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Grim Clerk: Death at your Convenience

by Mr.RMA

Mr.RMA Keith is getting more used to this whole Grim Reaper thing, though a strangely vivid dream seems to generate a prophetic warning of a vengeful soul forcing itself unnaturally back into the mortal world with catastrophic results. It's up to Keith to make sure the spirit is put to rest before it can do too much damage.
Advisory: Has stuff like death, some coarse language and a somewhat graphic scene or two. Just in case you don't wanna read that sort of thing.
Everything was where it had been when his last breath left his body. His consciousness had left its mortal shell, standing, or rather, floating there now above it, a near-perfect resemblance, overlooking the lack of puncture marks. He floated there, emanating a murky grey aura as a cloaked figure with a scythe approached him. The cloak this being wore was shadowy in nature, as if it could melt down into the pavement below and become nothing more than a black dot. The scythe consisted of a pitch-black staff with a blade attached that seemed so sharp that it could cut through anything like wet paper. Everything about this being plainly inferred Death, the Grim Reaper, the collector of souls… Well… everything until one got a good look at his face…

Yes, Keith Gregor could certainly dress the part, he had the capacity to act the part, but when it came to looking the part… well… he didn’t want to look the part. Speaking to a soul freshly removed from mortality just didn’t seem like the sort of job for someone so shadowy and… for lack of a better term, grim. Might as well treat these people like the human beings they were still used to being.

“Hey… You’re ah… Seth, right?” Keith asked, not that he needed to. The names of which souls were most commonly identified, either by themselves or others, were immediately revealed to him upon a first meeting, along with whatever language they spoke, or, if there was no language to speak, telepathic conversation. All that information was well and good, but, hey, these people deserved to have at least a little feeling of agency.

“…Yeah…” The floating spirit muttered, as if not entirely aware of his surroundings yet.

“Ah, good, good, got the name right then, awesome… Okay, well, let’s not beat around the bush here alright? So, I’m what folks call the grim reaper, kind of a dour name but I get why they use it… anyway, I’m supposed to guide souls of the deceased to their proper afterlife and all that, and that’s where you come in.” A very roundabout way of saying ‘you’re dead, come with me,’ but, Keith figured a lifechanging event like this deserved a bit of tact, perhaps in the same way that one might tell an angry customer that they couldn’t get a refund.

“…You’re joking right?” Seth asked, apparently not bothering to look down and see the evidence for himself, but then, that was more common than one might think… Sense of denial was never stronger than for the dead.

“Not a joke, buddy, trust me, all this is the real deal. Don’t worry about it, we’ll get you on your way just as soon as we’ve got your whole situation all figured out.”

“I’m not goin’ anywhere…” Seth answered quietly, gripping his hands into two translucent fists as his aura seemed to tinge a shade of magenta.

“Hey it’s alright to have initial denial about this, believe me… if you need to talk it over, we can take however long it takes,” Keith said, concentrating as he went through the last moments of this man’s life… seeing him pinning someone to a wall… reaching for something… then falling back from multiple stab wounds… Okay… that was all a bit off already, he couldn’t lie… then he looked back up at the ghost and suddenly his aura had gone a deep red…

“I’m. Not. Going. ANYWHERE.” As the man repeated his statement, suddenly his body seemed to take on a fleshy appearance, but the aura was still there… and as the man glared at him, Keith saw his arms begin to twitch violently as the bones within seemed to be crackling and shifting like gears and cogs in a machine. Sharp points seemed to erupt from the arms like hives before jutting out further and taking on the form of blades, blades that covered every inch of the skin from his shoulders to his hands. Seth didn’t seem to notice his transformation at all, continuing to glare at Keith, his eyes suddenly going an abyssal black before he let out a yell that sounded like the knives on his arms against porcelain.

In an instant, Keith found himself waking up with a jolt… back in an all too familiar place; a cold-tiled floor nestled between two tables stocked with cigarettes, lottery tickets and gum. Familiar sight, but what wasn’t familiar was the idea of waking up there…

“Wakey wakey, kid,” a gruff voice called over to him as he picked himself up. Said voice belonged to a fellow draped in military garb that denoted quite the decorated experience out in the field… though the uniform was by far the most normal thing about them, namely when one considered the literally hawk-like face, beak and all, with accompanying talons for hands and feet. “You expect to keep this mortal job you’re so attached to if you’re napping like that?”

Naturally the embodiment of War had a bit of a confrontational habit. Still, they had a point. He was the only official staff running the convenience store, a common occurrence these days… Essentially, he’d been promoted to manager as well, just without the fancy title or paygrade. Most of the other workers had quit for any number of reasons, leaving Keith with plenty of overtime to his name. It certainly kept the bills paid… but he had more than that reason to while away the time here…

“Do not be so hard on the poor soul,” replied a raspy, near breathless voice suddenly from behind the undead clerk. “You know he never truly stops working. Surely a little rest would do his mortal mind some good.” This individual was something of a plant-like construct, composed of what looked like dead and burnt tree branches and twigs forced into the shape of a malnourished humanoid.

“Defend him if you must, Famine, but if he loses this employment, we’re stuck looking for another haven together. I doubt you wish to undergo that charming series of events again, now would you?” War said, grumpily crossing their arms as they spoke.

“His boss doesn’t seem to care one way or another… I suspect we have very little to worry about regarding a nap.”

“It’s alright guys, I’ll keep myself awake for the rest of the shift, okay?” Keith muttered as he walked over to the freezer to do a quick inventory check. At least that was the plan, but ultimately, he found himself merely staring glaze-eyed at the frozen goods without so much as a single counted item. Breaking him out of this trance was the feeling of a swarm of bugs suddenly crawling up his back and eventually gripping at his shoulders. Reflexively he let out a startled yelp and attempted to swat at the bugs, but, then he was quick to recall exactly what these things truly comprised of…

“Someone looks a little… out of it, today,” came the rattling, buzzing semblance of a voice near the clerk’s ear. Pestilence wasn’t so keen on the importance of one’s personal space, as if that came as a big surprise.

“…Yeah… and as a matter of fact, you’re not exactly helping the matter by getting all… clingy like that… Goddamn do you need to learn to give people their fuckin’ distance…” Keith replied with a shudder as he forced himself away from the plague entity’s grasp.

“There’s… hardly any fun in that… You don’t get to sense the blood pumping through their body… the heat, the squirming… all those little functions… all reacting to the touch of one such as I… It’s priceless.”

Keith was probably most unnerved by Pestilence on a regular basis, if one were to guess.

“I’m not even entirely alive in the conventional sense, how are you getting all that?” he asked in an annoyed tone as he pressed his back against the nearest wall just to make sure there weren’t any lingering ‘bugs’.

“Your mortal body emulates normal organic life just fine, Keith, I assure you,” they said, the insect-like creatures comprising their mouth uplifting into a ‘cheerful’ smile. “But my initial curiosity still remains… You’re distracted by something… Was it from that little nap of yours?” Ever the curious type, Pestilence was quite good at deduction as well.

Keith sighed, figuring he was going to want to talk this over with someone eventually.

“Yeah… something like that… Had a bit of a messed-up dream… Tried reaping a soul and the guy flipped the fuck out and grew knives all over his arms before charging me, then I woke up…” he attempted to explain, hoping that would be enough to cap the discussion there, but he knew better by now, those hopes weren’t going to be realized.

“Enticing… very much so…” Pestilence buzzed, threatening to get uncomfortably close again, Keith making a very conscious effort to keep a watchful distance now to foil this effort. “Well, you did say you are constantly carrying out your obligations on a subconscious level, yes? Perhaps you had yourself a little bit of trouble at work recently… Oh yes, most definitely I should think… You’ll be very busy now, very busy indeed…” they said with an irregular rattling noise that seemed to infer laughter before the swarm-like being slithered away, its body literally shifting into a snake-like shape to do so.

Not long after Pestilence disappeared, a ghostly fellow in a visage of his deceased mortal body, loose-fitting clothes, baseball cap and all, all entirely translucent blue in appearance, arrived on the scene.

“Anybody ever tell you that you keep really fuckin’ weird company these days,” the ghost, a guy who preferred the nomenclature Vic, said in his usual snarky tone.

“Yeah yeah, weird company, glad the ghost is telling me I’m abnormal,” Keith casually shot back as he made one last check for any straggling bugs on his person.

“Hey, ‘least I look relatable, right? Sure I’m transparent… floating… most folks can’t see me at all…”

“You got a point coming here?” Keith interrupted him before making his way out of the freezer and back to the cash register.

“Yeah as a matter of fact I do, jackass. What I’m saying is, you gonna tell me I’m anywhere near the level of the goddamn freaky trio you got kicking around? Between the living infestation, the pile of sticks and General fuckin’ Big Bird, I’d say I’m the picture of normalcy,” Vic said.

“Yeah, and I’m sure everyone who watches me apparently talking to myself would certainly agree…” Keith muttered as one of said people dropped by, had him ring up their order, and walk out with a look of passing concern.

“Hey, that’s your problem, not mine… ‘sides you could’ve sent me to my afterlife anytime now but you wanted yourself a pal to talk to, not my fault if the people think you’re a nut… Anyway, what the hell were you talkin’ to the Swarm about earlier?” Vic asked, changing the subject on a dime, par for the course really.

“Oh… just a stupid dream that got weird…” Keith replied.

“Angry bastard with knives coming out of his arms?” Vic guessed with startling accuracy.

“…How the hell’d you guess that?” Keith asked, quite stunned.

“You haven’t been listening to the news? You got that radio running full blast… Shit, I think they’re talking about it right now.”

The two listened closely as the news anchor began describing what sounded disturbingly close to the features of the man Keith had envisioned, causing a rampage in the next town over. Judging by the sounds of sirens beginning to emanate outside, Concord was only just now starting to take precautions in case the culprit decided to cross city borders.

“So… What the hell is all that supposed to mean?” Keith said in absolute befuddlement.

“My guess? You got a rogue spirit or some shit like that on your hands, Keith. You got that trick where you’re playing Grim Reaper on everyone all over the place, right? Maybe you missed one… could’a had that dream to warn yourself about it,” Vic said, leaning against the table like the entire situation was hardly a big deal.

“You’re certainly not panicking about it…” Keith said, already going for his robes and scythe.

“What’ve I got to panic about? I’m dead already. You on the other hand are probably gonna need to clean that mess up before that stabby bastard starts slashing up your soul quota for the day.” Vic said with a shrug.

“Just great… and I promised myself I’d keep the place open all shift for once…” Keith said with annoyance, and perhaps a touch of fear, as he flipped the ‘open’ sign to ‘closed’ and tossed the hood of his robes over his head, his face suddenly disappearing in a black void before he himself sunk into his own shadow, leaving a blot of darkness to slip out the door and in the direction of the destructive soul that awaited.

“Woah, where’s he hurrying off to all of a sudden?” War suddenly chirped, having apparently turned their attention to the proceedings at just the right moment.

“Huh? Oh, Keith’s gotta go put some angry wayward soul to rest or something, I dunno…” Vic said nonchalantly.

“Wayward soul… Oh boy… Pestilence! Famine! Come on, we gotta go after the boy before the poor sonovabitch gets his ass kicked.”

The more Keith tried to focus his concentration on this soul, the more he began to feel where it was… It was still deep within the town of Pembroke, likely having caused more than its fair share of commotion and destruction, but at the moment it was apparently situated somewhere in a public forest, naturally closed off by the police, and there was likely a swat team or something of that ilk attempting to neutralize the threat… but Keith suspected they were in over their heads with this one. He had to hurry and get the job done himself. Eventually he saw him… the spitting image of the man in the dream, awash in a dark red aura, and perhaps a bit of more-physical shades of red from other sources…

He attempted to stay in the shadows, trying to creep up on the man-turned-monstrosity, but to his shock, Seth turned around with a jolt as he’d attempted to close the gap.

“I know you’re there… Trying a second go, huh? I told you… I’m not going anywhere… but I know a good place for you to limp back to…” he growled before charging towards the shadow spot. Keith, having lost any semblance of concentration at this unexpected turn of events, suddenly popped out of said shadow and held out his scythe to defend the multitude of blades swinging down at him. Seth’s rage only seemed to grow, the blades began to poke out from his chest now, growing like it was the tumorous result some kind of spectral rage.

“Seth, I don’t know who you were in life but this can’t be how you want things to go! Languishing like this, turning into a monster, what kind of existence is that supposed to be?” Keith said, attempting to plead, but it didn’t seem to reach anything.

“What kind of existence? You have the balls to ask me that? Why don’t you tell me what kind of existence I’ve had to live for the past thirty years, huh?!” Seth angrily shouted back, knives actually seeming to fly from his mouth as he spoke, grazing Keith’s flesh, forcing him to leap back. No talking out of it then… a fight was inevitable. He grasped his scythe, though he didn’t move. If this was what Seth wanted, the man would have to advance first.

“I can’t just undo everything for you… but you’re suffering needlessly right now, and I’m obligated to end that one way or another… You make your choice how you want this to go down.” Both parties stood there silently then, reality itself seemed to freeze at their stand-off. Seth charged… blades flew from all sides of him. Keith did what he could to dodge or deflect them, but he felt a few nonetheless pass his defenses, tearing at his robes, piercing the body beneath as he swung his scythe at his attacker. He’d become agile and dexterous with it in short order, as if the instinctual ability came with the job, and after the pain of the initial onslaught he proceeded to return the gesture in kind, his ultra-sharp blade cutting through everything it contacted with, flesh, bone, metal, all like butter. Yet… Seth wasn’t slowing down. The blades seemed to jut out of cuts, soon it became difficult to tell where any flesh remained on the man.

Keith fell back into his shadow and put himself at a distance, struggling for a moment of recuperation. This abominable mutation of a soul wasn’t going down no matter how many times he struck at him. Just what was this anomaly? There was no way of beating it… but if he were to fall, it would have dibs at the powers of Death… He couldn’t allow that… Taking a few deep breaths, he steeled himself for another round when he heard a familiar, gruff voice.

“Goddammit, kid! Bring us along next time before doing something this stupid!” War shouted as they, Famine and Pestilence swooped in.

“What’re you guys doing here?” Keith asked, the appearance of the trio fortunately stopping Seth in his tracks for a few moments more.

“The hell do you think we’re doing? Trying to cull your stupidity!” War answered.

“You still aren’t used to the power you possess. This rogue spirit is beyond anything you know,” Famine said in an attempt to essentially translate War’s angry response.

“Fortunately, you have us around to pick up after you, of course,” Pestilence added smugly.

By now, Seth had seen enough and was resuming his charge. Keith readied his scythe again, and as he did, War glanced at him, his eyes glowing a bright yellow.

“Get back in there, soldier!” War demanded, and as he shouted, Keith could feel a sudden surge in energy, his fear seemed to vanish, replaced with a powerful desire to simply get the mission done… Swiftly he swung his scythe before Seth could get in the first strike, forcing him on the defensive. At that point the bug-like creatures forming pestilence seemed to all violently buzz at once, yet the noise was strangely… contained, not the deafening noise one would expect. Keith, at that moment, felt as if his vitality has risen several times over, as if every microscopic part of his body that powered his momentum was working in overdrive. Topping this all off, every gap and space between Famine’s various roots and branches began to glow a bright green light, and Keith could feel himself using every bit of power he had, no longer holding back even in the slightest, finding within him the sort of strength and energy he had never thought he possibly could’ve had.

Seth had no way of retaliating from the ensuing onslaught of slashes to his person, no amount of knifes protecting him from the scythe shattering them with ease at a breakneck pace, tearing at the skin beneath until he was ultimately too weak to put up any more of a fight.

“I didn’t want to have to do this to you, man…” Keith muttered, catching his breath as the assistive power from his apocalyptic comrades faded.

No response from the man, just a weakened, yet no-less-hateful glare.

“You can’t simply kill him again in this state. You have to force him out of this new physical body he’s reconstructed,” War said, his advising seeming far less standoffish than usual.

“How do I go about doing that?” Keith asked.

“You’re Death, you already know… Concentrate, bring forth your entire being and the solution will come instinctively,” Famine said in reply. His entire being… Keith realized then he’d have to draw upon every aspect of him reaping souls throughout the world… Seemed like a tall order, but he didn’t have any alternatives. Closing his eyes, he concentrated, tried to draw his focus entirely on one thing and one thing alone… the job here that had to take priority above all other mortal souls currently awaiting his guidance. As he opened his eyes, the feeling he’d had whilst experiencing the dream that led to this moment returned… but it was somehow a clearer feeling… More lucid, more with a sense of control. All the power of Death flowed back into him at once. His eyes began glowing a radiant red, through the shrouded darkness of his hooded face. He pointed with his free hand towards Seth, said hand suddenly looking shriveled, pale… bone-like… Seth’s body lost the multitude of knives… then the flesh beneath… and everything beneath that followed suit, the entire aberration of borrowed time from rage alone disintegrating, leaving the ghostly form of the soul floating there once more, screaming his unwillingness to pass on.

Keith saw flashes of a life… a young boy shouted at, threatened, beaten, growing up angry, violent, confused… growing older, growing angrier, the vicious cycle going round and round as he became the same monster of his upbringing… A potential victim… one who fought back… a struggle for a blade, a gash to the throat… darkness… awakening, confusion… anger far beyond anything he’d felt in life… Keith saw it all flash by as the soul dematerialized from the mortal realm for good, awaiting a judgement inescapable.

Time seemed to start moving at a regular pace again, the four hastily, evasively, vanishing from the scene by their own methods as the police closed in on what little evidence remained of the horrid thing they’d pursued.

Moments later, everyone was back at the convenience store, though Keith wasn’t too quick to swap the sign at the door just yet. Naturally Vic was curious about the debacle, and the clerk, though still understandably shaken from the conflict, was willing to explain what had happened to the best of his ability.

“No shit… Looks like I’m better at that whole hypothesizin’ business than I’d given myself credit for. So, what is this gonna be a common thing for you? Angry ghosts hulking out and dream-warnings about ‘em?”

“It very well might be an uncomfortably common phenomenon… A replacement Death was already unheard of, a mortal doing the job goes well beyond absurdity. Its defiance of the natural order… and consequences are bound to arise from that,” War said. “It had been theorized before, the potential spirit making a break for it in the face of Death and becoming creature of torment as penalty… but this is the first time it has ever been witnessed, as far as your predecessor ever divulged.”

“So, what, does that mean I’m gonna turn into some kinda ugly bastard too?” Vic asked, suddenly concerned for once.

“Beyond your current unseemliness? Not unless the boy finally gets wise and stops wanting you around,” War said with a particularly snarky tone of voice.

“Oh, birdy’s a fuckin’ jokester now,” Vic muttered, but nonetheless looked relieved.

“You must admit though… the way a rebellious human soul… transforms under such unholy circumstances is… just so exciting to think about. I do look forward to what the next one will become,” Pestilence said, buzzing with glee at the prospect. Famine seemed rather disapproving of this before turning their attention over to Keith.

“…Will you be alright?” they asked. Keith didn’t answer for a good few seconds. A deep breath… a sigh… He rubbed at his forehead, irrationally wishing he was more traumatized than he actually was.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine… Best I get back to work,” he said, moving to finally re-open the shop, and, as he did so, snapping back to a more familiar attitude.

“You guys know the drill, incognito if you’re not already invisible… and I swear to god if we get another bug complaint, a certain someone is gonna be staying in a giant glass jar from now on…”

Yep… business as usual.