Chapter 7: Date

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Between collecting souls,

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looking after Ryan,

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and being Jack’s thug as he terrorizes other vampires, I haven’t had to time to work on my book. Or sleep. Or do anything at all. But despite everything, I made the time to meet with Michelle for dinner.

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My heart was pounding as I walked over to the table Michelle was sitting at. She looked up and smiled at me.

“Hey,” she said. “You look great.”

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“You too,” I replied, sitting down. “Why’d you pick this restaurant?”

She shrugged. “It’s not the fanciest place in town, but it’s way classier than eating fast food on a first date.” I browsed the menu and we placed our orders.

“So… what do you talk about during a first date?” I asked sheepishly.

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Michelle snorted. “Oh my gosh. Don’t tell me you’ve never been on a date before.”

There was that one time in my third cycle when I went out with a guy for dinner. But I couldn’t really count that as a date since we didn’t get to finish it. And the reason why is because he choked on his food and I had to collect his soul shortly after. I really hope Michelle doesn’t die and make this awkward.

I shook my head and she clasped her hand to her mouth, holding back her laughter. “Well, on a first date you usually try to get to know each other,” she said after regaining her composure. “So, tell me about you. What makes you you?”

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“I like reading books, and I’ve been trying to write one, but it’s kind of a mess right now.”

Michelle nodded approvingly. “A girl after my own heart. What’s it about?”

I blanched. I never talked about my work-in-progress book with anyone, even after almost two decades of working on it.

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“Oh, uh, it’s kind of like a slice of life novel that just follows the main character around,” I mumbled.

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“Really? You’re gonna make it that vague? Come on, just give me a brief synopsis. I won’t judge you even if it’s a raunchy romance novel.”

“The main character is, um, the grim reaper.”

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Michelle’s eyes lit up. “That’s interesting. How did you come up with the idea?”

“I just thought it would be fun to write about the grim reaper. You know, see what her- I mean his- daily life was like,” I shrugged, trying to act nonchalant. “Anyway, what about you?”

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“As for me, I like books, too. Pretty much the reason why I became a librarian,” she began. “My parents wanted me to go to med school, because everyone in my family is a doctor or nurse. But I’m just not that into treating people or saving lives. They refused to support me after I told them that, so I had to scrounge up whatever cash I could just to finish college.”

“Oh,” was all that I could say.

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“Don’t feel bad for me, everything turned out well anyway. When I saw that the library here was hiring, I jumped at the opportunity. It fit all of my criteria: I get to surround myself with books, and I get to be as far away as possible from my family.” She took a long sip of her drink. “Anyway, enough about my sob story. What about your family? Are they as crazy as mine?”

“I don’t have any, actually. I’m an orphan,” I said my perfectly rehearsed lie. “I grew up moving from one foster family to another, so I don’t really have any place to call home.”

Michelle was quiet for a while. “Wow. I really sounded like an asshole whining about my family, huh?”

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I laughed. “No, it’s fine. I don’t mind it.”

After getting past the awkwardness, we managed to talk all night, not realizing how long we’ve spent at that restaurant.

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I kept stealing glances at her, too. She looked lovely tonight, and I hope she didn’t notice how much I stared at her.

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But I think she stole glances at me, too, because I could feel her eyes on me while we ate.

Michelle and I walked home together. Adrenaline rushing through me, I awkwardly invited her inside. But she just laughed and said she had things to do so she took off.

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I couldn’t stop smiling. How could going out with someone just once make me feel this way?

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I was getting ready for bed when I heard a knock at the front door, snapping me out of my blissful daydreams. I glanced at the wall clock. “Who the hell thinks it’s okay to visit this late at night?” I muttered.

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It was Angelo. I stepped outside and shivering as my bare feet made contact with the cool wood on the porch.

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“What brings you here?” I asked.

“Hi, sorry for coming over so late, I have really weird shifts at the hospital,” he explained. “I’m here because you forgot your phone there. Lucretia asked me to get it back to you.” He handed my phone over.

So that’s why it seemed like nobody was dying today. I wanted to kick myself, and hoped I wouldn’t get scolded again for forgetting my duties.

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“Oh my god. I’m so stupid. Thank you so much, Angelo. I’m sorry you had to go out of your way for me.”

“No worries. I’ll get going now, have a good night!” He waved as he stepped off the porch and walked away.

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Time to check the damage. Surprisingly, no one really did die today, which was a relief. But after a few minutes of replying to texts and scrolling mindlessly through my social media, a notification popped up. I opened it. It was a soul dying just a short walk away from my house. I checked to see who it was and a lump in my throat formed.

It was Angelo. But maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was someone else who just had the same name. I went to the location, crossing my fingers, hoping it wasn’t him.

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But it really was him. He was lying in a pool of blood on the sidewalk, his breath shallow as he fought to stay conscious. I breathed shakily as I collected his soul, trying to ignore the familiar feeling of the killer’s eyes watching me. I don’t know why I felt this way, I didn’t even know the guy that well. But in a way, wasn’t this my fault? Didn’t he die because of my forgetfulness, because there was a murderer on the loose trying to get a reaper’s attention? I blinked away tears as I watched this boy I barely knew slip away.

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Chapter 6: Stakes

My heart was pounding as I walked through the library. I rehearsed what I wanted to say this morning, but I was sure I was going to mess it up once I saw her face.

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I found Michelle putting books back into the shelves.

“Um, hey,” I said. She looked at me, and her cheeks turned red.

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“Hi. Look, about yesterday, I’m really sorry,” she began. “I shouldn’t have done that without asking for your permission and we barely know each other so that was really inappropriate for me to-“

“Actually,” I interrupted. “I came here to ask you out on a date. Maybe tomorrow? Or whenever you’re free. It’s okay if you say no, though.” I anxiously bit my lip.

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She looked surprised. “You aren’t mad?” I shook my head, and a smile slowly spread across her face.

“If anything, you’re the one who should be mad at me for just walking away without saying anything,” I said.

Michelle laughed. “I get off at 6 tomorrow.”

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“Great! It’s a date, then. A real actual date.”

She nodded, still smiling, and waved goodbye as I left. She said yes. I felt absolutely exhilarated as I went back to the hospital.

 

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Ryan was sitting by Doctor Miller’s bed, and they both smiled at me as I walked in, but went back to their conversation. Angelo was in the corner, his pencil flying across the page of his sketchbook as he kept glancing up at the two of them.

I looked over his shoulder. “Wow,” I breathed. “That’s amazing. How do you manage to make it look so real with just a few lines?”

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He paused drawing to grin at me. “Thanks! I’ve been drawing since my grandpa gave me my first sketchbook. It also helps that back when I was a nursing student I drew all my anatomy references by hand.” He went back to sketching for a moment but stopped and looked at me again. “Hey, your name’s Anya, right?”

“Yup.”

“My mom has the same name,” he explained. “My grandpa named her Anya, but she hates it so everyone calls her Annie.”

“Uhh, okay?”

“Oh! Sorry, I rambled a bit there. I just thought it was funny that I met someone with the same name as her.”

“It’s fine,” I laughed. “I’ve never met anyone with the same name, so that’s cool, I guess.”

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We chatted for a while until he had to go on duty again and I had to take Ryan home so he could shower and sleep. As soon as I tucked him in bed, my phone gave a soft beep. I stepped outside and closed his bedroom door before checking the assignment.

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A vampire soul, cool. I scrolled through the details, and found that he was just a little bit over a hundred years old. Not quite as impressive as the last vampire soul I collected, who had lived through seven centuries. Cause of death was being staked through the heart. Location was…

I frowned. The location of the assignment was in the basement of the house next to mine. That weird guy who went through my trash had a dying vampire in his basement.

 

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I materialized at the top of the basement stairs in my robes. I could see a faint light coming from below. I went down and approached the source of the light, a generic looking floor lamp. There I saw the vampire lying in a pool of his own blood, and my neighbor Jack casually sitting across him. He simply looked at me, but other than that he didn’t acknowledge my presence.

I pretended not to notice him and focused on collecting the soul. I was about to leave when he stood up and spoke.

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“Anya?”

I froze. He was grinning like an absolute madman.

“I’m right, aren’t I?” He said excitedly. “You’re Anya!”

I was panicking. “I do not know w-who this… Anya you speak of is,” I said in a low, gravelly voice.

“Oh, drop the act! I know who you are. Who would have thought you’d be the replacement for the old Brindleton reaper?”

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“H-how do you know who I am?” I asked in my normal voice.

“I’m the greatest detective back in Willow Creek, you know. Well, was, but that’s not important right now.” He sat down again and gestured for me to take a seat opposite him. I didn’t budge. There was no way I was going to sit in his kidnap slash murder chair.

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He continued, “What’s important is that you are going to help me track down more vampires.”

“Wha-I- excuse me? Look, Jack, is it? I don’t want any trouble, okay? It’s obvious you’ve got some sort of sick obsession with me, since you keep killing people to get me to come, but can you cut it out? And I don’t know how you managed to figure out who I am, but you are definitely going to get a very angry lecture from a snobby guy in a white suit soon.”

“Huh?” was all that he said.

“You’re the weirdo that’s been stabbing people at night and watching me like a pervert,” I hissed.

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Jack scratched his head. “As far as I know, this is the only person I’ve killed ever since you moved in,” he pointed to the dead vampire. “And to be perfectly honest, he deserved it as he was saying some very rude things I’d rather not repeat.”

“Then who the hell has been killing people and watching me!?”

“I have no idea, but I have to confess that I’ve been investigating you, which is how I know your true identity.”

“What? Why?”

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“Because you were acting very suspicious, and once, through your window, I saw you appear in your living room out of thin air,” he said, shrugging. “I thought you were a vampire, but once I saw all that takeout and junk food in your garbage bin, it was easy to deduce you were a different sort of supernatural creature.”

I groaned and made a mental note to buy curtains for all the windows in my living room.

“Okay,” I said slowly. “You’re not the killer who’s been stabbing people just to get me to come, but you are still a murderer.” I gestured to the corpse.

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“I am a vampire hunter,” he corrected. “And besides, I don’t kill all vampires I come across. I actually only kidnapped this fellow here to interrogate him, but he became quite hostile.”

“Why in the world are you kidnapping and killing vampires? You do know that a lot of them don’t even drink from humans anymore? They’re just trying to live ordinary lives.”

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“I know, I’m one of them.”

I raised an eyebrow, even though he couldn’t see it under my hood. “You’re a vampire hunter that’s also a vampire?”

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“Precisely! And now that we both know each other’s secret identities, we can work together!”

“Um, I have no interest in killing anyone, human or vampire. Besides, I didn’t even know there were any vampires here in Brindleton until you killed this one. I’m useless to you.”

“Hmm, I thought that as a grim reaper you would have access to records of all souls?”

I shook my head. “I only get information once they’re dying.”

Jack thought about this for a while. “Well, this certainly complicates my plans, but I’ve always made the best out of any situation. You can be my muscle instead!”

“Muscle? I couldn’t lift anything even if I tried,” I scoffed.

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“No, I meant you could intimidate them! I do the talking while you stand behind me and look menacing. I’ve met plenty of vampires who have had encounters with grim reapers, and they are absolutely terrified of your kind. What do you say?”

“I don’t even know what your motives are.”

“I hunt vampires because they took something important from me,” he said simply.

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“Ah, so this is a revenge plan. What’s in it for me?”

“You said you had a stalker, right? The one who’s been killing people? I offer my investigative skills in return.”

Was finding out who the killer is worth going into a deal with a vampire with homicidal tendencies?

“Deal,” I said after a while.

Jack nodded approvingly. “Wonderful! Now if you’d be so kind to let yourself out, I have to clean this mess up.”

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“How are you going to dispose of his body?”

“Oh, I’ll just drag him out into the backyard and wait for sunrise. He’ll be ashes by then so that gets rid of the evidence. I’ve been doing it for years.” He gave me a wide, innocent-looking smile.

“…O-okay.” Maybe teaming up with a vampire hunter wasn’t such a good idea after all.

 

 

 

[Hello! Sorry for the lack of updates lately, I started college about a month ago and at first I’ve been busy getting stuck in traffic, then I was busy moving into a dorm at the absolute last minute, and now I’m busy preparing to move into a different dorm. For now, please have this double update! I’ll try to get back to my regular posting schedule once I figure out how to adult properly!]

Chapter 5: Kiss

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The surgery went well, and Doctor Miller has been resting in her hospital room. Ryan’s been at her side all the time. I’ve had to wrangle him away and drag him home just so he could take showers and sleep. He hasn’t mentioned seeing the grim reaper to me. I’m glad about that.

Doctor Miller has been visited by pretty much the entire staff in the hospital. She’s really loved by all of them. One of them, a nurse named Angelo, has spent his breaks in the room showing her and Ryan his drawings. He says he’s also an artist, and draws portraits for some of the patients he sees. Ryan was absolutely delighted seeing his art, and begged Angelo to teach him how to draw. Doctor Miller told Ryan not to pester him, but Angelo, the good-natured guy that he is, told her it was okay. So now they’ve been drawing together anytime Angelo gets to go on a break. They look really adorable together, though if I’m being honest, Ryan’s portraits of me don’t really look like, well, me. But he’s a fast learner, and I think he could be a really good artist in the future.

My phone gave a soft beep. I checked it and sighed with relief to see if wasn’t an assignment. It was a text from Michelle, the librarian. She asked me if I wanted to go check out the nightclub she mentioned before.

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“Friend of yours?” Doctor Miller asked.

“Um, yeah, I guess,” I said. “Though we haven’t really talked much.”

“Anya, have you ever even gone out with friends since you moved here?”

“Well… no. Not really.”

“You’re kidding me, right? I love your dedication to taking care of my son, but you need to go socialize with other people.”

“She did ask me to go hang out today, but I can’t just le-”

“Oh, just go! Ryan can stay here for the night, I can ask one of the staff to bring in a cot for him.”

“But-“

“I know, I know. I’m apprehensive about letting him skip a day of bathing, but I don’t think just one day will do any harm. Go have fun with your friends for the day, okay?”

 

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I replied to Michelle’s message, and we went to that club she was talking about. It was so loud and the lights hurt my eyes. I wanted to turn around and leave, but Michelle dragged me over to the dance floor.

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“I don’t know how to dance!” I shouted over the music.

“What?” She yelled back.

“I can’t dance!”

“You don’t have to know how to dance! Just feel the music!”

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I tried shaking my hips and swaying my arms like her, but my movements ended up being stiff and rigid. I felt stupid.

“People are staring!” I shouted.

Michelle laughed. “Who cares? We’re here to have fun, not win some trophy or anything!”

She grabbed my hand and spun me around. I couldn’t help but laugh as we whizzed across the dance floor.

 

Exhausted from dancing, we left the club and decided to walk through the park. The sun was setting, and we were the only ones there.

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Michelle regaled me with stories about her work. Surprisingly, being a librarian wasn’t as boring as I thought.

“-so I jumped out from behind the desk and she screams her head off and drops her takeout on the floor,” she said, laughing.

I snorted. “You’re so mean.”

“I know,” she gasped in between her laughter. “She made me clean everything up and I had to stay behind to lock up, but it was so worth seeing her reaction.”

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“By the way, I never asked you this, but what made you move here to Brindleton?” I asked.

“Oh, I just wanted a change of scenery,” she answered and waved her hand dismissively. “I was getting sick of it in my hometown. I felt so stifled back in Oasis Springs. What about you? You never told me where you’re from.”

“I moved here from San Myshuno.”

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Her eyes widened. “San Myshuno! I’ve always wanted to go there, but it looks like I’m doomed to stay in obscure, little towns forever. What in the world made you leave that place?”

“Just wanted to live somewhere quieter,” I shrugged. It wasn’t exactly a lie, since ten years of living in that noisy city was this close to making me snap.

“Well, you came to the quietest place ever,” she chuckled.

“The quietest, but not the safest,” I muttered.

“Oh, right. There was that stabbing the other day. Do you think it’s a serial killer?”

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“I don’t know. Can we talk about something else?”

“Are you scared?” Amusement glinted in her eyes. “Well, you shouldn’t be. I don’t think he’ll come after you since you never go outside.”

“I do go outside,” I huffed indignantly.

Michelle raised an eyebrow. “Well, if he comes after me, I’ll kick his ass!”

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“Keep your voice down, jeez.”

“Why? You think the killer’s following us?” Michelle howled with laughter as I tried to shush her.

After a while, she stopped walking and turned to me, her expression suddenly serious.

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“Sorry for joking about that stuff, Anya.” She said. “If there really is a killer on the loose, I’ll protect you.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because… because I like you a lot.”

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Before I could react, she leaned forward and gently pressed her lips to mine.

I pulled away, surprised.

“Oh god, what?” I said in disbelief.

“Shit. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that,” Michelle turned red with embarrassment. “I’m so sorry.”

I opened my mouth to say something, to tell her it was okay, but nothing came out. My brain was a jumbled mess, and I ended up leaving her there in the park without saying a word.

I was completely on autopilot, and didn’t process everything that just happened once I got home. I touched my lips wonderingly. That was my first kiss in 50 years.

 

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I texted her and tried calling to apologize for leaving so rudely, but she wouldn’t answer. I sighed and was about to put my phone away when an assignment popped up on my screen. I looked at it, and my heart skipped a beat. The location was the same park I left Michelle in. Did something happen to her? My hands shook as I opened the notification.

I sighed in relief when I saw a different name on the assignment, and went to collect it.

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I was still on edge, though. I got so worried thinking about what could have happened to Michelle it didn’t even occur to me that it was another stabbing victim. I shivered as I got up, feeling the killer’s eyes on me.

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Whatever. I didn’t care about them anymore. I needed to talk to Michelle.

Chapter 4: Chances

I ran to the hospital as fast as I could. My legs and lungs felt like they were burning, but I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. I was at the checkout lane when I got the call from Ryan. I could hardly understand what he was saying in between his sobs.

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I reached the hospital, panting. I walked to the counter, and the nurse looked mildly alarmed at my haggard appearance.

“Are you okay, miss? Do you need to see a doctor right away or…?” She asked.

“No,” I wheezed. “I need to know if Lucretia Miller’s been admitted here.”

“Oh. Doctor Miller,” she said sadly. “She was brought here a while ago with her son. May I ask what your relation to her is?”

“I’m her son’s babysitter. Can I see her?”

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“I’m sorry, but at this time we only allow family members inside. You’re free to stay in the waiting area outside her room, though. She’s in Room 203.”

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I thanked her and went to go find the room. I found Ryan sitting outside, his face buried in his hands.

“Hey,” I said softly, sitting down beside him.

He looked up at me, tears streaming down his face.

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“What happened?” I asked.

“M-Mom- she went downstairs and she just collapsed and she wouldn’t wake up and I- I-“ Ryan inhaled shakily. “I was so scared. I didn’t know what to do.”

“Shhh, it’s going to be okay,” I tried to calm him down. The kid was hyperventilating. “Ryan. Can you take a deep breath for me please?”

He nodded and tried to make his breathing steadier.

“Just sit tight, okay? Let’s wait to hear what the doctor says,” I said. At that exact moment, the door swung open and a horde of doctors and nurses came out of the room.

“How is she?” Ryan asked them.

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One of the doctors approached him as the others dispersed. “Ryan, is it?” She asked.

He nodded. “My mom. Is she okay?”

“She’s still unconscious,” she sighed. “We ran a few tests, and it looks like your mom has a tumor. By the looks of it, it seems like she’s had it for a while now. We’re discussing if it’s possible to take it out today.”

“What’s going to happen?”

Hesitantly, the doctor gave him a weak smile. “We’ll have the best surgeons operating on her, don’t worry. You can go in and see her, if you want. Oh, but your babysi-“

“Bodyguard,” Ryan and I corrected her at the same time.

“Ehrm, right. Your bodyguard can’t go in right now. Sorry.” Afterwards, she left.

I turned to Ryan. “Do you want to go in?”

He nodded, wiping his nose with his sleeve. “Yeah. But what about you?”

“I’ll be right here if you need me. Go.”

He went inside, and I sank into the seat. My phone gave a little beep and I reached into my pocket to check the assignment. My mouth went dry.

Goddammit.

I clutched my face with my hands, groaning. This day was officially the worst. On the screen, in a small, unassuming font, was the name Lucretia Miller.

I stood up, and making sure there were no witnesses or any cameras, I donned the reaper robe. My whole body felt numb as I walked inside the room.

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Ryan was standing beside the bed, holding his mother’s hand in his own. His breath hitched when he saw me.

“No,” he whispered. “No no no. Go away!

I clenched my fists, summoning all my willpower not to talk to him. Ryan was shaking as he stepped between me and his mother.

“Don’t you dare,” he shouted. “I won’t let you lay your hands on my mom.”

He turned his face towards the door and screamed. “Anya! Please! Help me-“ his voice trailed off as he sobbed.

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“Please don’t take my mom,” he said quietly. “She’s all I have. I’m begging you. If you want, take me instead. Just leave her alone.”

I felt a tear roll down my cheek as I watched him plead for his mother. How could I do this? How could I be the monster in this kid’s life? I closed my eyes tightly, wishing there was a way out of this.

There was a way. But Whitey would not like it one bit. I patted his shoulder gently and left.

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As soon as I was outside, I got the robe off and slumped against the chair. I braced myself for the inevitable visit I was going to get.

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The walls and floor of the corridor slowly appeared to have all color sucked out of them, until they were all white. The clock on the wall stopped ticking. I took a deep breath and prepared myself.

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He materialized in front of me soon after, looking snooty in his blindingly white suit as usual.

“Hey, Whitey,” I said.

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“First of all, I told you not to call me that,” he said, fuming. “And second, do you have any idea what you just did?”

“I made a kid not be an orphan?”

“You meddled! Reapers do not decide who lives or dies, you can’t just give certain souls special treatment!”

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“It’s just this one time,” I said, standing to look at him straight in his stupid gold eyes. “What harm does it do to spare just one soul?”

“You mess with the balance,” he growled. “The balance of the entire world is in disarray because of you. You disobey the rules, you ruin everything.”

“So what? Fuck the rules! I’d like to see you try going in that room and collecting her soul without feeling anything for that little boy!” I yelled. “You’re not a reaper. You don’t know what it’s like to see people’s hearts break whenever you show up.”

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We stood there for a while, glaring at each other, until his face went back to its usual cool, detached expression. He took a step back and adjusted his bowtie. What a pretentious prick.

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“They will not be pleased when they hear about this, and it will take a lot of time to fix your mistake,” he sighed. “But I will let you off with a warning this time. You better not do this again, unless you’re willing to take the consequences that follow it. Do I make myself clear?”

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I nodded. He disappeared, and the color around me returned.

 

[A/N: I was clearing out old CC from my mods folder and I stupidly forgot that some of the sims I made for this story were using them 😖 The most drastic change occurred to good ol’ Whitey, because I was using a custom skin for him. So he looks significantly different in this chapter compared to his first appearance (you can actually see his cheekbones now, lol!). Other sims also may look different starting from this chapter, but hopefully their appearances shouldn’t be too startling!]

 

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.

 

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.

9DA25DDB-FC5D-4B65-9110-EF861FF78A4B

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.”

D8533F71-FE2A-4B6E-83DC-F0805DBF87EC

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.

 

Chapter 1: Anya

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I didn’t expect to like Brindleton Bay this much. It’s smaller than the other cities I’ve lived in, and the air feels squeaky clean.

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Even though my new house is a total pain to get to, with it being so far from all the main roads, I still like it.

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Tucked between a forest and the beach, it’s perfect for a reclusive writer. Well, I’m not actually a writer. Not yet, at least.

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My name is Anya and I’m an aspiring writer. The reason why I’m not an actual writer yet is because I never manage to finish writing anything.

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I get writer’s block a lot, so I just stop continuing my drafts and end up reading trashy romance novels instead. Hopefully living here will give me the motivation to stop procrastinating and actually finish writing something. Hopefully.

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My new place is one of those old houses they divided into two. I’ve been told that my half of the house hasn’t been lived in for years, so it needs a lot of work.

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Honestly, it doesn’t look that bad to me. Everything’s in place with little risk of it collapsing on top of me, so I don’t mind all the overgrown weeds and ivy.

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It’s just that it looks really shabby right next to my neighbor’s perfectly pristine yard. But like I said, I don’t mind it.

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I got settled into my new home quickly, a pretty handy skill I picked up after moving from city to city.

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I guess it also helps that I don’t own a lot of stuff.

 

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From Monday to Saturday I work as a babysitter for Lucretia Miller’s son while he’s still on summer vacation. From what I’ve heard (and saw on the Internet when I stalked her social media accounts to make sure she was a real actual person who wanted to hire me), she graduated from the top medical school in San Myshuno and got plenty of job offers in the big city, but she decided to work in the public hospital of this little town.

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She’s been working in the hospital for nearly two decades, treating most of the residents. Everyone knew who she was.

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Her son, Ryan, is a pesky little thing. He’s sweet and angelic when his mom is home, but as soon as she leaves, he’s running all over the place and making a mess in every single room. He also likes to pull annoying pranks.

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The first time I met him, he went up to me and told me there was a fire outside in the yard.

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Of course, I fell for it. The kid’s a pretty good actor.

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I ran outside and before I could ask where the fire was, he locked the door behind me.

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I stood outside banging on the door for nearly an hour. I considered calling Doctor Miller, but I had the feeling she would have fired me on the first day if she found out I was that careless. Ryan let me in, though. He probably got sick of hearing me shout outside.

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“That wasn’t a nice thing to do,” I yelled. “You shouldn’t say there’s an emergency if there isn’t any. Didn’t you read ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’? That’s basic kindergarten stuff.”

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“But nobody got hurt, it was just a joke,” he said.

Still. Even though there wasn’t a fire outside, there could’ve been a real one that started inside while you were alone. What would your mom say, huh?”

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“Sorry,” he mumbled. “Please don’t tell her. It’s just that… babysitters are for babies. I don’t need a babysitter anymore. I’m almost nine, and I can take care of myself.”

“Look. I know you think your mom is babying you, but she’s not. She just wants to make sure you’re safe in case anything happens, and that’s what I’m here for. I gotta look after you juuuuuust in case. You can’t get rid of me, okay?”

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Ryan mulled this over for a while. “Can I call you my bodyguard instead of babysitter, then? I don’t want anyone to think I still need a nanny or anything. Plus bodyguard sounds way cooler.”

I smiled. “Sure. I’ll be your bodyguard.”

After that incident, I learned to be tougher and less gullible. But it’s still pretty hard to catch an eight year old who’s determined to abuse his freedom while his parent is out of the house.

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By the end of the day, both of us are usually so exhausted from me chasing him around that he’s fast asleep in his room. That’s one upside: I never have to nag or force him to go to sleep. I do need to have a talk with him about bathing, though. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the kid change out of the clothes he wore the entire day before he goes to sleep.

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I sit in the living room watching whatever’s on TV while I wait for Doctor Miller to come home. It’s real mind-numbing stuff.

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I only leave once Doctor Miller comes home looking even more exhausted than me and Ryan combined. I think she could really use a vacation.

 

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I work on my book when I’m home. I try to make progress, little by little. But it’s hard when I’m only home for a handful of hours. I’m only over at the Millers’ house until evening, so technically I should have plenty of time to do whatever I want after work.

But I guess I forgot to mention that babysitting and writing a book are just side gigs. I have another, more important job.

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7A228B56-B5A0-406E-B448-F3B61375F149

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I’m also a grim reaper.