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Authors: Maureen Willett

The Soul Stealer

The Soul Stealer
Maureen Willett

Copyright © 2013 by Maureen Willett

Publish Green

212 3rd Ave North, Suite 290

Minneapolis, MN 55401

612.455.2293

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author. This is a work of fiction.

ISBN:
978-1-62652-345-6

Table of Contents
PART I: FAILURE
CHAPTER ONE

H
unter Blackthorne had seen the face of death on others and now wondered how it might look on him. The journey through the abyss to another reality proved more difficult than before. Loud, torturous screams filled the silence as he churned around and around. It didn’t matter if he closed his eyes or not, because the bleak darkness made it impossible to see. Maybe the screams belonged to him. Hunter wasn’t sure. He was in an often-used wormhole and anyone could be in there.

The journey ended with a gut-wrenching fall as he dropped through layers of atmosphere to reach the portal—the one place where the wormhole was soft enough to get through. Wind whipped around and felt as if it could penetrate his body. Then, the light increased and the ground pulled at him, getting closer and closer, until he could no longer refuse his destination. The twirling before his eyes stopped just in time to gain control and ease the point of impact.

As he touched down, he gulped in warm, moist air, but he was too dizzy to maintain footing and fell flat on his back. What seemed to be life-ending pain seeped into his pores like poison, but he was pretty sure he hadn’t died.

He never landed in the same place on the island but, even so, he felt more disoriented than usual. The soothing coconut tree palms swaying in the breeze were not an unexpected sight but much too serene for the way he was feeling. Even the scent of gardenias couldn’t ease the pounding in his head. Souls cried out in anguish all around him.

The toxins of the abyss mixed with the pollution of this reality were already affecting his ability to think clearly. He needed to purify in a quiet place; gather his thoughts and feelings in meditation. Whenever he traveled here, Hunter marveled at how much the humans in this reality had snuffed out their ability to live harmoniously, even in the most remote place on the planet, one heralded as “paradise.”

Hawaii was one of the few places that was still forming, spitting fire and rocks from the belly of volcanoes. And with that new life came all sorts of mystical creatures, attracted to the power and magic of the heart of Earth. The strong magnetic field around the active volcanoes pulled the portal out of the clouds and toward the land, but the unsuspecting people inhabiting the islands had no idea that all sorts—good and bad—came through the funnel from inner space.

Hunter had been to Hawaii many times and had seen it disintegrate over the years—an unfortunate thing, for soon the portal between the two realities would be clogged with all the crap they let seep into their air, and no one would be able to get through. It was of the utmost importance he capture her this time, because he might not have access to this world in the future.

That would heartbreaking; he liked it here despite all the flaws. It was so easy to fool everyone into believing he was human. In this tarnished, stale world, unlike that of his own reality, no one believed in magic anymore. This was quite freeing.

Hunter got to his knees and brushed off the dust from his clothes but then looked around to make sure no one was there to see the glittery sparkles flying all around a man who had just fallen from the sky. It was then he noticed all the broken and faded headstones with engravings that were barely discernible. Some were written in Chinese or Japanese characters, but most were in English. None had flowers by them. Green moss and ferns overwhelmed each plot. Hunter smiled as he ran his fingers over the smooth headstone he had hit on the way down. This particular spirit was no longer around. Not even remnants still existed.

A crack of thunder made him look up. The air felt heavy with moisture as black clouds roiled overhead, and the pungent smell of rain hitting hot pavement somehow seemed real even though the squall wouldn’t hit for a few more minutes. As with most island storms, it would pass quickly, but the downpour would be harsh while it lasted.

The small square cemetery was enclosed with a wrought-iron, spiky fence that was discolored and mossy. Outside cars whizzed by. Indeed, no one noticed him standing there, looking as disheveled and worn as the gravestones, surrounded by death in the bustling city of Honolulu.

Another crack of thunder made Hunter grab his leather satchel and vault over the fence. He ran to the nearest awning, stumbling toward the doorway of a nearby electronics store to wait for the storm to pass. It was then he checked the front pocket of his leather bag to make sure he still had it. As his fingers grasped the cool, smooth emerald and ivory handle of the dagger, Hunter wondered if he would find her this time. He almost hoped she’d be able to resist him.

Most of the time, he hated inflicting pain, but this time there would be pleasure, too. The taste of her lips played heavily on his imagination, and he anticipated being captivated by the slanted green eyes and golden hair he had seen so many times in his visions. Yes, he would find selfish pleasure in this particular task. His father had devised the plan well, but even he didn’t understand what it truly meant to Hunter—the power it would give him to capture their enemy’s only heir.

CHAPTER TWO

T
he distant clap of thunder made Malia look toward the mountains as she sipped her morning coffee. It seemed another storm was brewing. Living on an island in the middle of the ocean brought all sorts of turmoil that came with the wind, especially on the windward side of Oahu
.
One minute it was sunny enough in the mountains, and the next a rainstorm and flash flood had trapped some unsuspecting hiker.

Malia turned from the window, hoping the storm would stay in the mountains and wouldn’t reach Honolulu. No one over the hill knew how to drive in the rain. Traffic would be awful. But it was getting late, and she needed to get to town so she picked up her keys and headed for the screen door with her dog, Max, following at her heels.

Just as she started to push the door open, the phone rang. She’d been afraid of that after watching the morning news. It was inevitable she’d get calls that made her feel like the local freak show again. The story of the woman’s body found in the long jungle grass the day before had been too familiar.

Malia looked at the ringing phone and hesitated. Lani would call on her cell phone if something was wrong at the shop. But then she grabbed the receiver, more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. “Hello,” she said with caution.

“May I speak to Malia Smalls, please?” The voice was unfamiliar and sounded too formal.

Her heart skipped a beat. She was tempted to hang up on the caller, but reluctantly answered. “This is Malia.”

“Hi Malia, this is Keoki O’Brian with the Honolulu Daily News. I’m sure you heard about this, but we’re doing a story about the woman’s body that was found yesterday. Can I get a comment from you about the day you found your mother’s body?”

“Absolutely not!” She slammed the receiver down on the telephone base and tried to shake the shivers from her body as she looked around the kitchen for her keys, only to find them in her hand. She ran out the door and down the steps, hoping this could be a normal day. Max sat on the other side of the rusty screen door, whining as he watched her descent to the driveway. One of her neighbors would take pity on her Rhodesian Ridgeback and let him out during the day. Someone always did.

She stifled a loud groan as she got into the car. It had seemed as if people had forgotten, but now this new murder that was so similar to her mother’s death would remind everyone. This just couldn’t be happening, not again, not after all these years, not after she’d made it out of the darkness that had threatened to possess her.

“I just want a normal life with a boring husband and annoying kids,” Malia said, banging her hands against the faded steering wheel. She looked around the cul-de-sac, hoping none of her “aunties” and “uncles” were watching.

To keep tears from clouding her vision, Malia focused on something other than the day her life had turned upside down. The windshield wipers going back and forth provided distraction as she drove over the Pali Highway to her dress shop in town. And the weather through the rainforest held more interest than usual. It was sunny and dry, then rainy for two miles, again sunny and dry, then rainy for another two miles. No wonder she had to replace the wipers every three months. At least the drizzle cleaned the salt off the windows that appeared every morning. She didn’t live that close to the ocean, but near enough for a thin layer to form on anything left outside overnight.

Traffic was congested on the mountain road, and as she approached Honolulu it got even worse. At a stoplight, she tapped her neglected fingernails on the steering wheel and hoped the light would change soon. No doubt, Lani had forgotten her key again and was stomping around the sidewalk in front of the shop, impatient for Malia to arrive and open the door. Malia could almost hear her best friend’s complaints ringing in her ears.

Malia looked around as she approached her new favorite corner in the city. Despite her best intentions not to indulge in fantasies, “There’s the guy,” she said to herself with a smile. Her heart beat a little faster, lightening her mood. He was across the street and then in the crosswalk in front of her car. She blinked to get a better focus and watch his progress, turning her head as he walked past, not caring that she was practically gawking at him. He didn’t seem to notice.

His tight jeans fit in a revealing way that only guys who worked out a lot could get away with, hugging muscular thighs and trim hips. His usual white linen shirt was unbuttoned at the top, and the sleeves were rolled up, showing off smooth, masculine arms and a leather bracelet on one wrist. He clutched the leather bag slung over his shoulder as if it held everything he needed in life. He seemed somewhat disoriented as he walked to the sidewalk, his long, curly hair blowing in the wind. She got all these details at a glance because she had studied him for days now, and every day was the same.

Malia swallowed hard and forced herself back to reality when the light turned green, shaking her head to erase his image from it. A guy like that would bring only trouble. And she deliberately avoided trouble, yet it always managed to find her.

Still, Malia couldn’t help but wonder where he was going, walking away from downtown. There were no major businesses up the hill. Everything was down the hill. The entire island converged on a four-block radius each day, or at least it seemed that way when trying to get there. She glanced in the rearview mirror to get a last shot of that wild bronze hair as she made her way down the cemetery-lined street, passing the enormous, black-mold-infested Buddhist temple. It was her halfway landmark to China Town.

As she got farther into downtown, she turned right when the one-way streets allowed, opposite of most commuters. Malia crossed her fingers and hoped for a convenient parking space on the street. She pulled into the last empty spot near Andrea’s Dress Shop and looked around for Lani as she got out and slammed the door. The sidewalk was unusually clean, but it was still early in the day. Somewhere, someone strummed a
ukulele
.

The pile of merchandise in the back of her car was too much to handle in one trip into the shop, and she didn’t want to leave her newly restored antique dresses unattended in this neighborhood in a car that didn’t even lock. Already there were men smoking cigarettes on the nearby street corners, looking as if they had nothing better to do than to watch what she was doing.

“Stop staring at me like I don’t do this every morning,” she said to no one in particular, not caring that one of them might actually hear her.

When her mother had started the shop more than two decades before, the neighborhood had been somewhat safe, but now the street was lined with hole-in-the-wall bars and pool halls, making the local sidewalk traffic less than friendly. At night, prostitutes roamed the streets searching for their next paycheck.

But business women still walked two blocks on their lunch hours from the clean, modern downtown district to Andrea’s Dress Shop to find treasure. Malia’s shop specialized in revived remnants of the past, which seemed to appeal to many women, young and old. If only a happy life could be restored as easily as a dress, Malia thought as she looked at the pile of clothes in her back seat.

“Hey girl, where have you been?” Lani demanded in a cross voice as she came around the corner and walked up to the car. Her long, black hair glistened in the sunlight, offset by the 1970s vintage, yellow cotton dress she wore that highlighted her creamy brown skin.

Malia felt pale and awkward next to Lani, even though she had more Hawaiian blood than her best friend. Malia’s father was almost full-blooded Hawaiian, but she took after her green-eyed, fair-haired mother, so she didn’t quite look the part of someone who was half Hawaiian.

“So, did you see that hot guy you’ve been watching?” Lani asked, the irritation in her voice changing to curiosity.

“I’m not watching him. You make me sound like a stalker, or something.”

Lani shot her a knowing look.

“What? Traffic was bad. What was I supposed to do while I was sitting there in my car?” Malia asked, without expecting an answer. “And don’t you think it’s odd that I see him doing the same thing every morning in the same clothes?”

Lani rolled her eyes. “Not this again. Stop and talk to him, or forget it.”

“Right. Here, make yourself useful.” Malia handed her a pile of dresses.

“I’m just saying, if you talked to him, you’d probably find out he’s just a regular guy. Then you could blow him off as you do every regular guy.”

Malia grabbed the rest of the merchandise and went to the shop door, unlocked it, and flipped on the lights with a twist of her elbow. Lani followed behind, loaded to her eyeballs with dresses. The bell on the door rang as it shut behind Lani with a slam. Malia set down the dresses and picked up the mail and the morning newspaper lying on the floor under the mail slot.

A letter on familiar stationery peeked out from the pile. She recognized the faint-blue letterhead she had given to her father years ago as a Christmas gift. His handwriting looked more like scribble and scratches, but it was a little more legible than usual, making Malia wonder if he’d actually been sober when he wrote it. He seemed to find handwritten letters a better way to communicate than email or picking up the phone. She set the envelope on the countertop and silently vowed to take it home with her that evening. Malia took a rag to make a quick pass at the fine layer of dust that had accumulated overnight.

“Why did you think painting every corner of the store the darkest color of plantation green was a good idea? You spend more time dusting the sea salt off the shelves than anything else,” Lani said, not picking up a duster to help.

“It seemed a good idea at the time. Besides it matches the feel of this old building we’re in,” Malia said, trying to focus only on the dust that really showed on the darkly painted shelves. “Mom always said it’s important to create a complete experience—you know, an island antique dress shop for customers, but still one that is clean and tidy.”

“And you believed her?”

Malia shot her friend a look that said,
stop complaining and get to work.

There were large vases of fresh antheria, bird of paradise and hibiscus flowers in each corner, but they never lasted very long for Malia. Her mother, on the other hand, had somehow made them look fresher, even after a week of sitting in a clay pot, by just putting her hands on them. Too bad she hadn’t passed that trick along to Malia. Andrea had been full of unexplained tricks that had made Malia laugh as a child, but she had inherited none of her mother’s finesse.

Lani took a dress from the new stack and looked for just the right spot for it. “Let’s rearrange a few things,” she said with a smile.

Malia moved around with the feather duster, happy to have a moment to think about her mother, but then Lani broke the peace by blasting the stereo. Loud music screeched through the shop.

“Hey, Lani, it’s too early in the day, and I haven’t had enough coffee yet.”

“Oh come on, Andrew Le Fey rocks,” Lani said as she danced around the dress rack and shook her head to the beat.

“Andrew Le Fey, Andrew Le Fey. We listen to him all day long,” Malia said as she rolled her eyes at Lani.

“Remember when you used to be fun?” Lani asked, rolling her eyes back at Malia.

“Not really,” Malia said with a laugh as she changed the music to an acoustic Hawaiian CD.

“Yeah, me neither,” Lani said under her breath. “By the way, Eric said he’d stop by today to do the deposit.”

“Like that’s news,” Malia said. Eric came by almost everyday to see Lani home after his shift at the restaurant. Malia envied her friends’ sturdy relationship; they had been dating since junior year of high school, almost ten years.

Then the headline on the morning newspaper caught her attention, “WOMAN FOUND DECAPITATED OFF HIKING TRAIL.” She picked up the newspaper and began to read the story. The trail wasn’t too far from her house and was one she knew well. None of these details had been in the morning television report. No wonder the reporter called her. Malia held on to the counter as she read through the story, almost unable to comprehend the words because of the spots forming before her eyes. It was all too familiar.

“Wow,” Lani exclaimed, as she read over Malia’s shoulder.

A shiver went down Malia’s spine. “That must be an awful way to die.”

Lani grabbed the newspaper and took it outside to the city trash can on the corner. She came back in the shop with empty hands. “Put it out of your mind, Sistah. It’s just some terrible murder and has nothing to do with you. It’s not going to touch you in any way.” Lani hugged her and went back to work as if it were nothing. “Besides, it’s been too long. It couldn’t be the same person doing it.”

Malia couldn’t move and now gripped the counter with both hands, making her knuckles turn white. She took a deep breath. “You answer the phone today,” she told Lani. “And if any reporters call, I’m not here.” She retreated to the back room, where no one but Lani could find her.

The rest of the day passed without incident. There were no strange phone calls or inquiries from other reporters. Maybe the island had forgotten about Andrea Smalls after all, Malia thought as she closed up the shop. She locked the shop door, and walked to her car. The car door creaked as she opened it. She dropped a pile of bills and her purse onto the passenger’s side of the bench seat and then noticed her father’s letter again. She picked it up as she slid onto the seat and closed the door.

A sudden knock on the window made her jump.

“Are you okay?” Lani asked as Malia rolled down the window.

“Fine, really fine.”

Lani nodded but didn’t make a move to go to her own car.

“Go home. I’ll be fine.”

Malia pulled away from the curb but glanced in the rearview mirror to find Lani still standing there. She hoped her friend would get to her car and lock the doors, because it was about time for the neighborhood riffraff to come out from hiding, and Eric hadn’t shown up that day to escort Lani home. He had called earlier to say the surf was up, and he couldn’t resist. Typical, Malia thought shaking her head.

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