TALE 10

THE SHADOW OVER BEECHWOOD

(8 / 8 Completed)

1
(12/23/2013)

            Ethan stepped into Hamilton Hall on New Year’s Eve for a free meal and a bet with Mickey resting casually on his shoulder.
            Behind him the world was getting dark, the storm having let up somewhat but not entirely leaving the world covered in snow. Living in the snow was a new experience for Ethan and it was not a thousandth of as much fun as the movies would have led him to believe.
            He stood in the open doorway for several moments, people looking up at him in a strange way he was not familiar with, and could not find Melvin Michaeladis anywhere in the room. Old Michaeladis was reputedly a very strange man, even by Bartlett Bay standards, and it was said he sometimes told ghost stories and liked to bet people that they could not spend a night in Beechwood House which he owned. He used to do it on Halloween night but he had stopped for some reason a decade or more before Ethan was born.
            Since the very instant Ethan had laid his eyes on Beechwood with Darcy Hamilton back in early October he found it had a strange hold over him. It had wormed into his thoughts when he wasn’t distracted and, just lately, it had wormed his way into his dreams too.
            They were horrible and frightening but not entirely so, having a strange sense of nostalgia somehow intermixed within. Sometimes he dreamt he was wandering its halls and rooms on some long, lost summer day, it simply a sad and empty building from the 19th century where the echoes of voices belonging to long dead people filled his ears, but usually he found himself in front of it in the dark of some night where he would look up and see all the windows turning into eyes and the entrance into a gaping maw. That maw would always move up and down, left and right over and over again with jagged broken wood like teeth uttering two simple worlds.
            “Come home.”
            He would not have gone anywhere near it under any normal circumstances, he would in fact have burned it down long before ever entering, but it wasn’t a normal circumstance because it was his house: the home he had built when he was Thomas Bartlett almost a century a half ago and that skewed everything.
            He focused on the new looks people gave him and how different, and unfamiliar, they were from before.
            Before there had been an overwhelming unwelcoming quality to his entrance but after either his cure of Grace O’Brien or possibly his reopening of the cannery and fisheries, he found they had become warm and even kind.
            Ethan gave his jacket to a servant, whose pleasant smile made him feel a little uncomfortable, and entered inside. He was underdressed for the occasion, wearing a short sleeved raglan black shirt with orange sleeves, black pants with black boots but no one seemed to care about that.
            As he walked across the dining area he instantly felt a soft hand touch his shoulder. He followed the soft hand with his eyes to find Claire, smiling pleasantly.
            She was wearing a low cut, attractive white dress emphasizing a near perfect body with her dark hair hanging around her head in large curls. “I—” she bit her lower lip “—I wanted to say hello.”
            “Hi,” he said blandly.
            She continued to smile cutely. “I wanted to talk to you,” she told him.
            “Now that I’m rich?”
            Claire looked at him as if she had been slapped. “No.” She took his left hand, held it gently with both of hers and looked into his eyes. Ethan thought maybe she was hunting down that feeling again but if she felt it, he did not. “I—broke up with—Bryce.”
            “Yeaaaaah—” Ethan’s eyes tilted away “—look, I gotta go—”
            “Oh, uh, of course.” She swallowed and looked miserable. “You—I—do you want to go out sometime and maybe—see a movie?”
            “Maybe,” he replied a little uncomfortably. He found himself unable to believe he was going to refuse a woman that good looking on anything but he was. “We’ll talk about it later sometime. Maybe.”
            Claire could not believe it either. “You are not a very forgiving soul, are you?” she asked.
            Ethan laughed. “No I am not,” he agreed. “Nobody ever understands me. They either think I’m the sweetest guy in the world or I’m an emissary from hell but they’re all wrong.” He pulled his hand away gently. “Especially you.” He then turned and walked away.
            “Ripped out your heart?” asked Mickey.                
            “Big time,” Ethan said and he managed only three more steps before a rougher hand caught him by the shoulder and turned him around. He could only blink at its owner for several moments in surprise. “Robert Le Sueur? The fuck you want?” Le Sueur, in his fancy black suit, frowned at him like he had been wronged. “I’m not dating your cousin so leave me alone.” His hand tightened. “Get your hand off my shoulder, Robert.”
            He let go. “I think we’ve had some misunderstandings, Bartlett,” Le Sueur told him as if he expected Ethan to apologize.
            “Oh I don’t think we have,” Ethan replied. “You made it all crystal fucking clear; you’ve insulted me regularly, convinced a bank manager to change his mind about hiring me for a fifteen dollar an hour job, black listed me all over town and tried to connect me to the Ku Klux Klan—”
            “I did not try to connect you to the Ku Klux Klan!” he said angrily but with some amount of nervousness and in a hushed voice.
            “The best job I could get after you fucked me was a minimum wage job working at a pizza parlor which Pierce Pennington thought it was just hilarious to get me fired from.” There was an odd quiet in the room and it seemed, to his surprise, that the glares and dislike were centered on Le Sueur who looked rather uncomfortable. “What the fuck do you want, Robert?”
            “It’s a waste of time dealing with you,” he said and turned around and walked away, his head held as high as if had been greatly and unjustly offended.
            “Why?” asked Ethan. “Because I shockingly don’t forgive you when you half-man up to say your incredibly amount of cruelty was all a ‘misunderstanding?’ ” Le Sueur did not reply as he walked off into the crowd, his posture that of a man filled to the brim with ponderous self-righteousness.
            Ethan turned around and walked on toward a table. “Asshole,” said Mickey.
            “Big time,” Ethan replied and got only three more feet when something else grabbed his hands. “What the f-oh, hey girls.” Sarah and Britney Wellingham looked up at him with big sad eyes and hugged him at the waist, both of them in adorable little dresses, Sarah in blue and Britney in red. “What’s wrong?”
            Sarah looked up at him. “You were angry,” she said sadly with a pout.
            “Oh yeah,” he agreed. “That loser just tried to ruin my life a bunch of times so I don’t like him.”
            “He is mean,” Britney told him with a frown.
            “Sure is,” said Ethan. “He was working up some kind of worthless excuse to say what he did wasn’t his fault now that have a formidable wealth. I had to suffer that attitude from Henry VIII but I will not suffer it from him.”
            “Who’s Henry VIII?” asked Britney.
            “A king of England I used to sort of be friends with.”
            “You’re silly,” said Sarah with a smile.
            “Yeah, I am,” he told her. “Have you seen Melvin Michaeladis?” They shook their heads in unison. “Okay, I’m going to get some food and I’m going to need you to let go.” They grinned, gripped onto his hands tighter, and then when he started toward a table the little girls continued to cling onto him, giggling happily all the while.

*          *          *

            “He hates me,” Claire said softly, her heart thudding her chest. She was unable to stop it, feeling misery like none she had ever known before welling up inside of her, and she found herself looking out at all the people around her, judgementally for the first time ever.
            They were all phony: all of them liars and cheaters and utterly full themselves. Somehow, she wasn’t quite sure how, she had never noticed it before despite the fact that it was presently very obvious.
            It seemed like she had been living her life in a pleasant dream but had just awakened to an unhappy, distrustful world. She could not, for the life herself, kill the bitterness that she found growing inside of her because of it.
            When she looked over at Ethan ordering something from a waiter with those two girls clinging onto him she felt her heart sink even more and even felt like crying. As she stood there Jenny Le Sueur moved up to beside her and gave her a dark smile that made her even sadder. Jenny had become gorgeous after what had happened on Halloween, capable of getting any man she wanted, but was still jealous of her.
            Her meanness was one of Claire’s new revelations.
            “You know,” whispered Jenny, “You did tease him and hint and play with his feelings before ripping out his heart. Oh—” she looked at her “—how did Bryce work out by the way?”
            Jenny knew quite well how it worked out: Bryce cheated on Claire with his dirty old girlfriend after he had taken her virginity which only happened because she had been tricked into drinking too much alcohol. He was Bobby Le Sueur’s friend and that should have told her not to trust him but all the girls vouched for him and now, like Jenny, they turned around and told her it was all her own fault while simultaneously denying they had ever vouched for such a man.
            Johnny, who she thought might do something, did nothing nor did Bobby, who laughed and her cousin Jenny obviously had no real sympathy.
            She looked over at Ethan and felt that he would have done something had he still had that thing between them and that made her want him even more. That look he had, that look of love in his eyes she saw before, had never been seen in any other man and she now felt naïve to the point of retardation for not having known how rare it was.
            It was only after meeting the opposite that she had come to understand that look was not common.

*          *          *

            Loraine Wellington approached when Ethan finally sat down.
            “Hi Loraine,” he said. “Can you unlock your children for me?” She said nothing at first and when she got close he was not entirely surprised to see how tired and pale she looked, both eyes having such huge black bags under them that makeup couldn’t hide them. “You alright?”
            “Girls, go over there but not too far from Ethan.” She sounded nervous and again he wasn’t surprised.
            “Okay mommy,” said Sarah and both girls hugged him tightly before running off.
            “Cute kids,” he said.
            “Ethan, I’m scared out of my mind. I want—is there anyway—can she find them here.”
            “Yes,” he said simply and her face filled with almost absurd fear for her children. “I can’t prove it but that’s my gut feeling on the matter and you should probably behave as if she could.” He looked down and saw that her hands were shaking badly. “To be perfectly frank, Loraine, I never expected to actually see you again.”
            “We bought a house in Colorado. William works out of the house anyway so it’s not a problem. We signed the deed, enrolled the girls in school and even found a new church but his father—his father threatened to cut us off.” Her voice lowered. “He owns part of William’s company and he even threatened to have him fired if we didn’t return. I begged him on my knees for New York or even New Haven but he wouldn’t have it. Nothing short of Bartlett Bay, Connecticut would do.” Her eyes had grown wider with worry and fear.
            “That’s suspicious,” Ethan told her and he locked the information away. Saturnine, his mind told himself. Her father-in-law, Albert Wellington is one of the Saturnine.
            “Suspicious?”
            “Well,” said Ethan half-jokingly, “He’s either luring you back at the hag’s behest, hates your children or is simply just the singularly stupidest son of a bitch alive.” He laughed. “I bet the fucker has to wear kneepads and a helmet just to jackoff.”
            Something crossed her eyes, he saw it very clearly, and then she got up and kissed him in the cheek. He had no idea what it was she thought or intended to do but his half-joke had apparently been some final push into action. “Thanks,” she told him and she went over to her children and hugged them tightly. They hugged her back and completely missed whatever was passing through their mother.
            “I really hope that doesn’t come back to haunt me,” he said and he turned to see Johnny Le Sueur was right over him as he walked around the table “Jesus!” he cried.
            “Can I sit?” he asked.                                                                        
            “I don’t own the place,” he said and Johnny, looking sadder than he remembered, sat down. He was wearing a white dress shirt and black slacks which seemed too damn proper for a man his age. “Johnny, why are you talking to me?” he asked.
            “We had a misunderstanding.”
            “I thought I explained it your uncle pretty well,” he told him.
            “No, me and you,” he said. “I thought you were going to be like your psychotic cousin.”
            “Which one specifically?”
            “Specifically, Little Julian.”
            “Fair enough,” Ethan replied with a shrug. “He was a monster.”
            “So you’re a little rough on Claire, don’t you think?” he blurted out and Ethan sighed. “Seriously, you weren’t even dating. She’s had a rough time and she’s a very—” for a moment he couldn’t seem to find the right word “—special girl.”
            “You mean with the Bryce thing? It’s no big deal in the long run. She’s a very pretty girl and good guys will be banging on her door for the rest of her life.”
            “And a lot of bad ones too.”
            “I don’t know what I can do.”
            “She seems oddly hooked on you,” he replied.
            Ethan almost told him about their past life together but thought better of it for some reason. It was the one part of his past lives he didn’t feel comfortable talking about. “According to my sources this Bryce guy was a real piece of work. I heard the words ‘donkey punch’ thrown around.”
            “Darcy should learn to shut up,” said Johnny.
            “You want to be the one to teach her?” They both laughed and then the waiter placed down a tri-tip steak, Caesar salad and baked potato in front of Ethan. “Now that is service.”
            Johnny leaned back. “Where is Darcy anyway?” he asked. “Last year she was here.”
            “Oh she has friends now,” Ethan told him as he began cutting his steak. “Darcy, Becky and Carrie and a few other uber sexy girls have dragged their boyfriends off to go dancing at various clubs up in New York City somewhere. I would have come but I guess there’s some awkwardness between me and Darcy’s boyfriend Paul so I wasn’t invited.”
            “Oh the underwear model.” Ethan sighed and Mickey laughed from wherever in the room he had gone flying off too. “I’m not kidding, that’s actually what he is or at least part time. He’s as dumb as tree stump but there’s no doubting why women like him.”
            “Well golly gee wilikers,” Ethan replied blandly
            “Listen, did you do something weird to Claire?”
            Ethan stopped cutting and looked up at him. “Define weird?”
            “Well after Halloween she’s been pacing around her room every night, sometimes all night, and then sometimes I catch her staring off into the distance like she’s mesmerized by something. A week ago she asked me if I would go into the Engelstad with her.”
            She wasn’t hit by anything those dead girls were casting on that Halloween night, Ethan would have bet a fortune on that, so her  strange behavior subsequently was baffling but then, perhaps, it could be just a psychological effect after seeing what she saw. “Maybe your sister was the one you should worry about,” he told him.
            “My sister is turning in a narcissistic brat, yes,” he said, “And Mom is spoiling her now that she’s become so pretty.” He leaned closer. “You did something to Claire. I can tell.”
            “I did nothing to Claire and I don’t know why she’s asking about those woods.” Why Claire Le Sueur should bring up entering the Engelstad felt both ominous and unexpected, so much so on the latter that Ethan was suddenly curious. “Tell her if she wants me to I’ll take her in there,” he told him.
            “Really?” Johnny looked surprised and suspicious in equal measure.
            “Yeah, why not?” asked Ethan with a smile that seemed more to creep up his face than grow.
            “Maybe I will,” he told him but it was clear he wouldn’t: only an idiot would go into those woods frivolously and Claire was hardly the kind of girl conditioned for it in the singularly best of circumstances.
            Johnny then stood up and walked away without another word, his face thoughtful.
            Mickey flew across the room and landed in the arms of Sarah Wellingham who immediately began to pet him happily. Ethan smiled at that, feeling content for the moment, and continued to eat his food quietly while his mind went to questions. Why would Claire of all people want to enter the Engelstad? was the chief question but of course there was no answer to that. He barely knew Claire in all honesty and who knew what secrets she had or why she was even in their little city in the first place when she could just as easily be in New Orleans or Baton Rouge.
            All around him he caught more strange glances and then when he heard the name Anne Creed he knew why their attitude had changed. He leaned back, cracked his neck, and recalled the confrontation his cousins forced upon him while he was eating at a restaurant with a pretty girl he met at Starbucks.
            I’m on a date, Anne, he had said.
            Fuck off, Anne told the girl.
            The girl, who was named Mandy or Amanda or something, gave her a dirty look. Fuck you, bitch, she replied.
            If you go to the bathroom I’ll try to get rid of this bitch before you’re gone, he told her. Anne looked surprised at that, surprised at his tone or confidence, and when the girl did go to the bathroom she gave Anne an angry, hateful glare over his shoulder as she left. What do you want? he asked her.
            Is it true that you’re suing the family? she asked him coldly.
            Suing? He shook his head. I’m getting my inheritance back.
            What inheritance? she had replied with a straight face that seemed to imply she somehow did not know. Obviously, that couldn’t be the case due to her countless previously made jokes about James Bartlett leaving all his money to his “beloved brother” in mocking tones.
            You’re not rewriting history with this, he told her. I want what was mine and that is all.
            She shrugged as if that didn’t matter. You don’t sue family. I don’t care what your grievances are.
            Ethan had been young but he had never forgotten how Julian swept in with his army of lawyers with their encyclopedic knowledge of loopholes in law and managed to take all that James had left for his son and grandson, 3.7 million dollars and apparently just because he could. Julian was a billionaire, or close to it, and he sure as hell didn’t need it.
            Would you prefer I deal with our problems by hitting you with a car? he asked.
            You poor little boy, she said, You have no idea who you’re slandering.
            I know exactly who I’m slandering. A drunken sociopath who thinks she can push people around the same way she did when her daddy was still alive.
            She just smiled at him, leaned down onto the table and said, You will not do anything in this town, not open a factory, build a house or go to the bathroom without our express permission, boy. You best understand that before you end up like your father?
            Goodbye, Anne, he told her and then she left without another word, probably calling the Bartlett family lawyer within seconds of being out of sight.
            She’s a bitch, said Mandy or Amanda when she came back.             
            Big time, he had replied and that was that. Sooner or later their evil lawyer and the expensive one he was hiring would clash and it would get ugly. So far, nothing had come of it, but it was only a matter of time.
            Ethan finished his food and waited for Melvin Michaeladis to finally appear.

2
(12/26/2013)

            It took another hour for it to happen; an elderly man in a wheelchair who appeared unspectacularly and then moved through the hall smiling pleasantly and sadly. He seemed like a kindly old grandfather, a man with almost no hair left, liver spots, and a very skinny frame withered to a stick-like form. Even his clothes, a beige dress shirt with matching beige slacks, a red bowtie and a brown vest, seemed somehow sad to Ethan.
            There was something about his face too, about the lines specifically, that made him think that he had not lived a happy life. There was something pitiful and sorrowful about him: something haunting, most especially so in his eyes.
            “Melvin,” said Ethan as he was moving past.
            Melvin looked at him and his face lit up. “You look so much like him. Your grandfather James, I mean.” He smiled wider. “You act like him too, him and Mitchell O’Brien. I heard about the reopening off the fisheries and cannery.”
            “It was Mitchell O’Brien’s idea, actually,” he said. “He never finished it because of what happened to his girl.”
            Melvin smile grew wider and kinder. “I heard about how you helped her too. That was good of you.”
            Ethan smiled. “Yeah,” he said and then his smile vanished and he leaned forward. “Tell me about Beechwood.”
            He barely spoke but everyone still stopped talking and looked at him.
            Melvin looked up at him for a long moment, his eyes calculating something, and then he reached into his vest. “Are you sure about this, Ethan?” he asked.
            “No.”
            He pulled out an old, large key. “You should be,” he told him. “I don’t make bets about that house anymore for a reason.”
            “But you still have cameras all over it.”
            “Yes,” he replied. “It’s my house and I like to keep it secure.” Something about the way he said that made Ethan think that he was lying and his face had become very tight, like he was fighting to keep whatever real emotions he was feeling under the surface.
            Ethan took the key. “Tell me about Beechwood, Melvin.”
            “No real story there,” he said. “My great grandfather had married Thomas Bartlett’s daughter who inherited the house and the Michaeladises have had it ever since.”
            “What’s the story with Beechwood?” asked Ethan.
            “Wander in there and maybe you’ll find out.” His eyes shifted a bit and Ethan realized if he was going to tell him anything it would never be in front of an audience. Ethan stood up, turned to leave but then Melvin said, “Why do you want to go in there?”
            “I don’t know why,” he answered honestly. The fact that he had built it or lived there in his past life warranted exploration but he was more drawn to it than simply that. After all, he hadn’t been drawn to visit Kent Hall even though Walter Kent was born there and according to some website histories by one of the modern Kents even added to it extensively for his princess wife. “I really don’t.”
            “You don’t?”                          
            “No.”
            “Well that’s not good,” Melvin told him. “A man should know why he does things.”
            “I know that but there are exceptions,” he said. “I’ll come visit you in the morning.” Melvin gave him a look that seemed to say that he didn’t entirely believe him and Ethan said nothing, turned around, and went to the door. As he was putting on his jacket he saw a girl watching him.
            She was a pretty dark eyed girl with long, silky chestnut colored hair tied conservatively behind her head wearing the dark blue dress all the other waitresses wore. She looked up at him as he looked at her and frowned deeply.
            “What’s up?” he asked and her eyes darkened. “Okay?” Mickey flew across the room and landed on his shoulder and looked over at the girl.
            “That one doesn’t like you?” said Mickey.
            Ethan zipped up his jacket. “No, she does not.”
            An older man beside her in a suit with dark gray hair and a well-trimmed beard, who Ethan had saw but not suspected was with her, leaned over and whispered something into her ear. She frowned at Ethan again and then walked away with the man who did not look once at him.
            “That was fucking weird,” he said as he slipped on his gloves.
            “What part exactly?” asked Mickey.
            “Everything,” Ethan replied simply and he turned and stepped out into the very cold, snowy world beyond. It was only lightly snowing by then but it was a windy twenty-two degrees, far colder than any weather in California could ever prepare him for, and he quickly went to his car, opened the door, and turned it on.
            He let the engine run for a minute and then drove back to the Sorcery and Stick Farm where he parked the Corvette in the garage, shut the door, and went inside.
            “Damn that’s cold!” cried Mickey as he flew through the warm house to his post.
            Ethan took off his jacket, went to the walk-in closet he had converted into an armory, and then unlocked it, opened it and turned on the light. He looked through the mostly empty closet for a moment, sighed, then stepped inside and equipped himself.
            His new armor waited for him on a white mannequin at the back of the closet, easily as able to go over the mannequin as it was his clothes and in such a way that reminded him a bit of bicyclists’ armor. It was all black, high collared, with plates on the chest, back, arms, legs, all strapped tightly across him but not so tight he couldn’t jump around or maneuver easily as it was a form of light armor. He wore his dueling gloves with his black jacket over the armor easily, both had actually designed to go with armor, and his sword and guns equipped just as well.
            In addition to his new armor he added a few new things.
            On each wrist, under his gloves, there was a magical wristband. They were both black with small, dark metal plates with orange runes on them; the one on his left wrist was designed to protect him from being read by magical spells and, to some extent, protected him from mind control spells while the one on his right enhanced his defensive magic such as his Magic Shield and Magic Armor type spells. He had found them both in Goodwin’s Enchantments and just finished them the previous week.
            For his weaponry he added a Mossberg 500 tactical model shotgun which he modified in several ways; most notably with a shotgun sling with fifteen extra shells, a sidesaddle with six more, a folding stock with another five more than that, a powerful flashlight under the barrel and a mount with an expensive black scope on it.
            He also had a similarly modified tactical Kel-Tec SU-16 rifle but he decided he would not need it in the close quarters of Beechwood if he even needed a weapon at all.
            Why he thought he might need a gun at all in an empty house he could not say but something made him think it wasn’t quite empty. On the few nights he had gone by he had looked up at it and saw what? Movement in the windows? A flicker of something here or there?
            Maybe. Maybe not. Better safe than sorry.
            He made sure all his guns were loaded, slung the Mossberg over his shoulder after checking its light, and went over to the mirror in the next room. He felt strangely—what?
            What was it exactly? Eagerness? Fear? Curiosity? Excitement? All of it? None of it? He shook his head, feeling thoroughly confused and worried.
            “That fucking house,” he told to his reflection and then he went over to the closet, locked it again, and went back out into the living room. Mickey turned his head, looked him over and said, “You look like you’re going to shoot up a high school.”
            Ethan burst out laughing.  “No, I’d bring the Kel-Tec for that,” he told him and he went over to the television, turned it on, and set up the animated movie Valiant for Mickey and placed a bowl of Doritos alongside a bowl of water on the flat part of his metal post.
            “Try to be back before midnight,” said Mickey.
            “I should be back well by then,” Ethan replied. If there really was nothing in that house he wasn’t likely to stay for very long. “Should be,” he added.
            Then he went into the garage, climbed up the back of the black 2004 Ford Ranger truck that come with his farm property, opened the lockable box at the back and placed his weapons into it. Just before he placed his right hand’s pistol into it he hesitated and then stuck it back into the holster his side.
            “So fucking paranoid,” he said to himself and then shut and locked the box, got into his truck, and left, his sword resting in the passenger seat because it could not fit in the box.
            During the drive over he was so lost in his thoughts he did not recall the drive there beyond shutting the garage and that was so unusual that it disturbed him almost as much as the house that seemed to appear in front of him. He took a few deep breaths and looked up at it through his truck’s windshield.         
            It loomed above him just as it had in his dreams: a house built mostly into the side of a cliff shaped roughly like an “S” only stretched out into two horizontal lines with a single vertical one connecting at their ends. The center line where he was looking was the entrance and above it at its back he could see the magician’s tower, Thomas’s magician’s tower, rising half a dozen stories above the other turrets into the sky where the clouds parted to reveal the almost full moon lighting up the night world like a white eye.
            The windows ahead and the ones on his right that stretched back toward Fisher St. were caked in frost making them seem contented or lethargic as if they knew this would happen and was unimpressed and then it seemed that the house spoke to him into his mind.
            Come on in, the house seemed to say. You’re home. You’re finally home.
            Ethan found himself staring at it for a long time expecting a vision to come every second but none did. He had not seen a vision that even came to the point of thinking about building Beechwood. Those were somewhere in the future and after the war.
            He cast his Sense Magic spell and saw something that had snapped him out of his numbness: it was something moving through the walls.
            It was a seemingly harmless spell, perfectly European, utilizing some form of summoning magic but there was something exotic about it. It couldn’t hurt him, he was almost absolutely certain of that much, but there was still something off about it all the same that he didn’t trust: something wrong that he could not quite put his finger on.
            It was not the first time he felt his instincts urging him not to do something but it was one of the few times he intended to ignore them.
            “ ‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ ” he said and then he went out to the back of his truck, lowered its back, and climbed up to the box. He opened it, equipped himself with his weapons and, as he took out his shotgun, he saw what he put in there earlier that morning with more than a passing glance.
            It was a gas can filled with gasoline.
            He stared at it blankly for a moment, then shut the box, locked it, and walked up to the house.
            With his Sense Magic spell still active and up close he saw that the swirling blackish-purple mass of magic did not directly affect the inside any more than it affected the outside. It seemed, for whatever lunatic reason that might explain the disturbed feeling he got just looking at it, it only affected the walls.
            He felt doubt there and he had a sense he wasn’t seeing the big picture.
            I really shouldn’t go in here, he told himself. He calculated that the spell would not really be capable to hurting him, not with the little amount of power there, but still his instincts filled him with worry. It was just an empty house but summoning spells, while not harmful to a person, were tricky and, he had read, sometimes outright deceitful.
            He grimaced, turned Michaeladis’s key in the lock and pushed upon the door.
            The summoning magic flew past him like a gust of soft and gentle wind. He felt it’s more or less harmlessness again, doubted it again, but still stepped inside.
            When he shut the door behind himself it made a kind of boom sound that stretched out across the empty house like a pan being dropped in an echoing, empty cave. “Home,” he said blandly and his eyes instantly caught something and widened with surprise. “Just fucking wonderful,” he added.
            The fireplace was lit.
            The house was very much unoccupied, Michaeladis had not lived there since the 1970s or earlier, and he had never successfully rented it out. It had a reputation so bad that rumor had that even hobos were too frightened of it to sleep inside even during a snowstorm.
            So who lit the fireplace?
            He took a few steps toward it, his left hand wrapping around his sword hilt, and then stopped himself. He turned away and walked across the foyer to the staircase at the end, an imitation of the Bartlett House staircase complete with a great round window on top of the first platform large enough for a tall man to be thrown right through its center with his arms and legs outstretched and not hit the edges.
            There he turned around and examined his surroundings in the weak light.
            The foyer was tall, extended upward instead of outward, stretching up four floors worth of house like a tower itself with two ornate stairways leading up to the walkways on each floor framing the foyer. All around him were paintings of family members, long dead people he did not recognize at a glance, and he saw the furnishings in the room, couches mostly it seemed, covered in white sheets.
            To his right were the music room, drawing room and, between those and the library was a large ballroom. The library stretched out eastward, along the rock wall. To his left were the huge dining room, kitchen and pantry, which stretched away from the cliff toward Fisher St.
            “How do I know that?” he asked himself suddenly. He had not been able to find any blueprints so supposed he must have read a description of it somewhere. “Maybe…” he added and then he laughed. “Goddamn it all.” He looked over at the fireplace and his tentative grin left his face.
            Something real was in that place.
            Because that summoning spell did not have enough power to summon a bauble of light let alone a merrily blazing fire.
            He tilted his head and shoulder around and looked down out of the window at the waves crashing into the rocks below in the moonlight. He was instantly and uncannily reminded of the show Dark Shadows from the 1960s and whispered, “There is something here in the dark with me.”
            “In the dark, all things are possible…” whispered a voice.
            He whipped out his shotgun and pointed its flashlight around the foyer in quick motions: the doors on the left, the front door, the ones on the right, the doors above on the walkways and the hollow stem of the magician’s tower’s spiraling walkway directly above him: nothing.
            He saw a flash of something. He thought it was, of all things, a beam of sunlight across the foyer. “That was fucking weird,” he said out loud and he moved to the stairs downward and then raised the light up across the paintings, but only because he felt watched all of a sudden and they were the only things with eyes, and then he lowered it back down.
            There was a whisper clearly from above and he threw the shotgun back up.
            The flashlight ended above the entrance to a painting of Colonel Thomas Benjamin Bartlett, older than he was in his last vision, with long, golden hair not too unlike his friend Autie became known for, a distinguished beard, and in a full military uniform complete with hat.
            He lowered the light for a moment, laughed uncomfortably, and raised it back up to get a second look. All the tentative good feelings he had were suddenly replaced by confusion and fear.
            Thomas Bartlett was staring straight toward the window where Ethan was standing. That was quite a feat since its face had been turned to a side profile moments before, Ethan had not missed that fact and he could even recall posing for the painter.
            He lowered the light, eyes wide. He could recall that but nowhere near as well as he could with the other past lives’ memories that he had. It was filled with holes, missing vital pieces, and was vague and dreamlike but it was there.
            He rested the shotgun on his shoulder. “I’m out of here,” he announced and he took one step down the stairs when the giant window behind him was suddenly filled with bright sunlight revealing a beautiful, summer day beyond its borders. He looked at it for a moment, eyes wide, and then went back up to it and looked down.
            It was from another time. There were boats in the water, as one might expect, but they were boats with sails and masts of wood and there were steamboats among them.
            Death traps, Andrew O’Brien’s voice whispered again in his mind. Every one of them explodes.   
            And many did indeed. He remembered the Sultana.
            Thomas had not been there, he probably would have been dead if he had, but that one had exploded all right, or burst into flames which was pretty much tantamount to the same effect, and it took twelve hundred good men, all ex-soldiers, all dreaming of home and the women and families they left behind, to their graves.
            They had survived the Confederate army, many of them crippling injuries, and worst yet disease, the chief slayer of soldiers on either side, only to die because of a badly made boiler.
            Ethan almost burst into tears at the face of countless soldiers flying across his mind all at once very suddenly. “This wristband does not fucking work!” he cried out in a voice that sounded like a whimper. He stepped away from the light, away from the window that showed a 19th century summer, and forgot about the stairs until he went flying backward right down it. The shotgun fell from his hand as he lost his balance and he landed with a thud back first on the ground.
            Above he saw the paintings looking down at him, every single one of them: Thomas’s wife, mother, children, grandchildren and others he did not know, Michaeladises maybe, all staring down at him, all watching him. He scrambled over to his shotgun, grabbed it, and pointed its light up and his eyes went wide.
            He was right: they were not just looking in his direction but down at him. He felt almost completely certain of it.
            And to confirm his fears he heard whispers in their direction.
            “He’s going to panic,” said a gruff voice. “They all panic.”
            “No, he’s different,” said a gentle voice.
            “Shut up, he’s listening,” said a third, worried sounding voice.
            “He’ll panic soon enough if he knows we’re talking,” said the first.
            “It’s called him,” said the gentle voice again. “He’s different.”
            He jumped to his feet and felt the world spinning around him. The paintings were looking down at him with disturbed expressions, some leering, some laughing, some curious, others suspicious, and when he looked away he saw others in his mind, long dead people he shared his lives with, their images and voices filling his mind as the paintings began to babble away in their quiet, genderless voices.
            Then he saw someone by the fire and everything stopped so suddenly it was like he had hit a wall and who he saw startled him so much that he almost dropped his shotgun again. You!” he said and he felt tears roll down his face. “I can’t—” he felt a some blood come trickling out of his nose “—it can’t be you!” The last part came out almost like a wail.
            A woman stood by the fire, her lower body lit by its flames, wearing a Tudor period black and gold dress. It was so dark outside of the light of the fire that he could not see her head.
            If she even had one.
            Then she stepped forward and he was relieved to see she did have a head.
            She was a young and beautiful woman wearing a matching French hood over her dark hair and she stared at him from an attractive, if kind of long, face that was very different from the kind of women usually favored by Henry VIII and Walter Kent himself for that matter. Few called her gorgeous, Jane Parker was better and so was her sister Mary, but there was great beauty there.
            And power.
            Walter had seen it and eventually understood. Henry saw it too but he never understood it. He thought he could control it and make it his own but such a thing was not really impossible. Woman’s power belongs to the woman and for a woman to lose such a power or have that power harnessed by another required that power to be destroyed to begin and that part was, in the end, both where Henry inevitably resigned himself to and the closest he came to complete understanding.
            In body she was slender and petite with small breasts and was short to Ethan and Walter both with long tapering fingers her daughter would come to be ever so proud of. It was an unspectacularly ordinary attractive body and it was instead those eyes instead, those dark deep and endless eyes, filled with promises no woman could keep that drew Henry, him, and every other man to her. He could not stop looking at those pools of blackness: not then or now.
            “Hello Walter,” Anne Boleyn said pleasantly.

3
(12/30/2013)

            “He’s not scared of what he sees,” whispered a voice above.
            “Shut up!” snarled Ethan and he felt himself on the verge of weeping. “Just—just shut up.” He could only stare at her, at that woman who tore England apart only to be executed for adultery and treason three years later almost five centuries ago, and then he found he could not think of anything to say to her despite that he, as Walter, spent his life afterward wishing he had.
            He tried again to speak but nothing came out. He slung the shotgun over his shoulder, instinctively worrying about the penalty of carrying a weapon in the presence of royalty, and laughed miserably at himself and the situation. She was younger than she was when married Henry VIII so being armed wasn’t a problem and he found he wanted to warn her about Henry but couldn’t because he knew she would not listen and he was as helpless in controlling her as he was in stopping a runaway iceberg. He was already utterly defeated by an untrained, defenseless girl in a pretty dress with a pair of deep black eyes that seemed to understand him to his very core.
            Tears began to slip faster down Ethan’s face. “Anne!” he whimpered finally. “I—I told you! I—I fucking told you! I—” she was still smiling at him and that made it worse “—I couldn’t stop them any more than I could have defeated the entire Scottish army single handedly at Flodden! You know that don’t you?” While he had doubts for the rest of his days he would always conclude that his involvement would end with six men executed instead of five. “I’m sorry, Anne! I’m so goddamn sorry!”
            Despite his sadness he was not surprised at her fall: no one had been. He knew something was coming, even wrote her off mentally, but even he who had been more secretly contemptuous of Henry VIII than possibly any Englishman alive had been had not expected the execution for her or the five other men. Not even his uncle Thomas saw that coming and he, who had laughingly fed her his annoying tut, tut sounds of mockery when it began, could not keep from breaking down into tears when he finally passed the sentence. If he hadn’t seen it coming Walter sure as hell wouldn’t have: a nunnery with all the titles, wealth and honor removed was what they both had believed. It was a common and traditional end for a scheming high born lady. No one executed a queen: Eleanor of Aquitaine for example, had done far more against her husband than Anne Boleyn could have ever dreamed of, which including waging war against her husband, and received no execution and died of old age and in great honor.
            What happened in May of 1536 was a nightmare few men could have predicted.
            And yet Walter wasn’t completely surprised at her execution exactly. Walter thought he had but Ethan felt that maybe Walter always knew there was something wrong with Henry VIII and always worried about it somewhere in the depths of his mind and that wrongness added a certain sinister twist to an otherwise perfect king.
            Anne’s smile turned sad. “Are you well, cousin?”
            Ethan looked at her and shook his head slowly. “No,” he said. “No I am not.” He noticed other courtiers moving around in the darkness of the foyer. Henry Percy was there talking with Lord Thomas Courtney, who as a distant relative of Henry Courtenay, 1st Marquess of Exeter and thus connected to a variety of high officials, not the least of which, was the king of England, but most who knew him saw him as a self-loving egotist including Exeter himself who hated him almost as much as Walter did and felt him a disgrace to his family name. “—why is Henry Percy talking to Thomas Courtenay? I don’t like him. He stole my wife.”
            “He’s even talking back,” said one of the voices.
            “Shut up, paintings!” he cried and, feeling gratefully angry, he pointed his finger at Anne. “Why are you here? Why is Courtenay here? Why—Courtenay—” He felt something bad was starting to unbury itself in his mind, something like a corpse being unearthed from a feces strewn marsh in a humid hot summer day when everything sticks. It was trying to wiggle itself up out of the putrid muck like a monster reaching out to grab some unsuspecting child.
            To his infinite relief it didn’t quite click but he could still sense that was something horrible beyond words, something wrong and evil, but all that he got clearly from it was blood, guts, and gore strewn across a forest floor. He had no doubt in his mind that Courtenay, or someone very close to him, did something bad.
            Something very bad.
            But that was long after Anne Boleyn had died so even if she could answer him she could not have known what it was.
            He looked over at Henry Percy, who would, after being thwarted in his attempt to marry Anne, become the 6th Earl of Northumberland. He looked very happy then but sooner or later he would become a very bitter and miserable man who would come to hate Anne but always love her too. He had been full of such optimism before he was forced to marry a woman he could not stand and who could not stand him in turn and after that it was a downward spiral of the emotional and physical to the end.
            Henry VIII ruined that for him. Wolsey got the credit in Anne’s mind but Walter knew quite well that it was Henry who wanted it.
            “Who was the other Northumberland?” he asked out loud. It was John Dudley, a duke instead of an earl. “What did he do?” Ethan could not quite remember but it was dangerous and risky: something to do with the throne. “I can’t remember.”
            By then Ethan felt like he was almost in some kind of fever and sweat came out all over his neck and face. He ran a shaky hand through his hair, slicking it straight back, and looked down at Anne’s sensual smile.
            No one ever talked about what they saw in Beechwood and now he knew why. Anyone who saw something from a past life that instilled such emotion and didn’t understand what it was would not only run away screaming into the night but wouldn’t whisper a word less they spend the rest of their days raving in a padded cell.
            He shook his head and then earnestly laughed because it hit him right then. He was staring at Anne Boleyn in United States of America: an English queen dead nearly five centuries before, two and a half of which were before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Virginia would be discovered and then named after her daughter fifty years or so after her death.
            “Walter,” she said and he jerked at the sound of that name. “I want you to do something for me, please. I am going to speak to the cardinal about Henry Percy and I need a man with the king’s ear near to me. He is not likely to listen to me without someone he respects nearby.” Her lips were pressed together and she looked genuinely worried.
            “The cardinal—” he shook his head “—does not respect me.”
            Walter knew why she was seeing Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and he also knew it wouldn’t work. Wolsey did as Wolsey pleased and only the king could really push him around and some said not even then as his arrogance had grown quite large. Walter admired him, yes, but he felt his arrogance and greed would be, and Ethan knew his history well enough to know he was right, his downfall.
            Ethan felt a sudden need to escape Anne’s presence and he quickly moved around her, bowing politely on instinct, and aimed toward the nearest exit which was the ballroom doors. He found they were locked so he went past them to the far hallway and, before disappearing within, he looked back.
            Anne was gone and he felt both absurdly grateful and relieved. There was an incalculable amount of misery with her and he was relieved to be free of it.
            The music room was on his left and he opened it for no particular reason and looked at the three windows at its wall. The one in the center showed dark and snow but the other two showed bright midday sun from some other day. Aside from a sheet covered piano on the right there was no other furnishings in the room.
            He heard the sound of creaking and he looked up near to the piano to see a young, man, hanging from the ceilings and hidden in the shadows. He had dark, straight hair combed to the side and a black tuxedo looking like he belonged in the 1910s or so. The sound of creaking was his body’s weight pulling on whatever the rope was connected to from above.
            Beware the Hanged Man, a phantom voice whispered in his mind but that wasn’t a past life memory. He had read graffiti proclaiming that warning written in red under the Orange Bridge that led Fisher St. over the Orange River not far from where he was standing.
            Ethan laughed again and found he was not surprised or worried by the sense of apprehension he had by looking at the corpse. He was also not surprised or worried by how generally wrong he looked. He took out his shotgun, raised the light to his face, and examined it closely and was not surprised or worried that he did know the man even slightly. “I don’t know you,” he told the corpse and lowered the light.
            He was just a highly handsome, twenty-five to thirty-year-old dead man in a tuxedo for some mad reason hanging dead in Thomas Bartlett’s music room.
            And that was when the thought came to him: the thought that this the house might draw more than just him to it. The Hanged Man, the paintings, the visions and maybe others were all jammed together drawn from their secret places to Beechwood for some lunatic reason.
            He poked the corpse with the shotgun and he was solid. However, all it did was swing it a bit on his rope just as a pushed corpse would and nothing else.
            Ethan’s eyes narrowed. “Who are you?” he asked but the corpse didn’t answer. “I know you can hear me. I don’t know why exactly but I can feel it. I know when someone is pretending.” He had no idea why he said that.
            The Hanged Man still said and did nothing in response.
            “I must be out of my fucking mind,” he said and he slung his shotgun back over his shoulder and backed out of the room. He turned to the left and suddenly felt a piercing pain in his head. The spell had done something new to him and he stumbled down the hall, nearly falling over, clutching his head in agony for a solid minute before it stopped.
            “Son,” said a voice and he turned to see Edwina standing in front of him smiling pleasantly while holding a candle. She was much older than he last remembered seeing her in a vision but she was still pretty for her age. “I heard you pacing about. Are you alright?”
            “Mother—” he had a flash of his real mother, Ethan’s mother, holding a very different kind of fire.
            Thomas’s mother smiled at him as she looked him over in a kindly, maternal way. “You were always a very good boy,” she told him. “I’m sorry your father never saw it.”
            Ethan’s neck tightened and he remembered the bat and the sound of his dog Pip, his best friend and late grandfather’s birthday present, yipping at every swing until the last swing where he yipped no more.
            Blood leaked out of his nose as he forced himself away down the hall. Edwina was gone and had been for at least a hundred years but like Anne Boleyn she still held immense emotion over him and he did not like that. Unfortunately, he didn’t know what to do about it so he just started forward, almost panicked, thinking that maybe he would just leave by the side door and never look back.
            He passed the drawing room and was at the point where the hallway turned right when a man stepped out from the corner. He was young and handsome with a fine mustache and the attractive, dark hair combed over from the left: a man with the carefree yet attractive look of an actor.
            “You!” Ethan cried and when the man did not answer him Ethan pulled out his right pistol and pointed it at his face. “Turn around motherfucker!” snarled Ethan. “I want to savior this and make it ironic!”
            John Wilkes Booth raised his fist and cried out, “Sic semper tyrannis!”
            Ethan screamed and slammed his forehead into his face and, had the assassin been real, he would have broken his nose and possibly other important parts of his face as well. He wasn’t, though, and he disappeared into a cloud of mist. Ethan screamed again in rage and walked around the hall.
            He looked at the left out into the backyard and saw, amid a few women in black, a crowd of men with burlap sacks over their faces. He grunted as if punched, suddenly filled with absurd terror, and he scrambled down the hall across the back of the ballroom and then down the other hall back toward the foyer.
            Ethan realized then that he wanted to leave and he rued coming to this place frivolously. It was a place like the Engelstad: not to be treaded upon without good reason.
            As he walked he heard whispers from his past lives and felt like the walls themselves had grown voices.
            “…lying down…”
            “…a daze…
            “…very scared…”
            “…goddamn sword…”
            He cast his Magic Armor spell, unhappy that he hadn’t thought of it already, and slapped himself in the face as he walked. It was getting into his head, whatever it was, and he needed to snap out of it. Something else was wrong, something hitting him subconsciously, and he hit himself a few more times before he realized what it was.
            He heard footsteps somewhere in the darkness behind him. They were soft and gentle, like a person in slippers, and when listened he could hear no other sound as they sounded loud in the silence.
            It’s real, he thought. Any real sound is like a boom compared to what I hear in my head. That was when he thought about the fireplace and wondered again who lit it.
            He didn’t grab his gun: it could still be an illusion and he didn’t want to fire into that. Worse, it could also be a homeless person or some kid hiding in the house or any number of normal and innocent things. He had doubts and he didn’t dare use his gun when he had those.
            He continued back down the hall and then suddenly saw a boy lit by soft lights that weren’t on running toward him. It was a natural shade, he could tell by the fact that he was lit by something, wearing a little boy’s outfit from the 1930s or 1940s complete with brown cap and tall beige socks.
            The boy ran through him, of which Ethan felt nothing of course, and he looked back to see him disappear down around the hall.
            He had been running in absolute stark terror.
            When Ethan turned back he jumped, pulled out both pistols, and almost fired at what he saw. He only stopped himself because he realized it was just another shade, also clearly lit by whatever light had been shining down that hall on whatever year early last century that boy had been running by, but it was the scariest thing he had seen by far.
            It was the shade of a tall, muscular man wearing a nice dark brown suit with matching hat. He walked with one hand carrying a large axe, one side the moon shaped curved blade one would expect, the other a pointed, deadly spike. The handle of his weapon had metal rings on it to indicate different places to grip for one hand or two and his face could not be seen because he wore a metal Mask of Comedy over it.
            What scared the boy wasn’t the axe or the mask: it was what the man carried in his other hand.   
            It was the head of a young girl who couldn’t have been older than seventeen.
            Something had been done to it, some kind of taxidermy or magic because it looked so perfectly preserved it appeared virtually alive. However, it had not just been cut off the body: the man had put some kind of brass or bronze cap under her neck as if to transform a human beings head into a table ornament and was carrying it by a removable hoop that went around the head from that cap, carefully made wide as to not upset the finely combed hair, reminding Ethan somehow of a Halloween jack- o'-lantern.
            She had been quite pretty in life, glass eyes replacing real ones but not destroying the sensual, sexy quality of them, with a high cheek boned super model’s face, a narrow nose, perfect, straight white teeth and luxurious, curled gold hair.
            The only thing that marred such beauty was the expression of sheer horror and agony on the girl’s face.
            The axe man’s mask had leather that covered his entire head and neck and he wore black gloves so the only things Ethan could tell about him was that he was a man, he was in whatever time period that boy was in, and he was of average sized build with a decent amount of muscle.
            Ethan quickly stepped out of his way and watched him vanish into the hall.
            “That was one a step above the rest,” he said softly and found he was genuinely relieved he was gone. He laughed, shook his head, and then heard those footsteps again. He holstered his pistols and then pointed his shotgun light down the hall but there was nothing there.
            Nothing at all…
            Something could be around the corner though. He couldn’t quite tell where the steps were coming from. Just that they were in that general direction.
            Of course it could also be all in his mind no matter what he thought.
            Ethan continued down the hall, resting the shotgun on his shoulder, and then turned to the double doors on his right into the ballroom. When he looked in he saw candles and torches that had been put up and within Tudor courtiers dancing.
            “Well son of a bitch,” he said and he tilted his head. It wasn’t personally devastating like Anne Boleyn had been and, that being the case, he found himself more curious than saddened, worried or disturbed.
            But when their hands clapped together in their dance it felt like a gunshot had gone off by his head. He stumbled into the frame of the door, eyes wide, and saw flashes of Kent’s life going through his mind. They clapped again and he cried out again as the flashes had come more powerfully.
            They were memories, good ones surprisingly, of dancing with his second wife, Katherine Tudor, and their children, and others. He smiled suddenly, half-weeping with joy, then forced himself away. He instantly saw something coming out of the darkness and he was about to raise his gun when he saw what it was.
            The girl threw her arms around him and he felt them, genuinely felt them, against his body. “Catherine Howard,” he whispered.
            “Protect me! Save me!” Then invisible hands grabbed her and she was yanked back screaming out of his arms and down the hall. She shrieked and held out her arms toward his as she was dragged out of the candlelight into the darkness. “Tell him I’m sorry!” she shrieked at the top of her lungs. “Don’t let him hurt me, Walter! Please, whatever I did, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m SORRRRRRY!”
            “Catherine!” he cried out miserably toward the darkness where was she dragged and then wept for several moments quietly when she was gone. When he stopped and looked back at the courtiers he saw that they were gone and were instead replaced by a 19th century southern ball dancing a very different dance to very different music to a somewhat better lit room.
            He looked back to where Catherine had gone and then back.
            He felt better because he recognized what he saw with a genuine memory that had come from between visions and were really starting to fill up over time. It actually kind of made him smile albeit sadly.
            Once, Thomas Bartlett had gone south with some West Point friends to visit Georgia. What he was seeing in Beechwood was the very same debutante ball he had witnessed one night while there. It looked, like Henry VIII’s court, part reality and part dream, and everyone seemed as if they were content to act out like they were in a wondrous and magical fantasy world.
            Like Henry’s court the southern states’ had a kind of knightly behavior they believed in, or pretended to, and generally strived to imitate. Men were expected to be brave and honorable, women were expected to be proper ladies and like a court they could impress a man on sight. Aside from masterful use of makeup and hairstyling they wore the most fantastic dresses and the debutant herself at that ball, center stage every moment, seemed to glow like a second sun as she danced with men far more handsome, and Southern, than Thomas had been.
            Life in court and the South was a wonderful, never ending pageant of love and happiness.
            At least, they were for those who were members.

4
(01/02/2014)

            His friend was Robert Carnie and his father, Robert Carnie Sr., had been seeking a northern connection for quite some time and decided one day to utilize Thomas Bartlett’s friendship with his son. He had been one of the Southerners who did not believe war was coming and, never dreaming the states would ever be separate, had been interested in connecting his strong Southern family to a strong northern one and that was the real reason Thomas had found himself visiting the Carnie’s plantation in Georgia one summer but it had not gone quite as well as Mr. Carnie had hoped.
            Although no one was particularly mean, or even impolite for that matter, the undercurrent of dislike and distaste was clear in every man, woman, child and even some of the house slaves.
            Whatever Mr. Carnie’s ideas were for the women of his family, they had others, and while they were incredibly fond of West Pointers, Southern heroes like Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson were all West Pointers and even then they knew great Southern generals would come from there, they felt they would rather die a horrible, agonizing death than find themselves married to some short, ugly Yankee from one the Yankiest places in the north.
            Robert Jr. had introduced him to his sisters, Marlene Leanne who was incredibly gorgeous and her sister, Sarah Anne, who was almost just as beautiful. The elder was a redhead, the younger a blond, and both were so slim, perfect and petite they could have stepped out a Renaissance painting.
            They had been polite as always but had made it quite clear that nothing short of a Southern gentleman of the highest standing would do for either. The implication that he wasn’t even remotely close came from the murmurs, side glances and the occasional direct look that might have passed for sneers from everyone who knew exactly why he was there.
            Ethan’s thoughts were interrupted by a flash of destruction in his mind.
            He had gone back there once later. It was sometime during the war and he had seen its altered, ruined form and he had also seen one of the sisters much changed but he couldn’t remember which sister it was or exactly what condition she had been in when he found her.
            Then the flash was gone, as quick as it came, and Ethan felt that if he spent too much more time in that house he would probably go completely insane.
            He looked into the ballroom and saw the last dance had died down and a new one was about to begin. He thought he heard something again from down the hall, looked with little interest, saw nothing, then looked back to see one of the sisters standing in the doorway by a brightly lit lamp. “Hello Marlene,” he said. “I’m actually in a haunted house seeing you a hundred and fifty years later, long after you died, so whatever you say probably won’t mean shit.” He leaned harder against frame, feeling suddenly so lightheaded and unbalanced that his feet almost slipped out from under him. “There are voices above me, footsteps down the hall, visions like yourself of long dead people and a man hanging from the ceiling of my music room.” He grinned at her and felt like weeping some more. “Something is in here with me. Something in the dark.” He shook his head. “I can’t save you any more than I can save myself.”
            “I would be honored,” Marlene lied, “To accept your dance.”
            “I,” he said, “Do not believe you.” And then he looked past her. “Here we have a ballroom in the nineteenth century America,” he said in an announcer’s voice. “Here we have the dream that was once the Old South.” Thomas had been glad, even grateful, that he had a chance to see it. He had worked on the railroads heading west with his uncle so he could see the Indian nations for himself as well and he had become forever grateful to have seen them both once, however briefly, before they were dropped off into history never to be seen again.
            The Old South, the great Indian nations and Tudor England were all long gone: no more real to the denizens of 2012 than the Roman Empire.       
            “And all we got now in its place are shopping malls,” he added bitterly and then shook his head. “ ‘Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind...’ ” He sneered even as quoted the film Gone with the Wind and added, “Easy for anyone who’s white to say,” to himself.
            He shut his eyes tightly, calmed himself, and when he reopened them everyone was gone and all that remained was an empty ballroom lit by the moonlight from the windows across the hall on the right. He turned from it and walked away feeling rather hollow inside.
            It was time to leave but as he stepped into the foyer he found himself instead walking up to the giant window again and, then showing the real world, he looked down at the dark waves hitting the rocks below again. He found the sight of them oddly calming and was feeling better and much more in control until he heard those footsteps moving up and then stopping behind him at the foot of the stairs. For reasons unknown, he felt no fear of the apparitions while the simple sound of footsteps sent shivers up his spine. They were suddenly creepier to him than even the paintings above which he believed, at least in his mind, were really moving and talking to him somehow. They spoke to him at that moment in fact.
            “Run away!” hissed a voice from above. “Run now! Run fast!”
            “Shut up!” snarled another voice from above as well.
            “Run!” the first voice hissed again. “Run for your life!”
            “He can’t outrun her,” the gruff voice from earlier stated simply. “He’s dead already! He just doesn’t know it yet!”
            “Clichéd line,” Ethan said and his right hand found his pistol while he turned around. When he saw what was down there he didn’t pull out his weapon and did not feel particularly afraid although some part of him said he really should be. Something was off about what he saw, something that made Anne Boleyn’s appearance feel normal by comparison.
            There at the bottom of the stairs was a woman who stood just enough in the moonlight to reveal seventy percent of her lower body, her head and shoulders completely in shadow. She was wearing a black mourning dress from the 1880s or so, her hands white with long, pointy nails, and she stood there as still as a mannequin just staring up at him from that shadow.
            And then he recognized her and felt relief wash all over him. He opened his mouth to speak and started to take a step forward.
            “I wouldn’t,” said the gruff voice from above.
            He stopped, closed his mouth and stepped back. The woman raised one long, limber pale left arm, slowly turned it upside down and then made a gentle fist. Then, her index finger began to curl: back and forth, forth and back, back and forth.
            She was beckoning him toward her.
            “What are you doing!” hissed that first voice from above again. “Run away!”
            When the woman saw that he wasn’t going to come to her, her hand went back down to her side and both hands opened and closed tightly as if she was getting ready to do something physical and when she did that he heard every joint in her hands crack in unison.
            He made a shrug gesture as if to say, “Are you going to say or do something?” but the woman only stared at him. Then he sighed and thought he maybe knew what the spell did: maybe it made one vision, one person, very realistically solid. It probably could hurt him or even kill him but if she was just a memory why would she? She was a bitch, yeah, but murder wasn’t in her nature.
            And why her, for that matter? If killing him via a vision of a past life was the purpose Anne Boleyn or Catherine Howard or Thomas’s mother would have infinitely better chances of catching him off guard than her.
            The woman’s body language, though subtle, indicated she really was going to do something. It began with her raising her hands, which held out her nails like claws, and she took a step up the stairs. The weight of her body made it creak and suddenly Ethan was scared. He knew something was very wrong and felt that maybe it was not in his head. He could be wrong of course but if he wasn’t the only courses available seemed to either talk to her or to fight her.
            Fight would have been his first choice but the paintings had indicated a formidability in her that he was detecting but did not understanding so he chose the other path and said the very first thing that popped into his mind.
            “Hello Regan,” he said.
            The woman stopped dead, only two steps up, her face still covered in darkness with her hands outstretched for him. The hands lowered a little, the expression unseen, but something about her tightened body language said she was very surprised.
            “What—” her lands lowered down “—did you just call me?” Her voice was the same but not the same: it was hard, cold, without a trace of an accent and something else. The word “old” came to Ethan after a moment: she sounded very old somehow but only in the way she talked.
            “How you doing, baby?” he asked and he took a step toward. She stepped back and he heard a surprised intake of breath from above in the darkness. She’s real, he thought suddenly. I don’t know how she’s here or what she really is but she’s here. The thought that the illusions were meant to disarm, distract or weaken him for the real monster crossed his mind and he was suddenly very worried and tried to mentally prepare himself for a fight.
            He also thought about squeezing his eyes shut for a moment and see if she would vanish like the ballroom dancers but he was afraid she wouldn’t.
            “Regan—”
            “You will tell me who you are and how you know my name,” she said in a dead voice that hit him like a hammer hitting wood. “I will not ask you twice.”
            Ethan felt a headache coming and didn’t know what to think.
            “You don’t recognize me? Even Anne Boleyn recognized me.” When she didn’t answer that he said, “You know when I came back from the war I couldn’t find you. I looked and asked but no one knew where you were or if they did they would not say.” As far as his visions and memories could say the last time he spoke to her was by the church after his brother’s wedding. He had seen her around many times before leaving but she refused to speak to him. Beechwood showed him Anne Boleyn as a grown woman and Catherine Howard, who wasn’t even born yet until far after his latest memory, but there was nothing up there from Beechwood about Regan Kavanagh. “What the fuck am I looking at?” he asked.
            Regan just stared at him from the darkness and the only thing he could see was the twitching of her hands and the only thing he could hear was that insane, awkward quiet. She had never been even a little quiet before let alone that quiet.
            Ethan cast his Torch spell, tossed it at her feet, and saw the familiar face filled with an insane level of rage and bitterness with the addition of an utterly predatory glare in her eyes. Her countenance was hinting at so much aggression he actually stepped back from her on instinct.
            “Obviously, something serious has happened to you since last we met and obviously you never quite caught that rich husband—” her eyes narrowed “—but at least you’re still pretty.” That she did not like and her old expression of annoyance crossed. “There you are,” he added with a smile.
            “What do you know about me, boy?” she asked in that dead voice again.
            “You asked twice—”
            “That is a third question, boy,” she replied simply.
            “Well, where do I begin,” he said. “As for what I know about you, I know you fucked Malcolm Anderson but if he promised he was going to marry you, he was certainly lying—” The look she gave him was of such incredulous surprise and shock that he laughed out loud.
            She blinked and actually smiled back but it was a strange, distant smile of a woman who did not smile often. That was odd because although Thomas had been one of the very few people who could make her smile when she did not want to she had often been happy and often smiled.
            He went up to the rail and leaned on it while looking down at her and she looked up at him looking very much like she used to with a kind of surprised, sad expression on her face. “Tell me, what’s eating you, Regan?”
            Her look turned dark and the smile became an unfamiliar one of near evil. He didn’t use that word lightly but that was what it felt like: a malicious and evil smile. “Nothing eats me,” she replied and then that smile grew bigger.
            “Why don’t you recognize me?” He turned away for a second. “Every summoning spell is linked with horror. I wonder if it’s so real in my mind it’s actually imitating—” he turned back and she was an inch from his face. “Hi there,” he said, his left hand resting casually on his hip by his gun. He had not heard her come up the creaky stairs although he heard it creaking from her weight below now that she had gotten up there.
            “In this rare moment,” she said in a sultry, seductive way that was painfully her, “I would like to grant you the distinct honor of asking you a question twice.” That evil smile grew yet even bigger. “Who are you, how do you know my name and what do you actually know about me that isn’t unsubstantiated gossip?”
            “You were never a nice girl but this vision is getting out of hand—”
            Her eyes narrowed. “I’m not going to ask you a third time, boy.”
            “My name is Ethan Bartlett—” she let an ahh sound as if that explained a lot “—once I was a—” she looked at her hand and checked her nails as if they were knives to be examined “—a courtier for King Henry VIII—” she looked at Ethan with sudden curiosity and he remembered that Thomas had told her about that “—and you would know me as Thomas Benjamin Bartlett.”
            She just looked at him, her expression unchanged. “Say that again,” she said.
            “What?”
            “I said, ‘say that again.’ ”
            Ethan looked around and felt a strange emptiness in the room. The other visions were gone and he looked up and saw the paintings were still as if they were normal so all that was left was her: he was alone with Regan Kavanagh. “No,” he said and he stepped back.
            “I think you’re lying,” Regan told him. “This upsets me. I do very bad things to people when I am upset.”
            “Gee and golly, you sure changed a lot,” he replied.
            “You don’t know me but before tonight is over you certainly will. Perhaps, if you tell me everything right now, I’ll let you die quickly.”
“Creepy,” he replied.
            When she looked at Ethan he saw in her eyes that she was mentally checking out, her face glazing over as she prepared for something unpleasant. He found that by then she had become so familiar he was utterly unafraid but then maybe should have been. Maybe, he laughed, I should have been running out of this place in stark terror.
            He found himself very worried about how she hadn’t vanished like the other visions.
            “What do I have to do to prove this?” he asked. “Talk about that stupid tree in August?” She looked at him in jaw-dropped, hilarious surprise. “Oh you thought I forgot about that, didn’t you? I want to go town. I want to buy my mother a present. I’m minding my own business when it’s suddenly raining little girls. Why were you climbing that stupid fucking tree anyway—” she stepped back and stared at him in horror “—oh relax, you dumb fucking bimbo. It was over a hundred and fifty years ago and I caught you anyway.”
            He turned around and felt his head spinning.
            “This is fucking wild,” he added and he walked up toward the window. He stumbled and hit it with a thud. “Ow. Fuck. Shit. Ow!” He stood up and felt his jaw. “Here I am, in the House of Dark Shadows with the clumsiest Irishwoman ever to live. Fully knowing she was clumsy she decided to climb the tallest tree around in a goddamn dress.”
            He cried out in something. Maybe rage. Maybe misery. He wasn’t sure he cared anymore.
            “Why are all my lives full of batshit crazy women? Did the Rat Pack have this problem? Did Frank Sinatra deal with insane women like this? I could be a member of the Rat Pack. I could also be Tony Stark and—”
            “Thomas is dead!” Regan hissed from behind.
            He looked back at her for a moment, startled at a cat or snake-like sound that had come from her, and groaned loudly in annoyance. “Oh, you’re still here! Goddamn it all!”
            “You tell me exactly what I whispered to Thomas Bartlett when he caught me!” she hissed.
            “No, I—” he recalled quite well what she had said to him and shook his head “—I don’t remember. I—don’t.” He shook his head again. “I damn near broke my ankle and you ran off to find comfort in Malcolm Anderson but you didn’t sleep with him just then.” He looked back at her and saw she had turned around and was hiding her expression from him. “I do remember the feeling of your breasts against my chest. That was nice.”
            “Don’t you mock me, boy!”
            “I’m not mocking you,” he told her. “That was all you ever gave me.” He lowered his eyes and remembered coming up below her and asking, Are you seriously climbing that damn thing?
            Yes and shut up, you little sissy, she had replied.
            I like climbing trees as much as the next man but I only voice my concern because you’re not exactly dressed for— she lost her grip, her completely wrong shoes for climbing slipped and she shrieked and fell. Damn it, Regan! he cried and threw himself under her. He caught her, twisted his ankle badly, and screamed in agony, having almost certainly saved her from an impact on her head, neck or back. You stupid, stupid brat, you!
            Ethan felt Regan creeping up behind him.
            He sighed and, in a mocking Irish accent, said,  “ ‘I love you. Why can’t you be beautiful? I love you.’ ” He laughed bitterly. “You went to that pretty boy Malcolm and left me limping home like the world’s biggest asshole!” He could see at all like it was yesterday: the endless gray sky, the dark brown tree, and the stupid girl falling to the world below with a beautiful green dress flapping in the wind as she had flew down right into his arms and onto his ankle. “You stupid, stupid bimbo, you!”
            When he turned around he saw she was not behind him at all but at the rail again and her body was moving up in down as she tried to stop herself from crying.
            “Tommy—” she whimpered, “Tommy, will you marry me?”
            He scoffed. “No!” She turned, hissed at him and he held up his arms with a smile. “See!” he cried. “It’s not funny when it happens to you!” He laughed and then she laughed too, a merry, happy laugh that filled the entire foyer. “Feeling better?”
            She bit her lower lip, that old familiar gesture from when she was a child, and nodded. “Yes, I am,” she told him and then she looked up at him sadly. She was about to say more, than she tilted head as if she heard something, and sneered in that earlier evil way. Ethan stepped passed her, looked through the darkness, and then looked back.
            Regan was gone.
            “Oh thank God,” he said. “I can’t handle any more-oh somebody is standing over there.” He was already holding his pistol with its safety off by the time he had finished saying that, his instincts taking over completely.
            He saw something straight ahead of him; some figures were standing in the dark near the entrance and somehow he was pretty sure they were real.

5
(01/06/2013)

            “You,” said a voice from the darkness. “Killed my son.”
            “ ‘It’s possible. I kill a lot of people.’ ” Ethan made a “yes” motion with his body because he had always wanted to say that. “Who was your son?”
            “His name was Rory,” said the voice.
            “Perhaps you remember my sisters,” said a familiar female voice. “The one aged to a crone and the other missing a hand.”
            “Or perhaps my brother,” said another man’s voice.
            “Oh fuck me,” Ethan said and he fired his Torch spell up above the center of the foyer and walked down the stairs with his gun pointing at the four people. They stood along the entrance’s wall, the older man with straight dark gray hair and a short beard from Hamilton Hall stood by the door carrying a rifle with a short blade at his side, a familiar dark haired woman carrying a pistol with a younger girl behind her, and another man in his twenties with dark curly hair carrying a shotgun. “Let me guess,” Ethan said and he gestured to the older man with his head. “You’re Rory Upton’s father—” he gestured at the girl “—you’re my best girl Julia—” he gestured to the girl behind her “—another one of her bitch sisters—” he gestured at the other man “—and you are—” he shrugged “—who are you?”
            “Alan Thorne’s brother,” he told him.
            “Oh him,” replied Ethan and he shrugged. “Why are we about to do this exactly?”
            “You murdered my son,” said Upton coldly.
            “I did some crazy things in the woods that day but murdering your son was not one of them.”
            “So you say,” he replied but it was clear he did not believe him.
            Thorne took a step forward, his shotgun held ready, but not aimed, in his hands. “This place is covered in cameras but we cut the power to all of them.”
            “You’re surrounded, Bartlett,” said Julia. “Bellator women are all over this place.”
            “We’re going to kill you,” said Thorne. “Probably slowly but there are things we should talk about first.”
            You should have just fired the instant you saw me, he thought. “I really don’t think this house was a best choice to have this fight in.”
            “This house is evil,” said Upton. “There’s no better house to murder someone in.”
            “I’d admit that seems true and I would normally agree but—” Ethan’s eyes moved around the room “—stick around for a while. You’ll see.”
            He realized then that he was surprised it took so long for something to happen with Rory Upton and Alan Thorne. Two young men, perfectly healthy, vanish into the Engelstad and only he returns and not, until that moment, had he even been questioned about it.
            He suspected Upton and Thorne had bothered the police and others about it but the moment someone somehow would have mentioned those woods they would receive only silence or dodges. That would not be the end of course because they did not know what those woods were really like. Sooner or later, when they exhausted all the normal routes, they would come looking for him personally and they finally did.
            Julia sneered at him and then when the girl behind her tried to speak she hushed her. She was equally beautiful and incredibly scared and possibly sensed what was in the house. “You should be dead right now, Bartlett,” Julia told him. “I would have killed you, you understand, but I need to know if you have another potion like the one you gave Sleeping Beauty and probably Sissy Spacek.”
            “Maybe,” he replied. So that was the real reason he was still alive.
            “Do you have it on you?” she asked.
            “Maybe.”
            “Who were you talking to before we came?” asked the girl behind her.
            “Just a girl I used to know but she wasn’t really here.” He grinned, despite everything, and added, “Even women with breasts as nice as hers still tend to lose their looks in their hundreds.” They just stared. “Feeling it, don’t you? It’s why we really haven’t started something.”
            “The pictures!” squeaked Julia’s sister. “They’re looking at me!”
            “Don’t be a fucking idiot!” hissed Julia.
            “No, they are,” said Ethan. “When you start hearing the sound of screaming don’t be surprised if it’s your own.” The girl looked scared and they didn’t fire or act yet.
            “Very poetic,” Upton told him but there was a hint of discomfort in him. “You do understand that you aren’t getting out of here unless we get our answers and that potion?”
            “Again,” he said, “This is the not the wisest place to try and kill me.” His hands twitched but he did not move directly aim his gun: Upton was watching him very closely and he sensed he was no amateur in combat.
            Julia’s sister shrieked suddenly. “Shut up!” she cried and she clutched her head. “No, no, no! Shut up, shut up!”
            “What the fuck have you done to my sister?” cried Julia.
            “I told you—” Upton made a move and Ethan jerked instantly to the left toward the hall that went around the dining room. Upton was good and the bullet was almost fatal: it hit him across his armor in such a way that he had not moved to the side just in time it would have probably pierced a lung or heart in the upper right area of his body.
            Ethan fired three times in quick succession while sidestepping and then he charged across the room. Upton was hit first, but he was armored and it did nothing or very little. Thorne was hit second, also armored and hit harmlessly, and Julia was missed, but nearly being shot had startled everyone but Upton so much that they had not managed to fire off anything before Ethan was out of sight down the nearest hall.
            Upton hadn’t flinched and he fired five more times at Ethan’s back as he charged, missing each time, but the last was so close that when it hit the corner of the hall it had only missed Ethan’s head by an inch or less.
            Ethan stumbled a bit, his right shoulder agony after that rifle shot, and then went onward in a straight charge. Clearly Upton, unlike his son, knew exactly what he was doing and it felt like it was pure luck he wasn’t dead already.
            When Ethan saw no one was around, he grabbed his healing potion with his left, popped open the top and drank it while moving.
            That was the exact moment the wall to his right opened and something white with red eyes and claws leaped out at him. He fired on instinct, pummeling it full of holes, and then almost gagged when he saw it was both clothed like a man and still standing after he unloaded the entire clip into it.
            It didn’t look dying, it looked stunned, and then when it started to move forward Ethan kicked it in the chest and sent went flying back into the darkness. It hit a very steep flight of stairs and stumbled head over heels down dozens of them before Ethan heard it crash hard at the bottom.
            He cast his Torch spell down there, saw the long wooden stairs leading down in the darkness to the hard earthen ground, and for a split second also saw the legs of the thing as it scrambled out the light.
            Ethan stood there for a moment, gun barrel smoking, and felt the inserted Beechwood memories helping him recall the building passageways under the house. Thomas had been thrilled by the idea of secret passageways in secret castles in old gothic stories and putting them in had simply been something “fun” to do.
            He stepped forward pulled the lever down with his left hand, and the wall shut behind him.
            Ethan took out his empty magazine and inserted a full one as he stepped down toward the bauble of light. At the bottom, where the last six steps had been broken by the creature’s falling, he jumped down and then heard the creature scramble farther away down the passageway.
            There was suspiciously no blood anywhere: not on the steps, not the walls, not even on the ground where it had landed.
            The hall turned only one way and so he cast another Torch spell down that direction and saw the creature standing at the edge of the light looking at him.
            It looked just like a slender young man, his age or a little younger, with short dark hair, dark eyes with a pretty boy face wearing the remains of a dark suit, the holes in his chest through the shirt blazingly obvious and bright red yet also without any blood. It held up its arm immediately against the light and opened its mouth in a hiss to reveal two snake-like fangs instead of canines.
            “Oh fuck me,” Ethan said softly and he placed his gun in its holster.
            “Man, you gotta help me!” it told him and when it lowered its arm its eyes were glowing red again. “I didn’t mean to attack you, you know! I can’t help it! I just—I just can’t!”
            Ethan’s hands were by his side and he gently took a step toward it. “I understand,” he said and he wasn’t lying. “What’s your story, exactly?”
            “I was just swimming on Fisher Street—”
            Ethan suddenly knew: knew that the creature inside the secret crypt had got him and then he even recognized it because its picture had been plastered on the newspapers and the news as it had been one of the dead bodies that been found floating face first in the water by that church. It must have risen from the grave and it was even wearing the suit they had buried it in.
            “Jesus fucking Christ,” he said.
            “I’m sick man!” it told him and then it took one step closer. “I’ve got problems! I woke up in fucking darkness!”
            “Darkness,” Ethan said with wide eyes, “Is where you’ll stay.”
            The thing looked him over and its face darkened. “Buddy, I think you can help me out,” it said.
            Ethan looked it straight in its red eyes and said calmly, “This is where you attack me, dude.”
            It hissed like a snake and jerked toward him like a rabid animal. Ethan grabbed his blade, whipped it out, and sent its head flying off its shoulders to where it hit a wall and bounced off into the darkness. Again, not even from the arteries at its neck, there was no blood but the creature was dead for the second time and permanently and its body fell to ground without even a twitch. Few things could survive being decapitated and even the undead were not usually among them.
            Ethan made the runes on his sword glow and started into the labyrinth under his past life incarnation’s home.
            “This turned out to be a strange night,” he said to himself and then he felt that summoning effect still manipulating him. “Just fucking wonderful,” he added and then he jumped as he suddenly he heard a woman scream from somewhere close by in the labyrinth: a terrified, high pitched scream that ended too quickly.
            A monster got a Bellator woman.
            He soon heard more screams, gunshots from above, and thuds, slams and whacks that sounded crazily violent. He was astounded by that: he had just been up there and he had been almost certain nothing real was there. The Order of the Autumn Rose and the women of the Bellator Mulieres, both dangerous and successful hunters, sounded like they were being slaughtered by whatever was up there wholesale.
            Ethan moved through the halls toward the first scream, not too far below the other side of the stage, but all he saw when he arrived was a small bit of blood. She was gone, another fanged monster having gotten her and dragged her away off somewhere into the dark.
            He looked back up at the sounds that were going quickly quiet.
            What was happening up there?

*          *          *

            Julia unloaded a clip into one of the undead when they appeared, her face filled with terror. “Vera!” she shrieked but she received no answer. She had been behind her one minute and then gone another.
            One of her Bellator non-blood sisters screamed as a young man thing with red eyes appeared out from a wall, bit her in the neck from behind, and dragged her down through the opening in the wall that had just appeared.
            Julia quickly dropped her empty clip, put in a full one, and tried to fire but the girl was gone from sight before the gun could go off. As she rushed forward, her Bellator sister’s body was dropped out of the secret door, pale as a ghost at the feet of a boy who looked to Julia’s eyes like he was in absolute ecstasy.
            “Lady,” the handsome blond undead boy said, “Just kill me. Just fucking please, please, kill me.”
            Julia raised her gun and fired. His forehead sported a new hole and he fell backward down the stairs that were there. She went to the edge and fired into the darkness where he rolled, confident she was hitting him.
            Bartlett is my curse! her mind screamed. Every time she confronted him, directly or indirectly, a sister was maimed, killed or lost. She looked around for her companions and realized she was alone and it had suddenly become very quiet. “Where is everyone?” She looked back down and she realized that her sister must have been down there. If she was up, she would have responded to her call. “Damn you, Bartlett!” she cried.
            She heard the younger man’s, Thorne’s, shotgun fire off once and then the silence returned.
            It was a very bad idea to come there but who could’ve known. Bartlett couldn’t have set that up, he wasn’t that cunning, and it was her mother’s idea to attack him there besides. One sister was aged, another was crippled, a third had turned traitor and now one had vanished and it was all, somehow, his fault.
            Everything had been perfect before Ethan Bartlett came into their lives.
            Julia pulled that out of her head along with everything else. She might come off as a monster, Bartlett wasn’t the first to think so, but she loved her sisters and she would die for them. If that’s what it took to save them, it would happen, simple as that, and she no time for second thoughts or regrets.
            So she reloaded her gun, took it in both hands, and started down the stairs. Her gun had a flashlight on it and she turned it as she went down.

*          *          *

            Ethan moved through the maze-like hallways with disturbing certainty of his way until he found a heavy door. He had stopped only once, when heard a young woman call out the name “Vera” but then that had turned so instantly and ominously silent that he then continued on to that door without exploring it.
            As he reached for its handle he heard a scuffle right behind him. He turned quickly but saw only the shade of a petite, mousy looking woman pulling something toward him. He knew it was another natural shade because, like the man with the axe and head, he did not recognize who he saw and her dim lighting was from a different time’s light source.
            She was wearing a mousey brown 1940s dress with matching round hat and was dragging by one arm a very young nearly unconscious black boy wearing overalls and a white shirt with holes in it. She was grinning maniacally as she went and that was when Ethan saw that her other hand was holding out a large, old fashioned hypodermic needle that looked to have been used.
            Ethan found himself remembering a small section of a Black Family’s History of Bartlett Bay by Noah Waddell. He had talked, almost casually it seemed, about rumors and tales heard around bars and the local barbershop by local black gossipers, many of them old enough to have been alive at the time, involving Beechwood during the 1920s to 1940s. He had mentioned as few as two or as much as several dozen were supposed to have disappeared into that house never to be seen again and then he went on to a different subject. He knew, or would say, nothing more on the subject.
            Madge Michaeladis was the one name he mentioned. She owned the house at the time and in the few other parts of Noah Waddell’s history where her name came up next he had said there were rumors about her insanity.
            She had probably used that needle to drug the boy as he was not dying, struggling weakly as he was being taken toward the door. The woman had already opened it in her time because in Ethan’s time she walked through it’s wood like it was opaque mist. Then, inexplicably, she gave out a creepy, near-insane and almost hysterical witch’s cackle as she dragged the boy through the door after herself, his bare feet’s toes vanishing last.
            “Jesus fucking Christ,” he said softly and then he opened the door and saw it just led into a cellar. “That laugh…” He had never heard it’s like, not in that life or any other, but it reminded him very much of Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West laugh from the Wizard of Oz but it was too hysterically insane sounding to belong to any woman remotely like Margaret Hamilton.
            She had not been a crazed psychotic. In fact, if memory served, she had been a pleasant and kind woman who had devoted her life to children. That Madge woman was not acting and to Ethan’s ears she seemed to shriek genuine insanity.
            As for the cellar it looked simply normal, something Thomas Bartlett used for nothing and may have intended for something but never got around to it. Perhaps it was just an idea that never took off or perhaps it was just a hangout. Whatever it was, it was below the foyer and its fireplace shared the same tube as the one above.
            He saw them after a few quick moments: four of them with glowing ready eyes crouched in a corner and, nearby were six dirty old coffins that were probably the very ones they were buried in. They were all young men, several covered in blood, looking at him like a tiger looks at its prey.
            Then the door opposite Ethan’s opened and Upton entered into the room, his sword out as well and the runes on his glowing bright purple.
            There was an awkward pause with everyone looking at everyone else.
            “Kill them!” hissed one of the creatures and before it could do anything more Ethan and Upton rushed toward them.
            Ethan took that one’s head off first, Upton stabbed another when it jumped at him, knocked a third over, and then ripped his blade out in such a way that it tore out more flesh. Ethan stabbed a fourth and Upton chopped off the third’s head almost as soon as he pulled his blade free of the second. The one Upton knocked over jumped up and rushed at Ethan and he fired a lightning bolt into its chest. When it stumbled Upton came up behind it and chopped off its head while Ethan swung his blade around and decapitated the one Upton had stabbed before.
            It had all been less than a few seconds.

6
(01/09/2014)

            They then turned onto each other without even a slight pause, the fluid motion of two professional dancers moving in sync, and when their blades clashed it sent sparks of purple-orange out like they were two pieces of flint being rubbed across each other.
            “You killed my son!” Upton cried in an instant when they were tangled and Ethan knew somewhere on him was a golden rose: the symbol of the Order of the Autumn Rose, a hunting guild slash knighthood that Ethan recalled his son had claimed to have been a part of.
            “I did not kill your son!” Ethan told him. It was technically true: he was already dead when Ethan was forced to destroy him.
            Upton attacked him as violently as he could and he was getting through Ethan’s defenses: his sword was smaller and they were too close, too confined, and he was too well trained.
            Ethan got through, cutting him across the shoulder, and Upton got through to him, cutting him down from the shoulder across the chest. Neither were not injured, they were protected by their armor, but Ethan managed to get a few steps back.
            “He was turned into a zombie and tried to murder me,” Ethan told him holding out his sword at him at its full length. “I didn’t even want to even kill his corpse but then it was made a much easier choice since your son was an idiotic borderline psychopath.”
            Upton pointed his blade back at him and Ethan purple enchantment runes on its sides, almost the exact same version Ethan had, and said, “You killed my son and my best friend’s son and now I’m going to kill you.” He swung at Ethan who jumped back up a bit. “Those boys may not have been the nicest kids alive but they did not deserve to die.”
            “Stick around Bartlett Bay for a while,” Ethan told him. “See the sights, wander the woods, and maybe if you’re really unlucky you’ll find the monster who really killed your son. It has a lot more to answer for than I do.”
            “You can do better than that.”
            “The truth is ever so overrated—” Ethan fired an ice shard at Upton who parried it competently aside with magic and then threw a purple fireball almost casually back. Ethan knocked it aside but, luckily, it didn’t explode. It just happened to be fire in the shape of a ball: if it had been the exploding kind they both might have been buried alive.
            “Nice try,” said Upton and then he rushed forward. Ethan defended himself but Upton had a beat on his style by then, a blade that was, due to its size, better for fighting in a small area like the cellar, and, as it was quickly becoming apparent, he might well be the better swordsman.
            As he started to force Ethan backward he spoke.
            “My son died never knowing how proud I was of him!” Upton told him, his eyes locked on him, filled with both pain and rage. He swung hard and Ethan had to jerk back too many times, once almost stumbling on the fireplace’s corner where had he done so even slightly he would have made a likely fatal opening in his defense. “He thought because he couldn’t master magic he wasn’t a real man in my eyes! He died thinking I didn’t love him!”
            Well that explained why he hated Ethan so much so quickly.
            “Do you really think we should do this here?” Ethan cried, barely holding his ground.
            “Now that you’re losing, yes!” He got through, scratched Ethan across the side of the neck, and Ethan barely managed to avoid getting his neck slit. “You think this is the first undead I’ve killed, boy!” he cried. “You’re not the first smart mouthed little punk I’ve killed either.” Ethan felt himself tiring and he knew if he slowed down even slightly Upton would get through.
            Upton knew it too and he was waiting for it.
            Ethan started firing lightning and ice shards at him as he moved around the back of the fireplace and Upton knocked each aside easily. “No easy win there, Bartlett,” he told him.
            “We think alike, Mike and—” Upton made a surprise move when Ethan parried, almost knocking his sword away, and Ethan had to throw himself too quickly backward, that time stumbling over the back of the fireplace where he just barely avoided being killed.
            He scrambled quickly around to the doorway where Upton had entered and grabbed the door. He threw it at Upton as he came forward, the blade hitting solidly into its wood, and then Upton followed Ethan around it and fired a lightning bolt at his back as he charged down the dark hallway.
            Ethan turned, knocked it aside, turned back around and sprinted. Upton was quick on his trail, charging like a bull after a flag.
            Out there it was a smaller area and Upton’s smaller blade was an even better advantage. Ethan wanted to grab his dagger or a gun but he would dead before he got close so he had to turn and fight off Upton with his too big sword in a too small hall.
            Upton came on too hard and Ethan tried to surprise him by rushing at him and suddenly the two were suddenly tangled. Instantly, Upton slammed in him in the face with his forehead and Ethan sliced the blade out awkwardly across Upton chest. It had done nothing, just scratched across the armor, but Upton dropped his guard for a moment, unaware that Ethan was able to ignore the pain of a nearly broken nose.
            Ethan didn’t attack, he wouldn’t have gotten through anyway, and he retreated back down the hall and at a near full speed around the back of the cellar. The hall’s northern stone wall and the cellar’s southern stone wall were the same.
            However, it was the other side that had his attention.
            Ethan moved his back to the wall opposite the cellar’s and looked to the right, Upton’s blade was the only thing he could see in the darkness until he stepped into the light of Ethan’s sword looking virtually unharmed. “It’s time to take your medicine, Bartlett,” he told him and he knew he had him. The hallway ended where Ethan was and the only way back into the labyrinth was through Upton.
            Ethan laughed and, for no reason he could think of, elbowed back. It did nothing but then he remembered he had been shorter as Thomas lowered himself, elbowed again, and then reached up without looking, found one of the five small holes that were there, and put his fingers into it.
            “What are you doing?” asked Upton.
            “I don’t know, Upton,” he told him. “I really don’t.” It felt like a half-truth: he did not know but Thomas Bartlett did.
            He turned the latch just the right way and when the wall unlocked behind him he pressed his feet against the ground, moved it with his back, and felt it spread easily and widely behind him. As he started to disappear within he gave Upton a salute with his left hand’s index and forefinger.
            Upton rushed forward suddenly and Ethan startled him by rushing back. The room behind him gave him a little more room to swing his blade, the door itself almost five feet wide, and Upton was caught uncharacteristically off guard.
            Ethan managed to get cut him through the plates somewhere on Upton’s side and shove him into the opposite wall. Then he threw himself backward into the opening and slammed the door shut. Even though it was a door made of stone its hinges made it swing as easily as if it was made of soft wood and it slammed shut before Upton could get something between it and the frame.
            His sword would have worked perfectly had it been longer.
            Instantly he heard the sound of Upton slamming his blade into it from the other side. “You killed my son, you son of a—”
            Everything stopped rather abruptly. No screams, no bangs, no anything and he wasn’t manipulating the controls to open the door either as Ethan heard no clicks, clacks or bangs to imply such.
            One of them got him, he thought but he found that doubtful. He was a very formidable fighter and if they did get him they were going to get hurt in the process and make a lot of noise all the while.
            So what happened? He blinked a few times and found no answer came to mind. Then he shrugged and decided he didn’t really care at this point. He sheathed his sword, took out his shotgun, turned on its flashlight and sarcastically said, “Well that was just what I fucking needed.”
            He took out another healing potion, drank it down, and felt he wound on his neck and nose close up with a stinging sensation along with various bruises and cuts he had not realized he had. He then took a deep breath, raised his shotgun in both hands, and looked down its tunnel of light at what was laid out before him.
            It was just a tunnel into darkness made of stone.
            Of course, it was obviously more than that, but his head was starting to throb again and he couldn’t remember quite what it really was. It was a secret tunnel within a secret tunnel which meant that its end, for better or for worse, contained something interesting.
            That, he suddenly felt certain, was the real pull for him: whatever he was looking for he would find there.
            Ethan started forward and the tunnel began to turn randomly for what felt like a long time. He quickly lost his sense of direction, assuming he had one to begin with, but he was not lost because it never had any forks in it. It was one path that went, albeit crookedly, toward something.
            He took one turn to the left and the flashlight caught onto a figure standing there.
            It was tall, powerful man in a silver doublet, white leggings and gold and black garters. All he wore on top was a white shirt meant to go under his clothes, open to reveal the hard muscle of his athletic upper body, and he was breathing heavily after some kind of sport, possibly royal tennis.
            He was disturbingly beautiful: a dark reddish-gold haired man with sweated hair slicked back standing over six feet tall, virtually perfect physically and especially in the legs, popular to be shown off on men in those days. He was beardless then, around eighteen or so, and while Walter would have praised him with the eyes of a contemporary and in awe of royalty even modern day Ethan was impressed by his physical beauty.
            Something about his earlier golden prince appearance made Henry VIII’s eventual fate much more disturbing.
            “I’m going to marry Catherine, Walter,” he told him and Ethan saw love in his eyes. Ethan felt that Henry loved her because she had been his brother’s wife. He was covetous of other men’s women it seemed and in addition to that joy she was a great and beautiful prize that he could show off, made him, in the eyes of those who knew him young at least, his brother’s equal and it would gain him the remarkably sneaky King Ferdinand of Spain as his ally. Walter had believed that Henry married Catherine of Aragon simply because he loved her and nothing more and on that first they both agreed: Henry loved Catherine of Aragon.
            At least for a while.
            There was something more personal, more masculine, involving Henry’s brother, Prince Arthur. Ethan recalled through his normal past life memories Arthur saying something angry, vicious or insulting to Henry. Walter himself couldn’t have recalled quite what it was, he was very young at the time, but he remembered the dark look on Arthur’s teenage face as Henry danced with Arthur’s new bride, Catherine, at their wedding and then even stole his brother’s thunder by stripping off most of his upper clothes as he did so. It was something that should have been very humiliating but, like always, Henry was saved by someone, who in that situation, was his father. Henry VII had made light of it, laughing it off, and so everyone else had.
            Everyone, that is, except Arthur, who was secretly fuming at the time, and Walter’s grandfather, Edward Kent. He was old at the time and had lived through all the years of the Cousins War, which history called the War of the Roses, and Walter remembered a rather uncomfortable look on his face as if something really bad or terrible had just happened. He was a man of deep dignity and tradition but he was also quite wise and very good at reading people.
            When Walter asked him what that look meant he had said simply, “Just for a moment I thought I saw the Duke of Clarence dancing with that lovely Spanish princess.”
            “Is it possible to be jealous of what a dead man has?” Ethan asked out loud.
            “I love her, Walter,” said Henry. “I love her with all my heart.”
            “I know you do, Henry,” Ethan replied. “It’s just that with you love doesn’t last.”
            Henry must have been out of his mind. He was eighteen, a new king, and as good a queen as Catherine was going to be she was from an ideal political choice at that point. Her mother, the great Isabella of Castile was dead, and her father Ferdinand of Aragon and Henry VII had been over some kind of crazed duel over her dowry that was not settled, they were both untrustworthy knaves as far as Walter could tell, and she was seven years older than Henry as well. No one thought he would marry her but he did because, without doubt, he loved her.
            At least for a while.
            Walter loved her too, though, and he never stopped.
            He had also never really liked Henry. It was the way he treated him, so very much like the way his brothers had, that made him distrust him and make him think his motives less pure. He had too much, too easily, and all of it so simply automatic. The opposite of that was why he respected the Cardinal Thomas Wolsey so much. He, despite incredible arrogance, was a man that had come from nowhere and earned his place as opposed to some lord who had just inherited it by some happenstance of birth.
            Ethan was torn between talking and shooting but after a moment he did neither and instead just looked him over. He had been the Golden Prince, Bluff King Hal, a man revered as the most beautiful prince in all Europe and it really wasn’t a lie. He was muscular, tall, perfectly built, and it did not surprise Walter that he could get almost any woman he wanted and he would have been successful at it even without his crown or even high wealth. He was an educated scholar, a great sportsman, amazing in every possible way except a few notable ones which in time even a blind fool would not fail to see.
            In the end only his children and the truly naive were fooled.
            “Henry wants what Henry wants,” Ethan said softly.
            He thought Walter knew from his earliest age that crowns were simply just circles of gold and jewels on someone’s head and did not really bestow any kind of intellectual, spiritual or physical prowess by being there. If otherwise the Cousins War would have ended as soon as one person got the crown and kingship. It seemed Walter was always instinctively on the lookout for something bad to happen and Ethan could not remember it yet but throwing over his loyal wife for Anne Boleyn would not have been a complete surprise to Walter from what he could recall from the beginning.
            What happened three years after would, however.
            Eleanor of Aquitaine had not been a fluke. Edward II’s wife Isabella of France and King John I’s wife who legend had it had to sleep under the hanging bodies of her lovers, were not executed either for their adultery and treasons and some were barely inconvenienced at the very worst considering the level of their crime. Even Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary, a serial killer born just a highborn lady and no queen in that very same century, was simply walled up inside of a room until she died.
            Henry truly was a monster in the end but despite that Ethan found he felt genuine and uncharacteristic pity for him. They told him all his life he was the golden knight of Christendom and that he was God’s instrument on Earth. For some reason, some internal weakness or flaw perhaps, he could not let go of that belief or see it as simple flattery which it mostly was and no one could make him let go because he was the king. In the end Ethan was certain he could not live without it even to the point of obsessive and desperate self-delusion.
            Why else would he marry a teenage girl who was a politically unconnected, and rather unfit, English subject like Catherine Howard? Stupidity couldn’t be the answer. He was many things but an idiot wasn’t one of them.
            “I really can’t stand this anymore. I’m going to shoot you in the fucking face.” He raised his shotgun to young Henry VIII’s beautiful face. “You never learned humility, you evil dead royal fuck!”
            My father was the absolute greatest man on Earth, Kent, said a voice in his head. It was a young boy’s voice and Ethan thought maybe it was Henry’s son, Edward, speaking. You had best well remember that it is his son stands before you and when I come of age and rule in my own right I will remember the days you thought to question my words and faith.
            Ethan grunted in pain suddenly, blood leaking out of his nose again, and when he opened his eyes again he saw that Henry had given him a mocking smile he saved just for Walter; the kind that made Ethan want to knock out the grinner’s two front teeth for. Ethan distinctively remembered that moment, it was right around the time before Henry and Catherine were married, and it was probably said because he sensed Walter’s crush on her went beyond the chivalric playacting of the court.
            Come to think of it, Henry was even dressed the same way. He had just finished a really exciting game of tennis and had beat Walter by a very great margin.
            Then he said, “You will never have a wife to match my Catherine.”
            Ethan laughed in Henry’s face, his voice echoing out all around him, and replied, “Well either will you, Your Highness!” He swung the shotgun through the ancient dead king and watched Henry VIII fade into the air with that same self-righteous smile on his face.
            Ethan felt incredibly hollow inside and his head was throbbing. He lowered it for a moment, bitterly sighed, and then started onward down the tunnels. Others soon appeared but he quickly whacked at them with his shotgun before they could speak and draw him back into the past.
            There was Nathan Bartlett Sr., General George B. McClellan, George Armstrong Custard, Thomas More, Thomas Wolsey, Edward VI as a young man; all were quickly getting vanquished by his shotgun swing as he passed.
            And then Catherine of Aragon appeared at the end of her life and he found he could not swing the shotgun.
            “No!” he cried miserably. “I don’t want to see you like this!” He found he could still not make the swing and he instead raised the shotgun light up at her once beautiful face and found it still had the power to hypnotize him.
            She had lost all her beauty in her six pregnancies, became overweight enough to seem almost as wide as she was tall, and her face was lined with sadness, loss and loneliness. She was wearing a black and gold dress with the gable hood over her red-gold hair and she looked into his eyes with bright blue eyes of her own seeming, despite the fact that she was not even five feet, to be as tall as or even taller than he was.
            Ethan felt his heart sink and tears began to run down his eyes uncontrollably. He tried to speak but he couldn’t find the words.
            He had not seen her old yet in Walter’s memories, in those she was still young, beautiful and desirable. Although she had taken some physical knocks from her earlier pregnancies by the time her daughter Mary was born she was a far cry from the elderly, unattractive and overweight woman that stood before him.
            It was Henry that did it to her. Not directly or even intentionally, he wasn’t that cruel, but it was his fault.
            Walter did not care about the rules of propriety, king’s rights or any other stupid thing Henry would claim to justify it: he had abandoned his wife, plain and simple. He gave her no power, gave her nothing to do except pointless ceremonial tasks, and while she had nothing to fill her endless hours with but food he spent his days in play and took mistresses that he flaunted right before her eyes.
            And he blamed her for the death of their other children.
            During her pregnancies Catherine had been emotionally abused, ignored, and cheated on all the while summoning all of her will to try to maintain the propriety of her position and her dignity. Stress alone could cause a miscarriage, it would later happen with Anne Boleyn, and Catherine’s position was hardly secure in those early days. Once, in the days of the Anglo-Spanish alliance Ferdinand had done one of his more irritating tricks and Henry took out his anger on Catherine with such violent and traumatic screaming all through the night that it had caused a miscarriage shortly after. Henry, of course, blamed it entirely on her or possibly Ferdinand.
            But never, ever, himself.
            A man who wanted a son more than anything didn’t seem to have it in him to provide a pregnant wife with a lifestyle that didn’t involve worrying endlessly about her husband and position day and night.
            In Ethan’s normal past life memories he could already tell that any sense of love Henry had for her only existed through Mary and she was alone: very alone. Spain and her one remaining sibling Juana were a long way away and she would never see either again.
            Ethan fell to his knees before her. “You’re Highness,” he said in a weak voice. “I—I don’t know.”
            “Walter,” she said in that Spanish accented voice of hers. “You have always been kind to me.”
            “Sometimes I think England is you,” he told her in a strange moment of clarity and it seemed that he was suddenly speaking as Walter because his voice suddenly had an accent. “It was a beautiful land, as you were a beautiful woman, and it became ugly and bloated, as you did, both under Henry.” He bowed his head and continued to weep quietly. “I’m sorry, Catherine,” he told her sincerely. “I tried to deter him, tried to get Anne away, but she did not understand him and there was nothing I could do. Henry would have destroyed all of England to get what he wanted. Wolsey said so and tried to talk him out of it and failed and he was smarter than I was.”
            Catherine smiled down at him kindly. “I’m not a fool Walter,” she told him. “I do not know all my enemies but I know all my friends.”
            Ethan looked up at her and the image of her dancing as a young and beautiful teenager at her wedding to Prince Arthur flashed across his mind. It was the very day his crush had begun and it seemed to have followed him all the way down to the twenty first century.
            “I’m sorry I failed,” he told her and then he saw her start to fade, that kind smile still on her face. “Find me again someday,” he added in as Ethan. “Find me before the end of time so I can see you dance again and remember what love is.”
            Then she was gone and he was alone.

7
(01/13/2014)

            He stood up, rested the shotgun on his shoulder, and said, “Why couldn’t I have come up with something that romantic while I was at that fucking court?” He laughed miserably and wiped tears off his face. “I fucking hate this house. Why in God’s name did I build a house like this?”
            He couldn’t take anymore and as he walked carried his shotgun like a club and swung through the illusions as they went by: Abraham Lincoln, Henry Percy, Desiderius Erasmus, Anne Boleyn again, Jane Seymour, Abraham Lincoln, Anne of Cleves, Thomas Cromwell, Uncle Andrew O’Brien, Anderson Greenwood and then he was swinging so fast that he couldn’t tell who the countless others that were vanishing with each swing.
            By the time he made it around the corner and saw the bright red light he was covered in sweat and his arms were aching.
            Before he could see what it was the summoning spell hit him again and on such a deeper level of agony that he dropped his shotgun, stumbled and grabbed his head. He was forced to shut his eyes for several minutes, his head throbbing in unison with his heart, before he could final manage to wipe the blood that had come out of his nose, ears and eyes with his gloved hand and looked up.
            The path led down to a tall, square room with its back wall simply the rocky surface of the cliff that housed the Cave of Blue Light with two brick walls on either side. It had shelves that were empty, tables that were unused, and the back wall, though bare, he remembered had something in it he wanted.
            In the center of the room was a blood red ritual carved into the ground, triangular and glowing, connected by small pillars with small red flames about the size of candle fire sticking up out of their black metal tops. He could read the runes to see it was clearly a summoning spell and the components of “mind” and “spirit” were prominently displayed but it was also several illusion spells too and that was when he realized he had been fooled. It had tricked him into seeming weaker: that ritual was devastatingly powerful in truth and had illusion not been there he would have probably felt like he was wading through a tornado’s worth of summoning magic instead of a gust of wind.
            Ethan knew the room well from the Beechwood memories: it had been his treasure room.
            He also who knew well who appeared in the center ritual and that was far, far, far too much. He walked up to the ritual and aimed the shotgun at the illusion standing there.
            She should not have been able to stand. She had been a beautiful and slender woman once, dark haired and sultry eyed, but then half of her face and ninety percent of her body had been burned. It had not been bandaged yet, the wounds raw and red and oozing and all of her clothes were gone except the one long, white sleeve of her nightgown on her right arm connected still at the shoulder. Her red and bloody burnt left hand still held the gasoline can.
            “Hello boy,” said the figure.
            “Goodbye Mother,” he replied and he fired.
            Dana Bartlett vanished into the air and he shouldered his gun slowly, his eyes wide. Then quickly as he could went to the stone wall, found the secret lever, and opened the panel. He stopped for a moment, leaned against the wall with his right hand, the secret lever on the left side because Thomas had been left handed, and forced himself to take several breaths.
            “Clearly this spell jumped up a notch,” he said to himself.
            Then he smelled it, the smell of a burning flesh and death, and after that he felt the power growing inside his head again.
            Ethan grunted, grabbed his dagger, turned and threw it at the ritual’s corner. It hit a line of runes, cut into it, and the ritual predictably exploded. He had meant to explore more, meant to open the other secret doors in the room, but he realized if he felt another burst of magic that was even slightly more powerful than the last it might actually kill him. He could have chanced it but he realized they had been getting stronger since he started and the odds were against him.
            His attack did what he thought it would do only at first. He was pushed against the wall like a tornado pressing him against a mountain but as he waited it out he was suddenly yanked forward. He had never even heard of a spell doing that.
            Ethan was suddenly spinning around over the ritual like he was trapped in a whirlwind so quickly that his shotgun flew from his hand and rolled across the ground completely unaffected by the spell’s effects. He was instantly sick and he threw his Ice Shard spell downward randomly at the floor at least a half dozen times over several seconds until he hit some other part of the ritual’s runes.
            Then he dropped like a rock. The whirlwind did not slow; it simply stopped as if someone flipped a switch somewhere that turned it off.
            Ethan landed on his feet, spun around a few times, and then fell backward onto the center of the ritual where he landed with a thud. He felt something on his back, something like a bump, but he was too stunned and sick to do anything about it.
            “I thought I built this house,” he said hoarsely, “But it was Clive Barker all along.” He grinned weakly, felt his stomach churning, and in the spell’s fading light turned white he looked up and saw something on the ceiling. Thomas had not painted what was up there and he had never seen that mural or it’s like before but something about it seemed both familiar and terrible.
            It depicted a great red sky with a dark Death-like figure carrying a black bladed two-handed sword in black robes with no face on the left while on the right there was a figure wearing white shining armor carrying another two-handed blade but glowing white who had a face equally hidden under a magnificent shining helmet. Both were flying toward each other toward predictable combat and on the dark side’s end the mural was darker and more horrid while on the light side’s end it was becoming brighter and blue.
            “War is coming,” he whispered and he could hear the rebel cry shrieking in his mind.
            He drifted off into sleep and somewhere in his dreams he felt something cold touch his lips. It was so familiar it almost made him cry because he had, a century and a half ago, kissed those lips although then they had been warm then.
            He dreamed of her face, dreamed of the tree, and dreamed of that cold and windy Autumn day over a century and a half ago when the Indian nations were still strong and Fort Sumter was just an island out in Charleston Harbor.
            He told her in his dreams, “Regan, you were supposed to catch me. How the hell are we going to get even now?” He heard the sound of her laughing and that made him smile.

*          *          *

            Stephen Upton vomited for the third time after laying Julia down against his car. He looked at her for a moment, utterly snow pale from her ordeal and decided finally that the hospital was the correct place for her. Then he turned away and leaned up against his truck with one hand.
            That spell was quite certainly not what it appeared to be. When it was destroyed the effect of it was almost mind shattering.
            John Thorne had escaped earlier and he wasn’t surprised. John was brave but not that brave and his car had probably been one of the first to leave. The Bartlett boy, on the other hand, was simply full of surprises.
            He had gone willingly down into the dark, had fought the undead with absolute efficiency and without fear, and then fought him off as well. He could have killed his son, there was no doubt in Upton’s about that, but there was something about the boy, something Upton could not quite place, that made him think he might not be a murderer.
            There was something off about the Belletor women’s story too and Julia’s mother was a serious problem. She was reckless, far too arrogant and not nearly as smart as she thought she was. He wouldn’t have trusted her either but his son’s death had been wearing down on him and making him reckless and, before Beechwood, he had always had good, if not ideal, results from working with Belletor women.
            Upton needed closure and he was starting to have bad dreams about his son which, after he was out of the house and had time to think, made Upton worry about what Bartlett had said about those woods. In his dreams his son was still a young boy and he was always, always, lost in a dark and evil forest.
            He had never seen anything quite like that house. Not since Blackwood in England, a small town said to be built on the ruins of a haunted forest, had he ever gotten such a bad vibe from a place.
            He vomited again and almost complete blood came out.
            Julia twitched and he picked her up and placed her in the passenger seat. He had healed her with his magic, easily closing the wound at her neck, but she had still lost a lot of blood. He had come across her in the tunnels as he made his escape after their master attacked him and found one of the undead sucking on her neck. Had he been but one second later, she would have been dead.
            He got into the truck and gratefully drove away.
            The things he saw in that house would haunt him for the rest of his life. He could not have known a peasant woman in medieval France and yet he did. How he could not even imagine. He had never been in France except once on a vacation when he was six. The woman spoke to him in French and he did not speak French but somehow he very much understood her.
            He had seen Bartlett talking to his visions too, deeply and emotionally entrenched in them, and he could possibly be raving mad or even being eaten by one of the monsters even at that moment.  He doubted that, though, once he really thought about it. Men like Bartlett never die unless they’re personally put down.
            He looked back at the house through the mirror as he fled and thought, During the daylight they will be sleeping.

*          *          *

            Claire turned her head over her shoulder and looked through the kitchen walls as if she could see what she felt.
            “What is it?” asked Johnny.
            Claire smiled kindly and wanted to say that she felt the rip in the spirit world had just repaired itself but he would think she was crazy or joking. “Nothing,” she told him.
            “You look happy,” he told her from the kitchen.
            “I am happy.”
            “You look—different.” She looked up at his handsome face and thought she saw something missing there. Something was wrong in his reality: someone was missing. “What happened?” he asked her.
            She really wanted to tell him everything, her other half would do so without hesitation, but only because it did not understanding lying. It would tell him all about Walter Kent and the time she had seen him in the woods and how he had petted her nose and given her a carrot and told her that she was the world’s most beautiful creature and that it was wrong for his king to try and capture one of her kind. She would illuminate on how he had informed her about the piles of unused horns in the ancient Roman vaults and how it was a waste when they could still be on their owners to be seen roaming majestically through meadows and forests to remind men of magic and wonder. Kent had looked at her with such incredibly kindness, admiration and sincerity that she discovered that she deeply and genuinely wanted his love.
            She would have also told him about the other one too. He was frightening, even to her, and he hated all mankind and lived only to cruelly taunt and hurt them. Although many humans weren’t bad most were, even she knew that, but he did not care. To him they were all the same and all deserving of the worst possible treatment.
            Claire walked up to Johnny and gently touched him on the chest.   
            “Are you alright, Claire?”
            “I made a mistake,” she told him. “I was naïve and I didn’t mean to be.”
            “I know,” he told her and he took her hand and smiled. He was lonely, she could see it in his eyes, and she could feel how he was instinctively looking around for that other person that was missing. It made her very sad but she could not fix that nor replace it with herself even if they both wanted her too.
            She leaned up and kissed him in the cheek. “You’re a good man, John Le Sueur,” she said.
            “Are you really alright? You look different somehow.”
            “I feel complete.” She sounded casual but it hadn’t been easy by any means. For her to be complete she was required to meet her other half physically and that required incredible misery or even trauma to get over her human half’s discomfort. As Emeline Le Sueur she lived near her other half for most of her life but was only able to enter the Engelstad and make herself whole after she lost Thomas. “I’m alright, Johnny.”
            He smiled kindly at her. “I’m glad,” he told her. “I am.”
            Claire felt an overwhelming sisterly love for him. “You’re a good man,” she said again, “And I am glad I have you near me.” She slipped her arms around him and hugged him tightly.
            Johnny smiled a bit uncomfortably. “You’re going to give me a big head,” he told her.
            She shut her eyes and thought about Walter. She had become Lady Constance Clavel of Bolougne and tried for him but just after she was born he had been whisked away by Katherine Tudor. Once he was Thomas she had become Emeline Le Sueur and that she was ready for and the two of them had spent a lifetime together. Now he was Ethan and she was Claire but, although there was still time, she could tell it was already a miss. Too little of her spirit had been in the Claire half, probably his doing, and she had been consequently unaware of how far she was driving Ethan off until it was too late. Sadly, in his life as Ethan Walter had become rather unforgiving and hard.
            “Never trust a black horse,” she whispered in Johnny’s ear.
            “What?” Johnny asked.
            “He gets jealous; so jealous.” She kissed Johnny in the cheek, went upstairs into her room and took a quick shower which felt a little alien now that she had reconnected to her other half. Afterward she put on a pink nightgown, jumped into her bed and went to sleep. Claire had never felt more drained in all her life but she had never felt better either.
            She avoided thinking about the other as she drifted into unconsciousness even though he thought about her often and desperately wanted to mate with her. They were not compatible in any way other than physically and that had never been enough for her. She instead thought about Ethan who she found was asleep and then, for the first time in Claire’s lifetime she connected to a human being’s dreams.
            In the distance, with her still conscious horse ears, she could hear the other screaming out in his jealous rage.

*          *          *

            Ethan was Walter again and he stood in the Darkwood on some bright day nearly five hundred years ago.
            Before him was a white unicorn and he was feeding her carrots. She had come to him when he called to her and she ate the carrots happily and that made him feel better but not particularly good. Six people, one of them the Queen of England, had just been executed and it had blown his mind into a new perspective.
            “A creature like you,” said Walter, “Could never be ridden as a mere horse nor have its horn be cut off.” It looked at him with understanding: he was almost dead certain he saw it on its horsey face. “I’ve lately learned a valuable lesson in life, unicorn. It involves the power of females.” He petted her nose gently and she nudged him in a hugging kind of way. “I lost a cousin some years ago and it seemed the very moment I got her back she was executed. I lost my friend Norris, I saw an amazingly well loved friend, Francis Weston, die too. Brerton was less surprising, Rochford even less than that although what they accused him of was ludicrous and Smeaton—” he shook his head and felt like weeping “—why did Smeaton confess?”
            The unicorn looked at him sadly and sympathetically but, obviously, couldn’t give him any insight.
            He stood there for several moments, the forest quiet and ominous, and looked at the unicorn. It looked right back at him, its face pleasant and calm. “I like you better than the other one,” he told her.
            And then in a cheerful voice it said, “I like you too, Ethan.”

*          *          *

            Ethan opened his eyes and said, “Well that was fucking weird.”
            Then he shot his Torch spell at the ceiling of the darken room, looked around and found it was entirely empty. Then he stood up awkwardly and shot more Torch spells into each of the corners lighting up the room completely and then leaned down tiredly on his knees.
            The Beechwood memories were gone and all that was left was a blinding headache.
            “No more funhouses,” he told himself and decided to make Summer House, which was what he was calling the house he was going to make on Sorcery and Stick Farm’s hill by the sea, a more typical house with no secret tunnels.
            He grabbed his shotgun and dagger, turned off the flashlight, threw it over his shoulder and went over to the open secret compartment to find its primary treasure was a dust covered black book inside. He remembered nothing of what went through his mind when he had opened that compartment but when he blew the dust off and read the orange letters across the front he knew exactly why he had.
            The letters read simply:                                  

*          *          *

Thomas Bartlett’s Book
Of
Plant and Food Magic
Improved from the works
Of
Walter Kent, 2nd Duke of Edmonton

*          *          *

            Ethan quickly glanced through it, verified it was real and shut it reverently. The spells within were written in the vein of Faas Cuypers aiming for peaceful and economic uses as opposed to violence and destruction. Thomas had learned the spells from the published Irish version of Walter Kent’s book of spells that had found its way somehow into the Bartlett library but somewhere between the Civil War and 2012 it had simply vanished.
            Ethan had combed every inch of the library and house top to bottom looking for it and found, unless it was in one of the nearly empty wings, that it was quite gone. It might have been taken to Beechwood’s library or its magician tower but it didn’t really matter because that was just an Irish edited version and he had a version improved by a person no less than himself.
            He leaned down, looked past where the book had been and found a jewel. He grinned at the sight of it, a ruby surrounded by gold, vaguely heart shaped, and he was suddenly reminded almost painfully of the film Titanic. He picked it up, thinking its value had to be in the millions at least, blew off the dust and examined it carefully. He had no memory of that ruby and no idea where it could have possibly come from.
            He shrugged, slipped it over his neck, shut the compartment and started out. Before he left however, he found the bump he had fallen on, discovered it was a metal ring, and pulled it up to reveal a compartment below.
            It was just a hole in the ground, about three feet down, three feet long and three feet wide. He guessed, for he had no reason other than instinct to think it, that the hole was where Madge put the black children she kidnapped and that it powered the spell with their life force but something was not quite right with that theory. She had been kidnapping in the 1940s and the spell was still active in the 2010s which meant it would need a new victim to do so and no one had gone missing.
            He decided to not think about it and he shut the little door and left.

8
(01/16/2014)

            Then he got very lost and very quickly. It was easy to open the secret wall from the inside and just as easy to find his way back to the cellar but after that he had not a single clue in which direction to go without Beechwood’s effect on his mind. He could remember absolutely nothing about the house and there was no evidence of any path the undead took or even had ever been there for that matter, save the coffins. The bodies were long gone for some reason.
            He was forced to wander irritably for at least an hour before he found light to follow. It led him out of the tunnels and down a short hallway with windows along the left side. Outside he could see the bluish sky of dawn filling the world and he felt a sense of calm coming over him.
            He looked out of them as he walked casually and then he turned to the right where he saw part of the center of the short hall was the underside of stairs and he knew he was under the foyer.
            He smiled a bit and thought about how an outside observer would see a row of windows below the large window but only on the outside. It was unlikely they would question it because they could only see it from the water below and most would have forgotten about it by the time they got to the house.
            Ethan found the lever by the stairs, pulled it, and stepped out of a small door that opened under the right side of the stairs. After he stepped out it he shut the door behind himself and heard the loud clank as the mechanism reset itself. “Well that sure was fun,” he said and he laughed weakly.
            The foyer in daylight was robbed entirely of its creepiness and he found that it actually looked rather pleasant in the hazy blue light although by then he was mostly beyond caring.
            He was utterly spent so he just wandered across the foyer, his boots making a loud, heavy thud sound with each step, and reached for the door’s handle with the thought of just sleeping away the day back at home. Of course, there was just one more thing needing—
            “It calmed down—”
            He pulled out his right hand’s pistol, pointed it upward at the paintings and cried out, “Who the fuck is there?” None of them were looking at them but he heard them that time without a summoning spell affecting his mind.
            They didn’t respond to him, a thing which gave him more relief than he would have believed, and he quickly turned around and opened the door.
            “He saw the house and the house saw him,” a voice said just as he stepped out. He slammed the door behind him, locked it with the old key, and looked out onto the snow blanketed world of early morning Connecticut.
            “What a fucking night!” he said and he walked through the snow that had fallen through the night, got into his truck, and drove away. “Why the fuck did I ever go into that house?” he cried out loud.
            In the distance the sun was rising and he saw it was going to be a very beautiful day.

*          *          *

            Melvin Michaeladis awake from his nightmare feeling more frightened than he had in years.
            He had fallen asleep in his wheelchair while watching the snow falling down onto his garden and dreamed. He dreamed of the past; of Beechwood House and his mother. He had spent his lifetime trying to put them out of his mind, especially the woman who gave him birth, but it all came flooding back because of that boy.
            When he had seen the cameras all turn off Melvin had become nervous. He had seen Bartlett enter and then after a while they had just turned black for no apparent reason. He had waited, hoping for a phone call from the fire department to tell him the house had been burned down, or something, and the nightmare would be over, and he had fallen asleep while doing so.
            Unfortunately, every single year of his life, and he was quite old, he became more and more certain that the nightmare never really could end. It just existed like the rising sun in the distance and gravity: an unchangeable part of reality.
            When he turned his wheelchair around he nearly jumped out of his skin. “Good God, son!” he cried and then he really looked at the boy. “You look like you were dropped through a meat grinder.”
            “I kind of was,” he replied simply. His face was hollow and pale and there was a remarkable amount of dried blood on his shoulder, neck and face. He was armored too, like those monster hunters he had used to hire to go into the house to find its heart, but Bartlett was different. He was not affected as deeply as they had been: jabbering about people and things they did not know but did know and shaking in their shoes or simply having fled in absolute terror without telling him a thing.
            He was calm: incredibly and utterly so.
            And it was clear he had been there the whole night. Melvin had clocked lone adventurers and hunters at about three hours at the most except for the one who killed himself which a doctor clocked at an hour and forty-five from entering to dying. After that Melvin had been too guilty to send anyone into the house and he resigned himself to a lifetime of nightmares of cackling laughter.
            “Why are you hurt?” Melvin found himself asking. Bartlett not supposed to be hurt exactly: there was nothing in there to hurt anyone as far as he knew but it was clear Bartlett was had not only been hurt but attacked. He certainly didn’t get that bloody falling down the stairs.
            Bartlett smiled in a way that didn’t touch his bloody eyes, took out the key to the front door, and placed it down on the table beside the chair.
            “Please say something.” Bartlett didn’t and just stared at him with that same smile and then, quite suddenly, Melvin was reminded so much of James Bartlett when angry that he thought he was looking at his ghost. “Why are you hurt? Nothing in that house can hurt you.”
            His smile slipped off and he said in a very soft voice, “Even the things with fangs.”
            That made absolutely no sense to Melvin. “I don’t follow. Snakes? I heard a rumor about a giant snake somewhere—”
            “No,” Bartlett said. “Not snakes.”
            “I don’t follow.” And he really didn’t. “Why have you come here, Ethan?”
            Ethan looked away and didn’t seem to know anymore. Melvin guessed that Bartlett had thought Melvin was some kind of secret mastermind to the whole Beechwood thing, whatever it was, and knew everything. He wouldn’t be the first to think that but if it had been true and he had been sneaky enough to playact an idiot old man convincingly the Huntressor the Saturnine would have known and he would not have lived even to early middle age let alone old age.
            Bartlett turned his eyes back and said, “Tell me about the ritual under the house.”
            “How in God’s name did you learn about that?”
            “How do you think?”
            “Noah Waddell maybe,” he replied.
            “No. He’s dead and he doesn’t talk about it.” Bartlett frowned. “He knew?”
            “He knew a lot more than what he wrote in that book of his,” said Melvin simply. “There’s a reason why’s he not around and he didn’t die of a heart attack despite what the newspaper wrote.”
            “How did he die?”
            “I don’t know exactly,” he replied honestly. “Ask the blacks if you can. They know but they won’t tell you. At least, not any more than you already know, anyway.” He shrugged. “I don’t even know if he’s really dead.”
            Bartlett frowned at nothing for several moments. “You really don’t know what was in that house?”
            “Ghosts and shades.” He shrugged. “I don’t know what else you—”
            “Tell me about the man with the axe.” Melvin felt his body clench tightly involuntarily as his world went spinning around and he quickly grabbed the sides of his wheelchair for stability. “The one wearing the Mask of Comedy,” Bartlett added as if there was more than one.
            Melvin managed, somehow, to compose himself although it took several minutes. “You saw him as a shade,” he said but Bartlett’s expression revealed nothing. “Son, he is dead, and that is all you need or ever want to know about him. That and the fact that you are very lucky you and he were not around at the same time.”
            “What do you know, Melvin?”
            “Do not stir that up,” he said simply. “He’s dead. Leave it at that. Please.”
            Bartlett looked at him for a moment, calculating, and Melvin felt sick. This boy knew far, far too much to be safe and yet, looking at him, he thought him quite formidable. As good and kind as James Bartlett was but meaner and merciless and able to get his hands very dirty. Yes, Melvin realized. Anyone coming after Ethan Bartlett would be very sorry.
            “Tell me about the woman who laughs like Margaret Hamilton.”
            He knew who he meant instantly. “I’m not particularly sure what that—”
            “It was Madge Michaeladis, wasn’t it? Your mother.”
            It was. “She’s dead too,” he said softly and leaned back. “She would be well over a hundred if she wasn’t, you understand.”
            “What was she doing with all the black children?”
            “You look like you know.”
            “I don’t.” Bartlett was getting irritable and the idea that he was incapable of torture fluttered in front of Melvin’s eyes like a treat but then vanished. Ethan Bartlett was not his grandfather.
            “I don’t know honestly,” he said. “My mother was—” he shrugged “—crazy and I mean that word. Not crazy as in exceptionally wild but crazy as in—” he looked him into Bartlett’s eyes “—lunatic. The woman was—” he thought about her reading to him with blood on her neck and face, sewing pictures of dolphins, dancing at midnight to the sound of a room filled with birds “—genuinely insane.”
            “You look like one hell of a victim,” said Bartlett. “You really don’t know anything do you.”
            “If you have to live in Bartlett Bay the only thing to learn is never to learn other people’s secrets.”
            “Can’t leave?”
            He opened his mouth to say something then shut it. He had tried, countless times in fact, to get away but that horrible yet beautiful house where his insane mother had danced to the sound of birds had drawn him back. What he wanted to say was “Beechwood isn’t done with me yet” but what he said instead was, “No.”
            Bartlett stood up and said, “Someday, Melvin, I may come back and ask you more questions. I may not ask you so nicely.” Then he turned around and was gone.
            Melvin felt a strange weight off his shoulders the moment the door was shut. He couldn’t describe it exactly and he didn’t know what to make of it but he felt better. He liked the fact that someone had gone down into that house and beat it and he suspected, since Bartlett saw the ritual, he had done something about it.
            Unfortunately, he had not found the heart. Melvin would have known if that had happened.
            Bartlett had mentioned Melvin’s mother, Madge, who the Huntress called the Summoner, and Melvin found his thoughts drifting uncontrollable toward her. He moved his chair to a different window in the south parlor of his little farm house and looked out across the space of the city diagonally toward where, had there been no buildings, he might have been able to see Beechwood House.
            He could still hear that terrifying Margaret Hamilton laugh as she went skipping along through Beechwood’s halls like a mischievous little girl, a laugh that bordered on psychotic, hysterical and excited all from some deep well at the back of a mind so crazed it should never have seen the outside of a white walled room.
            Melly, come on and embrace the darkness, she had told him often. It was her phrase for being a prankster which in her mind could be anything from fixing a chair to torturing a child but it was usually just a normal prank like a bucket of water placed over a door. He found himself suddenly wondering if she was down there in the darkness right then, embracing it, and laughing that crazy laugh of hers all the while.
            The Huntress killed her just as she killed her mother’s favorite killer, or “buddy” as she called him.
            Melvin had seen the Butcher only once when he was very young. He had appeared out of nowhere with Melanie Daniels’s head in one hand and his axe in another. His mother had put him there either as a prank or to harden him up, either of which were equally as likely. If it was the latter, it had failed horribly.
            He still dreamed about that moment and for that reason he liked to stay up late enough to be too tired to dream. It sometimes worked.
            He never really knew the reason his mother had Melanie Daniels killed. She was his babysitter and had done nothing wrong or even remotely out of the ordinary for that matter. Even the babysitter that beat him only got herself fired. His mother never gave him the same answer twice when prompted to answer his question by something, usually her own thoughts and Melvin had concluded, or as close to concluding as was possible with her, that Melanie Daniels had simply done nothing wrong in any way. His mother just got it in her head one day to kill her and simply did.
            He jumped suddenly as his cellphone rung, still at his side where he left it last night, and answered it without looking at it. “Hello?”
            “Hello Melvin,” said the soft, female voice that he could never quite place.
            Melvin’s eyes went wide and he thought he was going to have a heart attack. He waited for it to happen and when it didn’t he was disappointed. “I—I thought you were—”
            “Dead?” replied the Huntress. “I’m afraid I’m not quite dead yet, Melvin.”
            It was she who ended the nightmare in that lazy year of 1948 when President Harry. S. Truman was still in office with corruption ramped, poles dropping yet still riding strong on the bomb then and forever.
            But who was she? He knew she was a woman, he had seen her once, but all he seen was the woman’s body, slender, and the Mask of Tragedy she wore to mock the Butcher’s memory.
            Margaret Bartlett? He had thought so once perhaps but she turned out to be too deluded and weak. It was stupid of him to believe it honestly as she was dumb enough to marry Julian Bartlett, who corrupted and ruined every single one of her children and grandchildren, and then she later fell into embarrassing denial.
            Annabelle Fuller? She was the daughter of a Merrick and was as violent and vicious as any of them and if Noah Waddell knew Madge Michaeladis was killing black children years later, Annabelle almost certainly knew at the time. The blacks had more reason than most to go after his mother.
            Babs Bernard? She was of the right age, knew the family and was as cold as ice. There was nothing special about her, a woman even less remarkable than even Margaret Bartlett was, but there was something about the icy way she glanced around at everyone. There was something dangerous about her.
            There were many other women who could be her: his own sister, various fisherwomen, that old Hamilton broad Mary who seems sweet but everyone knew was hiding secrets. His mother once said, all women have secrets, and she was right. She was very, very right.
            Then it dawned on him.
            It didn’t matter: the only thing that mattered that she was alive and she was talking to him.
            “Are you there, Melvin?”
            “I’m here,” he said softly. He hadn’t heard her voice in decades and he realized he was different from the man she last spoke to: he wasn’t worried or frightened anymore. He had been at first, a knee jerk reaction, but he realized then no longer cared whether he lived or died and that he was too old to be tortured without it killing him rather quickly. “Who are you? Are you Annabelle Fuller?”
            “Do I sound black?” she asked in an amused voice. “It would appropriate, wouldn’t you think, after what your mother did those poor children.”
            “Why have you called me?”
            “The chess pieces are starting to move, Melvin. A few new players have entered the game and we’ve got a hell of a knight this time.”
            Melvin thought about Ethan Bartlett’s entrance into town: about Jessica Downs, Grace O’Brien, the Anderson girls, and now the house which was certainly had somehow changed. “What do you want from me?” he asked.
            “I want you to start looking around and listening. You’ve been under the shadow of your mother and the Butcher for too long and it’s time for you to step out into the light. This needs to end, Melvin, and you know it.”
            “Who are you?” he asked again.
            “Melvin, there are closets to hide in, stairs and beds to slip under, and shadows aplenty to crouch into and wait. I understand you don’t run very well these days.” He couldn’t find any words and felt very uncomfortable with that series of possibilities.  “Sooner, or later, the Saturnine will realize you know more than you know and they will come for you if for no better reason than to stop the potential of your intellect. Find what you know and give it to the boy.”
            “What will he do?”
            “He’ll kill them. Just like he did Agatha Cane and Sheldon Martin.”
            “Sheldon Martin?” He hadn’t heard that name in a long time and he honestly couldn’t say he was sorry he was dead but the other? “Madam, Agatha Cane was born in the mid nineteenth century—”
            “They will come for you, Melvin,” she stated simply. “They will come in the night someday, I don’t know when it’ll be or exactly what they’ll do but someone will probably say ‘the old man died of a heart attack.’ ” He instantly looked around, terrified, but if she was near he could not tell. On the phone was one thing but in person was quite another.
            “Melvin, you’re too old games and delusion. Do the right thing. You don’t want to see the Mask of Tragedy again.” Then she hung up and was gone.
            Or was she?
            He moved into the study cautiously and started up his device that he had made to help him track people who were harassing him. It was very well made and designed to be extremely simple, as he was a little old to learn amazing new technology, and all he had to do was insert the number from the list on his cellphone to get the information that even caller ID couldn’t find.
            He went to the recent calls list on his phone but stopped and then stared at it dumbfounded and disturbed. The device wasn’t needed because he knew the number quite well.
            It was the number for his house line.
            The Huntress had been standing in the room right behind him.

 

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