The storm clouds began pouring the water droplets that they’d been holding. The beforeworlders who’d been prepared enough to leave their homes with an umbrella unfolded theirs simultaneously. Within seconds, a dark flower garden boasting occasional bright spots of red, yellow, and blue blossomed at the ground level. If Koe ignored the gray and black umbrellas, which were by far more prevalent, the scene looked quite beautiful.

No, actually, he had to be aware of the black and gray. In the end, the achromatic colors were what made the chromatic ones stand out.

“Huh, so, time did pass,” Joe said, looking around as soon as he appeared on a storm cloud. “I thought we came back way too early.”

Koe stood right next to Joe. Together, they watched the suffocating pre-storm limbo from earlier transform into a downpour. The sound of the raindrops hitting the umbrellas and the streets was deafening.

And refreshing. It was a beautiful moment when the release, which nature had worked toward, finally materialized. The atmosphere was wetter yet felt strangely less damp. This was the process of taking moist air down in the form of rain, and bringing it to the rivers and oceans so that one day, it could rise again and become damp air, and then rain again.

Koe could smell the rocks and asphalt and dirt and grass and trees and cotton and polyester. The scents made him feel alive, even though he wasn’t, technically, in beforeworld terms.

“How much time passed, exactly?” Joe asked.

“About ten minutes, I’m guessing,” Koe said, considering the position of the sun.

Joe the Joyful whistled cheerfully. “We reaped ten people in the other worlds, and that took only ten minutes here? I never knew a world could move so slowly.”

Indeed. Koe the Kaput hadn’t known either. The comparative tempo at which each of the worlds flowed was always unknown until they went away from it, and then came back. But still, from longtime experience, Koe and Joe had learned what to expect. The usual range of their expectation was called “normal.” This world was outside of that normal range.

Of course, you had to consider that none of the ten people whom Koe and Joe had just reaped had been murdered. Those who died of old age, disease, or an accident were by far less confused than those who were murdered. The reapers didn’t need to answer a lot of questions. There were some old people who, in fact, were glad to see Koe and Joe. Such deceased just wanted to get over with the process of death already. They’d been waiting for the reapers forever. What took them so long?

Another note of emphasis: this world was only slow in comparison to the other worlds. To all the beforeworlders here, who presently had no clue about the existence of other worlds, saying that this world was “slow” was utterly ludicrous. The world flowed at whatever tempo they were used to. It was neither slow nor fast to them.

“The blood clouds got thicker,” Joe said, “and they are moving.”

Indeed. “Do you think it’s one person’s murder intent or multiple people’s?” Koe asked.

“There’s no way to guess.” Joe shrugged. “Come back later?”

At that moment, a woman wearing red sneakers walked out of a shabby apartment building. The dome-shaped surveillance camera at the entrance captured her movement. Also, its glass reflected her so that Koe could see two of her: the original and the double.

She didn’t come to a halt when she unfolded the navy umbrella. In one smooth choreographic movement, she combined the act of unfolding with the act of walking. The umbrella was the heavy and straight kind. The kind that bodyguards use to shield a president from the rain. Or the kind where assassins conceal weapons to make their kills unpredictable and untraceable.

Within seconds, the woman’s short black hair disappeared from view. She quickly walked down the alley, to a bigger street, which connected to an even bigger street. Her navy umbrella became indistinguishable from the other dark-colored counterparts. Koe tried to find the red dots that were her sneakers, but amidst the distracting wide blooms of the occasional bright-colored umbrellas, it was impossible.

“Koe?” Joe said.

“Yeah.” Koe reluctantly looked away from the field of umbrellas. “Come back after reaping a hundred more?”

“More like after a thousand more,” Joe said.

© 2022 Ithaka O.
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This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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