Almost every one here knows I write as H K Hillman, a little known penniless author of ill repute. I have, like pretty much every other author out there, lots of unfinished short stories and noted-down ideas and even finished stories in need of a bit of a shine-up.
Here is one of the latter. I finished it years ago but was never really happy with it. So I fished it out of ‘miscellaneous’ and gave it a wipe down. I think it’s less bad than it was now. I can’t remember if I put this one up before but don’t think I have.
Anyhow, see what you think. The tale is called ‘Waiting for Midnight’.
Waiting for midnight
“When Death came to collect me, I wasn’t at home.” Derek shifted in his seat. The late-night audience tittered at his words. “That’s the only way I can explain it. I was out, drinking, that evening and missed the last bus. I started to walk back, but stopped for a rest in the park. It was a warm night. I fell asleep.”
The talk-show host smiled his smug, knowing smile. “So the Grim Reaper rang your doorbell and got no reply. Didn’t he leave a note?” The audience laughed, a relaxed guffaw.
“It’s not a joke.” Derek closed his eyes and took a few breaths, calming himself. “The next morning, when I got home, there was nothing left of my house. It had burned to the ground. Everything I owned was gone.” He opened his eyes and tensed at the mock sympathy on the host’s face. “I found out later, the bomb hit my house at midnight. If I’d caught the bus, I’d have been in bed.”
“Can you just remind us when this happened?”
“It was on the nineteenth of February, 1940.”
“That would make you—what, around ninety years old?” The host crossed his legs and grinned at the audience.
Derek sighed. “I was twenty-one when I should have died. I’m now ninety-seven.”
“Indeed. Seventy-six years. To the day, in fact. I must say, you look remarkably fit for your age. What’s your secret?” The audience roared with laughter.
“Being undead.” Derek inspected his twenty-one-year old, unblemished hands. He took the opportunity to glance at his watch. Eight minutes to midnight.
The host leaned forward. “Undead? Are you saying you’re some kind of vampire?”
“No, of course not. I’m as human as you are. Almost.”
“I don’t eat. I don’t sleep. I never wash or change my clothes.”
The audience murmured their disgust. The host moved back in his chair. “You don’t expect us to believe that you’ve worn the same clothes for sixty-five years? We’d be passing out from the smell. I’m sitting a few feet from you and you seem fairly clean to me. A little unkempt, perhaps, but certainly not offensive.”
Disbelief. Derek had expected this, of course. Nobody could believe his story. Why should they? It was a strange and unlikely tale, but it was nearly over. He stole another glance at his watch. Six minutes. The show was due to end in four.
“I am exactly as I was that night, when I should have died. It was wonderful when I first realised I would live forever. The thrill soon pales. What’s the point of life without dreams, without food? I tired of the whole thing after twenty years or so, and wished I had died that night.”
The host raised one eyebrow, surreptitiously showing Derek three fingers. Derek nodded and spoke faster.
“Oh, I’ve tried killing myself. I’ve tried starting fights in rough bars, hoping to get killed. Nothing. Not even a bruise. It’s taken me this long to work out how to get Death’s attention. That’s why I contacted your researcher, why I badgered him for a spot on the show.” Derek turned to the audience. “They let me on because they think I’m crazy. Perfect late-night entertainment. Well, you’ll see something you won’t believe tonight, after the show. I’ve spent seventy-six years in Limbo, so you’ll excuse me if I make my escape a little theatrical.” He glanced at the host, who had now turned deathly pale, and whispered. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to hang myself from your curtains. You can close the show now.”
“Huh?” Recovering his composure, the host stared into the camera facing him. “Ah, well I’m sure we’d all be fascinated to hear more of Derek Wallace’s story, but our time is up. Perhaps we can bring him back on another show.”
“Not likely.” Derek breathed the words as the host completed his end-of-show spiel. The red lights on the studio walls went out. Derek checked his watch. Just under two minutes. He made eye contact with the host, something in his gaze stopping the man as he was about to speak.
“There’s not much time,” Derek said. “There’s only one way out for me. I’m not supposed to exist, so I won’t succeed in what I’m about to do. Death will stop me, and he’ll remember me. Then I can go.” He reached inside his jacket and took out the knife. Its four-inch blade glinted in the studio lights. The host grabbed the arms of his chair, the audience murmured in confusion, and two burly stagehands moved towards the pair.
Derek lunged, pressing the knife deep into the host’s chest. He withdrew and stabbed again, managing a third before the stagehands pinned his arms. The knife fell from his grasp. Screams echoed in his ears.
“He’ll be all right.” Derek shouted, staring at the gasping, bleeding man who slid from his seat. “I can’t kill him, because it’s not his time to die. It can’t be his time, you see? I should have died long before he was born. I can’t be his killer.” The stagehands pulled at him, but Derek struggled. “No, I can’t leave. I have to be here when Death comes.”
The men pushed Derek into his chair and held him there. Several people now surrounded the dying host, obscuring him from Derek’s view. One of them—
Derek’s heart leapt. One of them was a vague, floating figure. Black, with white face and hands. The form solidified, the white flowed into skeletal features, the black into a tattered robe. The shape’s left hand held a long scythe.
Death leaned over the host’s body as a blue glow formed. This luminous mist flowed and spiralled, finally disappearing into Death’s mouth.
“No. It should be me. He can’t die.” Derek writhed in the two men’s grip.
“Shut up, nutter.” One of the men smacked Derek across the head. “You’ve done enough.”
Words formed in Derek’s mind as the skeletal face grinned at him. “You escaped me, and in doing so you changed Fate. That event, so long ago, changed the destiny of many. Including this man.” Death faded into translucence. “Because of you, this was indeed this man’s time to die.”
“Wait. What about me?”
“I may come for you one day. I may not. The decision is mine, not yours.” The figure disappeared.
One of the people surrounding the host looked up. “He’s dead.”
The grip on Derek’s arms tightened. The stagehand on his left leaned close. “You’re done, mate. You’ll rot in jail. It’s a pity we don’t have the death penalty any more.”
The death penalty!
Laughter rose in Derek’s throat. It started as a giggle then rose to a crescendo of manic cackling that filled the room, drowning out the sobs and cries of the audience. His chest convulsed with a deadly mirth he was sure would never end.