I’d almost reached the front door to cousin Jeff’s house when I heard the voice again. I paled, hands shaking. I couldn’t remember why I ever thought taking Linda’s offer was a good idea. Sure, I was alive.
That didn’t mean I was living.
The only part that made anything about the situation even a little better was my lack of hunger. I was going on sixteen hours without more than a couple cookies and half an apple, and I wasn’t entirely sure I even needed to eat that much.
Refusing to give up when I’d worked so hard to find the place, I marched up to Jeff’s front door and slammed my hand against the doorbell. I could hear the echo of the bell ringing through the house even as a gunshot rang out from someplace else. Someplace I could already feel myself being pulled towards.
There were hardwood floors in Jeff’s house and his shoes clattered against them as he approached. for the briefest moment I thought I might make it. Not that stepping inside Jeff’s house would hold back whatever supernatural force was dragging me to a bank robbery. Still, it was the goal I’d had for the last four hours and I’d be damned if I was going to give up because some asshat decided to shoot the teller.
Her name was Tamara, and she was a mom. She loved her little apartment garden almost as much as her unruly twins and as a single mother she was somehow managing to keep it together pretty well.
I saw the handle jiggle as Jeff began to open the door. Then I was standing beside Tamara, facing down the same masked figure who had shot Robert only yesterday.
Tamara was trembling, but there was defiance in her eyes. I could see her fingers inching towards the little red button beneath her desk and I wanted to push it for her. She would die before the police ever arrived, but the mere idea that she could somehow escape her fate made me feel a little better about mine.
“You don’t have to do this.” She kept her voice soft as she spoke, holding the robber’s gaze even as she searched desperately for the silent alarm. She was too far to the right and too shaken to realize it. “I’ll give you the money. We’re not supposed to do stupid things like fight robbers. That’s why we have the FDIC in the first place. No need to hurt anyone. We’ll get you that money right away.”
I didn’t know if what she was saying was true or if she was bullshitting her way through a stressful situation. Either way, she was doing a damn good job of something I knew I wasn’t equipped to handle. I died by falling down the stairs on my second to last day of high school, after all.
The masked man said nothing. Beside him a young woman floated in her ghostly way, a frown set on her face. The woman who had died the day before, who had stormed away from her reaper to haunt the hell out of the man who had killed her. It seemed she had found him if nothing else. Personally, I thought haunting looked about as thrilling as my job as a reaper was turning out to be.
The robber waved his gun towards Tamara and I flinched. She didn’t deserve to die. She had her boys to think about, and her garden too. There wasn’t anyone to take care of either after she was gone. I could see the fear that came from knowing that. It was in the way her eyes never left the robber, in the bead of sweat dripping down her temple, and in the way her hands trembled as she finally found the little red button.
She pushed it, and nothing happened. The alarm was silent of course, but it almost felt like I’d been waiting for the police to burst into the building or for the masked man to shoot her without any logical reason. There were others in the room, of course. Tellers cowering on the floor and customers trying to keep the masked man in their sights at all times and equally desperate to keep from catching his eye.
The masked man waved his gun again and Tamara nodded, stepping around the counter and walking with shaking legs towards the massive safe doors.
I turned away from the two of them, furious that this man who lived in my own hometown was causing so much havoc and hurting so many people. I couldn’t stand the idea of watching yet another innocent person die when there was nothing I could do to stop it. With one last glance towards the inevitably doomed Tamara and her soon-to-be murderer, I walked straight out the door.
I was maybe a ten-minute walk from my house.
Glancing at the sunrise, I estimated there were still a few hours until my graduation ceremony started. There wasn’t any chance I’d get to attend, of course. Even if the reapings slowed down, there was every chance I’d be in some far off place before most people were even awake.
As I hurried home I wondered if I’d feel it when Tamara died. Would I just know when it was time to return, or would I have to track down her body once the deed was done? It didn’t matter either way. Her soul wasn’t going to pass into the void until after I’d watched my graduation. It was the only thing I could think of to slow things down and make sure I at least watched the most important event of my adolescent life.
When I reached the front door to my home without anything stopping me or dragging me back I let out a cheer. Passing through the front door, I stood in the sun-lit living room and stared at the scene before me. My mother sat on the couch, my cap and gown on the ironing table before her.
Her eyes were rimmed red, and her expression sullen. She looked like a ghost of herself and for a brief moment I feared the worst. She was staring right at me though, right through me, and only the living would wear that blank look in my presence. Whatever else she was, my mother wasn’t dead yet.
She sighed, shifting on the couch, and her movement caused my cap to fall from its precarious position on the ironing table. She jumped up, eyes wild, staring at the cap on the floor. I stepped forward, wanting to console her, to claim the falling cap had been because of me. There was nothing I could do, though. I was incorporeal. For all intents and purposes, I might as well be dead.
“Alexi?” She asked, and my heart broke at the hope in her voice.
Another gunshot went off, and I was back in that little bank, standing beside the masked man. He was holding a large bag that I assumed had his stolen money in it. On the floor in front of him was Tamara, lying on her front with a bullet in her back. Those poor twins would never see their mother alive again.
Resigned, I reached down and pulled Tamara up. She didn’t seem to have any questions, and I wasn’t in the mood to offer any answers.
“Come on,” I said, shoving my hands in my pockets again and heading back towards home. She looked torn, but I didn’t give her a chance to start demanding things. Instead, I focused on what I wanted. What I needed. Watching my graduation didn’t matter anymore. All that mattered was seeing my mom again, letting her see me safe and sound, and everything after that could sort itself out.
When I got back home my mom was sitting on the couch, my cap clenched in her hands as she stared blankly at it. Standing in front of her, where she was sure to see me once I appeared, I turned to Tamara.
“Your boys will be fine. ” I said, though I didn’t know that for a fact. This was about her making peace and moving on, regardless of the truth.
The truth was that the world would move on too. There would still be terrible tragedies and misfortune after you died, and there was nothing you could do about it. Still, my words seemed to give her some comfort.
“Now focus on the afterlife, on what you believe is out there. Is it heaven, hell, reincarnation?”
“It’s a waiting room where I can keep an eye on my kids until they come back to me.” She whispered. I stretched out my hands and the portal formed. She stepped through without fear, vanishing in an instant. In that same instant, I was corporeal again and my mother’s arms were around me before I managed to say I word. I didn’t tell her that I could already hear the cries of the next victim. All that mattered just then was that my mother knew I was still there, I was still safe, and I would always come back if I could.
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