Saturday, October 25, 2008

How to Ruin Halloween for the Grim Reaper by Dahlia Rose and Crymsyn Hart

Harmony stared longingly at the calendar. Only three more days until Halloween, then she would have a day off. She sighed as she stared at the palm trees lining the white sandy beach and the turquoise water lapping at the shore. Already there was a hammock, a good book, a coconut filled drink with a pink umbrella, and some sun tan lotion calling her name. Her bags had been packed for days, but she was getting impatient counting down the time until she could take the day off. After all, as a Grim Reaper, the only time Death got to take a holiday was on Halloween. It was the only day in the year that her office shut down. She could do whatever she wanted from midnight to midnight. Every year, she found herself on a secluded paradise, with a stack of books, and a gorgeous cabana boy who refilled her drinks. She wasn’t the only one looking forward to a vacation. The whole office was. Harmony was only one out of two hundred Grim Reapers. She’d been in her job for almost two hundred years now. The pay was great, the hours were long, but every year their quota increased. If they didn’t have their list cleared by midnight on Halloween morning, they had to work overtime until they could get caught up.

Each Reaper worked alone. It wasn’t a job for just anyone. She’d seen so many of her colleagues burn out after only a couple of years. Afterwards they would get processed like the rest of the souls they handled. Harmony had never seen what was past the waiting room. She wasn’t in any hurry to find out yet either. She liked life too much. Granted, she had died, but dying was the only way to become a Reaper. When the Reaper who had come to collect her soul saw how reluctant she was to leave her body, he decided to give her another option. Harmony smiled as she thought back to the first time she had seen Clem, her mentor, the Reaper who had brought her into the office for an interview.

Clem wasn’t the typical Reaper. All humans saw Death cloaked in a black robe. Sometimes mortals were more perceptive, seeing the skeletal face and the scythe, the symbolic fa├žade of Death. In reality, the preferred dress for her position was all black. Clem, on the other hand wore Hawaiian shirts, torn jeans, and sandals. She’d never seen him when his hair wasn’t a mess, with his beard all scraggly. His entire face was tattooed with leopard spots. Plugs stretched his ear lobes to the size of a small orange. A silver bull ring ran through his lower lip. He had a chain stretching from one ear to a hoop on his top lip. Clem liked to boast that the punk rock piercing craze was his idea. The day he had come to collect her, when she saw him standing there in his Hawaiian shirt with spots on his face, she nearly died all over again from the shock. At first she thought he was a demon come to take her to hell. Once he had explained he was a minion of Death, coming to take her to the great dance hall in the sky, she had calmed down.

Her face burned with the memory of how she had died. She was a burlesque dancer in the mid-1800s. While she was dancing, Harmony had missed a step and slipped. It wasn’t the fall that had killed her. She had stumbled back into one of the sets. A sandbag came off the rope it was holding, landed on her face, smothering her. It was an embarrassing way to die, but ehh, she had gotten over it. She wasn’t showing her skin to make a living, which really made her happy.

“You daydreaming again about where you’re going on your vacation? Let me guess, this time it’s Cozumel, the French Rivera, or how about Jamaica?”

Harmony looked up at Clem through her red hair. Today it was slightly wavy. Tomorrow it could be full blown curls looking like a summer sunset had been painted on the strands. Every day her hair changed texture and color. It seemed to get a life of its own after she died. In life she was a boring brunette, but in death she was a lively red head. Her skin had paled. Her eyes reflected the light like any night creature. Once in a while, she wondered if Reapers were related to vampires, because if she got a whiff of blood, her mouth watered. It was very disturbing. She waited for fangs to grow or bat wings. After two hundred years on the job, it had never happened. Today Clem’s outfit consisted of dark blue khaki shorts, a worn out, holey Jimmy Buffet T-shirt, over which he had an outrageously bright yellow Hawaiian shirt, with his customary sandals. Harmony had never been able to figure out his age. His beard was dark brown, but his hair was salt and pepper. There were no wrinkles on his face, because if there were, the tattoos covered them up. He acted like he was twenty, but possessed the wisdom of Solomon.

“No, I think I’ll make it simple this year, I’m going to Barbados. I haven’t been there in a while. I want to take it nice and easy. I might even try to throw in some gambling this year. I don’t know though; don’t want to press my luck too much.” Harmony smiled, tearing her gaze away from the calendar on her desk. Turning her head she glanced at a picture from last year, when she was taken unaware by a tourist on the beach.

It showed her with big sun glasses covering half of her face, nose buried in a book, with legs that stretched out a mile. Of course the tourist had been aiming for her cleavage, which was quite visible even in the one piece she was wearing. She tried not to think about that. Harmony remembered she had taken off her glasses, giving her Death Stare to the tourist. It hadn’t worked since she was enjoying her well deserved vacation. If the look had worked, the guy would have been dead in half a second flat from a heart attack. Harmony was at the top of the list for harvesting souls, with her Death Stare; at over twenty thousand and still counting. She didn’t like to brag, but she was the fastest, most rewarded Reaper in the history of the office. As soon as a name appeared on the list, she was there collecting the soul before anyone could say “Hey look, it’s Elvis.” Who was actually a Reaper, by the way, often getting in trouble when he made “unofficial” stops. Of course, he was given special treatment because he was such a celebrity. At the office Christmas parties he always sang.

“Well, I can see that you are, as always, way ahead of the curve. You don’t have any backlog. Your list for today seems to be shorter than anyone else’s. You must be going for employee of the year again,” Clem said as he sat on the edge of her desk.

Harmony blushed. She hated being the center of attention, which was odd since she used to dance burlesque. She had become used to the anonymity of Death. It was true, she did excel at being a Reaper. Clem joked about her sixth sense. It seemed she always knew what soul would end up on her list before he did. When that happened, she always appeared to them minutes or hours before hand. Harmony liked to think that this was what she had been fated to do. Now that she was caught up and then some, she could take a few minutes to herself, to file some of the paperwork piling up around her. She hated the paperwork aspect of her jobs. Sometimes there were just those souls who did not want to continue on to the great beyond. They did not want to see what was past the Waiting Room. If that happened, she got a backlog, had to file a ton of papers in triplicate in order to get upper management to understand what happened. At least in the past few years, they had streamlined the form, making it pretty simple. It was known that some humans didn’t want to give up the ghost right away because they didn’t realize they were dead. It was very rare that someone, like she had been, just flat out refused to die.

“Now you know I don’t plan for that. It’s just a knack I have. Besides I learned it from the best there is!” She smiled up at Clem.

Her mentor, and boss, smiled back at her. “Hey, what can I say, I’m the greatest boss in the history of the Reaping office. Now, before your head is filled with frolicking dolphins and way too many Pina Coladas, here is your list of souls that we have so far. Knowing you, you’ll have them all done by lunch time. Remember, we’re meeting Melody tonight for dinner.”

Harmony rolled her eyes. Melody was Clem’s girlfriend from the Supernatural Creatures Division. He had been seeing her forever. Harmony liked her okay, but whenever the three of them got together, Clem insisted they sing karaoke since they had a great Melody and Harmony. It was an awful joke because even though Melody could sing like a lark, Harmony sounded like a dead black cat. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll be there I know. Now shoo, so I can get back to work.”

Clem handed her today’s assignments and headed back to his office. Taking the list, she skimmed over it. There were over six hundred names, but that was a typical day’s work. It only took about two- three minutes for her to snatch a soul and then bring it back to the Waiting Room. After that she was on to the next one. Harmony sighed, while staring at the clock. It was time to get back to work and she only hoped there wouldn’t be any snags.