After Lily

Chapter 2:

The building was stood in exactly the center of town, and all the main roads extended out from it, like spokes on a bicycle wheel. Lily stood outside its front gate, marveling at it. No matter how many times she stood in front of it, the building never lost its splendor. Its arched windows seemed to make light dance off of them, while the multiple domes of the roof made it easily distinguishable among the smaller buildings that surrounded it. Inside, the floor, which at first glance seemed to have been painted with a complex geometric pattern, only upon further inspection revealed itself to be painstakingly crafted out of multiple types of tile, each no larger then a pebble.

She showed the security guard her letter, and he directed her to the interview room. It was only after she had sat down that she realized that she had no idea what she was going to say.

She didn't have much time to think it over, though, as the ornate wooden door across the room opened, and a man entered.

"You must be Lily." He smiled, revealing shark-like teeth. "Allow me to introduce myself- my name is Armon; I am the head grim reaper. I suppose you could say that I run this city."

Lily nodded, unsure of what to say. In many ways, the man before her looked remarkably human. His hair was brown and he wore a normal black suit. But just one glance at his face would be enough to signal that something was unusual. His eyes were almost surreal. The irises of both seemed to almost glow orange, and his pupils were cross-shaped slits. A scar ran down his right eye, from his forehead to his cheekbone, and the white of the eye below it wasn't white at all, but black.

He smiled his shark-toothed grin once more. "I've called you here because you interest me. I haven't seen a young reaper with so much potential in a very long time."

"Thank you very much, sir." Lily said, taken aback by the sudden praise.

He held up a hand. "No need for formalities. I like to be on a first-name basis with the people that I work with. Just Armon is fine."
She nodded.

"So." He clapped his hands. "First thing's first. Are you willing to take the job? Being a full blown Grim Reaper is a heavy responsibility, you know."

"Of course!" She shouted, grinning widely. "I mean - it's all I've ever wanted to do ever since I died, no, maybe even before that!"

"Very good, that's all very good." Armon said, smiling. "But you do know that it won't be normal human souls that you will have to chase after now. Compound spirits, energy leeches, bodily possessions- you might run into any of these things. And you must not forget that they are dangerous. One wrong step and you will learn first-hand that there are things out there that are far worse then death."

Lily nodded solemnly. "Don't worry." She said. "I won't lose."

His smile widened unnaturally. "Well, that's certainly the right way to think about it. On to the next order of business, then- you'll have to get your own office now, as well as your own staff."

"That… might be a problem." Lily traced her feet along the patterned tile. "I'm not very good with other people."

"Well of course you're not, you're a grim reaper. If you cared about other people's emotions the way most do, you would constantly be getting sidetracked by the constant stream of pleas for 'just one more day', and 'just let me say goodbye to my family'. You're efficient in what you do. Most people resent you for it, I'm sure."

She nodded silently.

"My recommendation would be to try to find someone who doesn't view death as a problem. They probably won't have as much of a problem with you. Suicides are a good place to start, but murderers work, too."


He shrugged. "It's what's worked for me all these years. At the very least, it's worth a try. If they quit on 'moral grounds', you can always replace them."

When he wasn't working, Kai had taken to walking along the inner circle of the city that separated the downtown area from the 'outer ring' of the suburbs. And since ghosts couldn't sleep, this was the best way to relax and reflect in between shifts at the intake agency.

The city seemed alive. Every now and then, he would feel the rough stones path shift ever so slightly beneath his feet, or hear the soft sounds of rhythmic breathing coming from the walls, and the grey mist that always seemed to hover over the city seemed to move and sway along with it.

The more that he walked, the stranger the place seemed. For one, it seemed far too small for the number of people that no doubt inhabited it. And then there was the fact that the sky never seemed to change- regardless of whether it was night or day, it was always the same slate grey. There were never any clouds either, just the smoky mist that he occasionally saw drifting up from in between the cracks in the road in small, wispy tendrils.

He looked at his watch. He still had another three hours before his first 'suicide support group' meeting. It wasn't really enough time to do much of anything else even if he could think of something better that he could be doing.

Might as well start heading over there anyway. He thought dully. Not like there's anything else going on right now. He decided to walk all the way there, so that at least he wouldn't be too ridiculously early. After all, he didn't want them to think that he was excited to be there.

He arrived at the building one and a half hours early, even after forcing himself to stop by several different shops that he had no interest in along the way. After fifteen minutes of staring blankly at the front of the building, he finally went inside.

As he opened the door, he blinked against the harshness of the fluorescent lights. The room was silent except for the mechanical hum of an oscillating fan in the far corner.

"You new?" A disinterested sounding receptionist called from behind a fashion magazine.

"Yes." Kai said. "I only died two weeks ago."
She glanced at the large clock behind her. "You're early." She said.

"I know."

"Well, just go wait in one of those chairs or something." She said, motioning to several black sofas arranged in a large rectangle on the carpet.

"Alright." He sighed, sitting down next to a large pile of magazines.

He picked up the first one on the pile and flipped it open.

It was some trashy gossip column, and he threw it away in disgust almost immediately. He dug deeper into the pile. None of the magazines looked the least bit interesting.

Suddenly, this whole situation- the counseling, the menial job- all seemed absurd.

Was this the afterlife? Nothing but an eternity of wasting time?

Trying to forget, to have a semblance of a normal, peaceful life, after everything that had happened to him?

The sound of the lobby door swinging open pushed him from his thoughts.

He turned to see Lily walk through the door, her hands full of bright blue fliers. She hummed lightly as she taped the fliers to the walls. Kai leaned to get a look at what she was doing.


She jolted at the sound of her name, dropping several fliers on the floor. "Kai?" She asked, turning. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here for the post-suicide support group. What are you doing here?"

"Oh, I'm looking for employees. Armon mentioned that suicidal people are a good place to start." She gave a tilted smile.

"Who?" He asked.

"Armon. He's the head grim reaper. He pretty much runs this city- he said that people who don't value life that much might be okay with working for a grim reaper."

He looked at the sign she had taped behind her.

'Help Wanted,' it read. 'Aspiring Grim Reaper seeks willing servants.'

"You're never going to find employees if you call them servants." He said.

"That's what Armon calls them!" She protested.

"That doesn't mean that you have to."

"But I already printed all these fliers."

He rolled his eyes. "But you didn't even put a job description on these things. Just what are you hiring for, anyway?"

"Well, I'm just opening up my office, so I kind of need help with everything. So right now the most important thing is that they're willing to work for me."

"Why wouldn't they be willing to work for you?" He asked.

"Well most people have a problem with grim reapers."

"Why's that? I thought that you weren't actually responsible for the deaths."
"Well we're not, but that doesn't stop people from blaming us. And I guess it doesn't help that we aren't exactly gentle with the people who try and put up a fight. Which is most of them." She laughed. "Most of the time I end up having to beat them into submission and drag them here."

Kai arched an eyebrow. "You really don't have any tact. I bet that if you were more understanding, then they wouldn't hate you so much."
"I don't have time for that!" She shouted. "Every minute that I waste coddling some ghost is another minute that another could be-" She suddenly stopped herself. "…I'm not supposed to talk about that." She said, holding up a hand. "But that's not the point, anyway. The point is that I need people to work for me and no one wants to do it." She huffed.

"I'll do it."
She blinked. "What? Why?"

He shrugged. "I guess you were right. I'm sick of the paperwork."

Lily blinked once more before breaking out into a big smile.

"Well alright." She smiled. "Want to start by helping me set up the office?"

The building was old, and looked like it hadn't been occupied for a long time. Kai ran his finger along one of the walls, leaving a trail of dust.

"Isn't this awesome?" Lily said, beaming. "And it was super cheap, too!"

"Are you sure it doesn't have any structural problems?"

She laughed in a way that said she wasn't even considering the possibility. "Anyway, there's a bit of work that need to be done before we can use it."
"A bit?"

She ignored him. "Anyway, I've got to go ghost hunting now. You can just do whatever you think needs to get done first. Hopefully I can find someone else to help so you won't have to do it all on your own."

"I get the feeling that's not going to be happening for a while." He muttered.

"See you later!" She waved, disappearing from the room.

It was only after Lily left and he tried to get started that Kai realized that she hadn't provided him with any cleaning supplies. At a loss for what else to do, he found himself putting some books that he had found in a box in the corner on a nearby built-in bookcase.

Once that was done, he leaned against the bookcase, wishing that Lily had left him with more specific directions.

Making a mental note to complain to her about it when she got back, he pulled out a book from the case behind him.

It was a heavy, hard covered thing without any sort of marking on the cover except for an odd two headed stick figure that was engraved on the front. He opened it to find the words 'Compounded Spirits: A Reaper's Guide' printed inside it.

Feeling oddly intrigued, he read:

A compound spirit is one of the more dangerous creatures that a ghost can encounter. As its name suggests, they are formed by two or more souls that have been merged together, usually after one 'eats' the other. The resulting creature is neither one soul nor the other- and neither consciousness has complete control over their actions. As more and more souls are added, it only acts on the most basic desires, until the only thing that the creature does is eat, becoming nothing more than a soul-devouring monster.

Kai's hands shook as he slowly closed the book and set it back on the bookcase.

He turned away and stared at the hardwood floor beneath his feet. The bottoms of his shoes had left imprints in the dust.

"Don't think about it." He commanded himself.

The room seemed to be spinning.

It's just a book. It's probably not even true. Just some scary ghost story for ghosts.

Except that it was true, he knew. A long time ago, he might have been able to believe otherwise, but…

"Don't think about it." He repeated firmly.

He remembered Lily's frustrated defense that she didn't have time to be nice, not while-

The room began to darken.

"Just how often does that happen?" he whispered. "How many people…?"

He remembered how he had always thought that the city seemed too small. It was still large as far as cities went, but it was still only just that. A city. There was no way that it could hold all the people who had ever died. He had always just assumed that there were more cities beyond the city walls, but-

He felt a sudden shiver. The walls.

The tall grey walls that surrounded the entire city. Was that why they were there? To keep those things out?

He sat there for a while, feeling the weight of his new discovery sinking in.

Lily returned an hour or so later, finding him still sitting against the bookshelf. She looked around the room. "You didn't really get much done."

He looked up at her, noticing the bloodstains that were now on her shoes. "You didn't give me any cleaning supplies." He whispered.

"Is something wrong?" She asked. "You seem even more out of it than usual."

He picked up the book. "This is all true, isn't it?"
She gave a nervous laugh. "You aren't supposed to know about that." She scratched at a large scar that ran across the right side of her neck. "But, yeah, it's true. But don't worry, the grim reapers take care of them."
"You mean that you actually fight these things?"

"Well, I don't. I'm still in training. But once we get this office set up and I officially become a real grim reaper, then yeah."
"Is it really dangerous?" He asked.

She gave a crooked smile. "Well yeah, but I'm a lot tougher then I look. I can handle it."

He stood up.

"I want to help."

A cold silence suddenly enveloped the room.

"Are you serious?" she asked, eyes narrowed.

He nodded. "Yeah- I want to help stop those things."

She held back a laugh, coming in closer. "You really are serious. But there's no way you could, Kai. It takes a special kind of person to become a grim reaper. Think about the kind of danger you're putting yourself in. If one of those things gets to you-"

"Then it's the end, I know."
"No. It's not the end. That's just the thing, Kai. You're already dead, so it's not like you'll die. You'll be trapped inside the thing – forever. Think about that for a while before you decide if you're really serious."

He closed his eyes, allowing himself to fall back into that darkness that he had fought so hard to escape. Was he really willing to risk that?

She smiled. "You should just try to have a peaceful afterlife."

He looked away. "How?" He whispered, feeling himself start to break down. "What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to start?"

She looked at him, arching an eyebrow. "You could clean this room."

Despite himself, he started to laugh.