Death and Taxes

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It was cold and sunny the day we met Death. Or Erica. Or whatever. Jared and I didn't know right then, of course. We were at the farmer's market, for god's sake. Looking back on the whole deal, I'm just reminded of how normally the whole thing began.

It was nearly lunchtime. There were few people at the market, with fall already nearing its end. Jared, my roommate was the first to notice something was wrong. "Dude", he said, elbowing me in the ribs, " Look at those guys." I looked in the direction he motioned to, and noticed two men in suits among the other shoppers, glancing around like they were looking for something. A little out of place maybe, but I had seen stranger. I zipped up my jacket as a breeze flew between the tables of fruit and vegetables. "Huh. I need a new suit." I shrugged, and went back to looking at carrots. Jared grabbed my shoulder and got close to my face, his voice dropping to a whisper. "No man, look. I think something serious is about to go down." I looked up and cautiously scanned the area. There were far more suits wandering around, intermingled with the market-goers. Others were beginning to notice. People were leaving, whispering to each other ,and some of the peddlers were beginning to pack their things. The suits showed no intentions of heading out. "We should go," I muttered to Jared, but he wasn't listening. He was looking down the aisle at a short young woman about twenty yards away. She wasn't moving, but seemed really aware of the suits, watching them carefully. Despite her gaunt appearance, she looked painfully regular. Dress, brown coat. Short, curly auburn hair. She could've been a grad student from the nearby university. But then she turned her head toward us and we saw her eyes. They were a cold gray. They were old. Old as time. They were haunted. She looked at us, then directly above our heads, then suddenly past us. She opened her mouth, but I couldn't catch what she said before I felt a sharp pain in the side of my neck and everything swam downwards.

I opened my eyes to a rather intricately painted ceiling. I remember thinking it was rather gaudy, until I sat up and looked around the room. Gaudy didn't even begin to cover it. Everything was decked out in red and gold. The room was some sort of study, filled with books with matching covers, an exquisitely carved mahogany desk, with more rows of books and a fireplace behind it and another loveseat across from mine, where Jared lay unconscious. I stumbled over to his side and gently kneed him in the ribs. He let out an unhappy noise and rolled over. "Bro," I mumbled to him, "What the hell happened?" "No," groaned Jared and pulled a tasseled throw pillow over his head, "this place smells like old people." I rolled my eyes and yanked him off the seat. He hit the ground with a thud and made an even unhappier sound. As Jared stood he took in his surroundings, eye brows raised. "Dang man. Do remember that time we went to Jessica Lemont's graduation party and nobody had realized how rich she was and-" but he stopped, and gazed over my shoulder. I turned to where his eyes had stopped and saw her.

She was looking out a window next to the desk, her side to us. I swear to this day that she hadn't been there thirty seconds before. The woman looked disheveled. There were runs in her stockings, and her hair was a mess. Her head was cocked to the side, and her mouth was partly open. Her eyes were wide. "Um. Miss?" I ventured. She turned towards us and made eye contact with me for a split second. I shuddered. Those things bore deep. She looked just above us again. She settled her eyes in the space between Jared and I's heads and gave a toothy smile that straddled the line between apologetic and dangerous. "I'm so very sorry," she near-whispered, glancing down. Her accent sounded light and strange, at the time I thought it was faded eastern European. "I think they thought you were with me. They'll probably let you go." She glanced at the tops of our heads again once more, then turned back to the window. Jared looked like he was gonna pee himself before he finally blurted out: "A-are you a spy?" I gave him a look, but to my surprise the girl laughed. It sounded like an old church bell. "A what now?", she leaned back and giggled, her smile spreading wide. "No, no. I'm...", she stopped a moment, as if thinking it over, "I'm Erica." Pleased to have made her laugh, Jared grinned. "I'm Jared, and this is my man Arnie." He subtly puffed out his chest, in the way guys do. "Oh," she said, pointing, " are you two...together?" "Not particularly", he grinned wider and I gave him a thump in the head. I wasn't feeling so cavalier. "Listen, Erica, do you know what's happening? Or why they would want us- or you, I guess- here?" Erica rolled onto the toes of her mary janes and peered at the ceiling. "Now I don't know for sure," she gave a wicked smile, like the answer was obvious, "but I think they want something I have." I glanced at Jared, but he was too focused on Erica, "And what is that?" I asked, not sure I wanted the answer. She brought her heels back down hard and looked straight at me. "Immortality. Probably."

Jared and I shared a look while Erica shook her head "I'm really sorry boys, but it looks like you're gonna be stuck with me for awhile." She bowed, head low, "Pluto. Thanatos. Charon, El Muerte, Anubis. The Fourth Horseman. Inevitable." She peered up at us and smiled.

"Death."





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