Death and I stood over my corpse. I’d killed plenty of people while still alive. I hadn’t been a nice person. I knew that because I didn’t regret many of those kills. I’d never thought much about it. It was my job, and I’d made the usual excuses. People died every day. Who cared if I did it or something else? My way was quicker. Somebody was going to do it, and it might as well be me.
Now I was dead, and I still didn’t think different.
I’d never been a religious man, never considered what might be waiting for me on the other side. Never considered the other side. There wasn’t a point in asking unanswerable questions, I’d always figured. Now I had the answers. Some of them anyway.
The worst thing was that I hadn’t seen it coming. You’d think a guy in my line of work wouldn’t be surprised when it came to bite him on the ass.
You’d be wrong.
Death was a tall, gaunt shadow wrapped in billowing emptiness. Not darkness, but the indescribable color of oblivion itself.
“That’s it?” I said. It seemed so final.
“Yes.” Death’s voice was sweeter than I expected. Almost feminine, but not quite. Or perhaps almost masculine, but not quite. “And no.”
“Oh, right,” I said. “Hell. It’s real, right?”
“That’s not for me to say,” Death replied. “I’m only anthropomorphic personification of the projected primal fears of the living, the cosmic manifestation of the inescapable truth you seek to hide from. Even once a soul sheds their physical body, they cannot usually see me.”
“Hmm. Then this has to be pretty weird for you too, I imagine.”
Death chuckled dryly. “Indeed.”
I turned away from my body. Two in the chest. One in the head. I was very clearly dead, but I was still hoping this was all a hallucination and that the pile of meat would get up and drag itself to the nearest hospital.
“You can live again,” said Death.
“Reincarnation?” I asked. “Can I come back as a dog?”
“You can come back as yourself. More or less.”
The second part should’ve given me pause, but dead men don’t overanalyze.
“I can restore you to a semblance of life. It won’t be the same life you had, but close enough.”
“What’s the catch?”
“You will be reborn as my physical avatar on the material plane. I need you to kill some people for me.”
“What sort of people?”
Death smiled. Death’s teeth (and only Death’s teeth) were white and shiny. “They aren’t people. Not exactly.”
“Is that all?” Killing people was what I did. Killing not exactly people didn’t strike me as a high cost to pay.
Death’s shadowy form wrapped around my spirit and pain hit me. Not the pain of dying, but the pain of being remade, of having mortal flesh knit together and the laws of nature violated.
I sat up. In my body. Whole again. My hands were bone white in the darkened alley. My hands were bone. Period. So were my arms. And when I felt my face, it was only a skull. A walking skeleton, I stood. My pants, with nothing but my pelvis to hold onto, fell down to my ankles.
I pulled them up and awkwardly waddled out into the world.