“I want you to oversee the project. To be the face of the gods,” Zeus started, sitting behind his desk. “I mean, we here at the God Complex, have already donated a considerable amount of money to the local, state, and federal governments to help rebuild the city your brother saw fit to destroy. Look, I know you’re probably worn out and tired. You’ve been through one massive ordeal, and so have I, and several other gods. Take a week or two off, my boy. Recover and recoup yourself, but get down to San Francisco and oversee this project. You can meet with Hephaestus when you are there.”
That was two weeks ago. I now stand in the cacophonous din on Market Street as the mortals’ construction machines work ever onward. I am glad Zeus sent me. I have unfinished business here. Souls of the unreaped wander around lost, scared, and confused. They are dangerous in these states, likely to turn into violent poltergeists. I clutch my black iPad, scrolling through the names of the dead from Hypnos’s reign of terror. Interspersed throughout the list are messages of well wishes, a gentle order from Mr. Hades to bring the lost souls home to the Underworld, and even a complaint from Atropos, informing me that her hand hurt from cutting all those threads at once.
I can hear Hephaestus laugh as I continue my search. It is a full and hardy sound. He does it quite often, and the foremen from the various mortal construction companies stand around him laughing, too. Not sure if they are trying to impress a god or are just happy knowing how much human currency they will be making. Hephaestus had found original blueprints to all the buildings destroyed, and they will make the city look as it was before the bombings. The considerable amount of money The God Complex, Mr. T’s, The Silver Bow Foundation, and the other god run companies put into rebuilding the city my brother destroyed is astronomical.
I finally find the name I am looking for: Abigail Swire, age twelve, blue eyes, blonde hair, in a yellow sweater.
The same yellow sweater Ky’Elli grabbed with her mouth in an attempt to prevent her from jumping off a building under Hyp’s command. The same yellow swatch of a sweater I found upon waking in Nem’s cottage. She, the one who has haunted me during my time of recovery. Her, the one I intend to find and reap above the others. But fear not, I will take the others as well.
I look up from my iPad and see them milling about with the construction workers. The souls of the dead, not yet realizing they are dead. They try in vain to get the attention of the workers, their fresh injuries standing out vividly on their souls. Some hide amongst the rubble, afraid, and others wander around in an open-mouthed daze, looking to the sky for answers that do not come.
I am in a suit with a long coat tailored to keep my wings tucked inside of it. I remove it, and my wings unfurl, the mortals and the dead stopping to look at me for a moment. The mortals return uneasily to their work, some shivering visibly as they turn away. The dead come to me like moths drawn to a flame. To them, I am a beacon, a light. Nick, my mortal assistant, takes my suit coat while handing me my scythe and robe. I take only the scythe and raise it with both hands above the heads of the souls. I bring it down and across my body, the glowing blade slicing through the air. The souls are lifted off the ground and pulled into the blade. I slam the base of the handle into the earth, releasing them into the Underworld to be ferried across the Styx and stand for their final judgment.
There are more, so many more. I remove feathers from my wings and place them on the ground. They spawn into my clones, each one has the list of the remaining dead inside their head, and I send them forth to reap. My attention is now on young Ms. Swire. I grab my cloak from Nick and slip it over my head. I will go back to the place where she met her end, and I am sure others will be wandering around there as well.
“Happy hunting, sir,” Nick says.
“Thank you, Nick. While I am out, you are in charge of the offices. I will see you back at the hotel. You can update me there later.” I say, smiling.
“If it is really important, I will email you, boss,” Nick says with a nod of his head.
I nod as my blade lights, ready to open a rift back to where the hunt had officially started. Nick takes a couple of steps back as I slice a rift into the air and step through. I emerge near Golden Gate Park, and as I head to where they all jumped, the dead make themselves known. They peer at me from the rubble, behind cars, and darkened alleyways. They are the afraid, the lost, the forsaken, and the forgotten. I never forget, though. I know them all, and as I pass, I collect them and into the pouch they go, down to the Underworld.
Then they approach me. They are a couple, and they walk to me, hand in hand. They have confused looks about their face as they examine their surroundings and realize where they are for the first time in their brief lives. My heart aches for these two victims of my brother. Their faces are cut and bleeding in spots. The man is a tall, lanky, bespectacled fellow in a gray suit. The woman wears a blue and white polka dot dress with a short white sweater jacket. They stop and stare at me, long moments passing. It is the man who speaks first, and upon his words, I know him at once: Francis Swire, father of Abigail, husband of Nicole.
“Are…we…dead?” he stammers out.
“Afraid so, Mr. Swire,” I tell him.
“Are you the grim reaper?” he asks.
“Something like that, yes,” I say.
Then Mrs. Swire, who has been wringing her hands nervously during this exchange, steps forward. The look on her face is one of fear, concern, and worry as she speaks up.
“What about Abby? Our Abby? She was on top of the building too, when that monster made us jump!” her voice cracks at the end.
She begins to weep, and Mr. Swire takes her into his arms. She buries her face into his shoulder, and he holds her fast. He stares ahead at me with hollowed and traumatized eyes, the memories of being forced to jump to his death, obviously torturing him. He kisses Nicole on the top of her head.
“I seek your daughter as well, Mrs. Swire,” I inform her.
“And what do we call the Angel of Death?” Mr. Swire asks.
“Thanatos or Than for short, and I am no angel, but a god. Now into the pouch, you two go and to the shores of the ferryman. Beyond it, the afterlife,” I tell him.
“No,” Nicole speaks up, “not until my baby is back in my arms and safe.”
“Safe? She is dead. One does not get safer,” I say.
“Okay, Mr. Literal, I believe you know what I meant,” Mrs. Swire shoots back.
“Honey, maybe you shouldn’t argue with a…a…god?” Mr. Swire adds.
I let out a long, slow sigh. I feel heavy with the weight of knowledge of what has transpired here. I feel numb and somehow empty on the inside. I resign myself to their decision and nod.
“As you will. Follow me,” I say and move on.
The Swires follow silently behind me as we proceed down the street. Silent spectators, the silent dead, which sometimes happens when one is coming to grips with the fact their life has ended. But I feel them hovering close, their last thoughts and feelings being played on a loop inside theirs and my head. More traumatized souls approach us as we continue onward. They cling to me, they have their stories to tell, and they seek comfort and aid. I reap them as they come, collecting all their pains, memories, and sorrows as I send them below. I see a sudden flash of yellow from the corner of my eye.
“Abigail,” I whisper.
I turn slowly, as I do not wish to alarm the Swires. There was an auto body shop here before, with its garage door up. The interior is dark, which makes sense, as most of the city is without power after the bombings. How will these people keep their livelihoods? I wonder as I approach the open door. Behind a yellow drum barrel is the tip of a child’s sneaker.
“Abigail?” I gently call out.
The sneaker tip withdraws from my sight. It is her. The side of her face and a blue eye peer around the barrel at me. Her eyes widen as her parents move in, and she retreats behind the barrel again. I turn to face them and raise both my hands in a staying gesture. Mrs. Swire has a very determined look about her face and sidesteps me. That is a mistake that will cost her dearly as I haven’t the patience to deal with this.
I tap the ground three times with the staff of my scythe, and the Missus is sent below. It’s like watching someone fall through a trapdoor really, and they always have a surprised look upon their faces when it happens. I turned to face the Mister. He’s pointing an accusatory finger at me as his mouth opens to speak. He drops from my sight to join his wife on the Styx, where they will wait for me to come with their daughter.
I turn to face the shop and see that blue eye assessing me around the side of the barrel. I smile and slowly approach the dear one.
“Dear one,” I call to her, “I have come to bear you hence away from this earthly plane. To a place of…”
“To a place of torment, punishment, Hell,” she shoots back.
“I am sorry, dearest one, where?” I step closer and can hear her scoot back.
“Hell, you’ve come to take me to Hell. I know it. I saw you just sent my Mommy and Daddy down there. Reverend Tim was right, and so was your brother,” she says, her voice cracking on the verge of tears.
I visibly stiffen at those last words, feeling not only the air leave my lungs but as if an invisible hand slapped my face. I was sure, somewhere in his prison in Tartarus, Hypnos was laughing at me. I take a moment to compose myself and find my words.
“My brother,” I say.
“He called you Thanner, and he laughed! He said, This is going to be a good one, Thanner! and he made us jump. He made me jump! I didn’t want to jump, the kitty tried to save me, and I still jumped. It’s a sin to take one’s life, and I took mine. Reverend Tim said people who take their lives go to Hell,” her voice says from the darkened recesses of the auto body shop.