The 'FUN' in Funeral

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
When lara meets grim she decides her funeral is going to be unconventional... bringing a sense of joy to the proceedings. The afterlife will never be the same again! a humble tale told with heart, humour and hope. Yet somehow infinite in spirit. For all.

Submitted: December 06, 2015

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Submitted: December 06, 2015

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THE 'FUN' IN FUNERAL

Part One

A LONG TIME AGO, I USED TO CARE ABOUT THINGS. Things like people, my bank balance, the latest music sensations, or the way that guy at the bus stop smiled at me causing my lips to protest in indifference. I guess there are others like me, people who have simply stopped caring. After all, the momentous effort required to care can take its toll over time on even the most giving of hearts.

But, perhaps, it is more a case of reciprocation. Cold, harsh, unwavering humans are all I've ever really known. From my distant part-time dad, who only turns up at the odd Christmas with his shy sheepdog Reginald in tow, to collect his poorly wrapped gift leaving in a drunken stupor before the Queen's speech. To my indigent, inhuman work colleagues who sit glued to their computer screens, flinching at the slightest of motions in silent pray hoping nobody will disturb them from the promising glow of the virtual realities in which they so comfortably dwell.

Really, I shouldn't antagonise myself with such thoughts when showering. But, something about warm water parading on my head makes me analyse the plight of existence with dire sentiment and ridicule. Maybe some shampoo will help wash away the latest grim narcissistic loathing?

My small shower-come-bathtub is a tight squeeze and the enamel bathtub could use a good scrub or entire upgrade, if I could afford it. I web out my wet feet allowing water to carelessly seep between the toes. Lathering shampoo into my long hair seems to momentarily amend my mood as I try to forget the long day I've just endured. I tilt my head underneath the hanging showerhead, allowing water to send waves of soapy bubbles all over me.

After a few minutes, I turn off the shower and swing out the screen door turning on the heel of my foot to exit, but suddenly my legs give way and I'm flying through the air…

Everything slows down, even my heartbeat which impedes inside my chest, although time is indeed ticking away at momentous speed. My body stumbles as I slip against the warm soapy water, trying to catch myself futilely. I feel myself clench, awaiting the impact of this hazardous plummet.

My initial shock is then replaced by reflex and deep rooted survival instinct, which finally stirs awake in bleak realisation. Desperately, I try to grab at something… anything… but all I have is wet tiles to my right and a shower screen to the left just inches out of reach. Slipping and sliding in comical yet grievous fashion, my body gives way completely, sliding out from gravity's hold in one swift move and I drift in the air a moment.

Facing the drab ceiling, I fall closer to the hard surface below, a short cry escaping my quivering lips. A small part of me wonders whether I 'care' enough to save myself from this misadventure, but that is just me trying to deter from the sheer stupidity of the situation.

The first thing that hits the grubby white bathtub is the back of my head. It makes a loud crack sound, before my shoulders and back both take a painful whack, seizing up in anguish. Finally, my floating legs hurtle down bending awkwardly, resembling a discarded ragdoll, with one leg draped halfway out the tub.

It's a most unflattering position and the indignity makes me wilt in horror. My light brown hair is turning a dark sticky red as blood trails from it in abundance, washing away down into the plughole. My grey eyes are still open in fright, but motionless as if painted on a statue.

I step back, staring at my corpse as it lay indignantly in the blooded bath, shaking my head in utter denial.

"I can't be dead," I whisper to myself. "Not like this..." I choke.

"Hello, Miss…?" The voice behind startles me. Not because there's somebody in my bathroom, or the fact that I'm dead but still stood here gawping at my dead body, but because the voice is deep and soothing, like a skilled storyteller reciting Shakespeare with passion and graceful beauty.

I slowly turn on my feet to face him. A dark figure stands before me. A strange black material is contorted around his tall slender body, almost in a mummified fashion. He is holding an elongated wooden staff with a long curved blade at the end. I can't see his face because it's hidden under a dark pointed hood through which he just looks at me in absolute calm.

I want to scream, just because it feels like the natural reaction to this type of situation, but I can't. Instead I mumble, "Hello?" and step back towards my dead body lounging behind me in the bathtub.

"Miss? What was it?" He asks again politely.

I can't seem to work my mouth in that normal up and down motion I usually do. His hood is looking at me patiently and I have a strange sense that underneath it he's smiling at me.

"Er, Greaves," I reply finally and add, "Am I dead?"

He slowly nods and his scythe motions towards the bathtub and I turn my head to look once more at my lifeless body.

"Ah…" is all I can think to say.

"Dumb question," he notes.

My face flashes with anger.

"Sorry," he adds quickly and shuffles slightly as if embarrassed.

I realise I'm still scowling and drop to my normal indifferent expression.

"So, shall we get going, Miss Greaves?" He asks pleasantly, as though this is extremely common.

A wall to the right opens into a door-sized hole which is glowing white. I wonder if this is the part where I should 'stay away from the light', but glancing back at my lifeless body I can see there's no hope of revival. But still, I hesitate.

"Um, where are we going?" I ask uneasily, in a childlike manner.

"Follow me and we'll find out?" he says shrugging.

"Um, what about my… um…" My head motions behind me, to my unsophisticated fallen corpse.

He shakes his head as if chuckling, and then simply says, "It's amusing how you humans are so attached to your vessels."

His words echo around me, but I go on determined. "Can't you at least, you know… cover it with something… please?" The image of my body, lying there in all its humiliation, is disturbingly fresh in my mind.

He seems to be thinking with his head resting against his scythe. The worn brown wood is beautifully carved in circles, like the inside of tree trunks. He then walks over and picks up my purple bath towel and places it over my body, moving my dead hand to grip it, as if I had clutched at it in my last hurrah.

"There," he notes.

He's stands beside me. I can sense his eyes on me, although I can't see his face. I smile, to thank him, and then stare in awe at the white hole in front of us. It's glowing slightly, like a train tunnel with luminous strobes beckoning you closer. There's nothing particularly frightful about it and I don't feel anxiety or dread – if anything curiosity is begging me to edge towards it. But physically I can't yet find the strength to move.

The robed figure offers me his hand. I can't see the hand itself because it's wrapped in layers of black material, but I take ahold of it quickly. It feels comforting so I grasp it tightly and place it against my chest.

He just stands there unmoved, silently and contently waiting.

I look down and see myself dressed in a long white satin gown.

"Did you do this?" I ask, amazed.

He shakes his head and says, "That was you."

"But… how?" I whisper.

"This is simply your true self, Miss Greaves," he answers strangely.

I look at the long bathroom mirror hanging over the sink. It's steamed up but there's a small clear circle where the condensation has faded away. I look at the reflection and see myself looking remarkably beautiful. My crooked teeth are no longer misshaped, my hair has soft brown curls waving down past my shoulders, my complexion is clear and the stress-lines on my 30-year-old forehead seem to have all but disappeared. I had expected to see blood gushing down my head, looking ghostly transparent. But somehow, this improved and polished version of me just feels right.

"H-h-how?" I stutter, touching the side of my face in disbelief.

"Does it matter?" he asks, his voice beautifully soft and crisp in my ears.

I drop my arms to my sides in acceptance, but still hold his hand in my own securely.

"I'm ready," I say, tearing myself from the mirror.

Together we walk through the white hole as if disappearing into a cloud...

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Part Two

WE ARRIVED AT MY FUNERAL. The reason I knew it was my funeral, and not some other poor misfortunate fool's, was because of the sorry looking picture sitting above the coffin. I focused on my photograph, trying hard to recall where and when it had been taken. It barely resembled me, with a half-grinning, half-grimacing expression and eyes mid-blink, I appeared unhinged. Thankfully, I notice a small array of flowers, which spell out my name 'L A R A' sitting just below the coffin. I love flowers, even if these did look on the cheap side and, ironically, almost dead.

We were standing in a large room with wooden floorboards and high ceilings with a slanting dusty chandelier overhead. It reminded me of assembly at school, where all the kids would sit on the floor, crossed-legged, as the teachers towered above like gods, reciting the various nonsensical rules, and then rewarded the high achievers whilst us mundane types sat and forcibly clapped, reinforcing already inflated egos.

There were ten or so chairs lined up in front of my coffin but only five people were present. My dad was sat at the front with his dog Reginald who was sulking face down on the floor. Two of my work colleagues sat at the back, although their faces were hidden behind oversized smartphones. They occasionally glanced up to see if it was over before returning to swiping their thumbs in merriment. Lastly, there was an old college friend who I hadn't seen in years and my next-door neighbour who sat in the middle looking slightly out of place.

"I only just died. How can this be happening?" I asked the hooded figure who had brought me here.

He turned towards me and tilted his scythe slightly to scratch his head. "Time axis," he explained, pointing towards the white hole behind us.

"So, we just travelled through time?" I probed, with a hint of optimism.

He slowly nodded, as if unwilling to answer me, and then promptly turned his back to me.

"Can we go back in time? Like, before I slipped and cracked my head open?" I asked, a sci-fi scenario playing in my head.

"Doesn't work like that. Sorry Miss Greaves."

"Call me Lara." I sighed.

"Sorry Lara," he said with such sincerity it warmed my very essence.

"May I ask your name?" I said raising a hand in question.

"Grim," he replied.

"Very original," I said with sarcasm in full force.

I slumped down on one of the empty chairs at the funeral. The piano player finished her dreary tune and then a man in a suit stood up beside my coffin and started talking about life and death and something about soil, which I didn't much like the sound of. He then droned on about dust, but nobody was paying particular attention.

"Why have you brought me here, Grim?" I asked, reluctantly looking over at my dad who had his head drooped in his hands. I couldn't tell whether he was crying or just hung-over.

I could barely focus on what was happening around me. My body felt light and airy, like I was floating, but at the same time I felt weighed down by invisible anchors.

"This is the final part of your life, Lara. Everyone gets to see the end of their own play," Grim said.

"This blows!" I huffed and a tear rolled down my cheek unintentionally.

"I've seen worse," Grim said thoughtfully.

"Really?" I replied wiping away my tear. "Also, why am I crying if I'm fucking DEAD?"

Grim seemed to be thinking, or he was simply allowing my mourning to pass before he answered. The man in the suit started singing out of tune, whilst the rest of the room looked around uncomfortably.

"Two-way connection," Grim said finally. "You are connected to this world, ergo, you can still feel." His words lingered overhead, and I sensed a note of sadness in his voice, but for reasons I did not yet understand.

"When does this connection… end?" I asked, swallowing hard, unsure whether I wanted to know.

"It doesn't. Not really. You will always be part of this planet, as he says," and Grim motioned to the overzealous singing guy in the suit, "Dust… soil… etc."

"Oh please!" I said, unable to hold back the cynicism.

Grim just shrugged, causing layers of fabric to ripple down his arms.

We sat in silence for a moment, listening to the out of tune piano solo.

"This is dreadful," I said shaking my head in disapproval. I had never imagined my funeral as such, but I knew this was pretty rubbish.

"I've seen worse," Grim repeated.

"You've already said that!" I groaned.

"Well, I have," he repeated.

"I haven't, okay? So just shut up."

"Your mother's funeral…" he mumbled more to himself as if reminiscing.

My mom had died when I was only eleven. It was probably what sent my dad into the drunken abyss. He wasn't a bad father, just distant and lost in his own misery. Still, I hadn't thought about my mom's funeral in years. She was a loving creature, far too loving for this world.

"You – you were there?" I say, forcing the words out of my mouth.

"Of course," Grim replied, his tone still oddly soothing.

I felt like I needed to breathe, but then remembered I was dead so maybe I could forgo the oxygen for once, huh?

"Was she … with you?" I asked nervously.

"Yes, I think so." Grim said scratching his head.

"You think so?!" I yelled, twisting my body to face him, my eyes glaring in rage.

"I'm sorry, but I can't remember every single-"

"You jerk!" I cried. How dare he forget her!

Grim turned to me almost in shock and then he did something very strange. He started laughing. It was a big hearty laugh and his head was bopping up and down, like a novelty toy in a moving car.

"Stop that!" I demanded.

"It's just…" he choked through laughter, "You…" He tried to settle himself, taking a minute to regroup.

"I don't remember her specifically, Lara. But I remember you," he said, his voice returning to soft monotone silk. "She was sat next to you the whole time. Do you remember? It was raining outside and you were hiding behind the curtains?"

"No," I replied, redness filling my cheeks. I must have blocked out the day because it was too painful.

"That's okay," Grim said gently. "She was happy sitting with you. You didn't cry. Not once. She really liked that."

"Oh," I said, fighting the tears swelling in my eyes.

My dad reluctantly walked up to my coffin, waking Reginald from his depressive sulk in the process. Reginald was a dog beloved by both my dad and me, often the only thing that brought the two of us together. Reginald swiftly shot his head up and looked up at me – directly at ME! Then, with rarely seen speed and vigour, he ran, galloping towards me, his fur flying in beautiful motion.

"Hey boy!" I wailed happily, patting him as he crashed into my lap. He desperately needed a wash as his ivory white furcoat was a dirty grey, but the idea of showers now violently disturbed me. Still, his fur was soft against my hand as I patted him, but like candy floss, the sensation was evaporating and dispersing the more I stroked the old dog.

I looked over at Grim who was cowering on the chair, waving his staff in a 'shooing' manner at Reginald.

"G-Get him away from me!" Grim stuttered, shaking his scythe at Reginald who seemed utterly uninterested in him.

"Are you actually afraid of dogs?" I asked, and this time it was my turn to laugh.

I squished up Reginald's face in my hands and turned his cute sappy mug towards Grim. "See – he likes you!" I said grinning, but Grim just edged further back, almost tumbling off the chair. My dad quickly ran over and grabbed Reginald, pulling him back to his seat.

"Dad!" I shouted, but he didn't even look in my direction. "DAD! DAD!" I cried again, but there was no point. Nobody could see me, well except dogs apparently.

Just then the whole room went silent. My coffin jerked slightly on the platform escalator and rusty wheels squeaked as it moved towards the red and gold curtains at the end. The piano player started to play again, hitting a bum note but quickly recovering. I cocked an ear, listening to the familiar sounding melody I couldn't quite place. But then, the horrible singing began…

The man in the suit and the piano player belted out Celine Dion's 'My Heart Will Go On' with almighty enthusiasm and feeling and in that moment I felt myself die all over again. In fact, my teeth started grinding together and my hands formed into tight angry balls. A piece of enamel even flew out my mouth like grain.

"GET ME OUT OF HERE GRIM!" I screamed over the horribly loud music. I lurched at him wildly when he didn't move, clutching his many layers of material for dear life, or in my case, lack of.

"PLEASE!" I begged him. The song wailed on, resounding excruciatingly in my ears like exploding bombs. This was probably my worst nightmare, and yet it was my funeral! I felt like shaking something, and unfortunately Grim was that something.

I closed my eyes, still shaking Grim with all my might, and as poor Reginald looked on, whimpering from a distance, we both simply vanished into thin air...

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Part Three

WE WERE SAT PERCHED ON A CLOCK TOWER. The hands ticked onto the numbers eight and twelve simultaneously, clicking with ease into place. The bells chimed quaintly eight times, and then there was a serene silence.

"Okay, that was pretty bad," Grim said finally. His legs were dangling over the edge of the tower, swaying occasionally against the breeze.

"Thanks," I said, taking my feeble victory. Solemnly, I peered out over the city as the night caped it under a blanket of darkness.

"Where are we?" I asked Grim who was chipping away at his wooden staff with a single long fingernail.

"Erm… Belfast?" he said with a large dose of uncertainty.

I wasn't well travelled so couldn't tell the difference between Sydney and Newfoundland, but right now I didn't much care.

"I guess this is it then?" I said bleakly, staring down the long tower trying to make out the garden foliage far below us.

"Is what?" Grim asked curiously.

"The end?" I sighed, rising an eyebrow.

"Um." he mumbled.

"Um?"

"Yes um... I'm thinking," Grim said, still chipping away at his scythe, not looking at me.

"About?" I queried.

"Well… that was a pretty awful funeral. It just doesn't seem right, to, well, end on that note." Grim said, nodding to himself.

I smiled. "No, it doesn't..."

An idea suddenly entered my overworked imagination. Partly because I couldn't be sure whether this was some sci-fi educed dream, with monitors and wires hooked up to my scalp, or whether I was just heavily medicated and had overdosed on insanity in the process. But the idea made complete sense.

I scanned the skyline before us, making out twinkling lights in homes as people sat down to dinner or to watch their favourite TV shows, warmly snuggled up on the sofa with a beautiful cup of tea in hand. The thought made me want to weep, uncontrollably, but I held my nerve.

It was Autumn and coming up to Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night, both of which meant only one thing. Carnivals. Carnie folks would turn up at local parks, pitch their various attractions, and wait for the public to flock to them like fun seeking parasites.

"There!" I said to Grim, pointing wildly. It was pretty dark, but in the far off distance I could see an array of lights and what looked like giant teacups circling and twisting, probably full of screaming teenagers and thumping dance music as the thrill seekers turned upside down and were flung around like a bag of bones.

Grim bobbed his head and looked around aimlessly at the landscape before us, shrugging in confusion.

"Carnival!" I squealed, my inner child unleashing itself from the chains I had so long ago attached.

Grim shook his head slightly and I could almost picture a 'no way!' expression paling his face. Regardless, I swiftly wrapped both arms around Grim and flung us both off the tower with impressive gusto.

I screamed "Whoo-hoooooo!" as we tumbled down, because apparently my sanity was on vacation and had left an idiot in charge. My legs were bumbling and flying through the air as we plummeted with accelerating speed closer to the earth below. Grim's various layers were unravelling, like a spun mummy in a comical cartoon.

An innocent cat strutting along the pathway looked up at us and screeched, freezing in terror, hairs standing on ends, before it dashed off like a racehorse.

I couldn't understand why we were still falling. Grim had managed to poof us onto the tower from my nightmarish funeral with easement. So why the hell wasn't he saving us now?!

"OH SHIT!" I yelled with a long stretched out 'T' for good measure. We were an inch from the flowerbeds. Panic set in. It didn't matter if I was dead as this 'two-way connection' was making me feel every bit alive. I closed my eyes as tightly as I could against the strong friction of the wind. My left hand was still gripping Grim's waist, clutching him as we flew wildly through the air.

We crashed with a THUD. But there was no pain. No earth shattering crash. I was still here...

With uttermost care I slowly prized my eyes open, half expecting to see another dead version of myself lying on the ground. But, what I saw were carnival goers, merrily passing me by without a care in the world. My eyes widened in wonderment and relief. I could see a food cart to the left serving up burgers and fries, a game booth to the right with 'hook a duck' in flashing lights above, and all around me music and lights, enticing all to the array of attractions on offer.

"Wow!" I exclaimed, turning to Grim. His posture looked putout and grave, but he always looked that way. He was gripping his scythe and kicking the ground with his pointy wizard style boots, like a child mid-tantrum.

"Come on!" I said, gently pulling his arm to the nearest ride. He didn't say anything, just continued looking at the ground, kicking shards of dust into the air.

Nobody around us seemed to notice or even step in our direction. I had imagined somebody walking through my 'ghostly' figure, but that never happened either. It was as though we were surrounded by a forcefield.

"How'd you do that?" I asked referring to clock tower skydive.

He fidgeted on the spot, pretending not to hear me. I waited out Grim's tantrum by enjoying the electric atmosphere and fun-fuelled sounds and sights around.

"This," he replied holding up his scythe and waving it angrily.

"Oh. What about that white door thingy?" I questioned.

"I was just showing off," he huffed.

I pretended to cough, just to cover my smirking lips.

After a few more minutes sulking and, followed by my insistent pleading, Grim finally caved. He admitted this was highly unorthodox, but strangely, he also sounded pleased about that.

We spent the next few hours spinning on teacups and being shot in the air on what appeared to be a rocket ship, then riding toy horses that bobbed up and down a lot faster than anticipated, as evident by my nearly falling off twice. I laughed so much my ribs started aching. Grim stayed upright and well posed during all rides - he didn't even flinch when we were flung in the air and wildly shaken around in toy cubicles, his sense of balance and displacement truly astonishing.

As the carnival slowly grinded to a halt, with the last few people leaving arms full to the brim with oversized stuffed toys and candyfloss, Grim asked if I was ready to leave. I nodded, still grinning rather manically from my last spin of the giant Ferris wheel.

Grim then whisked us away in a blink of an eye.

 

My eyelids opened and I saw we were on a long, stylish boat. A couple, dressed in black tie and sparkling cocktail dress, disappeared into the cabin, arms wrapped around each other sweetly. I could hear music playing from inside the cabin and peered in through the circular windowpane. A room of well-dressed people were mingling and laughing whilst holding champagne flutes, and some were even ballroom dancing under spotlights which glittered across the floorboards delightfully.

"Very fancy," I said, feeling slightly out of place.

I looked down at myself and saw my white robe had become its own long white gown, with an open curved back and glistening diamond studs running down the perfectly stitched seams. I'd never seen myself look so classy.

The side of the boat was weaved with glowing fairy lights creating a sense of instant warmth and merriment. Grim and I leaned over the boat, looking down at the water pulsating against the rims as it gently hummed along the sea.

"It's so beautiful here," I said, turning to Grim, who seemed to be waiting for my reaction. Grim then nodded contently, tilting his head in what could be deemed shyness.

The music briefly stopped and the voices from inside settled to a quiet purr, awaiting the next song to begin. Frank Sinatra's classical tune soon wafted through the air. The sweet melody filled my entire being with bountiful joy. I listened in glee, scrubbing away the abysmal memories of my funeral playlist.

~Fly me to the moon~

~Let me play among the stars~

~Let me see what spring is like~

~On a Jupiter and Mars~

"I've never danced before," I said coyly, feeling a sense of excitement bubbling away.

"Miss Greaves, may I have the pleasure of this dance?" Grim said without hesitation.

"You may, Mister Grim," I laughed, taking his hand.

Grim led the dance magnificently. I almost lost my footing once or twice, but he guided me back into the ballroom sway with professionalism and grace. We spun, swirled and glided across the boat like angels, as the instrumental music edged us to speed up. The dizziness made me laugh in hysterics, which only made Grim spin me faster. It was truly magical.

As the song ended, we sat down to rest and watch the stars scattered in the sky like tiny radiant worlds. I felt a sobering truth wash over me.

"If this was my only life, why didn't I live it how I wanted? Instead of worrying about what other people thought, felt, wanted…" I seethed at myself.

"You did what you could," Grim said reassuringly.

"I should have done more. Not…"

"Wasted time?" Grim said, finishing my sentence as if he'd heard it before.

I nodded weakly. My mood had fluctuated so often, I just couldn't keep up with all the turmoil and fun.

"Do people ever get a second chance?" I asked resting my head on Grim's broad shoulder.

He held his chin in his free hand, looking deep in thought.

"Sometimes, and only when it's deserved. A second chance at life is reserved for those who truly warrant such a… gift." His words echoed a sense of longing.

"But what of those who don't deserve anything?" I asked with concern, looking around at this idyllic floating dream on which we was sat, I hoped this wasn't waiting for everyone.

"They end when their vessels die. They have no other form. That is everything they are… and nothing more." Grim said sternly.

"I have more forms?" I asked in delight.

"Of course you do Lara. But not everyone does."

"Only the… good ones?" I asked, unable to find a better word.

Death smiled at me. I could see his smile behind his rags of black fabric that draped around his face. A leathery silver skin peeking out, looking like steel but as if gently moulded with love. As his lips curled into a long warm smile, I found it hard to look away.

"Do you spend this much time with everyone who, you know, dies?" I muttered sheepishly.

Grim cowered back under his hood, looking at his feet.

"Well?" I pressed.

"Um."

"Um?"

"Not always," he said finally.

I raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to go on.

"Time axis," he said quickly as if following a trail of thought. "I have plenty of time."

"Oh," I said, somewhat deflated.

"We should go," Grim said, standing up and looking into the distance, as though he could see something I could not.

"Is it my time to go?" I whimpered, my voice shaky and small.

"No. I mean - where to next, Lara?" Grim asked me sweetly.

"I get to pick?" I asked excitedly.

He nodded.

I didn't even have to think. "Well, in that case…"

I leaned over and whispered into what I assumed was Grim's ear, and with that we were gone...

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Part Four

LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL – but these surroundings weren't. However, they worked well to remind me of life's humble splendour. We were in a small local park, with a backdrop of grey council houses, in a rundown part of West London. My mom used to bring me here when I was little and sitting here now sharpened my fond memories of our time together.

The giant trees had tinted into handsome orangey-red autumnal colours and encompassed the whole park in a warm embrace. I watched the trees swaying delicately in animation, moved by the slightest of breeze. The sun was starting to climb sleepily in the far off distance, while dark storm clouds hovered above dauntingly. Birds were dancing in majestic unison, rising and falling to the ground in flight, resembling a shaken blanket, before settling back onto the bed of grass. It was perhaps the single most beautiful dance I had ever seen in my life, my own dance with Grim excluded, and a part of me wondered why, only now, I noticed the birds, the sun, and the trees… as if I had been blind this whole time.

"Beauty is everywhere," Grim said as if he'd heard my innermost thoughts. We were sat on a park bench and Grim was stroking a lonesome ginger and white cat as it lazed in his lap purring.

"Did anyone ever tell you that you're pretty cute?" I said grinning at the sight of a Grim Reaper stroking a stray cat so tenderly.

"Yes," he replied mockingly. "All the time. In fact, I can't remember the last time somebody didn't tell me I was… cute," he said mincing his words.

"Touchy!" I laughed. It was good to see that even Death had a flawed personality. He seemed almost human somehow. I patted the cat on its soft furry head and it looked at me through one open eye before going back to snoozing.

"Sorry, I'm just a bit… bored." Grim sighed.

"Well, I'm sorry I can't be more entertaining?"

"It's not you. It's this whole – job," he spat.

"Why don't you just quit?" I asked, turning to face his hunched-over hood. If depressed could be captured by a single dark hood, this is what it would look like.

"I wish I could…" he said, trailing off in thought.

"Well, look at me," I said, scratching the cat under its ear, "Most people just sing in the shower, whereas I go and die."

Grim turned to face me and started shaking slightly, rocking the cat on his lap, before laughter roared out of him, echoing across the parkland. I couldn't help but join in.

Abruptly, our laughter was pierced by a bloodcurdling scream. It vibrated through the trees, almost shaking them in a cold shiver. It sounded as if someone was in uncontrollable pain.

"What was that?" I asked, my heart pounding – or maybe I had just imagined it was pounding?

Grim didn't answer. He just took my hand and raised his scythe, causing the cat to leap out of his lap with a start, and then suddenly we were standing in a dark alleyway.

 

One dim streetlight slightly flickered and a thin mist slowly dispensed through the air, fogging the surroundings. Another loud cry resounded but this time it was much closer and had a prominent undertone of fear. I looked around for Grim, but he'd already begun walking towards the sound.

"What–" I started to say, but fell silent as I could now see a young teenage boy lying on the road, holding his chest tightly. A single hand was gripping at his mouth as if trying to muffle his own cries. His hands were coated in watery blood and his face was twisted in painful misery.

"We have to help him!" I gasped, running over to the boy who could be no more than sixteen years old. I quickly pressed my hands over his chest, feeling the warmth of the blood tingle my fingers. Evidently my connection to this planet was still strong enough to grant me the gift of touch. I spoke to the boy but he couldn't hear or see me. He choked and wheezed in pain, his breathing becoming more and more shallow. Gradually, the boy's soft brown eyes started dimming before me, until his eyes closed completely.

"Grim! Please do something!" I begged. But Grim only stood in stare, ominously hovering in the shadows as though watching a ticking clock.

I soon realised I couldn't feel the boy's beating heart anymore. I prayed it was just my connection to this world that was fading, and not him. But when I glanced up, the boy was stood beside his body, looking down at it with wide, terrified eyes.

"W-what?" he spoke slowly in shock. He pointed at his body and shook his head dumbfounded. I backed away from the blood stained body on the ground, unsure what I could do now that he was dead.

Grim reluctantly edged closer, his scythe scrapping against the pavement as if unwilling to move. I studied Grim a moment, the weariness in his posture and his listless, solemn movements, as if centuries had finally taken their toll on his very spirit.

Grim was speaking to the boy, probably a similar conversation to the one he'd had with me when I discovered my dead body, but I wasn't listening. My eyes were fixated on the boy who was visibly shaking and seemed unable to comprehend anything Grim was saying. The boy was dressed in jeans and a steel grey puffa jacket, the large red circle on his chest staining the light beige jumper underneath. I could see the boy was crying.

Grim turned to me and said, "Lara, please look away," and placed his hands on my shoulder gently rotating me towards a car parked on the other side of the road.

"Why?" I asked, although I think I knew.

"I have to… send him over," Grim said sadly, glancing back at the boy.

"Send him where?" I went on, feeling a sense of unrest rising within me.

"Where he needs to go…" Grim said softly.

"And me?" I asked stopping the rotation Grim had spun me on.

Grim looked at me through his hood, his leathery silver skin sparkling under the streetlight. His silver lips weaved into a small smile and his eye glowed like two full moons on a clear night.

He leaned in and whispered in my ear, "You can stay with me, Lara."

I scrunched up my face up in deep thought. "Like your companion?" I asked, not disliking the idea but unclear what he meant. After all, we were perhaps both lonesome creatures in a world that didn't quite care for our presence. In an odd way, I felt as though Grim understood me.

Grim nodded reassuringly. The young boy behind us was getting restless. I quickly realised dying wasn't an easy transition for us all and everyone dealt with the loss of life differently.

"Now, turn around," Grim said firmly, and I faced the car with my back to them both.

I heard Grim slowly patter back to the boy who was no doubt confused and hurting, which I knew from seeing my own dead body lying in the bathtub not long ago. But a deep sense of curiosity itched at me. I fought turning around to see what was happening and instead gazed at the car in front of me. I noticed a side mirror on the car and, looking into it, I could see a reflection…

Although slightly vague, Grim was standing next to the boy, offering him his hand. The boy took it almost immediately and held it against his chest, before looking down at his dead body and then back up at Grim repeatedly in a disturbed fashion.

Grim moved closer towards the boy and very gently took him in embrace. The boy appeared to almost sink into Grim's chest, hugging him back snugly. Grim then whispered something in the boy's ear, which I could only hear very faintly, like trickling rain... Then the boy was simply gone, as if dissolved within Grim.

My mouth dropped… My hands started shaking… My eyes became hot with forming tears that wouldn't release, but instead stung... I couldn't understand what I had seen… I felt afraid… confused… unsafe…

Unexpectedly, an unknown sweet voice whispered into my ear – it was the same words Grim had said to the boy just now, but crystal clear. I clutched myself tightly anticipating the end…

Instead, I heard a flutter of wings take off in flight, and suddenly a sense of calmness washed over me. I was still here and more importantly, I knew why.

I turned around and saw Grim walking back towards me, head lowered in gloom. He stopped in front of me, scythe leaning against his chest while he crossed his arms questioningly.

"You looked, didn't you?" he asked me unsure.

"Me? No," I said unconvincingly, fidgeting with my sleeves. I was never very good at deceit. My face was like an alarm blaring and flashing, calling all to attention.

"Lara," he said sternly, and then studying me a moment, he just knew. Grim stumbled back slightly, the scythe almost dropping from his grasp.

We both knew in this grotty London back alley everything was about to change… for the better.

"Grim," I said softly, offering him my hand.

"This – this – can't be…" he stuttered, shaking his head so hard that his hood dropped to reveal his thin delicate face. His features were beautifully prominent, and if not for the worn silver skin which paled him, he would have been a most handsome creature. His luminous eyes stared at me with a mixture of joy and sadness.

Finally he took my hand and placed it lovingly on his chest.

"It's time for you to live, Grim," I said, my joy and sadness diluting together. Pools of tears dripped down my cheeks in a most silly manner. I barely knew Grim. He was just a creature who chauffeured mortals from realm to realm, or so I imagined. But somehow, I had started to care about him. Finally, I actually cared about something.

"What if I don't… live?" he asked, fear creeping into his voice. He slightly backed away, but not far as he still held my hand against his chest.

"You will," I whispered, my eyes holding his. "A second chance at life is reserved for those who truly warrant such a gift. Personally, I can't think of anyone more deserving."

He smiled, perplexed but pleased. "I'm going to miss you Lara," he said softly, moving closer towards me.

"Don't worry, you'll see me again… for your fun funeral," I said winking at him.

"I wouldn't expect anything less from you..." Grim beamed.

We locked in embrace, holding one another close, as two old friends saying a final goodbye. My face brushed against Grim's feeling the deep warmth radiating from him, warmth I wouldn't have believed existed. He was truly a remarkable creature and I certainly had big shoes to fill. I held him tighter and we swayed together in dance for a while.

"Don't forget to find me," he said, handing me his scythe. I held it behind his back and nodded, reluctant to let him go.

"I'm ready," he whispered in my ear, his voice tranquil like a calm ocean.

I closed my eyes and, hesitantly, whispered the words I had heard, unsure what they meant or how I'd remembered them, but just knowing they were the right words.

When I opened my eyes Grim was gone.

I dropped the scythe and fell to my knees. A sense of profound loneliness washed over me. The street was completely deserted, with nothing around to comfort me. The clouds erupted with rain, drenching my sorrow. I knew now why Grim wanted to keep me around. I thought about him and all the millions of years he'd been doing this job, if that's what you'd call it. Someone had to carry it on. It just so happened to be me.

I got up and noticed my attire was now entirely black. A long silk robe and hood perched on my head. I wondered if these too would turn into tattered rags over time like Grim's had, but it didn't matter. My hood wasn't as all encompassing as Grim's as you could see the outline of my face, which I liked. The robe was flattering and had a slight shimmer to it as I moved.

"Okay scythe," I said, unsure about these new powers. I banged the wooden staff on the ground and shakily said, "Let's go!"

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I was stood outside a school with busy traffic halted on both sides of the road. Everything was eerily quiet, which instantly struck me as odd. It was obviously the end of the school day as children stood holding their parent's hand, waiting to be lead home, and this amount of traffic not moving without a single beeped horn suggested something wasn't quite right.

Then I felt someone tug at my robe for attention. I looked down and saw a little girl, only five or six years old, standing next to me smiling. I smiled back instinctively.

I quickly glanced up to where a group of people were gathered around and saw her there too. The same little girl, collapsed on the ground, her legs twisted around her red bike, a deep wound to her forehead, eyes closed… dead. A boy, slightly older maybe 8 or 9, on a blue bike was looking down at her in what can only be described as heartbreak.

I knelt beside the little girl and said, "Hello, young lady. I'm Lara, um, Grim."

"Grim? That's a funny name," she sniggered.

"Part of the job I'm afraid," I grinned, "And what's your name sweetie?"

"Tilly," she said, her soft blonde locks blowing in the wind as she swung slightly from side to side.

"Here," I said offering her my hand. She took it at once, cupping it in her two little hands and placed it against her chest.

"So," I said as I lead us down the road past the rows of silent traffic. "What's the most fun you've ever had Tilly?" I asked. My eyes glowed like two tiny stars and Tilly gawped at me in amazement.

Oblivious to the tragedy behind us, Tilly thought a moment and then answered with a finger in the air.

"At my birthday! On a giant bouncy castle! It was so much FUN!" she said excitedly.

"Tilly," I said smiling widely, "Let's go find us the world's biggest bouncy castle, and have lots of fun!"

And that's just what we did.

THE END.

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Author's Notes: Thank you for reading my story! As ever, I'd love to hear what you thought. My story was really about trying to add something beautiful to what is the hardest and darkest part of life. It was always meant to end this way and the role reversal seemed a nice way to give them both a new start. Also, I reckon Lara would make a great Grim Reaper. Thanks again for reading! ZB :)


© Copyright 2019 zanybelle. All rights reserved.

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