Sadie flipped through her fashion magazine while Blake Shelton thumped out of her earbuds. She let the chorus kick her into her practice. She needed to learn the backup part if she was going to sing it with her brother Saturday night at Good Hour Ale House. It was their standard set at the closest thing there was to a country-western bar in their small town.
She fussed with her hair, trying to follow the tutorial in the magazine. Her pitch was a little off, but she had a couple of days to work on it. Blake sang the last few lyrics, the lyrics Gabe, her brother, would do Saturday. Next weekend, she would have to switch to a blues playset. She almost had her tone down for Gin Wigmore songs. In truth, she had more fun at Clancy's, but the Ale House was Gabe's time to shine.
The tapping invaded Carrie Underwood's voice. Sadie heard the sound, but Carrie's wail masked it. The tapping suddenly became a frantic thud against the window. Sadie pulled her earbuds out of her ears. The night's cloak pulled back to reveal a sight she thought she would never see again.
"Michael?" she asked. Her voice shook before she could stop herself.
The tears became a torrent of frustration, confusion, and blinding happiness. Her hands hastily pushed the window open, and Michael's tall form slid into her room.
He stretched out to his full height, and he looked her directly in her eyes.
"You got so tall," he finally said after a tense silence.
"Micheal!" she cried as she threw her body into his arms. He wrapped his arms around her writhing body. Sadie sobbed and sobbed into her brother's bony shoulder. Michael fell onto her bed with the extra weight. After the first wave of shock ebbed away, Sadie felt her anger surface.
Pulling away from the embrace, she began pounding Michael's chest violently.
"Where have you been? We thought you were dead or trapped, or God knows what?! How could you do that to us?! How dare you do that to… to…"
Her breathing and mind seemed to be synching back up to each other. She stopped her assault and stood up to gain her composure.
"How dare you do that to Earl," she finally released from her lips.
The name sparked a second wind in her older brother. He tried to stand. For the first time, Sadie noticed he was exhausted and looked frail and wasted. She reached out for him, but he stopped the compassionate motion.
"Where is Earlene?" he asked, his voice thick with urgency.
Sadie shook her head.
"I don't know. She's been keeping her distance since the Children of Death has become a thing," she answered.
Michael dropped his head in thought, then he lifted his dark brown eyes up. His stoic face was still solid and emotionless. But his eyes had reached a conclusion.
"She's one of them, isn't she? She sees the dead?" His voice was strangely calm as if he was just confirming a fact he knew all along.
Sadie felt her head nod, but her voice wouldn't follow.
The footsteps in the hall broke the silence. Sadie didn't bother to turn to see Gabe, she knew he would hear them talking.
"Hey, Sade, who you talking…"
Gabe's question floated away and she could feel his dark brown eyes studying Michael on the bed.
"Hey Mike," he chirped, the relief was audible in his voice.
"Hello Gabriel," Michael answered.
The moment seemed to freeze, ever the great host, Gabe insisted they move to the kitchen for coffee and cookies. The reunited trio sat around the round kitchen table. Gabe filled the mugs and opened the package of cookies. He placed it in the middle of the table and perched himself on the dining room chair.
"So, you gonna tell us where you disappeared to for 6 months?" he asked calmly.
Michael stared down into his coffee.
"I thought I could make a trade. I thought I could barter Earlene's involvement for my own."
Sadie reached for a cookie,
"You always had a white knight syndrome," she replied as she bit into the cookie.
"What you mean barter? Her mother is Death, there is no bartering that. You can't trade Earl places. She is what she is." Gabe scoffed.
"You of all people know everything is negotiable," Michael countered.
"Except for death, that comes for everyone," Sadie added, she didn't want to get lost in the conversation.
Michael and Gabe stared at her, as if they had in fact, forgotten her. Michael drank his coffee and rubbed his chin before continuing.
"After the news reports started reporting the increase in paranormal activity and people began developing the marks and signs of Death, I noticed Earlene had withdrawn. She didn't talk much and when she did, she would look around the room as if she had been interrupted. She didn't have that symbol they keep plastering everywhere, but something was wrong."
"So tell me, how does one get an audience with Death?" Sadie asked.
"Without dying yourself?" Gabe added.
Micheal unclamped his mug. He stood up and leaned against the sink. He tried to smile, but Michael's face never smiled. His eyes did, however.
"I went to a crossroads."
"That's to make a deal with the Devil," Gabe corrected.
Michael held up a finger as if to dispute the last statement.
"Yes, the folklore says it's the Devil, if you think about it, crossroads are natural gateways, aren't they? The perfect imagery of life and its choices."
"So crossroads are like escape hatches to other places?" Sadie asked.
Michael shook his head,
"No. Think of it as a bus stop. The bus runs its schedule. If you are at the stop on time, your bus will come through."
"So you essentially stopped Death in the street and asked if a deal could be made?" Gabe asked, the sarcasm was obvious.
Michael was amused, but he could only manage a mouth twitch.
"It was a little more complicated than that," he answered.
He picked up the dishtowel on the sink and began twisting it as he spoke.
"I asked the reaper, shinigami, wraith, whatever you want to call it, to take me to Death so I could have a word."
The next part of the story seemed to upset Michael and he wouldn't look either of them in the eyes.
"I agreed to serve the reaper and Death for as long as Earlene lived."
Gabe's disapproving gasp caused Michael to look up for a brief minute.
"The entity said it would only agree with it if I agreed to bind my soul to him. I agreed, trying to understand guys, Earlene was losing her mind. She told me that these things kept pleading with her to help them, but all she could do was try to ignore them. She couldn't sleep, she'd be too distracted to eat, and every time she looked at me there was a trace of pain, she would never acknowledge. I told her I'd find out what was happening, and here we are. ”
"Aside from the whole binding yourself to a demon, I'm sensing a big plot twist coming here," Sadie tried to hide the discomfort in her voice.
Michael grabbed his mug from the table and filled it again.
“Well, it is actually quite interesting, I got my audience with Death,” he began.
“Is she pretty?” Gabe interjected.
“In a goth way,” Michael answered hastily, almost as an afterthought.
“Ok, so Death is a goth, BIG shocker, get to the interesting point,” Sadie quipped.
“Talking to Death isn’t interesting?” Gabe teased over the steam in his fresh cup of joe.
Sadie rolled her eyes,
“Maybe a few years ago it would have been, but now you can’t check your messages without one of her official statements in your timeline.”
It was almost like they remembered that Michael was in the room and in mid-story. They looked at him, he patiently sipped his coffee.
“Well, you certainly look like you’ve had an audience with Death, man,” Gabe said.
The face twitch was accompanied by a quiet chuckle.
“I explained what I was doing there and Death laughed at me. Like you said Gabriel, I can’t take Earlene’s place. She informed me of the fact and then she told the reaper that brought me there he could collect whatever I agreed to,” Michael explained.
Sadie adjusted herself in her seat. She tried to prompt Michael to go on, but he seemed to enjoy the tension. A few minutes passed and Gabe broke the silence.
“Well, come on man, Sade is about to come out of her skin over here,” his tone was mocking boredom.
Michael sat the mug on the counter.
“The reaper forced me down to my knees and I’m reciting a prayer, so I am prepared for the cross-over. But he literally puts his hand in my chest and a look of… oh I don’t know confusion, maybe he was surprised, it was hard to tell.”
Sadie was surprised that her gasp was not audible when Michael mentioned his chest was dug into. She wanted to ask if he was alright, but it seemed like a stupid question.
“The man finally pulls his hand out of my chest and turns to Death and says, ‘my queen! His soul can not be harvested!’ Death rolls back in laughter and she laughs for almost a full minute. Then she props her chin upon her hand and says, ‘I thought so, you’ve already bound yourself to her, you are already the walking dead.”
Michael paused to allow his siblings to catch up to him. Sadie looked to Gabe to gauge how she should react. Her brother was frantically searching his pockets for his cigarettes.
“I think I started something because after that the whole court went crazy and Death shouted, ‘we must find her, the one true Soul-eater has been found!’ Then all these dark shapes and snake creatures started slithering out of the windows and down into the crevices,” Michael concluded.
Sadie wasn’t sure if she understood Michael, but somehow she managed to find her voice before Gabe.
“So, not only does Earl have to worry about our government finding her, but now the whole supernatural realm is looking for her?” she asked, she tried to keep her voice from shaking, but her hands didn’t seem to get the memo.
“Yes,” Michael answered as he polished off the last of the pot of coffee.
Gabe found his MIA cigarettes and quickly lit one. He took a deep puff and released the smoke.
“I have to say, Mike, you are UNBELIEVABLY calm right now,” he said, he was unable to keep his usual glib manner.
Just as Gabe took another drag off the cigarette, Sadie’s cell phone buzzed on the countertop by the sink. She rushed to check the number, somehow she knew who it was. She was right. Earl’s number glowed on the screen. Sadie pushed the answer button and put Earl on speaker.
“He’s there isn’t he?” Earl asked flatly.
“Yeah,” Sadie answered with her eyes trained squarely on Michael.