“When you say our business is death, do you mean like funerals and mortuary stuff and cemeteries? Do you own a funeral home? Or, wait…are we grave diggers?”
“We sometimes find ourselves at the funerals, and the mortuary and the cemeteries, but no…we don’t dig the graves. We call the deceased to their next existence, we transport them from this world to that one, and we try to understand from their experience what the larger experience might be.”
I took a bite of scone while the topic at hand was nothing to do with maggots or rot. Chewing thoughtfully as Dee took a sip of his coffee, the gears on my little wheels inside my brain meshed and the teeth started to intertwine is such a way that a thought moved to me.
“Are you the grim reaper?” I whispered, looking around to see if anyone was listening to us besides perhaps the barista whom was peering over the counter and talking to her co-worker frequently.
The razor smile returned to Dee’s face. “Now we’re cooking with gas, aren’t we? Yes. This is one of the many things I am called, and the caricature of what the reaper does is a good baseline for us to build on what our duties entail.”
“Holy Christ!” I said, leaning back in my chair. “This can’t be real.”
“Reality is a tricky thing. It most times implies a sort of ‘see it to believe it’ sort of mentality. You’re going to have to dispose of that. Not because you won’t be seeing what really happens when a soul is called upon to quit its time here, but because you are seeing things others do not see yet, that they may never see.
Just because a colorblind person has never seen a hue of red, it does not mean that it does not exist. Much of your training to reacquaint yourself with the position of being my assistant is to re acclimate yourself with a different type of perception,” Dee said. “It helps to simply jump in and hold on.”
Dee’s silky, soft speech was, per usual, like a mixture between a textbook on psychology and a conversation you’d have with the owner of the new age shop when you were simply trying to quietly browse the incense selection. I was having a hard time following most of it.
“Seeing things others don’t see yet…would that include a drawer with a severed arm in it?” I asked.
“It might. Did you dream last night?” he asked.
“No. I took my medicine, and it stopped that. I can’t handle those terrors like the one I had about Jim.”
He shook his head: “The medicine is not stopping your dreams. It is your conscious decision to see parts of our daily agenda while you sleep. You’ve blocked out the planning time by pure force of will before this, and you can return to where that is the case. But you will have to see what our schedule is for the day whether you use your planning time at night or not. These images will crop up in your waking hours if you do not view them in sleep.”
“But I can’t handle seeing these things,” I said, begging. “They’ll drive me insane. I know it.”
“Jorge,” he said, sternly now. His voice was icy, and actually a thing that might have surfaced in my nightmare audio. “You have done this for centuries. You will be fine.”
I didn’t feel like I’d be fine.
“I’m only 27. And I don’t remember ever taking a call to be the ferryman on the river Styx at any point in time. So what you you mean when you keep saying that I’ve had this explained before? That I’ve done this before?”
“I’ve been around since the whole existence thing was just a pet project of the unknown entity that started the motor on all of it and pushed us away from shore. When the body became too damaged to function or when the internal workings were past their viable use, I found myself there with the person, and I knew where to take them to move them to the next door they’d need to go through. In the beginning, there weren’t so many humans running around and it was easier to be where all the deaths were…but, of course, it got harder. And just when I thought I’d have to lie down and die myself because I was just so damn exhausted with the process, and clueless to what I was looking for in these people…someone or thing or whatever…sent you to me.”
My little wheels continued to turn. I didn’t think Dee was talking about my birthday 27 years ago being the date I was “delivered” to him.
“The year 1200. That’s when you joined me. Although, we didn’t hit holiday season so to speak until 1346. I knew you were the only one I wanted alongside me in this work after we made it out of the Plague Years in one piece,” he said, and then seeing my color take a noticeable turn for the paler, he added gently. “We’ve been at this awhile, old chum.”
“But…how?” I asked.
I didn’t even really have a great grip on history to be able to remember what I’d read about the middle ages, much less imagine having lived through the times of relative sanitation standards and the clothing variations of that time period.
“Well, first, you live a very long time. On average you tend to stick to the 500 years cycle, whereas I favor the millennial cycles of rebirth every 1000 years. I’ve got a little more stamina than you do from being on my own so long before you joined me,” he said, with a matter of factness that I couldn’t quite pin down for a brag or not.
“We cycle through periods of living and growing, which allows a short holiday from the business if you will. 27 years in this case for you. Then you come back to work, and we play catch up for a while until it’s time for the other one of us to cycle. The other takes over the duties of Death and the problem of solving existence, and then they seek out and enlighten the one who’s been on holiday to their real job responsibilities when their rest is over. It’s a two man operation and it’s worked well for us over the years.”
“But how do you know it’s me that is supposed to be your assistant? I honestly don’t remember any of this. Maybe you’ve got the wrong guy?” I said with what I hoped was an earnest shrug.
He tipped up his mug and finished the last of the coffee, and then clinked the mug back on the table like it was a particularly strong shot of alcohol he’d just finished.
“Nope. It’s you. No doubt about it. And your memories are going to start flooding back any day now. You chose the 27 year mark for it all to come back, and the dreams pushing through are only the first of it,” he said. “Let’s start walking so we won’t be late to our next appointment, and I’ll tell you more about it.”
He stood, waving lightly to the barista behind the counter who blushed, but smiled fantastically in response.
“She always has had leanings toward the goth side of things, but she’s got no idea what she’d be getting herself into with me,” Dee said. His smile was reinforced with a thin line of sadness as he said this, and we walked back into the cold.
“How could you even entertain the idea of pursuing her?” I asked, a little angrily. “You’re like a thousand years old and she’s probably barely even twenty.”
“I’m much older than a thousand,” he said, curtly. “Besides, you didn’t have any moral qualms when you went for your last human partner.”
“Whoa whoa whoa,” I said, grinding to a halt on the sidewalk as we moved further away from the cafe. “My last human partner? Like a wife or something?”
“In layman’s terms, you’re beginning to cotton on,” he said. “How do you think we cycle into rebirth if not through a human consummation?”
“Well…I mean…how the hell am I supposed to know? It’s not like they covered rebirth and 500 year live cycles in sex ed. class, you know?”
“True,” he said with a laugh. “Well, that’s the other part of it. When you are ready to cycle out for a time, you find someone who sparks your fancy, you marry or elope or whatever with them. If it’s not your time to cycle, then there’s no way you can impregnate them. Wicked birth control. But if it is, they get pregnant, and when it’s time for them to give birth, you have a mysterious accident or walk out one day and never return or whatever excuse you’ve set up, and voila….you are born again.”
I had another slow wheel movement. Actually, my wheels got a little stuck on that one…perhaps there was even a small fire.
“But…that means…Mamma was my wife in the past cycle? I am my own father? I had sex with my mother?”
The last question I kind of screamed in an overstimulated hysteria. A few of the passerby on the street shot me horrified glances. I jogged to catch up with Dee who was snorting to himself as he walked ahead of me.
“Damn it. It’s not funny,” I hissed at him.
“It’s quite amusing. You always blow your top at this part. You’re such a little prude, Jorge. It’s not like your mother was your mother when you impregnated her. She was a beautiful young girl whom you fell in love with when we were on a beach in Florida taking an overambitious surfer. You had a few years with her, and then it was time to take a break and so you let her go in that form and gave her a son in this form. Once your memories come back, you’re going to feel very silly about all this,” he said with a sickening knowing look.