Janis has become one of my favourite writers. This book is great. I couldn't put it down. I love the characters and the world she has created.
A Creative Mind
A fast-paced, exciting and entertaining story for all fans of paranormal/fantasy books.
Reading 2011 (and Beyond)
A total laugh out loud journey, ridiculous and refreshing.
... good and fun, and entertaining
"Stephanie is a fantastic character, likeable and feisty. "
Claire loves to read!
The protagonist, Stephanie, is your everyday funny and sarcastic older sister. ... I loved her humor and overall caustic reactions to everything; it's just how I would react if it were me. She totally owned the demons she went up against- I mean some serious butt kicking!
Bell, Book and Candle
"I am in love with this book! ... a great mixture of New Adult/Adult romance and The Big Bang Theory on television. I loved Bonnie! She was a spitfire, a great mix of a damsel in distress and a strong female lead." Books Complete Me Unlimited
The Sacramento Book Review gave it 4 out of 5 stars and said "Bonnie's Story is a light-hearted sci-fi story in the mode of Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett - goofy and entertaining at the same time. Bonnie shows more depth than one might guess from the 'blonde' tag she carries, along with an engaging personality. A well-done book with good characterization, dialog, and concepts."
HEROES come in all shapes and sizes. We’re not all super, nor do we wear our underwear outside of our pants. Some of us have actually been asked not to wear track suit pants out in public as much as we actually do. But it is what I am all the same: a hero, a protector of the weak, and those in need of help. Though I prefer being called Stephanie than ‘Protector’, especially when my full title of ‘Protector of Souls’ is used. I have no problems with having the title or being what I am, said Protector. Must we, however, use this name in front of the whole world? As it so doesn’t do me much good out in the general public, not even store credit or the ability to queue jump at the local grocery store.
But here I am, living in an old lay-in hospital owned by the Temple of Isis — located just around the corner — and I am indeed a protector of souls. The Goddess Isis herself decreed it. And — despite not name dropping her to said general public — it is an honour to hold such a title.
Without starting to sound too kooky, or appearing the sort who really should be wearing their underwear outside of their pants, I walk in the Light and I believe in some of the more far-fetched things in this world. I would rather not believe in things like Isis, vampires and ghosts but when you’ve met them personally, it does make it hard to keep disbelieving in them. Especially when some of them are out to kill you via your undead sister. But the less I go back to that moment in my life six months ago, the better I can sleep at night.
Still, I am a Protector of Souls, and almost daily I find myself up against the Darkness that opposes the Light I walk in. And, sadly, today just seems to be another one of those days.
“Package for Stephanie Anders, Protector of Souls?” intoned the rather bored looking delivery driver. He was holding a large brown box in both hands on my door step when I answered the ring of my bell. Admittedly his eyes did brighten in question a little when he took in my appearance of tracksuit pants, oversized baggy t-shirt, and elbow length, tight fitting, black leather gloves. I just returned his bored look until the question died in his eyes and then patiently held out my hands to receive the package.
“Actually, I think I should be taking that for you,” announced a crisp and neat voice from behind the delivery man. As he turned questioningly toward the voice, I was unable to stifle my groan. Did I mention demons were real too? And that I had happened to be able to control them to some extent? Like the deal I had with the demon dressed as a small, neat little gentleman now politely taking the parcel from the delivery driver and signing for it.
“Ugh, who is it this time Mr Vontant?” I asked in a tired voice. See, the deal I had with this particular demon was that he would protect me from any and all who walk in the Darkness that may wish me harm. . . plus a bit more. If he was here to take a parcel for me, and not let me touch it, there was a good bet something nasty was in it. It’s not as if this was the first time he’d signed for parcels for me in the last six months either. And I had learned the hard way that it was better I didn’t have him open the parcel to prove what it contained was indeed a gift from those who walked in Darkness. I shuddered at the memories while awaiting his answer.
“Birdfolk of Wroth,” Mr Vontant replied, returning the signing device to the delivery man and dismissing him with a look of disdain. Despite him being one right evil, little bastard who I only dealt with because I had to, I was impressed by the power of his look, which sent the delivery driver scurrying back to his van and screaming it out of my quiet little street.
“Be seeing you,” Mr Vontant said as he stepped down from my front step and vanished. I didn’t ask how, I really didn’t want to know — as the more I knew of this strange new Other World I’d found myself living in, the more I wished I still didn’t know.
Well, that was the morning’s fun dealt with. I gave my peaceful neighbourhood a quick once over before retreating back inside my little stone cottage, shutting and bolting the door. This act of securing my door during daytime hours was from habit now, after learning the hard way that Mr Vontant didn’t always get there in time. And that not all bad things came to me in small brown packages via delivery men. I still had a scorched doormat to remind me of that now.
I slowly peeled off my leather gloves while wandering back down the hall to finish my breakfast. My life hadn’t always been so odd, but despite all the pain and sadness that had brought me to where I was now, it hadn’t really been much of a life either. More an endless repetition of dull routines, stretched out to give the impression of living.
As I sat to finish my toast and much needed fourth coffee I pondered over what those Birdfolk had against me. Yes I had threatened to turn one of them into a feather duster by cramming their feathered clothing — who wears just feathers — down their throat until they came out the other end. But it’s not as if this was the only group I had said or done such things to. I’d had a busy past six months establishing myself in the Other World and had released and successfully banished several earthed demons, laid a couple of ghosts to their final rest and all in all pissed off quite a few groups who walked within the Darkness. Meh, what can I say? They started it. Why the Birdfolk suddenly had their feathers ruffled again was a mystery and one I felt I should add to my ‘to do’ list at some point.
I finished my breakfast while looking at the latest text message from Roxanna, the High Priestess of Isis. Technically I was employed by her, and even received a small salary — as well as free room and board in this cottage — and I always received her texts with trepidation. She was my friend as well as my sort of boss, and second only to Isis herself within the society I now lived. But she only ever sent me a text message when there was some Other Worldly thing she wanted me to sort out. Oh well, time to get kitted up and on with the job.
Despite not liking the hero badge that much, it did mean I’d had to change my wardrobe a little. I mean, how I presented myself to the general public wasn’t a problem, but how I was perceived by those of the Other World was. Image being one of their big things, along with always getting the wording right — something I’d had to learn the hard way. Still, they got what they got with me as I felt I had to be comfortable when saving souls. So I donned some neat, tailored pants, a pretty but not-too fancy blouse, and a decent pair of fancy running shoes. Yes, who needed all leather and spiked shoes to totter about on when you often had to run like the blazes and were often soaked in salty water? It was the least of the nasty things I had found myself covered in too I may add. Sure I didn’t really look much like a Protector of Souls and more like the accountant I used to be, but a lot more had to be at stake before I started dressing like some of the more colourful Other Worlders I knew. Feathers were one thing, white bed sheets and lace curtains another. This outfit allowed me to blend into both worlds. What truly now marked me as to what I was in the Other World were the items I put on last.
As I walked to the front door I donned my elbow length black leather gloves and grabbed my giant handbag. The bag was essential, as you never knew what you had to carry and, well the gloves were just second nature to me these days. There were very few things in the Other World — I had discovered — that you should really touch with your bare skin. The gloves didn’t exactly go with any of my outfits, and I really had tried to mix and match, but they were more than essential. Besides protecting my bare skin from some rather unwholesome unholies, they showed the world who I was in some strange way, and gave me comfort in what I had to do.
It was only a few streets to the Temple of Isis. Not only did I shamelessly use the back of their estates to park my car for free, but the priestesses of the temple made purified water as part of their daily ritual, meaning I didn’t need to. Yes, I had given up making my own batch in the bath each day, when stopping by to swap some bottles over was so much easier. Plus, they seemed to enjoy doing it for me, and who was I to spoil their fun?
“Good morning Protector,” came the ever-happy voice from the back door of the temple as I approached. I hid my grimace behind my best fake smile as I approached.
“Jasmine, so nice to see you as always,” I greeted the middle-aged woman politely. I had never really got over Mr Vontant possessing her to come and help me within the temple — demons being unable to enter its sanctified ground — but what worried me the most was she seemed so much more bearable when possessed by a demon than when left alone in her own body. When solo, she was just some silly, lost, middle-aged woman wearing white bedsheets and lacy curtains.
Keeping the conversation to a minimum to avoid showing her how I truly felt, I thanked her for my daily purified water and headed to my car. Gone were the days where I felt silly carrying bottles of salty water around in my bag, even if these glass ones did chink and jingle in a way that let everyone know they were there. Still the other option was to wander about with the old milkman’s wire framed basket containing glass bottles of purified water, which is how I received my daily half-a-dozen. I often felt it was meant to be an amusing prank, something the High Priestess was known for, but I just wasn’t going to bite.
I put the wire rack of bottles down on the floor of the front passenger seat of my car, another new addition within the past six months after a demon — not Mr Vontant — had destroyed my last one. I was just not going back to those memories either, as what I ended up doing to that demon still gave me goosebumps.
Sliding behind the wheel of the car I glanced at my unkempt hair and serious expression in the mirror. It was time to go sort some nasties of Darkness out. Here’s hoping I could get it done by lunchtime.
I SURVEYED the shopping centre sceptically. It wasn’t an area known for catering to the Other World. In fact it was in the tourist trap area of the city and full of your typical boutique type shops that sold unnecessary fripperies to those with more money than sense. There was one of those expensive crystal figurine shops, a ‘genuine souvenir’ two dollar shop, some kind of Asian general store with an overabundance of kitsch ornaments and furniture on display out the front. There was also a store that seemed to purely sell TV and movie merchandise, and the Irish shop I had come to investigate. I mean, I had been annoyed at such shops when they had been popular. But seeing one surviving now after all the Celtic craze had settled just had my teeth on edge. Usually this was a good sign that something Other Worldly was going on in a place. But I really did hate such places in general. I was fairly certain most people had a little Celtic in them, as their rampaging was as renowned as that of the Vikings. But to use that as an excuse to wear green in March and to tattoo shamrocks on your backside? Pass!
Actually, the on edge feeling I was starting to get didn’t just stem from the little Irish memorabilia shop in front of me. I was starting to get that itch at the back of my neck that tended to mean someone had spotted me, and they were also a card carrying Other Worlder. As Mr Vontant was yet to make an appearance, I was guessing it wasn’t someone who walked in the Darkness too deeply, but still I was starting to get into one of my very bad moods.
I glanced back toward the Asian shop behind me, had someone just ducked out of sight? Right, well once I had the Irish shop sorted out, I would go see what was going on in there too. I mean, why just pick on one nationality a day?
“Top o’ the mornin’ ta you!” chirruped the ruddy complexioned, curly haired gentleman behind the counter as I entered the shop. I wasn’t too sure if it was my outfit or my expression that stopped him from continuing with his phoney accent and cringe worthy clichés.
“Uh, is there anything in particular you be after?” he tried, as my expression changed from scowling at his ‘Kiss me I’m Irish’ t-shirt to the neutral expression I took on when trying to sense the bad stuff I was meant to sort out.
“Just browsing,” I replied calmly, taking in the shop and all its little knick-knacks. It was your typical Irish shop containing the range of cheap and nasty kitsch through to your overly expensive handcrafted silver and leather goods. Some of it wasn’t half bad, when you got into the leather and jewellery section. Still, that wasn’t helping me and I tried to focus more as I wandered the few shelves the place had.
Roxanna, in her usual manner of being deliberately obscure, hadn’t actually told me what I was here to do. Simply that there had been reports of ‘items of Darkness’ being sold from this shop. Bravo Roxanna, we both knew that could mean anything!
“You sure dere’s nottin’ te take yer fancy?” asked the shop owner again as I finished my circuit of the store and approached the counter once more. I did my best to keep my expression neutral, despite the overly annoying fake accent. I was just thinking through the best polite response when I got a tickle at the back of my neck and my eyes were suddenly drawn to a large display of eggcups. They were little white ceramic cups with poorly attached transfers of landmarks in Ireland, which would normally have them in the cheap and nasty section. But they had a warmth and glow to them that made me want to reach out and touch them, to feel them and see why they were just so attractive.
“Ah, me pretty little wee cuppies. One of me best sellers if I do say so ma’self,” chirruped the fake accent as the man came out eagerly from behind the counter and over to where I stood. “Feel free to touch them my lovely. None of dat silly ‘break it buy it’ malarkey in my shop!”
I pulled my gaze from the eggcups and raised a cynical eyebrow at the man.
“I’d appreciate you dropping the act,” I said, keeping my tone quiet as I turned back to the cups and reached out for one.
“Ah, sorry about that. It’s just what most of my customers expect. But they are lovely cups aren’t they? Have a feel, see what you think. Nice bit of balance to them. Perfect for the whole family.”
I picked up one of the little ceramic cups and tried not to notice the sharp intake of breath from the man at my side. I flipped it over to see the price tag on its underside and blinked a few times at the three figure sum.
“Made in Ireland, are they?” I asked casually, turning my attention back to the man, my face all sweet smiles and innocence.
“To be sure, to be sure.” He grinned then his face clouded as he studied my expression further. There was always just a little bit of strain around the edges when I plastered happy over pissed off.
“And you’ll be buying it now surely?” he asked, scampering back to behind the counter to the cash register as I followed and placed the cup down on its glass surface.
I made a show of glancing about his shop and even feeling along the nearby door jamb for engravings.
“I don’t see your signage for selling Fae ware,” I said pleasantly. “May I see your licence for dealing with Other World goods in a mainstream environment?” My smile widened naturally as his expression paled and he realised he’d been rumbled.
“Licence?” he mumbled, starting to pat at his shirt and pants as if trying to find a piece of card. “But surely you just want to pay that very reasonable price for the eggcup?”
Was there an edge of panic now in his voice? Oh yeah, I did so love it when they got that edge of panic!
“What? This piece of tat?” I asked and picked up the cup, tossing it at him. He gave a squeak and dodged to one side so that the eggcup smashed on the tiled floor at his feet. I did my best amused cat like stare — I’d been learning it from Roxanna — and casually wandered back over to the display of cups and grabbed another.
“Clumsy me,” I smiled, placing the new eggcup on the counter. “Perhaps you should put this one in bubble wrap while you get that licence,” I said sweetly and pushed it toward him. He recoiled with a stricken look. Our eyes met and I let my sweet and innocent expression fall and my look of distaste show. He recoiled further into his little corner behind the counter.
“So let me get this straight, you little Irish wannabe,” I started coldly. “You know what they are, or at least what they make people do. But you don’t have a warning up that your shop contains them and you’re such a greedy little newb you actually believed me when I said you needed a licence to be a member of the Other World?”
“I was just. . . My rent. . . I needed to. . .” He wilted under my gaze. “The man who sold them to me said no one would know and that it did no real harm.”
I raised a sceptical eyebrow at him. “These are Fae cursed cups.” I stated bluntly flexing my leather gloved fingers as if spoiling for a fight. I then picked the object in question up again. “It means anyone who touches it, with their bare skin I may add, will be overcome with the overwhelming need to own it no matter what the cost.” I gave him my best nasty look. “And how on earth is charging four hundred and fifty dollars per eggcup not harming someone? Even in this day and age that is a lot of money.”
The shopkeeper slumped even further into his corner and looked resigned to whatever fate I was about to give him.
“I’m sorry. I just wanted to keep my shop and it seemed too good a trick not to try!”
He did seem to be someone green to the Other World who was more interested in making money than dabbling in the Darkness. I sighed and picked up the eggcup again and put it back on the shelf.
“You’re lucky I’m in a good mood,” I said resignedly, and returned to the counter and fished in my voluminous handbag for a business card. “I will give you a week to take all, and I do mean all, your stock of Fae ware to Friar Thomas here to be destroyed.” I handed over the business card for a Catholic monk in the know over on the South side. For being a man of the cloth for a religion that usually scoffed at the existence of the Other World, he was still a nice guy. He also knew a couple of useful ways of safely disposing of cursed items.
“And I assure you I will be checking up on you in seven days’ time and expect to see his receipt in your hot little hand.” I gave the shopkeeper a stern look. “Oh, and don’t think of just running or trying to hide from me.” I warned him, time to instil a decent bit of fear in the fellow. “I know who you are, I know where you live, and I have a few demons who owe me a favour.”
He gulped and looked rather scared, oh good.
“Wh. . . Who are you?” he stammered, gently taking the card from me.
“Someone you should learn to respect,” I told him curtly. “You are dabbling in the Other World and I strongly suggest you stop while you just have your toes wet. I’m known as the Protector of Souls. And if you don’t watch how you tread, I can assure you we will be meeting again. And the next time we do, it may be because your soul needs my protection.” Words were important, even when addressing a newb, as they really needed to learn about it all before it was too late. “I may walk in the Light, but I can still decline to help someone who pisses me off too much.” And, with my best meaningful look, I turned and walked out. Yes the jingling of glass bottles in my bag may have detracted from the dramatic effect I had been after, but I really did feel I’d got my point across. Especially as he immediately shut the door behind me and took a box and, hand wrapped in a t-shirt, started carefully removing the eggcups from off the shelf. I only knew this as I had stopped outside to collect myself and my thoughts. People like him got me so frustrated that I always felt the need to just stop and take a few deep breaths after dealing with them. Yes I was fairly new to the Other World, and yes I made some dumb mistakes when at the newbie level too. . . but Isis damn it, I had at least tried to realise exactly how deep in the mess I had been to try and stop myself sinking further. Those who felt they could just dabble in the Other World for their own gain and profit — and not have to deal with the payback — were not just stupid, but usually dead soon after they did it. And, as with most things, ignorance was no excuse. Words and appearance may be important in this Other World I now worked in, but it basically all came down to weights and balances, Darkness and Light. To survive in the Other World and still be able to live in what was laughingly known as the ‘real’ world, you had to truly know what you were doing and take responsibility for your own actions. Otherwise you ended up facing me in my gloves and bag full of glass bottles of salt water, or became a smear on the bottom of something’s foot.
Flashing one last frustrated look back at the man in the shop, now carefully removing the eggcups with an occasional worried look over his shoulder at me, I moved off. As I did so I took out my phone to not only put a reminder in my calendar to indeed come back and check up on the shop in seven days, but to text Roxanna I was done.
‘Fae cursed cups. The man was an idiot.’ That pretty much summed it up. Just because I walked in the Light didn’t mean I always had to be polite.
As I slipped my phone back into the back pocket of my pants I got that usual itchy feeling that meant someone was watching me. I turned back to the Asian general store I’d spotted earlier and gave it a good hard look. It didn’t feel like it had anything Other Worldy about it and, quite honestly, when you found one shop dabbling in the Other World in an otherwise mainstream area, you didn’t tend to find another. Glancing about there wasn’t a sight or sound of Mr Vontant so I guessed nothing too dire was threatening to happen and so stepped toward the shop.
Although giving it the generic title of ‘Asian’ store suited its mish-mash of items, it did seem to have a leaning toward Chinese objects. As I approached I ran a casual hand over the wooden tables and chairs out the front and had to stifle the stab of pain I got from the carved wooden boxes on display. Despite the very first ghost I had freed being one of the biggest pains in the arse, he had helped me through a lot. Because of him, I often found myself making a cup of tea and just sitting and watching it steam away when I was feeling at my loneliest and most lost. Though I would obviously never admit doing it if anyone ever asked. Instead I just fobbed it off as a cup I’d made for myself, and then forgotten. Not everyone believed me but hey, Roxanna tended to be even more sceptical than me.
Shaking off the pang of emotion I often felt when missing Trishna, I strolled into the shop with my best ‘casual shopper’ look. There didn’t seem to be anyone there. Inside was much like outside, but the shelves were more cluttered. Half the shop appeared to hold the furniture and knick-knacks that people wanting an Asian look or feel to their home would buy, while the other half contained traditional Asian foods.
Not entirely realising I was doing it, I found myself wandering toward the tea section to browse the various types they had. I did like the smell of Darjeeling in the morning.
Suddenly the prickling sensation began again, from behind me this time and I almost cursed out loud for allowing myself to get distracted and letting whoever it was sneak up behind me. Even as the arms grabbed me from behind by the shoulders and twisted me around, while pinning me to the wall, I wasn’t as worried as I should have been. I mean, Mr Vontant would be pulling them off me and ripping them a new one shortly, right? I then realised that only counted for those who walked in the Darkness of the Other World and, sadly, your everyday criminal didn’t exactly fit into that category. Damned demon loopholes!
I braced myself for the attack, despite it all happening so quickly, but was still admittedly stunned when my supposed attacker leaned in and planted a rather overly passionate kiss right on my mouth. It’s not as if he, and I was fairly sure it was a he, smelled or was greasy or something but still. On. My. Mouth. Uninvited. It got my blood boiling in just the right way that had me start to struggle against him as he moved his body closer to mine. So occupied in what he was doing, my would be passionate assailant was standing in just the wrong way. I proved this when my left knee rose swiftly between his spaced apart legs and impacted soundly with the area I was fairly certain he was currently thinking with. Seriously, just because I’d not been kissed in years didn’t mean any weirdo would do.
As my attacker wheeled away, crumpling to the ground as he went, I stood there too stunned to know what to do next. Despite his aggressive and thoroughly inappropriate behaviour, there was something to the fellow that didn’t make me want to scream rape at the top of my voice. And so I blinked down at him, shivering as the adrenaline surge slowed and I caught up with the world around me. There was another tingle mixed with this shiver, something vaguely familiar and yet not tangible enough to help me figure out what the hell had just happened. That was, of course, until the man at my feet opened his mouth.
“You little fetid whore monger’s daughter. Is that a way to treat an old friend, you hairy arsed end of a hippo?” Oh my God, I mean Isis. It wasn’t that he was insulting me. . . it was how he was doing it.
“Trishna?” I asked weakly, staring down at the prone man with more disbelief than I thought my sceptical brain would allow. I prodded him with my foot. Yep, definitely a man, a solid form. Not a ghost and definitely not the ghost I had laid to his final resting place six months earlier. They weren’t meant to come back, were they? No one had mentioned dispatching the dead meant they’d pop up later on as a real person. And, sweet Isis, I hoped this wasn’t going to happen to all the ghosts I’d released as not all of them were entirely happy with me when I had done it. I prodded him with my toe again, I couldn’t help it.
“Kneeing me in the pants is one thing, but if you’re going to put the boot in frizz features, you’re doing it all wrong.”
I almost swung my foot for good measure at that remark, but remembering I was supposed to be one of those who walked in the Light instead stepped forward to help him to his feet.
“You can’t be Trishna,” I stated propping the, still obviously in pain, man against a nearby shelf. I mean, he was of a similar looking age and Chinese but other than that there was no similarity. Except for the potty-mouth of course. And since when did that make him the solid form of a ghost I had sent on to be reborn as part of his Buddhist faith?
“And as you’re not Trishna, what the hell did you think you were doing grabbing me like that?!” I gave him a hard thwack on the shoulder. Hey, people who walk in the Light can lose their tempers from time to time too you know. “And, actually, if you are Trishna — what the hell are you doing kissing me like that!” Another thwack.
“Just let me catch my breath you frazzle-haired harpy so I can explain!” he wailed and I took a few steps back to give us both some personal space. I was suddenly thankful Mr Vontant wasn’t here to witness it all as I was sure he’d have been on the floor with laughter by now. I spent the next few minutes staring suspiciously at the man across the aisle from me and tried to calm down by counting slowly from ten. The man looked nothing like Trishna, I could see this the more I watched him. He was taller, skinnier, had hair that was in need of a cut — from the way his fringe hung over his eyes — and a shave from the sprinkle of whiskers under his nose and on his chin.
My anger at his assault started to mix with the anger and bitter disappointment I felt over tricking myself into suspecting this man had anything to do with Trishna. He was gone, and good riddance — he had been a horrible companion. That was, until the end and he had helped me face the pain I tended to keep deep inside me. Had given me his strength to help me face my sister and release her from the vampire who possessed her. And then there was what he had done with our auras moments before he went to his resting place. . . damn it, I was getting tears welling up in my eyes now and this was so not the right time to have to face any of those memories again. And so I did what I normally did and shoved them deep down inside myself and stormed off. He was no threat, he was not someone walking in the Darkness. He was just some stupid shopkeeper with busy hands one step away from being a rapist. Let the real world cops deal with his sort.
“Stephanie, wait!” his pleading call reached my ears as I stepped through the door of his shop and back into the main part of the shopping centre. I stopped. Eyes closed, anger keeping a tight lid on all the other emotions. It was my cloak and protector that way. How did he know my name?
“Stephanie?” his voice was a lot closer now, less pleading, more questioning. I wasn’t going to turn, I was going to just keep walking and get the hell out of there until I had to come back to check on the jolly olde worldy shoppe keeper in his stupid fake Irish store in a week’s time. I glanced over at the shop in question, it was still closed but from here I couldn’t tell if he’d finished clearing that shelf. Maybe I should just go and check once more?
I fought to ignore the hand that gently touched my shoulder, trying to turn me back to face my Asian shop assailant. But something inside me made me turn all the same. I refused to believe it was the odd tingle I felt from his hand touching me. Faint, but still familiar.
“How?” I asked, never one to faff about with questioning. This man was Trishna. I don’t know how or why, but he bloody well was and I didn’t know how I felt about it.
“Words are important, dumb arse,” he smiled at me, as if that was meant to explain it all.
“You do realise that, in solid form, there are worse things I can do in response to your language than just burn a tea bag,” I told him coldly, not wanting to let my guard down on all this. I mean, it’s not as if I would have flung myself into his arms or anything. I didn’t think of Trishna in that way at all. . . despite his parting gift. I just didn’t want to have him back in my life again, have him as an emotional crutch, then whisked away when I felt I needed him the most. I had enough weird crap happening in my life without needing to add him back into the mix.
I realised he was smirking at my comment and despite him being a different man, and having a different face, it was still Trishna’s smirk and, with tears in my eyes, I realised exactly how much he had used to piss me off with that look. Still, being in solid form did mean I was able to, possibly childishly, stomp hard on his foot and take off back to my parked car before he could catch up.
Seriously, when a ghost is sent to their rest, I expected them to stay there, not open up a shop in tourist town and kiss me. That was so not on the Protector of Soul’s job description!
“AND you say it was Trishna?” Roxanna said, sometime later as I sat in her office within the Temple of Isis. I always felt like a naughty school girl sent to the principal’s office when I was there. Not that I’d ever experienced that when I was a school girl. No, I was usually there to pick up my sister who had been that sort of school girl.
“It was him,” I replied dully. We’d had this same conversation about eight times now and there were only so many times I felt I could say the same things without it getting boring. And that had been at about the fifth time we’d said it all. Still, Roxanna had a way of circular questioning me that often helped us both eventually find the answers to things we didn’t think we would find answers for. So I went through it all — again.
“You could see his aura and knew it was him?” she asked, offering to top up my coffee, which I declined by holding my hand over my cup. The last thing I needed was caffeine induced heart palpitations to end an already shitty day.
“No, I couldn’t see it.” Yup, I’d already said this as well. “But I could feel it, and it was him. That same tingle of shared energy and strength we used to have.”
Roxanna frowned, this was a different expression than the last seven times, so that was good. . . right?
“But the binding between you and Trishna would have been broken when his box was burned and the spell destroyed,” Roxanna said, thinking it through as she spoke. What she was saying now was new, so I started to pay attention again.
“Okay, now this time try saying it in a way that makes sense,” I asked politely. It’s not as if it had been the first time I’d had to ask her to dumb down Other World stuff to my level.
“It means,” Roxanna replied patiently, “that he shouldn’t have been able to share his energy with you. Only a soul bound to another can do that. The fact that he could do it as a ghost doesn’t mean he should have been able to do it as a human.”
“Because a ghost’s soul is mere energy and is able to be used as a tool to increase the powers of the person who possessed them, unlike a body which is a whole other kettle of fish, right?” Okay so I had started off sounding like I knew what I was talking about but stumbled along the way. Roxanna was used to this.
“Something like that,” she smirked. “And, he said ‘words were important’? I just wish I could remember what it was you’d said exactly when you released him,” she mused. “Because I’d put money on that being the reason he’s back.”
I gave her my best unamused look. So, yes I had had a little trouble with grasping how important words were to the Other World when I had first started out. I felt, however, I’d got it down pat by the time I’d sent Trishna to his last resting place. And hang on, a Priestess of Isis could bet too? Was there anything forbidden in this place?
“Oh, it was something along the lines of ‘I wish for you to find peace as you return to your point of death and find freedom there’,” came an amused voice from the doorway. I jumped; I physically leaped an inch out of my chair with the shock of not knowing he had been standing there. Roxanna just calmly turned her head to the door with an eyebrow raised in question. Hey, you didn’t get to be the High Priestess of Isis by being surprised so easily.
“Trishna I presume?” she asked the wiry Chinese man leaning against her door jamb. How long had he been there? I turned to face him, angry he had figured out where I would be.
“High Priestess, long time,” he said with a smile at Roxanna, and then calmly walked into the room to take the chair next to me.
“Released ‘to your point of death’. . . yes, I can see how that would have done it.” Roxanna returned to the conversation as if some rude and complete stranger hadn’t just barged in and sat down uninvited.
“Please tell me she’s got better at the wording of things since then,” Trishna said, grinning at Roxanna and deliberately ignoring me. I gave him my best pissed off look.
“She has.” Roxanna actually returned his smile with one of her own. “Her demon, Mr Vontant, has been very educational in his assistance and tends to make a face at her when she’s getting it wrong.”
“I’m right here you know. And he is not ‘my demon’.” I felt the need to point this out as they seemed so absorbed at discussing my flaws as if I wasn’t present. Besides I did get the words right these days and it wasn’t due to Mr Vontant. Well, not always. It was just the more I’d learned about all the Other World dos and don’ts, I’d tended to find the right rhythm in what I was meant to say. Then there were the times the words just came, as if it wasn’t me saying them. So what if Mr Vontant winced over a few things, it barely influenced the outcome. I think.
“It is very hard to miss you when you’re sitting right there,” grinned the man who would be Trishna, eyeing me over in a way I wished he wouldn’t. That kiss was still rather fresh in my memory and it made me squirm. It was like being kissed by a cousin who got the wrong idea about mistletoe at Christmas, and boy was that a bad enough memory.
“Nice gloves by the way,” he added. “They complete your outfit and make you stand out like a complete crazy lady with crap hair so well.” If he wasn’t Trishna, he was doing a very good impression of him.
“Okay,” I sighed, deciding to ignore him as best I could, and focused my attention on Roxanna, “Tell me where I went wrong. You’re both obviously reading from a different part of life’s little script than I am, so spill.”
Amusement sparkled in Roxanna’s eyes and her imitation of cat playing with a mouse increased. “When you release a ghost, what is the wording you use?” she asked me calmly.
“She’s released more than just me? Buddha help us!” muttered Trishna sotto voce.
“I tell them to go to their final rest and be at peace with the world,” I replied, racking my brains for where I went wrong with Trishna and hoping like hell they weren’t all coming back.
“You don’t tell them to go back to their point of death and find freedom there?” I could tell by Roxanna’s tone she was pointing out my obvious mistake and waiting for me to see it. I thought over her words a moment and then groaned. Had I really done that? Was it really possible for it to have happened?
“I sent him back one hundred years to when he died and he just continued on his path to enlightenment through reincarnation from there to modern day. . . didn’t I?” I sighed glumly at the stupid wording and sat on my hands to prevent myself from flipping the bird at Trishna when he laughed.
“By Jove, I think she’s got it!” Trishna said.
Oh screw him with bells on.
“I don’t suppose you made this mistake with any of the others?” Roxanna added casually, looking amused as I sank lower in my seat, feeling a complete fool. “I mean, that Cavalier bound to a stone from Leeds castle someone was using as a doorstop was rather cute and seemed to have a thing for you.”
Oh, yeah, Gerald. Wasn’t he just a hum dinger? Until I’d found the right way to release him he’d sat on my bed every night reciting poems of love. Gag! I’d ended up storing his stone down in the crypt of the Temple just to avoid him. That was, until I’d released him properly.
“No, no. . . Fairly certain I just told him where to go in the nicest possible way,” I added, attempting a casual tone myself. “Go being to his final resting place, of course.”
“Sure it was,” Trishna smirked.
Why did I suddenly have the urge to set fire to something tea like?
“Okay, look I’m sorry! I stuffed up!” I near yelled this at them both as I sat up straight in my chair. “I would like to point out I’d been doing reasonably well at all the Other World stuff at that point, what with only having been doing it a few days and having just killed my sister and all.”
“You didn’t kill her, she was already dead,” Roxanna pointed out sympathetically. “You merely released her soul from the vampire that would have taken it to purgatory.”
I sighed. When you worded it like that I didn’t always feel so bad.
“And then there was that releasing thing you did on Jamal in the Tormented Whore,” Trishna added in tones that just screamed it really was him. I still don’t remember giving my leg the order to lash out and kick him in the shins, but gosh it felt good.
“Children, please,” admonished Roxanna amused. “We are a Temple of peace and understanding after all.” Part of me had wanted to complain that he had started it, but the more mature side of me kept it quiet and I just gave him a stony stare as he rubbed his bruised shin.
“Well, this has been. . . pleasant,” I said, rising to my feet to leave. “And now that we’ve established the cheesy guy in the Irish shop was selling illegal Fae wares to the unsuspecting, and the sleazy guy in the Asian store was just Trishna in a new incarnation, I best be going. I’ve got a load of washing to hang out and some items to purify in my Inner Sanctum.” Yeah, I actually had one too, fun huh?
I waved to Roxanna and deliberately ignoring Trishna walked out, it was that or I would flip him the bird. Well, at least I tried to walk out. I got as far as the doorway before Roxanna cleared her throat in a way that stopped me in my tracks. I turned meekly and gave her an innocent look.
“Trishna, if you don’t mind me calling you that, even though I’m fairly sure that’s not your current name, is there any restitution required from Stephanie to apologise for making you relive that last one hundred years again?”
By Isis that was a mouthful, even for Roxanna. Uh-oh. . . restitution, relived the last century? I really didn’t like the sound of that.
“Mark, Mark Luò,” Trishna replied, “but around you two, being Trishna feels okay.” He glanced over at me as I tried to casually slink back into the room, awaiting my obvious punishment. “And to be honest, it’s not been the last one hundred years that I’ve remembered who I am.” Here he shrugged and seemed to be focusing on something within himself for a moment. “I mean, I’ve always gotten snippets of things my Granny said were part of a past life and which I should use to ensure I didn’t stray from the path to enlightenment. Most of the time I felt she was just being a strict Buddhist and Grandmother. It wasn’t until I saw Stephanie outside my shop today that I got one almighty headache and all my visions and things coalesced into. . .” He stopped and stared helplessly at the two of us, for the first time looking like the stranger he was and not the ghost I had known.
“So you haven’t been living Trishna’s life all over again,” Roxanna said relieved. “That would explain why you’ve never come to us before now. I can’t say you feel like someone who’s walked the Other World’s path before.”
“I am Trishna though,” Mark said quietly. “At least now I am. I just wasn’t when I got up this morning.” Another helpless look. “I am Mark too. But up until an hour ago I didn’t really feel like I was who I was meant to be. Now, it seems to have all clicked.”
I stood there staring down at him as he stared up at me as if I was offering him a life line.
He shook his head. “You have been an imaginary friend in my life since I was five years old. Then, when I saw you, really saw you today. . . all the emotions and relief and joy. . . I thought I was meant to kiss you as you were what I’d been waiting for.”
I supressed a shudder as I started to realise exactly how badly I’d stuffed up his life. . . lives?
“He kissed you?” Roxanna sounded startled more than amused. Yeah, I’d kind of skipped over that part and just said he’d attacked me.
“I shouldn’t have,” Trishna admitted, while I tried to find the right words. “I just didn’t know how to handle the emotions and happiness I felt at seeing Stephanie again, finally. The happiness. . . the. . . energy I felt.”
“We are linked.” I was surprised that small sentence had come out of my big mouth. Man I hated it when part of my brain was able to follow the Other World conversations better than the rest of me could.
“Whatever it was I did, we did, we’re linked,” I said, sitting back down in the chair next to him, facing mine toward his this time, not toward Roxanna’s giant desk. Our knees bumped as he turned his chair toward me too. Suddenly I realised what was going on and just needed to find the words to explain it. It’s why I was what I was in the Other World — a Protector of Souls.
“I’m sorry that I sent you all the way back to when you died,” I said slowly. “But your lives since then have been sheltered, been at peace. That’s what I told you to be. It also meant you didn’t remember. But hell, how many people — even the truly devoted — remember their lives from past incarnations?” I glanced at Roxanna, almost expecting her to give me a figure.
“But, when you came back to this time line, the connection grew stronger as I was already here.” Yes, I could tell he was obviously younger than me. Not that I was a cougar or anything, okay? I tried not to think about how I suddenly knew all this and just focused on saying it.
“What had happened here, before you were released, has been humming about in that Other World energy pool we all draw on and so you’ve been getting flashbacks the closer you’ve come to when we first met. And seeing me again today just broke through the mist of memories and. . . here you are.” Wow, had I really just said that? And how did I know it was all correct? ‘Other World energy pool’? Huh?
“By Isis that rings such a tone of truth you’ve just given me goosebumps Stephanie,” Roxanna murmured. “I am always amazed when you come out with these things.”
Oh, um, that had been a compliment, right?
“So, did you miss me?” Trishna asked quietly.
I allowed myself to meet his gaze as my eyes filled with painful tears. “More than I would think I should have,” I told him, choking up. This wasn’t the reuniting of lost lovers, but the emotions were still pretty high. He had been there for me, had given me the strength to be what I had to be through my darkest and nastiest thoughts. Had been my link to the Light when I was smothered by the Darkness I’d been holding within me. And then I had had to say goodbye as I’d promised to free him from his ghostly imprisonment. I had been left alone when I’d still needed that support. The last six months seemed to suddenly catch up with me. They had been really hard for so many reasons. But I had never dreamed of giving in and turning my back on my new vocation. Despite the grim duties I often found myself performing, I was working in the Light and I was protecting souls. But I had been doing it without the safety net I had started out with — Trishna. I had been living on the edge and had been afraid of teetering into the Darkness the more time I spent with people like Mr Vontant to show me the way.
Trishna touched my hand and I felt that old tingle somehow, that sensation he was giving me his energy.
“I’m back now,” he said quietly. “And you’re sure as shit going to find it a lot harder to get rid of me this time.” And that was all it took to have me burst into tears. So much for this protector of souls being as tough as nails!
It had taken me a while to recover from our reunion, so by the time I let myself back into my little cottage, it was late afternoon. I also had a guest with me.
“Quaint, in an overly religious and rather under-furnished sort of way,” Trishna grinned, as he dropped a duffle bag just inside the front door and watched me as I locked and bolted it. I hadn’t really wanted to lock and bolt it with him on the inside, heck I didn’t want him here at all. But the burn mark on the floor was always there as a reminder as to why I did lock and bolt it.
“Demon?” Trishna asked, pointing to the burn.
“Misguided hate filled fireball,” I replied as casually as one could when discussing a curse that focused someone’s negative energy into a small corporeal ball of fire that could be thrown at will. Or at me, as had been the case on that occasion.
“Really? You pissed off a Black Witch coven?” he asked and I was surprised at how nice it felt to turn such weirdness into a normal conversational topic.
“It’s not as if I started it,” I complained. Actually I rarely ever did start it. “They stupidly summoned Mr Vontant for some full moon ritual and, according to that deal I have with him, I rocked up and freed him. The fact they’d summoned a couple of other demons for the ritual too and were using the ghost of a twelve year old Roman slave girl as a familiar just pushed me over the edge. I mean, a twelve year old trapped as a ghost for a couple of millennia. Poor thing had been terrified her whole afterlife.”
“Fair enough,” Trishna said, with an odd look of amusement on his face. “How about you give me the quick tour and then show me what sort of putrid floor sweepings from an incontinent weasel you serve as tea around here.”
Ah, and to think I’d thought his potty-mouth had mellowed.
I sighed at this, remembering he had decided to come and stay with me, using the excuse of me owing him restitution to do so. I mean, we could still be the old team we used to be, with him still living at his own place, right? I had thought so, but was apparently wrong as here he was. I got the feeling he’d been living with that strict grandmother of his and any excuse to flee her wrath was good enough. Oh well, despite the emotional day I had caused, it was nice to have him back. . . sort of.
“So,” I announced, clearing my throat in a way hopefully designed to clear my thoughts as well. “This is the burned front door.” I waved at it. “This is the hall.” That was self-explanatory as we were standing in it, “That is the lounge room, formerly known as the parlour. And the next door along is the study.” I waved to two doors to my right as we moved down the hall. “That is the box room, though not in the way you may think.” I pointed to the first door to the left. My house laughingly called a ‘cottage’ had, until recent decades, been a lay-in hospital. Meaning where women came to have babies, rest for a few days and then go home to the drudge life of the housewife. It was a large building, and the ‘box room’ was actually the former pharmacy-cum-laboratory. And let’s just say I still used it for a little of those things when I had the time. Trishna let out a low whistle as he opened the door and gave it a quick glance. Yeah, I still didn’t know what I was meant to do with half the stuff, but the Temple of Isis’ Apothecary had stocked it and I was slowly working through her hand written notes on what it was all about.
“This next room is the Inner Sanctum. I recommend you only go in there when you really have to,” I advised as the tour continued.
“Okay, things given that name — especially when capital letters are used — never fill me with joy,” Trishna muttered. He eyed the door for a moment before opening it and stepping inside. The sanctum looked more like a store room to the untrained eye. Books, cups, ornaments and weapons were arranged about the room while the central part was just bare floorboards with a diagram known as ‘the circle of the moon’ painted onto the floor in a mixture of salt, sea chalk and silver. As I watched from the doorway, not entering myself, I noticed Trishna’s expression change and then stepped aside as he blanched and fled back to the hall I was standing in.
“What in a demon’s left testicle was that?” he asked me as I gently closed the door and tried not to smile. I had warned him.
“That room was the original birthing room, when this was a lay-in hospital. It was used for almost one hundred years and many thousands of lives began in that room,” I explained. “The stone walls absorbed some of that beginning of life’s energy, along with the emotions the events caused.” Here I had to pause, remembering my own experience, and feeling the pain of others locked into the wall. Not all births had a happy ending. I felt Trishna’s comforting hand on my shoulder before I realised what it was and was thankful he was there again.
“So the walls now store that force to such an extent it’s a tangible presence,” Trishna said softly, understanding not just about the room, but about my silence. “So I’m guessing all your really good shit is kept in there, right?” If he was trying to bring me back to the present by continuing to swear, it worked.
“Quite,” I answered weakly, removing his hand — but giving it a brief squeeze of thanks as I did — so I could continue on the tour. Just after the Inner Sanctum there was a crossroad hall.
“Guest bedrooms are to the right,” I continued, as calmly as I could. “Feel free to choose between the two of them as they’re both unoccupied.” I then waved a hand down the left side of the new hall. “My room and the bathroom on this side. Feel free to use the bathroom, but stay out of my room.” As if I really needed to say that.
I led the way down the flight of four steps that led into the cottage’s newer extension; basically a large, light and airy kitchen and dining room in a modern, open plan style. Most of the light came from the back walls made of glass. It had been built about twenty years ago but still looked and felt fairly modern due to the lack of use until I moved in. And I barely used the dining room area, it contained a heavy oak table that easily sat eight and I honestly didn’t know that many people I’d really want over all at once. I mean, if I wanted to hang out with the Priestesses of Isis, I’d head on over to their restaurant style refectory. Heck it saved on the shopping, cooking and washing up if nothing else.
The kitchen itself was clean, white in colour, and had a small table for two sitting just outside its benched in area. That was where I ate when in a ‘meals for one’ frame of mind. I was yet to stoop to returning to eating in front of my TV. As a protector of souls, I did have an image to uphold.
“Kitchen, dining room, breakfast nook, and back door out onto paved area only ever used to cleanse things by moonlight. . . and an over-grown garden with high fences that the Temple’s Apothecary tends and apparently loves that way.” I waved my hands about one last time. “And I really recommend you don’t go out into the garden. Not only is the Apothecary a bit of a grump if you accidentally step on one of her favourite weeds, I’ve seen what she uses to grow some of them. . . as well as what some of them are.” Here I met Trishna’s amused look and found I could leave the rest unsaid. It’s not as if she was growing anything exactly illegal out there, but some of her methods — like comfrey grown in a sheep’s skull on a bed of compost made from its brains — yeah, I just didn’t want to know.
“Okay, nice, neat, not as anally precise as I had expected from you,” Trishna mused as he wandered into the kitchen and looked through my cupboards, why did people find the need to do that?
“Oh, you want precise, that’s definitely the study,” I replied. There was no question that some of my old neat freak accounting hang-ups had followed me to my new life as that room, as overcrowded as it was, had been organised by me to within an inch of its life. And Isis help anyone who dared move even a pencil out of place. I spent many hours of my solo evenings in that room reading the old texts, making notes, and trying to get my head around the many things that made up the Other World. No there wasn’t exactly an encyclopaedia on everyone or everything that was the Other World, but there were some reference books on rituals and routines that had helped. Plus I’d started my own ‘Dummies book of the Other World’ as I found making notes on all the craziness helped.
“Stop going through my cupboards and sit down, I’ll make the tea,” I announced, not because I wanted to, but because I did want him out of my cupboards.
“I would have thought I owed you enough cups of tea that I’d be making them for at least the next six months,” Trishna grinned as he moved to the small table and sat down.
I shrugged, he was right but hey. I peeled off my gloves, thankful to be in a safe place again and went about the tea duties. Not knowing why I wanted to show off so much, I took down two small, eggshell thin porcelain tea cups of Chinese origin and a matching teapot. Once the kettle had boiled and the pot had been warmed, I added the tea known as Buddha’s Tears, which got an approving whistle from Trishna, and then served it. Sitting down next to him I found myself smiling at his look of pleasure as he inhaled the steam.
“I was half expecting you to hate the damned stuff, having been trapped so long with it as your only comfort,” I said, idly pulling my biscuit jar toward myself from the middle of the table and wondering if I’d eaten all the peppermint Tim Tams.
“There are some things that stick with you as their comforting presence is so strong.” he said, giving me a look that made me feel uncomfortable. “I think that’s why I probably started working in that Asian shop. I felt a connection to it and loved the discount I got on the tea.”
I felt even more uncomfortable, not knowing what to say as it was my fault he’d been so messed up with those mixed memories. So I focused my attention on rummaging through the small biscuit jar.
“Any jam fancies?” he asked, taking the tin from me once I’d extracted a Tim Tam with a look of triumph. It was an odd feeling knowing he now had the ability to pilfer my biscuits. Still, if it helped with the restitution for what I’d done. . . why not! I could always buy more Tim Tams.
Janis grew up in and around Darwin and its rural surrounds. As a child, she spent a lot of time around 'science geeks' at the Darwin University, where her father was a lecturer for many years. It took her a long time to realise that not everyone got to grow up like that or could relate to all the Science Labs scenes in the old Dr Who.
Janis now lives in the Adelaide Hills with her husband and 3 children, lovingly referred to as the 'Demonic Hordes'. She is a semi-retired ICT Support Officer who, when not writing, takes pride in her work as a Haus Frau while dabbling in the art of translating century old cookery books into modern recipes to experiment on her family with.
For more information visit http://janishill.wordpress.com/.
There's No Place Like Hell
Book 2 in the Other World
Copyright © 2018 by Janis Hill
All rights reserved.
Cover Art: There's No Place Like Hell by Jade Zivanovic, steampowerstudios.com.au
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