Part VI – Chapter 40 – War on All Fronts

Brisco finally caught his breath and stood shakily before stuttering to Ellie, “How? What did you…?”

Ellie lifted a machete in the moonlight for Brisco to see. He rolled his eyes before commenting, “Leave it to Pete to bring a machete to a gun fight.”

“I’m actually not sure if Pete brought it or Clive had left it nearby but something about it seemed to give them a scare,” observed Ellie. She held the machete towards Brisco before stating, “Here. You should take it. Sounds like you’ll need all of the weapons in there.”

Brisco lifted his busted hand in response before stating, “Broken hand, remember?”

She tilted her head to the side as though solving a puzzle before cryptically stating, “I think I have a way to still make it work…”

As Brisco felt the drained strength begin to return, Ellie searched the gear bag that Brisco had lugged from the ballroom to the cellar doors and located duct tape. She placed the machete in Brisco’s hand and held up the duct tape for Brisco to see. Willing to try anything, Brisco watched as Ellie wrapped the duct tape around his hand to secure it in place.

“I always wondered what it would be like to have a saw for a hand,” muttered Brisco in sarcasm. He practiced slicing the machete in the air to ensure that it was secure. The movement caused excruciating pain but Brisco figured that the adrenaline of the coming fight would be enough to distract him from the pain. Once he was satisfied with their work, Brisco turned back to Ellie with a sly grin saying, “Now, where were we?”

But before Brisco could move towards Ellie, a voice in the darkness interrupted any emotional moment. “Ready to save the world?”

They turned in the direction of the voice and found Clyde leaning against his wheelbarrow with a bemused smile spread across his face.

“Young lady, if you are ready?” he called.

Ellie nodded and patted Brisco’s arm, which caused him to wince, and she followed Clyde through the double doors. Brisco could hear the drums, bugles, and the marching of an army outside. He could hear the sounds of shotguns and hoped that Viva and Lenore would hold out long enough for him to defeat this Kama-guy. Brisco went back to the gear back to see if there was anything left. He pulled out the rest of the ammunition and the last weapon, a sawed-off shotgun which had the words, “ASH’S BOOMSTICK,” etched into the stalk. He checked the trigger and confirmed that it would easily fire off rounds and reload. Brisco also changed the rounds from salt to regular buck shot, which was pretty difficult to address with one hand. This needed to be a fight to the death and salt rounds only stunned ghosts. It did not stop them. Brisco was determined that this thing would have its head removed, by buckshot or by blade, whichever worked.

After Brisco finished arming himself, he took stock of his arms and decided that he was ready for battle. Brisco had barely glanced up before a dead body lunged out of the darkness at him. It took Brisco off guard as it had sounded like the army was on the other side of the mansion. He shoved the body away and in the process he got a good look at the corpse. Her hair and skin had greyed but the style of the cut was modern and her outfit was that of a household maid. She lunged at him, opening and closing her mouth like a rabid dog attempting to bite him. Brisco kicked her in the knee to get her to stand back from him before taking aim and cutting off her head with the machete.

“Well, you seem warmed up,” Clyde called out.

“Well, if it isn’t Clyde the friendly ghost,” retorted Brisco.

“The army will be here soon enough, so you better follow me to get to the Kandarian.”

Brisco followed Clyde through the double doors. Once they were under the house, he could see roots slithering across the foundation. Brisco was about to step on a passing root when Clyde shoved Brisco back with an icey push.

“Stay away from the roots, vines, trees, and branches. They’re not only sentient but they’re deadly.”

Brisco nodded his head to acknowledge the instruction before asking, “Which way did Ellie go?”

“Stay focused on your mission, Mr. County,” the man said as he continued to move along the border of the house. After a few more moments of silence, Clyde stopped and pointed for Brisco to continue. “Continue down that way. It won’t be long before you walk into his lair. He will be vulnerable once Ellie finishes the counter spell. Once you cut off his head, run like hell. Get out. Don’t go back for anyone.”

“Not really everyone-“ protested Brisco.

“I have given them the same instructions. The last thing that we need is for everyone to get trapped beneath the house because they got lost searching for each other.”

“These aren’t pawns in your little game; these are people! These are people that I care about!” Brisco said thru gritted teeth, trying to keep his voice down while expressing his anger.

“Mr. County, I promise you that Ellie will be fine. There is a different exit close to each person. Once you escape, if you want to check on the others, follow along the outside of the house. That will be the best method to rescue them if they even require help.”

Brisco finally had to agree with the logic of Clyde’s decision. He sighed and pointed his machete directly ahead to confirm with Clyde that it was the correct path. Clyde nodded his head before disappearing.

“Fancy,” Brisco observed of the ghost’s exit. “Very fancy.”

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

Ellie had arrived at the pile of books that Clyde had directed her towards. He had explained that Mrs. Winchester hid books in different parts of the basements and each had been covered with a deceptive jacket to avoid curious eyes. Ellie began to quickly skim through the books. Each book was an antique first edition hidden behind the book jacket of odd yet uninteresting children’s book, just as Clyde had described. Ellie removed each cover until she found the title that the ghost had given her. She began to frantically flip through the book. Unfortunately, each page of the book was written in a language that she could not read or understand.

“Ahem. Could I help?” a voice asked.

Ellie looked up to see a man dressed in what looked like archeological expedition clothes. “Who are you?” she asked in shock.

“My dear, that doesn’t really matter now, does it?” he had a bald spot at the top of his head yet long grey hair extending to his back shoulders. He had a hole where a nose should be which made balancing his glasses a challenge. He gave a nervous laugh under her scrutinous gaze before stating, “I am here to help read the book and find the counter spell.”

“If you can read this, why aren’t you able to reverse the curse?”

“Because I lack the corporeal attribute necessary.”


“In other words,” the man explained as he coughed while dusting off his clothes, “It won’t work if a ghost says the words aloud; it has to be spoken by a human… an alive human.”

“Oh-“ Ellie said dejectedly.

“Open the book, I will help you find the correct page and the correct words. I will help you say the words correctly and you will break the spell.”

“Sounds like a plan, let’s get cracking,” she knelt down on the ground and opened the book in front of her. By doing so, she allowed the archeological ghost to sit beside her.

The ghost scanned through the first page before sighing and balancing his glasses back on his face, “Unfortunately, my dear, it looks like we have many, many pages to review.”

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

Rachel and James had each picked up a stained-glass pane that Mrs. Winchester had described. Each pane was large and awkward to carry but both James and Rachel managed to keep the panes a few inches of the ground as they retraced their steps back to the ballroom. They made it about halfway back before James paused and looked back, “Are you okay to continue the rest of the way back with both of the panes?”

Rachel slowly nodded determined to hide the fear that was rising inside.

James moved back towards her while holding his stained-glass pane before explaining, “I can’t ignore the fact that I can hear the battle that my mom and Sherriff Viva are fighting in the kitchen. I know that I can help them. Meanwhile, it looks like you and Mrs. Winchester should both be fine in the ballroom.”

“James, you don’t have to explain. You should be with your family,” Rachel stated, sounding braver than she felt.

James held his stained-glass pane at the same height as the pane that Rachel was carrying. Rachel carefully let go over her pane just long enough to grab both panes with one hand at time. In the process, her hands were able to briefly brush James���. She felt a momentary flutter but it was clear that James could only feel concern for his mother in the kitchen.

A blood curdling woman’s scream pierced the night and James’ head snapped into the direction of the kitchen. While still looking in that direction, he asked, “Are you sure that you know the way?”

“If I get lost, I’m sure that a spirit guide will redirect me,” she stated. “James go!”

James moved around the panes and behind Rachel. He placed his hand on her waste and for a moment, she had thought he might embrace her good-bye but instead his hand reached down into her apron pocket. He left the salt container with whatever few grains of salt it still had and lifted the bracelet out. For a moment, Rachel debated asking him his plan but then decided to focus her attention on her mission instead. Instead, she whispered, “James you should take the weapons that I have since you are going into a live battle.”

She turned her head and saw James debating if he should take her weapons as it could leave Rachel and Mrs. Winchester without protection. “Really James! I am an excellent shot. Besides, in all of this violence, who’s going to be worried about a widow and an actress?” She forced a laugh to convey courage and he seemed to believe it as he unstrapped the rifle, the bandolier, and the extra gun belt from Rachel and added it to his own load.

“I’m leaving you your gun and a bit of ammunition just in case,” James explained. Rachel nodded and then lifted the panes a bit higher off the floor and awkwardly began walking back towards the ballroom.

After a few steps, Rachel heard James whisper, “Be careful, Rachel!”

She smiled and looked over her shoulder but James had already disappeared towards the kitchen. Rachel rolled her shoulders back, tightened her grip onto the stained-glass window panes, and then moved as quickly as she could with her awkward load.

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

James ran in the direction of the kitchen. The shots were occurring in closer succession to each other, drums were beating loudly, and the screams of battle were growing louder. He was barely a room away when an icy figure jumped onto his back. Tiny arms wrapped around his neck and tiny legs about his waist. Clearly, a ghost had decided to take a ride. James stopped and began struggling to throw the passenger off while keeping the weapons close.

“James it’s me!” came a child’s voice.

James paused and finally managed to turn his head to view the passenger and found the eyes of the small child ghost with him. “What the hell are you doing?” demanded James.

“There is a cloud of evil darkness ahead and you won’t make it through without the protection of the bracelet.”

“I’ll forget everything when I do that!”

“But if you don’t put it on, you will be possessed and killed before you make it in anywhere near your family. If it possesses you then you will become the weapon that kills your mother and believe me, the darkness’ #1 enemy right now is Lenore. The bracelet is the only thing that will protect you as it creates a forcefield around you that the darkness cannot penetrate. I cannot even go near the darkness without becoming possessed and I’m not even human anymore!”

“But if I put it back on, how will I remember that I need to protect my mother?”

“Are you the man your father raised?”

Taken aback by the question, James demanded, “What?”

“If you are the man that your father raised, you will run towards danger rather than away from it. Even if the group is filled with people unknown to you.”

James nodded, knowing that his parents had fought their whole lives for the lives and rights of others. This was now his time to prove his character.

James took a deep breath, reached into his pocket, and wrapped the bracelet around his wrist.

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

Inside the salt circle Viva had long run out of regular bullets so Lenore had him shooting the salt rounds at the darkness to keep it at bay. There were a couple of maids frantically crawling around on their hands and knees to ensure that the circle stayed protected to keep the darkness outside of the circle. Unfortunately, it did not prevent all evil from entering their safe space. Dead and rotting corpses were in various stages of charging at the group and some that seemed merely interested in eating the flesh of others. Some individuals wore the outfits of household staff who had been possessed earlier in the evening by the evil cloud while others wore clothes at least a hundred years out of date. They continued to press in from all sides.

Lenore had taken Viva’s last few ammunition rounds and was holding off many of the potential encroachers through carefully aimed headshots. Many other staff members were working hard to remove the heads of decedents through various kitchen knives. Viva had given the axe from the woodshed to the cook friend of Steve’s and the individual seemed fully capable of wielding the weapon. Viva took another glance around, the bodies of the dead continued to fill into the room. So far, the household staff had only experienced a few small injuries. Unfortunately, those who had been bitten seemed worse than the individuals who had been cut or bruised. In Viva’s experience bite marks were usually a small injury but these bite marks seemed to become almost instantly infected. Those who were bitten had skin that was becoming sickly pale and their eyes were starting to glaze over. They even started to move sluggishly so Viva had to place the injured in the center of the circle so that they could be better protected. Those with severe gashes and concussions refused to be near those where were extremely pale. It was as though they could sense something dying in each of those individuals.

Viva loaded the next couple salt rounds into the shotgun before deciding to do a quick inventory of remaining rounds but found that everything was gone. These were his last two salt rounds. He would have to use them sparingly.

And then it happened, the girl who had been unconscious, possessed by the darkness, gave an eerie scream as she sprang to her feet. She looked more like a rabid animal than human as she sprung onto the back of the large cook. She bit into his neck and blood began to pour down his pressed and white clothes.

“What the hell?” Viva asked as he readied his shot gun.

Another woman screamed in horror as the rest of the bitten individuals were under the control of the possessed kitchen maid. They began to each reach outwards, determined to attack the small band of humans that stood between their central position and the darkness outside.

Just then Viva heard a familiar man’s voice shouting from deep in the darkness, “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! I’m coming in!”

“Hell no!” shouted Viva. “No one can survive in that darkness without being possessed!”

“It’s James!” exclaimed Lenore. Viva looked over at Lenore to find her struggling to keep her gun from a pale cook who now had black ooze leaking from his lips. “Viva, I know my boy’s voice! Let him in!” she screamed.

Viva turned back to the darkness before shouting, “It’s now or never!”

A figure began running out of the darkness and towards the circle. Viva had barely enough time to recognize James before the young man ran into Viva, knocking him over. Viva took a moment to look up at the young man, from his blue suit and shoes, to the extra shotguns and ammunition, and up to his dark hair thick with sweat from running.

James extended a hand as he helped Viva up, the older sheriff exclaimed, “I’ve never been more happy to see you and your blue suede shoes!”

James handed a bandolier of ammunition instinctively to Viva before pushing past him and towards the center of the circle. With cold efficiency, he blew off the heads of his former colleagues which caused those staff members who were unpossessed to momentarily forget the battle and focus on the man killing their friends.

“That’s Mr. Adams,” a staff member stated to a nearby workman in a hushed tone.

By this time, Lenore had been able to pull her own shotgun away and had just removed the head of her attacker before turning back to see James throw headless bodies outside of the circle. James’ detachment momentarily shocked her but as she saw the bracelet he was wearing, she realized that he had no recollection of these people. To him, the world was simply dark and light. Everyone else was struggling with the thought of having to kill friends that they had worked beside for years; each person wanted to believe that hope for salvation could still come. Would James remember this battle when he removes the bracelet?

James caught Lenore staring and asked, “Can I help with anything ma’am? Do you need more ammunition?”

The lack of recognition hurt Lenore more than she had expected but for the sake of the ongoing battle, she needed to stay disconnected. Lenore nodded her head and as he gave her additional ammunition she stated, “After you finish removing the bodies, please help me on this side of the circle. Most of the army is coming from this side and it would be beneficial to have two marksmen instead of one.”

A couple individuals seemed about to protest but seeing all of the carnage surrounding them, there really was nothing that they could say. There had already been many lives lost by not trusting Lenore and Viva and it seemed that survival was dependent on their judgement. James had reached the last two bodies that needed to be thrown out of the circle and as he went to lift the last body, a voice begin to eerily cackle. Beneath the large cook that James had decapitated, the possessed maid was found alive and on the floor. She looked around at each person in the circle and continued to cackle.

To the shock of all in the circle, the timid and crying maid who had been charged with managing the salt circle picked up the axe that had fallen from the large cook’s hands and rammed it into the back of the cackling possessed maid’s head. The tiny maid lifted the axe back out with some difficulty as dark ooze poured out from the still cackling woman. The maid then adjusted the angle before cutting off the head of the darkness’ spy, the smile frozen on her now dead face. Despite the head rolling outside of the circle, the small maid continued to bring the axe over and over into the body of the now dead individual. After a few minutes, Viva took the axe from the girl and wrapped her in a hug.

“You’ve gone through a trauma, young lady. Just breathe for a minute. You can hug me back if you need to, let me be your teddy bear,” he instructed. Viva really wasn’t sure what he was saying, he just knew that the traumatized girl had snapped and he needed her to calm down for a moment. The rest of the group had moved back to their positions and continued the fight. James threw the final body outside of the circle before moving to stand beside the mother that he didn’t recognize. Lenore and Viva exchanged glances as if to make a silent agreement. The bracelet was not only James’ best defense to survive the night but it would also provide the detachment necessary to survive their supernatural war. The bracelet would not be removed until the fight was over.

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

Rachel had made it to the ballroom and found that Mrs. Winchester was only half of the way up the ladder. Rachel leaned the stained glass next to each ladder to make replacing the window panes an easier process before looking up at Mrs. Winchester. At Rachel’s incredulous gaze, Mrs. Winchester smiled and pulled out what looked like a hand rolled cigarette. She lit it up and took a deep breath before slowly releasing the cloud of smoke.

“It’s my medication,” explained Mrs. Winchester. She smiled and watched the smoke through smiling crinkled eyes. “I figure we’ve got plenty of time before sunrise and a break for pain management would be alright. Besides, stained glass always looks better as the sun rises and you become high.”

Rachel had to agree with the logic and nodded to Mrs. Winchester. While Mrs. Winchester took another puff, Rachel hurriedly ran up the second ladder to begin work on the second window. Rachel had just barely reached the top when she felt the ladder lurch. Rachel’s heart jumped for a moment but laughed at her own clumsiness. After a night of ghosts, darkness, and dead armies, a broken neck due to imbalance seemed almost a blessing. She took a quick glance down to see if the ladder had somehow moved or was unsecure. To her horror, she saw a ghost fiddling with the screws holding the rungs on the ladder together. Feeling her eyes on him, the ghost looked up before giving a sly and toothless grin.

She looked over at Mrs. Winchester and was relieved that the widow had finished her “medication,” and was now continuing the climb up the ladder, humming to herself. Rachel’s relief at the widow’s safety was quickly changed to dismay as Rachel caught sight of another couple of ghosts who were pointing at Mrs. Winchester. It seemed that the duo of apparitions had been lost in their own scheme for the widow and unaware that Rachel had spotted them. In an attempt to gain the various ghosts attention, Rachel screamed as she pulled out her gun and crashed it through the plain window before her. She knocked out the entire glass pain but managed to brush her arm against a glass shard which created a large gash streaming blood down her side. She winced as she realized that she was now recovering from a bullet on one side and a large gash on the other.

“Seven years bad luck!” sang Mrs. Winchester in a low voice before laughing to herself, still oblivious of the pending ghost attack. The widow had finally reached the top of the ladder but instead of immediately removing the glass panes, she seemed focused on her own reflection. “Do you know that we’re all just wrinkles in the fabric of time? Mother Earth is gracious enough to wrap us in her blanket of night sky.” She then began to hum as she slowly began to work on removing the glass, careful to ensure that this one did not break and incur bad luck.

As Mrs. Winchester began to hum louder, Rachel ripped cloth from her petticoat and wrapped the material around her hands. Biting her lower lip to keep her fear of heights in check, Rachel hooked her booted feet on either side of the ladder and moved her hands to each side and slid down the ladder, ignoring the splinters along the way.

She pulled out her pistol and fired at the toothless ghost but the bullet sped through him, leaving the ghost undamaged. He smirked as he watch the bullet pass through his middle before rushing towards Rachel. Scrambling for another plan, she reached into her apron pocket and felt that there was less than a handful of salt left. She threw the bit of salt that she had in an attempt to fend off the ghost long enough to allow her to run back to the séance table and search for any additional salt or weapons from Brisco. Rachel reached the table and began throwing pillows around looking for any additional weapons. She then felt a cold hand grab her shoulder. The hairs on the back of her neck went up and suddenly she was flying backwards across the room. She landed against the pipe organ and the cacophony of dissonant chords bellowed out as she struggled back up. She had barely enough time to process what was happening before she was thrown again, this time she hit the back of her head against the fireplace.

The room was now spinning and her head was aching. Due to the various injuries, it was becoming difficult to stay conscious. She felt an icy hand yank back her hair forcing her to look up at her captor. Of the 3 ghosts that she had seen in the room, she could see that two were content torturing her. One ghost was holding her by her hair while the toothless ghost seemed to be debating how best to inflict damage on Rachel. He made his decision quickly and stuck an icy finger into the still healing gunshot wound. Rachel tried to hold in the scream as she felt the wound reopen. Tears pricked the sides of her eyes and the ghost who held her by her hair kneed her in the stomach. She felt herself being yanked back up by her hair before the toothless ghost hit her bullet wound again. She then felt a kick into her back and she fell onto the floor, collapsing into the fireplace tools. The two ghosts who had been torturing her were now laughing together but it gave Rachel enough time to spot the third ghost. He had slowly begun to rock the ladder back and forth forcing Mrs. Winchester to hold on with arthritic hands.

Mrs. Winchester, while still oblivious, managed to shout over to Rachel, “Is the room shaking or is it just me?”

Desperate to get the ghost away from the widow, Rachel picked up an iron poker and rushed towards the ghost. She swiped the air as hard as she could and the ghost disappeared. Rachel’s shock was evidently less than what the ghost duo were experiencing. Rachel had just enough time to secure Mrs. Winchester’s ladder before they rushed her. She swung the iron poker as though she were swinging a bat to hit an incoming fastball and both ghosts disappeared.

“You’re right of course, back to work!” called Mrs. Winchester from above. Rachel went to inspect the second ladder but found that it laid in pieces. Rachel was about to bring the stained-glass pane up the ladder to Mrs. Winchester but a chill filled the air and both women could see their breath in front of them.

“Ow! That cold chill just made my fingers freeze up!” commented Mrs. Winchester. She blew on her hands and tried to hold them close to her body in order to warm them back up.

As Rachel looked around and held up the iron poker, she realized that there would be a battle in the ballroom after all. It was clear that some of the spirits had aligned with the darkness and would want to take out the spiritual force of the house, Mrs. Winchester. Rachel stood in front of the ladder and squared her shoulders. She lifted the iron poker higher into the air and tightened her grip with both hands. Clearly, this would not be the easy task that all had assumed it would be, especially with the two women only having an iron poker as a weapon.

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

Ellie sighed in exasperation. Clive had stopped by to briefly check-in with Ellie. He told her that she was tucked away in a corner and that this friendly bespeckled spirit was not only helping her translate but he would shield her from the sights of the various evil roots, darkness, dead army, and so forth that were currently attempting to maim or kill the rest of her party. Clive had only been there for a few minutes before returning to Socrates but Clive’s parting instruction to the deceased archeologist was that she held the key to resolving everything and must be protected. While it was meant to put her at ease, Ellie only felt more pressure. If everything rested on her, then she needed to relieve the curse as soon as possible. Unfortunately, page after page yielded numerous exciting discoveries for her ghostly protector but none that were useful in the present fight.

As she heard commotions and shouts come from under the house, outside the house, and somewhere inside the house, she began to tap her fingers impatiently on the ground.

“My dear, that incessant rapping will do nothing for finding the answ-“ but he stopped midsentence. He motioned for her to flip back and forth between the two pages. “Aha!” he cried in excitement.

“You’ve got it?”

“No, but I just discovered the world’s best chili recipe,” responded the ghost as he rolled his eyes in sarcasm. “Of course, it’s what we’ve been looking for!”

“So, what do we do?” asked Ellie in excitement.

“Repeat these words exactly as I say them, “Klaatu barada nikto.”

“Klaatu-“ Ellie repeated but stopped mid-sentence when she saw the look of horror in her spirit guide. He looked frozen in time before turning an odd shade of green. Ellie couldn’t help but scream as the ghost-turned-statue fell to the ground and shattered into a million pieces.

“Traitor,” hissed unison voices.

Ellie looked up and recognized the attackers as the cloaked figures that had disappeared after she had defended Brisco with the machete. Ellie took a few steps backwards as she cursed herself for giving Brisco the machete. She had assumed that these figures would continue to chase Brisco and that he would need it to fight these spirits and the Kandarian. The figures floated towards her, while Ellie picked up her shotgun. She fired several rounds of salt at the figures. But it did nothing.

In fact, the two figures simply cocked their heads to one side. Like a cat playing with its prey, studying its attempt at escape in mild amusement before obliterating it.

In desperation, Ellie thought of her mission and screamed out, “Klaatu Barbados-“ as she attempted to reload.

But the spirits were too quick. Suddenly they were towering over her as they had done to Brisco earlier in the evening. They began to laugh as Ellie felt her soul being ripped out of her body in a great rushing wind.

Ellie struggled to stay standing but as she started to fall, she felt the words stumble out, “Klaatu… Barada…”

The vengeful spirits looked like they were growing to Ellie and the cellar felt like it was going black. She felt the tears starting burn the corners of her eyes as the pain of losing her soul was beyond anything that she had experienced before. They began to laugh at her crumpled body.

She gathered every last bit of her strength and finally muttered the last word, “Nikto.”

As soon as the words were uttered, the ground beneath her began to violently shake. The cloaked figures shrieked in pain but instead of disappearing like they did with the sword, they suddenly erupted in a floating fire.

Ellie sat on the ground and felt the world around begin to normalize. She was still too weak to stand and so she sat in the darkness, taking deep breath, and praying that she said the words correctly. She blacked out but in her dream-like state it felt like she was being rolled away from the world.

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

Brisco had found the Kandarian at least ten minutes earlier but had hid behind a column to study his opponent. The Kandarian seemed to be about Brisco’s height with long matted hair hanging down his back. There was a small glow emanating from what Brisco assumed was a book on the ground. It gave an eerie light to the area and Brisco could see the Kandarian’s face in the haunting glow. His face looked like it was rotting flesh with a bit of the skull peeking out around the jaw and nose. There was a large gash across the forehead as though it had been cut by a dagger or knife. He had a chain wrapped around his neck as though he had escaped from a Medieval dungeon. His clothes looked like those of an old king in style and could quite possible be authentic as the garments looked to be rotted and aged for several hundred years.

The figure paced in the darkness around the glowing book and he seemed to be shouting. Brisco stopped breathing for a moment to better hear what the being was saying as it was hard to hear over the heartbeat in Brisco’s ears. When Brisco could finally begin to make out the words, it was clear that the Kandarian was providing commands to his undead army outside. To Brisco’s surprise, the being picked up old mirrors from a nearby junk table. The figure than uttered a few sentences in an unknown language before the reflections faded and a grey cloud swirled in its place. In a few moments, the mirrors had changed to eerie windows into various parts of the battle. In a moment, the Kandarian had pulled up the faces of what Brisco assumed were his top generals as their individual commands led charges into various parts of the house. How could they defeat an evil that can see the entire battlefield from a safe distance away? One that can communicate to all parts of his army in an instant and observe their progress live while Brisco and his friends had to have faith that each accomplished their individual mission? Brisco steadied his breathing to better hear the Kandarian and his generals.

“Thank you all for joining the call this evening,” began the Kandarian. The various generals grunted their greetings.

Kandarian cleared his throat before continuing, “Army One, it looks like the smoke force has cleared a path for you. Have you been able to break-through-”

A tumultuous sound broke over the mirrors which drowned out the Kandarian’s conversation with the Army One General.

“Put yourself on mute unless I call on you!” commanded an irritated Kandarian.

A raspy voice responded, “It looks like they have placed salt around the kitchen staff but we have been able to get a spy into the center of their-“

Another crash of sound this time combined with screaming.

“I said put yourselves on mute unless I call on you!” raged the Kandarian. “If I find that you have disobeyed my mute order again, I will have your head and appoint someone else as a general in your stead!”

At that moment, the mirrors all went silent. Brisco peaked around the beam once more and found that all of the mirrors still had figures in various stages of decay standing in front of their individual battle scenes but everything had gone quiet.

“Army Two, have you found the rest of the household yet? Mrs. Winchester might be arthritic and old but she is much too powerful to allow her to live through the night,” continued the Kandarian.

The silence continued. Brisco squinted his eyes to look beyond the Kandarian and it looked like one of the corpse generals was talking but there wasn’t any sound being relayed into the basement.

“You’re on mute,” Kandarian observed through clenched teeth.

The silence remained.

“You’re still on mute…”

“Can you hear me now?” boomed a deep baritone voice.

“Yes, please relay your report.”

“Hello? I said, can you hear me?” continued the low resonating voice.

“We can all hear you!” said Kandarian. If he had eyelids, they would certainly be rolling.

However, the mirror froze and the earth began to shake like a minor earthquake was occurring. Brisco almost lost his footing but quickly rebalanced himself. Brisco leaned his back against the column as he realized that Ellie had completed her mission. Brisco took a deep breath, knowing that this was the moment that he had been waiting for, but before he jumped out of hiding a voice came out of the darkness.

“Haven’t you heard the saying, ‘if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back at you,” Mr. County?”

Brisco slowly peered around the column to see Kandarian with his back towards Brisco but staring into a mirror. It forced Brisco to look past Kandarian and into the mirrors behind the evil figure. At that moment, all of the mirrors had changed from the skeletal generals to the same picture in each mirror. To Brisco’s horror, every mirror was showing Brisco’s own self hiding behind a support beam. Kandarian was watching Brisco.

Brisco would not have the element of surprise on his side.

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

Socrates had been moving only a few steps at a time, slowly moving through the roots slithering across the once bare, concrete floor. Clive had said that the foundation was a form of concrete but the leaves and dirt brought in by the root system made the underground feel and look more like the underbrush of an ancient forest. Socrates had passed two bodies of men whose faces and hair had turned a disgusting shade of grey. They seemed to cackle into the darkness as though driven mad by the poison injected into their veins. To Socrates relief, they had not noticed him in the darkness but seemed lost in their own insanity.

Socrates was moving towards a lamp that Clive had pointed out, it was swinging several meters away. It seemed almost carefree and happy, despite the sea of dark eel-like vines and roots below it. To Socrates, it seemed to mock him because no matter how many tiny steps that he took, it still felt like the destination was hours away. Socrates attempted to hold onto Clive’s explanation that a direct approach would only bring about a sudden death to Socrates, so any hope at survival would have to be painstakingly slow movements. When Socrates passed another two bodies of men, these men also grey and cackling to themselves, Socrates began to lose hope that he would find Whip alive. These men looked more gruesome that the last pair with the added element of a black goo spilling out over them.

After what felt like an eternity, Socrates was finally close enough to see Whip’s face by the light of the swinging lamp. To his relief Whip still looked human, without any sign of black goo or strange skin. Unfortunately, he was bent like a marionette lying on the ground which meant his friend had at least a couple broken bones. Even at this distance and poor lighting, Whip looked as though he had lost any hope of surviving the evening.

As Socrates paused to weigh his options for a next footstep in the slithering mass of roots, he took the opportunity to study Whip’s location. Whip was pinned to the ground in front of a twisted and evil looking tree. There seemed to be hundreds of roots between the Socrates and Whip, not to mention no way to determine how broken Whip was or the best way to lift him out of danger. To make matters worse, he could not call for Whip’s attention without potentially placing both individuals in danger. Beads of sweat began to slide down Socrates’ nose and he removed his glasses while wiping his face with a handkerchief that had been forgotten in a pocket. Looking at the cloth in his hand, Socrates had an idea. He attempted to silently wave it in the dark, desperately praying that Whip would be able to see it.

Suddenly the ground began to shake and the roots shrieked as though something had frightened them; all vegetation began to hurriedly pull back towards the center as though they needed to protect the tree. In that moment, Socrates had a clearing before him, a direct path to Whip without any roots to deter him. Socrates took the opportunity to run a full speed, or as much speed as he could muster with his aching body, towards Whip in a desperate hope to make up time. Unfortunately, when he finally was within yards of Whip’s feet, everything stopped. There was a noticeable silence in the basement. Socrates halted, aware of the calculating stillness in the air. It felt as though the tree and roots, which had previously been unaware of his presence, had suddenly realized that another human was in the basement. More specifically, that their trap was just about to bring in their first prey. Socrates held his breath and shut his eyes, praying that he would be unseen and unheard by the evil tree before him.

In that moment, Whip could also feel that there had been a change in the atmosphere. He scrunched his abdominal muscles in an attempt to look beyond his toes and was shocked to see Socrates, face scrunched as his eyes were closed.

“Socrates! What the hell are you doing here?” demanded Whip in a hoarse voice.

Socrates waved his hands as if to motion a need for silence but it was too late. Roots had begun sliding back out and in Socrates’ direction. Knowing where Socrates stood, the evil tree seemed to find pleasure in torturing both men by slowly circling around Socrates’ location in an attempt to build terror for the trapped prey. The cackling laughs from the darkness began anew, but with a more targeted evil taunt directed at Socrates and Whip.

Socrates debated running but knew that this was Whip’s only chance and elected to hold his ground. Socrates swung the gun that Brisco had given him in the ballroom and aimed it towards the tree. He took careful aim, attempted to remember what Brisco had taught him, and fired.

To Whip and Socrates frustration, he missed the tree entirely.

In the darkness, two voices began to taunt, “We’re gonna get you! We’re gonna get you!”

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

Viva, Lenore, James, and their small group of staff survivors had moved through most of the ammunition resupply when kitchen began to shake. The group looked at each other nervously, unsure what new hell was about to unfold. Instead, the room went still. And then with a terrified and angry shriek, the darkness dissipated up and out of the house. Something, or someone, had finally broken the curse of the dark cloud that had murdered so many staff members before taunting Lenore’s group of survivors.

With the darkness out of the kitchen, the household continued to eye the dead and rotting bodies that had been surrounding the circle. To everyone’s amazement, the undead stood upright, turned on their heels and walked away. This time not as an army in unison but more as individuals moving at the various speeds they had in life. The only similarity is that they were all moving out of the house and away from the mansion. Viva stood at the door to provide cover as several staff members followed the undead. After a few minutes, Viva could only assume that they were heading back towards their final resting places.

“What is darkness afraid of?” asked a woman near James.

“Light,” responded Lenore. She looked around at the staff on the floor and knelt to begin caring for the uninfected injured.

James passed his mother moved towards Viva and was about to follow the undead across town and to their graves but Viva held him back. “Lenore, is it time?”

Lenore looked up and sadly nodded. If she could keep him from the horrors of the night, she would. But it was not her decision and James was not a child. He would need to face the morning with the rest of the survivors. Viva pressed two buttons and released James from the bracelet. As the memories began to flow back through James’ mind, Viva pressed the bracelet into the young man’s hand. “Be sure to keep that item safe,” Viva instructed.

James nodded and pocketed the bracelet. He stumbled to his mother and gave her a long hug. “Shit! Mama! We gotta get back to Mrs. Winchester and Rachel!”

“You go on, son, I’m gonna stay here and help these people get mended. Viva – go with James!” commanded Lenore.

James kissed her cheek before nodding his head in the direction that Viva would need to follow him towards. Just before James was out of the kitchen, he turned back and asked a question his father used to say in dangerous times, “Mama? Your back?”

She smiled as she held up the nearby shotgun, “Oh! I’ll watch it!”

She watched Viva and James leave before the young workman asked, “And what should we do in the meantime?”

“Stay together but follow the undead and ensure that they really leave the grounds,” she instructed. As she turned back towards the injured girl with a large laceration in her side, Lenore heard the sound of the bell. Only it was playing an odd rhythm, almost like it was morse code but more complex.

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

Pete had moved through a tangle of hallways and back entrances until finally arriving at a door which led to an easy access to the roof. With coaxing from the guide, Pete was finally at the edge of the red bricked sloped roof. He looked at the ghost incredulously before stating, “And why am I going to the top of this tower instead of ringing it from below?”

“That area is being heavily guarded and while I know that you would survive, we don’t have time for you to heal.”

“And if I miss and fall to the ground? Do you think that I’ll have enough time to heal from the broken bones?” demanded Pete.

The ghost shrugged before smiling and stating, “Then don’t miss.”

Pete rolled his eyes before studying the distance between the roof and the wooden structure of the belltower. He took a deep breath before jumping the small distance and grabbing onto one of the wooden planks of the tower. The rest of his body hit the lower wooden planks with a painful thud but Pete shook off the jolt before regaining his footing.

Pete glanced down and found that there was indeed an army of undead below which proved that the ghost had not been lying. However, at the sound of his jump onto the structure the rotting figures below looked up at Pete. As Pete began climbing up, he could see the guards below begin to climb the structure as well. As he continued to climb up wooden plank after plank, he felt and heard the sound of a large flapping wings filled the air. Pete had just enough time to turn and look for the source of the sound before a boney hand hit him square in the jaw. At the shock of the punch, Pete grabbed the plank to keep from falling. That action forced him to glance down at the ground and measure the long distance between himself and the guards below. While they were still quite aways down, any further attacks might enable them to catch up.

“Why am I always the guy in the belltower?” muttered Pete as he regained his footing and studied his attacker. It was the skeletal bugler on the winged boney beast from earlier in the evening. The duo had flown by Pete during the initial attack and looked to be making a large U-turn in an effort to make another pass at Pete.

Pete began to hurriedly move up the rest of the tower. As he climbed, he looked for his ghostly companion but she had disappeared. While irritated at being abandoned, Pete continued to scale the tower and finally made it to the top. He stood squarely in front of the bell and pulled out his piece and its newly acquired companion before taking aim and shooting both pistols towards the flying evil. The shots nicked the bones of both creatures but did not dissuade nor destroy either figure. Pete again looked around for his ghostly companion but she was still nowhere to be found. Pete studied the approaching scout and noticed that it lacked any weapons aside from his own bones and the winged creature. To that end, the skeleton was balanced on his creature with one arm holding a humorous bone as a club. Pete couldn’t see the rest of the skeleton’s arm bones as the duo continued to move towards him. Just as the figure was in reach, the skeleton swung the humorous bone but Pete managed to duck narrowly missing the bugler’s attack.

As the creature continued its path and made way for another turn, the female apparition returned but seemed to be smoking as if she was on fire with hands that looked somehow injured. He looked at her incredulously as she explained, “I tried to bring you a salt container but it wasn’t closed all the way and managed to burn me.”

The two allies helplessly watched the winged creature finish its U-turn and ready itself for another pass before looking down and seeing the undead creatures below move closer to him. Even with the specter’s assistance, Pete was unsure how best to defeat the attack from above and below. But to the ghost’s relief, the house began to move as though experiencing a small earthquake. Pete quickly moved to a bell support beam for safety as the bell absorbed the unwanted shaking and rang out its annoyance at the recent movement. From where Pete stood, he watched the winged creature and its pilot go from a flight of attack to falling helplessly to the ground like a bag of bones. He then looked down to see the decedents move slowly away as if no longer interested in Pete or the mansion itself.

“Ellie has completed the counter-spell,” explained the ghost as a confused Pete watched his attackers disappear.

“After all of this excess risk of injury, remind me again why a ghost can’t ring the bell?” asked a dubious Pete.

“Most of the tasks of the evening need humans to complete them but this one could probably be completed by a ghost. But I couldn’t take that risk and besides, I needed an opportunity to talk with you alone,” she explained.

Pete turned towards her, livid at the unnecessary risks he had just taken for this ghost. Seeing that Pete was about to unload his fury, she held up her hands and stated, “I said probably! We couldn’t risk not having this bell code task completed.

Unable to combat her logic yet still quite furious, he continued through gritted teeth, “This seems an inappropriate time to have an intimate conversation.”

“I’m saving those for another day,” she grinned at him before turning her attention back on the bell to study it.

Pete was immediately stunned, confused, and distracted from his anger. “Is it my imagination or is this ghost flirting with him?”

The moment passed as the ghost gave him the pattern for the bell. The rhythm for ringing the bell was easy to grasp but it took a few tries before Pete could complete it correctly. It was a series of a short rings followed by pauses, something that the ghost called “binary code.” When he entered the correct code, the purple haze began to melt away. There was a light shower in the mist which caused Pete to ask, “Is that purple rain?”

“Seems to be,” agreed the ghost before she turned back to Pete. “Has anyone ever called you a “prince among men?’”

Pete looked at her incredulously, unsure how to respond to the ghost before replying, “Only a prince of thieves. However, in my experience, that level of flattery is usually accompanied by a request.”

When the ghost did not respond or deny Pete’s comment, Pete pressed, “So, what would a ghost want with me?”

“I need you to kill Charles.”

Pete felt like every statement coming from the apparition only increased his fascination but also seemed to be more incredulous than the last. After several moments Pete couldn’t contain his curiosity and asked, “I thought that Livi was yours and his progeny? Why would you want me to kill Livi’s pater?”

Her face darkened. “There’s a lot that you will learn in the near future but suffice it to say, he was never a romantic partner of mine. He was the individual who turned me in; he might as well have signed my death warrant. To make matters worse, he stole my daughter.”

Her revelation was immediately followed by the sound of Lenore shouting. It was as if Pete’s ears had been opened to suddenly hear the commotion occurring around him. The noise startled Pete and he took a moment to glance down below at the courtyard. While he couldn’t clearly see Lenore, her shouts were not out of fear or horror, just stern commands. Feeling relieved that Lenore was safe, Pete looked back up and in the direction of the ghost but she had disappeared. Still angry about the recent attack, irritated by her disappearing act, and slightly overwhelmed by the bombshell confession, Pete hurried to get to the downstairs’ kitchen. He’d check on Lenore and James but if everything was safe, he would grab his bracelet and get the hell out of this mansion filled with odd specters.

Even the “friendly” ghosts seemed to have ulterior motives and Pete preferred to live outside of other people’s motives or plans.

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

Cat’s out of the bag. I guess we’re onto Plan B, thought Brisco.

He slowly came around his hiding place but stayed at a distance from Kandarian.

“I’d shake your hand but- uh…” Brisco lifted his machete duct taped to his injured hand. He continued to slowly step towards Kandarian while keeping an eye out for slithering roots.

“I appreciate the gesture. And you will pardon me for not immediately greeting you upon your entrance.”

“You wanted me to see your plans for the evening?” Brisco asked while taking his adversary in. How do I remove the head of this monster?

“To show you that resistance is futile. You and the rest of the humans are no match for my armies.” As Kandarian finished speaking, the mirrors changed back to their various parts of the house. Brisco had to admit that several battles did look hopeless. Pete was up in a bell tower with the female ghost fighting the winged creature and its skeletal pilot. Rachel was fighting ghosts in the ballroom with a frail Mrs. Winchester struggling to lift a stained glass up the ladder. Whip was in the basement covered in roots with Socrates nowhere in sight. But the last mirror gave Brisco some hope. The kitchen held Lenore giving instructions to various staff members but it was void of any conflict. In fact, it looked like the undead were moving, albeit slowly, away from the house. When Brisco looked back at Pete and the female ghost, they were no longer fighting creatures but seemed to be ringing the bell.

When the bell finished its odd melody, Brisco pointed with the machete and observed, “It looks like the undead are leaving, you seem to have already lost.”

“That is only part of my army and admittedly, the weakest part. But every army needs pawns, individuals that you can sacrifice to protect your greatest weapons.”

“Such as?” inquired Brisco. At that moment, a mirror changed from the slow pace of an undead individual’s vantage point to an ugly and twisted tree that held Whip captive. Brisco was running out of time to take out Kandarian and potentially open an opportunity for Whip’s rescue.

Instead of a witty comment, all Brisco could think to do was give a yell of anger, frustration, and war. As he yelled, he charged at the Kandarian and shooting his live rounds of ammunition.

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

Mrs. Winchester had finally made it to the top rung and was in the process of placing in the first stained glass. Rachel was not having the same luck. After winning the first round with the ghosts, Rachel had quickly scraped together any salt that she could find at the bottom of the weapons box and by opening up a couple salt shotgun rounds that she had found. In an effort to protect the widow, she spread what little salt she could gather in a small circle around Mrs. Winchester’s ladder. From that moment on, none of the ghosts could touch Mrs. Winchester. Unfortunately, there was only enough salt to protect Mrs. Winchester and the stained glass that Rachel had leaned against the ladder. There was not enough to protect Rachel and she wanted to be sure to protect Mrs. Winchester when the next batch of ghosts arrived.

Unfortunately, alone and out of salt with only the iron poker as protection meant that Rachel was starting to tire. The iron managed to make the ghosts temporarily disappear but only for a few minutes. To make matters worse, additional ghosts were also joining the fray. It felt like all of the ghosts in the house who still had anger and vengeful intent towards Mrs. Winchester had found their chance to attack. But in being kept from harming the widow due to a salt circle made them more irate and they took it out on the bodyguard, Rachel. Rachel’s wounded shoulder and her lacerated arm were causing such excruciating pain that swinging the iron over and over was increasingly becoming impossible. Her muscles were aching and suddenly she lost her grip of the iron and it fell to the floor with a loud clatter. The ghosts immediately pounced on her vulnerability. A ghost ripped Rachel’s head back by her hair, the force caused Rachel’s eyes to brim with tears in pain. However, it gave Rachel the opportunity to watch the widow place the first stained glass into the pane and begin to slowly move her arthritic body back down the ladder. Rachel breathed a sigh of relief that they had been able to accomplish half of their mission. She took one more breath and closed her eyes, expecting this breath to be her last.

A gunshot fired and she felt her hair released. Rachel opened her eyes and turned to see that James had used a salt round to shoot her captor. Within moments, Viva arrived in the room behind James and the two began to rapidly shoot at the ghosts, finally clearing out the room.

In the moment’s pause, Rachel caught her breath before warning the men, “They won’t be gone long.”

“Where’s Pete, Whip, and Socrates?” asked Viva.

“The good-lookin’ long-haired fellow disappeared,” gushed the widow, still on a high from her medication. “Euripides is off trying to rescue another of your party, the handsome man with the chin is fighting Kandarian, and the other woman has released the spell. After summarizing the various missions, she paused for another round of medication. As she slowly blew out the smoke, she held it up as if to ask James if he wanted some. James simply held up his hand as though to state, “Not at this moment.”

“Socrates working to rescue Whip from the basement?” asked Viva. “Those two don’t have a chance against the evil that I saw down there!” exclaimed Viva as he started for the door.

“Right behind you,” called James but Viva immediately halted upon hearing James.

“No, we have all worked hard to rescue and protect you. I am not about to risk you coming to the basement with me.”

“You need as many hands as possible,” argued James.

We need another hand,” Rachel pleaded. James frowned as he studied her open wounds and realized that Rachel could no longer defend the widow or herself.

“She’s right,” called Mrs. Winchester. She took another inhale of her medication and blew out the smoke before continuing. “It seems that all of the unfriendly vibrations have elected to take advantage of the situation and are determined to not only undermine our mission with the stained-glass windows but to take my life.”

James looked torn between Mrs. Winchester and Viva. It was clear that he did not like the idea of being prevented from joining the more dangerous mission but at the same time, he did not want Mrs. Winchester to be harmed after all that she had done for him.

“But what about you?” pressed James.

“I’m going with him,” stated Pete as he came out from the shadows.

“Hutter, where the hell have you been?” demanded Viva.

“Would you like to discuss events of the evening and compare our various battle stories over a cup of tea or would you like to give Ellie, Socrates, and Whip a better chance of surviving the night?” asked Pete in sarcasm. When Viva reluctantly shrugged in response, Pete continued, “So, that part is settled. What’s next?”

Viva called up to the widow, “Any idea where Whip is located in the basement?”

“Find Clive,” instructed the widow. At that, she finished her medication which not only helped her inflamed joint pain but also managed to calm the extreme anxiety of the evening. She then continued her journey down the ladder.

Armed with the widow’s instructions, Viva handed the axe that he had taken back from the traumatized maid to Pete before the two hurriedly left the ballroom. With James and Rachel left to guard the widow, they kept one eye on Mrs. Winchester while James attempted to stop Rachel’s bleeding wounds.

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

Ellie woke up to a ringing in her ears. She sat up and noticed that Clive had managed to wheel her out of the cellar in his wheelbarrow. His icy hand held hers in an effort to lift her up and out of the cart. Rachel felt a small pain in her back and looked into the wheelbarrow to see that she had been lying on the dynamite from Miami. Ellie shakily turned around to watch the cellar doors. Socrates, Whip, and Brisco should be coming out any second. But as the minutes passed and as she continued to pace in front of the doors, she could not see anyone coming out. She was so engrossed in the search that she had hardly noticed the bells ringing, the dome disintegrating, or the sun slowly begin to rise. She was only acutely aware of the dead bodies walking haphazardly away from the mansion. But as they seemed more interested in leaving the mansion’s property than attacking anyone, she ignored the undead and refocused on the house.

“Ellie, that is still a truly ridiculous outfit,” came a familiar sing song taunt. She turned to face Pete before he continued, “You should really change before the sun comes up and the local socialites catch sight of you. We don’t need women wearing pajamas during the day.”

“You!” she exclaimed. “If you hadn’t wandered off, Poole would be safe with Mrs. Winchester instead of trying to rescue Whip!”

“Miss Ellie, I think that you have me confused. I am not the hero type and I have never claimed to be. Additionally, I am still irritated at Poole for taking my bracelet without permission.”

Ellie gave an exasperated sigh and rolled her eyes. “Well, can you at least look in the cellar to see what is taking them so long? Clive won’t let me in.”

“Only because I owe you so much,” replied Pete. After studying her hopeful face he continued, “If it’s a hopeless situation, you know that I am not the martyr type, right?” As the question was more rhetorical than sincere, he turned and called from the direction that he just came from. “C’mon you lagger! Quit dallying!”

Ellie watched as Viva came into view, clearly not pleased about Pete’s name calling nature. When she turned back towards Pete, he was in a low conversation with Clive and loading up on the last of the ammunition and dynamite.

“Well, howdy Clive!” called Viva. “I hear you can help me find Socrates and Whip.”

Clive nodded and motioned for Pete and Viva to follow him back towards the opening that Viva, Whip, and the rest of the crew all had entered through at the evening’s beginning. With Clive no longer keeping Ellie from entering the cellar, she tried to sneak in with them when a cold hand gripped her wrist tightly.

“Ow!” Ellie exclaimed as she looked at her arm but there was no one there. She attempted to free herself but the icy hand began to forcefully pull her away from the basement entrance and back towards the center of the house with Ellie fighting to free herself with every step.

Pete and Viva followed Clive under the house but both stopped short as Clive asked, “Do either of y’all have a lighter?”

“Why the hell would we need-“ began Viva.

“I have one,” interrupted Pete.

“Keep it close,” whispered Clive’s instructions.

Pete nodded acknowledgement before Clive led the two into the darkness. Viva and Pete found abandoned flashlights from the workmen and carefully lifted them to study the darkness. The floor was squiggling as though covered by snakes. To Pete’s surprise, the slithering creatures were actually roots and branches. They seemed to be stretching out looking for its next meal. At the heart of the house, they could make out a lantern swinging in the darkness. But it was still a long way to go.

“Don’t let the roots touch or capture you!” whispered Clive as Pete and Viva began to slowly walk through the basement.

“Because that was my first inclination,” Pete replied in sarcasm. “Jump head first into a sea of evil looking roots that are squiggling around like snakes.”

“Sshh!” commanded Viva as he paused to listen.

Pete held his breath and could hear two voices cackling in the darkness. The two men shined their flashlights in the direction of the voices and found two bodies that were gray with white hair. They each had black goo leaking out of their mouths and ears and roots crawling all over their bodies.

“Result of capture?” asked Pete to which Clive nodded an affirmative reply.

Viva visibly shook before muttering, “I’m all shook up.”

After several painstaking moments of tiptoeing through the maze of branches and roots, Pete and Viva were finally within sight of Socrates. The evil plant had not yet touched the attorney but it had certainly entrapped him in a large circle of roots and branches.

“Socrates!” whispered Viva in a hoarse voice as he tried to wave for the lawyer’s attention.

“Get the hell out of here!” whispered a hoarse and panicked Socrates as he waved his handkerchief towards the exit.

Unfortunately, the whispers were not quiet enough as the branches and roots seemed to realize the presence of the other two men and began to tighten the circle around Socrates to prevent the possibility of rescue for its captives. In response to the lawyer’s predicament, Pete and Viva began shooting root after root and branch after branch as they moved towards Socrates’ position. Viva looked up as a viney branch suddenly rose up and speared Socrates through his back and out his stomach.

“Nooo!” came Whip’s agonized scream. He watched as Socrates eyes bulged in pain as he stared down at the root sticking out of his stomach. It was as though he could not process the wound that he was experiencing.

Pete and Viva were finally able to move past the lantern and found themselves staring up at an ugly and twisted tree. Pete pulled out the axe and began chopping at the branches while Viva continued to fire buck shot rounds into the roots. They could almost see Whip but the roots and branches attempted to block the last few feet towards Whip by layering themselves on top of each other in an attempt to create a boundary. As Pete and Viva continued to slice and shoot at the tangled web before them, the root system screamed whiney inhuman screams as though each of the roots were somehow alive.

“I thought that breaking the spell would have killed these things?” asked Pete confused. “Did I miss something from the ghost’s directions?”

“How would I know?” asked Viva finally cutting through the last branch. He helped Whip sit up but noticed that his leg was broken.

“Kill me!” gasped Whip.

“Don’t be a martyr!” snorted Viva before picking up Whip by his arms and began dragging him backwards towards the entrance. Pete meanwhile continued to chop at roots to get towards Socrates. When Pete finally made it to Socrates, his mouth fell open as he took in the gruesome sight of the attorney. He studied the branch that had run through Socrates’ body, trying to figure out how to pull Socrates out and away from the mess. He was so engrossed that he did not notice Clive who had joined the two men and he jumped when Clive began to speak.

“You saw it didn’t you?” asked Clive.

“Yes,” Socrates replied between coughs of blood.

“Saw what?” demanded Pete.

“The root system. It’s culminating out of the first infected man’s body.” Pete turned around to look at the body Clive and Socrates were discussing. To Pete’s horror, there was an emaciated body that had been underneath Whip. It had so many roots coming out and through from every part of the body that it was almost impossible to tell that it had once been a man’s body.

“What do we do?” asked Socrates.

“Fire is our only hope,” replied Clive.

“I’ve got the dynamite,” offered Pete as he pulled out the sticks that he had packed for the night’s adventures. However, looking at the goal of throwing it at the source of evil and noticing the short fuse, he looked at Clive and asked, “But how do we get the attorney out?”

“I’ll give you a head start,” replied Socrates with a smile as blood dripped down his chin. At Pete’s shocked face, Socrates continued, “I’m not being a hero, I’m just a dead man already, Pete. Plus, someone has to ensure that this evil shrubbery is utterly destroyed.”

Pete handed the dynamite to Socrates in speechless shock. The plan made sense although he didn’t like owing Socrates anything. As Pete tried to find a way to express appreciation, Socrates nodded his head towards the exit and commanded, “Go! Now! I won’t be able to see you so I’ll give you three minutes before I light the dynamite.”

Pete began moving back towards the exit, this time moving faster than when they entered as the amputated roots seemed to be more engrossed in its pain than the intruders. Since Viva was still dragging Whip backwards, it didn’t take long to arrive just behind the two men. But to Pete’s horror, a grey hand reached out of the darkness and grabbed Viva by the ankle. It pulled Viva with such force, that the sheriff was down in a moment. Pete shined his flashlight on the perpetrator and found that the grey hand belonged to what used to be a human. It was one of the bodies that Pete and Viva had passed assuming it was dead as it had already turned grey with black oozing out of its mouth. Seconds later a second body that matched the first crawled out of the darkness and bit into Whip. Pete was horror stricken as the two zombie like creatures began to gnaw away at Viva and Whip. Pete began to move towards the two creatures but Clive appeared out of the darkness and stood in Pete’s way.

“They’re gone,” explained Clive. “If you are going to survive, you have got to leave now!”

Admitting that Clive was correct, Pete jumped over the two bodies and ran towards the exit while shouting over his shoulder, “Light the damn thing now!”

At Pete’s call, Socrates lit the fuse, took aim, and threw it at the corpse buried at the base of the evil tree. The first dynamite fell close to the tree but not the man. Unsure how long before the fuse would run out or how much time before the tree figured out the plan, Socrates quickly threw the next stick of dynamite. When the second one also missed the target, Socrates coughed and wiped the blood from his face. He let go of his frustration in an effort to take one last deep breath and this time the dynamite hit its target perfectly. The first dynamite went off which led to the other sticks also exploding.

The fire ripped through Reynold’s corpse and the tree before moving along the branches and roots. It enveloped the bodies of the zombies and our heroes. The force of the explosions forced Pete to fall to the ground, only a few yards from the exit.

Before everything went black, Pete wondered, “Will I die from the explosion fire or the house collapsing on top of me?”

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

Brisco’s flurry of bullets in Kandarian’s direction only managed to stun the evil opponent. After only a few moments, Kandarian lifted his hand and a root came springing from the ground and wrapped around Brisco’s ankles. Bored by the display, Kandarian turned his back to Brisco to study his mirrors as though he could no longer be bothered by a pestering fly.

Brisco used the machete to hack away at the roots, which screamed in protest. Unfortunately, he was only able to move a couple more steps before another set lassoed his legs which pulled him to the ground. Irritated by the newly formed pattern of capture, Brisco lifted the shotgun and rapidly refilled the barrel. Within a matter of moments, he took aim and fired. The bullet only grazed the Kandarian’s head but it did manage to take out one of the mirrors. Before his opponent could take reciprocate, Brisco fired again. This time, he blew out the second mirror. Kandarian gave out an eerie guttural scream, something truly unnatural and blood curdling.

“I’ve got news for you, Kandy- you ain’t leading anyone but Jack and Shit. And guess what? Jack just left town!”

“Alright, County! You have my attention! Let’s play!” At Kandarian’s words the roots sank away from Brisco’s feet enabling him to get his footing. Brisco aimed his gun at Kandarian’s head but the shotgun merely clicked.

“Out of bullets, County?” mocked Kandarian.

Brisco merely swung the gun to the ground before raising his machete bound hand and his free fist. The two circled each other, eyeing each other for vulnerabilities. As Brisco continued around the room, he felt the glass crunch beneath his boots.

“Aren’t you going to ask about my evil plan?” hissed Kandarian before he lunged towards Brisco.

“Hadn’t planned on it,” commented Brisco as he sliced off Kandarian’s hand. The adversary howled in irritation before picking it up from the ground and reattaching it. As Brisco watched in fascination, he continued, “In my experience, all evil plans end the same. Use evil means to conquer the world and then rule it for as long as possible. It gets to be routine after the first one or two.”

Kandarian did not reply but brandished a sword from his tattered clothes and gave Brisco a bone chilling sneer.

“Where were you hiding that thing?” asked Brisco.

“My pockets are bigger on the inside,” retorted Kandarian.

“Very fancy.”

At that moment, Kandarian stepped forward and swung his sword towards Brisco’s head. Brisco had just enough time to duck and attempt a lunge at Kandarian. Unfortunately, he missed and only managed to slice at his adversary’s cloak. Brisco continued to circle Kandarian before attempting to cut his opponent down, again he missed but not before Kandarian kicked Brisco’s injured hand.

The pain from the broken hand went shooting up Brisco’s arm. He grimaced in pain as he doubled over to shield his hand from pain. The machete briefly rested on the ground as Brisco moved his eyes between his opponent and the excruciating limb.

Kandarian laughed maniacally while musing, “It’s truly not a fair fight with your injury. It’s too easy, I could beat you with one hand behind my back.”

“Why don’t you?” came Brisco’s gruff retort.

“I never play fair,” commented Kandarian before he swung at Brisco, managing to wound him. Brisco winced in pain but found a glimmer of hope as it looked like Kandorian left himself open when he lunged. Brisco had to look for it the next time he struck.

“Sounds about right. You need an army to fight your battles while you stay hidden and safe down here in the basement,” goaded Brisco. The comment hit its mark as his foe’s face darkened and so Brisco continued, “In fact, you are so out of date that you wouldn’t last one minute without your various weapons of darkness and evil.”

The irate enemy swung again with everything that he had which gave Brisco the opportunity he needed. Brisco leaned backwards out of the way while grabbing Kandarian’s arm as it passed. Brisco quickly brought his knee up with such force that Kandarian was forced to drop the sword. Brisco then swung back around and chopped off Kandarian’s sword fighting arm before Brisco ran head-first toward the confused Kandarian’s mid-section which knocked the foe to the ground. Kandarian was laying on his back but before he could sit back up, Brisco stomped his right foot down on the heaving chest of the rotting evil man.

With Kandarian pinned beneath Brisco’s boot, Brisco held the sword inches away from Kandarian’s head before saying, “Yo- he bitch! Hail to the King!” And with those words chopped off the head, leaving the lifeless body limp on the ground.

Brisco took a deep breath but was granted little time to relish the victory. A child ghost materialized next to Brisco and grabbed his hand to lead him towards the nearest exit.

“The entire basement is about to catch fire,” the boy explained. Brisco ran with the apparition and came to an old back entrance. The wood had rotted shut and Brisco had to kick at it a few times before he could get the door to begrudgingly swing open. Brisco had barely stepped outside when an explosion knocked Brisco to the ground.

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

The sun was just starting to peak over the horizon when Rachel finished placing the second window pane. It had been tedious watching Mrs. Winchester climb back down each rung of the ladder but as soon as she was down and James confirmed that she was safe inside the salt circle, Rachel grabbed the second stained glass and ran up the ladder.

Rachel had just barely placed the window in its designated spot when she felt the ladder swing backwards. She screamed and looked down to see that an evil spirit had managed to shove the ladder in the opposite direction of the wall and she was about to fall backwards. She looked towards James but found that he was laying on the ground with a sword pointed at his neck by a nasty looking ghost. Rachel tightly shut her eyes and braced for the impact that would surely break bones. Only instead of a painful crash, she felt a tremor from below her feet. If she had to guess it might have been a distant explosion.

She kept her eyes shut and held her breath waiting to feel the wind swish by as the ladder fell, but it did not happen. She opened an eye and looked down but couldn’t see the ghost. She carefully opened both eyes to get a better view and noticed that the ghost had vanished and she was balancing straight up in the center of the room. She glanced at James and noticed that his ghost had also disappeared. With years of training from her mother, Rachel expertly leaned forward to swing the ladder back against the wall. The stained glass trembled slightly as it was not secure in its place but at least it was up.

Rachel looked through the glass and noticed that the sun was beginning to creep up from the horizon. She scrambled back down the ladder to join Mrs. Winchester and James as the watched the sun climb the sky and to shine through the words, “WIDE UNCLASP THE TABLES OF THEIR THOUGHTS” read the pane on the left while the one on the right read, “THESE SAME THOUGHTS PEOPLE THIS LITTLE WORLD.”

“What does it mean?” asked a worn out James.

Mrs. Winchester grinned mischievously before stating, “I have no idea but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was a portal to another universe?”

“Additionally, if it wards off darkness, why wasn’t it put up earlier?” asked a breathless Rachel.

“I was mistaken,” came the female voice. The group turned to see the female ghost in her familiar nightgown pulling an angry Ellie. “It is not to ward off evil but a spell to wake up the town.”

“Wake up the town?” inquired Rachel.

“Those outside of the dome have been in a deep sleep through this entire experience. The sun touching this stained glass will wake them up but also continue to filter their reality. They will never see or experience supernatural outside of this house. They will remain blissfully unaware and live their lives without complications of paranormal.”

“Will you finally let go of me?” demanded Ellie of the ghost. The apparition obeyed by releasing Ellie’s hand. As Ellie opened and closed her hand in an attempt to warm it and restore feeling to her fingers. After a few moments, Ellie was filled with curiosity and asked, “Why weren’t Pete, Brisco, or I in a ‘deep slumber?’ Why were we able to see what was happening at the mansion and to help our friends inside the dome?”

“Am I expected to know all of the answers?” asked the ghost indignantly.

“Yes!” exclaimed a frustrated Ellie.

“Maybe it was your outfit. Maybe it caused too much shock for the sandman to risk getting near you without having a heart attack,” she retorted and then disappeared.

“You young people,” laughed Mrs. Winchester. “I never understand your humor.” At that she turned towards Ellie before adding, “She is right, though. You do look pretty lax in your dress. I mean I dig it but the world may not be ready for it just yet.”

Part VI – Chapter 39 – The Arrival of Armies

The small crowd of staff inside the kitchen salt circle held their breaths as the sounds of drums, bugles, and hundreds of feet were moving towards the house. Viva and Lenore exchanged silent glances, the battle was about to begin for the lives of everyone in their salted circle.

“Viva, cover this side,” ordered Lenore. She pointed towards the door that he had entered through to get to the kitchen. Viva nodded as she moved past him to arrange the rest of the staff with various knives and other crude weapons around the sides of their oblong space. She then placed herself opposite of Viva and watched the entrance that led towards more of the house. Lenore watched as the dark cloud began to settle backwards. To Lenore, it seemed as though the darkness was shifting backwards to make way for the expendable foot soldiers to strike first. If Lenore were to bet on the darkness’ motive, it might be to come in for the kill after the foot soldiers opened a way into the salted perimeter.

And then everything went quiet. No more bugles. No more drums. No more feet. The silence was more unbearable than the approaching army had been.

Lenore briefly looked at the civilian circle members and watched them nervously shift. A couple of men wiped beads of sweat off of their foreheads and noses. The small kitchen maid nearest Lenore had tears running down her face and a quivering bottom lip.

“Steady,” Lenore quietly commanded the group.

Viva heard a door open and watched a lone man slowly emerge from the darkness. Viva studied the man as he seemed to be almost limping towards Viva’s position. He was still too far out to get a look at the man’s face and Viva wanted to save bullets until he could see his enemies’ eyes, so he called out, “Are you lonesome tonight?” to gage how many people might be part of the advance party.

The man did not respond but kept limping towards Viva’s position. A few moments later, another two men began to emerge from the darkness.

“Shoot them!” came the urgent and hoarse whisper from Scott, the all too brave yet unintelligent man nearest Viva.

“Hold your position!” commanded Lenore from the other side of the grouping.

“Why should we take orders from you?” whimpered another man from the group.

“Settle down! Only fools rush in!” Viva said in a low voice to the men.

“Fuck this!” yelled Scott and he ran out of the safety of the circle, kicking salt out of its well-placed orbit on his way out. The man raised his knife and charged at the encroaching army scout. Scott reached the man and screamed momentarily upon seeing the face of his enemy. It was a face of rotting skin, clearly the visage of a man who had been dead for a long time. Scott swallowed hard and regained his senses. He held the knife high before he began to plunge the knife into the walking corpse’s chest. The flesh peeled away but there was not any blood and the decedent did not fall to the ground. Scott began to stab more frantically.

“Get out of the way, boy!” hollered Viva who couldn’t get a clear shot with Scott standing directly in front of the standing scout.

The other two corpses had finally moved up to Scott as he was frantically stabbing the corpse who remained immobile. To Viva’s horror, they grabbed Scott’s arms and began hungrily chomping down on his arms and neck, moving up towards Scott’s head.

“You bastards!” screamed a large cook and Viva had only moments to catch the man by his white uniform and drag him to the center of the circle. Viva looked up to see that the darkness had taken advantage of the distraction and had begun to seep through the gap in the small circle. Lenore quickly ran to the gap and pushed the salt back together to reconnect the circle. Unfortunately, it was too late for an upstairs maid. She had fallen to the ground, eyes rolled back in her head, unconscious. Whatever darkness had seeped into their small fortress of safety, was now fully occupying the poor maid.

“Everyone back to your positions!” ordered Lenore.

The heavyset cook that Viva was still holding down shouted, “We need to save Scott!”

“Scott is gone,” same the hollow voice of an on-call tree doctor who had been unlucky enough to not leave the grounds before nightfall and was now a trapped battle participant.

“Who put you in charge?” came the indignant accusation of a young man from the construction team. Viva noticed that the man looked to have barely reached the age of 20 and based on his messy hair and clothes, the boy had apparently run out of bed at the start of the household screams.

“Mrs. Winchester put her in charge,” explained the maid nearest Lenore.

“Why should we listen to a woman?” pressed the young man.

Viva looked around to the rest of the crew. Many of them were in various stages of shock and fear. If they were going to survive the night, they would need to be a unified force.

“Lenore is the strongest mayor I’ve ever worked for and I would follow her into hell and back!” exclaimed Viva.

“A woman mayor?” scoffed the young man.

Irritated by the boy’s attitude, Viva let go of the large cook and moved over to the young man and hit him as hard as he could. The boy stumbled backwards and almost fell out of the circle and into the waiting arms of the darkness but Viva grabbed his arm and pulled the man back before gravity and darkness claimed another victim.

“After we survive tonight, I can tell you of all of the scuffles that Lenore and I have lived through and of all of the impossible scenarios that we beat. Many situations worse than this-“ Viva paused for only a moment. Looking around at a group of untrained household staff and a couple workmen with only a small circle of salt to be protected from an evil darkness and an army of undead that weren’t able to be taken down by mere knives, Viva could not honestly think of a situation worse than this particular battle. But, it seemed that the speech was helping, so Viva continued. “We will survive the night if we do as Lenore orders. I just can’t help believing that if we each of us go our own ways, we will all die.”

The sound of Scott’s flesh being eaten away seemed to bring the weight of Viva’s words heavily down on the small group. To Viva’s relief, while Scott’s death had been brutal, it did seem as though it was mercifully quick. Although, only the tree doctor would know for sure and Viva was not about to ask him.

Lenore took a deep breath before continuing her instructions. “Everyone, I need you to watch the salt lines between you and the person on either side of you. Our survival depends on the circle remaining unbroken. The darkness will seep in if you don’t keep the salt line together.”

“What about Delores?” the fat cook asked about the unconscious girl on the floor. Her skin was starting to go a grey shade. “Should we toss her out of the circle?”

“We’ll leave her alone for now,” Lenore stated. “Let’s not toss her out until we know that she is truly beyond rescue.”

“How will we defeat an army of darkness and evil dead?” asked the young workman.

At that moment, a growl could be heard from behind the group. From the spot Lenore had left, the crying maid had been in too much shock to cry out that a walking dead man had come out of the shadows from the direction of the main house. He hadn’t broached the salt defense but he was big and looked uglier than the three cold bodies still feasting on Scott.

Lenore cooly raised her shotgun, aimed at the deadman’s face and fired. The force of the weapon pushed back into Lenore’s arm as she held her arms steadily in front of her. Lenore continued to look over the barrel of the gun, watching the buckshot take off the man’s head. The body took another step before falling backwards and onto the ground. Lenore slowly lowered the gun but remained ready to raise the shotgun back up if it moved again. When it continued to lay immobile on the ground, she turned and looked at the group before simply stating, “Aim for the head.”

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

Brisco, Socrates, and Ellie were following a ghost named Clyde as he pushed a wheelbarrow towards a double door in the center of the house. Unsure what would be needed, the dynamite had been loaded into the wheelbarrow while the three humans carried guns and ammunition. Clyde had briefly explained that there were two basements and that this entrance would be the easiest for Brisco and Ellie to complete their missions. Socrates would have to take the entrance that the workmen had used earlier in the evening.

Socrates had decided to walk with Brisco and Ellie to their entrance before continuing on towards his assigned basement. It would give the friends a bit more time together and it enabled Soc to fill in his portion of the mission while listening to Brisco’s adventure. Socrates had met with Mrs. Winchester and she had hired him on a trial basis and given him a guest room to stay in during his test period. Socrates had managed to secure a room with numerous books and he was in bed reviewing each carefully for any sign of malady when he heard the bell ring and had assumed it was merely for the séance. Originally, he was going to take it as a sign to go to sleep when the female ghost in the white nightgown appeared in his room. Socrates, ever the proponent of social propriety, admitted to having a temporary moment of lecturing the woman as both parties were indecent in their sleeping clothes while being members of the opposite gender.

She had interrupted to explain that she lacked a corporeal form and that etiquette was not paramount at the moment. She hoped that she was wrong but had a feeling that something evil had been unearthed. She instructed Socrates to get dressed, to gather any guns that he might have, and to stay alert. If there was a problem, he would know. She disappeared before Socrates could ask how long he should stay awake or alert. However, Socrates did not have to wait long after dressing as the screams began soon afterwards. Socrates only had Pete’s pistols so he grabbed them before awkwardly running in the direction of the bell tower to collect Mrs. Winchester. He only made it part of the way before she appeared out of a bookcase secret passageway. The widow was alone and explained that a ghost had sent Mrs. Winchester to the ballroom and had sent Mr. Adams to attempt to hide any staff and family from a coming evil. Mrs. Winchester then guided Socrates to the ballroom, stating that Mr. Adams would surely follow when the rest of the household was safe. However, due to her arthritic and post absinthe state where she felt the need to occasionally stop and watch the green fairies, it took a very long time to move through the house. The two had only arrived ten minutes before Brisco’s party, just enough time for her to have smoke and prepare for a more urgent séance. Socrates wasn’t sure how marijuana and absinthe combined would provide greater insight into the spirit world but as this was not his normal domain, he helped light the pipe while refraining from smoking himself.

Just as Socrates finished his tale, Clyde stopped in front of a set of double doors that looked more like it would lead to a root cellar rather than a cavernous basement. The menacing doors swung upon with a loud noise and of their own accord. Ellie could feel her heart leap into her throat as she momentarily closed her eyes and grabbed Brisco’s hand. Brisco squeezed her hand before whispering, “I hate cellars.”

Not hearing the exchange between Brisco and Ellie, Clyde began his instructions. “Mr. Poole, this is where we leave your friends. Remember that I will attempt to work with Mr. Poole and Mr. County. However, I can’t be with both of you all the time as you will be in separate basements, so it’s important to move only where and when I say,” Clyde instructed. The three nodded to acknowledge understanding, so Clyde pressed, “That means stay here outside of the basement until I return!”

After looking each individual in the eye for agreement, Clyde stepped away from the small group to give them their privacy in saying good-byes.

Brisco took Soc’s hand and shook it, “Bowler and I really were terrible influences on you.”

“The worst,” replied a nervous Socrates. At that, the two men laughed and shook hands, unsure what fate had in store for each man’s path. Socrates then gave Ellie a hug before whispering something in her ear. Ellie softly laughed and whispered something back. When Soc let go, he turned to Clyde and nodded that he was ready. Socrates and Clyde then left through another door and on towards the basement holding Whip captive, leaving Brisco and Ellie alone together. Brisco took one look at her before pulling her close. “If this was their last moments together,” thought Brisco, “they sure as hell would be pleasant ones.”

But the moment was not to be. There was a rushing wind and Brisco had just enough time to look over Ellie’s shoulder and see the hooded ghosts from the road into Serenity. They floated above the ground and somehow seemed larger at the Winchester Mansion than they were at the initial meeting. The voids where faces should be inside the cloaks still caused a tremor to go down his spine.

“Brisco,” the two figures hissed in perfect union.

In a quick movement, Brisco went from holding Ellie to pushing her behind him in an effort to provide a buffer between her and these spirits. However, the spirits ignored Ellie and honed in on Brisco. Within seconds the two figurines were towering over Brisco before the sound of a large wind began to fill his ears. It felt like a tornado was sucking his soul from inside and into their hollow and greedy hoods. Brisco felt his knees buckle beneath him as the weight of their attack was too much for him. The world was starting to go dark and he felt like there was little soul left for them to attack.

In Brisco’s cloudy vision he could not clearly see what happened next but he heard the hooded figures shriek and disappear, leaving Brisco gasping for air.

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

Pete was alone as he silently moved up the stairs. After listening to the group during the séance for only a few moments, Pete quickly lost interest and took inventory of people and weapons. “Brisco with one hand, an eccentric old woman with arthritis, a pencil pushing Hollywood agent/lawyer, and a science loving barmaid. Not an ideal group of allies yet all needed to survive the night. Meanwhile, Lenore, Whip, Rachel, and Viva, were either dead or fighting to stay alive. Maybe even James was here, fighting for his life. So, at least ten people fighting a dark and supernatural force with what, salt? A household staple? Clearly guns and salt would not be enough. And what was the purple bubble that was enclosed around the mansion?” After running the calculations repeatedly in his head, Pete decided that what the group needed was more powerful weapons, specifically the bracelet. The group seemed lost in their chants and this was an unused portion of the house, not to mention, the best armored with all of the weapons that Brisco had brought from S-Mart. Pete knew that the group had the same chance of survival with or without his presence and felt it would be better to slip away and search for the bracelet. To fight the future with the future as Brisco used to say.

Pete had reached the top of the stairs but was still having the same mental debate that began when he left the ballroom. Pete was so lost in his thoughts and wondering if he should turn back or continue that he jumped when he heard a female voice whisper in his ear, “And where are you going?”

Pete quickly turned around but there was no one on the stairs or near the stairs. From what he could tell, he was alone in the dark stairwell.

“I knew you wouldn’t last long with a séance. You were never the sitting still type,” the female voice continued, almost laughing as she said it.

“Show yourself!” he commanded to the dark and empty room, irritated as this was not the time for a spirited game.

“Mr. Hutter. Leave it,” the disembodied voice stated, this time so close that he could almost feel her hair on his shoulder.

“You don’t know anything about me or where I’m headed,” began Pete, he did another turn around in place looking to find the voice. “Apparitions do not intimidate me nor am I in the habit of associating to females lacking corporeal forms!”

“Who says that we met after I died?” came an almost sing-song response. Suddenly, a woman appeared before him, she was in her nightgown and barefoot. Pete studied the woman, not only due to her striking appearance but something about her face looked familiar.

“Shall I remind you, Mr. Hutter, that once you don the bracelet, you will either go comatose? Or possibly end up like James, suffering from memory loss? I’m sure that you would prefer to stay conscious this evening,” she had an amused smile as though they were old friends but almost mocking his lack of recognition of her face.

“And why should I be taking advise from a specter in her nightgown?” inquired Pete, doing his best to appear stoic and not appear stunned by her informality.

Her smile froze for a moment and she tilted her head as though to study him. “You truly don’t know me, do you Pete?”

“Not in the slightest.”

“Time travel really is a bitch,” she stated, but more to herself than to Pete. She looked back at him as though weighing what to say or not to say. Finally, she continued, “You should take my advice as I am here to help you.”

“Trust is not a natural state of mind for me.”

“I swear on the life of my daughter, whom you’ve met, that I am here to aide you,” the woman insisted, grabbing his hand and holding it to her heart in an effort to plead her case.

He attempted to pull his hand back before commenting, “Believe me, woman, I haven’t met any female progeny recently, aside from Rachel. And you ain’t Crystal Hawks.”

“You met my girl while imprisoned in a time not your own.”

Pete’s face snapped to attention. “Livi’s mother?” When she nodded, Pete studied her face again and noticed that Livi was the child image of the ghost before him. The shock of the revelation and cold feeling running through his veins, left him stunned and he could only ask, “How?”

“When the scientists decided to leave me stranded, I asked to be left at this house. I always loved the grounds here as Mrs. Winchester has always kept this house beautiful. I wanted to pass on in a field of flowers that I could breathe in as I passed out of this world. Mrs. Winchester found me, curled up and hiding among the flowers and bushes. She had her staff carry me inside and held my hand as the pain and agony enveloped me. She stayed with me until my very last breath. When I died, I couldn’t leave earth right away. I needed to stay here. This widow showed me, a stranger dying on her grounds, a kindness that I could not repay while living. I needed to be with her, to protect her, and to persuade any ghosts to be kind to her. I became a guide, a conduit for her to speak to all of the household spirits. Over the years we have appeased the anger of several vengeful ghosts and calmed many broken-hearted spirits. Many have finally reached a point of peace and have crossed over the threshold to whatever that world looks like. Over time, many spirits trusted us enough to warn us about which specialized spiritual books should be locked away in the basement and which ones were safe to read as Mrs. Winchester constantly collects anything related to the supernatural.”

Pete processed her words slowly but watched her with an inexplicable appreciation. How had Charlie managed to ensnare this woman? She was far out of Charles Sheppard’s league.

“I am not convinced to surrender up my stratagem but if I did, what would be your proposed action?”

“I need you to turn off the enclosure.”

“The violet obscuration of the lower atmosphere? I doubt that there is a giant off switch hiding in the widow’s abode.”

“Things are never that easy, Pete,” she replied with a soft laugh. While still holding his hand, she led him in a direction away from the bracelet.

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

Viva reloaded his gun from the safety of the salt circle. It had been lucky that Lenore lacked the time to change her shotgun from regular rounds to salt rounds before the commotion began. Had she taken the headshot earlier with a salt round, the corpse might have crossed the salt threshold and the evening might have ended quickly with their deaths. After watching Lenore take out the original walking dead man, Viva had switched from salt rounds back to regular ammunition. The salt rounds were meant for the ghosts or darkness and the walking dead men needed to have their heads removed. Viva sighed wondering how many additional rules would need to be learned over the night as the evil force continued to release monsters and supernatural weapons not utilized by human criminals. As much hope as Viva had in Lenore, he was still slightly worried about how long it would take to learn all of the new rules for this war on terror.

The group in the kitchen had still only seen a few bodies emerge from the darkness. Each time, the group would wait until the body was just outside of the circle before either Lenore or Viva would take the decedent out with a headshot. But even with the accurate shooting when only necessary, ammunition was starting to run low. Viva momentarily turned back to look at Lenore. She had the gun resting on her hip as she studied the darkness, watching for any additional bodies to approach her staff.

Viva looked up at the ceiling above him before making a silent promise to Bowler in Heaven. “Bowler, Amigo, I swear that I will pick up Lenore myself and throw her into the nearest panty and cover it in salt if I think that we are about to lose this battle.”

Viva looked back at Lenore and noticed that she had stopped staring into the darkness but had turned to lock eyes with Viva. It was almost as if he had an immediate response from Bowler, saying “Have you seen my wife? There is no telling that woman to stand down from a fight!”

As if reading his thoughts, Lenore lifted her chin while raising an eyebrow at him. Almost as though she were daring Viva to just try and pick her up to lock her away. Viva smiled to himself as he thought, “No, there would be no keeping Lenore from any fight that she has committed to.”

As Viva turned back around he almost jumped out of his skin as he noticed the most recently arrived body, it was practically a skeleton wearing the uniform of a general. Behind him was an entire troop of undead soldiers, rather than just one or two stragglers at a time. Viva quickly looked from side to side and found that the darkness had shrunk back revealing that almost the entire circle had been surrounded by deceased men and women in various stages of decay. The time of the scouts had finished and the war was about to begin.

“Surrender!” hissed the dead general.

“You wish to surrender to me?” asked Viva. “Very well, I accept your surrender. Lay down any weapons and we’ll escort you back to your grave cells.”

“Surrender!” insisted the dead general.

“Go back to hell!” came Lenore’s calm voice from beside Viva. Viva hadn’t even noticed that Lenore had left her side of the circle to take command of the conversation with the general.

The skeleton general smiled cruelly and raised his arm to begin the attack just as Lenore took aim and blew off the general’s head. The skull snapped backwards and fell onto the floor. Just as it was about to expire it screamed out, “Attack! Leave no one alive!”

The kitchen then became a room of salt being kicked into the air, pieces of dead bodies being blown into different directions, shouts of orders from Viva and Lenore, and the sounds of the army’s drums and bugles.

The battle for the kitchen was underway.

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

James led Rachel to the ballroom to meet up with Mrs. Winchester. Upon arriving at the ballroom, Rachel and James were able to arm themselves with the last couple rifles, bandoliers, pistols, and gun belts that Brisco and Ellie had left inside the small séance room. As Rachel and James set up ladders below the windows that needed to be changed out, Mrs. Winchester explained where Brisco and his group had gone to and the mission that the female spirit had given regarding the ballroom. Since James knew where the storage room for the stained glass was located, it was decided that he would take Rachel to the room.

As Rachel and James were about to rush out of the room, James stopped and turned back to the widow. He came back to shake her hand before stating, “Mrs. Winchester, how could I ever thank-“

She patted his arm to stop him before smiling back, “You helped me to write my visions into words. We went on spirit quests together. And don’t forget, we’re bonded in more lives than just this one – so there is nothing owed.” She squeezed his hand before turning towards the ladder and slowly, albeit painfully, up the ladder. She could do this one thing, remove the old windows as the others worked on combating various dark forces.

James took Rachel by the arm and gently moved her in the direction of the stain glass room. They would need to hurry to have the stained-glass windows in place before the early sun’s rays brushed the mansion.

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.”