Grim sat with his feet on his desk, reading the obituaries--making tick-marks on a sheet at his side-table, a boring but necessary task. “Brad Jones?” he said to no-one. “Who the hell is that?” That name wasn't on his checklist. Damn. That's the third this week. Why the hell are people dying when they are not supposed to?
Grim buzzed his secretary, “Susie, we got another one.”
A voice squeaked back through the ancient intercom system, “At least you'll get out of the office again.”
“Sure, but these things are always complicated and often messy. Want to come for a ride?”
“Not now, darling, I have a headache. And you need the exercise anyway.” Ouch.
“Okay, call Bob and ask him to meet me at the transporter.”
“Sure, boss,” and the intercom clicked off with an annoying crackle.
He tapped 'Brad Jones' into his computer, which was networked to the death server, but of course, 'NOT FOUND' flashed on his screen. Verified. This guy was supposed to be alive. He glanced back at the Obituary column. Funeral today. “Sugar!” he exclaimed, as he was trying to give up swearing.
Grim took his black leather coat from the rack. He didn't bother to fasten it, as he couldn't any longer. I must get more exercise. Centuries of sitting at his desk, ticking boxes, had not been kind to his weight, still slim, but not deathly skeletal any longer. Slipping off his loafers, he pulled on the long black leather boots. Damn, these things are tight on my legs. Almost painfully, he zipped them up, breaking one fastener when it reached the top. Mental note: need new boots. Today.
As he exited the office he smiled at Suzie and exclaimed: “To the Grim Cave!”
She rolled her eyes at him, “If you must. Catch you later.”
When Grim arrived, Bob was waiting by the transporter. Grim used to call it the Grimmobile, but Bob had convinced him that was just too cheesy. Shaped like a long, black, sleek car, it was, more technically, a Hyper-Spatial- Interdimensional-Space Vehicle. Neither had liked that name. Grim was already scowling.
“Hey there Boss”, greeted Bob, “another one?”
Grim scowled at him, his best 'death warmed over' scowl.
Bob laughed. “Man, you need something new, how long ya been using that scowl for?”
Grim put on his best 'death voice'. “I am Hell Fire, and I come to bring you...”
“Fire, yeah, right. Okay?” Bob sighed, opened the wide door and they both climbed in, Grim in front, and Bob in the rear.
“Houston, we have a go situation, lift off in T-minus 10, 9...” started Grim.
Bob reached over and hit the 'fire' button.
“I didn't get to say 'lift off'!” exclaimed Grim.
The Transporter vanished.
…And reappeared behind a line of already parked cars, also all black. Fifty yards away they could see a group of mourners surrounding a coffin. Distant vague words could be heard coming from a minister at the head of the grave.
“We got a bad one this time Boss,” said Bob, “Want me to come with you?”
“Good idea, we may need some crowd control here. Let's move.”
“Half a pack of cigarettes?”
“Full tank of gas?”
“Okay, stop it, Bob, we gotta move it, now.”
As quickly as could be deemed respectful, they hurried to the graveside and joined the mourners. Grim closed his eyes, concentrating, and then made an unobtrusive wave with his hand. A loud knocking came from the coffin. Somebody screamed. The minister tripped backwards. In the sudden confusion, Grim reached out to the coffin shouting “He's alive! He's alive!” He pried his long fingernails under the coffin lid, at the same time mentally removing the screws. He flipped the lid open, grabbed Brad's hand, and pulled him out and to the graveside. “It's a miracle!” he shouted to the wide-eyed and horrified onlookers. Then he and Brad vanished – not that anyone saw, for them, apart from Bob, of course, Time had been frozen.
Brad stood, wide-eyed, with a very confused look on his face, his hand still gripped by Grim. He looked around but could see only blackness, and Grim. “What the heck...” was all he could splutter.
Grim allowed Brad several long seconds for him to reach a semblance of ‘calm’, before he said in a firm voice, “Brad.” Brad paid no attention. Louder now, “BRAD! Look at me.”
Brad slowly turned his head and looked at Grim. “I'm dead... aren't I? Dead. And who are you? Where am I? Where is God?”
Grim sighed, “God's a little tied up right at this time.” Hoping God hadn't heard him, he continued, enunciating his words. “Okay, first, Brad, you are not dead. Second, you are unconscious, and we are in No Man's Land. Third, my name is Michael.”
It was important that he never told his clients his name otherwise they may guess his surname, and then panic--typically wildly. Brad was trying to pull his hand away from Grim. “Brad, I have to hold onto you, you nearly died, and I rescued you, if I let go of you, you will die.” Not quite the truth, but it stopped Brad pulling. No, not death, he thought, but--eternal nothingness--and that is so far from being so-called 'dead', not even a comparison could be made.
Brad stopped pulling. “Michael? Arch-Angel Michael? And where is No Man's Land?”
They always ask the same questions. Maybe I should stop using Michael; the religious ones always ask that. He wondered how many thousands of times he had asked himself that question, not the Arch-Angel part, as much as using Michael.
“And what's with the sunglasses? This is crazy”, added Brad. “This is just a dream, right? I'll wake up any second, and I'll be dead again.” This kind of nonsensical reasoning was normal for the not-supposed-to-die people. Though for some reason, Brad knew he had died. Uh-oh...
Man, I really must invent a name for the not-supposed-to-be-dead. Or ask Suzie. Though she'll probably just roll her eyes at me again.
“No Brad, you are not dead, and, I'm not that Michael--just--Michael. Yes, this is a bit like a dream, it's normal to be confused. You are just experiencing a near-death experience. You've heard of them, haven't you?”
“So, I am dead now?”
“No, you are alive, you never died, just very close, and you are now at the end of your near-death experience.”
Grim was about to continue but Brad interrupted. “Where's the light? There's supposed to be a light, and a tunnel, and…”
“Quiet!” boomed Grim--losing control. “Please be quiet and let me explain what has happened, and what will happen next.”
Brad calmed down. “Okay, but why the sunglasses?”
“Why not?” replied Grim. “Just my style man. Now please be quiet.”