Ghost stories from hell, p.34

Ghost Stories from Hell, page 34


Ghost Stories from Hell

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Connor nodded and stared at one of the many dog statues that encircled the garden’s edge. “Can he be destroyed?”

  “Not destroyed,” Hu said, “but sent on his way. I suspect he will have a Hell of his own waiting for him.”

  “I’d like to help him find it,” Connor muttered. “Tell me something, Hu. If this ghost was able to turn my mother into a ghost, and Mrs. Lavoie into one, would they be able to do the same to someone else?”

  Hu sighed and nodded.

  “How many could there be?” Connor asked, looking at him.

  “First,” Hu said, “you must understand the nature of this ghost. He is strong. Far stronger than others you will encounter here. He will be able to kill when he chooses, but he will be strongest during the seventh month.”

  “What, July?” Connor asked.

  Hu shook his head. “Not your seventh month, China’s. We move through the year on a lunar calendar, and so the seventh lunar month is different each year than your calendar.”

  “Alright,” Connor said, taking a deep breath, “when is it going to be this year?”

  “This month,” Hu replied, “and there is a particular day in the seventh month, one on which the dead will be especially powerful.”

  “And that is?” Connor asked, anger mingling with anxiety.

  “The seventeenth,” Hu said. “That will be the most dangerous day.”

  “The seventeenth,” Connor whispered. “That’s only eight days away.”

  Hu nodded.

  “And now you’re saying that there might be others,” Connor said, anxious, returning to the original concern. “Will they be more powerful that day, too?”

  “Yes,” the older man replied, “without a doubt.”

  “How many are we talking about,” Connor said, shifting in his chair to look at Hu, “when it’s all said and done?”

  “The ghostly community could have grown exponentially,” Hu said. “First, in 1979, the ghost murdered your mother. The next year he slaughtered Mrs. Lavoie. We know both of these because you witnessed them. But, from what I have learned, their deaths are listed as natural.”

  “How did you get that information?” Connor asked in surprise.

  Hu waved the question away.

  “Now,” the older man continued, “what if your mother killed someone the same night that the first ghost murdered Mrs. Lavoie? And, for the sake of argument, what if the ghosts of your mother, the person your mother killed, and Mrs. Lavoie all killed someone the next year. What if this continued?”

  “Until last year?” Connor whispered.

  Hu nodded.

  “I don’t know,” Connor said, shaking his head. “I can’t even do the math.”

  “The math wouldn’t be correct,” Hu said, a comforting tone in his voice. “Not all would have been able to kill. Not all who were killed would have become ghosts. There is a large set of variables, special circumstances, if you will, concerning Chinese ghosts.”

  “I still don’t understand,” Connor said, angrily, “how my American mother can be a Chinese ghost.”

  “To your Western sensibilities,” Hu said a trifle coldly, “ghosts have a set pattern then?”

  “No,” Connor said, “there shouldn’t be ghosts at all. None of this makes any sort of god-damned sense. My whole life, I was told that ghosts didn’t exist. I merely had a curious reaction to the trauma of seeing my mother die on my birthday.”

  “They do exist,” Hu said, looking away and staring at a dog statue. “They are to be found everywhere. In each culture, no matter how civilized or how primitive. It cannot be denied, Connor Mann, that some of the dead do come back.”

  Connor wanted to argue the point, but he found he couldn’t.

  The old man was right.

  Connor had heard it, and he had seen it. He had heard both his mother’s voice and Mrs. Lavoie’s.

  “Why?” Connor whispered.

  Hu returned his attention to Connor, frowning. “Why what?”

  “Why is my mom a ghost?” Connor asked, blinking back tears. “Why hasn’t she moved on, or whatever? What’s keeping her here? Is it me?”

  “That, I cannot answer,” Hu replied, his words tinged with bitterness. “Not at first. Perhaps not at all. When I am able to speak to her at greater length,” Hu explained, “I will be able to tell you why she is a ghost, and what we might do to help her.”

  Connor nodded and said nothing more.

  After several minutes of silence, Hu cleared his throat.

  Connor glanced over at him.

  “There is still a task left unfinished,” Hu said.

  Momentarily, Connor didn’t know what the man meant, then he shuddered. His father’s body remained in the house and Connor suddenly understood the man was dead. After Mrs. Lavoie’s death, and his subsequent institutionalization, Connor had not been forced to deal with death or fatalities. In the facility, someone was either there, or they weren’t.

  With a sigh, Connor nodded, stood up and asked, “May I use your phone?”

  “It is in the kitchen,” Hu answered.

  Connor walked into the house and Rex scrambled to follow him. In the kitchen, he found a black, rotary phone on the wall. He picked it up, held the receiver to his ear, and heard a dial tone. Connor dialed 9-1-1 and told the woman who answered that his father was dead.

  Chapter 24: Pine Grove Cemetery, June 4th, 1987

  Mr. Lloyd Strafford was alone in his office. It was 3:47 in the afternoon and the last of the laborers had left seventeen minutes earlier. He glanced around his office, still surprised after two years on the job that it was his. The building had been a wreck when he had taken over. Windows had been sealed shut with thin iron bars, salt had been stuffed into openings in the floor and packed into windowsills and the thresholds. His first task had been to get the building serviceable as an office, which meant he had stripped it of all the items he had found.

  Lloyd shook his head and fingered the small cross he had fashioned from a pair of old, iron coffin nails. He doubted the religious aspect of his homemade talisman would have any effect on the dead, but he had learned that the metal itself worked wonders.

  His hand shook as he squeezed the iron in his palm.

  It was too early in the season for all of them to be out, but it was never too soon for the fox to prowl among the headstones.

  His mouth went dry as he thought of the fox, the strange creature that had appeared almost a decade earlier. Shortly after the silver animal’s arrival, the woman had died in the cemetery.

  Since that first death, there had been more, all of them within the confines of the cemetery’s fence.

  Lloyd stood up and walked out of his office.

  He suspected the fox lived within the cemetery. That somewhere it hid among the graves. Possibly within one.

  Lloyd went to the kitchenette and took a bottle of Coke out of the refrigerator. He tried not to turn and look at the stain on the wall, where Avery had been murdered.

  The young man’s death weighed on Lloyd, for he felt as though he had failed him. It wasn’t true, of course, but it didn’t stop him from believing it. Nor did it stop Lloyd from waking up screaming most nights, seeing Avery’s mutilated corpse.

  Meredith, Lloyd’s wife, had even taken to sleeping in another room.

  Back at her mother’s house.

  Lloyd frowned, opened the bottle of Coke, and dropped the cap on the small counter. He drank half of the bottle in one long, greedy gulp.

  A poor substitute for bourbon, Lloyd thought, finishing the drink, but infinitely better in its own way.

  He put the empty bottle on the counter and stared at the small sink.

  Lloyd shuddered, took the iron cross out of his pocket, and looked at it again.

  After Avery’s death, and the lack of even a hint of a suspect for the crime, Lloyd had sought out alternative answers. He had spent all of his free time in libraries, and one late night, he had had a conversation with a researcher at the library at St. Ans
elm’s College. In the course of their chat, Lloyd learned the man was a professor of Chinese mythology and folklore. St. Anselm’s had recently acquired a small collection of older Chinese works, and the professor was on sabbatical in order to study them. Lloyd, feeling undereducated, explained how he was researching ghosts.

  Whether it was because he didn’t have anyone to talk to, or that he was overtired, or a combination of the two, Lloyd told the academic everything that had occurred at Pine Grove Cemetery.

  To his surprise, the man didn’t laugh or snicker, or do anything of the sort. Instead, he had asked about the timing of the deaths. Lloyd told him, and the man’s face had paled, and he brought him to the small, secure room where the Chinese manuscripts were being held. On the desk where the professor had been working, was a small book. It was written in English. Lloyd saw the book was about ghosts and the supernatural.

  It had been an older work, published in the late nineteenth century. Not only did it cover the gamut of Western ghosts, but that of the Orient and the Far East as well. And it was in that book, in a chapter on Chinese folk tales revolving around the ghosts, that Lloyd had found the fox.

  Nothing more than a paragraph, but it had contained a description of how certain ghosts had the ability to take on the shape of animals.

  And the fox had been one of them.

  Reading that information had been an epiphany for Lloyd, and it had changed the direction of his research. He had delved deeper into ghost lore, regardless of cultural or geographic boundaries. Lloyd had learned about the power of iron and salt, and how Chinese ghosts were powerful, especially during the Ghost Festival.

  And he had discovered how Avery had been murdered on the day of the festival. Further research and telephone calls to professors at both Boston College and Boston University had confirmed Lloyd’s suspicion about the other deaths as well.

  The woman who had died in the cemetery in 1979, and the one who had died across the street in 1980, both during the Ghost Festival.

  No, Lloyd corrected himself, they were murdered.

  He reached into his pocket and squeezed the iron cross, the metal hard against his flesh. A comforting sensation.

  Lloyd took another Coke out of the refrigerator and left the kitchenette. It was time to go to his house. The thought held no attraction for him. Without Meredith, it was no longer a home, merely a place of shelter.

  Nothing more.

  Lloyd walked through the small building, turned off lights as he went and double-checked the lock on the filing cabinet. There wasn’t much in the petty cash fund, but he saw no reason to tempt fate by leaving it unlocked. When he left his office, he heard a soft bark, as if someone had let a dog loose in the cemetery.

  Lloyd shook his head, faced the back door, and froze.

  The silver fox blocked Lloyd’s exit.

  He watched as the animal tilted its head first to the left, and then to the right, the gesture so uncannily human that sweat broke out across his brow.

  The fox’s body fluctuated, shrinking and then growing larger in fits and spurts. Soon an Asian man stood before him, the same silver as the fox. He wore loose fitting robes and had a long, thin string of beads around his neck. They hung down to his waist, and his hands were held in front of him. His face was old and cruel, a sneer on his thin lips. The man’s nose was equally thin but short, like the point of a knife protruding from the center of his face. His head was shaved and his eyes pulsed in their sockets.

  The ghost gave a short, mocking bow, the necklace of beads swinging freely. When he straightened up, he leered at Lloyd and asked a question that was unintelligible.

  Lloyd didn’t speak Chinese, and it didn’t seem as though the ghost spoke English.

  The ghost voiced a question again, and when Lloyd didn’t answer, the dead man chuckled, nodding to himself. He held up a thin hand and beckoned Lloyd with long fingers.

  Lloyd remained rooted in his spot.

  The ghost frowned and snapped a statement at Lloyd.

  “No,” Lloyd whispered. He plunged his hand into his pocket and removed the iron cross.

  Lloyd wasn’t sure what he had expected when he had envisioned the use of the cross. Perhaps a rearing back, maybe even a hiss and shying away as a vampire was supposed to do.

  The silver ghost did neither of those.

  Rage filled the dead man’s face, and he pointed at the cross, yelling at Lloyd.

  The man’s intention was clear.

  Put it away or suffer the consequences.

  Lloyd remembered Avery’s corpse and decided he wouldn’t roll over and offer himself as a victim to the ghost.

  “No,” Lloyd said, his voice shaking but firm. “You get the hell out of my office.”

  The ghost snarled, spoke in a vicious tone, and gestured again for Lloyd to come forward.

  “I’ll come to you,” Lloyd said, holding the cross out in front of him. “Do you want this?”

  The dead man let out a laugh that shrank Lloyd’s courage and caused him to stumble closer to the ghost. A wicked grin spread across the dead man’s face, and it seemed to grow wider the further Lloyd moved toward the back door.

  Then the smile vanished, a concerned look replaced the grin, and the dead man disappeared.

  Lloyd hurried to the back door, throwing it open. He looked around wildly, trying to see where the dead man had gone.

  The ghost had disappeared.

  With his heart pounding in his chest, Lloyd forced himself to examine everything he saw. Within the cemetery, there was nothing different. No mourners, no people taking a stroll, no kids on bikes.

  The only item out of the ordinary was a moving van, parked on Hill Street. Someone had purchased the old Lavoie house, which had been empty since Ida Lavoie had died at the Mann house seven years earlier.

  It was then that Lloyd saw the silver fox, seated beside a headstone and staring at the moving van.

  The animal was still there when Lloyd hurried to his car and fled the cemetery, stunned by what he had witnessed.

  Chapter 25: The Priest Returns, August 10th, 2016

  The Priest wore street clothes, his faith, and his role in society hidden as he walked through Pine Grove Cemetery, a cane in his hand. In the forty years since the planting of the bead, a great many graves and headstones had been added. It made finding the resting place of the bead difficult.

  But not impossible.

  The Priest came to a stop in front of the grave of Andrew Smythe, aged 82. A smile crept onto the Priest’s face, and he held his hands behind his back as he looked down at the vibrant, green grass.

  “I have returned,” he said in Chinese, the words coming out rough and ungraceful. It had been years since he had spoken the language aloud. He would sound ignorant, and stupid, but that couldn’t be helped.

  A cold breeze moved around his legs, and a moment later a silver fox stood in front of Smythe’s polished granite headstone.

  “You’re larger than I would have expected,” the Priest admitted, the words flowing easier. “I am impressed.”

  The animal blinked out of existence, replaced by an ancient Buddhist priest. A smile came onto the ghost’s face.

  “Priest,” Feng said with a chuckle, “you are old.”

  “Of course, I am,” the Priest said. “I’m still alive.”

  The dead man’s lip twitched as he snapped in English, “Your Chinese is worse.”

  The Priest shrugged. “There are worse things. Trapped here with you, for one, would be a rather unbearable situation.”

  Feng swore, a long, impressive stream of vulgarity and profanity. When the dead man stopped, the Priest asked, “Are you through?”

  “For now,” the ghost replied. “Why are you here?”

  “I have heard of Connor’s return,” the Priest answered. “I’ve come to see what he does. Have you confronted him about his mother yet?”

  “No,” Feng said. “Although his mother has sought him out.”

  The Prie
st raised an eyebrow as he asked, “How did that go?”

  “He has a dog,” the dead man spat, as if the word left a bitter taste in his mouth.

  “Ah,” the Priest said, nodding.

  “How did you learn of the boy’s return?” the ghost inquired.

  “Cody, Connor’s father,” the Priest explained. “I had an agreement with him. An understanding, if you will. He was able to stay and drink while I ensured all of his bills were paid. It kept him quiet, and he informed me whenever there was a death nearby.”

  Feng nodded.

  “Have you spoken with the father?” the Priest asked.

  “In a manner of speaking,” the dead man said.

  “What do you mean?” the Priest asked.

  “Through actions,” Feng said with a smile. “I showed the father that he was no longer needed. Now that the boy had returned a man.”

  “But he was needed,” the Priest said, an angry chill racing up his spine, “he was to be left alone.”

  “And so he was,” the dead man said, “for the most part. He kept himself sealed away and drunk.”

  “Where is he?” the Priest demanded.

  “Being prepared for his burial, I assume,” Feng said, waving his hand dismissively. “It was time to confront my countryman, and I needed a vessel. The boy’s father seemed appropriate.”

  “You’re a fool,” the Priest grumbled.

  The dead man flared up with anger. “Who are you to speak to me in such a way?”

  The Priest watched as Feng lunged forward, and when the ghost had nearly reached him, the Priest twisted the end of the cane open. An angry growl emerged, and Feng leaped back through the granite headstone so that it separated him from the Priest.

  “What is that?” Feng hissed.

  “The spirit of a dog,” the Priest answered. “I took the precaution of slaying one before I came today. Its spirit is here, and should I need to, I will let the beast off its leash. Am I understood?”

  Feng glared at him and remained silent.

  The Priest took the silence as an assent and nodded. He kept the cane’s top open and his eyes on Feng.

  “Now,” the Priest said, “what is done is done. I am displeased that you killed Cody Mann, but we shall move on. I have not finished planting the beads, and I will not be interrupted by Connor.”

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