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
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
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
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
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,
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
“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
“Wait, you’re not going to count it?” That much money deserves to
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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.
Excerpted from "Never Fear the Reaper (A Never Fear the Reaper Series Book 1)" by Ashley Pagano. Copyright © 2017 by Ashley Pagano. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.