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This is the seventh installment of GRIT’s adventure. To start at the beginning for context, start with Grim Failure.
Who Can Blame Him?
Daniel washed his hands and sat to eat, alone, except for the three foot tall stuffed polar bear in the seat beside him. But the bear didn’t have a place setting.
I (my name is GRIT for Grim Reaper In Training) expected Daniel’s soul would be an easy catch. According to his file he didn’t have family, few friends, and was deeply depressed.
Daniel unfolded a cloth napkin and smoothed it in his lap. He bowed, mumbled a prayer, wiped a tear just before it dropped onto his baked potato, and ate.
He drank glass after glass of white wine with his meal. Halfway through he pointed an accusing fork at the bear. “This is all your fault, you know that don’t you?”
He continued to eat. “If I had gotten Beth the five-foot giraffe she wouldn’t have broken up. We’d never been to the zoo. How was I supposed to know giraffes were her favorite animal?”
He broke down crying. “How am I supposed to go on without her?”
I sat in one of the two empty seats at his table, wishing I could say something to help. I couldn’t swallow.
He recovered and finished his meal. With the food gone, he remained at the table while he polished off the bottle of wine.
“It was her parents, you know. Her dad never understood me. Thought I was a weirdo, just because I like things orderly. Her mom didn’t like me because I have food allergies and it made her job so hard when we came over to eat.”
He said the last part like he was imitating what her mom would sound like. My guess was it was a bad imitation, but what did I know?
“Beth will regret breaking up with me. I’ll make sure of it.”
Poor Daniel. I didn’t know how much was the wine talking, but he had really taken the breakup hard. Just like me.
And just like me, he was alone, with no one to turn to.
He finished the bottle by drinking directly from it. When he set it down he looked directly at me and screamed.
I screamed, jumped back and tumbled over the chair. He looked around, desperately, and finally wielded his fork my direction.
“Wh-who are you? How did you get in here?”
He stumbled as he backed away, a real tough guy with a fork.
“How can you see me?” I asked, as if he knew.
“I drank waaay too much,” he said, now eyeing the bottle as if it was the culprit.
Suddenly the realization of the danger of my situation hit me. I couldn’t interfere, yet I didn’t know how he could see me, which means I didn’t know how to make him not see me. I could leave, probably make up a decent enough excuse that Daniel would accept in his intoxicated state, but then I wouldn’t be here when he died. I was on a short leash and couldn’t afford to mess up. I had to collect his soul.
But I had to be careful not to change Daniel’s death. If I did, this might be my last job as a reaper.
That meant I had to stay with Daniel and make sure he went through with ending his life tonight.
My head spun so I picked up the chair and sat, burying my head in my hands.
I heard movement and wondered if Daniel was preparing to attack with his fork. I can’t say I would blame him.
When I looked up, he sat across from me, a second bottle of wine on the table and two full glasses. He picked one up and nodded toward the other.
My eyes flittered between the glass and his face. He either thought I had come to drink with him, or decided I needed it as much as he did. Maybe I did.
I slowly, reluctantly, picked up the glass and he tapped his against mine. He nodded, encouraging me to drink.
How could this get any weirder? I took a sip, coughed, and felt a slight burn down my throat. But the taste! It was sweet, wonderful, so I took another.
Daniel’s face lit up as my sips became drinks and soon was ready for a second glass.
“What’s your story?”
When I hesitated, not sure what to say, he repeated himself. “What’s your story? You lost someone too. I can see it all over your face.”
“I, her name is Sheila.”
He nodded knowingly, so I continued, and as he encouraged me, I laid out my whole, short, intoxicating relationship with Sheila. It felt good to unburden my soul…when I suddenly broke out into laughter at my Reaper School humor I had to lie and tell him it was a private joke between Sheila and me that I had remembered.
When I finished he told me more about Beth—how they met, what she meant to him, and how it came tumbling down without warning.
By the time he finished his story, the bottle was empty and we were both blubbering fools. I didn’t care that the room spun a little or that snot dripped into my mouth on occasion or that I had forgotten what time Daniel was supposed to kill himself, he understood how I felt and that was worth everything.
When Daniel opened a third bottle I couldn’t figure out if that was a good idea or not. I was still working through the risks when I realized I was halfway through another glass. It would have to wait until later. Daniel and I had more important things to do.
When Rick and Stan appeared, I kind of thought that meant something bad, but I couldn’t remember what. Daniel immediately poured two more glasses and offered them to the new guests.
I mirrored Rick’s broad smile—what a happy guy—and raised my glass to his. He clunked his glass but didn’t drink. How rude.
Stan plopped down in the only empty chair, threw his feet on the table, and downed his glass, and refilled.
I introduced Rick and Stan, then whispered to Daniel, because it finally dawned on me why they were here. “I forgot to tell you, I’m the Grim Reaper and I’m here to collect your soul. This is Rick and Stan”—I motioned to them during introductions—“and I’m to deliver your soul to them.”
Daniel nodded to Rick. “Well, the least they could do is have a drink first.”
“Yeah,” I told Rick, “have a drink first.”
“Come on,” Stan encouraged. “You’re so stiff.”
“We’re not supposed to interact with the humans!”
Rick made it sound like I had done a bad thing. I tried to explain how I had arrived to do my job, just like I was supposed to, and somehow Daniel could see me. I didn’t know how. “I couldn’t just leave, because then no one would be here when he, well, you know, when he…” I left it at that.
Rick paced, but did so with the glass of wine.
“No harm, no foul,” Stan said as he finished off another glass, looking more relaxed than when he had arrived, if that were possible.
Rick shoved the bear aside and I tensed when Daniel gasped and looked longingly at the stuffed animal. Rick ignored him and poured another glass.
I expected Daniel to lash out at Rick, but instead he laughed, pointing at the bear. I didn’t know what was funny, but found myself laughing with him. When Daniel grabbed the fork and violently attacked the innocent bear, Stan joined the laughter.
Daniel quickly tired, handing me the fork and encouraged me to continue while he laid on the floor in hysterics. I nearly had the bear’s left leg off when Stan asked for the fork. By the time we had finished, the bear was empty and so was the bottle we had left unattended on the table with Rick. His head lay on the table, eyes shut.
“He’s unconscious,” Stan announced.
I looked at Daniel, on the floor, eyes closed, breathing deeply.
I failed the ability to understand what had happened.
“Is he dying? Or does this mean I screwed up and am going to get fired?” I swallowed. “Or killed?”
“We’ll have to check records to see what the new projection for his death is, but my guess is that he’ll wake up thinking the evening was a strange drunken hallucination, but he’ll rebound and come out of his funk. He genuinely had a good time tonight.
My chest got tight and my body tensed. “What happens to me?”
This was the end.
“I’m going to make this go away for you.”
I ran and hugged Stan. He stiffened, grumbled, and did not return the affection. I held on until he forced me off.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
“Don’t get me wrong, G.R. We aren’t suddenly buddies. And you owe me one.”
I quickly agreed.
“This isn’t about you.” He smiled wryly at his partner. “We’re going to pin this whole mess on Rick.”
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