Reds, yellows, hots, colds. Sensations blended and faded. Suzie’s head spun in a whirlwind of sensation. Two suns appeared for an instant, and she watched the building where she’d signed the contract. Athanasius, the first ’Mental she’d met, seemed to smile at her, and then was gone.
Stars burned her.
Oceans drowned her.
Clouds suffocated her.
Noise deafened her.
The tether slackened. She opened her eyes.
Billy still held the scythe; the blade dripped with tiny beads of white light.
“You okay?” asked Frank, turning.
“Yeah,” she said. “Are we there?”
“Yes,” said Frank. “We’re in the Mortal World. The scythe will never bring you anywhere near anyone you ever met here. That’s one of the rules, but we’re here. This is the closest to home most of us will ever get.” His voice trailed off, and he looked away. Suzie patted his shoulder. She could imagine his pain.
“We’re not here to talk,” said Billy. “The target will be here in a minute.”
“The scythe tells you the target as you cross the portal,” explained Frank.
“They explained in Theory class,” she said. “But it’s still weird to be here.”
She looked around. They stood in an alley, with gleams of starlight visible above them. Flies buzzed over a trash can, overflowing with pizza boxes. A cool breeze blew candy wrappers across the pavement, to graffiti-covered walls. Behind her, a cement building rose, with barred windows. In front of them, a larger street met the alley, with part of a neon sign glowing around the corner. It smelled like urine.
She heard shouts in Spanish from a dilapidated cement building with iron bars. More shouts and someone pleading. Then a gunshot and the shouts moved away from them.
A young girl staggered into the alley. Suzie was about to speak, but Frank shook his head.
The girl fell onto her face, a pool of blood leaking out from under her. In the distance, Suzie heard another gunshot.
“We have to help her,” said Suzie.
“It’s too late,” said Frank.
The girl lay motionless. Time seemed to stop. Suzie had never witnessed someone’s death. Who was this girl? Who had shot her?
Even as the questions started to form in her mind, the girl sat up and stared at them. Suzie started to move, but Frank grabbed her arm, holding her.
“Where am I?” said the girl.
She was sitting up, but she was also laying face first on the ground. The sitting girl looked at Billy with terrified eyes and struggled to her feet. Suzie realized they were each wearing black robes; even with their training badges, they must look frightening. Billy still held the scythe.
“Is this a joke?” said the girl. “I’m not dead—”
“You are,” said Billy.
The standing girl had no gunshot wound in her chest. Her dress seemed to shine as she moved a step away. She never looked down at her own body, or the blood continuing to run.
“Who are you three?” asked the girl.
“We’re in training,” said Billy. Suzie admired how calm his voice was. He was cool and collected, while she wanted to yell.
The girl took another step back and tripped on something. She tried to get up again but Billy held up a hand.
“Please,” he said. “Allow me.”
He raised the scythe and let it fall. The girl screamed, and Suzie screamed as well.
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