Past littered halls, and up a set of stairs whose moans betrayed his silent intent, Marcus Kent arrived at apartment 1C. He blew out a breath and traced the dilapidated plastic letters marking the door. Straightening the limp C to its rightful place, he held it a moment as the letters gave him pause.
One century of soul collecting.
“How fitting,” he murmured with a derisive grin. He shook his head and removed his finger from the letter C. It held for a minute before slipping away to the dingy tiled floors. As it fell, so did Marcus’s smile, but never his hand.
He closed his eyes and trailed it against the door, its coolness a balm to the pain in his palm. After a dull century as reaper, he had yet to find anything more taxing than this burn—the painful reminder that in his hands was the power to sever the bond of life between a soul and its host.
Mid-stroke, he paused. A strange, muted song bled from the seams of the door, joining the far away cries of a distraught infant behind one of the many other doors down the hall. The broken melody, played poorly on a pianoforte, held neither tune nor rhythm. Keys were struck to the tempo of a fading heart, of an irregular pulse that made no sense at all.
Marcus opened his eyes and leaned closer to the door. Just under the muffled sounds of the song, he heard a woman’s cry. A masculine voice roared curses in between thuds and crashing glass. Marcus’s shoulders lowered with an exhale and his hand slid from the door. He shook his head. He would make sure this one was fast. With his fingers clenched into a tight fist, he crossed the threshold.
The damp smell of liquor and cigarette smoke laced with despair, fear, and anger burned his nostrils. It was the stench of violence, and rightfully so. Huddled in a corner just outside the reach of light was a woman barely covered in a tattered dress. Droplets of blood trickled from her lips, staining her pale skin and the torn white fabric. Black tears trailed from equally blackened eyes and fell to the broken bottles and fallen tables that adorned her surroundings, casualties of a passing whirlwind.
Marcus wasn’t there for her.
Across the room, eyeing the woman coolly over steepled hands was the storm. He sat at the only upturned table, cradling in his hands the last unbroken bottle of dark liquor. As if transfixed by the wisps of cigarette smoke that curled before his eyes, the man didn’t even breathe.
Marcus shook his head. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there for him either.
Trapped in the blackness of their minds, the toxic couple ignored the wave of song cutting through the room. But Marcus heard it. More, he understood it. He, too, had done anything in his power to keep from hearing his parents' atrocious fights.
Rapt by the frenzied beatings, he glided over the shattered glass of downed pictures, past wallpaper barely hanging from the walls until he reached a door—the door, just as the last broken note rung in one final, desperate echo.
Reaching into his pocket, Marcus retrieved his list of souls to be collected that night. He read the first name as the others blurred in insignificance. He would get to them, eventually. The first name, however, he looked at for a long time.
“Abigail Archer,” he whispered to no one at all. He would remember her. The pain always made sure of that. Tucking the thoughts into the dark recesses of his mind and the list into his pocket, he walked inside.
The dark room, barely lit by a single hanging bulb, was immaculate, save for a brown coat sprawled out on the four poster bed at the far end of the box-like room. A white, wooden dresser was set on the opposite white wall. Its top was bare and unpolished. A standing oval mirror stood in the shadowed corner, and beside it, white shades veiled the only window. Considering the rest of the apartment, the chalk white room was an entirely different world, a frosted asylum, apparently void of life. But there was life, and Marcus was there for it—for her, Abigail Archer.