Death Perception: Alexi And The Ritual Sacrifice
I was sitting in the kitchen, munching on a warm cookie and trying to explain everything to my mother when the chanting began. Mom continued her tirade over the chorus of Latin, unaware. I sighed, my shoulders slumping, and grabbed another cookie. I hadn’t had a proper meal all day, I’d died only a few hours ago, and now I had a nonstop job that didn’t care if I was busy trying to placate the woman who had given me life.
The first woman, rather.
Linda had restored me to my body and given me a chance at a second life. The fact that I couldn’t imagine going to college while working as a reaper didn’t matter. I was alive. That was more most people got.
“Are you even listening to me?” Mom asked, and I snapped to attention. Those words, no matter what tone they were said in, were dangerous.
“Yeah, yes. Sorry mom.” I nodded vigorously and tried to block out the single voice of a man announcing something in a language I didn’t know. Horror struck me as I realized what that meant. People died all over the world, there was no guarantee that I’d be assigned only to the local deaths.
I stood in a rush, the stool crashing against the linoleum.
“I need my passport right now. I can tell when I’m about to disappear again, and-”
“I’ll get it.” She was already hurrying out of the room, shouting over her shoulder. “Grab the spare cash in my purse and your phone charger, just in case. How long do you have?”
“I don’t know. I only started this morning.”
“You didn’t ask any questions before you agreed?”
The disapproval in my mother’s voice came closer as she hurried from the office to the kitchen, holding my passport out. I took it, shoving the cash and charger into my pockets. My heart was racing. I shook my head, scanning the room for anything else I might need to take with me. There was a fruit bowl on the counter. I grabbed one of the apples, wondering if immortality meant not needing to eat healthily, or at all.
“Would you rather I stay dead?” I asked, and then paled as I felt the tug towards Jenny Anderson, who was only sixteen and couldn’t see where she was or understand the voices around her. Her wrists burned and she thought they might have chopped her hands off, but she couldn’t concentrate well enough to know for sure. Had they poisoned her, or- “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Alexi. Be safe, and call me when you can.” Already I was fading. She reached out to pat my cheeks, a sad look on her face that I wanted to fix. I didn’t have the time. “We’re not done discussing this. You’re not getting out of college just because you died, kid.”
“Mom!” I protested, but she wasn’t there. Instead, there was a circle of masked and hooded figures surrounding me, and a young woman who lay prone at my feet. Her limbs were tied down, stakes in the ground keeping her from pulling herself free. A blindfold was tied over her eyes, and her white dress was stained with red.
Her hands were nowhere to be seen.
“We call on Azriel, the angel of death!” One of the masked figures called out, and I turned to him with a frown. In his grasp were the two missing hands, raised up towards the sky. Nothing happened. There was a murmur behind me as the idiots around me began to realize how stupid this sacrifice was. They’d mutilated a young woman, who happened to be bleeding to death as they attempted to call on a supernatural entity, and their ritual wasn’t going to work. . The man holding up the dismembered hands tried again, in Latin. “In vocamus Ezrihel, angelus mortis!”
This time, I felt something.
The reverberations that ran through me were subtle, but they gave me pause. I stared at the circle of occultists, wondering what power they were about to unleash on the land. An angel, perhaps, but one that came to the beck and call of human sacrifices. That didn’t sound like the kind of angel I wanted walking the same earth as those I cared about; if angels actually existed in the first place.
“You’ll want to take her soul before they sacrifice her.” The sound of Linda’s monotone beside me didn’t make me scream, but it was a close thing. I whirled on her, only to find a clipboard and a frown turned in my direction. The young woman moaned in pain and I turned back to her. The man with her hands was standing over her. Beside him, another cloaked figure was kneeling with his arms raised, offering an ornate dagger.
“Azriel.” The man whispered, turning to pick up the dagger. His voice was filled with awe, and fear struck through me at the realization that he really believed he was about to summon an angel by stabbing an innocent young woman. Linda sighed, impatient.
The knife was raised over the young woman and the chanting picking back up as an entire coven of crazy worked to bring a representative of death to the mortal realm. I knelt beside the girl, placing a hand on her shoulder. I could feel the electric light of her soul, stuck more to the body than Robert had been, but becoming looser by the minute.
“Now.” Linda ordered, and I pulled. Jenny Anderson came away from her body right as the knife was brought down. Her corpse died without a soul inside of it and there were no other tremors of power. The young woman stared down at her stumped wrists in dismay. Hopeful, and running on instinct, I stepped over to the dismembered hands and pulled an incorporeal version out of each of them. I handed them over and she grasped them to her chest with her forearms.
“Would that have worked?” I asked, turning to Linda. She was already turning away, but paused at my question and looked up at me in surprise.
“The afterlife is based on belief, Alexi.” She reminded me.
“So death gods are real. What about regular gods. like Shiva or Hermes?”
“Interesting choices.” Linda mused, but didn’t answer my questions. Instead, she nodded towards my newly reaped soul. “Don’t let souls be sacrificed, there’s too much power in that. And don’t let her move on until you’re away from this mess. You become corporeal as soon as she moves on.”
But Linda was gone, and I was standing in a field with a circle of disgruntled cult members and a distraught ghost.
“My hands.” Jenny gasped, staring down at the nubs where her hands had been. I shook my head, taking her hands from her. Running on instinct, I pressed them against her wrists and watched as they reattached themselves. Her surprised look was gratifying.
“Come on then, you heard the boss.” I said, heading towards a water tower in the distance. That would lead to a road, which might lead to a highway. If I were lucky I would find out where I was and hitch a ride to the nearest town. Jenny trailed after me, still staring down at her perfectly fine hands. Once we reached a dirt road she seemed to snap out of her stupor and trotted along beside me.
“Was that God?”
“Hardly.” I snorted, eyes landing on a paved road. I turned to Jenny, ready to become corporeal once more. “Do you believe in that kind of thing, Heaven and Hell and all that?”
I spread my hands and a white mist formed between them, expanding to a decent sized portal. I waved my hands towards it, ushering Jenny in without explanation. She’d probably end up in Heaven, considering how young and innocent she was, and how she’d been sacrificed by a cult. They usually used virgins for that, or so I’d heard.
The moment Jenny was gone, along with her cloudy portal, I dug my hands into my pockets to pull out my phone. I started walking as I dialed, passing a green sign announcing Detroit was only 15 miles out. I wasn’t terribly close to home, but I was in the same country at least. On top of that, I had a faint memory of a cousin who’d moved here in the past year or so. The phone picked up on the first ring and I grinned.
“Hey Mom, you won’t even guess where I am right now.”