Welcome back to Sneak Peek Sunday. Sorry, it’s a little late this week, more like Sneak Peek Monday, because I had to work and forgot to schedule the post… but let’s not dwell on that.
By the way, if any of you would like to share something, the guidelines for Sneak Peek Sunday are HERE.
I absolutely love REAPER (which I was honored to beta read), so I was excited to share an excerpt from BARD. Enjoy:
Bard woke the next morning to the sound of some jerk laying on a car horn right outside his window. He tucked his flimsy pillow around his head, shoving as much of the fluff into his ears as possible. It was no use. Whoever it was had no intention of letting up any time soon.
He shot up in bed. “What the fuck is your problem?!”
The horn stopped. Bard frowned then shook his head. Creepy timing, that’s all it was. He fell back against the mattress and sighed. The list crinkled in his pocket as he moved. Bard wondered how they planned to get him across the country. Relocation was a tricky business – one he’d not relished the last time. Transportation being what it was when Queen Victoria was on the throne, Bard spent the better part of January 1850 heaving over the side of a ship en route from England to New York, then walked from Brooklyn to the devil’s puckered ass hole, Florida. Once he’d spotted palm trees, he planted his feet firmly in the ground and refused to go any further.
Now, they wanted to uproot him once again.
Bard thanked whoever was listening that there existed no sailable river to Minnesota.
A knock on the door yanked him from his memories.
Keeping his eyes locked on the bedroom door, Bard groped the mattress for his dagger only to remember he’d left it on the table last night.
“Fuck me,” he muttered.
“No thanks,” a voice said behind the door.
He rolled his eyes. It was only Smalls. “What do you want?”
Looking down at his bare, white-haired chest and yesterday’s jeans Bard said, “Yep.”
The door opened; Smalls peered around it and cringed. “Come on, dude. Put on a shirt.”
“Call me ‘dude’ again, and I’ll shove that pumpkin you call a head down the toilet.”
Smalls shrugged. While he’d been a reaper for nearly a hundred years, Smalls still acted as though he was as young as the day he died. He was an idiot most of the time, but didn’t ask too many stupid questions and was good at the job. Bard didn’t dislike him.
Bard sniffed a t-shirt he found beside the bed and, deciding it wasn’t too ripe, slipped it over his head. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this crack of dawn visit?”
“I’m relocating you. Didn’t you hear me honking outside?”
“That was you? Jesus, you could wake the dead with that racket.”
“That was the idea.” Smalls winked.
Bard groaned. It was annoying when Smalls tried to be clever. “You’re driving me the entire way?”
“No. Just to the airport. I’ve got a pick there, anyway.”
Bard stood and left the bedroom in search of his bag. He wouldn’t be bringing much. “Big one?”
Smalls leaned against the doorframe. “Nah. Just the one.”
In his tattered leather bag, Bard packed the dagger, extra lighters and enough clothes for a couple of days. He paused at the table. Should he bring the scribblings? No. What good would they do him once the job was done? Instead, Bard stuffed them into the box crate which he balanced on his shoulder.
“Let’s go,” he said.
Smalls nodded and followed him out of the apartment.
Bard didn’t bother to lock up.
While Smalls continued out to the street where his car waited, Bard walked around the side of the building. An overflowing dumpster sat at the back of the alley, awash with flies and the fetid stench of decay. He dropped the crate next to it.
Smalls whistled from the street. “You coming or what?”
“Yeah,” Bard called. “Hold your horses.”
He lit the corner of a burger wrapper with his favorite zippo lighter and tossed it into the center of the crate. It didn’t take long for the pages to ignite.
Bard lit a cigarette and strode from the alley.
Smalls leaned against the car, fiddling with the music player Bard had traded him. He pointed to the plume of smoke rising out of the alley. “What’d you do?”
“Tied up a loose end. Let’s get out of here.”
People, Bard thought, were no better than rabbits. Thousands of people he’d delivered into the next life, yet here in the packed airport was proof that it’d made little to no impact on the population. He and Smalls snaked through the overflow from the ticketing line, past security, and out to the gates.
“Where’s your pick?” Bard said, readjusting the bag on his shoulder. It was old and tearing along the strap. He worried it’d snap before they got the plane. If Smalls’ pick had a nice bag, though…
Smalls tilted his head. “Over there. Gate forty-three. The woman with the pink hair.”
She was hard to miss. Breasts the size of cantaloupes and bright pink hair curled atop her head like cotton candy. Bard guessed she was somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty and vaguely deluded about it.
“Heart attack?” He said.
Smalls shrugged. “Maybe. Look at the way she’s shaking her head. My money’s on an aneurism.”
Bard grunted. He couldn’t help but notice the board behind her. Her flight was headed for Minneapolis. “Guess she’s my seat.”
“You’re going north? Man, I don’t envy you.”
The woman teetered in her seat.
“You’re up,” Bard said.
She pitched forward just as they reached her, thin body draped over her luggage like a doll. The gate attendants rushed over to help, barking orders into their walkie-talkies. Her Ba rose from her body without issue and Smalls attended to her while Bard took advantage of the chaos. A flight that full would have a list of on-calls ready to take her seat. A death would delay the flight by an hour maybe, but nothing short of a terrorist attack would cancel it. He scanned the computer screen for the on-calls list. Sure enough, they’d thought of that, too. As Bard watched, the names were deleted, one by one.
Smalls joined him at the counter. “All taken care of?”
“Looks that way.”
Smalls cleared his throat. Sniffed. God, he was going to get emotional and Bard didn’t want to deal with it.
“Thanks for the ride,” Bard said. “You should probably head out.”
Smalls nodded. “Yeah. Okay,” he said, but didn’t move.
“Don’t you have a –”
Bard was cut off by a suffocating hug around his chest. His arms were pinned to his side, making it impossible to wriggle out of the embrace.
“Oh, for fucksake.”
“Could you not be an ass for one minute, Bard? I know why you’re being relocated and I get it. But I’m going to miss you.”
He’d never admit it, but a small part of Bard was going to miss Smalls too. A microbial, almost invisible part. A part-lette.
Bard sighed. “Yeah, yeah. Just don’t cry or anything.”
He was finally able to pry himself out of Smalls’ grip when TSA agents okayed boarding. Without looking back, Bard slipped past the woman scanning tickets and sought out the pink-haired woman’s seat – a window seat at the very back of the plane. He tucked his bag beneath the seat and immediately buckled the seat belt.
It was irrational. More than that, it was stupid, but Bard was terrified of flying. The logical side of his mind tried to remind him that he was a reaper. He was an instrument of death. The less-logical side said, exactly. He couldn’t die again, but Bard didn’t imagine experiencing a fiery plane crash would be pleasant.
Other passengers boarded shortly after. A dark-skinned woman in a red and tan dress sat next to Bard. Her dreadlocked hair quivered as she snapped her seatbelt, muttering and taking deep breaths between each incoherency. She leaned her head back against the seat and closed her eyes.
“You will not get me,” she said.
Bard frowned. “Excuse me?”
The woman didn’t respond.
Relax, he thought. She’s just scared.
The engines roared to life and soon they were airborne. Drink service came through and Bard cursed his oversight. Liquor would have deadened the impact turbulence had on his slowly crumbling composure. His neighbor obviously felt the same; she asked for vodka.
“Double,” she said in a deep, toffee-like voice.
The flight attendant set two small bottles of vodka on her tray, along with a plastic cup of ice. The woman didn’t touch them at first. Instead, she reached into the folds of her long skirt and retrieved a deck of tarot cards.
Bard snorted. “I can tell you more than those cards can, lady.”
She shuffled the cards, cut them twice, then held them between her hands for a moment before dealing. Each card she turned was identical – the classic image of a reaper, scythe in hand, skeletal face, shrouded in black. She nodded, flipping every card.
When the last one was laid, she poured the contents of the first vodka bottle into the cup. The second, she set on Bard’s lap.
He looked up and met her piercing gaze.
“I thought so, but could not be sure,” she said and took a long pull from her cup. She pointed to the scattered deck. “The cards do not lie. You are Death.”
“More or less,” was all Bard could come up with to say. It startled him that this woman could not only see him, but knew exactly what he was. But, it wasn’t unheard of. Those few people who had real psychic ability felt and saw things no one else could. The way most of humanity is repelled by Bard’s kind, seers are drawn to them.
“I am Zola,” she said.
“Are you here for someone?”
“Nope. Just traveling.”
Her shoulders relaxed. “Then drink up, Bard. You look like you need it.”
He didn’t need to be told twice. The entire contents of the bottle went down in two gulps. He wiped his mouth and nodded thanks. The alcohol hit him almost instantly, warming his face and softening his anxiety.
Zola gathered her cards and slipped them back into the folds of her skirt. “Death does not just travel,” she said. It wasn’t an invitation for explanation; it was a statement of cold fact.
She sighed. “Neither do I.”
Her mouth set in a tight line and remained that way for the rest of the flight.