Kandy-4-Peter 2. Thyme for Nine

"9 Thyme"

Her smile, teeth barely visible, held a well-worn appearance just shy of the natural side. And spooky. Something about her, maybe the way her emerald eyes caught the light, felt a shade creepy. Her dark hair, black as a raven and wavy, framed those orbs like a pretty picture. A beautiful, spooky gal, that was Nine Thyme in a nutshell.

Of course, Peter had to admit the spooky side had more to do with her being the daughter of a third generation funeral home owner. Her extensive knowledge of caskets and coffins, including comfort levels, could put the willies into just about anyone. She’d be popular at Goth nightclubs, though.

For the job interview, Peter had asked Nine to help with Hallowe’en decorations. She had shot him some quirky remark about free labor along with a teasing grin. He wasn’t comfortable sitting at a table and watching someone. He preferred staying busy. Besides, too many tasks needed finishing for opening day.

While hanging fake webbing with giant rubber spiders on the wall, Nine recited her work history. It wasn’t much; cashier at a quickie mart, a very short stint as a catalog model, package handler at UPS, and, of course, she helped her father in the family business, which was oddly named, Old Thyme Funeral Home. Her sharp attire met the old man’s expectations, but her work experience came up short. She needed more zing to pass the old man’s tests, but Peter needed bodies. All of this barely tracked across his mind, though, and instead of digging deeper he asked about her name.

Kandy-4-Peter 1. Bad Delivery

The grand opening was three days away, on Hallowe’en of all nights, and Peter Gray still needed to finish hiring the staff. Would the bartender, Kyle or Cal—whatever his name was, consider working an extra shift? It seemed like a quarter of Roseland was out of work, but he couldn’t find enough employees. It would be easier to forget fine dining, but he had made a promise to his father. Even if he screwed up nearly everything else in life, promises he meant to keep.

Pushing the last table into place, Peter surveyed the area making sure there was more than enough space for some large man swinging elbows to pass without knocking someone on the head. As he stacked a chair upside-down on the table, a high-pitched squeal coming from the kitchen startled him. The sound of fracturing wood made him cringe.

In the kitchen, everything gleamed, white walls and silver-wired shelves. Pots, pans, and knives hung on a wall. The shelves at the back were still empty, and the slicer was nowhere to be seen leaving an open space in the middle where Boris crouched over a crate. Splintered wood broke the serenity of the tiled floor.

Pulling on a crowbar, Boris grunted. Another nail squealed as the lid popped up leaving one corner attached.

“Boris,” said Peter, “what the hell is that?”

Boris waved the crowbar at the crate. “The door to the freezer, I imagine. What else would it be?”

Taking up the corner of the kitchen, the walk-in freezer appeared like the opening to a dark, empty cave. He had already rescheduled the meat delivery twice, and needed that freezer door before the big day.

“Boris, that isn’t the right shape for the walk-in. A skinny door, maybe.”

The wrong shape for any door, really, the crate appeared more like it held something the size of a coffee table and plenty of padding.

“Some assembly required,” said Boris. Another pull popped the crate open, and he leaned the lid against the wire shelf. Staring into the open crate in bewilderment, he rubbed his face.

A coffin. Black, unusually glossy under the bright florescent lights, the box appeared ominous sitting snug inside the crate. At the corners, packing peanuts provided padding along with Styrofoam blocks on either side at the narrow end of the coffin.

For a moment it felt as if the afterlife had shipped his father back to him, but his old man rested underground in a white casket. No, this was a mistake. It had to be. Shipper royally screwed up, and likely some funeral home had a freezer door. Opening a restaurant came with its share of stumbles along the way, and for the most part everything seemed to balance out. As far as setbacks go, Peter put this bad delivery into the weird experiences pile.

Tearing the shipping documents off the lid, Boris stood up spewing curses in the language of his homeland.

In the other room, the front door clapped shut. Footsteps approached.

29. Final Dance 2

Watching the wraith emerge from the vortex, I pull my blade free and toss the sheath aside. Dressed in a black cloak, his splotchy, cracked skull peeks out from beneath the hood. He gazes at me with his pinpoints of light within eye sockets, violet smoke spilling down over jagged cheek bones. From between his rotten teeth, smoke gathers around his slender fangs and drips like blood onto his cloak. Preparing to strike, I hold my sword overhead.

He speaks, not with a voice in this silent world, but an invading thought inside my head sending a shower of painful prickles down into my neck.

Kandy, will you bleed for me?

Hell no.

Here on this side, I imagine is the only place I can kill the wraith. My churning gut reminds me this is his home where he has the advantage. If only I can catch the creature off-guard moving between worlds.

Attacking, I slash down at his head. He drifts backward evading my blade. I continue the attack, but he moves away leaving me in his smoky trail, and that stupid dead grin of his taunting me. The world darkens around me, and I realize I’m within the shadows passing back into my world. Walls appear blocking out the purple sky, and ghostly forms rise out of the darkness behind the wraith. Before he can reach the other side, I lunge, my sword slicing through churning black-and-violet mist and into his neck.

Thundering drums crack the silence, light explodes, and the scent of sweat and blood fills my nostrils. My sword slices flesh, bone, and zips through the air spraying a crimson streak across a mirror and one of the light bulbs surrounding the reflection of the dressing room.

The shocked face before me turns away, head toppling over. The body collapses to the floor.

Stratton lays dead at my feet, and his bodyguard stares down at it, stunned.

Pushing away thoughts about how the wraith tricked me and the consequences of murdering my employer, I circle around searching the dressing room for the wraith. Including the bodyguard, Stratton’s body, and a dancing girl cowering in the corner beside the lockers, nobody that matters occupies the room. Not on this side of the shadows anyway.

Purple Hell.

Crossing over, I find the wraith reaching for me with his talons. Diving into a roll, I leap up and spin around slashing at my foe. Instead of the skull, I find the face of my mentor—my friend, Steve Reynolds. His nebulous, purple eyes fade leaving normal blue eyes gazing back at me. His cool hands wrap over mine pulling the sword free.

The sky darkens, ghostly forms rise up like smoke, and I find the dance floor of Necropolis. Some of the patrons glance around in confusion while others storm up the stairs for the exit. The music hits me like a brick. Steve twirls around, dancing with me. He’s wearing his suit, of course, his tie streaming from his neck. As I spot the light flickering off the blade, the gravity of it all falls upon me. I take a step back into the shadows, music fading.

Cold slices through my neck.

28. Final Dance 1

Dark shapes appear. Swaying, the hazy shapes surround me. They appear like smoke, their swooning motions leave wispy trails. They dance in slow motion. Turning around, I find more of them, a mass of smoky forms in every direction. They dance, waving arms building smoky clouds above their heads.

Purple haze lifting, dancers increasing in speed, the smoke trails fade leaving solid forms. Clothing ripples out of the blackness. The ghosts dance, their pale forms turning and moving on a wood floor. Dark columns holding purple rods rise up into a white fog where lights spin splashing red like blood dripping from the mist.

Thunder erupts, pounding into the floor. Another dull boom, and another, the increasing beat becoming alive, sharpening. The dancers stomp to the beat, their movements increasing in speed. A chorus of guitars join in, and music explodes.

The prickly sensation of déjà vu crawls beneath my skin.

Standing at the center of the dance floor, I search the crowd for Steve. White shirts and waving colored bracelets glow in the black light. Some of the eyes glow as well like phosphorous disc floating on white orbs. The discs bounce and weave. The floor shakes to the beat of the drums and dancing feet.

On the stage, a woman with deep crimson hair screams into a microphone. Her voice, harsh, shouts about blood and death. Behind her, the band shakes their heads and stomp while they work the music into a demonic chorus.

I dance into a storm riding the edge of shadows, my dress floating about me like smoke.

Spotting a familiar face watching me, I dance my way towards him. Watching in wonder as I defy the light, the crowd parts for me. The young man doesn’t look much like Steve. Shorter and too scrawny, the young thing appears to lack confidence dropping his gaze from mine. The sea of sweaty bodies flows away, and I swoop in on my prey.

He tells me his name.

Satisfied I have Torx, I smile and say, “Nice to meet you, Steve Reynolds.”

Standing right behind Torx is a wraith smoking in and out of the shadows like a dark fire eating the air.

“I’m sweet like candy,” I say. The sinking feeling of having done this before pulls at me. My feet grow heavy. I spin away from the wraith, and tug at Torx’s hand. Glancing back, I say, “with a K.”

This is my memory playing out. My memory eaten by Steve, returning to me because he’s in my head and has been all this time. He never stole this man’s memories. He might have peeked inside and only taken a taste.

It all starts making a twisted sort of sense, the déjà vu and my old club Steve has been visiting. It’s like time travel, but Steve calls it revisiting a memory. Somehow something changed there in that moment I thought I had killed him. Some serious messing with Fate’s tapestry.

“I’m looking for vampire ice,” says Torx.

27. My Ghost in a Party Dress

Sneaking weapons into a club isn’t something I normally consider given the authority of my position, but when I’m carrying enough hardware to make a distraught postal worker appear like cuddly toy bear I have to think through my options. Walking in shadow-time is easy enough, but that’s where Steve lives. I keep hearing his voice, a whisper calling my name. His scent lingers in the damp air. He steals memories, and the best I can figure is he took mine that night when he lay bleeding on my checkerboard floor. He did something before disappearing into violet smoke, and he’s been haunting me ever since. There’s only so much shit a girl can deal with.

The line at Necropolis is longer than usual full of young people wearing clothes too skimpy for the cold Autumn night. They bounce about or hug each other for warmth. I’m in my black party dress, and why not? At least I have my coat on. Behind me, a young man holds two young women in his muscular arms. He has that cocky look on his face like he’s God’s gift to the world. I’d love a bite of him, and his lovely ladies. Pulling my gaze from the morsels, I scan the street for danger. No Itoril thugs or creepy wraiths. The scent of rain mixed with cheap body spray hangs in the air.

Hearing my name, I spin around spotting the doorman, Axe, waving me over. Passing irritated faces, I march to the front of the line.

“What’s in the bag?” says Axe, wrinkling his brow. A vein rises on his bald head, but his body glow remains cool.

I press a hundred dollars into the doorman’s palm and say, “What bag?”

Axe laughs and says, “Just try not to wreck the place.”

Necropolis swallows me, doors banging shut. Striding down the stairs, the electronica works into my legs, and I bounce to the beat. If not an executioner, I’d be a dancer. Can’t beat getting paid to dance all night.

I don’t know if it’s even possible to push Steve into another head. Memory thief. Is it truly him? Or does the wraith have him? Sucking the memories out of someone has to be the most invasive intrusion imaginable. Finding another victim isn’t tough. Original Steve Reynolds, Torx, is apparently a mind he’s at least lifted the name from if not indulged in. I’m certain Torx will take to the vampire ice rumor and arrive looking for a good time.

If the wraith doesn’t accept my offering, then it’s going to end one way or another. Kill the wraith, and be free of the torment. Or die and be free of it all. Retirement is permanent for executioners.

There’s plenty of open space on the dance floor at the early hour. On the stage, a disc jockey with a tired expression works his machine. Hopefully the main band is loud enough to hide the screams, if it comes to that. Maybe Torx can handle a little bite. Passing the dance floor, I dive into the dark back hall coming to a closed black curtain.

Peeling the curtain aside, I find a dressing room lit by circles of glowing bulbs around mirrors on the left wall. At the back, a shower drips on the tile. Lockers occupy the wall on the right where a young woman sets a black purse on the floor of an open locker. Walking to the locker on the near end, I open the door. It squeaks, so I close it and try another. It’s tall, nearly big enough for a small person to squeeze inside.

The woman, one of the podium dancers if I remember correctly, glares at me. “You’re not supposed to be in here. I’ll call security.”

Opening my bag, I pull out my shotgun and lean it, barrel up, inside the locker. Holding my katana, I pop the blade free checking friction, and push it closed. I lean the sword into the other corner. On the shelf, I set several spare ammunition clips for my handgun.

“You can’t do that.” The dancer folds her arms in defiance, but her scowl gives way to fear. The girl glows hot like a human and smells just as nice. “I’m calling the cops.”

“You do that.” Shrugging out of my coat, I hang it on the hook inside the locker and close the door.

“I will,” says the dancer, stomping her foot.