The Revenant


The Revenant
By
Morpheus

It all began with my death.

My entire body was badly broken and every inch of it hurt far worse than I ever would have imagined possible. But as much as my body hurt, my very soul hurt even worse. I was awash in rage, terror, and agony, with a good amount of despair thrown in. I’d lost all track of time as such a thing had become meaningless so I had no idea if I’d been here for hours or days.

There was no chance of escape, something I’d realized a long time ago. My hands were cuffed together and chained to the floor. Even if I could somehow get out of that, I still wasn’t going anywhere. The bones of my feet had been shattered with a sledge hammer as had my kneecaps. I’d tried screaming for help until my voice gave out but that did little good as well. I was in a barn in the middle of nowhere with the only person able to hear being the very one who’d done this to me.

As I felt my life slowly draining away along with my blood, it wasn’t my entire life which flashed before my eyes. It was merely the last few days at most. The scenes that flashed through my mind were the ones that led me to this place, the ones that I most wanted to forget.

My name is John Winthrop and I am a thirty-four year old husband and father…or at least I was. Not very long ago, I was taking a vacation road trip with my wife Valerie and our seven year old daughter Annie, intending to see the country a little while we could. It had been a nice trip for the most part, but unfortunately, Val and I had just had an argument over where we should go next. It was getting dark enough that we’d have to stop for the night and would have to decide on our next destination in the morning.

When we stopped at the motel, Annie let out a loud yawn and then immediately went to the vending machine full of junk food that was set up outside. She gave me a pleading look, “Can I have a candy bar daddy?”

“No,” Val took the lead on this one. “It’s too late for candy. It’s time to brush your teeth and get ready for bed instead.”

Suddenly, I felt something sharp sting me in the neck. I reached for it and found something sticking out, something which I pulled out and found to be a feather tipped dart. I stared at it for a moment in blank confusion, feeling a sluggishness quickly spreading through my body at the same time.

“John,” Val exclaimed, rushing to my side as I collapsed to the ground, unable to stand any longer. She bent over me and let out a sharp gasp as a dart suddenly appeared in her own neck just like the one I’d pulled out from my own. “What’s going on…?” She was suddenly very afraid and I didn’t blame her. I was too. She turned and weakly called out, “Annie…,” before she collapsed on top of me.

I couldn’t move my body but I was still conscious enough to be vaguely aware of what was going on around me. A man in dark clothes came over a minute later and pulled me up and into a dark blue van. Val and Annie were both brought in and dropped into the back of the van as well. I couldn’t move and I was barely awake but I was more terrified than ever before in my life. Unfortunately, it would only get worse.

Out kidnapper drove us to what appeared to be an old farm in the middle of nowhere, something I saw while he was dragging me from the van to an old barn and then chaining me to the floor. Val and Annie were brought in as well, though I had no idea how much either of them was aware of what was going on. I just hoped that Annie at least didn’t have to be awake for this.

The kidnapper waited until whatever he’d drugged us with had mostly worn off and then the true horror began. He started by using a large knife to cut the clothes off Val, and then he began to rape her. He completely ignored Val’s screams, Annie’s loud crying, and my desperate pleading for him to stop and leave my family alone. I struggled frantically against my chains, tears burning down my cheeks as I simultaneously begged and threatened him. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, when he was finished he used his knife to slice through Val’s stomach, spilling her innards all over the barn floor. I was helpless to do anything but stare in horror and scream.

“Mommy,” Annie cried out, alternating between that and, “Daddy…” My heart broke since there was absolutely nothing I could do to comfort her. There was nothing I could do to take away the horrific memory of what she’d just seen and lost.

“Don’t look,” I screamed at Annie who was chained to the floor too far away for me to reach. “Close your eyes Annie…”

Without a word, the evil bastard used Val’s blood to paint a large circle in the floor. He even painted several strange symbols. While he was doing this, his face didn’t show any sign that he was enjoying this or even that he was doing it out of anger. Instead, his expression was that of a man who was performing a task that was unpleasant but necessary. I think that was even worse in a way.

Then the monster went to Annie, ignoring my alternating pleas and demands that he leave her alone. He spoke for the first and only time that I heard, saying simply, “I regret the necessity of this.” And with that, he slit Annie’s throat and proceeded to paint even more symbols with her blood.

By this point, my very soul had already been shattered by his evil, so when he began to work on my body, cutting my flesh and breaking my bones, that was nothing compared to what he’d already done. I screamed until my throat was raw and would release no more sound. The monster didn’t give me the release he had Val or Annie but instead stepped back and silently watched me as my life slowly bled away.

With my final breath, I glared at my murderer with a burning hatred that I never would have imagined myself capable of feeling. I’d never hated anyone before in my life so it seemed almost ironic that this was the last thing I’d ever feel. I’d always told Annie that violence never solved anything, yet I realized now that this was one of the greatest lies anyone ever told. Some things…like the evil before me could only be solved with violence. I only prayed that someone would solve this problem very soon. It was only a pity that I would never see it.

My final thought before the last of my life bled away and death claimed me was that at least I would be with my family.

--------------------

I was floating in what would have been a comfortable darkness, feeling as though I was more than half asleep. My pain was all gone, at least all my physical pain. However, there were some pains that went far too deep to ever go away. There was a knot of agony in the middle of my very being, yet I wasn’t aware enough to remember why.

Then I suddenly came to and found that I was in a bed, a nice comfortable bed in a small bedroom. I sat up and looked around, feeling confused. Looked down at myself but saw no sign of the nasty wounds that had slashed through my skin in a dozen places. When I experimentally wiggled my toes, there was no sign of the pain or broken bones.

“It was a dream,” I whispered, shaking as I said it because I knew to the bottom of my soul that what had happened had been no dream. As horrific and nightmarish as those experiences had been, I knew without a doubt that they’d been real.

When I climbed out of bed, I found my clothes were folded on a chair beside it. I was startled as I picked up the shirt, realizing that it was my favorite shirt…the one Val had thrown out a couple months ago because holes and formed in the arm pits. Likewise, the shoes were an old and comfortable pair that I’d recently thrown away because holes had been worn in the bottoms. However, there were no signs of holes in either the shoes or shirt.

I got dressed without a word though I looked around the room suspiciously. I still burned with anger and fear, not to mention worry for my family, yet at the same time I couldn’t help but feeling curious. This place didn’t seem at all threatening but that only made me all the more concerned. I had to find Val and Annie.

There was a bathroom right across the hall from the bedroom door so I went in, only to realize that I didn’t actually have to go. Instead, I washed my hands in the sink and then looked into the mirror. My reflection was strangely blurred, as though the glass was all covered with fog. However, everything else in the bathroom was reflected with perfect clarity. It was only my reflection which was blurry.

I scowled and scratched at my goatee and then went to go find out what was going on. I looked down the hallway which seemed to go on forever in one direction. I gasped, seeing countless doors going down the endless hallway. Then I looked in the other direction and saw that it ended with an open door just a few dozen feet away, a doorway that seemed to open to the outside. I started for the exit, grimacing in determination that I was going to find out what was going on.

When I stepped outside, I found that I was in what appeared to be a very lush garden. The grass was brilliant green and the back yard was surrounded by hedges and rose bushes. I looked at the house I’d just come out of and found that it was a small cottage, far too small for that endless hallway that I’d looked down. The surroundings were made even stranger simply by the fact of how calm and peaceful they were when compared to the nightmare of that barn.

Then I suddenly noticed that there was a small round table set up in the middle of the garden with an old woman sitting at it. She had on a flower print dress and a wide brimmed hat to help shade her from that bright sun. All I could do was stare at this woman for a moment and then I started towards her, somehow knowing that she had the answers I wanted.

“Where are Val and Annie?” I demanded coldly.

However, the old woman just gestured for me to have a seat. “Would you like some tea Mr. Winthrop? We have much to discuss, you and I.”

“Who are you?” I demanded. “Where am I? Where are my wife and daughter?”

“Sit,” the old woman commanded in a voice that demanded instant obedience. Then as I began to sit down in the chair across from her, she continued in a pleasant tone, “We will discuss your situation and I will answer your questions.” She gave me a sad smile and added, “I fear that you are in a terrible situation young man.”

I stared at this old woman, suddenly feeling afraid. She looked like an old woman but there was something about her that told me that she was far more than she appeared. Then I gulped and asked, “I’m dead, aren’t I?”

“Very good,” she responded, giving me an approving smile. “Most do not grasp the situation so quickly. They deny what they do not wish to admit and waste my time with having to convince them.”

“I know I died,” I said quietly, wincing at the memory. “There was no way I could have survived that…especially not without any scars…”

The old woman merely nodded and told me, “Many would block out the memory of such an event… But you would not forget. You could never forget…”

“No,” I answered honestly, feeling the knot of rage and fear within me. I could very clearly remember my own torture and death, but more important, I could remember what that monster had done to Val and Annie. The sight of it was branded onto my very soul and would never go away no matter how much I might wish it would. Tears of immense grief ran down my cheeks, mixing with the rage that also filled me.

“Is this Heaven?” I asked grimly.

“No,” she told me, gesturing the door to the cottage and saying, “Heaven is behind the seventh door on the right. But I fear that door is locked to you.”

I gulped at that. “Hell then…”

“The six hundredth and sixty-sixth door on the left,” she said simply. “But that door is also locked to you as well. Every door leads to a different fate, be it Valhalla, Hel, the Elysian Fields, or even reincarnation. However, your situation is complicated and each of those doors is now locked to you.”

I blinked in confusion, “What do you mean? Who are you anyway? And where are Val and Annie?” I was beginning to get frantic about that last.

“This is an entryway,” the old women told me, gesturing around us. “This is a crossroads that all must pass through to reach their final destinations. And I…I have many names. In fact, every culture and language has a name for me. You would know me as Death.”

I let out a gasp at that and started to back up but the old woman made no threatening moves at all. Instead, she merely poured more tea. I gulped and sat back down, realizing that if this really was some personification of death, then there wasn’t much I could do…especially since I was already dead.

“You…aren’t quite what I would have imagined,” I said awkwardly.

“I rarely am,” the old woman…Death said pleasantly. “If you would prefer, I could look like a skeleton adorned in a black cloak, a dark god sitting upon a throne of skulls, or even a teenage goth girl. I have many faces but this is the one I chose to show you.”

I had to admit that the old woman was definitely less scary than the grim reaper would have been so I was thankful for that. Then I gestured to the roses which surrounded us and said, “I wouldn’t have thought a place of death would be so…alive.”

Death merely smiled again. “Everything which lives must die, such is the nature of life. And everything that dies comes through here. Even plants and animals have a spirit, a record of what they were when alive. You died yet exist here just as you did when alive, so why should this rose bush be any different?”

“I guess I never thought of it that way,” I admitted. I’d always thought that a place of death would be dark, scary, and barren of any life. And at the moment, that actually would have fit my mood better.

“As I said, all that lives must die,” Death told me in a pleasant tone as she sipped her tea. “This provides sustenance for that which remains and makes room for new life to follow. You could think of me as a librarian, storing the spirit of everything that ever lived in an archive so that it would not be lost. The system is set up so that when everything dies, its spirit automatically goes to the appropriate archive. However, there are things which sometimes fall through the cracks of the system, though I have agents to deal with these. Valkyrie, reapers, and others deal with these souls, giving them the special attention they require. Some get an honor guard to escort them to their doors, some a guide to lead them, and others a jailor to drag them along. Yet there are the extremely rare few who slip through even these cracks. The man who killed you and your family is one such being.”

“What do you mean?” I demanded, my rage burning again as I remembered what that monster had done to Val and Annie. What he’d done to me was nothing compared to that. I wanted him and I wanted him bad. I wanted revenge on him just as much as I wanted to see my family again. “Where is he?”

“That is the problem,” Death explained, setting down her cup of tea with a deep scowl. “He has an extremely powerful magic spell…a ritual fueled by rage and suffering and human sacrifice. This ritual protects him from any and all harm and completely removes him from even my power. I can neither see nor touch him in any way, nor can any of my agents. He cannot be killed and cannot even be harmed. He has escaped me for over a thousand years, performing this ritual once a year to renew its power.”

“Holy shit,” I whispered in realization.

My fists clenched with rage as I thought of this man, this monster who’d raped, tortured, and murdered my family so that he could live forever. And if he’d been alive for over a thousand years, then he must have done this a thousand times before. How many people had he tortured and murdered in that time? The thought that this monster could escape to continue doing this only filled me with an even greater rage.

“As I told you,” Death stated grimly. “Your situation is complicated. You were the human sacrifice for the spell. He consigned your soul to the abyss, and in the process, blocked you from ever entering any of the doors. You are eternally excluded from every afterlife.”

I felt a cold chill run through my very being and I whispered, “What do you mean? When I can I see my family?”

“I fear that you cannot follow your family,” Death told me sadly. “His immortality came at the cost of your afterlife.”

“That monster,” I snarled angrily, tears running down my cheeks. “But he killed Val and Annie too…”

“Yes,” she agreed. “He used their suffering and blood to fuel the spell…and to torment you. You were the one he chose as his sacrifice, the one whose soul he used. They are not blocked from their fates as you are.”

I let out a faint sigh at that faint mercy, that at least they might be able to enter Heaven. “But how are Annie and Val? Can I at least see them?”

“You are not the first he did this to,” Death told me with a grim look, not answering my question. “As with all the others, you are now a revenant banned from your eternal rest. However, all the other souls he’d consigned to the abyss had seethed in their pain and hatred until that was all that remained. Most of them have pulled themselves out of the abyss and now haunt the world, spreading their misery and rage. They are also bound to their killer, protecting the very one who did this to them.”

“Is that going to happen to me?” I asked angrily, unable to imagine a worse fate than to protect the man who’d done this. I would rather suffer an eternity in Hell than become his slave.

“I was able to pull you from the abyss before you were lost,” Death told me. “However, your soul would still fade and you may yet become like the other revenants. I can protect you from that, but there is a price. A price I suspect you will be happy to pay.”

I stared at her for a moment, suspecting that most people who die don’t get this kind of personal attention from Death. That meant she wanted something from me. I wasn’t certain what, other than that it had something to do with the man who’d killed me.

“And what price is this?” I demanded angrily.

Death took a sip from her tea and said, “You accept my protection and become my agent. You solve my problem and avenge your family at the same time.” She gave me a predatory smile as she added, “I need you to kill this man.”

I gasped at that, then pointed out, “But you said he can’t die…”

“So I did,” she agreed. “But the ritual he used has one flaw…one single hole that we can use. You see, it is your pain and death that protects him so you alone can penetrate it. You alone are the only being capable of killing him…at least until he casts the ritual again. You only have a window of one year.”

I stared at Death in silence, definitely interested in her offer if it meant that I could kill that monster. I felt the hatred smolder inside of me, merging with my determination as I realized that I actually had an opportunity.

Death already knew my answer and continued, “My power will protect you from fading into one of the mindless creatures that the other sacrifices have become. But once you become my agent, there is no going back. You will still be a revenant but you will be my revenant.”

“But Val and Annie,” I whispered, wanting to go after this monster more than almost anything. However, the one thing I wanted even more was to see my family.

“They have gone where you cannot follow,” Death told me gently. “And as powerful as I am, I cannot simply reach into the archives to pull out the souls that reside there.”

This was horribly crushing news but in a way, it was freeing as well. Tears ran down my cheeks as I thought of the fact that I would never be able to see my wife and daughter again. My last sight of them had been the horrific nightmare of their deaths, something that I could never get out of my mind or forget.

“I’ll do it,” I said grimly, knowing that I had absolutely nothing left. That evil bastard had taken away my wife and daughter as well as any chance of ever seeing them again. The only thing I had left was my revenge on him. “What do I have to do?”

Death stood up and stared at me with an intense look. “Your killer bound your soul to him with his ritual, and though I can keep him from controlling you, you should still be able to sense him. Use this to find and kill him.”

“Happily,” I told her.

“Your body was destroyed and you will need a new one if you are to pursue our target,” Death said almost thoughtfully. “When you awaken, you will have your new body. Use it well.”

With that, Death reached out and touched me and a cold chill suddenly shot through my very being. I could feel some sort of power flowing into me, but before I could make any sense of it, everything faded to black.

--------------------

I awoke to the sound of an annoying hum, one which wouldn’t let me sleep. When I opened my eyes, they were drawn to the ceiling and the spinning fan which was the source of the noise. This was not a familiar fan or a familiar ceiling.

In an instant, everything came crashing back to me. I remembered kidnapping, torture, and death…and then meeting Death. For a brief instant, I entertained the thought that it had all been a dream…but only for an instant. I already knew in my soul that it had been no dream.

When I sat up in bed, I immediately realized that my entire body felt wrong. I remembered what Death had told me about providing a new body and gulped before pulling the sheets aside and looking at myself.

A cold chill went through my spine as I looked down right into a pair of women’s breasts. They were nice sized, firm, and round…and sticking right out of my chest. I was more than a little surprised and gulped before reaching down further and touching myself between my legs.

“Shit,” I whispered, finding no sign of male equipment, not that I’d expected any after seeing these things on my chest.

After taking a few seconds to absorb this, I climbed out of bed and stood up. I looked around the room to get my bearings and realized that it was a motel room…a cheap looking one at that. However, I had more important things to worry about than where I was.

“I’m a woman,” I said, cupping my breasts and then reaching between my legs again.

At any other time, suddenly finding myself in the body of a woman might have seemed a nightmare…an inexcusable insult to my manhood. But after what I’ve already been through and lost, this was absolutely nothing.

I looked my new body over, seeing that it was a pretty nice female body, one that I would have given more than one look at if I’d just seen it in passing. Now it appeared to be mine and I wanted to know more about it and who I had become.

Mere seconds later, I was in the dirty and disgusting bathroom, staring at myself in the cracked mirror above the sink. The woman who stared back from the mirror had badly smeared makeup but was otherwise beautiful. She had blonde hair that went down past the shoulders, but it was a bit matted as well and looked like something had gotten in it and dried.

“Nice sized,” I said, cupping my breasts again, thinking that this woman was a bit of a looker.

I was suddenly struck with a powerful sense of guilt and I felt like I was betraying Val by cheating on her with some other woman. Then the guilt turned to anger as I remembered what had happened to Val.

“I’m here for a reason,” I reminded myself. I didn’t become a woman just so I could play grab-ass with myself. I had this body for one reason and one reason only. “I’m going to kill that monster.” I clenched my fists in rage, feeling my long nails digging painfully into my palms. But that pain was absolutely nothing compared to the pain in my heart.

With that, I went back to the other room, looking around so that I could get a better idea of who I was now and what kind of situation I would have to deal with. There were clothes scattered on the floor and an empty tequila bottle on the table. Then I saw a used condom on the floor next to the bed and grimaced. I was just thankful that whoever had used that wasn’t here right now.

My first thought was to just get dressed and get out of here as soon as I could, but remembering the smeared makeup and the matted hair, I thought that might not be a good idea. In fact, there was a bit of crustiness downstairs as well, and after seeing the condom, I knew that I really needed a shower.

I felt a bit disgusted by my current situation but tried not to think about it. In fact, I tried hard not to think of anything as I went to the bathroom and took a quick shower. I cleaned myself off, trying hard not to think about how the water felt on my breasts, trying not to remember washing Val’s breasts when we showered together.

By the time I was done showering, a large part of me wanted to just collapse to my knees in tears while the rest wanted to scream in rage. These two urges warred within while I just went through the motions, gathering what clothes I could find and getting dressed.

The clothes on the floor consisted of stiletto heeled shoes, a skirt, and a sexy top that showed a good bit of cleavage. However, I found a duffel bag that contained more acceptable clothes to my tastes. There were tight jeans, a T shirt, and some sneakers. These were more my style.

While I was looking around, I found a purse which gave me more information about the person whose body I was in. There was a driver’s license for Traci Adams, saying that she…that I was twenty-four. The purse also contained a handful of condoms as well as a wad of one and five dollar bills. This all told me a bit about the woman whose body I currently occupied.

For a moment, I worried about Traci and what my being here meant. Did Death kick her out of her own body so that I’d have a place to go? If that was the case, I’d think that Death could find better subjects. And if that was the case, did that make me an accomplice to murder?

“I have a job to do,” I reminded myself grimly, not wanting to think about that when I had a monster to slay. At the moment, getting revenge on him was the only thing that mattered.

After gathering up all of Traci’s belongings, now my belongings, I stepped out of the motel. There were a set of car keys in the purse so I started looking for her car, only to pause and look around in realization.

A cold chill ran down my spine as I recognized my surroundings. I recognized this motel…the very same one that my family and I had been kidnapped from. Memories of that night crashed through my mind, nearly staggering me from their power. It was the cold rage that allowed me to get hold of myself and stay focused.

“That’s why Death brought me here,” I whispered in sudden understanding. She’d brought me back close to the monster’s last known location. If I was going to start following him, this would be the place to start.

With that, I stopped looking for the car and began looking around the motel. There was no sign of the car that I’d left behind, and when I saw the daily newspaper, I understood why. The date was nearly three months after the last one I remembered.

I was a bit shaken by the realization that I’d been dead for three months without even knowing it. That also meant that I had a little less time to find the monster and kill him than I realized.

“I need to find his trail,” I told myself with grim determination. That meant going to the last place that I saw him…the place where I’d died. As I thought about it, I could sense the direction where it was located. “I guess I have a built in compass…”

Once I found the old car that went with my keys, I started driving towards the direction I needed to go. I was drawn towards the place of my torture and death the same way a carrier pigeon was drawn to their home.

There was a cold knot in my stomach that grew stronger as I got closer, a sense that I was going to the last place on Earth that I wanted to yet the one place I actually had to. I was more than a little tempted to just turn around and go the other direction but continued on, reminding myself that I had to do this. It was the only way to find that monster.

It didn’t take me long to find my destination, an old farmhouse that looked like it had been boarded up and abandoned for a long time. It looked quite a bit different during the day than it had at night. As for the barn, it was gone. In its place was a charred and blackened ruin. It had been burned to the ground.

“It was here,” I said with a surge of anger.

I slowly walked through what little remained of the barn, seeing blackened char and a few boards that had managed to keep from being completely consumed. Then I stopped in the middle, seeing a chain on the ground. This was where it happened…where Val was raped and murdered…where Annie was forced to watch and then taken away from me for good.

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I relived every agonizing moment of my time in this barn. By the time I turned away, I was shaking and barely able to remain standing. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I was going to find that monster and make him pay for what he’d done.

--------------------

“Damn, damn, damn,” I spat out angrily as I frantically punched and kicked at the motel bed and pillows.

Lashing out like this might give me a little release, but not nearly enough. It didn’t make me feel better. Nothing would make me feel better, except perhaps for killing that monster.

I turned from the bed and began to kick the cheap furniture in frustration. I snarled, imagining that each and every kick was to the man who’d done this to me, who’d destroyed everything. I desperately wanted it to be him for real, not some crappy hotel chair.

After I’d found the charred ruins of the barn, my instincts had pulled me in another direction, the same way they’d led me there. I’d spent the last two days driving almost nonstop, following this pull towards the monster who’d killed me.

When I’d woken up in this body, I’d been left with absolutely nothing except what had been in that motel room. The only money I had was the small amount I’d found in the purse. And unfortunately, that money hadn’t gone very far. I’d used most of it up in gas money and the last of it had been spent on this cheap motel room.

Now here I was, flat broke, in a strange body, and a long way from where I needed to go. I had no idea how I was going to keep going, but I knew that I’d find a way. I had no choice but to find a way.

I let out a howl of primal rage and then punched the wall. A cheap mirror on the wall suddenly cracked, though I wasn’t anywhere near it. My fist hurt but I didn’t care. Then, I collapsed to my knees and began sobbing.

My emotions were a twisted knot of rage, anguish and frustration. Everything I had…everything I was…and everything I’d loved had been stripped from me, leaving me with nothing but this gaping hole in my soul. I felt lost in every way imaginable.

I remained on the floor, crying because it was all I could think to do at the moment. Everything came rushing out in a stream of tears that poured down my cheeks.

Then without warning, a soft voice said, “Don’t cry Daddy…”

I froze at that, instantly recognizing that voice. I looked up and gasped in shock at the sight in front of me. It was Annie, standing only a few feet away from me.

“Annie?” I cried out, shocked and delighted to see my daughter. She was transparent and I could see through her…but she was there.

Without a moment of conscious thought, I leapt at my daughter, throwing my arms around her. And through her. I could see her in front of me but my hands went through there as if she wasn’t there.

“I’m a ghost,” Annie said with a guilty look, as though I’d just caught her doing something naughty.”

“You’re here,” I whispered, my heart racing at the sight of my daughter. I was unbelievably relieved, yet also confused. Death had said that Anne and Val had gone to the other side and that I’d never be able to see them again.

“I missed you Daddy,” Annie said, trying to hug me too, though she seemed no more able to hug me than I could hug her.

“I missed you too,” I told her, my tears having turned to ones of joy. “Oh God, I’ve missed you honey…”

Neither Annie or I seemed to be able to touch each other, but I crouched on the ground beside her and we went through the motions. It was still enough to make me feel a million times better. Something inside me seemed to flutter, something that I vaguely recognized as hope.

“You’re pretty,” Annie said, grinning at me happily.

“Um…thank you,” I told Annie, feeling a little awkward at having my daughter see me as a woman. “Where’s Mommy? Is she here too?”

Annie just responded with a shrug and asked, “When are you gonna come with us?”

“I…I can’t,” I answered quietly, feeling pained again. I wiped the tears from my cheeks and told her. “The monster…the monster who did this to us made it so I can’t go with you.”

At this point, I was no longer sure if my tears were of relief or despair. With Annie here in front of me, my emotions were even more confusing. All I knew was that for the first time since my death, I felt at least a little happy.

Just then, Annie began to fade away, becoming more and more faint. “I’ve gotta go,” Annie told me, waving at me as she vanished from view.

“Annie,” I cried out, reaching for where she’d been. “Annie, please come back…”

Annie was gone, leaving me to wonder if her ghost had really been here, or if it had just been a hallucination caused by my own stress and scrambled emotions. I remained on the floor, staring at where she had been standing and crying.

--------------------

I got up with the rising of the sun, not that I’d actually slept well during the night. It was an uncomfortable mattress, I was in the wrong body, and my mind wouldn’t stop running.

“Annie,” I whispered, still thinking about her visit last night. If that actually had been her. I still wasn’t certain that my own mind hadn’t been playing tricks on me, letting me see what I wanted to.

There were a lot of things that I was unsure about, but the one thing I knew with absolute certainty was that I still had to find the monster and kill him. Even now, I could sense which direction he was in. I had no idea how I was going to get there now that I was out of money, but there was no doubt that I was going to get him.

I was eager to get on my way, though I didn’t know what I was going to do once I did. I had half a tank in my car, but once that gas ran out I was done. I would have to figure out a way to get more money if I wanted to continue my hunt for the monster. And of course, I definitely wanted to do that.

In spite of my being in a hurry, I still took the time to shower. I might be in a different body, but my old routine had been to take a shower first thing in the morning, before I did anything else. With everything else going on, I needed at least some of the routine to help me feel like I had some control…and like I was still me.

I was quick with my shower, trying to ignore my sensitive breasts and the temptation to check out between my legs. I might be curious about my new body but I had far more important things to focus on. Finding the monster was on the top of the list, though of course, getting the money to do so was a close second.

Once I was done with my quick shower, I got dressed and gathered my few belongings. It was time to get going and look for a way to make money. Preferably, some way other than how I suspected the previous owner of this body had.

Just as I was about to reach for the door, I was surprised to hear a knocking coming from the other side. I paused, wondering who it could possibly be. When I opened the door, I was stunned to see a beautiful woman standing there. She had shoulder length red hair and a splattering of freckles on her cheeks.

“I think you have the wrong room,” I told her.

“I think not,” the woman said with an Irish accent. “I’m here looking for you John.”

I froze at that, my eyes going wide at the mention of my name. “How…?”

“Perhaps we should speak inside,” the woman suggested. “Where we’ll have a little privacy.”

The red head didn’t wait for an answer before she started coming in, leaving me the choice of stepping aside or staying where I was and having her walk into me. After she’d come in, she stopped and stared at me with a curious look.

“Not a bad new body,” the woman said, looking faintly amused. “But I’d imagine it’s a bit much for someone used to being male.”

“How did you know?” I asked in confusion. “Who are you?”

“You can call me Brigid,” the red head answered. “Our mutual employer sent me to help you, but you were gone by the time I arrived.” She gave me a look of annoyance and said, “It took me awhile to catch up.”

I stared at her for a moment, having no reason to doubt her. Who else could possibly know who I really was or where I’d be except for Death and her people?

“Then you know what I’m supposed to do?” I asked her, knowing that I had to be sure.

Brigid nodded. “Death said that you were to hunt down and eliminate one of those who have been evading her for centuries.” Then she scowled. “She said that you were the only one capable of doing this and that I should help you however I could.”

“And…she told you about me?” I asked. Of course, Brigid had obviously been told something since she knew my name. The question was, how much did she know?

“Yes,” Brigid responded grimly, sitting down on the edge of the bed and looking at me. “She told me all.” Then she bowed her head slightly. “T’was a great evil done upon you and yours.”

I grunted at that, clenching my fists and trying very hard not to think about the wrong that had been done to me. It was very difficult since that was all I seemed capable of thinking about now.

“I brought resources,” Brigid stated, giving me a steady look. “Money, weapons, and most importantly, experience.”

With that, Brigid held out her hand and a gun suddenly appeared in it. She didn’t aim the gun at me but in the opposite direction. Then she handed the weapon to me.

I held the gun, staring at it for a moment. I didn’t know much about guns and had never thought them necessary in my life. Until now, I hadn’t really thought about how I would kill the monster, only that I would. It made sense to have a weapon.

“This is no mortal weapon,” Brigid stated. “It can vanish from this plane and return when you summon it. As our target will likely be surrounded by revenants, this will be able to harm them as well.”

“Thank you,” I said grimly.

Brigid watched me for a moment before asking, “Are you familiar with firearms?”

“You point this end at what you want to shoot,” I stated, pointing to the barrel.

Brigid snorted. “We’ll practice. Now, I believe we should be on our way.”

“Definitely,” I agreed. The sooner I was able to find and kill that monster the better. I held my new gun firmly and said, “Let’s go.”

-------------------

Mile after mile, the road passed me by. I paid little attention to that which passed, only to the calling which drew me on. This compass in my soul lead me straight to the monster.

I’d abandoned my car at the motel yesterday and had continued with Brigid in her car. Her car was a white Mustang that was much more impressive than the piece of crap I’d left behind. At one time, I would have truly admired this car, but now, it was just a faster means of transportation.

Brigid was behind the wheel, never seeming to tire or require a rest. Neither of us spoke much as we drove, which suited me quite well. I wasn’t in the mood for company or talking. Her very presence distracted me from my own thoughts, though that was both for good and ill.

“You are a quiet one,” Brigid commented, not taking her eyes from the road. “That makes for a boring journey.”

“I’m not in a talkative mood,” I responded grimly.

“John,” Brigid started. Then she paused. “Perhaps I should call you Traci now instead. After all, that is the name of the body you wear.“

“Whatever,” I replied, still staring out the window. “I don’t care what you call me.”

“Or perhaps Jen,” she continued. “Short for Jennifer and close enough to your old name to be easy for you to answer to.”

I snorted at that and repeated, “Whatever.” However, I thought that Jen probably would have been easier to adjust to than Traci.

“You may not speak much,” Brigid told me with a faint tone of amusement. “But you still speak more than any other revenant I have encountered. I think you are not a full revenant yet. Our employer saved you before you reached that cursed state.”

I just snorted at that, staring down at my manicured nails and noting how strange it looked to be seeing those on my own hands. Then again, they weren’t my hands. They were a woman’s hands.

“I’m more than cursed enough,” I told her quietly. I closed my eyes and all I could see was Val’s face as the monster tortured her. Annie’s face…

“A revenant is a spirit of hatred and rage,” Brigid said quietly. “Their souls marinate in it until they slowly dissolve and they lose everything of what they once were. They become mad and all that remains is the rage.”

I gave another snort and demanded, “And what are you?”

“I am a Valkyrie,” she answered proudly. “We serve as honor guards and warriors as needed.”

I watched Brigid as she drove, taking note of her red hair and freckles. “I always thought Valkyrie were all Scandinavian.”

Brigid laughed at that and told me, “A misconception. If that is what you think, then it is good that I was the one chosen to help you rather than Xian Chung. If you doubt me, you’d never believe it of her.”

I nodded faintly, being curious about Brigid in spite of my attitude. I’d never met a Valkyrie before, especially not an Irish one. Questions began to percolate in my mind, and almost in spite of myself, I began to open my mouth to ask.

Then I snapped my jaw shut and silently told myself that I couldn’t let myself get distracted by Brigid or anything else. I had to stay focused on the goal, on finding that monster and ending him. Nothing else mattered.

“Annie,” I whispered, suddenly remembering her appearance from the night before.

My heart nearly jumped into my throat as I thought about my daughter. I still wasn’t completely sure if it really was her or if it was just my mind cracking. After all, Brigid had just told me that revenants go insane so maybe I really was further along that path than I’d thought.

Still, I had to believe that really was Annie. I had to believe that she’d come back from whatever afterlife she’d gone to in order to see me. But then, as comforting as that idea was, it also made me feel guilty. If she could have peace in Heaven and I was somehow taking her away from that…

“You need practice,” Brigid abruptly said. “It won’t do any good if we find our target and you can’t use your weapon.”

A few minutes later, Brigid pulled the car off the road and drove us to a field with some trees. She silently pulled out a handgun that looked identical to the one she’d given me and fired a single shot at one of the trees. Instead of the expected bang, there was no sound at all, only a flash of white light from the barrel and then a burnt hole in the tree.

“Now you,” Brigid told me.

I held my hand out and willed my gun to appear, just as Brigid had demonstrated yesterday, and it appeared in my hand. Without saying a word, I pointed the gun at the tree and pulled the trigger. There was no ‘bang’, only a flash of light which seemed to miss the tree completely.

“Shite,” Brigid muttered in obvious annoyance. “You’re even worse than I expected.”

I snarled and fired another shot at the tree and then another. None of my shots even came close. Brigid was watching me with a look of disgust, though it couldn’t match the disgust I felt with myself. How could I kill the monster if I couldn’t hit him?

“Let’s start with the basics,” Brigid said in exasperation.

Brigid began giving me basic lessons in firearms and shooting, correcting my stance and having me practice shot after shot. Fortunately, these weird ghost guns didn’t seem to ever run out of ammo or need to be reloaded.

We practiced for two hours and I improved, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. I still missed the tree half the time and was growing impatient and frustrated.

“Why are we wasting our time with this?” I finally snapped. “I can feel him there…” I pointed in the direction I could feel the call from. “We’re wasting our damn time…”

Suddenly, Brigid was in motion, faster than I could follow. In an instant, she’d knocked the gun from my hand, knocked my feet out from under me, and slammed me hard on the ground. I found myself on my back with her holding me down, pushing painfully on one of my breasts.

“I cannae kill him for ye,” Brigid reminded me coldly, her accent suddenly becoming much stronger. “I cannae even see the bastard… All I can do is train ye to do the job and watch yer back. If ye fail, he’ll not only go on torturing and killing…but ye’ll probably end up as his bitch.”

With that, Brigid got off me and let me up, even holding out her hand and helping me up. I glared at her in a cold anger, pissed but knowing that she was right.

“Now then Jen,” Brigid told me with an almost evil smile. “Ye’ve had yer little breather so now get yer ass back to practicing.”

“Bitch,” I muttered under my breath as I shifted into my stance and took aim.

“I heard that,” Brigid said. “And that’s Ms. Bitch to you.”

--------------------

I was in the motel room I shared with Brigid and had just finished taking a shower. After the events of the day, I had definitely needed it and I appreciated feeling clean again. Still, in spite how much I’d needed the shower, I couldn’t help but feeling guilty that I’d actually enjoyed it. How could I allow myself to enjoy anything while my family were dead and that monster still lived?

Brigid and I had halted our journey and had spent the last two days training to get me ready. I’d fired countless shots at our chosen targets, slowly improving to the point that most of my shots came at least reasonably close to where I’d aimed. However, Brigid was quick to point out that I still had a long way to go before I could be considered a good shot.

The target practice had been frustrating at first, but now I realized that this was the easiest part of my training. Brigid wasn’t content to just teach me how to shoot, she’d also begun teaching me hand to hand combat. She was fast, vicious, and left my entire body in pain. The only consolation was that no matter how bruised I got, the bruises would all fade away within an hour.

I didn’t question how I was able to heal so quickly. After dying, meeting Death, and then finding myself alive again in the body of some woman, healing from a few bruises didn’t really impress me much. Still, it was convenient and I definitely appreciated it.

Whenever I halted or balked in my training, Brigid was quick to remind me of what was at stake. “You’ll only have one chance at our target,” she’d repeated several times. “It is better to take the time to prepare than it is to fail. He has waited a thousand years. A few extra days will not matter.”

I sat down on the edge of my bed, dressed only in a large motel towel that was wrapped around my mid-section. At the moment, I had the room to myself thanks to Brigid leaving for supplies. I was thankful for this as I needed time with my own thoughts, as painful as they were.

Brigid had been my traveling companion and trainer for several days now and she still confused me. She seemed calm and friendly most of the time, yet when she shifted into training mode, she became a ball busting bitch. I wasn’t sure which was the real her, or if they both were. All I knew was that right now, she was the only person on the planet who was watching my back.

“Soon,” I told myself quietly, frustrated over the delay in chasing after the monster but trying to be patient.

I closed my eyes, trying to ignore the strange feel of my body and focus instead on my goal. The monster. Images flashed behind my eyes…painful ones. I remembered the events of that night…the screams of terror and agony that came from my wife and daughter. I remembered how raw my throat felt after my own screams, yet how little I’d cared about that. All the rage and hatred boiled inside me, waiting for the chance to be released upon my enemy.

Suddenly, a single word snapped me out of my fury and masochistic meditation. “Daddy,” Annie’s voice exclaimed, making me instantly open my eyes.

My daughter stood in the middle of the motel room, staring at me with sad eyes. She was transparent, just like the last time I’d seen her, and the bottom of her feet were two inches above the floor. All I could do was stare at her, the hatred fading into the background, but not all the grief or pain.

“Annie,” I whispered, getting up and going to her. I didn’t try touching her, knowing that it wouldn’t do any good. I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t touch her since I was dead too, but I suspected that it was because I was currently inside a living body.

“Don’t go Daddy,” Annie pleaded with ghostly tears running down her cheeks. “Don’t go to the bad man… I don’t want the bad man to hurt you again…”

“He can’t honey,” I whispered to her, tears of my own forming. “He can’t do anything to me worse than what he’s already done…”

“Please Daddy,” Annie begged. “The bad man hurt me really bad… He scares me… Please don’t let him hurt you again too…”

“I…I,” I started, staring at Annie with tears pouring down my cheeks. I wanted to do as she asked and promise her that I’d avoid the monster…but I couldn’t. “I have to go after the bad man,” I told her quietly, clenching my hands so that my long nails dug painfully into my palms. I felt blood beginning to fill my hand, but I didn’t care. “I have to stop him.”

The truth is, I wanted to do more than stop the monster. I wanted to hurt him as much as he’d hurt me. I wanted to take away everything that he loved and then make him suffer an eternity of agonizing torment. I didn’t just want to go after him…I HAD to. It was all I had left.

Just then, the door began to open and Annie tried one more time, begging, “Please Daddy…,” as she faded away and vanished.

“I’m back,” Brigid said unnecessarily as she came into the room. Then she froze and looking around with a suspicious expression. “There was a ghost here.”

“What?” I gasped in surprise, shocked that she could tell that after Annie had already vanished. But at the same instant, I felt a swelling of relief. This meant that Annie hadn’t just been a figment of my imagination. She really had been here.

“I can feel it,” Brigid stated calmly, giving me a curious look.

“My daughter,” I admitted, wiping at my tears and trying to keep from shaking. “She was here…”

“I see,” Brigid said, giving me a sympathetic look.

“Death told me that she couldn’t pull Val or Annie back,” I told her, staring at the spot that Annie had occupied a minute ago. “She said I’d never see them again…”

Brigid sat down on the bed beside me and didn’t say a word at first. After a long pause, she quietly told me, “Even Death can’t pull someone back after they’ve moved beyond. But sometimes…just sometimes…if a soul has enough motivation, they can briefly cross back on their own.”

“I saw Annie again,” I whispered, feeling tears coming again. My heart felt like it was jumping into my throat from all the emotion. Then I smiled every so faintly and added, “I saw my daughter again.”

“Coming back like this can be very dangerous for her,” Brigid told me gently. “There are things that can hunt and feed on ghosts.” She put a hand on my shoulder and said, “I know this will be difficult to accept, but if you see her again…you should discourage her from visiting…for her own safety.”

I nodded faintly, dreading the idea of having to do that. I’d gotten to see my daughter again and the idea of turning her away was almost more than I could even consider. All I could do was sit there crying, though I was unsure of how many of the tears were of grief and how many relief.

--------------------

“This is it,” I told Brigid with a barely contained rage. “We’re here.”

Brigid had trained me for only three days, three very hard and brutal days where every inch of my body was bruised over and over again. Brigid taught me the basics of fighting but assured me that I still had a long way yet to go. Still, she finally decided that I wouldn’t accidentally blow my own foot off and was safe to work with.

After the training, we resumed driving, following the compass in my head that led straight to the monster. It took another two days but we finally arrived at our destination.

Brigid had parked her mustang a short distance down the road and we now stood in front of the wrought iron gate that blocked our way to the mansion. I glared at the mansion through the gate and then looked at the wall that surrounded the entire property, a brick wall that had barbed wire on top.

“You’re sure?” Brigid asked me with a grim expression.

I nodded, being absolutely certain of this fact. I could feel the monster right there, just a short distance ahead of us. My finger twitched and my gun appeared in my hand.

“I won’t be able to get too close to him,” Brigid reminded me. “But I can go a little further.” She paused for a moment before adding. “I can help you get past his guards.”

“Guards?” I asked in surprise. I hadn’t given much thought to the monster having guards, but it made sense. After all, anyone who could afford a place like this could afford guards.

“I can feel them in there,” Brigid stated with a dark look.

For a brief moment, I wondered what Brigid meant but then I realized that I could feel it too. I could feel something dark and angry from within, something other than the monster.

Brigid didn’t say another word. Instead, she pointed her gun at the gate and fired a single shot, destroying the lock. Then she pushed the creaking gate open wide enough for us to walk through.

Almost as soon as I’d stepped through the gate, I could feel the hostile forces surrounding us. There wasn’t just one as I’d previously thought but many of them, all coming towards me.

The first of the monster’s guards appeared in front of me, coming out of nowhere. One second there was nothing in the space and the next there was. It was human in shape but its body was all black and seemed to be made entirely out of shadow. It’s face, which seemed vaguely human, was in an expression of pure rage.

“What the hell is that?” I demanded, feeling the rage and hatred that emanated from the creature.

“A revenant,” Brigid answered, giving me a cold look. “Like you.”

“I’m nothing like that,” I protested angrily, though I realized that the rage coming from that thing was much like my own.

“No,” Brigid said grimly. “But you would have become just like them if Death had not intervened.” She hesitated a moment before adding, “These are your predecessors…some of his previous sacrifices, now enslaved to his will.”

I stared at the shadow creature in horror and even sympathy. Whoever this once was, he…or she had been tortured and murdered the same way I had. But unlike me, this one hadn’t been broken free and given a chance at revenge. This one’s torment had continued for far longer than my own.

More of these shadow creatures began to appear around us, each of them radiating rage and hatred. One of them gestured to me and let out a moan, and I was suddenly thrown back as though struck by a massive force.

Brigid opened fire, shooting a hole through the face of one and then another. The revenants charged us both and I scrambled back to my feet and opened fire. I might feel sorry for these things, but they were standing between me and the monster. That meant I couldn’t afford to take it easy on them. I hit one in the chest several times and he began to fall apart and fade away.

“I killed one,” I exclaimed, firing at more.

“They’re already dead,” Brigid responded with a snort. “All we’re doing is sending them back to the abyss for a time out…”

Brigid pulled a sword out of nowhere and was slashing at revenants with one hand and using her other to keep shooting. Another revenant roared and Brigid and I were both thrown back painfully.

“What the hell is up with them throwing us around?” I demanded angrily, firing at one and then another. Several of the ones I hit were damaged enough that they faded away, but there were more to take their place.

“A projection of their rage,” Brigid responded, slashing at one revenant with her sword and removing its head. Her accent seemed to be getting stronger the more we fought. “Be thankful we have physical bodies or they’d be doing much more harm. Living in flesh not only allows us to interact with the physical world, it also acts as armor gainst some of the spirit worlds nasties…”

I snarled, growing frustrated that these things were standing in my way. I fired shot after shot, destroying one after another of these revenants. But there always seemed more to come.

Brigid snarled and spat out what sounded like insults and profanities, though not in any language I knew. I thought it might be Gaelic, but that didn’t really matter. I had to focus on my own enemies.

“You’re in my way,” I spat out as the anger inside me surged. These things were between me and the monster. It didn’t matter that they had no choice in the matter. They were in my way. “GET OUT OF MY WAY!”

I screamed in rage and the three revenants in front of me were suddenly throw back, taking serious damage with one of them even fading away. Brigid stared at me in surprise but I just screamed again, throwing back two more revenants and destroying one of them. It seemed that they weren’t the only ones who could fling their rage out as a weapon. And as Brigid had pointed out, they didn’t have physical bodies to protect them from the effects.

I kept screaming and shooting, burning with rage that only seemed to grow stronger now that I was so close to my goal. Brigid slashed and shot, watching my back as we slowly wore down their numbers.

After what seemed like hours, the revenants stopped coming. Brigid and I stood there, panting for breath and looking around with the expectation that more might come. When none did, I turned my attention to the mansion.

When we reached the front door, Brigid abruptly stopped and announced, “I can go no further.” She gave me a steady look and added, “Don’t let the bastard get away.”

“I won’t,” I promised, knowing that there was absolutely no way I was going to let the monster escape. I clenched my fists, feeling the hatred burning inside of me. No…he wasn’t getting away from me.

My thoughts turned to what I was going to do him when I got my hands on him. I was going to make him hurt. I was going to make him suffer the way he’d made me suffer. I was going to take everything that he cared about away from him and then make him feel more pain than he could imagine.

I snarled as I walked through the house, burning with hatred of the monster. Memories of what he’d done to me and my family kept running through my mind, fanning the flames of the rage and hatred even hotter.

The compass in my head drew me upstairs to where I found the monster. He was in a room that looked like it was probably some kind of den, occupied with a large comfortable looking chair that was placed in front of a fireplace. There was a small bar in the corner with various bottles of booze arranged on the top. And standing in the middle of the room was the monster.

I wasn’t as tall as I used to be and the monster was only a little taller than I was. He was a slender man who looked to be in his forties, with a severely receded hairline that was poorly hidden with a bad comb-over. Between that and the glasses, he looked more like an accountant than one of the most evil beings who ever lived. Looks could be deceiving.

“Who are you?” the monster demanded pointing a gun at me and looking confused. Of course, I didn’t look very dangerous. In fact, I probably looked more like a stripper than anything else. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here for you,” I said, raising my hand and summoning my gun again. It appeared in my palm just in time for me to pull the trigger, catching him by surprise.

The monster screamed as he was knocked back, firing a single shot of his gun before he dropped it. His aim was bad though and he missed me. I however, had hit him in the shoulder.

For a moment, monster stared at me from the floor in disbelief and pain. “Impossible… You can’t hurt me…” Then he demanded, “Do you know who I am?”

“I don’t know your name,” I admitted. “But I don’t need to. After all, you didn’t know mine when you killed me…”

His eyes went wide at that and he glared at me. “You can’t kill me,” he said as though it was a simple fact. He was on the floor with my gun pointed right at him and he actually looked smug.

The monster’s expression infuriated me even more, if it was possible. “You’re wrong about that,” I said, glaring at him furiously. I snarled and suddenly several of the bottles of liquor shattered. The monster’s eyes went wide, this time with fear in them. “But I’m not going to kill you right away… No, I’m going to make you wish you were dead. You’re going to beg me to kill you…”

With that, I fired another shot at the monster, hitting him in the foot. He screamed out, really looking terrified now. I snarled, wanting to hurt him more…a lot more.

“How many people have you killed?” I demanded of him, tears pouring down my cheeks. “How many women did you rape and murder?” I kicked him as hard as I could and screamed, “HOW MANY KIDS?”

The monster just glared at me defiantly. “It was never anything personal,” he finally said. “I merely do what I must to live.”

“And you don’t think I wanted to live?” I spat at him, shooting his other foot and causing him to scream. “My wife?” I shot him again, taking out one of his kneecaps. “My daughter?” Another shot and his other kneecap.

Now the monster was in a lot of pain and it was only going to get worse. I glanced to the fireplace, thinking that maybe I should put one of his hands in there. I’d never thought that I was the kind of person who could even consider doing this kind of thing, but that person was dead and gone. And it was this monster’s fault.

Suddenly, a voice cried out, “John…”

I froze and looked around, gasping, “Val?” It had definitely been her voice. However, I saw no sign of her, ghostly or otherwise.

“Please don’t,” Val’s voice seemed to whisper in my ear. “Please don’t become a monster…”

“Val?” I called out again, the tears flowing down my cheeks freely. I kept looking around but still didn’t see her. “Where are you? Please, show yourself?” But Val didn’t show herself and didn’t say anything more. “Please…”

I turned my attention back to the monster and screamed. The fire in the fireplace flared up a little and I heard something else shatter by the mini bar.

“You monster,” I whispered, tears still running down my cheeks.

Nearly every fiber in my body wanted to hurt this man, to make him suffer the way he had me. But as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t do that. Val and Annie wouldn’t want that. They wouldn’t want me to be like him.

I couldn’t torture this man the way he deserved, but I certainly couldn’t let him go. He’d tortured and murdered far too many people to even consider letting him walk away from here, and there was absolutely no way in hell that I was going to let him do this to even one more person.

“Burn in hell,” I said simply as I pointed the gun between his eyes and pulled the trigger.

The monster’s head was gone and I stared at the mess for a moment, feeling a strange mixture of emotions. There was a sense of disappointment since I couldn’t take my rage out on him anymore, yet there was also a bit of relief that it was over.

“It’s over,” I whispered, my entire body shaking. “He’s dead…”

Just then, I felt a pressure in the air…a presence. A tall figure in black robes stepped right out of the wall and stood there, holding a nasty looking scythe. I gulped at the unmistakable figure of the grim reaper.

“Finally,” the reaper said in a cold and hollow voice. “This one needed to be collected personally…”

The grim reaper paused and looked at me, then in a swift motion, it tore off its cloak, revealing an old woman in a flower print dress beneath. The cloak seemed to vanish the moment it was removed, as did the scythe.

“You did well,” Death said, giving me a gentle smile. “Thank you Jen.”

A moment later, Death reached down to the monster and touched his body. Something came out of his ruined body, something that seemed black and squirming, almost like a small shadow. With a faint look of distaste, she dropped it into her large purse, which I didn’t even notice until that very moment.

“After a thousand years of being overdue,” she said as she patted the side of her purse. “You have been collected.”

“What…what now?” I asked Death, remembering the bargain that I’d made with her. I’d killed the monster who’d raped and murdered Val in front of me, who’d murdered Annie. I was done with that, but I was still committed to work for Death for all eternity.

“Rejoin Brigid and rest,” Death told me gently. She put a hand on my shoulder and told me, “You did well Jen, so go and rest. I will tell you what comes next soon enough.”

A moment later, Death faded away and vanished, leaving me alone with the monster’s body. I stared at it for a moment, absently thinking that I remembered him being so much larger and more intimidating. Now, he was nothing more than a mess on the floor.

With that, I turned to do what Death had told me to. It was time to find Brigid and go get some rest.

--------------------

The motel room was cheap and dingy, much like every other motel room I’d been in since I began traveling across the country in search of the monster. This was where Brigid and I had come last night after killing the monster.

Brigid was gone at the moment, giving me some time with my own thoughts. My emotions were a complete mess, jumping from the burning rage to the overwhelming grief. Eventually, I seem to have settled on feeling emotionally numb.

I’d managed to find and kill the monster, but it didn’t bring me any real satisfaction. Instead, it just meant that I no longer had a driving goal to keep me focused and to keep me distracted from the grief. Without the monster, all I could do was think of what I’d lost. All I could think of was Val and Annie.

Suddenly, a voice said, “Hello Jen.”

I looked up and saw Death, sitting in a chair with a cup of tea in her hand. She took a sip and looked up at me, giving me a gentle smile.

“Ma’am,” I greeted her, bracing myself for whatever task she was going to give me.

“You’ve seen the revenants,” Death said carefully. “What do you think of becoming one of them?”

“I’d…I’d rather not,” I answered, shuddering at the thought of being one of those mindless shadow creatures.

“I pulled you from the abyss before your soul could be consumed,” Death explained. “Yet the process had begun. Your soul is filled with rage and hatred, which is quite understandable considering your situation. And though my power keeps you from becoming one of them, that same rage and hatred is problematic in one of my agents.”

For a moment, I just stared at Death and then I gulped, realizing what she must mean. “You’re going to send me back to the abyss.”

“Goodness no,” she responded, almost as though shocked at the idea. “You are far too useful a resource to waste in that manner. I have plans for you my dear.” Then at my nervous look, she chuckled. “They are not plans you should fear.”

“Then what?” I asked carefully. “What do you want me to do?”

Death took a slow sip of her tea before answering. “You don’t need to be concerned by my long term plans just yet,” she told me pleasantly. “Instead, I want to soothe your pain. I want you to take a vacation before you begin your active service as my agent.”

“A vacation?” I exclaimed, offended that she’d even suggest such a thing.

“Calm down dear,” Death told me, her voice being pleasant but still commanding instant obedience. “A vacation of a few decades should do. A full human life span. At the end of your natural life, you shall resume your duties as my agent, beginning with full training with Brigid to become one of my Valkyrie.”

I was more than a little startled by that, and not just that she’d give me another chance to live. “I thought only women were Valkyrie.”

“I think you now qualify,” Death told me, sounding amused.

“But…but what am I going to do?” I asked Death, tears starting to run down my cheeks. “I lost everything… I don’t want to live without my family…”

Death just gave me a gentle smile before saying, “You won’t be alone. You see, Val and Annie are still with you.”

“I’ve seen Annie’s ghost,” I admitted. “And I heard Val’s voice... But…”

“You misunderstand,” Death told me with a chuckle. She stood up and came to me. Then she put her hand on my stomach and said, “Val and Annie will be rejoining you physically in about nine months.”

I froze as what she said hit me. “What?” I blurted out, staring down at my own stomach in shock.

“You are pregnant dear,” Death told me almost pleasantly. “Twins.”

I gasped at that, feeling completely shocked. I gulped and asked, “But how…?”

“Your wife and daughter returned from their afterlives,” Death explained. “It takes a great deal of strength and purpose for any to do that. They pleaded to be reunited with you, and I decided that fulfilling their request would not only help sooth your rage but would also be an appropriate reward for the service you provided.”

“But…you just had me go after the monster because he wouldn’t die,” I said, not sure why I was protesting.

“A delay of a few decades means little to one such as I,” Death told me pleasantly. “They will return to my embrace in time, but until then, they and you will be given another chance.”

“Thank you,” I whispered, tears of joy pouring down my cheeks. I put a hand on my stomach and smiled, realizing that I really could feel Val and Annie within me. I could feel their souls, safe and asleep at the moment, waiting to be born again. “Thank you so much…”

“I had to ask a favor of my counterpart to make this possible,” Death told me pleasantly. “But it was well worth it. Now dear, I hope you have a long and happy vacation…and are ready to get to work when it’s over.”

With that, Death faded away and vanished, but I was barely even aware of that. Instead, my entire attention was focused on the two lives that that now lived within me. Val and Annie were back with me, and eventually, I’d be able to hug them again.

The fact that I was a woman now and would remain one for the rest of this life was a little strange, but I certainly wasn’t about to complain, not when it meant I could bring my family back. I would happily be a woman and mother, happily accepting every moment of life from this point on as the gift and blessing it was.

Then I felt Annie stir inside of me ever so slightly, just enough to whisper, “I love you daddy…mommy. I love you.”

“I love you too,” I told her, laughing in joy and letting the tears continue to flow. I’d shed far too many tears of grief so I refused to feel ashamed for finally having cause for the joyful kind. “I love you both.”

The End



If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
up
135 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 13800 words long.