“What about Chris, mom; I thought he was my dad,” AJ said even more confused than before.
“He isn't your father, he's Winter and Willow's,” Nirvana admitted.
“That explains so much,” Winter whispered to Willow. “He’s so lame.”
“This man is Atton Brown. These paper's and sketches are from his father, your granddad, Kip Brown,” CJ told him.
“Is my dad dead?” AJ asked, not ready for the response.
“Not… technically,” Nirvana said, “your grandfather is though. Your dad is uh… I don't know how to put this lightly he um… is the uh Grim Reaper,” Nirvana continued to explain.
“Right,” AJ said slowly. “Do you need another trip to Minerva?”
“I’m serious,” his mother said bluntly.
“What? He's not real. He's– what… no,” AJ was sent back reeling.
“Dude your dad’s the Reaper? Sweet!” Wesley said excitedly.
Werly shot him a glance warning him to hush.
“There is no such thing,” AJ said firmly. “It’s im...impossible.”
“AJ just calm down,” Werly quieted his nerves. “Your father was – is a great man. It’s just; there was darkness inside of him.” Werly showed him a sketch of Vigor.
“He looks just like my dad,” AJ realized, “but sort of grayish and his eyes are red.”
“That is a beast that lived inside your father. Because of him we lived years in fear and darkness,” Werly went on.
“So let’s say I buy this. Let’s say I have nothing better to do than to listen to you. How did Atton become this –this Reaper character?” AJ finally asked.
There was a moment of silence. CJ now questioned if his nephew was truly ready. If AJ wanted his question answered, he would have to hear the whole story.
“AJ, are you sure you can handle this?” CJ asked.
“Yes,” AJ said, unsure if he could.
“Your mom, Nirvana, was the leader of a group of rebels, the Valinior Force.”
“Stop,” AJ interrupted, “the what?”
“Valinior Force,” he repeated. “In a time of crisis, they were the rebels, Airosfield’s defense. She, Atton, Zak, Ralph, and Reggie ventured to Limbo to ask the Grim Reaper for help,” CJ explained.
“Things like this don’t happen in real life,” AJ still dazed in confusion.
“This is Airosfield,” Nirvana reminded him, “things like this happen all the time.”
“If that happened, why didn't anyone else hear about it?” AJ wondered.
“There is a fact of life in the human race,” CJ began. “If something is too painful to bear, we choose to forget it. AJ you have to know this was real, it did happen. It’s happening now.”
“OK,” AJ breathed, “let’s say I believe you. Who are those people you mentioned?”
“You might know Ralph and Reggie better from A little R&R,” CJ began.
“Wait, wait, wait Ralph and Reggie, the doofs on TV are heroes? Eh, okay, but who's Zak?” AJ wondered. There was a tear in Nirvana's eye. She hadn't heard that name since his death.
“Zak was Nirvana's… best friend. He died in the final battle against Vigor,” Werly told AJ.
“Vigor? I thought that was just an urban myth, a scary story,” Wesley pointed out.
“No, he was plenty real, and to beat him we needed the power of the Reaper. When we met the Reaper, he tricked Atton into taking the scythe. Now your father is the Grim Reaper and you're his heir,” Nirvana concluded.
“I saw him,” AJ realized, “in school. This is too much… because, if I accept what you’ve just told me…then I'm the next Grim Reaper,” AJ exhaled deeply. He took a moment to think about what he had just been told. “I have to take the scythe,” AJ said, “or he’ll die. But how am I supposed to get the scythe if I don't know where he is?” AJ asked his mother.
Nirvana gave an explosive answer. “Are you nuts?” Nirvana asked. “I’m not gonna let you do this. You’ll die.”
“Sis, he has to,” CJ told her. “If Vigor really is coming back, we’ll need that scythe again.”
“No,” Nirvana said sternly.
“Ma I have to,” AJ said, “Or millions of people will die,” he said softly.
“You sound exactly like your father,” Nirvana smiled. “No,” she said again. “There’s got to be another way.” She paused. “Something is changing. Something is about to happen. Vigor is coming back and we have to do something about it.”
Nirvana could not explain it, but she had a feeling. It could have been her overactive paranoia but she felt something. Nirvana knew if anything were.
Nirvana took her children home and CJ was staying at a hotel. AJ, however, was tired of waiting. All his life he'd lived a man calling himself his father, but he wasn't. That night AJ snuck out. He didn't know exactly where he was going but a feeling led him to the Hill. Before him stood the hill, he reached out and his hand was consumed by the shadows and pulled him in. He couldn't believe it, the Grim Reaper.
“Dad, it's you,” AJ said elated.
“Son, you shouldn't be here,” Atton warned.
Marty bit AJ on his leg. “You ain't uh posed uh be here. Who are you?”
“I'm the heir,” AJ said proudly.
“No!” Atton boomed. “AJ I could never sentence you to the same fate as mine!”
“Dad, you could die in here,” AJ pointed out.
“I don’t care,” Atton snapped.
“If I leave I will come back to get the scythe,” AJ promised.
“No son, you can’t.”
“I have to. You need a chance to live your life, you deserve it after all these years,” he told his dad.
“I don’t deserve anything, not life, not even death. You deserve a real life. Leave son,” Atton cajoled his son, “you have to.”
“But dad–,” AJ started.
“Boss,” Marty intoned, “you just gonna let dis moral buss up in ur lair like dis. Kill im!”
“I am truly sorry, son. This will hurt me more than it will hurt you,” Atton said sadly to his son.
He raised his scythe and AJ shut his eyes when he opened them he was panting on his bed in his room safe at home.
At the same time, in the Hill, Atton is receiving news he been waiting forever to hear.
“Boss I've identified Berzerk,” Marty said proudly.
“Finally,” Atton said relieved. “Who is it?”
Marty gave him a cynical grin, “It's me.”
“What?” Atton recoiled.
“All dis time you been searching for someone right unda ya boney chin.” Berzerk broke out of Marty's skin revealing her true form.
“What'd you do to Marty?” Atton yelled.
“You fool,” she hissed, “There never was a Marty. It was always me.” She lunged at him but he drove his scythe into her stomach. She looked down at the scythe then up at Atton, and smiled. “You're gonna have to do better than that, Brown.” Berzerk took one swipe towards Atton’s face and knocked him to the ground. “I'll need this,” Berzerk said, removing the scythe from her stomach.
Then she pushed his throne out of the way and below it was a hole that led to the Reaper's Pit of Souls. She jumped in and began looking for Vigor. It wasn't hard because Berzerk had been in there many times before as Marty and Vigor was at the very end. Regaining his balance, Atton jumped down the hole and caught up with Berzerk.
“No,” but it was too late, she released Vigor. He stepped out of his casing, emerged and Berzerk handed him the scythe.
“Thank you, my love.” He looked down and saw Atton. “Atton, is that you? Some Reaper you are,” Vigor snidely commented.
“You'll never be the Grim Reaper,” Atton said, his heart raced with fear of Vigor. Atton knew only humans could be the Reaper and Vigor was far from human.
“Oh and why is that? I have the scythe, I have the power,” he boldly stated.
“But you aren't the Reaper.” Atton looked at his hands and saw there was skin. He felt his hair, and it was growing back.
“Neither are you,” Vigor noticed.
“So neither of us is he Reaper; do you know what this means?”
“Actually,” Vigor said, “I do.”
Atton’s eyes widened but he held his composure, quickly changing surprise to focus. “Then let it begin.”
He held out the scythe and they both placed their hands on it and stated, “Agon a mors mortis.” An electric shock surged throughout their bodies and Atton and Vigor were transported to their starting points. Atton was sent to Nirvana's house and Vigor went to the top of the Hill.
Atton looked around Nirvana’s house and waited for her to return. He looked around the house, for some evidence that she still loved him.
He walked up to her room and saw his old jacket. Atton remembered how she’d danced with it, an odd moment, yes, but a nice one. He took it out of her closet to see if it still fit and it did, like a glove. Atton continued to look around her room until he found her diary. Dare I read it? It’s wrong, but right, but…ugh. He picked up the diary and opened it then he started flipping through the pages.
Today I went to my brother’s funeral; I was the only one there, standing alone in the rain. I wish I could have at least had a chance to say good-bye. I hadn’t seen him in so long, and I don’t even know how he died. Actually, they told me it was a drug overdose, but I don’t believe that, not my Charlie.
He thumbed past the next few pages.
I met a man today who talked to me about meeting him somewhere. He said that I was meant to be leader, according to some writings he’d read. But I’m only fourteen; how can I be a leader?
He skimmed the rest of the page to find nothing of real excitement. He flipped through the diary until he saw his name.
We are close to defeating Vigor. One of our spies stole his knife today and uncovered critical information. He heard Vigor…speaking to himself, calling himself Atton and Brown. Atton Brown is another side of Vigor, the human side. Our materials are limited but I must begin construction on a divider. We must separate the two.
The next few pages outlined the construction of the Divider.
It worked; we have separated them. Atton Brown is still asleep, and I don’t know if he will even wake up. I didn’t even think the Divider would work, but now, I guess it’s just a waiting game.
I hate him. He is the most obnoxious immature little twit I have EVER met. I tried to have a serious conversation with him, he kept making the most irrelevant comments, and I kept getting the feeling that the creeper was staring at me.
But…I like him to. He’s the most fun person in this place. He questions me… not in an inappropriate, “challenge of authority” way. He asked me who I was. I’m Nirvana, of course. But I don’t know what that means anymore.
Craaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaap. I really, really like him. He like…saved my life. Now he said he’s gonna stay by my side till I’m better… Not a Florence Nightingale thing I really, really like him.
Atton smiled to himself.
I’ve accepted it; I love this guy I mean he’s like perfect. He’s handsome, funny and just amaaaaaazing. He’s rugged but sensitive and he’s been through a lot, I really feel for him…
I walked in on him today…while he was showering… (:
Atton remembered that day too. She thought he hadn’t seen her…he did. He flipped through a more recent entry.
Atton Brown… Minerva told me he wasn’t real. Chris told me he wasn’t real. I honestly don’t know what to believe anymore. It was a really intense delusion, but it all seemed so real. Vigor, Zak, Atton, I know they were real I just know it…but I don’t know it… It’s the anniversary of mom’s death. CJ and I went to the cemetery where they buried her. She was real. Was Atton…?
Atton couldn’t believe what he was reading. Who was this Minerva? How could she challenge his existence? He knew he was real, how could Nirvana doubt that after all they had been through?
He heard the key in the lock opening the front door and rushed back downstairs.
When she walked through the door, she all but fainted.
“Oh God,” Nirvana said, reeling back.
“Hola,” Atton said casually.
“No, no, no,” Nirvana repeated to herself. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. You're not real!”
Atton looked at his hands then touched his face. Then he walked over to Nirvana and felt her face.
“Seems pretty real to me,” Atton shrugged.
“No!” she screamed quickly. “I paid six hundred thousand dollars to have you removed from my mind.”
“Six hundred thousand dollars,” Atton whispered to himself. “That’s a lot of money to convince you of a lie.” She peered and squinted at Atton, then examined him thoroughly. “It’s really me, Nirvana. I’m back.”
“ Okay,” Nirvana said panting, “I’m going to pass out now.”
“I guessed as much,” Atton said nonchalantly. As he did Nirvana’s body collapsed, Atton caught her and placed her on the couch.
In ten minutes, Nirvana woke up to see Atton eating a sandwich in her kitchen.
“Rise and shine Sleeping Beauty,” Atton joked. “You're out of ketchup, by the way.”
“Atton, how– how is this even possible.” Nirvana was about thirty-two and hadn't seen Atton in about fifteen years but he had barely aged five years. “How… who –where did you come from?”
“I’d like to think from my mother,” Atton said, then smiled.
“Always the jokester,” Nirvana chuckled. “Seriously though, how are you human again?”
“I called 'agon a mors mortis',” Atton explained.
“What?” Nirvana said confused.
“It’s a death challenge, a fight for the title of the Grim Reaper and I challenged Vigor. We have to get AJ.”
“What’s going to happen?” Nirvana asked Atton.
“He wants to kill AJ because he’s the heir.”
Nirvana closed her eyes and squeezed them tightly. Her tongue slid across her lips, struggling to ask the question.
“Is my son going to live, Atton? Tell me he’ll be ok,” she asked very tense, unsure she could handle the truth.
Atton slid towards her and invited her into his arms where he found comfort. He kissed her on the forehead, wiping her lone tear he began,
“I swear to you he will live Nirvana. I swear on my life, our son will live,” he said in a sort of half whisper, though no one was around.
“Okay,” she said almost silently.
“Where is everyone?” Atton wondered.
“At school,” Nirvana shrugged.
“What about Chris? Out on some more mercenary work?” Atton commented.
“How did you…” she began.
“Nirvana, that merc had me reaping all over the world,” Atton said irritably. “I mean, I do that anyway, but he threw off the whole schedule.”
“Well, Chris isn’t here,” Nirvana said remembering their fight. “He’s gone.”
“Gone as in; a special contract or gone as in; you finally got enough sense to cut the fool loose?” Atton asked.
“The latter,” Nirvana smiled, but wiped it away as soon as she thought of her son. “We need to get to the school and get AJ before Vigor. We'll take my car,” Nirvana said but Atton grabbed her hand.
“Vigor may have my scythe but he doesn't have my power,” Atton said, starting to smile.
“What do you mean?” she wondered.
“Hold on,” Atton warned. Atton tried hard to concentrate on the shadows. He and Nirvana slowly merged with the shadows and they literally lurked the shadows to the school.
Mentally ill from Amityvilllle, accidentally kill your family. Still thinking he won't? Goddamn it he will He’s Mentally ill from Amityville –Marshall Mathers
The bell rang and the halls flooded with children.
“AJ, over here,” his mom called.
“Mom, what are you doing here?” he said in a hushed voice, embarrassed.
“I'll tell you later, just get your sisters,” she said hurriedly.
“Ok, I–,” he took a second look at Atton. “Is that… Atton?”
“Hello AJ,” Atton said looking at his son.
“Hey Winter, Willow, let's go,” AJ called his sisters, still unsure if what was happening.
Just then, the doors blew open and everyone saw Vigor but he was without Berzerk. His right hand, a clenched fist; in his left hand, he held a shotgun.
“All right, nobody move!” he yelled, but of course, everyone ran and scrambled in panic. “Morons,” he mumbled under his breath. “Why do they always run?” he wondered. Vigor shot the gun at the ceiling a few times just to scare them.
Nirvana was trying to get control of Winter and Willow who were in a frightened, frantic, frenzy. They were running around wildly, ignoring the mother’s instructions to calm down. AJ tried to gather them but they ignored him. Vigor precariously followed their motions waiting for their little heads to line up; he cocked the gun.
“Two birds,” Vigor whispered, “one stone.” Winter and Willow’s heads lined up and Vigor got a direct hit, spiraling through their heads. Nirvana came storming towards him.
She charged towards him and popped him dead in his jaw. Nirvana delivered a sharp round kick to his chest knocking the wind from him. She then seized the gun and he ran. Nirvana shot wildly, hitting him in the shoulder. She began to fire again but the gun was out of ammo.
Vigor charged towards her and using all the strength in his good arm, he rammed her down. Then he whipped out a handgun and aimed it towards Nirvana. Seeing what was happening, Atton rushed to her. Vigor built up enough strength to shoot and he shot Atton who was defending Nirvana. But he didn't move, he didn't falter, and he didn't bleed, the bullet went straight through Atton’s forehead.
“He's stronger,” Vigor whispered in realization. Atton helped Nirvana to her feet. Vigor took the butt of the shotgun and whacked Nirvana back to the ground. Atton turned to her and Vigor ran like hell to escape. He and Nirvana ran over to Winter and Willow. Next to them was AJ, crying beside them in a pool of blood.