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Whistling Past the Graveyard (Nicki Styx)

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Whistling Past the Graveyard (Nicki Styx)


  By Terri Garey

  Whistling Past the Graveyard copyright 2015 by Terri Garey

  Cover design by Twizted Sisterz Dezigns ©2015

  All rights reserved.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental. No part of this publications may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without written permission from the author.

  For more information about the author, visit http://www.TGarey.com

  Dance among the tombstones,

  Dance and do not weep,

  Time enough for sorrow,

  Time enough for sleep.





















  “Whistling past the graveyard” is a figure of speech that means “laughing at your fears”. I do that a lot in my novels, but here I’ve chosen to do it in a novella and a collection of short stories, bite-sized bits of supernatural spookiness about ghosts, witches, werewolves, zombies, vampires, ghouls, trolls and faeries. Some of the shorts are scary, some are silly, and some are a combination of both, so if you’re not quite brave enough to explore that spooky old graveyard without a friend to hold your hand, take mine, and remember: vampires don’t like garlic, ghosts can’t follow you home, and there’s no need to worry about zombies, because they only want you for your brains.

  (p.s. - you might want to hang on to that crucifix and some holy water, just in case.)


  (A Nicki Styx novella)

  Most people think that midnight is the “witching hour”, but they’re wrong. The time when the veil between darkness and light is the thinnest is actually 3:00am, which is why I should’ve known better than to get out of my nice warm bed at 3:05. But nature was calling, so I pushed back the covers, scooped a t-shirt from the floor, and pulled it over my head on my way to the bathroom. It was one of Joe’s beloved Atlanta Braves shirts, left behind in favor of his scrubs when he’d gone to work at Columbia Hospital, hours earlier.

  I was headed down the hallway, aided by the glow of a nightlight, when a shadow moved against the wall, a silent glide of darkness that had nothing whatsoever to do with me.

  Freezing in place, I felt the hair on the back of my neck tickle in a way that didn’t tickle me in the least.

  “Who’s there?” I’d set the house alarm before going to bed, and drawn the nightly wards against the spirits as my Grandmother Bijou had taught me, including the sprinkle of salt at every door and window. Unlike most people, I worried more about the dead than I did the living, an unfortunate side effect of my near-death experience almost two years earlier. The dead were drawn to me now, as I’d been to the Light and back again, apparently taking some of the Light with me, leaving me a beacon to the restless ones, the troubled ones, some of whom were very troubled, indeed.

  “Hello?” I tried to keep my voice from shaking, and failed miserably. Nobody answered, so I took a deep breath, wanting to believe that I’d imagined something that wasn’t there, but the longer I stood, the more convinced I became that someone was there—a sense of awareness, of intelligence, prickled like heat beneath the surface of my skin.

  Reaching out, I let my fingertips graze the wall, seeking the light switch, and it was then that a deep voice came from the shadows.

  “Don’t turn on the light, for you won’t like what you see.”

  “Who’s there?” I was shaking in my boots, wishing I had a gun, a baseball bat, or even something as simple as a crucifix.

  “My master sends his regards, Nicki Styx,” said the voice, “and reminds you that you owe him a favor.”

  “Your m-master?” My heart sank, for there could only be one person the voice could be referring to.

  “Samael the Fallen,” came the reply. “I believe you two have met?”

  Sammy Divine, High Lord Prince of Darkness. He’d promised to leave me alone, but the Prince of Darkness was also the Prince of Lies, and I’d be a fool to believe him. Those blue eyes, so sharp and cynical, that careless blonde hair and twisted smile. The Original lost soul… a once-golden creature of Light, now consumed by Darkness.

  “The Lord of the Abyss sends me, his personal servant, to you in his stead,” said the voice. “My master says you know him well.”

  Too well, and it was that hard-earned knowledge that sent me into a frantic, scrambling search for the light switch. I flipped it, ready to confront whoever it was, and came face to face with a nightmare.

  A winged creature, black as night, with eyes that glowed red. The body of a man, if a man could be formed from shadows and ashes, with the face and wings of an obsidian gargoyle.

  I gasped and stuttered as my heart—the weak-valved, traitorous organ that had gotten me into this supernatural fix to begin with—skipped a couple of beats.

  “I told you that you wouldn’t like what you see,” the gargoyle said, in a very patronizing way. “My master craves a boon, and it would be most helpful if you didn’t die of fright before I ask it.”

  My wonky heart settled back into rhythm, though it was pounding hard. Shaking like a leaf, I reasoned that if the giant black demon-thing wanted me dead, I’d be dead already, so I rested the back of my head against the wall and willed myself to breathe, never taking my eyes from it.

  The creature came no closer, apparently waiting to see if I were going to keel over.

  When I didn’t, it kept talking. “The High Lord Prince of Darkness bids you remember that you owe him a favor for removing the succubus known as Selene from your life.”

  It helped to know that the shadow creature wasn’t here to hurt me, but I dared anyone to face what I was facing and not be scared shitless. Willing my brain to catch up to my heart, I tried to focus. Selene was an immortal, conniving, sex-starved spirit who’d driven a wedge between Joe and me before our engagement. Sammy had drawn the succubus away, using his own diabolical sex appeal as a lure, and I should’ve known he wouldn’t let me forget it.

  “What kind of favor does he want?” My knees were weak, but I stiffened them, using the wall as a brace.

  “He wants you to do what you apparently do best,” the nightmare replied, “and send a pair of lost souls into the Light.”

  Immediately suspicious, I couldn’t keep the skepticism from my voice. “That doesn’t sound like the Sammy I know.”

  The creature drew itself up, becoming even taller, so that its wings brushed the ceiling. “My Lord Samael does not send me, his Chief Servant, on frivolous errands,” it growled, voice deepening. “Do you doubt my word, or do you doubt his?”

  Since the answer was “both”, I evaded the question. “Why doesn’t he ask me himself?” He’d always come himself, trying to tempt me, to seduce me, to lure me over to the dark side, a plan which had so far failed. Why had he sent this nightmarish creature instead?

  “He has no wish to see yo
u again,” the nightmare said bluntly. “The soul in question is a woman, who carries with her the soul of a small child. Will you do as my master asks, and guide them to the Light, or will you not?”

  A kid? Dammit. How could I turn my back on the lost soul of an innocent little kid? Children belonged in a place of love and laughter and music, not suspended in limbo because some deceased adult was confused.

  “Where are they?” I asked.

  “They are at the gates of Sheol,” the demon stated calmly.

  My jaw dropped. The thought of going someplace called Sheol was not—and never would be—on my bucket list.

  I shook my head. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

  The creature tilted his chin, red eyes narrowing. “Do I look like I’m kidding?”

  The answer, of course, was “No”. No, he did not.

  “I assume you’re talking about Hell,” I said. “I’ve kind of made it my life’s ambition to avoid going there.” I thought about the Light, the beautiful, peaceful, glorious place I’d been taken when my wonky heart had briefly conked out on me. “I’ve seen the alternative, and I’ve already decided that I’d prefer a return visit.”

  The creature’s eyes glowed an even brighter red for a moment. “There’s no need to be concerned about the state of your oh-so-precious soul,” it stated, with barely contained hostility. “As Chief Servant of Darkness, I can take you to Sheol, and bring you back safely.”

  “Can is not the same as will,” I told him bluntly. “I don’t trust you any more than I trust your master.”

  The creature was silent for a moment, returning my stare before conceding the point. “Very well. I will bring you back safely, for that is what my Lord Samael has instructed. You will not be harmed in any way.”

  “I still don’t understand. Why would Sammy want me to send two more lost souls into the Light, when they’re already right where he wants them?”

  The creature made a noise of displeasure. “They don’t belong there,” it snapped, “and the child’s incessant wailing disturbs the revenants.”

  For one wild, ridiculous moment, I wondered if I was just having a very, very bad dream. “The revenants?”

  “What does it matter?” the creature snarled, clearly losing patience. “Will you come and retrieve them, or not?”

  I stared at it a moment more, then pushed myself off the wall, testing the shakiness of my legs. I did owe Sammy a favor, and I preferred to stay on his good side, if such a side existed.

  And then there was the not-so-small matter of a helpless little kid, lost and crying at the gates of Hell.

  “I’ll come,” I muttered, ungraciously. “But I have to go to the bathroom first.” Hardly believing my own daring, I turned my back on the demon and walked unsteadily down the hall. “And I need to change my clothes.”

  “Don’t forget to bring coin.”

  I paused, looking over my shoulder at the ugly, black-winged, red-eyed creature standing in my hallway. “Coin?”

  Another noise of disgust, carrying a whiff of sulphur with it this time.

  “For the ferryman,” it replied sourly. “Surely someone with the last name of Styx understands that a trip to the Underworld has its price.”

  * * *

  Ten minutes later, I was seriously revisiting the idea that I was having a really, really bad dream. It seemed as though one moment I’d been standing in my hallway of my own home, talking to a surly demon/gargoyle, and the next I was dressed hastily in jeans, boots and a leather jacket, standing on a wooden dock in what appeared to be some kind of underground cavern.

  “What the hell just happened?” I could see very little besides wisps of yellowish mist, rising from black, oily water. The smell was terrible; a rancid stench that I couldn’t even attempt to identify. “How did we get here?” My voice echoed weirdly in the silence.

  “I brought you,” the demon-thing said. “Since you’re human, I can only take you so far; from here, we’ll have to go the old-fashioned way.”

  I craned my neck to look up at him, sensing by his disapproving tone that he didn’t like me any more than I liked him. “Do you have a name?”

  He looked down his ugly obsidian nose at me, not deigning to answer.

  “If you don’t tell me, I’ll just have to make one up,” I threatened. “Blackheart? Stoneface?” It was entirely possible that the reeking fumes coming off the river were making me giddy. “Rumplestiltskin?”

  “Nyx,” the demon growled. “My name is Nyx.”

  I nodded, satisfied. “Nyx it is.”

  “And ever shall be,” he replied cryptically. “Now be quiet, and get your payment ready.”

  A dark shape glided toward us out of the mist, square-rigged and clunky-looking. Not a boat, but a raft, with blackened timbers lashed tightly with wire, and tattered sails that drooped limply in the non-existent wind. It came to a stop at the foot of the dock, bumping it slightly, causing the wood beneath my feet to shudder.

  “There’s no one on it,” I said stupidly.

  “Oh, he’s there,” Nyx replied darkly. “You just can’t see him because you’re not dead yet. Climb aboard.”

  Not caring for his use of the word “yet”, I shot him a dirty look, nervously fingering the quarters in my pocket.

  “It’s too late to back out,” Nyx stated, clearly reading my mind. “Don’t you want to save the child?”

  On cue, somewhere in the darkness on the other side of the river, a baby started to cry. The sound was faint, but clear, and had its intended effect. Forcing my feet to move, I stepped from the dock onto the raft, feeling it rock lightly beneath my feet.

  Nyx, however, took a step back.

  “Aren’t you coming?”

  He shook his big black head. “No.” His wings unfolded, then flapped, lifting him aloft. “I’ll meet you on the opposite bank.” Another flap of his wings made me hold my nose, as the breeze it stirred brought with it a horrible stench. “Just don’t pay the ferryman until you get there, and you’ll be fine.”

  Then he was gone, rising high into the darkness above my head, leaving me alone on a rickety raft with an invisible ferryman and bad case of the heebie-jeebies.

  The raft started to move away from the dock, though I didn’t see how. All too soon I was adrift in the yellowish mist, feeling more alone than I’d ever felt in my life. I glanced around nervously, expecting some black-cowled skeleton to loom out of the darkness, holding its hand out for a piece of silver. The baby’s crying had stopped, and I could hear nothing—not a drip or a splash or even an echo of noise. It was as if all sound had been swallowed by a miasma of yellow, reeking fog, and as the moments stretched past, I found my thoughts turning inward. What if I never got off this stupid raft? What about all the kindnesses I’d left undone, the words I’d left unsaid, the special moments I’d never appreciated? What about all the love from friends and family that I’d taken for granted? I thought about my mom and dad, and the horrible day that the two sheriff’s deputies had knocked on the door and told me about the car accident that had taken them away from me. It was all so quiet, and depressing, and overwhelming, and before I knew it, I was bawling like a baby, slumped on my knees on a raft in the middle of an underground river that reeked of death and decay and utter, complete hopelessness.

  Somewhere in the middle of all that misery, I knew that this was meant to happen, that the trip across the River Styx was not meant to be a pleasant one, and that regret and sadness and despair were probably being generated by the yellow murk surrounding me. One bright, shining thought came into my head, penetrating the fog of despondency, and I snatched at it, grasping at it as though it were a lifeline. Joe Bascombe, my sweet, strong, handsome man. He was going to be so mad at me when I told him about this evening’s adventure, because he’d asked me not to go alone on any more soul-saving missions, but he’d forgive me. He’d forgive me and hold me close, and never let me go. He was my rock, my lodestone, the love of my life and the other half of my soul, and
unlike everyone else who’d ever traveled this dark, gloomy river, I’d be able to see him again. I’d be able to do those kindnesses, and say those words, and appreciate those moments. Those thoughts made me cry all over again, but this time they were tears of pity for all those lost souls who’d ridden this raft before me, with no beacon of hope like Joe to hold on to.

  It seemed like forever before I saw the outline of another dock, getting closer as the raft moved toward it. By the time I was able to make out the figure of Nyx standing on the other side, I was actually relieved to see his ugly stone face.

  I got to my feet, wiping away tears, all too eager to disembark when the raft finally bumped against the dock.

  Nyx raised a hand before I took a single step. “Throw the coin over your shoulder, and don’t turn around,” he said.

  The hair on the back of my neck rose, as I fished in my pocket for a quarter. “Is twenty-five cents enough?”

  He shrugged. “It’s the payment itself that counts, not the amount.”

  Just to be on the safe side, I pulled out two quarters, and tossed them over my shoulder one at a time, then very carefully stepped from the raft onto the dock.

  As soon as my feet found solid purchase, the dock was gone, and so was the yellow mist. I blinked at the sudden brightness, like a mole emerging from a hole, and found myself standing on the edge of a very steep cliff.

  “Holy crap!” I barely stopped myself from grabbing at Nyx’s arm, as my feet were far closer to the edge than I would’ve liked.

  “Do not use such profanity here,” he growled menacingly.

  “‘Crap’ is not a profanity,” I shot back, looking carefully down at where I placed my feet.

  “‘Crap’ is not the word I was referring to.”

  I barely heard him, for my attention had been caught by the scene at the base of the cliff. Fire, ash, rocks, and more fire. Shadows, cast by the flames, danced eerily on the rock face of the cliff opposite, looking all too human-like to suit me. They seemed to dance, flickering gray shapes that leapt and capered, making no sound.

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