Jay Ericson, 63, was going to die in three minutes from internal injuries received when he accidentally hit a power line while pruning a tree in his yard. Death stood about ten feet away from him, stop watch and clipboard at the ready.
The yard was neatly maintained, and had several nice plants arranged in small gardens here and there. The tree Jay was pruning was monstrous. It was mildly shocking to see a tree that old in a suburb. It had a good number of dead branches, which could be dangerous if they were left to fall on their own.
Jay’s wife had just brought him a glass of lemonade and gone back inside. Neither of them noticed Death, though she was standing in plain sight. Standing in plain sight hadn’t bothered her before, and she’d always taken it for granted that she was unseen while working. After this whole thing with Thomas started, though, she was always rather relieved when her clients didn’t notice her. Discretion was the better part of reaping souls, after all. It wouldn’t do for everyone who was about to die to start panicking and flailing about in hopes of warding her off.
Jay had finished his lemonade and resumed work on the tree. Every second he got a little closer to the power line. Death was focussed on his every movement, so she was very surprised to hear a voice right next to her. Talking to, of all people, her.
“Hey Death, who’s cooking today?” Ares said. He sounded a little overly cheerful.
Death jumped, and looked to see Ares standing right next to her, also watching Jay work. She wondered how long he’d been there, and looked around to see if anyone was in the area. She might be unseen when she was working, but she wasn’t sure if Ares would go unnoticed. And if people could see him, well, he was the kind of guy who made an impression that was hard to forget.
“I’m working right now Ares, it’s not a good time to chat.” She did her best to sound pleasant, but her aggravation with being interrupted was obvious.
“If you say so. Mind if I just hang out and watch? I love seeing someone who is a master of her craft going about her work.”
“Can he see you?”
“Him? No. He’s pruning a tree.”
“OK, could he see you? If he were to look this way?” Death asked.
“I’m not really sure,” Ares said, then he bellowed, “Hey! You in the tree! Can you see me?”
Jay jumped slightly, and turned around to see who had yelled at him. He appeared confused when he realized it was a very large, muscular man dressed in black leather. He wondered if he’d somehow managed to piss off a professional wrestler, and if so, how he’d forgotten about it. Then he looked straight at Death.
“Yes, I can see you,” Jay said, and started to climb down from where he was perched in the tree. “Who are you?”
“Ares, god of war. Who are you?”
Jay had reached the ground, and wondered if climbing out of the tree had been such a good idea. He would have had a strategic advantage in the tree, assuming this guy stayed down there on the ground. Death was busy frantically revising her notes and trying to cook up an alternate plan.
“God of war, right. And who’s she?”
Ares looked over at Death, who looked back and, almost imperceptibly, shook her head no.
“I don’t know. Some chick who was just hanging out in your yard. Don’t mind us. Go back to work.”
Right then, Eris appeared next to Ares. Jay saw this happen, took two steps backwards, and his mouth had dropped open. He wondered if he’d lost his mind.
“You know, it wasn’t very nice of you to stand me up after making plans,” she said to Ares. Eris looked rather pissed off.
“What the hell? Where the dell did you come from? How did you do that?” Jay asked Eris.
Eris didn’t answer, as she had noticed Death. Eris gave her a withering look, then looked at Ares.
“You stood me up to come hang out with this emaciated whore in some guy’s yard? What’s so interesting about this asshole that you’d want to come watch him die?”
“What?” Jay said.
Eris continued, “Yeah, nothing. Which means you’re just here to hang out with your little piece of morbid ass.
Death suddenly didn’t feel very well. She had really just wanted this to be a nice, clean where she could focus on her job, instead of trying to deal with utter chaos. She was also feeling extremely insulted. However, there would be time to deal with Eris later. For now, she needed to focus on getting this situation back into some kind of control.
“I didn’t stand you up,” Ares said to Eris. “I don’t even remember making plans with you.”
“Oh, whatever. You made plans with me. We were going to go and stir up some destruction and mayhem. But instead of hundreds of dead and a ruined city, I have to track you down having a tea party in some idiot’s suburban backyard?”
Jay was beyond confused. He said, “What the hell did she mean about watching me die?”
Death took a breath to speak, but Eris was already talking.
“Yeah, sorry guy. It’s your time.”
Just then, a very large branch fell from the tree he’d been pruning and struck him on the head. Jay collapsed under it, and didn’t move apart from a slightly twitchy left foot.
“What the hell just happened?” Death said.
“Chaos, honey. Look into it sometime,” Eris said. “And stay away from Ares, he’s mine. Got it?”
“Whatever, Eris. I didn’t invite him here.”
“Could someone please tell me what the fuck is going on today?” Jay’s soul said. He was standing with his hands on his hips just in front of the three gods.
Death was about to apologize for the sloppy work, but was interrupted by Jay’s wife, Mindy (overdose on painkillers), came running out into the yard, screaming. She ran over to Jay’s body and tried to lift the branch off of him, but it was too heavy for her to move. She looked over at Death, Ares and Eris.
“For God’s sake, come help me!”
“Yay, chaos!” Eris said.
Ares seemed unsure of what to do. He took a hesitant step forward, then a few more, and then went over to where Jay’s body lay pinned by the branch. He lifted it off easily and tossed it to one side. Then he shook himself, and went back over to where Death and Eris were standing.
Mindy held Jay’s head and tried to convince him not to be dead.
“Did we screw things up?” Ares asked Death.
She glared at him. “Yes, you guys screwed things up. I told you I was working, but you just had to hang around anyway.”
“Seems to me we just made things more interesting,” Eris said.
“Would one of you please tell me what the fuck just happened here?” Jay’s soul said. He was starting to shake.
“Well, obviously you just died, stupid,” Eris said.
“OK,” Death said, “That’s enough. Ares and Eris, you two need to leave. Now.”
“Whatever,” Eris said, and disappeared.
“Um. Sorry to mess things up,” Ares said. “I guess I’m not so good with non-violent situations.”
“It’s fine. Go now Ares,” Death said.
“See you around,” Ares said. He disappeared as well.
“What a day,” Death muttered to herself. She looked at Jay.
“Sorry about all this. I had a really good death planned out for you. You wouldn’t have even seen it coming. You might not have even felt it.”
Jay looked unimpressed. “Yeah, well, instead I spent my last few seconds on Earth confused and then terrified.”
“Hey, I said I was sorry. And most people spend their last few moments confused and terrified. Comes with the territory, pal. Do you know how few people actually die in their sleep? And what fun is that, anyway? You don’t even get the experience, you’d just wake up dead. Boring.”
“Wow, you’re really an asshole,” Jay said.
“Sorry. I’ve been out of sorts.”
When Death returned from the gateway, the ambulance to for Jay had just arrived. Mindy was busy fretting over Jay, and didn’t notice Death’s reappearance. The EMTs didn’t notice her either.
She walked down the street a ways to where she had left her motorcycle. It looked like there was something on the seat. When she reached her bike, she saw someone had left a dozen black roses for her. There was a card too.
It was signed “Thomas S.”
The son of a bitch had been there too. Couldn’t she just do her damn job?
Death decided to call Hep and Scroat.
“Hey, have you found anything out about Thomas?” Death asked.
“Not really,” Hep said. “So far we’ve staked out his house, but he hasn’t been there.”
“The bastard just left me a bunch of black roses on the seat of my bike.”
“Whoa. That’s pretty cocky,” Hep said.
“Yeah. And I don’t see a sign of him otherwise.”
“Well, maybe Scroat and I will just go ahead and invite ourselves into his place and see if there’s anything of interest in there.”
“That sounds totally reasonable to me,” Death said. “Let me know what you find out.”
“Likewise. Hey, if he’s following you around, it might make it a lot easier to grab him.”
“Fingers crossed, Hep.” Death said. She hung up the phone and got on her bike. She was going to catch this guy.
Her phone beeped then to remind her she had another death to attend to. She hoped that this one would go uninterrupted by uninvited friends. It would be nice to just go about business as usual, even if it was only for a few minutes.