Death and the other Reapers have a challenge. Earth’s population has made soul collection a big problem, and according to Death’s figures, it will only get worse. Death is a skilled but reluctant bureaucrat who tries to enlist help before Human souls start backing up.
But since no good deed goes unpunished, Death and the other Horsemen will have to put up with a whole new approach to management from Heaven.
What is an entity to do?
Here is a sneak peek at the opening scene of Reapers With Issues:
Death killed time rereading God’s memo while he waited for his dealer to show. Semi-baked, he decided, would be the condition necessary to inform his staff that their department would not be receiving the help they so desperately needed and that someone else, an outsider, would be put in place to oversee their operation. As far as Heaven and the Archangels were concerned, the Horsemen were officially on their own.
There had been a time when Death, Grim to those who knew him, could singlehandedly reap his entire department’s quota of souls and still have time left over to indulge in some high quality herbal recreation. The reality of reaping a population closing in on seven billion left Grim no choice but to seek his recreation locally. It didn’t take long for him to discover that local weed, like local Purgatory, was mediocre at best.
Lack of free time and quality pot were merely symptoms of a larger, growing problem. Reaping while short-staffed had robbed his Horsemen of any kind of life outside of the job, and lately Grim had noticed cracks beginning to show.
Pestilence developed a nasty habit of calling in sick with a new exotic illness at least once a week, and an incident over a cage dancer forced War into court-ordered anger management classes. Only Famine had been able to withstand the pressures of the job, although Grim did notice that he’d been shedding copious amounts of hair lately.
It was on behalf of his Horsemen that Grim requisitioned the Archangel Board to reassign five thousand Angels to his department for Reaping duty. A requisition that Gabriel, Head of the Archangel Board, repeatedly denied. Grim’s decision to go over the Board’s head to the office of Heavenly Affairs yielded nothing but a Heavenly Liaison, and God only knew who the Hell that was.
Unable to make sense of God’s decree, Grim stuffed the memo back into his pocket as he scoped out his surroundings which were, at the moment, in the alleyway behind his office building and the home of the Office of Human Death (OHD for short).
Talk about shitting where you eat, Grim thought to himself as he checked for souls milling about. The last thing he needed was for word to get out that the once great Reaper of Death had been reduced to buying sub-par pot behind his office building in the lamest ‘burb of the Universe.
Paranoia getting the better of him, he walked to the end of the alleyway which emptied into Purgatory’s corporate district, a massive office complex comprised of row after row of generic steel buildings, each one an exact replica of the one that came before.
Finding no one, Grim laughed to himself. Total waste of time, he thought. He couldn’t remember the last time anything bad happened in Purgatory. Then again, he couldn’t remember the last time anything good did, either.
Just the same, Grim thought it best to cloak himself in a human disguise, namely the dead body that until an hour ago belonged to the organic hemp farmer that was his latest reaping assignment. “Meat suits,” as the Horsemen liked to call them, were a necessary evil now that the Archangel Board cut the OHD’s travel expense budget, forcing Grim and his staff to reap by bus instead of horse. All it took was one bad road trip on a bus bound for Newark to make him rethink wearing his cloak while on assignment. Mortals, he discovered, were a lot faster and stronger than they looked.
Grim listened as the clock tower in Purgatory Square chimed one o’clock. Pedro, his dealer, was late. Out of both time and patience, Grim walked back to the rear entrance of the OHD just as the door swung open.
“Jesus Christ, Pedro!” Grim shouted. “Scare me to death why don’t you?”
Pedro stepped out into the alleyway, his eyes darting up and down the length of it. “How’d I scare you?” Pedro asked. “You’re the one in the Jesus suit.”
“Jesus? Really?” Grim asked as he smoothed down the late farmer’s long, sandy locks. “I kinda thought he looked like Clapton.”
“Clapton or not that’s some scary shit, man,” Pedro said, looking Grim up and down. “Someone said they saw Jesus walking around here this morning. You know he’d tell my Pops if he caught me dealing again. My old man believes every word that fool says.”
Though he may have been known throughout the Universe as Saint Peter Junior, “Pedro” earned a reputation in underground circles as the prime procurer of black market merchandise. It didn’t hurt that having a Father who manned the Gates of Heaven gave him access to all the best incoming contraband.
“I don’t know what to tell you, kid. Apostles die hard. Now are we going to do this thing or not?” Grim asked, hoping to get back to work before he was missed.
Pedro stepped away from Grim, eying him suspiciously. “First tell me why you’re wearin’ a mortal in Bland Land. You ain’t reaping.”
Grim pointed to his chest and said, “Lungs.”
“Ah…makes sense,” Pedro said, relieved.
Lungs and pockets were two of the three attachments Grim thought made wearing a mortal’s meat suit bearable. The third attachment he hoped to utilize later on that night.
“Are you serious about Jesus being here in Purgatory?” Grim asked, peering over his shoulder. “Because he is the last person I need to deal with right now.”
“Hey man, all I know is what I heard,” Pedro said. “Why? You gonna kick his ass? Let me know now and I’ll give you odds.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve had enough run-ins with Skippy Christ to last an eternity,” Grim said, remembering a certain spring day two-thousand years ago that didn’t end well for either of them.
“Skippy Christ,” Pedro chuckled. “I’ll have to remember that one.” Once he was sure they were alone Pedro opened his robe, pulled out a baggie and handed it to Grim. “This stuff’s fresh from Mexico. Lucky for you my old man doesn’t shake down nuns. Mother Superior came in loaded.”
“I guess this is my lucky day after all,” Grim said as he dug the farmer’s wallet out of his back pocket. “How much for the bag?”
“For you? One-fifty. Cash.”
“One-fifty?” Grim asked as he thumbed through the thin wallet. “What can I get for…sixty-five dollars and a condom?”
“Sixty-five’ll get ya’ an ounce.”
“An ounce? That’s it? You do know I’m Death, right?” Grim punctuated his question by slashing the air with an invisible scythe.
Pedro laughed. “Yeah, you keep swinging,” he said. “Everyone knows you work a pen better than a blade now a days.”
“Is that so?” Grim asked, knowing all too well it was.
“Oh yeah it is,” Pedro snickered. “Hey, I got an idea- how ‘bout you write me up? Oh man, I can see it now, ‘Dear God, Pedro wouldn’t cut me a deal on weed, the stingy pendejo. Kisses, Death.’” Pedro doubled over laughing while Grim stood there and seethed.
“Just give me the ounce and shut your piehole,” Grim said, finally.
Struggling to catch his breath, Pedro handed Grim the entire bag. “Throw in the rubber and the bag’s yours. I’m heading down to Lucifer’s club tonight. I’ll put it to good use.”
Grim’s eyes flew open wide. “Are you shitting me? Lucifer’s got a club now?”
“Hell yeah, he does,” Pedro answered.
“Of course…” Grim said in a sigh.
Ever since God in his infinite wisdom promoted Gabriel to President of the Archangel Board, Grim’s budget had been sent to Hell, literally. While he and his Horsemen had to make due with meat suits and bus passes; Lucifer and his crew of demons enjoyed a new office complex with an onsite gym and spa, and apparently now, a club.
Nepotism ad infinitum.
“Hey man, you should come check it out,” Pedro said as pocketed the condom. “Music sucks but the women are hot. Bring a rubber or your pecker’ll burn like Hell for a week.” Pedro dug deep under his robe and scratched.
Grim opened the bag and inhaled. “Kid, if this shit smokes up as good as it smells I’m not going anywhere.”
“Well let’s find out,” Pedro said as he pulled out a lighter and let Grim sample the merchandise.
Grim took a hit and quickly put his lungs to work. In no time the smoke made its way to his brain, filling cracks that had become chasms created by supervisors with agendas and employees with complaints and a Universe dependent on him to hold shit together. Grim took another hit and released the stress of his middle-management Hell along with the sweet smoke he blew out in a slow, steady stream from his lungs. For one perfect moment, Death was happy.
A snapping sound by his ear pulled him back to reality.
“Hey, wake up. You’re vibrating,” Pedro said, pointing to Grim’s hip.
Grim reached down to his pager and saw that he had a message from his secretary. His absence had been noted. Grim paid Pedro in cash as promised, making a mental note to start reaping in more affluent neighborhoods in the future. “Let me know the next time you get another haul like this one,” Grim said, regaining focus.
“Hey no problem. I’ll even cut you a deal if you hook me up with your secretary. That is one fine lookin’ chica.”
“Fran? Sorry kid, but you’re not her type.”
Pedro rubbed his ample belly and asked, “Oh yeah? What’s her type, then?”
Grim stepped through the door and said, “Bony,” just as it closed behind him.
Another urgent page from Fran rolled in as Grim tore down the vacant hallway that led to his basement office. Stopping at the janitor’s closet, Grim pulled the memo from his pocket and then removed his meat suit, swapping it with the cloak he’d stashed there earlier.
Officially in uniform, Grim took a minute to compose himself before he opened the door to his office. Though he knew for a fact he was in Purgatory, Grim couldn’t shake the feeling that he was about to open the door to Hell.
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