I should explain that I’ve been a fan of his for years. I figured my friends would think it was weird, morbid, maybe antisocial, so I never told anyone. Let’s face it, though, I thought he was cool.
I sent him an email earlier today, sitting in a Starbucks, trying to figure out what to write next. I had always wanted to write a novel or movie with him in it, and I thought I should really meet him in person at least once to get a sense for what he’s like. At least I should get his permission before writing. I didn’t want to offend him. Still, he’s so famous and popular that I didn’t think he’d get back to me, but it seems he answers all his email himself.
“Sure, come on over,” he wrote.
“Now?” I emailed back.
He sent back a smiley. He used one of those smileys like I always do with the number “8” instead of a “:” for eyes, but I think it represented eyelessness, not glasses.
As I was walking out to my car, I noticed someone sitting at the bus stop, smoking. He caught my eye because it looked an awful lot like him and, when I turned to stare, I realized it really was him. Shocked, I walked over and sat down.
“Hey,” I said, as nervous as you would expect me to be.
“Hey,” he said, taking a draw from his cigarette. The smoke curled out of his nose in a disturbing way.
“How did you email me? I thought you were at home.”
He held up his right hand. He had an iPhone gripped in those long, bony fingers of his.
“What you want, kid?” he said.
I’m in my forties. Nobody calls me kid. I guess, as old as he is, everyone seems young. I swallowed and took a deep breath.
“I wanted to write this screenplay for a movie,” I said. “Well, maybe a movie. Maybe a novel. I was never good at filling in all the pages for a novel. So, probably a movie.”
He gave me a “you’re babbling” look and blew out a mouthful of smoke at me. I got the impression he wanted to blow a smoke ring, but couldn’t without lips. I took another breath, coughed a bit from the smoke, and started again.
“I wanted you to be in it,” I said.
He laughed. It wasn’t a nice sound.
“You want me to wear makeup?”
“No, I don’t mean I want you to act in it,” I said. “I just want to write about you.”
“Everybody writes about me,” he said.
A few drops of rain fell on the roof of the bus stop. People on the street began to hurry on their way. Nobody jumped under the roof with us. Nobody even looked in our direction.
“What’s your movie about?” he said.
“There’s a guy and he dies,” I said.
“And he ends up making a deal with you to be your helper.”
“I don’t need a helper,” he said and took another drag on his cigarette; instead of exhaling, he let the smoke trickle out his eye sockets.
“Well, the idea is that, what with there being a billion more people being added to the planet every decade, you’re overworked.”
He thought about that for a moment, then he nodded.
“So, kind of a message about overpopulation. What am I like?”
I was about to answer with a joke when I noticed his scythe leaning against the back wall. It was enormous and sharp. I decided to be tactful.
“Kind of like a mentor,” I said. “Thoughtful. A little lonely and sad.”
“Again?” he said. “Terry Pratchett did that to death.”
He chuckled at his own joke.
“Like I give a rat’s ass about Father Christmas,” he muttered to himself and put his cigarette out on his knee bone. “Look, kid. I’ve been played by Brad Pitt as a hopeless romantic, been some pretty-boy blonde in Touched by an Angel, and even a big squid in that game you worked on. Nobody ever gets me right.”
I was shocked he knew I helped on Soul Reaver. My name wasn’t even in the credits.
“They made me bald and painted me white,” he said, and I assume he was talking about The Seventh Seal or maybe Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. “They made me a big, smoky, cloud. Nobody ever gets me right. What makes you think you can?”
“Well, I’m here,” I said.
I think he smiled at me. Hard to tell.
“So you are,” he said. “So you are.”
He stood up. In the black robe and hood, he looked more massive than a simple skeleton could possibly be.
“You want to know how to portray me?” he said; I nodded. “I’m the ultimate bad guy. I’m the one person everybody hates. I’m evil. I’m the greatest evil there ever was. Know why? Because you can’t execute me, you can’t shoot me, you can’t cut my head off. Someday I’ll get you, no matter what you do. Someday I’ll get the whole fucking universe.”
He picked up his scythe.
“That’s how you portray me,” he said, and made a strange gesture with his free hand as if he was thumbing for a lift.
“No,” I said, feeling courage I never thought I had.
“I’m sorry you see yourself that way,” I said. “You really are sad and lonely, but you’re not evil. You aren’t really a good thing, but neither is gravity. Maybe we hate it when we fall down, but we still need it. Without you, life wouldn’t even be possible. Death isn’t evil.”
A bus pulled up. I couldn’t see inside it because the windows were tinted. The door opened next to where Death was standing.
“You want to test that?” he said, gesturing me into the bus; I shook my head. “Didn’t think so.”
And he stepped on board. The door closed, and the bus drove off, silently, as if the wheels didn’t even touch the ground.