He was taking too long to die.
Sometimes it seemed like these things took longer than usual. I guess I shouldn’t be too eager to collect a person’s soul, but the waiting and anticipation drove me nuts.
I stepped up to the precipice of the cliff until the tips of my boots hung off the edge. Leaning forward, I stared down the fifty or so yards to the ground below. When I shifted my feet, tiny rocks tumbled down the red-orange crags of the cliff face.
Yep, a fall from here will do it all right.
Sighing, I stood up straight and crossed my arms, staring off to my left. I hated that I had to be here early. Death had some pretty stupid rules. I could be doing something else rather than waiting for this guy to kick the bucket.
He was probably in his mid-twenties. A guy of average build, with black hair like mine. He had on a backpack and held a camera; an expensive one with a large lens like photographers used. He was taking pictures of the birds in the trees while standing way too close to the precipice.
A nature buff. Great. I’d picked up another one of these last week. They needed to learn to be more careful.
The nature guy took another step back, his foot inches from the cliff edge. He continued taking pictures without paying attention to the sheer drop behind him.
At times like this, I wanted to shout, “Watch your step! Look behind you!” But, even though I was standing only five feet from him, he couldn’t see or hear me.
Here it goes I thought, watching the guy’s foot shuffle closer to the edge. In five, four, three, two…
The guy shifted his position and stumbled over a rock. His scream pierced through the air as he fell backwards, tumbling down the rocky cliff face. The camera flew from his hands and bounced along with him, smashing to pieces against the crags. Within seconds, he landed with a sickening crunch on the dirt at the bottom. Silence followed as orange dust stirred around him.
I grimaced. Well, time to go to work.
I leaped off the precipice and into the air, dropping quickly at first. As I approached the ground, my body slowed. Gravity couldn’t kill me since I wasn’t alive. I wasn’t really dead either, but I was a part of Death.
I landed gently on my feet beside the guy’s fresh corpse. His ghostly counterpart was standing up from his body. The dead soul’s transparency made it easy for him to stand out.
“Welcome to the afterlife,” I said in my customary greeting. “You are Chad, right?”
The spirit studied me with curiosity in his eyes. “Yeah. What happened—?” He looked down and saw his lifeless body. It was a repulsive sight. The corpse’s head was twisted, and his legs were bent at hideous angles. “What…the…? Is that—?”
“Yes, you fell off that cliff. You’re dead.” I had learned there was no point delaying the truth when it came to the recently departed. “I’m here to guide you. My name is Xia, and I’m your grim reaper.”
Chad continued staring down at his body. Finally, he tore his eyes away to look at me again. “Wh-what? You’re my…grim reaper?”
I watched him take in my figure, from the slim black dress I wore to the thin braids I kept pinned up on my head. “Um…I thought a grim reaper would be—”
“A man? A skeleton? Wearing a black robe? Carrying this?” I willed my scythe to appear in my left hand, and Chad jumped at the sudden appearance of the weapon, with its long wooden handle and shiny sharp blade. I grinned. Sometimes it was fun to taunt the dead. “I only take this out when a soul gives me trouble.”
“Whoa. Um, I thought a grim reaper would be…scary.”
“Do you want me to be scary?” These assumptions people had about grim reapers were so ridiculous.
“N-no. Never mind. So…what happens now?”
“Now I send you to Purgatory.” I waved a hand, using my mind to open a portal. A swirling gray vortex appeared in the air, about eight feet tall and five feet wide.
“But…do I have to go?” Chad asked, his voice shrill.
“No, you don’t have to go to Purgatory if you don’t want to. You can stay here and haunt the earth as a ghost for eternity.” I strained to keep a straight face.
Chad paused as though he was seriously considering it. “Really?”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course not. There’s no such thing as ghosts.” I gestured to the portal. “Go on. I’m due to pick up another soul soon.”
Chad glanced down at his body again, swallowing. Despite promising myself I wouldn’t this time, I felt the usual tinge of sympathy. I strolled up beside Chad, using my scythe like a walking stick. I shook my head as I stared down at the corpse too. “You don’t want that body anymore. It must have a hundred broken bones. You wouldn’t look very flattering to the ladies.” When Chad didn’t even crack a smile, I added, “You lived a pretty good life. You did a lot to help out the environment. You’ll be heading to a better place, trust me.”
Chad stared at me. “How do you know what my life was like?”
I shrugged. “Sometimes I learn a thing or two about the soul I have to collect. It makes my job easier to know what kind of person you were like. If you had turned out to be a deranged psychopath, I would’ve had my scythe out before introducing myself. Anyway, are you ready?”
Chad sighed as he glanced down at his body one more time. Then he walked toward the portal and stopped. I came up beside him.
Chad pointed to the portal. “I just walk in here?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“What’s in here?”
“You’ll see. Goodbye, have a nice afterlife.”
Chad bowed his head and stepped into the portal. Gray light flashed as he disappeared inside, and the portal closed automatically.
Phew, that was an easy one. Not much complaining or whining or defiance from the spirit. Calm souls weren’t very common.
I made my scythe dissolve away and turned back to Chad’s corpse. I hoped it wouldn’t take too long for someone to discover him. He deserved a proper burial.
Before I could leave, I heard grass rustling across the clearing where I was standing. Then, a boy stepped out of the nearby woods. I swear it seemed like he stared right at me, but I knew that was impossible. He wasn’t dead.
He had deep bronze skin, with black hair that traveled past his shoulders. He must’ve been Native American or something. After staring in my direction for a second, he noticed Chad’s corpse. A horrified look came over his face, and he ran over to kneel by Chad’s body. Instantly, he whipped out a cellphone.
“No point in calling for help,” I muttered to myself.
The boy looked up and seemed to stare at me again with his piercing brown eyes, as if he’d heard what I’d said. “Did you already call 911? Did you see what happened?”
I jumped, startled. He couldn’t be talking to me, but it was so strange the way he was staring right into my eyes. I turned around and looked behind me to see who he was talking to. But there was no one there.
“Hello, I’m talking to you,” the boy said. “Do you know what happened?”
I squinted at him. No, he wasn’t transparent. He was still alive. So this couldn’t be possible. Still, I pointed to myself, questioning the boy with my eyes.
He nodded. “Yes, you. Who else could I be talking to?”
Oh. My. Gosh. How could a living human see me? This isn’t supposed to be possible. I’m a reaper! Even if my eyes are playing tricks on me and he is dead, I would be able to feel it. My superiors would’ve alerted me so I could retrieve his soul. This isn’t right.
I took a step back. The boy watched me with furrowed eyebrows for a moment, then went back to what he was doing. He dialed 911 and put the phone to his ear while checking Chad’s pulse. His face fell.
If I weren’t in total shock, I probably would’ve said, “I told youit was pointless to call for help.” And if it were normal for me to talk to the living, I might’ve said something. But it wasn’t. It was against Rule Three to show myself to humans, let alone hold a conversation with one.
I took another step backwards. What should I do? Should I leave? Should I ask the boy why he can see me? That question would sound crazy if he thought I was human. He couldn’t know about grim reapers. I had to keep my mouth shut.
My decision about what to do was made for me. I felt a strong pull on my consciousness. It was a Summons. I had to leave.
I eyed the boy a little while longer, then turned and ran through the trees.
“Hey, where are you going?” I heard the boy cry. And I knew, even though it wasn’t supposed to be possible, he was calling to me.
I kept running until I was sure I was out of sight from the mysterious boy. Then, making sure the coast was clear of any other reaper-seeing humans, I teleported back to base.
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