This story is by Kiana Yarde and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As I lay asleep, I feel an irresistible yet familiar tug yanking me from my dreamless state. Someone’s at death’s door.
Opening my eyes to darkness, instantaneously, I know whose soul I must collect.
I have been aware of my ability for a while. I discovered it at eighteen but had my first experience at six years old. I recall waking to an inexplicable feeling at the time. A pressing urge to see my Grandma. She had moved in with us after she broke her hip. With that fall, she lost her independence, becoming but a shell of herself. Grandma, as I knew her was always spritely, but the person who lived with us was despondent.
One day I found her unresponsive with laboured breathing. I tried to rouse her, but nothing worked. As I went to call Mum and Dad, something unexpected happened. She gripped my arm and spoke to me, but not audibly. I heard her in my mind. I froze because this shouldn’t have been possible. She continued communicating telepathically.
To this day, I’m not sure how my mum knew to come to Grandma’s room. Call it intuition. She just knew something was wrong and rushed in. Realising what was happening, she screamed for Dad, who rushed to her side. Amid the pandemonium, Mum had the wherewithal to tell Dad to take me from the room, to not let me see what was happening. He did. But something else was happening. Something they didn’t know about. Grandma and I were still telepathically connected.
When she gripped my arm, we bonded in that moment. We existed physically and metaphysically. In my mind, I heard her calling me. Physically, I stayed by the door, but metaphysically, I was at her bedside. As we spoke mentally, she tried to say something as I touched her hand. Unknowing to six-year-old me, because I saw her pain and discontent, my reaper called to her soul.
The experience with Grandma fundamentally changed me, although I didn’t know why. After that, I always felt this inexplicable connection to the recently departed. A pull to death. It wasn’t until I turned eighteen that I understood everything.
I came into this world marked with the gift. But because I was too young when Grandma died, I was spellbound to avoid early access. Then one night, as I was asleep, I was visited by an unseen force in what I have come to know as the astral plane. This force explained everything. That’s how I learned of my true nature and purpose.
Although the unseen force visited me, there are no mentors in soul-reaping. Learning is done on the job. Reaping is a calling. I live with a sense of everyone’s mortality; I have no idea who will be collected. There is no forewarning.
Today’s reaping will be woeful. Another thing I learned. I could make a collection painless or painful. Today will be painless. Why? This soul was destined for greatness. That’s another discovery. I know about their lives. Today’s soul was on the path to curing an incurable disease.
I mentally catalogue everything I know about today’s collection. Days like today, I wish that it were possible to ignore a collection; allow the person to live longer. Unfortunately, I learnt the hard way that this is impossible. Ignoring a collection is tortuous. The pain gradually increases the longer I ignore until it becomes excruciating.
I first experienced this pain at twenty when I tried to ignore a collection. A child. Ethan. I ignored the sensation; I didn’t want to collect a child. He was still too young. I believed he deserved to live. I allowed him to live. But the longer he lived, the more pain I felt. Moving was laborious. Each ligament that made up my being felt as if it were continually torn and repaired.
I wasn’t alone in my pain; Ethan suffered too because of my mistake. He was dying of brain cancer.
My inaction caused him to suffer for almost a month; his family helplessly observed his unending misery. Everyone suffered because of my indolence.
For months after, guilt was my constant companion. This experience reinforced that we all have a part to play, and mine is to be the reaper. A role that I’m unable to ignore for the good of everyone involved.
This burden dictates my life. Thus, I resolved to undertake the role in my own way. Vengeful when warranted. Peaceful for the good ones. I embraced being the reaper. I welcomed the opportunity to be both executioner and guide to the hereafter.
Shaking off these memories, I return to the here and now. Today’s collection is Astrid, a scientist working on the cure for cancer. With everything in order, I focus my energy on Astrid and project my essence to her lab.
“Mum, I have something to tell you.”
My astral body materialises in the room as she speaks with her mum. With minutes left before it’s her time, I perch on a chair listening to her conversation as I bide my time.
“I figured it out. I found the formula for the cure. I know what to do,” Astrid says.
Only hearing her side of the conversation, I imagine her mum’s response.
“You did it, baby. I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks, Mum. I’m so excited. After all this time, I did it,” Astrid excitedly screeches, jumping around the lab.
With despair, it hits me. In less than ten minutes, she’ll be gone from this plane. Her ultimate dream will never be realised because she won’t write down that formula. Expelling a regret-filled breath, I tune back into the conversation.
“I don’t know how exactly to explain it. An unencumbered moment of clarity. I was resting my eyes because of a migraine—the ones I told you about—and I said, ‘what if.’ Turns out, I was correct.”
Astrid bids her mum goodbye, intending to finish the formula. Unfortunately, fate will intervene.
She ends the call.
She crosses the room.
Reaching for the marker.
“Ahh,” Astrid screams as she falls to the floor, two feet away from where she intended to write the formula.
Still perched on the chair, I watch as Astrid’s soul enters my astral plane. Rising, I approach.
“Where am I?” she sombrely asks.
“You already know. You just have to accept it.”
With the flick of my finger, a bench materialises on which we sit.
“I’m dead, aren’t I?”
“Yes. Your migraines were a warning. An aneurysm. It ruptured after the call with your mum.”
I’ve learned that being direct allows them to process their death easier.
“I was about to write the formula down, wasn’t I?” Astrid voices sorrowfully. “Meaning everyone has to continue living with that horrid disease. I didn’t realise my dream.”
“Technically, you did. Your dream was to find the cure for cancer. You just never got the chance to share it.”
With my words, Astrid begins to cry hysterically.
Knowing there’s nothing I can do, I sit quietly while Astrid processes this information.
“Why?” she asks repeatedly. “Why couldn’t I live a little longer? Why didn’t you let me share the formula?” Astrid’s anger flares until she becomes pleading.
“Please. Send me back. Just to write down the formula. Please.”
With each plea, my heart breaks more.
“I’m sorry, Astrid, that’s impossible. Your time has ended,” I reply dispiritedly.
Before Astrid can do anything else, using my energy, I calm her.
“Look into my eyes,” I telepathically command.
A kaleidoscope of colour is reflected in my eyes. My eyes are the window to the soul; they show you what constitutes your soul. Astrid’s is love.
“Someone’s waiting for you.”
I call forth her dad’s soul. He stands by, waiting to take her into their afterlife.
Hand to her chest, I command her soul to come to me. Reaping it, I allow her entry to her afterlife.
I hear her dad say as their souls reconnect.
I call my energy back to my physical body with a heavy heart, exiting my astral plane.
After these specific collections, my countenance changes. Burdened by the unfinished. The repercussions of their death. Astrid’s death means cancer remains incurable. Powerless to ignore, her soul must be reaped, leaving humanity still in the unforgivingly vicious hands of cancer.
On these burdensome days, I question my ability. My limitations. The unrelenting obedience to the callings. There are times when I loathe to be the reaper, to have this responsibility. Why are there no loopholes? Why can’t I, as the reaper, have the discretion to analyse whether a life should be prolonged to achieve a goal? Why can’t I intervene? If I could, I would write the formula down, save humanity from this misfortune. Who decided this unforgiving nature of death? The simple answer is, it’s a part of life.
I am death personified. I am the Reaper.