Ch. 35 – New Day In Afterworld, Continued (4)

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Flip looked away from Flop, who seemed even more panicked than her. She gazed down at Zacharias. Expectantly, the young pianist stared up from the bottom of the shaking staircase.

The feather fan in Flip’s hand suddenly felt heavy. The corset around her waist suffocated her. She had settled down in this reality too much. Instead of being the reaper she was, who could stretch herself across many spacetimes, she was concentrating too much on the here and now.

She tried to distance herself from Zach, emotionally, while her eyes still rested on him. She couldn’t. She couldn’t possibly stop caring about this young pianist.

For one thing, the circumstances of his death, that epitome of total lack of control, the very thought about it, still ached her. For another, he played his instrument of choice so beautifully. And lastly, he wanted their help and from his expression, she could tell that he didn’t doubt for a second that they’d help him.

Very few people from beforeworld or afterworld, or from whatever different world, could simply distance themselves from someone who so firmly believed that they were to be trusted. Maybe some con artists could let down others so easily. Or cult leaders. Or investment bankers. You know, borderline psychopaths. Or psychopaths.

But not Flip, the reaper.

So, she tried to calm her shallow breath, forcing the air to travel through her respiratory system that suddenly felt the pressure of existing in a single reality only: this one, here, now.

The cookie smell from the lobby didn’t help. In fact, it annoyed her very much. The murmuring of all the reapers, lawyers, and dead people behind her annoyed her very much. The shaking ground frustrated her too.

“Downstairs,” she muttered.

Promptly, Zacharias turned around and went deeper along the basement hallway. Flip and Flop followed, Flop offering his arm to Flip for support. He always did that, even though most of the time, she ended up supporting him instead.

Truly, Flip was very fond of her reaper partner, who got scared easily and liked and disliked the same things as her, mostly. She was fond of Zach. And since Zach wanted her help to make the hotel stop shaking, what could go wrong? What could possibly be wrong with returning to the eternal status quo of the hotel between worlds?

The scene presented to her at the base of the staircase answered her question.

“Dear Supreme,” Flop said next to her.

There stood Gus Shevlin, a smile stretching across his old babyface. And next to him, there stood a woman with intelligent, curious eyes. Her hair looked like it would’ve been perfectly groomed on any other day. (Flip could tell from the precise cut and healthy shine.) But right now, her hair was ruined by the recent exposure to an unexpected adventure. She didn’t wear a hotel uniform. Or white clothes. Or black ones. Yet she was here. Hence she had to be a guest.

And she said, “Hello.”

She’d expected Flip and Flop. So, she had to be involved in whatever mess that Zach was in. That wasn’t good. The more people were involved, the more complicated the matter had to be, and the more difficult to solve without breaking Zach’s contract with the women in black.

“This is Lisa,” Zach said, pointing at the guest. “And you probably know Gus Shevlin.”

“Hello,” Shevlin said.

“Are you two…” Flop said, pointing from Zach to Shevlin. “Are you… are you buddies now?”

“Sure,” Shevlin said.

“No,” Zach said.

Shevlin seemed hurt. “Why not?” he said.

“Hotel workers don’t befriend guests,” Zach said curtly.

Then he dragged Flip and Flop away from Shevlin and Lisa. Before Flip or Flop could begin asking questions, Zach began explaining while asking questions of his own, along the lines of:

Lisa, the person standing behind us, is a guest here, but in some different world, she is a guestbook, which remembers her as a hotel worker. Does that sound plausible? That there are many different Lisas in many different forms, all at the same time?

And Flip and Flop answered: Sure. Many realities exist. Every possible reality can exist.

Then Zach said: Good. I’m not crazy. That Shevlin there, he isn’t the Shevlin who killed me. He is the memory of the guestbook Lisa. That’s why he’s grinning like a silly little boy. But you did think that he was the real Shevlin, didn’t you?

And Flip and Flop answered: Yes, we did.

So, Zach said: Then we have to use him to get to the real Shevlin’s case file—

“I’m sorry, what?” Flop said.

“The case file,” Zach said.

“Then what? What are you going to do with it?”

“The case file will have all the details about his sins in beforeworld, won’t it? Since he wasn’t the only one involved in the murder, it will probably include things like extortion, bribing, and other such crimes he committed to bring others on board.”

“And?” Flip asked.

“Then I’ll be prepared to face the real Shevlin. Maybe I’ll even get some names of the Carningsby residents who participated—”

Flip and Flop opened their mouths. Zach held up his hands to stop them.

“I’d like to know,” he said. “Don’t I have the right? I don’t care what the women in black think. They think three are too many. I say, they don’t know because they haven’t been murdered. I want to know everyone who smiled and laughed when I was dying on the stage.”

Flip and Flop stared at Zach.

“Help me,” Zach said.

Only now was he noticing Flip and Flop’s reluctance. Only now was he remembering that they were the Vivaldi concerto types; that they didn’t like blood; that they loved nothing more than a boring, peaceful day.

“Please,” Zach said.

“But how?” Flop asked.

“Can’t you two change shapes?”

Oh, how very much Flip loved Vivaldi concertos and a blood-free, normal day!

But how could anyone simply ignore the hope in another’s eyes, the hope that told that lazy phrase, “Whatever happens, happens,” to suck it? Because, you silly phrase, some people will bend the future to their liking.

If there was one thing that Flip disliked as much as blood, it was that phrase. It was that sense of losing control. That mind-numbing state of letting life happen instead of taking charge. And she still felt bad about trying to remove Donald Todd from the cocktail lounge.

Zach knew what he wanted. And what use was all the power of reaperdom if a reaper couldn’t help a dear friend?

© 2022 Ithaka O.

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