Tears welled in Jael’s eyes as she sat at her dying mother’s bedside. As an adult it wasn’t supposed to be this devastating to lose a parent. No longer would her mother suffer. She wouldn’t have to put up with harsh criticism for talking to people no one else could see.
Jael rested her head against the back of the chair, the rough wood digging into her skull. The feeling grounded her, helped her force the tears back. Time with her mother was nearing its end, and she didn’t want to waste it by crying. Opening her eyes, she saw a man leaning against the wall. Dressed in black, his jeans and T-shirt clung tight. His clothing was a dark contrast to his creamy white skin and the bright white wall behind him. His hair fell just above his ears, reminding her of spilled ink, a few stray pieces dangling just above his sapphire eyes that sparkled with hints of silver.
Drop dead gorgeous is an understatement. This was no time to let her hormones get out of control. Her mother needed her to remain focused.
“Can I help you?” She raised an eyebrow at him. There was no way he was medical staff. He continued to lean against the wall, completely ignoring her. Her unease rose, but instead of giving into it she pushed back from her chair and stood. “This is a private room and visiting hours are over. Please leave.”
“I’m here to see her.” He nodded toward her mother.
“She’s not up for visitors now. If you could come back tomorrow maybe she’ll be ready then.” In no mood to deal with him, she reached to the side of the bed, her finger hovering just above the nurse call button.
“Ann.” His voice floated through the room, with a hint of mystery.
She eyed him with anger for his lack of respect for her privacy. “I don’t know how you know my mother, but I asked you to leave. Go or I’ll call security.”
A light chuckle teased the air. “I wouldn’t recommend that.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she snapped.
“Jael?” Ann’s eyes were glazed from the drugs that coursed through her body.
As if summoned by her mother’s voice, the man moved away from the wall and came toward the bed. “Ann, it’s time to tell her.”
“No, not yet.” Tears welled in Ann’s eyes, as she tugged the breathing mask away from her face. “I need more time.”
“I’ve given you as much time as I could, but it’s nearly up. Don’t make me deliver the news.” With that he disappeared as quickly as he’d appeared. He just vanished. Jael startled, jumping back, then sinking into her chair, shocked and near panic.
“What the hell just happened?” She pinched herself to make sure it wasn’t all a dream. She’d had so little sleep the last few days, she wouldn’t have been surprised if she had dozed off or hallucinated the whole thing.
“Destiny has been revealed.” Ann’s breathy voice cut through Jael’s thoughts.
“I’m dying.” When Jael started to interrupt, Ann shook her head to stop her. “Don’t, just hear me out. It’s going to sound bizarre so I need to say it all before you interrupt. All these years, people thought I was crazy, seeing people they don’t. It’s because I’m the Grim Reaper.”
“The what?” Jael had been asked to keep quiet, but her heart was slamming against her chest, and she couldn’t stop herself. “Mom, I think it’s the drugs the doctor gave you. Please rest.”
“It’s not the drugs. If you trace our family history back, you’ll see that the first female born in each generation has been given the ability to see the dead. We are the Grim Reaper. Without us, the spirits stuck in limbo cannot cross over into the light. It’s our calling, our destiny. He will help you along your path, assist you with what you need.” She gripped Jael’s hand, taking a moment to catch her breath. “I’ve sheltered you while I could, but now that my time on this Earth is coming to an end, it’s time for you to take my place.”
She heard her mother’s words but couldn’t believe them. It had to be the medication that was making her delusional. Her mom had always been eccentric, talking to people no one else could see. But a Grim Reaper? They didn’t exist. When you died, there was no limbo, just Heaven or Hell, your body turning to dust in the ground, nothing more.
“Mom, just rest.”
After years of being a paramedic in Crystal Falls, Montana, she had seen death more times than she cared to remember, and never once had a ghost risen out of a body asking for help. It just didn’t happen. When someone died, there was nothing left for them in this world. Even if there was life after death, there was no room in Jael’s life to help those who’d passed on. Death was already an unavoidable part of her job, but to see the spirits of those she couldn’t save sounded like more than she could handle.
Why worry? I don’t believe what she’s saying anyway.
“You need to understand what will happen. Things will change for you when I die.”
Jael squeeze her mother’s hand. “It will be fine. There are always changes in life. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I’ll miss you, but you’ll be with Dad again. Everything is going to be fine.”
“Your father…” Ann’s smile was warm and wishful, as she reached her hand out to touch the length of something, but all Jael could see was thin air. “He’s always been with me, but to actually touch him again will make up for leaving you. I’ve always wanted to protect you, Jael. I love you.”
“I know, Mom. I love you too. Sleep, I’ll figure everything out, it’s going to be fine.”
The drugs helping to lessen Ann’s pain from the bone cancer were pulling her under again, sleep’s long fingers reaching out to her to drag her under. In the back of Jael’s mind, she wondered if this would be the last time her mother ever spoke to her. Ann had already lived two weeks past the doctor’s expectation.
Unable to sit, she paced the room, her mind running in circles. She needed fresh air and wished she could open a window. With little choice she strolled into the bathroom, grabbed a paper towel, wet it, and placed it over her forehead. The coolness against her warm skin refreshed her. Now she hoped to find some strong, hot coffee to help get her through the night.
“Your mother told you what you are.” Death leaned against the doorframe between her mother’s room and the bathroom. His arms were crossed over his chest as he watched her. “I can unleash your powers and allow you to see across the planes to the land of the dead…if you’re ready.”
She threw the towel in the trash and brushed past him. “I’ll never be ready. I don’t want that life, find someone else.”
“So you believe Ann, then?” The corner of his mouth tugged up in a smirk.
“Hell no! I mean…I don’t know.” She dragged her hand through her long blonde hair, unable to look at him. “Mom’s was always been a little eccentric. If she truly believes she sees people others don’t, then whatever, but I don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t want her life.”
“It’s your legacy. There is only one Grim Reaper at a time, and you’re it. You will carry on the line when your mother passes, as your child will, and their child.”
Spinning around, she glared at him. “Legacy? Why didn’t she tell me about it before? How did she expect me to handle or believe it when it’s dropped on me like this?”
“I didn’t agree with Ann keeping this from you. You should have been told so you could have adjusted to it. As you aged she should have allowed me to unleash your powers slowly, giving you time to process everything and learn from her. Now you’ll only have time for a crash course before you step into her place.”
“I don’t want this. To be seen as crazy as she was is no life. I have everything I want, a good job, a beautiful condo. Just leave me alone.” She sank into the chair next to the hospital bed, tears streaming down her face.
“If I could give you that I would, but it’s your legacy. You have no choice but to step into her place once she passes. I will return.”
With the slightest breeze against the back of her neck, she knew he was gone. “I’d rather take your place, Mom, than live with this curse.”