A special thank you to Stephanie at Once Upon A Time Covers for her hard work and artistic talent.
A Death Angel Novella—Book 1
The full moon’s reflection gleamed brightly in the iridescent glass pane of the first-floor nursing-home window, framed by chunky, weathered slats that had been painted white at some time in their existence. Crowding just below the glowing orb’s mirrored image was a mass of thick shrubs, uneven in shape and slightly overgrown with pinkish flowers still dangling from a few branches, the tips of their petals browning as if touched by death. Death. A word Mia Baron knew all too well. She inhaled deeply, the cool air tickling the back of her throat and forcing her to stifle a cough. The last thing she needed was to get caught snooping outside the PB Retirement Community. Her need to see the person just beyond the reflecting glass of the window yearned deep in her heart. Realization that this was the last time she’d ever see this person clenched her stomach with grief.
Crouching low to the green herbaceous cover that was a mix of soft, straw-like grass and spurge—a type of weed that grew in places the ground was kept moist—Mia shimmied through a small opening in the shrubs that was probably created by her comings and goings over time, and once she reached the gray brick exterior wall of the nursing home, she turned left and crept until the window she sought was directly above her. Slowly rising, she placed her hands on the sill and peered through the crystal-clear glass at an angle where the moon no longer obstructed her view. Though slightly darkened with tint, which would have made it difficult for the average person to see through, she gazed longingly at the old woman reclined in a twin-sized, remote-controlled bed that elevated her upper body. A tray table was suspended over her waist, most likely rolled there from across the room when the nurse brought her dinner. Leftovers of what appeared to be mashed potatoes were piled in the corner of her plate, and the remnants of green Jell-O were in the compartment directly above that, which surprised Mia because the old lady usually ate all of those disgusting, wiggly squares.
The door opened and a middle-aged nurse walked in. Her eyes looked tired with dark circles her cover-up did a poor job of concealing, and her smock was the blandest color of blue Mia had ever seen—matching the nurse’s mood, no doubt. Flashing a forced smile at the old woman, the caregiver ran a hand through her short, auburn hair, then retrieved the plate of leftover dinner and any other trash from the tray table before rolling it back to the corner of the room. “Don’t be up too late watching television. You know that stuff just rots your brain,” she called over her shoulder as she walked out, pulling the door shut behind her.
A normal person wouldn’t have been able to hear any of that—unless they could read lips, which Mia couldn’t do very well at all. No, the reason that her hearing and vision were so precise didn’t have anything to do with normal, because Mia Baron was far from normal. A fact she’d gotten accustomed to.
It pissed Mia off that the nurse hadn’t asked the old woman if she were feeling okay, or if she needed anything else, but those questions had only been asked the first week the old woman had been admitted. The politeness had worn off after that, blending in with the stale environment of the place a lot of older folks would spend their last days. What saddened Mia more was the fact that she’d always wished those she came for would be of this age, where they’d already lived their lives to the fullest and now were trapped in an existence where death would be welcomed. But most of the ones she came for didn’t live at the PB Retirement Community, or any other retirement community for that matter. No, most of the people she came for were younger and should have had so much more life ahead of them.
Which was why it should have been a blessed night that Mia was finally getting her wish. Only the weathered person she stared at through the window wasn’t just some old woman who was going to die—it was the one person who’d raised her since she was a little girl.
Lifting her hand from the sill to place it on the cool glass surface of the pane, Mia was momentarily lost in her past, the memories flooding in with snapshots of images long forgotten. Catching butterflies in an open field with wildflowers spread across the ground, the old woman, petite and pretty for a woman in her sixties, her hair a mixture of gray and white cut short with small curls set tightly to her head, laughed as she watched a six-year-old Mia swoop her brand-new butterfly net over the tops of several flowers and come back with a beautiful monarch. Sitting on a wooden swing that hung in the corner of a wraparound porch, watching the cars zip by on the highway just up the manicured hill, ten-year-old Mia’s head nestled on the old woman’s shoulder. Mia driving the 1966 soft yellow Ford Thunderbird with booger-green interior for the first time on her own, glimpsing the old woman in the rearview mirror wearing a red-and-white-striped apron over her floral sundress, waving and shouting to Mia as she maneuvered up the rocky driveway and onto the smooth, paved surface of the street.
It became harder to breathe as Mia fought the tears that had, unbeknownst to her until now, welled up in her eyes while she’d been lost in thought. Surprise flitted through her mind as she wondered when the last time she’d cried even was. But tears didn’t matter—she knew that with certainty. Nothing could change what was coming and Mia dreaded it with every ounce of her being. The only comfort she could take was in knowing that at least the old woman would be asleep when it happened. No more pain. No more sadness. No more nursing home. Soon, all of that would be gone, taken away by her death.
So when the hand that held the remote went slack and the old woman’s head drooped slightly into the pillow, Mia knew it was time. Trepidation tightened in her chest as she gripped the top wood frame of the window and pushed upward, using some extra power in the movement to ensure the window would open—even if it were locked. With a snap, pop, creak the pane shuddered ajar. The wood, swollen with moisture, forced Mia to stop, not because her advanced strength was tested, but she simply didn’t want to make any noise that would awaken the old woman. It would be better that way—for both of their sakes.
Now with a gap about three inches tall, Mia stopped her efforts and lowered her hands to her sides. This was more space than she needed, and she quietly chuckled to herself, sometimes underestimating her own power. She glanced at her surroundings once more to ensure she was alone and then closed her eyes and concentrated on being inside the room. Her whole body prickled with energy seconds before the pain sliced through her like sharp, twisting metal that attached to her insides and squeezed around each part. Sweat broke out across her brow and pooled between her breasts—like it had every time before this one—as her physical body slowly broke down, piece by piece, disintegrating into an opaque gray mist that now hovered just outside the window, drawn inside by the three-inch opening and the person sleeping unawares. After entering the room on a current of cool air, she floated to the side of the bed, still in mist form, letting her senses fill of the old woman. Peppermint, most likely the mouthwash she’d used, was most dominant, but under that was the soft aroma of roses and thyme, her favorite perfume, and just beneath that was the bite of body odor that confirmed it’d been days since she’d been properly bathed. A growl rippled through the opaque haze of Mia’s misty shape as anger surged red in her mind, drowning out the television that played an old rerun of Bonanza. No more of this shit, Mia thought, I’m taking you away from here—far, far away from this God-forsaken hellhole.
Mia materialized back into her physical body, her skin a light shade of tan as if the sun had gently kissed it, but it wasn’t the sun that had given her that color—it had been her father’s half-Mexican lineage mixed with her mother’s small percentage of native Indian, which also gave her high cheekbones, brought her height to five and a half feet, and there was a touch of a widow’s peak centered above her brow and sweeping back to the luminous chestnut waves that fell behind her shoulders and landed in the middle of her back. After swiping her palms down the thighs of her black leather pants, she leaned over the bed and carefully slipped the remote from the old woman’s boney grip—a hand that was once so much younger with smooth, creamy skin now uneven with bumps and raised veins that looked like blue tunnels beneath the paper-thin surface of her flesh, fingers once elongated and beautiful now with a crooked arch and swollen, rounded knuckles that her gold wedding band would never be able to slip over. A lump barreled its way up Mia’s throat as she set the remote on an end table that was littered with used tissues and plastic cups of half-filled water before focusing her attention back on the old woman. Bending over and stretching her body so her lips were closer to the old woman’s ear, Mia whispered, “I love you, Grandma,” the strain in her tone evident in the soft sound of those words.
It still stung deep in Mia’s heart that she had been unable to make it during most visiting times, which were inconveniently between the hours of ten in the morning and four in the afternoon, and because of that, she’d always wondered if by chance things had been different, her grandma would’ve remembered who she was just one more time while still alive. Four years ago, Alzheimer’s had stolen away Mia’s beloved grandmother, yet the old woman’s body remained a fragile shell to the soul that resided within.
And now Mia was here to collect it—just like all Death Dealers did.
Though she had a hunch her grandma’s soul would gleam bright white, the color that indicated the path of the Light Gate, she would only know for sure after it separated from the host body—the delicate human shell that belonged to the woman she loved like a mother.
A tear slicked down Mia’s cheek and dropped off the edge of her chin, a big splash landing on the pillow mere inches from her grandma’s sleeping face. Stepping back, Mia did the best to collect herself, fighting back an avalanche of emotions she’d somewhat expected. Though when her boss and Death Angel, Abram, had given her the task of guiding her grandma’s soul to the gates of whatever realm her spirit would move into, Mia had no choice but to accept. She owed it to the woman who’d cared for her after her parents died, twenty years ago that felt like an eternity of time with so much that had changed since then. At the young age of four was when Grandma had told Mia her parents were in heaven, that they were now angels watching over her from somewhere above the clouds during the day. And at nighttime, Mia would help her grandma pick out which stars she thought her parents were. While younger, it had been easier for her grandma to shield her from what happened, home-schooling her until the news went stale and the town hushed its gossip. It wasn’t until fifth grade that Mia first attended a real school and for several years she’d stayed to herself, sat alone at lunch and in the back of the classrooms, and had gone straight home after school. Sure, some would speak with her, but it had always been short and sweet. No real lasting friendships made. But it was the end of seventh grade when Benji Barnes said something to her, something she’d fought to forget but now the information grated her heart. He’d asked her if she was the daughter of the murdered couple, the one whose body parts had been found all over the house, carefully hidden for the investigators to slowly find, some pieces to this day never recovered.
Mia had never recovered either.
After that, Mia did a lot of her own research, finding everything Benji had said to be true, not one bit of it an exaggeration which would be expected of a young, popular middle-school boy. The police are still looking for leads in the Eduardo and Natalie Baron gruesome murder. These loving, doting parents leave behind a beautiful four-year-old little girl who has been taken into protective custody. Investigators believe this was a random act of violence and have yet been unable to acquire any suspects, though they believe it could be cult related. But nothing explains why the bodies were chopped up and hidden in various places throughout their Manhattan Beach area home and police have yet to locate all of the pieces.
More tears fell as Mia shook away the memory, the one reason she’d become what she was. Being a Death Dealer was supposed to bring Mia closure, finally give her the vengeance she sought in righting her parents’ grizzly murder, and when Mia turned eighteen, she’d finally signed her name on the dotted line with her own blood. However, Abram had yet to deliver her the name of the person or persons responsible, but it was his promise of doing just that that had sold her into this dark afterlife. After guiding her grandma’s soul to the proper gate, she planned on bringing it up to her boss…again.
Glancing down at the cherished old woman, Mia carefully placed the palm of her hand across her grandma’s forehead. With one last tear streaming down her cheek, Mia took a deep breath and whispered, “It’s time.”