ShadowSpinners Press is very excited to announce the release of Littlest Death by Eric Witchey, the fourth book in the Labyrinth of Souls fiction series. Each book is a stand-alone story, uniquely weird, originally thought-provoking and likely to take you to depths you’ve never been to before. Read on for an exclusive excerpt!
Littlest Death: An Afterlife Fantasy
By Eric Witchey
In the Deeps
Freezing and alone in the dark ocean depths, Littlest Death stood ankle deep in the bodies of dead plankton and single-celled organisms. Miles of ocean above rained down an eerie snow of the dead and dying creatures that formed the very foundation of all life on Earth.
Diligently, she tapped the rim of her soul-gathering bucket to stop time before she dragged it once more through the interminable glow of millions of soul sparks departing their flesh.
Thus, Littlest Death gathered in millions upon millions of tiny sparks.
When sparks filled her bucket to the brim, she lifted it to her chest to protect it while she trudged along a deep rift arroyo toward the nebulous veil separating Overworld from Underworld.
Cold and dark and pressure were nothing to a death of her caliber, she told herself as she tapped the bucket rim to let time return to the deeps.
Her job done, she slipped from Overworld, the world of flesh, into Underworld, the world of spirit. She carried her bucket with pride. No other death was trusted with millions of souls each trip. Not even Oldest Death, who had given her this assignment over a thousand years ago, carried millions.
Certainly, his Ancientness could swing his scythe and retrieve thousands of human souls, but only she carried The Bucket of Bringing and carried millions.
Safely in Underworld, she cast about in the dim, silver-blue light shining from the stream flowing from the Lake of All Souls to the veil. The shimmering souls that made up the river dripped through the veil into Overworld one shining soul at a time to once more find flesh to inhabit.
This was the cycle of life as it had been since before she had become self-aware.
Birth. Death. Return to Underworld and The Lake. Mingle in the knowing of all souls then flow forth into Overworld. Birth, again.
Surrounded by welcoming shadows and embraced by the familiar mingled scent of damp rock, earthen steam, and the field flower sweetness of souls nearing new life, she reveled in her sense of a job well done and began the hike upstream toward the Lake of All Souls.
Her soiled, dripping black robes tangled around her bony ankles, and she tripped. Barely keeping the bucket from spilling millions of sparks onto the black basalt floor of Underworld, she once more cursed the fact that she had not grown into the robes she’d been given a thousand years before.
From the shifting shadows made by the glowing stream through the corridors of stone ahead, a familiar sardonic feline chuckle echoed.
Littlest Death’s warm mood of accomplishment disappeared, cooled by the ice of resentment.
Holding the bucket handle by one bone-fingered hand, she gathered up her robes with the other. As quickly as she could without spilling sparks from her precious load, she strode upstream toward ever wider waters.
As she rounded the first bend in the stream, she came face-to-face with two Egyptian deaths: Baast, the cat goddess, and Ammit, the alligator who weighs souls in their metaphor of underworld.
Baast blocked the path, her sleek white and gold robe hanging straight and clean from her Ankh-collared neck to her clawed, sandaled feet.
“Excuse me,” Littlest Death said. She shifted to one side, but that meant she had to step over the thick, plated tail of Ammit, who lounged naked, long, and leathery among black stones as if he had no worries in the whole of Overworld or Underworld.
Baast said, “Another bucket full of slime mold, fungi, and amoeba souls?”
Littlest Death shifted nearer the cavern wall in an effort to get by. “Millions,” she said. “Millions of souls.”
Unimpressed, Baast flashed her fanged, feral smile. “Millions? Truly? So many?”
Littlest Death shielded her precious bucket, pressed herself against the stones, and squeezed between the unmoving and unmoved, enigmatic Baast.
Ammit said, “The bucket must be very heavy.”
Baast licked her own furred hand and exhaled a tiny hiss, which shrank her ever so slightly and let Littlest Death squeeze by.
“Your ever so fashionable black robes,” the fastidious feline said, “are covered in sludge and muck.”
Littlest Death, now free to hurry upstream, suddenly stopped.
Millions of humans believing you had a shape gave you a shape, but it didn’t mean you worked harder. Littlest had worked hard to fill her bucket in the dark ocean deeps of Overworld, and these two metaphored deaths had no right to look down on her just because she was a blank. She couldn’t help it if pale, featureless flesh barely covered her bony form. Like cat or alligator faces were some great improvement over the smooth cheeks, round eyes, and wide, thin mouths of blanks, the pre-metaphored deaths. Carrying one soul, or a million, didn’t require alligator teeth or cat’s claws. She knew lots of blanks who worked harder than these two metas.
She decided to let Baast know just how much work she had done and how dirty robes meant more than clean fur and a shaped face forced on a death by humans.
She turned slowly and faced the Egyptian.
Holding her bucket high so the glow of souls illuminated the dark fur and slit green eyes of the meta, she said, “Millions more than you brought to Underworld today.”
Baast’s eyes widened. Her tail flicked out from under her white robes.
Ammit’s great jaws snapped shut.
Littlest Death ignored the cat and the croc. “Every time I go, millions. I went into the Marianas Deeps. I often go to high mountain marshes. I go to hospital ventilation shafts. I get dirty, but I bring millions of souls back to the Lake of All Souls.”
“Truly, Tiny Death,” Ammit said, “the weight of all those souls must be horrific.” He slashed his massive tail out and tapped the tip against the bottom of her bucket.
~ ~ ~ ~
Here’s the blurb:
One human soul and a little respect isn’t too much to ask for, but both are hard to get if you’ve only been a death for a thousand years.
Shunned by other grim reapers, Littlest Death yearns for the respect given to deaths who bring human souls from Overworld into Underworld. She has only been a grim reaper for a thousand years, but she works hard at the jobs she’s given. Really hard! No other death gathers in MILLIONS of souls at a time like she does. Okay, they are just the souls of fungi, bacteria, and single-celled critters like amoebas, but—MILLIONS! If she could bring in just one human soul, the other deaths would stop looking down on her. She sets out to spy on the most accomplished death in the history of dying, Oldest Death. She figures she can learn a few things from him. And, of course, she does. She just doesn’t learn what she thought she would learn, and the learning comes hard. Desperate to become a real death, frustrated by humans and their attachments to one another, hounded by a Hell Puppy, ridiculed by other deaths, and undermined by her own ambition, she journeys the Earth and the Underworld in search of a trick that will let her gain the respect she believes she deserves. Unfortunately, her actions hurt the living, disturb the natural order, and threaten the eternal flow of souls between life and death. By the time she understands the damage she’s done, it may be too late to save herself and the souls she has hurt.
And the buy links:
*Cover Image by Joseph Vandel