- Write a short story, of 700 words or fewer, based on this prompt: A man is surprised to find himself feeling both pleased and liberated by the news that he will soon die.
Once again, you’ve made the Your Story competition a success! Thanks to everyone who participated in competition #83 (either by entering, reading or voting).
Out of more than 400 entries, readers helped us pick “Mr. Grim” by Konstantinos Kalofonos as the winner. For winning, Kalofonos’ story will appear in an upcoming issue of Writer’s Digest.
by Konstantinos Kalofonos
Samuel squinted across the BART train at Death seated across from him. If the train hadn’t stopped mid-transit from Ashby Station to MacArthur, and the other riders weren’t completely frozen solid, he would have thought the old man a normal Bay Area crazy. But those things did happen. So that meant either Samuel was crazy (not uncommon for an actuary) or this man was Death.
“Why don’t you have a cloak and sickle?”
“Really? I stop time and tell you that you are going to die in six hours, and that’s your question?” Death’s tired eyes rolled into the back of his head, the skin fell away, darkness surrounded the car forming a shroud around the old man. “Is this better?”
Samuel found himself unable to move, as if every muscle had simultaneously turned in its resignation letter, and fled. The world went black, and a small tunnel of light began to form off in the distance. Samuel felt that he very much wanted to go there.
“Whoa,” bellowed Death in his face as the tunnel vanished and the subway train returned. He found himself staring up at the old man and the ceiling of the car beyond. “I said in six hours, not now. That’s why I never show up like that anymore.”
“Does everyone get this visit?” Samuel picked himself up and sat back in the seat. Outside the windows, North Oakland stood as a frozen blur.
“Yes,” Death nodded as he sat on the bench next to him. “With a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Says you can’t tell anyone about me or my business practices. If you do, you don’t get to go to your happy place.”
“So Hell is real?”
“No, you just cease to exist.” Death made an explosion motion with both hands. “Poof.” Death used Samuel’s squint from earlier. “Why are you smiling?”
“So, I don’t have to pay back my student loans, credit cards or mortgage?”
“And I don’t have to go to work anymore?”
“No, but you also—”
“And I don’t have to break up with Dara or explain to Stu why his kid kinda looks like me?”
“And global warming, or Russian invasions, or North Korean nuclear missiles are no longer of any consequence to me?”
“Look,” Death said holding up his hands. “Maybe we should start over. I think I messed something up.”
“No, no, no,” Samuel said. “You didn’t mess up, I did. But now, I’m free from everything. I don’t have to pretend to be friends with Arthur and his wife. I don’t have to get stuck in traffic or sit on BART thinking I’m possibly sitting in someone else’s filth. I don’t have to give up on my dreams of being a writer while I go and calculate risk for someone else’s fortune.”
“True, but you’re not going to be a writer now. You won’t get to see Stu’s— um, your kid grow up and have his first date, or drive his first car.”
“Are you kidding me? I was a lousy writer. Stu will raise him better than I ever could. Kids don’t date now, they just swipe right. And the joy of driving was stolen by Elon Musk, so who cares? I’m free. That’s all someone else’s problem now.”
“What about falling in love?” Death pulled out a phone. “Let me call her. Love will tell you what you could have had.”
“Love sucked. I failed at that every time.”
“This isn’t how this is supposed to work, Sam.” Death typed out a text and then looked up with a smirk.
Sam took back his previous squint and raised Death a cocked brow. “Why are you smiling?”
“Because it’s your lucky day. My boss just let me give you another twenty years.”
“No!” Samuel jumped up and turned to face Death, but the seat was empty and everyone on the train was looking at him. Oakland went zipping by the windows again. Sitting back down, he pulled out his vibrating phone from his pocket. A text from an unknown number came through:
SORRY, HERE IS THE NDA. Txt STOP to stop receiving msgs from Death. [NDA.pdf]