A Tiny Light to See By, Part 8

(Psychic horror. And on we go.)

There are times when you feel like you are in over your head.  My return to the crime scene convinced me the water line was well above me.

               I had braced for a repeat experience of my previous visits.  I ate light and was well hydrated, expecting to brave the maelstrom.  It was a tense ride in another cruiser, driven by another unwilling young cop.  I kept my head clear and actively forced myself to keep from clenching my jaw or squeezing my fists.

               Before I stepped into the clearing I knew something had changed.  There was nothing.  It was almost the opposite of before.  The mad rush that had overwhelmed me was replaced by an almost equally mad void; and it had the opposite effect on me: peaceful tranquility.

               It felt as though every speck of psychic energy had been sucked out of the area.  I walked to the middle of the clearing and it felt like there was nothing there.  Only the faintest, distant traces of anything could be felt from the nearby officers.  As disconcerting as it was for my sixth sense to fade out like that, it was also joyous, peaceful.  It was like walking out of a rock concert and into a sensory deprivation tank.  I lost track of time as I simply enjoyed the moment, unprofessional or not.

               The moment was disrupted by the approach of more officers, and the void did not resist the intrusion of energy.  The canine unit arrived with two German shepherds, almost frantically sniffing at the ground.  They were as unbothered as I was.  What had changed?

               I made some notes and began moving to the perimeter I had mapped out.  The void felt like it was unstable, probably collapsing under the weight of surrounding energies, yet I managed to determine it mirrored the earlier maelstrom.  It was new territory for me, and left me feeling awkward and uncomfortable.  I was in over my head.

               I had been in over my head before, just not that far.  It was like sitting down to an exam after attending only half the lectures, doing none of the reading and no studying.  All I could think to do was walk through the area as systematically as possible, maybe to catch a trace of something.  I refocused as I trudged through the brush and cleared areas, enough to stay open to whatever I might pick up.  It was nearly supper time when I had finished, and nothing came through.  The police presence was easily discernible from the nothingness of the scene, which was eroding rapidly.  The center of the clearing remained calm, when I returned, but not as much as before.  It was slowly and surely losing ground to the surroundings, a psychic equilibrium wearing it down.

               Still, I took the time to enjoy the relative peace of the moment.  It was almost therapeutic after the earlier scorching.  As I basked, my mind started to go over the case.  The details, even factoring out my psychic observations, were going to be a challenge.  If forensics failed to get any traction with the physical evidence the investigation faced huge challenges.  Who were these victims?  How did they get here?  Who were the perpetrators and where did they go?  It meant a lot of uncheck boxes if the science came up empty.

               Adding to this, I had come up with nothing.  This was nothing new for me; sometimes there was just nothing, frustrating as it was.  The wrinkle, this time, lay in the strange, unprecedented experiences I had faced; the overwhelming sensations of the raw crime scene, the matching void that followed, and the threatening message from the dream.  I needed more time and more access to the physical evidence, even though it would be hell.  Forensics labs, cemeteries and morgues are all nightmare scenarios for me.

               I sent a quick text to Adam, whose cell number I had managed to acquire, then asked the officer in charge for a lift downtown.  I made notes while I waited for the ride, which got me to thinking about the situation and how strange it was.  The more I thought about it, the more it jogged my memory.  The experience of the void, especially, seemed to ring familiar.  The ride arrived, breaking my train of thought; doubly so because it was the same cop who had given me my initial ride to the crime scene.

               “Hey,” he greeted me.  “How are you doing?”

*steep, wooden stairs-clover-bright lights*

               “Been better,” I admitted.  “How about you?”

               “Busy,” he said with a smile.  “Things have been buzzing with all this going on, so they are running us steady.  Overtime is going to be mandatory for a while, I think.”

               I checked his name, which I had deliberately avoided before.  Melvin Farthington.  “I suppose that won’t hurt, then?”

               “I am always good for more hours,” he said, putting the car in gear and driving out.  “Have you cracked this case, yet?”

*poker chips-a poorly played violin-a paper cup-a box from a cheap chemistry set*

               I nearly laughed out loud.  “A stand still, really,” I answered.  “This has been a unique experience.  I need to cover more ground before I draw any conclusions, though.”

               He frowned at that.  “Really?”

               “Yes, really,” I said.  “Something about all this is heavily charged on a spiritual, psychic level.  Until I cover my bases, there is not much more I can determine.”

               “Well, that makes sense considering the scale of what happened,” he reasoned.  “I mean, that’s more murders than we’ve had in the last ten years.  Nothing normal about that.”

               We rode in silence for a bit, my mind rolling over things.  Awkward silence gave me time to process.

*blue paint on a wall-a feel of rough fabric-a stained coffee mug*

               “Did anything ever come from that missing person?  The kid from Timberton?” I asked.

               “I haven’t heard anything,” he said.  “You think there’s a connection?”

               “Awfully long shot,” I replied, “but I hate ruling anything out, especially when the timing is so close.”

               “Fair enough,” he said.  “I’m sure they are considering that, too.”

               “I hope so,” I said, letting the ride return to awkward silence the rest of the way.

*walking on hot pavement-a wine cork-smoke*

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.

The Gillbury Swamp Gold, Part 7

(The adventure takes whole new turns)

“Apology granted,” Leo said in shock.  “Now keep digging.”

Charles kept digging though the muck for a several minutes, announcing in whispers when he found another piece.  It was tense work with time being short; Charles became more focused on digging and less on being quiet.  Cloud cover began to thin yielding more light, encouraging Charles to dig faster.

The sound of people approaching was obscured until the last moment, when Leo heard a mix of whispers and rustling reeds.  He instantly nudged Charles and whispered a sharp warning.  The incoming party had moved right up to them with little notice.

Leo turned off the safety of the shotgun and Charles drew the thirty cal.  The moonlight was out, making it impossible to hide.

Leo gave his brother a quick look, turning his eyes to the reeds behind them; suggesting they might run for it.  A quick head shake from Charles declined the option.

Red, Tanner and Ann-Marie Gibson approached.  They were all armed, ready for a fight.  Red and Tanner had shotguns, braced for shooting, and Ann-Marie pointed a rather large revolver.  Charles and Leo had been in tight spots before; just never this tight.  The Gibsons were trouble, widely known to be mean, tough people.  It would not take much of a spark to get the shooting started.

“You motherfuckers are trespassing,” Tanner said with a measure of calm, “so drop the guns and get the fuck out.”

“Just hunting.  We got lost,” Charles replied with a hoarse voice.  Leo realised what his brother had already figure out, which was that the Gibsons had not recognised them.  They had no beef with the Gibsons but, given their profession, it would be better to stay anonymous for as long as possible.

“You look pretty nervous for hunters,” Tanner said as his companions spread out as much as the trail allowed.

“And hunters don’t carry no pistols, neither,” Ann-Marie chimed in.

“You better start talking,” Tanner growled, “or you’re fucking dead.”

“Are you cops or something?” Leo said, disguising his own voice.  Accusing them of being police was the best this he could think of to throw them off.

“You guys must be pretty stupid,” Red said.  “You think we’re fucking cops?  What are you really doing here?”

Charles continued the play for time, half hoping a swatch of cloud would put them in the dark long enough to run for it through the weeds.  “Okay, fine,” he said, keeping up the disguised voice, “we aren’t hunters.  We’re working for Rob Sreyfus.  He wanted to start growing some plants near the swamp, so we are scouting it out.  We did get lost, though.”

The Gibsons were hesitating for real.  Sreyfus was known to them; a local who was well known for being connected.  More than that, Sreyfus was rumoured to have less than legal deals with the Gibson clan.  It made the situation wonderfully complicated for the Gibsons, who were not great thinkers.

“We don’t want any trouble,” Charles added.  “Rob will be pissed enough.”  More food for thought the Gibsons would struggle to digest.

“Sounds like bullshit to me,” Ann-Marie squawked in her trashy way.  “Let’s just kill these cock suckers.”

Her words hung in the air.  A long, quiet gap would need to be filled, the brothers knew, or the Gibsons might fall back to their instincts for violence.  They were interrupted before stalling again.

“Police! Everybody stay right where they are!” a voice blared through a loud horn, deafening them after so much quiet.  Several flashlights came on in the surrounding reeds.  They threw little light and the mist dulled the illumination further.  The sounds of people moving through the reeds with some haste were clear.

“Fuck, it’s the cops!” Tanner burst out as he turned and fled.  “Get the fuck out of here.”  The other two Gibsons turned tail and followed him.

Leo and Charles set their weapons down, as slowly as they could manage.  A group of men entered the trail from both sides, guns first.  “Halt!” the loud horn belted out after the running Gibsons.

“I’ve got these two covered,” came the unmistakable voice of Police Chief Dingman.  “Get after those three.”  The cops legged it after the Gibsons, with occasional calls from the loud horn.

“Dingman, are we glad to see you,” Charles said as he raised his hands.

“Yeah, Chief,” Leo added, “we thought we were finished.”

“What the fuck?” Dingman blurted, confused.  “What are you two morons doing out here?”

“On a case,” Charles said, not dropping his hands.  “It turns out it involves you, even though we didn’t know it until just a while ago.”

Chief Dingman’s glare was obvious, even through the mist and partial moonlight.  “Keep talking, then.”

“We were looking for stolen goods,” Leo picked up the story, knowing exactly how they needed to play things.  “Sentimental items were stolen from a client, and we had some leads the Gibsons might be involved.  We have reason to believe they were dumping the goods they couldn’t sell in the swamp.  So here we are.”

“Did you find what you were looking for, then?” Dingman sneered.

“No, but I think we found what you are looking for,” Charles said with a smile.

“What would you know about that?” Dingman asked suspiciously.

“If I can put my arms down, I can show you,” Charles said.

“Keep the hands up, thanks,” Dingman said, “I don’t trust you assholes enough for that.”

Charles sighed.  “Left inside coat pocket,” he said, feigning boredom.  “And even if it’s not what you are here for, you probably know about it.  And if you don’t, then you will be even more interested.”

Dingman did not trust or like the McCoy brothers, though he did not hate them.  Mostly, they were just trouble.  He pulled the bag of blackmail pictures from Charles’ coat, not lowering his gun.  It was obvious from his glance through the bag that he had seen them before.

“How do I know you weren’t in on this?” Dingman said, taking a pace or two backward, aiming more carefully.

“Come on, Chief,” Leo argued, “you know us better than that.  That’s not our style.”  Leo knew Dingman would realise this.

The conversation was interrupted by a distant exchange of gunfire.  They all stopped as a few straggling shots rang out, dulled by the distance and walls of reeds.

“What the hell is going on?” Dingman called though his radio.  “Report.”  There was a delay of nearly a minute before a response came.

“Clear for now, Chief,” a cop reported.

“What happened?”

There was a shorter pause.  “Suspects are dead, sir.  It was the Gibsons.  They ran for the house and we pursued.  When we broke the cover of the swamp they fired on us.  We returned fire.”  Charles and Leo both mulled over the turn of events.

“Is anyone else hit?” Dingman asked.

“Del caught a bit of bird shot in the arm, but he’s ok.  We are heading to the house, now, unless you need us.”

“I’m good here,” the Chief called back.  “I’ll call this in.  Proceed to the house.”

Dingman lowered his gun, and the brothers lowered their hands.  “I don’t know exactly why you were here, and I don’t care much; other than you probably had nothing to do with the blackmail.  No one knows about these pictures or the blackmail attempt.  I kept that to myself.  This little raid is officially a drug and weapons bust.  It will only be a big deal now because three suspects were shot, but that also helps my case.  Why did you volunteer these pictures to me so fast?”

Leo cleared his throat.  “We know you don’t like us, much, but what they were trying to pull off is bad shit.  Your kid should not have got involved.  I didn’t want that on record in some evidence bag, word would have got out.”

Dingman paused, looking unhappy.  “So here is the deal.  You were never here, and you never saw these pictures.  As I was attempting to cuff you, I slipped and you managed to grab my arm and strike my face.  I was stunned and you ran through the swamp and got away.  I’ll tell them you were headed to the house, so you have a free shot out.”  Dingman pulled out his cuffs and tossed them on the ground, then struck himself in the face with the side of his pistol; a small cut opened over his eye.  He smiled, “If you don’t like that deal, the same thing will happen, only I end up shooting you dead.  So what’s it going to be?”

“Deal number one works, Chief,” Charles said, quickly, “we were never here.”

They turned and ran.  Dingman’s pistol fired twice as they ran through the reeds for cover.  They kept running.

 

Leo and Charles reached the truck in a state of near exhaustion.  The sun was on the verge of rising, and they needed to get away without being seen.  It was all back road driving until they reached the main secondary route into Gillbury.  Charles fumbled through his coat, pulling out dirty pieces of gold.

“I can’t believe we got out of that,” Leo said, checking his speed.  There was no need to be pulled over.

“Yeah,” Charles said, holding the gold in one hand, testing the weight, “we got lucky.”

“So how much did we get, after all?”

“Eight pieces,” he said, “about six or seven pounds, maybe.”

“Enough to pay the rent, at least,” Leo said, scratching at his bug-bitten hand.

“I suppose,” Charles agreed, inspecting the gold further.  “They do have some markings on them, small but distinct; might add some value if there is any rarity.”

“Whatever,” Leo said, starting to relax.  “I’m just glad we got something out of it.  Now, it’s over with.”

“Over with?  What are you talking about?” Charles said, pocketing the gold with a smile.  “There’s gold in that there swamp!”

 

(That’s it for now.  I have a number of story ideas for the McCoy brothers.  Their tales are probably best suited for a series, anyway.  If I get something together for another round, I will revisit Gillbury.  As it is, I am behind on enough writing projects to leave the brothers McCoy driving home with a pocket full of gold.)

The Gillbury Swamp Gold, Part 6

(The adventure turns strange as new, unexpected revelations are made)

Off balance and surprised, Leo did not have time to struggle.

“Relax, it’s me,” came a hoarse whisper in his ear.  It was Charles.

Leo relaxed and crouched in the reed with his brother.  Adrenaline was surging.

Whoever was on the trail ahead was brand new, and probably one of the Gibsons.  There was a bit of sound as this new person shifted around, certainly having heard the brief commotion in the near silent darkness.  A long moment of silence passed.  It was a duel of patience and senses.  If they could stay silent and undetected for long enough then the other side might simply wander off, or go the wrong way to look for the cause of the sound.  They breathed as steadily and evenly as possible, the taste of the swamp air feeling like a film over the inside of their mouths.  It felt like forever.

The mystery person blinked first.  After a bit of movement, the person made some noises like they were digging through something in the ground.  It was done quietly, clearly an attempt to be secretive.  A few minutes later, they got up and started moving on the trail in the brothers’ direction.  Both braced with guns ready.  Whoever this person was, they were up to something they wanted kept quiet.  As the person neared, the clouds parted.  Moonlight flooded the scene like a spotlight in an ancient theatre.  Red Gibson was a few feet away, slowing slightly when the light shone.  He took a quick look around, looking right past Leo and Charles, crouched in the reeds.  Seconds later, he was gone.

Leo and Charles waited several minutes in the reeds before daring to whisper.

“I lost the trail,” Leo admitted quickly.

“Yeah,” Charles said, about as impressed as expected, “no shit.  We’re bleeding time fast while you get turned around on a trail.  Good job, Trusty.”

“We have much bigger problems to consider,” Leo said, dodging further reproach.  “What the fuck was Red doing out here?”

“I doubt it was late night gardening,” Charles said.  “Either way, I am going to find out what he was doing over there.  He may have shown us the prize.”

After a bit more waiting, they half crawled to the spot Red had been.  Leo kept a lookout while Charles poked around a mound of freshly packed earth, eventually digging into it.

“What are we looking at, here?” Leo asked without turning to Charles, keeling behind him.

Charles did not respond immediately.  “Still digging through here,” he whispered back.  “The ground is just firm enough to bury something, though a bit shallow.  It is an awfully small hole, though.”

“Is this him planting pot, or what is it?” Leo asked again, growing impatient.

“Funny,” Charles muttered, digging more aggressively.  “Ah, I have something here…not what I was hoping for…”

Leo waited a few moments.  There was a rustling of plastic and paper.  “Tell me it’s thirty pounds of gold coins and we can go home.”

“This is really messed up,” Charles said, followed by more rustling plastic.  “Very, very messed up.”

“If you don’t start sharing, I am going to shoot you in the back before I walk out,” Leo declared.

“I am in possession of a freezer bag full of blackmail photos and notes,” Charles whispered after a short flash of his hand light.

“Fuck off, already,” Leo shot back.  “Be serious.”

“I’ll let you have a look when we get back to the truck,” Charles said, repacking the hole.  “These ass holes have some pretty freaky pictures of the police chief’s daughter, though it is beyond me why they included copies of blackmail notes.”

“You’re fucking serious!”

“Yes, unfortunately,” Charles said, busy repacking the hole to look as it did moments before.  “The Gibsons have moved on to blackmail as the family crime of choice.  Wonderful.”

“What are they asking for?”

“Fifty grand and the police leave the Gibson clan alone for a while,” Charles said.  “I am not even sure they have sent the notes yet, but it is pretty clear who they are for, and what is being asked.  I mean, why else would they bury this so close to the house?”

“I would guess they are the hard copies,” Leo said, trying to quickly wrap his head around the discovery, “probably scanned for an email to the chief.  How old is his daughter, anyway?”

“Not sure,” Charles said, patting down the dirt on the ground, “but I think she is still in high school.  Too young to be doing what she was in those photos, if you could ever be old enough.  I’ll give the Gibson family credit, the photos are good blackmail material.”

“So what now?” Leo said, deciding to get his head back in the game.

“Nothing has changed for us,” Charles said, marking their location in the GPS.  “We can make up a thousand ways these photos could have landed in our lap, considering our business.  Besides, the chief may be a bit of prick, but blackmail like this is…dirty business.  We can get this to him in the morning.  We are near to a point I was looking to search, so let’s get going.”

Ten minutes later, they were in a small clearing, covered with plenty of small vehicle tracks.  The ground had been packed firm from years of traffic, with swamp reeds surrounding the spot.  The faint glimmer of light from the Gibson house was just barely visible over vegetation.  Charles looked at several spots he suspected before giving up.

“What now?” Leo asked.

“Several more spots to check,” Charles said, sound a touch grumpy and discouraged, both uncharacteristic of him.  “We probably have time to check one or two more before it is time to bail.”

Their next movements took them further from the house to a dead end in the trail.  It took a moment to make out against the heavy, rotting air but the smell of human excrement came on strong.

“This gets better and better,” Leo said, looking with displeasure at a mound of filth bordered with a few rumpled pieces of paper.

“Never mind that,” Charles said, abruptly.  “It’s just their toilet when they come out drinking.  The path itself must have been here for a long time.”

“I hope the handle on that screw together shovel is long enough for you,” Leo said, stepping back, “because I volunteer for look out duty, again.”

“Eat me,” Charles said, already screwing together the pieces of the small shovel.  He moved the mound aside as delicately as possible, resisting the temptation to pitch it at Leo’s feet.  The digging was quite easy in the damp, soggy earth.  When he got about four feet down, the familiar sound of metal scraping on shovel cut the air.  Leo turned back to see Charles drop to his knees and flash his hand light into the hole.

“That better not have been a beer cap,” Leo said, trying to force himself to keep watch while Charles sifter through the damp earth in the dark.

“Doubt it,” Charles said, digging around.  “The ground here is too packed in, like it has been here for a long time.  Wait a second, wait a fucking second…”

“What? What?!” Leo was only half watching the dark trail.

“I think you owe your genius brother an apology,” Charles said, holding something up and flashing his light on it.  In the brief light, something half smeared in dirt, gave an unmistakable shine of gold.

The Gillbury Swamp Gold, Part 5

(The adventure continues in the swamp as Leo deals with losing his way.)

A shot of adrenaline cleared his head, and quickly.  He back tracked on his last few paces, and then a few more, before giving up.  The reeds, growing in thick clumps, left too many gaps to clearly make out the way.  The ground was too sloppy to make out footprints.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Leo grumbled as he pawed through his pocket for his cell.  Charles is going to rub this one in, he thought as the screen lit up.

Lost the trail.  Will try to back track,’ he thumbed into the cell.  He waited, hoping Charles would respond quickly.  The message stalled, not going through.  A glance at the signal strength showed a depressing no signal indicator.

“This is bad,” Leo muttered to himself.  He tried holding the phone up high enough to get even a single bar, enough to get the message out, but to no effect.

There were only two choices: keep moving or stop and wait.  Waiting was usually the best approach.  His brother had the GPS and knew the geography.  It would only make sense he would come looking and be better equipped for the search.

Leo wanted to keep moving.  It was a gut feeling that drove him, despite the lack of good sense.  It occurred to him that the air felt heavy, almost suffocating.  His mind wandered to obscure ideas, maybe even facts, about swamp gases and what mild oxygen deprivation could do.  Leo shook his head and got moving.

It made sense that the trails would all be interconnected, Leo reasoned, so finding any trail would ultimately lead to the one he lost.  And odds were good that the original trail would be nearest.  The shotgun stayed in a ready carry, just the same.

The mist got thicker, somehow, making movement trickier and the hand light nearly useless.  Every step was taken with care not to slip or step into soggy ground.  It was like being blind.  Twenty minutes later, Leo checked his phone to find his text message still hanging, unsent.

“Well, in for a penny,” he muttered to himself as he pocketed the cell and started moving again.

Ten steps later he found himself on a trail.  It was hard to make it out, but the gap in the reeds was unmistakable and the ground too firm to be open swampland.  Score one for gut feelings, he thought, moving in the direction that felt right.  It was only a matter of time, and not losing the trail.

A rare break in the clouds flooded the scene with light and, instinctively, Leo took in the surroundings.  The mist limited the light, but for the first time in nearly an hour, he could make out the trail ahead of him for half a dozen yards or so.  The rest was open swamp.  The encouraging detail was a distant house, the Gibson place, off to his right, barely visible between the reeds.  This instantly gave him bearings.  The line from the house to his position was at a right angle to the trail, and the house was on the right side, making his direction north.  The clean geometry in his head, Leo knew, was not as clean in reality, but better than a moment earlier.  The gap in the clouds closed, and the light faded out.

North he continued, hoping to find a way west, presumably back to Charles.  The house had seemed close, though a distance was hard to factor out.  Charles had to be close, and had to be west of him.  The slow, blind man’s walk along the trail continued.

A branch to the left came up some thirty yards later, and Leo nearly laughed out loud.  The trail might have turned or twisted, making this a bad move, but it was more likely it would bring him west.  He moved along, carefully and slowly through the soup of mist and unsteady ground.  Some twenty yards later, he thought he heard something ahead.  It was muffled, the direction difficult to pin point, and sounded like something moving in the reeds.  There had not been puff of wind since they left the truck, so the sound could only be something or someone up ahead.

The easy math suggested it was Charles.  Bears and coyotes were not usually big swamp dwellers, and whatever made the sound was at least that big.

Step at a time, Leo thought.  He moved with more care to be silent, as much for stealth as to hear any more sounds ahead.  Staying on the trail was proving easier, with practice, and Leo was able to focus on staying low and quiet.  He heard the sound again, certain it was something moving in the reeds and directly ahead.  Each step was made with great care, and growing angst.

The clouds broke open, just for a moment, again, revealing a crouching figure ahead of him.  The details were still blurred, but it could only be Charles.  Leo took a short step forward, about to announce his return, when a hand clapped over his mouth and an arm about his waist dragging him back into the reeds.  The clouds closed and darkness smothered the swamp.

The Gillbury Swamp Gold, Part 2

(More mystery adventure. This posting was delayed by fantastic weather and unscheduled work distractions)

Looking over the maps and documents that Charles had acquired took over a day, even with Leo helping out between checks on Mrs. Wiltman.  Charles worked almost frenetically to gather the details he needed to pin down a search area.  It was late the next evening before they formed solid plans.  They sat back and had drinks while they discussed final preparations.  Their office was empty, not unusual for a Wednesday evening, and a sense of urgency had settled over both of them.

               Leo sipped at a modest quantity of gin.  He was still turning the whole, ancient story around in this head.

               “Humour me,” he said to Charles while looking into his glass.  “Let’s have it from the start, again.”

               Charles was happy to oblige.  His brother had been unusually supportive and helpful, so there was no point in rocking the boat.  Besides, his brother was a good investigator, even if he was too conservative in the field.  Another telling, especially in light of their latest findings, might not be out of order.

               “All right, then,” Charles said, putting down his drink and gesturing to their working copy of the map.  “Gilbury was not much of anything in 1857; a tiny farm town without much more than a church, a general store and a recent stop on the Great Western Railway.  The majority of the land was actually owned by the Gibson family, who held an estate a short distance from the downtown, such as it was.  Publicly, the Gibsons were an upstanding lot of good farmers.  They were blessed with old money from Europe and were hard workers, blah, blah, blah.  It has since been determined that the old, European money was largely gained from illegal activities.  The Canadian branch of Gibsons was probably not involved much those affairs.  Still, they were anything but squeaky clean.”

               “It would be nice to know more about their degree of involvement,” Leo commented as Charles paused to take a drink.

               “Absolutely!” Charles agreed.  “That would clear up a few things.  But we do know they knew about it.  So let’s switch the story to fact mode.  Fact: the European Gibsons start sending gold to the Ontario Gibsons as early as 1821.  Speculation: that gold was stolen and definitely hidden with or disguised as lead articles.  Fact: As early as 1833, these shipments start including precious gems.  More speculation: this was probably the European Gibsons trying to hide ill-gotten money.  Fact: the Gibsons, whether they got sloppy or unlucky, had two shipments discovered by outsiders.  Speculation: we are ninety-nine percent certain they murdered the first fellow, a wagon driver that carried the stuff to the estate.  Fact: the second discovery was in 1857 by a railway baggage clerk, Reginald Bannington, who inspected a damaged chest.  Fact: Bannington foolishly approaches Henry Gibson, the head of the Ontario Gibson family, about it.  Fact: Bannington disappears within a day, his body later discovered in a ditch out in Trunkville.  Speculation: Bannington was probably fishing for a bribe and may have got one, only the Gibsons wanted to completely cover their tracks.”

               “Right,” Leo chimed in.  “It’s too ridiculous for him to have gone to the estate, otherwise.”

               “Exactly,” Charles went on.  “Lucky for us that Bannington was greedy and had a big mouth.  The diary of Carol Benick was such a find.  It was meant to fucking be!”

               “She’s the daughter of Bannington’s friend, right?”  Leo asked.

               “Yeah, and she mentions that her father was told by Bannington about the gold,” Charles said, trying to contain his excitement as if he had just figured things out.  “Wisely, her father, John, shut up about it.”

               “Which had nothing to do with Bannington’s sudden disappearance, I’m sure,” Leo added.

               “Right,” Charles said.  “Now, we fast forward to the prohibition era.  The Gibsons are still into farming, but as a cover.  They returned to their criminal roots, if ever they left them, by entering the booze trade.  In 1920, the estate is raided and the cops find booze and various items made of gold.  According to police reports, fifty pounds of gold items were seized.”

               “Which they mistook for the proceeds of alcohol traffic,” Leo cut in.  “Only they didn’t know about their real origins.”

               “I have only recovered fragments of paperwork related to those gold and gem shipments,” Charles said, “but the Ontario Gibsons probably received an average of four shipments a year, averaging twenty-five pounds each.  I can verify that the first shipment was in 1821 and the last in 1883.  So, let’s get conservative.  If half of those shipments were decoys, and only half of the weight was actually gold, we are still looking at 1550 pounds worth.  Any quantity of gems would be over and above that.”

               “And you figure it has to be in the swamp?” Leo asked.

               “Where else?” Charles said.  “When they raided the estate, they also hit their other property and came up with nothing.”

               “Any chance the cops just shut up and split it among themselves?”

               Charles raised an eyebrow to that.  “It would have been awfully tough to cover that up.  Could they cover that with the twenty-ish cops involved?  And the Gibsons never said anything about it, either.  The swamp bordered their main estate.  It’s a half mile from the house and there is no reason to go there.  It would also explain the Gibson’s territorial nature.  Between 1846 and 1887, there are a dozen complaints from locals being threatened, beaten or shot at for trespassing.”

               “And that was all near the swamp,” Leo said.  “And you think the Gibsons all died before this could be passed on?”

               “Anybody who was anybody in the family either dies in the 1920 raid, or they died in prison.  The Gibsons who took over were all young, and somewhat disconnected from the hierarchy.  It is very unlikely they knew anything.”

               Leo sipped his gin, letting things sink in.  Wading through a swamp for a fortune in gold was making him heady.  He wondered if Charles had been feeling this way for some time.

               “These old maps are vague,” Charles went on, “but they note trails into the swamp.  The notes go on to say the Gibsons claimed to hunt and trap there.  Un-bloody-likely!”

               “What worries me is how far in they hid the stuff, and how well they might have hidden it,” Leo said, looking at their map, covered in scribbles.  “For instance, a good chunk of the swamp is still on Gibson property, and the rest is a conservation area.  That’s a risky venture.”

               “Shit,” Charles laughed, taking a drink.  “Who cares about the conservation area?  We play dumb and the worst we get is a fine.  And nineteenth century people never accounted for metal detectors, so we don’t need to worry about digging aimlessly.”

               “Actually, Charles,” Leo said, finishing his drink, “I wasn’t worried much about conservation officers.  The modern Gibsons are pretty tough customers, and not unfamiliar with violence.  What happens if Red or Tanner catch us prowling around in the middle of the night?”

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.