As I accessed the allocation database, I couldn’t help but wonder how the hell the five erroneous allocations had slipped past Justine in auditing?
Justine from auditing was away from her desk when I called. Processing was the first step, an important step, but Justine’s department double-checked all allocations on a daily basis.
How had Lisa’s allocations been missed?
I’d have to catch her later.
I took the stairs to the fourth floor two at a time, ignoring the burn in my thighs. I had to make room for the calories I was about to consume in the cafeteria, and working a double shift meant I’d have to miss out on the gym tonight.
My butt ached from the climb. I paused for a breather by the promotional poster taped to the wall.
Necro City, the hub of all things untethered. A hot spot for the dead, and favored vacation spot for the living looking to engage with the spirits.
Ha, there were just as many of the latter as the former. Soul Savers Inc. was one of several allocation agencies across the country and one of a hundred around the world.
Several decades ago, a bunch of nutty scientists decided to try their hand at creating a drug to stop aging. Long story short, the drug got released into the atmosphere before it was perfected. It had little effect on humans aside from fucking with their brain chemistry so they could suddenly see ghosts. It did, however, have an impact on reapers, the psychopomps responsible for carrying souls to the other side, whatever the other side was. Yeah, the drug killed a bunch of those, leaving the reaper system severely short-staffed. It wasn’t long before the world was filled with spirits waiting to move on.
That was how the allocation centers were born. The organization called Soul Savers Inc. was funded by the same government who’d fucked us over and managed by the underworld administration. We received procedural updates via email from [email protected]
As for the reapers? I’d never seen one. The shit had gone down way before I was born, but my Aunt Lara had told me the story of the day the reapers came, swooping through the sky with their massive wings and hot bods. I’d seen pictures of the main four since then, and damn, she hadn’t been exaggerating. They call the main four the Dominus reapers, sons of Lilith and wielders of the scythe. Official titles matter, apparently.
I paused at the fourth-floor entrance and took a moment to catch my breath. Enough calories burned for a donut? Methinks so. They had the best selection of baked goods at Soul Savers. One of the perks of working here, or in my case, one of the downfalls, because I had a serious weakness when it came to baked goods. You could even call it my Achilles’ heel. My waistline hated me, and my hips would probably slap me if they could, but my taste buds thanked me for the tribute.
The cafeteria was buzzing with activity as usual. Ghosts with level three influence served food and coffee behind the counter while allocation agents chatted in groups at the neat round Formica tables.
I grabbed a mocha and a donut with rainbow sprinkles and tucked myself into my favorite spot up against the wall. It had the best view of the whole cafeteria, perfect for people watching.
A spirit stepped out of the men’s loos, a look of disgust on his face as he pushed a bucket and mop toward the ladies’. Another wiped the tables and picked up empty plates and cups.
In Necro City, everyone served a role, and spirits that were powerful enough to touch and move shit were put to work. The rest were allocated to hauntings—cemeteries, old buildings, and even homes. You’d be surprised how many lonely people were happy to share their homes with a ghost.
“Musing much?” Coraline slipped into the seat opposite me.
Coraline Vincent, twenty-four for life, dead but loving it. Her motto, not mine. And she was looking less ethereal than usual today. Not a good sign.
I took a casual sip of my mocha. “Who’d you siphon?”
She pouted. “No one. This is natural.”
Yeah, I’d believe that if she was a level five or above; those spirits were able to maintain a solid form by siphoning residual energy from the air around them. But Cora was a level four, and the only way she could look the way she did right now was from siphoning directly off the living, and the penalty for that was purgatory. It fell into the thou-shalt-not-harm-the-living bracket.
Problem was, I had a soft spot for my workmate and houseguest.
I gave her the look. “Cora …”
She winced. “Fine, Fitch pissed me off, so I took a bite.”
How could she be so flippant about it? “Dammit, Cora, that’s the third time this month. If he finds out what you’ve been doing …”
Her eyes widened in panic. “You won’t tell him, will you, Fee? You won’t let them send me away.”
I sighed. “No, I won’t tell him, but if he finds out, I won’t be able to stop him from banishing you.” The thought of my best friend being banished to purgatory made my insides clench. “Cora, you need to be careful. Ghosts aren’t allowed to feed off humans without express permission. You know the law. But it’s not just that, and you know it …”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m not a malignant, Fee. I’m not about to go ripper.”
Most ghosts were eager to move on, but there were those who simply wanted to stay on this plane, cause havoc, hurt, and torment. These malignant spirits fed off the living and became rippers. The reapers hunted malignants and rippers outside of the regular pickups, but the theory was that even a functional ghost like Cora could turn ripper if she continued to feed off humans without permission. Something to do with the quality of the energy siphoned. I didn’t completely understand it, to be honest, but it wasn’t a theory I wanted Cora to test.
“Just don’t do it again, please, babe.” I pleaded with my eyes.
“But, Fee, he’s a total wanker. He’s always walking through me and licking his lips.” She shuddered.
I grimaced. “Yeah, he is.” Unfortunately, there were no sexual harassment laws to protect the dead, and Fitch was a pervert. “I’ll speak to him, okay?”
Not that I had a clue what I’d say, but this was Cora, my bestie and the sweetest woman I knew.
“Thank you, Fee.” She slid something across the table toward me. “This came for you.”
Cora worked in HR as an administrative assistant to wanker Fitch, and the pink paper she pushed across the table had my heartbeat speeding up.
Pink meant head office. My stomach quivered. Could it be? Taking a deep breath, I unfolded the paper.
Dear Miss Seraphina Dawn,
We are pleased to inform you that your application for promotional transfer to Deadside has been approved.
“Well?” Cora’s brows shot up. “You got what you wanted. You start at the end of the month.”
Which was less than two weeks away. My heartbeat sped up with excitement because this promotion was six months coming. Six months of waiting and hoping, and now it was here. Less than two weeks and I’d be in the Deadside offices. Less than two weeks and I’d see her again.
I looked up and caught the sorrowful twist of Cora’s mouth. We’d been working and living together for the past year. She was my closest friend. It would be weird not working together.
“You gonna miss me?” I teased.
She snorted. “Like a hole in the head.”
“Didn’t you have one of those at one time?” Ouch, me and my mouth. Take it back. Take it back.
Her mouth popped open. “I can’t believe you just made a joke about that?”
I winced. “Sorry.”
She sniffed. “It’s totally bad taste to make fun of the way someone died.”
“Cora, you went camping in a hunting zone and didn’t wear red.”
“I didn’t know it was a hunting zone.” She grinned. “Besides, it was worth it to see Jeremy bawling his eyes out over my dead body. You know, he asked me to live with him after I became a ghost. He didn’t want me to leave.”
Yep, I knew this story.
“Dumb parents and their dumb exorcism,” Cora muttered.
Exorcisms no longer worked like they used to. Back in the day, before the whole world could see ghosts, people believed that demons were responsible for hauntings and possession. Now, we know that the demons are the psychopomps that carry spirits to the other side. Back in the day, all an exorcism did was summon a demon to carry away the errant spirit. When Jeremy’s parents exorcised their son’s dead girlfriend, they simply had her ejected to Necro, the nearest place with Soul Savers. But instead of parking her butt in the waiting room, Cora answered my advert for a housemate and ended up on my doorstep.
Cora was looking decidedly sulky, and my heart went out to her. She’d been in the prime of her life when a shot to the head had ended her. I shouldn’t have brought it up, but my mouth got away with me sometimes.
I took a gulp of my mocha. “Guess who I fired?”
She perked up. “You can’t fire people?” But her eyes gleamed with curiosity.
“I bloody can if they fuck up big time.” I told her about Tripp and her dodgy allocations to purgatory.
“That bitch!” Cora’s eyes flashed. “I’ve got a mind to get stinky Pete to haunt the fuck outta her.”
I stifled a laugh. “Don’t. You’ll just get him into trouble.”
Every spirit had an influence level that determined how they interacted with the living world. Pete’s influence happened to involve body odor that in death was magnified.
We’d allocated him to working in waste disposal for the city, and last I’d checked, he was happy there.
“I’m going to miss you all day,” Cora said softly.
We were back to my promotion. “You could come with me …”
Her expression froze.
Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut? “Cora, I love you, you know that, but I want you to be free.”
“I am free,” she snapped. “Free to make up my mind. If being able to stay on this plane means working for Souls Savers, then I’ll work this job for eternity. It’s better than the alternative.”