|This week in SHOWCASE|
|Elves Are Douchebags|
by Robert Lowell Russell
|The Millionth Soul by Franziska Louise|
|Muscle the Menhir by Robert Bagnall|
|The Key by Joy Bernardo|
|Columns, Cruft, and Filler|
|Badger & Vole Review:|
Man of Steel
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|#1 - June 14, 2013|
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THE MILLIONTH SOUL
by Franziska Louise
“Hi. I’m Death.” The guy on the bar stool next to me gives me a scorching once-over. Is he hitting on me?
“Uh, okay, Seth—”
Oh. Role-player. I sip on my Manhattan and eye his black cloak and huge scythe. “You don’t look like Brad Pitt.”
His expression turns quizzical. “Who?”
“You know, Brad Pitt, from Meet Joe Black ?”
“My name is neither Pitt nor Black. My name is Death.”
“Okay buddy, listen. I’m not interested in—”
“I chose you. The first of another million. I waited until nightfall. Only for you.”
If he says I’m a vampire , I’m leaving. “That’s nice, hon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m flattered. But I—”
“You don’t listen.” Both his hands grip the scythe, white knuckles showing. How did he get past Eddie the bouncer with that gigantic slice-and-dicer? Must be plastic.
“Can I touch it?” I point at his I-need-to-compensate toy.
“Touch it and you die.” He looks ready to pounce.
“Whoa. Easy, buddy.”
He leans over and spits as he whispers, “Listen to me. Listen very carefully.”
I draw back.
“You are the millionth soul on my list,” he continues. “It’s an invaluable honor. You receive a special gift.” He tries to pull off a dramatic pause by looking at me with raised eyebrows. What is this? Some sort of weird ad campaign?
Coming up with nothing, I ask, “What’s the gift?”
He just stares. Still caught up in the dramatic pause thing?
“Come on.” I tap a finger on the counter. “The suspense is killing me.”
“I doubt that.” He looks offended. “The gift is to become more acquainted with me. We’ll spend one evening together, and you can ask whatever you desire.”
Is he serious ?
“Death, hon, you certainly get a prize for the most creative pick-up line. And I’m flattered, but not interested.”
Death ignores me and orders. “A warm milk, please.”
The scythe leans between us, a few inches from me. Very tempting. I reach forward and touch the blade.
Ouch! Holy crap. The stupid thing is real.
I wrap my bleeding finger in a napkin, hide my hand under my butt, and sit on it. He doesn’t seem to notice. But he takes his if-you-mess-with-me-you-know-what’s-coming-to-you toy and stores it on his other side.
“I don’t appreciate ungratefulness. It is a great honor to meet me. Use this time wisely. Then you will die in this bar.” His back straight, chin up, he braces one arm on his hip and the other on the counter. The bartender brings him his milk. He drinks and glares at me with a white moustache.
Killed by milk reaper. What a headline that would be.
I decide to humor him; maybe then he’ll leave me alone. “Okay. How will I die?”
“My touch is deadly. Your heart will stop beating.”
“Sure.” I bend towards him. “But what’ll be the cause?”
“That seems slightly forced, don’t you think?”
“It’s a very common cause of death.”
“It’s not so common in women. I’m not in the typical risk group and I’m still young. And it must be quite painful.”
“Do you have another preference?” He shakes the glass and the milk sloshes dangerously close to the top.
I swivel back and forth. “Know any painless methods?”
He taps his chin with his forefinger. “Hmm. I signed a non-messy-no-hassle contract for your death. Only one chance per day. Choking on an olive—your relatives could sue the bar. Getting your hand in the bar keeper’s grinder and bleed to death—violates the consent form. Besides, both methods are still painful.” He shrugs and sips his milk.
“Well, then this really isn’t a gift, is it? More like a punishment.”
“Why is having more time and talking with me a punishment?”
A younger man joins us and sits to Death’s right side, Martini olives on each finger of his left hand.
“Hey Ella. I didn—”
I lean back on my padded back rest.
“This is a private conversation.” Death glares at Paul.
“Hey, Paul.” I wave shyly. He’s an old college friend and a regular in this bar.
Paul throws me a glance. “What’s the story?”
“Leave him out of this. This is between you and me.” Death positions himself so I can’t see Paul, except for his olive-covered fingers.
“Oh, I know one.” Paul says.
“Shut up,” Death yells.
When Death turns I see Paul’s bright triumphant gleam, dimples included. He winks at me and hushes behind Death’s back. “Slipping in the bathroom and breaking your neck.”
“Why did you have to tell her?” Death sighs and bumps his forehead on the counter a few times. “It’s only painless if it’s unexpected.” Then he scowls at Paul. “But—since you just told her—it’s not unexpected anymore.”
“What? I could have had a painless death? And you stole this from me?”
“I didn’t do anything.” Death says. “I merely elaborated. You will have a heart attack which is never painless. I cannot change that.”
“My grandpa had a heart attack when he was in the shower with grandma,” Paul says. Then he discovers the massive male-enforcer between him and Death.
“Oh, my. Can I touch this?”
“NO.” Death’s face changes to a plum-ish color when his attention returns to me.
“Look. Didn’t we just establish that a heart attack is out of the question?” I try to reason. “It’s just not logical. You need to change it.”
He looks dumbfounded. “I do not have the authority to do that.”
“Well, then I’d like to speak with your boss.” I brace both my hands on my hip. “I’m not going to die before this is cleared up.”
Paul is transfixed on the scythe now. He dreamily dips his olive-free hand in his Martini glass. His olive-covered fingers touch the wooden shaft and are just about to slide over the blade.
A smile sneaks over my face when I say, “Death, honey, this gentleman is about to touch your tool.”
In a flash, Death swivels around and grabs Paul’s arm. “Do. Not. Touch. My. Stuff.” Paul stares for a moment, his face distorts in pain, and he reaches for his chest. Olives are splitting from the pressure. He moans, “Oh, Ella,” then his head hangs low. His body slumps over Death’s arm.
Oh my God, what an actor! Who knew? I clap. “Bravo Paul!”
“No.” Death looks a bit flabbergasted. “It was an accident.” He dumps Paul, crumpled on the floor under the counter.
“Well, Paul’s pretty awesome, you have to admit.” I’m half-off my chair.
Death ruffles his hair. He seems desperate. I want to comfort him. I try to tap his shoulder. Just before my hand touches his cloak, he yells, “No! Don’t touch me. One messed-up death is enough for tonight!” He hides his face under his cloak.
This is ridiculous. How can someone get so worked up about a simple game? I go over to Paul, who is still on the floor.
“Hey Paul. You can get up now. The show’s over.” I shake his leg, but he doesn’t move.
“He’s dead. Believe me.”
I feel Paul’s wrist. No pulse.
“Holy crap .” Fear surges through me. That could have been me .
“That was your heart attack. No, no.” Death sinks deeper into his lament. “I only had one shot.”
I swallow hard and say, “Well, at least Paul belonged in the risk group.”
Franziska Louise runs a learning games company by day. In the evening she manages her family life with two little kids (or rather, gets managed by them). When there are some nerves left, she writes humorous short stories and works on her young adult fantasy novel. For several years, she lived in and enjoyed the Midwest, including learning survival tactics for the Chicago summer and winter. After becoming homesick, the entire family moved back to their home country, Switzerland, last year.