The Reaper Diaries [Extended]

Louise didn't expect to be Death.

A while ago, I wrote a story on Movellas named The Reaper Diaries that was hashed out in a couple of hours for a contest. I got a whole bunch of lovely feedback and some amazing support on it and have been developing it into a full-length novel. I'm entering it into the Sony Young Writers' contest to try and win a workshop with a published writer. :) Let me know what you think of these first three chapters. <3

[Mature Content is swearing only.]

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2. Sam

I don’t really remember what it felt like as the car crashed into my side.

I can imagine it, but I don’t really think that comes from anything but what I think it should have felt like. What I do remember is more like a series of disconnected fragments; out of time, out of sync. But what remains is definitely mine.

I remember turning and rolling my eyes at my mother. I don’t remember what she said. It wasn’t important. It was just another repeat of a thousand conversations we’d had before. A thousand conversations I ignored. I remember that mixture of annoyance and carefree ignorance that swamped my head as I took that step backwards, a derisive laugh bubbling under my tongue, ready to consume my mother’s next words with a witty and uncaring rebuttal.

I remember the sound of the rush of cars. They were my first clue. The green light had been on as I last looked. But that loud but distant whirring sound that echoed to my ears was what made my heart thud unconsciously as I took that step.

Most of all, I remember the cold and lifeless thud against the ground. The slight bounce of my body as it landed. Falling through nothing, and the reeling sensation that pierced through my body, that unconscious and instant feeling of uncertainty and shock that feels like an arrow through your heart.

 After that, everything’s a blur. There’s a scream. Sirens. Shouting. Movement. And a last glimpse of a bright and brilliant sky before it fades away.

It was sunny that day.

And then afterwards? Afterwards I was sure I must be dreaming. Because – because what I saw next couldn’t ever be real.

It’s there down to every last detail. The fourth paving-stone is broken from when I tripped and broke my ankle on it playing tag. The archway with a canopy of vines is as untidily kept as ever. The whole thing is cramped and too small to really fit anything into; a small path with a little grass either side. There’s our old brick barbeque in the corner. We couldn’t take it when we left. I follow a butterfly with my eyes. I can hear laughter, and smell the gentle waft of cinnamon.

My childhood garden.

There’s a figure standing in the archway, leaning against the metal frame with a cavalier stance, arms folded, eyes staring at a rose. His head gently turns and looks at me, and I squint, trying to make out his features. He looks like – no. Can’t be.

“Matt?” I mutter, and take a couple of confused steps towards him. I squint again. “Matt, what’re you doing here?”

It was an inane thing to ask, really. Not: “Why am I in my old garden?” Not: “Why are my limbs intact?” or even “What’s with the total lack of side-splitting pain?”

No, the only thing I cared to question out loud was why my boyfriend was here, even if there were a thousand other bizarre things flitting around me.

He looks at me, and as his features ebb into focus I realize it’s not Matt. A simple raise of the eyebrow reveals that his facial features are different. He tucks the leather jacket almost awkwardly around him, in complete juxtaposition to the boy I know.

“Hi,” he says, and extends a hand for me. I take a hold of it and give it a mechanical and automatic shake. “I’m… not Matt.”

“Yeah. I guess not. Sorry.”

“No worries. My name’s Sam.”

 “Uh huh. Whatcha’ doin’, Sam? Care to shed some light on what I guess is a very realistic dream?”

He smiles, and then it fades rapidly, his eyebrows creasing, as if some painful thought has infringed on a moment of joy. I can see in the miniature, almost undetectable bite of his lip that it is genuine concern. “I’m afraid you’re not dreaming.”

“Care to prove it?”

He smiles again, but it’s sad all the way through. “I’m…” He hesitates, and there’s a different word forming that I can’t catch. “I’m your Guide, I guess.”

“I’m not lost,” I say, too-quickly.

He fixes me with an intense stare. “Alright,” he says, but I can hear tolerant skepticism throughout the words, and instantly I find myself irritated. “What’s your name?” asks the boy, shooting me a sideways and serious glance.

“Louise.”

“Pretty name,” he says, then looks down, biting his lip gently. “How ya doin’, Louise?”

“I’ve had better days,” I admit, glancing up at him.  “Care to shed some light on this situation, then?”

There’s a long pause when he just looks at me, something hesitant lying in the crease of his eyebrows, something sad lingering behind his eyes. His mouth is pursed, but he seems to forcibly relax it before he speaks. “Louise.”

There’s such utter seriousness in his voice for the first time. Gone is the half-joking, almost flirtatious tone. It’s as I look up at him at those honest and sad eyes that I realize.

I already know what he’s going to say. But still time seems to slow down to a second, each word taking an aeon to produce itself, each movement as though I am watching it on a lagging video.

“Louise, you died.”

I open my mouth, fish-like, then shake my head. “Yeah. Right. I’m dead, and this is the afterlife. Wonder what bit of my brain this dream is waving around, then?” I almost laugh, but it comes out choked and desperate.

“Louise,” he says again, his voice tense.

It is all he needs to say.

Finally, I feel the impact. The car comes crashing into me at last, knocking all the breath out of me with full force, and complete and side-splitting pain constricts me in its heavy hand, squeezing the heartbeat out of an empty body.

 I don’t fall. I don’t tumble to the ground, or faint, or stagger. I stand still, my fists clenched, feeling as though I have been cut in half.

Somewhere inside of me, I already knew.

I fumble for words, feeling as though I should say something: at least ‘oh’ – or something – a recognition that I heard him, that I know, that I understand.

Sam just stays leaning against the fence, looking at a growth of weeds intently. I don’t know why he doesn’t attempt to shake me, to reiterate what he said. He just takes a few steps – gentler than I expect, as if the grass hardly notices him – and pulls a weed savagely from the ground. It crumbles in his palm. Then he stands up, brushes his hands off and glances at me again uncertainly.

“So,” he says, quietly, each syllable measured out. “What is this place?”

My voice is choked and suppressed as the words crawl out of my dry mouth. “Isn’t that what I’m meant to be asking you?”

“I mean the garden. Whose is it? Why is it special?”

“It was mine. When I was younger. It’s not special.” My voice is cold, each syllable in monotone. The words are automatic, because I have to keep going, because I can’t fall apart, because if I do then this will be real.

“They’re always special. What do you remember here?”

“Why do you care?” I snap.

“I can’t not.” After a suitably awkward moment, he speaks again. “Everyone who dies… the place they walk through to the door is the place they were happiest. So I thought you might like to talk about why it’s here. If you’re not ready to go through the door.”

“Door?” I mumble. I see the stagnant image of the car a hundred times, flickering across my vision.

“Yes.” Under his breath, I hear him mutter: “You’d think I would be coherent at explaining this by now.

“Where does it lead to?” I ask, almost afraid to know the answer.

He chuckles and shakes his head. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“Nope.”

“Well why the hell not?”

He shrugs, then shakes his head. After a moment, he speaks. “People come through here to die, I talk to them, I help them… or try to. Then they go through that door to the next chapter, and that’s it. I don’t get any say in what goes on after that.”

I burst out in incredulous and inappropriate laughter, then lean on the short wall that runs along the side of my house. “Boy,” I say, amidst choking tears of laughter. “Someone’s got it in for you. That would drive me crazy.” I continue laughing, allowing myself the cathartic release of this bizarre emotion. I’m dead. And I am grinning as it cuts me to pieces. The laughter takes on an almost maniacal edge, the sweet edge of despair sweeping through.

After I’ve finished, Sam says: “Someone. Or maybe not. I haven’t got a clue.”

“If there is someone,” I say, “They’ve got one sweet-ass sense of irony. I’ll give the creator a hi-5 if I meet him.”

All of a sudden, the bizarrely jovial conversation stops dead when he asks: “Do you think there’s someone, then?”

My laughter is cut short and I sputter hopelessly at him. “A God? Fuck if I know.” I shake my head. “I dunno. I used to go to Mass and all that crap when I was a kid. But I hadn’t really thought about it much.”

He frowns at me. “Really? I thought about it a lot when I was alive.”

I turn my head to him and take in his face properly for the first time. I really can’t understand how I mistook him for Matt now. In the short time we’ve been speaking, his features have become him. He is much softer than Matt. Much kinder. It’s comforting, but frightening too. This is not what I expected the face of death to be like.

“Huh,” I say to myself, looking at him, musing on who he may have been when he was alive.

“What?”

“Who were you?” I say, then correct myself. “I mean… who are you. I mean, who were you when you were alive?”

He shakes his head. “Something of a vague question. This isn’t about me, anyway.”

I roll my eyes. “I’m dead. I’ve got time. How’d you end up with the job, Sam?”

He shrugs. “I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s a reason. I just did. Maybe it’s because I’m good at it. Maybe it’s chance. Maybe someone likes to watch me suffer. Can we talk about you, now?”

“Nope.” I swing my legs on the wall and look at him. “How did you die?”

It’s such a bizarre question that I have to stifle a laugh. How did you die? Sitting on my old garden wall, looking at butterflies and flowers that were probably never this beautiful, with a boy I just met guiding me to my death, and I am talking jovially about his death. I’d say it wasn’t what I expected, but that’s the thing: I wasn’t expecting it at all.

His expression creases with what appears to be confusion, but he sighs and perches on the wall next to me, muttering something under his breath. “Alright then. I was in the passenger seat of a car driven by my friend. He was drunk. He drove us into a lampost.”

“Hm,” I say. “Did they live?”

He nods. “Just me dead. Everyone else in the car was…mostly fine.”

“Well,” I respond, after a moment. “I hope it was one hell of a party.”

“No party. My friend was an alcoholic. He turned up drunk to sixth form.”

“Oh,” I say. “Why’d you get in the car?”

“I was late to an exam. We’d gone to the wrong building and needed to get back quickly.”

Silence is an ever-present force. He turns to me and breaks it smoothly.

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“How did you die?”

“I thought you were supposed to know.”

“Not how it works.”

“Oh,” I say. “You’ve got a rough job, huh?”

“It’s not all bad,” he says, and I feel him lean against me gently, then pull back. I hear a sharp intake of breath and he fumbles awkwardly with the edge of his jacket. An almost started sentence lingers on his lips.

“I got hit by a car,” I say, simply. “That’s pretty much the end of that story.” He’s silent but perceptive in his watch, and he nods silently, then gestures with his hand towards me, as if inclining me to continue talking. I glance at the weeds at my feet. “Now I guess I’ll be remembered as a hero. As a… a young tragedy, lost too soon. People will say they loved me. That they knew me. That I had so much to live for. But it’s all lies. People will lie flowers who didn’t give two shits about me, and they’ll convince themselves they cared, that we were friends, and that lie will become real because it has to… you can’t let someone die and not do that. But the truth is every word will be a lie. I didn’t have much going for me, frankly.”

I’m surprised that the tangent unfolded from my mouth, and I glance at Sam. “Sorry.” I’m not really certain what I’m apologizing for, but he is so polite and genuine that I feel the urge to soften my every action in his presence. Not that he looks like he can’t handle it. He just nods, and then says:

“No need. Fair point.”

“Probably heard it all before,” I joke.

“In bits and pieces. Never quite like that, though.”

“Like what?”

He shrugs, mumbles something incomprehensible to himself, then glances at me. “Right,” he says. “Want a little while longer, or are you ready for your door?”

I don’t know. I want to stay. I want to go. Mostly, I want to go through the door – but I want to take Sam with me. He has been one sparkling light in all of this. He did not mollycoddle me, nor was he overly grim. Just factual. Honest. Kind and patient. And he doesn’t get to come.

Doesn’t seem fair, I think. That such a good person doesn’t get an afterlife.

Then I remind myself: Maybe it’s not a good afterlife. Or maybe it’s nothing at all. Who knows what’s on the other side of that door? Maybe it’s hell for all of us. Maybe Sam gets this because it’s better than the alternative.

He’s looking at me without expectation, but I notice his hands twisting slightly. I try to read them, but I cannot decipher him. Although he is kind and good, there is a wall between us, and I will never breach it. I will never know anything beyond what he chooses to show to these people he walks to death.

“Ready as I’ll ever be, I guess,” I say.

He nods, and then he does something I did not expect: he reaches out his hand to me. I take it without thinking about the action. Then we walk slowly around the corner until a door appears, where the gate into our back garden should’ve been. But it’s different. It’s grey, smooth, and the round handle glimmers in the cautious light.

I hold on for a moment, and then, as I grasp the handle, I let his fingers slip through mine. I turn, one hand frozen on the doorknob, looking at him. “Hey, Sam,” I say.

“Yes?”

“How long ago did you die?”

He shrugs. “Time’s relative here. But what’s the date you died?”

I frown, and bite my lip. “January 28th, 2014.”

He nods. “Then… one year, six months and twenty one days.”

“Was there someone here before you, then?”

“Yes.”

“What happened to them?”

“They eventually got their door.”

“Do you think you’ll ever find yours?”

He pauses, and again mutters to himself. He smiles, and gently flicks a strand of hair out of my face. “I hope so. For now, I’ll just do my best to help here.”

I smile. “I hope you find it too. Hey, if there’s another side, call me up when you get there, OK?”

“Will do.”

“Goodbye, Sam.”

“Goodbye, Louise.”

“And thank you,” I say. “You… you did help.” This is still not OK. This is still not good, or what I wanted, but I can face what happens next because of him.

“Thanks,” he says. “That means a lot.” And he sounds like he means it.

I take a deep breath, and face the door, screwing my eyes shut. I don’t want to leave him behind. Because I am certain that he is at least a little good, and I don’t know if anything good lies behind this door.

Then, I turn the doorknob.

And nothing happens.

I turn to see Sam, confusion swathing across my face. “It won’t open,” I say. “Why won’t it open?”

He reaches across me and touches the doorknob. The moment he makes contact, the door seems to be sparked to life by his touch, and moves obligingly. He stares into the blank crack of nothingness that peers out of the door. There’s no light, or darkness, and the space seems to swallow up all matter around it.

I reach out to take a hold of the door, but it slams shut as I move towards it. We stand there looking at each other in total shock for a moment before I dare to speak.

“I guess you found your door.”

“I…” He stumbles, staring at it. “No. That’s yours. It should be yours.”

“Maybe. But it’s not,” I say, trying not to let my voice shake, trying not to let him know that I feel even more afraid.

“Oh.”

“Uh huh.”

Do I have his job now? Why? Why me? Why someone so hopelessly unprepared for something so monumentally important? How can I be comforting, helpful, alleviate pain, listen – how could I ever be any good at something like that? What kind of asshole would pick me out of all the people in the world?

I almost laugh to myself. I was never ever able to hold down a job. I got fired from McDonalds, for God’s sake.  (Apparently, they don’t appreciate you putting ‘The Cheeky Song’ on repeat for three hours, especially if you aren’t supposed to be anywhere near the music station.) And now I’ve got one I never even asked for.

But instead of freaking out, instead of crumbling, I throw my arms around Sam and squeeze him tightly – a boy I hardly know, but hope I will see again. “Hey,” I say. “Answer if I call when I get there, yeah?” God, I’m trying not to cry. My eyes feel hot and wet.

“You can count on it,” he says, his face drained of all colour. He pauses, ready to say something, as the door opens with the mere action of his walking towards it.

“Just go,” I said. “We did goodbyes.”

“Yeah, but – “

“Go, idiot,” I say.

He nods, smiles with a simple sadness, and walks through the door. As he places his hand on the doorknob, the area around me shifts. It becomes a beach, where the sun is setting. A few lonely towels are placed to face the sunset. The air smells like salt. I hear the door shut behind him. As I turn, it disappears.

I glance out at the setting sun. I suppose this was his place, then.

Taking shaking steps, I wade out into the salty ocean, feeling it knock against my legs, wishing it would wash me awake from dreaming.

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