A Tiny Tale To Tell

“Granny! Butterscotch, not chocolate,” Timothy said.

“Oops!” I replied, scooping the ice cream.

“She’s coming, more sprinkles!”

“Grandma J, you always know what I like!” said a girl in pigtails.

She handed me a folded $10 bill, but Timothy yanked my elbow, before shouting, “On the house!” blushing bright pink.

“Thanks, Tim!” she said, bashfully.

“You know I can’t keep giving every girl you like, free ice cream!”

“Don’t worry, Granny, he’s paying!” Timothy said pointing behind me.

I turned around to a silver-haired man with a wide grin plastered on his face. He gave me a cheeky wink and a nod, seemingly in agreement over picking up the tab.

“Of course, he is,” I said rolling my eyes, trying to hide the hint of a smile erupting across my face.

After all, we were called, Love at First Scoop.

Thin streams of pale morning light spilled through the edges of the blinds, onto Marisa’s face. It was getting harder to accept the mornings as she dragged herself off her bed, groaning. Even though Marisa had optimized the art of getting ready for work, this morning she was close to giving into her languidness. As she rushed out of her apartment. A loud voice caught her attention from across the hallway. Clearly, she wasn’t the only one who was having a late start.

Shandra, a single mother and her ten-year-old daughter Elaine, often called Linny, were the newest additions to the old building. They’d move to the flat right across from Marisa’s. She was one of the older tenants now, the kind that was set in practices, and found the influx of fresh faces difficult to accept. Mostly because it meant adjusting to new neighboring habits. But Shandra and Linny were better than the previous tenants she’d met.

Linny popped out of their door wearing a lime green t-shirt and oversized jeans under a flare skirt while her hair housed an array of small rose clips. She was carrying a faded backpack and gripped onto a large skateboard in her hands, covered entirely with stickers.

“Hi Marisa,” she chimed, bounding past her down the steps. Can’t be easy taking care of an exuberant and hyperactive kid like Linny while working two jobs. Marisa thought, observing Shandra’s frazzled countenance scrambling behind Linny.

“Slow down Linny, so sorry Marisa!” Marisa smiled, giving Shandra a nod, letting her past her on the stairs. Marisa’s office was a short walk away, so a couple more minutes would not really make a big difference.

She’d been with this company for such a long time, her lack of career growth within the organization was rather surprising. Every passing year, her low self-esteem chipped away any ambition for change, making her indelible imposter syndrome susceptible to being taken advantage of by her superiors. Recently, she’d come across a job opening that seemed like just the opportunity she needed to herald her out of the slump she found herself stuck in.

After extensive deliberation with herself, she’d plucked up the courage to go talk to her manager, whom she knew was interviewing candidates for the very job she was interested in. As she waited for him in his office, she saw a stack of resumes on his desk. She couldn’t resist peeking at the candidates she’d be up against. And just like a dry twig in winter, her small fervor for change broke.

As she drudged back home that evening, she stopped by the corner bodega to grab a snack. She browsed through the ice cream choices before relenting and grabbing an apple. She was paying for the fruit when a familiar head, filled with colorful rose clips, appeared. Linny ambled over with a can of cream soda in her hand.

“Hi Linny.”

Linny looked up, smiling.


“Nice choice. I used to love cream soda.” Marisa said.

Linny was quiet for a bit, as she waited for Marisa to pay for her fruits.

“Why don’t you like it anymore?”

“Well… I suppose I still like it, just can’t drink it anymore. It’s too sugary. I have to make better choices as an adult.”

“That’s sad.”

“It is, isn’t it?” Marisa said, remorse in her voice, as she watched Linny pop the can open and take a nice, long swig.

“So, you like to skateboard, huh?” Marisa pointed at the skateboard Linny was holding onto, as they walked out of the bodega and towards the apartment building.

“Yup!” Linny nodded, taking another sip of her cream soda. “I’m competing in a junior skateboarding tournament tomorrow. We had a practice run today.”

“How’d it go?”

“I came in second to last,” she said.

“Oh, that’s okay. I’m sure you’ll do better in the actual competition.” Marisa said, trying to sound encouraging.

“Actually, it went great… I wasn’t last this time,” Linny beamed.

The declaration caught Marisa by surprise. She couldn’t help but smile back. She didn't want to break her heart by laying out the rules of the real world. That ranking high would matter someday.

“Linny!” someone yelled from behind them.

A woman jogged up to them.

“Linny.. what are you doing here? I told you to wait for me outside the building.” Shandra said.

“I got thirsty,” she said nonchalantly.

“Sorry Marisa, second time today we’ve gotten in your way.”

“Not at all. Linny and I were just talking about her skateboarding.”

“Of course, there is nothing else she enjoys talking about more.” Shandra reached out to open the door to our building. They said their goodbyes, as Marisa was about to enter her apartment.

“Come see me skateboard tomorrow! If you can.” Linny said.

Marisa smiled. The passion Linny showed in skateboarding moved Marisa. A part of her wished she could be as unshaken by the fear of results in her own life.

“Sure! I’ll try,” she replied.

The next morning, Marisa walked over to the large skate park in her neighborhood where the skateboarding tournament was taking place. It was overflowing with people. She spotted a familiar face sitting on the bleachers.

“Hey!,” Marisa said, dodging banners and posters making her way closer to Shandra.

Marisa’s sudden appearance took Shandra by surprise.

“Oh, Marisa! What brings you here?” she said.

“Linny mentioned the tournament yesterday. So, I figured I’d pop in and cheer her on a little.”

“That’s very sweet of you! She’d love the support and be delighted to see you here.” Shandra said, the cheering sound of the crowd swallowing up most of her words.

Marisa looked around, reading the various banners riddled with limericks and cheers for the participants. Almost a third of the crowd was holding up cheers for Linny.

Right in front of the half-pipe were three girls dressed in ballet tutus. Each one decked out in Mardi Gras beads and a board with Linny’s face on it.

“She’s a fan favorite!” Marisa exclaimed.

“Yes, she has a wonderfully supportive community!” Shandra said, the gratefulness clear in her exclamation.

Linny was getting ready to take on the half-pipe. Her face looked calm and confident. The determination in this child was rather inspiring. And before she knew it, Linny had taken off like a bird. The crowd was holding its breath. The three girls wearing tutus were holding onto each other for dear life.

She was performing spectacularly, but just as she was about to reach the other end of the half-pipe, she wobbled and lost her footing, tumbling to the center. A couple of loud gasps erupting in the crowd, and the tutu trio rushed as close as they could, worried about their friend. But Linny got back on her feet, brushed herself off and limped off the half-pipe.

Marisa was a little disappointed for Linny. She looked at the time and figured she’d sneak out. She figured it was best to not approach Linny now, considering how upset she might be with herself. The crowd roared. When she looked at the halfpipe, she saw Linny was back on top.

And this time, she finished gloriously. The crowd went ballistic, the tutu-trio hugging each other, jumped in circles. Linny made her way back. It seemed like her limp was more pronounced, but she was a mini celebrity, mobbed by her own little fan club. And Shandra, who, albeit smiling, had a mildly concerned look on her face. Linny had finished 12th out of 15 kids. I guess as a mother it’s understandable she probably wanted her to get a higher rank.

“She did great, Shandra!” Marisa said. Patting her shoulder, encouraging her about the results.

“Yes… yes, she did,” she replied, her hands clasped together.

Once the tournament had ended, Linny came over with her participation trophy with a big smile on her face.

“You came!” she said, looking at Marisa.

“You were fantastic,”

“I know! I’m so happy, 12th place!”

“Brilliant!” Marisa said. Her pitch higher, still confused at how Linny could be so happy to have placed 12th.

“Linny! we gotta go now! I have to go to work and cover a someone’s shift, I’ll see if I can drop you off at your aunt’s. Hopefully, she’s home.” Shandra said, worried.

“I can watch her for you, Shandra,” Marisa chimed in.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to bother you on the weekend. I am sure you have plans.”

“Not at all. It’d be my pleasure.”

“Mom, please, can I hang out with Marisa!” Linny said, excitement all over her face.

“Great, I’ll make us some hot chocolate. I’ve been meaning to try this new one.”

“Alright, thank you Marisa. I should be home by 8pm,” The worry evident on Shandra’s face. Marisa, gave her a reassuring nod.

Linny, intrigued by Marisa’s apartment, carefully perused through her belongings. As she fumbled through, the odds and ends littered all over Marisa’s work desk. She occasionally asked Marisa what some of them were between her “Ooos” and “Ahhs”. She finally picked up Marisa’s resume and read its contents.

“What’s this” she asked.

“That’s my resume,” Marisa responded.


“Yes, it’s a list of everything accomplished after finishing college and every job I’ve worked. You need it when you apply for jobs.”

“Wow.” Linny said, pausing as she read through Marisa’s resume, before declaring, “You’ve done so many things!”

Marisa chuckled.

“Yes, I’ve been around a lot longer than you,”

“When I make my resume, I’m going to add my skating tournament results to it.”

“You can. As you get older, there will be other things you can add.” She didn’t need to tell her now that 12th place in a middle school skate boarding competition wouldn’t mean anything in the future.

“Why do you have a resume when you already have a job?”

“Oh, well, I was thinking of applying for this new one. But I don’t think I’m going to anymore.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t think I’ve done enough to get it. ”

“What!?” You haven’t done enough, but you’ve done so much!”

“It’s more like the others applying have accomplished more.”

“So? You can still apply. Who cares about the others?”

Something about Linny’s line of questioning was bringing up a range of conflicting emotions in Marisa. She brought over the hot chocolate, hoping it would distract Linny away from her career ambitions.

“Why don’t we enjoy this hot chocolate now?” she said. Unfortunately, in Marisa’s rush to distract Linny, her foot tripped on her carpet and the drink tumbled off the tray spilling all over Linny’s right leg.

Marisa screamed, horrified at what she’d done. She anxiously rushed to grab an ice pack. Considering how hot the drink was, and the amount that has spilled on Linny, Marisa was anticipating her to be writhing in pain. But Linny wasn’t howling in pain she just sat calmly in her soiled jeans.

“I’m so sorry Linny” Marisa whimpered, dabbing her with an ice pack.

“It’s alright.” Linny said, as she held onto Marisa’s hand, trying to calm her.

“Are you sure… it was piping hot,”

“I’m fine, I don’t feel a thing.” she said as she slowly rolled her pants up her leg. 

The evening sun glinted off something metallic that came into view.

Marisa’s breath hitched at the sight of the prosthetic limb.

“Oh,” she said, unsure of what else to say.

“Um… why don’t you have my cup of hot chocolate?”

“Thank you!” she said.

Marisa cleared the mess the spilled drink had made and walked into the kitchen. She placed the cup in the sink, starting the faucet. Tears brimmed in her eyes, but it wasn’t pity for Linny that had caused them. She was ashamed of herself for projecting her own insecurities and failures onto a child.

In the evening, Linny was back home snuggled in bed when Marisa paid Shandra a quick visit.

“Shandra, I’m sorry about the hot chocolate incident.”

“Oh, that’s okay Marisa, she’s always spilling something on herself anyway,” she said, chuckling. 

“Umm, Shandra, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that Linny…”

“Oh, Yes… I figured most people knew.”

“Oh no, of course, I should have realized.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, what happened?”

“Osteosarcoma, the doctors tried to save her leg, but the tumor was difficult to operate.” Her jaws tightened, eyes scared. Like her mind was reliving all those moments again.

“She’s my little champ, though. On most days, I think she consoled me. Now she just enjoys saying she’s part cyborg. ”

Marisa chuckled.

“Yes, she’s a wonderful kid. You must be so proud.”

When she opened her door the next day Marisa found a little basket hung on her doorknob.

Inside it was a can of cream soda with a note that read.

Thanks for coming to watch me skateboard and the hot chocolate. Hope you get the job you want!

P.S: No one is too old to drink cream soda!!

Once she got to work, Marisa took a big swig of cream soda, and walked straight into her manager’s office.

Stories illustrated and written by a couple of dreamers trying to keep their art alive within this bubble of insanity we call real life.

I open the red notecard to familiarize myself with its contents. My breath hitches as I read the detailed account of the incident. Stuffing it away in my pocket, I look up at the Grim Reaper standing in my office.    

“Thank you for escorting her here. Grab a pint of the Sikaru ale on your way out.” 

“My pleasure, Misha, I will. It happens to be the end of my shift!” He gives me a quick nod before exiting towards the tasting room.

“Mish, you ready?” Kristoff’s voice rings through the intercom. 

  “I’ll be right there,” I said, composing myself.  

The brewing chamber is a large brightly lit room filled with endless rows of vats; the smell of fermenting beer heavily soaked in the air. 

I immediately spot Kristoff, my protégé in his turquoise satin blouse and navy dress pants, near the back entrance. Next to him is a bewildered-looking woman in a green cardigan and light-yellow gingham dress.

  “Hello Elena, welcome to Ninkasi brewery. I’m Misha, I’m the head brewmaster and I see you’ve already met Kristoff, one of our senior brewmasters!” 

  “Hi…” her reply is barely audible, and she looks like she’s moments away from hurling up.  

The emotional turmoil clearly visible on her face triggers a memory that I’d kept buried away about my first day at Ninkasi. Instinctively, I rest my hand on Elena’s shoulder to comfort her.

  “Kristoff and I will show you around, and you can ask us all the questions you have? I’m sure you have many, but let’s go through them one at a time.” 

She quietly trails behind Kristoff and me as we walk across the expanse of the brewing chamber. I start rattling off an introduction for the brewery, figuring it would serve as a distraction for Elena from the overwhelming sights and sounds she’s about to witness. 

           “We believe Ninkasi was the deity who established this brewery and trained the brewmasters a long time ago. Beer, being ubiquitous throughout humankind’s history, works best in accomplishing our mission. You’ll understand what we do and how it works in the brewer’s room.” I said, halting in front of a set of paisley patterned ebony doors. I'm about to open the doors when her voice pipes up.

“So… after people die, they end up in a brewery, making beer and serving it to customers?” Elena’s voice is barely a croak, every word trembling harder than her legs.  

“Yes... and no. We serve the living. Think of it as providing a weary traveler with sustenance that they need to continue their journey of life,” Kristoff answers, giving her his hand and steadying her. “But not everyone who dies takes on this specific role.” His voice gets lower and remorseful. 

Elena tears up, agony distorting the smooth skin on her face.

  “I can’t recall how I died,” she said, anxiously working through her memories. 

“It’ll come back to you, as the shock wears off. It hasn’t been long since you passed,” I state rather matter-of-factly, before rambling on about the post effects of death. “When the human vessel dies, the process of retrieving the soul…” 

“Uh-hum” Kristoff clears his throat, trying to get my attention, stopping me from bombarding Elena with my ceaseless knowledge about soul retrieval.  

“Anything to add?” I respond, peeved at the interruption.

“You might want to figure out why another Grim Reaper is visiting us unannounced?” A hint of mischievousness in his voice as he points to my left, where a short and chubby female Reaper walks up, tailed by a young boy who looks paler than snow. 

  “Misha darling,” the reaper chimes, waving ecstatically like we were old friends meeting after a long separation. She motions to the boy to stay where he’s standing as she trudges up towards the three of us.

“Meeting a second Reaper wasn’t on my schedule for today. To what do I owe this pleasure?” I said. 

“Well, I had heard that your brilliant brewmasters have perfected the new stout for humans suffering from volatile emotional reactions,” she said. Her eyes point awkwardly at the young boy. “I’d like to get some.”

“It’s a mass murder-suicide situation. You know what he’s in store for.” She adds, casting a furtive glance at Elena.

“Of course.” I said. “I’m sure Kristoff can help with this specific request. The effects might not be as comprehensive as it is on the living.”

  “That’s all right. It’ll help a little, considering he’s new and still shaking off his human tendencies.” She nods a thank you and stalks off towards the boy with Kristoff in tow.  

  “Why don’t we move on with the tour?” I turn to Elena, aware she must be just as overwhelmed as the young boy, though they would serve unique roles going forward. 

“If everyone who’s passed doesn’t end up in the brewery after they die, where is that boy headed?” Elena asked. She cranes her neck to stare at the boy standing in the distance.

“When a human being dies, the actions of the soul in their human vessel and the nature of its death decide its destination. Souls that commit acts of evil in their human vessels serve a punishment period before they get a chance at reincarnation.” 

“Like in hell?” she had a quizzical expression on her face.

            “Hell is a construct created by human beings. They become Grim Reapers. Like the one that escorted you here, they receive the opportunity to usher souls. And over time, most build an appreciation for humans and repentance for abusing their chance at life. Usually, Grim Reapers get another chance at life after a stipulated period. Suicide isn’t evaluated the same way, but I imagine in the young boy’s case, his murders held a greater weight-age on his destination.” 

            “So, what happens to those that die of old age, disease, accidents?” she continues asking.

  “Natural death, because of old age, allows souls to attain nirvana. Death caused by disease, an unfortunate accident, or even just suicide allows those souls immediate reincarnation, likely since they didn’t get to complete their cyclical journey.”

 My response invokes a palpable sense of dread on Elena’s face.  

  “I didn’t attain nirvana, reincarnate, or turn into a grim reaper. Then what other sort of death is there that brings me to this place?” Despair now visible in Elena’s eyes as she balks at her unknown predicament. 

 I felt the sharp pang of empathy surface. It had been a long time, but I hadn’t forgotten the emotions I’d experienced when I understood what had brought me to Ninkasi.

  “A death where a hard choice was made,” I murmured.

 Before Elena responds, a soft melody reverberates from the walls and draws her attention away. “That melody, what is it?” Elena sways lightly to the enchanting music, almost in a trance. 

  “Ahh... the ‘Hymn of Ninkasi’. It’s soothes the essences, allowing us to use them.” I push the paisley-patterned doors open, ushering Elena towards the song. 

 We enter a dimly lit room and in the far corner, a couple of brewmasters busily coax colored wispy threads out of membranous vials and into cauldrons while singing a sweet melody.

  “Those are the true essence forms of human feelings, like hope or courage amongst others. Brewmasters craft recipes with a mixture of essences and imbue the beer with the essence cocktail most suitable for the customer’s need. You’ll receive extensive training before you reach the brewer’s room. For now, you’ll be tending to the brewing chamber and tasting room.” I said. “Let’s start your day in the tasting room where Ninkasi souls interact with their human customers.”

 I knew Elena would have more questions as she awoke from the musical trance, but her gait seemed steadier and allayed.  

 After walking through winding hallways, we come upon a large gallery interconnected to multiple identical galleries by spiral staircases. A never-ending abyss of bars stacked on top of each other. Long tables with barstools furnished the spaces, and a myriad of individuals adorned the tables, served by brewmasters. 

Elena and I went down about four floors, arriving at the table Kristoff was serving. He was finishing up with the Grim reaper and the pale-faced boy. Bidding their goodbyes, the boy, now more composed, walked past Elena. As Elena met his gaze, her eyes lit up in horror, while the boys’ face showed what I knew to be guilt. 

            “I did make a choice to die...” Elena said under her breath, staring at the boy hurrying away. Their brief interaction had hastened her last memories.

  “Ninkasi souls are the only souls that can watch over their loved ones even after death. A reward given to the soul for their selfless act as a human.” I said, placing a hand on her shoulder. 

  “This is the best thing I’ve heard since this entire experience started. I get to see everyone I love again.” a slow smile cracks across her face, showcasing earnest joy. 

Her moment of joy doesn’t last long, and gets discomfited by Kristoff.

  “Well, not all of us think of it as a reward,” he said, vigorously wiping down the worn-out bar counter. 

“It is a blessing to watch over and guide those you’ve loved. But with time, I watched my loved ones move on, as their memory of me flickered away, replaced by new beginnings. I watched them pass away one by one, either reaching nirvana or reincarnation, while my existence continued with no end in sight. We bring solace to weary human souls, but we cannot interfere in their lives. We’re mere guides watching from a distance.” His eyes look pained. 

“Kristoff, one should not impose opinions on another.” I give him a withering look of dismay. 

 Clearly frustrated, he stalks off, muttering something about being needed at the brewer’s room.

“He seems quite upset.” Elena’s face is solemn again as she watches Kristoff leave.

“After 300 years, I’ve learned to love each human story and see many fulfilled lives. Time is what makes emotions potent, and the more we have of the former, the less potent the latter becomes. Inevitably, we shed the very emotions used to tend to our customers. Kristoff knows that as well, but sometimes feeling yourself slowly becoming numb is the scariest emotion of all. Anyway, I digress, Elena. It’s time to meet your first customer.”

A man walks to the bar counter. The sight of him takes the breath away from Elena as she stares at her husband, Gary.

            “Don’t worry, he won’t recognize you. This is only a dream to him,” I whispered.

A sense of determination appears in her eyes, an acceptance of this weird predicament her afterlife has presented to her. 

“How can I help you?” she asked Gary.  

“My wife died today. She was going to be 32 tomorrow. I was coming home after buying her a gift when I got the news,” he said in sobs, showing Elena the red purse, she’d wanted. 

“She saved all those children during the shooting, but what about me? How could she think it would be okay leaving me behind? My life seems meaningless without her. Will the pain ever subside?” he implores.

I watch as tears well up in Elena’s eyes. Wondering if this might be too overwhelming for her, I consider assisting.

“Yes… with time, the pain will pass. But remember that she’ll always be looking out for you,” Elena said, grabbing an empty pint glass.

 And with that, I knew she was going to be okay.

The white forces had obliterated most of our battalion. My dead comrades would return with their memories completely wiped. I, however, would remember every horrific detail.

Guilt was crawling all over me, as the forgotten soldier. Her army was going to lose, and I couldn’t let that happen again. With all my might, I lunged to the last square in the opponent’s territory.

John095: Woah Suzy, I didn’t see that move coming at all! Suz22: What move? The game froze for me... Suz22: It's back...tbh, I don't know what happened...but hey I'll take it :)

I was no longer just a pawn, I was the queen. Extending my sword to the white king’s throat.


The last drop of tea was barely consumed when the doorbell rang. Yet again. A long day serving 26 cups of tea, erasing the countless memories from the human lives of each soul passing to the great beyond. A thankless job to be a grim reaper.

He hurriedly ushered the soul towards the great beyond and rushed to open the door. There stood a cloaked figure, delivering a letter that contained the next soul’s favorite human memory.

A child asks his mother “What do you think you’ll miss the most, mama?”

The mother takes a deep ragged breath and replies “I know I’ll miss hugging you” “Mama, what’s the purpose of our lives?” he says pointing to the dark night sky.

His mother slowly says.

“I don’t know, sweetie. But there is something beautiful about our lives here. I see each person’s soul as a glowing orb. Each orb plays a role in bringing light into someone else’s life. So, no matter where you find yourself. Make sure you ask everyone you meet how they are doing. I know your orb glows the brightest.

The doorbell rang again. The soul had arrived.

The grim reaper opened the door awaiting a woman, but instead saw a child, that said: “Hi, How are you doing?”.

The slightly surprised reaper, looked at the child and said “Good thank you, would you like something to drink?”.

The child smiled widely and said, “Yes, please I’m parched!”