Virginia wasn’t his type of place, Keaton Mercer decided as he drove along. Rolling hills, an army of multi-colored trees, and enough red cardinals to make the University of the Incarnate Word jealous weren’t his favorite things. It had nothing in common with Arizona which–Keaton suspected–was why Gale Jackson had moved here after his sister’s death. How he was going to brooch that subject, Keaton had no idea, but he was running out of time to figure it out.

Ten minutes later he pulled up to a modest house with blue and white trim. Located in an isolated lot surrounded by pines, it looked like the building had attempted and failed to morph into a condo. Keaton stared at the house and forced himself to take several deep breaths. He grabbed a folder from the passenger’s seat, exited the vehicle, and walked toward the front door.

Before he could knock the door opened, revealing a man in his mid twenties with blond hair and weary green eyes.

“Mr. Jackson, I’m Keaton Mercer, a P.I. out of Arizona.”

A flicker of recognition when through Gale’s face. He silently took one of Keaton’s cards and glanced at it.

“It’s nice to meet you Mr. Keaton, but I haven’t lived in Arizona for five years. I don’t know how I can help you.”

“You can tell me about your sister, Brook.”

Gale’s head jerked up. “My sister’s dead, sir.”

“That’s what I’d like to talk to you about Mr. Jackson.”

Gale studied him for a moment before opening the door, Keaton followed him inside and to the back of the house. He was led to a small study with two arm chairs arranged next to a window. Gale took one, Keaton the other.

“We didn’t have an easy life,” Gale said quietly. “Especially after our parents died.”

“Brook was arrested for their murders,” Keaton said. He’d spoken to Clara in more detail on his way up here.

“The charges were dropped,” Gale said sharply. “My parents deaths were an accident. It was simply their time. Brook knew that and tried to prevent it.”

“By talking to thin air?”

“By talking to the reapers,” Gale said.

Keaton paused. “Excuse me?”

Gale took a deep breath and released it. “The reapers are Death’s way of collecting the souls of the dead.”

“Reapers don’t exist,” Keaton replied nervously. “No one has ever seen them.”

“Most people can’t,” Gale replied. “You need the Gift, the ability to see the dead, in order to see the reapers.”

Keaton shook his head. Ghosts? Reapers? He might’ve discounted it right there and hightailed it for the door, but something sparked in his memory. Mrs. Hernandez claiming that her daughter had plead with the nurse to keep the ‘ghosts’ from hurting her father. Did the child have the Gift, as Gale put it? Crazy as it all sounded, it had just enough insanity to be true. Still, Keaton had to be sure.

Gale continued speaking. “I’m not talking about the Billy and Mandy Show, or Gothic Art. These beings are real and they usher the dead from this world.”

“Like you sister,” Keaton asked.

“No, like me.” Gale took a deep breath before continuing. “The reapers had intended to collect my soul when Brook saved my life. She died to give me a second chance.”

“Perhaps,” Keaton countered. “But she hasn’t been so forgiving with others, especially since she’s not dead.”

“My sister is gone,” Gale insisted. “I don’t know why your here Mr. Mercer, but I don’t appreciate you trying to dig her up. Brook was a good person and never harmed anyone.”

In response Keaton pulled a photo out of his folder and handed it to Gale. He glanced at it and immediately paled, a look of utter shock on his face. Keaton didn’t give him a chance to recover.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” he said quietly. “And they tell the most interesting stories. That photo shows a woman speaking to a ghostly image of your sister dressed as a nurse. What’s truly interesting is that the woman’s husband–who was recovering from life threatening injuries–flatlined five minutes after this encounter.”

Gale didn’t respond. His eyes were fixated on the picture, a horrified look on his face.

“Where is she,” Keaton pressed.

“I told you, she’s dead.”

“Lies!” Keaton leaned forward, putting steel in his voice. “I don’t know how you faked her death, but this is real. I have a list of partial recollections and transparent images stringing across the U.S. People kill others while they’re alive, not when they’re dead.”

“Do you think so,” Gale replied quietly. “Do you think that death is the end, that once we die nothing comes after.”

“Of course.”

“Then you’re wrong Mr. Mercer,” Gale said grimly. “Death is not an end, but a beginning. Why do you think ghosts linger in our world?”

“Are you telling me that your sister is a ghost,” Keaton asked. “A vengeful spirit who drags people into death?”

“I tell you nothing,” Gale said, returning the photo. “But you didn’t bring the police with you. That tells me that they either can’t, or won’t help you. As for my sister, her soul did not linger, and I’ve no knowledge of what happened to her after.”

As much as he hated to admit it, Gale was right. Keaton had had a gut feeling about this case from the moment he’d heard the word ‘ghost’. He wasn’t a believing man, either in faith or any sort of afterlife, but he couldn’t deny what he was seeing. The question was, what the hell was he going to do about it?

Keaton shook his head and stood. “Thank you for you time Mr. Jackson, but I need to catch my flight back to Arizona.”

“Are you going to kill her?”

“How do you kill someone whose already dead,” Keaton asked. “But I have a widow who wants close and I gave my word that I would try.”

Keaton nodded and headed for the door. He was half way across the room when Gale spoke.

“Wait.”

Keaton turned to see Gale had stood, a determined look on his face.

“If my sister, or someone else, is killing from beyond the grave, then you’ll need someone who can operate in that world.”

“You,” Keaton replied skeptically.

“Yes,” Gale said. “Me.”