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Phantom Hearts
a paranormal romantic comedy
by Minnette Meador
(Book II in The Ghost Series)

Chapter One

Reggie studied the two staggering lines winding their way into Hell. They stank of horrified humanity and bureaucratic bullshit. One line went toward a bright green light that hurt his eyes.

Purgatory.  Even the name was restful. In that line were infants and toddlers, Buddhist monks, smiling Hindus, and any number of “unclaimed” good guys that needed a special ticket upstairs. It made him gag.

It was the other line he was interested in. That queue stretched further than he could see in either direction. The howl of terrified human souls was not a salve for his discomfort so he turned instead to his intended victim.

Reggie stared at the gypsy. He knew she couldn’t see him. Hot vapors and black coils of smoke kept him curtained from questing eyes. The woman wasn’t old, nor was she very young; somewhere in-between, he supposed. Her face snarled when the man behind her tried to bully his way closer to the end of the eternal line, but she elbowed him hard and he withdrew, rubbing the rib she had caught with an outrageously boney arm.  The wicked wrinkles lining her eyes smoothed into a pleasant face that had first attracted Reggie. She looked out of place amongst the very dregs of humanity fussing impatiently around her. All of them knew what lay at the end of that line; assignment to one of the nine circles of Hell. One side of Reggie’s mouth curled up. He loved the heart of the damned.

When he heard Mortimer’s shuffling feet, Reggie tossed an open hand to his side. A rotting leather folder with the name “Beatrice Mountebank Smithens” scrawled in giant letters across the front materialized from somewhere inside Mortimer’s black rags and he laid it gently in Reggie’s fingers.

“Is this the one you wanted, master?” growled the pixyish little man at his elbow.

Reggie ran his hand slowly across the dusty cover then glanced again at the fortuneteller. She looked amiable, settled, almost cheerful in the roiling mass of grumbling souls. 

He opened the folder to scan the facts typed neatly on a yellowed piece of paper with brown fire scared edges…

REASON FOR CONDEMNATION:

  1. Murder

    1. Homicide
    2. Patricide
    3. Spousicide
  2. Treason
  3. Fraud
  4. Theft
  5. Debauchery (non-sexual)
  6. Torture
  7. Sadism…

Oh, how Reggie loved the old sins…

  1. Over indulgence/Under Representation
  2. Cheating on taxes

He flipped that page and scanned the next until his eyes fell on the last few lines.

DURATION OF CONFINEMENT: Eternity

CURRENT LEVEL: Ring One – The Queue

DISPOSITION: Variable

This last line sent electric shocks up his neck. It was exactly what he wanted to know.

“Bring her to me.” He slammed the folder back into this servant’s hands, turned on his heel, and headed for his office.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Clutching the dusty carpetbag in her lap with both hands, Beatrice scanned the dark room. Her eyes skimmed over everything except where the demon sat across from her. Reggie reached for his drink and took a sip.

“Comfortable?”

Those watery bulging eyes skittered first right, then left and she lowered her chin. “Yes, sir,” she whispered.

“Do you know why I brought you here?”

A kind of spark lit her face for an instant and then died. “No, sir.”

“You don’t like the line to Hell, do you?”

A flash of unguarded heat triggered at her mouth but she didn’t reply.

“If it’s any comfort to you,” he leaned forward and tried to keep the smirk off his face, “it won’t be long now. Your place in hell waits for you in a circle I’m certain is well deserved.”

She put timid fingers on his desk and massaged the rose-colored wood. “Which circle, sir?” 

Reggie was impressed. The tug of compulsion demonstrated in those three words was quite compelling. He almost answered. Instead, he sat back and folded his fingers together.

“Of course, I can’t tell you.” Her face fell with her eyes to her knees and she pulled in a long breath of air. “You’ll have to take my word for it; what awaits you will make your life in Hell very… interesting.”

Her mouth dissolved into a straight line and a light flickered in her eyes, but again, she said nothing.

“Unless…” Reggie let the word hang in the room for a long time as he took another sip of the brackish liquor in the smoky glass.  For the first time she glared directly at him.

“Unless what?” she snarled, a slip of evil spilling out with each syllable.

“Unless you’d like to earn a chance to… let’s say, “improve” your situation here. Interested?”

She gave him one brisk nod. Her hands tightened on the purse.  Opening one of the desk drawers, Reggie reached in and pulled out one of his favorite toys.

Called an Appall ICU, the tablet had been the dandy of many of the variable demons in hell; you could pull up anyone living and see what they were up to. One of Apple’s more questionable “Divisions,” Appall was not well known by homo sapiens; well, except the ones who would get a copy of the device once they descended to Hell anyway.

Reggie slid his finger over the smooth pad and pushed an icon here and there. Soon a face filled the screen and he sighed.

Black short hair bobbed above her eyes and around the nape of her neck. Her lips were blood red and her eyes painted with a gothic perfection Reggie found very appealing.  Cocooned in an ancient shawl all swirls and mysticism, she sat at a worn table staring down at a scattered deck of worn tarot cards, her face screwed up in confusion tinged with fear. Almost pixie like, the woman’s beauty still took his breath away, even though he had none. It was why he had chosen her to receive the altered seed he had implanted in her womb; the seed of a monster. The memory sent chills down his neck and he shivered.

Laying the device on the table, he spun it around and pushed it toward Beatrice. She mouthed a tentative, barely audible, “Oh.”

“Do you know her?” Reggie asked.

The mournful eyes lifted to him. “No. Who is she?”

“Her name is Dionysus Eugenia Alberic, one of the purest souls on earth and about to become the mother of my child.”

Beatrice pulled her neck back and gave him a suspicious glare. “Your child?” she hissed.

Reggie settled into his chair and pondered his reply for a moment. “Well… not directly my child, but close enough. He will rule the world one day.”

“So, do I kill her and cut the child from her womb?”

The raw iciness of that question made even Reggie quiver a bit. This creature truly had no heart. She’d have his job one day.

“Nothing so rash. I need her brought to me, but I can’t go up and fetch her myself… well, not without consequences.”

Beatrice pulled the tablet into her hands and studied the image very carefully. “She’s young.”

“Don’t let her youthful face deceive you. She’s no fool.”

Beatrice grunted an acknowledgement and put the tablet on the table. “What’s in it for me?”

Reggie watched Dyna move two more Tarot cards into play on the tiny screen. They were too small to see, but he was certain what they were telling her. “I can’t promise, of course, but if you help me I’ll make certain your name is whispered into the proper ears. I can’t get you out of the particular circle you’ve been condemned to, but I can make your stay there more… comfortable, if you wish.”

“I want my life back,” she stated so bluntly, Reggie had to laugh.

“No one can do that for you, my dear. At least not permanently. All I can do is give you a temporary reprieve from here. You can’t stay more than 24 hours on Earth.”

The sour expression she shot back at him made him queasy. This one would bear watching.

“Alright.” She stood up and pushed the chair back. “When do I start?”

Reggie rose and crossed to one of the massive shelves lining the walls. He brushed the spines of several books until he found the one he wanted. In gold letters was written, The Alchemy of Tarot by Aristotle. He knew he could reach the old philosopher in purgatory where he lived behind one of the seven gates with many of his fellow scholars. Reggie wasn’t allowed there, of course, but from time to time, Arty would wander very near the edge of limbo. Reggie would lure him close enough to discuss philosophy, evil, and the nuances of men. The demon would never admit this to anyone, of course, but it was one of his few pleasures. The old fucker could really talk.

He handed the book to Beatrice who took it as if scabs covered it. “Study that. You’ll need it. How’s your tarot?”

The pencil thin shoulders shrugged recklessly and she adjusted her bag to flip through the book’s pages. “Good enough. I worked for a couple of years at one of the tarot reading phone centers. It’s all a lot of bullshit, if you ask me.”

Reggie nodded and went back to his chair. “Agreed, but our darling Dyna doesn’t think so; they are as real to her as this morning’s coffee. It’s almost a religion to her.”

“Just another sucker for the plucking, then,” spat Beatrice back at him, but Reggie leaned forward and flashed her just a split second of his true form. The woman stopped breathing and her eyes parasoled into glassy diamonds.

“Never underestimate her, you fool! She doesn’t even know it herself, but she is one of the most powerful beings on Earth. To misjudge her abilities would be a mistake you will only make once.”

Settling back into his chair he smoothed his façade back into the handsome English gentleman he preferred. “Now, here is what I need you to do…”


Submitted: May 05, 2019

© Copyright 2022 Minnette A. Meador. All rights reserved.

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