“Are you here to vanquish me?” Amara’s heart raced.
Grimm—keeper of Death—had finally found her in a furniture store in the middle of the human realm.
“No, I’m here to bring you back to work.” He wandered through the dining room displays, clearly expecting her to follow.
“I’m at work sir.”
His smile crinkled the corners of his green eyes, as he touched a china hutch. “Ah, but we both know that’s not who you are.”
The glass doors shimmered and showed her sprinkling glittering sand on a restless woman.
“She desperately needed a good revenge dream.” Amara’s eyes darted around the store making sure no one saw what she was; a Dream Dealer—a Sandman. “I felt sorry for her. Her husband was having an affair with his twenty-year-old receptionist… But what does that have to with anything?”
“Everything.” Grimm meandered through the living room displays. “That lucid dream gave her strength through the divorce and inspired her mystery novels. Without it she could’ve acted rash and stupid.”
Amara re-hung an orange dog leash on a decorative coat rack. “No offense sir but I was only doing my job, any Dealer would’ve done the same thing.”
“But would they have known the kind of dream she needed?”
“Sure. That’s what we do.”
Flat surfaces became viewing screens. Grimm showed dozens more people all receiving the dream they needed, each of which lived happily ever after. Except the one he didn’t need to show her. Aiken.
“I can’t be a Dealer anymore, I can’t risk killing someone else.” She marched off to the comfort of the bedroom department. Fluffed pillows… straightened duvets… aligned fake books…
A knot formed in her throat as her fingers traced along a blue race car bed. She hated and loved this display. It’s what Aiken’s room should’ve looked like, with superhero bedding and matching curtains. Then maybe he could’ve gotten the sleep he needed without her damned sand.
Grimm’s hand squeezed her shoulder. “Stop blaming yourself for Aiken. You did nothing wrong.”
Her eyes met his. “He was under too deep. He never heard the smoke alarms, never smelled the smoke, never felt the heat until the flames devoured his little body. All because of me.”
Grimm sighed, a leather journal appearing in his hand. “Every mortal has a page in my ledger. Their page contains the details of their death, and for most creatures that information always changes. But Aiken and his brother’s details have never moved. Not from the moment they were born.” He turned the ledger to her. “See for yourself.”
It was Nick’s page, the cute bookstore owner from next door. His name and birthday appeared at the top, but the rest of the page was a constant shift of words, dates and times.
“You must never tell anyone I showed you a Destined One’s page. Fate will have my balls if she found out.” Grimm flicked his fingers.
The ledger rippled, Aiken’s page appeared on the left while his alive and healthy, nine-year-old brother Kaleb’s appeared on the right. They were exactly like Nick’s, except the words were stationary.
Amara gasped, committing every word to memory.
“Aiken was going to die in that fire whether he was awake or not. But the lucid dream you gave him kept him from any agony. His death is the catalyst for Kaleb’s destiny. Kaleb will grow up to be an incredibly brave and lucky firefighter who will save dozens of lives.”
The pages shimmered to Aiken’s dream. He looked like the proudest and the most fearless kid in all the realms. He stood tall. Shooting fireballs from his hands, protecting his brother and mother from monsters.
“I’ve watched this dream a hundred times Grimm. I know-”
“This is his final moment alive, his last experience. Not pain, or terror. But this.”
Tears burned in her eyes. Did she actually save Aiken? Did he indeed die believing he was the hero of his own world? She collapsed onto the edge of the race car bed. He died, but her sand had nothing to do with it.
Grimm rubbed her shoulder. “See you didn’t kill him. That’s above your pay grade, Death’s my department remember.” The ledger disappeared from her hand.
“He didn’t feel anything… I didn’t kill him.”
“Exactly. Now let’s get you back.”
She was important. Why else send someone as high up as Grimm to bring her back? But what about her friends and Nick? She couldn’t abandon them… If she was important, then she had leverage.
She rose her eyes locking onto Grimm’s. “Fine. I’ll go back on one condition. I stay here during their day. I have friends here and it’s refreshing interacting with people who are awake.”
“Sorry, now that’s above my pay grade.”
“Then take my terms to whoever can grant them. Good day sir.” She stalked away, her heels clicking on the floor… and collided into his chest three steps later.
“Remember who you’re talking to Dream Dealer. It would be a shame if Nick’s details suddenly stopped shifting.”
Her eyes narrowed, her spine straightened. “You can’t change Fate anymore than I can. You just proved that.”
He moved a step closer. “I am the fucking keeper of Death. Unexpected accidents happen and I’ve dealt with Fate’s wrath before.”
Unexpected accidents? There were weak links in Fate’s elaborate chess game.
“Both jobs Grimm, or else I’ll sign my immortal name in that damned ledger right now. Explain that to Fate.”
“That’s it then, ‘fuck off’ is your answer?”
“Yes.” Her heart hammered in her ears.
He handed her a sheet of cardstock. “Your new orders.”
Butterflies fluttered in her stomach as the gold words sunk in. Muses worked in either realm… or both. “I’ve been promoted?!”
“You’ve always inspired people to greatness, dealing just the right dream.”
“Then why the subterfuge?”
He shrugged. “A test to see which envelope you were to receive.”