A Reaper of Another Color
Steven sat in his easy chair, enjoying his chips and beer while watching Sunday afternoon football. His sweatshirt, emblazoned with the logo of his favorite team, stretched tightly over his heavy, thirty-year-old frame. The sunlight from the beautiful autumn day streamed through the picture window to illuminate his hand as he casually shoveled fried slivers of potato into his gullet.
On the big screen television, his preferred team scored. Steve raised both hands slightly above his head and softly cheered, ?Yay!?
The phone rang on the table next to him. He moved the T.V. remote and the bag of chips from the small, exposed bit of his lap, careful not to spill the beer from the armrest. His mass shifted with great effort to reach the phone handset. The chair creaked.
?Hello?? he greeted the caller. ?No, I?m watching the game. Nah, after that I?m probably going to order a pizza and watch a movie. Yea, uh huh, thanks for thinking of me, but I?m going to sit this one out.? With a major stretch and several missed attempts, he put the handset back onto its cradle.
Wiggling as best he could, he resettled into the chair and repositioned the chips in their preordained position. With his right hand, he pointed the remote toward the T.V. and increased the volume. With his left hand he reached for the next fistful of chips. Something didn?t feel right.
He shook his left hand a couple of times, leaning right so he could clearly see the game. The hand still didn?t seem comfortable so he sat the remote against the bag of chips and fed himself with his right hand. The bag had to be turned to face toward the right side, but that was a minor inconvenience.
He munched his chips, drank his beer, and watched the game.
He became drowsy.
The game went on.
* * *
The sound of his back door closing roused him from his nap. ?I?m in the living room,? he called.
?That?s ironic,? replied the visitor.
Steve didn?t recognize the voice. He craned his neck to try to see through the dining room door. ?Is that you, Joey? I?m watching the game. Grab some beers out of the fridge on your way in.?
He heard the refrigerator door open and some cans get jostled around. The door closed. Steve turned back to the game. ?Hey Joey, our guys are in the lead. Only a few more minutes left in the game.?
From the edge of his vision, he noticed his guest enter the living room and move to stand next to and slightly behind the chair. A sharp pain spread through Steven?s skull, soaking down from the crown toward the rest of his head. It was accompanied by a loud, hollow, bopping sound.
He grabbed the top of his head and rolled forward. ?Ow! What?d you do that for?? Chips and the remote fell on the floor. His empty beer can rolled across the carpet to settle near the entertainment center. Steve fell out of the chair and onto his butt. The momentum of the fall carried him over and around to see the one who attacked him. Tallness and thinness defined the figure?s appearance. He wore a beige, hooded sweatshirt with the hood up to hide his face.
Steve recovered his wits enough to realize what was happening. ?Take what you want, just please don?t hurt me.? He cowered a little with his hands over his head.
The stranger turned his face toward Steve. ?It?s a bit late for that.?
The fat man pushed away from his assailant. ?No, it?s not too late. Just take what you want. I won?t say anything about you. Hey, if all this stuff gets stolen my insurance company has to buy me new stuff. You?ll be doing me a favor.?
The guest stepped around the chair.
Steve watched in terror. He saw that the man carried a bat or similar in his right hand and a beer in his left. Then he noticed the man?s sweatshirt. It went all the way down to the floor.
The visitor sat in the chair and placed the bat across his lap. ?I?m not going to steal anything and I?m not going to hurt you, well, not anymore.?
Steve?s back pushed against the lower portion of the entertainment center. ?Who are you? What do you want??
The attacker leaned back in the chair and cracked open the beer. ?I am called the Bland Reaper. What I want is to sit here for a few minutes and enjoy a cold one before I have to go on to the next pathetic loser.? A skeletal hand raised the beer to the void in the hood where the face should be.
?Oh God, the Grim Reaper? But I don?t want to die. I have so much I want to do.?
The beige one lowered his beer. ?No, I?m not the Grim Reaper. He gets all the really cool people. I?m the Bland Reaper. I get losers like you who aren?t really worth a damn.?
A worried smile oozed out onto Steve?s face. ?You mean I?m not dead??
?Oh no, you?re dead all right. Happened just a couple of minutes ago. Seems you had a heart attack while you slept. Have some more chips.? He kicked the bag Steve?s direction.
?If I?m dead, why am I still here? Why did it hurt when you hit me with that? what is that? Is that a whiffle ball bat??
The Reaper patted his trusty bat. ?Yep, that?s exactly what it is.?
?I thought you guys carried one of those one things, you know, with the big blade on it.?
The Bland Reaper shook his head. ?Don?t you understand? I?m not the Grim Reaper. He gets to carry the scythe. He gets to ride in on a cool horse. He gets to collect the Honored Dead. It?s all symbolic. The black robes and the horse and the scythe reflect the importance of the individual being harvested.?
Steven, calmed a little by the conversational tone, sat up with his back braced more comfortably. ?If it?s all symbolic, what could a whiffle ball bat represent??
The specter lifted the bat in his hand. ?Think about it. In the grand scheme of the universe, can you think of anything that is really more useless than a whiffle ball bat? Sure, it has bat like qualities. That?s about the extent of it.? He returned the bat to his lap and took another draw off the beer.
Steve scowled. ?Are you saying you think I?m useless??
Death shrugged. ?I?m not saying anything. I got an order telling me to come here and ensure that you passed into the next plane of existence. Someone more important than I decided that you?re useless.?
?How could I be useless? I work. I pay my bills. I am a proper consumer. That?s pretty useful if you ask me. A useless person cannot afford this good of a T.V.?
?Yea, whatever. What did you do other than work? Did you read to children? Did you visit the elderly? Did you even try to better yourself through exercise or a productive hobby? In the old days, I used to collect farmers who would work all day just to barely get by and those guys still found time to enrich their own lives and the lives of others. At least back then I got to wear green.? He tugged once at his sleeve.
A lifetime of not doing much but watch television flashed before Steve?s eyes. ?So, that?s it then. I didn?t spend all my time helping other people so now, with one bop of your whiffle ball bat, I?m done with life.?
?Not exactly, I just have to show up and officiate. The heart attack killed you. I just hit you with the bat because people like you annoy me. Just think, if you?d gone over to your friend?s house to toss the ball around, someone who cared would have been available to call an ambulance. No, I guess you?d rather watch T.V.?
The dead man raised his hands to his face to hide his weeping. Tears ran over his round cheeks. His body shook with each sob.
The Bland Reaper watched the game while he finished his beer, trying to ignore the crying man. When done, he crushed the beer can against what was presumably his forehead and tossed the thing aside. ?Well, that?s it for me. I got to get going. Good luck being dead and all.? He grabbed his bat and stood from the chair.
Steve looked up. ?Where are you taking me? Where do I go now? Is there a Heaven or, uh, uh, some other place??
The Reaper looked down at him. ?Unfortunately for you, your death will be much like your life. You aren?t going anywhere.?
?I have to be a ghost??
The beige robe flowed smoothly around as Death strode toward the door. ?No, I think being a ghost may be a bit too active for you. You don?t get to do any haunting. You just get to sit here and maybe watch T.V.?
The last bit of beige rounded the corner, out of site into the dining room.
Steve noticed for the first time his body lying on the floor in front of the easy chair, his right hand wrapped tightly around the remote.