Opening my eyes, I’m lying on the sidewalk and Frank is alternately leaning over me and moving away. There’s a cut over his right eye and his shirt’s all torn. What’s going on? Will someone tell me what the fuck is going on! Where’s Mikey? That’s when I turn my head and the pit of my stomach falls away. He’s lying only a few feet away. He’s face down, blood trickling from a gash on his leg and… oh no… his leg’s at an angle that… it can’t be good!
“Mikey!” I scream soundlessly.
What the fuck!
I can’t hear anything, I’m making no sounds at all. What’s happening to me?
“Frank!” Still no sound. “For fuck’s sake, please, somebody tell me what’s going on!”
As I keep looking around my area of vision, I can see that lots of people have gathered and they’re all talking and staring, but I can’t hear a damn thing. Beyond the crowd, I finally see a car. It’s obviously passed me, but it’s turned around in a skid so much it’s almost facing me. The hood has concertinaed, the windshield is hanging half over the crumpled hood and the driver is slumped over the wheel, covered in blood.
Watching Frank in intense distress, I realise now that he’s trying hard to keep us both alive, but there’s nothing I can do. It’s as if I’m trapped in my body; maybe I’m already dead?
“Not quite, but I’d appreciate it if you’d hurry up.”
I turn my head, or at least, I think I am. However I’m doing it, now I can see a tall, thin guy in a white suit standing over me, checking a gold pocket watch.
“I can hear you!”
“Of course you can hear me!” he snapped with irritation. “Come on, I’m on a very tight schedule today and I haven’t got time for all this waiting around.”
“Are you British?”
The man curled one corner of his lips up and eyed me suspiciously.
“You’re about to die and that’s what you focus on?”
The shock of the situation, and his words suddenly gave me strength and I was pushing myself to my feet, if a little shakily. As I rose I heard the panicked voice yell at me.
“No! Not yet! What are you… Stay down!”
I hear an audible, irritated, heavy sigh and it seems that, somehow, I’ve upset this strange and extremely annoying man.
“Don’t you know anything? You’re not dead yet, but you’ve left your body!”
I followed the line of his finger, pointing at the ground and there, at my feet, is me… and I don’t look too healthy.
“What happened?” I ask bleakly, yet urgently, turning back to him.
“Look, I don’t have time for this! You have completely ruined my schedule now! Do you realise just how many forms I’m going to have to fill in for this mess?”
“You just told me I’m dead! For some reason I don’t give a fuck about the forms! What about Mikey? What about Frank?”
“Who?” he snapped glancing down at the book he held in his left hand.
“My brother, my friend! Are they okay?”
Frowning he turned his attention to the book once more.
“Nothing in here about a Frank or a Mickey.”
“Mikey! Not Mickey. Mikey Way! My brother.”
“That’s not possible,” he shook his head dismissively.
“What isn’t?” I was seriously confused by this point.
“You and your brother having different surnames.”
“We don’t!” I growled, growing increasingly more frustrated with each passing moment.
“You’re Gerard Mathews.”
“I’m Gerard Way!”
I watched, confused and angry, as I saw him slowly look down into the book again, before turning a curious glance at the man in the car.
“I think,” he began slowly, “I may have come for the wrong soul.”
“You’re telling me I’m not dead?”
The man in the white suit stared at his feet, his hands, or the book anywhere but at me.
“No, erm… you are kinda dead, but it wasn’t your time,” he explained.
“Kinda dead?” I repeated in disbelief. “So put me back!”
“I can’t! This doesn’t often happen.” He put a hand to his head as he broke out into a nervous sweat. “You have no idea how much trouble I’m going to get into over this!”
“You know, that’s not my biggest concern right now,” I began, my voice dripping with sarcasm. “I’m fucking dead, you moron! I’m not supposed to be dead! You have to fix this!”
“I can’t I told you! I’ve got too much to do and…”
“Yeah? Well what about if I file a complaint?” I figured; he was into forms, maybe it would help. I thought I was clutching at straws but I noticed him visibly pale.
“You’d do that?” he replied shrilly.
Flopping down onto the sidewalk, the man held his head in his hands and his shoulders sagged.
“I’m no good at this job, it’s too stressful. I don’t know how he does it. But that’s just it, isn’t it, he doesn’t any more.”
I was torn. Paramedics had arrived and were tending to both Mikey and me. I desperately wanted to comfort Mikey, but he wouldn’t even be aware of me and besides, I didn’t want to let this guy out of my sight.
“Who doesn’t do what any more?” I asked distractedly as the paramedics finally got Mikey and his unpleasantly angled leg onto a gurney.
“Death,” the man sighed hopelessly, “he’s disappeared. No one knows where he’s gone. I’ve been trying to fill in for him, but I’m really bad at the job. You’re the third wrong soul I’ve come for this month! I’ll be in so much trouble!”
“Look, I’m sure…” I paused, suddenly noticing something. “Why haven’t they put me in a body bag? They’re treating me.”
The man glanced around, but the expression on his face told me that he didn’t really need to.
“You’re not completely dead. You’re in a sort of coma. You won’t wake up, you’re not in there, but your body doesn’t know.”
“Can’t I just go back in?”
“No, it’s not that simple.”
“Well, make it simple!”
“Look, to do that, I’d have to fill in a load of forms, get them approved, authorised. It takes time!”
“How much time?” I asked, my tone sharpening as I grew more and more impatient.
“If I rush it through, about a week, maybe ten days.”
“How long!” I gasped. “And what am I supposed to do in the meantime?”
He drew his lips into a thin apologetic line and pushed the book and watch into my hands.
“I’m afraid I won’t have time to do both.”
“You want me to… you want me to be Death!”
A panicked expression crossed his face and he held his hands out as if trying warn or silence me, or, judging by the look on his face, both.
“No! Don’t ever say that you’re Death, he would totally freak out. It’s not a job description, it’s his name!”
“Right,” I nodded. Though I was fairly and understandably freaked out myself. Any minute I would wake up – wouldn’t I? “So what am I?”
“You’ll be my assistant,” he said, finally appearing to calm down.
“And you are?”
“Acting Guardian of Souls,” he finished with a nod.
I looked down at the book and watch; this had to be a nightmare but something about the situation was making sense to me and I had noticeably calmed.
“So, these deaths, the souls? They’re just in Jersey?”
I could see he was about to say no, but something stopped him.
“Normally, no, but I can get someone to cover. You’re going to have enough to do as it is.”
“Why do I get the feeling there’s a catch?” I asked with suspicion.
“You have to find him,” he explained, pointing to the driver of the car. “You can’t go back to your body until I get him. And, you have to make sure they don’t switch off the life support on your own body. If they do that, you’ll have nothing to go back to.”
I was dumbstruck and could only stare in disbelief at him.
“Anyway, I have to go, so, you’re all set, I’ll keep in touch, probably tomorrow.”
“W… wait! What do I do?”
“It’s all explained in the book, an idiot could follow it! You’re probably going to be fine!”
I scowled deeply at what sounded very much like an insult.
“What’s your name?” I snapped.
“Richard,” he replied with a tone that almost questioned why I had asked.
“Don’t forget, Richard, you do your job and do it well this time, or I’m raising a very serious complaint!”
I felt unbelievably stupid saying the words. I had no idea how I would, or to whom, but he had to believe I could do it. He seemed to take it really seriously.
“Yeah, absolutely! A week, ten days at most.”
And he was gone. In a rush of noise, my hearing flooded back and I was almost bowled over by the shock of it. As I looked around, I noticed that the ambulance was about to leave. Stepping inside, I took a seat alongside Frank, who, thankfully, had only minor injuries. He couldn’t see me, but I felt better for being there. As I waited for it to move off, the book vibrated in my hands. Out of curiosity, I opened it. A swirl of grey enveloped me and I felt as though I was falling, backwards, headfirst. Lasting only a few seconds, it was enough to disorient me and make me feel nauseous. A second later, I was standing on the street in the rough end of town, at my feet was a woman with her throat slit from ear to ear. I wanted to hurl. I felt bad enough already and this…!
“So,” a deadpan voice asked. “You’re Death are you?”
“Wha…?” Yes, I can be really articulate sometimes.
“Where’s your scythe?”
“I… I’m not Death, he’s… he’s on vacation. I’m the Assistant… erm, yeah, Assistant Acting Guardian of Souls.”
“First day on the job, kid? Well, at least you’re cuter than Death, you know, he’s got the whole skeleton thing going on. Wait till I get up there and meet my friend Jenny and tell her I was escorted by a really hot guy! She’s gonna bust something!”
As I listened to her, I realised I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do. Remembering that Richard had said it was all explained in the book I opened it expectantly. Flicking through page after page, I soon realised that each page was completely blank except the first and all that held was a name.
“Yeah, sweetie, let’s go.”
I sighed heavily. I had no idea what to do, or how I was going to explain it to her.
The door to the bar opened and a man in biker gear stepped inside. The bar appeared empty, yet full at the same time. If you looked carefully, you could see dozens of people at tables, at the bar or playing pool. But somehow, none of them obscured the view of any other part of the bar. At a table near the wall sat a smartly dressed man in a black suit, his long black hair pulled back and fastened at the nape of his neck. His face was handsome, with high cheekbones and near translucent skin.
“Hey, Death!” the newcomer called. “Have you heard about your new stand in?”
“Hey! Famine!” the barman addressed the newcomer, another rider of the Apocalypse. “Last time you were here all my snacks disappeared! You owe me a fortune!”
Famine raised his hand in a small wave and watched with a smirk as the barman jumped back away from the bar and was now standing knee deep in peanuts.
“I hope that will make amends?”
The man at the table glanced up, his fine features sharpening into a frown, unimpressed by his companion’s parlour tricks.
“Famine,” he growled, as he waved for the man to join him. “What have you heard?”
“Yeah, some cute guy’s taken over, the dead chicks love him.”
“What happened to Richard?”
“I heard he screwed up again,” Famine replied with a knowing smile. “But this new guy, he’s popular, he might be a keeper.”
Death slammed his drink down onto the table and glared at Famine who was quietly making the peanuts on the table disappear one by one.
“I’m Death! No one else!”
“Yeah, but you quit!”
“I didn’t quit! I just went AWOL.”
“Not exactly looking for you though, are they?” he goaded.
“They might be, just because they haven’t found me, doesn’t mean anything.”
“They don’t have to look now. Like I said, this guy’s a keeper.”
“What’s his name?”
“Consider him dead!”
Famine leaned back in the chair and laughed loudly.
“I’m not joking,” he replied dryly.
“Oh!” Famine leaned in hungrily. “You mean you’re going to take him?”
Death nodded as he rose to his feet, leaning menacingly over the table.
“Richard was okay, he was a joke, but no one replaces me. No one!”
“Let’s go then.”
Following Death out of the door, Famine waved at the barman who was now shovelling peanuts into large sacks. In a fraction of a second, every last nut vanished, leaving the bar bereft of snacks once more.
“You’re barred, Famine! You hear me! You’re barred!” the barman yelled frustratedly.
“Got any chips?” a small voice piped up near the bar.
“No, I fucking haven’t!” the barman snapped back angrily.