The Inheritance

Jun 30, 2022

This story uses characters from Hololive, and is published in accordance with their Derivative Works Guidelines.

Two old women sat in the parlor, around a table that might possibly be older than the two of them put together. They cast furtive glances around the room, filled with an endless parade of knicknacks even older than that. A fly buzzed in idle loops above the table. Things had not been quite right lately. Ever since Gerard died, they’d started to look more seriously at their own mortality, and things not being quite right made a much larger impression on them than it used to.

The fly froze in midair, and fell motionless between a cup of cold tea and a half-eaten biscuit. Very dead.

The women quickly cast worried looks at each other. When they had been younger, they’d made a name for themselves as mystics. Not very famous outside the Bordeaux area, but well-known enough to make a living. That was a long time ago, but even now, they clearly felt an unwelcome presence. Death had come for Gerard, but he had not yet left.

Things had been not quite right lately.

In the corner of the parlor, Death leaned her scythe against the wall and let out a long, frustrated sigh.

Well, not Death strictly speaking, but at least an apprentice of Death. An apprentice who was likely to stay an apprentice forever unless she started bringing back some more results. She had already been here way too long without anything to show for it. The fly really had it coming, but it wasn’t exactly on the agenda. And there was no way she could go back to the underworld bragging about reaping an insect. Those two old women would probably shuffle themselves off the mortal coil without much help.

Reapers weren’t meant to intervene where nature could do just as well. They were only needed when something went askew.

Calli took a small stack of tiny notebooks out of her pocket. Small, cheap looking things with cardboard covers, bound shut with rubber bands. She had no idea why most people’s books looked like this, but it was almost universal. She’d asked Death about it once, and he’d said something like, “Oh, that’s what you see?” in a way that Calli wasn’t quite sure was deep or just condescending, so she’d never pushed the issue.

The book on the top was labeled Gerard Montague. She flipped all the way to the end, something she’d countless times since she arrived in this forsaken house, and read through the last lines again, hoping something might pop out at her on the hundredth read through.

Gerard Montague ignores the sound of his nagging sisters, and closes the door to his antechamber, unable to bear the endless prattle any longer. He opens the window to let in some fresh air, and laments that his fortune will probably be squandered by his idiot son. He sits at his desk and closes his eyes.

That was how it ended. It wasn’t that the actions of Gerard Montague were at all strange or out of place right at the end, it was just that this was all there was. After he closed his eyes… nothing. Usually when somebody died, the book dutifully wrote it down, albeit in the most banal fashion possible. But right at the end of Gerard Montague’s book, all he did was close his eyes. So strictly speaking, he was not dead. Which was weird, given his body was currently lying with no obvious complaints in the family mausoleum. Calli knew this, because she’d checked. Gerard Montague should be dead, but somehow he wasn’t. Figuring out why was Calli’s job.

She put the books back in her robe pocket. When she had started this job, she’d naively imagined holding on to magical books that literally spelled out the events of somebody’s life would have made everything easy. Just flip backwards through the pages until she figured out what it was that had caused the problem in the first place. Reality wasn’t even close.

The books themselves were useful diagnostic aides, but there were limitations on just how useful they were.

Firstly, the books were written from the perspective of the person whose life they chronicled. Also, most people had their heads so far up their own asses that their grasp on reality was skewed at best. So not ideal.

Secondly, they only described what the person was consciously aware of. Even if something pivotal to their lives was taking place in the next room, if they didn’t know about it, it wasn’t written in the book. And when the subject was asleep the books wrote nothing at all.

Thirdly, the books degraded along with the memories of their subjects. Usually the start of everybody’s book, around the time they were children, was a blurry mess with only a few particularly important memories scrawled over and underlined. For older people like Gerard Montague, there were considerably more blurred out patches scattered all over the place as age took its toll on their recollections.

And when the subject was possessed by an immortal space faring multidimensional demon, all bets were off.

There were, no doubt, other rules or limitations as well, but when she’d asked Death about it he’d been irritatingly hand-wavy about the whole thing, and so she’d abandoned that line of questioning as well.

All of which led to her being here, somewhere in the southern part of France, trying to figure out why Gerard Montague’s life didn’t end properly.

“What are you two muttering about?”

The voice belonged to Henri, Gerard’s aforementioned idiot son. He was that kind of annoying person who seemed to think being rude was equivalent to being witty, and had spent most of his life without accomplishing anything more than traveling back and forth between Paris and the countryside. Calli had flicked through his book, and it was self-indulgent to the point of absurdity. But also nothing particularly special. People as self-indulgent as Henri existed everywhere.

“You should watch your tone, Henri!” Chided one of the women, Anna. “There is something unholy in this place.”

Both old women, Anna and Rose, were Gerard’s younger sisters. They weren’t twins, having a few years between them, but somehow age had made them look identical. They had taken up temporary residence here as soon as Gerard’s health had begun to deteriorate, much to Henri’s chagrin. Until the will was executed later this week, the house wasn’t his enough to kick them out and no matter what he said they weren’t budging.

“The only unholy presence here is you two vampires,” Henri muttered in response, and made his was to the small cupboard where the liquor should have been.

“What was that, Henri?” Rose asked.

“Nothing. Where’s the brandy?”

“You’re drinking already? It’s not even the afternoon!” Anna tutted.

“I’ve no choice but to drink, don’t I! What with that wretched child who just stares at me. Who wouldn’t drink?”

Anna shot him a stern glare. “You mustn’t talk of poor Jean so coldly!”

“Ha! So you know who I mean then!”

“He loved his grandfather, that’s all,” Rose sighed. “Now is the time you should show the boy more love.”

“Rubbish. Where is the brandy?”

“Listen to you. You treat him like a stranger. No wonder he stares. He’s only eight, Henri. You cannot expect an eight-year-old to rationally accept the death of his grandfather.” Rose looked at him sourly.

Henri threw his arms up. “Can’t a man relax in his own house?”

“It’s not your house yet, Henri.” Anna reminded him.

“No. Not yet,” Henri glowered at them coldly, and stormed out.

The house that Henri did not yet own was out in the south of France, on the ocean side of Bordeaux. A ways out from anything you would confuse for a big city, and almost entirely inaccessible without an automobile. There was a small village nearby, though not quite nearby enough for the people that lived there to stumble across the house by chance. It was large. Not quite as large as it might have been, but large enough that the family gathered under its roof could more or less stay out of each other’s way. There was a small cottage behind the main building where staff could stay, but these days most of the housekeeping was taken care of by an agency who sent their workers in each day in the back of a van and took them home again at night.

When he had been a boy, Henri had spent the holidays here, bored out of his brain trying to find insects to torture, while his father ignored him and his mother sat in the parlor growing progressively drunker. The rest of the year he spent at a boarding school in Paris, where his family owned a little flat he now occupied half the time.

As an adult, he hardly came here at all, though he sent his own children as often as possible to get them out from under foot. The place put him on edge, and the sooner he could assign it to a real-estate agent and have it sold off the better.

Calli followed him through the house, upstairs to the master bedroom, where his wife Celine was lounging on a sofa with a half filled glass in one hand, watching the television. As he came in, Henri reached for the remote lying on the desk by the bed and turned it off.

“Where did you get that drink?” He demanded.

“I was watching that.”

“Watching what? The news? Waste of time. You should read a newspaper.”

“What’s wrong with the news on the television?”

“What’s wrong with it! As though I have the time to list all the things. Nothing more than a mouthpiece for corrupt politicians. Where’s the brandy?”

“Find it yourself, if you’re going to be so unpleasant. They saw it, by the way.”

“What? Saw what? Who saw it?”

“That thing that keeps appearing over London, they saw it over Paris just last night. There was footage and everything.” Celine motioned at the television with her chin, and sipped from her broad glass cup.

Henri threw his hands in the air.

“My god! Who cares about some fake apparition! Where is the brandy!”

Celine savors the brandy, and watches as her husband impatiently rifles through cupboards and drawers. She wishes that he would drop dead like his misogynist father.

Calli put away Celine’s book, which she had opened out of habit. Honestly she was amazed how much time Celine spent wishing her husband was dead.

“And how do you know it’s fake?” Celine pushed him, making no effort to hide the irritation in her voice.

“The next time I go to Paris I’ll take a photo for you. If it’s still there. A helicopter, or a balloon, or some nonsense. The English are mad to pay any attention to it at all.”

“They say it’s an angel.”

“An angel. My god. Listen to you. You sound like those old women. They told me that they feel something evil in the house.”

Celine frowned. “I don’t know about that, but there’s certainly something off about this place.”

“At last we agree. Have you seen those children today?” Henri asked, while he rummaged around a cabinet. “Ah! Oh.” He cried out in triumph, then frowned in disappointment as he realized he had only cooking sherry. “Well it will do.”

“You cannot go a full day without a drink, can you,” Celine observed.

“You’re one to talk.”

“I saw Jean outside earlier. François I think I saw him moping about in his room.”

“Honestly, those two have become even worse since father died.”

Celine shrugged. “They were close. You basically sent them here to live.”

“The way Jean looks at me now,” Henri shuddered, “it’s as though he wishes I were dead.”

He was interrupted by the service bell that chimed from the wall.

“Dinner time,” Henri gave up on the cooking sherry. “I hope I can have a proper drink while I eat, at least.”

The family sat around a table, staring at each other in silence. Neatly dressed catering staff laid their plates in front of them, bowed politely, then excused themselves to wait util they could collect the dirty dishes and go home. Henri tore into his food without ceremony and downed half a glass of red wine in one mouthful. He looked like a man that hadn’t eaten in months.

The children had finally made an appearance. Two small boys with blond curls, sitting quietly at the end of the table opposite their father. The younger of the two, François, stared down at his plate and poked at the artfully arranged vegetables. His elder brother Jean sat with his arms folded. He glared at Henri as though he were trying to burn holes into the man.

Henri, not being oblivious, would occasionally look up from his food and grunt, his face grewing redder and redder.

The showdown went on for what seemed like an uncomfortable eternity, until finally Henri lifted his knife off the plate and pointed it in the direction of his son. “Don’t you look at me like that!” He spluttered with a mouth full of steak.

“Henri!” Rose’s eyebrows knitted together.

“What! Look at the way he stares at me! All through dinner he’s been sitting there staring at me!”

François looked down even more uncomfortably at his plate, but the outburst only seemed to steel Jean’s resolve.

“How can you be so cruel to the boy? He feels upset about his grandfather’s passing! And here you are being a monster!”

“I’m just trying to eat my steak!”

From beside Henri, Celine made a non-committal noise and sipped at her wine. “You are being sort of a monster, though.”

“Enough out of you! The whole lot of you are-“

Henri stopped mid-rant, and stared at his family.

The adults looked blankly at each other, and then at Henri.

“Henri, the suspense in killing us, what are we?” Celine asked.

Henri didn’t answer, but looked at his wife with a strangled expression.

“Henri?” Celine said again, this time getting to her feet.

“Papa?” Jean pushed himself out of his seat, eyes wide.

Henri made a half strangled noise, looked around at the others accusingly, and fell face forward onto the table.

“Henri! An ambulance! Somebody call an ambulance!” Celine screamed, and rushed to her husband, trying to roll him onto his back.

Henri stands in front of his useless family, unable to move or speak. As the poison reaches his brain, he has an aneurism and dies.

Calli watched as Henri’s spirit slowly stood up, and walked away from his body.

“Oh. They were right, you were here,” he frowned at Calli, then sighed. “Oh well. Do you know which one of them did it?”

“Sorry,” Calli shook her head, “no idea. It was poison, though.”

“Poison.” Henri looked pointedly at his wife, but then shrugged. “Well, better than being stabbed to death I suppose.”

He was taking it all pretty well, but then Calli found most people tended to take dying a lot better than they might have while they were still alive. She motioned at her scythe. “You want me to reap you along? Or are you cool?”

“No, I’m fine. I’ll see myself out. I might take a walk through the woods first, if you don’t mind.”

“Fine by me.”

Henri nodded, and walked through one of the walls.

“I don’t see why the two of you are looking at me like that.”

Celine scowled at Rose and Anna. The two old women scowled at Celine. The police and ambulance had all gone, and the house was quiet. The three women sat around the table drinking the brandy that Henri had never been able to find. The children had been sent to bed upstairs, which had been an operation fraught with much sobbing and clinging. At least by Jean, who was convinced he’d killed his father by staring at him.

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, dear boy,” Celine had said, trying to make him feel better. “If you could kill people by glaring at them I’d have killed your father years ago.”

It had not made him feel better.

The youngest child, François, seemed to have fallen into some kind of trance. He kept looking blankly at his mother until she sent him off with his brother.

“We are looking at you like this because obviously it was poison that killed him,” Anna said bluntly.

“And?” Celine threw one hand up, nearly spilling her drink. “Poison! It was poison! And? You think that because I’m his wife I’d poison him? I would never do anything so cliche.”

“Cliche! What a way with words you have! Murder is murder!”

“Mind your tongue, old woman! Do you see wearing handcuffs? The police were here, and they didn’t take me away.”

“They also said you weren’t to leave the house,” Anna reminded her. “Or they would take you away.”

“A technicality,” Celine waved it off. “I did not murder Henri. He was an ass, make no mistake, but I have nothing to gain by killing him.”

“You gain the estate.” Rose leaned back and gestured around the room. “It goes to the boys. Eventually. But Henri would have been in control of the money until they were old enough.”

“Long enough to squander it on booze and other women,” Celine agreed.

“But with Henri dead, you are in control of the house, the money.”

“And for that, you think I murdered my husband.”

“Henri would have squandered the money. You said yourself you would have killed him years ago,” Anna reminded her.

“Oh don’t be so pedantic. Obviously I wasn’t being serious. And for your information, this estate isn’t worth enough for a murder. We’re already well-off enough without worrying about this run down château. Henri would have sold it for pennies then thrown those onto our own pile of money. I certainly have no love for this place. When the deed is signed over to me I shall be doing the same.”

“The boys love it here,” Rose reminded her.

“And yet I can’t help but feel it is inconveniently far from everything, with no obvious benefits for being so isolated. I’d be happy to sell the place for enough to cover the agent’s fees. The cost of maintenance alone would drive us to bankruptcy.”

“Gerard chose this place for a reason, Celine. Before age got to him, he was a much more… Multilayered character,” Anna mused, “and very clever. And he always complained about the same things you did. The house is too far out from anything. The cost of maintenance is ridiculous.”

“And? Why didn’t he sell the damn place then?”

Anna shrugged. “He said it was worth the cost. Being out here, with few roads going in, and nobody to run into you by accident. There will come a time when being easy to find is as good as signing your own death warrant, is something he used to say.”

“It sounds like he was crazy a long time before the Alzheimers got him.”

“Maybe. But look now at that thing that everybody speaks of above Paris. Maybe it’s not so bad to be inconveniently far from everything.”

Celine turned her glass about in her fingers, and stared levelly at the two old women. “Just what was Gerard doing before… You know.”

Rose glanced about nervously and interrupted them. “Let’s not speak more of that. Gerard was many things. The house is what you will of it. Leave it at that for now. I don’t wish to speak of the things he did in his youth, and I fear Death still watches over us tonight.”

In the corner of the room, Calli rolled her eyes.

“Well on that note, I think I shall turn in,” Celine downed what was left in her glass and stood from the table. She left the two old women and swayed unsteadily out of the parlor.

Anna and Rose sat in silence, both staring at different corners of the table. Was this what it was like to grow old as a human? Calli wondered to herself. You became slowly more and more tree like? Maybe they were just tired. It was exceedingly late, after all. It looked like maybe one of the two women was about to say something when there was a sudden, horrible sound from the next room.

A loud rustling thump, thump, thump, ending with a sickening crack, and then silence. The two old women stared at each other in horror, while Calli rushed out of the parlor to see what had happened.

When she walked through to the next room, she was momentarily surprised to find Celine standing with arms crossed, glaring right at her. Surprised, until she noticed Celine’s body lying in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the stairs, neck twisted about and jutting out at an angle it should not have been. Celine was a ghost now.

Her eyes shot up to the top of the stairs, but there was nobody there. At least not any more.

Celine heaves out a breath as she gets to the second floor landing. She turns about at a sound from below, thinking it may be a mouse, and feels the ground begin to move beneath her. She sees the stairs tumble past, and very briefly catches a glimpse of something on top of the landing with dark eyes. She hits the wooden floor with enough force to break her neck, and dies.

“My god!” The sound of the two old women bustling through the door pulled her attention back.

Peripherally, Calli noticed that Celine’s soul hadn’t yet made any moves. When she looked more closely, she saw the grimace on Celine’s face was slowly creeping further and further down. The edges of her mouth hung outside the frame of her face, distended away as though they were being pulled out by wires. Her outline was starting to grow dark and hazy.

Angry soul. Wandering ghost. She couldn’t leave this one to its own devices.

Carefully, Callie used her scythe to reap Celine across the middle. The woman slowly began to buckle forward, and then drifted away into a shallow cloud of dark motes that bounced chaotically about the blade before they evaporated into nothing at all.

Celine, too, was dead.

The police did not appreciate being called out a second time to the far off manor. The detective took one look at Celine, knelt over to smell the brandy, sighed and quickly declared it an accident.

“An accident!” Rose had protested, but the detective had held his hands up.

“She drank too much, slipped, fell down the stairs.”

Calli looked up to the second floor landing, where the children were sitting with their legs dangling between the wooden railings. Jean looked catatonic, and François had fallen asleep with his head jammed between two rails.

There had been something else up there. Celine had seen it, briefly, before she fell down the stairs. Or was pushed. Something dark. Calli walked up to the second floor, put her scythe over one shoulder, and scooped up François with her free arm. She tapped Jean on the shoulder.

“Come on, you gotta get to bed,” she urged him. The child looked up at her blankly for a second, then nodded, and followed her back to his room. Most people couldn’t see her. Some children could. Being in a state of shock usually helped too.

The two children shared a room. There was a bunk bed to the side of a tall window that looked out over a little garden, now starting to light up with the new day. While Jean climbed to the top bunk, Calli placed François in the bottom bed and pulled the covers up to his chin. It was still cold out.

She took his book out of her pocket, and flicked though it out of habit. As was common with the books of children, it was full of blank spots and faded words, intermingled at times with pages worth of vibrant description.

Her eyes looked over the last few pages, and her lips pulled down in a frown.


She snapped the book shut, looked up at Jean, who was leaning over the top of the bunk bed.


“Is Maman dead?”

“Yes. I sent her soul on afterwards.”

“Alright,” he nodded, and was about to go back to sleep when he seemed to think of something else and poked his head back out. “Are you going to take my soul tonight as well?”

Callie shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. But you really need to get some sleep.”

Jean pursed his lips. “Did you take Maman’s soul because she was bad?”

“No. I took her soul because she fell down a flight of stairs. She needed some help moving on is all. Being bad or good doesn’t have much to do with it.”

“It doesn’t?”

“Nope. But you know, I only move people along. Nobody’s really sure what happens after that, so maybe it is something you gotta worry about later. Right now, for real, you really gotta sleep.”


Jean nodded, and disappeared back over the top of the bunk bed again. No doubt, one hundred percent, he would forget about this conversation before he had drifted off.


Calli sat on the roof, watching the sun slowly creep up over the dense forest that surrounded the estate, up to the garden where it began its slow, daily sweep over the mansion.

She looked down at the last entry in François’s book again.

François falls asleep. He is woken by…

…he is woken by the sound of a commotion downstairs, and leaves his room to investigate. He seems his mother lying on the floor below, and realizes that she is dead.

The books of children were patchy at the best of times, but that passage read strange. If she had seen it any other time she might have assumed the boy had just fallen asleep and woken up again, but the way the lines cut in and out like that bugged her. And then there was the thing Celine had seen last night before she fell down the stairs.

“Or was pushed? Probably pushed. And I still don’t know what happened to the old coot, either,” Callie reminded herself.

She dropped lightly to the garden, grass wet with morning dew, and prowled about the outskirts of the house. As far out as she could reach, she couldn’t feel any trace of a spirit, malevolent or otherwise. Nothing large enough to physically move a human body, anyway. Henri, true to his word, had wondered about the forest a while then vanished along with the fog in the morning.

Come to think of it, she hadn’t particularly felt anything last night when Celine had fallen down the stairs. Something that big prowling around should have at least put the hairs on the back of her neck on end.

She wondered into the kitchen, where the staff who had come again this morning were nervously putting breakfast together, talking in hushed tones. Calli doubted they’d be here for lunch. Nobody felt comfortable being here.

She walked through the parlor, where the two old women had already planted themselves around the table. Seriously, did they even go to bed last night or were they permanently rooted in place?

She was missing something. Something obvious. Something that she should have realized right away, but had somehow managed to elude her. It was annoying as hell.

Calli threw a glare at the two old women and kept wandering around the house. She floated up to the second floor, drifting in and out of the bedrooms. There was a small nook at one end filled with a few odds and ends, but otherwise nothing. The room where Celine and Henri had been staying in was filled with that heavy silence that seemed to swell up in the places the recently living had left behind.

She headed back down the stairs and wandered the first floor. The kitchen, that dining area where Henri died, the parlor where the old women had set down roots, the entrance. That was all there was to this house, wasn’t there.

No, wait a minute.

Gerard Montague ignores the sound of his nagging sisters, and closes the door to his antechamber, unable to bear the endless prattle any longer. He opens the window to let in some fresh air, and laments that his fortune will probably be squandered by his idiot son. He sits at his desk and closes his eyes.

Antechamber? Was there one of those? Calli kept haunting the first floor, until finally she found it. A room right at the end of the house. She studied the closed door through narrowed eyes.

She had seen this door before, right? She could have sworn she had. So why hadn’t she actually been in this room yet? She’d been here for at least a week, but somehow every time she’d drifted past this part of the house she’d managed to ignore this door.

Kind of the same way that people managed to ignore her even when she was standing right behind them.

“This isn’t right,” she muttered and turned the handle.

Inside, she discovered a narrow study, maybe half the size of the parlor. One of the walls was lined entirely with bookshelves, filled with what must have been thousands of dusty volumes. At the end of the room was a little window, looking out over the garden, and a small desk covered with scattered papers. It all looked exceedingly normal.

This is where his entries stopped being written. Where Gerard had maybe died, even if there was no mention of his death. After this point the words just stopped coming, as though whatever force was responsible for writing them down had given up.

So why hadn’t Calli bothered to look in here before now? She ran a finger along the spines of the books. Nothing stood out to her. A lot of natural history, some architecture, philosophy. The kind of bookshelf that was put together to be looked at from a distance rather than read. The papers on the desk were little more than scribbles. Nothing interesting.

Hoping to get a feel for what it was to sit down here alone and do whatever the addled mind of Gerard Montague had contrived to do, Calli walked back to entrance and closed the door.

“Ah, that’s interesting.”

On the back of the door glimmered the remnants of a pentagram.

Not a very big one, its diameter just a little smaller than the width of the door. You could see where it had been drawn on a little thicker, the residue of energy still clinging to those parts of the inverted star. Calli reached out and prodded it with one finger, but the barrier was mostly decayed. This must have been what was keeping her away, though now it seemed to have faded enough that it no longer held any sway over her.

While her nose was inches from the door, she was surprised to hear somebody turning the handle from the other side. Calli jumped aside to avoid having the door swung in her face.

François stepped into the office and quietly closed the door behind him. Muttering under his breath, he quickly trotted to the bookshelf and ran his fingers along the spines until he got to a slim volume with faded gold lettering. He hooked his finger over the top and was about to pull it off the shelf when he was interrupted by the service bell, and one of the old women calling his name.

“François! François! Come for breakfast!”

François scowled, but quickly left the room.

Calli stood staring thoughtfully at the door for a few moments, then turned her attention to the bookshelf. What on earth had that kid been about to read? She leaned in to looked more closely at the title.

A Catalogue of Sightings and Fields Reports Regarding the Eternal Phoenix

“What the hell?” Calli went to pick it out and have a closer look, but instead of coming free from the bookshelf, when she pulled on the small book it swung forward and held at an angle. There was a hollow clunk from behind the wall, and the whole bookshelf slowly swung open.

Calli’s eyebrows shot up, admittedly impressed. A secret passage wasn’t something you saw every day in the human world.

She pulled on the bookshelf, which swung open like a big door to reveal a set of concrete steps leading downward. Curious, she followed them down until she figured she must be below the house, and came out in a wide basement.

From all around her, Calli could feel the seething aftertaste of magic. The walls were lined with long boards bolted to the stone, covered from end to end in mismatched books, binders, and endless journals. The floors were piled with all manner of foreboding junk. Bottles filled with suspicious grey liquid, candles, and skulls for whatever reason.

“Sorcery. Why does it always have to be sorcery,” she sighed, and walked further in to have a closer look.

In the middle of the basement was a long desk, large enough that Calli wondered how it had gotten in here in the first place. It was covered with stacks of handwritten notes and diagrams. Whatever Gerard had been up to down here, it didn’t look like the work of a man losing his mind. What had that old coot been up to?

As she started to leaf through the papers left on Gerard’s desk, the answer started to make itself apparent. Being essentially an immortal incarnation of Death, Calli had never bothered being particularly adroit at the human black arts, but at least this much she could patch together.

Corporal Transference.

The old man had been researching how to move his soul into another body.


Calli left everything as it was and flew up the stairs. It wasn’t like she had any particular attachment to any of these mortals. She was Death, after all. What difference did it make to her if a few more of them had their lives snuffed out a little ahead of schedule? It wasn’t like there were any checks and balances for that sort of thing. So long as your soul went where it was supposed to, the rest figured itself out.

François was not at the dining table, where two plates of fruit and bread were waiting, untouched.

Of course. The children’s bedroom. Upstairs. Calli rushed up the stairs and to the room where she’d put the boys to sleep the night before. When she threw the door open, she saw it. Him. Gerard Montague.

The boy hung limp, like a puppet left dangling by its puppeteer, his arms by his side, fingers twitching, head lolled backwards, eyes misty white. From his nape reached a long black plume of ashen smoke, swelled up into the shape of a man, eyes gleaming like coals, standing at the foot of the bed, glaring down at Jean.

It wasn’t like she had any particular attachment to these mortals…

As the shadow bore down on Jean, Calli blasted forward and scooped Jean out of the top bunk. She tilted her body to one side, moving out of the way of the shadow’s long fingers, hopped off the bed frame, and pivoted about so she landed on the wall opposite. Her feet planted firmly onto the vertical surface, and she glared at the monster that had taken up residence in François’s body.

“M-Miss?” Jean stirred in her arms.

“Do me a favor and don’t talk for a bit.”

Jean looked back over his shoulder and, catching sight of the thing hovering over his bed, his whole body tensed.

It twisted over to look back at them, its eyes burning with unnatural energy. Calli saw only the faintest glimmer of intelligence in there. Something was driving it forward, but at least at this very moment, it was more like a wild animal. The thing let out a gargling roar, and swiped at them again. Calli lightly leapt up out of range, landing on the ceiling as its long fingers raked over the space she’d only just been in, ripping up the wallpaper and gouging out long blasts of plaster.

Seeing it had missed its mark, it threw both its arms up, trying to pin Calli in place, and jolting François about as it maneuvered about the tiny space. Callie let gravity take a hold over her, spun back about and landed on her feet. She jumped back again, and deposited Jean behind her. With both hands free she held her scythe in front of her.

The thing swung back to look at them, and Jean finally caught sight of his brother. “François!” He tried to rush forward but Calli held him back.

“Stay out of it, kid. That thing’ll rip you in half.”

Calli went to swing her scythe, but the creature recoiled and held out the small boy like a shield. She clicked her tongue, and whipped the scythe back before it could touch him. She went to attack from the others side, but again it twisted and turned, and kept its shadowy body behind the small child.

“Don’t hurt him! Don’t hurt François!” Jean pleaded.

The monster grinned at them, its smile a swirling dark cloud, and swung its claws at Calli again. She held her scythe up to halt the blow, but as the claws met the thick wooden shaft, they fogged and faded, and swept right through, before continuing as thought the scythe had never been there at all.

Calli craned her neck back, and had to throw herself sidewards to avoid her head being ripped off her shoulders. It was an awkward position, but she managed to bat at it with the handle of her scythe. It didn’t connect or cause any damage, but the monster backed off long enough for her to regain her balance.

Calli growled in frustration. She could see how this fight would go. Every time she swung her scythe, the monster would retreat backwards, throwing the boy in the way. And whenever there was an opening it would lunge forward, slipping past her own weapon like smoke.

Not hurt François? Tall order. It wasn’t like she wanted to hurt the kid, but it was starting to look like there wasn’t much choice. It wasn’t like she had to justify herself to the other one. And besides, if she didn’t do anything this monster would probably kill the rest of the family anyway.

Well, everybody had to die sooner or later. Calli gritted her teeth.

“Sorry kid,” she muttered under her breath.

She swung her scythe again, and like before the creature threw up François like a barricade. But this time, before the scythe could find its mark, Calli saw something shoot out from the corner of her vision. Jean bolted, and thew his arms around his younger brother.

“François!” The two boys collided, and toppled to the floor. The monster looked down in surprise. It probably hadn’t been expecting that either. And then its eyes went wide as the Calli’s swing passed through the space where François had been, and sliced through the thin cord holding the apparition to the boy’s neck.

Wordlessly, the shadow peeled up, away from François, and dissolved into the corners of the room. The boy shuddered in his brother’s arms, and was still.

“Ahhh, well that didn’t really go as I’d planned.”

Calli heard a voice from behind her. When she turned she saw a well dressed gentleman, smiling gently down at the boys, arms folded.

“Gerard? That you?” She asked.

He looked up at her, and nodded. “Yes, mademoiselle. That’s me. Though where is the other one? Are you new?”

“Wait, you’ve seen Death before?”

“Ah, no, don’t get me wrong, it’s precisely because I was trying to avoid seeing him that I’ve read quite a lot on the subject. You weren’t quite what I was expecting.”

“I get that a lot.”

“Don’t take it the wrong way, please, I think I’d rather this to a giant skeleton,” Gerard sighed, and looked down at the children. Jean was yelling for his grandmothers. “Is he also dead? François?”

Calli shook her head. “No, but I couldn’t tell you what having a spirit glued to him for so long will do.”

“I miscalculated. I thought I’d be able to get rid of that bufoon Henri, and let the inheritance make its way to the boys. Maybe I’d move on after that, but…” His eyes crinkled, and he made a sour expression. “Not all of me made it through. Only a few memories. I forgot why I was there in the first place, and then somehow it became more important not to dead. Poor Celine. I’d have done the same to Jean. I suppose I’m dead now anyway. At least they’ll get the inheritance.”

“The money?”

“Money? Why would I give them money?”

Gerard faded away. Everybody left the world in their own way. Some people needed guidance, some people wanted one more lap around the pool. Some people just stopped being.


Calli looked down to see Jean standing in front of her. François was lying on his back, a pillow under his head.

“Were you talking to granpapa now?”

“Yes,” Calli nodded.

“It was him, wasn’t it? The… the thing on François.”

“Yes and no. More no than yes.”

“Will he come back?”

“People don’t really do that. Sometimes they just hang on a bit longer than they’re supposed to.”

“I see,” Jean looked down at François, then back up at Calli. “Miss, do you think I’ll see you again?”

Calli took a long breath, and looked down at him appraisingly. Everybody dealt with death differently. Chances were that after a few weeks the trauma would kick in and this whole exchange would get shoved into the repressed memories file cabinet where it could peacefully get on with causing adult neurosis.

“Maybe one more time. But probably not while you’re alive.”

Her business here was done. There was nothing else she could do asides cause more repressed memories. She raised her scythe, and temporarily raised the curtains between worlds. When she lay the base of the handle back on the floor, she was gone, leaving Jean and François to get on with the tattered remains of their lives, and deal with whatever tangled mess counted as the last will and testament of Gerard Montague.