“Ya see I just don’t feel like anyone understands me. I mean, it’s not like they can see me until they’re dead anyway. They’re so busy dying that they don’t even have time to consider talking to me. It’s always ‘what’s going on?’ ‘where am I?’ ‘am I dead?’ Just once I’d like someone to ask me ‘how are you today?’ or ‘what’s up?’ Not like I’d have much to say, though. I’m so busy these days I never get time to do anything. I miss the good old days, like 4,000 years ago. Those days were nice. Less people died back then. Well, less people to die in the first place. I haven’t had time to knit a single stitch in 572 years. Every time I think I might get a break it’s another terrorist attack or earthquake and the few minutes I might have are taken away from me. I need a break. Perhaps a vacation. Maybe I can call up heaven and ask if they have anyone to fill in for me for a decade or so. It’s been awhile since I worked with any of the angels. Maybe I could hire them again, lighten the load.”
Death sighed. He knew that wouldn’t happen. Heaven hadn’t answered his calls in over 7 millennia. He looked down at the tabby cat sitting next to him on the lonely alleyway dumpster. It was carefully grooming the hair on the inside of it’s back leg. Not even cats wanted to listen to him.
He hopped off the dumpster, picked up his scythe he had set beside him, his bony feet making a short clacking noise as they hit the pavement.
“Well I ought to get to work, got souls to reap. Thanks for the chat.”
The tabby continued to lick its behind.
Just then, a figure turned the corner into the alleyway at full sprint. It was a young man in a ski mask, holding a large alligator skin purse.
“Thief! Stop that man! He has my purse!” came the voice of a lady in the street.
The purse snatcher looked over his shoulder, checking to see if he had any pursuers. Alas, it wasn’t the law he needed to watch out for, it was where his feet went. He tripped over a glass bottle that had missed the dumpster, fell and hit his head hard on the pavement, the contents of the purse tumbling out onto the ground. He fell dead right at Death’s feet.
“Just on time.” said Death.
“Hey… so uh… I know this is the 52nd voicemail I’ve left in the past half year but I really could use some help down here. I’ve been so busy I could really use a helping hand. Anyone, please. Your most useless angels. Send me an annoying cherub for all I care. Just send me someone.”
Death hung up, sighed, and leaned against the wall of his kitchen.
He looked down. The silver tabby cat he had adopted 6 months ago was rubbing against his legs.
“Stop that! You’ll get hair all over my blackest robes!” Death said, shooing the cat away. It mewed once more and scampered off into the living room.
Great, Death thought, he’s going to go pee all over the bookcase again. It took 3 hours for “Summoning Spells for Dummies” to dry off last time.
And for the first time in several thousand years, Death had an idea.
It didn’t take long for Death to piece together the spells into the monstrous patchwork he desired. After millions of years, humans still hadn’t mastered the art of cloning. It only took Death three days. In reality, of course, it took him a month and a half, spreading out the work in every spare minute he got here and there.
If heaven wasn’t going to send him any help, he was going to make his own.
Death stared at the clock.
Any moment now.
Suddenly the pendulum beneath the clock began to swing, Death got up immediately, ready to jump into action. When someone died and was in need of reaping, the pendulum swung. A few weeks ago it was constantly swinging. Now it only swung every once in awhile. His new help was efficient sure enough. Almost too efficient.
He grabbed his scythe and prepared to shift through space to the location of the victim, but he looked at the clock again and the pendulum had already stopped.
Behind him, a reaper plopped on the couch, a soda in one hand, a scythe in the other.
“What’s up, bossman?”
“Where did you get that scythe?” said Death.
“Oh, you had some extras in your closet.” the reaper said casually, putting his bony feet up on the coffee table.
The clock chimed again, the pendulum swinging.
“I’ve got it this ti-”
“Nah, don’t worry. I’ve got it.”
And in an instant the reaper disappeared. Within seconds, before Death had a chance to do anything, the reaper reappeared, resuming his nonchalant position on the couch.
“Hey, can you let me get the next one?” asked Death impatiently.
The reaper snorted. “Why?” he said, “Didn’t you make us to do your job for you? You have plenty of things to do! Let us handle this. Go read a book or something. Your garden needs some attention, the white rose bush doesn’t look too hot.”
The clock chimed again. “Relax. We’ve got it.”
And just like that, Death was alone again.
He looked around the room for something to do. It was the first time he’d had free time in so long, he was unsure of what to do with himself. His gaze settled on his old knitting bag.
Gabriel tapped his foot impatiently. He was very unpleased. For God’s sake, he was an archangel! He shouldn’t have to be cleaning up after some lowly servant. He was supposed to be doing important things! He’d always wondered why Death chose to live in some suburb house outside a human city.
“Grim, come on. It’s me, Gabriel.” he said banging on the door. There was a few seconds pause before he got a response.
Gabriel opened the door, and was greeted by something he did not expect.
Cats upon cats. Cats on the furniture. Cats in the hall. A cat asleep in a potted plant by the door. The smell was overwhelming. Cat hair coated every inch of fabric in sight.
Try not to look into their eyes, Gabriel, you know they can smell fear.
It took the archangel a full minute, standing paralyzed, to realize that these cats were not some elaborate defense mechanism, or trap, they were just... cats. The angel carefully traversed through the felines, doing his best not to step on any of them. He came into the living room, and there he was. He was dressed in his usual long black robe, but it was caked in silver, orange, and brown hairs. Death sat in a rocking chair, knitting a large christmas style sweater, covered in skulls and crossbones. Death looked up from his knitting.
“Oh, Gabe! Good to see you. What brings you around?”
“Wha-.... I-.... Grim, we need to talk.”
Death shook his head. “Can’t talk, I’m knitting a sweater for Old Miss Henderson down the street. Oh, and while you’re here, do you mind feeding the cats for me? The cat food is in a bag on top of the washing machine in the laundry room. One scoop for every bowl, except for Mr. Whiskers. He gets canned food. His stomach is too sensitive to eat the dry stuff.”
Gabriel, dazed by Death’s behavior, did as he was told. At the sound of the cat food bag rattling, kittens swarmed around his feet, awaiting their meals.
“Oh, shucks! I’m out of black yarn.” Death observed, “Remind me to go get some from the craft store around the corner later.” He put aside the current project and picked up a fresh ball of lavender yarn and a new pair of bone finger knitting needles. Gabriel shook himself from his stupor and marched over to Death’s rocking chair.
“What in God’s name are you knitting now?!”
“A scythe warmer.”
Gabriel swatted the knitting needles from his hands sending them clattering to the floor. He grabbed Death by the shoulders.
“GET AHOLD OF YOURSELF, MAN.”
Death looked at him for a moment with his nonexistent eyes over his half-rimmed glasses perched on his nonexistent nose attached to a gold chain that hung from his nonexistent ears. Then he reached into his robes, pulled out another pair of knitting needles, and continued knitting.
Gabriel groaned, dragging a hand down his face.
“Grim, please, I-”
“Look. I don’t know what you want but I’m clearly very busy, these sweaters aren’t going to knit themselves, Gabby-”
“Don’t call me Gabby.”
“Grim, we’ve got a problem. Those reapers of yours have to go! We need you back.”
“Oh nonsense, my reapers are doing just fine.” Death waved a bony hand dismissively, “They’re doing their job.”
“Their job? You mean yours!”
Death put down his knitting. “Gabe, for the first time in years I finally have me time. Look at all I’ve gotten done! Gabe, I’ve finally found happiness, company.”
“In a bunch of cats?!”
“They’re the only ones who understand me. All 152 of them. Like Fluffy over there, she-”
“Souls are missing.”
Now Death stopped his knitting entirely. He stared at Gabriel for a long moment.
“You heard me, Grim. Almost a fourth of the souls that are supposed to be reaped aren’t making it to heaven. Your reapers are careless, reckless. That’s why God sent me here, we need you back.”
Death looked down at his bony hands. “I… don’t understand. They were supposed to work… I did everything just right.”
“Grim, there’s no one else who can do it right except you. You’re Death. Did you really think a few rough copies of yourself would cut it?”
“I guess you’re right. I could reverse the spell pretty easily. But… I can’t just get up and leave! Who would take care of my ca-”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, forget the cats!”
“No,” Death said indignantly, “I will not forget about them. I care about them very much and I will not-”
“Okay, okay, okay, fine. We’ll find homes for all your cats.” Gabriel said showing his hands in a display of surrender.
“Except for Mr. Whiskers.” said Death
“Except for Mr. Whiskers.” agreed Gabriel.
“I will return to my duties as a reaper on one condition. You must send me an angel or someone to help me out around here. I can teach him to do things the right way. Please, Gabe, I get so lonely down here-”
“Yes, fine! Anything! Just as long as you get back to work. You might wanna go looking for those lost souls first, God isn’t happy about that.”
“You know, I’m glad to have someone who understands me. It kinda sucks that people can’t see me until they’re dead so I didn’t really have anyone to talk to until you came along. I always begged Heaven for an assistant but it took a real breakdown for them to listen.”
The two figures sat on the edge of a building, swinging their legs and looking out over the city. The angel smiled at him.
“I’m glad. Everyone deserves a friend. Even Death, the loneliest of creatures,” he grinned, “especially Death.”