’m ready.”
      David Smith gently nudged the cockroach and his soul flew into the next realm. He looked at Death. As he did, the clouds parted and small remnants of the decaying sun shone through. Death sat down on a fallen column of a building, and David Smith joined him. What did it all mean?
      “What a strange world it seems, David Smith. The oddities, the perseverance of vermin, and the love of kind hearts. In amongst the sadness and cruelness, there still shines small hope from the coldest of things.”
      David looked up, and saw that they were in the park of which they first sat down.
      “You have done well,” Death went on. “I believe your job is done. My vacation is over.”
      Death stood up, and as he was about to leave David called out to him.
      “Wait!”
      He stopped and looked back.
      “Before you leave, what is the meaning of it all? The meaning of life, death, everything? Why are we here?”
      Death chuckled and looked down while solemnly closing his eyes. He put his hands in his pockets and retrieved a smoke pipe. David thought it was rather ironic that he smoked. As he lit his pipe, Death opened his eyes. The sun was shining, the sky was clear, and a calm and idyllic wind rustled the leaves of the trees.
      “I don’t know the meaning of life,” he said. “But what I do know is that you are here only once, so live as fully and without complexity as much as you can.”
      And with that, Death walked away.
      David blinked, and the next moment he was lying in his bed, the ceiling fan was dully spinning, and he was warm.