Karina M. Sokulski
My Postmortum Tour Guide Doesn't Speak English
Inspired by the following prompt: "A grim reaper, a bouquet of flowers, all Hallow's Eve & person who is lost."
She’s just an upstart.
She can’t possibly pull this off.
She doesn't even have a coven.
Damn COVID variant’s overpopulating covens left and right.
And so on. Who knew telepathy was a power common to earth witches? One would think such a power would be bestowed upon the satanically inclined witches who traded their immortal souls for witchcraft. Not a random travel agent living in Houston, Texas who unwittingly became an earthen witch. I wonder if there’s something to talking to plants...
Yeah, I know. Roll your eyes now, but I promise this is not the story of a teenager discovering she’s a witch and this is an allegory for ‘girl-boss puberty’ or...whatever’s a better way of phrasing that. This is the story of an ex-tour travel agent (my agency went out of business during lock down) who became a witch after getting COVID. The miasma variant.
Look, my name is Tabitha Flynn, but I go by Tabitha Willow now. That’s the witch’s name I’m apparently required to register myself under. Turns out all witches, regardless of how they got their powers, still live by certain…traditions. All witches are required to declare their own names (rather than the ones they were given), Game of Thrones-style house coat of arms, their own covens to establish bloodlines and... I’ll be honest, this is all still new to me.
Oh, I should probably finish setting the stage because you’ll get confused if I don’t. What you are currently reading is the beginning of a grimoire that will both detail my magical study and my condensed memoir. Turns out these books--at least the legit ones--are supposed to be both. That and they’re supposed to be shared across dimensions and alternate realities for others to read. I won’t beat you over the head with the infinite realities talk I had to have with an inter-dimensional witch I just finished having the other day. Believe me the migraine hasn’t quite subsided yet. If you were wondering if this was a random author being cheeky and meta on their blog--it’s not. And it...is.
It’s all relative.
So yeah. In our infinite realities, every work of fiction is real. The writer is an unknowing (sometimes unwilling) conduit who delivers a glimpse into another world. My reality is pretty similar to yours. Same prehistoric history, both World Wars happened, COVID-19 and so on...the only difference being my dimension is integrated with the magically inclined. Which means even viruses have evolved with magical effects to them. As a result, instead of ‘Omicron’ we got ‘Miasma’ and wouldn’t you know it? A lot of people came down with magical powers instead of every other variant’s fever, muscle aches and other domestic symptoms. Well, everyone who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that is.
Well to address at least some of these complaints:
I do have a name. Tabitha Willow. I said it earlier.
My coven of just one earth witch is known (officially now) as The Elysian Guide (please refer to my coven coat of arms below).
I have a coven. My coven, by which I mean me, has sworn servitude to the grim reapers of the world.
Let me explain.
I, like apparently every witch in the world, either herald or belong to a pre-existing coven. Each witch has a name of their choosing, a coat of arms and have a magical creature (and or race) that we provide service to.
So long as your witchcraft didn’t come from the devil himself because...well your servitude (and all other elements of being a witch) is pretty much covered in your unholy contract.
Who or what beings you serve as a witch is just the luck of the draw. Just like whether your magic ends up being associated with black or white magic. Example: some witches serve the winter court of the fae folk, others serve literal angels. There’s one witch I’ve met, Adrina Sanguine, who serves vampires along with her coven and... there’s a reason we don’t talk about her working at blood banks for a day job. But that’s a story better told in a later entry.
I’ve heard it all before, very recently. How weird it is for someone who got powers from a COVID-19 strain to be chosen by such an important magical race. Much less by the literal grim reaper. I’ve overheard how lucky I am, how unlucky I am, how maybe the grim reapers only chose me because COVID-19 was supposed to off me but...here’s the thing.
Whether or not I’m fortunate, the benefits that come from serving a grim reaper--yes you heard me right, you get benefits for this job--are pretty remarkable. For starters, I get to choose my day, time, and method of death. Yeah, you read that right. One of my benefits for serving Mr. (Mrs? TBD) Death is I get to choose how and when I go. I don’t even need to specify right away. My work takes priority over everything so if I need an extension, that’s fine too. These benefits extend to any witches I recruit into my coven, as well.
My work, by the way, is to act as a dispatcher of reapers and guide for souls stuck between the plane of the living and the afterlife.
All this sound too good to be true?
Yes but no. Let’s put a footnote in your mind: don’t forget I mentioned the infinite verse of dimensions that separate our realities. Death plays a role in that, too. But I’ve gotten into the weeds, and I digress to where our story starts.
Upstart. Can’t possibly pull this off, yara-yara. So, let’s skip my awful time in quarantine once I caught COVID because nothing major really happened. I mean, yeah, I got my powers, but it wasn’t exciting. It wasn’t any Marvel movie moment where my curtains set on fire because I sneezed, or I suddenly woke up to levitating over my bed. Instead, it was the unexciting event of my neighbor Mizuki Oshima, a known and registered moon witch, dropping off a casserole she made for me. She left the pretty, hand-painted pan on my doorstep after noticing a magical barrier had been erected all around my house. Within ten minutes she texted me she ‘sensed my signature in the barrier.’ Something only witches are capable of and ergo, we discovered together which variant I ended up catching.
All hail the miasma variant!
You hear it all over the news for anyone unlucky enough to catch it. Everyone who’s suddenly come down with powers are far from lucky, but most haven’t figured that part out yet. I figured it out pretty quick because like with a paper cut, you don’t feel the pain or even start to bleed until you lay eyes on it. Such was the case with my powers. Once I found out about the magical barrier, well before the end of my quarantine, everything quickly changed.
I think it was a Tuesday I first met my postmortem tour guide. It was definitely a day that didn’t act as any landmark of the week (like Monday, Wednesday or Friday) and quarantine was over.
Mizuki had come over the day after my quarantine ended, lunar-brewed teas served in my unexceptionally basic polka dotted tea set and we started a new routine. Discovering what kind of witch I was.
The way every witch comes into their power is different, she explained, depending on several factors. Since mine came from the miasma variant, we got to skip the puberty talk and power fluctuations hormones had on a witch. Whoo-hoo. Mizuki had moved in next door around the time I did in a simple suburb built by builders desperate for occupants. The ‘pick color schemes A, B, or C for the kitchen and pick the outer bricks of the house’ type of situation. Only this was a neighborhood also registered as ‘occult friendly.’ I knew that moving in, by the way. It’s better to live in a magical neighborhood because you get less cases of burglary. No one would be stupid enough to rob a guy who can launch pillars of fire without the risk of property damage.
Eat your heart out, insurance companies.
There’s not many occult in our neighborhood though. There’s a territorial element to witches when it comes to the whole black versus white magic rivalry and Mizuki couldn’t be more of a white witch if she tried. Also, Mizuki prefers protecting her territory from other witches regardless of their magic or elemental affiliation. Just a preference for privacy and an environment that doesn’t ‘mix magics,’ as she puts it.
Mizuki is a white witch. A moon witch with command over the element of water from Nagoya, Japan. Moonlight charges her power like the sun does for superman. Professionally she works in a fertility clinic, different moons in the sky give her clairvoyance and every new moon rabbits that glow in the dark gather around her house so she’ll administer them with blessings before they return to outer space.
I’ll get back to you on that one whenever I gather the courage to ask. Anyway, over tea and store-bought jelly cookies, Mizuki set out at once to help me figure out my magic affiliation. Determining a witch’s magic affiliation is easier to do when you first determine the element with witch they’re associated with.
A white witch who commands the element of fire will be able to produce the element free of charge so long as she produces something that can be given back to the earth. These kinds of witches will be entitled to such talents as chemistry, baking, protection spells and hypnotism.
A black witch who commands the element of fire will be able to produce the element for whatever purpose of their choosing so long as they pay the price. Non-satanic witches often get into blood magic (especially when uterine blood is an acceptable and versatile solvent for trade). Their talents include stronger use of alchemy, also cooking, weaponized fire, weapon enchantment and smoke spells.
I proved incapable of either of these sets of talents, so fire was out. Mizuki impressed with her ability to literally turn water to wine, brew tea capable of maximizing and sterilizing fertility (something I didn’t dare taste myself) and her unique ability to deeply effect emotions through an aromatherapy diffuser.
I couldn’t replicate a single one of these talents, so water was out too.
Wind is...complicated. It’s the only element that’s the same regardless of whether your affiliation is white or black magic. These witches have a more versatile situation when it comes to magic since their element on its own doesn’t really do much. Evidently this is evolution’s way of providing balance. Wind witchcraft gets access to all of the elements to make their own happen.
My know-how of this last element came from y desperate attempt to distract Mizuki from the mortifyingly lame way my powers manifested. Despite the moon witch’s encouraging applause, accidentally killing then resurrecting my teaspoon-sized cactus felt less than grand. So, yeah. Only earth witches are capable of animancy and necromancy. Fun fact: neither power is exclusive to black or white magic. Both are part of earth magic basics. The only benefit I received from the miasma variant I can’t argue away.
Enter my postmortem tour guide.
While Mizuki was continuing her saintly practice of explaining my lifestyle change while I gnawed at a jelly cookie, there came a knock at the door. In my neighborhood there’s usually only two explanations for unexpected knocking at your front door. The first is a salesman ignoring the three no soliciting signs I have staked in my front yard. The second is the neighbor you don’t talk to too much coming to your door in desperation because they lost their pet or need something else that warrants their visit.
It...would have been less horrifying if it had been either of those. So, I innocently open my door and find myself staring upon the classic black cloaked...being with a scythe standing at my door.
Two things to note. One: yes, the skeleton in the tattered black cloak with a scythe in hand is a true to life depiction. Two: if you stare into the face of death, you will die. So to (I think) put me at ease, my post mortem tour guide wore a paper plate mask over his face. If the image isn’t bizarre enough, the plate read, “Hello, Tabitha, my name is Thanatos of Tartarus and I’ll be your occult guide. :).”
Also, he stood at my door with a wedding-bouquet level of pastel orange roses, white anemones and...pretty much every other flower I ever decided were my favorites. I didn’t know it then like I do now but, my postmortem tour guide did their homework on me.
It was October when my postmortem tour guide came to visit but it never occurred to me in that moment that it could be some crazy teenager getting an early start on Halloween pranking. Let’s be real, no one does that except for on the very day itself.
“Can I help you?” I asked. My voice squeaked pathetically when I asked. I’m not embarrassed to admit that. I’m proud of myself in fact because it did occur to me to flat out scream my lungs off and slam the door in his paper-plated face. Looking back, the response would have been flat out appropriate when Thanatos’ responded.
“Kalí sas méra. Den tychaínei na milás elliniká, étsi?” A silky, yet nasally voice asked from behind the plate.
As the title of this entry suggests, in Thanatos’ millions of years of his eternal life, he doesn’t speak English. I know what you may be thinking. If I used to work for a travel agency, shouldn’t I be bilingual? Yes, yes, I should. Am I? Yes, yes, I am. I speak Spanish. Not Greek, thank you very much.
“Uhhh. You don’t speak English?” Naturally my question came and, you’ll never believe this, the messily written words on his paper-plate mask changed before my very eyes. Think the second Harry Potter movie when Harry’s writing in the journal and the words respond to him on the page. Same concept.
“I do not but this cool plate I got from a water witch, and it offers voice to scribe translation.
( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)”
I’ll spare you the question and just answer since I can’t look upon this grim reaper’s face. Thanatos gives me emojis to look at so I can understand his tone.
“I’m not going to die if I let you in, right?” I pride myself on keeping my priorities straight.
“Of course not! :> The plate isn’t just for translation, silly. Besides, these flowers are a token that I come in peace. :3”
Yeah, I didn’t expect a reaper with the name Thanatos to make use of such cute emojis either yet here we are.
After accepting the bouquet, with great fear the gloves on his bony hand wouldn’t be enough to protect my immortal soul I stepped aside to let a grim reaper into my house.
Only, he lingered in the door.
“I can’t come in unless you invite me in. O.o” Thanatos lifted his scythe in his other hand and a moment later it vanished into a plume of black smoke.
“What?” The inevitable question came.
“Well, it’s a rule for all occult beings. Like in vampire movies (㇏(•̀ᵥᵥ•́)ノ). All occult beings have to be invited in by the owner of the home, settlement, or domain. Otherwise, my powers will be reduced, and my mask won’t be able to translate. .0.”
I invited Thanatos in, and he stepped soundlessly through the thresh hold. Don’t get me wrong, he didn’t hover or glide in. He looked like he was walking but reapers produce no sound. Their voices can differ, but as you can tell my occult guide let his paper plate do all the soundless talking.
“Oh my! There’s another witch here! ٩(ˊᗜˋ*)ﾉ” Thanatos’ plate told me as soon as he reached my tiny little kitchen and turned his head so I could witness his excitement.
“That’s not a bad thing?” I asked. Not that I knew what to expect when a reaper meets another witch, but Mizuki answered before his paper plate could.
“Of course not. Regardless of conflicts between witches, all members of the occult are impartial.” Mizuki stood to bow in greeting to Thanatos. Thanatos bowed in return.
“Howaitou ōtāu itchi-sama ni o ai dekite kōeidesu!” Thanatos said aloud as he tilted forward.
“O ai dekite kōeidesu shinigami mo.” Mizuki replied with delight.
Oh sure, Thanatos spoke fluent Greek and Japanese but English? I still don’t care if I’m petty, I’m the one serving him. You’d think the grim reapers could do better than a paper plate translator. Which looks ridiculous on him, by the way.
“You’re acquainted with other witches. This is wonderful! ᕕ༼✪ل͜✪༽ᕗ” Thanatos clapped his gloved hands together again.
“I suppose this is a s good a time as any for me to excuse myself.” Mizuki said next, much to my dread.
“You’re leaving now?” I asked, aghast by her timing. The pretty lunar witch smiled at me after I did, something about the expression told me she was just eager to get out of my house. Not because Mizuki in general finds me annoying or anything. At least...I hope not. Mizuki’s always been big on privacy and is a tried-and-true rule-follower when it comes to...well, anything. Like most family-less Christmases, we decided to give the traditional Christmas cookie baking a try and heaven forbid we stray from the recipe.
So yeah, just like how Mizuki religiously followed the Pilsbury recipe instructions so too did she respect the occult playbook. Specifically, the section that dictates the punishable offense of a witch interfering with another witch’s communing with their assigned occult charge.
So out went Mizuki and in came the terrifying awkwardness of my standing in my kikchen with Thanatos the paper-plate masked reaper.
“Thank you for inviting me into your home, Tabitha Flynn. ♡´･ᴗ･`♡” Thanatos’ plate said to me before I could manage to get a word in.
“Oh, uh...you’re welcome.” I stammered before my senses came back amidst our awkward silence. “Can I... offer you anything?”
“Oh, how generous! That’s the best part of earth witches, they’re usually the nicest of all witches. That’s why I volunteered when your name was drawn by Chronos. I told him, ‘I’ll do it if it’s an earth witch I’m working with! (๑•̀ㅁ•́ฅ✧”
To this day, I still vividly remember as Thanatos raised his gloved fist into the air in some manner of proclamation, how conditional and self-centered he sounded. So... what if I’d been a witch of any other element?
“So,” I rubbed the back of my neck awkwardly as I walked further into my house. I hate awkward moments so imagine my relief when Thanatos took the wordless invitation to follow after me to my living room. “Do what exactly?”
Thanatos’s fist dropped as the words vanished from his paper plate and for a moment he just stood there. I assumed he was staring at me from behind his suddenly blank plate before at last a face appeared.
Somehow the emoji expression said it all.
“I forgot to tell you! But that’s ok, I’ll proceed to do so now.” Thanatos assumed a seat on one of my olive-colored sofas and gesture for me to sit across from him as words continued to appear on his plate. “‘I, Thanatos of Tartarus, have been assigned as your postmortem tour guide and reaper ambassador. It is my job to relay what services we will ask of you, Tabitha Flynn, as they arrive from the Elysian Counsel. I have in my possession a letter of invitation to register your witch’s name and eternal contract for you to sign.” Thanatos clapped his gloved hands together almost as if in prayer. “You are welcomed and encouraged to state new or amend existing conditions to your service as you see fit. Please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions or tell me how I may make our partnership more comfortable. I’m ready and eager to assist you in any way I can. (ง’̀-‘́)ง’
It took longer than I liked to get through the entirety of Thanatos’ soundless paragraphs because, one, it sounded more sales pitchy than I liked. Two, the reaper wrote the entire paragraph as if he were paraphrasing even though--you know what? Forget it. Once I was done, I suffered a moment more in the deafening silence between us as I scanned the paper plate. It occurred to me for the first time in that moment I was going to have to vocalize when I was done reading, because visual cues were going to be entirely one-sided.
“So... where’s this letter?” I finally managed to ask.
Thanatos’ soundless sales pitch melted away, replaced by a, “(☉̃ₒ☉)” and then a, “✉” before he produced an actual envelope from a nearly invisible pocket in his robe. The black envelope pinched between Thanatos’ gloved fingers was a shade so dark, the object looked as though he were merely holding shadow. A trick of the light rather than something I could tangibly hold with my fingers.
And yet the soft as silk, but somehow tough as parchment paper grazed my fingertips upon my first touch. The envelope itself proved heavy, convincing me a letter of invitation and my contract really were stuffed in there. Across the nearly shapeless surface of the envelope was my name scrawled in elegant cursive. Only my first name, however.
“Do I have to give you the contract today?” I asked, glancing over the soft edge of the envelope at Thanatos’ paper plate.
“If you want to, but I wouldn’t recommend it. ┐(￣ヮ￣)┌ I’m more of a ’read the fine print’ kind of spirit. You have until October 31st when you become a supreme of your own coven to figure that out.”
“Oh.” I said, enormously distracted by the aloof nature of the reaper seated across from me. I remembered the envelope in my hand and at last turned it over, spotting an orange wax seal on the back with the shape of a marigold flower in its center. “Huh, don’t know what I expected for the seal.”
A skull and cross bones maybe, but maybe that was more pirate and less actual death lore?
“I went with a flower since you’re an earth witch. Show off my enthusiasm regarding your success *✲☆⋆(˘ᴗ˘ ).”
This guy. Before the thought of needing a letter opener could occur to me, the wax seal simply popped from the page and the top of the envelop simply rolled open. There were indeed two wedges of folded paper inside so naturally--because no doubt everything about this situation was natural--I took out the first of the two folded pieces of paper.
My invitation read as follows:
The eternal and venerable reapers of the Elysian Counsel request the presence and services of the Lady Tabitha Flynn, firstly named beneath a harvest moon three weeks shy of the spring equinox and receiver of the Demetris vein of magic via exposure to the miasma variant of the coronavirus two weeks past the summer solstice.
Please accept both this postmortem tour guide humbly provided by our eternally esteemed council and the negotiable contract he brings within his possession as our enthuse regarding your initiation. The Elysian Counsel eagerly anticipates your services as inmortem conduit to souls lost between planes of purgatory and beyond. Your postmortem tour guide will also act as your messenger and ambassador over all communications between yourself, your coven, and the Elysian Counsel. Upon completion of revising your contract, please reseal the envelope you received your contract in and your postmortem tour guide will do the rest.
The Elysian Counsel looks forward to your achieving the rank of witch supreme on All-Hallow’s Eve.
Maman Brigette, seventh seat of the Elysian Counsel
P.S. Please wear the antimortem glasses we provided at all times when addressing members of the Elysian Counsel to negate the danger of our mortem-inducing gaze.
“‘Antimortem glasses’?” Was the first thing that came to mind to ask. When I lifted my eyes from the elegantly scrolled letter, Thanatos’ soundless response said it all.
“You forgot them?” I guessed, already suspecting the answer.
“I’ve lived eons, I’m not forgetful with important things,” Thanatos paused long enough for the words on his paper-plate to vanish before he added, “I just thought it’d be a waste to start with that when this mask is so much cooler. (￢ε￢ )”
I looked at the neatly folded edge of the contract first before I sighed and tossed the envelope on the coffee table between us instead. Looking at a contract that literally decided the rest of my life and dealings with grim reapers was the last thing I needed to do at that moment.
“I’m going to be a conduit for lost souls?” I asked at last, deciding that was the better question to start with.
“Yeah, it happens a lot. (◔ヘ◔) Turns out reapers are just scary enough to run from.” Thanatos slumped on the couch and shrugged his shoulders as if the topic at hand were casual enough to warrant such a gesture. “I mean I tried sending a bunch of black cats after this one guy because humans like animals. But I guess he was a dog person. ¯\(º_o)/¯”
I recall vividly how I envisioned a swarm of black cats chasing someone down a street and shuttering before I finally came to ask the next most important question.
“How am I supposed to do all of this in only five months?” Like every ‘rotten millennial’ who suffered the grand scam of college, I ended up with generationally crippling debt and a job that had nothing to do with my major. Now I’d seemingly managed the same fate again, just...on a more existential level.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. That’s what I’M here for. Job’ll be easy, just have to learn the ropes. (つ >ω●)つ”
The ‘ropes’ as he called it were far from simple but that’s for next time, and believe me, I don’t feel like reliving that horror in my introduction.
“Guess I don’t have much of a choice in the matter, huh?” I asked, dropping my chin into my hand as I contemplated my rotten luck. It’d be my job to get a bunch of dead people to stop running from the grim reaper when they came. Great.
“There’s always a choice! But this is so the best choice for you, you’re not going to want to make another one. ( * ́꒳`*)੭” Thanatos stuck a gloved thumb into the air, brimming with confidence I couldn’t technically see past the emojis on his paper plate.
Bad part was, I was a sucker at the time who naively bought into this whole mess when I said the words:
“Alright. Then I suppose we should get started.”
In retrospect, I should’ve thought about it more. Should have tried harder to shake off the shock and question everything more but there wouldn’t be a story if I did that.
Want to know where my mistake led me? Stick around and you’ll find out.
To be continued...