Wish Kids Would Learn To Be More Careful
I wake to a strange quiet and calm. No screaming sirens, screaming witnesses. No cloying gray smoke choking my lungs, no unbearably heavy weight crushing my body, no pain. I open my eyes and notice that I’m back behind the wheel. The windshield is whole again. The bloodstains have disappeared from the seats. I’m starting to wonder whether I imagined the crash when I see it, out of the corner of my eye: a pale pair of hands, twirling the small silver buckle from my seat belt. “Hello?” I say questioningly, looking into the face of a man I’ve never seen before but who still looks vaguely, and unnervingly, familiar. “Hello, Justin Thomas.” My brow furrows. “How do you know who I am? And what are you doing in my car?” “You can call me Mort. I’m here to…collect you.” He sets down the belt buckle. “You were in a very serious collision tonight, Justin. Very serious. I’m sure you remember.” I do. I’m remembering in vivid detail when he continues. “In cases like yours, I am called in.” “Are you a doctor or something?” “Not exactly.” He’s not meeting my eyes. “What’s going on, man? If it’s that bad, just tell me.” “Well, here’s the thing. I’m new at my job, and I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be telling you. My predecessor didn’t exactly give me that much instruction and this is a tricky thing because I don’t want to hurt you.” I don’t know what he’s talking about, but there’s a tight feeling in my chest. Not unlike the feeling of breathing in smoke or being crushed under the tires. My body knows better than I do what’s about to happen. “See, I was just appointed Grim Reaper. And I have to come collect you because…well, because you passed away.” “What?!” Instant denial floods my mind. I’m in a coma, hallucinating, dreaming, anything other than dead. “I’m dead? I died in that stupid crash? That can’t be right!” “They don’t make mistakes in our department.” “No, no, it’s not possible. My phone is in my pocket, I wasn’t texting, so-” He cuts me off. “That doesn’t matter. I know, I know, one in four of all car crashes involve phone use, but that’s not why I’m here.” He eyes the bottle in my cupholder, and I sense another opportunity. “That’s water, dude, so if that’s what you think your reason is, you can’t-” He interrupts again. “That doesn’t matter either. You don’t have to be drunk for them to send me to you. Most people aren’t. You were tired, you weren’t paying attention…that’s enough, Justin. And, I hate to admit it, but it’s January 1. I needed to start early with the teenage quota…I have to do this at least four thousand more times this year, eleven more times today. Believe me, I’m not looking forward to it. I already don’t like this job.” I’m crying now, thinking about the stupidest, smallest things. Watching the ball drop at midnight last night. Hugging my friends. Saying good night to my family. Heck, even the bird I saw in the tree outside my window this morning is flying through my brain, singing sweetly. He reaches out and grasps my arm with ice-cold fingers. “Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt.” I can’t respond. A white glow is spreading over my sight and my body is stiffening. “Wish more kids would learn to be more careful.”
On New Year’s Day, an exhausted Justin crashes his car and meets Mort, who has unpleasant news for him.