a short story for you

Since my novella bundles are 99 cents right now, I thought I’d tease you with a short-short, featuring Death and Loralei. Hope you enjoy it:

BROTHERLY LOVE

Loralei spread sliced strawberries over the cut-up rhubarb in the pie crust, then added sugar, flour, and orange zest. Scythe was coming home this evening—her nickname for Death. He and Shade had been busy for weeks now, only returning home for short visits. When the world became a more violent place, they had more duties, so she wanted to make tonight special for him. The man loved pie.

She’d finished weaving the lattice top when someone knocked on the door. Visitors were rare. She and Scythe had picked this secluded property for a reason. They didn’t want company. That had changed when Shade and Chantel built a house next door, but they usually gave a quick knock and popped inside. They didn’t wait for Loralei to invite them past her threshold.

Loralei pushed the pie in the oven and set the timer. Wiping her hands on her jeans, she strode to see who’d braved the long, winding drive. She sighed with relief when she saw Lane, a detective they’d worked with before, waiting impatiently on the front porch.

“Hey, what brings you here?” She opened the door and smiled a welcome.

Lane scowled in return. His blond hair looked unwashed and stubble covered his chin. For a man who usually bristled with efficiency, he looked like he could hardly keep his eyes open. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I don’t know who else to ask for help.”

She liked Lane. She thought he liked her back, even though he avoided her, if possible. Not many mortals felt comfortable around Death and his girlfriend. She tipped her head to look up at him. “Are you in trouble?”

“It’s these dreams. I keep having the same one over and over again. I can’t get enough sleep, and I don’t know what the dream means.”

Loralei motioned him into the great room with its massive, stone fireplace in the center. In winter, she and Scythe used it to heat their stone cottage. Power went out too often to rely on gas or electricity alone. Lane sank into an easy chair and sniffed the air. He glanced toward the kitchen at the back of the house. “It smells good in here.”

Ebony scratched at the back, patio door. The cat kept a protective eye on her. Before Loralei went to let him in, Tammy and Chris burst into the room, the cat on their heels. They’d spent the afternoon, playing with Shade and Chantel’s three kids, but curiosity made them check out who’d made a trip here. When they saw Lane, they turned away, disappointed. Lane tended to be all business. No stories of adventures of rampaging criminals to entertain them. Chris grabbed for an apple before they disappeared outdoors again. Ebony sprang onto Lane’s lap and made himself comfortable.

Tucking an errant strand of black hair behind her ear, Loralei turned to Lane. “Tell me about your dream.”

He absently stroked Ebony’s fur, his attention focused somewhere else. “It’s more of a nightmare really. It starts off with a father coming home from work. He walks through the front door of his house. He’s not concentrating, because he’s talking on his cell phone, and he trips over a book bag that a kid dropped on the floor and almost falls. He finishes his conversation, and his face goes completely still. You can’t read his expression at all. Then he walks into his office and calls his wife on his phone. Now mind you, she’s in the kitchen, but he doesn’t go to her. He calls, and in a very calm voice, he tells her that he wants to see her and both boys in his office.”

Loralei frowned. “I don’t get it.”

“My dream goes to the wife and boys. They’re frosting a cake together at the kitchen island. The wife goes white as a sheet when her husband calls. She tells the boys, and they all cling to each other.”

“Domestic violence.” Loralei’s voice sounded harsh. She hardly recognized it. “You see all kinds of stuff in your job. Are you working on an abuse case now?”

He shook his head. “The mom and boys go to the office, and the husband has his belt off. He swings at the wife, and the buckle cuts her cheek. When the younger boy screams for him to stop, he hits him with the belt over and over again. ‘It was your back pack.’ His voice is calm. ‘You know my rules.’ The older boy pleads that he’s the one who dropped it there, but the father punches him right in the face and knocks him against the wall. ‘Don’t lie for him.’ The dad’s voice is as cold as ice. Brittle. He turns back to the little boy, and the mother throws herself over him. He punches her and knocks her aside, too. And then the lashes get harder until the older boy picks up the fireplace poker and bashes him with it.”

Loralei shivered. Silence stretched between them. Why had Lane come to her? She could see the dead, had always been able to. Since she’d joined with Scythe, she could call a spirit back to earth with her crystal ball. Did Lane want to call the father’s spirit to him? Why?

Lane took a deep breath. He rubbed his hands over his face. “The younger boy has come to me night after night, asking me to help him. I don’t know who he is or what he needs.”

Ebony’s yellow gaze settled on her. The cat didn’t like it that Lane was upset. Neither did she. What did the fur-pot think she could do about it?

The buzzer sounded on the stove’s timer, and Loralei went to the kitchen to check on her pie. She was usually humble, but even she had to admit, it looked beautiful with a golden crust and a bubbling filling. She took it out of the oven to cool and returned to Lane.
“Do you think the younger boy’s dead?” she asked.

He nodded. “That never would have occurred to me until I met you, but he keeps coming, like he’s desperate. He’s older now, maybe late teens. It’s freaking me out.”

Loralei leaned forward in her chair to rest her elbows on her knees. “Why you? Did you have some connection with him? Live in the same neighborhood? Arrest his brother?”

Lane sighed. “Maybe it’s because I went through pretty much the same thing.”

Loralei stared. She hadn’t known. But then, why should she? She glanced at the kitchen clock. “Scythe will be home soon. I can use my crystal ball and try to call for the boy. If he’s really desperate, that will give him a chance to tell you what he needs.”

Lane ran a hand through his short hair. “Thank you. I know the conditions for calling a spirit. I’m willing to pay however many years the boy needs.”

Tears misted Loralei’s eyes, and she blinked them away. Usually, when a loved one asked her to connect them to someone they’d lost, they had to pay in years for however much the process cost her. Each time she dragged a spirit back to Earth, it aged her, and her clients renewed her again. This time, she shook her head. “I won’t have to drag this boy back. He wants an opening. I’m thinking he’ll rush to us.”

“I hope so. Either that or I’m going to have to call an exorcist to chase him away. He’s driving me nuts.”

She reached out and patted his knee. “Come on. You can help me get supper ready. That way, when we finish with the crystal ball, we can sit down to eat.”

Lane looked doubtful. “I don’t think I’ll have an appetite.” But he followed her into the kitchen. When Scythe stepped on the front porch as the Grim Reaper, then crossed the threshold as her dark-haired, handsome husband, he found them grating cabbage for coleslaw.

Scythe inhaled and smiled. “Do I smell pork?”

“I thought we’d have pulled-pork sandwiches, slaw, and pie,” she said.

“Works for me.” His dark gaze settled on Lane. “You never stop to chat. What’s going on?”

Lane explained about the boy and his dreams.

Scythe nodded. “Let’s try to contact him.”

Loralei got her crystal ball and carried it to the round table in the living room. Ebony jumped on her lap. Scythe and Lane sat across from them. Loralei had barely started the search with her mind when a young man’s face appeared before them.

“Can you help me?”

Loralie motioned with her hand toward Lane and Scythe. “We want to try. We don’t know what you need.”

The boy sighed. “I need to talk to my brother, but I can’t reach him. Ever since, well, ever since my dad died, Jason’s been doing drugs. He didn’t mean to kill Dad. He only wanted to make him stop, but Mom needs him now. He has to be strong for her.”

“How did you die?” Scythe asked.

“Dad’s beating messed up some of my organs. I always knew I wouldn’t be an old man, but I didn’t expect to die this soon.”

“I’m sorry,” Loralei said.

The boy grinned. “Are you kidding? Do you know what it’s like when you go Home? It’s awesome! Jason needs to know that. He didn’t fail me. He didn’t fail Mom. And it wasn’t his fault he killed Dad.”

Lane grimaced. “Everyone knows that but him. The courts didn’t prosecute. How do we reach him?”

“He’ll be in the alley behind the hamburger place downtown. Today’s going to be hard for him. If you hurry, I can wait for him.”

“I can do better than that. I can have him delivered.” Lane reached for his cell phone and called someone he worked with. When he finished, he looked at the boy. “He’ll be here in twenty minutes or so.”

Loralei started to ask him why today would be worse for his brother than any other day, but was interrupted when Chris and Tammy tumbled into the house. They looked at the boy and rushed toward him. “Did you come to live with us, too? How old are you?”

The boy blinked at Chris’s apparel. Chris had died during the horse and buggy era and dressed accordingly. Then he frowned at Tammy, ten years old and only recently deceased. “No, I came to see Lane. He’s helping me. He brought me here so that your parents could find my brother.”

“Is he a ghost too?” Tammy asked. She faded to her natural form, and the boy stared. “We only get to have bodies when we’re on this property, because Scythe and Loralei adopted us.”

The boy shook his head, surprised. “I don’t want to stay. I like Home. I just want my brother to be happy.”

“And you went to Lane?” Tammy sounded confused. “He’s not very good with kids.”
When Lane scowled, she shrugged. “Well, he isn’t.”

“He understands me, knows what it was like for us, and he’s a cop here, in my town.” The boy turned to Lane. “Will you help my brother?”

“I’ll try.”

The boy studied Lane, then gave a small nod. “You’ll do.”

Tires crunched in the driveway, and footsteps crossed to the door. Lane went to open it. He took Jason from his friend on the force. “Thank you.”

“You came through for me. Happy to help,” the man said.
When Lane closed the door behind them, Jason looked up, saw his brother, and his jaw fell. “Tommy?”

The boy nodded. He looked at the others. “Can we have some time alone?”

Loralei turned off the oven and stepped out the patio doors with the others. Late spring scented the air, so that it smelled like new grass and fresh earth. Daffodils bobbed in her flower beds, along with hyacinths and tulips. Tender green furls uncurled on tree branches. A robin flew to the flowering crabapple tree and disappeared in the heavy blossoms. Chris and Tammy ran to the fenced-in area at the back of the property to visit their horse. Ebony stretched out on the patio, ignoring them.

Scythe wrapped an arm around Loralei’s waist. “I’ve missed this.”

She laughed. “The house is never quiet since we took in the kids.”

“No, but it’s filled with happy noises. That’s good.”

Jason walked to the glass doors and waved them back inside. Tommy shimmered, his energy beginning to break up.

“I have to get back,” Tommy said.

Loralei hurried to ask. “Why today? What’s different about it?”

Tommy glanced at Lane. “He knows. He saw the cake in the vision.” And a quick image of their mother and the two boys materialized. Written in blue frosting across the top were the words Happy Birthday, Dad.

A tremor shook Jason’s body. “I was so excited about helping Mom decorate Dad’s cake, I tossed down both of our book bags to hurry to the kitchen.”

“My shoulders hurt from the last time Dad hit me.” Tommy looked at Lane. “Keep an eye on him, okay?”

At Lane’s nod, Tommy faded from view. Jason sagged onto a kitchen chair. He glanced at Lane. “I’ve been messed-up a long time, but I’d like to change. I’d like to help Mom now that Tommy’s gone.”

“Do you have some place to stay?” Lane asked.

“I don’t want to stay at Mom’s. It would be too hard right now.”

“Stay with me.”

Jason stared. “I’m an addict, man.”

“I’m a cop. We can figure something out.”

With a nod, Jason followed Lane to his squad car. Loralei and Scythe watched them drive away. Scythe pulled Loralei closer. “You know, that just might work for both of them.”

She raised a black eyebrow. “You’re going to pull some strings for them, aren’t you?”

“My job comes with a few perks. If I can help that kid, I’m going to.”

“More willpower? What can you do?”

Scythe gave her a look. “I am the angel of death. Some of my friends are angels, too. Guardian angels, and they know their stuff.”

She hadn’t thought of that. She pulled him into the house. “Well, the kids don’t like to think of you that way. To them, you’re Scythe Black, their rescuer. And they’re hungry. It’s past supper time. Let’s eat.”

He smiled. “The joys of home—here—on Earth. And I smelled pie.”

She shook her head. Men. Supernatural or not, some of their needs were pretty basic.

(Loralei and Scythe are featured in my novella bundle: The Death and Loralei Collection. http://www.amazon.com/Death-Loralei-Collection-Destiny-Hallows-ebook/dp/B00DUX407I/ref=la_B007P48F5G_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1413681716&sr=1-12 .)

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