Today I received my second rejection letter. It was once again a courteous one, but it was also quite evidently a form letter so I didn’t get any direct feedback. One thing I was able to gather from it is that I might need to tweak my description. It’s a little hard to say for sure, though, because the only explanation was “Unfortunately, the project you describe does not suit our list at this time.” Maybe I’m not describing it well enough to catch their attention or maybe they just aren’t looking for a YA novel about a teen protagonist who has to kill people. It’s really hard say. One thing I do know, is that with each subsequent submission I have continued to make slight adjustments to my pitch, which I hope has improved it.
This rejection came from a submission I made two weeks ago, so I am cautiously optimistic that this two week turn around might be the norm, rather than the exception, though most of the places I’ve submitted to have stated turn around times of six weeks to six months, so maybe it is just rejections that have the quicker turn around. All I really know, is that I will continue submitting to agents and publishing houses and eventually, My Life As Death will be picked up. In the mean-time, I’ll keep writing and building guitars like this one I just finished today:
I’ve got a little more setup to do (mainly intonation and adding the serial number tag and strap buttons) but even though a customer said one of my previous builds “almost plays itself”, from a playability standpoint, this is probably the best guitar I’ve made. It plays so easily but I’m not 100% sure why. I do have a few ideas though, so hopefully I can keep that going with all my future builds.
It’s the last day of the holiday break which means tomorrow I have to return to my day job. I really don’t mind it going to work but I know I’m not going to have as much time as I want to continue working on all the projects I’ve got going. Thankfully, even though it started off with me not feeling well, I did end up having a pretty productive break. I’ve managed to complete some guitars and even sold this RG9 (serial number 0006) minutes after it went up online:
I also managed to query a few literary agents, which was a huge project on my to-do list. I think My Life As Death has a great shot at commercial success, so I decided long ago that it would be the one I use to get an agent. So far I’ve only received one rejection, and it was a very nice one, so I’m not discouraged yet. I also plan on continuing to query more agents, especially as others start to open up to submissions now that the New Year has started.
And probably just as important to my the well-being of my writing career, I’ve finally been able to get more writing done. School will be starting back up soon, so I know my time will become even more limited, but the writing is flowing nicely, so I expect to continue making progress on a couple of the books I have in the works. I don’t know if I will be sharing any of them on this site, but I will definitely keep you up-to-date with how they’re coming. And I’ll do the same with the guitars as well.
So, after about a month of dealing with this bug I’m finally starting to feel like myself again which means that I want to jump right in and start working on everything I haven’t been able to touch for the past several weeks. The weather isn’t cooperating completely, which does limit a little of what I can do, but I’ve already gone for a couple (extremely disappointing) runs, gotten some writing done and made some progress on a couple guitar builds that have been collecting dust for way too long. I’ve also queried a couple more agents for My Life As Death and will try to submit to at least one more today. All in all, it’s been a pretty productive couple of days, and I still have a few more before I have to return to work.
And now that I’m feeling better, I hope to update this blog a little more often. And hopefully I’ll have something to report in regards to an agent before too long. In the meantime, feel free to check out my completed guitars for sale: https://www.etsy.com/shop/RileyCustomGuitars
So I managed to finish the fall semester of school just before getting hit with some sort of bug that kicked my ass. Thankfully, I was able to submit my first proposal for My Life As Death to an agent before I ended up sick and unproductive for a couple weeks. Unfortunately, she didn’t feel the project was right for her. So I’m still looking for an agent, but I’m also starting to recover from whatever this is so I’ve already started submitting elsewhere.
I’m also feeling good enough to start working on other projects again so today I plan on getting some writing done, I just haven’t decided which book I’ll be working on. The sequel to My Life As Death is definitely one of my priorities, but several months ago I completely plotted out an action/adventure/mystery/sci-fi story that keeps popping back into my head. And one thing I’ve learned over the years is to listen when my inner voice is trying to tell me something, so I have a feeling that is the direction I will be going, at least for a little while.
The weather is also pretty decent for December here in Ohio, so I will probably try to do some work outside before the weather changes. I know I won’t get everything done that I want to, but bouncing between those few projects should make for an enjoyable week.
Hello! There’s been so much going on but I want to keep this kind of brief, so I won’t go into too much detail over each project in this post.
First off, the guitar I shared in my last post was RG13-0002. I love how it turned out with a split humbucker, but I didn’t get to enjoy it too long because I had a customer waiting for it before it was even done. Here’s the finished product:
I also finished a 3-string license plate guitar but I haven’t got it put up online yet:
Additionally, I’ve got 6 other guitars I’m currently working on, so that’s where most of my free time has gone lately, not that I have a lot of free time between work and school.
Speaking of work, I’m now 3 months into my new job, and I still love it. The company I work for, and the people I work with are great. And while I probably won’t stay in the same position once I complete my schooling, I’m very happy doing it now and I have plenty of opportunities with this company once I get my engineering degree.
As for writing, I’ve been doing some, but not nearly as much as I want to. When I do take the time to write, I have been continuing to work on the sequel to My Life As Death. It feels like it’s starting off a little darker this time, but I’m also so early into it that I can’t say that for sure.
I’ve also been spending a lot of time getting my packet ready to submit to an agent. I found the agent I plan on submitting to first so I’m working on making sure I have everything to meet her requirements. Thankfully what she is asking for is pretty standard for the industry, so a week or two after I submit to her I will start researching other agents and I can pretty much use the same submission package for them as well. I know a lot of people suggest submitting to multiple agents at once, but she is the one I really want to go with, so I figure I’ll give her a week or two headstart.
So that’s a quick recap of all the projects keeping me from updating this blog as often as I should. I plan on updating a little more often, but now that MLAD is done, I will probably start sharing more posts on my guitar making processes. Every guitar is a little different but the various processes are generally similar for each.
Now that My Life As Death is done and the last chapter has been posted, I had to decide what’s next. Last week I tried moving on to several other books that I’d been working on. A couple of them are really close to being finished, and I made a little progress on each, but none of them really took off. So eventually I gave in and listened to what my creative mind was telling me. That means, I started working on the sequel to MLAD.
Unfortunately, the fall semester starts tomorrow, and between working full time and going to school full time, I don’t think I’ll be getting as much writing done as I like, so I won’t be serializing this one on my blog. Sorry, to those of you looking forward to the next chapter in Nate’s adventure.
I’ve also been selling more guitars, and having to build new ones to replace them, so I have no idea how long it will take for me to finish the next book, but I will be posting updates on this blog, and on facebook.
For now, though, here’s a picture of my latest guitar build:
A few weeks later things had mostly returned to normal. Matt was no longer in the picture at all and Shawna was hanging out with Weed and me again, just like old times. Occasionally we would hang out as just the two of us without it being awkward and that, alone, was priceless. She even hopped on the back of the KZ a couple times for a ride home after school, but mostly I kept the time on the bike for me, especially when I needed to clear my head.
But I needed those rides a little less often as time went on. Finkenbine’s death, out of all of them, was the only one that still haunted me a bit. It might have been because his death hadn’t been noticed by anyone in town. It didn’t even warrant a mention in the local paper. I know that shouldn’t have bothered me because I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered to him at all, but for some reason it just pissed me off.
But besides that, life was going as well as could be expected. Weed had somehow managed to smooth things over with Stephanie and Tiffany so the four of us tried another double date. That time it was Tiffany making an excuse to leave early when our impromptu makeout session ended up being more awkward than a priest in a whorehouse. I felt bad about the whole thing, but making out with a girl is really hard when you have to keep your hands from actually touching her skin. Give it a try sometime, and you’ll know what I mean, though I don’t suggest trying it with someone you’d ever like to make out with again.
Weed was a good sport about it, though, and even managed to somehow keep seeing Stephanie, but I’m not really sure how long that will last. Tiffany keeps trying to set Stephanie up with other guys, I think just to spite me. And from what Weed’s told me, Stephanie might even be a little too wild for him, which has me a little scared for whatever guy she might find next. All I know is I will never, ever, let my hands touch her. The images would probably scar me for life.
Even school was going pretty well. I’d been sleeping better at night which made it easier to stay awake in school. And while most of the students had started to forget about what I’d done in American History class, the teachers still remembered what I’d done for Ms Reader so they seemed to let small things slip a little more often. So like I said, things were going pretty good, but just when I was finally feeling like I’d put most of the Reaper stuff behind me, there was a knock at the door.
The man standing in the doorway was dressed in a suit but something about him seemed just a little off. I couldn’t quite place it until he held out a manilla envelope and his sleeve rode up his arm enough for me to catch a glimpse of the tattoo hidden underneath. From the little I saw of it, I’m pretty sure it covered his whole arm.
“I’m Steven Longfellow, the executor of Jim’s estate,” he said, but I just kept staring at him.
He shook the envelope, making it jingle a little.
“Jim Finkenbine named you in his will so I’m delivering this as part of his final wishes.”
That was when it first dawned on me that I’d never even heard Finkenbine’s first name before. Upon hearing it was from him, I eagerly grabbed the envelope but then just stared at it, not quite sure I was ready to open it.
“He really thought highly of you,” Mr. Longfellow said. “Just let me know if you ever need any help fulfilling his wishes.”
“Thanks,” I replied as I took the business card he handed me, but I still didn’t know what he meant by fulfilling Finkenbine’s wishes. I was just about to ask, when he held out his hand. My mind was racing with thoughts of Finkenbine, so I didn’t even give a second thought to reaching out and shaking his hand.
As soon as our hands touched, I realized what I’d done, and braced myself, but no images came. I looked up at Mr. Longfellow, and he looked down at our hands and smiled, then turned and walked away.
I stood there in shock for a minute as he climbed into the back of a black sedan at the curb. It was only after his car pulled away that I realized there was another car still in front of my house. Mortimer Hearseburg, meticulously polished and parade ready, was parked along the curb. It was seeing the car there, in front of me, that finally pushed me to open the envelope from Finkenbine. In it I found the keys to Mort, as well as a letter.
“Nate,” it started, “I wish I could have given you some better advice about how to handle your situation, but as you can probably tell, what worked for me might not work for everyone. All I really know is that I owe you a great debt for helping me go out the way I wanted to. That is why I have asked Steven to take care of you if you ever find yourself in need of some help or even if you just have some questions. He is in a unique position to offer insight and knowledge others can not. He is also someone you can reach out to without fear.”
I looked down at the business card Steven Longfellow had handed me, and it just listed his title as “Master Consultant”.
“I do have one last favor to ask of you,” Finkenbine’s letter continued. “Please keep up the tradition and break Mort out whenever a brother needs one last ride.”
He signed it with a scribble that I couldn’t make out, but it didn’t matter. I knew it was from him.
I put the letter and Mr. Longfellow’s business card back into the envelope but kept the keys in my hand, feeling their weight. It was a heavy request, but there was no way I could say no. I just wasn’t sure how I was going to tell my mom that we needed some more room to store another car.
I was still staring at the keys when I heard the distinct sound of a harley v-twin engine getting near. Even though I heard it coming, I wasn’t prepared to see Finkenbine’s trike pull up behind Mort, or to see Weed climb off it.
“No way!” We both said simultaneously.
Weed wasn’t wearing a helmet so I could see the grin on his face from the porch. I’m sure it matched the one on my face.
“So he left you Mort?”
“And he left you his trike?”
Weed pulled a folded letter from his back pocket and handed it to me. I handed him my envelope and we both took a second to read.
“Weed,” his letter started. “This is a little thanks for helping me finish my bike. And I figured you’re going to need one of your own to keep riding beside Nate.”
It was signed with the same chicken-scratch signature as mine.
“So what’s with this Longfellow guy?” Weed asked.
“I’m not quite sure,” I said, before grabbing his arm.
The image that came this time wasn’t a dream but it was slightly distorted and almost claustrophobic. It took me a second to realize that I was seeing things through Weed’s eyes, as he stared through a pair of binoculars into the window of his neighbor across the street. She turned towards the window wearing an almost see-through nightgown, smiled right at him and started to take it off.
“Dude,” I said, yanking my hand from his arm. “She’s got to be going on fifty.”
“Who? Ms. Schneller?” He asked with a smile. “She might be going on fifty, but there’s no way that body of hers is.”
“You realize Lust is one of the seven deadly sins, don’t you.”
“Yeah, but what a way to go.”
“Just please keep those thoughts to yourself.”
“You’re the one who grabbed my arm. You knew the chance you were taking.”
“I just had to find out if I would still see things.”
“Because of that Longfellow guy.”
Weed stared at me with more confusion on his face than normal.
“After he delivered the envelope, and just before he left, I ended up shaking his hand, but…”
“But I didn’t see anything.”
“So, like he’d never done anything wrong?”
“I don’t think that was it,” I said. “I think it was a test.”
“Like he was testing me, to find out if he saw anything when he touched me.”
“So you think he might be a…”
“I think so,” I replied.
“But you didn’t see anything from him, and you don’t think he saw anything from you? Like the whole Reaper vision thing doesn’t work on other Reapers?”
“Wow,” was all he said.
“So what now?” I asked.
He paused for a minute, with a serious look of concentration on his face.
“How about you find some place to store Mort and then grab the KZ so we can go for a ride, exactly as Finkenbine would want.”
It sounded like a great idea, so I slid into the driver side seat of the hearse and took a moment to appreciate the gravity of the gift before starting it up. It ran even smoother than I could have expected, but that shouldn’t have surprised me. I knew how much the car meant to Finkenbine, and how well he would have kept it up, so I silently vowed to do the same before I pulled the car around the house to swap it out with the KZ.
I was looking forward to the ride with Weed as a way of symbolizing the closing of that screwed up chapter of my life, but as soon as I pulled the car into the garage and put it into park, the glove compartment fell open. When I reached over to close it, I saw there was one small piece of paper in it. Unlike the letter from Finkenbine, this sheet was thick and textured, almost like a fancy wedding invitation. On it were four words, written in blood red calligraphic script: Welcome to the team.
That was all there was. No signature, no other writing on either side. The car might have been Finkenbine’s, but I knew the note wasn’t from him. I was also pretty sure I knew exactly who the note was from. The anger rushed through me at the thought of him, and I almost crumbled the note up and threw it away, but then I caught myself and realized I had a choice. I was no longer bound by any agreement so I could choose what I was going to do, and I decided that I was not going to give him the opportunity to ruin my day, or my life, any more.
That thought made me smile more than anything had in a long, long time. So with that smile on my face, I grabbed my helmet and keys and hopped on the bike. By the time I pulled around the house, Weed was already back on the trike impatiently waiting on me. Together we headed straight out of town to find the most winding open roads we could. Neither of us knew where we were heading, but we knew we were going to enjoy the ride.
The vision started the same as last time, with Shawna sitting terrified on her bed as the yelling took place right outside her bedroom door. This time I didn’t jump as the man yelled at her to clean up the mess, I just continued to watch her do as he said, all the while she was shaking and glancing over her shoulder. When she was done, she looked at her mom, then up at him and was just about to say something when he screamed at her to go to bed. She opened her mouth once again, but the back of his hand slammed into her face before she could get a single word out.
“I told you to go to bed, so do it, unless you want to end up like her.”
I felt her pain, both the physical pain on her face, and the aching inside her as she left her mom laying on the floor. She curled up on her bed, and laid there trembling until she was out of tears.
The vision faded out to nothing then came back in with Shawna sitting up on the bed again. I thought it was just starting over because of the yelling coming from outside her bedroom door again, but then I noticed that Shawna wasn’t clutching a teddy bear any more. This time she had a silver revolver in her hands.
There was a loud slap and a scream that made Shawna slide off her bed, and head to the door as she continued to fumble with the gun that looked completely oversized in her tiny hands.
I could feel the terror racing through her as she opened the door and saw that man continue to hit her mother, even as she cowered on the floor with both arms trying to shield her face.
“Leave her alone,” Shawna said through trembling teeth. Her voice was so weak and I was sure the guy hadn’t heard her, but then he suddenly stopped swinging his fist and turned to look at Shawna.
“What’d you say?” He asked, spittle flying in Shawna’s direction as took a step towards her.
“Leave her alone,” Shawna said again, this time her voice sounding just a little more steady as she raised the pistol and pointed it towards him.
Fear flashed across his face, but it was quickly replaced by an evil grin.
“I thought you’d learned your lesson, but apparently not.”
Shawna didn’t even have a chance to react before he knocked the gun out her hands with one hand, and smacked her face with the other. The force knocked her to the floor.
“Like mother, like daughter,” he said standing over her.
Her eyes struggled to focus as she looked up at him.
“Are you really that stupid?” He asked, picking up the silver revolver. “If you’re going to threaten me with my own gun, you at least need to know how to use it.
He used his thumb to pull back the hammer, then pointed the gun at Shawna. She froze, staring over the barrel at the eyes of a madman.
“You’re more trouble than you’re worth,” he continued. “I told your mom we should have gotten rid of you already. There are plenty of people willing to pay top dollar for someone as young as you.”
“Get away from her,” Shawna’s mother growled as she tried to push herself up to a sitting position on the floor.
The man turned away from Shawna and moved to her mother, setting the gun on the floor as he kneeled to grab her face with both her hands.
I felt something change in Shawna, like a switch flipping, as the fear left her and was replaced by both anger and a sense of determination. She moved quicker than I would have thought possible, racing over to grab the gun before taking a couple steps back, safely out of his reach.
“I said, leave her alone.”
Shawna’s voice was no longer trembling and neither were her hands as she pointed the pistol once more at the man in front of her.
“Or what?” He asked, shoving her mother back to the ground, then standing back up to full height. Shawna didn’t say a word as the man took a step toward her while raising his hand, she just pulled the trigger.
The sound was defining and almost made me pull away from Shawna, but I managed to keep myself from jumping so I could finish seeing everything as it actually happened. The man glanced down for a second with a look of shock on his face. Then the look turned to anger as the blood started to stain his white t-shirt. He took one more step towards Shawna, but a second shot from her dropped him to the floor. Shawna didn’t even look at the body as she moved around him to help her mother get to her feet before they walked out the front door together.
The vision faded to black but I wasn’t sure what other images might start to show themselves so I took the opportunity to do what I had to do. I pictured Shawna’s death, exactly as she deserved, then pulled my hands away before another vision could start.
She let go of me and raised her head with a smile.
“I’m really glad you came,” she said.
“Me too,” I replied, “but I think I should go now.”
“You really don’t have to.”
“Unfortunately, I do,” I said. “But we’ll be together again soon.”
“Maybe we can do something tonight?”
“Absolutely,” I replied with a smile. “I’m sure we can come up with something to do.”
“Good,” she said, before leaning over and kissing my cheek.
I really couldn’t bring myself to look at her as I climbed out the window, but I turned around when I reached my car and saw her staring out the window at me, so I gave another smile and a little wave, then slid into the driver’s seat.
“What have I just done?” I asked myself.
The conversation with Lucifer was replaying in my mind, and even though I knew he was toying with me at the time I wasn’t prepared for his words to have such an affect on me. He brought up Ms. Reader, knowing that I justified that assignment by the fact that she had planned her husband’s death. Had Shawna done the same thing for the man she shot? When the second part of the vision started, she was on her bed with the gun in her hand. Wouldn’t that be considered premeditated?
It really didn’t matter, though. I did what I knew I had to do, I just wasn’t sure what would happen to me because of it. I had a good idea, but I wasn’t sure I was quite ready to live with those consequences. Completing the final assignment should have been a relief but instead I was almost panicking. I needed something to calm myself and I knew right where to find it.
It took no time to get from Shawna’s to Weed’s, but I had to shake him a couple times before he opened his eyes even the slightest bit.
“Damn,” he said, “It’s either really late or really early.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of both, but I need a little smoke to help calm my nerves.”
He sat up, rubbing both eyes.
“So does this mean that you’ve made up your mind.”
“More than that,” I replied, “I’ve already taken care of it.”
“What?” He yelled, loud enough to wake the dead. “And you didn’t even let me say goodbye?”
“Hey, chill. You know I wouldn’t do that to you.”
“So she’s still alive?”
“And if I go over there now, I can still stay goodbye.”
“I wouldn’t suggest doing that.”
“But you just said….”
“Just pull out a little of the good stuff, and I’ll explain.”
Weed gave me a funny look, then climbed out of bed. His smiley face boxers didn’t cover nearly enough for my liking, but thankfully he threw on a robe before fumbling through the monster box to find a fresh baggie and his favorite pipe. All the while I just found a comfortable spot on the couch, lit up a cigarette and tried to gather my thoughts.
“Here you go,” he said, finally getting the bowl packed and lit.
I took the silver pipe from him with a smile and enjoyed one giant drag before trying to explain anything.
“This whole thing has been a game to Lucifer,” I explained. “He likes to play games.”
“And his choice of words has always been very deliberate,” I continued. “He says things in such a way that you believe he’s saying one thing, but in reality he’s saying something completely different.”
“So you didn’t have to choose how five people die?”
“That’s exactly what I had to do.”
“But isn’t that what he said?”
“So then you had to choose how Shawna, being your final assignment, dies this morning.”
“So why did you stop me from going over there right now?” He asked, with a panicked look on his face.
“We’ll get to that.”
He stared at me blankly.
“It was all in what Lucifer said, and exactly how he said it.”
Weed just kept staring.
“Lucifer said ‘You seal the fate of the five people I assign you. You’ll be the one choosing exactly how and when they cross over.’ Those were the words he used when I made the deal.”
“And?” Weed asked as he took another drag.
“Think about it. When I asked him about having a little more time he said ‘If their fate isn’t sealed within 5 days of the assignment being issued, then the deal is off.’ He made sure to word it just like that.”
His blank stare intensified.
“And then this morning I went for a drive so I could have one more conversation with him, just to be sure. And do you know what he said?”
Weed shook his head no as he exhaled a large cloud of smoke.
“He said that the only thing I should really care about is making sure I’ve determined Shawna’s death by 8:00 am.”
“So she’ll be gone by eight?” He asked, swinging his head back and forth trying to find a clock.
“No,” I said, grabbing his head between both my hands. “Aren’t you listening to me?”
He nodded yes but I could see from the look in his eyes that he just wasn’t getting it so I decided to spell it out for him.
“Shawna came over a few hours ago and told me what she’d done.”
“It’s really not my place to tell you.”
“So you’re just going to leave me hanging.”
“It’s up to her to tell you, when she’s ready.”
“So we watched The Princess Bride,” I continued, “and I fell asleep.”
“How could you fall asleep during one of the best movies ever?”
“It had been a very long day, and after Shawna came over and told me everything, I finally knew what I was going to do. So it was kind of like a big weight had been lifted off my chest and I could finally relax. Besides, I’ve only seen the movie like a million times. I was probably quoting it in my sleep.”
“That would be funny to see.”
“Anyways, I woke up a while later, and Shawna had left. I pretty much knew what I was going to do about the Shawna, but I had to be sure, so I drove back to the field where I wrecked Pamela so I could talk to Lucifer, then I went over to Shawna’s after our little conversation.”
“Are you just trying to drag this out as long as possible, or are you going to get to the point and tell me what you did?”
“Patience, my friend.”
He just glared at me and as I took another puff.
“Shawna was still awake so we talked a little, then she hugged me and I used that opportunity to see exactly what she was guilty of.”
“But she’d already told you what she’d done.”
“As she remembered it, not necessarily exactly as it happened.”
“And what, exactly, did happen?”
“Nice try, but no.”
“It’s really not important to the story, so anyway,” I continued, “when the vision ended, I did what I had to do.”
I took a long drag from the bowl while Weed looked like he was about to jump out of his skin.
“Come on man,” he finally said, grabbing the pipe from my hands.
“I made sure I had a good grip on her, then I pictured her really old, laying in bed surrounded by a room full of family. She closed her eyes, took one last breath, and died with a smile on her face.”
Weed’s jaw dropped, then his mouth began to move like a fish out of water as he struggled to ask a coherent question.
“Lucifer said I had five days to choose how each assignment was going to die; he didn’t say they had to be dead at the end of those five days.”
I could see my words finally sink in as the grin spread across his face.
“So, she’s not going to die.”
“Well, eventually, but not for a very, very long time.”
“And you lived up to your end of the deal, so I’m not going to lose you either?”
“Not today, at least.”
He jumped off his bed and started jamming out an air guitar solo,while flashing a bit too much of himself my way.
“You want to tighten the belt on your robe before you hang out completely?” I asked.
He grinned a little bigger, then flopped back down onto his bed. I took the opportunity to light up a cigarette as he went back to the bowl.
“So you beat Lucifer at his own game,” he said through a cloud of smoke. “How are you not dancing on the rooftop right now?”
“Because I really don’t think I did.”
“She’s alive, you’re alive, and you held up your end of the deal. It’s done! What the hell more do you want?”
“Think about it for a minute,” I said. “I’m sure Lucifer has been doing this for a very long time.”
“And I’m not exactly a Rhodes scholar.”
“Maybe not, but…”
“And Lucifer practically spoon fed me this solution.”
“Well, it’s not like he could lie, I mean a deal’s a deal, right?”
“Exactly. He could have worded our deal any way he wanted that night, and I would have agreed, so why make sure there was this loophole?”
Weed looked like he was about to have an aneurysm trying to think of an answer, so I kept going.
“There’s only one reason,” I said. “ Because this is what he wanted me to do.”
“But why? I mean, you not only didn’t have to kill the girl of your dreams, you got to ensure that she lives a long, long life. And you held up your end of the deal, so you’re done.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I made the deal with him, Lucifer told me that I’d remain a reaper until my last assignment has crossed over.”
“Wait,” he said with a look of shock in his eyes. “So you’re going to stay a reaper until Shawna dies.”
“I think so.”
“And all the stuff about touching people and seeing what they’ve done?”
“I think I’m stuck with that too.”
“There’s one way to find out,” he said as he held out his arm.
I thought about it for a second, a little scared of what I might see, but decided it was worth the risk to know if my theory was right.
I braced myself, then reached out and grabbed his wrist.
The vision came quickly, but I pulled my hand away as soon as I saw he was lusting after Angela Lansbury in a french maid uniform handcuffed to the headboard.
“What the hell man?” I yelled.
“What can I say,” he replied with a devilish grin, “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
“Please tell me that was a dream.”
“One of the best I’ve ever had,” he said with a grin.
I just shook my head, trying to clear the vision.
“You knew what I was going to see, didn’t you.”
“I fell asleep watching Murder She Wrote, and that always gives me some messed up dreams. Just be glad that’s all it was.”
He was right, I should be thankful he hadn’t fallen asleep watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That could’ve been really awkward.
“So you’re still a reaper?” He asked.
“I guess so.”
“But what does that mean? Like, can you still kill people if you want?”
“I really don’t know,” I replied. “I mean, I held up my end of the deal so I shouldn’t have to kill anyone else, which is a good thing, but I don’t think I’ll be getting handsy with any hot chicks any time soon.”
“That’s seriously harsh.”
He took a long drag, then stared at me with one eyebrow raised, just like spock.
“And you knew that when you decided to, you know, do what you did?”
“I was pretty sure about it.”
“And you still went through with it, for her?”
“It was the only thing I could do. I mean, I thought about pulling a Romeo and Juliet by not choosing how she’d go. I’d forfeit my second chance and some other Reaper would send her on. I figured we might end up together that way, but that was pretty much the most selfish thing I could have done. She doesn’t deserve to go this early, and you don’t deserve to lose two friends at once.”
I could have sworn I saw his eyes get a little wet just before he turned away to grab the baggie and pack the bowl again.
“Well, we’re all still here so I’m still going to consider it a victory for the good guys,” he said, raising the bowl before sparking it up again.
“Hear, hear,” I cried before grabbing the silver pipe from his hands and taking a giant toke.
After that we just passed it back and forth while we discussed how much easier life had been before we got interested in girls, though neither of us could remember much from that time.
At some point Weed tried to turn on an episode of Murder She Wrote, but I beat him with a pillow until he shut off the TV and put on a little Pink Floyd. I knew it had to be pretty close to daybreak by that point, and I’d thought about staying up to watch the dawning of a brand new day but we were both out before the sun began to rise.
The room was almost pitch black when I opened my eyes, with just the slightest light from the moon creeping through the open window. I hadn’t even made it to the fireswamp scene before falling asleep with Shawna in my arms. At that time everything had felt right, but she was no longer in my arms. I don’t know what time she left, but she had apparently turned the movie off when she did.
My alarm clock showed 2:38 AM but even after just a few hours sleep, I was wide awake, with thoughts of Shawna rushing back in to fill my mind. I could have tried to fight for another couple hours, or even minutes, of blissfully ignorant sleep but I knew it would do no good. Instead, I went down stairs and made my way to the front door. Unfortunately, this time, when I opened it, Shawna wasn’t waiting to talk to me.
I lit up a cigarette and flopped down onto the bench swing before taking a massive drag deep into my lungs. I knew cigarettes weren’t good for me. Hell, everyone knew that they would eventually kill you. But man, sometimes there really was nothing better. So after I finished that first one, I lit another, trying to decide if I could do what I had to, knowing I only had a few hours left to do it.
“Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.” …Or so the movie says. But what if it didn’t even have to be delayed? I asked myself.
If I refused to kill Shawna, then Lucifer would just assign another reaper. But that didn’t mean she would have to go alone, because it would also mean that I didn’t live up to my end of the deal with Lucifer, so I would forfeit my second chance at life. We could end up like Romeo and Juliet, the Leonardo DiCaprio / Claire Danes version and not the original one. I mean, the original version was fine, but the modern take was amazing and not just because I had a huge crush on Claire. The cars, the weapons and the acting were all incredible. But even though I had no chance at ever being with Claire, if I played my cards right, I could spend eternity with Shawna.
So not doing anything could be the answer I’d been looking for all along. It seemed so simple, yet perfect, that it made me start to question everything, because I had the feeling nothing involving Lucifer was ever simple.
At that point I knew I wouldn’t get back to sleep so after my third cigarette I decided to take Pamela out for a little ride, partially because Lucifer had never spoken to me while riding the KZ, and partially because trying to hold a conversation with him would be so much easier in the car.
I really wasn’t sure how anything with Lucifer worked, and I didn’t want to just drive around yelling his name out the window, so I did the only thing that made any sense to me; I drove to the place I first met him.
I felt my stomach start to tighten, and my hands grip the steering wheel a little harder as I neared the field where I had wrecked my car. I didn’t even realize it while I was doing it, but I had instinctively let my foot off the gas. By the time I reached the bridge that I’d bounced my rear bumper off of, I had already slowed to a crawl so I pulled over to the shoulder and put the car in park.
I hadn’t been back to that spot since the night of the accident, and probably for good reason. I felt my skin start to crawl as I looked around. I’d been down that road a hundred times before that night, and never felt anything strange, so I knew it wasn’t haunted by anything other than my memory, but that was enough. I could almost guarantee I wouldn’t be back any time soon.
“She doesn’t deserve to die, you know,” I said.
“And why do you say that?” Lucifer replied. “Because of what she told you?”
For some reason I didn’t even jump at the sound of his voice, or the sudden red glow from my radio; I was expecting it.
“She was just a kid.”
“And Ms. Reader was an old woman, but that didn’t stop you from doing what you were supposed to do.”
“Ms. Reader planned her husband’s death.”
“So premeditation is a requirement for murder?”
“No, not really. But at least I knew she meant to do it. That made it a little easier to convince myself to do what I had to do.”
“But Shawna didn’t plan whatever she did. She was just a kid protecting herself.”
“At least that’s what she told you.”
My face instantly got hot, and both hands clenched into fists, even though there was no one to punch. Lucifer was just a voice, toying with me.
“Are you saying she’s lying to me?”
“No, not at all,” he said, with a fake innocence in his voice that made me want to punch him even more. “I have no doubt she believes everything she’s told you, regardless of the truth.”
“So she’s lying to herself?”
“People remember things in such a way, as to make it easier on themselves to deal with it after the fact.”
“I don’t really care about how she remembers it.”
“And rightfully so. The only thing you really should care about is making sure you’ve determined her death by 8:00 am.”
“I made a deal,” I replied, “and I intend to keep it.”
I could hear a chuckle in his voice as it, and the red light faded
I’d heard exactly what I’d expected to hear from him and I got exactly what I expected to get out of our conversation. I knew he wouldn’t listen when I pleaded about her age or her innocence, but I left that stretch of road feeling a little better about what I was going to do. I probably could have wasted a little more time just driving around, enjoying a few moments before I forced myself to go see her but then I would have run the chance of Shawna’s mother being awake. And there really was no reason to postpone what I had to do, so I headed straight to her house while I still had the courage to do what I had to do.
Her house looked like it always had, maybe even better without Matt’s red corvette sitting out front, but somehow it felt different as I pulled up. Or maybe it was just that I felt different; almost like an intruder. I’d been there a thousand times, and several times had even been that early in the morning, but I’d never felt out of place before. It was almost enough to make me turn around and head home, but time was running out and I knew I had to stick to my plan.
“Shawna?” I whispered as I softly tapped on her window. It was open a couple inches but I didn’t want to startle her by opening it more and just climbing in.
To my surprise, she moved back the curtain right away.
“What are you doing here?” She asked with a smile.
“I just needed to see you again.”
“And you couldn’t wait until the sun was up?”
“Can I come in so we can discuss it?”
“How do you know I don’t already have someone in here?”
She managed to keep a straight face for just a second, before grinning and sliding the window up for me to climb through.
“I didn’t wake you up when I left, did I?” She asked.
“No, I guess I was just done sleeping.”
“Really? You fell asleep just a couple hours ago and, no offense, but you looked like you needed it.”
“I just mean that you’ve looked a bit tired and stressed lately. And you were sleeping so good, so I thought it would be best if I left so I didn’t wake you.”
“Why weren’t you sleeping?”
“Really?” She asked. “Why do you think?”
“I told you, it doesn’t matter what happened all those years ago…”
“Maybe not to you,” she replied, “but not everyone will feel the same way.”
“It shouldn’t matter to anyone who really matters.”
“Regardless of how anyone else might feel,” she continued, “it still brought up a lot of things that I haven’t had to think about and feelings I haven’t had to deal with, for quite a while. I just had a lot on my mind, and I decided to come back here so I could think and you could get a little sleep.”
“I appreciate that, but I don’t want you to ever think you have to leave. No matter what you’re thinking about or feeling, you know you’re always welcome at my place. And you can talk to me or even just sit there without saying a word. Okay?”
There was a smile on her face, even as a tear rolled down her cheek. Then she wrapped her arms around me and pulled me close as she buried her head into my chest. That’s when I reached up and caressed the nape of her neck, ready for the vision to come.
By the time I stopped for gas at the station on the edge of town, my thoughts had shifted from Weed back to Shawna. I saw enough of her memory to guess what might have happened, but that really didn’t matter. I didn’t need to know all the details of what she’d been through, or what she’d done, in order to make my decision because it really had nothing to do with any of that. None of my assignments had actually been about what they’d done. Sure, in some cases it might have made it a little easier to do what I had to do, but each one really only boiled down to me choosing their death or mine.
A couple miles from town I opened up the bike all the way, trying to use the roar of the engine to drown out my thoughts but it didn’t work. The rush of the corn fields and telephone poles flying by in a blur as the wind pressed hard against me should have been enough to chase away anything on my mind, but it didn’t work that time. My thoughts just went around in circles, again and again.
“I can’t kill her.”
“So tell Lucifer you’ll take another five assignments.”
“But what if they’re even harder?”
“Then take her place.”
“Even if I don’t kill her, another Reaper will, and who knows how awful they would make it?”
“Then you do it.”
“I can’t kill her.”
On and on it went, and by the time the sun started to disappear below the horizon I was no closer to a decision so panic was starting to set in. I only had until the sun started to rise again to make up my mind, but I still had no idea how to do that.
Food, I thought. I knew food wasn’t really the answer but I hadn’t eaten since lunch that day, and everyone knew you couldn’t make good decisions on an empty stomach, so I headed home to see what kind of leftovers might be in the fridge.
The driveway was empty so I parked the bike in front of the garage and made my way inside. I just wasn’t expecting to see the kitchen light on, so I stopped just inside the door. That’s when I heard her voice.
“I was wondering when you’d get home.”
Mom was in the laundry room, switching a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer.
“I left a plate for you in the fridge.”
“Thanks,” I replied, as I tried to remember if we were supposed to have dinner together, and if so, what kind of excuse I could come up with for missing it.
She came out into the kitchen with her arms around a basket of clothes and started folding them at the table.
“Theresa was looking for some extra hours, and I figured I had enough around here to keep me busy, so I gave her my shift. I hope I’m not interrupting any plans you might have made for tonight.”
She said it with a slight smile, almost like she was hoping I did have something planned. And my guess was that she wanted that something to include Shawna.
“I was just out for a ride.”
The smile disappeared and was replaced by her concerned motherly look.
“This late?” She asked. “I don’t know if I like you on that thing when it’s dark. Motorcycles are hard enough to see in daylight…”
“Mom, it’s fine. I didn’t necessarily plan on being out this late,” I replied. “I dropped Shawna off after school and just decided to keep riding. I guess I kind of lost track of time.”
Her smile started to return as soon as I mentioned Shawna, but then she quickly tried to hide it.
“I just worry about you.”
I grabbed the plate of meatloaf and Mac N Cheese out of the fridge and heated it up while mom finished folding the laundry. I figured having food in my mouth might stop the questions, but I was wrong.
“You look like you have a lot on your mind,” she said, as soon as I sat down.
“I just have a decision to make, and it’s not an easy one.”
“Something I can help you with?”
I wanted to laugh at the idea of mom helping me figure out how I was supposed to kill Shawna, but instead I just shook my head.
“It’s one I’m going to have to make on my own.”
“Is it about Shawna?”
My jaw dropped, and there was nothing I could do to hide it.
“I just put two and two together,” she continued. “I figured since you took her home and then rode around for hours, you probably had something on your mind, and she was probably that something.”
“Well, yeah, kind of…but…”
“Just don’t stress too much about it. I’m sure that whatever you decide, she’ll understand.”
“Thanks mom,” I replied, though in reality I wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the statement. But the more I thought about it the more I realised that she was probably right, mostly. Shawna was one of my best friends, and if the roles were reversed, I’d tell her to do what she had to do. I would give up my life for her, but unfortunately that was no longer an option. It was either her life, or both our lives. That was what made the decision so hard.
I finished the food on my plate and took it to the sink where mom was doing the dishes. I dried and put away the clean ones as she finished washing them. Neither of us said a word the whole time, not until we were done and she was about to leave for work.
“I know life can be rough sometimes,” she said on her way out the door, “but it sure does beat the alternative.”
Like I said, that was my mom; part parent, part friend and part philosopher. And what she said really did get me thinking, though I wasn’t so sure she was right. Things would definitely have been better if I hadn’t made my deal with Lucifer. Sure, I’d be dead, but no one else would have to suffer because of my mistake, especially Shawna.
It wasn’t the happiest thought, but it did help me decide what I needed to do next; consult someone who actually understood how I felt. Not that John Cusak actually knew how I felt, but Lane Myer, his character in Better Off Dead did, so I went upstairs to watch the movie. The dark humor always made me laugh, and I really needed to laugh, or at least to lose myself in someone else’s misery for a little while.
I really thought it might help me forget about everything for a couple hours but I’d seen the movie so many times that I zoned out almost as soon as it started, quickly losing myself to my own thoughts once again. And unfortunately I was so lost in those thoughts that I jumped at that sound of my bedroom window sliding open.
“Sorry,” Shawna said, pausing on the tree branch outside my bedroom window, “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
There was no way for me to play it cool, so I decided to just tease her a bit.
“Did you forget how to use the stairs?” I asked, with a grin.
“No,” she replied, as she climbed into my room, “I just figured it might be past your bedtime and I didn’t want to wake you by ringing the doorbell.”
“Yeah, that might have been a little too mean.”
“So really, why the window?”
She looked down at her feet, then at me.
“I wasn’t sure if your mom would be home, and as much as I love her, I just really wanted to talk to you.”
The sudden honesty, and lack of hostility, was nice but also took me off guard a little. I wasn’t exactly sure how to respond.
“You said you’d talk to me after you took care of something,”she said. “Have you taken care of it?”
“Because if not, I can go…”
“No…you’re fine. We can talk,” I said, pausing the movie.
I wasn’t sure why I said it, other than the fact that I didn’t want her to go, even though I had no idea what to say to her.
She moved closer but didn’t sit down so I scooted over, giving her a little more room on the bed and she took the hint.
“There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about,” she said, staring at, but not really watching the tv.
“You really don’t have to,” I said. “I can tell it’s hard on you so maybe it would be best to wait until you’re ready.”
“I am ready,” she said, turning and looking directly into my eyes, “It’s just a little tough to talk about. But I really do want to, because I don’t want there to be any secrets between us.”
“Everybody has secrets.”
“Secrets you keep from Weed?”
“Well…uh…that’s not really the same thing.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, there are a few differences between you and Weed.”
“So you’re saying we will never be that close?”
“What? No, I’m just saying that our relationship will always be different than the one I have with Weed.”
She looked hurt as she turned away from me.
“… but that’s not a bad thing. Different can be good.”
I saw her look down, and when she looked up again she had a determined look on her face.
“I don’t remember it real well, because I was so young,” she said, “but I remember enough.”
“You really don’t have to do this.”
“Yes, yes I do.”
I wanted to reach out and hold her hand, to let her know it was okay, but I knew I would instantly see everything she was struggling to tell me, and I wanted to hear it from her instead.
“It was just before mom and I moved here,” she continued. “It was the reason why we moved here…”
We just sat in silence for another minute as she collected her thoughts.
“There was this guy mom was seeing. He did horrible things to her…and to me. One night it was really bad, and there was just this …this gun…it was just there.”
She reached over and put her hand on my leg. I almost grabbed it, but stopped myself. She didn’t seem to notice.
“I didn’t mean to do it, I just couldn’t take it any more. I wanted it to stop. It had to stop.. I don’t even know how I knew how to use it. I just grabbed it, pointed and it went off.”
She froze, her eyes just staring forward. Then she shook her head and looked at me.
“He just kind of fell down. I thought there’d be more blood, but there wasn’t really that much at all.”
I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her close. Her pink, fleece sweatshirt kept my hands from touching her skin, saving me from the visions she was surely reliving. We just sat on my bed like that for what seemed like eternity. I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing and just held her. At first she was shaking, even though the whole room felt hot to me. Eventually she stopped, and I just felt her breathing; slow and even. I was just about to look down to see if she had fallen asleep when she pulled back and looked up at me.
“I shouldn’t have shoved my problem on you. I’ll go if you want me to.”
“No, you should stay,” I replied.
“Maybe you didn’t really understand what I said…”
“No, I got it.”
She narrowed her eyes and stared directly into mine with a serious look of concern.
“Nate, I just told you that I killed a guy and you’re acting like it’s no big deal.”
“You also told me that you were a kid, being abused, and that you did it to defend yourself and your mother. Who wouldn’t have done the same thing?”
She just stared at me as a wave of relief washed over her face.
“My mom said it was crazy to want to tell you, and I almost listened to her.”
“I’m glad you didn’t.”
“Me too,” she replied, “but now it makes me wonder what’s wrong with you.”
“Would you have reacted differently if the roles had been reversed?”
“Yeah, like you would have ever shot someone.”
“Maybe,” I replied. “What if I told you that I’d killed several people?”
“On the Nintendo or Playstation?”
She started laughing hard before I could respond, and hearing her laugh made me laugh. So we just continued laughing together.
“Thanks for understanding,” she said as soon as we pulled ourselves together.
“Of course,” I replied. “That’s what friends are for.”
“And to answer your question,” she continued, “I like to think that I’d respond the same way, if the roles had been reversed.”
“Now, I want to watch The Princess Bride.”
“What?” I replied, a little louder and sounding more surprised than I’d meant to.
“You heard me.”
“But you never want to watch that movie.”
“I do now.”
She had a smile on her face and a pleading look in her eyes, that made me want to do anything for her. The fact that she wanted to watch one of my favorite movies with me, after years of complaining about that very movie, just made the decision even easier.