Larry Hodges, an Odyssey workshop grad, has sold more than one hundred stories. His four novels include Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, published by World Weaver Press, and When Parallel Lines Meet, a Stellar Guild team-up with Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn. This is his twelfth appearance in Galaxy’s Edge.
Cancer. I hate it. Doesn’t everybody? C’mon, it’s no laughing matter. It’s a festering beast that eats away at your soul as it tries to kill you. Worldwide, eighteen percent will someday get it and over half of them will die from it. But what does this have to do with mushroom and anchovy pizza, pink robes, and selling life insurance?
Now there’s some irony in my lying in bed, thinking bad thoughts about insurance companies—don’t get me started!—as I slowly died of breast cancer, after a lifetime fighting it as both a doctor and a fundraiser. Someday we’re going to lick it, but not in my lifetime. All that work, and I couldn’t even save myself, or even talk the hospital staff into letting me wear anything other than the skimpy gown they think is the height of fashion.
It was while lying in that hospital bed, feeling sorry for myself and wishing I had a pineapple pizza, that Mr. Death showed up, an eight-foot skeleton in black robes. I have no idea why he picked me, but when he extended his long, bony finger, he didn’t suck out my soul; he transformed me. And then, like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, he faded out, his empty robe falling to the floor. He didn’t even stop to chat. And then I transformed into him, an eight-foot skeleton. Yuck.
Since the skimpy hospital gown no longer fit—Thank God!—and I didn’t want to walk around skeleton-naked, I put on the robe—jeez, the thing smelled like Limburger cheese and moth balls. Inside a pocket was a how-to manual for the job. No video?
That’s how I began my career as Mrs. Death.
Now listen closely, as I don’t want to say this twice. I don’t kill people. I only collect the souls of people who’ve already died. There, do you get it now? Because if you don’t, I might make an exception.
But even as I traveled the world in some sort of space-time continuum that allowed me to gather 150,000 souls each day and send them to their destination—up or down—I was restless. I hadn’t forgotten my previous life. I wanted to do something, something, no matter how small.
That’s why I began delivering pizzas in my free time. The pay wasn’t great, but whatever I collected went straight to cancer research, plus I got to eat the leftovers. And I was a natural as I could go anywhere in the blink of an eye. I remember my first delivery…
“Pizza’s here!” I called out as I rapped my bony knuckles on the door, over and over, pausing every 0.6 seconds to go collect a soul somewhere. Silence. There were lights inside, and I saw the curtains rustling as they spied on me, and with my hyper-sensitive Death senses I could hear them whispering. Well, I don’t give up easy, so I broke the door down. I searched that place, room by room, until I found them, cowering in a closet. They’d ordered a mushroom and anchovy pizza—yuck!—and they were going to get it.
“Here’s your pizza!” I called out to the quaking family of four. I guess I shouldn’t blame them. The site of an eight-foot skeleton in a pink robe—yeah, I ditched the black one—with pink imitation pearls, makeup, and a blonde hairpiece with a pink ribbon, must be pretty scary. But I got that pizza delivered.
They didn’t tip.
I raised a few thousand dollars this way, one delivery at a time. But there were complaints about my pizza delivering, and I got fired. That stung. And so I had to find another way to raise money. Because I really, Really, REALLY hate cancer, even more than I hate hospital gowns and mushroom and anchovy pizza, though it’s closer than you think.
Then I had my brainstorm, or rather a skullstorm. You see, if there’s anything as yucky as cancer, it’s the big insurance agencies that profit off it. Their whole business model is to collect as much money as they can and pay out as little as possible. “Do we really need to pay for that fentanyl painkiller?” they’d ask some poor soul in agony while counting their cash.
And so I got my new job selling life insurance. Yesterday was my first day on the job.
An eight-foot pink monstrosity on your doorstep is pretty scary, and I’m relentless. That makes me an incredible salesperson. I raced around the globe, visiting all 150,000 people who were about to die. Each time my sales pitch got better, and pretty soon I was like a pro. I convinced half of them to buy two million dollars in life insurance, with the promise that they’d only have to make the first payment, since they were—how do I put this gently?—oh heck with it, I told them they were about to die. We’d go fifty-fifty on the payoff, half to their beneficiary, and half to mine, cancer research.
That’s seventy-five thousand people at a million apiece, or $75 billion. Per day, till I get fired.
It’s my race for the cure.
Copyright © 2019 by Larry Hodges