The Grim Warning
“WHAT WAS THAT?” Makenna thought to herself as her eyes exploded open as she awoke, out of a peaceful sleep. “Did I dream it?”
Makenna Gold had been sleeping for hours. It was two in the morning and something had disturbed her. Weeks had passed since Makenna had been awakened from her sleep; normally it was due to the sound of crying, hungry babies. A milestone, however, had been reached last month in the Gold household. At fourteen months, the twins, Noah and Emilyne, finally began sleeping through the night.
Makenna’s life was finally beginning to take on some sense of normalcy, but the word normal was a relative term. Like any 13-year-old, Makenna had her hands full just dealing with the usual challenges of school, maintaining a teenage social life, including dealing with her school nemesis Heather Stern. All this including adjusting to two growing infant siblings and the pressure and confusion of puberty. But on top of all that, Makenna also had a unique responsibility.
She was the Virago. Makenna was tasked by the forces of good, with protecting and ensuring the safety of her twin siblings Emi and Noah. It seems that Emi and Noah were destined to lead this world into its next age of enlightenment. For this reason Makenna could never truly relax. Always in the background, hovering at the edges of her consciousness, was the possibility of a life-threatening attack against her twin siblings Noah and Emi.
There it was again. It wasn’t a dream. It sounded like it came from her closet! “Is it after me, or my brother and sister?” she thought. Makenna hadn’t engaged in battle to protect the twins in many months. In her last battle as the Virago, Noah and Emi had been barely a month old. Makenna had defeated a pair of evil Alghanii Demons who had tried to kidnap the babies.
“Don’t panic, Makenna,” she thought to herself. “You are the Virago, you’ve been training, you can do this.” She tried to think positively, attempting to reassure herself. It wasn’t working. Her heart was beating so hard she could feel it vibrating through her bed.
She looked over to the right of her bed to make sure her weapon was nearby. She had named it the Redeemer; it was a three-wheeled skateboard called a Low-rider. It was often referred to as a street slalom board. Makenna’s board, however, was different from any other that existed in the world. It was imbued with special powers. The board could fly, and along with her helmet and pads, it was virtually indestructible. The Redeemer was hers, given to her by the forces of good, used to defend the twins in her role as their Protector, the Virago. Fortunately, the Redeemer was in its right place within easy reach, leaning up against the wall, just to the right of her bed. “Good!” She thought.
Makenna shivered. She heard the closet door creak open slowly. She slowly raised herself on her elbows, poised and ready to reach for her weapon. Over the last several months she had trained every day with the guidance of her three fairy mentors: Marigold Frith, Fairy Prelate; and Bree and Dee Delphine, fairy cousins. Makenna spent hours learning to maneuver her board as an expert rider. She even began learning how to use the board as an offensive weapon to assault would-be attackers. The Redeemer became a natural extension of her, as natural as breathing. Whoever or whatever was hiding in the shadows was in for a fight.
Makenna listened as the closet door continued to open. The hinges on the door were loud. “How lame,” she thought to herself. “Whoever it is, they’re not exactly good at this element-of-surprise thing.”
Makenna decided that she would try to use the element of surprise to her advantage, unlike her clumsy assailant. She was going to play possum. She would try to make the intruder think she was still sleeping.
She lay very still, her back to the closet door, waiting for the right opportunity. She listened carefully with her eyes closed. She heard the intruder’s approach as she continued to play possum. She primed herself as she heard the trespasser’s footsteps come closer to her bed. Timing would be everything. Every muscle in her body tensed in preparation for the attack, adrenaline pumped through her veins, her stomach tightened. Finally, she sensed that the intruder was standing over her.
She sprang into action. She flipped around in her bed, not even bothering to look at who was there. She reached out and grabbed the Redeemer. She jumped to her feet on the bed and held the Redeemer in her hand, using it as a shield. She threw her arm forward, weapon in hand, directing it at her attacker and attempting to smash the intruder with her indestructible weapon.
She hit her assailant, producing an unexpected result. As soon as she touched whatever it was, a peculiar sensation overwhelmed her. Makenna felt as though her life was being literally sucked out of her. She fell back onto the bed, nauseated and weak. Someone or something had extracted every ounce of her energy. Completely depleted, confused, scared and exhausted, Makenna collapsed, unable to move. She looked up at the intruder, as helpless as a baby kitten.
“Oops! Sorry,” he said, looking down at her.
She couldn’t believe her eyes. It was a skeleton wearing a dark, hooded cloak, his bony skull barely visible behind the shadowy veil created by the hood. His large eye sockets glimmered in the dark; they glowed a ghostly green. In his left hand he carried a scythe, a long-curved blade on a bent wooden shaft.
“Try not to get too close,” he said. “I tend to have this effect on people. Real buzz kill.”
“Who are you?” She asked, her voice so weak it was barely audible.
“I go by many names,” he said conversationally, in a rather jovial tone. “Mr. Death, the Reaper, the Soul Collector, the Grim Reaper. Not particularly fond of any of them. Be that as it may, a job is a job. And let’s talk about that name, shall we? Terrible branding! The Grim Reaper. The Grim Reaper,” he repeated incessantly. “Why the Grim Reaper? I’m doing a job here. Does that mean I have to be grim about it? I mean, somebody must collect the dead. Get them off to the right place. I’m doing a public service. Why do I have to be grim? Talk about image killer. I mean it’s just plain bad marketing wouldn’t you say? How about the Rockin’ Reaper or the Rappin’ Reaper or just Reaper…you know like Cher, Madonna, Sting. Seriously, who’s gonna invite a ‘Grim’ Reaper to a party?
“Are you here fffforrr… me?” she interrupted, her voice frail. She was only just starting to feel the slightest tinge of energy begin to return her body.
“Well, yes and no,” he said evasively, without skipping a beat. “First of all, I think formal introductions are necessary. I’m, well…you know who I am, and you are the Virago. Probably best if we don’t shake hands. Besides that, I’m a little germophobic. Nice to meet ya. Love your work. By the way, thanks for taking out that Alghanii Demon a few months back. Not every day I get to collect one of those sadistic bast…I mean beasts. Sorry, let’s try to keep PG, PC. PP…whatever.” He said out loud reminding himself that he was talking to a thirteen-year-old. “Anyways, nasty creatures really. Bi-polar, paranoid schizophrenic, all of it. And the smell…Oy Vay!”
Frightened and confused, Makenna looked at him as he continued to prattle on. Obviously, he didn’t need to take a breath; after all, he had no lungs. Fortunately, she started to feel better as the effects of her initial contact began to wear off, and it finally began to dawn on her that she was face-to-face with death itself.
Despite his cheerful chatter, the concept was still chilling. Nothing had prepared her for a conversation with a talking, hooded skeleton in the pitch-black depths of the night. It was both surreal and creepy. She felt her stomach tighten again with nerves. She wished one of her fairy mentors were around. “Why is he here?” Where is Marigold and the other Fairies?” Why aren’t they keeping watch?” she thought. The answers could be even scarier than the question, considering who he was.
The Reaper continued, not paying too much attention to Makenna. “Look. I know what you’re thinking: collect souls for the dead, depressing job, depressing guy. Not the case. Collecting the souls of the dead is what I do. It’s not who I am.”
Makenna lay frozen in her bed, staring death in the face in total disbelief. The whole situation was completely bizarre. As he kept chattering on like a cheap stand-up comic delivering a bad monologue, she thought to herself, “Is anybody else filming this? If I could just get to my cell phone.” She managed to muster enough energy to turn her head and look at the terrarium sitting on her dresser, to see if Fluffy, her pet earthworm, was awake to witness this absurdity. She saw his pink, segmented body coiled neatly about half an inch under the soil, nestled next to the glass, looking rather cozy. Obviously, the notorious visitor hadn’t disturbed Fluffy’s peaceful slumber. She realized quickly that she was on her own here, and if anything was going to be done it was up to her to do it.
“Here’s the thing,” the Reaper continued. “A job is a job is a job. Does that define us? I ask you. What I’m getting at here is this. Yes, I collect the dead, but does that mean that I don’t have other interests or talents? Why can’t I be a stand-up comedian? I mean, really. What do you think of this one: what do you call the passengers on the Titanic?”
Makenna lay there in silent shock, staring at him, allowing her body to continue healing.
“The Marine Corpse. Get it?”
Makenna gave no reaction.
“What’s the matter, kid? Too deadpan? Deadpan, get it? Deadpan! Me being the Reaper? Deadpan?”
Once again, Makenna did not react.
“Well, you might not have liked it, but I played at a comedy club a couple of weeks ago and I literally killed ‘em. Killed ‘em, get it? Get it? Killed ‘em!” the Reaper stood there, his jawbone quaking as he laughed at his own tasteless jokes.
Makenna spoke, her voice still weak. “Mr. Grim, Mr. Reaper, or whatever you go by…”
“Call me Shecky.”
“That’s my standup name.”
“Why are you here?” she asked fearfully, thunderstruck by the entire situation.
“Oh! Why am I here? That’s a good question. OK. First, I’m not here for you. The fact is, I’m bending the rules a bit just being here.” The skeleton looked down at her, and for a moment it almost seemed as if the aura of a smile played about his face; but it was difficult to be sure, since he had no lips.
“But I like you,” Shecky continued. “You do excellent work! Anyways, I’m here to warn you. I’m hearing rumors. Things are going to get very nasty over the next few months. I’m warning you — be careful. There are people out there who would love to see the Virago on my collection list.”
“You’re kidding, right? Is this another lame attempt at humor?” Makenna asked, managing enough strength to sit up in her bed.
“No! I’m serious. You are dangerously close to being one of my clients, and you’re one assignment I don’t want. Understand? Look, I have to go. I got pick-ups in Pacoima, Pasadena and Pahrump, just be careful out there, OK?”
“OK,” she answered, still feeling weak and overwhelmed by the whole situation.
“Now, real quick, before I go, a kid goes up to his teacher and says, ‘Hey teacher, will I get in trouble for something I didn’t do?’ The teacher says, ‘No, of course not; that wouldn’t be fair.” So, the kid says, ‘Great! That’s a big relief, because I didn’t do my homework.’”
Makenna groaned and sank back into her bed.
“OK, OK, OK, OK…try this one! A guy comes up to me and says, ‘take my wife, please.’ PLEASE!!! Get it? Take my wife, please…”
Makenna crammed the pillow over her head.
“Maybe you didn’t get it,” said Shecky, undeterred. “Here, let me explain it to you…”
From under her pillow came Makenna’s muffled voice. “Didn’t you say you had somewhere to go?”