It was clearly a Tuesday. Death had checked the calendar hanging at the entrance to the intensive care ward before making his rounds, for He preferred to double-check. It wouldn't do to sever Wednesday's souls a day early, now would it? Yes yes, as Helga would say: what does it matter that they die a day early? Well, to Death, it mattered. Immensely. The satisfaction of a job well done: that's what He always strived for. You know, when you live forever, you need to set little challenges for yourself to keep life interesting. 'Life' – He chuckled.
Well, life certainly had a way of keeping itself interesting. This, Death discovered when he came to stand at Grant's bedside, and he was still breathing. Grant, a 98-year old walking skeleton of a man, had been hooked up to a ventilator and, according to the nurse and doctor discussing his condition, Grant would be breathing all night. Death flipped through His notes, seeking out the mistake, and soon came to the conclusion that he hadn't made one.
Death reached a long, bony finger to His snout and scratched its scales with His claw. "No no no, this won't do, this won't do at all." Perplexed – thus did He feel. He flipped through His notes once more, and once more; alas! Things were not as He had expected.
"Hmm." He pondered the situation after flipping His notes closed. Well, perhaps 'pondering' wasn't the right choice of words, as Death only stared at the old man breathing, in and out, in and out, to the steady rhythm of the operating machine. Perhaps He needed a second opinion.
"Helga," He called out, and in an instant a black-robed figure appeared on the other side of the bed, her face obscured by a hood. She bowed her head, the vine-like garlands on her branching horns rustling like bells.
"You called?" Her voice, a raspy growl, conjured icy mist into the room.
Death gestured towards the pumping machinery. "Do you know anything about this?"
Helga sighed. "You're Death – You know everything about all… 'this'." She threw her hand towards the machine with contempt briefly visible beneath her hood. "We follow your instructions. What is it this time?"
Helga came to stand beside Death and together they poured over the notes. Her judgement was unyielding – and, Death assessed, complexly straightforward.
"So kill the machine," she stated with a grump, pointing a clawed thumb back at it, "What difference does it make? You're Death – you can do that."
Death squirmed. A long, mournful sigh later, flipping again through His notes, He replied, "Yes, but what if He changed this man's parameters and forgot to inform me?"
"Look at him – what parameters could He change? You always overthink these things. I say, unplug him – you'll be doing him a service, and us too," She added under her breath.
"I suppose you're right—"
"—I am right—"
"—for God's sake, unplug the man!"
Death threw up His hands in the air. "Alright, alright."
What more menial task was there than to tamper with the mortals' rickety machines? Especially when, Death discovered with genuine surprise, said machine wasn't plugged in to begin with? Holding the cord's head in His hand, Death sighed. "Lucifer."
There was a childish giggle before a smooth, somewhat high-pitched voice replied, "How'd you guess? Too on the nose?"
Death straightened and looked up at the winged, impossibly youthful blond man now sitting cross-legged atop the box-like ventilator. So many things to say, so little point in doing so – besides, Death knew it was only a matter of time before Helga's boiling nerves exploded.
Lucifer, meanwhile, grinned. "You Reapers are never happy to see me. It's impossible to please you people. I offer you souls on a plate, never get a thank you."
And off went Helga's fury. "Oh get down from your make-believe throne you pompous ass! These idiots don't need you to die, they've been doing it to themselves since life began! Don't you have a God to harass?"
Elbow resting on one leg to hold up his face, Lucifer gestured towards the ceiling. "He's playing 'whack the piñata'. I wasn't invited."
"Poor baby," Helga grumbled. She came to stand beside Death. "We didn't invite you either. Now let Him do His job."
"You guys are no fun at all."
With a puff of whining smoke Lucifer disappeared. Death and Helga waited, patiently, for the ventilator's energy to run out. By Wednesday morning, they were still waiting. The notes had not changed; Death had checked. Several times. In a row.
"Kill. The. Machine," Helga eventually snarled through gritted teeth.
Death checked his notes again. "But—"
A sudden bang, like metal getting mauled by a compactor, startled the both of them. Sparks started flying from the ventilator, which was now dented and, Death thought, about to catch fire.
"Thank you!" Helga glanced up at the ceiling, then back at Death. "Notes still say Tuesday?"
Death checked. "Ahh, Wednesday. Very good. Thank you, Helga."
"I think you meant to thank the piñata-whacker. I'll be at the Gate if you need me."
In a puff of grey smoke Helga was gone, leaving Death alone to, at long last –though 'long' was a relative term– finish the job He had begun on Tuesday. Yes, it did bother Him that He'd had to rearrange his schedule to accommodate yet another one of Lucifer's bored pranks. Death, such as Death dealt with on a daily basis, left Him with little time to do more than guide the departed towards Helga's light. Every second overdue could feel like an eternity to catch up on.
But, those were concerns for yet another day. Perhaps for another Tuesday.