I stood staring at the kitchen table covered with empty soda cans, two empty pizza boxes, and half of a chocolate cake which had read: “Welcome Home, Pagan,” in white icing on top. Leif, Miranda, and Wyatt had surprised me this evening. I’d opened the door four hours ago to find the three of them holding pizza, sodas, and a bakery box. Being with the three of them, eating food with real taste, and entertaining them with stories from my time at the mental house had made it really feel like I was home. Their smiling faces and familiar laughter had warmed me from the coldness always penetrating me. Leif had held me as we sat in the living room, catching up on everything I’d missed.
Kendra had fallen off the pyramid during cheerleading practice and had a cast on her right leg. Miranda appeared much too pleased about the girl’s predicament. College scouts had come to the playoff game to watch Leif and he now had scholarship offers from two different colleges.
Life had gone on without me. Knowing Leif would be okay when I was no longer a part of his life eased some of the guilt inside me. I couldn’t keep him. Not when I ached for Dank so badly. Even if I couldn’t find Dank, I knew he cared.
He would come back eventually. He had known I needed him and he’d come to me. Even if I couldn’t see him, I knew he was near. I glanced up the stairs knowing he wouldn’t come tonight. My room was a safe place for me now. If I could just see him and tell him I love him and I will go wherever I have to in order to be with him… But he wouldn’t allow me to even know or understand.
I threw the empty soda cans into the recycling bin at the back door and headed upstairs to go to bed. Today had been exhausting and I would be returning to school tomorrow.
The empty desk where Dank had once sat in English Literature flashed in my mind and the hole in my chest ached.
* * * *
The music was playing. It took me a moment as I opened my eyes to realize Dank was playing my lullaby. I sat straight up in bed and looked to the chair to find it empty, yet the music was playing. It took me a moment to realize through my sleepy haze that the music wasn’t in my room or even in the house. The music drifted through the open window from outside. I jumped and ran to see where it was coming from. Was Dank out there? The back yard was dark and foggy. The music drifted up to me from somewhere in the night. I reached for my jacket, slipped on my shoes, and then headed downstairs and out the back door, closing it gently behind me so as not to wake my mom. If she caught me wandering around in the dark she may pack me back up and return me to the mental house.
The music sounded as if it was coming from the woods. I went over to the garden shed to find a flashlight. I knew mom kept one on the shelf over the potting table. Once I found it and checked to see if the batteries were good, I headed back into the dark yard.
Why would Dank be out here in the dark playing my lullaby? I stepped onto the path my mom had made so she could take nature walks from our back yard to the community pond through the woods. The leaves crackled around me and I bit back a squeal. I needed to find Dank before some strange critter found me. The music drew me deeper into the woods. My flashlight only helped marginally.
The thick fog made visibility almost zero. I kept chanting in my head that Dank was out here somewhere. He wanted me to find him. Why else would he play his music so I could hear it, if not to draw me out here?
A light glimmered in the darkness, peeking through the fog. I walked toward it, knowing the music was coming from that spot. The closer I got, the brighter the light grew. I broke through the fog and into a small clearing. A glowing ball floated inside the circle of trees surrounding the clearing. I tucked the flashlight into the pocket of my jacket before taking a cautious step toward the orb of light. Dank’s music was coming from the light.
Confused, I quickly scanned the clearing for Dank. It remained empty, but for me and the musical light. Why was it playing Dank’s music? Fear slowly began to trickle through me. Dank wasn’t here. He would never draw me out into the dark woods alone. Someone else would. Someone who wanted me to leave my bed and wander out away from the protection of my home.
“Thump thump, thump thump, that heart of yours sure is racing, isn’t it, Peggy Ann?” I spun around at the sound of Gee’s voice. She stood in the far corner of the clearing, watching me. She didn’t look like the Gee in the mental house. Her short blond hair was flying around in the night breeze loosely and her red lips now seemed to shimmer like silver glitter in the moonlight. I took a step back, wanting to put distance between us.
“What are you doing, Gee?” I asked, attempting to keep the panic out of my voice. She puckered her shimmering lips and tilted her head from side to side.
“Hmmm. Little Miss. Smarty Pants isn’t so smart after all. The only sane girl in the house, HA! You were the only one stupid enough to be my friend.” I searched frantically around me trying to think of a way to escape.
“Jess was your friend,” I replied, wanting to stall her while I tried to think of how I could get away from her.
Gee began to cackle. “Jess is a lunatic whose mind I easily controlled. You, however, came near me without any help from me. You did it all on your own. You trusted me.” She stopped talking and began drawing closer to me, laughing maniacally. “I’d been sent to right the wrong. I was there because of you. The first night I was going to take you. It was meant to be,” she snarled. “But he was there already. I hadn’t even killed you yet and he was there. Protecting you. Foolish human that you are. The simple soul living inside of you. He protects it.”
She began pacing back and forth in front of me as if she were a large cat stalking her prey. I took another step back and she laughed wickedly as if my attempting to leave was as insane as she was. “It’s his JOB! I was sent to fix his wrong!
He broke a rule with you. He can’t break the rules. If he doesn’t right this wrong then he’ll pay. It must be corrected.” She began tilting her head back and forth again, studying me as if I were an unknown specimen. I realized her eyes no longer looked insane but more like those of a cat. Her features had all taken on a glow. She wasn’t human. She wasn’t a mental patient. She was…something else.
“What are you Gee?” I asked.
She smiled. “You really want to know?” She stopped stalking me and glanced around the clearing as if expecting someone else. Were there more like her out here? “I guess since it’s your time you can know. You really should have known all along. Your time has long since passed. You’re like an overdue library book. Tick tock, tick tock, you’re costing me valuable time. This isn’t my job. It is HIS,” she hissed, scanning the clearing again and I realized she was waiting for Dank.
“Who’s Dank?” I asked. She grinned at this question and raised one of her eyebrows that were now just as blond as her hair.
“Who do you think he is, Peggy Ann?” she taunted.
“He takes those who die on to wherever they are supposed to go,” I replied in a whisper almost afraid to hear myself say the words. Gee began to cackle her maniacal laughter.
“Well, if you were correct then this would be all the much easier. But seeing as how you are slightly off, it makes this harder. Dank isn’t a transporter. I am.” I stood staring into her large, dark eyes that seemed to shimmer like her lips.
“That’s right, Peggy Ann, I take them up or I take them down,” she said with a snarl of distaste. “And you were going to be easy. You were going up. You would be given a new body and a new life and your soul would have done what good souls do. They live forever, over and over again. But NO!” She shouted into the darkness as red sparks flew from her fingertips. “NO, PAY-GAYN, that isn’t want happened.
WHY THE HELL NOT? Well this time your pretty little soul was in a pretty little young body and you had a lovely smile and a lovely walk and a lovely laugh and you were interesting. You could see other souls and you were braaave and blah, blah, blah. Whatever.” She paused and glared at me. “You got to him. No one is supposed to get to him.” She began stalking back and forth in front of me again, watching me as if she wasn’t sure what to do with me. “So, now it is me who has to right this wrong. He is too weak to do it. He wants you. He doesn’t want to send your soul with me to go up and live a new life. He can’t stand the thought of ending things for you.” She rolled her eyes and threw her hands up in the air with a frustrated sigh. “I’ve been sent to get you, with or without his assistance. He’ll be here in the end—don’t frown. You’ll see his sexy face again.” Gee started walking toward me with her catlike prance.
“You didn’t tell me who he is,” I said, backing away from her.
“What is he? You still don’t know? And here I thought I’d made it all very clear,” she taunted, stopping right in front of me to run a red fingernail down my face. I shivered at the familiar, icy touch. The blond who had tried to drown me had felt like her.
“You tried to drown me,” I said hoarsely, searching for some resemblance to the blond I’d thought Dank killed.
She grinned and shook her head, “No, Peggy Ann, that wasn’t me. Ky was another transporter who your lover boy annihilated. You can see now why I’m not real fond of the job that has been entrusted to me. He isn’t going to be happy with me. I don’t want his anger directed my way when I snuff out his precious one. After all, who wants to fuck with Death.” I swallowed against a sudden knot of fear in my throat.
“Death,” I managed to whisper.
“Let her go.” Dank’s voice filled the clearing and Gee stiffened. Her grip went lax before it tightened again, this time with more intent. Breathing was now impossible.
“NO!” Dank’s voice broke into the darkness. Gee’s grip released as her body slammed flat against the ground. I gasped for air, staring down at her as she glared up at Dank with a mixture of fear and hate.
“It is time. I have been sent. You cannot break the rules.
She is a soul that will be given another life. You can find her again. End this,” Gee begged, glaring up at Dank. He stepped over her and reached a hand out to touch my neck. The warmth soothed the burning pain Gee’s icy grip had left.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered as he gazed down into my eyes.
I nodded not sure what he was apologizing for, but I knew I would forgive him for anything. The wild cackle from behind him caused his dark blue eyes to transform into glowing sapphires. He turned and glared back at Gee. “Leave and I’ll let you exist.” His hard, cold demand penetrated the darkness.
Gee stood, watching him fearfully. “I can’t leave until you do your job and I leave with that soul.” Dank shook his head and his eyes seemed to cause her pain. She grimaced and stepped back. “Listen, I didn’t ask to be the one who had to piss off Death. They sent me. I had no choice.” She pointed at me. “I like her. I get what you see in her but she has to die. It is appointed.”
Dank turned completely around and stalked toward her.
“NOOOOO,” he roared. Gee backed away with a terrified expression. I reached for Dank, grabbing his arm.
“No, Dank, please,” I begged. He stopped and turned back at me.
“Do you understand what she wants? She isn’t your friend, Pagan, although she played a very good role.” I stepped closer to him. “You’re Death and I am supposed to die.” I tore my eyes from his and looked at Gee. “And she is going to transport me.”
Dank shook his head and glared back at Gee’s relieved smile. “You made it sound that simple? You made her think she could just die and float away and have another life?” A growl rippled from his chest and Gee stepped farther away, her body visibly trembling. “It doesn’t work that way, now does it, Gee?” he snarled, and I felt the muscles in his arms bulge under my touch.
“I’m here to right a wrong. You broke a rule that can’t be broken. You can’t keep her, Death. She’s not a pet to play with. She’s a soul and your only claim to a soul is the fact you take the body it lives in when the time is appointed. You do not own the souls.”
“I will NOT take her soul. She’s going to live. Her death did not happen.”
Gee threw her hands up in exasperation. “Yes, we know that. Because YOU stopped it! She was supposed to be crushed in that car. You were to take her soul from her body.
Ky was to take her up. BUT, NO! You took her body out and saved it.”
My legs gave out as the truth of Gee’s words hit me. The little girl from the hospital’s words came rushing back to me.
“Don’t look so sad. He said this body I have is sick and once I die I will get a new body and a new life. Souls aren’t forced to wander the earth. Only those that are too scared to go on are left here to wander. If you chose to leave the earth you will return in a new body and a new life. Your soul will, however, be the same. He told me that the man who wrote my favorite books, The Chronicles of Narnia, said that, ‘You are not a body. You have a body. You are a Soul.’” Dank reached for me before I sank to the ground. I gazed up at him. “I met a little girl in the hospital. She had met you.
She was sick and she was going to die and you told her that her body was sick and not to be afraid because she would get a new body.”
Dank shook his head with a tormented expression. “I know what you’re thinking and no.”
I stared over at Gee and she glanced away from me. There was something I didn’t know and it was important. I gazed back up at Dank. “What are you not telling me, Dank? Why can’t you take my body and let me live life again? I can be with you then once my life isn’t appointed to die and you aren’t breaking a rule.”
Gee shook her head and turned her back to me.
Dank closed his eyes tightly. “You won’t come back,” he said in a hoarse whisper.
“Why? You told the little girl she would. Gee said I would get another body and I would go on living; that is what souls do.” Dank reached out and cupped my face with his hands.
His thumb brushed my lips. I hated seeing the pain in his eyes. I wanted to end his pain. Why wouldn’t he let me?
“Pagan, the moment I became consumed with you and chose to break the rule everything changed. You’re my weakness. I chose you over the rules. Once you are taken you will be kept. I will no longer see you or be given a chance to be near you. I am Death. I can’t live with the light and you will live with the light. Forever. Never to return to Earth. I can’t resist you so they won’t let me keep you.” He bent down and kissed my nose gently. I trembled under his touch.
Tears burned my eyes. I couldn’t stand the thought of never seeing him again.
“And if he refuses to take your body he will be taken as a result. Are you going to tell her that part, Death? Are you going to tell her how you will no longer be free to roam the Earth as Death but you will be condemned to Hell? You’ll be as lowly as the fallen angels. If she lives, you essentially die.” Gee stood watching Dank with her hands on her hips. “The choice is now. Once your powers are stripped I’ll be transporting you down. And I truly hate to go down.” She flicked her gaze toward me. “You can live and have eternal life while he burns in Hell with the rest of the fallen angels and sinners, or you can go with me and live in light and let him continue to live the life he has lived since the creation of man. For he is, and has always been, Death.”