Dr. Death

They call me Dr. Death.

I offer a service, as discreetly and humanely and as painlessly as possible, to shuffle those off this mortal coil who cannot do the shuffling on their own. Those who are broken. Those who are beaten. Those who are so tired but cannot bring themselves fall asleep.

Do no harm, the oath says; but who’s to say that if someone is suffering, really, truly suffering, that the act of putting them out of their misery is doing more harm than good? That ending a life cannot be a benevolent act? An act of healing? An act of righteousness?

I am bound to a chair. There is blood everywhere on the floor beneath me. I’d never have thought a person could bleed so much and still be alive.

“I’m not afraid to die,” I say once more to my captor. The words come out slowly and quietly, choked whispers. I’m gasping for air again and I don’t recognize my own voice. “I’ve seen hundreds of others do it. I’m not afraid…”

“You killed her!” he screams, for what seems like the thousandth time. The bloody straight razor hangs from his hand at his side. He is covered in my blood. My vision is blurring and I can’t see his face anymore. His voice sounds garbled and distorted. “You took her away from me!”

“She wanted to die…” I gasp weakly. “She asked me to do it…”

My vision is fading. This is it. I feel myself slipping away. And then, far off, a pin prick in my arm, again. He’s stabbed another needle into me and is pushing the plunger.

He draws his face close to mine and I see it clearly now. He is grinning wickedly.

“Not yet,” he says. “Not yet.”

They call me Dr. Death. What I’d give now for my own medicine.

The Collections Men

No one knows who first started saying it, but now we all say it. We all say it because it’s the best thing you can say to let them know that something’s different, that something’s fundamentally changed, and for them to stop a take a beat. Which, of course, is exactly what they need to do.

You see, they’re always surprised to see us when we turn up. To learn that there is no Grim Reaper; just us suits, us mortals working our day jobs, day-in, day-out. I guess it all really is kind of strange, when I stop to think about it. But in the short time we’re talking I don’t really have time to get into how I became a suit, or about Hell Inc., or why He decided they should outsource their collections back to our mortal plane, and insisted on such secrecy around it.

Derek had to explain to me my first week on the job, you see, that they don’t remember. Even if they die in some horrific fashion, like getting crushed by a falling scaffold or blown away by a policeman’s shotgun or even doing the job themselves with a bathtub and razor blade, they never remember. They just wake up, confused and unharmed, with us suits staring back at them and then we say it. It’s the worst for the ones who die in their sleep, when they wake up and think it’s just a regular morning, and we’re there to tell them they’re going to Hell. And that there is no Heaven. But we don’t really have time to get into that either.

“I’m beat,” I said to Derek, “I’m going to call it a night.”

“Sure man,” he said, watching a cop car scream by with sirens flashing. “I’ll get the last one. Cya tomorrow.”

“Cya.” I went home and collapsed into bed. I didn’t even bother take off my suit.

When I woke up Derek was there in the house waiting for me, sitting in the chair in the living room, cigarette in hand, its long plume rising toward the ceiling.

“What’s up?” I said. “Another early start, or some fire to put out?”

Derek turned toward me with a look in his eyes I’d never seen before.

“Please, just take a moment.”

A Student of Magic

Clarence Sproultocket lifted the heavy tome from the coarse dusty wood of the desk and opened it in his palms. The book was old and the spine weak, the pages brown and wrinkled and smelling of age. He found the one he was looking for and brushed centuries-old dust from it.

It had cost him a fortune. But it would be worth it, to show that other bastard, that right ribblegostler, who was going to be the star pupil. Who was going to impress The Master and become the greatest of the greatest wizards of arcane magic to ever come out of the academy.

He was going to kill him. Summon a demon to drag him to hell and the swirling black mists of the netherworld in the night.

The young magician turned up the flame on the burner and set the flask of green liquid atop the desk to boiling. He crushed the powdered gecko bones and owl’s feathers in the mortar with the stone pestle and hummed a happy tune to himself. As steam escaped from the top of flask and began to whistle, he dropped the powder in with the other ingredients and dumped the hot vile-smelling fluid from the glass vessel over it all.

He picked up his wand from the desk and raised his arms in the air, chanting:

“Al-shagoth, sep-subbarah, with this detritus before me I summon you from the depths of the netherworld! Al-sagoth, seb-supparah, take my sacrifice and enter this realm, to strike down my hated enemy and mortal nemesis, Aruito Trate! Traze, traze-kel-kay! Kel-kay as-duruath al-nost el zabique! Come onto me, bringer of hatred and suffering!”

The air in the young sorcerer’s cottage grew cold. The fire in the hearth seemed to burn lower and dimmer. And then there was a sensation in the body of Clarence Sproultocket, a horrible itching, a terrible burning. Like a thousand termites were writhing beneath his skin and burrowing in his flesh, turning him into a porous mass of bloody sand. He felt his skin stretching and his bones expanding and his viscera rising up into his throat.

He screamed and vomited blood in red geysers of pain. His porous flesh fell away and revealed something beneath, something giant and black and covered in scales. The skin of his childish visage fell away from a spiny face too large for it, one with a giant grinning mouth full of pointed teeth. The thing screamed and laughed and the sound echoed out of the windows of the tiny cottage into the darkness of the surrounding forest.

Far away, up in his tower, The Master sat reading a book by candlelight, and felt a chill.

Cleanup

Voicemail again.

“Hey Hon, just got a call and another job I’ve got to get to, so just have dinner without me… I should be home around 9. Love ya.”

At first I wanted to be a doctor. Then I started reading about criminology and wanted to become a medical examiner. But guess what? You have to be smart to get into medical school. And you have to be hard-working to become an M.E. And I was neither of those things – so now I do crime scene cleanup. Now I scrape brains and blood and bone off the floor. Think about that next time you have a shitty day at your cushy office job.

I get there and it’s that indoor mall, not far from where I live. They’ve closed down the whole place, yellow police tape everywhere. I give the cop at the front my spiel and he tells me it’s at the back. There’s blood and entrails everywhere.

“Jesus, what happened here?” I say to Carl, the M.E., who’s standing nearby. “Shotgun blast to the torso by some junkie. Fucking heartless.”
“Who was the victim?” I venture.
“A woman. Still trying to ID her as he took her wallet.”

He jerks his head over his shoulder and I look over to see his underlings with the body bag. The last thing I see before I look away is the zipper coming up over the woman’s face. Julia’s face.

Think about that the next time you have a shitty day.

Second Sight

I never asked to be this way.

It’s kind of ironic really. I actually hate other people. Or maybe I hate them because of it. I can’t really remember, it’s become sort of a chicken-and-egg thing.

Of course, if you could see what I see, you’d hate everyone too. Every brush of a sleeve, every touch on the hand, every tiniest bit of human contact, and it’s all there before my eyes: the sadistic boss fucking his secretary in the boardroom at night, then verbally and physically abusing her; the loving mother going home and torturing her five-year-old son, cutting him with jagged pieces of glass; the innocent teenage girl seducing an old man in an alley, only to stab him to death just for the few measly twenties in his wallet.

The train is crowded and I hate it. It lurches as it pulls into the next station, and a man in a ball cap and dark sunglasses falls into me. There is a bright flash – that’s never happened before – and then I see it all again: her body tied down on the table, the fearsome array of tools on the tray, the blades slicing, her screaming.

The man looks me in the face and I see nothing through the dark glasses.

“I know what you did,” he says, “And I’m going to find you.”

He disappears into the throng of bodies and out onto the platform. I try to follow but cannot; the doors close with a hiss and the train pulls away.

I was so shaken it wasn’t until I got home that I noticed he’d taken my wallet.

In the Shower

We made love in the shower every morning

I loved the feeling of the hot water pouring down
His strong hands touching me
Caressing me
Holding me
Pushing my body against the tile of the wall

But then there was the accident
And so quickly he was gone
I cried every morning since
The salt of my tears mixing with the cold water
Disappearing down the drain
Forever

This morning I felt his presence behind the curtain with me
His invisible hands touching me
Grabbing me
Gripping me
I threw back my head and moaned

It was when I felt his hands around my throat
That my moans turned to choking screams
I realized he was back
Not because I missed him
But because he missed me

Brita Jug

“MARVIN! I TOLD YOU TO REFILL THE GODDAMN BRITA!”

“Sorry dear!” Marvin called out from the bedroom into the kitchen. He wasn’t sorry. Later Sue-Ann refilled the Brita.

The next day, Marvin got up and walked over to the fridge. He pulled the Brita jug out and poured himself a tall glass of water, emptying it.

He walked back to the living room. He saw that the red light was blinking on the answering machine. He pushed the button and drank all the water from the glass, very nearly spitting the last of it out when he heard Sue-Ann’s angry voice coming from the machine.

“You didn’t refill the goddamn Brita, did you Marvin? Did you? How goddamn hard is it to refill the goddamn Brita before you put it in the goddamn fridge? I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times!

“It’s not just about the goddamn Brita, Marvin. It’s not just about me opening the fridge door and finding that stupid empty jug staring me in the face and picturing your lazy ass putting it back in the fridge. It’s everything. I can’t take it anymore. I can’t handle being around your lazy ass anymore. I can’t handle listening to you bitch and complain all day and never do anything for anyone but yourself. I’ve had enough.

“I really hope you play this message, because I really want you to realize what you just drank. I really want you to learn your lesson before you die.”

Marvin set the glass down on the table next to the answering machine. His stomach felt warm.

The warmth began spreading.

Disappearing Act

It was he that had done it, the bastard. He’d sabotaged my shows, coming in disguise, heckling and revealing the secrets of all my tricks. I couldn’t prove it, but I knew it.

What a fall from grace! From the sublime to the ridiculous, from revered and admired to mocked and despised, from world famous to the grimiest depths of ignominy, and now he took my place up on center stage, stealing all of my tricks, no less! How could no one else recognize it?

Well, vengeance would be mine today. Two can play at this game, Great & Mysterious Riebold! For how could you possibly know that the bearded man in the audience beneath the bowler is none other than your arch-enemy, the Mysterious and Mystical Ernest R. Peabody! Here to reveal the secrets of all the tricks you stole from me, and bring you back down into the depths of obscurity! Soon it will be you performing in the dockyards next to the burlesque shows and opium dens, not I!

“And now for my greatest trick,” Riebold shouted out over the audience melodramatically. “I will produce from thin air, summoning from the very depths of hell…..”

Pain gripped my chest. An intense pain like none I’d ever felt before. It was as if some foul demon had staked a garden spade into my ribcage and driven it home. I clutched my chest and gasped, and the audience members all around shushed me.

My vision blurred, and in the distance on stage I blearily saw Riebold lift something with triumph, something red and spherical. The crowd gasped, then erupted into thunderous applause.

“…..a human heart!”

Club Crimson

I followed them on a whim.

I saw the group of girls – thin, pale, dressed with all the accoutrements of a night out on the town and attracting the opposite sex – turn down a blind alley and go through an unmarked black door. It must have been one of those hidden clubs, a secret place that only the coolest people get to know about by word of mouth.

What the hell, I thought. One final nightcap and I might even be able to chat one of them up.

Coming through the door, I strangely found myself entering directly into the heart of the place. Everything was red. Bright red. Crimson. The club was well lit and everything was like blood under the scarlet illumination. I felt like I was a piece of meat being kept warm under a hot lamp.

Stranger still, the club was completely silent. There was no thumping electronic music playing, no din of voices and drunken laughter, no sounds of bottles and glasses.

The place was empty save for the girls I’d seen walk in and a few others they’d joined. They were sitting in a booth in the corner, all similar in appearance and dress. They were fawning over a lithe sliver of a man, bare-chested beneath a black leather vest and sprawled out on the red upholstery of the booth.

“Hello,” he said, his goatee waggling. “Welcome to The Crimson Club.”

“Uhhh, thanks,” I said. The silence was unnerving. “Anything to drink around here?”

“There is now,” he said, baring his fangs.

Vigilance

Hell of a long day it’d been. Jesus, those bastards. Those greedy, greedy bastards. I tries to be a God-fearin’ man, I tells ya, I do, but this world is just going to shit. Money makes the world go round, no matter how much righteousness a fella has in his heart. And this world’s gonna end because of it.

I tried to raise my son in the way he should go. “The End Times are a-comin’, son,” I told him. “That’s why we’s always gotta be ready.”

I’d take him down to the the cellar over the years, to show him all I’d prepared, right from the time he was little. Canned food to last a century. Reverse osmosis water filtration for the water collected from rain barrels. A generator and stockpile of diesel. Knives. Explosives. And the crown jewel, my old ought-six. “You’ve gotta be ready for anything,” I said, “and we’s ready.”

I had to work late in the city that day, real late for them greedy, greedy bastards. I met with the lawyer and they made me wear my black suit, the one I hate and only wear when someone’s died or getting hitched.

As I was coming back to the farm, the old Ford run clean outta of gas right at the end of the driveway, wouldn’t you know it. Figured it was a nice evening, might as well take a walk and enjoy the air. The lights was on in the house so I figured Clayton was already getting dinner ready. I lit a cigarette and walked along the edge of the fence, admirin’ all the barbed wire.

I stopped as there was a shadow by the fence. It was Clay.

“I buried you, Pop,” he said, raising the ought-six. “I buried you already. You told me to be ready and now I is.”