Bending his knees slightly, Alba watched Sammy carefully.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” he warned. “I really can’t touch you this time.” He shook one, billowy sleeve at the gnome. “See, Reaper.”
“Why are you here?” Looking around the room, Sammy probed every nook and cranny with his eyes. “Shouldn’t you be out killing someone? Or maybe just loosening their anchor a bit?” He studied the brick on the outer wall. Stalking across the room, he began dragging the bottom edge of the clipboard over the surface, gouging through the yellow paint, and exposing the raw material beneath.
“I’m on my lunch break.” Curiosity lit the elf’s face. “What are you trying to do?”
“Sharpen this so I can hack you into kindling.”
“Oh.” Tucking his bone-colored hands into his sleeve cuffs, Alba stepped farther into the room. “ Well, you’ll need something that will hold an edge better than tin. I’m a hardwood.” When Sammy didn’t respond, he moved to the bed and sat down. “Look, I know you’re less than thrilled to see me, but I wanted to apologize for almost killing you. It really was an accident.” Perspiring now, the gnome clenched his teeth and kept scraping. “Sammy, c’mon. I’ve been screamed at by everyone all week, and made to feel like a complete moron for wanting to change jobs in the first place. Losing Tink, and nearly killing you has become the absolute death of my career.” He coughed nervously and glanced at the bed sheet. “Pardon the bad pun. I’ve been placed on permanent On-Call duty here at the hospital.”
Letting the clipboard fall to the floor, Sammy faced Alba with a look of defeat. “It doesn’t matter how sorry you are,” he said. “The nurses aren’t saying it, but my anchor isn’t re-attaching no matter how much birch piss they make me drink.” He smirked at the Reapers surprise. “Being the first of my illness, I can honestly say, your essence isn’t working.”
“How do you know?” Alba asked. “If they’re not telling you, I mean.”
“I can’t stay awake for more than four hours at a time,” Sammy replied. “Aside from that, I’m as fit as I ever was. Even the scar has healed already.” Easing the edge of his gown back, he showed Alba the spot where the bandage had been. The cream colored skin of his abdomen was smooth and showed no sign of ever having been damaged. “See?”
“How does that indicate that your anchor isn’t re-attaching? You might just need more time.”
Bending down to grab the clipboard, Sammy walked over and handed it to Alba. Hesitating for a second, the Reaper pulled one hand out of its cuff and took the chart.
“See all the words scribbled in the margins and stuff? They’re all used to describe a location, something that Locater can lock onto.” Climbing into the visitor chair, he propped an elbow on one knee and rested his chin on his fist. “They’re trying to decide where to discharge me to, and not one of those scents is my home.” Leaning forward, he pointed at the word oranges. “If I’m lucky I’ll at least find out where Tink went.” Sammy snatched his hand back in hurry when Alba looked like he might vomit.
“About that,” the Reaper said, struggling to meet his eyes. “I found out where that smell is. It’s the Species Lab.” Now Sammy looked like he wanted throw up.
“Seriously? Why haven’t they sent him back?”
“Probably won’t.” Alba looked bleak. “The Lab must have thought it was Yule when Tink showed up. Sentient skeletons are pretty rare.”
Silence fell for a few moments, and the sounds of the water sprites gurgling lazily to each other trickled into the room. Focusing his eyes, Sammy glanced at the clock above the door that reported the time to be half past nine. Jumping out of the chair, he dove under the bed and dragged the box with his clothes in it out into the open. Twitching his legs out of the way, Alba watched curiously.
“What are you up to?”
“I think the question should be, what are we up to.” Prying up the box top to display the contents, Sammy lost his determination in a rush. Yelping in horror he backpedaled fast. “What the hell!”
“What! What is it? Is it a spider?” In a shadowy explosion, Alba swung his legs onto the bed and skittered backward on all fours with his knot holes flaring.
“Worse!” the gnome panted, and locked his eyes onto Alba’s. “My clothes are gone.”
“How is that worse?” The elf’s face scrunched in confusion as he gathered the trailing bits of his garment safely around his legs.
“They’ve been replaced with a Reaper robe.”
* * * * *