Day 17: I can see the ending

When we were let in, I picked yet another one of the scones (peach), and we both decided that black coffee was the way to go today. We made for the table by our fireplace, in our cafe, to start our morning. I wondered if the baristas were discussing whether Dee and I were business associates or lovers. Our repeated presence, and secretive nature more likely than not had the rumor mill going.

I was still trying to figure out how the extension and all out rape of the system of time, by which I had governed my whole life, could be justified by Dee in the name of productivity. And when I sat down, the weight of that and all the rest of it hit me all at once. Dee sat across the table, pleasantly fluffing his newspaper out, and sipping lightly at his hot brew; just like he had done yesterday…and the day before, and probably every other day before he had called me to join the corps. There was a rising panic in my stomach that spread to my chest and vibrated at my fingertips in only the span of time it took Dee to finish reading the front page of the news.

This commitment I was making to join Dee in his daily work was more than just a job. This work would not end when I hit 65. There was no retirement. There was going to be no weekends. The job didn’t really ever have a quitting time. I was forever on call. I was forever bound to my duty, and I was forever expected to exist in a realm of duty rather than a realm of self-seeking as every other mortal was free to do. I was bound inextricably to this work and this routine of the morning scone, the distasteful chord cutting, and the forced digestion of all the fabric of other people’s lives. While other humans just got to be concerned with their own purpose in life, I had to try and evaluate the purpose for all human existence, and with less material of my own to find meaning in. The life that Dee assured me I could have outside of my dedication to the job, was seeming less and less possible. Had I lost the right to life by accepting the bond with Death?

I pushed back from the table, and my untouched breakfast, and shook my head at the whole of the thing. Dee pulled the paper away from his face, and set it on the table front as he looked to me to see what was the matter.

“Jorge?”

“I can’t do this, Dee,” I said again, but now there was a real feeling behind it that I would be giving up too much in taking this job, and I would not see what reward there was in it for me. It seemed like a selfish thought, but all the same I couldn’t banish it. I wanted to live, and I wanted to matter. I wanted to be seen always, and to not just disappear to the rest of the world when things that they couldn’t process happened. I didn’t want to see these things that mortals couldn’t see. I wanted the normalcy of the human lifespan and the mundane that went with it.

“It gets easier,” Dee said. “You’ve got to give it a try. Turning your back on your duties will send you right back to that boring little rut you had carved for yourself, and you’ll be subject to death at any time that fate dictates. Even worse, it’s going to allow the demons to show up at any time and place, with only me to fend them off, and take all the souls they can grab up from us. That means that you walking out now is damning countless people to a hell of emptiness. This is larger than you, and larger than me. It’s not something to pick up and drop at a whim. You are fate, and your fate is to be that force that drives the motion of the world.”

I paused and tried to take in his words, but the fear bubbled up in me again, and I saw Azazal’s sharp eyes in my memory, and heard his words about the worthlessness of working against the grain of existence.

I said: “I know you have good intentions in saying all this, and trying to take me on as an assistant. I’m honored. Truly. But I think that if I ever was an assistant to you, and able to do that job in the past…well, I’ve lost something that made me qualified or rather insane enough to go through with it. I can’t give up my own life for everyone else’s. I’m just not that guy,” I said, and I stood, turning away from Dee and heading for the door.

“You’re content with just letting Azazal have them all?” Dee shouted after me. “Your going to let him take them with no fight at all?”

I didn’t turn around, not even to check if anyone else in the cafe could hear this man yelling what probably seemed like crazy nonsense at me. I mumbled to myself: “Not my problem.” Because it wasn’t my problem. I didn’t have any kind of responsibility to figure out people’s purpose for them, and I didn’t have an obligation to take their life away from them; whether they were saints or scoundrels. I wasn’t any better judge of character than anyone else.

I wasn’t that much of a forward thinker either, and so I hadn’t considered that I wouldn’t have a ride home once I’d dropped the title of Death’s assistant and the benefits that went with it. When I exited the cafe, my first impulse was to head back home and try and recoup my thoughts. Yet, as I walked toward the bus stop to head in that direction, I realized the building where I had worked as an insurance agent was only a block away now. Since I had turned in my resignation to Dee, it actually made more sense to me to return to business as usual in my old life, I thought. No time like the present. I turned at the corner and crossed the street to get to the building.

I hadn’t been in the building in about a day and a half, but it felt like I’d been gone on a long vacation. Everything was so normal, and quiet in the morning hours, that it took on a strange quality that made me nervous, as though a swarm of locusts or something was going to fly around the corner at me if all stayed too still for much longer. I ignored my newfound paranoia to the typical jibe of reality, and took the elevator up to my floor and sought out my cubicle. My cellphone now read a time of 8 a.m., and so I was still early for my work shift by all accounts. I didn’t care one way or another. I sat down at the cubicle, strapped my headset on, and punched a line to take the next waiting caller. I greeted them with the most chipper, “Hello, my name is George!” that I think I’d ever mustered. The woman on the other line actually paused for a few beats to make sure I was a real voice and not an over-enthusiastic robot.

I took several other calls, laughing and bantering with the customers, and refusing any possibility of getting upset with their most banal requests or any level of condescension in their voice. An hour later, when all my co-workers began to arrive, a man who looked eerily similar to me hovered in the hallway, watching me at the cubicle, before hanging his head in resignation and disappearing down the hall and from existence all together it would appear if anyone was paying attention to him.

They weren’t.

Commitment, when done with a firm and true dedication, can provide fulfillment greater than any other when the object of your efforts reaches new levels; a payoff. Certainly, commitment to one area may result in a hindrance of freedom to other matters, and it’s going to require some legwork no matter how sweet the rewards of the initial dedication appear. This is why it scares many of us to give of one’s self so fully to a cause, especially if the future of the time vested in the efforts is unpredictable. The future is always unpredictable though, and commitment is always a risk laden and terrifying process on some kind of sliding scale. Because when you commit, you give of yourself pieces that aren’t so easily taken back. You become one with the entity that’s taking your time, love, skills, etc. Becoming one with two bodies is impossible says the rational mind, and then it flees. The fearful mind can doubt just about anything. The things that rely on a leap of faith stand no chance in this atmosphere. 

By the time I was on the bus home that day, I was exhausted from going at a non-stop pace all day, solving issues for irate customers and selling policies left and right. But I’d given it an effort I’d never given to the job, and it was a tired satisfaction I felt. I was settled back into the hard plastic of my bus seat, and was flipping through some paperwork that had been handed out this week that my doppelganger had supposedly read through and signed my name off on, when I felt a small tap on my shoulder.

I looked up, and in front of me stood a short, pale-skinned woman with floppy bleached blonde hair. It was my ex-girlfriend Ashley, standing there in the purple faux-fur lined parka I’d bought her last year. She didn’t look murderous or tearful, both things I’d seen in her eyes the last time we’d encountered one another, and so I took this for a good sign.

“Oh hello,” I said awkwardly. “You ride the bus?”

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Day 16: The Struggle is Real

I dressed and proceeded out the door of my apartment. It was drizzling, and the air was full of the cold condensation. I took a few steps towards my car, and then thought about the likelihood of it starting today. I didn’t feel like going through that gamble actually, and as I remembered that I wouldn’t have to take the bus today, I felt it was a good day to try my other transportation method. But the parking lot of my apartment felt rather exposed to kick up a tail wind and go off flying, even if no one could see me. Awkwardly, I kicked through the wet grass and hid myself behind the communal dumpster.

It was not really a surprise to find that it smelled like wet garbage back here. There was a bit of some smashed fruit crusted to the closed metal door of the dumpster, and I focused on this as something to stare at as I gathered the will to lift myself into the air. I put a hand to the wet, chilled metal and closed my eyes. I can fly, I told myself. I will fly, I said. I am a being of light, and an agent of Death, and I call upon the laws of nature to bend for my purposes. As I screamed these words as loud as I could, albeit inside myself, I could feel a pull on the fabric of my jacket at the shoulders, as though a giant set of finger was pinching the fabric along there and pulling me slowly upward. I was pulled up straight, and then I was on tip toes, and then my black converse had completely left the ground, the gap between the rubber soles and the ground growing wider and wider still. The leaves that had blown against the dumpster and trapped themselves there against its weight began to swirl and push upward at me, allowing me to rise higher still. As I rose to the level of the apartment rooftops, the leaves stopped tailing me and settled to swirl back to earth. “Let’s go find Dee,” I thought, and the wind seemed to agree, propelling me forward over the rooftops of suburbia and towards the direction of town.

After a few moments of gathering speed, the features below me were indistinguishable. With such speed, I had reached the town limits within ten pleasant, although chilly, minutes. My speed decreased and once the blurred features came into focus once again, I saw that I was on the block where our coffee shop was. Not bad for a first timer, I thought, directing myself to float downward towards the cafe. I managed a somewhat graceful landing in front of the hair salon that was right next to the cafe that Dee and I had claimed as our own.

As I went for the door, and it wouldn’t budge, I realized it was locked, and the cafe sign was turned to closed. I peered inside and saw a barista working to make coffee, and another hovering by the oven as she waited for the fresh baked pastries to come out. But, surely the cafe was open now? Were they running behind today? I pulled out my phone and saw that it still read 6:45. The sign on the cafe said they opened at 7a.m. That’s when I realized that the baristas I was looking at through the class were too still, frozen in their morning duties. For the first time since I’d landed, I turned and scanned the almost empty street behind me.

What I had taken for parked cars on the street, was actually traffic that had been halted by the same force that had stopped my cell phone clock. The people inside them were halted in whatever they’d been doing at the true strike of 6:45. One lady, stopped for a green light, had her finger poised over a key on her cell phone, mid text, and then there was a guy in a car behind her that was not so casually picking at his nose. Someone had stopped the clock on things.

“Good morning,” said a deep voice behind me at the cafe door.

I turned, and saw Dee there, the only moving thing in the whole of town besides me. He was wearing a forest green sweater today, and his hair actually seemed a touch less black it seemed. Compared to the grey, frozen world around us, he seemed almost sunny in comparison.

My phone’s broken?” I asked, gesturing to the locked door of the cafe.

“Not quite,” he said. “Since there are more deaths than any one, or even two, agents would possibly be able to get to in a 24 hour period, we also have the ability to stop time for certain periods to extend the hours that we do have. I was able to reap quite a few this morning in this manner, and put us on a good schedule for the day. It’s probably best not to pay too much attention to the clock face anyway. Time is really a made up concept anyway when you think about it.,” he said, trying to reassure the stricken look on my face as I imagined a day of seemingly and literally endless hours or working.

“Let’s see if the ladies will let us in early,” he said, peering through the glass and waving.

As he did, the cars on the street behind us began to move once more, and the noise of movement and the morning commute dropped upon us all at once. Only a minute later, one of the baristas came to the door and gently showed Dee her watch that read 10 minutes until 7a.m. Dee smiled and nodded at her, and then turned pleasantly to me.

“Even when bending time, it’s important to be polite and conscious of businesses working hours,” he gently admonished me.