Just when I thought my life could get back to normal, reapers start disappearing. Lucifer won't leave me alone no matter how much I tell him, I'm not interested. But when Than disappears, I know something is wrong and have to report it to our boss.

Once the beasts attacking the reapers come after me, I know there is nothing I can do except find out where they have come from and why the spirits are coming to me for help. With my personal life going crazy and the beasts pouncing from the shadows, everything has been thrown upside down.

My only path is to follow my instincts and where the spirits are leading me. It's either that or take Lucifer up on his offer. And no matter how many reapers are going missing, I'm not heading down that road because there would be hell to pay.

Coming Soon

Excerpt from "Death's Demise"

Chapter One

I stood in the solace of the graveyard, taking in the quiet of the world around me. The spirits who lingered in this forgotten place knew better than to interrupt me. The moon hung low. Opposite the pale orb, the pastels of dawn dimmed the stars. As the world shifted from darkness to dawn, life froze. I reached out with all my senses, taking in the beauty and harmony of the moment. Only a few precious minutes none of the burdens of my existence hung on me in this treasurable time.

The calmness within the boneyard renewed my spirit. Of late my nerves had been bristling. Existence seemed gritty, covered in fine sand I couldn’t brush off. A breeze rattled the leaves from the boughs. They drifted to the forest floor below, adding to the growing mounds of reds, oranges, and yellows. When I was a kid, I’d jump in the large piles my father would rake before he burned them. Now they gathered around the slate stones and tree trunks. Instead of bringing me peace, it added to the growing unease settling on my shoulders.

Something wasn’t right in the universe.

I couldn’t put my finger on it no matter the avenue I pursued. My psychic senses foretold nothing. I no longer felt the pull to collect souls. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed being a grim reaper, but I also missed being human. I took a calming breath. The past was in the past. Although I could tamper with time and fix my grievous errors, I didn’t mess with it no matter what the temptation.

“But there’s always temptation. It’s a basic human necessity.”

Damnit. The stench of sulfur permeated the air. Lucifer, The Devil, or Mastema as he was known to all the
angels, enjoyed crashing in at the most inopportune moments. “What do you want?” Dawn crested, spreading its brilliance over the boneyard.

His fingers trailed down the side of my cheek. The caresses felt real enough that I could’ve sworn he was
beside me. However, no one was there. The wispy reminders of souls who lingered in the cemetery retreated because of his presence. It didn’t matter where I went, he would find me, again and again. He had almost entered into our world to spread his evil to all of humanity. All dimensions were closed off to him once more, and he was locked away in Hell. No matter how tight the doorways were sealed, some places remained thin. This was one of those, at least for me, where the veil could be breached. What else was a graveyard for a grim reaper but a portal into purgatory and the world of the dead?

“You know what I want. Take me up on my offer and let me pleasure you one of these days. Kerstin, you may not realize it, but you stand much my equal. It’d only take a little bit to elevate you to stand by my side for all time.”

A tremor of desire ran down my spine at the thought of ever seeing him again. Many believed the Devil had horns. In the guise I saw, he was the most ravishing creature I had ever laid my eyes on. He was lust personified. “You already know my answer, Mastema. I’ll never allow you into this world. You may have gotten my blood and my death to open the doorway before, but you never claimed my soul.”

“It isn’t your soul that I’m after, Kerstin, merely your friendship. Even if you don’t wish to acknowledge it, I owe you a boon.”

“I’m not one of your devoted followers who blindly renounced their souls to gain some stripped down version of the power you supposedly offer. I have no need for such abilities or promises.”

He chuckled so softly longing rolled through my body. Damn. Even his very laugh turned me on and made me question my own sanity.

“I’m the Prince of Darkness. I invented every base yearning and debauchery you can imagine that lives within the human psyche. I have no need for your soul now. Our last meeting was something to cherish. I had no knowledge you were a grim reaper. The power of our soul would have added to the power to let me escape. All the other spirits who were pulled through my rift made a wonderful addition to hell. You really should see it sometime. You might find it more to your liking than that eternal purgatory you linger in.”

“Enough taunting, Lucifer. Leave me be. I’m not going to give in, and your incessant prattling is enough to drive me mad. I won’t turn from my course and slip into hell. I’m a reaper first and foremost.”

“Maybe you are, and maybe you’re not. Either way just remember that you’re the one who set events in motion.”

I rolled my eyes. I was still cleaning up my mess from my last lifetime as a grim reaper when I got Sariel trapped in Death’s Dance. The settlement had been a thriving frontier town formed by murderers, thieves, and every low life scum imaginable. Over time that lawlessness spread and innocent people were getting hurt. The women of the town were tired of all the violence and called upon one of their own to do something about it. The witch called down a curse upon the town. In my former incarnation as Lissandra, I had heard her call for death and went to her. Than and Sariel had followed. Because of my decision to collect the souls, we had been wrapped into the web of the plague the woman wrought upon the town. A giant tornado decimated Death’s Dance. Than and I escaped the blight, leaving Sariel behind. Because of that, ramifications rippled throughout the universe.

One such consequence was Death’s Dance had become something like the Bermuda Triangle and Gettysburg wrapped into one. It was an otherworldly beacon that could not be switched off. It was in this place that the Devils’ serial killer had brought me back, hoping to take my soul and use it as the final key to open the gateway to Hell.

“Yeah. Yeah. Tell me something I don’t know. Now go away.”

Mastema didn’t answer. He had withdrawn from this world. Instead, I was left all alone with the spirits who slowly returned to their graves. As the sun rose higher, the coming day didn’t bolster my mood. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was skewed in the universe or at least in this dimension. I stared at the ribbons of yellow woven through the blue horizon. Than was off doing his reaper duties. Soon he would come home to me. That would put me at ease for a while. Until he returned, something picked at my consciousness. When I gazed into the future along the branches of possibilities, all I ended up with were dead ends.

There were no answers.

Whatever was coming would have to unfold, and I was going to bear witness to it.

Chapter Two

“Aren’t you supposed to be writing?”

I raked my fingers through my hair before glancing away from the monitor screen and the blinking cursor that had become my curse of late. Than stood in the doorway. His blond hair hung loose about his shoulders. His pale skin could have marked him for a vampire. Those intense blue-gray eyes of his could break the lock on my soul and stare into its depths. He had found the house I lived in and rewrote a few strands of time to inform the world I’d never been taken out of it. The first time I had seen him in my dreams was in one of two places: the cemetery we brought souls to and the great oak hanging tree in Death’s Dance. They were powerful gateways between the worlds. But now I didn’t have to dream about him. He was with me always. A token of his love hung around my neck, a feather plucked from his own wing.

I rolled my eyes before flipping him off. “I’m not in the mood.”

“Your deadline’s coming up. Weren’t you supposed to be writing a sequel to your break out fictional novel? The great Kerstin Palmer, psychic extraordinaire, author, television personality, and grim reaper…shall I go on?” Than walked in and pushed my chair back into the wall. He placed his arms on the chair, trapping me within it. The shreds of his black cloak cut into my flesh. I didn’t flinch at the pain. I had felt worse.

“I’ll make the deadline. I’m just having a troublesome day.” I kissed him lightly. Another coil from his cloak slipped around my neck. It tightened seeking to squelch the life within me. “Can you get your cloak under control?”

“It’s just happy to see you. Can’t blame it for being eager, can I?” he chuckled.

“No. I guess not. I hate it when you’re gone, but it does get me to focus on my writing or appointments. If you were around all the time, then nothing would get done. You are such a wonderful distraction.” The threads constricted around my neck and burned. I closed my eyes and let my robes encase me. His uttered a small squeal and pulled away.

“You’re no fun.”

I poked him in the ribs. “I thought you said I had a deadline to meet.”

Than sat back on the desk and crossed his arms. His grim reaper attire faded away to reveal jeans and a black T-shirt. I released mine to the shadows leaving me in the pajama pants and tank top I had on. He traced my neck where his cloak touched me. His cool flesh made the burns feel better, but they’d soon heal. In my current situation, I healed pretty fast.

“I thought you said you were having a troubling day. Did something happen with collecting a soul? Some dark spirit attack you? Only the stupid ones try that with a reaper.”

“It wasn’t one of the stupid ones. It was the Prince of Darkness attempting to entice me again.” Than’s eyes flashed with anger. His bony grimace appeared for a moment. “Don’t worry. I told him to go back to hell.”

“Did he go?”

“He wasn’t completely within this realm, just talking to me, making me feel the slight brush of his hand. Nothing more.”

“He has no power over you. He can’t enter this world, and we don’t go into his. You know that. The stars must align again for that, and I’m not willing for you to be used for bait.”

“I know. I know. I needed some peace and quiet to fill the noise in my mind. Plus, I’ve sensed that something is off. He wants me to fulfill the boon he owes me.”

“Are you?” Than asked.

“Of course not. He wasn’t the reason why I went to find some peace and quiet. I was watching the sunrise to feel the tranquility, but I got the impression the universe is unbalanced. Can’t you feel it?”

Than face knotted in concentration. The wind chime by the window tickled its haunting melody.
Underneath it I saw a little girl with brown pigtails in a knee length pale blue dress. She was ghastly pale. Deep purple bruises created circles underneath her deep brown eyes. Blood spattered the front of her dress, and a large gash serrated her throat. Her feet were bare and several raw scrapes showed on her knees. A blue ribbon dangled from one of her pigtails. She wiggled her fingers underneath the wind chime, and it moved once more. An echo of her girlish laughter flitted through the office and curled my bones.

“I don’t feel anything.” Than looked in the direction of the child. “What are you looking at?”

I gestured at the little girl. “Her? She’s right there.”

“Kerstin, there’s nothing there. Are you sure you’re feeling okay?” His eyes were shadowed with worry.
“Maybe your encounter today shook you up more than you know.”

I summoned all my strength and hit. He rubbed the spot and frowned. How could he not see her when I did? “I’m not crazy, and it has nothing to do with Mastema. Something is going on.”

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out. I’m going to get some dinner. How about Greek food?”

I kept my gaze locked on the little girl who was now skipping around the perimeter of my room. Her pigtails bounced and her blue ribbon bobbed. “Greek’s fine.”

“I’ll be back.”

The absence of his presence filled the room. The soul did another lap around the room as I came out from behind my desk. Right before she got to me, she disappeared. Her laugh came from underneath my desk. I peered underneath it. Something yanked my hair. I spun around to try and see the little devil. “Not funny, little girl. Come on out.”

A cold breeze brushed against my cheek. I grabbed at the draft, hoping to snare her, but my hand passed through thin air. Something hit the back of my legs. The chair spun behind me and my visitor peered out from behind it. She dashed toward the door. This time I caught her arm. Her cold look and the pout told me she wasn’t happy about being captured, but I wasn’t in the mood. She struggled to break my grasp, but no phantom could escape death’s grip no matter how hard they tried. I clutched her shoulders and looked her in the eye. “What do you want?”

“Leave me alone!” she shouted with a raspy, hollow sound.

“How can I leave you alone when you came here looking for me? You know what I am because I can touch you. I’m not going to hurt you. Tell me what you want.”

The lost girl twirled her finger around her left pigtail. The distrust in her eyes made me wonder what she had been through. Her bottom lip quivered. “Don’t you want to play with me?”

Not really. I wasn’t about to let her go in case she vanished and I couldn’t find her again. “I’ll play with you once you tell me what happened to you, and I’ll even give you a cookie. How does that sound?” Every little kid loved sweets, and because I lived in both worlds I could make it so she could actually eat the food.

“Cookie first.” Her lips turned up in a triumphant smile.

“Fine, but stay here.” I rushed into the kitchen and grabbed a couple of peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and hoped they would suffice. She dug into them as though she hadn’t eaten in forever. Once she wiped the crumbs from her mouth, her eyes held more trust. “Are you ready to talk to me now?”
She nodded and smiled. The gesture emphasized the gaping gash along her throat. A small trail of blood dribbled down her neck and onto her dress. A few pieces of cookie followed. A wave of nausea came over me. The deep wound leaked a little bit more as she laughed and twirled around the room. The chimes tingled from her movement. The pages on my desk from my latest manuscript lifted from their stack. Something remained off about her. I wasn’t sure if it was how she had appeared, or because only I could see her. The way she asked for the cookies was too giddy and too creepy even for me. Something so innocent shouldn’t have something so horrible happen to them.

“Are you going to tell me why you’re here?” I leaned against my desk. She giggled and the wind chimes sounded again. A small breeze danced around me, and she swirled by in a blur of white. I crossed my arms over my chest. I didn’t spend much time around children. Once she calmed down, my visitor stared at me with those big brown eyes. Her gaze made me feel tiny and grated on me the wrong way.

“You’re no fun.” She pouted.

“Of course, I’m no fun. I’m a grown up.” I smiled, but she didn’t seem amused by the comment.

“Aren’t you going to play with me?”

“I will. We agreed I’d give you a cookie, and then you’d tell me why you’re here. Why are you here?”
The strangeness I experienced about the child reared again like a ferocious beast. I gritted my teeth against it. Whatever this strangeness, it wasn’t her fault. She had been alone for quite some time and somehow, she found me. What disturbed me the most was that Than couldn’t see her. Being a reaper, he should’ve been able to see any spirit.

“Fine. You’re so much nicer than the other one was. He was mean to me.”

“You said that before. What other one?”

“You know…the one like you.”

“What do you mean the one like me?”

“The one who looks like a skeleton dressed in black robes. He found me in my home. I was waiting for Mommy and Daddy to come back. They never did. He said he could take me to a better place…” Her eyes brimming with tears twisted my heart. She drew in a labored breath, sucking in the air through the hole in her throat. It sounded like another reaper had found her at the scene of her family’s murder. Or maybe it was some abandoned house. I wasn’t going to ask about the gruesome details of her death. She might not even remember or even realize she was dead. Sometimes they waited for their loved ones, trapped in a hell of their own making. Even I, who had control of the dead, did not have absolute control. Sometimes they didn’t aspire to crossover to the other side, and I wouldn’t force them.

“What happened to the other reaper who helped you?”

Two large tears rolled down her cheek. Her lower lip quivered. Maybe it was overkill. Maybe she was a better actress then I gave her credit for. Maybe it wasn’t an act and something gruesome had happened to her. The whole idea of it rolled within my mind. After becoming human again, I’d become too skeptical. I waited for her to spout off she was a minion sent by the devil to woo me over to his side. I shook my head at the idea. This is a hurt child who needs my help.

“He led me from the house into the woods. As we walked, the trees turned into tombstones. They were all overgrown and covered with plants. It scared me, but he told me not to be scared. Shadows moving between the gravestones. He squeezed my hand and led me to this great wall of fog. If I went through the curtain of mist, he said, I could see my parents again. I let go of his hand and started to go. A cold wind came up. The sky grew black. I heard a howl in the distance. Thunder cracked all around us. He told me to get behind him and had a long stick in his hand. He swung it at something. There was a lot of noise. I ran and hid behind a big marker. I peeked out and saw these enormous dogs. He screamed. I covered my ears from the noise. I shut my eyes and hoped it would all stop. I waited, and they didn’t come after me. The sky went back to normal. I ran back in the forest again.”

The hairs stood up on the back of my neck knowing her reaper had been attacked. Only certain things could kill a reaper. One such weapon was our scythes. The other was a sickle which the serial killer brandished when he came after me last year. How he had gotten it, I still didn’t know. It sounded as though some kind of animal assaulted the other reaper. If her story was true, which I tended to think it was, someone had to be told. Someone should’ve noticed reapers going missing. Azrael would’ve said something because he was the boss. Since I hadn’t heard anything, it concerned me more.

“Okay, something happened to him. How did you find me?”

She twirled her fingers around her braid and chewed on her lip. “I-I just felt you. I don’t know how to explain it. I kept on walking, and then I had this tug here.” She gestured to her heart. “I’ve been watching you for a couple of days. You seemed nice. Then you were talking to that scary man. I didn’t want to come when he was here …” the rest of her words rolled into sobs and hiccups.

I drew her into my arms and rubbed her back lightly to comfort her. It didn’t surprise me she witnessed Mastema talking to me. If she saw him maybe she’s part of his plan. Maybe she’s part of his grand design. Play on my sympathies and snare me. I wouldn’t put it past him. He’s the devil after all. She seems genuine. But that was the thing. The devil wrapped in an innocent guise manipulating me. Maybe he found a way back into this break world without me knowing. I bit my cheek and pushed aside my doubts. No, she has to be telling the truth.

Something terrible was coming.

“It’s okay.” I forced a smile. “Don’t worry. Nothing’s going to harm you while you’re with me. The man you saw the other day, what did he look like?”

She wiped her eyes. “I don’t really know. He was a shadow with huge wings. It was kinda like he was there, and then he wasn’t there. I was frightened of him. That was why I hid.”

“You don’t have anything to be afraid of with him. He’s…well it’s complicated, but he won’t hurt you. He can’t come into this world unless… something else happens. Now tell me your name.”

“It’s Morana.”

“That’s a pretty name for a pretty girl. I’m Kerstin. Would you be willing to go back to the graveyard with me?” I needed to see if anything remained of the reaper or if any clues were left behind by the animals she described.

“Do I have to?” The trepidation in her eyes sparked my concern, but I wouldn’t let anything happen to her. I had a duty to discover what attacked this reaper. They were my brethren. If this beast was left unchecked, it would eventually come after me and Than as well. Nothing could happen to the man I loved. I nearly lost him once, and I wasn’t about to let it happen again.

“I’m not going to force you, but I’d appreciate it if you did. There are more cookies in it for you if you do.”
Her eyes brightened at the mention of more sweets. “And some milk to go with them. I’m also really hungry. Do you have any food?”

“After we get back. How does that sound?”

She nodded.

“You’re brave doing this.”

“I know.”

I held out my hand and she twined her fingers through mine. The coldness of death slipped through my veins when she touched my flesh. I left behind the warmth of humanity. The weight of my wings brought familiar comfort. I trailed my fingers over the feather pendant Than had given me. It leant me some strength and courage. If I unearthed something, I would go directly to Azrael.  

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