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As a light, morning snowfall dusted the secluded Alaskan countryside with a muffled, heavenly white, Barney Mulligan was content in his country cottage and oblivious to the black doom that was about to befall him.
After meticulously adding a healthful touch of honey, he slowly poured ginseng herb tea into his favorite mug. Continuing his mundane, laid-back ritual, the devout health nut sat down in a kitchen chair and lazily looked out his large back window. Absent-mindedly, he considered the value of milk as a cure for balding hair. His hair was a little thin on the top. After all, babies grow hair and all they eat is milk. It was stress-free mornings like this, in which he could ponder such significant life questions that made him glad that he had retired early.
Suddenly, a dull knock on the front door interrupted and violated his solitude. As he opened the door, he came face to face with a mythological legend and his deepest fears. Standing in the doorway stood a tall dark figure carrying a large scythe. A black cloak partly covered a skeleton head. It was the moment dreaded by all of humankind. It was the inevitable final visit from the Grim Reaper.
“I am the angel of death. You will come with me now,” said the macabre visitor.
“Oh, I thought you were the ghost of Christmas past,” said a calm Barney Mulligan. “I always liked that movie.”
“I bet I scare the dickens out of you!”
“No, not really. You see, there’s been a mistake,” Barney explained. “It can’t be time for me to die. You see, I’ve patterned my entire life style around extending my life span. I’ve retired early. I live in the country to reduce stress, and I walk five miles a day, and I eat all the right foods, and I don’t drink or smoke, and I get a check-up once a month. Even my car is rated the best for safety and crash protection! I’m way under what my life insurance actuary calculates as my life expectancy,” he said proudly. “So you must be looking for someone else.”
“Another health nut!” the Grim Reaper said eagerly. The skeleton mouth grinned more. “You freaks really tickle me to death. You pathetically cling to the hope that your life style will save you and keep me from your door. Watching your health only delays the inevitable. Also, sometimes unpredictable, unforeseen events can happen. In your case, you would never predict an airplane crashing into your home.”
Barney turned abruptly around and was astonished to see a small two-seat airplane had crashed into his kitchen. The very spot where moments before he was quietly sipping this tea was the scene of a terrible, tragic plane wreck. As the snow began to gently fall through a gaping hole in the roof, he stared with growing horror and dread at the bizarre sight of an airplane in his kitchen.
“The pilot had engine trouble and bailed out. The plane hit your house and you, having an unlucky day, died. You have to come with me now. The way it works is I come and take people off the Earth the day their number comes up.”
“But...but...the odds of having a plane crash into my house is astronomically low. This is so unfair.”
“I know! Most deaths are so boring that I just love it when I get to see the bizarre deaths. Over the ages I’ve seen so many different people die in strange ways. I have some anecdotes you wouldn’t believe.” The Reaper laughed a maniacal laugh. “Last week I took away a pro golfer who died of a stroke. Then there was the optometrist who fell into his lens grinding machine and made a spectacle of himself. That one just kills me!”
“This is all very sudden.”
“At this point, some people like to pray. You might want to say a short prayer to your god. But since you’re going to meet your maker in a few minutes, it’s somewhat pointless. The Grim Reaper skeleton hand grabbed Barney’s arm in a cold, icy vice-like grip. His disgusting breath smelled like rotting cabbage.
Barney was terrified at the finality of the end of his time on earth. How could it all end like this? There had to be a way out! “Listen, this is a crazy system. Don’t I get a last chance to bargain with my life in a game of chance?”
The Reaper sighed annoyingly and let go of Barney's arm. He slowly walked into Barney’s house. “The rules provide anyone who requests the 'game of chance option' one last futile, desperate chance to trick or beat me in a game. Now what ridiculous game of chance will it be-dice, chess, checkers, tiddlewinks?”
Barney looked at his dark guest. When he was young and in the military, he was unbeatable at poker. It was his last hope.
“Five c-c-card draw,” he nervously stuttered.
“I never lose” cackled Grim Reaper. “You’ll probably want to play in your living room. You can live a little longer.”
Barney walked past the crazy, kitchen wreckage. He didn't gamble anymore and wasn’t sure where his playing cards were. Nervously rummaging through a cabinet for a deck of cards, he knocked over several wheat bran packages. Glumly he thought “dying now in a freak airplane crash turns all my painstaking efforts to eat a lot of fiber into a waste.” Looking through several cabinets and using the process of elimination, he finally found a deck.
When he turned around he saw that his uninvited guest was seated at his dining room table. As he took a seat opposite his grinning nemesis, he tried to think of a way out of this dark dilemma. The Reaper’s skeleton grin seemed to grow bigger. Mulligan slowly shuffled the cards, trying to delay the game and buy more time.
“Hurry up and stop acting like you’re scared to death. I bet you could be the life of the party if you tried,” the dark shrouded figure mocked.
Barney grimaced as he dealt the cards. The Grim Reaper’s morbid humor annoyed him. When he gingerly picked up his cards, a cold chill went through his body. He was holding a hand of five jokers.
“I bet your life!” The Reaper cackled loudly. “Care to raise or call?”
“Call,” Barney whispered barely audibly.
On the table the Reaper tossed his hand of five aces. Each ace was the ace of spades--an impossible hand!”
“I win! You lose the game of chance option!” the Reaper rasped.
“I’ll go with you now. I’ll get my jacket” Barney said slowly. Like dead leafs falling from a tree, his useless cards limply dropped one by one from his fingers.
Barney shuffled his feet into his bedroom. At first he couldn’t find his jacket. Suddenly, on a desperate, fearful impulse, he quickly opened the window and climbed out. Squishing several of his prized large greenish-red tomatoes, he dropped into his organic garden. Without thinking he ran. He ran a desperate, panicked run down the street away from his home and his dark adversary.
After a mile of jogging and huffing and puffing he succeeded in reaching the business section of town. He stopped to catch his breath. Thinking quickly, he reasoned that it was only a matter of time before the Grim Reaper would catch up to him. He knew deep down in his soul that he could not outrun death.
Desperate to find a way out of this nightmare, he looked wildly around the town. Glancing across the street he saw his favorite health food store. In the window was a display sign, “Eat Your Way to a Longer Life.” Fighting off an angry, impulsive urge to throw a brick through the display window, he started to jog again.
At the corner, he saw the First Bank of
Quickly he jumped into the taxi. “To the airport...and hurry!” he barked.
He knew the small town airport had a number of light aircraft. His friend Charlie was always talking about his twin engine pontoon Piper that he used for sight seeing and hunting trips. Barney always made up excuses to avoid his friend’s invitations to go into the air. Because of his obsession with health and safety, for the past 30 years Barney had avoided stepping into airplanes. Once upon a time while serving in the military, Barney had learned how to fly Air Force supply planes. He hoped he still remembered enough of those old skills.
He watched longingly out the window as the cab sped to the small country airport. He didn’t want to leave this world. He had a lot more living to do. As the taxi stopped at a red light before the entrance, the passenger door suddenly opened. A cold shiver of fright, doom and defeat went through Barney as the dark figure entered the cab.
“Now see here, Mr. Mulligan,” the Grim Reaper scolded. “That was rather impolite and quite unsportsmanlike of you leaving me back at the house. Your number is up today. I must insist that you come with me.”
Thinking about how he hated the taste of plain yogurt, Barney looked down dejectedly. “I’ve never felt so cheated in my life. You see, in spite of the fact that I believe in a positive afterlife, I’ve always been terrified of death. So I designed my entire life style around increasing my longevity. I guess everyone is running from the Reaper trying to stay young. But I die before I’m really old and I never enjoyed my safe and boring life. Boy-when I think of all the cold beer, Twinkies, and chocolate fudge sundaes I gave up!” He buried his face in his hands. It was all over too soon. He wondered if Heaven had any junk food, fast cars, wine, women and song. “Perhaps only Hell has those things,” he thought glumly.
Barney looked up. The taxi had rolled to a stop in front of the airport terminal. Thinking about how he hated Tofu but never admitted it, he desperately he flung open the cab door. “My friend will pay for the fare. I’m in a hurry!”
He bolted from the taxi and ran to the small terminal and quickly grabbed the keys to Charlie’s twin engine Piper. Sprinting across the runway he tried to remember his flight lessons. He had to hurry. He knew death was not far behind him. Quickly he jumped into the Piper and started the engine. Without contacting the tower, he tore down the runway. Soon he was in the air. Several minutes later, the plane passed over the scenic Alaskan coast and headed west over the ocean. Barney started to feel a growing sense of safety.
Suddenly the back cabin door burst open. Without having to look, Barney knew the Reaper had somehow boarded the plane in-flight. The temperature of the small cabin fell several degrees.
“Now listen here, Mulligan. Because of you I’m behind schedule! I’m supernatural. You can’t get away from me by being in a plane, and that was a dirty trick sticking me for the cab fare.” The Grim Reaper leaned forward and put a cold hand on Barneys shoulder.
Barney glanced at his watch and sighed a sigh of relief. “Well my friend--I’m just tickled to death you could join me but you’re dead wrong if you think I’m going with you.”
The Grim Reaper was momentarily speechless and taken back by his helpless victim’s sudden confidence, lack of fear and imitative use of pun jokes.
Barney pointed down at the ocean and looked
mockingly at his hooded adversary. “Listen, you reject from an Edgar Allan Poe
mystery, we’re over the
The frustrated Reaper threw his scythe to the floor in a loud clang.
“You tricked me! That’s the first time anyone’s tricked me and cheated death since Merlin the magician in the Middle Ages. Your number will come up again in the future. I can hardly wait!”
The defeated Grim Reaper abruptly turned and jumped out the open cabin door leaving the small aircraft. The cabin temperature immediately rose several degrees.
Barney Mulligan chuckled at his bizarre
victory cheating death. After looking death in the eye, he realized he no
longer had the emotional fear of dying. He knew that, like everybody, his days
were numbered. He still planned to live a long life but he decided it was far
more important to enjoy life and share happiness in his days ahead. He wondered
if there were wine, women and song in the states south of the Canadian border.
He wondered what
RossK - Great yarn! It fell between Bill and Ted cheating Death, and the scene in Monty Python's Meaning of Life where death comes to the dinner party. Chuckled away at your twist (and then checked my life insurance).
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|Time Wars & other SciFi Tales|
by Gordon Rowlinson