The Cuckoo’s Toll


“Allow me to introduce myself,” he said. “My name is Death.”

There was a silent pause, then the clerk’s head shot up from the cash register. “Excuse me,” he exclaimed, the tenor of his voice rising in an unmanly fashion. Taking a breath, he added, “I must of miss-heard you.”

His eyes fell on his customer. A thin black tie was pinned halfway down to a plain white shirt. It was held there with a simple silver bar which, catching some odd reflection, glinted intolerably into the clerk’s eyes. He tried to sidestep the glare, but found its luminance followed him wherever he chose to stand.

Partially blinded by the tie clasp, the clerk only made out the customer’s face in the broadest manner possible. A pair of eyes were definitely within the entourage of features, though whether they were brown or blue—or any other color earthly, heavenly, or hellish—he could not say. The nose was long and pointed; the cheeks were collapsed; it was only the mouth he saw clearly.

It smiled, showcasing perfect rows of snow-white teeth. Cruel and uniformed, they indeed matched this stranger’s claim, for if Death had teeth, such as he would have were presented in that smile. The smile itself was worth some note. Unnatural, is what one might say, but only if such a one were thinking of the smile in the context of joy and laughter. Had this critique been considering the smile of some cat an instant before its jaws encircled the little throat of a mouse, or the grin of some great tyrant as his insane will was given form and enacted, in that context, the smile was paradigm.

“Pardon,” said the man in a soft voice. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Death.”

Pulling a lever, the clerk cleared the balance of the last transaction from the cash register. “Can I get you anything, sir?” he asked, averting his gaze.

A bone thin hand reached underneath the counter. Slapping a magazine down in front of the clerk, the customer said, “Just this today.”

The clerk charged the stranger for the copy of Life. A bell sounded as the drawer to the cash register slid open with a pop. Storing away the proceeds, the clerk listened for the stranger’s steps. There were none. Slamming the drawer closed, his head snapped upward. There was nobody there. From the other side of the store he could hear the door’s bell sound.

During all this, he had placed his hand upon the countertop. His fingers brushed the waxy paper of the magazine. There he saw inscribed, in lettering black and font large: Upon the third bell’s toll. It was scrawled over the likeness of some movie star, a pretty little actress whose innocent expression could in no way belong to the dreadful rumors surrounding her.

Glancing at his watch, the clerk saw that the hour was almost due. Turning, he gazed upward at the Cuckoo Clock he kept above his head.


Listen to my beautiful voice:


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