Enjoy an excerpt from Dave Pasquantonio’s “Death Takes A Halliday” featured in our newest anthology ON TIME.
“You’ll do great.” Emily Halliday straightened her husband, Paul’s, tie. “You know what they say: if they bring you in for a third interview, then the job’s already yours.”
“I hope so,” Paul said. “I’ve been out of work for too long.”
“What is it?”
“Your shirt is all wrinkled in the back.”
“I’ll leave my suit jacket on.”
“Too formal,” Emily said. “You’re going to be there all day. Iron your shirt again. I’ll drop the kids off at preschool and be back before you leave. Kids, say good luck to Daddy.”
“Good luck, Daddy.” Brayden and Angelina, the twins, pounded past Paul to grab their backpacks.
Paul said his goodbyes, then headed upstairs to brush his teeth. He decided to wear his suit jacket during the entire interview. Better to overdress, he thought, plus he hated ironing.
An otherworldly blue flash filled the bathroom and hallway, and a loud pop came from downstairs. Paul groaned. Probably another CFL bulb in the kitchen biting the dust. Twenty-year lifespan, my ass. He headed for the stairs.
Halfway down, Paul caught a whiff like low tide. Don’t let it be the hermit crab. Brayden is going to lose it if another hermit crab dies. He’d check the bulb before checking on the hermit crab.
Paul stopped cold in the living room.
A towering figure in a long, black cape floated above the carpet and nearly brushed the ceiling. It had no discernible body—neither arms nor legs. Its smell was an overpowering mix of sulfur and rotted fish. A deep hood covered the black hole where the figure’s face should be.
“I am Death, Peter Halliday,” the figure said in a gravelly voice. “You will soon die—”
“B-b-but I’m not Peter Halliday.” Paul stammered. “I-I-I’m Paul Halliday.”
“Hold on.” Death fished in a pocket and brought out a smartphone, the device hovering in front of the cape as if held by an invisible hand. “You’re right. Paul Halliday. Sorry. It’s been a long day already.”
Death pocketed the phone and started again. “I am Death, Paul Halliday. You will soon die. I am here to—”
Paul screamed. He ran through the living room and into the dining room, where he stopped. Death blocked his path.
Paul backed away from Death. The sleeve of Death’s cape extended impossibly long. When he hit the far wall, Paul put his hands over his face and screamed until something icy pressed against his chest and filled him with a curious calm. His panic drained away. He took his hands from his face as Death’s sleeve retreated.
“What did you just do to me? I feel empty. Am I dead?”
“Of course not,” Death said. “I got rid of your emotions, is all. All that screaming was giving me a headache. You need to focus, Paul. We have work to do. And we don’t have much time.”
Before Paul could ask what Death meant, a dog charged around the corner and stopped before Death, wagging its tail.
“Well, well. Who’s this little charmer?” Death asked.
“That’s Roscoe. Are you going to kill him?”
“Please. I don’t kill. Plus, I’m a dog person.” Death bent down in front of the dog, a bull terrier. “Can you do tricks? How about paw?”
Roscoe waved his paw at Death.
“Good boy.” Death and Roscoe turned to face Paul and waited.
“What?” Paul asked after a moment.
“Roscoe wants a cookie,” Death said. “He did paw.”
Paul went into the kitchen to get Roscoe a cookie. Death followed, and they sat.
“Let me start from the top. I am Death, Paul Halliday. You will soon die. I am here to make things easier for your loved ones.”
Paul peppered Death with questions, which Death answered curtly.
When am I going to die? In twenty minutes.
How am I going to die? You will have a ruptured cerebral aneurysm.
How do you know that I’m going to die? You’re on the list.
Will I feel anything? I don’t know.
What will happen when I die? I will collect your soul.
Will Emily see you? I will leave before she returns.
“I’m too young to die. My wife will be devastated. My kids will forget me. I have an interview this morning. There must be something you can do. There must be a way to change this. I’m too young to die. I don’t want to die.”
Death was unprepared for the barrage of questions and pleading, assuming that Paul would act much more efficiently without emotions.
Dave Pasquantonio is a freelance writer, editor, and journalist (and a stay-at-home dad) living just south of Boston. He is a board member at The Writers’ Loft, a nonprofit writing community in Sherborn, Massachusetts, where he runs critique groups for aspiring and established authors. His work for children and adult readers has been published in anthologies and online and print journals, and he’s written nearly a hundred newspaper articles and features. His first novel, The Matildas, was published in May 2020. He’s probably listening to classic rock as you read this. He’s at http://www.davepasquantonio.com.