“You’re not leaving, are you?”
“I think it’s for the best.”
“It’s not. Who do you think will handle all the living beings ready to exit the Earth when their time comes? Really, Death, you can’t make impulsive decisions like this without consulting me!”
Death sighed. She should’ve seen this coming, honestly. Life loved to make a mountain out of every molehill he encountered.
“Listen, I’ve been doing this job for aeons now––“
“So have I!”
“––and it’s not the most pleasant work in the first place, add to it all the religious rumour, spiritual gossip, astrological theories, and general hatred I have to endure. Don’t you think it’s fair for me to deserve a break?”
Life looked at her with an unreadable expression on his face. “You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?”
“I am.” Death said in the most solemn voice she could muster. “I am retiring. And you can’t stop me, not this time.”
“Fine. I won’t stop you– on one condition. No, no arguments. Hear me out: you’re going to find your replacement on your own, within 8 weeks. A functional, efficient replacement. I don’t want a mess on Earth like that time you eloped with Reality.”
Death would rather he hadn’t brought that up. Honestly, Life needed to learn how to not speak of her exes when she was trying to move on and be happy in her independence.
“Sure.” Death muttered under her breath before strolling away from his office.
“I mean it, Death! You can’t leave without assigning someone to step into your shoes!” Life shouted after her.
“I said I’ll DO it.”
Truth is, saying you’ll do something and actually getting around to doing it are tasks that couldn’t be more disparate from each other– in terms of the effort they take, the amount of time they consume, and how exhausting they are. The magnitude of the latter far exceeded the former on all three counts.
To say that Death’s progress in the hunt for a replacement had been lacklustre was a euphemism. It had been an utter and horrific disaster.
She committed the grave error of roping in her friend Supernatural to assist her, who offered several excellent suggestions:
“I know just the right person for the job: Extermination!”
“Given the fact that I’m not exactly trying to eradicate all of life and existence, Extermination seems just a bit too excessive, don’t you think?”
“How about Disintegration? Simple-minded guy, gets things done before they break down.”
“I don’t know. Somehow, I don’t think he would make people feel so good.”
“Okay, how about…Vanishing?”
“Do you really think we should entrust a high-profile post like this one to a Verb Officer?”
“Well then, Life Imprisonment?”
“That’s for criminals, you banshee!”
“Whoa, did you just use a word that stereotypes female spirits as unintelligent?”
“Oh come on, I just meant to, you know, say that––“
“Whatever. You should think of someone yourself.”
Okay, maybe Death was an intolerable perfectionist and shot down all of Supernatural’s suggestions regardless of whether or not they were inane or logical, but the fact of the matter was that she still hadn’t made an inch of progress. Her 8 weeks were nearly up!
Currently, she was sitting at her desk– the place she so desperately wanted to leave and never see again– going over yet another list of potential candidates.
LIST 1.9.9. Death Alternatives
Should she interview each of these candidates?
No, she thought, that would mean giving each of them a fair chance, and since when had Death been fair to anyone? She hated Computerisation, for one, as she was involved in practically every department these days. It was humiliating to see her rise so quickly to the top when Death has been here for millions of years, stuck in the same rut. Moreover, she had an inkling that Undeath and his minions would wreak havoc if given free reign to control the life-ending process. She had read and watched her fair share of stories featuring vampires, ghosts, and zombies in her day, and they always struck her as unnecessarily convoluted and anarchic.
She knew that the humans would love immortality, but would animals and plants share the sentiment? How could she ensure that switching herself with Immortality would work well?
There was only one way to know for sure. She had to resort to calling Reality.
Death and Reality had a complicated past together, due to which Death tried to steer clear of her as best she could. This situation, however, was dire enough to warrant an exception. Thankfully, Reality was better at putting the past behind her. She listened patiently to Death’s frantic explanation and placed her hand over Death’s, giving it a squeeze. “I know you’ve been avoiding me these last couple of years, Death. But you ought to know that I’ve moved on and I’m willing to help you in any way you need. What do you want me to do?”
“I need you to simulate a scenario where I have been replaced by Immortality.”
Reality’s eyes widened in surprise for a second, but she schooled her expression within a second. “Alright. Here goes nothing.” She closed her eyes, her face impassive, her body utterly still.
While Death had never witnessed Reality in action before, she had a decent idea of what it entailed. An alternate set of events were reproduced in Reality’s mind. This reproduction happened in rapid succession, so that Reality could visualise the consequences of the changed events over a considerable period of time. Although she was the only person capable of seeing the parallel reality, she could describe the sights she saw and relate personal experiences of an inhabitant of this reality.
After a while of concentrating, Reality spoke. Her voice was low and earthy, deeper than her usual gentle tone. “Okay. I’m here on Earth. I’m making time pass by in the immortal world, fast. And the Earth, it’s. Well, it’s filling up. It’s filling up with people, animals, and trees. Mostly people though. There are a lot of them. I’m talking hordes and hordes of humans– as if every village and town is an overpopulated city. Even that might be a euphemism considering the– oh my god, is that a residential building? It’s rising on and on and on, disappearing into the sky. Doesn’t seem to have an end. Wow.”
“Can you zoom into the life of a single person?” Death whispered back, uncertain whether speaking would disrupt Reality’s experience.
“Yes, I’m doing just that. Wait. Ok, yes. I’m looking at a person now. I think they’re terminally ill. Years are passing by but they’re still there. Sick and deteriorating physically and mentally, but not succumbing to it. They’re still hanging on. It’s terrifying to watch, actually.”
“Do they speak? Can you talk to them for me?”
“I’m sorry, Death. They’re not capable of speaking or, or anything else.” Reality’s calm visage contorted into a grimace. “They just exist. Skin stretched over bones.”
Death should have known that would happen. After all, immortality did not mean a complete absence of disease and suffering. It simply meant indefinite existence. No escape. She took a deep breath to compose herself.
“Okay. Anyone else you can get close to? Who’ll be able to speak with you?”
“I’m trying. I’m trying to find someone old enough to give us an insight into their immortality, but physically healthy enough to communicate. It’s harder than I thought it’d be.”
Death waited patiently. She had to give Reality time to do this properly.
“Alright, found someone. Zooming in. Hopefully, it will work.”
The transition was instantaneous. One moment, Reality sounded like herself, albeit her voice was deeper than usual. The next, her voice was like that of an old woman, raspy, laboured, and slow; endowed with the wisdom that comes with age. “With each passing moment, I’m becoming part of the past. There is no future for me, just the past steadily accumulating.”
Death shuddered. She had heard enough to know that this plan would fail. She couldn’t allow Immortality to take her place; it would be nothing but a massive disaster.
“Stop.” She breathed out.
“Stop.” She repeated herself, louder and more insistently.
Reality’s eyes popped open. “You alright?”
Death shook her head, then paused for a second. “I’ll be okay.” Her eyes were still shut firmly. Receiving no response, she opened her eyelids to find Reality gazing at her with concern. “I’ll be fine, don’t worry. I just realised that Immortality can’t take my place.”
Reality had the courtesy to look apologetic. “Yeah.”
“No one can, I think.”
Reality raised a single eyebrow, quizzically.
“No one can take my place, I mean.”
“Now, now. Don’t get too boastful about it.” Reality grinned.
Death couldn’t help but grin back. Maybe avoiding Reality hadn’t been her wisest idea. They could still be friends, if nothing more.
“I’m sorry, you know? I know you truly wanted to retire, but now you’ll have to continue.”
Death was sorry too. Most of all though, she was sorry to the living beings of the world that she thought of leaving their ends in the hands of someone else. Yes, her arrival may be detested and fought against, feared and prayed against, rumoured and protected against, but ultimately, it was her presence that forced them to shape a purposeful life. She kept their numbers down. She provided the most efficient end-of-the-life process; it was neither gruesome like that of Undeath nor eternal suffering like that of Immortality. Yes, she had to end some lives early but, overall, she did her job pretty well.
“It’s alright. I think it’s for the best.”
~Ananya Grover, class 11, Amity International School Noida
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