By David McNulty
1. My Death
I remember the day I died quite clearly. Snow fell in thick, fat flakes, which threatened to bury me before I made it home from the shops with the whiskey. New years eve was 2 hours away, and I'd left my carry out dangerously late. A quick dash down to the local offie and I was rewarded with the last bottle of Scotch on the shelf. My lucky night, or so I thought to myself. It was sleet when I left the shop, heavy when I got on the main road and literally Antarctic conditions by the time I reached my street. Frostbite and gangrene seemed to be my constant companions for the latter half of my journey. But finally, there I was on my doorstep. Safe at last. Then I made a decision that I would regret for the rest of life, the little time that I had left. I decided to turn around and look at the snow. There is something about the snow that is magical, as if it is alive and dancing to some music that is beyond human hearing. Flurries swept round me like fireflies on a hot summers night, gracefully falling to rest on the furry three-inch carpet of white. In fact I was so captivated by it, that I didn't notice one Tony Herbert, aged 50 and an accountant for a large firm. He is also the person who killed me. Not a dangerous person to meet, unless he's blind drunk, driving a BMW at 72 mph in a heavy snowstorm and is currently barrelling down towards you. The car ploughed through my hedge and broke the fishing rod of a garden gnome. It somehow depresses me that an inanimate object 7 inches tall with a funny hat has more luck than I do. But that's life. Or rather, that was my life. Headlights mercifully blinded me before I was struck and sent hurtling skyward. My bottle of whiskey described a full arc before it landed on the snow with a little wheeze of flakes. I flew over the hedge and landed on my neighbours pathway, which he'd thoughtfully shovelled clear of snow earlier in case I hadn't wanted a soft landing. My head hit firm unyielding concrete and a second later the weight of my body forced my neck to bend, mutilate and finally snap. I just had time to realise the Beamer had parked nicely on my living room carpet, when it occurred to me that I was dead.
Everything froze, like a bad special effect in an 80's pop video. There was also a complete absence of noise and all the colours had an oily sheen to them. Not that I was too worried. My own death was more at the forefront of my mind. I stood up and walked over to the fallen bottle of whiskey. Bending down, I tried to pick it up, but it seemed welded to the ground. My hand brushed the snow on the ground and it was hard as concrete. All was still. Nothing moved. Frustrated I decided to give the driver a piece of my mind, but he too was static, stuck like a mannequin, half in, half out of his car. I wandered back to the whiskey, sat down and pondered my next move. Then he appeared. Death. Bloody typical. I motioned for him to sit down, though I wasn't in the mood for company. He didn't move though. Just stood. A sentinel in the snow. Describing Death is suprisingly difficult. It's like trying to explain the colour Red to a child. You don't really see him as such. I just imagined a masculine Grim Reaper and took it from there.
'Well', I said. 'I suppose you'll be taking me over to the other side, eh? You don't have to walk me, though. Just point me in the basic direction of the bright light and I'll make my own way.' That was me to a tee, you see. Never wanted to be a bother.
I nodded my head and then re-ran what he said. 'No?'
Now he nodded. 'No.'
I was beginning to get annoyed. 'What do you mean 'no'? Where do you think I'm going to go? I'm not gonna meet a girl and say 'Hi, how you doing, I'm a zombie, any chance of a snog?' I'm dead! Christ, you're Death, I shouldn't have to be explaining this to you.'
He seemed to tilt his head a fraction (I think he did, though when you consider I couldn't see him, you'll understand that I couldn't be sure) and he began to talk. 'When the year 1999 ends, Judgement Day will begin. Every soul who walks the earth will be judged. Man shall pass into history and a new species will have a chance to create Eden'
I stared at him and then I did something that I never thought I'd do; I laughed right in the face of Death. 'Are you taking the piss?'
I struggled to control an incredulous grin on my face. 'That is the most hackneyed prediction for the future of all time. It doesn't even make sense.' I shook my head. 'Nobody's even sure when the Roman calendar began. It's been used to spice up every bad Hollywood film for the past two years! And it turns out its true.' A thought occurred to me. 'If only I could go back in time, I could have placed a bet on when the world ends and netted a fortune from the bookies.' Though quite how I'd collect it when everyone on the planet was going to die was another matter. Mind you, I was confident I could have made arrangements to take it with me into the afterlife. Then another thought struck me. 'Wait a minute, what's this got to do with me. I mean, it doesn't affect me now since I'm R.I.P. Why can't I go to heaven right now.'
Death looked distinctly uncomfortable for an omnipotent superbeing. 'It seems you have, as it were, jumped the gun. It has been decreed that since Judgement Day is less than two hours away, there is no point in bringing you over. Everyone will die shortly so you may as well wait for Armageddon. You are to remain here, the place of your death, until midnight.'
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Being asked to miss the best party of the year was one thing, but to have to wait for the afterlife just so there would be less paperwork for the Holy Administration Department was downright cheeky.
Death began to turn away.
'Wait a minute, hold on', I said, reaching out to pull him back. 'You can't just leave me here, stuck like a fly in amber. This isn't right.' I touched his shoulder and it felt suprisingly warm.
He whipped round and gave me what could only be described as a deathly stare. 'I have things to attend to. You are not the only person on this planet.'
I hopped back a step, but kept staring at him. 'Listen, if you're not going to send me into the tunnel of light, then send me back to life. Let me enjoy the last couple of hours of my life.' I was aware a pleading note had crept into my voice, but I was powerless to stop it. 'C'mon, what harm is it going to do.'
Death looked off somewhere over my shoulder and seemed to be listening to something I couldn't hear. I held my breath (though technically I'd stopped breathing) and prayed that once you got beyond the fact that Death was the most prolific serial killer in the known universe, he was an all right guy once you got to know him. He looked back at me.
'Alright', he said. 'But if you ever tell anyone, we'll deny it.'
I smiled back at him. 'I won't tell a soul.'
2. My Life
There was a feeling of vertigo, a churning in my stomach and suddenly I was alive again. I was lying flat on my back looking at clouds, but it wasn't snowing anymore.
I jumped up and punched my fist in the air. 'Yeesssssss!!! What a result!' I walked over to my whiskey bottle that was now two thirds submerged in snow. I reached down, got a firm grip and pulled it out with all the force I could muster. The pure snow provided no resistance and suddenly I was back in the game. I unscrewed the lid, and took a large slug. It tasted like paint thinner but just being alive to taste it meant it was better than the finest champagne. Everything was perfect except my head had a very large lump and my neck was in agony. Plus the Judgement Day was coming, of course. But I didn't have the time or notion to dwell.
I looked at my watch. 11.01 p.m. Christ, I only had 59 minutes left to enjoy what was the end of the world. And I was 10 miles from the city centre. With hindsight I realised that I should have got Death to drop me off in Queen Street, but I don't think the Grim Reaper would take to kindly being regarded as a Taxi service. It was a bit of a dilemma…then I heard the sobbing. Come on down Mr T. Herbert. I'd forgotten all about him in the excitement. I jogged round the house and the car was still parked in my living room. Herbert was sitting in the driver's chair bawling his eyes out. The accident certainly seemed to have sobered him up. You might think it odd that I wasn't angrier with him. After all, he did kill me. But I'm not one to hold a grudge. And anyway, I really needed a lift.
'Hey, how you doing?' I tilted the bottle of whiskey forward. 'Want a drink?'
He slowly turned his head round and stared at me. His finger pointed accusingly at me. 'You're dead. You were dead. I killed you.'
I shrugged my shoulders and unconsciously rubbed the back of my neck. 'It's a long story and I really don't have the time to tell you.'
He continued to stare at me in a lobotomised way and I realised I'd have to say something to appease him. 'In a nutshell, I was dead, got brought back to life, but the world's going to end,' I checked my watch, ' in 43 minutes and I really need a lift, so how about it.'
He stared. He stared at me more intensely than a kid watching his first pornographic film. Then, finally, he spoke. 'Eh?'
I rolled my eyes and walked over to the car. 'Christ, move over and I'll explain on the way.'
After some initial difficulty in getting the car back on the road (and 'accidentally' running over the gnome), we were on our way to what was probably the shortest party of all time. It started at 12.00 am. The world ended at 12.00 am. You'd barely have taken off your coat and started a sausage roll before you'd be told your Taxi's waiting for you. Never the less, I drove relatively slowly through the slushy streets of Glasgow. The last thing I needed was to knock somebody down myself. Herbert started taking more and more sips from my whiskey as I explained fully what was going to happen. I didn't think Death would really care that I was spilling the beans.
After I had finished and he'd had a minute or two to absorb he was going to die very shortly, Herbert said one word: 'Why?'
I looked over at him for a second. 'Why what?'
'Why is the human race being wiped out? Why aren't we being given a chance to fulfil our potential? Why?' He took another drink from the bottle.
To be honest, I'd not given it much thought really. I always assumed the world would end one day, through our own weapons and paranoia as much as anything. 'Perhaps we've made too many mistakes.' I said, 'Broken too many commandments. Committed to many sins. Whatever it is, somebody upstairs doesn't think we're worth the effort anymore.' I was beginning to feel quite resentful of being part of the human race, though I suppose I was the undead now. I still didn't have a hunger for human brains though, which was a relief.
Herbert shook his head. 'What about all the good things though? All the cures for diseases, our poetry, music, art. We could have reached the stars eventually…'
'Yeah, that's true', I said, 'but what about the bad stuff. Every war, act of violence, every atrocity, all the nasty little things we do on a daily basis. In fact if you take out natural disasters and dumb bad luck, everything that's wrong with this planet is down to us.'
Herbert stared out the window and drank more forcefully from the bottle. I put a hand on his shoulder. 'Look man, we had our chance and we blew it. It's time we left the field.'
We drove on in silence to George Square.
I stopped the car at the top of Queen Street and turned off the engine. We looked down at the Revellers in the square, dancing to the bands and oblivious to the fact that they were all on borrowed time. My watch read 11.51 p.m. Time enough to race down, jump the barriers and kiss a few girls.
I looked over at Herbert. 'Are you coming down?'
He smiled sadly and placed the now empty bottle down at his feet. 'No, it's not really my scene. I'm afraid I'd just stand in the corner pretending to enjoy myself.' He stretched out his arms and settled back into his chair. 'No, I'll stay here in the warmth of the car, if it's all the same. But you go on, enjoy yourself.' He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
I thought about going down, but it would have been too depressing to see all the faces that would never achieve their goals. Like an artist going blind or a musician becoming deaf. Potential lost forever.
'Look', said Herbert pointing, 'the sky's clearing.'
And it was. The dark clouds had finally moved on.
So we sat in the car, looking up at the glowing stars and waited patiently for the end of the world.