“She’s Death,” Charlie said coldly. “I’m so sorry. I can’t fight her, not again.”
She moved, almost too fast for me to see. A blur of motion, and then…
Nothing changed. Charlie stepped back, her face set in grim stoicism. Except I couldn’t feel anything. No more wind, no more cold. There was no sound.
I looked down at my feet, and saw myself. Dead. Charlie had made it quick, at least. Painless.
“You can go,” the blue-haired girl said. Charlie nodded, almost as if she could hear. She leapt off the roof.
The blue-haired girl approached me, a gentle smile on her face. She reached out towards nothing, and then she was holding a scythe.
“You look ridiculous,” I blurted out. She looked surprised, then laughed.
“The scythe is a bit much, isn’t it?” she said. “I wanted to look the part, but I think it just ends up being silly.”
“You’re really Death?” I asked, feeling like it was the stupidest question in the world.
I’d never really thought much about death. I didn’t believe in any God, or the idea of having a soul. I didn’t believe in an afterlife. I figured, when you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s the end. That’s what makes like so precious.
Apparently, I was wrong.
“Kind of,” she said. “I’m a Reaper. Not the only one. We collect souls, mostly.”
“To take you to Hell,” she said.
So that’s it? Just like that, I’m going to Hell? Some asshole decides I’m important, a psychopathic teenager with superpowers decides I need to die, and that’s that.
“Why?” I asked. “Is it the not believing thing? Did I break any rules? I mean, I wasn’t that bad of a person, was I?”
She smiled indulgently.
“Ah. I get this a lot. Look, it doesn’t work the way you think it does. The quick version is this: there’s no Heaven, Hell isn’t a punishment, everyone goes there.”
“So that’s it, then,” I said, staring at her in disbelief.
“Pretty much,” she replied with a shrug. “Look, it’s not as bad as you think. You just need a little perspective.”
Perspective? I wanted to wrestle that stupid scythe from her and beat her over the head with it. Instead, I took a deep breath.
“Then by all means, enlighten me. Can I still save my best friend?”
“Your best friend doesn’t need you to save her,” she said, dodging the question.
“So, no, then.”
“No,” she conceded. “Your time in this world is over. Time to move on.”
Time to move on? That was the line that was going to take me out of my mortal life, and into whatever comes next?
“And if I’m not ready?”
“I’m sorry,” she said, almost sounding sincere. “This is just how it goes.”
Just how it goes? I’m supposed to accept that?
No, fuck you.
Behind her, a young girl materialised. Deep purple eyes, long lilac hair, the sort of insufferable grin that only ever looks normal on a child’s face. Clothing that could have been from a sci-fi show with a moderate budget.
“Not necessarily,” the girl interjected.
“What?” the Reaper said, turning around. She tensed up immediately when she saw the child. “Oh, no. Not you.”
“Always a pleasure, Roxie,” the child said, unfazed. I decided not to comment on the fact that Roxie was a disappointingly common name for a Reaper.
“Friend of yours?” I asked, my eyes darting between the two of them. Blue hair, purple hair, it was like something out of an anime. Except for the part where I was literally dead.
Wait, no, there was probably an anime about that.
“Something like that,” Roxie muttered. “Meet the very definition of cheating death.”
“You’re being overdramatic,” the girl accused her.
“Can you blame me?” Roxie retorted.
“Somebody please explain what is going on here,” I begged, “because this is starting to get ridiculous.”
The two of them stopped to look at me, then at each other. Roxie rolled her eyes.
“She can handle that, I think.”
“That’s probably for the best,” the child agreed.
“So explain, then,” I prompted.
The child smiled, sliding her hands into her pockets. The way she spoke, her body language, none of it seemed particularly childlike. After everything I’d seen, that didn’t surprise me in the slightest. She was probably the oldest of the lot.
“How about I put it this way instead,” she began. “Are you done with your life? Are you ready to leave it all behind? Are you satisfied with the impact you’ve made?”
What is this, a sales pitch?
“Of course not,” I said.
“That’s just the way things go,” Roxie interrupted, repeating herself.
“No, it isn’t,” the child said, calmly but assertively.
“Come on, don’t pretend you care about mortal lives,” Roxie snapped.
“I don’t,” the child agreed readily. “I care about the bigger picture. And I think she does too,” she added, gesturing towards me.
“She can’t even fathom the bigger picture,” Roxie argued.
“I’m still waiting for any of this to make sense,” I said sharply. The two of them could stand and bicker on their own time.
“Look,” the girl said, her expression suddenly very serious. “There’s a lot more going on than this pathetic little turf war.” She gestured around her.
“And there are already plenty of players on the board,” Roxie countered. “You don’t need more, Alice.”
What an appropriate name, I thought idly. Much better than Roxie.
“That’s not my name anymore,” the child said, bristling.
“It was when I came to collect your soul,” Roxie said, almost taunting the girl.
“Except you didn’t collect it.”
There was clearly a lot of tension between the two of them. A collector of souls and someone who apparently wasn’t all the way dead when they were supposed to be? Like it mattered. The only thing I was interested in was my own fate.
“Can we move this along?” I asked.
“Fine,” the girl said sharply. “I want to give you a chance to return to the world, and make a difference. In return, you need to make sure of a few things for me. Can you still do that?”
“Can I still save Sabrina?” I asked. It was the only thing I was capable of caring about. It was what had gotten me into this situation in the first place.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Then I’m in.”
“She’s lying,” Roxie said, and the girl glared at her.
“That’s enough out of you,” she said coldly. “You’re not needed here anymore.”
“No, I want to hear this,” I said. I was desperate, but I wasn’t stupid. If I was being tricked, I wanted to know.
“There’s not a damn thing you can do about your friend, Veronica,” Roxie said. “She’s beyond your influence. She’s beyond their influence.” She gestured towards the child.
“We don’t know that for sure, yet,” the girl replied, but didn’t deny it entirely.
“Explain,” I demanded.
“Veronica,” the girl began, “Sabrina isn’t… human, anymore. She’s…”
“This should be good,” Roxie muttered. The girl glared at her.
“Right now, she’s fighting a battle, with a power from another reality, and it’s going to consume her. There won’t be anything left of her.”
“No,” I said, my mouth moving before the thought had even formed in my head.
“No?” Roxie repeated, surprised.
“I’ll save her,” I said. “Somehow, I will save her.”
“Well, you can’t do that if you’re dead,” the girl said bluntly.
“Then I accept your offer, whatever conditions come with it.”
“You’ll regret this,” Roxie said.
“That’s fine,” I replied.
“You can leave us now, Roxie,” the girl said, her voice rich with condescension. “Veronica and I have a lot to talk about.”