Jack took a breath and looked the human teenager over. He was hugging a book to his chest and staring at her through his too-large glasses with a respectable mix of fear and awe. That was a problem. He could see her. That definitely was not supposed to happen. The Reaper took another breath and lowered her scythe.
“Okay, you’re problem two on my list for today. But I need to go catch the first one before I can deal with you.”
He pulled himself to his feet and adjusted his glasses.
“The…the shadow, right? That’s what you need to catch?”
Jack scrubbed at her face.
“Of course, you can see that too. Of course. Okay, what’s your name, human? Clearly, I’m going to have to drag you with me until I catch my jailbird.”
He took a moment, shoving the book into a backpack.
“I’m Travis. Jailbird? Was that thing a prisoner?”
Jack didn’t answer. She was looking at the ground near the gate. There were indentations there, almost claw marks. That didn’t bode well for the human population near here. That meant this particular denizen of the afterlife had managed to regain a corporeal state already. Anything that could pull it off this quickly was going to manage quite a few other exceedingly more dangerous tricks, and fast.
“Yeah. And I’m the one that got the bounty. So, come on, nerd boy. You’re going to help me make sure it comes home with me and not too many humans have to die in the process.”
The fences around churchyards were iron for a reason. Time wore on, though, as it always does, and that reason was forgotten. People erected chain fences and used padlocks to keep other people out. They forgot about the things that needed to be kept in.
Jack stood by the gate with her hood up, watching the people as they moved about among the tombstones to visit ancestors and loved ones. With any luck, none of them would see her. It was rare but possible. After all, those who were close to needing her services were likely to have death on the mind. She glanced at the sky. The sun would be setting soon, and then it would be time to get to work. Once the living were gone, then she could look for that which they had set free.
A long, low moan echoed through the now empty burying ground and Jack winced. It was the sound of metal grinding somewhere. Probably a crypt door, if she knew anything about her line of work. Now came the first of many unpleasant parts of the evening: crossing the boundary line into the sanctified part of the grounds. Jack stretched and pulled her hood down as she walked towards the fence. Then she passed through it. That was never a fun time, but she had made it through. That meant it was hunting time. Extending her hand, she called her scythe forth and spun it idly as she walked.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
She singsonged her words as she scanned the area around her. There was the open crypt. Time to investigate. She stepped up to the door and stuck her head inside.
“Olly olly oxen free!”
But there was nothing undead in there. Nothing moving.
“Well, that’s bad. That means it’s out there somewhere.”
Turning, she scanned the horizon again. It would be here still, somewhere. Then she gritted her teeth. No, it had a way out, dammit.
“Stupid humans forgetting the rules!”
Scythe in hand, Jack sprinted for the main gate of the cemetery. Iron would have kept the thing in. Iron would have kept the humans safe. Iron would have made her job a world of easier. Instead, she found herself getting there just too slow as the undead creature wrenched the gates open and crossed the barrier. The land of the living had been breached. Jack swung her scythe up into an attack position. She still had time, before something else noticed what had happened. She could still reap this lost soul and keep the world in balance. Then something slammed into her from behind. When she stood again, her prey was gone and a human teenager sat on the ground behind her, blinking up with wide confused eyes from behind his too-large glasses.
“Well, shit. This day just keeps getting better and better…”
“Have you ever noticed,” he started, leaning forward on the bench to light his cigarette. “This shit never starts on a normal night. No one ever says ‘oh, it was a quiet evening when all them corpses came shooting up out the ground.’ No, sir. It’s always a dark and stormy night when the dogs are howling and lightning cracks the sky.”
I leaned back, trying to ignore the smoke. Mack was my senior partner. I couldn’t exactly tell him to cut it out. The smokes or the tales. He was like that. It was why he kept getting stuck with the newest guard walking a beat. None of the folks with seniority would take him. Of course, it didn’t help that his last partner had ended up throat-cut and left in a ditch. Not that anyone blamed Mack. That’s just what you did when your partner turned into a soul-sucker. Me? I wasn’t going to get turned, and I wasn’t going to ditch Mack for a desk or a partner with less odd in them. He was one of the best at getting results in a job where most of us died or got turned. He tapped the top of the silver stake holstered at his side and I wondered briefly just how many soul-suckers he’d gotten with that thing. Or how many soulless he’d taken out with the axe holstered on his other side.
Those were our normal kit. A silver stake for the soul-suckers, a steel axe for the soulless, and zip cords for the thralls. They weren’t strong enough to require more than that. Add on light armor to cover all the major arteries and we were pretty well equipped for the job.
“When it starts, sure, but it happens all the time. Any night and sometimes during the day, if it’s dark enough.”
“Aye. Them damn tunnels. And whoever thought traveling underground was safe? Too close to the devils down in Hell.”
Sunlight stopped soul-suckers, but artificial lights did nothing. Didn’t even annoy them, more’s the pity. Standing, Mack took a long drag on his cigarette and turned to look at me.
“Come on, kid. We’ve got a tunnel on this patrol and I’m keen to give it the monthly clear-out before we find out we’ve got ourselves a breeding den or some such.”