A Brush With Death

By John

Author's Notes: Dedicated to Liz Lee (nimbusthedragon) for all her help and inspiration. (and for letting me butcher her art on a daily basis.)

She'd positioned herself so that she faced the door. There was probably something psychological about it, like turning her back on the party, but she told herself that it was so she could see if anyone mildly interesting entered. It had been nearly two hours and a long string of wannabe goths, clich├ęd ravers, who somehow missed out on the actual rave going on not three blocks away, and of course, couples.

Couples...

Couples coming through the door arm in arm. Couples smiling. Couples that came separately, kissing their hellos. Happy couples.

It was enough to make her sick.

"This is not how I want to spend Halloween." She said to no one in particular, not really expecting an answer. A gray cat weaved through the door and trotted past her and into the party, as if it were no more than one more partygoer.

"How would you like to spend it then?"

"With someone mildly interesting." She let off an annoyed sigh before it struck home that someone had actually replied. Her eyes went straight to her toes, her face flushed with embarrassment. "I mean, umm..."

"It's ok." She could hear the smile in his voice.

"I'm, umm, Nym." She could feel his eyes on her, and suddenly felt self-conscious about her outfit. Little strappy sandals covering the fishnet stockings that went up to her knees. The fishnets had a few holes in places but that was part of the "in-look" for fishnets anyway. Her skirt started a few inches above that, just about where her thighs started to thicken above the knee, yellow fading to a Halloween orange. Her corset covered her well, more so than most corsets do. It was black trimmed in white lace, orange bindings holding it together. Around her neck was an orange choker, a small faux gem hanging from it and resting against her collarbone. She had on a pair of fake elf ears and a temporary tattoo in the shape of a bat on her right shoulder, a pumpkin tattoo on her left. A pair of vampire fangs extended from between her crimson red lips. Her deep brunette curls escaped in a few handfuls from under her witch's hat, framing her soulful blue eyes. Her hands, clutched in front of her around a dragon plushy, were covered in black, fingerless gloves, bound at the wrist with orange bands. The dragon itself had a smaller version of her own witch's hat. "And this is Nimbus."

"I'm Anubis." Her eyes instantly went to the boy standing opposite her in the doorframe. As the name suggested, he was dressed like some ancient Egyptian deity. His stomach was left bare, his pecks covered with a wide banned necklace, so thick that at the neck it covered his shoulders completely. His upper arms and wrist were adorned in gold colored bracelets. In his left hand was a mask, somewhat like a masquerade mask, in the cast of a Jackal. His right held a long staff, in emerald from tip to tip, topped with an Ankh and ending in an upside down U, the points touching the ground. His waist was wrapped in a white cloth, crimson stripes stroking away from his hips, and to the hem. The base of his spine was dotted with a fake tail that hung down almost to the point of brushing his bare ankles, sandals being the only thing that separated his feet from the floor. The gray cat had returned from weaving through the house and now sat at the boy's feet, somehow still looking like it was more the boy waiting by the cat rather than the cat waiting by the boy.

The boy held up the Jackal mask and snapped the band around his head to hold it in place, covering his face. He smiled at her with his eyes. "What do you think?"

"Very, um..." She didn't want to admit but those stripes of flesh, those darling abs and muscled arms and calves, were just daring her to reach out and brush her fingers across them.

He slipped the mask up, letting it set on the top of his head like some bizarre dog-faced hat. "I was shooting for authentic."

"Shouldn't you have one of those head dress things then, like in Stargate?"

"Oh like anyone ever wore those." It wasn't the boy who spoke. Nym couldn't pinpoint the voice but then the boy's sudden hand on her bare shoulder had sort of interrupted her search.

"Why don't we step outside?"

"I-I'm not sure I-" She was about to refuse. He was cute, and a bit charming in an Orlando Bloom kind of way, but he was still a stranger, and one carrying a weapon at that. There was no way in hell that I'm going to- she almost finished the thought before one of the party goers, walking through the doorway and between them chose that moment to throw up, and then fall forward into his own puddle and pass out. "Sure, I'd love to."

As she made her way out, she glanced over her shoulder at the fallen drunk, suddenly worried if he was ok. She was taken aback by the gray cat, standing on the fallen kid's back, bent forward around the kid's head. For just a moment, Nym watched the cat whisper in the drunken kid's ear. She blinked her eyes and the moment was gone. It was just an arrogant cat, sniffing out a potential perch. With an annoyed flick of its tail, the gray cat hopped down, carefully landing on the far side of the puddle, and made it's way between Nym and the boy, waiting patiently at the door for them to open it.

"That's... one strange cat."

"Actually, I find him dead on for a cat." Nym looked up into the boy's soulful brown eyes, her mind suddenly registering that her arm and his were intertwined. "Arrogant, self centered, and thinking the rest of the world should care about him."

Nym, still caught up in the feel of their arms wound together, and the deep, soulful eyes, took a moment to reply. "I... you like cats, don't you?"

"I guess so."

"I mean, really like them. You like them for what's great about them, you like them for what's wrong about them. You don't just like things about cats, you just like cats."

"Well, isn't that how you should like things?"

"All or nothing." Nym smiled. "That's the kind of person you are, the all or nothing type."

"Well..." His eyes rolled away from hers, a slight blush showing on his cheeks. She felt her own face flush, she had him pegged and they both knew it, she'd figured him out so easily. "I guess I just don't like playing favorites. I mean, I'm not wishy-washy or anything, just... Young or old, rich or poor, healthy or not, everyone is equal is my eyes."

"Are some... more equal in your eyes?"

His eyes returned to hers, that same soulful look in them. "Sometimes something special comes along, and you can't help but be drawn to it."

Nym glanced away, the moment, his words, his eyes, the touch of his skin on hers, it was all just suddenly too much for her. "I... ummm..." She bit her bottom lip, her mind racing for something to say.

"Would you like to sit down?"

"Huh?" Somehow in their brief conversation they'd come outside, and were now strolling through a park, the trees lit with orange lights, the multicolored fall leaves stirring around on the ground, crunching under their feet. As they sat down, Nym glanced around. The park was filled with other couples, couples that normally she'd be glaring at, angry... no, jealous that they were happy and that she wasn't. That they had someone to share their time with and she was alone. A girl dressed like Elvira, nestled in the arms of a guy dressed like the wolf man, gave Nym a knowing smile, and Nym realized that right now she looked like she was just another couple. Maybe... I am. She gave the boy a nervous sideways look, and was startled to see that he wasn't looking around at the park, or at the other couples, or that beauty of this mid-autumn park at night. He was looking straight up at the cloudless sky.

"I don't take time to look at the stars anymore. Too preoccupied with my job, with the world around me and the things that need doing in it." He turned that gorgeous face and those warm eyes towards her. "What about you?"

"I get caught up in my life, I guess. In my art."

"You're an artist?" He raised his eyebrows, the only hint that he was surprised.

She told him about her art, about her inspirations. He smiled, laughed, offered his own anecdotes up. There wasn't anything really special they talked about, and yet there was something magical about just setting and talking.

She didn't know what made her do it, but she glanced down at her watch. Maybe she was going to show it to him, a spider web with twelve points on it's face, a spider and two flies were the hands. In horror, she read the time. "Oh My God! It's two in the morning!"

"Wow, really? I didn't realize we'd been talking that long."

"My mom is going to KILL ME! I'm so dead!" The boy beside her suddenly burst into laughter. Nym felt a growl surge up through her throat. "What's so funny?"

"You look so cute when you're worried."

For the third or forth time that night, she felt herself blush. "I, ummm... I need to go."

"I understand."

"I mean I enjoyed tonight and everything."

"Me too."

"C-can I see you again?"

"I'd like that very much."

Then she was gone. A whirl of leaves, and the fading sound of her strappy sandals slapping the ground the only remnants of her, beyond the happy memories of the last few hours playing through the boy's mind.

From it's vantage point in a tree, the gray cat watched the whole thing with silver eyes. Carefully judging the distance to the ground, it leaned forward and leaped.

A pair of nondescript, scuffed, white tennis shoes hit the ground, nearly hidden by the baggy gray pants. Going further up, as the wearer stood, a gray pullover hoody came into view, the hood hanging loose on the back. It covered the wearer's arms all the way down to the last joint on their fingers. A hand reached up and ran through black hair, pushing the dark bangs out of the way. His face had a smooth, unearthly sheen to it, almost glowing in the moonlight. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of silver goggle-like glasses.

"Your one day off..." The boy's voice was smooth and low, something infinitely comforting about it, and yet... unsettling all the same. "And you spend it flirting with some girl who couldn't decided if she wanted be a witch or a vampire. What was with that dragon plushy anyway?"

"Your one day off..." The other boy, still setting on the park bench, his eyes still focused on the path the girl had so recently vanished down. "And you spend it following me around. What was with parading around as a cat anyway?"

The dark haired boy with the silver shirt sat down beside the other. "I just wanted to see the oldest form of Death in a social setting, I guess. Besides, if I'm going to hang around the great Anubis, I'd best look the part."

"What did you see, then? Did you learn anything?"

The other boy pulled his silver goggles off of his nose, setting them on top of his head. He turned a pair of equally silver eyes to look at Anubis. "Why did you spend your day off hanging out with the living? You, me, the others, we're all incarnations or personifications of Death, the one thing all people fear and hate."

For a time, Anubis was silent, his eyes still on that path. Shaking his head, he turned away from it and refocused on the other boy. "Death, any of us, isn't anything to be feared or hated. Death is a companion on the journey they all take, a reminder to enjoy life while it's still theirs to live. The living don't need our help to die, all we are is someone to hold their hand while they go forth into that unknown dark sea that not even we personifications and incarnations of Death know what lays beyond."

Silence reigned as the two boys looked at each other.

"That..." The silver eyed boy smooth voice slipped out into the cold night air. "Is such total and utter bullshit."

Anubis leaned forward and let out a good laugh. He couldn't help it. "Suicide, you always could make me laugh."

"And he could always make me smile." A sultry, female voice came from behind the park bench, causing Suicide and Anubis to turn and look over their shoulders. A voice like that commanded a male to pay attention. It's owner was a delectable woman in a long red dress with matching red lips. "Hi boys. What's shakin'?"

"Oh we're just wondering how to spend the last few hours of our day off." Anubis was unshaken by the woman's beauty or her voice.

"Yeah," Suicide shot him a look. "Any ideas, Murder?"

"Welllll," she tapped a finger against her pouting lips in thought, trailing it across her cheek, and down her throat, before running it over her d├ęcolletage as if remembering a lover's caress, or inviting one. "We could always slip into something a little more frightening and just run around like morons, terrifying all the mortals."

Suicide and Anubis shared a look and a smile before standing up. Suicide reached up with his left hand and pulled the silver goggles off his head, his right hand reaching back to grab his hood. Shadows seemed to swarm around him, taking away the silver of his clothes and swallowing him up to his hips and merging with his shirt. His face had completely vanished inside of the dark hood, and as his fingers withdrew from it, his hand seemed drained of it's sheen and color, the flesh melting away to reveal long, bony fingers. His other hand, still holding the silver goggles was changing as well, joining it's brother in a mummified state. The goggles themselves seemed to stretch and twist, turning black and growing in length until a scythe was grasped in his hands. Suicide straightened his back, allowing his bony face with its grinning and teeth and empty eyeless sockets into the moonlight, revealing a visage that all who beheld it would know as the Reaper of Death.

"You know," Murder spoke up, a smirk playing across her full lips, "it's strange seeing you in your original form. It just sends a delicious little shiver down my-"

"Consider it my casual outfit, then." The voice was still very much Suicide's, but it's depth was beyond scope, echoing to the very depths of the soul with a dry rasp like a bag of dry bones being dragged along a country path in winter.

In the meantime, Anubis had slipped his jackal's mask back into place, the mask reaching around and becoming his head. His body grew in stature and darkened to the burnt color of the dwellers of the desert. He was over seven feet in height when he finished, crossing strong, dark arms over his muscled chest. His voice boomed without his lips moving, seeming to spring up in the very minds of the listener. "What about me?"

"What about you?" Murder cocked an eyebrow at the jackal god. "That's how you always look anyway."

Anubis stood in stony silence as Suicide just shook his head. "So are you going to change, Murder?"

"Don't I look like trouble already?"

Suicide was about to reply when Anubis cut in with that booming voice again. "You could be a lumpy rock and still look like trouble."

She bristled at this. "Imagine! Comparing me to a stone! I've never been so-"

A couple, giggling and crunching their way through the bushes came upon Suicide. He stretched out scythe as if to cut them down, his raspy, graveyard voice grating out to torture their ears. "I've come for your lives... and your souls!"

A startled shared scream and the two had turned to bolt the other way. They made it no more than two steps, the cold breath of the Grim Reaper down the back of their necks when they were brought up short again. Anubis in all his Egyptian god-like grandeur now blocked their escape.

"Death..." Their legs shook so badly that they thought they'd simply snap apart, his voice penetrating them and stirring the very marrow in their bones and freezing it all the same. "Does not play favorites."

The woman shrieked and seemed to try and climb her companion. He bolted to his left, dodging under Suicide's reaching hands and scythe, tugging his girl after him. Suicide and Anubis pursued them no further and the couple didn't look back as they ran.

They were nearly out of the park, the large archway in sight, when a woman in a red dress stepped out onto the path, her face hidden in the long curled rivulets of her black hair.

"What's the matter, little kids?" She tilted her head up, revealing the face of a woman who'd been in a coffin much too long, the eyes rotting in their holes, her face shrunken and tortured. She reached out a hag-like bony hand towards them, her other hand clutching a knife as long as her forearm. "Saw something in the park you didn't like?"

The boy fainted dead away, the blood drained from his face. The girl shrieked again, the screech sounding painful as it ripped from her lungs. She grabbed her unconscious boyfriend's hand and pulled him off the path and into the woods, her screaming and the sounds of his body being dragged over the rough ground and gnarled roots continuing for some time.

"Think we went a little overboard?" Suicide stepped out of the shadows beside Murder, physically in his more fleshed out body, but still dressed in a dark, hooded poncho like outfit, leaned against his scythe as he listened to the receding shrieks.

"Of course not," Anubis pushed his mask up, looking again like the boy from the party. "Nothing reminds me you to treasure your life like a brush with Death."