Wraith and Ruin: Chapter Three

Happy Friday, lovelies! I hope you enjoy this week’s installment of Wraith and Ruin!

If you missed the previous chapters, you can find them here:

Chapter Three

Jack

She didn’t accept phone calls. When I called the number Jay Donnelly had given me, it was to hear a recording of a waspish voice tell me to fucking email like a normal person. That was followed by an email address, and the message had come to an abrupt stop. It was like being hung up on. By voicemail. Which was really a whole new level of shade and I was starting to get why he’d called her a hardass.

So I’d emailed. Told her I had a client who needed to get out of her deal.

Waited a day and didn’t get a response.

Emailed again.

And then she’d emailed me back.

Unless you have $100,000 for me to even look at your case, and another $400,000 if I get her off, you’re wasting your time. And from what I’ve seen about you, you don’t have that kind of cash, hunter.

And that felt like being hung up on too, and I wondered how the hell she managed that with email. 

The days were slipping by, each one bringing us closer to the end of Marissa Laurence’s time on Earth, the end of her time free from the clutches of a particularly nasty-ass demon who was going to make her his personal pet.

And the lawyer, Serena Hawkins… she was right. I didn’t have that kind of cash. Marissa’s friends didn’t either, even if I did feel okay telling them that demons are real and the reason their friend had been numbing herself with drugs and alcohol for the past few years was that one owned her soul, and her time was almost up. How do you tell people something like that? I mean, if they’re calling me, they at least are open to the idea that bad shit exists, beyond the realms of possibility. But being open to that and hearing that one of your friends are in danger from it… no. They thought Marissa had been freaked out by the hauntings at the market and had taken off because of that. For the time being, I was fine letting them think that.

I sat on my bed in my crappy little hotel room in Detroit. I’d emailed Serena again, with no response. So I sent another one an hour ago, and as cleaned my guns, I heard my email alert ping. I set the gun down on the nightstand and picked up my laptop. 

Message from Serena. I took a deep breath and opened it.

Are you stupid or just masochistic? You can’t pay. We both know it. Stop wasting my time.

I chuckled and emailed back.

Stupid, no. Masochistic, sometimes. Depends on the girl, though.

Anyway. Look. I know I don’t have the money. I won’t even lie and try to tell you I can get it. I can’t. And I know you don’t give a rat’s ass about helping. But I think we can form a beneficial partnership. You know what I do for a living. I come across all sorts of weird shit. Know a few demons personally, and there are lots of people out there who don’t know about you, wouldn’t know to look for you. You have a very niche practice. I can steer business your way. Hell, I can even help researching your cases if you want me to. Plus I’m a damn delight to work with. Ask anyone.

A few minutes later, my email pinged again.

I don’t need your help.

I rolled my eyes and started typing.

You know, we could at least text like people from this century if we’re gonna do this. Who the hell emails anymore? I know you don’t need my help. But you’re a businesswoman, and a smart one from what I hear. We both have the kind of jobs no one else understands. I’m just saying. Could benefit both of us.

Seconds later, another ping.

Nice try, trying to weasel my personal number out of me. Email is just fine. 

Meet me at Jumbo’s in the Corridor. We’ll talk. One hour.

I nodded, grinning as I typed my response.

I’ll be there.

I got up, took a quick shower, and threw on a clean pair of jeans and a black t-shirt, my black Carhartt jacket over it. When I got into my truck, I let the Detroit classic rock station blare, cranked the windows down so I could feel the cool fall air as I drove through the city.

She’d done her research, I thought. She knew exactly who I was, what I did. Which wasn’t hard to find, but she’d done some digging. Enough to know that I wasn’t rolling in the dough. Enough to not even question why I was trying to save someone I didn’t even know. I guess it was to be expected. From the research I’d done on her, she was meticulous, cool, calculating, and confident. She wasn’t going into this, even a discussion with me, unless she was pretty sure she had a possibility of getting the better end of our deal.

She could have it. I didn’t give a shit. Helping her meant I’d be helping others, so I was fine with it. And in the end, the joke was on her because I didn’t have much time left anyway. But she didn’t need to know that. No one’s business but my own.

I pulled into the parking lot of the old dive bar and parked, then blew out a breath.

“You know what to do, Carl,” I told my truck ghost.

“Anytime, man,” the ghost replied in his slow Mississippi drawl. He was my truck’s former owner. Loved the sturdy black 87 Silverado more than he’d loved anything else in life. When I’d bought it, I’d ended up with a haunted truck, and I had no problem with that. I mean. I could have banished him. But Carl is pretty chill and he’s the best damn truck theft deterrent in the world. I can park anywhere and no one messes with my shit. He’s pretty quiet, content to just be in the truck and ride along with me. It works.

I got out and walked toward the entrance, pulling the steel door open and immediately was enveloped by the darkness, the scent of stale beer and whiskey. Ray Charles was playing on the jukebox, and the sound of people playing pool and chatting, laughing surrounded me. I looked around, my eyes immediately drawn to a redhead at the bar. Her long hair was a mass of wild curls down her back, reaching nearly to her shapely ass as she sat on the bar stool. She wore jeans that clung to every curve and a gray v-neck top that somehow managed to cover everything while also revealing a whole hell of a lot.

She turned and looked me over, her eyes narrowing. I kept walking, sliding into the barstool next to hers.

“Whatever’s on tap, thanks,” I said to the bartender, looking back at the redhead as she studied me. “Serena. Nice to meet you.”

She just kept looking at me, hazel eyes narrowing more.

“What?” The bartender set my beer down and I handed him some bills. He walked away after checking to see if Serena needed anything. She waved him off and he left.

“Why are you worrying about some random woman’s soul when your own is equally claimed?” she asked. I was just raising my beer glass to my lips and froze, just for a second. I gave a small shake of my head and then took a gulp of beer.

“We’re not here to talk about me.”

She rested her elbows on the bar and kept studying me. “But we are. This changes things.”

“Yeah and you weren’t supposed to know that. So how did you know?” My words came out shorter than I intended, but it wasn’t something anyone else knew about, other than Namaloth and me. And I liked it that way.

“I can see it,” she said, still studying me. “There’s a sense of emptiness about you, one that every one of my clients has. I understand now that it means someone has claimed your soul… it isn’t really yours anymore.”

“Not something you’d know much about, huh?”

She raised a perfectly arched eyebrow. “Nope. Lucky me.”

I nodded. I could feel it from her too, even if Donnelly hadn’t told me. Supernatural beings have an aura. All of them. And I can see them. An ordinary woman shouldn’t have had one, but she did. And it was gray and bleak, like staring into nothing. Just like the other Wraith I’d known once.

“Look. Like I said, this isn’t about me. I made a deal, and I knew better than anyone what kind of shit I was getting into. I’m fine with it.”

“Are you?” she asked in a low smooth voice, watching me. It was like being watched by a tigress who was waiting to pounce.

I blew out a breath. “Doesn’t matter,” I said, as close as I could get to admitting that I definitely wasn’t fine with it. “We’re not talking about me.”

She stirred her drink. Rum and coke, it looked like. The ice clinked against the sides of her glass as she lazily swirled it with the thin straw. “The only reason I’m here is because you claim you can be of help to me. I’m starting to doubt that.”

I took a long swallow of my beer and watched her. She didn’t look away, and I knew I’d lose any foothold I’d gained with her if I looked away now. “You do your research. I know you checked me out. Which was why you decided this might be worth your time. Cut the shit, lady. My personal shit hasn’t impacted any of my work, and it won’t now.”

Serena

Ooh. A strong one.

I was woman enough to admit it: at least part of why I’d agreed to meet with him was because I was intrigued by the hunter. And from the few pics I’ve seen, mostly on his Facebook page, he was worth a closer look.

And oh, he was.

Broad shoulders. Dark stubble. Short, dark hair, and deep brown eyes. He had the kind of confident swagger that only a man who has faced the most dangerous creatures in existence, and won, could ever achieve.

And he didn’t give an inch. Not in emails, not when I stared him down. I was good at making men cower. Not this one. I had no intention of working with him. His proposal was a joke and one born of desperation, from a man who wasn’t used to losing. I could appreciate that even if I thought it was ridiculous.

“You really believe that,” I said, my lips curving a little in amusement. “You’ve tried to make a ridiculous, nonsensical deal with me to save a woman you don’t even know from a fate you share. And you don’t think your ‘personal shit’ has any hold on what you’re doing?”

“Does yours impact what you do?” he shot back.

“Of course. I know I’m in no danger when I do what I do. I summon them, hold them captive until the deal is done. The only time I’m in danger is if I happen to visit Hell.”

He watched me closely. “Which you never do… right?”

“On occasion,” I said with a shrug. His gaze sharpened a bit as he looked at me, then he gave a small shake of his head.

“Do you have a death wish?” he asked.

I smiled. “I’m young, hot, and rich as sin. I’m fine sticking around for a while.”

“If you say so,” he said in response, taking another gulp of his beer. “You know there’s nothing to keep them from killing you when you enter their domain.”

My mind flashed back to the other night. I’d gone farther, given myself over to their dominance more than I ever have before, and it was so unlike me. And I was pushing it more and more lately, preferring the thrill of fear to the boredom and nothingness that filled most of my emotional life. 

“Not your concern,” I said, keeping my eyes on his.

“Fine.”

I wanted him. I’d have to be both blind and dead not to. I smiled. “I’d like to alter our deal a little.”

He shrugged. “Since we haven’t made a deal yet, let’s hear what you’ve got.”

“One night in my bed. Plus the other stuff you offered.”

He’d been raising his glass to his lips and paused.

And then the bastard laughed.

“Something’s funny?” I asked, hearing the iciness in my own voice. Which only made him laugh harder, then he gulped down the rest of his beer and signaled the bartender for another.

“Hilarious.”

“I—“

“I’m a half-million dollar screw. I’m so putting that on my resume,” he said.

“It’s not— I…” I spluttered, and he chuckled more. “It’s the other things you offered too. I admit that you have contacts I don’t,” I said smoothly, knowing it was a lie. I didn’t give a shit about his contacts.  “And while I’m not really looking for more clients it wouldn’t be a bad thing to hear when something interesting comes up.” I sipped my drink. “That just sweetens the deal.”

He sighed, giving the bartender a few more bills when he brought his beer. 

“You know you want to,” I said, regaining some of my composure.

“Crazily enough, not every man you meet is going to want to sleep with you,” he said, meeting my gaze before taking another gulp of beer.

“That’s a lie. The straight ones always want me. And you do too,” I said.

He set his glass down and looked me dead in the eyes. “Do I? Do I really? Look real close, Serena.”

And I did. He was calm. Cool. Not even a little bit flustered or unsure around me. No sign that he was trying not to stare. He hadn’t even tried to touch me.

What the fuck.

I looked at him in stony silence, and he kept his eyes on mine, taking another drink of his beer. 

“So?” he asked.

I didn’t answer. 

“So it’s clear: I don’t want you. I tend to like my women to have a soul. I want to get this woman out of her deal so she can have her life back. In return, I’ll steer good clients your way and help you research their cases whenever you ask. I know you only want the ones who can pay. Those types never hire me, because they think I’m a joke. But I hear things. And I’m good at my job.”

“So I have heard,” I finally said, knocking back the rest of my drink. The truth was, I didn’t give a fuck about his client or his supposed help in any future jobs I took.

I just knew that he made me feel something. Irritation, mostly. Curiosity. I knew I was grasping at straws, desperate for something new in my life.

“Fine. Bring her to my office on Monday,” I said, giving him another look. I took one of my cards out of my purse and wrote my personal number on the back, the one no one other than my mother and a couple of my cousins had. I tossed the card in front of him and slipped off the barstool, then walked out of the bar.

The bastard didn’t even watch me go. I got a little giddy at how irritated I felt knowing that. For now, it was enough. It was something in the vast nothingness, and that was more than I’d had an hour ago.

Copyright Colleen Vanderlinden. All rights reserved.

Can’t wait to hear what you think! If you enjoyed this and want to support my work, you can buy me a Ko-Fi or support me on Patreon. Thank you!

 

Wraith and Ruin: Chapter Two

It’s time for another chapter of Wraith and Ruin! Thanks for your patience — last week was bananas. I’ll have another chapter for you on Friday. Enjoy! (If you missed the first chapter, you can read it here.)

Chapter Two

Serena

It’s hard to describe Hell to someone who’s never been here. Most people should be grateful for that, really, that they will never have any idea what it’s like.

The mast majority of Hell is dominated by what’s commonly referred to as “The Pits.” It’s the endless, gray, filthy area beneath Hell proper, which sits on a rise above it. It’s not the fiery place it’s usually depicted as. The doomed souls in the Pits live a cold, gray, eternity each trapped in a hell of their own making. They stand, motionless in the pits, while their minds torment them forever.

I have never been so glad to not have a soul as I am when I see those lifeless fuckers.

But Hell proper… well, that’s something entirely different. Set above the filth and chilliness, it’s like a vast futuristic city, divided into seven districts, each representing one of the 7 deadly sins.

Greed is full of sprawling mansions, gold-plated everything, glass and steel high-rises filled with demons who can just never seem to get enough of whatever it is they desire. Greed is notoriously suspicious of outsiders, each resident demon jealously guarding its hoard against anyone who might be eyeing it. And every single one of its neighbors is, of course, because: greed.

Pride is full of self-important asshole demons, all telling anyone who will listen, willingly or not, about how fucking amazing they are. The demons there love showing off their shit, which makes them very different from the ones in Greed. Lots of statues and monuments in Pride. Usually erected by individual demons to celebrate him or herself.

Envy is a lot like Greed, except that the residents just seethe over what everyone else has, thinking their own individual belongings are shit. It’s a fucked up place. Of course, it’s not just material belongings. Lots of stalkers and shit in Envy.

Sloth is a fucking mess. Trash is piled in the streets around houses that reek of who knows what. The demons who live there can often be found sprawling wherever they happen to be when they don’t feel like moving anymore. Nobody goes to sloth, except the assholes from Greed who sometimes decide to steal shit from the residents of Sloth just because they can.

Gluttony is full of all you can eat restaurants, all you can drink bars, and every type of junk food or drink vendor you can imagine. The assholes in Greed usually make a killing setting up businesses in Gluttony and getting even richer. The demons there, to be honest, aren’t too bad. They’re actually kind of fun and I’ve hung out there a time or two.

Anger. Anger is a war zone. Constant fights, everything from fist fights to duels with fucking pistols, to outright war complete with machine guns and tanks. There’s always the sound of demons shouting at the top of their lungs, and everyone who passes you on the street glares at you like they want to kill you. In that way, it’s like some of the big cities I’ve visited, I guess.

And then there’s Lust.

Lust is like Vegas on steroids. Neon and flashing lights everywhere, every type of club and brothel, offering whatever you can possibly imagine. And that was where I found myself, dressed in a little black dress and the sexiest pair of heels I owned. I stepped into my favorite club and was immediately encompassed by the crowd, beautiful demons all dancing, gripping each other, grinding and kissing and sometimes outright fucking right there on the dance floor in time to the nearly deafening thump of the music. Pink neon and strobe lights illuminated the crowd, and the center of the club was taken up by a huge stage where exotic dancers of all shapes, sizes, and genders danced to the whistles and shouts of the crowd gathered around the stage.

A beautiful waitress handed me a pink drink with a juicy cherry stuck into it, and I grinned and sipped it as I started moving along with the crowd, alternately drinking and raising my arms in the air, letting the music and the feel of the beautiful demons around me take me over, all of us one throbbing, bouncing mass of lust. More than a few demons touched me, knowing me, knowing that I welcomed it, and their touch had me feeling even hotter and more ready than I had when I’d arrived. I shook my head as a few invited me to the various booths and rooms around the club and kept dancing, loving the sinuous feel of my body as I moved along to the music. I finished one drink and another one was immediately placed in my hands.

I fucking loved it in Lust.

“Wraith,” a smooth voice said in my ear, and I opened my eyes to see Namaloth. He started to dance behind me, moving with me, his hands on my hips, his mouth near my ear. “I’ve been hoping you’d stop by.”

“I told you I would,” I said with a smirk.

“That was days ago,” he said, kissing my neck. “Cruel, making a demon wait so long.”

I laughed and kept dancing, Namaloth dancing behind me, caressing my body, pressing against me. When his hands reached for the straps of my dress and pushed them down, exposing my chest, I didn’t protest. I’d made my intentions to him clear, and demons… they did as they wanted. Hell isn’t a nice place, and things like consent and respect… they have no place here. The second I’d indicated an interest, I’d given him all the permission he needed to do as he wanted. I was nothing in Hell. A human who, by some accident of magic, was able to be here among them. I had none of the demons’ power and they could do anything they wanted. This one had enough empathy to wait for the bare minimum of assent on my part, but that was all I could expect.

It sounds like a fucking nightmare, doesn’t it? Not having control, knowing you’re nothing. And how sick is it that I craved this, that I visited Lust a few times a year for exactly that reason?

“Keep dancing,” he said in my ear, and I did, aware of the other demons looking at me, at the spectacle Namaloth had made of me. Part of me knew I should hate this, should rail against it. But for the most part, I just didn’t give a shit. I felt something, which was more than I could usually say. I was afraid, and turned on, and it was the closest I came to feeling much of anything at all.

Namaloth continued having his fun, teasing me, taking his time knowing he was the one in control now. Demons are like cats in that way. Some of them enjoy toying with their prey. Most of them do, really.

“Fuck,” he snarled, and I glanced over my shoulder at him. “Some dickhead is summoning me. Do you want to stay and let them have you?” he asked, nodding toward the hungry looking demons around us.

I shook my head.

“Go. Now.”

I nodded, and focused, seamlessly shifting between dimensions, reappearing in my bedroom, my dress still shoved down. I took a deep breath and pulled it back up again, looking in the mirror.

He’d saved me by asking. If he’d left me there, like that, they would have killed me with their attentions. Literally. And I’d known that going in, just as I had every other time I’d visited Lust and come out alive.

What the fuck was wrong with me?

Jack

The summoning wasn’t hard. I’d created the circle, spoken the words, and now had one pissed-off looking demon standing in front of me.

“Namaloth!” I said in greeting. He glared at me more, snarling, his eyes flashing red. “Long time no summon.”

“Not long enough,” he snarled.

I smiled and crossed my arms over my chest. We were in the market I’d come to Detroit to investigate. It was just after midnight, and the place had an almost unreal silence around it. It was hard to believe this was in a big city. Some of it was the emptiness of the neighborhood around it, but most of it was because of the entities that had taken over the market. They made the whole thing feel like death.

“How are things in Hell?” I asked genially. They hate it when I’m chipper.

“Fuck you.”

“I don’t swing that way, but thanks for the offer.”

“I wasn’t—“

“Tell me about your arrangement with Marissa Laurence.”

Namaloth clamped his mouth shut. if looks could kill… well if looks could kill I would have been dead a long time ago. I waited, leaning back against the support pillar behind me, arms still crossed over my chest. “I have all night,” I told him. “Took a nap earlier and everything. Thermos of coffee, plenty of snacks.”

He continued to glare at me, and I noticed his leather pants and skin-tight shirt.

“Out clubbing, were we? Were you having fun?”

“Was about to,” he growled.

I grinned and poured myself a cup of coffee, then took a sip, sighing in contentment, which I knew only pissed him off more. “Damn, that’s good.”

He continued glaring at me, and I had my coffee and one of the brownies from my dwindling stash.

“You eat like a pig,” Namaloth said.

I chewed louder in response, then slurped my coffee.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” he snarled.

“Simple question, and then you can go,” I said, eating more.

We sat there for a couple more hours, him glaring silently at me while I ate and drank and played around on my phone.

It was the singing that finally did it. I turned on Spotify and started singing along with the Dixie Chicks, and he looked at me in utter horror.

“The fuck?” he asked. I pointed at him and kept singing.

“Come on. You know the words. I can tell you’re a big country music fan.”

His jaw dropped open. “You are a nut job.”

I kept singing, pacing back and forth. Worked my way through “Wide Open Spaces,” “Not Ready to Make Nice,” and “Goodbye Earl.”

“Cowboy Take Me Away” was clearly too much for him.

“Stop. Just… just fucking stop,” he said, holding his hands up.

“Marissa Laurence?” I said, then picked up singing again.

“She wanted artistic talent,” he said quickly, and I stopped singing, hitting pause on Spotify. “Thirteen years ago she summoned me, made a deal that if I gave her artistic talent, I could have her soul in thirteen years. My own personal pet. And she’s cute as hell, so I did it.”

“Yeah. ‘Cept she hasn’t been able to paint in years because she’s been so terrified of her term being up.” Marissa was the artist who had gone in with three of her friends to buy and re-open the market. And she’d been missing for months now. Likely trying to hide from the demon who held her contract, which was pointless. When Namaloth came for her, he’d be able to find her anywhere.

“Not my problem. She made the deal. She wanted it, and I gave her talent. What she does with that talent isn’t my problem.”

“Hm. And the spirits infesting this place? I know you called them.”

He smiled. “A reminder that her payment is almost due.”

“Except that she’s not here, so that’s bullshit. Why are they here, Namaloth?”

He went back to glaring at me, so I went back to singing. After a while, I reached in my bag and got out the shaker of holy water.

“I’ve been nice up until this point, only because we have history, you and me,” I said, unscrewing the cap.

“You haven’t been nice, you miserable rat.”

I grinned and brandished the flask, and he hissed as I came close to splashing him. “Oh, I love this one!” I said, singing along as the Dixie Chicks and Beyonce started on “Daddy Lessons.”

“I fucking hate you.”

I brandished the bottle again, singing along, bobbing my head, getting a little closer to splashing him every time, watching him inch away from the droplets of holy water as I kept humming and singing and pacing around his circle.

“A favor for another demon,” he finally blurted. “Okay, you little fucker? Someone higher up on the ladder than I am. He has an interest in this area. This whole neighborhood… he’s had it out for this place for centuries. I don’t know why,” he said, glaring at me, anticipating my next question. “I just know he didn’t like what they were doing here. He wanted a few wrenches thrown into the works. So, poltergeists.”

I nodded. “All right. So I can assume he’ll keep calling in favors for anyone who tries to revitalize this area?”

“Yes,” he hissed.

“If not you then someone else, I guess?”

He nodded, eyes glowing deep red as he glared at me. I didn’t know why demons have a rep for being pretty. There was nothing pretty about the malevolence they all wore like a crown. Though maybe it was safe to say that I knew them better than most.
“Marissa?”

“She made a deal. You know how that works, right, boy?”

I kept my expression placid.

“She has a month left. I hope she’s enjoying it,” he said, and he almost sounded sincere. “Because I know I’ll enjoy the time after.”

I rolled my eyes. “Come on, man. We go way back. Do a brother a solid.”

“Fuck yourself.”

I smiled. “If only I could.” I spread my arms out, displaying the clearly magnificent specimen of maleness I am.

“You are ridiculous.”

“So I’ve been told,” I said.

“She has one month. She made the deal. That’s it,” he said, his voice hard as his eyes glowed a deeper, bloodier red.

“Understood. You’ll understand if I banish your playthings, right?”

“I’ll just summon more. Or someone else will.”

“And I’ll banish them, too,” I said with a grin.

There was no missing the malevolence in his eyes when he glared at me. When I’d said that Namaloth and I have a history, I wasn’t kidding. And it wasn’t all Dixie Chick and my sweet dance moves, either.

“I will be glad when your time is up. You’re down to a matter of months now. And then,” he said, a cold, cruel grin spreading across his lips. “Then, you will know pain. And fear. You will pay for every single moment of shit you’ve given me.”

“Looking at your face every day will be torture,” I said, determined not to show fear in front of him. I’d deal with that later. Much later.

“Release me,” he hissed. “Or little Marissa will pay a little extra because you pissed me off.”

I met his gaze, slowly and deliberately chanted the words to release him back to his own dimension. Only after he was gone did I take a deep, shaky breath.

I shook my head. Couldn’t deal with that now, so there wasn’t any point in getting all shaky about it. I started packing up my stuff.

Okay. So Namaloth was a dead end. I’d figured, but it never hurt to try, and at least now I knew more about the poltergeists infesting this place.

I hit a number in my contacts. “Tell me about this lawyer of yours,” I said, and then listened as one of my old contacts babbled on about some hotshot lawyer who’d gotten him out of his deal with the devil.

“She’s a real hardass,” he said, after telling me how this lawyer got him off.

“Hardasses, I can deal with,” I said, getting in my truck and starting it up.

“There’s something else, Jack.”

“Yeah? What is it?” I asked, turning onto the street.

“She’s a Wraith.”

I blinked. “I didn’t know there were any of those left.”

“Yeah, well. She’s the real thing.”

“Send me her contact info.”

“Will do, man.”

“And don’t make any more deals with the devil. Why didn’t you tell me you did that?”

“Would you have been able to do anything? Could you for that woman you tried to get off tonight?” he answered.

Fine. Fair enough. But now I had the means to maybe get her clear of her deal. “Just send the info. Be safe,” I said before I hung up. I rolled my shoulders as I drove back to my motel.

A Wraith. It had been a long, long time since I’d had any dealings with one of them. They were rare. The ones that did exist, for whatever reason, didn’t tend to live long. Trying to fill that emptiness deep inside them usually led to them doing stupid shit. Shit that usually led to them ending up dead. I knew that all too well. I’d stood by helpless and watched it happen once before.

I shook my head. One thing at a time. For the moment, all I knew was that to save Marissa Laurence, I needed to get myself a lawyer.

 

Copyright Colleen Vanderlinden 2018. All rights reserved.

New Serial Fiction! Introducing “Wraith and Ruin”

Hello, lovelies! I’m baaaack!

via GIPHY

And even better, I have ALL NEW stuff for you. Urban fantasy. Serial fiction. Going back to my roots and DAMN it feels good. We’ll have a new installment of this every Friday, with bonus installments if I find myself really going on this. This has been a blast already, and I love writing serial fiction so much. I hope you enjoy it as much as I am! So without further ado…

Chapter One

Serena

Some people think it’s only the truly desperate who sell their souls to a demon. Sometimes, that’s true. The life of a loved one hangs in the balance, and they’d give anything, including their own life, to save them.

Most of them though? They’re just greedy shits with delusions of grandeur.

And when time comes to pay the piper, surprise surprise, those same greedy shits have a hard time letting go of the charmed life they have thanks to their deal with a devil.

That’s where I come in.

“In fact, you promised Mr. Donnelly fortune and women galore, did you not?” I asked the demon I had trapped in my circle. He was beautiful. They all are. He paced back and forth, shaking his head in disbelief. “It’s a very simple question.”

“I did but—“

“No. No buts. You know how this works just as well as I do, Namaloth. Demons can’t lie. Now we both know it wasn’t an intentional lie, that you made your deal with Mr. Donnelly in good faith. No one denies that.” My voice was soft, sincere. Demons love flattery. I crossed my arms over the front of my red blazer, ached for this to be over so I could go home and kick off the stilettos. “But the fact is that while he may very well be rich as sin, the man isn’t exactly turning the women away, is he?”

“Have you seen the fucker? Even I can’t make that happen!” He clamped his mouth shut, and I hid a smile.

Gotcha. It had been seventeen hours. We’d gone through a whole day and most of a night before I’d finally worn him down enough.

“So you admit that he has not, in fact, received what was promised to him through your deal?”

Namaloth’s head fell forward in defeat. He muttered something.

“What was that?” I tilted my head, lifting a hand to my ear.

“I release Mr. Donnelly from his oath,” he said clearly, red goat-like eyes glowing in irritation for a moment. Then he laughed. “I’d heard about you. Swore I’d be ready if you ever came for me. I can’t even tell how you did that.”

I shrugged and smiled at him. “Good at my job. You have your thing, I have mine.”

“Apparently so,” he said, giving me a small bow, his dark hair falling over one eye. “I hear you like to spend some time in Hell every now and again. Is that true, Wraith?”

“When the mood strikes.”

His eyes traveled my body. My fluffy size 18 body, packed into a corset that made my tits look miraculous. Not for the demons, but for me. Makes me feel good. Blood red suit custom-tailored for my body, matching stilettos on my feet. 

“Well. If the mood strikes anytime soon, I spend a lot of time in Lust,” he said, his deep voice taking on a tone mostly meant for bedrooms. “I hear you spend some time there too.”

I smiled. “True enough. Maybe I’ll see you around.”

“Damn, I hope so.”

I chuckled, then winked at him. “Soon.” Then I said the words that would release him from the circle, and he gave me another small bow before disapparating. 

Which left me… here. At a crossroads in the middle of fucking nowhere just before dawn. I walked to the side of the road where my little black sexy-as-sin Porche Turbo was parked, pulling my phone out of my bag as I slid into the plush leather driver’s seat.

“I felt it. Something snapped!” the voice on the other end of the line said, words seeming to tumble out of his mouth.

“Yeah. Congratulations, Mr. Donnelly. I’ve won you a long life. Make sure to send my bonus today.” I started the car and started driving along the dirt road, glad it was nearing dawn. These roads were a bitch to navigate in the pitch black of night.

“Yes Wraith— I mean, Ms. Kazinski.” The near fear in his voice when he caught himself made me smile. 

“Looking forward to it. Pleasure doing business with you. I’ll look for my money in the next few hours.” I hung up, pulled onto the highway, and floored it, navigating the rural Michigan highways smoothly. I could do this shit in my sleep at this point if I wanted to.

An hour and a half later, just as the sun was edging over the horizon, I was on the elevator to my penthouse in downtown Detroit. 

Getting people out of their deals with the devil pays fucking fantastic, if I do say so myself. And if they can’t pay, well… they made the deal. Not my problem. All those years of law school, plus my unnatural affliction, had both ended up working in my favor.

I got them off on technicalities. Found the smallest chip in the normally-binding deals they’d made, and exploited it for all it was worth. In the case of the very lucky (and wealthy, which was why he’d been able to hire me) Mr. Donnelly, that technicality had been all the women he wanted. 

Thing was, a couple years after he made that deal, Mr. Donnelly had finally felt comfortable admitting to himself, and to others,  that he swung both ways, with a preference for men. So… yeah. He wasn’t spending any nights alone, but it wasn’t with women, at least not in the last few years.

And demons, no matter what else they can and can’t do, can’t lie. It’s a weakness I’m more than happy to exploit whenever the need hits. And it hits about four times a year, on average. Keeps me living a millionaire lifestyle. I take the cases I know i can win, from clients who can pay an obscene amount. 

Soulless bitch. I know what people think of me, those who know what I can do. Who know that I turn away most people who ask for help. As if calling me what is only the truth can possibly hurt me. I am a bitch. And I am completely soulless.

We can thank my mother for that. And I do mean thank. I wouldn’t have this life if I had a soul to worry about. My mother, a bitch in her own right, used the soul of her newborn daughter in a spell that would give her everlasting beauty. The spell was supposed to end me completely ( a daughter she never wanted) and give her what she actually did want, but my mother fucked up the casting somehow and, though she got what she wanted, I was left alive. Alive, but, as several practitioners and a few demons told her, and then me, utterly soulless.

Which is why there’s no danger to me in working with demons, in risking pissing them off. Which is why I’m not worried about my soul ending up in Hell. Once I’m gone, I’m gone. 

It’s also why I can spend time in Hell when I so choose. And I wouldn’t want to go there as a soul, but the demons? Those bastards live it up. I mean, I guess that if I can go to Hell, I can go to the other place too, but anyone who knows me knows that’s no place for me and I have no interest anyway. I mean, what the fuck do they do there? Sit around playing euchre and watching Leave It To Beaver reruns?

I strolled into my apartment. “Dim lights,” I murmured, and the lights lowered to a serene, sultry level. “Fireplace,” I added, and the gas fireplace kicked on. I shed my stilettos, suit, corset, bra, and panties as I strolled through the penthouse, pouring myself a glass of Dom before heading back into the living room and curling up on my plush black velvet sofa.

“Another job well done,” I said, raising my champagne flute to myself. I grinned and drank it, reveling in the crisp, perfect flavor of the champagne, letting images of tonight’s demon linger in my mind. I smiled and finished the champagne, setting the glass down, then lying back on the sofa, my hands squeezing my breasts, then caressing down my body, my fingers finding the silky wetness between my thighs. I bit my lip and moaned, my fingers working as I thought of the fun Namaloth had promised.

Yeah. Definitely time to spend some time in Lust. 

***

Jack

I tossed the 22 back into the beaten up duffel bag in the bed of my truck, zipping it up and then closing the truck box, locking it tight. I held a hand to my shoulder, then jumped off the bed and dug my first aid kit from under the front seat.

God damned vampires. This one had taken a chunk out of me before I’d finally gotten her. When I’d first started this, crap like this had kept me awake for days, hell even weeks on end. Now…well now I’d tape myself up and find the first cheap motel to pass out in. And then it would be back on the road for me. 

The good thing is, vampires are rare. The even better news is, most of those that are still alive just want to be left the hell alone to live in peace. They take themselves out to rural areas, the woods, or the desert, and live off of animal blood and live otherwise normal lives. But every once in a while, you get one who’s read a little too much Anne Rice and goes full Lestat, and they have to be put down. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s another vampire who calls it in to me.

I mean. I’m not hard to find. “Jack Wayburn, Monster Hunter.” I’m listed everywhere, even have a Facebook business page. Most of the crap I get is a joke, and it’s easy to tell when someone thinks I’m a joke too. But I get my share of serious calls, and I go where the job takes me.  It’s the only thing I’m good at, and I’m needed, so it’s enough. Most of the time, anyway.

“Thank you again… I wish there was something more we could give you.” The elderly woman and her husband, and her daughter, who’d been held captive by this particular vamp, all stood next to my truck watching me.

I shook my head. “Just doing my job. I’m glad you’re okay,” I said to the daughter. Claire. A medical assistant in a nearby women’s clinic. Claire nodded, still shaking. She’d be having nightmares for a while. Maybe forever.

“Can I help take care of that?” Claire asked, gesturing to my shoulder. I waved it off, fear slithering through me at even the thought of someone touching me. 

“I can handle it. Thanks though,” I said, taping a gauze pad over the bite. At least contain the bleeding till I got to the motel and could do more. 

They looked at each other, then the mother held out a Tupperware container. “Will you at least take these? I was baking up a storm while you were out looking for her, not knowing what else to do with myself.”

I smiled and took the container, bowing my head to her. “That, I can do. And thank you.”

They smiled at me and I set the container on my passenger seat and climbed in. “Take care.” I pulled my truck off the side of the road and onto the highway, leaving them watching me, becoming specks in my rearview before I took the curve leading to the interstate.

Muffins, cookies. The people who called for help often didn’t have much more to give than that, or a night on their sofa, or a hot dinner. Sometimes I asked for a shower. It was enough. Every once in a while I got someone who could pay actual money, and those jobs kept me in gas money and ammo. It’s not the type of business you do to get rich. At least, not for me. And the few who do seem to make money doing this don’t seem to last long. It’s easy for the shit we hunt to trap them. Promise a big pay day, lure the hunter, end the danger. We’ll just say, there’s not a lot of competition for jobs. There are more than I can handle, but I do what I can.

It’s not enough. I know that.

Twenty minutes later, I pulled into a motel just off the interstate, paid for a room, and grabbed both my duffel bags and the container of baked goods out of my truck. I got in my room and turned on all the lights, then quickly sprinkled black salt across the doorway, the windows, and taped some over any vents. 

I know. I know. I’m paranoid. It’s why I’m still alive. 

Once everything was as secure as i could make it, I went to the bathroom to properly care for my wound. I pulled off my shirt and removed the bandage, grimacing as the gauze stuck to the wound. 

Yeah, it was a good one. I shook my head as I cleaned it. Not deep, but she’d taken a chunk out of me. I cleaned it, then smeared antibiotic ointment over it, then applied a fresh bandage. At least she’d bitten above the protective sigils on that arm. An inch lower and I’d have had to have my ink redone, and tattooist witches aren’t exactly cheap. At least, not the ones who know what they’re doing.

I washed up more, then went back to the main room and grabbed the Tupperware, plopping down on the bed. I opened it to find several types of cookies, some banana muffins, and brownies. I’d eat a few days off of this. I’d have a sugar high when I was done with it all, but it’d be worth it.

While I ate, i checked my voicemail as well as the messages to my email and to my Facebook page. Mostly bullshit, which I deleted. A few things that could be something. I got up, got some shitty coffee from the lobby, then came back and ate and drank it while I did some research on the few that didn’t look outright like crap. Poltergeist near Des Moines. I had a buddy out that way who could take it. I sent it to him. Weird goings on in southern Mississippi. Sounded like a brownie, but could be something else. 

This one in Detroit, though. There was this old abandoned market in what used to be a Polish neighborhood. Ran since the late 1800’s, closed down after a car plant effectively killed the neighborhood. Sat empty for almost thirty years. It had since been bought and the new owners were trying to get the market started up again, revitalize the area. Weird shit had been happening, including a few violent confrontations with something that couldn’t be seen. And one of the owners had just gone missing. Police weren’t being helpful, writing it off as a former addict going off on a bender, but the woman’s friends weren’t buying it. They sounded desperate.

I looked at my screen some more, at satellite and street-level images of the area in question. It looked depressing. Down-trodden. The area around the market was almost totally empty in Google street view, tall grass and trash piled around. Newer photos on the market’s fancy new social media showed that they’d painted and cleaned up the site, keeping most of the old details but making it look more welcoming than it probably had even back in the day, with large flower beds surrounding the market, areas set up with new picnic tables along two sides. 

I shook my head. Old sites like that, you have to be careful messing with. All kinds of shit could be tied to it.

Looked like I was heading to the Motor City.

 

Copyright Colleen Vanderlinden. All rights reserved.

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