The Big Boss sits back against the plush velvet of his golden throne, looking large and menacing on the platform above me. The glowing red coals deep within his hollow sockets pulse with displeasure as he stares down at me. He raises an old, creaking arm and points his bony finger at me. His bones are yellowed with age, and micro cracks lace an intricate pattern up to his arm. I imagine a musty smell coming off of the Big Boss’s bones. He is ancient, and whatever is left of his voice box grinds with effort as he speaks.
“Reaper #2497,” he croaks, his finger shaking just inches in front of my own hollow sockets that once contained real eyes, “it is almost the end of the month.”
“Is it?” I ask innocently.
The Big Boss draws his back, folding his hands onto his lap. His fingers click grotesquely together. His spine creaks as he leans forward to look down on me. “You have completed all of your Assigned Deaths in a timely fashion, but you have not met your Random Death quota for the month.”
“I must be slacking,” I tell him.
I see his fossilized hands ball themselves into fists, and I think about smirking.
“This is not a joke, #2497.” His voice bellows throughout the great marbled hall that serves as his office. “You barely met the quota of thirty Random Deaths last month. And the month before that, you finished at the very last minute. Don’t think I don’t notice these things. Need I remind you that Random Deaths are necessary for the Grand Order? If people only died of sickness and old age, then the world would become overpopulated. We need Random Deaths-.”
“To keep things balanced,” I finish for him. I’ve heard this speech about a million and one times. I can picture his cracked, yellow skull scowling.
“Exactly,” he said darkly. “And thirty Random Deaths a month is not much to ask of you. Don’t you agree?”
“I don’t know,” I shrug, and I can hear my own bones creaking inside the regulation black cloak I wear. “Just killing anybody for any old reason seems boring. I like to get creative.”
“It is not part of your job to be creative,” he says, his creaking voice becoming low and threatening.
“But it certainly adds some appeal to the job,” I tell him, knowing I’m only angering him more. “I mean, did you see what #821 did two weeks ago with the traffic cone and that bystander’s briefcase? Now that is what I call creative!”
“Enough!” His voice reverberates against the black marble. The flames in their ornate sconces flicker, briefly darkening the already dim and dreary room. “You have three days to complete your quota, #2497. No exceptions.”
“Or what, I’ll be fired?”I ask, and I think about biting my tongue to stop myself from saying anything more. “What exactly does one do after they stop being a Reaper? Don’t get me wrong, the health insurance is terrible and the life insurance policy is a joke, but the job has its perks. Just look at the unique and interesting individuals I get to work with.”
The lights flicker again and suddenly the Big Boss’s menacing form is towering in front of me, hunching over to try and meet my height. The coals in his sockets glow angrily and dust billows around his faded, ragged cloak.
I think about sneezing.
“You will complete your quota of thirty Random Deaths within three days, or you will find out what happens when a Reaper is fired. Is that understood, #2497?”
“Understood, sir,” I reply simply.
He gives a slight nod, satisfied, and retreats to his throne, settling himself down like an old man into a rocking chair. “Get out of my sight.”
“Gladly,” I tell him.
Allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Steve. At least, I think it’s Steve. It could be Sean, or Samuel, or Shane, or Raphael for all I know. I am a Reaper. Reaper #2497 to be exact. I wasn’t always a Reaper, of course. All Reapers were human at some point. You can only become a Reaper if you commit murder during your human life, which I find ridiculous. I mean, you bludgeon one business associate to death in a fit of rage after finding out he’s been embezzling from you, and you’re condemned for life. Some cosmic force out there decided that if someone likes killing people so much, they might as well do it for eternity. Very funny.
Most Reapers don’t remember their human lives. I can’t say that I remember much of mine, but there are pieces still there. They flash into my mind from time to time. I know my name (maybe), I know that I worked with money as a banker or a broker or something like that. I know that I lived to a ripe, old age, and I know that I had no children. I was never even married. At least, I don’t remember ever being married. If I try to think about marriage, I just feel lonely. I feel lonely whenever I try to think about the events I lived through as a human. I must have been a lonely man.
I look nothing like I did as a human. I don’t actually remember what I looked like when I was human, but I know that humans are not skeletons. The medieval paintings really nailed the appearance of us Reapers. We all look alike. In fact, if it weren’t for the red identification number sewn onto our regulation cloaks over the spot where a human heart once beat, we would be almost indistinguishable from each other. Younger Reapers, like me, are made up of pearly white bones. As Reapers age, the bones yellow and crack, becoming brittle, like the Big Boss’s. We wear regulation black cloaks with black hoods over our smooth skulls. Our eyes are deep hollow sockets. Our teeth are stuck in a permanent grin. Somehow, despite our lack of lips or tongues, we are still able to speak. Only higher ups, like the Big Boss, get glowing red coals in their eye sockets. I guess the coals are supposed to make them appear more powerful, but I think it just makes them look even more cliché.
As a Reaper, my job is pretty simple. Every day, a slip of paper comes down a metal chute and lands on my desk. The desk is crammed into a tiny cubicle among thousands. The paper contains the day’s Assigned Deaths. They are for the humans who are old or sick, who have been in terrible accidents, or who have decided to take their own lives. Sometimes there’s only one assignment. Other days can have as many as fifty. If I was capable of feeling physical ailments, I would be exhausted after those days.
The other part of my job is to fulfill a monthly quota of thirty Random Deaths. This is also a relatively simple task. I choose anyone, anywhere, at any age, and end their life. Simple as that. Of course, I have to fill out a Random Death Report for every death, so there’s a record that I’m actually doing my job. I’ve been slacking on my Random Deaths, as the Big Boss so kindly pointed out.
I don’t mind ending the lives of the old and sick. They weren’t living much of a life anyway. Even the people who have been stabbed or who have been in a horrible car accident shouldn’t be left to suffer. As for the Random Deaths, it’s just not easy to choose people to die for no reason. But, like I said, it’s my job. It must be done, whether I like it or not.
So, now I have a mission: thirty deaths in three days thanks to all my slacking off. I have a long day ahead of me, so I decide to grab a cup of Elixir from the company break room. Reapers don’t have a need to eat or drink. We can’t chew or swallow. But something about holding onto a cup of steaming liquid and chatting with coworkers brings a sense of normalcy that I think we all need now and then. It’s comforting, in a way.
I go into the linoleum-tiled break room that’s really just a vast space crowded with tables and folding chairs. There is no line for food, only a table set up in the corner with a stack of mugs and a hot drink dispenser. I take one of the mugs and fill it with the muddy purple liquid.
As the steam rises up to my nasal bone, I think about what the Elixir smells like. Cherries, I think, for some reason. I remember what cherries smell like. Juicy. Sweet.
Reaper #2602 is sitting alone at a table nearby. He is a new member, only working here for a few months.
I sit beside him. “How’s the job?” I ask, cradling the mug in my bony fingers, thinking about the way a hot cup of coffee feels on cold skin.
#2602 dips his finger into his mug and stirs the liquid around. “I guess I just don’t understand.”
“What don’t you understand?” I ask.
He looks up at me, and if either of us had eyes, they would meet. “What I did to deserve this.”
“Well, you killed someone,” I tell him, even though that’s obvious. It’s the first thing they tell you at Reaper training. “Or a lot of people.”
“It was a lot of people.” #2602 looks down at his Elixir again. “But I didn’t mean it. I didn’t think about it. Or I don’t think I did. I don’t know. I can’t remember. But I know I didn’t mean it. You know?”
I think about the expression I would make if I still had a face. The corner of my mouth would turn down in a look of contemplation, of understanding. But I can’t make that face, so I only nod at him. “I know.”
“I got my assignment for the day,” he tells me. “Three Assigned Deaths.”
“That’s not too bad,” I say like we’re talking about business reports in a human office. “I have to start my monthly quota today.”
He raises his head to look at me, and I think that if he had a face, it would look surprised. “You haven’t started your quota yet?”
I shrug. “Call me a slacker.” I stand and dump my Elixir down the large sink against the wall behind us. I turn to leave, but I stop and glance back at #2602. “Hey, what was your name? You know, before? Do you remember?”
Reaper #2602 pauses to think for a second. Finally he says, “Jacob. At least, I think that was it.”
The locker room is nearly empty, with only a few late-starters hanging out by their assigned lockers and chatting about their assignments for the day. My locker is in the 371st row, on the very end. Naturally, my locker number is 2497. My sandaled feet make bouncing echoes on the stone floors as I make my way towards my locker. It’s quite a walk.
I take the key for the padlock out of my cloak and open my assigned locker. Inside is only one item: the regulation scythe. Every Reaper has one, of course. It’s extremely clichéd, but it’s what we use to do our job. I only have one Assigned Death for today, and I decide to get that out of the way first. I’d do anything to put off filling my quota.
Taking my scythe, which is only a few inches taller than me, I head to the Transportation Room. It’s not as exciting as it sounds. The Transportation Room is dark, made of damp stone and lined with chalk circles surrounded by ancient symbols on the floor. They allow the Reapers to travel anywhere in the world, and in order to get back to wherever Reaper Headquarters is located, we simply tap our scythes on the ground three times and we return to the same chalk circle we left in. It’s very Dorothy in Oz, except instead of red slippers, it’s a piece of farming equipment. Same difference, I guess.
My Assigned Death for the day is at a small hospice care facility in Montana. She’s a 94 year old woman named Mabel Walsh, and she is going to die of lung cancer despite never smoking a day in her life. That’s all I know about her for now.
I choose a chalk circle and think about my location. A blue light rises up and surrounds me, and in a moment, I’m standing beside Mabel’s bed.
Her breathing is shallow, and a thin, glowing wick dances lazily above her head. It’s short, a sure sign that she is at the end of her life, and the blue light flickers as if it’s real fire. Her eyes are closed. The nightstand is crowded with framed photographs, some old, some new. There are pictures of her, of her children, of her grandchildren, of her great-grandchildren. Her whole life is on display on this table. It seems so small now.
Mabel is hooked up to a heart monitor, beeping steadily in the sterile, white room. Even though this place isn’t supposed to be like a hospital, it still feels like one. I should know, I’ve been to countless hospitals all over the world in my two years and five months as a Reaper. There is a pink chair in the corner made of fake leather, and a few vases of fresh flowers on the windowsill. I wonder who brought them for her.
I sit at the edge of the bed. It doesn’t move beneath my nonexistent weight. Technically, I’m not here at all. I look at Mabel’s hands, folded peacefully over her chest, and think about how in a few minutes, they will never move on their own again. Her nails are pink, newly painted. They’re still glossy, with no sign of chipping. I notice that her frail gray hair has been curled neatly to form a kind of halo around her head. Some would describe her as angelic, especially with the late morning light streaming through the window and onto her face, highlighting the wrinkles of a long life. I wouldn’t call her an angel. There are only Reapers and maybe rebirth. Nothing in between. I guess “heavenly” would do for her. She must have been stunning in her younger years to be still be so beautiful now.
There are a few childish drawings done in crayon taped above her bed, designed by children she would never see again. She must have loved them very much to hang such crappy works of art right above her bed. Then again, from her position, she doesn’t have to actually look at them. Smart thinking, Mabel.
The heart monitor beats and reminds me of the reason I’m even here in the first place. It’s time for Mabel to die. The blue string on her scalp flickers, wanting to go out on its own. The string can’t dissolve on its own, though; it must be removed by a Reaper. It’s why some people just keep lingering on even though it’s their time. I never thought about why people sometimes just keep hanging on when I was a human. I never needed to. The Reapers can’t always get to everyone at the right time. That’s just the way it is.
Today is Mabel’s time. Her family will be sad. Her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren – they’ll all be left behind. They’ll all cry. They’ll prepare the arrangements for the funeral they’ve been planning ever since her diagnosis, ever since she decided to not seek treatment and simply go into hospice care. They’ll hug people who knew Mabel but don’t know them. They’ll listen to condolences, and make speeches about how loving and kind she was. They’ll share fond memories of her Christmas cookies and the time they took her to a theme park even though she was too old to go on any of the rides. But she watched her family on the roller coasters, and she laughed because she just wanted to see them have a nice time. She wanted to experience it with them.
Don’t ask me how I know all of this. It’s like some sort of telepathy at work. The closer a Reaper gets to completing their Assigned Death, the more they know about the person. The more a Reaper focuses on one human, the more they learn about them. Past, present, and future. It’s torture.
My mind is racing with fragments of Mabel’s life, from her sixth birthday to the day her last great-child was born. I see it all. The memories blur my vision and I am infinitely jealous. I want my own memories to come flooding back the way Mabel’s have burst into my skull. It’s not fair that I can know more about a stranger’s life than my own in a matter of seconds. I’m not even sure of my own name, but I know Mabel’s. First, middle, last, and maiden. I know it all.
I raise my scythe, holding the sharpened blade just next to that flickering blue light. I can’t put it off any longer. It’s time to extinguish the flame of Mabel’s life. Literally.
Her eyes open slowly, and I can see the deep blue of her irises, the same deep blue that her late husband once described as “the most precious sapphires in the world”. I guess she liked the romantic type. For a moment, I fancy that she can see me, even though I know that’s not possible. I am a supernatural being, after all.
She lets out a low sigh. Her eyes struggle to focus. She seems to be looking towards the sunlight. A small smile touches her lips, and I notice that someone has applied a bit of lipstick to her mouth. That’s good. Mabel likes that. Even as she got old, Mabel always liked to feel beautiful. Her children had already made plans to assure that Mabel would rest beautifully forever. They love her so much. Her eyes droop closed again. I know that she is so tired. She’s ready.
“Time to go, Mabel,” I tell her, even though she can’t hear anything.
With a swift swing of my scythe, the wick is cut and the flame is gone. There’s nothing dramatic about it. There is no flickering of a flame trying to stay alive. It’s simply gone. Poof. Like magic. And with it, Mabel’s life is gone too. A small, glowing white orb rises from her slightly parted lips. It’s no bigger than the head of a pin, and in a second, that is gone too.
Mabel’s heart monitor flat lines and I move over to sit in the fake leather chair. Pink isn’t really my color, but I’m not ready to leave quite yet. Leaving means starting my quota.
A nurse comes in. She’s wearing pink scrubs. She turns off the monitor and uses a stethoscope to listen to Mabel’s silent chest. After a moment, she rushes out of the room, probably to get a doctor to call her time of death. I watch as the doctor makes some notes on Mabel’s chart. She nods at the nurse, wordlessly telling to start calling the old woman’s family. They’ll be upset that no one was there with her when she finally died. They’ll make some hollow accusations and point some shaky fingers, but they’ll get over it quickly as the reality of their loved one’s death sinks in. And then, they will cry. They’ll hold each other and sob and say that they miss her already. They’ll talk about how life won’t be the same without her in it and then they’ll leave to start calling more family and to pull out all of the pre-made funeral plans. Then the people from the morgue will come to take her away so the room can be occupied by another dying person.
I get up because I don’t want to see any of that. I have to get started on my quota eventually anyway.
When a Reaper has a Random Death assignment, they can go anywhere in the world that they wish, but I don’t feel like going back to the Transportation Room, so I decide to stay in Montana, at least for now. I have to complete ten Random Deaths today if I’m going to stay on track and make the Big Boss happy. I decide to find someone middle aged to start with. There are plenty of Reapers out there who take great joy in taking out children. I try to avoid that as much as possible.
Once, when I was still a Reaper-in-training, I was assigned to shadow Reaper #1026, who said he couldn’t remember a single thing about his life as a human. He took me to a small park in Brazil that consisted of a couple of swings, a metal jungle gym that looked like it could collapse at any moment, and a small pit of sand. There was a little girl, no older than five or six, on one of the swings, and two toddler-aged boys playing in the sandpit. Their mothers sat on a nearby bench, chatting.
Reaper #1026 set his sights on the little girl. I remember her so clearly. She wore a little green jacket, because it was fall and it was starting to get chilly out. Her deep brown curls were tied back in a ponytail with a green ribbon. She wore white sneakers with one of the silver, sparkling laces untied. Her chubby face was set in a look of pure concentration as she pumped her legs, willing the swing to go higher and higher. Up and down. Back and forth. My trainer pointed at her and raised his scythe. Her wick was so long that it tangled up with the metal bar at the top of the swing set. She had so much life left to live. It burned so brightly.
He brought his scythe down.
Her wick and one of the chain links of the swing were sliced simultaneously. He had waited until she had swung up to the highest point. The chain broke and she fell backward, off the wooden seat.
Her face contorted into an expression shock. Her tiny pink lips parted. A short, piercing scream escaped her throat. Her brown eyes widened and bulged as some childish realization of death washed over her. She tumbled back, and landed squarely on the crown of her head. The ground was hard beneath her. There was so much blood. For a moment, she did a headstand, and then the weight of her legs brought her body back to the ground. Her neck twisted. She didn’t make a sound. If I had had a heart, it would have skipped a beat.
Her wick was gone.
I wasn’t the one who had performed the execution, so I never even found out her name, or kind of life she would have lived if Reaper #1026 hadn’t snapped the chain. I thought not knowing would be a blessing, but in a way, it only made things worse.
A woman who must have been her mother jumped up from the bench and ran to the girl’s side. She screamed shrilly, shouting for her daughter to wake up, lifting her limp body from the ground, shaking her, crying. My trainer laughed. I wondered how he could possibly find any of this funny.
He nudged me in the ribs with his bony elbow. “One of the greatest perks of the job,” he declared, and I pictured a satisfied grin on his blank, yellowing face.
If I had had a stomach, or a throat, I think I would have vomited then. If I had had a choice, I would have quit.
On that day I promised myself that I would never willingly kill a child. Of course, there are times when it’s unavoidable, like an Assigned Death for a terminally ill child, but in those instances, my job is a mercy anyway. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I can at least stomach the thought of taking out adults to meet my quota. At least then I can imagine that they’v done something to deserve it.
I can’t put it off any longer. I have to get started now. It’s already early afternoon.
I leave the hospice and wonder out onto the street. If I concentrate just right, I’m able to transport myself to nearby places without returning to the Reaper Headquarters. After a moment, I am in what appears to be a town square. A lot of business men and women are rushing about, probably going to grab something for their lunch breaks. I guess I can find my first Random here. It’s as good a place as any.
And while I’m at it, I might as well have at least a little fun.
I observe the hustle and bustle for a bit, and then I spot a man who appears to be in his early thirties, whose wick is much shorter than it should be for a man his age. He’s probably going to develop some kind of illness in the future, the kind people just don’t recover from. He’s a good place to start. At least I can justify this one.
He is wearing an expensive business suit. No wedding ring. His blond hair is slicked back with gel. He keeps looking at his watch. He appears to be very anxious, and he paces the sidewalk in front of a swanky looking café.
The more I observe him, the more I learn. His name is Kent Yevich. He wants to be a CEO. He’s waiting for his boss to discuss the possibility of a promotion over lunch. He’s a workaholic who always stays late after work because he has nothing and no one at home waiting for him. He doesn’t even have a cat, or a DVD collection. What a loser.
Kent is supposed to get the promotion today. He is going to be so happy about it, that he’ll go out and get drunk all by himself, because he doesn’t have any friends. He doesn’t even have any work friends. He thinks of them as “work acquaintances”. He doesn’t want to form any friendships with them, because they’re just competition anyway.
He insists that he’s not lonely when his mother nags him about it.
He is very lonely.
In a couple of years, Kent is going to hang himself from the ceiling fan of his one-bedroom apartment.
I might as well spare the poor guy the agony of becoming suicidal. Really, I’m doing him a favor. He was going to die anyway.
I keep telling myself this as I formulate a plan. Like Reaper #821, I also like to get a little creative with my Random Deaths, although I’ll never live up to his legacy.
With a little Reaper Magic, as I call it because it has no official name, I summon a flock of birds. They take off from the roof of the café and, as if they have all ingested a fair amount of laxative, drop their loads all over poor Kent and his expensive suit.
Just as I suspected, this sends Kent into a panic. He shrieks, dropping his nice leather briefcase, scuffing it up on the sidewalk, and flails his hands wildly as he tries to brush off the running trails of white bird poop. With the dark black of his expensive suit, he kind of looks like a reverse Dalmatian. He stumbles, trying desperately to get out of the birds’ line of fire even though they’ve finished their business already and have flown away. His eyes are squeezed shut because a couple of the birds managed to hit a bulls eye right on Kent’s perfectly slicked hair, and the white goo is running down his forehead.
I watch, amused, and think about smirking.
Kent isn’t sure what to do with his hands. His left hand is trying to brush all of the bird poop off his suit, while his right is trying to brush it all off his face, which, of course, only smears it in. He looks like he’s wearing an obscure face mask. Who knows, maybe it’s good for his pores. Not that it’ll matter in a second anyway.
Someone shouts at him to look out, but he’s in too much of a panic to hear them. In his blind stumbling, his right foot slips over the curb and he falls face-first into the street. The driver of an oncoming car slams on his breaks, but he’s too close to the action to stop in time. The car’s grill hits Kent right in the torso as he falls, and the front tires make a strange crunching sound as they roll over Kent’s body. Fortunately, the impact from the grill was enough to snap Kent’s ribcage and send a jagged bone fragment into his rapidly pulsing heart. He was dead before he even hit the ground.
I know this because the second the car smacked into him is the second I severed his wick with my scythe and the small glowing orb was forced from his body out of his mouth.
The driver gets out. She’s a young woman, probably just a college student, and she’s screaming and crying hysterically, “He just jumped out onto the street! He jumped right in front of my car!”
Poor girl will probably be traumatized for life.
As ambulance sirens pierce through the air, a small purple vortex opens up above my head and a single sheet of paper with a pen conveniently attached floats down. It’s my Random Death Report, of course. They’re more for the record department rather than official business, but we have to fill them out regardless. Without them, the Big Boss would have never known that I haven’t fulfilled my quota for the month.
As the young woman freaks out and explains to the police officers and EMTs who have shown up what happened, along with the help of some friendly bystanders, I use the now dented hood of her car to make my report. As usual, it’s short and simple.
Random Death Report Sheet
Name of Executed: Kent Yevich
Reason for Execution: He was going to off himself anyway.
Method of Execution: A spattering of bird dung and a nice, big car.
With the flick of my wrist, I toss the paper and pen into the air, and the void opens up again, sucking the paper into it with a flash of bright lightning, to be sent to the filing department.
The EMTs are loading Kent’s body into the ambulance. The girl is crying. A few bystanders look a little sick. I guess I’ve ruined their lunch plans. Oh well.
My work here is done.
On to the next.
As Kent’s blood dries on the asphalt, I decide to leave Montana. With three taps of my scythe on the sidewalk, I find myself back in the Transportation Room of Reaper Headquarters. Reaper #1545 is walking towards a chalk circle, staring at a piece of paper in her hand. She doesn’t have a face to show it, but I can tell she’s worried about something.
“Hey,” I say, and she looks up. “Bad assignment?”
She sighs, which is more of a whistling sound through her uneven teeth. “Really bad assignment.”
“What do you have?” I ask, grateful for the chance to stall.
“Bus crash, twelve people,” she says. “I won’t be able to get to some of them fast enough. They’ll suffer.”
“Didn’t you make people suffer a lot when you were a human?” I ask. It seems silly to me that someone who was probably a serial killer would feel guilty about pulling off a bus crash. I don’t like pulling off deaths because I never enjoyed killing in the first place. Like I said, I only killed one person, and even though I don’t remember much, I know it haunted me for the rest of my human life. Maybe I’m on a high horse about it. Whatever.
She shrugs. “Probably, but that doesn’t make it any better now. I don’t remember anything about what I did as a human; I only know I killed a few people. Maybe more than a few.”
“What was your name?” I ask.
Even without facial muscles, I can see the surprise in the black abyss of her eye sockets. “What?”
“When you were human,” I elaborate, “what was your name?”
“What was yours?” she countered.
She taps the tip of her bony finger to her chin, making a small clicking sound as she thinks. Finally she says, “Jane. Probably. It’s fuzzy. But something about it feels right.”
“Then it’s probably right,” I say. “Where’s the bus crash taking place?”
She looks at her paper again. “France. Countryside. I better get going.”
“Take them out as quickly as you can,” I tell her, trying to be comforting. But really, there’s no comfort in the Reaper’s job when you’re assigned to take large numbers at once. It’s strange the way it works. Reapers can be assigned to take out large groups of people in the event of natural or man-made disasters, but we can only perform one Random Death at a time. I guess that’s a good thing, in a way. It prevents the people who still carry their mass-murderer minds with them into the Reaper realm from taking out multitudes of people all at once. At the same time, that means that all disaster events are predetermined, probably by the same sadistic cosmic force that decided anyone who murders someone as a human will spend eternity as a Reaper.
I try not to think about it too much. It gives me a headache.
“I heard about your confrontation with the Big Boss,” Reaper #1545 tells me as she steps into her chosen chalk circle. “It’s the hottest gossip around the office. You better take those Randoms out as quickly as you can, too.”
“One down, twenty-nine to go,” I say as I step into the circle beside hers.
“You’re so slow. I would have had at least a third of that done by now,” she says matter-of-factly.