Authors: J. Eric Hance
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Supernatural, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Paranormal & Urban, #Suspense, #Paranormal
His Name Was Death
Book One of Dead Man’s Tale
J. Eric Hance
Copyright © 2016 Jeremy Eric Hance
All rights reserved.
To Mark, My Dad
Blood may be thicker than water, but
family is thicker than blood
Special thanks to Julia, William, and my editor, Lauren Sweet. Without your help, this book would have never reached its full potential.
That means you share the blame.
Table of Contents
You Really Can Go Home Again
It didn’t hurt.
Not at first, anyway.
There was only the black void, through which I traveled…alone.
I felt weightless, almost buoyant, floating up through the darkness. Up, not down—I took that as a good sign.
I mean, at a time like this, direction really does matter.
Memories chased each other through every corner of my mind. The highlights of a short life: clipped, disjointed and scattered—a typical Hollywood trailer doing its best to create something awe-inspiring out of the boring, overpriced failure of a movie.
My thoughts, as I watched, were slow and clouded—unfocused. For some reason, I couldn’t remember how I’d come to be here…or where I’d come from.
Even my own name eluded me.
Somehow, none of that seemed to matter. Contentment enveloped me like a warm, comfortable blanket on a cold winter’s morning.
I was at peace.
And then, damn it, everything went to shit.
A giant, invisible hand swatted me from above. One moment, I was floating languidly upward without a care. The next, I tumbled at breakneck speed.
Harsh dawn split the darkness with light a hundred times more intense than the sun. After light came sound—a jumbled cacophony of pain and terror, as if all the voices of the world cried out in a single panicked discord.
Sound was followed immediately by heat: an uncomfortable warmth building quickly into a suffocating inferno.
And then, suddenly, it
hurt. All thought was driven out by the pain—a sharp and unrelenting agony. It screamed louder than any voice:
go back—you do not belong.
Imagine being torn to shreds in the very heart of the fires from Hell by a screaming horde of furious demons. And
the one that pissed them off.
Now imagine longing for that.
I have no idea how long my torture lasted. Seconds? Centuries? I know only that it ended abruptly—I came screaming from
, still trailing wisps of the fire that had failed to consume me, and crashed down naked onto a cold metal table.
I lay still for several minutes, unable to gather enough strength to even open my eyes. My entire body felt subtly wrong—stiff and almost alien, like it wasn’t actually mine.
A wave of nausea washed over me. Every inch of my body began to ache, inside and out. Exhaustion threatened to overwhelm me.
It was an awkward struggle just to breathe.
I could hear the faint buzz of fluorescent lights and what sounded like HVAC fans, both underscored by a low, constant hum of machinery.
Which told me exactly nothing.
Where the hell am I?
Gulping down several rough breaths, I forced my eyes open.
The table I lay on was stainless steel. An ominous tray of surgical instruments stood by my head. Mine was the first of five stations, in a line down the center of the room.
I struggled to a sitting position, sending fresh waves of agony through my extremities. The far wall was filled with square, stainless steel drawers.
I was naked, on an autopsy table, in a morgue.
Son of a bitch.
I screamed inside my head, staring at the surgical instruments now suddenly far too close for comfort.
Get up and run!
My body refused to obey.
A firm hand grasped my shoulder.
That was all the motivation I needed.
I yelled out in shock, recoiling violently from the unexpected contact, and lurched off the table. I managed two whole steps before collapsing, helpless, to my hands and knees.
A mixture of cold air and panicked apprehension dimpled my naked skin from head to toe.
A man’s voice said, “Whoa, take it easy, son; don’t rush it. The first time is always the hardest, but it’ll get easier.”
Whatever monumental fuckup had landed me naked in a morgue, I’d make damn sure it didn’t happen more than once.
Across the room, perhaps thirty feet away, an exit sign shone its bright green beacon mockingly above the door.
Pulse racing, I began to crawl toward it.
My right arm buckled painfully, spilling me onto my side.
That thirty feet might as well have been thirty miles.
The voice spoke again. “It’s okay; calm down, son. Let me give you a hand.”
My eyes darted back and forth, searching out the speaker.
He was about seventy, leaning heavily on a black, silver-topped cane. His long white hair, receding at the temples, was combed straight back. He stood only about 5’7”, but from my place on the floor, he loomed high above me. He watched my discomfort with detached curiosity, his ice-blue eyes piercing right through to my soul.
I knew him.
Joshua Black was a coroner for the King County Medical Examiner. And he was an old family friend.
To be honest, he was my brother Steve’s friend, and Dad’s before that. He’d always creeped me out a little bit—he did play with dead bodies for a living, after all—but I hadn’t ever considered him dangerous.
Waking up naked in his morgue definitely changed my view of things.
When I finally spoke, there were two voices: one that sounded right in my head, and a second, new voice which sounded strange to my ears. “What the hell is happening?” I looked around slowly. “Why am I in the damn
The strain of speaking even those few words was monstrous. Pain and fatigue mixed in a dizzying haze. Halos circled every light as I fought to stay conscious. What would happen to me if I passed out now?
What would he do to me?
Joshua nodded, leaning casually against the next table. “Not the most comforting place after a crappy return trip, I get that. Convenient as hell, though. The dead come and go here without much notice, so long as the right paperwork gets done. Take a minute, catch your breath, and then we’ll get started.”
My heart leaped into my throat; that tray of surgical instruments was an uncomfortably short distance from the older man’s hands, and he knew how to use them.
The dead come and go here without much notice.
He’d always seemed so normal before—but then, isn’t that always the way:
he was a quiet man, kept to himself, never bothered anyone…
Joshua stood, clearing his throat, and took one step toward me.
I flinched back, trying—and failing—to scramble across the floor.
Joshua sighed. “Son, you are the twitchiest damn recruit I’ve ever met.”
“Recruit?” I shot back, working, without success, to get my feet under me. “Is
what you call it? Did you drug me? Is that why I can’t walk, why I can’t think straight?”
The older man’s eyes snapped wide. “You don’t have a single damn clue what’s going on, do you? You don’t remember anything.”
I shook my head. “Nothing.” It was true. I couldn’t remember what had happened, or how I’d gotten here. Even my own life was just jumbled bits and pieces: I knew Joshua’s name, but not my own; I knew what I’d done last year, but not ten minutes ago.
After a long pause, Joshua shook his head slowly, his brows drawing together in a puzzled frown. “The return trip can scramble the brain sometimes, but you’re a bit more confused than normal.” He gazed down at me. “If I wanted to hurt you, son, you wouldn’t have woken up in the first place. So perhaps, instead of flailing around like a fish, you’d like my help getting off the ground?”
I hesitated, looking at the door. If he wanted to kill me, I’d be an easy target as I struggled to crawl away. Besides, I did obviously need help, and he was the only
I nodded briefly.
Joshua propped his cane against the table, then came around behind me and slid his hands under both my arms. With a grunt, he wrestled me to my feet. I tried to help, but I’m pretty sure my efforts only hampered our progress.
After three staggering steps, he unceremoniously dropped my naked ass back onto the autopsy table. It was a herculean effort to stay sitting upright, but I managed.
The exertion left both of us breathing heavily.
Joshua retrieved his cane. “I suppose I’d better start at the beginning. Let me know if anything sounds familiar, so I can skip ahead. We don’t have all night.” He returned to his place at the next table, casually leaning against it.
“My name is Joshua Black,” he said, as if we’d never met. “I’m First Reaper for the Pacific Northwest Region, and I’m your new boss.”
I couldn’t possibly have heard that right.
“Yeah.” Joshua nodded. “You know, Grim Reaper—black cloak, scythe,
pale complexion, harvester of wayward souls.”
I stared. There was creepy, and then there was
. If Joshua was a coroner who believed himself the flesh and blood incarnation of an Angel of Death, he was a very dangerous person indeed.
A person with whom I was trapped in a morgue.
And I couldn’t even crawl, let alone run.
“Come on, Joshua,” I tried in my best soothing voice, “you can’t possibly believe you’re the Grim Reaper.”
The man cocked his head to one side quizzically, considering me. “No, son…”
I breathed deeply in relief.
The feeling didn’t last.
“We—you and I—are
My heart lurched briefly before dropping down through the floor. I stared longingly across the room, back to the door, wishing more than anything I had the strength to escape.
Joshua really was completely around-the-bend insane, and we’d somehow managed to miss it. Just four days ago, he was at my brother Steve’s New Year’s Eve party, acting all normal. Steve, like Dad before him, was a Seattle police detective; that’s how they knew Joshua.
The old guy
spent most of the party following me around, though, staring. He was very drunk, and I’d written off his strange behavior as only that, but he had hardly left me alone all night.
In retrospect, it seemed like a warning sign.
I should have paid more attention.
“Come on, Joshua,” I said. “Enough is enough. Let’s just call my brother, and—”
Joshua’s brows furrowed once again, with that puzzled look. “Do we know each other, son?”
Only since I was about four—hardly any time at all. He’d obviously completely lost it. “Of course we do, Joshua. Don’t you recognize me?”
The old man’s eyes searched my face, and he slowly shook his head. “Son, right now,” his words were soft, and full of compassion, “you wouldn’t recognize yourself.” He reached above me with one hand, pulling down the examination light.
It was an oversized, highly polished version of the stainless steel lights dentists use to blind us all. The surface wasn’t quite a perfect mirror, but close enough for a clear reflection of my face.
A thin, handsomely chiseled face stared back at me. Emotion was painted plainly on its features: shock and terror.
But not my face.
I reached up to touch my cheek, not quite believing the evidence of my own eyes. In the reflection, a strange hand jerked up to the face I did not recognize.
I leaped to my feet, shoving the reflection and Joshua’s hands away from me.
Time resumed, and then accelerated, racing manically around me. The room began to spin.
A dream…it has to be a dream.
I stumbled a step, maybe two, before crashing to the floor once again. The ceiling spun high above. Joshua spoke, but his words were unintelligible—deep, long and drawn out, like a toy with dying batteries.
I searched my mind desperately for the last thing I remembered before waking into this nightmare. No answers came. Whether from fear, exhaustion, or self-defense, my brain simply clicked off.
And the world went black.