As part of the October Frights Blog Hop, I'm posting a short story from the world of my YA Paranormal novel, The Reaper's Daughter. You don't have to have read my book to follow this, because this story stands on its own. It's more like the beginning, a prequel, so to speak. This is the story of the Grim Reaper's banishment from the underworld.
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“I dare you.” His rough, hard face creased with a taunting smirk, his narrow dark eyes flickering with challenge. From his hand hung a sword, the whistle of steel meeting air still echoing from where he’d only moments before tried to slice off her arm—the one that held the scythe.
Grim laughed, the sound bouncing off the glittering crystals and craggy rock of the caverns. They had come to the walkway of the dead, near where Styx guarded the doorway between the underworld and the land of the living. The guardian deity hadn’t intervened yet, and for that Grim was thankful. She was ready to end the death deity war Hades had set in motion.
Hefting the scythe she so easily held in her hand over her shoulder, she shook her head, gazing at him imperiously although he dwarfed her by the mass of his bulk, his shadow almost vanquishing hers. “I will not kill my brethren, and you are that, even if I find you … well, I’ll be honest, repulsive,” she said dryly, arching a dark brow.
He smiled, and Grim stared at him impassively, eyeing the sweat clinging to his long hair and glistening against the pale of his skin with an inward distaste. She had always disliked the deity and his brutish ways, never felt he carried with him the compassion for those he crossed, and she didn't respect his need for power. Now, his eyes glittered black and he held her gaze, his focus only wavering away from hers for a moment to focus on the gleam of the silver scythe she held. He gestured beyond himself. “If you are to stop me, you will have to kill me.” From the shadows stepped his army, more than she could count.
“Your devil’s spawn,” she said, inclining her head in acknowledgement.
“Oh, well I’m hurt you would refer to innocent children so,” he said calmly, a mocking thread running through his tone.
“Innocent? I could say the living are happy when they see me, but that doesn’t make it true.” She smiled humorlessly, glancing to the figures of Hades’s children standing behind him, around her, with weapons in their hands and ambition in their souls. Glancing back to Hades, she caught the gleam of his sword slicing through the air, sending her into motion, her hands folding securely around the scythe and swinging it, the clang of metal reverberating off stone pierced the night with death.
“War then,” he said.
“You and yours began this,” she said, gritting her teeth and shoving him back with the force of her weapon, making him stumble back, a grimace of surprise flashing across his face.
Grim grinned, the power from the scythe crackling within her. How could he think he’d beat—a wind slapped her, and from the corner of her eye she caught the mass that was Hades barreling toward her, his hybrid goons closing in on her.
Thought wasn’t an option, and she swiveled, instinctively putting the power of the scythe into physical action by stepping forward and slamming the blunt part of the weapon into his chest. A crack of bone shattering filled the cavern, and Hades was sent flying back into a part of the wall that jutted out, his body hitting it with a slap. A strange expression flickered across his face, his black eyes losing the steel twist of corruption for the briefest of moments, and then he slid down to the ground, his eyes closing.
That must have hurt, she thought, glancing dismissively at the deity. He was immortal, so he’d heal fast enough, and he would be punished for his crimes, she would see to it. Grim eyed the kids moving in on her and sighed softly. Indoctrinated by Hades with his hate and misdirected power grab, and as many as there were, they’d be a challenge, but ultimately, they’d be no match for her.
A moan drew her attention back to Hades, who sat up slowly from his spot on the ground and rubbed a large knuckled hand over his chest. “Feeling under the weather?” she asked, wondering when the council would show and provide her the support to bring him and his brood to justice. But when he looked at her, she was startled by the creases of pain that worried his face. “He’s quiet … I can’t hear him … You-you killed him!” he growled.
“Killed who?” she asked slowly, watching him carefully, the scythe still clutched in her hands. He couldn’t possibly mean--
“You killed my brother. Pluto’s dead.”
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Stay tuned for Part II, which I'll post on Sunday.
I've been so busy I've been hard-pressed to get a blog up this week, so I thought I'd run an oldie. I love this essay, or rant, whichever you want to call it. I first ran it in 2012, but I think I actually wrote it in 2007. At any rate, when I posted it a couple of years ago I actually landed a radio interview with these guys who like people who rant. You can check it out here. In the meantime, check out this ode and rant to the restaurant industry.
Never Burn Your Apron
I know you’ve thought about it. I have. But five, 10, 20 years from now, I’m betting if you need it, you don’t have the money to go out and buy another one.
When my little sister was 17, I got her a job as a hostess. Elated that I got to work with her, I thought we would be able to gossip and hangout together even more. She would know who I was talking about when I mentioned Sam, the dreamy bartender who my sister decided upon meeting was a player. It turns out she was right.
In my fantasies, we were this amazingly fun duo. We would party all night and later trade drunken tales of the same nighttime adventure, filling in each other’s missing pieces. But as it turns out, she’s not much a of a people person, she doesn’t have much of a taste for alcohol and she absolutely hated smiling when she didn’t feel like it. In fact, she preferred bussing tables to seating them. Even though she would be covered in other people’s leftover filth, at least she didn’t have to trade false pleasantries.
On her last day, two months, two days and 16 hours after she first started, she celebrated her release from the gallows of the food industry by tossing her white polo shirt into a campfire. She watched as the restaurant’s emblem was slowly consumed, thread by thread, while the hungry yellow flames gorged on the fabric, much like restaurant patrons gorged themselves on salads — thinking it was still healthy despite pounds of dressing.
She did what I’ve always wanted to do. No matter how many times I heard a relative, a friend or a parent say: “It’s a skill you’ll always have to fall back on,” I never believed it. Or I just didn't want to.
At the end of the day, you may have money in hand but you have endured slights and degradation. You smell like food and grease; it’s not only on your clothes but it seeps into your pores. Even after you shower, it clings. I once dated a guy who worked in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant. Despite showering and dowsing cologne on himself, he always managed to smell like food. Years later, I think of him whenever I smell a whiff of Italian food and grease.
After 12 hours of being on my feet, I can no longer feel them or they hurt so much I walk around claiming to everyone who is near that I’m the Little Mermaid – and not Disney’s happy version. This is the Hans Christian Anderson version, where with every step she takes, it feels like she’s walking on broken glass.
I may have eaten the buffalo chicken sandwich with fries, but I’m not worried about getting fat. That period between 5 and 9, when I had 10 tables who didn’t think that maybe it would be courteous to say, “Yes, a refill would be nice,” when I asked the first time, had burned those calories. No, these people wait until I’ve come back with their dining partner’s drink and then say, “You know what, maybe I will take a refill.” Nevermind the seven other tables with double the eyes, looking at me expectantly for their food or check.
Or my personal favorite is when I walk up to a table and say: “Hi, my name is Katri-“
“I’ll take a coke,” says the gentleman in his business suit, promptly cutting me off. My smiles tightens, I bite my tongue. Hi to you too, I think. My imagination slips away into a world where I tell him to kiss my ass and to get his own damn coke. But that’s in a perfect world.
Or even better I walk up to a table and say, “Hi. How are you doing today?” But instead of a greeting in return, the two people talking back and forth continue their conversation as if I don’t exist. They don’t look at me, they don’t say hi, or pause in their conversation even. Ten seconds, 20, 50. A minute can seem like a very long time when you’re the elephant in the room and the only one that realizes it. I either stick around until they get some manners and say hi, or I run to the bathroom or to a fellow co-worker to make sure I’m still visible. Am I suddenly Patrick Swayze in “Ghost?” I wave my hand back and forth in front of my face. I can still see it. I turn to the skinny little new girl with the extra tight shirt and the cleavage busting out from the-obviously-not regulation shirt.
“Umm. Did you deliver food to table 45?” I ask breathlessly.
She looks at me with her large, heavily made-up eyes like a 17-year-old struck dumb on her first day on the job. “Where’s table 45?” she asks.
“That one,” I point efficiently and turn.
Hallelujah, I’m alive. Time to return to those people who don’t have any manners.
Now, as I approach the table they’re looking through the menu, quiet, subdued. Could they have possibly realized as their server ran away, that they had been impolite? One of the ladies’ looks at me, “Hi!” she says.
My smile, when it comes, hurts. I am a pro at smiling when I don’t feel it. That’s why I’m good at this job. I have been able to fool my friends, family and lovers for years. Surely, I can fool perfect strangers into giving me their money. It’s not too hard. But I’ll need some sugar when I’m through to counteract the bitters.
“Hi,” I respond. They do not get the pleasure of my name.
At the end, they’ll leave me a decent tip because they realize, if not in some vague, sort of offhanded way, that I am also a human being. God made us all equal did he? I am surely superior because I actually know what that means. Me, the lowly waitress.
Servers, more than bartenders, are bitter. There is a big ‘ol chip on our shoulder that ain’t growing back. Why? Well, there’s a certain culture in the restaurant and the position one holds is equivalent to a social class. As a bartender, you’re more respected. It’s seen as a more prestigious job, a skill. In addition, bar guests tend to be more laid back, they’re chilling, having a drink. Or else they’re regulars, and naturally, you’re then their best friend. Cha-ching.
Servers, on the other hand, are often treated as if they’re hard of hearing or just too daft to understand the difference between medium rare and well done. What the customer doesn’t realize is that the server has little control over what happens to the food once the order goes in. We can bitch all we like, but if the kitchen is backed up, yelling at the cooks just makes them take longer and do a worse job than they’re already doing.
Once when I worked at a diner chain, there was a cook named Wayne. He used to smoke cigarettes while he fried the food; his grease-stained white t-shirt barely covering his gut, thinning hair covered up by a trucker’s baseball-style cap. He was a complete cliché, but the literal truth. Despite all that, he could be all right some of the time, but when he was pissed at the servers, they better beware. He used to put the plates right down on the flat top grill and let them sit there until they were nice and hot, then he’d throw the food on them. If you didn’t already know better, you’d grab the plate and let out a shriek as you felt your skin sizzle. The bastard would be flicking his ashes on the floor and hiding a smirk behind his stringy brown mustache.
This is what I think of as I fold the freshly washed apron. Despite the sounds and smells of summer that waft in through the open window, my hand shakes with the memories — shakes with a pyromaniac urge. But I stay my hand. This apron has scars. It has been my constant companion when there was no one else. My story is entwined with the apron. To burn it, I know, would be foolhardy, and I’ve come too far for that. Instead, the apron sits deep in a drawer, waiting for when it is needed. I hope that day never comes.
Avery held the needle in the flickering flame, her long lashes casting shadows on sun-kissed skin that was devoid of its usual golden glow in the dimness of the candlelit room. Her pretty face was a study of concentration, her lips pursed as she watched the needle blacken. While she focused on the needle, I watched her. What we were about to do would bind us forever, forging a sisterhood no one could possibly break.“There, I think it’s probably sterilized,” she pulled the needle from the flame and blew on the metal to cool it, her large dark eyes dancing with the deed we were about to do. “Give me your finger,” she commanded. Assuming an air of reverence, she impatiently flicked strawberry blonde hair back over her shoulder, the strands, as they arced through the air, looking almost red in the flickering glow. We were sitting cross-legged across from each other, our knees practically touching with only a candle separating us. An open window let in a fresh summer breeze, charging the room with its elemental mystery.
Dutifully, I held out my finger, biting my lower lip in anticipation of the pain. Grabbing my finger, she firmly clamped it between her index and thumb before deftly stabbing it with the warm needle. It hurt just like the needle they poke into your finger at the doctor's office, except this was more prolonged because the needle was dull and she had to work it in under the skin. After a moment she sat back and released my hand. Pinching the skin between my fingertips, I looked down at where she had pricked me and squeezed my finger until a bead of blood welled at the surface.
“Now you’re turn,” I said, waiting for her to stab herself. But she shook her head and handed the needle to me with an intense look flashing across her face.
“No, you have to do it. It seems right,” her voice was muted, but she spoke with authority as if she performed blood sister rites every day. I frowned; I really didn’t want to stab her finger. Doing it to myself was one thing, but the thought of doing it to another person made me shudder inwardly.
“Really? I don’t think I can stab your finger,” I voiced my thoughts aloud, although making sure to keep my voice at a hushed level to show the proper veneration for the moment.
She rolled her eyes. “You can do it; I just did it to you,” she pointed out. “Think of it as payback for always taking you down,” her full lips curved up mischievously, and I knew she was referencing drunken wrestling matches. She always got me to beg for mercy.
Sighing, I nodded.“Fine,” and took the needle from her outstretched hand. I felt my face cringe as I took her finger, and without waiting, stuck it into her skin. She hissed between her teeth but made no other sound. Unlike mine, she didn’t need to squeeze to get the blood out, instead a pinprick point bubbled on the top of her index finger and rolled down.
Raising my eyes, I met her gaze as she smiled. “Okay, let’s do it.” I nodded, and without a word we pressed our bleeding index fingers together and allowed our blood to mingle, becoming blood sisters forever.
The idea had come to us earlier in the night while we sat outside passing a joint back and forth, staring up at the stars while alternately casting paranoid glances toward the house in the event one of my parents awoke. We had snuck around the shed so were one of them to come looking for us we’d have enough warning to ditch the joint.
It was one of those summer nights when the night air was just the perfect mix of warm and cool, so that it felt like a balm on bare skin after the heat of the day. It was one of those nights that made crazy young girls feel free and reckless as if we were untouchable and only the present moment counted.
We were deep in conversation that varied between topics like the meaning of life and death, cute boys and what we were going to eat once we got inside. Kona, my family’s Labrador mutt, paced nervously around us as if he were more paranoid about getting busted than us. If we had left him inside he would have barked and woke the whole house, so we had to bring him with us. I was exhaling a particularly large plume of smoke when she blurted it out. “Okay, I lied. I totally slept with him.”
My jaw opened wide, and I threw up my hands in dramatic expression. “Avery!” I said half chastising, although I wasn’t particularly surprised. “I just knew you weren’t telling me the truth. Please tell me you at least used something.” Her glassy eyes slid guiltily away as she took the joint from my outstretched hand. “Avery,” I sighed in disapproval. I was sometimes jealous over how easy she had it with boys with her quick wit and teasing personality. But she was also prone to her impulses. This wasn’t the first time she’d shamefully admitted to having sex with her monthly crushes.
“Well at least you’re on birth control,” I said, tucking my legs beneath me and taking the last drag before snuffing out the rest of it in the grass. At least now if we got busted only our eyes would give us away, and we could hide that in the dark.
“I know, but I’m nervous about diseases, like he’s been with a lot of girls.”
“He usually uses condoms though doesn’t he?” That’s what Avery had always said in the past. Avery and Liam had been an item off and on again for months. She’d just promised not to sleep with him again given his penchant for dumping her and then wooing her again in a never-ending cycle.
“Yeah,” she nodded, looking lost in thought, the weed making us more somber than usual.
“Then you shouldn’t worry.” Although I tried to be reassuring I could tell it wasn’t helping.
“It was stupid, I should have stopped it but I can’t stop myself when I’m around him. What if he has AIDS?” She suddenly asked panicked.
“He doesn’t,” I was mostly convinced, mainly because I couldn’t imagine anything horrible like that happening to people we knew.
“But what if he does? What if I get it? Would you go on a trip with me around the world? Would you stay with me?” She gazed at me intensely, the depth of our friendship weighing on me so that I felt an almost spiritual connectedness with her.
I nodded. “I’d even share your blood so that if you got it I got it too. That way, we would always be together.”
At my offer, her eyes lit up and she nodded. “We could be blood sisters!”
That’s how we’d ended up here; our fingers pressed together in a blood promise to suffer and die along with the other one. Friendship was forever after all.
We pulled our fingers apart, and I stuck mine in my mouth tasting the copper hint of our blood. “Now if I’ve got it you’ve got it. Sisters forever,” she said staring at me.
I nodded, the effects of the pot and the magnitude of our pact were making me slightly lightheaded, but I silently reveled in the profoundness of our friendship. I was startled when she broke the silence with a laugh, but I looked at her and grinned.
“Let’s go make a turkey potato chip sandwich,” she said blowing out the candles and flicking on the lights. The mood of the night was swept away and I blinked, glancing around my room and finally back at her, my vision clearing. “I’ve got the munchies,” she giggled.
“Me too,” I said and grabbed the needle, tossing it into the garbage as we trotted down the stairs for a midnight snack.
Note to Readers: I'm so swamped lately I've sadly neglected my blogs, so as an alternative I decided to share a quick, off the cuff YA short story I wrote. My novel writing is mostly fantasy, but I like to try different styles of fiction once in awhile. So I hope you enjoyed, and hopefully I'll get my self in gear to write some insightful (more likely ranty) post on the writing life soon. -K.M. Randall
K.M. Randall writes fantasy and paranormal for both a general and young adult audience. Her debut novel, an epic fantasy called Fractured Dream, launched in June 2014, and her second book, The Reaper's Daughter, launched May 2015. Randall also published Fairytale Lost, a prequel to Fractured Dream, as an exclusive on Wattpad. She blogs about dreams, female heroines, and activism and its relevancy to the literary and fictional world. And when in the season, sometimes she just likes to talk about Halloween. She is currently hard at work on the second book in the Dreamer Saga series, Shattered World.