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Title: Keeper vs. Reaper
Series: Graveyard Guardians, # 1
Author: Jennifer Malone Wright
Audience: New Adult
Formats: E-book and Paperback
Publisher: Jennifer Malone Wright
Cover by: Regina Wamba of Mae I Design
Editor: There for you editing
Pages: 300 pages
Date of Publishing: Aug 12, 2014.
When her father died, Lucy Mae Estmond inherited the family business. She has known all of her life that she would be in line to watch over the souls of the recently passed, keeping them safe from the Reapers.
The soul eating Reapers have been a plague upon the Earth, stealing souls and leaving the Keepers as the only thing that stands between Heaven and Hell. The factions despise each other and have warred for generations.
Then Lucy discovers an ancient legend predicting the arrival of the Chosen One, destined to bring forth an end to the Reapers. The surprises continue when she realizes she is that person. For Lucy, being the Chosen One doesn’t change much. Fighting Reapers is just another day in the life of a Keeper.
When she meets Jack Walker, they both realize they have an insane, mutual attraction. Too bad that he’s been sent to prevent the prophecy from coming true. His only mission: to kill the Chosen One.
Inch by painstaking inch, the casket sank lower into the freshly churned earth.
The scent of lilacs floated on the breeze, along with the heavy stench of perfume and cologne, reminding Lucy of the fragrance aisle in a department store.
Lucy stood beside the grave, dressed in a modest royal blue sundress. She had chosen it specifically because her father always said the color looked the best against her hair, which was a mix of reddish brown that shone burgundy in the sunlight.
Tilting her head up, Lucy looked through the canopy of the aging oak trees that were scattered throughout the cemetery. The breeze shifted the branches, causing a few of the leaves to pull free and flutter off into the wind. There were almost no clouds in sky, allowing the sun to shine down over the funeral.
Her brothers and sisters surrounded the open grave opposite of her. All six of them also wore something fitting for a funeral, but nothing depressing enough to send their father into a rage in his afterlife.
Smiling, Lucy remembered the argument she and her father had during his last moments. “Lucy!” he had shouted at her. “Don’t you dare let them bury me in a suit. I am not going to spend eternity in a stuffy ass business suit. Make sure I’m wearing my khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt because I’m going on the vacation of a lifetime.”
That was toward the end, when the cancer was so bad that her dad spent most of his time in bed, moaning about how he should be up and about doing something. They both knew that the end was near, but Lucy had cried only in private. Her father wanted her to be happy he was moving on to the next life, but she couldn’t understand in what way, shape or form, his dying was a good thing.
So she shed her tears alone in her room until there were no more left to cry.
The fog of the memory lifted from Lucy’s mind and she looked across the grave at her brothers and sisters. The entire brood of Estmond siblings were born with the same color hair as Lucy had been blessed with. Each of them, as well as Lucy and Ethan, held a white rose in one hand. Later, before the grave was sealed, they would each take a turn throwing one down onto the casket, as a symbol of their wish for their father’s peaceful journey into the afterlife.
Just behind her brothers and sisters stood the mourners who came to pay their last respects. Most of them were town’s people whom they had grown up with, except for one group who stood close together, most of them around her father’s age. These were the Keepers whom her family had been closest to over the years. She could see Gloria and Edward White, the Keepers from one of the Napa Valley graveyards standing solemnly beside Ellen and Stanly Evans, who worked in the hospital in Santa Rosa. There were several other Keepers surrounding them who she recognized and made a note to speak to them later.
Beyond them, further out into the trees, the spirits began to show themselves. They appeared in the form of their human bodies, a bit transparent, but solid for the most part. It was harder to see in the daylight, but their misty blue auras swirled around them, helping form the solidity of their bodies.
The spirits were fascinated by funerals. When Lucy was little she used to think that they wanted to say goodbye to someone, but really it was because there wasn’t much else to do in a graveyard except talk to each other and attend burials.
Pastor Brown spoke solemnly, saying kind words and telling her father’s life story. Inwardly, Lucy cursed her father for choosing Pastor Brown, a man who had not known her father and she was sure didn’t give a flying fuck about him either. Her father hadn’t set foot in church since he was a child. Not because he didn’t believe in God, he just didn’t believe in organized religion.
Sensing her tension, Ethan squeezed her hand reassuringly. Turning to her left she looked up and met her best friend’s eyes through the tint of his sunglasses. Even through the dark lenses she could see the sorrow in his eyes. He had loved her father too, just as much as any one of the Estmond clan. In response, she squeezed his hand back and then turned back to stare at the grave again.
“And now, Lucy Mae, Gregory’s youngest child, will say a few words about her father.” The preacher cleared his throat, signaling to Lucy that it was time.
Lucy had no tears staining her face. She had cried all those tears long before the day of the funeral. Again, Ethan gave her hand a gentle squeeze and then released her so that she could reach down and withdraw the folded piece of yellow legal paper out of her miniscule handbag.
As Lucy unfolded the paper she felt like it was taking an eternity.
This day is never going to end.
Finally, the paper was open in front of her and she began.
“I know that this speech is going to sound like the speeches given for so many others who have passed on. But, when someone we love dies, we all feel pretty much the same way … so here it goes. My father, Gregory Estmond, was the best person I’ve ever known. Today, we stand here, not to mourn him, but to celebrate him. He didn’t want any one of us to be sad that he was gone. Because … he isn’t gone. He will always be with us. For those of us who spent each day with him, his teachings and his love will always be with us. He taught us love, he taught us respect, he taught us of our family heritage, and he taught us how to live.
“For those who are acquaintances of my father, you may have met him only once and you are here because he impacted you in some way.”
A few nods came from the crowd.
Lucy continued. “He had that effect on people because he had a genuine love and respect for human life. Which is not something all of us can say we have. He treated everyone the same, with kindness.
“Because my father had cancer, he knew that this day was coming and he had time to prepare for it. We had many discussions and the one thing he consistently told me was to embrace life. He didn’t say this because he was dying, it was his mantra. This man lived every day of his life like it may be his last. He didn’t wait until he was dying to find the beauty in this world or the people in it. He was always this way.
“Remember my father, not with sadness, but with the memories he left behind. Remember him with love, with laughter and knowing that he is exactly where he wants to be.”
Lucy stepped back, reaching out for Ethan to grasp her hand once again. She eyed her siblings, none of them were crying either. Daniel, the second oldest son, reached into his gray trench coat and pulled out a silver flask. Lucy sighed and watched as her brother didn’t even try to hide it and took a long pull of the whiskey she knew was inside.
Sadly, as inappropriate as her brother was being, she couldn’t help but wish she could take a giant swig off that flask too.
It’s almost over.
“Would anyone else like to say a few words?” Pastor Brown offered.
Sherriff Davis stepped forward, he had his Stetson clutched in one hand and hitched up his gun belt with the other. As always he was wearing his uniform. The Sheriff and her father had been pretty close … well, as close as a Keeper can get to someone without that someone thinking that they are out of their mind.
“I’d like to, if that’s all right.” The Sheriff looked down into the grave before his eyes swept across the crowd of mourners. Finally his eyes met Lucy’s and she flashed him a smile meant to encourage him to proceed.
“Greg was my friend … and an old grump like me doesn’t have many friends. Greg knew a lot of people in this town, but I feel damn sorry for anyone who lives here and never had the chance to meet him. No one, aside from my own wife, Darcy, could make me laugh like Greg could. He was loyal and respectful, even if he was a bull shitter. Good grief that man liked to tell stories. Also, any man who can raise a brood of children by himself and manage to keep them all out of jail is a good man in my book.”
Lucy could have sworn that she heard Principal Robertson blow air between his lips like he was blowing a raspberry. A few people looked his way and then back at Sheriff Davis.
“That is all I got.” Sheriff Davis stepped back into the crowd.
Evelynn Andrews, the librarian at the Summer Hollow library, raised her hand slightly. She was about seventy years old, but didn’t look a day over fifty five. Lucy hoped she would age that well as the years progressed.
Evelynn pushed her glasses up her nose and closed her eyes for a moment before she began to speak. “I don’t think I can say much more about how wonderful Gregory was, but I wanted to make sure to pay my respects by voicing them. I’ve known the Estmond family all the way back to when Kathleen was still alive, as far back as when she and Greg were high school sweethearts. No one, could have been a better father to these children. Sure, they have caused a fair amount of ruckus over the years, but he did it all on his own and they are educated, mostly well behaved.”
She paused to glance at Daniel who had decided that moment would be appropriate for another pull from his flask. “And above all, Greg gave these children a sense of loyalty. Anyone who knows these kids knows that if you mess with one, you get the whole bunch of them.”
A few people giggled, even Lucy, knowing how true that statement really was.
“This may not seem like a good thing in retrospect, but a family who stays together so closely is a rare thing these days. It is to be cherished. Greg gave them this sense of family and that is something to be proud of.” As she finished, she closed her eyes again looked Pastor Brown.
“Would anyone else like to speak?” Pastor Brown addressed the crowd of mourners.
Unexpectedly, Ethan released Lucy’s hand and raised it up a little bit. “I need to say something.”
Pastor Brown nodded and held his hand out beside him. Ethan moved over to the other side of Lucy beside the pastor. “There are very few people here who don’t know who I am.” Ethan began. “Gregory Estmond took me under his wing a long time ago, when Lucy and I were both very little. My parents, who have moved away now…”
He paused and took a breath, pondering if he should let out the deep dark family secrets. Well, secrets that the whole town knew anyway. That was how small towns worked.
“They were, drug addicts and alcoholics who barely took care of me. Greg came by the house one day to see my parents for some reason and what he found was a little boy locked in his room with no food or water and his parents passed out in their bedroom surrounded by drugs and trash. The story is a long one, a long sad story. But it ended with Greg and the rest of the Estmonds making sure I always had a place to go, that I always had food. Greg even went so far as to pay me for making good grades, just to give me incentive to do well in school.”
Lucy grimaced as he told the story, hating Ethan’s parents for what they did to him. Ethan had conveniently left out the part about how her father had beat the ever living snot out of Ethan’s dad that day he found him locked up in his room half starved. It was hard to believe Ethan’s parents came from a Keeper line, but sadly, not all Keepers were immune to addiction. Keepers were human, just like everyone else.
Ethan scanned the crowd through his glasses. “No one, except for maybe the Estmond kids, owes more, or loves that man, more than I do. He saved me and I will never forget that. I hope that none of you ever forget that either.”
Ethan lowered his head and hurried back to Lucy. She immediately took his hand again, knowing how hard it must have been for him to say all that in front of everyone. He never spoke about his parents. They moved away when he was fourteen and left him alone in the house. After that he came to live with the Estmonds for good. She and Ethan were friends long before the incident at Ethan’s house, but after he came to live with them, they were inseparable.
Pastor Brown closed up the ceremony with a prayer and then the bagpipes started on Amazing Grace. Lucy stepped forward with Ethan’s hand firmly in her grasp and looked down into the dark, deep hole where her father’s body would spend eternity. Luckily, she knew better than most that his soul would not remain in that body.
She held the white rose firmly over the grave. “I wish you peaceful passage.” She released the rose and it drifted down into the depths of the hole. “I love you, Daddy.”
Ethan mimicked her actions, familiar with the meaning of the ceremony from the many deaths of Keepers past. Her siblings had moved into a line directly behind her and Ethan, tossing their roses in as well.
The other mourners milled about, giving Lucy and the family some time before they headed over to her house for the wake. She caught sight of Gloria and Ellen chatting beside the giant wreath of flowers with her father’s picture inside. She wandered over to say hello. “Gloria, Ellen, it’s been so long since I’ve seen you.”
Gloria smiled, as did Ellen. “Yes dear,” Gloria greeted her. “It has been some time. I’m sorry we couldn’t make it sooner.”
“Or under better circumstances.” Ellen added.
Lucy nodded. “Well, I’m just glad that you could make it here now. I’m sure my father would be happy that you are here now.”
Gloria and Ellen nodded, they made a bit more small talk and then Ethan appeared beside her. “I think we had better get over to the house now.” He whispered just loudly enough for the older ladies to hear.
“Oh,” Lucy checked her watch deliberately. “You are absolutely right. I’m sorry ladies, I need to get some things ready over at the house.”
Gloria smiled again, a loving gentle smile of someone she had known her entire life. “You go on dear, we will see you over there.”
With a quick ‘see you later,’ Lucy backed away and then turned to join hands with Ethan again. “Thanks for saving me. I didn’t really want to talk to them,