Welcome. This story was actually supposed to be multi-chaptered, but I turned it into a one-shot since it's not as well thought out as my other stories. However, this is more supernatural than what I usually write. Also, high school setting! I haven't written that in a while mostly because I loooove writing the gang grown up. I hope you guys enjoy it!
Anyway, without stalling any further, let's begin.
Benny sort of knew what he'd gotten himself into when he signed up to be a grim reaper. He knew he'd see the bloodiest corpses, the saddest goodbyes, and even tragic suicides. He was prepared for that. What he wasn't prepared for was high school.
Sure, he knew he was 18 of age when he died. He knew that if he was to be back on earth, he would appear the same age he did when he was last there – unless he died old, which then would give him a choice to return young again. He didn't have that luxury. He was stuck at 18 now and that meant he had to live life as a teenager. He even got taught all the knowledge he needed in order to survive in school. He was just not prepared for this new life with teenagers of another generation. He didn't feel like he would be able to relate to them at all. Besides, he heard high school was the worst stage in a student's life. Yay, he thought to himself. What joy! At least, he though, he wanted to returned to earth and be sent to college. Apparently, Heaven had other ideas.
Benny made sure he had everything he needed for his first day in high school. One by one, he ran over them on his checklist. This was a new life to him and he didn't want to miss something that was seemingly normal to the other kids. It didn't matter that much, though, because he wasn't going to high school for the experience. He was there temporarily because he had to bring lost souls and new souls to the afterlife.
"You do remember how to summon the names, right?" his grandmother asked him.
He turned to her, surprised by her stealth. "Of course I do. That's, like, one of my only jobs."
"I know that," she said with a hint of anger in her voice. He's always frustrated her, didn't he? "But what you experience with your human body isn't the same as what you experience as a spirit in the afterlife."
"I know, I know. Relax, I got this," he said.
She shook her head at him. "Of course I won't relax. You're Benny."
"I'll take that as a compliment," he said, grinning. "Gotta go. I need to figure how this high school thing works. Love you. Bye!"
After his grandmother said her goodbye, Benny left the house. If Benny hadn't walked through Whitechapel the previous night, he would have been at awe since everything on earth was new to him. But now, he kind of knew what to expect. The streets, the houses, the vehicles. It would take time to get used to it, but this was a start.
School, however, was a completely new place. The sight of adolescents going inside, some excitedly chatting, some tired, was strange. Most were giving him looks. He was aware that this was a small town and people knew each other. That was probably why he had looks directed at him. Just because he understood it didn't mean he liked it. As much as he tried to ignore the stares, it was hard to.
Maybe he should focus on something else. His mission for now. He was a grim reaper, but he was told there was someone here who could help him do his job much easier. He wished he was told more, but that was all he knew. He didn't know this person's gender. He didn't know whether they were a student or a teacher or something else. He had no idea what he was doing. He just knew they were in this school.
He got his schedule and his locker number fairly quickly. Since he had time before the first class, he figured he'd go find his locker. At first, the number system for the lockers was strange to him, but he figured it out after a bit. Now, where was his locker? He walked around until he found the numbers that were close to his. Aha! He thought to himself.
Though, there was one problem, an easily solvable one. There was a brunet guy leaning against his locker, engaged in a conversation with a blond. He didn't want to interact with someone this early, but he guessed he had to.
"Um, excuse me?" he said, not sure how to address the boy. The brunet turned his head, jumping a little in his place. Did he really startle him that much? "I think this is my locker. It is, right?" he said, trying to be as polite as possible to this stranger. He showed him the paper with his locker number.
"Oh, right." He moved away, rubbing the back of his neck with an awkward smile. "Sorry. I'm used to this locker being empty."
"It's fine. I just wanted to know if I got the right locker or not. Don't worry about it," he assured him.
"You're new, right?" the blond asked him.
"Yeah," he replied.
"Do you know where you're going for your first class?" he asked.
Benny shook his head. "No," he admitted.
"Can you show me your classes, then?" the blond said.
"Sure." So, he gave the guy the schedule, to which he received a smile.
"You're a senior? We have mostly the same classes!" he exclaimed. A few people turned their heads towards them, giggling at the blond. Mocking. He didn't seem to care or even notice. The brunet did, but he said nothing.
"I am," he said.
"Cool," the brown-haired, shorter boy said. "Guess we'll be seeing each other a lot. I'm Ethan, by the way. Ethan Morgan. This is Rory Keaner."
"Nice to meet you guys. I'm Benny Weir," he said.
"Benny, you should hang out with us," Rory said.
"Dude, seriously?" Ethan said. "You wanna ruin his reputation from now?"
"Who cares about reputation?" Rory said as if Ethan just said the stupidest thing in the world.
"Most people?" Ethan suggested.
"It's fine," Benny intervened. "I'm just trying to get by. I don't care about reputation and all that crap."
"You won't get by with us," Ethan said. "We're the nerds here."
"Not just the nerds," Rory said. "Troublemaking nerds."
"Very helpful, Rory," Ethan said, shaking his head and mouthing to Benny no. Rory just smiled and laughed proudly at himself. Their dynamic was definitely interesting.
"Still," Rory said after he was done laughing. "We should show him to class. We don't want him to be lost."
Ethan nodded. "Yeah, we'll show him to class. But we have time until-"
"Hey, loser," one guy said, appearing out of seemingly nowhere and shouldering Ethan. The guy had a big body, so it was no wonder Ethan fell. Rory, who seemed like a naïve guy, suddenly looked very aware and very angry.
"Dude, not cool," Rory said, helping Ethan up.
"I'm pretty sure no one calls you guys cool," he said. "Later, losers."
That was when Benny noticed that some of the students were pointing, laughing, and making comments. He could hear words like nerd, loser, weak, and … Ghost Boy? Kids these days said the weirdest things.
"Do they always do that?" Benny asked, feeling unsettled by the actions of that guy.
Rory nodded. "They used to do it to me until they realized I punch back."
"Don't you get trouble for that?"
"I do," Rory said. "That's why we're troublemaking nerds."
"That's not gonna be a thing, Rory," Ethan said, rubbing his elbow. That must hurt. Benny realized he hadn't felt pain in years and his very human body had the capability of feeling it now. He hated the thought. "Stop calling us that."
Benny ignored what Ethan said, his mind still wrapping around the fact that in this day and age, guys like the one who shoved Ethan could get away with their actions with a laugh. In Benny's opinion, there was nothing funny about hurting others. "That guy sucks," Benny muttered.
"Yeah?" Ethan said. "Well, there's nothing we can do about it."
"Nothing?" Benny asked, not believing that for a second. In all the endless possibilities in this world, there had to be something they could do.
"Ever been to public school?" Ethan asked with a raised eyebrow. Benny shook his head. His fake backstory was that he was homeschooled. "Welcome to hell, then." Benny didn't shiver but he almost did. Good thing he avoided actual Hell. He's always thought he was a good person. Maybe he didn't always act good, but he tried to. He had good intentions and it was good that it was confirmed that he was, indeed, deserving of Heaven.
Benny, afterwards, was shown around school. The boys walked him around to the library, the cafeteria, the gym, and all other places they can squeeze into the few minutes they had before class. They were kind, Benny thought to himself. They were kind to walk around a new student in school. He smiled at the thought and also at their constant bickering. Still, he knew he had to focus on his task. Look for someone who can help him.
To say the least, he had no idea what he was looking for, so he ended up surrendering for today. He'd gone into his first class that day and got introduced to his classmates. The back seats were taken. Some front seats were, too. The more appropriate place, he thought, was one close to the back. He wanted to hide as much as possible. Plus, Ethan and Rory were seated in front of him and they were the only people he's really talked to this morning. Their teacher, Mr. G, didn't start explaining on the first day, so that was a win in Benny's book. He was not ready to dive into this world of school and studying so fast. His experience was already overwhelming enough. He knew he could do his job at night where he'd reap souls. But high school? It truly was not something he was prepared for.
Lunch time came and Benny walked in on his own. He'd gotten his tray of lunch food then looked around for a place to sit. There were places packed with people where the more charismatic and popular kids sat. There were a lot of tables occupied, too, but with different groups of people, and they weren't as packed. Finally, Benny spotted some tables that were empty. Relief washed over him and he started walking towards those tables until he noticed a hand waving. He didn't think much of it since he thought it was for someone else. No one really knew himin this school. But he looked anyway and noticed Rory looking and waving at him. Benny pointed at himself in confusion and Rory nodded.
He hesitantly made his way to Rory. He was sitting alone, though. "Hey, Rory. Where's Ethan?" he asked.
"He's comi- AH!" he exclaimed, jumping a little in his seat. He turned around towards Ethan who was laughing at the blond.
"Boo! Did I scare you or was it a ghost? You'll never know," Ethan said. He looked at Benny. "Get used to this."
Rory eyed Ethan with a hurt face. "Dude, stop it. I know it was you. And you know I've had ghost encounters. Not funny."
"Ghost encounters?" Benny said. "I heard people say … Ghost Boy? Is it because of your ghost encounters or something?" he asked Rory.
Rory shook his head, laughing a bit. "No, that's not me. Ethan's Ghost Boy."
Ethan rolled his eyes. "Don't you start calling me that," he said to Rory. "But yeah, that's me. Everyone likes to mock me."
"Why?" Benny asked, curious, mostly because he felt like maybe this was related to Benny's mission in this school.
"Because … I see ghosts," Ethan said, almost embarrassed by saying that. His voice was so low Benny barely heard it. "But no one believes me. Except for Rory and a few believers in school." He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. Just ignore that."
Benny, despite knowing ghosts exist, still didn't tend to believe everything he heard. How could he make sure Ethan really saw ghosts and he wasn't just a person who felt ghosts' presence?
Just then, he felt a breeze. How convenient. It was a sign of a haunting. Don't tell me this school is haunted, Benny thought. Is that why I've been feeling anxious in here? Or is it just student stress? Or both? In his regular human body, he couldn't see spirits exactly, but he could tell if they were around or not, thanks to his grim reaper intuitions.
"If it makes you feel better," Benny tried to further the conversation, "I believe in ghosts."
"You do?" Ethan asked, his eyes lighting up. Though, they weren't focused on him but rather behind him. He thought it could be the spirit's presence he felt just now, but when he turned around, he found out that wasn't the case.
"Oh, hey, Teethan," said the guy who just walked up to them. He had two guys walking behind him. Benny could already tell this guy was obnoxious.
Ethan had a noncaring face as he ate his fries. In fact, he looked the guy in the eyes and said very casually, "Oh, hey, Kurt "The Hurt". Love your nickname. So creative."
"Shut up, smart mouth," he said. "Who's he?" Benny realized he was referring to him.
"Our new friend," Rory said, his face a mix of happiness for their friendship and a bit of concern. Concern from what? Benny didn't know.
Kurt laughed. "Friend? He'll run away from you guys once he realizes how weird you are." He turned to Benny. "Instead of sitting around them, you should come sit with us."
Benny wanted to protest, but Ethan was already quick to reply. "Why would he sit with you guys when you're, like three guys sitting at a table plus a ghost following you?"
"Nice joke, Morgan. Needs better execution," Kurt said.
"Yeah, sure," Ethan said. Benny was confused. Why would Ethan agree to Kurt's statement? Even more confusing were the following sentences. "Go ahead. I don't think he'd mind. He needs new friends."
What? Benny thought. Ethan is weird, but … no wonder people don't typically insult him. He's quick with his comebacks. I think a younger me would've been friends with him instantly. I was sassy, too.
Just when he thought things couldn't get any better in Ethan's favor, Kurt, who was previous calm and smug, turned around in surprise. "Okay, which one of you touched me?"
The two guys looked at each other. "Did you touch him?" "No, did you?" "Dude, you saw-"
Ethan grinned. "Coach Ed says hi."
Kurt let out a smile, but it seemed forced. "You're such a weirdo." He walked away after that without a single word.
Rory looked at Ethan, whispering, "Was that really a ghost?"
Ethan nodded. "I wasn't kidding when I said Coach Ed is still around. He is mean, though. He doesn't like me because I'm not a jock."
Huh, Benny thought to himself. I'm gonna have to make sure of this later. This didn't prove much, but I think, Ethan, you could be the one who can help me find the lost souls. You've already told me about one.
Whitechapel at night was creepy. Benny was aware now why he was put in this town. It had a dark past, so there were a lot of ghosts roaming this place. They were attached to town despite all the bad things that happened to these people. Most spirits in this town belonged to people who were killed. It was sad, but at the same time, he heard that some were killed because they were criminals. It didn't make Benny any less sick to his now-human stomach, but it made him feel less sad about these people's deaths, even if some were unjustified.
On top of the souls he had to bring to the afterlife after years of being attached to this town, he had people dying while he was present. He pulled up the name cards. He had two new names tonight. One belonged to an old man who would die in his sleep. The other one was a woman who would get stabbed in a dimly lit sidewalk.
He took in a deep breath before he put on his hoodie. The hoodie was nothing special. It was normal. However, it was just so people, upon dying and seeing him, wouldn't see his face all that well, but it was still slightly visible. That was his choice. There was no rule stating that. He's heard of stories of grim reapers being skeletons wearing robes. The skeleton part was not true. It was never true. The robe part of the stories was only true back when robes weren't unusual to wear. As the times changed, so did the clothes of the reapers.
Finally, Benny had to disappear from humans' eyes. And he could do that at will. He would just think about being invisible and he would indeed be unseen. His other more obvious power was teleportation, mainly to reach the souls of the people who were dying. He also needed to go to the afterlife with those souls, but he didn't do that with teleportation. He'd actually open up a portal so he could guide the souls with him.
He put away the name cards. He'd get new ones after he brought the second soul to the afterlife, which was the woman's spirit. And so, Benny first made his way to the old man. As he brought him to the afterlife, he conversed with him, reassuring him about certain things and explaining to him what he should expect. Of course, Benny didn't know whether this man was good or not. His only job was to be a way for the man to cross the barrier between life and death. Some spirits could do that on their own by having their life fulfilled or being satisfied with themselves, but that wasn't always the case. Either way, reapers were supposed to be present at as many locations as possible to make sure no spirit is left behind. Mistakes happen, so that's why ghosts remain at times.
Benny was now basically the clean-up of Whitechapel. He'd heard that this town had a dark past – one with many deaths that left spirits wandering the town. The job was now left to Benny to get as many souls as he could. Ideally, he'd get all the souls to the afterlife, but he could always be relocated or removed from Whitechapel. He had to be efficient. Today, he decided not to teleport. Instead, while being invisible from the human eye, he decided to walk around before he'd get to the woman who would be tragically stabbed tonight. It was a good thing, too, because he'd managed to find two spirits on his way. And he'd made it just in time. The scene was way bloodier and way more gruesome than he'd expected, but he had to suck it up. Especially since the woman needed someone to make her feel better.
She was staring at her body on the floor, her breath getting quicker by the second. Her eyes were wide, shifting between her body and Benny a few times before she spoke. "Who…?" She didn't say anything else.
"It's okay," he said. "My name is Benny. I'm not here to hurt you. I'm just a reaper. I'm here to help you move on to the afterlife."
"Reaper?" she asked, still breathing quickly. "So, I'm dead," she said. "I'm dead."
"I'm sorry," he said, genuinely feeling sad for her. "You're gonna have to come with me now."
She opened her mouth to speak. She did not seem as panicked anymore. Instead, she seemed calm. No, not calm. Maybe defeated. He understood. He was devastated when he had died. He didn't want to leave his family behind, but he didn't have a choice. His death was not a choice, just as hers wasn't.
Before she could speak, Benny heard someone gasp behind him. He turned around. He expected to see someone looking with shock at the body. He did not expect Ethan Morgan standing there, though. A teenager or a kid should not see a dead body. But perhaps the most thing he did not expect was Ethan making eye contact with him. Eye contact? How?
"Oh, my-" Ethan could not even continue his sentence because he'd choked on his words. His hands went to his pocket. His phone. Right. He was going to call the police. "Did you kill her?" Ethan whispered, stepping back.
Benny shook his head – not at Ethan's question, though. "How can you see me?"
Ethan pulled out his phone and starting pressing on the screen. He started walking faster, than he ran away, his phone in hand. Benny, in any other situation but this, would ignore what happened and let the women go to the afterlife. Now, he was scared Ethan would call the police and have him as a suspect. Benny sighed and looked at the woman. "Would you mind waiting? I swear, this isn't normally what happens."
She nodded, her eyes blankly looking at her body.
He decided the best way to deal with this was teleportation. He had appeared right in front of Ethan before he could run much farther. Ethan had already seen him. Teleportation wouldn't be his major concern right now. "Jesus," Ethan exclaimed. Benny could see Ethan's death grip loosening on the phone.
"Ethan," Benny started. "Please don't say anything about me to the police. I'll explain. Please."
Ethan looked at him with … some sort of expression. Benny couldn't tell if it was of shock, fear, dread, or any other emotion. He just knew it was bad. "What are you?" Ethan asked. "Why were you talking to the dead woman? How can you teleport? I- I don't understand anything and there's someone who got stabbed and- and-"
"Breathe," Benny said. Ethan shook his head and looked away, his lower lip pouting. Poor kid. He must be feeling some seriously intense emotions right now. But Benny still wondered how a high school student from Whitechapel could see him. It didn't make any sense. "I'll explain. You can call the police and tell them about the woman, but you cannot say anything about me. I swear I'm not bad. I'm good." Ethan didn't answer. He just kept looking at one spot on the ground. "I'll go take care of the woman. I'll get back to you."
Feeling a bit shaken from this experience, Benny forced himself to pull it together and to go to the woman. She seemed less calm at that point, but he helped her nonetheless. It was his job. When he teleported to go see Ethan, he wasn't in the same spot. Instead, he was a few meters away, on the phone. So, he did call the police. He hoped Ethan listened and didn't say anything about Benny.
One thing Benny didn't realize was that having the police there was a hassle. Of course, it was good they were there to help, but Benny, who was itching to explain things to Ethan and not have him freak out even more, didn't want to wait much longer. Even worse was that once the police were involved, Ethan's parents were involved, too. He couldn't blame them. They were probably worried for their son's mental state and also probably worried about what would happen next for the rest of the night for their son.
Benny, in the meantime, stayed invisible – except to Ethan, which he was still wondering how that was possible. Could it have something to do with his ability to see ghosts? But Benny wasn't a ghost. True, he was a dead spirit on earth, but he wasn't technically a ghost. Normal humans could still see him when he wasn't actively being invisible. Strange.
The moment Ethan was free, Benny rushed to tell him that they needed to go to Benny's house. He had his reasons. He'd go to Ethan's, but he felt more comfortable in his house with his grandmother around. She knew the details better than Benny did. Besides, there were things he couldn't do at Ethan's. Of course, Ethan wasn't happy with that. "Are you crazy? I saw you appear in front of me out of nowhere and I don't know what you are and what your intentions are. And you want me to go to your place?"
Benny sighed. "Fine. I wanted to explain things to you after we went somewhere private cause, you know, I don't want you to look crazy in the middle of the street."
Ethan looked around, his eyes shifting back to Benny with pursed lips. Maybe this was the first time he was aware of his surroundings. "So, what now?" he whispered, clearly embarrassed. There weren't many people outside, just one or two, but it was enough to make Ethan's cheeks red.
"If I explain to you one thing and you hopefully determine that I'm trustworthy, will you come with me?" Benny suggested.
"What if I don't think you're trustworthy?" Ethan asked.
"Will you listen to me first?" Ethan bit on his lower lip and nodded. "The short story is … I guess you can say that I used to be human. Almost a hundred years ago."
Ethan blinked. "And you … died?"
Benny nodded. "But I'm not a ghost. Let's just say I've been sent here for an official task. If I deviate from it, if I don't do it properly, if I start showing that I have bad intentions, I will be punished. Even if I wanted to hurt you in some way, I'm not allowed to."
Ethan crossed his arms. He didn't know from Ethan's unchanged expression whether he was believing Benny or not. "You could be lying about this."
Benny nodded. "That's true. I could. But I'm not because I have nothing to lose. I've already lost everything."
Ethan uncrossed his arms and shook his head. "Can't believe I'm doing this, but I'm coming with you. Mainly because I don't want people to think I'm crazier than I already am."
Benny felt himself relax a little bit. At least Ethan was willing to come and listen to him. Later on, though, he'd erase his memory. If he let him remember all of this, he'd be in trouble. For now, he had to calm him down a little.
Maybe it was the blank expression on Ethan's face as he sat in Benny's living room that made Benny intense with emotions, but the reason didn't matter much to him. What mattered was that Benny once again started feeling pity.
Pity, in its nature, didn't disappear when Benny was in Heaven. It was still a human emotion and he had the possibility of feeling it. However, in Heaven, there was nothing to pity. He mostly felt positive or neutral emotions. There was rarely anything that put his mood down. But now, looking at this young boy who had just witnessed a dead body and a reaper at once, Benny felt bad.
His grandmother came to Ethan with a cup of water. Ethan looked at her then at the cup. "Thanks," he murmured. He took a sip. Only a sip.
"Do you want anything else, dear?"
Ethan closed his eyes and his eyebrows slightly furrowed. When he opened his eyes, his expression wasn't exactly blank. It was just unreadable. "Just an explanation."
Benny's grandmother sat down by Ethan and Benny, who was already sitting, and started to speak. "Where do you want us to start?"
"Well," Ethan said. "What's happening? What are you? Are you not human? I don't get it." He seemed lost. Benny didn't blame him.
"I'm a reaper," Benny said. "We're called grim reapers, but we shorten it mostly to just 'reaper'. As for my grandmother? She's…" He struggled to find the right words. They didn't have words that would easily be understandable quickly.
"I'm like his manager. Or his babysitter." Benny hated that term. Babysitter. It made him seem like a kid. "I basically make sure he's on the right track. Plus, I mostly speak with the … higher-ups in the afterlife."
He was silent for a bit. Then, when he was ready, he spoke. "Are you his real grandma?" Ethan asked hesitantly.
She nodded. "I am. Or … I was. We were once on this earth just like you are now. Since then, we've moved on and we still have a strong familial relationship."
"So, you're like ghosts?" Ethan asked.
Benny shook his head. "Ghosts are specific types of spirits. Ones who are lost or ones who haven't moved on yet. We're spirits, too, like ghosts, except we've moved on a while ago. Long enough to have been forgotten so we can have jobs on earth. But I guess we're kind of the same as ghosts. We're people from the past."
"Oh," Ethan said. "Maybe I don't just see ghosts?" Ethan asked. "Maybe I see spirits in general?"
Benny exchanged a look with his grandmother. "Maybe," Benny said. He looked away from his grandmother. "I have heard of some people who can see only ghosts and some who can see all spirits. But that's rare. I mean, seeing ghosts in itself is rare. But seeing spirits? There's only, like, a handful of cases of that."
"Great," Ethan muttered. "I'm really a freak." Benny flinched. How often did Ethan hear people call him that for him to say it so casually? As if it was a joke? That wasn't right.
"No," Benny's grandmother said. "You're not a freak. You're special." Ethan scoffed, but that didn't stop Benny's grandmother from trying to make the situation better. "You've been through a lot." She put a hand on the sides of Ethan's face and he didn't push away. "Especially today. These things take a toll on you." She brough her hands up a little, towards the side of his head but not quite there. Benny could see he thumb go towards Ethan's temple. No, she wasn't trying to make things better. She was trying to wipe his memory. Even Ethan seemed for a little while like he was in a trance, unable to pull away. Benny would've protested 'no he's supposed to help me find lost spirits' but he realized that earlier he wanted to erase Ethan's memory, too. Plus, he could always indirectly ask Ethan about the whereabouts of ghosts.
"You'll forget about this, though," she said.
Ethan pulled away then, snapping out of this. "No, how could I forget about this? I just saw a dead body and I found out the new guy in school is actually a dead guy who's a grim reaper."
His grandmother looked shocked, and frankly, so did Benny. Benny was supposed to have some sort of memory wiping ability, but his grandmother definitely had a stronger effect than he did. How was Ethan's memory still intact? Benny was sure there was no delay in memory erasure. Memories didn't fade with time after they'd attempt to wipe it. No, it was immediate.
Benny, once again, got a look from his grandmother – except this time, it was an unsure look. "How?" She looked at Ethan. "You remember everything, dear?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ethan asked. "Of course I remember everything."
"Okay, what if I do it? Maybe you did something wrong," Benny suggested.
Ethan stood up. "Were you trying to do something to me? That's messed up." He looked away from them. "So … I gotta go. This is too weird, even for me."
Benny pursed his lips. Ethan was smart. Of course he'd catch on easily. It didn't really take much to catch on, actually, but he should've maybe been a bit more subtle. "Wait, Ethan. I'm sorry. Listen, we had to do it. At least, we had to try. We'd get in trouble if we didn't. And it's not good if we get in trouble or else this town will get a lot more ghosts, and that's the least you guys need right now. We're just doing standard procedure, and it's for your own sake. It didn't work this time, though. We practiced this before. It's supposed to. I wonder why." The last few sentences were directed at his grandmother.
His grandmother nodded. "I have to report this. Just so they're aware there's a human who knows about us. They'll hopefully put this under one of the exceptions and we'll be off the hook."
Benny nodded. "Again, Ethan. I'm sorry. I know it feels wrong to have tried to erase your memory. And-"
Ethan shook his head. "Listen, I'm tired. I just wanna go home. This is too much for me. Maybe tomorrow I can be angrier at you."
Benny wanted to laugh at Ethan's comment but realized it might not be a good time to laugh. "Sounds fine to me. Get some rest. There's still school tomorrow. And if there's ever anything you need to know about ghosts or spirits, you can talk to me."
"Benny!" exclaimed his grandmother.
"Hey, don't yell at me. He's not gonna forget, anyway. Might as well help him since he can see everything."
Ethan nodded. "Still mad at you, but I guess I'm less mad now. I just need to momentarily forget about what I saw today." He shivered. "The poor woman."
Benny nodded. Right. He forgot about that. So, he let Ethan go home. Poor boy must be thinking about a lot now.
But at the moment, Benny couldn't think about just Ethan. He had other things to worry about, too. Other than Ethan's problem with not being able to have his memory erased, Benny had to find out what he needed to do tomorrow and the coming week. That meant he had to wait for his grandmother until she fully discussed what was to come next with those in the afterlife. Hopefully, she wouldn't take too long.
He'd spent the time getting to know teenagers these days. He'd already gotten to know slang and technology among other things, but he didn't know much about Internet culture. It was confusing trying to figure out what "memes" where, but Benny eventually came to the conclusion that they were a bunch of inside jokes between teenagers online. It was fascinating, but it wasn't distracting enough. He was just waiting for his grandmother to come and it seemed as if time wouldn't pass.
Eventually, she came back home. Benny tried to read her face for any expressions of worry, relief, contemplation, anything. He could only see neutrality. Perhaps because this was the way she usually was. She was serious, even to Benny. No, especially to Benny.
"So, what happened?" Benny asked.
She sat down on the couch again, where Benny still was. "Well," she began, "it's complicated. To them, not so much to us. I guess Ethan's a special case. There are stronger ways to get rid of his recent memories, but there's a problem with that."
"There's no side effects, right?" Benny guessed.
"No, nothing like that. It's just that as long as we're here, and you're doing your job, Ethan will see you. Continuously, even when you're supposed to be invisible, he'll be able to see you. It's better to leave things the way they are. However, you should talk to him. He needs to keep this a secret and he needs to be careful. His abilities are a responsibility. He might not realize that since he's just a teenager."
Benny nodded. "I'll talk to him in private tomorrow when I get the chance."
"Good." She shook her head. "I forgot about this for a second, but here are the names for this week." She put her right hand forward, her palm facing upwards. She was able to make blank, white cards appear on her palm. The name cards didn't seem like they were a lot. Actually, they seemed like they were a few. Very few. That was good news for the town. "I guess you can focus this week on getting the lost souls."
"School, too, unfortunately," he said, taking the cards from her. The moment he'd held them, red text appeared on them, detailing the person's name, age, date of death, time of death, location of death, and cause of death.
"Let's see," he muttered to himself. "Justine Michaels. 41. Wednesday at 9:41 PM. Cause? Cancer. Hector Munroe. 70. Thursday. 6:26 PM. Heart disease." He didn't read them carefully afterwards, just skimming over the names and days just to make sure which days he should be ready. At one point, he even started to only read the dates.
That was until his eyes went over something familiar. By the time he realized he should be paying more attention, he'd reached the end of the very small list of names. He went back, trying to get back to the card that had caught his attention. His heart almost dropped.
He knew he shouldn't have gotten attached to a person in the first place. At least not this early on in his job. It was all about death, after all.
And there, on that one card was the name of Ethan Morgan.
He swallowed. He's just a kid. He has his whole life ahead of him. Why now? Why him? He didn't want to know how this poor guy would die. He didn't know where or when. But he felt like he had no control over his eyes when they wandered to look at the rest of the card.
Date: Saturday, September 7
Time: 7:56 PM
Location: Black's Church Street
Cause of Death: Hit and Run
"What's wrong?" his grandmother asked. He didn't think he could answer. All he could think about was how he was going to talk to Ethan tomorrow, maybe even ask him to help him with his powers, knowing that in less than a week, he was going to die. It was definitely impossible to talk. He only showed his grandmother the card.
She pressed her lips tightly together at the sight of the card. "Oh, that's unfortunate. He's young." He was. He was younger than Benny when he'd died. Granted, he's not much younger. Benny was only 18 when he'd died. Still, that's around a year longer, which was significant for someone who was this young. And, as far as Benny knew, death among youth wasn't common these days like it was before. Maybe that's what made this tragic. "But that's life. Some die young and some die old. No matter what, we can't mess with death."
He understood that very clearly. Reapers couldn't intervene or stop death. Those who previously did were punished, never to return to earth again. This was how severe life and death were. Just a slight deviation results in the change of people's destiny and lives, typically in a bad way. Things happened, and they happened for a reason.
Benny let in a deep breath and let himself collect his thoughts. When he felt able to speak, he did. "I don't know how I'll look at him in the face tomorrow and pretend like everything's fine."
"It'll be hard," she replied. "But you have to do it. It's the only way. And you're not the only reaper that has to go through this. Many get to know people who die shortly after. That's normal."
He nodded. "I know. I know." It was fine. At least, he tried to assure himself that it was fine. If he looked at this in a different perspective, this boy will only be a part of Benny's life for a few days. After that, it was very possible he'd forget about him. He thought that was a valid assumption at first, but then he remembered where he lived. He lived in a place where he attended school with Ethan's best friend, his colleagues, and his teachers. Not to mention Ethan's family lived nearby. Not to mention a teenager dying would probably be big news for the town. He wasn't going to forget him, he realized.
"Go rest now," his grandmother said. "I know it's a lot to take in for your first day back on earth, but you'll be fine eventually. And tomorrow, you still have school."
He put the cards away, a little hesitant. She was right. Staying up and worrying over the inevitability of death wasn't going to do him any good. He needed to rest. And he needed plenty.
Mornings made Benny realize why students hated school. The fact that he had to wake up so early, get dressed, force themselves to eat food while half-asleep, then go to worry about grades and other students. No wonder teenagers were so stressed. But that wasn't the only thing that made Benny dread this day. School was bad enough, but what was worse was facing a young man who would soon die.
What was even worse was that he, as told officially before he came to earth, needed Ethan's help. Well, they didn't say his name. Just that someone with the abilities that he happened to have was needed for his task. So now he was supposed to have him around for a few days then just look for spirits cluelessly?
Today, Benny made sure he didn't go to school early. He wanted to be as late as possible so that upon his arrival, he'd reach his class just in time. He didn't want to interact with Ethan and Rory. He couldn't bare it. He'd have to eventually, but he allowed himself to be a coward first thing in the morning.
Well, Benny found out he was great at math because he was in class right before the bell rang. He looked around for a seat and his eyes found one right behind Rory, who was sitting beside Ethan. There was no other seat. Even if there was, it would seem like an asshole move to sit as far away from his only friends. He'd probably sit in this seat, anyway.
As he sat down, he'd absent-mindedly looked at the back of Ethan's head, his brain nagging him about everything that happened yesterday. It was amazing, Benny thought, how ignorance made people happy. If Ethan knew about his fate, he might not be chuckling at whatever Rory said. He might not be sitting this straight in his seat, ready for class. He might not be smiling. It was good that he didn't know. Benny wouldn't have liked to be told when he'd die. Of course, having a disease that was uncured back then did make Benny realize that he didn't have long to live, but if he was healthy and happy just like Ethan was at this moment, he wouldn't expect an early death.
Ethan, from the row in front, turned his head to look at Rory a little, but his eyes traveled to Benny, his lips pressed together. Benny looked down at his notebook, flipping the pages to pretend like he was busy.
Class started and ended before Benny knew it. He wanted to make a run for it once they were dismissed, but Rory had immediately started talking to Benny, greeting him, and asking him about how school was like for him so far. Ethan, meanwhile, just said a few words then remained silent. Benny had almost forgotten that Ethan had seen a dead body yesterday.
"Rory, can you go to biology class and reserve a seat for me beside you until I come?" Ethan requested.
"Sure." He didn't ask any questions. He just smiled and left. He didn't seem to pick up on any social cues that even Benny had. Ethan wanted to talk to Benny without Rory listening in. That much was clear.
"We need to talk today. After school," he said.
Benny nodded. "Yeah, we do. I have something I need to tell you."
"Okay," Ethan said. "We'll talk at my place, okay?"
Benny furrowed his eyebrows. With Ethan's family there, was that really a good idea? "Isn't my place more private?"
"It is," Ethan admitted. "But my parents don't really barge into my room that much. Plus, I feel safer at home."
Whatever. If they weren't gonna be overheard, it was fine with Benny. As long as Ethan felt safe, Benny would go along with this. "Fine."
Ethan gave a hint of a smile, but not a genuine one. Rather, it was a polite smile. "You know, you don't have to be so awkward around me. I don't hate you or anything. I understand your situation."
Instead of addressing Ethan's main message like a normal person would, Benny decided to go for the comedic route. "I'm not awkward. You're just imagining it." He scoffed as if to make Ethan seem silly.
"Sure I am," Ethan said with amused, raised eyebrows. "Come on. We gotta go to class."
"Is your real name Benny?" Ethan asked as his first question. He was sitting on his bed, back to his pillows, and Benny sat at the foot.
"Kinda. My name's actually Ben, but I like Benny as a nickname more," he said.
"Oh," Ethan said. "Did you … look like this? A hundred years ago, like you said? Were you also a teenager when you were last alive?"
Benny nodded, trying not to think about Ethan dying as a teenager as well. "I was. I was eighteen." Of course, Ethan didn't seem too thrilled about finding that out. He pressed his lips together. "It's fine, though. It's been long enough that I barely care or remember my life."
"Where did you end up? What happened when you died?"
To that, Benny gave a nervous chuckle. "I'm not allowed to say much. Just that I ended up in a good place."
Ethan didn't argue. He did look unhappy about not getting answers, but he nodded nonetheless. "I hope you weren't murdered or anything. That would suck."
"Would've been more badass. No, I died from an illness."
"Oh, no. That's not great, either."
"Yeah, death isn't great in general."
That got a smile out of Ethan. "Guess not." Benny swallowed, not knowing how else to follow up. Good thing Ethan spoke again. "You wanted to tell me something, too, right?"
Right. He needed to tell Ethan about his task. "Yeah, I did. It's really important to me, and I think it'll earn you some brownie points up there."
"I'm listening," Ethan said, scooting closer.
"Well," Benny began, "I was actually supposed to find you. I was told that there's a human in Whitechapel who has the gift of sight. Since yesterday you basically confirmed that when you saw me, I thought I should tell you now."
"But why were you supposed to find me? Do you need to find ghosts?" Ethan asked, to which Benny nodded. "But can't you find them on your own?"
"I can. But only when I turn invisible. At least, invisible to every human but you. Problem is, I don't really know the town as well as you do. You probably know where ghost hotspots are better than I do."
"I guess," Ethan said hesitantly. "I mean, I know a lot of places where there are ghosts. Kinda helps that I go ghost hunting. I try to help the spirits move on, but some of them don't want t-"
"You go ghost hunting?" Benny asked, now concerned. Ethan nodded. "Don't tell me you do it alone."
"Now I feel like I'm doing something wrong," he said. "I don't go alone. I go with Rory, but sometimes, I happen to be alone."
Benny sighed. As if Benny wasn't already worried for him. "Please don't do ghost hunting too often. I don't know if you have, but you can encounter a lot of malicious ghosts. Some of them are bitter and spiteful and they just want to see others get hurt. It's not safe for you."
"I haven't encountered those," Ethan muttered. "Yet. Fine, fine. Whatever. I'll just go ghost hunting with you now." He said it in such a way that gave Benny the impression of doing this for a long time. If only he knew. Benny kind of wished he could tell him his fate. Maybe he could spend his last week saying his goodbyes, doing things he'd been putting off, preparing himself. But Benny couldn't. If he told Ethan, reality would shift slightly. He needed to leave things alone.
"Promise me?" Benny said.
"Promise," he replied. "We can start with the school. Coach Ed's been bothering me for a while. He's the only ghost there, though. And there are so many abandoned places. And the theater is super haunted. There's a ton of ghosts there."
Benny nodded. He'd say we can take things one at a time but knowing how short Ethan's remaining days were, he needed to start from now. "Can we look for ghosts tonight?" he asked. "I'm kind of in a hurry during this week, so I need to find as many ghosts as possible, if that's okay with you."
Good thing Ethan agreed to that. Even though this wasn't Benny's job, just knowing that Ethan didn't have many days left kind of made Benny wish to make Ethan's adventures with Benny more memorable. He was going to make sure they were.
They didn't end up starting with the school. They knew that they couldn't just walk back in there. They'd have to go back for the ghost of Coach Ed on Wednesday after school, disguising their stay in the school one way or another. For this night, they decided to go to the haunted theater. Ethan, apparently, knew of a way to sneak in there. As they made their way to the building, Benny decided to ask about the town.
"You know, I heard this town had a lot of ghosts, and I know it's because it has an … unpleasant past. But what happened?"
Ethan bit on his lower lip. "I didn't know exactly what happened until I started talking to some ghosts. Apparently, a lot of innocent people were killed by some really nasty groups. Eventually, people fought back and now there's a lot of innocent and not-so-innocent souls around. I guess a lot of them felt like they shouldn't have died and that they don't deserve their fate. So they're stuck here."
"Are all of them people from that time?" Benny asked.
"Oh, no." Ethan said. "Some ghosts are from this century, or even from the previous one."
Benny nodded. "And why do you love ghost hunting so much?"
Ethan shrugged. "I don't exactly know why. I just know it excites me every time."
"Do you just … ask them questions about their lives like most ghost hunters?"
Ethan shook his head. "Since I can hear them clearly and I know I can help them, I just ask what they want. If I can help them, most of the time, they move on. Some are very stubborn, though. And some are way too attached."
"Guess we're both helping each other, huh?" Benny asked, noticing the theater building in front of them. Instead of going through the main gate, Ethan headed to the back where a smaller door was. Surprisingly, to Benny at least, Ethan was able to just open the door. So easily. "Shouldn't this be locked?" he asked.
"Eh," Ethan said. "I don't think they care."
"Okay, then," Benny said, following after Ethan. This door seemed to lead to the backstage area, and already Benny could tell the energy in this place was different. It was very negative. "There's definitely ghosts here."
"You can't see them?" Ethan asked. "Right. You can't. Cause there's already a bunch in front of us."
Benny shook his head. "I guess I need to become invisible first."
"Well, get onto it. I can still see you, anyway," Ethan said. "Oh, no, guys. Don't get scared. He'll help you move on. I think."
Benny furrowed his eyebrows at Ethan, but turned invisible, anyway. Oh, Ethan was right. There were five spirits standing a little ahead of them, looking at Benny with suspicious eyes. They looked like they were alive at a time before his. To be fair, Benny was last alive in the 20th century. He was a pretty recent spirit. But these spirits? They seemed like they were dead a century before Benny. "This is bizarre," Benny said to himself.
"What? That there's so many?" Ethan asked. "You haven't seen the main stage."
"No, that's not- wait, how many are there in here?" Benny asked.
"I don't know. I didn't count. But they come and go. There's at least fifty. I think they're way more. So many people were attached to this place," Ethan said.
And so, Benny started working, taking the spirits one by one. Some didn't seem ready to leave, but Benny's job was to make sure they left. They've been here for far too long. It was time to move on. Plus, the ones in the afterlife seemed really proud that Benny was able to bring that many spirits on his third official day there.
By the end of it, as the two boys left, Ethan was smiling. "You seem happy," Benny said.
"Yeah, of course I am. That was so satisfying. Though we're gonna have to come back here often. There are so many that haven't appeared there tonight," he said. "But that was very interesting. To me, at least. When you brought them to the afterlife, it was so cool seeing you and the ghosts just disappear."
"Is that what it looks like to you?" Benny asked.
"Yeah, what is it like in reality?"
"Well, for us, it's like walking through a door and stepping into another room. Though, I guess to a normal human, it's not possible to see beyond the real life."
"I guess so," Ethan said. "That was nice. Let's do that more. Especially now that you've told me that some spirits are malicious. Man, I could've gotten seriously hurt."
Benny chuckled. He hadn't known of any teenager, even in his time period, that would admit to a mistake. It was kind of funny to witness it. He could see Ethan looking at him for a bit. He turned his head to have a look at Ethan, who immediately shifted his gaze to the pavement on the ground.
It was easy to forget in the afterlife how time passed, especially after having been away from earth for so many years. Apparently, Benny had forgotten that days passed by so fast. While his goal was to look for spirits, he'd also made sure Ethan was having fun in the process. Sometimes they'd even bring along Rory, and Benny would excuse himself sometimes just so he'd turn himself invisible, just so he could lead the spirits to the afterlife without Rory suspecting anything. They usually disguised their trips with Rory to haunted locations as "ghost hunting" with a "new friend who happens to be a supernatural enthusiast". As if. Benny didn't even believe in ghosts when he was alive. Would he have believed in them if he was raised in Whitechapel, an extremely haunted town? He didn't know.
But those trips, those days, they were, admittedly, so fun for Benny that time seemed to escape him sometimes. He'd forget that the seconds left of this brunet teenager's life were so little. He hoped he'd done enough to make his last week on earth happy. Yes, he didn't need to make Ethan happy, but it wasn't not allowed, that's for sure.
Saturday came quickly and it was Benny's first weekend while he was back. Sadly, it was the day Ethan's soul would be brought to the afterlife. He stared at Ethan's name card that morning. 7:56 PM. That was when his soul would leave his body. That was when he'd die. Benny felt it was such a waste of good life. Both Ethan and Rory were such nice people. They could probably change the world positively if they were given a chance. To see one of them leave, having him only finish one week of his senior year … was devastating. But that was how life went. People died young sometimes, and Benny was an example.
Bzzz. Bzzz. His phone, which was on his bedside table, was vibrating, which Benny could immediately tell was from a text being sent to him. He opened his phone to see a message from Ethan.
Rory is coming to my place later to play video games with me
A part of Benny didn't want to face Ethan today. He felt too drained of energy to see him and later take his soul and bring it to the afterlife. But he couldn't ditch him. It didn't seem right. So, he agreed. He'd come today to play with them.
They'd agreed to meet during the afternoon. Him agreeing to come meant he'd probably see Ethan's house for the last time today. Maybe, unless he and his grandmother decide to visit. He didn't even want to think about Ethan's place, Ethan's family, Ethan's life, and how much sorrow there will be in the house tonight.
When he'd gone to Ethan's house, he was greeted by Ethan opening the door, though his mother came to also say hi to him. His father said a quick hello, seemingly busy now. His little sister, Jane, was just standing in the kitchen, mixing some sort of batter, but stopping to look at him, then continuing with her mixture. "Mom! Look!" she yelled out, which prompted her mother to come to her.
"Let's go," Ethan said, motioning to the stairs.
Once they'd gone to Ethan's room, Ethan closed the door and Benny made himself a place to sit. Rory would probably arrive soon. "You okay?" Ethan asked.
"What?" Benny asked, shocked by the question.
"You okay? I mean, you don't seem as happy as usual." Ethan frowned. "Is it because of your … job? I bet it's not the most cheerful one in the world."
Benny decided to go along with that. "Oh, yeah. It's just a lot of tragedy for a person who likes to stay positive."
"I get it," Ethan said. "Though, maybe it's just 'cause it's your first week? Wait, is it?"
Benny chuckled. "Yeah, it is. I didn't get a job elsewhere before."
"Really?" Ethan asked, sitting down on his chair to turn his screen on, then looking back at Benny.
"Yeah, why do you seem surprised?" he asked with an amused smile.
"I guess it's the way you talk," he said.
"Is there something wrong with the way I talk? Am I saying words wrong?" he asked, now nervous that his 20th century speech was creeping into sentences.
"No, that's the thing. You speak so well. And your slang is spot on. I would've thought that you'd be a little unfamiliar with what we say," he said.
"Oh," Benny laughed. "Trust me, we're given full training before we come here. It's just a lot of studying, history we've missed, speech, science, everything."
"So, like a school? But in the afterlife? Oh, no. Do I still have to go to school after I die, too?"
Benny was fighting hard to make sure his face didn't show any negative emotions. Ethan shouldn't know something was horribly wrong. "It's way easier than school. You'd think it's harder, but, I mean, you're not really in a physical body with a brain that takes a long time to comprehend information."
"Okay, stop talking about this. My brain is fried. This is too weird for me," he said, a hint of a smile at the end of his sentence. God, Benny was going to miss that smile. "I keep forgetting that you're like … a hundred years old. It's so bizarre. You could've been someone's grandpa." Yeah, he could've. He could've found a partner, had a stable job, had kids, retired. But he'd never even found love. No one was interested in him, anyway. And it didn't really matter. He guessed he was happy in the afterlife. He was a good person and he was glad he ended up in a good place. "Sorry," Ethan said. "I didn't mean to bring it up."
"No, it's fine. I really don't care," he assured.
It didn't take long for Rory to arrive. At that point, any topic about Benny was not brought up. Instead, they played games, as they'd planned. Ethan's mom had brought cupcakes at one point that Jane made along with some other snacks. During the whole game, Benny was either trying to actually win or to troll Rory. It was a fun day, as he'd predicted video game sessions to be.
As usual, when he was having fun, day quickly turned into night, and they had a quick dinner before getting back to playing. Benny looked at the time. It wasn't 7:56 PM yet, but it was getting close. It was 7:30 at the moment. Benny could feel his heartbeats getting faster. How could this night possibly get to the point of a teenager's death? They were having so much fun in the safety of Ethan's home. And they were still there. How could the night take a bad turn like that?
Just at that thought, Rory spoke. "I'm tired. I wanna go see a movie."
"Yeah, that's fine with me," Ethan said. So, was that how he'd die? On his way to have fun with his best friend? It didn't seem fair. "It's getting late, but I think Rory can convince Mom to let me go at this time."
"Actually," Benny said, feeling his heart beating even faster. What was he doing? "I don't think I can go see a movie right now. My grandma would be mad at me. I promised her I'd only spend time here." He didn't. She wouldn't mind. What am I doing? Benny asked himself. He knew he shouldn't do this. He shouldn't get in the way of fate, but he knew he wanted to save Ethan. He couldn't let him die. Not tonight. Not when he was having a great time. It was wrong, but Benny was going to prevent a hit and run today.
Well, he thought to himself, Benny, prepare yourself before you're deemed untrustworthy for this job and you're taken off the face of this earth.
"Oh," Ethan said. "We can watch some movies on my computer, then."
Rory nodded. "Yeah, sure. Do you guys have some popcorn here?"
"Yeah," Ethan said, getting up. "I'll go tell mom to get us some."
As Ethan left, Benny sat and wondered what sort of trouble he was getting himself into. All he knew was that he was relieved, no matter what was coming, because Ethan was going to be alive after this and he was going to continue with his life.
"Benny Weir," said the woman behind the desk. Benny winced. He certainly hated getting in trouble despite the fact that he was probably the most problematic person he knew. "There appears to be a missing soul."
"Yeah, there's a lot in Whitechapel," he said, trying to steer the conversation away from his screw up, but he knew it wouldn't work.
"Yes, but there is one in particular tonight. One that was supposed to die. His soul is not in the afterlife and it was your job to bring it." She leaned forward. "Where is it?"
"Ah, that soul." Her expression did not change. "Him. Yes. Uh … I believe he didn't die."
"And how is that possible if that was his time?" She said it in a way that didn't portray shock or disbelief. She knew what was going on and she was trying to make him admit to it. "How is that possible when his path lead to his death a few minutes ago?"
"Maybe … there was interference from Hell? Who knows?" he said, weirdly not feeling all that scared. Maybe just a little bit.
"No, I'm pretty sure there was an interference from Heaven. From you."
"Ah, that. Maybe?" he said, gritting his teeth.
She sighed. "What is your job? Is it not to collect souls? Is it not to make sure order is maintain and that souls are delivered here on time?"
"Yes," he said in a low voice.
"And what did you do? Create more chaos? Benny, you went through training and I know you are aware of it. Why did you divert reality on purpose?" He said nothing. He didn't have any explanation except 'I didn't want him to die'. "You know, according to his record, this teenager – what's his name – Ethan," she said, pointing at his name on the folder in front of her, "was supposed to end up in Heaven. Who knows what path he'll take next? Your actions might cause him to end up in Hell."
"I know," he said. "But what am I supposed to do if he dies? He's the seer I was supposed to seek. He's been helping me this whole time. How am I supposed to know where the other souls are?"
She sighed once again. "You can go about unseen. Why don't you use that to your advantage? There are solutions to this, you just don't want to do them. Frankly, I hate to do this because I know you had good intentions, but punishment needs to be enforced."
He knew it was coming. "And what's my punishment?"
She reached underneath her desk into what seemed to be a drawer. A new card. "This is his new destiny." He took the card and the information was revealed to him. It was truly Ethan's name card again. This time, it was next Friday night. And the cause? Undetected.
"What? What does this mean? Undetected?" he asked. He'd never seen a card like this.
"It means a lot of things. One thing that is more likely given the circumstances of Whitechapel is a malicious spirit. They can hurt him, but we wouldn't know exactly which spirit would cause this. Plus, we can't always confirm it's a spirit. It can always be demonic. Or another unknown cause."
"Damn," he whispered. He thought he'd told Ethan to be careful. "But that's not the punishment, is it?"
"No, that's hardly a punishment," she said. "That is your job. To make sure it happens. Now, you've deemed yourself untrustworthy. However, we do give second chances here." She leaned back against her chair. "If you do your job correctly, we will assign you another job. Anything of your choice. But you cannot go back to Whitechapel. No, scratch that. You're not going back to Canada." That kind of sucked. He wasn't from Whitechapel, but he would hate to be away from his country. "And if you fail once again, you will not be allowed to go back to earth. If you take any job, which we will assign to you in that case, you will only work from up here. Either way, you have less than a week left in this town. Got it?"
He nodded. "I do have a question. Since I'm leaving Whitechapel, anyway, what will you do to the … rest of the people there? The lost souls?"
"The people?" she asked. "I'm not sure. I'll have to ask the higher-ups, but my guess is that there will be a mass memory wipe of you and your grandmother." He knew that memory wipe was stronger than anything his grandmother could do. "As for the spirits, I believe we'll still bring a reaper back to Whitechapel. However, we won't let them stay there as a resident. I don't think they'll allow that anymore."
He nodded, looking at the card once again. He couldn't let this happen again. He knew the consequences of his actions, but his not-life was ruined either way. So, why not ruin it further? He for sure didn't want to spend a job on earth in an unfamiliar country. He'd rather spend his eternity in Heaven.
"Don't mess with life and death," she reminded him. "You're an outstanding performer. It's a shame you've done this to yourself." He knew that yet he didn't care. He knew his judgement was clouded, but he'd lost hope for himself a long time ago. He didn't want the hope of a teenage boy to be lost, either. The hope of college, a better life, a partner, a job. Even if Benny was only going to save Ethan's life for a week or two, he didn't care. He'd give him the longest life possible.
Benny couldn't believe he had another week of living through the misery of thinking about the possibility of Ethan dying. Sure, he'd try his best to keep Ethan alive despite his official orders, but he couldn't guarantee his influence would have an effect.
When he saw Ethan and Rory on Monday, talking and laughing together, he was reminded how this wasn't supposed to happen – how Ethan wasn't supposed to exist anymore. But he tried to push it away. He couldn't let himself be haunted by that thought – no pun intended. He'd forced himself to smile and interact with the boys. Hopefully, nothing would appear too out of the ordinary.
Apparently, though, Ethan noticed, because after school, he told Rory he'd walk with Benny back home, which Benny understood to be an excuse to talk alone. "Are you okay?" Ethan asked.
He didn't expect that to be the question. He nodded at first, trying to come up with what to say. "Yeah. Why?"
"Well, you didn't talk to me ever since we hung out this Saturday. You didn't ask me to go ghost hunting with you, which we do every day, so that was strange." He held up a finger, then lowered it, his eyebrows furrowed. "Wait, did I do something wrong?"
Benny shook his head, almost wanting to laugh at the thought. It was Benny who did something wrong and against his job and he was continuing to be purposefully wrong. "No, no, no! You didn't do anything."
Ethan let out a sigh. "Good. But … I still don't know what's going on. You're acting a little weird."
It felt kind of good to have Ethan be close enough to Benny, despite them being friends for a weak, to ask him about how he was doing and to notice the little details. Though he hated the position he was in. He couldn't tell Ethan what was going on. It would crush him to know that he wasn't supposed to be walking, breathing, talking.
"And another thing," Ethan said. "Why did you not want to go to the cinema? I don't know your grandmother very well, but I don't think she's the type to be worried about where you go considering your job." He stopped walking, and Benny, feeling trapped, stopped as well. The brown-eyed seer looked straight at Benny. "So, Benny Weir, what are you hiding from me?"
Benny sighed. "Can we talk about this later?" He gave up at this point. Ethan noticed everything, apparently. He was onto Benny and it freaked him out. Now that he couldn't truly hide a lot of what he was doing, he decided he didn't want to answer but he didn't want to exactly lie. "I've just … not been having a great few days lately." He realized that might have sounded like he didn't enjoy his time with Ethan and Rory. That was not what he meant. "It's something job related and trust me when I say that it's better if I don't tell you."
Ethan's usual confidence, which he had a lot of despite his public display of awkwardness sometimes, seemed to have gone. "Is it something related to me or my family? Or Rory?" How was he so good at guessing? Or … maybe Benny was just bad at hiding things. "It is, isn't it?" His question had a sense of worry. Benny wished he could lie. How could he lie anymore? He might not tell the whole truth to Ethan, but he didn't feel like lying to this poor soul. He nodded.
Recently, Benny had been running on impulse. He had felt bad during the previous week seeing Ethan's name card, but his last-minute decision felt like it was out of impulse and a sense of adrenaline. Still, he hadn't truly felt that strong of an emotion until he'd heard Ethan's shaky breath. It broke something inside of Benny.
"Someone's gonna die soon?" he asked, his eyes drifting to his shoes. Again, Benny didn't want to speak, but Ethan had a different idea. "I'll force you to tell me something. Anything," he said in a strangely strong tone. "If someone's gonna die, I'm not gonna stop it. I just … wanna know who I should say goodbye to."
He could tell Ethan was trying to stay strong because while his tone held a sort of power to it, his fidgeting with is hands told another story. No one, Benny wanted to answer. Because you're not dying. I won't allow it. Not this time.
"Let's talk at my place," Benny said. The streets were empty, but it was more appropriate to talk in private.
Ethan hesitantly nodded and followed.
"It's gonna be okay. I promise you," he said. He couldn't guarantee he could save Ethan, but he'd be damned if he didn't try. Well, he'd be damned in any situation, it seemed. Ethan didn't say anything and Benny couldn't blame him. If Benny was in his position, he'd probably lose his mind.
When they'd reached Benny's home, then his room, and Ethan sat on the edge of his bed, biting on his lower lip and crossing his arms. He didn't ask anything. He just stared at Benny's bookshelf, his eyes not particularly seeming like they focused on anything in particular.
"Listen," he said. "I can't tell you a lot. This isn't a job where I can just tell you whatever I want." That was true. However, Benny, at that moment, chose to keep things secret. Since he screwed up the destiny and events of not just Ethan but subsequently other people's lives, telling Ethan other sensitive things could be an option since Benny was going down a chaotic route, anyway. "And if I can tell you, it's not like you'd like to hear what I have to say."
"Who is it?" Ethan asked flatly. "I really don't care if I'd like to hear it or now. I'm starting to worry who it might be anyway. My parents, my sister, Rory … I don't know."
Right. Of course Ethan was going to think that his close relatives or his best friend would die. He must have been feeling terrible these past few minutes, dwelling over that. "I – I can't." It sucked, but he didn't want to break Ethan's heart and tell him the truth.
"I guess I came here for nothing." He took his backpack, which was on the floor.
"Don't Ethan me. I don't wanna talk right now," he said, put on his backpack. He took a step, another, another. Benny couldn't watch him leave.
"No one's dying," he said before he could stop himself. God dammit, he thought to himself.
Ethan stopped in his track and turned his head towards Benny, confusion clear on his face. "If that's true, then you would have said so in the beginning. You're lying to me."
Benny shook his head. "Well, that's part of the truth." Actually, it was more of a "part of the attempt to make it the truth", but that didn't roll off the tongue.
"Part of it?" Ethan said. "What?" He shook his head, his eyes closed.
"There's so much going on right now. I wish I can tell you what's happening." He realized it would be cruel to put Ethan in the dark, especially since Benny was leaving in a week, anyway. He knew he was going to miss this place. He was going to miss Ethan and Rory. "I can tell you one thing."
Ethan sighed and sat back down. "Fine. What is it?"
"I'm in a lot of trouble. I did something I wasn't allowed to. And … I have a week left in Whitechapel to make things right. But I'm not intending to. I'll get into a whole lot more trouble, but it's worth it," he explained briefly.
"You have a week left?" Ethan said, a frown forming on his face. "But … why? Why would you get in trouble on purpose and screw yourself over?"
"Because," Benny said, "it's worth it seeing you guys happy. Screw whatever destiny's written for you and the people you know. I just want you to live without sorrow."
Ethan was silent for a few seconds, pressing his lips together. Finally, he said, "You barely know us."
"I know that," Benny said. "But I do realize that if I do as I'm told … I'd have to live in this town without…" That was when he knew he screwed up. That sentence gave away everything.
"It's me, isn't it?" Ethan said, his foot that was on the ground now tapping against the floor. "I'm supposed to die, aren't I?" He wanted to take back the sentence he said. He didn't think today was going to lead to this. "Fuck my life," he whispered, eyes wandering once again.
"I'm sorry," Benny said, not sure why exactly he was apologizing.
Ethan said nothing, still staring at nothing in particular. Benny let him take his time. When he was ready to speak, he said, "That's a lot to take in." He paused. "And what happened on Saturday, when you left suddenly, was it also … related to this?" Again, Benny didn't want to say anything. Ethan knowing that he was supposed to die was already horrible enough. "Please answer me. I already know a lot of things I'm not supposed to. I don't want to be lied to more."
Benny hated the fact that he nodded. He felt like the villain in this situation, for some strange reason. "It was."
Ethan let out a little laugh, but there was no humor hidden behind it – just realization. "I think I understand now." He nodded, but it seemed like he was nodding more to himself than Benny. "You got in trouble on Saturday, didn't you? And you're trying to make things right. Because you already prevented my death, didn't you? And you're doing it again." His voice was low, which was so unlike Ethan. But Benny understood. Ethan's life was shattering at that moment. Benny blamed himself for not being good with words. This could have been prevented if he'd just stopped talking after Ethan pointed out that Benny barely knew them.
"Listen," Benny said. "I know this is very heavy for you." He sat closer to him, putting his hands now on Ethan's shoulders. "And I know it's tough to take in. But no way in Hell am I letting you die, okay?" He tried to look him in the eye, but Ethan was too busy staring off somewhere else. "I promise you I'll keep you safe."
Ethan shook his head. "What happens after you leave? Am I gone? Are they gonna get an assassin to kill me? Are they bringing another reap-?"
"I don't know," he interrupted. "But there have been cases like this. Reapers doing what I did. Heaven doesn't play dirty like that, okay? They'll let you live as long as it's your new destiny." He removed his hands from Ethan's shoulders now. "And I don't know your destiny after your … due date is up. But all I know is that I'll protect you as long as I'm here, okay?" No response. "Okay?" He repeated. "Promise me you'll call if you feel threatened. I can teleport. I can help you. Promise me."
Ethan nodded. "I'll call," he said in the same low voice he had been speaking in. "But you have to promise me something, too."
"What is it?" Benny asked, feeling a little bit of relief at that moment. "That you'll hang out with me every day until you leave. I honestly don't feel safe anymore. Besides, I just wanna have fun while you're here. I don't wanna feel sad."
Benny nodded. "I promise."
Benny didn't go ghost hunting with Ethan anymore. He was worried it might remind him of death when he was already hanging out with a reaper. Besides, Benny didn't see any point in doing much of that anymore, except to keep the town safe from hauntings. So, when Ethan would go back home, Benny would search for ghosts by himself using his invisibility and teleportation. But that was becoming boring compared to the times he'd spend with Ethan alone.
The first night Ethan had found out the truth, they hung out at Ethan's, where he felt a little safer. They'd avoided talking about Ethan's fate and instead resorted to any means of entertainment such as TV shows, video games, and board or card games. It was truly rewarding seeing a smile on his face, especially when Benny would do something stupid and Ethan would laugh at him.
The next day, Ethan initially spent it with Rory but ended it by coming to Benny's to hang out, once again, alone. After another good day, Ethan asked Benny a question. "How long do you have left?"
"In Whitechapel?" Benny asked, receiving a nod. "I guess until Friday night."
Crossing his arms and forming a half-smile, Ethan said, "How am I gonna live from that point knowing that I used to hang out with a grim reaper?" Normally, Benny would laugh at that statement. But at the moment, he knew something that Ethan wasn't aware of that made his statement sort of invalid, in a way. "What? Don't tell me there's another thing that'll shock me. Will I … actually die or…?"
"No! No, that's not it. I promised you I'll keep you alive while I'm here. It's just that … I don't think you'll remember me anymore."
Ethan frowned. "Why?"
"You know, I can't just leave Whitechapel suddenly and expect people to not wonder why I'm gone. Well … there'll be a mass memory erasure. And it's very strong. I don't know if you'll remember me after I'm gone or not."
"That sucks," Ethan said. "I don't wanna forget."
Benny raised an eyebrow. "Really? Cause I feel like I'd like to forget if I was told what you were told."
"Yeah, maybe that part I'd like to forget but … I don't wanna forget you. You're a cool guy."
"Everyone at school would like to differ," he said, mostly jokingly.
"Well … my friends at chess club think you're cool."
"Okay, now I'm officially lame," he said with a smile, making Ethan laugh, which basically started a fit of both of them laughing for a solid minute.
After a few seconds of trying to breathe normally again, Ethan said, "I'm having a lot of fun these days, even though we're doing simple things. Like talking."
Benny nodded. "Yeah, me too. It's the little things in life that matter. I wish I appreciated my life a bit more while I still had it."
"About that," Ethan said, "how was your life back then?"
Benny didn't know how to start. He guessed he should tell Ethan the things that he would understand the most. "I guess it was okay. We were a little less fortunate than the average person, so I had to work hard so I can help my family afford to live. Though I did enjoy spending time with my family, especially when dad came around. He'd bring me gifts and spend time with me for a few days before he had to leave." He could see Ethan smile a little. "It wasn't the best time to be alive back then, anyway, but … I guess it was fine."
"And did you have close friends? Any girlfriend?"
Benny shook his head. "Not any close friends. Just acquaintances, I guess. And … I'm not into girls." Ethan mouthed an oh. "Although, I didn't say anything about that back then 'cause … things weren't as they are now."
"So you're … gay?" Ethan asked, to which Benny nodded. He'd learned to accept that in the past few years, which was a little hard since he was so used to suppressing that fact about himself.
"Must've been hard dealing with that back then."
"It was. Honestly, I wasn't comfortable telling others about my sexuality until recently and it feels great now."
"I bet," Ethan said. "I'm also gay." Benny didn't know that, either. "I'm pretty open about it, but I don't really announce it. My family knows, Rory and his mom know, and now you. I don't really care about telling others, hence why people at school don't know. Still, if they ask me, I wouldn't deny it. I just don't prefer saying anything since a lot of them are bullies."
"Ah, I get it," Benny said. "And your family seems like it's very supportive."
"Oh, yeah. Actually, the reason I came out to my parents is because my dad once thought I was into Rory and he was trying to encourage me to ask him out."
Benny chuckled. "I mean," Benny said. "To be fair, Rory's a good-looking dude."
"He's also a straight dude," Ethan noted.
"But are you? Into him, I mean."
Ethan shook his head. "I just view him as my best friend. And it's great so far. He's an amazing friend."
"He is," Benny agreed, a smile growing on his face. It wasn't the thought of Rory that brought a smile on his face. It was the topic they were talking about. "I wish so badly that I had someone I can talk to about boys. Or, you know, someone else who's gay."
Ethan nodded. "Me, too. I don't really know anyone else who's gay. Doesn't help that I don't socialize often."
"Well, I think if people talk to you more, they'd realize how great of a person you are."
He smiled. "Thanks."
Benny didn't realize how close they were sitting at the moment. While he wasn't typically the type to get nervous, he felt nervous now. Being so close to Ethan, talking about personal topics. He felt like it gave him life, ironically.
They were getting closer, and he didn't mean that in the mental sense. No, Ethan was leaning closer and closer to Benny, their eyes now closing, until their lips touched. To say the least, it felt bizarre to like someone and feel liked back. And all this … he felt it in the kiss. And it was such an innocent kiss, just like how innocent Ethan was. It was quicker than Benny would have liked, but he felt … desired for once.
There was a moment of awkwardness after that, but it was kind of adorable in Benny's opinion. Of course, he wouldn't say that. He knew guys didn't typically like the word "adorable".
"Is this weird?" Ethan asked finally. "I mean, you're a grim reaper who's like a hundred years old. I'm a seventeen-year-old human."
"I don't … think it's weird," Benny said. "Yeah, I might be technically old, but I'm totally immature like a seventeen-year-old would be. It would be weird if I came back looking old."
"I guess so," Ethan said. "Man, this really sucks."
"What does?" Benny asked. "The fact that I'm leaving Friday night?"
"That and the fact that I might not remember any of this," Ethan said.
"Well, look at it this way. If you do remember, you'll have some good memories. If you don't, you won't even be aware that … you're not remembering anything. Besides, you'll forget about what I told you. About last Saturday and about the end of this week."
"That doesn't bother you?"
"Of course it does," he said. "I wanna hang out around you guys. It appears that whatever I do, I'm just not meant to be around you for long. It's either I leave or you leave. I know which one is a better option. And you know it, too."
"You're making me sad," Ethan said. "Let's do something else." And so, they did. But that thought still kept lingering at the back of Benny's mind. How fleeting and short life was. How every time Benny came to earth, things always ended badly for him. Things were always bitter, but at least there was some sweet this time, too. At least he got to save a life, even if for a little bit.
Every day from then on felt a little more strange and a little more desperate. They both knew what was going to happen, so they took advantage of their time together. They'd go to nearby places that Ethan liked, ate the food that Ethan recommended, played games together. It was fun, but it was a little sad. They'd spend time like they were friends and at the end of the day, Benny would flirt with Ethan, sometimes to get yelled at for saying things that made Ethan's cheeks turn red. It might be a little sad, yes, but he wouldn't want his last memories on earth to be any other way.
Friday night came, and with it – their goodbye. Once the time of Ethan's supposed death would pass, he'd get in trouble in he'd be forcefully teleported to Heaven once again.
"I don't want you to leave," Ethan said. "It's not fair."
It was fair. Benny was breaking heavenly rules. Of course he'd get punished. His punishment wasn't even severe. He still pretended like he agreed with Ethan because he also didn't want to leave. "I know. At least you have some photos of me." They were at Ethan's today, like most days. "I'll miss you a lot," he said. "I wish we would've had more time together."
Ethan shook his head. "Wow, my first breakup is very weird, huh?" Ethan asked with a hint of a smile. For a moment, even Benny felt a little better, hearing a joke. But then he realized how much he'd miss those comments from Ethan.
"I know you might not remember what I told you, but I hope that some part of your subconscious remembers to always be careful around spirits. And to always stay good and pure. You're a good guy and I know you'll stay that way as long as you don't let just anyone influence you."
"Yeah," Ethan said. "I hope I remember."
Benny looked at his wristwatch. "We have around a minute."
"So … goodbye?"
"Yeah, goodbye." Ethan extended his arms, then came towards Benny for a hug. Benny, in turn, wrapped his arms around Ethan. He started thinking at that moment how spending two weeks with a seer changed everything.
At first, Ethan was confused. While he truly was missing Benny, he didn't feel his memories fading. Maybe it didn't work on him. Maybe no amount of memory wipe would work on him at all. Or maybe they didn't erase any memories yet. He could quickly confirm this. He headed over to Rory's – carefully, of course. He didn't want Benny's efforts to keep him alive to be for nothing.
"Hey, dude," Rory had said when he saw Ethan. "What were you doing today? Kinda feels weird not having you hang out with me these days."
"Oh, I was with Benny."
Rory narrowed his eyes. "Is that like one of your ghost friends?"
Oh, no. "You're kidding, right? Benny, the new guy. He hung out with us a lot. Like, a lot."
"Sorry, buddy," Rory said. "I think you've been talking to a ghost this whole time." No, Ethan was sure Rory talked to him, too, but no amount of talking would convince Rory of something he no longer had memories of.
The next day, he knew that he'd forgotten some moments he'd spent with Benny. He'd forgotten where they'd gone first to ghost hunt. He'd forgotten how his grandmother look, which was strange since he used to see her from time to time. He knew he'd eventually forget everything and it wasn't under his control anymore.
By Monday, he felt like something was missing. He'd felt like something was telling him remember, but he didn't know what he'd forgotten. Even worse, Ethan still felt like ghosts sometimes followed him. They'd move things around, they'd try to catch his attention, but Ethan couldn't see them. He couldn't see any ghost anymore. Not for the rest of the school semester, not for the remainder of the year, and certainly not for the next ten years. All the while, he still felt like something was missing – a piece of the puzzle that was his life wasn't there. But one thing was for certain: he almost died twice. He didn't know how he knew that or when exactly. It wasn't like he'd experienced anything that almost caused his death, but he knew deep within that he'd avoided death twice during his senior year of high school.
The weekend was great, but Saturday was especially relaxing. Ethan would sleep late and wake up whenever he wanted. Even better when he felt the portion of the bed to his right was a little sunken and warm.
"Morning," he heard Rory's voice. Ethan hadn't even opened his eyes, but he guessed he was moving a little.
He finally opened his eyes to see Rory with his phone in his hand, his glasses on, and his head turned to look at Ethan. "Morning," he said back.
"How does your hair get that messy when you wake up? Happens every time!"
"Shut up," Ethan said, but he wasn't serious. He liked hearing Rory talk, even if he talked a lot sometimes. "More importantly, who are you texting?" he asked, sitting up. "If it's another guy, I'm gonna be jealous."
"No," Rory said. "It's not another guy. It's the same guy I always text." He showed Ethan the screen, his name displayed on top. At first, he was confused when Rory would text him when he was asleep, especially knowing that his phone was on silent, but then he realized Rory was sharing memes, as he usually did when he wasn't flirting.
Ethan couldn't help but smile. He couldn't imagine himself with anyone other than his childhood best friend. "I love you," he said.
"I know. I'm amazing," he said, giving Ethan a quick peck on the lips. "I'm also really hungry. Let's go eat!" He threw on his shirt, ready to head out.
"Such a romantic," Ethan said, laughing.
"Fine, fine," Rory said when he stood up. "Do you want some romantic eggs?"
"There's no such thing."
"Oh, look who's a party pooper now," he said, now already out of the room to go make breakfast.
Ethan had decided to get up despite the fact that his bed was begging him to stay. He got ready for the day and headed out, phone, and unusually, a USB in hand. He could smell the eggs and hear the sizzling. Oh, how good it felt during weekends.
"You know what I'm excited for today?" he said. "Opening this bad boy up." He put the USB in front of him and moved it a little when Rory looked at him. This was the USB Ethan had used during his high school years. Eventually, he had no use of it since most file sharing was now on clouds and drives, save for some huge files. So, he used this USB to eventually store his old phone data and pictures.
"Dude, there's gonna be so many cringy photos. I'm excited, too!" The comment made Ethan laugh.
After a nice, peaceful breakfast, Ethan opened his laptop, putting the USB in its slot. He immediately went to see the photos he'd taken with the phone camera. He didn't expect the photos to be very high quality. The cameras back then were fine, but not as good as the ones they had now. Though, he found himself surprised at how clear the pictures were. Oh, maybe he was thinking about the nineties to early two-thousands. Right.
Some pictures were of the two of them, at times selfies and at times candid photos of Rory. He couldn't help but cringe over their hairstyles and their clothes. The other photos were of family, scenery he enjoyed. Videos were mostly of things that the boys found funny, which surprisingly made Ethan and Rory laugh. The others were of Ethan recording ghost activities that he used to be able to see but the ghosts themselves wouldn't appear on camera.
Finally, he found a strange picture, one he didn't remember taking. It was also a selfie. Where was it? Seemed like it was in a fast food chain, though he couldn't tell which. Rory was sitting on the other side of the table, but beside Ethan was a boy he didn't recognize. He turned to Rory with his eyes squinted. "Who's that?"
Rory shrugged. "I don't know. Where'd that photo come from? Are you sure it's not-? No, it doesn't look photoshopped. I don't remember this." He shook his head, thinking for a bit. Then, his eyes opened, "Dude, is that a ghost? Did you catch a ghost on camera? Wait, what if it's the ghost here with us in the house? What if it was following you since then?"
He went to the next photo. No, there was this guy again. He didn't seem like a ghost. And he looked real enough to be a person, not a ghost. Plus, he didn't think any ghost was following him since high school. Whatever spirit was in this house was definitely attached to Ethan, but not as much as Rory thought. "And I already thought high school was confusing."
"Wait, what if it's that Benny you once told me about?"
"What? What Benny? I'm pretty sure I never knew a guy called Benny. Or a ghost called Benny," he said.
"Well, one day you came over to my house and you told me you were with Benny or something? You were pretty convinced I knew him, but I was pretty convinced you were hallucinating."
"Really? I said that? I don't remember a thing. To be fair, high school was like a blur to me. I don't remember half the things that happened."
They wondered more as they looked at the rest of the pictures with Ethan becoming more and more convinced that he was supposed to know this guy. But he left the topic alone. He wouldn't bring it up again since no one had any real input.
Eventually, for lunch, Rory wanted to take Ethan out on a date to a restaurant that his mother recommended. Ethan thought it was cute how Rory and his mother were this close. Ethan loved his mother and he called her frequently, plus visited his family even more often than that. Still, Rory and his mother were like best friends, which Ethan admired.
"You ready?" Rory asked.
"Yep," Ethan replied, making sure his wallet, his keys, and his phone were with him.
"Ah, God dammit. Where did I put the car keys? I keep losing them."
"Oh, my God. How do you keep losing them? They're right where you put all your keys." That wasn't Ethan who spoke. That wasn't even a male voice. Ethan looked up, terrified that there was a person here who broke into their place.
"Holy shit," Ethan said, jumping in his place.
"What? Did you find them?" Rory asked.
"No," Ethan whispered. In a slightly louder voice, he said, "I'm pretty sure there's a ghost behind you."
"Wait, you can see me?" the woman asked, her eyes wide, now filled with happiness. Meanwhile, Ethan was terrified. He hadn't seen any ghosts in ten years. He was twenty-seven now, and this was definitely something that would scare him, especially since he immediately thought this was a living human at first.
"For real?" Rory said. "No, you're lying. You can't see ghosts anymore." He stuck his hand behind him. "Though it definitely feels cold behind me. But, I mean, it gets cold here sometimes. It might just be a lucky guess. Anyway-"
"No, not anyway. And yes, I can see you. How the hell can I see you?"
Rory looked back, skepticism shown in his eyes, but he seemed to slowly believe Ethan.
"Oh, no. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you," she said.
He shook his head. He was just in disbelief. Friendly ghosts didn't scare him that much. It was just the return of his ability that shocked him. "No, it's fine."
"Okay, you're scaring me," Rory said. "You're not pranking me, right?"
Ethan shook his head again. "Rory, I hate pranking others. You know what? Just stay here. I'll talk to her alone, then we'll go."
The lady gave an awkward grimacing face, then started taking steps with Ethan to the room. Something Ethan didn't account for was the audible footsteps and the creaking, which startled Rory.
"Okay, now I believe you," Rory said. "Just hurry. I'm scared. And hungry."
"He's always hungry," she said, rolling her eyes. Ethan chuckled then continued making his way to the room.
Turns out, this lady was mostly attached to the apartment. She had some nice memories with her children, who now themselves have children. She didn't know where they were, so she wanted Ethan to help her know how they were doing. Luckily, Instagram existed and some of her children had public accounts. After saying goodbye to Ethan, she had gone, apparently to see her family.
Ethan couldn't believe that this could've been him. He could've turned out to be a ghost, too, perhaps wandering in his mom and dad's house. But that wasn't him. He didn't die at seventeen and he was glad. He was happy for once.
He got out, ready for the day, though now a little more paranoid than before. "Is the ghost gone?" Rory asked, leaning back as if that was going to protect him.
"Yeah, she's gone," he said. He let out a sigh. "I can't believe I saw a ghost. Wow. It's been years."
"Tell me about it. That was weird," he said. "What's weirder is where my car keys are at," he said, still looking around.
"They're in the same place as usual, Rory," he said, taking the keys from the hook by the door.
"Oh, right," Rory said. "Guess we'll go now."
The rest of the afternoon went by normally, expect for the few times where he wondered who that guy in their photos was and how he could suddenly see ghosts again. And at night, as he lied down to fall asleep, his felt his heart beating fast. He didn't know why at first. Was it work anxiety? But there was nothing he was completely worried about.
But then he realized why. The memories of the guy, Benny, were crashing into him all of a sudden. Benny, the grim reaper who came to Whitechapel. Benny, the grim reaper who went ghost hunting with Ethan. Benny, the one who saved Ethan's life two times. Benny, the one who dated him for a week then left.
He was right. Ethan would forget eventually, and he did. But now he remembered. He remembered everything and now his life didn't feel like much of a mystery anymore. He didn't know if it was Benny's photos that refreshed his memories, but even if it was, he didn't know how to explain his abilities disappearing.
He turned to Rory, who was already asleep. He snuggled closer to him, thankful that Rory was here for him, at least, even if he didn't know about Ethan almost dying. He was glad Rory was always there, even when Ethan left Whitechapel to go to college. He was glad Rory was still here when Ethan came back. He was glad Rory came out to him first as bi. He was just glad. And for once, despite feeling a little bit bitter that he wasn't supposed to have this life, he was happy a reaper decided to save his life.
It was a good thing Ethan's eventual death was not traumatizing or else he would be sitting, unfocused, unresponsive, still in shock with that happened. Instead, he felt peace. During his last few days, he knew he was going to die. It was just a matter of when. After all, he was old and he started having heart problems. That was the way life was. But stepping into the gates of the afterlife, and after being told he was going to Heaven, he felt relieved. And when he made it to Heaven, he was youthful again. He would guess this was his body in his twenties or thirties.
He felt like things were bittersweet. He was sad he had to leave Rory, Jane, and the children, but he was excited to see his parents again. That was the first thing he did. And surprisingly, even though it shouldn't have been given how he also looked, they looked young, too. Younger than they were when they had him. He'd hugged them, talked with them for what felt like hours.
Eventually, he'd gone and requested that he sees a certain someone who was in his life for merely two weeks – Benny. It took a little while for them to figure out exactly which Benny that Ethan meant given that he wasn't related to Ethan, didn't exactly live during his time, and was only a visitor at one point. Eventually, they figured out which one it was. He didn't think they'd agree to Ethan seeing him, but they did.
They got Ethan into a room, or the equivalent of a room in Heaven, and soon enough, Benny stepped inside. He had the widest smile on his face. Ethan realized he hadn't seen him smile that way, ever. Maybe it was because this smile wasn't just a happy smile. It was laced with longing and reunions.
"Ethan!" He exclaimed. "You're here." Ethan stood up from his chair and went to greet Benny. He knew it was a little weird between them, but that was shadowed by their joyfulness. They sat down together and the first thing Benny said, "You look significantly older than when I last saw you. How long did you end up living?"
"Thanks to you, 'till my seventies."
Benny's eyes widened. "Really?"
Ethan chuckled. "I guess you didn't expect that."
"No, not at all. I'm … really glad, actually."
He could tell. "And what happened to you after you left?" he asked Benny.
Benny let out a deep breath. In that moment, Ethan realized how so close they were physically yet so far apart in their journeys. Each one of them had a drastically different life following the events that happened when they were last together. At least, Ethan guessed Benny had a drastically different experience. "Well, I was basically put into Heaven rehab, as weird as that sounds. It's just heavier, more intense training courses for people like me. You know, people who broke rules."
"Ah, delinquents," he said jokingly.
"Oh, shut up, old man," Benny said, laughing a little at the end. "Yeah, so I was relocated to filing and stuff like that. Pretty boring but it's a job that I don't have to do all the time, which is great. Plus, if I don't want to do it, I can just say that. They'll be more than happy to let me not screw up anything else, but I want to do something. I hate sitting down and doing nothing." Ethan understood that. He, himself, was like that sometimes. "And what about you? Did you live a happy life?"
Ethan nodded. "Yeah. At first, things were confusing. I did not remember you at all and I lost my seeing ability, I guess as a result of the memory wipe although I don't see how. I just knew something was off. So, I left Whitechapel for a while – for college. When I came back, I actually started dating Rory."
"Really?" Benny asked. "I thought he was straight."
"He used to think he was. Turns out, he likes men, too," Ethan said. "Eventually, I found the pictures I took with you and I remembered everything. That and my ability was back. After that, I got married, adopted two kids, my sister got married, too, and now I have grandchildren and … yeah, a lot happened. I'm glad it did." He looked at Benny – really looked at Benny. "Thank you. A lot. I know things for you aren't exactly ideal and you sacrificed a lot. I just wanna tell you that I appreciate that. I got to live thanks to you."
"You're welcome," he said. "I just knew I had to save you. It was a no-brainer to me."
They stayed and chatted for a while. At the end, Ethan promised to visit him every once in a while. A part of him wondered if Benny was happy. If he was able to move on, as well. He knew that they parted with feelings that changed, at least for Ethan. He hoped he was happy. Eventually, he would ask. He didn't want things to be left unsaid.
He knew one thing, though. While he was certainly in love with Rory, nothing would take away the fact that Benny was special to him, in a strange way. No matter what, he couldn't stop thinking about how he kissed a grim reaper and lived.
This took waaaay too long to write. I know I haven't updated in a while, but this is why. I've been trying to write this, but stumbling on words, plot points, and whatever. Still, I'm proud of it and I hope you guys liked it. The ending is bittersweet, since … spoilers but not really, Benny isn't completely happy at the end and I didn't end up making Bethan the endgame, but I wanted to give this a shot.
Make sure to leave a review or comment telling me what you thought of this story, the writing, the plot, if you want to see more stories in this style – long one-shot. I'd be happy to hear your guys' feedback. It really makes my day and encourages me to write more for you guys.
Until next time!