Ghost stories from hell, p.43

Ghost Stories from Hell, page 43

 

Ghost Stories from Hell
 



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  Connor slammed into the ground, the force of the impact wrenching a cry of agony from his lips.

  He forced himself up, first to his knees, then to his feet, and looked around. Connor’s head swam, his eyes unable to focus as he tried to look at Feng.

  The dead man sneered.

  “Look at you,” Feng said, his voice smooth and gentle, “so weak and so delicate. You’re a rare flower waiting to be picked. And I think I shall do that for you. Will you stay with me, once I have helped you shed your flesh? When your corpse is rotting, will you sit with your mother and hunger, attempting to satiate some secret need?”

  Connor shook his head.

  Feng chuckled, stepped forward, and grabbed hold of Connor’s shirt once more.

  “No,” Connor hissed, and he struck the dead man’s arm.

  Feng’s eyes widened as he shrieked with a voice filled with pain, his body fluctuating, his hand letting go while Connor went tumbling back. The ghost vanished as Connor caught himself. Feng reappeared a moment later with a shocked expression.

  The dead man’s face had a large black swath across it as if someone had struck him.

  “You need to get the bead for me,” Connor said, pouring rage into the words.

  Feng gasped, and as Connor watched, a second patch of the dead man’s face turned black.

  Connor steadied himself, took a deep breath, and then jumped back as Feng launched himself forward. The dead man’s hands sped toward Connor, one landing a blow against his chest. A bright blossom of pain caused stars to explode around the edges of his vision, and a metallic taste filled his mouth. Connor tried to speak again, but Feng smashed a backhand into Connor’s cheek, causing his ears to ring.

  “Who are you?” Feng howled. “Who do you think you are to command me? Do you think I will be stopped by some infant in a man’s body? I lived to twice your age before I died, boy, and I have killed hundreds. You have nothing with which to fight me.”

  “Shut up!” Connor spat, and the venom he put into the words caused Feng to hesitate, a grin spreading across his face.

  “Ah,” Feng said, laughing, “there is some strength to you. Well, let us see how deep it goes.”

  The dead man sprang forward, smashing an open palm into Connor’s chest and sending him tumbling backward. His head spun as he slammed into the ground. The pain in his breast was terrible, each breath like fire as he inhaled.

  Feng laughed and moved forward with a burst of speed, a foot lashing out, racing towards Connor’s head.

  Grunting, Connor threw up an arm, absorbing the impact of the blow on his shoulder. His arm went numb and collapsed, useless, to his side.

  Feng struck him again and again, stars exploding across Connor’s vision.

  Then a single image drifted up through the pain and misery.

  The memory of his mother, dying at Feng’s hands.

  Connor found himself screaming, barreling into Feng. He threw punch after punch, the ghost vanishing with each blow, and what he lacked in skill, Connor made up for with furious rage. His entire body howled with pain as he drove fists, knees, elbows, and shoulders into Feng. The dead man tried to back away, a shocked expression on his face.

  Connor knew, suddenly that he was in control.

  Completely.

  Glaring at Feng, Connor stepped forward and smashed the dead man in face again.

  A howl of agony erupted from the dead man’s mouth as he vanished and then reappeared, collapsing to the ground.

  The dead man lay sprawled out.

  “I am Connor Mann,” Connor growled, “and you are going to do what I tell you, is that understood?”

  Feng glared at him as he got to his hands and knees.

  The dead man looked as though he might challenge Connor again, so Connor sprang forward and slammed a gloved fist into Feng’s head.

  Feng vanished again, and when he reappeared he let out a guttural growl, but he lowered his eyes.

  “I asked you a question,” Connor snapped. “Do you understand me?”

  “Yes,” Feng hissed, hatred in his voice as he raised his head to glare at Connor.

  “Do you believe me?” Connor asked.

  “I do,” Feng spat.

  “Good. You’ll bring the bead up,” Connor said, his voice filling with hatred. “You will find it and carry it.”

  Feng’s face was a mask of pain and fury as he managed to climb to one knee.

  “Do you understand?” Connor demanded. “Remember this, when you go back, because if you don’t do it, I will dig that damned bead out myself, and I will torture you for as long as I live.”

  Feng nodded his assent.

  “Then go,” Connor commanded the dead man.

  Feng vanished into the earth, and Connor realized he was looking at the charred remains of his home beyond the iron fence of Pine Grove Cemetery. Behind him, Hu’s battle continued. Connor turned to assist but he stumbled as the adrenaline drained out of him. He struggled to remain upright, but he felt himself fall, succumbing to the sudden exhaustion he felt.

  Connor blacked out before he hit the ground, and his fight was over.

  Chapter 60: Hu and Feng, August 17th, 2016

  The dead woman’s grave must have been close by, for each time Hu dispatched her, she was back within a minute. He decided he didn’t like her.

  Hu had slapped her again with an iron-studded glove and sent her back to her bones when the top of the dog statue sprang open. Twisting around, Hu saw Feng. The dead man looked horrible, as if someone had taken hot irons to him, which was a ridiculous thought considering Feng’s status as a ghost.

  “You are not looking well,” Hu said in Chinese.

  Feng gave him a bitter smile. “It is an understatement. I have something for you, from Connor Mann.”

  Hu waited and watched as Feng extended a hand, the fingers opening to reveal a small bead. It was yellowed bone, and Hu knew it belonged to the dead man’s Mala.

  Weary of Feng, Hu stepped forward cautiously.

  Then the old woman appeared, reaching once more for him.

  “Go,” Feng said, and she vanished.

  Hu stood there, surprised.

  “My power fades,” Feng said, his voice filled with suppressed rage. “Somehow the one with the pure voice bested me. Me! And has forced me to do this, to capitulate to the likes of him. Here is the bead, damn you! And remember this; you will not win. You will not complete whatever task you have been assigned, little soldier. Nothing you can do will change your fate, a fate which will leave you rotting here, far from your ancestors. I will tell you this. This bead I am bound to, it is not unique. There are ninety-nine others, and the Priest has planted them. One of us will kill you. There’s even a bead in a place called Hollis, in a cemetery behind a church.”

  “Why would you share such information?” Hu asked warily.

  “Because I know you. You can’t resist being a hero. And the next will kill you,” Feng snarled, “if not him, then the next one, or the one after. I’m ushering you to your death just as I’ve done for so many others.”

  “I hope in the next life you will return as an insect,” Hu said softly, “trapped in the bowels of a pig.”

  Feng snickered, his lip curling into a sneer. “Our curses are exchanged. Go then, and die.”

  Hu held out his hand, and Feng dropped the bead into it.

  Without further conversation, Hu retrieved the dog statue, and deposited the bead. Feng vanished.

  Hu secured the statue, placed it in his bag, and went about the task of reviving Connor.

  Chapter 61: Standing at Her Graveside, August 17th, 2016

  The fighting was done. He was exhausted and battered. His throat hurt and he felt as though he had been thrown down a flight of stairs while tied to a chair. Every part of him ached and he wondered what would come next.

  Connor limped to his mother’s grave and stood there.

  A moment later she appeared.

  She was dressed in the clothes
she had worn on the last day he had seen her alive. Her hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail. She was, as always, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her eyes were filled with love, and the smile on her face was formed from a mixture of sadness, exhaustion, and maternal devotion.

  “You can speak now,” he whispered. “I’m sorry I had to tell you to be quiet.”

  “It’s okay, Connor,” she said, the sound of her voice bringing tears to his eyes. “I know why you did it. I’ve missed you so much, Connor, so much.”

  She started to say something else, but her body shimmered.

  A pained smile flickered across her face.

  “This is difficult for me,” she said. “It’s hard to make myself stay. There’s something pulling me. Telling me it’s time to leave.”

  “Please, Mom,” Connor begged, “can’t you stay a little longer? It’s been so long since I’ve seen you.”

  “I’ll try,” she said, her smile tight. A heartbeat later, her body took on a firmer look, her voice stronger. “I’m sorry you saw me like that.”

  He shook his head. “I know what happened, and why. Don’t talk about it, please. We probably only have a few minutes. I spent a long, long time thinking about you.”

  “Where have you been?” she asked. “I never saw you with your father. Not after Mrs. Lavoie was killed. What happened to you?”

  “Don’t worry about that, Mom,” he said, forcing a smile. “I just want you to know that I was thinking about you. I missed you. A lot.”

  “I missed you too,” she said, her physical form fading away for a moment. “I always thought about you, deep down. Always. You look like a good man, Connor. And you freed us. All of us. You’ve made me proud, just like I always knew you would.”

  Pride and sadness mixed within him, and Connor found he couldn’t speak. He nodded, tears stinging his eyes.

  “You’ll keep making me proud, too,” his mother said, her voice beginning to fade. “If I’m able, I’ll be watching you. You’re the best son any mother could ever hope for, Connor Mann, and I love you. More than you can possibly know.”

  “I love you too, Mom,” Connor choked out, but before the last syllable left his lips, she was gone and he was without his mother again.

  For the first time, Connor could hear birds. They were flying in over the wrought iron fence and landing in the trees. Their songs filled the air and reminded him of his childhood, when his mother had still been alive and all had been right with the world.

  Connor sank to the ground, dropped his head to the cool grass, and wept.

  Chapter 62: Hu’s Garden, August 18th, 2016

  Connor had an icepack pressed against his forehead. The cold allowed him to focus on something other than the constant pulse of pain at the back of his skull. Several glasses of water and a generous amount of sugar added had helped him calm down.

  The police were in Pine Grove Cemetery, investigating the murder-suicide committed by Noah Rattin. They would be canvasing the neighborhood soon enough, but Connor was certain they had nothing to worry about. If anything, people would have seen Hu and himself trying to get away from Noah.

  There would be no need to tell the police about Noah’s possession because no one would believe it.

  Hu came back out into the garden and sat down.

  “Have you made a decision?” Hu asked.

  Connor shifted uncomfortably in his chair and then nodded. “I’d like to take you up on your offer to stay here. At least until we can figure out what we’ll need to do about the Priest.”

  “Excellent,” Hu said. “It is for the best, I believe. We will be able to better coordinate our attacks and gather intelligence.”

  Silence filled the garden until Connor broke it with a statement.

  “Did you feel it?” Connor asked.

  Hu frowned and asked in return, “Feel what?”

  “When everything was done,” Connor said, “there was a lightness to the air in the cemetery. Before, it always felt as though the atmosphere was a little heavier there. Was it because of Feng?”

  “Yes,” Hu replied. “His presence and that of the other ghosts created an unpleasant air, one that pressed down upon the world. When he was removed and imprisoned, his hold on the other ghosts was destroyed, and so they all were released. That is why the air is lighter. So not only did you see your mother freed, but all of the other ghosts in the cemetery as well, Connor. All of them are gone.”

  “Do you think,” Connor asked, hesitating, “that she’s in a better place now?”

  Hu nodded. “So I believe.”

  Connor picked at a bit of lint on his pants leg. After a minute he asked, “Any idea on where the next one might be?”

  “In the town of Hollis, in a graveyard behind a church,” Hu answered.

  “When will we go and check it out?” Connor inquired.

  “Tomorrow,” Hu replied, “after you’ve had a day of rest.”

  “Alright,” Connor said, then asked, “Will we meet this Priest at all?”

  “Yes,” Hu answered, “I believe we will.”

  “Good,” Connor said, closing his eyes. “I want to hurt him. I want to hurt him a lot.”

  “So do I,” Hu said in a soft voice.

  The silence returned, and Connor imagined all the ways he could make the Priest suffer for the death of his mother.

  Chapter 63: Greenbriar Nursing Home, August 19th, 2016

  Michael sat back, wiped the sweat from his brow, and wondered why the weather had gotten so warm. The morning paper had said nothing of the sort in regards to the day’s temperature. But, even if it had, he wouldn’t have stayed away. Visiting members of his congregation in Greenbriar, as well as amusing himself with the question ‘who will die next,’ was something he looked forward to.

  “Are you alright, Father?” someone asked.

  Michael looked around, spotted Scott Lange, and smiled.

  “Yes,” Michael said to the young man, “quite alright, Scott. I forget sometimes how old I am.”

  “You’re not that old,” Scott said.

  “No, older,” Michael chuckled.

  Scott grinned and asked, “Do you want a drink?”

  “I would love a glass of lemonade, Scott, thank you,” Michael answered. The young man nodded and left the small garden in the back of the nursing home. Michael was left alone and he glanced at the flowers he had planted. The air smelled pleasantly of turned earth, and his mind drifted to what he had heard from Antoinette Francour.

  She had awoken to police activity in Pine Grove Cemetery, and she had later learned all the details. The old woman had relayed them to Michael, and he had been forced to accept that his plans were in jeopardy.

  He needed to prepare himself for his eventual discovery by Connor Mann, although he wasn’t certain as to what might come of it.

  Better safe than sorry, he thought, quoting the old maxim.

  He picked up his small satchel and made certain the zipper was secure. Within its brown leather were his travel vestments, the book which contained the necessary prayers to consecrate ground, and a now small, empty bottle that had contained holy water.

  Michael reached into his breast pocket, removed the tin, and withdrew a single bead. Of the one hundred beads he had started with almost forty years before, only five remained. He had buried them in graveyards and cemeteries along the eastern sea-board, in every town he had been a priest in. In other cities and towns that had been nearby. His goal had been to send as many to their deaths via the hungry ghosts as he could, but he had used the beads sparingly.

  He rolled the bead he had removed between his fingers for a moment, knowing that after he buried it, he would have only four left to him. Michael looked down at the freshly turned earth before him. Beneath it lay a cigar box, and within that were the earthly remains of a child who had never seen the light of day.

  Michael smiled, dug a small hole, and placed the Mala bead in it. He put the box away, placed a violet on top of
the bead, and then patted dirt down around the plant.

  After he had watered the flower, Scott appeared in the doorway. The young man carried a pair of tall, plastic glasses filled with lemonade and handed one to Michael.

  “Ah, thank you, Scott,” Michael said, standing up.

  “What type of plant is that?” Scott asked.

  Michael told him and the young man nodded. “I bet it’ll grow real nice, Father.”

  “Yes,” Michael said, looking at the nursing home’s tall brick wall and the multiple windows facing the garden. “Yes, I’m certain it will do quite well here.”

  Michael finished his lemonade and wondered who the first victim would be.

  * * *

  Bonus Scene Chapter 1: Yunnan Province, 1846

  Magpies sang from the rafters of the roadside shrine, the song gentle and powerful in the evening light.

  Monk Feng Huiliang entered the shrine and sat down to the left of the Buddha statue. Feng was ninety-two years old, and at that moment, he could feel the weight of every hour he had been alive pressing down upon him.

  Death was close.

  He could sense it.

  And how can I not? he thought with a smile. Death was his favorite past-time. The one recreational activity he allowed himself. Unlike some of the other monks he knew and had known, he kept the strictures in regards to meat and alcohol.

  He was neither enlightened nor on his way to becoming so.

  In fact, his actions had removed him from even a consideration of such a status in his lifetime.

  His smile broadened as he thought of all the trouble he had caused. The animosity he had sown. His stomach rumbled and he reached into his travel bag, removing a rice ball and biting into it. Most of his brethren found such simple fare to be too boring, seeking spices, and other such enhancements for their food.

  But not Feng. Food was nothing more than fuel, the substance which his body needed to keep him alive.

  The sound of feet on the road brought his attention back to the world, and he stared out the door to catch a glimpse of the traveler.

 
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