It was like any other Monday morning. The alarm went off a 5am sharp, and by the time he'd showered, gotten dressed and pulled out of the driveway on the way to work it was 5:25am.
"Excellent," he said to himself out loud, tapping the clock in the car dash.
"Excellent." he repeated with a smart smile.
He pulled into the Coffee Wizard parking lot and was soon the owner of a steaming flat white with two sugars and a teensy bit of caramel syrup. He liked to think that by typing "a teensy bit" in the coffee app that he was making a barista smile from his wit.
Back in the car, he drove the rest of the way to ferry dock, and waited a short amount of time before the boat arrived and everyone loaded up in an orderly fashion. He could enjoy the calm before the storm that would be the office that day. He pulled forward till the ferry operator gave him the pause signal, pulling the car to a stop and yanked the emergency break. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes as NPR began it's top of the hour news summary.
"Good morning, and welcome to morning edition, I'm Steve Inskeep in Washington DC."
"I'm Rachael Martin in Los Angeles."
"I'm Blotto the clown," said an unexpected voice.
He opened his eyes and found he was sitting in a banquet upstairs on the ferry across from a spectacularly dressed circus clown. Plaid sleeves and a bright red nose. The sight was both calming, amusing, but unsettling.
"I understand," said Blotto matter of factly.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"I really try to pick something out of my guest's subconscious that will put them at ease."
"At ease, for what."
"Well, Mr. Dillard, unfortunately you just passed away in your car from a brain aneurysm. Perfectly painless, but rather instantaneous, so I didn't have much time to pick a form and meet with you to discuss your options."
"My options? I'm not ..."
"You died, Mr Dillard, and I'm here to help you pick from your options about what happens next."
"but. i thought reapers were dressed in big black cloaks and carried scythes."
"well, we did back before 1347 to 1351 or so, bubonic plague so many people dying together so quickly that we didn't have time to pick a corporeal form. some healing cleric with special sight, saw us hovering over a guest once - and oh my gosh that vision of a dark cloaked figure, it took us centuries to figure out how to rehabilitate our reputation. I'm really - i mean - we really aren't a sinister force at all."
"okay. so you are saying i'm dead?"
"Dead as a doornail I'm afraid," Blotto the Reaper said honking a red metal horn in his hand. "Deady dead dead dead."
"That is not helping," he said.
"Oh sorry, overdoing the roleplay. well, down to business, let's go over your options."
Three brightly coloured folders appeared on the table before him.
"First, you can come back as a schnauzer puppy for a gay couple named Mark and Bill. This really is a prime billet. 16-18 years of complete spoiling and all the liver treats you can eat. Your name will be Scooter. or second," Blotto said revealing pictures from the second folder," you could be reborn in Scotland. to the Macnamaras. You'll be the eldest son of a large family. 90-110 years of scottish hills and, oh - interesting - two wives. not at the same time mind you - but the first one dies young, but you'll find love again. or the third, is choosing to corporealize permanently and move to the next. gosh. um. these are interesting choices. honestly, with climate change and well, a pesky meteroid that destroys most of eastern Russia and accelerates climate change, I doubt you'd enjoy very much of option 2, although who knows, right? I think your safest bet is becoming Scooter the Schnauzer or move to the what's next."
"what is next?"
"I don't know, actually - when I died - they offered me what's next, coming back as a tribal leader in Africa or becoming a reaper."
"you chose to become a reaper?"
"you meet some of the most interesting people doing this service. I've been at it....," Blotto said glancing at his watch, "for just about 2200 years. I've met all kinds. seen all variation on this little dance, and I like to think I've made it easier, particularly once I learned how to teach others to find a pleasing corporealness to present these options."
"a meteor in eastern russian huh?"
"yep. big giant hole in the earth for a while that. the exact details are still murky as its a few decades off still and not quite clear."
"I think I'm interested in trying again, I mean I'm only 44. Maybe I'll try what's next, next round?"
"that's the spirit," Blotto said again honking his horn.
He laughed and pointed at the folder for......