Breaking Even

By: Kaiser Einrich

Mythology dictates that a person with a virtuous soul moves on to Heaven, while a corrupt soul is banished to Hell. What's a Reaper to do when they meet someone who breaks even?

Author's Note: I wish the document editor auto-saved changes, 'cause it sucks when you accidentally navigate away from it and you lose ALL of your changes. That aside...

So! My first story uploaded to any site anywhere on the world-wide-internets. Hope you find it a good read and leave a review, if you would be so kind. This being my first story, constructive criticism can only be beneficial. Flames will be laughed at, used to cook s'mores, and then promptly extinguished with a high-powered fire hose.

Chapter Naught: The Decision

It had been such a good day, too. I woke up feeling refreshed for the first time in months, had a good breakfast, and to top it all off, it was Saturday. I saw one of the more recent films in the theater, and afterward had received my ticket fare and thensome when I found a stray, ownerless hundred-dollar bill. I had been invited to a big party at my girlfriend's place, with much food and merriment promised. It was definitely, hands-down, the greatest day of my life.

Really, I should have known.

I'm not sure just what happened, exactly, but the last thing I can recall is the smell of potatoes and the feel of something really heavy hitting my poor, unsuspecting skull. This left be perfectly honest, I haven't a clue. I feel fine, yet I'm apparently standing...and unconscious on the ground at the same time. Let me sum up my thoughts for you:


It's impossible to be in two places at the same time, right? That's just common sense. I am somehow defying the laws of physics right now, aren't I? No, wait, that can't be right. Maybe I'm dreaming? No, no, please no. I was enjoying life way too much today to be dreaming. Oh! I know! Out-of-body experience! That could be it. Wait...that can't be—

"You're dead."

The words are spoken by a voice that I can only deem as...the simplest word would be "creepy". It echoes with a hollow ring that carried the weight of eternity, and it sends an icy chill through your bones and to the very core of your being. Yeah, I think "creepy" works rather well. I shouldn't turn around. I know I shouldn't turn around, because I just know I'm not going to like what I see.

So, of course, I turn around.

Standing—nay, towering above me is a figure wrapped in a cloak blacker than pitch. Should I look up? No, I shouldn't. I already turned around, so I'm not about to look up and confirm my suspicions.

Damn my curiosity. Okay, I look up.

All I can see that isn't hidden beneath the black cloak's hood is a pair of glowing white eyes. Yes, I'm officially freaked out now. Of course, I'm unable to make this fact known because I can't seem to pick my jaw up off of the ground...or move, in general. I'm gripped by a completely unexplainable fear, but it's coupled with a sense of immense awe, too. Why is this?

"" I can only mumble incoherently and gesture questionably as the figure gives me a rather peculiar look.

The hood quirks slightly to the side as his voice echoes, "Y'know, I'm really bad at charades. Can we try sentences, please?"

Oh, that's reassuring. Big, intimidating, all-around frightening...but at least it has a sense of humor. So, all I can do to silence my muttering is take a deep breath and formulate words and sentences that sound less...stupid.

"What happened?" I ask.

"Why is that the first question you people always ask me? Jeez, I think you would have learned something by now." The figure speaks in a distinctly disappointed tone. "I'll make this easy for you...or easier, rather, since I've already stated the obvious."

The figure points at me, obviously displeased at my base question. "You. Are. Dead. Gone, out of here, kaput, kicked the bucket, bought the farm, pushing up daisies, past your expiration date, six feet under, sleeping with the fishes...stop me now, I've got a lot more."

My heart (or lack thereof, apparently) can only fall into my stomach as my confusion is clearly wiped out by the figures rather humorous list of euphemisms. So...this is how it all ends? I'm dead? There's nothing more for me here? I have to move on?

"Hold your horses, buddy. You can't move on yet." The figure speaks, as if reading my very thoughts.

Of course it can read my thoughts, why didn't I think of that? No pun intended, of course. My befuddlement is once again renewed at the figure's last statement, to which I feel I must inquire. "What do you mean 'can't move on yet'? Isn't that what you do when you die? Go to your respective Valhalla?"

The figure puts a bony hand over its currently nonexistent face in what seems like tired exasperation. "No, there's something called 'Official Procedure'. I have the eternally boring task of adding up a soul's blessings and sins, and where they go is determined from the outcome. Positive, you go to 'your respective Valhalla'. Negative, you board the bullet train to the Eternal Toaster Oven. Do not even get me started on the Reaper's Game. The last one of those I had was so asinine that...ugh, just forget it. Let's make with the numbers."

Of course, during the figure's semi-long speech, rather than focusing on the thought of my being dead, all I could wonder is why his hands were bony. I knew I should've paid attention in Mythology 101. Wait a second, something's coming back to I have to ask if this figure is—

"For the love of—" It started, sounding rather miffed. Stopping itself short, it took a breath (which, for some odd reason, sounded like a truck backfiring). "Fine. Introductions. I can handle that. I am a Grim Reaper, a judge of souls, an intermediary for—"

"A Grim Reaper?" I interject, not realizing how rude it is to interrupt the sentence of the one who would be determining whether I get wings or burn worse than bread in a faulty toaster. Thanks to that, I'm beginning to think this particular Grim Reaper would love to see me fry. Strangely enough, it holds its composure.

"Yes. A Grim Reaper. Implying that there are more than one. Do you know how many people like you die everyday? Omnipresence, my bony arse, no one Reaper could handle that. Continuing on—"

"So why are you a skeleton, exactly?" I interrupt once more. This can't be good for the final result it mentioned.

"You're so mortal, asking so many questions. Personal preference, mostly. Now shut up and let's get down to business." Reaching into its cloak, it pulls out a scroll with my name on it as well as an object I've never seen before. It was a series of thin wood dowels strung with wooden beads of varying shades of brown, capped on both ends with wood (fancy that). It opens the scroll and leaves it floating in the air and begins pushing some of the beads back and forth on the device, muttering to itself.

"Where's your scythe?" I ask ignorantly, blindly believing everything I had known about the fabled Grim Reaper (or Reapers, as the case is described) up until this point. I fully expect it to ignore the question, but am pleasantly surprised when it decides to humor me.

"Don't believe everything you read in books, kid. Now let's see...ten...twenty-seven...minus seventeen...carry the one...divide by three..." It echoes, despite its murmuring.

Unsure of what I should be doing at this moment, I decide to take a seat and entertain myself by twiddling my thumbs and thinking about the situation. What had I done recently? I helped that elderly woman across the street...cheated on a science test...made my mom breakfast...skipped history class—

"Wait a minute."

I look up, hearing a sort of...was it distress in that hollow voice? Confusion?

"How does that work? How is that even possible? Math may not be my forte, but I know I did everything right. This is...definitely a first. For the universe."

Now the Reaper's confusion was confusing me, and why it was confused in the first place confuses me as well.

"Um...what?" I ask, making the question as simple as possible so as not to rattle the entity any more than I already had.

It scratches its hood with a skeletal hand, and speaks. "Well...let me put this simply. You broke even."

"Broke even?"

"Weighing your sins against your blessings...the result comes out to zero. Nil. Which is...downright perplexing. How on earth did you manage that?" The figure speaks in a manner that makes me believe as if its world had somehow been flipped not upside-down, but at a completely obtuse angle. I assure you this is very much worse than upside-down. "This defies the entire structure of the procedure. Positive, Heaven. Negative, Hell. An in-between is never mentioned because an in-between shouldn't exist!"

"So...where does that leave me?"

Those glowing white eyes I mentioned earlier? They were now small glowing white dots, and I assume this is an attempt to exhibit complete and know, I can't think of the word for it.

"I...have absolutely no idea." It echoes incredulously. For a long moment, there is nothing more than silence and a distinct feeling of awkwardness before the Reaper reaches into his stark black coat and pulls out a...cell phone? It looks to be fashioned from bone (never would've guessed) and seems rather awesome, actually. "Stay put, I need to make a call."

- - - - - - - - - -

My phone makes the most annoying ringing sound I have ever heard as I await for the receiver to be picked up (and I've heard a lot of ringing noises, it's been a long eternity after all), the unease in the air so thick you could cut it with a knife and make a Dagwood sandwich out of it. Finally, a displeased voice speaks on the other end.

"This had better be important, I'm enjoying myself at a party a block away right now."

"Boss? You know how a soul's sins are weighed against their blessings, and the result determines where they spend their eternity?" I ask, trying to soften the ground for the completely insane question I am about to ask.

"Sure, standard procedure. What about it?" The higher-up asks, not understanding the question.

"What do you do when they break even?" I almost cringe at the thought, troubling as it is.

"I don't follow."

"When the weight of sin versus blessing comes out to be exactly zero? What do you when that happens?"

"That's impossible. What makes you think that could happen?"

"Um...the fact that it did happen, sir?"


"But it isn't!"

"Can't happen."

"But it did!"

Before I'm given a moment to even think of what could've possibly happened next, my boss suddenly appears before me, looking very cross (possibly because he's irritated at the fact that he's being pulled away from the fun times)...and the first thing I want to do is laugh. I won't, though...but just imagine how much willpower it takes not to laugh when you're looking at a rather chubby, perturbed platypus wearing a bright orange, yellow and green Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses with a party hat sitting crooked on its head. Suffice to say, this isn't his usual form.

"I'm telling you, it can't possibly—"

Now rather perturbed, myself, I thrust the scroll in my boss's general direction, who irritably takes it from me. I watch his (still hilarious) beady little eyes scan the parchment repeatedly, a look of confusion equal to my own forming on his face.

"That's...what? This can't be right. How could this possibly happen?" He asks, muttering the question to himself.

"That's what I want to know." I say before I'm suddenly reminded of the human soul's presence thanks to a timely sneeze from his position on the ground. "Still here? That's admirable."

"So what's going to happen to me?" The human asks me as if I should know the answer to the question. Technically, I do know the answer, but it doesn't apply to a situation as distressing as this.

I'm about to answer the ex-mortal's question when I'm pulled aside, out of its range of hearing, by my boss. The human looks at us, curious and confused, as my boss brings up a very interesting and unprecendented idea...

- - - - - - - - - -

Here I thought I was about to get an answer when the Reaper is suddenly pulled aside by his rotund, platypus-shaped boss. I want to laugh at that, I really do, but something—my mostly-nonexistent-until-now common sense, most likely—continues to convince me not to. The two finish their side conversation and the platypus disappears, which means I feel its safe to laugh, and do so accordingly. This leaves me holding my sides while the Reaper looks down at me with a dull expression in his eyes.

"Are you quite done? I don't get paid for overtime, y'know."

I force myself to stop laughing, sensing a certain agitation in the figure's echoing voice.

"So...what happens now?" I ask timidly, still feeling the effects of the Reaper's imposing presence over me.

"I'll keep things simple. I am to give you two options. Option number one: Because such an occurrence has no precedent in the history of ever, you are to be offered the chance to become an initiate Reaper. In honor of your careful management of events and blah blah blah, you got lucky and we want to keep this hush-hush. Option number two: I flip a coin. Heads, you get to choose your judgement; stay as a free spirit, return to life, etc., within reasonable limits. Tails, I flip the coin again to determine your judgement. On the second toss, if it's heads, it's the Pearly Gates. Tails, it's the Stygian Pit. Now you have to choose, a real job or leave it up to a coin."

An empty silence falls over the area as I begin to consider my options. I have yet to make my decision when the Reaper speaks.

"Well, what will it be?"

Important Author Note (Not just one of those ones that you look at without reading it and click the "Next Chapter" button)

So, if you're reading this, you have either clearly skipped straight to the bottom (you cheater) or you read through my story, for which I am grateful! Here's where I tell you why I ended the story as such, so those of you who enjoyed it don't feel the need to throw rotten food, articles of clothing, and sharp, pointy objects at me:

Whether or not I write future stories in general depends on how well this one is received. Also, whether or not this story gets another chapter is dependent on you, the reviewers! Tell me, what would you do in this situation, if you were given the choices? Think of it like a poll, where I'll continually read through any and all reviews over the course of...a week or two and possibly write a new chapter, if there's enough reviews to convince me that you really want another chapter. Who knows, if I really like your review, you may get a response in the following chapter.

As an unimportant side-note, I'll probably be dropping the first-person present-tense style. That was really annoying to keep frequent.

Hope you enjoyed the story.

— Ein