(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Theresa was written by Regina Bethory.)
Theresa walked up the hill towards the entrance gate that sprung from the catacombs. She was a little early but loved the view of the great necropolis from this height. In a few moments, Gus and Thoussaint would be back with Kelly. Theresa turned her attention to the catacomb entrance once more, silently hoping that they made it through to this side safely.
She sat on a nearby rock as she waited and tried to distract herself by taking watch over the vast boneyard. Hearing the creak of the gate, she let a small smile grace her lips and let go of the breath she did not realize she was holding. Theresa stood and walked towards the trio to meet her guest. The men bid their farewells to Kelly as Theresa approached. “I hope you’re not too freaked out by graveyards,” she said. “I know it’s daylight now but don’t worry, we light a lot of lanterns once the sun goes down. It’s always safe here.”
Kelly shook her head. “I’m fine, thanks. It’s an interesting choice of location, that’s for sure, but it’s cool.” She looked around then offered Theresa a smile. “So what is it like working for the Grim Reaper?”
Theresa laughed. It was uncommon these days but a good feeling. “Oh he isn’t so bad. He can be strict, odd and has a morbid sense of humor but he does look out for his people. We bump heads now and again.” Theresa shrugged. “I guess we’re just coming at things from two different perspectives.”
“I guess. So before you got recruited for this job, what was your life like?” Kelly tilted her head curiously.
Theresa stared down at her feet as the two young women started walking down the hill. “It wasn’t much of one, that’s for sure. Looking back, I was stuck in a rut. Isn’t it odd that I feel more alive working for Death?” As they reached the bottom of the hillside, Theresa started them on a white gravel path that weaved in, out and around various sections of the necropolis. “I never really felt like I belonged anywhere before. Nothing felt like a perfect fit until he came along. I was just going through the motions, doing what I thought life expected of me.”
Kelly trailed alongside Theresa. “But what of your family? Your parents? Any siblings?”
Theresa’s pace slowed. No matter how many times this question was asked, it was still painful. “I had a little brother. Sebastian. He died when we were young in a car accident. I escaped with little more than a scratch.” She paused for a moment and looked to the mausoleum where Fatima was placing fresh flowers near a plot. “I can’t imagine what its like to bury your own child but it tore my parents apart. It was like part of me died that day as well. I slowly separated myself from them and their bickering, creating a life of my own.” Fatima waved as she saw the two women and walked off in the distance. “This is my family now,” Theresa said as she waved back.
“I’m sorry about your brother, but I’m glad you’ve managed to build a new life.” Kelly nodded as she glimpsed around. “So what exactly is your job description now? Do you time travel? Are you freed from time? Or what exactly?”
“Time can be an interesting concept when you work with people who are not only from all over the globe but all over time. Bain doesn’t like to talk about it.” Theresa gasped in understanding a second after Kelly gave her a quizzical look. “Bain is our nickname for our boss, the Grim Reaper. I think it’s means pale and well…he is quite fair in complexion. He thinks it’s funny. Like a play on words with bane but I digress. We don’t time travel but we do have portals to get from one end of the world to the other so quickly. It’s just a small team of us. I think we’re up to 13 or 14 people now and we help Bain collect the souls of the dead. It can get stressful and busy especially when there is a war, epidemic or natural disaster but we manage. We’re basically a channel for him to be in several different places at once.” Theresa steered them passed the mausoleum and towards the military quarter. “After all, the higher the birth rate, the higher the death rate.”
Kelly followed close. “So what’s the strangest thing you’ve observed about death…and I’m not talking about Bain but the actual concept of dying.”
“Hmm.” Theresa rubbed her chin and tapped a finger against the top of her nose. “That’s a good question.” She thought a moment longer. “Well, the truest thing is that it’s never pretty. The saddest thing is that it never seems to occur at a decent time. But the strangest thing? I think it’s that most people don’t truly start to live until they either cheat death or know that its coming. I mean, why wait? I know I’m being a bit hypocritical as I say this since I wasn’t really living mine- living off of tv dinners and little social life- but it’s true on so many counts. People don’t live their lives. Their lives live them. Most of them don’t even think about taking control until it’s too late.”
“And can you die?” Kelly asked, looking at Theresa as they walked along the path. “Or are you immune to it since you’re working with Bain and such?”
“I wish that were so.” There was a sad glint in Theresa’s eye as they entered the military quarter and strolled around it. Here, all the gravestones were uniform and white. “Unfortunately, we can die and if anything we take a huge risk by agreeing to help him. You see, we aren’t the only people grasping for the souls of the dead. There are others. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not angels or anything. At least not that I know of. We’re supposed to remain neutral- keep good and evil in balance.” As the two women strolled out of the military quarter they passed into one of the gardens. The sun began to set as Theresa continued.
“We can have our souls ripped from our bodies. I came close once. It wasn’t a good feeling when once of those demons latches on. We can also die from sickness, battle, a broken heart, you name it. We just can’t die from old age. Somehow he has stopped that process. Luckily, I’ve only heard stories of loss amongst these tombstones. That’s who is buried here by the way. Every person who has ever died in service of the reaper is interred in this city of the dead.”
“Interesting.” Kelly took in the site of the gravestones surrounding them. She walked in silence for a little while, pondering her next question, and then she looked back at Theresa. “What’s the most rewarding thing about this job?”
“Ah now you’re talking,” Theresa said with a smile. “It’s important to try to keep a positive and upbeat frame of mind when dealing with so much death day in and day out. I absolutely love that we can travel anywhere in the world.” Theresa’s eyes lit up as she spoke, the excitement evident in her voice. “I’m a small town girl. Traveling the world never seemed to be in the works for me but oh the places I’ve seen working for Bain! Not to mention the people I work with. We don’t always get along or see eye to eye but where else would I get to meet and talk to a survivor of the 14th century black plague or a witch doctor from one of the earliest eras of man? I love the diversity. We really make a great team…as long as we’re not fighting.” She laughed.
Kelly smiled. She could tell how much Theresa loved this team and her job. “So…tell me about Gustav. Are you two a thing yet?”
Theresa took a deep breath and bit her lip. She looked over her shoulders to make sure no one else was in ear shot before she leaned a little closer to Kelly. She lowered her voice as she spoke. “I’m not sure how to read him.” She felt silly gossiping about a crush. “It’s kind of frustrating. Sometimes I think it’s obvious that he’s interested but other times I feel like he’s just a nice guy. I mean he is 600 years older than me. What could we possibly have in common?” Theresa paused and hit her hand to her forehead. “Listen to me! I’m acting like a teenage schoolgirl.” She laughed lightly. “I mean he’s attractive for an older man but we also come from two very different cultures. What if I’m reading him all wrong? This isn’t exactly the type of job you can just quit or be transferred if things get awkward at work… Then again, Roald and Evelyn make it work.”
Kelly had to smile when she heard this. “Ah, reading people. Can be difficult for some people, but I have a knack for it. So…what cues are you getting that he might be interested?”
“Well, the first time he laid eyes on me he was badly injured and seconds away from passing out. Maybe his judgement was clouded but he asked me if I was an angel.” Theresa smiled. “It took me off guard but it definitely planted a seed in my head. We worked opposing shifts for a while so we really didn’t see one another. I often like to wander off and grab some alone time away from the group but he always seems to find me. He’ll wander over, share his cigarette and talk to me. But when he talks with me in these private conversations, it isn’t about work or something trivial like the weather, its about deep stuff. Philosophical things and most importantly, getting to know me and the way I think. I don’t often take kindly to that kind of prying but I suppose when I built up that brick wall, I built him inside so I don’t mind.”
“He once picked a flower from one of the graves and brought it to me. He often catches my eye in our weekly meetings and will offer a wink or a smile. I’m not sure how to explain that he seems more himself when its just us. Does that make sense? Like he lets his guard down around me.”
Theresa huffed. “That sounds so stupid when I say it out loud. Maybe I’m reading into things too much.”
“It doesn’t sound stupid at all.” Kelly shook her head. “And I don’t think you’re reading into things. I think there’s an interest there, but you want to know what I’ve discovered about love? Honesty is key. Would you rather build up these fantasies of what if’s and uncertainties only to discover one day, years later, that that’s all they ever were—fleeting imagination? Imagine the heartache that would bring then because it wasn’t what you had dreamt and hoped for for so long. Now then, you could spare yourself all that by being honest with him, being upfront. Sure, use discretion and such. If you’re wrong, and if there’s nothing between you two, then at least you won’t be building a fantasy that will never come to life but will only serve to hurt you. However,” Kelly smiled at Theresa. “If he feels anything for you, you will have even more time together.” She trailed off to see what Theresa would think of this.
“That’s wonderful advice. I’ll admit. I’ve never been great at the whole dating thing.” Theresa laughed. “And I normally don’t discuss my relationships but you’re so easy to talk to. I feel like I’ve known you for some time.”
As they passed through the gardens, some of Theresa’s co-workers littered the grounds, lighting lanterns as the sun continued its rapid descent. “I’ll have to think of something, you’re right. I’m normally so calm and collected but when he’s around, everything is tied in knots. It may just be a delusion though. I’ll give it a go next time we have one of those private talks.”
“It’s not easy. I will give you that much. I’ve come to find that the nervousness and anxiety one might feel in the presence of the one the secretly love is due to the fact that love isn’t declared–that there isn’t that honesty, that trust, so yes, think about it.” Kelly took in the sight of the gardens and the lanterns being lit. It was beautiful here. “So, what has been your most interesting assignment yet?”
“Well almost everyone is interesting in its own way. You see, we arrive a little before the actual time of death so we always get a small glimpse into people’s lives but if I had to pick one…ugh the ballroom scene. It was so chaotic! There were two dancers on stage, one of which was scheduled to have a heart attack right at the end of the dance but as soon as we got there…so did the demons. Let me tell you, trying to fight them, keep them away from the dancers and all the while staying out of the dancers’ way was near impossible. While we may not be able to be seen by the regular living, they can certainly feel our icy touch. Definitely interesting and one of the biggest challenges yet.”
“That sounds interesting indeed.” Kelly had wondered if others could see them, but now that question was answered. “So, I hear you don’t trust Cameron. Why not?”
“He used to be one of them,” Theresa said, her voice lowered. “I mean, Bain trusts him so I feel like I should trust him too. After all, I trust Bain but our team is very divided as to who trusts Cam and who doesn’t. He is by far one of the hardest people…or beings… to read. He’s the oldest of all of us so I consider him the wisest. What’s to say he isn’t playing all of us? Spilling details to the underworld?”
“Wait–he used to be one of who? Demon?” Kelly furrowed her brows, confused.
“Yea. A demon. He and Bain have some sort of past but I don’t think I even have an inkling of the full story. Sometimes you can cut the tension between those two with a knife and other times its like they have an unspoken, psychic bond.”
“Interesting.” Kelly mused as she meandered around. “I can understand your distrust of him then, but if something were to happen, if he were to betray you all, wouldn’t Bain be able to cast him back to the underworld or something?”
Theresa shook her head as she stared out over the expanse of the necropolis all alight with the glow of candle lanterns. “I’m not sure what would happen. I don’t know enough about Cameron to know his reason for leaving. On second hand, Bain swears he has no super powers or real authority but I think his definition of that and mine are two different things. I guess I’m still learning a lot about our world.”
“Okay, and what about Ashur? I hear you don’t care about his company. Why not?”
Theresa shrugged. “He is hard to talk to and I thought I didn’t believe in awkward silences until I met him. Next to Cam and Bain, Ashur is the next oldest. He doesn’t say much and is often very cryptic when he does speak. It’s hard to hold a normal conversation with the guy. That and the whole witch doctor thing.”
“Sounds like you’ve got quite a crew. I know there are others, but we don’t have time to discuss each one. So…” Kelly pondered her next question as she glimpsed around the graveyard, which was now darkening as the sun set. She then looked back at Theresa. “Is there anything you miss about your old life? Can you ever go back and visit your parents or anything like that?”
“No. There is no going back,” she said, a note of sadness in her voice. Theresa caught the attention of Gus and Thoussaint as the two young women headed back up the hill towards the gate. The two men trailed behind them at a distance, ready to escort when needed. “I don’t really care to see my parents but I do miss my best friend, Cole and Sheriff Bergmann. Bergmann was like a father to me. I miss the mundane routine from time to time believe it or not. Sometimes, things get so chaotic here, it keeps you on your toes but some down time wouldn’t be so bad, you know? And I can’t say I don’t miss my two young employees, Jon and Caleb. Good kids. Wonder what they’re up to?” Theresa trailed off in thought as the four of them walked up the hill.
“Maybe you could check on them even if they’ll never know that you’re there.” Kelly shrugged as she walked with Theresa back up the path. “Well, Theresa, this has been quite an interesting conversation. I enjoyed this insight into the world between the living and the dead, but I’ve gotta say, I don’t even you for your job. I’m just glad you like it so much. Unfortunately though, my time is up, so I’ve got to go, but thanks for this chat.” She smiled at her but then stepped closer and whispered, “And tell Gustav the truth. The worst he could say is ‘no’, but then that allows you to move on with your life. Yeah, it’s not simple because you two work together, but at least you won’t be second guessing yourself. Otherwise, he’ll say ‘yes’, and…well, that begins a whole new adventure.” Kelly stepped back and smiled once more. “I hope you the best!” Then she turned to the men who’d escort her out, waved back at Theresa once more, and left.
Regina Bethory’s novel, ‘Articulo Mortis’, is available on Amazon. Check it out, and be sure to follow her on social media for more updates on her work: