Once again it’s time for a fun adventure. Enjoy my story below, then follow the links to other stories of participating authors in the blog hop. Leave us comments. We love hearing from you!
This is the 10th installment of GRIT’s adventure. To start at the beginning for context, start with Grim Failure.
Shortly after the collectors left with the captured souls (all 23 of them, yea us!), the aftermath committee arrived to investigate what had happened. We knew their primary job was to decide where to assign fault. We had been ordered to stay put until we could be debriefed.
While the aftermath committee examined the scene and asked the reapers general questions about the earthquake, timing, and overall setting prior to, during, and after the event, one by one we were taken away to debrief with committee members as they wrapped up their investigation or collectors who returned from their soul deliveries. It was a slow, boring process and since I was still in training, I was the last one chosen.
Once alone, I considered slinking away. I mean, could I possibly make my situation any worse? I had consistently failed in one way or another but my ineptness peaked. Maybe I would have been better off if we hadn’t been rescued. At lease in Hades I wouldn’t have to see the look of disappointment on my parents’ faces when they learned I had been kicked out of the reaper program. In Hades I wouldn’t have to face the embarrassment of my failures. I wish the collectors would have rescued Samantha but not me.
At least I could try and help Samantha. Administration needed to know that she was put in an impossible situation. One of the other reapers had failed and lost track of their souls who then joined Samantha’s collection and overwhelmed her. Without my testimony they might get away with it or worse, pass the blame to Samantha. She had tried to encourage me so I felt like I owed it to her to speak the truth. That is, if my testimony was worth anything at this point.
One of the committee members approached. It was time to face what I had done.
“I’ll take this one.”
My heart sank at Stan’s gruff voice
While I hadn’t expected to get a sympathetic ear, with Stan interviewing me I would be on the defensive the whole time. He knew more about my failures than anyone.
Neither of us spoke until we were comfortably sitting in one of the interview rooms. They used to be called interrogation rooms but administration thought the name carried strong negative connotations so they changed it a few years ago.
The name change wouldn’t affect what was about to happen to me. I could see disdain written all over Stan’s face.
“You left your assigned souls after securing them, ignored protocol in the midst of a dangerous situation, and got yourself captured…all while being on probation. Did I miss anything?”
Yeah, Stan wasn’t biased toward me at all. I didn’t stand a chance. Maybe at least I could keep Samantha out of trouble. “What happened—it wasn’t her fault. Samantha. Those souls were evil and she should never have been assigned three of them on her own. Plus someone failed and their souls ganged up on Samantha.”
“You’re saying that none of this is your fault?”
“Yes. No. I mean, all the things you said are true. It’s just that Samantha, she didn’t do anything wrong and I don’t want her to get in trouble for someone else’s mistake.”
Stan leaned forward and leered at me, his glare even more distrusting than before, if that were possible. “You want me to believe that you’re more concerned about her welfare than yours?”
“Oh, I’m concerned about my situation. Very much. It’s just, I realize I can’t do anything to help myself. Maybe I can help her by making sure you know the truth.”
I swear he hadn’t looked away nor blinked in two minutes. It was disconcerting and I felt my eyes starting to burn thinking about it.
“This next part doesn’t leave this room, okay?” He waited for me to agree before continuing. “Do you know that her family has a lot of influence?”
“And do you know who that is?”
Was Stan testing me or fishing for information? Was I putting her at risk by acknowledging her family’s influence? “No, she didn’t say.”
“And you didn’t ask?” he said incredulously.
He blinked! Finally. I shifted nervously though because his gaze still bore into me.
“No. But I don’t think they can help her with this because she said her uncle is only a collector like you. No offense,” I added when he grunted. I didn’t bother to explain; I couldn’t do anything at this point to earn his favor.
Stan leaned back but didn’t relax. He watched me as if considering my statement.
Finally, he turned on the recorder, which I found odd since we hadn’t talked about anything particularly secretive to this point. Was he concerned about Samantha’s family or about the danger he could put them in?
“I want you to tell me everything that happened from the moment you arrived at the collection site. And give me a timeframe as best you can.”
The only time Stan interrupted my story was to ask clarifying questions. He drilled for every detail, especially those relating to my abandoning my couple and the proceeding activities. I was condemning myself with my testimony. I could only hope it would help Samantha. Stan didn’t give me any indication one way or the other.
When we finished, Stan stood. He didn’t thank me, he didn’t chastise me; he didn’t even look at me. His parting words deflated what little hope I had that my reaper career might survive. “I’ll make sure you get what you deserve.”
The only question running through my head as the administration building faded behind was How long until they take action against me?
My mind flashed back to the collapsed building and the evil souls clutching Samantha and I cringed the sound of her desperate voice.
The cry got louder, which made me stop. The third time I heard it I realized it wasn’t coming from my memory but from the present; behind in increasing volume.
I turned at the sound of rapid footsteps, quickly coming to a halt. As she gasped to catch her breath, Samantha stared, studying my face with a similar intensity and insight as Stan. Did she think I was a failure too?
“I’m glad I caught you. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I hadn’t thanked you for saving me.”
She gave me a hug, and not one of those polite, obligatory hugs. She squeezed me with a genuine appreciation. I felt her shake before I heard the sobs. At that point I felt obligated to hug her back, hold her while she let out the tension held since the traumatic experience of facing an eternity in Hades. We cried together. I felt her emotion; bonded by the same fear. We had faced the same horrifying fate and had somehow escaped.
When we finished, we both wiped snot on our sleeves. I looked into her puffy eyes, swollen and red like the rest of her face, flushed with anxiety and relief. I was sure I looked as much of a mess as she.
Her mouth turned into a smile. “Thank you GR. If you hadn’t intervened when you did I would be in Hades and no one would even know.”
I didn’t do anything, really. “We got lucky. Lucky the collectors and backup arrived when they did. Otherwise we might be…” I didn’t have the courage to say it out loud. The thought made me shudder.
“They wouldn’t have arrived in time to save me if you hadn’t helped.”
“I appreciate it, and I hope you have a successful career as a reaper. What happened today wasn’t your fault and I made sure the committee knew it in my debriefing.”
She kissed me on the cheek. “If there’s anything I can ever do for you…I owe you my life.”
It was an exaggeration. Instead of rescuing her I had gotten myself caught. Still, it was nice to hear, especially with what would soon happen to me.
“You can’t help me. All I ever wanted to do was be a reaper. At least I can say I gave it a shot.”
And with that, I walked slowly home.
Continue reading GRIT’s adventures:
Check out the other stories in the blog hop and leave us comments.
Cursed by Barbara Lund
A Different Kind of Raise by Amy Keeley