This is the first of what I’m calling “Flash Fiction Friday.” Every other Friday, I’m going to attempt to post a short piece of original fiction. I think this will be a fun little writing venture, and will also serve to help develop my short-form prose chops.
This first story was inspired by The Twilight Zone. My dad and I used to watch that show together all the time when I was a kid, and it was my first introduction to properly done short narratives. I was always astounded that they could pack standalone sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery stories into mere thirty-minute segments. Many years later, when I was taking screenwriting in film school, we revisited this brilliant show as a case study in short films. It still holds up as one of my favorite shows of all time, and is a vast pool of inspiration to draw from.
Death looked the haggard man right in the eyes, flashing a toothy grin.
“This one’s on us, Tom,” the Reaper said cheerfully, handing the coffee shop patron his regular quadruple-shot espresso.
The balding man smiled weakly. “Thanks, Jason. God knows I’ll need this to get through another fourteen-hour day.”
Oh, God knows, Death mused. And so do I. As one might expect, being in charge of ferrying souls to to the afterlife came with a few prerequisites. Like knowing his clients. Tom here is an accountant that works for a large firm. He comes home from every seventy-hour work week to a wife and two kids that despise him. Stops at J’s Coffee House six times a week, and always orders enough caffeine to make his heart explode. And Death – or Jason, as he was known here – knew it would. Cardiac arrest, fatal. It would happen in exactly one week, seven hours, forty-six minutes, and nine seconds. The least Death could do was give the obese, stressed man a free drink.
“No problem Tom,” Death said jovially. “Have a good one!”
As the man waddled out of the building, Death resumed his duties, deftly refilling the hopper of the espresso grinder and scrubbing residue off the syrup-encrusted bottles.
Being a coffee shop owner in Nashville was a nice life for Death. He smirked at the irony of the thought. But it was the kind of quiet, low-key side gig that he preferred. America loved Death. Absolutely loved him. If he revealed himself, he was sure that the fans would swarm him, demand autographs, and never give him a moment of peace. But thankfully, nobody ever recognized him in the shop. He was just another dazzlingly handsome, deep v-neck-wearing hipster barista.
“Hey J, that was kind of weird, wasn’t it?” The voice broke Death out of his contemplation. It came from Tim, the scrawny twenty-something barista that Death employed.
“Hmm? What’s weird?” Death asked over the whine of a frappé blender.
“You didn’t see that? A fly just landed on your hand and immediately dropped like it died or something.”
“Or something, I’m sure,” Death said, amused. “But if I can kill flies that easily, I hope every fly in this shop lands on me.” But the deflection hadn’t done its job – Tim was still staring at the fly, which was indeed dead on the countertop.
I’ve been too good at this job, for too long, Death thought. It won’t do me much good to start getting cocky. He swept the lifeless creature into a trash bin.
“Tim,” Death said.
“Could you go into the back room and take inventory of all the dairy products we need? I have to put in the order by the end of the day.”
Maybe that deflection would work. Death smiled as he set to tamping a portafilter full of ground espresso. He timed the shots, steamed the milk to velvety perfection, and poured himself a latte. He inhaled deeply, taking in the rich espresso aroma. That was all he needed. Good coffee. He almost wished that he could focus on the shop and pass off his more…demanding duties to –
Something brushed Death’s arm.
“I knew it!” Tim exclaimed from behind the shop owner.
Death looked down and saw that a small spider had fallen limp onto the floor. “Tim. Did you just drop a spider on me?” He asked, irritation edging his voice.
“Sure did, J. Or should I say -”
“Tim,” Death interrupted. “Do you like your job? It should go without saying that throwing bugs at your boss is not a good idea.”
“Well, I only did it to be sure. I mean look, that’s spider’s dead! You’re -”
“I’m what, Tim? Going to fire you? You might be right.”
“You’re Death!” Tim blurted out.
So there it was. Death sighed. I had such a good run at secrecy, he thought.
“Keep your voice down,” Death hissed. Luckily, the ambient chatter in the shop seemed to mask the accusation.
“So, it’s true then,” Tim whispered. “I had my suspicions before, but seeing this, just… wow.”
“Listen. You can’t go running your mouth about what you think you may have discovered. If you do -”
“Oh don’t worry! Besides, I’m a huge fan, sir Death. Er, Mister Grim Reaper? Uh, what should I call you?”
“J or Jason is fine,” Death said flatly.
“Well J, I’ve gotta say I never expected to meet the Death in person!” Tim extended his hand eagerly, but Death didn’t take it.
“I don’t think you want to do that.”
“Nonsense! Listen, I’ve got a couple of questions. Do you take requests? There was this dude in high school who offended me and -”
Tim stepped forward, quicker than Death could withdraw, and clasped Death’s hand in a friendly handshake. The young man dropped instantly, a tangle of pale limbs smacking the hard tile floor.
He didn’t get up.