This story is by Kyra Furner and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
I saw the Reaper everywhere back then. He waited for me each waking moment, like a shadow that still lingered when the lights went out. I wished that things were how they appeared in the beginning. That he was there to take my life. But of course, I couldn’t be so lucky. Instead of taking, he gave something- unwanted knowledge coupled with an unmakeable decision. One that I tried to ignore, despite having it engraved in my mind. I had two choices: Be like him, a Destroyer, or die and become nothing.
The first would leave me alone, in a void somewhere between the mortal and immortal universe, abolishing the final level in people’s pyramids of reincarnation. This notion discarded what I thought I’d known. And what I had to do to become a “Destroyer”, tore at my fabric of self. I had to kill someone. I couldn’t choose who. Whether that made it easier or harder, I didn’t know.
I could avoid killing by dying instead, but nothing would follow. Destroyers can’t be reincarnated. This allows them to live a life of an unnatural duration. A Reaper (which he so hated to be called) lives as long but serves another purpose. A Reaper takes a soul to its next life until it can’t move on. A Destroyer ends final lives. Reapers give hope that life will go on. But Destroyers? Destroyers are a harrowing truth that leaves hope shriveled and dead in its wake. I wasn’t ready for everything to be over. I wasn’t ready to end “everything” for others either. Who could ever be?
I had to choose that day, yet I headed to work still, to distract myself. My best friend Maxine walked beside me. I’d never hated her presence before. But whenever she got close to me back then, a thick blanket of foreboding suffocated me. When his voice came, beckoning me to him, I relished the opportunity to dismiss her. I made an excuse to leave. Max objected, but I won with my persistence.
I approached the Reaper, who warned me with his presence. I looked into his speckled, pupilless eyes, as I stood in front of him. I scanned his blue-black skin that stuck to his bones like a sopping sheet, and tried to light a spark of fear within myself. It wouldn’t start. The horror that I used to feel dwindled, anger writhing in my chest replaced it. A result of the choice he had force fed to me.
“What do you want, Reaper?” I enjoyed watching him wriggle.
He glowered down at me. “You know that’s not what I am. I am a Destroyer, not some glorified delivery boy. It’s time you recognize that.” he continued on in his exasperated tone, “I’ve told you a thousand times what I want. Must I say it again?”
I shook my head in response, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of a fully-fledged answer.
“Good. You’ve made your choice then?”
“No,” I said as little as possible. His jaw clenched and his teeth gritted. My lip twitched with satisfaction.
The Reaper sighed,“If we don’t do what needs to be done, people will be conscious but cemented. Like a statue that can think, hear and see. Chained to one spot forever. Their soul, a formless prison.”
My mouth fell open but I didn’t, couldn’t respond. His voice wavered, “I am so tired, Hallie. Look at me,” He slid a finger along a thick, light emitting rift in his arm. “I am falling apart.” He cleared his throat, anger coating his words, “If you die, someone will take your place, but that would take time… time that would stretch me thinner. I’m already stretched too thin. I can’t be in as many places as I need to be, and soon I will become my own formless prison. Not even I, a God, can live forever.” His honesty and the weakness that came with it astonished me.
He let the thought-prompting silence settle before speaking again. “Don’t you think I have suffered enough while waiting for you? I don’t deserve to do this… to be this, for much longer. And people… they don’t deserve to be subjected to torment because you can’t make a decision.”
I drifted home with a swarming mind, my heart heavier than lead. When I got there, I practiced as I waited. An army of drinking glasses sat in front of me. I touched one. Nothing. I cupped my hands around the top, closing my eyes as I took deep breaths. I did so for a minute or two and focused on the tingling warmth in my fingertips until when I opened my eyes… the glass was gone.
The door groaned as Max stumbled through the door. I looked at the entrance. My heart dropped at the sight of the Destroyer fading from view. I turned my eyes to Max, who collapsed to the floor.
“Hallie?” I heard tears in her voice and a whimper escape.
I rushed over to her, “You o… “ and brushed the hair away from her face, “Oh Max, no. Shit… what happened to you?” I moved her so that her bloodied head was resting in my lap.
She shook it and coughed, blood spurted from her mouth and onto my white t-shirt, “I… don’t know.”
“Why didn’t you…?”
She looked up at me, both eyes close to swelling shut, “I’m not gonna make it. I just wanted to see you.” Tears flowed down her disfigured face. I sobbed.
She would die anyway, but I couldn’t let her suffer. I stroked her hair with one hand and pressed the palm of the other against her forehead. The tingling sensation ebbed into my palm, and her trembling became a mild shake. I felt something small swarming, thrumming inside her. It extinguished beneath my touch. I felt the presence of what little remained return to its origin.