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The Time of Your Life

New York


Steve Bendarek couldn't believe his luck. A rudimentary night out in the local bar had taken an unexpected turn when this unbelievably attractive woman had bought him a drink. Her name was Mireya – her features were an appealing mixture of Caucasian and Hispanic. Her naturally brown hair was strewn with blonde highlights as her hazel eyes locked with his. One became two and the conversation between them flowed easily, her hand brushing against his on several occasions.

By the time they were on their third drink, Mireya was leaning closer to him now, her voice whispering in his ear. When she suggested they go back to his place, he almost fell off the barstool.

The minute the door to his apartment was opened, she was all over him like a rash. Steve managed to push the door shut as she pressed him against the wall, her lips attached to his neck like a limpet. Steve ran his hands through her hair as he heard this soft, low whimpering sound from the back of Mireya's throat.

"Close your eyes baby," Her hoarse whisper sent a shiver down his spine. He could feel her hands moving around his body as she tore his shirt free, exposing his skin. The sensation of her lips kissing his flesh made him gasp. Lost in a world of sensation, Steve closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall.

The searing sensation of pain tearing through the wall of muscle in his chest exploded in his mind. His eyes shot open and he tried to let out a scream – only to find a hand clamped firmly across his mouth. His vision was blurred – but he could see those same hazel eyes that had been imploring him earlier to take Mireya home viewing him with a cold, detached look. He could feel his legs beginning to buckle underneath him – Steve looked down and could see the knife in her hand that was buried into his chest.

A second wave of pain struck him as Mireya twisted the blade in his chest ninety degrees. He could taste the blood in his mouth as he slumped to the floor. Mireya let him drop to the carpet and watched the life slowly leech from his eyes. Once she was sure he was dead, Mireya pulled the knife free from his chest and wiped the blade on the edge of his shirt.

Turning her attention to his sideboard, it took Mireya three minutes to locate the building security pass that she knew he would have. Once she had pocketed it, she stepped over Steve's lifeless body and exited his apartment.

**

Eight hours later, Mireya was standing on top of the Methern Financial building, staring down through the scope of her rifle at the figures now leaving the Palace Hotel. She looked up at the cloud filled sky above her and felt a great sense of despair as the rain continued to fall from the sky. Shaking her head – partly to wipe away the rainwater and partly due to her frustration with the weather – Mireya placed her eye against the sight.

The people gathered around the entrance seemed to be waiting for something – then a procession of vehicles drove around the block and came to a halt outside the residential building. Mireya tensed – most people had umbrella's open so her window to strike would be quite narrow. She watched as the rotund, bumbling figure of Miyamoto came into view, accompanied as always by his faithful secretary Rei. In her research, Mireya had discovered that the young woman went everywhere with him. Initially, she had considered her an obstacle to overcome, but her change in plan had discounted this as a factor.

Her finger rested against the trigger – one squeeze and Mireya would be two million dollars richer. She took a deep breath as she observed the target moving towards the line of cars.

"Does it ever stop raining here?" The voice startled Mireya. She twisted to her right in the direction of the sound, pulling the rifle with her and taking a snapshot from her hip. Despite the unorthodox nature of her aim, the bullet traced through the air at close to the speed of sound and struck the figure standing at the entrance to the emergency stairwell she had used less than thirty minutes ago.

The bullet struck the interloper in the chest, the impact generating a soft thudding noise. Mireya waited for the figure to fall to the floor as he looked down at the hole in his chest.

"Jesus, someone's tetchy this morning. What's up? Not enough caffeine?" He said as he examined the wound in his torso. Mireya fired again – the bullet striking the figure in the shoulder. He spun around, yet still didn't fall. "Stop that!" He barked. "I'm trying to light a bleeding cigarette here!"

Mireya was now too shocked to think properly. The first round should have killed him outright and the second one should have struck him with enough force to knock him to the ground. Yet he was still standing there, struggling to light a cigarette with a small zippo lighter.

"Fucking miserable weather," He muttered as he eventually managed to light up. He took a long drag on the white stick before he took a look at Mireya, sitting on the floor of the roof about ten feet from him, the rifle held loosely in her hands. "Hey there, you're Mireya, right?" She sat there, mute. "Mireya Nascimiento?" Still no answer. He waved his hand in front of her eyes, hoping to illicit some sort of response. "Hello? Anyone there?"

"What…? Who…?" Mireya mumbled, then the sound of vehicles pulling away reminded her of what she was looking to achieve that day. She looked back over the edge of the building and saw the procession of vehicles pulling away from the steps of the hotel. "Shit!" she cursed, pulling the rifle up and finding her purpose again. Looking through the telescopic scope, her finger hovered over the trigger.

"Wouldn't bother if I were you," The stranger said. "Glass is probably reinforced at the back there – you'd just end up scratching it." Mireya turned and glared at him.

"Who the fuck are you?"

"That's hardly the way to address the person that's just saved your life now, is it?" He looked genuinely upset by the tone in her voice. "Come on, pack up your little peashooter and we'll go somewhere more conducive to civil conversation." The stranger opened the emergency exit door. "Besides, I'm hungry and I need something to eat. I'm always cranky when I don't eat."

**


Ben Ash Deli


55th Street

By the time the pot of coffee had been delivered to the table, Mireya was beginning to take stock of the stranger sat across from her. He was around six feet tall, with short brown hair and matching brown eyes. His general appearance was remarkably forgettable to her – he was handsome enough yet he seemed to blend in around everyone else and no one seemed to pay too much attention to him as they had walked from the Methern Building to the diner.

She had initially thought that his suit was a matt black colour; however now she realised it was more of a gunmetal grey colour and the shirt beneath it was a slightly lighter shade of the same colour. The dour colour of his clothing contrasted with his overall demeanour; the bright white trainers on his feet also seemed slightly out of place compared to the rest of him.

As he spoke, his accent became clearer to her. He was English and seemed to be exceptionally polite to everyone around him. He smiled at the waitress and the words "please" and "thank you" were dropped frequently throughout the brief exchanges between them. He also seemed to enjoy holding the door open for people whenever the opportunity presented itself to him.

"So, go on." He said. Mireya hadn't taken her eyes off him since they had entered the diner. "Ask."

"What are you then?" Mireya whispered. "A ghost?"

"Ever seen a ghost eat? Or smoke for that matter?"

"A guardian angel?"

"No chance," He laughed. "One more guess."

"My wayward conscience?"

"So close!" He said as he poured some coffee into his cup. "Look into my eyes – what do you see?" Mireya looked into those brown orbs. She felt a cold chill run through her body as something flashed across those eyes. A dark shadow danced around the pupils, swirling around like oil floating atop of water. Suddenly there was nothing there – the warmth in the eyes had been replaced by a cold darkness. Mireya remembered something she'd heard once.


You see the shark's eyes – they're cold, lifeless eyes. Dead eyes.


"No!" she jerked backwards, the chair making a scraping sound against the floor that drew the attention of the other people in the diner.

"Bingo!" He said with a smile on his face.

"It can't be…that's…that's…" Mireya spluttered. "You're…? But that’s…"

"Okay, here we go," He replied, boredom rife in his voice. "That's impossible, you can't be Death, oh no, please spare me, I have so much life to live…" Mireya looked at him, disbelief etched on her face as the blood drained from it. "Does that about cover it?" She nodded, mute. "Good – I always hate that part." He took a drink from the cup of coffee. "Besides, you can relax; I'm not here for you."

"What?" Mireya's breathing was noticeably quicker. "What?"

"I'm not here to claim our soul," He said. "Well, not today anyway."

"So, what do you want?"

"I was bored – figured I'd poke around the big city for a few days and then saw you at work last night."

"What? You were there?"

"Of course I was – I'm Death; the Grim Reaper. Who would you expect to pop up at the point of passage into the afterlife? The Tooth Fairy?" He leaned back in the chair for a minute, ostensibly to stretch his back. "The moment that security guard died, I was there. I saw you take the building pass and I wondered what you were going to do with it. So, I just decided to follow you about for a few days." Death replied.

"I think I'm going to be sick." Mireya looked paler than before.

"Bathroom is at the back, on the left." Death said as he poured a second cup of coffee. Mireya got up and wobbled slightly as she walked towards the rear of the diner. "Take your time – I'll be waiting right here for you."

**

"So, you said that you'd saved my life," Mireya watched him tuck into the pile of pancakes that were teetering on his plate. "What do you mean by that?"

"Are you sure you don't want something to eat?" Death replied. "The pancakes here are great!"

"I'm fine. Just…just answer my question." Death shrugged his shoulders.

"Okay – you know how Miyamoto never goes anywhere without his secretary?" Mireya nodded. "Well, that's because she's his personal bodyguard as well. If you'd have succeeded in killing him, she would have come after you. About a week from now she finds you." Death cut another swathe of pancakes out of the stack. He took a minute to pour even more maple syrup over the stack.

"And?"

"What? You want a detailed breakdown of how she tortures you for eight hours before she let's you bleed to death? Besides, it's not going to happen now." Death said before he pushed the forkful of food into his mouth. As he chewed on it, Mireya shook her head.

"So, you're saying that because I didn't kill Miyamoto I don't end up dead in a week's time?" Death nodded as he swallowed down the pancakes in his mouth.

"Precisely." He answered as he cut off another chunk of maple syrup soaked batter.

"I don't believe it." She muttered.

"Well, get used to it," Death told her as he worked his way through his meal.

"Haven't you just, like, screwed up the timeline or something?" Death laughed involuntarily at Mireya's question.

"It doesn't work like that."

"How does it work?"

"It's…complicated." Death mused. "Suffice to say whatever I do in the here and now doesn't change anything in the long run."

"What? You mean I still die in a week's time?" The colour drained from Mireya's face for the third time that morning.

"No, no," Death answered, finishing his plate of pancakes. "I'm just deferring your date of death for awhile – I may have need of your unique…skills in the near future. There's a woman and her son who will need to be protected – and I need someone I can trust to keep an eye on them for me," he gestured to the waitress for the bill. "But you're still going to die…eventually."

"Thanks." Mireya huffed. "That makes me feel so much better!" she looked at the people in the diner – all of them appeared to be oblivious to the true nature of her companion. "So, who's this woman? An ex-girlfriend or something?"

"Hardly." Death said. "You don't need to know the details, suffice to say that when I find her, you'll be the first to know." He burped. "Excuse me! Man, they were fantastic."

"You done then?" Death nodded. Mireya grabbed her jacket from the back of the chair.

"Hey, get the check will you – I haven't got my wallet with me today." He said with a smile painted on his face. "Oh, and tip the nice waitress a decent amount, she's going to need it soon."

**

Walking along the streets of Manhattan , Mireya still couldn't quite understand how her day had turned out. Earlier that morning she had been ready to blow Miyamoto's brains all over the sidewalk and now she was heading towards Times Square in the company of one of the true constants of the universe. She looked over at Death as he walked alongside her – the expression on his face was one of pure joy; he almost seemed to be basking in the glow of humanity around him.

"What do I call you?" she asked. "I mean calling you Death is just…odd."

"Ray."

"Ray?" Mireya stopped in her tracks. "You mean…"

"Yeah," He said. "I was just like you. Well, not just like you – I didn't run around killing people for money. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"How did…? I mean, what happened to…?"

"I was sideswiped by a bus that jumped a red light about ten years ago." Ray answered as he gestured towards the small cut-price ticket booth at the intersection of Times Square and Broadway. "Hey, you know what we should do, we should see a show." He looked over at Mireya. "Do you know how many times I've come to this city and never had the chance to do that? I've always been too wrapped up in my work to really cut loose. Come on." He grabbed her arm and dragged her across the street, oblivious to the traffic.

"Jesus!" Mireya screamed, her voice being drowned out by horns of cars and taxis that were bought to a sudden screeching halt by Ray's actions. She had barely recovered her composure by the time they reached the back of the queue. "You fucking moron! I could have been killed!"

"Phff!" Ray huffed. "You worry too much. Now, what do you want to see?"

"It's your idea – you choose."

"Well, you're paying." Ray replied. Mireya scowled as he patted his jacket pocket. "Remember – no wallet!"

"Just fucking typical," Mireya muttered. "Like every other first date I've had recently."

**


The Gershwin Theatre


Broadway

The curtain came down at the end of the first act of the play. Ray leaned back in his chair in the box seats and scratched his head.

"So, the Wicked Witch of the West really wasn't all that bad to begin with?" He murmured. "And the Wizard of Oz was a fascist? Jesus, I'm glad that L. Frank Baum isn't around to see this – he'd be royally pissed."

"Hey, you said I could choose," Mireya replied. "The Wicked Witch was just mis-understood; her actions were driven by love and people manipulated her into doing their bidding."

"Next thing you'll be telling me is that The Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen are the same character in Wonderland," Ray scoffed. "Although, I guess you should know what it's like to be manipulated."

"What's that meant to mean?"

"Nothing," Ray dismissed her question.

"Christ, I hate it when people do things like that." The anger in Mireya's voice was starting to spill out. She reached out and gripped the collar of Ray's jacket. "Tell me what you meant by that comment."

"What? You're shitting me right?" Ray answered, looking at Mireya's now confused expression on her face. "You really have no idea do you?"

"About what?"

"Oh man, this I've got to see." Ray replied. Mireya suddenly began to feel sick as her head spun. A moment later, everything went black.

**


El Salvador
, 2001

The smell of cigars and sweat hung in the air like the Los Angeles smog. Within the confined space of the room two men sat at a table, deep in conversation. Skulking in the shadows, Mireya could feel her stomach churning.

"Oh no…nononononono…" she muttered. "I'm gonna puke."

"Then make sure you don't get any on my suit." Ray replied as Mireya lurched towards a potted plant. The sound of her retching was almost like music to his ears. "Sorry – guess I should have warned you that this whole temporal bounce thing can have some nasty side effects."

"Gee, thanks," Mireya said, wiping her mouth. "Where are we?"

"You mean you don't recognise this place?" Ray asked, gesturing to the small room. "I'd have thought this was somewhere that was permanently burned into your memory." Mireya had a blank expression on her face. "Oh, come on – this is a critical point in your life, don't tell me you don't remember."

"How do you mean?"

"Oh just shut up and watch."

"I can't understand them? That's not Spanish…" Mireya hissed.

"No, it's Portuguese, hang on…" Ray closed his eyes for a minute, and then suddenly snippets of the conversation between the two voices in the room were clear.

"…Caberon is getting close…"

"…our course of action is clear…"

"…will she agree? Are you sure?…"

"…if she is given the right information then I think she can be swayed…"

"…the money should help…"

"How did you do that?" Mireya whispered. Ray tapped his head.

" Babel fish."

The two men were hunched over the table, their hands moving about in exaggerated gestures as the volume of their conversation increased. After a few minutes the door to the room opened and Mireya found that she was watching a mirror image of herself walk across to them. She shook hands with both men and sat down with them, engaging with the conversation and quickly becoming a full participant of it.

"Jesus – that's me…" she whispered.

"It's okay – they can't hear us," Ray said. "Is this starting to come back to you now?"

"This is El Salvador …I…I did a job here…"

"Indeed you did!" Ray proclaimed gleefully. "As I said – this was a critical junction in your life."

"Why?"

"Because, your actions from this point onward will determine whether you're Lost or Damned." Ray said, leaning against the wall. The conversation between the trio was over almost as soon as it began. Mireya watched her doppelganger take a briefcase from the two men and leave the room. Once more, their voices came through clearly.

"…we should leave…"

"…after Caberon's death we will need to keep a low profile…"

"…the death of the Caberon family will be a powerful warning to others…"

Mireya closed her eyes and could feel something beginning to well up inside her. It wasn't quite rage, but it was close enough. She took a step forward, only to feel Ray's hand on her shoulder.

"There's nothing you can do." He said. "Come on, there's something else you need to see."

**

The interior of the car was just as she expected – clean, comfortable and air-conditioned. Inside the vehicle, four people sat as it drove along the dusty back road away from the heavily guarded house that was perched precariously on a cliff top.

"You recognise these people?" Ray said as Mireya looked at them from outside the vehicle – the world around them speeding by at nearly sixty miles an hour, yet there was no sound other than that from within the passenger compartment.

"Julio Caberon – a crusading judge who was at the forefront of El Salvador 's war on the drug cartels." Mireya said, her voice breaking up slightly. "I didn't know…"

"That's his wife, Maria, their daughter Luisa and her nanny slash bodyguard, Idina." Ray interrupted her. "Just out for a drive on a Sunday afternoon – just enjoying their lives…"

The engine compartment of the car seemed to buck slightly in slow motion, then erupt into flames. The shockwave of the blast flowed backwards through the vehicle, sending chunks of searing white hot metal, plastic and glass through the occupants. Flesh was seared and torn from bones at the speed of sound. Compressed air shattered the glass of the back window at the same time as the bodies inside were obliterated by the blast wave. The car twisted as the frame of the vehicle felt the effects of the explosion; skewing its trajectory and pitching it clear of the road.

As it slammed into the protective barrier at the side of the dirt track the back of the vehicle tipped up, sending the flaming wreck end over end as it barrelled down the hillside.

"It was just supposed to be Caberon…not his family…" Mireya whispered, barely audible. She slumped to her knees. She looked up at Ray. "But…but these weren't the first…"

"No, they weren't the first people you killed." Ray answered. "That was the man who raped your drug-addicted mother and tried the same with you when you were seventeen, right?" Mireya nodded. "But it was the first time you took the life of an innocent soul – the child." He explained before glancing down at his watch. "Come on, the second act of the show will be starting soon."

**


The Gershwin Theatre


The foyer of the theatre was emptying. Ray held the programme in his hands and flicked through it. Mireya watched him as he examined the pictures in it and the cast notes.

"You know, witches rarely have green skin," He said.

"Take me back."

"What?"

"You heard me," Mireya said. "Take me back – let me change what I did. I'll kill those two bastards and then warn Caberon of the cartel's bounty on his head."

"Do you see a big blue police box around here?" Ray countered. Mireya scowled. "I can't change the past and even if I could, it wouldn't be right. Things happen for a reason. Trust me, I've tried."

"So that's it? I'm done – a one way ticket to hell; straight down!" Mireya exclaimed, throwing her arms up in the air. Several of the few stragglers from the audience cast strained glances in her direction.

"Well, I won't lie to you – you are going to have to pay for your actions when your time of judgement comes to pass," Ray mused. "However, that's not my area of responsibility. That's Lucy's end of the world."

"Lucy?"

"Yeah – Lucifer." Ray added before taking in Mireya's confused expression. "Lucifer…Is…A…Woman." He spoke slowly and clearly, partially mocking her lack of understanding.

"Oh great – well that's me completely fucked then." Mireya slumped don onto the stairs, holding her head in her hands. She looked up at Ray, a sudden light appearing in her eyes. "What if I atone? If I make up for everything bad I've done? Surely that's got to be seen favourably by Satan." Ray threw up his hands.

"Whoa there missy, Satan is completely different to Lucifer – along with Abbadon, Beelzebub, Belial, Iblis and all the other Fallen." He said, and then sat down next to her. "Besides, you've only got one life to live Mireya, and – no offence – but you'd need a couple of lifetimes to get even close to balancing up the scales." Mireya nodded.

"So, what's God like?"

"No idea," Ray responded. Mireya looked slightly shocked. "I've never met him. My dealings are primarily with the Archangels. I can tell you though that Gabriel is a prick, Michael is okay and Raphael is a sucker for a sob story." Mireya nodded.

"Okay – so what happens next?"

"Well, I don't know about you but I could use a drink and a cigarette." Ray said, standing up and offering his hand to her. Mireya accepted it.

"Good luck with that," She mused as they left the theatre. "There isn't a bar in New York where you can smoke these days."

"Oh believe me," Ray said with a knowing smile on his face as he hailed a taxi. "I know where there's one."

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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