As soon as I took a sip, I realized it was poison.
That was nearly twenty years ago; the moment I realized I’d been chosen, out of all the people left in my family. I had avoided it for years. Shaking like a leaf and looking over my shoulder every time I heard the doorbell ring. Most times, it was the post man, or some disciple of some God looking to recruit. I knew it was coming, though. One day, they would come for me too.
One night twenty years ago, was the night, apparently.
I let the man in my house. The one dressed in all black, who was standing in the pouring rain, and demanding I answer the bell. I’d given him dinner, something humans considered customary, but I wasn’t sure if it was the same for him. My family had prepared me for this moment, at least, I’d thought they had.
“You’re taller than I pictured.” The man had said, as he sipped at the wine I’d given him.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, giving him a look.
“My job.” He’d replied. His stare was like fire, eyes dark as coals. His hair was grayer than my late father’s. This was definitely one of his business associates. I had expected them to be a little more…grim looking.
“Alright,” I sighed. “Let’s get this over with then. What do I sign some paperwork or?”
The man smirked, lifted his glass to his lips, and chuckled softly as I immediately felt my heart begin to race. I started to sweat. My throat constricted, like it did every time I so much as encountered a peanut. Had I accidentally ingested one? No. The candy bar I’d eaten when we sat down was nut free. What was causing this then?
I looked at my wineglass.
“You,” I coughed, choking a little, and struggled to inhale. “You–.”
“Consider yourself initiated,” the man took another drink of his wine. “Nobody avoids it forever.”
I fell to the ground, clutching at my throat, and rolling back and forth on my back. Struggling to breathe is one of the scariest things a person can experience. It’s like dying before you’re dead. Nobody told me this was how it was done. It was too late for my Epi-pen, but what if I wasn’t even having a reaction? There was no way. It was just wine! I managed to look at his jacket pocket before the world went black. It wasn’t actual poison, but it was poison to me.
When I woke up, I felt…different. It was hard to explain, but instantly I knew this was what my father had told me about. He had been initiated the same way. A man dressed in black comes to the door, talks to you for a while, and waits for the perfect time to initiate the dying. They choose something small, insignificant, but something that will end you in a timely manner. The man still sat across from me, and he smiled a feral grin. I was shaky when I stood, but the room, at least, was no longer spinning. My throat was clear, but the need for air wasn’t incessant. In fact, I breathed in and out, but it no longer felt like something that was necessary. My body was solid. I wasn’t naked or anything. Good. I was still me…to a point.
The man stood from the table, took my hand, and closed my fist around a small cold metal object. When I opened my hand, I found a ring there.
“You’ll receive your first assignment by mail in three days.” The man said, and then he turned and walked out of my house. I never saw him again.
That’s why, I find myself today, sitting in my beat-up old Chrysler in front of a run-down apartment complex. The window’s cracked, due to my lack of air conditioning. The radio belts out Peter Gabriel. Some song about world leaders not playing nice with one another. I turn it down the moment I see my target. My stomach’s been roiling all day.
A little blonde-haired boy plays with a multicolored ball in the front of his small yellowing yard. A strange real-life metaphor for what was about to happen. His mother and father throw open the front door, beckoning him to come inside for dinner. I swallow hard, allowing a few moments before I make my move. It’ll take, but a touch to end his life.
The boy isn’t frightened the moment I do it. He goes, rather peacefully. His mother wails, clutching to her husband as she watches her only son die before her. The father, a man I know very well. My best friend Henry. This wasn’t what I ever wanted to do. Not to him.
“You’ll pay for this,” Henry glares. He always knew what my family’s legacy was. He just never knew it would be my job. “I’ll make sure of it.”
I nodded. What could I say? He had every right to want to hunt me like an animal after what I’d done. Most Reapers don’t live long if somebody gets ahold of a blade worthy of killing us. I was sure he would. I had, innocently, told him all the secrets he wished to know about my family’s curse. Not thinking would be the second death of me, I’m sure of it.
That night, I vomited for an hour, following the horrific images that went through my head regarding what I’d done. Then, I barricaded the windows and doors, waiting for the moment Henry would strike, and I knew he would. I sat on my couch with a baseball bat in my hands until my eyes went heavy with weariness. My father had been done in by an angry assailant. I wasn’t going to meet the same fate. Not until I could find a way to reverse this curse.
I waited. The hunt was officially on.