Sara J. Schmitt’s novel, It’s a Wonderful Death
, a Young Adult paranormal romance, comes out on October 6 from Sky Pony Press. The novel features a snarky heroine, Death in a Hawaiian shirt, and second chances. Read the synopsis below and scroll down further to read the second chapter.
Meet seventeen-year-old RJ: a mean girl whose trademark snark would give Regina George a run for her money. So when RJ’s soul is prematurely collected by a distracted Grim Reaper (who is cuter than you would expect), it’s no surprise that she does not go quietly into the Afterlife. Instead, Death Himself—decked out in a hideous Hawaiian shirt, no less—steps in to help send RJ back to the land of the living.
The catch? RJ must appear before a tribunal, and offer proof that her future is worthy of being saved. To do so, she’s given the opportunity to revisit three pivotal moments in her life—and pray that this time around, she acts less Regina and more Cady (pre-Plastics). But with each changing moment, RJ’s life begins to unravel until the self-proclaimed Queen Bee is a social pariah. Can the future be bright for a reformed mean girl?
The doors open again and the Reapers hustle everyone into an empty terminal. Everyone but me, that is. I refuse to move. What if I get off this train and can never go back? Nope. I’ll stay here until the train makes the return trip, get off, and stay.
“Get up,” Gideon commands.
I ignore him. Why should I make this easy?
“I’m not kidding,” he says. “I have a schedule to keep.”
This gets me to look at him. “Yeah? Well, so did I. How does it feel to have things not work out the way you plan?”
He leans on his scythe. “Listen, kid, I don’t know how many different ways I can tell you that there’s nothing I can do to fix your situation.”
“That’s fine,” I answer. “I’ll just take the return trip and you can get back to me once you’ve figured things out.”
“It doesn’t work that way. There is no return passage. One way. This can only be sorted out if you stand up, shuffle through the doors, and head to processing like everyone else. That’s the way it works.”
I love how he’s still acting like he’s completely innocent in my predicament. But if he’s telling the truth, sitting on the train isn’t going to change anything. I might be passive aggres¬sive, but I’m not stupid. “So is there someone in processing who can help me?”
“They’ll know what to do better than I would. I’m sure this has happened before.”
“Just not to you,” I say with a smirk.
He nods. “Right.”
I stand up, reluctantly, and follow him out of the car and down the short terminal that connects to a long hallway. From the ceiling to the floor, the passage is white marble. It’s like walking into a really bright mausoleum. Which is creepy enough, but adding to the shiver-up-my-spine factor is that I can’t hear anything. Not the echo of my footsteps, not even the sound of the train as it hurries off to its next destination. It is complete and utter silence. I can’t even hear the sound of my heartbeat. Like my lungs, it probably doesn’t work anymore.
I clear my throat just to make sure my ears still work. The Reaper’s head snaps toward me.
“Sorry,” I say. Wait a minute. Did I just apologize to him? What is wrong with me? RJ Jones does not apologize to anyone. Not ever. And why do I owe Grim Boy anything? This is his fault. On the plus side, I can still talk. “What happens in processing?” I ask.
He looks at me with contempt. “You get processed,” he answers, very slowly, like he’s convinced I don’t understand the words I’m saying.
I glare at him with as much hatred as I can muster, which, given the circumstance, is pretty substantial. “That much I figured out on my own, thank you. I mean, what does processing entail?”
He sighs. “It’s where they check you in and give you the recording of your life.”
“You mean like a DVD?”
“Actually, they use laser discs up here.”
The Reaper gives me a look of exasperation. “You never stop asking questions, do you? Think of it like this: if an al¬bum and DVD had a baby, it would look like a laser disc. It’s a failed technology experiment from the nineteen eighties and nineties.”
“Album?” I ask.
“You don’t know what an album is?”
In spite of everything, I’m having a good time watching him get flustered by my random questions. It’s one of many weapons in my verbal arsenal. “Relax, I know what it is. I saw one in a museum once.”
“Yeah, well, when the laser disc turned out to be a major bust, we had some local scientists fix the flaws and started us¬ing them for the new arrivals.”
“Good to know Heaven upcycles.”
He shakes his head. “This isn’t Heaven.”
“It’s not? Then where are we?”
“Can’t you just wait and see?”
“No,” I answer, stealing his line. What do you know? It irritates him, too.
“RJ,” he says shortly. “I promise, all of your questions will be answered in time. Where we are, what happens, which way you’re going—”
I stop dead in my tracks. “Which way?”
He keeps moving. “Well, yeah. No one has a guarantee. Except for Gandhi and Mother Teresa. They were pretty much shoo-ins.”
“Wait a minute. By ‘way,’ you mean like Heaven or . . .” I can’t say the word.
Unfortunately, Gideon has no such qualms. “Hell.”
Apparently Reapers are not fluent in sarcasm.
We catch up with the crowd from the train and amble along in silence. I want to ask more questions, but can’t think of any. It’s as if my brain is switching off. I shake my head slightly, trying to rattle something into place.
“You’ll get used to it,” the Reaper says, looking at me sideways.
I try to play it off like I don’t know what he’s talking about. “What do you mean?”
“The head thing. Your brain is finally accepting that your body is dead.”
“How do I make it stop?” I snap. “This is not happening to me. Remember, I’m going to find someone in processing to help me and then I’m going to get my life back.”
“If you say so.”
“You don’t believe me?” I don’t know why, but his lack of faith stings a little. Maybe because he’s the one who gave me hope in the first place.
He leans closer to me. “Look,” he whispers, “in the thousand years I’ve been doing this, no one has ever gotten a do-over. It just doesn’t happen. If we make an exception for you, how long do you think it will take before everyone is trying to appeal their death?”
“But you said—”
“I said processing would figure it out,” he says, cutting me off. “And they will. I just wouldn’t get too excited if I were you.”
Much to my surprise, tears begin to fall down my cheek. How is it that, with all the parts of me that are now useless, the tear ducts still work? Whatever the reason, the salty drops have a transformable effect on the Reaper.
“Hey,” he says softly. “Tell you what. If it will help, I’ll vouch for you and what happened this afternoon.”
“You will?” I say, brightening slightly.
“Why not?” he says with a shrug. “Miracles happen all the time, don’t they?”