It was the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last. He hefted his scythe and tested the sharpness of the blade one last time. An error his first time out would not sit well with the boss. He pulled his hood over his head and joined the throng of employees leaving for their shift. Business was up, employment outlook good, though the turnover was tremendous.
He thought of his previous job as a consultant. It had been intense, but nothing like this. This was life and death, literally.
The training period had been long. They had started on small, insignificant creatures, though to his new outlook no life form was really insignificant. He had finally realized that every life had value. It was a matter of availability, really. There were just so many of them. The trainees had honed their scythes and their skills lifting small souls from furry bodies. They would marvel as they watched them blow into the ether like dandelion fluff. Then they advanced to people’s pets, where technique was more important and a mess-up would sometimes require the experts’ attention. He had been assigned to the veterinarian, which was easy, boring really. The doctor would come and inject an old dog and he would just pluck that final tether, freeing it from pain at last.
He was a little worried about this first real job. Humans. He had been assigned to an area that held a lot of young people. He’d heard from older guys that these were the hardest cases, the ones that tugged at what used to be heartstrings and made you remember being human. They’d also said that plucking souls was like picking apples. Some just dropped into your hand, and some held fast, resisting, but all eventually ended up yielding in the end.
He was pulled out of his reverie by the call. Car crash on Highway 20. Two young people in a Honda and an older man in an old Ford. He ran to the scene. Two souls, one young and one old, were firmly ensconced in their bodies. They were definitely bruised, and one would have a scar forever. The third soul, the young driver of the Honda was floating above her body, connection frayed, strings of her soul flailing about like jellyfish tentacles with no goal or purpose. He looked at her body, mangled by car metal, though the phone was still in her hand, blinking incessantly. She wouldn’t be able to answer that text.
He plucked the last remaining tether with his sharp scythe. Her soul hovered low for just a moment. He sensed it was heavy with the deep sadness of a purpose unfulfilled, of regret, of desire to love and laugh and hold hands again, and then it slowly and reluctantly rose into the sky. It would be ten minutes before the responders would be on the scene, but already his alert was going off. He was needed somewhere else.
It was his first time, but it wouldn’t be the last.
Not by a long shot.