Azrael Sinister is the title of a story I’ve been working on for about four years now. It went through about three drafts before I made a big change in the plotline that finally made the story work. I completed a new draft last year and since then I’ve been tweaking and editing it, but so far I’ve never tried submitting it.
The summery: Azrael Sinster is about Davey March, a teenaged boy who dies and ends up in the Middleground, a realm sandwiched between life and death where sinners are given a chance to save themselves from Hell by becoming Grim Reapers. He meets Azrael, a mysterious Grim Reaper with a secret past who’s despised by nearly everyone, and Pepper, a teenage poltergeist who won’t move on to the next life because she’s convinced that her living father is in danger. When a crime spree erupts in the city, the trio feels helpless to do anything as they are no longer a part of that world. But when it becomes apparent that the criminal sociopath is a zombie, they realize they may be the only ones who can can stop him.
Check out an excerpt below:
“Mrs. March, you have no doubt received numerous letters from myself and other members of the staff regarding your son Davey’s unacceptable behavior,” said Principle Hudson.
Davey March sat slumped in a hunter green leather chair in front of Hudson, arms draped over each side, fingers dangling bloodlessly. His mother, Holly March shot Davey a scorching look. “Yes, I have. But I thought–”
“Allow me to read you a condensed list of his offenses thus far to refresh your memory, just in case you‘re forgetting a few things: Truancy, tardiness, speaking out in class, destruction of school property, indecent exposure–”
“I am not finished. Impersonating a member of the staff, disrupting lectures, falsifying a signature, and lewd acts not becoming of a student of this upstanding school.”
“Lewd acts?” Holly asked, but she was ignored.
“And of course, the final straw came last Friday.” He paused to flip through a few pages of notes in front of him. “I believe that it took place back stage during the drama club’s dress rehearsal of Damn Yankees, with a Miss Caitlyn Westburger. Certain acts transpired between them that are not appropriate in a public location, and are forbidden in this school. You’re son ought to be–”
“Congratulated?” Davey offered.
Hudson’s face turned purple with anger. “I was going to say embarrassed. This sort of behavior in uncouth, to say the very least. Mrs. March, I’m concerned for your son’s immortal soul. Make no mistake boy, if you continue on this wicked path, you are headed to an the hereafter of eternal flames and suffering.”
Davey’s eyebrows lifted lazily.
Holly leaned forward in her chair, her eyes wide and cheeks flushed. “That’s… this is ridiculous! You’re talking about pranks and … and things that all boys his age do!”
“His behavior is unacceptable,” said Principle Hudson, jowls aquiver with virtuous indignation. “And it will not be tolerated any longer. I’m sorry, but he’s expelled.”
* * *
“David Troy March, what the hell is wrong with you? Do you have any idea how much tuition costs at this school? Do you have any idea how embarrassed I am? What the hell am I supposed to tell Nana and Papa? What exactly were you doing that was so indecent that Principle Hudson would expel you?” Holly hollered.
Davey was conscious of the fact that the entire girl’s gym class was watching him being told off by his mother in the parking lot. “Do you really want to know?” he asked her quietly.
“Yes, I do.”
Davey stared at her meaningfully and she threw up her hands in the air. “Oh my God,Davey. How long has this been going on? Are you using protection. Are the girls?”
“It was just a … you know. . . a BJ,” he said.
“Oh, was it?” Holly yelled lividly. “That’s all? No big deal?”
“It’s not like it happens all the time. It was my birthday last week, remember?“
“And that gives you the right to act like a Neanderthal?”
Davey was trying to text Caitlyn to tell her he was expelled, but Holly grabbed his phone and chucked it into the back seat of her blue Ford Focus.
“Hey, come on,” he protested.
She grabbed his arm and pushed him into the passenger seat. She shoved his book bag into his lap. “I don’t want to hear it. When we get home, you’re in big trouble, Davey. This is going to be the summer from hell.”
She stomped around the front of the car and got into the drivers seat. Her blue eyes were misty and her cheeks were flushed from anger and presumably embarrassment.
“You can’t be mad at me! I– come on! The school is overreacting! Hudson is still pissed off about the streaking thing, that’s all.”
Holly huffed, jerking the car into reverse and slamming the gas recklessly. “You‘re responsible for this, David.” Holly said.
Davey rubbed his eyes until he could see spots in front of his eyelids. He didn’t have anything to say.
After a few seconds, Holly sighed and spoke in a quieter voice. “What happened, Davey? You used to be such a nice boy.”
Davey massaged his temples. “That’s so boring.”
“You were nice, quiet, well behaved–”
“I’m done with this. I don’t want to discus it right now.”
“I get it, okay? I’ve been acting like a douche bag.”
“Don’t use that language.”
“Geez, Mom, I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Davey said, with all the sincerity he could muster. He put his hand on Holly’s arm.
“Are you?” Holly asked.
“Oh, come on,” Davey laughed. “It’s not like I got myself expelled on purpose.”
Tears welled in Holly’s eyes, making Davey feel like he had a stomach full of sour milk.
“Mom, just pay attention to the road,” Davey said as she sniffled and wiped her nose on her sleeve.
“I’m upset,” she sniffed.
“I can see that. Just watch it.” His eyes bounced up to the long stretch of pavement ahead, and his pupils dilated. “Mom! Watch the road!”
The tires screamed as they tore the skin from the asphalt. Holly jerked the wheel left, trying to avoid the blurry figure that had suddenly appeared in the middle of the highway.
In the space between breaths the car slammed into the guard rail and spun across the road. Horns blared. The highway screeched. Davey’s heart stalled. His guts were smashed up into his throat by the force of the constricting seatbelt.
The car whirled around a central axis: the figure in the road. Just before the car began to roll, Davey got a good look at the man standing in the street and had a bizarre thought.
Not a man.
An animal, standing on two legs.
The roof buckled and glass shattered. Davey’s seat belt held him tight as the car barrel rolled across the asphalt. The sky ricocheted up and down as they flipped. Metal twisted, screaming as it splintered like bone.
It was strange, knowing what was happening and not being able to do a thing about it. Davey was trapped inside a bubble, watching events unfold that he couldn’t control.
Finally, the car came to a stop, it’s caved in roof cradled by the street. Davey breathed in. He was still alive, dangling upside down from his seat. He reached over and unsnapped his seatbelt.
He dropped like a rock. His head hit something hard, and for a second, he was too dazed to move. His chin was tucked up against his chest; his legs dangled above him. He was able to reach up and undo his seatbelt. Groaning, he rolled out flat, wincing as glass and rock bit into his skin. He turned his head, squinting as hot blood stung his eyes.
“Mom? Are you okay?” he asked, reaching for her.
She blinked at him, eyes and wide open and empty as drums. “Yeah, I’m okay,” she said.
“Can you get out? Can you undo your seatbelt? Mom?”
“Mom, undo your seatbelt,” Davey insisted, turning onto his stomach and pushing himself up.
Holly’s eyes fluttered shut.
Davey tried to unclip her seat belt, but the car’s frame had warped and there was a piece of jutting metal in the way. He squirmed towards his window, pushing away the shards of glass and climbing out through the opening.
He pulled himself to his feet, giving a yelp when his right leg buckled uselessly. He looked down and saw that his knee was soaked in blood.
He needed to get to the other side of the car. He could pull Holly out that way.
He looked around. The car had landed against the concrete wall of an underpass in the opposite lane. There were no cars coming, but he could hear them shuddering by overhead.
He got back on his feet, putting all his weight on his good leg. He hobbled around the nose of the car to the other side, which stuck out towards the oncoming traffic lane. He leaned down, reaching around his mother’s limp body. Her arms dangled like loose tentacles, making it hard for his to see what he was doing. He tried reaching the seatbelt release button, but that stupid piece of metal was still blocking his way.
“Mom, wake up,” he said, grabbing her face with his bloody hands. He patted her cheek lightly. “Get up. Come on.”
He tugged her hard. Maybe he could have pulled her out if he‘d had all his strength, but he was feeling weak, fuzzy and sick to his stomach. He took a lurching breath, and then pulled with all his might, but Holly barely budged. Darkness swarmed in front of his eyes and he staggered backwards. This wasn’t working. Maybe he should just wait and call 911.
He stood back up, leaning against the twisted heap of plastic and aluminum, and reached into his back pocket for his phone.
A horn blared.
His head swung up just in time to see the grill of the massive semi careening towards him. He put up his arms to block the oncoming blow, but he was pulverized like a tomato in a blender.
Death wasn’t like in the movies. There was no choir of angels. No white light or chariots. No Morgan Freeman.
Instead, it was painful, like ripping off a bandage in slow motion. His soul was sheared from his body, sucked up above the wreckage, and for a brief second, he thought he saw flashing police lights and heard someone say “We’re going to need a cleanup crew on this one.”
Suddenly, he was on a stomach churning flight across the city, being sucked towards it’s apex. It’s hungry, metal teeth gnashed as he was pulled into the belly of the beast.
And then he found himself standing on the corner of 49th and Lennox, in the center of The Hub, the city’s shopping district.
But it was not The Hub as he knew it.
The city appurtenances were all the same: Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, Game Stop, countless brick fronted deli’s, trendy shopping boutiques, ATMs and newspaper stands. But unfamiliar buildings carved out the skyline. Some of the architecture was oppressive and hostile, with gothic facades as unhinging as a pipe organ score. Others were fragile towers of lustrously gleaming glass. In the middle of this battle between the hellish and divine, one tower carved out it‘s own niche– a chrome skyscraper who’s metal skin was gathering fire from the sunlight. It didn’t conform to the aesthetic style of the rest. It was lean, smooth, individual. At the very top of the tower, just under it’s glinting needlepoint top was a slowly revolving sign that read ‘The Watchtower’.
What the hell was that?
There was a giant plasma screen affixed to the front of the Watchtower. Davey watched for a moment with a dull fascination a commercial played for a clothing store called ‘Bagged and Tagged’. Then he turned away to stare at the city life continuing around him.
People were bustling around in droves. A young businessman in a sweat stained oxford pushed passed him, loosening his tie as he said “Fricken hot today,” into his Bluetooth. As he neared Davey, the man turned filmy white and transparent. When he passed through Davey, there was a brief second when their cells seemed to mingle and Davey’s stomach burst full of anxiety.
It was over in flash and everything reverted to normal. Davey turned and stared after the man on the Bluetooth, who was now solid once again.
Was that real?
And if it wasn’t, what was going on? Was he in a coma? Was this a hallucination?
He turned and looked up at The Watchtower. Pictures were flashing across the screen too quickly to be seen, like some kind of subliminal messaging.
And then they stopped, and in a neatly spaced, neon text it said:
You are dead. Don’t be alarmed. It’s perfectly normal.
When he blinked, the message was gone, and the rapidly flashing images once again took over.
“There must be some way out of here.”
Davey turned to the sound of the voice.
It was a man dressed in ancient looking army fatigues, with a red hunters cap on his head. He was greasy and dirty, and his teeth were mostly rotted down to stumps. He wasn’t speaking to Davey. He was rubbing his hands together and looking from left to right over and over, bobbing slightly as he did. “Just gotta find my way,” he muttered.
Normally, Davey wouldn’t have engaged a hobo in conversation, but as this wasn’t a normal situation, the rules were different.
“Hey,” he said. “Hey, man, can I–”
The man’s milky gray eyes turned onto Davey and grew wide. “You can see me?” he asked, seeming astonished.
Great. Crazy. Of course.
“Yeah, I can see you,” said Davey, waving his hand in front of the man’s face. “You okay, buddy?”
“If you can see me, you must be one of them,” the man said.
“One of who?”
“One of them things with the black eyes and hoof feet. They’ll cut you up into little pieces until there‘s nothing left. I won’t let ’em take me. I don’t want to be erased. You best stay away from me, boy. Can’t take no chances.”
“Okay,” Davey said, moving away uneasily. “Whatever, man.”
“I don’t want to be erased. You best stay away.”
Davey turned around, shaking his head. Lunatic vagrants. They were all over the city. That was a reassuring normality, right?
As he turned away, someone else caught his eyes.
A teenage boy in a long black coat and black high-top sneakers with tangled laces was standing on the opposite side of the street, toes dangling precariously over the edge of the curb. He was short, with asymmetrically cut black hair that hung over one eye. Something about him stood out, like his colors were more saturated than the rest of the world.
The boy‘s head bobbed up. He squinted his eyes and put his finger to his lips, scanning the passing mob as if looking for someone.
His gaze fixed on Davey. When they locked eyes, Davey felt every hair on his body lift and tingle.
The boy started towards him. People seemed to step out of his way unconsciously. As he got closer, Davey could see that there was something dark lingering at his edges, like he were pulling a storm cloud with him. It crackled and growled, undulating at the edges like a fire.
“Hello, hello,” the boy said as he approached. His voice was icy and ethereal, with cold, smooth claws that squeezed around Davey’s rapidly thumping heart.
He had skin the color of a bowl of milk forgotten under the bed, and sooty eyelashes that curled like spider legs. Under his flapping coat, he wore a bizarre Clockwork Orange getup, complete with suspenders and highwaisted trousers. He took a deep breath and said:
“Hello, Davey. My name is Azrael. You’re time as a mortal being has ended. Your life is hereby relinquished. Please prepare to evacuate this realm.” He reached out a lily white palm and held it face up.
“Wait a minute,” Davey said, stepping back and shaking his head. “I’m not dead.”
“You are, I assure you. Otherwise you wouldn’t be in the Middleground. Now please, prepare to –”
“This is the Middleground? Between life and death?”
The boy’s voice remained unaffected. “Obviously.”
“So it’s Purgatory?”
“Only if you’re Catholic.”
“And who are you?”
“Azrael. The grim reaper.”
“You? That hilarious,” said Davey, but he wasn’t laughing. His breath was caught up in his throat and his balls had retracted halfway into his stomach.
“It’s not a joke,” said Azrael.
“Ok, Grim, if you’re really Death, where’s your robe and scythe?” Davey asked. He was struggling to uphold his bravado. He didn’t want this person, whoever or whatever he was, to know that he was sweating.
Luckily, his foe was easily unnerved. Annoyance was warming Azrael’s face. He fumbled for words. “Don’t call me by a … a nickname. I’m not messing around with you. Come with me right now. I’m taking you to the afterlife.”
“No,” said Davey.
The boy was livid. His pupils became nearly as wide as his iris and the black cloud that enveloped him seemed to come alive. An aura of voluminous mist swelled out around him, blotting out the sun. “Look, I’m trying to be professional with you right now. So why don’t you be a good little ghost and do what I say?” Azrael said.
“Are you? Trying to be professional, I mean?” Davey asked. “Because I think you’re doing a really crap job. Shouldn’t you be reassuring me about all the good things that await me in heaven? You’re really not selling me on the idea of leaving Earth at all.”
“I don’t know what awaits you in the afterlife because your soul hasn’t been judged yet,” Azrael said pointedly.
Davey didn’t like the sound of that. Hadn’t Principle Hudson just told him that he was destined to burn for all eternity in Hell just that very morning? That certainly didn’t bode well now.
The Reaper continued to rant: “This is my job. And people at the Watchtower take what I do very seriously, you know. If you don’t get to the afterlife, there will be diplomatic actions taken and my performance is up for review again next month. And you–”
“Do you even have an ID?” Davey interrupted.
“Or a badge or something? Something that proves you’re a real Grim Reaper?”
“I don’t have to prove it!”
“I want to see some kind of form of ID or I’m not going anywhere.”
“I don’t have to show you anything. You have to do what I say.”
“How do I know I’m really dead?”
Azrael sighed and gestured up towards the giant screen on the Watchtower. “Watch the replay,” he said.
A montage was playing titled ‘Today’s Notable Deaths’. Davey watched several old people draw their final breath in a relatively peaceful, abet boring way. There was a short clip of a fat man having a heart attack inside a Denny’s. Then the screen changed to show a familiar stretch of open highway. He watched as his mom’s blue Ford Focus dovetailed and went into a barrel roll, bleeding sparks and leaving a trail of glass and metal shards. He watched himself escape through the window and try to pull his mother to safety, only to be rammed by an oncoming semi truck.
Even the Reaper flinched when Davey’s body was obliterated by the force of the oncoming vehicle. The montage segwayed into another commercial, this one for a coffee shop called Hallowed Grounds, where ‘All members of the underworld are welcome!’
Davey felt numb. He wanted to feel sad about what he‘d just seen, but he was just confused and punch-drunk. That was his death that he’d just watched. In his heart, he knew it was true, but it still seemed impossible. He’d never died before; why should today be any different? And how could it just happen so fast like that, with no warning at all? Why did it happen to him? Why now?
“I can’t be really dead,” Davey said to Azrael by way of bargaining. “Not permanently. I must be in a coma, or just stunned or something–”
“There is only one kind of dead, and you’re it. Right now, they’re scraping your body off the pavement, and pretty soon you’ll be a name and a date on a chunk of stone, so I suggest that you stop acting like an belligerent moron and do what I say,” said Azrael. They sympathy that Davey had seen on his face seconds ago had been wiped clean.
“This isn‘t fair,” Davey protested. “I’m perfectly healthy. I don’t smoke and I only eat fast food every once and a while. I’m young, happy, good looking–”
“And now you’re road kill,” said Azrael with a malicious smile.
“What about my mom?!” Davey shouted.
“I have no idea.”
“No, no. You saw her in the recap just now. She was in the car with me.”
“I have no idea where your mother is. You are my assignment, not her. My job is to escort you, David Troy March, from here to the hereafter. So put your hand in my hand and let‘s just go to the Watchtower so you can get judged. I have a lot to do today and I can’t–”
“I’m not going with you!” Davey screamed. “I’m not dead. I can’t be.”
The Reaper’s face flushed with anger. “Listen, do you know what happens if you decide to stay in the Middleground? You become a Shade. The living can’t see you, they can’t hear you and eventually, they’re all going to forget you ever existed. Life goes on even when you don’t. If you get stuck here, you’ll be trapped between the walls.”
“Like, what, a ghost?”
“Precisely. That’s not an existence I’d wish on my worst enemy. But if you’d rather stay here and lurk around impotently for the rest of eternity, it’s not my problem.”
“Well, maybe I do!” Davey said
Azrael’s eyes narrowed. “No. You can’t.”
“You just said I could.”
“If I leave you here, they’ll deduct from my points. I‘m up for review–”
“Oh, will they deduct your points? Well, good! Because I’m not going anywhere,” Davey shouted.
“You don’t even know what you’re saying. Becoming a Shade is dreadful–”
“I want you to take me to my mom right now,” Davey demanded.
“I’m not going to take orders from you. You’ll either come with me or I swear on all that is holy, I–” Azrael stopped mid-sentence and his expression changed. His lips turned white.
He wasn’t focused on Davey anymore. He was looking behind him.
“What?” Davey asked.
“Don’t move,” Azrael whispered, slowly opening his coat and reaching inside.
“What? What is it?” Davey asked. Then he felt a light mist of breath on the back of his neck. The smell of damp garbage and sweat was suddenly thick in the air around him. His stomach flipped.
The muscles in Azrael’s arm flexed. He began to draw his arm out of his coat. “Just another hazard of living in the Middleground,” he said quietly. “The demon infestation is a bit of a problem. Don’t move, it’s right behind you.”
Davey was hyperventilating. He could feel it behind him. The acrid breath, the clicking sound of it’s movements, the snap of it’s jaws. Though he couldn’t see it, he had a picture in his head of taunt red skin stretched across an anthropomorphic body with an animal’s horns and cloven feet.
“But I’m already dead, right? So nothing to worry about?” Davey asked, trying in vain to swallow the thick lump of dread that had risen into his throat. He looked at Azrael, who was suddenly his only ally.
“There are worse things than death, Davey,” Azrael said softly.
Thank you for reading!