Hell and Styx #16: Far From Normal

Hell and Styx #16!

Sorry I haven’t posted one of these in a while, I’ve been busy reading and enjoying summer (read: doing nothing).

This story continues (sort of resolves) the plot begun in H+S #9-#15 (skipping #10). These stories span Heaven’s appearance, his arguments with Hell, and the flashbacks detailing his past with Lilith. Links to those stories can be found on the Hell and Styx page, which also has a description of  what this series of stories is all about.

I’m experimenting with adding pictures. None of them are mine, just random ones I found online. Some of them should be pinned to my Hell and Styx Pinterest board. Don’t think of the pictures as exact images of what is happening, more abstract, to add to the aesthetic fo the story. Feel free to tell me what you think in the comments.

Enjoy! 🙂 Likes and comments are always open.

Hell and Styx #16: Far From Normal:

Heaven returned three days later.

His white shirt was coffee stained and he smelled like smoke and grease.

“What happened to you?” Hell asked.

“I tried to escape,” he said, a secret smirk pulling at his lips, but Hell didn’t get the reference.

Hell stood there, at the door to his room, staring at him, trying to decide whether she wanted to smile, because she had been right, and continue the argument, or ask why he had run away, and show sympathy she hadn’t intended to feel.

He beat her to it. “You were right.”

Hell didn’t smile. “About what?”

“I was…torturing myself. And I did love something—someone—in that world. But I think I’m ready for a break.”

Hell bit her tongue, not trusting herself to speak after that news.

“Can we—get out of here? I want to…show you the human world.”

Hell’s fists clenched, but she forced herself to think about the offer. Heaven had come back. He had come back to admit he was wrong, and to show her something.

“Why?” Hell asked.

“Because I want to.” Heaven said the words like they tasted bitter in his mouth, but Hell believed them.

Hell closed her eyes and felt below her, feeling for how many of her souls were in purgatory. A good number, not impossible if she started now. On a normal day, she never would have considered taking a break. She had only allowed herself a minute to check Heaven’s room.

But today wasn’t a normal day, because Heaven’s room hadn’t been empty.

“I’ll come.”

* * *

“Just, imagine being there. Your body will drift apart and then back together in the human world.” Heaven bit his lip, conflicted. “Here, hold my hand. I don’t want us separated. Geography can be a bit confusing, especially in the beginning.”

Hell suppressed a glare and took the hand he offered her. Then she closed her eyes, and tried to imagine being in the human world, where she had grown up.

A feeling of detachment washed over Hell and she felt weightless, like she was separating into random pieces. Then, as if gravity were compressing her back together, she reformed, solid again.

She opened her eyes. She was standing on a fire escape. She’d never been to this city before—it was all honking cars and flashing lights, tall buildings and bustling foot traffic.

“You wanted to show me this?”

“Not really. I just wanted you to…experience this.”

Heaven lead her over to the stairs, and they started descending. Hell stopped on the next landing and crossed her arms. “Why are we walking?”

“What?”

“We aren’t corporal, right? We can’t get hurt. We could just…jump.”

Heaven genuinely looked like the thought had never crossed his mind. “Uh…sure.” He lead her over to the railing, taking a few test swipes, running his hand through the metal. He quickly scanned the crowd below, though Hell couldn’t fathom what he was looking for. “Yeah, let’s try it.”

Hell smiled, enjoying herself for the first time. “Ladies first.” And then she calmly stepped off the platform.

It was a bizarre experience, falling without a real form. Gravity still worked. Ground was ground. But any other object was as bothersome as air, and Hell crashed through an awning and a restaurant table, before calmly landing on the ground. A rush of adrenaline hit her, leaving her gasping as Heaven appeared next to her, equally exhilarated.

“That was awesome.”

Hell nodded, catching her breath.

“Dinner?” Heaven asked, grandly gesturing to an open table in front of the restaurant they had just fallen into.

“Can we eat?”

“Just like in purgatory. Think and it shall appear.”

Sitting in chairs was difficult. They couldn’t pull them out, but once they actually sat in them, the universe recognized them as another surface to be made solid. Hell ended up with the corner of the table stuck painlessly into her chest, unable to back up her chair. Heaven had a potted fern drooping through his head.

“What will you be having tonight?” Heaven asked.

Hell closed her eyes and “ordered.” A second later, she was eating a gourmet fish stew in front of a simple, faded-paint cafe.

Heaven created a filet mignon, served with a mushroom risotto and caramelized onions.

 

They both got two bites into the meal before they burst out laughing at how ridiculous they were being.

“This is wonderful,” Hell said.

Heaven sliced his steak. “A step up from burgers and pizza, definitely.”

Pizza. Hell remembered a previous argument. “You know Styx and I aren’t involved or anything…right?”

Heaven grinned. “Any particular reason you thought I should be clear on that?”

Hell willed the blood rushing to her face to stop. “Just thought I’d finish that argument.”

“Nice to know anyway,” Heaven said with a wink.

Hell ate in silence, cursing her stupidity, barley tasting the tomato broth, which was the exact shade of her flaming cheeks.

“What’s your story?” Heaven asked.

Hell looked up sharply. “What do you mean?”

“What made you Hell?”

“My dad named me.”

“Not what I meant.”

Hell knew exactly what he meant, but she didn’t feel like talking about it. But she knew a bargaining chip when she saw one. “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me about that someone.”

Heaven glared, but agreed. “Fine.”

“I started hearing voices when I was five. The souls in hell, you know. Screaming. Trying to get my attention. When I was six Styx found me at school, asked me to come with him. I vanished and I’ve never been back.”

“Your parents?”

“Mom was out of the picture long before this. Dad had no idea what to do with me, so he did nothing. He’s still alive, I guess, probably wallowing away into nothingness. Probably over me being gone. He’s one of Styx’s, for sure, if you know what I mean.”

Heaven nodded. Styx sorted the souls that had done nothing good or bad with their lives, those who simply wandered through life toward an inevitable death.

“And then you just started sorting souls?”

“What else was I going to do?”

“They’re horrible—and you were six.”

“It’s funny that you think I haven’t realized any of this yet,” Hell snapped, her good mood souring.

“I’m sorry,” Heaven said, his eyes grabbing hers. “For everything.”

Hell nodded, accepting his apology. Heaven wasn’t jealous of Hell’s cosmic duty anymore.

Heaven blinked, then stared at the ceiling. “Her name was Lilith. We met by accident. She was—different. So damn tired of being normal, you know? It’s horrible. Everything we want, she despised. School. Jobs. Homework. Normal friendships.”

“She could see you?” Hell asked.

Heaven nodded, but it was clear he didn’t want to talk about it. “She knew I wasn’t normal. She wasn’t an idiot. But she liked it. I was exactly what she needed, she thought. She called me Risk.”

Heaven exhaled sharply, like he had cut himself on his words.

“You okay?”

He shook his head. “I’m fine.” He flexed and clenched his fists a few times. “I just wanted to be normal for once…you know? She was perfect. She could see me. We just walked around her town, and talked. Every night, for two weeks. Made inside jokes. Laughed. She told me secrets.”

Heaven’s speech got jerky, full of pauses, as if he was piecing together the most basic of details, cutting out huge swaths of emotion. “I didn’t know how bad it was getting. I knew she was trying to escape her life but I didn’t know that I was no longer enough. I learned later that she’d started taking risks. Jumping off of roofs. Running across train tracks. Anything that would get her a thrill.

“That’s what killed her. She tried to jump from just a bit too high. Didn’t land properly. Paramedics got to her too late.”

“And she went to purgatory?”

“Right. She was one of mine. She was calm, just leaning against the wall. She’d known it was coming…you know? So I kissed her…and let the wall take her.”

Hell stared at Heaven, chewing on her lip, unable to find the words to express what she was feeling. She finally tried, “I’m sorry,” but she knew it wasn’t enough.

Heaven laughed cruelly. “You know, I’ve been reliving those two weeks for a year and a half. You were right—I’m obsessed. But I’m so freaking tired of this shit. It’s over. It’s my fault, and her fault, and that stupid, boring town’s fault. It’s gravity’s fault. I just need it to be…over.”

Hell understood what tonight was, or at least what it needed to be: as far from normal as possible.

“You want dessert?” She made a massive slice of carrot cake appear in front of her, then raised her eyebrow at him that clearly said, “Your move.”

Heaven swept his hand across his face and forced a grin. A bowl of ice cream appeared on the table.

“That the best you can do?” Hell snapped her fingers and chocolate sauce drizzled itself over the ice cream. Whipped cream swirled itself atop the dish until you couldn’t see the ice cream below it. One cherry landed with a plunk on the top.

Heaven waved his hand and two milkshakes appeared, one Oreo, one strawberry.

Hell took a sip of the pink shake and created a strawberry shortcake that was a foot tall.

Heaven countered with a cheesecake the size of a deep-dish pizza, that balanced precariously halfway off the small table.

Hell conjured up a chocolate cake, then karate chopped it with a knife, revealing an oozing center of molten chocolate.

Heaven clapped and a massive scoop of vanilla ice cream dropped onto the steaming cake. A confetti of colorful sprinkles followed, covering everything on the table.

“I want to eat,” Hell said, allowing Heaven the minor victory.

“This is ridiculous,” Heaven said, mouth full of three different types of cake, ten minutes later. “We can’t eat all of this.”

“Admitting defeat?” Hell taunted.

Heaven smiled and glared, cutting himself another slice of cheesecake.

It took them an hour to polish off the desserts. Both of them were nauseas, but refusing to admit it to the other.

“Ooh, let’s be obnoxious!” Hell dragged Heaven through the table and into the crush of people on the sidewalk. She started jumping up and down in front of people, pulling grotesque faces. When they—of course—ignored her, she walked next to them, making rude speeches about human dignity. She was half a block away before Heaven joined in.

It was fun, being incorporeal. Heaven walked half a block overlaid on top of a grumpy fat man, while Hell walked beside his wife, saying random, suggestive words extremely loudly. Hell danced a jig in front of a liquor store. Heaven tapped random passersby on the shoulder, pretending to be an obnoxious pollster, asking questions such as, “How long have you been growing that nose hair? It’s impressive!” and “Did you know that your child has been screaming bloody murder for the past ten minutes?”

At one point, Hell create a water balloon and lobbed it at Heaven, who was busy harassing a old lady about her hair dresser.

And then it was war. Up and down fire escapes, through restaurants, at one point, even into a private bathroom, the two chased each other, hurling water balloons at each other. By the time they found themselves on the roof of a towering apartment building, they were both soaking.

They both stood on opposite ends of the roof, armed with balloons, arms cocked, ready.

“Truce?” Heaven called, taking a step forward, lowering his arm.

Hell shrugged, walking toward him. When they were ten feet apart, Hell threw her water balloon at his face. “K. Truce.”

Heaven dropped his off the side of the building. Smiling, Hell joined him on the edge. “This has been fun.”

“I’m glad you came.”

“I’m glad you came back.”

“Were you waiting up for me?”

“Of course not. I knew you were going to come back eventually.”

“Didn’t think I could stay away?”

“Knew you couldn’t.”

“Did you want me to?”

“Stay away or come back?”

“Whichever.”

Hell didn’t know when the two of them had gotten so close together, or the sun had set. But she knew what she wanted to do.

“Guess,” she said.

It wasn’t that she kissed him, or he kissed her. They kissed each other, each caught up in a rush of emotion that they’d never felt before.

Hell grinned. “Are we doing this?”

Heaven stared at this crazy redhead, who had convinced him to jump off a fire escape, eat a mountain of dessert, and then chased him all the way across the city with water balloons. She was the opposite of Lilith, but that didn’t even occur to him, because it was like Lilith had never existed, she was so far from his thoughts. “Yep.”

And the second time they kissed, they let themselves fall over the edge.

Hell and Styx #15: Remembering and Forgetting

Hell and Styx #15! This story finishes the flashback begun in H+S #13 and H+S #14, and ties back into the argument in H+S #12. If you’ve missed any of these stories, you probably want to go back and read them. For an explanation of what this series of stories is, you can go to the Hell and Styx page.

Hope you enjoy! Likes and comments are always open.

Hell and Styx #15: Remembering and Forgetting

“And then, he just left!” Hell spat, finishing her account of her latest argument with Heaven.

Styx shrugged. “You’ve been trying to get him to leave.”

“But—he just left.”

Styx knew Hell wasn’t about to admit that she wanted Heaven back. Even if it was only to finish their argument, it would be too big of a concession on Hell’s part to the person she had decided to hate.

“You were doing everything you could to ruin him. You knew exactly what you were doing, pushing his buttons. And every argument before that was just gathering information so you knew exactly what subtle allusions would press his buttons. You’ve been planning this since he showed up in purgatory and that fact that it succeeded should put you to peace. But if that’s impossible for you, then I guess…you could go try to find the guy.”

“In the human world?” Hell’s nose crinkled with disgust.

Styx shrugged, knowing Hell would never go along with it. “If you want to, you know, ‘finish your argument.’”

Hell’s mouth opened, but she clamped it shut and leaned back, crossing her arms over her chest. “He’ll come back.”

Styx almost laughed at the battle between Hell’s two stubbornness: to win every argument she started, and to never give Heaven any power over her.

* * *

Heaven liked his fire escape. As random places to brood went, it was one of the nicer ones he’d found over the years.

He didn’t let himself think about the room waiting for him in purgatory, or the fact that his newfound stubbornness could cause it to vanish again.

Lilith. Right, he was remembering Lilith.

There wasn’t much left, but he couldn’t slam on the breaks. It was a year and a half ago, but time hadn’t tarnished his memories, no matter how hard he’d tried to forget.

 

After that second night, Heaven stopped wondering if Lilith would be there, waiting for him. She always was.

They would walk and Lilith would do most of the talking and they always danced around the truth of Heaven. But Lilith was fine with that, because she was tired of how her boring life always chased her while she was trying to escape, and she found herself talking less and less as well, because why would she relive every detail of her six-periods-a-day high school life when she was on an adventure with the least normal guy she could imagine?

She kissed him the first time when they accidentally walked to her high school. It was the last place she wanted him to see—evidence that she was human, that she was normal, that there was no reason he should bother talking to her—so she…distracted him.

Heaven didn’t mind.

Looking back in those weeks the one thing that struck Heaven was how opposite they were. Lilith needed a break from the norm, but all Heaven wanted was to be normal for once. It was a cruel irony that what Heaven loved about her, she hated about herself, and what fascinated Lilith about Heaven was what Heaven was trying to forget.

But they made each other happy. It couldn’t last, and in their lengthening silences, they both seemed to realize it.

But Heaven was close to happy, and Lilith was as well. And that was enough.

And silences could be just as powerful as conversations.

 

Heaven took a sip of his coffee, trying to give himself a break. He knew what was coming. He knew what was going to happen next. He’d already lived through it. Why did he have to remember it?

 

It was only two weeks. That was what struck Heaven, when he realized it was over, when he pulled himself back from the blackest despair he’d ever felt.

He had only had two weeks with Lilith. But it was enough.

Enough that when she wasn’t there one day, it hurt. Enough that when she wasn’t near the café the second day, Heaven couldn’t breathe. Enough that Heaven ignored the pull of a soul, that promise of pure joy, to see if Lilith would show up on the third day, or the fourth.

She didn’t, and Heaven gave in, following the pull of the dead soul.

On some basic level, he knew who was waiting for him in purgatory. But he had been able to deny it for four days.

But he had to give up the ruse when he saw her, leaning against the wall of purgatory like it was the ice cream shop’s window, wearing her skinny jeans and her high school’s sweatshirt.

Even dead, she couldn’t escape that school.

Heaven didn’t want her to see him, but she did. Of course. That was how they began, so Heaven didn’t question the universe when that was how they ended, too.

She wasn’t shocked when their eyes met. Heaven could tell. She had known. She had heard his name and known that this was coming.

Heaven forced himself to walk over to her. “Lilith.”

Of all impossible things, she smiled. “Heaven.”

He looked at his feet. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” she said.

Heaven kept his arms firmly at his sides, afraid of knowing how she died.

“I thought of a nickname for you,” she said.

Heaven forced a grin. “What is it?”

“Risk. I think the best lives benefit from it.”

“Thanks.”

Lilith smiled.

Heaven felt her aura pulsing off her skin, a dead heartbeat. She was one of the good guys. She was his responsibility.

And he had a feeling he knew what had killed her.

He gently kissed her, letting her death wash through him. There was an edge, a fall, and an ending.

He was right. The danger of being tired of a safe life is that risk can kill. And Lilith had been addicted to risk.

Details of her life flickered through his mind, of the last week. There were train tracks and staircases and street lights. Every day, she pushed the limits. And every night, she saw him, what could have been her key out of normalcy, had he not been equally obsessed with being human.

She hadn’t wanted to die. She had just wanted to live.

He didn’t let the kiss end. He waited for the crack in the wall she was leaning against to open, and then he let her vanish.

Pain and loss berated the residual euphoria from her soul. Heaven felt Hell and Styx returning to the room and forced himself to leave.

Risk. That was a good name for him. No one should ever get too close.

* * *

Heaven finished his coffee. His mind reminded him of the weeks of pain, the shadow of an existence. But he was tired of remembering.

He was finally ready to forget.

Hell and Styx #14: Fairies and Bitter Coffee

First of all–it’s the last day of school!!!! Holy crap, I’m done.

Also–Hell and Styx #14! It’s a continuation of H+S #13, and if you want the timeline explained again, please go check out what I wrote for #13, because it is complicated and I don’t feel like going through that again.

Still a flashback. Still technically continuing the Heaven plot line of 9, 11, 12, and now 13. Some sense can be made of this series on the Hell and Styx page.

Hope you enjoy! Likes and comments are always open, and check out the new Hell and Styx Pinterest board.

Hell and Styx #14: Fairies and Bitter Coffee

Heaven sat down on a fire escape, happily invisible, a cup of coffee held between his knees, and watched a busy city wake up. The physics of the human world were strange for Heaven. He walked through objects but the floor was solid. He could walk up stairs but not knock on doors. He figured gravity had something to do with it, but there were never solid answers.

The coffee was the product of his imagination. All food in purgatory was—everything for the gatekeepers was. You need another room? Purgatory creates one. You want to eat pizza? It appears. You want to cook? A kitchen, ingredients, and—hopefully—some knowledge of what the heck you’re doing will appear.

He wasn’t sure if Hell or Styx ever came to the human world, but the rules were the same. He wanted a cup of black coffee to overpower the bitter loneliness in his mouth? Poof.

The choice of scenery was an unconscious effort to keep himself as far away from memories of Lilith as possible. But he couldn’t, and he kept remembering.

 

The next night, a year and a half ago, he chanced visiting the street again.

She was waiting for him in front of the café, perched on the sign he had knocked over the day before, in jeans and the same sweatshirt.

“Now you’re just showing off,” he said, stopping in front of her.

Lilith shook her head. “I was, but now I’m stuck and I think if I try to get down it’s totally going to undermine my illusion of gracefulness.”

She suddenly seemed to him like a fairy that hadn’t figured out how to use her wings yet without knocking other things over.

That was a person he could relate to.

“So, what? You’re just going so sit there all night?”

“Well, I sort of thought this guy was going to be nice to me and help me off,” she teased.

Heaven laughed and stepped closer and she wrapped her arms around his neck as he grabbed her waist and lifted her off. Her foot got tangled in the sign and they tripped, Heaven dropping her to keep from falling down. The sign fell over anyway.

Lilith took a step back and smoothed down her hair. “Well, that didn’t work.”

“I think the sign hates us.”

“Us? There’s no us. That sign was perfectly nice to me before you came along.”

And Heaven remembered Hell growling, “There’s no our work.” But the two girls were too different to exist in the same universe, so he went back to remembering Lilith.

“Have you thought of a nickname for me?” he asked.

“I haven’t. Everything I think of sounds…bad.”

“That’s okay. You don’t really know me yet.”

“Nope.” She looped her arm through his and started down the street, leading him away from his house. “At this point you’d probably be the Sign Murder or something.”

“That’s not very flattering.”

“I guess we have to get to know each other better.”

Heaven followed her through a sleeping town. He wasn’t sure where he was, some small town in the US. Geography wasn’t something he kept very close tabs on, as he could blink himself to wherever he wanted.

She talked about high school and complained about grades. She gossiped about the head football player and a creepy science teacher. Heaven just listened, closer to be a human had he’d been in years.

“You should meet my friends. They’d love you.” She grinned and admitted, “They aren’t every picky, to be honest. You’re cute, that’d be enough.”

Cute?

Heaven wrenched his mind away from her adjective and forced himself to say, “I’m not sure that’s a great idea. I’m not normal…”

She nodded, like she had expected his refusal. “I had a feeling.”

Heaven gently pulled his arm free from her embrace. “Look, Lilith. I’m not sure any of this is a good idea. I’m really not kidding when I say I’m not like you. I don’t know why this happened but it probably won’t keep happening.”

Lilith frowned at him. “You think I haven’t figured this out yet? You dress in suit shirts when its forty degrees outside and don’t have a jacket. You seem surprised whenever you touch something.”

Heaven stepped back, worried about how much she had figured out in such a short amount of time. He wasn’t ready for people to know him. He was here to be invisible, not…whatever this was.

“But that’s okay,” Lilith said. “I’m the girl that saw a random guy on the streets at ten o’clock at night and decided to start a conversation with him. I’m not normal and I’m probably not very smart, but I decided to talk to you, not the other way around. Just—remember that.”

Heaven blinked. “I won’t.”

And he never had.

 

Back in the present, his coffee was cold. A simple thought would warm it up again, but he didn’t. He thought about Hell’s words and decided she was wrong. It wasn’t torture to remember happiness, and it wasn’t torture to look for it again.

It was how Heaven dealt with a world without Lilith. He looked for more Liliths.

Hell and Styx #13: Lip Gloss and Pineapples

Ta-dah! Hell and Styx #13, where you get to see a snippet of Heaven’s past and how he ended up as who he is today. The flashback story will take a few more posts to finish, but this one introduces the plot line.

Technically, this story is a continuation of the running Hell and Styx plot line, starting up after Hell kicks Heaven out of purgatory in H+S #12. (If you are behind on the Heaven plot line, you should go back and reread stories #9, #11, and #12. For an explanation of what this series is, go to the Hell and Styx page, found in the top right corner.)

But here’s where it gets complicated. The flashback–which is most of the story–actually takes place a year and a half ago, around the time of H+S #10. (Don’t know how I’m going to deal with this on the H+S page, but that’s my problem, not yours.)

Maybe that made things a little clearer. Or not. It might be better explained in the actual story. So I’ll shut up and you should go read it already!

Likes and comments are always open. Also, check out Hell and Styx’s new Pinterest board.

Hell and Styx #13: Lip Gloss and Pineapples

Heaven let himself vanish from purgatory, drifting back to the human world, his atoms breaking apart and then calmly reassembling themselves in front of a yellowing yard. He ran his hand through his hair and opened the gate, pacing through the dying grass to stand on the front porch.

He took a deep breath and held it, reminding himself that Hell was right. He didn’t need to breathe. No one could see him. He was fake.

He wasn’t corporal, so he couldn’t knock. So he waited.

And he remembered.

He remembered a thin girl with blonde hair with a stubborn chin and a freckled, upturned nose. He remembered the sweatshirt with her high school’s mascot and the skinny jeans.

 

It was a year and a half ago.

Back when his obsession with the human world was simply habit, a part of himself he had forgotten to erase when he stopped being human.

He liked being invisible. He would walk empty streets, leaving no trace, touching nothing, completely unable to screw anything up.

It was 10:00 p.m. and Heaven was walking aimlessly down residential streets, turning onto a street of shops that all closed at five, lost in his thoughts. Yesterday, he went to purgatory to sort a soul, but he knew he wouldn’t need to go back for weeks. A nagging in his mind would alert him to the next soul of his, but they were rare.

Neither Hell nor Styx had seen him. That was by design. He didn’t want the responsibility of being friends, of having to wait around for a person to die on him while they tirelessly did their individual missions.

The little girl had gone with him with no complaint. She was intrigued but not particularly scared, as were most of his dead. Her soul was blinding and clean, and Heaven caught himself lingering, not willing to release his drug of choice when he wouldn’t get another hit for weeks.

Heaven was still remembering the pure rush of joy from the girl’s soul, wishing the world had more good people, and that they’d have shorter life spans, jealous of his counterparts, with their cornucopias of dead, when he saw her. She was alone, hair blown across her face by a vanished breeze, hands in her pockets, not afraid, not lonely. Heaven paused to watch her walk toward him, taking in the beauty of her simplicity. She stopped to look in the window of an ice cream shop, pressing her face against the glass, then laughed to herself, free to be happy in the silence.

Then she turned to keep walking, and froze.

Her eyes were green.

That was Heaven’s first thought.

But his second?

They were seeing him.

* * *

The girl wedged her hands back in her pockets and strode toward him. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Heaven said, more taken aback by her beauty than the obvious fact that she could see him.

She giggled, pausing beside him, waiting for him to fall into step with her.

His mind stuck somewhere between noticing her exact shade of lip gloss—light pink—and the fact that she could see him, did the only thing it could think off. It followed her.

“Aren’t you cold?” she asked, looking at his collared shirt and dress pants.

A breeze whipped by and Heaven realized—it was cold. Like, really cold. How had he never noticed before?

He shivered and she smirked. “So…what? Just came from a wedding? Going to prom…in November?”

Heaven looked down at his choice of attire, trying to remember when he had first decided to wear it. It was so many years ago he couldn’t remember the why. “Oh, no, this is just sort of how I dress. I guess it’s—weird.”

She smiled. “Nah, I like it. More interesting that a t-shirt and jeans, definitely.”

And suddenly, the original why didn’t matter, because Heaven knew he would never not dress like this again. “Thanks.”

Heaven was watching her face as they walked, but even if he had seen the sign outside the restaurant—declaring ALL ENTRES HALF PRICE ON TUESDAYS 3:00-6:00—he wouldn’t have avoided it.

But today, he should have. Because today, he crashed into it.

The sign collapsed against itself and clattered into the ground. Heaven jerked to the right, trying not to step on it, bumping into the girl’s sweatshirt. It was soft.

He was corporal.

The girl laughed. “Did the sign offend you?”

Heaven bent down to fix it, his hands cautiously touching the surface, afraid that they would lose their sudden solidity and fall straight through the board. “No…I was just distracted.”

“That’s okay. I’m a total klutz, too. All my friends know not to buy me anything fragile for my birthday. My mom doesn’t let me drink out of anything that isn’t plastic.”

Heaven laughed, and wondered if he could eat now that he was solid.

Wait—was he human?

Did this mean his duty was over?

Nostalgia swept through him like a draft, leaving him with the bitter taste of loneliness in his mouth.

“You okay?” she asked, noticing the change in his mood.

“Just reminded of something,” Heaven said, shaking his head to get the thoughts out.

The girl frowned, then exclaimed, “Pineapples.”

Despite himself, Heaven laughed. “What?”

“It’s a thing one of my friends does. When someone is sad, she yells out the first word that comes to mind. It’s so random and funny that it usually makes the person forget what they were upset about. Did it work?”

Heaven smiled. “Yeah, I think it did.”

“Good.”

They turned onto the same street Heaven had come from, and the girl slowed her pace. Heaven let her, understanding her need to preserve the night.

They walked in silence, until the girl stopped in front of a lawn. Even in the dark, Heaven could tell it was lush and green.

“This is my stop,” the girl said.

It was Heaven’s turn to awkwardly put his hands in his pockets. “It looks—nice.”

It looked human, was what Heaven wanted to say. It was normal, just like this girl, and tonight.

“Are we going to see each other again?” she asked.

Heaven grinned. “I think that could be arranged.”

“Good.” She stuck out her hand to shake. “I’m Lilith.”

Heaven shook her hand before saying, “I’m Heaven.”

Lilith laughed. “Wow…that’s—really girly.”

Heaven shrugged. “I had weird parents.”

“We’re going to need to get you a nickname,” Lilith promised.

“I’ll be around.”

And Lilith let herself into her house and Heaven left, walking straight through her trashcan left out on the street.

That was his first night with her.

 

Now, a year and a half later, Heaven stared at the door in front of him. He wasn’t in the mood.

Not while he was remembering a different yard, and a different girl.

There were houses all across the continent, all across the world, that Heaven could visit. Where he had friendships. Where he could live.

But tonight, he knew the truth: he was never more than a ghost.

And the only person he wanted to see was already gone.