Chapter 3: Broken

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Trying to forget my creepy neighbor, I took Ryan to the library to help him do research for his summer homework.

“Why didn’t you tell me your teacher gave you a project to do over the summer? We could have been finished with it ages ago if we started immediately.” I asked.

“Because I didn’t want to do it, that’s why. I want to enjoy my summer, not spend it doing some dumb project. And why do we have to go to the library?” Ryan groaned. “I can just look it up on the computer at home.”

“It’s nice to study somewhere else other than your house,” I explained. “It can help you learn better because there aren’t any distractions.”

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“It’s a waste of time, I could’ve been done with it now if you let me do it at home.”

“Yeah, using sketchy websites as your sources. It’s better to check books. They get published for a reason, you know. No random person can just edit books, unlike those sites I’ve seen you reading.” I know the computer was a godsend to humanity, especially for me, since my hand started to cramp when I wrote. Typing was great. But over the years, I’ve seen websites start from those awful, rainbow-colored ones people made using the barest knowledge on html. I like computers, but I don’t trust the Internet.

He rolled his eyes. “Whatever,” he muttered. He headed straight for the library computers.

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“Hey,” I said. “Can’t you stay away from the Internet for more than five minutes? Come here, I‘ll show you how to find the books you need.”

Ryan grudgingly followed me as I explained how to locate books.

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After going through the library’s catalogue, I turned to him. “Think you can find those books on your own now?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Dunno, I wasn’t really paying attention.”

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“Come on, Ryan. At least try.”

“Fine,” he sighed. I tailed him as he took note of the books’ call numbers and went around the library to get them. He was having trouble reaching one shelf, though. I was about to get the book for him when another hand reached for it instead.

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“Here you go, kid.” The woman handed the book to him. “Reading about myths, huh?”

“Yeah, just about monsters and creatures and stuff,” Ryan replied.

“Really? That’s cool. My favorite one is Charon, he’s the one who brings souls across the Styx,” the woman said.

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“Yeah, I know that one already. It was in this video game I played,” he flipped through the pages of the book. “I can learn a lot more from games and the Internet than books, but my bodyguard won’t let me. She says books are better, even though it takes so long to read them.”

“Well, I agree with you on that one. But sometimes it just feels nicer to read something made out of real paper, you know?”

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Ryan turned to me. “See, Anya? Even the librarian agrees with me,” he said.

Librarian? Oh right. She’s wearing the uniform. I rolled my eyes at Ryan. “Just go borrow those books, okay?” I said. He waved goodbye to the librarian and walked over to the counter with the books he found.

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“You can’t stop progress,” the woman said. “It’s best not to force real books onto those kids. You gotta admit, computers make everything so much easier.”

“You’re a librarian, shouldn’t you be encouraging people to read?”

She chuckled. “Not part of my job description. All I do is organize these books and help people find what they need. I’m Michelle, by the way.”

“My name’s Anya Lim, I just moved here a few weeks ago.”

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Michelle’s face lit up. “Me too! I moved in last Saturday. It’s so hard to make friends in a small town like this, no? Everyone knows each other already so they all have their exclusive little friend groups.”

“I wouldn’t know much about that,” I admitted. “I haven’t really gone out since I moved here.”

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“Well, since we’re both newbies here, why don’t the two of us be friends? I heard there’s a club in town that has a really good DJ, wanna go there sometime?”

“I’d like that.” I smiled.

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“Anya! Hurry up!” Ryan yelled from behind me. All the librarians, including Michelle, shushed him. I stifled a laugh.

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“Force of habit,” Michelle shrugged. “See you soon, Anya.”

 

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I took Ryan home, and we began to pore over the books from the library.

“Which creature do you want to write about? Dragons are cool,” I offered.

“Nah, a lot of other kids in my class are gonna do that. I want to write about something better,” he said.

I flipped through the pages, trying to find something that was more interesting than dragons, when my phone beeped. I checked it, and saw there was an assignment at the hospital.

“Hey, Ryan?”

“Yeah?”

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“I have an emergency, so I have to run home real quick,” I said. “Will you be okay if I left you for like 5 minutes alone?”

He looked at me. “You’re going to run home and back here in just 5 minutes?”

“Look, can you look after yourself? And will you please, please not tell your mom?”

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He considered this. “Can I have cake for lunch for the entire week?”

“I’ll let you have cake for lunch for two days.”

“Deal.”

 

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I left the Miller house and went to the hospital in my robe. The soul belonged to a girl. I went into the room and saw Doctor Miller huddled over the bed, while a nurse tried to sooth a crying woman.

As I approached the girl, they all looked up and saw me. The woman sobbed harder and buried her face in the nurse’s chest, and Doctor Miller sighed and stepped away from the bed.

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Doctor Miller watched the girl’s body go limp as I collected her soul. In the corner of my eye, I saw her fists clenched tightly as she fought to hold back tears. I wish I could tell her it wasn’t her fault the girl died. I wish I could tell her she was in a better place now. But I couldn’t. I didn’t even know if there even is an afterlife.

 

I went back to the Miller house, and found Ryan still working in the kitchen.

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“Hey,” he said, looking up as I walked in.

“Hey,” I sat next to him.

“What happened with your emergency?”

I shrugged. “It’s over.”

He nodded and didn’t say anything else about it after that. I spent the next hour helping him write about chimeras.

We both were surprised when Doctor Miller came in.

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“Mom!” Ryan leapt from his seat and went to hug her. “You’re home so early.”

She smiled at him weakly. “I took the rest of the day off.”

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Ryan beamed at her. “Anya’s been helping me research about chimeras and… are you okay, Mom?”

“Huh? Oh. I’m just feeling tired,” she said. “I’ll go rest in my room for a bit. Finish your project, okay?”

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We watched her leave the kitchen. Ryan sat down beside me again. “She’s always like this,” he mumbled.

What was I supposed to say? Sorry kid I took your mom’s dying patient’s soul so she’s super bummed out.

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I patted his back reassuringly. “She’s just tired because of her job,” I said. “Don’t worry, after a good night’s sleep she’ll be back on her feet.”

“And then she’ll just go back to work again and tire herself out and not even have time for me.”

“We can’t do anything about that, Ryan. It’s her job, she’s doing it to help other people and make sure you have everything you need.”

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“But I just want my mom to be my mom.”

“Her working a lot doesn’t make her any less of a mom, dummy.”

“I know. I just want her to know that I need her time just as much as her patients do.”

“Tell you what. How about we make her dinner tonight? I’ll help you cook it so you two can eat together and you can tell her how you feel.”

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“Yeah! She’d love a fancy dinner!”

“Well, not too fancy. Something simple enough for me to cook.”

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Ryan told me the things his mother liked to eat, and we looked up recipes online.

“Okay, so let’s try this salmon recipe,” I said. “Since she likes fish and this sauce for it looks pretty easy to make. We can make this salad, too. Is there any salmon in the fridge?”

Ryan shook his head. I sighed.

“I’ll go out and buy some,” I said. “Are you gonna be okay here for, I don’t know, half an hour?”

“What? I thought you could do it in 5 minutes,” he joked.

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I rolled my eyes. “That’s different. Anyway, I’m going now. Keep reading and don’t make too much noise, you’ll wake your mom up.”

I stepped out to go to the grocery store. I thought about Doctor Miller. In a way, our jobs constantly surround us with death. The main difference, of course, was that she preserves life, while I take it. The other difference was how she stayed dedicated and passionate despite everything.

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God, I hate being a reaper.

 

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