The Life of Death
Death is natural, but it’s not always fair. Everything must fade and every person must one day die. A child full of promise may pass at age five and a mass murderer could live well into their seventies. It isn't my place to decide when someone's time is up. I am merely a doorman for souls to find peace in the Underworld. I care little for souls once they reach the Underworld, honestly I don’t even care to consume them. Just as each person is unique and full of their own experiences and behaviors, so too are their souls. Each one takes away a piece of me and adds a bit of itself in its place. After consuming a soul and allowing it to travel through my portal, I can feel pieces of myself disappear.
If I could, I’d quit the life of a death immediately. Unfortunately, my desires don’t matter. I’m just another cog in the system of the afterlife. I suppose I could stop consuming souls, though that’s like asking a hungry dog not to eat a bowl of food right in front of its snout. The aroma surrounds me, drawing me in like flies to rotting fruit.
One month. I made it one month and I barely escaped fading away.
“Milo, could you tell us how many judges of the Underworld hold trials in Greek mythology?” Hearing my name brought my mind back to reality. My classmates directed their eyes to me. I replied quickly, eager to escape the gaze of my classmates.
“Seven Ms. Huxley.”
“No, there are only three actually. Anyone know their names?”
Annoyingly, the Greeks got a lot wrong. There are seven judges and one god, the god of death.
“Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus are the three judges!”
Of course she would answer. Ava Angelo, the class know it all. I’m pretty sure she has her pointed nose in a book eighty percent of her life. Her brown hair is always a misshapen mess, falling over her big round glasses as if to shroud her vision of the world. She always dressed cheerfully.
Today it was a white shirt with a sunflower stitched onto the left side of her chest and a navy blue skirt. She wore long white socks and a pair of red slip-ons that tapped aimlessly on the tile at her feet. If only she could keep a steady rhythm, maybe then it wouldn’t be so annoying. Still, she had an energy about her that stuck out from the rest. It was as if she were a lone flower blooming amongst a field of weeds. Her blue eyes met mine for a second before I whipped my head around to look out the window.
Crap. How long was I staring!
The rest of class dragged on, but at least it was my last of the day. It had only been a month since I enrolled at Arcaya Academy, which was considered a high school for some of the brightest students in the city. Entrance exams were pretty easy; tests aren’t so hard when you’ve been enrolled in high school for twelve years. I’ve debated dropping out countless times. An education isn’t the most useful thing since I won’t age past sixteen, leaving me with limited job opportunities outside the service industry. However, one summer of constantly replying ‘my pleasure’ was enough for me considering it is never my pleasure to hand someone a box of chicken nuggets.
It would have been more convenient to die in my thirties, at least then I could have swindled my way into some upper management positions or maybe even into healthcare. My life would be a lot easier in a hospital with such easy access to fresh souls. I may hate consuming them, but I can’t ignore the way my body hungers for them.
I could always go the unemployed route again. Money isn’t an issue, I have plenty of that being employed by a god and all. I guess I have countless civilizations throughout human history burying their dead with gold and riches to thank for my salary. Unfortunately, the solitude and lack of exposure to humans can make eternity...lonely. So, high school it is. The quality of human contact is crap here, but a few come about every so often that are tolerable.
“Okay class, make sure to study chapter five. We’re studying ancient Egypt next so make sure to brush up on your knowledge of pyramids and pharaohs!” Ms. Huxley smiled and waved to all of us. Her class was a bunch of mostly incorrect information, but she did have a way of making me feel a little enjoyment everyday. Maybe it was the way she smiled, or her caring nature. Regardless, I do hope she has a while before her time is up.
“Hey Milo, want to head over to the field? Reggie and I were going to kick the ball around a bit and then swap Pokemon cards after. Wanna join?” Two of the few humans I’ve found to be tolerable in death, Erik and Reggie, stood at my desk. If I had to describe them in one word it would be...simple. Not so much in terms of intelligence, as they are both rather smart, innocent dorks. Anyone that’s seen them whip out their three inch binder of Pokemon cards would tell you the same thing, but definitely simple. Their thoughts revolve around anime, girls (boobs mostly), and food. Occasionally they’ll switch it up with a soccer ball, but it’s rare and they usually end up tripping over it.
Reggie was the more impressive looking one. He stood well over six foot, but was only a few inches taller than Erik. His eyes shifted about constantly as if he were trying to fully absorb his surroundings. Blonde short cut hair sat on his head, matching well with his blue eyes. Most people probably wouldn’t guess that he’s a complete weeb.
“Come on Erik! If you’re staying then I’ll have to stay late too!” Erik’s sister Amber whined. She was slightly less tolerable, though definitely smarter than her brother, and infinitely more complex. Probably the reason she was able to skip a grade and take sophomore level classes at fourteen. She’s intimidating enough that she could have marched into the principal’s office and demanded to move up a grade and I wouldn’t be surprised if he felt forced to comply.
She had the same hair as Erik, a brown mop tinged with red. Alternatively though, she tended to style hers in a new way everyday while Erik just went with a curly mess. She chose her go-to today, pigtails. Freckles lightly peppered both of their faces, as if someone sprinkled them on and then thought better of it before adding anymore.
Their faces are where the contrast truly started. Erik had a soft complexion, void of any facial hair or chiseled features. His eyes were round circles making him look like a puppy regardless of his mood. Amber however, was given sharp facial features. Strong cheekbones, a well developed jaw, and eyes pointed at the ends. She constantly looked like she was judging someone. She was pretty, very pretty, but was all too aware of it.
“Sorry guys, today isn’t any good. I didn’t sleep much last night and could really use a nap. How about tomorrow?” I could tell they were disappointed. Truthfully, I was just hungry. A whole month without a soul had left me feeling very depleted.
I’ll make it up to them. I’m surprised I care that much. It doesn’t feel all that bad caring.
I gathered my things, just a ragged looking satchel with a few notebooks. I rarely needed to take diligent notes so they were mostly just for show. Arcaya Academy was an impressive school. They had a bit of everything: sports fields, club rooms, high quality classrooms with updated technology for student use. I passed through the brick archway that marked the entrance to school, only a few blocks from my apartment.
That smell. It's not a soul.
I scanned my surroundings, taking in a whiff periodically to pinpoint the source. Down the road I spotted Ava Angelo with a strange person. No, not a person. A death. He was dressed in a black Arcaya Academy tracksuit, wore a red ball cap and held a confident sneer on his face.
It was easy to smell, as each emotion gives off a different scent. They walked together oddly down the sidewalk, turning left at the next intersection. Briskly, I followed. If there was another death at the academy it could mean trouble for me. I decided some recon was required for the situation. Turning down the same street I could feel the negativity in the air. All deaths spew negative energy, most intensely when dark intentions are on the mind. I continued to follow, careful to stay downwind. I didn’t need him to get jumpy and do anything rash if he smelled me following. They were halted at the next crosswalk by the bright red pedestrian stop hand as traffic zoomed by.
I shortened my distance as much as I could without making them aware of the tail. They stood waiting on the sidewalk as the death ranted on and on, Ava nervously laughing. He slowly crept his hand along her backpack, his movements slow and calculating, avoiding detection like a spider patrolling its web. In an instant he struck out his palm, forcibly shoving Ava into the road.
Time slowed as I watched her stumble forward, the toes of her shoes scraping against the sidewalk in a failed attempt to stop her momentum. Her arms flailed, the expression on her face was anguished as she saw her fate in the bumper of a bus. Her death was absolute. My mind shut down, reflexes taking the reins. Without hesitation I surged at an inhuman speed, reaching Ava before the bus. I grabbed her by the arms, but there was no time to pull her back to the sidewalk.
“Dark passage.” As soon as the words left my lips, I felt the cool darkness wrap around me. It coiled around my arms, ensnaring us both in its ever-encircling grasp. Then it opened, a door of darkness behind me.
It sucked us both in, as we narrowly avoided impact with the bus. I was born in darkness and I lived in darkness, yet even with all my experience, this darkness was still too black to see a thing. My other senses were numb as well. This is why I hated using dark passage, I always felt vulnerable without my sense of smell. Just as soon as we were drawn in, we were spit back out. The flash of light and overload to my senses disoriented me for a few moments as we were thrown back on the sidewalk, but the other death was gone.
“What the hell was he thinking! We aren’t allowed to interfere directly with a person’s life!” I gritted my teeth in anger. I didn’t understand it. Why Ava? It wasn’t just because he needed a soul, there’s plenty of those around, I could even smell one just ahead in the nearby apartments.
“M-Milo? Wh-What did you do?”
My thoughts froze. Slowly I turned my head, and met Ava’s eyes. There was a slight glare on her glasses from the sun but I could tell her pupils were dilated from fear. Her body was visibly shaking, her knees buckling from the shock of her brush with death. I reached out, gripping her firmly by the bicep to prevent her fall and stabilized her. She jolted upright, her shaking stopped short, but there was still fear in her eyes. She looked down to my stomach and let out a terrified yelp before covering her mouth with her hand.
She can see it, my portal to the Underworld!
“I’ll explain on the way. Right now, we need to move!”
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