Banquet of Souls, 5th Course, “She’s Still Breathing”


Hello, Deadies! Another excerpt, this one about my new series character, Crystal Briggs.

What follows is an excerpt from the fifth story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.

She’s Still Breathing


A few weeks before Dad killed himself, he hobbled to the kitchen table and lowered himself heavily into a chair, favoring his one remaining leg. He had waited until Crystal returned with the two mugs of coffee and joined him. Slowly, he reached out and took her hand in both of his.

“Ladybug. You have gifts; there’s no denying it. And we both know there is something out there, something in this world that knows you have these gifts. You will attract evil. Evil will attract you. It will hide from you, even with your gifts.” His voice had an urgency to it. Every word was measured.

“So, what I need to tell you is that you need to be very careful and be very strong. Physically and mentally strong. Make yourself strong. Promise me.”

Crystal had been awake for an hour thinking about this last conversation, just lying there in the semi-darkness staring at her cat, trying to understand the mounting anxiety she felt. Molly lay curled at the foot of the bed snoring lightly, her black-furred chest rhythmically heaving, blissfully unaware that Crystal was watching her. Rain patted lightly on the window, storm clouds making the dawn darker than usual.

Her mind felt cluttered and heavy. She clearly recalled Dad’s suicide. He had been strong as a young man, a young father. But evil was attracted to him, too, and he eventually paid the price for it. Since then, Crystal took her father’s last imperative to heart. She started going to the gym every morning, first just to limber up, then becoming quicker and stronger. Eventually she began taking a mixed martial arts self-defense course.

But on this particular morning she would not go to the gym.

Along with re-living the horrible memory came an overwhelming compulsion to call someone she never thought she would actually, intentionally seek out: Detective Bill Baranyk. She could not figure it out. Baranyk was not, and never would be, one of her favorite people. He practically straight-out accused her of murdering her own father. Nevertheless, the urge persisted and grew stronger as she watched Molly lazily groom herself. The only certainty was that, for whatever reason, she needed to call him today. She also knew she had to come up with a pretty good reason. The last thing she wanted was Baranyk sniffing around her life again like a bloodhound, but, like it or not, she had come to learn over the years to absolutely rely on her feelings.

This was one of those times. Dad’s words reminded her to pay particularly close attention.

Crystal’s severance pay was ending in a couple of months. She knew she needed a job, but did not have a clue what she could do—what she might be good at. Not many publishing jobs left in the city anymore. Maybe that would be a good conversation starter with Baranyk. Call and ask if he knew of any jobs out there. Yeah, that might work.

When she finally rose, Molly reluctantly got up and stretched, watching closely. As Crystal put on her bathrobe, Molly shot out through the bedroom doorway toward the kitchen.

“Brazen, fuzzy opportunist. Yes, treats are coming.” Crystal smiled. Though Molly was not really psychic like she was, the cat did know routine.

By the time Crystal had fed Molly, brewed a pot of coffee and finished her morning shower, she felt even more pressed to talk with Baranyk. And, for some unfathomable reason, quickly. She set her coffee down on the desk and picked up her cell phone, found the stored number for the city police and dialed.

“City Police. How may I direct your call?” The man sounded on the young side.

“Detective Bill Baranyk, please.”

“Who may I say is calling?”

“Crystal Briggs.”

The line went silent for an annoyingly long moment.

“Baranyk here.”

“Detective, it’s Crystal Briggs.”

“Yeah, I know. What do you need?”

“A job. Know of any?”

“You called me for a job?” Baranyk sounded highly incredulous.


“You do realize that only recently I considered you a prime suspect, right?”

“And I was cleared.”

“I’ll give you that much, but not much more. Why not go to the County Workforce place?”

“I have and I’ve gotten nowhere. I’ll be honest with you, my severance pay will be ending soon. I need a job. I’m checking with everyone I know to see if they have a line on anything.”

“That’s all?”

“Yes,” Crystal held her breath, knowing that it sounded like that wasn’t all. She wondered if the detective was psychic.

There was a long pause. She could hear him blow out a long sigh.

“I might have something. What number can I reach you at?”

Crystal gave him her phone number and thanked him. Ten minutes later, her phone rang.


Baranyk said curtly, “Got a pen? I’ll give you a name and phone.”

“Got one. Go ahead.”

Baranyk rattled off the information, then said, “I reviewed your file and got an idea. You won’t be making near the money you were used to, but it’s a job and they need someone right away. Just tell him I sent you. Don’t fuck me over on this, Ms. Briggs.”

He hung up without saying goodbye. Crystal smiled grimly and called the number immediately.


12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books

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Kindle edition $2.99

Paperback $10.00


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