Dave Marwood was dead. This is not how he had imagined his evening would turn out.
He was sat in a pub having a drink with Death. Actually, Death was the one doing the drinking. Being a ghost, whenever Dave went to pick up his pint glass, his hand passed straight through it
The pub was tatty and so dark Dave was not sure where the barmaid’s nicotine stains ended and her fake tan began. Ignored by the customers, Death was just another drunk muttering to himself in the corner.
“This is the only night of the year when I can go out for a drink,” Death explained, “Halloween has become so commercialised now. You lot have forgotten the true meaning of the undead walking the Earth.”
As Dave concentrated on picking up the beer in front of him, he remembered his last living thought.
“I’ll be honest with you. I was expecting a tunnel of light or something. My life flashing before my eyes at least.”
Death choked on his pint. He wiped his unseen face with the sleeve of his robe.
“Tunnel of light? Load of rubbish. I got bored and held a toilet roll close to a few people’s faces while shining a torch down it. Do you want to see your life flashing before your eyes?”
Did he? Perhaps Dave could learn something from this. His past actions could give insight to his destiny. His old life as prologue to the story of his re-birth. Also, he might get to see Lisa Daniels naked again.
Death clicked his fingers and reality lurched to the side.
Dave found himself watching the Long Dark PowerPoint Presentation of the Soul. His achievements had been reduced to a series of slides smashed together with every kind of heavy handed dissolve, transition and clip art file. And written in Comic Sans.
Dave saw himself aged seven years old winning a cuddly toy from a seaside crane machine. Then time jumped forward ten years and he was successfully parallel parking a beaten up car into an impossibly narrow space. Then a fruit machine hitting the jackpot, coins cascading everywhere. Star wipe to Dave sat at his desk at UberSystems International. Late at night, he throws a screwed up ball of paper across the length of the office. It bounces off of the wall into the waste paper basket. Dave punches the air.
End of slide show. Click to exit.
“Is that it?”
“What are you talking about? That was a really good piece of parking,” assured Death.
“And nobody saw it. That’s the sum total of my existence?”
Dave wasn’t expecting much, but that was pitiful. He resolved to become a better person, to look at this second chance as a gift. He turned to Death to tell him this, but he was concentrating on his mobile phone.
“What are you doing?” Dave asked, “I’m having an existential crisis here.”
“I’m just updating my Twitter,” Death showed Dave the phone screen, “I am currently talking to the world’s most miserable man.” He pressed the send button.
“I am not the world’s most miserable man!” Dave objected.
“I’m sorry, but you must be. It says so on the internet.”
Dave never imagined that death would be like this. Tragic? Yes. Devastating? Inevitably. Annoying? Not so much.
“I am Death. I am merely a ferryman between your world and the next. I am not here to judge. I will mock, though,” Death looked at Dave’s untouched drink, “You not drinking that?”
Dave shook his head. Death picked up the glass and quaffed the contents with noisy gulps. He slammed the glass back on the table and let out a supernaturally long burp.
“I’m going to let you into a secret. Magic exists in your world, Dave. The way shopping trolleys stop at supermarket car parks should be evidence enough. Though their bags for life are a source of constant disappointment to an immortal being.”
Dave had no idea what to do with this information so just let him continue.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this job, you always cut the blue wire, never the red one. Another thing is that life is hard. People are cruel. But remember that… Nope. I don’t know where I’m going with this. That’s it. Life is hard and people are cruel. But you have an untapped gift, Dave. You’re a good man. You could be the best.”
Death slid a business card across the table. Dave picked it up and turned it over in his fingers. Expensive, weighty and black. It was embossed with simple white text that said “1 CROW ROAD”.
Dave was aware that something important had happened here. The moment was heavy with expectation and promise. Then Death’s mobile phone began to ring. Dave had never considered what Death’s ring tone would be, but if he had ‘Uptown Girl’ would have been pretty far down the list.
“Do you mind if I get that?”
Dave shook his head and Death answered the phone.
“Steve speaking… Well, I didn’t agree that it was a silly name… Really..? I’ll be there in a minute.”
Death threw the phone back down on the table.
“Busy?” Dave asked.
Death let out a long weary sigh.
“I’m always busy.”
“How do you find the time to do it all?”
“Time is relative. In fact, he’s my cousin. Who owes me money.”
“It’s not time travel as such. It’s more that I exist simultaneously at all points in time. Or something. I wasn’t really paying attention. Quantum physics was put together on a Friday afternoon. That’s why humanity will never figure it out. Some of the bits are the wrong way round.”
An ambulance siren cut through the awkward silence.
“Sounds like your taxi’s here,” Death nodded towards the door.
Dave could feel himself being pulled from this place. The voices in the room grew dim and the walls faded like a memory. Before he went, Dave realised that he should probably ask at least one metaphysical question.
“Answer me this. What’s the one true religion?”
Death seemed disappointed.
“It’s not a bloody competition, Dave.”
Dave’s heart kicked in and he slipped into the warm embrace of life.