My first memory is that of being kidnapped.
It’s not as much as a memory as it is a feeling, the feeling of being carried like a bag on a strange mans back through dark tunnels that smelled of mold and death. I don’t remember anything before that.
They brought Adrian when I was five and him seven. He came in with Raven, looking like a wreck, with untamed blonde hair and that faded red sweatshirt with the hole in the sleeve. His shoes left muddy footprints throughout the dwelling. Raven made me clean them up.
The first time we talked I noticed the pink scar that ran from his temple to the corner of his mouth on his right cheek. I’d asked what happened.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he’d sneered. Our conversations after that remained brief and formal.
Eleven years after that Felix decided I should spend some time with Adrian to “get him in line.” I didn’t know what I could do but I never asked questions. I just did what I was told.
I entered the dark sitting room, where Adrian was sprawled on one of the squishy leather couches reading a thick book. He looked up when I came in and his green eyes flashed in annoyance.
He looked back down at the book. “Delia,” he said flatly, like he was greeting a stranger on the street.
“Adrian.” I sat down on the couch across from him, smoothing the folds of my black dress. He completely ignored me. I was used to this, but if I didn’t put any effort into the meetings, I would be the one to get punished.
But I didn’t have to achieve anything that day, so I decided to get answers of my own. He’d grown up a lot since the day Raven first brought him in, but he’d always be that wrecked blonde boy to me.
“Adrian, why do you hate me so much?”
His eyes met mine and they devoured me to the depths of my soul. “I don’t hate you. I just don’t like you. There’s a difference.”
The rest of that meeting was spent in agonizing silence.
A week after that, Raven brought him along on a reaping. “Why is he coming with us? He never does his job,” I whispered to Raven as I slipped my black cloak on.
She flicked her yellow eyes at me, but didn’t really see me. I was used to that, too. “Felix arranged it. Don’t ask so many questions.” Raven was my mentor. She looked like a small child in a reaper costume but could create pain like no other in an instant.
I turned away and glared at Adrian as the elevator jolted downward. His blonde hair spiked out from underneath his cloak and shadowed his bored expression. “Don’t mess this up,” I warned. This was my third reaping and I was determined to do it right.
He grinned, and his pink scar crinkled along with his skin.
He messed up the reaping by preventing me from harvesting the elderly man’s soul. I was the one punished because I let it happen.
I sat huddled in the corner by the fireplace in the sitting room when Adrian found me. He knelt in front of me, his image blurred by my salty tears.
“I’m not going to hurt you. I’ve had thousands of doses of Felix’s torture.”
Felix was the reaper that kidnapped us. I’d watched him torture Adrian several times. I’d learned to fear him early.
I let Adrian take my arm and he rolled back my sleeve. Three angry gashes glared up from my pale forearm, blood oozing out like boiling water. The whole right side of my body was on fire with the pain, all due to the poisonous knife Felix had used to cut me. It used to hurt worse but I learned to accept it. You can only do so much complaining before getting tortured again.
Adrian sucked in a breath and shut his eyes. “Come on. Let’s get the poison out.”
He carried me to his bedroom. I didn’t know what his motives were because he had never been this nice. I’d always known him to be cold and heartless.
He laid me down on his navy blue bed, the only piece of furniture in the gigantic room. He disappeared through a door and I stared up at the purple starless sky through the skylight.
I was drifting off when he came back with an unlabeled, red bottle: the antidote to the poison. We always had to cure ourselves or else Felix would let us die.
“Delia, wake up.” He shook me gently then took my arm. He sat on the bed next to me and started to dab the colorless cream on the gashes. It stung and I bit back a whimper. I would not show weakness.
“I thought you didn’t like me,” I inquired after the stinging died down.
He smiled a little and added a red tinged cotton ball to the growing pile. “I lied.”
“Then why do act the way you do?”
He stopped and considered my question. “I always thought you were one of them. I didn’t realize you weren’t until Raven said Felix punished you for what I did.”
I didn’t say anything.
He wrapped a white bandage around my wounds then got up to throw the cotton balls away. He sat back down and brushed a stray strand of black hair behind my ear. I shivered.
“You asked me once how I got this scar,” he started.
He sighed. “My step mom hit me with the edge of a frying pan. And even though it was worse there, I hate it here.”
“There’s no way out,” I said. “Raven said we’re reapers for life.”
“Raven,” he said. “Is a liar.”
And so Adrian talked me into running away with him. I’d never figured out where we were, and neither had he, but I had guessed it was a city. No small town would have a thirty-eight floor dwelling tower.
So instead of “getting him in line”, we spent every meeting planning our escape. I was skeptical. I’d never known any other life outside of the dwelling, but he promised me I would love it. But I didn’t think I was capable of loving anything.
The day came, the day of my fourth reaping. Adrian came with us again, and I was getting jittery. If it didn’t work, we both would die. Reaping a reapers soul was dangerous.
We rode the elevator down like always, Adrian and I as far apart as we could get and Raven standing like a dark statue between us.
I was terrified.
We entered a strange dwelling on floor sixteen; we had to reap this sick woman’s soul.
“Hurry and reap her. She is overdue,” Raven directed without feeling.
Adrian and I stood on either side of the sick woman on the bed. I nodded at him and he placed two fingers on her sweaty neck. He shut his eyes and I saw his jaw tense before a white mist rose from her body and glided up through the ceiling.
Raven smiled. “Now let’s go.” She turned around, which we had been counting on her to do. This was where I came in: I would reap her soul. Adrian had said I had more experience.
I jumped on her back and placed all ten of my fingers on her neck. She struggled and dug her nails into my wrists, and I concentrated on guiding her soul out. She resisted at first, trying to tear my fingers off, but I held on with all my might. This was my chance at a new life that I never knew existed.
Her knees buckled without warning and we both fell down, my fingers losing contact with her neck. Her black, writhing soul slithered from her body and seemed to evaporate in the air. I didn’t know where Reaper’s souls went.
I gasped and scrambled away from her body. Adrian helped me up and we stared down at her, the reaper who had raised the both of us. She got no goodbyes.
Adrian rushed us to the elevator and he stabbed the button for the first floor and we jolted downward. We had to get out before Felix got back and found Raven.
We waited in silence until the doors opened onto a dark lobby filled with ice sculptures and crystal chandeliers. People who weren’t quite people littered the area, no one even giving us a second glance as we walked casually through. The reflections on the glossy floor scared me, always looking like Felix, but I assured myself it wasn’t.
“Where are we going to go?” I asked breathlessly, throwing worried glances around for signs of pursuers. There were none.
Adrian pushed the glass door open and a burst of humid air hit me full in the face for the first time since I was three years old. The outside was a place I didn’t remember, but feelings always seemed to pre-date memories.
He grinned at me. “Wherever you want. We have the entire world at our doorstep.”
I looked around at the packed street, the gleaming, glass buildings towering over us like glaciers. I didn’t know where we were. I scanned my earliest memories, for smells, tastes, looks. I got nothing, but I knew it wasn’t here. “I want to go home.”
My home, as it turned out, was impossible to find. We were in a foreign place, another dimension, but somewhere out there I knew, was my home that I was taken from so many years before.