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Authors: Katrina Monroe

Tags: #death, #work, #promotion, #afterlife, #grim reaper, #reaper, #oz, #creative death, #grimme reaper, #ironic punishment

Reaper (3 page)

BOOK: Reaper
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“Knowing where you are won’t help you get to
where you need to be,” he’d said.

Oz didn’t care. Not really. He was
somewhere
, and that was infinitely better than nowhere,
which was the only place he could remember being.

They approached the cracked stoop of an
apartment building. Paint speckled the steps in the varying shades
of gray and white that coated the building over the years. Bard
shoved through the door without a key or much physical effort and
led Oz to the third floor.

His new digs might be called a studio
apartment, if the place wasn’t such a shithole. A bed and a desk
fought for space in the far corner, leaving barely enough room to
walk past them to the closet in which someone had stuck a toilet
and a shower.

Bard leaned against the door frame and lit a
cigarette. “There won’t be a lot of down time in between pick-ups,
but we work the day shift mostly, so you’ll come back here to
sleep.”

“Sleep?” Oz had forgotten what that was like,
too.

“You’ve got a body now. It doesn’t need food,
but it does need to rest occasionally. You kill it, I can’t
guarantee they’ll give you another one. Which reminds me, look
before stepping into traffic from now on. I didn’t agree to scrape
your face off the pavement because you’re a dumbass.”

Bard said something else, but Oz didn’t stick
around to hear it. He ran from the doorway to the bathroom and
locked himself inside. There was a small, cracked mirror hanging
above the sink, but hugging the door like he was, Oz could only see
the reflection of his shoulder in the foggy glass.

Could he really think of it that way?
His
shoulder? His t-shirt hung over it without bunching or
looking like it was still on the hanger. It was a nice shoulder, no
doubt, but it definitely wasn’t
his
shoulder. There was a
lot he couldn’t remember about his life, but one always recognizes
their own body parts.

Oz closed his eyes and reached for the sink.
He groped along the porcelain until he stood directly in front of
the mirror. One, two, three quick breaths. Holding the third, Oz
opened his eyes.

He’d died relatively young. This guy he
occupied was old, mid-forties, easily. Lines etched his cheeks and
forehead, surrounding deep set, warm brown eyes. In his old life,
Oz’s eyes were blue. The hair on his new head was one of those
weird shades of brown with a name like umber or burnt
something-or-another. He rubbed the course patches of scruff on his
chin and cheeks. He couldn’t rock a beard in his old body. This
guy, though...

Bard kicked the door.

“C’mon, Princess, we gotta get moving.”

Oz took one last, long look at the stranger
in the mirror, not quite sure what to make of him. He opened the
door. “Who am I?”

“Please save all existential questions for
someone who gives a fuck,” Bard said.

“No. I mean,” Oz made an open-handed wipe
motion over his torso, “this. Who is this?”

“It’s nobody.”

“It’s somebody.”

Bard shrugged.

“It’s... weird,” Oz said.

“I didn’t see you complaining when you were
prancing in the park.”

“I’m not complaining I just want to
know—”

“Look...” Bard snubbed his cigarette on a
windowsill. “Not everybody is a person. They’re would-be people.
This guy that you’re wearing isn’t anybody. A rented tux. So, if
you’re done bitching, we’ve got a job to do.”

“So is that what you are, then?”

“Am I what?”

“A... tux?”

Bard crossed his arms. “I’m someone who is
here against his will, Princess. If I could get out of dealing with
you, I would. My job is to teach you how to do the work without
fucking up. That’s it.”

“Then why are you here? Why didn’t you just
say no? There’s more of you, right?”

“Because there are worse things than
death.”

 

 

Chapter
Four

 

Rented tux.
Heh.
Bard would have to
write that one down. Too bad he didn’t feel compelled to carry a
notebook in his pocket anymore. Perhaps he’d renew the habit.

The new guy still pranced behind him. He’d
have guessed Oz was a poof if he hadn’t caught the fool leering at
Cora. Not that Bard disliked poofs. He knew plenty of them.
Employed entire casts of them in life, in fact. There was just
something about this Oz character that poked the lizard part of his
brain, telling Bard that he was... off. Being a poof would’ve
explained that.

And Bard got stuck babysitting him. Why did
he always end up with the new recruits? It wasn’t like others
weren’t capable of training them. Cora knew just as much as he did
and was more willing to put up with the questions and problems that
inevitably came with fresh meat. They were like children—no,
infants—wobbling and stumbling in their attempt to do something as
simple as walk.

Why him?

Because of one mistake more than a century in
the past. Bard shook his head. He didn’t want to think about
it.

It was interesting (in a way that a train
wreck is interesting) that Oz had come from The Department. There
hadn’t been a reaper recruited from that zombied bunch since Bard
had been recruited, and that was too long ago for him to think
about. They—and “they” meaning the cosmic “they,” the “they” that
fucks with every aspect of your very existence because “they”
can—probably hoped that he and Oz might bond.

Oz stopped suddenly and stared into the
window of a barber shop. He puffed out his cheeks, grinned a wide,
toothy smile and inspected his mouth. Crossed his eyes. When he
caught Bard looking, he shrugged as if to say, “Had to be
done
.

Bond. Right. As if anyone could forge
anything except a common, lingering hatred of that place with its
pale walls and pale typists and cubicles that might as well have
held bars for the amount of freedom they allowed.

In the beginning, Bard’s lottery had been the
best thing that had ever happened to him. When he’d left The
Department behind, a tornado of potential energy had ravaged inside
him. The way Oz’s eyes brightened with each inch of life absorbed,
Bard knew it was in him, too.

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe they didn’t want
them to bond. Maybe they just wanted Bard to keep a close eye on
him. After all, no one could spot a potential disaster like
Bard.

* * *

Noon. The sun was high overhead, set against
an impossibly blue sky. Dusty red brick buildings sat between
shining iron buildings punctuated with the occasional pastel
shoppe. Oz felt like he was seeing the world for the first time. A
newborn freshly popped from mama’s womb. Everything was colorful
and vivid and mercifully not beige, which he often thought was a
color specifically designed to suck the life out of a person.

Oz and Bard stood on a street corner at the
center of the restaurant district of downtown. The savory aromas of
salted meats and spices and charcoal carried on the breezes blown
by passing traffic.

Oz took a deep, mouth-watering breath. “I’d
kill for a steak.”

Bard watched traffic like a thief casing his
surroundings, with darting eyes and intense focus. “Interesting the
things people say they’ll kill for.” He didn’t look at Oz.

“It’s an expression,” Oz said,
uncomfortable.

“Mm.”

Oz had a thought and it worried him that it
hadn’t occurred before.

“We don’t actually have to kill people,
right?”

The sidewalks filled with nine-to-fivers
finally on their lunch break. Some rushed into little bistros that
still had patio seating open, others continued to walk until they
were out of sight. Hundreds of lives; all finite.

“Do you know where the term ‘reaper’ comes
from?” Bard continued to watch the traffic. Each time a vehicle
rounded the corner, he leaned forward on his toes for a better
look. “We’re gatherers. Harvesters. I always thought the scythe was
a nice touch. Wouldn’t mind having one, myself.”

And then he was silent.

“So what are we doing here if we aren’t
supposed to kill them?”

A middle-aged man in a black suit, perfectly
pressed save for a snag on his cuff, shoved through a pair of
joggers on the sidewalk, cursing into a cell phone while trying to
rip the dangling thread.

The corner of Bard’s mouth twitched. “Waiting
for a bus.”

The man stormed past Oz, grazing the tip of
his nose with an elbow. He didn’t stop when he reached the curb. Oz
saw the bus, but the bus driver hadn’t seen the man.

Oh, shit.

Oz reached out to grab the man’s collar, but
Bard yanked him back.

“Let him go.”

Brakes squealed. Bones crunched. The man’s
cell phone skipped across the asphalt like a stone over water.

Behind Oz, a woman screamed.

The crowd gathered immediately, like they’d
expected it to happen. Their cries punctured the city’s normal
vibrations.

Did you see that? Someone call an
ambulance!

The bus driver, a round, graying black man,
fanned his face with his hat and mouthed a prayer.

Jesus Christ, Oz thought. He could only
watch, as though his—this—body had momentarily disconnected from
the demands of his mind.

A semblance of the man crushed by the bus
stood from the bloody mess of what used to be his body. His cuff
mended, he patted his pockets, presumably for his missing
phone.

“Pay attention, Princess. Only gonna show you
once.” Bard stuffed an unlit cigarette into the corner of his
mouth.

As he strolled into the crowd, a shaking
woman was pulled into her husband’s embrace and a young biker puked
over his shoulder, rolling just out of Bard’s path.

He said something to the man and offered him
a cigarette. Oz couldn’t hear what was said over the crowd and
distant shriek of sirens. The cigarette fell through the man’s
hands and bounced on the asphalt. Bard laughed as he bent over to
pick it up.

Oz shook his head. Who the hell was this Bard
guy? Did he get off on being a jerk or something?

Bard gripped the man by his elbow and led him
from the crowd. His grip remained tight until they were in front of
Oz.

“Easy, eh, Princess?”

“What’s happening?” the man asked, unable to
tear his eyes from the bloody footprints tracked behind him.

Bard scraped his shoe against the sidewalk.
“Fuck. I just found these, too.” He turned to Oz. “This is the
douchebag’s Ba.”

“Ba?”

“Ba.”

“The hell is a Ba?”

“The personality of a person. Their
anxieties, loves, curiosities—everything that makes a person unique
is what makes up their Ba. What you’re looking at here is the shade
of this guy’s Ba. The true form of a Ba can’t be perceived by human
eyes.”

“Sounds complicated.”

“If you’re an idiot.”

Oz rolled his eyes. “And we can’t see this
‘true form’ because...?”

Bard thwacked Oz on the temple.

“You listening? I said it can’t be perceived
through
human
eyes. You’re dead, but as long as your Ba
inhabits this body, you see things as humans do. Hence...”

Bard gestured open handed down the side of
the shade.

“Okay, so, now what?”

“Now, we send this guy on his way.”

“Where am I going?” the shade asked.

“Asshole like you?” Bard said, “I’d imagine
someplace extremely uncomfortable.”

Bard took the man’s hands in his, holding
them by the tips of his fingers, like he’d get something on him. He
pushed them together, palms up, to form a vessel, and then blew a
stream of air inside the vessel. A large, gold coin formed in the
air and fell into the man’s palms.

The man opened his mouth, but no sound came
out. His Ba faded and he made a panicked grab for Oz’s shirt, but
he stepped back and the man’s finger tips passed through his body.
Oz shuddered. Bard waved.

The shade was gone.

“That was... insane.”

“Aren’t you the eloquent one? Writer, wasn’t
it?”

Oz’s gut churned. The police cordoned off the
accident, and a team of plastic-suited men handled the dead man’s
body parts. The sight of blood had always made him
light-headed.

If shit like this happened often, this reaper
gig would be rough. It’d suck.

“What’s going to happen to him?” Oz said.

“Don’t know.”

“But you told him—”

“His assholery wasn’t a secret, but it’s not
my job to know. Or care, for that matter. I just give them their
coins for the boat man, which is your job now, too.”

“And if we don’t?”

Bard’s eyes darkened. “Don’t fuck up and
you’ll never have to find out.” He scraped his shoe against a fire
hydrant. “One more to go, then we can get out of here.”

“The bus only hit the one guy.”

“And is that one guy the only person on the
face of the planet?”

“No.”

Bard tilted his head and spoke more slowly,
like he was speaking to a child or a brain-damaged adult. “So it
would stand to reason that it is
possible
, nay,
likely
, that another person might have dropped dead at or
around the same time as Guido over there, yes?”

“Ok, then. Where?”

“El autobus
.”

“I took French in high school.”

“Fuck me, Princess, you’re useless.”

* * *

The bus was empty except for a man slumped
over in the furthest seat. His spotted, bald head peaked over the
seat in front of him. His Ba sat cross-legged in the aisle wearing
a vacant stare.

“Heart attack just before the crash,” Bard
said, “He slumped over, people lost their shit and distracted the
driver, then splat goes Guido.”

Oz cringed. “Do you have to be so...”

“So what?”

“So...morbid?”

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t really say
that. What are you waiting for? Get to it.”

BOOK: Reaper
13.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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