This story is by Gabriella Marzola and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The rain in Southern California was rude. Not enough to stop the drought, but enough to ruin your day.
Except for maybe, Miss Hannah Hall’s.
“Ma!” Hannah shrieked through the phone speaker. She hurried down the studio hallway, ducking out the door before the executives could overhear her. The door shut behind her, and raindrops pattered on her hood while she searched her purse for her black umbrella.
“I got the job!” Hannah squealed. “I’m going to be the star in a Hollywood movie!”
A siren sounded down the street. Hannah covered her other ear.
“After hundreds of auditions and rejections, it’s finally happening.”
Hannah’s mother screamed in excitement. Hannah’s smile grew bigger; her fridge white teeth gleamed against the gloomy gray landscape.
“You deserve this, honey,” her mother cried. “Your father and I are so proud of you. Come over. I’ll make you ravioli for dinner, your favorite.”
“I’ll be right –“ Hannah’s smile dropped when she read the notification that buzzed onto her phone screen.
TRAFFIC ALERT: THE 101 FREEWAY AT THE 405 HAS FLOODED. PLEASE USE ALTERNATE ROUTES.
“Hannah, you can’t get on the roads! Take the train, and I’ll come to pick you up!”
Rumbles echoed through Hannah’s stomach.
“Ma, relax. I’ll just take the streets.”
“Be careful, honey!”
“I love you, Ma. I’ll see you soon.” She put her phone in her jacket pocket and opened her umbrella.
Cigarette butts and soggy candy wrappers floated down the gutter stream, and the smell of hot asphalt hung in the air. Rain in Los Angeles is like hosing lipstick off a pig. But Hannah Hill loved pigs.
She fell into her car seat while typing her parents’ address into Maps and started the engine. The route was solid red, with three accidents in the path—12 miles in 42 minutes.
Her heart raced as she replayed the audition in her head, still in shock. As soon as she spoke her final word, the director stood up and clapped. He kept repeating “Bravismia!” while shaking Hannah’s hand. At that moment, she felt like a door that had been locked her whole life had finally opened.
She had a missed call from her agent, so she spoke to the void, “Hey Siri, call Jay Barry.”
Jay Barry, talent agent extraordinaire, has a gift. He is a master convincer. He has lived in LA for fifteen years and has talked his way out of every single parking ticket. His jet-black hair was perfectly square, just like his jawline. He wore clear blue sunglasses that did not shield any sun. He never met a deal he didn’t win.
“Hannah, baby! How’s my big star?” She often cringed when he said this before, but now it felt right.
“I got the –“
“You’re breaking up, babe. Hello?”
Hannah repeated herself but received no response. She glanced down at her phone and reached to tap the screen to check the call.
Up ahead, a strong gust of wind crashed through the branches of a towering pine tree. The trunk cracked, and the tree fell across the road. Hannah looked up when she heard screeching brakes. She collided with the back of the car.
Everything went white.
Hannah blinked her eyes open, adjusting to the bright light. The only sound she heard was her heartbeat pounding against her eardrums. Cold air caressed her skin, tickling the hairs on her arms to stand straight up. Her eyes scanned her surroundings for familiarity. She was standing in a white room with two doors. A sign hung above the doors that read “FORTUNA.”
The door on the right creaked open.
An older man with wide-rim glasses scuffled through the door clutching a manila folder of neatly stacked papers to his chest.
“Miss Hall. Welcome in,” his voice low and husky, like he had done enough talking in his life and he chose to savor the words he had left.
Hannah started to move her lips to ask a question, but the man held up his hand to stop her.
“We are waiting for one more.”
She heard heavy footsteps approaching. The door on the left swung open, and a man with clear blue sunglasses and a razor-sharp smile burst into the room. The older man groaned.
“Hey, baby. Sorry, I’m late. Traffic was a nightmare.” He held Hannah’s chin up and winked. She cocked her head and blinked to register what she was seeing. This man looked like Jay, but he was not Jay. His eyeballs were like solid black marbles behind his glasses.
Hannah’s voice finally returned, though shaky and unsure. “Where am I?”
The older man shuffled the papers in his folder and then set them down on the table that appeared.
“I’m Death,” he held out his hand to shake, “Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Hannah choked. She was patting her body to check if everything was still together.
“And I am Fate. How ya doin’.” He raised his eyebrows and pointed a finger gun.
Hannah shook her head, looking at one man and then back at the other.
Death breathed deeply. “Two paths stand before you, Miss Hannah Hall. You must decide which one to take.
“If you choose to ride with me, I can’t tell you where we will go. I can’t guarantee what will happen. It is possible you could be transported to another dimension. Or reborn as a baby to start your journey all over again. You could reincarnate as a bird or a wolf.”
Hannah listened in awe.
“But it is possible that your soul could be lost forever, and your body will decay and become worm food. There is, unfortunately, no way of knowing.”
Hannah’s heart sank.
“Even so, if you ride with me, you are in the driver’s seat. You make your own decisions.” Death stared into Hannah’s wide eyes and put a comforting hand on her shoulder.
Fate interjected. “Alright, alright, step aside, old man, time’s up.”
“Hannah. Do you hear this man right now? He is crazy! It is not safe to go with him. If you come with me, I’ll take care of you. You won’t have to lift a finger; I’ll do everything for you.”
Hannah’s goosebumps spread up the back of her neck as the cold air breathed around her.
“With me, I’m in the driver’s seat. We know where we’re goin’. We have a map. I’ll tell you exactly where we’re headed.” His tone changed from charming to stern. “When I’m drivin’, what I say goes. There will be no back seat drivin’, no nothin’.”
She could see her reflection staring back at her in his deep black eyes. She thought about her mother and father, her blossoming career, her exciting potential. Everything, lost.
“Would I still get to see my family? Would I still get to star in the movie?” Hannah asked, almost pleading.
“Yeah, sure! You could have your family…but I can make that movie flop.” A dark grin spread across his face.
The inside of her chest radiated heat. Fear crept up her spine.
“Look, maybe it won’t go exactly as you planned. But at least I will tell you what you’re getting into.”
Fate stood up out of his chair and rolled up his sleeves.
“Here, let me paint a picture for ya.” He held up his hands with his palms facing out.
“Imagine you are sitting on a beach. In Florida. Middle of summer. 100-degree heat, 98% humidity. And you have to wear a full black leather suit forever.”
Hannah shook her head.
“Alright too small, you’re right. What if I make you immortal? You never die, but you watch everybody you love die.” He paused. “Then, you watch the entire human race die off. The earth just keeps getting hotter, and you’re out there living amongst highly evolved sea creatures.” He continued. “Then, the earth explodes, and you sit as a star forever alone.” He held for applause. Hannah stared in silence.
“Didn’t I tell you I’d make you a star?” Fate laughed.
The blood pumping through Hannah’s veins felt heavy, like sucking molasses through tiny straws.
“Okay, I got it. You’ll love this. I got this inspiration from a Twilight Zone episode.” Fate’s black eyes widened. “You know how you always hated people and just wanted to read books? Well, what if you were the last person on earth, and you were surrounded by books.” He paused for suspense. “But you break your glasses.” He slapped his knee and chuckled maniacally.
Hannah’s stomach turned. She felt hot tears well up in her eyes.
“I don’t think I can do any better than that. You have to choose. Fate, or Death?”
Hannah looked at Death, and back at Fate. Death was a terrifying adventure, and Fate was miserable certainty.
Hannah’s gaze met the two doors in the room, and she remembered how she got the part. She trusted herself.
“I choose Death.”
She locked arms with Death and stepped into the unknown.