I’ve finally completed another writeropoly challenge. Well, three of them. The ones I didn’t get to in July.
Here, I was meant to fit a writing prompt about the cursed ones, quoted as the first line, to write a scene about courage and perseverance, and to emulate Christopher Pike’s writing style.
This is me working my way through it and reading it aloud.
Without further ado, here’s the story in all of its rough glory. I never did give the characters any proper names, so there’s that.
The Cursed Ones
“You have to watch out for the cursed ones…they have nothing left to lose.”
Whoever wrote this along the entrance to my cavern was correct. Whatever they were doing down here had likely gotten them killed. It truly wasn’t safe to cross a cursed one. To cross me.
I passed porthole to the wide pipe. I had to duck as I walked, taller than most of the others but still stooped as our kind become. Water trickled under my boots, echoing with the beat of my footsteps. Let the others know I am coming, although I liked to see them scramble when I arrived.
The cursed. Demons. Goblins. Vampires. Monsters. Many have different names for us. Some believe we work for Satan. Most don’t believe in us at all.
What we truly are, however, are lost beings that suffer between life and death. We have lost everything but our awareness and pain. And we work under Death’s unrelenting rule. We capture difficult souls who evade change and renewal—the very thing we are continuously denied.
It made us bitter.
The pipe opened up to a cavern in an unused but damp section of the sewers. Twelve of us span the circular space, like the hours of a clock. Time stops when we meet in the center.
I put my weapons on the wrack under Number 12. The last but strongest of us all.
Other than Death.
Sometimes, I wonder.
We see him less often. He hasn’t shown in the last six years. Not four years before that. Three before that. Souls on our list have become more regular and harder to capture. But they all fell in the end.
I hung my armor, cobbled together with broken pieces of my own dead soul. That’s right. We truly had nothing left to lose. Each time we were slayed in a capture, we were rearticulated, but that shard remained behind. I’d learned from the others to keep it and hammer it out to protect me. I also learned that I felt less with each piece I added to my armor. I learned not to lose them.
A brush flaked the blood from my hair and skin. The soft bristles kept the need for a shower down. I didn’t sweat. I rarely bled. I incinerated troublesome souls. Some of them in creative ways.
Energy crackled in our cavern, and a name vibrated between the stone walls.
Death’s newest name.
Who had more power than Death? Enough power to call for his end?
Each of us turned to note the name, and I took off the rest of my hardware. The others rustled around the room. Let them try. I’d sit and watch them scramble. Learn from their mistakes. Save my own soul.
I slept through their arguments. Dreamed of my old life, my woman and babe before they were taken from me.
By the time I woke, six of the cursed ones had lost major portions of their souls. Two of them expelled their last shards. I sharpened my weapons, polished my blades and shield, cleansed my armor. Each move honed my focus until the world’s extra energy swirled around the thought of III.
I could feel him, but something new fractured my focus in half. Another reaper? More than one death?
No wonder the success rate has been so low. No one has gotten close.
What was this whole thing?
Loading on my gear and strapping in my weapons, I recited my chants, activated my charms, and left to collect III. Well, I followed Number 8 and Number 11. After hours of tracking, they jumped in and were slaughtered in minutes.
Death was no easy mark.
I waited. Watched.
His new skin was dark and lovely—graceful and full of charm. Then, the second was petite and bright and beautiful. This struck me oddly. The yin-yang and OCD of Death personified in a pair. Lore and fairy tales liked to implant the idea of redemption in love, in a soul mate.
The more I watched them, the more I was resigned to inaction.
Could a reaper earn redemption?
And if so, how did I get it?
III caught me trailing, the petite one tilting her head to the side and blowing her kiss.
Number 2 and Number 5 came and were slayed. Number 2 didn’t come back.
Then, Number 8 and Number 10.
Number 3 next.
Until it was just me and III.
He passed me on the street as I sipped a lavender latte before she sat in front of me with her own cup. My weapons couldn’t be seen by humans, but her eyes followed the lines of my blades. I could pull one out before anyone blinked, but so could she.
“You’ve been watching us a long time.”
“And what have you seen?”
Her other half waits at the corner by a magazine stand. “You two seem to share a soul.”
Her smile should have sent warmth through my chest, but it didn’t. “We do, but we had to be ready for the change.”
“Were you the one he thought he lost?”
“I don’t get to know that.”
“How?” I couldn’t put my actual question into words. He’d lost more of his soul than anyone else had. How did he reap this reward?
“Time allows the universe to realign. You have to pay attention to grab your opportunities.”
“Who wants you reaped?”
She sighed, colorful eyes swirling behind slow blinks. Her hands spread as if to indicate everything. “Well, Life, of course.”
A muscle started twitching between my shoulder blades, driven by the duty to cut out her soul. “And why shouldn’t I obey?”
“Because when you are the only one left, you will take his place.”
And choose who the cursed ones seek.
Would Jacqueline return?
“Only three of us remain.”
“Only one of you has not attacked.”
“I do not put pieces of my soul on the line needlessly.” My armor clinked when I moved, and the cool milk and lavender of my latte spread film over my tongue.
I nodded. “You should go.”
Her slow blink made duty itch along his spine.
“Before I change my mind.”
“May your opportunity arise.”
“Good luck to you both.” I signaled the waitress for a fresh cup, and Death’s mistress disappeared from her seat.
At the end of the street, she popped into his dark arms.
A fiery mane of curls bobbed into view, and a frothing cup settled before me. “You’re not the only one who knows, but now, you are the only one capable. Just keep that in mind.”
Bright green eyes twinkled at him before the waitress turned back to her job.
Death dipped his head my way, and the matching pieces of his soul embraced him before they disappeared from my sight.
Making a slow decision wasn’t the same as making the wrong one. I still had time to change my mind.