Featured Challenge #27 – Ghosts – Text#2

Escaping This World

by Garry Vakarian

« See? That wasn’t so complicated. » Priya words echoed in the empty void. Except I wasn’t listening. My mind and my attention were absorbed by the lingering image of Devon’s eyes – my first departed. She was chosen as my first culling and final exam for the Reaper’s assignment. She was staying at her favorite place, a small lake in the valley near her hometown. Her boyfriend had dumped her, and she had a mental breakdown at her work after that. Being fired from her job, and let go by the person, whom she thought was the love of her life was too much. She didn’t see the point of continuing her existence. After a rather short and grim post on her facebook page, she ended her life in the place she liked the most.

And it was I who had to take her soul to the afterlife.

In Purgatory, prior to meeting Devon, my supervisor Priya gave me the file on her case. Standard operating procedure required me to check it in order to better accompany the dead, and to effectively extract her soul from her body. In her dossier, I had access to a short summary of her life, the causes explaining her death and the location of the body. More importantly for my job, it had what we could call an autopsy report. In short, it gave the M.O. of her death, and how to “cull” or should I say extract her soul from the physical world and body. You see, the scythe isn’t just for show; it was our tool for exacting the incision freeing the essence of a person.

Let’s go back to Devon’s case. She cut her wrists and slowly died from an haemorrhage. She actually did it rather effectively, and cut both arteries in length, not perpendicularly like in the movies. She also took a shitload of painkillers, so she wouldn’t feel the cuts. When I teleported to her location, it was easy to find her, slumped on a portable chair in front of the lake. There was nobody around. The time of death was eleven o’clock, the setting a cloudless night with a bright moonlight enough to light the scene. Scythe in hand I approached Devon’s lifeless body to ascertain her condition.

The small pool of blood under her made it clear she had achieved her suicide. Next to me, Priya my supervisor was overseeing and evaluating my “performance”. With the scythe I slashed her body in half from top to bottom in one powerful move. I know what you think right now dear reader. You picture a gruesome scene with viscera in plain sight and blood splashing everywhere following a somewhat graceful arc made by my move with the scythe. Well, sorry to disappoint, but nothing of the sort happened.

My not-surgical incision was in fact to tear an opening in another astral plane – the one where Reapers and all the otherworldly creatures “live” – and didn’t have an impact on Earth reality. To me, it was like invisibly opening a junkfood wrapping. After that, I plunged one hand in her body to detach her ghostly soul. By touching it, I could awake it, and haul her up on her feet. From an exterior perspective, it was like I summoned her ghost, since her spectral image is the same as her person minus the body damage. That was the first, and easiest part of the deal, because the second one was by far the most annoying.

You have to explain to the deceased that she’s effectively dead and you’re here to guide her to Purgatory where she would be able to join either the heavens or the netherworld. It could take a huge amount of time depending on the person’s state of mind. If they were afraid, accepted their death or how strongly they believed in a religion. This part was also the one where newbies like me were evaluated by our supervisors – as Priya did with me – because it highlighted our capacity to effectively sort out souls and to give a first assessment on their next step.

To Devon, the process was fairly straightforward. When she opened her eyes, she smiled at me, and wasn’t even afraid of my appearance. I tried to explain that we were going to Purgatory. There, she would have to follow a thorough test to see where she would end up in the afterlife. But as and when I gave her my speech, I saw my words had little impact on her. She was like in another dimension, or maybe lost in her own thoughts, barely transmitting any emotions after the initial smile. It wasn’t until we teleported back to Purgatory that she snapped out of it. Suddenly she held my bony hand and fixed my hollow eye sockets. « I’m free! » I realized that she realized she could have a new life.

I had forgotten that feeling, when I or all the other dead first arrived here, the entrance of Purgatory was like an enormous airport terminal, where we Reapers escorted the souls to be processed, and steered them to different afterlife opportunities. Everybody in the world ended up here, a giant melting pot of races and cultures orderly walking towards a new future. We walked to a free booth, and I left Devon and her file with my notes to the other Reaper clerk. Unlike on Earth, there weren’t waiting lines in Purgatory. Magically there was always someone free to take care of the soul you would bring back. It was at that moment, when I handed her to my colleague that she gave me that look. I would never forget those intense hazelnut eyes, and that was how I could recognize her later on.

Just like mine, her aptitude test was inconclusive, but she strongly wanted to stay on Earth, one way or another. She had no interest in becoming a celestial angel or a demonic creature. In the end, she was chosen to be a guardian spirit in Japan. Little did I know at the time, she would end up as a Nekomimi and be stuck with me on Earth during the zombie apocalypse a.k.a. the Time of Troubles

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