Death is the Middle (Not the End)


by Charon MacDonald



Part I

"And that’s Melissa." Eric pointed at the goth girl sitting on the fire escape.

"Raven’s Shadow." The goth said with a flat and yet irritable tone.

"Melissa." Eric repeated without a pause. "And you’re...?"

"Gwendolyn." The young brunette was dazed. It showed in her eyes and her voice. "Gwen or Wendy to my friends."

The goth smiled and leaned forward, hands clasped between her knees. "Wendy, welcome to the Neverland."


"You see that ambulance out there?" Eric pointed toward the mouth of the alley, where the nose of an ambulance could be seen, along with flashing lights. Music drifted to where the three ravers sat and stood from the doors around the side of the building.

"...yeah..." She looked that way, and then back at the dark-haired man. "...did someone get hurt?" There had been a lot of shoving in the mosh pit. So, she’d... come out here? She didn’t remember coming out here- all she remembered was the room spinning, and all the lights flashing, and the bodies pressing against her, and stumbling a little, her heart pounding...

"...someone died." The goth announced, crouching even further forward, a ghoulish glee in her eyes.

The girl swallowed. She knew she should never have given in and come to this rave.


The man licked his lips nervously, and then with a hissing intake of air, gritted his teeth. Finally, he said "...that someone was you."

"...wh...what?" Gwen repeated. "But I’m..."

"Dead." The girl on the fire escape intoned. "That’s not your real body. That’s just who you were at the moment you died. You should have dressed better."

"These are my good clothes." Gwen protested, looking up at her. Gwen’s cheeks flushed with heat.

"Exactly." The goth was dressed all in lace and dark clothes. Gwen had to admit the goth belonged at a place like this. And she realized that she, herself, definitely didn’t.

"I’m... going home now. I’m going to find my friends and get out of here."

The goth smiled a wicked little smile. "Want to bet on how far she’ll get?"

Eric shook his head. "Melissa, sometimes you disgust me. Gwendolyn, I’m sorry, but there’s no going home for you. No talking to your friends, either. Not... right now, anyway. You’ve got an appointment."

She started backing away from the two ravers. "No way. I don’t know what was in that pill, but-"

"That’s why you shouldn’t have taken it." Eric said quietly. His eyes showed a definite hurt, a sadness for her, and a finality that scared her.


"That’s what killed you. The Ex you thought you were taking was laced with something else." Eric answered her question before she could ask it. He had experience at knowing what the dead were going to say.

"What?" Her voice was weak, but steadier than it had been a minute before.

"Don’t know. Does it matter?" Melissa, ‘Raven’s Shadow’ smiled down on her, a cruel smile. "You had the night of your life. The last night of your life. Now, you have to come with us. You get to take one last look at yourself, and the people around you, and then we have to move on."

"Move on?" Her frantic eyes shot from Eric to Melissa. "You mean-"

"No," Eric sighed, "she’s being dramatic. Just move on to the appointment, and find out what you’re going to be now."

"I don’t-"

"It’s simple." Melissa stood up and dropped off the fire escape, landing in a flurry of skirts, then rose to her feet. Gwendolyn looked up- that was... fifteen or twenty feet... then back down to the smirk on the goth’s face.

"So was that. You’re dead, through no fault of your own. So you’ve got a pretty good chance of being something important. Which is why we’re here. Hoping to cash in on a little karma of our own..." She grinned, and approached the shaken teen. "Every life has potential. The less you did with it, the more you have left waiting for you now. But your persona also gives you power. The stronger your self-image, the more power you can channel... You were young, and that gives you power, but you’re weak and that’s going to take it away!"

"I don’t understand..." The brunette tried to back away from the girl, but in a blink, moving faster than Gwendolyn could see, Melissa appeared in front of her, grabbing the recently-dead girl’s wrist, and tugging on it with bone-wrenching force.

"I was waiting for death. I knew what was going to happen, so I did nothing with my life. And as soon as I knew I was at the peak of my beauty, of everything, I stepped in front of a bus. In full view of my entire high school. I even waved goodbye."

"That’s awful!" Gwen tried to pull her hand away, but nothing happened. The girl’s fingers were as hard as stone, and the goth’s arm didn’t budge any more than a statue’s would have.

"No, it was wonderful." The goth’s eyes seemed to glaze over with rapture. "All the screams, the cries, the shocked looks, and that bitch of a bus driver. I swear she smiled..."

The goth smiled, and let Gwen’s wrist go with one final painful squeeze.

"I have a lot of power. My parents always said I’d never amount to anything. That I was wasting my life. But I wasn’t wasting it. I was conserving it. For here, and now."

Eric stepped in, his eyes plainly asking Melissa to back off. She acquiesced and turned away from them, heading to the mouth of the alley.

"She’s... crazy."

"No, she was smart. She chose this world instead of life, and she did it in just the right way. There’s not many on this side of the grave that can stand up to her." He shook his head. "Even if I’d known... if I’d had a choice, I wouldn’t have chosen this. I would’ve lived my life... we really have to go."

"I...I have to?" Gwen held her wrist - it felt broken. "Wait, if I’m dead, how can I feel pain? You’re lying to me! I’m not dead, I’m not!"

Melissa was instantly there. The goth’s slap knocked the dead teen against the wall. It felt like being hit by that bus. Gwen’s head bounced off the wall of the warehouse and she fell to her knees, crying.

"You can still be hurt. You can still hurt others. You can even hurt the living, or kill them. But be careful about that. Only kill someone you really like... and who really likes you."

"I don’t-"

"Will you stop saying that? Of course you don’t understand. I was the only one that did! You’re lucky I’m here now, not that I’m taking an interest in you. I just like raves. If I’d known you were here for the first time, and that you were such a whiny self-absorbed airhead-"

"Melissa!" Eric stepped between them, his back to Gwendolyn. "She’ll know it all soon enough. She..."

‘She’ was running, away from both of them, out the mouth of the alley, into the crowd- who parted for her as she ran through them- and then into a circle of empty space where two paramedics were...

That’s... th...that’s me...

Gwen looked down at herself, eyes bloodshot, lips a pallid blue, her dress torn in the front, and two burn marks on her chest. The paramedics were putting away a defibrillator unit. She recognized it from ER.

I never knew it burned people...

Eric took her arm, gently. "You should look at your friends, too."

Melissa stood just a little past him, arms crossed, and angry. She turned away when Gwen’s eyes fell on her. "He said your friends."

Eric pointed across the circle - and Gwen saw her friends, the five of them, the three boys and two girls she’d come to the party with. The ones who’d opened the bag of ecstasy and pressured her into taking one of the pills. Amelia, her best friend, struggling against John’s arms, trying to get to Gwen... to her body, lying cold and still on the sidewalk. Steven hugging Casey tight to his chest, his arms wrapped around her, looking out over her shoulder and keeping her head turned away. And Kyle, her ex-boyfriend, who she was still friends with...

...had still been friends with...

...jaw clenched, lips pressed into a tight line, hands balled into fists.

"...why aren’t they dead?" Her mind was whirling. She didn’t know why she thought anything that she did - the thoughts she had came chaotically, and didn’t follow what she thought someone would have thought if they… were dead.

Eric winced, and shrugged. "Maybe only your pill had something dangerous in it. Maybe theirs were laced a little less. Maybe you had a bad heart or an allergy. I don’t know. How do you feel about them?"

She looked at him with a confused gaze in her pretty brown eyes. "I... they’re my friends. I’m glad they’re not dead." Gwen swallowed. "How should I feel?"

"That’s up to you." Eric looked at her body, then over at her friends. "Angry, that they did this to you. Relieved that they didn’t follow you. Sad that they’ve lost you... I’ve seen it all." Yeah, pretty much.

Gwen swallowed and turned to fully look at him. She could see her body out of the corner of her eye and turned further away - trying to see him and only him, and ignore the crowd. And the reason the crowd was here. "I am angry. I’m angry that I died!"

"Good." Melissa appeared next to her, in that faster-than-sight way she had of moving. "Maybe once this appointment’s over, we can find out who you should be angry towards."

Eric nodded in agreement. "Come on. You’ve had your requisite last look. Let’s go."

She felt numb, and didn’t fight, as they led her away down an alley which seemed to stretch away from the noise, the light, the crowd, and the paramedics loading her onto a stretcher-

-when she was right here, not there.

Then she wasn’t anywhere as the alley became a hole into nothing and her world went dark.


Part II

It felt like floating and falling and flying and sinking all at the same time.

"Transition. One of Eric’s powers." Melissa... Raven’s Shadow... sounded jealous. "Lucky bastard."

"One of... his powers?" She couldn’t see anything but them, and couldn’t feel anything but their hands upon her, and the feeling of falling or flying through an endless chill.

"Oh, god-damnit, you sound like every other stupid burb that’s ever died before they graduated high school. Don’t repeat everything I say. You’ve got to be faster on the draw from now on."

"I’m sorry!" Gwen shouted at the goth - "I just died!"

Melissa’s black-painted lips curved into a smile. "That’s better. For right now, get angry and stay angry. It’ll help you deal with others. You are so lucky that Eric and I were there. Otherwise, you’d be food right now."

"Food?" Gwen shrunk away from the girl’s angry eyes. "I’m sorry," she repeated, "I don’t understand any of this. You’ve had-" She stopped, suddenly aware that she didn’t know how old the other girl was, how long she’d had to get used to this. Melissa didn’t look old, didn’t sound old, but - "how old are you?"

"Twenty-two. I was fifteen when I died. Seven years." The girl seemed to get angry in a heartbeat... no, I don’t have a a second, then... and she seemed to recover just as quick.

I don’t have a heartbeat. Her hand began to unwrap from Eric’s wrist. Then her bones were grating togther, and her hand wouldn’t budge. "Ow, you’re hurting me!"

"Don’t EVER let go during Transition. EVER!" Melissa was angry again.

Gwen waited for the other girl to recover, and tried not to cry from pain, shock, fear, and humiliation.

"Don’t let go." Melissa repeated, and kept her hand on Gwen’s wrist. "I won’t." Gwen replied. Melissa’s hand didn’t move. "I won’t!" Gwen repeated, more forcefully. Melissa smirked, and still didn’t move her hand. "It’s not an escape. It’s a torture. An endless torture... and that’s if you’re lucky."

"If you’re - well, I’m sorry I keep repeating what you say but I still don’t know what’s going on and I’m still trying to accept that I’m dead and you keep saying things that I don’t know anything about!"

"She’s right, Melissa. Please, just let her rest for now. We’ll clue her in later."

"Raven’s shadow." Melissa repeated with a snarl, and finally let go of Gwen’s wrist.

Gwen wanted to rub her wrist, but didn’t dare try to remove her other hand to do it...

The darkness faded, and they were pulled or thrown into the light. Not much light, it was just another empty alley, but the walls of the buildings were totally different and marked up with gang tags. She didn’t know which gangs, she’d never been in that part of town, but she recognized that they were tags and not just graffiti.

Eric looked around. "Now, why the hell are we here?"

Melissa let go of him and looked around as well. "Oh, cool. Maybe we have some business to take care of first..." She grinned and flexed her fingers.

"Eric?" Gwendolyn clung to his arm. "What’s going on? You said we had an appointment. Why are we here? This isn’t it, is it?"

He shook his head. She was very frightened. Melissa looked like she was ready to get into a fight, and Eric’s eyes were roaming all over the place - to every door, window, and exit he could see.

She moved closer to him. Why are they not sure where they are? What are they getting ready for? What is Eric looking for? What does Melissa think she’s going to fight?

"Can... we be hurt... more? Killed?"

"In a way, yeah." Eric didn’t elaborate. Melissa wasn’t paying any attention to her anymore. Gwen wanted to cry - to sit down somewhere and cry. She was dead, at only seventeen, a junior in high school, and without a current boyfriend, and she hadn’t even figured out what she was going to do with her life yet. She’d never made the cheerleaders, hadn’t gotten involved in the science, math, or debate clubs, wasn’t on any student body councils, or... anything. I haven’t done anything with my life.

Melissa had said that gave people power... she didn’t feel powerful at all. Gwen felt scared, and weak, and helpless, and afraid, and overwhelmed, and so many other things she couldn’t even place or name them all.

But she felt they were in the wrong place- and the right way was this way. "This way..." She started walking away from Eric, following a pull that seemed right.

He grabbed her arm. "Are you serious?" He glanced at Melissa, who was watching her with wide eyes and a growing smile.

"You can feel something already?" Melissa straightened up and waved a hand in the air. "Lead on!"

Eric walked next to her, his hand on her arm, protectively, ready to close his fingers tighter if he needed to. Gwen walked along the sidewalk, watching the people in the street. Hispanics, mostly. This had to be the puerto rican section of the city, one of the slums. She knew where this part of town was. It was pretty far from the club, and her house. We... went two miles in a minute?

Her breath caught in her throat. No, it wasn’t her breath, it was something else. She hadn’t been breathing for a while now. "Do... we breathe?"

"If you want to, or if you don’t think about it, you might breathe. You don’t have to. After a while, you just... don’t. That’s one way to tell the really old ones. If they don’t breathe at all, ever, while you’re watching them. They might be old."


"Hundreds of years," Melissa replied, with an awed tone in her voice. "I wish I’d been born before Christ... then I’d be a god now."

Eric chuckled. "You wouldn’t have known to kill yourself. Or how to deal with this, afterwards."

"I might have," she said, defensively, and turned to Gwen. "Come on, point it out."

"Point what out?" Gwen asked. She felt something. Something she couldn’t explain, but it was up- in the building they were standing in front of.

"Point out your killer." Melissa’s eyes all but gleamed.

She shrunk away from the thrilled goth and clung once again to Eric. "My killer? I don’t know who-"

"Yes," Eric murmured, "you do. Or else we wouldn’t be here. Just... keep walking, and don’t think about where you’re going. We’ll take care of this."

"Take care of what?"

"Revenge." Melissa crowed. Her hands, the incredibly strong small hands, flexed once again in front of Gwendolyn's face.

"I don’t want to kill anybody. It might’ve been an accident."

"I thought you were angry." Melissa said with bitterness. "I thought you weren’t happy that you died."

"I’m... I wasn’t... I’m not." Gwen ducked behind Eric, putting the taller man between herself and the goth. "We can’t kill anyone!"

"Oh, yes we can."

"No, I mean - we’re dead, we shouldn’t be killing anyone. And you said I should pick people I liked. Wait, what did you mean by that, I’m not going to kill my friends! I’m not going to kill anyone!"

Melissa was next to her - Gwen hadn’t seen her move. "No, you’re not. I am."

Melissa’s shadowed eyes seemed to grow large, filling Gwen’s vision. She... where does she get makeup here?

"Or I will." Eric added, turning to face both of them. "You don’t have to do anything. And... it will be your choice. Once we find the one responsible. You’ll choose to kill him or her. I mean, have them killed."

"I don’t want anyone killed!" Gwen complained. "I just want to end this, all of this! Whatever’s supposed to happen next, let’s do that, and then-"

Eric’s hands gripped her shoulders. "Since we’re here, you have to see this, too. See who killed you. And then we can leave, if that’s all you want to do."

"Who says? Who says I have to go up there? Why can’t we just leave now?"

Melissa looked bitter, and turned away. "There are some rules you can’t break. Just... deal with it, and move on."

Gwendolyn turned her eyes from Eric to Melissa. She’s... sad. What can’t she break?

Her grip had felt so strong, her body so solid, that Gwen couldn’t imagine anything that Melissa couldn’t break.

"Upstairs." Eric whispered. "And then we can go."

She hung her head. "Do I have to?"

"You have to." His hands came up to frame her face, fingers cupping her cheeks. Eric drew her head up gently but firmly. His brown eyes met hers. "Just this once, this one night, there’s certain things you have to do."

"After that, you’re free..." Melissa added in a pained whisper. "As free as we can get."

Does she... regret her choice? Was this not worth stepping in front of that bus? Is she... Gwendolyn couldn’t even think of the right words. Melissa seemed so pleased about being dead, so enthralled with the power she had, but then, for a moment, there was this pain that crept out.

"Okay," Gwen whispered in return. "One more thing, and then we can go..."

She led the way up the stairs, Melissa right next to her, acting like a bodyguard from the movies, and Eric one step behind, his long coat fluttering around his ankles, and his hands stretched out to either side.

He seems just as ready as her, but in a different way.

The three went up the stairs, and Gwen heard a baby crying, some loud TV, a lot of shouting, some music playing, and sounds of all sorts of people’s lives coming through the thin walls and doors. She had never been in this part of town before, didn’t know how people lived, and couldn’t imagine ever wanting to come here or live in such a ratty building. And I never will, now. It can’t be true. This has to be a dream or - anything! It can’t be real! Dead? I can’t be dead, I can’t!

She stopped at a door that said 5C. She bit her lip, hard enough to hurt. "This is it." Her fingers touched the metal numbers on the wooden door. "This... this is where he lives..."

"He." Eric repeated, standing behind her. "All right. Melissa. It’s her choice."

"Choose that he dies." Melissa said, harshly. "Choose that he dies in pain."

Gwen shot her an angry look. "I don’t want anyone dying."

"Anyone besides you." Melissa retorted. "You’re dead. That’s really enough for one night?"

"YES!" Gwen screamed! "It IS! IT IS!" She felt herself crying. I don’t breathe, I don’t beat, but I can cry?

Eric took her into his arms, his chin resting on the top of her head. "Melissa..." One of his arms reached past Gwen and pushed on the door. It swung open at his touch. Gwen turned around and looked into the apartment. "There’s...two doors..."

Eric sighed. "We’re not in the real world. We’re in a spirit world, an... Eidolon-"


"Oh, shut up and go in there." Melissa shoved Gwen through the hazy door. Gwen shut her eyes. It felt like passing through a big cotton ball. When she could feel... nothing... around her, she peeked out at the apartment. It was cheap, and lousy. Faded paint, stained carpet, and she could see a bit of an ugly leather sofa down the hall. A TV was blaring.

Eric stepped into the hall behind her. Gwen looked back at him, then at the weird two doors- one semi-solid, like a door made of fog, and one that was solid but different from the walls and ceiling and floor.

Melissa didn’t follow them. Gwen looked up at Eric. "Where’s Melissa...?"

He looked depressed. "She can’t follow us. One of... her strictures. Don’t worry. No one here can touch you. She’ll come in as soon as someone opens the door. I’ll try and make that happen."

"She can’t come in through the door?"

He sighed, and explained. "There’s two doors. We can pass through one of them- the real one. I can open the other, the spirit door. She’s blocked by the real one, even if the spirit door is open. I’ll explain all of this later. Just head into the apartment and find the person that... feels right."

Gwen wanted to go somewhere and cry. To lie down, and stop doing all of this until everything made sense. To go home and curl up in her bed, in her room, and have her mom or dad come in and tuck her under the covers. To call her friends and talk on the phone. My friends!

"When can I see my friends! When can I talk to them- please don’t say never!"

Eric winced. "You... let’s talk about that later. I... I don’t feel comfortable here. There’s... A lot of death has been caused by the people who live here. It... can you do this quick, please?"

He sounded strained, and she felt suddenly very guilty. He and Melissa were helping her, and she was making this harder for them. "I’m sorry." Gwen moved down the hallway and into the apartment, glancing into the kitchen and frowning at all the dirty dishes. There was a woman in there, drawn face, and tired eyes. Gwen felt sorry for her, too. Living with a drug dealer couldn’t be easy.

She turned away and moved on, into the living room.

It felt really strange to her to be standing in a drug dealer’s den, looking at people filling bottles of pills, and nobody paying any attention to her. Not even noticing her at all. There were four men in the room, all of them hispanics, dressed in cheap and gaudy clothes, especially compared to her rave outfit - her best dress, best jacket, best blouse, best boots... she didn’t care what Melissa thought, she liked these clothes and - I guess I’m okay with dying in them.... No I’m not.

And there was one man, just one of the men, not the biggest or sleaziest, just one of them that she felt drawn to. She walked forward and bumped into the edge of the table. It didn’t move- it felt solid and heavy to her. I guess that’s why I can climb stairs and walk on the floor. She scuffed her feet along the carpet. If I break something, does it stay broken forever? Gwen wanted to ask Eric. She wanted the answers to ALL her questions, all the questions she’d have about being dead- about this world, about her purpose, her life, what kinds of enemies Melissa had been ready to fight, and why she’d said Gwen would’ve been food if the two dead ravers hadn’t been there...

"This is him," she whispered, her voice catching in her throat. "Eric! This is him!"

"Great." Eric sounded very pained, and she turned to see him slumped against a wall. "Make a choice, and let’s go."

She turned and ran to him, her hand reaching out and then drawing back. "Are... is it okay to touch you? Are you sick? What... is it catching?"

He managed a grin. "It’s okay... there’s just something bad about this place. Probably all the drugs - all the... killing..."

"Killing?" She felt that she was breathing quickly. Gwen tried to stop, but she was too scared, shocked, to control her breaths.

"Probably. They’re drug dealers. They’ve probably killed people. I think... you were an accident. I don’t think... can you please just do this..." He slumped against the wall.

She moved to support him, and Eric waved her away. "Go take a long look at him, at what he’s doing, and see if you want him to keep doing it." Getting the words out drained him. He hoped she’d make this quick, or else they’d have to leave and come back again.

"Will... we get in trouble for killing him?" I don’t want to kill him... but... he did kill me. Well, no he didn’t. He didn’t shove the drugs down my throat. My friends did... nearly did. Did I... kill myself?

"It’s not as easy as that. There’s... no real law, here. Other than make friends with powerful people, and don’t... later, please. Right now... just make your choice."


Part III

She turned away from him and went back into the living room, looking at the man again. He seemed like a bad guy from a movie, a white T-shirt, blue jeans, short black hair, a very cruel look on his face even when he was just putting pills in bottles. She didn’t like him. He’d sold the drugs that killed her.

She turned away from the man. "Why is it he killed me, and not Kyle? Kyle held out the pill bottle."

"I don’t know." Eric sat down on the floor. He was breathing heavily. She felt bad that this was taking her so long to figure it out. She didn’t want him to hurt himself.

Gwen turned back to look at the drug dealer. "I can’t just say ‘kill him,’ right now. I’d want to know if he did it on purpose. If he knew that cutting the Ex with something would kill me. Kill anyone. Then, maybe, maybe..." She knew she couldn’t do it. There was just no reason... not even if he’d done it on purpose, put poison in the pill. I’m not that kind of person.

"Let’s go." She turned around again, turned her back on the man, and looked at Eric who struggled to his feet. "I don’t care what Melissa wants. I don’t want anyone else dying. I want to go."

He nodded, and a woman walked out of the side hallway and stared at both of them.

"Two of you?" She snarled, and pulled something metal from her belt. It spun and flashed in the light, and the woman was holding a knife. Gwen took a step back and bumped up against the table.

Eric fell backwards against the wall. "Oh, fuck."

The woman was hispanic, like the men. She was tall, long-limbed, and older than any of the dead people Gwen had met - Eric looked only in his twenties, college age, and Melissa was a teenager, like Gwen. No, she’s older, but she looks young. Acts it, too. Will I be like that, looking like this forever?

Gwen gulped as the woman pointed with the knife. "Who wants it first? You, hombre?"

"We’ll just go. We won’t tell anyone. We can’t anyway..." Gwen wasn’t sure of that, but she’d say anything to get out of here. She’d never been in a fight before- not a real fight, anything more than pulling hair and kicking.

"Or you, chica?" The woman turned and pointed the knife in her direction. Gwen couldn’t back up any more and fell onto the table. It felt solid and real to her, and the pill cases felt solid, too. One fell over when she sat on it, and cracked under her weight.

How do things break here? What happens if they move?

Eric made a grab for the woman’s wrist. "Get out of here!" He yelled at Gwen and pushed the woman into the side hall. Gwen started forward. "But, Eric-"

He was thrown back into the hallway. His body slammed into the wall and left cracks. Eric fell to his knees, the coat flapping around him from the violence of the attack. "Eric!" Gwen shouted.

"Damnit, someone open this door!" Melissa yelled from the hall.

The woman stepped into the hallway. "And I thought you were a gargoyle, from that long coat you have there. What are you?" She looked at the closed and open doors and smiled. "No, not a gargoyle." Her voice was deep, her accent heavy. "Diablo? Come here looking for a fresh meal?"

Eric staggered to his feet, leaning heavily against the wall. "Not saying. We’ll leave now."

The woman grinned and flicked the knife out. He jerked away from it. "No. I don’t think you will."

"Eric? Gwen?" Melissa called out from the hallway. "Goddamnit, open the door, you fucking idiots!"

Gwen got up and ran around the woman, through the living room instead, and into the kitchen. One of the men stepped out of her way. She checked herself - she’d been moving to get out of his way. They did that at the... place I died.

The woman in the kitchen also moved out of her way and then took her place again, leaning against the counter. Are they really moving for me? Do people see them move? Wouldn’t we see holes in crowds where dead people go through them? Did... I ever see this or did I ignore it?

She had so many questions - and even more fears.

Gwen heard a crunch from behind her, and a shout of pain. She ran to the door and skidded to a stop.

"Open it!" Melissa sounded frantic, and not like the cool, in control, goth girl she had seemed to be earlier. Gwendolyn looked at the door, and stuck her hand out, which passed right through.

"Damnit, that’s not the way!" Melissa, it had to be her, shoved Gwen’s hand back inside the apartment.

"I don’t know how!" Gwen shouted, tears of frustration welling up in her eyes.

"Fuck it, never mind, I’m-"

And someone slammed into Gwen, shoving her through the door-that-wasn’t-there, into the hallway. She felt at least one person on top of her. "Ow!" A coat fell across her face. It had to be Eric’s. Then some of the weight was gone, and she pulled herself out from the person lying on top of her, and rolled onto her back to see what was going on.

Eric lay face-down on the hallway floor. Melissa had the woman held off the floor, in one hand, and had a savage smile on her face. The woman looked irritated - not scared. Gwen took Eric’s hand. "Are you okay?" He nodded, breathing heavily.

The woman, Gwen noticed, wasn’t breathing at all. Oh, no... She hadn’t been breathing inside the apartment, either, something Gwen just realized.

"Who are you?" The hispanic woman asked down to Melissa’s face.

"It doesn’t matter. You are so goddamn reaped."

The woman snorted and kicked Melissa in the stomach. Melissa shot backwards as if out of a cannon, crashing against the far wall and collapsing to the floor. The woman landed lightly on her feet and flicked the knife out from behind her back. "You come into my casa, and threaten my familia, and you think you can just walk out of here without paying the price?"

"Your family killed me! With those damn drugs in there! And we weren’t going to kill anyone! I just came here because he said I had to!" Gwen didn’t want to fight - she wanted to leave. She’d done everything that Eric had told her to, seen her body, her friends, and her killer. Now she wanted to go away.

"Oh, you’re new. I’ll make it quick for you." The woman vanished, and Melissa vanished. There was a crunch, and the building seemed to shake. Melissa had the woman pinned against a wall. The woman struggled against the goth girl’s grip. The knife fell from the woman’s hand.

"How old are you?" The woman hissed, staring into the goth girl’s dark-shadowed eyes.

"Older than time." Raven’s Shadow replied. They vanished again and the building shook once more. Gwen saw them appear further down the hallway, and they vanished, appeared, vanished... each time with a crunch and sounds of a fight that Gwen couldn’t even see happen. Eric got to his feet slowly, and Gwen helped him up. He was heavy, and she barely could lift him. I should have worked out more when I was alive. Did that even matter now? She had no idea.

"What do we do?" She looked down the hall, where the two women were... fighting... if you could call the eyeblinks of activity a fight. It seemed like a fight taking place in still-frame, they were moving so fast.

"Are they going to tear the building down?" Each crash left cracks in the walls, or holes in the floor. "How can she break things, and not open a door?"

Eric laughed, painfully. "I can’t... tell you this now..." He motioned toward the stairs. "Outside. We’ve got to get outside. We’ll be..."

He couldn’t say ‘safer out there.’ It wasn’t true. But they’d be able to escape out there - if he was willing to leave Melissa behind.

"Damn." Eric looked down the hall at the blinks of motion as the two women fought.

Gwen started to cry as she looked down the hallway at the fight, the part she could see. "I’m sorry, this is all my fault. I’ve got to help her-"

His hand closed on her arm again, though his fingers were weak. "There’s nothing you can do. And it’s not-" He coughed. "your fault. Sometimes you just have to do things. This is how-" He coughed again. "it worked out tonight."

"I’m not leaving her." Gwen said, and took a step in that direction, was jerked to a stop. "Let go of me."

"There is nothing you can do to help her. You’re too new. You’re not powerful enough yet."

Gwen pulled on her arm as hard as she could, and Eric’s fingers slipped away.

"I never did anything with my life..." Gwen said and shuddered as the building creaked and groaned from the bodies slamming into it with immense force and speed. "That means... I’ve got a lot of potential now!"

She raced down the hall, not knowing what she’d do, but not willing to let someone she’d just met fight for her without doing something to help. Eric watched her go, and put a hand to his side. It came away with a slight whitish silver glow. I’m hurt... that knife must be part of her.

He went to pick it up, and felt the power inside it. It was masked earlier, part of her aura... but this... has real power.

Did he dare take it? If Melissa lost... the woman would be able to trace her lost weapon. But if she won...

He slipped it into a pocket of his coat, and staggered after Gwendolyn, their ‘new recruit’.

Melissa kicked the woman in the thigh. The blow knocked the woman sideways down the hall, tumbling about half the length of the hallway before she stopped herself and returned to grab Melissa’s arm. The hispanic woman slammed Melissa back and forth against each wall, using the arm like a lever.

The pain was overwhelming. Damnit... Melissa knew she was powerful. She’d planned for this for years, was way more than a low stone on the pyramid of power. She had desire, she had potential, and she was getting her ass kicked by this hispanic bitch! She jerked her arm out of the woman’s clutching grasp.

How... ow... fucking old are you?

Raven’s Shadow ran up the wall and flipped over the other woman, settling to the ground in a flourish of skirts and lace, and punched the woman in the small of the back. Some new dead still believed they had weak points, kidneys, balls, throat, eyes... and even some old dead had never managed to free themselves of their holds on mortal bodies. She’d been blinded a couple times before she’d managed to break that habit - and her breasts were still sensitive, enough that getting slammed face front into walls and punched in the chest was starting to really hurt.

The woman cried out in pain. Melissa nearly did too. The woman’s body was as hard as stone, or steel.

A spinning backfist whistled over Melissa’s head.

As she ducked, she saw Gwendolyn standing in mid-stride, down the hall. She’s coming to help me?

Melissa laughed at the sight - what could a statue do to help her?

The next attack caught her in the shoulder, and she was twisted off balance and fell.

The hispanic woman gritted her teeth in pain. She hated fighting other gargoyles- the dead with nearly equal speed and strength to hers, and were just as hard to hurt. Fights this hard left her exhausted and weak. They were almost as dangerous to win as they were to lose. And hitting other gargoyles hurt her, like punching a solid wall. "You fucking bitch! This is my home, these are my people, you can’t just walk in here and take me on! I am Maria Biares and I was killed by Conquistadores!" She kicked the muerto-obsessed girl in the head, hurting her foot, but causing the girl to cry out in pain and silvery light to appear in the dark hair. She had seen this type before - little girls who believed they knew death.

She was tiring, but the other girl was almost out of energy. Maria kicked her again, in the stomach, and smiled as the girl curled up into a ball, coughing and racked with pain.

She brought back her foot for another kick - and the girl uncoiled, lashing out against the only leg of Maria’s that was planted on the floor. Maria shrieked in pain as a stone-like fist cracked against her shin, and fell backwards. The girl rose to her feet in a smooth motion.

"And I’m Melissa Jones, and I threw myself in front of a bus." The girl fell to her knees, her body unable to support her or lend strength to her brave words. She slumped sideways against the cracked and broken wall.

Maria struggled to get up - her leg sent pain throughout her body- and she barely managed to raise herself on her elbows. She finally managed to sit up, glaring at the gothic gargoyle who dared challenge her on her home ground. Maria didn’t see her new knife anywhere, but that was all right. She had an older one, too.

Melissa watched, too weak to do any more than that, as the woman got to her knees and pulled a long obsidian blade from behind her back. The gothic girl gritted her teeth and strained to pull herself up again, only managing at the last moment before the blade whistled down to pull herself even a fraction away. It wasn’t enough - she watched the blade hurtle toward her chest, toward where her heart would have been. And she hoped, prayed, that she didn’t believe that she still needed one.

A small hand caught the ancient Mayan’s wrist, and stopped the plunge of the dagger.

"...and I’m Gwendolyn Chase, and I just died tonight." An expensive boot pushed the woman back down to the floor, and another stepped on her wrist. "Let us go, and we won’t fight you anymore."

"You are dead, chica. You hear me? You are dead!"

"Yes, I am." The tip of the boot dug into the woman’s wrist, and the knife clattered to the hallway floor. Maria struggled against the girl’s weight, but couldn’t move her, couldn’t get up at all.

Melissa watched, speechless from both exhaustion and shock. She shouldn’t be able to do that. She’s new tonight - she shouldn’t be able to do ANY of this. The goth girl was desperately pleased to see that Gwendolyn could...

Eric stumbled along the hallway, his wounds causing him pain, making his head swim. Was he seeing what he thought he was seeing? Or was the light only coming from his side and Melissa’s head?

"I didn’t want to be. Your people killed me, by giving my friends bad drugs. I didn’t want to be here, I didn’t even want to go to the rave. I didn’t want to take the ecstasy, but I gave in and here I am. I came here to see what I needed to see, what Eric told me I needed to see, and I saw it, and now I want to go."

"I’m going to come after you. You and your friends. I have friends too, we will find you and-"

Gwendolyn knelt, putting her full weight on Maria’s chest and arm. Melissa watched as the newly dead girl held down the prone woman’s other arm with the teen’s free hand. Gwen’s other hand picked the knife up off the floor.

"Let us go, and leave us alone."

Melissa watched eagerly. Not an hour old and already she’s threatening a gargoyle. She knew she’d made the right choice - to do what Eric wanted, and help the girl, instead of consuming her, or even leaving her alone. If she keeps that anger, she’ll be one strong little bitch.

"Never-" The woman hissed, and Gwendolyn pricked her skin with the black stone dagger.

"Leave us alone, or else I’ll kill you again." The girl’s hand didn’t shake at all.

"I am Maria Biare-" The woman’s voice was a scream of anger and implied threats, before Gwen shivered and shoved the knife deep into the gargoyle’s chest.

Melissa’s eyes widened! "All right!"

Gwen watched as silver light poured out of the woman, and the woman’s body faded away, the stone dagger falling to the floor and then turning into silver light that spread out to every corner of the hall before disappearing from sight.

Gwen fell those few inches to the floor and started to cry. Melissa tried to push herself away from the wall and fell, only to be caught by Eric’s hands. He knelt between the two girls and put a hand on each of their shoulders. He looked at Melissa first, and saw the pain in her eyes, as well as the triumph, and sighed.

He thought he also saw a little fear. Eric turned his head to see Gwen looking at him.

She felt tired, and sick, and scared. Had that been what she’d be in a long time? Someone who was so stubborn, so full of hate that she’d rather die than surrender? That she wouldn’t forgive an accident?

Gwen forgave the man who’d cut the drugs with something, even if it was on purpose. But she planned to tell the police about that apartment as soon as she could. If she could. If there wasn’t a rule against it.

She saw Eric and Melissa staring at her, and both of them barely able to move. She didn’t feel like she could move, either, she was so tired, so scared...

"Eric, I’m scared. I want to go home."

His next words scared her even more. His deep voice said with a cold tone, "You will. But first we have to find out where that is."


"I just killed someone!" Gwen cried, and beat her hands against Eric’s trenchcoat.

"No, you didn’t... She was already dead..."

"Don’t give me that!"

Eric winced and nodded. "I’m sorry. Yeah, you reaped someone."

"Reaped her?"

He looked embarrassed. "It’s the newest word. It’s such a punk culture. Finished her. Ended her. Whatever you want to call it... you stopped her existence in this world. And it was a good thing too."

"She was just protecting her people, her family..."

Eric laughed, and then winced and held his side. "And when you said we’d just leave... did she let us go?"

Gwen shook her head, feeling horrible - that there was no way out of this conversation that didn’t end up with her having done the right thing.

"And who was her family, that she said she wanted to protect?"

"Drug dealers..." Gwen hated this, hated herself, hated the new world she’d been forced into.

"And she was a murderer, I could feel it. All the pain, or most of it, was from her. She’d killed a lot of people, on this side, and the other. If you hadn’t done it, Melissa would have... or she would have killed Melissa, and then you, and then me."

"...okay..." Gwen started to cry. "Okay, I killed her, and it was the right thing to do."

He took her into his arms, and wrapped his coat around her. "Yeah, it was." She’s had a rough night. Well, it’s rough for everyone... young or old. She’d been through more than some, less than most.

But - she’d survived. Not only survived, she’d forced down a gargoyle, even a wounded and weakened one, and reaped her. To protect people she’d just met... and had little reason to actually trust.

We found a real pure soul tonight. He felt good about that. And hoped she was still pure. As far as he knew, purity wasn’t set by outside influence, but by the choices people made and how it affected them inside. Was Gwen still the same person she’d been when she died? No. Did she still have the same purity of her spirit? He hoped so...