Fiction Fun: The Grocery List (A Dean Rannick Adventure)

Every now and then, shit just sort of happens to me. I don’t get hired for these kinds of cases, and I don’t end up doing them because the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Sometimes, I get into a case because it’s the right thing to do, or because it just won’t leave me alone. This would have been one of those times.

Edelweiss Market is this nice little grocery store over on the east side that feels just so damn homey that you don’t mind if you wander around inside of it for hours on end. It doesn’t look all that different from any other grocery store, mind you. It has the same sterile shelves lined with all the popular products, white and black tile floors, and the same dull Muzak piping away like the world is a god damn carnival.

I think it’s the people that make a difference. Either that, or the fact that they are open twenty four hours a day and never ask me any stupid questions, like why I buy corn chips in bulk.

Point is, that’s where I do my shopping when I feel the need to fill my fridge with something other than three week old Chinese take out. Not that this is a common occurrence, but I do run out of coffee fairly often, so I’m in there about once a week.

I didn’t have anything stacked on the desk at the office, meaning it was a slow night in the city as far as demonic activity went, so I decided to pack it in. I knew Ernie was low on chips, and I didn’t have anything worth looking at, so I stopped in Edelweiss Market on the way back home.

That was my first mistake.

I wandered the brightly lit and mockingly cheerful aisles, picking up this and that as I avoided Rhonda, the cashier. She had this thing about the no smoking signs posted here and there. I figured them for suggestions, and she figured them for rules. It didn’t really matter who was right on this, even though I was, because she would always yank my butt from my mouth and put it out with the declaration that this was a smoke free establishment.

As soon as she was gone, I’d light another and resume my shopping.

I first noticed something was off as I studied the frozen dinners. See, now, the thing about me is that I only cook when the meal is pre-frozen and can fit inside my microwave, so I take these frozen dinners very seriously. They constitute the vast majority of my diet.

I’d gathered about three Hungry Man roast beef dinners before I noticed they were low fat. What kind of hungry man, such as myself, wants a low fat dinner? I mean, beyond Richard freaking Simmons? I stuck the damn things back in the case and grabbed out the real kind, the ones that weren’t all health conscious. As the door swung back into place, I saw the reflection of a little girl in a pink dress standing in the aisle behind me, back facing the glass door.

Three in the morning is an odd time for a little girl in any dress, much less pink, to be standing in a grocery store, but when I turned to find her, she wasn’t there. The whole damn aisle was empty and I started getting a creepy feeling. That damn Muzak kept on chirping away as I flipped my dead smoke down the aisle and went off in search of the chips, wary now.

The wheels on the cart squeaked, like they always do, and it was making me damn irritable. I paused by the booze rack to grab some Jack Daniels and heard the sound of laughter. Like a little girl would make kind of laughter. Looking around, I saw nobody but Kenny, the janitor, as he ran the big floor buffer.

What the fuck was this shit about?

Heading down to the far end of the store, where they kept their chips, I passed house wares and thought about getting some paper towels. I decided against it, figuring I still had plenty of toilet paper, and moved on, past the dairy case, the bread aisle, house wares…

Wait a second. I stopped dead and looked up at the sign in front of me, the one that read house wares in happy blue letters. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw the sign that said house wares in happy blue letters, and a guy looking over his shoulder. I was looking at myself.

I blinked and reality snapped back into place, leaving me feeling a bit dizzy. Something was definitely wrong in Edelweiss Market tonight, and it was more than just me being tired. My demon senses were tingling, and I didn’t like the rhythm of the song they wanted to play. Pinching my nose, I closed my eyes, and tried to clear my head of the fog that was trying to settle in.

“You okay, Mr. Rannick?”

Luke, the night shift stock boy. I swear, he couldn’t look more like a reject from a nineties rock band if he had tried. He was standing next to me, giving me a seriously worried look, and I realized how I must look, standing in the middle of the store holding my face.

“Yeah, Luke, I’m fine. Just kind of tired. Been a long week.”

He laughed. “Yeah, I totally know what you mean, bro. I’m major ready to catch some waves this weekend.” He mimed riding a surf board. Did I mention he looked liked a nineties rocker reject, but talked like a surfer? He was possibly the single most irritating human being in the world, and how he had avoided being eaten by a demon so far as beyond me.

I nodded and headed on down to the chip aisle again. It was impossible to miss, because it was the very last aisle in the store, yet when I turned down it, I was looking at produce. This was not funny, never had been, and was beginning to really piss me off.

“Hey,” I whispered. “I just want some damn chips, okay? I don’t know what your problem is, and I don’t care, so how about you quit with the smoke and mirrors till I’m gone.”

The produce aisle stayed right where it was and I cursed softly. Looking for Luke, I waved him over.

“Hey, I can’t seem to find the chip aisle for some reason.”

Luke gave me a baffled look. “Dude, you must really be wasted. You’re, like, totally on the chip aisle.”

Sure as shit I was too. Bright bags of every kind of chip the human mind could concoct lined the walls before me and I decided that I’d best just hurry up with my little shopping experience. I thanked Luke and went to where they kept the corn chips then cleaned them out. That would hold Ernie for a few days.

“Damn, Mr. Rannick. You must really love the corn crunch of those bad boys,” Luke said from behind me. He’s lucky he didn’t get shot.

“Luke, is there something I can help you with?”

“Nah,” he said. “I just followed to see if I was going to have to refill these munchies this time.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Every time you come in here, I have to restock that shelf, man.”

Something clicked in my head. “You have more in the back?”

“Boxes, dude.”

“Go get me one.”

Luke laughed again. “Sure thing, Mr. Rannick. I gotta say though, you are a serious ass grinder.”

I had no idea what that meant. Hell, I only understood half of what Luke said on any given night. People like him make me fear the day when I can’t tell the demons from the humans anymore, and give me nightmares about the day when I prefer the demons.

Luke returned with a big box of corn chips and I resumed my shopping. Eggs, milk, potatoes, and the usual have to haves. A couple cartons of cigarettes, and so forth. I did pause for a minute on the meat aisle to look at their steaks, too. Bear in mind what I said earlier about cooking, though. I don’t do it.

I was actually thinking of Shannon and the fact that she always bitches I don’t have anything good to eat at my place. Maybe if I bought some steaks, it would give her something to cook and she’d get off my case. Women still like to cook, don’t they?

I heard laughter again, like by the booze rack. I gave a glance around, but saw nothing. When I looked back at the four packages of steaks in my hand, the fucking things were pouring blood, and moving.

I yelped, dropping the meat as the whole aisle came to life. The entire case was full of thrashing ground beef, sausage, ham hocks, bacon, steaks, and other stuff I couldn’t name off the top of my head. The case filled with blood quickly, then began spilling over into the floor. I jumped back a step, trying to grasp what I was seeing, then it stopped.

The meat case was fine. Nothing moved, nothing bled. Muzak tripped merrily along and the world was normal again. Except for the sound of laughter. Spinning on my heel, I saw a pink dress disappear around the corner of an aisle, and set off in pursuit of it.

I kept getting flashes of a hem as I chased the wraith through the store. It had to be a wraith, cause nothing else could manifest the realistic illusions I’d been seeing all night. Lucky for me, I knew how to handle a surly spirit. Bad for me was the simple fact I didn’t have a clue with children. My niece down in Oakland was more than I could handle, and she was only four.

I caught up to her on the candy aisle. She was just standing there when I rounded the corner, head down, dress moving slightly as if she were only so very barely twirling. The damn Muzak keep churning itself out as I drew closer to her, reaching out to see how well she could manifest herself.

She turned on me just as I was about to touch her shoulder. I caught a glimpse of a pinched, mottled face writhing with maggots before her scream hit me. It was like a wreaking ball in the chest, throwing me a good ten yards in the air. Tile met my back and I slid another ten before coming to stop at Luke’s feet.

He looked down at me around the case of pickles he held. “Oh, dude. You musta just met Jenny.”

W Y X

“So, tell me about Jenny.”

Rhonda frowned at Luke, who gave a hangdog look, before she answered. “That is none of your business, Mr. Rannick.”

I winched slightly as she finished applying the Neosporin to the back of my head and slapped a bandage over the knot I’d gotten from my slid down the aisles. “With all do respect, Rhonda, considering the fact she just tossed me from candy to health and beauty, I think it is now some of my business.”

“Just tell him, Rhonda. Do it, or I will,” Luke put in.

Rhonda gave him a shut the fuck up look, but Luke didn’t back down this time. She sighed and nodded her head, sitting down across from me in the deli’s booth. Much to my surprise, she dug out one of those women’s cigarette cases and lit up. I figured it was safe, and followed suit.

I figured wrong. She gave me a harsh look, so I put the stick and the flick away.

“About twenty years ago, a little girl named Jenny Kaufman was murdered right there on that very candy aisle, Mr. Rannick. She was in here in the late afternoon, all by herself. The store clerk saw her come in, all skipping and happy. He told the police it was as if she’d been in one of those perpetual good moods children seem to have.”

“Anyway, about a half an hour later, the clerk finds her body in the candy aisle. She’s been dead for almost the whole thirty minutes. It was a hell of a mystery, let me tell you.”

“I remember it,” I told her, which was true. I did remember it. Big on the news, but the police had been all over it, and my underworld ties had given me no reason to suspect demonic influence, so I’d followed along with the rest of the country.

“Then you remember they caught the son of a bitch that did it. Turned out to be Mr. Edelweiss himself. They gave him the chair for it, too,” Rhonda told me.

“But that wasn’t the last of Jenny. Every now and then, some one sees her. Usually when strange things happen in the store. Things like all the soda bottles exploding, or grown adults getting lost in the aisles. But they always talk about the little girl, those that have weird experiences here. They say they saw a little girl, her face all mushed up, and she screamed at them, the very scream of hell itself.”

I mulled it over for a bit. “So, your store is haunted. Unusual, but not unheard of.”

Luke and Rhonda looked at each other in surprise. “You actually believe all this?” she asked me.

I was digging my cell phone out of my pocket. “Yeah, sure. Wouldn’t be the first time I tangled with a wraith. If you’ll just give me a minute to call my partner, I’ll see what I can do about helping Jenny move on to the next life.”

“Dude, are you, like, a ghost buster or something?” Luke asked me.

“Or something.” I hit the speed dial to Shannon and started telling her the situation as soon as she picked up her phone. Only it wasn’t Shannon. There was someone on the line, but it wasn’t Shannon, and it was whispering at me, words I couldn’t make out. Then came that scream again and my cell went dead in my hand.

“Right,” I said, getting up. “I’ll just get some stuff from my car. Won’t be a minute.”

Heading to the front of the store, I stuck the phone back in my pocket, where I felt something brush my fingers. Pulling it out, I saw it was a grocery list. It wasn’t in any hand writing that I knew, but figured it to be something left floating there for weeks, or even years, so I tossed it aside without a thought.

I reached for the front door and almost lost my arm as the security gate slammed down into place from overhead. Sparks flew from the thing, giving me a pretty good idea the motor had just shorted and electrified the steel mesh. This went way beyond simple manifestation.

The Muzak sputtered out and was replaced by a static lined, grainy voice sing songing at us. “Ring around the roses, pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, WE ALL BURN IN HELL!”

Well, fuck.

W Y X

“Is there any other way out of the store?”

Rhonda nodded her head. “The loading bay doors. We might can get out through there.”

“Lead on,” I told her.

As she headed back into the stock area, she kept talking, “Jenny’s never behaved like this before, Mr. Rannick. I don’t understand it. What’s changed?”

“It’s me. She knows I’m going to try to force her out of the store. Whatever it is that has caused her to linger is very important to her, because her desire for it is feeding her power. She’ll do anything to prevent me from getting between her and that goal.”

Luke released the locks that held the big garage door in place over the loading bay and rolled it up. Beyond was fire, and screams. It wasn’t the first time I’d looked into Hell, but this was a much better view than I’d had before.

“Whoa. Must have the wrong door,” Luke said as he rolled the thing back into place.

“She’s not going to let us out,” I told them. “Not until she gets what she wants.”

“What’s that?” Luke was feeling the garage door lightly as he asked.

“I have no idea. Her killer has already been punished, so it’s anyone’s guess.”

“Maybe it’s cause we stopped carrying licorice whips,” Luke offered.

I don’t know who was more shocked, me or Rhonda. It was me that bounced an empty can of cola off his head from the trash bin next to me, though. He flinched, but to his credit, kept his mouth shut.

“Why was she in the store that day, the day she died?”

Rhonda shrugged. “Beats me. I didn’t work here yet.”

“That’s got to have something to do with it. Whatever brought her here has got to have something to do with why she’s still here. Stores are public places, and wraiths of her power don’t hang out in public places unless there is significance in them. She was here for a reason, and that’s why she’s still here.”

“So what’s our next move?” Rhonda was doing a good job of not being scared, I had to admit.

“We have to get out of this store. I can’t do anything as long as I’m in here. I need to get in touch with my partner and have her find out everything she can about Jenny,” I answered, getting the hell out of the stock room and back into the main part of the store.

Way down on the far end, something made a massive crashing sound, drowning out the god awful Muzak for a minute. I stopped dead, looking in the direction the sound had come from. Nothing, all was quiet, except that fucking Muzak.

“What’s that?” Rhonda whispered.

“Girl from Eponima,” Luke offered.

She was faster than me that time and hit him in the head.

“Rhonda, stay here. Luke, let’s go see what that was. It can’t have been good.”

“Like hell I’m staying here,” Rhonda argued.

I let her have her way without a fight. I knew well enough that it would do me no good. Carefully, the three of us started down the long back aisle, headed for the source of the crashing. When it came again, it made us all jump. The quiet that followed was almost as shocking. There was a sense of foreboding in it now, one that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

Slowly, we turned down the last aisle and saw a pile of groceries in the middle of the frozen foods aisle. Out of nowhere, a can of peas whizzed right through the shelves and cases to land on the pile as well, tearing a hole the entire length of the store. I figured the busted up watermelon had been one of the loud crashes, while the whole chicken had been the other.

Something clicked inside my head then. I grabbed Rhonda by the shoulder, making her yelp in surprise. “Rhonda, twenty years ago, did Edelweiss deliver to their customers?”

“I don’t know, maybe.”

“Think! This is important.”

She thought about it for a moment, then, “Yes, yes they did. My mother use to have them deliver to us, when I was about sixteen. A boy named Kyle would bring the groceries by and put them away for us. I remember thinking he was the cutest boy in the world.”

I was already digging through my pockets, but I couldn’t find it now. I’d dropped it up by the front. “Damn, she even gave me the fucking list. I should have seen this.”

“What? Seen what?”

“She’s still here because she never delivered her grocery list,” I told them. “That has to be it. I only saw it for a minute, but I think everything in that pile was on the list. Probably her mother sent her to the store that day to deliver the grocery list, and Mr. Edelweiss killed her before she could. She’s still trying to do that, it’s why she can’t leave here.”

“That’s deep,” Luke said somberly.

“That’s stupid. What kind of ghost lurks around a grocery store for twenty years because she can’t deliver a grocery list?” Rhonda snapped at me.

I gave her an infuriated look. “The ten year old kind. And she isn’t a ghost. She’s a wraith. Very different. Wraiths are fixated on a single task, a purpose, some thing they have to do. Weren’t you even listening earlier?”

“I figured you was blowing smoke.”

I could have decked her. “I have to find that grocery list.”

Without waiting for the others, I headed for the front of the store, where I had dropped the all important list Jenny had put in my pocket. No wonder she was so pissed right now. She’d asked for my help, and I’d thrown it aside like it was garbage. She’d been hanging onto that scrap of paper for twenty years, and I’d balled it up and tossed it.

Some days, the term dick fits better than others.

Reaching the front of the store, I saw the little paper ball lying on the floor plain as day. Only one thing stood between me and it. Jenny and about a hundred copperhead snakes. I pulled up short and offered her my best smile. It didn’t work, and come to think of it, my niece usually ran from me when I smiled at her, too.

“You had your chance, detective,” she rasped at me.

“I know,” I said, mindful of the fact that she was fully manifest now. The power that required was awesome. Jamie had told me so herself. “And I’m sorry. I didn’t know what it was. I do now, though, and I want to help. Just tell me what to do with the list, Jenny, and I’ll do it.”

She wavered for a moment, both mentally, and visibly, like a bad picture on the television. “No! You’ll throw it away again!”

The copperheads started moving at us. I shoved Rhonda and Luke back, motioning for them to run for it. Jenny was pissed all right, and throwing one hell of a temper tantrum. Even if the snakes weren’t real, I didn’t want to gamble on their ability to do some very real damage.

Rhonda led the way to the back of the store, then up a short flight of stairs, at the end of which was the managers office. Once we were all in, she slammed and locked the door. Large plate glass windows gave us a clear view of the store below, and the quickly multiplying number of venomous snakes.

“Now what?” Luke asked.

“I go get that list, and do what needs to be done.”

Rhonda grabbed me by the arm. “Are you crazy, Mr. Rannick? She’ll kill you!”

“No, she won’t. I have friends of my own that can play the same games she can. Don’t worry, I’m going to get us out of here, and send Jenny on.”

“What makes you so sure, dude?” Luke was giving me this very curious look.

“It’s my job.”

W Y X

Once Rhonda and Luke were safely locked into the office, I went back down the stairs and caught my breath. Closing my eyes, I concentrated for a minute, and sent out the call for back up. There was only one person that could help me now, and I just hoped she was in the mood to be helpful.

Jamie pinched my nose a second later, startling me. She laughed at the look on my face.

“Very funny,” I said. “I got a situation here that I need your help with.”

She just nodded, reaching out to filch a cigarette from inside my shirt pocket. “Yeah, you really pissed Jenny off good.”

“I’d ask how you know, but I figure I wouldn’t like the answer.” I offered her a light and she took a long drag off the cigarette. It’s amazing the things some wraiths will miss when they aren’t fully manifest.

“The dead talk, Dean. You should know that by now. So, what do you need?”

“I need to get my hands on that list. Can you get me close enough to it?”

Jamie smirked. “Does a bear shit in the woods?”

“Let’s go.”

One day, I’d make up for letting her die. When that day comes, I hoped she would find peace. That night, however, was the first time I was ever glad she was still around. I don’t know how I would have ever gotten close enough to do anything if it hadn’t been for her leading the way.

I followed close on her heels as she walked slowly towards the front of the store, where Jenny still stood. As we drew close to whatever slithery thing lay in our path, Jamie would give it a harsh look and it would fade away. Her will was stronger than Jenny’s by a large margin, and when you are no longer a flesh and blood critter, will is all that remains.

In just a few short minutes, we were standing a few feet from Jenny, who was obviously straining now against Jamie. The list lay crumpled between her feet, so close I could feel it in my fingers.

“Don’t fight me, Jenny,” Jamie told her. “I’m here to help you, and so is Dean. I know he can be hard to like, but he’s a good man, and will help you if you let him.”

High praise from one I failed.

“It’s not you,” Jenny grunted. “I’m fighting.”

Jamie cocked her head to the side for a minute, then was thrown across the store. She impacted a bar-b-que sauce display, went vaporous, then reformed, already standing again. “Dean, look out!”

Jenny shrieked, not like before, but in fear. The lights through the store went brilliant, the Muzak insanely fast, then a shadow fell and I felt cold to the core. What rose up before me was no child, and it certainly was not friendly. It was the blackest, most vile and evil thing I had ever faced. And what was worse, was that it was everywhere.

Mr. Edelweiss manifested himself from the very fabric of the store itself, and knocked the stuffing out of me with a tiled fist. My mystic tattoos saved my life for about the ten millionth time, but the trip down to the chip aisle gave me a few seconds to reflect.

He was here as well, and still tormented her. That was what had pissed her off towards me, why she had been so horribly angry. It wasn’t because I had denied her when she asked my help in resolving her last task, it was because I had denied her escape from the murderer that still stalked her.

I hit the chips and went down to the floor hard. It all made sense now. My ties to the underworld made it easier for wraiths to communicate with me. I had an aura about me that revealed me as the Chosen, the Champion. Jamie had explained it once before, and said she had gotten herself quit a standing among the dead for being my friend.

I was glad I was popular somewhere.

Jenny had asked for my help, and I’d thrown it in her face. Now Edelweiss was here and it was a totally different matter. I gathered myself up and saw Jamie trying to hold Edelweiss back. The fabricated body howled and struggled against her, their wills clashing, but Edelweiss was quickly winning out. Jenny hunkered in the corner and just screamed, terrified of the monster that had ended her life.

Like hell was I leaving a kid in a situation like this.

I was running before I even meant to be, my eyes fixed on the all important scrap of paper. If I could just get it, I could take Jenny out of here and she would be free of that son of a bitch forever. The world felt like it had been made of molasses as I ran though, and the terrain kept shifting on me as Edelweiss and Jamie duked it out spiritually.

The he saw what I was doing, and started towards me, his manufactured face howling in rage. Jamie intervened as best she could, but he was on me, able to just roll forward across the tile floor, his spirit so firmly meshed with the store they had become one and the same.

Diving for it, I snatched the paper up just seconds before Edelweiss could. Jamie soul blasted him, scattering his manifest body for a moment as I hauled ass for the office. All I had to do was give the paper to Luke, and Jenny’s last task would be done. She would be free.

I tried not to think about the twenty years of torment the kid had been through, no doubt forced to relive her murder over and over again. It made my blood boil, for a lot of reasons. Kids are all we have in this life that approaches pure. When they are young, and innocent, for all of five minutes before life gets in and makes them jaded, they are beautiful.

Yeah, I got regrets. You would to.

I waved the list over my head so Rhonda and Luke could see it from the window, then sensed Edelweiss on my tail. He was remanifesting already and coming at me like a freight train on a midnight run. Lucky for me, Jamie was on the case, dogging the son of a bitch every step of the way.

I reached the back doors as Luke and Rhonda came out. Hand outstretched, I landed the list in Luke’s grasping fingers just as Jamie forced Edelweiss back into his noncorporeal form once again. She was getting tired though, and I could see it.

From the front of the store, I heard Jenny scream, “No! Not him!” Then I saw the gun in Luke’s hand.

“Why couldn’t you have just bought your shit and left, dude. Now I gotta kill you.”

“What the fuck?” was all I could manage.

“Damn it, dude,” he shouted. “Grandpa just wanted to play with her a little. Is that so wrong, man? It’s not like she’s real anymore. It’s not hurting nobody.”

Oh, hell. Why couldn’t these things ever go easy. Edelweiss manifested behind me. Jamie didn’t have what it took to put him down again. I was looking down the barrel of a Smith and Wesson, and this was not what I came to the god damn store for.

“She’s suffered her murder over and over again for twenty years, Luke. Who do you think is getting hurt by that?” I asked him.

He shot me. Jamie screamed and the world went red, lit by nothing more than pain. I hate getting shot. I’d rather be stabbed, or bitten, or clawed. I think we’ve had this conversation before, and there was a wraith involved that time too.

Luke was a lousy shot though. He’d hit me in the gut, but too far to the side. It’d gone through and didn’t feel like it had taken anything more than skin. And I always carry my nine millimeter on me. I lay on the floor a minute, clutching the wound, groaning as Edelweiss hovered over me, leering down with his coffee can teeth and orange eyes.

Then, I put a bullet in the center of Luke’s head.

The manifest construct of Edelweiss howled in rage as Rhonda snatched up the list from Luke’s dead hands. “I’ll deliver it myself,” she shouted at the thing before her. “Before I let you hurt another hair on that little girls head, you unholy son of a bitch!”

Edelweiss’ manifest form exploded, raining products and tiles down on us. Jamie helped me to my feet a minute later, her fingers already going to the bullet wound in my side. She frowned, then gave me a tired look. Rhonda was crying and clutching the list to her chest as she crumpled to the floor.

A moment later, Jenny joined us, the ruin of her face restored to child like beauty. “Can I go home now?”

“I’ll see to it myself, kiddo,” I told her. “I’ll see to it myself.”

“What the hell!” Kenny had just come back from the bathroom, newspaper tucked under his arm. He surveyed the savaged remains of the store for a moment, then threw down his paper. “I’m not cleaning this mess up.”

W Y X

I rang the doorbell on apartment 3G, then waited patiently as Mrs. Kaufman peered at me through the peephole. I lifted my private eye license up so she could see that, too. A second later, and the door opened a crack, the chain still in place.

“Yes? How can I help you?” Her voice was old and cracked from twenty years of heartbreak, loneliness, and sorrow.

“Mrs. Kaufman, I’m Dean Rannick. Edelweiss Market contracted me to discern the origin of something they found under one of their shelves during some remodeling they recently did. Do you mind if I show it to you?”

She studied me closely for a moment, then closed the door long enough to move the chain. With the door now wide open, she crossed her arms over her chest and gave me a stern look. “Alright then, Mr. Rannick, let’s see what those sons of bitches have for me.”

I held the grocery list out to her and she took it. A moment later, she gasped, her eyes tearing up as she recognized her own hand writing. “How can this be? Oh, dear Lord, how can this be?”

“Mrs. Kaufman, once I discerned the origin of the list, Edelweiss’ management was reminded of this very ugly incident from its past. They know they can never give you back what you’ve lost, not the years with your daughter, or the joy of watching her grow up, get married, and have children of her own. But they have authorized me to do one thing, the only thing they felt appropriate under the circumstances.”

I hefted the box full of groceries I had sat by the door. It made the wound in my side burn like hell, but Jamie had done a good enough job of healing it up that it wouldn’t bleed for a while. Mrs. Kaufman’s eyes were wide now, and she was crying, her entire body trembling as she slowly touched the box, her glazed eyes barely registering the items with in. The entire list had been filed.

“Would you mind, Mrs. Kaufman, if I came in and put these away for you?”

Slowly, she lifted her eyes to mine, and I saw such emotions that I don’t have the words to describe, that it brought tears to my eyes as well. “Please do,” was all she said.

I spared a last glance down the hall, where Jamie stood holding Jenny’s hand. Together, they turned and walked away, fading into nothing. I stepped inside, and Mrs. Kaufman closed the door behind me.

©-2017 Cain S. Latrani

Author’s Notes

Dean Rannick is a private investigator who primarily deals with demonic and supernatural activity. As the Chosen, it is his duty to protect average humans from the darker machinations of the Hellborn.

Ernie, who Dean is buying the corn chips for, is a vokcheck, or a demon weasel, and is Dean’s pet. Vokcheck look like weasels, but are the size of a Dachshund, have three heads, eight legs, and fur that changes colors depending on the situation. Vokcheck don’t actually need to eat, but if fed, will only ever eat what they were first given, which in Ernie’s case, was corn chips.

Shannon, the partner he mentions, is not his girlfriend, before anyone gets the wrong idea. She is twenty years younger than Dean, who is in his fifties, and is just his partner. Shannon use to work as procurer of hard to get items, but after coming face to face with zombies, refused to take Dean’s calls for several years. When a friend was being stalked by a wraith, Shannon got in contact, and soon after, began working as Dean’s partner to make up for abandoning him.

Jamie is, as the story suggests, dead. A wraith now, she frequently helps Dean in his investigations. Nearly twenty five years ago, while tracking a supernatural serial killer, Dean missed saving her life by less than an hour, and has never forgiven himself for it, though Jamie did long ago.

As all this would seem to imply, there are many Dean Rannick stories. I’ve been working on getting them organized into a proper book, with the first attempt being available through self publishing. However, due to a number of changes that need to be made for the sake of continuity, that version will be replaced in the near future by an updated version that follows Dean’s life more consistently. Ahead of all that, I wanted to introduce Dean to the world, and the new version of his first book, Hungry Nights, will be announced properly here when it is ready.

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