Reapers And Raindrops
by Nicole Clevenger

It was a dark and stormy night...

George snorted, a little smear of condensation forming on the cold glass inches from where her cheek was pressed against the window. A melodramatic line for a gloomy Sunday, disturbing evidence that boredom was finally on its way to driving her crazy. Or at least to seriously warping any shreds of originality.

Sunday Sunday Sunday. She hated Sundays, dragging clock-watching chunks of time pretending to be part of the weekend. But they weren't, not really, because anything you did on a Sunday was overshadowed by Monday looming dreary on the horizon. Friday night carried the promise of the long weekend stretching ahead, and Saturday shone with the knowledge that whatever happened there would at least be a full day to recover. But Sundays... Sundays were Make The Most of It days. And The Most usually ending up looking suspiciously like bad TV and watching your dad grade papers in the living room.

Unless of course you happened to be an undead Reaper with a 9-5, in which case Sundays meant sitting in your shithole of a borrowed apartment watching the rain wash the trash on the sidewalk into little gutter puddles while you dreaded the coming morning.

Not even an appointment today. It was storming outside for chrissakes - people got killed in storms all the time. Traffic accidents, lightening strikes, falling trees, slipping on the stairs... And those were just the gimmies. She'd seen the gravelings come up with some pretty unexpected options so far - so why was she sitting there with nothing to do?

It wasn't that she was really looking forward to her next one, but she was maybe starting to get the hang of this whole soul-popping thing. Sure, she still felt sort of sick to her stomach each time she had to look someone in the face right before the whole Boom Bang Sudden Death bit, but it was starting to get a little easier each time she did. A little.

On the grand scale of One to Horrible, that is.

After all, she'd seen how much worse it was when the soul didn't get taken, all screaming trapped and frantic inside a mutilated corpse. That had to be way farther up the scale than the eerie calm when they walked their way to the bright lights. Yeah, eerie calm over frantic screaming any day.

George turned away from the window, grabbed a hooded sweatshirt off the floor and pulled it on. Two sizes too big and sporting the logo of some team she'd never heard of (What the hell was a Hawkeye anyway?) but it was the cleanest comfortable thing in the apartment. God she hated doing laundry. Hated it almost to the point of pathological disorder, putting it off and putting it off until she found herself buying new underwear while articles of clothing kept trying to launch themselves out of her hamper. It was sort of a Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout thing, when you thought about it.

For lack of anything better to do, George threw herself face down on the unmade bed and lay there with her face buried in the pillow, listening to the rain hurling itself at her window. When Reggie was little she used to beg their parents to take her outside whenever it rained. If they wouldn't take her, she'd sneak outside; they'd find her there, standing in the front yard staring up at the darkened sky, trying to catch the rain in her mouth...

Wait. Maybe that wasn't Reggie. Maybe that was a story their dad had told George about her childhood. She couldn't remember.

She couldn't remember, and for just a minute it even hurt to breathe.

Just don't think about it, she told herself. A mantra that had definitely already used up its shelf-life. The bright side was that if she repeated it over and over and over - kind of like one long repetitive sentence - she really wasn't thinking about anything else. Meaningless syllables running over one another like a kid's song you kept singing under your breath. Until someone told you not- so-politely to Shut The Hell Up.

Or, you know, until someone started pounding on your apartment door with the flat of their hand.

George rolled over, staring at the door like any second it was going to fade away and she'd be able to see who was on the other side. It wasn't like she got a whole lot of visitors, before or after the Flaming Toilet Seat of Doom. She hadn't missed or fucked up an appointment, so she was guessing it wasn't Rube come to chew her ass out. Betty was gone, Roxy didn't exactly seem the visiting type, and the gravelings didn't bother to knock so far as she'd noticed. Which either meant Mason, or the cops itching to evict her for squatting.

Unless of course it was Delores HerbigCrookedTeeth. She did seem to be trying to bond a lot more than usual lately, and this was Millie's address on record. She didn't really come across as the sort of person who would pound at someone's door like that, but who could tell with people? Maybe she was overcome with excitement at the idea of some out-of-office girl time. Or maybe she was being chased down the hallway by wolves.

Please please please - let it be Mason.

Great, another mantra. Those things were starting to pile up like trading cards. It was getting to the point where she should write a self-help book or something. Thoughts From the Afterlife. Or maybe Dead Like Me.

The knocking was still going on; she figured she'd better see who it was. If it wasn't the cops, someone was probably going to call the cops soon enough. With her hand on the deadbolt, she tried to work up a smile. Sort of a combination between Why Officer, What Could Possibly Bring You Out Here in the Middle of the Night and Gee, Delores, What a Great Surprise. Just in case. Trouble was, those two expressions didn't exactly match - not really talking about a Reeses harmony of peanut butter and chocolate there.

More like peanut butter and egg or something.

Turned out she needn't have bothered - when she pulled open the door a drenched, knocking Mason found himself abruptly without support, and he was too busy stumbling over his feet and into her arms to look at the expression on her face. They tripped back a couple of steps into the apartment before Mason got his balance back; he stood there grinning and dripping on her carpet.


George squinted at him. He seemed way too cheerful for someone so rain-logged. She wiped her wet hands on her jeans. "Uh, hi."

They stood there. She wondered how many people were dying in the space of that silence.

"Did you... you know, want something?"

Mason blinked, shook himself. Little drops of water leapt from his shoulders to add to the puddle forming under his shoes. He looked a little confused. "Did I...? No. I don't think so..."

George arched an eyebrow, stepping around him to close the door. This looked like it might be a long... something. She moved back to stand in front of him again, idly noticing how that goofy grin made him look younger than usual. Trying to decide if offering him dry clothes from her Dead Guy Stash was going to bring up more problems than it would solve. "So you came over here because...?" she tried again.

She didn't think it was possible, but the grin got even wider. As if he were pleased to finally be asked a question he knew the answer to. "Jus' to see you, Georgie-girl. Jus' to see you."

George waited for more, but it didn't seem that there was any more. She shook her head. "Okay, if this is a joke - you know, some kind of English version of Knock Knock, Who's There... then I don't get it. Maybe it's just me."

"You like jokes then? I know a joke..." His forehead crinkled, an exaggerated parody of a person in deep thought. Or it would've been, except George didn't think Mason was parodying anybody but himself. And that not even on purpose. She ducked into the bathroom to grab a towel, returning to find him muttering under his breath. Something about a rabbi and what sounded like geese.

"Here." She tossed him the towel; it hit his chest and slipped to the floor before he even made a grab for it. A thought occurred to her then, and she peered at him. "Are you drunk?"

"Me?" Like there was anybody else she might be talking to. "No..." He stretched out the syllable, apparently under the impression that a longer sound would make the word more convincing. She could've told him it didn't. Especially after he bent over to pick up the towel, and she caught sight of the flat bottle sticking out of the back pocket of his jeans.

"Uh-huh." She grabbed the half-empty bottle and looked at the label.

Mason looked sheepish for about a half a second before grinning again. He held his index finger and his thumb a couple of millimeters apart and said, "All right, maybe just a little." Then he lifted his index finger to his lips and winked at her. "Shhh..."

Wonderful. A drunken lunatic bearing gifts. At least it had to be more interesting than whatever was on TV.

Mason began toweling his hair dry with enough force to wrench his neck off; George uncapped the bottle and sniffed at it. She made a face when the smell of cheap whiskey hit her nose, and he laughed from under the big blue towel.

"Go on. Have a taste."

She screwed the cap back on, tried to hand it to him. "Uh... yeah. I don't think so."

He refused to take it, pushing it playfully back at her. "Aw come on... Jus' one. Drinking buddies and all."

Drinking buddies and all? What did that even mean?

"Look, I have to work in the morning," she told him. He nodded, with a serious look on his face that didn't even look close to serious. "Not breaking into parking meters - or whatever you're doing for money this week - but an actual job. One where they don't take too kindly to people staggering in all late and hungover."

He was still nodding. She could practically see her words hitting his ears and bouncing off without ever making it inside his head. With a frustrated noise that came in somewhere between a groan and a sigh, she left him standing there and flopped down on the couch. She dropped the bottle on the cushion beside her, flicking the power button on the remote and staring resolutely at the TV. Maybe if she ignored him, he'd get bored and go away.

Mason pitched the towel at the arm of the couch; it hit, stuck for a moment, then slipped off to land in a small heap on the floor. He moved around the low table - stepping over the fluffy cloth pile but not bothering to pick it up - and jumped onto the third cushion heavily enough to make her bounce at the other end. She still didn't look at him.

He was looking at her, though. With one arm slung over the back of the couch, he watched her ignore him. He didn't seem put out by it in the least. "Suit yourself then." He rubbed at his nose with the back of his hand. "Thought maybe we'd do some drinking together is all. Get to know each other a bit better. Laugh, cry, share deep dark secrets... Was going to be a bloody marvelous evening. It really was."

George glanced at him, a fractional turn of the head and a look out of the corner of her eye. "You came over here - in the rain - because you wanted to get to know me better?" Her eyes darted to the closed door, now half expecting Rube to suddenly pop in and offer to do her dishes. She turned back to Mason. "Um, no offense, but what's the catch?"

Mason snorted. "No catch." He picked up the bottle between them, opened it, and took a grimacing swig. "You," he said, waving the whiskey at her for emphasis, "need to be more trusting of people."

George grabbed a pillow and wrapped her arms around it, holding it to her chest while she pretended to watch some more TV. "That's what my mom used to say. But I still know Mary Ellen Watson stole those CDs that time she came over, trust or no trust."

"Who's Mary Ellen Watson?" Mason asked. He took another drink, his eyes moving from George to the TV. "Ooooh, The Simpsons - I love this show. Turn it up, will you?"

"Thought you wanted to talk," George muttered, turning up the volume.

"I knew this girl once, used to do her hair just like that Marge Simpson." He flipped his hand around in the empty space above his head, vaguely miming Marge's tall hair without taking his eyes off the small screen. "Wasn't blue though." Mason hiccupped, laughed. "Might've looked better if it had been."

"Mmm... fascinating."

A little voice in her head wondered why exactly she was giving him such a hard time. After all, it's not like she really had anything better to do. And she liked Mason - even if he did sometimes come across as a walking talking anti-drug commercial. Or a poster child example of what happened when a mother dropped her baby on its head once too often.

Maybe once you got used to being alone, it became a habit. Just something you did - like getting coffee on the way to work or smoking a cigarette before bed - until you woke up one morning and realized that it was easier just not being around people at all.

God, what a depressing thought. "Give me that," George said, reaching for the bottle.

She caught sight of Mason's delighted smile as she threw her head back to take a huge gulp just like in the movies. Except in the movies when the tough guy takes a shot he swallows, followed by the delivery of an appropriately bad ass line or two. He doesn't usually choke and splutter and need the other person on the couch to pound him on the back before he drowns on dry land.

Not that drowning was actually a possibility, but that didn't make the experience any more fun.

Mason was laughing. More like giggling uncontrollably, actually. As soon as she could breathe again, George shot him a murderous look; it only made the laughing worse - which, in turn, only made her scowl more. She slumped down on the couch, arms folded across her chest, eyes back on the TV. Trying not to feel like some kind of awkward teenage loser.

"You okay?" Mason finally managed to get out.

"What do you care?"

"Aw, now don't be like that, Georgie-girl..." He reached forward and picked up the whiskey from where he'd set it when he'd taken it away from her in order to save it from spilling all over the floor. Leaning in close, he lightly shook the bottle a few inches from her nose. "What say we give it another go. But maybe a smaller one this time, yeah?"

She didn't move. He didn't move. The Simpsons theme began to play over the episode credits, and Mason started humming along.

When it cut to commercial and he was still humming, George said, "I think it's over now."

"Yeah, but I can keep doing this for a long time yet," he told her cheerfully. He picked up the theme again.

After a couple of minutes, she started to think that he really might just sit on her couch and hum for the rest of the night. Admittedly - what with the alcohol warming its way through her stomach and her muscles beginning to feel kind of heavy in a pleasant sort of way - the musical accompaniment wasn't quite as annoying as it could've been. Part of her was tempted to let him continue just to see how long he could go on, but upon reflection that seemed a little cruel. "So... if I take another drink, does that mean you'll stop?"

Mason nodded, still humming.

George rolled her eyes, but took the bottle from him. She eyed it skeptically. "Is it gonna make the burning in my throat go away?"

"Ah... no." He ran a hand through his wet hair. "But after a couple more, you'll likely be too far gone to notice."

"Gee. What a salesman," she said drily.

He snorted. "'S all in how you look at things." George took a sip, cringing, and passed him back the bottle. "An' I find that alcohol usually goes a long way toward making most of those things look better." He toasted her and drank.


A couple of hours later the channel had changed but the rain was still going strong. The bottle was well on its way to empty, and both Reapers were comfortably on the far side of drunk. On the small TV screen, a floating cartoon head that looked like an order of french fries shot laser beams out of its eyes.

"What are we watching?" George asked of no one in particular. She giggled. "Is that other thing supposed to be a meatball?"

"You know, you're quite pretty, Georgie. 'Specially when you laugh."

George rolled her head along the back of the couch; lifting and turning had become way too much effort. She peered at him, trying to figure out when it was exactly that he went and got all fuzzy. "Doesn't count if you can't say it without slurring," she said, not doing a very good job of keeping her own words from sliding together.

Mason considered this. "That some kind of rule, is it?"

"Mmm-hmm." She smiled lazily at him.

His eyes dipped down to her lips then back again. She suddenly wondered if he was going to try and kiss her. Then she wondered how she felt about that.

"Well I guess I'll just have to say it again later. Make it count."

The couch was rough against her cheek. "What if you forget later?"

Mason rested his own head on the back of the couch, his face inches away from hers. When he spoke, she could feel his breath whispering on her face. "If I forget... you remind me."

She shook her head and a few strands of hair fell into her face. Her hand felt like it weighed a ton when she lifted it to push the hair back behind her ear. "Doesn't count either."

"No?" George shook her head again, and more hair fell. This time Mason reached up to tuck it away with one careful finger. "Suppose I'll have to jus' not forget then. Okay?"

She was warm, sleepy. Her eyes slid closed and she smiled. "Okay."

"You going to sleep on me now?"

George didn't open her eyes. "No..."


A long silence, broken up only by the sound of their breathing. When she spoke again, the words were as slow as if she'd been talking in her sleep. "Mason?"


She didn't think he'd moved away, but she didn't open her eyes to find out. "If you were still alive, what would you be doing right now?"

"Dunno. Does it matter?"

Did it? Life was - when you got right down to it - simply a collection of connections and experiences. And they had both right there right then, in that small apartment in the middle of a rainstorm.

"No. It doesn't matter," George said softly.


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