Part VI – Chapter 38 – Plans of Widows and Ghosts

The group in the small séance room had been sitting around the table with eyes closed and hands clasped together for several minutes. Brisco opened his eyes growing impatient as he could feel the tension growing outside the mansion. He was beginning to wonder if this was a fool’s errand and potentially a move that could cost all their lives. The doubt was furthered by the smell of marijuana in the booth. His small comfort was the thought of Pete standing guard outside the curtain.

Brisco looked beside him at Socrates who held his eyes tightly shut. Just like Soc, thought Brisco. He never does anything halfway. Brisco’s eyes moved over to Mrs. Winchester. Behind her veil, one could only assume that her eyes were closed but he could see her face lifted skyward. She chanted softly yet authoritatively and seemed to oscillate to the rhythm of her own voice. What a small, old, and odd woman. Brisco’s eyes finally moved to Ellie. Like Brisco, her eyes were open and she looked like she was also losing patience. She locked eyes with Brisco and seemed to say, Are we REALLY wasting time with this? Brisco gave his most charming yet bemused smile in an attempt to relieve some of her stress. In return, she gave him an impish smile and closed her eyes. Brisco’s eyes moved to a woman sitting next to Ellie.

“Who are you?” asked Brisco incredulously. Socrates and Ellie had both opened their eyes upon his question.

“Dear God!” exclaimed Socrates while Ellie jumped and moved towards Mrs. Winchester and away from the strange woman dressed in a nightgown.

“Finally! We need your guidance,” cried an excited Mrs. Winchester, emphasizing every word with her hands.

“We do not have time to waste words,” began the woman in a rushed yet low voice. “Yes, I am a ghost. I am a spiritual guide for Mrs. Winchester. I have been guiding Mrs. Winchester for years and Mr. Adams, or as you know him, James Lonefeather, for the last six months.”

“James is here! Where is he?” demanded Brisco.

“Mr. Lonefeather? That is a much better name than ‘Adams,’” Mrs. Winchester commented aloud. Her voice seemed to be detached, almost pleasant which felt somehow wrong in this fear driven environment. “My sister always was deeply connected to the earth.”

The ghost held up her hands to end Brisco’s questions and to bring Mrs. Winchester back to the present. “As I mentioned, we do not have time for this. As our three newest members can attest, there was a scout flying circles around the house only a short while ago. It is a sign that an army of undead are marching towards the house and we clearly do not have enough salt to encircle the whole house. We will need to do the following. First, to break the power of the curse that was released earlier, someone will need to locate the Necronomicon. In that book you will find a counter curse to change the Kandarian, lord of all the darkness and evil surrounding the house, from immortal to mortal. Second, the Kandarian needs to be killed. While I personally cannot kill him, a spirit can help you find him, but one of you will have to kill him. In taking him down, the darkness will lose its power and the dead will be encouraged to return to their graves. And finally, Mrs. Winchester, you will need to knock out the two windows above the fireplace in this ballroom and have the two stained glass pieces that I commissioned to you months ago put up in their place. It is time to put up those pieces as they will ward off evil tonight and every night moving forward.”

“Breaking a mirror is bad ju-ju and we don’t need anymore of that,” mused Mrs. Winchester.

“What about the others?” sighed Ellie as she ran her fingers through her frazzled hair. “Rachel, James, Lenore, Viva, and Whip?”

“Lenore and Viva are in the kitchen with as much of the staff as they could get and are keeping their group safe thus far. They seem to be the most secure of everyone in the house, so I have sent spirits to protect your family, Mrs. Winchester, and any other human with friendly vibrations. Unfortunately, many spirits have elected to stay out of the battle. Not all spirits have forgiven the Winchester name and many of the forgiving spirits feel that any attempt to assist us will result in torture for them when the humans are ultimately defeated by the Kandarian. So, I was already short-staffed with ghosts and in sending many of my already small defense to protect household members hidden throughout the mansion, I am left with 3 ghosts remaining who I can send to help each of you with your individual missions. One of those remaining ghosts is working to collect Rachel and James and bring them down to this ballroom. Those who will address the Necronomicon and the Kandarian will be guided by Clyde.”

“That leaves Whip,” stated a concerned Ellie.

“I’m sorry to say, none of us could get to him in time.”

“What does that mean?” demanded Brisco.

“He will not make it through the night,” responded the spirit with a sadness in her voice.

“Not on my watch,” said Socrates with a lump in his throat.

The ghost studied him before responding. “I cannot guarantee that you will survive finding him, much less that you will be able to rescue him. It is a hopeless cause.”

Socrates swallowed hard before continuing, “I said that I will get him.”

“Soc-“ began Brisco.

“Brisco, I appreciate what you are about to say. But don’t try to talk me out of it. We know the roles that everyone has to play. Ellie and Mrs. Winchester will hang the stained glass-“

“Thank you for your sexism. Why do you think that I can’t handle something more than the glass?” asked Ellie.

“Because Mrs. Winchester has arthritis. She can’t move quickly, much less reliably place a stained glass into the window, especially if she’s concerned about breaking glass during the replacement process.”

“Humpf,” retorted Mrs. Winchester, clearly unhappy to have her disease announced to a group of strangers or to be told that she cannot do a task by herself.

“Brisco will need to remove the head of the Kandarian and Pete will have to counteract the spell.”

“Any thoughts or questions about that, Pete?” called Brisco.

“Pete?” called Ellie.

Brisco yanked back the curtain and peered outside. The ballroom was empty with Pete nowhere to be found.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Rachel stood staring at James. He really thinks that he’s Mr. Adams! What had the house done to him? Hopelessness began to fill her. Her heart sounded like muffled drums and her anxiety felt like some distant bugler.

“James?” Rachel reached out a hand. “Can you remember anything?”

“It’s Mr. Adams and I can clearly remember the last 6 months,” he said brushing away her hand and taking another step away from her.

“Mr. Adams-“ repeated Rachel as she began to recall the conversation from earlier in the evening. “Tilly mentioned that you were part of her interview.”

“Yes, that’s correct,” he responded harshly. As he thought of Tilly, his voice softened and he changed the subject, “Were you two close?”

“We had barely started working here together but she could make anyone laugh. She seemed like she had a joke for every person and every situation.”

“She did seem to have an impish smile and a far-off look when I met her. Seems like she found a confidant in you.”

“Yes, Tilly trusted me,” Rachel said as she swallowed the sadness that wanted to rise back up. “If Tilly trusted me, could you trust me for a moment?” she asked cautiously.

“In what way?”

Rachel could hear his guard was starting to go back up. “A friend of mine, Ellie, showed me how to remove that bracelet. Ellie is also a friend of- well, never mind. That doesn’t matter,” she stuttered before taking a breath to begin again. “Anyway, there’s EM…” Rachel closed her eyes for a second to collect her thoughts, “EMF here at the mansion and it’s making the bracelets act wonky…”

“Do you mind switching to English?” James eyebrow rose under the light of the flashlight.

“Ok,” Rachel stuttered. She tried to remember how Ellie taught her everything. “There’s a new science out that is beginning to study ghosts. These scientists believe that ghosts may be present, even when not in sight. Those ghosts, both visible and invisible, put out an electromagnetic frequency-“

“A what-“

“Um,” Rachel thought hard to explain. “Radio travels by airwaves enabling us to hear music from New York City or San Francisco. Think of ghosts as playing on a different radio station but one enabling us to see and hear them if we are tuned in correctly.”

“So, what does that have to do with me?”

“I think that when you jumped-“ Rachel had to carefully switch words to “-arrived here. The frequency, or EMF, of the house combined with that the signal from your bracelet is causing a sort of static… Maybe it made you forget who you are and your life before arrival.”

“And this is based on a belief that my bracelet is somehow – what? Magical?”

“Based on the fact that the other bracelet knocked out a friend of ours when he tried to get here. Last I heard, he was awake but weak.”

“How am I supposed to believe any of this?”

Rachel decided to change tactics as the hairs on the back of her neck sensed that the evening was about to get worse and she could not protect the two of them with just a small container of salt. She began again, “Have you been able to take the bracelet off? Ever in your recollection?”

James sighed and looked down at her. He could not recall a single time that he could take off the bracelet. Much as he had tried. If his memories could indeed come back by removing the bracelet, then it would be worth a try. James held out his arm, still suspicious of the validity of the girl’s claims.

Rachel studied his bracelet for a few moments turning it around under the flashlight.

“I thought you knew what you were doing!”

“Give me a moment. Your design is a bit different than Pete’s.”

“Who’s Pete?”

“The friend… oh, I’ll explain in a moment,” she distractedly replied. She then pushed two buttons simultaneously and James felt the bracelet come loose. Rachel slowly removed the bracelet and placed it into her pocket. James felt a weight lift off his arm and his head grew heavy as memories began to pour in. The rush of various images soon overwhelmed him and he was forced to sit.

“James?” Rachel asked while holding her breath. When he didn’t respond, she sat beside him, careful to remain inside the small circle of salt.

“I’m here, Rachel. I’m here and I’m remembering.”

“Well, that’s some positive news anyway-“ interrupted a child’s voice. When Rachel saw the ghost of a little boy she scooted herself backwards, smearing the circle of salt around the floor. The child looked no more than 6 or 7 with curly golden hair and a bullet hole just above his right eyebrow. The child gave her a sly smile and floated towards her at top speed, with the salt spread over the floor, Rachel was not protected. But when the boy was inches away, he paused as though he remembered a greater mission. He floated a foot backwards and begin to toss and catch a red croquet ball into the air.

“Where the hell have you all been?” grumbled James as he stood. When Rachel stared petrified at the ghost, James lifted Rachel up to her feet before asking the ghost, “Well?”

“Believe it or not, there were people in more trouble than you two,” the child ghost retorted. “Honestly, if the man who unleashed hell was not already dead, I would be tempted to murder him myself. Anyway, your handful of spirit allies have all been working hard to ensure that no one else would become ghosts tonight. So far, we have been able to only rescue a select few.”

“So, what’s the plan?” James asked, he tried rubbing the pain out of his temples so that he could better focus on the ghost. It was difficult to concentrate as years of memories were still seeping in.

At that moment, the drums were no longer in Rachel’s head. It was as if someone had removed earmuffs and a large marching band had arrived outside. The drums were accompanied by feet marching and by the sounds of bugles. Rachel tried to look outside but she could not get a good view. Is this the local militia, here to help the richest woman in the nation? She rushed past the child ghost and back towards the bell tower, she was determined to get a better view. But as Rachel quickly moved through the house, she could not remember the way that the female ghost in the nightgown had originally led Rachel. In the darkness, each passage looked more confusing. She opened up a couple doors that led to walls and ran into rooms that ended up being dead ends. The sound of a couple shotgun blasts pierced the air and panic was beginning to fill Rachel as she hated the feeling of being lost in the dark. She started to move faster and faster. Running in and through various doorways.

At last, it sounded like she might have found the correct door to see the outside. She threw herself against the door but when it swung open, it led to open air. This second story door led her directly to the outside. Her toes were barely grounded to the door frame as her uninjured arm hung onto the door handle for her life. The majority of her body was suspended in the air between her tip toes inside the house and her arm and chest leaning against the open door. Rachel looked down towards her toes but with the heeled boots, she could not get any traction to slide them backwards. Rachel tried to tighten her stomach and pull the door back towards the house but she about lost her footing. Rachel scanned the wall of the house but there was not a staircase that she could try to move towards and when she looked down she realized that it would be a straight fall two stories to the ground.

She closed her eyes for a moment wondering if a ghost would come by to rescue her or if they would let her fall to her death. At that moment, Rachel began to feel the salt container start slipping towards the top of the apron. While she wasn’t particularly concerned about using salt as a defense at that moment, it was adjusting the delicate balance in such a way that she wasn’t sure how much longer she could hold on. Apparently, she had not closed the lid properly as salt begin to slowly pour out of her pocket. Rachel glanced down for just a moment to see a handful of maids directly below her. Unfortunately, they were not living allies but looked more like walking corpses based on the corpse-pale skin with yellow hair. Even suspended two floors above the women, Rachel could see a dark black ooze leaking out of their ears and mouths. Just as the strain in her arm was about to give way and let her fall to certain death, she felt a hand grab the backside of her dress and help pull her in. As she got closer, the arms were able to take her waist and pull her the rest of the way inside. To Rachel’s relief, it was James.

“I thought…” she stammered, “that is, I had hoped it was a local militia, or police, or anyone who could help end this nightmare.”

James awkwardly patted her shoulders, unsure how to console a girl that he seemed to only meet in traumatic circumstances. Having been raised by a strong woman, he felt that giving her a purpose might help pull her out of her anxious state and into a more useful ally.

“I’m to take you to Mrs. Winchester and help you get started with that part of our defense,” he explained. He took her by the hand and led her towards the ballroom. Rachel meekly followed but with every step she forced her fears down. Rachel was determined to be her own savior for the rest of the evening. While it was her first experience fighting the supernatural, she had never surrendered or cowered from a fight before.

And damnit, she could fight this war too.

Part VI – Chapter 37 – Seemingly Strangers in the Night

Brisco, Ellie, and Pete broke in through a boarded-up part of the mansion. The trio found themselves in a beautiful ballroom with a chandelier of 13 candles above them. However, the terror of the flying skeletal bugler kept any admiration of the room at bay.

“What was that thing signaling?” asked a shaken Ellie.

“I think it was some kind of bugle boy or scout for an army of darkness,” mused Pete as he placed the box of dynamite onto the floor.

“Not helping, Pete,” muttered Brisco. Pete needed to shut up so they could find their friends and escape this house of horrors as quickly as possible.

“Army of darkness?” whispered Ellie.

“Well, yeah,” surmised Pete. “A human skeleton riding a flying fossil while blowing a bugle. It is certainly more plausible that it is a scout for an ethereal malevolent force rather than a parade of puppies.”

“What malevolent force?” asked a familiar voice from the corner. The group turned to find Socrates exiting from a small side room. Behind the curtain Brisco could just make out a small enclosure attached to the ballroom with a circular table in the center. Brisco turned his attention back to Socrates who was escorting a woman in all black, her face obscured by a long lace veil.

“Socrates, am I glad to see you!” exclaimed Brisco as he moved to Socrates and gave him a big hug.

“Give me back my piece, her mate, and my bracelet!” demanded Pete as he pushed between Socrates and Brisco.

“The guns I have, but the bracelet is upstairs,” Socrates calmly stated as he held the pistols out for Pete to grab.

“You left it!” exclaimed Pete. Forgetting all of the other troubles occurring, Pete gripped Socrates by the collar and lifted him off the ground, while growling, “How could you?”

“Pete, let him go!” Ellie called and quickly moved between the two of them. “This is not the time!” she stated as she gently pushed Pete’s hands down. “God, I have met bar flies in less need of a drink than you needin’ that bracelet!”

“Ellie, this is a time to utilize one powerful force against another,” scoffed Pete. “We have guns, ammunition, and a box of dynamite. Please tell me, which of these weapons will be best to use against an army of deceased individuals?”

“Let’s start with imagination,” quipped the veiled woman. “But before we determine which of us is lacking that skill, maybe we can begin with introductions? I am Mrs. Winchester and you apparently know my potential attorney, Mr. Poole.” She lifted her hand gracefully as though to allow another to speak.

“My name is Mr. County, you might have heard of me.”

“I tend to focus on what occurs on my property than what’s outside of it,” she replied.

“Brisco County Jr.? Son of the Marshall Brisco County?” Brisco continued.

Mrs. Winchester slowly nodded her head as though the name was coming back to her. “I did meet your father, years ago. My husband was commissioned to build him a limited-edition Winchester Rifle. Did he pass it to you?”

“No, ma’am. He destroyed it years ago but never told me why.”

There was a silence as Brisco looked at her. If Brisco didn’t know any better, he would swear that she had a hint of a smile beneath her veil. “He kept his word,” she whispered.

“This is Pete Hutter,” Ellie continued, “and I’m Ellie.” In the awkward silence, Ellie attempted small talk by stating, “You have a beautiful home.”

“And I see that you have brought guns into my house?” she asked with a tone of indignation.

“Filled with salt rounds,” Socrates quickly explained. “We are not here to add to the ghosts of your house but to simply quell the ones who are here.”

“The ghosts here were quelled. Something else is happening tonight,” retorted Mrs. Winchester.

“What caused the uprising?” asked Ellie.

“We were in the middle of asking the spirits just that when you lot came crashing in,” commented the widow. She motioned towards the small room that she and Socrates had left. “If you don’t mind, I think that additional voices will help us commune with our guides. Will you join us?” Her words were more of a directive rather than a question

“What do you need from us?” asked Brisco. Mrs. Winchester ushered the small group into the small séance enclave connected to the ballroom. She had the group crowd around the table as she lit the appropriate candles.

“I am not particular to spiritual movements, so I’ll stand outside your little huddle to provide protection,” said Pete. Brisco nodded at Pete before Pete turned his back on the group to guard the séance enclave of the ballroom. Brisco then closed the small curtain, giving the group privacy for the séance.

“Everyone join hands and close your eyes,” instructed Mrs. Winchester. “Let’s begin.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Rachel stood shivering in the dark with tears streaming down her face. Her heart was buried deep in her stomach. She couldn’t tell how long she had been standing but she kept shifting her weight back and forth between her feet to ensure that she didn’t lock her knees and fall over. She could hear her mother’s voice as a child, “Rachel, never lock your knees! As a performer, that’s about the worst thing that you can do as it will cause you to pass out. Well, one of the worst things.”

Rachel tried to distract herself by focusing on her mother. It seemed that the shots and the screams had temporarily stopped but she could hear the sound of a large wings flapping outside with the sound of a bugle calling an unseen army to battle. But then, maybe it was just thunder. Her nerves were clearly on edge and it would be completely understandable if she was imagining all kinds of evil things. She shut her eyes for a moment and tried to think back to her days of traveling with her mother. Maybe she could imagine away this evil night and replace the sounds of gunshots to be her mother and Wild Bill practicing trick shots. She could imagine that the bugler outside was coming from the small troupe as the group reenacted some battle or another for a gullible audience. Or maybe she wasn’t at home, maybe it was a Hollywood set. A trumpeter to get a local lot in the mood for filming a silent battle scene. Maybe this was just a nightmare and someone would shake her awake and she would find that it’s time to film her scenes for the latest Thomas Ince western film.

She opened her eyes but she was still in the nightmarish house surrounded by a small circle of salt. She nervously lifted her shaking hands to her face to brush off some of the tears but it was useless. Her hands were shaking so violently that she could not trust her hands to touch her face. “What if this room was actually a trap set by an unfriendly ghost? What if she was believing that she was safe encircled by salt but was actually a sitting duck awaiting execution? How could she be so naïve to trust the first ghost that she met?” She closed her eyes and took deep breaths to clear her mind. “Brisco was the one who originally found that salt warded off evil or provided protection, so she could trust the salt circle, even if she could not trust a ghost.”

There was a window just to the right of Rachel which enabled her to see a small portion of the outside world. At one point, a dark cloud seemed to pass by the window. She shook the thought away. “How could there be a shadow in an already night lit sky? Was it her imagination but did it seem that this dark cloud more evil than the night sky?” If there was a shadow, it did not seem to take any notice of Rachel. She was clearly not a threat, either because of her fear or because of the salt circle.

A light flashed into the room and was directed at her eyes. Rachel squinted but could not make out the shadow behind the flashlight. Someone had joined her hideaway.

“What are you doing in here?” a familiar male voice asked in the dark. Rachel was so caught off guard that she screamed aloud.

“Shhhhh!!! Do you want to get us killed too?” the voice whispered.


“Just found Tilly’s body as I was moving Mrs. Winchester’s niece and grand-nephew into a safe corner of the house to be protected by a ghost ally.”

“Tilly’s body?” Rachel asked in a shaky voice. Rachel felt her knees buckle and she found herself sitting on the floor. She began sobbing aloud. “Of all the people in this house?” was all that Rachel could think.

Since she couldn’t place the voice, she could only assume that it was one of the workmen. She watched his flashlight move up and down her body as though trying to place her. “How long have you worked here?” he whispered.

“Only a few days. You?”

“Six months roughly,” he whispered back before moving the flashlight around the room to study it. He whistled softly as he studied the disrepair.

“Haven’t really seen this room before as this side of the house was shut down after the earthquake. Why would anyone be stupid enough to hide in such an unsecure and dilapidated part of the mansion?”

Rachel did not respond but kept staring at the shadow holding the light. The way that he kept moving the light, she could never get a glimpse of his face. Only bits of his clothes on occasion but otherwise the man was a shadow with a voice distorted by whispering. Despite being unable to identify the stranger, she felt strangely calm with his presence.

“And what are you doing in this circle?” his whisper inquired as the flashlight lit her feet below.

“A ghost came to me and told me that I would be safe if I stayed inside the circle of salt and in this room. If you don’t agree, maybe you should take it up with her.”

“Ghost? Female? Long dark hair? Runs around in a white nightgown?”

Rachel nodded and in a state of awe asked, “How did you know?”

“I’ve been looking for her since the screams began as she’s our main guide to the spirit world.”

“So, we can trust her?”

“Ish,” responded the man. In the darkness, he held out a shadowy hand to her as if to guide her, “C’mon. Let’s see if we can find other survivors and if we can, maybe arm them with salt as well.”

“If I’m safe in salt, then why should I move?” asked Rachel.

“Because I don’t know how structurally safe this room is or if you will fall through the floor in a few minutes,” the man calmly replied.

The logic made sense to Rachel and she tentatively took his hand. However, when he tugged her towards the door and to cross the salt threshold, she held his hand steady. “May I see who I am talking to before I begin following you into the darkness?”

“Fair enough,” acquiesced the stranger. He moved the flashlight from shining across the room to bringing it close to his face. When the light finally danced across his face, Rachel gasped in recognition.

“James! Is that you?” asked Rachel in a joyful whisper. She jumped up and wrapped her arms around his neck in an excited embrace. “I can’t believe that I found you!” she whispered in his ear. James unwrapped Rachel before taking a step back.

“Do I know you?” asked James.

Part VI – Chapter 36 – Calls of the Night

Whip opened his eyes to a splitting headache and a gap in his memory. It had been a whirlwind and he couldn’t quite place the order of events. Whip continued to open and close his eyes slowly looking up above him trying to will the memories back. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he was clearly laying on the floor, in the dark, staring up at the bottom of a house. Except, it didn’t feel like the floor. It felt like he was laying outside in the dirt with roots wrapped and twisted over the ground. There seemed to be a light dancing above him. It was swinging too regularly for it to be the moon but it could be a lamp swinging in someone’s hands or maybe someone was using a light to signal for help.

“Hello?” called Whip into the darkness. No response.

Whip began to think through his various muscles and became aware that something was pressing into his back from below as if he were laying on something. Was that a foot digging in his back? Whip tried to move but found it difficult. Maybe if he could recall the events leading up to this moment, he could figure out where he was and why he was having issues moving his limbs. He closed his eyes and allowed the memories to slowly replay.

Reynolds was shouting some kind of odd chants as he walked towards the center of the basement area and so two of the men ran after Reynolds in an attempt to calm him. There was the sound of Viva shouting followed by two gunshots. Whip and the other man took a few steps to follow the sound of gunshots when the foreman blocked their way. “They’re beyond help, get the hell out of here!” he commanded.

Someone or something knocked over a lantern which made the trio jump. Whip took a look around the room slightly disoriented but noticed that there was a deep darkness moving towards the group from Reynolds direction. It seemed a sort of evil that Whip could not place. Why did he leave his gun by the entrance? The foreman again told Whip and the other workman to get out of the basement and then the screams began. It was from the two original men who had run after Reynolds.

“You heard the foreman! Get out of here!” yelled Whip as he shoved the other man towards the entrance.

“Those are my friends-“ hissed the workman as he shoved Whip back before running past the foreman and further under the house.

“You fool! They’re already dead and gone!” called the foreman. He sighed in despair before turning back towards Whip and pushing him in a direction opposite of the commotion. “We need to move now!”

Whip did not need to be told again and moved as quickly as he could but soon heard the screams of the final workman. Sweat began pouring down his back and he knew that it would not be long before this evil darkness would catch up to him. Even if they got out from under the mansion, how would they be protected from whatever was chasing them?

Whip tripped in the darkness. It was not a mild-mannered stumble, but the full force of his body hit the ground as his foot stayed rooted in its spot. Whip let out a grimace of pain and a few curses for good measure. He leaned over his foot to inspect it before noticing that in the darkness it looked like a couple of roots had crept out of the floor and wrapped around his ankle, like a skeletal hand. As Whip held the lamp up, he noticed several branches, roots, and vines were beginning to blanket the floor, each seemed to have a dark ooze leaking out, including the couple that held his foot hostage. A few minutes ago, the floor had been bare and now it looked like an underbrush was growing on the foundation.

Whip looked around for the foreman and saw that he had run past Whip and had continued moving towards an exit. Whip called for the foreman but the man kept running away. Whip knew that the man could clearly hear Whip as he had not moved far enough away to be out of earshot. Whip realized that he would be on his own. Whip began looking through his pockets for his knife and upon finding it, he glanced up at the foreman one last time to see how far the foreman had moved. Right as Whip identified the figure of the foreman, several long roots, which seemed more like vines, shot up from the ground and past Whip. One of the vines lassoed the foreman’s foot and anchored him in place while simultaneously another root shot up from the ground and pierced through the foreman’s back like a spear. Whip could hear the sound of the impact and the grunt of the foreman as he was stabbed. The last one moved a bit higher and lassoed his wrist and pulled the foreman down to the ground with a heavy thud.

For a moment Whip could not move. He was so shocked. Did the dark vines and branches kill the foreman? Whip squinted his eyes but could not see anything.

“Well fuck this!” murmured Whip resolved to escape from the underbelly of the mansion and at the very least get away from roots, books, and darkness. Sitting in a well-lit bathroom away from windows and trees seemed a much better option than hiding down here. Whip began to frantically cut through the root. It was much thicker than it appeared and the knife was taking much too long to break through. Sweat was dripping down Whip’s forehead and as he took a moment to wipe his face he became aware of a sound. Almost like something was being drug along the ground. It was getting closer and closer. Whip kept frantically using the knife almost stabbing the viney root instead of merely sawing at it. Finally, the noise was upon Whip and he looked over to see what was being drug. To his horror, it was the body of the foreman.

Whip held up his flashlight that had only been dimly lighting Whip’s sawing progress closer to his face to get a better look at the man. There was blood all over the man’s torso and one of the roots had moved from a wrist and now was wrapped around the man’s neck like a noose. Since one root was holding the head, one pierced through the torso, and a final one wrapped around the feet, the body looked more like a marionette puppet than a living being. As Whip studied the man, he was horrified to realize that the man was still alive. More than that, the man’s lips were moving. At first Whip thought the whispered request was simply, “Help me!” which caused an indignant anger in Whip as he continued to cut at the root. How dare the man who refused to stop and help me, ask for help? But as the body continued to pass by at a slow pace and the whisper became louder and more desperate, Whip could finally make out what the foreman was saying.

“Kill me! Kill me! Kill me!” the foreman’s pleas were becoming more insistent and fearful. In fact, it almost sounded as though the man were crying in the dark. Whip could not look at the man’s face as he was afraid that he would see tears in the foreman’s eyes. If only he had not left the gun near the entrance!

Just then Whip was able to finally free his foot. He felt a rush of air as relief washed over him but it was too late. Just as Whip put a bit of weight to test for damage on his freed ankle, another root came whooshing up and encircled his other ankle. Whip knelt to begin the process of freeing himself but was only able to stab at the vine once in frustration before he felt something loop around his neck and pull him flat on his back. It began to tighten its hold and as Whip gasped for air, a familiar darkness began to engulf him. Not one of evil but merely a starry darkness that accompanies a lack of oxygen.

Having finally recalled the series of events, Whip opened his eyes. Having a better understanding of events, he was able to put together a bit more of his situation. The noose was still about his neck but no longer cutting off the flow of oxygen. Based on the lack of feeling in his legs, the root must have cut off circulation to his legs causing them to fall asleep. Whip tested his arms and found that they were restricted by roots and unable to move. He checked his torso and while there were branches holding him down, they had not pierced him in anyway. Aside from the noose, it would almost look like the iconic Gulliver’s Travel’s scene.

Whip could partially move his head about. While he could not angle his head to see who was beneath him, he could at least confirm that there was another body with him. Whip flexed his abdominal muscles so he could look just over his toes. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness and he could trace the path of the overgrowth. It looked as if in a matter of minutes, vines, roots, and branches had threaded their way through every pipe and crack beneath the house. To make matters worse, everything was still sliding through and into the room, like a mountain of snakes slithering across a jungle floor. Whip laid his head back for a second to give his abdomen a rest. He couldn’t be sure but it almost looked like a tree had sprung from the ground and was looming over his head. Whip shook the thought away as he was sure that it was simply an overreactive imagination in a terrifying situation.

Whip flexed his abdominals again to do a half sit-up, this time pushing his upper body up as high as it could go. He pushed himself until he could finally spot who was holding the lamp and call over to his rescuer for help. As he exhaled up, he hollered, “Help! Over here!”

Just as Whip was finally high enough to look around, all hope within Whip died and he let his head fall to the ground. There was a lamp swinging about two-to-three feet off the ground as if it were a human naturally swinging it as they walked and from a distance it would look like a light signal for help. But to Whip’s horror the lamp was merely swinging on a branch that was sticking out of the ground. It was not a rescuer nor a fellow prisoner but a lure to imprison more people stupid enough to climb beneath the house.

Whip was bait for this evil tree and all of its branches, vines, and roots. There would be no escape and if someone were to attempt such a rescue, he would not be able to warn them of the trap that awaited.

And then the sinister cackles came from the darkness. “Help us! Free us!” the voices mocked in the darkness. Whip pushed himself up to determine where the voices were coming from and saw that the voices were from the 3 other workmen who had been attacked first.

Whip leaned back and attempted to calculate how long he would have until he died just as the harrowing voices began to sing, “We’re going to get them…”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Ellie, Brisco, and Pete had moved beneath a statue and were hiding in its nearby bushes. Pete and Brisco took a quick inventory of the weapons and began to split up the weapons evenly between the group. Meanwhile, Ellie was trying to examine Brisco’s injured head and wrist.

Brisco brushed her aside before stating, “First you want to kill me, then you want to kiss me… Blow!”

Ellie let go of his head, turned away from the men, and began to gather her weapons, determined to not let Brisco see the hurt in her eyes.

“Smooth, Brisco”, Pete taunted before changing the subject, “Much as I dislike being the voice of reason in group settings but, do we have any sort of a plan? As you know, I am a stickler for gun safety and I would rather not accidentally shoot Lenore or James.”

“Pete, I appreciate what you’re saying,” began Ellie. “But right now, we don’t know if James has arrived, where anyone else might be hiding, if they are together or separate, and what kind of trouble that they are in. So, why don’t you pontificate less, grab the guns, and move your ass towards and into that house!”

At that moment, an odd screech sounded above them. They looked above to see a skeleton in military garb riding a flying beast made of bones. If Brisco had to guess, he would assume that when it was alive it was a winged dinosaur or dragon. But as it was merely the bones, who could really tell? The skeleton scout above began to blow a bugle as if to call an army to attack.

The skeleton bugler caught sight of Pete, Brisco, and Ellie in the darkness and swooped low to look each of them in the eyes. As it passed, a shiver went down Ellie’s back as she could not imagine what evil would bring such a darkness to life. As it closed in on Ellie, it’s face twisted into a blood curdling smile and he tipped his hat. Brisco immediately stepped in front of Ellie to protect her from the boney aviator. The skeleton laughed before lifting the bugle and continuing his wartime melody. It did one more lap around the mansion in the air before disappearing to the other side of the dome.

“What in darnation is that?” asked Pete.

“Let’s not find out. Move, Move, MOVE!!!” shouted Brisco as he continued to keep his arm protectively around Ellie. The trio quickly gathered their weapons and gear and ran into the mansion.

Part VI - Chapter 35 – Out of the Frying Pan

Ellie awoke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. She sprang out of bed as an inexplicable shiver began to wind its way up her spine. She moved to the window of the hotel and saw a giant purple haze in the distance. Etiquette be damned, she left the corset and simply threw on a pair of trousers and boots before wrapping a shawl around her shoulders and ran out of the room.

As Ellie rushed down the hallway, she looked down at her keys momentarily debating if she should turn back to lockup her room. A figure in the dark stood in front of her, blocking her path. Ellie decided to not turn back and tried to step aside for the stranger but he only blocked her in the other direction. Too worried about the mansion, Ellie looked up to give the stranger a piece of her mind and perhaps a bloody nose, when the man began to whistle.

“Are you sleep walking, Ellie? I always assumed that in dreams, I’m with you, but I never thought you’d come greet me in your sleep.”

To Ellie’s relief, the nighttime jokester was only Brisco who was apparently unphased by his long journey. Ellie looked down at her own outfit and blushed. The fact that she had not changed into a blouse but stayed in the nightgown with the shawl, pants, and boots, meant that she must have looked ridiculous.

“Come here and give a guy some sugar, it was a rough drive,” laughed Brisco.

Brisco gave her a hug before she shoved him away and began to quickly move down the hallway.

“Is your car outside?” she called over her shoulder.

“Ellie?” called Brisco. “C’mon talk to me!”

Ellie kept rushing down the hallway and didn’t respond.

A confused Brisco, grabbed Ellie’s shoulders and turned her around. “Is this about your visit to Hollywood last year?” A confused Brisco asked.

Instead of answering, Ellie brushed off Brisco’s hands before asking, “Are the keys in the ignition?”

“Listen, I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings when I said everything was just ‘pillow talk, baby.’”

Ellie gave him a small shove away before erupting, “The ego on you! I haven’t seen you a year. In that time, I’ve continued to grow my own business, solved Pete’s mysterious bracelet, essentially lived my own life, but clearly I’m still so hung up on you that I would run out of a hotel in the middle of the night, dressed in a nightgown, simply to avoid you?”

“Well, you’ve got to admit, you were a bit cold on the call…”

“I don’t believe this,” muttered Ellie. She took a cleansing breath with her hands on hips to keep from shaking Brisco.

“Okay, so not cold. Distant.”

“Distracted away from your ego, perhaps?” Her eyes narrowed as Brisco’s silence grew. “Never mind. I don’t have time for this. Does your car need keys and if so, give them to me,” she demanded.

“You aren’t taking my newly acquired car anywhere without me,” Brisco retorted and pushed past her towards the exit. “You can fill me in on the way.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Viva ran into the kitchen to find Lenore and her staff clustered together with their backs toward the center of their huddle. There was a circle of salt surrounding the group and several members of the kitchen staff were holding various sized containers of salt and a few held a variety of kitchen knives. Lenore was in the center holding a shotgun and wearing a bandolier filled with rounds. Viva smiled to himself, of course, Lenore would have found a way to sneak a shotgun into the kitchen. Cover story be damned if the lives of others were at risk.

Viva then noticed that a large dark cloud was seeping towards the kitchen from the main house. There was another blanket of darkness drifting down from the belltower. It looked to be slowly following along the salt circle as if testing each spot along the salted perimeter. There was a consciousness to the darkness and if it was looking for a way around the salt to attack the staff gathered together under Lenore’s care.

Viva shook himself out of his trance as the darkness was now almost halfway around the group. Viva ran towards the small party and began shooting salt rounds at the darkness to keep it at bay long enough to allow him to join the group. He did not particularly aim at anything beyond the general direction of the sentient cloud which seemed to temporarily shift back. Viva jumped inside the circle and had just enough time to laugh in relief when someone managed to throw pepper directly into his eyes. Viva howled in pain.

“Scott!” Lenore’s voice shouted over the commotion. “One, we are throwing salt, not pepper right now. And two, he is clearly a person and not a ghost or part of the darkness!” chided an exasperated Lenore.

Viva reached his hands up to his eyes in an attempt to rub out the pepper and alleviate the pain in his eyes.

“Viva, don’t touch your eyes! You’ll only make it worse!” commanded Lenore and he felt her pull his hands down and away from his face. He felt a liquid begin pouring down his face and he assumed it was water. “I know it stings but as a cook, I have seen my share of accidental salt or pepper in the eyes!”

Since Viva could not see and was worried for the group’s safety, he began to anxiously explain, “Lenore, you need to ensure that there is a solid circle of salt around you. The darkness is looking for a way in!”

“Really, Viva?” muttered Lenore. She seemed to have finished pouring water down his face. “You think that after raising a boy, marrying a sheriff, running a town as mayor, and owning my own business that I can’t put two and two together in a time of crisis?” as Lenore finished scolding Viva, he could feel the cloth from her apron gently pat his face dry. “Okay, you can start opening your eyes.”

Viva began to slowly open and close his eyes. They were still stinging and he could feel tears brimming his eyes. “Don’t be cruel – let me rub eyes now, please?”

Lenore closed the water canteen that she had thought to bring into the circle before cautioning, “With all of us playing with salt, I wouldn’t touch your face, much less, your eyes right now. And that goes for the rest of you.” While her words addressed the group, her face and warning was more for Scott than the rest of the individuals in the circle.

In an attempt to change the subject, Viva mused aloud, “That’d be one fiiiine way to control people.”

“How’s that?” asked a nearby circle occupier.

“Well, if we were to maybe add some liquid to it, we might use pepper as a way to peacefully tame masses.”

“Sounds like it would limit people’s ability to protest peacefully or stand up for equal rights. That’s one coming thing that you should forget this instant!” snapped Lenore. Her nerves were frayed and any thought of danger towards peaceful protestors or anyone under her care, was too much for her in this moment. She took a deep breath before taking a mental checklist of her crew. Viva studied her and based on her look, her staff were all accounted for and she was working to determine a next plan.

Viva then looked past her figure and noticed that the dark cloud had indeed fully encircled the group. There was no top above them aside from the ceiling. Clearly the darkness could not pass below or above the circle. They were safe, as long as the circle remained unbroken. Just as Viva made the deduction, one of the girls in the group reached her hand towards the darkness in awe.

“Girl, how stupid are you?” asked Lenore incredulously as she yanked the girl’s hand back. Lenore then turned to the small group, “Everyone stay away from the salt circle. Keep your hands and arms inside. We want to stay away from the darkness and not bring it in,” commanded Lenore.

Viva stood up to take a better look at the group. These were all individuals who were terrified and none of them had ever faced this kind of conflict or evil before. He and Lenore would have a long night ahead in keeping this group safe and within the circle of salt.

Lenore and Viva exchanged glances and shared the same thought, “Hopefully help is on its way.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

It felt like an eternity to Ellie for Brisco to drive from the hotel to the mansion. Ellie’s heart sank to see her fears confirmed, the purple haze was indeed coming from the mansion. When they pulled up to it, they were able to see that the odd colored glow arched over the house. To Ellie, it looked like a beautiful dome filled with the kind of darkness that caused shivers through a soul.

“What is this?” Ellie asked in a whisper.

Brisco had pulled the car up to the train tracks next to the house as it felt hidden away from any main thoroughfares. He turned off the car and the two began to slowly walk towards the dome. The odd color surrounding the property made the mansion and gardens on the other side look blurred. Ellie could barely make out any movement on the other side. It could be a tree waving in the wind or a giant doing jumping-jacks, it was too distorted to clearly see what lay on the other side. To make things more eerie, the incessant hammering had finally stopped. For the first time in decades, there was silence at the Winchester property. It was as if the mansion was tucked away in a world all its own.

Ellie inched up to the material. It looked smooth, almost like a giant bubble or a smooth silk had dropped over the property. She held her hand a few inches above the surface and noticed that it seemed to move beneath her hand. Almost as though it was tracking her movement. It fascinated her and she began to move her fingers closer and closer towards the odd surface.

“Ellie, what the hell are you wearing?” came a familiar singsong voice.

Brisco and Ellie turned around to find Pete. He was leaning against the car, arms across his chest in mild amusement.

“Where did you come from?” demanded Brisco. Ellie moved to Pete to inspect him closer. “Pete, are you feeling alright? Are you sure that you should be walking around?”

Pete waved off Ellie before continuing, “Brisco County Jr. Either you are the slowest driver that I have ever seen or that car isn’t all that fast.”

“Are you saying you followed us?” asked Ellie.

“Not exactly. I was already walking this direction to see what all the random colors in the sky were about but caught sight of you on the way and thought it’d be more fun to sneak up on you.” He gave a taunting laugh that Brisco knew all too well.

“When did you wake up?” asked Ellie as she continued to study his face.

“According to Socrates, you showed him how to remove the bracelet, thanks for that by the way,” Pete added sarcastically, “and he left a note on my hotel room desk stating that he confiscated it. So, our dearly departed legal counsel had both the bracelet and my piece during his interview with Mrs. Winchester and has yet to return with either of my possessions.

“Socrates was going to find an excuse to spend the night and help with the search for James and the Book of the Dead,” explained Ellie.

“Oh, his note explained all that. In my weakened state, I tried to punch him but clearly, I missed. So, I have spent the post meridian hours recovering so that I can track our Greek philosophizing counsel and extinguish his life force.”

“When you say, ‘departed,’”- began a nervous Brisco.

“I mean, nearly departed. My plan is to get through this effervescent material and help Mr. Poole shuffle of this mortal coil.”

The duo elected to believe Pete’s comment was more as a jest, simply because there was a larger problem beyond interpersonal conflict at present. Was this material safe enough to pass through?

Brisco neared it to study it a bit more and try to find a suitable item to use as a test case before risking the safety of the trio. As Brisco began to study the ground around him for clues on if the dome was expanding and how it might be affecting the grass below, he heard Ellie shout, “DUCK!”

Brisco felt a sharp pain as though he was hit by a two by four and then a feeling of falling forward and melting through a vat of butter before darkness consumed him.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Brisco woke up to see a shimmering sky above him. It was a beautiful display of colors above but it lacked a single star. Clearly, he had fallen to the other side of the dome. He gently sat up and looked back towards where he had come in. He was looking at two shadowy figures but the other side looked dull, like a fogged mirror.

“Are you alright?” the question came from a muffled and distorted voice. It was low but based on the distortion, it could have been for either of them.

“Pete, what the hell?” demanded Brisco.

“Is it safe to come through?”

“Aside from wrist pain-“

“If you are trying to say long sentences, we can only make out one word out of every five.”

“I said, come on through. The water’s fine.”


“YES!” came Brisco’s emphatic response. The pounding in Brisco’s head was still a bit overwhelming so he stayed on the ground as he watched the two figures cautiously pass through the material. As they continued to slowly make their way through, Brisco became aware of the growing pain in his wrist. As he inspected it, he noticed that his wrist was bent the wrong way. Whatever battle that he was about to face would be without his right hand.

“Perfect!” muttered Brisco in sarcasm.

When Pete and Ellie finally made it through, they had both brought all of the guns and ammunition that Brisco had loaded in the car from S-Mart and a box of dynamite from Michael and Fiona.

“What the hell did you do to me, Pete?”

“I theorized that the best method to cross over to the other side was to implement an inanimate or empty object.”

“That’s why I was looking for a tree branch or a rock-“ grunted Brisco.

“I figured your head would be as empty of an inanimate object as the next,” smirked Pete.

At Brisco’s glowering stare, Pete grinned and continued, “You never know what to expect when it comes to Pete Hutter. And let’s be honest, that’s what you love about me.”

Part VI - Chapter 34 – Darkness Unleashed

Rachel had just sat down in the chair began inspecting each book. The first leather bound item turned out to be an old and faded journal with an inscription on the inside, “If I have passed onto the next realm my dear, be sure to burn this journal. I want nothing to tether me to this world when I pass beyond the veil as I would like to join my daughter and husband in peace.” Since it seemed unlikely that a widow’s journal would be the cause of evil being unleashed and she did not want to intrude into Mrs. Winchester’s personal life, she laid it to the side.

The other two were books; the first was titled “Views from our Heavenly Home” by Andrew Jackson Davis and the second was “Rules to be Observed when Creating Spiritual Circles” by Emma Hardinge Britten. Rachel flipped through both of them but did not see anything that looked remotely like a book of insurmountable evil. She took another flip through each book and the journal when the mansion’s bell began to peal. To Rachel, it sounded like it was screaming in fear and she was sure that she had leaped out of her skin when the ringing began. She glanced at the clock on the mantel, it was only 11:55 pm. Why was the séance starting early this evening?

“Why are you here?” came a stern woman’s voice. Rachel turned towards the voice certain that she had been caught by Mrs. Marriott or Mrs. Dechant and she was unsure what excuse to offer regarding her behavior. Instead, there was a tall, thin woman with dark hair in ringlets flowing down her back. She was dressed in a white night gown and had a white woolen shawl wrapped around her shoulders. The antique candelabra she was holding made her face flicker in the dark.

Rachel stammered to start her lie, “I’m sorry, Ma’am. I was here to light the fires-“

“Rachel, come with me now!” the woman interrupted. She shooed Rachel towards a door behind them. As Rachel passed through the door, she felt a shiver go through her spine and noticed that she could suddenly see her breath despite having lit the fire. Rachel turned and within moments the woman had miraculously moved passed the settee, across the room, and was suddenly inches away from Rachel’s face. Rachel looked into her eyes but there was something glassy or hollow to them, with dark circles encircling them as though she hadn’t slept in days.

“The coming darkness will search for anyone not warded. Come with me if you want to live!” ordered the woman as she urgently set down the candelabra before taking Rachel’s hand to lead her to a part of the house that Rachel had not seen before. As she led Rachel through each room, an icy pain began to crawl up Rachel’s arm. It felt like she was holding onto a frozen sword rather than a human hand. She looked down to see that her hand was already red, protesting the cold. The further the woman led Rachel, the more dilapidated and less safe each room looked. Suddenly, they came to what seemed to be a dead end and the woman stopped. Rachel looked around and saw that she was standing in what looked like an abandoned bedroom with cracks in the walls and floorboards that seemed to unsettle beneath her feet.

“How is this room any safer than the sitting room we just left?” asked a puzzled Rachel.

“It will be safe enough,” said the woman as she inspected the room what Rachel could only assume were invisible intruders. The woman’s head snapped back towards Rachel before she asked, “Do you have salt?”


“Yes, I could feel your dress pocket burn me when you would stumble into me as we were moving through the house. I can only assume, and hope, that you are carrying salt.”

Rachel was about to protest but based on the absurdity of this moment and the alarm in the woman’s voice, Rachel simply answered, “Yes.”

“Okay. Make a circle of salt. One large enough for you to stand inside of.”

“Shouldn’t I make it large enough for the two of us?” inquired Rachel as she lifted the salt canister out of her pocket and began to comply with the rushed instructions.

“You really don’t understand, do you, pet?” the woman laughed as though answering the silly question of a child. “I’ll be fine.”

As Rachel finished the circle the woman paced around the salt, inspecting Rachel’s work. “It’s certainly a stingy amount of salt to be sure. But I think that it will be enough.”

Seeming to be satisfied, the woman turned to look outside the window and down towards the grounds. “No matter what happens Rachel - what you hear… what you see. Do not move! Even if the world is full of screams, which it will be in a moment. Don’t move!”

Rachel stood staring at the woman in stunned silence, unsure how to respond. To Rachel’s amazement, she blinked and the woman seemed to float away through the wall and towards the courtyard. Or had she vanished? Rachel wasn’t sure about where the woman went, only that the ghost had urgently attempted to save her from something. But what could a ghost be afraid of?

And then the screams began.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Viva was by himself looking at what seemed to be a particularly rotted section of wood when he heard a male voice walking towards him. It was getting louder not just because he was getting closer, but he seemed to be increasing his volume as well. To make the moment truly eerie, whatever he was beginning to command or shout, it certainly was not English.

“Uh, hola amigo…Que are you saying?” inquired Viva in his broken Spanish as the workman Viva came into view, enabling Viva to recognize the man as Reynolds. Viva only had moments to recognize the figure when to Viva’s horror, the man took out a knife and began to spill blood over a book he was clutching as his chanting increased in volume to the point of shouting.

“That’s enough ,son!” exclaimed Viva as he took out his gun and shot the man twice, glad to have brought the gun despite the odd looks from the other men. Salt rounds should be enough to stun the man and help stop the masochistic act without actually killing the man, Viva reasoned. Viva’s hunch proved accurate as the man was stunned and had been knocked over with the wind knocked out of him. Viva stood over the man to ensure the fellow was knocked out. Viva strapped the shotgun over his shoulder and began to drag the man in the general direction of the entrance.

“You’re too late. The door is opened,” came a twisted voice from the body that Viva was dragging only it seemed too guttural to have come from the man who was chanting only moments ago. The figure seemed to be struggling for air so Viva stopped to inspect the man and potentially dress his wounds, but the man no longer looked like himself. He was ghostly pale with a dark ooze dripping out of his eyes and ears. His hair had gone from brown to a light yellow, almost white.

Viva lost his footing staring at the man. “What the- you’re the devil in disguise!”

Suddenly, the men near the entrance began to shrilly scream in terror. Viva momentarily turned toward the entrance, holding his breath while waiting for the sound of Whip’s shotgun. When it didn’t happen, Viva began jog back towards his friend. But Viva was only able to take a few steps before the deathly-looking man pounced onto Viva’s back. Despite the appearance of having withered away, Reynolds had considerable strength. Viva hurled the man from off his back landing the pale workman onto his back. As Viva took a step back, the man continued to crawl on his stomach in Viva’s direction. Most disturbing to Viva was that the man was opening and closing his mouth like a snapping turtle as he continued to slide across the ground. It was as though the man had not only aged in the span of moments but also converted into a zombie.

“Shoot him!” commanded a female voice. Aaron shot the man again with a salt round which stunned the workman enough to cause a halt in slithering on the ground. As Viva carefully eyed the workman lying on the ground, he suddenly felt a cold woman’s hand on his shoulder. He spun around to see a dark-haired woman wearing a white night gown. Before he could ask who she was, she took his hand and hurriedly guided him through the rubble, past the rotting beam, and over to a tiny door. The door looked as if it had been forgotten as it was rusted closed and Viva had to kick it a few times despite the door’s protesting squeaks. When he finally got it partially open, he had to crawl through the space, dragging the shotgun behind him.

When Viva finally made it outside he took a deep breath of fresh air only to cough out the dust that had inadvertently swallowed while trying to squeeze through the door. After a few coughs to clear his lungs, Viva brushed himself off and addressed the woman. “Thank ya. Thank ya very much, Ma’am.”

“Aaron, you have to help Lenore. She’s keeping her staff safe but two people who know what’s going on is better than one. Be sure to grab an axe on the way.”

“Doesn’t the salt rounds take care of ghosts?”

“Salt stuns supernatural beings but it does not eliminate them. Besides, you are no longer just dealing with spirits. The book of the dead has released the Kandarian and all of the darkness and evil creatures that he rules. He will work to enslave as much of the human race as possible.”

“And why will an axe help?”

But instead of answering the woman disappeared. At that moment, the bell in the tower began to ring and warn of pending danger. Instead of looking for the strange woman, Viva ran towards the kitchen by way of the shed for the recommended axe. Between an axe and his shotgun, Viva hoped it would be enough to save Lenore.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Tilly had just finished providing Mrs. Winchester with her nightly absinthe and the séance was five minutes away from beginning. She had perched herself outside the door to wait for a cue about bringing in the next round of snacks or drinks. The foreman had not appeared yet but she could see the shadows of the architect and of Mrs. Winchester as they prepared for their séance. Suddenly, male shrieks of horror and pain filled the night air. Due to the odd design of the house, Tilly could look down into the kitchen below and watch the head chef, Mrs. Lonefeather. She seemed to be made for leadership as she quickly moved the kitchen staff into a huddle and grabbed a large box of salt from a pantry and commanded the kitchen staff to scour the cabinets for additional salt containers. From where Tilly stood, it also looked like Lenore had pulled a shotgun from a kitchen pantry and began to load it with ammunition. “Such an odd thing to hide in a millionaire widow’s pantry,” thought Tilly.

As more screams filled the air, Tilly stopped watching the group below and ran through the door to the bell tower to check on Mrs. Winchester. Tilly could not explain why but she felt an instinctive urge to protect the widow. As though the mansion had already lost so much, it could not bear to lose her as well. “Strange that I should feel a connection with an inanimate object like a house.”

Tilly opened the door to the tower but found it empty with the bell ringing itself. Tilly did a lap around the tiny room, careful to not fall into the kitchen below. She had made a single rotation when she suddenly ran into Mr. Adams. It was as if he had appeared out of thin air. For a moment she felt like a heroine in her favorite Bronte novels with a handsome yet mysterious man here to rescue her from a dark and sinister force. She smiled up at Mr. Adams but found his face anything but pleased.

“What are you doing?” demanded Mr. Adams.

The moment shattered, Tilly began to stutter, “I- uh. I- uh want-wanted to…”

Mr. Adams rolled his eyes before stating, “Now, I’ve got to get you safe too.” He sighed as he took her arm and led her back down out of the séance room. They passed through a couple rooms before he opened the door to what appeared to be a small closet. When Tilly looked in, she noticed that there was another door directly across from her. The dark space was maybe 18 inches in length but the width was impossible to calculate as it was dark. If Tilly had to guess, it was a small crawl space between walls.

“What is this-“ asked Tilly in awe and confusion.

“The rooms were built at different times so they don’t quite extend to each other,” explained Mr. Adams as he gently pushed her inside. She reached across to open the other door but he stopped her. “Stay here in between the doors and for God’s sake, stay quiet!”

Tilly obeyed and left the opposite door alone. Instead, she turned to look back at her rescuer, “What about Mrs. Winchester? She wasn’t in the bell-tower and I was in front of the only exit.”

“We don’t reveal all of our secrets about the passageways to new staff,” explained Mr. Adams. “All you need to know is that she’s safe.”

He started to close the door when she stopped him by asking, “Mr. Adams? What’s happening? Why are people screaming outside?”

He gave a forced smile before replying, “I’m sure that it’s some kind of labor strike or town drunks causing a ruckus downstairs. As long as you stay hidden in this closet, you’ll be safe.”

At that, he closed the door.

Tilly was left standing between the two doors, in the dark, and alone.

The screaming and gunshots continued and Tilly tried to cover her ears in the dark. But as the noises became louder outside, she decided that maybe she shouldn’t stand exactly between the two doors. In the dark and unable to see, she slowly shifted her body to the side to stand between two walls rather than between the two doors.

Tilly reached inside her apron pocket for matches. Mrs. Dechant had Tilly keep a variety of odd things in her pockets to ensure that she could satisfy any whim of Mrs. Winchester. Among the items were pencils, a small sewing kit, hair pins, and a book of matches. Tilly pulled out the box of matches and with trembling hands, attempted to light the first match. The first match wouldn’t light. The second one wouldn’t light. Tears were beginning to burn Tilly’s eyes. The overwhelming fear was beginning to take its toll. She closed her eyes, took a breath, steadied her hand, and finally lit a match.

Her delight of lighting the match quickly faded as the elongated space between rooms seemed to become more eerie now that she was trapped inside of it. Rachel carefully took another sidestep away from the doors as she felt an inexplicable panic begin to rise in her throat. Her fingers burned as the match reached her fingertips so she quickly let the match fall to the ground and crushed it beneath her boot. She stood there in the dark, opening and closing her eyes.

“See? There is nothing to this adolescent and irrational fear of the dark. There is more to fear outside with the labor dispute… or drunks…or…” Tilly shook the unimaginable thought away before trying to calm herself. “Mr. Adams will be back shortly. In the meantime, keep breathing. You’re safe. Mr. Adams said so-“

In an effort to calm herself, she lit another match in an attempt to prove that there was nothing evil lurking in the dark. She lit the match and looked down the space on either side of her. Something moved out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head right to double check her findings and found a dark cloud moving toward her. Something about the dark cloud made everything in her body scream to run away. But her legs wouldn’t move. Tears began to spill down her face as the dark cloud now stopped centimeters from her face. Tilly held the match between herself and the dark cloud. And then the dark cloud blew out the match.

The next scream in the dark mansion was Tilly’s.

Part VI - Chapter 33 - Searching for the Book of the Dead

Viva was lost in his work carving wood for a set of cabinets for one of the many kitchens, music and fashion trend setter were just two of his many artistic gifts. Inspiration was flowing freely as he carved intricate designs into the wood despite the cold floor and gothic atmosphere. Viva had chosen to ignore the warnings from the rest of the crew that the roof was “less inclined to be ripped out at a later date.” But Viva was sure that even if the kitchen was scrapped or changed functions, his cabinets would simply be moved to a different part of the house.

“Aaron,” came a voice from behind. Viva dropped the cabinet door onto the floor and sprung to his feet, knife in hand. As he turned, he was relieved to find Whip instead of a ghost.

“You almost lost your head, there Whip! I’m all shook up with everyone’s talk of ghosts.”

Whip sat down next to Viva and whispered, “Got news from Brisco and Ellie.”

“Is he near town yet?”

“He had to drive in from Oklahoma. It’s not a short trip but I think he’ll be here tomorrow.” Viva shrugged and sat back down to inspect his work. “Anyway, Viva, that’s not the point. We need to have salt rounds handy and need to make sure that some kinda Book of the Dead isn’t opened.”

“The Book of the What?” asked Viva as Whip pulled out a crude map of the property that he had asked the Foreman to draw out.

“Book of the Dead.”

“So, do we know what it looks like?”

“Nope. Only that it’s about to be opened and that it’s bad. Really bad.”

“Based on the book’s title, I kinda figured it wasn’t about rainbows and butterflies,” spat Viva sarcastically as he wiped off the knife. “Did a visitor from the future clue us in on who to be on the lookout for?”

Whip looked over the map that he had been studying before shaking his head no.

“These folks from the future aren’t all that helpful,” muttered Viva before complaining aloud, “So, how are we supposed to know what to look for or who to prevent from opening it?”

“Ellie didn’t say so I guess Brisco didn’t know.”

“Well, that’s helpful. Let’s just storm around the house knocking books out of everyone’s hands.”

Whip rolled his eyes before trying to get Viva back on track, “Viva, I need you to take a look at this map.”

“So, what’s this map for?” Viva asked staring at the map that Whip had laid out on the floor.

“After the Foreman drew out the map, Ellie snuck some shot guns onto the property and I dropped them off in one of the two downstairs cellars. I’m giving you a copy of the map with the guns marked off in the map so you know where to pick them up if needed. There are boxes of ammunition loaded with salt rounds with the guns.”

“Boy, I still don’t like the idea of going to the darkest part of the mansion to get guns.”

“You do know it’s been a few decades since I’ve been in my twenties right?” asked an exasperated Whip.

“You’ll always be the kid covered in paint trying to call out Hondo.”

“And why do I put up with this disrespect?”

“Because I always get you to the best places to eat.”

Suddenly, there was a loud noise as though part of the house was collapsing. The two men hurried to the sound and found a group of men working to remove rubble from a basement area.

“What happened?”

“One of the support beams broke,” replied one of the men.

Whip and Viva worked with other nearby workmen to clear the rubble and to help pull a man out from beneath the house and to safety. As the man was moved into the house to await a doctor, the crew began to survey the damage.

A portly gentleman sighed deeply and seemed hesitant to go near the underside of the house. “I thought that the ‘floating foundation’ would prevent things like this?” he complained.

“The foundation can help prevent some things, like earthquake damage, but it doesn’t fix or prevent everything. For safety’s sake, I’m going to need at least a half a dozen men to add more support beams under here and to inspect the rest,” instructed the foreman.

Since dark and creepy basements seemed the logical place to begin the search for an evil book, Viva and Whip volunteered with three other men and the foreman. The portly man was one of the first to disappear, clearly afraid that he would be asked to join the team. Since they were near the hidden cache of weapons, Viva and Whip armed themselves with shotguns pre-loaded with ammunition and bandoliers before taking flashlights.

The foreman had watched the two men don their weapons before asking, “What kind of trouble might you be expecting trouble down there?”

Whip looked at Viva in an attempt to think of a valid reason for carrying weapons under the house. “We hate rats,” explained Viva.

“I’ve yet to see one-“ responded Reynolds, a scrawny and unkept looking workman.

“We’ve seen ‘em!” insisted Whip, less convincingly than Viva. “Big ones.” Whip held out his hands about shoulder width apart in an effort to provide a size to the imaginary vermin.

“Like I said. Rats,” agreed Viva.

“Rodents Of Unusual Size,” mused Reynolds. “Fitting in a house of ghosts.”

“Just don’t blow off a toe in the shadows, specifically not one of mine,” shrugged the foreman before he changed the subject. “I won’t be with you too long tonight as it’s getting close to midnight and I have to be available for Mrs. Winchester at midnight for her nightly séance,” he explained as he led the small group under the mansion.

Once underneath the house, the group had to carefully step in to avoid the damage of the fallen beam and items of storage. Once the men had made it through to the foundation part of the basement, the foreman separated the men into two groups. Whip and the three men were instructed to clear out any rubble and storage items and then load in the replacement beam and an extra support beam where the damage had occurred. Meanwhile, the foreman and Viva took separate lamps and began to inspect the rest of the beams beneath the house.

As they moved through the underground space, Viva could feel the quietness that only comes in dark places. The air was stale and the further they moved from the entrance, the more dead the basement felt. Even the sounds of their footsteps seemed to be enveloped and lost beneath the mansion. Something about the bleak atmosphere caused the hair on the back of Viva’s neck to stick up.

Unable to withstand the eerie silence, Viva stopped to inspect a giant crack along a wall before asking, “What’s this? Should we be concerned?”

“Nah. It’s an old scar. Back from the 1906 earthquake. See it’s a ripple along this wall here. It’s not a load bearing wall so I like to think of it as our Good Luck Charm,” Viva could hear the smile in the foreman’s voice as he gently tapped at the wall, presumably for good luck.

“Were you here for that big ole’ earthquake in ‘06?”

“I was. It took us hours to get Mrs. Winchester out of her room. We had to board up that section of those house and start building in other directions after that. She also had us stop adding floors to the house.”

“Were those parts of the house too unsteady after the quake?”

“Think we could have reinforced it to restabilize it but the real reason for the change was because the spirits wanted us to change directions.”

Silence filled the air again as the two continued to inspect the underside of the house. After a few short minutes, Viva noticed a man with a wheelbarrow pushing a large load their direction. As Viva passed him, the two acknowledged each other with a quick nod of cordiality. However, as soon as the man passed, Viva could see his breath in front of him and a cold shiver went down his spine.

The foreman turned to see where Viva was and noticed that Viva was shivering. “You’ve just met Clive, I assume?”

“The man with the wheelbarrow? Yes, I saw him.”

“Good man,” replied the foreman as he continued walking. Viva was unsure if the foreman was calling Clive or Viva a good man but decided to let it go. Viva still couldn’t stand the silence so took a shot at following up on the cryptic information that Whip and Viva had received from Brisco.

“Have you seen a book?”

“What book?”

“You know a…” Viva stammered on how to describe something he had never seen nor had anyone else from the group seen. “Ahh… a big book?”

“You mean like the ‘Good Book?’ You don’t need to convert me, I already believe,” replied the Foreman.

“No, I mean like a big, bad book?”

“Viva, I appreciate your need to fill the silence down here. It’s a dark silence. But we should probably chat about something else. I don’t have time to read books – good, bad, or otherwise. But I can talk to you about my time here.”

At that, Viva listened to the foreman tell his personal history of the house. The house of mysteries, ghosts, the peculiar widow who owned the house, and her master architect that scarcely anyone had seen since his arrival 6 months ago.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Rachel and Tilly were working the night shift. Both had their uniforms custom made in house and Rachel was glad to see someone as kind and positive as Tilly with an outfit and shoes that actually fit her. They shared a room in the servants’ hall, much to Rachel’s relief. In a house full of ghosts, she would rather share a room than be by herself. As Rachel and Tilly moved towards the main kitchen below the séance room, Rachel reached into her pocket to feel for the salt.

Ellie and Rachel could not get her pistol to shoot rounds made out of salt. Shotguns were the only weapon that seemed to work. And since she couldn’t carry a shotgun strapped to her back while dusting the mantel or making a bed, Ellie thought it might be best if Rachel and Lenore carried large containers of salt in their apron pockets. Maybe they could throw it or sprinkle it around to deter unfriendly ghosts. Unfortunately, “Future Pete” had not provided much information to go on.

Rachel and Tilly arrived at the kitchen just as the servants’ table was being set. Lenore had to move in earlier in the day to begin cooking for the evening shift so there was already a crowd of kitchen staff sitting around her. Rachel elected to sit at the far end of the table away from the rest of the staff. As the group began to pass the dinner rolls, Rachel could not believe how ravenous she felt. She could only assume that the tension in the house and the feeling of constantly being watched by ghosts had increased her anxiety driven appetite. She barely noticed as Tilly took the seat next to her as Rachel heaped food onto her plate.

“So, what did they make you do?” Tilly asked, excitedly.


“I had to dictate a series of nonsensical sentences while walking backwards through a room. What did they have you do?”

“Ladies, we do not discuss the interview process or what it entails. Each interview process should never move beyond your individual experiences,” warned Mrs. Dechant as she passed the mashed potatoes.

“Well, that’s me told,” whispered Tilly. After taking a couple bites, Tilly turned back to Rachel but this time to whisper her comments.

“I about fell to the floor when they told me that I had the job. Not to mention how much we’re going to get paid. I mean, I heard that it paid well. But I hadn’t imagined it would be this much! Honestly, I really applied just to work in such a unique atmosphere.”

“Why?” Rachel asked between mouthfuls with mild interest.

“I want to write like the Bronte sisters. Something about love, ghosts, moors, stuff like that.”

“Is there much of a market in writing like the Bronte sisters?”

“I’m sure that people will always love the ideas of hopeless romances.”

“You mean like Romeo and Juliet?”

Tilly rolled her eyes before responding, “That’s so unimaginative. I mean stories like werewolves and humans or vampires and werewolves or something like that. There’s always a market for a protagonist and a monster or at the very least, a protagonist and the unattainable.”

Rachel still couldn’t see any market for a human and monster story but still found herself asking, “Like a woman and a time traveling man?”

“That might be an option-“mused Tilly. “Although, I’m really more interested in ghosts.” After a few more bites, Tilly changed the subject again. “Have you seen Mr. Adams?”

“No. I didn’t think anyone saw the chief architect.”

“Well, I only met him for a moment. He wanted to chat with me about terminology for when I take notes after the séance is completed by Mrs. Winchester and Mr. Adams. He’s handsome enough to make any girl swoon.”

“Really?” asked Rachel getting bored of the conversation.

“They say that he appeared in a locked up part of the house. Just appeared. Out of thin air! And since his arrival, he’s been helping Mrs. Winchester. But he prefers that no one knows about his involvement in the house. He wants all credit is given to Mrs. Winchester for the building. Doesn’t that sound mysterious? I wonder if he’s a ghost! Think of it! My very first ghost!”

Rachel thought about James for a moment but then pushed the thought out of her mind. If it was James, then why hadn’t he reached out to anyone? What hadn’t he told anyone that he was here?

Mrs. Dechant gave out assignments to each of the maids. Rachel would lay out clothes for Mrs. Winchester, light the fire in a sitting room, and wait for Mrs. Winchester to complete her séance. Meanwhile, Tilly would provide absinthe to Mrs. Winchester shortly before the séance would begin. According to Mrs. Dechant, Mrs. Winchester felt that absinthe and marijuana helped better commune with spirits and increased the spark of creativity to design various aspects of the house. The rest of the séance, she would be posted outside of the door to provide food and tea to Mrs. Winchester, Mr. Adams, and the foreman should anyone become hungry. Following the séance, Tilly would work with the foreman and Mr. Adams to take notes as the men determined how to best complete the spirits’ wishes for the mansion. Mrs. Winchester would join Rachel in the sitting room where she would read to widow from a spiritualist’s guide, before helping the widow get ready for bed around 6 in the morning.

“Wish me luck,” whispered Tilly with a wink. Rachel winked back before quickly moving upstairs to start the search for Mrs. Winchester’s book collection.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

After several taunts from the other men regarding Whip’s lack of speed carrying a shotgun while attempting to help remove old furniture and other storage items, Whip elected to unstrap his gun and leave it by the entrance. Before moving towards the bigger storage items, Whip used a foot to scoot the smaller items out of the way. It almost felt like a city waste area as there were so many small and broken things that were cluttering the floor. Whip kicked a doll with a missing arm to one side, slid a small tower of books with his foot, and decided to toss parts of broken chairs as far as he could. When Whip finally reached his destination, an overstuffed chair, he heard the voices of some men carrying a small end table out of the way. Determined to catch up with the others, Whip picked up a chair but almost immediately set it back down cursing. “The chair must weigh at least 3-4 times more than it should! Viva always gets the cushier jobs, like inspecting the foundation beneath the house instead of moving overweight furniture and large beams around!”

Whip had barely left the under area before he heard a shout from inside, “Take a look at this! This must be the ugliest book I’ve ever seen.”

At the words, “ugliest book,” Whip almost dropped the chair on his own foot. After regaining control of the chair, Whip excitedly placed the chair down without injuring his feet and ran back to the rest of the men. How could I be so stupid? Brisco said that we needed to watch for books around the house and I neglected to inspect the books before leaving the area. When Whip reached the small group of men, each man was holding several books up to their lamps and flashlights to scan each item.

“Let me see that!” commanded Whip as he began to rip the books out of the others’ hands.

There were grumblings among the men as they watched Whip flip through the cover of each book. It turned out to be a children’s book collection but the illustrator lacked any amount of talent. Each book cover looked uglier than the last. Whip felt a wave of relief wash over him as he inspected the last storybook’s cover and spine. None of these items were titled “Book of the Dead” so clearly none of them would cause any issues.

“Nightmarish, eh?” one of the men commented, taking a book from Whip.

“I might take one of these home to my boys as it’s sure to give him nightmares. He likes macabre things like Edgar Allen Poe.”

“People enjoy reading gross things?” asked another man in disgust as he took a book back from Whip and held it to a lamp for inspection. Reynolds remained in the shadows as he reached out and took a book from Whip’s arms. It seemed rattier than the rest, the pages felt like it had an unusual texture and the words were written in red ink. However, since it was wrapped in the same ugly book jacket as the others, it seemed no more dangerous than the rest of the books. Whip relinquished the books to the other men and began looking around the floor in case the mysteriously evil book laid hidden in the dark. No one paid any notice to the shadowy outline of Reynolds as he ran his fingers over each page whispering to himself.

“What have you found there?” the foreman demanded, irritated to see the men standing around instead of working. When the foreman was able to see what the group held, his face changed from annoyance to the sternest face imaginable. If Whip didn’t know better, he would think that they had just shot the foreman’s dog rather than simply uncover a pile of curious children’s books.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Rachel had difficulty finding the sitting room. After several wrong turns into various green rooms, a bathroom, and several doors that opened to walls, she finally found the sitting room. Since it would be awhile before Mrs. Winchester would finish her séance, Rachel could take her time to carefully rummage the room to find the “spiritualist’s guidebooks” and review each to ensure that each would be safe to read.

Rachel looked about the room but there were no books laying out in the open. Rachel sighed. Of course, this wouldn’t be easy. Since she was still recovering from her gunshot wound, it was difficult to open each heavy cabinet door lining the walls and while she found a series of linens, she could not find any books. Rachel opened a door assuming that it was a kind of bureau but found herself in a bedroom with the lights off and a woman lightly snoring. At Rachel’s abrupt entrance, the woman awoke and sat upright in bed.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” came the whispered demands.

“I- uh – I,” stammered Rachel taken aback by the accidental appearance to the woman. The woman lit a bedside lamp before looking at Rachel again, eyes narrowed. “I say again, who are you?”

“My apologies,” the words were now rushing out of Rachel. “I am supposed to light the fireplace but couldn’t find the matches.”

“Matches? You were looking in my bedroom for matches?”

“I thought it might be a cupboard,” Rachel lamely explained.

“Did you try looking about the mantle place?”

“Yes, ma’am but I’ll check again in case I missed it.”

“See that you do and close the doors after you. If the matches are not above the fireplace and you need to continue your search, be sure to not slam the cupboard doors as you look,” commanded the woman. Clearly this must be Mrs. Winchester’s niece, Mrs. Marriott. Rachel had been told that a niece and grand-nephew lived on the property but as they moved about during the day time, Rachel had assumed that she would not meet either individual.

After closing the door, Rachel went to the mantle place to search for matches. Sure enough, they were easy to find and Rachel decided to light the fireplace and hope that the flicker beneath the doorway would be enough to appease Mrs. Marriott’s ire and enable Rachel to silently continue her search. As Rachel stood by the growing fire, she absent mindedly surveyed the room to determine where might be best to continue the search. As she turned to better survey the room, her hand bumped the chair next to the fireplace. It both sent pain through her shoulder and knocked the blanket off the chair and onto the floor. As Rachel reached down to gather the blanket, fold it, and drape it over the back of the chair, she noticed a couple small books tucked away into the folds of the chair. It was as though these books were precious and needed to be hidden from the world.

“Could these be the books that Mrs. Winchester reads each night? Could one of these be the Book of the Dead?”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

“I say again, what do you have there?” boomed the foreman’s voice.

“Books, sir,” the man with the macabre son offered.

“We found them beneath the rubble and were clearing them out of the way to bring in the other support beams,” Whip quickly explained.

The foreman sighed. “Give the books to me,” he commanded and most of the men quietly obeyed in turning the books over.

“If you don’t mind my asking,” began Whip, “but what is all of this?”

“Mrs. Winchester prefers to keep her life private. All I know is that she brings these items across the country with her. It’s either the memory of someone dear to her or it’s meant as a peace offering for spirits,” explained the foreman. After collecting the books, he moved to a far corner and gently rested the books out of sight.

“These particular books must be left to rest undisturbed,” ordered the foreman as he turned to face his men.

“Where’s Reynolds?” asked the man nearest Whip.

The group turned around looking for the 4th man in the group, the one who had been muttering and whispering out of the group’s sight. A silence fell over the group as each man looked about the darkness for Reynolds but he was gone. And then out of the still darkness, came the sound of a loud whisper as it was moving further into the darkness.

“Oh my God!” muttered the foreman before he bounded back to the small pile of books he had just set down. He scrambled through each one before asking in a panicked voice, “Did he take a book?”

“I guess so,” muttered a man. “He didn’t want to let it go since finding it in the pile of books.”

Suddenly the whisper was no longer a hush but a voice talking loudly in the dark. Reynolds voice was growing louder and louder as if he were commanding the house and all of its shadows. As Whip listened, it was clear that the words were not a language that he recognized. The sound of the words caused ice to run through Whip’s veins.

I had the Book of the Dead in my hands and let it go!

Part VI - Chapter 32 - Shop Smart, That's S-Mart

On the highway

Brisco had pulled over to catch a couple hours of sleep when he heard someone tap on the driver’s side window. Brisco lifted his hat which had been shading his eyes as he napped but the angle of the sun made the individual’s face a mere shadow. Brisco rubbed his eyes in an attempt to better shake off the grogginess and better see his visitor.

“Hello, Brisco-“ came a familiar singsong greeting.

“Pete, you idiot! You’re supposed to be in San Jose!” growled Brisco as he sat up, frustrated at Pete’s lack of concern for James.

“I am there,” came the riddled response.

Brisco gave a frustrated groan as he was too tired to process riddles and shoved the door open. Pete only had moments to move out of the way or he would have been hit by the door. Brisco didn’t care and almost wished he had hit Pete for waking him.

As Brisco got out of the car, he got a better look at Pete. Pete looked aged, old even. “Has the bracelet aged you since the last time I saw you?”

Pete waved his hand to dismiss the question. “Just a different point in my time stream.”

“Time stream?”

“Essentially, I’m a future version of the Pete you know. I have come back in time to help you protect the group. I would hate to not make it to this moment in my life because you screwed up.”

Brisco pinched the bridge of his nose before asking what felt obvious, “If there’s danger, why not just hop to that point in time and take everyone out of there?”

“Long story and most of the science will go over your head.”

“Try me,” retorted Brisco.

“Alright. Due to the high EMF at the Winchester Mansion, it causes to much friction with the time and space dimensions of the bracelet. Only instead of the contradicting frequencies creating a wormhole, the mansion acts like a deterrent. If I were to try to teleport in, I would forcefully repel me.”

“So, James can’t get in?”

“Unless the mansion’s EMF locked onto him and pulled him in,” responded Pete, ominously.

Brisco leaned against the car and crossed his arms across his chest. He was much too tired to follow Pete but asked anyway, “How does a mansion yank someone with a time traveling bracelet to itself? It’s not like houses have souls.”

“Most don’t,” shrugged Pete.

Brisco couldn’t decide if the shrug signified a lack of knowledge or an evasion to the question but decided to change tactics. “Couldn’t you just teleport near the mansion and get everyone out?”

“No, because that’s essentially where my younger version is.”

“And that’s bad?”

“Do you want to risk ripping a hole in all of time and space?”

“Why can’t you just teleport outside of town, telegraph Socrates and tell everyone to get out?”

“Partially because this has already happened and I am here to ensure that everything goes according to plan. And, as I mentioned earlier, I need to ensure that you don’t do something stupid and kill me-“ Brisco opened his mouth to protest but the older man held up his hand with an authority that forced Brisco to be silent. “And because I know that James is at the house. Right now.”

“When I called Ellie at the hotel she said that no one had seen a James at the house or even in the town.”

Pete was losing patience and lectured, “Listen, County! I can either give you all of the answers or I can cut to the chase and give you what you need to know! I have only got so much time before I need to move on.”

“Aren’t you strapped to a time machine? Doesn’t that give you have all the time in the world?” asked Brisco sarcastically.

“Have Ellie explain time travel to you over drinks in a week or so,” commented an annoyed Pete. However, something about Pete’s response created a certain feeling of relief came over Brisco. “So, Ellie and I are going to live through this. Anyone else?”

“County, get a pen and paper because I’m outta here in about 30 seconds and here’s what you need to know – shop smart. S-Mart. It’s in the next town and it will gear you up for the Winchester Mansion. You are going to fight ghosts and one of the best defense options are rounds filled with salt. Salt is the only deterrent that will keep you safe from the darkness. The book of the dead will be opened and all kinds of evil will be let loose, so stick together as often as possible.”

A plethora of questions filled Brisco’s mind as he listened to Pete’s crazy advise but the only one that he could muster was, “Why can’t I just wire the group that the book can’t be opened?”

“You can try. But know that in my past, the book has already been opened.” Suddenly, Pete disappeared and left Brisco alone in the middle of the road trying to sort out Pete’s odd shopping list and cryptic advice.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Brisco rushed to the next town and found a telephone to call the group at the hotel. The hotel desk rang for several minutes before picking up and a desk clerk was able to connect Brisco to Ellie. Brisco hurriedly told Ellie about his encounter with the Pete of the future. Ellie was silent for a few moments after Brisco apprised her of the situation.


“I’m processing Brisco. Lenore and Rachel are repacking to move into the house, so I’ll have to see how I can help them carry guns or salt around without blowing their covers. It’s not like a maid and a head chef can carry guns while making beds or throw salt around the bathroom. Besides, Viva and Whip are already working at the house and won’t be back until tomorrow. I’ll have to figure out how to get the boys their shotguns as well.”

“What about Socrates? Socrates could smuggle in guns. Although, he’s usually nervous around guns, he redefines gun-runner,” laughed Brisco sardonically.

“Leave Socrates to me. Have you found this S-Mart yet?”

“Not yet because I wanted to talk with you first. Warn you about the Book of the Dead.”

“I’ll have to see if I can do some research on it so we know what to look for.”

“Look for?”

“Brisco, that place has over 100 rooms and there were numerous shelves and areas for books to lie around on. We have to know what it is to destroy or protect it before it gets opened.”

“What are you going to tell the group in the meantime? Stay away from books?”

Ellie paused for a moment before stating, “They should at least keep an eye out for any books that have razor sharp fangs and will attempt to bite your hand if you don’t open it correctly.”

“That would certainly be a telling sign,” came the laugh from Brisco. For a moment, he was able to forget the troubles and stress and just talk with his friend.

“I’ve missed this,” Brisco stated as he looked down at his feet and shuffled them slightly.

“You say that to all the girls.” Ellie’s eye roll was almost audible over the line.

“No really. You were the girl that I could talk to about Professor Wickwire, about hunting Bly’s gang, about working for the government.”

“About all of your girl problems?”

“Sometimes, yeah,” Brisco admitted.

Ellie didn’t reply and the silence on the other end was uncomfortable for Brisco.

“Did I lose you?” observed Brisco.

“Thanks for the update but really think I’ve gotta wrap up this call,” Ellie quickly stated to change the subject. “Besides, I’ve got to get the ladies ready before they move in and I’ve got to figure out how to pack ammunition shells with salt.”

“I’ll see you soon.”

“Sure,” came the short response from Ellie and then the line clicked.

As Brisco replaced the receiver, it dawned on him that he didn’t ask why she was not moving into the mansion as well.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Brisco found the general store easily enough although the sign was a bit odd. It looked like it used to say “Shirley’s Marketplace” but it was in the process of being painted over. The only thing that remained was “S Mart.” From the outside, it looked like your average town store and seemed like an odd detail for Pete to emphasize.

As he purchased shot guns and ammunition, Brisco decided to ask the manager about the sign.

“Shirley is my departed wife,” explained the manager as he calculated Brisco’s total.

“I’m sorry to hear about your loss.”

“Not dead, son. Just departed,” the man stated it so matter-of-factly that it threw Brisco for a moment. “It’s the West, son. Sometime a marriage sticks. Sometimes it don’t. But when she took off, I decided that I was going to paint over the name.”

“And you decided on S-Mart?”

“Actually, I hadn’t decided on anything.” After a moment or two, the man looked up from his calculations and asked, “What’d you say?”

“Well, right now, the guy outside has only painted over some of the letters. The remaining letters up there are ‘S-M-A-R-T.’” As Brisco began to dig money out of his billfold, he quoted Pete, “Shop smart. That’s S-Mart.”

“You know that’s got a nice ring to it. Can I keep it?”

“Sure,” responded Brisco as he waved to the merchandise. This conversation was intended to be polite but already felt like a waste of time with the possibilities of Pete’s other clues being just within reach.

“So, how much is the damage?” inquired Brisco.

“Huh?” the man seemed to emerge from a daydream about the success of his shop following the name change. “You sir have just saved my life and my business!”

“I don’t know about that-” responded Brisco, mildly entertained by the hyperbole of the little shopkeeper.

“For you, 50% off!”

“Huh,” commented Brisco before he added, “if that’s the case, I need a few more boxes of ammunition and an extra few guns.”

Part VI - Chapter 31 - The Strangest Interview & Hiring Process

The women left slightly after 8 to be at the mansion for their 9 am interviews. Socrates had forged letters of reference to help each with their interview process. Socrates would arrive at the mansion a few hours later to begin his interview process as a family attorney. Luckily, his career was successful enough that a forgery would not be required for him. Between being an attorney for the Westerfield Club’s robber barons, a handler for agents under President Cleveland, and most recently, a Hollywood consultant, his accomplishments would speak for themselves. Viva and Whip, and hopefully Pete, would be following along in the mid-afternoon. The hiring foreman worked the night shift and would not be awake until after 1 pm.

Rachel and Lenore approached the house with a sense of nervousness. When they had arrived the night before, darkness had hidden how grand the area truly was. In the daylight, it looked like a villa or a large estate. As they passed through the gates, Rachel was awed by the beautiful gardens and the sculpture that they passed. There were several individuals hard at work make the gardens beautiful.

While Rachel and Lenore admired the mansion as they moved towards the doors, Ellie could not take in the landscape or architecture. Her attention was diverted by a severe pounding in her head. Spending all this time trying to get into the eccentric millionaire’s hideaway was now at risk due to the incessant hammering on the property. Ellie chided herself for allowing stress and a headache grade on her nerves and distract her from the priority. She looked at Lenore and tried to focus on what this woman might be experiencing. While Ellie never had children, she could not bear the idea of a son being stolen by a futuristic technology that was slowly killing him. At the thought of what Lenore must be feeling, Ellie pushed her thoughts aside to focus on the interview. She lifted her head and attempted to push through the pain as the crossed the threshold into the house.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard she attempted to bury the pain, a small voice in the back of her mind was screaming, “For the love of god, would you stop the goddamn hammering!”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Rachel sat on a bench and looked around the room to see numerous women, all with references in hand, applying for the two open maid positions. The cooks were taken into another part of the house, presumably to interview or to show off their cooking and leadership skills. An older woman with a sharp nose and wearing a fine yet stiff dress would occasionally come into the room to call out a name before escorting a young lady into, presumably, an office. There must have been a separate exit as the young women would never come back. Ellie was one of the first women called away but Rachel guess that the bar owner was in pain based on how Ellie kept rubbing her temples

“Maybe she eats ‘em,” whispered the red head sitting next to Rachel. She had a thick Texan accent with red hair that seemed to struggle and protest at being pulled back away from her face.

“Excuse me?”

“You looked to be wonderin’ where all them other gals are goin’. Based on the rumors that I hear, she probably eats ‘em or feed ‘em to ghosts,” giggled the red head.

“Miss Tilly Tatum,” called the sharp-nosed woman.

“Good luck!” offered Rachel in an attempt to return the friendliness.

“Luckily, I’m too boney to be supper,” Tilly whispered before winking at Rachel. Rachel studied the girl as she walked away, she seemed to be wearing shoes two sizes too big as they flopped about. She was not only thin but short, not even 5 feet tall. She hunched her shoulder as in a perpetual state of carrying a load but there was a spring in her step that gave the appearance of someone who skips or dances through life.

Rachel pondered the fate of her friends. In that moment, she closed her eyes and imagined a tiny electronic box. Something where everyone who was part of the rescue mission could covertly send status updates on how they were doing with the interview process. At the very least, covertly message where they are currently standing in the mansion to ensure that no one got lost.

Keeping her eyes closed she could eavesdrop the whispered conversations around her without seeming rude or inquisitive. From what the other applicants said in hushed voices the mansion had at least 100 rooms. Many of the female voices were worried, discussing their fear of ghosts or their irritation towards the constant racket. Rachel smiled inwardly as she was able to easily tune out the sound. Growing up on a wild west circuit, she grew up with the sounds of giant tents being pitched prior to a show, packed up, and then pitched up again in another town. In fact, it was one of the few things that she loved about working in Hollywood. The sound of sets being built reminded her of her childhood. Somehow the incessant building made her feel safe despite an inexplicable darkness in the house.

Rachel moved her hands from daintily resting in her lap to grab the bench on either side of herself in nervous energy. She realized that by keeping her eyes shut, she was avoiding not only the gossip but eye contact. In most societal situations, eye contact could be misinterpreted as an invitation to chat which Rachel was not in the mood to do. Rachel had begun to focus on her breathing in an effort to expel the anxious feeling when a cold hand squeezed hers. Despite the cold temperature of the hand, the kind gesture oddly strengthened Rachel. So, when she opened her eyes to thank the stranger, she was shocked to find that no one had moved near her since Tilly and Ellie left for their interviews. In fact, the hallway had emptied down to just two other applicants. Rachel studied the nearest applicant to determine if this individual was the one to thank but the woman shifted her body away from Rachel, lifting her nose to signify an attitude of superiority.

Despite the cold treatment of the fellow interviewee, Rachel decided to ask anyway, “Why did you do that?”

The woman ignored Rachel and began to pick at an imaginary loose thread on her dress. Determined to not be put off, Rachel asked again. “Why did you squeeze my hand?”

“Why would I touch you? A stranger? A competitor for the best paying job along the West Coast, if not the entire country?”

“Excuse me,” apologized Rachel. Rachel was then silent. It was clear that this bespectacled and narrow nosed brunette was used to working in the upper class of servants and only at the best houses. But despite the haughty woman’s nastiness, Rachel was more intrigued by whoever had attempted to offer comfort. As Rachel continued to look up and down the hallway, a cold of chill run up and down her spine. Rachel attempted to draw her wrap tight around her shoulders but nothing could warm her back to room tempterature.

“Rachel Hawkins.” Rachel jumped at the sound of her own name and the references spilled onto the floor. As Rachel stooped to clean up the papers, she saw the tiniest of smiles from the woman sitting on the opposite bench. Rachel quickly followed the sharp-nosed woman through the door but it did not lead to an office like the actress had supposed. Instead, the two women walked through a narrow hallway before passing the kitchen. Rachel caught a glimpse of Lenore who gave Rachel the quickest of winks before turning back to the kitchen staff with hands on hips as she gave orders for meal preparations. “Lenore must have gained the head chef post,” thought Rachel. She was relieved to know that someone had been hired so there would be less pressure on Rachel to succeed in the interview ahead.

Rachel looked back at her guide only to realize that the woman had been speaking to Rachel. Embarrassed, Rachel politely interrupted, “I’m sorry, would you repeat the question?”

“I asked if the hammers bothered you?”

“No ma’am.”

“Are you able to stay awake for long intervals or through the night?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

By this point, they were now passing through a room filled with stained glass. Rachel gasped as she looked around the room in awe; she had never seen so many stained-glass windows before. And here they were, each a stunning piece and all of them waiting to be placed into various parts of the mansion. After a few moments of admiration, Rachel realized that her lack of attention and open gawking might be construed as unprofessional. But instead of an expected scowl, the hook-nosed woman had a hint of a smile of approval.

“Miss Hawkins, I need you to ensure that all of the stained glass with 13 panes are facing the south wall,” instructed the woman.

Rachel was taken aback by the strange request but immediately started the task. Due to Crystal’s strict training, the actress could still determine which way was south despite the maze of winding hallways that she had just walked. After a few moments, Rachel told the woman that she had completed the request.

“Be sure to count all of the panes carefully,” came the hint.

Confused, Rachel went back through to inspect each of the stained-glass panes again. Sure enough, one of the window settings did have 13 panes but the 13th was almost miniscule. As Rachel looked closer, it was clear that someone had cut a pane in half simply to ensure that there was a 13th pane. After Rachel moved it with the rest, she noticed that the woman had been taking notes of Rachel’s progress. “Surely, this is not part of the interview?”

“How long can you stand on your left foot?” asked the interviewer.

“As long as required,” responded Rachel.

“Do so,” the woman commanded. When Rachel lifted her left foot, the woman said, “I need to address something in the kitchen. Please leave your foot in the air until I return and we can continue the interview.”

Rachel stood in the center of the room with one foot in the air and nothing to do but look around. After several minutes, she shifted her references from one hand to another. “Were the papers getting sweaty?” Rachel thought about dropping the pages but the request, while odd, might be part of the interview. If rearranging stained-glass and standing on one foot was part of the interview, she decided that it would be best to hold them until told otherwise. The thought quickly passed through Rachel’s mind that she could put her foot down and the absent woman would never be the wiser. However, it felt as though Rachel was being watched. Based on the various sizes of staircases, doors, and rooms, there could easily be a secret entrance or window that a hidden individual could grade Rachel’s ability to follow instructions.

Several minutes passed before the woman returned.

“Thank you for your patience, Miss Hawkins. I am Mrs. Dechant. You may put your foot down and provide me your references. By the way, thank you for not dropping your references in an effort to maintain your balance.”

Rachel did as she was told before Mrs. Dechant led Rachel through another door which opened into a staircase that had steps barely 2 inches high and switched back and forth. They passed a door on the left which was identified as a bathroom before Rachel was led into a sitting room. Despite the heat outside, the fire was going, which helped Rachel finally rid herself of the stubborn shiver that had seemed determined to remain with the actress following the odd encounter.

A woman, presumably Mrs. Winchester, was dressed in all black, wearing a black veil which hid her face, while sitting in an overstuffed chair next to the fireplace. While Tilly had seemed short at barely 5 feet, this woman seemed tiny. There was a cane leaning against Mrs. Winchester’s chair voicing the woman’s old age. Rachel studied the woman’s hands which seemed bent with arthritis. However, she flipped through the pages of Rachel’s references as though determined to not allow pain to inhibit her life. There was a surprising smell in the air, Rachel was certain that someone had been smoking cannabis in the room.

“No lies, girly. The spirits will tell me if you lie,” came a voice from behind the veil.

Rachel nodded in response. Perhaps this will be the normal part of the interview.

“Are you here just for the salary and benefits?”

“No ma’am. I am here to find my purpose.” So far, so truthful.

The widow tilter her head to consider the response before responding, “And you think that purpose can be found here?”

“I think that I am tired of being treated as a helpless damsel.”

“Men do try to keep us in that role, don’t they?” agreed Mrs. Winchester. “Could that be a smile behind the veil?” thought Rachel.

Before Rachel could stop herself she replied, “On the road as part of a traveling western show and in Hollywood, I always play the helpless girl while I am actually capable of outshooting and outriding my male counterparts.”

“So, you’re a female trick shooter, huh?” admired Mrs. Winchester. After a moment’s reflection, the widow asked, “Have you taken a life- animal or human?”

“No ma’am, just targets,” answered Rachel.

“Ever used a Winchester Rifle?”

“Of course ma’am. When riding horseback, I���ve found that it has the best handling while shooting multiple targets.”

“Are you attuned to the supernatural?”

“As in…”

“Do you believe in auras? Do you see ghosts? Do you believe that there is more than just this life?”

At this question, the hairs went up on the back of Rachel’s neck. “I have not seen a ghost but I am sure that I have felt their presence.”

“Not everyone can identify a presence correctly, so tell me about your experience.”

Rachel told the story of the invisible hand in the waiting area and the cold chill she had been experiencing since the encounter.

“You will notice that there is a cold chill when spirits come into the room. You may even notice that your breath will begin to fog as a ghost approaches you. But you’ll get used to it. It’s especially good to hear that they like you. Wandering spirits are very particular about who comes into the house. Many people think that I have so many fireplaces to warm up my arthritic bones,” Mrs. Winchester gave an impish giggle before continuing, “It’s mostly to keep my bones warm as so many ghosts live in this place.” A thought struck her before she changed subjects, “Has anyone mentioned your aura before?”

The question shocked Rachel for a moment before she continued. “Not that I can recall-“

The widow seemed to stare around Rachel rather than at her. “I can’t seem to get a full read on you…” she paused for a few more moments before straightening and changing the subjected. “We’ll talk more of life purposes, the great cosmos, and of being women in a man’s world as time passes. But I am glad that Mrs. Dechant sent everyone else home. It’s clear that you are the right person for this job, at least for now.”

To signify that the interview was over, the widow flicked her hand to Mrs. Dechant. In a blur, Rachel followed Mrs. Dechant. She thoughtfully reviewed the conversation, unsure what this job might entail and if she had taken on more than she could handle. Rachel became aware that Mrs. Dechant had been talking again about the onboarding process and what the next few days would look like. Rachel did her best to focus on Mrs. Dechant as they walked towards the servants’ quarters but it was hard to listen to the woman as the house was so enchanting.

“You must have thought the interview process as maddening but we need people who can handle the constant noise of the hammering, the ongoing building and rebuilding of rooms, and someone who can balance themselves well. The last thing that we need is for someone to get injured because they lost their footing as they are going about their chores. Furthermore, Mrs. Winchester can be… unique in her requests. She has terminated employees over small faults that have not made sense to the employee being fired. That said, she is also the most generous employer in the country.”

Upon finishing her explanations, Mrs. Dechant left Rachel with the seamstress who would sew Rachel’s uniforms. In the span of a few hours, Rachel had been hired and was moving in her bags to live and work at the mansion all while surreptitiously looking out for James’ arrival.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Whip and Viva were immediately lassoed into the construction crew. Turned out that the foreman was short on workmen and therefore not particular about whom he hired. If an individual could handle the work, the man was allowed to stay. Turned out that most of the crew were seasonal, while only a few man had worked at the house for decades.

It was hard work as they lifted the remaining lumber and materials off the train and into an unfinished section of the house. After a couple hours, Viva began to feel his back begin to ache. “I’m much too old to be workin’ like a dog” Viva muttered to Whip.

“Quit belly-achin’ and give me a hand,” responded Whip.

“You boys can take a break after that load,” called the foreman and a grateful Whip and Viva groaned in acknowledgement.

As soon as they finished the load and sat down out of the way, the foreman came by to check on the two men. “Luckily, for you gentlemen, we rarely get shipments this big from the train lines. So, you won’t have to do this again for another few months. That said, we have plenty of other things like gardening, indoor craftsmen, roofers, and so forth. Based on your qualifications, Viva you will be working with the craftsmen crew while Whip will be working with the roofers. Like I said, we just needed all hands to help us unload today. So, don’t skip out on me during the night,” advised the foreman.

“Will we be boarding here?” asked Whip.

“If you end up being more than a seasonal worker, we’ll take a look at getting you a room. But in the meantime, we’ll help pay for your room in town. Any other questions about the job?”

“Yeah, when’s luuuunch?” inquired Viva.

“We eat at odd hours because of the day and night crews. We’ll get you a meal schedule later but there’s usually something cookin’ at all hours of the day in one of the six kitchens.”

“Six kitchens? That suits me just fine,” smiled Viva.

“Any new workers from out of town?” asked Whip in an attempt to further the investigation.

The foreman stood back up and laughed. He pointed around the area before saying, “In any direction you can throw a rock, you’ll probably hit one.” And at that, he walked away.

“Well, that wasn’t helpful,” sighed Whip.

“I say, we mosey to a kitchen and interview people over food,” commented Viva. “Besides, I can already smell Lenore’s cookin’ and ain’t anyone who can cook as good as her.”

Part VI - Chapter 30 - All Roads Lead to the Mansion

1913 – Shortly After James’ Disappearance

Word quickly spread to the group regarding the loss of Doc and James’ most recent disappearance. Based on the fact that James did not command the bracelet to go “home” despite having a slightly better understanding of the bracelet, all knew that something had gone wrong. As Brisco shared Doc’s cryptic warning, the group decided that it would need all hands on deck to rescue James. As Ellie, Socrates, and Pete were the closest, they would go ahead to San Jose to complete the initial investigation of the area. The added benefit of Ellie and Pete having a deep understanding of how to remove the device, meant that they might be able to rescue James before anyone else would even arrive in San Jose.

Lenore and Rachel would be the next group to arrive as they were able to catch a northbound train that same day. As the women reviewed train lines to plan their journey, they were surprised to learn of a train that went directly to the mansion. Apparently, the mansion was in a constant state of build and there was so much work being done on the house that it made the most sense for locals to have a train pull alongside the property. The level of wealth required to have trains deliver building materials to your mansion seemed unfathomable to Brisco, but it would enable Rachel and Lenore to arrive within a day of the San Francisco group. However, Brisco did not feel comfortable sending Lenore and a wounded Rachel ahead with their only protection being a lying convict, a barmaid, and a lawyer. So unbeknownst to Lenore and Rachel, Brisco had coordinated with Sheriff Aaron Viva and Whip Morgan to board the train in Ventura and travel with the women to the mansion.

Brisco would be driving alone from Serenity. He figured if he pulled over for sleep on occasion, he shouldn’t be more than a couple days behind the group as he had the furthest to travel. For a moment, Brisco allowed himself to think of James’ small make-shift family. Eight people from all over the states were joining together to help save James from an unfathomable and other-worldly danger; it was a true testament to the character of James’ parents, Lenore and Bowler.

But the moment past and Brisco began working out a plan of action as he began the drive towards San Jose. The only problem is, how do you create a plan when you aren’t sure of what you are about to face?

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

San Francisco

After receiving instructions from Brisco, the San Francisco group packed up Socrates’ car with a few bags of essentials before meeting in Ellie’s room. After Socrates loaded his last bag, he joined Pete and Ellie in her room behind the bar. Neither Ellie nor Pete were speaking but Ellie had the bracelet in her lap and was using a couple crude tools to tinker with the bracelet. Socrates turned to find Pete burning a journal and a handful of additional papers. While Ellie had mentioned that it was best to keep the secrets of the bracelet between Pete and Ellie and it should be destroyed in case anything happened at the mansion, Socrates still felt that it was a waste. But neither of them had taken any notice of his concerns. Socrates made a mental note of how easy Brisco was to work with compared to Ellie and Pete. “Brisco may be stubborn on days,” thought Socrates, “but he never lied to my face. I always know exactly what Brisco is thinking.

As if on a coordinated cue, Pete straightened and moved away from the fireplace, satisfied that the notes and journal were destroyed. Ellie also placed the bracelet down and gathered the tiny tools together and buried them in a pocket.

“Think we’re all set, Pete,” Ellie observed as she wrapped the bracelet around her friend’s arm.

“So, according to Ellie’s findings, you should be able to just ‘jump’ to the mansion with her?” asked a dubious Socrates.

“Well, you could come too,” came Ellie’s reply.

“Thank you, but no. I will drive a car as I would prefer to not materialize without an arm or other such important limb.”

“I have yet to lose an eyelash, much less an appendage,” Pete retorted while rolling his eyes.

“You lost your mind years ago, so it’s not like you would notice if there was anything missing,” snarked Socrates.

“Boys! Please!” scolded Ellie before turning to Pete, while holding his wrist. “I have adjusted a couple buttons to accommodate the two of us so you should just be able to say-“

“Winchester Mansion,” commanded Pete.

In a flash of light the two disappeared, only to reappear seconds later. Ellie and Pete did not land but went flying in opposite directions as if they had been catapulted backwards.

“What on earth?” asked Socrates.

“Has it ever done that before?” Ellie called over to Pete, as Socrates lifted her to her feet. “It’s the first time it knocked the wind out of me.”

As they looked at Pete, his nose was broken as though he had run full sprint into a wall and he was unconscious before them.

“I’m thinking this is new,” stated an awed Socrates.

“I guess plan B is that we’re driving with you,” sighed Ellie.

“Driver picks the music,” called Socrates as he left Ellie’s room to find a barfly willing to carry Pete to the car below. As Socrates left the room, he felt slightly relieved. He did not trust these bracelets and did not want to lose anyone else to something so powerful.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Train Ride to Winchester Mansion

Lenore and Rachel boarded the train but were annoyed to have the armed companions. While Lenore appreciated the thought, it was still irritating to believe that a mayor and champion-trick-shooter could not handle a bit of danger because they were women. To Brisco’s credit, he had arranged a private compartment for the four travelers, possibly to make up for the insult of sending chaperones.

As Aaron and Whip loaded their bags into the luggage space above their seats, Lenore looked across to see Rachel’s stern face. Clearly Rachel was also not thrilled by the escort. However, shortly after the train pulled out of Venture, Lenore began to appreciate the extra company. Rachel barely spoke two words together and did little aside from staring out the window at the passing landscapes. To Lenore’s relief, the men did their best to distract Lenore with rounds of poker and reliving tales of their days back in Hard Rock. Aaron even serenaded the group with a couple of new songs that he was working on, including “Mystery Train” in honor of their train ride to the mysterious mansion.

About an hour outside of San Jose, something seemed to snap in Rachel. For a moment, Lenore had thought that the girl would join in the conversation but instead Rachel pulled her bag down and began piling out her guns in front of her. Ignoring the shocked looked of the men, Rachel began cleaning her guns and preparing them for battle. Whip and Aaron gave Lenore a look of surprise, but all Lenore could do was shrug and pray that the girl was overreacting.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Train Station Stop Beside the Winchester Mansion

Lenore, Whip, Aaron, and Rachel arrived at the mansion much later than expected. Lenore had hoped to arrive during the early evening and ask for shelter for the night, but they did not arrive until shortly before midnight. The small group unloaded their bags and followed the lumber being unloaded. It seemed odd to Rachel that the sound of hammers came echoing through the night. Aren’t most people asleep at this time of the night? And who would continue to build after sunset?

Rachel moved away from the group and towards the front gate and found the front gates to be closed, which was unsurprising given the late hour. Lenore pulled out a map while Viva provided a lighter so that the two could determine how best to get to town and find a hotel for the evening. As Rachel continued to peer through the gates, she jumped when a light was sparked only a foot away.

Rachel turned to find a man in work clothes who had been leaning against the hinges of the gate. He had lit a cigar and was watching Lenore, Whip, and Viva study a map. If he had noticed Rachel, he did not seem to care.

Feeling her confidence return, Rachel decided to pursue a bit of local knowledge. “Excuse me, sir?” she began.

The man continued to watch the rest of Rachel’s party as he continued to smoke. Just as Rachel had decided that he either didn’t hear her or didn’t want to talk, he stated, “She don’t see no visitors. Especially around midnight as that’s the busy time for her.”

Before Rachel could inquire his meaning “midnight being a busy time” for a widow, the bell tower in the large mansion began to peal signaling midnight. Rachel could barely make out two shadows guided by candlelight move towards the center of the house. It was hard to tell the gender or height by candlelight but one of the candles seemed to pause in the window as if to look out at the group standing in the dark street. For a moment, Rachel could swear it was James. But when it moved on, she assumed that it was merely wishful thinking.

At that moment, the smell of tobacco seemed overwhelming and when she looked back at the man in the darkness, she found that he had moved directly to her side. He was barely an inch away and she could feel the ash from his cigar fall onto her skin. She tried to take a step back but he moved with her. Even in the darkness, she could feel his intense gaze and the hairs on the back of her neck went up. Something about the man made her freeze, unable to move away or to speak.

To Rachel’s relief, Whip pushed his way between the stranger and Rachel before saying, “Thank you for your time. We’ll try again tomorrow.”

At Whip’s words, Lenore and Viva looked up from the map and noticed the large brooding man. As he turned to walk towards the house, Lenore took a few steps after him. She was not about to let Whip send the man away without a bit more information. She took a chance and called, “Have you seen anything unusual?”

The man paused in the darkness before turning to look at Lenore and Viva. He took a long puff of his cigar as though to consider her question. “Seen anything unusual?”

“Anything maniacal, violent, or of ill-intent?” clarified Lenore.

He paused to think on her question before slowly answering, “Nothing physically maniacal, violent, or of ill-whatcha-ma-callit.”

“Any new folk arrive at the house?” asked Viva.

“New folk?” repeated the stranger.

Rachel involuntarily shook her head. Is this man dense? Why does he repeat every simple question?

“Visitors, strangers showing up in the house-“ began Aaron.

“More specifically, have you seen a young man arrive?” asked an impatient Lenore.

“No ma’am. Visitors ain’t allowed in. Strangers ain’t allowed in. The only people here are the building crew, the household staff, the family, and their…guests.”

A wave of relief fell over Lenore. Her son had not yet arrived at this sinister mansion. She took a breath before turning back to the stranger. “Thank you for your time. Good evening.”

“It’s no sweat off my back,” the large man’s shoulders shrugged before he continued, “’Sides, night shift gets lonely. We only have the spirits and other workers to chat with at night. I haven’t seen any good lookin’ ladies in a long time.” He gave a smile that caused Rachel to shiver. It was not evil per se, but a face that had seen things best forgotten. The stranger tipped his hat before continuing his walk around the gate and towards the train tracks. Rachel was so lost in thought about the man’s comments that when Lenore put a hand on her should, the girl about jumped out of her skin.

“I’m not sure if it’s the hammering, the darkness, or the bells, but I have an eerie feeling too,” comforted Lenore. “It seems that he isn’t here or he hasn’t arrived yet. So, I suggest that we go find a nearby town and get a good night’s sleep.”

As the group turned to walk away from the house, something began to gnaw on Lenore. Something about the house still made her hair stand on edge. And as much as she tried to allow the stranger’s words to assure her that James was nowhere near the house, something in her gut told her that there was much more to the story than what the stranger had explained, or more accurately, had hinted.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

The journey to the town’s hotel passed as a blur for the weary travelers. They half stumbled to the front desk barely able to place one foot in front of the other. The hotel seemed to be mostly booked so Lenore and Rachel had to share a room as Whip and Aaron had to awkwardly stretch out in overstuffed chairs in the lobby. Rachel and Lenore had barely closed the door before someone excitedly pounded on the door.

When Rachel opened the door to tell whoever it was to go away, she paused when she looked at the face that belonged to the knock. It was a beautiful woman with long dark hair and clear blue eyes. “I assume that y’all are Lenore & Rachel?” she whispered.

“Ellie?” asked Lenore. As the bartender nodded, Lenore widened the door to allow their ally in.

“I am sure that you are both exhausted, but I needed to let you know that the three of us have got to be dressed and ready to go early in the morning.”

“You found a way into the mansion?” Lenore asked in eager anticipation.

“In a way,” Ellie paused and seemed to consider how to continue. “I’ll explain more in the morning-“

“You will explain it now or I won’t get a wink of sleep!” demanded Lenore as Rachel nodded her head in agreement.

Ellie sighed before sitting down on a chair at the desk in the tiny room. Lenore and Rachel took a hint from Ellie and sat down on the end of the bed. “First of all, we don’t think that James has arrived. There is a young black architect who works at the mansion but he has worked with the widow for over 6 months and goes by the name of Samuel Adams.”

“Isn’t that a beer?” laughed Rachel.

“Girl after my own heart!” confirmed Ellie. “That said, we figure that we should get inside to find out for sure. I don’t know if you have seen it yet but that house is enormous. There are rumors of staircases and doors that lead to nowhere and people getting lost and never seen again within the maze of rooms.”

“And you believe the local superstitions?” scoffed Lenore.

“Personally, I’m not sure what I think. If I was in the safety of my bar, I wouldn’t believe it but something about that mansion…” Ellie’s voice trailed off as a visible shiver passed through her.

“So, why are we getting up early?” Lenore stated. This was a time to get to business as the group was there on a rescue mission and not gathered around a campfire to exchange ghost stories.

“Socrates and I have been trying to find ways into the mansion over the past day to confirm if James had been there or is currently there. The mansion is owned by a reclusive and eccentric widow; she won’t see anyone.”

“That doesn’t sound hopeful-“ interrupted Rachel but paused when she realized that Ellie had not finished telling her story.

Ellie continued, “Socrates and I had an idea. With a place that big, they would need help – maids, cooks, attorneys, etc.”

“You signed me up as a maid!” asked Lenore incredulously. She had built herself up so much further than any other woman of color that she knew of and now she was going to be a servant?

“Actually, they need a head chef and Socrates said that you started out as a cook and restaurant owner?”

“That is true. But why head chef? Wouldn’t they just promote from within?”

“If this was a normal eccentric millionaire, quite possibly.”

“But she’s odd?”

“Beyond odd. We’ve talked with other people in town and they say that she hires and fires staff on the slightest whim.”

“So, how do you know we’ll get the jobs?” inquired Rachel

“We don’t. Which means that all of us are applying for various jobs over the next few days. The two of us are applying for maid positions, Lenore will apply for head chef, Socrates is interviewing to be the new family lawyer, and the rest of the boys are applying for workmen. Well, all except Pete.”

“Why not Pete?” asked Rachel.

“Just like Pete!” laughed Lenore. “So, he’s finding his own angle to get in. Let me guess, long lost family friend? A medium who can help lead the midnight séance?”

“I wish,” replied Ellie. Worry spread across her face before she continued, “He’s been in a comatose state since we first tried to jump to Winchester. It’s why we didn’t get here sooner.”

“Comatose?” asked a concerned Lenore.

“Think it’s something to do with the bracelet,” explained Ellie. “About an hour ago, it turned into a raging fever. I took the bracelet off earlier this evening in a hope that it will help him recover. Socrates is staying with him now.”

“You can remove the bracelet?” Rachel could barely hide her excitement for James’ safety but also felt a twinge of shock that Ellie could make it sound so easy.

Really, not a fan of this limited communication between parties. Brisco is clearly not sharing all information with all involved individuals,” muttered Ellie. She leaned back before stating, “Settle in ladies; we gotta catch up!”

“You know, if telegrams were instant,” sighed Rachel. “This would be so much simpler.”

“Well until an insta-gram exists, we’ll have to use a more caveman approach and just talk,” stated Lenore.

Ellie walked through her part of the story and her dealings with Pete while Lenore and Rachel filled in the gaps with their parts of the story. By the time the women finished filling in the details, the sun was beginning to peek above the horizon.

“Guess sleep is not an option?” sighed Rachel as she calculated how little sleep that she had since the adventure began.

“You could probably catch 20 minutes?” offered Ellie.

“I’ll take it,” exclaimed Rachel. Lenore & Ellie left the room to check on Pete’s progress. When they found that his fever had finally broke, the two changed into their outfits for the day and discussed cover stories with Socrates. Alone in the room, Rachel leaned back onto the bed and closed her eyes without even bothering to take off her shoes. Try as she might sleep wouldn’t come. Her mind kept reeling through Pete’s story, James’ absence, and the strange mansion that managed to frighten both a bar owner and a tough mayor.

Part VI - Chapter 29 - The Amnesiac in the Ballroom

Year 1912 – Winchester Mansion in San Jose, CA

Our hero awoke lying on a hard wood floor with a pounding headache. As he slowly opened his eyes, he took in the dark iron chandelier above him which hung below an ornately paneled ceiling. As he studied the chandelier, he noticed that it had a 13th candle added in, almost as an after-thought. As he slowly sat up, he took in the gorgeous fabric on the walls, a maroon color with ornate flowers. There was a pipe organ set against one wall and a fireplace between two big, plain windows. He processed the décor and realized that he was in the middle of an empty ballroom. Something about it felt more than unpopulated, it felt like it was abandoned.

After a few moments, he realized that the pain was not limited to just the headache which had originally awoken him. The pain was searing through his whole body and it was sharpest around his wrist. As he lifted his sleeve, he found a leather bracelet with buttons surrounding it. Try as me might, he could not remove the bracelet or determine why it caused any pain. He pressed a couple buttons but it seemed to only send painful electrical charges through his body instead of releasing his wrist.

Studying his wrist to determine a way to remove it, he noticed that a shadow had passed across the floor. Our hero turned to catch a glimpse of the figure who owned the shadow but had missed it by seconds. He slowly stood to his feet and began to move towards the windows. The unshaven face of a workman peaked around the corner and stared through the window at our young man in pain. After a few moments, the workman ran away shrieking in terror screaming that a ghost had manifested in the ballroom. At the sound of the frightened man’s alarm, the room was soon filled with other carpenters, roofers, and landscapers. The air became stifled for our hero as the demands were shouted out by the growing mob. Based on what our poor migrained man could gather, they seemed frightened to find a strange man, alone, in a ballroom that had been blocked off by the household residents. Unfortunately, our hapless hero could only shake his brown eyes and run his hands helplessly through his black hair. He could not recall his name, how he arrived in this location, or anything else for that matter.

In all of the commotion, the crowd had not initially noticed a veiled woman dressed in all black was slowly sauntering into and through the room. At she passed through the crowd, every man immediately became silent and the room parted before her like the red sea. The fear and awe that each man felt for this woman in mourning was palpable.

She came to stand directly in front of our amnesiac and lifted her veil to better look at her unexpected guest. As she studied him, the young man tried to rack his brain on whether or not he knew this woman. She was an older woman with thick hair that surrounded her long face with dark and grey waves. Based on her face, it looked like she was an extremely thin woman wearing a padded dress to give the allusion of being large. She placed her arthritic ridden fingers onto his chocolate cheeks to pull his face closer to hers as she searched his eyes.

Finally, her thin lips smiled mischievously before saying aloud, “You’re the one that we have been waiting for.”

“Excuse me, Ma’am?”

She waved her arms as she spoke to better emphasize the words, “You’re an architect with amnesia here to help me to build additional rooms and to help keep evil souls at bay.”

The shock filled our amnesiac, but he felt an inexplicable hope that this woman might be able to help him find a way home. “I can’t remember anything - who I am or how I got here. Are you able to help me? Do you know who I am? And, my apologies, but how do we know each other?” The questions poured out of him all at once in desperation to understand his identity.

“Hang on there,” she began while waving a hand to stop him. “Aside from seeing your aura on a spiritual plane during a séance, we have not physically met in this world before today. At least not in this lifetime.”

As he stared open mouthed at her, she continued, “Don’t worry, the gentler ghosts told me to expect you. Lately, we haven’t had much trouble with the dark spirits.” And then as if she had spoken a bad omen, she stomped her foot twice and spit in the air in a superstitious attempt to ward off evil.

“Don’t worry, my forgetful friend. You’re still young enough to believe that people are all sane and live within social customs and roles. But when you reach my age, you don’t give a damn anymore.” She patted his hand while grinning.

She then seemed to remember that the room was filled with workmen so she rolled her eyes before whispering, “Have to keep up the mystery!” She lowered the dark veil back over her face. When she was sure that her thin face was hidden from view, she turned back towards the group while hooking her arm through his to lead him out of the ballroom. “We’ll have a smoke upstairs and I’ll tell you about my latest inspiration to appease the spirits,” she whispered to him as they took the first couple of steps.

She then spoke aloud and authoritatively, “While we wait for further direction from our guides of the spirit realm, we will call you Mr. Adams. Afterall, Adam is a good name from a numerology standpoint.”

As they continued to pass through the group of workmen, the newly named Mr. Adams watched each man straighten as though she were a majestic queen. She leaned in as though conspiring something private but instead pulled down his sleeve to hide the bracelet.

She then straightened before stating, “Yes, we will keep each other’s secrets. Did you know that the spirits stated that in past lives we were the daughters of Alexander the Great. As we are sisters, you will be treated as part of the family. But in this world, dear sister, I am Mrs. Winchester, builder of this house and host to the spirits whose lives were ended too soon by Winchester rifles.”

Even though her face was now hidden from the small crowd, he could feel her relishing the confusion of the men and her joy of furthering a cloud of mystery. While he couldn’t remember his name or life, he was pretty certain that he didn’t believe in any kind of spiritual existence. Even if he did, he doubted that many individuals would be as forthright about the supernatural as this widow. She seemed to outwardly live as a mysterious and grieving woman but shared her true self with only a select few. In his short conversation, he could see that she was free spirit who fervently believed in other planes of existence and enjoyed laughing at people who tried to define her due to her advanced age or status as widow.

Mr. Adams paused walking for a second to look at her. To observe and understand her so well in a matter of minutes, he almost believed that he had known her before this life. Then again, maybe it was simply a time from before today that he failed to remember. She gave a slight tug and the two stepped out of the room and stood outside, admiring the gorgeous garden of plants and sculptures before them.

“Oh! Before I forget –“ she began but then seemed to blush beneath the veil, “Sorry, if that’s insensitive my dear sister-but I have to show you the gate to the house. It’s famous, you know? Teddy Roosevelt tried to come in here in 1903 but he was only allowed as far as my gate.”