by Al Bloom © 2006
It is a harsh reality but we all exist in a world where ordinary people's lives can take a turn for the worse in the blink of an eye. Or the drop of a hat, depending on which makes it first. Well, this is exactly what happened to Harry Hamblin. This time last week he was a healthy thirty-six-year-old married with two kids, and working as a mechanic for Pringle and Fieber's Auto Recovery Service. Now, and for no apparent reason, (doctors are still baffled as to the cause of death,) he's taken up permanent residence in an urn.
It was mid-July on a warm Friday night when this terminal change in Harry's life occurred. As always on a Friday, Harry was driving to Eric's house after work for the boy's weekly poker game. It was not the poker he enjoyed so much but the occasion - the wisecracks exchanged over nuts and beer, the sense of camaraderie, and the talk into the early hours of sports and old times. Behind Saturday nights spent watching the cocktail waitresses mix margaritas at the Café Au Go Go, it was probably the highlight of his week.
Usually Harry would be in high spirits, but that night he felt strangely ill at ease. In fact, he'd felt ill at ease all week. For some reason, a deathly nauseous sensation that he could only describe as, 'similar to coming across a picture of Hugh Hefner surrounded by Playboy Bunnies,' had overcome him at least four times since Sunday night. Three times at work and once in the bath. What all this meant exactly, he didn't quite know. All he did know was, for some reason he couldn't shake the nagging sensation that something bad was going to happen to him. True, something bad usually did happen to him to the tune of two hundred big ones every Friday night, but this, he felt worryingly, could involve losing all five senses in a single evening, as opposed to gradually over a fifty-year period.
Paranoia was something completely alien to Harry, and so he was deeply troubled by all this. Particularly as it was nothing he could put his finger on. Not that he wanted to put his finger on it, but he was a man who viewed the world strictly in black and white, and this was definitely a very murky shade of grey. However, with his wife's reassurances, and after a few extra workouts at the gym, he had managed to regain most of his composure. Or so he thought. The previous night, on his way out of an Italian restaurant, he had been overcome by a similar nauseous sensation - this time of The Grim Reaper surrounded by Playboy Bunnies, and refused to leave without being baptised in the kitchen sink.
'Where was this sense of impending doom coming from', he kept asking himself. And, 'would it accept a cheque to go back there?'
As he drove, Harry turned on the radio to clear his mind. He soon relaxed a little and began unconsciously nodding his head in time to a song that took him back to his high school days - The Bee Gees' classic Stayin' Alive. Although he had not been quite himself the past week, he was still at this point far from suspecting that within the hour the song's sentiments would no longer apply to him.
Remembering suddenly that he had to stop at the store to pick up some beers, he took a sharp left into Finch Street. As he did so, a black sedan made the same turn. He then took a right at the end of the road into Birch Street, then another right into Fairfax, before taking a left into Huntley Drive. At this point Harry noticed that the sedan seemed to be following him, but thought nothing of it. That is until he decided to speed up slightly and the sedan sped up after him. Then, suddenly, and with the frightened smirk he usually reserved for opening electricity bills, he remembered the sedan had pulled out after him as far back as Finch Street.
It must just be coincidence, he thought to himself as he took a left into Wariner Avenue, intently watching his rear-view mirror. Sure enough, the sedan pulled round the corner after him. Harry nervously switched off the radio. Panic had begun to set in. Now, Harry was not usually a man to panic easily but, considering his recent feelings, he thought this as good a time as any to start.
"What the hell's going on?" he whispered under his breath, whilst edging the speedometer up to sixty. A hundred possibilities as to who it could be started racing through his mind, ranging from the F.B.I. to the C.I.A. to the G.V.B. Then, just as he realized there is no group called the G.V.B., the sedan flashed him three times.
"What the hell's going on?" Harry said to himself. The car flashed him again, another three times. This time, thinking that maybe something important had fallen off his car, he decided to stop. The sedan stopped, parking up a short distance behind. Outside, Harry felt his heart do a double back flip, as he slammed the car door shut and started walking back towards the mysterious car.
"Yes, can I help you?" he said to the tall greyish looking man dressed in a long black robe, who was, with some difficulty, extracting a scythe from the back of the car. Immediately the man struck Harry as familiar, but for some reason he couldn't, (or didn't want to,) place him. Death was dressed pretty much as you'd imagine, except that under the robe he wore a skin-tight black jumpsuit, set off, rather well actually, by a large sequinned letter 'D' embroidered on the chest. Death made to walk towards Harry, but had barely taken two steps when he was suddenly yanked violently backwards having closed his robe in the door.
"Jeez, what a night," Death muttered, tearing it free.
"Who are you?" Harry enquired.
"Are you Harry Hamblin?" inquired Death, squinting at him whilst putting on a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles.
"Yes." Harry replied.
Death motioned wearily to his car, saying, "Then, come on. It's time."
"Time? Time for what?"
"Time for what he says. For a massage. It's time for your death."
Harry laughed out loud, and then abruptly stopped. Suddenly everything fell into place - the black outfit, the scythe, the nausea…
"Oh my God. You're Death," Harry murmured. Although he had often thought in the past how, in some ways, death can be considered a good way of keeping bills to a minimum, he now saw the situation as anything but welcome.
"Gee, why me?" Harry asked, quivering slightly. Sighing, Death produced a large leather bound book and started flicking through it till he found the required page. Then, scrolling down with a bony index finger he said, "Uh, lets see…. Hab, Hal, Hamblin. Ah, here we are- 'No reason.'"
"What do you mean, 'No reason'?! How can there be no reason?!"
"These things happen."
"What's that supposed to mean?! How? There's nothing wrong with me!"
"I said there's no reason. You have to wait till after you're dead for the autopsy," Death said, getting more annoyed by the second and starting back towards his car. Harry merely stared blankly after him. Then Death turned and exclaimed, "Okay, okay. If you must know, it's all about quotas! I need to reach a certain amount each day, and so if I run out of accidents heart attacks or murders I have to take a few healthy ones."
"But why me? Couldn't you take my next door neighbour?"
"What about Diana Ross?"
"When it's your time, it's your time."
"I know, I know, I just wasn't planning on it being this evening! It's poker night."
"Look, can we go now? I've got to get the car back in a half hour."
"You've come to take me to Eternal Nothingness in a rented car?!"
"Count yourself lucky. I used to piggyback."
Death got back in the car and started the engine. It sprang into life readily enough, but then started to choke. "Come on, you lousy piece of crap," Death shouted as the engine coughed and spluttered to a standstill. He tried it again, but all he could get out of it was the wheezy defiance of an engine that had no intention of going anywhere.
"Don't keep trying it - you'll flood the engine," advised Harry, aware of what his lips were saying, but somehow unable to stop them moving. Death popped the bonnet and jumped out.
"That's right, you know about car's right?"
"I, I, know a little," Harry stammered. They both stood staring at the engine.
"Well go on then!" Death said. "Fix it!"
Just at that moment a white corvette roared around the corner and came to an abrupt handbrake stop beside them. A young woman, with long flowing hair and wearing a white jumpsuit and matching cape, leapt out and pirouetted to a stop between Harry and Death. Yes, it was the rather lesser known nemesis of Death - Life.
"Oh Jeez," said Death putting a hand to his face. "Can this night get any worse?"
"Who the hell are you?" exclaimed Harry.
"Thank heavens you're still here," Life said to Harry. "Are you okay?"
"At the moment, yes," Harry replied.
Folding his arms and looking thoroughly depressed, Death interjected, "Harry this is Life, Life meet Harry."
"There's a Life as well?" said Harry, vigorously pumping her hand. "Great! Then I'm not going to die?"
"Well, I'll see what I can do," Life replied cautiously. "But don't get too excited."
"Can we get this over with?" said Death.
While fumbling in her pockets for something Life said, "Yes, hold on…"
"Is someone going to tell me what's going on?" Harry cried.
"We do this every time someone hangs in the balance, or I think Death's being unfair," Life explained, still turning out her pockets. "Plus I get overtime."
"I'm not following," Harry said.
"Have either of you got a coin on you?" said Life. "I forgot to bring one."
"Oh, jeez…" muttered Death, turning away.
Dumbfounded, Harry said, "Wait a minute! You mean to tell me you're going to flip a coin?!"
"You got one?" said Death, brightening.
"It's OK, I've got one!" said Life, walking back from her corvette holding up a dime.
"Whether I ever draw another breath, or see another sunset, or live to see my grandchildren," Harry spluttered, "my entire existence, is going to be decided on the flip of a coin?"
"So, what do you say, heads or tails?" Death inquired flatly.
"I'll do anything you say," Harry pleaded. "Charity work, go to church, press-ups."
"Heads or tails?" Death repeated.
Harry looked at Life, but she merely nodded. Finally, he said, "Heads..."
"Heads it is," said Death.
"No wait! Tails!"
"Yes, definitely tails! No, make that heads!"
"Are you sure?" said Life.
"Yes," replied Harry solemnly. "I'm sure."
As both Life and Death were invisible to everyone except Harry, his last moments on Earth must have looked rather strange to the casual observer; partly explaining why there was such confusion surrounding his death. By now, something of a small crowd had started to gather to watch Harry as he stood in the midst of a heated conversation with himself. Everyone watched with some bemusement as Harry suddenly looked up in the air, followed the trajectory of an invisible object, before rushing over to where it had supposedly fallen. Then, without a sound, he collapsed to the floor in a crumpled heap. Little did the onlookers know it was because the coin had bounced off a wall, hit an empty beer bottle, and finally spun to a rest, tail-side up.
Photos courtesy of
Funeral Urn http://www.lakeviewcemetery.com
Monroe Street and Apalachee Parkway in Tallahassee, FL http://www.myspace.com/heirbornstud
Gibraltar Monkey Coin firstname.lastname@example.org
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