You know, I read a lot of books in The Project. They were all supposed to be textbooks for my training, but the people guarding me were really, really lazy, and I ended up with a bunch of fiction books as well. They were pretty stupid books, but I had fun reading them. One of them was a detective novel, where a rogue investigator had to find out who killed someone’s rich uncle. As I recall, he thought it was the butler at first, but then it looked like it was the elder brother, but then a surprise twist that was really, really obvious happened, and it was actually the butler again. Well, everyone died, though, except for the detective. It was really a stupid book.
Anyway, there was a picture of the investigator on the cover. He was a handsome guy with a long, brown coat, and a wide, droopy brown hat that nearly covered his eyes, with a gun in one hand and a magnifying glass in the other. I don’t know why he was carrying a magnifying glass. He never used one in the book. He did shoot a lot of people, though. It was a really stupid book.
Yeah, the person Miss Metria sent me to meet looked just like that, if he had died along with everyone else in the book, and someone had come along later and propped him up at his desk. The same long jacket, except it was black. And the same weird hat, also black. Only he wasn’t handsome at all, because his head was a skull. And he had a strip of cloth like a blindfold over his eye sockets, except with black lenses like sunglasses sewn into it, which the detective on the cover didn’t have. So yeah, like someone had dressed a skeleton up like a detective. I even wondered if Miss Metria was pulling some sort of prank on me.
It was weird, though. He was obviously a dead skeleton, right? He wasn’t moving, and he wasn’t leaking magic or whatever like the zombies outside. But after a second, I could tell he wasn’t dead.
Well, no, he was dead. I mean, really dead. But he wasn’t dead like a corpse dead. He was dead like Miss Metria dead. I can’t really describe it. But I knew he was watching me. Or listening, or whatever.
So I told him why I had come, that my family was doing something strange, and I wanted someone find out what it was, and probably to stop them from doing it. After a moment, I also told him that my parents were missing, and I’d like to save them too.
He didn’t say anything. Or move. He sat there like a dead guy, which was fair, but it wasn’t very helpful. I was actually wondering if he was ignoring me, or if he just didn’t hear me, when he suddenly stood up.
The way he moved was really hard to describe. I mean, it wasn’t like he jerked up, he moved really smoothly, and he wasn’t particularly fast. But despite all my training, by the time I realized he had moved, he already had a gun pointed at my head.
I mean, straight at my head. Perfectly level, probably pointed straight between my eyes. And there was nothing I could do to stop him. It was already too late, and I was going to die. Well, I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes, though. So that probably doesn’t actually happen. Stupid books.
Only, he didn’t shoot me. He pointed the gun towards the door I came in through, and almost idly pulled the trigger. Now, bullets are supposed to be so fast you can’t see them, right? But his gun fired some sort of light bullet, which sounds fast but wasn’t, and I almost couldn’t look away from it as it shot quickly, but slowly for a bullet, into one of those fast zombies like the ones that had attacked me downstairs. It was lunging through the doorway, at me, and the first I knew of it was when that light bullet hit it right in the head and sent it spinning across the room. I mean, literally spinning head over heels into a wall. And then it burst into flame.
What the hell was that bullet, anyway!?
So watching that zombie get killed made me realize something important. I was afraid. I was really, really, really afraid. I wasn’t sure why, but the skeleton behind the desk scared me more than anything I had ever seen before. It wasn’t because he had been about to shoot me, either. I had been scared out of my mind ever since I walked into his room. But I only noticed when I realized that I had heard that zombie coming, but had completely ignored it because it wasn’t nearly as scary as him.
Which probably explained why I had automatically drawn one of my guns and was pointing it at him. I have no idea whether the bullets Miss Metria had given me would have any effect on him, and I had a bad feeling that they wouldn’t do a thing to him. Which might be why he completely ignored me.
So, he reached into that burning zombie, and he pulled out… something. I don’t know. There wasn’t anything in his hand, but I get the feeling he was holding something anyway. And then he flicked his wrist, and tossed that something into the air, and suddenly a pale gray light appeared. It was a little bit dim, but unlike my flashlight, it illuminated the whole room. Something about it was calming, too. I’m not sure why I think that, though, since I was completely freaking out at the time. Hell, it’s been more than a week, and I’m still freaking out.
So, I had dropped the flashlight when he shot the zombie, so it was nice to have a way to see. Unfortunately, I could still see the skeleton detective, and he was still really scary. And then he started speaking to me, and that was even more scary. His voice is wrong. It doesn’t sound like a person speaking at all, it’s all buzzy and mechanical. Absolutely no emotions, too.
He didn’t care about my story at all, either. He thought that Miss Metria had sent me to get him for a different reason, and he didn’t listen to me when I tried to explain that I was the one who needed help. I shouldn’t have tried to argue with him, though. I should have just left. Because I annoyed him enough to take off his blindfold.
His eyes… Lysysteri damn it, his eyes… I mean, I can’t even describe them, really. It’s like a blue glow, so it shouldn’t be scary, right? Only you look into that glow, and you can tell that you are going to die. Someday, you will not exist anymore. No one will remember you, no one will cry for you, and you will be gone. And no matter how much you want to hide from that fact, if you look into that blue glow, you can’t avoid it anymore.
Someday, I will die.
It scares me.
So I ran away.
I left that room, ran down the stairs, shot another zombie, ran outside, ran down the road, shot some more zombies, scratched myself pushing through the useless fence around the dead zone, and ran all the way back home. My new home, that is, the abandoned hotel.
Miss Metria was waiting for me there. I was angry with her, later, but at that moment I could only see the sympathy in her face. Even her eyes, which should have been dead, looked like they completely understood, in that moment. So when I broke into tears and crumpled down, she put her arm around me and gave me a hug.
Later, I was a little upset with myself for not noticing that one of her arms didn’t work earlier. It was after I had yelled at her for sending me to that place, and pretended I didn’t see how sad and guilty she looked. It only made me feel worse, though. I’m going to apologize to her, if I can see her again. She didn’t come back after that, she only sent Stanley a few times. Well, every day. He seemed really worried, too, but I didn’t really want to talk about it.
So, yeah, that’s how I found out that I was afraid of death. I’m not afraid of dying. I don’t think I am, anyway. I’m willing to risk my life to accomplish my goals, and that might mean dying. So I’m prepared for that, I think.
But I’m not prepared for being dead. If that makes any sense. It’s like, I’m scared of what might happen when I’m dead. I mean, at the very least, I won’t be here anymore. I just don’t know what else it means. Do I disappear, or do I become a shadow, or do I get tortured forever? I have no idea. And even though I know that I am going to die, because I looked that damn skeleton in the eye, I don’t really know what it means. And it is terrifying, to not know.
But, you know? In that week or so, after meeting that person, I kept thinking about it. And the more I thought about it, the more I felt that running away was the wrong idea. Sure, I don’t know what it means to be dead, and that’s scary. But I won’t learn anything by running away. I don’t want to run away from anything. Even my own death.
Besides, I know a lot of people who are technically dead. Miss Metria might know something, if I ask her. Or there’s the lich who is part of the city Council, although I doubt I could meet him that easily. Miss Metria also said something about an important vampire in the city, although vampires are really scary too. Anyway, I could find a dead person to ask them about death, and they should know something, right?
Anyway, I swore to myself to never run away from my fear of death again. I would confront it head on! Feeling quite smug and proud of myself, I went to watch sunrise, because of the wonderful view on top of the hotel. It’s really pretty.
Only someone was already watching the sunrise. As if he already knew what I had resolved in my heart. My knees felt a little weak, but I forced myself to stand up straight, and confront him directly.
Yeah. It was that damn skeleton again. Zaga-whatever it was. Mr. Zedda.