I recently had the pleasure of tracking down and landing an exclusive interview with the notorious Grim Reaper. He is quite the elusive fellow but fortunately I was able to get the hook up via a friend of a friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s cousin’s hairdresser’s uncle. Here’s the account of our fateful meeting:
It is midnight. Mr. Reaper is sitting in a plush, leather chair in a dark corner of an empty hotel lobby. His long cloak is rustic looking, black as a raven’s feathers with ancient designs embroidered in the rough, burlap type fabric. His hood covers his head and what should be his face. There is no sign of his scythe lying around. As I approach, he floats up to greet me and extends a bony hand out for a handshake. I am surprised both at his tall height and how formidable his handshake is for being a skeleton. He smells of dirt right before rainfall and pine trees. It is strangely pleasant. I am very close to him but I still cannot see into his hood to his face. It is pitch black. We sit.
Sam: It’s a great pleasure to meet you Mr. Reaper. I can’t tell you enough how grateful I am that you set aside some time in your busy schedule to meet with me!
GR: (Chuckles) Well, I must say, I am not usually greeted with such enthusiasm and by such a lovely face. Please, call me Grim.
Sam: (Smiles awkwardly) Okay, Mr., uh, I mean… Grim, so who is filling in for you right now?
GR: It’s a bit complicated to explain.
Sam: That’s okay, I have lots of time.
GR: (Sighs) I actually have the good fortune of identifying certain souls that fit quite nicely into my line of work. Meaning, they have the temperament and mental strength this job requires to be an effective soul reaper. So I take them on as apprentices and they help me collect the dying across the world. I mean, really, with so many people on death’s door at any given second, how would I ever have time to rest otherwise?
Sam: That makes sense. Are these souls that you recruit recently departed or is there a specific protocol you have to follow in identifying potential candidates?
GR: You are quite the curious girl…
Sam: Well, it is an interview…
GR: Let me ask something first.
Sam: (Takes a silent gulp) Okay.
GR: It’s not everyday someone volunteers to meet me. My reputation is quite intimidating and I make sure to keep it that way. (He leans ever so slightly forward in my direction) How is it that you are not terrified by my presence?
Sam: That’s a good question (looks up thoughtfully) I suppose it’s because I have made peace with the concept of dying a long time ago and so I don’t actually fear death the way most people do. Or should I say, I don’t fear you because of that. It’s something that I’ve given great thought to and I guess when my time comes, I’ll be ready for it.
GR: (Cocks his head in a thoughtful way and I see a glimpse of fine ivory in the shape of a cheekbone for a second) That is quite interesting. (His tone suggests he wants to ask more but I plow forward)
Sam: So, to answer my question…
GR: Ah, yes, well it doesn’t matter how long a soul has been in the underworld. It’s really up to me. You see, I use what I know about the person’s living life to inform their duties in the afterlife.
Sam: What other duties are there?
GR: In addition to soul reaping, there are gate keepers, living surveyors, soul accountants, guards, etc. The list goes on.
Sam: Wow, I had no idea the underworld kept so busy! It sounds like it’s a whole society on its own.
GR: Yes, of course. The afterlife would be incredibly boring and meaningless without the souls who inhabit it possessing a sense of purpose while there.
Sam: I have so many questions about the underworld and its inhabitants, but I’m most interested in your story. How did you become the main reaper in the first place?
GR: (Pushes his hood slightly back so I can see the creamy surface of his chin bone) I quite enjoy your curiosity in me. (He pauses for dramatic effect and then his tone takes on a melancholic quality) It was so long ago. I cannot even remember the specific century. I get timelines quite mixed up because time no longer applies to me so I never pay attention to it anymore. But it was all because of a woman. You see, I was a man once. I lived a fairly simple life as a farmer. I was quite skilled at harvesting, actually. Then one day, while I was at the town market, I saw her. Isobel. The moment our eyes met I knew I wanted to be with her forever. It was that type of instantaneous connection. She was the most beautiful and exotic creature I’d ever laid my eyes on. Long dark hair, skin as smooth as ivory, the most expressive eyes, and soft, delicate lips that hid a smile that could rival the sun’s brightest rays. She was someone I was willing to dedicate my life to. And I did… (He trails off)
Sam: What happened?
GR: We married and were blissfully happy for a year. Then she got gravely ill. Just like that. She was my sun and the moon wanted to take her from me. Nothing worked. She was wasting away and I knew that my existence would end with her death. So I cried out to Hades to plead for a bargain with him. He must have sensed my desperation because he appeared and quite willingly offered me a deal. In exchange for my eternal service doing his bidding as a soul reaper, he would ensure that my beloved Isobel would never die. I was so elated at the thought of enjoying her presence for eternity that I agreed without asking questions. Hades had me sign a binding contract in blood and as soon as it touched the parchment, I became the being you see before you and Isobel’s health was restored. It took some getting used to, of course, but I was able to see and visit her at night for a long time. But as the years passed, I noticed her growing older and weaker, until one day, she died.
Sam: But I thought the deal was that she would never die? And if she did die, wouldn’t she be in the underworld with you?
GR: Hades, it seems, has a morbid sense of humor. He did keep up his end of the bargain, but not in the way I had assumed. She died her human death and then was reincarnated into a butterfly. And then into a bird, then a cat. And then a horse. I eventually lost track after centuries of struggling to locate her. I had to accept that she would never again become the woman I loved. I have no idea what or where she is now. With each death she experiences, she becomes another creature, never to become human again or have rest in the underworld. Needless to say, I make sure the only time I have to deal with Hades is if something really serious needs to be addressed. I hate that bastard.
Sam: I am so sorry to hear that Grim. (leans in towards him in a show of support) That is truly a horrible trick to play on someone who was full of pain and extremely vulnerable. That kind of betrayal will stick with you forever. Oh, I mean, for a long time because it kinda is forever for you… (Embarrassingly trails off)
GR: (Inhales and exhales deeply) I agree. That is why I never make bargains with the living no matter how much they beg. When mortal bodies break down and are no longer able to contain their souls, it is their time. That is how it is meant to be.
Sam: Does it ever get lonely? Soul reaping, I mean.
GR: (Folds his hands in his lap and turns his head away, as if in deep thought) It does. I spend the majority of my unlife alone or with mourning souls. It would be nice to have some company to share my thoughts and experiences with. I have often thought about taking on a companion to share this afterlife with, but I have not found someone I feel a strong enough connection with to make that commitment. And more so, someone willing to stay by my side.
Sam: I’m sure your companion is out there somewhere.
GR: (Turns his head in my direction and I can feel his eyes on me) I’m beginning to believe so.
Sam: (Blushes) You are quite charming.
GR: Thank you.
Sam: (Clears throat) How does it feel to be in charge of transitioning a “living’s soul” as you call it?
GR: In the beginning, it was quite difficult to come to terms with. My human emotions were still strong so I could feel the pain and terror that each person experienced, knowing that my presence meant their life as they knew it was coming to an end. Over time, however, those empathetic feelings began to fade away. And my encounters with less than tolerable livings has made me less inclined to feel bad when it’s their time to go. That being said, I am not completely immune to the sadness that finality brings. It is my job, or rather, my existence, but I am still affected by it at times.
Sam: I can tell by the tone in your voice that there are specific instances that stick out for you.
GR: Yes, there are. I am particularly prone to melancholy when I have to reap a child’s soul. I find their innocence and frailty refreshing. They possess everything good in the world before it is tainted by knowledge, bias, contempt, and doubt. It is unfortunate when such a glorious treasure is taken and forced to spend eternity hidden in the depths of the dark underworld.
Sam: That is quite poetic. And extremely heartbreaking. I did not realize you had such a sensitive side to you. There seems to be more depth to you than your reputation allows for.
GR: I am a much more complex being than I am made out to be. It pleases me that you are able to see that.
Sam: (Coughs and chokes like a moron) Well, I’m just one of the few lucky people who has been able to witness this side of you, it’s really nothing I’ve done on my part.
GR: Ah, true. But you have been the most perceptive.
Sam: (Feeling a little uncomfortable but pushing through it) Thank you. And thank you again for taking this time with me. It’s such an amazing experience. But before we end, would it be too much to ask to allow me to see your face? You see, I feel like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, quite literally, and I think my readers would love to have a description of what you actually look like.
GR: Under normal circumstances I would object, because I quite like my anonymity and it’s quite amusing to see how the living portray me. The unknown is the greatest sire of fear. (Pauses) But since I am feeling generous tonight, I will allow you this indulgence.
Sam: Oh, okay, thank you so much…
He takes a bony finger and slowly pushes back his hood until it falls over his shoulders. I am left speechless for a minute. His head is indeed a skull, a prominent one with handsome bone structure. The surface of his skull has tiny intricate designs delicately etched into the ivory bone, like embroidery on his bone. The designs look ancient like those on his cloak. I have never seen anything like it before. His eye sockets have a transfixing quality with a soft blue glow encompassing the empty space. He is surprisingly expressive for not having any real facial features. I find him oddly attractive.
GR: Your expression indicates you like what you see…
Sam: (Turns hot red) I, I just didn’t expect you to look the way you do, that’s all. (Nervously giggles) I’m sorry…
GR: (Smiles) There is something I would like to show you.
Sam: (Anxiously shifts in chair) Okay
He pulls his hood back up over his head, mutters something in a language I’ve never heard and then pushes his hood back down. I am greeted by the face of a god-like man with bright blue eyes and the same exquisite bone structure of Grim’s skeletal form. I have to keep my jaw from dropping.
Sam: Oh my God! Is that really you? (Wipes mouth to make sure drool didn’t escape)
GR: This was my human face. I can place an incantation to show it whenever I want, but since I have not cared to do so until now, I rarely do. Do you approve?
Sam: (Nods like an idiot) You are quite handsome.
GR: If you agreed to be with me, I would keep this face all the time.
Sam: What do you mean, “Be with you”?
GR: As my mate. I sense a sad darkness in you that coincides with my own. I feel that you would be an empathetic companion on my journeys. You would want for nothing. I know living men are fickle, they do not have the presence of mind that I have to treat you how you so deserve.
Sam: (Panicked) Wait, am I dying? Is that why you are asking me this? (Starts to hyperventilate)
GR: No, no my dear, you are not dying. Not yet. However, if you wish to be with me, I can shorten your lifespan to right now and we can start our forever so that no more time is wasted.
I catch my breath, more relieved than anything that I am not in fact dying. Man, I thought I had nerves of steel but looking down at the barrel of death had scared the shit out of me. I regain my mental composure and really start to contemplate what he has just proposed to me. I stare at his beautiful face. I could get used to seeing that every day. Him smiling at me. Looking at me with those gorgeous eyes. Holding me in his strong, bony arms… Wait, wait, wait, what the hell am I thinking?!? This is crazy talk! I’m not that desperate, I’m not that desperate…
Sam: That is a very tempting offer, Grim. (Sighs deeply) I really do appreciate the sentiment. But I still feel like I have so much to live for. There’s so much I still need to do. Things that I want to do. During my living life. I’m sorry, but I have to decline with some regret.
GR: (Pulls his hood over his head so that all I see is black again) How disappointing. (He half sighs) But I understand. (He floats up out of his chair and extends his hand out to me. I take it and he closes his other hand on top of mine. My heart pounds from the weight he places on my hand. He leans in and whispers into my ear) It’s not like you will live forever. I’ll be waiting.
And with that he floats away, disappearing into the night.
We’re switching it up this week here at the Crusade – we’re posting pieces based on a one-word prompt: “interview.” Check back every day to see where the next writer takes it.