Touched By Death
This is a short story set in the Firewatcher world about a girl you'll meet later on.
Touched By Death
The wrought iron gate squealed loudly as JD pushed it open. A shiver ran down her back, but she ignored it, she knew she would be safe here. The gate slammed shut behind her and she hitched up her skirts, making her way into the graveyard.
It was a warm spring morning and the sun was shining brightly through the old pine trees that lined the pathway in the graveyard. The gravel crunching underneath her heels and the soft breeze rustling through the leaves were the only sounds to be heard.
The graveyard was one of the oldest graveyards outside York, with graves dating back all the way to the vikings. It was nestled between two grassy hills and a small stream of water cut the graveyard in half. It was kept very neat by the groundskeeper, an elderly man JD had become quite fond of. He let her visit whenever she wanted, no matter the time of day.
The graveyard was completely empty today, not a single living soul moved inside except for JD. She liked it this way, she could talk to her parents in private without getting weird stares from other people, and today of all days she really needed to talk to her parents.
Her parents’ graves were at the far end of the graveyard, underneath a beautiful old pine tree, probably the oldest one in the graveyard. Her whole family was buried underneath that tree.
She tripped, her heel getting caught in the gravel. JD pushed her skirts out of the way, leaning down to pull the white heels from her feet. She walked barefoot the rest of the way, not caring that the gravel hurt her feet. It was a welcome distraction.
JD thought she was alone, but something moved in the corner of her eye and she turned to face whatever it was.
A man was sitting on one of the headstones near the path, his legs crossed underneath him. She had never seen him in the graveyard before, not even in town. He was wearing black lace up boots and black jeans with a simple blue shirt. He didn’t seem uncomfortable on the headstone, it was almost as if he was lounging in mid air.
“It’s a little late in the day for graveyard visits,” he said, cocking his head to one side as he looked at her. He had a handsome face with an easy smile, but his eyes were hollow and black.
“I came to visit my parents,” JD answered, though she didn’t know why. She didn’t normally talk to strangers.
“Ain’t no one here but me sweetheart,” he drawled. Definitely American, from the south maybe. JD sighed, looking around her. She knew her parents weren’t there the moment she stepped into the graveyard, but she was hoping they would come when she reached their graves. Her shoulders slumped, and she was unsure of what to do next. “Looks like you need someone to talk to,” the man observed.
JD nodded slowly, pushing a stray curl of black hair out of her face. She wasn’t sure she trusted the man, she didn’t trust many people, but he was a ghost, so who was he going to talk to besides her?
“Come on, let’s go sit somewhere where we can’t ruin that pretty dress of yours,” he winked at her before hopping off the headstone. JD looked down at her white wedding dress, tears suddenly forming in her eyes.
Yes, wouldn’t want to ruin it, she thought bitterly.
JD followed the man deeper into the graveyard, ducking underneath low branches and carrying her train and shoes in one hand. They walked in silence until they reached a small clearing with a stone bench in the middle of it. The man sat down on the bench, patting the spot next to him for JD to sit down. She left her shoes on the ground next to the bench before slowly sitting down, smoothing out her skirt.
“Why don’t you tell me your story?” He asked.
“I don’t even know your name,” JD said. She at least wanted to know the name of the man she was about to tell her life story to.
“My friends call me Pistol.”
“Please don’t tell me it’s because you were a serial killer?”
Pistol laughed and shook his head. “Nope, it’s because I was the best shot in the Union.”
JD raised her eyebrows. “How did you get on this side of the pond?”
“I asked for your story sweetheart, you are the one in a wedding dress in a graveyard. My story can wait.” Pistol leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Where do I even start?” JD asked, leaning her elbows on her knees and putting her head in her hands.
“The beginning is normally a good place to start a story,” Pistol offered.
“The beginning huh…”
“You are never coming near me AGAIN!” Dixie yelled as she squeezed Nathan’s hand. “NEVER!”
Nathan just nodded, humouring his pregnant wife. Dixie yelled again as the doctor instructed her to push, and Nathan was sure he was never going to sleep with his wife again after this. After two children you’d think the woman would finally go for a c-section or an epidural, but she insists on natural birth. Nathan just let her crush his hand, praying to God that she won’t break it.
“One more push Mrs Dace,” the doctor instructed and Dixie yelled loudly, pushing with everything in her, pain coursing through her.
In a moment it was done, the pain gone, replaced by something else.
“Where is she?” Dixie demanded, knowing full and well that her child was not inside of her anymore. Nathan craned his neck to look. “Why isn’t she crying?” Dixie was near hysterical, and this time both of them were squeezing each other’s hands equally hard.
“She’s not breathing, no pulse,” the doctor said, and suddenly the room was a buzz of activity. Nurses and other doctors streamed in as they took the tiny body away. Crash carts came rolling through the door as everyone shouted instructions.
“No! NO!” Dixie clung to Nathan to stop herself from getting up off the bed and saving her little girl herself. Nathan’s heart felt like it was about to combust. He could not handle the loss of his daughter’s life before she even had a chance to live.
“Charge to 300, clear.”
“SAVE HER! YOU SAVE MY DAUGHTER!” Dixie shouted and Nathan wrapped his arms around her, afraid she might hurt herself. She was sobbing, the pain was too much.
The room grew silent, as if it was holding it’s breath.
“Time of death-”
“Wait! We have a pulse, sinus rhythm!”
“Wait, so you were born dead?” Pistol asked, shoving some popcorn into his mouth.
“Where did you get that?” JD asked, raising her brows at his popcorn.
“Not important,” he replied. “Continue.”
“I was stillborn yes, though the doctors don’t know why. I was fine before my mother went into labour. Something must have gone wrong during delivery, because I was dead when I was born.” JD sighed, reaching into her hair to pull the pins out of her side bun, letting the black curls fall free. The pins were hurting her head, and she had a feeling that she would be in the graveyard for a while. “Just as the doctor was about to call time of death, my heart started beating. They called it a medical miracle, because I was very dead, and then for no apparent reason I came back to life.”
“Sounds to me like you were very lucky,” Pistol said and JD couldn’t help but laugh.
“I should have stayed dead.”
“What are we going to call her?” Nathan asked a while later. The doctors and nurses had put their little girl through every test underneath the sun, but there was nothing wrong with her. She was perfectly healthy.
“I don’t know,” Dixie answered, looking down at the baby she almost lost today. Large green eyes stared back at her, the same shade of her father’s.
“How about Jade?” Nathan asked, wrapping his arms tighter around his wife.
“I like Jade,” Dixie nodded in approval. “How about Danica for her middle name? After your mother?”
Nathan smiled and nodded. “Welcome to the world Jade Danica Dace.”
“That’s not a nice thing to say,” Pistol said as he munched on his popcorn. JD’s stomach rumbled, she hadn’t eaten all day. She was supposed to be at her reception right now, stuffing her face with wedding cake. Pistol offered her some popcorn, but JD waved it away.
“Things didn’t exactly get better after I came back to life, only two years later I lost my sister.”
“Come on Jade, be a good girl and put your shoes on,” Nathan instructed his daughter. Jade was laying on the bed, her tiny little feet up in the air. She kept kicking them whenever he tried to put her shoes on and if she kept at it any longer they were going to be late. Nathan had a pounding headache and an even worse heartache. He had to keep it together today, for his wife and children. “Help daddy out please,” he begged his two year old daughter. Jade looked at him with those green eyes of hers, eyes he sometimes found a little disturbing. She was only two, but it always felt like she could look right through you, like she was seeing your soul. She was an intelligent baby, that’s for sure. She had a certain understanding in her eyes as well, as if she knew more about the universe than anyone else, like she had it figured out. She kept her feet stil and Nathan managed to pull her shoes on.
“Thank you,” he sighed, lifting her up and kissing her nose. She rested one of her hands on his cheek, almost as if she was trying to comfort him. Nathan had a feeling Jade knew what had happened to Alice. The infant wouldn’t stop crying ever since her sister passed away. It drove Dixie mad, but no one could stay angry with Jade for long. Nathan had a feeling Jade knew today was the funeral, or that they were going to say their final goodbyes today, because she had finally stopped crying.
“Daddy?” A small voice came from the door and Nathan turned to see Henry standing in the door. The five year old was dressed in a suit that was slightly too big for him, and his nose was red from blowing it too many times. Henry’s black hair was sticking out in every direction imaginable, there was just no taming his hair.
“What is it Henry?”
“Mommy won’t come out of the bathroom,” Henry said, his eyes fixed on Jade. She reached for her brother and he took a few steps forward. Nathan walked over to him, carefully handing Jade to him.
“Sit down here and hold Jade tight okay? I’ll be right back with Mommy,” Nathan instructed his son. He watched as the little boy sat down on the rocking chair, hugging Jade tightly to his chest.
“I won’t let anything happen to you Jade, I’ll always protect you,” Henry whispered to his sister and Nathan could feel his chest tightening.
Just get through today, he told himself, making his way to the bathroom.
“Dixie?” He asked through the door before opening it slightly. Dixie was curled up on the floor, her hands wrapped around her tiny body. He could hear her sobbing, but he knew she didn’t have anymore tears left to give. He walked in, leaning down next to his wife and scooping her up in his arms. She was light as a feather, she had lost so much weight since Alice got taken in to hospital.
“We’ll get through this baby, I promise,” he whispered into her hair, kissing her head as he made his way to their bedroom.
“My first baby…” Dixie whispered, clinging to his chest. She was not ready to say goodbye to her first baby.
“I know,” Nathan said, pushing the door to their bedroom open and placing Dixie down on the bed. She looked at him with her deep brown eyes drowning in sadness. “I can’t do this.”
“You have to baby, it’s time.” They had been putting the funeral off for weeks, trying to act normal, but they just couldn’t live like that anymore.
“We have to go say goodbye.”
“I can’t say goodbye Nathan,” Dixie closed her eyes again, sobs raking through her chest.
“Goodbye just means until we meet again baby,” Nathan reached over, cupping Dixie’s cheeks and kissing them softly. “And we will meet her again.”
“That’s rough,” Pistol said, dabbing his eyes with a tissue, that he also seemed to have conjured out of thin air.
“My sister, Alice, died of brain cancer at age 6. My parents never got over her death, I don’t think anyone of us did.” JD was too young to remember her sister, but she always felt like there was a hole in her life that only a sister would be able to fill. She would often find herself wondering what it would have been like to have a sister. Henry was great, the best older brother she could ever ask for, but he wasn’t a girl. Her mother was always a little distant after Alice’s death, but JD still loved her dearly, she just couldn’t talk to her. She needed someone she could have some girl talk with.
“She was a sweet girl,” Pistol said. JD raised her head, looking at him sideways.
“How do you know?”
“We’ll get to that, continue your story.”
“Your tie is on wrong,” Jade told her brother when she caught him coming down the stairs. He was dressed in a suit that was slightly too big for him and his black hair stood out in every different direction. “Let me fix it.”
She walked over to him, not meeting his eyes as she pulled his tie from his neck to fasten it around hers. When she was finished she pulled the tie over her head and handed it to him.
“Thanks,” he mumbled underneath his breath. Jade nodded, turning on her heel and walking back into the kitchen. She grabbed her black umbrella and her coat before joining her brother in the foyer again. She made sure to grab extra tissues, she just couldn’t stop crying.
“Let’s get this over with,” Henry mumbled, walking Jade out the front door. They had been to one too many funerals in their short lifetime. Their father passed away three years ago when Jade was just 12 years old. He had a heart disease and never recovered from his last heart attack. After their father’s death their mother went into a comatose state. She wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t move from her bed. Eventually they didn’t know what to do with her anymore, she was starving herself and not getting any better, so they called in professional help. She was fifteen now, her brother had just turned eighteen and they were burying their mother. Nathan and Dixie were only 26 when they lost their first child, 36 when Nathan passed away, and Dixie was 39 when she passed. Neither of them made it to forty, and Jade had a sneaking suspicion that she and her brother wouldn’t last very long either. She had figured out long ago that death followed her family and took everyone she loved away from her. She was touched by death, and death was angry. It started when she was born dead, and then miraculously came back to life. She was dead, she belonged to death, but she had the nerve to live again. Death was angry that it couldn’t have her, so it would take her family. At least that’s how she saw it. Henry tries to convince her that none of this is her fault. It’s not her fault that Alice got cancer. It’s not her fault dad had a heart condition. It’s not her fault that mom went mental.
Outside it was dull and dreary, with a slight drizzle. Jade hunched her shoulders and made her way to her brother’s car. She cried when her father died, she cried for days, weeks, months on end, and one day it just stopped. She had no more tears left to cry, not even for other things like watching Titanic or breaking her arm. She just stopped crying.
She tried to cry when her mother died, but she was dry. It hurt, she was only fifteen and she had lost her mommy. It hurt so badly. It felt like someone pushed a white hot knife through her chest and carved out her heart. She couldn’t breathe without her chest hurting.
She opened the car door, sliding into the seat as her brother slid in next to her.
“Jade…” He didn’t know what to say to her anymore, nothing was going to help the pain that they felt.
“She’s in a better place. She’s with Dad and Alice now.” Jade leaned against the window, closing her eyes. Soon she and Henry would be with the rest of their family too.
“JD I’m so sorry,” Pistol leaned over, placing a hand on JD’s shoulder. JD straightened up, a chill running down her spine. She felt his cool hand against her skin and she flinched away.
“Ghosts can’t touch people,” she told him.
“I’m not a ghost,” he said, pulling his arm back. “When did you first realise you could talk to ghosts?”
JD frowned, suddenly afraid of the man. He was not a ghost, but he knew she could talk to them, and he certainly was not human.
“I am not going to hurt you JD,” he said, seeing the distrust in her eyes, “I’m just here to listen.”
JD thought about it for a moment before answering. “When I was five grandma came to visit. All of my grandparents died before I was born. Grandma played with me outside the whole day, and when my mother came to call me I asked why grandma doesn’t visit more often. Then my mother explained all of my grandparents had passed away. I kept grandma’s visits to myself after that.”
“And what happened to Henry?”
“Hey loser, wanna go hang out at the waterfall this afternoon, Henry and Jax said they’d meet us there.” Candice slung her arm around Jade’s shoulder as they walked across campus. They were late for maths, but they couldn’t care less. Who needs maths anyway?
“I don’t know dude, I kinda have a date with Netflix after class,” Jade told her best friend. The two of them met on the first day of orientation two years ago and they’ve been thick as thieves ever since. At first Jade thought Candice was a little weird, but it turns out she was a good kind of weird. Jade couldn’t stop laughing when she was with Candice and she trusted her with everything in the world. When Jade decided to go to collage in London her brother was very opposed to the idea. He didn’t want her that far away from him. He made a promise that he would always be there for her and he was going to keep that promise. Jade didn’t have many friends throughout high school. She believed that death was after her and her family, and that death would pick off everyone she loved one by one. It took some convincing, mostly by Henry, for her to finally drop the silly idea. Jade really wanted to get out of York. All the ghosts of her past were there and she needed some place new, some fresh perspective. Her brother agreed, but only on the condition that they both move to London. He was a project manager for a big software company, so he could work from anywhere. Jade agreed and the two of them moved to London to start their new lives.
She was now in her second year of her studies, pursuing a degree in education. Candice wanted to become an accountant. About a year ago Candice started dating Henry. At first Jade didn’t approve, she was sure one of them would get hurt and she wasn’t going to lose either of them over a relationship that didn’t work out. Jade loved Candice and Henry, she didn’t want to lose them. Over time Jade got used to the idea, and Candice and Henry told her that they were in this for the long run, no matter what. As Jade got more comfortable at university she started to really come into herself. She was on several committees at the collage and she was an A+ student. She met her boyfriend, Jax, at a bonfire one night and the rest was history. She was happy in her life, she had a great, loving family.
“Candice fell off the waterfall later that day, broke her neck. She died instantly,” JD told Pistol. She closed her eyes, pushing the pain away. Candice was her first real friend, her best friend, her sister, and to lose her like that, so fast, it was excruciating. “And two months after Candice’s death, Henry shot himself. The only thing that kept me going was Jax, and I even tried to push him away…”
“LET GO OF ME JAX!” Jade yelled, thrashing around in his arms. Tears were streaming down her face for the first time in years as she stood beneath the pine tree, looking at the graves of all her family members. She had literally lost everyone and she wasn’t even 21 yet.
Grace Danica White-Dace
Jonathan George Dace
Claire Alice Thomson-Blake
Nathan Henry Dace
Dixie Claire Blake-Dace
All of them were there, her entire family, in the ground beneath one stupid pine tree.
“I’m not letting you go JD!” Jax said, his arms tightening around her. He didn’t understand, she had to get away from him. He was the only one she had left in this world and she was not going to let death take him from her. She was not going to let death win.
“You have to Jax, you HAVE to!” She yelled, trying to get away from him but he was too strong for her. “I can’t lose you, I can’t…” she sobbed, trying to push away from him.
“You won’t, I promise you won’t,” Jax whispered in her ear, trying to get her to calm down. Things have not been easy since Henry passed away. He was the only family she had left, he was the one she depended on and now he was just gone. He broke the one promise he made to Jade, and Jax knew she would never fully recover.
“Please Jade, calm down, I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.”
“I didn’t believe him, I couldn’t. I was sure death would take him away from me too.”
“Did it?” Pistol asked, running a hand through his hair. The sun was starting to set behind the trees and the graveyard was growing colder. Most spirits could only come out at night, and soon the graveyard would be crawling with them. JD rubbed her bare arms to generate some heat and shook her head.
“Surprisingly it did not. We were supposed to get married today. April 25th, the day my parents got married.”
“Guess it didn’t work out that way huh?” Pistol gestured to her wedding gown before conjuring a jacket up and draping it over her shoulders.
“He left me at the altar,” JD said coolly. She was numb to the pain. She had had enough of this bullshit they called life. She was giving up, God or whatever cosmic force was at work in the universe won. She was calling it quits. She was coming to see her parents and to tell them that she would be joining them soon, but now she had a feeling things were going to turn out differently.
“Who are you, really?” She asked Pistol and he gave her a sly smile.
“I’m glad you asked. Come on.” He stood up off the bench, holding his hand out to her. JD didn’t really care what happened to her from this point on, so she reached out and took it.
Pistol led her to an ancient part of the graveyard where the headstones were broken and covered with moss and debris. He kicked around for a while, removing the overgrowth from one of the headstones. “Take a look,” he told JD.
She leaned in, reading the name on the headstone.
“Daniel Emmerson, died 1866. So you are American, and a ghost?”
Daniel shook his head. “No ma’am, not a ghost. I am American, but not a ghost. After the war I followed a pretty lady over to England, and I got shot a year later in this very town. Like you, my life was surrounded by death, but I’m here to tell you something.”
JD raised her brows. “Do tell?”
“You are not touched by death. Death was not out to get you. You were touched by life, given a second chance without really getting a first one. You were not born to die my dear, you were born to defy death and become it.”
“I…I don’t understand,” JD said. It felt like someone had knocked all the air out of her lungs. What was this madman blabbing on about. “You’re not making sense.”
“I’m making perfect sense sweetheart, you just gotta listen to me. I’m what some would call a Grim Reaper, we just call ourselves Reapers. We are death. When the sands of time run out on the human clock, we collect their souls and return them to heaven. It’s that simple.”
JD blinked, staring out in front of her. “I need to sit down,” she said, not caring about her dress. Her knees were about to give in anyway so she just sat down on the dirty ground. She dropped her head in her hands, trying to make sense of it all.
“The Grim Reaper is real?”
“Does that mean there’s a God?”
Daniel nodded. “There is a God, there are angels and demons too, and the demon traitors who call themselves Firewatchers, and double crossers who call themselves Pyromancers.”
Daniel sighed, as if he was a teacher trying to teach a simple concept to a difficult student. “Before God and his Angels existed, there was only darkness in this universe. Darkness and Death. Then God and his Angels brought light into the universe, creating it, shaping it to His will. God had plans to create a race in his image, and he instructed his Angels to do so.
Human souls are made out of the cores of the first stars in the universe. Each one is unique, each one is different.
During creation God instructed his Angels to serve mankind instead of him, and there was one Angel who just could not phantom the idea. Lucifer wanted to destroy humanity, so using the dark force in the universe, he corrupted the souls of humans. The Angels managed to stop him, and God banished Lucifer, his followers, and his dark ones to hell. Some souls the Angels saved, but they were impure, dirty, touched by darkness. God instructed his Angels to send those souls to earth anyway, because he knew one day they would be needed, but that is not the story you want to hear.”
JD’s head was spinning and she felt like she was going to be sick. “So basically, Lucifer got jealous of the humans and tried to corrupt them. The Angels swooped in and saved a few dirty souls. Right?”
Daniel touched his nose and nodded. “Correct. As you know, God can overcome death, but he wanted there to be balance in the universe. There cannot be darkness without the light, and there cannot be light without darkness. So God and Death sat down and had a discussion. Death was to take the human souls whose time is up on earth to heaven.
Now what you have to remember is that all human souls are pure, except the ones Lucifer corrupted. The souls he corrupted turned into demons. Now I know it may not seem like it, but all human souls are pure. Think of the human soul as a glass bottle, it can get a little dirty on the outside, but inside it’s still squeaky clean. That’s why there are bad humans, and good ones, but in essence, all souls are pure.”
JD nodded. She still felt her head was going to explode, but at least it made some sense.
“Now when Lucifer corrupted the souls, he corrupted them on the inside. He poured Coke into the bottle, making it black. That’s why all humans go to heaven, their souls are pure. The corrupted ones became demons. Got it?”
“You should have told me I needed a notepad to write the history lesson down on.”
“Funny. Tell me what you’ve learned.”
JD sighed before reciting everything. “Human souls are pure, Lucifer corrupted some during creation. He got kicked into hell along with his demon spawn. God made a deal with Death that he woud be the one to bring human souls to heaven.”
“Correct, good. Now as you know there are Angels who oversee Death, but no one is really in charge of the guy. He just follows the laws of the universe. Now, Death needed some help. The population was growing, humans were dying, it was too much for one man. That’s when God gave Death a few human souls to use. Death touched these souls and turned them into Reapers, giving them the same abilities he has. Death touched your soul, hence why you are going to become a Reaper.”
“I’m going to be a Reaper? As in kill people?”
Daniel nodded. “Every person on earth has a timer, when the timer runs out it’s our job to dispose of the human body and take the soul up to heaven.”
JD sat in stunned silence for a while, just letting the information seep in. She was touched by death, to become death. Her whole life she lived in preparation for her one true calling; killing people. It sounded ridiculous, but it had to be true. She spent her whole life dealing with death and the aftermath, and now she was going to be death. God and Angels, Demons and Death, Heaven and Hell, it was all real and she somehow fit into the bigger cosmic picture.
“So where do we fit on the supernatural food chain?” JD asked after a while.
“That’s a difficult question to answer. Basically God’s on top, with Death directly beneath him. Also beneath God, but parallel to Death are the Archangels. Underneath the Archangels are regular Angels, and Guardian Angels. Underneath Guardian Angels are the Firewatchers. We’ll not get into where Lucifer fits at the moment, and Reapers are underneath Death.”
JD wanted to ask what the hell a Firewatcher was, but she was too concerned with where she fit in.
“So we work for Death, not Angels or Demons.”
“We work for Death, for God. Angels and Demons have way too much politics. Death is not a political matter, that is why God didn’t give the job to his Angels.”
“I think I’m going to pass out,” JD said, holding her head. Her day had gone from being left at the altar to finding out she was a Reaper way too fast.
“Pass out all you want sweetheart, we’ve got all the time in the world.”