The Life of Death
“Do I really need to meet your grandmother?” I groaned, dramatically rolling my eyes at Ava. Old people freak me out. It was weird meeting them, knowing that a death would be collecting their soul soon.
“I never came home last night. If I’m gone any longer my face will end up on a milk carton with the way she is.”
“I can’t just wait outside? I’ll even hide out on the roof!” It was difficult trying to weasel out of this one.
“Not a chance. You’re meeting her and that’s that.” No more discussion followed, just the rumbling sound of the train to fill the silence.
We sat facing the middle, no one seated across from us. The sunset shed an orange glow on the interior of the train, the few passengers present in our car coated in its pastel shades. For the time of day, the train was rather empty. Ads of the newest sodas and snacks littered the metal walls, leaving nowhere to look that didn’t subject me to their subliminal messages.
“Ever been to the town of Animus?” Ava asked, breaking our silence.
“Nope, you really ride this every day?” It was a long trip, at least thirty minutes had already passed since we boarded.
“I wasn’t going to pass up my chance to attend the top school in the district. A train ride wasn’t going to stop me.”
“I thought you said you walked home.”
“There’s a lot of walking involved from the academy to the train station isn’t there? Besides, there’s still a bit of a trek left after we arrive in Animus. We’re just about there at least.” Ava looked out the window behind us, admiring the lush scenery. The sun set over the forest, the light barely more than a faint glimmer as it settled behind the trees.
A buzz from my pocket took me away from the view. Another message from Erik asking where I was today. I’d ignored his texts earlier, but was compelled to at least give him some piece of mind with a reply this time.
“Just a stomach bug, I’ll be out for a few days.” I typed into the keyboard.
Yeah that’s a good excuse.
I stuffed my phone back into the pocket of my Adidas pants. We had time after our dinner with Logan to stop by my place on our way to the train station, giving me the chance to change back into my style of clothing. Ava unfortunately still had to wear the baggy attire she’d received from Logan. He’d promised to meet up with us in Animus tonight after some preparation on his part.
NOW ARRIVING IN ANIMUS TOWN.
The intercom’s monotone voice rang out, announcing our arrival. The faint patter of rain reverberating off the train welcomed us as we slowed to a stop. With a soft ding, the train doors slid open. We stepped onto the station platform, the metal awning protecting us from the small storm.
“Where to?” I waited for Ava’s lead, shoving my hands inside my pockets to stay warm. It was a cold night, the sporadic lamp posts providing little light to guide our path.
“E-e-e-edge of t-t-town.” She let out a small shiver, rubbing her arms profusely. “Keep up!” Ava took off from the station, stiffly running through the rain.
More damn cardio.
She left me no time to take in the scenery of her hometown. I saw a lot of trees and almost no people, barely even any buildings. There was little to it, but one thing that stuck out was the mass of spiritual energy. It wasn’t malevolent, but left me uneasy as it clung to every inch of the town.
“We’re here.” Ava huffed. I stopped abruptly, almost crashing into her, distracted by my wandering thoughts.
Ava’s house was modest. The baby blue paneling was illuminated by the bright yellow light hanging above her door. It was painted a crimson red, accenting it from the rest of the house. A thick ‘welcome’ mat brought the whole entrance together.
Hesitantly, Ava knocked on the door. Well, more of a tap actually. Her grandmother must’ve had her ear pressed against the door because it swung open with no delay. Ava’s grandmother was not at all what I expected, nor as old. Her hair was still a faint brown, her face standing the test of time as well with little wrinkles showing. She was shorter than Ava, but that didn’t make her any less intimidating. She stood straight, holding her head high with confidence. Her eyes were full of concern when she saw Ava, reaching in for a tight hug. I received no such welcome.
“Who is this?” She demanded, pointing a stubby finger in my face. Her eyes narrowed, judging every aspect of my appearance. She hesitated for a moment, wiggling her nose in displeasure.
“He’s just a friend from the academy who walked me home! Milo, this is my Grandma Evelyn, or Evie for short.” Ava laughed nervously trying to ease the tension. Grandma Evie gave me one last look before turning to Ava. She gave her a once over, judging her appearance.
“Thank you for walking Ava home, you may leave now.” Without ever turning back to me, she yanked Ava by the ear and dragged her inside through a mess of yelling and flailing of hands. The door slammed in my face, leaving me alone outside.
“I can’t believe you need ‘the talk’ even earlier than your mother! You were with him last night instead of studying at Kiki’s like you texted, weren’t you? These clothes, are they his?” I could hear the shouting through the door. I couldn’t quite catch Ava’s retort, just the yell of frustration in her voice.
As quietly as possible I climbed up the wooden posts holding up the roof at the front of the house. It was a clumsy affair to say the least. As a supernatural being I feel it should’ve been an easier task. Instead, I felt like an ordinary high schooler trying to scale the side of a house for unholy reasons. Once on the roof I was lost with no idea which window would be Ava’s.
There were only a few windows on the second story of the house. First one revealed an empty bathroom, and the second looked like a makeshift library. I looked into another and finally saw a bedroom. A boy band poster hung on the wall above a bed covered with thick blankets, each with baby animals printed all over them. All of it was so feminine, no way was it Ava’s. That’s when I noticed her frantically throwing clothes around the room. She was in a fit, her face beat red as she flung a new shirt and pants on the bed. I waved to get her attention, but to no avail. Just when I was about to knock on the glass, she started lifting the bottom of her shirt.
Wait, no, no, no!
I was stuck. My mind wanted to move immediately, but my eyes stayed focused on Ava.
“Don’t be a creep, Milo.” Logan’s voice snapped me out of it, allowing me to avert my eyes and move away from the window just in time. He stood with his back to the wood panels, looking out at the street.
“What about Ava?”
“She’s fine here. Stick this on the window, but maybe don’t look inside this time.” Logan said, handing me a sticky note with a message scribbled on the back.
SEE YOU IN A BIT!
-Logan & Milo
With my eyes closed I swiftly pasted the note to the window. Logan had already left, waiting on me below in the street. With uncoordinated movements, I dismounted from the roof.
“You really need to get better at being a death. It shouldn’t be so hard for you to get down from a two-story building.” Logan flashed me a grin. “When I’m done with you, I’ll be having you scale skyscrapers!”
“Wonderful.” I muttered sarcastically. Climbing the side of a skyscraper wasn’t exactly on my bucket list.
The rain eased as I followed Logan out of Animus and into the woods behind Ava’s house. With the clouds dissipating, the moonlight peeked through, casting an eerie glow among the trees. Mist clung to the grass, the beginnings of evaporation settling in. Further we walked, the trees surrounding us on all sides. Their branches stretched out like limbs to prevent our escape as we journeyed deeper.
“Why are we going so far in?”
“Can’t chance you making a scene too close to town. It’s safer for everyone if we’re out here.” Logan replied, never turning to face me. The back of his shoulders were tense as he rigidly walked among the roots at our feet. He shifted his head about, constantly keeping a wary eye on the darkness clinging to the trees.
“Here’s good.” Logan halted and slowly eased himself to the mossy ground.
It was a small clearing within the forest. Only two birch trees stood, their white bark glowing with a ghostly aura in the moonlight.
“You going to sit or not?” Logan snapped. I hastily obeyed his command, sitting across from him. The ground was damp, mud sticking to my clothes and shoes. I wouldn’t have bothered changing earlier if I’d known this was going to happen.
“What are we doing here?” He’d kept me waiting long enough, I wanted an explanation for our late night trek.
“If you truly want to have the strength to protect Ava, you’re going to have to learn to consume souls without losing yourself. No more of this starving yourself nonsense.” Logan’s demeanor was different than usual. I’d never seen him look so serious. He strained his eyes on me, binding me to a silent contract with him and his intentions.
“We’ll start off easy.” He reached into his coat pocket, drawing out a vial. It was tightly corked, a blue mist swirling within. It was unmistakable.
“Is that a soul?” I watched as it rammed against the sides of the glass, looking for an escape.
“Picked it up on my way here. She’s got a lot of spunk as a soul for the frail, old woman she was. I thought she’d be an easy soul for you to deal with, but maybe I was wrong…”
“Give it here.” My response was resolute as I remained fixated by the soul. Logan flashed me a smile, carefully passing the vial to me.
In one motion, I uncorked the vial with my thumb and quickly pressed it to my lips. The contents slowly crawled down my throat, as if the soul were scaling down my esophagus like a rock climber. It left me gagging for air as I clawed at my throat. My vision started to blur, the scene around me shifting.
An old woman sat in a hospital bed directly under the birch trees. Wires were attached to her chest and face, connecting her to the machines steadily beeping beside her bed. Her heart rate was slow, each beep from the machine multiple seconds apart.
A young girl, no older than eight sat with her, chatting her ear off nonstop. She held up pictures, each depicting a yellow house with a blue sky and puffy white clouds. Poorly drawn stick figures stood outside the house, wide smiles on their simple faces. One was a girl, much like the one holding the pictures, her blond hair hanging just above her shoulders.
In the picture, she was holding hands with a woman with thin, gray hair. She’d drawn in dashes near the eyes in an attempt to show her wrinkles. In fact, every photo she showed was of the little girl holding hands with the old woman. She always took a second to point them out to the bedridden patient. She smiled weakly, nodding steadily at the onslaught of rambling. I could feel the warmth, the euphoric feeling in my chest. Slowly, the woman closed her eyes, the child’s words lulling her to sleep. The beeping on the machine stopped, replaced with a long, drawn out ring. The vision slowly began to fade as a sense of peace washed over me, my eyes drooping from the comfort.
“Woah there, don’t pass out on me already.” I was snapped back awake by a forceful shove to my shoulder. It felt like I was arising from a long dream, my mind still hazy on what was reality and what was dream.
“It felt so...nice.” I whispered, stretching my arms to get the feeling back in my body.
“Not all souls end in tragedy or violence. Some are ready to leave this world for the next. Just be careful with them, deaths have a tendency to follow the bliss provided by the soul. It’s like diving into the rabbit hole, except you are both the rabbit and the hole simultaneously. This is impossible and it’ll result in your soul’s collapse.” Logan said, his words cold.
“Let’s do another.” I felt stronger, ready for more.
“We’ll try the opposite this time.” Logan said, an impish smirk forming on his face.
He pulled out another vial from his coat, this one a dark red color, like that of blood. The soul erratically slammed into the sides with such force I could see the glass shutter.
“Why’s it that color?”
“Take it and find out.”
Cautiously I grabbed the vial, the recurring banging from the soul nearly causing me to lose my grip. I followed the same steps as before, the soul slipping into my mouth. It was hot, like a burning flame raging, punching at the inside of my gums to escape. Painfully, I swallowed, the soul clawing the inside of my throat to slow its descent.
No vision formed itself within my surroundings, the curtains on my world instead closing, turning everything black. Slowly an image formed, a torn, scarlet robe splattered in blood creating a collage of red. A pair of misshapen eyes bore into me, a stark white color with no irises. His skin was pale, a sickly color drenched in more blood, dripping from the massive gash in his right shoulder.
“Thought you’d betray me, did you? I’ll kill you Laurielle!” His mouth opened wide, the jaw unhinging to expose rows of razor sharp teeth. I held up my hands to protest and realized they weren’t my own. I pressed one to my face, feeling my features, they too, not mine. My face was soft and my lips were too plump for my liking. I glanced down and noticed the two mounds on my chest concealed by a near identical robe to the man’s.
I have breasts!
I had no time to revel in my new features. The deranged soul swiped at me with his fist, a distorted laugh echoing in the darkness. Sweat dripped from my forehead, my movements slow and clumsy in this body. I had no plan of action, no thoughts on how to escape this hell.
No more running.
I adjusted my stance, squaring them to my opponent. He charged, his vicious scream piercing my eardrums. I remained unmoved. He was only a soul, and I would consume him. He stepped within arms reach. I struck, wrapping my fingers tightly around his throat. My long fingernails dug into his pale skin, the blood dripping out and staining my hands. He flailed like a fish, gasping for air, desperate for just one breath. I never gave him one. Slowly the rasping ceased, his body going still before dissolving in my hand. The darkness around me began to crumble, blinding light seeping in through the cracks. It burned my eyes so much I had to squeeze them shut to avoid the pain.
Slowly I reopened them, the harsh light against my eyelids gone. Logan looked at me, an amused smile on his face.
“What the hell was that?” I cough, my throat still sore from the soul.
“A malefic. Angry spirits looking for revenge over someone. They glow a red color and can be quite difficult to deal with. They take us to the in-between world of Perduto to exact revenge, thinking we are the soul they are after. They will even go as far as to reconstruct us in the form of whom they seek. I’m glad you made it back in one piece.”
I stared at my hands, the one I’d used to grab the malefic’s throat covered in blood.
“This might be another useful piece of information. Anything that happens to the body you have while in Perduto will be reflected on you when you return. Best be careful of that in the future.” Logan said, not even attempting to hide his mischievous smile. It seriously made me question the trust I’d started to build with him.
My body shook, the effort of breathing requiring my total concentration. It was difficult to take in the air. My chest felt constricted, as if being wrapped tightly by chains. I felt imprisoned within my own shell with no hope of relief. The aversion I’ve had to bloody crime scenes throughout the years finally made sense. That malice I always felt that kept me away, it was from the malefics.
“Probably best to call it a night.” Logan pulled himself to his feet. I snatched his pant leg, clenching it in my fingers so tightly it felt like they’d never leave my grasp.
“Another...I can take another.” I wheezed, the words leaving my mouth in short bursts.
Excitement danced within Logan’s eyes as he pulled out four more vials from his coat. He held them between each of his fingers. Half of them were the color of a malefic, their angry thrusts shaking the glass containers they were sealed in. The ear-to-ear grin showed on Logan’s face as he brought it close to mine, the moonlight bathing him an unnatural glow.
“Let’s see just how much you can take, Milo...”