Ghost stories from hell, p.38

Ghost Stories from Hell, page 38


Ghost Stories from Hell

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  Rattin chuckled and nodded.

  “I guess the obvious question here is, Mr. Mann,” Lieutenant Ward said, “do you think anyone had any sort of reason to burn your house down?”

  Connor looked at her and replied, “It wasn’t my house. Belonged to my father. I was cleaning it. I had every intention of selling it and moving on. Now I can’t even do that.”

  “Sorry to hear that,” Detective Rattin said without anything resembling sympathy.

  “Were you both here last night?” the lieutenant asked.

  Connor nodded, and Hu said, “We were. My new friend here is a loud sleeper, I am afraid. His nightmares became my own, and I ended up spending a good deal of time reading. I didn’t even know his home was on fire until the first fire engines came racing along the street.”

  “You didn’t call it in?” Detective Rattin asked.

  “No,” Hu said, “I was reading. Connor was asleep.”

  Lieutenant Ward took a business card out of a pocket and handed it to Hu. “We may need to speak with you both at a later point, depending on where the body takes us.”

  Connor looked at her in surprise, and Hu blinked several times as he tucked the card away in his breast pocket.

  “Did you say body?” Connor managed to ask.

  “Yes,” Detective Rattin said as he and the lieutenant stood.

  “We’re not sure who the person is yet,” she stated. “At first, we were afraid it was you, Mr. Mann. We are quite glad you are alive, but it does leave us with the problem of identification. Which makes me ask you again, did you have anyone staying in the house with you?”

  “No,” Connor said in a soft voice. “No. The only one in there with me was Rex, and we were here last night.”

  “So you said,” Detective Rattin said. He nodded to Hu and added, “A pleasure, sir. Thanks again.”

  Connor remained in his seat as Hu got up and escorted the detectives out. The older man returned a few minutes later and sat down again.

  They were silent for a short time, Hu finally breaking it with a muttered sentence in Chinese.

  “What did you say?” Connor asked.

  “I said,” Hu grumbled, “that you’ve created wind and fire.”

  Connor shook his head and replied, “I don’t understand.”

  “Of course you don’t,” Hu snapped, getting to his feet, “you’ve created trouble for the both of us.”

  “What should we do now?” Connor asked, looking down at his hands and avoiding the anger in Hu’s eyes.

  “I’m going to smoke my pipe,” Hu said, “and I am going to attempt to find a way out of this situation. Try not to do anything stupid while I am inside, Connor Mann. We may not survive if you do.”

  Connor winced as Hu slammed the door closed.

  Fear rose up in him, fear that he would be alone, cast away by Hu.

  Connor shuddered, dropped his chin to his chest, and waited to learn his fate.

  Chapter 36: Quelling the Anger, August 12th, 2016

  Hu sat in his office, smoking with long, deep breaths. He let the pipe smoke curl out of his nose, the effect painful and clarifying. It chased his anger away and allowed him to focus. In front of him was the small statue of the dog he had kept on the sill of the kitchen window. It reminded him of what was to come, why it must be done, and how it could all be finished.

  Hu understood why Connor had burned the house down, even if the younger man did not. The building had been a pit of sorrow and rage. Setting the fire had helped him mentally, but it served as another hurdle for Hu to overcome in regards to the Priest and Feng. For decades, he had tried to hunt down the Priest, but the Catholic Church was far more diligent with its secrets than the American government tended to be.

  Father Michael Goyette had been a discipline problem, from what Hu had gathered, and so he had been sent on to another church.

  And Hu had never been able to discover where the church had been.

  Hu had scoured newspapers and death certificates for years, but to no avail. With the return of Connor, there had been a glimmer of hope. Perhaps one of the dead would speak, a new lead for Hu to chase down.

  There had been hope. Feng had appeared, made contact. Then there was Lloyd Strafford, who had seen the dead man as well.

  After a dearth of information, Hu had been graced with a glimpse into the future. One where the Mala of Feng was gathered and returned to China.

  The task would be harder than he had anticipated.

  Hu shook his head, relit his pipe, and considered his options.

  He had Strafford as an avenue of research, which would enable Hu to cut Connor loose if necessary. But aside from the younger man’s worth as a connection to Feng and the other dead, Hu found he liked Connor. He enjoyed his company, and that of the dog as well.

  You know he didn’t kill anyone, Hu told himself, and the dead seem enthralled with him. Didn’t his own mother refer to him as sweet? She had not been affectionate when she said it. No. There is something more about him. Some essence the dead want.

  The answer suddenly made itself clear.

  Connor could satisfy their hunger. His spirit would satisfy their needs, free them of the world, and allow them to move on to the next world.

  Hu doubted the act would be painless, or that Connor would survive it.

  No, Hu decided, I will not leave him behind.

  Satisfied with his decision, Hu left his office and returned to the garden. He needed to speak with Connor.

  It was time to remove Feng, and imprison him.

  Chapter 37: A Bike Ride, August 13th, 2016

  Annie liked to pretend she was a pilot when she raced her bike through the narrow paths and between the headstones of Pine Grove Cemetery. Her parents hated how reckless she was, but Annie couldn’t care less.

  At twelve years old, she knew what she could and couldn’t do on her bike, and using the cemetery as her own private obstacle course was definitely manageable.

  She cut the bike hard, hopped to the right, and slid the rear wheel over a low headstone. Her laughter rang out, her loose hair damp with sweat and snapping around the sides of her face and along her neck.

  Annie took a sharp left onto an asphalt path and leaned over the handlebars. The wind rushed past her as the path dipped and curved. Around her, the warm air smelled of summer and freedom. She didn’t have to be home until the streetlights came on, and she didn’t need to worry about anything.

  Without warning, Annie found herself sailing over her handlebars. The world turned, and she slammed into a tree with enough force to drive her breath out of her body. Gasping for air with her head spinning from the impact, Annie rolled onto her stomach, pushed herself upward, and stood up. She needed to check for broken bones. She knew that.

  But she couldn’t.

  Her bike occupied all of her attention, even her breath returning was a pale second to what she found herself watching.

  The roots of a tree had broken through the asphalt, and they were slowly crushing her bike. Dimly she heard the sound of metal crunching, then both tires popped and the light on the front shattered. More roots, dark brown with stones and dirt clinging to them, followed the others. They snaked out along the asphalt, seeking something.

  Me, Annie thought, and she knew it was true.

  Despite this knowledge, Annie couldn’t move. She was terrified.

  The roots continued their approach. They seemed to sense her presence, and their speed increased. Within a heartbeat, they had covered half the distance to her, and she still couldn’t force herself to move.

  Fear had gripped her and controlled her. Part of her screamed for her to run, but she couldn’t.

  She froze, except for her eyes, which continued to observe the roots as they closed the space between them. They seemed to understand her fear and they slowed their approach, lazily snaking from left to right as if they were playing, teasing, and taunting her with their movements.

  The foremost root stopped a short d
istance from her right foot, and the other roots followed suit.

  Annie hyperventilated as she watched them, eyes locked on the lead root.

  It rose up like a king cobra, bobbed and weaved, dipped down and rose up. Then with a quick motion, it lashed out, striking at Annie’s foot.

  As the root touched her, a horrible cold penetrated her sneaker, and Annie screamed.

  The scream jarred her into movement.

  She ripped her foot back, leaving her sneaker in the root’s clutches, and she ran.

  Annie kicked her other sneaker off and sprinted onto the grass. Behind her, as she darted between the headstone, she could hear the roots tearing through the asphalt.

  And something’s enraged shrieks hounded her as she fled.

  Chapter 38: The World is Too Much, August 13th, 2016

  Connor’s hands shook as he sat in Dr. Waltner’s waiting room.

  The short trip from Hu’s house to her office had been petrifying. When he had traveled from the facility to his father’s home, Connor had done it at night.

  Dr. Waltner could only see him in the late evening when the sun still hung in the sky. Which meant the dead could get at him if they chose.

  He chided himself, clasping his hands together to quell their shaking. The dead had made it abundantly clear they could get to him regardless of the time. But knowing that didn’t do anything to help him deal with his fear.

  The door to her office opened and cut off his trepidation.

  She gave him a small, stern smile and a nod as she stepped aside. Connor got to his feet and managed to walk in. He took a seat on a couch set against the wall while she closed the door.

  Connor waited for her to sit down at her desk.

  “You look tired,” Dr. Waltner said, watching him.

  “I’m exhausted,” he replied.

  “Why is that?”

  “I’m trying to change my sleeping pattern,” Connor answered. “I have to learn how to function in the outside world.”

  “How are you finding it?” she asked. “The outside world.”

  “Terrible,” Connor whispered. “My father died the other night.”

  Dr. Waltner raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t see an obituary.”

  “I didn’t put one in,” Connor said, his tone sharper than he had intended. “But he’s dead all the same. The lack of an obituary doesn’t bring him back.”

  “Do you want him back?” she asked.

  Connor snorted. “Good God, no. I’m fine with him being dead. It’s just kind of strange to be an orphan, but all in all, no, I’m not upset.”

  Dr. Waltner took out a pad of paper, jotted down a few lines, and said, without looking up, “What else has been going on since your release into life?”

  “Someone was murdered in my father’s house,” Connor stated.

  Her head snapped up, and she asked, “What! How?”

  Connor shrugged. “We don’t know yet. Someone burned the house down afterward.”

  She reclined in her chair, tapped her pen on the pad, and asked, “Did you burn the house down?”

  With his face blushing, Connor lied. “No.”

  Dr. Waltner gave him a hard look and said, “Connor, I want you to remember two things. First, I am your doctor. Nothing you say to me will be relayed to anyone else. Second, I am your doctor, which also means I know when you’re lying. Why did you burn your house down?”

  “The ghosts,” Connor muttered.

  “What?” she asked with a frown.

  “The ghosts,” he repeated in a louder voice. “My mother was there. And Mrs. Lavoie. There were others, too.”

  A disapproving expression settled on her face. “Those were products of your imagination.”

  Anger flared up, and he spat, “I know my own imagination. They weren’t it. I heard my mother. My mother told me how much she looked forward to feeding on me. That wasn’t my imagination. It was real.”

  She switched subjects as she asked, “Why did you kill the man in your house?”

  Connor laughed in disbelief. “No. No, I didn’t kill anyone. I couldn’t. Damn, I can’t even step on a bug without feeling guilt. How could I kill someone?”

  “I don’t know,” Dr. Waltner replied, “you’re no longer in a controlled environment, Connor. You could do anything if enough pressure is exerted over you.”

  “No,” Connor said in a soft voice, “I couldn’t. I wouldn’t even if I had to.”

  Dr. Waltner watched him for a short time, then capped her pen and put both it and the pad on her desk.

  “Tell me,” she said, folding her arms over her chest, “what exactly has happened since you returned to your father’s house?”

  Connor licked his lips, cracked the knuckles of his fingers, and looked down at his lap.

  “Connor,” Dr. Waltner said, her stern tone a comforting reminder of the safety of the facility, “I’m your psychologist. You need to trust me. Now, without any embellishment, tell me what has been going on.”

  Connor cleared his throat, looked down at his feet, and mumbled, “I’m worried you’ll think I’m crazy.”

  Dr. Waltner let out one of her rare laughs and said, “Connor Mann, I am your psychologist. I know you’re disturbed. What you tell me won’t make me think any less of you. Perhaps it will even help us find a better treatment plan for you.”

  He hesitated a moment longer, and then he told her.

  Connor told her everything.

  Chapter 39: A Phone Call is Made, August 13th, 2016

  Hu had retired to his bedroom and sat on the floor, back straight and eyes closed. His body was sore, pleasantly so. The slight pain was a reminder of the physical exercise he put himself through daily. A habit he had formed when he still served in a regular military unit. His constant state of physical fitness was a testament not only to the strength of his body, but the discipline of his mind.

  Meditation was also a part of his mental well-being, a way to focus himself at the end of each day. Hu had one last task before he could go to bed. He had a phone call to make, and he didn’t want to. Not at all.

  But what he wanted had been supplanted by loyalty and duty in China, long before he had accepted the task in America. Hu took a deep, calming breath and let it out through his nose.

  When he had regained his composure, he opened his eyes, reached out and picked up the phone. He dialed the area code and then the number. It rang once on the other end and the call was answered.

  “Hello?” a woman asked in Chinese.

  “Good evening, Mei Ling,” Hu said.

  “Colonel,” she replied. “I am surprised to hear from you. I do believe it has been eight years since we last spoke.”

  “You would be correct,” he said, unable to keep the tightness out of his voice.

  She laughed, a deep, American sound that reminded him of the alien nature of some of his American cousins.

  “I know I’m correct,” Mei Ling said, a pleased note in her voice. “I was looking through my calendar yesterday. You were due to call soon. You think you’ve found someone to help you with Feng.”

  Her sentence wasn’t a question, but a statement. How she knew the information was a question he did not ask, knowing she would not answer.

  “Yes,” Hu said. “He is the son of Feng’s first American victim.”

  Mei Ling hesitated and then said in a thoughtful voice, “She tells him he is sweet.”

  “Yes,” Hu said, nodding and switching the phone from one hand to the other.

  “He’s the one,” Mei Ling said without hesitation.

  “How do you know?” Hu blurted out.

  “The sweetness,” she answered, her voice soft. “He was a child when the attack happened. I have seen it. His love for his mother never soured. It is sweet. Pure. All want to partake in it, though they do not understand that to do so would destroy them and send them to their own personal hell. He does not grasp that this sweetness is strength, that he will be able to command them, so long as t
hey understand his native tongue.”

  A silence filled the space between them, then Mei Ling chuckled and added, “Best to do it quickly, Colonel. There are a great many seeds your Priest has sown.”

  Before Hu could thank her, she ended the call.

  He held onto the receiver for a few moments longer, then he put the phone back in its cradle. A nagging sense of worry grew within him. The idea that Connor Mann was the answer to some of the issues concerning Feng and the Priest had been faint at best. Mei Ling’s statement about the younger man’s importance overall was disconcerting.

  Hu saw strength in Connor, but he also acknowledged the weakness.

  In the silence of his room, Hu wondered if there was enough courage in the younger man to overcome the deficiencies created by a lifetime spent in a mental hospital.

  Do we have another choice?

  Hu got to his feet and readied himself for bed. He didn’t bother answering the question.

  He already knew.

  Chapter 40: A Ruckus in Pine Grove, August 14th, 2016

  When Lloyd Strafford walked out to gather his newspaper from the front steps, he was surprised to see police officers in the cemetery. He counted at least ten of them, and as he stood with his front door open, trying to fathom what the officers were doing there at 6:30 in the morning, a policeman noticed him. The young man pulled the iron gate open a little further and passed through.

  Lloyd waited for him, and when the man arrived, he greeted him.

  “Hello, I’m Officer Pappas,” the young man said. “I was wondering if I could speak to you.”

  “Certainly,” Lloyd replied. “Do you want to come inside?”

  “Let’s hold off on that for now,” Officer Pappas said with a tired smile, “but I was wondering if you noticed anything odd in the cemetery over the past few days.”

  Lloyd kept his initial response to himself, saying instead, “Not really. May I ask what’s going on?”

  “We’ve got a teenager who’s gone missing,” the young man said, his face becoming grim. “There was an incident reported two days ago where a girl said she had been chased by a tree in the cemetery. Everybody thought she was nuts, of course. Then this teenager went missing last night, and one of his friends said the same thing. Damned tree chasing after them.”

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