Chapter 2. A deathless flight.
THE STARS WERE bright this night. Or perhaps the night was just darker than usual. Either way, the stars were set apart uncommonly – their bright lights cutting through the infinite darkness. If it weren’t for the fact that stars were dead and thus their lights too, the stars could have stood a chance against the blackness of the universe someday. But alas, the lights were fading, dying like their source, and like any soul knew – resurrection was only a myth.
The entire row of seats next to him was empty. In fact, Grin realised as he tore his gaze from the window, most of the seats in the back of the airplane were vacant. Most passengers had their places up front. Grin always wondered about that – it had been scientifically proven that survival rates rose when people had been seated at the back of the plane. He knew there was an option to choose your spot as you booked your ticket, so why not pay a couple of extra bucks to ensure a better chance of living?
Grin rolled his eyes at himself. What was he thinking? Humans actually increasing their chances of surviving?
As a reaper, he should know better.
Some found it strange that Grin the Reaper enjoyed sneaking onto airplanes to catch a flight to a destination unknown. Most Reapers only looked forward to the idea of being on an airplane if it was destined to crash. If there was something to reap. Then again, though high in ranks, Grin was not like most Reapers.
There were those that found a sense of pleasure in their duties. Those were the ones that spoke of a tingly sensation when been given the order to reap someone special, someone that mattered. Grin remembered how Clark was over the moon when being ordered to fetch Bin Laden, the man that had given them so much to do. Reapers didn’t care about politics, right or wrong, or morals. They only cared about death, for they were part of it. But still, Grin found it unpleasant to share Clark’s enthusiasm. Grin was not like most Reapers, perhaps some form of reason or rationality set him apart. He didn’t know and never felt the urge to wonder why.
In his fair and biased opinion, it didn’t really matter as long as he did his job and he did it right.
For a Reaper, Grin was quiet one. He preferred to take the souls with gestures and motions, avoiding all sparks of conversation. Grin knew that once he would engage with the soul in words, the soul would eventually turn to bargaining. Begging. Futile attempts to return to his dead body. Second chances. Pleads and cries, going on about time.
Time, Grin knew, was not something given to humans. In return, they had no right to ask to hold on to it just a little while longer.
Grin looked out the window again and tried to clear his mind. It was for this reason that he boarded flights, trying to relax and use the darkness as a means to wipe his mind clean. He succeeded most times, yet tonight was just not his night.
There was an echo in the room that only Grin heard. Stoically, he turned his head to find the top of the head of a man a few rows in front. The man was called Will Potter and he was a banker. Is, Grin reminded himself. As a Reaper, it was easy to find yourself lost and confused in present and past tenses. Will Potter was still very much alive and on his way to Europe for holiday. He had big plans. Grin knew that half of the things Will said he would do, he wouldn’t. Instead, Will would eat too much pastries, desserts and chocolate, drink too much coffee and alcohol and he would be sitting most of the time as he did it. Will was a classic among the Reapers – easiest to predict yet hardest to reap.
People like Will, who planned to do things yet never dedicated their time to do accordingly, screamed for mercy the loudest and begged for a second chance the hardest. They were the ones that called upon the Lord the fiercest, promising to better. Grin didn’t know if characters like Will had it in them to actually do better when given a second chance, for they were never given one.
People like Will gave Grin headaches and he dreaded those kind of reaps. He hated those collections and in all the years Grin had been doing his job, he had never found a way to make it any easier. Silence helped, but only so much.
Grin witnessed the movement of Will’s head – it shot back sharply, before bobbing back down slowly. Shaking his head, he realised Will was popping peanuts into his mouth. He imagined Will’s fat fingers covered in oil and salt, feverishly snatching the peanuts from the bag one after the next after the next after the next. It was an ongoing cycle. With regret, Will would search the bag for more until he realised that it was already empty. Then he would lick his fingers clean and in a hunt for more, he would swipe the inside of the bag for leftover salt. When Will was finally satisfied that he really ran out of things to put into his mouth, he dumped the bag and mentally wrote a complaint to the manufacturer that they really should start a new line with bigger bags.
There was just never enough. Humans always wanted more.
More, more, more.
Why didn’t humans understand that they were like the stars; fading as their origin had already died? It was only a matter of time before the lights went out for good.
Now that Will finally stopped his frantic search for food, Grin could rest again. He popped his chin on his fist and stared out the window again. Sometimes he wished he was at liberty to warn the humans more often. Reapers were only every so often allowed to send a warning – to partially reap a soul, drag them from the body, let it dangle between their long, boney, greyish fingers and then release. Grin never really understood the concept of it, but then again, he wasn’t the most optimistic creature. People don’t change, he always said.
Grin’s cold eyes found a set of stars and he let his thoughts wander free.
He would slide into the seat behind Will, his ghostly eyes settling on the white fog in the centre of his mass. With a controlled movement, Grin would extend his hand and slowly, grab a hold of the soul. Though it was like the mist Grin’s grip would be superior, like chaining a wild animal. It would squirm before the attachment to the human body quietly fell apart. Will in his turn would clutch a fatty hand to his chest, feeling his chest implode, his lungs squeezing, his heart slamming against his ribcage. Pain would be so dominant he would barely have the ability to speak. Grin would pull the soul towards him as Will managed to let out a muffled cry for help and the reaper would studiously observe the odd and strange thing between his fingertips.
He always found it captivating to see how the human body – something to mechanical and running on a series of stimuli and responses integrated into systems – ran on one thing. Human beings were complex beings, almost magical, but they were really just embodiments. Just a house of the soul. The human mind was something else, though, and while Grin had only so much knowledge on the mind, he understood that it was connected closely to the soul.
Depending on how strong the soul was, it would take some time before it surrendered. Grin would then put it in his free hand, holding it as if cupping an object in his hand and disappear into the same fog. Will would be dead by then with no chance on revival. Once the reaper left the scene, there was nothing a doctor could do. Grin would then walk the long isle down to meet the scales – the structure that decided on the soul’s fate. Placing it in one of the scales, Grin would patiently and silently await the verdict. If the scales tipped in Will’s favour, a white ghost-like figure would appear from the darkness behind the scales and take it away. If they dropped in the wrong direction, dark claws would rise from below the darkness and drag the soul down.
In only a few minutes, Will would have ceased to exist. Perhaps he would be mentioned in the newspaper the following day as the man who died on a flight to Paris.
“Excuse me?” A lady across the lane of Will’s row addressed Melissa, the friendly flight attendant that walked passed.
“Yes, ma’am?” Melissa replied.
“Could I get a blanket or something? It’s getting rather chilly in here.” The lady asked.
Grin shook his head, shaking the thoughts of the reap from his mind. Temperature dropped quite often amidst a reap and just by the sheer thought of reaping Will, Grin lost grip on his icy cold presence that was supposed to go unnoticed.
And tonight Grin the Reaper was just trying to enjoy a flight to Paris. He was not here for a reap. He wasn’t here for the souls. He just wanted some peace and some quiet.
His eyes found the back of Will’s head again.
If only he was granted the liberty of choice.