The Firefighter didn't fear dying; he had grown up with the angels and their promise. His grandmother had told him what it was like before they made their presence known. Not to intervene, control, prove or disprove any religion: simply for the sake of transparency. The Firefighter's grandmother was almost wistful when she told him that the angels had believed humans deserved the truth. Just like that, there had been no more existential foil. The angels had eliminated the question of what would happen after death.

His grandmother had been around when those humanoid lights first began dotting the sky. It was hard for The Firefighter to imagine the uncertainty predating them. She explained as best she could, though she had been young when they announced what they had been doing for millennia, unseen, what they would continue to do; ferry earth's souls to an afterlife of their choosing. A guarantee for The Firefighter, now struggling for breath, that he would spend eternity with his loved ones.

10:55 PM. The Firefighter's vision blurred; even the flames were fading. It was his time, and he wasn't afraid. Thinking of the angels lulled him now, as it always had. He was peaceful despite the inferno around him, only looking forward to seeing his grandmother again.

Two blocks away, The Assassin didn't fear death either. Who did anymore? He only feared being caught. The years following the appearance of the angels saw a subsection of the population descend into anarchy: they had promised non-intervention, and an ideal afterlife guaranteed to everyone. People killed, robbed, and did way worse without fear.

Policing was now the world's biggest concern; how could you punish someone who already knew paradise awaited them. The new prison system was the answer. Human-made damnation, hell on earth- call it whatever. The Assassin had seen people given life-sentences for misdemeanours, and the 'no-escape-by-any-means' policy in those places... What was it the last time he had heard? A less than 1% mortality rate?

The Assassin clutched his side, blood pouring between his fingers. World leaders still had no real response to the rise in world suicides, but in prison? Forget it. He would be kept alive no matter what, out of spite even, facing years of unending torture if he was caught.

He wouldn't get that far.

10:55 PM. His last target was dead and gone, but not without a fight. The gunshot wound in The Assassin's side wept as he stumbled toward his organisation's care-centre. So close, the alley-side door in sight, but he wouldn't make it. Oh, well. The sweet hereafter (wherever that was). He fell and didn't get back up.


Two weeks had passed since his crew had pulled The Firefighter from the blaze. Legally dead for three minutes, but life carried on. He would have been mildly pleased, were it not for the voice in his head.

The Firefighter wasn't a violent person, this much he maintained. This new voice must be... a breakdown, or sometheing similar. He was thankful for his leave of absence from work, because now all he only pictured nonsensical things, foreign memories. Corpses and filthy bars; these black thoughts must've come from some hidden depth in his soul.

In a dive-bar, The Assassin felt relieved by claustrophobia. A low ceiling and dark rooms where a sky filled with the divine seemed worlds away. He slugged the rest of his drink and motioned for another from the bartender. Two weeks ago, he had woken up on a gurney, the bullet gone but his side throbbing. After getting to grips with his surroundings, he became aware of something much more disorienting: a voice in his head. This voice was confused, pathetic, and worst of all, it never shut up.

A stream of inane comments, accompanied by sights and sounds far removed from The Assassin's own field of vision. He must've lost his touch; feelings of remorse were strangers to him, but this seemed like the surfacing of a guilty conscience.

Was this death? The Assassin had never decided on his afterlife. Suppose non-intervention was a ruse on the part of the angels, a concept introduced to see who would sit up straight and behave. When death came, surely then the sinners, expecting heaven, instead went mad with guilt. A dirty mind-trick. The Assassin swallowed his drink in one, threw a handful of change onto the bar, and shrugged on his coat.

The Assassin's thought bled out, and streets away, The Firefighter was wracked with dread. The Assassin exited the bar and made it two streets before stopping to lean against a storefront, hit by nauseating double-vision. Fucking hell, he hadn't drank that much.

Across the street, The Firefighter similarly clung to a traffic light, also unable to move until his vision re-aligned. He felt faint. It was like an out-of-body experience; he imagined looking at himself from-

-the other side of the road, where, to ground himself, The Assassin's gaze settled on the only still figure in the masses- The Firefighter, who looked up and made eye contact with him. Though they both felt ill with motion sickness, the voices in their heads quietened for the first time in two weeks. In a trance, neither realised that people were stopping to look at the angels. Everyone was overexposed to their appearance by now, never paying them much attention, but it was still rare to see more than one in the same stretch of sky. Two of them! A perfect coincidence. The Firefighter and The Assassin's shared sense of sudden silence, a wave of strange new familiarity, blocked all of this out.

"Do I know that guy?" their voices said.

The Assassin figured it out first, though this didn't mean much considering all his thoughts were, inexplicably, The Firefighter's. He kept eye-contact with the man he had never met but knew everything about. Staring granted him a turbulence of information, a whole life's worth- none of it his. The Firefighter knew the man was in his head, and vice versa. The Assassin prided himself on an overactive imagination, the ability to think up every outcome. Unable to stop his mind leaping to a possible conclusion- that to separate would mean to kill- The Firefighter's mind jumped to a similar idea, and, knowing he was in danger, he ran.

The Assassin cursed and followed.

The Firefighter knew he was close behind, seeing it through a different pair of eyes. Being two places at once was dizzying. He struggled to navigate the busy streets, colliding with a pair of shoppers but hurrying on. It was The Assassin struck with conscience in the wake, wanting to stop and apologise.

As the pair ran, they were unaware that the eyeless gaze of the two angels above followed their chase.

The Firefighter was fast, endless lungs and stamina. He knew The Assassin had lost sight of him, and wanted to run to the fire station, a refuge. The thought turned poisonous when he realised The Assassin pictured this destination too. It was so futile, like trying to outrun your own shadow.

The Firefighter lunged into the closest building- the lobby of a hotel. He could feel The Assassin's laboured heartbeat, and something else too; the pain of a recent injury, perhaps, but through a veil.

Sure enough, The Assassin, unable to keep pace, was clutching his side when he approached the hotel, seeing The Firefighter through the window-paned exterior.

"Who are you," and "How are you doing this," never factored into it as they met at eye-level again. They had seen everything- that The Firefighter's name was Virgil, that The Assassin's name was Bram- but not why the impossible was happening. Why their minds had been linked.

Virgil reasoned that Bram couldn't kill him here- there were too many witnesses. A stalemate was confirmed when Bram realised that despite Virgil's newfound knowledge, the man couldn't turn him in- there was no actual evidence of his occupation, and to say he had read it in someone's mind would be crazy.

Crazy yet true. In that moment, two clashing minds sharpened and became one with a clear goal- we want answers.

"Let's figure it out," Virgil spoke in Bram's head. "Let's go to a diner, some place public. Let's just..."

"Okay," Bram said out loud, and then could picture the diner in his own mind, although he'd never been; "let's go."


Virgil wasn't hungry, but when sat opposite Bram in the diner booth, he knew exactly what Bram would order before the other had opened his mouth. As the waitress left, Virgil quickly interjected- "The same for me, please." It had sounded nice.

There was a stale air between the two. Both sat awkwardly, not knowing how to begin, so Bram broke the ice. "What number am I thinking of?" he asked aloud.

"Three," Virgil replied correctly. "You were thinking of saying it was actually sixteen just to fuck with me."

That marked the end of the external conversation for now.

They considered their near-death experiences, a coincidence too big to ignore. Virgil, always so sure of the promise of the angels, was alarmed to feel Bram's distrust rubbing off on him. Fear was contagious. He couldnt shake Bram's feeling that they must've had something to do with this. Bram, normally paranoid with stray thoughts and back-up plans, was endeared to see how this felt in someone else's head. He listened to Virgil's mind overheat with possibilities. Two identical plates of food were sat down.

Virgil had passed over Bram's initial thought that they were already dead, and now anxiously considering the possibility that one of them had been meant to die; their overlap was now because they both occupied a space in the world meant only for one. It was getting cramped.

"So much nicer," Bram thought, cutting into his food, "to care less and let someone else overthink."

Virgil knew that should be him; always one who believed everything made sense eventually, problems solved themselves. Life was uncontrollable, but at least you knew where you would go when it ended. Nothing worried him too much because of his certainty in where the angels would eventually take him. Bram was the opposite- too concerned with the multifaceted 'here and now' to even settle on an afterlife.

Virgil thought that it was hard to tell where one of them ended and one began anymore.

Bram's solution was to remind him how different they were, shared headspace be damned. He pictured the vilest thing possible- that target with the melting face, Vienna, what a trip- the intention being that Virgil would see it and clutch his head dramatically (maybe even puke, that would be funny). Virgil raised an eyebrow: "Scary," he said aloud sarcastically, chewing, then went back to his worrying.

"I would guess that us having no choice in this happening means we have no say in it ending, either. There's probably nothing we can do," Bram thought, cutting across Virgil's train of thought.

Before this forced perspective change, the idea of being powerless would have infuriated Bram, but now he could see no alternative. What could be done? The sickest part was accepting he couldn't bring himself to kill Virgil (the same way Virgil wouldn't turn him in). It was impossible to bear animosity toward someone he suddenly knew deeper than himself.

Virgil put down his knife and fork and sighed. "Maybe you're right- we have no options here," he thought. "Short of killing each other, we could..."

"Go our own ways. Live with it, pretend it isn't happening?" thought Bram. A shared sense of impending bleakness washed over them- neither felt this was adequate.

Virgil internally articulated it best; he had never known anyone like this before. He knew everything about Bram, and about himself in Bram's eyes. An invented singularity. Parting ways, having half of yourself away from you, would be like amputation.

Bram agreed, chewing thoughtfully; communicating without speaking (no lying, no double-meanings) was almost addictive, something undefinable. The incomprehensibility of them, conjoined but incompatible, having only met two hours ago but knowing each other better than people who had lived their whole lives together, and now unable to imagine it any different.

Virgil believed that bizarre situations bred bizarre thoughts- clinging to each other despite their polarity made sense, and on this they both agreed. They would be the only two to understand.

"I suppose this could have happened to anyone," Bram surmised.

"But it didn't," the voice in his head said. The pair were too engrossed in their internal conversation to realise the waitress had come to clear their empty plates.

"We don't know if this is rational or not." Bram said aloud, half-smiling. "There's no 'telepathy Stockholm Syndrome' forum. We won't find out whether the compulsion to stick together is by design."

"I've got it!" Virgil said, and Bram smiled that the certainty was made mutual (caught himself doing it and composed his face). "We need to be able to trust each other despite trusting each other- does that make sense?"

Bram nodded. He feared his mind being made up for him, but enjoyed speaking without need for elaborations.

"No, that's what I'm saying," Virgil elaborated. "Neither of us wanted to be stuck together. We should see if we would've gotten along without the telepathy. I could find out anything about you, but we need to see if you'd offer that information up willingly."

"Ok... Ok, I get it, I think," Bram said, "Ask me anything- make it something difficult." No one would have guessed that this man was an assassin, someone without ties. Watching them speak would've been like seeing giddy school friends catching up.

"Why did you never decide on an afterlife?" Virgil asked. It was the one thing Bram had never put into words- but Virgil had known that. He had to hear Bram say it.

"Because," Bram said, swallowing. His mouth was suddenly very dry. "I must be one of the last assassins left, y'know; everyone's gone. The people I would want to reunite with in the afterlife are in prison. If I died and saw them all, I would know it was too good to be true. They'd still be right here. Alive, and getting tortured. Happy?"

"No," Virgil murmured. "That felt awful. I'm sorry."

"I'm not even sure that worked, either," Bram said sourly. "It's hardly self-reflection when there's someone else in your head. It's like reading from a teleprompter.

The manager had informed them they were closing for the night, so they took the conversation outside. No, not conversation. Barely anything. Sitting alongside each other in silence, allowing two sets of thoughts to buzz through their heads, making stray comments aloud every few minutes. They were sitting on a wall overlooking the parking lot.

What could they compare this to? Bram wondered if it had a name- knowing everything about someone, seeing yourself in them. What was it called to accept qualities you'd never wanted and feel alienated from ones you'd relied on, all from meeting someone? Talking to an extension of yourself.

"Love," Virgil thought idly. "No," he said aloud, hurriedly. "Ignore me, that's not what I meant. I wouldn't even know; I've never been in love."

"It's gotta be similar," Bram edged around it. "Maybe that's the closest thing to compare it to. Still, it's too..."

"Jarring." Virgil finished for him. Virgil was unlucky in love but had a good concept of it. There was build-up, awkward first-dates, give and take. This was too 'cart-before-horse'. If they were soulmates, it was only because they were trapped together.

They pondered enjoying each other's company, when neither had any other option but to be in each other's company.

"Too predictable, isn't it?" Bram asked.

"Right. At best it's narcissism, at worst it's, like... pre-determination." Virgil responded

"Exactly, so it's a side-effect," Bram said with the certainty Virgil might have once possessed. "We're still incompatible. I mean, before you knew they were my thoughts you were hearing, you thought they were a... metal breakdown, or whatever- evil."

Virgil didn't think anyone who could consider love a possibility in this unimaginable situation was truly evil. The thought echoed.

After a moment's silence, Bram cleared his throat. They had both been blushing. "I guess we'll just have to keep going, figure it out..."

Neither realised that the conversation had verged away from separation entirely. Bram wanted to light a cigarette but, remembering Virgil's near-death by fire, thought better of it. Why not make their own rules to suit? For the second time that day, their thoughts became one- we want the possibility of what happens next.

"Not a bad first date, all things considered," Virgil muttered.

"Hey guys," a voice said. They jumped and turned to look at the speaker.

An angel! Two of them, even. Virgil guessed this was the closest anyone had been to one. "They speak!" yelled the voice in his head- he knew that this was Bram, panic-stricken.

To be this close was to be doused in sweat, blinded by light, and deafened with a static frequency ill-fitting for human ears.

"We kinda owe you an explanation," the other angel said.

"What is it?" Virgil asked, his voice level. ("It's ok," he thought to Bram privately. "Calm down.")

"Well," the first angel again. "We were gonna leave you two to kill each other. Clearly that's not gonna happen anymore."

Virgil's blood ran cold. The pressure had dropped. Something was terribly wrong.

Bram stepped forward, trying to be self-assured for them both. The angels were hovering over the diner's roof, practically touching it. "What are you talking about?" he asked.

"Our little mix-up." the angel replied.

"C'mon," the other chimed in. "Two humans dying and being revived at the same time; how could we account for a coincidence like that? We can't know everything."

"But... you're angels. Omnipotent. You know where we all wanna go when we die?" Bram said. Virgil was shaking.

"Yeah... about that," the second angel laughed again- nothing had ever sounded so cruel.

The first: "You humans believed we were angels so quickly. You might as well keep thinking that. Easier for you to comprehend."

Virgil's mind frothed. Bram placed the question for them both: "So what's the truth?"

"You think it yourself, silly. You don't know if what we've said is true. You don't believe in us. You're our sceptical waiter."

Virgil quickly interjected, the first thing he'd said in a while: "So you don't-"

"What?" the second angel interrupted. "Take your souls to the afterlife? Well-"

"Busted," The first angel snickered.

"This is what I'm saying," the second angel continued. "Why human souls taste best. Such weird beliefs, weirder emotions. I'm sure you'll understand." He addressed Virgil. "Our last buffet planet ran dry. Call us greedy, but don't worry- we're pacing ourselves with this one.

Bram and Virgil were speechless.

"Don't look at us like that- we're only eating what's already dead. You have things that do that on earth, right? Those birds- help me out here?"

"Vultures," the other one said.

"Vultures, right. Of course."

"If you're eating the souls, what happens to us when we die?" Virgil said numbly.

"No clue, to be honest," the first angel said.

"I don't even know what's gonna happen to me when I die, let alone a human," The second angel muttered.

Bram caught Virgil's thought: all those people who had jumped to their deaths, suicides to reach paradise- all to end up in the belly of the beast. Prison seemed nicer now.

"What's gonna happen to us?" Virgil asked dryly.

"Well," the first angel huffed. "It's my fault really. I ate your souls. In my defence, near-death experiences suck for us-"

"It's like puking- nasty!" the second angel chipped in.

"Right. Anyway, you can imagine- your souls seem a bit mixed up. Churned together or something. Weird one."

"One of you has to die, and that sucks," the second angel said. "What's your name, little guy? You on the right- Virgil? Sorry, man. We've never had to intervene before. Honestly, you guys taste much better without us going near you. It's like how restaurant food always tastes nicer than your own cooking, y'know? We hate to do it, but-"

"Why not me?" Bram shouted quickly. "You're gonna leave me alive?"

"Why would we kill you? We love you. The little waiter. You're doing great work- keep it up."

"Besides," the second angel said. "We only need one of you dead; when your time comes- uh, Bram, is it? Yeah, we're all excited to see how your soul's gonna taste, knowing what you know. It'll be a whole new thing for us"

"Existential dread is a pricey flavour. Knowing no one will believe you. How can we compare it?"

"Run," Bram turned to look at Virgil, screamed at him internally. "What's wrong with you!? Run!"

He heard Virgil thinking: "They don't know. They don't know what happens, so there's still a chance. The afterlife's not off the table, if they aren't sure. I might still go. I'll probably see you there."

Bram tried to pull him away, and then flooded his head with uncertainty. He tried to make his fear contagious, but nothing worked; Virgil just stood and let the angel reach out and tap him on the head with a beam of light. As soon as the beam made contact with Virgil's skin, he flopped to the the ground, gaunt and lifeless.

The silence hit Bram first- deafening. As the angels drifted away, Bram dropped to his knees, clumsily checking Virgil for a pulse. There was nothing. He pulled the man into a sitting position and shook him by the shoulders. A single thought looped round in Bram's head: "c'mon, c'mon."

Panic-stricken, he began chest compressions, silently cursing himself for having never done it before. C'mon. Had it always been this quiet at night?

1, 2, 3, and blowing. Virgil's face looked drained, unholy. Bram yelled with frustration; increased the pressure.

A gasp broke the silence. Virgil was awake; his chest moved! He was breathing. His eyes remained closed, but he was alive. That was all that mattered. Still, that silence cocooned Bram. No thoughts, no feelings- nothing. Amputation.

'They'll leave you alone,' Bram thought, empty. 'I bet we'll both taste interesting when the time comes.'


A while had passed since The Firefighter had woken in a diner parking lot, no memory of how he'd gotten there, or anything after being pulled from the fire, for that matter. Apparently, he was missing two weeks worth of time. His therapist theorised it was the shock of expecting the afterlife and waking up still alive. A common nervous breakdown- it even had a medical definition. The Firefighter didn't dispute it.

He hadn't told the therapist that had he no desire to go to his afterlife. The thought had always calmed him, but now he wasn't sure. He didn't want to think about dying, and knew the therapist would mark this as another symptom.

Were the other things symptoms? The emptiness? The delusions? The other day he had made eye-contact with a man across the tracks at the train station and been struck with a sense bigger than he could put words to. He was compelled to follow the man, who was by all accounts a stranger. He couldn't explain it, but he had to talk to him, to get a closer look. To do something he had forgotten. The man had boarded a train, and The Firefighter had lost sight of him.

So, he was a stalker now, and paranoid. He prayed that the therapist never brought out those ink-blot cards he'd seen used on TV. What dread would professional prompts unearth when looking at something innocent like clouds in the sky now only made him picture gaping mouths, and rows of teeth?