Death Perception: Alexi And The Second Chance
“So I died today.” I announced, waltzing into the kitchen. My mother raised a flour covered eyebrow at my obviously living status and returned to her mixing bowl, unconcerned. I heaved a sigh as I swung myself onto a stool, watching her work. She was the one who insisted we be honest with each other. Yet, after picking myself up from the bottom of that deadly staircase and dragging my aching body home, this was the reception I received?
I pouted and reached out for a clump of cookie dough. My mother slapped my hand away, but I’d anticipated that. I brought my other hand up to lick chocolate chip batter from my fingers with a cheeky grin. She glared at me with the same blue eyes I’d inherited from her.
“Alexi Vitya Maruska.”
The use of my full name had me ducking my head. I mumbled a halfhearted apology, having trouble feeling guilty about what I’d done after she so easily dismissed my tragic demise.
She turned back to her cooking, a coping mechanism to keep her distracted from my impending graduation ceremony tomorrow. I considered trying again to tell her about my tumble down the stairs but I didn’t think she would take me seriously. It was hard enough to explain why I’d fallen, let alone convince her of my subsequent conversation with Linda, the hassled looking Reaper who’d come to collect me.
Somehow, as alive and uninjured as I was, I doubted anyone would believe what Linda had said.
On average two people died every second. Every one of them required a guide to the next life, going to hell or being reincarnated depending on what they had believed. I hadn’t caught the details because it was hard to pay attention while standing over my corpse. It didn’t help that Linda talked like she was providing the disclaimer at the end of a radio ad, but eventually she’d gotten to the point. There just weren’t enough reapers to go around.
Now, sitting in the house I’d grown up in, my mother humming a lullaby she’d learned from her mother, it was hard to believe any of that happened. I knew I’d fallen down the stairs because I could still feel the bruises. The rest of it though; Linda, my broken neck, the offer to let me return to the living in exchange for agreeing to become a reaper like her. None of that seemed real now. I opened my mouth to voice my concerns about potential brain damage or a concussion.
That’s when I started hearing things.
“Your acceptance letter arrived.” My mother said over the sound of a convenience store bell that did not belong in our kitchen.
“Your acceptance letter, dear.” She repeated, looking concerned. I shook my head. She was talking nonsense, but I was more worried about the sound of a gun being cocked.
“Oh god. Please, I have a family. Don’t shoot me, please!” An older voice, a man filled with desperation.
“Give me the cash and no one gets hurt.” Voice muffled, shoes clicking on linoleum.
“Of course. Here, take it. Take all of it.”
The ding of a cash register opening triggered a flood of knowledge. The cashier was Robert Phelps, a man who had spent ten years fighting for his country, only to be honorably discharged after taking shrapnel in his back. He’d battled America’s worst enemies and lived to tell the tale only to find himself facing the business end of a gun once more. This time his death was inevitable.
“Alexi?” The solid presence of my mother’s concern cut across the steady hum of a soda freezer. “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”
I ran a hand through my hair, eyes wide. Everything Linda had said was true. I was a reaper now, and Robert was my first assignment. My mother’s eyes were glued to me as I felt a tug dragging me away from our kitchen. I wondered fleetingly if she would take my death seriously now.
“We’re not done talking about this,” I warned her as the kitchen disappeared. “I’ll be back as soon as I-”
Then I was standing beside Robert Phelps with a masked man pointing a gun at him across the counter. Neither of them took notice of me. The convenience store bell rang again. The masked man glanced in the direction of a blonde woman who had entered the store, oblivious to the danger. Behind her was a man in a cowboy hat, dimples deepening as he caught sight of me. He winked, and then everything descended into madness.
Robert lunged across the counter, reaching for the gun. A shot went off and the blonde woman dropped like a sack of bricks. The gunman threw his elbow back, catching Robert in the chin. The older man grunted, but hung on to his grasp of the gun. The struggle between them continued for a few seconds and I watched, enraptured despite knowing how it would end. Every time Robert got the upper hand I wanted to cheer, to hope that somehow he would get himself out of this mess.
The gun went off again, and Robert Phelps slumped over the edge of the counter. As the man in the mask hurried to gather all the money in the cash register I turned to the useless corpse that had once been an honorable vet.
My fingers wrapped around the electric light of Robert’s soul and I pulled. He slipped easily from his body and we stood there, side by side, staring down at the blood pooling around his head.
“Well damn,” He sighed, shoving his hands into his pockets. The sound of the convenience store bell rang one last time as the thief stepped over the body of the innocent woman he had shot. The man in the cowboy hat held onto the ghostly visage of the woman’s soul when she tried to chase after the thief. Her face was red with anger, the complete opposite of Robert’s stunned acceptance.
“Let go of me!” She screeched.
“You must be the newbie.” Said the other reaper, ignoring the thrashing soul in his grasp.
“Don’t worry, you get used to it. The perks of immortality are pretty great too.”
“Sure, that’s the whole reason I agreed to the job.” I nodded, and then waved a hand in Robert’s general direction. “But, uh. What do I do with him now?”
“That’s up to him, really.” The cowboy said with a shrug. “The afterlife runs on belief, so wherever he believed he’d be going is where he goes next.”
“I believed,” The woman’s soul said through clenched teeth, “That ghosts haunted those who wronged them until they were brought to justice.”
“Imagine that.” The cowboy said, and then he just let her go. She stormed straight through the closed door and disappeared.
I turned to Robert, who shook his head.
“I didn’t know what to believe.”
“Oh, an Agnostic! Those are the lucky ones.” The cowboy said gleefully, stepping over the blonde corpse to stand in front of us. All the apprehension I’d had going into the job vanished as the older man took control. “You get to choose where you go next, so tell us friend, what kind of afterlife sounds best to you?”
“I’ve always liked the idea of reincarnation, except-”
“Could I be something that isn’t human? A dog maybe, or a tree.”
“Course you can, it’s your afterlife.” The cowboy turned to me. “So now all you’ve got to do is create a portal for him to go through to get his new life started. Don’t look at me like that, it isn’t that hard. Just imagine a white light coming out of your hands and then spread them wide enough to create a decent sized portal. There, see? You’re a natural.”
Robert didn’t hesitate to step through the misting white light I’d somehow managed to create. The smell of fresh cut grass and the sound of children laughing eked out of the portal as he passed through, before it all disappeared. Then it was only the two of us reapers standing in the middle of an empty convenience store with blood still spreading out from the bodies.
“Not half bad for a first time.” The cowboy said at last, holding out his hand. “I’m Ryan, by the way. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.”
Then he vanished before I could shake his hand or ask him to stay and explain a few things. I paused, wondering if I’d be thrown right into the next gruesome death. Nothing happened and I remained where I was. With a sigh, I grabbed a bag of Cheeto’s and gingerly stepped over the blond woman. Then I pushed the door open to find out just where I’d been brought, praying that at the very least I was still in my own state.
As luck would have it, the shootout had only been on the other side of the city. I popped some Cheeto’s into my mouth and started walking. It was a long way home and I had a lot to explain to my mother now. I’d only submitted that college application as a joke, after all, and there was no way I’d be able to keep up with school work now.