Unquiet souls, p.1
Unquiet Souls, page 1
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, organizations, or persons, whether living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2019 by Christine Pope
Published by Dark Valentine Press
Cover art by Christian Bentulan
Ebook formatting by Indie Author Services
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems — except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews — without permission in writing from its publisher, Dark Valentine Press.
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Michael Covenant stared down at the single name on the piece of paper he held and told himself to count to ten before he spoke. Voice remarkably steady, he said, “Audrey Barrett wasn’t on the list I gave you.”
Colin Turner, the producer of Project Demon Hunters, shrugged, looking completely unconcerned. “She should have been. Don’t know why you left her off. Master’s in psychology, post-grad work with the Rhine Institute — she’s the real deal when it comes to parapsychology.” Wearing a knowing grin, he added, “Besides, she’s a hell of a lot more photogenic than any of that lot you suggested.”
Unfortunately, Michael couldn’t really argue with any of those completely valid points. He’d had his own reasons for keeping Audrey Barrett off the short list of potential co-hosts for the show he and Colin had been pitching to various cable networks, reasons he needed to conceal from his producer. When Colin messaged him earlier in the day to tell him that they’d been given the green light by a travel cable network, Michael had guessed there had to be a catch.
And it sounded as though Audrey Barrett was that catch.
“She doesn’t have any experience actually working out in the field,” he said, still doing his best to sound calm and unruffled. Inwardly, though, he could feel himself already tensing. If he ended up being forced into this….
“What ‘field’?” Colin scoffed. Even after more than a decade in Los Angeles, his Manchester accent was decidedly obvious — probably an affectation more than anything else at this point. He always looked slightly rumpled, fair hair untidy, skin too pale for your usual Angeleno. “Wandering around in old houses with those little ghost-detecting whatchamacallits?”
“EMF meters,” Michael said, an automatic response. “There’s a bit more to paranormal investigations than merely wandering around old houses, you know.”
“If you say so.”
There wasn’t much point in pressing the issue, because Michael knew Colin was in this simply to cash in on the current craze for ghost-hunting shows. They’d come up with a slightly different angle, one that promised plenty of jump scares to keep the audience on their toes, and the cable network was interested enough to offer them a limited six-show series to start airing this coming October.
Because really, what were ghosts compared to actual demons?
“Have you contacted her?” Michael asked. “Audrey Barrett takes herself seriously, you know. I have no idea whether she’ll even say yes.”
Colin tilted a sandy eyebrow, clearly unimpressed by his co-producer’s concerns. “Who’s going to say no to a lead spot on a reality TV show?”
While Michael knew not everyone wanted to be on television, he guessed that Colin would only scoff at such an assertion. Actually, Michael himself had been reluctant when Colin first approached him to act as host and co-producer of Project Demon Hunters, mostly because the thought of such widespread exposure was troubling on many levels. It was one thing to work the paranormal circuit, the lecture halls and the conferences and the guest appearances on various fringe podcasts and radio shows. But to have your face beamed into millions of households each week? The chances of having his carefully constructed identity torn apart were very small, and yet he still wasn’t sure he wanted to take that risk, not when he could lose everything if the truth about his past was ever revealed.
But Colin had worn him down, arguing that he was the leading voice in demonology today, and the sort of person a demon-hunting show needed.
The money hadn’t been bad, either. Even on a cut-rate cable show, the pay scale was a lot higher than what he’d been getting from his various convention and seminar appearances. While he was comfortable enough, he knew he would have been foolish to pass up that kind of cash infusion.
“Audrey Barrett is exactly the sort of person who would say no,” he remarked. “She’s not in this for the fame and fortune.”
“Which is why I need you to talk to her,” Colin said reasonably. “Expert to expert. She’ll understand that.”
Michael had his doubts, but he knew if he continued to dig in his heels, Colin would wonder why he was being so stubborn. On the surface, Audrey Barrett was exactly what Project Demon Hunters needed — someone smart, articulate, and photogenic as hell. Never mind that Michael had done whatever he could to stay out of her orbit, not always an easy thing to do in a field as small and fringe as the paranormal, even though the topics they focused on were very different.
Well, it looked as though he wouldn’t be able to avoid her any longer.
“All right,” he replied. “I’ll get in touch with her tomorrow.”
Colin corrected him at once. “Today. Glendora’s only an hour drive from here, and the execs want a commitment ASAP so we can get production started now. I’m already getting the crew put together — I don’t want to waste any time.”
Probably because February and March tended to be two of Southern California’s gloomiest months, and so any location shoots set here would look properly foreboding. There was some money for travel in the show’s production budget, but not enough to travel out of state for each episode. They’d have to pick their locations wisely. Luckily, he already knew exactly where they needed to start…a place that was almost around the corner from Audrey Barrett’s house.
“On my way,” he said, since he knew he’d only be wasting time if he attempted any more arguments. He got up from his seat across from Colin’s glass and steel desk. “I’ll call you as soon as I have Ms. Barrett on board.”
“Take these,” Colin said, handing over a manila folder. “Contracts.”
There probably wasn’t any point in saying that Colin was getting ahead of himself, so Michael took the folder without comment, lifted his free hand in a brief gesture of farewell, then left the office. As he waited for the elevator to take him down to the building’s parking garage, he tried to reassure himself that everything would be fine.
After all, he’d been hiding the truth about himself for more than ten years now. He’d just have to keep doing it for a little while longer.
The knock on the door to her office startled Audrey, mostly because her work wasn’t the sort of thing that lent itself to drop-in visits. Her clients found her mainly through their insurance directories, or, much more rarely, through her website, and in general t
She got up from the chair behind her desk and went to answer the door. The place was too cramped to have a reception area, was only a plain square room with a window that overlooked Glendora’s small main street in the historic part of town. Just as well that it wasn’t any bigger, because she couldn’t afford to pay a receptionist anyway.
The man standing in the hallway outside Audrey’s office shared with the other micro office suites on the building’s second floor looked vaguely familiar, although for a second she couldn’t place where she’d seen him before. Then his identity seemed to fall into place — the shaggy, sandy blond hair, the scruff of beard, the piercing eyes in an unusual golden-gray hue.
Michael Covenant, self-proclaimed demonologist and frequent guest on shows like Coast to Coast and The Paranormal Podcast.
What he was doing here in tiny Glendora, at her office, she had no idea. Or rather, she had several ideas, none of which were particularly appealing.
He spoke before she could close the door and back away. “Audrey Barrett?”
“Yes,” she said reluctantly, since she guessed he knew exactly what she looked like, and so there was no point in trying to deny her identity.
“Can we talk?” he asked. Those gray-gold eyes were fixed on her, piercing. She wanted to look away, but for some reason found herself unable to. Some kind of hypnotism? That might explain all the people who paid good money for his books or to attend the conferences where he was a featured speaker.
However, Audrey hadn’t lost herself so much that she couldn’t reply crisply, “We’re talking now.”
His head tilted to one side as his eyes narrowed at her. “You know that’s not what I meant.”
“Come in,” she said, since she guessed the best way to get rid of him was to let him speak his piece and then tell him she had a client coming in and couldn’t afford to spend any more time in discussion. Besides, as much as his approach to the paranormal annoyed and sometimes downright offended her, she didn’t want to be rude.
A small smile touching his lips, he entered the office, then waited for Audrey to close the door before he sat down in the chair opposite her hand-me-down desk. There was another chair off to one side, placed there for those times when she had a couple in for counseling, but it felt safer to sit down behind the desk, thus giving herself the illusion of authority despite her unease at his presence here.
Since she guessed there was no reason to pretend ignorance of his identity, she asked, “How can I help you, Mr. Covenant?”
He didn’t even blink at her off-hand use of his name. Was he arrogant enough to think he was instantly recognizable? Minor celebrity on the paranormal circuit didn’t exactly provide the same sort of star power as acting in films or TV, but, despite being a psychologist, Audrey really didn’t want to speculate as to what might go on in Michael Covenant’s brain.
“It’s more how I can help you, Ms. Barrett.”
“Audrey is fine,” she said. It wasn’t so much that she wanted to be on a first-name basis with him, more that she disliked being called “Ms.” — it only reminded her of how she’d been forced to stop after getting her master’s degree, hadn’t been able to go on and earn a Ph.D. in psychology. Right then, even though she knew it was petty, she probably would have derived a certain small pleasure in telling Michael Covenant to call her “Dr. Barrett.”
He leaned against the back of his chair, hands resting on the knees of his dark trousers. The day was dank and damp, not rainy, but with a fog that had never lifted, and so his usual uniform of black jacket with black T-shirt underneath — the same outfit he seemed to wear in every publicity photo — didn’t look as out of place as it might have on a typical sunny Southern California afternoon. “Audrey, then. I’m currently developing a show for a cable network with producer Colin Turner…you might have heard of him.”
She had, just because his sensational one-off specials tended to clutter the cable offerings during October, when one could usually find hour-long shows like The 10 Most Haunted Places in America and Serial Killers Among Us to binge on if the usual horror fare of slasher flicks and alien invasions wasn’t enough to satisfy a viewer’s appetite for the macabre. Anyway, Audrey’s personal opinion was that dropping Colin Turner’s name probably wasn’t the best way to pique her interest in the project.
“Yes,” she said briefly, and left it there.
Michael Covenant was probably many things, but stupid wasn’t one of them. His smile vanished, and he sat up a little straighter in his chair. “The show is called Project Demon Hunters.”
Her response was immediate. “No.”
His brows — much darker than his hair — drew together. “I haven’t told you anything about the show, Audrey.”
“I think the title tells me everything I need to know,” she returned. “If you want someone who’s into the sensational, why don’t you contact Raymond Shipley? Your show sounds like it would be more up his alley.”
This suggestion only made Michael’s frown deepen. Raymond Shipley had a fairly successful ghost-hunting show a few years back, and he also had a singular talent for turning the faintest creak or electrical malfunction in a house into clear-cut evidence of a haunting. None of his so-called “evidence” could have ever held up in a court of law, but he did know how to keep an audience from changing the channel.
“The execs at the network don’t want Raymond Shipley,” Michael said. “They want you.”
“Why?” Audrey asked frankly. “I study the paranormal, not the supernatural.”
Was he being deliberately obtuse? Tone sharpening a bit, she said, “In my opinion, they tend to be two different things. My field of expertise is extrasensory abilities, not hauntings and possessions…or demons.”
She didn’t bother to add that she really didn’t believe in demons or ghosts or other supernatural entities. So far, her research had generally proved the hypothesis that most unexplained phenomena of their ilk could be attributed to the peculiar powers of the human brain, and nothing more.
“But that’s exactly why they want you,” Michael told her. Now he was leaning forward, extraordinary eyes fixed on her face. “They want you to be the scientific, skeptical side of the team.”
“They want Mulder and Scully,” Audrey replied, doing her best to make her indifference clear. She had no desire to play the straight man on a cut-rate cable program. “I’m really not interested in rehashing that dynamic.”
“It was very successful.”
“On a fictional show. My work at the Rhine Institute was all about trying to make the paranormal more mainstream, not sensationalizing it for ratings.”
For a moment, he didn’t say anything, only sat in his chair and gazed at her with an expression so neutral, she couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Then he said, “One hundred thousand dollars.”
Audrey blinked. “Excuse me?”
“One hundred thousand dollars for six episodes. If they renew the series, then of course you can renegotiate for more money.” A pause, and he added, “Although at that point, you might want to consider getting an agent.”
Now it was her turn to be quiet. Although she hated to admit she might be swayed by the promise of filthy lucre, a hundred thousand dollars was a lot of money. She could pay off the remainder of her student debt, possibly get herself a better office…
…not have to worry about the looming tax bill on the house that had once been her parents’ and had come to her after their deaths nearly fifteen years earlier.
Also, the exposure would probably be helpful. She could rail against the subject matter and the distasteful reality that the network execs had probably zeroed in on her because she was more camera-friendly than some of her peers, but the cold truth of the situation was
“Six episodes?” she asked, and he nodded. “How long would filming take?”
Now his smile returned, as if he knew he’d already sealed the deal, even though she hadn’t yet said yes or no. “About six weeks. We’re still scouting locations, although the one for the first episode has already been chosen.”
His remark surprised her. After all, homes being oppressed by demons didn’t tend to be all that thick on the ground. “It has?”
“Yes.” Michael leaned forward in his chair, still smiling. “In fact, it’s right here in Glendora.”
Audrey felt her eyes widen. “I hadn’t heard about any supernatural phenomena occurring here.”
A shrug. “Well, the people involved wanted to keep the matter quiet.”
“So putting it on national television is keeping it quiet?”
“By the time the episode airs, their problem will have been solved. Besides, we’ll be discreet — a fictionalized name for the town where the incident has occurred, aliases for the owners.”
That made sense, just because amateur ghost hunters tended to descend whenever they had a new location to investigate. If the house was distinctive enough, it probably would still be found eventually, but Audrey supposed that was the owners’ problem. Better a bunch of looky-loos to contend with rather than a horde of demons.
Not that she believed in demons, of course.
“I’ll need to think about it,” she said, which she knew was a cop-out. She just didn’t want to agree right then and there.
“Take your time,” Michael replied, then took the manila envelope he’d been holding and set it down on her desk. “Just don’t take too much time. Colin wants to start taping the show next week.”
by Christine Pope / Romance / Science Fiction & Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes