THE SOUL TO TAKE

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CHAPTER FOUR

Anna wasn't in the murky lake anymore, she wasn't holding the angles hand, and she wasn't in his stomach. She was standing in the middle of a cold concrete island surrounded by black water. Hundreds of other people were either standing, or walking around her. They all looked different, but they had one thing in common- they all had confusion written on their faces.

Anna glanced down at her hands and was surprised that she could no longer see through them. Did that make her whole again, or was she still a ghost? And did ghost have solid form? These were questions that Anna didn't have answers for.

Her eyes scanned the island. She looked beyond the people to a wooden dock. A long boat was stationed at the dock, but Anna was too far away to see any real details. What she could see was a line forming from the boat all the way to where she was standing. It was weird how silent everyone was. Absolutely silent. It was like they each had been spellbound and made to move forward as mindless zombies, only without all the moaning and groaning. Anna opened her mouth to say something to the stranger in front of her but she gave forth no audible words. She then tried to shout, but heard nothing but silence. She had not ability to make any sound in this place!

As Anna got closer to the boat, she noticed something strange about the water. Something silver was catching her eye. Her first thought was that a school of fish was swimming in circles, but as she leaned down to get a closer look, what she saw made her jump. It wasn't fish, it was souls. She caught a glimpse of hair, hands, and feet. And these souls would suddenly disappear then reappear. Their movement wasn't particularly fast or slow, and they were as one with the water, hardly a distinction. They just flowed with the current without any particular destination that Anna could see. It was sad to think they were destined to drift along for all eternity, and Anna was determined not to become one of them, not if she could help it.

Anna had been so caught up in the souls floating along in the water, that she didn't realize the line had moved forward and her with it. There were only three people in front of Anna and the boat, and now that she was up close, she could better see the details of the boat, it was creepy. The boat was made out of bones. Human flesh was stitched together to make the sails. Anna could see individual arm bones, leg bones, torsos, and every other bone that belonged in the human body, forming the floor, sides, and masts of the boat.

She really did not want to get on the boat and apparently, she wasn't the only one. The woman in front of her was refusing to get on and holding her ground, even when some strange looking creature proceeded to poke her with a spear. To Anna, the creature was even more frightening than the boat. She couldn't tell the gender of the creature, but it was short, and furry, had long pointed ears, beady soulless black eyes, long red tipped fangs, a long bumpy snout, and it had hands for feet.

Anna watched in horror as the woman stared wide eyed at a white hazy mist that encased her. Her mouth was open in a silent scream as her flesh was stripped from her body, her bones twisted and crumpled, and all that was left of her was a frail silver puddle.

The puddle trickled toward the water that surrounded the island. It dawned on Anna that the souls floating in the water were the unfortunate souls that didn't get on the boat. The beady eyed creature turned to Anna next, but she didn't need any nudging, she was already halfway up the ramp to the boat. The woman's fate was not going to be hers. Wherever the boat was going had to be better than having her soul drift at sea.

Upon boarding the boat, Anna was greeted by a grotesque man. He had long, thin, gray hair that hung halfway down his back. She could see the white of his bones beneath his rotting flesh. If she was prone to sensitive gag reflexes, then she would have upchucked right then and there, when a piece of his flesh slid down his face and landed on her foot.

The man's eyes were pure white with red veins snaking every which way in his eyeballs. From his cheeks down there was no flesh, only bone. Thankfully Anna didn't have to see the rest of him, since he was wearing a long red cloak that covered him from the neck down. Anna wanted nothing more than get as far away from the him as possible. If she were capable of smelling, she was sure he would smell like a rotten corpse. Just looking at him made her sick to her stomach.

Anna chose to stand at the back of the boat (The alternative was to stand at the front of the boat next to a row of smiling skills that the other passengers were using for seats), as it departed. She was beginning to think that the afterlife sucked just as much as being alive had.

I guess, when you die, it creates a whole other set of problems. Anna thought.

It was a feeling like she had been on the boat forever, when it finally docked. The dock was nothing special, but what it led to was very curious.

Anna followed the people in front of her off the boat, to the dock, and up a flight of stairs to reach a swinging bridge.

When Anna had been alive she had hated crossing swinging bridges (she sincerely doubted that dying lessened her hate for swinging bridges though). As far as bridges went, this one looked in need of a good repair man. The bridge was too narrow to have more than a few people cross at a time.

She stayed on the dock and watched the four people in front of her take their first steps on the broken down bridge. She wasn't in a big hurry to cross the rickety bridge, especially after she saw something disturbing happen to the first two of the four crossing the bridge before her.

What she saw was a giant slimy tentacle rise up out of the water. At first glance it appeared to be an octopus tentacle, but instead of suction cups it had millions of hands. The hands on the tentacles grabbed an elderly man and a young woman. It gripped them so tight their eye balls bulged from their sockets. The man and woman opened their mouths, but no sound came out. However, Anna knew it was possible to make sounds at this point, because she had gasped out loud upon seeing the tentacles. She could only guess that the pressure from the hands on the tentacles had ruptured their vocal cords.

Anna watched as the tentacles slowly retracted and they could no longer be seen.

“It was their fault; you can't hesitate when you cross the bridge,” a voice said behind her.

She didn't have to turn around to know who it was. His voice sounded like nails on chalkboard to her.

“How do you not hesitate, when crossing that bridge?” Anna wondered out loud.

The grotesque man, who she discovered was the ferry man, placed his rotten hand on her shoulder. The contact sent fear and dread through every fiber of her system.

“Dear child, we have all crossed the bridge. The key is to believe in yourself. Weak souls do not fare well here in the underworld. Remember that, and you will be fine.”

It was weird having to take advice from the very man that had just ferried her across a lake full of souls, and escorted her to a bridge that made her body shake in fear.

“Thanks,” Anna said weakly.

She was grateful for his advice, but at the same time, she worried that she wouldn't be able to heed it. She didn't dwell on this, however, because she had just noticed that the next two people in front of her had disappeared from the bridge, and it was now her turn.

She tried not to hesitate, so she turned her thoughts to what awaited her on the other side of the bridge. Keeping her steps uniform, she hoped not to falter. Still, she continued her mind on what lay ahead and it did get her successfully across the bridge and to a door that took her breath away, had she been able to alive to breath, that is. It was crazy beautiful and shimmered with pure gold. There was no knob, nothing to open it with.

She couldn't just stand there holding up the other souls, so Anna did the only logical thing she could think of-she stepped through the door.

Once her body passed through and she came out to the other side, she felt cleansed. She also found that much of her past had been forgotten. She literally couldn't remember much about her old life. She was fully aware only of the here and now and it felt good.

The first thing she noticed was that the angel, who had been with her when she had died, was questioned, since here he was, standing beside and empty throne with his hands behind his back. Another thing she noticed was a giant, gold scale sitting in front of a fifty-six inch flat-screen TV, and it was was floating in the air.

“You will be silent until called for,” He said.

Anna nodded, so he knew that she understood his statement. She kind of figured that he was waiting on everyone else to come through the door, or at least those who hadn't hesitated. She had every intention of complying with her death angels command to be silent, but her mouth just wouldn't obey.

“You were there when I died! Who are you?”

He furrowed his eyebrows and attempted a look that Anna guessed was meant to be stern.

“I told you to be silent,” He said.

The tone of his voice was flat and didn’t reveal anything to her about him and what he would do if she continued to disobey him.

“Sorry, but seriously, who are you? Why were you there when I died?” Anna pressed him.

He sighed and rubbed his temples. Anna couldn't help but to notice how sexy he looked in his plain black t-shirt and black studded jeans. She noticed a black rose tattooed on the right side of his neck and his hair had changed from the last time she had seen him. It now had red tips and was no longer long, but spiky. His eyes; those eyes were what had captivated her when she had first encountered him and made her want to go to him.

“I have many names, but may call me Kyrain, and I am only a servant to the ruler of the underworld, which is where you are, in case you hadn't noticed. Obviously, I was with you when you died, because I was collecting your soul. I am a collector, after all,” He said in the same flat tone.

The process of the jewels and critters was repeated until Jane fell to her knees out of exhaustion. The scales wobbled back and forth until the side with the critters tipped down. The flat screen TV came to life and displayed Jane's good and bad deeds both. Anna was surprised at how bad one little six year old girl could be.

A door beneath Jane opened and she fell into darkness.

“That's unfortunate. Jason Kruger,” Shiva called without remorse for the girl.

A rough looking man stepped forward. He had tattoos and piercing all over his face and body. The man looked about as gangster as it got. He did the same routine as Jane had done, bowing to Shiva and then walking to the scales. Jason went through the same process of the jewels and critters only his scale favored the jewels. The TV was still, and he stepped through a bright white doorway which appeared as soon as the scales tipped in his favor.

“Anna Darling,” Shiva called.

Anna looked around, hoping there was someone else with that name. Unfortunately, she was the one and only one left for judgment. She tried not to let her fear show as her feet carried her to Shiva. Anna gave the queen a small bow and walked to the scales. This is what everyone feared when they died. They feared that they hadn't done enough goodness in the world to be welcomed into the pearly gates. It was the same fear Anna was feeling now. Standing in front of these scales made every other fear and worry she had ever had seem trivial on comparison to what she was feeling now.

She waited for the jewels to tumble from her mouth, but they never came. Instead the scales were filled with repulsive critters.

What the hell could I have done that has been so bad?

Anna couldn't think of a single thing. Her eyes shot up to watch the flat screen TV. She saw everything. For the first time, she saw her birth parents as they gave her up, she saw her sad life with her foster parents, she saw a total of three guys-the only guys Anna had ever dated, and a bunch of ex-friends that had walked out of her life. She saw herself on the phone with Donna, and the last thing she saw before the TV switched off, was her body plunging into the water.

“I didn't see one bad deed on there. This shit is rigged,” Anna said.

Shiva laughed, “It's not about what you did but rather what you didn't do. Anna, you had the potential to save a lot of lives and I don't mean the ones you talked to on the phone. Had you gotten over your issues, and applied your knowledge to the world, you would have been great. But you hid behind your insecurities and let your talents go to waste. Besides, my scales never lie,” Shiva's words felt dark.

Anna had no idea what the queen was talking about. As far as Anna was concerned, she had no talents and she definitely didn't have the power to save anyone, let alone herself, obviously.

Anna swelled with defiance and so kept her mouth shut and waited fro the trap door to open up. The longer she waited, with the queen's black eyes staring into her eyes, the more anxious she got.

“Anna, what do you have to say for yourself?” Shiva said, irritated at Anna’s blatant disrespect of silence.

Anna only had one thing to say, “Your trap door is broken.”


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