Happy Friday! Enjoy another free excerpt from Local Haunts! Interested? Then follow the link to get your copy today!
“Did you try Charles again?” Zed asked.
She shook her head. “Still not answering my calls.”
“Have you been out there lately?”
“Not in a few weeks. Do you think we need to have another talk with him? Together?”
Zed barked a laugh. “Because that went so well the last time.”
“But it did. We almost had him back.”
She sighed. She didn’t understand the hostility between Charles and Zed, and she just wished Zed would try to be more understanding of Charles’ … unique problems. “We still don’t know what happened to him while he was in Vietnam.”
“My guess? They used to call it being shell-shocked, but from what I hear, now they’re calling it post-traumatic stress disorder. Lots of soldiers coming back from over there have it. They’re so traumatized by the stuff they see, they can’t get over it.”
Penelope considered for a moment what Zed was saying. It made sense, but she didn’t buy it, not completely. “This is different, though. I can’t put my finger on it, but something just seems off about the way he’s been behaving since the incident with Roy Arnold.”
Roy Arnold instigated everything, in a way. By attacking the Brown family, the rogue magician brought out revelations about her own father’s past, culminating in the discovery of his notebook. Charles, unfortunately, had borne the brunt of Roy Arnold’s frustrations when she, Charles, and Zed thwarted his planned revenge on the Brown family for all the ways, real and imagined, they had slighted him.
Zed shrugged. “Maybe you’re right, but there’s no telling with Charles.”
“I just wish you and Charles could get along, put whatever happened behind you.”
“I have tried.”
“Have you tried hard enough?”
He clenched his jaw. “I’ve done everything I can. He has to meet me halfway.”
Zed was just being stubborn, but Penelope couldn’t say she didn’t share some of his frustration. “I want to help him. I just don’t know how.”
She took a pen and a pad of paper out of her purse. Then she sat down on the couch and started copying the words and symbols coiled around one point of the pentagram. She could only copy part of it at a time, or else she ran the risk of her father figuring out what she was doing.
She wrinkled her nose as she studied her notes. “This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I can’t tell if ‘blood and bones’ are ingredients or the outcome of a successful spell. I could really use Charles’ library.”
“What about your antique dealer friend?” Zed asked. “Dan is his name? Doesn’t he have antique books?”
Penelope shook her head. “What are the chances of him coming across a book that would help me with this? Besides, he doesn’t actually get that many books. Seems the old families of Greenville didn’t make reading a priority.”
Zed grinned. “Given what I know, that doesn’t surprise me. He’s friends with other antique dealers, though, right? Maybe he could put feelers out or something.”
“I guess it’s worth a shot.” Also, it would be nice to talk to Dan again. She closed the notebook and placed it back in its hiding place. “Thanks, Zed. Try to get some sleep.”
He gave her a salute as she left. “Will do.”
Zed shut the door behind Penelope and let out a deep breath. He considered trying to go back to bed but knew the quest for more sleep would be futile. Instead, he turned on the television and found the Saturday morning cartoons. As the Roadrunner outran Wile E. Coyote for the thousandth time, he went to the kitchen and poured himself a bowl of cereal. Breakfast in hand, he came back and threw himself into the recliner.
Just as Coyote ran off a cliff and plummeted to the earth below, the show was interrupted by a breaking news announcement, though Zed couldn’t imagine what was so important to interrupt the Coyote and the Roadrunner.
The picture switched to a reporter standing in front of a motel somewhere. “We’re interrupting this program to report on a grisly murder overnight here in south Greenville county. Police are telling us that two people were stabbed to death in a room in the motel you see behind me on Highway 25 just north of Sandy Springs Road. They haven’t revealed any more details than that, although we do have the names of the victims. They are twenty-two-year-old Tammy Ryan, and forty-one-year-old Lloyd Baker. As soon as we have more information, we’ll be sure to let you know.”
The show switched back just in time for Coyote to be hit by a train coming out of a tunnel he had painted on the side of a mountain. Zed let the cereal on his spoon fall back into the bowl. Without a doubt, he knew who the killer was.
Yet another rogue magician who seemed to have it out for the Browns, Patrick Wheeler had bribed Lloyd Baker—who used to work at the Brown warehouse—to leave a side door unlocked. He was responsible for all the demonic activity in the warehouse, including the pentagram on the warehouse floor, the death of Bobby Parker, and the homicidal tractor.
And now he was apparently back for more.
Zed leapt out of the recliner and grabbed his phone to call Penelope, but she didn’t pick up. There was only one other person he could think to call.
Rather than go home after leaving Zed’s place, Penelope pointed her car toward the Greenville County Public Library. The small occult collection—not generally accessible to the public—wasn’t nearly the size of Charles’ library, but until he decided to be more agreeable, it would have to do. She was about halfway there when she noticed the car behind her.
The gold Ford sedan always remained a few car-lengths back, slowing down when she slowed down and turning when she turned. Could just be a coincidence, of course, but she knew better. She drove down Buncombe Street past the library, just to see if her follower would stay with her. He did.
She glanced at her wrist. The charm bracelet Charles had made for her hadn’t so much as twitched. The last time someone followed her, in the library itself, the bracelet turned warm to warn her about the dark magic directed her way. That in and of itself didn’t mean much. The same person might still be behind the wheel of the car. He could just be waiting for the right moment.
Penelope thought fast. She could double back and pull into the library parking lot, where there would hopefully be other people around, but the lot was small and cramped, and she ran the risk of being boxed in. She could instead go back to Zed’s. That might be safer, but even there she’d make herself a pretty easy target getting out of her car.
But before she could do either, her decision was made for her.
The Ford revved its engine and accelerated until mere inches separated the two cars. The glare off the tinted windshield kept Penelope from getting a clear look at the driver’s face. The Ford swerved from side to side as the driver honked the horn. Penelope hit the gas and shifted up, trying to put some space between the cars, but the driver of the Ford had other plans. With another burst of speed, the car rammed into her back bumper. She lost control of the wheel, and her Lincoln swerved up onto the sidewalk. She slammed on the brakes and screeched to a halt inches from a telephone pole. The Ford sped past her. She sat frozen in fear, expecting the driver to turn around, but the car receded into the distance.
Penelope waited for her heart to stop pounding before she eased the Lincoln back onto the street. The car didn’t seem too damaged. At least it moved. She’d have to take a look at the back bumper later. At the next intersection, she turned right. She didn’t have it in her to go to the library anymore, but she really didn’t want to go home. She needed to talk to someone, someone who didn’t have anything to do with ghosts or demons or dark magic.
Charles lay in bed, staring at the ceiling of the tiny room. The air was hot and sticky. The sounds of the city at night drifted in through the open window. He had to admit those sounds carried a certain melody, a song the city sang. He was sure if he stayed there long enough, he could learn to sing it, too.
But the bed wasn’t his bed, and the room wasn’t his room. He wasn’t even himself. In this dream world, this facsimile of New York City in 1919, he was Isaiah Jenkins. At least that’s what the letters he found from Isaiah’s sister in Charleston said. He even had some of Isaiah’s memories, nothing truly tangible, just flashes. People he’d never met. Places he’d never been. But at the same time all so familiar.
The face that appeared when he closed his eyes, though, belonged to Millie Priest. In Charles’ own time, she was a ghost who had taken up residence in his house. In 1919 she was a jazz singer with a voice like smoky glass. The last time he visited this dream version of New York, he’d heard her perform at The Boiler Room, a jazz club in Harlem. That same night, a group of white men burst in, destroying everything in the club and attacking the patrons with baseball bats and crowbars. One of them hit Charles on the back of his head while he was trying to protect Millie. That was the last he’d seen of the living version of her.
As he drifted off to sleep, he wondered if he’d run into her again.
Charles woke up on the floor where he had fallen. Very slowly he sat up. His head pounded, and his shoulder hurt where he had hit the hard wood. He was back in the front room of his own home, an old farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere, far from the city, where he generally preferred to be. The book he had been holding when he went out lay open next to him, pages down. He scooped it up and tried to smooth out the bent paper. A section of the spine disintegrated in his hand, and he swore under his breath. He pushed himself to his feet and spent a few wobbly moments regaining his balance.