Amara never cared for alcohol, dancing, singing or drunken stripteases so it came as no surprise that she felt out of place, somber and bored in the crowded nightclub. People danced and gyrated in front of her in various manners that ranged from clumsy to downright disturbing.
If she was alone she might not have minded the whole situation and been able to look at it as if she were an observer at a zoo but with Gabriella and Danielle nearby she knew that at any moment she would be ambushed and told she had to participate in whatever bizarre ritual was to be performed on the dance floor next.
Amara received little attention from anyone else in the nightclub. She looked pretty enough with long blond hair, a well defined face, a classy red coat and dark, shadowy eyes. However, she imagined she had a look of utter misery about her and even the most inebriated soul would steer clear. Ever since she was young people would ask her why she had such a sad look on her face.
Danielle and Gabriella, who were beyond inebriated, came through the crowd, wobbling towards Amara. “Dear Christ,” she muttered under her breath.
“You’ve got to get onto the floor,” slurred Danielle, grabbing Amara’s arm.
“No, I’m good, thanks.”
Gabriella lightly smacked the back of her head. “You can be just as miserable on the dance floor as you are leaning against the bar. C’mon.”
And very reluctantly she allowed herself to go. They almost threw her into the middle and she crashed into a couple who were shoving themselves into one another and waving their arms manically. They glared at her as they recovered their balance but the look Amara gave back to them convinced the couple to continue their erotic fluctuations somewhere else.
Thirty seconds passed before Amara made her way back over to the bar. She sat down on the stool and let out a long sigh. She didn’t like knowing she was missing something, some key element of being that would have allowed her to enjoy all of this. Did she just not have the ability to feel cheery and flirty? Maybe years of being purposely aloof meant she brought all of this on herself. None of those rationalizations stopped her from being completely dissatisfied, though. No, her evening here would be terrible and, yeah, she most likely had herself to blame for a bit of it but that would not stop her from mentally mocking everything and everyone in front of her.
“You look like you need an escape.”
Amara turned to her left, towards the speaker. A gray-haired man who appeared to be exceptionally tired smiled weakly at her. Amara nodded in return, slightly worried about where this man wanted to go with the conversation. He looked decidedly out of place here and that alone made her cautious.
“Am I right?” he asked, his voice telling her he would be persistent.
“Uh, yeah,” she replied with yet another nod. Should she move? What if he followed her? Could she take him in a fight? He looked strong but she knew she had the ability to out run him if things became too messy.
“I’m Robert Seagrad,” he said, sticking out his hand for her to shake.
She shook it but only for the briefest of seconds. “I’m Amara,” she said without any warmth.
“You’re bothered by me talking to you, aren’t you? You’re not very good at hiding your feelings. Everyone wants to be popular but when someone outside of their sphere talks to them it’s as if the whole system is collapsing and they don’t know how to handle it.”
“You’re right. You’ve pinned me down. I’m an elitist and an absolutely terrible person to talk to. I’d go so far as to suggest you’d probably want to spend as little time near me as is humanly possible.” She knew that either he would get the hint and leave or see this as more of a challenge and bother her more. He leaned in but she put her hand up. “What are you doing? You’re at least thirty years older than I am. Don’t I already look like I’m having a crappy time? Do I really look as if I’m interested in your advances?”
He put a hand through his hair and smiled. “Just because I’m talking to you, you automatically assume I want to make passionate love to you on the dance floor? I don’t know whether that shows you have a lack of self-esteem or a huge ego.”
“So why are you talking to me then?”
“If I didn’t talk to people who had self-esteem problems–”
“–then you’d talk to no one,” she interrupted. “Yeah, I get it. Still, what do you want from me?”
“Well, I’m, trying to avoid someone.”
Backing away sounded like a good idea yet again. If this man was ducking someone then either he was crooked or the other person was. Either way, she should be somewhere else. Yet a small part of her noticed a slight tinge of pain in his voice and she wanted to know what caused it. She did not feel empathetic but rather curious, curious enough to stick around, at least for a while. “Who are you avoiding?”
“Oh, okay then. It was nice talking to you. Bye now.”
“What, you don’t believe me?”
“Of course not because I’m not an idiot.”
“You haven’t trusted me much from the start, have you?”
“I’m assuming,” Amara said, “you’re really lonely and missing something up here.” She gestured towards her head. “But that doesn’t mean I have to put up with you.”
He sighed. “I think you’re the lonely one, I fear. I may be able to help you.”
She tried to calm herself but it didn’t work. Amara grabbed his shirt and pushed him through the crowd. Curiously, the crowd did not seem to mind. Most likely they just assumed the two were engaging in an interesting dancing performance.
“Shove off,” she snapped over the blaring music. “Don’t come near me again.”
“What are you so afraid of?” he called out as he followed her back to the bar. “That I’m a damn good reader of people? That I can see right through you? That I’m not afraid to speak what I think? That I’m not afraid to be brutally honest?”
Amara growled and once again came at him, halting only half a foot before him. “I don’t know what your problem is. I’m sure you can shoot parting emotional shots at me all night and we could get weepy and hug. Key word there is could. We won’t.” She crossed her arms and smiled. “You can’t read people you delusional old fool. You need to seek help. You think Death is hunting you for Christ’s sake.”
“He is,” Robert stated simply.
“Oh, for crying out loud. You’re a mad man.”
“I’m not. I’m a talented man, very good at seeing how people feel. You want proof? You believe you’ll die alone.”
“Oh, wow, what a startlingly intense revelation you’ve discovered about me,” she said waving her arms in feigned shock. “You, on the other hand, are about to die in a very crowded area if you don’t back off.”
He laughed and leaned against the bar, not unlike how Amara did only ten minutes before. “But I’m right aren’t I.”
Amara felt torn between leaving or arguing with the blowhard. She was tonight’s designated driver so fleeing from the nightclub and abandoning Danielle and Gabriella seemed rather crass so she decided to give it to this guy. Why not? It would give her a chance to let out some of that anger. “How can anyone stand you? Do you have any friends?”
He flinched and said, “They’re all dead.”
She believed him. She knew intellectually there was a chance, probably a good one, he was lying. And yet she trusted it was true. He appeared genuinely uncomfortable when she asked the question and answering as he did hurt him. He might just be an accomplished con artist but so far the man seemed to believe wholeheartedly everything he said. That might make him insane but it did mean he wasn’t a liar. “Well, I’m sorry to hear that but I’m not going to be your friend.”
“That’s fine,” he assured her. “I just wanted to tell you some truths about yourself.”
“Well, I’m real glad we had this heart-to-heart.”
“I told you Death is following me. I don’t have much time left. Even if I escape him today he will catch up with me soon enough. It’d be nice if I could change one life for the better before I died.”
This guy sure knew how to make Amara feel guilty and pissed at the same time. “Well, I appreciate that but I don’t need help.”
“You need more help than I can give you, sadly. I just hope to put you on the right track. I want to give you a purpose.”
“It’s time we parted ways.”
“But I can see your pain,” he said as he stepped in closer.
“Back up, slick.”
“I know what you want to do tonight.”
Amara punched him on the side of his head. It was an instinctive, angry punch that caused a harsh cracking sound on impact. “You and I are done.”
His eyes opened wide. At first Amara thought he was looking at her but he appeared to be looking beyond her. She turned to see what he stared at and a cold shiver passed through her. Her eyes watered, her body tensed and her breathing became shallow. A moment later she saw what caused the reaction and knew that Robert had not been lying for at the entrance of the bar stood Death himself. He was scanning the room, most likely looking for Amara’s new acquaintance. No one else noticed him but then again no one else had the thought that he was coming.
Death looked not at all as she would have imagined. He wore jeans, a button-down shirt and glasses. His hair was spiked back and a smug look crossed his face. At a guess Amara would say he was maybe twenty-two as impossible as that sounded. Still, she instinctively knew that this man was the Grim Reaper given human form. “That’s him,” she muttered.
“Yes,” said the man.
“I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.”
“It’s understandable.” He frowned, his face filling with sadness. “I’m afraid it’s time for me to leave, though. I hope you take care of yourself.”
Amara put her hand through her hair, feeling sweat beginning to slide down her back. “You were right. I’m so sorry.” She turned but only saw Robert’s back as he maneuvered through the crowd, trying to blend in. Soon he would have to head for the door but Amara knew Robert was smart enough not to go for it right away.
She, on the other hand, had a different idea. She walked towards Death, feeling curiously hollow and not at all scared. If anything she felt a sense of euphoria building up inside her, threatening to burst out at any moment. Never before did she feel like this. It was beyond happiness, beyond joy, beyond even harmony. A small, confident smile touched her face, her eyes widening and her legs carrying her with a grace she never before knew. Anything could be hers at that moment. A clearly drunken but very handsome man bumped into her side, smiling at her. She held him, meeting his lips with hers. She stuck her tongue right into his mouth and he let loose a sound of both surprise and pleasure. She pulled back after a few moments.
“You kissed me!” he said with shock.
“Yeah, and it’ll probably be my last.” She shoved him backwards before he got any ideas about just where this whole situation was going.
It took only five seconds before she stood next to Death. Gently, she tapped him on the shoulder. He turned with interest, an amused look on his face.
“You noticed me,” Death said, his voice gentle.
Amara nodded. “Yes, I did. I know why you’re here and I know what you’re going to do.” She gestured towards one of the private rooms at the back of the club. “We need to talk alone.”
“So rarely do I get a chance to talk. It’s not exactly a job that lends itself to conversation.” Amara thought it funny that Death assumed that she knew just who he was without question. Perhaps only those who knew of his nature engaged with him.
Upon reaching the back she saw that all three rooms had couples in them in all sorts of compromising positions. She entered the room on the left and the couple inside looked up in shock. Amara forced the girl up and pushed her outside. “Go with her,” she told the man. “All kinds of wild things are going on out there and if you’re lucky maybe your girl will start making out with another one. That redhead looks drunk enough.” As he got up to leave she whispered in his ear, “I think you can do better, though.”
The amused look had not left Death’s face. If anything he seemed even more intrigued by her actions. “Wow, you’re quite an interesting young lady.”
“Thank you,” she replied, sitting down on the leather couch. Death sat down next to her. “I need to talk to you about something.
Death adjusted his glasses and then put his right index finger against his temple and his thumb under his chin. “Go ahead. I’m all ears.”
Amara chuckled darkly. Was he mocking her or being honest? She had no idea but decided to plow on ahead despite that. “I want to make a deal with you.”
“Ah, a deal. Y’know, in all those fairytales deals with supernatural creatures never end well for the human involved.” He smiled widely and spread his arms out on the top of the couch. “Still, if you really want to I’ll see what I can do.”
She took in a deep breath. “I don’t want you to kill Robert.”
“Let me stop you there,” Death said. “I’ve been looking for Robert for a very, very long time and I can’t believe I found him here tonight. It was by accident if you can believe that. As soon as I stepped in here, I sensed him.”
“I’m willing to give myself up in exchange for him.”
“Oh, that’s lovely of you.” His smile disappeared at once. “No deal. Robert is mine. You offering yourself up is useless.”
“Why?” she asked. “The man, regardless of his past, wants to do good now. Why not let him? Why not take me instead? In ten minutes he’s made more of an impact in my life than I’ve ever made on anyone’s in my twenty-three years here. And, trust me, it hurts to admit that anything he said had an impact. I don’t know how you work, I don’t know what your morals are, but please take me instead of him. Allow me to do that not just for him but for everyone he helps in the future. Give me that much.”
“Otherwise you think your life is worthless.”
Amara nodded. “Yes.”
“Oh, it wasn’t a question, it was a statement. They all believe that.”
The smile returned, wider and creepier than ever, his lips pulling back to reveal his gums, his eyes seemingly burrowing deeper and deeper into his head. His shirt moved and a thousand small faces appeared in the fabric, crying out in pain. “Why, the suicides, of course. As I said, it was only an accident that Robert was here. I came for you. I always try and collect the suicides personally.”
Her stomach twisted, her back became rigid and her hands shook. “What?”
“Robert is just a blessing. He may have thrown a wrench in your little suicide adventure, he always tends to muck things up, but that doesn’t matter because I’ll have him now. You? Well, even if he convinces you otherwise and you decide to live another day I’ll have you soon anyway.” He leaned in, his voice becoming a whisper. “It’s in your heart. A voice is inside you, screaming at you, begging you to finally just kill it. That’s why you’re worthless. I get you no matter what.” Death tapped his forehead. “I know it all. I can read people just like your friend Robert can although I like to think I can do it even better. I can see your self-loathing, hidden under your veneer of elitism. The loathing grows every time you realize you’re not fitting in. Had Robert not met you then you’d have spent the whole night looking out at the crowd and knowing there’s something wrong with you: you’re not a person capable of enjoying themselves.” He perked up ever so slightly. “And here comes…”
Robert stood at the entrance to the room.
“Get out!” Amara screamed as Robert walked in.
“It’s too late for that,” Death said. “The gang’s all here.”
“What the hell are you doing?” Robert demanded of Amara, his voice containing both fury and desperation. “Did you listen to nothing that I said?”
“How’d you know–”
“I’m not an idiot. As soon as I saw you in here with him I knew what you were trying to do. Why couldn’t you have just let it alone? Please tell me you didn’t make a deal.”
Death stood up and put his hand on Robert’s shoulder. Amara could have sworn she saw Robert shudder. “She didn’t. She tried but we had a chat and she knows it’s all pointless now.”
“Nothing is pointless,” Robert said glancing in her direction. “I don’t know what he told you, Amara, but believe none of it.”
Death clasped his hand over his mouth. “I think we’ve heard enough from you.”
With barely any forethought, Amara launched herself at Death. He calmly looked up and the air around her became heavy, her movements completely stopped. Any sounds coming from outside of the room could no longer be heard, as if the universe only cared about the events that went on in the room.
“No,” Death said. “Don’t even bother.”
She remained frozen and could not close her eyes which meant she had no choice but to see what followed.
Robert did not squirm or fight back. He clearly knew that at this point he was done for. Death let go of Robert’s mouth and pushed both of his hands onto Robert’s chest. “Sorry, friend.” She could hear Robert’s chest cavity crack and caught a glimpse of bone shoot out of his shirt. Silently he screamed, his mouth opening and closing repeatedly.
Amara tried to speak but nothing came out.
Death began ripping out Robert’s bones, lungs and heart until his chest was empty. Once done he made a circle motion with his forefinger. A small black hole began to form in Robert’s vacant chest, his eyes rolling back in his head. Death stood back and observed as Robert twisted and flailed and then started imploding into the black hole.
For a moment there was no sound. Then, a small click followed and Robert was gone. Amara knew a man like him would never come around again. The air returned to normal and she fell to the ground, banging both of her kneecaps.
“Sorry you had to see that,” Death remarked, flexing his hands. “It’s a messy business when I have to actively hunt someone down.” He gestured towards the area where Robert stood before he died. “Mr. Hero thought he could get away, I guess.” He looked out at the dancers, the music flooding into the room. Its return brought some normality back into her world. “There’re a lot of people out there. Some of ’em will die within the year. One within the week, I think. Looks like a shootout with a gang that rivals his own. But if his intelligence is at all represented by his dancing skills then it can’t be considered a real loss.” He winked at her. “Don’t tell me you weren’t thinking similar things when you were at the bar earlier.”
Amara managed to get to the couch and reclined against it, rubbing her knees. Her mind had numbed and she could barely process what happened. She merely managed to say, “I won’t do it.”
“You won’t do what?” Death asked kindly as if he were truly concerned about the decision she just arrived at. “Don’t hold back on me now.”
“It. I won’t do it.”
“And just what is ‘it?'”
“You know what it is.”
“Say it. I want to hear you say it.”
Amara met his gaze. “I’m not going to kill myself.”
He rolled his eyes. “Oh, please. Take my advice: down a bunch of pills. Make sure it’s a lot, though. I’ve seen people not take enough and all they get is a bucketload of vomit for their troubles. The stench is just atrocious.”
“Fuck your advice.” Her voice was barely above a hoarse whisper. “I’m not going to take it.”
“So you’ll be going with hanging then?”
“I’m going with nothing.” Her head started to hurt as images of Robert’s gruesome death replayed themselves over and over again. “I’m not going to kill myself. You lose.”
“I lose?” A crackling sound came from the depths of Death’s throat. Laughter, Amara surmised. “I don’t lose, dear. Tonight, in this very town, a man will kill his wife. A daughter will kill her mother. A friend will kill another friend over a man. I’ve got job security. Don’t you worry about me.”
“As long as I live so does Robert.”
Death took her by her neck with his right hand and put her up against the wall. “Robert Seagrad is dead. He was a weak man and he died a weak man’s death.” He stuck his left hand behind his back and removed a seven inch knife which featured an unnatural green glow. “Why don’t you take this, Amara? Why don’t you put it in your heart? Look out there. Look at them dancing and swaying and drinking and laughing. You’ll never be able to do that.”
“I definitely won’t be able to do it if I’m dead,” she managed.
“How do you know? You don’t know what’s in the afterlife. It could be blissful nothingness or a sensual heaven filled only with joy. Take the knife and take the chance at going to a better place.”
“It might be great if I die,” she said. “But let’s face it; I haven’t really seen what’s in this world yet. No, I think living to spite you might just be worth it.”
“No one lasts forever. You’ll die one day no matter what.”
“But not today.”
He dropped her and she hit her kneecaps yet again. A soft yelp came out and she half-cried and half-laughed.
“You’re a mess,” Death said dismissively. “And that’s how you’ll die.”
Death left the room and Amara gulped down a howl of pain. One of her knees was out of place and her right leg just might have been broken. She began to move back and forth, her body shaking ever so slightly.
It was Gabriella who found her first. “Amara! What are you doing?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” asked Amara, managing to sound condescending despite her tears. “I’m crying.”