I survey the scene as the cold air fills my lungs with what feels like daggers. How do mortals stand this cold weather? I take a moment and muse at the irony of living in Chicago and the Underworld’s cold places, but I still don’t like it.
The police have arrived with their barking, overeager dogs. I will have to throw them off the trail. I close my eyes and scent the air. Blood! I can smell blood! Sweet copper. I know the path Mr. Nolin has taken before the dogs have gotten the chance to leave the parking lot. I flap my wings and take off over the path where I have smelled the blood. His dying soul is echoing now, and leads me to a car in a clearing. As I examine the seat, a smile breaks out on my face. I can’t help it. This is going to be a fun chase, I just know it.
I pluck six black feathers from my wings and place them on the ground. They begin to emit black tendrils of smoke that rise up into small black tornadoes before turning into six versions of me. “Excellent!” I think to myself as I pop a black peppermint in my mouth. I enjoy the tang, so much tangier than the common white, before I speak to my clones. “John Nolin’s soul and blood cries down this path. Find him, bring him to me,” I instruct five of them. They turn into clouds of black smoke and shoot down the path after Mr. Nolin.
I turn my attention to the sixth version of me. “Dogs in the parking lot, go and lead them off the merry chase,” I tell this one. He nods and like the others, turns into black smoke, and goes back to the parking lot to give the dogs something to chase. I sit on the hood of the car, allowing my wings to drape over me. I close my eyes to see through the eyes of my clones. This is the merry chase: it is the part where the human soul is denial. It is the strongest of all the stages of death.
Humans are the only creatures who experience it. It is my job to coax you out of it, so you come with me. Some are in such a strong state of denial that it’s unbreakable. That is why there are ghosts in the world, because I could not coax or convince them otherwise. That saddens me, but oh, well.
Sorry, I am rambling again. Back to Mr. Nolin. Through the eyes of my clones, I see a cabin. Yes, it’s cliché, but it’s there. I sense a dwindling life force inside: Mr. Nolin (if you were wondering).
He sits on the floor of the dusty old cabin, his back propped against an overturned table. His body is cold, and sweat pours out of everywhere. Blood from the gut wound that he sustained from the shootout with the police seeps out between his fingers. It pools around him onto the floor of this ancient cabin. My clone slides down the chimney like Santa Claus. Mr. Nolin doesn’t notice.
He is in shock, which helps the death process along. The clone and I form up behind him; I will be speaking through the clone to John. I listen to the labored breathing of the dying man, a sound I have listened to all my life. “John Michael Nolin. Son of Stephen. Son of Rachel. Brother of none,” I start.
“Who’s there?” he asks weakly.
“I am, Mr. Nolin, a friend, a guide, someone you can trust,” I tell him as I reach out to place my hand on his shoulder.
I watch the flesh break off and dissolve away until the skeleton remains. “Oh, my, very interesting,” I think. The poor, dying wretch turned his head to me, and I see his clothes are turning black. As I, and probably you, suspected, Mr. Nolin’s soul is bound for Tartarus. He sees me then, in what I call my grim visage. It’s the one you mortals most commonly see around Halloween time.
He shrieks and scoots away from me, leaving a long trail of blood. “No! No! You don’t exist!” he hollers at me.
“But I do, John,” I tell him, knowing full well that kindness will not work to coax the Tartarus bound.
“No! There is no God or gods. I refuse to accept this!” he shrieks.
“Then what am I, John?” I ask.
And here it comes, the denial of all humans. “My mind playing tricks on me, just my mind playing tricks on me.” He covers his eyes. “Not there! Not there! Not there!” He uncovers his eyes to see that I am, in fact, still there.
He pulls out a snub-nosed revolver from his belt and with a scream, opens fire at the clone. My clone dissolves into smoke, gone, but not forgotten. I forgot my clones are so easily dispatched. The adrenaline, amazing stuff, kicks in, and Mr. Nolin runs out the door, blindly fleeing down the path and screaming. I sit on the hood of the car, feeling the feather that made the clone reattach itself to my wings.
I peek over my shoulder at the car. This is where the twist at the end will happen. (Maybe you’ll see it coming, and maybe you won’t. I just hope you will like it.) I slip another piece of black peppermint into my mouth and will my other clones to intercept the screaming and running Mr. Nolin.
Where is he? Ah, found him behind the large tree.
I focus my will into the clone nearest him as I pull my iPad out and place it into my lap. I am waiting for my dear older sister, Atropos, to send me another email. The smile on my face only grows larger at this point in the chase.