Author's Note: This short story doesn't have a nice tidy ending but instead is open-ended. If that's not your thing, feel free to read something else! ~ C
It was only after I opened the door at seven fifteen that I remembered Mum’s catchphrase I heard all my life: “Don’t open the door to anyone after seven.” She didn’t say it that night, before she went to work her night shift. But that’s no excuse.
I’d asked the obvious question when I was much younger, “If it’s so dangerous to let anyone in then why is it okay for you to go out at night?”
The answer was as bizarre as the instruction itself. “Because Tamara, the Grim Reaper comes to get you, not the other way around.” Then, whispering a prayer, she left for her night’s excursions.
The stranger standing on the doorstep looked as wild and woolly as the night itself. His thick, curly, black hair stood in wet spikes, so I didn’t notice the peaks at each side of his forehead. Not then. The light coming from the hallway behind me was too pale to see his face clearly.
The wind was whooshing like a drunken ghost, and there was so much rain that I could hardly see the other side of the road. None of our street lights have worked for as long as I can remember. I know this ‘cause I do look out the windows, like a prisoner behind bars.
Although the unknown quantity didn’t look much older than me, I felt the need to protect Tonkin. He’s only sixteen. I didn’t want the guy to think I was afraid or that we were alone at home. Obviously I couldn’t shut the door in his face, so I barred the entrance and started to angle the door slowly shut.
“Play with them,” Dad used to joke. “Then hit them with it when they’re least expecting it.” Of course he was halfway across the world, doing exactly what he preached.
“Sorry, we’re going out,” I mumbled, keeping my voice as low as possible so I sounded older.
“I just want directions,” he said in a teenage twang I recognised. “My GPS says I’m on the corner of Blackthorn and Wildling Streets. But if I go either way I hit a dead end.”
“Then go back the way you came.” I stated the obvious.
“That’s the funny thing. Every way I go from the intersection hits a blind alley.” He was sounding higher pitched.
Then what I had been dreading. “Who’s at the door?” Tonkin called out.
I wouldn’t have minded so much if Tonkin’s voice was deeper, more like Dad’s.
“He’s just leaving,” I called back, trying to remember what Mum did when she opened the door at night.
Then I turned to the guy. “Turn your GPS off. GPS signals go kaput in this part of town. Then drive back the way you came. If you come to a kerb, do a U turn. Try this on all the streets until you find a way out. Who are you?”
I was surprised to see the Grim Reaper looking frightened.
“But, but,” the young man said, his scythe, I now noticed, slung across his back, the long curved blade glinting over his right shoulder in the watery light from the moon that peeked through the clouds at intervals. I almost expected his lip to start quivering. “But I’ve tried to go everywhere, I can’t get away and,” he paused and averted his gaze, almost embarrassed.
I couldn’t help myself. I was curious, and the words came tumbling out before I could think. “And what?”
The Reaper raised his eyes, dark even in the lamp that hung above the front door, brightening the front steps and around which a large moth was noisily bumping into the lantern.
The Reaper mumbled something under his breath that I couldn’t hear. “What?” I repeated again, almost impatiently.
“I have an appointment that I’m supposed to make,” he glanced anxiously at his watch underneath the sleeve of his dark top that blended with the rest of his black clothes.
“You mean,” I started to say, lowering my voice, but was cut off when Tonkin appeared at my shoulder. “Who’s there?” he said, curious but in a bored tone. I knew this had interrupted his video game playing.
“No one,” I said sharply. “Just someone who’s lost and looking to find his way out of here,” I explained, quickly.
“Oh,” Tonkin replied with barely a glance at the grim reaper standing on our doorstep. “Did you tell him that GPS doesn’t work here?” he said, trying to be helpful.
I sighed in annoyance. “Yes, I did.”
Tonkin was already turning away to head back into the living room. “Okay,” he said over his shoulder.
“Sorry,” I said hurriedly. “You were saying you have an appointment…do you mean an “appointment” I bent my fingers into air quotes for emphasis.
The Reaper looked shocked. “Wh-,” he stuttered. “What do you mean?” he took a step back and down a step.
I gestured to his scythe. “I know you’re a reaper. I can see your scythe. My mum always said…” I trailed off.
The Reaper’s dark eyebrows rose to almost meet his dark spiked hair. “Your mum said what?”
“Oh never mind,” I shook my head. “It’s just superstition.” My mouth twisted at the corner into a smile.
“So,” I said bluntly. “You’re going to kill someone?”
The boy, for that’s all that he was, looked shocked. “No! I don’t kill people. I take their souls, there’s a big difference.”
I shrugged, not wanting to debate the point. “Well, where are you looking for?”
He took a small scrap of paper from the pocket of his black jeans and thrust it at me. I took it, read the address written there and dropped the paper. I gasped. “You’re wanting 1832 Hummingbird Lane?” My voice was quiet with fear.
“Yes?” he replied. “What’s the problem?”
I shook my head, stunned. Tonight was getting weirder and weirder. First a grim reaper shows up at the door, then it turns out he’s looking for a haunted house.
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