A Meeting with Death

David Walters was just sitting down to breakfast, espresso and a croissant, one cool morning in early May. As he perused the paper, The Daily Beacon Chronicle Gazetteer, which featured an article on a string of home invasions in the area, across the table from him appeared a man. The man was nondescript, like someone who works at a gas station or the Department of Motor Vehicles; not tall, not short, not fat, not thin. He had a blank expression on a blank face. 

David looked around. “Where did you come from? Who are you?”   

“Me? I’m Death,” said Death.

“Like the Death?”

“The very same.”

“Why are you here?”

“Everyone asks me that as if the answer isn’t obvious. It’s your time to go.”

David stared blankly. “Go where?”

Death tipped his head up and back, the reverse of a nod, to indicate a spot somewhere over his right shoulder. “Go, pass away, depart, kick the bucket, buy the farm, give up the ghost, meet your maker, shuffle off this mortal coil, become like poor Yorick (I knew him, Horatio, a man of infinite jest). Die.”

A puzzled expression settled on David’s face. “Is this some kind of joke? Are you really Death? You don’t look like Death.”

“No, but you do! Ha ha,” said Death. “God, I love that one. Gets me every time.”

David smiled weakly, then grew serious. “Well how is it supposed to happen?”

Death looked meaningfully at the croissant in front of David.

“I choke on a croissant? Seriously?”

Death shrugged. “Sorry. You don’t get to decide.”

“No, clearly. Look, I don’t mean to be rude but this really isn’t a great time.”

“No?” Death was taken aback. “I’m just doing my job, you know.”

“I know, I know, but I really can’t do this right now. I’m busy at work and I’ve got my kids and my wife to think about. I was planning on living for another thirty or forty years. I mean, I’m only forty-five”

“Hmm, thirty or forty years,” said Death. He leaned back and drummed his fingers on his chin. “I generally run on a pretty tight schedule. I am not sure I can allot another thirty or forty years for you.”

“Really. This is a bit hard. I mean, here I am in the prime of life, or close enough,” said David self-consciously, “and along you come to bring the whole thing crashing down. It’s terribly inconvenient; a real nuisance.”

“I am sorry. But it is our policy.”

“Our?”

“Ah, yes. Me and the other Deaths.”

“There are other Deaths?”

“Of course. There are other people than you dying right now. I can’t be everywhere at once; well, actually I can but not in that sense.” Death stared off in a thoughtful, puzzled manner like he had confused himself.

“Then in what sense do you mean? Are there other copies of you?”

Disgust showed clearly on Death’s face. “Copies? Absolutely not. I am unique. There is only one Death.”

“You said there are other Deaths? How can there be others if you’re unique?”

“You are familiar with quantum mechanics?”

“No,” David said flatly.

“Ugh. Well, in quantum mechanics, particles can be in one place and not be in that place, but rather be in another place altogether, all at the same time. It’s kind of like that.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Jeez. Okay. Take electrons, for example, one of the basic building blocks of atoms with protons and neutrons. They’re particles, right?”

“Yes.”

“Wrong. Electrons, like quarks and gluons, are really fields, continuous fluid-like substances that act like particles only when we take into account the effects of quantum mechanics. Every electron in your body is a field that is a particle only when treated as an excited state of the underlying field.”

David’s head swam and his eyes began to droop. “Science never was my strong suit.”

Death continued, undeterred. “This is of course fundamentally because of particle-wave duality. Like photons, an electron can act as a particle and also as a wave. This wave-like property of a particle can be described mathematically as a wave function and squaring the absolute value of the wave function gives the probability that a particle will be observed near any given location.”

“So you’re a particle and a wave. Here but not here? Elsewhere, with all those other dying people, but not there?”

“Exactly. Now you get it.”

“Do you know everything? I would have thought that Death’s knowledge would be a bit more, Stone Age, if you will.”

“Well, not quite everything, but I’ve picked up a few tidbits over the years.” Death cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. “So, about this pickle.” He trailed off.

“Look, isn’t there anything I can do to put this off? It’s really inconvenient, what with the golf weekend coming up and all.”

Death brightened visibly. “Golf? You play golf? I had literally no idea.”

“Oh yeah; a few pals of mine are coming into town and we’re going to play all weekend; weather should be beautiful. Do you play?”

“Oh, I love the game. I don’t know iron from wood, or a hybrid from a hole in the ground but I love it. Fresh air, clubs, knocking balls, aiming for birds as often as the hole. And I can get a tee time any time I like. Just do that,” Death snapped his fingers, “and oh look, a spot opened up for me. It’s always someone’s time after all.”

The smile faded from David’s face. “I usually just call in advance. I don’t generally have to kill anyone to get a tee time.”

Death shrugged. “To each his own.” He rubbed his hands together. “Well, keeping you from your golf outing is the last thing I’d want to do, especially considering the wife and kids,” Death said with a wink. “I’ve reconsidered. Have your thirty to forty years. Just one condition. I get to play through with you once in a while.”

“Of course; sure, sure. Anything you want. Just join in, no need to ‘free up a spot’ and all that. My friends wouldn’t appreciate that.”

“Ha ha, no, no, of course. Well, I’m off.”

A few moments later David’s wife Rebecca entered the kitchen. She wore a puzzled expression. “David, do you know that man?”

“Oh, you saw him did you?”

“Yes, it’d be hard to miss him. We passed on the front walk.”

David shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “It’s a bit odd, but, well—he said he was Death.”

“Death?” she said incredulously. Her fingers massaged the bridge of her nose. “David, what are you talking about?”

“He said he was Death and it was my time to die. What else can I say? But he let me off, gave me another thirty or forty years like I asked. We found that we have a mutual love of golf.”

“Oh, so golf finally did something for us?”

“Now, Rebecca, don’t be like that.”

“Is that today’s paper?”

“No, yesterday’s. Why?”

Rebecca dropped a newspaper on the table, opened it and pointed. “Look familiar?”

There, staring back at him on page 2A was a nondescript face with a blank expression, like someone who works at a gas station or the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“I don’t understand.”

“He was trying to rob us, David. This is the guy that’s been breaking into houses around here. They identified him yesterday. His name is Thomas Harville. It says he suffered some kind of psychotic break and also became a kleptomaniac.”

“But—but, he said he was Death. He knew all this stuff about electrons and waves; said that’s how he got around. I mean, there’s got to be a scientific explanation somewhere. It can’t just be magic.”

“David, you are so gullible. He’s an out-of-work quantum physicist, and you are a moron.”

David stood up and sniffed, head held high. “I may be a moron but at least I know the difference between an iron and a wood.”

“What does that have to do with—?”

David held up his hand. “If you need me, I’ll be on the links.”

“He stole your golf clubs.”

“I said I’ll be on the links.”

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