Death’s Diner

My entry for the Fantastic Story Competition, a collaboration of Dutch Comic Con, the American Bookcenter and Stichting Fantastisch GenreI won first place! Which is really unreal and amazing.

I had the idea of a character in my head where the character was immortal, but could die. They were simply brought back to life every time. It was part of a bigger story idea that never saw the light but it got me thinking: what would their relationship with Death be like?

I met Death in a small ‘50s-style diner in the middle of a desert.
He didn’t seem surprised to see me, I mean, why would he. He just pushed the extra slice of lemon pie in front of him over to me and gestured for me to sit down. “Hello again, old friend.” I greeted him as I slid onto the cracked red leather bench. “It’s been a while.”
He looked up at that, his weathered face incredulous. “I wouldn’t call two months ‘a while’, Tana,” he admonished with a quirk of his lips.
I opened my mouth to respond when a waitress appeared at our table.
“Anything else I can get you guys?” she asked.
Death sat back and smoothed out the front of his charcoal-and-black business suit. “Two coffees please, Rosie, and she’ll have the Scottish chocolate pancakes, extra side of bacon,” he nodded towards me.
I raised an eyebrow at him, I wasn’t much of a fan of breakfast foods and he knew it.
“Trust me,” he told me, and I did. Death knows his food.
Rosie sauntered back to the bar to place our order and top off our coffees.
Death waited until she was gone again before he turned to me. “A garotte, kid, really? I thought you knew better by now. Especially after that thing in Rome,” he took a sip of coffee. “So tell me what happened.”
I shrugged, still feeling the phantom of a wire digging into my throat. “Intrigue, betrayal, death. You know, the usual.” I wasn’t angry, not yet, I knew the rage would come a few days later. And when it did it would burn like an inferno, blazing everything to the ground. “Don’t worry, it won’t happen again.”
“I know you’ll make sure it won’t.” He smiled, his dark eyes still worried. “I’ll put Carver on the list, then?”
I flashed him a quick grin as Rosie put a stack of dark chocolate pancakes in front of me. “Expect him in a few days.”
“I look forward to it,” he said with a smile that sent shivers down my spine. Death doesn’t like it when you mess with his friends.
At this thought the tension in me uncoiled a bit.
“It’ll teach them not to mess with a phoenix.” He mocked.
I rolled my eyes at that. “You know that’s not what I am.” I told him and took a bite of my pancakes. They had whisky syrup on them. They were delicious, as promised.
Smug bastard.
My protest was waved away by a thin hand. “Close enough, and it’s what they call you anyway. Your ‘code name’.” His tone told me exactly what he thought about that one. He took the last bite of my lemon pie, I pretended to be offended even though I always left him the last piece. “So, you were saying,” he invited.
“Do you remember the evil organization I was chasing after?” I waited for his nod to continue. “Well, after last time, I figured there had to be someone within IBI that worked for them. You know Rhodes?”
Death got that far off look where he remembers everything about a person. “Michael Avery Rhodes, 58, unhappily married to Bernice, head of the International Bureau of Intelligence. Would that not make him your boss?”
“Yeah,” I answered, a spark of anger flaring up and dying down again. “turns out it’s him. He burned me, I’m guessing he gave Carver the kill order. We were supposed to be partners in this mission. Fucker killed me in my sleep.” I took another bite of pancake. “I’ll burn them both when I get back.” I grinned. “Now, enough about me. Tell me something.”
“You know, sometimes I think you only visit me to listen to my stories.” Death joked, but I could see real concern in his eyes.
“Not for a while.” I promised, and it was true. The loneliness and solitude that came with being truly immortal was less in this era of growth and science and connection. There was too much to see, too many people to meet.
He must have seen that I meant it, for he only nodded and dropped that conversation.
“Oh, I know!” I went on. “Tell me what you remember about the King.”
“Of Wallachia? Are you still obsessed with vampires?”
I rolled my eyes, slightly embarrassed. “No, I mean the King.” I gestured towards the black and white photo that hung above the bar.

For the rest of the day, Death did exactly that. He spun stories about Elvis and when those ran out, he told me about the Elvis-impersonators he had collected over the years. Their demises running from completely mundane to something that involved a dare, chocolate pudding and a single live chicken.
Don’t ask, trust me, I’m sorry I did.
By the time the sun was setting, my stomach was hurting from laughing so much, and I was warm and comfortable in this diner in the middle of nowhere.
Death turned to me again, face serious. “It’s time.”
I knew, but I didn’t want to leave this place where everything was easy and I could just be. And I didn’t think Death wanted to either. “I know.” I answered as he laid his hand on the table. I braced myself and placed my hand in his. It was like touching shadow. Shadow that suddenly grew teeth and dug into the innermost part of yourself and ripped out a piece. The pain was indescribable. Through tear filled eyes I watched as the copper and orange light crawled down my arm and into his, where it dispersed into bluish-black light. My payment for another death. He didn’t apologize and I didn’t lie and say it was fine. That I was fine. We’ve learned that much over the years.
I smiled at him and squeezed his hand. “See you soon, my friend.”
He squeezed back. “Not for a while, I hope.”
Then everything went black.

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