Young man discovers himself while coming to grips with death and his hardest decision.
“When there is a meeting, there is sure to be a parting. Though that parting may not last forever.”
“Look kid, I am just the messenger. It’s not my decision, it’s yours.” The giant’s voice carried into the night.
“Can’t you at least tell me how I died? I didn’t think I was that sick…” The boy tried hard to keep a straight face and slow his breathing. Even in death Kenu’s pride kept him from crying. He couldn’t help but laugh, why bother trying to look tough now? Who was left to judge?
“Does it really matter kid? Besides, I just deliver the message. The message is, you’re dead. You have a job to do and a debt to pay.”
“A debt? To who?” His questions were lost in the frigid wind. “Is there anything I can do?” He let himself hope that the cloaked figure before him had the answer.
The large man simply sighed. “Look kid… I hate this part, believe me I do, but I have a debt to pay just like you. The truth is there is no way out, all you can do is pay your debt and move on”
Kenu managed to collect himself long enough to think. “You’re serious aren’t you?” He knew he had to ask, but immediately wished he hadn’t.
“Honestly, I wish I could tell you I am kidding, that this is all some big joke. You chose to live your life that way. You can’t take it back now. You’re dead and the sooner you accept that the easier this will be. Look, I have a debt to pay for my transgressions too. I wish I could tell you it’s not that bad, that maybe you are delivering some form of justice, but there is no point in lying in death. It is a shame though, you’re just a kid.”
“So what’s your point, what is this debt I owe?” The boy’s rude tone shocked the other man, though only for a moment.
“The deal is simple, you just do the same thing I am doing now with you. You go to people on the worst day of their life, watch them die, then tell them they are dead. Tell them they have made bad decisions, and give them the same choice I am giving you. On the bright side, you get an alternative: you could go to hell if you prefer.”
“Fuck… Do you have to say it like that?”
“You want me to sugar-coat the afterlife?” He didn’t wait for an answer before continuing his explanation. “You have been judged. Everything you did in your life was judged. The debt you pay is based on the severity of your actions.”
“You’ve practiced this haven’t you?” A long silence filled the black night around them. Kenu watched the diamond stars shine above him as he considered his situation.
“You’re just a kid, I am sure your debt will be small. You can’t have done anything that bad.”
“What happens to me when I pay back my debt?” The young boy trembled as he contemplated the possible answers to his question.
“You’re done. It’s as simple as that. You pay your debt and your soul goes through some shiny gate somewhere. Someday I hope to see it.” He paused for a moment watching his breath in the cold night air. “At least we get this chance. There are some, those with no good in them at all, that never get this deal. The last thing they know before eternity is a one way ticket south.”
The gravity of the situation was not lost on Kenu despite his age. “So, how many? Souls I mean. How many do I have to take?”
“You tell me kid.” When the big man moved his movements where slow and calculated. Carefully he raised his arm just enough for Kenu to see that he was pointing at his headphones. “The message said your name is phones.”
Kenu cautiously touched the large headphones hanging around his neck.
“I think the names are the company’s idea of a joke. My name was kicks; I had no idea what that meant until my shoes started to glow. My shoe size was glowing red and I realized that was my debt. That was the first time I wished I wore smaller shoes.”
The joke was lost on Kenu as he stopped listening and began playing with the cord attached to his headphones. He wasn’t sure he understood the names, or even that he wanted to. He thought about the situation for what he thought must be a long time, though his conception of time was altered by the fact that time now passed without him. While he contemplated his debt he noticed that his jacket pocket had begun to glow. This was a concerning development, though understandable considering the way his day had been going. He began to inspect the source of the light and realized that his CD player had stopped playing. When he looked closer he saw the screen had frozen, showing only a bright red number 1.
“Well that settles that. Lowest number you could get, I knew you couldn’t have done anything that bad. Any other questions, kid?
“Yeah, how do I know who to take?”
Kicks laughed briefly and stopped to listen to his deep voice echo. “Almost forgot… You have a cell phone?”
Kenu was astounded. Could his cell phone really be the key to his afterlife? The company couldn’t come up with anything better than that? Although, why not have a sense of humor in the afterlife? He slowly pulled his phone from his pocket and presented it to the reaper before him. “Of course I have a cell phone, doesn’t everyone?”
Well… Yeah, that’s kind of the idea. The company sends you a message that has all the details you need about the person you’re looking for. Just have to hope it’s not far away, they think that’s funny sometimes.”
“Have to give them points for creativity.” Kenu hung his head and began to walk away, praying that he not get his message anytime soon.
“One last thing kid…”
“Do I want to know?” Though, he figured it couldn’t really get any worse.
“Probably not, actually.” Kicks looked nervous, and Kenu thought he could see reluctance in the man’s expression.”You get a choice…You can send one back, but only one.”
“That sounds like a perk, what’s wrong with that?”
“Well for one, these people earned this. We have to make deals with them for a reason, they made bad decisions like you and me.”
“If you choose to send someone back… You don’t get to settle your debt.” The silence fell hard between them and Kenu missed a breath. “Trust me kid… It’s worse than it sounds…”
“So I would be a reaper forever? Thank you for the warning Kicks.”
“Yeah… You give someone their life back and you do this forever.” He gritted his teeth as he spoke, with bitterness in his voice. “They give you one last choice; and they make sure it will be the hardest one you ever make.” The large man looked away and let himself stare into the dark horizon for a long time.
Kenu realized there was much more to the man before him than his size. For someone so intimidating he stopped to think a lot. Was he trying to remember something? No, that wasn’t it, he was trying to forget.
For what seemed like ages both men stared silently into the distance, considering the decisions they had made. Nervously Kicks turned to face Kenu again. “Look kid. I’m sorry, I really am. I know this sucks, and honestly it only gets worse from here.”
“It can get worse?” He knew it was a dumb question, and instantly regretted that he asked.
“Trust me kid, it can always get worse.” The large man hung his head and reached out his massive hand.
Kenu took his hand and shook it hard, keeping his head up and voice steady. “It was nice to meet you, Kicks. Though, I wish it had been on better terms.”
Kicks lifted his head and smiled at the boy. “You know phones, you’re a good kid. I will see you around, and don’t hesitate to look for me if you need anything. Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you have to be alone, right?”
“When a life is lost in its prime, the world darkens. A life lost is potential lost.”
Kenu sat watching the clock tower in the center of the business district. The clock ticked, and time passed without him. The frozen wind blew, and carried brown autumn leaves, but never touched his face. The sounds of the dark industrial sites were quite loud, despite the late hour. He stood surround by large machines, each ceaselessly growling their metallic warning. Though he sat at the base of the machines he heard them as if they were in the distant landscape, a faint soundtrack to his darkest night.
Though he had watched the tower’s hands move his heart still skipped when it began to ring, signaling midnight to the oblivious city beyond it.
Kenu stood slowly and began to walk toward the all too familiar city. He couldn’t help but remember things from when he was alive. When you’re dead there isn’t much else to do.
He thought about the time when he stayed up reading to his little sister, and the time he taught her to tie her shoes. Obviously he was a bad enough person in life to earn this lesson, and if it weren’t for his little sister he figured he might not have even gotten the choice.
Kenu allowed his mind to wander as he wandered himself. For the first time he really considered the gravity of the situation he found himself in. What if he couldn’t do it? What if he couldn’t bring himself to reap the soul of another human being? Could he do this forever? Was there any other way?
He quickly became terrified, he didn’t have any answers. As his fear grew the dark night around him began to taunt him. Shadows danced with the frozen breeze, mocking him with their movements. It didn’t take long for him to lose control. Suddenly he let instinct take over and did what any frightened animal does; he ran.
Kenu ran so far and so fast he was sure that he would step off the edge of the world at any second. Impulse guided him toward the only place he remembered feeling safe. All of a sudden he was there, looking in the window of his room. His little sister had fallen asleep in his bed. Kenu figured she probably cried herself to sleep when she learned he had died. He wanted so desperately to tell her it was okay, that he was going to be okay.
Thinking that he should have spent more time with his sister he raised his hand to the window trying to get a better look at his room. When his hand touched the glass his heart sank; his phone was ringing. He knew it was unavoidable; this just seemed a little soon. Kenu’s heart raced and hands trembled as he fumbled for the phone in his pocket. When he was finally able to produce his phone he read the incoming message again and again. “Nickname: Mom. Location: Home.”
“Points for creativity, assholes.” After reading the cryptic message countless times he realized he hadn’t checked on his mother yet. He walked slowly around the back of the small house. His mother was sitting at the table on the porch, crying and holding an empty glass. He sat down beside her as he realized what she was doing. He cried and begged for her to stop, feeling more helpless than ever knowing she couldn’t hear him. As she swallowed the last of her sleeping pills Kenu hung his head and cried.
The sound of the glass shattering seemed to wake them both up. “You know where you are?” He knew this was going to be hard, but never imagined anything like this.
“Who’s there?” She looked around quickly, not seeing her son for a moment. “Kenu?”
“Yeah mom, it’s me.” He couldn’t think of what he was supposed to say next. Realizing that he didn’t remember dying he figured she wouldn’t either. “I’m here because you’re dying mom. I’ve been sent here to show you the truth.”
“I’m sorry, so very sorry.” She began to cry again, harder this time. “I’m so sorry.”
“I’m not angry. Although, you need to understand, you killed yourself here. That is your empty pill bottle on the ground there and that glass broke when you fell asleep. When you wake up you will know this was not a dream because the broken glass will still be there. I need you to think about your daughter, my sister. She deserves to have her mother there to protect her, especially now after losing her brother.”
“Stop apologizing. All I want is for you to make things right when you wake up. Can you do that for me?” He felt like he was the parent, giving the speech.
The small woman simply nodded and hugged him. “I love you.”
“I love you too, mom. I have to go now. I will see you again someday, but not too early okay.” He looked her in the eye and smiled, trying to be as comforting as possible.
She nodded again and couldn’t help but smile as well. She watched as Kenu turned to walk away. When he was just out of sight she woke up to find a pile of broken glass.
Kenu continued to walk, without direction, until the sun began to rise. He knew what he'd did was wrong. By giving his mother her life back he now had to do the company’s dirty work forever. Ultimately, he figured he never had a choice from the beginning. The company knew how to get what they wanted. “Points for creativity, though.”
When the sun finally did rise Kenu found himself walking through the park he played in as a kid. Of course he didn’t expect to see anyone there that early. This made it more of a surprise to see Kicks sitting on the table at the end of the grass.
“Long time no see, kid.” The big man’s voice boomed across the field, despite the early hour. “You want to talk about what you did back there?”
“You saw that huh? No regrets.” He truthfully did not regret the decision he'd made, no matter the consequences.
“You didn’t die because you were sick, you know?” He stopped for a moment wondering if there was a gentle way to explain what happened. “Your mom… she put you out of your misery.”
The cold wind blew one last icy howl as Kenu lifted his face to the sky. “No regrets.”