Stephen King Message Board Halloween Story 2013

Discussion in 'Chattery Teeth (Other)' started by FlakeNoir, Nov 2, 2013.

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  1. FlakeNoir
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    #1. if-so-Grrl

    Deep in the bowels of the castle, there was a room - a former dungeon, to be precise - that smelled of thunderstorms and secrets. The room was dank, dark, and spooky, as disused dungeons are wont to be.


    It was therefore appropriate that the room was currently inhabited only by a pair of spirits who had been trapped in the castle for a very long time.


    Time is a relative thing. For those of us who are blessed with an unknown amount of it on this Earth, it is a precious and fleeting commodity, though we seldom seem to recognize it as such. More often, it is simply an abstract concept that we don’t trouble ourselves with very much. Condemned to an eternity in a dusty castle, however, the properties of time are altered; it takes on an ever-growing weight, a tangible quality, a reality unimaginable to those who are still among the living. That isn’t the worst part, though.


    The worst part is being unable to interact with the world, to be capable only of bearing witness as those who are fortunate enough to still be embodied delight in the pleasures of the flesh, laugh at one another’s jokes, hold conversations, and get on with the business of living. To walk the earth among such, while being forever separated from the realm in which they operate, is to know the true meaning of regret.


    There are other possibilities, of course, ‘other worlds than these,’ as the saying goes. But not everyone is prepared to move on. Sometimes there is unfinished business. Sometimes spirits simply become lost, or confused. Sometimes stranger things happen.


    Calum and Bonnie expired in an unfortunate accident involving strong drink and an excess of passion in a stairwell. And for years, they tolerated an endless stream of tourists traipsing through their home, gawking at the ruinous splendor, and taking endless bad photographs before departing, having checked one more item off their lists of things to see in the area.


    To be forced to watch these people, living and enjoying themselves without so much as a second thought, was infuriating. To know that at the end of the tour they would be able to go to town for a good, hot meal and a night of drinking, dancing, or lovemaking, then to sleep (perchance even to dream)…now that was nigh unbearable. But to be not so much as recognized by them, to have their very existence simply overlooked, was intolerable.


    Even to be able to simply have a conversation with someone else would be a delight. After so many years with only each other’s company, there just wasn’t much to say; everything had already been said, a thousand times and more.


    For a time, they had attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to make contact. Occasionally, some sensitive soul would get an inkling that the castle was perhaps haunted, but they were unable to connect in any meaningful way. There simply wasn’t time within the span of a castle tour to get through to anybody. And getting someone’s attention was a lot of work. Moving objects about was possible, but difficult, and it was easy for someone to dismiss, say, a suit of armor falling down a flight of stairs as happenstance.


    Not so easy for the tour guides to dismiss, however, not when ‘happenstance’ became an everyday thing. Rumors spread, and the castle gained a certain reputation, which brought the curious from far and wide. Inevitably, it came to the attention of those whose business it was to investigate these sorts of happenings.


    So now some new people had arrived, and tours had been cancelled for a week while an investigation of those rumors was conducted. These people fancied themselves experts in communication with the spiritual realm, and had come with a TV crew to document the mysteries of the haunted castle. The spirits knew that this was their best opportunity, and were not about to waste it.


    “Well, ye’ve had a look at ‘em,” said Calum, “Dae onie ay them strike ye as likely?”


    “I dinna ken,” replied Bonnie, “But mayhaps the dark-haired lad would do. I like the look of him.”


    “Och aye, ye would. He’s yer type, tae be sure.”

    *****
    The dark-haired lad in question would certainly have appreciated the irony of their choice. He was a big boy, tall and well-muscled, with curling black hair and bright blue eyes. Alone among the team, he took none of this seriously; he was 19 years old, and interested only in having a good time. So far, this gig had proven itself to be endlessly entertaining.


    The rest of the team was far more serious about the work, but they certainly weren’t above a bit of partying when not filming or otherwise occupied with the business of outing ghosts, ghoulies, or this week’s bit of unexplained weirdness. Occasionally, the parties would turn into benders of epic proportions for all involved.


    This location had all the hallmarks of a perfect party spot. There were seemingly endless rooms to explore, with towers, turrets, crenelations, murder holes, dungeons, secret passageways, hidden courtyards, private gardens, and so forth. The team had brought more than sufficient supplies, including a well-stocked bar.


    They believed themselves ready for anything.

    --------------------------
  2. FlakeNoir
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    #2. Shoesalesman

    “Do you feel that?” Roderick asked, studying the white hairs on his forearms intently.

    From his squat on the cobbled stairs, Benny closed his paperback with a sigh and looked toward the far end of the foyer, where his employer shuffled about. The old man regarded Benny with utter contentment, communicating the degree of his discovery with a popped mouth and wide eyes. Bat-sh*t, crazy eyes.

    “Feel what, boss?” Benny mumbled, returning to his book. He knew damn well where this was going. They had arrived at the castle yesterday, and already Roderick was assuming the role of conduit between this world and all worlds beyond, a showman with a bottomless bag of tricks, an old fool living in his shallow world of make-believe.

    “Something’s coming down those steps behind you. Right now. You don’t feel it?” Roderick asked again.

    Believing none of it, Benny decided to play along anyway. He craned his neck, put chin to shoulder, and waited. In his periphery, the five or six steps above him lapped like water in the lantern-light. The ones beyond, though, were black, swallowed up by the dark. Absent.

    After a few moments of silence, Benny turned back to where Roderick had been standing, only to discover the old man had moved with feline stealth to the base of the stairs, within arms’ reach.

    “Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.”

    Pins and needles slammed mercilessly into Benny’s face. “What?” he muttered in a cracked whisper.

    “Your book.” Roderick tapped the cover with a heavy finger. “A fine tale. Scared me good and proper that story did, when I was a younger man, of course. It’ll do you good not to read that before bed.” While he spoke, the old man gazed into the emptiness behind Benny, focusing on something maybe ten steps up. “Nowadays, I don’t frighten as easily.”

    Benny closed his paperback and studied his employer with caution. In the job interview, Roderick had presented as fair and friendly, with all faculties gathered. But now? Upon closer examination, it seemed the man was preoccupied, someone else. Someone perhaps...dangerous.

    Benny dismissed this with a chuff. “I’m reading it to get in the mood, I suppose.”

    The smirk on Roderick’s lips deflated, then disappeared entirely. “Look, son, I value the technological skill you bring to our documentation team. That’s why I hired you. I’m at a loss with these computers and programs and such.” Roderick brushed a hand across his forearm. “I’m used to studying this.” The wispy white hairs ruffled against the grain with nary a worry and settled back in place. “I’m afraid I’m no good with that.” He pointed straight down to the laptop between his and Benny’s feet.

    The tension thick between them, Benny thought it best to lighten the moment, and he took an uneasy stab at levity. “No harm in admitting you’re old school.”

    “Perhaps not, lad,” Roderick offered, winking. “But old school doesn’t mean old fool.”

    They looked at each other, and the foyer erupted with laughter. The sound reverberated up the spire and changed pitch as it ascended, causing the echo to sound like a huddle of ghosts turning wise to their joke. The noise hadn’t fully settled when the old man reached toward Benny with an open hand. “Why don’t we join the rest of the gang in the den, give that fiction in your hands a rest for the night? I cracked open a fresh bottle of brandy before I came looking for you, and now I fear, knowing this crew of hooligans, the old jar will be drier than a bucket of sand before I get back to it.”

    “Isn’t all of this fiction, boss?” Benny looked around the room, still chuckling, gesturing to the castle in general. “Just…one big made-up story?” He raised his hand to accept Roderick’s offer, but as their fingers touched, a chill as skittish as spiders’ legs tick-ticked up Benny’s forearm. He felt the presence of his late father in the room. And he smelled—and remembered—blood.

    Benny looked up to see the old man staring back at him point-blank, his grip firm and cold.

    “Something terrible happened on those steps behind you. Yes. There is a history here. For us to see the spirits, they will need to see us. I believe if we show this place, this fortress, our true selves and what lingers deep inside all of us, we will see the shadows step into the light. We will see the bridge that lies between their world and ours. We will see, son.”

    Clinking of glasses in the next room. The voices of the crew. Sporadic laughter. Music.

    Benny heard none of it. His thoughts were absent like the dark hollow behind him.

    There was just the blood.

    Roderick studied the storm that was brewing in Benny’s eyes. And he leaned closer. “Tell me. What have you brought here, my dear Benjamin?”

    ----------------------
  3. FlakeNoir
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    #3. Staropeace

    Benny gave his head a shake and broke eye contact with Broderick. "The only thing I brought here is my computer. If you were expecting bell, book and candle, I am very sorry to disappoint you."

    "For a moment there, I thought you looked spooked, is all," Roderick said as he walked down the stone steps to the foyer.

    Benny rolled his blue eyes and followed him without saying a word, though he furtively looked over his shoulder a time or two.

    ...................

    When the two men entered the Great Hall, left off the foyer, they found the crew setting up the equipment. Ian MacTavish, the technical director, was reviewing a checklist of prime locations for the closed-circuit cameras that would be in place by nightfall.

    Shelia, a noted medium and cast member since the show's beginning, was standing at the drink's table imbibing brandy like it was an antidote for madness. Roderick hurried over and relieved her of his bottle. "What's up, lass?"

    "What's up, you ask?" She slammed down her crystal snifter and tossed back her long blonde curls. "The only things up are my hands - in despair!"

    She dramatically raised her hands, palms up, showing him just how despairing they looked. "You would think that a dark, dank castle would have dozens of souls drifting out of walls and turrets and cisterns, practically drooling ectoplasm for an audition. You would think but YOU WOULD BE WRONG!"

    "No joy then?" Roderick asked. He shook his head sadly as he splashed some of the tawny brandy into a Waterford glass.

    Shelia grabbed her snifter in both hands and raised it to cherry red lips, reverently sipping like she was taking Holy Communion. "Not a glimmer of a glamour nor a glance at a ghost," she pouted.

    Ian finished his checklist and absently handed it to a crew member. He walked over to a nearby couch and sat down. He took a baggie and a pack of papers from his jacket pocket and plunked both down on the coffee table in front of him. "No observation of an orb?" he gamely asked Shelia as he proceeded to measure the weed and roll it in a paper with all the skill and attention of a chemist.

    Shelia began to shake her head but then stopped. "I think I may have spotted a wee oily thread of ectoplasm, though. It was down the hall by the library."

    Ian lighted his joint, took a deep drag and offered it to Benny, who took it and sat down next to the tall, long-haired Scot. Ian elbowed Benny and laughed.

    "Shelia, luv, that would be Sadie. She is down in the kitchen frying fish fingers for supper."

    Shelia glared at him. Her eyes were like green lasers. "Why do you always have to be so bloody flippant, Ian? You are always trying to put on the clever bugger, but all you do is cause negative energy!" She shook her head, disgusted at him.

    "Ooooh, I am shaking in me brogues for having made ye mad, lass. Your very words have hands on their hips," he informed her as he grabbed her hand and hauled her into his lap. "Have a care, ye dunna turn me on now," he whispered in her ear.

    It was then that they all heard an ear-splitting scream from outside the Hall. Shelia jumped up like an over-jammed pop tart from the toaster. "What the hell was that?" she cried.

    His face as white as mime grease, Ian got up and ran towards the door. "That would be glamour, ghost, or orb," he said over his shoulder to no one in particular.

    ---------------------
  4. FlakeNoir
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    #4. Chris2-4

    For what seemed like an eternity, the crew just sat and stared at one another. Sheila seemed to be the most shaken of the bunch, and her trembling hands gave testament of such. She brushed a few sweaty curls from her eyes, which continued to dart back and forth from the crew to the origin of the scream. Everyone except Benny peered through the door to the hall, who merely continued his puff-puff routine, oblivious to the tension in the room. Roderick was the one to break the silence by stating the obvious.

    "Useless of me to ask but…you all heard that, right?" All eyes went to Roderick, and for a moment he felt something he had never felt in his life: the center of attention. This was short-lived when Benny asked "wanna hit, old-timer?"

    Roderick's only response was a look of total revulsion. Benny quickly wished he had kept quiet, and just bogarded it for himself. All remained quiet until Sadie appeared, clutching her forearm. Tears streamed down her face, and her badly-burned hand was evident as she made her way closer to the Great Hall. "I think we found the source of the scream." Ian stated, running with Sheila to meet the hurt girl half-way.

    "Well, are we gonna just sit here, or are we gonna investigate? That was more than a cook getting splattered by hot grease," Roderick asked the stunned crew.

    "Yeah, come on, Fred, Shaggy and Daphne; maybe we can get something good while it's still hot," Ian chimed in. "We'll take over the kitchen, Sadie. Best you get looked at."

    The crew had a medical staff on alert in case someone fell ill or was injured. They stepped in and helped the poor woman, who had first- and second-degree burns to her hand.

    Sheila talked to her later on and discovered that it was no accident. Sadie’s hand was forced into the hot grease....but no one else was at the stove with her when it happened.

    ------------------------
  5. FlakeNoir
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    #5. Lepplady

    “Well, there isn't much we can do for this here.” Richard, the medic, looked up from Sadie’s hand. “We’d better get her to hospital.” He buckled up his medical case and stood.

    Ian, Sheila and Benny were gone, off on their merry chase to the kitchen. Roderick clapped Richard on the shoulder. “Take good care of her. Sadie, my love, don’t worry about a thing.”

    “I’m not worried for myself, Roddy. You don’t understand. It should have been worse.”

    “What do you mean, love?” Precious moments were passing that he could be gathering valuable data. Roderick wanted to get to the kitchen.

    “Something stopped me.”

    “What’s that?” Sadie had Roderick’s attention now.

    “Something pushed me from behind. Hard. I should have gone right into the stove full on. But something else stopped me. Please, keep those weathered old eyes open.”

    “I will. Now off you go,” Roderick said it gently.

    Richard and his shift buddy Mitch led Sadie carefully out the door.

    ***
    “What did yae go an save her for?” Calem confronted Bonnie. “We could hae been ha’ done if we finished that one.”

    “It wa’ant mae,” Bonnie insisted. “Why would Ae? Ae’m the ha’ she would hae been done for. There’s yuirs.” The handsome young American rushed down the hall with an armload of equipment.

    “Maen?” Calem asked teasingly. “Yuirs, daen’t ye reckon?”

    “Yuir the anly one fuir mae, loov,” Bonnie fawned. “Tha’s joost a maens tae an end.”

    “You hear tha, lad? She’s maen.” Calem took a swing at Benny. Were he flesh and bone, his fist would have broken Benny’s jaw. With things as they were, Calum’s fist passed through Benny’s skull with no more force than a whisper in the wind.
    “Go on then, ya buggar,” Caleb growled into Benny’s ear. “I’ll hae at ye later.”

    “Let’s go and see what other fun we can get up to,” Bonnie ushered her lover away. “I hae an idea.”

    ***
    A breeze in the hallway and a chill down his spine stopped Benny short. The entire time they’d been in the castle, the air hung still. There weren’t any breezes or stirs of wind. This one, he would swear if asked, carried a faint odor of whiskey and sex.

    He could hear Ian and Sheila in there chattering about vibes and energies, so he hurried to join them. What happened in the hallway was probably just a figment of his weed-addled brain anyway.

    “There was something,” Sheila insisted. “There was a definite presence. But I don’t feel it now.”

    “It’s too bad we didn't set up any equipment in here,” Ian lamented. “We might have caught something. Why didn't I grab the EVP recorder?”

    “Try these.” Benny bustled into the kitchen laden with his armful of gadgets. Ian took a couple of them gratefully and started to sweep the area. Benny, trying to look useful without his laptop, did the same. He made a good show of it, at least. Roderick joined them.

    “It’s no use,” Sheila waved them down. “There’s nothing here now.”

    Before Ian could argue about the possibility of residual energy, an explosion outside the castle rattled the windows and shook dishes off the shelf. Wide-eyed, the team looked through the window and saw a ball of fire shoot up into the night sky.

    “What the hell was that?” Benny asked, shaken.

    “That was inside the gate,” Ian observed.

    “Where’s Sadie?” Sheila asked nervously.

    “They took her to…” Before Roderick could finish, Ian ran from the kitchen, up the hall to the foyer and out the front door. Benny was tight on his heels and Sheila was close behind. Roderick, not the sprinter he was in his youth, tried to keep up.

    The ambulance was ablaze, too hot to get near.

    “SADIE!” Sheila screamed.

    “Can you see them?” Roderick tried to get close enough to reach for the door but the heat was too intense.

    Ian shielded his eyes to look inside the car. “No! There’s nobody in there.”

    An oxygen tank exploded, nearly knocking the team off their feet.

    “Look at this.” Benny called out. A charred, smoking trail led away from the wreck. They followed it and found a body sprawled in the underbrush.

    “Who is it?” Benny asked.

    “Can’t tell,” Ian answered, and it was true. The smoldering body was too badly burned to recognize. There were no clothes left, or hair. Even the skin was gone. The whole thing was burned and blackened. It was impossible to identify who the poor victim used to be.

    Sheila fainted. Not one of those pretty Hollywood swoons, she dropped face first into the dirt. Ian scooped her up and carried her inside to base camp in the great hall, closely attended to by Roderick. Benny took a last look at the crispy remains and followed the others inside. Suddenly, this job didn’t seem as fun as he thought it would be.

    ***
    Ian put Sheila down on the couch and stood back to let Roderick take a look at her.

    “Is she breathing?” Ian’s voice shook a little more than he intended.

    “Yes. Sheila? Come on, wake up luv. You’re scaring the kids.” Roderick patted Sheila’s hand.

    Sheila’s eyes opened but she didn't look at Roderick. She stared into the distance and then her eyes rolled back in her head. The muscles in her neck tightened and Sheila started to speak.

    ----------------------
  6. FlakeNoir
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    #6. PatIntheHat

    “Oh, aye, I’d buy a meat pie if ye didn’t have a bit of a randy boy in ye, Calum...”, and then, in an instant, Sheila snapped out of her reverie. She emerged confused as to why she was lying down, looking up at Roderick, but also because she wanted him, badly, right-here-right-now badly, maybe more than she had ever wanted anything.

    Then just like that, those thoughts were erased, replaced by an even more confusing deep sadness. It was coupled with an overwhelming sense of urgency Sheila instinctively knew she did not want to understand. And now those feelings were fast becoming replaced by a fear so strong she clutched Roderick hard enough that his vertebrae popped like ladyfingers.

    Roderick wasn’t aware of his audible gasp as his grateful lungs sucked air when Sheila relaxed her grip, but he knew he smelled something like the cloying, rancid odor of burnt meat. He was then all too cognizant of promptly throwing up what was once good liquor on Sheila.

    But mostly he became aware of her screaming, something he would remember as odd, because his screams had seemed the loudest he had ever heard. He couldn’t have heard hers, could he?

    It was no small favor that they then both passed out, perhaps gratefully so.
    *********************

    “What happened to ye, boy!?” Bonnie’s Calum-disapproval was always evident, making a small thing like a few centuries of death no matter at all. “I was there, I could feel ye! I could smell ye like the swine you are! How long is long enough? Where’d ye go, ye worthless pissy britches? I only ask can ya still be a man, or are ya now ‘Calum the Weak Pig Bladder’!?”

    “I’m so sorry, love. I couldn’t hold on to ‘im or ye know I would be now in me darlin’s arms! That foul dead drew me out, aye drew me hard it did! -You were right, always are! You said a witching season was beginnin’, ye did, and that no human dead needed bearin’ witness to the receivin’ that pulled me away from my fair Bonnie’s fallow borrowed arms. No pet, all that was left was the leavin’s that pared off them two young fellows. They got hot, they did, melted ‘em together like candles in the sun. Oh no, nooo, what called me ‘twas a taker, and it demanded me as witness. It’s happenin’, my sweet, and it’s a spirit witness that’s been sought, and it’s a spirit witness been called. And now a spirit witness has been got, and by the old songs it begins again! I am so sorry, that I am, I didn’ mean to! Ya know that not for a world of breath I wouldn’t.”

    “Always the wide-eyed boy with no reasonin’,” Bonnie raged. She was one pissed-off spirit. “Oh sure, Calum, ye know the old songs, the songs ye never wanted to know...so quit yer snivelin’. We are what we are, and we witness what can’t be witnessed by a mortal eye! ‘Tis the only reason why we exist that I know, but by the pain of living flesh I swear we’ll have no more of this abomination. No more, Calum! We may be dead, but we are human dead, and we humans, flesh and blood or spirit, take care of our own!”

    “Oh, how I love ya when ya get fiery, gal! God rest her soul, Sadie; that poor lass was wanted – nay, hunted; aye, Bonnie, ‘twas a hunt the takers needed. I did rather like the cut of 'er, but she'd have never held nary a tallow to you, me loveliest, even before she was put on. Ghastly, it was! Love, she just didn't fit.”

    --------------------
  7. FlakeNoir
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    #7. Ebdim9th

    The night's festivities, whether Bonnie and Calum, or anyone else living or dead wanted them to or not, were just beginning. They were heralded by the guide wire-thrum that steadily increased, and a rumble that emerged from the stone walls out of the distant chambers, staircases, and hallways. Still the capricious Calum started to sing softly to himself a twentieth century ditty that had echoed in the halls through the voices of visitors for decades. He'd had little reason to want to punch out Benny earlier, before he was drafted by the Takers. “Glow little glow worm, glimmer, glimmer...”

    “Shut up!” Bonnie hissed. She pulled him back, cloaking them from immediate detection from either spirit or mortal in an alcove as the parasite came to pass. Indeed the worm did glow, giant and globulent; it slithered down the passageway around (and even sometimes *through*) corners and doorways. It passed Bonnie and Calum's hide-away, and went, and went, and went.

    The parasite, pet and servant of the Takers, albeit ultimately well beyond even their total control, finally passed on through, leaving a boat-like wake that dissipated at its farthest point. But inside the the quasi-foamy phosphorescent edges could be seen the distant, cold stars of a deathless yet spirit-haunted universe. Then that vision faded and there were only the stone walls. “Luminous and numinous passes the frightful shade of Death in Death,” whispered Calum to his still frozen-in-waiting love. She kissed him with ghost-breath and millennial passions whilst they lingered there, as wandering spirits often do.


    ***

    Benny, as he turned back to see what the caterwauling was all about, was joined by the crew's expert in demonology and evil spirits, Tobit, as they found Roderick and Sheila passed out together upon the couch, the latter apparently having vomited on the former. He was old-fashioned in every way, right down to his Hasidic clothing and hair, at least in affectation, even though he enjoyed the music of Billy Joel from time to time. The apparently forty-ish Tobit pulled out a small vial of smelling salts; after all, on haint-hunts, when real paranormal events happened, there was often a lot of fainting and passing out.

    Ian hovered over them, but not literally. Tobit moved him out of the way. “Here, let me.” But he needn't have bothered, as they both came to rather quickly. Roderick jumped up in embarrassment, sputtering excuses. Sheila got up a little more gingerly, grimacing at the vomitus on the front of her shirt.

    Benny, just before observing this, thought that he didn't quite know what to make of the towering six-foot-seven Jew with the basso-profundo voice, next to whom he and the lanky Ian were nearly dwarves. He believed in the paranormal but thought it to be a purely natural, poorly explained phenomena. Benny, EVP meters and all, considered the whole thing to be pseudo-science at best and an outright scam at worst, depending on the extent to which the persons involved were deluding themselves.

    Roderick and Sheila, muttering apologies to their team-mates, went off to clean themselves up while the rest of the crew went out to meet the police and additional paramedics. They had arrived to investigate the ambulance explosion and to find the two other missing occupants of the erstwhile emergency vehicle. The paramedics came inside, looking over Roderick and Sheila after they returned reclothed and cleaned up, as the ghost troupe waited to be questioned and to be updated by the officers on the scene.

    One of the investigators walked under a murder hole in an outer archway, and luminescent blue spiders spilled down on top of him. He screamed, batting himself frantically but they crawled inside his mouth, ears, eyes, and nose, silencing him, while fading into his body as they went. He was possessed now by a Taker. He pulled out his revolver, stuck it in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. Dark, viscous blood and brain-tissue splattered up against the wall and ceiling behind him as he sagged to the floor, propped up against the side of the doorway.

    The heavy rain did not muffle the gunshot completely, but even as head Inspector Daniel Mawson turned toward the sound, one of his officers called from the brush nearby. “We found somebody! Over here!” Constable Schwann had discovered one of the ambulance crew, Mitch, wandering around out in the rain and the dark, his uniform scorched and blood-soaked. It was possible the uniform would never be completely free of the blood stains, at least not by rain alone.

    Benny, Roderick, and Tobit left for the front entrance together, following up on the sound of the gunshot. They found another officer stooping over the body of a first, who had apparently committed suicide. The timing and location were unfathomable. Constable Keith, looking much more young and vulnerable than his age in the moment, looked up at the approaching men. “Why the hell would he do this?” He seemed to be speaking to them and yet no one in particular. “There's just no reason. No reason for this at all...someone else must've...” he trailed off, statue-still. Another policeman rushed down a nearby stairwell, pushing aside the three and joining the one over their fallen comrade. “Who did this? Did they...”

    “No, those three arrived right after I did.”

    “There's no way this is a suicide. Can't be.”

    Ian and Sheila came up timidly behind the group to see what on earth was happening now.

    "Maybe William had something going on at home we didn't know about, Gordon.”

    Constable Keith replied. “No. He was my partner; I knew him as well as his own family. I'm telling you, he would have talked it out with me.”

    Presently, the Inspector and a couple of men arrived with Mitch pliantly in tow. Shortly an autopsy would show that the burned body was that of Richard and not Sadie.

    -----------------------
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  8. FlakeNoir
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    FlakeNoir Beta/Moderator Moderator

    #8. Samantha

    “Keep your eye on the ball, son.” Roderick, fresh as a daisy in a new wool sweater, gave Benny a jab in the ribcage. “I told you to forget about your laptop. There’s another world you can see.”

    “Get out of my way.” Benny, fed up with Old Weathered Eye trying to teach him a lesson, shoved Roderick onto the pathway that led back to the castle.

    “Wait a minute,” Roderick picked a speck of blue lint from Benny’s shirt. “You can pass by me without us having to weave about; all will be revealed.”

    Ian watched the two as they scuffled and slipped on the oily sheen of the path.

    Sheila began to shiver and speak in low tones. Ian, gentle as always, turned her round toward the view which would calm her conversation. “There now, Sheila; it’s as if the scuffle never happened.”

    Benny and Roderick moved off the path to walk across the field, shoulder to shoulder.

    “’Tis all been so upsetting,” said Sheila, flinging her silk scarf around her neck to bat her eyes at Tobit. “Ah you, the one with the smelling salts. Aren’t you a bonny lad.”

    Ian, reassured that Sheila was breathing in her usual fashion, took a moment to assess the perimeter of the castle. “Time to assess the damage,” Ian said as he strode to the mechanical room. “The monitors may function.”

    Tobit and Sheila stood alone together at the edge of the entrance. To fill awkward silence, Tobit remarked, “No, miss, I’m kind of a mess. A scholar, not the fancy type. My main interest is study of the castle masonry.”

    *****************************************

    The edge of the oily sheen glimmered, as the mix of the wire-thrum rumbled on in a shade of green and blue.

    *****************************************


    Sadie pressed her back up against the castle wall watching, waiting, for both the crew and the investigators to exit the outside castle ground. Cold water ran off the eaves and swam down the sides of the ruined stonework to drench her skin. She withstood the water’s weep, as she watched the old man, in sheep’s clothing, bend over the body.

    Young William, taken before his wife could get dinner on the table.

    Sadie remained still with her eyes open. “Sadie has a keen eye, a yes, a yes,” she began to croon, as she took in the tattered remains of the crew.

    She witnessed the transfer of the spider to the young skeptic; hothead that he was, Benny’s temper flared only at a perceived insult. He remained unaware of the conduit’s choice.

    “Spin, spin, the spiders spin, silk and wool, spin,” Sadie hummed the tune in a mindless fashion. She knew how to keep a low tone.

    “Ye think I’m a jealous old biddy, and ye might have the right of it, young miss,” she muttered, viewing Sheila fling her scarf on Tobit’s dark clothing.

    “See how it touches, light as a feather. Gossamer, I believe it might be,” Sadie hummed along, in tune, adding on as she did, “Dark and thick. My color green, pet. A medium green, that’s lovely. Lovely, pet.”

    The crew and the investigators cleared the outside castle grounds.

    “Safe, I am now.” Sadie stepped out from the shadow to wring out the hem of her black dress; wincing as her burnt hand flaked droplets of blood into the brackish rush of water seeping into the crevices of the path. She lowered her face toward the empty window below. “Do you hear me, my love?”

    ---------------------
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  9. FlakeNoir
    Offline

    FlakeNoir Beta/Moderator Moderator

    #9. dsurrett

    Sheila gagged as she recalled the stench of Roderick’s vomit. The old fool couldn’t hold his liquor. She’d drunk him under the table on multiple occasions, though he’d never responded by ruining her clothing. A word from him and she’d be pulled from this gig, even though she’d been on-air since Day One of the series.

    Chatter rose from downstairs as the police scribbled in their notebooks. She’d already told them everything she knew: diddly-squat. The evening’s festivities were likely to go on for a while without any progress on their assignment to investigate the hauntings caused by the two long-perished young lovers.
    The portraits on the second floor hallway seemed to stare at her as she passed. She yawned. Tired; so tired. Get a grip, Sheila; it’s been a long evening. A cop and a paramedic are dead, and nobody knows where the hell Sadie is.

    She touched a bedroom’s dark-stained oak door and it creaked open. She glanced both ways and entered. A queen sized four-poster bed lay against the far wall. Not a couch covered with scents of vomit and farts, but a real bed, likely kept in shape for the sake of tourists.

    Maybe a short nap would do her all the good in the world, and she’d be ready for more spook-hunting. She wouldn’t even have to pull back the maroon and midnight purple paisley comforter. She could just relax for a few minutes and would be as good as ever. God knew this place was creepy enough, and nothing had gone as per plan since they’d arrived. Somebody in this crew needed to have their wits about them. It might as well be her.

    She shut the door. Sheila fished the remains of one of Ian’s joints from her pocket, and after glancing over her shoulder at what must have been a wind gust from outside, lit it. She followed the first long, satisfying draw with a swig from a small flask she’d filled with Roderick’s brandy.

    There you go, baby, talk to Mama. She grinned and lay on the bed. Within seconds, sleep took her.

    She’d heard the voice in her dreams before, earlier in the evening. It called for Sheila to let go of her inhibitions and disbelief.

    No disbelief. I have no doubts the spirit world is real. She jerked from side to side in her sleep.

    “I don’t believe you,” the dream-voice said. “If you had no doubts, you wouldn’t be so closed.”

    “No doubts,” she mumbled. “I’m open.”

    *****
    Benny took his leave from Constable Schwann, their interview complete. How could the cops expect to make any headway when one of their own guys decided to off himself in the middle of an investigation? At least the cops back home made a pretense of taking their jobs seriously, even if you were slammed against the side of a Crown Victoria prowler to pat you down. These clowns were more like shopping mall security.

    He was about finished with this little adventure. In the initial interviews for the job, the old man had actually raised Benny’s curiosity a little about the spirit world. But after visits to five supposed haunted houses, the only spirits he’d seen had come from a bottle. Hopefully his foray into the world of ghoul-TV wouldn’t hinder his chances of getting a better cameraman’s job later.

    Benny wandered up the stairs, leaving the police and the others to their chats and interviews in the Great Hall. He shook his head at the poor-quality portraits of past residents of the castle. Whoever conducted the tours had probably bought the oil paintings at a weekend starving artists’ sale in an abandoned furniture store.

    Another hit of liquor might help. He turned, then stopped at a subdued moan coming from behind the door he’d just passed. He rapped lightly on the door. Who the hell was up here? “Hello?”

    A woman’s voice purred back. “Mmmm… c’mon in.”

    He creased his brow and opened the door. Sheila lay in bed, fully clothed, smiling. “Is that you, m’ love?” Her eyes brightened.

    Benny checked behind him. “Huh?”

    She rose up, patted the bed beside her, and motioned with her index finger. “Well why don’t you come over and see for y’self?” She shot a seductive glance.

    She was high, drunk, or both. And what was with the accent? She was several years older than him, but still a looker. He’d be on his way after this job was over, and maybe a little making out with the show’s co-star would be a nice break from the old man’s criticism of his rational thoughts.

    Benny sat beside her. She took his head in her hands and planted a kiss on his lips. He didn’t know what had gotten into her, and at some point they’d have to break up this little tryst; anyone could walk in on them. She writhed against him.

    She released her lip lock and he caught a breath. She gasped and squirmed as she closed her eyes. The veteran spook-hunter was still full of life, that was for sure.

    “Sheila, you okay?”

    She drew her eyebrows together. “Who’s Sheila? Call me Bonnie.” She cocked her head sideways. “Isn’t that you, Calum, m’love?”

    He jumped as the door slammed. Sadie, draped by a dripping brown cardigan, with her bandaged arm in a sling, glared at Sheila. The two women bantered in a Gaelic brogue he barely understood.

    He finally recognized two phrases from the woman beside him on the bed, no longer certain it was Sheila. “You’re too late, Taker! This one’s mine!”

    Sadie’s eyes morphed from green to red. She opened her sweater and hundreds of luminescent blue spiders scurried down her legs and to the floor, heading toward the bed, toward him.

    Holy crap.

    ---------------------
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  10. FlakeNoir
    Offline

    FlakeNoir Beta/Moderator Moderator

    #10. Lily Sawyer

    Sitting on the bed, Benny was literally tied up: he was in the middle of a spider web, as strong as it was gossamer-thin. The blue spider that had hitched a ride on his jacket had been busy while Sheila had jumped him, and now he couldn’t budge….and neither could she.

    But Sheila didn’t seem to mind. That, or she wasn’t aware that she was as snared as he was, for in spite of the Sadie-thing standing by the door with weird luminescent arachnids scurrying from her clothing, she continued to hold a one-sided conversation with someone she kept referring to as “Calum”. Benny took in the scene before him, too stunned to move, but now his flight instinct revved up and dropped into gear. And when he jerked his legs to avoid the spiders, the fight response also chimed in, but his arms wouldn’t move. He felt cold wash over him, along with a push, almost off the bed. Was that a little help from something
    (someone)
    that he felt?

    Accompanying the surreal creep show before him were heard distinct voices, ones with heavy Scottish brogues. Benny didn’t understand everything but he recognized fury when he heard it. And now Sheila’s body levitated high off the bed. Her eyes widened with dismay as her lips parted to scream. “Calum! Help me! It’s one o’ them! She fits but I’m about to- CALUM!!” Blue spiders dropped off her sweater and pants, skittering over the hills and folds of the paisley comforter as her voice escalated into shrieks of revulsion and rage. The Sadie-thing maintained her sentinel guard, a gruesome baked hand holding open her cardigan as the last of the spiders dropped to the floor. They didn’t just march; they ran.

    As they started their climb up Benny’s jean leg, he felt another push from his right side, and then a tug on his left. He was suddenly snapped free of the silk (steel)
    threads that had held him in check, and as Sheila dropped back to the bed with a whoosh and a WHOOMP!!!, he yanked her to her feet and slapped her as hard as he could, and then swatted frantically at the spiders on his jeans. “I’m not Calum, whoever he is, and you’re not Scottish! Get a grip, Sheila! C’mon!”

    Benny shoved her out of the room into the hallway as spiders crunched under her feet. Sheila’s shrieks were deafening. As he slammed the door behind them, stamping deliberately on every spider he could find, he stopped in surprise as the hallway floor serpentined with movement. His shoes were covered in phosphorescent green goo. Sheila stood barefoot in it, still screaming, as it soaked the hem of her pants. She clutched at him, her voice now hoarse.

    Tobit appeared at the end of the hallway, a flashlight in one hand and a camcorder on a sturdy lanyard banging against his barrel chest. His long peyos streamed behind him as he loped down the hallway towards Sheila’s screams. He too came to a halt as he caught sight of the luminescent path of the Takers’ parasite-worm. The camcorder thwapped his chest. “This is so un-Kabbalistic of me, Benny, but what the Hell??!?” he swore, winded.

    “Damned if I know, Tobit! Whatever it is, it’s not living and Sheila’s possessed and there were blue spiders everywhere and now I’m standing in what looks like toxic snot! So get Sheila and let’s get lost, NOW!!” Benny roared.

    Tobit eyed the spreading goo on the hallway, watching it slime the stone as it crept along, and then swore again under his breath as he reached for Sheila as if she were a little girl. She started to reciprocate the reach and then looked down in surprise. She couldn’t reach Tobit’s grasp. She was glued to the floor. Her bare feet wouldn’t so much as lift up. The phosphorescent goo changed color, radiating paler green as it shifted to a white glow and then turned pink. It bloomed deeper and more violent by the second as Sheila’s feet disappeared in it. The flesh melted off her heels and ankles, and now she stood before them, part skeleton. Screeches of pain replaced her momentary surprise.

    There, like the Wicked Witch of the West, she melted in the goo. Benny heard a thunderous “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!” emanate from the walls, this one a distinct male voice. He trembled as he looked down at his shoes. They were beginning to dissolve. He mentally estimated the distance from the end of the goo trail to clean hall floor. There was no room for error.

    Taking a deep breath, he squelched two running steps in the goo before he sprang off one foot to safety, frantically tugging on the other shoe. It came off on the first try and landed in the middle of the goo with a splat. The second shoe joined it immediately, where both emitted steam as they melted.

    Tobit looked at Benny and the liquid mess that was Sheila and Benny’s shoes, and pressed the Record button on the camcorder with a hand that shook.

    “Are you NUTS??” Benny knocked the camcorder out of Tobit’s hands. He was crying now, all senses on overload.

    “No. Just wanting to get her on film so that neither of us are complete liars,” Tobit replied quietly. His tone was casual but his head nod to Sheila’s room door was deliberate, and his gaze was intense.

    There stood Sadie, in the middle of the glowing angry magenta, teeth bared in a harpy-like grimace, blue spiders clinging to her sweater. She looked like a perfectly awful parody of Botticelli’s Venus, a glow-in-the-dark Queen of the Night from some darker undiscovered Mozart opera. She took a step forward towards Tobit and Benny…and then was flung back clear to the opposite end of the hallway by an unseen force. The last they saw of her were outstretched arms much like Sheila’s, only Sadie’s were the last of her to fall through the window at the end of the hall. They both watched, slack-jawed, as the panes shattered into shards, accompanied by Sadie’s screams, and then shuddered together as a dull thud outside concluded the spectacle.

    --------------------
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  11. FlakeNoir
    Offline

    FlakeNoir Beta/Moderator Moderator

    #11. Ragan

    It liked the color blue, because it was a regal color. To many it was a sad color, but there was nothing sad about the little spider pacing in the dirt outside the castle walls next to a pile of pink goo. It was not pacing with anxiety, but rather anticipation. The bloodbath was to begin, and the appetizer had been served.

    “Ol’ buddy, don’t be down. It’s a perfect night,” the blood-soaked paramedic said to the man in a police uniform with his head down.

    “You, you’re the medic who got out.” Constable Gordon Keith said to him.

    “Mitch he was, dead he is. Didn’t like the sight of blood. Sad for a medic. But it’s okay. I’ve an idea for you.”

    “Piss off,” said Keith. “Sorry; it’s been a long night. It was Mitch?” the constable asked.

    “The pet got your buddy. It wanted to play. You should go play. I’ll show you,” Mitch said. He was holding William’s gun.

    *************************

    “Old…Roderick, Sheila’s…Sheila’s dead.” Benny said while running.

    “What are you going on about? It’s not funny…”

    “Sadie, too.” Tobit said while catching up.

    “Tobit…she was in the fire…”

    “And something threw her out the window. After she…flew and trapped Benjamin here in a spider web.”

    “It’s all real, Roderick. I’m such a…it’s real. There are ghosts here, and I want to get the hell out.” Benny started to cry. It broke the image he projected of himself.

    “Benny, get ahold of yourself!” ordered Roderick.

    “Boss, it was unspeakable what I saw with Benny. He’s right. We need to leave,” said Tobit.

    “Sheila…”

    “We’ve got it on video, at least what we could…and it ain’t pretty.”

    *************************************

    Ian was sitting in a dark hallway with an iPod plugged into his ears and a rolled-up joint plugged into his mouth. For all the Freddy Kruger films he had studied and all the found footage laugh-fests he got baked to over the years, they didn’t scare him like today had. So he lit up.

    The music became different, trippier than before, and he noticed a detail he’d never heard before: a woman’s voice singing in the background. “Go forth, go forward, the room ahead is waiting”, over and over in a deep Scottish accent. He found himself humming, first along with the Nick Cave song in his ears, then the chant of the woman buried underneath. His eyes glazed over, and he stood up and walked forth, forward, to the room ahead.

    Inside was a suit of armor standing on display, and for a moment it seemed to have glowing red eyes. He found that strangely funny. Ahead of him was a coat of arms on the wall, and under it were two swords.

    The song had changed, and so had the chant. “The sword is sweet in the warrior’s hand,” it sang. When he approached, one of the swords fell off of the wall after a small tremor. Ian picked it up. The groove down the center began to bleed, the blood pouring down toward the tip like a stream. The music was over, so there was no sound at all. But he kept thinking how sweet the sword was, and what it would taste like. He was so consumed with a need to taste the blade that he couldn’t see the blue blur running from it, leaving a trail of thin silk in the red.

    Then, as the spider descended toward the back of his neck, he felt a surge go through him. The sword fell from his hands. He wasn’t sure how he got there, but he wasn’t eager to stay in there another second.

    The spider moved back up, now afraid and angry. It wasn’t alone with him anymore.

    ****************************************

    “It’s my honor to relieve you of your duty,” Constable Keith said to Inspector Mawson.

    Mawson turned to see Keith and Mitch with guns drawn. Mitch was wearing a blood-covered badge.

    “Gordon, what’s gotten into you?” Mawson asked.

    “The truth. Why would a good guy like William end it? Then I got to thinking that he didn’t. So why did you kill him?” Keith responded.

    “Kill him? Gordon, stop this…”

    “Oh, I will. This is for William!” He said, and pulled the trigger. Daniel Mawson fell to the ground.

    “Good job, ol’ buddy! The other killers are inside. We’ve got to deal with them, too.” Mitch told him.

    ********************************

    Tobit, Roderick, and Benny were preparing to watch the video, although Benny wasn’t thrilled with the idea. It was difficult to explain the video’s scenes as they played it. It showed the goo spreading, but everything else was obscured and blurry. They heard the gunshot outside, and jumped to their feet to investigate, when a voice and a blurry face appeared on the video. A man’s voice.

    “T’was nae us, God help you all. T’was nae us…” Calum said. “My Bonnie…”

    “That was our ghost!” Roderick said.

    “That’s not what held me in that room,” retorted Benny.

    “No, that’s what it said. So it’s more than one,” said Tobit.

    “Who are you, spectre? What do you want?” Roderick asked, to no answer.

    ************************************

    Bonnie wandered the halls in a daze. What had happened left her dizzy for the first time in the afterlife. She wondered who the guardian was that saved her and the boy, what had brought him here. She wondered how to find Calum, now that she was weakened. She knew she had been used, and the Takers weren’t done. And she wasn’t going to let them best her.

    Meanwhile, Daniel Mawson was keeping pressure on his wound outside the castle. It was painful, but he wondered if he just might make it. And he wondered what he would do if he did.

    -------------------
  12. FlakeNoir
    Offline

    FlakeNoir Beta/Moderator Moderator

    #12. GNTLGNT

    Ian shook his head vigorously and scrubbed at his scalp, his fingers rumpling his thinning hair. "Jesus jumpin' Christ," he muttered, "could this blasted assignment get anymore screwed up??" As Technical Director, Ian's place was with his darlings, the hi-tech TV equipment, but when the cast, crew, and various crashers appeared to be set on going to Hell in a collective handbasket, there wasn't much point in putzing around with a video editor.

    "I gotta get outta this feckin' overgrown hoose for a bit! They can just all gang and hing." With that, he and his thundercloud of a brow stormed up the nearest flight of steps. As he shouldered his way through the iron-bound door of the castle tower, he caught the sound of an acoustic guitar getting its strings softly bent. Looking about the roof in the dishwater murk of dusk, he made out the silhouette of what appeared to be the castle handyman, who was employed by the foundation that managed the grounds.

    He had seen this gentleman on occasion, who unobtrusively puttered about his business. Letting the battered old instrument fall silent, the craggy shadow of the "Keep's Keeper" turned his head toward Ian. "What brings ye out of yon stonepile with such a keek on yer face, laddie?" But before Ian could spin his tale of electronic woe and technical tumult, they were disturbed by a loud scuttling, like that of hundreds of scorpions across a field of skulls, carried to the roof on a fetid exhale of breeze.

    Ian’s face turned pasty as he turned toward the musical shadow. "What in hell is that?!" he croaked.

    The faceless musician replied, "aye lad, that reek can only come from ONE thing. If you have a want, take ye a daunder to the parapet and see if the view dinna scare you out of yer simmet!"

    Ian hesitantly edged toward the inner curtain wall, and as he stood on tip-toe to peer into the gloaming, he gagged in horrified awe as three ancient crones tottered out of the gloom. He glanced over his shoulder at his companion. "What are they?"

    "Night hags, me young friend! They are what's left over after a witch is hanged - the witches’ shadows, ye ken. If they were not properly doused in holy water and holly berries, they will rise up and haunt the night, eating whatever they can find in hope of filling their emptiness."

    The crones scuttled and crawled about the ground in front of the castle, cramming grass, field mice and dozens of the blue spiders into their maws, constantly chewing. They were like wood-chippers. "That manky lot is a bunch that I widnae go within a screwball Irishman's reach of. But mayhap they may serve a purpose yet."

    Ian tried to process this latest assault on his senses. The castle keeper faded off into the murk, with one last bit of wisdom gently thrown over his shoulder. "Mind ye ken your lesson very well. Class is out now, but remember: every day is a school day.”

    --------------------
  13. FlakeNoir
    Offline

    FlakeNoir Beta/Moderator Moderator

    #13. VultureLvr45

    “Round two will begin shortly,” an announcer called. “If you were late to today’s game, we are in half-time with the Shadow Hags cleaning the field. The score is close, folks, 43 to 45; it could be anyone’s game. We have the ever-enchanted Ian and Tobit on the Human Team with only one nip between them. Sheila has had two possessions and Sadie’s been nabbed by the Takers. Good attempt by the Home Team and its player Bonnie to seduce human Benny, but that costs her time in the penalty box,” continued the announcer.

    A second announcer commented, “Calum will need to make his move quickly once the game begins to get Bonnie released from the isolation bench. Home Team has shown great defensive moves in the first round, but how will they save their space in the next? The Takers are aggressively moving through the castle, searching for any opening to boost their score,” he continued. “Let’s review some of the highlights while we wait for the bell:

    “The Takers have two human deaths so far. Crispy Critter by fire and one by gunshot during a possession, which gives them an additional point,” he remarked.

    “Don’t touch that goo, folks, as we know it is a quick slide to the penalty box,” said the first announcer. “Clever of the Home Team to build in safety zones where the humans can be protected from the Takers’ assaults,” said a different voice.

    “Big score for the Home Team as JD Keeper materialized to provide moral support for Team Captain Ian MacTavish!” said the second announcer. “He also provided him with a valuable clue - if he caught it,” said the first announcer. “Many worlds other than these…it’s a classic statement”.

    “From an execution standpoint,” began a third voice, “the Takers have been aggressive from the start, exploding the vehicle, taking possessions, snatching souls, and attempting harm upon the humans, while the Home Team has reacted to protect them by defense.”

    “I’m not seeing the innate malice for the living shown by the Takers in the Home Team,” quipped the second. “Annoyance, irritation, playing with them like cats with mice…they are enjoying their human interactions and seem to be having fun during the first round. We’ll see how they make out in the second.”

    “Elder human Roderick scored a point for sensing spirit activity in his arm hair, as did the young Benny with his residual bloody vision of the Home Team’s death on the stairs while descending,” the first commentator said, “although he didn’t connect the dots, so that’s a lavender flag on the play.”

    “It was a creative use of a visual trigger on their pinnacle spot for the Home Team,” said the second. “The energy level was extreme, as permitted by game rules, because Calum and Bonnie were climaxing as the scythe fell from its hallway holder, killing them.”

    “Takers’ Captain Legion Flagg argued with the Commissioner’s Board to disallow that pinnacle spot, but lost his case in the ruling,” said the third voice. He continued, “the minutes reflect Takers have a moving mascot, some kind of glow worm, that secretes slide glue, keeping the plays fair for both teams.”

    “Takers also have a murder spot, so we don’t know why Flagg would argue the pinnacle spot unless it’s a real threat to the offense,” the second sportscaster said.

    “Who will be the deciding factor in this game? The scores are close,” said the first commentator. “Although with Bonnie in the penalty box, it costs the Home Team time till she can rejoin,” said the second. “Good play adding gardens and ivy growing on the outside walls and castle sides,” the voice continued. “You know nature expands the human safety zone.”

    “Calum scored big in human protection by pushing Benny from the bed. Bonnie helped Sadie by providing back force as the Takers tried to burn her in the kitchen, and we still have the responders’ possession to contend with,” the speaker added.

    “Folks, the score is once again 43 to 45, it’s anyone’s game, and we have the green play flag being hoisted up the pole. Let’s go back down to the arena, where the Shadow Hags have tidied the playing field,” boomed the first announcer.

    A group of vultures materialized, first circling the castle, then alighting in the tops of nearby trees and on the castle walls.

    Inside the castle, gilded frames held pictures whose occupants began to blink, watch, and hold poses. Spectators and game officials took their spots as the starting bell rang.

    ---------------------
  14. FlakeNoir
    Offline

    FlakeNoir Beta/Moderator Moderator

    #14. Garriga

    And there's someone in my head, but it's not me
    And if the cloud bursts thunder in your ear
    You shout and no one seems to hear
    And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes
    I'll see you on the dark side of the moon

    Pink Floyd (written by Brian Damage)
    Dark Side of the Moon
    1973



    Outside the castle walls, the night was calm. The air, still wet from the storm, had cooled. Most of the clouds had cleared, turning the sky into a canvas of glittering stars. The moon hung low, casting a dim light over the castle towers.

    Inspector Schwann, a lanky man with broad shoulders, stood by his cruiser. Holding his cell phone above his head for better reception, he tapped its screen. When the battery died, the screen darkened. With a frustrated grunt, he threw the phone to the ground, cracking the screen. He kicked it across the gravel. It slid under his squad car.

    He leaned against the passenger door, lit a cigarette, took a drag off it, and exhaled through his nose. His scalp tingled as the nicotine calmed his nerves. The night had been a disaster. What had started as a routine investigation had turned into what seemed to be a bad acid trip. He had no qualms or second-guesses about investigating the explosion. It was tragic, but he considered it routine. However, William’s death, and the ghost whisperer with his crew of delinquent scientist raving about evil possessions, had added the human equivalent of Everclear to the castle cocktail.

    Drugs were the only explanation for their crazy hallucinations. This case had become too intense, and he couldn't handle it. Mawson would have to deal William’s death and the clan of acid loving hippies. He didn't want to know how William really died, or what was happening inside that wretched castle. For now, he wanted to clear his head before he radioed headquarters.

    He lit another cigarette. As he smoked, his eyes shifted to the castle. The front entrance was an archway between two towers. To him, it was a black hole that led from the world of the living to hell. He dismissed the thought. He started to look away from the castle, but his gaze shifted back to the castle entrance, just as the moon suddenly brightened to a dirty, unnatural orange glow. Schwann’s face slacked into an unintelligible stare. His eyes were glued to the black archway as his hand went to his neck, clawing at the skin under his Adam’s apple.

    He carved deep scratches into his flesh that overflowed with blood as he started to float on the path toward the castle, as if in a trance. Spiders crawled out of the black archway, covering the entire front wall, turning the stones blue. The castle resembled a black funnel twisting in a blue ocean.

    As he reached the archway, he looked into the castle close, where he had every intention of ripping the skin from his throat and eating his own flesh until the Takers took ownership of his soul. He was about to meet his fate when he heard the strains of Pink Floyd. "Dark Side of the Moon" drifted to him.

    The lunatic is in my head
    The lunatics are in my head


    Floyd's lyrics seemed to flow from inside Schwann, soothing him. He thought it was quite ironic that Brain Damage played while he was trapped in this telepathic trance.

    It’s the Takers, he thought, they've infected my brain like a parasite.

    There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.

    As the instrumentals progressed, time slowed until it stopped. He felt his strength return, and blinked his right eye. It was then that a force pulled his shoulder, jerking it back, causing blood to spill from the gaping hole in his throat.

    Suddenly, he was sailing through the air backwards. He crashed into the squad car, denting the door with a pop as he slid to the ground and landed on his shoulder.

    He lifted his head to the castle. The outer wall glowed red with fury, and a steamy wind blew heat through the air. They’re angry, he thought.

    As consciousness abandoned him, the world faded to black.

    Even in the darkness, the lyrics echoed.

    And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
    I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon


    ***
    When he stirred, he was confused. He was lying on the ground, with his eyes on the castle. A cloud drifted over the moon, darkening the towers. When he saw the dark archway, terror flooded his mind. He cringed as he recalled the vision. Bringing a hand to his throat, he expected to feel hot pain form the gashes, but the wounds had disappeared. He breathed a sigh of relief, and dismissed the whole episode as a dream.

    “It’s not a dream, lad.”

    It was the keeper, leaning against the squad car. Schwann climbed to his feet, and held out his hand to greet him. The stranger didn’t return the gesture but tipped him a nod instead.

    Schwann, a little offended and embarrassed, pulled his hand back.

    “Don’t look so bleak,” he said, “I saved ya, didn’t I?” His color lightened as he started to fade. “But next time I might not be able to,” he added, displaying his hands to show them and his arms lightening to smoky white.

    “Who are you?” asked Schwann.

    “A friend,” said the man. Now he was completely translucent, but Schwann could see his eyes were smiling. “I’ll be back,” said the keeper, “but until then, stick with Benny.”

    Schwann watched as the man vanished in a puff of white smoke.

    As he watched the last tendrils of smoke float upwards and disappear, he felt desolate. “If I don’t find the kid, I’m on my own,” he said, starting toward the castle.

    As he made his way to the front archway, a gun fired. Drawing his weapon, he ran into the courtyard and skidded to a stop. There was Daniel Mawson in the castle close, lying twisted in a pool of blood.

    ----------------------
  15. FlakeNoir
    Offline

    FlakeNoir Beta/Moderator Moderator

    #15. Patricia A.

    It was not long before Schwann located Benny. He found him along with what remained of the motley crew that included Sheila, Roderick, Ian and Tobit.

    They had taken shelter in the great hall of the castle when they realized that there was little else for them to do other than to regroup and stick together, at least until they had thought of their next play. They each heard voices in there, but that was all. It seemed calm but for the sound of what seemed like a television news broadcast in another room. Ian laughed when Benny suggested it sounded like football game announcers. Ian agreed and quipped that he wondered who was playing. They knew, however, that it was no TV. They had gone beyond looking for rational explanations for why things happened in this place. They had accepted that it was some paranormal thing that would have to be explained some other day, but for now they needed to find a safe place to figure out how to get out of this alive.

    Schwann's shirt collar was black with blood and he was pale as the moonlight had become. “I don't know what's going on here,” he said as he entered the room, relieved to have found living beings. “Can one of you people tell me what the Hell is going on here? I have been seeing and doing all kinds of crazy things and-”

    His knees buckled before he could finish speaking and he was kneeling on the floor as if to pray.

    No one answered him, no one could, until Sheila spoke up, her voice barely above a whisper, her hands palms out in front of her as if to push something away. “I can only call it spiritual madness. I think it's killing us all from the inside out, literally killing us, I think." She did not realize that tears were streaming from her eyes. She rested her hands in her lap.

    "I feel it too, Sheila,” Roderick agreed. “I feel it to the very center of me, and I can't think of a better thing to call it than madness, a killing sort of madness. This castle is insane, it's...” he trailed off. “Maybe it's more spiritual poison than madness, but madness is all around us." He looked to her and nodded with what looked like a great effort. He was drained and nearly done.

    “Spiritual chaos,” Tobit said. “There is an imbalance, yes, and we are witnessing phenomenon only few have seen. I know of only a handful of people who have survived being in the midst of this sort of demonic infestation. It is quite rare indeed, at least one prays it is. We must keep close to each other and keep our faith that we can survive this.”

    Tobit helped Schwann up from the floor, offering him a hand and leading him to a chair where he'd be close to the group. “We must keep our focus on revealing the truth of what has happened here tonight.”

    An idea occurred to Benny right before he gave up hope of leaving the castle intact. It felt like the best idea he had ever had in his whole life, a real eureka moment. "Why don't we just get the hell out of this place? I don't know why we don't just leave!"

    Everyone who had gathered there for the feast of fear and who had been fed past full looked at Benny in stunned silence. He raised his arms in the air in a “why not” gesture.

    Ian laughed a great belly laugh that rang in the hall. “Why the feck not?” he said, his laughter now booming. “We have all the video we need, we have half the local bloody constabulary here shooting each other and bodies - we have bodies! Dead ones, half dead ones. Melted ones at that! We have enough proof; now let's get the feck out of here before we cannae go!”

    Sobs, mournful and distant, came from somewhere. Everyone looked at Sheila but she was silent. She looked up, as she sensed she should, and saw an iridescent drop begin to form from the great distance that was the ceiling of the great room. It glowed silvery shimmers.

    “What now? Dear God, what now?” She now began to cry in earnest.

    “Please help us.” It was the voice that had made itself known to be Bonnie. “You cannae leave us here!”

    Roderick stood up and faced the ceiling as the shimmer turned into fog, then arranged itself as a form: Bonnie, who was now hovering only feet above their heads. He gathered strength as he spoke to her. “I'll cross you over, you and your Calum. Sheila and I we can do it. We can do it if you let us.”

    “We really can't leave them here trapped with these...these abominations,” Sheila spoke up to the small group. “I'll send you home, Bonnie,” she said to the spirit that remained of the Scotswoman.

    “I can help, too.” Tobit stood also, facing the crying ghost.

    “Then let it be so. Please make it so,” Bonnie pleaded, now standing in front of them, her feet not quite on the floor. She appeared almost as solid as flesh and blood but for the wisps of what looked like fine webs that floated around and through her. “Calum and I cannae stay here anymore. I am done and done with this deathly hollow shell of a hellhole!”

    Benny, now the truest of believers, agreed that they should help Bonnie and Calum, but he was also determined that the team would leave this place, the sooner being better than later.

    ----------------------
  16. FlakeNoir
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    FlakeNoir Beta/Moderator Moderator

    #16. Todash (Part I)

    Yes, they would leave, and soon, but it appeared the only way out was through. There was to be no easy escape. So Benny did something he would not have thought possible just a day ago: he spoke to a ghost. "Bonnie." The spirit turned to look at him. "If it isn't you doing this, and it isn't your--Calum, then what is it?"

    At first, she didn't seem to hear the question, but instead whispered, as if only now realizing, "Ye see me," slowly taking in the whole group, eyes open in shock--though she could get no paler. It was a question as well as a statement. After all this time, she'd broken through.

    "Aye," Benny said, not realizing he'd slipped partway into the old speech. "We do."

    Sheila spoke up in answer to Bonnie's implied question: "Sometimes if several natural mediums are gathered together, the collective energy can assist a ghost who desires to be seen in the physical realm if the ghost is not old and experienced enough to do it on her own." She looked puzzled for a moment. "Generally it takes at least three, though ... you must be especially strong, Benny."

    Benny (who would if need be accept that he was a latent psychic or medium or whatever you wanted to call it, but who was still practical, impatient Benny) simply nodded, then returned to his question. "Bonnie. What is doing this?"

    A little of her natural tartness returned to her then, and she tilted her head at Benny in a way that suggested she thought he was a bit daft. "Takers." She didn't add, "of course." She didn't need to.

    Tobit groaned. "Takers? That explains a lot."

    "What," Benny asked, his patience beginning to fray around the edges, "are Takers? What do they take?"

    Tobit sighed. "Takers are ... they are the leeches of the spirit world. Rather, they exist somewhere between the spirit world and the physical world, and they have some control of both. In certain circumstances, they can influence the actions of ghosts that have lingered longer than they should, for example. They can also cause mass hallucinations among the living," and he looked at Sheila, who despite what they'd seen, had obviously not dissolved into a pile of goo. "And they can possess the living, completely taking over or driving insane those who cannot withstand them. They take life force. Negative emotions. Pain."

    "Okay," Benny said. "How do we stop these Takers? What's their weakness?"

    This time Ian spoke up. "Ach, lad. Ye been watching too much TV. Not everythin' can be stopped."

    "I don't believe that," Benny said. "Everyone has a boss, and everything has a weakness. How do we kill them, Tobit?"

    Tobit looked thoughtful. "I don't know. I don't know that anyone ever has killed them."

    A sigh, not ethereal in the least, escaped Bonnie. "Ye cannae end them," she said. "Least, no man nor spirit I know of can. But ye can make them go." She had their full attention now. "They'll not stop in a place that has no spirits. They must have the living and the dead."

    "They have to have both?" Benny asked. "So, if we help you and Calum move on, they'll just disappear."

    It cost Bonnie something to say what she said next, because she knew it put her freedom, and Calum's, down one more notch on the list of priorities. But they were trying to help her, these living. They deserved to know. "Nay, laddie. I wish that were so, but we're not the only spirits about the castle."

    * * *

    Outside, Chief Inspector Mawson lay where he'd fallen, but he wasn't dead, though an onlooker might have been forgiven for assuming otherwise. He'd managed to staunch the flow of blood using a dishtowel he'd absentmindedly shoved in his overcoat pocket that morning. Amazing things, towels; nearly endlessly useful, really. He'd bound it around his midsection with his belt. It had been slow going, because he was in pain, and he didn't want to lose more blood than necessary, but he'd finished the guerilla first aid several minutes ago and had been slowly gathering strength ever since. It was quite likely, he thought, that he would die here this day, but he hadn't gotten to be chief inspector by giving up or being stupid. He'd been using his time wisely, pondering everything he knew about what had happened here. The main thing he knew is that men he'd worked with for years had suddenly begun acting wildly out of character, to say the least.

    The official line would probably mention forcibly administered hallucinogenic drugs, and practically speaking that was the most likely, but Mawson realized they'd left practical behind as soon as they stepped on the castle grounds and had come to the conclusion that really, his dear old Nan had been right after all: there were "sperits all 'round us." And now it was time to face them.

    Slowly he rolled onto his belly and began to crawl toward the doorway, where he could pull himself up. Nearby, hidden in a planting, a blue spider of enormous girth watched. Waited.

    * * *

    "What do you mean by that?" demanded Benny. "Who else is here?"

    Bonnie shook her head. "I dinnae ken for certain. Only he is much older than me or Calum. Much stronger. He is ... a friend. I think he calls himself The Keeper."

    Constable Schwann and Ian started--nearly jumped. Somehow, both had forgotten all about The Keeper until that moment. "She's right," Schwann said. "I saw him. At first I thought he was a person, but he's not flesh. He told me to stick with you," he said to Benny.

    "Aye, I saw him as well," Ian said. "But he didn't seem trapped or desperate. He belongs here, like as not, and ye'll not be 'sending him on' so easily as all that."

    * * *

    [Continues.....]
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  17. FlakeNoir
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    FlakeNoir Beta/Moderator Moderator

    #16. Todash (Part II)

    Mawson finally managed to make it to the doorway and pull himself upright, despite the pain. His wound, which didn't seem to involve any important organs but which nonetheless had bled rather more freely than he'd have liked, began to ooze again, seeping through the towel. He was strong but severely wounded, so when he felt first a tickling and then a sharp pinch on the back of his neck, the fight he put up for control of his body and brain was not so fierce as it normally would have been.

    Nonetheless, the spider was surprised--and delighted--by the unexpected tussle. This one would be worth riding for a while and would make a deliciously satisfying meal in the end. First, though, it would take her to the others. They began the slow, lurching walk down the hall.

    * * *

    In the great hall, Benny sat with his head buried in his hands. The rest of the group, including Bonnie, had fallen quiet. If there was an answer to their current conundrum, none of them could see it. Something was pricking the back of Benny's mind. Finally it came to him. "Where's Calum?"

    Bonnie looked puzzled. "I'm nae certain. When I felt ye all gathered here together, somethin' took hold of me and pulled me in. My love was near me, but when I turned back, he'd gone." Suddenly she was fierce. "I'll not be leavin' him, mind. I'd rather stay here and face the Takers wi' him than to go on and leave him alone!"

    "Ach, love. Ye do care," said a translucent figure at the doorway.

    "Calum!" Bonnie cried. "Of course I do, ye blatherin' idiot, ye great pillock. How many times must I tell ye, no one else will do for me?"

    "Ye make my cheeks burn with such sweet words, dearest."

    Bonnie's next words were somber. "Calum. Sweet. We can finally go on, but we have to help the living first. The Takers are preying on 'em, and we cannae move on without their help. They see me. They see you. They need us."

    "Help them?" Calum asked. "Help ye?" He asked again, looking around at the group, not as surprised as Bonnie had been to find himself visible to the living. But then, he'd never been the thinker of the two. "How are we to do that? The Takers ... they are stronger than anythin'."

    "Ach," a voice replied from everywhere and nowhere at all. "They're not such as all that." And with that, The Keeper was there with them, as if he'd always been. And perhaps he had. "And Miss"--this he directed at Bonnie--"I hate to be the one to say a lass has got something wrong, but as we are in a bit of a rush here, I must tell ye, I am not one the likes of ye two."

    At that, Ian spoke up. "Maybe so, but ye aren't human. Livin' human, anyway."

    "No, lad. Ye've got that right. Mayhap I was human some time ago, but it's been ary so long, if so, I no longer recall for certain. I'm ... else. Like the Takers, I suppose. One thing I know: I'm here because I belong. I keep the castle safe."

    Bonnie saw what that meant. "Then," she said, "if they send us on, the Takers will go as well."

    "Aye, lassie," The Keeper said. "These fine folks could send ye on, and the Takers would be quieted for some time. If ye can stand it just a wee bit longer, though, if ye can take a chance, we could bind the Taker forever. She'd never be back."

    A chance, he'd said. That meant they might not make it. "No!" Bonnie said. "I cannae do it! We've been tied to this castle ever so long, me and Calum, an' now's our chance to have done wi' it, an'--"

    "Bonnie," Calum said, and Bonnie looked at him, and she remembered suddenly why it was she'd fallen for him in life. No, he wasn't the smartest, and he wasn't even the handsomest, but when it came right down to it, he was true as the straightest arrow, and he was brave. So brave. "Bonnie," he said again. "Think on it. The Takers, gone forever. None like us to go through this ever again. None like we used to be to go through it, either. If we can help stop the Takers for all time, we must try." And though it made her heart ache like it hadn't ached since before her body had been buried under six feet of soil, she knew he was right. Oh, but it hurt so. To come this close and yet have sweet release possibly snatched from her--it stung. It burned. Still, right was right. And they weren't innocent, her and Calum. They owed this.

    She faced The Keeper. "What must we do?"

    * * *

    The Taker rode the man Mawson, or what used to be him, toward the great hall. Progress was slow, but the others--Taker-spawn and man-slaves--had served their purpose; this man-shell was the only one remaining. No matter; time didn't mean much to her. Soon she would feast on men and spirits alike, maybe even on that eternal infernal enemy that called himself The Keeper. Then she would spawn. And she and her spawn would wait until such time as man and spirits gathered together again, and then it would be time for a new feast. She could speed it along, of course, by simply walking to the great hall herself. But this man was so delicious, and she was not used to traveling without consort. So she clung to him, sipping his life force, and on and on they inched.

    Slowly. Ever so slowly.

    * * *

    "The Taker has nearly come to the end of her cycle," The Keeper said. "Soon it will begin afresh, unless we end her. She'll cast off more unholy young, and she'll be strong again. But now she's weak, though she cannae see it."

    "That's her weakness," Benny said. "That's it. She doesn't realize she's vulnerable. She won't have her guard up."

    "Aye, lad," The Keeper agreed. And then he laid out the plan.

    * * *

    Now all that was left was the waiting. The ghosts, the humans, and The Keeper all assumed their positions, and Taker-Mawson crept closer. Closer. Closer. Finally, there came a skittery shuffling outside the great hall, and Mawson, looking more dead than alive, dragged himself in. Some time back, he'd starting leaving a trail of blood drops. He was weak. So weak. But not dead yet.

    "Now," Benny said, nearly at a whisper, and that was the last quiet moment till it was over.

    Howling a warcry he'd learned who-knows-where and who-knows-when, Calum swooped with one aim: possess the weak human. It was the last thing the Taker had expected, and perhaps because of that, it worked. Calum entered Mawson, and the Taker was pushed out. Just like that, Calum vanished, and an enormous pulsing blue spider crouched next to Mawson. She didn't have her brood. She didn't have human slaves. But she still had silk and venom in both realms. She was still a formidable enemy.

    Echoing Calum's warcry and adding a chilling shriek of her own, Bonnie flew with as much force as she could muster toward the Taker. Suddenly she was in her. Without pausing, Bonnie forced the spindly legs to begin running, running, running, right out the window, where she flung both of them out and toward the ground, leaving the Taker at the last possible moment. She hoped that the fall had been enough to kill the Taker in her weakened state, but she needn't have worried. Calum-Mawson showed up in the window, pulled out a revolver, and fired six bullets into the giant spider. The spider never moved again.

    * * *

    Back in the great hall, after they'd made sure the Taker was gone for good, Calum and Bonnie stood clasping hands, waiting for the sweet release they'd been promised. The Keeper had vanished after performing what seemed to be some kind of healing magic over the now unconscious (but pinker) Mawson. The room was quiet. Sheila was about to begin the incantation when Bonnie said, "I dinna ken ye knew how to fire a pistol, Calum. 'Twas the best luck, surely."

    There was a murmur of agreement in the room, and Calum almost shamefacedly replied, "och, 'tweren't me, my love. 'Twas the chief inspector himself took a notion to finish her off."



    End.

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