Most of the living were clueless about when they were going to die. Death, however, always knew it was coming for them, days, months, even years before it took them by the throat and choked the life out of them. But there were always those few who could feel the eyes of the Grim Reaper watching them.
I had been trailing Andrés Felipe Hernández––simply known as “El Muerte” to the natives––through the slums of Bogota for eleven months now, and I was almost positive that from the start, he had been aware of my presence. As the on-call executioner for a notorious Colombian drug lord, Lu Mal, Andrés was familiar with the feeling of being surrounded by death.
But I didn’t just surround him. I smothered him.
How I saw it was, the sick and innocent were the only ones who were allowed to be at peace before meeting their demise. All others should suffer the torment of knowing the end was near. I had, and so would Andrés.
Andrés lived in one hovel by day...another by night. Few knew this, but there was no such thing as deceiving Reapers. We knew everything and each night I would follow Andrés to the hovel where he lay his head. I would watch him run his fingers down his daughter’s sleeping face and kiss his wife’s smiling lips. I knew he slept with his back to the wall and a finger on the trigger of his gun. I knew he had terrible nightmares that made him twitch and groan in his sleep. Little did he know, his worse nightmare wasn’t in his dreams, but standing at the foot of his bed.
He rose every morning with the sun, as if his body and the dawn were on the same schedule. He sometimes showered, dressed quietly, got down on his knees and prayed for his damned soul, and without good-byes to his family, disappeared out into the slums. He never said good-bye to his wife and child. Never. It was too final, like he had accepted that one day he wasn’t coming home to them.
But on this day, he should have. Only, he didn’t know that.
With my blurry vision concentrated on his every movement, I stalked Andrés through the filthy, battered streets that reeked of decaying waste and poverty. I didn’t bother to step around people, as my ethereal existence allowed me to pass right through them. Call me evil, but I liked what that did to the unsuspecting. It left them chilled to their core. They could feel me, and by the time I was done playing around with their souls and had moved on, they were scared as hell. I fed on that fear. Craved it.
Andrés met up with his crew of murdering bastards at his day hovel in an abandoned building that was on the edge of collapsing in on them like so many of the structures in the Bogota slums. I felt the urge to will this to happen, but that would have looked too much like an accident.
I wanted his death to be intentional, and for everyone to know it.
Andrés had gotten orders from Lu Mal for another hit early that morning. Didn’t bother me. I had seen Andrés kill many times before, and mostly thugs and criminals. Besides, I didn’t exist to keep people from meeting death. I was the one that introduced them to it.
“Lu Mal was clear,” Andrés was saying in fast, grumbled Spanish. “He only lets them be mules once. Then––” He made a slicing motion across his neck, “––he slits their throats.”
“Only way to shut these guarichas up!” A member of his crew said. “They’re always talking, telling your business to everyone.”
“I know a better way to keep them quiet!” Another member said, grabbing at his crotch and flicking out his tongue.
The group shared a laugh before Andrés brought them back to order. He paced the floor, his boots smashing and kicking trash out of his way. “There are seven on their way back from America now. We’re to pick them up and take them to the warehouse. Once there, I’ll introduce them to la mierda.” He flipped his death-dealing blade over in his hand once or twice and his crew laughed. From there, Andrés gave out orders on what each of them was supposed to do. It wasn’t long after that they were heading out to put the plan into action.
I tagged along, making sure to sit next to Andrés in the back of the unmarked van they took to the El Dorado International Airport. I knew he felt me, as he shuddered and shivered the entire time. At one point, just to entertain myself, I reached inside of him to grip his black heart. His breath caught and I watched his eyes go wide. I was sure he was seeing his life flash before his eyes––just as I had before dying. I let him relive it for a while before releasing him and he wiped his brow, cursing out a member of his crew for checking to make sure he was okay.
At the airport, a few of the members accepted uniforms and an airport van from an airport employee who had made it possible for them to drive right through a normally secured gate unchecked. The pickup didn’t take long and as soon as the airport van pulled to a stop beside the unmarked one, Andrés and his men were pulling bodies out of one and shoving them into the other.
There were seven. Girls.
Leaving the airport van behind, they took off for the slums again. As the men conversed around them, the girls stayed silent. I sat by Andrés again, but I wasn’t paying him any attention. The Colombian beauty cowering across from me had stolen it.
She was beautiful, with black hair and dark eyes and cheekbones steeper than mountains. Her tanned, copper skin was smooth and delicate and only wrinkled at her brow and at the corners where her full lips were so tightly pressed together they were almost white. I realized she was afraid and keeping her mouth sealed up was the only way to keep her screams in.
I finally became aware of the other girls. They all looked this way. Worried. Scared. They held each other’s hands tightly. They knew what was coming. Their own Reaper had come for them.
In the form of Andrés Felipe Hernández.
We came to a stop in front of another deteriorating structure. Barely bigger than Andrés’ day hovel, the term “warehouse” could hardly be applied to it. But maybe that was why they called it that.
I waited outside for the back doors to open, and in a flurry of rushed movements, the men began dragging the girls out. By their hair.
They began to scream and plead, and one of the louder ones was struck in the face and told to shut her fucking mouth. They were drawing stares from people passing by and hanging out of windows and doors, and I realized just how populated the area was. There were witnesses, dozens of them, and there was a good chance that none of them would notice that the girls who were being taken into the building had never come out. El Muerte controlled these streets. Run your mouth, lose your tongue. I could see that people were already pretending they hadn’t seen anything.
Andrés and the beauty were the last out of the van. She was pleading with him, softly at first, but getting louder by the second. She constantly pleaded for “mi hija” and swore that she would never speak of what she’d done for Lu Mal. Andrés finally got tired of listening and back-handed her so hard she passed out cold.
Something in me snapped. That evil that made the letters on my arm burn like acid.
I looked at the beauty lying on the ground, her face already swollen and bruised, and felt the overwhelming need to protect her. Where it came from, I don’t know. I hadn’t actually felt anything besides pain since I had met my demise. Reapers weren’t allowed to feel. Still, I didn’t like seeing her hurt. I couldn’t let her die. It felt wrong somehow.
I didn’t like the idea of the innocent dying.
Andrés was giving orders for the others to be taken inside and his men moved fast to make this happen, even though the girls struggled and flailed and tried to make this as difficult as possible. I heard a rumble and looked up to see a mud-splashed box truck barreling down the narrow street towards us. I turned around to see Andrés start to drag the beauty by her ankles for the entrance like she was already a corpse.
I lost it.
Willing the truck driver to lose control, I watched the truck swerve back and forth, tires skidding as he slammed on brakes, almost running over several people. Andrés cursed and started dragging the beauty across the pavement with a vengeance. He made it to the entrance and flung her limp body inside.
I appeared behind him. He must have felt me there because he jerked around. And saw me.
He was going to scream, but I started choking him. The truck was still swerving out of control, leaving chaos and destruction in its wake.
Time to die, I put into his thoughts. I still couldn’t speak without a tongue.
But he could, and he gargled, “Please...no...”
Yes. Now that the beauty was safe, I could reap all that Andrés had sown.
The truck hit a pot hole, threw itself into a half-spin and started skidding down the street sideways.
“No...no...mi esposa...mi hija...”
His pleas fell on deaf ears as the beauty’s had fallen on his. Reapers didn’t make bargains anyway. There was only one way this was going to go.
The truck was almost on them...
So I did what evil created me to do. I wrapped my limbs around Andrés, pulled him close, and threw our bodies out into the street.
Copyright © 2012 by Diantha Jones