By Jon Crout.
Vaughn stared down Kennedy from the other end of the deserted, dust blown street.
“Your portrayal of Chris Adams was too far removed from the original to be credibly considered the same character,” he called down the road.
Kennedy narrowed his eyes and ran his thumbs along the top of his holster belt.
“You’re probably right,” he called back. “Shall we join the others?”
Vaughn smiled. “Certainly. After you.” They stepped off the street side by side and sauntered through the saloon doors. “Yul, are you in here?”
“Do you know why we’ve asked you here today?”
Death shuffled on his plastic chair and tugged in a nervous way at his robe. He sat across a desk from a panel of three people.
“To discuss my raise?” he shrugged.
“No, definitely not that. But you bring me on neatly to a point we would like to address, namely, your attitude”.
Death said nothing. The woman directly opposite him continued.
“Whilst we do not question your commitment, we have reason to call into question how seriously you have been taking your duties this past year. Would you care to comment?”
Death remained, well, deathly silent.
“I have obtained, from sources that shall remain nameless, a list….”
“Bastard! I’ll have him next! What a grass!” Death had jumped up, and was hopping from one skeletal foot to another.
“Mr Death!” One of the other gentlemen that made up this interviewing panel made his voice heard, pushing his spectacles up his old face. “If you would kindly lay down the scythe, so that we may continue?” Death complied, looking as sheepish as it is possible for a skeleton in a robe to do.
In a well-stocked music studio, Prince and David Bowie were absorbed in a jam, as they harmonised with fervent and friendly competitiveness while Rick Parfitt produced wonderfully original chords on his guitar.
“It was just a bit of fun,” Death started to explain. “We always have a bit of a laugh at the end of year party, me and the boys, and I guess things may have gone a bit too far.”
“I should say so,” replied the third member of the panel, a humourless man wearing a German wartime uniform, and sporting a Hitler moustache.
The arbitration panel for the Realm Indeterminate was an unconsciously elected trio, voted in subconsciously by all those to have so far shuffled off their mortal coil. Without knowing it, their nomination for those most suited to judge on matters of procedural order and policy pertaining to the given rules of the afterlife was gleaned from their memory energy. In a strange twist, the panel could even be made up of persons still living. They would, when required, provide an astral projection when the panel was sitting, and be returned to their corporeal form on conclusion of business, with no memory of their participation. And a new panel was chosen each time a ruling was required. This time the panel consisted of two gentlemen, one a former military leader, deceased, and the other a media magnate, still living, just. The chair was a woman still alive and active in local politics. All in all, a peculiar way of doing things.
A comfortable large drawing room served as a study area for Victoria Wood, Jimmy Perry and Caroline Aherne as they started sketching out characters and plots for a situation comedy to rival all others. Andrew Sachs was on hand to provide assistance in improvising scenes.
The older man had an air of superiority and looked down his long nose, rasping in a time-worn Australian accent. “We understand things went a ‘bit too far’ at last year’s Christmas party?”
Death turned to him and held out his arms.
“Well, you know how it is. It’s always the same when me and the other horsemen get together, a bit of horseplay, you might say?”
The panel were impassive, so it seemed that they might not actually say that after all.
“There was some sort of wager?” the woman asked.
“I suppose you could call it that, yes”.
“But instead of money, upon losing, you were duty bound to cull a certain number of celebrity lives before the end of this following year. Is that correct?”
Death wagged a bony finger. “Now look, statistically everything is by the book, there’s been no more people dying than is proportionately appropriate, I’ve done my sums.”
“You may have done your sums, but you’ve been working to this list that the other horsemen put together for you, haven’t you?”
The woman looked angry as she held up a stained paper napkin with an indeterminable amount of scribble on it, her rotund cheeks flushed.
“Look, I’m sorry, but a bet’s a bet, you know?”
Hitler (for it was he) banged a fist on the table. “No! It is not allowed. Rules have been broken!”
Death was not backing down. “I haven’t taken any more than I should, people expect Death, there’s nothing happening that isn’t, well, part of life. How can people get so shocked just because some really old celebrities have popped their clogs, or because people in the public eye have turned out to be susceptible to the same terminal conditions as everyone else? Surely we need a bit less of the ‘oh no, that lovely nonagenarian has been taken, how unjust and cruel!’?”
Hitler leaned forward. “Of course people expect Death, of course it touches everyone in the end. But the natural order should persist. If you start taking people in an order that’s been decided by your pissed mates shouting out names at random, then people are going to notice!”
The door to the sparse room in which this unusual interview was taking place opened unexpectedly, and another woman popped her head around it. Rupert got to his feet and tugged an absent forelock.
“Ah, Carrie, I think you need Reception, it’s at the far end of the corridor.”
“And when you’re done, I know that Gareth Thomas and Anton Yelchin are keen to talk to you about an idea for a new sci-fi show they’ve come up with. Oh, and Carrie?”
“May the force be with you!”
“Drop dead.” The door closed again, followed by a muffled “Oh, hi Mom”.
At a beach-front bar, Terry Wogan and Jimmy Young were taking it in turns to spins discs over the PA from the DJ booth. Muhammad Ali, Johann Cruyff and Arnold Palmer were sat together nearby, finalising the details of a round robin sports tournament they had devised.
“I guess I could go easy next year, devise a much more balanced list, take less noticeable people?” Death was trying to think of ways to make amends.
“I’m afraid it’s gone beyond that. That’s just not how it works. You have crossed a line. I have further reports that you have been telling people as you bring them in that their life energy and consciousness will soon dissipate and become part of a great cloud of indistinct ghost energy!”
“Heh, well, the bet, you know…”
“And you’ve even been rapping to some of them! Rapping! I think I quote you correctly, ‘Dying is easy, dying is good, ask the skeletal guy with the scythe and the hood’.”
The featureless skeleton managed to look embarrassed. “Ah…”
Murdoch had his head in his hands. “Tell him, Penny.”
“Enough! I have to inform you that despite your long tenure, and many years previous good service, we have decided to relieve you of your duties”. The woman in front of death had her elbows on the desk, and was pressing the fingertips of one hand forcefully into the fingertips of the other.
“What? You can’t! How can you have no Death?”
“You’re correct, we can’t. We are rotating our iconography. Mistress Death cannot join us until New Year’s Day, but you are relieved with immediate effect. We require you to hand in your scythe to stores as you leave. Thank you, Mr Death, that will be all.”
Death paused, stunned. “You mean there will be no Death until after New Year’s Eve?”
“In the circumstances, do you think anyone is likely to complain? Good day!”
Death closed the door behind himself, and strolled down the infinite corridor a little way, stopping at the door labelled ‘Stores’. He span his scythe around in his hand a couple of times, watching the light glint off the impossibly sharp tip. He fully extended his wings once, pulled out his calendar for 2016 for a quick look, then folded them both away again. Firmly clutching his scythe, he completely failed to knock the door, and sauntered off down the corridor. He passed door after door, well aware of the scenes being played out behind each one, whether it was a Willy Wonka and Paul Daniels teaching weird tricks to a Brazilian football team, or Richard Neville and Howard Marks swapping smoking stories with Fidel Castro. Despite lacking the obvious means to make the sound, Death started whistling George Michael’s ‘John and Elvis are Dead’, and he carried on walking.
This story was originally published on the Dr Manfratton blog.