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.
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?