Reaper of Death

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Sky pushed a shopping cart through the grocery store. The front wheel spun in chaotic circles, creating a racket of noise wherever she went. Other shoppers glanced sideways at her, the sorry sap with the noisy cart everyone tried to avoid. Even without the cart, she tended to get sideways stares anyway. At six-feet with long, dark braids swaying down her back, she tended to stick out. She wore baggy, red cotton pants and a loose black tank top that revealed the three stars and crescent moon tattooed on her chest. No one could say she was ordinary, and she preferred it that. Layers of black makeup lined her eyes, and three rhinestones were stuck on either side of her face from the corner of her eyes to her temples. A thin, red scarf was tied around her head, and black flip-flops completed her outfit.

In the produce section, she selected an eggplant, leeks, and a bundle of garlic. She moved onto the freezer section. A blast of cold air caressed her cheeks and bare arms when she pulled open a glass door to grab vegetarian ribs and chicken nuggets.

With everything crossed off her grocery list, she checked out and carried her reusable bags to her ancient pickup truck. Patches of rust, like barnacle on a whale's body, spotted the white truck. She set the bags in the back next to a spare tire and hopped into the driver's seat. A lei of artificial flowers dangled from the rear-view mirror. The engine started with a metallic roar, and she backed out of the parking space.

Traffic was light, so she was able to exit the lot smoothly and join the other cars traveling on the main road. She activated a CD, allowing Bob Marley's voice to come to life inside the truck's cab. Bobbing her head to the beat, she drove home fantasizing about a vegetarian rib sandwich.

The light ahead switched to yellow then red. She brought her truck up to the white line and watched the cars cross the intersection. Her gaze shifted to the corner across the way where a man in a full black suit stood on the sidewalk. He had wavy pumpkin-orange hair that fell to his shoulders. His hands were clasped in front of him, and a serene smile stretched his lips, as if he couldn't feel the sun's rays beating down on him.

Sky shook her head. You would have to be crazy to wear a full suit in the heat of a Florida summer. She cocked her head to the side, studying him. His gaze was fixated across the street, but he was several feet from the crosswalk. Maybe his car broke down and he's waiting for help.

Feeling bad for him having to sweat in his nice suit, she pulled off onto the shoulder when the light changed to green. "Hey," she called out through the opened window. "Do you need a ride?"

Turning his head, he directed his smile toward her. "Yes, I do."

"Hop in. I'll take you wherever you need to go."

"Thank you for your generosity." He climbed in and buckled himself in with the seat belt.

Sky maneuvered the truck back onto the road. "So, where are you going?"

"Oh, just keep going straight down this road. I'll let you know when to turn."

"Okay." She drove in silence, but silence with a stranger was enough to drive her certifiably nuts. "I couldn't help but notice you're wearing a suit in ninety-eight-degree weather. What is it that you do?" She figured he was Jehovah's Witness, a lawyer, or a door-to-door salesman, all of which made her uncomfortable.

"I'm a collector," he said. His voice had lowered several octaves.

"Like a debt collector?" If it wasn't bad enough accidentally answering the phone when a debt collector called, it would be just her luck to offer one a ride. "If this is a ploy, a new way you guys are doing to get us to pay off our debts, I may have to pull over and kick you out of my truck."

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