Authors: J.L. Doty
Tags: #Fantasy: Supernatural - Demons - San Francisco
|J.L. Doty - Dead Among Us 01 - When Dead Ain’t Dead Enough|
|Dead Among Us |
|Telemachus Press, LLC (2012)|
|Tags:||Fantasy: Supernatural - Demons - San Francisco|
Fantasy: Supernatural - Demons - San Franciscottt
The Dead Among Us
When Dead Ain’t Dead Enough
J. L. Doty
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
The Dead Among Us Book 1: When Dead Ain’t Dead Enough
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Copyright © 2012 J.L. Doty.
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ISBN: 978-1-938135-29-3 (eBook)
The Dead Among Us
When Dead Ain’t Dead Enough
The dead should ever rest in peace, but when dead ain’t dead enough, the living should fear for their mortal souls.
It was just a mirror, but when Paul looked into it a bat-like monster glared back at him with blood-red goat-slitted eyes. It screamed out a cry from hell, exposing a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. Then it reached out, its arm extending from the glass like the smooth surface of a still pond. It tried to seize him with a clawed hand, talons the length of his fingers grasping for his throat. And though it couldn’t reach him, and he wanted to run screaming like a child, he stood paralyzed, unable to utter a word or move a muscle.
Looking into its goat-slitted eyes had been a mistake, he now realized, for he felt an overwhelming compulsion to come to the monster, to step within its grasp and embrace it. It loved him, cherished him as no one else had since Suzanna, and all he needed to do was return that love, just walk toward the mirror and lose himself in its allure. And he was about to do so when something inside him snapped and he came to his senses. The vision in the mirror was a monster from hell, not a lover. So he lifted a foot to back step away from it, and the foot stepped forward of its own volition, and in the monster’s eyes he saw greedy satisfaction, the joyful knowledge that it would have him, that it would devour him, and that he was powerless to defy it.
Little by little he advanced across the room, each step an agonizing struggle, each step a failure as it drew him closer, a puppet ruled by the strings of those blood-red eyes. Then suddenly he was within its grasp and the hand gripped him painfully by the throat. It dug razor sharp talons into his larynx and pulled him toward the mirror. He thought his face would smash against the glass, but when his cheek touched the surface his face sank into it. And as he was drawn into the realm that spawned the monster he screamed—
Paul slammed awake and sat up in bed. “Fucking dream,” he growled, gasping for air, sitting there soaked in sweat. He switched on the light next to his bed and snarled, “Just a fucking dream.”
He told himself that, time and again, every time he woke from that nightmare—just a dream. But he knew this evil, this darkness that stalked him inside the mirror, and a piece of him feared
might be this evil, that it was some darkness in his own soul that stalked him. After all, the monster in his dream was his own reflection.
“Just a dream,” he said. “Just a dream.”
Suzanna’s ghost walked into the room.
But it wasn’t a dream
, she said, though no actual sound came from her mouth, but her lips moved and he knew what she said.
It’s waiting for you, Paulie-boy. And I don’t think you can escape it.
Paul sat at the kitchen table watching Suzanna bustling about preparing dinner. It was his favorite time of day, to sit there at the end of the day with a glass of wine and chat with her while she put the finishing touches on their meal. It had been his favorite time of day back when she was alive, and he was so happy she’d come back to him, even if only as a ghostly specter.
Cloe bounced into the kitchen in her school uniform. Well, like Suzanna it wasn’t really Cloe, just Cloe’s ghost.
Can I help with dinner?
Suzanna looked over her shoulder and winked at Paul as she said,
Not until you finish your homework.
Oh please, mommy! Please, please, please! I hate homework! Homework’s so boooooring.
Paul decided to intervene. “Sorry, munchkin, it’s the rule. Homework before you get to help with dinner.”
Cloe bounced across the kitchen and stopped just a foot or so short of Paul. The real Cloe, the living Cloe, would’ve jumped into his lap, but they both knew that wouldn’t work for this Cloe.
Daddy, homework’s too hard.
Suzanna turned toward them, a plate of steaming food in each hand.
Well, since dinner’s ready anyway, sweetheart, tonight you get a reprieve.
He stood on the street in the gathering twilight, leaned casually against the brick front of the brownstone behind him, lowered his barriers and let his senses expand into the coming night. He was tall, thin, an older man with almost gaunt features, gray hair with hints that it had once been dark. Dressed nattily in a wool sport coat, slacks and a tie,
was the word that came to mind, and after a casual glance one might, on a subconscious level, think he was a university professor of some kind.
He was getting closer, but working alone was a long, drawn-out process of slowly triangulating on the source. It helped that the idiot broadcast the conjuration on a regular time schedule: every morning and evening without fail; one might think breakfast and dinner. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t called in help, but, while the conjuration was powerful, and broadcasting it without wards and precautions was sloppy, the fool hadn’t done anything truly dangerous, at least not yet. And some of the old man’s colleagues didn’t feel the need to understand a situation before acting, tended to assume the worst and react quickly, might decide to kill the poor idiot before determining if he was truly dangerous. What was most frustrating was the idiot’s uncanny ability to snap the old man’s locator spell, to do so almost casually as if the act of cutting it was a mere afterthought. That took strength, and the kind of control of which few were capable. Well, maybe he wasn’t such an idiot after all.
This evening it followed the normal pattern, starting near sunset with a steady background that was some sort of spirit interaction. It wasn’t strong enough for him to pin down a precise direction, and certainly not strong enough to note distance. But, if the fellow was true to form, the material conjuration, when it came, would be powerful, distinct, and well defined. So he waited, eyes closed, sensing the vague, easterly direction of the source, waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting . . .
There! A powerful conjuration, powerful and dangerous, dangerous beyond imagining. Maybe he should call in his colleagues, stop playing with misguided compassion, just kill the idiot and be done with it.
The conjuration hit Vasily Karpov like a slap and he started visibly. Vladimir, his cold-hearted, blond killer, noticed his reaction immediately, while Alexei, his dark, big, dumb bear, continued to lean on the lamp post, as always oblivious to anything short of a lightning bolt.
“Wake up, idiot,” Karpov snarled as he gave Alexei a shove.
Alexei stumbled, and he and Vladimir looked fearfully at Karpov, Vladimir clearly frightened he too might become the subject of Karpov’s wrath. It was unfair to treat them so. After all, they were just big, dumb muscle, and while both did have some arcane capacity, their capabilities were just too limited to be of any value in that respect, so Karpov kept them around purely for that muscle.
“Follow me, you idiots.”
Karpov marched down the street, heading west toward the conjuration. He needed to move speedily while some residue of the invocation remained. It was quickly dwindling, and the spell he’d cast to help him locate arcane activity was dissipating rapidly.
“Mr. Karpov,” Vladimir said in Russian.
“Shut up,” Karpov growled. “I’m trying to concentrate.”
Vladimir cringed and wisely remained silent.
Karpov led them two blocks west, then one north, and there, his ability to sense the conjuration’s direction dissipated completely. “Blast,” he shouted in frustration.
He turned to the two thugs. “We’re closer. And we’ll get closer tomorrow, and the next day. And when we find this wizard, we kill him, no hesitation, no questions asked.”
The big, dumb bear and the big, dumb Slav nodded vacantly and grinned.
Paul knew that sharing his apartment with the ghosts of his wife and daughter was anything but normal. He knew they didn’t really exist, knew they were just hallucinations, knew he should probably get help. But watching Suzanna cook, even the ghost of Suzanna, or watching Cloe sitting at the coffee table in her school uniform struggling with her homework, her little face scrunched up in confusion at some problem she couldn’t solve; even though they were both dead and buried, and all he had now were shadows of what they’d once been, he’d accept that if that’s all he could have.
Suzanna looked over her shoulder at him and smiled. She was translucent in a ghostly, apparition-like way, and he could see the stove and cupboards through her. Cloe skipped into the room carrying some toy, and like her mother was little more than a translucent specter.
He knew that seeing them had to be some sort of traumatic reaction to their deaths, one right after the other, Suzanna in a car accident, then a few months later Cloe in a hit and run. It had been a real one-two punch, and Paul had crashed hard, lost his job as an architect, stopped eating regularly, lost weight, bathed only a couple times a week, shaved even less frequently. At his worst he’d looked so scruffy a stranger on the street had offered him a few bucks.
And then a little more than a year after they’d been taken from him, he’d been sitting at the kitchen table one morning, drinking two-day-old coffee reheated in the microwave, thinking of how Suzanna used to cook breakfast before he went to work, and how that too had been one of his favorite times of day, to just sit there and watch her work while Cloe bounced around with the energy of a seven year old girl, trying to get ready for school.
That was the first time Suzanna had appeared, just walked into the kitchen as if she’d never been gone. She’d paused, looked at him, smiled lovingly and said something; at least her lips moved, though no sound emerged. But he knew she said,
Bacon and eggs, Paulie-boy?
“Ya,” he’d said, and smiled back at her, putting down the two-day-old coffee. “That sounds great.”
She’d given him a wink and bathed him in that glorious smile of hers, turned to the stove and pulled a couple of pans out of the cupboard. She had brownish-blond hair cut chin length, and wore one of his T-shirts as she often did in the morning. Since she had small breasts she could get away without wearing a bra, and when she bent over he got a little enticing hint of bikini panties. She’d looked over her shoulder at him that first morning, grinned knowingly and said,
Always the letch in the morning, eh Paulie-boy?
Cloe had then bounced into the room and said,
Well, like her mother, she was translucent and her lips moved and no sound came out, but he still knew what she said. She’d had on her school uniform, and his heart swelled that day to know they’d both come back.
He’d said, “Hi, munchkin.”
Cloe had tugged on the hem of her mother’s T-shirt, dancing from one foot to the other hopefully, expectantly. Suzanna had looked down at her and smiled with so much love.
Don’t dawdle. You have to get ready for school.
But I don’t want to go to school. Can’t I be sick today?
But school’s good for you, darling. And you want your mom and dad to be proud of you, don’t you?
Yeeesssss . . .
Come on, off with you now. I have to finish your dad’s breakfast.
Paul knew then that he was hallucinating, knew now that he was hallucinating. But damn, the bacon and eggs were good.