DEATH BOUND (And book 1 is Now in Audio)
Chapter 1: Blind Date
Rohan climbed onto the crowded metro bus with a bouquet of flowers in hand. With a burst of energy, he sprung up the steps and into the aisle, where he became immediately aware of eyes. Passengers, who had been sullenly gazing out the window during the evening commute, had stopped to stare at him.
It must have been the flowers. He gave an awkward smile and weaved between the riders who were standing or sitting with their feet jutting into the aisle.
Soon the people went back to their routine. A newspaper rustled. Rock music blared through the headphones of a nearby teenage girl. Someone was eating Chinese food in spite of the bus’s no food or drink policy, and the smell of fried rice reminded Rohan of the Chinese restaurants in L.A.
Ever since he had moved to Virginia, he’d gotten stares. Maybe it was in his mind, but regardless, he just couldn’t feel at home here, even though he had started over. Saving the world and catching a glimpse of a better side of the afterlife while saying farewell to your dead fiancé tends to unbalance even the greatest of minds. At least, that’s what Rohan told himself every time he started to feel a bit dizzy or like he didn’t belong in this world.
A woman’s voice sounded from the back of the bus.
“Rohan, over here!”
He saw a hand waving from behind a couple of men reading newspapers.
“Excuse me,” he said, working his way between the passengers. He sat next to the woman, who was wrapped in a beige trench coat with her brown hair in a bun. His sister—Beverly.
“Are those for me, or your date?” Beverly asked as they hugged.
“Flowers on a first date? I don’t think so, especially a blind date.”
Beverly took the flowers and sniffed them, closing her eyes. Even though she was just a few years older than Rohan, she was starting to get wrinkles around her eyes. She let out a pleasant sigh. “And they’re irises too. You were paying attention last time you visited your big sis.”
The bus lurched forward and Beverly grabbed the seat. Rohan put his hand out and steadied her. Then the bus picked up speed once more.
“So… who is this lady again?” Rohan asked.
“Don’t you trust my judgment?” She nudged him in the ribs with her elbow, much to Rohan’s annoyance. It was a gesture she had loved to do growing up.
“So…?” he asked, refusing to let it go so easily.
“She’s nice and pretty. But who cares about that? What matters is that you’re back in the sea, little fishy. No pressure. Don’t think you have to fall for her… just keep an open mind. And try not to think of Senna, will you?”
“I can’t just turn off my thoughts,” Rohan said. “Were you able to do that when you divorced?”
“We’re not talking about me,” Beverly said, laughing. From the look in her eyes, he knew she wasn’t going to let him change the subject.
“You have no clue what I’ve been through,” Rohan said.
He shook his head. Memories of Altemus, the evil old man, flashed across his mind. A snowy temple in Russia. A skull with black markings all over it. The intense chase and bitterness of the afterlife—and Senna. His head hurt just thinking about it all again. “I’m not ready to talk about it.”
Beverly shrugged, and they rode in silence for a while.
“So,” Rohan said, playing with his hands, “Tell me about Jess—”
“Tess. God, at least get her name right.”
“Right. Tess. Has she ever… lost someone?”
“No, Rohan. She’s not broken like the two of us. She’s just a nice girl from work.”
“For some crazy reason, she’s agreed to share a meal with you. Maybe if you’re good, she’ll be open to a little something more after.”
“Bev, what the hell—”
A chuckle escaped from one of the passengers behind them.
Beverly shrugged. “I’m just saying, you could probably use it.”
“Can we not talk about stuff like that?”
“When you asked if she was a flight attendant, that’s where I thought your mind was…”
Rohan shifted in the seat and Beverly smiled, pretending to zip her mouth shut.
That was the problem with having an older sister who knew no limits—she’d talk about anything, and Beverly loved to make Rohan feel uncomfortable in public. Or in private. She wasn’t comfortable unless she was teasing him. Strangely, he welcomed the teasing even though it was annoying. Even an awkward sex joke was better than being tortured by sorrow or running through the afterlife, battling the undead.
The bus came to a stop at the Rosslyn metro station, and Beverly gave him a quick hug and a peck on the cheek. “This is my stop,” she said as she moved for the door. “Have fun, and don’t worry, I won’t wait up!”
She made her way down the stairs, and waved from the sidewalk as the bus left her behind. The purple bouquet of irises was a burst of color compared to the rain-drenched, gray terminal. She would wait for another bus, one that would take her to her job at Reagan Airport, where she worked as a baggage attendant.
Rohan glanced over at the monuments of Washington, D.C., but his thoughts were on the date ahead. He had phoned Tess a few hours ago to ask if she wanted to go to a classy Moroccan restaurant he remembered from his last visit with Beverly. Tess said she was up for anything. He had liked the sweetness of her voice, the femininity of it. She sounded attractive enough, but that didn’t matter as much as it used to. If there was any way he would be able to love again after Senna, they’d have to be a perfect fit.
Only a couple more stops and he’d be there.
His hands shook. It occurred to him that this was the first date he’d been on in many years. He and Senna would go on mock-dates occasionally, but of course that didn’t count.
Her last touch would stay with him forever, along with her parting words telling him to move on.
He would certainly try. For her, because he had promised. Somehow, thinking about her wasn’t as painful lately.
He almost hated to admit it, but he was finally moving on.
The bus approached his stop. The shaking in his hands caused him to rub them together again, and after the bus stopped and the hydraulics let out a nervous whooshing of air, he climbed off amidst a small stream of people.
The sun was setting and already a few stars had popped into the dark sky. The street lights flickered on, bathing the street in a yellowish glow.
“Rohan?” a voice said, and he turned to see her.
Tess was quite pretty. She wore a blue, sequined blouse with jeans, and her dark brown hair was tucked behind her left ear and hanging freely on the right. Her bright blue eyes were accentuated by thick mascara, but he didn’t see any other signs of makeup. It gave her the look of an Egyptian goddess.
At least he wasn’t underdressed. He had worn a designer t-shirt and jeans. Dress shirts never felt right on him.
“Tess?” he asked.
She nodded, and he was glad he hadn’t gotten the name wrong this time.
“Thanks for meeting me out here,” he said, extending his hand.
“Oh, I didn’t tell you?” she laughed. “I actually just live up the street. This restaurant is one of my favorite spots.”
He frowned, wondering why she hadn’t mentioned that. Maybe it was the whole thing about not revealing too much to someone before meeting them, he supposed.
Together they faced the restaurant. It was a masonry building flanked by a bookstore and a perfume shop, with what looked like apartments above. The windows were tinted, and a maître d’ held a large, wooden door open for them. Already Rohan could smell distant aromas of cumin and coriander.
The maître d’ ushered them into the dimly lit restaurant where sitar music was playing. They sat in a circular booth decorated with arabesque tapestries, and their waiter brought them mint tea. Smiling knowingly, he closed off the space around their table with a sheer curtain. Then the waiter brought them a hookah.
They sipped tea and talked while they smoked. Tess was around Rohan’s age. Born in West Virginia, she had moved closer to D.C. to go to Georgetown, and stayed ever since.
“Yeah, international business,” she said, answering his question. “It was an okay major, but ended up having nothing to do with my career.”
“Not many people’s majors do.”
“That’s what I figured at the time,” she said, her hand resting on his arm. “I turned down some high-paying corporate job because I wanted to travel the world. Hence, working at the airline with your sis. They always had openings all over the world, and I keep telling myself that one day I’ll transfer overseas.”
As she talked, Rohan leaned forward and listened. When it was his turn, he was amazed at how little he actually shared. Grew up in L.A. Worked as a kid’s magician for a while, making people smile every Saturday. In a relationship that didn’t work out. Moved here to start fresh.
She listened and blew a cloud of smoke out of the side of her mouth.
“You normally smoke?” he asked.
“God, no. But hookah is nice, isn’t it?”
The dinner was even better than he had dared hoped. Tess ordered chicken with honey and almonds, and Rohan ordered couscous with lamb. He had a house beer that he’d never had before, and it was strong, so strong he ordered a few more. He didn’t know what was more intoxicating: the beer, the food, or Tess and the way she laughed and put her hands on his after he told a joke.
Before long, the urge to hit the restroom took over him.
“Excuse me,” he said as he stood, then wobbled. He’d drunk more than he expected.
Tess smiled and pretended to tip the hat she wasn’t wearing, and he staggered off.
In the restroom, he staggered a little at the urinal. When he was done, he went to the sink and splashed water on his face.
This wasn’t the time to be acting like a drunken idiot, he told himself. Not on the first date. He was going to go out there and tell her he had a nice time, pay, and say good night. That was it.
But he floated back to the table and somehow found himself holding her arm and laughing with her as they stumbled out of the restaurant and through the balmy air. Headlights and streetlights and traffic lights spun around them, swirling like a dream.
They entered an old apartment lobby that smelled like mildew, stumbled up the stairs, and at her door he kissed her.
He pulled away, blinking.
Time to cut it off. Things were moving too fast.
“Good night, Tess,” he said.
“You okay to go home like this?” she asked. “Maybe come in for a quick cup of coffee?”
“Maybe,” he said, glancing back at the stairs, wondering if he’d fall if he tried to descend by himself. “Yeah, that would be nice.”
She smiled and opened the door wide for him, then left him in the living room while she went off to boil some water.
The apartment was small and drab, and surprisingly spare for a woman’s apartment.
Guess you’ve got to live light if you’re going to up and travel, Rohan thought, remembering their conversation.
Tess entered with a steaming mug.
“Thanks,” Rohan said, accepting.
But Tess wouldn’t let go of the mug. She winced, and a painful expression wrinkled her face.
“Hey, you okay?” Rohan asked.
“It… no….” She stumbled back, spilling the coffee.
Rohan leaped forward and caught her as she fell. “Tess? Stay with me.”
“I can’t… it… it hurts!”
“I don’t know… Everything.”
Rohan reached into his pocket and grabbed his phone to call 9-1-1.
“Make it STOP!” she screamed.
Her eyes clouded over and her hand seized his wrist, knocking the phone to the floor.
She turned to him then, eyes full of hatred, and spoke with a voice that was suddenly deeper and multiplied, as if two people were speaking at the same time. “You thought you were done with us?”
“What the hell?”
Rohan shook himself free from Tess’s grip and left her on the floor. He stared in horror as she crawled toward him like a beast.
“Don’t recognize me?” she asked. “I suppose I wouldn’t either.”
He detected a male timbre in her voice. And then he froze as Tess laughed and laughed.
There was no mistaking that laugh.
It was Frank Altemus.
FROM JUSTIN >>> Book 2 was a lot of fun to write, especially because when we originally came up with the idea for this series, a lot of what you have here was what I’d originally envisioned (especially some of what happens at the end, but I won’t spoil it. These are quick reads, meant for those of us without a lot of time who want to escape for a bit and just enjoy themselves.
Of course, as you can guess when ghosts take over bodies — there area some dark moments. But I promise you this (because I want you to know what kind of writer you’re dealing with): I love happy endings. I’m a Disney/Pixar boy at heart, and that always shows through in my writing. Is it possible I’ll do bitter-sweet endings? Sure, maybe. But I’ll always be on the sweeter side.
So read on, and I hope you enjoy!
If you’ve already read book 1 and 2, don’t miss out on book 3, available for preorder now!