He felt heavy. Not the type of heavy that came from eating too much or even the type of heavy that came from being weighed down from too many objects. It was emotional; it was mental; it was...heavy.
The road stretched out before him as he walked and for the first time, he actually took the opportunity to notice the things around him. There were trees on his left; despite living in the suburbs of Maryland, it looked like it was a small forest, stretching upwards as far as he could see. On his right were houses. All but one of them had the curtains drawn and no light was coming from within; it was almost midnight, after all, according to his watch. The one house that had light in its front window also had a lady staring out at him. The lady couldn't be a day under ninety; even in the dim light from the window, he could see her face drooping with her age. His sudden audience made Steven feel mildly uncomfortable, so he walked on.
This was the first night in he couldn't tell how long—weeks, months, maybe? — that he had gone out on a walk. He couldn't remember why he had decided suddenly to take a walk, or even leaving the house; but one thing was for certain, and that was that it felt good to be out again. It felt right. Everything felt in place again. His head was finally clear for the first time since he had walked across the stage at graduation and taken his first steps out in to the "Real World". He could think clearly and his breath seemed to be coming to him easier than it had in a very long time.
He was coming up on an ancient looking building that he wasn't sure that he remembered; but it must have been there before, because buildings that old didn't just pop up out of the ground, did they? It looked like a dead end, anyway. He was about to turn around and head back home when he heard someone call his name. It sounded faint, almost as though it had been carried to him on the wind, and, a second later, he was sure that he had imagined it, but then he heard it again. Even though it had "Bad Idea" written all over it, Steven walked towards the building and whoever it was that was calling him.
As he got closer to the building, he could see that there was someone sitting on the steps leading up to the door. He could also see that there was a giant CONDEMNED sign hanging on a hook on the door. He could see the person sitting on the steps more clearly now. It was a female with long black hair that fell from her head in ringlets. He thought that she looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't tell in the dark.
"Finally!" the female called, and he recognized it at once. "I thought you'd never get here!" Janice jumped up and ran up to him to hug him.
"Er," he said, hugging her back awkwardly, "was I supposed to be meeting you?"
She giggled and broke their embrace. It was a giggle that had given him butterflies as far back as he could remember. "Of course, you were! It was your idea, remember? You said that you couldn't wait anymore. What couldn't you wait for?" He wracked his brain, but couldn't remember talking to her at all.
"Um...I don't remember..." She gave him a puzzled look, then shrugged her shoulders.
"Oh, well," she said. "If it's important enough, then you'll remember before long."
She held out her hand. "Come on. There's something I want to show you."
Confused, he took her hand and the two of them walked back the way that he had come. The old lady watched them as they passed. "She's creepy," Steven said. Janice looked over at her.
"She looks kinda like my grandma," she said with that irresistible giggle. Steven laughed with her and the two of them turned and walked towards the trees.
"Why are we here?" Steven asked when they got to the base of what looked like the tallest of the trees.
"Oh, come on," Janice said. She jumped up and started climbing. After a few feet she looked back down and saw Steven still standing on the ground. "What's wrong?" she called down.
"Are you sure that this is safe?" he asked. "This tree looks like it's pretty tall."
"What, are you chicken?" she chided. "Bawk! Bawk, bawk bawk!" She threw back her head and laughed before climbing further. Steven laughed and mounted the tree before climbing after her.
When he got to the top, he saw her sitting on one of the branches, staring out at the world before her. He climbed out on the branch and took a seat next to her. "Wow," was all he could say. It seemed as though the entire world was laid out before him, and it was a beautiful world. He could see the lights from the mall and the various other city lights; the sight held him in awe. It was then that he realized that he was sitting on a tree branch. He felt lighter than he had when he had walked past this area the first time, but still too heavy to be sitting on a not so sturdy looking tree branch. He turned and looked at Janice. She was looking back at him, but there was something different about her. He couldn't tell exactly what it was, but he knew that there was something. "What is this?" he asked her.
She smiled and touched a hand to his face. "It's what you're leaving behind," she said.
"What do you—" he started, but his question was cut short by a sharp pain in his chest. He cried out, clutching at his chest. It felt like there was a current running through him. The pain flared again, and this time he actually felt an electric shock. He cried out louder and clutched at his chest again. "What's happening?" he cried. Before Janice could answer, gravity got the better of him and he fell forward off of the branch. It felt like he was falling for miles, but he finally hit the ground; strangely enough, it hurt less than the electrical current running through his body. Janice was right behind him; she landed gracefully on her feet next to him and held out her hand. "What's happening to me?" he asked again.
"Just take my hand," she insisted. “There's one more thing that I have to show you.”
"What are you talking about?" he demanded and clenched his teeth together as a fresh surge of electricity ran through him. "Call an ambulance!"
"I can't," she said.
"I'm just trying to make it easier. Please just take my hand."
He didn't understand how it would make this pain any easier to endure, but he took her hand and as soon as he did, lighting flashed through the sky. In that flash, he saw what she really was. In the flash he saw that it wasn't really Janice. It was something in a black robe. Instead of a face, there was nothing there but a skull; it's horrible, empty eye sockets were staring in to his eyes. And then the lighting was gone and the face was Janice's again. Before he could let go of the thing's hand, he was on his feet in what appeared to be a hospital room. He looked around and saw a doctor standing over a body, paddles in her hand, trying to bring the poor person on the table back to life. With a jolt of horror, he saw that the person lying on the table was him.
Everything crashed down on him in that moment; the feelings of hopelessness and despair that had plagued him over the last few months, the constant anger and mood swings, the desire to end it all, writing the letter to his parents to let them know of his decision and telling them that he just couldn't wait any more, and, lastly, swallowing the bottle of vicodin, and allowing himself to be swallowed by the perpetual darkness.
"What is this?" he demanded of the thing next to him that looked like Janice.
"It's the last night of your life," it said.
"What are you?"
The thing looked sad for a moment. "I'm a reaper," it said. "I'm cursed to walk the world, collecting the souls of the people so that they can move on.”
"Yes, cursed. Just as you will be."
"Because all suicides are cursed to wander the world, neither dead nor alive, collecting the souls of others and taking them to a destination that we will never get to see." A tear actually fell from her eye, then.
"If you're a reaper, then why do you look like that?"
"To make it easier on you." He heard the doctor sigh and he looked over at her.
"I'm calling it," the female doctor said. She looked at her watch. "Time of death: 11:58 pm." They pulled a sheet up over his head and he heard a wail from behind him. He wheeled around and saw his mother collapsing in to his father's arms, tears streaming down her face.
"I don't wanna do this," he said. "I wanna go back."
The reaper smiled, but it was a sad smile. "It's too late to go back," it said.
"You're in it for the long run."
"No!" he shouted and he started running. He ran from the hospital room and down the hospital hall and, finally out of the hospital itself.
He was back in front of the ancient looking building with the CONDEMNED sign on its door. The reaper was sitting on the steps once again. "You can't outrun death, Steven," she said sadly. "Especially when it's a death you brought on yourself."
"But why?" he asked, and then collapsed to the ground in a fit of tears.
"Only you can answer that question, Steven" she said. "And now, you've got all eternity to think about it. She kneeled down and lifted his chin. "A kiss to seal the deal," she said.
"And what if I don't?" he sobbed.
"Then you're stuck in this spot. Damned to haunt this lawn until the end of time."
His watched beeped to signal midnight, the time in which all spirits officially passed on into their next life. Still sobbing, he allowed her to kiss him, and, in doing so, passed in to his role in eternity.