My Life As Death: Chapter 24

For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapters 10 and 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23

“So do you have any plans for the weekend?” Mom asked as I fixed a bowl of cereal.

“I thought I’d go to a biker bar, maybe join a gang or just a satanic cult, then elope to vegas with a prostitute.”

“Remember what I said about being smart,” she replied, taking a sip of her coffee, “and make sure you get a prenup.”

“You really take the fun out of being a smartass.”

“I know. So what are your actual plans.”

“I’ll probably spend all my time at Weed’s, putting the finishing touches on my car.”

“That sounds like a good idea.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, you know I like Weed, for whatever reason, and I’m glad you’re not letting everything that happened with Shawna drag you down.”

“So you wouldn’t mind if I just stayed over at his place tonight?”

“To be honest, I could use a night off of worrying about you being home alone.”

 “You know you don’t have to worry about me.”

“Yes, as a mother, I do. But I also know Nancy will keep a good eye on you.”

“Right,” I said, not wanting to ruin whatever illusion she had about Weed’s mom.

“And speaking of Weed, I should probably get over there. I’m sure he’s already started without me.”

“Just remember what I said,” she replied.

“I will,” I replied, “but shouldn’t you be getting yourself to bed?”

“This is my second cup of coffee; I’m good for a couple loads of laundry first.”

She went to work in the laundry room so I grabbed a bagel and took it upstairs to eat while I finished packing a bag for Weed’s. 10 minutes later I was heading back downstairs with my helmet and bag in my hands.

“Bye mom,” I called through the open laundry room door.

“Bye,” she replied. “I’d tell you not to give Nancy any hassle, but I know she won’t take any of that from you.”

She was both right and wrong about Weed’s mom. She wouldn’t take any crap from me, or anyone else, but she sure let us get away with a few things my mom didn’t need to know about.

It was a nice day to be on the bike but I decided not to go for a joy ride and instead went straight to Weed’s. I was still reminiscing about some of the studpid stuff he and I had gotten away with by the time I reached his driveway. Pamela was visible through the open garage door, but I opted to head to the front porch first. 

Weed’s mom was standing in the open doorway before I’d even reached the top step.

“You get in trouble?” She asked with a nod to my overnight bag.

Being the only son of a single mother meant I’d gotten into trouble with her on multiple occasions. Each time I seemed to end up at Weed’s until things had cooled off a bit, and his mom never turned me away. I think she saw it as a better alternative to me ending up somewhere else.

“Nah,” I replied, “not exactly. I just thought mom could use a night of not worrying about me.”

“She deserves a lot more than one night of that,” she said, “but it’s a start. And you know you’re always welcome here, though if you stay too long I’ll have to start treating you the same way I treat that son of mine.”

“Speaking of Weed,” I said, “is he still asleep?”

“At nine-thirty on a saturday morning? You know it.”

“Good!”

She didn’t even ask as I pulled a paintball gun from my bookbag.

“Just remember,” she said, “you’ve got to clean up any mess, not already there.”

“It’ll be worth it,” I said.

My paintball gun was a cheap one that didn’t have the velocity of the more expensive ones, but from a couple feet away it still hurt like crazy.

I was about to creep up the stairs as quietly as possible, before realizing it was Weed I was going after. He could sleep through an earthquake, so I stopped wasting the effort and took the stairs two at a time, making as much noise as possible. Of course it didn’t faze him, but bursting through his door, and unloading several shots to his groin area did.

“Ow! Holy shit! What the hell is that smell!” all came out of his mouth before his eyes even opened.

“You never should have let me know about those 68 caliber skunk spray balls.”

“Yeah,” he said while still writhing under his blankets, “I think I’ve learned my lesson. From now on I’ll keep my best ideas to myself.”

“I’m sure you’ll get me back soon enough,” I said, but for now I’ve got a favor to ask.”

“That’s how you asked for a favor?”

“Only when I’m sure you won’t say no.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”

“Oh, but I am.”

“And why is that?” he asked, finally sitting up.

“Because you never say no to a saturday night of car work, John Hughes films and a packed bowl or two.”

“Sleep over?” He asked.

Before I could respond he rushed to the door and hollard down the stairs.

“Hey Mom! Do you think Nate can…”

“I saw his bag and didn’t send him back home, now didn’t I?” She yelled back.

“You’re the best!”

“I know! But you need to remember that next time I have to ground you!”

“Probably won’t.”

“I know that too,” she yelled back, but by then Weed was already throwing on a semi-clean t-shirt and a worn out pair of shoes.

It took us much longer than I would have thought to replace the windshield, but we were being extra careful. FInkenbine had said it was the only one he could find. The memory of him started to bring me down again, so I pushed the thought from my mind and just continued working on the car. I knew getting her done would have made him happy, even if she was only the “president of the glee club”.

“Food’s on the table,” Weed’s mom hollered from the front porch, just as we finished tightening the last bolt. “You better come get it before it gets cold.”

Weed was covered head to toe in six different shades of grease and rust, and my hands were completely black so he headed to the upstairs bathroom for a quick shower while I tried to scrub my hands clean in the kitchen sink.

“So you’ve been having a few issues lately?” Weed’s mom asked, as I dried my still stained hands.

“Weed tell you that?”

“You know he wouldn’t break your confidence unless it was life or death, and even then I’m not sure he would. But he didn’t have to; I’ve known you since before you could walk. I can tell when something’s not quite right.”

“It’s nothing, just typical teenager stuff,” I lied.

“So problems with Shawna?”

I froze, not quite sure how to respond.

“I’ve seen the two of you growing up together. It was only a matter of time…”

“Maybe a little to do with her, but honestly, it’s nothing, really.”

“Okay,” she said, turning back to the stove, “Just remember that I’m always here if you need a female perspective on anything.”

“Thanks.”

“It smells great,” Weed said, sliding down the staircase railing. I couldn’t tell if he just had impeccable timing, or if he’d been waiting for us to finish our little conversation.

Weed’s mom set down a platter of crispy fried chicken right in the center of the table, followed by bowls of mashed potatoes and coleslaw. My mouth was watering before I even finished filling my plate.

“So you boys have plans after dinner?”

“Not really,” Weed replied. “Maybe just watch a movie or two.”

“Two single, teenage boys are going to stay in on a saturday night? Are you both feeling ill?”

Weed and I just looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.

“I hear there might be something going on at the old Johnston place,” she continued.

Weed and I both stopped mid bite. I’m not sure if we were more surprised that she knew about that party, or that we didn’t.

“We’ll think about it,” Weed said, before shoveling some more food into his mouth. I followed suit. 

Our silence seemed to work, as his mom didn’t push us about going out anymore and for that I was thankful. But after dinner we headed up to Weed’s room to watch a movie, only none of them really sounded good.

“She’s right, you know,” Weed said as he cracked the window and lit a cigarette.

“I know she’s right, but I wasn’t going to tell her that.”

“And how did she know about the party at the Johnston place and we didn’t?”

“She’s your mom, you tell me.”

“We are two young, veral guys. We shouldn’t be holed up in a room watching movies on a Saturday night.”

“So you’re wanting to go out to the Johnston place?”

“Of course not,” he replied. “If my mom knows about it then how good could it possibly be?”

“Good enough for us to not get an invite?”

He just ignored me.

“And if she knows about it, then other parents have to know about it, so it’ll be broken up before it gets really good,” he said, plopping down beside the open window and lighting up a cigarette.

He did kinda have a point. And besides, I wasn’t really in the mood to go to a party. I mean, I wanted something to take my mind off Shawna and everything else that didn’t seem to be going right, but I wasn’t ready to just go get drunk with a lot of people I didn’t really like.

“There’s got to be something worth watching,” I said, thumbing through his movie collection, “or worth doing.”

He had every John Hughes, Chris Columbus and Tarantino movie ever made, but none of them sounded good. We really did need to get out of the house, only I was out of ideas. I was just about to start searching through his secret stash of movies when Weed popped up from his chair.

“What you need is a night of video games.”

“Too bad we don’t have anything but the old atari with one broken controller.”

Weed and I both loved video games but his NES got destroyed one wild night that neither of us remember very well. We’d talked about each of us chipping in to replace it, but Sony and Nintendo had both released amazing new game consoles so we decided to save our cash for one of them, only we couldn’t decide which. Weed was a major Nintendo fanboy so he wanted to go that direction but Sony’s system was much more high tech, so I was leaning that way.

“I’m not saying we should break out the atari,” he said, “I’m saying we should hit up the Rock ‘n Bowl.”

On Friday and Saturdays a local bowling alley would turn down the lights and crank up the music. For 5 bucks you could bowl all night and play every video game in the arcade for free. Rock ‘n Bowl had been a tradition of ours for a couple years, but eventually everyone within a fifty mile radius seemed to find out about it. In no time it became overcrowded and overpriced. We hadn’t been in over a year.

“So what do you say?”

I thought about it for a minute, and it did seem like a better idea than just sitting around his room until we fell asleep, but I still wasn’t sure.

“Come on, man,” Weed said. “We need a night out and who knows, maybe everyone’s forgotten about it by now.”

With his pathetic grin, and puppy dog eyes, I couldn’t say no any longer.

“Fine, we’ll give it a shot but just for a little while.”

“Mom, we’re going out!” he yelled as soon as the words had left my mouth. Instantly I knew I was going to regret it.

My Life As Death: Chapter 23

For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapters 10 and 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22

I saw Shawna at the other end of the hall twice throughout the day, but just waved. I wanted to go to her, to say something, but I really didn’t know what to say. I wanted to tell her she made a mistake with Matt, but she had to already know that. And part of me wanted to tell her exactly how I felt, but I couldn’t do that until I completed my deal with Lucifer. It wouldn’t be fair to drag her into that. And besides, I told myself, the whole thing was almost over.

When the final bell rang, releasing us from the last class of the day, I almost felt relieved that I hadn’t been forced to talk to Shawna but as I made my way across the parking lot I realized my luck had run out.

“Hey,” I said. “You look good.”

I don’t know why I said that, other than the fact that she did look really good. She was standing between my bike and Weed’s Chevette, wearing another skirt, this time a jean one. I had to force myself to keep my eyes on her face.

“You too,” she replied.

We just stood there for a minute, both trying to figure out what to say when Weed finally walked up and saved us from our self imposed awkwardness.

“Matt’s not here to give you a ride home?” He asked with all the tact of Denis Leary doing stand up.

“Ah, yeah,” Shawna said. “About that…uh…you won’t be seeing him around any more.”

Weed and I turned towards each other and the look on his face said he was thinking the same thing I was.

“What’d you do, bury his dead body in the backyard?”

Shawna paused for a second, then a mischievous look replaced the shock on her face.

“You know I’m much too smart for that,” she replied, “I buried his body behind your shed.”

Everything went dead silent, then the three of us burst out laughing at the same time. For a moment it was great feeling like everything was back to normal, but I knew nothing could really be normal until I completed my last assignment. I thought about reaching out and touching her, just to prove to myself that she wasn’t my final target. But I couldn’t do it. I knew she wasn’t capable of doing anything to put her on my list, but I also knew she wasn’t perfect. At some point she probably had done something she wouldn’t want me to know about, and I didn’t want to chance seeing that, whatever it might be. Doing so would feel like an invasion of her privacy.

“Seriously, though, I could actually use a ride home,” Shawna said.

“Of course,” I replied, before I’d given it any thought.

“Actually,” she replied, her eyes darting from Weed to me, and then back again. “I was hoping to get a ride from you, Weed.”

“Ouch,” I said.

“No, it’s not about you. I really do want a ride from you, and I’ll definitely take you up on that some day, but I don’t think this jean skirt and the bike are such a good mix.”

She was right, and I knew it, but I still felt a little rejected.

“Of course I can give you a ride,” Weed said, saving me once again from the awkward moment. “And you’re in luck, I just cleaned her out.”

“This is cleaned out?” She asked, throwing a pile of car magazines, two fast food bags and beat up Trapper Keeper from the front seat to the back.

”Yeah, there’s nothing but the necessities in there now.”

“Maybe I should have taken the chance of flashing everyone on your bike,” she said to me, just before finally climbing into Weed’s car.

“I’ll drop her off, safe and sound, then meet you at my place?” Weed asked. 

As much as I wanted to follow behind them, I couldn’t come up with any good reason I would need to go that way at all.

“Sure thing,” I said before slipping on my helmet.

A few minutes later I pulled into Weed’s empty driveway, still trying to figure out some reason that I could have trailed behind Weed and Shawna. Not that I didn’t trust him, I knew he’d get her home fine. And I knew nothing was ever going to happen between them. But with things seeming to return to normal, I just wasn’t quite ready to not be near her. But being next to my car again helped that feeling a little.

“Hello beautiful.”

I half expected Lucifer to respond with some snide remark. I was a little surprised when I didn’t hear his voice, but even more surprised at how disappointed I was that I hadn’t. I’m sure a lot of it was just the fact that I wanted to be done with the whole thing. One more assignment was all that was keeping everything from completely returning to normal, or at least as close to normal as things could be. I mean, I’d already killed four people, and so I wasn’t really looking forward to killing a fifth. Even though they deserved it, that was something I was going to have to live with. But putting it all behind me would be a start, and I was so close.

“Don’t you want to tell me who my last assignment is?” I asked.

I got no reply except for my own words echoing off the garage walls.

Slipping into the driver’s seat I tried again, this time directing my words to the radio. Not because I really thought Lucifer was possessing it, but it was as good a place to talk to as any.

“You like to play these games, but didn’t expect me to do this well, huh? You thought I’d break when I found out Finkenbine was number four didn’t you? But it didn’t happen, now did it? And it won’t. We made a deal, and I’ll stick with it. Will you?”

My anger rose with each word, but so did my determination. That’s when I realized I wasn’t talking for Lucifer’s benefit, but for mine. Not knowing my last assignment was driving me crazy, but maybe that was his goal. That thought was more than enough to solidify my determination.

“That’s just pitiful.”

I jumped at Weed’s voice, and nearly hit my head on the car roof.

“You’ll be back in the driver seat in no time,” he continued, “but we really should finish her before you start pretending to drive again.”

The goofy look on his face made me laugh.

“Shut up. I had to find something to do while you were off trying to hit on Shawna.”

It was his turn to laugh.

“Oh no, I don’t want anything to do with that mess.”

“Hey now.”

“I didn’t mean it like that, just that I’ve seen how messed up she’s got you so I’ll stick to my prep school girls.”

“Don’t forget the imaginary ones in the magazines beneath your bed.”

“How could I ever forget them?” He replied. “As a matter of fact, I think I’ll leave you down here to fantasize about Pamela while I go upstairs…”

“Don’t even think about it,” I said, climbing out of my car.

“Fine, then can we get started down here?”

“I was just waiting on your slow ass.”

“Slow? The Chevette is still warmed up. You want to go head to head around the block?”

I could see the gleam in his eye and knew he meant it. I also knew that the KZ really didn’t stand a chance against the Chevette.

“How about we just get started?”

There was a hint of disappointment on his face, but then he grabbed his mechanix gloves, cranked up the music and we got to work.

Friday passed like most Friday’s do, way too slow. Weed slept through every class, and I struggled to keep myself awake, but the normalcy of everything felt good. Shawna was taking the SATs the next day so she was too preoccupied with studying to interact much with us, but even that felt normal. The only thing that didn’t feel quite normal was the nagging itch in the back of my mind, wondering who was next.

My Life As Death: Chapter 22

For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapters 10 and 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21

It had already been one hell of a rough day, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better reaction from Weed so I hated to press my luck, but when we were both properly baked, I decided to anyway.

“So you know how Buck was Finkenbine’s last assignment?” I asked.

 “Yeah,” Weed replied, while staring at his own hand.

“‘Cause he’d done stuff that made it possible for him to be a target?”

“Yeah.”

“And Finkenbine said Lucifer likes to do shit like that, trying to get you to break the deal?”

“Yeah,” he said again, moving his hand closer, then further from his face but never looking away.

“I don’t want to be put in that situation.”

“Yeah.”

“Damnit, can’t you say anything else?”

The anger in my voice seemed to break Weed from his trance.

“What are you trying to say?”

“I’m not trying to say anything, I’m trying to ask if there’s anything I should be worried about.”

“Wait, What? Your deal was for murderers, rapists and child molesters, right? Do you think I would do anything like that?”

“No, of course not. And I told Finkenbine that, but he insisted that Lucifer always has a plan to mess with you, especially on the last assignment. He said it’s always someone close to you, and you know, I’m not really close to too many people…”

“Not if you’re going to accuse them of that sort of stuff.”

“I’m not accusing you of anything, I’m just trying to figure out who Lucifer has in mind for me.”

“Well it sure as Hell ain’t me,” he replied.

“Good,” I said, laying back down.

Several minutes passed before Weed broke the silence.

“You don’t think…” he said before stopping himself.

“What?”

“Nothing”

“No, don’t give me that. Tell me where that messed up mind of yours went.”

“I was just thinking…”

“That’s always dangerous.”

“It’s just, like you said, you aren’t really close to anyone but me and Shawna.”

“Yeah?”

“And like I said, it sure as Hell isn’t me, so…”

“No.”

“I’m just saying…”

“There’s no way that little miss straight A’s has done anything even remotely close to….”

“Maybe we don’t know her as well as we thought.”

“No chance. We’ve known her forever.”

“We don’t really know what she might have done this summer. I mean she came back with that jerk in the red ‘vette….”

“Wait, you might be onto something.”

“What? You think she and that guy might have killed someone?”

“No,” I said, suddenly sitting up straight. “I’m talking about whatever he did to her. It was bad enough for her to say she was going to ‘take care of it.”

“So what, you think she killed that jackass and then just acted like nothing happened?”

“We haven’t seen him since.”

Weed looked at me with a sudden understanding.

“And she’s kind of been avoiding us, like she has something to hide.”

“It couldn’t be, could it?”

“There’s only one way to find out, you’re going to have to ask her.”

“Oh yeah, just stroll up and say, hey, I know the guy was a jerk, so did you off him?”

“Yeah, that may not work so well.”

“You think?”

“We’ll just have to do a little detective work.”

“Or I could just wait until Lucifer gives me my last assignment.”

“I thought you wanted to know before so you could be prepared,” Weed said with a smug look I just wanted to smack from his face. But he was right.

“Okay, so tomorrow we’ll start snooping around.”

“Agreed,” he said, “but tonight we try to just forget everything.”

“Agreed,” I said, taking the bowl from his outstretched hand. A couple more puffs, and everything felt alright.

The next morning I wasn’t feeling too bad, except for a little cotton mouth. A glass of water would have helped a little but as I walked down the stairs my mouth started watering on it’s own thanks to the smells wafting up from the kitchen.

“I knew the smell of bacon would get you down here,” Weed’s mom said, “but it seems to have lost its effect on my son. Do you want to help with that?”

I thought about everything Weed had been through and everything he’d done for me. It was almost enough for me to turn down his mom’s offer, but then I saw the oversized water gun in her hands. I mean, he would do the same to me, or at least that’s what I told myself as I grabbed the weapon from her.

I could feel the icy water through the plastic as I made my way up the stairs and it brought a smile to my face. There was no way Weed would be able to sleep through that water hitting his face, if I could manage to find it beneath all the blankets covering his bed.

At the foot of his bed, I took a second to shift my grip on the gun to one hand so I could grab the covers in the other. I braced myself for any resistance, then pulled with all the strength. Surprisingly, the blankets came off easily but as I swung the water gun to point right where Weed should have been, I realized I’d been set up.

The firecracker exploded at my feet before I could jump over the bed for cover. Thankfully I managed to get to the otherside before I was hit with too much freezing cold water. Once behind a little protection, I gave the water gun a couple pumps for a little added pressure then popped up spraying anything that moved.

Weed had apparently been hiding in his closet, because the door now stood wide open, but he was smart enough not to get trapped in there and took the opportunity to make his escape while I scrambled for cover. And he’d almost made it too, but I managed to point the icy stream of water right at his bare back before he could get all the way through the doorway.

“Holy crap that’s cold!” he screamed, before turning back around, returning the favor with an identical water gun.

We were both soaked and out of water within a couple minutes, but we couldn’t stop laughing for several more. By the time we were able to compose ourselves the food had grown cold, but neither of us cared; it was worth it.

“So now that you two are done soaking everything in my house, do you think you can get your asses in gear and get to school on time?” Weed’s mom asked.

She was right, I really didn’t want to jump right back onto Principal Rooney’s shit list so I scarfed down a plate of food and headed back to my place to get showered and changed before rushing towards the school. Weed must have been taking his time because he pulled his chevette into the parking lot right behind me.

“Hey,” he said, as we both made our way towards the front doors. “About last night.”

“Yeah?” I asked, not really wanting to rehash the whole Finkenbine thing.

“You weren’t really serious about Shawna….”

“Oh, that. No, of course not.”

“Good, me neither. It all sounded so logical last night but this morning….”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. I guess I’m just going to have to wait and see.”

“Are you worried?”

“Maybe… kinda…not really. I’m just ready to get it over with.”

“Me too,” Weed said, “Then we can get back to what’s important.”

“And what would that be?”

“Finishing up Pamela so we can start on the Weed Wagon.”

I really shouldn’t have expected anything else from him.

My Life As Death: Chapter 21

This is probably my favorite chapter, and I couldn’t wait to share it, so here’s an extra chapter!

For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapters 10 and 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20

“Good news,” Weed said as he came back from the house. “Finkenbine’s got the windshield. Why don’t you go grab it while I finish up the suspension.”

He tossed me the keys before anything he said could register. I just heard Finkenbine’s name and froze.

“You okay?” He asked as the keys bounced off my chest and hit the ground.

“Yeah. Sorry, I was just lost in my own thoughts.”

“Well snap out of it, and go get the windshield. We’re almost to the finish line now.”

“Yeah, definitely,” I replied, trying to come up with a reason, any reason, to not go to the junkyard as I grabbed the keys from the floor. I couldn’t come up with a thing.

“There should be a couple blankets in the back of the Weed wagon to wrap it up in,” he said, before climbing back under the car.

I would have given anything to not go to Finkenbine’s. Weed could have gone, though there wasn’t much I could have worked on without him. But even if I just could have convinced him to go with me, then I’d have an excuse not to do what I was afraid I was about to do.

The Junkyard wasn’t nearly far enough away, so I found myself pulling into the gravel drive before I was even close to being ready. Dumbass was laying on the porch but jumped off as soon as he saw me step out of the Weed Wagon.

“Hey boy,” I said, petting him a little too enthusiastically. He rolled over so I could rub his belly, so I did, using any excuse I had to put off seeing Finkenbine.

“You keep that up and he’ll expect you to come visit him every day,” Finkenbine hollered as he emerged from the wooden gate.

“There’s worse ways I could spend my time.”

“There’s also plenty of better ways.”

When he was a couple steps away from me, I finally looked up at him. There was a softness to Finkenbine’s face that I really hadn’t seen before. It was a little unsettling.

“I’ve got the windshield for you,” Finkenbine said, “but I’d like you to come back to the boat first.”

He turned and headed back towards the gate, leaving me no choice but to follow. The ominous feeling hit me again as we made our way down the tunnel of junk in silence. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what, so I just continued to follow until we got within sight of the boat.

“You finished it?” I blurted out. The hull of the sailboat looked practically brand new, with several fresh coats of paint. 

“Pretty much,” he replied, not stopping, but continuing up the rope ladder.

I followed.

Somehow, in just a few days, Finkenbine had done the impossible, turning a dilapidated pile of lumber into a finished boat. I was a little surprised, but even more curious.

“Wow,” was all I could say as I reached the top of the ladder and saw that the hull wasn’t the only thing he’d finished. The deck looked practically brand new, and there were even a couple chairs for us to sit on this time, with a cooler between them. Finkenbine eased himself into one of the chairs and motioned me to the other, before grabbing two beers from the cooler. A beer might ease my nerves a little but it wouldn’t necessarily make it any easier to do what I had to.

“So you like it?” Finkenbine asked.

“Yeah. I don’t know much about boats but this one looks great now. I’m kind of surprised you were able to get it done so quickly,”  I said, popping the top on the can and taking a big drink.

“I kind of had to, now didn’t I?”

“Why’s that?”

“I promised Buck I’d finish her, and I had to keep my promise.”

“I get that, but why now? Why so quickly?”

“Because I had to keep my promise before you do what you’ve got to do.”

Finkenbine’s eyes cut right through me as he said those words and I froze.

“I…uh…um…”

“Don’t make me lose respect for you by trying to lie to me.”

I had no idea what he knew, or how he knew it, but he was right. I didn’t want to lie to him.

“Don’t worry, though, I’m not going to try to stop you. I’m ready. I wasn’t so sure about it the first time we met. I thought about killing you right then to buy myself a little more time, but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m ready now.”

“I’m glad you didn’t kill me too.”

“He would have just sent another Reaper anyways, and besides, I kind of like you. I’ve killed enough people in my lifetime, I really don’t want to have to kill another that I like.”

“You mean like Buck?”

“You figured that one out, huh?”

“I could tell there was more to the story.”

It was Finkenbine’s turn to take a big drink before he continued.

“That one was a double whammy. His gambling problem got out of control so he started skimming from the club. He wasn’t very good at it and everyone found out. The club took a vote; he had to pay the price.”

“But why you?”

“That’s the game Lucifer likes to play. He pushes you to the limit, trying to find your breaking point. If you can’t hold up your end of the deal, then he owns your ass.“

“But your best friend? That’s just cruel.”

“That’s putting it nicely. Buck’s was the hardest assignment for me. After Lucifer gave it to me, I told the club I’d take care of Buck. It still took all five days before I was able to do it. But at least I was able to let him go out quickly, doing what he loved.”

I saw the sadness in his eyes and imagined that mine looked about the same. I wanted to say something comforting, but I had nothing. I was just thankful that as much of a screw up as Weed was, I knew he hadn’t done anything that would allow Lucifer to make him my last assignment.

We sat there, finishing our beers in silence, but then I realized it might be my last chance to talk to someone who actually understood exactly what I was going through. 

“So how long ago did you become a Reaper?” I asked.

“Way too long,” he replied. “But I also fulfilled my debt a long time ago too. I’ve just had to live with my choices ever since.”

“So Lucifer really upholds his end of the deal?”

Finkenbine laughed. “Yeah, he sticks to the deal, but that doesn’t mean you can trust him. He wants you stuck working for him. And even if you hold up your end, it won’t be over.”

“What do you mean?”

Finkenbine grabbed us two more beers from the cooler.

“Why’d you make your deal with him?” He asked.

I paused for a second, and then told him everything. It felt good to tell someone other than Weed.

“Okay,” he replied. “So what happens, a few years from now, if you’re in another accident. This time it’s not your fault, but your back is broken? You’ve made a deal with him once before, what’s another five assignments if it means you’ll be able to walk again? No medical bills, no years of rehab. Poof, you’re fixed.”

“I guess I don’t know what I’d do.”

“What if you didn’t take that deal but instead got hooked on painkillers, lost everything and ended up broke, addicted, and about to go to jail? Would you consider making a second deal, to turn your life around?”

“I don’t think that would happen to me…”

“Or what if, in rehab, you find the love of your life, only to have her get diagnosed with stage 4 cancer? One little deal could cure her sickness, end her suffering, and let you spend the rest of your years together…”

I saw the pain in his eyes intensify with each hypothetical situation, and then I realized, they weren’t hypothetical.

“All of these things happened to you?”

“And he showed up every time, offering another deal.”

“So what’d you do?”

“The only thing I could…I said no.”

“No? You said no to all of them?”

“Each, and every God-damn time.”

“But why?”

“How many people have you killed? Am I your first assignment?”

“No, you’re not the first,” I replied, “But I didn’t really kill them, I mean…”

“Don’t lie to yourself. You chose how they were going to die, and touched them with your hand of death.”

“Well yeah, but…”

“But nothing. You’re responsible for their deaths. That’s something you’re going to have to live with.”

He was right. I knew it, but I didn’t really want to think about it.

“What number am I?” He asked.

“You’re number 4.”

“Fourth out of five? I’m a little flattered. So only one more after me. Were the others difficult?”

“A little, but not like this.”

“DId you know them?”

“Not the first one.”

“But you knew the other two?”

“Yeah, a little.”

“And each assignment got a little harder?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s what he likes to do. The first one is random, easier to get you to do it. The next three get harder and harder, but not so hard that you quit before you reach the true test. The last one is meant to break you, to make you say no. If you say no to it, he’ll give you the chance to start over with five new assignments or to take the place of the last target. Your choice, but either way he owns your ass, which really is his goal.”

“Like he did with you? With Buck?”

“Exactly.”

“But my deal with Lucifer is only for killers, rapists and child molesters. I know Weed and he’s none of those things!”

“Everybody has secrets.”

“Weed and I don’t.”

“Did you tell him about your deal with Lucifer?”

“Of course.”

“All of it?”

“Yeah.”

“So he knows you’re here now, and what you’ve got to do?”

“Well, not exactly…”

“As I said, everyone has secrets.”

“But I told him everything else, from the beginning. And I know he would have done the same, no matter what.”

“Even if it’s not Weed, it’ll be someone close to you. Someone you won’t want kill.”

“I don’t think so; I’m not really close to anyone. There’s Weed and Shawna and my mom, that’s about it. But none of them could have done anything that Lucifer could use against me.”

“You said your mom. What about you dad?”

“I’ve never known him. It’s always just been mom and me.”

“So you don’t know what happened to him?”

“I don’t have a clue.”

“So you also have no idea what sort of things he might have done.”

“No, but..”

“And for all you know someone close to you could have killed him.”

“What? I..No. I know where you’re going with this, and my mom didn’t kill my dad.”

“Can you be sure?”

I opened my mouth to say yes, but I couldn’t get the word to come out. I really didn’t know what happened to my dad, and I never pushed the issue with my mom.

“All I’m saying is prepare yourself for the worst. Lucifer likes to play these games, and he’s damn good at it.”

“I’m not saying it’s possible, but on the off chance it is someone really close to me, like my mom, there’s got to be something I can do about it.”

“Lucifer likes to offer the same three options: choose their death, take their place, or start over with five new assignments. Those are always the only choices. And I guarantee that even if you start over, the last of those five assignments will be just as hard for you to finish as well.” 

The words sunk in and I knew he was right, but that didn’t mean I had to like it. I felt my anger start to grow, and Finkenbine must have sensed it.

“Getting angry about it might make you feel a little better, but it won’t make it any easier. You need to think long and hard about what you’re going to do before you have to make the decision and you’ll only have five days to do so. And even then, you’ll still remain a reaper until your last assignment is dead.”

“That’s right, I’ve got five days. I don’t even have to do this yet.”

“Yes you do,” FInkenbine said. “I’m ready. But I might not be if I have any more time to think about it.”

There was a sadness in his eyes, but also a peace. As much as I didn’t want to even think about him dying, it would be wrong to put it off. He didn’t deserve to suffer just because I wasn’t ready.

“How do you want to go?”

“What?”

“I know you’ve thought about it, probably a lot. You’ve had to have run through a hundred scenarios in your head. So how do you want to go?”

“Did you ask the others how they wanted to go?”

“No, just you. But it’s as much a favor to me as it is to you. You know what it’s like to be in my shoes. If I can give you the ending you want it’ll make it a little easier for me.”

He sat there for a minute, and then a smile crossed his lips.

“If I could choose any way, I’d want to go out on my bike. Not the trike; my ‘54 harley. But this leg won’t let that be an option.”

“Why not? If I picture it, that’s the way it happens, right?”

“Well yeah, but I’m not sure…”

“So if I picture you getting on it and riding off before meeting your end, it has to happen, right?”

“I mean, I guess…”

Before he had a chance to change his mind, I grabbed his arm. I was instantly flooded with visions of everything he’d done in his life, some of which almost made me pull away. I saw the things he did as a member of a biker gang; things I couldn’t have imagined him doing. I also saw the deaths he was responsible for because of his deal with lucifer. But then I saw the change in him. I got to see him break away from the gang he had considered his family. And I got to see him turn down Lucifer’s continued offers. The man condemned to die because of his actions was already dead, and the man who remained was ready to finally have some peace.

That definitely made it a little easier to do what I had to. I started by picturing exactly what he wanted. I saw him riding his Harley. I saw the smile on his face, and even felt the peace and happiness he felt being back on two wheels. It was clear as could be in my head, and I didn’t want it to end but I knew it had to. But it also had to be quick. I saw him twist the throttle, leaning the bike hard as he took the corner just a little too fast. He barely saw the semi before he crossed the center line and slammed into it. The image went black as I felt the same chilling energy pass through my hand that I had with all the others.

“It’s done?” He asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, trying to hide the catch in my throat.

“Good.”

And then something happened that I didn’t expect. He gave a little sigh, and smiled. The look of pure peace, and contentment on his face was something I hoped I could feel when my time was up.

“I should probably be going,” I said.

“I need just a few more minutes of your time,” Finkenbine said as he rose from his chair.

There was no way I could say no, so I did as he asked and followed him back down the rope ladder. And as he led me towards the garage beside his trailer, I noticed his limp was gone and he was moving a lot quicker than normal.

“Be careful with this,” Finkenbine said as he handed me a large, flat package. “Weed would be suspicious if you didn’t come back with the windshield.”

“Right,” I said, “I’d completely forgotten about that.”

“Just make sure you don’t break this one,” he replied, “There isn’t another one within 3 states from here.”

“I really can’t thank you enough…you know, for everything…”

“I’m the one who should be thanking you,” Finkenbine said. “I knew this day would come eventually. I just lucked out that you were assigned to send me on.”

The sadness flashed in his eyes, but was quickly replaced with a smile.

“Now you need to get back to Weed’s, he said as he pulled the cover off his ‘54 Harley. “Not that anyone would question an old man wrecking his bike, but I don’t want any suspicion directed towards you.”

“I appreciate that.”

There was a heaviness inside me as I walked back to the Weed Wagon. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad, or just angry at the position I’d been put in; the position I put myself in. I could try to blame Lucifer all I wanted, but even though he orchestrated each of my assignments, I was the one truly responsible for everything that led up to them.

The ride back to Weed’s was both the shortest and longest I could remember. I fought with myself the entire way, but in the end, I knew what I had to do.

“That took you long enough,” Weed said, as he slid out from under Pamela.

I set the windshield on the workbench and tried to gather what strength I could.

“There’s a good reason that it took so long,” I said, not quite ready to make eye contact with him.

“Did you get another assignment?”

“Kind of.”

Weed just looked at me, and this time I knew I couldn’t look away. I had to own up to what I had done. He, and Finkenbine deserved that much.

“I actually already had the assignment.”

“Well why didn’t you say so? We could have waited to start on Pamela until you took care of it.”

“Because I didn’t know how, or even if, I was going to do it.”

Weed just stared at me for a minute, waiting for me to continue. Then he looked at the windshield, and then at me.

“No,” he said, shaking his head as if that would make it go away.

I didn’t know what to say.

He looked at the windshield again, then at me before dropping down into the driver side seat of my car as the tears started to slide down his face.

I’d known Weed for quite a long time, but that was the first time I saw him cry.

I really didn’t know what to do, or what to say, so I just stood there like an idiot until he spoke again.

“How could you?” He asked, wiping the tears from his cheeks.

“I know it won’t help,” I said, “but he was ready. He got to ride his ‘54 Harley one last time.”

Weed just stared at me like I was an alien, or worse yet, an enemy.

“You killed him and destroyed his Harley?”

The tears were rolling down my cheeks by then, but I didn’t care.

“It was how he wanted to go.”

Weed looked at me, then the look of anger turned to one of sadness.

“So you let him choose?”

“It was the least I could do,” I said, now trying to wipe the tears from my cheeks.

I then proceeded to tell Weed the whole story. I told him the truth about Finkenbine, about what he’d told me, and about everything he’d done. It was both harder, and more therapeutic than I could have imagined. By the time I was done, we were both out of tears and out of energy, so instead of getting any more work done on Pamela, we decided to head upstairs and light one up for Finkenbine.

My Life As Death: Chapter 20

For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapters 10 and 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19

Shawna was standing there in a light pink jacket, staring down at her hands. She didn’t jump when I opened the door, she just slowly looked up with a sadness in her eyes that shot right through me before she looked away. It was the same look she had all those years ago when she first moved to town. But it wasn’t just sadness I saw in her eyes. She looked at me like she was about to say something, then held back. I wanted to say something too but the words got stuck in my throat.

“Hey,” she said, still not looking directly at me.

“Hey. You okay?”

“I’m not sure.”

“You want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

How could I respond to that? She obviously wanted something, but if not to talk, what? I was never really good at reading people, especially girls, but with Shawna it was usually different. Not that night, though.

“You want to go for a walk?” I asked.

She stood there for a second before finally answering.

“Yeah, I guess.”

This wasn’t the Shawna I’d grown to know; this was the Shawna who first moved in all those years ago. But she wanted to walk, so we did, kind of. Heading down the street, neither of us talked, or even seemed to know where we were going. We just walked around and looked around, anywhere but at each other.

“How’d you know I was at the front door?” She asked after a couple blocks of silence.

“I didn’t. I was just heading out.”

“At this time of night? 

“I needed a little fresh air.”

“You want to talk about it?”

“Do you want to talk about why you showed up at my house this late at night?”

“Fair enough,” she said, though she actually glanced my way as she said it.

“You know you can talk to me, right”

“Can I?”

“Yes,” I said, stopping in the middle of a crosswalk. “You can talk to me about anything.”

She finally looked at me. Actually looked at me. And that was when I saw the bruise on her cheek.

“What the Hell? Did he do that?”

I felt my teeth and my fists clench.

“See,” she said, turning away. “This is exactly why I didn’t want to talk to you about it.”

Instantly I pictured all the ways I could end him without anyone even knowing it was me. Knowing that I could take care of Shawna’s problem with just a touch helped me relax a little, and for a moment I was almost thankful for my deal with Lucifer, if it worked on someone I wasn’t exactly assigned to.

“Look, I’m sorry,” I said, “But no one should be laying a hand on you. Especially him.”

“I know. And I won’t let it happen again, but…”

“But what?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“I wouldn’t understand what?”

“Never mind.”

“Look,” I said, stopping and grabbing her arm. She flinched and spun around, with an anger in her eyes I don’t think I’d seen before.

I pulled my hand away.

“Woah! I just wanted to stop and actually talk for a second, like the friends I thought we were.”

She relaxed a little as the anger left her eyes.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to react like that.”

“No, you have nothing to be sorry about, I shouldn’t have grabbed you. I just want to help.”

“Thanks,” she said, “But I’ve got this.”

“I’m sure you do, but if you need, or want me to go with you….”

“No!”

“Why not? He’s not stupid enough to do anything to you with someone else there, is he?”

“No, it’s just that…”

“What?”

“It’s just that he saw me talking to you in the parking lot yesterday. He saw me hug you…”

“And that’s why he hit you? Because of me?”

She looked away and I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. The thought of him hitting her because of me just made me want to get my hands on him even more.

”It’s just going to be hard enough to break up with him, and I don’t need him blaming you.”

“I don’t care if he blames me.”

“But I do,” she said as she started walking again.

I followed her lead, though neither of us said anything as we made our way back to her place.

“So why’d you come to my house tonight, if you don’t want me to do anything about it?” I asked as we reached her door.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I just wanted to be with a friend.”

“Well I’ll always be there when you need to talk, or…whatever.”

“I know, and I really do appreciate that…”

I wanted to kiss her; to pull her close to me and tell her exactly how I felt. The moment seemed perfect for that, except for the last two assignments I had to complete for Lucifer. As much as I wanted to be with her, I knew I couldn’t drag her into that mess.

“Good,” I replied while stopping myself from doing anything else, “But I should really be getting back home.”

“You should,” she said, stepping closer to me. “Thanks for walking me home.”

Raising up on her tiptoes, she gently kissed my cheek, then turned and went inside, leaving me on the porch wondering if I made the right decision. I had the entire walk home to question if I should have kissed her first, but by the time I made it back to my bedroom I still had no idea if I did the right thing or not. I did, however, make a decision about Mr. Finkenbine. Lucifer was right; I really didn’t know Finkenbine. I had no reason to doubt that he’d done something to deserve his punishment. My deal with Lucifer specified that I would only have to deal with killers, rapists and child molesters. And if Finkenbine was one of those then he needed to go, no matter how hard it might be for me to do. Then I’d only have one last assignment until I’d be able to live my life like I was supposed to. And even if that didn’t mean Shawna and I ended up together, at least I’d be around for her to talk to and to protect her from guys like Matt.

Unfortunately, even with my mind made up, I couldn’t seem to get to sleep. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to complete my next assignment, but I was determined to, so there was nothing to think about. Still, my mind wouldn’t shut off. And it wasn’t just thoughts about Finkenbine or Shawna keeping me awake; I was also thinking about how Weed would react, and what my mom might think if she ever found out about what I was doing. And then, of course, I started questioning who my final assignment would be. Lucifer obviously enjoyed torturing me by making each assignment a little harder than the last. What could possibly be worse than having to send Finkenbine on?

Eventually my mind calmed enough that I fell into a fitful sleep, only to be awakened by the alarm way too early. I wasn’t anywhere close to being ready to get up, but I forced myself to anyway. A shower helped a little, but even then I was thinking about asking Weed for a little more of his go-fast juice. Instead of ingesting that poison and shortening my lifespan a little more, though, I decided to fix some coffee.

A couple scoops of sugar helped the coffee go down a little easier so I drank two and a half cups before grabbing my helmet and keys. On top of the coffee, the ride to school woke me up a little more so I was actually feeling half-way decent as I pulled into the parking lot. Until I saw Shawna climb out of that red corvette.

I rushed into a parking spot a little faster than I meant to, and had to break hard to get stopped in time. I had the bike shut off and my helmet on the handlebars in no time before heading straight across the parking lot. But as quick as I was, it still wasn’t quick enough; the Corvette was already gone and Shawna was nowhere to be seen.

“What was that about?” Weed asked as he came up behind me.

“What do you mean?” I asked, while still scanning the parking lot for any sign of Shawna.

“You pulled in, nearly wrecking in the process, then ignored me as I hollered out the window at you.”

“Sorry, I was just a little preoccupied.”

“I could tell. Was it the Corvette?”

I saw the judgment in his eyes.

“Yeah, kind of.”

“Dude, you’ve got to let it go.”

“It’s not about me and her.”

“So what’s it about? Is he your next assignment?”

“I wish.”

“Seriously then, what happened?”

“Shawna came over last night.”

“Oh no.”

“Nothing happened between us, but she had a bruise on her face.”

“From him?”

“Yeah.”

“So why the Hell did she still have him drive her to school today?

“That’s what I want to know, but apparently I’m going to have to hunt her down to find out.”

“Okay, I get that you’re pissed. I am too. But you should only be pissed at that douchebag. Getting pissed at Shawna isn’t going to make things any better.”

“Maybe you’re right, but I’ve got to say something, I’ve got to do something.”

“So how does this whole grim reaper thing work? Can you use your voodoo on Matt?”

“I don’t know. I’ve only used it on the people I’ve been assigned.”

“So if the living Ken doll isn’t your next assignment, can you ask for him to be?”

Asking Lucifer to let me kill Matt? The thought made me smile.

“I really don’t know,” I said.

The talk of Lucifer and assignments made me think of my actual next assignment; Finkenbine. And remembering the reality of what I had to do really made me want to change the subject before Weed asked too many questions.

“It wouldn’t hurt to ask, would it?” Weed continued.

“I don’t think it works that way,” I replied. “He actually told me once that he “couldn’t have Reapers picking and choosing their assignments” so I doubt he’d go for it.”

“I can at least dream about it then,” Weed said with a smile.

The bell rang, letting us know that we had better get to class and for once I was actually grateful.

Though we had classes together the rest of the day, Weed didn’t mention Shawna, Matt  or my next assignment again. We talked about nothingness like movies, or which cheerleaders were obviously stuffing their tops, but we avoided anything serious. There was nothing we could do about any of it while stuck in school, so there was no point dwelling on it. That seemed to be Weed’s thoughts, and after a while I felt the same way, at least until the last bell rang, releasing us from our temporary confinement.

“So you coming over to finish up Pamela?” Weed asked as he slid into the Weed Wagon.

“I’m not sure…”

“We had a deal,” Weed said. “Right after school. I’ve already got a full gas can waiting to be turned into exhaust fumes.”

“There’s just something I have to do…”

“It has nothing to do with Shawna, does it?”

“Actually, no.”

“Good, then it can wait.”

“What?…No…It’s just…uh…

“Pamela is waiting, and you really look like you could use a break from everything else.”

It was hard enough convincing myself to follow through with Finkenbine, Weed giving me an easy distraction made it impossible.

“You know what?” I said after thinking about it for a second, “you’re right; everything else can wait.”

“Good,” he replied, “then get your ass over to my place.”

With that, Weed pulled out of the parking lot before I could change my mind. 

I took my time putting on my helmet and starting the bike, hoping to catch a glimpse of Shawna. I just wanted to make sure she wasn’t getting a ride home with that jackass, but I didn’t see her or that red vette before most of the cars had left the parking lot and I knew Weed would be close to sending out a search party for me. Reluctantly I kicked the bike into gear and took off, throwing one last look over my shoulder. Still seeing nothing, I gunned it as I headed towards Weed’s garage.

He was waiting in the driveway with his car door open looking like he was just about to come looking for me when I pulled up.

“I know that bike is a lot quicker than that,” he said, shutting his door and crossing his arms.

“Maybe I had to stop and save another old woman,” I replied, hanging the helmet on the handle bars.

“Is this one going to make it?” He asked.

“Ouch.”

“You know you deserve that.”

“Possibly.”

“So did you see her?”

“Who? An old woman?”

“No, dumbass, Shawna.”

“Shawna? No.”

“Not for lack of trying though, I’m sure.”

“I just wanted to make sure she wasn’t making another mistake.”

“It’s her mistake to make.”

“Easy for you to say.”

“Not really. I’ve been friends with her as long as you have.”

“Not true. I met her first, and introduced you two later that afternoon.”

“Okay, I’ve been friends with her exactly 2 and a half hours less than you. Just because I don’t have a hidden love for her, doesn’t mean I don’t care for her.”

“I know. And I know you’re just looking out for me too.”

“Good. But now that we’ve got all that touchy-feely stuff out of the way, let’s get our hands dirty.”

“Sounds good.”

“And no mention of what’s-her-name. The only woman we focus on tonight is Pamela.”

“Deal.”

Once again, getting my hands dirty really helped take my mind off all the other shit going on in my life. I needed that. While we were working on the car, I didn’t have to think about Shawna, and what I should or shouldn’t do there. And I didn’t have to think about my deal with Lucifer, and what I had to do there. It was an escape from reality, almost as good as getting stoned. Unfortunately my break from reality was shattered by the ringing of the phone, and Weed’s mother yelling.

My Life As Death: Chapter 19

For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapters 10 and 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18

“I wanted to be mad at you. I should be mad at you. But then you have to go and save Mrs. Reader from a fiery car crash so then I feel like a jerk for even thinking about being mad at you.”

My class was closer to the exits but Shawna had somehow made it out to my bike before I did. She was pacing as I made my way across the parking lot, and I thought about turning right around and going back into the school. But she knew where I lived, and where Weed lived, and those were really the only two places I really had to go besides the junkyard, but I couldn’t hide out there forever. One way or another Shawna would eventually catch up with me so I figured I might as well get it over with.

I knew she was going to end up yelling at me but I really didn’t expect her to yell at me for saving a teacher.

“So now how am I supposed to react?” She asked while continuing to pace between my bike and the Weed Wagon.

“She didn’t make it, if it makes you feel any better,” I replied, which finally got her to stop pacing.

“What?!”

“Mrs. Reader didn’t make it. My Rooney told me at lunch.”

It wasn’t a lie, but I couldn’t tell her the whole story, and I hated myself even more for that.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, rushing over and throwing her arms around me. “I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.”

“Why would you say that?” I asked, pulling away from her.

“I didn’t mean it like that; I’m just saying I’m sure you did everything you could to help her.”

The words stung a little more than they should have, given the truth of the matter, but I had to keep in mind that Shawna didn’t know exactly what I had done.

“Can we just change the subject,” I asked, “maybe get back to you yelling at me.”

“I wasn’t yelling,” she said, pulling away completely, “I was just explaining my position, and maybe venting a little, but I wasn’t yelling.”

“Well whatever it was, it was better than talking about Mrs. Reader.”

“I’m sorry. We don’t have to talk about it. I mean, I should probably let you go anyways.”

Weed had started to head our way but froze as he saw Shawna. He looked like he was about to head somewhere else when Shawna gave me another hug, then walked back towards the front of the building. 

“So everything’s good?” Weed asked as he walked up to me.

“Yeah. Maybe? Probably, I think.”

“Good, then we need to get to work on Pamela.”

The thought of my car made me smile for a second but then I froze. What if Lucifer gave me another assignment while I was working on her. I really wasn’t sure I was ready for another one, not after Ms Reader. But not working on Pamela didn’t guarantee I wouldn’t hear from him either; he could just as easily come to me through my bedroom TV again. And even though I really didn’t like the idea of jumping right back into another assignment, the sooner I completed the last two jobs the sooner I’d be done for good. Then I’d never have to hear his voice again. As much as I loved the idea of getting Pamela fixed, I liked the idea of being done as a reaper even more, but there was nothing I could do to speed that up.

“Are you in?”

“Yeah. Let’s do it,” I said to Weed with a big smile on my face, almost challenging Lucifer to give me my next assignment.

Back at Weed’s garage, the work went pretty quickly but as the time passed I was actually becoming a little disappointed that I didn’t hear a peep from Lucifer. I even had a dozen excuses cooked up for Weed in case I needed to leave right away to take care of business, but I never needed them. By the time we called it a night, we’d made a lot more progress than I’d expected.

“You want to do the honors?” Weed asked, handing me the crescent wrench to tighten the battery terminals. I hesitated a second, my mind still not completely in the moment.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” he said, misinterpreting my hesitation, “she’s going to roar to life first try.”

I smiled, and grabbed the wrench, tightening both terminals a little more than necessary. It felt good to climb into the driver’s seat with the keys in my hand again.

“Okay,” Weed said, “let ‘er rip.”

I crossed my fingers, then slid the keys into the ignition and cranked it all the way, probably with a little too much enthusiasm. The engine turned over excitedly, which was a very good sign as Weed stood by the fender, staring at the motor with both thumbs up in the air. Fifteen seconds later he turned towards me, making a slicing motion across his neck as his way of telling me to knock it off.

“I’m not sure what’s going on,” he said. “The carbs will probably need a little adjusting but they should be close enough to get her to fire up. As much as I hate to do it, I think I might have to try a little starter fluid.”

Every gear head seemed to have different takes on using starter fluid. Most tried to avoid having to ever use it, but sometimes it was necessary. I wasn’t quite as averse to it as Weed so I nodded, giving him the go ahead.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered to Pamela as he sprayed a gentle dose directly into the carburetor.

As soon as he pulled his head out of the engine compartment I tried the ignition once again, and once again Pamela turned over right away, but this time she started to come alive for a second, before using up the little bit of starter fluid she had.

“Again,” I said, and Weed nodded, this time spraying a generous helping of starter fluid.

Pamela turned over and even began to fire up, but once again died as soon as she’d burned up all the starter fluid.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Weed said, leaning into the driver side window. She wants to run, and has plenty of air and spark but it’s like she’s starving for gas. I double checked the fuel pump and fuel filter. All the lines are clean so there shouldn’t be anything keeping the gas from reaching the carbs. Maybe I just need to pour some straight down the carbs to get everything fully primed.”

As soon as he grabbed the gas can I had another thought.

“Um, Weed?.”

“What?” He asked, propping the five gallon can on the front fender.

“Is that a full can?” I asked.

“Yeah, just filled it up yesterday so we’d have plenty to get her running.”

“That’s great, and all, but don’t you think it might do us a little more good if the gas was in her gas tank.”

Weed looked at me, then at the gas can, and back to me before bursting out laughing. He continued laughing way too hard to even lift the can off the fender, so I grabbed it. It took a couple minutes to empty most of the can into Pamela’s tank which gave Weed plenty of time to get himself under control.

“One more time,” he said, spraying a little more fluid into the carburetor. This time, when I cranked the ignition, Pamela fired right up, purring like a kitten.

Weed was practically dancing in the poorly adjusted headlights, and you couldn’t have smacked the smile off my face with a 2×4, but unfortunately my baby wasn’t quite ready for me to drive her home. She still needed the new windshield, new suspension and new tires put on the new rims, but she was running better than ever and I could see the finish line, both with the car and with my assignments. Unfortunately the five gallons of gas wouldn’t last long if I kept running and revving the engine unnecessarily, so reluctantly I killed the ignition just before Weed could attempt what looked to be a backflip. He continued to stare at me while throwing his hands in the air, trying to tempt me to keep her running just a little longer.

“She sounds great, man, but we should save some celebrating for when she’s actually roadworthy again.”

Weed gave me a look that said he understood, but still didn’t like it.

“And it’s getting late,” I continued, probably more to keep myself from giving in then to convince him I was right. “We can start right back here tomorrow, and I’ll even bring more gas.”

“And what are you going to do?” Weed asked, grabbing the empty gas can from me, “bungee cord the gas can to the back of the bike?”

“It could work.”

“It could also be a disaster; I’ll get the gas, and you just show up here tomorrow as soon as school lets out. But you know I won’t sleep tonight knowing she’s this close.”

“You’ll pack a bowl with some “sleep-well” herb and you’ll be out like a baby in no time.”

“Okay, maybe you’re right.”

“You know I’m right. But I’ve got to get going.”

“Remember, straight here after school!”

“Yes, mom!” I replied. I’m pretty sure he had some smartass response but I couldn’t hear it over the sweet sound of the bike firing up.

I didn’t realize how tired I was until we stopped working and I sat down on that bike. It would have been a great night for a little night-riding, but I didn’t have the energy for that. Instead I went straight home and parked the bike in its usual spot before heading inside to get thoroughly cleaned up. Mom had left a plate in the microwave but I didn’t even feel like eating. I just wanted a shower and some sleep, but as I reached the top of the stairs I realized that once again someone had other ideas.

The television was glowing so I figured it was Lucifer but it wasn’t his face like last time. The image on the screen was the old indian head test pattern, but instead of the indian head, it was Lucifer’s sitting above the number 3.

“Three down,” his voice boomed from the speakers as his head turned towards me, “only two to go.”

As he said those words, the number 3 changed to the number 2.

“Wonderful.”

“I thought you’d be happy…”

“Don’t get me wrong,” I said, “I can’t wait to be done with this, but tonight is really not the night.”

“You really don’t listen, do you. You can do it whenever and however you want.”

“I know, I know; it’s just that I really want some sleep and thinking about killing someone kind of interferes with that.”

“If it makes it any easier we can do this in the morning, but you don’t want to waste too much time; tomorrow might be the perfect opportunity to complete your next assignment.”

I opened my mouth, ready to tell him we’d do it in the morning, then I realized that knowing I had an assignment and not knowing who it was would probably be worse than knowing. I’d toss and turn all night long, trying to figure out who it could possibly be. It was definitely a catch 22, but I think that was exactly what he wanted.

 “Fine,” I said, stripping off my filthy shirt, getting ready for a nice hot shower. Knowing him, I was going to need it.

“I’m not so sure I like your attitude,” he said.

“There was nothing in our deal about my attitude.”

“Good point. But you might want to at least stop prancing around the room and sit down for this one. I have a feeling it won’t be quite as easy as the others.”

Instantly I stopped. I didn’t mean to stop, and had I thought about it, I would have just kept walking to keep from giving him the pleasure, but my mind froze and my body followed suit. 

“As easy as the others?” I yelled at the television “There was nothing easy about the others.”

“I didn’t mean to belittle your work so far,” he said. “I’m actually quite proud of what you’ve managed to do. A lot of others haven’t had the stomach for the assignments like you’ve completed. I just want you to be prepared in case this one is a little more difficult.”

I could feel my face getting red as my frustration and anger grew. I took a deep breath and tried to control my tongue.

“Just tell me who it is,” I said through clenched teeth.

“It might be best just to show you.”

The indian head test pattern with Lucifer’s head disappeared and was replaced with a face I recognized all too well.

“You can’t be serious.”

“What? You didn’t think he was completely innocent, did you?”

“Innocent? No. But I didn’t really think that Finkenbine had done anything that fit into our agreement.”

“Why? Because he gave you a good price on some car parts? Or maybe it was that heartfelt conversation the two of you had over a couple beers? There’s really a lot that you don’t know about him.”

“Fine, I get that, but now he’s just an old man running a junk yard. It’s not like he’s out there harming anyone.”

“It’s not always about what they’re doing now, or even what they might do in the future. Ms. Reader was proof of that, and you finished that assignment fine.”

The words stung more than they should have, probably because everything he said was true.

“Our deal was that I select 5 killers, rapists or child molesters and you decide when and how they will pass on to face the consequences of their actions.”

I sat down on the edge of my bed, contemplating my options.

“Can’t you just assign another reaper to him?”

“I’m afraid not. We can’t have the reapers picking and choosing what assignments they want to complete. Either you do this or our deal is off.”

So that was his game; torture me by giving me exceptionally harder assignments, hoping to get me to break our deal.

“I’m going to need a little time.”

“I’m a man of my word. You’ve got 5 days to seal his fate; otherwise the deal is off.”

The television went black, even as those words continued to hang in the air. For a time, I forgot about everything else, even the hot shower I’d looked forward to. I just continued to sit on the edge of the bed, in an attempt to figure out what I was going to do. I wanted to talk to someone, but that really wasn’t an option. The only one who knew anything about what was going on was Weed, but what would I say to him? Sorry, I’ve got to kill your friend? Weed would never forgive me. Or worse, he would blame himself for taking me out to Finkenbine’s in the first place. I couldn’t live with myself if he had to deal with the consequences of my actions.

My mind was pretty much made up to tell Lucifer to shove it but then my thoughts went to Shawna. Even if things weren’t going the best between us, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to her. And my mom? If I broke the deal and had to accept my fate, it would crush her. I didn’t even want to begin to imagine what it would do to her.

Round and round my mind went, bouncing from one choice to the other without the slightest chance of making a decision. I knew there was no way I was going to get any sleep so I headed down stairs. The keys to the bike were still in my pocket, and a night time ride would help take my mind off the decision I had to make, but it would only delay the inevitable. Instead of running from my decision I had to face it I decided to take a walk to give myself plenty of time to think. So instead of heading towards the garage at the back of the house, I went to the front door, but I was not prepared for what I saw as I opened it.

My Life As Death: Chapter 18

For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapters 10 and 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17

“Is something wrong?” Mom asked.

It had been a while since we had dinner together, so I was trying to put on a happy face, but my thoughts kept drifting back to Mrs. Reader and what I’d just done.

“No, nothing’s wrong,” I lied. “It was just a long day.”

“I heard about what you did,” she replied. “I’m very proud of you.”

The words stung a little.

“Thanks, but it was really nothing.”

“Saving a woman’s life is never ‘nothing’.”

Her choice of words made the sinking feeling in my stomach a little worse.

“I just don’t want anyone making a big deal out of it. I mean, I helped her out of the car, but that was it.”

Mom seemed to understand that i wanted to drop the subject, so she did, but didn’t necessarily move on to a better one.

“So are things better between you and Shawna?”

“Still the same, I think; I didn’t even see her today.”

“I’m sorry, but it will get better.”

The silence continued for several more minutes before mom found a topic we could both appreciate, dessert. She had a recipe for these amazing chocolate cherry cookies. I should have smelled them as soon as I got home but my mind was so preoccupied that I didn’t even notice that she’d made them until we cleared the kitchen table. It was then that she brought them out, still warm from the oven. No matter how bad a day I’d ever had, those cookies would always make it better.

The cookies, and the dinner with mom turned out to be just what I needed, but then she had to leave for her shift at the hospital. The same hospital where Mrs. Reader would be falling asleep and not waking up. I knew that I’d done what I had to do and that I’d made it as peaceful as I could, but that didn’t help me feel any better as mom walked out the door; but I knew what would.

The ride to Weed’s house took no time, but even though I hadn’t given him a heads up, he had a bowl packed and ready for me. It’s a true friend that knows what you need before you need it. He had a little Zeppelin playing and for a while that was all we needed as we passed the pipe back and forth. But when I was sufficiently relaxed I needed something else to focus on to keep my mind from wandering where it shouldn’t.

“I’ve got just the thing,” Weed said, sliding over to his movie collection.

I didn’t even see what he picked out until the title came on the screen.

“Seriously?” I asked. “This is what you chose for us to watch, tonight of all nights?”

Weed burst out laughing.

“You love Cocoon.”

“Yeah, old people are hilarious, but come on.”

He was laughing too hard to even respond. It was the kind of laugh that was contagious. I wanted to be mad at him but I couldn’t even look at him without laughing too, so I finally gave up and just joined in. By the time I was finally able to stop laughing he had already started the movie, so I watched. I didn’t make it halfway through before falling asleep on the yard-sale couch Weed and I had picked up the previous summer, against his mom’s wishes. It looked like something out of a frat house but that night it was the most comfortable thing in the world to sleep on.

Neither of us wanted to wake up the next morning, and to her credit, Weed’s mom did try waking us a couple times before she brought out the big guns. We should have known what would happen, but apparently it didn’t dawn on either of us that she wouldn’t let us be, so as we slept in, clinging tightly to those extra few minutes of oblivion, she stealthily positioned two speakers right by the bedroom door, cranked the volume to 11 and hit play.

I didn’t even know heavy metal yodeling was a thing, but she’d somehow found a record from Germany. Under normal circumstances I might have been interested in giving it a shot but waking up to it blasting a few feet from my head was not how I wanted to be introduced to it.

Weed and I both instantly threw our pillows in the general direction of the horrible noise, but knocking the speakers over only muffled it slightly so we were forced to actually get up. I couldn’t tell if he cut the speaker wire or merely disconnected them, but either way the piercing vocals and screaming guitars were finally silenced.

“Jokes on her,” Weed said, “I’m actually starting to like that band.”

He might have been joking, but I kind of doubted it. His taste in music could get as weird as he was, but that was part of what made us just click. 

“You want a little of my go-faster juice?” He asked, slipping on a Dead Kennedys t-shirt.

“Na, I’m good. Just a little Mt Dew or even a coke and I’ll be good to go.”

He tossed me a can which I chugged down in no time, then jumped on the bike and rushed home to shower and grab a change of clothes. Based on her normal schedule I figured I had plenty of time before my mom got home but I didn’t want to take any chances. If she got home before I left for school she would feel obligated to tell me about Mrs. Reader passing in her sleep and I really didn’t want to have that conversation with her so I wasted no time. I didn’t even finish drying completely before throwing on a fresh t-shirt and jeans and heading right back out. Even with waking up late and going back home first, I somehow made it to school with time to spare. Weed, on the other hand, probably fell back asleep in the shower as he was known to do, and barely made it through the door before the last bell rang.

I’m pretty sure we both dozed on and off throughout first and second periods but by third I was finally feeling awake. And I think Weed even managed to keep his eyes open for the whole class, so by lunch we were able to actually hold a conversation. We weren’t talking about anything important but it was nice to feel normal for a minute, until principal Rooney appeared and started heading my way with a serious look on his face.

“How are you feeling today?” He asked, sitting down on the bench beside me, but still facing away from the table.

“I’m alright,” I replied.

“Did you get a chance to stop by and see Mrs. Reader yesterday?”

“I did; she seemed happy about it.”

“I’m glad to hear that because I just got some bad news.”

He paused as if the news was going to be hard, either for him to say or me to hear.

“A representative from the hospital just called to let me know that she passed in her sleep last night.”

I didn’t know how to respond. I wanted to look surprised, or sad, or something, but I’m pretty sure I only managed to look confused.

“These things happen,” he continued, “but she didn’t suffer, if that’s any consolation.”

“That does make it a little easier to hear, I guess”.

“And I want you to know that we’re all here for you if you need to talk.”

“I think I’m okay.”

“That’s good, but if, in the near future you want someone to talk to about this, my door is always open.”

“Thanks, but I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”

“Grief or confusion, especially when it comes to death, is very natural. Sometimes it helps to talk to someone. If not me, consider any of your teachers or the guidance counselor.”

“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”

“That’s all I’m asking,” he said, standing back up.

“Awkward,” Weed said, as soon as principal Rooney was barely out of earshot.

“Tell me about it.”

“So you’re positive it was you?”

“Absolutely.”

“So what was it like?”

“I’m not going to talk about it here.”

“Okay, later then.”

“Probably not.”

“Why not? I’m just curious.”

“I don’t even know how to describe it, okay? It’s just weird. But only two more assignments and I don’t even have to think about it ever again.”

“Do you know who those two are?”

“No clue, but they have to be easier than that one was.”

“You know you just jinxed yourself, right?”

“Probably, but what could be worse than having to off an old woman you just saved from a car wreck?”

My Life As Death: Chapter 17

For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapters 10 and 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16

The hospital offered motorcycle parking near the handicap spots but I avoided those and chose to park out in the middle of nowhere, giving myself the longest walk possible to the front doors. It still wasn’t long enough though, because even when I reached them, I still had no idea what I was going to do.

“I’m looking for Ms. Reader,” I told the receptionist.

“Oh, you must be the boy that pulled her from her burning car.”

I really didn’t feel like discussing the reality of the whole thing with anyone else, so I just let it go.

“Yeah, something like that.”

“Well I’m glad I got to meet you. Her room is on the third floor, room 306,” the receptionist said. “She’s been hoping you’d stop by.”

Those words echoed through my head as I waited for the elevator, then made my way to her room. I knew what I had to do but not how I was actually going to be able to. I mean, how was I supposed to kill some little old lady, let alone the one I just saved? 

Because of my deal, and based on my other assignments, I knew she had to deserve it, so I had to do it, right? But even if she did deserve it, how was I going to do it? My mind went around in circles as I rode the elevator up.

“You must be Nathaniel,” a nurse said, coming out of room 306. I’d been standing outside the door, staring at the room number, trying to come up with some excuse to leave but obviously I didn’t come up with one in time.

“Uh, yeah. I guess I am.”

“Great. You got here at a good time. She’s awake and feeling much better. You can go on in.”

“Thanks,” I replied, taking a deep breath before moving past the nurse and into the room.

Mrs. Reader’s face lit up as soon as I entered the room. I tried to look away but that felt even more awkward.

“So you’re the one who pulled me from my car?”

“Yeah, I guess that was me.”

“Well come a little closer. I won’t bite.”

I was probably as far from her as I could and still be in the same room so I moved closer to the foot of her bed.

“I just wanted to thank you for what you did.”

“You’re welcome, I mean, It was nothing, really,” I replied.

“Oh, but it was,” she said, pausing as she seemed to gather herself. “You know, when it happened, when the truck slammed into me and my car was spinning around, I thought “this is it”. And I was okay with that. Part of me really wanted to go, to be with my Hermain again.”

She teared up as soon as she mentioned his name, and for some reason I moved around to the side of her bed but stopped short of reaching out to comfort her.

“It’s been quite a while, but I still miss him,” she continued. We were together for almost 30 years when…well, when it happened. It was really hard at first, but it got easier; though even now there are days when I think I should join him. And I thought that truck was going to make it happen. But when I woke up in the hospital, I realized it must not be my time. I guess someone still has plans for me.”

I didn’t know how to respond. Listening to her talk let me put off the inevitable and gave me a little more time to decide what I was going to do. And the part about her wanting to be with her husband did make it seem like it would be a little easier to do what I had to do, but then I doubt anything she could say would truly make it easy for me. But did I really want it to be easy? I mean, what would it mean about me if killing someone, especially an old woman, became easy? I was still lost inside my own head when she changed the topic around to me.

“A lot of people wouldn’t have done what you did,” she said. 

“I think most people would if they were in my shoes.”

“That’s a good attitude to have,” she replied, “even if it is naive. I’ve been on this earth long enough to know that most people are selfish, regardless of what they’d like to believe of themselves.”

She said it, not in any sort of depressed or angry way. To her it was just the truth, but I didn’t know how to reply to that so the silence just hung there for a minute before she continued.

“I recognize you from school,” she said. “Though I would never have guessed you’d be the one to save me from a car crash.”

“Me neither.”

“I don’t mean that in a bad way, you’ve just always came off as someone who keeps to themselves.”

“That’s probably a good way to describe me.”

“So why’d you do it?”

“It was just the right thing to do,” I said, and it was as good a response as any, though I don’t know how true it was. Honestly, I had been asking myself the same question over and over all day and never came up with a good reason.

“Is that why you’re here now?” She continued with the questions.

“I guess. I mean, principal Rooney said you wanted me to stop by, so here I am.”

“And I appreciate that. I just wanted a chance to thank you for what you did. But I can tell you’re preoccupied with something so won’t keep you.”

I was about to apologize for being distracted when she moved her hand to mine and gave it a squeeze. Instantly the images flooded my vision. The images were very much like what I saw when I pulled her from the car, only this time there was no pushing them away. I watched her go home from school, say goodbye to the nurse taking care of her husband, then take care of him herself, night after night. She’d make dinner for them both, then genty feed him before eating anything herself. Then she would give him his medicine and read to him from one of his favorite books or from the newspaper. Night after night she continued doing everything for him as he continued to get worse. Then one night, after waving goodbye to the nurse on duty, she went to her husband’s side and cried. She cried about how much she loved him and how much she missed him. I could feel her pain. She cried about how weak she was. Then she went to the kitchen and fixed them both dinner, vegetable soup, pretty much the only thing he could eat any more.

I wanted to pull my arm away, to just leave her there in the bed, but I knew that if I left, Lucifer would make sure I had another chance and another, until I completed my assignment. And who knows how many other people might be hurt in the process? I couldn’t take that chance so I forced myself to stand there and watch as the scene unfolded in my mind.

Mrs. Reader once again fed her husband, though this time she didn’t eat anything herself. Instead, she grabbed his pill organizer. There were separate compartments for each day of the week but instead of giving him the pills for one day she opened every compartment and pulled out the small yellow pill from each of them. I couldn’t tell you what type of pill it was, but she seemed to know exactly which one she wanted. Then gently, she coaxed him to swallow each of them, one after the other. Then she kissed his forehead, pulled the blanket around him and walked away, going back into the kitchen to do the dishes with tears running down her face.

Several minutes later, with the dishes washed, dried and put away, she returned to her husband’s side. He looked peaceful, like he was sleeping. But then she pressed her fingers to his wrist, cried once more, then went to the telephone. The paramedics were there in no time but they could only confirm what she’d already known. It was at that point that I felt the relief wash over her.

The vision continued to play out in my mind as I tried to process what I’d already seen. She killed him. Her husband. Obviously it tore her up to do so, but she’d done it anyway. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. But then I remembered what I’d done. Just a few days ago I wouldn’t have thought I was capable of killing anyone, and though I didn’t physically carry out the killings, I was responsible for two deaths. So how could I be surprised that she killed him. Was it out of malice? Out of desperation? Out of love? I don’t think anyone could say, least of all, Ms Reader herself. But did it even matter? With the others, I could feel their anger and their hatred. I could feel the evil that caused them to do what they did. With Mrs. Reader all I felt was overwhelming sadness.

“Are you okay?” Mrs. Reader asked, pulling her hand from mine. “You have a pained look on your face.”

“I was just thinking about something I have to do.”

“I’m sorry, you must have a lot to do and I’ve been taking up your time,” she replied. “I won’t keep you any longer.” 

“She had lived a long life,” I told myself. And she would be happy being with her husband again. That made my decision to do it a little easier but it didn’t help me decide how. Yes, she killed her husband but she didn’t deserve to suffer. And it would look really strange if she were to die while I was standing beside her bed, so I knew it couldn’t be right at that moment. But Lucifer did say several times that I could do it when and how I wanted, so I grabbed her hand and immediately pictured her falling asleep that night, long after I left. I pictured her laying there peacefully then gently passing away. Somehow, knowing that she wouldn’t suffer made it a little easier. I knew I’d done everything I could, given the position we were both in.

I felt the energy move through me again, reassuring me that my task had been completed.

“It was nice meeting you,” I said, releasing her hand.

“And it was very nice meeting you,” she replied, “Thank you again, for everything you’ve done for me.”

There was a knowing look in her eyes that made me question what she meant by that. Could she possibly know what I’d just done? The question lingered with me as I left her room and walked back to my bike. It stayed with me as I made my way home, the ride was nothing but a blur.

My Life As Death: Chapter 16

For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapters 10 and 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15

The street was pretty quiet as I pulled up behind a white Taurus stopped at a red light. We both sat there for a minute waiting for the light to change, and even then, the Taurus didn’t seem to be in any hurry to take off through the intersection. I thought about honking, but I still had plenty of time to reach the school so I just waited, giving them a chance to get moving before I even let out on the clutch. It took them long enough, but just as I was about to follow them into the intersection, I heard the squealing of the gravel truck’s tires as it locked up it’s brakes trying to stop, only by then, it was too late. The sound of the massive vehicle hitting the Taurus was incredible and sickening at the same time, like nothing else I’d ever heard.

The impact spun the car around in circles and slammed it against the curb on the far side of the road as pieces flew in every direction. I didn’t wait for the car to come to a complete stop before racing the bike to within a few feet of the mangled wreck and tearing my helmet off. There was only about half a car left so I knew the driver couldn’t be in great shape but the black smoke pouring out what was left of the engine compartment and the overwhelming gasoline odor told me I had to get them out of there. The driver side door was completely crumbled and the window was nothing but a fractured spider web of glass pieces so I braced myself for whatever shape the driver would be in. There was no way I could have prepared for what I saw when I finally got the door open.

Mrs. Reader was leaning forward, her head resting on the steering wheel like she was asleep but all the blood pouring out of the gash across her forehead told me she might not be sleeping. To make things worse, my first thought wasn’t about how I could help her or how I might save her, it was that I might have gotten out of being responsible for her death and for a brief moment I felt a sense of relief. The callousness of the thought hit me like a brick, but then she moved, slightly, and I knew I had to do something.

Smoke was building up but I couldn’t reach past Mrs. Reader to kill the ignition. Instead, I reached beneath the driver’s seat and was able to find the lever to slide it back, un-pinning her from the steering wheel. With the extra room I was able to remove her seatbelt even though she was still unconscious. Taking a deep breath I readied myself for whatever images I’d be flooded with, then grabbed her up.

I don’t know what I expected to see from her. Maybe I had just become a little jaded after what I’d seen from the others and expected the worst, but from her all I saw were visions of her taking care of the special needs kids at school, then going home to take care of her sick husband. I’d heard about her husband but he had died several years before I even reached high school, though he seemed to be in most of the vision sequences. From the way he looked, he must have been suffering from some sort of dementia and been unable to really take care of himself, though he had an in-home nurse when Mrs. Reader was at school.

I did my best to push the visions from my head and concentrate on getting us both away from the car. She was a lot heavier than I’d expected so I barely managed to stumble across the road and into someone’s yard before falling to the ground with her. 

I don’t know whose house we were actually at, but someone came rushing out to see if we were okay. I’d let go of Mrs. Reader when we fell, stopping the visions before I could see anything I didn’t want to, so besides a little exhaustion from the adrenaline dump I was doing okay. Mrs. Reader, on the other hand, didn’t look good at all. The homeowner was on the phone with 911 and I was just starting to second guess whether I should have moved her from the car when the white Taurus burst into flames thirty feet away from us.

With everything going on around me, the KZ was the last thing I should have been thinking about, but when I saw the flames engulfing the car just a few feet from my bike I ran back across the street and stood it up, quickly kicking it to life. My helmet was still laying on the ground by the Taurus but the heat coming off the car was already intense, and I’d rather lose the helmet than the bike, so I left it and pulled the bike a safe distance away.

The homeowner was still with Mrs. reader and I heard sirens in the distance so I knew everything was under control. I also knew that if I was late to in-school suspension things would be even worse for me so rather than wait around, I took off again, using a couple side roads to avoid the first responders as I made my way to school. 

The KZ wasn’t quite running as smooth as it had been, but I kept going anyway and made it to the dungeon, smelling of sweat and smoke, just before the tardy bell rang. Vice-principal Miller was our warden for the day and he looked disappointed to see me. I just smiled at him and took my seat.

The first couple hours passed slowly as I tried to work on a history assignment but I just couldn’t concentrate. The wreck, and everything that happened after it, kept replaying in my head. And after each replay I started second guessing myself. Mrs. Reader was my next assignment. Had I not stopped, not pulled her from the wreckage, the whole thing might have taken care of itself. But by not doing something, I probably would have felt just as responsible.

But then I had her in my arms, and I could have done what I needed to right then, but I didn’t. I had the opportunity to complete that assignment and didn’t take it. So the question then became whether I would have another opportunity, and if so, could I take it?

I was still staring at the same page, chasing the same thoughts around my head, when the lunch bell rang. For those of us stuck in the Dungeon it meant brown bag lunches – a cold meat sandwich, an apple and a bag of chips. It wasn’t awful but it wasn’t filling either, basically just enough to get you through the school day without your belly growling too loud. About halfway through my extremely thin turkey and swiss on wheat there was a knock at the door. I didn’t bother even looking up until someone called my name.

“Mr. Holden,” they called out again. This time I saw who was yelling for me and unfortunately it was Principal Rooney, now standing just inside the room beside vice-principal Miller.

“Uh yeah?”

“I need to see you out here for a minute, and bring your things.”

I hadn’t done anything new to get myself in trouble, so I racked my brain trying to think of something I’d done in the past that they might have just caught on to as I quickly gathered my stuff. Nothing came to mind which made the trip out to the hallway even more unsettling. It’s hard to come up with an excuse for something if you didn’t know what it was.

“I understand there was some kind of accident this morning,” he said, closing the door behind me.

“You can’t really think I had anything to do with that,” I said, instantly feeling defensive. 

“I didn’t say you did,” he replied as he led me up the stairs towards his office. “But you were there?”

“Yeah,” I replied, trying to choose my words carefully. “I mean I was behind Mrs. Reader when it happened, but I had nothing to do with it. The light turned green and she went into the intersection but the dump truck just didn’t stop in time.”

“And that’s when you got involved?”

“I guess. I mean, it wasn’t like I wanted to, but the car was pretty messed up and had a lot of smoke coming from it. I was afraid that it was going to catch fire so I just got her out of there. Why? Was that the wrong thing to do? Did I hurt her more?”

“No, it’s nothing like that,” Principal Rooney said, his face softening a little as he opened his office door. Inside was a firefighter still wearing half his gear with my motorcycle helmet in his hands.

“I’m Sergeant Cooper,” he said, handing me my helmet. “I take it that this is yours?” 

There were a couple of fresh scratches from where I had thrown the helmet off but otherwise it didn’t look any worse for the wear.

“It was so close to the car,” I said, amazed that there wasn’t a single burn mark. “I thought for sure I’d lost it.”

“So it was you who pulled her from the burning car?”

“Well it wasn’t actually burning when I pulled her out, it was just smoking a bit.”

“That was very heroic,” Sergeant Cooper continued, “Why didn’t you stick around.”

I really didn’t know how to respond to that. 

“It wasn’t heroic, it was just what needed to be done,” I said. “And I guess I didn’t stick around because I’d already done what I could do, and real help was on the way; I heard the sirens. And besides, I needed to get to school. I’d gotten into a little trouble the other day and I didn’t want to get into more trouble for being late.”

Principal Rooney chuckled a little as Sergeant Cooper glanced his way.

“It was just a small incident,” he said, “and I think Nathaniel here, in light of all that has happened, deserves a little leniency.”

I just looked at him as I was trying to figure out exactly what he was saying.

“You can return to your regularly scheduled class,” he clarified.

“Before you do,” Sergeant Cooper said, “I just want to thank you for what you did.”

He held out his hand, and for a moment I hesitated. I didn’t want to be disrespectful, but I also didn’t want to see whatever images might flood my mind. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of any way around it, so I reached out and shook his hand.

The image of Sergeant Cooper, younger and a little less fit, stumbling through a crowded bar filled my thoughts. I saw him struggling to make it from the front door to his car, as he dropped his keys several times before finally unlocking the green Trans Am and climbing inside.

I felt myself tense up, trying to push the image away and he instantly released his grip. A sense of relief flooded through me as the image faded before I could see what happened next.

“Are you okay?” He asked.

“Yeah”, I replied, rubbing my palm with my other hand. “I guess my hand is just a little sore.”

“Maybe you should get that checked out by the nurse, and make sure you didn’t do any damage while you were saving Ms. Reader.”

“I don’t think I really saved her, I just…”

“Speaking of Mrs. Reader,” Principal Rooney said. “She is recovering at the hospital and would like for you to visit her.”

“What? I, uh, really don’t know about that…”

“Nonsense,” he replied. “She just wants the opportunity to thank you herself. You can stop by on your way home and the whole thing will only take a few minutes.”

The word opportunity hit me like a dump truck. Lucifer had said he’d give me the opportunity to complete my task, so I instantly knew he was responsible for the accident that morning. And since I didn’t take the opportunity that morning, he was making sure I had another chance. How many chances was he going to give me? And at what cost? So far no one but Mrs. Reader had been hurt, but that could easily change.

“Yeah, I’ll do it,” I said, probably more to myself than to anyone in that room.

“Great.”

“Well, It was nice meeting you,” Sergeant Cooper said, with a wave as I slipped out of the office.

Since it was lunch time, and I was out of the dungeon, that meant I was supposed to be in the cafeteria but I really wasn’t ready to be around other people so I took my time getting there, stashing my helmet in my locker on my way. Weed was at our usual table with a shocked look on his face as I walked up.

“I got a pardon,” I said, answering the question he hadn’t yet asked.

“So did you really do it? Did you pull a pregnant teacher and a litter of puppies from a burning car just before it exploded?”

“Not exactly,” I said. “You know better than to listen to hallway gossip.”

“Then how’d you get out of suspension?”

I really just wanted a cigarette, but didn’t want to chance getting caught, so I just sat there, grabbed a couple of his fries, and then told him what really happened, including the fact that Mrs. Reader was my latest assignment.

When I finished he just sat there for a minute taking it all in.

“So why’d you do it? Why’d you save her?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, “it just seemed like the right thing to do.”

“And now you have to off her?”

“I don’t know, I guess so.”

“That sucks.”

“Yeah.”

The casual way we’d just discussed killing a teacher was a little unsettling, but we finished out the last little bit of lunch in comfortable silence, then headed to class together. A few people stared or pointed my way but I ignored them the same way they’d always ignored us, partially out of spite, but mainly because I really didn’t care what they thought. The rest of the day went pretty much the same but this time no one was waiting by the bike or Weed’s car when we left. I was thankful for that.

Weed knew I had to stop by the hospital and even offered to join me, but I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do and having him there would just make things even more awkward.

“I’ll just catch up with you after mom heads to work, alright?”

“No problem,” he said before taking off in the Weed wagon.

That left me no other excuse not to go to the hospital.

My Life As Death: Chapter 15

For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapters 10 and 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14

My saturday night wasn’t terrible, but since I was grounded, and mom wanted to feel like she was actually punishing me, she picked out the movies we watched. Desk set, starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, was one of her favorites. She followed that up with the Swiss Family Robinson. Even though it was from 1960, it had been one of my favorites as a kid so I’m pretty sure that’s why she chose it. It held up surprisingly well, and I actually enjoyed watching both of them, but I wouldn’t admit that to anyone else.

“I think I’m going to head to bed,” I said as soon as the second movie ended.

“Are you feeling alright?”

It was just after 11:oo so she had every right to be a little concerned. I hadn’t gone to bed before midnight on a saturday night since I was twelve.

“Yeah, I’m just tired. It’s been a long week.”

It wasn’t a lie; I was tired. Tired of not knowing what was going on with Shawna, tired of school, tired of my deal with Lucifer.

“Okay, well you sleep well; I’ll try to keep the noise down.”

“You know that’s never an issue,” I replied as I headed upstairs.

Even though I was tired, I wasn’t quite ready to sleep, so I just shut off the lights, cracked my window and lit up a cigarette while staring out into the darkness. I’m sure mom knew that I smoked, but she pretended not to know so I made it as easy as possible by not doing it in front of her. And normally I wouldn’t smoke in my room when she was home, but that night I needed one, and then another, and another. But the cigarettes didn’t help me, they just gave me something to do while all sorts of thoughts swirled in my head.

When the tobacco didn’t work I thought about lighting up my emergency joint, but then decided against it. Instead, I turned on one of my favorite movies, Point Break. I’d watched it at least two dozen times, and I would probably watch it two dozen more. Sure, I was grounded, though mom grounding me usually just meant I wasn’t allowed to go out and have fun. But I didn’t want to take a chance of pissing her off so I kept my door shut and the volume down. 

Something about that movie always draws me in and by the time Utah goes night surfing for the first time I’ve usually forgotten about anything else, but for some reason it wasn’t working that night. After watching the whole thing, I decided to switch gears and put in Shawshank Redemption. It was a great movie too but I figured it would be slow enough to help lull me to sleep. It worked, but with some less than pleasant consequences.

That night my dreams were all sorts of messed up. At one point the Sisters were chasing me through the showers and I woke up just before they caught me, and just before I started screaming.

The alarm clock let me know it was only three am but my heart was racing so I was not about to go back to sleep. I thought about going over to Weed’s to see if he was still awake, but I doubted it. And if I was being honest with myself, he wasn’t the person I really wanted to see.

Out of desperation I lit up the last joint I had hidden in an altoid can at the back of my desk drawer. It, along with another couple of cigarettes, helped ease me back to sleep, and this time my dreams weren’t quite as messed up.

By the time I woke up Sunday morning the sun was shining a little too brightly through my bedroom window so I forced myself to get up and head downstairs. 

“About time you got up,” Mom said.

She was stirring a large pot on the stove, and from the smell I was pretty sure it was chili. That really wasn’t one of my favorite foods, but it was cheap and easy for her. She could start a batch early in the day and it would be ready by dinner time without a lot of effort, so I never complained.

“I thought you were going to sleep all day.”

“It’s not like I have anything else to do.”

I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth.

“Do you really want to get into this?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, I just didn’t sleep well,”

“So you’ll just go to bed a little early tonight.”

“I can hope.”

“Well this might help,” she said, handing me a slip of paper.”

“What’s this?”

“A list of things you’ve said you’d help with around here. It should give you plenty to do while you’re grounded.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“And I accept your apology. Now would you like a bowl of cereal before you start on that list?”

She was serious, and I knew better than to complain, or worse yet, try to fight her on it. I had told her I’d help with each and everything on the list, but I’d just kept putting them off.

“Thanks, but I’ll just grab a Mountain Dew and get started,” I replied.

The grass was getting a little long, and the garage did need cleaned out, but that wasn’t exactly how I wanted to spend my Sunday, especially with the KZ sitting in the driveway begging me to go for a ride.

I started off by mowing the grass, but we didn’t have much of a yard so even with an old push mower it didn’t quite take an hour. Then it was time to start on the garage. Over the years the garage had become the place to store anything and everything we no longer used, but couldn’t get rid of; and we couldn’t seem to get rid of anything.

The garage was supposed to be a three car garage, but there were so many boxes stashed away that we could only ever fit one car in it. I didn’t know exactly what my mom’s plan was, but the idea of cleaning it out enough that Pamela might fit in it was exciting, so I jumped right into it, starting towards the back of the garage where there was sure to be plenty of stuff to throw away.

Forty minutes later, I finally made it to some boxes not labeled “precious memories” or “do not throw away”. The first couple were filled with all sorts of old paperwork; tax documents and receipts from the 70’s. I knew mom couldn’t justify keeping them, so I moved them to the driveway, starting my trash pile. The pile slowly continued to grow over the next hour and a half, until I reached a lockbox with the key still in the lock. I was sure mom wouldn’t want the lock box thrown out, but I had no idea why she had it stashed out in the garage instead of in the house.

“Mom?” I hollered, then glanced at my watch and realized she wouldn’t answer. It was three oclock on a Sunday afternoon, which meant she’d be taking a nap before her shift at the diner, followed by another one at the hospital.

I set the box off to the side, so I could continue clearing out other junk, hoping to at least make enough room for the KZ to have a new home, but every time I passed by that lockbox, I stopped and stared. After another half-hour of tormenting myself, I finally couldn’t take it anymore.

The lockbox couldn’t have weighed more than a couple pounds, but it felt very heavy as I carried it to a small workbench I’d managed to clear off towards the back of the garage. I told myself that if it was important she wouldn’t have left it out there, but I knew that wasn’t necessarily true. I hesitated once more, with my hand gripping the key, but only for a second.

The key turned easily, releasing the lid with the slightest click. Inside I found nothing but a pile of papers, some in envelopes, and some just stapled or paperclipped together. I skimmed through the stack pretty quickly, not finding anything of interest until I reached the final envelope at the bottom of the box. 

My mom never talked about my dad, and he’d never been in my life, at least not that I could remember, so I never cared to ask about him. Maybe I should have, or maybe she wouldn’t have told me the truth about him if I had asked. I really don’t know, but the restraining order in my hand told me everything I needed to know about him. And as I put it back into the lockbox, I was truly happy that I’d never known him.

As I continued cleaning out the garage, I couldn’t help but think about the restraining order  and about what it actually meant. Things had to have been really bad for mom to go through the trouble of getting a restraining order. So what did that mean about the type of person my dad was? What might have he done? What did she have to put up with? They were thoughts I didn’t enjoy having so I pushed them out of my mind, but the questions continued to bug me, even as we ate dinner that evening, but I didn’t want to bring it up. I don’t know if I was uncomfortable discussing it, or if I just really didn’t want to know the answers. It was probably a combination. But regardless, mom could tell something was bugging me, though she seemed to think it was just me grounding.

“You did a great job on the garage,” she said. “So, I think that was enough punishment.”

I looked up from my bowl of chili, a little surprised.

“And I’d be fine with it if you want to have Weed over to watch a movie, or something.”

“Uh, thanks. But I think he’s busy with his mom.”

“Okay, then maybe Shawna…”

“Uh, she probably has plans with her boyfriend.”

“Well it couldn’t hurt to ask.”

She was wrong about that. It could hurt quite a lot to ask, but I wasn’t going to argue with her, especially right after getting ungrounded early.

“Thanks, I’ll think about asking her.

“Good. Now I’ve got to get ready for work.”

After she left for work I thought about heading to Weed’s to wait for him to get back, but I didn’t really know what good that would do. Instead, I went upstairs and put on Revenge of the Nerds. It’s one of those movies you can watch over and over again whenever you need a laugh. And it worked, for a little while. As soon as it ended, I started thinking about my mom, again, imagining several scenarios that might have caused the restraining order. To take my mind off it again, I put in One Crazy Summer. I was definitely an outsider and had wanted to be an artist and a cartoonist as a kid, so I kind of related to John Cusak’s character on multiple levels. It was another movie I could watch too many times without getting tired of it, and I had. I’d watched it so many times, in fact, that the VCR tape was beginning to wear out. Eventually I’d have to get it on DVD, but that would require a DVD player, and who had an extra thousand dollars sitting around to pay for one of those?

When I woke up at midnight, I realized that the movie’s had finally worked. I also realized that Lucifer must have taken the night off because the tv was filled only with static, and not his face or voice in any form. I stayed awake long enough to shut off the tv then rolled over and got the night of sleep I needed.

It was such a good night of sleep, that I hopped out of bed a few minutes before the alarm went off, and was even done eating breakfast earlier than normal. 

“Are you going to make it to dinner tonight?” Mom asked as I cleaned up my breakfast dishes and gathering my things for school.

“Definitely,” I replied, glancing at the clock one last time before throwing my backpack over my shoulder and heading out the back door. I was leaving a few minutes early but I didn’t want to take any chances by stopping by Weed’s or even by taking the scenic route, so I headed straight towards the school. Two blocks away, though, all my plans changed.