“From humble beginnings come great things.” Zeke Jacobson rolled his eyes as he read the strip of paper he’d just fished out of his broken fortune cookie. “Well you can’t get more humble than me,” he muttered before the phone rang.
His stomach clenching in dread of the latest complaint, he picked up the receiver and glanced around his pale gray cube walls where he spent an average of fifty hours a week. There were times when he swore he could hear his life ticking away with every swipe of the second hand on the Transformers clock he’d inherited from his sister. Optimus Prime stared at him from his perch next to Zeke’s drab gray monitor.
“Good afternoon. Taylor Transportation. Claims Division. Zeke speaking. How may I help you?” The worst part of the job… he sometimes heard those words even in his sleep.
The irate woman on the other end laid into him over the fact he’d rejected her dubious claim that their delivery truck had mowed down her mailbox and kept going. If she’d spoken to the driver the way she was speaking to him, she was lucky the driver hadn’t mowed her down first.
Her voice held that high-pitched nasal quality that went down a man’s spine like a shredder. “You’re a pathetic idiot if you don’t believe your driver did that.”
Zeke didn’t speak as she continued shrieking at him.
And for the glorious honor of being bitched at constantly and the esteemed title of Claims Investigator, he’d given up five years of his life as he went to college, created a debt his great-grandkids would curse him over, and got the holy honor of MBA. More Bullshit Allowed. Unlike his more intelligent counterparts, he’d actually studied and graduated with honors thinking he’d have a bright future…
Yeah, this was his life and he hated every minute of it.
Well, not every minute. But enough that he dreaded what more wondrous developments the future would hold.
You know, as a kid, I just didn’t see this one coming.
When he’d dreamed of his future, never once had he seen himself sitting in a cube ten hours a day having people yell at him while he glibly took it for fear of losing his thirty thousand a year salary.
The highlights of his life? Drinking beer and playing basketball on the weekends with his friends.
Damn, the woman’s right. I am a pathetic idiot.
“Are you even listening to me?” she droned.
“Yes, ma’am. I understand what you’re saying. But there’s no evidence that our driver did that. I have a sworn statement from him that he didn’t hit the mailbox.”
“Fuck you, you stupid bastard!”
“Yes, ma’am. You have a good day too.”
She slammed the phone down hard enough for it to ring in his ear.
Zeke sighed before he put his head to his laminated desk and beat it against the cold, granite-look finish. Maybe I’ll get a concussion…
The phone rang again.
He lifted his head to glare at Optimus Prime. It was only eleven in the morning. Was it too much to ask for one little brain aneurysm? Just one.
His stomach churning, he picked the phone up and repeated his work litany.
“Am I speaking to Ezekiel Malachi Jacobson?”
Zeke cringed at the name his grandfather, a devout Baptist preacher, had cursed him, the only grandson, with at birth. God how he hated hearing all that said at once. It was a name that had gotten his ass kicked on many an occasion at school. It had even caused one college roommate to move out of his dorm room before he arrived.
“That would be me.” God, don’t let this be someone I owe money to.
“My name is Robert West. I’m the attorney for your granduncle Michael Jacobson.”
“He was your grandfather’s youngest brother.”
That was weird. He’d thought all of those relatives were long gone.
“I’m sad to say that your granduncle passed away a few weeks ago and named me as the executor of his will. Since he wasn’t married and didn’t have children, he’s left everything to you.”
“To me? What about my sister?”
“He only named you.”
Oooo-kay… Zeke listened as the lawyer gave him more details.
“Can you imagine how lonely he must have been?”
Zeke paused at his sister Mary’s question. At five ten, she was only a couple of inches shorter than him. And like him, she had straight black hair and creepy topaz-colored eyes that their grandmother used to call the devil’s gold.
He indicated the brass bed behind her that was covered with an old-fashioned quilt. “Yeah. The lawyer said he died in his bed. Three days before anyone found the body.”
She jumped away from the footboard and scowled at him. “Ew! Thanks Zeke. You’re such a sick bastard.”
“Apparently so since that’s all anyone ever says to me.”
She ruffled his hair. “Oh poor baby. We have to find you a new job one day.”
“Never happen, sis. I sold my soul to the devil for thirty thou a year.” Zeke glanced around the room that was covered in ancient artifacts from Egypt, Persia and other cultures he could only guess at.
“What was it grandpa used to say? You may pawn your soul to the devil, but the good Lord will always bail you out?”
“Something like that.”
She paused at the desk by the door before she picked something up to look at it. “What’s this?”
Zeke moved to peer over her shoulder. It was a round medallion with what appeared to be an angel and serpent fighting. There was some old timey script that he couldn’t read. “Looks like one of those things from a horror movie that someone uses to summon a demon or something.”
She snorted. “Back Manitou, back. Do you remember that old movie?”
“I remember you making me watch it, then telling mom it had a naked woman in it and getting my ass busted because of it.”
Mary gave him a sheepish grin. “Oh, never mind. Forget I said anything.” She handed him the medallion. “Maybe you should chant something over it.”
“Oh great Manitou, I want another life. Something completely different than this one.”
“Wouldn’t it be freaky if the two of us exchanged places? You’d have to go home to my house and make out with Duncan.”
Zeke covered his ears with his hands in mock horror. “Ah gah! Eye bleach. Don’t put that shit in my head. You’re my sister for pete’s sake. Now I’m going to have beat your husband the next time I see him for defiling you.” He cringed. “I’d rather be at work.”
“Oh pooh. You always overreact to everything.”
“So not true. Trust me. I live a life where people scream at me on an hourly basis and take it without raising anything more than an ulcer.”
She pressed the medallion to his chest. “One day, your life will change.”
“Yeah.” He took the medallion as she walked back toward the living room. “One day I’ll also be in a pine box, six feet under.” He followed her out of the bedroom and had to admit their granduncle was a weird old man. “The lawyer said gramps here spent his younger years as an archaeologist and the last few decades as a total recluse.”
Mary nodded as she scanned the bookshelves and tables that were littered with even more artifacts. “It looks like he spent a lot of time bringing that stuff home. You could probably make a killing on eBay.”
Zeke didn’t really hear her as his attention was taken with an odd coin that was partially covered on the coffee table. Frowning, he walked over to it. Bright and shiny, it looked brand new and yet the markings on it appeared as ancient as everything else.
More than that, it actually felt warm to the touch. “What do you think this is?”
Mary shrugged. “More junk.”
Maybe. Then again, a strange sensation went over him. “You think any of this crap could be possessed?”
“No. I think you’re possessed of the spirit of creepiness. Put that down and let’s go get dinner. This place makes me depressed.”
Zeke nodded. He reached out to drop it, but couldn’t make himself let go. It was as if the coin somehow called out to him. Whispered to him.
And before he knew what he was doing, he put it in his pocket and followed Mary out to her car.
You have been chosen…
Zeke looked up from his meatloaf sandwich in the cozy diner they’d found to see Mary chowing down on her burger. “What did you say?”
She swallowed before she spoke. “Nothing. I’m eating.”
You have been chosen…
“You’re not funny, Mary. Stop that.”
“Throwing your voice.”
“I’m not throwing my voice, but if you don’t stop irritating me, I might be throwing a fry at your head.”
You have been chosen…
Zeke looked around the small restaurant. All the tables around them were empty. The only other customers were seated at a bar, talking to the waitress. “You didn’t hear that?”
“You have been chosen.”
“What are you? On crack?”
“Not yet, but am thinking it might behoove me to find some except that they make me take a urine test every other day for work so no fun there.”
“You’re not right, are you? God, I hope that’s not genetic since Duncan and I are trying to get pregnant.”
“Again with the ick stuff. Stop!”
You have been chosen…
Zeke growled at the voice. “And that means you too. Damn. My life is bad enough. The last thing I need is to be schizophrenic.”
“I don’t know. Given your job, schizo could be fun… No, lady, I didn’t turn you down. That was the voices in my head telling you to shove that claim where the sun doesn’t shine.”
“I really hate you.”
“I know. It’s why you tried to feed me DrainO when we were kids.”
He laughed at the memory. “Yeah, but you’re the one who traded me for a wagon.”
“You do know that when you turned sixteen Mom told me that we should have kept the wagon.”
“I’ve no doubt.”
You have been chosen…
Zeke raked his hands through his hair. “Call the shrink. I’ve lost my mind.”
“Sweetie, you lost that a long time ago. Now eat your sandwich. The voices in your head are probably hungry.”
Zeke rolled his eyes at his sister’s curt dismissal. He’d just turned back to his sandwich when something that felt like an electric current went down his spine. It truly felt like a razorblade skimming his soul.
And something inside him raised up like the hackles of a dog. He turned toward the door at the same time a well dressed man entered. Dressed in a suit and tie, he looked completely respectable.
Cheats on his taxes and wife. Ripped off his company earlier tonight. Beats his kids. Total douche bag. Damned to hell on his deathbed.
Zeke shook his head to clear out that strange voice that wouldn’t let up.
The man stopped next to him. “Do I know you?”
Zeke looked up and blinked. “Excuse me?”
“You just said my name. Do I know you?”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Yes, you did. You said Richard Cheatham. I heard you.” His dark blue eyes narrowed dangerously. “Did my wife hire you?”
“Dude, I don’t know you and I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Richard started to grab him.
Zeke caught his hand and whipped it around, twisting his body as he rose. He held Richard against him.
Stunned, he glanced to Mary who was as shocked as he was.
He released Richard who scurried out of the cafÃƒ ©.
“What the hell was that?” Mary asked.
Zeke had no idea. He didn’t know how to move like that. How to defend himself.
You have been chosen…
Chosen for what?