This story is by Justine and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Hourglasses of varying sizes filled the room. The roof was scrapped in places where the largest hourglasses rested. Some microscopic and all filled, in different levels, with grains of sand. Most hourglasses had a name engraved on them. The ones that didn’t were small, with blue sand barely filling the bottom.
A cloaked figure, gripping a scythe, went past each hourglass, head bowing at the non-engraved ones. Finally stopping at a decent-sized hourglass with blue stained sands only at the bottom, the outside was bare. The figure winced as he always did when viewing the hourglass. His aura pulsed as he studied it, a gold pocket watch matching the pace.
The clock around his neck glowed silver as the hands in it doubled before spinning wildly. One pair of hands detached and flew behind him. Turning around, he noticed another cloaked figure that had was covered in clock hands below his neck. The new figure grinned, the baby teeth at odds with the beard.
“You know you can’t do anything but wait, Demise.”
Demise shook his head, “I should have picked out of the hood instead of choosing my name myself. Why would you let a fifteen-year-old do that, anyway?”
“I’m Strike, master of Time. Not master of everything.”
“Okay but shouldn’t my timeline show that?”
Strike rolled his top two eyes, “You’re thinking is still too human. You see when people die but do you know the details of their death before you’re involved?”
“My point exactly, time is a fluid motion. I see people’s timelines. The possibilities that they have now, possibilities that they had and possibilities they will have. Their choices influence their timeline, not the other way around. I know Time and all possibilities that came with Time. Not everything.”
“Death isn’t fluid.”
“You heard nothing. At least take note of the following: you can’t do anything but wait, Demise.”
“Fine.” Demise turned and stomped out.
Demise glanced at the pocket watch he held, it was still pulsing gently. There must be a way to stop this. He had some time on his hands but no idea where to start. Demise had only been a Reaper for half a year and it’s been only three months since he was allowed to independently reap. He gnawed on his nails as a glance around his bare room proved futile.
“This is useless!” Demise flopped backwards, glaring at the ceiling. “No. Just no. You can’t give up. So think, what do you have to do for the next six months?”
Nothing. He had nothing to do due to the nature of this Reap and his newness of this plane. More time for him to search for what this soul needed to survive. He got up and started to walk in circles.
“I need to leave my room for a start. So where would be the best place to start? Strike’s areas. He would probably force field me or something. This means I need the best place to start where I won’t get trapped.”
Leaving the room, he continued to think, careful not to speak out loud. He attempted to casually glance around, taking note of the buildings. A library glowed even with the shackles running from the windows. Shrugging, Demise entered it. A familiar-looking woman locked behind the desk glared at him, the nameplate showing she was a remorseless murderer.
Rushing past her, Demise entered an aisle, searching for some sort of organisation. There was none. Each day Demise went to the library and searched for anything on Reaping. It was the beginning of the fourth month that he found the Reaping aisle. Demise sighed as he browsed the books, it’s been a month and he still couldn’t find anything. As he moved past the corner, a title caught his eye.
THE REAPING YOU DON’T KNOW
Grabbing it, he slid his hand down the side feeling the shock that signalled he had borrowed it. Demise continued browsing, the find lifting his spirits up. He found nothing else.
The book sat on his bed. Even as he tore through the pages, there was no date or publication, no hint if it was non-fiction. The layout was similar to the moral plane’s non-fiction layout but Demise had no idea if the Reaping plane shared the same format.
“Five months and this is your finding.” Demise flipped the first page open, “I can’t remember seeing any fiction books in this plane so that would suggest this is non-fiction.”
The page had acknowledgements, Strike’s name bold in the middle of it. Definitely non-fiction then. Maybe. Turning the pages, Demise studied the chapter titles, landing on two that might help.
HOW NOT TO REAP
Scanning the pages, there was nothing he needed to know. It was mostly about how to not accidentally reap yourself.
THE INNOCENT AND THE YOUNG
SOMETIMES THE INNOCENT DIE IN HORRIBLE WAYS. SOMETIMES THOSE THAT NEED TO BE REAPED ARE YOUNG, TOO YOUNG SOME MAY SAY. THIS CHAPTER FOCUSES ON HOW TO DEAL WITH REAPING THESE SOULS AND, DESPITE THE PUBLISHER’S WARNING, WAYS THAT OTHERS HAVE TRIED TO SAVE SOULS. ONLY ONE HAS UNKNOWN RESULTS (THE SCYTHE GROOVE).
THE SCYTHE GROOVE ARE LITTLE GROOVES ON ONE PART OF THE SCYTHE THAT A REAPER CAN FEEL. EACH SCYTHE HAS A UNIQUE GROOVE. THE BEST WAY TO FIND THE GROOVE IS TO GENTLY RUN YOUR FINGERS OVER THE SCYTHE (INCLUDING THE DULL SIDE OF THE BLADE). TURN TO PAGE 51.E TO SEE HOW TO PERFORM THE SCYTHE GROOVE.
Demise ran his fingers over the scythe, feeling for the grooves that the book described. Hands stopped right before the blade.
“I can do this. The life is dependent on me doing this.” Demise slowly ran his trembling hand over the dull side. His fingers caught in the middle of the blade, his breath hitched and sweat run down his face. Groove, just a groove. Laughing, he realised what this could mean.
Demise breathed in as the pocket watch pulsed erratically, the light growing brighter when it enveloped him. The scythe glued itself to his hand as Demise was transported to a crowded hospital room. Demise grabbed his pocket watch, feeling the clock hands tick as he watched the newborn struggle for life.
Short thin strands kept the soul attached at the neck even as the other parts were freed. The physical presence was still despite the medical staff’s attempts. He could feel the chain slipping but Demise refused to move. There was only one possible way for him to keep this baby from passing.
Throwing the scythe over him, Demise walked towards the cot. With every step, he could feel how little the gold pocket watch was actually attached to its chain. It was almost time. He ignored the squirming as the soul struggled to leave. Demise gripped his scythe as the soul floated just above the body, only one strand was left.
There was no breathing. Loosening his left hand, Demise reached for the newborn and placed it on their heart. His right hand went to the groove in his scythe and he lent into it. A strange thrumming beat as he used himself to be a conductor. He stared at the pocket watch, refusing to move as the hands ticked down and the chain kept breaking.
Breathing heavily, he ignored the sweat dripping from his face. A scream tore itself from his throat as the watch broke from the chain and fizzled out. It hadn’t worked. The only way to stop the soul from pain was to Reap.
Forcing his eyes to stay open, Demise gripped the scythe with both hands and swung it to the newborn. There was no sound as the final strand between soul and body was cut.