One of the most powerful trigger to a certain memory is the sense of smell. The smell of freshly cut grass, women perfume, fresh pastry, and most unpleasantly, the smell of death.
I spent 11 years working in the Emergency Medical Services (EMS), and currently working as a ‘Last Responder’, my work is to transport the bodies for the Office of the Medical Investigator. I drive a lot at night, where I spend most of my thoughts.
There're few things I would recall when I say 'smell of death'. It's the smell of decay and rottenness. And the other is the smell of the Angel of Death himself. He has an odd smell that lingers around him. It's like scent of old books, grease, tobacco and soil. I don't smell it anymore after I left the EMS-Paramedic. Sometimes, the air would bring me this forgotten triggering scent which would take me down the memory lane. For a medic, it's mostly dark and gory. The blood soaked carpet of two adult humans squishing under your foot and leaving a tang in your nostrils and mouth. Or a man's brains all over the head of a lorry. But there are good roads too, like the birth of babies. Those were the times when I can instantly fix the problems with one of the tools that I carry. I'd be glad and smile at the look of relief on a parent's face when I uses Epinephrine and Albuterol to stop their child's refractory asthma attack. Good things and bad things would co-exist. I passed by old people on their beds in the hospital, some of them have just enough time to say goodbye to their family. It's particularly helpless when you couldn't save a head trauma victim. You have no right to save their organs to save another life either.
I was in the EMS-Paramedic long enough to have seen a lot, yet not everything. I am not the person you would call when you are having a good day.
There was one of the many nights on my late night shift, a particularly crazy shift of 96 hours marathon. It was one of those days when you could work as many hours as you could stand and almost practically living at the base of the hospital. 48 and 72 hours shifts were pretty common. I was on my final hour on that night and it had been busy. Me and my medic team would take naps in between calls, maybe also grab a little fast food and energy drinks along the way. But we were about to be fried to a crisp. My partners and I worked in the base at the Silver state of the country, and we're provided with a 3 bedroom house where we can also park our truck. One night as I reached my room, I went in and locked the door behind me, took off my boots and uniform, staggered to the bathroom and once my ablutions were complete, I fell into bed. I switched on the fan for some white noise, tired as I was, sleep wasn't happening. My mind was grinding away at the call that I just came back from, it was a case of paediatric cardiac arrest. I lay there staring at the ceiling, I couldn't comfort myself after having to watch a child die. Kids can compensate on a lot, but if they ever crumble, they're gone. I took a deep breath, blew it out and asked in a loud voice to no one in particular; “Why?”
“I wish I could tell you,” came a reply from a deep voice out of the corner of the room.
Shocked and needless to say, I sprung bolt upright, that voice woke me up completely at this point. There was a dark figure in a hooded robe sitting on the chair across the room. He raised his head and I could see a skeletal face beneath the hood. I closed my eyes, shook my head, pinched my arms, and I opened my eyes. The figure was still there, it wasn't a dream.
“I’m the Reaper. I collected souls, and I don't usually get to know 'why' exactly that I do. I set them free when their bodies are longer able to support their spirits. And if I don't, they will suffer. I have never fully understood why some die and some don’t. And you’re not dreaming this or hallucinating, I’m real and I’m here.”
“But why are you here talking to me like this?”
“You, like the most of your medical types, believe that I am an adversary or a challenger. That I fight against you when you’re trying to save your patients. I do not kill, nor do I send illnesses, old age or injury to you humans. That was someone else's job. Nothing could be further from the truth. My job is to free souls from the bodies that can no longer be alive. It is mercy, all plain and simple. The souls would have to continue on their next journey. I understand how you felt about having to watch that child die, but I’ve seen countless of them, more than you can imagine. This child is lucky to have at least modern medicine to help him fight his last chance, compared to children of other regions, at least you tried to save him.”
“Well, on another perspective I guess. I cannot imagine myself doing your job, just as much as people used to say they cannot imagine themselves doing my job. But why are you talking to me? Why, out of countless other medics, did you pick me?”
“I sensed the empathy in you and I know you'd be able to mentally accept and deal with my presence. Your affectionate love for science fiction literatures has given you the imagination to accept the abnormal reality of me manifesting my real form into your world. I am after all, an angel and under normal circumstances, no normal human being would be able to see me.”
“Why don't you look like the other angels?”
“How do you know that I don't? How many angels have you ever seen before?”
“Is this your real form, or did you assume your present form because of how I imagine you'd look like?”
“I could have chosen any form really, but would you have believe that I'm the Reaper if I chose to appear as a crow or an owl?”
“A talking crow would be a little awkward to be honest. I don't suppose you've got a dirty crow that lives in the desert of Omnia do you?” That got a chuckle.
“No, more's the pity. I could conjure one up if I needed it. And I don't have bosomy cartoon women harping beside me or energetic dragons as servants either.”
My goodness. That made me laughed! Who would have thought the Reaper was a terrible fan of Terry Pratchett?
“I shall be going then. I understand you needed your rest, you earned it after all the hard work.”
“Drop by for coffee.”
And then he was gone, disappeared just like that. I lay down on the bed and pondered for hours on what just happened. And little did I realized, it was already morning and I’ve to head back to my operation office for the next shift change. Strangely, I felt better than I’ve ever felt before. It was the usual for me, shift change, hand over my ambulance, the drugs and the narcs to the next medic in charge. I climbed onto my motorbike and headed home. I felt the slightest of dead beat wasted tiredness that I had often felt after a long shift. Instead of going home, I decided to took a long ride down the highway and make it to the colonial towns for some sightseeing and fresh air. I arrived home 3 hours later and fixed myself a late breakfast. I never took my mind off from last night's encounter, but I wasn't dominating on the thought of it either. Feeling energized by my meal, I finally changed out my uniform, grabbed a shower and sat down to enjoy the rest of the day lazing. Then I went window shopping at my favourite gun shops and found an awesome deal on some ammos. And I went to an old bookstore to browse for some used books. I was just cruising around wasting gas, enjoying the weather on my bike. Had dinner with a friend topped with books and drinks. That night, I slept unusually soundly again and woke up feeling good as I sat down with my morning newspaper. Suddenly I sensed a presence behind me, and whirled around. There he was. Death standing behind my kitchen table.
“Is that offer of coffee still good?” He said.
“Of course," I replied, “The mugs are in the cupboard on your left, sugar is beside the coffee maker over there, and milk's in the fridge. Help yourself.”
He nodded, and helped himself to some coffee. His skeletal hands are very nimble, and before long, he sat down with his mug of steaming coffee on the table across me. My normally shy cat was sitting on his lap.
“Well hello there, Balor. How are you today?” He gave my cat a gentle ear scratch.
“Why how long have you been friends?” I asked.
“Well, I've always love cats. They can already see me without my special permission. I know you and Balor would be a good match when I left him on your front-yard when he was a kitten.”
“What, you put him there? I thought he wandered away from his mother and ended up here.”
“Balor's mother failed to cross the road one day, and I found homes for her other kittens as well. Balor have a brother in Lee's Mansion, Hong Kong and a sister in Jurong, Singapore. I made it a hobby of finding home for cats, but there are too many of them for me to help them all, even though I may be an angel. How did you end up with name Balor for him? That was Celtic for demon.”
“Well, you know kittens are, they get into your stuff. He jumped on my solar plexus once, and I lost my voice for several hours afterwards. I decided to call him Balor, and the name stuck.”
“That was appropriate, I guess.” Death chuckled, “Though he seem so serene now, more like Abellio. I am amused that a Chinese girl like you would name her cat after Celtic myths.”
“Well, I suppose languages are a lot of mishmash. There is the saying ‘English doesn’t just borrow from other languages, it follows them down the alley and mash them for loose words.’”
“Indeed. Beam Piper once said, ‘And you know what English is? English is the result of Norman men-at-arms trying to make dates with Saxon barmaid, and not as legitimate as anyone else.’”
“What is your name? As we speak of words and names, I believe you have countless names.”
“Well, I’ve always adored the sound of Azrael, Thanatos and the Sandman, but those names are a little too aggrandized to my taste. Should we just keep it simple and go with Mort, or Marty?”
“Marty that is.”
“I should be going, thanks for the coffee,” then he was gone.
Marty came by and helped himself to coffee every now and then with his cat stories.
“Well it worked,” he told me one night, “I put the little fellow on their doorsteps and told him to yowl his heart out. He put up a real racket like a pro, I didn’t leave any earplugs for the people though. As soon as she opened the door, I told him to keep meowing. 15 minutes later he was sitting on the table eating tuna and purring up a storm.”
And if you or anyone you know, has a cat turning up in unexpected places just at the right time to be adopted, it was probably just Marty doing his thing.
Having the Angel of Death as a friend is interesting to say the least, Marty is a really nice guy. But when you work in the EMS, it can lead to some weird incidents.
One day we got called out to a car wreck and there was a little girl still buckled in the van, with the roof caved in. Her body was broken and I got her intubated, on IV and I monitored her. We have to travel to the trauma bay and halfway, she was crumbling fast. That was when I saw Marty appearing next to me.
“Are you here for a visit or on business?” I asked Marty.
“ICP rising. Her brain stem will be herniated if we don’t get her in on time. Guess that’s not happening since you’re here?”
“I’m afraid not.”
I sensed another presence beside me, though I can’t see it but I can hear it when Marty is around.
“I’m afraid so.” I replied.
“I’m not scared, I miss mommy and daddy. I’m just sad.”
“They’re waiting for you, they died instantly and I’ve taken them home,” said Marty.
“Home? Do you mean Heaven?”
“Some people call it that.”
“Do kitties go to Heaven too?” the little girl asked, “My kitty Pebbles was sick, she died last month.”
Marty’s skeletal face grins a little wider at that.
“As a matter of fact,” he reached under his black robes, and took out a small grey kitten and handed it to the little girl, I can hear a delighted laugh and the kitten disappeared out of my sight as it touched the spirit of the girl.
“Pebbles couldn’t wait to see you, so he hitched a hike with me today.”
“Thank you lady, for trying to help me,” I felt a cold touch on my hand, “I know you did all you could.”
Then they were gone.
When we reached the hospital, her faint pulse was gone. The doctors had worked to no avail. People asked me all the time how I dealt with death, and I would tell them faith helps me. But more often than not, it is not faith but a certain knowledge. It was Marty’s gift of ‘second sight’ and the ability of interacting with ghosts that helped me cope.
Lots of people know Marty by his reputation, very few would know he had a twin brother whom Marty called Felipe. They are mirror twins and shouldered different responsibilities in the grand scheme of things to come. Their relationship have good understanding in their roles and important to the cycles that powered the cosmos.
The wheels of the World turn, the Beat goes on; Life, Death, Rebirth. Ad Infinitum.
Carpe diem, vita brevis. Seize the day, life is short. Take your chances and don’t let opportunity pass you by.