The Chase: Part Four

(…and more…)

Part Four: The Chase

The plan had gone well, though I had wanted to be a bit closer before being seen.  Every stride helped.  Now, only the chase remained.  The being fell into the trap, cutting back for the high place.

There was no holding back.  I moved as fast as I could.  The being was agile, but I was faster.  It needed to reach the trees and brush to have any chance.  I needed to catch it before that or the chase would be difficult, though not ended.

The open space was good for running.  I could use my full stride to keep up speed without working as hard; and the target remained visible the entire time.  The being started with excellent speed, but experience suggested it would tire quickly.  As the gap between me and the being closed, the angles, speeds and distances helped me see where I might overtake it.  This always came with some uncertainty, yet helped in making a final approach.

The final approach, give or take a few strides, would be just before the trees and brush, where the ground rose up.  It was to my advantage, as the being would need to exert itself slightly more to get to higher ground.  The only danger was making the final approach too quickly; as missing at high speed would give the being a chance to double back, with its superior agility, and costing me the straight line speed advantage.  Slowing just before reaching the being was imperative.  Uncertainties remained.  Beings like this typically fell into two groups, and the fact they reacted entirely differently was a better defense the actual reactions.

The first group fell into a wild panic, staying fixated on their intended escape point and running with all speed; even when the effort itself killed them.  Their only hope was that I would be too slow or make some error in my approach.

The second group were not panicked and making plans of their own.  They had options.  Most commonly, they would make a sudden change in speed or directions immediately before contact.  It only had to be enough to evade once; then they could change direction, with enough time to find shelter or, at worst, extend the chase.

The distance closed quickly.  All that remained was to execute.  All the planning, approaching and chasing would come down to skill, timing, and reflexes.

The ground rose and the being made a sudden great leap, as though it intended to reach the bushes in a final motion.  It made little sense.  Even if it was blind panic, the motion only served to make my task easier.  Often, these things were beyond explanation; though a small part of me regretted the ease of it.  Completing a successful chase, when it was challenging, gave feelings of satisfaction and dominance.  Proving able to chase down a target was a purpose in its own right; more nourishing than the actual meal it yielded.

The leap was too high, and not nearly long enough to escape me.  I slowed until my path matched the beings descent.  In motion through the air, it was lost.

I noticed too late that something pointed, perhaps a tooth, claw or horn, appeared from the upper part of the being.  It had not being there when the being left the ground, but now it was.  I turned late, and was stung with a great pain in my neck.  I twisted away, feeling the point leave my neck.  I lost my footing and fell, tumbling for a moment.  The being stood before me as I regained my feet, and I smelled no fear.  The pointed thing was gone, though I feared it still.  Such a being might make it appear again.  My neck flashed cold before a growing heat began to spread, encompassing me.  I bared my teeth for a moment, only to realize I was falling down.  I was about to sleep without wanting to.

The Chase: Part Three

(Even more of the weird story)

Part Three: The Approach

I moved with slow, deliberate steps along the high point, until the trees and bushes were too thin to hide me.  The approach would be wide enough to work.  I took a quick look around to review the ground from this new place.  It was important to review the terrain and distances.  The being was in the same vicinity as before, eating and showing no sign of concern.  I determined there was no reason to delay.

I stayed low as I departed the bushes and moved down to the low, open space.  Only thin grass, not higher than my knees, covered the open space.  Staying low would only give me a few extra moments to stay undetected.  I would be seen once it looked in my direction.

Just as I reached the flat, open space, the being raised its head up.  I might have made a noise in my movements or just fallen into sight early; though it did not matter any longer.  The approach was nearly over.  All that remained was for the being to make a choice and act on it.  If it ran back to the boundary of trees it was taking a chance of being faster in a longer run.  If it tried to run through the gap I had left it, between me and the water, my chances were better; I knew that ground.

I held back on my speed.  It would not do to waste energy until the being committed itself to a direction.  The other advantage of holding back early was to trick the target into misjudging your full speed.  The creature saw me and froze in place, probably hoping it had not been seen.  This was good.  The longer it froze, the closer I got and the more rushed its decision became.  Still, I began to accelerate, just enough to keep closing the distance.  The being took quick glances in the directions it might go and darted into action.

The Chase: Part Two

(More of this weird story)

Part Two: The Plan

A chase is a simple process while it is happening.  What makes success more likely is the plan.  Any being can run fast, hoping to outrun a target; though it is inefficient and usually ineffective.  The approach is the biggest factor in a chase, and planning it well is what counted.

The being was not moving much from where I first observed it.  Assuming it remained near that spot, I could plan.  My options were limited mostly by my starting point.  The high space with brushes and trees hid me.  The ground between me and the being descended quickly before flattening out into open space; offering no places to hide along the way.  Getting very close and lunging out would not happen.  The plan would have to be about using the ground and tricking the being.

The patch of water was a good start.  It did not look like a water being, so that was a boundary.  The open space went on for a long distance, directly away from the water.  On the other side of the being, the open space was also long; but there was a boundary of trees and bushes that could offer an escape, if reached.  In a straight run, it was unlikely I could get close enough, fast enough to outrun it before it reached those trees.

If I moved far enough along my current cover and approached from a wide angle, leaving a gap to escape back to the cover I was in, the being might run for it.  This cover was a good screen, but not enough for hiding or evasion; if the being panicked or misjudged this, it might run that way.  I looked for another moment to see if there were other options before deciding on the wide approach.

A Tiny Light To See By, Part 9

(Psychic horror)

When I returned to the hotel, I was burnt out.

               Forensics was crowded and busy, not to mention unfriendly.  I was half expecting the maelstrom to have followed the corpses, but it did not.  Still, places like that still manage to overwhelm me.  I fought through it.  What I came away with was helpful, sort of.

               The bodies did not give me anything, in particular, other than the slightest feeling of resigned calm; a strange sensation for me to pick up, considering.  It was not universal, but highly prevalent.  I managed to confirm from overtired forensics staff that the bodies had not, as far as they could tell, been touched by scavenging animals.  The cuts had not been precise, but what did the cutting had been incredibly sharp.  The details were so unusual that most of the staff felt the RCMP would be involved soon.  After too long getting all of this, I called a cab and returned to the hotel.  I had taken enough cruisers for the day.

               Adam had not responded to my earlier text but I sent another update, anyway.

               I was still in over my head, yet I had a nagging feeling there was something familiar about it.  I might manage to find myself above water if I could pin it down.  The hotel room kept giving me a feeling of drunken joy, a strange and welcome distraction.

               Sleep beckoned.  It had been a second rough day in a row.  The forensics area was loaded with psychic energy, above and beyond the mess of recent corpses, which automatically burnt me out.

               The dream was remarkably similar to the last.  I walked into the clearing, which was empty and devoid of the overwhelming energy I first encountered.  Then, the figures appeared, the same as before.  I was surrounded before I thought to run, only having enough time to brace myself before they held me as before.  Their hands were cold and felt like they were biting into my skin.  I strained against them, trying to force my way out, but they were too strong and too many.

               “Last warning,” one of them said, more sinister than before.  The same bladed object appeared, stabbing me in the same spot, only this time the pain was much more intense; and I was not able to awaken quickly.  They were holding me for a moment, just long enough to prove they could.

               I woke with the same shock as before.  Only this time the pain in my leg was agonizing.  It was as though a hot poker had been driven in and electrified.  It felt numb from the knee down.  It was barely four in the morning, but there would be no more sleep for me.

               The pain left me slowly, certainly slower than the day before.  Sensation below the knee also returned in a similar fashion.  I shook like a leaf for a good hour before my nerves returned.  Only one positive came from nightmare number two: I remembered why the maelstrom and void from the crime scene seemed familiar to me.  It was a tainted positive, really, but better than the dead end I had been facing.

               It wasn’t until nine that I felt halfway normal.  I searched my phone contacts for what I needed.  Gary Tellmann, luckily, was still on my list.  Gaetan Boucanne was not there, but Gary would likely connect me, if we got that far.  I was getting ahead of myself, and knew it.  Adam needed to approve anyone or anything I might bring in that was out of the ordinary.  The media would be involved, and I did not need to be psychic to know that police scrutiny would be high for some time.

               I sent a quick text to Adam, stating I needed to discuss something fairly urgent.  I made a handful of internet searches on Tellmann and Boucanne to make sure no recent activity of theirs was especially odd.  Breaking anything like this to Adam meant due diligence; and I was proposing to introduce a pair who were unusual, even by my standard.

               It took me a nearly an hour to jog my memory on Tellmann.  How long ago was our last communication of any kind?  I knew it had been several years since we visited in person.  It was my best guess that our last, meaning exchange was nearly two years before.  We exchanged a few professional emails in a debate over subtleties related to language interpretation during psychic events.  Tellmann was psychic, for certain, but his real strength was academic.  He had studied all things psychic to a nearly ridiculous level.  I mostly used my abilities by feel, like an art more than science.  It could be studied, I was sure, and rules found that could be applied and honed; where I fell off with Tellmann was the degree of personal interpretation involved made that study dizzyingly complex.  He believed that over time, with enough scientific research, the human psychic nature could be fully understood and explored.

               I remember, in one of our earlier exchanges, explaining how I saw the positive application of psychic ability.  The vast majority of the world was living completely blind to an entire sense, and probably the poorer for it.  Most of those who could sense it either lived in denial, thought they were crazy or explained it away with some rational nonsense that in no way applied.  Those who could see it could only catch a glimpse, looking through a tiny keyhole into a large, cluttered, shadowy space; but we could see, at least.  I told Tellman that psychics were tiny lights to see by.  The light we caste was small, but better than nothing.

               Tellman, being on an academic mission, disagreed.

               Boucanne was the one I really wanted to get on board.  Tellman had psychic skills, but certainly weaker than mine.  Boucanne was on another level.  His abilities were extraordinary, much greater than anyone else I had ever encountered.  Unlike Tellman, Boucanne had gone in the opposite direction of science, embracing all kinds of supernatural, paranormal, mystic and occult practices.  The weirder the better was how I saw his approach to adopting new approaches and practices.  He was a brilliant psychic, through all the other nonsense, and wrote prolifically about all of it.  Even as a I skimmed his most recent blog entries (oh yes, he had a blog) it boggled my mind at the volume of information he churned out.

               Adam would be fine with Tellman, even though he was unaware of his worst quirks.  Boucanne would be harder to sell, but I needed him more.

A Tiny Light to See By, Part 7

(Psychic horror. A long delay from the last one. Combination of factors, but mostly holiday season related. I expect to post more regularly.)

The meeting was longer than I expected, based on past experience.  Then again, I had never been involved with a mass homicide investigation before.  I took notes with as much detail as I could; there was a lot to absorb and too much to risk forgetting.  It also helped me block out the volume of sensation from the gathering.  In my seat at the back of the room, it was easy to be ignored.

               There are times when hearing the case details make me feel like my input is negligible, if not a complete waste.  This was not one of those times.

               The scene had been discovered by a game warden, looking for poachers, and locked down within hours.  Apparently, I was on the scene the next day.

               What was known, or highly likely, boiled down to a few, limited details; all of which I noted.

-The victims were a mix of adult, Caucasian males and females who had been killed at the scene roughly three days before discovery.  The exact count was somewhere between fifty-four and fifty-seven people.  (the pieces were literally being matched up by forensics)

-The majority cause of death was blood loss from dismemberment, though there was evidence some were killed by decapitation.

-The bodies were dismembered with extremely sharp, almost surgical quality blades of some kind.

-There were no signs of bruising, forceful restraint or other trauma usually associated with victims like this.  Additionally, forensics had not yet found any signs of drugging.

-No traces of clothing, jewellery, eye glasses or contacts, tattoos or anything were found.

-A few traces of footprints were found, in poor condition, but likely belonged to the victims.  Tire tracks in the area were being examined.

-No other materials were found in the way of weapons, restraints, drug paraphernalia, gang symbols, serial killer trademarks or anything suspicious.

-Finally, though some of the faces and finger prints were in reasonable condition, none of the victims had been identified.

               As they went over the details, I just kept rolling things over and over in my mind.  I scratched down a few point form questions as they started wrapping up the exposition.  If the floor opened to questions, I was dying to ask.  When they finally did open the floor, I decided to leave the opening round to the police, hoping they would ask the same questions.  A number of questions were asked regarding the condition of the bodies, foot and vehicle traffic in the area, and so forth.  The general sense I had was that they really had nothing to work with, and the prospects for more were poor.

*Ravens-gasoline-tadpoles*

               Nothing really hit on the points I wanted addressed, anyway.  I managed to catch Adam’s gaze as the questions wound down; I cocked my head, silently asking if I was good to ask anything.  He glanced up at Sergeant-Major Guranovich, the Provincial cop in charge of the overall investigation, who was running the Q and A.  He shrugged and reluctantly nodded.  Not a vote of confidence, yet better than a hard no.

               I stood amidst the early mumblings of the group, feeling self-conscious and awkward for no good reason.  A moment of instant regret passed over me.

*smell of cut grass-apple sauce-dragons-Christmas lights-the sound of a flute*

               “Sergeant-Major,” I asked as politely and confidently as I could, “I have a few questions that have not been addressed here.  Apologies if they are already under review.”

               “Go ahead, then, mister…” the Sergeant-Major said; fishing for my name and, probably, my rank or position; he clearly did not know who I was.

               “Norman Garrickson,” I said.  “The victims were killed three days before discovery.  Were there any sign the bodies had been scavenged on by animals after death?”

               Guranovich raised an eyebrow, looking to the head of the forensics team.  A shoulder shrug was his reply.  “Nothing of that nature was reported to me,” the Sergeant-Major declared.  “The area is rural, but the nearby road is reasonably busy.  We would have to look into that.”

*stacks of money-butter melting on waffles-a broken necklace*

               I decided that went well enough to keep on asking.  “Will a canine unit be sent to the site?”

               That one earned me a furrowed brow from him.  “We have made arrangements for a provincial canine unit to come in today,” he said, sounding touchy.  “The local unit has been occupied on another case.”

               “Okay,” I said, preparing to wrap up with one more.  “Who owns that land?”

               “It is crown land,” he said, “but within a few yards of a farm.  We are looking into that, too.”

               “Thank-you,” I said, taking my seat and ignoring the unmistakably derogatory muttering from the group.

*a strong, warm wind-a freckled child-a damaged, cardboard box*

               “If that is all,” Guranovich said, returning to his rigid, confident form, “I want to suggest that we have very little to go on.  Normally, we would have far more evidence at this point in an investigation, so we need some traction very soon.  We have approval for as much overtime as we need.  I am overseeing things, but expect a fair bit of time dealing with the media.  For now, Chief Carter will be heading the investigation and reporting to me.”

               There was a bit of wrap up as specific duties were assigned, none of it directly pertinent to the case.  It was a big case getting a lot of attention.  The bureaucratic machinery of the investigation was engaging.  If I was going to help, I needed to get moving before that machinery pushed me out.

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, 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.

Sacrifice, Part 3

(Horror)

            Colin fussed with the keys before finding one that worked, commenting on how they were all using skeleton keys when he left.  The door opened to a fairly modest entrance, strangely small for the size of the house.  It smelled old and a bit damp.

            “Seems a bit small for such a big place,” she commented.

            “This is part of the original house, before they expanded it,” he said, trying to ignore a familiar, awkward presence.  “Some of the old house was changed around, just not the entrance or halls.  When I was growing up, the decor was very much a rustic, old style.  Most of the furniture and wood is original.”

            “It looks in decent shape,” Macy commented, looking over the walls and windows as they passed through the halls.  “Are these paintings all originals?”

            “Yeah,” he said leading the way down the hall, “and only a few have needed restoration work.”

            “And these are family portraits, then?” she asked, slightly awed by the stern folk, depicted in rigid, firm stances.  They were like something out of an early Victorian museum.

            “Pretty much,” he said, hardly looking at them.  “The odd one is some family friend or something.  They were a tight knit clan from all the history I was ever told.  And here is the staircase.”

            The oak stairs were in perfect shape, other than a bit of dust, and curved up to meet a landing that branched off into the upper floors.  The wood was not ornate or decorative.  It was a simple, sturdy construction meant to last; similar to the rest of the house.

            “So far, it doesn’t look like Cyril took anything from the place,” Colin said, finding it better to talk than address the growing presence stirring around him.

            “I can’t wait for a proper tour,” Macy said, starting to forget her earlier concerns and enjoy the moment.

            “Cyril probably lived in the master suite while he was here, so that is where we are headed,” Colin explained as they moved through another dusty hall.  “It should be set up for modern living, or close.”

            The master suite was large without being expansive.  It had a full bathroom, sitting room and study.  It was all right out of a history book.  Of all the things in the room, only the bed struck Macy as being over the top.  It was high and deep, with immense oak posts supporting a velvet canopy.

            Colin pulled gently on a cord that hung down from the high ceiling and the lights came on.  Macy gave him a looked of awe and surprise.  “That is so weird,” she said, “and cool at the same time.  What the heck?”

             Colin laughed at that.  He had taken the strange light switches for granted as a kid; in fact, normal wall switches took him a while to get used to.  “They used to have these connected to a bell downstairs for the servants.  They never got rid of them, so now they turn the lights on and off.”

            Macy gave the cord a short tug and the lights went off.  She laughed, too.  It was all so strange and wonderful; and it helped her connect with Colin’s unusual past.  She felt closer to him than ever.

            The room had fresh bedding and was otherwise set to live in.  Colin took Macy on a tour of the building, checking the state of things as they went.  The house had changed very little since he left so many years ago.  The odds and ends repairs that Cyril had made really took care of the worst issues; the rest was all a matter of details.  The rooms were in order, drop cloths protected anything worth protecting, and the worst cleaning needed was some dusting.  The returning memories helped Colin manage the increasing pressure from the presence in the building.  It took them nearly two hours to see everything except the cellars, by which time he had a headache from focussing on the tour and denying the presence.

            “We don’t have to see the cellar,” Macy said, noticing his changed temperament, assuming fatigue or emotional strain.  “We can just rest a bit, if you want.”

            “Actually,” Colin said, “how about I show you the old stable house?”  They had seen the building from the windows facing the back of the property.  Macy agreed, thinking the fresh air would be a good change.

            The presence in the house had less strength when Colin was out.  He found a bit of clarity and release as they crossed the yard to the stables.  He found the key for that lock and opened it up.  There wasn’t much to see.  The family only kept a couple of horses when he was kid, and they were older animals kept mostly for the nostalgia of it.  Faint traces of manure and damp wood lingered.  The wall was littered with traps, chains, tackle and harness, tools and supplies.  Most hung on nails or hooks.  Not much to see, but the distance from the house was a relaxing change for Colin.

            “How about a walk around the grounds?” he asked her.  The weather was pleasant enough and they toured the remnants of the garden.  It had completely grown over and gone wild.  Some failing fruit trees had suffered greatly from strangling ivy.  They walked through the path into the forest beyond the garden.  The stones were covered in moss and forest litter, but the path remained clear enough to pass comfortably.  The pair of stone bridges over the creek stood strong as ever, adding a pinch of civilization to the forest.  They walked in silence; Macy trying to give Colin some space to deal with whatever was ailing him.

            For Colin, the ground past the last foot bridge was safe ground from the nagging pressure within the house.  His mind was completely clear after they crossed it.  He recalled, as a youth, that it was so.  He was not sure if the presence had become stronger, somehow, or he was simply not used to it after the long absence.  The respite would be short lived, he knew, though it was welcome.

            He looked at Macy like he had not seen her before.  She was not an ugly girl, to be sure, though modelling would never be an option.  She was slim and kept good care of herself.  Her personality was generally pleasant, though she was a bit needy and tended to nag.  She was from a working class family with no major red flags for him.  In all, not a bad girl; but not one he really cared to marry.  He regretted her part in the events to come.

Sacrifice, Part 2

(The horror story continues.)

“Yeah,” Colin said, “it is.  That’s all part of the charm, of course.”

     “Are there any neighbours close by?”

     Colin pressed his memory.  The family did not really mix much with friends or neighbours in the area.  That sort of thing only started after the move to New York.  The closest thing he could recall was an older, farming couple that were a short drive away; and, even then, he was under the impression that their property had since been added to the Hardwick estate.

     “Not close by, for sure,” he said.  “The house itself is huge, and the property extends a few miles or so around it.  It is an old estate.  Not many like it, anymore.”

     “You figure it was built about two hundred years ago?” Macy asked, enjoying the start of their chat.

     “The original part of the house was built right before the Revolution,” he said, remembering what his grandparents had explained to him a million times as a boy.  “The exact date is not known because they added the rest of the house about ten years later, when the British were gone and things had calmed down.  So, technically, the building is about two hundred years old.”

     “The Hardwick’s must have made good money,” she said, suddenly into new territory with the history of the mansion.  “What did they do?”

     “Well, the official, family line is has it as a combination of old money from Europe and a mix of local business interests.  We know they owned sawmills, forges and several general stores, but it gets murky beyond that.”

     “Ah,” she laughed, “finally some juicy stuff.  Do tell.”

     Colin smiled.  The conversation was actually enjoyable to him, as well.  “There is a ton of rumour that they smuggled just about anything and everything you can imagine.  It is said this brought the Hardwick’s to the colonies, in the first place.  During the revolution, their smuggling operations went into overdrive.  The expansion to Hardwick House was a result.”

     “So they smuggled goods past the British,” Macy laughed, her knowledge of history quite limited.  Her understanding of the American Revolution was that the British had high taxes, the Americans revolted and won.  George Washington and Thomas Edison were mixed into it, somehow, too.  “You come from patriotic roots,” Macy added.

     “Not likely,” Colin said, half smiling.  “Rumour has it that the Hardwicks smuggled for both sides, until it was clear the British were finished.  Then, they sided exclusively with the American cause.  Business probably trumped politics.”

     “Scandalous,” Macy said, looking at their surroundings.  She noticed, rather suddenly, that there were no power lines flanking the road side.  She glanced at her phone, noticing the reception was at zero bars.  A glance at the GPS showed it was searching for satellites.  She waited a few minutes before bringing her growing angst to her fiancé, who seemed oblivious to it all.

     “You do know where you are going, right?” she asked.

     “Absolutely,” Colin said, suddenly noting the state of the GPS.  “Don’t worry about that, I looked the map over before we left.  The area has always lagged behind with technology.  Your phone probably doesn’t have much reception out here, either.”

     “Are you from a Quaker family or something?” Macy asked, suddenly unsure of what was coming.  “This place does have electricity, right?”

     Colin laughed, almost choking from it.  “Not Quakers, no,” he said, trying to calm down, “but suspicious of new things, yes.  The land is in a bit of a valley and there are no cell towers on or near it.  I am not even sure if Uncle Cyril owned a cell phone; and if he did, he was the first in the family to live at the house with one.”

     “And the electricity?” she asked with growing suspicion of her own.

     “They have a private line running off the grid,” Colin explained.  “My grandparents were very suspicious of outsider access to the property, so they cut some deals to make sure the lines were off limits to government people.  It was only installed after I was born, in fact.”

     “And it is working now?”

     “I am told so,” Colin said, “but the power was never reliable, even after it was installed.  A rural reality.”

     “The charm of the weekend is sure rubbing off quickly,” she muttered.

     “It will all be over before you know it, dear,” he said, lacing in his best charm.

     They did not drive much further when they reached the turn to the property.  It was a private road, complete with a gate and no trespassing sign.  Colin pulled up to the gate, got out and unlocked the padlock with one of the keys that had been mailed to him.  After driving through, he locked the gate behind them.

     “Why bother?” Macy asked when he returned to the car.

     “A minor precaution against trespassers,” Colin said, “and it helps with any insurance issues that might come up.  Stupid, I know.”

     The private road to the house was not much different than the last few miles of dirt road.  It was rutted and worn, probably one of the first things needing repair.  The trees were a little closer and the light seemed a bit dimmer, especially for noon.  Macy’s sense of distance was worse than her history, but it was quite a distance from the gate before they reached Hardwick House.

     The building was vaguely Victorian, though it had almost gothic elements on the exterior.  Built on a small rise, just clear of the forest line, the house stood three stories and seemed to sprawl out like a monster on a rock.  The final approach was covered with paving stones, lined with cherry trees.  It was almost beautiful.

     “Wow,” Macy said, taking in the building and grounds.  There were statues and a small fountain in front of the building, now a touch mossy and entangled with vines.  The building exterior showed signs of both weathering and recent repair.  Colin was growing distracted as they came to a stop in front of the main door.  When they stepped out of the car, the world was silent; no sound, wild or otherwise, was to be heard.  The sudden change was almost palpable, and Colin filled the gap awkwardly, despite being awash in his own thoughts.

     “Welcome to Hardwick House!” he exclaimed in a mock showy tone.

     If it had not been for the newest concerns of electricity, cell service, and complete isolation, Macy might have found the place quaint.  The charm was there, yet her mood was off; and she was not confident she would shake it.

Sacrifice, Part 1

(I return from holidays a little refreshed and ready to kick off 2020. I hope everyone had a happy and restful time. Thought I would switch gears from the long, sci-fi and jump back to some shorter, spooky stuff. This is a horror/ghost story with just a hint of mystery thrown in. Hope you enjoy.)

“You have been putting this off for forever, Colin,” Macy nagged playfully.  “Like so many other things.”

            Colin was getting used to the nagging; it was growing more frequent as the wedding day approached.  He put up with it, on account of the bigger picture.  “The old house isn’t going anywhere, so a few more minutes will be okay.”

            “I guess so,” she agreed, keeping things playful.

            The car was already packed and ready for the short drive to the Hardwick House.  Even though he had only brought up the family house recently, the trip to see it was high on both their priority lists.  Macy already knew she liked Colin; he fit her check list so well that it sometimes scared her.  His family had dwindled from several accidents and tremendous ill luck, true, but that also meant fewer in-laws to interfere or quarrel with.  Colin was a junior partner in a mediocre law firm, clean cut and God-fearing.  He was a little older than she had hoped for; that being the worst thing about him.  He had not immediately told her about the family estate in the heart of New England he had recently inherited, perhaps concerned that she was a gold digger, yet this seemed a reasonable precaution to her.  She had not accepted his proposal for his money, but the additional security it provided was welcome.

            For Colin, the house had some value beyond childhood memories.  He had been raised there until he was nine, when his father whisked Colin and his mother away to New York City.  Life had been good at the Hardwick House, a remote, Victorian mansion in a magnificent state of upkeep; especially compared to a busy, loud and crowded New York City.  Twenty five years later, Colin was in a tight spot.  Despite relative success as a business lawyer, his lifestyle and some questionable investments had set his finances back.  Debts were crippling, nearly to the point of breaking.  The family estate came to him as an early surprise; the recent passing of an estranged uncle being the last in a string of unusual deaths.  The place was worth a fair chunk of change; at least, enough to pay his mounting debts and give him a fresh start.  Still, there was always a price, even for an unexpected gift.

            The plan was to spend Saturday night at the house in order to check it out.  Colin’s Uncle Cyril had been keeping the place as a summer residence.  Uncle Cyril had been carrying out some upkeep toward selling the place, so the property would keep them dry enough for a weekend.  They brought camping gear, just in case.

            “How long since your uncle stayed there?” Macy asked as they got underway.

            “Almost a year,” Colin said, sure he had told her before.

            “I still can’t believe it took so long for the will to go through,” she said, mostly to make conversation.  Colin had only told her about it a month ago.  She had been dying to see Colin’s childhood home ever since.

            “It was a pretty screwy will,” Colin said, playing along with the idle conversation.  “I think he probably didn’t want the place going to me.  He did everything except exclude me from the will.  If he had, there would be an auction right now.”  Cyril had willed his entire estate to a series of friends who turned out to have passed away or disappeared.  The will was clearly old; the old man had not expected to kick off so soon.  When it was clear that no one in the will was available to take it, Hardwick House passed to the next available family member.

            “You were kind of vague about his break with the family,” Macy went on.  “He didn’t get along with your dad, somehow?”

            “The reason I was vague is because I never had it explained to me, either,” Colin explained.  “No one talked about it, really.  What I know came in bits and pieces.  Mom and dad were already dead before I left law school, so there wasn’t a lot of adult discussion of family politics.  Who knows, they might never have told me, anyway.”

            “Your uncle was mad that your dad left the estate,” Macy probed.  “Seems like a weird thing to fight over.”

            Colin smiled.  He had wondered about the full connection to his own understanding of the house and Uncle Cyril’s rift with his father.  “It could be anything, I guess.  For all I know, dad left because of the fight.  The bits and pieces suggest Cyril felt dad owed it to my grandparents to stay.  I just don’t have enough information to say, really.”

            Macy smiled and put her hand Colin’s shoulder.  “You’re funny,” she said, almost giggling, “with your legal need to have it all evidenced out.  You don’t even want to try a few theories?”

            “Not really,” Colin said, really not caring about the details of an event that no longer mattered.

            “Okay,” she said, trying to find a new angle to keep the conversation going.  “What did your uncle do for a living?”

            “He was a building contractor,” Colin said.  “As far as I know, that was all he ever did.”

            Macy nodded.  “And did he have much money of his own?  He was keeping up a pretty expensive property for a few years.”

            “He was planning on selling it in a few years, according to the paperwork.  His contracting business didn’t make a ton of money, but he seemed to manage.  For all I know, he was selling family heirlooms to make the difference.  As it stands, I already sold his business to one of his senior employees to cover the legal costs related to the stupid will.  He was worth that much, at least.”

            “Hopefully he kept the plumbing up,” Macy said, looking to lighten things.  “I don’t really want to do my business in a pot all weekend.”

            “I think the place is livable, including plumbing,” Colin said, checking his blind spot as he pulled onto the interstate.  “A local caretaker was keeping the place up until a couple of weeks ago.  Another provision of the will.”

            “Why did he stop?” Macy asked.  A caretaker was news to her.

            “A short term contract provided for in the will,” Colin said.  “It’s part of why I wanted to see the place now.  If the place is good enough to sell, as is, I may hire him on again until a deal closes.”  He had already explained his intention to fix the house up, if needed, to maximize the price.

            “Would you ever consider keeping it?” she asked.  She had brought it up before, briefly, but never really discussed it beyond that.

            Colin smirked.  “Part of me wouldn’t mind.  The truth is that my life is based in the city.  The commute is almost manageable, except for the winters.  I couldn’t justify the place as a summer residence, considering what year round taxes and insurance would cost.  Besides, just keeping the place up would be a job.  There must be a dozen bedrooms alone.”

            Macy smiled again, suddenly feeling close to him.  “Maybe, when we finally stop waiting to do the deed,” she said, half serious, “we could work on filling those rooms.”  She had casually referenced their state of celibacy.  Macy was not altogether the most religious girl, however she had a strong desire to remain celibate until her wedding night; which was, for Colin, the only thing that mattered.

            Colin looked away to hide the look crossing his face, obvious sadness and regret.  When he turned back, smiling, she seemed not to have noticed.  “That’s a lot of rooms,” was all he said.

            The expressway gave way to a short run on a secondary highway before leading to a genuine side road.  The road was hilly and winding at stops, seeming to hug the landscape.  Irregular intervals of houses and farms quickly gave way to trees and brush.  For Macy, a true city girl, they were suddenly in a wilderness; and she was uncomfortable with it.  They had been fairly quiet for a while, and she needed the comfort of conversation.

            “You weren’t kidding about the place being in the middle of nowhere,” she said, hoping he would converse.