People often ask me if I drank alcohol while I was alive. Actually, nobody asks me that. But if they did, I’d say “no.” You see, I was never alive. I was born Death. But I wasn’t the first Grim Reaper. Not even close.
Originally, the role of Death was chosen from those that were still alive. Many were destined at birth and, if everything went as expected, would be met with a cloak and scythe once they died. The men upstairs believed that in order to truly understand death, you had to understand life. I believed the opposite.
I may not have been right, but neither were they. There are aspects of being alive that don’t mesh well with a Reaper’s lifestyle. Emotions, mostly. Sympathy. Remorse. Guilt. Unfortunately, these don’t get left behind when you die. And, as you can imagine, taking the life of someone who “doesn’t deserve to die” isn’t easy. Those Reapers understood death, all right. They respected it and they were terrified of it. They never lasted long.
I’m something different. I was created for the soul (pun intended) purpose of being Death. I am Death. In its truest form.
My fault? I’m curious. Instead of spending my time in the Underworld, playing Bridge with the Moirai and waiting for my next assignment, I stuck around. I watched the living. Admired them. Studied them. And maybe, just maybe, some of their human qualities rubbed off on me.
Let’s keep that between the two of us, shall we?
So, what did I do about my obsession? I embraced it. I went to a shady bar in my brand new body in search of a new friend.
I stood outside, staring at the faded sign that said “Clancy’s” and wondered how the whole thing worked. How do you make a friend exactly? Was I supposed to introduce myself? Start with a joke? Fuck it. I was overthinking things. I just needed to be natural. To be me!
I pushed open the door and stepped inside.
“Excuse me, everyone,” I shouted. “I am looking for a friend.”
Okay, maybe I should have thought about it a little longer.
I noticed two things right away. First: the place smelled like piss. Second: the place smelled like puke. Also, it was completely empty. Well, mostly empty. The oldest man in the world was standing behind the bar, cleaning a glass with a towel. Was he actually the oldest man in the world? I don’t know. Do I look like a census worker?
He appeared to be staring at an invisible spot on the wall across from him. His lower jaw trembled like one of those vibrating beds you find in motels. Did he even know I was there?
I walked across the scuffed hardwood floor and sat on the stool in front of the ancient bartender. I rested my scythe against the bar and put The List on the stool next to me.
“Pretty dead in here, isn’t it?” I snickered to myself but he didn’t get the joke. He didn’t even flinch. He continued to stare at the wall and cleaning his glass.
“Can I get a drink?” I asked. “But, you know, take your time. I can see you’re busy.” Nothing. Rub rub rub. I was beginning to hate that glass. It was clean, already! Stop it!
Things were getting awkward. Was I supposed to leave? The silence was killing me. All I could hear was the squeaking of the towel against that goddamned glass. I drummed my fingers against the bar, just to hear the thumps. All right. It was time to leave. I started to push myself up from the bar stool.
“I think I’m just gonna…”
“Hello, sir, what can I get ya?”
The sudden noise erupting from his mouth scared the hell out of me. He turned his head to face me and it was like an old tree had suddenly come to life and offered me a drink.
“Umm…” I tried to think of something to order. I didn’t know anything about alcohol. My eyes searched the shelf behind, reading the labels until I settled on one. “That one,” I said. “Tequila.”
“You got it, boss,” the old man said. He put down the sparkling glass and towel and turned to the shelf. The effort required to reach the bottle caused his arms to shake and I could hear the bones creaking as he moved. He poured the clear liquid into a tiny glass and placed it in front of me.
“Thanks,” I mumbled. I picked up the glass and sniffed its contents. Because I could. Because I had a nose. Not like a few hours ago.
It didn’t smell good.
I took a tiny sip and the liquid poured over my tongue the way cancer devours a blood cell.
“Sweet, fucking, Moses,” I yelled. “Old man, this tastes like me. I mean, death.”
“Just give me a Coke.”
He did and it was equally terrible. The bubbles tickled my tongue in the exact way that my tongue doesn’t like to be tickled. Which is any way at all, really. I sighed. This wasn’t going very well.
“Can I just sit here?” I asked.
The old man shrugged and leaned against the bar with a goofy grin on his face.
“So, where is everyone?” I asked.
“It’s noon,” he said.
We stared at each other in awkward silence for a moment. His eyes never left mine. I didn’t like it.
“I think your glass is dirty,” I said.
He snatched it from the bar and immediately went back to work. His trembling jaw kept rhythm with the rubbing of the towel.
“When do people usually, you know, bar it up? Or whatever,” I asked.
“Umm…it usually starts to get busy in here around 7,” he said.
“Looking for someone?” he asked.
“Not really. Just looking to find a friend, you know?”
“I could be your friend.”
“Oh, fuck me, no,” I said louder than I should have. “You are old. You are so old that you already smell like maggots are eating your skin.”
“My grandson tells me that all the time,” he said with a sigh.
“Yes, well, your grandson sounds like a clever person.”
I was making conversation! I was so proud of myself. I could do this – make friends. Not with this guy, though. His oldness would make me look like some kind of sympathizer of the elderly. I was too new to the human world to be a sympathizer of anything. But, that didn’t mean I couldn’t practice on him.
“What’s your name, oldy?” I asked.
“Clancy,” he said with a shaky smile.
I pointed at the sign hanging in the window of the entrance. “Like the bar!” I said.
“Yep. Clancy Ford.”
“Like the truck!” I was on a roll. I laughed as though his name was the funniest joke ever told (the funniest joke ever told was in 1438 and it had nothing to do with bars or trucks). My laughter brightened Clancy’s smile and he joined me. We both laughed, neither of us really knowing why.
And then it dawned on me.
“Clancy Ford?” I asked.
He wiped a tear from the corner of his eye and nodded.
I grabbed the list from the stool and opened it to the first page. The name at the top of the list was “Clancy Ford.” Next to his name was a really short count down.
“Well, shit.” I said.
It was then that Clancy grabbed at his chest and began to cough.