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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Monday Night Chinese: Part 5 (FINAL)

Part 05: An Afterthought

It had been quite some time since the incident with Raphael, and every now and again Levi, Alice and Blue would discuss those events. They would talk of how No One escaped from Astoria, where his other minions might be and when, if ever, they would show up once again in the Afterlife. Blue was of the opinion that No One would focus on the two planes of existence that weren’t filled with able bodied spirits who knew what to look for now (the Dreamscape and the living world), but Alice was uneasy all the same. She spent more time after that out in the living world fighting and tracking down demons to better her combat skills and from time to time Levi and other Listeners such as Uriel would accompany her or Laura to track down the missing Afterlife workers. A few had been found, but many, such as Grimshaw, were still missing.

The black hearts had vanished, and for a brief while only the ordinary, easy to work with demons were all Levi received. He worked as peacefully as he could, now that he had grown slightly more paranoid of his own surroundings. He began spending more and more time cooped up in his restaurant, thinking.

On one particular occasion that Levi found perfectly appropriate to stay in his favorite booth (third from the front on the left side, it had the best feng shui), Blue had decided to pop in for a chat. He slid into the booth opposite Levi rather cheerfully. Levi said nothing for a while; he only stared at his zodiac calendar placemat. Blue took the initiative and spoke first.

“You still haven’t told me who cooks for the restaurant,” He said playfully, resting his arms on the sturdy table and leaning forward. Levi didn’t respond. Instead, he folded his arms and began stroking his chin. Blue didn’t stop smiling, not even once. “You know, I heard Alice say she’d be by later. I think there’s someone else looking for you, too.”

Alice’s previously frequent visits had occurred less and less in the year and a half since the event, due to her increasing trips into the living world. Levi wouldn’t admit it, but it affected him not having her around and he never enjoyed the few and far between trips he would take with her into the living world to search for the still missing employees. He had tried filling the void of her friendship with his love of the idea of Laura, but after two dates their relationship hadn’t taken off, but they remained friendlier than they had been before. She, along with Blue, would stop by the Chinese restaurant to check up on the ever withdrawing Levi and make sure he got out at least once in a while.

“Are you thinking about Kristjan?” Blue’s voice cracked through Levi’s thoughts, and he finally glanced up at the young man.

“Yes. What happened to him was… something that should have been prevented. Had he simply died and become a black heart, I wouldn’t feel so bad. But I couldn’t fix him. I wonder if Merrill was really able to stop his pain.” Levi set the hand he had been stroking his chin with on the table. Blue leaned further in, apparently trying very hard to invade Levi’s bubble.

“I really dig your British accent, you know that? You should never have hid it,” Blue said, backing off a bit.

“I sort of forgot it had even existed to begin with. Once you’ve been dead as long as I have, you start to forget who you were in your past life.” Levi tapped on the table. Blue had a peculiar look of confusion and disturbance that caused his face to wrinkle, creating aged lines of experience his features were too young to have. He may have been dead, but mentally he was still growing and maturing.

The door to the restaurant opened and LeRose, the model thin female Reaper with the most delightfully disturbing ruby hair stepped in. Everything about her demanded the attention of the boys in the room, from her snarling face to her clothing choice of Daisy Dukes and a dark tank top. Behind her in the hallway was a giant black blob with four spindly legs popping out. It was covered with hundreds of beady green eyes that were looking at everything around it. It secreted a noxious steam every time one of the eyes would blink. There was a chain wrapped around it and Charles, tall and thin with nicely parted sandy hair and clothes equally as nice, held on to one of many chains that secured the demon, preventing it from running amok. He looked bitterly uncomfortable.

“What is that?” Blue asked intently. Levi could see the ‘this is so totally awesome’ look on Blue’s face take over.

“Order up! Got another one for you. Friggin’ Charlie didn’t want to go near the thing like usual, but at least he’s still a better partner than Grimshaw. I just wish he’d man the hell up.” LeRose said with her typical scowl, holding on to another chain that wrapped around the demon. Levi was convinced her face was frozen that way as he had never once seen her smile. Oh how it pained Levi to hear her speak with her crude tone as well. He was at least somewhat thankful that he rarely saw her as she spent much of her time with her new partner, Charlie, who had recently come to the Afterlife. They were just similar enough that they got along. And when they did bicker, it was over such petty, trivial things that they often forgot what they had been arguing over five minutes after they had started fighting.

“Just another face in the crowd.” Levi stood up and walked towards the creature that dwarfed him; it strained against the chains to greet the Listener, every single one of its eyes shifting at once to focus on the man. Levi noticed a few black hearts that replaced the black blob’s pupils.

Levi allowed the L noise to wash over him. “If you felt you were justified, then you were. Ignore what anyone else says. If they deserved to die, then they did.”

The demon exploded in a flurry of steam, revealing a strong young man with a shaved head. He held a wicked grin, and a broken heart was tattooed on his forehead. He made a lunge at Levi, but LeRose kneed the man in the gut.

“LeRose, always the delicate flower.” Levi ran his hand through his wavy hair.

“Shove it,” she said as indelicately as Levi imagined she could.

“I think you deserve to die, too.” The man coughed out. Levi touched the cracked heart on the man’s forehead.

“I’m already dead. The people you killed didn’t deserve it. And you don’t deserve reincarnation.” Levi rapped the knuckle of his index finger on the heart. “Sometimes Listeners have to lie to get the job done.”

“Little boy Blue, follow me up to the river. He’s your business now.”

“Guess we have to trap him in the river. Later, Levi.” Blue stood up and ran out the door, shoving past Charles. “Race you there, LeRose!”

“You can take all the head start you want, you know you’ll get winded after fifty feet!” LeRose shouted after Blue, taking her sweet time walking out of the restaurant while dragging along both Charles and the bald man.

Levi sighed heavily, leaning against the doorframe of the restaurant entrance. He peered out into the hallways of the Afterlife, gazing at his coworkers as they passed by. With great effort, he separated himself from his little area, and set out to see something. Maybe, if he were lucky, he’d run into Alice.

That was not the case. Levi had gone quite a ways away from his little nook, wandering ever closer to the shores of Acheron, the place where the halls shifted into caverns, following the others who had left his restaurant. He had rarely gone this way; the last time he had seen the shores was probably fifty years prior, yet he felt drawn there.

As he arrived he noted how not much had changed, boats came and went frequently and Levi waved to the people he recognized, and stopped when he found Blue walking into the water, followed by LeRose and Charles, who held the tattooed man on either side. He thrashed violently, kicking up a spray of water.

Blue grabbed the man’s face and began chanting. Levi couldn’t understand the spell, and soon enough it was drowned out by a haunting scream that everyone seemed to ignore until suddenly it stopped. It stopped, and slowly the man sank in to the waters, Charles and LeRose letting go of him so he could be eaten by the river. There was a faint glow, and then nothing; his soul had become one with Acheron, trapped by the sins he committed before becoming a demon. Levi would have continued to ponder the man’s fate had he not heard the word Monday shouted at full force. Levi looked around.

It was Friday. Friday? Friday!

Certainly spotting Friday was the last thing that Levi had expected, but nonetheless he was surprisingly excited to see the Guardian. He walked briskly towards Friday, who waved in broad strokes with his arm.

“Monday, my dear, dear long lost friend!” Friday embraced Levi. “I have news!”

“Good Friday, Black Friday, what brings you to the Afterlife?” Levi felt his speech shifting in tone to match at least part of the ridiculousness of Friday’s.

“Well if you’d let me explain instead of asking silly… no, now it’s gone. Like a bubble. It just popped. Maybe if bubbles were made of paper they’d last longer?”

Levi laughed. He wasn’t even irritated, just strangely calm. He felt peaceful, and started to daze.

“Oh, now I remember. We’ve had a hit on No One!”

Just like that, Levi was snapped out of his daze. “What?”

“No One temporarily found a body and was invading the Dreamscape, but HR says he was stopped. Funny place to invade, it’s always changing, it would give me a headache.”

Levi stroked his chin, frowning. He chewed on his lip, not wanting to let on to the grotesque feeling that was churning in his gut at the news. “Well then, the game is afoot. Let’s make a plan.”


See you on Tuesday :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Nagging

It was twelve-thirty in the evening and Anna-Marie Tufton, as per her usual agreement with her unspoken wedding vows, was troubling her husband. It was not the usual hum-drum bothering a typical nagging wife would chide her husband with such as changing the car oil or not leaving crumbs in the bed. No, these naggings were much more painful and involved Anna-Marie telling her husband Franklin-David Tufton III to pluck his eyebrows, wax his body because his hairy chest made her convulse, and to clip his toenails daily (she always complained that in bed at night his toenails would scratch up her legs). Franklin-David was going to kill her.
Gruffly, he shoved the well-worn plugs into his ears and kindly reminded his wife Anna-Marie to take her sleeping pill, then with a weighty suspiration rolled over to sleep. Anna-Marie scoffed and swallowed her single rouge pill, wincing at the bitter taste of the water in her cup. She concluded right then and there she would simply have to remind Franklin-David to either change the water filter or buy more of the liquid in bottled containers.
Late that next morning, Anna-Marie found herself wakened by the aroma of bacon. She was for once pleasantly surprised rather than irritated her husband had decided to use the kitchen. She always assumed Franklin-David was a clumsy oaf who would put cereal in the microwave given the chance, but the maple-y smell of the pig soothed her. She lazily made her way down the stairs and sat at the new kitchen table she had to remind her husband over twenty some odd times to get, waiting for him to take notice. When he finally turned around his face morphed to a ghastly, chalky color. His grip loosened on the frying pan of bacon, allowing it to slip between his large fingers and hit the floor. Anna-Marie groaned; she would have to remind him to change that tile if it left a crack.
Over the course of the next baker’s dozen worth of days, Anna-Marie noticed her husband’s demeanor greatly alter. His eyes grew dark circles underneath them; his face became gaunt and never lost that chalky color from the morning he dropped the bacon. He would barely eat the food Anna-Marie would slave over (or so she’d claim), and he refused to touch her. Then there was also that hideous smell that followed her wherever she went, despite her frequent bathing and use of perfumes. Anna-Marie was about at wit’s end until one day she could stand it no longer. She decided to confront her husband and found him by the side of the house where she had reminded him earlier to rake the leaves. She got behind him and shouted his name. Startled, Franklin-David spun around and hit Anna-Marie in the skull with the rake.
Her head flopped into her hands.
Anna-Marie contorted her face, staring up at her stout neck and shoulders. After the briefest of pauses, she allowed herself to speak out loud the question that plagued her mind, asking, “Am I dead?”

Monday, August 20, 2012

Thursdays United, Part 1: This Is Not A Love Story

“Aster Archer, I want to fall in love,”

And so started another day of classes, with Quincy Tate telling his best friend Aster Archer exactly what he wanted from life.

“That’s nice, Quincy.” Aster Archer, a bodacious blond in her early twenties with beauty barely bearable to the average man, was quite used to the day by day babblings of her childhood friend. It was a special bond they had- Quincy would exclaim with great pride and surety what he felt he needed right at that very moment and Aster Archer would shoot him down back into the confines of reality. This near perfect unity had been in existence since they were seven.

“Aster Archer, don’t deny me this! I really mean it, I want to be in love and do that weird forehead touching thing people in love do! You know, they show it in movies all the time and stuff.” Quincy’s pleading was useless. Aster, who wasn’t even looking at Quincy while they were ‘conversing’, flipped through her college textbooks, turning each page over sloppily like she was doing a rush job on cooking some pancakes. Much like pancakes, Aster did not care for the majority of her textbooks, no matter how much they cost her each semester.

“Let me break it down for you, Quincy. Do you have a trust fund?”

“No, but-”

“Then you’re not getting married anytime soon. Besides, remember what happened the last time you fell in love? Here, help me with this question. I can’t find the answer in this book.” Aster Archer was, of course, referring to Lucky Avery, a girl (or rather, THE girl) Quincy had fallen truly, madly, deeply in love with at first sight. She had felt the same way and in the process they had exchanged a single eye with each other, leaving both young adults heterochromnic from that point forward. They lost interest in each other three days later.

“You always do better on these problems than me anyway. I hate math.” Quincy enjoyed pouting almost as much as sulking, which was second only to him loving being outside, which was second to his love of long-handled spoons, which was, once again, only second to him treating Aster as his own personal diary. “Hey, aren’t girls supposed to suck at math? I remember hearing that from like TV or something.”

“You should learn a dirty lie when you hear one, Quincy Tate. Don’t believe what you hear on TV without researching the darn subject to death. If you’re not careful, you’ll get tangled in the world’s grotesquely unkempt hair of deceit.”

“Is that like a web of lies?”

“Trying to be creative here, Quincy.”

“Make me a flower and I’ll forgive you.”

“You’re such a girl.” The rare specimen known as Aster Archer’s smile found a way to ooze out of her dead pan face, her tiny mouth forming an expression of love she kept around in a box marked and reserved almost specifically for her times out with Quincy. She finally looked at him after carefully bringing out her one prized possession, and once Quincy saw it he smirked in retaliation, proud of himself for bringing out that fresh expression. “After class when no one’s around, alright? And if you finish your homework, we’ll see about stepping into Raincoat territory tonight.”

“Hell yeah, I love stepping into Wakeman’s territory! The Horrorscope says Lady Barkhurst’s been doing weird séance-y crap, we’re going to see some great stuff tonight.” As a hobby the duo went ghost hunting, but their real passion was doing it at the same time as a group of other students who called themselves ‘The Raincoats’, simply to annoy them with a nonchalant attitude of the entire process of exorcising ghosts from the places they haunted. People who took anything too seriously, especially themselves, tended to never have fun. Aster and Quincy decided long ago that life was a game, and what could you do but play the game with a bit of class and panache? The glass to others may have been half empty, but they were going to make that half a glass last as long as they could.

No one could ever explain how or why they were connected to someone, and Quincy could never quite explain why he felt so connected to Aster. Her parents used to refer to them as their own gaggle of geese, two birds that only needed each other to soar through the empty skies. In fact, sometimes it felt to Quincy he didn’t exist without her, his best friend.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Monday Night Chinese: Part 4

Part 04: Anti-Studies

“Come on, LeRose.”

“Grimshaw, I’ll punch your nose in again.”

“Just this once?”

“Do you like it when I break your nose?”

“It heals after a few seconds, and it’s worth it if I get to touch you.”

“You’re disgusting, you know that?”

In front of the doors of his Chinese restaurant, out in the hallways of the Afterlife, Levi stood and witnessed the droll arguments of the Reaper duo Grimshaw and LeRose. LeRose always sounded so much rougher than she looked, and it pained Levi to hear her speak; often she was crude, and she was also fairly narcissistic, vain, and shallow. Grimshaw wasn’t much better. He was obsessive and a little unstable, in Levi’s good opinion, and somewhat of an idiot lacking basic common sense. He loved poking fun at the two of them.

Grimshaw attempted to touch LeRose’s face and she punched him in the nose, resulting in a loud crack. As she turned to leave, LeRose finally took notice of Levi, rolling her eyes.

“Friggin’ prick. He has to be a masochist.”

“Victoria. Robert. How nice to see you both. What do you want?” Levi slipped past the Reapers and into his restaurant, not bothering to hold the door open for either one. Frankly, he had no desire to speak to either one, since neither had a demon to give to Levi. Ever since word had gotten round about his little trip to Astoria, his coworkers had tried cornering him to get details about the town and the Guardians as well. It was because of this that he avoided staying in any one location for extended periods of time, so people wouldn’t be able to track him down.

“Why can’t you show us some respect and call us by our work names, Levi? We don’t see you calling Blue by his living world name.” Grimshaw pushed himself through the door after LeRose, his nose already healed and showing no signs of the break LeRose had caused a minute earlier.

Leaning against one of the restaurant booths, Levi responded, “That’s because I actually like Blue. Oh, and Blue’s his actual name, hand to God. Blue Taylor Averett, all-American boy. Now what do you want?”

“You’ve turned into a real douche ever since you decided to go British,” LeRose spat, simultaneously taking that time to put her rouge hair in a ponytail so Grimshaw would stop trying to play with it.

“LeRose, how many times have I told you not to use such coarse language?” Levi nodded his head at the female Reaper. “Is that what they’re wearing in the living world now? I might have to change my wardrobe.”

Levi was referencing LeRose’s skinny jeans rolled up at the bottom and the oversized plaid button-up shirt sleeves she wore over a black tank top. Grimshaw’s style was similar, with tight pants and a slightly large striped v-neck and black-framed glasses. Because of his infrequent trips to the living world, he got a lot of his latest clothing ideas from Reapers who, for some reason or another, still tended to keep up with modern fashion.

“HR wants to see you, and while you’re at it could you tell her to give Grimshaw to some newb? I’ve been here thirty years, and nobody shows me any respect.” LeRose swatted Grimshaw’s hand and he gave a low laugh. Levi winced at this; Grimshaw made him uncomfortable.

“We’re supposed to be in pairs thanks to the disappearances, LeRose. Speaking of which, where’s your partner, Levi?”

“Uriel got bored, so I dropped him off at his playground with Blue. You try keeping a ten-year-old occupied.”

“How’d the kid die, anyway?” Grimshaw asked, leaning in closer to catch any details.

“Old age,” Levi responded, using his index finger to push against Grimshaw’s forehead. Grimshaw looked perplexed. “When you die and work for the Afterlife you can choose whatever age you want for your appearance. You know, whatever age you feel would be most appropriate for your position. Now what does Human Resources want with me?”

Grimshaw brushed Levi’s hand aside. “Probably wants to talk about your attitude. Or Astoria.”

“I was afraid of that,” Levi said. He sighed. “No use prolonging my departure, then.”

Levi pushed Grimshaw out of his way and headed for the door. He did so hate spending so little time at his restaurant, but it couldn’t be helped. He pushed open the door and held it open for Grimshaw and LeRose.

“Come on you scamps, out you go.”

With a disappointed groan the two Reapers went out the door, Levi following suite.

HR was a Listener like Levi, but had been around for at least an extra hundred years. Lately he wondered if she remembered her past at all, since Levi could barely remember his own. She was the official head of the Listeners department and the one who assigned Levi most of the black hearts. He hardly ever saw her, and preferred it that way; most people were only ever called in to see HR if they were in trouble or given special tasks, neither of which sounded particularly pleasant to Levi at the moment.

He entered the coffee shop, HR’s special area in the Afterlife, spotting the short-haired blonde woman instantly. She was the only other person in the restaurant, sitting at the counter and holding a mug of coffee. As Levi drew closer he could make out the writing on the mug; it read World’s Best Boss. He took a seat next to her.

“Levi, I haven’t seen you in a while. I hear things have been a little tough.” HR’s voice was smooth like Levi’s, having had even more practice than him at sounding calm, reassuring and in control. Was this how others felt talking to him? He hated it.

“Hmm, you undershot. The answer I was looking for was problematic, but you do win a consolation prize of a banana.” A cup of coffee had appeared next to Levi. He stared uninterested at the dark liquid in the mug.

HR smiled. She looked so sincere and so casual in her teal cardigan, sun dress and sneakers. “Have you seen Laura since you’ve been back? I spoke with her when Blue and Alice brought her in, to make sure she was good to come back to work. You did a fantastic job reverting what the man in gray did to her.”

“Raphael,” Levi said, swirling the coffee in his cup.


“The man in gray. Friday Panache called him Raphael.”

“Knowing Friday that name could very well be made up.” HR laughed, and Levi couldn’t help but laugh with her though he didn’t know if it was willingly or part of some spell of hers.

“Alright,” He said, “you broke the ice. But just a little. What did you ask me here for?”

“I wanted to talk about Astoria,” HR replied.

Not particularly wanting to talk about his time there, Levi froze up.

“I already know everything that happened. I received a very colorful report from Friday.”

“Then do you know why he calls me Monday?”

“No clue.” HR daintily took a sip of her coffee and when she was finished she smacked her lips a little. Levi found it a little endearing. “You know the stories of No One. I’m here to fill in some blanks.”

Levi turned to completely face HR now.

“Raphael is more than likely an agent of No One. Working as an Anti-Listener, he can turn perfectly normal souls, including Afterlife workers, into demons. He probably does this for No One, so he can feed.”

“We must make a lovely target, a group of souls all gathered together in one place like this.” Levi tapped the countertop with his knuckles.

“Indeed we do. Having everyone stay in pairs won’t be enough if Raphael decides to come back.”

Before Levi could respond, he heard a tapping on the door. He turned, and saw Raphael, waving with his one good arm. Levi swore loudly, leaping off the seat and rushing towards the door. Before he left, he shouted, “Call Alice!”

Down the hallways Levi went, chasing Raphael until they ended up back in front of the restaurant, where Grimshaw and LeRose still happened to be. Raphael was behind Grimshaw, whispering into his ear. Grimshaw’s eyes grew steadily larger and when LeRose noticed Grimshaw wasn’t right next to her, she turned and saw Raphael.

“Oh no you don’t!” She shouted, running up and punching Raphael right in the nose. He fell back, and Grimshaw turned around, holding out his arm and allowing a spear to form in his hand. He thrust it at Raphael. Raphael grabbed the spear and swung Grimshaw into a wall; LeRose, now holding a scythe, slashed downward but Raphael dodged to the side. Grimshaw tried once more to skewer Raphael, aiming for his chest, but the red mouth on Raphael’s shirt bit the spear, snapping it in half.

“Both of you get out!” Levi shouted. LeRose did not take too kindly to that and started shouted at Levi. “LeRose, shut up and help Grimshaw, he doesn’t look too well, get him to HR before-”

Grimshaw started to convulse. In a matter of seconds his skin turned red, black spikes protruded from his spine, and a white mask formed over his face with a single eye drawn on it. Raphael smiled, rushing up to the demonized Grimshaw. He pulled out one of his eyeballs, smashing it into dust. The dust reformed into a door behind him that opened up. He grabbed Grimshaw and leapt through the door.

“Don’t think, just follow.”

Alice came from behind, grabbing Levi’s arm and rushing for the door. He could briefly see Blue behind them trying to catch up.

“Hey- take me, not the Ferryman!” LeRose shouted after a moment’s hesitation, but the door closed before she could move.

The three stood on the side of a poorly lit road in the living world, right underneath a flickering streetlight. Levi took a wild stab and assumed they were somewhere in Canada due to the moose he saw crossing the street, but said nothing. The words he was really searching for would involve him telling off Blue for following him and Alice.

“What’s the plan?” Blue asked, sounding a little too eager.

“We kill him,” Alice replied quickly. “It’s death and kisses time, and I’m out of kisses.”

Leaning back against the streetlight, Levi scoffed, responding in his British accent, “Oh, is that all? We just kill him? Wish we would have thought of that sooner. And what does death and kisses time even mean?”

“Shut up, something’s coming,” Alice lowered her voice. Raphael stood in the street as a car approached. The driver probably couldn’t see him as it didn’t slow down, but right before it ran into Raphael, he kicked it. The car spiraled out of control and smashed into a tree, making some rather disheartening crunching noises.

Levi started, “Do you think…?”

“Every day, don’t you?” Alice shot back.

“I think he just killed someone!” Blue shouted in dismay.

The next thing Levi knew he was up in the air with Alice holding on to him, soaring over the street and then landing on the hood of the car. Through the windshield they saw Raphael whispering to the blond man inside, placing his hand inside the blond man’s chest and pulling out his soul. Alice, using the agility granted to her as a Reaper, kicked through the glass, hitting Raphael right in the head before he went any further. Her foot withdrew and she reached in, pulling Raphael out of the car. Levi had gotten off the hood of and opened the driver’s door, saying whatever came to mind to calm the soul that had been partly ripped from its body.

“You’re not dead, but… you’re not living. I’m really not sure how to properly us the L noise here…” Something hit the car with a loud thunk, and Levi turned his head in reflex. It was Alice. This wasn’t exactly what he wanted to see, Alice getting tossed around by Raphael. Levi prayed the demonized Grimshaw wouldn’t pop up to help Raphael. Maybe if she had Friday to help, that ridiculously strong man, things would go quicker. Or Blue. Blue. What had happened to Blue? Levi started stuttering.

“Levi, focus! Alice is doing fine!” Blue popped his head in through the driver’s side window. This startled Levi, who ended up hitting his head on the ceiling of the vehicle. “She’s using her weapon thing, it’s okay.”

Levi caught a quick glance of Alice holding a scimitar, charging the man in gray, slicing him. But no blood came out, only little mists of energy. Blue snapped his fingers to get Levi to focus. Levi thought back to what it meant when he had done that to Friday, scrunching up his face at the thought that Blue saw him as being unfocused, like the guardian.

“Blue, if you ever do that to me again I’ll drown you in Acheron.”

“Top ten reasons why that’ll never happen. Number ten-”

Levi shoved a finger in Blue’s face, shushing him. “If you shut up now I promise to tell you who cooks the food in the restaurant.” Tiny little vibrations crawled through Levi’s body as he found the right frequency to speak to the blond man’s soul. Words started forming in his mind, he could feel the man’s given name come to his mind, and he spoke, saying, “You have the potential. You’re… you’re a saint, and because of that you’ll survive. You’re a saint, but you haven’t fully awakened yet. You will, though. You will. This is your entryway, Kristjan Rupert Callier. This is your entry, not your end.”

The soul began to stir, showing more signs of self-awareness and sinking back into the body. Levi backed away from the body; he had prevented any trauma, he hoped, from the experience, and the soul was returning to the body that wasn’t yet dead and could still house it.

Off and away, Levi heard Alice swear loudly. Turning his head, he saw the mouth on Raphael’s shirt snapping off the tip of Alice’s scimitar. He was about to say something when he heard a terrible shriek coming from the seat next to him. The blond man was convulsing, shrieking at the top of his lungs, writhing and twisting and turning, body parts bending places they were not meant to bend. Blue tried holding him down and got smacked in the face; he ignored it and kept on trying.

“Levi, make him stop!”

“Do you want to do this?” Levi responded, frustrated.

“Kind of, yeah, but sadly instead of your metaphorical tuning fork I got stuck with a boat oar!”

“Then smack him with it!” Levi pushed down on Kristjan, the L noise no longer helping him. Panic ran through his body, his teeth ground against each other. Raphael, even with only one arm, was too much for Alice. Each of her cuts would leave a wound that would allow energy to seep out, which worked perfectly fine with demons as it would drain their energy from anger as well, but against Raphael wasn’t a demon and as far as Levi could tell the cuts weren’t slowing him down any.

A soft light broke through the dark, illuminating the front of the car. Levi and Blue looked forward, momentarily forgetting Kristjan’s seizure-like state. There, emerging from the darkness, was an old wooden door with sygils, magical symbols, drawn on it in gold. It was a gate to Astoria.

The shadowy form of a woman with wild hair as long as her tall, slender frame walked out of the door accompanied by smoke. She held Levi in a spell, he could not keep his eyes off of her, and he would have kept staring had he not heard an animalistic cry that differed from the ones Kristjan had been making earlier. Levi shot his head to the side; Alice must have produced another weapon, a sickle, because she pulled the blade of one out of the neck of Raphael.

Raphael stumbled to his knees, clawing at the wound on his neck where thick black ooze spewed out, saturating his body. His heterochromnic eyes burst, spewing white ooze that covered his face forming a mask with a single eye on it. When his wound finally sopped gushing, all that remained was a cloaked, masked mass with two tiny, broken wings.

“The Empties are learning to cross over.”

Levi slowly turned his head to peer at the shadowy lady. His body further tensed up. If a bullet it him, it would undoubtedly shatter because of how tightly every inch of his body was clenched.

“You’re the Listener who walked the streets of Astoria. Friday told me about you, Monday.” No mouth on the shadow body moved. Was that normal? Levi relaxed just a little; Friday had obviously sent his superior. “He regrets being unable to come himself, but I was expecting you to be in the Afterlife.”

“Plans change. You must be one of the Guardians. I’m Levi. Now that we know each other I think it’s a wonderful time to start asking favors. That’s what friendships are based on, after all. Owing one another and whatnot.” Levi began regaining his cool composure; ‘negotiating’ was what he did day in and day out, and she was obviously there to help anyway.

The shadowy woman didn’t speak at first. Levi noticed Alice now stood next to Blue, and he saw strands of the shadowy hair creeping towards the vehicle, climbing up it, through the broken glass, and wrapping around Kristjan’s body that had stopped moving a bit ago. The hair lifted the body up, and dropped it gracefully in the woman’s arms.

“I am Merrill Collingwood, Guardian of the In-Between.” A pale, porcelain face broke free from the shadow surrounding Merrill. Her eyelids opened, revealing large and mesmerizing emerald eyes that looked eerily similar to Levi’s. She began speaking in a proper British tone. “You saved him before he could become a black heart. However, damage was done to his soul and it won’t rest inside his body. I’ll have to remove it and his magical properties from his body.”

“What will that do?” Levi gulped. He swore he could hear the faintest ticking noise ringing in his ears. It sounded like an old grandfather clock.

“He’ll be physical, unlike a spirit; he won’t be able to hide himself in the living world like you or I, either. This one here, this saint, will grow faster than we could imagine, though. He’ll be an asset when No One rises.”

Levi ignored the stares he knew he was getting from Alice and Blue; he would have to explain everything about No One and his inevitable uprising to them later. He began speaking again, saying, “Where will he stay?”

Merrill paused thoughtfully, gazing at Kristjan. “I know of two saints nearby in a magical house. They’re father has interacted with Afterlife workers such as ourselves in the past, they will help if we ask.”

Levi nodded slowly. “Then do it.”

Merrill’s face sank back into the shadows, and like a ghost she was gone through the door, shrouded in eerie smoke. Every trace that pointed to her being there was gone. Levi collapsed onto the seat, still able to hear the incessant ticking noise in his ears that refused to leave him alone.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


(Surprised I haven't posted this one yet, I wrote it nearly 3 years ago)

Come on Allie
Come on Allie
Don’t die for Eugene
In the wake of war
You gotta make your choice
She’ll sing the song for you
Mr. Eugene
Mr. Eugene
In the wake of war
He never knows best
Just call him misery
He’s just a joke, (yeah)
You have to realize
Come on and find her
Then just stalk her
Who do you think you are,
Mr. Eugene?
He dug himself so deep
That now he has no light
Only resistance to mature
Because his tomorrow is
Always a day away

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Monday Night Chinese: Part 3

Part 03: Le Beau Rien Sans Merci

There were stories of how Astoria used to be, whispers of how it worked now, rumors of what it looked like. Levi had heard them all. One of the Afterlife jobs possible was in fact guardian of the gates to Astoria, and Levi knew that they were stationed both outside the doors on the banks of Acheron and inside as well, in the actual melancholy town where no one ever smiled. He wasn’t sure what that meant, a town where no one ever smiled, but he knew the time when he would understand was drawing closer, and closer.

Darkness seeped all around Levi, who kept running, running, running, trying to catch up to the man in gray. He felt as though he had been at it for ages before the darkness began to fade away revealing pure white, and another door, one that was wide open. Levi stepped through onto the cement of a darkened, empty city. The door behind him shrank down into the same eye the man in gray had torn from his own socket; it stared at Levi then floated away before he could grab it.

“He created the gate himself. That’s why there wasn’t a Guardian,” Levi said quietly to himself, taking in the city’s drab gloominess.

It was cold, unwelcoming, a dark sort of sterile. Levi walked alongside the empty streets halfheartedly. He could feel the city draining his energy little by little and he began to feel overwhelmed. The city seemed so large; how would he find the man in gray? He tried to focus and see if he could feel any sort of noise coming from the man in gray, but nothing came to him. He was so terribly lost.

“I suppose you’re feeling terribly lost,” Came a voice from the hollow emptiness of Astoria. “I would too. I mean, you’re not used to the empty streets. Why would you be? It’s not like you’re supposed to be here or anything.”

Levi wasn’t quite sure how to react. Maybe if he ignored the voice it would go away? But what if the voice was a guardian? That meant help in tracking down the man in gray. A little hope returned to Levi.

“Stop walking.”

Levi promptly obeyed, burying his hands in his pockets and waiting patiently, looking at the skyline. He hadn’t seen an actual city in a very long while since he rarely traveled to the living world but from what he could tell Astoria was much like any other city. What a peculiar place, he thought, to transport souls to in order to prepare them for reincarnation. Where were they even kept?

“Okay, now… about face?”

Levi obeyed as it was the polite and intelligent thing to do, though the voice sounded unsure of itself. But on the off chance that the voice belonged to someone incompetent, Levi knew it was always a bad idea to anger a potential idiot.

“And… good! Hello good sir. You do not belong here and therefore you must be Monday!”

With that terrible logic in mind, Levi turned around, looking over the gentleman. It was a term he used loosely here, from his scraggly black hair to his un-shined shoes. At one point Levi was sure the young man had looked nicer but the Guardian’s slim-fitting clothes looked so untidy. His white-collared shirt was un-tucked, un-buttoned at the top three buttons and wrinkled, as were his khaki pants and his checkerboard skinny tie was loosened a great deal. He looked like he had slept in those same clothes for a week.

“Levi Brickner.” Levi would have said more but he hesitated at the sound of his voice; his British accent, something Levi completely forgot he had, had returned. The terrible thought came to Levi’s mind that being in the Afterlife so long had caused him to forget who he used to be, when he was living.

“Oh, well, how do you do then, my good Monday.” The Guardian held out his hand and did a little bow. “Good Monday, I am Mr. Friday Panache the Guardian of Astoria, Red Light District.”

“My good Friday, I am Levi, a Listener- red light district?” Levi was taken aback.

“What about the red light district? Oh, oh no, this is the shopping district. I’m the guardian of this section, you know.”

Levi wasn’t able to tell if he was being had. He felt a great deal less confident in any help he might receive from Friday.

“I’m looking for a man-”

“Try the red light district.”

“A man in gray, he passed through here. Well, I suppose he looks more like a teenager once you get a really good look at him. Do you think you’ve seen him? You could call him an anti-Listener.” After the briefest of pauses, Levi felt the need to elaborate a little further for Friday’s sake. He came off as such a bunbury. “He’s not an Afterlife worker, of course. Why would we have an anti-Listener? He found some way to get here with his eye.”

Friday had stopped paying attention and was now examining the architecture, as far as Levi could tell. He snapped his fingers at Friday to get his attention.

“Oh? Sorry, I was thinking about long-handled spoons and how I could really use one right now to eat some grapefruit or a milkshake.”

Levi took deep breaths and successfully counted to three instead of the recommended ten before speaking, articulating his words very precisely so Friday would understand everything he said. “To eat a grapefruit you need a serrated spoon. And why would you eat a milkshake? Everyone knows you drink them with a straw.”

“Not true. People eat them with spoons too, especially the really thick ones.”

“I take it you’re one of those people who dips your chips in them as well?”

“My what? Excuse you kind sir, but that is disgusting. It’s my French fries that I dip in the milkshake.” Friday began cleaning his fingernails. “The fear of ghost cows is referred to as bovinospiraphobia, isn’t that a hoot? Why would anyone think a ghost cow would haunt them? They’d obviously haunt other cows. You don’t hear about people haunting dogs or leopards or crows, do you?”

Levi agreed that Friday did in fact make a wonderful point about ghost cows in relation to haunting individuals, but he was wasting an opportunity to figure out the mystery or what have you of the man in gray. He decided to leave.

“Good Friday, I bid you adieu.” Levi turned about face and proceeded to walk away. Friday did not take too kindly to this and started walking after him, so Levi began to walk faster. “I said adieu, Friday, now leave me be!”

“No! You’re not supposed to be here, so I’m your… um…” Friday started stroking his chin in thought whilst chasing after Levi.

“Escort?” Levi responded, turning his head briefly to respond.

“Red light district.” Friday said, pointing to his left with his right hand.

Taking no time to think about it, Levi turned the next block corner sharply, sprinting along the cross-walk and ducking into an alleyway all in an effort to escape Friday. It worked, for as soon as Levi stopped he could no longer see Friday and did not hear him running in pursuit either. All was right with the world again, except for the glaringly obvious fact that Levi was even more terribly lost now than he had been before and now had no escort.

The next plethora hours were spent dilly-dallying around the vacant city and sight-seeing, for there were a great number of things to see other than the architecture, which was a mix of rustic, gothic, and many other styles; in fact, Astoria had a little bit of everything depending on the district. The first Levi had been in reminded him greatly of London, but as he went deeper, the second district he had more Greek architecture than anything, then the third reminded him of a posh European village. Further on he even found windmills, and was surprised that he had not seen them beforehand as each one appeared to be roughly as large as some of the skyscrapers.

Levi needed to rest, the aura of Astoria weighing greatly on his being. He chose to sit on a bench in a town square, the center of which held a fountain with an angel on top. Levi found the statue quite queer and disturbing, as the angel seemed to be clawing at its own throat. If Astoria looked so nice, why did it have to feel so dismal?

Hours dragged by and the pressure affecting Levi only grew stronger, yet he chose to sit still, staring at the angel. He refused to let the pressure of the city make his choices for him. If he wanted to sit on the bench and take in the sites, then by everything he held dear and precious (his restaurant), he would! That, and he felt utterly alone and hopeless. He had not run in to the man in gray or another Guardian. What were they all doing? Were they inside the buildings?

The buildings. The entire time Levi had been there, he had never once thought about entering the buildings. Strange, he thought, and roused by this newfound curiosity he allowed himself to stand and wander Astoria once more. Which building would he enter? Did it really matter?

“Dear, sweet, Monday! My lost lamb! It’s dangerous here at night!”

Panic struck Levi and he entered the door of the first building he saw, an apartment complex. He inhaled deeply once inside, looking around shiftily.

“Hello?” He called out once he had climbed the first flight of stairs. Cautiously he made his way through the door at that first landing, inching his way down the hallway, step by step, looking over each apartment door once, twice, three times over. What were behind these doors?

Carefully he grasped a door handle, counted to three, and turned sharply, throwing open the door. There, in front of him, were the frozen images of a young Asian man in a suit standing at a table and a middle-aged woman in a gown standing on the couch. Their images flickered briefly and their faces went from blank to shocked, and from shocked to angry without showing any of the in-between facial twinges and movements. Levi backed out of the apartment, hitting the hallway wall, absently grasping at it. Fear was the first emotion to cross his mind, his first impulse to run, but he could only seem to stay put. He waited for the images to draw closer, but they never did. They only stared.

“They’re in a stasis, you know.”

Friday stood at the entrance of the stairwell, picking at some unseen thing on his arm. Levi opened his mouth, but no words came out.

“The spirits stay in these buildings, almost completely frozen. Until it’s their time to be reincarnated, of course, and one of us Guardians leads them to the special gate.”

“Of course,” Levi choked out. He heard a slam and looked back at the apartment, the door now closed.

“You know how soda always seems so appetizing but as soon as you drink one you realize it’s actually kind of gross?” Friday had gone on to trying to slick his hair back by first licking his hand and then running it through the black mass on his head. Levi let out a soft laugh.

“No wonder Astoria feels so sterile. Most life is frozen. Anyone would go crazy here, you poor man.”

Friday shrugged. “Do you know any good poems? The Wasteland’s my favorite. I’ll give you a cookie if you can quote it.”

“Maybe some other time, Friday. Let’s move on.”

Time had made little impact on Levi’s life, for the most part, since his arrival in the Afterlife, in the sense that it could quickly pass him by and he wouldn’t notice or care. As far as he knew he had eternity to enjoy. It was because of this that Levi had no idea how long he had actually been in Astoria, and it could very easily have been days. In Levi’s mind it meant he should also have been nominated for a patience award in having to deal with Friday leading him around the city, showing off all the architecture and giving very lengthy explanations that mainly dealt with things like the odd places hair grows on the body, the effectiveness of q-tips and lint. Levi was expecting Friday to lead him to a gate back to the Afterlife, but he suspected the Guardian was enjoying the company so said little in the way of reminding him that Levi did not belong there.

“I wonder if the man in gray is even still here,” Levi mused.

“Well, if you’re looking for a blandly dressed man,” Friday started before Levi interrupted him.

“I will not check the red light district.”

“No, no, if you’ll look behind you, Monday, you’ll see Raphael. He’s a blandly dressed man.” Friday pointed, and Levi turned.

Not but a few yards in front of him was the man in gray.

“We’ve been having cartwheel contests,” Friday politely explained. He smiled, then proceeded to clean his fingernails.

The man in gray looked rather malevolent, hovering above the ground, aided by two tiny demonic wings. He wasted no time and flew right at Levi, who dodged to the side, leaving the clueless Friday to take the brunt of the impact. Except Friday didn’t take the brunt of the impact. Instead, as soon as Levi moved, Friday nonchalantly grabbed the man in gray, Raphael, by the wrist, and tossed him into a building, ripping off the arm in the process.

“So far I’m winning.”

Was Friday being wry? Levi ignored the debris that flew out of the damaged building and instead stared, awestruck, at Friday and the arm he tossed over his shoulder.

“Raphael does wear a lot of gray, doesn’t he? He’s very bland. I told him if he’d start dressing brighter and leaving Samml alone that I’d consider letting him stay, but instead he keeps on wandering in and out of Astoria without using the official gates. In-Between, bless her heart, has no idea how to keep him out.” Friday seemed decently lucid, which Levi was thankful for, but how long it would last he didn’t know or want to think about.

“Good Friday, please don’t kill Raphael. I need to find out what he did with the others…” Levi trailed off. If Laura had turned in to an ogre, than chances were the other missing Afterlife employees had been transformed as well and were wandering around the living world. It would be ages before all, if any, would be brought back and returned to normal. What a terrible time for Levi to realize that. “Friday, how’re you-”

“So good looking?” Friday beamed. Levi swore he saw sparkles around Friday’s face for the briefest moment.

“How are you so strong?”

Friday paused thoughtfully, watching Raphael rise from the rubble. “You know saints, right?”

Levi nodded, keeping an eye on the struggling Raphael as well. “Those in the living world born with special talents like telekinesis, or having familiar spirits. Anyone can use magic if they find a grimoire, but saints don’t need to use magic to cleanse the world of demons. I myself could see spirits when they tried to hide themselves. Much like this little boy I met named Quincy.” Levi wasn’t quite sure if he should run or not; would Friday protect him?

“All Afterlife employees were saints. Listeners and Ferrymen had the more passive abilities while Reapers and Guardians were more physical. Parts of that carry over. Oh look, he’s going in for another round! Watch after my things, will you?” Friday looked on gleefully at Raphael, who, through much struggling and effort as he only had one arm to work with, had removed his jacket. Underneath he was wearing a black shirt with a jagged red design that started moving up and down; Levi assumed it was a mouth. “I’ve never seen him use that before. Do you think he could really, honestly eat me? I wonder what that would be like.”

“Spoiler: It probably could eat you.” Levi grabbed Friday’s arm but let go just as quickly as to cover his ears, for a high-pitched noise began reverberating through the air. Friday didn’t seem to notice, but Raphael turned his childish face to the left, craning his elegant neck. With help from his wings he lifted off the ground and flew away, wisps of energy escaping from where his arm once was. The noise stopped.

“That’s the center of the city,” Friday mused, stroking his chin, following with his eyes the path Raphael took. “He must be going after Samml again.”

“Who? Samiel?” Levi tried snapping his fingers by his ears to see if he could get the ringing to stop.

“Oh, you know the stories. Samml Akriosk, the fellow who used to host No One in this realm.”

“Good Friday, take me there this instant. I will not lose the Anti-Listener again.”

Friday stared at Levi blankly. He reached out his hand, the same one he had used to tear off Raphael’s arm. “Howdy! I’m Mr. Friday Panache. And you are?”

An old Victorian mansion lay in the very center of Astoria, iron gates with twirly designs preventing the non-existent residents of Astoria from getting in. Levi thought the gate a little much, but the Guardians felt it had been necessary to include so he went with it. Friday pushed the gate open without a key. Levi decided it was apparently just for looks.

“Tour guide, lead away,” Levi said following Friday in.

“Tour guide? I thought I was Good Friday.” Friday appeared to be genuinely confused. Levi let it slide; he had to, or nothing would get accomplished.

Into the house they went, down a hallway, up some stairs, up, up, up- the spiral stairs were grand, elegant, endless. Time passed in a painfully slow manner. Levi refused to spark up conversation with Friday for his own sanity. They arrived in front of grandiose wooden doors. In gold lettering was printed SAMML AKRIOSK, THE SILENT ONE. Levi pressed his head to the doors, closing his eyes. He tried to use the L noise to feel for anything at all, but he could sense nothing behind the door.

“No One is the boogeyman, Friday. He creates chaos, and he feeds on souls.” Levi spoke softly, clearing his mind. He had no idea what he was going to do once he opened the doors he was currently using for support.

“Well that’s just ridiculous. You can’t destroy a soul.”

“You can weaken it by feeding off of its energy. No One, according to stories, manipulates this; he transforms normal souls into demons, and feeds off of the hate they produce. I see it all the time, the endless, monstrous supply of hate that a single spirit can fabricate from an overblown emotion. Egos are fragile, one wrong word and a torrential flock of emotion can overwhelm you, seep into you and alter you. That’s probably the one thing I like about you, Friday. You’re simple; nothing I say could offend you.”

“You’re welcome.”

A soft smile parted the Listener’s lips. “Good Friday, the idea of Raphael having anything to do with No One’s former body is really quite frightening.”

Levi couldn’t tell, but he imagined Friday was scratching his head curiously. Either that or he wasn’t really paying attention and had started admiring the architecture again.

“The vessel he was using to terrorize worlds like the Afterlife and the Dreamscape hundreds and hundreds of years ago is behind this door. The bodiless entity, the real No One, abandoned Samml and nobody knows where he went.”

“Where is he?”

Levi turned to look at Friday, leaning against the wall coolly, playing with his tie. “What do you mean?”

“Is No One in the Afterlife, the Dreamscape, Astoria, or the living world? If he has no body, can he travel between them?” Friday let his tie drop, using his hands instead to push himself off the wall. He glided to the door, placing his own hand on it.

“I don’t know. Maybe that’s what scares me the most, knowing one day he could come back and feed off of me for eternity.” Levi’s emerald eyes looked directly into Friday’s hazel ones. “Let’s go in, shall we?”

Together, with greater effort than Levi imagined they would have needed, they pushed open the door. It creaked and groaned loudly, but it opened and they entered the room. At first, there was nothing. Then there was a single light. Then another. The tiny lights, floating candles, multiplied. They gave off a glow that made everything in the interior of the pale red room feel smudgy, like dried blood. In the center of the smudgy light, chained to the floor and ceiling, was Samml, dressed in royal purple clothes, his head hanging down. Indeed he was a tiny fellow, and when he looked up Levi examined his boyish face, placing his physical age at roughly seventeen. Burgundy hair fell around Samml’s face. Black took the spot of where the whites of his eyes were meant to be. He scrunched up his nose, bearing pointed teeth, pulling against the chains which stopped him inches from Levi’s face. Samml proceeded to back off.

“You’re a rather disturbed soul. I don’t need the L noise to be able to tell you that.” Levi whistled. He took a moment to look around the room, taking note of all the magic circles and spells drawn and written on the walls, he imagined, to keep Samml in place. He allowed the L noise to wash over his body as he got a better read of the chained man. “He wasn’t a natural soul to begin with, Friday. Once No One left him, he became even more screwed up; parts of him must have been repressed, leaving him like this.”

Samml gave off an animalistic, gruff air. It made the hairs on the back of Levi’s neck stand on end.

“I wonder if Sammly is a corruption of Samiel, the angel of death. It wouldn’t be completely inappropriate. But enough meandering; Raphael, if you’re in here, please come out. I’d like to get home.”

There was silence. Then, from the shadows, Raphael slithered out, grabbing on to Samml with his one good arm. His lips curled up. He began moving them, mouthing words that Levi could barely make out. He looked at Friday for support.

“He got tired of the cartwheel contest. Says I cheated. Now he wants to play duck, duck, goose. You’re the goose.”

Silence fell on the room, the kind that preceded what was inevitably to be an overbearing noise, and a special event. The calm before the storm, the cliché that explained it so well, the only words Levi could think to use despite his hatred for such common phrases. Phrases so overused that half the time they lost their meaning. And Levi was still trying to find meaning in every event that had occurred leading up to this very point, where he came face to face with the figure that had taken so many of his colleagues. He thought about what he would have done if Raphael had taken Alice, or Blue; what the Anti-Listener would have done to them, what Levi would have had to say to them to get them back, if he found them.

Raphael removed his black eye, crushing it. A door appeared, thrusting open and swallowing the man in gray.

“I guess I am it, then.” Levi ran at the door, only for a brief second looking back at Friday, who waved goodbye with his entire arm.

“Good luck, dear Monday! Don’t die, and don’t come home unless you win!” He shouted at Levi.

“Thank you for your help, Good Friday!” The door swallowed Levi, and Friday faded from his sight. The Listener pondered about the Guardian, thinking how unfortunate it would have been had Raphael turned Friday as well.

The door spat Levi out inside of the Afterlife, rather uncomfortably, right in front of his Chinese restaurant. He rose from his knees, but fell back on them after he received a slap to his face.

“Know your place, knave. I am the good knight and you the squire. When I tell you to do something, like, say, don’t go to Astoria, you do it. Now make me a sandwich, throw it away and make me a second one because the first won’t be good enough.” Alice’s voice was cool, serious, haughty, and above all bitter and commanding. Levi lifted his head up; she would have been more intimidating if her hair wasn’t in pigtails. Blue popped his head over Alice’s shoulder.

“Dude, you’ve been gone a while. We were just stopping by to see if you made it back. How was Astoria? Did you bring me back something?”

“Doubt it, Blue.” Alice roughly grabbed Levi’s arm and hoisted him up.

“I was chasing Raphael, did you see him?” Levi stuttered, struggling with his accent and getting over the shock of being slapped.

“You have an accent?” Alice and Blue asked in unison.

Levi stood up and pushed the two aside, seeking out Raphael but not seeing him anywhere. “Raphael- I mean, the man in gray, where is he? He’s missing an arm now and wearing a black shirt, you can’t have missed him.”

“The man in gray wears black? That just blew my mind,” Blue said.

Alice narrowed her eyes and turned Levi around, bringing her face closer to his, which made him rather uncomfortable. “Are you positive you saw him come this way? One hundred percent, cross your heart hope to die?”

Levi sputtered out a yes. Alice looked over Levi’s face a moment and broke her position, frumpily placing her hands on her hips. “We didn’t see anyone come out of that door but you. Sorry.”

A guttural groan leapt out of Levi’s throat and into the air. All of that work, and Levi was rewarded simply with a slap on the cheek and no Raphael.

Monday Night Chinese: Part 2

Part 02: RE:MEMORY

Once, many years ago, Levi remembered embarking with Alice to the living world. He hadn’t been there in ages, not since he died in the mid 1800’s, because Listeners never had a reason to leave the Afterlife. This was a unique occasion and required the L Noise- the unique ability Listeners had to harmonize with souls. Something unusual had happened; a soul had been created.

“How exactly did a little girl create a soul?” Alice asked, sounding both bewildered and irritated (taking anyone other than a Reaper into the living world was something she considered irritating, or so she had told Levi on more than one occasion). Proudly she wore the same flower print summer dress she had come into the Afterlife with when she had died in the 60’s. The look worked for her and to Levi and anyone else who saw her she looked timeless. “Don’t tell me she’s-”

“A Saint,” Levi said cutting off the Reaper, “that little girl is a Saint. Or a witch.”

“Is there a difference?”

“No, I suppose not. They’re just titles for the same thing after all, living people with special powers. She’s a little witch who’ll grow up to be a noble saint destined to help save the world or something, and the poor scamper probably doesn’t realize it yet.” Levi buried his hands deep in the pockets of his light khakis. He stood a little hunched over, squinting his emerald eyes to see into the backyard of a little blue house. The yard was currently empty, disappointing Levi greatly. As a spirit he felt out of place being in the world of the living and he had no idea how Reapers could feel comfortable travelling between the two worlds.

“Scamper? Scamper? Who are you, old man? My grandpa?” The look Alice gave Levi caused him to slouch deeper and squint harder, trying to make himself invisible. He perked up once he saw two little children opening up the back sliding door and running outside.

“Quiet. We have to talk to the children,” Levi straightened himself up, adjusting his brown tie. Alice rolled her eyes, grabbing the man’s shoulder and vanishing in a haze.

When they re-appeared they stood off in the corner of the yard, watching the children, waiting for the right opportunity to reveal themselves. The waiting period was short; the little boy, who had a short mess of black hair and green eyes almost as piercing as Levi’s, stared straight at the two spirits. The little blonde girl looked where the spirits were then back at the boy, tugging at his shirt.

“You see something, Quincy?” She asked the boy. Quincy pointed at Alice and Levi.

“There,” Quincy said boisterously, “over there, Aster.”

Levi walked towards Quincy, who stared him down, his eyes unwavering. Every step that Levi took Quincy clutched his little fists tighter and tighter, and with every step Levi and Alice became more visible to the little girl. Her eyes narrowed and she stepped in front of the little boy.

“What do you want?” She snapped, sounding more adult than a child should. Levi smiled and knelt down, looking the little girl in the eye.

“Are you the little girl who made a person?” Levi’s soothing voice didn’t calm the little girl who nodded curtly.

“He was my imaginary friend.”

Levi smiled, “I hear you’re called Aster. That’s a very strong name. Listen Aster, I just have to check and make sure your friend here is healthy. Okay?”

Aster and Quincy stared Levi down a moment longer before Aster stepped aside. The Listener began to harmonize with the little boy’s soul. A minute passed by, and he stood up, turning to Alice.

“I don’t know how she did it, but she created a fully functioning human soul. The kid’s powerful,” Levi kept his back towards the children, speaking in a whisper.

“So what’re we going to do? Do I need to take him back to the Afterlife with us so?”

“No, we don’t need to dispose of him. Like I said, for all intents and purposes, he’s a natural enough soul.”

“Natural enough?” Alice grabbed Levi’s face, which he did not appreciate, and pulled herself up so she could look him straight in the eye. “Levi, would you care to explain what that means?”

“It means he’s not perfect, but close enough to where he won’t cause any troubles. I doubt any spirits will be any more drawn to him than they would be the little girl or any other Saint. Now can you please let go of my face?” Levi pried Alice’s hands off his cheeks. She scoffed in response.

“Whatever. If this comes back to bite us, I’m blaming you.”

Levi moved his head so he could look at the children one last time. “Thank you for your help. Have fun, you two,” Levi said, waving. Alice grabbed on to his arm and together they faded away back to the Afterlife.


Levi woke up in his favorite booth in the restaurant. Through hazy eyes he saw the familiar figure of Alice in front of him, trying to get his attention. He was groggy, and couldn’t quite focus but Alice was trying desperately to snap him out of the dream he was having about the past. Levi stared blankly at Alice’s lips, unable to comprehend her. She was speaking but the words didn’t make sense. He stared. Stared. Stared. He wanted to scream, scream, SCREAM at his lack of comprehension. The silence surrounding Alice’s lips began to chip away. The lip movement was planted in his brain, and the seeds started to grow, each word blossoming slowly and painfully.




The silence was shattered in Levi’s head. He looked like he was caught in the headlights, and in a sense he was just like a deer. This was unexpected. He tried swallowing the lump in his throat.


“Don’t know. Blue and I saw her talking with a man in gray before she vanished, though, so we have our connection. She’s been missing for almost a day.”

“The trail’s getting cold, we need to find her.” Levi stood up and grabbed Alice by the arm, dragging her out of the Chinese restaurant and into the hallways of the Afterlife.

“What’re you- How are we going to-?” Alice struggled to get out of Levi’s grip and finally settled for kicking him in the side. Levi fell over and swore. Blue, who happened to be walking by, stopped to look at his two colleagues.

“Hey guys,” He started, “How’s it going? Is there something you’d like to tell me?”

“Yeah, Levi’s trying to kidnap me,” Alice responded haughtily.


“Not in a cool fun way, in the creepy ‘hey our friend just got kidnapped so I’m going to say vague things’ way.”

“Oh. Wait, what?” Apparently none of what Alice said made sense to Blue, and all the while Levi writhed on the floor.

“I’m trying to harmonize with her soul…” Levi got up on a knee, clutching his side and talking through gritted teeth. “I can use the Listener’s noise to locate her.”

Blue and Alice stared uncomfortably at Levi.

“I’m pretty sure she’s not in the building. Alice, I need you to take us to the living world.” Levi brushed himself off.

“Levi, I don’t think I’m allowed to take you-”

“Us,” Blue interrupted. “I want in on this… well, whatever this is.”

“Oh yeah, in that case the answer is still no. I’m definitely not allowed to take both of you.”

“Well, now that that’s been decided, I have a question I’ve been meaning to ask.” Blue looked around to make sure nobody was nearby to hear him. “Who cooks the food in your restaurant?”

As Levi lifted his head he spotted a figure that caused anger to boil up inside him. The man in gray. Fueled by the knight in shining armor complex, Levi grabbed both of his companions by their wrists and pulled them down the white hallways.

“The man in gray!” Alice and Blue broke away when they heard those words leave Levi’s mouth, and sped up, pushing people out of the way.

“Where?” Blue asked, brushing past a fellow Ferrymen.

“Up ahead, he’s moving- come on, he’s the only person in gray. He stands out!” Levi, frustrated, broke out into a half jog.

“Maybe to you,” Alice spotted the man in gray and sped up. The adversary began fading away in a mist; Alice grabbed both Adam and Blue. “He’s heading to the living world. Hold on.”

Down the rabbit hole the trio went, appearing in a lush forest filled with evergreens, covered in twigs and rocks. The forest wasn’t overly crowded by the trees but there were enough of them, anyway, to make it difficult for larger things to move around.

“Where is he?” Levi tried running aimlessly into the woods, but Alice grabbed the back of his blazer, forcing him to stay put.

“Shhh, patience.” Alice pressed a pasty finger to her lips, making a soft sound. She pushed the Listener back a little while the young Blue slowly made his way forward, step by step, keeping a sharp eye out for an out of place gray-suited man. Levi wasn’t entirely sure what to do except wait, and so reluctantly he sat himself against a tree and stared off into the distance, out at the blue sky that accompanied his broken heart and melancholic outlook. No sweet-talking could get him out of this deep desire of his to find the man in gray, to save everyone who had gone missing, and most importantly to rescue Laura.

There wasn’t much time to keep hating the situation. Right in front of Levi’s eyes he saw the sky changing, a ripple effect distorting the reality that was that plane of existence. Like a fish leaping out of water, a large cobalt ogre splashed out of the ripples in the air and sent a gnarled tree and its splinters toward the Afterlife employees.

Levi didn’t have the reflexes to respond, but Alice did. She grabbed the back of his blazer and chucked him out of the way, next to Blue. She herself managed to make it to a tree branch close to the eye level of the Ogre, where she got a better view of it; the monster had tiny empty white eyes void of any soul, light blue skin like fresh water, three twisted horns coming from its head.

The natural ability of the Listener kicked in for Levi out of habit, and he began to harmonize with the ogre. He inhaled sharply; the first impression he got was that the ogre was newly formed, and its aura was familiar. It was Laura. This thing was supposed to be Laura, an incarnation of her spirit body being overcome and oversaturated by a negative emotion.

Alice didn’t spend much time thinking like Levi, and she went to work. Alice leapt towards the unnaturally large demon, and landed a swift kick to its head. Instantly, in response to her attack, the ogre knocked her down into the leaves. Levi winced, but Alice got back up without a scratch.

“Alice!” Blue shouted hoarsely. Alice held out the same finger she pressed against her lips. When she lowered her hand a sickle formed in it out of a haze.

Alice slashed the Ogre with the sickle, never once having to push her dress down much to Levi’s surprise, but the attack didn’t seem to do much damage if any. Alice tried poking out the Ogre’s eyes, and in the process avoided being hit again by its large and strangely agile hands. Blue was not so lucky, being in the most terrible location. The clawed hand jostled the boy and sent his body right into Levi. The two to drop to the ground as dead weight.

Sitting up, Levi clutched the half-conscious youth in his arms. He shook him gently. “Blue, wake up. Come one, wake up.” Levi started shaking more vehemently when Blue didn’t respond. Blood might not have pumped through Levi’s veins, and Blue couldn’t die, but the Listener’s heart pounded swiftly and the sound of it overtook Levi’s ears. Relying on the one thing he knew how to do, Levi allowed his ability to take over and he started to harmonize with Blue’s soul. Levi stopped shaking Blue, brought him close, and spoke in a strong whisper.

“Hey, Blue. Have I ever told you why the grass grows? It’s to keep us cozy while we watch the clouds, and the clouds keep the sky pearly and blue, blocking it from the penetrating sins we try to hide.” Levi’s voice held strong and bold. He knew those vague, lyrical words would speak to Blue, lead him back to consciousness, comfort him. “Come on, Blue. Wake up. We need to get out of here.”

The Ferryman replied with a moan, prying open his eyes with great effort. “Wow,” he started, “you really know how to woo a guy. You’re really speaking to my inner Indy kid right now.”

Levi laughed lightly, but stopped when he heard the big crash. The ogre, with tiny little white cuts covering its body, had knocked Alice into a tree, forcing it to the ground. Alice lay like a rag doll.

“Alice!” Levi shouted at the top of his lungs, using all his voice had to give and then some. There no response, no movement. She was out cold and now Levi was left by himself in the living world, his only defense his voice. He now faced the ogre, overbearing, snarling, and emanating the negative aura Levi new too well by this point in his existence. Levi had to try something.

“Laura,” he began as coolly as he could, trying to mask his anxiety, “We’re over worked. We get no rest; it’s like we’re the wicked mentioned in scripture.” The ogre, Laura, emitted a low grumble.

Levi felt like biting his lip, just to watch the crimson spill down to the ground, wondering if that would get a reaction out of the ogre, showing her what her actions were doing. Too bad he didn’t bleed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the man in gray; oh great, he thought, he now had an audience. An evil audience.

“I think I love you?” Levi’s voice was trembling now. He had only said that in a vain attempt to harmonize with her soul and calm her down.

“Idiot…” Blue forced out a laugh, sitting up. “I’ll be fine, focus on the L Noise. Really listen to Laura. You said it was her, right? Everything’ll work out.”

Levi let go of Blue and stood up. The ogre reared back its head, its thinning hair blowing back in the breeze. It was so unnatural, thinking that thing had once been a woman with a life, an existence where she did good, not harm. The ogre lifted up an oversized arm, and aimed for Levi.

“No, that’s a lie.” The arm stopped right before it hit the Listener. The wind created by the force made Levi’s coat and hair blow to the side but it didn’t keep him from staring intently at the ogre with those piercing emerald eyes. “That’s a lie, I don’t love you. Me saying that was just a lie to get you to come down. But, Lady, won’t you come down?”

The Ogre retracted its arm, confused. It went to try and hit Levi again, but the same thing happened- it stopped mid-hit. Levi continued.

“You were forced into this situation- yeah, great, woe is you, that sucks. But that’s not you. You don’t sit idly by. You don’t let things pass you. We’re alike, you and I- we don’t settle for timeless. We’re not stuck in the past. We’re not in the future. We are the present, we keep up. We do not doubt our ways. We do not deny them. We simply believe; we simply are. You are Laura; You are not ogre. Now pull yourself together and let’s go home.”

The ogre’s breathing got heavier and heavier, releasing a foul, rotten egg smell. The trees shivered and shook with each heave; the white scars emitted steam. The ogre shouted. Over and over it shrieked. Over. And over. And over. If Levi could bleed, if Blue could bleed, their ears would be dripping blood. Alice woke up, covering her ears. Wisps of wind picked up in a circular fashion around the ogre, around Laura, as she started shrinking and transforming back.

Levi turned his focus elsewhere, however, locking his eyes on the man in gray. It was the first time he had gotten a good view of the odious fellow. Head to toe he wore shades of gray; gray pants, gray jacket with flecks of red. He looked more like a young adult than a real man, with a baby face and strangely parted hairstyle that made his hair look thick. He had a single x-shaped scar on his cheek, and thin, rectangular glasses. And, curiously enough, his eyes were two different colors; One black, one white.

The man lifted up his glasses, and with his fingers began to carefully remove his white eye. Once he had done so, he crushed it, and an old wooden door fazed in behind him. Levi’s eyes grew wide, and he began trembling; how had he found a door to…?

“Astoria.” The Listener unconsciously let the word slip from his lips.

“What?” Blue, wobbling, had propped himself against the trunk of one of the few trees that had remained whole during the encounter. Levi inched towards the man in gray.

“Levi, don’t you dare.” Alice, holding Laura over her shoulder, stepped out of nowhere into Levi’s path. “You’re not going to follow him. We’re not allowed there.”

“WHERE!?” Blue hit the trunk of the tree and sank down. He picked himself back up. “It’s taking longer for my spirit body to heal than it should, so I’m kind of cranky as hell. Don’t leave me out of the loop.”

“Astoria. The melancholy town where no one ever smiles. It’s where you take souls, Blue.” Like a bird of prey, Alice kept her eyes locked on Levi. He moved closer. So did she.

Before Blue could respond with another question, Levi intervened. “It’s not as dramatic as she’s making it sound, Blue. The spirits you take there, the ones you leave with the guardians at the shores of Acheron, are fine. They get reincarnated after they go through Astoria.”

“You don’t know that,” Alice spat, “no one knows what really happens to them in Astoria. For all we know they feed them to No One.”

“Nobody?” Blue pinched the bridge of his nose.

“No One. He’s the boogeyman. He eats souls, and according to legend his body’s chained up in Astoria,” Levi inched closer. The man in gray was frowning, turning around to open the door. Levi could tell he was bored, frustrated. He could feel it. He was missing his chance to capture the man. “I know you don’t believe we’d feed souls to No One, Alice.”

Alice didn’t know how to respond. Levi knew he had guessed correctly. She wouldn’t have stayed in the Afterlife had she not believed the souls were recycled and given new life.

“Yeah, so?” She seemed nervous now that Levi had called her bluff.

“Blue, keep an eye on Alice.”

“Levi, if you take one step closer, I’ll-”

Levi shoved Alice to the side and ran for the opened door the man in gray stepped through. Before the creaky hinges allowed the gateway to shut, Levi stepped through the threshold into the land where he did not belong.

Monday Night Chinese: Part 1

Part 01: String Words Together So They Mean Nothing

Scream. Scream. SCREAM. That’s all Levi wanted to do right at that moment, but he could not. It was his job, after all, to sit and pay attention to the complaints of all the demons that came to his department of the Afterlife, the Chinese Restaurant.

He was a Listener.

“…. They’re all so pretty. I can’t stand it! I just have to cut them up! Slash their faces!” A woman lowly emitted a toxic voice.

The woman sitting in front of Levi and spewing total nonsense referred to herself as the ‘Slit-Mouth Woman’. As sickly as she was in appearance, with her lips ripped open from ear to ear, Levi couldn’t help but notice the natural beauty of her silky black hair and slanted eyes. Even her voice, when she wasn’t sounding so crazed, had a slight melodic twinge. But most of this had been torn away from her in death, when her husband had found her cheating on him and as punishment carved up her face in the manner of a jack-o-lantern. Maybe Levi was a little vain for noticing all of this, but after years of listening, he picked up the habit of noting, among other things, the appearance of everyone or thing that came to his residence.

She was like an over-ripened clementine, Levi imagined- No, that wasn’t right. An onion…? That wasn’t right either. She didn’t resemble either of those things, but sheer irritation and boredom had gotten to him and taken over his mind like an ooze slowly covering his brain. Levi was bored with her and her worldly ramblings of things as shallow and trite as outer beauty and trying to compete with the younger women around her. Apparently that was the only reason she tried cheating on her husband in the first place, to see if she could snag a younger man. The way she spoke, criticizing the younger women, helped evaporate any romantic notions anyone might still have had about her. Levi found it pathetic. She was one of the least fascinating demons he had ever encountered.

Suddenly it seemed her silky black hair was a deep tar color, matted together like it hadn’t been combed in ages. Her voice was hoarse and sounded like an old woman’s. Her slanted eyes had creases from glaring, and that was only when they were visible. Most of the time her head hung low and her face was covered by the tar seeping from her scalp.

He tried coming back to his sense of reality. The Slit-Mouth Woman had calmed down from her ramblings. This was Levi’s chance to finish his job.

Carefully, and in his own right elegantly, the man of twenty and six years in appearance brought his elbow to the table and rested his chin neatly in the palm of his hand. His smile crawled across his face and his eyes softly narrowed. Leaning forward, he fixed the gaze of his vibrant emerald eyes on the woman, who looked a little stunned.

“The way I see it, my dear,” he started, “there was no need for you to compete with the younger women at all. Your husband loved you enough to kill you so that nobody else could have you. Doesn’t that make you happy?”

Black tar whisked away from her face to reveal shocked eyes stretched as far open as they could, straining. In all her ridiculous vanity she believed him. Within seconds her grotesque appearance had been reverted to the one she held when her delicate frame had still been breathing in the mortal world. Levi’s job was done.

A Ferryman named Blue entered the restaurant to take away the slit-mouth woman.

“Hey, Levi. I’m here for the soul thing.” Blue had a twinge of a whistle in his voice; his tone always sounded so musical and cheerful, like a cockatiel. His sheer happiness even once or twice got on Levi’s nerves- but for the most part, he didn’t mind. Levi nodded his head in reply to the Ferryman.

Brushing some of his shaggy blond hair out of his eyes, the young man came forward and gently placed his hand on the spirit’s shoulder, whispering in her ear for her to stand. The spirit stood and Blue escorted her out. Levi finished his General Tso Chicken.

Levi walked briskly outside the doors of the restaurant and into the Afterlife, which largely resembled the inside of a government agency building. The main difference was the lack of black suits; everyone who passed by Levi wore clothing from whatever era they pleased with a nametag attached somewhere on their person. In his own humble opinion, Levi was probably the best dressed person in sight at the moment. And, again, in his own humble opinion he knew he had to be.

The Listener straightened his corduroy blazer and ran his hand through his slicked brown hair. Everything about him was brown in color; his chestnut hair, his blazer, his dark khaki pants and dark brown shirt. Everything except his piercing emerald eyes were intentionally this color, to give him a suave and understanding aura. It was also why he met the demonically transformed souls in a Chinese restaurant- it was comfortable, and just personal and casual enough to get them talking about their troubles. That was what a Listener did after all. They listened to troubles and at the right moment when all of the crippled soul’s worries had been poured out, the Listener reassured them and made them feel better about situations they had been given in life. At the end of the process, the demon would hopefully revert back to a normal human soul. That was, if everything had gone well. This was just one of the many other-worldly jobs available in the Afterlife.

“Hey. Hey, Levi! Stop spacing out already, you’re blocking the hallway.”

The brown clad man was dredged into reality. In front of him stood Alice, a Reaper dressed in 60’s fashion; a yellow flower print summer dress hung over her figure and black spandex could be seen peeking out from underneath the dress. The color greatly contrasted her pig-tailed raven hair, but altogether the look fit nicely for her.

“Oh. Hey.” Levi wasn’t in the mood to talk to his co-worker. This was mainly because he knew the conversation would lead to her teasing him and as an adult more often than not he was above teasing. She was not.

“That’s it?” Alice placed her hands on her hips and puffed out her cheeks. It made her look like a monkey. “So only the ghosts that we bring in to you get a real conversation with you? I’m the third wheel to a spirit. That’s sad.”

Levi shrugged his shoulders. “That’s all we are. Spirits.”

It was the job of the Reapers to catch and bring in the demons so that the Listeners could transform them back. After that the Ferrymen, like Blue, escorted the purified souls to the other side across the river Acheron.

The Listener started to wave Alice away when across the room he spotted Laura, another Reaper who worked with Alice. Had he still had a beating heart it would have pounded like mad, birds would have flown around her figure, Levi would have melted into a puddle of the kind of goo children tend to play and cause sticky messes with. But he was not alive, nor were those parts of reality able to be broken where they were, or really anywhere else at all that Levi knew of.

Laura was Alice’s opposite personality wise (according to Levi). She was cute as a button (according to, once again, Levi), responsible (actual fact), and from what Levi could tell from around the Afterlife, she was nice to everyone and managed to get a lot of work done (which was mostly true). That attitude and work ethic had actually recently gotten her a promotion and she now over saw the activities of a great majority of the Reapers.

Laura’s clothing, as Levi constantly pointed out to Alice, was a lot more practical for a Reaper. Unlike Alice’s sundress, Laura wore capris and a pink shirt- at no point while trying to bring in a demon would she have to keep her dress from blowing everywhere. Of course Levi had also been infatuated with Laura for fourteen years. Unfortunately for him the two had never had a chance to speak. There was always some other Reaper bringing Levi demons. As busy as both of them were, they hardly ever even saw each other, and Levi was sure Laura only knew as much about him as he did her- he also hoped she daydreamed about him the way he would never admit he did about her. He was really, truly in love with the idea of her.

Alice noticed where Levi’s gaze had gone and nudged him in the ribs. She snickered. “Go up and ask her out already, you’re starting to go into creeper territory.”

“I hate you.” With a hopeful smile, Levi nervously brought up his hand and waved at Laura. She didn’t see him.

“You win some you lose some.” Alice paused. “And sometimes you lose a lot. Actually, with you, you just never win.”

“And sometimes your dreams are crushed down into fine sand that’s used in the hourglass that counts down the time until your next dream is shattered.” He rather calmly shot back. Levi fixed his blazer and continued on his way.

Alice shouted after him. “Well I was going to offer you some pudding so you felt better, but if you’re going to be like that I’ll give it to Blue!” Levi chose to ignore her.

When Levi opened the door of the Chinese restaurant a few days later he was greeted by Laura and a two-headed man. It was quite the pleasant surprise for Levi that Laura was there, but he had hoped that if she were to ever come and see him it would have been on a day that he wasn’t late. During his free moments he strolled around other parts of the Afterlife, more specifically the areas that belonged to other Listeners. He was intrigued with how his peers handled their jobs and utilized their own unique areas, but lately the number of demons and foul spirits being brought in had tripled.

Laura turned to go, having fulfilled her part of the job by delivering the demon, but Levi decided this was his chance to speak to her- destiny, fate, whatever had brought her to him, now was his chance. He would finally say something to her, small talk, random fact, joke, he had to think of something quick. He said the first thing that came to mind.

“Did you know that bananas are going extinct?” He regretted it. Was that really the first thing that came to mind? How did he even know that? But Laura turned around and gave Levi a curious expression and a sly smile. Levi went with it. “That’s what I’ve been told, anyway. I was never too fond of them while I was alive, but that’s a whole other story. Anyway, years of breeding them to be seedless have taken its toll and now there’s fewer and fewer trees. Imagine if bananas finally do go extinct, what will they have monkeys holding in their hands in photographs, then? A monkey without a banana is like-”

Heartbeat. There was a heartbeat. A very startling, abrupt, unnatural heartbeat. Levi’s face contorted and would have stayed like that had he not noticed the very attractive Reaper standing in front of him, so he continued.

“What was I saying? I guess it doesn’t matter, soon bananas will be outdated and monkeys will have to fight rabbits for carrots since there isn’t any other tropical fruit as convenient-”

THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. That was all Levi could hear, because he was a Listener. He turned his head to look at the two-headed man, the most unnatural thing in the restaurant. One head was female, one male. The female wore a top hat and heavy mascara; the male had dark circles under his eyes. The main body was covered by a red cape and long fingernails were protruding from the cloth like thick porcupine needles. There was another thump. Levi saw something on the demon’s chest. He squinted his eyes to sharpen his focus and leaned forward. THUMP. He saw a black flash, and by the next thump he saw the object: a black heart.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t bore you with things like that we both have work we need to do.” Levi’s voice had started to leave him, thoughts began to creep into his mind, and the sense he once had of knowing everything of importance dealing with his job had faded away. He had never encountered something with a black heart before, and he didn’t understand how that could happen. Levi had been around the block. He had seen demon after demon, and listened to them complain, but now he listened to something completely different. The Listener could hear more than just the spoken voice, and that fact had never occurred to him.

Laura shrugged and turned to leave when needles shot past, narrowly missing her slender arm. She turned to face the standing demon looming over her and she decided it was fully appropriate for her leg to meet the female head’s face.

“Wait a min-” Once demons entered a Listener’s area the serene nature of the place would sedate the demons and keep them from attacking. What was currently happening was not possible, and not only was Levi worried about Laura getting hurt; he was also flustered and extremely embarrassed that this was happening in his restaurant the one time Laura had come. He stood but Laura shoved him back in his booth seat. She turned, grabbed a large needle shot at her, and charged the demon. Levi looked on in disbelief, needles sticking to the booths in his restaurant, Laura kicking the demon, and the demon moving so fast it was making Levi dizzy. He almost didn’t notice a stray needle that lodged itself deeply into his chest; he winced and tore the needle out, feeling the tear in his shirt slowly fix itself. He was lucky that he didn’t bleed.

Laura boxed the demon’s two heads together and it collapsed. Levi stood up, looked at Laura to make sure she wouldn’t push him down again, and cautiously made his way to the demon. He knelt down and looked at its chest, directly at the black heart. “Go get some chains.” Laura gave him her rather specific ‘do you want to handle this thing when it wakes up?’ look and Levi felt like an idiot. “Right, I’ll be back in a minute.”

Sometime later, weeks in fact, Blue stopped by Levi’s restaurant. Levi sat frustrated in his booth seat, pinching the bridge of his nose and breathing deeply. Blue imagined that in his head, Levi was thinking of something soothing like running his hand over cool stones on a beach, or the smell of a camp fire. Both of these were things Blue himself liked to imagine at any given moment, and he secretly wanted to be a Listener so he could have his special area be a bonfire on a beach.

Blue noticed the demon on the other side of the table. It was a tall and gangly thing covered in patchwork clothes and random feathers and for a head it had a sack cloth with a torn spot for the mouth, but no eyes. It rustled constantly, sounding like a clichéd ghost each time the chains tying it down rattled. Levi broke from his concentration and saw the shaggy-haired boy. He allowed his hand to temporarily leave his nose and motioned for Blue to enter, but Blue was already ahead of him and was halfway to him by the time Levi had even gotten his hand in the air.

“What’s up?” Blue leaned over the back of Levi’s side of the booth, bringing his head to Levi’s level. Levi started mumbling about something or other but Blue couldn’t understand a thing that he was saying. “Dude, you’ve got to speak up. Don’t forget you’re the one who speaks good and stuff.”

“You mean the one who speaks well- and that doesn’t have anything to do with being a Listener.” Levi raised himself a little from his semi-slouch.

“Didn’t say it was. But this is why you get the big bucks.” Blue pointed to the pumpkin-headed demon chained to his seat. “Is this guy a, you know, like the other ones?”

“A black heart. Through and through.” Levi pointed to a black heart shape on the creature’s chest.

“Cool.” Blue nodded his head continually the way a person normally did when a conversation was going slowly. “So, any luck?”

“What is luck but a fickle temptress rarely smiling on any man. If she worked in the Afterlife I’d be having one stern conversation with her right now. I’d convince her to do this herself.” Levi adjusted himself in his seat and ran his hands through his hair. “I’m not making any progress, Blue. It would help if this thing actually spoke to me like a normal demon would. You know, normally when you give a person a chance to vent they take it. Especially when they’re furious! People love ranting when they’re furious, and Demons are very furious people. But the black hearts are… it’s like they don’t even know what’s wrong with them. How can I tell someone what they need to hear if they don’t even want to talk about it? In the past week and a half I’ve dealt with three black hearts and none of the other Listeners have been able to synch up to their problems. I’m not even sure how I’ve managed to do it.”

“You’re good, Levi. Face it.” Blue’s charm glided through the air, uplifting the atmosphere of the room just a little. It plummeted when something Levi had said didn’t quite make sense to him. “What do you mean synch up to their problems?”

“It’s something Listeners do. A gift, really. We harmonize with the vibrations of a spirit. That’s how we get an idea of how they’re feeling and what to say.”

“That doesn’t… yeah. That doesn’t make sense.”

“It’s like we’re tuning into a radio station then trying to sing along to the songs we recognize. If we do well the passenger doesn’t kill us, and if we sound bad the passenger wants us to shut up.”

“Oh. That makes a lot more sense, I guess. I think.” Blue stared, rather un-politely, at the pumpkin headed spirit. After some silence, and being unsure if Levi was paying attention to him or not, Blue began speaking innocently enough about some of the spirits he had recently taken across Acheron, the dank caverns the river ran through, and the gate he left the spirits at with the guardians. Levi would nod his head occasionally, but Blue was unconvinced he was listening. He poked the side of Levi’s head. “There’s this guy in gray I’ve seen around a few times. Is he a new Listener?”

Levi groaned a little, taking his time to respond even though he put little thought into the question. “It’s possible; there have been a lot of demons lately. I haven’t heard anything though. Maybe he’s a Reaper? Gray doesn’t seem like a color a Listener would wear. It sends off the wrong signal. Brown’s a much better color.”

“I think I saw him around Laura the other day. I’ll have to ask Alice.”

“Ask me what?” Alice had been eavesdropping on him outside the restaurant doors- Levi hated it when she did that.

“Guy in a gray suit. You know him?”

“How long have you been there?” As a Listener Levi’s ability to sense when someone was near him while he was trying to work was exceptionally horrid. Alice could stare at him all day while he worked (which she had done) and he wouldn’t notice (which he didn’t).

“I have finely tuned senses. Everytime my name is mentioned I just kind of show up- poof! Like bubbles- so I can hear the praise. You were going to praise me, right?” Alice batted her lashes and tried to look as cute as she could in her sundress. Her hair in the two braids almost made it work, but the dangerous glint in her dark eyes gave her away.

“Pay attention, Blue asked you about a guy in a gray suit.” The Listener turned his attention back to the black heart in front of him.

“ Oh, right right. Guy in a suit.” Alice dropped her act and pondered, going through her memory bank swiftly, examining each filed memory over the past few days. Strange occurrences, funny things people had said, asking people if they knew who exactly cooked the food for Levi’s restaurant. She vaguely remembered a man in a gray suit. “I might have seen him a few times talking to people.”

“I thought you guys would pay better attention.” Blue stared at the black heart on the demon’s chest, his eyes going over it like a paint brush, each look another stroke completing the image in his brain. Things were getting curioser and curioser to him, but it appeared as if nobody else was noticing or quite as interested in his piece of the puzzle. “You guys are a bit of a letdown.”

“Uh-huh. That’s nice.” Levi waved Blue away with his hand, too focused to notice what he had said.

“Thanks for that, Blue. We try hard to let you down, glad to see it’s working.” Alice smiled proudly and patted Blue on the shoulder a few times. “I feel like there was something I needed to tell you, now that the compliments are done. Maybe it was… oh! Uriel’s done already with the creepy gremlin I brought him. He needs you to Ferry the resulting munchkin child to the gate.”

“Oh sweet, that means I get to play on the merry-go-round! I love Uriel’s area. Later.” Without hesitation Blue raced to the front door, ran into it, opened it and then rushed out. Alice would deny the fact that she closed the door hoping that would happen. After the scrawny youth had vanished, Alice turned her focus to Levi and slid into the booth next to him.

“What’s up?” Levi leaned forward on the table, putting his weight on his elbow which was placed near his untouched food. “Something you didn’t want to mention to Blue?”

“I forget how good you are.”

“Remind me, I could use the confidence boost.”

Alice smiled softly. “You probably haven’t heard yet, but rumor has it we’re missing people, mainly Reapers. Some of them go out on jobs and never come back. The same thing has happened to a Ferryman, and Stacey, the Listener with the park bench, hasn’t been seen all day. Most everyone has been too busy with the influx of souls turning demonic to notice.”

Levi stared at the black heart, breathing deeply. In. Out. In. Out. He slowly blinked. His long lashes that many females in the Afterlife had been jealous of flowing briskly with the movements of his lids. Alice, growing a little impatient opened her mouth to say something but Levi, after taking that time, spoke first.

“How many are missing?” He spoke slowly, pronouncing each word with great diction, and with a hint of worry.

“With Victoria, five. Three Reapers, a Ferryman, and a Listener.”

“Keep your ear to the ground and come back tomorrow. I’ll be done with this by then.”

Alice pursed her lips. “You think you’ll be done with this thing that soon?”

“I’ll be done with him and the two others waiting for me. I’ll work through my breaks.” His conviction was so evident that it finely glossed his confident words.

“I’ll take you up on that bet, then.” Alice the Reaper got up to leave when she felt an anchor prevent her from moving. It was Levi’s hand grasped tightly around her wrist.

“Keep an eye on Blue.” Levi turned his head. His intense emerald eyes focused heavily on Alice. “I don’t want him to be next.”

“I will. I’ll make sure to go with him across Acheron if I have to.”

Levi stared into Alice’s eyes a moment longer and let her go.