Her name was Virginia Macklebee.
She was human and therefore unaware of her friendship with Thales; after all, mortals could only see reapers at their time of Completion, and she was hardly dead. In fact, to Thales, she had to be one of the most alive people he had ever seen; even the rush of her blood seemed to sing coming home songs to him.
Virginia was not his charge.
She was not meant to exist to him; she was meant to be another faceless Breather, another statistic or quota to be filled. Someone else’s problem. Someone else’s purpose. Someone else’s soul to keep, amen; but one rainy October day there she was.
It was supposed to be a simple collection. Anthony Mooran, just shy of fifty, had crashed his silver Volvo into a telephone pole. It was no one’s fault — not even Anthony’s. Thales had been standing on the sidewalk watching the man fade in and out when Virginia had appeared.
“Oh my God,” she said.
Thales turned his gaze towards her. A woman, late twenties, with long auburn hair. Her hands shook as she dialed for an ambulance Thales knew would not make it in time. She flicked her green eyes towards the road, looking for someone, anyone. The panic rolled off her in waves.
“Sir, are you alright?” she asked.
There was no response. Virginia gripped her hand on the jagged end of the shattered window, cutting her palm. She didn’t seem to notice the pain. Anthony, whose heartbeat grew quieter with every passing second, did not stir. Thales knew Anthony was seeing his Parting Scene — the image every human had of reuniting with lost loved ones before they let go.
“Please, don’t die,” Virginia said. “I know this is going to sound selfish, but I’ve already had a terrible day and this isn’t exactly the ending I was hoping for.”
Thales smiled; the sensation of it was strange and slightly uncomfortable, but he couldn’t fight it.
“You just have to hold on a little bit longer. If there’s a white light or something, don’t go towards it… but you probably already know that.”
A heavy silence settled around them. When Virginia shifted on her feet, the crunch of broken glass was almost deafening. She couldn’t see the moment Anthony went from unconscious to dead, but Thales felt it immediately; knew he should be returning to his realm, but he didn’t.
He waited with her.
At least until the ambulance came.
He hadn’t spoken to anyone about her.
Virginia was a secret Thales held close to his heart — the place where he kept all his messy bits — and he feared it couldn’t get any messier than this: her red hair in the sunlight, her laugh ringing clean like church bells in Spring. There was not a word to describe what she stirred in him — this beacon of light, this patriot of life.
He wondered who she was — when her Time would be. Worried about it, which Thales learned, felt a lot like a gnawing in his gut. When he tried to sleep he heard ticking clocks, felt her days pass quickly, one after the other, like the blink of his troubled eyes.
Thales could not stop it.
Virginia, standing still and cold, in the late October rain.