STRANGER BESIDE ME
ABOUT THIS NOVEL: Many years later, after countless requests and emails, the sequel to SOUL TAKERS finally sees light of day. Taking place, almost as many years after the original, SOUL MATES finds Jordan, Psyche, Damien and the rest in danger of exposure to the world. I hope you enjoy this teaser enough to seek out a copy for yourself. The novel is available through Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon.com. Link provided at the bottom of this page.


Created by Robert Rootes


EULOGY

1

Taking a break from the sweltering humidity inside the shop, Mitch Concland stepped out into the crisp October air to light a cigarette. With Tammy home, no one counted how many cigarettes he smoked. Even if he’d meant to quit, it was an uphill, unfixable battle. During the attempted sabbatical, Camel cigarettes miraculously began to appear in various odd places. The pack he acquired before stepping into the chilly night air had been in the back of the bottom desk drawer.
       Tammy nagged of the cigarettes because of Mitch’s health. In the past year, he’d lost close to eighty pounds. Tammy took care of him now, watched out for his health and made sure he kept appointments with the doctors.
       Work was all he had now to keep busy, regardless of health issues. Since Nikki’s death, Mitch had been through Hell and came back unscathed and wiser. There were secrets in the world he was privy to and it made him comfortable living in it now.
       Alcohol was a far memory. It was easily forgotten once he had faced the disappearance of his daughter and needed all his resources undiluted. When it was over, Jordan safe again, alcoholism seemed ridiculous to Mitch.
       Looking up at the stars while cigarette smoke mingled with his exhaled breath in the cold night, Mitch reflected on the past and briefly wondered what happened to some of the key players that joined the rescue of his daughter from the fire and fairytale monsters.
       It was a stretch for Mitch to believe in vampires even though he’d interacted with them personally. It so long ago it seemed unreal now. Mitch regarded the notions as vivid dreams. Of course, there’d been telltale signs of the creatures in human form that Mitch took serious enough. Notably, the lightening of Jordan’s skin color was a result she confessed from the blood of a vampire.
       It was easier for Mitch to bear his daughter’s recanting of what happened in a vacant apartment five stories above the nocturnal streets of Rochester when at the time she talked of the incident she was an adult herself. Years had made the news mild to his ears and heart.
       Jordan had come to terms with the reaction from the vampire’s blood. Her hypersensitivity to sunlight wasn’t hard to endure since she took care, avoiding UV light long before her infection. Her heightened awareness left little to her imagination. Although retaining the firmness or youth, she’d aged immensely emotionally and mentally.
       Mitch was proud of Jordan’s accomplishments. He supported her completely, loved her unendingly.
       Other subtle hints made Mitch squint at long shadows occasionally, looking for figures that could hide in plain sight. His awareness of the vampires and soul takers made Mitch believe in many mysteries without fanning any conspiracy flame and making a name for himself with the knowledge of such creatures. Even if the incidents had made him remotely afraid of the dark. The memory of Alexander Obrenivic sitting cross-legged on the bedroom floor was clear in his mind. Mitch took to sleeping with the bedroom door open and the nightlight in the hallway showing the bedroom was still clear of vampires. Mitch felt he had nothing to gain seeking audience to expose the soul takers to the world. Content to live out his life knowing the shared secret with his daughter was enough for Mitch. Coming forward with such secrets could prove disastrous for him or especially Jordan. Surprisingly to himself, Mitch had no ill feelings toward the soul takers. Humbly, if it hadn’t been for Damien, Mitch knew he might not have got his daughter back. Had he ever thanked the young man? He couldn’t remember. Refusal to speak openly of the soul takers was a solid attempt to keep normalcy in his life.
       Finishing the Camel cigarette and carefully snuffing out the butt, dropping it in the coffee can by the back door, Mitch went back to the noisy machines of the dry cleaning business he owned. He wore goose bumps on his arms and face that weren’t created by the cold.
      

2

Working into the night gave Mitch the edge needed to get most dry cleaning done without interruption. Deciding against extra help, Mitch worked long hours with Tammy and usually finished the cleaning on deadline. When dry cleaning emergencies arose, as they sometimes did, Mitch’s Ambassador Dry Cleaning Service had a strong reputation to get the stains out and have items ready sometimes within an hour.
       A Korean family had moved into Mantua, bringing their dry cleaning business with them from Syracuse. Living and working in the same building proved hard competition for Mitch who’d established the business years ago with his deceased wife. Out manned, he worked harder than ever to stay ahead. It wasn’t that Mitch couldn’t afford the help, he just had the tenacity to success without extras. It was his way to feel a hero again and again.
       Back to the press and steam blurring his vision, Mitch let his mind wander among the drone of dryers with the random clinking of buttons and scraping of zippers. Once the piles of slacks were done, Mitch decided he’d lock up and go home. The idea of slipping into a warm bed with Tammy made him hurry through the routine.
       What made Mitch stop and forget to breathe was the queer sensation that surrounded him. After he quelled his thumping heart, swallowing it down again, Mitch switched off the press in a manner that an observer would think it was normal.
       Mitch went through the motions of closing up shop for the night. The sensation that crept into his soul like a cold wind creeping through the back door accidentally left open was not unfamiliar to Mitch. Although it’d been years since he felt the tension, he’d never forgotten it.
       Mitch was not alone.
       Though he couldn’t see his visitor, Mitch felt the person as if standing beside him. A quick scan of the laundry mat before locking the door between the dry cleaning section and the coin-op washers and dryers the place looked vacant. None of the washers were occupied, all lids open and the dryers were cold. Even open 24 hours didn’t always bring the business. Both entrance doors were closed. Sometimes a trashcan propped one of them open.
       Mitch turned off the lights in his office then the main power to the industrial washers and killed the power prematurely on the dryers. He’d finish in the morning when the safety of sunlight killed the building with hope.
       Dread crept into Mitch’s already aching joints making it difficult to relax and pretend that he was still alone.
       Somewhere, since the time he’d come to work that day and now he’d misplaced his keys. It seemed an impossibility since he always wore the frayed and faded jean jacket to work, slipping the keys in the right pocket before hanging the jacket on the coat hook by his office door. It was a routine that he’d done for years and never failed before. It was as simple as a set of keys that made it impossible for Mitch to abandon the shop. If he left the building, he’d have to make a break on foot since the key to the Jeep was on the key ring.
       Desperately searching for the keys without appearing the be desperate made Mitch understand that whoever his visitor was, that person had a sense of humor and took pleasure in witnessing Mitch’s repeated pocket groping while wandering to various places to inspect countertops and tables vainly.
       Mitch considered a confrontation, call the bluff and see what happened. He knew the strength of the soul takers and how they could miraculously appear before your eyes. He’d witnessed the feat when he accidentally shot one. However, the dread in Mitch’s belly made him ache for the weight of the pistol in his hand. He never brought a firearm to work and the police were usually two minutes for response time. Mitch knew this wasn’t a job for the police.
       He began to search his brain for subtle images that might have eluded his eyesight directly. When he thought about the vacant laundry mat, Mitch stopped moving because he brought up the memory of the image flashing in his head. Mitch sucked in a breath, suppressing a scream.
       Recreating the layout of the laundry mat from the doorway leading into the dry cleaners, Mitch realized he’d seen someone, or rather something. Across the area with rows of washers and dryers mounted to the right wall, the door leading outside, next to the payphone, someone had been standing outside, looking back at him.
       The need to find the leys made him start moving again. Around him, the settling of dryers cooling gave Mitch a start as his ears pricked with the crackle of metal. Another pass by the hook where he always hung his coat Mitch saw the key ring swaying mockingly from the hook before he snatched them.
       After a little debate with himself, Mitch paused momentarily to lock up the shop in hopes to lock inside the dread he felt pursuing him.
       Helplessly the image from the far away door by the payphone froze in Mitch’s eyelids forcing him to look at it every time he blinked. Mitch looked to the corner of the building where that door accessed the laundry mat expecting pursuit from the image he recalled in horrid detail. It seemed his memory worked in reverse now and the further from the time he saw it, the more detail came to the image.
       Frightened as Mitch became, the safety of escape lay in the Jeep and drive home. In the arms of his lover, nothing could get in.
       Unlocking the driver’s side door, Mitch quickly slipped behind the wheel and locked the door again before ignition of the engine.
       Several blocks out of his way, Mitch drove while keeping his eyes on the rearview mirror. He finally doubled back and drove home.
       Once in the driveway of the two story white house Mitch called home, he turned off the engine and let the image he thought he left back at the dry cleaners work its way into his subconscious. He hoped it wouldn’t take root there and infect his dreams like a malevolent living cancer to haunt him for some time to come.
       It the dark of the driver’s seat, Mitch sighed heavily. His breath shone in the light of the streetlamp. The interior of the Jeep was still cold because he hadn’t turned on the heat during the drive. The heating element in the Jeep was as old as the car and had failed long ago. Before Mitch opened the door, something made him pause.
       His breath had fogged the windshield but he recalled upon entering the Jeep, the windows had already accumulated condensation of breath.
       The thought was quick as the realization that all the driving around before going home had been in vain. The keys had been missing long enough to unlock the Jeep without forced entry, then replaced. The visitor had been with Mitch since the beginning. He wasn’t able to shake the dread because it was waiting for him in the gloom in the back of the Jeep.
       As fast as the idea came to Mitch, so did the sight of deliberate exhaled breath inside the confined cold interior of the Jeep as it rolled across the open space to the front seats from behind.
       Mitch took a moment to adjust the rearview mirror to inspect the back seat and look upon the visitor.
      
      

      

Soul Takers available at Amazon.com
Soul Takers: Soul Mates available at Amazon.com

Not to be reprinted without permission.

COPYRIGHT 2006 Robert Rootes

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