The Life of Death
My rest was disturbed, but lightly enough that I could ignore it.
Another disturbance, only this time it was harder to disregard.
WAKE UP MILO! I'M BACK!
I shot up, my body drenched in a cold sweat. My chest rose quickly as I breathed in and out in an anxious fit. I knew that voice and hearing it again left me numb.
“It’s been a while.” I whispered, my mind still in shock.
I didn’t hear back but that didn’t change the sensation I felt in my gut. The other me was starting to rear its head once again. I chose not to confront the mirror within, my mental fortitude already worn thin without making a point to see him. The return of his presence only solidified the decision I’d made yesterday.
I looked up at Ava’s body on her bed. The rays of sunlight poured in from the window, casting her in a warm glow. She was still fast asleep, her nose slightly whistling with each exhale. It was the first night I’d stayed in her room, choosing the floor over the roof. My mattress of blankets and pillows was a disheveled mess, proof of my restless sleep. Despite this, it was the perfect way to spend my last night in this world.
I gathered myself, flattening out the wrinkles in my clothes before lacing up my new black shoes. It was an appropriate change in style, the old red ones surely to end up stained black soon anyways.
Ava’s desk was neat, making it easy to procure a pen and paper. I scribbled down the thoughts that had been trapped within my head over the past few days, ending it with my declaration to break into the Underworld.
I left the note so it would be easy for Ava to find and quietly opened her window. It was a fitting way to leave the room and the life I had come to enjoy. I was unsure if I’d ever be back, and I found it easier to assume this would be a one-way trip. It would save me the despair I’d feel if I became trapped in the Underworld, or worse.
Logan interrupted my thoughts. He stood outside the window, pressed up against its surrounding frame as if expecting me.
“I can’t stay.” I kept my voice down to prevent waking Ava. Softly, I closed her window after taking my exit.
“I let your adventure with her last night slide, but I have to ask your reason for leaving this time. She’s not going to be happy with this.” Logan kept his eyes closed as he soaked in the morning rays. He looked to be absorbing the very warmth they provided to his core. I didn’t feel the same, my insides chilled through.
“You knew?” With how strict he’d been lately I was astonished he let us go. It’s something the old Logan would’ve done, not the chaperone that had replaced him since the battle on the roof.
“You weren’t as sneaky as you thought. Honestly, you were pretty loud.” He smiled, enjoying himself further. “The hill is a wonderful spot, don’t you agree?”
My face burned with either embarrassment or anger, I couldn’t pinpoint which. Regardless, it earned Logan a scowl. “You spied on us?”
“No, no. I stayed close, but gave you kids space. It’s a shame though, you missed a glorious opportunity to tell her how you feel. Women swoon over that sort of thing, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised you made such a rookie mistake.” He was teasing me, his attempts at banter only causing my cheeks to grow hotter. “It’s rather interesting. No matter how long we live in death, we still try to cling onto the personalities we displayed in life. You must’ve been bad with women then too.”
“So, you were eavesdropping?” I said it louder than I’d intended, quickly glancing at Ava to check if I’d woken her. Thankfully she was a heavy sleeper.
“Only a little.” Logan grabbed my shoulder, squeezing it tightly. I couldn’t tell if it was an attempt at reassurance or intimidation. “Let’s take a walk, there’s a lot to discuss before you depart.”
Logan accompanied me off the roof, the descent easier than when I first came to Ava’s house. I was only a fraction of a second slower than Logan this time around. He gave me an impressed look, proof of my progression.
Animus was busy at this hour, parents taking their kids out to enjoy the weekend. Some took the same path as us to the train station, others chose to take picnic supplies into the forest. I was going to miss such a pleasant atmosphere.
“You still haven’t answered my question. Where are you headed that warranted such a lengthy note for Ava? A cowardly move if you ask me, but to each his own I suppose.” Logan lit up a cigarette, the smoke giving off an awful smell. I didn’t understand how he could stand them with an enhanced nose.
“I’m going to the Underworld. I need answers on who, or what I am and, I know I’ll discover them there. You saw what I turned into when Ava’s darkness went on a rampage; I can’t let something like that happen again.” There was no use hiding anything from Logan. I’d feared him knowing would result in me being forced to leave Ava, but that was happening now regardless.
“I figured you weren’t telling me the whole truth back then. I could see it in your eyes, you were scared and with good reason. It was you who nearly killed me, not Ava.” Logan’s tone turned dark as we changed the focus of our discussion.
“I don’t remember anything after first attacking Ava…” I trailed off, ashamed of the past.
“You were a handful in that state. Don’t get me wrong, Ava was also a challenge, but her attacks were clumsy and uncoordinated. She was nothing like you. Your moves were calculating. Every punch and bite you took out of me was done with precision.” He let out a small laugh to show there were no hard feelings, but I still felt horrible.
“I’m sorry. I never wanted to hurt you.”
“Don’t worry about it kid. It’s what mentors are for, to keep you in line. As deaths, we deal with dangerous stuff. We all lose control at times, it’s inevitable.” Logan gave me a reassuring pat on the back. It helped, but only a little.
“Have you ever lost control. Or lost yourself for that matter?” I asked him like an inexperienced child would ask his father if he’d ever failed at something.
“I’ve lost control, but can’t say I’ve ever lost sight of who I am. I have a pretty sturdy tether, so I’ll never forget myself.”
I couldn’t help but feel jealousy over that. I’d begun to form a tether recently, but still struggled to retain my identity. I was fragile, my soul sometimes feeling like a balloon with the counterweight cut off.
“What happened when you lost control, did you hurt someone like I did?” I looked him in the face, but he refused to meet my eyes.
“Let’s save that for another time.” He put out his cigarette with his fingers, pinching the flame into oblivion. He crumbled the bud within his hand, reducing it to ash with a quick flash of darkness. It blazed like fire but burned without heat. If anything, the air around us grew colder.
“You’ll look after Ava, won’t you?” I broke the silence first, desperate to escape it. I never enjoyed feeling out of place during conversations.
“Ava will be fine. I’ll take what you said last night into consideration. I’ve been so worried about the two of you, I forgot I can’t restrain you in the hopes of preventing another rampage. By the time you get back, she’ll be able to use her new powers without any issues.” He was confident in his reply, a smile returning to his face.
“I don’t know if I’ll be coming back.”
“You will. Ava’s your tether after all, isn’t she? As a death, you can’t let those go easily.”
We passed the strip of street vendors, their food smelling as delicious as ever. It forced an unwelcome growl from my stomach. Logan’s rumble followed shortly after, his resonating so loudly some vendors turned their heads. They were culinary vultures, swooping in to persuade us to buy their food. It was a flawless plan, Logan flashing several bills and buying something from each stand.
“Here, I know you enjoy them.”
He handed me a steak kebab, the salty meat settling the famished beast in my gut. After inhaling my breakfast, I summoned the courage to ask Logan the question that’d been forming in the back of my mind.
“Do you remember being in the Underworld?” I wanted to know what I was getting into before I arrived. All those who died went there, but my memory was empty of any details of the place.
“I’ve never been.” He nonchalantly replied through a mouthful of kettle corn. The crunching was louder than his response.
“Hold up, that’s not possible. You’ve died, you have to have been there.”
“Not everything is black and white. There’s a lot of gray in this world that blurs the lines of what’s possible. I’m...a special case when it comes to being a death.” He stuffed his face with more food, this time diving into the Takoyaki. His coordination was incredible, masterfully holding every item of food he bought like a world class waiter.
“I take it you don’t plan to elaborate on that either.” I knew his answer before he gave it. If Logan didn’t come right out and say it the first time, then that information was locked away with zero chance of being shared.
“I think I’d rather enjoy this food than go down that rabbit hole. I’m a freak of nature, that’s enough for you, isn’t it?” He went back to eating without bothering to hear a reply.
The train’s whistle blew in the distance, forcing us to pick up the pace. Logan was done with all his food as we stepped foot on the platform, wiping his hands on the side of his pants. His actions smeared sauce and spread crumbs all over the fine fabric of his dress pants, but he paid it no mind.
“So, this is it. Ava’s going to come after you, you’re aware of that, right?” Logan asked, darting his tongue out like a lizard to lick up the smudge of spicy mayo on the corner of his mouth.
“Don’t let her.” My response was cold without an ounce of emotion. Ava coming after me was the one thing that would make me falter in my decision.
“No promises. We’re talking about Ava here, she’s stubborn. She’s a bit like you in that aspect, but I’d say the similarities end there.” It was another attempt to tease me. I took the bait this time, playing into his taunt.
“Thanks for being as useful as an unlocked door. An unhinged one is actually more accurate.” I said, my retort earning me a small chuckle.
“One more thing before you get on the train.” His eyes grew serious, the brown in them darkening as his tone hardened. “Be careful around Dex. You were covered in his scent when you returned yesterday, and I assume he’ll be joining you when you go below. He’s been trying to find a suitable partner to accompany him for years.”
LAST CALL TO BOARD. NEXT STOP, ARCAYA CITY.
“You know him? What makes him dangerous?” I asked, one foot already stepping onto the train. It didn’t matter what he replied. It was too late to turn back, but he’d managed to pique my curiosity.
“He was a brat I used to train years ago. Smart kid, but he’s a loose cannon. You’ll see for yourself the first time you run into trouble. Don’t expect this mission to go quietly if he’s by your side.” He waved me away, urging me to board the train. “You’ll be fine, just keep a level head.”
I nodded, confirming I’d heed his warning before turning away. The doors shut behind me, the train lurching forward without delay. It was the first step to breaking into the Underworld and despite my sorrow, I felt a tinge of excitement. My body was itching with adrenaline, ready for the journey that lay ahead.