“Is that me?” The Latina woman whispered with a hand covering her mouth as she pointed at the splattered mess of blood and flesh on the cement that was once a cyclist crossing the street at a crosswalk. Vera was used to seeing souls freak out at the sights of their own gruesome corpses, but that didn’t make it any easier.
“I’m so terribly sorry,” Vera’s novice—Sam—croaked out. Vera recognized the face of sheer despair that was painted on their face. Sam being one of the newest recruits, facing their first violent death, Vera expected nothing less of a human reaction.
“This can’t be right, I’m only twenty five! My wedding is in three weeks, my fiancé and I just started the paperwork to adopt a child. Please tell me I’m dreaming!” The cyclist, Sarita, as the report stated, was sobbing on her knees, watching the world around her corpse continue to go. Vera kneeled next to her and placed a hand on her forearm. “What did I do to deserve this?”
“I understand that this is hard to see. No amount of time can truly prepare one for their passing,” Vera allowed Sarita to lean into her chest and cry, tears rolling down the fabric of Vera’s black feathered dress before falling onto the concrete and dissolving to nothing. “This is not a punishment, just the path of fate taking its course.”
“I don’t want to leave him like this,” Sarita continued to weep. Sam had seated next to her and tried to reassure her with a warm hand on her shoulder. Vera was glad to see her novice give into their empathetic response. “We were both so busy, I didn’t even give him a kiss this morning. He deserves a better goodbye than this!”
Vera raised a hand and summoned the phone from the corpse's body, a copy of the phone flying to her hand. She handed it to Sarita, a soft smile resting on her lips. “How about we make a better goodbye? You can leave him a short voicemail before we bring you to the sanctuary.”
“I thought it was forbidden for the dead to speak to the living! You could get in a lot of trouble for doing that!” Sam squealed, but Vera just sighed while Sarita punched in her fiancé's number.
“If Death has a problem with it, she can fire me. Trust me, once you have been doing this for as long as I have, the rules are not as strict as they teach them.” Sam gasped at Vera, but she expected it. The way that Sam learned it, what Vera was doing was grounds for immediate termination and forced transition to the beyond. The way the seniors spooked the new recruits was hilarious.
“Víctor, perdóname por la forma en que debo dejarte. Sabes que mi alma te amará por siempre. No puedo esperar el día en que nos reunamos, pero por favor, vive tu vida al máximo por los dos. Hasta que nos volvamos a encontrar, mi amor.” Sarita hung up and handed the phone back to Vera, and with a flick of her wrist, it was no more. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Vera offered her arm for Sarita to grab, Sam grabbing the other. Vera released her wings, feathers of a raven, black as the night sky, and Sam their tiny, still growing dragonfly wings. Together, they carried Sarita and started the journey back to the sanctuary.
“What happens to me now? Are you taking me to heaven?” Vera nodded at Sam, offering them the chance to take the lead, which they happily accepted.
“We are going to the sanctuary, which is a kind of in-between for the afterlife and the living. You get a choice between going to the beyond or staying in the sanctuary as a Reaper and work for Death!”
“Lady Death? I thought she was just a myth! What is she going to do to me?!” Vera could sense the panic in Sarita and Sam as they struggled to say something to calm Sarita.
“Lady Death is nothing like the stories you have been told. She doesn’t eat the souls of the dead to keep her body alive, that’s just a old folk tale to keep children from running around at night.” Vera remarked, chuckling to herself. “Trust me, I’m the oldest Reaper there is right now. I’ve seen Death scared by her own butterflies, she is not one to fear. You are in good hands, Sarita.”
“Become a Reaper, what does that mean? Must I stay a Reaper forever?” Sarita asked as they approached the edge of the sanctuary.
“You collect the souls of the ones who have passed away and bring them to the sanctuary so they can make their choice, just like we are right now.” Sam chimed in as they walked through the flowered gates, butterflies floating around the rainbow of flowers. “You only stay a Reaper as long as you wish, and when you want to retire, you can go to the beyond and rest.”
“What is in the beyond?”
“Nobody knows, not even Death herself. As far as we know, it’s the final resting place. You won’t know what it holds until you make the choice to move on.” Vera answered as the trio reached the house of the undecided. “This is where we part ways. Here you will be given the choice and some time to consider it.”
“I’ve already decided,” Sarita stated, wearing a confident smile, a refreshing change from the despair that held her lips mere minutes ago. “I want to be a Reaper, I want to help people feel the way you made me feel.” Vera nodded, and Sam beamed.
“Very well, We shall see you soon then.” They parted ways, Vera leading her novice back to the assignment HQ.
“How do you do this so well? Not get all sad when seeing tragic accidents like that?” Sam asked, flapping their tiny wings as hard as they could to keep up with Vera.
“It’s not about not getting sad, but understanding what that sadness means. You cannot let it control your reaction to a souls passing. They have to leave everything behind, and in that moment, you are their only support.” Vera gave a tired smile as they entered to grab what felt like her millionth assigned soul. “Worry not, Sam. Everyone has a path, all you need is to follow your own.”
Translation: “Victor, forgive me for the way I have to leave you. You know that my soul will love you forever. I can’t wait for the day we meet, but please live your life to the fullest for the both of us. Until we meet again, my love.”