Sixteen Years Old
Sleep is the bomb. I’m really good at it, too. Right now, I’m in that hazy place between awake and a-snooze. Ah, the joy of Thursday mornings before school.
A noise sounds outside my bedroom window. No question what’s happening, either. Someone is slowly opening the very rusty door to our backyard shed. Instantly, I’m wide-the-fuck awake.
Sitting upright in bed, I peer out the window. The shed door now sits wide open. Eek. At this point, one of two things could be happening. First, Mom could be inspecting the lawn shed. I shiver.
If that happens, I’m screwed.
Door number two is that a prowler has hit in our little section of Lower Purgatory. I cross my fingers.
Please, let it be a prowler. At least, I’d have some fun taking them down.
Purgatory is the place where souls get sorted into Heaven or Hell. It’s already far from the most popular vacation spot of the after-realms. Even so, people used to flock to my little ranch house, mostly to watch me practice battle moves in the driveway. Considering how Purgatory only gets three TV channels, there’s not much else going on for entertainment.
But these days? No one comes by. You’d think my house is ground zero for a leprosy pandemic. Sure, I now kill evil souls and demons in Purgatory’s Arena. But you’d think that would make a local celebrity, not a total pariah. It’s not like I’d kill my neighbors. Or at least, I wouldn’t kill them without a really good reason.
People are weird.
The creaking noises are followed by the unmistakable sound of someone rummaging around our very overpacked shed.
My tail pops up from under the covers. Every resident of Purgatory has a little demonic DNA as well as a power across the seven deadly sins. We also have tails. I know, awesome. In my case, I sport a lovely dragonscale number with an arrowhead-shaped end. It’s that triangle thingy that now points right at my nose. This is my tail’s way of saying, who’s out there?
“You got me.”
Shifting my weight, I lean even closer to the windowpane. The shed door swings shut, revealing that—sadly enough—this isn’t a prowler. It’s Mom. And even worse, she’s carrying a large cardboard box in her arms. My heart sinks.
Damn. Mom found my homemade flamethrower. Which means she also knows that I disassembled our new barbeque for parts.
This is one of those situations where it would be great to have a sibling. Not that I need emotional support or anything. It’s more that there’s no one else around for me to blame stuff on.
Think fast, Myla.
A plan appears. I lie back in bed, pull up my covers, and turn so my back faces the door. With any luck, Mom’ll think I’m sleeping and let this slide. Hey, it’s worth a try.
Footsteps sound as Mom moves through the house. She opens my door and waits.
“I know you’re awake, Myla.”
So much for my plan. I sit upright again. This time, I hold up my hands with my palms facing toward Mom. It’s a universal hand motion for, calm down already.
“There’s a really good explanation for this,” I begin.
“Really-really.” And when I think of it, I’ll share all the details.
Mom drops the box with a clang and glares at me in the way of a woman who’s lost a new cooking appliance. In this moment, I’m reminded of how much we look alike, from our brown eyes and long auburn hair to our matching amber skin and dragonscale tails. Where we differ is in terms of personality. I’m a natural killer. Mom? Not so much. Although the lost barbeque could finally set her off. You never know.
Leaning over, Mom pulls something out of the box. It looks like a homemade gun, only it’s one that’s welded to a propane tank. “Start explaining.”
At last, a vague excuse comes to mind. “You know how I fight demons and evil souls in Purgatory’s Arena?”
“Like I could forget.”
“Blaze demons are coming in next week. Nasty things, too. They look like humans, but they’re made of red flame. I welded up that little beauty so I can practice fighting them.”
“What? That’s a totally good excuse.”
“Nope. What you’re describing is a fire thrall, and those aren’t demons. They’re an advanced form of ghost.”
“Huh. I really thought they were demons.” Making sure I know every demonic genus and species is really important to me. I keep notebooks and everything. “Where did I get that idea?”
“You’re learning the different types of ghosts in Ghost World class. You recently failed the test about fire thralls.”
I scrunch up my face. “I did?”
“Ghoul teacher B-LIP-7 sent home a letter last week about it.”
“Boogerlips wrote you? How did I miss this?”
Mom rolls her eyes. “Because… unless there is something to kill in the mailbox, you don’t pay attention. And what’s this Boogerlips stuff?”
“You know me. I have a hard time remembering all these ghoul letters-and-numbers, so I make up my own names. And let’s just say, Boogerlips has very active nostrils that rain stuff onto the bottom half of her face.”
Mom tries really hard not to smile. “You’re exaggerating.”
“I wish. She’s got a crazy-small nose, too. Personally, I think she’s the victim of some bad plastic surgery that’s followed her into the afterlife. And we don’t call her Boogerlips to her face or anything. Just BL.”
While still fighting her smile, Mom lets out a sigh. The exhalation lasts so long, it’s like a paragraph of complaining in and of itself. It goes something like, I can’t believe I have to deal with this. “You’re repairing the barbeque.”
And I sincerely mean to do that… for two whole seconds. Then, an even better idea appears. Maybe, I can just pretend to fix the barbeque but actually turn the flamethrower gun into a cannon. That would be cool.
Mom points at my nose. “And you’ll pay attention today in Ghost World class, right?”
I set my hand on my heart. “I swear, I shall.”
After all, these fire thrall things could be fun to kill.
An hour later, I sit in the back row of Ghost World class. Before me, forty students sit in long rows of desky-chairs. All the seat-backs have special holes for everyone’s tails. Welcome to Purgatory.
As dictated by our ghoul overlords, we all wear gray sweats, matching T-shirts, and mangy sneakers. Boogerlips stands at the front of the class. Like always, she wears the long black robes as every other ghoul (except my honorary older brother, Walker, who is exceptionally cool, even if he is undead.)
Not for the first time, it hits me that Boogerlips looks like someone took baby features and scrunched them all up into the middle of a very large and adult face. Her thin brown hair is fashioned into a bowl cut. And yes, there’s something small and white that’s stuck on her mouth. Ugh.
“Pay attention, class,” says BL. “I have a special treat for you today. For weeks now, we’ve been learning about ghosts. Today, that world will be brought to life with a guest speaker—a real conjurer!”
The class claps. Even my best friend, Cissy, looks extra happy. And that’s saying something—Cis already maintains a pretty high level of chipper. She’s tall and lithe with curly blonde hair and a perma smile. Her golden retriever’s tail is perfectly matched with her sunny attitude.
I wave at Cis. “Psst.”
She shoots me the side-eye. I’m forever getting Cis in trouble for talking in class. Over the years, she’s learned that if she doesn’t look at me full-on, it can throw the teachers off. “Yeah?”
“What’s a conjurer?”
“Are you serious? We’ve been talking about nothing else for months.”
“Ghosts aren’t my thing. You know me.”
BL pulls the class door open. A super-tall guy steps into the room. He wears long red robes with the cowl pulled low over his face. You can’t see the dude’s eyes or anything, but his chin and lips are visible. And damn, does this dude ever have a lot of fangs. I can’t decide if I want to kill him… or watch him eat an ear of corn.
Eh. Who am I kidding? It’s kill him.
I raise my hand. BL points to me. “Yes, Myla?”
“This guy doesn’t seem like a safe person to have around children. Do you need someone to destroy him?”
Cis slams her forehead onto her mini desk. It’s her move when I’ve just said something the other kids might find super weird.
Sure enough, the rest of the class gasps. Whatever. They’re just jealous they didn’t ask for dibs on killing our guest speaker.
“No, Myla.” BL sniffs and yet another booger flies out of her nose. Maybe she’s under a curse. “No one is killing our guest.”
“Fine. You know where I am if you need me.”
BL rolls her eyes. Clearly, she thinks my offer of murder isn’t all that and a bag of chips. She’s so wrong.
“As I was saying before, our guest comes to us from the generosity of the Oligarchy.” BL scans the class dramatically. “In honor of the occasion, I’d like someone to sing our new Oligarchy hymn. Any volunteers?”
Paulette raises her hand. She’s such a kiss ass. And Paulette is part envy demon, she’s also wearing a new diamond bracelet. That makes her today’s winner in both the suck up and show off categories of life.
“Paulette, how about you?”
“Sure.” Paulette clears her throat. “The Oligarchy are best, they rule better than all the rest. There are four of them dressed in red.” Paulette frowns.
Ha! She totally forgot the last line. Serves her right for volunteering.
To her credit, Paulette just makes something up. “If you don’t follow them, you’ll be dead.”
BL purses her lips. “That’s close enough.”
Paulette slumps in her seat. The girl knows she’s going to get teased with Oligarchy anthem jokes for a week, minimum. High school is vicious.
“As the rulers of all ghoul kind, the Oligarchy have created an alliance with the conjurer, Hades. As part of this agreement, Hades shall join one Ghost World class for all students.”
“Wow.” I sniff. “Clearly, the guy has a lot of time on his hands.”
BL rounds on me. “Did you say something, Myla?”
“Nope.” Total lie. “Just really excited for Hades to do his thing.”
“Thank you,” says Hades. The guy sounds like he smokes six packs of cigarettes a day and then gargles wood chips. “I visit each quasi class once for a simple reason. The next Great Scala may come from your people. If so, it’s best for me to establish certain facts early and often.”
My brows lift. So this is a Great Scala thing. That’s news.
The Great Scala is the only person who can send souls to Heaven and Hell. From the little I know about conjurers, they cast ghosty spells. It makes sense that someone like Hades would want to get his pointy teeth into the next Great Scala.
All of which means that Hades is smart. Dang. It would have been totally fun to fight him.
BL steps backward. “The class is yours, Hades.”
The guy spreads his arms wide. Although I still can’t see Hades’ face, it’s clear that he doesn’t waste a lot of money on manicures. The dude has claw-like hands with dirty fingernails. Gross.
“Greetings,” announces Hades. “I am a human who knows how to manipulate the power of ghosts. In other words, I am a conjurer. And as your teacher explained, my name is Hades.”
I half-roll my eyes. No human would name their kid Hades. That’s such a made-up magical name. Not that I’m calling the guy on any of this stuff. Yet.
“Let’s start with the most basic level of spirit,” continues Hades. “A ghost. These come to Purgatory to get sorted into Heaven or Hell.”
BL steps forward. “Class, what’s the average length of time it takes for a soul to find Purgatory after death?”
“Four-point-two seconds,” says everyone but me.
Huh. I had no idea. I make a mental note to stop daydreaming about demons in class. It won’t last, but I feel better about making the promise.
Hades taps his chest and pulls out a grey something. Turns out, he’s holding the ghost of an old man. I feel certain I’ve seen this guy before, but Hades shoves the spirit back into his chest so fast, I don’t get a good enough look.
I raise my hand while asking a question… both at the same time. If you see, if you give teachers choices in things like who to call on, they don’t always make good decisions. And letting me ask my next question is definitely the right thing to do.
“What’s that ghost doing inside you?”
“Getting stored,” answers Hades. “Others are digested for power and life.”
I shrug. “Oh, okay.”
I’m not surprised by this answer. However, the rest of the class freaks the fuck out. Everyone gasps again, only far more loudly this time. BL starts shaking. Shit flies out of her nose at a rate to boggle the mind.
Cis doesn’t even do that thing where she talks to me without turning her head. She full-on twists to face me, her already-big eyes even wider with worry. “Are you sure you could, you know, take him down if things get ugly?”
I scan Hades more carefully. “I’m like, seventy percent sure I could crush him like a bug. Two minutes or less.”
Cis worries her lower lip with her teeth. “Only seventy?”
“Hey, he’s wearing a robe. Who knows what he’s working under that thing? There could be tentacles or prickers involved.”
Cis pales. “But he consumes ghosts!”
“No biggie. Lots of demons feed off humans or other demons. Digesting is rare, but it happens.”
BL shuffle-walks away from Hades. When she speaks, her voice is all shaky. “And what else can you tell us about ghosts, oh mighty conjurer?”
Hades’ claw-like hand scrapes across his chest again. This time, he pulls out a ghost that’s missing its feet. As in, the bottom half of the thing looks positively drippy. Must be where humans get inspiration for their ghost-in-a-sheet costumes.
“This is a phantasm,” explains Hades. “It’s a ghost that’s been enhanced by a conjurer. They are clay in our hands.” Hades tosses the drippy ghost against the door. It slides all over the wall like putty. One second, there’s a door. The next moment, there’s nothing. Any sign of the door is gone.
I hate to admit this, but that’s pretty cool.
Hades gestures to what was once a door. “That’s still an exit. The phantasm just created the equivalent of an illusion spell.” Hades crosses the room, sets his hand into what used to be the door, and pulls off the phantasm. Once again, there’s a droopy ghost in his fist, as well as a door leading out of the room.
“Phantasm illusions are called phantasmagorias. Unless you’re one of the rare humans with the gift of ghost sight, you won’t be able to tell the difference between a phantasmagoria and the real thing. In fact, the only reason you can see this phantasm at all is that I have commanded it so. Watch carefully, now.” Hades raises his arm, the grey droopy ghost-thing dangles from his claws.
Hades scans the room. The guy should be in show business. Everyone holds their breath.
“Three… two… one,” says Hades. “And poof! The phantasm is gone.”
Everyone in the class gasps yet again, only this time the sound isn’t in terror so much as awe. They all clap, including BL.
I don’t applaud, though. The reason why is simple. I can still totally see the miserable lump of a ghost in Hades’ fist. Not that I’m telling our guest speaker that fact. If I do need to kill him, this whole Myla sees phantasms thing could come in handy.
“There is one more kind of ghost I shall show you today,” declares Hades.
LB clasps her hands together. She’s really-really into this now. “Class, can anyone tell us what level of ghost is above a phantasm?”
I slump lower in my chair. Big mistake. It’s the first law of survival in the jungle and-or high school. Any kind of movement attracts predator attention.
“Myla, how about you answer?”
“After a phantasm, we get a…” I look over to Cissy, who is pointedly not making eye contact. Not that I blame her. She reminds me ten times a day to pay more attention to non-demonic stuff. “…a super ghost.”
“Ah, no,” says BL and she accents this point with a snort. Now there are six boogers on her chin. All the kids start swapping looks and notes. We have bets going for when she’ll hit a new high-total for booger hang-ons. Today could be the day.
“There is no such thing as a super ghost,” says Hades. “However, I can create a ghost that has physical form. These are not an illusion. They are warriors. We call them thralls. And I shall now do something I have never done before. I’ll bring one into this very classroom.”
Not gonna lie. This smells like a load of crap. Ghosts who can fight? Color me doubtful.
Hades raises his arms so his claw-like hands are a few inches apart. Mumbling sounds echo from under his lowered hood. Must be an incantation. A sphere of red power and magic forms between his palms. A sense of electricity fills the air. The faintest scent of ozone wafts across the room.
“Now!” Hades tosses the sphere onto the floor. The tiles break as a new figure rises up from the ground. Its body is made from fire while it wears heavy armor. In its right hand, it carries the same magical sphere that Hades just tossed.
The tang of fear fills the air. Someone yelps. Paulette faints from her chair. Folks in the rows closest to Hades scooch their seats backward.
Important note. I’d help Paulette off the floor, but I pretty much hate her. Plus, she looks pretty comfortable on the tile.
“As my final demonstration, I shall add a phantasm onto my fire thrall!” Hades pulls out the droopy ghost from his chest and chucks it at the fire thrall. One second, we have a terrifying fire monster in our classroom. The next moment, there are two versions of BL.
I hate to admit it again, but that is way cool. Hades just hid a nasty blaze monster under a gloppy ghost. Points for creativity, right there.
“Here’s what you must remember,” declares Hades. “To feed my power, I must consume ghosts. Your rulers, the Oligarchy, agree to supply me with what I require. The Great Scala complies as well. And if you ever become the Great Scala yourself—” Here, he stares at me for some reason “—then, you must give me ghosts, too. Thus endeth the lesson.”
Hades lifts his arms. Another red sphere of power appears between his palms. This time, the orb vibrates between his hands. The scent of charcoal fills the air. The sphere flares an even brighter shade of red.
A moment later, it shatters.
The room fills with what looks like red flame. It doesn’t burn or anything, which is cool. Still, everyone screams (except me, obviously.) To her credit, Paulette sleeps right through the whole thing.
When the flames die down, Hades is gone. So is the fake—and incredibly evil—version of BL.
Our teacher staggers over to her desk and takes her seat. “This is most unexpected. For the remainder of class, everyone can reread chapter seven in our textbook. I’ll sit here and try to stop shaking.”
All in all, BL is handling the situation quite well. So is everyone else. I guess when you live in Purgatory, you learn to roll with the bizarre and terrifying. Even Paulette climbs back into her chair and starts reading. I page through the textbook, but I can’t process anything. It’s cool to see thralls, but I still can’t imagine they’d be fun to fight. In the end, I pretend to read the same page, over and over.
But I’m daydreaming about demons.
Angelfire (Angelbound Lincoln Book 5)
Someone is making life hell for our favorite royal couple, Lincoln and Myla. Natural disasters have the after-realms falling apart. Humans are going to war left and right. And the hottest couple ever can’t find two minutes alone. Sheesh.
The problem? Lincoln’s evil brother.
Yes, you read that right. Brother.
Turns out, Lincoln’s father was a busy guy in his youth… and now Connor’s secret son, Truman, wants his share of the throne. Even worse, Truman is as awful as Lincoln is noble. When it comes to claiming royal power, nothing stands in Truman’s way. Sure, Lincoln is tied by angelic blood to his half brother. But will that connection link them together… or ultimately tear the after-realms apart?
Angelbound Lincoln Series
Stories from the perspective of Mister the Prince
1. Duty Bound