Bruce sat up out of his recently vacated corpse. Or rather, the portion of his corpse that was most Bruce-shaped.
He was, to his mild consternation, completely nude. It didn’t seem profoundly important anymore, hence the mildness. He looked around. The world itself was fast disappearing into a vague white haze, the shapes around him drifting away. Holes around him showed gaps in reality, and a moment later it occurred to him that these blank gaps were occupied by the living creatures whose world he was no longer native to.
Bruce turned around. He knew before he’d entirely faced the voice what he’d be looking at, but it was nice to get a verification.
It was, in point of fact, a skeleton in a black robe. It stood roughly six and a half feet tall and held an enormous scythe. In fact, the scythe appeared to be much larger than Bruce had envisioned. He’d seen large things, for many different values of large, but this was truly a large device. It made sense, he simply hadn’t thought about it.
Are you ready?
Bruce took a deep breath. Or something like a breath. He supposed he wasn’t breathing anymore. He spread his arms, closed his eyes, and awaited the reaping.
The reaping was not forthcoming.
Bruce opened his eyes.
“I assume that there’s a reaping?”
After a fashion.
“So. Are you reaping now, or do you wait a bit?”
You’ll have to walk.
Bruce raised an eyebrow.
Walk. Locomote yourself. The other side doesn’t come to you, you know.
“What’s the scythe for?”
The skeletal fingers adjusted on the handle. There was something unsettling about the way the fingers moved without any visible tendons or musculature. Protection. After a moment, the skeleton reluctantly added And style.
I thought you’d understand. The skeleton shrugged patiently. I have to explain this a lot these days.
“Do you?” Bruce tried to sound polite.
I do. What, Bruce Idle, do you believe my role in the cosmos to be?
“Er. The ultimate harvest, I suppose. The end of all things. Sort of.”
And in your opinion, the ultimate harvest of existence would look like a human skeleton in a robe?
“It sounds a bit vapid when you put it like that, of course.” Bruce slowly felt more self-conscious about his nudity and tried to subtly adjust his hands. The skeleton took no notice.
I am no more Death than you are Life. Or were, to make the metaphor more apt. You had an intimate relationship with Life, knew something about it, experienced it firsthand. But you were not the end and be all of Life.
I am, the skeleton turned and began to walk into the void. More of a psychopomp. You know the term?
Bruce followed at a mild jog. “Sort of an escort for the dead? Gets souls to the resting place and judgement.”
That much you do know. I am but a psychopomp. I have a task to conduct. I am your orientation to the afterlife.
“Is this something you’ve always done?”
“Ah.” Bruce stuttered. Not exactly the response he’d expected. “Just a hobby now?”
No. It is my purpose now.
Bruce nodded sagely.
I suppose you wonder why.
Charon works for money. Just a living, he says. I believe he thinks it is a joke. A few angels have it as their exclusive mission for existence. Some do it out of boredom.
Bruce waited an appropriate amount of time. “And you?”
Karma, I suppose.
“So. You sort of broke a soul or something and now you safeguard them?”
Of course not. Do you believe in the inevitability of justice, Bruce? I do not. But there are things that believe in justice. Well, not justice. But irony. And when my time comes, I would rather they find irony in my safe passage.
“‘And in strange aeons, even death may die,” Bruce muttered.
What in bloody hell does that mean?
“Well. You just said that you would. . . It seemed very apropos.”
I won’t die. One has to be alive in order to die. And many things that live will never die. Mortals keep showing up, though, so it seems that in no sense will Death die. Nonsense.
“But your time?”
Everyone has to go sometime.
The skeleton paused in his steps and nodded. His expressionless skull turned on Bruce.
“Go where?” Bruce managed.
If I knew that, I wouldn’t be doing this, now would I?
Bruce shook his head.
Now come along. I expect you’ll have a reward of some kind to get to.