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A sweet scent entered my nostrils and filled my body with a warm feeling of comfort. I still saw nothing but I felt on top of the world. “If this is what dying feels like, I wonder why people are afraid of it,” I said as I let the darkness devour me.
I noticed how the Stranger grimaced at my words, but he did not say anything. I decided not to mention it either. I was too comfortable being blissfully unaware.
He stopped me by grabbing my wrist and turned to face me. The look on his face was one of concern, but I didn’t understand why he didn’t feel happy. Was it even possible not to feel great here?
“I want to show you something,” he said softly.
The darkness dissolved again and we stood on top of a hill. The evening was pleasant, a gentle breeze greeted us. I wasn’t sure why he had brought me here, so I decided to wait for him to speak. It took a while before he did so.
“If you would have met me in your normal life, what would you have thought of me?” the Stranger asked.
I was taken aback by this question. For me it was not quite clear what he meant with my normal life. I felt perfectly fine, not in the slightest dead. Wasn’t I supposed to leave my body behind for that? Or was I a ghost now without being aware of it? Was it even possible for ghosts to have a conscience?
“I don’t know. Do you mean if we just crossed each other on the streets or if we actually had time to get to know each other?” I asked.
He thought about this for a moment, his gaze fixed on something in the distance. “If we just crossed each other on the streets,” he finally answered.
I looked him up and down. He watched me with an intensity that I had never experienced before. “I guess I would have thought you were attractive. Then I would have gone on with my life because in general the handsome boys are not interested in me.”
A smile appeared on his face. For a moment he appeared to glow. Then, as if a realisation hit him, the smile was gone.
“What if I told you that when I was alive, I wasn’t such a good person?” he answered.
I shrugged. “I wouldn’t know that just by passing you on the streets. Unless I saw you actually do bad things. Why are you telling me this?”
He bit his lip and turned away from me, then changed his mind. “Back when I was alive, I was just a petty thief. We didn’t have a lot of money at home but I still wanted to belong to the masses and wear the coolest shoes or the most expensive clothes. And so I robbed people. I was quite good at it too. At one point, a couple of buddies and myself had a little gang going on. We would make quite a lot of money a day just by hanging around the underground stations.”
He looked back at me to see how I responded. I tried to not show anything. Not because I didn’t think it was bad what he had done, but mostly because I wanted him to go on with his story. When I did not reply, he continued talking.
“I felt a certain power whenever I had pickpocketed someone. I was as quick as a viper, and the damage was done before they even realised it. I became reckless. One night, I had stolen the purse of this girl. I remember her vividly. She found out quite quickly that her purse was missing and her boyfriend noticed me with the bloody thing in my hand, counting the money. Unfortunately for me, he was quite well trained in martial arts. He had some friends who also wanted to have a go. They dragged me all over the place and left me for dead when they were done. Nobody even bothered to call the police, because I was a thief and I deserved it,” the bitterness was ever so present in his voice.
He grasped his throat before he went on. “I was basically dead when she came. A woman. Her hair was silver and her face wrinkled but still gentle. She asked me if I wanted to live or die. I begged her to just make the pain go away. She obliged and I thought I had died. I also walked in darkness and I also felt on top of the world. But then she came back and told me I could enter paradise on one condition; I’d have to assist Death in helping people pass between the world of the living and the dead. So that’s what I am doing now along with many others. All of us have done bad things in our lives and this is our way to repent for our sins, I guess.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but I wasn’t quite sure what there was to say. “Am I dead yet?” I finally asked.
The Stranger chuckled. “I tell you my life story and all you care about is whether you are dead or not?”
“Everybody hides darkness in their hearts. Your story doesn’t intrigue me or frighten me,” I answered. I knew it was a lie. I wanted to know more.
“You are not dead yet, but only because I have a favour to ask of you. You are now stuck in a state in between life and death,” he said.
I knew it would have come too easy if this was it. A part of me yearned for the great feeling I had experienced in the darkness and the other part of me longed for my life again. The thought of being stuck in between life and death frightened me. So I listened to his proposition…