In this world, even grim reapers are humans too.
Dressed in a firm leather jacket, they blend—just like humans.
He strolled past through the crossing, downtown stretched between the buildings. Checking his watch again and again, he stopped when a loud crash broke the city’s rush. The pedestrians were screaming, everyone stared in horror.
He smirked, walking closer to where the crash happened. It was a man in his forties, head’s bleeding from previously banged to his car’s steering wheel, airbag failed to form in time. Outside the car, stood another man as he stared into the dead man inside, probably wondering why they had the same face.
Today, the man with the watch murmured, was an easy day.
“Sir,” he called out to the man. “Excuse me. Can I have your attention?”
The man turned. Pale face, mouth’s agape, body’s shaking. He didn't need times to kneel before him and sobbed. “You must be them, right...?”
“Them?” he asked. He knelt too, enough to reach the man’s shoulder. “Get up. We need to go.”
“To the place you now belong.”
“It’s the afterlife, isn’t it?”
He fixed his gaze for a while, unsure what to do. This man was quick, he thought, before pushing to his feet and pulled on his dark hood, hiding his smile in the process. This way, he could be away from anyone’s vision but the soul.
He bowed down. “Mr. Giuseppe, isn’t it? Excuse my rudeness for not introducing myself. I am Gilbert, your assistance onward. You died on February, 12th at 3:24 PM for the cause of heart attack. You have lived a good life. You may relish everything and move to the next stage of life.”
“Figured out,” the man said. The tremble and doubt from before now disappeared into something more ease. “The numbers don’t lie. I know I’m going to die today, yet I decided at the last minute to visit my daughter at school. What a stupid old man. Did the crash hurt anyone?”
“Thankfully, no. No one in this region is scheduled to die today other than you.” Gilbert—that’s his name—put his right palm over the man’s head. “Mr. Giuseppe, may your soul rest in peace.”
A second later, the man’s projection body fell apart into tiny fragments before being blown by the wind, taking him to somewhere neither Gilbert knew. Whether he’s going to nirvana or abyss, it’s none of his concern now. Gilbert sighed and moved his feet away from the scene whereas police and medics had come. He made sure he was heading home, yet a familiar whistle stopped him.
“Good work, shithead.”
He looked around to find a woman, dressed in a formal suit, leaning on the nearest bus stop. The woman, carrying a book that was probably her agenda, tiptoed her walk to his way, long and hazelnut hair fluttered to her dance.
“Liz, fuck off.”
“God, you gotta learn to be nice to people, especially a co-worker like me. Where’s the polite charisma you showed that man before?!”
“I only show it to those who deserved it. Why are you here anyway? Finally got fired? Took them a long time to realize.”
Elizabeth laughed and Gilbert couldn’t feel anymore cringe near her.
“Actually, Mr. Giuseppe was my client. I stamped him. A month ago.”
“Did you watch every one of your client’s deaths?” Gilbert growled, taking off his hood, his hands running on his fairly white hair. It’s genetic, not that he’s stressed out or having a syndrome. Gilbert knew well the rumor though; people born with white hair often lived a tragic life. Today was the proof. “You’re not a reaper. You don’t have to.”
“It’s fine. Only to make sure things go right. And to see if a stupid reaper like you work just fine!”
“I work hella fine, thank you!”
“Well then, that’s good to know.” Elizabeth opened the book in her clutch and went panic as her fingers traced the trail of her own handwriting. “Gosh, I forgot about this one girl. I should go and stamp her. See you later, shithead~”
“Who doesn’t work just right fine now, huh?!”
The woman waved her hand to him as she ran on those heels. She disappeared later in between the lanes after bumping to several different pedestrians. What a careless and dumb person, Gilbert thought, couldn’t stop cackling himself. He would later tell himself how he despised her through her endless shallow jokes, but for now he could at least watch her back as long as he could.
Gilbert sometimes thought he’s doomed.
There were humans who were born special. They were created solely for serving the Angel of Death. Once matured, they would leave their house to meet the Angel of Death and be divided into two groups; those who later became a grim reaper and those who later became a stamper. They’d be in charge of human’s death in the mundane world.
Elizabeth arrived at the hospital after a series of breaking the traffic. She could be jailed if she’s not careful enough, Gilbert said a few days ago, yet not once she considered it serious. All she had to do was to make it in time so she wouldn’t mess up the schedule her higher-ups had made for her. Time was a sensitive subject for her matter after all.
The girl she mentioned earlier was lying on one of the beds in a cheap hospital room. There were eight beds stored inside the small room, all filled with sick and coughing people. The girl’s bed was on the left side, farthest from the door, near the only window of the room. She was playing with her doll when Elizabeth approached her.
“Hey, honey. Where’s Mommy?”
The girl looked up. Elizabeth tore her gaze away upon meeting her eyes. She couldn’t get attached, or else her mission failed.
“Mommy is working. She will visit in the evening. Are you her client?”
Elizabeth forced herself to smile, still avoiding the girl’s eyes. “No, I was her old friend. I heard you got sick, so I came to see you. Emily, isn’t it?”
“Yes!” Emily’s somber eyes gleamed in return. “Did you come to play with me?”
“Sorry, honey… I don’t think I have much time.” Now Elizabeth cursed herself for being bad with words. “I... still have to work.”
“Poor Emily. I know you’re lonely. I should have bought you dolls on the way here...”
“It’s okay, Auntie. You’re in a hurry after all.”
“Emily.” It’s time, Elizabeth had to look her in the eyes. “Could you promise me something?”
“What is it?”
Elizabeth shifted her weight as she sat next to her, close enough for Emily to hear her murmur, far enough from touching her. She wrung her fingers to keep them from caressing Emily’s thinned hair as her mind wandered to find the words. This had been always the hardest part of her task.
“You know, life was like... traveling by yourself far far away into a land you never foresee. You just keep walking through the up and down of the hills beyond. At some point, you get tired and fall down, not knowing how to get back to your feet. You could also trip and fall to a deep valley with no way to contact everyone.
“But believe me, Emily, when I say you’re going to be fine. You’ll meet a river that will lead you back to the path. You’ll meet fellow travelers who will help you stand up and accompany you to the next stop. Until later when you get to see the land you’ve been searching in your entire life, you get people to help and follow you. They love you, to the end. Therefore, you should never feel lonely. We’ll be there to have your back. Do you understand?”
“I know Mommy loved me,” she said, frowning as Elizabeth drew herself closer. “I only have her now, but is it possible to add anyone along the way?”
“You can add me.” Elizabeth moved the tiny bit of her fringe away from her face before she could cup her cheeks, eyes fixed as she tried to be as soft as possible. “This month will be the hardest. Promise me you won’t give up, for you are always loved.”
She hugged her. She could feel how fragile the girl was under her arms, wavering by the lightness of her hug. Before she shed anymore visible tears, she let Emily go and got back on her feet.
“Are you leaving already?”
“Take care, Emily.”
Elizabeth walked quick to the exit, but stopped at the doorstep, hidden enough from Emily’s sight. She stood behind the walls, eyeing her as the kid scratched her neck down to the skin right under her shoulder, yanking a bit of her oversized shirt to reveal two digits numbers printed on her left collarbone. The number showed 30 in bold black, pressed fresh like a permanent tattoo. Emily might not have noticed it, but her mother would straight up see it when she came to bathe her.
“That was a harsh one.”
Elizabeth jolted from the sudden intrusion. A hand landed on her shoulder, slightly massaging it for Elizabeth to relax again. She did, though, after recognizing the person.
“Gosh, Yuriko! You startled me!”
Yuriko, dressed in the same black as her, sighed in retreat. She didn’t look good today, exhaustion had taken the glint on her eyes. She took off her hand and leaned on the wall next to Elizabeth, pushing her glasses deeper to the bridge of her nose.
“Azrael worked me off. It’s been a hell of a week. He might also send me to hell after this.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “Don’t say that. He probably had it rougher up there than us.”
“Still, doesn’t mean he could just toss half of his work to me! It’s hard to be a higher-up sometimes. I would rather stay a full time stamper like you rather than being promoted in the first place.”
“Hmm... I would rather be promoted then. You might be bored looking at his face everyday, but I was too curious! Is the rumor true? People say he’s hot.”
“For your sake, Liz, I used to think that too. Let me tell you, he’s not that hot. Men in this mundane world are more attractive than him, to be honest.”
“You’re dead if he knew you’re saying this.”
“Good then. He could both stamp me and harvest my soul a month later. I can be a client finally.”
It was near sunset when those two talked about some good old times from when they’re both still newbies at this. Yuriko would defend Elizabeth from breaking the traffic law and Elizabeth would treat her for dinner afterward. Then Gilbert would come and ruin their dinner as he got drunk and started making a fuss. Gilbert didn’t drink around people anymore now. He had had enough of getting featured in collection albums that contained his embarrassing photos Elizabeth took when he’s passed out.
“By the way, Liz. You hate me for this, but I think you should... do something with Gilbert.”
Elizabeth frowned, lips pressed to a thin line upon realizing where this conversation was about to depart. “I told Azrael about what you said before if you told me to date Gilbert.”
“Not necessarily that,” Yuriko replied flatly, her gaze was looking at something past Elizabeth’s shoulder. Slightly, she adjusted her glasses again. “I mean, in general. Like, being nicer to him.”
“Jesus. How much of a jerk am I to him?”
“So much, he doesn’t see you as a woman anymore.”
“Yeah, he should be. Even if he still does, there’s no way in the world Gilbert likes me or the other way around—and there’s no way a stamper and a reaper can date each other.”
“Azrael never said that. You’re making things up.”
“He’s probably the type of guy who laughs at office rom—Yuriko, are we... good?”
“Huh? Yes, what do you mean by that?”
“Why won’t you look me in the eyes?”
There’s something wrong. Elizabeth could feel it. Something unsettling bubbling up in her belly. The way Yuriko acted earlier was weird enough. And now—
Yuriko bit her lips, pushing her glasses again. Okay, that’s the eighth time.
“Are you really tired from work or is there anything else?”
“Elizabeth.” Yuriko took one step back, hands clutching her agenda as she still looked past her friend. Elizabeth swore she never saw Yuriko this terrified.
Any humans who were scheduled to die by Azrael, the Angel of Death, would definitely die on time without exception. Their deaths would be executed by two phases, all was motioned to match each other.
The first one was when a stamper came to stamp the human using any kind of physical contact. A mark indicating the remaining days would soon appear on the left collarbone, purposely set as a reminder. They had 30 days left for their heart to beat before surrendering to a sequence of events Azrael had planned for them at the end of their journey. How and where they died would be Azrael’s and his subordinate’s secret.
The second one was when the time came for them to leave their mundane body. A reaper would come and assist them, explaining everything as well as sending their souls off to the superiors. By superior, no one really knew where they went. It was heaven’s mystery—God’s secret.
Gilbert had harvested eight souls since the morning and he could just fall asleep reading the list of schedules he had for the next couple of days. It was winter and death tends to happen more likely. His body felt numb from too many running and chasing his clients when the distance from one address to another was ridiculous. Not to mention how short the time span between. He should file a complaint. This got more unbelievable each day.
He took off his jacket and let himself crash to the bed when rapid, frantic knocks jolted the hell out of him. He cursed, but went to get whoever outside anyway, only to curse again knowing it was that dumbass person.
“Liz, what the heck?”
Elizabeth was panting outside his door, hands were searching for support and almost stumbled down if Gilbert had not caught her. She had changed to her casual clothes though he wondered why she would wear such a thin layer of coat in the middle of a dead winter. Well, that might not be the case for now.
“I... I need to... talk to you!”
“You could just phone me.”
“No, I want to show you something.”
That got serious really fast. Gilbert was doubtful enough to ever let this woman in his room, but something dark flashed across her eyes and that settled it. He pulled her inside and closed the door, turning on the light.
God, if he knew she’d be coming over, he could spare some times to actually clean things up.
“Uh, sitting on the bed is fine. You’ll be quick, right?”
Elizabeth, unusually quiet and obedient, took off her coat as she sat on the bed, followed by Gilbert behind who watched her like a hawk. It took a matter of time for Gilbert to panic when Elizabeth didn’t stop at only taking off her coat—she unbuttoned two—no, three—of the upper buttons of her shirt, revealing a fair skin beneath.
That sight enough had left Gilbert almost screamed.
“WAIT, WHY—WHY ARE YOU STRIPPING—"
The serious tone had opened Gilbert’s eyes to the thing Elizabeth wanted to show him. He carefully followed the length of her fingers pointing out something on her collarbone, a fresh mark looking alive in contrast to her white skin.
His eyes widened at those two digits numbers. “You...”
“Right.” Elizabeth sighed, buttoning back her shirt. “I have been stamped.”
Gilbert didn’t know what to say next. Elizabeth filled in anyway.
“I was shocked too. It happened so fast, so smooth, I had not noticed. Well, if I had, I couldn’t have avoided it too. I met Yuriko this evening and she undoubtedly was the one who stamped me.”
“Yu-Yuriko...? She still stamped people?”
“I think Azrael ordered her. She looked really awful that time, couldn’t stop apologizing and even told me to patch things up with you. It’s just... of course I figured it out.”
“Well, that happened.” Gilbert swallowed, unsure what to say in this exact situation. He’s so bad at this, and he didn’t think Elizabeth was here to be consoled. “Why are you telling me this anyway?”
Elizabeth, despite knowing she only had 30 days remaining, shrugged off and laughed. “Dunno! I feel like I have to. You’re my friend since the start and I don’t want to keep secrets from you, especially about this kind of stuff.”
“And to keep you prepared so you don’t bawl your eyes out the day I leave.”
“Even more gross.”
She laughed again, louder this time she had to close her mouth with her hands. “Right. You won’t be. Why am I worried anyway. You don’t deserve my worry at all!”
“They should just leave you on ten or less. Thirty is too long. You’ll spend all of them working anyway.”
“Hopefully you’ll be the one in charge of harvesting my soul so I can still spit on you even after I die!”
“I’ll send you off before you can speak.”
“As soon as I die, I’ll find you first and kick you in your ball!”
“I’ll beg Azrael to let me send you off now. Gosh, you’re even more annoying when you’re dying!”
Elizabeth got up, putting on her coat as she strolled to the aisle and sat down to tie her boots. Gilbert followed from behind, leaning to the walls, eyes squinting at how oddly golden her hair looked under the dim light of his room.
“Well then, see you later. Thank you for listening to me.”
“It’s nothing,” Gilbert said, dry. He should say something to reassure her now. “Fuck off.”
“My, my, you won’t go easy on my dying soul, will you? Say nice things, at least you can do that.”
“Fine. We all know you’re bad at that.” She pulled the knob and stepped outside. “Could you promise me something?”
“I’ll have you buried near your dog’s grave, I promise.”
He expected her to be outraged and cursed him—all he got was silence. She was standing there, not even trembling, just laying her stares on him. Gilbert started to feel uncomfortable under the weight of her judgement; he knew his jokes had gone too far that Elizabeth didn’t want to bother scolding him with words anymore.
“Promise me you’ll be fine once I’m gone.”
“You’ll be living your life as free as now, as happy as now, as easy as now, without ever looking back and thinking about me. When I, somehow, manage to visit your mind, I hope you’ll be able to laugh and tease me just how it’s always been. I want you to remember only the happy moments and forget all the bad memories. That way I can finally die happy.”
At that time, Gilbert realized;
Time always continued ticking. It never stopped to wait.
He realized he was looking directly at a woman whom he wouldn’t be seeing anymore a month later. And that woman wasn’t just no one.
She smiled. A smile who would disappear in no time, turned into fragments and blown away by the gust of wind. “Good. This time, it’s truly a good bye.”
She left. That was only the first day.
Time Remaining: 29 days.