Publisher Inkspell Publishing, LLC
There’s just something about Ryder that has Chase mesmerized. Is it the fact that he’s witnessed her do the unexplainable? Or the fact that she’s absolutely breathtaking? Or perhaps it’s that eerie familiar feeling that they’ve met before, perhaps in another lifetime. Chase tags along with Ryder on a whirlwind of life threatening adventures in exchange for a few precious moments with her. With the Grim Reaper’s Scythe as their defense, Chase developing supernatural gifts of his own and an intense crush developing between them, what supernatural force will target them next?
As I sit here in my boiling-hot car, with the intense summer sun beating down on my lap, a million doubts rush through my head. At any second, I fear my own thoughts will get the best of me and I’ll aggressively leave the half-empty parking lot and head straight home, without even looking back. But I must think of my family now, my terrified little sister and my on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown mother. I continuously switch my glance between the run-down diner in front of me and the glossy business card in my hand. Nervously, I smooth it through my sweaty fingertips.
How did I end up here? How is it that recent events in my life are so out of my control? I’m not used to not being able to overtake any obstacle in my life, so this is totally uncharted territory.
My mother, my little sister Sherry, and I have just moved to this melancholy town in western New Jersey. My mother’s business of buying old, shabby houses and revamping/redecorating them in order to sell them at a much higher price, was thriving up until now. Sherry and I love moving from town to town with her. We love the changes in homes, scenery, and people. But more importantly, I love being able to move away from each place that I caused the most trouble and having a fresh start each time. Just to do it all over again.
Our new house, however, was what my mother called a diamond in the rough. Meaning she bought it at such a low, ridiculous price that she could flip it and sell it for almost quadruple. All she raved about was its design potential. That, mixed with her expertise in interior decorating, it was an absolute no-brainer! It didn’t take us too long to realize why she got it for so cheap. I’ve scolded her numerous times for not doing enough research, but all she saw were the dollar signs.
This parking lot is where her terrible choices have led me. Meeting with some bizarre ghost-hunter lady in a shady diner on the outskirts of town. Thanks, Mom. From the looks of this place, plus the lack of information, it is beginning to feel like a total scam.
Nonetheless, all I can think about are the bite and scratch marks all over my defenseless sister’s back. Bloody marks that formed out of thin air and with no explanation. Or the image—of her launching off the top of our majestic staircase and tumbling down every stair like a lifeless rag doll—replays in my head. It looked like she had been pushed, hard, from behind, yet there was no one behind her. There never is. These were just a few occurrences in a series of unexplainable disturbances, most of which targeted my innocent, little sister. She is the only reason I’m here. And she is the only reason I’m getting out of the car right now. I push myself toward the diner doors, still battling the what-ifs and how-comes that spin violently through my head.
When I get inside, a dingy fog of cigarette smoke hovers in the air. I thought that they had done away with smoking in restaurants but in this shithole, I guess anything goes. I guess they’re so short on customers that they’ll let the ones they do have do whatever they want just to keep them coming back.
An overly enthusiastic woman with hair that resembled straw and the reddest lipstick I’ve ever seen greets me.
Wide-eyed and uncomfortable, I respond, “I’m waiting for someone.” My hands fidget inside my jean pockets. Realizing I’m almost fifteen minutes late to our meeting, my eyes pan the dining area in search of the estranged, mystery woman. She must already be here if I’m already late. However, there is literally no one here that fits the build.
There’s an elderly couple to my right who vigorously shovel food into their mouths at such a pace, their own stomachs cannot possibly keep up. Food particles trickle down their chins and onto the table and I’m instantly disgusted at the sight. The cigarette culprit sits to my far left, sipping an empty coffee mug and filling his overflowing ashtray with yet another stubbed-out butt. And last, straight ahead of me, there’s a woman with her three small children, over whom she has literally no control. One of them is jumping up and down on the booth, another smaller one is trying to climb up her chest, and the third is flinging food off his plate. It’s a straight-up circus! But what would you expect from a family who comes here, or from a mother who lets her children breathe in this much second-hand smoke. This sight might be even more appalling than that of the elderly couple.
Suddenly, from behind me, a calm, raspy voice breaks the silence. “Are you Chase? I’m Ryder,” she asks rather firmly, extending her long fingers for a professional handshake.
Oh God, please don’t be her, please don’t be her, please don’t be her, I repeat over and over again to myself. This girl is too young and far too beautiful to be a ghost hunter. Inconveniently, she is literally my definition of perfection, dressed all in black. Long, dark brown hair, perfect bronze skin, bright green eyes that are surrounded with the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen, a gorgeous pearl-white smile, and a slim yet slightly muscular build. I can’t help but let her catch me looking her up and down. Her appearance makes me even more uncomfortable with my situation. I even notice a colorful, feathery angel-wing tattoo that creeps down her left arm, which is ironic, given her profession. Come on, this girl is too petite and undeveloped to be doing a fierce job like this.
She smirks in response before I can conjure up an excuse for my gawking.
“Not at all what you expected, huh,” she says, while gesturing to the hostess with two of her fingers.
“Honestly, no you’re not…not really.” I figure it’s better to be honest with her right now. Finally, I build up enough courage to return her handshake. I’m embarrassed when my clammy palm touches her soft, cool skin.
As we follow the hostess to a booth at the far end of the dining area, she responds, “Don’t worry, no one ever does. They expect some older, more spiritual looking woman who’s all decked out in crucifixes.”
I grin back at her as I smoothly slip into the booth. She does the exact opposite, slamming her bag loudly on the table in front of us.
“So…what seems to be the problem?” she asks before the hostess can even leave the table, getting right down to business.
“Well my sister, mother, and I just moved into an old house on Miller Way and we’re experiencing some unexplainable disturbances.” In my head, I’ve practiced just how to say that line so that I’d appear more sophisticated.
She giggles slightly, picks up a menu, and begins perusing the food choices. It takes her several long seconds before she responds. “Are the disturbances you speak of targeting only one person, specifically your little sister?”
I’m dumbfounded at her question. How could she know something like that? Maybe she is qualified in paranormal activity after all. Not to mention how casually she asks me.
“Uh, yes. How the hell did you know that?” My question comes out sounding so demanding.
“This isn’t exactly my first rodeo, mister,” she taunts while peering over the top of her menu. Her hypnotic green eyes stare right through me, clearly judging me.
Unpredictably, I start to feel squeamish in her presence. “Wait, so what exactly can you do that a priest cannot? Because we’ve already tried the whole priest thing and it didn’t work at all. They even saged and holy-oiled our entire house.” I try so hard to sound more professional as I recall the disgusting spell of holy incense filtering through our rooms.
“Well, clearly, I’m not a priest.” she remarks sarcastically, raising an eyebrow. “Priests may scare away your ghost or poltergeist for a little while but they definitely do not rectify the situation. However, they still will have no problem taking your money as a generous ‘donation’ to their parish. I, on the other hand, will send your entity right back to where it came from…which is usually Hell.
Her outrageous words sound like they’re straight out of a comic book and I have to stop myself from laughing at them. But okay, I’ll play along with this elaborate sales pitch. “So how is it you’re able to do such things when no one else can?”
She places her menu gently on the table and folds her hands properly on top of it. “Well, you can find out if you hire me can’t you? Judging by the fact that you’re here, I’m guessing this is your last and only resort left. And judging by the fact that you were referred to me, as many others have been, then clearly I’m that good at my job. Word gets around. Plus, I have a money-back guarantee, if you’re so concerned. If the entity isn’t completely gone upon my departure from your home, then I give you all your money back.” She blurts it all out in a rather cocky voice, with an over exaggerated smirk.
“You’re that confident you can disband of any ghost, poltergeist, or whatever the hell I have?” I ask in wonder.
“I guarantee it,” she confirms bluntly.
The hostess, who also doubles as our waitress, coffee girl, and busser comes over to take our orders. I can tell even she feels the chill of our awkward conversation.
After she leaves, we pick up right where we left off, without even skipping a beat. “The price is $5,000,” she confirms with a cold, emotionless tone.
My heart nearly jumps out of my chest and I start to panic because of the expensive price. “$5,000? That’s a lot of money! Can we negotiate that down a bit? Why so high, what does that cover exactly?” I barely realized I was saying all these questions out loud.
That wiseass smirk of hers sweeps over her face again and this time it irks the hell out of me. “First off, that price covers damage to particular weapons, injury to myself, and travel expenses. Second off, it sounds like you have a poltergeist, not a ghost, which means they are bit trickier to diffuse of. And thirdly, no there is no room for negotiation. Once you see me work, I promise you that you will force that money into my hand without the slightest complaint.”
“Now wait a minute, I’ve barely told you anything about my situation, so how can you come up with an accurate price for it?” I frantically try and make sense of it all as I spit out the most logical rationalization I can think of.
She seductively purses her lips at me, causing parts of me to tingle at the sight. In my head, she’s purposely trying to turn me on and agitate me all at the same time. Calm down Chase, that’s probably just how her face normally looks when she’s negotiating.
“I don’t need to know every detail about your situation because I’ve seen it all and I can handle it all. All I need to know is the address and when you’re available to put this Ghostbuster to work.” She pronounces the words mockingly. “But if you insist on constantly testing my credentials, then I can bet you your entity has been emotionally and physically taunting your little sister. Let me guess: biting, pinching, scratching, and pushing her around, not to mention messing with her head? And you can’t leave your precious haunted house because financially, you’d suffer? Or every time you try, it makes your sister more and more ill? Hmmm…did I leave anything out? I bet you feel its presence sometimes, too, and it gives you that eerie goose-bumps feeling, every single time.”
I’m shocked again at how accurately she explains the whole situation, as if she has lived it with us. My mouth hangs open in disbelief. “I’m sure some of that pitch you could have paraphrased off of the internet, missy. But for the sake of my little sister, maybe you’re worth a shot.”
I watch her roll those hypnotic green eyes of hers, just in time for the waitress to arrive with our unappetizing platters. We eat mostly in silence until I purposely break it to ask, “So, how quickly can you be available to meet our poltergeist?” I’m careful to use the correct paranormal lingo that I’ve just learned from our previous conversation.
“That is up to you, you’re the one with the cash. And it needs to be cash because I certainly do not carry around a portable credit card machine. And if for any reason your cash is counterfeit, I’ll be putting your entity right back where I found it. And I promise it’ll be much angrier than it was before,” she warns with an enticing smile.
“Okay, okay, don’t worry, you’ll get your money but I’m not like any of your other naïve clients, so I’ll give you half the money when you arrive at my house and the other half after the job’s complete,” I declare cleverly.
“Like I said before, once you see me work, I promise you that you will force that money into my hand even if it was a much greater amount,” she responds confidently.
After only eating two quarters of her turkey club, she then rises, confirms my address and tomorrow night, throws a fifty-dollar bill on the table, and turns and walks briskly out of the diner. All before I’ve even finished a few French fries. Geez, that girl really doesn’t waste any time making small talk, does she? Also, I honestly have no idea how I’m going to get $5,000 by tomorrow night. My mother may have to forfeit some of her hard-earned money. But I do know I can’t let my sister go through another twenty-four hours of torture.
It’s almost nine o’clock at night and a dreary dusk has swept over our property, exposing all the suspicious shadows that our antique house has to offer. I’m antsy as I stand up against the front door, peering out of the foggy, angular glass panes. Somehow, I’m more excited to see her again than I am for her to help my family. I instantly feel guilty for these rogue thoughts, especially since my little sister has been my main priority for most of my adult life. I guess that’s just me being the protective older brother that I am.
My withered sister and exhausted mother sit on the bottom steps of the staircase, both hopeful and doubtful about the whole situation.
However, it isn’t long before I hear the rumbling of her knobby tires coming down the hidden driveway. She’s exactly on time. Of course, she pulls up in an all-black Jeep to match her all-black wardrobe from yesterday. The color is kind of fitting, given the current circumstances. As usual, she wastes no time with business. Before I can emerge from the door to greet her, she’s already halfway up the front porch carrying a large, flat metal case. I can see she’s gripping it rather tightly, exposing the deep whites of her knuckles, making me extra curious about what’s inside. It must be about two and a half feet long by a foot high and only a few inches thick. To me, it resembles a larger version of what poker players keep their cards and chips in. Hmmm, maybe what she’s carrying is the weaponry she was talking about. I just pray to God it isn’t more sage and holy oil. I can’t take that awful smell again.
She nods at me casually, breathes in deeply, and I watch as her gaze darts around the front of our house, observing every inch of it. I hold out a thick, white envelope and silently push it toward her in mid-air. “Here’s half now.” She quickly slips it into the back pocket of her jeans.
“Wait, you’re not going to count it?” That much money deserves to be counted!
“Nope, I trust you. You know the consequences if it’s not all there.” She steps past me and into the house.
I study her as she brushes by me without an invitation. I’m reminded just how much I’m attracted to her as she passes by me. She’s wearing tight blue jeans, black combat boots, and a loose-fitting, black tank top that exposes her lacy sports bra underneath. Her hair is tied back in a tight French braid, which allows me to stare upon the curves of her neck and breasts. I can see all the angles of her body in her athletic attire. Part of me believes the $2,500 I’ve just handed her is at least worth that.
As I compose myself and shut the front door, she shakes my mother’s and sister’s hands gently. Then she instructs Sherry to stay close to her and she promises that she’ll let no further harm come to her. I’m pleased with the idea of her comforting and protecting my little sister. However, for my mother and me, she gives no instruction or warning of what’s to come. We are clueless as to where we stand or what roles we play in the whole charade. I do know I’m staying within sight of my little sister, so she doesn’t get too overwhelmed.
Together, Ryder and Sherry slowly begin to walk down the long hallway in front of us. Sherry grabs for Ryder’s free hand but sadly settles for her jeans pocket instead. All is going smoothly until I hear Sherry gasp and tense up; sheer panic flushes over her body. Ryder stands as straight and as still as a statue, staring in the same direction as Sherry. I didn’t expect them to encounter anything so soon, if at all.
Sherry is trembling and with shaky steps, she backs away from Ryder. Dauntingly, Ryder’s eyes do not change their focus from the end of the hallway.
Ryder slowly bends at her knees to place the metal case tenderly on the ground. Gracefully, she snaps open both buckles that hold it closed, jolting the case a bit as they release open. She leaves the case closed on the floor, stands back up, and extends both of her arms outward to block off passage through the hallway. Clearly, she is forming a barricade between whatever is down there, and my sister. Her right hand hovers directly above the case, her palm facing down.
And that’s when I see “It”. The entity that has been tormenting my little sister for the past month comes into view for its final battle stand. At its sight, a cold, damp sweat creeps across my brow and my upper lip. My face succumbs to fear by losing all of its color. My heart thumps unforgivingly in my chest. I swear, not even in my nightmares have I seen anything so terrifying and repulsive.
It is what appears to be a middle-aged woman, or what’s left of her rotting corpse. Her skin is pale and emaciated, literally falling off her bones in heaping piles of blistered flesh. Her face is like a canvas of red, splattered paint. Her wet and stringy hair falls across her messy face.
Next, she opens her mouth to growl at the obstacle in her way, otherwise known as Ryder. Her cracked lips give way to rows of jagged, yellow teeth. I can partially see the wall behind her, through the edges of her translucent, deformed body. Its transparency is the only thing that assures me that it isn’t human.
As I glance back at Ryder, she doesn’t seem fazed at all by its appearance. She wears that wiseass smirk again and it appears that all this thrills her. Her feet are still planted firmly in the middle of the hallway, half crouched, half in her warrior stance. Her right hand still hovers above the case, apparently waiting to reach down and grab whatever’s inside.
Suddenly, the ghoul seems unhappy with how unflinching Ryder is. It rotates its head completely sideways in such an unnatural manner it makes me sick to my stomach—as if its neck is broken completely, giving it full mobility of its head. Looking over to my left, I see my little sister cowering in the corner, with my mother’s arms draped around her. We can all sense that something dramatic and disturbing is about to unfold.
Next it releases its jaw, wider than any human is capable of, and lets out a shriek so loud that it jars my eardrums. In response, I cover my ears. My sister and mother continue to latch on to one another. However, Ryder still doesn’t budge. It’s clear that she’s definitely experienced in fighting the supernatural.
In one final attempt to shake Ryder, it extends its arms out, zombie style, and takes off toward her. At the speed of a sprint, it glides across the floor. Its legs do not move at all but it floats across the hard wood. It flies down the hallway, ready to attack Ryder. Or maybe it’s trying to get to my sister and Ryder is just in its way. Either one is detrimental to Ryder’s well-being and there’s nothing I can do. I’m too frozen with terror and confusion.
With it only a few feet from intercepting Ryder, I watch the case spring open all by itself. Inside rests the most unique blade. The blade’s metal part is extremely large and curved. From the immense shine that reflects off it, I can see just how smooth and sharp it is. The blade’s architecture is truly exquisite. For a minute, my fear is replaced with awe. At the base of the blade rests a tiny, wooden handle, only a few inches long. Strangely, Its blade does not contour to the designs of any normal sword or knife. Instead of having its blade blend neatly into its handle in one perfectly straight line, this one has its handle shoot out the side of the blade’s base, at the perfect right angle. However, the wooden handle looks as if it was broken off a much longer handle, because the place where it comes to an end is serrated and fractured. Remarkably, it seems like it could be the perfect fit for Ryder’s dainty hands.
Without any explanation, because today is just filled with those, the blade shoots up into Ryder’s palm, defying gravity! The second the wood touches her skin, Ryder locks her grip around the handle. It truly does fit in her hand perfectly and she looks badass holding it. Then, in one fluid motion, she sweeps that arm across the front of her, slicing the ghoul right through its imaginary abdomen. I swear I’ve never seen someone move that fast before or with such a pristine, ninja-like slashing technique. It almost makes me question whether or not Ryder is—or isn’t—human.
Ryder remains frozen in her follow-through pose. Her back remains angled toward the specter, and her right arm is still extended across her chest. It looks as if she has just returned a powerful serve in tennis. As she exhales in relief, I watch as the ghoul dissipates behind her, dissolving into tiny, burning embers of flesh that disappear when they touch the floor. There is no mess, no blood, and no smoke. It is just simply gone.
“She’s gone! Oh my gosh, she’s gone, she’s really gone! Chase, she’s all gone!” My sister erupts with excitement, breaking the thick silence.
I observe as the color returns to Sherry’s face. She hasn’t had this much energy in weeks and she certainly hasn’t smiled, either. It is like she’s snapped out of a trance. She gallops over to me and leaps into my arms as I gradually return to an upright position. She wiggles about with an exuberant amount of energy, so much that I can barely contain her.
After hugging me for all of two seconds, she spins around and addresses Ryder. “You did it! I don’t know how you did it, but you did!”
With a casual nod Ryder responds, “No problem, kid.”
Then, Ryder crouches down to return her treasured blade to its case. I watch closely as she carefully peels each of her fingers away from the handle, exposing what looks like inflamed, burnt skin. Next, she winces as she moves on to peel her palm away from the handle. All of the skin on her hand that has touched the handle is now brutally burned. I immediately feel bad for her. Her entire hand looks damaged, not to mention incredibly painful.
“Jesus, let me help you with that.” I quickly rush in to aid her with her injury.
“Noooo,” she screams and she shoves me away with her free hand. Her force is so strong it topples me over. “You cannot touch it. Trust me, it’ll do way worse to you,” she exclaims hysterically.
Immediately, she locks the blade securely back into its case. Then, she pulls a loose piece of gauze from her pocket and wraps it around her hand. Obviously, she came prepared for anything. Clenching the case with her other hand, she brushes past me again, bee-lining for the door.
“You should have no more problems with the supernatural anymore,” she reassures my mother and Sherry. And then she holds out her bandaged hand, gesturing for the remainder of the cash.
“Uhhh, let me walk you out.” I shakily open the door for her. I’m still baffled by what I just witnessed.
“Thank you, lady, thank you, thank you!” My sister squeals in her high-pitched, adorable voice while jumping up and down.
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Ashley Pagano has always dreamed of being an artist both figuratively and literally. Her love of art was instilled by her mother who always inspired her to be creative either with a paintbrush or with a pen and paper. As far back as she can remember her life was always centered around introspection, storytelling, and imagination. Because she is so artistic, she took to the idea of creative writing very passionately. Her ability to describe a scene, person, or place, she compares to painting a picture, where she can describe every detail vividly in order to make the reader feel like they’re truly living in the story. Her works of writing usually center around a powerhouse female protagonist (which reflect her own personality), who progresses through many wild and extreme obstacles. Ashley loves to write stories that end with a cliffhanger, that leave the reader begging for more and questioning what happens next. Her most recent novel sets the stage for the paranormal romance of the century and includes ghosts, poltergeists, and demons who just love to get in the way of true love. Ashley has won awards for her design, art, and writing.