The Appointment.

  Chris Doolen had felt like death all morning. His head hurt, his chest hurt, he kept getting pains in his left arm and he’d had to go to the toilet twice to be sick. 

 Chris Doolen felt like death.

He rested both elbows on his glass desk and then placed his face into his upturned palms and let out a deep sigh,

“Baby come home... please.” 

“I can’t.” His voice barely made it out of his hands and Laura, who was fourteen miles away, barely heard him.

“I can’t hear you baby, speak up.”

Chris raised his head and looked at the speaker phone,

“I can’t, I’ve got too much to do here and you know I can’t take time off, it sends out the wrong signal.”

“You are no good to them if you are dead.” Laura sounded chippy this time, she used the same voice as she had used that morning when Chris had woke up and insisted he leave even though he had felt so bad.

“It’s just a little flu, I sent Kate out to get me some hot lemon. I swear, as soon as I am finished here I’ll come straight home.”

“Do you promise?” Soft voice again.

“I promise.”

“Okay, if you aren’t home by three I’m not speaking to you tonight you okay?”

“I will be, I promise.”

“I love you.”

“Speak to you later.” Chris risked balancing his head on one hand as he ended the call and then quickly put it back into both hands and closed his eyes.

“Erm, Mr Dolan?”

Chris snapped his head up embarrassed that someone had caught him looking so fragile. At his office door was a skinny guy, maybe six foot five, he was wearing tee shirt and jeans, which wasn’t unusual, Chris had worked in advertising for thirty five years and he often wondered if he was the last guy left who wore a suit to work in the industry. The skinny guy was still holding the door open with the longest of thin arms he’d ever seen. It was almost as if the guy had no muscle at all, just skin and bones topped off with a head that looked a little bit bigger than it should have been.

“Doolen... my name is Doolen. Can I help you?”

The skinny guy let go of the eight foot solid wood door and let it swing silently closed behind him.

“Doolen? I’ve got Dolan down here, ummm, it is Chris though... yeah?” Skinny guy was looking at an iPhone as he spoke, as if he was reading Chris’s name off it, he suddenly looked up from it and smiled and Chris wondered if he was a model who was due for a casting, he had that sort of look new magazines liked, handsome and ugly all at the same time.

“Yeah... Chris Doolen, how can I help?”

The skinny guy un slung a man-bag off his shoulder as he walked across to the desk and pulled out what looked like a brand new Macbook Air, he started to open it and then suddenly stopped and looked at Chris before nodding to a space on the glass desk.

“Erm do you mind? This will only take a minute.”

“No... go ahead.”

Chris waved his hand and pulled back some of his own papers to make a space for the skinny guy who smiled again and plopped the laptop down and pulled over a chair, dragging it across the floor making its feet squeal on the tiles like a pig going to an abattoir. 

Skinny guy sat down and pulled open the laptop and frowned.

“We only just got these things so this might take me a minute.” He spoke to the screen instead of Chris and clenched his fists over the keyboard with only one index finger loose and ready to type. “I preferred the old parchment and quill myself, but technology marches on, whether we like it or not.” This time he smiled at Chris and then looked back down at the screen and stuck his tongue out of the corner of his mouth as he waited for whatever the laptop was supposed to be doing to do it.

“You need to boot it up, top right corner.” Chris tried to reach across the big desk but the skinny guy beat him to it and prodded the button with that loose finger and smiled again.

“I’m such an idiot, this is one of the reasons I’m running so late, they bring in these things to speed you up but they end up slowing you down.”

Chris glanced at the door of his office and regretted asking Kate to step out for the hot lemon, for all her faults she would have stopped this guy walking right into his office.

“Umm I’m a little busy here; maybe you should wait for my secretary to come back?”

“No... Just a second,” Skinny guy pushed the pad a couple of times then looked up and smiled again, “it’s you I need to see.” Before looking back down to the screen which now lit his face and highlighted his sharp features like bare cliffs in a sunrise.

“It’s just I don’t normally see people without an appointment and...”

“Nooo, I’ve got your appointment right here,” that smile again, “if I can find it.”

“I’ve got an appointment with you?” Chris replied.

“Uh huh.” The tongue came out again as the finger did some more prodding.

“It doesn’t work like that; you make the appointment with me when you come here, well not with me, with Kate, she should be back soon so...”

“Got it! Here you are, Chris Dolan! Can you confirm your date of birth please?”

The skinny guy looked up and Chris forgot his headache and stared back then shook his head.

“No, I can’t. I’m not just going to tell you my date of birth; I don’t even know who you are.”

“Oh god I’m sorry! I didn’t introduce myself did I? I’m sorry!” Skinny slapped his forehead and then held out the same hand again this time to shake. “I’m death.”

“Excuse me?” Chris didn’t make to shake the hand that waited for him.

“Death... I’m Death.” Skinny guy waved the hand up and down an inch or two and when Chris didn’t take it he withdrew and went back to looking at the screen. “I’m going to need that date of birth please Chris.”

Chris looked at the guy and then back at the door before reaching for his office phone handset, the skinny guy looked up from the laptop and smiled as Chris picked up the phone and pressed zero before placing the phone to his ear.

“I’m sorry but I’m going to have security ask you to leave, if this is a joke or if you are trying to get a job here in some original way, I’ve got to tell you, today isn’t the day.”

The skinny guy smiled again, glanced at the screen and then looked at the oversize watch on his wrist that hung like a ring on a stork’s leg.

“Chris I need to be moving on here, I’m already running late, which is why I’ve had to disturb you at work. There was a drone strike in Pakistan, hit a wedding... nightmare up there I gotta tell you. No 3G signal and you can forget about wifi. This is what they don’t understand when they bring in these things.” The skinny guy lifted the laptop half an inch off the desk and then set it down again. 

Chris realised the phone was dead and placed it back into its holder before looking at the skinny guy, he rubbed his left arm, even though it wasn’t hurting and then tried to stand up from the desk... he couldn’t.

He rested his hands on the arms of his chair and tried to push with them but couldn’t, he kicked his legs a bit and they moved but wouldn’t let him stand up. He glanced under the desk then tried to push his chair back but couldn’t.

Slowly he looked up at the skinny guy who smiled kindly and gave a half nod.

“I’m going to need you to confirm your date of birth please Chris.”

“What if I don’t give it?”

“Either way you are coming with me man, this just saves a lot of messing about later on.”

Chris looked tried his legs again, pushing and twisting them but was unable to stand up.

“Chris?” Chris looked up at the skinny guy, “I need your date of birth?” This time with a tilt of the head.

“Fourteenth of June, nineteen sixty one.”

“There you go! Thank you!” The skinny looked down to the screen as Chris picked up the phone again and listened, it was still dead, not even a hiss of static or a click when he pressed a button. He took his mobile from his shirt pocket and pressed the green button. He knew Laura would be the last call he’d made and his heart leapt as he saw “Calling Laura” fill the screen.

But that is all it did, her name filled the screen like it filled his heart but the call didn’t connect, it just flashed on and off, rhythmic like the pounding he could now feel in his chest. He turned his head to look out at the floor to ceiling window that seemed to hold up the roof above. 

The streets below his office were frozen, nobody moved, cars with indicators stuck on sat at red traffic lights and people stood silently mid step, waiting to carry on with their lives s soon as he was finished with his.

Only a solitary pigeon sat on his window ledge, head bobbing black eyes staring at him.

“The pigeon...” was all he could think of to say before it flew off into the frozen sky, he watched it go up and away out of sight.

“Hmm?” The skinny guy looked up from the laptop at Chris.

“The pigeon. It flew off.”

“I know, it’s crazy isn’t it, I don’t know what it is but the whole time stopped still thing never seems to bother them.”


“God knows. Hey maybe you can ask him?” Skinny guy chuckled at the joke as he went back to looking at the screen.

Chris looked back out of the window and thought he might cry, he looked back at his phone and saw it still flashing “Calling Laura” and then looked back at the skinny guy who glanced up and smiled.

“I’m sorry this is taking so long, it’s kind of unprofessional of me, I’m sorry.”

Chris waved a hand as if it was nothing and looked back at the screen of the phone, he thought a while and then looked up,

“Maybe you can come back later?”

“Nice try amigo.” Skinny guy smiled back and then scratched his chin, “Erm do you know how to right click on these things?”

“Push the right side of the pad.”

Skinny guy sighed and leant back in the chair, 

“I’m such an idiot! I’m sorry, I knew that. We have to use all this Apple stuff now, since Jobs got up there, Jesus that guy can sell. Everything has switched over and I’ve got to be honest, I’m not sure it is a good idea, not without some proper training anyway.”

“Yeah, you should speak to someone about that.”

“Oh we have, but you know what it is like, someone probably got a nice little back hander for all this, so it is pointless moaning, as soon as I get used to it something else will come along.”

He smiled at Chris who noticed for the first time how big his teeth were.

“I never thought it would be like this, you know... dying...”

“It normally isn’t, I’ve got to tell you today I am all over the place. Did I tell you about the drone strike?”

“Uh yeah.”

“Well it’s thrown me right out, I’m going to warn you, you will probably have quite a wait when we are done down here. Things are pretty crazy up there.”

“Well I guess I’m not going anywhere.”

“You hope.” The skinny guy pointed down to the floor and then smiled and shook his head. “I’m only joking, don’t panic, the whole hell thing was just a put on, it doesn’t exist.”

“But... you mean?”

“What Hitler and Stalin and all that?”

“Well yeah...”

“They are up there man, they are sort of weird an all, but they are up there. Hitler works in the laundry. He’s a funny guy when you get to know him... did you ever see that film where he does the little dance?”

“I... erm...I think so...”

“Ask him, he’ll do it for you, it’s hilarious, he does a little song when he does it, it’s crazy with that funny accent.”

“How did they get up there?”

“Same as you man, it’s what I do. Although back then it was more straight forward, just tick a few boxes and that was that, not like now with these things.” Skinny guy tapped the laptop.

“No I mean, should they be up there with the people they killed?”

“It’s the whole forgiveness thing, God is big on it, otherwise everyone would be at each other’s throats, bit like down here. You’ve got a lot of apologising to do to a lot of flies and spiders. Was that sixty one or sixty?”

“Sixty one.”

“I gotta fill this in correctly or else they’ll be all over my bony arse when I’m finished today.”

“You look different from what I imagined.”

“You were expecting the monk’s habit and all that?”

“Um, yeah.”

“We dropped it a while back, to be honest I was glad, you work ten hours in one of those things and you not only look like death... you smell like him.”

“I can imagine.”

“Not... nice... I can tell you.” The skinny guy punched a few more buttons and then closed the laptop then looked and smiled at Chris.

“Is that it?” Chris looked back at his phone which still flashed Laura’s name and then back at the skinny guy. He wished he had a photo of her so he could look at her once more before he went and he regretted not bringing one into work from home for his desk.

“That’s it; we are up to date on paperwork so it’s time to go.”

“Can I just...” Chris’s voice trailed off because he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his last moment, his mind splashed around like a drowning man and then he realised all the things he needed to do weren’t as important as he’d once thought they were.

“Can you just what?”

“Can I just tell my wife I love her?”

“Didn’t you do it at the end of the last call?”

“No... no I... I didn’t...”

“Well man, I’m sorry, all I can say is... you should have.”

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