ON THE FIRST DAY OF “DEATH 101” • by Michael Pacholski

Death had buried and forgotten his real name ever since the crucifixion. His students quickly adapted, century after century, to calling him “Mr. Death”. He thought “Dr. Death” sounded too much like a serial killer. On the blackboard in white chalk Death scrawled a large and loopy “Happy Easter!” At Death University, Easter was the biggest of holidays, like Christmas on Earth. On his desk he placed a photo of Mary. Not the standard Renaissance fare with the exotic inks and canvas and perfect natural light, but an old blown-up dime store photo he had had redone a few times over the centuries. Always, it was well preserved.

“Fussing with that old photo again, huh?” Death turned and saw tall, lean Lily-Ann Ruth with a bit much on the eye shadow.

“Lilith. I didn’t see you come in.”

“Since when has a locked door stopped an angel? In fact, you do know that the door itself is just an illusion, right? Like emotions — pesky little things. Hell burns them into you, Heaven chills them. But here in the in-between you can go eons with nothing and then suddenly they’re on all sides. You’ve never tried to let them go. You have too many hang-ups.”

“Yeah, I need to work on that.”

“Fine, whatever. I came to tell you the yearbook committee wants to know your name so they can… do whatever it is they have to do. Photo captions, funny sayings. Those human things we hang on to down here. They have Almighty permission to get your name by hook or by crook this year, whatever that means.”

“I know what it means.” Death sighed.

“I just came here to give you a heads up, but since you seem sooo interested, let me ask you something.”

“Sure, when have you ever needed my permission? You can rev my heart up. You can spontaneously appear before anyone at any time. You can compel them to confess, to tell only the truth, so why not just ask a….”

“Because I wanted you to get close to me. You! But that’s not even what I… look… when are you finally going to let go and accept that what happened had to happen?” Lilly moved in closer and closer, slowly, and touched his arm.

“I’ve accepted that with us a long time…”

“That’s not what I’m talking about. Because when it was you and me, it was just me. You haven’t been the same since Mary’s son.”

That cut Death’s distracted flow, shunting a biblical flood behind a sturdy concrete and repressive wall.

“We have just a minute before classes. You really should go now.”

“Yeah, I’ll never get an answer out of you. Shall I use the door?”

“Go any way you damn well want.”

The door squeaked shut. That year’s first students, on this day of Easter, began to trickle in.

(From the syllabus, which Death had been teaching most rote and competent for millennia) “‘Death 101’ might sound heavy, but its purpose is to train New Reapers in the various arts of soul nurturing, collection, acceptance aka ‘soul therapy’ to help transition newly arrived souls to their final destination (yes, the correct answer the whole time was “heaven or hell?” We tip our hats to the southern region of the United States)!. This course introduces  all branches of study and practical application, from science, to psychology, to medicine and enforcement. When it comes to the art of Death, nothing can be left to chance. Those trained in the sorting arts and sciences will find they have a set of tools to help them become the best, the kindest, the most compassionate of New Reapers. The class will focus on your image, what to say. (We will be play-acting many death and sorting scenarios). It will focus on regional distinctions and culture (you will be assigned a region of the globe in which to complete your internship before graduation).”

“Does anyone have any questions before we adjourn?”

A lonely, timorous hand belonging to a ‘Cameron’ went up asking, “What was Jesus like?”

Death had uttered many answers for that with a range of emotions and styles. For the first time ever he said, “There was nothing I could do to help.”

***

Death checked his phone messages. “ID#666: ‘Hey, Satan here. Let’s chat new upper level deck expansion. Tomorrow?” delete

“ID#777. You sent up a real good batch yet again. You up for racquetball? Call back soon.” delete

“ID#666. Oh, uh, shoot. I called you and left that expansion message. I meant that message for Dante. Don’t tell God. It’s gonna be HUGE with new tort…” delete

Caller Unknown: Death listened for a long time, clicked, pressed the dial button. Silently, Mary’s warmth breathed into him over the phone, her own mystery, her own tears. This was Easter, after all. A mature silence bloomed.

“Why did he have to die?” Mary asked. “I know you can’t answer it, but all I get up here is ‘wonderful’ and ‘you’re the mother of a star’ and nobody really talks at all.”

“Have you tried 777? The one with a lot of perfect answers, some of them ‘no’?”

“I don’t want glib. Listen, Joseph and I were talking and we thought it’d be a good idea… no, it’d be nice if you came over.”

“After two thousand years? Is that a good idea?”

“The weird thing is — I don’t know. Usually I know everything good or bad. But this — just feels right.”

“Will Jesus be there?”

“What do you think?” Then after a broken pause Mary added, “No. No he won’t be there.”

“I think so too. I think it’s good,” Death lied, not thinking it was wrong, but utterly not knowing but wanting to know.

“Say around 7?”

“Yeah, 7.” Mary almost hung up when Death chimed back in, “Mary, wait, hold on. I thought you’d want to know who you were inviting over. My name is Allen.”


Michael Pacholski was born writing in 1968 and he’s been published right here with, now, 2 short shorts and here and there elsewhere with poetry. He now thinks he’s going to bang this one out into a novel or novella, but enjoy it here first in its fresh inspirational form.


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Every Day Fiction