Sometimes you don’t know what you’re waiting for. Other times you think you know just what’s coming. Either way life can have a way of surprising you when you least expect it. One minute you’re living your comfortable, easy life and wasting away your weekends out until the early hours and lounging in bed ’til noon, then suddenly you are thrust out of the world and into an existence you never thought possible.
And so it came to pass that I became one of the Death Squad.
Apparently the Grim Reaper is no myth, excepting the erroneous assumption that there is just a single, lone figure in a hood plucking those we love from life with that cumbersome scythe. There are more of us than even I know, but we do slink about in the shadows and collect souls, covering our forms with darkened robes for camouflage. What we’re after is that essential element of life-force that slowly seeps from all living things, it’s what keeps us strong and allows us the chance to perpetuate the human race. Without death there would be no life and so, in some ways, I can comfort myself with this small contribution. If I did not take life, there would be no new life to give.
It took me a long time to learn this, of course. You don’t just suddenly understand the nature of the world when you magically transform into one of the Death Squad. For a start, they leave you well alone for you to work all of this out on your own. You don’t even know that you need life-force in order to function: without it you become progressively weaker until you can no longer move. Ironically, you can no longer die: you simply exist in a pathetically weak state still experiencing all those emotions and desires you recognise as being distinctly human – sadness, confusion, hunger, pain, emptiness, fear. It’s the rite of passage to becoming detached enough to reach out to the nearest life-force and take it, without any regard to whomever it may belong.
The first is, strangely, not the worst. It’s the second time you do it, that’s when it hits you. I remember the tingle of my fingers that indicated I was becoming weak; searching for life without my concious knowledge. I felt drawn to places of immense life-force. Football matches, concerts, schools…all the vibrancy of life compactly represented by young, energetic children in the playground. It makes my skin crawl to realise that I am now a predator that views their innocent, playful youth as something that I must have.
My second was an elderly gentleman, already wasted and waiting to die. I dragged myself to his bedside in the hospital, my sharp new senses pushing me toward every other body in the place, all of whom had a brighter glow than he. His skin was dimmed and sallow, his breath low and raspy. When I placed my hand on his arm he felt me and opened his eyes to stare blankly up and through me. I was terrified, the hairs on my body all stood on end and I felt a distinct chill as the warmth from his life-force flooded into me. His stare became glassy as I felt my heart beat to a stronger rhythm.
There was no one else in the room. He had no relatives to mourn him, no friends to say good bye to, and I remained standing beside him knowing that I had just ended his life for no real reason. It wasn’t to save my own – my life had been and gone, what I was now had no defined lifespan. I even said a prayer for him, though as soon as I came to realise what I was I stopped believing in God. No deity would create a being that could never die and was responsible for extinguishing the lives of others. Still, I had to offer something. Perhaps it was fitting that I discovered afterwards he was a priest.
I gained just enough from him to find another member of the Squad and ask some questions.