Chapter 2: Presence

Okay, first thing’s first: Anya isn’t my real name. But since I’m not sure what my real name is, I’ll just stick to Anya. I had a life before this whole reaper business, but I can’t remember anything.

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The first memories I have are of a man standing in front of me, rattling off a long list of rules. His suit was impossibly white, almost radiant. I call him Whitey because of this. He hates that nickname.

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But what unnerved me the most were his eyes.

“So, do you understand everything?” He asked.

I blinked. “What?”

He clicked his tongue in annoyance. “Don’t tell me you weren’t listening,” he said. “I don’t like repeating myself.”

“Who are you? Where am I? Who… who am I?”

“The answers to your first two questions are strictly confidential, but your name is Anya Cu, at least for your first cycle. Every ten years we’ll ship you off to a new place and change your surname lest anyone get suspicious of you never aging.”

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“…Huh?”

He sighed. “You are a grim reaper. You died, and we’ve given you a second chance at life, as long as you work for us.”

“I’m dead? What? How?”

“Those details are unnecessary. Now, since you rudely interrupted me, I’ll just summarize the rules in a way you will understand, since you seem to have trouble grasping such basic concepts.” He cleared his throat and proceeded to cut me off before I could protest or ask more questions. “You will receive assignments to collect souls in your cellular phone-”

“What’s a cellular phone?”

He glared at me. “You really enjoy interrupting me, don’t you?”

“Sorry.”

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He brought out a small, black rectangle. “This is a cellular phone. As you can see, you merely have to tap lightly on the screen to use it. This is where you will receive your assignments.” He handed it to me.

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I marveled at the object, tapping it like an excited toddler. “This is amazing,” I breathed.

“I really don’t get why they keep recruiting people from those years,” he muttered.

“What?”

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“Nothing. Anyway, you’ll see information on the soul there once it’s ready to be collected. You will appear onsite wearing your robe and you will avoid talking to people while you are there, understood? You cannot compromise your cover, unless in extraordinary circumstances. Now will you please stop trying to eat your phone?”

 

After 50 years of being a reaper, everything becomes monotonous. Every soul I encounter just feels the same. Sometimes I get to collect famous people’s souls or even centuries-old vampire souls, but even that only brings mild excitement. My job is boring. At least, that’s how it felt, until I collected one soul today.

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It was nighttime on the docks. In the other cities I’ve been, there would at least be a few people walking on the streets during this time. But here in Brindleton Bay, where the main livelihood was fishing, people tended to go to sleep early and rise before dawn. None of the stores and bars were even open when I arrived on the docks.

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It wasn’t difficult to find the soul. She was laying in the middle of the street, her body faintly illuminated. I approached her. Her clothes were covered in blood.

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Her eyes were closed, and as I knelt down, I could see the slow rise and fall of her chest as she breathed laboriously. I checked my information on her. She was stabbed. Must have been a mugging gone wrong. But it wasn’t my job to figure out what really happened, that’s for the cops.

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I collected her soul, and stood up.

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Immediately, the hairs on my skin stood up as well. I looked around me, alarmed. I could feel someone, or something, watching me. It wasn’t unusual for people to see me while I was in my robes, but usually they would be crying and pleading with me, or just standing in the corner looking terrified. But this, this was new. I could sense someone, probably the one who killed this woman, was hiding and watching my every move.

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I suppressed the urge to call them out of hiding. I didn’t want another visit and scolding from Whitey. I left, trying to appear calm. I was glad nobody could see my face under the hood.

 

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I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the strange presence I felt. It made my skin crawl to think that there was someone watching my every move from the shadows.

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My eyes shot open when I heard a rustling noise. I sat up slowly, my heart pounding. Was there someone in the house? Oh god, was it the killer from earlier? I sat still, listening carefully. It was coming from outside.

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I looked out the window, trying to still my panicked breathing.

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There was someone going through my garbage bin. I got out of bed and crept down the stairs. I opened the front door and tiptoed down the porch steps, hoping they wouldn’t creak. Oh, but they did.

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The figure stopped rummaging through the bin and turned around. To my surprise, he smiled and waved at me.

“Oh, hi!” he said. “Did I wake you up? Sorry about that.”

If someone wanted to spy on me in the middle of the night, why would they wear such a garish blood-red coat instead of going for an all-black outfit? And more importantly, why was he just standing there smiling at me? This felt like a trap, but I approached him anyway.

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“Who the hell are you?” I demanded.

“I’m Jack, I live next door. You’re Anya, right? The landlord told me about you, but I never got the chance to come over and introduce myself.” He extended his hand towards me, but I didn’t shake it. After a while, he lowered it sheepishly.

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“Okay, Jack, if that is your real name, would you like to tell me why you were going through my trash?”

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“Ah, that. I misplaced something, you see, so I’m looking for it.”

“In my bin?”

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He shrugged. “Leave no stone unturned, as they say.”

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I didn’t trust this guy one bit. “Okay, did you find it?”

He paused, looking at me. It made me uncomfortable to see him examining my face.

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“No,” he said. “But I think I found something else that can help me find it.”

Yup. This guy was giving me major creep vibes. “Then leave.” I glared at him.

“Alright. Again, sorry for waking you up. Oh and by the way, do feel free to ask me for help fixing up your yard, I’m quite good at gardening, you know. See you around, neighbor!” He waved and walked over to the house next door.

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I watched him closely as he walked up the porch and closed the door behind him. Okay, so he really was my neighbor. Still, it weirded me out to know that I was living next to such a strange person.

 

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