The Birth of Alvin Bureaucracy - David Hankins

26 Jun 2024

Authors pull inspiration from everywhere. Life, work, nature, reading, movies … the list goes on. Sometimes we hunt in vain for ideas, and sometimes inspiration slaps us in the face, and we HAVE to write it down.

This is one of those stories.

I’ve worked for the U.S. Army for a very long time, but life as an Army logistician is not glamorous. Definitely not what you see on Netflix. So, when my (at the time) three-year-old daughter asked what Daddy did at work, I told her the truth.

I fought bureaucracy in all its forms. Some days I won, many days I lost, but every day I donned my uniform and fought on.

She took me literally. In her three-year-old mind, Daddy fought a slathering monster at work called ‘Bawakasy.’

One day as I left for work, I knelt to say goodbye. I expected an exuberant toddler hug, but instead she presented her wooden sword with the solemn intensity of the very young. As she passed her sacred blade to my outstretched hands, she gazed deep into my eyes and said, "Slay the beast."

I swore that I would.


A few weeks later, I needed to run to my office on a Saturday for … something bureaucratic that really shouldn’t have been necessary on a Saturday … and she begged to come along. Who was I to say no?

She came dressed for war. Boots, cloak, shield, sword, and a rainbow tutu along with the scariest war face I’d ever seen.


The halls were empty and dark, lit only by dim emergency lights. I keyed into my office, and she stormed past me, sword drawn, and demanded, "Where's Bawakasy?"

What could I do? I couldn’t tell my daughter—my little knight who believed so fiercely that Daddy engaged daily in mortal combat with the fiend Bureaucracy—that it was all a lie.

Though, in reality, it wasn’t a lie. Merely a version of the truth. A version she could understand. Anyone who has worked in government service or corporate life will tell you: there are few enemies so insidious as Bureaucracy. Who wouldn’t appreciate the opportunity to fight back with a bared blade?

Before I even flipped on the light, I dashed behind my desk. The sword on my wall (because of course I have a sword on my office wall; doesn’t everybody?) glinted in the dim light spilling from the doorway. The blade slipped into my hands, cool and heavy. A blessed blade keen to exact vengeance upon my most fearsome foe.

I pointed to the empty hallway, exclaimed in terror, and together we dashed off to fight the slathering monster Bureaucracy side-by-side.

It was glorious.

After a day like that, inspiration not only slapped me in the face, it latched onto my lapels, shaking me, begging and pleading for me to write the story down. Thus was one of my favorite characters born: the demon Alvin Bureaucracy. He's slippery, snarky, wears a rumpled gray suit, and stands only two feet tall. And his knack for mis-directed paperwork made him the perfect villain for my very first short story, Hell's Bureaucracy. That story earned an honorable mention from Writers of the Future and was later published in Unidentified Funny Objects 9.

Alvin then returned in glorious snark in my short story Death and the Taxman which won Writers of the Future and was named “Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story of 2023” in Critters.


That short story is now a full-length novel of the same name—Death and the Taxman—built around the world of Hell’s Bureaucracy. It’s a lighthearted tale about the Grim Reaper trapped in an IRS agent’s dying body. He must regain his powers before he dies and faces judgment for his original sin. In Death and the Taxman, Alvin Bureaucracy is a bit of a villain, a bit of an ally, and entirely troublesome (as any bureaucrat worth their salt should be). As of this writing, Death and the Taxman is part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off Ten (SPFBOX).

And it all started with a bit of inspiration that seized me in constricting bands of red tape and refused to let go.

Inspiration for authors isn’t always so violently glorious. Sometimes we must work to find our stories. My inspiration for Death and the Taxman came from a writing prompt: winning the rigged game. I wondered, what’s the ultimate rigged game? Death. The Grim Reaper always wins. But what if he didn’t? What if Death became human? Would he cling to life as tenaciously as we do?

That piqued my interest, that inspiration I worked for, and a multiple award-winning short story was born. Of course, I couldn’t imagine a better setting for that story than Hell’s Bureaucracy. There’s no rule saying authors can’t combine our inspirations. So, Alvin waltzed into Death and the Taxman as the bureaucrat who created Grim’s problems but who couldn’t figure out how to fix them. Typical Alvin.

In my day job, I continue to fight bureaucracy in all its forms, drawing inspiration from the mundane. My stories often contain tidbits of that war: forms in triplicate, the unhelpful helpdesk, and a never-ending series of mis-directed paperwork. Sometimes I wonder if Alvin Bureaucracy really is haunting me.

Good thing my daughter still has that sword, shield, and cape. Just in case Bawakasy comes calling.


Death and the Taxman is available worldwide here:

You can find David Hankins and his short stories at He writes lighthearted fantasy and science fiction because that’s what he loves to read and—this is the important bit—there’s not nearly enough humor in the world. He aims to change that, one story at a time. His short stories have graced the pages of Amazing Stories, Escape Pod, Writers of the Future Volume 39, and other fine publications.

David also spends entirely too much time on social media on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.