Authors: Joyce Scarbrough
The Unfinished Series
Copyright 2014 by Joyce Scarbrough
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the copyright owner, except for “fair use” as attributed quotations in reviews of the book.
All characters in this book are fictional. Any likeness to persons or situations are entirely coincidental.
Original cover design by Malena Lott
Second Edition cover by Treasure Scarbrough
For Tony S.—my Superhero
Thanks as always to the people who support me in everything I do—my husband Tony, my children TJ, Tia and Treasure, and my best friend Lee Ann Ward. Thanks also to my wonderful writing buddies, Carrie Cox, Sandi Buford, Stephanie Lawton, Israel Parker, Chris Cox and Brenda Barry, and to my awesome editor Mari Farthing for all your help in bringing a dead girl to life. I also want to thank my son-in-law Curtis Vickery for reading my manuscript on a Greyhound bus and texting me with 147 helpful comments. And I have to thank Henry Snow for letting us stay at his family’s beach house in Gulf Shores and making me fall in love with that swing at the end of the pier.
hen I heard the car doors unlock at the first red light I came to, I knew I’d made a fatal mistake. For a second I thought I’d accidentally hit the button, then I heard the Ferrari’s trunk pop open and looked in the rearview mirror just in time to see a man running around to the passenger side, a black bandana covering the bottom of his face.
“Drive!” He got in and jammed the nose of a freakishly big pistol into my ribs. “Go to the intersection and make a U-turn. Keep going until you get back to where you picked up the car.”
If I’d still felt emotions like normal girls, I probably would’ve been scared shitless, but the best I could manage was irritation that he’d tricked me.
“Look, you don’t need the gun,” I said. “I’ll do whatever you say.”
“You sure as hell will.”
Even more than his words, the laugh that came from behind the bandana was the second thing that told me I wouldn’t live to see nineteen. Dang, I’d need my fake ID for all eternity. And it wasn’t even a good picture.
I drove until I reached the spot where Courtney had dropped me off half an hour earlier. He told me to keep going over a small bridge and pull off on the dirt road just past. I figured it must’ve been used by people who fished in the lake, but nobody would be there this late at night.
“Pull between those trees,” he said. “Cut the engine and lights.”
I did as he ordered, wondering if I should try to open the door and make a run for it as soon as the car stopped. Before I could decide whether or not I wanted to
risk it, I felt the gun dig deeper into my side.
“Don’t even think about trying to run,” he said in my ear. “The door locks are programmed, and I got the only remote.”
He snatched the keys from the ignition and put them in his pocket, then he pressed the gun into my neck.
“Now we’re gonna do all those things you liked telling me about so much in your messages. You know, all those naughty things you and your girlfriends like to do with the boys and the men teachers at school.”
I tried to swallow, but the gun was pressed too hard against my throat. “Hey, you know none of that stuff was true, right? I made it all up because you said you liked that kinda sh—”
“I know you made it up! I’m not a
, you little tramp!” The nose of the pistol slammed against my cheekbone and set off fireworks behind my eyes. “I’m sure you had yourselves a good laugh over the way you kept feeding me your nasty little stories to get me all worked up. Well I bet your friends won’t think it’s so funny when they find out what it got you. And you sure as hell won’t be laughing at anybody ever again!”
The side of my face throbbed like a toothache and I still couldn’t see straight, but I heard the doors unlock.
“Get out!” He reached across me and opened the driver’s side door. “And remember what I said about trying to run. I’ll shoot you before you take a step!”
I stumbled out of the car and immediately tried to run anyway, but my legs had turned into cooked spaghetti. I fell to my knees on the bank, and before I had a chance to yell for help, a kick to the middle of my back knocked all the wind out of me. Gasping for air on the ground like a dying goldfish, all I got was a mouthful of sand.
“Get up!” He yanked me to my knees by the hair. “Take off your clothes, then get in the back seat!”
“Shut up and do what I tell you!” The gun smashed against my other cheekbone and knocked me sideways. “I’m the one in charge, not
I knew I was close to blacking out and didn’t really care, and that gave me an idea. If I made him mad enough to hit me again, maybe it would knock me out so I wouldn’t have to know what he did to me before he killed me. I struggled to my hands and knees and managed to lift my head so I could say something that would piss him off for sure.
“You’re right, you know. I did laugh at you, you pathetic bastard. The only way you’d
get laid is at gunpoint!”
After a brief flash of pain when the butt of the gun smashed into my skull, I welcomed the darkness.
But my oblivion didn’t last long.
When I opened my eyes again, I was sitting on an upholstered chair in a room that almost looked like the guidance counselor’s office at Tallahassee Premier Academy where I was a senior. But here everything was painted such a bright white that it almost hurt my eyes, and the sign on the door to my left leading into the inner office was lettered in some kind of glowing gold paint.
When I got up to read the sign, I realized I was wearing some kind of weird white dress. Where had that come from? Had somebody found me and taken me to a hospital?
I knew that wasn’t the case when I read the sign on the door: AFTERLIFE ADMISSIONS OFFICE.
“Oh, crap. I’m dead.”
he door was locked, so I turned to go back to my chair and saw another sign on the wall behind it.
TAKE A SEAT AND WAIT TO BE CALLED. NO TALKING.
“Great. I’m in Death Detention.”
I sat down with a sigh, then I noticed a magazine rack next to me that held
Eternity Fair, Deadbook, Spirits Illustrated
. Yeah, no thanks.
Could this place be for real, or was it some kind of purgatorial joke? And if I was really dead, why hadn’t there been any bright lights or sense of floating or any of the other out-of-body stuff I’d always heard about? All I remembered was getting cracked in the head.
I still didn’t feel scared or nervous at all, but that was nothing new. I hadn’t really felt anything since Mommie Dearest had found me in the tub of bloody bath water with my wrist slit and she put me on happy pills.
After who knows how long—apparently there were no clocks or watches in the hereafter—I was about to give in and read one of the magazines when the door to the inner office opened and a man in a white suit came out.
“Jada Celeste Gayle,” he said, reading from a silver tablet in his hands. “You’re next. Follow me.”
What choice did I have? I got up and followed him.
The inner office was the same blinding white as the waiting area, but it was filled with cubicles separated by stained glass walls painted with angels and cherubs. At the far end of the room I could see two large doors with a glowing EXIT sign above them. One door looked like it was solid gold and the other had red and yellow flames painted on it. I had some pajamas with the same fiery logo, but I was pretty sure there was no slumber party going on behind that door.
Each of the cubicles contained a pair of white-clad people facing each other across a counter that held a computer with the monitor turned so they could both see the display. I couldn’t read the screens except for the heading across the top of each one: LIFESCORE 6.2 ®
Tablet Guy stopped at an empty cubicle about halfway down the aisle and turned to look at me. “Have a seat here. Someone will be with you momentarily. Don’t touch anything.”
I gave him a salute. “Gotcha. No hacking into God’s e-mail while I wait.”
He frowned and took a silver stylus from his jacket pocket to enter something on the tablet. “Impudence doesn’t help your case any, young lady. If anyone in this department had a sense of humor, we wouldn’t be assigned to this office.”
After he walked away, I tried to hear what the people in the next cubicle were saying, but everything was drowned out by the god-awful elevator music coming from the speakers on top of the cubicle walls. The best I could tell, it sounded like the Muzak version of
Hannah Montana in Concert
, making me wonder if I was already in the first level of Hell.
A blonde woman wearing a white suit identical to Tablet Guy’s sat down across from me and started typing on the keyboard. “Hello, Miss Gayle. I’m Florence, your Afterlife Advisor.”
“Florence, huh?” I said. “Doesn’t sound very angelic to me.”
“Since I’m not an angel, that’s really not an issue.” She gave me a look without a trace of humor. “I’d think your recent unfortunate experiences would have at least taught you not to be so quick to make assumptions.” She went back to typing. “Let’s take a look at your account, shall we?”
?” I almost laughed. “You mean I was supposed to be saving money to bribe my way in here or something?”
“No. It’s your Afterlife Account, and it’s what determines whether or not you’re admitted and where you’ll be assigned.”
“Oh, jeez.” I leaned back in my chair and looked at the ceiling. More angels. With harps. “If you’re gonna put me someplace like this, I’d rather just burn for eternity.”
“No, this department is reserved for people who had no sense of humor when they were alive,” she said. “For the most part, we’re staffed by IRS agents and high school English teachers.”
I did laugh at that. “Okay, so what’s my assignment? Scrubbing floors for being a slob while I was alive? No—I got it. Washing all this white gear for being a fashion freak.”
Florence sighed and looked at the monitor. “I’m afraid you won’t be staying with us at all, Miss Gayle. There’s an administrative hold on your account.”
? Who put it there?”
One of her eyebrows went up. “It’s an
hold. Do you really need an answer to that question?”
“Okay, fine. So what does it mean exactly?”
“It means, Miss Gayle, that in order to clear your account, you’ll have to serve time as a Transdead Trustee back on Earth.” She typed something else. “I’ll print out your instructions and answer any questions you may have before you’re sent back.”
“Sent back?” I sat up in my chair and leaned forward. “I get to stay alive?”
“Not exactly. You’ll be among the living and will appear to be one of them, but you won’t be alive,
.” Printing sounds came from under the counter, and she bent over to collect a stack of papers. “Here are the details of your specific assignment along with some general guidelines for Trustees. I’ll explain anything you don’t understand after you read it.”
I took the papers and scanned the one on top, then I looked at her as if she were crazy. “I have to track down predators until I find the one who killed me? Are you kidding me?”
“Another pointless question, Miss Gayle.”
I threw the papers down on the counter. “Okay, then here’s a question for you. Why do I have to go back as some kind of psycho zombie chick as punishment for what that sicko did? He’s the one who should have to pay for it, not me!”
“Oh, he will. Make no mistake about that. Your job is to bring him to justice sooner than he expects, possibly putting others like him out of commission along the way.” She pointed to a yellow box of text at the bottom of my assignment page. “And you’re not being punished, you’re paying an early termination fee. As are all Transdead Trustees, you’re being sent back to complete what was left unfinished in your life.”
“That’s a load of crap!” I slapped my hands on the counter. “Just send me to burn and be done with it.”
“I’m afraid that’s not an option. You had a verbal contract with us that must be honored.”
She typed something then looked at the monitor. “This one.”
I watched the screen go black, then I saw myself when I was thirteen, kneeling on the floor next to my bed with my eyes turned heavenward. Florence turned up the volume on the monitor, and I heard myself promising that I would do
to keep my best friend Cassie from dying of leukemia.
“But that’s not fair,” I said. “Yeah, Cassie went into remission, but look what happened to her later. I shouldn’t have to keep a promise for
“I’m sorry, but we don’t argue semantics here. You said you would do anything, and now it’s time to pay up.”