Her fingers burned, her downcast eyes fixated on the sight below. As night filled fingers brushed against her neck, a shiver slithered down her ridged spine, her windblown hair shifting slightly. Swirls of ebony, lilac, aster blue, and deep silver's melted together, the thick Asteria river barely moving. It was not a river, if she was being honest, but rather a graveyard. Yes, that seemed more accurate, it was a graveyard of Dreams that was splayed out before her.
Even with gloves on, her fingers were freezing, as if they’d been crafted out of ice, the only warmth a feral one that came from her left hand. Only the tiniest flicker of heat was left, the thread pulsating through her. A human emotion followed in its wake, brutal like the ocean pounding against the shore, wearing away at her soul to leave an aching hole. Regret.
This particular Dream had been casted by a little boy whose bones ached with the pain of a thousand deaths. She had studied him when she’d taken the Dream, observing the paper skin and sunken in eyes and the hot reek of death breathing heavily over his shoulder. The room had been all white, the only color coming from the too cheerful cards displayed on the table next to him. Each one had a lie on the front, for no one truly thought this little boy would get better. Still, they fed his mind with false thoughts and outlandish theories.
Maybe, they’d say with hollow eyes, the doctors will that new medication ready by next week. And when that week passed, they’d spew out more words, each sentence being dragged down with invisible anchors of grief. Perhaps, they whispered, the reapers will take pity on you. After all, you’re just a little boy.
Lies had encased themselves around the boy, a hard cocoon of “maybe”’s and “tomorrow”’s shielding his mind from the inevitable truth. Or, at least, that’s what his parent’s believed.
Truth be told, that little boy was a lot smarter than most thought, and he cultivated a Dream underneath his pillowcase, murmuring the same thing over and over to it, before waiting patiently for the woman with soot covered eyes and crooked fingers to come snatch it from him. He wasn’t one to wish for the impossible, but rather to wish to prolong the inevitable. Collector, he would call out once the lights were extinguished and the night nurse left for her break, Collector I have something from you. Will you come take it from me?
And she did take it from him, under the cover of the dark moon, letting the shadows cloak her as she crept into that hospital room. She took the pitiful Dream and felt its failure sing to her, felt it in her blackened blood that it was destined to fall and take its place with the others in the river, not telling the sleeping boy that she was taking his Dream to the place where it would die.
She had already dumped her satchel of discarded, broken, and crushed dreams into Asteria, and yet she couldn’t find it in herself to let go just yet. For this Dream had been casted by someone who wanted to live even with death keeping him company. Now, she’d never had a name nor a family, besides the name snarled by people who wanted her to stay away and leave their precious Dreams alone, no matter how shattered they were. So, she’d never understand the child’s desire, and she couldn’t find it within herself to even try to see it from his view. It took a certain kind of person to willing give up their final Dream with the knowledge that if it fell their life would be cut short. Still... out of the countless Dreams she’d gathered, out of the millions of death-destined people who gave their Dreams up to her, she’d never held one that fought to live like this one.
It was a fool’s wish, for no one escaped death.
So she stood silently, letting her fingers slowly unravel, the tiny globe shifting in her hand a kaleidoscope of gentle colors. She tugged off her right glove with sharpened teeth, letting it drift to the desolate ground, and then she took the globe with that hand, rolling it in between her cold fingers.
Her human body flickered, and for a brief moment her true form appeared. Her figure was skeletal, a hollow in her chest where a heat once beat, vines crawling between the cracks of her ribcage, and sadness filling in the empty spaces. Her face was brutally beautiful, sharp cheekbones and slanted eyes that were wholly black, her lips peeling back to show the needle thin teeth that were pointed at the ends.
A few more seconds, she thought as her body fought to choose which form it should take, flickering rapidly between the barely passable human and the creature that laid beneath. Enough for him to finish his goodbyes.
For, as she’d scuttled across the too clean floor, the boy had peered out beneath his heavy eyelids, pleading for her to let his Dream live as long as possible, not so he could hold onto hope but rather so he could finish the stack of letter beneath his bed. Each was carefully labeled with various names of what she could only assume were family members.
With a sigh that scraped against her thorn filled throat, she dropped the Dream, watching it hang in limbo for a split second, still fighting to ascend and become one of the stars that dangled overhead. Then it dropped, a screech piercing through the silence, a shudder running along the land.
She wasn’t a reaper, she didn’t take souls or mark a red X on someone when it became their turn to die, but at that moment, she felt like Death himself.