"Hello there, friend."
"...Where am I? What's happening?"
"Easy now. Don't panic. Everything's alright."
"...What's going on? Why can't I see anything?"
"I'm going to tell you, but I need you to listen. I promise to answer all of your questions, so just try to stay calm, okay?"
"Listen. You're dead."
"You're dead. You don't have a physical body, anymore. That's why you can't see or move."
"...What kind of crazy joke is this?"
"I'm sorry, friend, but I'm not joking. If I were joking, you'd be laughing. I'm hilarious."
"Just relax a moment and think about it. You should remember your death."
"Do you remember?"
"I... yes... I remember... I..."
"Don't worry. It's alright. I was there when you died. I know what happened."
"I'm... really dead?"
"...Does that mean... this is... some kind of afterlife?"
"Not quite. You haven't reached that point, yet."
"...What do you mean? Why not? Is it... because I...?"
"No, it's nothing like that. Everything is perfectly normal. I just woke you up a little early, is all. Because before you move on, I have a proposition for you."
"Proposition...? Who are you?"
"I'm called a few different things, but you'd probably know me best as a reaper. You know. The grim kind."
"I guide and protect souls as they make the journey into the afterlife. Or oblivion. Whichever."
"You... don't know?"
"Sure don't. I'm just a ferryman."
"Oh... that's... disappointing..."
"Hey. It bothers me, too. In fact, shut up about it. I don't need you reminding me of my shortcomings."
"Normally, you'd never know I was here, but I had to disturb you to ask a question."
"Right. See, as a reaper, I have the power to keep one servant, someone who will help me with various things."
"Servant...? You want me to be your servant?"
"Servant, partner, friend, ally, whatever you wanna call it, but yes, that's basically the idea. I'd revive your body, and you'd be able to live again, as long as you help me out. You died very young. I thought you might want a second chance, a chance to, perhaps, live a more fulfilling life."
"Was I wrong?"
"Well... no... but... you could really do that?"
"Yes. No one's discovered your body, yet, so there's no problem."
"So... you could, like, make me into some kind of billionaire or something in my new life?"
"What? No, of course not. That's not how it works."
"Then what the hell were you talking about just now?"
"It's like this: your body is dead, now, but I can revive it and reattach your soul. I can't give you a brand new body and tons of money. That'd be crazy. I'm a reaper, not a friggin' genie."
"Oh... so I'd be living the same life as before..."
"Almost. Well. Kind of. I mean. Things could get a bit complicated."
"...What the hell does that mean?"
"I wouldn't revive you for no reason, of course. I'd want you to help me out, like I said."
"...Help you with what?"
"I've been around for thousands of years, ferrying souls across this rift between realms. And I'm able to observe the living, but I can't interact with you until you die. So, as you might imagine, I see a lot of terrible things happen in your world, things that I'd like to be able to do something about. But obviously, I can't. Not by myself. That's where you'd come in. I'd find people who are about to die, and then you'd go save them."
"It's just... I mean... are you serious?"
"But... uh... That sounds great and all, but... I don't think I'd be able to save anyone..."
"Sure you would. With my help, you'll be unkillable."
"Un...killable...? You mean, like, immortal?"
"Yes. You'd be my undead servant, so naturally, if you die, I'd just revive you again."
"Are you interested in giving it a try?"
"Uh... I dunno. Sounds kind of... insane..."
"Eh. That's a little rude."
"You said... I'd be your servant?"
"...What happens if I disobey you?"
"If you decide you don't want to help me, anymore, then I'd just release your soul and let you die."
"You'd kill me..."
"Hey, you're already dead. What've you got to lose?"
"...In that case, it sounds a little too good to be true."
"It wouldn't be permanent. If you decide later that you don't like the arrangement, I'll find someone else and let you go back to dying."
"How do I know you're not lying?"
"Uh. I suppose you don't. You'll have to take a bit of a risk. Same as how I'm taking a risk on you."
"I don't know..."
"Well, I hate to rush you, but you might want to decide before someone discovers your dead body. It could cause you problems if people find it before you come back to life."
"I haven't said yes, yet..."
"I'm aware. Please decide. I'm impatient."
"A-alright... I'll give it a shot. It can't be much worse..."
"Excellent. I'll get right to it, then."
"...What're you gonna do?"
"Just hold on. This might be a little jarring."
"Hold on? To what? There's nothing here... What the...? Whoa!"
Hector awoke with a cringe. A bolt of pain ran through him, but it vanished after a moment. He blinked away the haze in his vision and sat up.
It was the bathroom, he saw, remembering. This was where he had died, in this little, not-so-white-tiled bathroom. At least, that's what he thought. Obviously, he wasn't dead.
The fan in the ceiling buzzed, still, just as before. He remembered that sound, remembered thinking about how it would be the last thing he ever heard, remembered how it had made him feel all the more pitiful in his final moments.
But now, hearing the sound again, the droning hum, he wasn't sure what to think. It seemed almost like a different noise even though he knew it hadn't changed.
His shirt was wet, Hector realized, and he looked down at the crimson stains in its thin white cloth. He stood and saw the floor, a pool of his own blood.
He scratched his head. "Huh..."
A mirror greeted him next, his face reflected through a slight cloud of soapy fog. Everything looked the same. The black skin, the shaved head, the somber brown gaze--all his. Somehow, part of him expected to see someone else. Part of him wanted to.
His eyes fell to the sink, to the razor blade in it. It seemed a strange way to die, suddenly, by way of such a small thing, a tiny strip of sharpened metal. But then, he supposed it hadn't really been the razor so much as the long, vertical gashes along his arms, which were still there, though they didn't seem to hurt at all. In fact, he couldn't even feel them. He seemed capable of moving them just fine, but they were completely numb.
'Hello, again,' came a voice, and he turned to see a figure appear next to him, sitting there... floating there. A skeleton, it seemed to be, its bones emanating white from behind a shroud of the pitchest black he had ever seen. A scythe sat in its grip, the blade hanging low beneath its body.
Hector just kind of stared, wide-eyed.
'No return greeting, huh? Well, fine.' The skeleton's jaw moved with its words, though Hector couldn't understand how.
After a moment, he managed to conjure up a word of his own. "You're..."
'The reaper you were just talking to, yes. Nice to meet you. Officially, that is.'
"You look... you look just like I imagined you would." He blinked a few times. "Is this really happening...?"
'Ah, right. My appearance.' It gave a skeletal shrug. 'Whatever you're seeing, right now, it's not really what I look like. In truth, I don't actually look like anything.'
'Your brain forms an image of what I should look like and projects it onto my presence. Appearance is something for your physical reality, where I do not exist.'
"I... don't understand..."
'Ah, well, it's no big deal. Oh, and before I forget...' The reaper hovered closer and reached a gangly hand toward him.
Hector recoiled a little, but the hand still found his shoulder. And suddenly, he felt his arms begin to burn. He looked down to see the bloody gashes bulge and tighten. A groan escaped his lips as he watched the wounds close themselves, leaving only streaks of blood behind, both still wet and already dried. The pain subsided after a few moments.
"What the hell...?" He traced over his arm where one of the slits had been, brushing away the blood. Not even a scar remained. What's more, his arms were no longer numb.
'Might want to clean up all this blood,' said the reaper, motioning to the floor. 'I can restore your body, but once the blood leaves, I can't put it back. Same goes for your limbs, if they get chopped off or something. I don't reattach things. I just regrow them.'
He squinted a little. "Regrow...?"
'I can revive you, no matter how bad your injuries are,' it said. 'Even if your whole body is destroyed, I can recreate it again. That's how my power works. As long as I maintain a link to your soul, I can resurrect the physical body that accompanies it. Without the soul, though, I can't do anything.'
He wasn't sure what to say.
'It's too bad, really. If I could create a body from scratch, then I wouldn't need anyone's help. I could just make a body for myself and go be a superhero or something.'
"Uh... I-I see... I think."
'But there's a lot more I should explain before we start trying to save the world and whatnot, and you should probably clean up this mess before someone sees. Unless you plan on starting things off by revealing your secret to someone.'
"Er, right..." He moved toward the door and then paused awkwardly. "Uh..."
'Maybe a mop would be useful?'
"R-right..." He opened the door and left. A narrow hallway awaited, and he couldn't help staring at it for a moment. Such a simple place. Creamy white walls and plain brown carpeting. He must have seen it thousands of times, but it seemed somehow different. Everything did, in fact. His scuffed sneakers, his baggy black trousers, even the hallway light over his head and the moth fluttering around it; everything was a reminder of himself, of who he was, of his sudden uncertainty as to whether or not he was still that same person.
He made sure to close the bathroom door behind him and went downstairs. His parents sat together in the den, watching television in the dim light of a tall lamp. They didn't bother to look at him as he crossed into the kitchen, though he was sure they must have heard his footsteps. But then, he supposed it was better that they didn't see him. Explaining all the blood on his shirt would have been difficult. Quickly, he grabbed the mop by the refrigerator.
'Don't forget a bucket,' came the reaper's soundless voice, and Hector nearly dropped his mop, juggling it between hands for a few moments. 'Some towels would probably be good, too.'
He looked around, blinking. The kitchen was empty, still. He chanced a whisper. "Where are you...?"
'Still in the bathroom,' came the reply. 'I can talk to you, no matter how far apart we are. Has to do with the fact that I'm tapped directly into your brain, rather than talking with a physical voice.'
There was a pause, and Hector just kind of squinted as he waited.
'It works both ways, you know. Say something in your head, and I'll hear you.' Another pause. 'You have to actually think something explicitly, though. Concentration is what solidifies the thoughts in our minds and makes them understandable.'
"Uh... Oh." '...Like this?' he thought, letting his gaze wander toward the ceiling.
'Yeah. Easy, right?'
'Er... sure...' He grabbed the other accouterments that the reaper had mentioned, made his way back upstairs without drawing the attention of his parents, and began mopping up the bathroom floor. With each stroke, the crimson ebbed away, leaving behind a pinkish residue as the pool of blood crowded back in on itself.
He wasn't sure how long the blood had been there, but it had begun staining the tile, so he guessed a few hours must have passed, at least.
'You've gotten quiet,' said the reaper, making Hector look up from his work. 'I thought you'd have more questions for me.'
He stared at the blood for a bit. "...They didn't notice."
"My parents," he said, wringing the mop out over the bucket. "They didn't notice I was dead."
There was a noticeable pause. 'You were locked in a bathroom, you know. It probably would have been a while before they discovered your body.'
"I wonder how long it would've taken..."
The reaper fell quiet after that. It wasn't until after Hector had nearly finished cleaning that the conversation resumed.
'I'm Garovel, by the way. Garovel is my name, that is.'
Hector took a seat on the edge of the bathtub and looked at the floating skeleton again. "Okay," was all he said.
Garovel tilted his head. 'Not much for conversation, eh? You talked more when you were dead.'
"...Sorry. I don't... I mean... yeah."
'Well, don't worry about it. There's no need to rush things.' Garovel drifted nearer the mirror, and Hector realized suddenly that the reaper had no reflection. 'You don't seem to be the very curious type, so I guess I'll just explain. Stop me if you have a question.'
'You and I are now connected,' Garovel said. 'I am what sustains your life, now. Biologically, your body is alive again, but I am the only thing that keeps you attached to your body. Your soul, your consciousness, your sense of self, whatever you want to call the thing, I'm the one who maintains its connection with this world, now.' The reaper paused a moment, considerate perhaps. 'I suppose that might sound like a bad thing. Having your soul controlled by someone else, that is, but there are actually some pretty fantastic advantages to this whole scenario. The first is, of course, the ability to restore your body, but I already talked about that. And I believe you've already glimpsed the second major advantage. That is, the ability to continue moving, even after your body is technically dead.'
'It has to do with your brain.' Garovel tapped a long phalanx bone against his bare skull. 'Rather than having to rely on blood and flesh for all of its energy, your brain now relies entirely upon me, largely because I now inhabit your brain, so to speak. But, in terms of this physical world, your brain is now self-sustaining. Even if, say, you bleed to death or your heart stops beating or you even stop breathing, your brain will continue to work just fine.' The reaper paused again. 'Of course, it's not quite as simplistic as it sounds, since the brain is a pretty complicated piece of equipment. I did have to numb all sorts of signals that might otherwise fool your brain into thinking it needs to shut down due to a lack of blood or glucose or what have you, but you don't really need to worry about all that. I've got everything covered.'
Hector tried to say something but found he didn't have the words, so he just kind of stared with a raised brow.
The reaper tilted its head at him. 'Did that make sense?'
He merely nodded.
'Alright, then. The third advantage is, obviously, having my shining personality around whenever you need me.'
He couldn't help smirking just a little.
'Though, it's more than just my personality,' Garovel went on. 'As a reaper of death, I have the ability to sense whenever someone is on the verge of it. The verge of death, that is. Simply put, I perceive an aura of impending doom about a person's soul. It's very dramatic. Especially because I can't do anything to help them. You, on the other hand, can. So whenever I sense that aura around someone, I want you to try and save them. Understood?'
"Er, yeah..." He nodded again.
'You should know, however, that I will always require this of you. My entire purpose in reviving you is so that you can help me save lives. So no matter how your life may change--be it a new job, getting married, having children, or anything else--if you ever become unable to help me, then I will have to release your soul and find someone else.'
"O-okay..." He squinted. "But... how could I ever become 'unable' to help you? I mean... I doubt I'll ever be too busy to go save a person's life..."
'That's good of you to say, but it may not always be your decision. For instance, if your brain ended up in a jar, you wouldn't be able to save anyone. And I wouldn't be able to get you out. Well. Maybe if it was a weak jar. I mean, a REALLY weak jar. I'm not too sure.'
He blinked a couple times. "Uh... what? Why would my brain end up in a jar?"
'I dunno. I was just giving an example.'
That example was far too specific, Hector felt. "Are... are you gonna ask me to fight a mad scientist or something?"
'Oh, um. I wasn't planning on it, but I can't say its an impossibility, either. Who knows what the future will bring, right?'
"Er... right..." Hector's gaze drifted toward the ground for a moment, then to the unbroken skin on his arms again. "I do have a question, though..."
'What is it?'
"If... if you can... resurrect people like this... then... why don't you... you know... do it... for everyone?"
Garovel hesitated. 'Uh. What? I can't understand you. Stop pausing so much when you talk.'
"Agh..." He tried again. "If you can resurrect people, then... why don't you just... resurrect everyone?"
'You're still pausing. I told you to stop that.'
"Dammit, I'm... trying..."
'Ah well. I understood you the second time, anyway.'
"Then answer my question, already!"
'Hey, you didn't pause that time. Good job.'
"I wish you had a body so I could strangle you..."
'That's an important question, though. Obviously, if I could keep more people alive, I would. I don't know about everyone, but yes. The problem is, I can only maintain a stable connection with one soul at a time. If I tried to maintain it with a second person, then my energy would begin to dissipate, which would end up exhausting or destroying me. And if either of those two things happen to me, then the people I'm connected to would have their souls ripped from their still-living bodies, which would result in either brain death or a psychotic break. And a body with a broken consciousness can become rather monstrous, to say the least.'
He cocked his head back. "You mean, they'd... like... start killing random people?"
'Among other gruesome things, yeah.'
"Wow... okay." He folded his slender arms, and his face distorted a little. "But if that's the case, then... why'd you pick me for this job?"
'Well, I had to pick someone. I needed a servant, and there you were.'
"That's it...? It was just coincidence that you picked me...?"
Hector eyed the reaper. "And what does that mean? 'Mostly'?"
'I try not to petition murderers and the like for this job, so yes, there is some judgment involved, on my part. What's more, I didn't pick you. I asked you. You're the one who agreed.'
"But... a second chance like this... who the hell would turn down your offer?"
'Someone who just wants to die.'
At that, Hector hesitated. For a time, he merely sat there, letting his gaze fall from Garovel to the floor. "But," he finally said, "I killed myself..."
'I know. I watched you do it.'
"Then... then why didn't you ask someone else? Someone who died by accident or something?" He breathed a curt breath. "Someone who actually deserves a chance like this..."
'If you'd really wanted to die like that, then you wouldn't have agreed to help me when I asked you.'
As he sat there, his head eased down between his hands. "But..." He sighed.
'Before you died, I had been watching you for quite a while.'
He looked up. "What...?"
'From the moment you decided to commit suicide, I could sense the aura of death around you.' The shadows of Garovel's missing eyes seemed abruptly more intent upon him. 'That's how it works. I sense death when the soul becomes directly imperiled. If you were about to get hit by a bus, I wouldn't sense your death until you walked in front of the thing. Situations like that really suck. But for people like you, people who intend to commit suicide, I sense death when the decision is finalized in your mind.'
He blinked. "Then... you must've been..."
'Yes. I was waiting for nearly seven months. That's how long it took you to do it.' Garovel gave a small shrug. 'Not the longest I've ever seen, but definitely up there. I'd check on you from time to time, maybe two or three times a week. Eventually, I started to wonder why you were letting things drag out so much, why you didn't just get it over with. And then I figured it out.'
His gaze returned to the floor, and his eyes eased shut as he listened.
'The last couple weeks, I watched you quite a lot. That's when I noticed. You were always alone.' Garovel paused. 'At school, you almost never speak to any of your classmates. Maybe it's because you have such trouble communicating. Even here, in your own house, you're very distant from your parents. I don't think I ever saw you say more than a few words to them at a time.'
He squinted hard, feeling the sudden tension behind his eyes, trying to keep it away.
'The reason you waited so long to kill yourself, it was because you were waiting for someone to stop you, wasn't it?'
He covered his eyes with his hand, as if to make some vain attempt at hiding himself. "But... no one did..."
'No. No one did.'
The tears were there in full now, streaming down his face, and he couldn't make them go away, much as he wanted to.
'And then, after you died, when I asked you if you would help me, you agreed. That was all the confirmation I needed. Because like I said, if you had really wanted to die, then you wouldn't have said yes to me.'
He tried to say something else, uncertain what, but found his breath too choked to form words.
'So now you've got another chance. And this time, you'll try to help me, just like I'll try to help you.'