The bedroom was small, cramped, dark, and crammed nearly to the ceiling with stacks of books, old magazines, boxes of old books, family photographs, a twin bed, a beat-up old dresser, and an old arm chair against one wall by a narrow door. On top of the dresser—which was across from the bed—an old television with a thirteen inch screen illuminated the room. A pull-down shade and torn curtains blocked the only window, which was kept closed, so there was little if any ventilation. Consequently, the small room smelled of dirty feet, unwashed clothes, and that peculiar aroma associated with old men—most likely since the only occupant was Cecil Cummings, who celebrated his eighty-third birthday less than a week ago, and now wore the same clothes he put on the day before, and then slept in last night.
Cecil lay in his bed, propped up with several pillows and harangued his T.V. set while he waved his cane at the screen. “Buy a vowel, you ignorant hillbilly!” he shouted, although he knew it was a useless suggestion. These people would never learn.
“Why do I even bother?” he asked of no one in particular and just then noticed movement in some shadows near the door. “What? Who’s there?” he demanded and raised his cane in a defensive gesture.
A dark shape detached itself from the shadows and slid closer to the bed. It appeared to be a short figure shrouded in a hooded robe.
“Cecil Cummings,” the figure stated in a rather deep, hollow voice.
“Of course I’m Cummings,” he shouted back. “Who else did you expect to find in my room?”
“I have come to collect you, Cecil Cummings.”
Cummings sat up a bit straighter in bed and squinted at the figure. “Who are you supposed to be?” he asked, but did not wait for an answer. “Are you from Physical Therapy?” he snapped and shook his cane in anger. “I told that woman yesterday that I wasn’t going to do any more of those stupid exercises.”
The figure apparently snorted in derision. “In point of fact, Mr. Cummings, I am Death and I have come to collect you.”
“Death?” Cummings asked, incredulous, as he stared at the short figure. “I always thought Death was taller and thinner, and a lot more frightening than you appear to be, sonny.”
“Ah, well…” the figure said and spread his arms in a helpless gesture. “You see, sir, Death is actually on another assignment, and… um, well, I am one of his Minions.”
Cummings frowned. “Death has Minions?”
“Yes, sir, but I assure you that I am fully authorized to collect the dead.”
“Do I look dead to you, you lummox?” Cummings shouted.
“Um, in point of fact, you do not, sir.”
“That’s because I ain’t dead! Now, get out of here. I’m trying to watch my show,” Cummings said with finality.
The Minion, however, was not to be put off so easily. “Um, I am afraid I cannot do that, sir,” it said, and reached within the folds of its robe to remove a yellow scroll. “You are listed for collection, sir,” it said and unrolled the scroll so Cecil could see his name printed there. Cummings squinted at the paper, but as his name glowed in bright red letters he could not very well miss it. “In point of fact, sir,” the Minion said, rolled up the scroll and secreted it back inside its robe, “you are several weeks past collection.”
“Harrummph,” Cummings snorted. “Obviously a clerical error, since I ain’t dead.” The Minion, however, stood its ground, so Cummings shrugged his shoulders. “All right,” he said, “let’s say, just hypothetically mind you, that a few weeks ago I did die, but only for a couple of seconds and then I was fine. I choked on some baked chicken, but was saved by the Heimlich maneuver and by the time Death got here I wasn’t dead anymore.”
“Then Death should have reported the error, sir.”
“Hmm, well, yes, so it would seem, but suppose for some reason Death wasn’t able to report back… for some reason?”
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