Reaper Page 7

“Yes. I’l do it. But I have one condition.”

The child’s brows rose again, this time in dark amusement. “Death makes no promises.”

“He can’t know.” I stood, staring down at my brother. What good would it do to give him life, if he’d spend it feeling guilty for my death? I turned to the reaper. “I’ll do it, if you swear he’ll never know it was supposed to be him.” The child smiled slowly, and his satisfied expression raised chill bumps on my arms in spite of the warm June night. “That, I can do.” And suddenly the enormity of what I’d just agreed to hit me with the unyielding weight of eternity. Isn’t your life supposed to flash before your eyes when you die? Then how come all I saw was regret?

The reaper glanced at Nash, then back at me, and the hint of a grin told me the little bastard enjoyed this part of his job. “Any last words?” Pushing everything else aside to clear my head, I knelt next to Nash, wishing with all of my last few seconds of life that he could actually hear me.

“Can’t clean up after you anymore, baby brother, so don’t punk out. Make it count.”

I stood and started to turn toward the reaper. But then something hard slammed into my chest, and my legs folded beneath me. I blinked, and the car went fuzzy. Nash’s face slid out of focus. He took a breath. Then he coughed, his eyes still closed.

The child knelt over me, red curls backlit by the moon, finally emerging from thick cloud cover. The last thing I saw was the creepy little bastard’s smile….

Bright light shined, red and veiny through my closed eyelids. I blinked, and suddenly the world was white instead. But not Heaven-white, with clouds, and robes, and chicks with wings. Hospital-white. White walls. White ceiling.

White sheets and pillows, on the bed beneath me.

I sat up with a sudden flash of memory and brought my hand to my chest. But there was no pain. I took a deep breath, and everything felt fine.

Which was weird.

“Welcome back.”

Startled, I twisted on the bed to find the child reaper in a waiting room style armchair by a darkened window, his short hair bright red in the glaring fluorescent light. His feet didn’t reach the floor and his smile didn’t reach his eyes.

“Shouldn’t you be getting back to Snow White?” I snapped, rubbing my chest again, still surprised when it didn’t hurt. “No one ever mentioned that death would come in the form of a sucker-punching little dwarf.” The reaper raised one rust-colored eyebrow. “You may be the first person to ever use that particular description of me.”

“Would I also be the first person you hit with a…what did you hit me with?”

“The post from the traffic sign your car knocked over.” He shrugged.

“And no, you’re not the first. I could have killed you without touchingyou, but it’s easier for both your family and the coroner if I give them an obvious cause of death. At a glance, impact with a blunt object should look like your chest was crushed by the top half of your own steering wheel— you really should have been buckled.” The child shook his index finger at me in mock disappointment. “But the hard part was getting you back in the car.”

“For a kid, you pack a lot of power.”

The reaper scowled. “If you really think I’m a child, maybe I should have left you in that coffin.”

I blinked, briefly surprised by the mention of my own death. “Speaking of which, what’s with the encore performance?” I’d traded my life for Nash’s—I’d tried to, anyway—but if I was still alive, did that mean he was still dead?

Pissed now, I stood and realized I didn’t recognize the stiff white dress shirt I wore. “What the hell did you do?” I demanded. “We made a deal. My life for his.” My hands curled into fists, but before I could do anything stupid, I realized I didn’t really have any recourse. What was I gonna do, punch a kid? A dead reaper kid, at that? “I wanna see your supervisor.” The kid laughed, and my urge to punch him became an imperative. “I don’t even want to see my supervisor.” His smile looked a little more genuine, but that only made it harder to buy. “Before we go any further, my name is Levi.”

“I don’t care what your name is.” But at least now I’d know who to blame when I got in touch with his boss.

“Relax. Your brother’s alive—he was released from the hospital three days ago—and you’re as dead as disco.” The reaper shifted in his seat, but made no move to stand. “That’s what you were buried in.” His careless gesture took in my stiff shirt and the pressed black pants I’d never seen in my life.

I looked like a waiter.

“If I’m dead, why am I in the hospital?”

“This is a nursing home.” He pushed himself forward, then kind of hopped onto the floor, standing no more than four feet tall. “Specifically, Colonial Manor, room 118. You’re here on a temporary visitor’s pass, of sorts.

No one alive can see or hear you.”

“I’m visiting a nursing home in the clothes I was buried in, but no one can see or hear me. Which part of that is supposed to make sense?”

“Have a seat, and I’ll explain.” He gestured toward the bed, and I sat reluctantly, tugging at the sleeves of the shirt I already hated.

“You’re visiting life, not a nursing home—we’re only here because this is one of the places I’m working at the moment. And you’re here—in the grander sense of the word—so I can recruit you.”

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