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“You must be new,” the bartender greeted him. “What’cha having?”
“I need to make a phone call,” said Nick. “I totaled my car about a mile back, and I don’t know what happened to my cellphone. It must still be in the car, somewhere.”
“Bad one, I guess.” The barkeep began filling a huge mug from a keg behind him.
“Yeah. I don’t know how I walked away from it. I don’t even remember getting out. Musta been a helluva jolt. I need to let my wife know I’m okay, and get a wrecker out there. I’m sure the cops will want to know, they won’t pass up the chance to write me a ticket.”
“Yup. First one’s on the house.”
Nick looked at the mug in front of him. “First and last, for me. I’ll be working on that all night!”
“New guy?” A woman took the stool next to Nick. “Buy a girl a drink?”
The newcomer looked to be about Nick’s age, not bad looking, especially for forty. Still… “Um, sorry, miss,” he said. “I’m married.”
“Gina, give the poor guy a minute,” the bartender admonished. “He’s got a lot to deal with.”
“Oh, that’s alright,” said Gina. “Don’t worry about your marriage. ‘Till death do you part,’ right?” She chuckled, then waved at the bartender. “Gimme what he’s having.”
The bartender gave Gina the requested mug, and a wireless phone to Nick. “Good luck,” he said.
Nick wondered what that meant, but nothing happened when he pushed Talk. “No dialtone,” he said. “Do you hit nine to get out?”
“Phones don’t work here most of the time.” The bartender shrugged and laid the phone on the shelf.
“So what happened?” Gina asked Nick, taking a generous drink.
“It was stupid,” Nick sighed. “I was playing music off my phone. Dark Side of the Moon finished up, so I started pulling up another album. I took my eyes off the road, next thing I know I’m looking at the wreckage.”
“Well, at least you just have you to worry about.” Gina looked miffed. “Some stupid drunk kid plastered me.”
“It’s all right,” she said. “It wasn’t you. Besides, it didn’t hurt for long.” She gave him a significant look.
“Pink Floyd’s a good one to go out on, though,” said the bartender. “I could think of worse.”
“Highway to Hell,” Gina laughed. “Definitely not a good omen.”
Nick looked back and forth between the two. “If that’s a joke, it ain’t funny,” he said at last.
“No joke.” The bartender locked eyes with Nick, and Nick shuddered at what he saw in those depths. “You’re here with us. Your body… well, it’s back there in what’s left of your car.”
Nick took a big drink, emptying a third of his mug at once. “Um, aren’t you supposed to wear a hood and carry a sickle?”
“Scythe. That was a scythe. I’m like everyone—almost everyone else. I change with the times. I did the Grim Reaper thing back in the plague days. I’ll wear different guises for different people, different cultures. The important thing is, I took you out of that mess you made and set your feet in this direction. You ready for another?”
Nick nodded and pushed the mug across the bar. “If I—well, what do I do now? Isn’t there some kind of judgement or something?”
“Not right away. You screwed up, and it killed you, but you weren’t hurtful or selfish in life. So you get to hang out a while. It’s like being reborn, in a way. None of your ties in life come with you.”
“The band will be starting up soon,” said Gina, putting a hand on Nick’s arm. “Grimm usually gets someone decent. Not Elvis or Jimi Hendrix, but still good. We can dance forever.” She grinned.
“I—I’ve never been a guy who hangs out in bars,” said Nick.
“Don’t worry about that,” said Death. “Everything changed for you when you hit that tree. The two of you will learn who you really are, together, and then it’ll be time for the next step.”
“Which is?” Nick and Gina asked together.
“That is not for me to know,” Death sighed. “But you might go to your final reward. Or you might be reborn. All I know is, when you’re judged, you will judge yourselves.”
“That’s scary,” said Gina, and Nick nodded.
Death poured a third. “A toast,” he said. “To endings. To beginnings. They are one and the same, after all.”
Casting about for an idea, it was +Helen Howell who gave it to me in a guest post about the Tarot. “All things go on even in death, it’s just that they may not go on in the same way as before.”