Reaper Page 10

Levi shook his head firmly, and for once the wide-eyed, innocent kid look worked in his favor. “We made a deal, and that deal stands no matter what you decide. Nash will live until the day you were scheduled to die,” he insisted.

“And when was I supposed to die?” Knowing my luck, my noble sacrifice had only bought him a couple of extra weeks, half of which he’d spent in the hospital.

“I have no way of knowing that until your exchanged death date appears on the schedule. Which hasn’t happened yet.” He glanced up at me. “Anything else?”

“Yeah. Why me?” What had I done to deserve an afterlife, when everyone else evidently got recycled back into the general population? “How was I chosen?”

“Very careful y,” Levi hedged.

I rol ed my eyes. “I’m gonna need more detail than that. If I hadn’t taken Nash’s place, would you have recruited him? Is that why you were watching him?”

He motioned for me to fol ow him again, so I fell into step beside him, ambling slowly down the bright hallway. “I was watching both of you.” Levi paused to watch a nurse’s aide walk past us in snug-fitting scrub pants, and I realized that he’d obviously avoided the loss of humanity—and human urges he’d never grown into in life. “But no, I wouldn’t have recruited Nash. I couldn’t have. He was scheduled to die, but I was there for you.”

“What the hell does that mean?” I snapped, frustrated by his suddenly cryptic explanation. “Why couldn’t you recruit Nash?” Levi sighed. “A person has to meet very specific criteria to even be considered for this job, much less actively recruited. Reapers literally hold the power of life and death in our hands.” He cupped his creepy little child-palms to il ustrate. “The list tells us who to take, and when. But the decision to actually follow the list—the responsibility—ultimately rests with each of us individually.

“Imagine what would happen if the wrong person was given such a power. If a reaper had a God complex, or a personal vendetta? What if a reaper was susceptible to bribes or threats? Or even just lacked a respect for the position? We screen our candidates very careful y to make sure nothing like that ever happens. We evaluate their personal relationships and the decisions they make when something real is on the line. And then we test them.”

“And you chose me?” I huffed. “I hate to question your dedication to the recruiting process, but it sounds more like you ran up against a deadline and grabbed the first sucker with the balls to call you out.” At the end of the hall, Levi stepped through a glass door and into a dark, mostly empty parking lot.

“We’ve been watching you for almost two months, Tod,” he said from the other side of the pane.

“Then you know my brother snuck out when I was supposed to be watching him.” After a moment of hesitation, I fol owed him, and was surprised when I felt nothing.Not the glass I stepped through, not the asphalt beneath my shoes, and not the night breeze obviously blowing through the branches of the trees on the edge of the lot.

“Yes. But you picked him up when he called.”

“Under protest. And that ride home ultimately got him killed.” I shook my head, confused on several points, but absolutely certain about one thing.

“You’ve got the wrong guy.” I turned to give him a clear view of my back in the parking lot lights. “Notice the conspicuous absence of wings and a halo.” Levi actual y laughed, the first look of genuine amusement I’d seen from him so far. “What I notice is that the undertaker left your pants intact when he split the back of your shirt.”

“What…?” I couldn’t see my own back, but a quick check with both hands verified that my shirt had been cut open along my spine and was evidently pinned together at the collar. Since it was tucked into my pants and the earthly breeze never touched me, I hadn’t noticed the gaping hole in my wardrobe.

“Funeral directors sometimes do that to make bodies easier to dress.

Doesn’t usual y matter—most corpses don’t get up and walk around half-exposed after the funeral.”

Funeral. Corpses. Undertaker.

What obviously amused the reaper left me horrified and hollow. “If I unbutton my shirt, am I going to find a roadmap of Frankenstein stitches?” I demanded, my voice trembling in spite of my best effort to remain calm.

This is real. I’m dead.

I sank to my knees in the middle of the parking lot, hunched over with my head in my shaking hands. I’d been on an autopsy table, and in a coffin, and in a hearse. My steps made no sound and my body cast no shadow.

I had died, and the world kept spinning, without even a wobble in its rotation to mark the occasion. I’d known life would go on without me, but seeing that was different than knowing it, and feeling it was worst of all.

If I turned down the job and died for good, no one would know I’d been granted one more day, and the chance to make something of my afterlife. No one would know, and no one would care. I could throw back my head right then and scream until my lungs burst from the pressure, and no one would hear me. Hell, I might not even have lungs to burst. There’s no tel ing what they took out of me during the autopsy….

Levi’s red brows arched as he stared down at me. “What, no quips about dissection or formaldehyde?”

I scrubbed my hands over my face and stood, glad that I could at least feel the texture of my own skin, even if I couldn’t interact with the rest of the world. “Sorry, but the whole walking corpse epiphany kind of threw me off my game.” Still, I had to know… “So, would you say I’m closer to a zombie or a vampire? I gotta know—are my parts going to rot and fal off, or am I forever frozen in youthful perfection?”

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