This story is by Katrina Dy and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I fell in love with a mark, and they killed me for it.
We tried to run. Different names, dyed hair and colored contacts, contoured facial features with makeup and prosthetics. We moved constantly, always to a busy metropolitan city where two women could blend into the chaotic landscape. To protect her, she never stepped outside; I ventured out to buy necessities like food and medicine, keeping her on the phone the entire time.
We never truly relaxed, but we were together. That’s all I wanted.
Two years with my Rei. When they found us, there was no escape. Only death.
* * *
“Nia, who ARE these people?!” Her voice quivered, tears pooling in her amethyst eyes.
“Let her go,” I growled, even as my attacker dug the blade deeper into my side. I swallowed the pain. Felt the blood start to soak into my black shirt, grateful that she wouldn’t see me bleeding.
My former client stood behind Rei, one hand settled all too comfortably on her shoulder, the other stroking her midnight hair.
“N, I paid you to kill this woman, and instead you take her as your lover?” He sighed, fastening a rope around her neck. “That’s not how we do things.”
“DON’T TOUCH HER!” I leapt forward, feeling the excruciating burn as the knife ripped around to my back. Rei’s shriek rent the air, and I felt another stab of pain at the base of my skull.
* * *
I awoke with a shrill scream.
“NOOO!!” My eyes shot open; I stood the middle of the street. I blinked once, twice, startled by all the neon street signs after being bathed in black. I nearly leapt out of my skin as people began flooding the intersection.
“Rei?! Where are you?!” I dodged the first few pedestrians, and they walked on as if I didn’t exist. But the street became impassable, and others ran into me.
And then … through me.
They stepped through my body like I didn’t exist.
“What … What the?!” I froze, eyes wide as saucers watching them pass through me. I moved to touch an elder woman with a blue glow surrounding her, all logic in my mind gone. My mouth dropped open when I saw a round digital clock pop up above her head. It read 02:22, 02:21, 02:20 … A timer ticking down.
Down to what?
I followed her like a mark for a job. My brain calmed as I tracked her hunched back through the busy crowd, a spot of pulsing ocean-colored fabric in the sea of business grey and beige. No one shimmered like her.
She meandered down the block, and before I could even attempt to communicate, she collapsed.
Concerned bystanders rushed to help her up, and I did the same, forgetting my non-existence. When I knelt down, the clock reappeared, now reading 00:00.
“She’s not breathing!”
“Does anyone know CPR?!”
The voices faded as I watched the old woman rise out of her body. The same bright aura that once encased the body now settled around her … spirit? Her wrinkled eyes locked onto mine and I exhaled in elation, a smile bursting onto my face. She can see me!
“Nia?” she asked, voice soft like cotton. The name boomed in my head, silencing everything around us, yet I felt no fear of this ghost.
“Where is Rei? H-how do you know my name?” She tilted her head, pinning me with a small close-lipped grin.
“We all learn the name of Death when it’s our time.”
* * *
I had been tasked with ferrying people to their next lives. Wandering the world, I followed an inner pull towards the dying. The bright blue glow that surrounded them confirmed my new type of mark. One touch and I’d see what life remained on their clock. Sometimes a few days, sometimes mere minutes.
Even as I accepted the unwanted position of Death, most of my time I spent wondering what happened to Rei.
When I coaxed a soul through their door to a new beginning, I imagined Rei walking through her own. When a soul called me by name, I wondered if Rei still lived to remember mine.
Had they killed her after I’d tried to save her? Did she pass on to her next existence before I started this job?
Would I ever see her again?
* * *
She was falling from the sky when I found her.
The Golden Gate bridge twinkled above us, the Pacific Ocean’s icy breeze tearing through her long black hair. I dropped as her body did, plummeting at break-neck speed towards the water below. Her clock counted down at blistering pace, less than 2 minutes left in this blue-glowing body.
She would not survive this fall.
“Rei, why are you doing this?!” I demanded, though I knew she couldn’t hear my voice.
Her beautiful violet eyes were shut, hands out wide as if she meant to fly. She wore only a thin white dress, revealing mottled blue-green splotches up both arms: half-healed bruises among a multitude of fresh ones. A large cut slashed across her left cheek, bright red against her pale skin. I noticed the wrinkles around her mouth, the thin wisps of grey in her long hair.
They’d killed me and kept her alive.
“Rei… WHYYY?!” I shrieked as her body hit the jet-black water, the crack! of impact barely discernible over the Bay Area wind’s roar. I wanted to cry, to feel my own tears drip from my face. Wanted to hold her in my arms and keep her safe.
Her body sank below the surface, unmoving. I watched it with laser focus, my own body shaking in despair. Why did you kill yourself?!
And yet, a sliver of giddiness also coursed through my veins. After countless years, I would speak to my Rei again. She would be able to see me. What will you think of me now, a killer in death as I was in life?
Rei’s soul separated from her body like a snake shedding its old skin. Her purple eyes twinkled in the shallow depths of the ocean, tracking her former vessel as it continued its descent. Then she looked up at me, gaze ablaze in recognition.
“Hello, Rei,” I whispered, “Do you know who I am?” She nodded excitedly, looking like a child in a toy store despite her middle-aged appearance.
“You’re Death, here to take me to my next life.” Her words froze my outstretched arms, ready to take her in an embrace.
“B-but that’s not all I am.” We rose out of the water to float in the air. I felt my breath quicken, swallowed the imagined bile rising in my throat. “Don’t you remember me?”
“You’re Death,” she repeated, a familiar frown pickling her mouth. “Am I supposed to know more?”
“Nia!” I cried, grasping her hands in mine. “Nia Kageyama! The one who hid you from Kenra Corp, who tried to save you! Nia, your wife!” Her expression tightened, anger racing across her face like kindling catching fire; I’d missed that ferociousness.
“You’re Death!” she snapped, yanking her hands out of my tightening grip. “My wife was Elicia, they killed her years ago. I-I never knew anyone named Nia in my life!”
“You didn’t?” My voice shrank in size, my fear growing large in my stomach.
“No! And no one ever hid me from Kenra Corp, either!” Rei paused, breathing hard despite no longer needing air. She looked like the words hurt to say. “That’s why I killed myself. To escape.”
The bruises, the cuts. The way she so willingly leapt from the bridge.
When I became Death, my entire existence had been wiped from the Earth. In Rei’s life, I’d been replaced by another woman.
Her love for me, gone.
“I-I’m so sorry, Rei,” I murmured, “I didn’t mean to cause you distress.” I pulled my business mask over my face, soothing my features and plastering on a pleasant smile. “I must be mistaken.”
She seemed placated, nodding curtly at my apology. “Will you take me to my next life now?” The lack of warmth in her voice cut through me. Could she not remember me at all?
How could the Gods (or whatever deity exists) do this to me?! To finally be able to speak with Rei, to have her see me yet not know who I am? To not know what we went through together?
“Yes, I will take you.” I opened her door, inside a swirl of blue and purple eddies. Took her hand and helped her up the steps.
She turned to look at me before stepping through. I gave a silent thanks that she couldn’t see me cry.
“Thank you, Nia,” she replied, smiling even though she’d been furious moments before. I smiled back, biting back my urge to scream in pain. I am nothing to you.
“You’re welcome, Rei. See you next time.”