HENRY AND THE ANGEL OF DEATH

When he arrived at the office that morning, there was a customer waiting in his cubicle.  Unusual, considering it was only six-thirty and he had just unlocked the door, but he was used to routine and didn’t even question it.  Instead he apologized because the coffee wasn’t ready.

“I’m not here for coffee, Henry,” said the customer, who didn’t bother to look up when Henry entered and hastily shoved his briefcase and lunchbag under the desk.  “I’ve come to discuss another matter.”

Henry shuffled through the mounds of paper and retrieved his laptop.  He wished he had been better prepared for his first customer of the day, but when he typed in the password for his schedule, the entire day’s caseload was absent.

“You won’t find it,” said the customer.

“Find what?”  The question was cheerful, but mechanical, his usual response when caught off-guard and scrambling for answers.  “I’ll be with you in a jiffy, just as soon as I access your file.”

“I don’t have a file.”

Henry cursed silently.  It seemed his endless lot in life that the morons in the front office habitually assigned him new cases with missing paperwork.

“They didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?”  He wondered how long he could stall for time without appearing the complete idiot.  “I’m sure I have your name and intake forms, sir; I just need to click onto the right screen.”

“My name won’t appear there or anyplace designed by mortal hands.”

Henry looked up and took in his customer’s appearance with a glance before resuming his attempts to login.  Just his luck… a goth.  And probably one who had just left a nightclub, judging by the bags under his eyes.   He made a mental note to add a rider to the medical coverage.

“So, what type of life insurance were you interested in, whole or term?  We have competitive pricing for either,” said Henry.  He slid a few brochures across the table.

“I’m not interested in the preservation of life.  Only in its taking.”

All these emo goth kids were the same, thought Henry.  Always grieving their lives with their black clothes and pale faces.  At least this one didn’t have a nose ring.

“We take it, too, sir,” he said briskly, “our business, that is.  Very seriously.”

The customer slowly rose from his seat with a rustle of black crepe.  “Good.  Then it’s time for you to come with me.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but we need to process your application here in the office.    If you need something off-site, I can put in a request for a field agent.  They’ll be happy to accompany you.”

Henry picked up the phone and punched in a few numbers.   No answer.  Those layabouts in the field department rarely showed up before nine.

“That won’t be necessary, Henry.”

“Great!  Then if you don’t mind, please fill out these forms in triplicate and we’ll get started.”  Henry assembled a stack of papers before him, pushing the gilt framed picture of his wife and daughter to the side.  The photograph was missing.

“Make sure you note all your sources of income,” said Henry, already plotting his revenge against the pranksters in marketing.  Swiping his family portrait was really low and required immediate retaliation.

“I have no need of material wealth.”

Henry added a second stack.  “Then you’ll need to list your assets.”

“I have but one but it has separated many an owner from theirs.”  The black-robed customer drew a scythe from the folds of his cloak.

Henry wondered how he managed to smuggle it through security.  The metal detectors must be offline again.

“I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t insure farm equipment.  Have you tried Countrywide?”

“Aye, Henry.  It’s been tried both city and country-wide, but it stops here today.”

He eyed it carefully.  The metal gleamed like silver.  “Maybe we could pass it off as a piece of art.  Has it been appraised?”

“Only by those who stand in Judgment.”

“If they’re experts in the field, their opinion might lend some credibility.  Do you think they’d be willing to write up an appraisal?”

“Willing, perhaps, but now unable.”

“Understood,” said Henry, nodding sympathetically.  Maybe this goth wasn’t so bad.  It seemed he had as little cooperation from his staff as Henry, who was beginning to wonder if anyone from his team was going to show up.  Even the street traffic was strangely quiet for a weekday morning.

He shivered a bit and returned to task.  “Okay, if you’ll just fill these out, Mr…. uh, I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch your name.”

“Nor will you.  It’s known only to the Most High.”

“Did I mention there’s a mandatory drug screening?”

Henry had had enough.  So much for the goth junkie wasting his time.  He shoved the paperwork into an oversized envelope and rattled off mailing instructions.  “… or you can use our website and submit the applications online.  Thanks so much for stopping in, Mister… uh, do stop in again if we can be of service.”  He rose from the desk.  “Allow me to see you out.”

The black-clad figure glided silently at his side and waited patiently when Henry tripped and fell over the corpse near the door.  Samantha, the part-time receptionist was dead.  Her blue eyes were cloudy and unfocused.

“What the…?”  Henry recoiled from the body and scrambled to his feet only to fall again, this time over the bodies of the girls from marketing.  They were heaped like trash in the corridor.

He staggered down the hall, stepping over one lifeless body after another.  Some were draped over cubicle walls.  Others slumped in chairs.  Bodies were strewn down the staircase and into the street.   They were in cars, buses, babystrollers and café tables.  All dead.

Sudden comprehension hit him as quickly as the nausea and he dropped to his knees, retching up his breakfast and gut terror for his family.

“They’re dead, too, Henry, as dead as those you see.  I’ve collected all but you.”

His eyes snapped up, waiting for the blade, but then turned slowly downward.  Tears mingled with the bile on his cheek and he wiped them with a sleeve.  His little girl… did he remember to kiss her goodbye that morning?  His wife, friends, family… all gone.  What was the point in living anymore?

“Strike me down, Reaper, or whatever you are,” said Henry quietly.  “I’m ready.”

“Ah, that I won’t do.”

“What do you mean no?  You said I’m the last to go, so take me!”

“I cannot.”

“You’re just going to leave me here?

“So it seems.”

To be left alone with this horror was worse than death.  Henry snatched up the scythe and plunged its sharp end into his belly, waiting for the blood and pain to sweep him away.

Nothing happened.

He looked down at his shirt, but it was pristine, as crisp as when he took it from the closet.  The scythe lay at his feet, the blade clean and shining.

“As I said, it will not be done.”   The dark one picked up his weapon and slipped it into his robe.  “That which has never lived cannot be killed.”

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