* * *
She saw him just as the sun was setting. One of the humans. One of the normal, non-ghost-seeing-totally-defenseless-against-the-paranormal-humans who was standing on the dock fiddling with some inconsequential piece of machinery as the vortex stormed and reality tore. Him being out was bad, him being mundane was worse, but the most terrible strike against him was one of simple geography: he was closer to the island than she was.
It would go after him. This was neither conjecture, intuitions, nor paranoia; rather it was a hot melding of the three in the fires of her gut. She was moving before the thought had fully-formed in her mind, those impetuous legs of hers getting a start of what needed to be done. They were right, too. There was no time to think, to fret, or to wonder. Already she could see the crackling lines of red energy rippling through the mist. That swirled cloud was rotating so fast that it almost seemed to be standing still, making the whole thing appear to be a great big misshapen white egg perched in the center of the lake.
That meant the red lines of energy were cracks in its shell, and too soon they would give way to a true break. Her breath came hard as she ran, leaping over roots and shrubbery with all thoughts of stealth abandoned. She could lie her way around being in the restricted area, hell even if they didn’t buy it she would be out of jail in not time. What she couldn’t do was protect someone from a quarter of a mile away.
And if she didn’t make it to him in time… well, there was probably no helping whatever would be left of him.
* * *
Clinton and Art had discovered that ghost investigators, much like other professionals, seemed to lose every job-related skill they possessed when off the clock. In the same way that a doctor will go right ahead and eat bacon after giving a lecture on cholesterol and psychologist will miss his son’s cries for attention until they reach arson levels, Topher and Kay’s attunement and attention to the supernatural was nowhere to be seen as they prepped for the night’s shoot. After ten minutes of subtle knocking sounds and the occasional rolled pencil all went unnoticed, the spirits decided it was time to change tactics.
Clinton had worked on finding something to write on while Art busied himself attempting to knock some doodad off the table. Due to its weight, it took a steady amount of concentration and energy to effect, which pushed Art to the limits of his ability. Ironically, had the device he was trying to send tumbling been turned on, it would had (at least according to its inventors claims) allowed him to freely speak to the living, saving everyone a lot of a time and effort.
Irwin watched their activities with rapt attention, hoping this would be the time when the trick finally clicked for him. They’d explained it in theory to him countless times: Spirits gathered energy from the world around them. The most plentiful source was emotional energy, good spirits getting power from positive emotions like love and friendship, while evil spirits drew from anger, hatred, and fear. Since they lived in an abandoned camp, neither had ever really been an option, instead Art and Clinton drew on the naturalistic power that resided in the forest. It wasn’t as easy to work with or draw out, but it gave them enough juice to effect the corporeal world in minor ways. Silly a trick as it was, Irwin still burned with jealousy every time he saw them do something as simple as moving a rock. Even that simple gesture was more than he could manage.
“I can’t hold a pen,” Clinton declared, his last ditch effort of trying to write on a notepad failing as the implement slipped through his grasp. “Which means a note is out.”
“We could write in the dust,” Art suggested.
“They didn’t notice you knocking object to the ground, I don’t think weird shapes in the dirt will help,” Irwin said.
“Hey, shouldn’t Auggie be back soon? The sun is basically down already, we’re burning night.” Kay’s words rang clear and tangible, it was a voice that all the residents in the room could hear, not just the dead ones.
“We’ve got time,” Topher replied. He was running checks on a piece of equipment meant to flash bright blue when ghosts were nearby. It seemed to be working fine as far as Topher could tell, though the fact that it there were three nearby spirits and it gave up nary a blue-blip spoke to its quality. “Our here the sky will stay grey for a while even after we lose the sun. Probably be another half-hour until its dark enough to shoot.”
“I hope he hustles,” Kay replied, glancing at the digital clock on her wrist.
“Hot damn, don’t tell me you’re actually worried about Auggie. There might be a heart in there yet.”
“Worrying about Auggie is like worrying about your dad’s accountant. Whatever he’s doing, you know he’s doing it with all the safety and boringness of a minivan. I just like being the most irresponsible member of the team, and if he shows up late then I’ve got to go out of my way to outdo him. It’s sort of a hassle.” Kay turned back to her laptop, eyes glancing at the bay of monitors where Auggie would be sitting.
Kayla Krupchyk was a third generation immigrant, meaning she still had memories of her grandmother, Marta Krupcyk, and the old woman’s penchant for wild tales. In spite of the fact that she worked for a team of ghost investigators, Kay had a sort of ambivalence toward the supernatural. She wasn’t a devout believer like Topher nor was she an ardent doubter like Auggie. Kay merely thought there were some things in the world she didn’t understand, and whether they were magic or not was for minds greater than hers to determine.
Her grandmother, in contrast, had been a constant supporter of the supernatural. The half-mad matron of her family had made many crazy claims during Kayla’s youth, but the on that she said most frequently, and with the most stubborn certainty, was that the Krupchyk women had a bit of “the touch” as she called it. They were connected with the magic of the old world, and as such they were entitled to certain benefits. The most common, she would tell young Kayla as the girl at her feet, was the gift of premonition. Nothing so crass as actual divination, that flowery bullshit was for lesser cultures. They were sturdy, proper people. All they needed or wanted was a bit of warning when things were getting bad.
Kay didn’t want to think about why that memory was surfacing right now. It was the same reason she’d asked Topher about Auggie, the same reason she was trying not to look at his station. For the past few minutes, ever since she lost sight of the sun, any thoughts of Auggie gave a faint ebbing pain right in her stomach. It probably meant nothing, just an after-effect of eating fast-food burritos from the shop outside the airport. But that was the trouble with being open to a magical world, it meant one couldn’t just rule things out. Not with certainty.
She was about to say something again, probably to volunteer and go find Auggie, when noise like roaring thunder tore through the cabin. It rattled the floors and walls, unfortunately coinciding with the exact moment Art succeeded in knocking the gizmo off the table. The noise and shaking lasted only a few seconds, but when it ceased it seemed to take all other noise with it. The world was perfectly quiet as Topher and Kay exchanged confused and worried looks.
“Is there a storm?” Topher asked.
“No clouds outside and nothing in the forecast. Maybe a tree fell.”
“I’m pretty sure I don’t want to see the tree that sounds like that,” Topher said.
“Well then what the hell was that noise?”
* * *
Dark red mist gushed from the hole in the island, pooling around it like slowly clotting blood. The lighter fog was gone, it had burned away in the explosion of energy that was the doorway opening. Terrifying as the noise had been for the humans, at least they couldn’t see the circle in the center of the island glowing a vibrant red. They couldn’t see the spirits tearing their way forth, half-formed being shambling about like mindless husks.
And, best or worst of all, they couldn’t see the figure floating forty feet above the circle, a shape woven from darkness. It contrasted well with the soft greys of the early evening sky, as though it wanted to show the world what darkness really was. Upon the top of its head, where a face would be, sat two pinprick of red light that swept across the camp, eagerly searching.
It was a wraith all right, after dealing with her first one there was no mistaking another. Her breath was heavy in her lung and already her legs ached. She could jog for miles, but a full-on sprint was more tiring. As she stumbled out of the brush she at last had a straightaway to the dock. The man who had been working on his camera looked up at her, confusion all but glowing on his face.
For the briefest moment, she thought she would make it. Then the wraith, the dark humanoid shadow in the sky, noticed them. It wavered between the two for only an instant before making its choice. The choice she’d know all along it would make. If it came at her, she could put up a fight. That would be a fair battle, which was why it chose the man with the camera.
Life, and death, were just so inherently unfair. There was no other way it could have gone.
* * *
The noise had startled Auggie so badly he’d nearly knocked the camera over. After scanning the sky to assure himself he was neither caught in a freak thunder storm nor witness to a bombing, he decided it was time to head back to the main hall. Whatever that noise had been, he would feel safer with a roof over his head. It was an irrational comfort, he knew that quite well, but much as a placebo could cure minor ills if one believed it to be medicine, irrational comforts still made him feel better.
He turned to leave when he saw her. The large purple coat hung open at her sides, her copper-colored hair was sweaty and matted to the side of her head, and she appeared to be out of breath. His immediate reaction was one of concern: clearly this woman had been running from something. She would need treatment and protection. Then he realized that they were on private land, miles from anyone who should be about, and he grew uncertain of what was happening.
As he watched the woman opened her mouth, probably to hail him or explain herself. Before she could, her expression suddenly changed. In an instant it went from careful consideration to shocked horror. He would have wondered what was disturbing her, however the answer made itself apparent before the question could even form.
Auggie felt as though he were being shredded by a wild animal, only with claws made of ice. They tore into his back, then kept going. Frozen pain ripped at his chest, savaging his lungs and heart in a single motion. Dark spots began swimming in front of his eyes, and he realized he was about to lose consciousness. He tried to struggle, to cry out, to flail futilely, but his body was useless. It was already too numb and detached to heed his orders.
The light grew dimmer and Auggie felt himself slipping away. Just before he lost himself entirely, he heard a sound that filled his last moments with a putrid fear. It was laughter, a horribly hissing slithering laughter that sounded like poisonous snakes fucking in a burlap sack. The laughter surrounded him, mocking him, killing him, and soon it swarmed over him, driving out the final remains of his consciousness.
Then, there was only darkness.
-Definitely a chapter ender here. Start the next one with a short scene. Need to put some room between Auggie’s presumed death and the next interaction with him. Let the reader wonder if he’s really gone.
-Slow the pacing down a bit, add in dialogue and comedy. You just had a lot of tension and anticipation, so now is the time to let the reader breath and laugh a bit so they can be built up again later.
Daily WordCount: 2,071. Total WordCount: 13,393