“Hey,” Pagan murmured in her soft, sexy, sweet tone that meant she missed me. Normally I didn’t leave during the day to take souls. Only the tough ones or ones I’d made a connection with. I didn’t have to be there for a body to die. I just had to be there to take the soul attached to it away from the body. So, although people died every second of every day I wasn’t always there at that moment. It’s why people often saw the “ghost” of their loved ones hours after their death. The soul stayed with the body until I came for it. Then there were the souls who refused to go. The ones who wouldn’t leave. The ones who became lost souls and wandered the earth for all eternity confused.
“You look...sad,” she pointed, out wrapping her arms around my waist.
“Just thinking,” I assured her, pulling her tightly against my chest.
“You just took a soul, didn’t you?” she replied, studying me.
I nodded again, “a boy.”
She understood. We’d talked about this before. There were so many things she’d wanted to know and I was helpless where she was concerned. I couldn’t manage to tell the girl no.
“When will he come back?”
“In six years.”
“Who took him?”
“Oh, good. He’ll like her.”
I grinned. Gee wasn’t the most likable being I’d ever met but for some strange reason Pagan liked her. Even when she’d thought Gee was a teenage girl who suffered from schizophrenia.
She laid her head against my chest and sighed. Death wasn’t something Pagan dealt with well but she was learning to understand it more.
The tree wasn’t so big. Stupid Wyatt didn’t know nothing. Just because I was a girl didn’t mean I couldn’t climb it too. I’d show him. By the time he got here I’d be all the way at the top. See if he thinks girls can’t do things boys can do. HA! We can do them better. Cause we’re just cooler.
Glancing back to see if Mom was watching from the kitchen window and finding it all clear I grabbed a hold of the rough bark. It was warm and sticky. Once I had both arms and legs wrapped firmly around it I began inching myself up higher. I just wouldn’t look down. I’d keep making my way until I was at the tippy top. No reason to look down. That would just mess me up. A sliver of wood cut into my hand and I yelped pulling it back to see if I was bleeding. There was a small splinter poking out of my hand and I pressed my palm against my mouth and used my teeth to pull it out. Smiling with satisfaction once the small painful bark was firmly between my teeth I jerked it out and spit the offending object out.
See, I was as tough as any boy. Wyatt and his dumb mouth saying I was weak. Whatever! I continued my upward climb. Maybe once he saw how much cooler I was than him because I could climb higher he’d let me into his new treehouse. That “boys only” sign looked just plain stupid anyway. Mom said I needed to ignore them and let the boys have their special hideout but I couldn’t do that. It just wasn’t fair when I was the one who came up with the treehouse idea in the first place. Besides, all Miranda wanted to do was put on makeup and paint our nails. Who wanted to waste time doing that stuff? Not me! That’s who.
My foot slipped and I tightened my hold on the trunk trying not to panic. I could do this. My hands began to sweat and my firm grasp had weakened. This wasn’t good. I moved my arm so I could find something to hold onto other than the tree trunk when my other foot slipped and I went into a free fall backwards. I tried to scream but nothing came out. Closing my eyes tightly I waited for the ground to slam into my back. It was going to hurt.
“Umph, got you,” a familiar voice said and I opened my eyes to see a boy staring down at me. He was holding me. Odd. Shaking my head I stared up at the tree I’d just fallen from and tried to remember how I knew this boy. Had I hit my head and he picked me up?
“Uh,” I replied still confused. I’d been falling. Then... this boy was holding me and talking.
“What were you doing up there? That was too high.”
I turned my gaze back to his, “Um, I uh... did you catch me?” I asked incredulously.
He grinned and the baby blue color of his eyes appeared to darken. “Yeah. Why else do you think you’re not lying on the ground with a few broken bones?”
I shook my head and pushed to stand up. He put me down easily and once again I was startled by how familiar he looked. Did he go to school with us?
“Where’d you come from?”
He shrugged, “Just around. Saw you climbing too high and came over to see if you needed help.”
“Do I know you?” I asked watching his face take on a strange smile.
“I wish you did but you don’t. Not yet. It isn’t time.”
“What do you mean?”
He was weird and he talked like a grown up.
“Pagan Moore, get your butt over here if you’re going to get a sneak peek at my tree house before the boys get here,” Wyatt was standing at the street grinning at me like he’d just offered me a million dollars.
What was he talking about a “peek?” I wanted IN. Not a stupid peek. I glanced back at the boy who’d caught me to see if he wanted to come too but he was gone.
“Almost time, almost time, almost time, almost time.”
I sat up in bed gasping for breath as the chanting in my ear faded away. The same voice from yesterday. I knew that voice. Didn’t I? And what did it mean by “almost time.”
I dropped my head into my hands and sighed. What was happening to me? These dreams seemed so real. Like memories I’d forgotten. The same boy. The same voice.
I stared through my fingers at the light barely coming through my window. The sun wasn’t even completely up yet. There was no way I was going back to sleep. Mom would be thrilled I’d managed to get up in time to eat breakfast with her today. The dream was going to bother me. I needed to ask Wyatt about that tree. Had I told him about falling? I couldn’t remember. Maybe he would.
Getting out of bed I brushed my hair and stood at my window studying the old oak tree. It felt like there was another memory attached to that tree but I couldn’t quite remember it. I put the brush down and slipped on my flip flops and made my way outside. I wanted to go out there. It was almost as if the tree suddenly had some sort of invisible pull to it.
The cool morning air caused me to shiver as I walked down the porch steps and across the damp grass. A jacket would have been a wise decision but I’d been too anxious to come see this tree.
Scanning the yard for anything odd or strange, I walked over to the tree. It was the same as it had always been. Never really changed. Except maybe that bottom branch was now easier to reach. I studied the spot on the tree I remember reaching before I fell and calculated how far I actually fell. Could a boy actually catch me and not fall down himself from the impact? That just seemed highly unlikely.
She was scared. I could feel it even though I was a continent away. Glancing back at Gee I frowned because we weren’t finished. I still had eight hundred more souls to collect before I could call it a day.
“We need to hurry,” I snapped turning to leave the stubborn soul who wasn’t willing to leave.
“Wait, aren’t you going to help me convince this one to go? I mean, come on lover boy, I know you want to get back to your woman and all but we have a job to do.”
“And this one is being stubborn. Let it wander the earth for eternity if that’s what it wants. I’ve tried.”
Gee frowned and closed the distance between us, “Is she okay? I can go. You can summon someone else to --”
“No. She needs me. Let’s go. This one is a lost cause.”
“UGH! You’re so freaking impatient,” Gee fired back at me.
“I don’t have time for this. Take the soul or leave it. I don’t care.” The need to get to Pagan was consuming me. I couldn’t concentrate. “Do what you can with this one. I’ll meet you at the next stop. I’ve got to check on her.” I didn’t wait for Gee’s reply.
She stood outside in her back yard staring up at an old oak tree. Her hair was hanging down her back in soft freshly brushed waves which looked out of place with her pajama bottoms and tank top.
“You okay?” I asked closing in behind her to wrap her up in my arms. She didn’t even startle anymore. My appearing out of nowhere had become normal for her. The thought made me smile but her worry wiped the smile off my face quickly. Something was bothering her.
“Why are you outside so early looking at a tree?” I asked resting my chin on the top of her head.
“I had a dream. It wasn’t the first one. I think... I think they have something to do with that voice.”
Tightening my hold on her I scanned the yard in the early morning light. Nothing was out here but the two of us. She was safe, I reminded myself.
“Tell me about the dreams,” I encouraged.
She lay her hands over mine and let her head fall back on my shoulder.
“They’re all memories from my childhood. Memories I’ve forgotten. In each one there is this boy. The same one. He always helps me. I didn’t remember him until the dreams started but now I think they’re real memories. Not just dreams. I can remember them so clearly it’s as if I’m there,” she paused and pointed to the tree in front of us. “That tree, I climbed it once. I was mad because Wyatt said I couldn’t do it because I was a girl. I wanted to prove him wrong. I climbed it but I, I fell... and he caught me.”
She shook her head, “No. The boy. He helped me find my mother in a crowd when I got lost and there are other times. I’ve seen him. I know him.”
The angry jealous snarl escaped me before I could stop it.
Pagan jerked around in my arms to frown up at me, “ what?”
I shook my head and took a deep breath. This wasn’t an emotion I was good with just yet. I was beginning to wonder if I ever would be. I was selfish and possessive. Pagan was mine.
“You believe he’s real?” I managed to ask. I needed to keep focused on the issue at hand. I hated knowing someone else had saved her as a child. It didn’t set well with me. Something was off. She’d forgotten and now the memories were back. The voice. I needed to find this voice.
“Yes. I think the boy is the voice in my ear,” she squeezed my arms, “stop snarling Dank. You’re not an animal. Jeez.”
She was right of course. But I was angry. The possessive need to claim her as mine was overwhelming. This voice was too close to her if he was getting in her dreams. It was the night time while I was away that he got close to her. I’d have to change that. No more dreams. I would just need to be gone more during the day. I hated being away from her when she was awake. But I was left without much of a choice. This... this thing was too close to her.
“I’m not going to leave you at night anymore. Not until I’ve ended this.”
Pagan frowned and shook her head, “No. I don’t want you to be gone during the day. I’ll miss you.”
I’d miss her too. “I don’t like him being that close to you. He’s getting in your head at night because I’m not there to feel him. To stop him.”
She chewed on her bottom lip and studied my chest a moment then finally looked back up at me.
“What about Gee?”
“What about her?”
“She could stay with me. For right now.”
She could. She wouldn’t be crazy about it but then Gee liked Pagan as much as Pagan liked Gee. I could trust Gee to get me if Pagan needed me.
“I’ll talk to Gee.”
Pagan beamed at me and wrapped her arms around my neck.
“You’re so easy. I hardly ever have to argue with you.”
I kissed the tip of her nose, “I like making you smile Pagan.”
“And I like hearing your sexy voice say sweet things to me,” she replied.
“Kiss me Dank,” she whispered, pressing her lips against mine. This wasn’t something I encouraged. The few times we’d kissed her soul had tried to release from her body. I couldn’t seem to figure out how to stop that. Our kisses were always short. Now, other things... we spent time doing those other things.
“Hmmm... you think you can hold onto your soul this time?” I murmured against her lips.
She giggled, “I’ll try.”
The taste of her sweet tongue sent all other thoughts far from my mind. Instantly, I had one need. One purpose. Pagan. Satisfaction seeped through me as I ran my tongue across her bottom lip fighting the urge to bite it. The plump swell always tempted me. A soft little moan brought me back to my senses and I felt her soul began to react to the draw she felt toward me. Gently, I broke the kiss and put distance between the two of us while we stood staring hungrily at each other and taking very fast short breaths.
“Sorry,” she whispered.
Shaking my head, I smiled at her innocent apology. Her soul knew it was mine. The fact that she was so willing to surrender it was actually precious to me. Even though it caused extreme frustration when I wanted to wrap her in my arms and kiss her senseless for hours at a time. Until we found an answer to her soul’s draw towards me, that wouldn’t be happening.
“Don’t apologize, Pagan,” I replied, reaching out to take her hand and bring it to my lips. “It’s time for you to go inside and get ready. I believe you promised your mother you’d sit down for breakfast this morning.”
She nodded and squeezed my hand before turning around and heading inside. As she reached the door she glanced back at me. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Always,” I replied.