Benny Tells Lies

“I met Michael Jackson before he died,” Benny said, embellishing the story. He had seen the King of Pop on a corner and waved at him. “He was super nice and let me listen to his new song. He did the moonwalk for me and they interviewed me for a national paper. It was cool.”

Maya nodded. “Cool,” she remarked.

Benny sighed. Nothing he said ever impressed Maya and he so wanted to impress her. She was gorgeous with her rich russet skin and large grass green eyes. Her hair was in long braids down her back and she had dressed conservatively today in a harvest gold dress with a floral print. Her expression wasn’t pretty, however. She looked irritated. He had no idea why. He’d tried telling her about his stint with Nirvana in the 90s and she hadn’t even acknowledged him. Sure Kurt hadn’t let him play guitar on stage, but he had done a soundcheck once when the sound guy was in the john. He had regaled her with tale after embellished tale making himself seem whimsical, intelligent, caring, and just plain amazing. Still, she never fell into his arms. She never loved him.

“Why don’t you like me, Maya?”

“Ben,” Maya said, her tone saying she was annoyed and about to disappear back to her desk. She was only talking to him now because the coffee hadn’t finished brewing and Maya loved her coffee. Benny knew that and had taken the last of the coffee, so she would get one from the fresh pot and maybe stick around and talk to him for a moment. “You’re full of garbage. You haven’t told me one true thing in the five years we’ve known each other.”

“That is so-I always tell you the truth,” Benny argued. Well, he did tell her kernels of truth. He just liked to add icing on top to make them better and more impressive so she would be impressed.

Maya rolled her eyes. “Tell me one true thing right now. No lies, no embellishments. Just pure, unadulterated truth.”

Benny frowned. “I always tell you the truth.”

She poured herself a cup of coffee before it was done percolating. Benny stood there listening as the coffee awkwardly pinged against the bottom of the maker. Coffee was spreading from the base to the table as she poured. She eyed him the entire time, daring him to call her out for making the mess.

“Admit you took the last of the coffee so you could terrorize me with one of your garbage stories, and maybe I’ll thinking about downgrading my hatred of you, to a rich dislike.” Maya dared him as she reached for the creamer. She had to reach past him because he had moved it farther away so she would have to reach past him. He had put new cologne on. He was convinced if she got a proper whiff of it, she would like it, and in return him. She leaned back and sneezed.

Benny worried the cozy on his paper cup. “I knew you wouldn’t want to drink the dregs.”

“Hm,” Maya said. He was blocking her way out of the room. “But you didn’t start the new pot. You waited for me to start the new pot. Yeah, think I’m going to stick to a deep-seated hatred of you if it’s all the same.”

“No Maya,” Benny protested. “Come on! I like you. Why won’t you give me a chance?”

“Because you tell lies, Benny,” Maya answered. “You tell lies and you make my life more complicated and annoying just to tell me these stupid lies. You never stood a chance, Ben.”

“But-but,” Benny sputtered. “I once saw Death eating a fudge pop!” he blurted.

“Eat a fudge pop, Benny,” Maya said in a nasty tone. “Talk to me again and I’ll call HR.”

“But that wasn’t a lie! Maya! That was true! I did! A woman had a heart attack at an ice cream truck and he took her fudge pop!” Benny chased after Maya.

Maya went to HR. Benny was outside holding his box of supplies by the end of the day. That night found him sitting on the Trenton Bridge looking down at the murky, polluted waters. A man in a black tracksuit walked up to him.

“Hey,” Benny called out to the stranger. “Do you like hoagies?”

“Sure,” the man in the tracksuit replied, slowing to a stop. “Why? Do you have one? I gotta tell you, I haven’t had a single thing to eat in forever. I can barely remember what it was…”

“No, well, I don’t have one on me. I was just going to say, I invented them. So, you can thank me for that,” Benny said, trying to perfect his breezy tone. There was something unsettling about the man in front of him. He had a shock of brown hair, nice features for a guy but his skin was a sick milk color. “I mean, you don’t have to thank me…”

The man leaned against the bridge’s rail and eyed Benny up and down. “Hoagie inventor, huh? Worked at the naval yard then…? Or are you just lying, Benny?”

“I-I no, I did work at there and it was after this guy Hogan, Irish guy and we…” he trailed off as the man stared.

His expression was a mixture of disappointment and disgust. “Seriously, Benny?”

“What-?”

“You want your last conversation ever to be about some urban myth about how hoagies got their name? Ugh, why do I even bother!” the man rolled his eyes and snapped his fingers, “Oh wow! I remember now. The last thing I ate and it was years ago now, was a fudge pop!”

End.

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Fudge Pop

Death sat on a rock in the middle of the Delaware River. Inky black robes shed in favor of a black tee, blacker swim trunks and bare feet the color of slightly spoiled milk. Running a hand through his shaggy gray locks, he put a foot in the water and frowned when a school of fish bobbed to the surface, going belly up just for him. He huffed and removed his foot.

A pretty Living Girl sat on the rock beside him. She hadn’t noticed him yet. She was too busy changing the playlist on her phone to something summery and light much like the camisole and short jean shorts she had chosen for the summer heat. Once the light pop sounds matched her tapping toes, she leaned back on her elbows and noticed him. He smiled, showing straight white teeth. She raised dark eyebrows and cautiously smiled back.

Death mimicked the girl’s pose, careful to keep his feet free of the water. He didn’t want to kill everything that lived in the water, drank it, or flew over it by accident. That would be rude. It was frustrating however because it was a nice day with a soft breeze bringing a little relief from the heat but not as much as the cold water would do. Still, a day off was a day off, even if it wasn’t strictly allowed.

Glancing back at his company, he saw the girl holding up a fudge pop. He blinked. She mimed tossing it to him. Nodding eagerly, he reached out his elegantly long and decidedly not too skeletal hands to catch the confection and frowned when he accidentally touched a bird. The bird, a bluejay, dropped stone dead into the water. Distracted, he missed the softball lob and the fudge pop plopped into the water and drifted away lazily in the current. He huffed.

When he turned back to the girl, her eyes were sad. She pulled an earbud loose and called out, “Sorry, that was my last one. Bad luck with that bird. That was weird, right?” she asked.

“Not really,” he murmured and when she frowns he said, “I mean, thanks for trying and all but my life isn’t exactly made for fudge pops if you get my meaning.” He frowned. That was the longest sentence he has ever said to a Living Being.

“I do have a few cookies? Want one? They’re not cold but they are chocolate. I could even hop on over there. Your rock is big enough for two to sunbathe.”

“No!” he shouted. Visions of her warm body turning cold and dropping into the water because she accidentally bumped him, rushed through him, chilling him more effectively than the river could. But now he’s done it because her big eyes flashed with hurt. “No,” he said softly. “I mean that’s fine. I’m fine. Thank you for being kind,” he told her and gave her a brittle smile.

She turned her back and he vanished. It was a stupid idea anyhow. He pulled his list and headed up to Manayunk to take out a few musicians who thought it would be a great idea to play a set in a thunderstorm. Moody, he didn’t bother to loom or menace, he just clapped slowly when one by one the electrocuted idiots dropped to the tarmac, splashing down forever. It was fine. Their music was derivative.

Work continued unabated for twenty years. He didn’t try to take another sunny day off. His milky skin had no melanin to tan and he wasn’t human so he got no benefits from extra vitamin D, and it wasn’t exactly a beneficial thing to do. Still, killing day in and day out got to him. Especially when he had to take out a young kid, or an old dog. Those were the bad ones. Today he had a twofer; Four-year-old boy chasing a fourteen-year-old dog into oncoming traffic. Bummer.

He turned up at Grant and Academy. It was one of the best spots to die in the United States. There were forests in other countries and huge icy patches where he picked off loads of people and sometimes this big ol’ intersection seemed so mundane but it was no less deadly.

He spotted the dog first. It was a Siberian husky with one bright blue eye. His leash was an expandable number that Death was incredibly familiar with and it rubbed on an old wooden telephone pole. The snap startled the dog into the street. Death sighed. Now would come the boy, right on time. The scamp was in jeans and a rainbow tee. Behind the child, came the mother.

Death grimaced and huffed. This was not going to be a fun day. The light changed. The dog barked. The kid yelled. The mother shouted and Death whipped around to see the mother, really see her. He waved a hand and everything froze. Lifting his thick heavy robes up, he approached her.

He unfroze the woman and she stumbled forward. Death did not steady her. She glanced up at him.

“What kind of an idiot gets an extendable leash?” Death shouted.

She raced into the street and tried to grab her frozen scion. Death snorted.

“Everything is frozen. I’ve stopped time.”

“To call me an idiot?” the woman asked.

“No,” he told her firmly.

Something like hope crossed her face. “Are you going to save my Jamie? And Tanner?”

“No,” he repeated. “I’m Death. I can’t just stop killing people because you tried to give me a fudge pop once. That’s not how this works.”

“I gave you-” the woman stared hard at him. “You’re the ‘cute goth’ kid from the river?” she asked and glanced off into the past. “Wait, the ‘cute goth kid from the river’ is DEATH? I don’t believe this.”

Death sputtered and if he had blood in his veins instead of murder, he might have blushed. “Goth? Cute?”

The mother sat down in the street with her child and hugged the frozen thing. Death sighed and went as close as he could without killing her too. She reached out a hand to him. “Do it. I want to die with them.”

“So run out into the street with them,” Death said, indignant, crossing his arms over his chest.

She stares at him with her wide, sad eyes, and he remembers how her smile had felt when directed at him. No one ever loved Death. She hadn’t either, not really, but she had offered him normal human affection. Glancing up at the sky, he lets out a breath and scans the street. There are too many cars for the child to avoid death without intervention, not to mention the dog because if he was saving one the other had to live too, he supposed.

“Please,” the mother said, begging for her own death, unaware that for the moment she had it. That woman had Death as her own. “Please.”

“Fine, but when this is over, I get my fudge pop,” Death grumbled. “And you never, ever, never, ever, ever, tell a single living soul about this.”

“Deal? I’d shake your hand-” she began.

He rolled his eyes. “-and you would drop stone dead,” he reminded her.

Death stretched, cracked his neck, his knuckles, and his back as he surveyed the glowing souls all around him. He would have to trade one for one for the child but the dog…well he could fudge the records on the dog and find some roadkill to make up the deficit.

“Get out of the street,” he advised the mother. She hesitated, of course, she did and he tried not to regret this before he was even done doing it. “Seriously, get out of the street. I’m not going back on our deal.”

She climbed out of the street and stood beside him, careful not to touch. He waved his hand and time moved. The child ran forward after the dog. He closed his eyes and controlled the souls. A biker went left instead of right. A sedan slammed on its brakes just in time to become a barricade as the kid made it to the median where a brave uncontrolled soul stopped the dog and grabbed the kid around the waist. One last thing to do, the swap. Death sighed, reached out and tossed a rock. The rock smashed into the hood of a Kia Soul and that car hopped onto the median and killed a man in a suit, Jericho Sampson who had murdered his first wife. He was probably accidentally saving the second wife but since she wasn’t on today’s list, he wasn’t bothered.

The entire nightmare was over in less than ten seconds. He stepped to the side to avoid any accidental hugs by the grateful mother. But she was clever and had just dropped to the ground in a dead faint. He huffed and vanished.

Twenty-five years later, he approached a grandmother at an ice cream truck. Death tapped her on the shoulder. As her aneurysm burst, he caught the fudge pop before it hit the ground. He grinned down at his friend from the river and winked.

Fin.

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