HomeFictionTopic Tag Tuesday

Arrears

It was Death at the door, wearing his usual pinstripe suit.

“Oh for the love of Pete,” growled Louis in his housecoat. “You soggy pale bastard. I thought we settled up. What do you want now?”

Death’s smile faded and he started fidgeting with his briefcase. He had a genuinely pitiable look on his face.

“I was reviewing your file,” said the Grim Reaper softly, “and I’d like to discuss the results with you, if you have time.”

“Well I don’t. The stove’s on. Good-bye.”

The door slammed, nearly clipping Death in the nose. He took a step back, straightened his tie, and rang the door bell again. He could hear Louis inside, stomping around angrily, but never close to the door.

He waited for exactly 60 seconds, and rang it again.

The stomping and cursing got louder, and finally Louis opened the door again, eyes blazing, cup of coffee sloshing in his hand.

“What?” he fumed. “What? What is it now? What do you want?”

Death licked his pale lips and removed a sheet of paper from the side of his bag. He glanced at it briefly, then handed it over to Louis with a pleasant smile.

“What’s this about?” Louis said, squinting at the small type on the voluminous form.

“It’s a lot of writing which largely boils down to one fact: you slipped on the ice outside your brother’s school when you were five, did you not?”

“Five? Years old? Maybe. What of it?”

Death traced a finger down the page, then let it flick off the end. Louis was having a hard time reading everything. It looked like gibberish to him. He took another sip of coffee.

“There was an oversight at the time,” Death said. “In the course of our audit, we discovered a lack of physical impairment from that fall. Certain speech disabilities, chronic illnesses… that sort of thing.”

Louis handed the paper back, leaned against the door frame unhappily.

“I don’t follow. What are you getting at? You’re just being a sore loser here. I beat you fair and square, you un-calibrated wimp. Don’t blame me if you can’t swing a club. Wait till the next heart attack, will you? I’m busy—”

Death blocked the door from being closed with a very thin, gloved hand. He still looked cheerful, but determinedly so.

“The head injury you suffered should have prevented you from acquiring the… lifestyle… you now possess,” said Death. “The lack of lifestyle would have, obviously, impacted your general health and well-being. Your lack of health would have, we estimate, put you at high risk for heart disease by the age of forty.”

“I already had a heart attack.”

“Just one, though. Your doctors will make sure it’s the last, too, I’m afraid.”

“So what? You want me to stop seeing my doctor? Fat chance of that.”

“Oh, we understand that,” nodded Death. “We can’t force you to voluntarily expire any more than we can change the past. As I said, it was an oversight. Someone forgot to apply the appropriate reductions to your account at the time, and for that we sincerely apologize.”

Louis blinked. Death, as always, looked serene.

“Well. Um. All right. Apology accepted.”

Death nodded, tipped his hat and took a step back.

“Of course,” he said amiably, “we’ve had to make reductions to correct the imbalance. Nothing major, you understand. Retroactive adjustments, as it were. Payment of arrears.”

Louis took another sip of the coffee.

“So what’s that going to run me?”

“We’ve had to shave a few years off your life span.”

Louis nodded. He’d been through this before.

“How many?”

Half a second later, the stove’s persistent gas leak caused a chain reaction with the old-style furnace, causing an explosion so powerful, the better part of Louis was vaporized instantly. Death did his utmost to retain his composure, but in the end, he had to chuckle. Sometimes — and just sometimes — his job was so droll.


Today's topic was suggested by the incomparable @mjgolli, who wrote: "How about 'Death and Taxes'. Or 'Death by Taxes'. Same difference."

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