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      By Jacob Tashoff

     Death  is a backseat Driver. I learned this one summer night on the way to the hospital. “But why were you going to the hospital?” you may ask. Well, my dear reader, that truly is a story to tell.
     … wait, wait, wait. Sorry. This story actually starts a bit further in the past than when the
actual story started. Confusing? Try living it. And so we begin; long ago, in a faraway land (four
hours, to be exact), I decided to let my life be dictated by fate, so that none of my mistakes could
be attributed to the shortcomings I clearly don’t have. It doesn’t always work out that way, of
course, but I try. Fate lets me live a guilt-free life. I do, in fact, remember a scene from a dream I
had in the wee years of my childhood:

     “Jacob! Why did you break that mug?”
     “Fate made me do it, mom!”
     Yeah, even in my dream, that didn’t go over so well. But – and this is a big but (hehehe)
– I have continued to let fate dictate my actions because responsibility sucks. Now, with that
useless drivel of an anecdote, we can get to the real story.
      We pulled up late in the day; might’ve even been night by that point. You know how
summer gets, where it looks like day and it feels like day and your mom said you could stay up
till the sun sets but it’s already like nine and you have to go to sleep even though the sun hasn’t actually set yet? That’s the kinda day/kinda night thing we had going on. You could tell our campsite was on an island the same way you could tell Kansas City is on an island (cause all
continents are technically islands). I was asleep in the car – it had started out as just pretending to be asleep so I wouldn’t have to help set up the tent, but I did somehow manage to actually drift off.
     When I woke up, it was considerably darker, and, of course, I panicked, momentarily
forgetting where I was. Once I had regained my orientation, I decided it would be a good idea to
move to the tent. Not because I was scared of being alone in the car in the middle of the night in
the middle of the woods. No way. The tent would just be more comfortable. I kept telling myself
that as I opened the car door, grabbed my pillow, and sprinted to the tent.
     The ground was slightly damp. I could feel it through the mesh parts of my sneakers; the
campsite was well situated in a clearing. There weren’t even any dead spots (where the dirt was
visible).  I nodded and silently congratulated my dad on his decision to lay a tarp down under the tent – no wet butts tonight. Trying to both be as stealthy as possible (asap for short) and not wake anyone up, I snuck inside the tent. My mother woke up, of course. I just continued my way to an open portion of tent floor of our rather overlarge tent (I’m sure the box would probably call it a family tent or something, but does a tent really need a curtained off section for a dog?  ). I also don’t even know if tents have floors, but for the sake of the argument, they do. I dropped my pillow, then my body, then my head. And that, my friends, is where things began to go south.
     I lost practically all ability to utilize my lungs (one of the innate abilities of asthmatics.
That’s right, asthma’s a super power.) The best way I can describe the feeling is this: imagine air, only it’s water, then imagine the ability to breathe, only it’s a pipette, and then imagine a nice pair of lungs, only they’re a bucket; now picture trying to fill the empty bucket up with the
pipette, but every time you empty the pipette into the bucket, you have to empty out the bucket.
I know some of you readers like to think of yourselves as romantics, so I decided that a
second, more romantic metaphor wouldn’t hurt. Maybe you’ll understand it better (even though I am hella sure the first one is plenty clear).  So at its core, the feeling I was feeling was akin to
when you first make eye contact with your soulmate, and the rest of the world falls away, and
your breath stops and suddenly you forget that breathing is actually necessary to continue the
romance, only there wasn’t any soulmate or love or any of that sappy shit.
     Basically, not a fun time. On the plus side, I got to spend the night in a cushy hospital bed
instead of three inches off the ground in a sleeping bag. I even got to take steroids. For my lungs,
for my lungs, don’t get all worked up.
     I think now is a great time to make note of the fact that most asthma attacks don’t follow
this course of action. Normally it starts with a warning of sorts, like “oh that breath was a little
difficult”, with each subsequent breath becoming slightly more difficult until it finally gets to the
point where “aha! Finally, a good excuse to take drugs!” It should also be noted that most asthma attacks aren’t nearly as bad as the one I’m detailing here – this event is only one of two or three in my life where my asthma has gotten this bad. Normally it just makes it more difficult to get the right amount of air in. It’s like getting really winded, except without the physical activity (or with it; asthma’s not really that choosy) that accompanies becoming so winded. What I’m trying to say is that this instance was out of character for asthma attacks, and so, perhaps, warranted a slight increase in the panic.
     Before getting to the hospital, however, (finally back on track) we had to actually find
where it was (cause we were in Canada (which I may have forgotten to mention before)  ). We
don’t live in Canada (if that wasn’t obvious). Interesting side note, the dude on duty at the
entrance to the campgrounds when we were leaving was named Jacob. Cool coincidence.
Because that is exactly what my mind was focused on as I struggled to pull in enough air to keep
myself from passing out. That was only half sarcasm.
     Now, you’re probably wondering where the hell Death being a backseat driver comes
into play. Coincidentally, it’s right here in this part of the story! Wow. Imagine that. But it kinda
happened a little something like this:
     We’re on our way to the hospital, my head hanging out the window like a dog  as I tried to inhale as much as I could – which, as I expressed so elegantly before, was very little. But so we’re driving along, and all of a sudden there’s this great explosion of blackness coming from
the back of our minivan that clearly only I could see or my mother would’ve been panicking a
little more than she already was and I whip around (metaphorically cause doing that would’ve
made the asthma attack even worse) and sitting there behind my seat is this huge dude with great black wings and a huge scythe and a suave black robe that only helped accentuate the absurd attractiveness of his face (attracting my fist to it like a punch magnet (nah, just kidding, Death is an attractive gentleman))  and all I could do was sit there and stare as my mind went into overtime to try and figure out who this very attractive looking, very dangerous looking man was.
     Turns out it was Death. Who would’ve guessed? Personally, I think Thanatos is a much
cooler name. Like “who are you?” “I am Thanatos, god of death  , the dark angel of the end, the grim reaper…!” So much cooler than just ‘Death’.
     But yeah, so Death is a backseat driver. And not a very good one at that. He kept giving
us all these wrong directions, almost as if he didn’t want us to make it to the hospital. He’s like
the kind of backseat driver that sticks his hand up into your face to point you in the right (or in
his case wrong) direction. So annoying. Luckily, my mom couldn’t see him, maybe cause she
wasn’t the one so close to death, or at least was good at ignoring him, cause she followed the
directions we got from the Jacob at the campgrounds and we made it to the hospital and I was
rushed to a hospital room and got pumped fucking full of those wonderful drugs I mentioned
    Death spoke to me during the car ride. What? That’s not fair! Not only can he take peoples’ souls, not only is he absurdly attractive, but he can also talk?! I know. So unfair. And his voice sounded super smooth like velvet chocolate or chocolate velvet or some other combination of smooth stuff. The conversation was weird too, but that may just have been
because of my lack of oxygen. It’s an important gas.
     “Turn right up here!”
     “Get your hand out of my face you freakishly handsome bird!”
     “I take offense to that. And I swear it’s a right up at that stop light.”

     “The other Jacob said it was a left so we’re going left. And if you’re not a bird then why do you have wings?”
     “Because wings are awesome.  And I’m Death! I can have wings if I want to!” said Death matter-of- factly.
     “Death? What’re you doing in the back seat of my mom’s minivan?” 
     “The fates sent me to collect, kid.”
     “Collect what, exactly? I don’t think I stole anything. Also pretty sure I don’t owe anyone any money. I kill my creditors. Less work that way.”
     “You kill your creditors?” Death looked at me like I was crazy, but he of course had no right to, considering he was Death and there’s no way Death could ever be sane.
     “Well, I would if I owed anyone money. But I already said! I don’t owe any money!”
     “This is too off topic! The fates want your soul, kid, not any money!”
     “My soul? Why do they want that? And why now of all times? I’m a little too preoccupied to deal with giving away my soul.”
     “You really think this asthma attack was a coincidence?” Death looked incredulous.
     “Of course not! Coincidences don’t exist. It was just happenstance.”
     “The fates can’t collect a soul from a living body, kid. Think about it.”
     I thought about it. And then, lo and behold, I had the answer! “The fates gave me an asthma attack so I would die and they could collect my soul! But why do they want my soul? You still haven’t told me.”

    Death stared me dead in the eyes.  Well, at least I think he did, cause he was still wearing that hood and it was hard to actually see his eyes. “long ago, in a faraway land (four hours, to be exact), I decided to let my life be dictated by fate—”
     “Yeah, yeah, I get it. So they decided to not let me do that anymore?”
     “No one can escape responsibility, kid. Now maybe if there was, I don’t know, a prophecy about your life or something, you could maybe escape this, but as far as I know – and I know pretty far – there isn’t one. Sorry.” He wasn’t sorry. So I thought about it for a quick second. And then I came up with the perfect plan of action.
     “I could make up a prophecy right now! It shouldn’t be too hard!”
     “Kid, that’s not—”
     “And so shall the night dawn / With the brilliance of a dying day. / And the journey from carriage to cradle / Will prove not the test of strength, / For what unfolds within the walls of safety, / So strong in its evil intent—” 
     “Kid, that’s not how prophecies work! You can’t just make one up on the spot and expect it to work!”
     “Well then I’ll make up the whole prophecy and write a story about this exact part of my life and how I solved the prophecy, which I’ll have to – I don’t know – include in the beginning or something!”
     “Critics won’t like that!” However much I was enjoying arguing with Death over the exact use of prophecies and how and when they needed to be written, we had arrived at the hospital, no thanks to Death and his directions I might add.

     We left Death in the car, because it didn’t really seem like he wanted to follow us inside,
but when we left the hospital the next morning (it was like ten hours of drugs and comfortable
beds; I’m also reasonably sure they gave me pudding, but again, drugs, so I can’t remember all
too well) he wasn’t in the car anymore. There was this sassy get well card that had a sexy murse 
(male nurse for all you scrubs who haven’t watched Scrubs) who was saying something about
‘having a little something to make me feel better’ and he was winking, but my innocent nine-
year-old mind didn’t really understand what it meant. 
     Actually, while I was being pumped full of drugs, I managed to fall asleep and boy did I
have a crazy dream (this is totally one-hundred- percent true, you can take the word of a drug-
addled nine-year-old boy for it). I was standing atop a sheer-faced cliff, clad in shining armor,
with a sword buckled onto my belt on one side, and a metal collar-and- chain combo (kinky, I
know) buckled to the other side. I stood with my back to the cliff, and the wind rushed over me,
howling as it ruffled my hair fiercely. There was a forest farther ahead of me on the cliff (it was
probably a mountain in actuality but who knows?) Standing some ways off, closer to the forest,
was a giant clad in robes of the purest midnight, a scythe twice my height gripped tightly in
skeletal hands. I offered what I’m sure was a brilliant challenge, but damn was the wind loud.
Couldn’t hear myself speak. And so, without further ado, I drew my shining steel blade and
charged the cloaked figure in front of me.
     A fearsome battle ensued, but I quickly gained the upper hand. I won’t bore you with the
details, but with each successful attack on my part my once-giant opponent continued to shrink
until he was my height, at which point I smashed his cloaked head with the ruby pommel of my
sword, and as my opponent fell to the ground, dazed, I whipped the metal collar from my belt and clasped it around his throat, sealing my victory. Without a kiss. Then I woke up. And I could breathe again!
     I do suppose on the journey to the hospital I should’ve been incredibly worried about the
possibility of death if I didn’t soon regain full lung capacity, but I was so focused on the effort to
actually stay alive that all thoughts of not doing exactly that were kind of lost in the white noise
of unconscious thought. Death is an ever-present threat in everybody’s life, of course, but I find
that as an asthmatic – especially with asthma as serious as mine – death is always lurking around a closer corner. Every asthma attack, I glimpse the tell-tale tail of a dark cloak as I round the corner, and the worse the asthma attack is, the more of that cloak I see.
     And the only other time (or one of the only other times; like I said at the beginning might’ve been two or three different occasions this happened) I’ve had such bad asthma it actually interferes with living my life, I managed to catch a glimpse of the smile on Death’s face.
     Death’s is a smile I never want to see again in my life. There is absolutely nothing friendly about it. I’d seen it before, at my neighbor’s funeral, as Death stood tall above her casket. I made the mistake of staring too long, and we made eye contact. The sinister grin creeping across Death’s face seemed to say ‘you’re next’ and my face blanched and for a moment and I felt that we were at my funeral, not the funeral of the old lady I had sometimes helped shovel. That smile sent shivers running down my spine. I couldn’t see straight. It was the most abject terror I’ve ever felt in my life – pfft. Who am I kidding? I wasn’t that scared of Death! I was hardly thinking about Death on my way to that hospital nine years ago, I was so annoyed I couldn’t enjoy a good
night’s sleep. And besides – why would I be scared of dying when Death is my bitch  ?


















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1. You all super excited to read the harrowing tale of my battle with the physical manifestation of Death in the backseat of my mom’s minivan? Well too bad. The presence of Death in this tale is merely a dramatization. The core of this story is all good and true, an actual event from my life, and yeah, I could’ve just written about that, but then piece would be short and boring as shit. Death is spicy. In the interesting event sort of way, I have no idea what he tastes like.

2. I advise all you dedicated readers out there to keep this ‘useless drivel of an anecdote’ in mind as you continue reading the actual  story I’m trying to tell, cause it definitely shows up again. Kind of. I’d explain more, but… spoilers.

3. This is a really awkward sentence, and it would totally read better as something like “there was grass everywhere grass could possibly grow”, but I’m a lazy bastard so it stays as is.

4. Interestingly enough, this is exactly where I found myself trying to go to sleep. I blame it on my fatass brother.

5. This may sound insulting to those of you who are romantics, cause it makes it sound like you couldn’t understand the previous metaphor cause you’re a romantic blah, blah, blah. Ssshhhh. If you get offended that easily, fair warning, it’s gonna happen again. It’d be no fun to write something that didn’t piss someone off (what I want to say is fuck you but I’m a good Christian boy so I’ll refrain from using foul language).

6. I wasn’t shooting up or anything like that. I just had to drink what I consider way too much of a substance that looked way too much like sperm and tasted way too much like paint thinner. Nothing crazy.

7. ‘This is an important detail, Jacob! We should totally find this out earlier!’ Yeah, no, it’s really not that important. Actual geographical location isn’t gonna impact my asthma at all; I just figured maybe someone out there liked the little details, and if it turns out you all do, well look at you go.

8. Maybe that’s why they do it. To get more air into their lungs cause they’re all having perpetual asthma attacks! That’s a sad thought. Poor doggies.

9. Yes, that is a double parenthesis. Totally grammatically correct.

10. Side note, this is something that really bugs me. People are always like, “yeah, Hades, he’s the god of death and, like, the underworld and stuff, right?” Yeah, no, fuck you, pick up a book about mythology, it’s a good read. Hades is the god of the dead, and the underworld, yes, but also riches (cause precious metals and gems are in the earth and I don’t really see the connection but the Greeks did, so…). But Thanatos – the big hunk of man meat sitting behind me looking all grim and like he wants to reap something (that totally got more laughs in my head) is the god of death, the very embodiment of death itself, yadda, yadda… but I digress.

11. It’s true. Having wings would be bad ass.

12. Because everyone speaks as if they’re unveiling huge plot points in every sentence. This is totally accurate.

13. Cause he couldn’t really stare at me alive? Get it? Cause he’s dead? And Death and all that happy stuff? That was pretty good.

14. Don’t waste time looking this up. I did actually write it myself.

15. (male-ale)+(nurse-n)=murse

16. Everyone relax, I didn’t actually get this card. That would be hilarious though.

17. Title drop.

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