Jack Pimlico looked Death in the face. “You again” he said, and laughed. Death looked back at him.
“This can not go on,” he said. “Sooner or later you will pass away, then I can do my job” Death was not a towering skeletal figure with a scythe and a black hooded cloak, as you might assume. The suit was a dusty black alright, but Death looked like a dumpy middle aged businessman, short enough that most men could see the top of his bald head.
“There is no point in me being here” he said, and glanced down at the briefcase he carried.
“Sorry for wasting your time!” Smiled Jack.
“I am outside of time, so there is no wastage. Put your affairs in order, Mister Pimlico”
Death turned as if to walk away, and vanished.
Jack slumped; that was a close one. In the last month he had seen Death four times, and each time Death had left without him. Jack had found a get out clause, and he had found it because he had a copy of the contract; The Humanity on Earth, Mars, or Elsewhere Life and Death Contract. (Ninety Eighth Amendment)
As far as he knew, no other human being had ever seen the contract, but on a late night internet browsing session after drinking two bottles of wine, he had found it online. Drunk as he was, he screen shotted the page and made several hard copies.
In the morning he tried to find the website again, but his internet history took him to a bicycle parts supplier’s site instead of the References for Supernatural Beings on Earth FAQ section. The screen shot had disappeared from his computer, but in its place there was a screenshot of a four-speed Sturmey-Archer bicycle hub.
The wine later turned out (Jack discovered) to have been blessed by a most pious and senior man in the Catholic Church.
Jack was a very good lawyer, and after months of studying had read and understood the archaic language in the document. The “Guidance Notes for Death and other Supernatural Beings Good and Evil’ appended to the bottom of the document were very helpful.
Clause One (Commencement) stated that by virtue of being alive a human being was deemed to have agreed to the contract. There were clauses that related to rescusitation after hanging, to plague, to medically induced coma, definitions of being alive, and definitions of being dead.
These last two were where Jack found his get out clause. Clause Nine Six Three, (iiif) defined life in such a manner that Jack realised that it was impossible to agree to anything at the time The Contract was held to have come into effect, and together with clause one four nine seven, (iiiit), The Equitable and Fair Dealings for Maintenance of Religious Belief clause, (the last one in the contract), he realised that he could not be held to have agreed to The Contract, and it did not apply to him.
Four times Death had come to him, citing various clauses and sub clauses, and four times Jack had managed to talk his way out of dying.
Death came again. He opened his briefcase and referred to his notes.
“Our lawyers have greatly enjoyed this battle of wits, but we believe we have found an applicable clause this time”
Jack looked at him. Death seemed quietly confident.
“Clause seven nine four, Reincarnation According to Religous Beliefs, (iib),” said Death. ”The human is deemed to be continously agreeing to The Contract in the period between reincarnations, and a belief in reincarnation is also deemed to be an agreement to the contract.”
“But I don’t believe in reincarnation” Said Jack.
“But reincarnation believes in you, Mister Pimlico. Your previous incarnation was as a Japanese Buddhist monk who came to me in 1878. Not a very pious man, I’m afraid, which is why he returned to humanity as you” Death put his papers away.
Jack Pimlico looked Death in the face, and laughed. What else could he do? He stepped forward and they turned together, as if to walk away.
Roger Bradbury 2018
I’m in a writer’s group. We do not meet as a mutual admiration society, as many groups do. Instead our aim is to improve the standard of our work with constructive criticism.
I’d been given the theme ‘You only laugh twice’ to write to for the September meeting a month earlier, but I was still flailing around for a story.
It was the day before the meeting and I had nothing. I went back to what I thought was the source of the phrase, Ian Fleming’s novel You Only Live Twice.
In that book, James Bond tries his hand at a haiku:
You only live twice:
Once when you are born
And once when you look
death in the face
I had my first line and began to write. Two thirds of the way through I had my get out clause. I finished the story and sped off to the group. I arrived late, but with something to read out. They seemed to like it, so what do you think of it?