Short Story – Conversations with Death

I scrabbled around, but only collected dirt under my nails. This was the second time they had tried to bury me.

You’d think they would’ve gotten it into their heads by now. Nothing was going to destroy me. No amount of burials or sending my corpse up in flames was going to do the trick, because a part of my corpse was missing. My left thumb, to be absolutely specific.

So until they found that dry little piece of relic, I wasn’t about to go anywhere. These amateurs, they thought they knew everything. Well, I was like them once. It wasn’t until I was writhing from a well-delivered blow to my chest that I realized what I had to do if I wanted to stay alive (well, okay, not alive, technically – existent, maybe) long enough to finish up what I needed to do.

And let me just say, even though I was half unconscious from my chest wound, slicing off my thumb hurt like a bitch. I thought I wouldn’t have the strength to cut through the bone, but I don’t – didn’t – sharpen my knife for my health.

Being dead was a pain in the ass, for sure. But it was a job hazard; I understood that when I signed on to this job. Now, if only there was a way to be alive again.

But the good thing about being buried at a cemetery was that I didn’t have to spend too much effort trying to hunt down those creatures. Where the stench of death lingered was where the beasts would show up, right along with their masters – mini Grim Reapers, I called them, except they didn’t have scythes.

With any luck, no one would stop me before I managed to fry them all. It was the only way I know to cheat Death. No grim-reaper, no bloodhounds, no one to collect the bodies, no one would die.

Of course, that sounded nobler than it really was. The truth? I didn’t want to die. Not yet. Not before I’d killed Tessa’s murderer. Not before I found out the truth about who I was.

I smelled the hounds before I heard them. I’d heard that the undead smelt them whenever they came within a ten-meter radius of them, but that didn’t prepare me for the actual stench. Their breaths were hot and rotting, like burning flesh. I would know – I’d smelt rotting flesh more times than I would’ve liked.

The three beasts stood a foot away from me, growling like angry engines. Their black coats rippled, and drool hung off their jagged peaks of teeth. Definitely not the ones to piss off.

The three figures behind the beasts each held up a hand, immediately silencing the growls. They were partially obscured by darkness, so all I could make out was their silhouettes. They were neither gods nor ghosts, and I’d never had an opinion about them as long as they didn’t get involved in my line of work. But it seemed that was about to change now.

I held my hands up. “Not now, guys. I’m on a pretty important mission.”

One of them raised a withered finger at me. “This is the second time we are here, nomad.” Its voice was too raspy for me to discern its gender. “You cheated the Grim Reaper.”

I smirked. I couldn’t help it – it wasn’t everyday someone came along to cheat Death. “Guilty. And I’m going to keep at this until someone offs me properly, or until I get the answers I’m looking for.” I shrugged. “Whichever comes first.”

“In death, no answer is relevant.”

“That’s a tempting thought, but…” I shook my head. “It doesn’t work for me.”

None of them replied. The cemetery was silent save for the heavy rattled breathing of the hounds.

“So I’m half-dead. You can’t claim me yet. What are you doing here?” I looked at each one of them. I would’ve taken a step closer for a better look, were it not for their bloodthirsty pets sitting between on their haunches.

“We are not here for you.”

That was when I noticed the silvery glow behind them. I craned my neck, but couldn’t catch his or her face. Shrugging, I smoothened my shirt. “Well, then. I’d best be on my way.”

“Not yet.”

The Collector glided towards me, but I still couldn’t see its face. It pointed at my chest.

“What?”

It didn’t say anything, but kept its finger pointed at my chest.

My amulet. The bone-constructed pendant with real rubies for eyes. I wouldn’t sell it for any price.

I toyed with the pendant. “What, this?”

The Collector dropped his hand. “You are living on borrowed time, nomad. It is time to let go of that talisman.”

“I’m not done hunting yet. And hey” – I shrugged – “it’s not my fault if those jokers did a shoddy job of burying my remains. Plus, I’m the good guy. You shouldn’t be spending so much energy on me. I’ll go gently into the good night once my business is done, okay?”

“Everyone dances with the Grim Reaper, good or bad.”

“Is that from a song? Sounds like a line from a song.”

“Hand it over, nomad.”

“No, I don’t think so.” I took a step back, dropping my gaze to the beasts, who had risen from their haunches and were starting to growl again. Their eyes flashed red – so quickly that I would’ve missed it if I didn’t know better.

I took another step back. And that was when the Collectors – or should I say, the imposters – gave chase.

“That was a pretty neat trick,” I called over my shoulder. “I almost fell for it.”

The hoods of their robes had fallen off now that they knew I’d seen through their ploy. Their distorted faces flickered the way spirits usually did. I used to have nightmares when I first started out.

“Seriously, though,” I went on. “Dressing up as Collectors? Taking things a step too far, don’t you think? I’d start to think you guys were getting desperate.”

I was at a disadvantage here, because while all those spirits had to do was glide, I had to do the actual running, which involved avoiding mini obstacles like pebbles and uneven ground. I had to get to the car – assuming someone hadn’t had it towed away already, or stolen my arsenal. All I needed was my silver dagger crusted with salt. I didn’t just want to dispel those spirits; I wanted them gone. For good.

Thing is, that worked both ways.

I took care not to let them come an inch near me. I’d been possessed by those filthy things too many times to learn how they worked. The trick was to get them before they got you. Easier said than done.

Especially with those amateur hunters on my ass.

For the third time in a week, I found myself pitching into a hole six feet deep, a bed made of earth. For a bunch of amateurs, they sure don’t take chances.

“No, wait! There are spirits are on my tail! You have to let me out. I have to get rid of them!” I clawed at earth. It’s harder to get out of a damn pit when you’re panicking.

The woman knelt by my grave, smiling. “We know.”

When I saw the stake in her hand, I understood it all.

They weren’t hunters. No, they weren’t out to help rid the world of bloodthirsty spirits who possessed people for the sake of living again.

“We’re just here to finish our job, hunter. Send Death our regards.” Her eyes flashed red.

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