This is a short story, in 775 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, sent to me by Fraggle.
The Grim Reaper was really bored now. If it carried on like this, he might well end up being made redundant. And he had always thought of it as a job for life.
Not that there hadn’t been good times. He thought of them fondly, recalling the carnage in his mind’s eye. The Black Death had kept him busy, and he had even put in for overtime at the peak of that epidemic. Naturally, it had been declined. But still, he had argued it was justified. He didn’t get a minute off in more than eight years. Then there was the Spanish Flu. He would like to have shaken hands with whoever first spread that contagion, instead of just reaping in his unknown soul. Still his biggest success in one year, never bettered. All those wars were good too. He just had to sit back and watch as the fools slaughtered each other, doing his job for him. They were the halcyon days, the easy money times.
He missed the scaring too. Looming like a dark shadow over someone just about to expire, giving them the fright of their life, at the moment of their death. That was such fun, it really was. He didn’t miss the scythe and cape though. They were both so cumbersome, and people had started to catch on, even printing drawings of him going about his business. It got so that you couldn’t go around facilitating someone’s demise without an audience looking out for your well-known appearance cast on a wall.
After thousands of years of arguments, he had finally managed to get agreement over an outfit change. A smart suit and tie, three-quarter raincoat, and a trilby hat. Not only did that allow his shadow to blend in better, it also gave him somewhere to keep his cigarettes and lighter. Talking of which, smoking had been really useful for his job. Not that the news of all that lung cancer bothered him, as he didn’t have any lungs. Other things helped too. They started burning coal, which affected their breathing. And once they were driving those cars, wow! He could guarantee a good crop from cars any day of the week. So many more than ever fell under a horse and buggy.
Grim (he liked to use his first name) also loved aircraft, especially those big long-haul models. Up to four hundred at a time, when one of those crashed. That kept up his quota, you can be sure of that. And some wonderful human had gone and invented the atomic bomb. He loved that man. One hundred thousand or more, dead in an instant. He was able to take the rest of the day off after that. But they only used two of them, and that was a real disappointment. Still, there was always biological warfare. How great was that? One thing he loved about those fools, they always thought up ingenious ways to make sure the were gone before their time.
Although he wasn’t sure of the exact date, he remembered noticing when it started to get very slow at work. Antibiotics, pioneering surgery, women surviving childbirth, and so much other medical crap that interfered with his business. When the boss called him in, he had his arguments ready. Suicides were on the up, but they didn’t count against his figures, so he couldn’t use that. “Don’t blame me, boss. They got clever. Stopped killing each other so much, and started to look after their health. You’ve seen it. Aerobics, gym class, jogging, quitting smoking, eating leaves, all that stuff. I tell you, one of these days, they are going to live forever, and then I will have no job at all. I just thank my lucky stars for accidents, and junkies. They keep me ticking over part-time”.
He accepted a written warning. Reluctantly.
Ever since, it had got worse. Some days, he was finished work before lunch. Not that he had to eat anything, but he had started to plan the day in their terms, after all this time. And he had to admit that he couldn’t even cheat them anymore. Sometimes in the past, he had boosted a slack day by making a few personal appearances. Nothing like the grisly spectacle of his shadow to make someone pop off before their time.
But the outfit change he had fought so long and hard for had come back to bite him. Who was going to be scared of the shadow of a man in raincoat and hat? Unbelievably, some woman had even stood and taken a photo of him one night. Not scared in the least. Well that had been a while ago, and now he had an appointment with her. One she wasn’t going to like, and wouldn’t be photographing.
He would just finish his cigarette first.