I really can’t stay (baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go away (but, I can call you a ride)
This evening has been (I’m so glad you that you dropped in)
So very nice (time spent with you is paradise)
The car radio continued to play the song, the upbeat music floating through the freezing air which suddenly became even colder. A slender man gripped the steering wheel of his car, his head at an awkward angle, pressed across the crushed roof of the vehicle. The levity of the ditty contrasted with the pained expression which he bore. His head was gashed, blood had pooled into the roof space but no longer flowed from the injury.
“Hello,” said a voice. The voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. It seemed to get momentarily louder, then fade away, but so very quickly, giving the greeting an unusual, ethereal quality.
The driver groaned.
“Ouch,” remarked the voice.
“Help me,” pleaded the driver from his contorted position in the overturned vehicle. He could not see the owner of the voice since his head was twisted so he was looking towards the passenger window of the crashed car. The owner of the voice was speaking to the driver through the smashed driver´s side window.
“I am not here to help.”
“I’m hurt, are you a paramedic? Thank fuck, God knows how long I have been here.”
“I said, I am not here to help.”
“Well if you can´t, get someone who can, you silly prick, fuck´s sake!” seethed the driver.
“That is not my role and besides, it is too late for that.”
“What are you fucking going on about? Get me some help!” grunted the man.
“Ah, you cannot turn to face me, can you? This does happen, though not always by reason of physical impairment” realised the figure, “one moment.”
The driver stared through the similarly shattered passenger side window, seeing the white of the snow-covered ground. There was no sound of feet crunching across the snow as the owner of the voice moved from one side of the wrecked vehicle to the other.
A hooded figure suddenly appeared at the passenger window. The hood was black, blacker than black, as if the light was being sucked into it and absorbed. Two bright azure pinpoints of light blazed within the recesses of the hood. They shone brightly but the light did not allow the presentation of any other feature of this individual.
“Good, that’s better,” commented the cowled figure.
“Fuck me, who are you?!” declared the driver as his blurred vision returned to focus and he looked on the darkened visitor.
“Hang on, oh you are,” replied the figure noting the dangling man and the way his frozen hands remained locked on the steering wheel. There then came a low rumbling sound, like the advancing charge of ten thousand horses from distance which denoted the figure´s own amusement at the comment as he laughed. There was a sound which was akin to a million candles being snuffed out at once and the music stopped playing from the radio.
“That’s better, I need you to concentrate,” commented the figure, “Hello, Joe Sullen, allow me to introduce myself, I am Death.”
“CAN YOU HELP ME?” shouted the man and then he grimaced.
“No, Death, not deaf. I can hear you perfectly well. I am Death, as in the Grim Reaper (never really liked that one, I am not grim, I am quite chirpy really), the Angel of Death, Thanatos, La Muerte, Pale Death, come on, you know about me, everybody does,” explained Death.
“Well, don’t just rhyme off your fancy names, whoever you are, get me out of this, thank God you’re here, I am fucking freezing, it is so cold,” demanded Joe.
“I’m afraid that isn’t going to happen,” replied Death.
“What do you mean that isn’t going to happen, get me out of here, now!” shouted the man he tried to move, his body shaking but either he was wedged firmly between the squashed chassis of the car or something else was keeping him pinned in place. He closed his eyes and groaned.
“Call for an ambulance, I don’t know where my phone is,” ordered Joe.
“Is it this one?” asked Death as a phone floated up from behind Joe and hovered in the air.
“Yes, that’s it, call for an ambulance, I cannot move my arms,” instructed Joe.
“The battery is dead, and you will be shortly,” explained Death in a matter of fact manner.
“Look, will you fuck off and find someone to get me out of here and take that stupid mask off, it´s getting right on my nerves. Wait, how do you know who I am? Are you the feds?”
“Took long enough for that to sink in didn’t it? Mind you, intellectual sharpness is not your forte, I mean, who drives off in the middle of winter wearing pyjamas and a robe?”
“What?” barked Joe.
“You are wearing pyjamas,” remarked death, “and a robe.”
“Hardly a sensible choice. You know what they say, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.”
“Thanks grandma, are you going to get me out of this car or are you just going to talk about my clothes, mind you, you’ve room to talk in that outfit, you look a right tool.”
“I’m not the one upside down with a broken neck, frost bitten and in the clutches of hypothermia. Tool,” replied Death.
Joe said nothing and instead glared at Death. It almost looked as if was about to burst into tears but instead he just continued to glare at Death as if willing him to burst into flames, disappear or explode. Seething hatred poured from Joe, silent savage fury. Death was unmoved.
“Might work on your girlfriend but does not on me.”
Joe’s eyes blackened as his fury intensified but he made no noise, the same steady baleful and silent glare.
“Well, seeing as you are, well I am not sure what that it is, but you have at least shut up so I will explain. I am Death and you are in the Never Moment. This means you are in between worlds; you are neither alive nor dead, but you are about to die. You see your girlfriend, Sienna, saw your text exchanges with Crystal on your mobile phone and that left no doubt in her mind as to what you had been up to. Sienna was not best pleased by you telling Crystal that you could not wait to, what was it, oh yes, “Spraff over her huge tits and waiting face”. Straight out of a Hallmark card that one, eh? Sienna´s a kind person but even she has her limits and she told you in no uncertain terms what she thought of you and what you could do and despite you telling her that your phone had been hacked, where did you get that one from a crap Christmas Cracker of Unlikely Explanations, she would not let you off the hook. So intent was her questioning of you and her anger that you did what you usually do, and you flounced. You gave her a mouthful, told her she was shit in bed anyway and stormed out of the house, into your car and race off into a blizzard. And look at you now.”
As Death revealed the full extent of his omniscience, Joe’s expression shifted from baleful glare to miserable pout. The defiance evaporated and instead a petulant look gripped his face.
“Always a fucker getting found out isn’t it? And now twice in less than twenty-four hours, first by Sienna and now by me. Anyway, much as I would enjoy demonstrating my superiority, with you it would be a short-lived contest and not one worth any sport. Oh, sulking will not get you anywhere with me, Joe and I would urge you not to waste these last few moments shooting daggers at me and then getting all prissy, this is your last chance.”
Joe’s gaze had shifted, and he now stared downwards, his chin jutting out in silent defiance.
“Let me make it patently clear Joe Sullen, in a time faster than a New York minute and believe me that is fast, this will all be over. This Never Moment is held by me and when I decide it ends, you end. Kaput. Bang. The. End. You are on the edge of this Never Moment concluding so this is your chance. This is your moment Joe, your opportunity as you, erm, hang upside down on a somewhat unconventional death bed to speak up. Who do you want to say goodbye to? Who do you have good wishes for? Who will you say sorry to? I will pass these words on; of that you have my personal guarantee.”
Joe remained silent, staring into nothingness.
“Anything? Any last words of contrition for the succession of young women you have drawn into your sticky paws who you have then cast aside just as quickly as you have captured them? Are you sorry for the dashed hopes, icy evenings and silent nights you have given them? What about an ounce of remorse for the ones you have slapped, kicked and shoved around, just because they turned over the television channel you were “watching” (you were asleep you lazy slob, I know this). No? Surely you want something to be passed on to the guys at the towing company? Come on, what about a “where were you guys when I needed you most?” The sound of an avalanche broke through the relative silence as Death entertained himself at the expense of the silent Joe.
Joe’s mouth moved.
“Come on, that’s right, you can do it Joe,” encouraged Death, “let’s have some thanks for your mum and dad after everything they have done for you as their only son, they went without so you did not have to and even now they are suffering the consequences of you being the prodigal son. Do you care? Does it trouble you that they are shivering under blankets because they cannot afford to heat their home because you left them in debt, stealing from their bank accounts?”
“It was going to be my money, so what’s the difference?” hissed Joe.
“Except it wasn’t, it was theirs and you took it just so you could shovel that shit up your nose and spunk it on hookers. Make ´em proud of you Joe, make ´em proud!” continued Death.
“Man has needs,” added Joe coldly.
“Oh yes you have needs Joe, ones which mean you have done whatever you have chosen without regard for the impact on anybody else. Remember that stripper, Skye, you got her pregnant.”
“Did I fuck, she was a whore, the town bike,” spat Joe.
“Didn’t stay pregnant for long though did she after what you did.”
“She fell, nothing to do with me,” replied Joe, brushing away the allegation.
“Anything to tell your sister whose heart you have broken every year when you turn up arseholed at her birthday parties?”
“Fuss over nothing, just a few drinks, I can hold my ale.”
“She was seven years old the first time you did it.”
“Joe, listen?” invited Death.
“Do you hear that?”
“Is it an ambulance, did you call one, thank fuck for that.”
“No. Listen harder.”
Joe remained silent.
“Don’t hear nothing,” he answered mealy-mouthed.
“Precisely. Nobody is coming. You’ve been missing all night, and nobody has come looking for you. Sienna has not bothered. You were due to meet two of your friends but they have just assumed you were pissed asleep again, so they shrugged and went bowling without you. Your parents are wondering where you are, your mum is exhausted and your father refuses to pander to your furious petulance any longer. Nobody is coming. You are about to die, and nobody is coming.”
“You’re here aren’t you?” said Joe and he gave a twisted leer of some satisfaction.
“No, I am going now, Joe, you have wasted your chance like you wasted your life, not that you see it that way. I am going to watch the moonrise; it is such a beautiful evening. You can sit here, stuck with the cold and listen to the music,” explained Death.
There was a sound like a flame igniting and then the radio started playing, following on from the point at which it had stopped.
“Why won’t you…”
“Too late, Joe, no interrupting the song,” decreed Death and he waved his unseen hand so that Joe was muted, his mouth slowly moving as he continued, his face contorted between fury and pleading.
“Oh, listen it is the duet with Michael Buble, how fitting. Listen Joe, you might realise a few things from this,” added Death, “then again, based on the life you had led, you have not, but others will gain understanding.”
The song continued as Death rose from the passenger side of the car. Joe remained stuck, his silent cries becoming more and more furious.
My mom will start to worry (I’ll call the car and tell him to hurry)
My daddy will be pacing the floor (wait, what are you still livin’ home for?)
So, really, I’d better scurry (your driver, his name is Murray)
But maybe just a half a drink more (oh, we’re both adults, so who’s keepin’ score)
What will my friends think? (I think they should rejoice)
If I have one more drink? (It’s your body and your choice)
Ooh you really know how (your eyes are like starlight now)
To cast a spell (one look at you and then I fell)
I ought to say, “No, no, no, sir” (then you really ought to go, go, go)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried (well, Murray, he just pulled up outside)
I really can’t stay
(I understand, baby)
Baby, it’s cold outside
I simply should go (text me when you get home)
Oh, I’m supposed to say no (mm, I guess that’s respectable)
This welcome has been (I feel lucky that you dropped in)
So nice and warm (but you better go before it storms)
My sister will be suspicious (well, gosh your lips look delicious)
My brother will be there at the door (oh, he loves my music, baby, I’m sure)
My gossipy neighbor’s vicious (I’m a genie, tell me what your wish is)
But maybe just a cigarette more (oh, that’s somethin’ we should probably explore)
I’ve got to get home (oh, baby, I’m well aware)
Say, lend me a coat (oh, keep it girl, I don’t care)
You’ve really been grand (I feel good to touch me hands)
Don’t you see? (I want you to stay, it’s not up to me)
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow (well, they can talk, what do they know)
At least there will be plenty implied (oh, let their mind do this, and-)
Ma’am, I really can’t stay
Baby, just go
It’s cold, baby
It’s cold, baby
But, ooh, I don’t wanna go
It’s cold outside
Death admired the rising moon, the moonlight shimmering in the frozen sky as the snow began to fall once more. The song ended and he swung his scythe over the car and Joe Sullen, the Middle Lesser Narcissist died.