Here’s a story I wrote some time ago for a contest Dark Recesses Press magazine was running at the time. The theme was deje’ vu and involved stories that we’ve all heard before, often from classic monster tales and the like, but told in our own voices. I decided to take my crack at a story which had been on my mind for a while. It started with a scene involving a certain black clad individual sitting around a kitchen table drinking coffee. Whenever a story idea sits in my head long enough, that’s when I know the story has to get written. This is that story, told with tongue firmly in cheek. Although it didn’t win the contest, it’s one I had a lot of fun with. I hope you enjoy it, too, whether you read it over your own morning coffee or not.
If you enjoyed it, please do leave a comment down below.
‘Till Death Do We Meet
by Rick Hipson
Roger didn’t remember getting out of bed, but there he was: top of the stairs, with his wife peering over his shoulder. Another thud rocked beneath their feet.
“I-I dunno.” Roger managed. But next thing he knew, Ruthie was following him down the stairs. They descended one at a time; pause after a few, then Ruthie’d nudge him until the bottom was reached.
Dishes clattered from the kitchen.
Probably that damn cat again, he thought. She had told him a few days ago the stray had been a gift from God. He called it a nuisance. Rounding the corner he said, “Stop poking me. I’m going.”
“Be careful,” she whispered.
Carefulness couldn’t have prepared Roger for what saw in the kitchen. He’d seen men killed and dismembered fighting someone else’s war. He’d seen what saw blades and nail guns could do to a careless man on a construction site. But nothing could have steeled him for the improbable nightmare that stood before him like an abomination, a mockery of anything good that still existed in this world.
Hell stood in the kitchen; over seven feet of it. One hand was buried wrist deep in bumble berry pie while the other searched the cupboard. A scarlet cloak flowed from its shoulders, and what looked to be a black leather bonnet stretched over its bulbous skull. The sounds of chewing reminded Roger of the only time he’d been out hunting. Separated from the group, he had come upon a timber wolf eating the guts from a discarded deer. He hadn’t been hunting since.
“My pie!” Ruthie shouted as she shot out from behind Roger. She bolted for the counter before her husband remembered how to breathe and blink again. Ruthie smacked a clawed hand away from her pie, then snatched the dish away.
Thunder roared from the death bringer’s black hole of a mouth as he stepped back, unimpressed. “Woman, don’t dare get in my way! I’ll pick the flesh from your bones and roast your guts on a spit. And where the hell are the glasses to wash down this over-baked pie?”
Roger snapped back to reality. Nobody spoke to his wife like that; not in his home, and certainly not in her kitchen. And that breathe!
“You look here,” he said, hoping to sound braver than he felt. He stepped back for good measure.
“This is my house and that’s my wife, so damn you – whoever you are – for thinking you can just barge in here like this. Ruthie, call the cops.”
“And the glasses are right next to the big plates, you blind oaf.” Exhausting his bravery, Roger leaned against the dinner table for support.
“Oh, please,” Death said as he grabbed a glass and overflowed it with tap water. “Save your breath while you still have some.”
Death gulped the water and slammed the glass down hard enough that it should have shattered. Belching, he added, “Oh, and another thing – I’ve eaten better pies from whores in hell than I’ve had from your counter. Sorry, folks, but fact’s a fact.”
Chuckling at his own crude humour, Death shoved a chair across the floor with his foot and motioned for Ruthie to sit down. “Take a seat, lady. I’ll explain a few things to you.” Death pulled an hour glass from inside his cloak and watched the grains fall. “We’ve got a little time.”
Ruthie grabbed a rolling pin from the counter and waved it in Death’s face. Twin red orbs glowed back at her.
“You listen here,” Ruthie said in her best no-nonsense tone. “You may think you’re something special, but you don’t give the orders in this household, mister. Now go sit down while I make coffee. Roger needs his pills soon, and he doesn’t like them dry. Well sort this mess out over coffee and nice conversation.”
Death stood silent a moment, then said, “You’re incredulous, lady. You’ve got balls the size of boulders. I like that. If you can brew better than you bake, make mine black and strong while I tell Roger a bedtime story.”
Roger let his shoulders sag with the weight of the moment. He clutched at his stomach and moaned.
“Stomach hurt?” Death asked, taking a seat at the table.
Roger nodded and took a seat for himself.
“Cancer’ll do that to you.”
“No, it’s not the – How…?” Roger ripped a long staccato fart and exhaled his relief. “Just gas, but how’d you know about the cancer?”
Ruthie wiggled her nose and scowled at Roger. About to reprimand his lack of manners, she settled on putting the coffee maker to brew and listened for Death’s response.
“Nice going, pal,” Death said. He watched a blue flame sputter from the end of his finger. Blowing it out, he leaned forward and asked, “Roger, why do you think I’m here?”
“I reckon you mean to tie us up in the garage. Probably steal our jewelry and record collection, and then make off in our car so you can go brag to your buddies what a no good beggar you are. Close enough for ya, you home wrecking – ”
Death waved a hand at Roger. He shook with laughter. Catching his breath, he said, “Stop, please. My ribs. You’re killing me.”
Ruthie watched them from the corner of her eye. She gathered two mugs from the cupboard and put two scoops of sugar in one.
“Let me set it straight for you, pal. I’m Death, the final chapter of your life’s book. Hell, you can call me the Grand Orchestrator of the big gig in the sky if it pleases you. Whatever you wanna call me, I’m here because soon you won’t be. I’m your usher into the beyond.”
“Beyond your life, you old coot. Didn’t think it’d last forever, did ya?”
“No, but -”
“No buts, pal. The sands of time are set in stone and yours have but a few measly grains left. There’s also the small matter of your soul.”
Death pointed upwards. “He gave it to you, and when your heart stops, he’ll want it back. My job’s to make sure he gets it.”
“You can’t have my soul,” Roger whined. “And I’m going nowhere with a degenerate like you.”
“I don’t make the rules,” Death shrugged. “I enforce them. Be grateful you’re not going the other way. Oh, that ain’t pretty, let me tell ya. No bumble berry pie down there, which may be the only good thing about it.”
“Matter of fact,” Death continued, leaning on his elbows. “Be lucky I’m even having this trivial little chat with you. Only reason I am, is ‘cus my last appointment thought it a good idea to suck on the barrel of a shotgun instead of going to the store for more liquor. Was supposed to get killed by a trigger-happy mugger along the way. The guy had everything too. Never saw that one coming. Oh well, part of the job, eh?”
“Get your elbows off my table,” Ruthie snapped as she set the coffees in front of them. “This isn’t a barn.”
“Sorry,” Death muttered. He sipped the fresh brew and moaned with pleasure. “Yes,” he said. “Hot, strong and bitter. Now that’s coffee.”
“So glad it’s to your standards,” Ruthie said, not trying to hide her sarcasm. “You boys chat nicely. I have to put food out for that poor tabby.” She took a packet of food from the counter and left the kitchen.
“Don’t forget my pills,” Roger called after her.
Setting his mug down, Death said, “That’s a good woman. If you’re lucky, maybe the man upstairs’ll let you watch over her when you’re gone.”
“Gone?” Roger echoed. “You don’t make any sense.” Roger began massaging his temples with his thumbs.
“Head pounding again?” Death asked. “Walls closing in? You can just feel the tumor in your guts like it’s the happiest tumor in the world, can’t ya?” Sharp teeth clashed together as Death grinned wide and mischievous.
“I’m fine,” Roger said. “Been great for days. I just need to wake up from you and this nightmare is all.”
Death glanced at the clock on the wall. “Glad you think I’m dreamy, pal, but I got a tight schedule to keep. At 6:46 you’re going out like a worn-out bulb even if I have to reach into your stomach and crush your liver myself. Death ain’t supposed to be beautiful and romantic, so suck it up and be happy your pretty wife gets to miss the ugly part.”
Roger’s face turned red and he clenched his feeble fists at his sides. “Ruthie’s not here but I am. I’m the man of this house and it’s past your time to leave or so help me—“
“Shut up, Roger.” Death held his palm out for silence. “You got no time for babble so I suggest you find your happy place and take pride in that.”
“That’s it, I’m calling the cops.”
Before Roger could so much as shift his ass in the chair, a long curved blade flashed out from nowhere. Held ever so gently against his wrinkled throat, blood trickled from the slight pressure. Red orbs reflected off the steadfast blade as Roger stared ahead.
“Look,” Death said. “I’m trying to be nice here, save your old lady from slipping on the blood, but y’know something? Your stubborn thick-headedness is losing its charm. Now sit still and die with some dignity for Christ sake. You can do that for one minute can’t you?”
“Your pills, Sweetie.” Ruthie held two oval pills in her outstretched palm and smiled like she always did when Roger needed to be calmed down a little.
“I-I didn’t hear you come back,” Roger huffed as the scythe disappeared as fast as it came. Ruthie didn’t seem to notice.
“Ruthie,” Death said. “I’m afraid Roger won’t need those anymore.”
“Of course he will,” Ruthie declared. “He always takes them at 7:00 a.m.”
“Roger’ll be departing at 6:46. Look at the clock. You’re both out of time.”
“That old thing?” Ruthie waved at the wall. “It’s always about fifteen minutes fast. Don’t know why. Just never got to fixing it, I guess.”
“No,” Death hissed as he stood and knocked over his chair. He tore the hourglass from beneath his cloak. Not a single grain remained in the upper half.
“How can this be?” Death shouted while Roger reached for his pills. Death looked at the Rolex hanging loosely on his wrist. Two minutes past seven. Death flashed the scythe and lifted it high above his head, ready to swing. “I’m never late!”
“Oh, relax,” Ruthie was quick to say. “Not like Death can be fired. Besides, you don’t go to your next appointment now, all the more souls to go unushered. I know you don’t want to answer to that kind of unbalanced chaos, do you?”
Slowly, Death lowered the blade, “What do you know of souls and ushering, woman?” He demanded. The handle of his blade creaked as his fingers gripped tighter. “Oh, what does it matter? I’m ruined. I’ll never work in this field again.”
“Death is just never late,” he whispered.
“Yeah, Ruthie,” Roger offered as his eyes darted from her to Death. “How did you know about all that soul mumbo-jumbo? You two meet at a grocery store or something?”
Ruthie handed Roger his mug so he could swallow his pills and said, “You men are all the same. Don’t listen to what a lady’s got to say, right? Nothing but pretty heads full of air, right? Both of you. Come with me.”
With that, Ruthie turned and ascended the stairs. Death and Roger looked at one another, shrugged, and followed. They met her on the second floor at the end of the hall. Roger and Ruthie’s room.
“What’s this?” Death asked as he entered the room. Looking just as puzzled, Roger joined them asking Ruthie, “What are you doing, leading this – this intruder in here? You gone senile on me?”
“Roger,” Ruthie said in a soft voice from the center of the room. “The bed. Pull the blankets aside, would you?”
Roger looked at the bed, his eyes squinted. Something beneath the covers. Somebody in his bed. He looked between Death and his wife where he met no quarter, only blank faces.
“What is this?” Roger demanded. “Your drunken friend that thinks he can sleep here?” Then, glaring at Ruthie, he said, “What do you know of this? What has he put you up to? I want answers, dammit!”
Ruthie elbowed past Roger so that she stood between him and the bed.
“Sweetheart,” She said. She traced her fingertips along his jaw line and his expression slackened a little. “I tried telling you, but – pull back the covers,” Ruthie repeated.
“This is crazy,” Roger said. With no choice but to succumb to the fate of his curiosity and the end of his patience, Roger reached past Ruthie. He grabbed the covers and in one hurried motion pulled them back to reveal what lay beneath.
Roger gazed upon his cold, dead self. His corpse bride snuggled tight against him, a slight smile frozen on blue lips.
Roger’s hand shot to his mouth. “My god,” He managed. He reached for his wife’s hands, hands that were always there for him, hands that no longer existed. Even her face had begun to fade out of focus. “Ruthie?”
“It’s okay, dear, don’t be afraid. We can go together now.” She cupped his face in her hands and smiled. Roger smiled back and almost missed the blade that rose above their heads.
“Ruthie!” Roger wrapped his arms around his wife to cloak her from Death’s impending blow.
The windows shook and the curtains billowed as Death’s storm raged. “If I can’t have your soul,” he roared, “neither can you. I’m tearing you apart!”
Death swung and a cat howled as claws sprang up from the doorway. With the stray at his face, Death dropped to the floor screaming as his blade fell upon him, severing his curses and his head.
With morbid fascination, Roger and Ruthie watched the cat emerge from its battle. The robe blew and crumpled empty against the back wall.
“Well, that’s the end of that racket,” Ruthie said.
“I don’t know if that cat’s a gift like you said,” Roger started, “or who that guy really was. What I wanna know is, what’re we gonna do with these bodies of ours?”
“We watch over them,” Ruthie answered. “We watch over each other and don’t let anything get in our way. Not in this world, not in the next.”
And with those words, the two embraced and slowly faded away, forever bound and true.
Alone in the house, the cat looked on as it washed its face with a padded paw. Lick. Wash. Repeat.
< FIN >