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literature

Death's Wages

Daily Deviation
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  It was around one in the morning when my Reaper showed up. I was asleep, but the moment he entered the room I felt it, and my eyes opened.
  Up until that point, I'd had no idea that Reapers existed, but there he was, sitting in my desk chair and staring at me. He wasn't wearing an official nametag that read “Joe Death, Professional Reaper” or anything like that, but somehow I just knew. Most normal people can’t sneak onto an airtight spaceship without leaking all of the oxygen into space. He scowled when I sat up and acknowledged him.
  I stared for a minute, and then I laughed. By that point, laughing was about all I could do.
  “I always knew you'd come for me early.”
  “You weren't supposed to wake up,” was his only response. He was staring back at me, but his was the most apathetic stare I'd ever seen in my life. If I had fallen to the floor, foaming at the mouth, he probably wouldn't have even moved.
  I yawned. “Sorry. I didn't want to miss the light show at the end. Everybody talks about it, you know? And I only get one. Couldn't just miss it.”
  “Hmm,” the Reaper said. He checked his watch. “Well, you've got eight minutes to go.”
  “Wait, eight minutes? I'm not actually dead yet?” It felt surreal all of a sudden, and I looked around my cabin. The red numbers on my clock still flashed out into the darkness, my dirty clothes were still a mess in the corner and the faint outlines of bloodstains were still there on my walls. Eight minutes? I'd still be alive in eight minutes. I was dreaming. I'd wake up in the morning and the Reaper would be gone, but other than that, my cabin would look exactly the same as it did now.
  But somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that wasn't true.
  “So who did me in?”
  The Reaper actually laughed at that. From what I'd seen of him so far, he didn't seem like the kind of guy who laughed often. “Who? Nobody else killed you. You strangled yourself, genius. You should have never started wearing your headphones to bed.”
  “...Ah,” I said, and fingered the cord that was indeed wrapped around my neck. Given the nature of the ship I ran, I’d always figured I’d go young. Space piracy isn’t exactly a calm, peaceful job. I always saw myself going out with a bang— bullet holes in my chest, bloody slits in my throat— something that my crew members could tell their grandkids about, at least. But this was definitely not a bang. This was a fizzle.
   “Well...” I began, and found I couldn't finish my sentence. I’d always kind of known wearing headphones to bed was a terrible idea, but it was next to impossible for me to sleep without them. And since I didn’t have any mortal enemies on my own ship, I figured I’d sleep safe tonight. Instead, my entire crew would be up in the morning, knocking on my door and checking on me only to find that I'd accidentally strangled myself in my sleep.
  The Reaper didn't respond, and a thought occurred to me. “Wait, does that mean I survive, since you woke me up?”
  I got a lot of side-eye for that. “If you survived, would I still be here? No, buddy. It doesn't matter if you don't die according to plan. Your soul expires in seven minutes, and then it's time for you to come with me.”
  That shut me up for a while. I could feel my fingers and toes going cold, and I wasn't sure if it was because I was scared or about to die. Probably both.
  “So... I guess this is the part where I start bargaining.”
  “Save your breath. You don't have that many left.”
  “Yeah,” I said, sizing him up. He had traded in the long black robe for jeans and a fitted hoodie. I couldn't see a scythe, but there was a holster at his belt. And he had an actual face, too, not just an empty skull, which was comforting on some very small level. “I thought so. Must get old, huh? You've probably heard it all by now.”
  He chuckled at that. “Heard it all? I've heard it all ten times over, at least.”
  My eyebrows rose. “Man, how long have you been doing this job?”
  He shrugged. “Don't know. Eons, probably. It gets hard to keep track of time when you don't even get a lunch break.”
  I nodded. “So you like the work?”
  That earned me a full-face glare.
  “Does it look like I’m enjoying this?”
  “Well, hey, at least you know you’re important. I mean, who knows what would happen if you didn’t do your job?” I gave my best effort at a smile, but I could feel my lips shaking.
  The Reaper scoffed. “You know what would happen if I didn’t do my job? Nothing. I’m one of five hundred. Honestly, they probably wouldn’t even notice if I never even collected you.”
  “Well,” I said, fingering my headphone cord again. “You ever thought about doing something else? You sound like you're itching for a new career, and fast.”
  That was when I knew he hadn't heard it all, and he definitely hadn't heard it all ten times over. He looked at me like I'd just started speaking a language from the next galaxy over. I guess there's kind of an unwritten script for dying, questions that everyone asks when it's their turn to go, and I had just chucked the manuscript into interplanetary space.
  I grinned and checked the clock.
  “Make it quick. You've only got six minutes left.”
 
  I never smile when I wake up in the morning, but believe me, the next morning I was grinning wider than a warship hangar. I hopped out of bed, threw semi-clean clothes on, and headed down to the kitchen to start the coffee.
  The Reaper was already up, standing at the kitchen window and helping himself to a giant bowl of sugary cereal. I turned my back to him while I got the coffee going, mostly so he wouldn't see me grinning like a hyena. I had gotten my face under control again by the time I had poured myself a cup and faced him.
  He jabbed at his cereal and shoved another bite into his mouth.
  “So,” he said, chewing, “what am I doing today?”
  “Ah, you'll meet the rest of the crew. I'll show you around the ship.” I shrugged. “We'll figure out the rest later.”
  He nodded and went back to his cereal. I hid my face behind my coffee cup and grinned again.
  People always say that you can't cheat death. When he comes for you, you had better just accept it. In light of recent events, I've decided they're right. There is no cheating Death.
  On the other hand, hiring him is always a possibility.
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© 2015 - 2019 BornWithTheSun
Story No. 2 with people who hate their jobs, Story No. 3 with people who should be dead but aren't. Enjoy!

This had been banging around in my head for a month or two and I finally got it hammered into something that I liked, so here it is! If you're feeling like critique, here are a few questions:

a) Does this feel like it moves too quickly?
b) Do you think this needs more description?
c) My biggest focus in this story was revealing character through dialogue. Did the characters' dialogue give you a good feel for who they are? If not, what do you think I could do to improve it?
d) And just for fun, what do you think the narrator's gender was?
e) Anything else I could improve on?

Thanks for reading, and have an awesome day!

Update 11/22/15: EDITED with many, many thanks to IcySkittles, Rieal-Dragonsbane, DC-26, TheUnsquishedGoomba, and my dad. Seriously, thank you! :) Your feedback was really helpful in my revisions of this and it would be a weaker story without it. :)

The original draft of the story is available in my scraps here: fav.me/d9ho3tz

Oh, and just in case anyone happens to be curious, I wrote the story intending the narrator to be male.

Update 6/11/16: EEP! A DD? For me? Thank you to TheMaidenInBlack for featuring and all of you who commented or faved. I'm really glad you like this piece. You made my day! :hug:
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The stars danced. It was a wonder they even could, with no engine, no stellar drive, nothing but gravity and the ingenuity of man, that and the desire for great scientific achievements to be trivialized by profit. It didn't matter. The universe didn't care. Here's the thing: it lasts a long time. We talk about a million years and think 'that is conceivable, in a kind of general sense', but we can't, not really, not when we lived maybe .0001 percent of that. A piece of plastic isn't permanent, and even the stars, a fixture in our lives if there ever was one, are temporary, fleeting. I sat on the bench and watched the stars through my sungla
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“See that rectangle of stars? I guess it’s more of a trapezoid, actually, but anyway, that’s the Big Dipper.”      He lifts my hand from where it hangs at my side and directs it towards the cosmic picture formed by the gas giants millions of light years away. My gaze is fixed on the Big Dipper, taking in the starlight that has traveled billions of miles to reach my eyes.      They say that stargazing is like time travel—because the light of the stars takes so long to reach Earth, the star is probably dead and gone by the time we can see it. I always thought that was beautiful, even if it isn’t true. With
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 The chambermaids cleaned and disinfected the tank with lye again, and Spencer took a moment to collect himself before squeezing the magnifying monocle back into his right eye.  He had gone over the machine a dozen times, but he would go over it a dozen-and-one if that’s what it took.  Every little brass bolt was properly tightened, and every hose was sealed exactly as it needed to be, connected to a variety of vials and beakers.  The electrical coils were fully charged from the previous night’s thunderstorm, and all of his thermometers and barometers assured him that the steam pump was properly simulating the temperature and pres
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Comments (86)
cyberraxx's avatar
cyberraxx|Hobbyist General Artist
I've read it several times now and each time I imagine the lead character and Death differently each time. I also like that theres no mention of the lead being male or female and doesn't wander in and out of details.
Reply  ·  
BornWithTheSun's avatar
Ahh, that's so cool! I never really intended a changing interpretation of these characters but it's so cool that it turned out that way for you. Now that you mention it, my image of them has changed over time as well.

Thank you so much for reading & commenting! I appreciate it. :)
Reply  ·  
Charlene-Art's avatar
Charlene-Art|Hobbyist General Artist
Ha ha this is brilliant! Love your take on the Reaper.

a) I think it moved at a decent pace.
b) I think it had enough description
c) Dialogue was done pretty well
d) Didn't know the gender of narrator but I didn't think it was important. But I think as a default reader I was leaning towards male - simply because I reckon that's kind of the default POV you expect unless something says otherwise.

All in all pretty good!
Reply  ·  
BornWithTheSun's avatar
Ah, thank you! :) I really love seeing that people still enjoy reading this. I'm glad I could amuse me. And yeah, I didn't think the Reaper's gender was super important either. I was really just asking the question for fun. :)
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Charlene-Art's avatar
Charlene-Art|Hobbyist General Artist
Lol I didn't even think of the gender of the reaper. But I guess if I was kind of thinking of the gender for it it would be it would also be default male.
Reply  ·  
420DEADMEME69's avatar
(a) No.

(b) If you want it's totally fine to make this a longer story.

(c) Yeah, i mean i have seen better *cough* brandon sanderson *cough* but you still did a good job i enjoyed it. 

(d) Female

(e) Ask me again after you think you improved on what you think you should've improved on.
Reply  ·  
BornWithTheSun's avatar
Thank you so much for your feedback! I'll keep that in mind if I edit this. :)
Reply  ·  
StevenGilby's avatar
Didn't see these the first time since I read it on my phone, so I'll answer them now! =D

a) Does this feel like it moves too quickly?
The transition from "You're going to die in X number of minutes" to "I'm still alive" seemed a little quick. I would have liked a little more introductory banter between the two, maybe some failed attempts at negotiating and a smoother transition to waking up after the narrator questioning if they will still die. Speaking of the narrator, I read it as a woman which I tend to do knowing the gender of the author, but the narrator's gender is left ambiguous throughout so I had that kind of liberty. It would be cool if you were to continue this story and make it ambiguous throughout. Yes, I am challenging you, should you wish to continue this story.

b) Do you think this needs more description?
It could do with a little more, if only to flesh out the kind of space era this is: junky Star Wars type, pretty and sleek Wall-E type, bright and colorful cyberpunk type, whatever it was for that My Chemical Romance video (song: SING).

c) My biggest focus in this story was revealing character through dialogue. Did the characters' dialogue give you a good feel for who they are? If not, what do you think I could do to improve it?
Dialogue can take you pretty far, and the dialogue here is pretty solid. Stiff, stern, nothing-surprises-me death and an easy-going space pirate who listens to music to sleep. But narration can flesh out characters a little more. It can be pretty difficult in a first person perspective to bring out certain qualities in other characters, but it's not too hard to get the hang of.

d) And just for fun, what do you think the narrator's gender was?
You wrote it. You are a woman. The narrator was a woman to me.

e) Anything else I could improve on?
Bring out the environment more. Try to engage the five senses: taste, touch, smell, hear, feel. It's not possible to do that ALL the time, but little things can really make a scene come to life, a scent or a peculiar taste in the air.

Also, was the narrator all ethereal and ghostly, watching herself strangle as she talked to Death or ... I don't know. Clarifying that would also be nice. ;P
All in all, great story, quirky and fun. Made me feel like a kid again. =D
Reply  ·  
BornWithTheSun's avatar
Thank you! Your answers were really helpful, and I'm glad this was entertaining. :)

a) Hmm. Do you think it would have been better if I had shown the Reaper taking the narrator's deal? I kinda liked not showing myself, but that's just me. :)

b) Hmm, yeah. I can see that. Honestly, I didn't do a whole lot of worldbuilding for this particular piece. I kinda just ran with the thoughts that were in my head already. I do plan on expanding this, though, and I'll definitely make the setting clearer then, once I have clearer thoughts myself. :)

c) Ah, gotcha. Thank you. :)

d) Ooh, cool. I had never thought of it that way before, but it does make sense.

e) Ahaha, I'll be honest: That is one of my weaknesses. Characters and plots are pretty easy for me but interesting settings/environments are harder. I tried to give little hints about their surroundings, but I'll make sure to keep that in mind as I write more of this.

And haha, no, the narrator never had to watch their body strangle to death. In the first conversation with the narrator and the Reaper, the narrator had not officially died yet, so they were still fully present in their own body.
Reply  ·  
StevenGilby's avatar
A) Maybe just some other failed negotiations and some built up frustration before she finally touches on something the Reaper has an interest in.

B) and E) For a one-off like this, world-building is a bit much, but small scene building, if only a little bit would really bring it to life. Description is my weak spot, too. It's easy to get wrapped up in everything else and forget the where
Reply  ·  
BornWithTheSun's avatar
Ah, I see. I'll definitely keep that in mind. Thank you! :)
Reply  ·  
StevenGilby's avatar
Reading this made me smile. Are you expanding this or was it just a lovely one-off? I'd be interested in more of these two for sure.
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cecilgershwinpalmer's avatar
This is awesome! I was definitely not expecting that to happen!
Reply  ·  
BornWithTheSun's avatar
Haha thank you! Happy to entertain. :)
Reply  ·  
Dream-howl's avatar
Dream-howl|Professional Writer
That didn't end the way I thought it would. I really enjoyed it, I was hooked!
Reply  ·  
BornWithTheSun's avatar
Thank you! I gotta admit, I am pretty proud of that ending. :)
Reply  ·  
daveannis's avatar
Nice, leaves me wanting more. It could be a great first chapter- novel or collection of short stories based on the same characters. 
Reply  ·  
BornWithTheSun's avatar
Thank you! :) I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm planning on expanding it someday. We'll see where that goes. :)
Reply  ·  
killersprinkles's avatar
This is awesome! You should continue the story!! I loved it and enjoyed your work. You're very talented
Reply  ·  
BornWithTheSun's avatar
Thank you! :) I really appreciate the comment. I'm planning on continuing this eventually... a novel, maybe? We'll see if I find the time, haha. :)
Reply  ·  
Rokonjm's avatar
Rokonjm|Hobbyist General Artist
Omg I love this. I barely read people's stories but I love this. Is there more? I'd definitely read more of this.
Reply  ·  
BornWithTheSun's avatar
Thank you! Hug This is all there is at the moment, but I'm hoping to expand this into a novel someday.
Reply  ·  
Rokonjm's avatar
Rokonjm|Hobbyist General Artist
I'd definitely read it. Likely even buy it if it was in stores
Reply  ·  
BornWithTheSun's avatar
Thank you. :hug: I really appreciate that. Glad you like it so much! :)
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anonymous's avatar
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