Her Favorite Suggested Sentence
By: A.P. Miller
Brenton Halloway’s face was contorted in horror; his mouth was agape, the wrinkles on his leathered face pulled taught by his jaw, blood splashed over every visible aspect of the man’s anatomy, and a few limbs were no longer in their natural position. The single vehicle accident had been an orchestra of twisted metal and mayhem of flesh and bone that cannot be conceived by someone who had a sincere interest in living. The rural road was now home to an uprooted tree, shrubs charred by the engine fire that had ensued upon impact, and a blanket of finely shattered glass that had once been a windshield. Then, there was the body.
The really unnerving part of seeing the settled chaos of a car accident was that Brenton was able to identify himself as the ruined mass of skin and bone that was nested among the wreckage. The shock of seeing your own face in such a condition was an ordeal enough, but then Brenton had realized that he was no longer afforded the privilege of his own senses. He should have been able to smell the gasoline that poured over the streets, the acrid smoke of shrubbery that had been accelerated by the viscous fluid that keeps a Cadillac Escalade on the road, but none of it registered in his nose. Brenton couldn’t tell if it was cold, he didn’t know why he couldn’t hear anything, and screaming for help hadn’t worked before he noticed the the carnage.
“Ooh,” a voice was suddenly beside him, feminine and confident, “that is going to be one hell of a closed casket funeral.”
That voice was the first thing that Brenton had heard in a length of time he couldn’t be sure of. That was another shock, realizing that he had no idea how much time had passed.
The voice came from a woman; her raven hair was pulled up into a strict, business-like updo. The woman’s skin was healthy looking, perhaps a bit washed out from the contrast of her hair and the rural surroundings. She was wearing a business suit – for all intents and purposes, she was fit to be seated at the conference table for a meeting at Brenton’s real estate development company.
“I’m sorry?” Brenton’s faculties still not completely with him.
“That scene down there,” the woman nodded, “I’ve seen a lot like it, they usually end up being closed casket funerals. The mortician will try to put your jaw back to where it’s supposed to be, but it’ll turn to dust.”
“That …that’s me?” Brenton asked, the absurdity of such a notion was in possession of a gut-punching gravity.
“No one else is going to claim a mug like that one, stud.” the woman elbowed Brenton in the ribs, jokingly. “C’mon though, I’m busy. It’s Halloween, my dance card is full, and I need to drop you off.”
“Drop me off where? Who are you?” Brenton pulled on the woman’s arm. The woman’s head snapped back to Brenton’s, her expression a non-verbal, unholy command to be unhanded. Brenton was clearly not used to such a response, he dropped her arm immediately.
“Where am I dropping you off? Where do all scumbags go when they have finished living all of their days? You’ve got a reservation for one at ‘Motel Eternal Suffering and Torment.’” the woman smoothed down her suit jacket sleeve where Brenton had tried to manhandle her.
“This is some kind of trick, I’m hallucinating or something!” Brenton was pacing now.
“No tricks. No hallucinations. You were a terrible person in life, you are dead, and you’ve got an eternity of having red hot coals shoved in your pooper to look forward to. Can we get going now?” her arms folded across her chest.
“Who are you, anyways?” Brenton was turning his confused disgust towards the only other sentient being in the vicinity.
“Wow, you really don’t know who I am, do you?” the woman’s arms dropped by her sides, “I am known by a lot of names: Marzanna, Kharon, Angel de la muerte – I like that one because it sounds sexy, you know?”
“I don’t follow.” Brenton’s expression was pained with embarrassment that he didn’t immediately catch on.
“The Fourth Horseman?” She continued, “The Grim Reaper?”
“Death.” She laid out flatly, “You can call me Death.”
“Death?” Brenton clapped his hands over his mouth in horror, “I’m really dead? I had so much left to do with my life!”
“You’ve spent your entire life chasing a buck, what more could you have done with your days?” Death scoffed, rolled her eyes.
“I did good work!” Brenton insisted, “I made an honest living and I helped a lot of people along the way! I made strong people out of those around me!”
“You ignored your children, made money by putting the hurt on people who didn’t have the resources that you did, enabled your slimeball friends to get away with pretty heinous stuff, and you took advantage of the people around you.” Death put her hands on her hips.
“I gave to a lot of charities.”
“Holy shit, I don’t have all night to poke holes in your self-serving ‘good deeds,’ Brenton.” Death inspected her nails absently, “You manipulated a tax system so that everyone would see you giving to charities — in reality, you sacrificed nothing and profited from the publicity.”
“Don’t I deserve a chance to explain myself?” Brenton insisted, “I went to church and I know that I will be judged in front of my maker.”
Death began to take a few steps away from Brenton, like a mother would when she wanted to coax her child to move along with her. When Brenton had asked about his ethereal judgement, Death stopped in her tracks.
“Brenton,” Death whispered softly, “you were judged in front of your maker. He sent you back here and then sent me to collect you.”
“I am having a hard time believing that God had judged me and sent a woman to take me away.” Brenton’s stiff upper lip, the one that had made him a mean old cuss in business, was emerging, “If I am dead, then I have to believe that you are an agent of the devil!”
Death sneered, her mouth slowly morphed into a devious smile.
“I can appear as anything to anyone as I want. This form, this shape,” Death twirled around so that Brenton could see her completely, “this was put together specially for you, Brenton.”
“To tempt me, because you are the devil!”
“Because I felt it appropriate for you to be taken to the confines of hell by a woman, you misogynistic scrotum.” Death’s appearance was changing, what had been a woman was now a large black mass, “When you walked among the living, you actually looked down on women — you didn’t believe they had a place in the working world and should be subjugated for service.”
Death’s appearance changed again; Death towered over Brenton, large bat-like wings, horns coming out of the head of a bull, and the lower half of Death’s body was serpentine and coiled underneath the rest of its form. Brenton shrunk back in horror.
“I don’t usually take so much time taking someone to deliverance,” Death snarled, “but I made a promise to a young man not too long ago and I am delivering.”
“What young man? What does it have to do with me?”
“A young man that had put faith in one of your organizations.” Death slithered around Brenton, “When I came for this young man, I chose the form of his grandfather, because it had comforted him. That young man, hardly thirteen, deserved that comfort — he lived in squalor, holding on to promises that your organization had made to subsidize heat and utilities, funds that had been appropriated to the ‘Brenton Halloway Caribbean Vacation’ organization. As he took my hand, unsure of what to do with such a luxury like not having to worry, I promised him that you’d know and remember him for the duration of your sentence.”
Brenton didn’t remember any such thing — he remembered the vacation, acknowledging that he may have done some creative accounting to be comfortably liquid during the trip. His countenance had fallen, there was no defending himself.
Brenton hadn’t realized that he was no longer in the woods, but being lead down a hallway by Death, having returned to the form of a woman in a business suit. The hallway looked exactly like that of his office building, where he’d done his work for the last forty years.
“You know what the worst of it is, Brenton?” Death stopped him in front of one of the office doors.
“You were on your way to see your friends in the hospital when you’d had your accident. You didn’t ask once about them, you were concerned with how the concept of death affected you.”
“How are they, then?” Brenton’s tone of voice was hollow.
“They didn’t make it.” Death opened the door.
Inside the door were the friends that he had gone to see. They were naked, chained to chairs that were around his favorite conference table. The middle of the table was on fire, with hot irons sticking out of them. His friends were pained, too enthralled in their own agony to notice that Brenton had joined them.
“I’m not going to lie to you, Brenton:” Death was sneering again, “I’m very proud of this one, I don’t get to suggest sentences very often! For all of eternity, the engineers of torment will come in here, take one of those pokers and sear the name of someone you have wronged into your flesh. No inch of your body is off-limits and when there is no more room, they will tear that outside layer of skin off and begin again, the nerves that lie in wait will be more keen than those before them.”
Two large, shadowy masses had grabbed Brenton, peeling his clothing away with ease. The chains had been ready, the seat was already warm. No point in delaying the inevitable.
Death closed the door on Brenton Halloway, never to be concerned with something so trivial again.
“Her Favorite Suggested Sentence”
(c) 2018 – A.P. Miller