The Revenant Saga
Part 1: The Revenant Emerges
I hear the car pull up to the driveway. Dad’s home. Ebony leaps off my bed where he’s been watching me play with my Eevee Pokemon figure and rushes to the door barking and wagging his tail furiously. I hurry to the living room and hide around the corner of the entranceway, peeking at the front door. As soon as I hear the keys jiggling in the lock, I crouch down and get ready. Dad enters.
“EEEE VEEE!” I shout as I whip around the corner and thrust Eevee in my fist toward Dad.
Dad puts his arm up to his face. “Arrgh! The rays! They’re too powerful! Ebony help!” he cries out. My Dad is so dramatic.
Ebony barks and stand up on his hind legs, tail still wagging.
My Dad gets closer to me. Then he puts down his arm, grabs me, and turns me upside down.
Pirate-like, he says, “Shoot them star rays at me, eh?”
I squeal and get tickled for my trouble.
Mom walks into the living room, arms crossed, shaking her head and smiling.
“You too are ridiculous,” she says.
My parents, John and Stephanie, have lived on this street since I was born nine years ago. We were the first black family to move into a house in this neighborhood. My Dad says that it was the best they could afford on his and my Mom’s combined salary and it had the better school district. Where we live, Myersville, North Carolina, is a tiny town, maybe 5000 residents at most, but it’s got a black side, a white side (where we live), and the proverbial train tracks in between. I have never been able to get my black friends in school to come by my house (their parents always say, “No, too dangerous.”) but my Dad or Mom drives me to their houses. I have a couple of white friends at school but they’re only “school pals”; they don’t visit me and I know better than to ask about coming to their homes.
I got Ebony for my 8th birthday, and he’s a rascal. I like to run away with his leather chew toy. He chases after me, and when I jump on the living room couch, he licks my face so I can’t see, steals his toy back and dashes off, with me running right behind him to steal it again.
Most nights at home are pretty laid back. My Dad helps Mom with dinner; they are excellent cooks. We watch the news and a movie. Usually I act out “Pokemon theater” with them or read a book, and I take Ebony for his evening walk before I go to bed.
One night after school, I wouldn’t talk. The whole day I was in a funk. My parents would try to joke with me or get me to talk about Pokemon, but I wasn’t taking the bait. I barely ate dinner, and poor Ebony only received the most distracted pets from me. Once I was in bed, Dad sat down with me.
“So what did they call you,” he said.
My eyes widened and I sat up. “How do you know someone called me something?”
“I acted the same way when a kid in school called me the N-word and drew it all over my locker.”
I sat back and crossed my arms. I looked down and started absently picking at the bedsheets.
“They added the B-word to mine,” I said. “My math teacher Mr. Finley heard them. In fact, they repeated it, enunciated it clearly, like you tell me to do sometimes. Mr. Finley looked shocked for a second, cleared his throat, and went right back to teaching like nothing happened.”
“Now I bet you just want to punch those girls in the face,” Dad suggested.
“Yeah, but I really want to scream at Mr. Finley,” I said, tears welling. “He was wrong. He’s the adult. He should have done something”
My Dad leans in, gives me a hug, and kisses my forehead.
“You’re right, honey, “ he said. “I’m sorry you have to deal with this. Welcome to the awful world we live in.”
I nodded. “I love you, Dad.”
“Love you too, honey.”
I’m fourteen, it’s 2017, and I’m still living in Hicksville, aka Myersville. I hate this place. If I hear another “Bless your heart” I’m going to slap someone. In school, the only highlights are when I piss off my English and Social Studies teachers. My Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Harrison, had the most wonderful lobster red face and bug-eyed response to my turning in my paper entitled “White Entitlement and Racial Inequity in Myersville.” Made my whole day. In English lit, we only read the work of dead white dudes, so in my literary analysis papers I like to contrast their work with black and brown authors, with quotes, just to spice things up. I never get As in these classes, but it’s worth it.
Home is my sanctuary. I can decompress with Ebony, who has grown into a furry, rambunctious behemoth. In my room I dance to hip-hop, Prince, and ‘90s alternative rock, but if I’m feeling low, I just sway to the blues.
My parents are involved in a lot of social justice initiatives these days, probably due to my encouragement. Get out the vote drives, police shooting protests, anti-racist rallies. I go with them every time; I also make the posters. Today we’re going to protest against the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville. I’m proud of my parents; I raised them right.
I can still see that car careening through the crowd, hitting that poor girl. We’re driving home and I’m just curled up in the backseat crying. Fucking racist bastards!
When we arrive, I’m unloading the posters. My parents get out of the car, and we all embrace each other silently. I see Mr. Fisher, our neighbor across the street. He is a pale white man, middle-aged, lanky and scruffy. He’s wearing a white T-shirt and jeans and sitting in a rocking chair on his porch, staring hard at the End Racism and No More Hate posters tangling from my hands. His house has a Confederate flag hanging from the edge of the roof, like a lot of people on this side of town, but that’s not what bothers me. As soon as he makes eye contact with me, he smiles and snaps his right arm out in a Nazi salute. I give him the one-finger salute.
“Let’s get inside,” I whisper.
I hustle my parents in the house. Dad looks concerned, but when he turns his head to look at Mr. Fisher, he is dragging us both inside. Mr. Fisher is now standing rigidly with his arm still outstretched.
After we get inside, I lock the door. Double bolt it.
“Should we call the police?” I suggest.
“They won’t do anything, honey. First amendment,” my Dad explains with a frown.
We try to have a normal evening after that, but it isn’t working. We avoid TV news that day, so we try to watch game shows to lighten the mood. No joy. At least Ebony gets a lot of attention, which he is very happy about. Eventually we go to bed, but I insist on sleeping in my parents’ bed, which I haven’t done for years. Ebony takes a spot at the end of the bed and we’re all cozy.
There are two loud cracks. I hear feet running up the stairs.
I shake my parents. “Mom! Dad!”
The door bursts open and there is a shot gun pointed at me. All I can see are the two dark holes leveled at my face. Ebony is snarling.
“Alright, get up! Time for all you niggers to get up!”
My mom grabs my hand and slides me out of the bed and against the wall. Our hands are up. Dad is on the other side of the bed, his eyes are saucers, his hands are raised too.
“What do you want? Money?” my Dad asks.
I can now register that it’s Mr. Fisher from across the street. Ebony is about to lunge at him.
Mr. Fisher smirks at the dog. “You’d better grab your dog before I have to hurt him.”
I slowly walk toward Ebony, still staring at the shotgun. I pull Ebony towards me, but he’s still snarling.
“OK now, walk downstairs,” he commands.
With raised hands, we walk downstairs. I see that the doorknob and sliding bolt have been blown off the front door, which hangs open.
“Keep going,” he orders. “Down to the basement.”
My mom starts crying. Before we reach the basement door, Dad drops low, spins, and launches himself at Mr. Fisher, who falls on his butt. Dad tries to wrestle the shotgun away. My mom and I are screaming. Ebony wriggles out of my grasp and starts biting Mr. Fisher’s arm. The shotgun goes off and we can’t hear. Mr. Fisher headbutts my Dad and he falls back. Then he swings his arm with Ebony on it against the wall and knocks him off. Ebony howls and scrambles back to me. I cradle him in my arms.
Pointing his shotgun at us, Mr. Fisher gets up. He is actually smiling.
“I likes ‘em feisty!” he declares.
Then he points the shotgun at my Dad and fires point blank at his chest.
I hear someone wailing. My face is covered in blood. My Dad’s blood. I’m holding him tight, too tight to let the life out. If I can just hug him tight enough. I can’t see because of the blood, the tears. My mom is on her knees next to me. I can’t see her face, but I hear her anguished cries.
“Alright. Time to go the basement,” Mr. Fisher commands.
I glare at him. I wish that all the forces in the universe would come down and rip him to shreds! I want his heart to explode, his tongue ripped out of his Nazi-loving mouth. But, of course, nothing happens. I’m just a teenager. Facing a monster.
We march downstairs in silence. The basement only has a floor rug, a pool table, a small couch, and cardboard storage boxes labeled for the holidays. There is no window.
“Sit on the couch.”
We sit, hugging each other and Ebony, who is softly whining.
“I’m going now,” Mr. Fisher says. He backs away toward the stairs, pointing his shotgun at us. He grabs the fire extinguisher under the stairs. After he climbs the stairs, we see him pull out a flask from his back pocket and pour it down the stairs.
“One more thing.”
There is a click. A whoosh. Fire engulfs the stairs as the basement door slams and bolts. Mom and I rush for the stairs but the heat is too much. The carpet and boxes start to catch on fire. We run to the corner away from the smoke and flames, the only part with no rug. We scream for help, but we know it’s stupid. The smoke builds, creating an ominous black cloud on the ceiling. It’s so hard to breath. The heat is starting to singe the hair on my arms. My mom holds me and Ebony tight to her chest.
“I love you,” she says with barely any breath.
“I love you too,” I reply.
There is a roar as the fire blasts toward us and we scream.
It is 2 am. The Myersville firefighters comb through the wreckage of the house. Neighbors are standing around whispering, many talking pictures on their cell phones. Mr. Fisher is sitting on his porch, finishing a beer, and grinning. He gets up to get another beer, walks into the kitchen, and freezes. A grey swirling figure is hovering above the kitchen floor. It raises writhing skeletal arms, shudders, howls, and rushes towards him, through him. There is a crash as the beer slips from Mr. Fisher’s grasp and he collapses to the floor. The spectre is gone, but Mr. Fisher’s teeth are chattering. He is chilled to the bone and his breath is visible as white mist. For the rest of his life, Mr. Fisher will never be warm again.
Cold, just cold
Then engulfed by grayness
Pieces of me
No eyes, but I see.
Christmas trees made of crystals?
No air, but I hear.
The Christmas trees are singing.
Like a lullaby.
I’m curled up in a ball.
Not going to move.
Why do I feel?
Wasn’t killing my family enough?
Let me go!
I want out!
I know what it is.
The agony of murdered souls.
I’m part of it too.
I notice a few victims like me.
Trying to shake themselves apart.
To get rid of the agony
My rage makes me start to vibrate, sending waves of sharp red spikes in all directions.
Two of the wispy glows move toward me.
Do you feel it? The pressure.
…don’t do that.
Don’t say my name.
DON’T SAY MY FUCKING NAME!
I’m not your little girl anymore!
She’s gone, she’s not coming back!
Go wherever you want to!
They take my life like that and want me to be grateful?
I just want to feel NOTHING!
The spirits of my parents drift away.
I feel their sadness.
I don’t give a shit.
Something gray is heading toward me. It looks like a man.
“Welcome to the In-Between,” the Gray Man declares.
I stay rolled up in a ball.
He sighs. “You can do that. Just lie there. But something here will bother you.”
“Like you,” I snarl.
“No. I only want to talk. These things will devour your soul.”
“I don’t care.”
“You know you’re dead?” he inquires.
That does it. I stand up and scowl at him.
“I was burned up! Of course I’m dead! Do you think I’m stupid?”
One of those annoying crystalline Christmas trees starts singing more loudly in my direction, and I am pissed! Still facing me, the Gray Man snaps his arm out in a stop gesture in the tree’s direction. Abruptly, the singing ends.
“Look at yourself,” he offers.
I look down and see that I wearing my Fight the Power T-shirt and jeans. My hands are brown, unburned. Unlike the Gray Man, I have feet; I’m wearing sneakers. I touch my face and feel it. The Gray Man has no face, just an empty space darker than this void he calls the In-Between. He wears a trench coat, suit coat, dress shirt, pants, and gloves, all gray.
“I guess this is just an illusion,” I mutter.
“It’s called glamour. You can think of it as your avatar.”
I ask softly, “OK, so when do I get to stop.”
“Being. Existing. Taking up space.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“What? Do you think I’m going to go someplace nice and be thankful my parents and my dog got killed by some racist monster?”
The Gray Man sighs. “You really want Oblivion? You could be with your parents.”
“They can go to Heaven or whatever bullshit place it’s called! I’m not doing it!”
The Gray Man tilts his black hole-like head and crosses his arms.
“I have another idea,” he says.
I want him to just go away. But curiosity is still a part of dead me.
“You could work for me,” he offers.
“Kids don’t work,” I state.
“Living kids don’t. And they only don’t in some countries, by the way. But you stopped being a child as soon as your soul was torn from your body by a murderous act.”
I know he’s telling the truth. I feel like a woman, not a child. My thoughts seem aged, like I was carrying this older spirit in me the whole time.
“So what’s the job?”
“You become a revenant. You will be summoned by a blood sacrifice. Then you will appear in the mortal world in physical form and devour the soul of the target, always a ruthless and powerful murderer. One who thinks themselves untouchable.”
My anger swells like a raging storm. Destroying these bastards sounds fantastic.
“And after I’ve killed this target, what do I get?”
“What do you want?”
“To be nothing. Oblivion. That’s my price.”
“But there is so much more…”
“Take it or leave it, Gray Man.”
He pauses. Then he points a gloved hand at me. I gasp. My spirit shivers like ice water has been poured down my back.
“I will teach you how to be a revenant,” he proclaims. “After that, you will cease to exist until summoned. Agreed?”
I’m dreaming. I’m nine, running with Ebony’s leather toy and he is chasing me. I leap on the couch and Ebony licks my face until I let go of his toy, and then he runs off with it and I chase him, laughing. The dream fades, and I am here. Back in the mortal world. A floating wraith over the body of my client, who is enclosed by a circle of salt. The blood from her wrists has pooled within the salt. I take its life energy as payment and solidify my body costume, lowering to the floor. As the Gray Man taught me, I read the enchanted script on her exposed torso. Details of my target, a mass murderer. I lock onto his aura so exquisitely reproduced by the script, like a fragment of a nightmare trapped in ink.
I look around. I’m on the first floor of a house standing in what appears to be a personal library, a wood-paneled room with a chair, writing desk, and ornate lamp fancy enough to be on Antiques Roadshow. My client had money. It didn’t protect them.
I walk to the bathroom and look in the mirror. I am a twentyish white male, with wavy blonde hair and a moustache. I am wearing a white polo shirt and navy-blue pants. I look like my client’s murdered son. I draw air into my body costume through my fake nose. In. And out. Have to practice to appear alive. The repercussions of people generally accepting that the dead can return is unpalatable to the Gray Man. I don’t care personally, but I don’t want to be stuck in the In-Between or worse by messing up this job. Looking like a murder victim seems like the same dead-come-back-to-life deal to me, but I suppose as long as I don’t socialize and just get the job done, no problem. I’ll be gone and less than a memory.
I sense an aura approaching the front door. Tremendous fear. Urgency. Love. My client’s wife. She opens the door and rushes to the library. I fade and stand by the books.
She gives a strangled cry and drops to her knees before the salt circle.
“You didn’t have to,” she whispers. “There had to be another way.” She reaches out to gently touch my client’s face.
Without turning to face me, she says, “You don’t have to hide. I can see you.”
“Will you do it?”
“Make him suffer first, please.”
I nod again. Then I walk out of the house, leaving the grief in my wake.
The target is thousands of miles away on a Pacific Island. A tropical paradise. It doesn’t matter. His aura is a beacon to me. He could have been on Mars. It would take a few years, but I’d get there.
My vaporous form glides across the ocean. I just let my tracking sense pull me in the right direction. I notice the auras of birds and fish rushing past me. A killer whale, breaching the water, sends a thought to me. Good hunting! Well, that was unexpected.
As I solidify and land on the deserted western beach of the island at dawn, an ancient woman dressed in a multicolored robe and shells, her face painted with unknown symbols, suddenly appears. Her aura gives off the distinct impression of “island protector.”
I bow. The Gray Man has taught me mystical etiquette. In deadspeech, speaking without air, I intone, “Ancient one, blessings be upon you.”
“Cut the crap,” she replies. Her deadspeech is a mixture of the gurgling of the drowned and the rumbling of active volcanoes. Her eyes narrow. “Did one of my people send for you?”
“No. I was contracted by a client in the United States.”
“Good,” she huffs. “I don’t like revenants doing my job here.”
“Oh, you’re in the revenge business too?”
She chuckles. “Yeah, for over four thousand years.” Then she leans forward and whispers, “I’m well preserved,” and cackles.
She looks me over and nods. “Well, go to it then. And don’t make a mess.”
I bow again. “Yes, ancient one.” When I look up, she is already gone.
The target is in a ranch house. There are beautiful chestnut brown horses inside fenced-in fields on either side of a truck-wide, mile-long driveway that ends at the only major road on the island. I let my body costume feel the ocean breeze, taste the salty spray in the air, as I walk slowly up the driveway. Now that I have permission, I could turn into my vaporous form and land right at the target’s front door. But that would get this over too fast.
Four men with rifles see me approaching. They raise their weapons. One calls out,
“Stop or we’ll shoot! Turn around and go back where you came from. This is private property.”
Go back where you came from? Well, I’m trying to do that, guy, if you just let me do my job.
I keep walking towards them and they start shooting. Quite the marksmen. I’d say top marks if the bullets didn’t just pass through me.
Once I reach the porch, the hilarity begins. The bullets didn’t work, so why not try fists and knives? I shake my head as they flail about, turn to mist, and glide under the door.
The target is in the kitchen. He sees me become corporeal and blanches. He runs for the living room. I dissolve and reappear in front of him. He screams and I grab him by the throat. He tries to pull off my hands, to no avail. His men are on top of me now, straining, trying to pull me off. The Gray Man told me a story during my training about the immovable object. When my quarry is literally in my grasp, that’s me.
“Please,” the target begs. “I can pay you!”
“You know what they say,” I reply, raspy words vibrating in my empty husk. “Money can’t buy happiness.” I move my hands just enough to clamp them down on his head, and my claws pop out. They are four-inch black knives that cut through his skull like butter. His eyes roll back, and his soul tries to fly out. I grab it with one claw. At this point, his men give up and are running for the door. I stretch my costume jaws wide enough to swallow a cantaloupe. I can hear the deadspeech of the target’s wriggling soul, oddly begging for divine intervention. Seems hypocritical. I swallow him whole.
Men jump into cars and flee from the ranch. No one comes until three days later when a veterinarian stops by to check on the horses. Seeing no sign of people, he enters the house to find the target’s corpse. There are five holes drilled on either side of his head.
Part 2: The Revenant and the Contractor
I always come back to the same memory. I'm running through my house, my puppy Ebony barking and chasing after me. I'm holding his half-chewed leather toy. I can't stop laughing. Eventually I jump onto the living room couch, and Ebony is leaping at me. He starts licking my face until I can't see. I drop the toy, he scampers off with it, and the chase continues.
The dream fades away. Awareness flares and I am reborn. Into the mortal world.
The circle of salt is poorly done. I see gaps everywhere. The dead woman, my client, lies naked on her back, cooling inside the circle, the blood from her wrists seeping into the carpet. Her payment for my services. I stare at the binding tattoos drawn all over her torso and read her post-mortem instructions. I could have just fled the circle due to its poor mystical construction and returned to oblivion. But what's the fun in that?
As moments pass, my wispy structure begins to solidify. Gravity reasserts itself. That allows me to crouch down over my client and to do the hard thing. To breathe. Just a little. I gather a faint scent in my nose–mirage. The scent is a heady mixture of despair, a mother's love, and rage. Yes, I will definitely take this case.
There is sound now. Drip. Drip. A faucet. Like the one I got water from. For Ebony's bowl. OK, stop it. Keep focused. You're on the job.
I look down at my hands. Small and light brown. I must be 8 or 9. The me-dress drapes over my now-legs, shiny and silky looking. Reminds me of when I was a little girl. Briefly, I allow my skin costume to feel. For a moment I smile and relish the caress of silk. Then frowning, I turn it off. Party tricks. Mortal meanderings.
The skin-inscribed case notes on my client’s body are detailed. Her daughter, whose appearance I mimic, was raped and strangled. The authorities could not arrest the monster who committed the crime. DNA samples were collected, then lost. Eyewitnesses to her daughters’ abduction (there were five) were found dead or had disappeared. My client's tattoos aren't words. They are a story in pictures that move on my client's chest and stomach like a film, if you know how to coax them. I've had practice.
The face of the man, the target, appears above her navel. I see his aura, like black jagged spikes in a halo of poisonous green, and I shudder, flickering in and out of the here-now. The electric bulbs in the room pulse with each existential oscillation. Once I settle down, I am locked onto the target.
There is a knock at the front door.
“Jill? Are you in there? I see your car out front. Jill, it’s been two days since I last heard from you. Please open the door.”
Soft purple aura on the other side of the door. Female adult. A healer. A listener. A friend to my client.
Seeing Jill dead on the floor would be bad. Seeing me would be worse.
I call on the tools my client gave me as I walk up to the door. And I use physics. Pull air into my hollow, body costume and then slowly expel and vibrate it. Very difficult. I choose sounding ill.
“Pam…” I say hoarsely. “I'm OK. Just have a bad cold. Ah-choo! Just need to rest, OK? I don’t want you to catch this.”
“Alright. Call me if you need anything, OK?”
“OK. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
After a few minutes, Pam’s aura is so weak that she must have left the apartment building. Fully corporeal, brown-skinned with corn-rolled black hair like Jill's daughter in life, I grasp the doorknob and exit, gently closing the door behind me. I glance around the second-floor landing and stairs. No one inside the other apartments are approaching their doors to the hallway. So, I descend the stairs in me-shoes and realize I'm not breathing. Pausing on the stairs, eyes closed, I practice a slow rhythm. In. And out. Continuing to walk down the stairs, I keep up the rhythm. Breathing and walking at the same time. Only way to not look dead.
Before I exit the building, I sense the living beings on the street. Just a few people walking on this side close to the door. One dog. Of course. I wait until the dog walker is barely a whisper of an aura, then I come out. It's late afternoon. All the way down the street, the black Labrador whips around in my direction, barking wildly and straining on his master's leash. The man, very confused, gets the dog under control. I look down at the sidewalk and scurry away. Just a dead black girl in a pink party dress. Nothing to see here.
The target is close. I let my feet direct me without focusing. This part is easy. Gives me the time to play tourist. I pass an old, abandoned elementary school, then I stop. Slowly, I turn to face the school and look at a third-floor window. The ghost of a little boy waves at me. I smile and wave back. Then I move on.
I encounter a local gift shop, Genevieve's Gifts. Looking in the storefront window I see handmade dolls from around the world. I long to enter but I don't have a mission-valid reason. Lollygagging in the mortal world can be addictive. And these dolls remind me too much of living. When it was good.
As I admire the craftsmanship, one of the African dolls winks at me. Then it slowly curls its right plastic hand and beckons me to approach. Well, that's a reason to enter the store!
A tinny bell chimes as I open the door. The proprietress looks up from arranging glass ornaments on a table. “Good afternoon! My, what a pretty dress!”
Inhale. Expel slowly. Modulate to little girl pitch. “Thank you.”
“My name is Genevieve,” she says offering her hand. “What's yours?”
I shake her hand, her warmth encasing a dry papery emptiness. Pause. A name. Not the dead girl.
Genevieve smiles. “Pleased to meet you, Tabitha. Are your parents with you?”
“No, we live in the apartment building on the corner. Um, my parents said I could check out this store.”
“That's great! Please look around.”
She returns to her arranging, and I walk directly to the doll display. I pick up the African doll gently and place its face near my ear. It whispers in my mind, reminiscent of deadspeech.
Huntress, I know of spirits like you. Only greater evil is your prey. Your quarry came here. He bought a doll. He stinks of magic. He tried to hold me, but I burned his hand. After he dropped me, he glared at me and bowed. Strange, horrible man. I wish I could have done more.
Not just a pedophile. Not just a child murderer. A sorcerer. He could stop me. This is bad. I've never had to bring in an outside contractor before.
“You like that doll?”
Startled, my body costume blurs. I can't believe I let Genevieve sneak up on me.
Hugging the doll, I turn to her, make eye contact. Smile. No teeth. Too hard to fake.
“She's beautiful!” I see the brief confusion in Genevieve’s eyes, replaced by accepting the here and now. Thankfully.
With the doll still cradled next to my ear, I turn back toward the other dolls to let Genevieve walk away, rubbing her temple.
My maker can help you, the doll continues.
Why would your maker do that? I inquire via thought.
She would want you to succeed. She made me to protect a child in the future. My maker loves children. She has ten, only four from her loins.
I mull it over. What's your maker's name?
Theresa LeBeau. I get an immediate image. Dark skinned, 60ish, short grey curls, blue-green aura streaked with lightning. Powerful.
Can you contact her? I ask.
Yes. She hears my thoughts. She says to come to her house, 125th Street and Madison Avenue.
OK. I'll come right now. Thank you. What is your name?
I have none until my girl names me. It is our people's way. What's your name?
I pause. I don’t breathe. Then I take up air and whisper, “I don’t have a name. Not anymore.”
I return the doll to her spot in the display and smooth her dress. As I leave the store, I thank Genevieve, who looks up at me quickly with a fake smile and then looks away at the table. So much for accepting the here and now.
Mrs. LeBeau isn't a target, but her connection to her doll is so strong that her aura is like a beacon that cuts through buildings. I just walk toward it. Once the sun disappears and the only light comes from streetlamps and houses, I dissolve my substance and fly as a wraith toward Mrs. LeBeau's home. If seen, I would appear to be windblown mist.
I coalesce into my girl-costume just in front of the house. The barriers on this house would shred me back to oblivion. I wait.
Theresa LeBeau comes out of her house and walks up to her fence. The edge of the ghost-eating barrier.
“So, you need my help,” Mrs. LeBeau states flatly. “I've never helped a revenant before. Why should I start now?”
I look around, scanning for movements of auras in my direction. Or other entities. I don't like talking out in the open like this.
“Your doll said you'd want to help.”
“What does a doll know? A doll just wants to be loved.”
I frown. “Excuse me for wasting your time.”
“Now hold on! Just tell me why you want my help.”
I'm exasperated. “I can't do this on my own! He's too powerful.”
She nods. “You speak the truth.” Mrs. LeBeau tilts her head and stares at me curiously.
Then her eyes soften. “Burdens are for the living, child.”
My eyes harden. “Will you help me or not?”
She steps back and sweeps her hand toward the front door, which slowly opens. The barrier falls. I nod my head at her and walk into her home.
Porcelain dolls, plastic dolls, glass figurines, wooden totems, liquid-filled vials, and necklaces cover the three-tiered cabinet in the foyer. In the living room, there is no TV, computer, of stereo. Just five ornately carved wooden tables covered with the same kinds of crafts. And an overstuffed green couch against the wall below the shade-drawn windows.
“How do you find anything?” I ask.
Mrs. LeBeau chuckles and sits on the couch. She looks at me and pats the seat next to her. I sit down, solidifying.
An orange tabby pads into this room. I frown. Cats, like dogs, don't like me. This one looks up at me. Then it leaps into my costume lap and settles in. I freeze. What is going on?
I barely form the words. “Why…why isn't your cat scared of me?” I tentatively pet the cat. It starts to purr.
“Rachel isn't afraid of much. And you aren't a threat here. So. There you are.”
I look at Mrs. LeBeau suspiciously, knowing I'm only getting half of the story, but I let it go.
“I have a necklace. A talisman,” she explains, and one appears in her hand. “It will let you get past his defenses, but it won't stop him from tearing you from this world if he gets to you first.” She places the talisman on my neck. A brief glimpse. An explosion launching daggers of searing light. I wince.
I consider her advice. “Then I'll have to catch him off guard and kill him quickly.”
Mrs. LeBeau rubs her chin. “Slim chance. A man like him, he’s paranoid. Better to let him see you coming. He'll think he has the upper hand. You won't be an apparent threat to his defenses. As a revenant, you shouldn’t have to be sneaky. If he catches you being sneaky, all of his defenses will be in play.”
“So, I don't let him catch me.”
She raises her eyebrows. “I’ve got a better idea.”
Later that same night, I walk up to the target. He is a middle-aged man, trim, pale skin, Armani suit, radiating arrogance. Invulnerability. He has opened the trunk of a car. There is a little girl tied up in the trunk. Unconscious. Mocha skin. Pink dress. He has a type. My claws come out.
The target spins on his heel and stares at me. Instead of fear, I sense boredom. He yawns and gestures for me to hurry up.
I strike for his throat with my claws. His arcane shield collapses and his eyes widen in shock as the blood sprays from his throat. Amazingly, a small gesture from him simultaneously seals his carotid artery and shoves me back. With a flick of the wrist, he casts an exploding sphere of jagged, black lightning spikes toward me as I dissipate and reform across the street, running for the alley.
“Bitch! You can't get away from me!” he howls. Then a moment later, he shouts “Goddamn it!” He has just discovered that the girl is gone. Thank you, Mrs. LeBeau.
As I wait at the end of the alley, I hear the roar of the target’s car, then the headlights as it swerves into the alley. I see air crystallize behind the car. No exit for me.
His eyes fix on my talisman. He smirks and nods.
Then he whips his head around and snarls a word that reverberates outside the car, warping the air in ripples. Anchored by the brick walls of the alley, a translucent web of steel-like strength materializes behind his car just as a truck smashes into it. For a brief moment, invisible runes on front of the truck erupt in brilliant purple flames, the web shatters, and the truck rams into the target’s car. His car is launched into the brick wall at the end of the alley and through my body costume. The windshield shatters and the air bag explodes into his face.
Before he can get his bearings, I discorporate swiftly and rematerialize in the front passenger seat. My claws come out and I grab the sides of his head, my claws piercing his skull like knives through soft cheese, destroying his brain. Swiftly, his spirit sheds his body and hovers, and for an instant he sees the little black girl in a pink dress. Then he sees the real me beneath the body costume. Understandably, he tries to flee.
I snatch him out of the air with my claws. I stretch my jaws until they are as wide as my head. The target cannot scream, but I hear the deadspeech nonononononono as I swallow him whole.
Mrs. LeBeau leans out of the driver side window in the truck.
“All set?” she shouts.
My job is done. Time for oblivion. Again. Well, it was my choice. I look at Mrs. LeBeau’s kind, fierce eyes. Working with her was excellent. I wish this could last. But nothing lasts. I give her a departing thumbs up. “Thank you.”
Mrs. LeBeau stares at the empty space where a little girl once stood and sees the necklace on the ground. She leaves her truck and wipes tears from her eyes as she picks up the necklace and places it around her neck. As she walks out of the alley and turns down the street, she chants and gestures behind her. There is an explosion in the alley. Fire, smoke, and flying bits of metal and glass erupt behind her.
As Mrs. LeBeau approaches the steps of a house halfway down the street, a mocha-skinned girl in a pink dress appears out of thin air lying unconscious on the porch. Mrs. LeBeau picks the girl up in her arms and carries her the thirty blocks home.
When she arrives home, completely exhausted, her cat Rachel is awake and waiting for her inside. After Mrs. LeBeau gently deposits the girl on the couch and covers her with a blanket. Rachel jumps onto the couch, snuggles next to the girl, and purrs.
“The doll will be happy now, Rachel.” Mrs. LeBeau says softly. “I have found the girl she is to protect.”
Rachel makes a questioning mew.
“The revenant is gone, Rachel. Gone from all the worlds.”
Rachel makes a strange chit-chit noise, like when she finds a mouse or a beetle.
Mrs. LeBeau is startled. “But that’s not possible. She is nowhere to be found. You cannot know she will return.”
Rachel’s eyelids wink slowly at Mrs. LeBeau’s confused expression as she purrs even louder.
Part 3: The Client Remains
Having just arrived in the mortal realm, I am barely a presence as I hover over the body of my client. I am a harsh whisper, a forgotten cruelty, a fragment of a nightmare. I see the corpse of a male child, jet black straight hair, maybe 10 or 11 years old, bare torso, lying on his back in the circle of salt and am puzzled. And anguished that my client is not an adult. I didn't think I could feel that. Anger, sure. Hate, you betcha. But anguish? Surprising.
I must be in a motel room. There’s just a bed, nightstand, TV, and bathroom, with the morning sun peeking through the closed blinds of the single window. The blood from the child's wrists is soaked into the carpet. The payment has been made. With a life freely given, the contract is ironclad. But the script written, no, burned (cigarette?) on the boy's stomach is only the invocation, what called me here. I don’t sense further mystical script anywhere on the body. There is no apparent target. None of this makes sense. I absorb the blood debt and begin to solidify. My body costume feels odd. I look at my hands. They are those of a nine-year old black girl. I hear the barking of a dog.
Ebony? my mind calls to the void.
More barking. Ebony! My puppy is here?
My body costume begins to shake, to unravel. I have to get it together. Ebony is not here! She died when I was fourteen. Just like me. Just like my parents. Trapped in a fire. Murdered.
When my body costume stops blurring, I let gravity take over and sink lightly onto the carpet. I walk over to the bathroom and look in the mirror. Just what I thought. It's me when I was nine, soft brown face, dressed in a Pokémon T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, with hair in tight short braids. That's why I could hear Ebony barking. Echoes from the kinder aspects of my past. Back when I was innocent. Of all the stupid body costumes to take on for a client!
What the hell is going on?
Condensing behind me is an entity. My claws come out and I whip around. I snarl a warning in deadspeech, in the vibrations of the realms of the undead. No air needed. Message clearly sent.
The entity is a ghost. Its aura matches my client's like a fingerprint. So, my client is now a ghost. I am not comfortable with that.
I growl in deadspeech. What are you still doing in the mortal world?
The boy ghost nearly disintegrates from fear. OK, time for me to play nice.
I didn't mean to frighten you, I say gently. Please stay.
The boy ghost partially solidifies into a wispy, transparent form.
You came, he says.
I shrug. The summoning was complete, so I appeared. It's my job. You left the target off your body script, which means that I can return to oblivion. And you...should move on to … wherever. Or not.
I have the target, he explains. I just wanted to tell you myself.
I roll my fake eyes. I'm the revenant, I explain. I’m the one who kills the target. All you needed to do was write it down.
I want to go with you, he begs.
I inhale some air just so I can sigh.
You can't leave this apartment. You're bound to it because you’re a ghost.
He cries out, I can bind myself to you. Then I can…
I roar and grab his barely condensed form, sending my anger through him. If I weren’t holding him, he would fly apart.
Are you a fool! If you are bound to me, when this is over, you will be nothing! There is no afterlife for me! I only come when summoned and otherwise I don’t exist! Do you understand?
The boy wails. I let him go, retract my claws, and settle down.
Who is the target?
A pulsating red aura, streaked with a writhing black wraith worms, appears in front of my client. I hear the howl of dozens of souls ripped from their lives by this man. Mostly children. I stare at it and establish my link. Target acquired.
Who taught you the summoning? Why did you…
But it’s too late. He has already dissolved into the In-Between, so I can't see him. My questions about my client will have to keep. I need to figure out why I look like myself. It’s unprofessional. I check for auras outside the door. With the coast clear, I exit and begin the hunt.
The place where my client summoned me is a dump, nothing but a seedy two-story motel. I guess a child paying for a room didn’t even seem odd here. I am outside on the second-floor landing approaching the stairs when I see two beefy men in black suits rushing up the staircase with guns drawn. They ignore me, stop in front of the door to my client’s room, and one behemoth kicks in the door. Now I’m curious. I shed my body costume and become a wraith, hard to see except as mist in the bright sun, and glide to the doorway. If I slipped into the In-Between, I would be truly invisible, but that place lets you rest and contemplate things. Not my cup of tea.
The men are laughing as they re-holster their guns. They start to converse in Spanish; living languages all make sense to me.
“The boss will be pleased.”
“Yeah, we don’t have to worry about him squealing.”
“I wonder why he offed himself like this?”
“Who the fuck knows? His mother was a witch. They’re all crazy.”
“We should get rid of the body.”
They pull the bedsheet off and wrap the body in it, then wrap it in the blanket.
“These cheap sheets and blankets are highly flammable,” says the slightly shorter hulk. He pulls out a metal flask from inside his jacket and pours the contents all over the blanket. I can’t smell it with no body costume, but by the amber color I would guess whiskey. The other flicks open a lighter. I should leave now, get back on the trail of the target. But they’re going to burn his body and that makes me furious.
I condense in front of the men suddenly, inches away. They jump back and pull their guns.
“Who the fuck are you?” the taller one shouts.
I smile and reply, “Nobody” in Spanish.
They start shooting. What a waste of bullets.
My claws come out and I slash at the arms bearing their guns. They howl, drop their weapons, and collapse to the ground in a near faint, each grasping his bleeding, torn arm with his other hand. I was told that the pain from my claws is excruciating, like feeling glass shards being pushed under your skin while the outside of your skin is being boiled in acid. I think about killing them, but then I would disappear for good. That was made clear at the outset of my taking this revenant gig. Only kill targets.
So I just roar at them, showing my true face, threatening them with claws raised. Screaming, they scramble backwards and rush out of the motel room, leaving their guns behind. I smile and take in a whiff. Oh, they’re going to have to get their suit pants cleaned.
Back on the trail of the target. A young black woman is approaching me on the sidewalk pushing a stroller. She is smiling at me.
“You go, girl!” she says.
What was that for? Then I notice that I’ve been skipping. What the hell? Next, I’ll be asking the neighborhood kids if they want to play.
Subdued, not skipping, I continue down the street. Scaring those thugs probably just made me a little happy…
I stop. I take in a breath and expel “Happy?”
I vigorously shake my head, but as it’s empty (really, not a joke), it doesn’t have the intended effect of clearing my thoughts. This job is briefly going on pause.
Ducking into an alleyway, I wait until I sense no entities of any kind, then I do the one thing I don’t want to do. In the shadows of the alleyway, I enter the In-Between. In this soul-constricting darkness, there are various entities hanging around. Some are lit up like crystalline Christmas trees singing gloriously. Another entity is invisible, but when it passes too close, its whispered deadspeech makes me struggle to exist and I feel like raw meat gnashed between giant teeth. There is a drifting, roiling dragon made of lightning flying over a bunch of wispy human spirits mostly here then gone, except my client that I pick out of the crowd. And finally, whatever that means in this place of no-time, my recruiter appears. Same as always. Seemingly a six-foot human man with a penchant for gray, as in gray trench coat, suit, dress shirt, tie, pants, gloves, and Fedora, but darkness where there should be a face, and no feet. Appropriately, I call him the Gray Man, which he doesn’t mind.
As he appears to walk towards me, I say, “Still couldn’t find gray loafers to match, Gray Man?”
“Not in my size,” the Gray Man responds warmly. “What are you doing in the In-Between? You despise this place.”
“Yes, I do, but I have some questions and you said that I could ask you about things.”
He chuckles and clasps his gloved hands demurely in front. “About some things,” he admonishes.
“First, why do I look like this? I’m supposed to look like a murder victim.”
“You are a murder victim.”
“Not one my client cares about.”
The Gray Man steeples his fingers in front of his nonexistent face and taps them against…nothing, I guess.
“So I take it your client is a child,” he surmises.
“Empathy can affect your body costume’s appearance.”
I groan. Groaning in deadspeech in the In-Between has a pronounced effect on some entities. One of the Christmas tree-like beings notices me and sings in my direction. Very uplifting. Soul stirring even. I need to get the hell out of here.
“OK, I get it. Can I change it?” I ask
“Anytime you want. It’s a costume. Your client doesn’t really tell you how to look. That’s mostly how you interpreted their instructions.”
You can’t have a body costume in the In-Between. We are all just wearing massless glamour for show, like an avatar. But still, I now appear as a I did when I was a pre-murdered fourteen-year old. A black teenage girl in corn rolls wearing a white T-shirt with an upraised black fist. I keep the jeans.
“Anything else?” the Gray Man asks.
I pause. Then I ask softly, “How long has it been since my last job?”
“Twelve Earth years.”
Wow! How time flies when you’re dead and gone.
“Is…is Theresa LeBeau still alive?”
“Ah. Your sorceress outside contractor. Yes, she is.”
“Last question. Can I visit her?”
“Only if your paths cross again on a job.”
My client, the boy ghost, hovers towards us.
“Until we meet again,” the Gray Man says as he slowly disappears.
My client is more substantial in the In-Between, but his spectral form is still unsteady.
I ask gently, “So, are you going to tell me why you did it?”
“It was the only way I knew to stop the man who killed all those kids,” he explains. “The traffickers stole me off the street in Nicaragua at a market. I was shopping for my abuela. She was the one who taught me magic. I learned all the summoning spells I could, but I only ever tried this one because I knew that they were coming for me. I was dead anyway. At least I could make it count.”
“They took you to America and sold you?”
“Yes, with a bunch of other kids. We cleaned houses for rich people, but they also used us for sex. One of the rich men, the target, had twenty of us in one house, boys and girls. He killed them when they got too old. I tried to keep him off me with a shocking spell, but he drugged me with food one night. I never felt such pain and he wouldn’t stop. I had been corroding the iron bars in the windows a little each night with a ruin spell, so I took my chance, busted through the window, and ran. I got to the motel, bought cigarettes, got a room. You know the rest.”
“When you died…you know you might not have stayed.”
“My abuela taught me how to the tether the spirit to the body. I traveled with her to the In-Between twice when I was alive.”
“Not bad, kid. What’s your name?”
“You’re pretty savvy, Estefan. But it’s time for me to finish this for you.”
“OK. So, uh, what’s your name?”
I smile and shake my head. “I’m just the revenant.” And then I walk out of the In-Between and continue after the target.
Standing at the gated entrance, I can see that the target’s house is a mansion. It is surrounded by eight-foot high hedges, but the fencing is climbable. Probably electrified since Estefan’s escape. There is a spraying fountain creating a cone of mist in a circular stone driveway in front of seven-foot tall, steel double doors. Two guards similar to the ones I scared off stand to either side of the steel doors. No other guards are evident.
I discorporate and my wispy form swirls past the fountain first, camouflaging my tenuous nature behind the jet-generated mists. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I had to deal with a sorcerer target that could have taken me out if it weren’t for Theresa LeBeau. Once the guards briefly look toward the gate, I keep low and rush between them and under the steel doors. On the other side I see two more guards sitting in chairs playing cards at a table. I keep going, tracking the aura of the target up the stairs. There is a young girl crying behind the target’s door. I try to flow under the door and am instantly repelled.
I solidify in front of the door and am impressed. There are wards all over the door and the walls on either side of the door. I guess my client being a grandson of a witch made the target superstitious. So the door and the walls are no-go. Probably the window too. But was the target really thorough?
I channel my vaporous form through the miniscule crack under a windowsill on the second-floor landing and fly to the attic window directly over the target’s room. As expected, this old windowsill is a sieve and I easily flow into the dusty attic. I solidify and crouch to the floor where I can hear the muffled screams of the girl and the target’s grunting. I take a claw, jam it into the wooden floor, and pull it out, leaving a small hole. Nope, he didn’t ward the ceiling.
I rush through the hole like a billowing cloud and condense in mid-air over the naked target, who is pinning the screaming little girl to the bed. As I land on him, I slam my claws into his back. He screams and rolls off the bed and I jump to the floor. The little girl runs for the door and I hear shouting downstairs. The target is curled up on the carpet, howling from the pain of my attack, so I crouch down and drill my clawed hands through his skull. His spirit flies out, I grab it, and stretching my body costume jaws as wide as my head, I swallow his spirit whole.
But I don’t disappear. I finished the job. I should be gone.
The goons barrel in and start shooting. As I stand there, I think that I’ve got a little more to do. I slash my claws across the men in this room, flow as vapor between them, coalesce downstairs and attack the other guards who have guns blasting. I show my true face with abandon and start laughing. Blood and gore fly everywhere. After a minute, several guards run out of the mansion and head for the gate. I fly ahead of them and stay wraith-like in front of the gate. Before they scatter, I do something unusual for me. I flow into each of their brains and stare at their souls. They promptly faint. After I re-establish my body costume, I tie up all of the guards with zip-ties they are already equipped with. The ones upstairs are still in agony, so I zip-tie them, collect their guns and the ones outside and hide them in the enormous hedges. I go over to a control panel by the front door and open the gate.
Slowly, children begin to peek out of rooms. I know they’re scared of me. I use one of the guards’ cell phones and call 911.
The operator picks up. “911. Do you want fire, ambulance, or police?”
Modulate the air. Sound like a mature woman. “I need ambulance and police. The address is 1000 Mission Park Terrace. There are children here. I think they’ve been trafficked, raped. Men are tied up, injured, one is dead upstairs. Their guns are in the hedges near the gate, which I’ve left open. You’ll need Child Protective Services too. And a Spanish translator.”
“Ma’am, that’s 1000 Mission Park Terrace? James Devereaux’s mansion?”
“OK. Police and ambulance are on their way. We’ll get these children help, ma’am. You just stay on the line.”
After a minute, a little girl picks up the cell phone lying on the floor. She is shaking, because she watched the black girl just disappear. She speaks into the phone. “Policía?”
In the In-Between, Estefan holds the hand of his abuela and they wink out in a flash of light.
Later, the police haul away the men at the mansion and hand the children over to Child Protective Services. CSI takes photos of the body. There are lots of news vans. A black SUV with tinted windows and US government plates pulls up. A pale, rugged young man with a blond buzz cut and a black suit steps out of the driver’s side of the SUV and flashes his badge at the uniformed officers at the edge of the crime scene tape. “Special Agent Monroe, FBI.” He walks up the stairs to where he can hear the detective talking to the crime scene techs. He looks carefully at the symbols on the door and walls, then pokes his head in, flashing his badge again.
“Excuse me, detective. I’m Special Agent Monroe, FBI. Just hear to take a quick peek. Not trying to step on toes.”
The detective’s eyes narrow suspiciously. “Sure. Just don’t fuck up my crime scene.”
Special Agent Monroe looks up at the ceiling. There is a tiny whole in it where dust is drifting down from the attic. He smiles.
“Rookie mistake,” he says softly to himself. Then he returns to his SUV and drives away.
The In-Between. I know it because I can feel the constant pressure; the agony of thousands of murdered souls has weight. And of course, there are the weird transient entities. But I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t even exist.
The Gray Man appears in front of me.
“Why am I in the In-Between?” I ask. I hate how disoriented I feel.
The Gray Man says, “You seem to want to renegotiate the terms of your job.”
“What do you mean?”
“You stayed after the assignment. That was your choice.”
“I...it didn’t seem finished.”
The Gray Man nods. “You are a most intriguing revenant.”
I sense mystical forces coalescing around me. I’m in an office. Desk, desk chair, lamps. Well-lit. A chair in front of the desk. No window, but a door. The feeling in here is less oppressive. I open the door and walk back into the soul compressing outside. The Gray Man is hovering, his hands clasped behind his back.
“Do you like it?” he asks.
“This office? What’s it for?”
“It’s yours. If you want it.”
“Why would I need an office?”
“To help those who don’t need ancient mystical knowledge to summon you. After all, you seem to want to provide greater services than just contract killing for the magical elite.”
I frown. I did help those kids. I…cared.
The Gray Man leans toward me and whispers from his non-existent face, “Oblivion abhors self-realization.”
“What about the blood debt?” I ask.
“A choice this time. One who sacrifices all, or nine adult volunteers who bring themselves to death’s door, bleeding into that perfect circle of salt.”
“How will the nine know if they’ve completed the ritual? Some may not make it.”
“That’s the risk they take. It’s called a sacrifice, after all. The blood will glow magnificently before you appear. I like a bit of showmanship. Although only the caretakers of the nine will notice the glow due to the nine falling unconscious from blood loss. A pity really.”
“No special rituals?”
“Not for the nine. But they have to seek you out in the In-Between first and get your promise to help in exchange for the blood debt.”
“Huh. Summoning for the people, Gray Man? How will anyone know about this?”
“In dreams. For those with the need. I enjoy the Dreamscape as much as you despise the In-Between.”
I stare at the door of the office. I place my right hand, no claws this time, on the door, and close my eyes. As I remove my hand, I smile. There is a plaque:
The Gray Man says gently, “Aren’t you missing something?”
I hesitate. Tentatively, I reach out with my forefinger to write the final word in script above the title. It’s just glamour; no ink needed, but it’s still hard for me to do. After all, I’m just the revenant. Here to do a job, then gone. But I guess that’s changed. My spirit is quaking so badly I’m sure that damn Christmas-tree thing wants to sing to me. There. It’s done.
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