The three remaining ghosts of Naughty Gnostics had gathered in the parking lot of a grocery store. They’d been having meetings, of a sort, weekly since things had gone downhill, as they called it. It was nearly midnight.
“Where’s Chuck?” was the first thing any of them said.
“He must have gotten himself caught, Steve,” another one said.
“That’s no good,” said the third.
“You know, this is kind of starting to suck. How did we end up being servants to some crazy bitch god? I think we need to tell her off and go back about our own business,” Steve said.
“I’m not sure that’s such a great idea, Steve.”
“Why’s that James? You scared of a little girl now?”
“No, I’m scared of what a god might do to my family.”
Steve turned and looked at the other Naughty Gnostic. “How about you Dan? Are you going to let her keep walking all over us?”
Dan said, “Aren’t you worried about what she might do to your family? They don’t deserve to be dragged in to this mess.”
“They won’t be. We can take her,” Steve said.
A voice came from behind Steve then. A woman’s voice. “Are you sure about that?”
Eris seized Steve by the hair and pulled him, backwards, towards her.
“I think I’m going to have to arrange another meeting between you and Death. Pity about your family, too.”
Steve struggled, without effect, against Eris. She spoke to the other two.
“I’d suggest you two get back to work.”
She vanished with Steve.
“Whoa,” Dan said.
“Yeah,” James said. “That can’t be any good at all.”
“And now there’s only the two of us,” Dan said.
“We’re fucked,” James said.
Death had arrived at the scene of another passing about five minutes early. John Farborn, 52, was going to lose control of his Porsche coming around a curve, crash through the barrier at the side of the road and fall fifteen feet down in to the ocean, where he would drown when he found himself unable to get out of the car.
At least, that’s what she was expecting to happen. She’d find out for sure if things were going to work out that way in a few minutes.
There wasn’t much traffic on the road, but an occasional car rushed past as she waited. The drivers didn’t notice her.
Any second now, a red Porsche would come charging in to the curve, only to crash.
Before that could happen, though, Eris appeared, still clutching Steve the Naughty Gnostic’s hair.
Death was so surprised by this that all she said was, “Oh.”
Behind Eris, she could see headlights and hear the engine of a sports car working hard approaching. Within seconds, she was going to have get to work and collect the driver’s soul, and here was Eris, out of nowhere. What a day.
The driver of the Porsche saw Eris standing on the side of the road, and hit his brakes hard, getting his speed down to an entirely reasonable and prudent thirty miles per hour. He didn’t notice Death, or Steve. He negotiated the curve with no trouble, and continued on his merry way. Death, Eris and the Naughty Gnostic could hear the Porsche’s engine rev as soon as the car had made it through the turn, then the sound quickly faded away.
Damn it, Death thought. It’s always something. I can’t just do my job, I’ve got to contend with crazy fuckers doing their best to screw things up for me.
Eris said, “Here, I think this belongs to you. I thought you might want him.”
She shoved him forward, towards Death.
“Ow!” Steve said. He was still struggling against Eris’s hand, trying to get her to let go.
“Um. Thanks,” Death said. “I’ve been looking for him. You haven’t seen any of his buddies around, have you? I’d like to get them to the gateway too.”
“Nope, I haven’t seen any others,” Eris said. “I just saw this one ghost running around, and thought you might like to get him to wherever he’s supposed to go. Speaking of which, I need to go. Want to take him?”
“Sure, uh, thanks, Eris,” Death said. She held out her hand to Steve and said, “Would you mind coming with me instead of running off this time?”
Steve took her hand, and Eris let go of his hair.
“I wouldn’t pay too much attention to him,” she said. “He’s been talking crazy since I grabbed him. Gotta run, bye.”
Eris vanished again, leaving Death and Steve on the side of the road.
“That was weird,” Death said to herself.
Steve didn’t say anything.
“So, Steve, old buddy, old pal, how have you been since I saw you last? Have you stayed busy? Looks like you got yourself mixed up with Eris. How did that work out for you?”
“I can’t believe she brought me to you. That just seems, well, crazy,” Steve said.
“You can’t expect a goddess of chaos to be logical and rational, now can you?” Death said. “Of course, why would you expect her to do anything else? Did you, perhaps, have some kind of relationship with her?”
Steve said nothing.
“Because, you know, it would be of great interest to me if you did. And if any of your friends are still, shall we say, in a relationship of some sort with her. I might be able to help them out, you know.”
Steve continued to say nothing.
“I’ve heard she likes to blackmail people in to doing what she wants. You know, it’s got to be hard to blackmail a ghost, though. I mean, how can you threaten a ghost?”
They were both quiet for a minute, then Death said, “Oh, I bet she could threaten to harm your loved ones. Was that it?”
Steve looked down and didn’t say anything.
“Because, if I were able to help out anyone you know who’s, you know, still alive, I would probably need a little notice so I can gather some assistance.”
Steve took a deep breath, and said, “Yeah, she threatened to kill my family if I didn’t do what she told me to do.”
“What has she been telling you to do?” Death said.
“Weird little errands. Go get this. Watch this place for a while. That kind of stuff.”
“Are your two other friends still working for her?”
Steve seemed surprised for a minute, then said, “Yeah. She cornered all of us shortly after we ran from the bar, promised to help us out if we worked with her, and then started threatening to hurt our families if we didn’t do what she said.”
“Do you know anything about a guy named Thomas?”
“Not really, just that we were supposed to protect him from you and anyone who was trying to help you. But we visited our brothers who are stil, you know, alive, to get them to handle that part.”
“Good enough,” Death said. “Now, just tell me where I can find your family, and I’ll see to it that no harm comes to them.”
Hep and Scroat were sleeping in front of the TV when Death arrived at their trailer. The TV was tuned to a motorcycle race. Apparently, it wasn’t a very exciting one.
Death cleared her throat.
“Fuck off,” Scroat mumbled, and turned a bit to get more comfortable.
“Hey, Hep,” Death said. Hep didn’t wake up.
“Hey, Hep, wake up,” Death said, a little louder. He didn’t even stir.
“HEY HEP!” Death shouted.
“Grah?” Hep said. He lifted his head off the back of the couch, and tried to focus on whoever was talking to him.
“What the fuck?” Scroat said. He bolted upright in his chair, and took a few seconds before he spotted Death standing in the middle of the room.
“Fuck, Death, you really need to learn to knock,” Scroat said.
“Shut up Scroat. I’ve found out some important information, and I need a little help from the two of you.”
She looked around, and asked, “Where’s Ares?”
“At home sleeping, probably,” Hep said. “What did you find out, and what kind of help do you need?”
“I found out Eris is the one who’s been sending the Naughty Gnostics around to spy on us, and she’s been protecting Thomas as well.”
“Whoa,” Scroat said. “I’m not sure I want to tangle with her. Things always get too complicated.”
“You’re already involved, Scroat,” Hep said.
“So what do you need us to do?” Hep said. “Because I think getting to Eris is going to be a little trickier than showing up when she’s not expecting it and grabbing her. She thrives on that kind of shit. And she’s much, much better at causing chaos than we are. She could probably out-chaos Ares if she needed to. He’s just violent.”
“No, I don’t need you to go after Eris. I need you to protect the family of the Naughty Gnostic I just brought to the gateway. It seems Eris has been blackmailing those ghosts in to doing her bidding,” Death said. “That’s why I was hoping Ares was here. He’s good at fighting people off.”
“Hey, we’re pretty tough too, you know,” Scroat said.
“I just like to hedge my bets,” Death said.
“And aren’t Ares and Eris friends?” Hep said. “Seems like she’s always hanging around him, lately.”
“I’ve gotten the impression he’s not so keen on her,” Death said. “Anyway, you two will do just fine. Come on, we need to get to this guy’s family before chaos does.”
“Is this within riding distance?” Hep asked.
“There’s no time for that, and no.” Death said. “Take my hands and I’ll bring you there.”
Hep and Scroat took her hands, and moments later found themselves in front of a run down, rambler-style home. The plants in the yard were in rough shape, and the house looked like it could use a coat of paint.
“Nice place. I’m sure the family we’re supposed to be protecting is just charming,” Scroat said.
“I gave him my word,” Death said. “Don’t make me motivate you.”