Brittany Rogers peered through the store’s broad front windows, carefully inspecting each inch of the nearly deserted parking lot. Satisfied, she unlocked the door, set the alarm and slipped outside in the required thirty seconds. She locked both top and bottom locks and scurried towards her car. As she went, she nervously scanned the area, her head swiveling. Twice she turned and walked backwards a few steps to check behind her.

Why had she stayed so late, she berated herself silently. Trying to finish her sales reports, which darn well would have waited until the morning was her admittedly foolish answer. She had become absorbed and had not noticed how quickly time had passed. She had planned to not only be out of the office before dark, but to be home. Not walking through the deserted parking lot of a deserted strip mall. She wished she had opened her office across town where the big 24/7 store assured that there was always someone else around, even if the rent would have been triple what she paid here.

How could she have lost track of time on, of all nights, THIS night? She shivered, clutched her keys and looked around even more, peering into darkened corners where the alleys between the sections of stores loomed as black holes. This was Halloween. For ten years Halloween night had meant death for a woman in this city.

The police were out in force, she knew. But they had been for the last two years, ever since some enterprising reporter had put everything together and revealed that for the previous eight years a lone woman had been found stabbed to death on the eve of All Saints Day. Each murder had been determined to have taken place before midnight. No details had been made public, but rumors painted a lurid picture of disembowelment and mutilation that reportedly had shocked even the hardened detectives who investigated the crimes. The police had mustered every available officer since then, but had not succeeded in stopping the killings.

Brittany shivered again. There was her car. Only ten steps away. The hair on the back of her neck seemed to stand up and she broke into a run. Reaching her car, she fumbled with the keys. In her nervousness she dropped them on her first attempt to unlock her car. The second was no more successful, as she tried to insert the key in the lock upside-down. Finally she heard the reassuring “click” of the lock and sighed.

It was at that very moment when she felt safe, that she heard the sound behind her. It was a sound that froze the blood in her veins. It was a deep chuckle and she sensed the menace even as she jerked her head over her shoulder and looked.

All she could see was an outline. The form was so dark it blended into the shadows as though the lights of the parking light turned away from it. Straining, she caught a glimpse of eyes under a hat brim. And Hell was in those eyes as surely as it was in the reflection of the light off the long, gleaming knife that appeared.

Brittany tried to move. She willed her fingers to open the car door, her legs to run, her arms to lift in hopeless protection of her body. She stood like a statue, as though the glance of the figure had turned her to stone. All she could do was whimper deep in her throat as he approached. He was within three steps of her when somehow she regained the use of one part of her body and screamed at the top of her lungs.


Officer Christina Windser smothered a yawn and snuck a look at the time. Nearly 11:30. She had been on duty over ten hours now, with only a hasty stop for a sandwich and a soft drink for a break. Her shift had ended two hours ago but, like almost all her fellow shift mates, she had remained on duty. The Halloween killer had not struck so far. Perhaps the saturation effort of the department would pay off tonight. More officers were on foot patrol in the heavily populated areas of the city rather than in their cars. Those were assisted by the Police reserve officers and the auxiliary cops. All volunteers, the former were certified and trained while the auxiliaries had only a short departmental training course. Christina had heard that if this show of force was not enough to prevent a murder tonight that there was already discussion about having the Governor call out the National Guard next year.

Jack would love that. Home less than a year from a tour in Iraq, he had had enough of alley ways and foot patrols and being in danger. Of course, being a First Lieutenant in his Guard unit, he probably wouldn’t be walking the roads or manning a barricade if it came to that next year.

The attractive blonde officer scolded herself. She had been mechanically scanning the back of the business center she was checking, pointing the remote controlled spotlight on each service door, each barred window, each gap between the buildings. While she had been on the job long enough that she would have immediately noticed something wrong with anything she passed, she needed her full attention on what she was doing. What if she drove into a restaurant’s grease collector as Danny Ubick had a few months ago while he was half turned watching a pretty girl? He was NEVER going to live that down.

She eased the steering wheel over to swing around the corner. She checked the darkened drive through window of the pharmacy that marked the last business on this end of the strip. Now she would check the front doors. She considered getting out of the car and walking the front, rattling the doors as she did. She had just decided not to, that there was no point in her being foolish about exposing herself, when movement in the parking lot caught her attention. Frowning, she started to turn the spotlight on the lone car when she heard the scream.

Her reaction was automatic. She slammed her right foot down on the accelerator. She flicked on the high beams and then cut on the blue lights. Her other foot pressed the floor mounted radio button. As she reported the situation she saw a figure turn and begin to run towards a gap in the buildings. The lights of her cruiser illuminated the knife clutched in one hand. She turned in the direction of the fleeing outline, chasing it until it disappeared in the dimly lit alley.

Stomping on the brakes, she slid sideways to block the entrance and leapt from the car. She shouted the information into her shoulder mike that she was in foot pursuit of an armed suspect possibly the Halloween Killer. Drawing her service weapon, she started after the subject, calling on him, as she thought the figure seemed male, to halt.

Between one step and another the world seemed to slow to a crawl. Dimly, she could hear dispatch acknowledging her. She could hear the woman still screaming out by the car. She could hear the sound of distant sirens and blowing engines as her fellow officers rushed to her assistance. Her mind flashed back to last night, to snuggling on the couch with Jack, with their three year old daughter Cassie tucked between them. Jack had finished grading the tests his 10th grade history students had taken that day and it had been just cool enough to make lighting a fire possible. The warmth surrounding her, from the flames, from her husband pressed against her, from her daughter sleeping with her head pillowed against her all took Chris away to a safe place. The place was so safe that as she forced her mind back to reality for the first time she felt fear and a desire to leap back into her patrol car and wait for backup.

She couldn’t. The fleeing suspect was still in sight. She had read last year’s reports. They thought they had him trapped but had never been able to find him. Worse, however he had slipped through the cordon, he had done so with enough time to hunt down and murder his annual victim before midnight.

All of those thoughts flashed through her mind in less time than it took for the suspect to take a complete step. Chris took off down the alleyway, her eyes fixed on the fleeing form. He disappeared around the corner, ignoring her demands for him to halt. Sprinting ahead, she reached out and hooked a concrete pole protecting the corner from wayward drivers. Still running, she used her momentum to spin herself around the corner.

The blow was so hard that at first she didn’t feel any pain. It felt like a punch to her stomach. Only when she looked down and saw the hilt of the knife protruding from her body, right under the bottom of her Kevlar vest, did the agony hit home. She wanted to scream but she couldn’t find the breath. It HURT. Oh God it hurt.

A mocking laugh reached her ears. An unshaven face, full of deadly glee, thrust itself forward, so close she could smell his bad breath.

“Oh this time I topped it all,” he sneered. “I killed me a bitch cop.”

Suddenly his face twisted in surprise and agony. Chris could barely feel her finger pulling the trigger, but the muffled roar between them assured her that her S&W .40 cal had fired. She fired again and then once more. He tumbled backwards, falling to the ground, pulling the knife free from her as he did.

For a moment she swayed on her feet. Her pistol fell from her nerveless fingers. She covered the cold pain in her lower belly with both hands, her knees giving way. Then she collapsed sideways. A detached part of her mind noted the slight pain from the scrape of the concrete on her cheek. Her hands were wet and sticky, and she knew why. Her mind grasped what was happening and she started to pray.

“Hail Mary, full of grace…”

Headlights and splashing blue lights filled her world. Car doors slammed and feet pounded on the cement, nearing her.

“The Lord is with thee…”

Gentle hands rolled her over. From the sounds of the cries she looked as bad as she felt.

“Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit…”

She managed to pick out her Sergeant’s face among those clustering over her. His hands were on her wound, his body shaking with the effort to stop the bleeding.

“Of thy womb, Jesus…”

People were screaming for an ambulance, for bandages, for a dust-off helicopter. Those cries should be loud, but they were getting so very faint now.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners…”

The faces of her fellow cops were gone. It was quiet now. All she could see were her husband and her daughter. They were smiling and she tried to reach out to them.

“Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

It was very dark now. Then she could see a light. Not the “light at the end of a tunnel” she had heard about, but rather a light that seemed to grow all around her. There was a figure standing beside her. An old man, he leaned on a cane looking at her with pride and just a hint of disapproval.

“I thought I might see my grandmother, or my uncle. Perhaps my friend Beth.”

Chris was almost astounded at how calm she felt. She knew she was dead but somehow the feelings were not of loss or fear but of peace.

“Yes, well, normally they would be. But I wanted to talk to you first. By the way, I’m very proud of what you did. Had you not stopped him this night would have been more terrible than ever. He would have crossed paths with a family before midnight.” The old man stared off for a moment. “But you stopped him. Granted, you cut that corner too close and look what happened. But you are brave and determined and that’s why I wanted to talk to you before you move on.”

He took Chris’ arm and turned her a bit. “I want you to see this.”

The old man waved his free hand and it seemed like an opening appeared into another place. Chris gasped when she saw the killer standing, his hands on his hips. He was facing another figure, a figure so dark that it seemed to repel light.

“I fulfilled my yearly bargain,” the man insisted. He seemed defiant, but he also was trying not to cringe too openly before the dark shape.

“So you did,” replied the black shape. The words were clear and distinct without any accent or forced menace. Chris shivered involuntarily as though she had caught sight of a poisonous snake curled up at her feet.

“Three more times,” said the dark form. “That’s the seventh time you have been killed. Three more and you’re mine, according to the bargain.”

The picture faded. Chris found herself standing close to the old man. Somehow she knew that his presence protected her even from the dark evil she had just witnessed.

“He made a bargain, with, with…” Chris avoided the word, as though naming that entity could summon him.

“With Satan,” finished the old man. “He,” and Chris knew which “He” the old man meant, “Offered that man a deal. He could continue to live as long as he kills one woman each year, on the eve of All Souls’ Day. However, should he himself be killed ten times, then the bargain is over and he’s forfeit. Tonight was the seventh time he has been killed.”

“Why don’t you stop him?” burst out Chris. “I can’t believe you let things happen like that.”

“First off Christina, I’m not God, but one of his servants. Secondly, God allows things like that because he will not interfere with his greatest gift, free will. Mankind perpetuates the evil, mankind must stop it.”

Chris looked at the old man. Servant or not, she could feel the power radiating from him. “What do you want me to do?” she asked.

A smile crinkled his face. “Good girl!” Somehow the comment, which once might have angered her as condescending, was anything but that. Instead, it was a high compliment. “I want you to stop him. Three more times.”

Chris took a deep breath that she didn’t need. “Okay.” she said simply.

The man waved his hand again and another man appeared. Young and at the same time old, his pale face was unlined and serene. He was dressed all in black. He nodded respectfully to the old man and then smiled at her.

“This is Seth,” introduced the old man. “He is one of my associates and will look after you. Whenever you have a question that you really need help to answer, call for him.” The old man raised both hands. Light shone around them, seeming to come from him as though it could no longer be restrained by his facade. Then Chris was laying in bed, curled up on her side and blinking the sleep from her eyes.

She threw back the covers and swung her legs to the floor. Groaning slightly, she stumbled to the bathroom, scratching an itch on her side as she did. Good Lord her mouth tasted awful. She spread her feet before the toilet and braced one arm against the wall. Even as she began to wonder just what the hell she was doing and why her other hand had dropped down in front of her, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror mounted over the sink.

“Holy SHIT!”

“What is it?” came a muffled female voice from the bedroom.

“Errr, stubbed my toe, Angela.” Somehow the name came from her lips automatically.

“Well, with what you had to drink last night, I can’t say I’m surprised. Again,” came a tart reply.

Chris examined the image in the mirror. Flush faced and fleshy, with sagging cheeks and a thick neck. She needed a shave, she noted. And a haircut. Jack would never allow himself to get this disheveled. Then she looked down, particularly at what she held in her right hand, which was directing a stream into the porcelain bowl. Mostly into the bowl, as she noted the seat was down and her aim wasn’t perfect.

“Seth,” she whispered. “What the,” she paused, Unable to think of an expletive she could use to what she was sure was an angel she simply asked, “What is going ON?”

The black clad figure was beside her in an instant. “Oh, you’re awake.”

“Damn, I was hoping I was still asleep and dreaming.” Chris realized she was still holding her penis and hastily released it. Okay, would you please explain why I’m standing here with a five o’clock shadow, a beer belly and a hangover? I mean, is this some take-off on ‘Heaven Can Wait’? Or perhaps this is an unaired episode of ‘Quantum Leap’.”

Seth didn’t bat an eyelash. “A bit of both, perhaps. I won’t be tapping on any hand-held computer but you are going to be the only one who can see and hear me.”

“Okay, so who am I and why is this happening?”

“You are you, Christina. However you are sharing a body with Charley Lightner. Charley is not aware of you, but you are in control, at least for now. He’s a nice guy who has let everything get into a rut; his job, his marriage, his entire life. He’s a construction worker, he drinks too much, spends too much time with his friends and not enough home with his wife. He actually wants to do better but he just can’t summon the determination. So you are going to help him. And in return, come October 31st, IF you have arranged things properly, you will meet and defeat your opponent.

Chris opened her mouth but Seth beat her to it. “NO, you could not and cannot come back as yourself. Its months after your death. Your husband and daughter are just beginning to come to terms with losing you. Showing up in any shape or form would only cause trouble.”

He looked at her sternly. “ANY shape of form. If you attempt to find them and see them, action will have to be taken to prevent it. I’m sorry, but its best for all concerned.”

“Okay,” reluctantly admitted Chris. “But what am I to DO?” she almost wailed. “I don’t know anything about Charley, or Angela in there, anything about his job, his habits,” she stumbled, blushing, “Their sex life. ANYTHING!”

“Charley is not gone. Just give him free rein and the daily life will take care of itself. However, you need to give him some direction and get him in shape to handle the confrontation that will take place in six months. Don’t just ‘Take over’ although when need be you can be in control. Work with him.” Then Seth was gone.

Following directions, Chris somehow relaxed and let Charley follow his morning routine. She showered, shaved (with only a couple of nicks) and grabbed a cup of hot coffee from the kitchen before sitting down at the chipped plastic table. A few minutes later Angela appeared to serve the breakfast that Chris had seen on the stove.

Chris studied the other woman. She appeared to be a match age-wise with Charley, around 30. About 5’4 she wore a few extra pounds around her waist and bottom. She had light brown hair done up in curlers at the moment and was wearing a bathrobe. The legs peeking out were shapely but in need of tightening up a bit. But then… Chris studied the body she was in and couldn’t suppress a groan.

“Serves you right,” came the tart reply. “I wish just once you would come home at a decent hour not reeking of smoke and beer…” The litany went on. Chris listened to it with half an ear, which was more attention than Charley gave to it, she noted. Still, it sounded pretty justified to her.

“I’m sorry,” she finally said when Angela wound down. She hastily finished eating, went and brushed her teeth and left. Angela was at the door and handed Charley his lunch pail. A brief smack on the cheek was what she was given in return. That wasn’t good, Chris thought. Sure, she and Jack didn’t give each other Clark Gable/Vivian Leigh kisses every time one of them went to work, but they were a lot more affectionate than this.

Chris sat back, allowing Charley to drive his pickup to the worksite. She definitely let him take the lead in the carpentry work that was his profession. She just watched and listened as he spared with and worked with his fellow construction workers.

The only time she wanted to butt in was during lunch. True to form, the guys sat down together and proceeded to eat, and whistle at every passing woman. Chris had got some of that when she first started on the force; the comments, the innuendoes, the outright offers. However by firmly standing her ground she had stopped them and earned the respect of her fellow cops. But she wasn’t here to make fellow workers politically correct.

The 5 o’clock whistle blew and everyone scampered for their vehicles. One of Charley’s buddies, Joe, yelled to Charley that they were going to Flanigann’s. Apparently acceptance of the invitation was assumed. Shocked looks appeared when Chris firmly announced “Sorry guys, I got something I have to do this afternoon.”