That's "pages" in Spanish. I think... Anyway...
Outside, the wind stirred. All was silent. The girl was lying on the sofa, one foot resting on the arm, the other flat on the floor. Her eyes were closed. But she was still dead.
Still dead. Still dead.
She was young. She was special. She was rare. A “trainer”, they would call her. Hers was a soul that could rival others. Hers was a soul that would have ferried others into the afterlife. Psychopomp. There could be only one. But, now, it belonged to him.
He flitted around the room, trying to decide his next move. A light flickered. His pulse leapt. He touched the light switch; nothing happened.
A pool of blood. Wide staring eyes. No, that was his death – the death of his body.
wouldn’t! Not again! Not anymore!
But that glimpse of a forgotten energy... The feeling of so much power coursing through him. He would add her soul to the ones he’d inherited already. Countless. Never-ending.
Her body’s energy began to feed him. Her last breath had asked for death. Death because she was ridiculed, outcast from society – they’d said she was “weird”. In exchange for her soul, she wished to be eternally consumed.
It was bittersweet. He wept. But the wondrous power overwhelmed him. Her screams would never subside. He would hear them always in his dreams.
No one would find her. He would make her body disappear in a lake or a forest. His hands had been stained with earth and blood before.
Her soul was sweet. It fed him for hours. And when hunger was satisfied, he retired to his loneliness. What had become of him? What he had been before, he was again.
“It never ends up here, huh?”
I looked up, my hands happy for the break from the oversized push broom, but my focus a little annoyed at the distraction. My neighbor smiled up at me, her yellow lab trying to wiggle out of his collar to come lick my face. I didn’t care for dogs.
“That’s for sure,” I replied, flashing a polite smile. I leaned against the handle of my broom as her husband and other lab – this one black – caught up to her.
“Some storm, eh?” he chimed in, beaming at me.
I nodded, resisting the urge to grumble. After all, it was my idea to move up to the mountains of Los Gatos. I had no room to complain about the constant mess the redwood trees vomited on my porch, deck, and driveway.
“Have a good one!” my neighbor called as the four of them finished their walk down the hill.
I snorted. “Good,” I mumbled, resuming my work. “Good would be getting another assignment, good would be having heat for once, good would be seeing my boyfriend again.”
Reliving the last few months of monotony didn’t help complete my task any quicker. Since my first assignment helping a British pop sensation pass onto the next phase of existence, I hadn’t helped a single soul – no pun intended.
And my boyfriend Martin had been doing assignments non-stop ever since. He and I hadn’t had one hour much less one day alone in months. That was why I moved out into the woods.
The couple who owned the tiny house I’d rented was in the middle of a divorce. When I’d met with the wife – or ex-wife – to sign the lease, she seemed so nice and bubbly; it was hard to believe the marriage didn’t work. Even though I didn’t have the entire story, it gave me a strong sense not to rush into things with Martin. Which was probably why he was still upset we hadn’t gone all the way yet.
At last the stone front steps and paved driveway were clean of debris. It was time to get the mail.
Mountain houses were set up rather strange. It was just like any other neighborhood – the houses closely packed together – but it was as if someone picked up a block of homes with a helicopter and dropped it in the trees. I was lucky; my house was on a corner (sort of), and the next door neighbor had a patch of land between her house and mine. Across the street, the house was below street level and I could only see the roof. Even though the guy who rented the place had a girlfriend who couldn’t park to save her life, I enjoyed the little community.
I just hated that the mailbox was halfway down the hill.
My knees creaked as I descended. I waved at my other neighbor as she stuffed old computer parts into the back of one of three cars. I never understood why she had so many. She was by herself in that big house.
Only bills were stuffed in the mailbox. I sifted through them on my way back to the house. The first one was from the propane company, and it was over two-hundred dollars again. How in the world could I have used that much gas in one month?
I started walking up the driveway while reading the ridiculous measurement of my heating bill when I was stopped by a familiar voice.
I looked up so fast I thought my neck would snap. In an instant, I dropped all my mail on the muddy ground and flung myself into Martin’s arms. He received me without hesitation, giving in to a brief chuckle.
Our tiny kiss hello turned into a full-blown I-missed-you-like-crazy kiss, and was only stopped when a truck rumbled past, the driver whistling lewdly at us.
I pulled away, blush creeping into every inch of my face. Martin laughed, tucking a strand of short, dark hair behind my ear. Then, he looked at me with those gorgeous blue-green eyes.
“Let’s go inside?”
“’Kay,” I said.
He stooped forward and lifted me into his arms. I yelped out of surprise, but he just smiled and kissed me again.
“What about the mail?” I asked on the way up the stairs.
“The mail can wait,” he said.
“I missed you so much!” I squealed as soon as we were inside. He set me down on the tiled kitchen floor and smiled.
“I know you did,” he replied, kissing the tip of my nose. “I missed you, too.”
“Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired?” I asked, the smile never leaving my face. I was so happy to see him.
He laughed. “All three.”
“Okay!” I turned toward the refrigerator to warm him up some soup from the night before, but he caught my wrist, pulling me back into his embrace.
“I’m hungry for your attention,” he said, brushing his lips against mine. “I’m thirsty for your kiss, and I’m tired of being away from you.”
“Oh, you’re too smooth,” I shot, raising an eyebrow. “How long have you been back?”
“Can we talk about that later?” he purred, pulling me toward my sectional sofa.
I giggled as we went down together, unable to tear ourselves away from each other. I never wanted the moment to end. I wished I could stay in his arms and kiss his lips for all eternity. That was my idea of passing onto the next phase of existence.
“At least tell me how your assignment went,” I said as his hands slid to my hips.
And all at once, he stopped the barrage of affection and pulled away. The look he gave me made my blood go from hormone heated to ice cold in seconds flat.
“What did I say?” I asked, taking a gulp of air.
Martin sat up, pushing me into the arm of the sofa. He raked a hand through his mess of sandy hair, sighing at the same time. He was so good at multi-tasking.
“Katie…there’s something I need to tell you,” he said.
Oh, boy, this was serious. I swallowed again, bringing a throw pillow around to hug for support if the going got rough.
“I got another assignment.”
Was that all? I felt some of the tension leave me. Then again, he’d just come back! I was only going to see him for one day?
“When?” I asked.
“It’s not when you should be worried about,” he said. “It’s who.”
“Well…who is it, then?” I felt my chest start to tighten, wondering if my mom or dad were in danger. Who else close to me was going to die?
So much for cuddling. Death always knew how to ruin the mood, didn’t it?
I couldn’t focus. The only thing I could think of was that I had to go down and pick up the mail off the driveway before my bills soaked through. Oh, and the pile of laundry I’d neglected for an entire week.
“I gotta get the mail...” I said, standing. Martin came with me.
Without a glance over my shoulder, I left the house and trudged down the stairs. While I was peeling the mail out of the mud, I was vaguely aware of my boyfriend hovering over me.
“I’m really sorry, Kay,” he whispered, bending at knees to catch my chin in his hand.
“Julian put you up to this, didn’t he?” I demanded, not wanting to believe the best friend I’d ever had was going to die. This fit right up there with that Grim Reaper’s antics. It had to be him.
Martin’s eyebrows knitted together. “Katie, we haven’t seen Julian since your first assignment. You know that.”
“How?” I asked, feeling the first twinge of acceptance spike through my bloodstream.
“How?!” I almost screeched. He sighed.
“She’s going to commit suicide in five days.”
she? Sherry had her entire life ahead of her! Why would she do something like that?
As the tears began to plummet down my cheeks, Martin held me in his arms. He was so good. He always knew when I needed comfort and stability. He was “Instant Grown-Up” – just add crisis. The two of us made no move to head inside for at least twenty solid minutes.
* * *
“Can we start over?” Martin asked, touching my shoulder. I turned away from the stove where our dinner was warming up. He cocked his head at me, putting on a brave smile.
“I don’t think so,” I mumbled. There was no bigger mood-ruiner than finding out your best friend was going to kill herself and knowing you couldn’t do a thing to stop it.
Martin sighed and pulled a hand through his sandy hair. “I knew I should’ve waited to tell you.”
“No...I’m glad you told me right away,” I replied, placing a hand against his chest. He curled his fingers around my wrist and pulled me into a hug. But it felt forced, and I pulled away. I couldn’t stop thinking about poor Sherry and what she must have gone through in the past fifteen months to make her want to throw in the towel.
Martin rounded the big kitchen island and sat in one of the high chairs. “I wish I could make you feel better,” he said, reaching for the plate of cheese and fruit I’d set out. When he was gone, my diet consisted of “snacking” foods. I couldn’t live without some sort of expensive cheese, a loaf of French bread, and some grapes or apples. I shrugged as he chewed a piece of high-end Piave.
“Hey, this is good. Where’d you get it?” he wondered.
“Whole Foods,” I replied. We were silent for a moment. “I wish Mr. Carter were here,” I then mumbled.
I looked up at my boyfriend. He was watching me with intensity. The look in his eyes was way protective.
“Because he knew Sherry almost as well as I did. He could’ve helped with this,” I explained.
Martin held out his arms. I went to him, snuggling into his embrace. “You really miss him, don’t you?”
My heart wrenched as I remembered the last words my former high school teacher had said to me before he sacrificed himself for the good of the world. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw him step off that window ledge in my hotel room.
“Of course I do,” I said. “He...he told me he loved me before he died.”
Martin grunted. “Yeah, I know. You mentioned that.”
It always made Martin uncomfortable when we talked about Mr. Carter. I think it was because he was jealous. But jealous of someone who had died saving my life and the lives of countless others? It didn’t seem right.
“I know. Sometimes I forget that I tell you stuff. I don’t have anyone out here.” I pulled away. He caught me before I could go stir the soup.
“You don’t?” he asked. He seemed concerned.
I shook my head. “All my neighbors are older. None of them have even come over to say hello. I guess they don’t like me.”
“How could they not like you, Kay?” he asked with a smile. “You’re sweet, funny, smart, and a looker, too!”
I rolled my eyes and returned his smile. “Didn’t that expression die in the twenties?”
“Sue me,” he replied, pulling me into his lap.
“I’d rather do something else with you,” I purred, kissing him. When I pulled back, his eyes were wide.
“What are we talking about here?” he asked, one eyebrow arched.
“Yes, whatever are we speaking of, Katherine?”
I broke away from Martin to see Julian standing in my living room beneath the skylight. The harsh sunlight splashed across his dark skin, throwing shadows under his eyes and nose. He smiled.
“Julian!” I said. I flung myself at him. He embraced me with a laugh.
“The one and only,” he said. “Well...” he continued, holding me at arm’s length, “the four hundred thirty-second and only at the moment.”
“Wow...you’re stretched pretty thin, huh?” Martin asked.
“Exceedingly,” he agreed. I followed him into the kitchen, seating myself in the chair next to Martin.
“Is that why you’ve been a stranger?” I asked.
“But of course,” he replied with that boyish grin. “But I wanted to drop by because I heard about your friend.” His expression turned serious as mine turned somber.
“I’m sorry, Katherine.”
“If there’s anything I can do...”
“So, what have you been up to, Martin?” he asked, obviously trying to lighten the mood. That was okay, I appreciated it.
“Been going on assignment like crazy,” my boyfriend answered, placing a hand on my thigh. I patted it for good luck.
“Have you?” Julian asked, popping a grape into his mouth. Last time he was around, he loved to eat. I could see he still did when he closed his eyes to savor the flavor. “Does that mean you were able to make a deal with the same afterlifers as Katherine?”
He nodded. “Yep. Thanks to them, my soul is safe.”
“And he’s in popular demand,” I grumbled.
“I am.” He smiled. “But I think it’s because my soul is that of a healer’s. It comes in handy.”
“It has nothing at all to do with his boyish good looks,” I joked. He pinched the bare flesh between the hem of my shirt and pant line. I squeaked. After he laughed, he pulled me into a hug and nuzzled my neck, kissing my skin. It sent shivers through me.
“What about you?” Julian asked, turning his attention toward me.
I shook my head, dislodging myself from Martin’s embrace. “Not a one since Serena.”
“Really?” he asked. “That’s odd. Maybe it’s because they knew this one was coming and they couldn’t risk putting you on it.”
That brought the mood to a screeching halt. The three of us fell silent at once.
“There’s got to be something I can do...” I whispered.
Martin shifted in his seat. “Well, I didn’t want to tell you this because I didn’t want to get your hopes up, but... If we can convince Sherry that life is worth living, she may not kill herself.”
“What?” I asked, giving him my full attention.
He held up both hands. “It’s like...a one percent chance... I really don’t want to get your hopes up, Kay.”
I stared at him like he was crazy. “One percent? If there was a point-five percent chance, I’d take it! What do we have to do?”
He shook his head. “You don’t do anything. If I’m going to try and get her to reconsider, she can’t find out anything about the afterlife. Therefore, you have to stay out of the way,” he explained.
“Excellent.” I deflated.
“Actually,” Julian piped up. We turned our attention to him as he snacked on a piece of cheese. A crease yawned between his eyebrows. “This is delicious, Katherine. Where did you buy it?”
“Whole Foods. You were saying?”
He swallowed after an enthusiastic “yummy noise”. “I was saying that there may be a way for you to be in contact with Sherry.”
“Well, spit it out, Pal O’ Mine!” I demanded, thumping my fist on the kitchen island.
“Well...I can do something called Transference—”
“Oh, no!” Martin said, leaning forward. “No way.”
I swung around to meet his gaze. “What? What’s Transference?” I asked, watching them both back and forth.
“No,” Martin said again, his face serious. “It’s too dangerous, and you’re not going to do it.”
“I think I can handle myself,” I replied, crossing my arms over my chest.
“No,” he repeated. “Absolutely, positively no way are you doing it. It’s dangerous, it’s foolhardy, and I could lose you. That’s the end of that.”
“But what—?” I tried again.
I slumped into my seat. “Fine...”
“I’m glad you—”
“But you’re getting a cell phone!” I interrupted, pointing at him. “No ifs, ands, or buts about it, mister.”
He rolled his eyes. “Why? So I can lose it?”
“If I have to glue it your hand, I will,” I said.
“I love this banter,” Julian interjected. We ignored him.
“I need you to be available at all times. If Sherry does something and needs help, I’m the only one who would know what to say. Therefore, I have to listen to all of your conversations,” I explained.
“All of them?” Martin asked. “Katie, you can’t walk around with a cell phone strapped to your head for four days.”
“Watch me,” I challenged.
He smiled. “Tumors are not attractive.”
“Cell phones don’t give people tumors. Where have you been?”
The smile broadened. “All that magnetic interference and radiation is bound to do something bad to you.”
“All right then,” I conceded. “You are to call me every few hours and update me. If you don’t agree, I will find a way to stalk her...with or without your approval.”
He nodded and held out his hand. “Deal.”
“Forget about a handshake. Let’s kiss on it.”
The thought nestled tightly in the gray matter of his brain. There would be more. If he didn’t want more, the other inside him would take.
And the other inside him was whispering again. Gentle, soft strokes of a voice kissed the inside of his soul. It warned him. It hated him. It was a part of him.
He sat in darkness. Waited. Drinking the black ink of eternity as though it would dampen the sensation of loss and greed. Greed. Powerful greed was more appetizing than safe logic. Logic didn’t exist in his brain any longer. Logic was dead like his body. Dead again.
A memory burst forth on the horizon like the dawning sun. Warm love. The distance of the feeling ached in his core, but the inviting emotion strengthened his resolve. In moments such as this, he thought he could beat the other inside him.
Because she made him strong. No. Not her
. The memory
of her made him strong. She was different than the others. Pure soul – yes. But the soul was not what drew him. Was it?
The memory took a turn. The other inside him was consuming it. No!
He would not allow it to happen. He pulled the thought of her to the front of his brain. She was his. No one else was allowed to have her. The Siren.
Her song made him weak even in memory. That weakness allowed the other to devour the thought, feeling, emotion. It was too late. The memory faded with the descent of the sun. The grubby window reflected a slanted ray of light; falling over him like a judgment. He wanted no more. The other didn’t agree.
The old Éire. Another wraith. He wanted souls. Their consciousness mingled, tore apart, became two, then three, then one. The two fought; the one demanded. The demand was strong. Her soul would be his.
The Siren would die.
“What’s Transference?” I asked, pulling Julian aside when Martin had excused himself to use my tiny bathroom. The psychopomp’s blue-gray eyes flicked toward the hallway, then back to me.
“Don’t worry about him,” I said, waving it off. “I can handle myself. What is it?”
Julian sighed and pursed his lips, giving the impression of a chimp in a tree. “I have...an ability that only Death can use,” he began.
I tapped my foot when he paused, drumming my fingers against one crossed arm. “Yeah?!”
He seemed apprehensive, stealing another glance toward the bathroom. I reached out and grabbed his face between my hands, forcing it back to mine. “What's thinkin'?!”