A coin for the ferryman
It was a little after nine o’clock at night, when Jackson pulled up in front of a small brick building on the main drag running through Sault Ste Marie. There was a large picture window in the front of the building, but a heavy white lace curtain blocked the view into the interior of the structure. In front of the curtain hung a bright red neon “open” sign, and next to that was another neon sign in the shape of an open hand.
“This looks like the place,” Joshua stated, looking out the car window. “I can’t believe that my time in Purgatory is almost up. I had lost hope a while back you know,” he said, turning his gaze toward Lilly. “Never thought I’d make it to the other side.”
“I’m happy for you,” Lilly lied, turning to face the ghost. She was happy for Joshua, but deep down she felt a twinge of jealously. Like someone getting to eat the dessert you wanted right in front of you type of jealously, and there wasn’t a thing you could do about it.
“Promise me you won’t give up hope,” said Joshua, placing a hand on Lilly’s arm. “With him helping you, I’m sure you’ll make out of here in no time.”
Lilly nodded her head.
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Jackson asked, getting out of the car and walking toward the front door of the business.
A small bell, above the door, rang as Jackson entered the building. The smell of incents and vanilla filled the air, as a large black woman, wearing a long, one-piece dress, made from vibrant red and yellow clothes, greeted him. Her hair was long and braided, and she wore a necklace and two bracelets, one on each wrist, made from small bones and sea shells.
“Welcome to Madam Denesha’s House of Spiritual Healing,” she said, extending her right hand toward Jackson. “Here to have your palm read, or your future gleaned?”
“No, I just gave Joshua a ride,” Jackson replied, motioning toward the dead man on his right.
“He’s here?” Madam Denesha asked, her eyes widening in surprise.
“Can’t you see him?” Jackson inquired, sensing that he was right to suspect this woman at being a fraud.
“Heavens no. I am only a humble portal for the deceased,” Madam Denesha explained. “My gift is not as great as your own. Please, follow me.”
The Medium lead Jackson, Lilly and Joshua to another room. In the center of the room was a round table with four chairs. The table was covered with a white lace cloth, and a large crystal ball sat in front of one of the chairs. Lit candles were spread throughout the room, giving the dimly lit room an air of ambience, and a large grandfather clock sat in one of the corners, ticking away. “The séance isn’t scheduled to begin until eleven o’clock, and I do have a nine thirty about to begin. Will you be staying?”
“Can I?” Jackson asked.
“Normally, uninvited guests are not permitted to attend, but given your talent, and that you played a role in bringing Joshua to me, I’m willing to make an exception. You can tell me when the other spirit arrives.”
“You should know that there is another ghost here too,” Jackson pointed out. “Don’t worry though, she’s with me. We’d like to talk to you about having a séance of our own.”
“Wonderful,” Madam Denesha replied. “I can always use more business.”
“So, how does this whole thing work?”
“When a client comes to me,” the Medium began to explain, motioning Jackson to the chair across from the crystal ball. “I first call out to the spirit world, signaling the deceased of my intentions. I do this by writing a formal letter of invitation, which is promptly burned, using a candle made from human fat. By doing this, the letter is then transferred to the realm of the dead, and delivered to the spirit in question. I give them a week to respond, making sure to give them ample time to make their way here. Once the ceremony begins, I allow the spirit to enter my body and use me as a vessel of communication to their loved ones.”
“And in doing so, you let them complete their unfinished business and move on?” Jackson asked.
“Precisely. And for a small fee of course.”
The bell above the door sounded out, drawing Madam Denesha out of the room. “If you’re not cool with us being here,” Jackson said to Joshua, who was milling about the room. Jackson could tell that the man was nervous and on edge. “We can leave.”
“No, you guys are fine. You helped me get here, it’s only fitting that you see me off to…whatever lies beyond. I think I’ll wait in another room, until this séance is done.”
Madam Denesha returned with an odd looking man, dressed in a black suit. He was somewhere in his md fifties, and had thinning black hair, which was greasy and combed over the top of his balding head. He was about Jackson’s height, but a little thinner, and his skin was as pale as the snow.
“Barry Finton, this is an associate of mine,” Madam Denesha said, introducing Jackson, and motioning the man toward a chair next to hers. “He’ll be assisting me in tonight’s séance.”
“Hello,” the man said, taking a seat. “You’re sure that my brother will be here?”
“As I stated before, I cannot make any promises that your brother will attend. But the message was relayed to him.”
“How do you know that he even got the message?”
“They always get the message. I have another spirit already here waiting for his séance later tonight.”
“He’s here now? In here with us?”
“He’s waiting in another room,” she offered. Even though she couldn’t see Joshua, or Lilly for that matter, she knew how people reacted when they were told that they were in the presence of ghosts, especially of ghosts that they had not requested to see. The Grandfather clock started to chime, causing everyone in the room, including the dead, but not Madam Denesha, who looked as cool as a cucumber, to jump. “Shall we begin?”
“Fine,” Mr. Finton huffed. “Let’s get this over with.”
“First, you must tell me why we are summoning the spirit of your brother here tonight?” Madam Denesha inquired.
“Why do you need to know that?” Mr. Finton asked, crossing his arms across his chest, and turning slightly in his chair. “It’s a private matter.”
“I can assure you, that even when your brother’s spirit is inside of me, I have complete control, and am fully aware for what’s going on, so there isn’t going to be any secrets here tonight,” Madam Denesha assured the man, which only seemed to make him more irritated. “The longer a spirits walks the earth, the more forgetfully they become. The angrier they become. I may need to help him focus and stay on track if you wish to have a tangible conversation with him.”
“Larry was my twin brother,” Mr. Finton began. “We were very close for most of our lives. Our mother died when we were young, so we really only had each other. Our father was always working and really never had time for us. When our father died, Larry didn’t take it very well. I mean neither of us did, but for some reason it affected him harder. He sank into a deep depression.”
“How long has it been since your father departed this world?” Madam Denesha asked.
“Oh, it has to be close to twenty years now,” Barry answered. “When my father died, he left us a substantial inheritance, but, together, my brother and I had our own successful business, so we really didn’t need the money, so we transferred the paper money into precious metals and jewels and placed them into a safety deposit box, which required two keys to open. I have one,” he said, taking out a chain from under his shirt that was around his neck and had a skeleton key dangling from it. “And my brother had the other.”
“Larry committed suicide on this very day, ten years ago. The key was nowhere to be found, and ever since his death, our once thriving business has diminished more and more with each passing year. I’m afraid that I’m going to have to file for bankruptcy next month. So you see, I really need him to tell me where he hid that key!”
Madam Denesha looked to Jackson, who slightly shook his head, signaling that the spirit of Larry Finton had not yet arrived. The Medium reached out with both of her hands and placed them on the large crystal ball in front of her. “Larry Finton, I invite you to come forth and converse with us. Your brother is here and wishes to speak with you. If your spirit is present, come forth and use this vessel freely.”
A dark shadow began to materialize near the back of the room. Jackson noticed it right away, as the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. From the darkness came a man, who looked exactly like Barry Finton, only a little younger. He had no color left. His skin was a dark gray, while his suit appeared as black as the shadow from which he had emerged. Jackson could tell that he looked confused and disoriented. Then his eyes locked onto his brother, and his confusion disappeared. The spirit took several large steps toward the table and stepped into Madam Denesha, disappearing from view.
Madam Denesha’s eyes rolled back into her head, showing only the whites of her eyes. She let out a hard, exhaling breath, which surged forth in a visible cloud of artic air.
“Hello dear brother,” she said, in a low, manly voice.
“Larry? Is that you?”
“In the flesh, so to speak,” Larry answered, his voice still visible in the cold air surrounding him. “Why have you summoned me here?”
“Why did you kill yourself? Why did you leave me?”
“I couldn’t stand the man I had become,” the spirit answered.
“After our father died, I needed you more than ever.”
“Do not speak of our father,” Larry warned, his voice becoming even colder.
“Why not? He might not have always been there for us, but he loved us.”
“He loved you, don’t you mean dear brother.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You were always his favorite,” Larry hissed, his cold voice casting a layer of frost upon the crystal ball. “Don’t deny it.”
“I don’t know why you would say such a thing,” Barry said, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Why did you call me here?”
“The key,” Barry said, lifting his own into the air between them. “I need to know where you hid yours.”
“I knew you didn’t summon me because you missed me. There is always an alternative motive in everything you do, isn’t there? Just like father.”
“Where is this hate coming from? You are not the brother I knew. The brother I loved.”
Larry began to laugh. “Do you want to really know why I took my own life dear brother? The night father passed, he had called me into his room and told me how disappointed he had been with me. Asked me why I couldn’t be more like you. All I had ever done was to garner his approval, but to him all I ever did was fail. In my marriage. In our business. He called me weak. He threated to cut me out of the will. Something in me snapped, and I found myself with a pillow in my hands, which I pushed on to his face, but the old bastard had a heart attack before I could finish what I had started.”
Barry leaned back in shock, not wanting to believe the cold words coming from brother’s spirit.
“Fuck,” Jackson said softly, shifting uneasily in his chair.
“Do you want to know where your precious key is? It’s in the inside pocket of my suit jacket, which is now six feet under. The thought of you getting your hands on any of that money made me sick to my stomach. He was right you know, father that is. I was weak. After I murdered him, the guilt began to devour me from the inside, until I couldn’t take it any longer, and ended my own life. But in my death, I found the strength I needed, and now, thanks to your own greed, I can do what I should have done all those years ago.”
Razor sharp teeth appeared in Madam Denesha’s mouth. Long and sharp. She leapt from her chair and crashed down upon the unsuspecting Barry. Salvia drenched fangs ripped into to the poor man’s throat, tearing through his flesh with ease, and unleashing an unstoppable flow of blood, as his jugular was ripped from his neck. Barry’s dead body fell to the floor, as Madam Denesha turned her attention toward Jackson, who was just sitting there in disbelief.
“Run!” Lilly screamed, snapping Jackson back to reality, and causing him trip over his own feet as he tried to back away from the possessed Medium, who was now standing over him and snarling at him with long, blood soaked fangs.
Lilly sprang into action. She charged straight toward Madam Denesha and punched her as hard as she could, square in the face. The spirt of Larry Finton was knocked backwards, as the spirit began to emerge from the rear of Madam Denesha’s body. Larry reached out and grabbed the Medium by her shoulders and pulled himself back into her body, and in doing so, threw a punch of his own, hitting Lilly right in the forehead, sending the spirit of the dead girl tumbling across the floor.
Jackson tried to get to his feet, but before he could, the possessed Medium was on him. She picked his body up with ease, and slammed him hard, onto the table. Jackson couldn’t believe the amount of strength the woman had, as she easily held him down against his will. He tried with all his might to get up, but found himself pinned securely in place. Bloody fangs moved in for the kill. A rapid clicking sound erupted from nowhere, as Jackson saw two pronged wires from a Taser, sticking out of the Medium’s chest. Madam Denesha’s body seized up and became stiff as a board, before falling off to the side, leaving Larry’s ghost in its place. The prongs were now in his chest, and he found himself unable to move. All he could do was scream in agony.
Jackson followed the Taser wires, and found a red headed woman standing behind him, holding an odd looking device. She was a little taller than Lilly, and had an athletic build. Her long red hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she was wearing a pair of blue jeans, and a black leather jacket, much like Jackson’s. Around her waist was a black leather duty belt, which held a holster on its right side, and what appeared to be several small black plastic cartridges of some kind on the left side of the belt.
The red haired woman released the trigger, and the clicking sound stopped. The device she was holding looked something like a sci-fi pistol. It was black in color, and had blue flashing lights, and a large square front, where the wires were protruding from. She pushed a button on the side of the gun, and the sound of pressurized air hissed into being, for a split second, as the plastic cartridge holding the wires, ejected itself from the front of the gun. The woman quickly replaced it with a fresh cartridge, as she rushed over to the side of Larry Finton. She pulled his hands behind his back and placed him in a pair of weird looking handcuffs.
“Been looking for you for a long time Larry Finton,” the woman said, slamming the spirit on to the table “Consider yourself retrieved.”
“Who the hell are you?” Jackson asked, helping Lilly to her feet.
“You can see me?” the woman asked.
“Yeah,” Jackson replied, the sarcasm oozing from his lips.
“And you can see him?” she asked, pointing to Larry.
Jackson nodded his head.
“Can someone tell me what just happened?” Joshua asked, rushing back into the room and seeing all the carnage.
“What about him?” the woman asked, pointing toward Joshua.
“And her,” Jackson replied, pointing at Lilly. “Now you gonna answer my question?”
“Interesting,” the woman replied, grabbing Larry by the arm and walking him out of the room.
“Hey!” Lilly yelled, chasing after the woman, followed by Jackson and Joshua. The woman opened the front door of the building and dragged Larry through it and over to a black van, with no back windows, which was parked right behind Jackson’s Kia. She opened the two back doors, revealing a cage made from thick iron bars. She fished a key out of her jacket pocket and unlocked the cage, before shoving Larry into it and slamming the back doors closed. She started to head toward the front of the van.
“Hey!” Jackson stated, not liking being ignored. He grabbed the woman by her shoulder. She spun around and Jackson quickly found his arm locked in place, as the woman raised her fist. That was when Lilly noticed that on the ring finger of her right hand was a ring just like Fred’s.
“You’re a Reaper, aren’t you?” Lilly asked.
The woman shot Lilly an intriguing look, as she still held her fist cocked and ready to fire.
“It’s your ring,” Lilly began to explain. “It looks just like the ring of a Reaper I know. Fred?”
The woman let out a short burst of laughter. “Fred is a Reaper, but who knows for how much longer. You should steer clear of him.”
“I’m just trying to complete my unfinished business,” Lilly replied.
“I know,” the woman replied. “You’re not on my list, so that means that you’re a Purg, which also means that you’re none of my business. What about you?” she asked Jackson, still holding his arm locked in place. “What’s your story?”
“I see dead people.”
“A seer? Very rare. What about him?” she asked, motioning toward Joshua.
“His séance was next,” said Lilly, looking back to the front door of Madam Denesha’s House of Spiritual Healing. “He was hoping to pass over tonight. Will she be ok?”
“She’ll be out for most of the night, and have one hell of a hangover in the morning, and then there’s the little matter of the dead body in her parlor,” the woman stated, letting up on her grip of Jackson’s arm.
“So what am I supposed to do?” Joshua asked.
“Beats me,” the woman answered. “Not my problem. Now if you’ll excuse me…” she cut her words off, as her face was illuminated by the headlights of a car pulling up a short distance behind her van.
“That’s my mom!” Joshua exclaimed, rushing over to the car.
An elderly woman, barely able to see over the steering wheel, got out of the car and began to walk toward the front door of the building. “Mom! Don’t go in there!” Joshua yelled, stepping in front of his mother to block her path, but the old woman just walked through him.
“Jackson stop her! You have to do something!” Joshua pleaded.
“Don’t you move,” Jackson told the Reaper. “Ma’am,” he called out, running up to the old woman and blocking her path to the front door.
Lilly and the Reaper watched as Jackson talked with Joshua’s mother for a few moments. The old woman reached out and gave Jackson a heartfelt embrace, as Joshua dissolved into tiny pieces of golden light, and disappeared from sight. Jackson helped his mother back to her car, where they hugged one more time, before the old woman drove off.
“It’s a nice thing your friend’s doing,” the Reaper said, watching the events unfold before her eyes. “You do this job long enough you forget about good moments like this. Is he helping you too?” she asked Lilly.
Lilly nodded her head, as she watched Jackson rush back over to them.
“Alright, time to talk,” Jackson said.
“Fine,” the Reaper sighed. “Only because of what you did for that Purg, but not here. The police are going to be arriving soon. Get in your car and follow me. I have to take care of this Bouncer anyway.”
“Bouncer?” Jackson asked, more confused than ever.
“Just follow me,” the Reaper said, getting into her van and driving off.
“Shit!” Jackson exclaimed, diving into his car. He barely gave Lilly enough time to make it into the passenger seat, before he stomped on the gas.
“Another Reaper,” Lilly said. “What are the odds?”
“I always thought there was just one Grim Reaper,” Jackson replied, doing his best to catch up to the blacked out van.
“Fred, the Reaper you saw in the hospital, said he was only one of many.”
“How many are there?” Jackson wondered.
They followed the van for nearly fifteen minutes, before it pulled into the parking lot of a small marina, which had several long docks, and a variety of boats.
The black van backed into a parking spot. Jackson and Lilly met the Reaper there, just as she was opening the rear doors of the van. “The name’s Carol, by the way,” she said, opening the iron gate and grabbing Larry Finton by his shirt and giving him a hard yank toward the opening. “Move it Bouncer.”
“Where are we?” Jackson asked.
“On the shores of Lake Superior,” Carol answered. “I need to get him to our substation,” the Reaper added, motioning toward Larry, and pushing him toward one of the docks. The Reaper took out her cell phone and sent a quick text.
“I’m still at a loss,” Jackson confessed.
“Just give her a minute,” Lilly insisted, sensing Jackson’s frustration.
“Listen to the Purg,” Carol told him, walking down the dock, where to Jackson’s and Lilly’s surprise, they found a small boat waiting for them. A lone man sat in the back of the boat, with his hand easily resting on the boats motor. “Hey Dan,” Carol called out to the man. “Got a couple of guests this run,” she said, flipping a gold coin to the boat’s Captain, who snatched it out of the air with ease. “Take a seat up front,” she directed, as she and Larry sat in the middle of the boat.
The small boat surged forward, and began to head out toward the open water. “Where are we going?” Jackson yelled out over the sound of the engine and crashing of the waves.
“I said we’re going to a substation. We have then statically placed all over the country. This one patrols the Great Lakes.”
The small boat seemed to be moving awful fast for the size of its motor, and the choppy condition of the water. Jackson had never really been on a boat of any kind before, and found himself getting a little woozy, as well as a little concerned, but the Reaper, and the boat driver both seemed unfazed, so he tried to not worry. After about ten minutes, a large shipping freighter came into sight. The driver changed course, and the small boat was put on an intercept course. The small boat ran up alongside the large ship and driver cut off the motor. The Reaper stood up and directed Larry to a ladder hanging over the side of the ship. “Welcome to the Azreal.”