To Die or Not to Die

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To Die or Not to Die (what a lame question)

It hurts, a lot. I can feel the dull aches of coming pain and the searing sensation of ragged flesh. I try to open my eyes, but it's a struggle. I can hear voices, fading in and out. I think of fighting to open my eyes, to try to fight this heaviness, but I'm too tired. I surrender to the inky black while some paramedic is trying to get me to talk about my dog. He's a Husky, but why does he care so much?

I am dragged into consciousness by a hand on my arm, maneuvering me to a standing position. I wobble out of their hold and face plant on the asphalt. The wave of excruciating pain I had expected never hits and I dare to open my eyes. I see the stretch of road, but that is largely obstructed by my form being electrocuted time and time again by frantic first responders. "I'm over here." I grunt, finding the strength to stand. Maybe now would be the time for me to have a flip out over the fact that, well, there are two of me. Then again, I'm still tired and flipping out would involve effort.

I walk up to the paramedics and peek over their shoulders. I look disgusting. It must have been one h*ll of a crash. If I remember correctly, I had been walking my dog when he suddenly darted across the road. And there was a car. I guess the car hit me and it looked like I wouldn't be able to suck the driver dry for medical school. That sucks, I don't want to die. Or is it too late for that since I'm already dead? I'm dead, right?

I walk back to the place I had face planted and see a cloaked figure. He looks like your standard grim reaper, his face perfectly shadowed and his clothes entirely black. I hear a paramedic shout that they got my pulse back. I turn around, waiting to be thrown back into my body, but it never happens. I look back at the reaper who, if I dare say it, looks a little bored.

I can hear the excitement of them placing me in the ambulance and the spectators whispering how I will pull through. I start to laugh a little because obviously they're wrong. Then again, I'm not too sure about this whole dead thing, but I doubt hanging out with reaper-boy is a smart idea. I begin to trail after the ambulance, but reaper-boy catches me. "Not so fast." He says and I have most definitely heard his voice before.

His hood has been pulled back and his face is horribly decayed. I can even smell putrid flesh coming from him. Regardless, there is something recognizable and familiar in his face. "I died." I state, he nods, "but I am not dead now. They brought me back. Aren't I supposed to be in my body now?"

He shrugs. "It's complicated." Then, after a moment, he relents: "We act in a secular fashion." I look on dumbly, so he elaborates: "It means that we act independently of any existing religion. I was given orders to reap you after the accident. God, on the other hand, apparently wants you alive."

"So if Gods says I'm to live…why is my soul here?"

"You're an atheist; figure it out."

I shrug, whatever the Big Guy did was the least of my concerns. Looking around at my surroundings, I begin to realize that I am indeed dead. Then, if I'm dead, you can't kill me, so I must be immortal. I feel a smirk take over my lips and I throw my arms over my head "I AM IMMORTAL!" I begin to run: "I AM GOD!"

Then, from nowhere, a lightning bolt comes from the clear blue sky and I meet blackness briefly, again. I bounce back up, amazed at the burns that are now on the palms of my hands. My head feels lighter, too. "Wait." I say, slowly, turning back to the reaper, shaking static from my head: "If I'm dead how can I feel pain?"

"It's complicated." He admits, or really just doesn't feel like entertaining me with an answer. After a few moments of me staring at the Sun and wondering why it never looked this pretty before, he walks over and grabs my arm: " Come on, I have to get you assigned: apparently no religion wants to claim you."

I follow him, amazed at how awesome the purple grass is. I tell him so and he simply mutters: "I hate this. She's still connected and they drugged up her body."

To be honest, I don't get what he's talking abou—"Oh! SPARKLY UNICORN!"

I suppose the pain medication passed in my system in the hospital, or my soul was just more dissociated from my body than before because, as we get closer to the cemetery, I'm feeling a little more lucid. On the walk over (or run, depending on the number of squirrel sightings by yours truly), I learned that the reaper's name is Reid. He also is not impatient, but easily exasperated. "Hey Reid." He passes a glance back, really hoping I won't ask him why avocadoes are green again: "What's it like to be a reaper?"

He raises an eyebrow, but decides that this question is worth an answer: "It's pretty nice. We just get assignments and ensure people's deaths. Then you either wait for some religion to lay claim at the death site or, if no claiming occurs, you take them to the assignment office. Only downside is that in the spirit world you show your body decay. In the human world it doesn't show, though, or else we'd be pretty much useless." He laughs a little at that, probably thinking what it'd be like with zombie reapers in the human world. Minus the decay, he looks attractive with that smile.

"You know," I say, pulling him from some reverie, and scrutinizing his face, "I think I have seen you before, too."

He smiles; I guess he's proud of being a reaper. "Yea, this is my district. I've worked here the past thirteen years."

"Unlucky number" I admit. He doesn't bother to skip a beat:

"And you're the proof of it."

I had been about to retort when I realize that I'm standing within a mausoleum. His hand (or rather what's left of it, gross) reaches out to an entrance to the catacombs. I see pure darkness below, feeling very wary, immortal or not, about entering the tunnel of death. "It's a short drop" he assures me, giving me a nudge.

"Can't I just be a ghost? Do I have to get assigned?" I plead, holding onto him for my non-life, the pit's entrance seeming to howl at my heels. As I tighten my grip, I can feel parts of his body fall away. He heaves a huge sigh, which is enough to knock me back and down the hole. If I thought his body odor was bad, it had nothing on his breath.

I find the bottom quickly. I also realize that I'm not in some underground chamber (or maybe I am, I don't see any windows). It's actually a lot like the stereotypical principal's office if I have to liken it to something: there is a large desk in front of me, a ladened bookcase behind, and the flurry of secretaries acts as background music. I stand awkwardly before the desk; some creature behind it is poring over a document. He raises a gnarled hand, motioning for me to sit. I find a comfortable seat behind me and await my fate.

I hear a ringing in my ears, which soon transforms to voices. They are weak, but definitely voices. I plunge a finger into my ears, trying to shut it out, but it does no good; the volume never falters. I groan: "Why the h*ll am I hearing things?"

The creature looks up who, on second glance, is a lot more humanoid than I had first perceived. He places the document on his desk and I can just make out my name in the margin. "Arianna, you are a vegetable, yes?"

I nod, because I guess that would be the state of my body. Unless he means a real vegetable, then no. But he can tell that by looking at me right? Or, did when I die transform me into broccoli? I check my arm and I'm still a pasty white. I, then, fear cauliflower, but a pat of my head dispels that fear.

"Since you're a vegetable." He explains, "Your faculty of hearing is unaffected, so you are hearing the noises coming from your surroundings in the living realm."

I nod, okay that makes some sense.

"Now, we must talk about your assignment." He picks up the paper and a forked tongue wets his lips before he continues: "You will be doing an intelligent haunting."

I am returned to my death site and Reid points helpfully to a house on the corner of where I was separated (I can't use 'killed' because I am technically still alive). I know the people that live there: the Walkers. Their son is the hottest kid in school and always thought me not worth his time. I'll never forget the time he played that cruel prank on me at the Block Party. Who knew spicy mustard and yellow mustard could look so similar?

I think of little plots of revenge, cackling fiendishly. I can hear Reid sigh and check his watch. That grim reaper always acts like he has to be somewhere. I mean, people don't die every three seconds here; he can at least let me gloat a little. Eventually, though, I leave my deliberations (not because I feel guilty) and walk to the door, pausing before it. I am about to be a ghost; I never believed in ghosts before. If they don't believe in me, what will happen? Will I get sent back to assignment? Will I become trapped? Will I—

"Arianna, get in."

I try to grab the knob, but my hand just passes through. I try time and time again with the same results. I turn to Reid, prepared to give him a piece of my mind, when he unceremoniously pushes me in: "Good luck!" he calls from the other side.

No pun intended.

Okay, maybe it was intended a little.

I look around at the rich oriental carpets, modern furniture, and beautiful paintings. The house looks ostentatious, just like the Walkers who own it, and I let out a laugh. Their dog, which, for the record, never got along with mine, looks up. Thinking on it, he very well may have caused my death (sorry, separation). The little obnoxious beagle barked and antagonized my Sparky to bolt across the street. Settling the evilest glare I can manage on the beagle, I begin to stalk closer.

The thing starts barking like mad, drawing the family to the room. First Mrs. Walker bustles in with her three sizes too big hips, followed by her twelve year old brat Sabrina. Mr. Walker, I suppose, is at work, which is fine by me. Out of all the family members, Mr. Walker is my favorite. He actually apologizes from time to time about their behavior in his round-about way.

Back to the present, Sabrina is petting the obnoxious dog while Mrs. Walker is complaining about being disturbed. "What could that rambunctious dog be barking at?" She grunts, not really looking for any source. Instead, she sits heavily on the leather couch while Sabrina goes on and on about how it might be my mutt causing the ruckus.

"Maybe." Mrs. Walker agrees, "But Arianna's in the hospital and she's the one that normally walks the d*mned thing."

They're silent for a minute, as if they care, but then they carry on about me. How I was the weird kid up the street who was lighting things on fire (which was so not true, me and grill just had our issues). How I always stalked their son, Tyler, which I didn't (okay, maybe a little, but I'm a hormonal teenager!). How I always talked down about them (ah, no complaints there). Soon, though, I get annoyed with this conversational topic and decide to make my entrance into their lives.

I walk into the kitchen and, gathering as much energy as I can, knock into the china cabinet. A few precariously placed tea cups fall to their demise, which is quickly pursued by Mrs. Walker screaming bloody murder. "I bet you it's Arianna!"

Sabrina rolls her made-up eyes: "She's in a coma mom, not dead."

I let out a low laugh, which sends the dog into another fit. Somehow, the afterlife is so much more appealing than before. I can really get used to this sort of thing. And each day, I get more and more creative. But maybe writing my name on the mirror so it showed up when they showered wasn't the best idea. Maybe putting the knives in the pencil drawers wasn't nice. Maybe leaving their taps running while they left for the weekend wasn't ethical. But who gave a f***? They deserved it.

Sabotaging the whole family was fun, but my little revenge act on Tyler was far from sated. He went through all these trials and tribulations with a façade of bravery (mainly a façade because I refuse to believe he is brave). He always acted like everything was okay, carefully putting the knives in the right place and cleaning the mirror. He even stayed up in his sister's room when she complained she couldn't sleep.

But the mustard overpowered everything because, although he does seem nice, he was never nice to me. Waiting a day to gather my energy, in the second week of my haunting, I turn all my interest to him. I move his bookmark off by a page; I pull a button off each of his dress shirts; and I constantly hide his left shoe. Nevertheless, he doesn't falter. He is faring well, too well, so I step it up. Looking d*mn sexy walking out of the shower in only a towel, I skirt around him. I know full well his sister and her friends are in the hallway outside the bathroom. I also know they'll be facing the bathroom when he steps out. I smirk because, as soon as he passes the threshold, I tear the towel down.

Best. Moment. Ever.

In retrospect, though, things seem a little different, like:

I never knew Tyler screamed like a girl.

I never knew he could turn that shade of red.

I also never knew there were sexual harassment charges in the afterlife.

"Arianna, I am afraid we are going to have to reassign you."

Ha ha, woops.

Mr. Creeptastic, as I like to refer to him, is shuffling through some more papers. He is grumbling to himself until he reaches the bottom of the page and begins: "The Human Rights Advisory Board finds you unsuitable for an Intelligent Haunting due to your…" he pauses, his eyes working on the paper, "…eccentric nature. Their suggestion is to work for Bad Luck. To be honest, I must agree." Briefly he searches my face before stamping the paper, "Reid will escort you to Bad Luck's office."

Bad luck? I can totally see myself doing that. I just hope Bad Luck is nice and not some total *ss. Actually, wouldn't he have to be an *ss to deserve the job? I ask Reid the whole walk over, but he refrains from telling me. He says that it is none of his business to criticize anyone. I take this to mean Bad Luck is a jerk and, standing before his door, I hesitate.

"Do I…?"

"Yes," Reid confirms and pushes me through the door.

Somehow, I'm sensing a theme.

Since Lady Luck is a girl, it makes perfect since that Bad Luck is a boy. I say boy because he, in no way, presents himself as a man. He looks about twenty-three (maybe hedging twenty-four) with short black hair and devilish amber eyes. He is lanky and amorphous and creepy. His voice is smooth with a laugh imbued in its accents. "Welcome, welcome!" He says excitedly, dancing about (gracefully may I add) and directs me to a chair.

"Welcome to the luck department! The Bad division!" He is smiling ear to ear and I feel terribly uncomfortable. He looks normal enough: black parka with a fur-lined hood and fitting black jeans. His combat boots are the only thing that may conjure the image of a mean guy, but otherwise he seems harmless.

"Thanks," I say awkwardly.

He hops onto his desk, crouching with his back towards me. I can see he has picked up some papers and is leafing through them. I try to edge to the side, to maybe see what they say, but he turns around suddenly and I revert quickly to my original position. His laugh is malicious in its light-hearted fashion and he says: "Ah! Sexual harassment? That's a pretty big no-no down here! Imagine the children!" He gives me a wink and laughs. I try to laugh as well, but I am just too uncomfortable to even move my lips.

"Ah well, we're not perfect!" He reflects then hops off his desk. He takes my face in one hand, looking me over. I feel strangely violated by his amber eyes before he releases me. "You've got just the right soul for this job, for awhile I feared the Board was losing their touch!"

He backs away, leaning over his desk to retrieve something from the drawer. He places the device in my hand and it looks a lot like a phone. He clicks it on and I see a schematic of what I suppose is where I am. There are also little blips that denote people and I can clearly see mine and his burning red among all the cool greens and blues. To the side is a scale with red at the top and sinking to cooler colors with, ultimately, white at the bottom.

He points to our blips saying, "The color is how bad your Karma is. If it's red, it's high, if it's white, it's totally good! It's rare to see white unless you run into an angel, which we avoid at all costs."

"Why?" I ask, without really thinking. I realize I questioned him and suddenly become nervous: s***, did I piss him off?

` He laughs though and says, "We're the imps of the secular world: we're just meant not to get along." His finger presses on my blip and a little profile pops up. My face is to the right with my name, age, and karma level number listed to the left. The screen behind it is glowing red. Then, after a few seconds, a list shows up below the initial information, including such directives as flat tire, destroyed homework, or burnt dinner. "Here," he says, "You can see the information and 'suggestion list'. Don't stray from it or else you'll get in a heap of s***. Oh, and green or higher calls for action: blues, purples, and whites are unimportant."

I nod, exiting out of my own information set. I traverse the schematic, seeing the many departments and spirits. Bad Luck has wandered off, searching through his paper work and humming to his self.

"Ah! So you're going to stay in this district, good!" Bad Lucks says rather abruptly. He then smiles at me and I try to smile back. "Oh, and only go after humans," he cautions: "spirits tend to fight back. Buh-bye now!" And in a whirl of white, I find myself, once again, at my death site.

This job is a lot better than my old one. When Bad Luck said I had the right soul for this job, he might have been right. Now, don't get me wrong, even if I am a bit mean, being mean all the time is tiresome. Sometimes I don't want to knock the ice cream out of that kid's hand nor do I want to stab the nail into that tire. But it's my job: it's work, which, as my dad had said, was never intended to be fun.

It is looking up though. In the very beginning, I got assigned to a group of people, a law firm to be exact. I just trailed them, watching my device for any changes in their karmic levels. It sucked. I mean, I did have a decent amount of action since they were lawyers, but only so much bad luck can happen a week. I ended up meeting a guardian angel and we got on fine. He was the secretary's (or the secretary was his, as he put it) and, sure, he didn't like me too much, but there was something endearing he later confessed. Surprisingly, for a sparkly sprite (which I jokingly called him) he had a sense of humor.

Sparkly Sprite also told me a lot of stuff about the afterlife, which wasn't much more than I had already guessed. It really is just if you have no religion, you get assigned; if you are a nuisance, the Board can punish you any way they feel fit; and, generally, they aren't too fair. He also tried valiantly to convert me and maybe I have a bit more respect for the Big Guy than before, but that's a pretty big perhaps.

As to the present, I only really miss Sparkly Sprite. Now that I'm promoted to what they call an Interloper, aka a free-range spirit, I get to walk around dishing out the dirty. I like to patrol the center of the commercial district, making sure people miss their buses and poking holes in their shopping bags. My biggest thing, though, is tripping. I swear, on the top of nearly every list is the suggestion to trip them. Either it's the universal sign of bad luck, or whoever programmed this thing lacks creativity. I opt for the latter, but it's not something I'd ever bring up in front of Bad Luck.

Speaking of tripping, it's what I got to do to Mr. Davis Behem over here. Whatever the case, he's a level yellow and walking to the bus stop; he's got a few spare minutes, so a trip won't make him late; he's also far enough from the other people and signs so as to not hit anything in his trip. With all these precautions, I say this trip is a 'go'. I walk up, slipping the device into my pocket, and casually catch his left foot.

Little do I know, though, Davis has a weak right knee. So when he tries to catch himself, the leg goes out and he tumbles a fair distance into the street. And that car driven by Jerry, who is running five minutes late, does not have the time of day to see that the shoulder isn't a lane for traffic nor that some poor man is in the middle of falling into said shoulder. Nope, Jerry just sees work a block down and he has roughly a half a minute to make it. His Honda, thus, makes a fair hit into Davis and a horrible fleshy scream rents the air. I'm stunned to say the least and, far off, I wonder if I had sounded that way when I had been hit. I whip out my device, hoping it will tell me what to do.

With baited breath, I see the blips pause in their pulse before taking on their adjusted colors. Davis is a borderline white now while Jerry is a searing red. And, as for mine, I had no idea that black was a part of the spectrum. In a moment, the white flash I remember from exiting or entering Bad Luck's office catches me and I see Bad Luck himself in front of me, clucking his sharp tongue and twitching his amber eyes in mock laughter. "My, my! What a naughty girl!" He grins with false disappointment.

"I had no idea!" I defend, but his expression never relents.

"I'm sorry…"

I guess I'm lucky I made friends with Sparkly Sprite because, during the Board's investigation of my conduct, he defended my character. I also heard tell he let slip a few snide comments, but nonetheless he is probably the only reason I am not in some correctional facility. Instead, I am throwing a wrench at a college student's computer. Technically, I should be jamming the wrench around the finer works, but this is my last assignment for the week: who needs dexterity?

After the Board cleared me, but forever designated me to wear this ugly red sticker that means 'does not work well with the Living', I went to the Tech Department. It's funny, to think I was once one of them and am now considered the Living's worst enemy. Okay, maybe Satan has the leg up, but he can keep that spot.

To be honest, I really don't mind being a Gremlin too much. Most of my time is spent in the lab anyway where things are stolen, played around with, and then returned. It's pretty rare to play with something as, oh, trivial as a university student's laptop, but I don't ask questions. I find it fun to see just what these people are hiding on there.

Of all the assignments I've gotten, I like this one the best. I get to talk to people (well, spirits), which I never thought I could miss. After a few months and an intense training program, I have a healthy network of friends and a slightly bad-for-your-health enemy clique. During the weekends, we get free-range and there really is a whole community beyond Death. There are portals among the living world and, as 'bonuses', we can get a day pass and assume a place among the Living. I, of course, can never get this freedom, but whatever; it's nice that it's there. Other than that, I acclimated pretty d*mned well to Death. Sure, some spirits hate me, but them's the brakes.

Hearing the door begin to open, I abandon my tampering and head for the portal to the right of the window. I squeeze through and find myself in a large warehouse, totally devoid of all life. Normally, this entrance level is buzzing with Gremlins and other personnel. This was where I met my first Shadow-Monster, headed to some poor kid's closet. They're surprisingly nice, but like me have the red-tag. I don't understand how that works, but my friends say it's better not to question.

Speaking of friends, Antoine is at his desk on the next floor down to which I have arrived via the stairs. He's got curly brown hair and a constant grimace. Little Anty (as he hates to be called) has worked as a Gremlin for nearly twenty years. He died as a self-proclaimed prodigy Hacker and immediately entered the department. He's been besting everyone ever since, creating vicious viruses in his spare time. He catches me staring and flashes a pained smile.

"Late assignment?" He asks, returning to his fruitless search of whatever he continually had missing. I nod, approaching his desk and seating myself on the corner. I look over his shoulder and can only make out his superbly messy drawers.

"Wanna go to the Pub? I already said I'd meet Morgan there." He asks, giving up. He looks at me with that semi-exasperated look I have come to expect. Of all the people, Antoine has to be my favorite. Despite his short fuse, he fizzles out quick and will help you out even if you messed up royally. If I wasn't still unsure of the mechanics of romance in Death, I might admit I like him.

"Sure." I agree and flash him a smile. He returns it and slaps me on the shoulder.

"Alright, come on kiddy, we have to get there before they get too drunk to tolerate."

I smile, remembering the fiasco of last time. Morgan can hold his liquor, but the newbie buddy he had brought couldn't. Trying to prove himself, as if that were necessary, the newbie got so drunk he ended up dancing on the table. Either poor construction or someone's prank, the table collapsed. We were all scraped up for a few days, but it had been fun. As Antoine had mentioned later, though, "it was too much fun." He hates that sort of thing and I love him for it. We exchange another round of smiles before heading out.

Yea, I really do like it here.

The Pub is one of the many in this network. It's a hot spot for the district dead and it's practically filled when we get there. However, it's not hard to pick out Morgan's gregarious chortles, so we find the party in no time. They're all on, if I had to guess, their third round of beer. Morgan looks up from the others and smiles slyly at Antoine and then at me, but with a friendlier tone to it. "Hey guys! And you brought Arianna, you dog!"

Another round of laughter breaks out and I take a seat next to an old friend from the Luck department. He passes me his cup and I take a sip before returning it to him. I look around at all the familiar, friendly faces. Life is really looking up, or the non-life is. However, the voices in my ears are acting up again. Somehow, I just really wish they'd pull the plug already.

I rub at my temples, trying to assuage the raucous volume of the doctors and nurses. I can even pick up my mother's voice. "You alright?" Morgan asks from across the table, his features twisting in concern. I can feel Antoine's hand on my back, rubbing gentle circles. But above all the burbling questions from my friends, I hear an unmistakable noise. A noise I only ever heard when I was alive and when I had the leash in my hand. Sparky is whining. Sparky is in my hospital room and whining.

I see white for a moment, a white filled with memories of Sparky and the relief that he made it through the accident. I find myself pushing against the white, as if it were solid and not some machination of a buzzed brain. Finally, I feel pressure on my stomach and a wet nose pressing my cheek. A warm tongue leaves a sticky trail from my chin to my left eye. "Sparky," I mumble. The whine sounds again, followed by a happy yip.

I can now see the nurses and doctors around my bed, my mom hugging some unsuspecting doctor in her amazement. "My baby's back!" she keens, "God brought my baby back!" And yes he did, but sans the memory of my non-life. Although there is some guy named Reid who has started talking to me when I'm around town.

"You really don't remember me?" He keeps asking. And no, I really don't. Just like I don't know this Antoine who sends me an e-card every time my birthday rolls around. I have no idea who you are, sorry.

Minus the creepy people who forced themselves into my life after my 'miraculous revival', life has looked up. It's mainly looked up in the new respect the Walkers are giving me. Well if respect means avoidance, then they respect me very much now. In fact, Tyler seems to be afraid of me and I find that oddly comforting. Although it makes me feel less obligated to avenge myself for the mustard fiasco.

All in all, life is life and I'm living it. And, hopefully, I won't die again anytime soon





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