The moment my hand touches the clip board I’m traveling once again. This time there is no warning, no click of a gun or ring of a bell. Only the disorienting rush of being pulled through whatever void allows me to be ferried off towards the next impending death.
Only, I’m moving much slower through the void now. Slow enough that I can see others traveling around, bored looks on their faces and dress sense mixed between everything from formal wear to stark naked. I catch a glimpse of a cowboy hat that might be Ryan’s, but he’s gone before I can call out to him.
I’m in the void for about fifteen seconds before everything slows to a normal speed and I’m standing in a fairly nice looking office. The desk and chair are empty, and there aren’t any personal pictures on the walls or books on the shelves. As I step around the desk to inspect the papers scattered across it I finally hear something, or rather, someone.
“Gonna be the death of me.” The voice croakes. I can’t say if they’re male or female, only that they’re a lifelong smoker.
The name Neha Thompson comes to mind, even as the office fades away. I glance down at the clipboard still grasped in my hand and sure enough, that’s the name at the top of the list. Appearing in Neha’s shower is an unexpected surprise. Watching her stand over a toilet with a pack of smokes in her hands is even more intriguing.
“Just give em up,” Neha orders herself, picking at the packaging as she stared hard at the open toilet in front of her. She grits her teeth and I glance down at the clipboard again. The date collumn is still filled with question marks, and the code next to it is incomprehensible. “Don’t be such a pussy. Toss em in. That’s all you have to do.”
I blink at the language, but there’s no chance I’m going to chide a struggling nicotine addict for using fowl language to pump herself up to get rid of the nasty habbit.
“Like Frodo and the ring,” She said, and then pulled open the carton and dumped the whole set of cigarettes into the toilet. Again, I did my best to keep from commenting that really, Frodo hadn’t managed to toss the ring. At least, not in the movies anyway.
Before I can say a word I’m moving again, shuffled off through the void towards whoever would be facing death’s door next. A quick check of the clip board told me that now Neha Thompson would die at the ripe old age of eight seven, meaning at least another thirty years of living after the choice she’d made.
Next on the list was Floyd Pearce, uncertain death date, code 4839. Whatever that meant.
When I finally stopped traveling through the void, I glanced around to see that Floyed worked at some kind of firm. I knew him by sight, though there were a hundred other cubicles filled with a hundered other workers. His jet black hair was plastered to his forehead and his tie was undone around his neck. He stared at the report on his computer with blank eyes and didn’t seem to notice anything around him.
I stood at the entrance to his cubicle, curious how he might die. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot that was dangerous in the office and there weren’t any other reapers lingering in a way that would signify a mass shooting. No, only Floyd was facing death today.
“Excuse me.” He said, brushing passed me before I even realized he had stood. I stared at the place where his hand had touched my shoulder, jaw dropping.
That wasn’t how being a reaper worked.
The living couldn’t see me when I had an assignment. At least, that was how it had been before I set a mad woman through the afterlife portal without any guidelines and somehow managed to change the permanance of death itseslf.
My hand shot to my pocket. I pressed the screen of my phone with a few rapid taps and brought up my mother’s number, calling her. To my great pleasure and surprise it began to ring.
Just hearing my mom’s voice again made everything feel better.
“Hey mom, just thought I’d call.” I said, pretending an air of casualness rather than the absolute sobbing mess I was about to become.
“Hello, is anyone there?”
“Mom, it’s me.”
“Hello?” She repeated, though she was starting to sound irritated. I furrowed my brow. She had my number, had saved it under my name. There was no chance she’d be acting like this if she knew I was the one calling.
I hung up the phone.
Tapping away at the keys again, I tried a different strategy. Just as I shot off a text telling her I’d tried to call, the void was dragging me off towards Floyd and his moment of truth. The sound of a gunshot rang out through the office and through my mind before I ever made it there.
When I did arrive, Floyd was laying in his body with a gunshot in his head, staring blankly up at the ceiling. His was the hand that had held the gun.
I marched up to him, frustration filling me. I didn’t know his story, what had pushed him to do this, but just knowing that he’d had a chance to survive grated on my nerves. He’d given up something that not everyone had, a gift that had been born of my mistake, and he’d wasted it.
“I’m going to hell, aren’t I?” He asked as I pulled him from his corpse.
“Probably,” I shrugged and spread my hands out to form the portal that would send him on. “Off you go.”
The door burst open, my phone dinged with a text, and then I was off again.
I checked the text as I was dragged through the void, ignoring the other reapers who stared at me with puzzled frowns. they were all moving faster than I, a nest of ants hard at work, while I shuffled through the inbetween with a phone in my hand and a smile on my face.
Hey, hon. Glad you’re okay. Any chance you’ll make it back in time for graduation?
It’s only an hour away, you know!
that was so my mother, more concerned with making it to my graduation ceremony than the fact that I was traversing the world to whitness greusome deaths and reap the souls of those less fortunate than I. I loved her for it. I texted back a frowny face, wishing I could tell her yes but knowing I had no control over the matter.
I glanced at the clipboard to see who was next.
Albert Kim, deathdate uncertain, code 8295.
I arrived beside Mr. Kim in a hospital room. He was laying back, eyes closed, pale as death. His family were all around him. I stepped forward, wondering if everyone could see me now. I could text, but I couldn’t call. I could reap, but I couldn’t choose who I was going to visit next. Everything had been new to me already, and now the rules were changed even more, and there was no one out there who could tell me just what the differences were.
A doctor and a nurse came in, drawing the family’s attention. The doctor spoke in soft words to a woman with laugh lines weeping down her face, and I heard the words kidney failure and donation, but little else. The older woman was shaking her head, while the others stared on with forlorn faces.
Only the nurse seemed to notice me, and she glared with a firey passion. Yet, even she did not comment on my presence.
The family all started talking at once, in a language I didn’t understand, and then they stopped abruptly.
“Me.” Said a boy who couldn’t have been older than nineteen. The others seemed to argue with him in their language, but he held his ground. As the noise level increased, Mr. Kim became more restless and the doctor urged them to take their argument into the hall.
Then it was just me, Mr. Kim, and the angry nurse.
“I hate it when you people just show up.” She hissed once they were gone. “Now that poor boy is going to go through a transplant to save his father and it’s not going to do an ounce of good. Worst of all, I can’t even warn them, and-”
“There’s a chance he might survive.” I said, glancing down at the clip board, unphased that some nurse could see me and knew what I was. I watched as the question marks on the man’s death date changed to years down the road and grinned. “See, he’s going to be fine. You aren’t going to die yet, Mr. Kim.”
“What?” The nurse screeched, but I didn’t answer. I expected the void to suck me back in again, but it didn’t. I was left standing in that room, a confused nurse glaring at me, and no telling where I was or when my next reaping would be.
“Listen, can you tell me where I am?” I asked her, stepping over to the window to look out at an unrecognizable city.
“Las Angelos.” She snapped, marching over to me. She grabbed my wrist and twisted the clipboard into view. “What in god’s name is all this?”
“New program.” I shrugged, peering out into the hall. There, a woman in her thirties with a bathing suite as her only wardrobe. I ignored the confused nurse and marched up to the woman. She stared at me with an unimpressed glare and I glared back.
“You.” She hissed, as though there were anything threatening about a woman in a bathing suite standing in a hospital hallway. “You’re the little twerp that screwed up.”
“That’s me.” I nodded. “Listen, is there any secret magic system for controling where I go in the void? I have this thing in a hour and I can’t make it home by driving.”
“You get your void liscense after your eighty seventh reaping.” The woman snapped. “So long as you have your god approved identification by then, of course.”
“You’re joking.” I ran a hand through my hair, hating to think of the way my mother would sit in the audience at graduation and have no one there to clap for.
“I’m not.” She shrugged, and turned to leave.
“Can you take me?”
“Do I look like i have time for that, kid?”
“Please, it’s my graduation.” I begged, not above actual groveling to make this work out. She pursed her lips and stared at me for a long minute. She glanced back at the room she’d been standing in front of and then shrugged.
“Alright, let’s go.” She grabbed my arm, turning the other direction as she did so. “I’ve only got a fifteen minute break here, so don’t do anything stupid to slow us down.”