This month’s free story from my collection, Forever Zombie, is “Every Death You Take.”
Every Death You Take
The antique air-conditioning unit crammed into the window of the reception area of Romero, O’Bannon, Fulci & Flanders groaned once, then shuddered into silence. Trinity Johnson raised an eyebrow at the thing as it dripped water (or perhaps some alien hazardous substance) onto the worn carpet of the foyer.
“I’ll bet the air conditioner works in Mr. O’Bannon’s office,” she grumbled beneath her breath while she applied a fresh layer of barn shingle red nail polish to her pinky. She blew on it and picked up a copy of People magazine to use to fan herself. Her blonde hair was so coated with hair spray that the magazine failed to nudge a single strand.
Although the law firm of Romero, O’Bannon, Fulci & Flanders wasn’t the most successful partnership in Los Angeles, it didn’t reside at the bottom either. Trinity knew of at least two other firms in worse shape. The law office had been much more successful before Mr. Fulci passed away. Mr. Romero rarely made it to the office nowadays, and to be frank, Mr. Flanders couldn’t find his asshole without the aid of a basic anatomy book. (Even then the book needed pictures with no fancy terms like rectum or anus).
Mr. O’Bannon was the only partner in the firm who came in with any regularity. He usually spent most of his day with putter in hand, sending orange golf balls across the worn carpet.
She heard the creak of the office’s front door but didn’t bother glancing in its direction. First things first—her nails weren’t going to paint themselves. She applied one last coat of polish to her pinky and blew on it again.
Whoever had entered cleared their voice. “Ahem.”
“Be right with ya, sweetie.” Trinity reached to reattach the fingernail bottle cap and brush.
The visitor spoke. “I have a 10:13 appointment with Mr. O’Bannon. I am somewhat pressed for time. Extremely busy schedule today.”
“You must be mistaken,” she said, fumbling with the cap. “Mr. O’Bannon has no appointments scheduled today. And we only schedule on the half hour. Mr. Flanders does have a meeting scheduled for 10:30. However, that one is with a Mrs. Linnea Kroger if I remember correctly. Are you Mrs. Kroger’s companion?”
“I assure you, young lady. I have a 10:13 with Mr. O’Bannon. If you could please direct me to his office I would greatly appreciate it.”
Trinity bit her lip and looked up, ready to inform the visitor he certainly did not have an appointment. The thought disappeared in an instant, her blue eyes growing to the size of the compact mirror in her purse.
The visitor stood over six feet tall, dressed in a black robe with a hood that hid his face. In his right hand, a scythe gleamed in the sunlight that seeped through the reception area’s grime-covered windows.
“Ga . . . a . . . gh . . . ,” she sputtered.
“Is that a question?” the visitor asked.
A wetness spread across Trinity’s lap. She had forgotten to replace the cap on the bottle of fingernail polish. Blood red liquid covered the front of her white skirt. “Shit!”
“Very good. Now that you have your vocabulary back, I really need to see Mr. O’Bannon.”
Her first thought was how this guy got past security, but she dismissed the notion when the mental image of the building’s 80-year-old security guard flashed through her head. Her second contemplation, even stranger, was how he got away with carrying that realistic-looking scythe on a city bus. Of course, they did live in Los Angeles.
Must be part of some gag, she thought. Probably one of the clerkss who kept hitting on her from the costume shop down the street. Last week a knight in shining armor came calling. The week before that it had been someone in a Darth Vader outfit.
This guy was plain weird, and Halloween was months away. She had to admit it was a great costume, though.
“Ha, ha.” She grinned. “Very funny. If that’s you, Benny, you can go jump in a lake. A germ-infested lake.”
“I do not know this Benny you speak of, my dear. I am afraid, however, I must insist on seeing Mr. O’Bannon. I am sure if you simply check your appointment schedule once more . . . ”
Before she could react, he reached across her desk and tapped the enter key on the keyboard of her computer.
Just for a moment, Trinity swore she saw a skeletal finger press the key, and there must’ve been some static electricity present, a spark zapping from the finger to the keyboard.
“Ah, there it is,” he said.
Trinity glanced at the computer screen.
Mrs. Linnea Kroger’s name was still listed at 10:30, but now another entry appeared above it.
Mr. O’Bannon—10:13—Representative from The Brimstone Corporation.
“How’d you do that?” she asked.
The dark figure simply raised an eyebrow in the shadows of his hooded face.
Trinity scowled, no longer amused.
“I think you’d better leave.” Her intent had been to sound forceful, but her voice broke. She shoved the strength back into her vocal cords. “Or would you rather I call one of our associates to assist you?”
“That might be difficult,” the figure replied. “Mr. Romero is in Pittsburgh, Mr. Flanders hasn’t arrived yet, and Mr. Fulci . . . Mr. Fulci is deceased. I believe he was in Italy at the time. Yes, that’s right. I remember him fondly.”
The specter stretched out a hand that had no flesh. With bony fingers, he pulled a pocket watch from his robe.
“My, my. We only have a couple of minutes, Trinity,” he said. She couldn’t remember mentioning her name. “Can we get on with this? I have several more appointments before lunch. Not that I stop for lunch, of course.”
Her eyes didn’t leave the figure’s bony hand until it disappeared into the sleeve of his robe.
“You can’t be serious . . . ?” Her voice was barely a whisper.
“Oh, as serious as . . . well, death,” he said with an eerie laugh. “Sorry. A little inside joke.”
She hadn’t taken a breath for quite some time and finally gasped in a mouthful of stale, hot air. It might have been her imagination, but the taste left in her mouth was reminiscent of leaves decaying in the forest. And maybe a hint of sulfur?
“You’re really him, aren’t you?” she asked unsteadily.
“Yep,” he replied. “Death. The Grim Reaper. The Specter of Death. Sandman. Peter Griffin.”
“Well, not really,” the figure said. “But I loved that episode of Family Guy. Now will you please see if Mr. O’Bannon has a moment? I assure you, it will not take much more than a moment. Please hurry. Death never takes a holiday.”
She stared at him blankly.
“Fredric March. 1934 film?” he said. She continued to stare. “Never mind. People just don’t enjoy the classics anymore. They’d rather watch things like Beavis and Butt-Head, I guess.”
“Beavis and Butt-Head haven’t been on the air in over a decade,” she said, somewhat amazed at how she was able to carry on a conversation with the specter.
“It doesn’t really matter, dear child. How did we get off the subject? Please inform Mr. O’Bannon I’m here. We’re running late. I’d hate to show my angry side, Trinity. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
“Bill Bixby,” she said. “The Incredible Hulk?”
“Never mind. I’ll step in and check with Mr. O’Bannon. Intercom’s not working. Hasn’t worked in months. And the air conditioning has been on the fritz for over a week. Not to mention—”
Death sighed loudly.
“Oh, sorry,” she said. “I tend to talk a lot when I get nervous.”
The Grim Reaper sort of glided over to the reception area’s magazine rack while she retreated (walking backwards) toward Mr. O’Bannon’s door. She figured it was never a good idea to turn your back on Death.
She didn’t turn until she’d entered O’Bannon’s office and pulled the door closed
She jabbered like a loony bird, “I’m sorry, Mr. O’Bannon . . . but there’s a . . . well, you see . . . ”
Mr. O’Bannon sat behind his desk with his chair facing the window revealing a billboard advertising for an adult movie theater down the street (they weren’t exactly located in the best part of town).
“Sir?” she repeated. He didn’t move. She walked to his desk and tapped him on the shoulder. “Mr. O’Bannon?”
His head lolled to one side.
“Omigod, Omigod, Omigod!” she gasped.
Trinity glanced at the ornate clock on his office wall. It was 10:10.
Before she had a chance to decide her next move, the office door opened behind her, and the black hood of Death’s robe peeked through.
“Sorry,” he informed her. “We’re almost out of time.”
Death entered the room, and she stepped away. When he reached Mr. O’Bannon, he stopped dead in his tracks—no pun intended.
“What is this?” he asked.
“It’s Mr. O’Bannon.”
“I know it’s Mr. O’Bannon, my dear. What’s wrong with him?”
“He appears to be dead.”
“You must be mistaken.”
The statement offended her. “I don’t think so. I used to volunteer on the geriatric unit at the hospital. I think I know whether somebody’s dead or not.”
The Grim Reaper came closer, and Trinity moved farther from the desk. She didn’t want to accidentally touch him. She wasn’t exactly sure how that worked but wasn’t about to take any chances.
“No, that’s impossible.” Death glanced at his pocket watch. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
“”Well, he’s dead, and I certainly didn’t do it. He was like that when I came into the room. I swear. Can I go now?”
Death pointed a commanding, bony finger in her direction and shook his head. He paced in front of the dead lawyer’s desk.
O’Bannon still sat upright in his chair. Death used his scythe to nudge him. The attorney tipped slowly to his right and flopped onto the floor.
“Hellfire!” Death muttered. “He really is dead, isn’t he?”
“That’s what I tried to tell you.”
The Grim Reaper paced a few more times and eventually wandered into the reception area. Trinity followed at a distance, waiting patiently for a possible escape route.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” Death mused. “You sure you didn’t kill your boss?”
She cocked her eyebrow. “Why the hell would I do that?” Her attitude towards the situation shifted. She figured if Death hadn’t stricken her dead to this point, her odds of remaining alive had vastly improved.
They were interrupted when the front door to the law office opened and Ted Flanders strolled inside, a battered briefcase in his hand. “It’s like hell warmed over out there.” Ted straightened his tie with his free hand. “That is if one believes in hell, which of course, I certainly do. How about you, Trinity?”
“More and more every day, sir,” the receptionist replied glumly.
Flanders removed his hat and was about to hang it from the coat rack near the door when he noticed the person dressed in a black robe standing in reception. “Oh, I’m sorry. Mrs. Kroger, I presume?”
Maybe the lawyer took the flowing black robe to be a dress, but a moment later it didn’t matter what his thoughts had been.
He strolled across the room and grabbed the Grim Reaper’s hand before Trinity could correct the mistake. It was an automatic response for an ambulance chasing lawyer. Flanders had no time to react to what was not a hand at all but the bony fingers of a skeleton. He crumpled to the floor, stone-cold dead at the feet of the Grim Reaper.
“Confound it.” Death stepped away from the crumpled figure. “I hate it when that happens! May I inquire who this unfortunate sole might be?”
“T . . . Ted. Ted Flanders,” Trinity stuttered.
As if the events of the morning had not already journeyed into the surreal, Death reached into his robe and pulled out an iPhone. He poked at it with a bony index finger and scrolled through several screens. “Theodore Flanders of 744 Evergreen Terrace?” he asked the receptionist whose eyes remained glued on her boss . . . her former boss . . . Trinity nodded.
“Damn! Damn! Damn!” He punched at the iPhone’s screen again, then held it to the side of his black hood. “Hello? Yes. I have a Code 666 here,” he said. There was a momentary pause as he listened to a reply from whomever he was speaking with. Death’s bony shoulders dipped beneath the robe. “I know. I’m sorry. These things happen. No, it wasn’t a used car salesman this time. A lawyer.”
He paused then laughed. “That’s a good one. I’ll have to pass that one along to the missus. So, when was this Flanders fellow actually scheduled for final departure?” Another short pause. “Not for another eleven years, huh? Yes, I know. Fill out Forms 104Z, a 10-55 in triplicate and an Incident Report for an Unscheduled Demise. Hell and damnation. That’ll take hours—and please don’t tell me I have all eternity. The joke’s getting old. Uh, we may have another problem as well. My initial assignment was to collect a Stanley Eugene O’Bannon, but it seems, well . . . he may have expired before his due. I’ll report back once I sort this out.”
He ended the conversation and slipped the iPhone into his robe, shifting his scythe from one hand to the other as he did.
“I really need to use the ladies’ room,” Trinity pleaded. All she really wanted to do was get to the hallway, run like hell to the elevator and never return to this side of town again. She wondered if Death knew where she lived. Probably. If not, there was most likely an app for that somewhere on his cell.
“In a minute,” Death answered with little concern in his voice for her needs. He unconsciously tapped a bony finger against the top of her desk.
She thought about running for the front door anyway. Was the Grim Reaper fast or slow? Maybe he wore cross trainers beneath that robe.
She took a step but froze when a gurgling sound issued from Mr. O’Bannon’s office. Death heard as well, and they turned in unison.
“Ah!” Death said with relief. “I told you he wasn’t dead.”
“Should I call an ambulance?” Trinity asked.
Death checked his pocket watch. “Silly girl. No one here will be needing an ambulance today. A hearse possibly, but I’ll let you worry about that once I leave.”
He spun on his heels and returned to O’Bannon’s office.
Trinity might have been able to run for the front door at that moment, but the thought that Mr. O’Bannon might need her help made the decision to follow the Grim Reaper into the office an easy one. She wasn’t that self-centered. Besides, he still owed her a paycheck . . . They paused as they entered the office and watched the moaning lawyer crawl awkwardly across the carpet in their direction.
“Jeez, I really should call 911,” Trinity said. “He must have had a heart attack or a stroke or something.”
Death twisted his hooded face in her direction, and his shadowy gaze gave her reason to delay making a phone call. The dark figure checked his pocket watch again. He made a great show of pulling his sleeve away from his hand and flexed his bony finger to touch O’Bannon’s shoulder. “Better late than never,” he said. “Welcome to the other side, Mr. O’Bannon.”
Much to Death’s chagrin, however, O’Bannon didn’t expire. Instead he tried to take a bite out of the Grim Reaper’s arm. His teeth caught the fabric of Death’s sleeve and ripped a long tear that revealed the Reaper’s skeletal arm.
“Damnation! My other robe is at the cleaners!” Death said. He touched the lawyer again, this time with more force, but still nothing happened.
O’Bannon twitched and clamored awkwardly to his feet like some macabre marionette. He reached for Trinity. “Br-a-a-ains.”
“What did he say?” Death asked the receptionist.
“Br-a-a-ains!” O’Bannon repeated before she had a chance to open her mouth.
Suddenly Trinity understood.
Quickly she glanced around until she spotted the lawyer’s golf bag in the corner. She grabbed a three iron and swung it in a wide arc through the air. It bounced off the side of Mr. O’Bannon’s head, and he fell to his knees.
Death watched, obviously confused.
“He’s a zombie,” Trinity said, surprised with how calm she acted.
“He’s a fucking zombie! I’ve seen enough friggin’ movies to know when I’m seeing a zombie, for Christ’s sake. Didn’t you hear him?”
“Hear what?” Death asked.
O’Bannon struggled to his feet again. “Br-a-a-ains.”
“There.” She pointed. “Did you hear it that time?”
Death must’ve heard it that time because he raised the razor-edged scythe above his head and swung the blade through the air. In one whish, it neatly lopped O’Bannon’s head from his body. The head bounced twice and rolled to a stop against an antique bookshelf in the corner.
Trinity surprised herself when she didn’t scream when blood splashed the front of her blouse. However, it did momentarily distract her after she noticed it seemed a perfect match to the splash of spilled nail polish on her skirt.
“There we go,” Death stated emphatically. He lowered the scythe.
“Br-a-a-ains!” O’Bannon’s head hissed atop the lawyer’s indoor putting green.
Trinity sighed. “You haven’t seen many zombie movies, have you? There’s only one way to kill a zombie.” She walked over to Mr. O’Bannon’s head, raised the three iron and proceeded to bash in the lawyer’s skull until gray matter oozed out onto the carpet.
“You have to destroy the brain,” she said. “I guess a golf club works pretty good, but I suspect the best thing would’ve been to blast his head into a bloody blob with a shotgun.”
“Well,” Death said, “I guess I’d better call this in—”
He reached for his cell phone again but was interrupted as Ted Flanders staggered into the office. He didn’t seem to be living up to his role as a dead guy either.
“Br-a-a-ains,” Flanders groaned.
Trinity raised the club. One solid whack to the side of the zombie’s head was all it took.
“Hey, hole in one that time,” she bragged.
This time, however, she had a difficult time dislodging the golf club from the lawyer’s shattered temple. It made a grisly sound as it popped free.
Death laughed. “You know, if we have a zombie epidemic on our hands, I could probably use some help. Would you be interested in a new profession?”
Trinity shrugged and smiled. “Why not? Looks like Romero, O’Bannon, Fulci and Flanders has little need for a receptionist any longer, do they? We can talk money and benefits later.”
They stepped over Mr. Flanders’ body and into the reception area. Ahead, the front door into the receptionist area opened. On instinct, Trinity swirled, as if she’d already been killing the undead for years, and placed a perfect shot to the temple of the little old lady who shuffled through the doorway. The elderly woman dropped like a sack of potatoes.
“Uh . . . Trinity?” Death said with some hesitation in his voice.
“What now?” she asked while juggling the three iron between her hands in preparation for the next possible onslaught.
“I think that was Mr. O’Bannon’s 10:30 appointment . . . and I don’t think she was a zombie.”
Trinity sighed. “I don’t have to fill out an Incident Report for an Unscheduled Demise, do I? I hate paperwork!”
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