Death looked up from where he was seated on the Throne of Bones, behind the Desk of Deliverance, in front of Death’s Door. Although dressed like Batman, the person standing before him didn’t exhibit the level of physical fitness you might expect to see from a successful crime-fighting vigilante. For one thing, there was an unacceptable disparity between their height and girth. Said disparity would probably make leaping from buildings, running quickly or fitting into the Batmobile somewhat problematic. The person also seemed to lack a rudimentary comprehension of Batman’s generally accepted gender.
“Nice suit,” said Death.
Batman obviously had no concept of sarcasm either.
Death looked back at his Recent Expirees’ Manifest. He tapped the page with a bony finger.
“You’re listed here as Doris Claymore,” he said.
“Never heard of her,” said Batman.
Death reached out and stroked the decaying blade of the scythe that rested against his desk. “This is quite simple, Doris. To progress peacefully into the afterlife, you need to confirm your name. It means I can be certain of who you are, what you’ve achieved in life and, therefore, where you should spend eternity.” Death dished out his best glare. As glares go, it was pretty impressive. In the past, it’d made stars think twice about shooting. “Can you tell me your real name please?”
“Already told you. I’m Batman.”
“How can I put this politely?”
“No need to be polite,” said Bat-Doris. “Got skin as thick as armadillos, us crime fighters.”
Given the invite, Death decided to be blunt. “Not only is Batman fictional, he…” Death left a pause which he hoped would scream with meaning, “…is a man.”
“You have breasts.”
“No, they’re breasts,” said Death, “and Lycra does little to mask their magnitude. I feel I should add that Batman was always depicted as an athletic individual, at the peak of physical fitness. Clearly, you’re not.”
A tear trickled from beneath Doris’s mask, suggesting her skin might not be as thick as she’d led Death to believe. “OK,” she whispered, “point taken.”
Despite the scythe, the rotting cloak and the distinct lack of flesh coating his crumbling bones, Death was a sensitive individual. He disliked causing upset. Most people found the experience of dying traumatic enough, without him being disagreeable.
In a more gentle tone, he said, “Good. What’s your real name?”
Death took a moment. His was the greatest of jobs, an eternal vocation no other would ever undertake. The pride he felt in this most trusted position was indescribable, the honour overwhelming. Still, on certain days the downsides of immortality became glaringly apparent and he realised how lucky mortals were to die. This was one of them.
“You’re not Bruce Wayne,” said Death, deciding it was time to unleash some even harder truths. “Or Batman. Your name is Doris Claymore and in life you were a fat, frumpy nurse.”
Another tear appeared beneath the mask and trickled down Doris’s chubby cheek. Death felt guilty. He’d allowed his irritation to show, creating insults when he should be showing more respect. Eternal life would be dull without the challenges people like Doris presented.
One of the lessons he’d learned by existing for as long as things had been dying was the art of patience. It would be a shame to forget that lesson today. There would be a reason why Doris was behaving in this manner. It was Death’s duty to discover this reason and deal with it. He decided to try a different tack.
“How did you die, Doris?”
“I was doing some vigilante stuff, you know, chasing a psycho across rooftops, that kind of thing.”
“I did a jump from one building to another. And missed.”
Given that Doris probably had a bodily mass similar to that of a rhino, it wasn’t hard to imagine gravity prevailing while she battled with thrust, momentum, distance and the laws of physics.
“That’s exactly what I have written here,” said Death.
“See, I’m telling the truth.”
“Next to the name Doris Claymore.”
“Must be a typo.”
“It also says that you were at a superhero convention, had a Jaegerbomb or seventeen…” Death paused and double-checked the number, “…a Jaegerbomb or seventeen too many and got a bit carried away. Does that sound familiar, Doris?”
“Stop calling me Doris.”
A tremble in Doris’s voice caused Death to look carefully at the woman standing before him. Fear danced in her eyes and she kept glancing over his shoulder.
“It’s the door, isn’t it?” asked Death.
Death’s Door was huge and set into a wall of light behind the Desk of Deliverance. The portal was sinister, black and fleshy. Blood oozed from its surface, which gave the impression the door might be alive, but only just. Death often wished he could alter its appearance, and the foul smell that emanated from it, but there were always barriers to major changes in the Realm Beyond Life, including politics, beings who believed they were gods, the dead’s expectations and laws dictating The Way Things Should Be. Bureaucracy, basically. Sometimes it was easier not to bother.
“It’s going to judge me, send me to hell,” said Doris.
“Judgement is my job,” Death replied, “and there’s no such place as hell.”
“You said what I’ve done in life tells you where I should spend eternity.”
“I haven’t done anything.” Doris looked at the door again. “Well, I’ve done plenty, but none of it was much use.”
“And Batman did lots of good things, right?”
Doris nodded. “I’m going to a bad place, aren’t I?”
Death looked back at his notes. “You were a nurse in a children’s hospital, working on the cancer ward. It says here that you were good with children. You could put them at ease, even in the most difficult of circumstances.”
“Anyone can do that.”
Death shook his skull. “It’s a difficult thing to do. I can see why you sought escapism by drinking and playing superheroes. But you were gifted. You did a great deal of good with your life. You helped others.”
“Lots of people help others.”
“True. But you – you were better at it than Batman.”
A smile crept onto Doris’s lips. “You’re good at this.”
“Thank you,” said Death.
Doris pulled off her mask. “Sorry if I was difficult.”
Death saw that all the tension had left her. She looked radiant and, more importantly, ready to state her title.
“What is your name?” asked Death.
Death stood, hefted the scythe and tapped it against the door. There was an unpleasant squishing sound. Fresh blood oozed from the door’s surface. As if this meant some toll had been paid, the portal swung open, revealing Doris’s pathway – a glimmering road that led through stars and galaxies towards the Ever.
“This is your path beyond life, Doris Claymore,” said Death. “May it bring you peace.”
Doris stepped through the doorway and embraced eternity. The door shut behind her. Death rested his scythe against the desk and sat on his throne.
“Next,” he said, looking through the Manifest, trying to find his place.
He heard some shuffling footsteps.
Without looking up, he said, “Name?”
“Wonder Woman,” replied a gruff voice.
“For fuck’s sake,” said Death.
Christopher Fielden asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work