The Halloween Project 2020 - Story 11: Queen Death
As Managing Director, Mr. Warner, walked down the office aisle between cubicles, as workers at their desks flinched, froze or looked away. He stopped at Ida's desk. Respectful, but unfettered, she looked up, eye-to-eye.
Slamming a two page written piece face down on her desk, he murmured, "Edit this," end of conversation. He turned, but Ida, already turning and scanning the top sheet, questioned, "Sir?... Mr. Warner? This is an obituary."
He turned, scowl flashing a darker edge and explained, "This is a flat rate obituary. 200 dollars. It's 325 words long. Get this down to 200 words."
And Ida did. "Less is more," she chanted. Cutting phrases and any convoluted remembrances, she crafted the obits into streamlined strings of stories enveloped in love. Her editor loved it. Warner let a compliment float down to Ida through the ranks. And that's how it began.
"Just 30 words off this one, Ida."
"In half! At the very least, in half!"
"Can you make this sound a little less angry?"
Then the guy across the aisle joked out loud, "another obit ed for Queen Death," and it stuck. Ida played it well. At Halloween parties she always costumed as the Grim Reaper. When Friday happy hour rolled around, at some point, an intern raised a glass as Ida lofted her martini, "To the Queen! May she slice forever!" Ida was happy, job secure. Her name escaped into the public and her commissioned obituaries were sought after by celebrities and Wall Street scions.
The envelope dropped on her desk with a flat thud. She grabbed it and ripped the top open. Grasping the three page document she saw the headline announced: "Albert T. Warner." She looked again just to verify. It still said, "Albert T. Warner." She thrust the papers in the envelope, the envelope in the satchel by her desk.
Managing Editor with national influence, Albert T. Warner, dies at 59.
The headline shouted from the newspaper the next day. The obit screamed from her satchel. Later, she compared. There were edits, abbreviations, wholesale deletions. But she had not completed them.
Obits kept coming. They arrived by mail, email, voicemail, even parcel post. Those dead, those soon to be dead, those almost dead. She opened some and not others. Queen Death reigned over the words that accompanied those crossing over. The job became a task, the task a chore, the chore a labor. Ida aged with the years. A decade, then two. Then three. She grew into wealth with the turn of a quick phrase. Ida became the arbiter of all final messages. Until her final day on the job.
An envelope arrived. She knew without opening. Ida realized the magic that she possessed had run dry. Placing the envelope on her private office desk she slit it open and saw the name and dates emblazoned on the center top page.
1962 - 2020