Nightfall

Image result for black and white forestThe sound feet hitting the pavement in perfect rhythm was the only sound which resonated through the quiet street. They belonged to a young woman taking the same route she takes everyday, with her knowing that she would arrive to work late and that no one would realise. She continues at her relaxed pace, with footsteps growing slightly heavier as the same unease shot through her. This unease was the reminder that this was her life until the end of her days. The town was too predictable, thus for her, too boring. Nothing ever changed, not the people, and never their routine.

This was proved when she turned into the busy street, greeted by the eyes of the barber peering out of his glass shop front. There was the same awful aroma coming from the real estate agents sucking their morning fag. Then the barking of the dog with his owners resting on the bench. All sounds and senses dulled ever so slightly with the familiar bustle of cars in traffic. This isn’t where I’m meant to be, she had always thought. It just doesn’t feel right.

A singular raindrop fell, leading her to sigh and pull an umbrella from her bag anticipating this change of weather. Not much time passed before the downpour increased, leading to the streets to clear. She watched a bus crammed with people stuck in traffic and decided to continued by foot — extending her beloved solitude. Another turn led her to enter an empty park, her usual shortcut which truly was not shorter. She stopped the blaring music in her ears to listen to the sounds of the rain hit the surface. 

The clouds above merged into a grey storm, showing no sign of stopping. The pitter patter of the water hit her umbrella forming a gentle beat which calmed her. The rhythmic sound was disrupted with the emergence of footsteps running through mud, accompanied by a heavy panting. It was sudden but the footsteps were closely approaching. 

Her pace began to quicken and it was not long before she achieved a full out sprint. She did not dare turn around, instead she glued her eyes to the setting directly in front of her, praying never to hear that gnarly panting again. A time soon came where she could no longer run, her ears ringing and vision blurred. She hunched over, squatting close to the wet grass, still with the umbrella in hand but not positioned above her. Her throat was aching due to a combination of the weather and the most exercise she had done in years, breathing hurt, yet she was hyperventilating. Her chest felt like it was on fire, and a twinge of fear remained instilled into her. When she was able to hear again and the need to throw up finally subsided, she had realised she could not hear the rain, nor any footsteps and bad things which followed it. It was replaced by an undisturbed tranquility. 

The feeling of was cut short when cold bony hand touched the woman’s shoulder. “Finally,” a deep voice said, belonging to a man towering over her. He stood upright making his six foot demeanour seem even taller, he was composed, no sense of uneven breathing, just serenity, in contrast to the woman near him. She turned around, examining the stranger’s face. Due to his paleness, his skin seemed to illuminate, his dark attire did not help his complexion — he wore a long black jacket with a hood over his head while strands of long damp black hair peeking out. His most prominent — and unsettling — feature were his black eyes staring down at her.

“Why were you running?” he asked, monotonously.

She racked her mind, wondering how she could explain to a stranger that she was running from something she never even saw. She stood upright mimicking his posture whilst dusting off her trousers. “Just late to work, so I should make a move.”

“I don’t think you’re going to make it there.”

“Excuse me,” she pushed past him and walked with urgency.

Her apprehension had returned, not able to stay near the strange man but her mind fixated on the initial creature she was trying to escape. She roamed further away, expecting to see the same red bricks from the wall she encounters every day, but instead was greeted by an unfamiliar terrain. The path that would lead her to work was no longer there, replaced by trees vaguely concealing a railroad. Though the heavy downpour stopped, the grey sky remained, however darker than before. 

She stood frozen at her new surroundings when the stranger approached her again. She didn’t know where to go, but wanted to run. “Stay away from me. I bet you were the one chasing me before as well.” The minimal composure she hoped to maintain had disappeared. 

“What are you talking about?”

“Something was running behind me, which is how I ended up — well I don’t even know where.”

“Please, honey, I don’t run. The real question is how you got here. What are you, like a witch or something?”

“What did you call me?”

“So not a witch.” He held his hands up. “You can’t be a reaper too. Sure, you’re pale enough but your eyes are brown.”

“Excuse me. I’m not going to stand here and be insulted, especially after you have already threatened me.” She turned around, grabbing her phone hoping to see where she was, but instead came to face a black screen.

The strange man was before her again, he had no audible footsteps, nor presence. “I guess you’re small enough to be a fairy.” He slyly smiled at his quip, while she just glared at him. “That can’t be it. There is hate in those eyes, you are nowhere near ‘sparkly’ enough to be a fairy. With those eyes, you must be a siren.”

“Hey, weirdo! What the fuck are you on about?”

There was silence. 

“Actually, you know what I don’t have time for this. Just tell me where I am so I can go work.”

“Nightfall.”

“Where am I?” she repeated.

“That is where you are.”

“Nightfall is not a real place.”

“Look around, darling. That is where you are.”

“I am lost in a strange place with strange man.”

“I am no mere mortal, miss. I am a reaper.” 

She fell to the ground and uttered the most pathetic words: “I’m gonna be late for work”.

A silence swept over them once again. He didn’t leave – a kind gesture that she did not want, nevertheless she quickly became consumed with her own thoughts. “I’m going to die here,” she muttered.

“Hate to break it to you but if you’re here then you’re probably already dead,” he said.

“You severely lack any sensitivity.” God, why could he not leave? “Earlier when you said you were a reaper. Did you mean like grim?”

“Is there any other kind?” a proud smile spread across his face as he bowed dramatically.

As he hunched over she grabbed his collar. “You bastard did you bring me here. I’ll fucking kill you.”

“What a gross misconception.” He sounded hurt and easily escaped her weak grasp. “Reapers don’t take lives, they only guide them to the afterlife.”

“Genius, are you meant to guide anyone today?”

“I usually get a name, one second.” He gestured with his index finger as he turned his pockets inside out like a schoolboy. “Nothin’”.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The warmth of the mug radiated to her fingertips. She stared down at the hot beverage, firmly believing that comfort can always be found in a cup of tea. The steam raised up warming face as she slowly took a sip. Familiarity, is all she thought.

Due to pity and curiosity, the “reaper” could not help but invite the lost woman into his home. She never went into a stranger’s home, but considering the circumstance, an exception was made. It was homelier than she had presumed. From the outside, his house looked like a small bungalow, however inside it was strangely spacious. The minimalist composition further added to this sparse look. There were no dividing walls, the bedroom overlooked the living room and past this was the kitchen. The kitchen particularly stood out, differing from the rest of the house, as it was contemporary and bright. She also could not help be comforted slightly by the thought of a reaper wearing an apron and preparing meals like a normal person.

The rest of the house was dark, which suited him more. The sofa she sat on was black, similarly with the rug that rested below her feet. Behind her was his bedroom, with a black brick wall complemented by an array of  grey decor.

Her trance was cut short from the harsh steps of the so-called reaper. Before she even looked up, she  could see him pacing back and forth in her peripheral vision. “I don’t understand,” he said.

“You and me both, dude.” Finally relaxed and embracing the new warmth, she gulped down the hot tea. She stretched on his couch and began to lay down.

“No, no,” he rushed toward her before her back could rest against the leather of the sofa, placing his hands on her back and pushing her up. “No,” he repeated. “Don’t make yourself comfortable. You’re going to heaven or hell or whatever the afterlife is. But you don’t belong here.”

“Well, apparently you’re the expert, so you tell me what to do.” I was clearly a novice at this whole dying thing, she thought. 

He wanted to retaliate, but quickly deflated, knowing he had no rebuttal.  “Why are you relaxed now? Ten minutes ago, you were frantic, cursing me out.”

She shrugged. “Ten minutes ago, you were level-headed and carefree. You’re looking pretty flustered now.” She knew she was irritating her only hope to get answers but in this moment she finally did not have a care in the world. “What usually happens when someone dies?”

“I get a name and when I read the name I see the person’s face. I wander out to the forest and in the middle of the plains, someone’s lying there. They’re unconscious, laying in the same exact place, every time. When they come to, they can’t recall their life but when I look into their eyes, I see it all — guiding them through these wastelands, where they gradually remember as well. When they know their truth, then they have reached the end. For each person, it’s different but it’s usually a gate — a gate to the next life. The final one.”

“Interesting. But it proves I’m not dead. I remember everything, my whole life. My house for example, it’s nice. Not too big but not too small. There’s the porch door which is white and leads to the black tiles where I throw my shoes when I get home. Then there’s another door, a cream colour. This leads to our hallway. There’s two doors, the one with a glass pane leads to our living room. It’s all open, so we have a long room and the kitchen at the end. Above the kitchen is a skylight, which you can see from my room. The kitchen has a lot of light which I always hated a bit because it blinds me first thing in the morning. The-”

“Okay!” He cut her off, clearly agitated, “I get it! Was there anything weird about the events leading up to before I saw you?”

“It started off as a pretty normal day. It was raining before I got here, real heavy rain, it even had the same rain smell mixed with petrol and mud. And of course, the weird rabid dog panting which I thought came from you.”

His eyes widened. “Hellhounds,” was all he muttered. “Did it bite you? Tear you limb from limb?”

“No, I ran.”

“No one could ever outrun a hellhound, especially considering how unfit you are. Coughing your lungs out from the slightest bit of exercise. It is just so strange.”

She walked up to him extending her hand out as a sign of friendship. “We spent a bit of time together and I find it odd that we haven’t introduced ourselves yet. My name is Noor.” There was brief silence therefore Noor took it upon herself to continue speaking. “It means divine light in Arabic, fitting right?”

He was wary but graciously accepted the act of kindness. “Right.”

“This is the portion of the conversation where you say your name.”

“I’m reaper, I guess.”

“That’s not a name, you must have had a name once. A life aside from reaping.”

“This is all I know. All I have ever done. I am but a reaper.”

“So how long you been doing this gig?”

“What is with the interrogation?”

“I’m trying to be friendly.”

“I think I preferred when you were threatening me.” He sighed, “as far back as I can remember. The beginning of time, I guess. I don’t know. I don’t know when it started or when it will end.”

“De-pressing,” she said in a sing-song tone.

“I am sorry I don’t get the same luxury as you deplorable humans.” Noor was shocked, wondering what she had said to hit a nerve, and also hurt by his harsh words.

It wasn’t long before he spoke again. “I apologise for my outburst. I’m never like this, reapers don’t have a lot of emotion —  it helps maintain a judgement free zone. But I have met a lot of people. I have seen their deepest darkest secrets and all their desires, the flaws. I am not the one to pass judgement — but I see it and I can’t pretend like I haven’t.”

“So, you don’t like humans, how about the witches and sirens and fairies you mentioned? Maybe I’ve met one.”

“Doubtful. There are things not in your world which can enter mine. It’s like walking through a neighbourhood for them. Any being with free will have the same issues. And for the record I don’t hate humans.” He smiled, slyly referring to Noor. This was the first time he really smiled at her and she couldn’t help but grin back.

“I don’t want to make this about myself again but can you see anything about me, even a glimpse?”

“That’s exactly it. When I look at you, it’s a complete blank. Usually, I see everything when I look in their eyes. I see their souls. The eyes are a window to the soul, never underestimate how true that is. I see what they don’t know about themselves. Just to summarise, paper, vision, memory lane which then leads to the gate. I’m a glorified delivery boy. With you, there’s nothing, I didn’t even realise you came here, I didn’t know your face, I know nothing about you. It irks me.”

“Maybe it’s just a delayed reaction. What if you look in my eyes, like really look in them?”

“It couldn’t hurt to try,” he said. They sat opposite each other, legs folded like school kids. As they stared into each others eyes, his face betrayed him to show that he once again reached a disappointing blank. “You have black eyes,” he noted.

Noor knew that he was unable to see her years unfold before his very eyes, instead she saw his. The entirety of the reaper’s existence flashed before her. However, he was no reaper, not anymore and he wasn’t from the start as he believed. There is more to his story, that he had yet to learn. A sad story of a boy destined to live a normal life, but died before he became a man. As her vision became clouded, she felt a dampness on her face, but she saw his face change. Something he hadn’t felt in years despite the thousands of people who previously broke down in front of him — empathy.

“Micah,” was all that left her lips.

He looked at her in disarray, completely unaware of all that she had seen. He instinctively wiped Noor’s tears with his thumb, which she knew that he had never been compelled to do for any other soul. That only made her tears flow more. She abruptly stood up, startling him slightly. With her back turned to him, she quickly wiped the tears with her pulled sleeves.

Micah stared at her, restraining himself from comforting her. Before she was ready to face him again, she dug her hands deeps into her pocket and felt a roughness at the bottom, brushing over it with her thumb. Removing the foreign object — a scrunched-up piece of paper — and unfolding it, which revealed the new name Noor had just learnt.

“Micah, would you like to go for a walk?” Noor asked.

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