It was a dark and lonely night. No, seriously—it was. You wouldn’t believe the pitch black you get in the middle of the desert in California. No lights. No people. Nothing. We hadn’t even seen another vehicle in almost an hour.
I gunned my Harley and heard the answering roar of two dozen biker witches on my tail.
We were one-hundred-and-fifty miles into the Mojave desert, on our way back from Las Vegas to L.A. Some over-zealous jerk had reported a demon infestation in Sin City, but when we’d gotten there, we’d only found a half-succubus running a pampered pet salon.
We let her be. I couldn’t smite a dog person, especially after she had my Jack Russell Terrier smelling like Paws-4-Patchouli. Besides, the girl with the demonic bent was more good than bad. My demon slayer powers had told me that much.
The headset inside my silver helmet buzzed with static and then clicked. “Where the hell are we?”
My biker witch grandma’s voice tickled my ear. “Zzyzx.”
I didn’t quite catch that. “You cut out.”
“Zzyzx.” Grandma said, “It’s the name of the town.”
Frankly, I didn’t see anything but a straight dark road and acres of scrub. Still, there was something here that wasn’t quite right. I’d felt it at back of my neck for the last fifty miles, the prickling unease that signaled trouble.
It had gotten worse in the last minute. Way worse. “Does anyone else feel that?”
“You mean like low in my stomach?” Ant Eater asked.
“Yes.” And tingling up my spine. It wasn’t necessarily demonic—I knew exactly what that felt like. But it was something else. Something I’d never felt before.
The radio crackled. “Maybe we need to stop and get some snacks,” my Jack Russell terrier suggested.
“No,” everyone said at once.
In his defense, Pirate was a dog with a one-track mind, usually trained on food. Because of our powers, we could hear him talk, and talk…and talk. We should never have given him a head set.
At least the sweet-smelling troublemaker was riding shotgun with Bob. I didn’t want Pirate up here with me if we ran into trouble.
Our headlights reflected off a lone green highway sign up ahead. “Well would you look at that,” I said under my breath. In big, white letters it read: Zzyzx.
Pirate gave a yip. “I just won the alphabet game.”
“Wait.” Ant Eater’s voice sharpened. She was the scariest biker I knew. That’s why she always rode shotgun. “You see that? Dead ahead.”
“I see it.” My pulse thrummed with anticipation. A figure of a man stood under the sign. We wouldn’t have seen him so far out, except he was glowing.
Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the mule. We couldn’t even take one ride through the desert without trouble.
I could almost hear the witches going for their spell jars.
We slowed as we approached, our headlights trained on a bald man with a thick, braided beard. I strained for a better look as recognition wound through me.
“Holy hell,” Frieda whispered.
I remembered where I’d seen him before. Frieda had been carrying his picture for as long as I’d known her. She’d post it over her bed, clip it on her spell books, have it handy wherever we happened to be. She’d rub him on the forehead and hum the same tune every time.
This was Mister Love in an Elevator.
He’d been dead for as long as I’d known her.
I ground my bike to a halt about ten feet back from him. Close enough to talk, far enough to throw a switch star if it came to that.
Frieda would tan my hide. I said a silent prayer for him to behave.
One by one, the Red Skull witches cut their engines. I took my helmet off and hung it over a handle bar.
Frieda had already scrambled out from behind one of the bikers toward the front. She approached the phantom slowly, all the while holding a spell jar behind her back. It swirled with a brackish, blue and gold liquid.
Grandma stood next to me as I dismounted, one hand on my weapons belt. I tilted my head toward her. “What’s she got?”
“Ghost zapper,” she said, her voice gritty from years of hard riding and semi-truck exhaust, “It blasts their energy field. Damned thing better not be expired.”
Good point. We didn’t get too many ghosts.
This one wore leather chaps, a black leather jacket and a Texas bikers t-shirt.
I pulled a switch star from my belt, just in case. It was flat and round. Five blades curled around the edge.
The white from Frieda’s zebra print leather pants glowed in our headlights as she tottered forward on four-inch red wedge sandals. “Carl? Is that you, baby?”
Sweat tickled the back of my neck. Frieda was a sitting duck if this didn’t work.
Amusement sparked from the ghost’s heavy lidded eyes. “Well don’t you look pretty?”
She stopped a few feet in front of him, her red dice earrings swaying as she shook. “Are you…alive?”
He wound his thumbs under his black leather belt. “Aw, now you know I’da come back for you if I was.” He glanced past Frieda, his bottomless blue eyes locking on me. “I wouldn’t be back now. Except we need your help.”
Dread pooled in my stomach. This couldn’t be good “Who’s we?”
The ghost eyed me. “We got a new gang going, for those of us who have passed on.”
“Shouldn’t you be in heaven or something?” Frieda asked.
“Not yet, baby.” He touched her fluffy blonde hair. It ruffled slightly as his fingers moved straight through it. “You still need us, whether you realize it or not. But we’ve gotten into a little trouble in the mean time.”
He had to be kidding. I was a demon slayer, not a ghost whisperer. I couldn’t babysit a bunch of undead bikers. “What exactly do you want me to do?”
He turned his back on us as a chrome and black Harley appeared on the side of the road. Neat trick.
“Come on,” he said, heading for his bike, “I’ll show you.”