Chapter 1: Not Dead
All of this – this whole entire thing – is my cousin’s fault.
Blame him if you need someone to blame.
If that pompous little pimple hadn’t forgotten to pick me up from work, I wouldn’t have ended up down this torn-up, run-down, smells-like-dirty-foot alley in the first place.
Forgetful little scab.
Little is relative, really. Milo’s actually two years older than me. The only nineteen-year-old still waiting for a growth spurt. A spurt, I’m guessing, that’ll never come. Scrawny limbs to match a scrawny brain, too many nights cooped up in the basement playing DotA, not enough nutrients – if you ask me, excessive hermitude’s to blame.
There’s that word again.
Blame. Blame. Fault.
Maybe this isn’t Milo’s fault, after all . . .
Okay, if it isn’t Milo’s fault, then the fault definitely falls on Howard – Howie ‘The Mix’ O’Neil – who wouldn’t let me leave work until I’d listened to his most recent masterpiece. The whole. Damn. Thing. Now there’s a good chunk of time I’ll never get back.
Speaking of which, masterpiece is relative, too. Layering one pop song on top of another isn’t any great feat when all the songs already sound the same.
Growl and hiss. If Howard hadn’t kept me, there’s no telling how things might’ve ended up differently.
There’s no telling.
Okay, so maybe this wasn’t Howard’s fault, either.
I’m a reasonable girl. Downright down-to-earth if you ask me. The only person I can really blame this on is myself. At any point in my seventeen years of existence I could have taken a self-defense class or two. I could have beefed up my arms a bit. Instead, I’m just wimpy old me, without the pipes to defend myself.
Not that I didn’t try.
I kicked at him, sure. Kicked him right in his downtown, too. It didn’t do much good, though. Before I knew what was happening, that creep was on top of me, and then . . .
And then what?
There was screaming. My screaming. But it was muffled by some nasty-tasting piece of fabric. A sock or a glove or a wad of towel. And then . . .
Well, I don’t really want to think about that.
And now, here I am, lying behind the old movie theater, with my arms tied over my head and a trickle of red leaking from my side.
One thing is certain: I’m not dead.
Well, not yet anyway.
But the trickle of red is quickly starting to pool and my head feels light – like that one time I locked my knees in marching band. That time, I went down like a zebra on the Sahara. . . . Wait, do zebras live in the Sahara, even? Meh. Geography isn’t really my strong point.
Or would that be zoology?
Above me, the sun hides behind a foggy sky. I can still see its shape, but it’s smogged over by cloud. People don’t die this way. Not in the daytime anyway. This whole thing would be much more predictable if it were the dead of night. Yeah, I can see it now: Defenseless girl walks along a shady alley with nothing but a flickering streetlight overhead. Briskly, she scurries, stealing glances over her shoulder, when–
BABAM! A rapist strikes.
Let’s change the subject, shall we?
Sigh. I wonder what’s going to happen to me now. I can’t foresee anyone walking by, and when I try to move, the trickle of red turns into a stream. So what, I’m just supposed to lie here and wait for THE END? Well, that’s just great! I’ve got things to do. I can’t be bothered with something like dying. Carmen and I were supposed to go to Robbie’s cabin this weekend, and then I was FINALLY going to let Noah Carmichael – who’s a little weird and has this unhealthy obsession with all things Russian but all-in-all’s pretty cute, I guess – kiss me!
Guess THAT won’t be happening.
Stupid Milo. Stupid Howard. Stupid rapist.
Can’t say I’m fond of the word. But what else would you call him? Criminal? Jerkwad? Murderer would work too, I guess. And pervert.
Oooh! Got it! Pedophile. I won’t be eighteen till next month, after all.
Groan. None of those words make it any better. This is by far the worst, worst, worst way to go. Whoever finds me is in for a treat. Hello world, take a look at my . . . well, all of me.
Everything’s getting fuzzier. Colder. Distanter. Distanter? More distant, I mean. Eh, who am I kidding? I’m not so great with grammar, either.
Fuzzy. Cold. Distant. Numb. Drifty. Red.
No, I’m definitely not dead.
But I’m almost dead.
. . .
. . . . . .
. . . . . . . . .
Through the fuzz, a voice says my name, but I can’t answer it. My mouth stopped working some time ago. So did my lungs.
“Marley Craw, right?” the voice says again.
Shoot! It’s a guy’s voice. Well, that’s humiliating. It means I’ve been seen – all of me’s been seen.
Don’t look. Please don’t look. I’m not normally this . . . exposed.
There’s the click of a pen, followed by the sound of scribbling. “Marley Craw,” says the voice. “Female. Human. Seventeen. Red hair . . .” The scribbling turns vigorous as the unknown person scratches out what he’s just written. “Fake red hair. Naturally a brunette.”
Well, he doesn’t need to say it like that! So sue me, I like dye.
“Green eyes. Wound to the abdomen. Scrapes on the arms and wrists. Discoloring on neck. Bruises at the inner thigh. But what really did her in is that gash on the back of the head.”
Oh, excuse me; I didn’t realize I had a gash.
The scribbling carries on. “Morality is at a six. Charity is at a four. Seems like she’s right on the fence. Believes in God, but not particularly devout, so she doesn’t get a free ride.” The scribbling stops. “Marley Craw, can you hear me? Would you say you have love for your fellow man?”
That depends which fellow man.
I can’t say my answer, but he seems to hear it anyway.
“Heh.” The pen clicks. “All right, I’m going to assign you two different reapers, Marley Craw. We do that sometimes, when a soul isn’t leaning particularly one way or another. Two weeks should be enough to determine where you’re going. If we were under old law, you’d go straight to purgatory. Lucky for you, that place was closed up some two-thousand years ago. Expect your reapers later today. Here’s my card if you have any questions.”
Through the haziness, something flutters down from the sky and lands on my numb stomach.
“Beck Lemmings. That’s me. And beneath that’s my number. . . . Well, I expect you can’t see it right now, but take a look once you’re up, okay? Okay. All done here. Goodbye, Marley Craw.”
He’s . . . leaving? But I need help!
There’s nothing else. Not a single clickety pen click.
Fine then! Leave me here! See if I care!
Smell you later, Beck.
Reapers and purgatory and God. Who knows what the hell that was about? The guy could have at least helped me up. Or called an ambulance.
. . .
. . . . . .
. . . . . . . . .
Brrr. I’m cold.
So super insanely cold.
No . . . wait.
I’m not cold. I’m hot. I’m so hot that it feels cold! It feels like I just ran into a sauna after a dip in an icy lake! I did that one time, you know. It was at summer camp and . . . oh, what does it matter?
I’m deathly cold. I’m deathly hot.
And then I’m just fine, and I find I’m standing over the naked body of a dead girl with dyed red hair.
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