Authors: Kresley Cole
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Fantasy, #Paranormal
She pinched the thing between her fingers. Recognition. A spent bullet had just come out of her skull!
She found others caught in her hair. Shed from her head too? She collected them with the two that had been in her mouth. In her cupped palms she held six slugs.
But I’m alive. I’m . . . bulletproof?
I AM a superhero.
(Secretly she’d always known it!)
She pocketed the slugs, narrowing her eyes. It was payback time. She hopped down from the table, or tried to. She floated to her feet—feet that
weren’t touching the ground
She gaped down at her body. She was wearing her same clothes, but her faint outline flickered. She glanced at the table. Atop it, a zipped-up body bag lay flat. This was a morgue? Other bodies in bags were lined up on tables, waiting for whatever happened in fucking morgues.
Realization sank in.
I was in that empty bag.
Because I died.
I’m a . . . ghost.
Her gaze darted. How the hell was she going to care for Thaddie? Surely MizB had taken him home after the shooting.
Wally and his crew killed me! Those pricks!
She squeezed her fists and screamed. The lights above shattered, glass raining down.
She’d haunt Wally until he went insane, would drive them all crazy! She needed to hurt them—NOW!
Suddenly she felt herself moving, as if she were being sucked into the air. She blinked; her surroundings had disappeared, replaced with the hood. She was standing in front of Wally’s still smoking house.
She’d . . . teleported here? Of course! Because she was
to get revenge. That’s what ghosts did. Once she’d finished with that, she’d go snag Thaddie; they’d find a spooky deserted mansion somewhere. Live happily ever after and all that shit.
First step: get a bead on Wally. She started walking/floating over cracks in the sidewalk. Why did this movement seem so familiar? Why was her ghostness not freaking her out?
There was something so right about her new form, as if she should’ve been freaking out about her existence
all the years before
Homeless kids and runaways, other street rats like her, peeked out from lean-tos and abandoned cars. Gasps sounded as she made her way along the street.
So ghosts were visible to people. Would she meet other ghosts?
She heard the kids’ whispers. They all knew Wally had killed her. Some had watched her body get bagged.
A prostitute on the corner didn’t see her coming and backed right into—or
—Jo. Their bodies got tangled, and suddenly Jo was inside her, sharing her movements as the woman shuddered.
It was as if Jo was a hermit crab in a hooker-shaped shell. She couldn’t feel anything through the woman’s skin, but she could make her move.
When Jo backed out of the shell, disentangling herself, the woman turned around with a terrified look on her face.
A moment passed before she registered what she was seeing. “Oh God!” She stumbled back, making the sign of the cross. “You died! The Wall shot you.”
“It didn’t take.” Jo’s voice sounded ghostly and hollow. “Where’s Wally staying now?”
The woman sputtered, “F-few houses down from his old crib.”
Jo float-walked back in that direction. Others followed her at a distance, wide-eyed, as if they couldn’t help themselves.
She found the digs—with the dragon guarding the lair. Voices sounded from inside, Wally’s among them.
Her nails lengthened and sharpened. They were
, and they ached.
Ghosts have claws?
She tried to teleport into the house, but her body didn’t move, so she float-walked up to the porch, stopping at the front door. Could she knock? They probably wouldn’t open for her. Maybe she could “ghost” into the house, as she had the hooker shell.
With a shrug, Jo floated forward—and passed right through the door. Score!
Breaking and entering
would now simply be
In the den, packets of smack and guns topped the coffee table. They’d already replaced all the weapons and drugs. Bags of new clothes were strewn around the house.
These dickwads had set up a few doors down. Burning down his pad had done jack.
Jo clenched her fists. She’d only come here to scare the gang, to moan
and send them running. But rage took hold of her.
Her claws ached to slash someone.
When the lights flickered, Knuckle and the two others glanced up. Saw Jo. Their mouths moved wordlessly—
They lunged for the guns.
With a shriek, she flew at Knuckle. “You gonna shoot me?” She slashed out with her claws. She half-expected her fingers to pass through his torso—yet four deep gashes appeared on his belly.
She gasped. Her claws dripped with his blood. She could become solid when she wanted to?
He clutched his bloody stomach, but guts slithered out between his fingers like eels. His knees met the blood-wetted carpet, and then he collapsed.
I just dropped a dude!
Superheroes didn’t kill people. Not even bad people.
She should be screaming, yet all this felt natural.
This is me. I ghost. I hurt bad guys.
Realization struck her. She’d always been
Been waiting for this. All. My. Life.
JT and Nobody scrambled toward the door, barely got it open. She flew after them, catching them on the porch. She easily dragged both men back inside. She winked at the kids gathering across the street, then kicked the door shut.
The pair screamed as she attacked. Red covered her vision, some kind of animal instinct taking over. As she slashed, blood splattered; her head spun.
Then she realized neither of them was moving.
Her ears twitched, and she heard a low moan from a back room. Wally.
Let’s make it an even four.
He must’ve peeked out and seen Jo offing his posse.
She ghosted through the door into another room. “Oh, Wall-ee . . .” Muffled breaths sounded from under the bed.
She floated downward until she was directly in line with him. “Psst!”
He jerked his head around and yelled with horror. Like a rat, he scurried out on the other side of the bed.
She floated upright, taking her time. He pointed another huge gun at her and fired away, unloading bullets. When they passed through her into the wall, he pissed himself.
She wanted to meet his eyes, to make him understand what he’d done. She felt herself moving, disappearing and reappearing right in front of him.
She floated higher to catch his gaze. “You shouldn’t have shot me.”
“N-never do it again,” he said, blubbering.
“Wrong answer, dick. I’ll see you in hell.” She would. No one could enjoy hunting as much as she did and not wind up there—
He swung a bat he’d concealed behind his back; her hand shot out in reflex, striking.
Blood spurted from his throat. The bat fell as he clamped his neck. Gushes of crimson escaped to spray over her.
Her feet touched the ground, her body solidifying, as if to catch the shower. Her appetite leapt. Her teeth ached. She could swear they were sharper. As he watched in glassy-eyed shock, she raised her face with curiosity and parted her lips.
The first drop hit her tongue. Delicious! Her eyes rolled as blood filled her mouth.
She swallowed with a gulp.
I’m drinking Wally’s blood.
Part of her was grossed out, but as warmth slid down her throat, power flooded her.
Her senses came to life, her eyes picking up new colors, as if she had comic-book infrared vision. The hum of distant streetlights buzzed in her ears. She could smell baitfish down by the bay.
As Wally collapsed, she heard his last heartbeat.
She gave a cry when her hoodie began stretching across her chest, her zipper ripping open. The waist of her jeans cut into her sides.
What’s happening to me?
She rushed into the bathroom, clawing away her strangling clothes. She was burning up. From the blood?
She reached into the shower and twisted the tap on, as cold as she could get it. When she scrubbed away the gang’s remains, her palms glided over her skin. It’d grown soft as silk, the jaundiced color fading.
She gaped down at her body. She’d filled out, no longer sickly thin! No bones jutted. Even better, she had tons of energy! She exited the shower and crossed to the basin with a spring in her step.
She stared at her reflection. An eerily pretty girl with gleaming black eyes and a blacker heart stared back.
Dark smudges highlighted her gaze like heavy eyeliner and hollowed her cheeks. Her full lips were blood red.
For kicks, she tried to return to her “ghost” form. She went completely invisible, then dialed it back a notch to
. Worked! The circles around her eyes deepened and her lips turned pale, yet even that appearance was pretty.
To look and feel like this, all she had to do was steal others’ lifeblood?
She’d awakened a ghost; now she was a blood-drinker too. A vampire.
No, she wasn’t a
Jo flashed a fang at the mirror.
I’m a fucking villain.
Her heart soared. This was her origin story. She was going to be a legend (Secretly she’d known that too)!
Then her heart sank. Thaddie.
Gotta get to him.
Shit, she needed clothes. She scrounged through those bags until she found JT’s smaller threads. She slipped on a pair of sweats, rolling them up and tying them tight, then snagged a jersey.
With her revenge done, the urgency to find her brother overwhelmed her. Could she teleport to him as well?
She pictured him with MizB in some burbs house. Nothing. Jo strained to teleport. Didn’t move an inch.
Do this the old-fashioned way.
She tore out of the house, running toward the neighborhood MizB had shown her on a library map. Past the interstate, past the tower, past the pond . . .
Right when Jo thought she’d maxed her speed, she increased it. Trees and houses zoomed by. She was like a rocket!
In minutes, she’d reached the outskirts of the neighborhood. She raised her face to scent the wind.
Thaddie. Close. She followed his trail to a fancy house. Outside, she leapt into a tree, peering in windows. Spotted him! He was asleep in what looked like a guest bedroom. She imagined sitting beside him on that bed; suddenly, she was.
Adult voices murmured just beyond the door. The Braydens.
God, Thaddie looked so small and vulnerable under the covers, his Spidey doll clutched in his tiny hand. What if he’d been in the Thadpack when Wally had struck? What if he’d . . . died?
The more emotional Jo got, the more she wavered between ghost and body. She had to get Thaddie out of here before the Braydens saw her. “Wake up, baby bro,” she whispered.
He blinked open his eyes, sitting up in bed.
“We gotta go, Thaddie.”
His brows drew together. She heard his heartbeat race. “You’re not JoJo.”
She couldn’t look
different. “It’s me, kid.”
“Not JoJo, not JoJo,” he repeated as he scrambled back from her.
“It’s me. Spidey knows me.” She reached for the doll, to get a kiss on her cheek.
Thad yanked it from her, yelling, “You’re not JoJo! Not JoJo! NOT JOJO!”
She shot back in confusion, her palms raised; the door burst open. The Braydens.
MizB gasped at Jo, then lunged for Thaddie on the bed. Mr. B. shoved them behind him, his strong arm protecting them.
“Oh, dear God,” MizB murmured, as Thaddie squeezed her like a lifeline. “You d-died.”
“You need to pass on.” Mr. B. swallowed. “Or s-something.”
The three of them looked like . . . a family.
Jo’s voice cracked as she said, “Thaddie?”
He wouldn’t look at her, burying his face against MizB’s neck. Jo reached for him, but her fingers passed right through him. Grasping, grasping for her little boy.
The Braydens shielded him, MizB screaming, “Get away from him, you, you ghost or . . . or demon! Go back to hell where you came from!”
No, Thaddie’s mine!
When he wailed as if in pain, Jo’s eyes watered. She told the Braydens, “I’m gonna get this figured out. But I will be coming back for him.”
Jo floated forward, yearning for one last stroke of Thaddie’s curls . . . but she felt nothing. She couldn’t touch him, couldn’t hug him. Her Thaddie. A sob burst from her lips.
I did die after all.
EN MONTHS LATER
t was finally time to collect her boy.
Jo ghosted to the Brayden house and stood outside a window, scanning for him among the people crowding the rooms. They were all dressed in black, talking in hushed voices.
She was busting Thaddie out tonight, couldn’t stand the separation anymore without tearing her hair out. . . .