For just one day, nobody on Earth would die. Death was attending a party, though it didn’t promise to amount to much. Death was used to mortal parties, whereas his counterparts above stuck rigidly to their rituals and ceremony. They were formal gatherings at best; hardly any actual celebrating took place, and there was never any alcohol, except for small goblets of wine, symbolic of blood. Death had been to far more interesting parties with faux blood involved.
Two millennia ago, a Covenant had been made with mankind. The Daughter of God would descend from Heaven, and judge mankind based on the best it could offer. By her judgement, mankind would either be guaranteed an eternal place in Heaven, or would be found lacking; doomed to spend the next thousand years in Purgatory as a collective repentance. Today, she had just been born – from one of the Saints, Death assumed – and all of the Angels had been invited to visit her. Death had always made a point to arrive on time in the past, but in this case he made an exception.
The other Angels were not particularly fond of Death. They thought that he spent far too much time on Earth, and had become crass and barbaric from mingling with the Humans, who over the last thousand years, had become misguided and ignorant in their eyes. Likewise, Death didn’t much like them either. He thought that they had become detached from the world that they were supposed to be guiding, and that, of all of the Angels, he was the only one still doing his job.
Naturally there was considerable friction between Death and the other Angels, but particularly Archangel Gabriel. Gabriel was, for a long time, considered to be second only to God. These days however, Death held that position, albeit begrudgingly. This was meant to better facilitate relations with Earth and Hell, as per the agreements made in the fine print of the Covenant. Even more galling for Gabriel was the fact that Lucifer had been included in the invitation under the same agreements. After all, he was technically an Angel too, albeit a fallen one.
Death eventually arrived, lazily pushing open the huge marble doors to the Great Chamber. It had been quite a while since he’d visited. It was impossibly vast. There was no ceiling, just an open sky so clear, that all of the stars and planets were visible as tiny discs of light. Instead of walls an infinite vista of clouds stretched beyond the horizon, dyed all the colours that the sun could cast. An enormous round table, meticulously carved from a single block of wood, dominated the room. It was surrounded by hundreds of comparatively tiny chairs, gathered like suckling young around a bloated mother. Death had always hated it. At the other end of the room, directly opposite the entrance, were another set of doors, gigantic and pristinely gold, with countless engravings and carved art cut into the solid metal.
Death’s gaze fell to where the others were gathered. He immediately felt underdressed. The other Angels had all attended in their respective ceremonial garb: gaudy, extravagant costumes that resembled anything from an avant-garde art display, to an oversized ancient trinket. All of them glittered with precious metals and gems, a few of them even had braziers integrated into their ridiculous attire, and were taking extra care not to burn anything or trip. Those flames, however, were nothing compared to the scorching glares that met Death as he strolled up to the crowd. He had stuck to a practical black robe, but this time he had made an effort and bothered to clean it first. He’d also had his skull polished, so that it caught the lights in the room, but now he felt like he could have shown up in a ballerina dress and he would have received the exact same welcome. He reached for his hood with bony hands, and pulled it over his head, or what was left of it, and stuffed his hands into his pockets, hugging his long, black scythe with his arm instead. He didn’t fancy looking at his audience anymore; they would be making his eyes sore, if he had any.
Gabriel stormed up to him, seething with rage through gritted teeth. “What time do you call this, Michael?” he demanded. Death was unused to being called by one of his Angel names, but he wouldn’t give Gabriel the satisfaction of his discomfort. Gabriel spread his arms in a dramatic flourish, his pristine white robes flowing like suspended milk.
“For Heaven’s sake, this event was prophesised two millennia ago!” He roared, looking down his nose at Death. “We even sent you an electronic reminder yesterday!”
Death shrugged. “Must’ve slipped my mind, Gabe.” He tapped his head, making a hollow knocking noise for emphasis.
Gabriel’s mouth fluttered open and shut in disbelief, but nothing came out. He was unable to collect his maelstrom of thoughts into something coherent to retort with. He seemed to shudder with boiling anger, his face blossoming into a startling shade of crimson. Death felt almost sickened by how pretty Gabriel looked, even when angry. It was an unnatural beauty, like that of a doll, or painting. It didn’t belong on a living being. Death craned his neck, spying the nearest seat at the enormous, ornate round table. “Excuse me.” Death pushed past the stunned Archangel and sat down. Gabriel spun around, his eyes bulging.
“That’s my chair!” Gabriel protested, gesticulating wildly and violently with his arms in an attempt to articulate the maelstrom of angered thoughts rushing about his head, casting irritated ripples in the folds of his robes.
Death didn’t bother turning to look at him. “Your ass wasn’t in it.”
Gabriel seemed ready to explode, when a Cherub in a pinstripe suit chose this moment to peek out from within the impossibly massive golden doors, his curly blond hair bouncing lightly over a pair of rimmed glasses; behind which, dubious eyes regarded the attendees with a weary glare. “Has everyone arrived yet?” he asked, his peculiarly deep voice wafting over the Angels, who were all struck by his complete lack of interest.
“Lucifer’s still not here.” said one of the less ornamented Angels. Death recognised him as Barachiel, from the deep blue tabard he wore, embroidered with golden lace sewn into intricate floral patterns, but particularly from the white rose emblazoned on his chest. The tabard was worn over luscious red robes that appeared to be the consistency and texture of rose petals. Gripping the staff that he clutched in his right hand, shaped like a stylised lightning bolt, he glared derisively at Death. “He’s running later than Michael.”
“Well, we’re not waiting any longer for that thug” the Cherub replied, “Death’s here, so we’ll get on with it.”
“Yeah, can we hurry this up?” Death asked, tapping his wrist as though a watch was there. “I have a busy schedule as it is.”
Gabriel slammed the table, preparing to bellow something so platitudinously long-winded that it would undoubtedly extinguish all of the braziers on all the costumes in the room, when the Cherub cut him off. “Trust me Mike, we’d like nothing better.” He turned his head and shouted to someone behind the doors, “Wheel her out boys!”
The doors opened a bit wider, and a small cot made of simple, but perfectly cut white wood, was pushed into the room by a trio of Seraphim in red bell-boy uniforms. The Daughter of God lay inside, looking up at the gathering horde of elated Angels with wonder. Gabriel muscled his way to the front and beamed at her, his halo dancing excitedly over his head as he reached in to touch her face, conferring his blessing with a gently brush of her cheek.
One by one, each of the Angels followed his lead, giving their respective blessings. Death, however, hesitated. It wasn’t exactly his scene; he dealt primarily with the end of a life, not the beginning of one. Besides, he was far too cynical to go ga-ga over a baby. After a while though, the smartly dressed Cherub hovered over, loudly clearing his throat.
“You’re up slugger.” He taunted, nudging Death’s bony shoulder with an elbow.
Death took his hands out of his pockets and fiddled with his scythe, nervously drumming his fingers along the handle. “Do I have to, Jael?”
“It’s in the fine print.” Jael replied, pushing his glasses back into place. “Everyone pokes the kid.”
Death let out a weary sigh and trudged toward to the cot. The crowd parted as he approached, sternly observing his every move. Some of the Angels eyed the scythe, and wondered if it was wise to carry the thing around a baby, but knew better than to try and take it from him. Death pulled back his hood and peered cautiously into the cot. The Daughter’s eyes widened at the sight of him. From her perspective, an enormous, fleshless skull had appeared, replacing the gaggle of adoring faces. It loomed menacingly over her, staring with hollowed eye sockets, grinning with bare teeth. Her lower lip began to quiver. Death panicked, and reached out his hand to comfort her.
Seeing the skeletal claws stretching out towards her, she began to wail. Death recoiled, and hurriedly hid his hands in the folds of his robes again. The other Angels began to shout at him, and Gabriel saw his opportunity. Stepping forward, he firmly pushed Death away from the cot and, mustering every ounce of disdain and fury, poured it all into one seething glower.
“How dare you, Michael. This is the Daughter of God, the Sister of Christ, the Adjudicator of Mankind, the Child of the Covenant. How dare you frighten her to tears, you miserable excuse for an Angel. Begone from this Chamber! Your so-called ‘blessing’ would only stain her precious visage!”
For once, Death had no words. Instead, he picked himself up, and quietly walked out of the Chamber, followed by a room full of angry shouts and scornful glares, until he slammed the door behind him. He sat down on the marble staircase outside, great white pillars rising over him as he sat there, sulking.
After several minutes, a young man joined him. He was tall, well-dressed in an all-black suit and matching tie, well-tailored, with a fiery red shirt beneath, a cigarette held loosely between his fingers. He sat beside him on the stairs, casually running a hand through his slick black hair, which framed a sharp, handsome face. His eyes were narrow, but Death could still see his smouldering, coal-black irises.
“Hectic as usual, I take it?” He asked, producing a polished, golden Zippo lighter from his back pocket, and lighting his cigarette.
“You know how it is...” Death replied, “.... when they aren’t trying to win over a baby girl, who probably doesn’t understand what the hell is going on, all they do is argue over individual standing and role. Up here, it’s all about politics these days. It’s ridiculous; we’re supposed to be Humanity’s guides, but all they ever do is whinge about useless crap.”
“Even if that ‘useless crap’ is you?”
He jerked a thumb over his shoulder towards the door, where the muffled sound of raised voices and complaining could be heard through the tiny gap between the stone slabs. “You were made her guardian.”
“And how would you know that?” Death demanded. “You only just arrived.”
“Well it only makes sense...” The man explained, “You’re the only Angel who can officially travel to Heaven, Hell, and Earth. Not to mention, you know more about Humans than anyone else. Of course it won’t sit well with Gabriel and his cronies, but it’s kind of important to the prophecy.”
“You mean, the part where she picks who she wants to marry?”
“Don’t act dumb.” The man scowled. “The part where she finds the one Human who epitomises the best of all Humanity, and decides whether or not to complete the Covenant that guarantees Humanity’s place in Heaven. Come on, you had to have read the memo they sent you with the email invitation?”
“I was busy that day.” Death argued. “You know, doin’ my freakin’ job? Unlike those pretentious asshats in there.”
The man smirked. “And what about me?”
“What about you, Lucifer?”
“Am I an asshat?”
“Your job is to sit there and be evil. How hard can it be?”
“It’s not hard exactly; just super boring at times.”
Death groaned, palming his face. “Why’d they hafta go and make me her babysitter without askin’ me?”
“Because they knew you’d refuse.”
Lucifer stood up and adjusted his tie. “They’ll be holding a conference later to decide what her name should be. Will you be joining us?”
“Nah.” Death waved a dismissive hand. “I’m not goin’ back in there.”
Lucifer shrugged. “It’s up to you.” He got up, starting to walk into the Chamber, but stopped halfway up the stairs. “Just out of curiosity...” he called, “...what would you name her?”
Death thought about it for a moment, scratching his head out of habit. “Neriah.”
“That’s a boy’s name.”
Death shrugged. “It’s the 41st century. Times have changed.”
Lucifer chuckled. “I suppose so. Why call her that though?”
“It means ‘Lamp of God’”
“I have my moments.” Death picked up his scythe and stood up as well. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Luce.”
“You too, Mike.” Lucifer waved goodbye as he walked through the Chamber doors. Death stopped for one last look at Heaven.
It was a vast, sprawling city that stretched upwards as far as it did outwards. All of the buildings were gleaming in the light of a warm sunset – marble in the older districts, polished metals in the newer ones. It was very different from how Death remembered it, but he knew better than anyone that it changed as often as people died, if only subtly, and a lot of people had passed on since his last visit. Deciding he’d had enough nostalgia, he left in a haze of murky smoke.
He reappeared outside a shabby office, occupying an otherwise empty floor of an old, decrepit building. A dusty sign clung to a rickety wooden door, marked with the words: “Anko Ferryman Undertakers – Quality service to die for.” Death had to shoulder the stiff door open to get in. He slumped against his scythe when he saw the mess that greeted him.
His ‘INBOX’ pile was making love to the ceiling, and more contract forms continued to appear, cluttering up the floor with a sea of paperwork. His computer chirped in an annoyingly upbeat manner, with notification after notification in his emails. Sitting in his creaky office chair, he rubbed his temples through the folds of his hood with one hand, picking up the nearest form in the other, skimming its contents.
“Maddy Lester. 83. Faulty Pacemaker, recommend Heart Failure. Sorry Maddy, seems you’re first today.”