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Authors: G.P. Ching

Tags: #General Fiction

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BOOK: Soul Catcher
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The priests danced around the plaza, the snakes slithering over and under their hands. For the second lap, the priests held the snakes in their mouths, never missing a beat. At the same time, the attendants tried to distract the snakes from striking with their snake whips.

Chevy wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans.

“They use all the snakes,” his father said. “The gatherers will keep them in the plaza as the priests drop them during the dance. See? The feathered wand soothes them and then they throw cornmeal to distract the snake before snatching them by the head.”

Either brave or stupid
, Chevy thought.

By the time the priests had circled the plaza several times, chanting their prayers, fifty or more snakes wriggled around the gatherers’ necks and arms. Then, a snake priest found the
Kisi
empty. With a bowl of cornmeal offered by an attendant, he drew a large ring on the ground. The gatherers released the snakes inside the circle.

Raine, dressed in white, joined the dance and worked to keep the snakes inside the cornmeal boundary.
Holy cow
! Chevy’s heart threatened to leap out of his mouth as she leaned over and used her snake whip to turn a rattler back toward the center. The diamond head coiled, ready to strike, and wouldn’t you know it, there was Drew, swooping in to save the day. He coaxed the reptile toward the center of the circle, away from Raine. Chevy dug his nails into his thighs.

The whole thing unfolded like a train wreck, terrible and mesmerizing all at the same time. The priests scooped up snakes by the armful, returning them to a different shrine as the gatherers and attendants kept any stragglers from reaching the crowd.

“The snakes are released into the pit to carry the prayers to the underworld,” his grandmother whispered.

Chevy didn’t even realize he was holding his breath until the last snake slithered into the shrine. Thankful no one was hurt, he gasped in relief. The priests accepted bowls of liquid from the women of the village. Chevy cringed as they drank, then heaved onto the red dirt near their feet.

“The vomiting cleanses them of the snake charms.” His grandmother smiled as if induced vomiting was an ordinary occurrence.

It was all so disturbing: the rhythm, the dancing, the chanting, beautiful Raine in danger, and then the vomiting. Chevy’s head throbbed. A war waged within him, his brain telling him the ritual was archaic and ridiculous, but a deep, unused part of him desperately wanting to be part of this, to understand and participate next to Raine. As if those feelings weren’t confusing enough, at that moment the previously clear blue sky opened up. Hell if he could explain why, but rain began to pour in sheets over Walpi village. The Hopi people shouted praise and gratitude toward the heavens and the Earth.

Chevy cracked. He leapt up and raced toward the footpath, hurling himself down the mesa.

“Chevy, wait!” his dad called from behind him.

He didn’t wait. The rain soaked him to the bone, but he didn’t care. He had to get away. If he didn’t get a handle on this thing inside of him, this part that wanted to believe, he’d never save his sanity.

Near the car, Chevy stopped short of a grouping of juniper trees, their twisted branches oddly at home in the rain. An enormous winged snake with a white plume of hair stared at him through the leaves. His breath hitched. A
Kachina
, a Hopi spirit! He fell to his knees, quaking.

The snake stepped forward, transforming into a tall redheaded woman in purple stiletto boots that paused in front of his prostrate form. What the hell? Was he hallucinating? Dehydrated from his hangover?

“Well, now this is interesting,” the snake woman said in a low, breathy drawl. “You are quite the offender. Kind of kicked the ‘honor your ancestors’ thing to the curb, didn’t you?”

Chevy bowed his head.

“There, there. Take my hand and I’ll give you exactly what you deserve.” The snake woman extended her long fingers, her sharp tapered nails reminiscent of a bird’s talons.

Gaze lifting to her bright green eyes, he extended his hand.

“Cheveyo!” Raine barreled down the mesa, not stopping until her hand gripped his shoulder from behind. She locked eyes with the snake woman. “Who are you? Are you here for the ceremony? You’re too late.”

Chevy wanted to explain to Raine what the snake woman was, but before he could utter a single syllable, the spirit clasped his wrist violently. A growl emanated from deep within her chest, and her thin lips peeled back from abnormally long, sharp teeth.

Raine cried out and pulled back on his shoulder.

Snake Woman did not release Cheveyo. Her other hand shot out to grip the twisted trunk of the juniper tree beside her.

Everything slowed. For once in his life, Chevy saw things with absolute clarity. The tree bark shingled the snake woman’s arm, climbing toward him like a predator. The tree was swallowing the spirit and would eat him too.
Oh no, Raine
! He yanked against the
Kachina’s
clutches, but Snake Woman wouldn’t let go. Locked around his wrist, the spirit hissed through clenched teeth. Every cell in Chevy’s body resisted. Counting to three in his head, he pulled away with everything he had in the opposite direction. The effort paid off. His hand slipped from hers, and he dove into Raine, trying his best to protect her from the bad spirit.

But something was terribly wrong. As he collided with Raine, he entered her skin, sliding inside her body like an overcoat. He blinked twice, staring down at the feminine arms and hands lifted in front of his face.

Then, he gaped in horror as his own body disappeared inside the bark of the juniper tree.

Chapter 2

Harrington Enterprises

M
alini straightened her skirt and pressed the button for the elevator. This had to work. She’d been trying to get an audience with Senator Bakewell for weeks, to find the Watcher who was influencing him and take the dark angel out of the equation before the next vote.

“What’s the bill called again?” Jacob said, straitening his tie.

“S. 5109-International Economic Assurance Act. If I read it to you, I’d give you a headache, but the bottom line is the legislation would legalize the employment of slave labor in the United States as long as the slaves were not American citizens.”

The elevator doors opened, and the two stepped inside the privacy of the compartment. Jacob grunted. “That would effectively decriminalize human trafficking. Who would ever vote for that?”

“No one with a clear head, but the council and I think Watchers have been influencing Bakewell for years and possibly a few other representatives. The legislation itself is confusing. Sounds like a boon for the economy to most people. If I wasn’t privy to Fatima’s loom, I probably wouldn’t understand the consequences.”

Fatima was Fate, the immortal who lived in the In Between, weaving the destinies of every living soul on the planet into fabric. Malini alone, as the Healer, could read patterns in the fabric and use her gifts to interpret possible futures.

“We might not fully understand the consequences, but the Watchers do. Lucifer’s up to something. I can feel it,” Jacob said, eyes darkening. The Lord of Illusions always seemed to have a plan B. After the Soulkeepers had forced Lucifer back to Hell that summer, when Abigail botched his human sacrifice, they’d thought they would get a break to regroup. No such luck.

“Yep. I can feel it too.”

“So, we end the Watcher and let Senator Bakewell get back to his usual philandering ways?”

Malini giggled. “That’s the general idea.”

“How are things with the council going, anyway?” Jacob asked.

The new Soulkeepers’ council consisted of Malini, because she was the Healer, Abigail and Gideon, as administrators of Eden, Lillian as the head of field operations, and Grace and Master Lee as Helpers. The point of the council was to enhance the communication and coordination of the small team of Soulkeepers. The Watchers outnumbered them. Always would. Even with Mara slowing time in Nod and Hell, the Soulkeepers had to work smarter to thwart the evil Lucifer inflicted on the world.

“Just okay,” Malini said honestly. “Sometimes I think the adults don’t take me seriously as their leader.”

“I thought we’d moved beyond that.”

“Me too. But it’s still there, Jake, festering under the surface. Some of the things I bring to them are hard to accept. Like when Bonnie and Samantha couldn’t return to Nebraska.” Her eyes darted down to her tangled fingers. “They lost the restaurant. I thought Grace was going to blow a gasket.”

“They’re not chained to Eden. If Grace would rather take her chances with the Watchers, she can be my guest. That goes for the twins too.”

“Jake!”

“I’m just saying, Malini, they should consider the alternative before taking their frustration out on you.”

The elevator stopped, and the doors opened. Malini and Jacob stepped into a vast, pale space, all steel, glass, and ivory sandstone floors. Malini’s heels click-clacked as she crossed the foyer to the front desk. Shiny metal letters on the dark wood read
Harrington Enterprises
.

A slender blonde with a French manicure ended the call she was on and fixed them with a hard, green-eyed stare. “Can I help you?”

“We’re here to interview Senator Bakewell for our school newspaper. His assistant told us he’d be here meeting with Mr. Harrington and would have a few minutes to talk with us.”

“One moment, please.” Abruptly, the woman stood and power-walked down the hall.

“That was weird,” Jacob said.

“Did you smell her?”

“Yeah. Eau de Watcher with a core of human. Possessed or influenced?”

“Influenced. Long term by the strength of the aroma.” Malini rubbed her nose. “I’m texting Lillian for backup. I’ll have her wait in the lobby, just in case.” Her fingers flew and then she tucked the phone back into her pocket.

Jacob reached out with his power. If the blonde was influenced, he might need a weapon. “There’s a pitcher of water in the conference room to your right, a bathroom down the hall, and a jug of it this way. Maybe some sort of break room,” Jacob whispered. “You’re covered.”

“Let’s try to do this without making a scene. She’s human. She probably doesn’t know what we are. Keep this low profile, less to clean up later.”

Jacob nodded.

Click-Clack
. The blonde returned, a cardboard smile on her face. “Right this way.”

She led them along the windows overlooking the magnificent mile to a door labeled Conference Room D. She rapped lightly.

“Come in,” a man’s voice drawled.

The woman opened the door. “I have your twelve o’clock. School interview.”

“Send them in, Amanda.”

Amanda stepped aside, directing them inside with a swing of her arm. A stoic man in a crisp gray suit raised a cup of coffee to his lips before standing to welcome them.

“Senator Bakewell?”

“The one and only.” Bakewell’s smile lit up the room.

Malini walked around the conference room table and politely extended her hand.

Bakewell stared at her offered handshake and cleared his throat. “Sorry to be rude but I’ve had a bought of illness recently. Amanda should have explained, I can’t touch you. Call me a germaphobe!” He gave a deep laugh. “Truly, it’s as much to protect you as me, darlin’.”

Malini lowered herself to the chair next to him, flashing Jacob a pensive look. If she couldn’t touch the senator, she couldn’t heal him of his Watcher influence. Of course, if they didn’t find and kill the Watcher responsible, there was no point anyway. He’d be influenced again in no time.

Jacob pulled out a chair across the table and sat down.

“I’m Mandy Witherspoon from St. Scholastica High School. Thank you for agreeing to this interview.”

“Always interested in helping the future of America,” Bakewell said. “And who are you?” he asked Jacob.

“Oh, I’m Fred.” Jacob held the man’s stare for a second. “Er, I’m just her ride.”

Bakewell laughed. “Behind every successful woman is a man who can parallel park.”

Jacob chuckled, but Malini’s mouth pressed into a flat line, silencing them both. “Why don’t we get started? Your assistant said you only had a few minutes.”

“She would know.” Bakewell nodded.

Malini pulled a pen from her purse and opened her notebook to a blank page. “How did you get your start in politics?”

“My father was a politician. You could say serving the American people is in my blood. As soon as I’d earned my law degree, I pursued a career in politics. My first position was mayor of the little town of Pointer, Ohio.”

Malini cut him off. “I have a history of your career. It’s very impressive.”

He tilted his head. “Thank you, young lady.”

“Can you tell me what legislation you’re most excited about right now?”

“Sure. I’ve sponsored a bill to increase the penalties for illegal drug possession and another to increase our investment research into biological energy alternatives.”

“Biological energy alternatives?” Jacob asked.

Malini shot him a sharp look. He shrugged apologetically.

Bakewell chuckled. “The driver speaks! There’s a professor at UCLA who thinks he can genetically modify bacteria to produce petroleum. If his research pans out, we could put the little buggers in our landfills where they’d eat our garbage and poop out oil. I think that idea’s worth some government funding, don’t you?”

Jacob nodded.

“What can you tell us about S. 5109?” Malini asked.

The smile faded from Bakewell’s face and his cheek twitched under his left eye. He took another drink of coffee, his eyes rolling in his head as he tilted the cup back. At the same time he set the mug down, he checked his watch.

“I am awfully sorry; it appears we’re out of time. I hope you’ve got enough for your interview. If you want any other information, feel free to ask Amanda at the front desk.”

“But I’ve only asked you three questions!” Malini protested.

Bakewell stood and pushed in his chair.

“I can see you’re busy.” Malini stood and motioned for Jacob to do the same. She held up a finger and flashed a charming smile. “Please Senator, one more thing. Your coffee smells delicious. Would it be okay if we grabbed a cup before we go?”

BOOK: Soul Catcher
5.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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