Appointment With Death
Norm Caprice had no right being on this rooftop. But it was a drunken bet, and you had to do a drunken bet. It was one of those unwritten rules, like scoffing the last nibble at a party when everyone else was just too polite to take it. Or finishing that final pint when last orders have been called. And you’re too drunk to see strait.
So Norm wobbled around on the tightrope of a wall, which surrounded the high tower he was now on. He felt the breeze as it pushed him, first this way and then that. It was never quite enough to blow him to the gravel of the felt roof. Or the hard concrete thirty-foot below.
Then disaster struck. The wind died, and with no natural enemy to fight. His muscles decided to strike anyway, it was a fifty fifty chance. One way to scuffed palms, the other. Well let’s not go there just yet. Somewhere deep down in a recess of his brain, common sense told him to just crumple and hug the wall. But somewhere between the vital message and his legs, that last pint slipped in to gear. Stiffening, he toppled out in to the cool air, as it whooshed up past him.
Norm was O.K. As far as he was concerned the decision was made, and he relaxed as time spread out. He quite casually noticed the spinning of his surroundings, and the almost cushioning feel to the air, as it tried to get out of his way. Then a resounding thud knocked the air from his lungs. Along with the life from his body, but he was too anesthetized by the nights booze filled bonanza to notice.
After a while norm sat up, he felt cold, well no not actually cold. It was more that he should be cold. It was late November, and the stars were out. He should by rights be shivering, and then it struck him. Did you get hypothermia if you didn’t shiver? The shock brought him to his senses, or at least as close as his alcohol-fuelled mind could approach, to any reasonable definition of sense.
It was only then that he noticed the extra set of legs. He didn’t seem to have blurred vision. A pathetic wave of his hands before his eyes, put paid to that theory. So why did he now have four legs? Ideas popped up, he was a horse, no too stupid, he was sat on someone, possible. Then he looked down and got the shock of his life, or death as the case may be. For what Norm took to be his body, was somehow merged with a very messy Norm Caprice, mangled on the concrete floor.
He got up so quickly his head reeled, and stood facing the mess. Who the hell was that? He looks like me kind of, but only if I’d been in a fight with a jack hammer and lost. This was a little too much for Norm, and so he staggered off. Let someone else cope with it. The streets were clearing now, and the odd drunk that staggered past Norm, paid him as much heed as he did them.
After some time, Norm wasn’t sure how much. He hit a major street deserted now, but for a single figure making his own way over the empty stretch of tarmac. Before Norm could register it, a streak of light blue shot past him. And the lone figure flew up over the speeding car, now screeching to a halt. Red lights glared on the grisly sight, before Norm’s stunned feet. A mangled heap of arms and legs, bent beyond any normal configuration. With another ear splitting screech, the car tore off leaving Norm in the silent void behind it.
Norm noticed a figure bent over the body on the floor. Some well meaning soul, come to offer respite. Too late thought Norm. So maybe some form of carrion crow, come to pick the corpse clean of valuables. Neither it turned out, for to Norm’s amazed eyes the broken figure unbent and stood shakily on his feet. Or at least some shadow of his former self, for there on the ground still lay the mangled form.
“I Must be seeing double” the befuddled mind of Norm bounced the thought about. Until the idea, like a pinball striking a target. Norm realised that the double would be an exact facsimile, and not the now animated figure now conversing with the hooded figure.
The latter seemed to be explaining something to the former corpse, who seemed finally to grasp the concept, and then they turned to go. But Norm was struck with a sudden desire to meet the strange hooded figure. So he began to run, or at least his mind did, the clumsy set of limbs below the waist had different ideas as to what to do. And he promptly fell over.
As he rolled about on his back, a face came in to view blocking out the stars. It looked like the figure could have done with a meal or ten, and with a grim determined voice asked Norm. “Can you see me mush?” Norm blinked “yea, I might be blind drunk, but that didn’t stop me from seeing you scrape that fella off the floor. And don’t act so grim, it ain’t Halloween.” A hand pulled him up as if he were nothing, and his new companion laughed back. “Grimm by name grim by nature.”
Over his shoulder the other man called. “Are we going or what?” “In a minute” shouted the hooded figure, as he eyeballed Norm. Or at least Norm thought he was. Norm couldn’t really discern any eyes hiding in those deep sockets. “You haven’t just died have you?” Came the sudden question. Norm took a moment for this to sink in. “Don’t know I fell off the roof way back.” And he jerked his thumb in a random direction. He really had no idea now, which way he had staggered.
Norm noticed a scrap of paper his interrogator had extracted from a pocket, and was now busy unfolding. It seemed to be a list of names in biro, if the front was anything like the back. “O.K. what’s your name?” demanded the figure. Who was now adjusting a pair of glasses, which he had to hold up with his free hand. “Not telling officer” came the automatic response. But a long stare through those glasses, gave Norm the impression he wasn’t going to avoid this fine.
“Norman Shirley Caprice.” There was a snigger from the figure, now stood by his interrogator. It brought a flush to Norm’s cheeks. “It’s my gran’s name, so pipe down or sling your hook.” Norm felt indignant. “Can’t, I’m stuck with him now.” The post corpse indicated the hooded figure, who was now scanning down the second side of the piece of paper. “Your not on my list. Are you sure your dead?” He poked a bony finger into Norms shoulder. “Well how should I know, I ain’t never been dead before?” “Perhaps it’s an out of body experience”, suggested the other nonofficial man. “You keep out of this”, snapped the robed one, a little peeved. “Now do you have your appointment card?”
Norm was stumped, he checked his pockets, and then he checked them again. On the third attempt he forgot which pockets he’s searched, and had to start over again. But eventually even he had to admit he didn’t have the card. “Can’t do anything with out the card. It’s got your time and date on it.” The robed figure held up the last one he’d taken. It showed clearly that only a few minutes had passed, since the man on the road and the man jigging about impatiently behind him, had parted company.
“Can’t we get a move on, I’m getting chilled. It’s obvious this joker’s a no hoper. Can’t we just ditch him?” The cloaked figure rounded on him. “I’ve had just about enough of you. And stop jigging about its only psudocold. You can’t really feel it without a body.” He turned on Norm again. “Now where did you die? You probably dropped your card, you drunken moron.”
Norm was staggered by this sudden attack. He started blubbering, “I don’t know. It could be anywhere, can’t I get another one?” But the cloaked figure cut him off. “Oh stop your blubbering. And you can stop your complaining” he continued at the other man. “I’ve had just about as much tonight as any should.” But Norm wasn’t listening; he had staggered off reeling this way and that. He was vainly looked for the missing card.
Some how Norm didn’t feel tired any more, just frantic. As he made his way down the street, he noticed a familiar alleyway. He’d come out of that, so he staggered on looking this way and that. Until eventually he made it back to his body. It was still a mess, and he slumped down against a wall, despondent in his situation. As dawn broke Norm was shaken from his morose slumber, by the sound of a dog whining, as it strained at its leash. “What is it boy” came an unfamiliar voice.”
Then there was a cry of horror, as this early morning dog walker discovered the corpse. The police were called. And soon Norm bore witness to his own dead body, being loaded in to the back of a mortuary van. He quickly jumped in unnoticed by the attendant, and sat jiggling about as he rode across town. The body was placed on a gurney, and wheeled in to a cold lab like room. “You can’t feel it. Its only psudocold”, Norm told himself.
Two men in green started examining the body, and possessions in minute detail. “Here’s his wallet, he doesn’t look like his driving licence photo any more.” One man noted down some details on a clipboard. The examination was thorough to say the least. Norm could have died with embarrassment at some of the things they did. But eventually he was left alone with himself, and so he sat vigil awaiting the next step.
“I suppose someone will have to identify the body”, considered Norm. And he was torn between wanting to see a loved one again, and not wanting to see them grieve over his dead body. He idly glanced at the clipboard, while trying to decide what to do. “So I died at about eleven o’ clock according to the doctors estimate. Well at least I’ve got my time.” And then he made the decision. “I’ll see them at the funeral, give them time to get over the shock.” So he headed upstairs.
The next floor was the reception of a hospital. It hadn’t occurred to Norm that they would be in one building, so he decided to take a stroll. This place looked very familiar to Norm, and then it hit him. It was St. James’, the very hospital where his gran had resided for the past year. She lingered on, connected to all those machines. But no sense could be got from her, for she was effectively dead to the world. The body livening on, while the mind had gone. She rested in a permanent sleep, only kept alive by the unwillingness of a doting daughter to let her go.
Norm had found his feet had led him to just outside the door to his gran’s room. So he walked through it. There she lay, a sunken figure among the sheets. The beep of the monitor proclaimed the spark of life that still clung, by the grace of the machines that none dared turn off. “So you finally turned up you useless lump.” Norm flinched at the accusation, and turned behind him to see where it came from.
He was rewarded with the sight of the old lady in her nightgown, as she fell off the cabinet she was perched on. She was so surprised that someone could hear her taunts. Quickly rushing over to the tangle of geriatric spite and crinoline, he helped her up. “How come you can see me boy?” she cross-examined him. “You’ve not come over all astral minded?”
The old woman examined him with a beady eye. Norm was ashamed at this admonition, and sheepishly mumbled. “No gran I died last night.” Taking the news in her stride, his gran beamed. “Well that explains the door, they usually open it before they come in. Gone and got yourself dead hey? I’m not surprised; you always were a dozy one. You’d be late for your own funeral, if we had to rely on you to get there. So now you are dead you can do me a favour?” And it was her turn to look sheepish.
“What is it gran? You know I’d do anything for you.” “Apart from come visit me, sorry.” Norm’s hurt look cut the jibe in mid vent. She fumbled with the hem of her robe. “It’s like this, I’m scared to cross over. But if you were with me I know I’d be alright.” And with pleading eyes, she searched for that sign on Norm’s face, that he could help her. “You see, your granddad must be over there somewhere. It’s been so long since I saw him, before your mom came in fact.” But Norm was already hugging her. “It’s O.K. gran, we’ll go together.” And holding hands the old lady took one last look at herself, just before the monitor stopped.
A team rushed in to try and resuscitate the body, but the soul had finally left its shell. “Haven’t I seen you before?” Came the gruff voice from behind the two spectral onlookers. Norm’s gran squeezed his hand, and out of the corner of her mouth asked. “Friend of yours Norm?” Turning Norm made the introductions. “Gran this is the Grimm Reaper, Mr Reaper this is my gran.” The robed figure proffered a hand.
“So you must be Shirley?” She took it, and still out of the corner of her mouth Norm’s gran whispered. “Very forward your friend’s Norm. But I’m surprised at the circles you mix with these days.” Then to the skeletal figure before, her she announced. “My grandson and I are ready.” She produced a card, which was promptly checked against a sheet of biroed in names. Death dutifully ticked off her name.
“You may pass, but young Norman here has no proof of death. And so he must remain.” The lady set her jaw, and was just about to tear a strip off the taker of souls. When Norm pulled a sheet from his pocket. “Will this do?” He held up the mortuary note. The Grim Reaper took it, and scanned the sheet like a lawyer examining a contract, until he finally announced. “Well it’s not a conventional means, but as proof it seems to be in order.” So taking his gran by the elbow, Norm followed their guide to the world beyond.