A sudden whirl of air startled Russell awake. The discomfort told him he dozed off in his recliner again. The flickering muted TV was the only source of light in his living room. What time was it? He peered, but the clock was obstructed by a thin boy in his pre-teens. The boy wore exclusively black, and appeared surprisingly pale in the darkness of the room. Russell was taken aback by this visitor. He was at the empty nest phase of life, yet his grandchildren were not yet as old as this stranger.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?”
The boy stepped forward, “I am Death.”
“You’re... excuse me? Death?” Russell tried not to laugh. The boy nodded affirmative, showing no hint of humor.
“You disbelieve me? Try to move.”
Russell found himself unable to simply move his arm from his chest to his face. “I… I’m dead?”
Unable to smile, the boy squinted in confirmation, “Heart attack.”
Russell absorbed the realness of his grim news. “Why aren’t you a big scary skull faced Reaper if you are Death?”
“Death can come in many forms,” the boy summoned a spiral-bound notebook from thin air. Russell decided to abstain from further patronizing, “So, what happens now? Do you have a halo for me or something?”
“Halo… hardly,” Death observed information from the notebook, “three counts of charity donations, but two counts of stealing... not many random acts of kindness… a regular prayer though… look at all those lies…”
“So it’s to hell with me then?”
“Not so fast, you’re what we call an Almost.”
“What happens to Almosts?”
“Nothing really,” Death lowered the notebook, “You’re looking at it. You don’t go anywhere.”
Russell was able to see his own body lying cold and motionless, clutching his heart in his favorite recliner, “But... my wife... my kids…”
Death stared indifferently.
“Death, you take many forms, why come to me as a little boy?”
“I have prepared for an upcoming event.”
“A mass homicide. First day of school at the local middle school. Lone gunner, goes crazy.”
“What?? That’s horrific! We have to do something!”
“Yes quite a tragedy,” Death stated, devoid of emotion, “Kids aren’t receptive to the Grim Reaper look, so here I am.” He looked down at his ‘costume.’
“When is the first day of school?” Russell reached right through a calendar that still displayed the month of July.
“In two days.”
“We have to stop it from happening!”
“How are you to stop anything? You’re dead if you haven’t noticed.”
“Is there anything I can do?” Russell pleaded to the boy.
Death folded his arms, staring through him to his corpse on the recliner. “Well I have liberty to give Almosts another chance if I see fit. Your heart is in the right place. We cannot use that anymore however,” he gestured to the cold sixty four year old body. “I tell you what. I will grant you your halo if you stop the school shooting.”
“Really? Thank you! I’ll do whatever it takes...”
Death waved his arm. Russell propelled back into the recliner and solidified. His feet hardly reached the footstool of the chair, and his clothes draped over him like a king sized bed sheet.
Death spoke, “You have one chance to save many lives. Don’t mess it up.”
The hand across his face revealed no scruff, and a full head of hair.
“Being forewarned and failing to act will get you a ticket in the other direction.”
Russell picked up his reading glasses with a small hand, and angled them to view his reflection. A prepubescent version of himself stared back. “I… I’m a little boy!!”
Death gave another affirmative squint, “I’ll see you in two days, one way or the other.” He disappeared abruptly, a clapping sound of air reoccupying the place he stood.