What It Means To Be Alive
In the grand thing we call life, there are three kinds of moments:
- There are "Good Moments"
- There are "Neutral Moments"
- There are "Horrid Moments"
Everyone knows about these things. It's part of the circle of life, these moments. These little specks of time, they define who people become. They are the makeup of the human condition, the code which the mortal soul reads. These moments are also the very thing the human mind sifts through, glued to empressions and feelings like an addict attached to their favorite drug.
Most people have a pleasant balance of 'good' and 'neutral' moments with a handful of bad ones thrown around. Miss America was a hard worker who got a lot of good grades in school and was often praised for her success. The Star Football Leader came from a long line of good-to-good citizens, a friendly guy who was quick to help someone when they were having a bad day. Good moments fill their lives, the neutral one's being the day-to-day grind of life.
The bad ones, though? Their "horrid moments" are a mesh of failing grades, strained relationships, broken bones and pulled muscles, accidents in the family, the family house catching on fire, and the death of a family pet. Nothing to horrid, some would say. For those two, horrid, those "horrid moments" were, indeed, a blight on a good record.
In a way, I envied them. It wasn't a matter of bitterness, on my end, but the fact that they could claim a gentle life with few hardships. They were able to see the people they love and care for every day without worrying how they would die at the end of the day. While some people have the fortune of a smooth road under their feet, I am not so lucky.
I have a miraculous gift: at midnight, every night, my life will end if don't kill someone.
Take a moment and read that again. I'm not a horrid person. Granted, the entire 'kill a person by midnight, everyday' thing may seem to say otherwise when one considers how long I've been doing this. There are three-hundred and sixty-five days in a year, more or less. That's a possibility of an equal number of people who die by my hand. A terrifying statistic, when anyone stops to look at that number.
Multiple that by ten and the number of years I've actively, knowingly killing people is abundantly clear. I'm not a bad person. Just a…vicitim of fate. The entire dying aspect is a bad thing, yes, but dying and coming back the next day is worse. Sometimes I refuse to take another life, sometimes I welcome Death with open arms, and always with reason.
Having an intimate relationship with Death means having a grasp on what it means to be alive and human. To be in love with life, infatuated with the feeling of a heartbeat and the way the body breathes is something anyone who has encountered Death knows. To be able to dance in the moonlight, naked and unafraid, is to be able to embrace the fragile truth of life – tomorrow isn't promised and yesterday doesn't exist. There is only this moment we live in, alive and filled with potential.
When I learned this truth, petty things like money and material possessions, the things people obsess over, they meant nothing to me. Greed is a byproduct of a drowning soul, of not knowing what unconditional love is. People can be cruel and cold, but that's simply because their lives are defined by moments that are dark and hopeless.
These are the people I try to help, if I can.
When I succeed, it's because I die saving their sorry asses.
They live another day, humbled and shaken by how a stranger died for them. I die in some painful, horrible way that leaves me screaming when I'm "restart" my lifecycle. In a way, I know how video game characters feel. The concept of dying, over and over and over again is a nightmare. Mess up? That's fine. You can try again after you die.
There is one upside to all of this, however. The entire 'dying' everyday thing means that I often come back in a different body. Always the same age as I was before, but not always the same gender or body type. I live these peoples lives for a day, maybe a week, before I find myself dead once again and waking up in a new body (often screaming and thrashing and punching my new mother/father in the face) with an entirely new life.
This time around, I'm a girl. Average body. Nothing special.
I don't know her name, but I do know that, despite being fifteen years old, she lives by herself in the worst part of the city. She's emancipated. I read all the papers. Her parents, rich fuckers that they are, want her to come home so she can see a doctor for her "flaws." What these flaws are, I have no fucking idea. All I know is that she's skinny with washed-out skin, long, matted hair (until I fixed it with a knife), and knobby knees. A photographer, if all the pictures stapled to her wall are anything to go by.
There's the camera, too. Which I have slung around my next as I make my way through the maze of alleyways surrounding her home in the slums of some unnamed city. At this time of the day, no one is awake. The sun has yet to rise, fully, and the faint hint of pink blooming on the horizon tells me that dawn is approaching.
I tighten my grip on my backpack's straps, knuckles white. I have twenty-four hours to find, and kill, another living person if I want to live to see tomorrow. If the mystery of who this girl is, living alone and barely scraping by, I need to pick a target no one would miss. Someone homeless, already dead by still dragging their feet.
I've already spotted a handful of people that fit that description. An old man with black spots on his skin, eyes sunken into his skull and teeth rotten. A bypasser kicked him in the head when he fell to the ground. A woman standing under an overhang, breasts as good as exposed and skirt dangerously high and with too-red lips. A thug raping a man in the distance, his friends laughing as the poor soul grit his teeth in silence. My lips tightened into a thin line as I eyed the last group, anger coursing through my blood.
That boy, he was filled with 'horrid moments' in his life. The way his eyes were screwed shut, fingers white as his nails bit into the wooden crate he was pushed over. My gaze snapped from one thug to the next, eyeing the clubs and knives they held. There were no telltale signs of a gun on any of them. Eight of them, all well-fed and eyes bright.
I turn and make my way into the shadows of their alleyway, sneakers barely making a sound against the damp, stone walkway. One of the thugs notices me almost instantly, a wide smile spreading as he said something to the man standing at his side. When a few others turn, their gazes on me, something hot and primal floods my veins. When the man nearest me reaches for my arm, my backpack drops and I catch him by the wrist.
The knife that was stashed in its sheath on his hip finds itself rehomed in his neck. The chocked, gurgling scream draws the rest of the group's attention as the two others, who had seen what had happened, lunged for me. The boy on the crate, pants heaped around his ankles, slumped to the group with wide eyes and a slack jaw.
These men, they were nothing. Their movements were slow, their weapons aimed too high and their bodies hunched too much. There was no precision, no knowledge. Weaving in and out of each attack, in this new body, as bodies dropped one after another was like dancing to a symphony. Fluid and weightless, I twisted and dodged and slit throats.
When the last man was standing, pants dishelved and penis now limp and hidden from sight, I twirled my newly acquired knife between deft fingers. This man eyed the fallen bodies around me, then looked at me, before taking a step back. I smiled, voice low as I said, "You can try and run, but we both know you won't make it. You've been marked."
I stepped towards him. "You've hurt so many and now the time has come to pay the toll."
His arms were limp at his sides, body relaxed. The picture of perfect resignment. When I drove the blade through his chest and into his heart, I held his gaze and watched as the light bled out. When he hit the ground amongst the others of his group, I turned towards the teenager, who looked to be around the same age as me and offered a bloody hand to him. This teenager, he looked at my hand and my face before slowly reaching out and grabbing it. I pulled him to his feet, turning away as he shakingly fixed himself.
I looked over at him, then. "Why did I save you?"
He nodded. He wasn't looking at me, now. His gaze was on the dead thugs, as much at peace with their deaths as I was. When he turned back to me, I continued, "I was in the right place at the right time, I suppose. Or they were in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"You said Keller was marked," his lips were pressed into a thin line, then. I shrugged in response, my gaze dropping to my bloody hands and clothing. As I tossed the knife to the ground, I replied, "Death has a way of finding those whose time is up."
"I never took you to be a person who could kill someone with such…finality."
My attention snapped to him, then. He knows this body. He knows who she is, what she's like. I run a hand through my hair, eyes closed as he continued, "We've all heard of a string of violent murders, Ester. Was that you?"
A string of violent murders. "No, that isn't my doing."
Not this body's doing, anyway. Not mine, either. It's rare if I end up in the same place once I start a new cycle. I turn to this man, who had called me Ester, and, as I let the name circle through my thoughts, I murmur, "I guess you could say I was reborn. I may not have killed the people from those other murders, but these men…their deaths are on my hands. What do you intend to do about it?"
He was quiet, for a while. Then he shook his head. "Nothing I can do, is there?"
There wasn't. We both knew that. I eyed my clothing again as he said, "Let's get back to your apartment and get you into something clean. The teachers won't approve of you coming to class covered in blood."
He led me away by the hand. As we left the dead behind, I knew something was going on in this city. A string of murders, the thugs from earlier, the prostitute and the old beggar; it was a pattern, one I had seen before. My lips pressed into a thin line.
Retracing my steps, I couldn't help but wonder what Death had in store for me now.