In the Rain
Four men stood in the torrential rain of a hot southern summer night, three facing the one with the styling gel in his dirty blond hair washing away and his long bangs hanging in front of his grey eyes. That young man in his mid-twenties was Hank. Blood trickled from his busted lip and internal bleeding. A knife protruded from Hank’s chest. More blood oozed out from around it.
The three others stood in silence at what had just transpired. The one nearest to Hank still had his trembling arm extended toward him. Hank dropped to one knee. The others stepped back.
“You did it,” one said. “You got him.”
The other patted the attacker’s back. “You’re one of us now.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I did it. I did it!”
Hank felt a chill that did not fade and looked from the knife in his chest to the three high-fiving men over him. Not like this. He quickly jerked the knife out and ran his enemies, shoving the knife into the throat of the nearest one. Then he ripped it out and slit the next one’s throat.
The third snapped out of it and raised an arm to block what would have been another fatal attack from Hank. The two struggled as the other two thugs writhed around in puddles. The third was steadily gaining the upper hand, so Hank kicked his leg out from under him and the two fell over. The knife clattered away.
The fall put Hank on top of the third, and he unleashed a barrage of punches on him to keep it that way. In this fashion, Hank beat his assailant to death. The other two stopped moving at about the same time.
Hank could not stand. Instead he crawled a short ways from the bodies before he too collapsed on his back. He gave his chest another look. His white shirt had completely turned dark red. Too bad. It was a nice shirt.
The rain felt colder.
The night grew darker.
Hank’s eyes began to shut.
Then time froze. Raindrops floated in midair. All went quiet. Hank painfully looked around in confusion.
A pillar of black smoke arose on the sidewalk nearby and materialized into a large doorway. The two symmetrical heavy wooden doors had nothing but death carved into them. Skulls, corpses, and weapons throughout time covered almost every inch of it.
The doors creaked open. There was nothing but darkness within. A barely visible silhouette appeared, and then stepped out of that darkness. If Hank didn’t know any better, he’d say it was the grim reaper. A skeleton in black robes and a hood crossed the threshold and approached Hank’s attackers. One by one its hands went to their throats and when it pulled up, it was not their bodies that rose, but their spectral forms. The reaper dragged their souls to the dark doorway and let them simply fall in. Hank could not tell what happened to them after that.
And then it faced Hank. Hank wanted to get up and run, but he found himself immobile. Slow and menacingly, the reaper walked over and put its hand to Hank throat.
The reaper pulled, but Hank’s soul did not rise. The reaper seemed as taken aback as a faceless skeleton could seem, but tried again, to no avail. After its third attempt, it stepped back. Hank let himself relax for a moment.
Then the reaper reached into its robes. For its scythe? Hank wondered. But instead it pulled out a flip phone and started texting.
After its message sent it waited patiently, occasionally looking back through the doorway. The phone beeped, and the reaper started typing again.
Whatever the reaper had called for arrived. Heavy footsteps sounded from the darkness, and then a ghostly pale woman in magnificent black medieval armor emerged. She had long flowing silver hair and glowing blue irises.
“What is it?” she asked the reaper. Her voice was smooth and almost melodic. The reaper pointed at Hank without averting its eyes from his screen. The armored woman walked straight to Hank and lifted him to his feet with one hand. Her brilliant eyes stared into Hank’s.
“I see,” she said after a few seconds of gazing. “That was a good death.” She began poking and prodding Hank all over. “Hmm. Fit. Intelligent." She grabbed Hank's cheeks and moved his head around. "Surprisingly average. A warrior at heart. And not ready to die.”
“Not yet,” Hank was able to say. His eyebrows raised when he found he could speak. In addition, he could stand on his own and the pain subsided.
“Feel better?” the woman asked.
“What’s going on?” Hank poked his injury. No pain.
“You are welcome, and you are dead. You should know that. You were just stabbed in the heart after all. You are strong indeed to have fought back the way you did.”
Hank pointed to the gateway. “I’m not going in there.”
“That is not up to you.” The woman walked around Hank, still examining. “That is up to me. But I will not force that upon you just yet. You see, I am in need of assistance.”
“And if I help you, I don’t, you know, pass on?”
Hank sighed. “What do I have to do?”
“You have no objections?”
“You know damn well my hands are tied.”
The woman smiled as she stopped in front of Hank. “You make this sound like blackmail.”
“It is an unfortunate situation. You died, Hank Grayson. That was your fate on this day. But now… You changed things.”
“Changed what? My fate?”
The woman put a hand to her chin and squinted. “Yes, your ultimate destiny. Death is finality, yet you were able to resist that.” The woman turned to the reaper and waved it away. The skull nodded and took its leave back through the doorway. “I will call upon you when your wounds have healed. Try to stay out of trouble until then.”
Rain continued its fall. The woman and the doorway disappeared in the blink of an eye. Intense pain returned, and Hank fell again to the ground, and into darkness.
He awoke in a hospital bed, sore but dry and warm. Doctors and nurses were bustling about. He expected to see a comforting nurse standing beside him, ready to announce his awakening. Instead he watched two police officers walk in with a nervous nurse behind them.
They collected their report and Hank told the truth that he knew: that he was attacked on his way home at night. The officers relayed that the men were gangsters and that a killing was an induction into that gang. Wrong place, wrong time for Hank.
Reports arrived later. The survival story was entertaining enough to last the weekend on the local news. Detail was assigned outside of Hank’s door in case of a revenge killing until he was permitted to leave a few days later.
So then it was back to work as usual. Hank still had to take it easy for a little while but his office job assured little to no physical stress. The mental stress however was what got to Hank. The young man sat in his cubicle as he did every day, in his collared shirt and necktie, and kept the real work minimized beneath the little side project he was working on. Footsteps neared, and he switched back to what he was supposed to be doing until they subsided.
Hank did manage to get some work done before his eyes began to droop. He made for the break room for coffee, nodding and smiling at his coworkers along the way. The room was tiny. Just a sink, refrigerator, microwave, a few cabinets, and a round table that barely fit four. And of course, the little coffee maker. Hank grabbed a cup and started pouring.
Nothing came out. Hank squinted and took a risk by releasing the pitcher of coffee. It stayed in midair when he let it go.
“You’re here,” Hank said aloud.
Hank turned. The breakroom doom had become the eerie doorway to darkness. The armored woman stood in its threshold. “Do you have to wear that metal everywhere?”
“I rest easy knowing that knives cannot breach this.”
“Was that some kind of joke?”
“It seems my humor is quite rusty.”
“You don’t interact with people often, do you?”
“No.” The woman sat at the table. Her chair creaked loudly.
Hank sat across from her. “May I ask why?”
The woman frowned. “Another time perhaps. Until then, I have need of you.”
“Like right now? I’m at work.”
“I took the liberty of exploring your office. Is writing erotica considered work?”
Hank blushed and averted his eyes.
“Walk through the doorway. I will settle things here and be along shortly.”
Hank got to his feet and stood in front of the door. “And you aren’t tricking me and sending me to the afterlife, right?”
“This is no trick.” She waved Hank forward. “Get going.”