Author: David Burton
Genre: Dark Horror / Fantasy
Length: 465 pages
Release Date: July 10, 2015
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.
Interview with Sneaker, a female Soul RetrieverOn a fine summer night I sipped my second beer at an outdoor cafe in San Francisco. My friend, the author Penelope Swan, was telling me about her latest book when I spotted Sneaker striding down the sidewalk.
I’d never met her, only heard the stories told in hushed voices about what she did for a living. Nobody really believed the stories. Some thought she was a spy, or an undercover cop, or even a cat burglar. I believed the stories. My family had had occasion to hire a Soul Retriever. I’d only half believed my grandfather’s bedtime tales when I was kid. But experience and twenty years of research led me to believe.
Through anonymous contacts, I’d set up an interview with Sneaker. Ordinarily, I would have introduced myself and told her I was looking forward to our interview. The smooth strength and purpose of her stride and the don’t-even-think-about-fucking-with-me cast of her eyes caused me to think better of that idea.
Sneaker passed us without a glance. Though I have no doubt she was completely aware of her surroundings.
What was Sneaker thinking when I saw her? Where was she going with such purpose? Had she just returned from Hell? Was she searching for the girl who changed her? Or was she always so grim? Those were some of the questions I wanted to ask when we finally talked.
The next day I received a phone call, she had to cancel. Ten days later we met for lunch. I knew by then why she’d canceled, but she didn’t want to talk about it. That's another story.
*************************We met after dark in a steak house restaurant with fat booths and dim lighting. Sneaker arrived with no fuss. Raven hair cut short, round face, glistening Asian eyes, she had an athletic body that moved with effortless smoothness. She ignored the scrutiny of all the men in the restaurant. With a raised eyebrow many of them silently mouthed, “Whew,” Wow,” or “Oh man,” shook their heads, and wisely decided she was way out of their league. Wives and girlfriends stared, too, wondering where they could get the cool confidence Sneaker so gracefully carried. If they only knew.
I’d chosen the back corner booth. She sat so as to be hidden from view. She wore sneakers, jeans, a green T-shirt that brought out the intense green of her eyes, and a short leather jacket. Just another soccer mom. We exchanged names and hellos. Then she pinned me with a gaze I couldn’t meet.
Flustered, I dropped the recorder, twice, and studied my notes, attempting to remember how to speak without my voice cracking. The touch of her cool fingers on my hand sent a jolt through me. I felt the power in her even through the light touch.
Sneaker smiled at my bumbling and said, “Relax, I only bite in self-defense.”
I sucked in a breath. “Right.” I sipped water and said, “I saw you on the street about ten days ago just before your emergency. You looked rather grim. Had you just returned from Hell?”
Sadness washed over her face as she spun her beer bottle in a pool of water.
“I was going to see the woman who hired me.”
“With bad news?”
“It’s not unusual that along with the good news that the soul is in Heaven, there’s bad news, too. You spend some intense time with the souls you retrieve. All are relieved and grateful to be going to Heaven. Some are angry. They tell you things. Sometimes that information will help bring balance to the universe.”
“Like in Getter’s book, Soul Retrievers, with Brittany?”
“Yeah, I thought it was not right when the soul’s sister called me. Not her husband.”
“From my own research, and from Soul Retrievers, my understanding is that information given by a soul cannot be brought back to Life. How then can you bring back this information?”
Sneaker stretched out her long legs on the seat next to me and sipped her beer.
“Simply, the Universe in it’s quest for balance has decreed that information from a soul meant to be in Hell cannot leave Hell. I assume because souls in Hell are “Evil” and therefore have no right to influence Life, which is supposedly “Good.” Souls that are retrieved are not meant to be in Hell, therefore anything they tell us can be used to help restore the so-called balance of Good and Evil.”
“You said, ‘So called balance.’ You don’t think there’s a balance between Good and Evil?”
“Sure, at some instant in time a balance might occur, but we’re a long way from that.”
“On which side?”
“There’s a lot of evil people doing bad things, these days. A lot of good people doing bad things, too. Though they think they’re right and are on a mission from God to make all other people see things their way. A lot of evil is done under the guise of – 'I’m the only one who knows what’s right so do it my way or else.'”
“Righteousness leads to evilness?”
“It’s a short road from one to the other.”
“In Soul Retrievers, Getter speaks of a coming war in Hell. Do you think that could somehow be influencing the rise of Evil now?”
For a moment I felt the full weight of her gaze. Then she relaxed. I bit forced I thought.
“That’s a good point. Mephisto has increased Helland Security’s reach lately. They’re everywhere. The bad vibes are everywhere. They could be leaking out, reinforcing Evil. Look at all those misguided terrorists. All that violence is stupid. Believe me, it's not going to get them the afterlife they it will. Yet they do it anyway.”
Our food arrived. Sneaker wasted no time biting into a huge, very rare, cheeseburger. I started on a dry grilled chicken breast with broccoli and carrots. She glanced at my plate and shook her head. Between fries and a slug of beer she said, “All that stuff is good for you, but I’d rather have a greasy cheeseburger any day. You never know, tomorrow you might die in Hell. There, you’re more likely to be a demon’s burger than eat one.”
She caught me eying her fries. Indicated I could have some. I did. And jumped right in.
“I thought you only needed blood to survive.”
Her eyes went dark and seemed to bore a hole through my head. I wondered if I was being glamored. Would I know it? Eyes still on me, she tore off a bite and chewed, a smile of satisfaction on her lips.
“True,” she said after a slug of beer. “But nothing satisfies like a bloody cheeseburger. No offense to vegans.”
“Easy to say when you're immortal and don't have to count calories,” I said as I downed a handful of fries.
“There are some perks.” Her expression turned pensive. “To being what I have become.”
“Have you found the one who changed you?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head with frustration. “She's vanished into the city. I'm sure we'll meet up eventually.”
Sneaker gave a little shrug and picked up her burger with both hands. “Then I ask her why. Then I kill her for real.” Eyes blazing, she ripped a big bite off the burger. I got the impression she was thinking of the girl's neck as she did it. I also sensed that the subject of vampires was closed.
“So how did you become a Soul Retriever?”
A long, slow draw of beer seemed to calm her down. “Like most of us, my family had dealings with one of them. I eavesdropped the first time he came to the house. The idea of going to Hell excited me. For two weeks all my fantasies were of fighting demons and saving souls.”
“How old were you?”
“Just seventeen. I had a black belt in Kung Fu, but the rest of my life was totally ordinary, meaning boring. My father was very strict and old school. Females were meant to keep to themselves, do what they were told, marry who they were told and have babies. I never cared for dress-up, or make-up, or being told what to do. I did have a secret boyfriend at the time. But when I started talking about how cool it would be to go to Hell and battle demons and save souls, he dumped me. No loss.”
“A black belt at seventeen. Pretty impressive. How did you get involved in martial arts?”
Sneaker finished off the hamburger and wiped up the last of the ketchup with the last of the fries. With a contented sigh, she swung her feet back onto the seat and inspected the desert menu.
“My father was a master of Push Hands. He wasn’t that big, but he could focus incredible power into his hands and feet. Unfortunately the discipline needed to become a master did nothing for his serenity or compassion.”
Sneaker’s mind went away for a minute. Her face softened and a bare wistful smile floated up the corners of her mouth. The only time I saw a real smile. She came back.
“The only time my mother defied him was when she helped me take secret Kung fu lessons when I was thirteen. Tai Chi was too slow for me. I wanted more action.”
“You wanted to be able to really kick ass.”
Sneaker just shrugged and continued studying the desert menu.
“What happened with the Soul Retriever your family hired?”
“When the guy came back and reported to my parents and grandmother, I marched right in and declared that I wanted to be a Soul Retriever, too.”
“How’d they take that idea?”
“My father freaked. He went off on a rant about young girls and their stupid ideas. He said, without actually saying it, that being a Retriever was man’s work and silly females, me in particular, couldn’t cut it even if they had the chance.”
“I don’t imagine that set well with you.”
“Made me more determined than ever.”
“What about the others?”
“My mother didn’t say anything, as usual. I could see the pride in her eyes, though. She knew I could handle it.”
“That was Destiny?”
The waitress came and we ordered dessert.
Sneaker continued without any prodding.
“He let my father rave on, all the while studying how I reacted. When he left, he slipped me his card. The next day I went to see him.”
“When did you first go into Hell?”
“I had to be eighteen, so he trained me for a year before I got my first glimpse of Hell. It was another year before he allowed me to assist in a real retrieval. Scared the shit out of me. Those demons are real.”
Our desserts arrived, a triple scoop fudge brownie sundae for her. Inspired by her choice, I went all out and had apple pie, sugarless, a la mode.
The waitress cleared the table, asked if we wanted anything else. After she left, Sneaker said, “Do you think they have any Black and Blue wine in back?”
“I doubt they have that kind of liquor license,” I said. Of course I’ve never experienced Black and Blue wine, one has to go to Hell to do that. The two parts have to be mixed exactly right or the wine is lethal. So probably a good thing it was confined to Hell.
Sneaker slumped back, hands in pockets, legs stretched onto my seat. The interview was about over for her, whether I was finished or not. I wanted to ask at least one more question while I had the chance.
“Destiny is the Retriever all others look up to. You know him better than any. What do you think is his destiny? Will he really retire, or die in Hell. Is he Hell Crazy?”
“He’s not Hell Crazy. He doesn’t think he’s a frackin’ demon. He retired as a Soul Retriever, but apparently not from messing around in Hell. And he’s too damn stubborn and too damn smart to die there.”
She sat up then. Drained her beer, put on her cap and sunglasses. “Orbuck told me that Getter was important to Hell, but Destiny was more important than that. I think the Cosmos or the Powers That Be or whoever runs the Big Show, has something in mind for the both of them. And seeing as they don’t really get along, I bet it’s going to be interesting.”
In one effortless motion she slid out of the booth. She stood over me, stuck her hand out. “I gotta go. Thanks for the snack.”
I took her hand, tried not to wince. “Thank you. I appreciate your taking the time to speak with me. Maybe we could talk again sometime?”
She took her hand back, stuck both hands in her pockets. Even through the sunglasses I felt her scrutiny.
“You’re going to present this as fiction, right? Not as if it’s real. Right?”
“Pretty much. Nobody would believe it anyway.”
“I don’t do fiction. Keep in touch.”
She walked out of the room grace, courage, beauty, determination personified.
Once again, all eyes followed her.
AUTHOR INFORMATION & LINKS
David Burton is an American writer living in sunny Southern California. After traveling by motorcycle through Mexico, US, Canada and Alaska; building and sailing his own boats to Mexico, Tahiti, Hawaii, and through the Panama Canal to Florida, he turned to writing. He mops floors and collects trash for money, writes for a living, and is an unrequited sailor.
Soul Retrievers came from a short writing class I took further back in writing history than I care remember. It was only six classes and four were about non-fiction which I had no interest in (though I did get an A+ for my movie review). And still don't. I'm a fiction guy all the way. Making stuff up is more fun than reality.
The first fiction assignment was to write about getting ready to take a trip. I didn't want to write about preparing a to go to Grandma's house with a basket of goodies. That's been done. I wanted to go someplace different. At that time there was a news story about a man who'd been sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit. A group of lawyers exonerated him. Somehow that translated in my head to a soul being sent to Hell by mistake. If that happened – who would rescue him?
Getter, a Soul Retriever, who else? That's where the getting ready with Christine section came from.
The next assignment was to start the trip.
Well, if it was easy to get to Hell, everybody would go – Ninety-nine percent of them nowhere near prepared. So it had to be a secret way and it had to have a degree of difficulty, hence, the tunnel. Writing those two assignments, I had no idea of writing a book about it. But, once I got our hero to the brink of Hell proper, he had to keep going, didn't he?
Getter needed a sidekick, of sorts, so the occasional appearance of the murdered in Hell Soul Retriever, Gregory Alexander MacConnechy Farquharson.
Getter also needed a partner/love interest/rescuer/damsel in distress, so, Sneaker. Originally, Sneaker was a beautiful, kick ass, Soul Retriever with a chip on her shoulder, but she eventually morphed into a beautiful, kick ass, vampire, Soul Retriever with a chip on her shoulder because she didn't think the male Retrievers respected her ability to do the job. The men are, of course, wrong. She's a new vampire, barely a month old and still figuring out not only where was the girl who changed her, but a new life style, and her new powers that worked differently in Hell than in Life.
And what's a trip to Hell without a villain? Mephisto, the Chief of Helland Security wants to take over Hell from Satan. But there's a Prophecy about the future of Hell that Getter wants nothing to do with, but Mephisto believes. And that's bad news for Getter and Company.
Soul Retrievers is an action adventure journey through Hell to retrieve the soul of a ten-year old girl. And Spit Lizard and Blackweed stew along with Blind Fish eggs in Lavaflower sauce sounds yummy.
Vampires in Hell
What if you were a good vampire, not the evil rapacious, blood gorging kind, and went into Hell for work, not pleasure, what do you think the obstacles, or advantages would be? How would Hell, and its different rules and environment affect you? Not at all? Would you lose your strength and superior senses? Though there is no sun, would you still have to sleep? Do you think there might be places that have something equivalent to sunlight that you'd need to avoid? Could you drink demon blood? Could you still die the real death?
In my vampire stories the vamps have about a half hour max of sunlight before they're flame and ash. There's no sun down there so can a Vamp walk around "Outside" with impunity? Yes they can walk, run, fight “outside,” but the particular wavelength of light in Hell slowly weakens them. However, a little time in a dark cave is as good as a solid 8 hours of coffin time.
And what about here in Life? It's pretty well accepted that they can't go into the sunshine. Is that because the ultraviolet rays destabilize certain chemicals in the skin which react with the new vamp enzymes which make the blood flammable? Or is it because they spend so much time in the dark they lose the protective melanin in their skin and they die of a bad sunburn? What if they went outside for maybe ten minutes at a time and got a nice tan. Would that help? If vampires ever come out of the closet maybe an entrepreneur could set up Vampire tanning salons. Just think, Vamps in the Sun Tanning Salons, open 24 hours. A million dollar idea if ever there was one.
What if a vampire wanted to enter your house but you didn't invite him or her in? What would happen if they tried? Would they hit a force field that might shock them with a spray of supernatural sparks? Maybe a force field that was just – there. Maybe they could enter anyway, but within say, a minute, they grow weak, drop to their knees, and are unable to move, at the mercy of you. But enough time to attack you and crawl back out the door. Don't stand too close to that door when the vamps come knocking! Maybe if they enter without permission they become sick; cramps, pain, vomiting and other ways of discharging various bodily fluids, until they disintegrate into a gooey mass, or, if you live in Buffy world, an instant pile of dust. In Hell, Retrievers are like bounty hunters, they can do what they want. No warrant needed and screw Helland Security.
You can't mention vampires without mentioning blood. In life, that's us. A steamy hot slug of red blood, human (preferred) or animal, will satisfy the Hunger. But in Hell, so far Sneaker has found that only Bandylegger blood is palatable… barely.
So if a vampire went to Hell on purpose to do a good deed, (it could happen), would Hell consider him or her as a human or a soul, or an other? I say Vampires should be considered human, not some undead beasts. They act in their own self interest and don't give a damn about anybody else or the consequences of their actions. What could be more human than that?
As for vampire souls, I think if you die (and you do have to die) and comeback as a vamp your soul goes to Limbo. When you die for real (by flame or decapitation) the soul is taken from Limbo, dusted off, and your record gets judged in Purgatory like us us mortals.
What if you die and awaken as a vampire. You're dead. Your soul has gone to Heaven because you were a good person. So, you have no soul, but you're still up and walking round and thinking. You should be able to come and go to Hell or Heaven as you please. Therefore, you'd be the perfect person to go either place and gather information about crimes from the dead bad guys in Hell or dead good guy witnesses in Heaven. Maybe in the near future such information and testimony would be accepted by the courts. You'd work for the Dead Witness Information and Testimony (DWIT) division of the US Marshall’s office. If you went up to Heaven maybe you could have a chat with your own soul. Maybe work with yourself. Good pay, travel to exotic places, meet interesting beings, and as long as you didn't get your head cut off, long term employment. What a deal.
What if a vampire used the no entry without an invite rule to commit a murder. I don't have it worked out yet, but maybe there's something like a flexible force field (think balloon) at the door. A vamp can push into the field, stretching it into the house. The victim comes to the door, sees who is, says no entry and backs away. The vamp pushes in, grabs the victim and breaks his neck. The field forces him out of the house, and it also keeps him from touching the floor. The victim might be found in the middle of a freshly vacuumed carpet with no footprints on it. Sort of a locked door mystery. I'll let you figure out how the hero Detective figures out how it was done.
BTW – If you lose your head (literally) you're dead meat, goo, or dust, no matter what or where you are.
My Vampire stories – Blood Justice, Blood on the Water, Soul Retrievers, An Accidental Vampire, New Blood, Young Blood, and Down Home – http://dcburtonwriting.wordpress.com
Interview with Sneaker