A Tiny Light to See By, Part 6

(Psychic horror)

The next morning was a lot of down time.  Calling the police station only got me Adam’s voice mail or road blocked by anyone I got on the phone.  It was clear they planned to call me when and if I was needed, not before.  My appetite was shot, and I had to force down half a bagel and some apple juice.  I spent time reviewing the meaningless notes from the day before.  Only the map felt like it had any merit.  The numbers I marked out formed a vague oval, nearly matching the space of the clearing.  It meant nothing in itself, but was too symmetrical to be random.

               This was all against the backdrop of my dream, which continued to cause shivers.  I had been warned and threatened before by odd sensations or presences, if you like; but nothing like that dream.  It was entirely more intense and real than anything I had felt before.  There was no chance in a billion it was unconnected to the events of the crime scene.  Someone, or possibly something, wanted me to back off in a hurry.  My leg hurt, right above the knee, when I thought about it too hard.  Still, I wrote it all down in the pad with every detail I could recall, rubbing my leg to soothe it.  The words “stay away” were sounding like good advice.

               The department called late in the morning, telling me to be ready in fifteen minutes.  They were on time, down to the minute.  A young cop picked me up and drove me rather quickly to the station.  It seemed like he was at the end of a traffic shift and unhappy about giving me a ride.  The station wasn’t busy and still managed to give off too much information.  I focused on keeping it out with modest success.

*condoms-a painful, freshly broken forearm-butter-hallway of doors-despair-trees-a burnt island-vodka-harmonica-curling iron*

               A long, restful break would happen after this, I promised myself.

               I expected to wait and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly they ushered me upstairs to a large meeting room.  Adam stood at a table at the end of the room.  He looked tired and intense as he spoke with two other men I recognised from the day before.  My usher directed me to Adam and quickly left.  The room was modern and new; and the intensity of sensory events was much reduced from the first floor.

               Adam looked relieved to see me when I approached.

*snow capped mountains-blood-shivering in the cold-plastic bags*

               “That will be good enough for now, guys,” Adam said, dismissing the others.  “Get some lunch before this gets going.”

               We sat down behind the table and he stretched his back, looking completely burnt out.  “Tell me you have something to break this one, eh, Norman?” was all he started with.

               “Sorry to let you down, Adam,” I said.  “What I have is awfully thin.  I need to go back at least one more time.”

               “I’ll start with the thin stuff, first,” he said through a yawn.

               “Okay.  You already know how this works for me.  I was not able to get a specific read at the scene.  That same intensity I told you about was still going strong when I left.”  I showed him the map I made with little intensity level numbers, from tens to ones, circling the site, explaining what I did.

*a predatory bird-dice-glue-waffles-plum sauce-a wooden plate*

               “Does this mean anything to you?  Am I missing something?” he asked.

               “On its own, no,” I explained.  “I was hoping for some kind of clue or something.  What is curious, and possibly relevant, is I did not observe a single animal of any kind closer than the perimeter I marked.  Even those animals appeared agitated.  I was told the canine unit was occupied, but I would bet those dogs would have freaked out if they got too close.”

               “Well, that’s something, I guess,” he muttered.  “Anything else?  Please?”

               I nearly smiled, except the memory of the dream blotted it out.  I told Adam about the dream, even looking through my notes to cover everything off.  My leg positively ached as I did so.

*darkness-strong wind-heat-a dancing crowd*

               “I’m not sure what to make of that, Norman,” Adam said.  “I can tell it still hurts your leg, though.”

               “I never was a good faker,” I clenched through the words.  “Maybe I should work on that.”

               “Maybe, but for now it sounds vaguely like a cult thing, even if you’re not feeling it that way.”

               “I can’t rule anything out,” I said, massaging my leg, “but dreams are not so direct.  Dream imagery is highly abstract, in many respects.  The message, and this business with my leg, was clear enough.  Someone does not want me here.”

               “You and everyone on the case,” Adam said.  “Whoever is behind this is really bad news, you can be sure of it.  Listen, I’ve got a ton going on, including the missing Timberton kid, so if that’s all you have, I will let you go.  If you are ready for case details, you are welcome to stay.  We’re having a group briefing in about half an hour, just to go over everything.  If not, I understand.”

               “What about going back to the site?” I asked.  “If there are fewer people around, I might have a better shot.”

               “The site is being cleared up as we speak,” Adam said.  “I’m guessing that will throw you off, too.”

               I thought about it for a moment.  The briefing did not seem premature at this point.  “I’ll stay for the briefing if I can still go back to the site.  How about that?”

               “It will have to be quick,” Adam said.  “We have a press conference at five.  Then we have to be careful about what we do.”

               This was Adam’s polite way of telling me it would look bad for a contracted psychic to be openly associated with the case.  How could I blame him?

*smoke-bright lights*

A Tiny Light to See By, Part 5

(Psychic horror)

The ride back to the hotel with Kirby had mostly been in silence.  He said little, other than telling me how this was the worst thing he had seen.  I became aware that I did not have Adam’s cell number; having hoped I could text him about the animal thing.

               “Kirby,” I said to him as I was getting out, “I know how I’m perceived by people, police included, and I know Adam is probably taking a chance by bringing me in.  If I can’t help, I’ll be the first to say so.  It happens.”

               He looked at me like he was trying to read me.  “The chief mentions you, once in a while,” he said.  “Not casually, but he says you helped him solve a big case a long time ago.  He’s a loyal guy, so I don’t think it bothers him to stick his neck out.  Have a good night, Norman.”

*Lemons-a small dog-a sitting room filled with men smoking cigars and pipes-the entrance to a house*

               The hotel was rife with sensations, which I did my best to ignore.  Hotels were always a pain.  So many people coming and going left a lot of psychic energy behind.  Sleep would not come quickly, I was sure.

               I showered quickly and got to bed, trying not to over analyze the day.  I decided to forgo a review of my notes; usually a must, except that my sprawling comments had no real substance to them.  It was a vague compilation of negative feelings and emotions that had battered me every second I was there.  Not much to review.  Sleep did not come quickly.

               When I dream, it is a very odd experience; and odder still compared to how ordinary people relate dreaming.  My dreams always feel very real, and often connect with the ambient energy of the room.  I am pretty ruthless about back checking a hotel room to see if a death had happened there, and I am pretty good at sniffing out the truth when I am on site.  But even avoiding that massive, psychic thrill ride is no guarantee other nasty business has been avoided.  The best practice, I have found, is to take the newest hotel in the nicest area.  It generally works out.

               The room had an even mix of energy, leaning to the positive; so it was a win.  Dreams, however, had a way of reaching out beyond the walls of a hotel.  This was the other downside of a hotel: all new energy around me.  At home, I was so used to the surrounding vibe that it was practically background noise.  An extended stay anywhere else was an adventure.  The general impressions I was getting were balanced enough; and the upside of my day was that it left me a bit numb.

               The dream was like almost all my dreams, in that it was more of a psychic event than a dream.  In the dream, I walked to the clearing, wandering to the middle of it.  The bodies were not there and overwhelming psychic energy was absent, yet I was not alone.  I looked up to see figures enter the open space from the trees.  I had the sense they were men, though they were heavily obscured; as though someone had taken a pencil and thoroughly scratched over their image, leaving only a trace of a form.  Their suspicion and curiosity wafted into the clearing like the smell of smoke.  I was not welcome or desired, and yet they surrounded me.  There was no way past them.

               With more time I might have overcome my fear and disorientation enough to ask a question.  Instead, they began to close in, remaining obscured in their penciled out fashion.  I began to sense a bit of strain from them, and felt certain it was related to the blocking of their images.  It was clear to me they were hiding themselves deliberately, but with great effort.  A moment later they set upon me.  I resisted as best I could, but they were strong and numerous.  I was dragged to the ground and pinned there, helpless and terrified.

               “You should not have come,” one of them hissed.  “Stay away!”

               A bladed weapon appeared, perhaps a knife or dagger, but possibly a spear or sword, and I went into shock at the sight.  It pierced my leg, delivering agonizing pain and I began to scream.

               I jumped from the hotel bed to a shaky stand in one violent motion.  My leg ached where the blade had touched me, yet no mark could be found.  I was drenched in sweat and shaking like a leaf.

               “What the fuck have I gotten into?” I asked myself out loud.

A Tiny Light to See By, Part 4

(Psychic horror weirdness)

I decided on an unorthodox approach to my return.  Presuming the same feeling I got the first time, I would not try to focus.  Instead, I would try looking at the forest instead of the trees.  There was no way I could focus any harder or better than I did the first time.

               Adam told me he would probably be in touch the next day or so, unless I had a major revelation or something.  Other than this, he let me wander the carnage again.

               Deliberately not focusing was much easier, even though the general nausea and headache were there.  It was a random approach, like sticking your hand into a river and hoping to catch a fish.  I started making notes on the intensity of the energy coming through, to see if it varied from spot to spot in the clearing.  The results were inconclusive, although it was clear the feeling dropped substantially after being only a few yards from the edge.  I started wandering the perimeter, mapping this feeling on a scale similar to a pain index.  I made a rough sketch in the pad to map it out.  It was during this process that I noticed something that escaped me earlier.  I noticed a squirrel in the distance, much further from the crime scene than I.  It was agitated and nervous.  It was not a pure psychic connection I made at that moment; however, something definitely clicked.  I went looking for Adam directly.

               He was busy, an officer advised me when I returned.

               “Then maybe you can help me,” I suggested, politely, despite my sense of urgency.  “Have you had the canine unit in here?”

               “No,” he said, sounding annoyed.  “I think there was a missing kid in Timberton, so they would be on that before we called them here.  Why?”  His question was laced with suspicion.  I ignored it.

               “Have you noticed any animals in the vicinity?” I asked.  “Birds, squirrels, chipmunks, or anything like that?”

               That earned me funny look.  “I haven’t, but this is a homicide investigation.  Unless you think this was done by animals or something.”

               One of the fantastic perks of being a psychic on a police crime scene is the attitude you get.  I had heard worse from better cops than this.  You learn to roll with it, like when you get pulled over; or it only gets worse.

               “This is just an observation, and I only noticed it a few minutes ago,” I said, being as deferential as possible, “but I have not seen an animal within fifty yards of this place since I got here.”

               “Listen…” he glanced at my badge, “…Norman, I know the chief called you in and I’m sure you’re trying to help.  But we are really busy.  I’m sure the chief will get in touch with you.”

               If I had been in a better state I would have known better, but I wasn’t, so I pressed.  “It does not strike you as odd that there are no animals anywhere near here?”

               “There are a lot of people around, I’m sure the animals are just not used to that.  Now please go back to whatever you are doing.  Thank you.”  And that was that.

               I returned to mapping the range of my reading.  It was starting to get dark when I finished.  Sergeant Kirby approached me as I returned to the scene.  “We are starting to wrap up, here,” he advised me, “so if you have anything left to do, now’s the time.”

               Adam was nowhere to be seen, and I was beginning to suspect he had left.  It did not matter.  In my second round of mapping, I confirmed that no animals were within fifty yards or so of the scene.  Steering clear of human activity only held so much water for me, even accounting for the rural setting.  That none of them had got closer across a whole day was strange.  I definitely needed to chat with Adam.

               “I was hoping to speak with Adam,” I said to Kirby, keeping my voice down, “but another officer said he was too busy.  Any change in that?”

               “I haven’t kept close tabs on him,” Kirby said, “but that sounds about right.”

               “I asked about the canine unit,” I said, carefully, “and the other officer said they were tied up in Timberton.  Do you think they will be called in?”

               Kirby glanced over in the direction of the officer I spoke to earlier.  “I doubt they will be in here today, anyway,” he said.  “And don’t worry about him.  He’s part of the provincial unit.  The collars are on tight but they do good work.  Tell you what, I’m out of here in thirty, I can drive you back.  It’s been a long day for all of us.”

A Tiny Light to See By, Part 3

(Even more psychic horror)

I wandered through the scene, following whatever paths the forensics unit approved.  It was gruesome and disturbing.  The urge to back out and run was strong; I needed several breaks to regroup and try again.  It was like a nightmare that would not end; sensory overload.

               When I sense things, which is almost a constant state, they come through as tiny fragments or splinters.  If I focus, I can usually expand the fragment enough to get a bigger picture.  Results are never consistent and often get into loops, where I sense the same thing again and again.  The main thing is to stay focused so every bit I sense can be expanded as much as possible, hopefully enough to piece together into something coherent and useful.  It was all about focus; otherwise, it was like going from a view through a pin hole to a view through a key hole.

               And yet, as I wandered through a scene of carnage, the fragments I sensed came through in a torrent.  No matter how hard I tried to focus the bits flew through me before I could sense them.  It was like being in a speeding car and looking straight down from the side window; you see the ground as a blur, with details being impossible to identify.  It was all evil, hostile, aggressive and negative stuff, but nothing concrete.  I kept jotting the big picture senses into my pad until I grew frustrated at the lack of detail.  Every ounce of effort I had was put to making out something.  This was an all new experience with no familiar landmarks to guide me.  I was lost and did not know where I was or where I wanted to go.

               It was tough to say how much time passed, but I finally took a longer break.  Someone had brought me a coffee, which was nearly cold.  I had a headache and nearly overwhelming nausea.  My pad was open but I could not remember what I planned to write, or if I had planned to write.  Everything was a blank.

               “Norman,” I heard Adam call from a short distance, “you all right?”

               “Been better,” I said after a delay, shaking the haze in my head for a moment.

               Adam approached down the trail, looking tired, possibly discouraged.  “Some of the guys are worried about you, they are…you know your nose is bleeding, right?”

               I had no idea, touching my hand to my face.  I was bleeding.  Another first.  “So I am,” was all I could say, instinctively searching for a tissue, finding it, and wiping.  No gusher, but more than a spot.

               Adam stopped in front of me, looking at me more carefully than before.  “You need some time away from this,” he said.  “Grab a meal and some proper coffee, you know.”

               “I suppose,” I agreed without much thought.  “I will need to come back.  There’s something here, something really…different.  It’s hard to explain.”

               “The stuff you do is always hard to explain, Norman.  I would be worried if you told me different.  It is past supper time and I need a break and a meal, too.  How about we grab some food and talk though it, unless you just need to decompress?  I know a great take out place.”

               Stubborn instinct wanted to refuse until I realised I had been at it for several hours.  It had felt like twenty minutes.

               It was an hour before we reached Betty’s Diner, an easy to miss spot attached to a farm supply store.  Adam ran in and brought back drinks and food, remembering my aversion to public or crowded places.  He didn’t ask what I wanted, bringing back a ginger ale with burger and fries; offering to swap it for his chicken burger if I disapproved.

               My nausea had largely passed and my empty stomach agreed with the food, out of necessity rather than quality.  We were half way through before he started talking.

               “You up to talking about this yet?” he asked.

               “I suppose,” I said, “but I think you will be disappointed.”

               “I’ll take what I can get,” he said.  “Besides, I think you are going back with me, anyway, right?”

               I nodded agreement.  It had not taken long after we left the site for my mind to clear, letting me make an appraisal what had hit me.  I was not sure what I could do differently but knew what I was getting into.  I briefly explained what had happened and how bad it felt.

               “You think it might settle down, lose enough intensity for you to sift through it?” he asked.

               “Can’t say.  I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”

               “Overwhelming negative evil crap, eh?” he wondered aloud.  “Are you talking freaky sociopath evil or maybe organized crime evil?  Anything?”

               I shook my head.  “It’s not like that, as best I can tell.  This is something deep and spiritual.  It’s scary.”

               “Like a cult thing?” he asked, reaching for answers now.

               “I don’t know, I really don’t,” I said, a little angry at myself for having nothing at all.  “I need to go back, maybe take a different approach.  I am flying blind, Adam.  Sorry.”

               “Don’t be sorry,” he said.  “The whole thing is a mess.  The forensics guys aren’t doing much better, either.  Just let me know when you are ready for details from my side.”

               “Just let me have one more look,” I said, feeling queasy at the though.  “Then we’ll see.”

A Tiny Light to See By, Part 2

(More psychic horror)

A handful of quick turns through farm country ended in a bumpy entrance to a wooded location.  The car only stopped when the entrance ended and the trees denied further access.  The cop put the car in park and turned to me.

               “I hope the ride was okay,” he said, sounding slightly apologetic, “and I hope your day isn’t too unpleasant.”

               “Thanks,” I said as I got out.  It was too late for that, anyway, but the mixed feelings of angst and foreboding were ascendant.

               A cop stepped from the trees and waved me as the car backed out.  He identified himself as Sergeant Kirby, checked my ID and issued me a badge.  All standard stuff.  He radioed my arrival and we waited a few moments for a response.  The usual feelings I had to fight going into this were being pushed aside by a stronger feeling; something supernatural, rather than psychological.  It was very wrong.  I nearly jumped when the radio chirped back.

               “I understand you do not want to know about the scene,” Kirby explained carefully, “but it’s important you understand this may be very shocking, even if you have seen crime scenes before.  Do you understand?”

               I nodded, more concerned about the bad feeling coming from beyond the trees.  This was going to be rough.

               A cow path through the trees led straight in where the vehicle entrance ended.  Bits of litter peppered the edge of the path, which was like any other path through any other trees.  What I was sensing ahead was only getting more intense as we advanced.  In the distance, I could just make out voices and radio chatter.

               “I need a second,” I told Kirby.  I was starting to sweat, and nausea was stepping up, too.  I bent over and threw up.  It did help much, though it was a personal comfort to know I wouldn’t get vomit on a crime scene.

               “You all right?” Kirby asked, sounding both sympathetic and judgemental at the same time.

               “I will be fine,” I said, wiping my mouth.  “Let’s go.”

*cats-lamp posts-broken glass*

               The trees opened on a clearing about forty by twenty feet, and it looked like something out of a slasher film.  Human bodies, mostly dismembered were strewn about.  The smell of human rot, which I had been exposed to a few times before, was fierce.  It looked and smelled like a slaughter house in the woods.  I could not figure how many bodies lay there; though it must have been many.

               The shock from the standard senses was minor compared to what was bombarding me from the psychic side.  A tidal wave of malicious, raging evil hit so hard I actively had to fight it.  It was like nothing I had ever experienced.  The unbridled volume of sensations coming from the place made it nearly impossible to focus, which was unusual because it was normally so important to focus.

               “Norman!” a familiar voice called out, cutting through the blare of sensation for a second.

               I looked up, squinting in the direction of the voice.  Adam Carter was walking toward me, his face turning from a grimace to a concerned frown.

               “You don’t look so hot, Norm,” he said. “I hope this isn’t too much for you.”

               “I just need a second, Adam,” I said, backing down the path a little, out of the smell and sight of that hell.  Adam stayed with me, looking quite concerned.

               “Listen, there no shame if you can’t hack this,” he began, before I raised a hand to cut him off.  I was just starting to catch my emotional breath and needed explain.

               “Yeah, it’s bad,” I said, wiping sweat from my forehead despite the cool air of early autumn, “but that’s not it.  Not really.”

               “You mean you’re getting something here?  Already?” he asked.  Adam knew all about my abilities.  I had worked with him years before, when he was just a rookie detective.  He was soft believer.

               I nodded.  “But it’s not the usual stuff,” I said, working through it myself.  “This is something else, something spiritually powerful.”

               He gave me a look of patient concern.  He reached out to put his hand on my shoulder, intended to reassure or comfort, then withdrew.  He remembered that I did not like to be touched.  “We are going to be here a while,” he said.  “Take your time and do what you have to.  We still have a ton of work.  I’m glad you’re here, Norm.”

               It was cold comfort from an old associate, but better than none, perhaps.  After several minutes of centering myself, I was able to focus enough to start thinking with reasonable clarity.  I took my notebook from my coat and began recording what I could.  I noted the date and time, wrote a few points on the location and then blanked.  This was new ground for me.  What I was feeling from the clearing did not break down into tidy little sights, sounds, smells or feelings.  It was like an amalgam of these so thoroughly intertwined they were now just one thing.  Rather than focus on the sensations from the scene, my instinct was to block it out.  I wrote the gist of this in the notebook and stood to face the music.

A Tiny Light to See By, Part 1

(Back at it with a newer story idea. This is a story about a modern day psychic. It is not quite a horror, by my standard, though it should be scary enough. Fair warning, the opening is slow, and I reserve the right to go back and add the scene before this. I do not want to give anything away, so details will be revealed as I go.)

The cop driving me to the site was young, certainly new to the job.  He was clean cut and polite, and exceptionally professional.  I wondered how long it would take him to adjust to a life on the force.

*Apples-orchards-happy people with smiling faces on an autumn day*

               “So how long have you been, uh, doing this sort of thing?” he asked me, carefully, like he knew how awkward it was.

               “If you mean assisting police investigations, then it has been several years, on and off,” I said.  I had hoped to travel in silence; it helped me to focus better.

               “How do you find the work?” he asked, less awkward, now that ice had broken.

               I tried not to focus on him.  It was easier to converse, that way.

               “The work,” I said, answering the question with practiced ease, “is about as bad as anything I can imagine.”

               “Sorry to hear that,” he said after a pause.  “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.  Just curious because I’ve never met a hired psychic before.  In fact, I didn’t know we used psychics until this morning.”

               “It’s fine,” I said.  “I have a gift, so I do it to help people.  I suppose a similar sentiment motivates police officers.”

*Old century building-morning mist*

               “How does it work, if you don’t mind me asking?” he inquired.  If nothing else, this cop was direct.

               I had long since lost track of how many times the question had been posed and answered.  Almost every client, cop or not, would inevitably ask.  I never seemed to give the same reply, though I had a better reserve of metaphors built up.

               “It’s hard to explain,” I said, hoping to put it off.  I was at a loss to come with a deflection.

               “Try me,” he said, a bit of overconfidence leaking through his modest, professional shell.  I restrained a sigh.

*Lost mitten-old wallpaper pattern-smoke*

               “When you are working, and you walk into a room, you are trained to notice things,” I began, knowing we had another half hour or so.  “Some people are better than others, but you try to take in as much as you can and make quick, likely connections so you can draw probable conclusions.  Those who are especially good are almost like Sherlock Holmes’ with what they can figure out.  It that department, I am getting better but no sleuth.  I have a different skill set, though it has parallels.”

               “So you feel things you can’t see, you mean?” he asked.

               That made me smile.  “Not exactly.  The best analogy might be a dog’s sense of smell.  With all of the modern technology at our disposal, they are still used for sniffing out drugs and bombs, tracking people.  They can smell so precisely that it might as well be a sixth sense, really.”

               “True enough,” the cop agreed.  “The difference is that we smell things, too.  We just aren’t as sensitive to it as dogs.  There’s science behind that. Now, is this where you tell me that everyone is a little bit psychic?”

               I laughed.  It was nothing fake or forced.  His intention was not mean spirited or demeaning.  This young cop was bright and funny.

*a pleasant ride in the back seat of an older car-an overgrown fence in the country-a little girl with red hair*

               “No,” I explained, actually happy to for the first time in a while.  “Most people are not psychic.  One in twenty, at most; and most of those are only marginal.  People anywhere close to being like me are one in a million, maybe less.  But I didn’t answer your first question properly.  You asked how it works, so let me tell you.  Imagine there is a whole, separate layer of visible material in the world.  It almost never interacts physically with anything else, but it is connected.  Now imagine that most people in the world, nineteen out of twenty, really, can’t see this at all.  Most of the rest might only be able to see this layer occasionally, or weakly; like person who is nearly blind other than seeing shadows.”

               “And psychics can see it clear as day,” he incorrectly attempted to summarise.

               “That is where it gets murky,” I said.  “One of two things is true about this other layer.  It could be that it doesn’t follow the same rules as the solid world we live in; or it could be that even an extremely sensitive psychic can’t see it perfectly.  I don’t know which it is.”

               He grunted acknowledgement, cocking his head slightly as he processed my theories.

*slipping on ice-watching constellations*

               “So do you see things, then?  Visually, I mean?” he finally asked.

               “How I experience it is…random,” I said, surprised at myself for enjoying the conversation.  “I experience it through any of the five senses, and I also catch emotions, thoughts, memories.  In most cases it is fragmented, so I usually cannot put it all together in one moment.”

               “Interesting,” he said, still pondering.  “How do you put it all together, then?  For an investigation or crime scene, I mean?”

               “I used to wing it, go on my intuition.  Then, during a fairly long investigation, a cop I was working with suggested I borrow a law enforcement technique.  I started making notes, somewhat police style, about what I sensed.  Then, I could refer to it later and piece things together, after a fashion.  Not a perfect solution, but it often helps.”

               “That’s it?  A notepad?” he nearly blurted.

               “Oh, there are other things,” I chuckled.  “As much as possible, I want no information about the case beforehand.  It doesn’t affect my read on things, but might skew how I interpret it.”

               “That explains my gag order,” the cop said.

               “Yes, that would be about me,” I said.  “Are we nearly there?”

*a formal ceremony-classical music-cold coffee*

               “Just a few more minutes,” he said, checking his dashboard.  We had left the highway some time ago, suggesting a remote destination.  “Just one more question, if it’s all right with you?”

               “Sure,” I said, already tensing up for whatever was at the end of the ride.

               “This gift, is it on all the time, or can you shut it off?” he asked.  “I mean, a dog’s sense of smell never completely stops.  How about you?”

*a crowd of strangers-a turtle-a feeling of tension*

               “I’m a lot like the dog.”

               “So are you getting anything from, say, me?” he asked, a little uneasy for the first time.

               I smiled, mostly to myself.  This was where people got uncomfortable with me, where otherwise pleasant banter turned cold.  They either dismissed me as misguided, a charlatan; or they simply got uncomfortable with the idea I could read their minds or such.  I used to believe I would eventually meet people who would be more accepting.

               “Bits and pieces, but I’m trying to focus on other things,” was the best, truthful answer I could come up with.

               “Interesting,” was his only response.

*flat bike tire-a bee sting-a dream about a lake*

Coming Back, Part 1

(Okay. This is the biggest gap in posting yet; mostly an issue of writing too infrequently. Some of what I am working on is not for the blog, so I have not been entire idle. Nonetheless, I have some time to work on some blog-worthy items in the very near future. I expect this will keep me closer to the original posting goal. We’ll see.

I offer up a version of a story that I have started a few times, lost traction and started again. Mostly a matter of being dissatisfied with the nature of the characters and story direction. Rather than draw out my posting delay by another couple of weeks, I offer up the latest incarnation of the beginning. It likely falls under the umbrella of occult mystery horror. I am still undecided if I need to light the fuse on this start, too. Hope you enjoy.)

Gloria could not help but notice the eerie calm in Mona.  Her sister was no softy, far from it, yet it had been a tumultuous six months.  Mona was either in shock, denial or was, indeed, an emotional rock.  Gloria wondered if this was a good or bad thing.  For her own part, the strain was stretching her thin.

               Fredrik, Mona’s late husband, had died six months ago, victim of an unusual, hereditary blood disorder.  He was only fifty-two.  The condition had been in his family for several generations, and early deaths among the males of the family were common.  This was especially troubling considering he was otherwise in very good health.  Gloria and Fredrik’s only child, Lukas, had been suffering from the same family illness for a few years; and the effects had accelerated in the past year.  Now Lukas, in his mid-twenties, was on his deathbed.

               Not that it mattered in times of life and death, but Gloria now controlled the family business.  H-Stadt Corporation was a large, multinational holding company worth many billions of dollars.  A minor confidence crisis naturally arose when Fredrik passed and his son was known to be ill.  The company had numerous, highly qualified advisors that did not matter much to stockholders; all they could see was Gloria running the day-to-day operation with almost no experience, and stock prices were trending down.  The stress was real.

               Then, few days ago, a rainy day in early October, Mona called and asked for help; a rare thing.

               “It will only be for a few days,” Mona had said over the phone.  “I really just need you here.  I don’t want to get into details on the phone.”  Her voice sounded as though she had been drinking.

               “Of course,” Gloria had agreed, knowing it had to be related to Lukas.  He had been undergoing an experimental therapy that was not working out.  As she packed a quick bag and called her boss, Mona was sure she was going to say goodbye to Lukas, followed by his funeral.  Mona had insisted she take the private jet, not wanting to risk delays.

               When she arrived that afternoon, Gloria was not sure how to react.  It was not exactly what she expected.  Mona was, packed and waiting, joining her directly in the jet.

               “What is going on?” Gloria asked, noticing Mona’s dark glasses and the scent of alcohol on her breath.  “Where are we going?  Have they moved Lukas?”

               Mona stayed silent until the plane was secured and her security man was up front with the pilot.

               “Thank-you for coming,” Mona said, removing her glasses to reveal tear-reddened eyes.  “Everything is so confusing.  I just needed you with me for a while, to support me.  I hope that’s okay.”

               Gloria was certain they were going to pull the plug on Lukas, a difficult call for anyone; a back breaker for a mother.  It made sense that her sister needed her.

               “I would not have it any other way,” Gloria returned quickly.  “This must be brutal.  I am here for as long as you need me, okay?”

               “Thanks, Gloria,” Mona said, her voice catching on the emotion for just a moment.  “I don’t know if I could do this alone.”

               They sat in silence as the plane refueled.  Mona poured herself a drink and lit a cigarette; Gloria let it go.  She had a right to cope how she could. Normally, she smoked very little, and drank even less.  It would pass.

               “Where are we going?” Gloria asked, after they had both settled.  “Are they moving Lukas?”

               Mona took a moment to answer, as though she did not know what to say.  “Yes, they are moving him.  This will be the last time, one way or the other.”

               Poor Mona, Gloria thought, she has one last, experimental therapy for Lukas; a final, desperate attempt to keep him.

               “I’m with you,” she told Mona, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.

               “Thanks,” Mona said with a sniffle.  “We are going to Europe, to answer your question.”

               “Really?” Gloria wondered aloud.  She had read about various therapies, surgeries, medications and other treatments for Lukas’ condition, but Europe had not been a hot spot for research.  This was new.

               “The treatment is highly unorthodox, and completely experimental.  It is not a medically sanctioned facility,” Mona said, putting her glasses back on as the plane taxied to the runway.  “I waited until the ordinary, scientific approach was out of solutions first.”

               Gloria sat back, content to have her sister talk it out; or just rest with silent support.  Her husband and son passing within a year was a suffering beyond comprehension.

               The flight was mostly spent in silence.  Mona did not say much, commenting a little on the state of the family business and her workload.  Exhaustion made her sleep for several hours, while Gloria fidgeted and worried about the entire ordeal to come.

Sacrifice, (Alternate Ending)

(Horror. This was just something I toyed with, even though I prefer the Part 5 ending. This picks up from the end of Part 4, and is a bit longer.)

The smell was what hit her first, followed by the nasty sound of something metallic clanking against something else.  Her flashlight cut through the darkness, tracing through lines of chains and hooks and other things less clear to her.  She could not make out a stairway, ladder or other door; her heart felt like it was going to jump out of her chest in raw panic.

“Colin,” she whispered hoarsely, “is someone else here?”

“Yes,” Colin half whispered, “well, kind of.”

A figure, vague and luminescent, appeared in the corner of the room.  A powerful, nearly overwhelming, feeling of hatred poured from it.  Although the image was faint and misty, it looked like a tall man in a long coat.  His eyes were the only clear thing about him.

“Wouldst ye cheat your grandfather, Colin,” the thing spoke, shocking Macy out of her paralysis, “or hast thou been deceived by a wicked woman?”

“Speak plainly, grandfather,” Colin responded.  “No riddles tonight, of all nights.”

“This creature has known a man,” the figure replied, pointing at Macy, “and ‘twas our agreement she be a virgin.”

Macy was locked in a combination of panic and fascination.  Colin’s grandfather was long dead, and yet Colin acknowledged it as his grandfather.  She wanted to believe this was some trick, an extremely distasteful joke being played on her.  The entire thing was too preposterous to believe.  She was too shocked to even pray, or call out to God for strength.  And yet the feeling of hatred and rage from the figure was intense enough to be visceral.

Colin was looking at her.  “Macy,” he asked, “is it true?”

She looked back at him, confused at his question but anxious to answer.  It was a long moment before the matter of her virginity was being questioned.

“What?” she said, with a touch of her own anger.  “How could you question that?  I told you on our second date.  Do you think that has changed or something?  What is this?”

“Long story,” Colin said, and pointed to the dim figure across the room, “but he has a funny way of knowing these things.  Is there any way he could be wrong?”

Macy was deeply afraid.  Nothing was making sense; it was so overwhelming that it was all she could manage to not scream and run.  The walls felt as though they were closing in on her.  The glare from across the room was starting to freak her out.

“I don’t know,” Macy said, trying to think through a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions.  “Maybe.  When I was little, a man might have, you know…done something, but I don’t remember.”

“You don’t remember?” Colin reproached.  “You mean you were molested?”

“Yes, maybe,” Macy said, more confused than ever.  She did not remember anything, but a cousin had let her in on the rumour.  It was such a flimsy story she had not even bothered to tell Colin.  She barely thought about, and really did not believe it.  “It would have been a long time ago.  I don’t know if it happened, even.”

Colin looked carefully at her.  His eyes seemed to search hers for a real answer.

“So that would be it?” he asked, harshly.  “Someone diddled you as a kid.  Nothing else?”

“No, Colin,” she said, noticing the tears in her eyes for the first time.  “I would never lie to you.  What’s happening?”

Colin looked across the room.  “Are you fucking kidding me?” he shouted.  “You can’t seriously count that against her.  It’s not the same thing.”

“I shall account as I will,” the figure spat.  “Our bargain ist not complete.  Ye owest me a betrothed maiden, pure and untouched.  Doest thou forget our arrangement, young Colin?  Time is short, boy.”

This has turned into an impossible task, Colin thought.  Grandfather, his childhood companion and tormentor, had cursed the family to misery and failure until a sacrifice was made.  The family had suffered numerous setbacks and early deaths for generations, supposedly from accidents or poor health, on account of grandfather Charles’ curse.  In this moment of failure, so close to a resolution, Colin was through with it.  Only a moment ago, he was prepared to kill Macy to shake off the family curse; to give himself a chance in life.  He could not go any further down a road of madness.

“Macy,” Colin said, his voice commanding and firm, “we are leaving.  Stay close to me.”

Colin heaved at the door, slowly opening it.  “What is happening, Colin?” Macy asked, clinging to him, afraid to look away from the ghost in the room.

“The family has been under a curse, imposed by one of its own patriarchs many generations ago,” Colin explained.  “You see, Charles, the grey haired man in the portrait in the master suite, came into conflict with his son over…business matters.  The old man wanted to continue illegal practices as part of the regular business.  His son wanted to phase that out.  Things became tense between them, threatening to divide the family.  Charles was making plans to kill off anyone opposed to him, family or not.  Things turned worse when the family got wind of this old Charles and his plans.  They took him into this very room, one night, and tortured him into a confession.  It practically killed him, but not before he cursed the family to ruin.”

“And he needed a sacrifice…” Macy said, starting to put everything together.  “You were going to…”

“That’s finished, Macy,” Colin said as he got the door open enough for them to pass.  “It’s all finished, now.”

Charles, who had only watched and listened to this point, suddenly stirred.  The change in his emotional state was palpable.  Rage was being tempered with suspicion and blame.

“Ye shall not flee without tasting my pains, boy,” Charles said, angrily.  “The Hardwick name shall die with ye, if thou barest not the terms of our bargain.  I will see to it.”

Colin pushed Macy through the doorway and turned to flee.  Charles screamed and surged with the power of the unrested.  The chains, hanging quietly, rattled to life and struck out at Colin, slicing and gouging him before he quitted the room.

Macy was too terrified to scream; only keeping enough wits to escape through the secret passage with all the speed she could muster.  Colin was close behind, and though Macy hardly noticed, he was being battered.  Charles was unleashing over two centuries of hate; Colin was running on adrenaline, hardly feeling the physical effects of the attack.

When they reached the master bedroom, Colin was a mess; his body covered with bruises and cuts, some dangerously deep.  Macy hesitated for a moment, troubled by Colin’s wounds.

“Keep moving!” he shouted, pushing her out of the room.  “We have to get out.”

They ran down the corridors, nearly tumbled down the stairs, ending face to face with Charles at the front door.  The old spirit had materialised in front of them.  Macy got a clear look at the haggard figure, features clear and more fearsome than ever.

“Thou shall not escape my wrath whilst Hardwick House stands, boy,” Charles seethed.  “Ye bear my blows well, yet I have more to give.”

The adrenaline rush was just beginning to slide from a peak, and Colin knew it.  Charles was more powerful that he imagined.  Still, he had a couple of cards left to play.  He pulled out the dagger he had intended for Macy, brandishing it before him.  It was old, but in perfect shape considering its history.

“Remember this, you freak?” he taunted.  “This bring up any fond memories from your last minutes as a mortal?  You were the one who told me about it.  I expect it might hurt you, still.  Willing to test that theory?”

Charles hesitated, fading slightly.  For a moment, the emotional energy he had been projecting wavered.

Colin charged the door, dagger first.  Charles flinched and disappeared before Colin reached the door.  He pushed through, Macy close behind him, until they were outside.  The night was a welcome sight.

“We made it,” she said, panting.  “We made it.”

Colin was about to say something when stones from the ground tore free of the ground and began to fly.  They were aimed squarely at the car; one destroying a tire, another smashing the steering wheel, and another one crushing the hood into the motor.

“What do we do now?” Macy cried.  “This is crazy!”

“He doesn’t like the dagger,” Colin reasoned aloud, “but it won’t keep him at bay for long.  He loses strength away from the house, though.”

“Then let’s get out of here!” Macy said.  “Let’s get way out of here!”

“No,” Colin said, a look of resolution crossing his face.  “You get out of here.  I have to finish this.”

“I am not leaving you here,” Macy said, panic creeping into her voice, again.

Colin choked out a dry laugh.  “I’m not worth it,” he said.  “What I was going to do tonight…I am not worth it.  Just get away.  He doesn’t care about you.”  The pain of the wounds was starting to hit.  Colin was thinking, though.  Charles had made a revelation, perhaps slipping up in overconfidence, that changed the game.  It was risky, but Colin strangely felt no fear; like death would only be welcomed.

Macy stood there, shocked and afraid.  She understood what Colin had intended, but running down a country road, alone in the night, was too much.  Beyond the fear, she still loved Colin.  Leaving him was not an option.

“No,” she said.  “I won’t go alone.  What do we do?”

Colin was too weak to argue with her.  “We have to be quick,” he explained.  “It took a lot out of him to wreck the car, but he is recuperating.”

“Why didn’t he just kill you?” she asked.

“Not sure,” Colin said, approaching the ruined car.  “He probably wants to drag it out, torture me like the family did to him.  The house has to go.  Got to burn it down.”  Colin fished out the emergency kit from the battered trunk.  He removed the pair of road flares, the old school kind.

Macy’s eyes widened as she realised what he intended.  “You’re not going back in there?”

“It’s the only way,” Colin said, lighting both flares.  He felt lightheaded as he approached the open door.  He had lost much blood, and time was against him.  Macy stayed back.

“I’m afraid,” she cried.

“Just stay, then,” he advised as he plodded on.  It felt as though Charles was egging him on, tempting him to return.  Colin moved steadily, bracing for any possible assault.  Charles was not about to lose his house so easily.

Colin gained entry and moved to the nearest set of drapes he could find.  They would be dry enough to start the place up, especially if he could get several of them lit.

Something struck him hard in the back, knocking him to the floor, face first; the flares tumbled from his grasp.  His eyes were clouded with tears, brought on by a broken nose.  A wicked laugh filled the room.

“Ye know not the suffering I can deliver upon the living, wee Colin,” Charles whispered in his ear.  “Drain me, though it dost, there is nought else left for me.  I am cursed to an existence of no pleasure, lad, though your final torment will bring me near to it.  Damned or not, boy, know well your last earthly moments will like unto hell!”

Colin was lifted from the floor and flung across the room, bouncing off a cabinet on his way back to the floor.  Charles struck him several more times before his energy waned.  It was at that moment the old ghost shrieked and faded, swirling down the hall, howling.  Macy stood over him, dagger clutched in both hands.

“Heavenly Father, give me strength,” she muttered with a quavering voice.

“Looks like he already did,” Colin noted.  “Get the flares…light the drapes.  Quickly!”

She ran to the task as he struggled to his feet; broken ribs working against his every move, now.  His head swam as Macy got a fire started.  “What now?” she asked, seeming more confident.

“Another set,” he said, hurting him to speak while hobbling to the next room.  “That should do it.  Go quick.”

She darted to the next room and lit the drapes.  She also got a couple of painting going.  Smoke was starting to fill the area.  “What now?” she asked, running to him.

“Out,” he croaked, feeling nauseous; breathing in shallow breaths.  “Fast.”

She threw the flares into the hall and helped him struggle back out, into the safety beyond the house.  Charles, who had been a wisp of a presence since Macy had stabbed him, stirred.  Colin and Macy both felt it.

“Keep…going,” Colin gasped, hoping he would not collapse too soon.

“I know,” Macy confirmed, half afraid of what Charles’ last effort would be.  She stayed focused on the idea he got weaker as he got farther from the house.  They were past he car, moving to the road.  Colin was nearly unconscious, barely carrying his weight.

Charles appeared before them, yet again.  His form was blurry and vague, just luminescent enough to see in the light of the burning house.  His rage still burned, but his weakness was clear.

“Young Colin meant ye to die this night, to finish our bargain.  Know ye this?”

“I know it,” she said, out of breath and emotionally drained.  Charles wanted her to abandon her fiancé at his moment of greatest need.  It would mean a sure death for him, and she could not be certain of saving him, anyway.  She felt the first tingles of heat from the house, beginning to properly burn, and noticed Charles, still hoping she would walk away, fading in tiny increments.  She needed to stall him.

“I don’t even know why I am helping him now,” she said, noticing a flicker of hope from Charles.  “He was going to kill me, sacrifice me.  Our life together was nothing.  I should leave him.”

“Yes, child,” Charles groaned, even that tiny effort testing his endurance.  “Leave him be.”

Colin’s legs gave out, and she lowered him to the ground.  He was barely conscious.  Macy laid him on his back, stunned at the horrid look of his wounds in the fire light.

“Fly, now,” Charles instructed, impatiently.  “He will receive what he hath earned.”

Macy was not sure what more she could do without being obvious.  She leaned over Colin and gently kissed his forehead.  She looked up at the house.  Most of the ground floor was burning, casting a macabre light on grounds.

“Look at the house,” Macy said, just for something to say.  “It is finished, just like you.”

Charles doubled over, fading; weakly reaching out to grab Colin.

“You…dirty…harlot…” Charles groaned, fading to nothing, his presence leaving like a bad smell blown away by a breeze.

She wondered if she was in shock.  She lay down next to Colin, happy he was still breathing.  The fire continued to throw heat; and yet Macy could not stop her shivering.

Sacrifice, Part 5

(Horror. The full story of the Hardwick House is revealed in a disturbing conclusion)

The smell was what hit her first, followed by the nasty sound of something metallic clanking against something else.  Her flashlight cut through the darkness, tracing through lines of chains and hooks and other things less clear to her.  She could not make out a stairway, ladder or other door; her heart felt like it was going to jump out of her chest in raw panic.

“Colin,” she whispered hoarsely, “is someone else here?”

Before she could react, the flashlight was knocked out of her hands, smashing on the floor and sputtering out.  Colin’s camping light was somehow distant or failing; she could barely see for the shadows.  Her arm was pinned behind her, followed by the other.  She raised her knee and kicked out, though it seemed not to affect her attacker.  A moment later, something slipped over her wrists and held them in place behind her back.  As if remembering she could, Macy screamed for Colin; the last thing she could remember before blacking out, wild with fear.

            Colin felt ill.  Reality, ugly and dark, was sinking in fast.  The presence had materialised in front of him. The gloomy figure of Charles Hardwick, founder of the American Hardwick clan and resident, undead psychopath stood before Colin.  His image was indistinct and blurred, though it was unmistakably the old man.  Colin had known him for a long time.

            “The appointed time hath come, young Colin,” Charles said in his usual mix of mumbles and groaning.

            “I know, Grandfather,” Colin said, strangely self-conscious about speaking aloud to the apparition, “and I am here.”

            “’tis well,” Charles said.  “Time doth drain me, though it be a curse of my own making.  Art thou prepared?”

            “Almost,” Colin said, hanging his head.  “I have to tell her before it is done.”  He could feel a wave of angry disapproval emanate from Charles, as easy to notice as a sudden change in temperature.

            “A waste,” Charles spat.  “What is gained by it, young Colin?”

            “My conscience will be appeased, if only a little,” Colin said flatly, not wishing to debate his decision.

            “Ye throw the minutes to the wind as a wastrel, child,” Charles uttered with distaste.  “My curse holds as ye dally with idle talk.”

            Colin had prepared for this exchange as he had for the one to convince Macy to explore the secret passage.  It was just a matter of executing the plan.

            “I am no longer a young boy, Grandfather,” he said calmly.  “Still, I plan to honour my oath to end the curse.  Midnight has not come or passed, so the time between is mine to use as I please, and it pleases me to explain all this madness to her.  You have lingered here for over two hundred years, a few more moments should be an easy matter.”  Grandfather was angry and impatient, yet shrewd enough to try hastening things.

            “Your conscience will cause ye no ill, lad,” Charles said, still angry.  “Mind ye, I might.  Think on it.”

            “You never had a conscience, Grandfather,” Colin said, remaining calm despite his rising temper, “so your advice has no weight to it.  And harm me if you want.  I know you will not.  I am the last Hardwick, the final heir to the family, and if I fail tonight your own curse will deny you rest for eternity.”

            “As ye will, child,” Charles growled, simmering rage beneath his words.  He stood silent and still, hovering over the room with the appearance of patience.  Colin felt energized after standing up to his grandfather.

            Colin tied Macy’s ankles tightly before lifting her onto the ancient table, securing her further with chains.  It would be enough to hold her until it was over.  He gently shook her.  “Macy,” he said, “you need to wake up for a while.  Just for a while, darling.”

            Macy was slow to come around.  The moments of fear she last remembered were distant and dreamlike.  It took a minute for her to recall her situation; her fear was less frantic, abated, perhaps, by her helpless condition.  Colin looked menacing in the strange light, yet his presence was a bizarre comfort.

            “There are things you need to know,” Colin began explaining, not wishing to drag the ordeal out.

            “Why?” was all she asked.  “What is happening?”

            “The family has been troubled by accidents and tragedy for many generations,” Colin said, keeping it plain.  “This is not chance.  Rather, it is a curse from beyond.”

            “What are you talking about?” Macy asked, understanding his words but not really following his meaning.

            “The family has been under a curse, imposed by one of its own patriarchs many generations ago,” Colin said, simply moving along without concern if she did not follow in detail.  “You see, Charles, the grey haired man in the portrait in the master suite, came into conflict with his son over…business matters.  The old man wanted to continue illegal practices as part of the regular business.  His son wanted to phase that out.  Things became tense between them, threatening to divide the family.”

            “Colin,” Macy said, eyes growing wide with fear, “what is going on?  Did you drug me?”

            He glanced to his side.  Charles hovered there, half mist and half shadow; every bit the ghoulish beast he had always been.  Macy must be feeling his intense malice and anger at being denied an immediate resolution, he thought; something he had grown used to.

            “Sorry,” Colin said, only wanting to finish his explanation without distraction.  “The old man turned on his son, threatening to disown him, or worse, if he failed to obey.  The son was not pleased with the threats and mustered his own supporters, turning on the old man.  They stormed the house.”

            Macy was growing hysterical.  “Not real, not real, not real…” she began to whisper, like a protective mantra.  Colin was tempted to slap her, shock her out her state.

            “The old man was unprepared,” Colin went on.  “They took him and were not certain what to do with him.  They worried he would return with hired help, or something, if they simply cast him out.  The biggest thing, really, was the money.  Charles had hidden the greater share of the family fortune somewhere, and was not telling.  The money was critical to the Hardwick future, no matter what direction the business took.”

            Macy had stopped her whispered chant but hardly seemed to be absorbing Colin’s explanation; which was mattering less and less to him.

            “They brought him here,” Colin said, “to this very room.  I am sure they did not plan for things to be overly brutal, but it was a dark age and things turned ugly.  A few days beatings turned to whippings, and escalated from there.  The torture became something grotesque, medieval.  It was long and terrible, ending in the death of old Charles, keeping his secret to the end.  The family found the money some years later, making the horrendous act meaningless.”

            Macy finally seemed to regard Colin in a lucid state.  “They killed him?” she asked, almost numbly.

            “Yes, Macy,” Colin said, tenderly, “and in his later moments he cursed them, us, to lives of tragedy and suffering for several generations.  He committed his own spirit to enforcing the curse in this world.  His rage and resentment is not diminished.”

            “Why this, Colin?” Macy asked gently.

            “Old Charles became a regular companion of mine, as a boy,” Colin explained, “until my father caught wind of our communications and moved us away.  The curse can be lifted with a sacrifice.  The Hardwick heir must kill his betrothed, here in this room, by the end of today.  It is the only way.”

            “I love you, Colin,” she said, almost as if she welcomed her fate.

            “I love you, too,” he replied, not meaning it but wishing her a touch of comfort in her last moments.  The blade was an old one, suggested by Charles so many years earlier.

            Colin turned to the apparition beside him, feeling the eagerness flow off him, and narrowed his eyes with resentment.

            “What I do now,” he said, as much to Charles as he did to whatever God might be out there listening, “is not of my own free will.  I am coerced by a demon beside me, may his soul reside below for all time.”  Charles stayed silent, seeming concerned only with what was to come.

            Macy was strikingly silent, only gasping slightly as the blade punched through her chest; her heart broken twice by the blow.  She struggled to breathe for a few moments before expiring.  It felt like she had passed in less than a minute.

            “Is it done?” Colin asked.

            “Her passage is beginning now,” Charles said.  “The soul is holding to the flesh as a babe to the womb before birth.  It will be done soon.”

            “Then what?  Do you move on?  Am I truly free?”

            “I shall pass to the beyond and be judged,” Charles said, with the first tinge of sadness Colin had ever heard from him.  “With that, I or my curse shall trouble thee nevermore.”

            After some moments of standing over Macy’s still body, Charles finally reacted to something invisible to Colin.  “Her departure begins,” he said, as if in awe.

            Colin felt relieved, somehow.  This thing had stayed with him, troubling him like a monster under his bed for his lifetime.  He could truly live, now.

            An irksome, troubling feeling from Charles struck Colin as harshly as a bucket of ice water might have.  The look and feel from the elder ghost grew into a state of malice and rage such that Colin had never known from him.  Something was extremely wrong, and Colin could not think of what it might be.

            “What is it?” he asked, fearfully.

            “Thou wouldst cheat me,” Charles said in blood soaked words.  “Such is the manner of mine own kin, sadly.”

            “I did everything my oath required,” Colin said, never so afraid as this before.  “How did I cheat you?”

            “Ye bring a betrothed to me, already known to a man before,” Charles spat, raw rage a torrent from him now.  “Ye, the last Hardwick, shall suffer worldly torments worse than mine own before we ride to the seven hells together.”

            Colin was too shocked to respond or take any action, at all, as Charles descended upon him, a force of pure wrath.  Colin’s screams found him as Charles began his vengeance.

Sacrifice, Part 4

(Horror. Things get properly weird when Colin reveals a new secret of the Hardwick House)

They lingered in the woods before returning.  The presence, as if sensing Colin’s fatigue and resentment, returned with less urgency and intensity, giving him room to breathe.  The day was starting to pass away, the sun dipping toward the tree line.  They walked through cellars with care.  “The newer wings of the house,” Colin explained in the dim light of the first cellar, “have separate cellars because the original never had one.”

Macy was actually relieved when they finished seeing the cellars.  The low, dark rooms were dusty and filled with odd, creepy tools and devices that looked frightening in the poor lighting.  She kept close to Colin and tried to imagine she was in a museum.

They ate sandwiches and drank some wine for their supper.  The evening seemed to take root earlier than usual.  “The valley,” Colin said when she mentioned it.  “It makes it seem like the sun comes up later and goes down earlier.  I had forgotten.”

The darkness brought on an entirely new feel to the building.  As the light retreated from the sky, and the full moon took over, what had been a cosy, odd house felt forbidding and eerie.  Macy noticed the change quickly, while Colin barely felt it.  Some of the lights in the house were not working and Colin could not tell if they were burnt out or had other issues.  Macy decided it would be best to stick close to the master suite until morning.

Colin made the pretense of working on his laptop for a while, supposedly recording his observations of maintenance.  Macy played a game on her phone to kill time.

It was beginning to feel quite late when Colin, now starting to feel a growing urgency from the house, closed his laptop and moved closer to Macy, trying his best to be mischievous and charming.  “I almost forgot to show you something very important,” he said.  “It just occurred to me when I was recording all the maintenance stuff.”

Macy was equally interested and suspicious.  “And what’s that?”

“The secret passage!” he said.  “It is really neat.  I used to love it as a kid.”

A few hours earlier and she might have gone for it, straight away; now, the house had bad feeling about it.  Something just did not seem right and she could not explain it.  Colin was looking at her with keen excitement for the first time since they left, making her challenge her instincts about staying put.  She was pleased to see him looking happy and did not want to spoil the moment.  She let her guard down, pushing her instincts aside.

“Really,” she teased, not wanting to give him no fight on the matter, “and why would this place need a secret passage?”

Colin had expected the question in the way a professional tennis player expects the ball to return to them at a certain place on the court, hitting it back with seeming comfort.  “The family had been smugglers,” he began smoothly, still working his charm.  “When they build the place, Charles Hardwick, the grand old man of the family, got it into his head he should have a comfortable way out in case they had issues with the law.”

“You’re not going to tell me there is an underground tunnel leading off the property,” Macy challenged, drawing the line at creeping through a dark, icky hole in the ground.

“Nothing like that, although there were plans for it,” Colin explained, trying not to sound too forced.  “The old man wanted to build an escape tunnel, but never got around to it, and his successors didn’t think it was needed.  Of course, they were slowly moving away from the illegal work and focussing on legitimate business by then.  Anyway, old Charlie had his secret passage though the house and it stayed, even without the tunnel.”

“And you want to see it now?” Macy asked in a negative tone, hoping he would settle for seeing it during the day.

“Call it an adventure,” he said, smashing the ball back in her court as he had expected he would have to.  “It was a fond memory for me when I was a kid, playing around in the secret passage, even if it was not a secret anymore.”  This was partly true.  Colin did enjoy the mystery and adventure of the passage when he was young.

Macy tried to think of some way to bail on the idea, but Colin was so excited and she wanted to make him happy.  In some way or other, she had lingering guilt about sexually withholding herself from him, and it was times like this when she felt the pang of it.  Her heart gave way and she agreed to go.

“You have to stay with me the whole time,” she said, setting limits as soon as she agreed.  “And no fooling around, I’m already a little scared about it.”

Colin soothed, “I will be with you the whole way,” he said.  “It will be all right.”

She instinctively grabbed her phone, until she remembered it was no use.  Colin, still playing the game as if it were practiced, grabbed one of the camping lights he had packed in case of power failure; brandishing it for her to see.  She used the bathroom before they were to go, finally preparing herself by taking a flashlight of her own.

“Okay,” she said, after a deep breath, “where does it start?”

“Right here,” he said, grinning.  He moved to one of the paintings and gently pulled it back.  The man in the portrait was typically grim and practically frowning; he looked almost angry with his high collar and dark eyes.  “Excuse me, Charles,” he apologized, pressing a small notch in the wood trim behind the scowling picture.  “Yes, that is the old man himself,” Colin remarked.  As he approached another wall and ran his finger along the base board until it reached a specific groove, pressing it firmly.  A loud set of clicks and one of the panels opened, just an inch or so, like a door.  Colin gave her his best, reassuring smile and pushed the panel back, revealing the passage beyond.

“Shit,” was all Macy managed to say.

Colin turned his light on and shined it down the corridor.  The walls were rough wood but dry and clean, even less dusty than the rest of the building.  He stepped through the door, ducking slightly through the entry.  Macy grabbed his arm, “We will be okay, right?”

He turned back to her, ready to win another point in this planned tennis match, “I have done this many times as a kid.  The passage is nothing to be afraid of.”  Her eyes looked carefully into his, as if searching for some doubt; when she found none, she relented.

The passageway was smaller than he remembered, though he was nine when he last set foot in it, but roomy enough for an adult man to walk upright with a little shoulder room to spare.  They took a turn ten feet in, leading to a steep stair that felt more like a ladder to Macy; this lead to a series of short passages, ending in stairs.  Macy was a bit disoriented, but knew they were trending down in their travels.  “Where does this come out?” she whispered ahead to Colin as they reached another stair leading down.

“The exit is just below us,” he said, whispering back.  The presence, which had mostly given him some space since their walk outside, was starting to build again; it was growing anxious, Colin could tell.

The final set of stairs was the easiest set, leading to a small room with stone walls and floors.  “Are we in the basement?” Macy asked in sudden panic.  She had not liked their earlier trip to basement and her nerves were not taking the return well.  It was an unreasonable fear, she knew, yet could no longer contain it.

“Macy,” Colin said, a little harshly, “it will be all right.  Just calm down and understand we are safe.”

“I just want to go back to the bedroom, okay,” she said, a little franticly.  “The adventure has been awesome, now it’s time to fucking go back, okay?!”

“Macy,” he said, rather firmly, “We are almost out, now.  It is faster if we just go to the next room and go straight back into the house.”  The presence was growing agitated, as if anticipating things to come, spurred on by Macy’s burst of emotion.

“Okay, okay,” she said impatiently, “then just go quick, I can’t stand it.” She was shaking, now.

A heavy, wooden door was the only other exit in the room.  Colin turned an ancient latch and shouldered the door open.  Macy stayed right with him as he pushed though.  She squeezed past as he closed the door behind them.  The room was just wrong.