Reaper: Chapter Two
His hand was warm.
Isa pulled me to my feet. “Just a second,” he said, scanning the area.
I didn’t feel dead. I could feel the wind on my skin and my heart hammering in my chest. My hands were trembling with adrenaline. That had to be a good sign.
“Kat,” Isa said, startling me. I had been staring at my hands so intently that I hadn’t noticed he was holding out his hand to me again.
“I’m not dead,” I informed him a bit giddily, taking his hand again.
Isa didn’t smile, but the corners of his eyes crinkled. “This way,” he said, pointing with his free hand. I looked, but he seemed to be pointing towards thin air.
He led me away from the broken highway and my silver car, wading through the faded brown grass. After about twenty yards he stopped and turned to me.
“I need you to think of a place,” he said, “Any place.”
My mind went blank. “Any place?”
“Anywhere. Visualize it in your mind. Got it?” I hesitated before nodding. “Good. Now we’re going to take one more step together.”
I looked at the grass before us. It didn’t look any different from any other patch of grass we’d passed. I drew a deep breath.
As we stepped forward together, the air went…soft. Like a deep, thick mattress. Like holding an overripe peach in your hands and slowly pressing in your thumbs, letting them sink into it. Not hot or cold or anything like that. Just soft.
Less than a moment passed before the softness was gone; I didn’t even have time to blink. We were still standing in the grass by the highway. I could see my car close by and the mountains looming in the distance. But the edges of the mountains were vague and unclear, and the light that filtered through the clouds was tinted red, almost as though it was shining through rose-colored glass. More telling was the quiet. The wind had disappeared, and the grass was silent and still.
“You know,” Isa commented, “I think people usually choose somewhere other than the place they’re currently standing.”
“I panicked,” I responded, taking in everything around me, “Which seems to be my basic state of existence at this point.”
Unlike everything else, Isa seemed more real than ever. The basics were still the same: pale, ashy skin stretched tight over his body, white hair, and jet black eyes set deep in their sockets. His fingers and limbs were overly long for his body, and he was wearing a black hooded coat with loose sleeves, grey pants, boots, and a t-shirt with a vintage ad for spam.
However, his skin lacked the translucent quality it usually had, and his shadow -
“You have a shadow,” I blurted out, “You have a - the grass. You’re actually crushing down the grass.” I knelt down and confirmed for myself that yes, the grass could be pressed down, and then I turned around and thrust out my hand. The softness was waiting just feet behind me. “Where are we?”
“This is an inbetween place,” he replied, watching as I shuffled a few feet to the side and stuck out my hand again, “We needed somewhere safe to talk.”
I pulled my hand from the softness and tried again. “And the deserted highway wasn’t cutting it?”
Isa pressed his lips together. “It’s not humans that I’m worried about overhearing us.”
I paused mid thrust. “Oh.” The fear which had almost been forgotten in my wonder flared up.
“Here,” Isa said, and he took my hand again, leading me around whatever invisible portal we had passed through. Almost mindlessly I walked towards the car.
“Are we safe here, then?”
He shrugged. “Should be. I don’t think I was followed - there’s no good reason anyone would, really, I’m not a major player. But it’s not wise to talk about these things in the open on principle.”
We reached the car, and I stretched out my hand to touch it. It was solid under my fingers, but the numbers on the license plate were scrambled, changing every time I blinked.
Isa stopped me as I went to open the driver’s side door.
"I just wanted to see if it would start,” I said.
Isa shook his head. “It might, but it’s not wise to go through any doors here. There’s no telling where you might end up.”
A little disappointed, I perched on the trunk instead, pulling up my legs and wrapping my arms around them. Isa stood before me, hands shoved in his pockets.
“So…” I started, Isa looking at me expectantly, “Are you an angel?”
Isa burst out laughing. It was an odd sound, out of place in the unnatural silence of the inbetween.
“No, and I wouldn’t let an angel hear you say that if I were you. Actually, it would probably be fine; most angels I’ve met are quite nice. But trust me, if you ever meet an angel, you’ll know it. People tend to fall over when they show up.”
“Okay, not an angel.” There went half the theories I’d ever read. “Then what are you? And don’t say a reaper.”
“I never really liked that name anyway,” he replied. He kicked the ground for a moment, thinking. “I’m the guardian of your soul. I’ve been with you since your soul first joined your body. I will ensure no one touches it until your life is complete.”
“…And when my life is complete?”
“I take your soul,” he answered nonchalantly, “ - Kat?”
I rolled off the car, running into the field, running towards the softness.
Maybe he wasn’t an angel after all. But there were other theories about the reapers.
“Kat?” he called after me, “I’m not taking your soul here and now.”
I stumbled to a stop in a panic. The grass all looked the same. Whatever gateway we’d walked through wasn’t marked by any kind of visual cue. I was effectively trapped.
“Maybe you’re not taking it now,” I said as I turned, arms tight by my sides, hands clenched, “but you’re going to.”
Isa walked towards me slowly, “That probably wasn’t the best way for me to phrase that.” I shrank away from him instinctively, and he sighed. “This would be easier if I was an angel. They’re good at explaining things. Can I try again?”
He waited until I nodded hesitantly.
“I’m the guardian of your soul. I was bound to you the moment your soul entered your body. While you live, I’ll protect your soul from harm. When your days are complete, I’ll carry your soul to its rest. I’m not going to kill you, consume your soul, drain your life force, steal your corporeal form, keep you in a tortured disembodied state devoid of all sensation, or anything else of that kind.”
I stared at him. “That’s…really specific.”
“But you’re not running this time,” Isa noted.
“If you’re lying, I’m screwed anyway,” I retorted.
“Ah.” Isa’s body seemed to droop ever so slightly. “I liked it better when you just trusted me.”
“And I liked it better when I wasn’t afraid I was going crazy,” I snapped. I shut my eyes and paused, willing myself to breath deeply. “I’m tired. I’m stressed and exhausted and I have no clue what’s going on. You disappeared for two weeks and I didn’t even know reapers could do that, and now you’re talking and you touched me and I’m somehow not dead and we’re in a freaking alternate dimension or something and it’s just a bit much.”
“I didn’t intend to let things get this out of hand,” Isa admitted, “I only thought I’d be gone for a few hours at most.”
Finally, the question that had been burning in my chest for weeks. “What happened? Why did you leave?”
“There was a reaper who needed help. He and his human were being targeted, and they weren’t going to make it.”
“Are they okay?”
His face brightened a bit. “They are. The woman died and he was able to deliver her soul safely.”
“Your definition of a happy ending and mine are a little different,” I muttered, “What did they need protection from?”
Isa looked grim. “There are many beings who would want to misuse a human soul,” he said softly, “And there are others who would like nothing more than to see a reaper give into the temptation to take advantage of their charge. Some of these were attacking this reaper in the hope of either claiming the soul for themselves or, if nothing else, forcing the reaper into a position where he drew on the soul for power. I thought they’d back off once I came to his aid, but they fought until the end.”
Behind Isa’s shoulder, I saw something like a dark smudge on the horizon where the mountains met the sky. A horrible sense of wrongness settled in my gut.
“I didn’t mean to leave you for so long,” he continued, “And it shouldn’t -”
“Isa,” I interrupted, pointing urgently, “There’s something here.”
Isa turned to look. The smudge was getting larger. “No,” he said, “No no no no!” He grabbed my hand.
“We need to move now!” He took off across the field, dragging me behind him. We passed through the softness and the world shifted, the rosy light turning grey. We sprinted back to my car.
I looked back towards the mountains. I couldn’t see anything.
“Get in the car,” Isa ordered, and I hurried to do so. After buckling myself in, I looked up to see Isa pull out a gun.
“Drive home as fast as you can,” he said, ignoring my shock, “And don’t stop until I say so.” With that, he swung himself onto the roof of my car.
I turned on the car and made a U-turn, pressing the pedal to the floor. A minute later gun shots rang out, and I looked into the mirror to see something burst through the portal and hurtle down the broken highway in pursuit.