Miguel hadn’t been able to sleep. He had needed to know Eliseo was safe throughout the night, and he couldn’t exactly do that while sleeping. Instead, he had sat beside his son’s bed, his back to the wall, his eyes on the door. He had checked the locks on Eliseo’s bedroom windows an unreasonable amount of time in the few hours between Landon dropping him off and Landon pulling into the driveway.
But it was better to be safe than sorry, especially when it came to his son’s life.
Miguel checked in on Eliseo one more time before walking out to the foyer. He unlocked the door and, after letting out a heavy breath, opened it. “Landon.”
“We have a problem.”
“What kind of problem?”
Landon stepped into the house, closing the door behind him. He crossed his arms over his chest. “I know this has all been a lot for you to take in, and i-it’s about to get even harder, okay? Are you ready for that?”
“Do I have a choice?” Miguel asked.
“Technically. I can just not tell you, and I can do this on my own. It’s not the first time I’ve hunted for a monster.”
Landon shook his head. “I don’t do it very often, and it’s normally only after Nora drags me into it. But no, not my first rodeo.”
“How many have you taken out?”
“Nora does most of the heavy lifting, but I’ve taken down… maybe ten?” Landon offered.
“Jesus,” Miguel whispered.
“It’s not as many as it sounds like. I mean… it is ten of them, and it sounds like ten of them, but you know what I mean. In comparison to the people who do this on a stronger basis, ten is nothing.”
Miguel blew out a harsh breath. Landon spoke about it all like it was nothing, like it was normal. Monsters being real, supernatural beings hunting down and killing people, people hunting down and killing those very same beings. But it wasn’t. None of it was nothing. None of it was normal. Monsters were supposed to be nothing but fairy tales, nothing but stories meant to show children that the good guys always won.
Jesus Christ, it was so far from normal.
Miguel cleared his throat. “What, umm… what did you need to tell me, then? That’s going to make it worse?”
“You’re sure you wanna know? Because there’s a lot to this world, and once you know about it, you can’t go back. I-if you don’t wanna be in all this, I don’t want you to be forced into it just because the monster ran through our town.”
“This is about my boy. Even… even if it wasn’t for the psychic thing, this fucker told my boy that he was going to die. I need to know, even if I don’t want to.”
After a moment, Landon nodded. “Before you called me to babysit when you needed to go out to that crime scene, I spoke with the kid’s ghost. I talked to him again when I got home, and it, umm, it turns out he never saw a Reaper after he died.”
Miguel was certain these little supernatural chats with Landon would eventually stop his heart so hard it wouldn’t start again. “Reaper? Like… the grim reaper?”
“Sort of. But there isn’t just one of them. There are a lot of them, and they’re assigned to specific areas of the world. The one for this section of the world didn’t come to claim that boy’s soul, which means one of about three things.”
Miguel forced himself to nod. “Walk me through ‘em.”
“One, the Reaper is dead. Two, this is a no-signal zone for Hell, or three—”
“Hell? He’s a child.”
Landon shook his head so fast, Miguel was surprised he didn’t break his damn neck. “The Reapers live in Hell. I-it doesn’t mean the souls go to Hell. God won’t let them in Heaven because they deal with souls that… that go to Hell.”
“So God is…?”
“Real. Yeah. Not quite the guy in the Bible, though. Anyway, umm, option three? It means this monster can hold souls. Trap them.”
“Why would it want to do that?”
“Couple reasons. Umm…” Landon cleared his throat before swallowing. “Trap them as an energy source. Trap them for sport. Or… for snacks.”
“Jesus Christ,” Miguel whispered. He scrubbed a hand down his face. “How do we find out which it is?”
“Identifying the monster is a surefire way to figure out what he could be doing with the souls. Talking to Lucifer to see—”
“You’re shitting me, right?”
“No, Lucy and my sister are sort of… close-knitted friends at this point.”
Miguel couldn’t help the laugh that burst past his lips. He raked a hand through his hair. “What the hell is your family, Landon?”
Landon offered a smile and a little shrug. “I wish I knew. I bet I don’t even know half of what Nora’s done with the supernatural. She’s always been a bit on the wild side.”
Miguel snorted. “So it’s your turn to catch up, huh?”
Landon’s smile grew. “Maybe a little.”
“Okay, so…” Miguel shook his head. “I don’t even know how to begin to ask anything without sounding crazy.”
“You’re talking to a psychic who accidentally dated a Vampire in college, who was only using me to make his allegedly Gorgon ex-girlfriend jealous. So no judgement.”
One corner of Miguel’s mouth lifted. He wished like hell there was time for that story now. As long as they all ended up with their souls intact by the end of this bullshit, maybe he’d ask about it then. Once Eliseo was safe.
“How do we go about talking to Lucifer, and what are we supposed to ask him?”
“We need to make sure the Reaper in this area is alive. Lucy won’t know much, but Fate or the Reaper–if they’re alive–will. We can find out more about the boy’s soul that way. We need all the info we can get our hands on. It’ll help us identify what the hell this monster is, which will help us figure out how to kill it.”
“How do we… get in touch with him?”
“I’ll text Nora. Like I said, they’re basically close-knit friends.” Landon pulled out his cell phone. “Pretty sure she has his number.”
“I’m not even going to tell you how crazy that sounds.”
Landon only flashed a smile.
Miguel pushed away from the wall and turned to face Eliseo. “Hey, mijo. What’re you doin’ up? Did you have another bad dream?”
Eliseo shook his head. “You weren’t there when I checked for you. Needed… to know the monsters didn’t get you.”
Miguel squatted down to the boy’s height and lifted his hands to his cheeks. “Daddy is never going to let any monsters get him or you. I’m not going to let anyone or anything take me away from you.”
Eliseo’s hazel eyes scanned his father’s face. “Promise?”
“I promise. I’m not going anywhere, buddy. You’re stuck with me for another forty years. Maybe sixty.”
A little smile spread across Eliseo’s face. “Eighty.”
“That means you have to take care of me when I’m a hundred and twenty-three.”
Miguel snorted. “I’ll see what I can do.” He pressed a kiss to Eliseo’s forehead and pushed himself to his feet. “Daddy’s gonna work from home today, so you’re stuck with me all day. But first, I have to run to the station to get a report from the forensics guy. So you’re gonna hang out with Landon for, like… an hour. And then I’ll be back with coffee for the grown ups, chocolate milk for you, and breakfast donuts for us all. Okay?”
“Okay,” Miguel whispered. “How about you and Lamby go find some cartoons, huh? Landon will be there in a few.”
Miguel watched the boy run off to the living room. He turned and wrapped a hand around Landon’s bicep. “Lock the door when I leave.”
“And don’t open it. You have a key. I know, Miguel.” Landon laid a hand over his. “You go get your report, our coffee, Eliseo’s chocolate milk, and our donuts. Then you’ll come home, and Eliseo will be here, safe and sound.”
“Thank you,” Miguel whispered. His eyes fell to Landon’s hand, which quickly dropped away. Miguel cleared his throat, pulling his hand away. “I’ll, uh… Yeah, I’ll head out. I won’t be long.”
Miguel bent down and grabbed his shoes. “What, uh… What donuts do you like? Casey’s? HyVee?”
“Casey’s. I like the ones with the light brown frosting, preferably with sprinkles.”
Miguel smiled. “Eliseo likes those the most, too. Two sprinkled light brown frosting donuts coming right up.” He tapped Landon’s chest with the toes of his shoes. “Back in a bit.”
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