He stood looking out over the city, the cold air chilling his unprotected face and whipping his brown hair out of its neat rows, he brushed the strands out of the way of his left eye, a futile gesture since an attack had robbed him of his sight long ago.
He pulled his hood up around his neck to try and keep the chill out.
The man sighed, causing a burst of white breath to form and disappear into the sky, his eye drifted over the city, with barely a sound he leapt from his perch and landed lightly on the building several blocks away.
He looked down, grimaced, and stepped off the building, falling six floors to the ground.
He landed silently a few feet from the hunched form of a man.
“Didn’t I already collect you?” he asked.
The man looked up, blood dripping from his mouth, eyes white and narrow, he let out a guttural growl and shoved the corpse he was devouring behind him, shielding it from the other man’s view.
“I’m not here to take your dinner,” the Reaper said with disgust as he flicked open the pouch on his hip and, with a smooth motion, drew out a small, black, smooth shiny rectangle no larger than small phone.
“I’m here to collect your soul,” he flicked his wrist and a white light shined from his hand and the rectangle shifted into a long, curved scythe.
The twisted man lunged at the hooded figure carrying the weapon, his fingernails glancing off the flat of the blade as the wielder parried the attack and kicked the monster in the chest, sending him falling back into a trash can.
The Reaper shook his head, “They lied to you. Whoever sent you back lied, you don’t get a second chance to change the things you did. When they send you back you’re nothing but a beast, your mind his warped from being forced through the tiny cracks between our realities. There are only a few gates that come back to the mortal plain…and they’re all guarded. Without a Godkin or a Reaper your soul-body doesn’t transition right. You lose everything you were.”
The monster snarled and lashed out again, the Reaper dodged the frenzied blow.
“But I guess you can’t see that…can you?” he brought the blackened scythe down on the man’s shoulder and lopped his arm off.
The creature screamed in pain and bounded away towards the wall of the building, the beast dug his nails into the brick and clawed his way up to the roof.
The reaper growled angrily, “I don’t know why I bother. Damned Passers.”
The Reaper followed behind the twisted soul, his feet slamming the ground as he jumped another gap between the buildings.
“Stand Still!” the reaper yelled as he threw his hand out, a white blast erupted from the area around his fingers.
The blast caught the monster in the back of the head and sent it barreling toward a building.
The beast shattered a window, rolled into the hallway and bounded away through the building.
The reaper crashed through the remainder of the glass, skidded in behind the man and started after him. His hand started glowing again.
“Where the hell are you going?!” he fired off another attack, missing the Passer by only a few inches.
“Damn!” the reaper yelled rounded the bend and slid to a halt as his face contorted into something that most would mistake for anger and only the few that new the reaper intimately would recognize the expression for what it really was…fear.
The twisted human being had come face to face with a child of no more than nine years old.
The emissary of death didn’t know why the child was out so late, he only cared that an inhuman monster was now staring that child in the eyes.
The agent began to slowly make his way around the beast, he had to work quickly…he wouldn’t lose another life tonight.
“Kid…stay still…stay quiet,” he said in a whisper.
The boy turned towards him, eyes wide in a more recognizable semblance of fear.
“Hey! You!” the hooded man called to the monster.
It turned towards him, mouth opening slowly as it revealed its gaping maw and broken, twisted teeth that had been formed from the pressure of being pushed back into this realm, the beast quickly turned back to the boy though.
It didn’t care about the reaper.
The reaper lunged at the twisted man again and this time managed to catch him in the side of the head with a rough punch.
But as he corrected his footing to swing his long, curved blade into his opponent’s skull the beast grabbed the boy and bounded down the hall with a snarl.
The child screamed all the way.
The reaper sprinted off after the captive and his prey.
The primal instincts of the beast served him well in the wild chase and soon the hooded man found that he had fallen too far behind.
Throwing up dust the man slid to a stop, he grabbed his hood and yanked it over his head.
“Damn it,” he growled.
He hated using this, he hated the darkness, he had fallen to it once in life…and every time he pulled on that hood he was reminded of his debt.
With a flash the twists and turns of the building were shown to him, in a thin wispy manner he could dimly make out the lines of the walls and pathways of the apartment complex, but even more importantly he could see the heart of every person inside.
An ability to see any and all energy, mortal or not. With it he could even follow the trails of the dead.
Or the corrupted.
With a renewed burst of speed he darted off down the hall in pursuit of his newly reacquired prey.
He threw himself up the stairwell, he didn’t bother with the steps themselves, he simply darted back and forth on the railing.
The door to the roof exploded open as the reaper slammed into it. He was face to face with the monster again.
But it was different this time. The beast was hunched, staring at the reaper, and if the reaper didn’t know any better he would have said that the monster looked…sad.
Suddenly his eyes fell on the boy who was lying behind the monster, covered in blood.
The reaper snarled as he drew back the scythe, he pulled his hood off.
“This is what happens!” he screamed, anger clouding his mind, a tint of red was seeping into his vision.
“This is why you should stay dead!” he started over to the monster, almost at a stagger.
“Now…now you’re lost. Lost forever…lost to the plains,” he felt like he was nearly crying and when he swung the scythe he barely felt the resistance.
There was only a slight pull, a twitch in the metal as it cut cleanly through the monster’s body. The pieces fell to his feet.
The beast didn’t even cry out.
Now it was gone forever. Sent to the void of darkness for all eternity. Now the monster that had once been a man could never be free.
The reaper shook his head.
He hated it.
He hated all the things that he couldn’t stop. He even hated the things he could change.
It was all senseless.
He brought the black rectangle to his mouth, “I need a clean-up.”
He started over to the boy, to see how much damage was done…maybe…maybe they could return his soul to his body…let the mortal’s paramedics sort him out.
The boy coughed.
The reaper nearly fell over out of surprise, he fell to his knees and turned the boy over…there wasn’t a scratch on him.
The blood…the pool of blood around the boy didn’t belong to the child.
It belong to monster. It was from when the reaper had cut the beast’s arm off.
The reaper smiled, he almost laughed.
“You okay kid?” He asked as he helped the boy sit up.
“Where…” The boy groaned, he had a small cut on his head, the monster must have bumped the boy’s forehead on the way outside.
“It’s ok…you’re safe now.”
“Where…is my…father?” The boy looked into the reapers eyes.
“Father?” The man pulled back.
“He…he was just here…he looked sick.”
The reaper shielded the disfigured body of the man from the child’s view.
“Are you sure that it…he…was your father?”
The boy nodded “Yeah, but…he died, mom said he died three months ago. She said it was a car crash. I didn’t see the body though…the casket was closed…”
The reaper shook his head, more in disbelief than anything else “He…he’s gone, now…he…just wanted to say ‘goodbye’.”
The boy looked sad “Oh…I just…mom said he’s in a better place…”
The reaper bowed his head “I…maybe…maybe he is.”
He was lying. The man knew that he was lying, but he told the child that all the same.
“I’m going to help you fall asleep. When you wake up…you’ll realize that this was all a dream.”
The reaper placed his hand on the boy’s forehead, a blue light sprang from his hand, enveloping the boys face.
“Is…this…all…a dream?” the child asked as sleep began to crowd his thoughts.
The reaper frowned, “I hope so.”
The boy’s eyes slipped closed and, for just an instant, the reaper shut his too.
* * *
The reaper stood outside the boy’s window, he was leaning against the rails on the fire escape, the wind had died down, but it was still cold.
Two other reapers were scouring the area, altering memories and undoing the damage that was done in the frantic chase.
The scarred reaper frowned as he reflected on the night, the thing that came back, smarter than it should have been. Still a monster, but also a man. Something broken and twisted and not at all what it should have been.
A part of him regretted his decision, so many years ago, to choose this as punishment for his sins. This earthly purgatory in service of Death rather than penance served in Hell.
“I don’t think anything…could be worse than here…worse than seeing the things we see,” he said to no one as he exhaled and watched the wisp of breath disappear into the cold night air.
Like a dream you can hardly remember.
Or a nightmare.