"So what sort of death you want?" asked the woman behind the card table.
I didn't answer right away because the half-burnt cookie the large Asian woman had shoved in my hand when I stepped into the office was stuck somewhere down my throat. Honestly, I hadn't thought what death I wanted. I had just come down to Death's Sales Office to shake off the numbness I had felt at Charlie's funeral this morning and finish off the last feelings of morbidity at staring at his casket for 2 hours.
While I coughed up the cookie crumbs still lodge in my throat, the woman went back to doing a crossword puzzle. She lazily filled in the answers using a dictionary-thesaurus combo, which was resting on an old church organ with awkwardly-bent pipes. The text was about as large as my thumb.
The sales office was not what I had imagined, which had been something gothic and grandiose with black curtains and drab dark paintings by David or Edvard Munch. Instead, it had a water tank bubbling happily in the corner, where a crow sat on it with its head tucked under one wing, asleep. I glanced around the room, disoriented, looking for the door which led out to the street. The door was gone. Instead, an octopus, smaller than most, was sitting on the bottom of a fish tank that took up half the wall. Its bright gray tentacles, radiating out like an old man's beard, were at odds with the pink splotches on its bulbous head.
The Asian women mumbled something at me, still staring at her crossword. I asked her pardon.
The woman glanced up at me, irritated, her thick finger poised on the downward slant of the middleish long word in the crossword puzzle labeled "Today in History."
"Same question." She said, bowing a precarious tall black turban balancing on her head in my direction.
"I-I don't know." I said nervously. The absence of the door bothered me. I might be trapped in an office with a bird, Death, and Cthulhu, for all I knew. I was beginning to regret coming in here. Still, because I had not seen any of the options yet, I took a deep breath and asked what they were.
The woman's face brightened and she grinned knowingly at me. She stood up and went to the bookshelves beside the octopus and drew out of it a book bigger than the dictionary-thesaurus, if that were possible, and set it down with a resounding thud on the card table. It quivered under the book's leather bound weight.
"Fear based, courageously, in sleep or wide awake?" She asked, beginning to flip through the pages.
I thought a moment. Dying in my sleep would be cowardly, not to mention the fact whatever might killing me could wake me up for one fear filled moment. I shook my head, trying to dislodge whatever fuzzy philosophical mothballs had crawled inside my head and decided to stay there.
"I don't know." I said.
I looked around again for the door, still trying to get rid of that uneasy feeling sitting in the pit of my stomach. Sunlight, the only source of illumination, poured through the open blinds, but other than its presence the outside world did not seem to exist. Maybe that is how Death liked it, close enough to touch but out of sight.
I turned back and was surprised to see her turban-less now as she leafed through the dusty pages the leather bound book the cover reading the Book of Opportunity. She looked older than I had thought coming into the office. Her hair had turned a shade lighter (being immortal had its perks it seemed) as I had stopped to think about how I wanted my last moments to be, and without the turban it now spun upwards in an 1950's beehive. Her cheeks though had lost their natural color, if they ever had any. She reminded me of shallow pond stupid kids' dive into thinking they will beat the diving depth level with a clever upward turn or by sheer luck.
"Have you always looked like that?" I asked, gesturing at Death's womanly appearance watching her leaf through the Book. She stopped and looked straight at me for the first time since I came in. Gooseflesh rose on my skin as I tried to put roughly out of my mind the image of staring down the immortal Reaper, putting off the resurging queasy feeling bubbling up in my stomach as natural when one stares Death in the eye, even in her silly camouflage of graying hair and skin. For one clear moment she stared into me, through me, measuring the space between us in this little room, the air static.
She removed her spectacles that had perched on the edge of her nose.
"No, I don't." Her voice was deep and swarthy for a moment. "This guise is meant to make my customers feel better about seeing me."
"What do you look like normally?"
"Depends. Perception is the key with mortals. Besides, I'm an idea, right? What does it matter what I look like in the end? You all would cower still even if I appeared as a baby or little chick."
She went back to thumbing through the golden leafed pages—"How about a death by fire?" she asked. My heart pounding faster in my chest. Looking down at my hands, I realized I had begun clutching the arms of the chair. I tried rubbing off my nervousness on them. "Fire is relatively fast, though it is painful. Or drowning? Rasputin drown. Resilient and determined he was. Don't believe the rumors though, he drown nearly under a minute when he hit the water. Atropos—Death waved at the octopus in the tank—"Atropos made sure of that."
She looked at me expectedly, eyebrows raised, waiting for an answer. I shook my head. She went back to the book.
Death continued, "hmmm, car accident…no, too cheap for you. With your salary you can pay much more for a rather fine death."
I began to protest, but she held up a finger, poised over the book like her crossword puzzle.
"Madness." She whispered, glancing at the crow that was now grumpily awake. "You will go mad," she said watching the crow fly above my head, then, she leaned in like a schoolgirl with a secret, "and then die, out of sheer terror. That's it. That's the one." The crow perched on her shoulder with an official looking form in its beak. She took a mechanized pen out of the plastic cup of pen on the card table. It was half syringe half pen.
I rested my hands quietly in my lap, miserably. I did not know what else to do. Death seemed pretty sure about things. For the first time in my life I did not want control. She had it all together.
"Right or Left handed?"
I flicked my left hand. She reached out and pulled me forward by the wrist. She placed the devilish pen in my hand, which latching on it drew blood from the back of my hand.
"Sign there and it's all taken care of," She said, laying out the scroll she took from the crow and pointing the line noted with a single swirl for my signature. Then she, seeing either my miserable but peaceful look or my shaking hand in the manacles of the mechanized pen with a tube of my own blood for ink, she decided to give me a smile, "it will painless, the terror and adrenaline will take care of that."
I signed the document, and the pen detached itself. I relaxed a moment.
"How do I pay you?"
Death looked up, her eyes glittering.
"Don't you remember?" She said, "You already have."