The Boon Collector (Soul Debt)|
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Copyright ©2013 Sara Jay
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Tisha Sanderson tucked her pale blond bangs behind her ear and grimaced at the envelope. Yet another one of her ex's bills glared back at her from the contents of her mailbox. Jeremy had left her both broke and broken-hearted months ago, yet traces of him remained through debt.
Crinkling her eyes to hold back tears, Tisha could only sigh. If she could go back in time and kick that loser to the curb before he did this to her, well... She probably wouldn't have, she admitted to herself.
She was lonely, after all. Jeremy's mess and callousness and cruelty might have been awful, but the silence she came home to each day was nearly as unbearable.
Trudging up the sidewalk to her front door, she couldn't even look up from the paper, yet another reminder of Jeremy. Wedging the pink envelope between her teeth, she jiggled the keys to her front door out of her purse and sighed deeply again. Reaching up to push the door open, she gasped.
The door stood open already.
Pink paper fluttered to the grass as she opened her mouth in shock. That, that jerk! Tisha's mind sputtered for an appropriate response, but all she could do was tremble. If he came to beg for money or cry for help, he would have another think coming.
Some women might have cursed and slammed the door wide open, demanding an explanation. Some might even whip out a can of pepper spray, prepared for any intruder awaiting. Timid Tisha, though, could only hover in the doorway of her own home and meekly squeak out, "H'lo?"
She couldn't help it. She had always been the shy one, picked last for sports and unable to fit in with any of her peers. Feeling as if she never truly belonged, she'd become a kindergarten teacher, where she fit in with the power level of most of her students. The mild temperament she displayed at her place of employment wasn't for school alone, but her entire demeanor. It was as if she had never left kindergarten herself.
When she didn't receive an answer, Tisha crept into the dimly-lit living area, preparing to see furniture tumbled over in disarray, or perhaps Jeremy standing there, smirking or drunk as usual. But everything appeared to be in its place. It did seem hotter than usual in the house, especially for a light March evening.
Unsure of what to do next, she grasped her purse tightly, carefully making her way through the home her parents had left her. "J-Jeremy?" she asked, her voice cracking. "Is that you?"
She hated the way her heart sped up, almost hoping that her deadbeat ex had invaded her house. Get a grip!
The closer she got to the kitchen, the hotter she felt. Sweat began to pearl on her forehead. Tisha absently wiped it off with the back of a wrist, wondering why her kitchen lights dimmed so low. She didn't even own a dimmer switch.
The flickering glow seemed to be moving.
Just as she decided that she was seeing things, Tisha froze in the doorway of the kitchen and stared in shock. Feeling faint, she grabbed the doorframe, only to pull her fingers back instantly from the flickering glow.
The entire kitchen was on fire.
Flames ran furiously up and down the walls in vibrant displays of orange and yellow. Angry red welts slashed at her wallpaper, though nothing seemed to be burning. No smoke could be seen. The room was simply set ablaze.
The hairs on the back of Tisha's neck leapt up.
"Boo," a deep, masculine voice growled behind her.
Shrieking, Tisha leaped over the flames into the lit but otherwise empty kitchen. Backing away from the source of the sound, she saw a creature straight out of her nightmares.
He was unnaturally tall and muscular with a lean athletic frame hugged with an expensive-looking suit. Long black hair wildly framed his face in a lion-like fashion, and a goatee of the same shade framed his quirked mouth. Fiery red eyes that matched the flames in Tisha's kitchen peered at her in amusement. He could have easily been a human wearing contacts, but then there was his purple-black skin. And the long, round-tipped tail.
"You -- you're -- what are you?" Tisha wailed, cowering back from the creature helplessly. She felt behind her for a weapon but only encountered her burning wallpaper. Oddly, her fingers didn't burn from it. They only felt warm.
The man casually brushed off invisible lint from his expensive suit, sighing. "You know the answer to that question already, Tisha."