John felt his food turning in his stomach. He believed every word he was hearing from The Keepers, although he probably shouldn’t have. Somewhere lodged deep in the back of his mind, he wondered if at any given second, he would just wake up on the park bench and life would move forward.
That won’t happen, The Keeper of Minds said in John’s mind. It can. But not right now.
“Then how?” John yelled and slammed his hand on the table.
John lowered his head in embarrassment.
“No worries, my dear,” the Keeper of Souls said, “we may have hope in fixing this mess.”
“How so?” John asked.
The Keeper of Souls looked to Athan and smiled. “You really haven’t told him a thing, have you?”
“No time just yet. I wanted him to make it through the mirages alone.”
They are a test of your will and mind, the Keeper of Minds said.
“I followed him,” Athan said nodding his head, “and he served well. Had a moment or two where I was nervous…”
Athan swallowed and looked away.
“What moment?” The Keeper of Souls asked.
“It was nothing,” Athan replied.
“Speak up,” The Keeper of Souls yelled. The nice woman’s voice deepened and bellowed. It echoed through the bar and a few pictures fell of the walls. Glass shattered on the floor.
Athan sat back in his chair. John watched as the man’s face turned white and he began to shake.
“Are you okay?” John asked Athan.
Best to stay out of this one, The Keeper of Minds said.
“I will not repeat myself Athan,” The Keeper of Souls said. “You are alive because of me. I could have shuffled you from death to the bowels of hell. I gave you a chance to help…”
“He tried to kill himself,” Athan screamed and broke down crying. “In the mirage with himself. He tried to kill himself…”
John felt his face flush. The Keeper of Souls looked at John and frowned.
“Maybe he’s not…” she began to say.
The Keeper of Minds looked at The Keeper of Souls.
John assumed that he was speaking to her…
“I cannot take a chance,” she whispered to the Keeper of Minds.
“You heard what Athan said… I refuse to…”
“Can you talk?” John blurted out.
The Keeper of Minds looked at John and smiled. His big eyes glistened and for a brief second, John swore he could see himself sleeping on the park bench in the reflection of the man’s eyes.
“I can speak,” The Keeper of Minds said in a quiet voice. “I can speak.”
He turned his attention back to the Keeper of Souls.
“As I was saying, we cannot risk killing him until we know everything.”
“Kill me?” John yelled. He wasted no time and got out of his chair. He drew both guns. “Tell me what’s happening?”
“Look what you’ve done,” The Keeper of Souls said.
“Me? You caused this,” The Keeper of Minds said. “Why not let Athan finish the story…”
“Stop crying,” The Keeper of Souls said to Athan. “And talk.”
“I understand that I was not to interfere,” Athan said wiping his nose, “but I had to. That mirage was evil, dammit. Evil. It was not fair. And he was at the door. He was at the door! And they grabbed him… so many of them…”
Athan looked at John.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Sorry for what?” John asked.
“You were supposed to die…”
John pulled the hammer back on the guns. “Somebody tell me what’s going on.”
The Keep of Souls looked at Athan and nodded.
“You’re the eighth one to come here,” Athan said.
“What?” John asked.
“When The Keeper of Death murdered The Keeper of Life, things crossed and let’s just keep it at saying ‘bad things happened’. But a good thing happened…”
“Or so we thought,” The Keep of Souls cut in.
“Someone crossed without dying or suffering. They made it through the worlds and life and death, John. It was a miracle.”
“We took it as a sign,” The Keeper of Souls said.
“The person tried to travel, just as you did,” Athan said. “But he died. The first set of undead creatures ate him.”
And that only gave The Keeper of Death more satisfaction and power, The Keeper of Minds said.
“So we began to lose hope,” Athan said, “until another person came. But he died.”
“And let me guess,” John said, “more and more people came and died.”
“Until you,” The Keeper of Souls said.
“John, you survived it,” Athan said.
“But you saved me,” John yelled, “I should have died. I should be dead…”
“There’s something else however,” The Keeper of Minds said in his dull voice, “something The Keeper of Souls needs to remember…”
“And what’s that?” she snapped.
“The face!” Athan yelled. “The face… it’s…”
“Let’s walk then,” The Keeper of Souls said. “Let’s show John. Let’s see what happens.”
The Keeper Minds stood first and led the way. They walked through the door that should have led to the kitchen. Instead it was a dark chamber. With rotted wood for walls and dirt for the floor. It was like an indoor cemetery.
“What is this place?” John asked.
Before anyone could answer him, Athan put a shovel in his hand.
“Dig right here,” Athan said pointing.
“I don’t like this,” The Keeper of Souls said.
“Hush!” The Keeper of Minds replied.
“John,” Athan whispered, “please don’t try killing anyone. Remember – there’s always an explanation.”
John slammed the shovel into the soft dirt and threw a small pile to side. That’s all it took for him to see what was buried there…
“It’s me,” John whispered as he felt himself start to fall backwards.