Today I am so pleased to welcome K.D. Worth to Joyfully Jay. K.D. has come to talk to us about her latest release, The Grim Life. She has also brought along an excerpt to share. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
When I am sleeping I come up with my best stories….usually while hitting the snooze. Last summer I had dreams of a young gay guy, not as strong as me in his convictions, but hearing the very things I was told. You know? No Christian can ever truly love/support gay people. How would he react? How would he feel? How would his faith be challenged if he thought the very God he loved despised how he was born?
That day I created Kody, the misguided hero of THE GRIM LIFE.
Well my writer’s mind was never going to leave Kody hanging. After all, I haven’t been left hanging in my faith. I have people who love and support me. Friends and loved ones who said, pardon the pun, to Hell with those who believe their God is as cruel as they are. Therefore, I was never gonna let Kody flounder nor was I going to let him lose his faith.
So I sent him Max. A young grim reaper who has issues of his own.
And yes, all of this was happening in the quasi lucid moments between hitting my snooze.
As I began to see their story, tears poured down my face—both of sadness and joy. I wove the tale in my mind, and eventually had to throw off the covers, fire up my laptop and burn up my keyboard as I told their story. Though draining at times, I endeavored to put all of that angst emotion and hope into THE GRIM LIFE, and actually wrote it very quickly. I am so happy that Harmony Ink Press released it a few weeks ago, and I hope that all of you will enjoy this story as much as I do. I believe the forward I added to the book sums it up quite succinctly:
“This story is a culmination of life, experience, and faith, with more than a dash of imagination. I hope these words will resonate with the lost soul in each of us.”
Some days being a reaper was the worst job in the universe.
Most of the time I’m okay with being dead, though I won’t lie, it took me a while to accept my new life would never be that of a normal teenager. The night Slade recruited me and the authorities carted my mortal remains off to the morgue for my parents to identify, my life had taken a very strange twist.
Weird and depressing but wonderful at times too.
I didn’t know the exact number of reapers on this side of life who helped people pass over, but there were a lot of us. I answered directly to Slade. If you caught those rare glimpses of his real power, he was one scary reaper/angel. He’d never clarified what he was, so I usually went with angel. In a weird way, it sort of suited him, despite his fixation with motorcycle attire and ink. I figured out real quick his tattoos changed according to mood, as did his weapon choice. One day he toted cowboy guns and another, a samurai sword. No amount of incessant questioning ever produced an answer as to why an angel needed weapons, but it didn’t stop me from asking.
Slade wrangled a team of dead youths, each of us around my death age of sixteen. He’d confided in me once that when he saw my spirit standing in the road, he knew I was no ordinary death. I was special and had a bigger purpose.
As far as I could tell, however, I was no different than my fellow reapers. Slade often said, “Max, it takes a special soul to do what we do, and you’re one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
But tonight I hated my job.
I really, really hated it.
Every day, members of our team received files with our charges—aka a list of those we would deliver to heaven. Cases sometimes changed midshift, and then Slade would send us somewhere else, but more often than not everything went as expected, and we reapers rarely saw our boss. Slade was off doing literally only God knew what. All holy missions were on a need-to-know basis, and frankly, we had all been told many times, we did not need to know.
Depending on how complicated the crossover was expected to be, a reaper could help up to thirty people in one shift. Young humans and accidental deaths like mine took the most time. Generally, the elderly were more than ready to head up to the big golf course in the sky, and their cases, paperwork and all, could be wrapped up in less than half an hour.
Yet today I had been given one charge—Kody Michaels.
Our caseload had been unusually light recently, but I’d never been given one death for a shift. I should’ve suspected something wasn’t right.
Now, staring at Kody standing on a bridge, I suddenly understood.
My first suicide.
Damn you, Slade.
Quite a bit taller than me, Kody had dark brown hair and a slim build. His face was screwed up in a horrific agony as he studied the long drop to the river below. He muttered nonsensical noises under his breath, whimpers or maybe a prayer? I had no idea. Whatever he said, he was quite fervent about it, and his desperation sent a stab of grief through me.
I covered my mouth with a hand, fighting back the unexpected swell of human emotions I shouldn’t have anymore. But no amount of training could’ve prevented the achy sensation of hopelessness from surfacing. Kody’s shaking hands gripped the railing of the bridge, his blue eyes locked on the rushing water below.
Swallowing the lump in my throat, I looked down to the boy’s chosen fate. The river ran high from heavy rains, but not high enough to hide the large rocks jutting up like swords, ready to end a life. I shivered with trepidation and a suddenly cool breeze.
Movement near the edge of the riverbank caught my eye.
I squinted into the darkness and swore something moved, shifting within the shadows. Was someone down there? But when I blinked, the shadow was gone. Probably just an animal or the moonlight playing tricks on my eyes.
Furiously, I wiped tears from my face, trying to get ahold of myself. But when I saw Kody’s face, they just kept coming. Reapers weren’t supposed to hurt for our charges because we didn’t fear death.
We were death.
The roar of an engine startled me, and I jumped as a car approached us.
The headlights illuminated Kody in a macabre image, every detail seared onto my memory—the purple T-shirt, the slim-fit jeans. His shoes were untied, and his long eyelashes were matted with tears. When the light flashed across the wetness on his red cheeks, I saw something in his eyes—a wish that the driver might stop and help him? Had he been praying after all?
But there was no saving his mortal life.
Not if I was already here.
In less than an instant, the motorist was gone, never even slowing. I had not imagined the glimpse of lucidity and hope in Kody’s eyes. When the red taillights faded into the night, however, the boy’s helpless sob filled the air—a sound which would haunt me the rest of my days.
Why hadn’t Slade warned me? He hadn’t been into the office in months, but twenty minutes ago he’d hand-delivered me Kody’s file. And he hadn’t said a thing! No suggestions, no advice, nothing!
Unequipped to deal with this kind of death, I’d never been given an assignment as young as Kody. The file said he’d just turned eighteen—two years older than I’d been when I’d died. What would drive a boy so close to my own age to suicide? What was so bad in his life that he would chose to end it rather than live? I would give anything to live again, to have one more day….
That thought was like a slap in the face.
My own lost youth barreled in on me, drawing old memories to the surface. All this time, I’d believed I had come to grips with my death, but seeing this kid throwing away all the chances I would never have brought a rush of unresolved emotions back with a vengeance.
Anger at this selfish boy and an overwhelming pity warred within me.
Kody was still living, but I would never graduate high school, go to college, or even buy my first car. I would never get to find true love or enjoy my first kiss—with another boy this time. My life had been stolen from me, yet Kody was ready to throw his away?
He let out another sob, ripping at my heart and cutting through any real resentment.
How could I be mad at this boy for taking his own life when he was so visibly broken?
Get a grip, I ordered myself, brushing at the wetness still slicking my face.
Hadn’t I accepted my lot in life by now? I rarely stopped by to watch my family anymore and hadn’t checked up on Debby since she’d gone to California for college. I’d even gotten over my bitterness at dying a virgin—sort of—and generally I enjoyed helping people cross over. I’d even found genuine friends within Slade’s group of reapers. Granted none of them were gay, but still….
What was my problem tonight?
Kody placed one foot on the railing of the bridge, his body trembling as he hoisted himself up. The concrete rail had been wetted from an earlier autumn rain, but his foot was sure. He began to murmur again, his breath visible in the cool air. I felt guilty when I tried to listen in, yet relieved when I could not understand.
Blinking back more tears, I struggled to maintain the businesslike compassion all reapers possessed. All I needed to do was reach out and lay the Touch on him. The long fall would take care of the rest. Then I would find his soul and guide him over.
It was standard procedure.
Yet I couldn’t move, paralyzed by pity and my own flailing emotions.
The boy’s second leg went over the railing, and he sat on the edge staring down and clutching the concrete tightly, his knuckles boney and white.
Briefly, I wondered if I would have to shift down to the riverbank to collect him, or if his spirit would stay on the bridge once the fall or the large rocks and cold water killed him.
Closing his eyes, he took a deep, fortifying breath, uttering one simple word:
Serenity cleansed away the pain in his face, softening the lines of grief and wilting the tension in his shoulders.
His hands relaxed, letting go.
When he pushed off, I did something I had never done before.
I saved his life.
Max Shaw is dead.
Well, sort of.
After dying on prom night, Max was recruited by a mysterious tattooed angel named Slade to join a group of teenage reapers. Cocky and sarcastic, Max thinks he has his afterlife together, but the moment Slade assigns him to his first suicide case, everything changes.
Christian college student Kody Michaels is struggling to make sense of his life and his faith. After a failed suicide attempt at an antigay camp, Kody is determined not to fail again. Tired of disappointing his family and God, he is going to end his life once and for all.
But in a split-second decision, Max saves Kody—defying the rules of a reaper.
Max believes his only concern is convincing Kody that God loves him just the way he is, so he can save him from a hellish afterlife as a shade. Little does Max know, some shades have found a way to walk among the living as wraiths. These evil wraiths know Kody has been slated for death, and they have another, darker purpose for him.
Max has only one night to save Kody before one of Slade’s team finishes the job Max lacked the courage to complete.
K.D. Worth has always considered herself to have the heart of a teenager with an old soul. When not talking to the characters living in her head, she loves to hang out at her favorite townie bar then go dancing and partying with her husband and friends. There is always music playing in her home, and if it’s too loud you’re too old! On the flip side, K.D. enjoys spending time in her vegetable garden, canning the food she grows, and making homemade jams and jellies. She also is known to crochet washcloths and blankets for her closest friends and smiles when they tease her for her “grandmotherly” ways. These two different sides to her personality create a layered tapestry of life experience that brings depth and believability to the characters she writes. She loves to hear from her fans almost as much as she loves her cocker spaniels. You can find her on Facebook or get updates about upcoming books on her website.