My heart was beating at a quick pace. I squeezed my eyes shut, pulling my legs up to curl into a ball. I should be used to this kinda stuff happening, but it never gets easier. I think I might be even more scared than I was the first time. My Uncle and I almost got hit by a semi truck. He managed to swerve away to safety in time, and now he’s yelling at the driver. This is not the first time I almost died, and most certainly won’t be the last.
Oddly enough, I’m well acquainted with death. As much as I love animals, I could never keep one for long, because in less than half a year it would die in my care. I have many friends at school, but I’m always reluctant to hang out with them. It seems like every time I do, one of them dies. More recently, my own mother was killed in the middle of the night. My parents are divorced, and I was with my father at the time, so no one realized what had happened until it was far too late.
I remember waking up that morning to the scent of bacon and cinnamon rolls, sleepily stumbling to the breakfast table. Listening to Dad as he went on about a story about him and his friends while I carefully chewed my food. Then the sound of a phone ringing sang throughout the house. Dad went to pick it. I remember his face. It wasn’t relieved nor happy. Instead, his eyes were hollowed shells, one hand covering his mouth, whispering to the person on the other side of the line. He didn’t want me to hear.
“Christopher!” My Uncle said, snapping his fingers in front of my face to grab my attention. Startled, I quickly unraveled myself from my position, placing my feet back on the floor of the truck. Uncle Nate always did hate me tracking dirt onto his seats. “I-I’m fine!” I blurted. Nate shook his head, muttering something under his breath, before he started driving once again. He was never too fond of me anyways.
The next day I busied myself with any chore I could find. My father and I were staying at my Uncle and Aunt’s house for a few days, and they always had something for me to do. Keeping my hands busy usually stops my mind from worry too much.
I had saved my favorite chore for last: Taking care of Aunt Claire’s garden. When I was younger, I thought it looked just like something from a fairytale, with the vast variety of flowers, herbs, and other plants and all of its magnificent colors. Of course, I was obsessed with Disney movies back then, so it’s not as magical as it appeared to be back then, yet I still admire it nonetheless.
I followed the brick path to the Green House. It may be January right now, but Aunt Claire always keeps plants in there for when Spring comes. As I reached for the door handle I heard a soft purr and felt something rub against my leg.
“Hmm?” I hummed quietly, looking down. A cat, its white fur caked with dirt and mud, was brushing itself against me. I prefer animals to humans so I really did not mind, but usually animals approach me only if I know them. I’m certain that I had never seen this one around here before.
“Hey little one,” I cooed softly, crouching down to its level, “Are you new around here or something?” It blinked at me a few times then started to bat at my curly red. “Cut that out, will you? I’m not a toy!” I laughed, holding the animal away from my face.
When it finally stopped messing with me, I cradled it close to my chest and went back to the house. “The plants can wait,” I thought aloud, “Right now, you need a bath.”
“This would’ve been easier if you didn’t fight back,” I tell the cat while drying it off and combing it’s now shiny, clean fur. It clawed at my arm when I tried to force it into the tub. Luckily for it, my Dad went to the city earlier and won’t be back till later, otherwise he would’ve tossed it out for injuring me.
I carried the little one back to my room and placed it on my bed. “Stay here please,” I commanded. I went to the kitchen to grab some water and food for the stray. “Chicken is good for cats right?” I ponder, grabbing the container full of the aforementioned good. I walked carefully back to my room with the two bowls in hand, as to not spill either.
“Hiss!” I heard the stray growl. Worried, I quickened my pace and entered my room. I found my friend with its back arched, ears flattened and sharp teeth bared. Its eyes were focused on a crow in the window, pecking at the glass.
“Oh, hey friend!” I greeted the crow named Nanna. Uncle Nate found Nanna with a broken wing one Autumn and took her in. He nursed her back to health and ever since she sticks around on the farm as a companion of his. Nanna is the only wild animal I’ve seen Uncle Nate show compassion for.
I once asked why he named the crow Nanna. His answer was rather strange.
He looked away from me, a soft smile playing on his lips and a distance sadness in his eyes. “Chris, Nanna means mercy, it means kindness. It showed me want others did not growing up.” Nate reached out and the crow flew down and perched itself on his arm. The charcoal colored animal cawed at him, as if it were speaking.
“And for that, we will always be friends.” Then he finally turned to me, face serious. He placed his free hand on my shoulder, “Remember that, okay? Just because someone’s dark on the outside, doesn’t mean they’re automatically the monster. Sometimes life isn’t fair to the person who always is…”
I shook the memory from my mind. “Nanna, Uncle Nate’s outside,” I said, placing the bowls down and attempting to shoo the bird off without having to open the window. She wouldn’t leave. She continued to peck at the glass and caw.
I got closer to the window. Rapping my knuckles against the glass, I scold the bird. “Get out of here, will you? You two are going tear each other apart if I let you in.”
The next thing I know, a loud screech rings out from behind me. I recoiled away just in time as the upset feline attempted to launch itself at the bird. “Hey! Cut that out right now!” I yell, pulling the cat away from the window. Refusing to back down, it sunk its claws into my arm again, fighting to escape.
“Chris! What are you doing!?” I heard Uncle Nate yell, his footsteps getting closer. He came into my room, eyes immediately landing on the cat in my grasp. “You!” He erupted, snatching the animal by the scruff of its neck.
“I told you a million times!” He continued, stomping away with the innocent creature.
“Uncle Nate, no!” I scrambled after him. I grabbed his wrist.”Don’t kill it!” I pleaded.
He ignored me and headed outside. He carelessly tossed the cat off the porch. Nanna then came and landed on his shoulder, still cawing at the helpless feline. “Stay away from my family!” He turned around, forcing me back into the house and closing the door behind him.
“What was that for!?” I demanded an answer. No one treats animals like that on my watch. He scoffed. “Bacia is nothing but trouble. I may have just saved your life.” He turned and began to stomp off to his room.
“Why name it if you despise it!”
“I didn’t,” he muttered, “That’s just its name. That’s just what it does.”
I skipped dinner after that. I refuse to be in the same room as someone who’s so cruel to animals. I sat on my bed with my lucky baseball bat in hand. Back when my parents were still together, we used to play ball together all the time. Now I only do it for school.
I exhale softly, turning the worn bat over and over. “I want to go home,” I whispered. I squeezed my eyes shut, my grip on the bat tightening. I place it back under my bed. You never know when you’re going to need it.
I tried to sleep. I couldn’t. I kept thinking about how Nate treated the cat. Has he met it before? What did it do? Why was he so mad?
My thoughts were interrupted when I heard tapping. I sat up and glanced at my window. The light from the moon managed to illuminate enough to let me see a silhouette of a cat. Bacia.
“You never left,” I whispered, getting up to open the window. Bacia immediately hopped inside. She walked over to the door and stated scratching it.
“Bacia, no, Nate can’t find out you’re here,” I warned. She ignored me. “You want me to open the door?” It blinked at me, as if to say ‘duh’. Hesitantly, I creaked open the door, but only a small gap. Bacia managed to squeeze through.
“Wait,” I whispered. I reached through the crack, trying desperately to s****h her back, but with no luck. “Dang it,” I muttered. I peeked through the crack to look for her. I witnessed something else. There was a strange blue glow lighting up another silhouette, different than the feline’s and much bigger.
I pulled back before they could see me. “Not today, not today, not today,” I frantically muttered. I reached under my bed and armed myself with my bat. “Gods and Goddesses, not today.”
“Meow.” I froze. Bacia had returned and she was meowing loudly.
“Bacia, no!” I whispered screamed at her. Then came the sound of footsteps getting closer. I had to think fast. I stood in front of the door waiting. The blue glow was visible through the crack. As soon as the door opened wide enough, my eyes squeezed shut and I swung with all my might.
Glass shattering and the sound of someone hitting the floor rang out. The blue glow faded from behind my eyelids. Bacia had become quiet.
Ba bump, ba bump, ba bump
My heartbeat had skyrocketed and my nerves were shot. I dropped my bat.
I paused, building up the courage to open my eyes. Then I did. A broken lantern was casted off to the side, the candle previously inside extinguished. Nearby on the floor layed a skeleton in a cloak. Or, they- he looked like one. I kneeled down to get a closer look. He was not a real skeleton, he just had some kind of face paint on. I rubbed my thumb on his cheek, attempting to remove it. It did not come off.
“Oh s**t,” I panicked, “I just murdered the Grim Reaper.”
“You would not be the first to attempt assassination,” someone behind me said. I felt a sharp pain on my side. I screamed, doubling over to clutch my now bleeding stomach. Tears of agony spilled from my eyes.
“I would apologize, but truthfully, I feel no remorse for the likes of you.” The unknown attacker strikes again, this time hitting my shoulder. I collapse completely, my vision fading from blood loss.
My heart was beating weaker than normal. My head hurt and I felt dizzy. I groaned, forcing my eyes to open. My vision was blurred, but I could tell that I was not in my room anymore. “What happened…” I wondered aloud, clutching my pounding head.
“Good to see you’re awake.” The voice of the attacker. My vision cleared I could finally see him. He was covered in shiny metal armour and a cloak. He wore no helmet, showing off a face that looked like a skeleton’s. His hair was brown and tied back, his eyes a cold blue.
“If you must know, Christopher, my name is Maxwell.”
“How do you know my name?”
“From your father, of course.”
“You know my Dad?”
“Certainly not the one you’re thinking of, your real one. Speaking of which, he requires to speak with you.” The attacker- Maxwell held out his hand. I stood up from the bed, stumbling a bit from dizziness. It was then that I noticed, the room had no exit.
“Wait, how are we supposed to-” I was interrupted as my vision went black again, only to clear up a second later. Now we were in what appeared to be a throne room.
Maxwell let go off me. He bowed down. “Sir,” he announced, “I have retrieved the criminal responsible for the murder of the Collector, Jonathan.” I glanced at who he was bowing to. The color from my face drained.
Another skeleton person was sitting in the throne. That had to be the real Reaper. I was going to die.
“Christopher?” The Reaper questioned, “You’re not supposed to be here for another year, but I suppose now’s as good a time as any.”
I shuffled my feet nervously. “Mr. Reaper, sir, I’m sorry, it was an accident I swear! And how do you know who I am?”
He sighed, “Chris, there’s no easy way to put this but-”
“He’s your father,” Maxwell stated matter-of-factly.
“What!” I squawked, jumping back. “That’s impossible! I don’t look anything like him!”
“Well, you certainly did not receive your height from your mothe-”
“Maxwell, enough!” The Reaper commanded. He turned to me. “What he said is the truth Chris. I am your father. This was not supposed to happen until you turned sixteen, but there are consequences to killing one of my collectors. Maxwell, if you’ll-”
“Already have sir. Injected it while he was asleep. All is left is my favorite part.” A mischievous grin took over his skull like face. He disappeared, only to reappear with a lantern with a candle inside in hand.
His eyes locked onto the center of my chest. The darkness from the fake empty eye sockets slowly creeped over his eyes completely. Black cracks grew on his face. I started to feel a burning sensation deep in my chest.
My brain clicked. The Grim Reaper takes souls to the afterlife. Theses “collectors” are look a like workers of his. The one I killed, Jonathan, didn’t have any injuries but his candle was out. They were going to put my soul into a lantern. I was going to replace Jonathan.
“No-GAAAAAHHH!!” The pain was tremendous for what felt like eternity. Then it abruptly ended. I fell to my knees once again, helplessly watching as Maxwell lit the candle with my soul then sealed the lantern.
I gasped for breath. I felt angry, I felt dejected, I felt… hollow.
“Now, we need to get rid of any witnesses,” Maxwell said. He did the teleporting trick once more, returning with a scythe. He handed the weapon to me. “Since you’ll be taking after your father, you’ll have to learn how to wield this,” he explained.
He grabbed my wrist and teleported us away. I did not bother fighting back. I felt too tired to. I found myself in my house again. I finally picked my head up and saw Uncle Nate just sitting on the couch, slowly stroking Nanna. She let out a despondent caw.
“I told you the cat was nothing but trouble,” he grumbled. He looked as empty as I felt. I felt Maxwell nudge me.
“Go on. Kill him,” he commanded. I looked up at him, eyes wide. Uncle Nate was family. I couldn’t kill him. I couldn’t kill anyone.
“N-no,” I choked out, “I-I can’t.”
He glared at me, “Yes, you can.”
“Go ahead, Chris,” Nate interrupted. “It’s just like swinging your bat. Besides,” he glanced down at Nanna, then went to the door. He opened it and flicked his wrist, causing Nanna to hop off and fly away. “There is no mercy here anymore.”
I shakily stood up. “I’m- I’m so sorry,” I sobbed. I pulled my weapon back. I swung. The blade lodged itself in his throat. Nate collapsed. Blood poured from the wound, some even trickling out of his mouth. An awful gurgling sound was made, then silence.
I dropped my weapon and ran to the bathroom. I thought I was going to be sick. After only succeeding in dry heaving, I looked at myself in the mirror, if only to see the monster I’ve become.
My pale, freckly face was long gone, replaced by the “skeleton paint”. My once bright green eyes now cloudy. I wanted to slam myself into the mirror. I looked at my arms. Only part of it was covered by the paint, at least for now. I finally noticed the scars from my injuries. Some kind of magic I suppose.
I no longer looked like myself.
“Chris… is dead,” I told myself. I went to my room. I changed into a black and green long sleeve shirt, a pair of dirty faded jeans, and my black and orange timberland boots. I grabbed a bag and returned to the living room.
Maxwell did not questioned me. Over Uncle Nate’s body was a blue ball of light. His soul. I cupped the soul in my hand, placing it into my bag for safe keeping.
“What am I now?” I asked him.
“A collector of souls, Chris.”
“Chris is dead,” I announced. I was unsure if I was just telling him or if I was willing myself to believe the blatant lie. “Call me… Soul Keeper.”
He smiled coily. “Very well then, Soul. Now, we have to find the other witness; Your Aunt.”