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This month, one of my writing challenges was to complete a writing prompt. Here’s what I got:


“As a homicide detective in a large city, you’ve come across some odd cases. This, however, takes the cake: you have the Grim Reaper, death itself, in custody.


And here’s what I wrote:


The gray t-shirt fit the young man—if man could be applied yet, those things varied beyond age—and other than his oversized blue irises, he wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. Average, fair skinned with a tan, blonde, medium build, although his arms might have been longer than his height required.

I’d caught him in my theater room, aka, the basement where my wife hasn’t taken over due to the damp walls. He’d propped himself on the old and worn recliner I’d stowed down there and had the projector streaming Moana from my movie laptop.

He didn’t seem fazed by my appearance, nor my gun and badge. He wouldn’t stand until the demi-god was done singing his welcome song, then he hopped up and put his hands behind his back for my cuffs.

“What are you doing in my house?” I jerked him toward the stairs.

“Your wife invited me in, told me to wait for you down here. She seems nice.”

“That doesn’t answer my question. Why are you in my house?”

A lopsided grin turned his mouth. “I did answer your first questions, which was what I was doing, not why I was doing it, but I’m here to collect a soul.”

He’d made his way up the stairs before I could process what he meant, and he’d smiled at my wife.

I shoved him out the door and into the back of my police-issued wagon.

He sang the entire way to the station and the entire time he sat in his holding cell. The young man had a penchant for Disney songs.

After filing the paperwork and running his prints, I pulled a chair to sit outside of his cell, sure this conversation would go as any did. His avoiding my questions, me repeating them ad nauseum until he tripped over himself.

“Why were you in my house?” I asked.

“I told you already. I’m here to collect a soul.”

“You mean, you’re here to kill someone. A hitman.”

That playful smile, like I wasn’t the smarter of us two, but sympathy lined those oversized eyes. “I don’t kill. I collect. Y’all kill yourselves just fine on your own.”

“Who are you collecting?”

“No one you know.”

“Give me a name.”

“They don’t have one yet.”

“Who are you collecting for?”

His big blue eyes closed as he shook his head, pity replacing that mixture of cheekiness and sympathy. “Depends on what you believe. The universe. Fate. God.”

How had some wacko made his way into my house? Past my wife?

“Who are you?”

“John Doe 357.” He sprang into “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin.

I left him to it and checked on the computer processing his prints. No matches on the general database. I ran it through the next series, but I felt myself scowling at the likelihood I’d get nothing from it.

He would be John Doe 357. How did he come up with that number?

I pushed him through my questions again, but his answers were the same.

No matches on his prints.

He didn’t seem stressed about the time he wasted.

I made a few phone calls, contacted some old PI friends and techs from other agencies to put out feelers on this scam.

When I returned, the young man stood on the bench, peering out the small rectangular window at nothing—the glass frosted over. There was no way to escape through it.

“Why were you in my house?”

Grief lowered the lines around the young man’s large eyes as he turned toward me. “It’s happening now. I’m sorry.”

Rage pushed me against the bars to his cell, but I refrained from lashing out. He wouldn’t get to me this way. “What’s happening? Is someone killing for you?”

He shook his head, dropping back to the bench and singing “Circle of Life” in a slow, eerie cadence that sent a chill over my skin.

The phone rang at my desk, and I went to answer it, tension and terror mounting as my hand cut off the last jangling note. “Detective Duntley.”

A sob echoed across the line, “Billy.”

My chest tightened. “Marianne. What’s wrong?”

“I—” Another sob cut her off. “I need you to come home.”

Marianne, what happened?”

“I lost it. There’s so much blood. So much blood.” Heartbreak laced her voice.

“Lost what?”

A sob and her voice cracked—the baby.

My mind went blank for too many breaths.

“I wanted to surprise you tonight.” A hiccup and warble. “I went to the doctor today.”

My baby?

The office was too quiet. The cell too quiet.

“I’m on my way, sweetheart.”

The phone slammed back into its cradle, and I stomped back to John Doe 357.

Silence settled across my shoulders as the empty cell dumfounded me. Metal cuffs sat on the bench.

A soul to collect with no name.

A baby I hadn’t known about.

Fate. The Universe. God.

I grabbed my jacket off the back of my chair and drove home to console my wife.