Cassie drifted back into consciousness. Portland, she thought. We drove off the Steel Bridge! Murky green sunlight shimmered across the windshield.
"Oh, my God!" She turned to Neil in the driver's seat. But he wasn't there. "Neil?"
She twisted to look into the backseat—Brittany sat slumped in her car seat, but Cassie could see her little chest rising and falling. A terrifying gale swept across her, and she cried Neil's name between great, wracking sobs.
From somewhere close, he suddenly spoke. "Wait, damned you!" A hand clamped onto the door, and then Neil was pulling himself through the window.
Cassie watched stupidly as Neil flopped into the seat and righted himself, soaking wet, his hair hanging limply across his forehead. The window was not there, and yet the water didn't come rushing in.
She grabbed him, her chin pressed into his clavicle, and she froze as a black wraith floated into view. It was black and angular and otherworldly. It took Cassie in with a calculating stare, its eyes dark and bottomless.
Neil felt Cassie stiffen in his arms. "You can see it?"
She nodded against him, her throat working. "What is it?"
"It's … it's a demon, Cassie."
She buried her face into his wet shirt. "What's it doing? What's happening?"
A long moment passed before he spoke again. "It's come for me. To take me away."
Cassie began to sob wildly. Neil took her by the shoulders. "Listen to me." He shook her once. It was enough. "That's not what's important." He smiled. It was a quavering, watery smile against his tightly set jaw, but he somehow managed it. "You," he said, pressing his forefinger gently into her chest, "and her." He slipped his arm behind the seat and blindly grasped Brittany's leg.
"But—" Cassie began.
Neil stopped her, taking her hand and squeezing it. He glanced over his shoulder. "I don't know how much time I have. I don't know how this part works exactly…" His voice cracked and he choked back the emotion thickening in his throat. Then he began to cry without preamble, his tears spilling silently.
"This is what I do know," he said. "I know you and Brittany will live long and healthy lives. Nothing can harm you, and you will both die peacefully in your sleep when the time comes."
"But it was an accident—"
He pressed his thumb over her lips. "Insurance," he said, and the demon reached through the window and tore him away.
Neil didn't make a sound.
There was a blinding flash of light, and Cassie found herself lying on a riverbank, baby Brittany in her arms. Their clothes were heavy with river water.• Paid On Death
First published: February, 2011
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