Two short stories by 'a master of the weird and wonderful'.
In the first of these stories, Mr Wilberforce, aged a hundred and eight, has a chance encounter with the angel of death. He discovers that he should have died some time ago - but how can this administrative blunder be put right?
Miss Sashburn, a resident in the same retirement home as Mr Wilberforce, is not quite so old - a mere hundred and three. But, as she explains, she has lived a long and charmed life as a result of a favour that she did to the fairies, many years ago.
Excerpt from The Man Who Was Overlooked:
One afternoon towards the end of October, Mr Wilberforce discovered that the angel of death was wearing a Savile-Row suit. But he did not find that at all surprising; for Mr Wilberforce, at a hundred and eight years of age, belonged to a generation which believed in dressing for the occasion. And if collecting somebody for transfer to the afterlife did not call for a well-cut dark suit, then Mr Wilberforce was not sure what did.
What happened, you see, was this:
Mr Wilberforce had first noticed this rather elegant gentleman about three years earlier. Mr Wilberforce had a room on the first floor of the retirement home, at the front – a plum position, which was only right because he was the oldest inhabitant. And he spent a lot of time looking out of his window, because there’s not a lot else to do when you’re over a hundred.
Every so often – three or four times a year, perhaps – Mr Wilberforce would see a splendid example of the traditional English gentleman come walking up the drive, from the direction of the car park. Mr Wilberforce never saw the man’s car, but he got the feeling – just from the way the fellow conducted himself, you understand – that the vehicle was probably a Bentley.
On about the third or fourth occasion, Mr Wilberforce also noticed a couple of other things: first, that while he often saw the man arrive, he never saw him leave; and second, it was invariably the case that, later in the day of the gentleman’s visit, the residents would be told that one of their number had died.
In due course Mr Wilberforce came to the obvious conclusion: namely, that the gentleman in question was the angel of death. The purpose of this man’s visits to the retirement home was obviously to escort one of the elderly folk who lived there into whatever sort of afterlife came next. What that form of life was, exactly, Mr Wilberforce didn’t know; but he was pretty sure that the chap in the dark suit, who looked like a helpful sort, would explain it all when the appropriate time came.
Mr Wilberforce could not help thinking that, where some of the residents were concerned, the visit from the gentleman caller came not a moment too soon. Some of the older fellows, and the ladies too, often remarked that they would positively welcome a meeting with the grim reaper. And what about Mr Wilberforce himself, for that matter? He was now a hundred and eight, and surely he wouldn’t be kept waiting much longer?
It was therefore something of a relief, one glorious autumn afternoon, when Mr Wilberforce found himself with the opportunity to actually speak to the visitor, face to face.
Mr Wilberforce was walking down the drive, out for his usual stroll to the village and back, when the gentleman in question came round the corner of a yew hedge, briefcase in hand, and began to walk purposefully towards the grand old house.