Most people fear death, but that is only the beginning. We learn all about the life of a Reaper, the trials, tribulations, and of course paperwork... Lots and lots of paperwork...
Reaper Requisitions by Christopher Dowell
Music by Ray Mattis http://raymattispresents.bandcamp.com
Produced by Daniel Wilder
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She felt numb. She remembered that it was only a short time ago when she felt her breaths slow and her body begin to cool. Everything seemed hazy, almost as though there was a film over her eyes. She couldn’t explain the feeling, but it felt as if everything had become disconnected, almost as though —
Her front door burst open with a loud bang as a mist began to pour into her home. Everything shifted to a pale shade of blue as a bell rang from all around her. Crows began to caw despite there not being any indication of the carrion feeders anywhere nearby. But something strange shook through her body as the tolling of the bell resounded: She couldn’t feel her heartbeat despite the fear coursing through her. Then, with a final ringing of the bell, silence filled her home.
A figure clad in black robes and a hood obscuring its face floated through the room and pointed at her. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls,” the figure in the black robes bellowed in a deep, echoing voice. “It tolls for thee.” As the figure came closer to her, its boney finger motioning in a “come hither” gesture, she screamed and ran as fast as she could to the back of her house and burst out of the back door.
“Listen, running just makes us mad and makes our job harder, okay?” The woman and the figure she now knew as “the reaper” stood in front of an elevator waiting for it to arrive. The reaper’s voice was now higher-pitched than it had been before. “Plus they won’t update our uniform. Seriously, running in these robes is annoying.”
The woman shook. “S-s-sorry.”
The reaper put its hand on the woman’s shoulder. She jumped. “It’s alright. Dying isn’t easy and, well, the show I like to put on makes it a little worse. But you’ll thank me for making your death seem like a memorable and significant experience after you’ve finished the 8,000 years of paperwork it takes to get you properly set up in the afterlife.”
Tears began to form on the edges of the woman’s eyes.
“I’m kidding. It’s not that much paperwork. But it is seriously boring.”
The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. The reaper took the woman’s hand and led her inside. An uncountable number of buttons lined the walls of the elevator and the reaper pressed the lowest one. The elevator jerked to life as it descended. The reaper saw the woman clench and her body tighten. “It’s alright. Just because we’re going down doesn’t mean we’re ‘going down,’ if you know what I mean.” The reaper leaned against the wall. “You might as well get comfortable. We’re going to be on this elevator for a while. If you have anything to ask, you’ve got the time before we get you processed.”
“Processed?” The woman turned, her eyes wide as she stared into the black void inside the reaper’s hood.
“Yeah. When we get to the ground floor you’ll get put in the department that best suits you. Or you could always choose to be a reaper, but, eh… ” The reaper trailed off as it stared into the woman’s eyes. “You’re better off just going where they put you.”
“Where they put me?” The woman looked away from the reaper’s hood. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s not too complicated. You see, what you’ve been told about the afterlife is somewhat true, but there are some differences. First off, there’s no Heaven, Hell, eternal punishment, eternal paradise, or so on.” The reaper sat down on the elevator’s floor and motioned for the woman to join it. She didn’t. “What we have instead is a bureaucratic, ‘efficient’ business situation where people are assigned tasks based upon their strengths shown in life.”
“Wait, then why are we going down?”
“Because that’s where the Assignment desk is.”
The woman slumped to the floor, hitting a few buttons on the side of the wall as she did so. “So you’re saying that all the good, all the bad I did in life doesn’t matter? You’re saying the only thing that matters is how good I am at filing documents?”
The reaper turned to look at her sitting on the floor beside him. “Paperwork, spreadsheets, flipping burgers, whatever career you’ve been found to excel at. Yeah. That’s exactly what I’m saying. Also,” the reaper motioned to the lit up buttons on the wall. “You shouldn’t have done that. We’re going to be in this elevator forever now.”
“Wait, forever?” the woman’s eyes grew wide once more.
“Not literally forever. Maybe like 20 minutes. But it’ll feel like forever.”
The woman and the reaper sighed along with one another.
“Listen, boss, we gotta talk.” The reaper burst through the office door as a man in a pinstripe suit jumped.
“Haven’t you heard of knocking, 7142?” the man said as he rearranged the paperwork on his desk.
“Haven’t you heard of keeping your promises?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, 7142, but if you have an issue, you know the proper procedure.”
The reaper sat down in an empty chair in front of the pinstripe-suited man’s desk. “Listen, boss, I’m not going to go down to Complaints. It will take 70 years before you even get an acknowledgement that there’s a complaint filed, let alone know its content or go to Reparations to ensure that the complaint is received.” The reaper leaned forward. “No, I’m not going to wait any longer.”
“Whatever are you talking about, 7142?” The pinstripe-suited man rubbed at his temples. “You’ve got work to do. Those souls aren’t going to ferry themselves.”
The reaper stood up, knocking the chair over as he did so. “That’s exactly why I’m here. When I took this job I was told I could retire once I ferried a billion souls. The woman I just brought down to Assignments makes 100 million more than that. I’m done, boss.”
The pinstripe-suited man opened a drawer and pulled out a file labeled “7142” and opened it. He licked his fingers as he leafed through the documents, stamping and initialing random pages as he did so. He leaned back in his chair.
“You’re right, 7142. It seems you were due for retirement 100 million souls ago. However,” the pinstripe-suited man slid a form across his desk to the reaper, “if you look at your contract you’ll see that part of your retirement requires you to send in a request to train a replacement before you can resign. I have yet to receive a request to train a new reaper, 7142.”
The reaper snatched the paper off the pinstripe-suited man’s desk. It read the words on repeat and saw — in the smallest print the reaper could read with squinted eyes — that yes, at 1 billion souls he was to send a request form — in quadruplicate — to Reaper Requisitions for a recruit to train as an intern until which point said intern could perform tasks on its own.
The reaper shook its head. “I need to take a long lunch today, boss. I have some paperwork to fill out.”
The pinstripe-suited man slid a form across his desk. “You’ll need to fill this out and wait for approval before you can take your long lunch. And I’m also giving you an infraction for busting in here without an appointment. You know the rules.”
The reaper’s shoulders slumped, and it shook its head as it took the forms and a yellow paper infraction. That yellow piece of paper meant the reaper would have to bring in another million souls.
61 years after the meeting with its boss, the reaper received approval to take a long lunch. This meant the reaper gained an extra 10 minutes to its break-time. When the reaper reached the Complaints Department, it already had its paperwork filled out and signed in quadruplicate. The reaper didn’t think it would take any longer to include a complaint about the robes. If approved, that complaint would allow the next generation of reapers to enjoy the freedom afforded to them by actual pants. But the reaper doubted it would get approved — at least not any time soon.
After the reaper filed its request for an intern and its complaint about the robes its lunch had ended without it having time to eat anything. It would have to pick up something to eat during its next soul run. It wouldn’t be the first time the reaper had to eat on the job.
“7142,” the speaker rang out as the reaper sat in Reaper Requisitions 124 years after filing his request for an intern.
The reaper stood up and walked to the window where a woman in a pant-suit sat behind plexiglass. She didn’t look up at the reaper as she stamped stacks of papers, which was fine. It allowed the reaper some time to admire the woman's pants and long for the feeling of pleated fabric caressing its inner thighs. The woman cleared her throat, breaking the reaper out of its pants fantasy.
“Get to the point and stop dilly-dallying,” the pant-suited woman said, still not looking up at the reaper. “You have no idea how busy it’s been for the past few centuries.”
“Sorry.” “So you’re here for an intern, right? I hope you’re not here to keep inundating us with that uniform crap,” the pant-suited woman stopped stamping and looked at the reaper. “Do you have any idea how much more work a uniform change would cause?”
“I sure don’t. That’s not my department.”
The pant-suited woman scoffed. “Of course,” she continued moving papers and stamping them. “Just take this form and go down to processing and walk down the hall. There are recruits waiting there. Interview them and pick the best fit." The pant-suited woman slid a form to the reaper, and it took it.
“I thought you all procured and interviewed the interns. I don’t have time to take off to interview them. Isn’t that exactly what your department is here for?”
“Fine,” the pant-suited woman pushed her papers to the side and pushed a button. A loud buzz sounded as a door opened in the back of the room. “Go in that door. Your boss hand-picked this one as the best candidate. The intern will be in a room waiting for you. Now, let me get back to my work.”
Blinds which had “closed” written on them dropped down before the reaper could reply.
The reaper stood up and walked to the door. It peered inside to try to see what was in there, but the reaper couldn’t make out anything beyond the dark hallway in front of it. Since the reaper didn’t know where it needed to go it followed the hallway as it twisted and turned. Most of the doors had a red light above them, so the reaper assumed those weren’t the doors it should go into. To the reaper’s relief, it found that its assumptions about the lights were correct when it came upon a door with a green light over top. When the reaper turned the knob, the door opened without any opposition.
“Don’t come in!” a voice yelled from inside the room. But it was too late, the reaper had already swung the door all the way open.
The reaper saw a soul halfway through the transition from soul to reaper attempting to put on a set of black robes, but because the soul still had most of its human features, the robes didn’t fit. As the reaper walked over to the transitioning soul, it pulled off the robes. The soul yelped and moved its hands to where its genitals once were.
“There’s no need to do that,” the reaper said as it tossed the robes over a chair. “You’re transitioning into a reaper. You’re like a Ken doll down there.”
The now nude soul removed its hands from where its genitals once were and screamed. “Where’s my junk!?” it said as it slapped at the blank spot where its “junk” had presumably been.
“It’s gone. That’s part of becoming a reaper.”
“Well if I would have known that I wouldn’t have agreed to do it,” the soul said as it turned around and began to put on pants and a t-shirt.
While the reaper knew the soul could go back to having “junk” by renouncing its intention to be a reaper, it didn’t want to tell it that. Not with the reaper’s retirement on the line. “Yeah, that sucks. They should have told you that before you accepted the position,” the reaper said, also neglecting to mention that there was far more the soul wasn't told about becoming a reaper. “You ready to go on your first assignment?”
“Not really. I’m more ready to get my junk back.”
The reaper hung its head. “Just follow me to the surface, okay?”
“All of this seems unnecessary,” the reaper’s new intern said as it set up fog machines around their assigned soul’s home.
Maybe that’s why you’re so jaded you decided to become a reaper, the reaper thought. “It seems like it is, but this is important. It makes their death seem like something that matters. Maybe if your reaper did this for you you’d see why it’s so necessary.”
The intern kicked at the dirt. “I guess you know best.” “Considering I’ve been doing this for more years than you’ve existed, you’re right that I know best.” The reaper queued a CD to play in a boombox next to it. “Now wait by the window and watch what I do. I may even have you take point on the next assignment, alright?”
The intern nodded and began to walk to a window.
After stepping on a hover-board and draping its robe over the device, the reaper pressed a button on a remote and mist began pouring out of the fog machines. Under its hood, the reaper placed a voice oscillator and set it to the lowest setting. Then, when the mist had engulfed the home, the reaper burst through the front door seeming to float, the robe covering the hover-board making the reaper move in a smooth, soundless way. When the sound of bells ringing began to play over the boombox, the reaper made its way into the house.
As it entered, it said, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for—” The reaper stopped speaking when it saw that there was no one inside. It looked around and noticed that the window where it had told the intern to stay was open. “What the?”
The reaper heard people talking outside as fog continued to roll into the house. It pressed the button on the remote to stop the mist from spewing out of the machine — after all, acquisitions would give the reaper a 20-30 page complaint if it overused supplies like that — and rolled outside on the hover-board. Next to the silent boombox the intern sat next to a man.
“— when I decided to become a reaper,” the soul said. “That’s pretty awesome. Think I could be one, too?”
“Nah, you’re not cool enough to —” the intern stopped speaking when it saw the reaper come rolling out of the house on its hover-board.
“Interesting weather out here, isn’t it?” The reaper said, its voice oscillator making its voice bellow. The intern shook when it heard the reaper speak.
“Yeah, it’s —” the intern stopped speaking when it looked into the void of the reaper’s hood and felt the reaper’s anger flow through it.
“Say,” the reaper looked at the man whose soul they’d come to ferry, “do you mind sitting there for a moment while I talk to my cohort?”
“Sure, I’m dead, it’s not like I’m in any hurry.”
The reaper grabbed the intern’s arm and tugged it behind the house. Once there, the reaper looked over the soul’s shoulder to make sure the dead man wasn’t watching or listening to their conversation. He wasn’t.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the reaper said as it forced the intern to look into its void. “I told you to sit and watch, and what do you do? You messed the whole performance up.” “I told you it was unnecessary,” the intern said as it looked away from the swirling blackness inside the reaper’s hood. “Look at that guy,” it pointed to the man sitting by the boombox. “He’s doing just fine and it took me, like, three seconds to tell him what was up. That’s a lot better than your hover-board nonsense.”
“Alright, since you know best, I’ll let you ferry him down to be processed and then you can meet me back up here for our next assignment. How’s that sound? If you succeed in both of those tasks, well I’ll hand you my robes on the spot and you can be the next reaper 7142.”
“It’s a deal,” the intern held out its hand and shook the reaper’s. They then took the soul to the elevator and the reaper allowed its intern to take the man down the elevator all by itself.
Since the reaper now had some time — a new sensation to him since most of his time consisted of going on assignment, ferrying souls, filling out paperwork, filing documents, or waiting in lines — it decided to write a longer form of its request to give reapers pants instead of the tripping-hazard robes they’d had to wear since, well, the reaper didn’t know how long. The intern would be busy with lines, paperwork, processing requests, and so on. And without the reaper there to talk it through the proper procedure, the intern would most likely have its claims rejected multiple times before it came back for their next assignment.
The reaper put its hood up when it heard the elevator chime. When it turned around to see the doors open, its heart metaphorically grew cold when it saw the soul and a man in a pinstriped suit — the man who was its boss — exit the elevator with the soul. “7142, you have some explaining to do,” the man said as he pushed the intern forward. “Why was this intern spending time navigating the halls of Assignments all by itself without reaper assistance?”
The reaper’s voice caught in its throat — or what it considered its throat — for a moment before it could speak. “I, you see, well, I uh,” the reaper scratched the top of its hood before speaking again. “I gave that intern orders and it didn’t follow them, so I thought as punishment for its insubordination I would make it, you know, have to learn something on its own.”
“That’s all well and good,” the pinstripe-suited man rifled through his pockets, “but you didn’t file the proper insubordination complaint paperwork, nor did you file the request for punishment form, let alone a request for intern access.” He clicked his tongue.
“Sorry, sir,” the reaper grabbed its intern by the arm and pulled it close. “It won’t happen again.”
“It had better not,” the pinstripe-suited man handed the reaper a yellow piece of paper. “For now I am issuing you this second infraction. Should you receive more, it could affect your retirement.” He turned around. “Please don’t make me have to leave my office again due to your shenanigans.”
“Wait! One more thing before you leave,” the reaper handed the pinstripe-suited man the uniform change request form it had been working on. “Can you see that the right person in Requisitions gets this form?”
The pinstripe-suited man snatched the document from the reaper’s hand then entered the elevator. The door closed with a ding.
The reaper lifted its head and then screamed as it tried to tear the yellow piece of paper in its hand. The paper stretched and pulled, but no matter what the reaper did, the paper would not so much as tear. This made the reaper scream even louder.
“Come on, let’s get to our next assignment,” the reaper said as it dropped the yellow piece of paper on the ground. “And this time please listen to me, okay?”
“Sure,” the intern said as it watched the reaper struggle to peel the yellow piece of paper off its shoe after stepping on it. “I think I’m starting to like this job.”
“What, no complex setup this time?” The intern said as it and the reaper walked up to their new assignment’s door.
“No, not this time,” the reaper lowered its hood to reveal the face of an older, grandmotherly woman. “Sometimes thi—” “Wait, have you been an old grandma under there all along?” The intern’s eyes widened as it looked at the reaper’s face.
“No. As a reaper I am able to change my face when I need to. It will be something you are able to do as well should you pass your internship.”
“You mean when.”
The reaper knocked on the door and put in its voice oscillator before speaking in an old woman’s voice. “Stay quiet and she won’t see you, alright?”
The door swung open and a young woman with tear-stained cheeks looked at the reaper. “M-Mom?”
“Yes dear, I’ve missed you.”
“Oh Mom!” the young woman hugged the reaper. “I’ve missed you so much. Things have been awful since you… well, you know.”
“It’s quite alright dear. That’s why I’m here. I’m here to make things better for you, alright? Anything you need, just let Mommy know.”
The young woman smiled and motioned for the granny-faced reaper to come in. The intern followed behind once the reaper beckoned it to. They sat down on a threadbare couch as the young woman walked into the kitchen. The reaper swept bottles of spilled pills into a nearby trash can out of sight of the young woman. It moved into a relaxed position on the couch as the young woman returned with a tray of rolls.
“I know they’re not as good as you make them, but I’ve been trying to perfect the recipe since the last time I saw you.”
The reaper took one of the rolls and smiled as it bit into one. “Oh dear, you’ve outdone yourself. I think these are even better than the ones I make.”
The young woman cracked a smile. It looked out of place on her sad face, but it seemed to brighten up the room. “I know you’re just trying to cheer me up like you always do, Mom. But it’s alright, I remember how yours tasted. These are nowhere near what you can do. ” “Oh hush, dear,” the reaper said as it grabbed another roll from the tray. “A mother’s love adds a certain flavor, but it doesn’t compare to the raw talent you’ve got for this sort of thing.”
“You really mean that?” The woman smiled again, this time it stayed on her face.
“Of course I do, in fact,” the reaper began to motion for the door, but before it could do so, it saw its intern begin to jitter in the seat next to it. It gave its intern a stern look before turning back to the young woman. “I know a place looking for a baker with your talent.”
“Really?” the young woman’s eyes lit up as she looked into the reaper’s own, kind eyes.
“Yes dear. In fact, you may even get to work with me on a regular basis. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“You mean I’d get to see you again every day?
“Yes. Every day.”
“I would lo—”
“Enough!” the intern stood up from the threadbare couch and pointed at the young woman. “I don’t know what this” — he moved his pointer finger over to the reaper — “is trying to pull by looking like some old biddy and talking to you, but you’re—”
“Who are you?” The woman looked uncomfortable and frightened. “Where did you come from?”
“Me?” the intern pointed its thumb at itself. “I’m nobody. But the one next to me? Well that’s a reap—”
“Sit back down!” the reaper’s voice bellowed, overcoming the voice-changing properties of the oscillator. “You will listen to me or you will be removed from your internship.”
The intern sat down, a smirk plastered on its face. “Fine, but you should get to the part where you tell her she’s dead. Rip that Band-Aid off real fast, you know?”
The young woman looked at the spirit then back to the reaper that still wore her mother’s face. “Mom, what’s this thing talking about being dead? Am I? Am I d—”
She broke out into tears as she realized what was going on.
As she realized what she had done.
As she realized what these two things in her living room were. And, at that, her mind snapped and broke into sobbing, wailing pieces.
Outside of the house the reaper stood with its intern standing next to it. Its hood covered its head once more and was again filled with the endless void. It held what looked like a cell phone up to the side of its head. “Yes, one banshee for extraction at my location.” There was a pause as a voice spoke on the other line. “No, the intern’s an inconsiderate — my streak’s still intact.” The reaper sighed as it listened. “Not my call, but if it were, I’d have this intern sent straight to— yeah I got it. We’re on our way back.”
The reaper pressed a button on the phone and placed it back in its robe. It began to walk in the direction of the elevators but did not motion to or in any way acknowledge its intern.
“So uh,” the intern said as it began to walk behind the reaper. “Are we going to talk about what that thing was in there?”
The reaper stopped. “That thing — as you put it — is now a broken soul, a banshee. It can never regain its humanity because of the flood of emotions it felt when you made it realize what it had done t— You know what? Why am I even talking to you?”
“Because you need to train me, of course.” The intern continued walking as it passed the reaper. “I need to know about these weak spirits who turn into barn sheep or whatever.”
The reaper sped up and grabbed its intern from behind. “Those spirits are not weak.” The intern shrunk away as the reaper’s black void seemed to flow through it. “Those spirits had hard lives and took the ultimate step. If you did something like that, I think you would have instantly become a banshee.” “So you’re saying that we have to walk on eggshells because some spirits can’t handle their own deaths?” the intern shrugged off the reaper’s grasp. “It sounds to me like it would just be better to get rid of these ticking time bombs before they turn into those things. When I’m a reaper I’ll—”
“You won’t be a reaper.”
“What? Of course I’ll be, I—”
“You. Won’t. Be. A. Reaper.” With every word that came from the reaper’s mouth, its voice pitched down an octave.
“Cute trick,” the intern said in a wavering voice, “but I’ve seen your voice box thing. You’re not gonna scare me with it.”
As the intern turned around, it saw that the reaper had grown to cover the sun setting on the horizon. Darkness surrounded as the reaper drew nearer, its arms now turning to shredding talons. Before the soul could scream out for something, anything to come rescue it, it felt the sharp bite of the reaper’s claws sink deep into its head and shred into its mind.
When all became quiet once more, the reaper pulled its phone from its robe and dialed a number on the speed dial. “This is 7142. I broke my streak,” a quick pause as the reaper listened to the voice on the other line. “Yeah. Got another banshee for extraction. This one is also at my exact location.” The reaper looked down at the broken, crying thing at its feet and shook its head. “No, I won’t be sticking around for this one. It’s the sorriest excuse for a soul I’ve ever seen.”
“How could you do that to such a promising intern!?” The pinstripe-suited man turned red as he waved fistfuls of yellow infraction papers at the reaper. “When I’m done with you, you’ll be lucky to retire when you hit a trillion souls, do you hear me?”
“Loud and clear, sir.” The reaper looked down at the yellow infractions covering the floor like confetti. “Should I return to Reaper Requisitions for my daily assignments then?”
“Yes. Get out of my sight. I can’t even stand th—”
The reaper slammed the door on the pinstripe-suited man before he could say anything else. A yellow infraction printed out by the door and the reaper grabbed it. Oh well, it thought, as long as I’m around no reapers like him will take my place. As the reaper turned to go into Reaper Requisitions, it saw a line of other reapers standing in queue.
Tapping the shoulder of the reaper in front of it, it asked, “Hey, uh, what’s with the line?”
“Didn’t you hear, 7142?” the reaper pointed to a screen toward the front of the line. “We’re getting new uniforms.” “New unifo—” The reaper stopped speaking as it saw one of its co-workers stroll past wearing dark, pleated, two-legged pants.
“I don’t think a trillion souls will be that bad after all.”
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