“You know, I’ve been thinking,” Gee said as she appeared beside me. I walked through the desert taking the souls from fallen soldiers. I hated wars. They took up a lot of my time.
“Ooo, you missed one,” Gee pointed to the soul standing beside the body he’d once inhabited.
“I didn’t forget one Gee. He doesn’t want to leave,” I snapped, annoyed that she was here when she was supposed to be with Pagan. “Why are you here?”
“Well hello to you too Dankmar, geez chill, Pagan is safely eating dinner at her friend Miranda’s house. Miranda doesn’t like me. I’m positive she’s terrified of me and is waiting on me to drink blood or something.”
I snorted, “Ya think? Try to look less scary.”
“Whatever, listen, why is it that you can’t just go say ‘Yo, stop haunting my girl you stupid ass piece of shit’ and then be done with it? I realize you’re hanging with the humans these days but Dank, you’re Death. What’s with all this angst?”
I finished with the last soul and then we were walking down the smoke covered highway into a pileup of cars that had just happened. Ambulances were just arriving and the traffic was backed up for miles.
“I can’t just tell a Voodoo spirit to stop and expect them to stop. I have no control over a Voodoo spirit lord. His power comes from humans. It’s an evil spirit. Not a human soul.”
Gee sighed, “This is ridiculous. What the hell did her mother do?”
Jaslyn, another transporter, appeared and I sent the souls taken from the wreck to her and she waved at Gee before vanishing.
Then we were inside the house of another celebrity. America would mourn this in the morning. But unfortunately, this was a regular occurrence. The pill bottle lay open and empty beside the bed and the soul came out looking confused. I turned to Gee, “Take this one, then get back to Pagan. I’m almost done and you’re just slowing me down.”
Gee snarled and beckoned the soul before they both vanished. Thankfully. I needed some peace and quiet. Besides, I had hospitals left to visit.
Gee hadn’t wanted to hang around and eat at Miranda’s. Which was probably a good thing since she would have scared Miranda’s mother senseless. I was reaching to open my car door when suddenly the hairs on my arms stood up. Glancing up at Miranda’s front door I thought about sprinting back to it and rushing inside. But my feet felt heavy. Whatever was here wasn’t going to let me get away that easily. Where was Gee when I needed her?
“It’s just me, Pagan,” Leif’s voice surprised me and I managed to slowly turn around. Sure enough. It was Leif. Looking as normal as when he had been standing in my kitchen doorway. But he wasn’t normal. My body hair standing at attention proved he wasn’t normal. He’d never caused that to happen before. Was it because I now knew what he was?
“Leif?” I croaked out, waiting to see if the boy I’d trusted would morph into some strange demon before my eyes. God, I hoped not.
“Can we talk?”
That would be a bad idea.Voodoo wasn’t cool. And I was positive their spirit prince of the dead wasn’t either. Where was Gee and what did I do about this?
“Um... well... you kind of scare the crap out of me so I’m not sure I want that.”
He chuckled and I almost relaxed. I was familiar with that sound. Leif’s chuckle always made me smile.
“There’s nothing to be scared of. I would never hurt you.”
I rubbed at the hairs on my arms thinking that my body begged to differ and he shrugged, “That I can’t help. Not anymore. I’m not in a human form any longer. You’re going to react to me that way.”
Human form? Any longer?
“What do you want?”
He took a step toward me and I pressed up against the door of my car. The cool metal did nothing to soothe the strange heat coming off his body.
“Hmm... I should have guessed you’d ask that question first. You always cut to the chase,” he flashed the crooked grin I’d always loved. “But I need you to trust me and listen.”
Trust him? Not likely.
“Have I ever hurt you Pagan?”
Well... not exactly. I responded only with a small shake of my head.
“And I never will. Haven’t I always been there when you needed me? The tree, the lake, the time you were lost... the time you were dying from the disease in your body.”
Realization washed over me and I stared at him. His blue eyes. The shape of his jaw. His posture. The curve of his lips and sound of his voice. He -- Leif was -- he was the boy from my dreams.
A regular guy would need clarification from my simple statement but Leif wasn’t regular. He understood what I meant. So instead, he simply nodded.
“Why? I don’t understand.”
“You were promised to me. My father’s power healed you and in return your mother promised your soul to me.”
I was obviously dreaming again because this sounded ridiculous.
“I see it in your eyes,” his grin grew larger, “your soul knows me. The fire is there.” He held up a mirror which came out of nowhere and I stared in horror as my eyes were no longer their familiar green but instead were the color of fire. My pupils were surrounded by what looked like flickering orange flames.
Trembling, I shook my head and pushed away from the car to put more distance between us.
“Pagan--” he started then his face turned furious as he tilted his head upward and was once again gone.
“I missed him again, didn’t I? Well, shit!” Gee hissed.
I sagged against the bumper of my car and wrapped my arms around my waist.
“You okay? He didn’t touch you did he?”
I turned my face up to look at Gee and she stiffened, staring directly into my eyes.
“Your eyes,” she said reaching out and touching my cheek carefully. “What the fuck?”
I shook my head and stood up turning away from her. I needed Dank. This was bad. My eyes were beyond creepy.
“Where’s Dank?” I croaked, not wanting to cry in front of Gee. She wasn’t the kind of being you wanted to get emotional in front of.
“Get in the car, I’ll drive.” Gee commanded, nodding her head to the passenger side. Normally, I wouldn’t be okay with her driving because everything Gee did she did dangerously but at the moment I couldn’t concentrate enough to drive. So I did as I was told and sank down into the passenger seat.
“Where’s Dank?” I repeated as she cranked the car and backed up entirely too fast out of the driveway.
“In Afghanistan dealing with those idiots who blow themselves up.”
“When will he be back?”
Gee sighed and glanced over at me, “Not for awhile, Pagan. He’s got to deal with the voodoo creep stalking you.”
I reached up and pulled the mirror down to study my eyes. Their normal color was back and the sickness in my stomach eased some.
“Your eyes were freaky Peggy Ann. I ain’t gonna lie to you. That was some freaky, freaky shit.”
“I know! Don’t you think you should tell Dank?” I just wanted him back. I missed him and after my run-in with Leif I needed to feel secure. As much as I loved Gee she didn’t give me the security I needed.
“I’ll tell him but right now I’m not leaving you. The Voodoo prince is hot on your tail. So I need to stick close. No more running off to try and talk some sense into Dankmar.”
I fought the urge to cry. Instead, I bit the inside of my cheek and kept my eyes focused on the passing houses.
“It’s okay Peggy Ann. I got this.”
I wasn’t so sure about that but I sat silently as she sang off key to a Three Doors Down song that was playing on the radio.
Once we pulled into my driveway I didn’t wait around for her to get out. If I couldn’t have Dank then I wanted my mom. Thankfully, her car was here. As I reached the door I glanced back at Gee.
“I’m going to go hang out with my mom for awhile. You can make yourself at home in my room.”
“While you’re at it why don’t you ask her about the Voodoo crap she’s got you all mixed up in?” Gee replied, then vanished.
I walked inside and was relieved to see Mom curled up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn instead of tucked away in her office writing. CSI Miami I could drag her away from. Her writing, not so much.
“Hey sweetheart, did you enjoy eating over at Miranda’s?”
I sank down beside her and grabbed a handful of popcorn wondering if I’d be able to actually eat it after the scare I’d just had. I needed to be careful how I sounded. If Mom heard even the slightest unease in my voice she’d perk up and begin grilling me with questions until I caved and told her everything. Focusing on keeping my tone casual and unaffected I replied, “Yep, we had boiled shrimp, corn on the cob and salad. The salad had raspberries, pecans, and goat cheese in it. It was surprisingly good. Even with the sweet dressing.”
“Oh, that sounds yummy. I might have to call and get that recipe.”
“You’ll love it. Right up your alley in the healthy weird foods category.”
Mom chuckled and nibbled on the handful of popcorn in her hand. I wasn’t sure how to bring this up. Did I just say, “Hey Mom, remember when I was dying and you took me to that Voodoo doctor?” I had a feeling she would balk if I approached it directly like that. But it had to be true.
I turned my attention to the television and watched the crime scene of a strangled girl as the CSI crew did their thing. I popped one kernel into my mouth and managed to chew it up. The butter felt heavy on my sensitive stomach so I decided I better not try anymore.
“What’s bothering you Pagan?”
I glanced over at Mom and she was studying me instead of the television. Figures she would pick up on my mood. The woman was impossible to hide a problem from.
“Um... I was just thinking about...” I paused and debated if I should even say anything. Did I really want to know this? I took in my mom’s puckered eyebrows as she frowned at me waiting on me to finish. Her dark hair was tucked behind her ears and she was free of any makeup. I could see her concern and love glowing in her eyes. I knew why she’d done it. But I still needed to hear her explain. Maybe something she knew would help Dank end this. “You remember when I was sick as a kid,” I began and watched as her frown deepened and she gave me a short nod.
“Well, I was dying. I remember that. And well... I had this dream. More like a memory. I was in an old shack and you were there too. There was this old lady.” I stopped as the panic began to flicker in her eyes. It was true. I didn’t need to explain anymore. She knew exactly what I had dreamed.
“It was real, wasn’t it? You took me to a Voodoo doctor and she... or he healed me.”
Mom swallowed hard and shook her head almost frantically, “Oh, god,” she murmured looking down at her hand that had dropped the popcorn it had been holding. Had she really never expected me to remember?
“What did you promise them, Mom? What was their payment for healing me?”
Mom set the bowl on the coffee table in front of us and stood up. I sat there calmer than I actually felt as she began to pace back and forth in front of the television.
“Ohgod ohgod ohgod,” she chanted under her breath. Now I was beginning to panic. This wasn’t the reaction I’d expected. My cool, calm, collected mother had never had a breakdown on me.
“Tell me, Mom,” I demanded.
She ran both her hands through her short hair and then rested them on her pajama clad hips. The flying pink pigs on her flannel bottoms were so happy and carefree and so incredibly out of place on the woman wearing them. I began to wonder if she was going to have some sort of panic attack the way her breathing had quickened.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” she whispered in a broken sob and wrapped her arms around her waist as if she needed to hold herself together.
“I understand that. What I need to know is what was the payment they required?”
Mom finally focused her grief stricken eyes on me, “Why’re you asking me this? Has someone... has something... contacted you?”
Explaining that my boyfriend was Death and that a soul transporter was hanging out in my room probably listening to my iPod and painting her toenails an outrageous color didn’t exactly sound like the best of plans. So I decided to go with something she would believe. “I had a dream. I saw it all. I remembered everything. Even the moldy stale smell.”
A small amount of relief came over her tense expression. She nodded and wiped her palms on the front of her pajama pants nervously. “Okay. A dream. That’s okay,” she was talking more to herself than to me. I waited.
Finally she turned her gaze back to mine. “I was desperate Pagan. A nurse in the hospital told me about the voodoo doctor back in the swamp. I knew nothing of Voodoo. We’d been sent to The Children’s Hospital in New Orleans because they had a specialist there that came highly recommended. The culture there was so different. I didn’t know what to believe. I ignored her at first,” she paused and took a deep breath. “But then...but then they told me you weren’t going to wake up. I panicked. I took you to the old woman. I didn’t know anything about her or her methods. I thought maybe she had a miracle drug,” she let out a hard laugh. “I mean, who believes in spells anyway. I wasn’t expecting her to actually brew up something and then the boy walked in.” She closed her eyes tightly. I watched the creases on her forehead deepen. It had been Leif. I knew that without a doubt now.
“The boy was so young. But his eyes... his eyes were terrifying. He began chanting and this dark mist fell over the room.” She opened her eyes and stared at me. I could see the memory of it in her eyes. The experience haunted her. “And then we woke up back in the hospital room. It was as if we’d never left. You were sitting up in bed chatting with a nurse and smiling. The circles under your eyes were gone. You wanted macaroni and cheese and someone had run off to find you some. Doctors and nurses began to pour into our room. You were a miracle. They had no explanation but there was no sign of the disease in your body,” she swallowed so hard I could see her throat constrict. “There wasn’t even any sign that the disease had ever been there. You made the news. You were a medical marvel. Then one day everyone forgot about it and it was as if it had never happened.”
This was all she knew. She hadn’t promised them anything. She’d just said she’d give them whatever they wanted. She had no idea she’d given them my soul. I stood up on shaky legs and walked around the table and hugged her. Not because she deserved it but because even though she’d made a grave mistake she’d done it because she loved me.