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August 2020
 
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Chronicles of Death

by Alexis Riley




Name: Carl Michael Creech
DOB: 11/15/1958
Cause of death: collision at high speed


The tree had seen better days. The silver Ford Focus had veered right off the road, judging by the tire skids, and disrupted what was likely a hundred years of peace. He would give nature credit, though. The tree was bent but still standing. It made it out more unscathed than the car, which had crumpled upon impact. He had yet to hear sirens; nobody was coming for this man yet. He’d usually blame the darkness of night and the country road for such accidents if his notes didn’t include the little snippet of the driver’s .14 blood alcohol level. Carl Creech’s notes spoke of years of alcoholism, but it was normally liver failure that caused the death of men like him. Dozens of empty glass bottles toppled onto the road as he opened the door. Carl’s body was still in the driver’s seat, and the airbag did employ. The speed of impact and his lack of seatbelt simply nullified any help the airbag would’ve given. He would never understand why so many people willfully shunned such a lifesaving measure. Maybe the forceful collision would’ve made it moot too. He’d never know.

He finally turned to the blubbering mess sitting off to the side. Carl had his hands over his face as he rocked back in forth.

“Come on. Get up.” He said, motioning the movement with his hand. “Up, up, up. We’re on a time limit.”

“You a cop?” Carl asked. “I didn’t hit nothin’.”

He glanced briefly at the car wrapped around the tree. “That’s not entirely true, though, is it? Get up, please.” Carl stumbled to his feet. “I won’t give you my usual drunk driving spiel because your actions only killed you but know that you could have harmed innocent people.”

Carl looked at him with his mouth wide open. “What do you mean, ‘only killed me’?”

“You’re dead.” He pointed towards the car. “That lump covered in red is you.” The drunk began to pace with his hands on his head, mumbling to himself about how ‘this couldn’t be happening’. A sigh escaped him. “Are you quite done?”

Carl stopped and ran a hand over his balding head. “You don’t look like you do in the movies.”

“No, I do not.” He agreed.

He learned far before Carl Creech’s existence that humans expected him to look a certain way. The being they called “Death” was supposed to be a skeleton in a black robe, hood up, with a large scythe. He preferred to dress in such a way so that he was not the “man” of their fears. Death was far less frightening if it wore jeans and a gray v-neck under an unbuttoned blue flannel.

“All right, now that you’ve come to terms with your passing-”

“I haven’t!”

“Hush. Do you see that path over there?” He pointed to the leaf-strewn path with the single wooden park bench. Carl nodded. “That is where you are to go. Once there, you will be picked up and taken to your final destination. Before you leave, you are entitled to one final request. You can and will ask one single thing of me with exceptions. I cannot restore your life. I do not know where you are headed next. I will not kill anyone so they can ‘join you in death’. I reserve the right to deny any request that I find unreasonable. What is it that you want?”

Carl looked back to the car. “Help me clean up the bottles. Wife’ll kill me if she sees.”

“The tree beat her to it.” He said. Carl frowned. “Are you sure that is what you want? You get but one request, and there are more ways to learn of your intoxication than empty bottles.”

“I’m sure.”

“So be it.” He held out his clipboard and pen. “Sign the dotted line, please.”

His clipboard was returned momentarily with Carl’s hideous signature attached, and the spirit of the man was at the car before he was. He summoned a large trash bag and tended to the ones on the street first while Carl dug them out of his car. By the time they were done, the bag was nearly half full. Humankind’s obsession with alcohol was certainly a disturbing one.

“Can I wait for the ambulance?” Carl asked.

“Your request was garbage pickup.” He reminded him, snapping his finger to dispose of the bag. “You are to go sit on the bench now. I wish you the best of luck.”

He watched Carl go with a disapproving sigh. He had gotten all manner of final requests, but the selfish ones always stuck with him. He was not concerned about his wife finding the bottles for her benefit. He was covering his own ass.

He had no more time to dwell on the tragedy of Carl Creech before his clipboard gained a new entry. He stepped away from the scene of an accident to the decrepit outside hallway of a studio apartment. The smell of smoke was still fresh, and the door he stood before was the only one that had not been thrown open by an escaping tenant.

Name: Mitchell Ryan O’Harris
DOB: 07/06/1994
Cause of death: smoke inhalation


The state of the hallway was nothing compared to the inside of the apartment. Clothes scattered about, pizza boxes, soda cans, potato chip bags, burger wrappers, a sink full of dishes, and the dead body of Mitchell O’Harris. The boy was sitting in a chair in front of his still-on TV, the screen frozen on a screen that announced that he had been disconnected from whatever game he had been playing, his controller still in his hand. The apparent cause of the fire seemed to be his burnt dinner on the stove, likely forgotten about in favor of his video game while the glass object at his side being the probable reason for his hunger.

The spirit of the boy was standing in front of his own body waving his hand before his lowered head like it would wake him up. He looked up at his sudden entrance.

“That’s me.” He said.

“It is.”

“This is a dream?”

“It is not. I regret to inform you that you are now deceased. The cause of death is smoke inhalation. You burnt your noodles.” He skimmed his notes. “I see here that you removed the batteries from your smoke detector to, ironically enough, play Halo.”

“Oh, yeah.” He had the sense to be embarrassed. “I’m pretty good though.”

“My notes say that you are not.” He said, much to the boy’s clear disappointment.

He scratched nervously at his neck, a common quirk of his. “You’re, uh, Death, then?”

“Of sorts. I was not the one to strike you down. Think of me as your guide to your next life.” He explained. “Now that you are aware of your situation, you may make your request. You are entitled to one and only one,” he held up his index finger. “final request. There are exceptions. I cannot bring you back to life, I cannot tell you where your spirit is headed, I cannot kill anyone for you, and you can’t take anything with you. I see you eyeing that phone of yours. I reserve the right to deny any other request. What is it that you wish?”

Mitchell thought for a moment. “I don’t know.”

He sighed. “You look like the type of person that could use his browsing history deleted. A common request the last decade or so. My notes say you have a non-password protected laptop?” He asked, doubling checking to make sure that he hadn’t misread.

“I use incognito mode because I’m not a pleb.”

“Ah, yes. My notes also claim that you use internet words as parts of normal speech. People around you hated it.” He said. “Another common request is to send word to your loved ones noting that you are all right.”

“My, uh, family and I don’t really talk.” Mitchell said, looking down like the thought bothered him.

His notes did mention that he was low-contact with each of his parents and older sister. He had been close with his grandfather, whose inheritance ensured that he was able to afford his dump of an apartment without having to worry about having a more lucrative job than the one that had him bagging groceries three days a week. Reading over the rest of his file made it seem like this case was likely to be a difficult one. Mitchell did not check any of the boxes for the “safety” requests.

“Perhaps there is somewhere you wish to travel? Somewhere you never got a chance to go in life? I cannot take you outside of the atmosphere, but-”

“Can I request more requests?”

“I am not a genie, and no. You can’t.”

“Well, there goes that.” Mitchell said. “I don’t know. I don’t really need anything.”

“Well, this is not an uncommon occurrence. You have time yet to think of something.” He said. He glanced at his clipboard as another page replaced Mitchell’s at the top. He sighed. “However, you cannot wait here to think of it. I have another case. Come, perhaps they will give you an idea.”

He motioned for him to follow, and he was personally glad to get out of that literal fire hazard of an apartment. The door to Mitchell’s studio opened to the busy hallway of a hospital.

Mitchell looked around. “How...in the hell?” He asked. “We were just in my room.”

“Transport between sites is seamless.”

“Like teleportation.”

He shook his head. “This is not a game. Death sites are linked like the rooms of your house. Think of your apartment as the kitchen and this site as the living room.”

“Cool.” He said. “I have so many questions.”

“And yet I simply don’t have the time. “He hesitated as his hand gripped the doorknob. “This may be hard for you. You may wait here if you want.”

“I wanna come.”

Name: Isabella Marie Oliver
DOB: 03/16/2012
Cause of death: leukemia


Children’s drawings hung on the wall while the tables and bed were flooded with all manners of stuffed toys, balloons, and flowers. In the bed laid a young girl, bald, and surrounded by the sobbing parents. The spirit of the child stood beside her mother with a hand on her knee.

“Isabella?” He asked.

The girl looked up. “Who’re you?”

“I’m your guide. I’m here to take you away whenever you’re ready.”

The child turned to her parents and rested her head on her mother’s shoulder for just a moment before kissing her on the cheek. She then stood on her toes to kiss the father as well before approaching him.

“Okay.”

He knelt down to be at the girl’s level. “Before we go, you get to make one wish. Kind of like a genie, only you just get one.”

She looked back to her parents. “Can you make my mommy and daddy feel better?”

“I can’t make them feel a certain way, but I can tell them that you’re okay. Sometimes knowing that their loved one is okay helps people feel better.”

“Okay. I want that.”

“Good choice. Would you like to tell them in a dream? You can say whatever you want.”

“Yeah.”

He held his clipboard and pen out for her. “I heard that you are great at writing your name. Can you show me right there on the line?”

She gave a nod and took the pen, inspecting it. “Purple is my favorite color.”

“I know.” He flipped to the next page of his clipboard. “Okay, this is a script for your dream. You get to pick where they will be in the dream and what you want to say. Both of your parents will see it, but they won’t remember details.”

“Why?”

“They’ll be confused if they have the same dream. They’ll remember that you were there. That’s the important thing. Take your time now.” He got to his feet while he wrote, and he went to Mitchell, who was standing in the doorway with his arms crossed looking broody. “I told you that it would be hard.”

“I wanted to be an oncologist when I was in high school. Help kids like her.” He said quietly. “I even got into Cornell. Kids like her are dying because I dropped out…”

“Kids like her are dying because they are getting cancer, not because there aren’t doctors trying to save them.”

Mitchell’s sigh didn’t stem from agreement. Isabella took quite some time writing what was hopefully the perfect dream, and she handed it over with a smile.

“Thank you. Now do you see that bench over there?” The hospital room faded into the park with the bench, its path leading right to her bed. “You will sit on it, and someone else will take you onward, okay?”

“Will I see my grandma?”

“I don’t know, but I hope so.”

Isabella ran quickly back to her parents to give them one more kiss before sitting down on the bench, fading away with the park once she did. He gave a sigh and motioned for Mitchell to follow him away from the depression that still lingered. The doorway led them back to the hospital corridor, where they would await his next case. Hospitals were ripe with fresh spirits.

“You told me you weren’t a genie.”

“You aren’t seven.” He said. “Your notes say that you use humor to deflect in difficult situations.”

Mitchell sighed. “Kids are always hard?” He asked.

“Always.”

“Are their requests always so wholesome?”

“Yes. Most requests involve their families or pets. Some simply want to play with their toys one last time. I helped one finish his Lego project.”

Mitchell gave an amused chuckle. “You’ve said some requests are more common than others. Top three. Go.”

“Hers was perhaps the most common. I am the cause of a lot of dream sequences. I send a lot of cardinals. Another is looking after their pets. I am able to send an anonymous word if they die while being the pet’s only caretaker. I can see to it that pet spirits are guided to their own once the pet passes. That one needs to be brought to my attention prior to the pet passing. If a pet dies after the owner has made an alternative request, there is no guarantee they will be reunited.”

“All dogs go to Heaven.” Mitchell said.

“I wouldn’t know. I don’t deal with animal deaths.”

“Hmm. So what’s the third?”

“To go back. I cannot honor that one.” He explained.

Mitchell nodded. “I get it.” He said. “You don’t deal with animals, so there are others?”

He rolled his eyes. “Of course there are others. The world is home to billions of lifeforms. One person tending to all of them is impossible. I am charged with guiding a small sector of this country, everyone school-aged and older.”

“’Forty-thousand men and women everyday’.”

“Blue-Oyster Cult lyrics are not an accurate source for statistical information.” He said.

Mitchell gave an odd bounce. “You’ve heard the song!”

“No. I’ve been quoted the song tens of thousands of times since it was recorded. Is hearing it once more your request?”

“No.” Mitchell said. “What if I don’t think of one?”

“Nothing.”

“Oh, that’s not so bad. You had me thinkin’ I’d explode or something.”

“No, I meant nothing would happen. You sacrifice your spirit’s chance to move on.”

“So I’d be, like, a ghost?” Mitchell asked.

He shook his head. “No. Ghosts are...complicated. Your spirit would expire. You would cease to exist.”

Mitchell’s eyes were wide. “Oh. That’s...worse.” He said. “You’ve had it happen before?”

He had fewer than one hundred spirits expire since the beginning of time. He remembered each one of them. “Yes. I do not want that fate to befall you. Please think hard on your request.” He saw that a new page had found its way to his clipboard. “Come.”

Their destination was a single floor below, a place where his presence was perhaps more depressing than usual. The medical procedures practiced on that floor were the exact opposite of his job, but he unfortunately found himself there quite often. Mitchell gave a few girlish squeals as they walked by the window separating them from rows of newborns. He looked back at the boy with slight amusement, and Mitchell gave some tiny waves to the infants as if they could see him.

“We’re...not here for a baby, are we?” He asked, the thought just now hitting him.

“No. I am not assigned to infant deaths.”

The hospital room was occupied by a single man, sitting on the foot of the bed and rocking his newborn back and forth between his sobs. The child was unaware of the pain that surrounded it. The body of the woman had been removed from her husband’s sight immediately, but her spirit lingered beside him, looking at her baby with what was somehow both a smile and a frown.

Name: Rebecca Angela Connington
DOB: 01/17/1994
Cause of death: complications regarding childbirth


“Rebecca?” He asked. The woman glanced at him only briefly before lowering her head with a quiet sigh. From his side, Mitchell bit at his lip in discomfort before wandering over to stare out the window. “Does she have a name yet?”

Her frown-smile became just a smile. “Erin, after my mother.”

“I’m sure she’ll be honored, and I’m sure she’s in good hands.”

“She is.”

“I offer you a single request, anything you wish. There are exceptions, but your file doesn’t lead me to believe that you will ask anything unreasonable.” He said.

She gently rubbed her finger across the newborn’s cheek. “I’ve always liked rainbows. Every year on her birthday, I want her to see one. A real one. I want her to know it’s from me.”

Mitchell looked back at him curiously. “Done. Sign here, please.” He held out his clipboard and pen. Rebecca signed quickly and drew a quick rainbow over the C’s.

“Do I have to leave now?”

He gave a soft sigh. “I can give you a few minutes, but only a few.”

“Thank you.” She smiled. She rested her head on her crying husband’s shoulder and stayed like that until three minutes had passed.

“Come now.” He said. Rebecca hesitated but stood. “Your next stop is that bench right over there,” he pointed towards the park bench that had replaced the back half of the hospital room. “Someone else will be along shortly.”

He watched Rebecca go with a sigh before turning for a moment to the husband, who had entered the hospital awaiting a miracle and would be leaving with a tragedy. He motioned for Mitchell to follow, and the doorway they entered in led them to a neutral field, where he typically awaited new cases.

“That...sucked.” Mitchell said. “Like, a lot.”

“It happens more often than you would think, even in what you call a ‘first world country’.”

“I didn’t think you were going to give her those extra minutes.”

“I wasn’t. It’s at our discretion, but I typically don’t allow it. The longer they linger, the more they want to return, the longer they want to remain in what you call ‘limbo’. They cannot waste away looking upon their loved ones, trapped between worlds. It’s easier for me to deny them outright than to peel them away. It’s easier for them too, in the long run.” He said as his clipboard gained another file. “Come on.”

The neutral field turned into a small home belonging to an elderly man and his cat, the home having once been rather full back when his wife was still alive and before their five children left the nest. Mitchell said, “aw” as he wandered up to the many picture frames hanging on their walls. The boy smiled at each picture along the way until they got to the bedroom. George laid peacefully in his bed, and if he had been in any other line of work, he’d think the man was simply asleep. The cat had been lying on its master’s legs when he entered the room, but it gave a yowl before retreating under the bed.
Name: George Phillip Brown III
DOB: 08/21/1941
Cause of death: old age


The elderly man’s spirit sat on the foot of the bed. “Oh, Buttercup. Come on out.” He said, bending over to peek under the bed.

“Mr. Brown?” He said. The man looked up at his voice. “I believe I’m who you’re waiting for.”

Phillip Brown got to his feet. “So you are. Where do I trade in my robe for some angel wings?” He asked with a smile.

He returned the smile. “You will have to speak to someone else about that, I’m afraid. You are entitled to one final request. Is there anything you have in mind?”

“Oh, I don’t know. My daughter, Sherry, will be here tomorrow, and she’ll take of ‘ol Buttercup for me.” He said with a pondering expression. “Actually, my wife passed a few years ago. Would you be able to tell me if she got along okay?”

The wife, Carol, had died a few years prior after a nasty fall broke her hip. She went into the hospital and simply never left. Her final request was to send a cardinal to her husband and children.

“That is all you request?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Would you mind signing on the line, please?” He handed over the clipboard and pen. Phillip signed quickly. “I remember Carol. The transition was quite easy for her.”

Phillip smiled. “Ah, good. Suppose I’m ready then.” He said. “I didn’t know there were two Deaths.”

He looked to Mitchell. “Oh, no. This is just Mitchell. He’s...working on his request.”

“No harm in that. Listen to your heart, young man.” He poked Mitchell in the chest.

“He is trying. Your next stop, Mr. Brown, is that bench right over there.” He pointed to the park that had manifested as part of the bedroom.

The elderly man gave a nod and walked without aid to the bench, a fantastic feat considering that he had been wheelchair bound for the last fifteen years. Mitchell watched him go with an expression that was both admiration and slight concern.

“He’ll see his wife again?” He asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Do you like what you do?”

He gave the boy’s odd question a look that matched. “I have no opinion.”

“Sure you do. You have to.”

He shrugged. “I do. I enjoy assisting humanity and aiding them in what is regarded as the most frightening thing they experience. Humans fear death so remarkably. It is meaningful to me to ease that fear and to help them come to terms with their fate. I learn a great deal about humanity and its individuals when they make their requests. There are some people who I will never forget.”

Mitchell thought about his words for a moment. “But it’s hard too, right? Like with Isabella and Rebecca.”

“Yes. Some humans die in horrific ways. You have been lucky enough to only see some of them. You did not see the murder victims, the abuse victims, the starvation cases, the suicides. You did not see anyone who begged to go back, who cried because they feel as though something has been taken from them and they want it back.” He said. “Those cases are hard. I try my best to ensure that they are at peace when they sit on that bench. I try to honor their requests, even though theirs are generally more heartbreaking than most. You have not been tested until you tell a suicide victim that they cannot take their choice back.”

“But you still help them.”

“Yes, I still guide them.”

Mitchell took a deep sigh. “I know what I want.”

“Oh, excellent.”

“I want to be whatever you are.”

He frowned. “I don’t think that’s-”

“No, listen. I was supposed to be a doctor. I was supposed to help people, but I fucked it all up. That’s all I did. Ever. My whole life. I was a complete waste of space. I accomplished nothing. Let me fix it now. Let me help people like I was supposed to.”

He sighed and ran a hand over his hair. “You cannot take this back.”

“I won’t want to.”

“This is completely unorthodox.” He said. “You will never know where you would have gone. You will never be reunited with family or friends. You will never know another fate. This will be your existence until the end of time.”

“I don’t care- I mean, I do care. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t care. That doesn’t bother me. Mr. Brown told me to follow my heart. This is what my heart is telling me to do.” He placed his hand flat against his chest. “C’mon.”

He gave a slow exhale. “Sign here, please.”



THE END


2020 Alexis Riley

Bio: I am a fourth-year college student currently studying psychology, but writing is my passion, so I wrote this for my fiction writing class. I am from Dayton, Ohio and have been interested in writing since elementary school. My go-to topic is fiction with a focus on fantasy.

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