The Flower

This past weekend, I attended the funeral for my Uncle Rob. I spent my Saturday in a cemetery, so it’s no surprised that the experience brought some of my darker thoughts to the surface. Oddly enough, it was a wonderful experience that inspired me and generated some really creative ideas. In the future, I would love to spend more time walking through cemeteries as a way to brainstorm and get my creative gears turning.

For this week’s blog posts, it felt appropriate to share this particular short story from my experimental phase. It’s not horror, but it doesn’t exactly have a happy ending either. It’s a story about a grim reaper, struggling to learn their craft. This particular story was inspired by the ReedsyPrompts Contest #54. The prompt I used was: Write a story about someone struggling to learn a skill that in no way comes naturally to them.

This month’s short story is dedicated to my Uncle Rob and all of the inhabitants of the cemetery in which he is buried, including some of my other relatives: Jennie, Alexander, McKeever, Velma, and Earl.

“This time for sure. Trust me. I got this.”

“Sure you do,” sighed the examiner without lifting their eyes from their clipboard. “Give it another try.”

“Right.”

AJ got into position, mentally checking that each and everybody body part was correctly aligned to form the stance they had learned. They lifted their scythe high into the air and swung down over the top of their intended victim.

The daisy simply sat in its pot, still full of life. AJ was beginning to feel like the flower was mocking them.

“Okay, one more time. One more time. I can do this.”

“No, AJ,” sighed the examiner. “That’s enough. It’s a fail. Again.”

“No, no, no. Just give me… Just give me another chance. That’s all I need.”

“I’ve given you plenty of chances, AJ. And you still failed.”

“But I –”

“And I gave you plenty of chances on all of the other exams before this, and you failed those too. I’m sorry, but you just don’t seem to be getting it. I think you might want to start thinking about other career choices.”

“But this is my life. I’ve worked so hard to get here. This is what I’ve always wanted to do and… And I know it’s taking me a little bit longer to get the hang of it, but I know I’ll be great if I just keep practicing. I practice every day. I –”

“AJ, I’m sorry, but not everyone is cut out to be a Grim Reaper. I suggest you go and speak to your mentor and discuss your options.”

The examiner left the room before AJ even had the chance to protest. AJ stared at the door for a little while longer before returning their attention to the daisy. They tried one more time, but it was no use. The daisy was still alive. AJ tried a few more times without results before giving up.

The walk to KC’s office wasn’t a particularly long one, but AJ took a meandering route across campus. They were in no hurry to speak to their mentor after yet another devastating failure. AJ wanted so badly to make KC proud. It was heartbreaking to think that one of the best mentors in the program was stuck with one of the worst students. After every failed examination, AJ felt more and more ashamed and had soon begun to wonder if KC resented them.

“You took your time getting here,” said KC when AJ timidly entered their office. “That bad, huh? I heard it was another failing grade.”

“Yes,” said AJ quietly. What hurt the most was that KC didn’t sound at all surprised by the news.

“AJ, I’m afraid this is it. It’s over. You can’t continue on in the program. I’m sorry.”

AJ had almost been expecting those very words, and yet they were still too shocked to speak at first. Becoming a Grim Reaper was the only thing that had mattered to them for most of their life. They had no idea what else they would do.

“But… But KC, can’t you just give me a second chance.”

“AJ,” sighed KC in frustration. “Enough. It’s the same thing after every failed exam. I’ve given you so many second chances that I’ve lost count. You’re phenomenal when it comes to theory, I’ll give you that, but that’s not what counts out in the field. Book smarts will get you nowhere if you can’t put that knowledge into practice. You can’t tell a living being the theory behind why their life has come to an end, you have to actually be able to end it. If you can’t end the life of a simple flower, then there’s really no point, is there? We wouldn’t be able to send you out into the field if, say, a human or an animal had reached the end of its life. There’s just no point. And, honestly, I feel like we’ve already gone through all of this before, AJ. We can’t keep doing this. You’re so far behind where you should be at this point. And, there are other students on the waiting list for mentors.”

KC grabbed a file from on top of their desk and stamped it with a big, black stamp. AJ knew what that stamp signified and could feel tears coming to their eyes.

“I’m sorry AJ, but it’s over.”

Trying to maintain some semblance of dignity, AJ exited the office quickly and quietly before the tears really started to fall. They waited until they reached a nearby bathroom on campus before really letting loose. Some of the other people in the bathroom muttered concernedly between themselves when they heard weeping coming from one of the stalls. It only made AJ feel more self-conscious, but they couldn’t stop crying.

After a while, when most of the classes were done for the day and fewer and fewer people were coming into the bathroom, AJ slipped out of the bathroom and began their slow walk home. As they began to reach the outskirts of the campus, AJ decided they needed one last moment. They were never going to be able to come here again.

AJ sat down on the grass and watched all of the other Reapers in Training go home for the day. They all looked so happy, and AJ could feel the tears welling up in their eyes once more. They had another little cry. It wasn’t nearly as violent as the first round of tears. By now, AJ was tired and most of their tears had already been spent.

When AJ felt that they were ready to go home, they got ready to stand but stopped mid motion. There was a tiny yellow flower hiding in the grass. AJ leaned over it and contemplated having one last try. They no longer had a scythe, as that had to be left in the examination room, so they simply waved their hand over the flower. Slowly, it began to curl up and die.

“I did it…” whispered AJ in awe. “I did it!” they shouted as they leapt to their feet. “I did it! I –”

AJ looked around. There was no one there to see.

Dedicated to Uncle Rob
1953-2021

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