Who says you can only die once?
Soul Without A Body
Thirteen... As far as numbers go, it isn't a great one. Hell, it's not even a good one and Vincent Graves is going to find out just how unlucky of a number it can be. Because someone, or something, is killing people in the Empire state, and whatever it is, it gives people everything they ever desired and more. And it's the more that's the problem! Well...it's one of the problems. Vincent's investigation also seems to have drawn the attention of a relentless FBI agent and then there's the little bit where he has only thirteen hours to solve the case, or he dies. Talk about your literal deadlines... ...No pressure. By the end of this case Vincent will come to understand the meaning of an age old proverb: Be careful what you wish for - because you just might get it! Readers of Jim Butcher, Richard Kadrey, and John Constantine will love the first novel of The Grave Report.
Ronnie Virdi has hit the high notes with his indie publishing, particularly with his "Grave Measures" series, which was nominated for the Dragon Award. I met Ronnie when he attended our Superstars Writing Seminar, and later he signed up for a rigorous mountain climb where I led a group of people to the summit of a 14,000-ft peak in Colorado. I am impressed with his drive as an author (and a hiker), and I'm glad to have him as part of this StoryBundle. – Kevin J. Anderson
"I believe R.R. Virdi belongs with other Urban Fantasy greats like Jim Butcher. The Grave Report is sure to go far and only pick up more fans with each successful novel. I can't wait to see where R.R. Virdi will take us next."– A Drop Of Ink Reviews
"Fast paced, humorous, with action and drama on every page and paragraph, this paranormal thriller is reminiscent of one of my all-time favorite authors. This is like Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files but with a flavor all its own. RR Virdi is fame-bound with this series. If you like Jim Butcher, you'll enjoy this one. Highly Recommend."– CD Coffelt ~ Author of The Wilder Mage
"This book was an edge of your seat, hold on tight, oh my goodness I can't wait to turn the page! After the first three sentences, I was hooked and couldn't put the book down.
R. R. Virdi is an amazing author."– Nerd Girl
I woke in complete darkness. It was narrow, cramped, and I was surrounded by wood. A disconcertingly musty, rotting smell filled the small area; not to mention the lack of air. I was dead and buried in a coffin…again.
Worse still, I was running out of air fast and I couldn't see a thing. Not exactly the best combination of circumstances. Fortunately, I've been in similar situations before, so I know how to get out of them.
See, coffins aren't really designed for keeping bodies locked in. If you're lying in one, you're either dead, unless you're me, or buried alive. Coffins are simple constructions. Nothing but planks of wood nailed together with some hinges to keep the lid shut. There's always a way out of a situation like that; you just have to find it.
Before you suffocate.
I tried to remain calm in an effort to conserve what little air there was, but something was bothering me. It was the space, or rather, lack of it. Although there generally isn't much room in a coffin, I've been in enough of them to know I was seriously cramped. Running my hands around the coffin, I brushed against something that was certainly not wood. It was stone-like, rough here, rigid there, smooth in some places with gaps in between.
It was bone.
I was stuffed in somebody else's coffin. My first clue that I was buried in a hurry and without ceremony. That meant there might be a way out, hopefully. Unfortunately, I was blanking on the how bit. It happens when there's a brain-damaging lack of air.
Suffocating doesn't even crack the top twenty worst ways to die. It's somewhat peaceful, if you can get over the psychological part of being buried alive or, in my case, dead. Your lungs get heavy, your eyelids follow, and you sort of go to sleep.
I rubbed my hands together to release some tension, pausing as my fingertips brushed against a cool metal band strapped around my wrist.
I was wearing a watch!
Now, if you're stuck in a coffin with a watch, keys or anything sharp or blunt, there's still a way out. Albeit a painful way, but it's still a way. I slipped the watch off, clenching my hand and setting it over my closed fist. The watch made a poor set of makeshift brass knuckles, but it would have to do.
The smell and feel of the coffin told me it was old, meaning the wood wouldn't be as strong. I punched the roof with all the strength I could muster. The watch face shattered with the first blow. Tiny flecks of broken glass bit into my aching fingers. With a determined snarl, I worked through the pain, pumping my fist harder, willing the wood to splinter above me.
I can feel pain like everyone else, and I haven't gotten as used to it as I would have liked by now.
I kept punching, trying not to waste any effort. It took a lot to ensure every blow was calculated, hard and delivered to the same spot. My arms and lungs felt like they were made of lead. I was getting tired, my movements sluggish, not to mention the watch tearing into my skin. My knuckles and fingers were bleeding and I'd definitely broken some of the smaller bones in my hand, but I was soon rewarded with the lovely sound of wood splintering.
Now, some survival experts will tell you that survival is about perseverance and they're right. I've been inside a lot of people and picked up their skills and memories, but at the cost of many of my own.
So I continued hammering away at the small crack, listening to thud after thud as my fist impacted the roof. The wood was giving way, but my hand was suffering for it. You know it's bad when you're losing sensation in a body part. The pain became a distant numbness, but still, I kept going. The watch had dug halfway into my fingers and knuckles, and after what seemed like the thousandth punch, something sprinkled onto my eyes, nose, and mouth.
I jammed my fingers into the crack, prying the jagged wood apart. It bit into my flesh as I pulled hard. Eventually, it split, and a mountain of dirt came crashing in to bury me—again.
I spat soil from my mouth, rolling onto my stomach, sweeping dirt beneath me as I turned. Packing it into a tight layer, I got onto my hands and knees, pushing against the lid with my back. It rose briefly, showering me with even more dirt. I repeated the process as the pile of soil beneath me grew, applying more of my strength to the roof. It rose higher. More dirt followed along with something else, air! Musty, dirty air, but it was the sweetest smelling air to me. I lay directly against the half-broken coffin lid. A massive crack ran from top to bottom. Arching my back, I placed my knees against it, giving one final push.
It didn't rise so much as crack in two. Dirt rained down on me, but I was free. I clawed my way out with my left hand, my right hand completely useless from the feverish punching. Dirt found its way into my eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. After an eternity of digging, I made my way out of the grave and onto fresh open ground. The air felt as thick as soup, and it tasted delicious. It was lung nectar to me.
My eyes itched and I rubbed them vigorously. When my vision cleared, I was greeted with a dark, starless sky. The landscape was caked with the glow of bright lights radiating from the mass of buildings towering in the distance.
"Ah, New York," I said, warmed by the sudden flash of memories the concrete jungle evoked from me. I've spent many of my cases racing through the city's gritty underbelly, and then there were the few times I was rewarded with a chance to see some of its glory. I remembered the mouth-watering smell of hot dogs from my favorite food cart on Broadway and the scent of spring leaves in Central Park. Too bad it was winter.
My right hand twitched. I was getting some feeling back in it, and it hurt like hell. I should probably mention that when I'm inside a body, I break many of life's rules. I can regenerate from certain injuries, such as having my right hand bludgeoned into oblivion or even a bullet wound. If it didn't kill me, that is.
It should be obvious by now that I'm not exactly normal. Completely broken and non-functional hand? No problem, heals damn near instantly. Hell, I've been shot before and ended up fine after a little rest. I don't really need hospitals… The sort-of dead generally don't.
I turned around to get a better look at the grave I'd exited. The name on the headstone read Emmanuel Suarez.
"Sorry about that, Emmanuel. Nice to meet you. I'm Vincent Graves."
Well, Vincent Graves isn't my real name. I've been doing this job for so long, and been inside so many people, I can't actually remember my real name. Vincent Graves seems to fit with my line of work. I have so many memories in my head that it's hard to tell which are mine and which belong to the hundreds of people whose bodies I've occupied. Every time I'm in someone, I get fragments of their memories. They all stay with me, to my misfortune, but the skills and memories I've picked up have saved my life many times over, so they're worth it.
I looked myself up and down to see if there was anything to clue me into who this body belonged to and what killed him.
I? He? We?
Ah hell, I didn't know how to refer to myself since I wasn't using my own body. I would…if I still had mine, but I lost it a long time ago. "Strange and mysterious circumstances" took it from me. Never having solved my own death leaves me free to solve other people's murders. Ones caused by "strange and mysterious circumstances," which is another way of saying the supernatural did it.
I should probably point out that I'm not a ghost or a poltergeist. There are dozens of types of undead, and I don't have the time to explain their differences. To keep it short: a ghost is an imprint of a person, a recording of a person's memories and behaviors. I'm not a shadow of the person I once was. I'm still me—sort of, minus the body. In essence, I'm something more complete.
I'm a soul.
We're all souls. You, me, that annoying kid next door banging on his drums at two in the morning 'cause he didn't take his ADHD medicine. The difference between everyone else and me is that I'm only a soul. Simply put: I'm you without the body. See, you're not really a person with a soul inside you. You're a soul with a physical form to play with; get drunk with, have sex, and all the other things you can think of. When someone dies, his or her soul leaves their body and goes… Well, I never really figured that part out, but in a nutshell, your soul is what makes you, you. It's what defines you, what makes you the either great or asinine person you are. Without a soul, you're a meat suit. One I can jump in and out of.
I was wearing what would have been an impressive navy blue pinstriped suit, had it not been covered with dirt, and a black dress shirt. The black leather Italian dress shoes looked expensive and somehow managed to retain a glossy shine. Other than that, all I had on me was a broken and expensive-looking watch. As far as clues go, it wasn't much to go on. I groaned at how much work I had ahead of me to figure out who this guy was.