Maybe I was just looking for an excuse.
My life was mundane, and there were a lot of empty holes, so I filled them with a search for myself. Whatever that meant. I lived by myself across from a large graveyard down the hill. I had a job. I paid my bills. I played guitar. I looked at Playboy. I thought about how interesting my life would be if I actually cared about anything enough to follow through on stuff like that. I could have moved. I could have turned it down.
I have only met Marcus once, and he gave me the vague details of what I was to do. It was surreal, as if I had woken from a dream only to find that I had been awake the whole time. He told me about the dead. He handed me a mask to shield my identity. From who I can't really say, but Marcus was kind of a big and scary dude. So the only questions I asked were the ones that pertained to my duty.
I guess what I regret the most is not asking him why.
It was rainy, so today's funeral was a short and tearful affair. I had gone numb from such things. It didn't matter if it was an older person, someone my age having their lives cut short and even children didn't even make me flinch anymore. They were dead. That was that. I didn't know them, and I didn't care to. With the mask only the deceased could see me.
It got old, really. The dead – only just very recently severed – asked an awful lot of questions. Sometimes I answered them. Sometimes I just didn't bother. “Where is Heaven?” “Am I a ghost?” and “How can I be dead?!” were common protests. Today a forty-eight year old woman named Sharie had died of cancer two days ago. She was the most distraught of any of them I’ve seen. She could barely speak through her weeping. Six months ago I would have tried to comfort her. Today she was just another dead person.
“But WHY?!” she sobbed into my chest.
I didn't know. So I didn't answer. Just pulled up the hood of my longcoat and beckoned for her to follow me down the hill. She just stood there.
“Are you Death?” she asked fearfully.
“Tch!” I snorted. Yeah, like I had that kind of power. I’d make my bitch landlord drop dead if that were the case. I beckoned again. I wanted to say “Hurry up, lady,” but being cruel to them never helped. They cling to me, why I could guess was that I was the only one that could interact with them before they departed. Rarely was anyone willingly accepting of the fact that they were dead.
My presence made it real.
Some would cry. Some would even laugh. A lot of them drilled me for answers I don't have. I used to hate just shrugging , or apologizing when I didn't have the reasons they wanted to hear. But now they were just another soul awaiting wherever they went after I delivered them.
I started to walk down the hill.
“Don't leave!! Wait!” Sharie called, jogging to catch up to me. “You really don't know anything?!”
I shook my head and beckoned again. Finally, Sharie followed, eyes watching her feet in defeat. The fog and steam from the cold autumn storm swelled up at the bottom of the hill, and as I led her through, the grass and gravestones faded away, lost in the thickness of the cloud of damp dew. After a few minutes the sound of an ocean could be heard.
Sharie noticed through the silence between us. She seemed anxious to break it, though asking me anything probably wouldn't answer any of her fears. “Where are we?” she asked meekly through tears.
I suppose I’m a sucker for weaker women. “The River Styx,” I finally told her, pointing to a boat on the shore of a dark and murky beach.
“But … where am I supposed to go?” she whispered, holding tight to my arm.
I shrugged again. I just pointed to the boat again. Sharie screwed up her face as she let more tears fall. But I recognized the posture of the conclusion the soul at last comes to. She was dead. And there was no taking it back.
As soon as she got in the boat and started rowing my obligation ended. But I watched her until she disappeared into the fog, wondering if I too would someday come to this fate. And who would guide me? Or would I already know? I never knew what was beyond that beach, and I suppose when I’m dead I’ll find out. I went back the way I came and ended up back in the graveyard, the mourners already gone. It was pouring here, so I just left and went back to my second floor apartment, stripping off my wet clothing and putting that mask back in my bottom drawer.
I’ve tested the ability to go about invisible, but it seems to only work around gravestones. Never tried that again, when every soul that hadn't been sent off flocked to me like moths of a flame. Made me wonder … who else does this? I know I can't be the only one, or the world would burst with dead souls. I had burning questions like these for Marcus, but I only ever met him once, and I was too shocked to really ask anything else.
No, I’m not Death. I’m a Reaper. Whatever that means.
And then I met Airian.