Sebastian Clunt blinked. He blinked a lot; it had become his go to way of avoiding answering awkward questions but now, rather than a tactic this was instinctive. He couldn’t believe his eyes which, since his whole existence revolved around watching was a bit of a worry.
He appeared to be in a deserted, mist-shrouded field at the end of a short grassy path that led to some rather ho-hummish standing stones. Which in and of itself wouldn’t have been that unusual as Sebastian understood the benefits of a brisk hearty walk for a healthy existence, much like he understood the benefits of a warm marmalade sponge and regular bowel movements.
But since Sebastian’s immediately preceding memory to this vista had been his bathroom mirror and a rather tenacious spot on the side of his nose that he was exploring, he had found the transition somewhat discombobulating. Very.
‘Mr Clunt?’ The man Sebastian now realised was standing next to him tapped at an iPad. ‘Have they spelt that right?’
Sebastian nodded, his jaw opening at the way this man – though ‘man’ was merely the best Sebastians’s brain could come up with for someone – thing – so green – shimmered. Many people got his name wrong.
‘Ok. Now I suggest you drink this. The first time can be a trifle disorientating.’
The man – Sebastian’s left brain wrestled with the right over whether calling him, it ‘humanoid’ made it better or worse – sighed. ‘Did you not get the memo?’
This time Sebastian shook his head. He received all sorts of unwanted post and emails, mostly about haemorrhoid cream and Latvian contortionists and deleted them without looking. Well, maybe a glance, you know? ‘What about?’
‘You’re new role.’
Sebastian spent his days watching people, on videos as his job in the surveillance section of the police required, but also in cafes and, well pretty much anywhere in his spare time if he couldn’t be seen doing so. He didn’t so much stalk as undertake a series of random lurks. Occasionally someone spotted him, hence the blinking. He found he could easily pass for someone simple minded.
The – what about ‘alien’? suggested his right brain – thing spoke, apparently to someone else because Sebastian hadn’t a clue what he, it, they said. It – yes, left brain agreed that it was the safest pronoun for now – changed colour to something Sebastian was sure was called taupe and began to walk towards the stones. To his surprise, Sebastian found he was matching its stride.
‘I’d better summarise what the memo said. You’ve been chosen to…’
‘Yes. By the Transitional Sub-committee.’
‘Please, Mr Clunt. Can you stop repeating what I say? You have certain characteristics that make you suitable for the role of Life-Death Interface Facilitator.’
‘Life-De.. sorry but what is that? And what characteristics?’
They’d reached the stones. Beyond the outer circle there was a small flat rock, on which sat a stooped skinny man with a smooth head and dark almost sunken eyes. He didn’t look up as they approached.
‘Why don’t you meet your predecessor? He’ll explain. Probably.’ The now cerise personage seemed to billow, rather like an explosion of taffeta on Oscar night. ‘Mr Reeper, can I introduce you to Mr Clunt. Sebastian Clunt meet Grimsdale Reeper.’
The cadaverous individual looked up with hollowed eyes. ‘Charmed. And do call me Grim.’
Sebastian looked from the rictus smile of Grim to the hyperactive squinting of the other… you know. ‘Is he…? Are you…? Death?’
If a skull could grimace Grim did just that. ‘I prefer a Post Life Transitioning Counsellor if it’s all the same. Death seems rather blunt, a bit…’
‘Final?’ The now aubergine companion proffered.
‘Black and white. I’m sure you’ll want to develop the role. When I took over it was all a bit WaGgy.’
‘Wailing and Gnashing. Easier, because I wasn’t questioned, I’ll admit. Now you get a lot of challenges.’
‘But why me?”
‘You’re curious about people, take a detailed interest. If you’re going to smoothly move people on to their new plain of existence, taking an interest is important. We’ve watched you and you’re very good at hiding in plain sight. As Mr Reeper can explain that is an essential skill.’
‘I meant, why is the Grim Reaper giving up…’
‘Can I stop you there? I’m not the Grim Reaper. Just a Grim Reaper.’
‘There’s more of you?’
‘No, just me. Look, it’s my name. Grimsdale Reeper. If people want to create a mythology around cloaks and scythes and invest my birth name with some mumbo-jumbo, that’s nothing to do with me.’
‘Won’t I be the Grim Reaper?’
‘Not unless you change your name by deed poll. And it’s a bit late for that.’
‘What would I be called then?’
‘It’s up to you. You will be entitled to a marketing budget, so if you felt a rebrand was appropriate…’
Sebastian held the sides of his head. ‘I must be going mad. I can’t just become a spectral purveyor of the ultimate goodbye.’
‘No, you can. Indeed, if you like to pop off your togs and leave them on the rock there’s a uniform to pop on and we can sort out your own transition.’
Grim looked at the broiling approximation to cauldron man. ‘Didn’t he get the memo?’
‘Apparently not. You’ll have to die and then….’
‘It’s standard. If you’re going to go through centuries you can hardly do so in that body. Mr Grim had to die first, didn’t you?’
The old skeleton nodded. ‘It’s temporary.’
Sebastian pressed even harder. ‘How is death temporary?’
‘Well, that’s quite a large and complicated question, involving parallel worlds, hereafters and a lot of Vaseline. But in your case, it’s easy. You’ll do your stint, and then hand over to a successor, returning as you do so to this present as if you never left it. If you want. Or pretty much any place in time. You’ll see most places and periods in this job so you’ll be best placed to decide after a few millennia. Mr Reeper will apply the coup de morte and, bob’s your uncle. You’ll just understand.’
Sebastian looked at the two bizarre figures. ‘This is ghastly.’
Grim shook his head in long looping swings. ‘No, not at all.’
‘Give me one good reason why this is better than what I have now?’
The Transitional Counsellor and a fizzing froth of a thing looked at each other. Then the alien brightened. ‘You won’t have to worry about zits where you’re going.’
As Sebastian touched the side of his nose, Grim Reeper clicked his bony fingers and everything changed.
This was written in response to this week’s #writephoto prompt