Flash Fiction

Reaper

Nataliya Turpitko/Shutterstock.com

Once I see the motes of light flash across her cobalt eyes, I know my Earthly journey is complete. I have no regrets. I enjoyed my time as a human and will carry the experience with me into the life beyond.

“Are you ready?” the reaper asks.

I can already feel an invisible energy mounting inside of her. Like static electricity, it makes the hairs on my arms stand on end.

“Does it matter?”

“No,” she says, “not really.”

I shrug and nod my head, saying nothing.

I peer into a starless midnight sky and watch the gathering storm clouds swallow the moon. During the day, such a sight would provoke mass hysteria. It’s the reason reapers only walk the world at night. Their work is necessary, but humanity has an innate fear of the supernatural and such events are better off occurring when most of the world’s population is asleep.

Her eyes are blazing now, punching holes through the deepening darkness. I take long and measured breaths, savoring the sensation, knowing this is the last time I’ll feel the rise and fall of the lungs in my chest.

I lived my whole life believing I was nothing other than human, and only when the reaper came to call me home was I able to recall my former nature. That’s the way this thing works. My kind discovered long ago that there are certain lessons only mortality can teach us. Without physical constraints and the ever-looming threat of death, there can be no impetus for growth, and without the impetus for growth, there can be no driving force for change. Humans, for all their faults, possess something altogether unique, and it is only after having experienced their ephemeral nature that we can realize our full potential.

“Will it hurt?”

Now it’s the reaper’s turn to shrug.

“I don’t know.”

Her eyes emit a bright and feral red, and a moment later I close my own, afraid of what must come next.

“Goodbye,” she says.

A flash, so bright I can see it behind closed eyelids, followed by heat. I’m on fire, I think just before my human mind shuts down. The light gives way to a deeper darkness, and for a moment I’m floating, suspended in a timeless void. Then I feel a tug, followed by a pull.

Like a butterfly yanked from its cocoon, I launch from my blackened mortal shell into a different life altogether.

Goodbye, I think, though the reaper can no longer hear me.

I turn away, not mortal anymore but still human in spirit, and fly away to my home beyond the stars.

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The Fog

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Fog curls around my ankles like creeping vines, and all I can think as I stand there in the dark, surrounded by death, and stare up at a cold and lifeless sky, is how the world wasn’t always like this—how it was once bright, how it was once young and new, pristine and undefiled, a shining luminescent jewel that inspired wonder rather than fear and hope rather than despair.

But those days are gone, dead and buried along with most of the population. I watch dark and dangerous clouds gather in a dusky blood-red sky, and when I tire of watching the wounded horizon, my eyes drift back to the ground and the swell of fog churning at my feet.

What secrets does the fog conceal? What hidden horrors lurk beneath its tainted gunsmoke exterior? I feel the weight of its touch as it swirls above the ground, and if I strain my ears, if I focus on the many silences of the world and the dead things in between, I can hear it speak.

Your life belongs to me.

I used to hear its call as a child, either at night before the flames of a dwindling fire, or during the day in the dark alleys of an ancient city turned graveyard. It’s always reaching out, trolling the tenebrous waters of a forsaken world in search of prey, and there’s always someone who listens. As for myself, its call has grown more insistent, and as time wears on, as I pass through the threshold from youth into old age, the lunatic cry becomes increasingly difficult to resist.

Your life belongs to me, it says every night before I fall asleep and every morning when first I wake, and every day, I find myself more inclined to agree.

Now, here I stand, broken and defeated. I can fight the fog no longer, and though my mind urges me to run away, to flee into those few remaining corners of the world where the fog hasn’t gained a foothold, I have not the strength to go on.

Once, I think as the fog creeps up my legs, life was worth protecting. Now, what is there to look forward to each day but a bloated, terminally diseased sky? What is there to pass on to future generations? The fog took away our reason to live, and now that it’s prevailed, what is left to do but answer its death call?

Your life belongs to me, it says, sweeping up my back and my chest, over my shoulders and my head, and when that fetid off-white mist pierces my lips, when it shoots down my throat and into my lungs, I give in at last.

Your life belongs to me, it says again, and just before I close my eyes, just before the last of the oxygen is squeezed from my lungs and the final darkness of death blossoms before my fading vision, I hear my silent reply.

Take me away, I say, and the fog does exactly as I command.

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Oracle

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I apologize for making you uncomfortable. I know many find the way I stare unsettling, and like you, they always look away, hoping I won’t notice their awkward shoulder shrugs or the way they turn their heads.

I don’t do it on purpose. It’s just the way I am. It makes me uncomfortable, too, and while you might have to contend with a stranger’s awkward stare, what I have to deal with is far worse.

They found me in a crack house when I was an infant, unwanted and unloved. If not for their intervention, I wouldn’t be alive today. Sometimes, I wonder if they ever truly loved me. Their concern for my well being seemed genuine, but at the end of the day, I was human and they were not. On some fundamental level, a communion of equal minds was impossible, and when I look back, I wonder if I might just have been some alien child’s adopted puppy or kitten.

Either way, they turned me loose upon the Earth on my eighteenth birthday. It was hard going at first, with no human schooling or skills. Human relationships and social interactions were a mystery to me, and it was a while before I learned how to eke out a modest living for myself.

Most challenging of all was coming to grips with how other humans perceive time. For most, it’s a line that flows in only one direction, when in reality it’s more like a universe, expansive, multidimensional, and bubbling with probabilities. My caretakers perceived this truth, and they no doubt passed it on to me.

Like an oracle, when I behold the world and the creatures who inhabit it, I see their futures, fanning out before them like an endless cosmic sea. I view both good fortunes and bad—unexpected inheritances, reunited families, forthcoming promotions, and financial prosperity; or else addiction, poverty, gruesome murders, and terminal diseases. I have a morbid fascination with the latter, and though I do my best to ignore these dark and pallid visions, sometimes, like a trainwreck or a fatal car accident, it’s impossible to look away.

As for the terrible things I see in your future, well, I’d rather not say. Humans are better off not knowing their fortunes. I understand this from experience. Just know that I wish you all the best, that if our paths should ever cross again, I mean you no harm. As I’ve told you already, I don’t mean to stare.

It’s just the way I am.

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