Chapter 1 (Eternal Soul Trilogy: Book 1)
Sometimes, I felt like I drew the short straw in the game of life. It’s especially so, on days like today, when I felt like nothing else could possibly go wrong. Then, it does.
The elevator doors closed in my face. The problem was that I wasn’t on the elevator. No, I was standing in front of it with my cream colored blouse untucked, a wrinkled gray skirt, all while holding one broken heel in one hand, and my briefcase in the other.
“Shit!” I muttered in shock. This could not be happening. It’s just not possible for this many things to go wrong before nine in the morning. I cursed under my breath again and looked at what floor the elevator was going to. Of course, it was going to the top floor. Why the fuck not!
I reached down and pulled the other heel off my foot then pressed the call button for the second elevator. It was taking forever! I hopped from foot to foot. This garnered me some strange looks from other office workers, but I could have cared less. This was crunch time, and I was late as fuck. When the elevator stopped again, this time on the third floor, I couldn’t take it anymore. I raced off to the stairs. Looking up the barely used stairwell, I took a deep breath and adjusted my skirt. The things I did to keep my job. I managed only to stub my toe once, and only slightly rip my pantyhose on the way up, but my blouse had sweat stains on the armpits, and my forehead was damp. By the third flight, I was panting and out of breath. I really needed to get into shape. Note to self, if I survive with my job today, get a gym membership.
I burst through the doors leading to the open space cubicles, on the fifth floor, where I worked.
“Eliza! Thank God you’re here!” a man in his early twenties yelled as he rushed over to me from where he had been standing by the water cooler. He took a minute to glance at me.
“What happened to you? You look horrible! You can’t come here looking like that.” He was twisting his hands back and forth as he fretted. Jacob had always been a nervous one. He didn’t handle stressful situations well. At least he could make it to work on time, I thought belatedly.
I took a minute to catch my breath. “Just answer me one question Jake, are they still here?” He continued to fret nervously with his hands, twisting them, but he didn’t answer.
“I’m sorry. They left, but they left their representative here to collect the information. I tried to stop them, but you’re half an hour late, Eliza. They stayed as long as they could.”
I deflated and leaned my back against the door. I could feel the familiar burn of tears stinging in the corners of my eyes.
“Shit!” I whispered
“At least George hasn’t –” He was cut off as a booming voice called my name. I felt my gut flip.
“Eliza, I see you finally made it to work.”
“Double shit,” I whispered and pushed off the door, turning to meet my boss, a graying man in his forties. George Crane was young for his position, but he had earned it through hard work and perseverance. I respected him a great deal, and he put up with most of my mistakes. I just hoped my luck hadn’t run out yet.
“George, let me explain –”
“Come to my office, Eliza. We don’t need an audience.”
He motioned with his finger and pointed to the office on the other end, towards the back, passed all of the cubicles.
“I’m sorry Eliza,” Jacob whispered.
I sighed and followed George. I felt like I was being led to the gallows, as several people poked their heads out of their cubicles, to watch me walk by. This wasn’t my first fuck up. Actually, this was quite the habitual occurrence, but the sinking feeling in my gut warned that this might be the final straw, my last walk of shame.
I followed him into the corner office. Glancing to the left, I was met with a view of downtown Seattle in all it’s gray glory, outside a floor length window. Turning back, I gave a cursory glance around the office; I had become familiar with it over the last month. The walls were painted a dark tan. Towards the back of the room was the typical dark wooden desk, that was unnecessarily large, probably to make the person sitting in the guest chairs feel small. Companies were all about intimidation tactics. There were a few generic paintings on the front wall and a fake potted plant behind George’s desk.
“Take a seat.” George turned back and shut the door behind us. I did as directed and settled into one of the uncomfortable faux leather chairs. Gripping my broken heels and briefcase in my lap, I took a deep breath and waited to meet my boss’s gaze as he sat. He sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose, before looking up, his dark brown’s meeting my honey green gaze.
“You’ve brought me to this, Eliza.” His deep baritone confirmed my fears.
“Mr. Crane, I can explain –”
He cut me off. “I’m sure you have a very good reason for being late, but honestly, I don’t want to hear it. I’ve listened to all of your excuses for this past month.”
“But Mr. Crane-”
“No, Eliza. I’ve let you explain enough times. You’ve tested my patience time and again, but this time, I can’t let you off with just a slap on the wrist. Look at you; you’re a mess. Unprofessional. You knew how important today’s meeting was. I had to personally kiss everyone’s ass to make sure they would at least leave one of their representatives. But that is besides the point. I had someone clean out your desk. I want you to leave today. There is no tomorrow.”
Even though I had expected this, I was still shocked that he had already cleaned out my desk. I felt the pang of betrayal. He had been waiting for me to mess up again and had been prepared to send me on my way when I did.
“Don’t I at least get a week?”
“Usually, that would be the case. I would’ve given you the time to hand off your projects, but I’ve personally been training Jacob to take over your position, after your recent string of mishaps. He is more than ready to handle your projects and replace you. Today Eliza, I want you gone today.”
I nodded and stood, walking to the door, I paused and turned around one last time. “For what it’s worth, I liked working with you, Mr. Crane. You were good to me.”
He nodded, and I left the office. As he said, my desk was packed up neatly into one cardboard box. I dug through it and pulled out my extra pair of flats, for emergencies, and slipped them on before tossing away my heels into the trashcan under my desk. With one last glance at my cubicle, I turned and marched out of a possible future.
After suffering the stares, that followed along with the whispers, I made the long trek through the office building. I wasn’t free of them until I was walking along the sidewalk and making my way to the bus stop. I usually took the bus, as it would take me most of the way to my apartment, and I couldn’t afford a car. It was still dark outside as autumn was creeping up and it looked like it was going to be another overcast day. I sighed and adjusted the box that was depressingly light. I had only been at the job for three months. The first month was alright, and the second month wasn’t bad per say, but the third month was one fuck up after the other all leading up to today.
My mother used to joke about how unlucky I have always been. My life tends to do things in three’s. Most of the time it was harmless stuff; like the time I failed three exams in a row in college, even though I studied like crazy. Or, the time I lost three baby teeth in one day after being hit in the face by a soccer ball. It wasn’t until my ninth birthday that it started to get bad. My mother died of breast cancer. Three years later, my older brother drowned in a lake. His foot got caught in lake grass. Three years after that, my dad died in a gang-related incident. All the police officer could tell me, as my life crumbled around me, was that my last living family member had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. By the time I was fifteen, I was in foster care, as I had no living relatives that could take me in. So, for the first time in my life, I was alone in the world. I was pulled from my thoughts when someone shoved into me, causing me to drop my box, spilling its contents all over the pavement. Why the fuck not!
“Watch where you’re going!” A woman sneered at me, before walking away. I felt my face flush and took a deep breath to prevent the tears and anger from bubbling over. Instead, I bent down, careful to fold my skirt appropriately so as not to flash any passerby. Of course, no one stopped to help me pick anything up. I gathered everything and made my way to the bus stop. It was the only stop on my side of the street without cover, and as if I didn’t already know that God hated me, just as I sat on the bench, the sky opened up, and it began to rain. It was only a light sprinkle, but it soured my mood even more.
I sighed and raised the box over my head. Luckily, the lights of the bus reflected towards me. By the time it stopped in front of me I was only slightly damp. I swiped my pass, and took a seat towards the front, setting the box on my lap. I shuffled through the contents.
I pushed around some of the unimportant things until my hand brushed against the rough grain of a wooden frame; I pulled it out. It was a framed photo of my family. I managed to keep it despite some of my foster parent’s attempts. It was ripped in some places, but the photo was still intact. The familiar burn filled my chest as I traced my fingers over my mother’s face. I hardly remembered what she looked like anymore. If not for the photo, I wouldn’t remember what any of them had looked like. I had my mother’s cocoa colored hair and my father’s honey green eyes. My brother and I could have passed as twins when we were younger; we were only a year apart. My chest clenched as I studied the photo.
I wondered if they would be disappointed in me? This was the fourth desk job that I was fired from since graduating from college. I wanted to do something that would make them proud if they were still alive, but all I was really good at was painting, and that would never pay the bills. I just wasn’t good enough despite what my best friend, Angela, was always telling me. My parents had been very left brain, and even though they had never put down the value of the Arts, they had never really talked about them at length either. My father had always been too obsessed with finding a cure for breast cancer, after my mother was diagnosed with stage three, meaning cancer had already moved to other places in her body. He was a leading expert in the field by the time she died, but he continued to work tirelessly in the labs until the day he was murdered.
Taking a shuddering breath, I set the picture down back into the box and looked at the other contents. There were a few miscellaneous knick-knacks that were meaningless: a stress ball, paperweight, a couple of pens, a few paperclips, etc. I noticed they had taken back my work laptop. I could have used that. As I said, I hadn’t been there long enough to even settle in.
“Hey, sweet thing.” A deep voice called out.
I looked up and met the gaze of a man that looked to be in his late thirties. He had a dark olive complexion, maybe Latino, and dark eyes. He was dressed casually, a thrift-store stock of clothing, and his ears were both pierced with silver studded crystals.
I quickly looked away and glanced at my watch. It was going on seven-thirty in the morning. He might be from the night shift of one of the warehouses, on the outskirts of downtown, or he was just looking for trouble.
“Hey, pretty lady.” He called out again.
I met the eyes of the bus driver, but he seemed content to turn back to the road. Scumbag.
“Nice pink bra, pretty lady. You putting on a show?”
Immediately, I looked down and saw that even though it hadn’t rained that much, it had been enough to make certain wet spots on my cream colored blouse see-through; I held the box in front of me tighter and glanced out the window. My stop was next.
“Want to go back to my place? I’ll show you a nice time.”
“That’s enough of that.” The bus driver called out. I gave him a small smile. Maybe he’s not a complete scumbag. The man remained quiet, and the bus stopped. I stood, and climbed off, shuffling the box into a more comfortable position on my hip. I lived in Belltown, in the low rent area. Naturally, there was a short stretch of abandoned buildings and businesses between the bus stop and the residential area. As a happy resident of Belltown, I was a tenant in the more artsy part on the outskirts of the city that was still under development. Several warehouses were only a block away from my apartment building.
I lived in the kind of place where a person locked their windows even if they were on the fifth floor. In the short stretch to my apartment, there were several street lamps that I was thankful for as I didn’t want to trip on the cracked pavement. The rain was still a soft sprinkle, so there was hardly anyone out, making it even more ominous as the moon was still high in the sky. Its luminous glory would peek out from behind the clouds to cast its glow in the dark morning hours. I picked up my pace. I just wanted to go home to my warm apartment after a day like this. I had a bottle of Spanish red wine with my name on it, to drown out my worries, of whether I would make rent this month or if I was going to lose my heating again this winter.
It was then that I heard it. The sound of a second pair of sneakers slapping on wet pavement. A shiver of fear went down my spine. As I rounded the corner, I quickly glanced behind, only to see the man from the bus. My heart leaped into my throat as I picked up my pace. My apartment was only two blocks away. I glanced back again and saw the man come around the corner. Shit. Was he following me? Sure, I lived close to some warehouses. They were distribution centers. I’ll know after the next block. He would have to turn left while I go right. He wasn’t picking up his pace, but I was starting to get a stitch in my side, from trying to keep up my brisk walk. As I reached the next block, I turned right and continued off at my quick pace. Then, I heard it. He was running.
“Hey, pretty lady! You want to have some fun?”
I gripped my box, and took off, running as fast as I could. My heart was pounding in my chest. What do I do? I don’t know how to fight. I work in a cubicle for Christ sake. Keep running. I should just keep running. Shit!
My heart pounded, and my sides hurt. Keep running Eliza, don’t stop!
I was jerked back by my arm, dropping the box, scattering the contents.
“Stop! Let me go! Help!”
I had felt it before I heard the slap, and stars flew before my eyes. I was dragged between two buildings and thrown up against a hard brick wall. A rough, calloused hand covered my mouth as hot putrid breath fanned against my face, “I’m going to fuck your brains out!” He sneered, and smiled, revealing yellowing teeth.
He leaned his full weight into my body sandwiching me into the wall. I clawed out and managed to scratch his face before he gripped both of my hands in one of his and held them above my head.
“You bitch! You’ll pay for that. I’m going to make this hurt.” He sneered. That’s when I felt something cold run against my stomach. He held a box cutter knife up for me to see.
“If you scream, I’ll cut you so bad no one will recognize that pretty face of yours, understood?”
I could feel the wetness on my face letting me know I was, in fact, crying, even as I reluctantly nodded my head. This couldn’t really be happening, could it? I’m not this unlucky, am I? Was I going to die? After everything I’ve been through, after all my hardships, I’m going to die in the most degrading way possible.
He released my mouth and my arms. The knife remained in one of his hands as he fumbled with the zipper of his jeans. I wasn’t going to beg him not to do it. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. No, I just had to wait until he let his guard down. I just had to endure. I’ve always endured.
As if he read my mind he held the knife up to my neck. “No funny business, bitch.” He warned. Then he trailed his hands up my legs and pushed up my skirt, slamming me against the wall, the knife biting into the soft flesh of my neck. I felt him rip away my underwear and I closed my eyes. Please God just let it be fast–
My thoughts were cut short as the man was jerked away from me, the knife biting deeper into my neck, and dragging upwards before disappearing. I stumbled forward, nearly tripping.
“What the fuck!” I heard him yell. He then screamed, and I heard a sound, like a stick snapping. My hand flew up to my neck where the knife had been, and I pulled it away, revealing a line of blood. The crimson liquid trailed down my hand, to my arms, along with the rain. In a daze I looked up, still trying to grasp onto what exactly was happening, and gasped. The rapist’s arm, the one that had been holding the box cutter, was bent at an odd angle. Broken, I thought. But that wasn’t the worst of it. He was currently being held captive by none other than the Grim Reaper. The reaper pulled the struggling man forward, a mask of solid bone covering the entirety of its face. The rapist was forced to kneel before the God of Death, and I watched in rapt fascination, and bated breath, as the reaper bent down forcing the man into a kiss. With my vision dimming, I wasn’t sure if the gray light I saw being sucked out from the struggling rapists’ mouth was my imagination or not, but as my body gave into the all-consuming insistence of unconsciousness, only one thought ran through my mind. Who knew the Grim Reaper was a woman.