Chapter 1:



The ringing in her ears won't stop, and she feels the concrete underneath her touch. Her body is numb, but she finds the strength to part her lips, only to taste iron before her blurry vision of a spinning world fades to white…

Slowly, the ringing stops, replaced by muffled conversations and distant laughter that takes her back to a happier place. Her body feels lighter as if she's floating through the clouds. Then, she hears a soft, calm voice:

"Open your eyes."

Her eyes flutter open, and before her is a young, handsome man dressed in all black, a stark contrast to the fully bloomed cherry blossom trees as far as the eye can see. Her feet are on a concrete path littered with fallen petals.

A strong wind blows, carrying the faint scent of lilac, rose, and magnolia. Ringing bicycle bells are in the distance, and before she looks back, two laughing teenagers in school uniforms ride past her.

With her hands raised in front of her, she opens and closes them, as if trying to remember this feeling until the man breaks the silence. "Won't you take a walk with me?"

Her hands drop to her sides. "Who are you? And why…" She's about to turn around when his hand is suddenly on her cheek, preventing her from looking back. She's stunned when she looks into his dark eyes, and he quickly lets go before she can slap his hand away.

"You should only look forward."

She narrows her eyes. "You haven't answered any of my questions."

"I'm here to keep you company."


He briefly looks down and smiles. "Isn't this kind of scenery best enjoyed with a companion?"

She regards him with a skeptical look before walking past him.

There are people everywhere she looks. On one side, two friends are posing together for a photo. Just a little further down is a man taking a photo of a woman with a fully-bloomed cherry blossom tree. Across from them is a man wearing a face mask sitting on a bench and looking through the photos on his professional camera. Soon, two men come up to him with friendly smiles, but as their lips move, she cannot hear a word until…

"It's beautiful, isn't it?"

She almost jumps at the voice beside her, and it's the young, handsome man from earlier. But, this time, instead of asking the same questions, she looks him up and down.

"Why are you dressed like that?" she asks, referring to his all-black suit and gloves. "You stick out like a sore thumb."

He lightly scoffs. "And what about yourself?"

It's the first time she looks down at herself: a white dress. A woman wearing something similar walks by, and you nod at her. "At least I'm not the only one."

Unbeknownst to her, his eyes watch yours follow the woman, but before she can turn to look back at the path she walked, he says:

"There's still more up ahead."

Again, she regards him with a skeptical look. Then, she crosses her arms. "And are you going to continue stalking me?"

"Who, me?" He chuckles. "I only want what's best for you."

"Gosh, that doesn't sound suspicious at all." She drops her arms. "Do we know each other?"

"We've met."

That's a response she isn't expecting.

"We… have?" she asks, more to herself than to him.

He smiles. "It was on this same path"—he looks at the cherry blossoms—"a year ago when you bumped into me."


Suddenly, she winces as a sharp pain course through her head, an exploding pain as if driving into her brain. Her hands fly to either side of her head as the pounding, throbbing pain reaches its peak and subsides into nothingness, leaving her confused and anxious.

"Do you remember?" he asks.

She quickly looks at the man who has a kind look in his eyes.

"Ooh, this one turned out pretty good." Walking and smiling at the photo she took with her professional camera, she accidentally bumped into a tall, young man who seemingly appeared out of nowhere. "Oh!" She quickly looked up. "I'm so sorry."

The man also had a surprised look but for reasons different than hers. Still, he smiled kindly. "That's okay."

They turned away from each other, and she walked a few steps before stopping. She didn't know why, but she turned back, and the man was gone.

She straightens up and nods at the path in front of them. "You said you were here to keep me company… Don't tell me you're going to go back on your word now."

"Why do I sense that you're going to make me explain my sudden disappearance?"

They're walking side-by-side underneath the large cherry blossom trees when she says:

"So, you remember."

He chuckles. "Couldn't forget it."

Her face grows unexpectedly warm.

"Why not?" she asks.

He looks at her. "Because… I don't think it's fair."

"Fair?" She narrows her eyes. "What are you talking about now? What's not fair?"

"That you're one of those who can see me."

She stops just before crossing a small, stone bridge. The man is a few steps in front of her.

"I… I don't understand."

He stands at the bridge's highest point and looks at an elderly couple that walks past him. She notices that neither spare him a glance. Then, he reaches out to touch the shoulder of the elderly man, and her eyes widen when his hand goes right through.

"You… How…" Once again, her hands fly to her head. "Am I dreaming? I must be dreaming."

Suddenly, a sharp pain shoots through her head, and she hears distant continuous beeping and tense conversations. 


"Her vitals are continuing to drop."

She shuts her eyes, feeling the sweat drip from the sides of her face. Her body is shaking, and an electric shock course through her body that forces her eyes open.

As she looks at him, he extends his hand to her. "You're dying."

No… That's—

She covers her ears. "I don't know what you're talking about!"

"...She won't make it. I'm sorry."

"The more you deny it, the more it hurts," he says quietly.

She slowly looks up, feeling something other than sweat drip down her face. She doesn't need to touch it to know what it is. Blood drips onto the concrete, and the ringing begins. Her mind goes blank until she sees a young, terrified face.

The streets were oddly quiet for a Friday night, but that was the last thing she was thinking about. She had been working overtime and had taken two pills to kill her headache before hitting the road for home. With an elbow resting on the windowsill and a hand on the wheel, she got off the highway and onto the local streets.

By the time she zoomed past the third green light, her drowsiness kicked in. Thinking she could zoom past the streetlight that turned yellow, she pressed the gas a little harder, not expecting a student on a bike to suddenly appear in the darkness.

"Oh, my go—"

Tires screeched against the pavement, and a loud, deafening crash alarmed those living nearby.

"My name is Death," he says, taking her back to the present. "The day we met is the day I knew your life would be cut short." Her knees finally give, and she falls to the ground, though Death never lets her go. "That day was also one of your most memorable experiences, was it not? It was your first trip out of the country." Her bloodshot eyes meet his. "It's why I chose to take you back." His hand is around her head. "It makes dying a little easier."

"Dying...?" she asks through gritted teeth. "I wanted to come back… I promised to bring my family, and now…" She glares at him with tears in her eyes. "Why show me something I'll never have again?!"

Death takes her hands. "Look past me." When she doesn't, he says more firmly, "Just do it."

So, she does, and past the bridge is a path where she sees a large snow-covered mountain in the distance.

"When one path ends, another opens."

She slowly turns to him.

"This isn't the end," he continues. "But it can be if you want it to be." 

He nods behind her, and she finally looks back at her memories frozen in time. The once vivid colours that take her breath away are dull and fading.

"You can die here and live with the memories you had when you were alive," he says. "Or… move on from this life and step onto another path, whatever that may be." He stands and extends his hand. "It's your choice."

Seconds feel like minutes, but when her hand finally finds his, it's just as cold as hers.

Yet, her heart is unexpectedly warm, just like that day when she visited the cherry blossoms for the first time.
Steward McOy