Due to be published July 10, 2015. See below for pre-order links.
Paperback edition available now from – https://www.createspace.com/5383275
When an innocent soul is accidentally sent to Hell, loved ones can hire a certain specialist to return the soul to Heaven Gate. However, if the specialist dies in Hell proper, his soul is trapped there for eternity. These specialists who risk eternal damnation are known as Soul Retrievers.
Getter has begun an assignment he takes personally, perhaps too personally: retrieve the soul of a ten-year old girl, the same age his own daughter would have been had she lived. This time, however, a strange plot is brewing behind the normal dangers of Hell. Retrievers are disappearing, including Getter’s brother-in-law, and an army is forming in secret. Teamed with Sneaker, a female Soul Retriever dealing with her new “Life” as a vampire, and an odd collection of Retrievers and souls, Getter only wants to finish his mission. But whispers of prophecy have told of a war between Satan and Mephisto, the Helland Security Chief, and have named Getter as a man with a destiny he does not want.
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Paperback edition – https://www.createspace.com/5383275
Soul Retrievers first pages –
When people die, their souls go to Purgatory where it’s decided whether they go to Heaven or Hell. The process is not perfect; an occasional clerical error is made and an innocent is sent to eternal torment.
When a soul is sent to the wrong place, the person who cared most about the deceased when alive (not always the obvious choice) begins to have disturbing dreams, sometimes visions, and a distinct feeling of unease, as if the universe is out of balance. Through a priest, or perhaps a counselor or therapist, the loved one is put in touch with certain specialists. Armed with information and pictures, and a check, the specialist goes into Hell, finds the misplaced soul, and delivers him or her to Heaven Gate for proper processing.
There is risk. If the specialist dies in Hell proper, his or her soul is trapped there for all eternity.
Retrieving souls is a secret to all but a few, though it has been going on for centuries. Retrieval helps restore the balance between Heaven and Hell, makes the purgatorial bookkeepers accountable, keeps the demons of Hell honest. These specialists who risk damnation are known, among those who know of them, as Soul Retrievers.
The way to Hell is not straight. It twists and turns, goes up and down, is infinite in length, but finite in time. Sometimes you step through a shimmer that blocks the tunnel and know you’ve taken a giant step toward the eternally expanding and contracting Netherworld.
I stepped through one of those shimmers and, seeing what lay ahead, crouched down right there and took a big breath. In front of me stretched a long straight section of tunnel with a bulge about two thirds of the way to the next curve. This section occurred at a different location each time I went to Hell, and I knew what it was. I pulled the hood of my fireproof jumpsuit over my head, made sure the suit was sealed tight, and walked carefully on.
The bulge glistened with continuously moving facets — Jump Bugs, thousands of them. They covered the wall and ceiling, forming a gauntlet ten feet long and barely two feet wide. Each about an inch long, Jump Bugs scoured sections of the tunnel, cleaning it of the constantly oozing slime so that the walls were pristine black rock. They also ate anything that lived. So long as they weren’t touched, they left you alone. Touch even one, it jumped, followed in seconds by the rest of the colony. Their tiny mandibles can strip a man to the bone in minutes. I saw it happen.
A couple years ago somebody managed to follow me into the tunnel. I had turned the far corner when I heard the scream. I ran back within ten seconds, but it was already too late. All I saw was a whirring, churning mass of black on the floor. A bug covered arm pushed out, and was immediately sucked back into the frenzy. Not a single Jump Bug remained on the wall. I got as close as I dared, aimed my gun where I thought the head should be, and fired. Maybe I spared the man, or woman, a few seconds of pain and horror.
I hope so.
Just around the corner from the Jump Bugs are the Tongue Vines. If you’re lucky enough, and fast enough, and aren’t brought down by the sheer weight of the Bugs like a lion brings down an antelope, you might make it to the Vines. The Tongue Vines are whip fast vines with rough, flat pink leaves like cats’ tongues. They love Jump Bugs. If Bugs are on you, you must stand still and let the Vines scour them off. But don’t stand too long. The Vines will not stop when the Bugs are gone.
A few feet from the Bugs, I stopped and removed my small backpack. I breathed in slow and deep to get my chi flowing. Heart racing, I held the pack and my walking staff in front of me, turned my shoulders to make myself as thin as possible, and walked quickly through the gauntlet.
Ten feet on the other side I stopped and breathed again. One obstacle down, an infinite number to go.
I continued on. A half mouth, spiky tooth, cat-sized creature darted crookedly at me. I call it Wylie E Coyote because it always returns no matter what I do to it. It has seven unevenly distributed legs, so it has a hard time moving in a straight line. I flicked it away with my staff, but Wylie is a tenacious little beast and kept nipping at my boots. Though in a hurry, I couldn’t quite bring myself to shoot the little demon. Besides, easy in, easy out. Gunshots invite notice wherever you are. I kept flipping Wylie away until I stepped through the next Shimmer. Ten minutes later, my time, the rosy glow of Hell proper appeared in the distance. Eager to be out of the tunnel, I nevertheless forced myself to slow down. There was always a Sling Spider ahead, somewhere.
The cool damp of the tunnel turned warm. The slime dried into razor sharp flakes that rippled with a blood-red glow over the uneven surface. This moving pattern hid a deep indentation ahead where a Sling Spider waited. The way looked clear. The unwary might stride confidently forward, glad to be out of the stifling corridor. They would never make it to Hell by doing that. Not the way they intended, anyway.
The spider waits in a deep fissure in the rock wall, camouflaged by a fine web that resembles the dried slime. A thicker, elastic web is hidden behind the fine one. The spider stretches the center of the web and attaches it to the back of its lair. Then it waits in the center.
The body of the spider spans about one foot wide by two feet long. It has thirteen legs, ten facing out, two to hold on to the web and one that, when the beast detects enough motion, cuts the anchoring strand, launching the spider at its prey. Its three foot long legs wrap around the unfortunate, the single red claws at the end pierce the victim’s flesh. Six inch pincers administer a paralyzing poison. Then the spider stores the meal and sucks it dry at its leisure.
I stepped cautiously down the center of the six foot wide passage. It could be on either side. I took a step, scanned ahead, took another step. There, ahead on the right, the pattern seemed different. I moved slowly to the left, gun ready in case I had a chance to shoot. I kept my eyes to the right, continuing to move below the spider’s movement threshold.
I took another step, close to the left side. A hot breeze blew into the tunnel. The razor scales on the right side rippled. I looked for the dull yellow eyes of the spider behind the scales. I saw only solid rock. There was only one other place it could be. I froze. The skin on my back crawled as I felt eyes on the back of my neck. I wanted to bolt. In my imagination I felt the thick, furry legs wrap around me. Felt the pincers close on my head. Saw my body hung in a corner, the spider slinking forward to suck me dry. I didn’t panic, but I damn sure wanted to.
I held still for two minutes. I visualized Tai Chi movements. Calm. Calm.
Slowly I turned my head to look behind me. Through the thin web I saw the spider, a big one, not five feet away, yellow eyes waiting with arachnid patience for me to move. If Sneaker had been there with her new super vamp speed, the big bug wouldn’t have had a chance. I had to do the opposite.