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Lessons from A Minor Psychopomp

A Short Story

lessons from a minor psychopomp cover with a jackal head mask

When you die, you only get one chance.

What do I mean by that? You set your affairs in order as best you can in advance, and hope you’ve helped more beings than you’ve harmed.

Sudden death? Wham! Hit by the proverbial bus? Felled by a faulty valve in your heart or a blood clot in your brain?

Hope you did some work to prepare, or its going to be harder on your loved ones after the fact.

If you have loved ones.

Death that creeps up slowly? Well, you extra better have done your prep work. Settled things. Given your thanks. Made your passage as easy on those around you as you could.

If you don’t? Well, that’s selfishness, in my book. I mean, I get being avoidant or afraid, but come on… buck up and figure out how to do the right thing, okay?

See, in life, you get hundreds of chances to make things right. Every single day is a chance to start something new. Take a fresh breath. Think a fresh thought. Apologize. Work harder. Get more rest. Write that novel. Sing that song in the shower. Play with your kids. Follow your dreams.

What do I know about life, you may ask? Well, I’m a psychopomp. I guide people to the next phase of their journey when the final breath rattles from their lungs.

Whether they go to get their heart weighed, or walk toward the Summerlands, or to those gates of pearl, I’m there. See, I’m a pinch hitter. The big guys, like Anpu, the Heibei Wuchang, Samael, or old Hel herself? They get busy.

Sure, they like to tell people they will personally escort them through the door, but just do the math. How many people die every second?

A lot.

Heck, even the realms who use human priests (or priestesses, or priestexes, or whatever you want to call them) don’t always have enough to go around. And don’t get me started on the atheists. You think it’s easy, escorting someone into Nothing?

Try it. See how you feel afterward. Me? It makes my skin crawl and I always have to shower afterward. The Void. Is not. Fun.

So, psychopomps like me—the Mask Wearers—we get to escort folks to all sorts of places. The Land of the Dead. The Underworld. The Realm of the Light Elves. Heaven. Hel. Sheol. We put on Anpu’s jackal head, or a Valkyrie’s wings, and show up, surrounded by mist or light… then we ferry the dead person on to wherever their hearts expect to go.

And we pray that they’re ready for what’s coming, because the things we expect usually turn out way different than, well, expected.

You’ve had that happen, right? You cook a meal, sit down, and the greens are way too salty. You book a long-awaited vacation and get blisters and sunburn and the museums are closed because there’s an uprising in the streets.

Life is chaos, right? That’s part of what makes it interesting, at least for me.

Death? Sometimes that’s chaotic, too. Other times though? It’s the most beautiful, tranquil thing I’ve ever experienced. Brings a tear to the eye. Some deaths are the only places I’ve found real peace in all the worlds.

But how about life after death? That’s the question you want answered, isn’t it? I can’t tell you because that would be cheating. Besides, I took a sacred oath to not give the secrets of the dead away. Don’t want to influence how you live.

All those people who try to scare you into living different because you might get punished later? They don’t know any better than you. They got no special insight. They’re just control freaks and are out to take something from you. That’s usually money, or power, or both.

And those people who tell you your suffering is noble because you’ll get some reward later? That is even worse bullshit. A distraction from your current conditions. A salve for your burning exploitation. Better form a union or something, that’s what I say. Organize. Get a better life experience while you can, because, like I said, there’s no way for you to know what’s coming.

No way to know that it’ll be better.

So, you may as well make it better now.

Take my advice, or don’t. I’m just a psychopomp, and a minor one at that. I’m no OmniGod, ever present, all seeing, all knowing, all powerful, all good… because that’s all crap, too. There is no OmniGod. Are there beings bigger than us? Sure. Just look at whales. Are there beings smarter than us? Sure. Just look at an octopus, or an elephant.

But if a being is All Powerful and All Good, why in all the interlocking worlds would they allow such suffering, greed, and pain? Like, if you knew something very bad was gonna happen to someone you loved, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to stop it?

If you don’t, then you’re not All Good, are you? As a matter of fact, I’d call you a right shithead.

Who said psychopomps can’t have opinions?

So yeah, some religious stuff makes me angry, though my sponsor tells me I need to learn to let it go. Go with the flow. But my sponsor is Taoist, so they would say that. For them, the flow is Everything. Me? I’m wound a little tighter than all that. But I’m trying to learn. Do my breathing exercises. Meditate. Cut back on the sugar and caffeine.

Not the cigarettes, though. I’m smoking one now and hope it doesn’t bother you. Cigarettes are the only way I can clear the formaldehyde stink from my nostrils. Or the smell of blood, or decomp, or char, depending. That’s what I tell myself, anyway, though usually I get to people long before the chemical pump begins—and isn’t that the most disgusting thing to do to a body after the breath leaves the shell?

Even though we lesser psychopomps live a right long time, my will says “no chemicals” I can tell you that, right now.

But I digress. Yeah. I smoke. It’s a little piece of danger that keeps me happy. Sue me. Used to be everybody smoked, then found out it caused early death. Hah! So, I kinda like that part, too. A minor death deity courting Death itself.

But we all court Death in our own ways, every day. Don’t we? Think about it.

Which brings me back to my earlier message: Get your shit together while you still have your hundreds of chances. Don’t wait on someday, like the poor sap I’m picking up today.

She thought she had all the time in the world, until a patch of ice took her out. She left things quite a mess. I’ll pick up part of it, but most of it will be left to her remaining three friends. And that sucks.

You’re still breathing. You got today.

Make something right. Even something tiny.

One small thing can make all the difference, in life and death. One parasite or microbe. One kind word. One phone call. Turning left instead of right.

Life is a series of choices. But it's up to us to make them. Even a mask-wearing psychopomp like me.

T. Thorn Coyle, 2023


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