Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Specter of Death- Part 25

            "Doctor Tynesdale?” Kim shouted. “Can you hear me?”
Without waiting for a reply, Angela grabbed her bottle of water and doused the unconscious man’s face. Sputtering, Phillip Tynesdale blinked twice then massaged his forehead before speaking.
            “My apologies, ladies,” he muttered. “I don’t know what came over me. A sudden dizzy spell. If you would be so kind as to hand me my bag … I should check my blood sugar levels.”
Gillian retrieved the doctor’s bag and helped him dig through the papers and files to retrieve his glucometer kit. She inserted the test strip into the machine and, because Dr. Tynesdale’s hands were trembling so severely, she pressed the lancet into his finger. Taking over, Dr. Tynesdale pressed on the tiny puncture to produce a drop of blood and applied it to the test strip.
            “No wonder,” Kim gasped. “Sixty-three is way too low! How long has it been since you last had a meal?”
Embarrassed, he pulled a small snack from his bag and ate it.
            “That should hold me until I can get some lunch. In fact, I think we all need a lunch break. If one of you lovely ladies will drive, lunch is on me.”
They piled into Kim’s car and she took them to one of her favorite lunch spots.
On the other side of town, Bill and Detective Sanchez were pulling into the Inner Sanctum’s parking lot.
            “I’m surprised they’d pick a spot in this part of town,” Sanchez muttered. “Guess they couldn’t find a building on the nicer side.”
            “No, I’d bet this was a deliberate choice. One, they’re less likely to have anyone prying.” Bill replied. “Two, they have plenty of access to people who are down on their luck. Isn’t that what most cults do? Prey on the easiest targets?”
            “Hmm, good point.” She said, smiling. “Well, we should probably get in there. Remember, in there, I’m just Gabriella not Detective Sanchez, okay?”
She slid out of the car at the same time as her passenger. Bill waited until they fell in step next to each other.
            “Sure thing, Gabby.”
Bill grinned at the detective’s scowl. She threw a playful punch at his shoulder then shocked him by snuggling up against his body.
            “It’ll look less conspicuous if we pretend to be a couple,” Gabriella whispered in Bill’s ear.
            “Anything you say, sweetie.” He chuckled.
Hand in hand, they crossed the threshold into the Inner Sanctum. 

**** I will be spending next week with my family to celebrate Thanksgiving. Since it is highly probable that my nephews and niece will be keeping me busy, I plan to post the next installment of Specter of Death on Tuesday, December 1st. (assuming the zombies don't rise up) Happy Thanksgiving!! 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Specter of Death- Part 24

Blushing, Bill smoothed his hand over his buzzed scalp and offered the new detective a sly grin.
            “You don’t know me but I’d never try to manipulate an officer of the law … unless, of course, it worked. In that case, you’ve got me.”
            “You’re quite the charmer, aren’t you? Well, ordinarily, I’d say no to a civilian tagging along but those Seekers aren’t right in the head. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind having someone watching my back.” Detective Sanchez replied. “But if I tell you to leave … you’d better be out the door A-friggin’-sap. Got that?”
            “Yes, ma’am!” He said, trying to hold back a chuckle. “As you wish.”
Together, Detective Sanchez and Bill exited the morgue, leaving the others to their work. Dr. Tynesdale picked up where he left off in the deciphering of Seth’s symbols.
            “Now, those two symbols have opposite meanings which is why it is so vital to get input from the zealots who created them. On one hand, it could mean the key has unlocked the beyond. But, if it is the other, it means the key locked the gateway.”
Gillian’s weight shifted from side to side as she fidgeted with her rings. The weight of a hand that wasn’t there rested on her shoulder. The same gesture would have provided comfort if offered by Kim or Angela but the shadow figure’s presence only brought fear.
     She tried to focus on Dr. Tynesdale instead, and his tedious rambling. The doctor had moved on to another theory as he fumbled through his notes and files. Gillian’s mind wandered until Dr. Tynesdale cried out and let loose a torrent of profanities that would make a trucker blush. His files and a mountain of papers burst from his hands and fluttered to the floor.
            “Doctor? Are you okay?” Kim asked.
            “Pardon my language,” he responded, his voice wavering. He slowly lifted his hand and pointed to Gillian. “I, um, don’t mean to alarm you, dear, but are you aware that there is a, uh … spirit of sorts behind you?”
Kim and Angela whipped around to look at their friend but they saw nothing. Mutual expressions of confusion passed between the friends They glanced back at the professor and his previously rosy face had paled to the color of skim milk.
            “I’ve studied this for years but never before have I actually seen a shadow person with my own eyes. Truth be told, I always assumed those who claimed to have seen one were a little off in the head. Please, tell me you ladies see it too!” Dr. Tynesdale said, his eyes never leaving Gillian’s face.
Kim and Angela exchanged worried glances and shook their heads no. One raced to get the professor a glass of water while the other felt his head for signs of a fever. They fussed over him for a moment before Gillian broke the silence.
            “Don’t worry, Doctor Tynesdale, I see it too. It’s been following me ever since the Ouija Board séance.”
            “Extraordinary,” he murmured just before fainting. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Specter of Death- Part 23

          “Hang on a sec,” Kim interrupted. “Before anyone goes anywhere, we need to coordinate with Detective McDonald. The last thing we need is to interfere with her department. I’m going to call her first before anyone does anything, agreed?”
Unenthusiastic nods were the only sign of agreement but Kim ran with it. She picked up her phone and dialed Marie’s direct line. On the fifth ring, just as she was about to hang up, the detective answered.
            “Hey, Marie, it’s Kim. We think we might have uncovered something that will help decipher those symbols. Did you want us to—”
On the other end, Detective McDonald interrupted, leaving Bill, Angela and Gillian only speculation as to what was being said. With the exception of a few, “uh huhs,” Kim remained silent until she said goodbye. Her friends stared at her with wide, expectant, eyes.
            “She’s sending someone from her team over to find out what we’ve got and they’ll take it from there,” said Kim. “In the meantime, Doctor Tynesdale, why don’t you continue with your other findings?”
For twelve minutes, Dr. Tynesdale had a captive audience. He was free to prattle on about his theories and no one objected because they had no choice but to wait. On the thirteenth minute, a young woman wearing a trendy business suit entered the morgue.
            “Hello, I’m looking for an M.D.I. named Kim,” the woman said as she pulled out her credentials and flashed her badge. “Detective McDonald sent me.”
Kim stepped forward, extended her hand, and introduced herself.
            “Here I thought I’d met everyone on Marie’s team.” Kim chuckled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
            “Actually, I just transferred here. Detective Gabriella Sanchez and it is a pleasure to meet you too.”
Kim introduced the others to Gabriella and marveled that someone so young had already reached the rank of detective. Clearly, the others were surprised too but it was Dr. Tynesdale who addressed the pink elephant in the room.
            “Dear me! You look like you could be one of my students,” he exclaimed. “You must have been on the fast track to already achieve a detective’s position. If you don’t mind my asking …”
            “If she doesn’t, I do!” Bill interrupted. “That’s an inappropriate question and has nothing to do with the case, Phillip. I apologize, Detective Sanchez, on behalf of my colleague. Now, let’s just get back to the case.”
To speed things up, Kim filled in the new detective on what they’d discovered so far and their idea to check out The Seekers’ inner sanctum.
            “Sounds good. I’ll go check them out,” said Detective Sanchez.
            “Look, Detective, one of the victims was our friend and, well, I hate not being useless. Mind if I tag along?” Bill asked. “I won’t interfere or bother you. I need to do something to help even if it’s just keeping my ears open.”
            “And to keep an eye on the young detective, right? That whole bit about my age was planned, wasn’t it? You wanted to get on my good side so I’d let you come along.” 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Specter of Death- Part 22

In painstakingly slow and deliberate speech, Dr. Tynesdale explained the symbols found on the victims prior to Seth.
            “Now, here’s where we find something different,” the doctor said, pointing to an autopsy photo of Seth. “Up until your friend, the victims were all 'keys to the beyond.' This time, there is a key rune intertwined with this symbol here.” Dr. Tynesdale held up his tablet with a page from Seth’s Runeation. “However, it also resembles another symbol on page eighty-three so it could mean two very different things.”
    Sensing his colleague was more accustomed to giving lectures than offering his professional opinion for a murder case; Bill discreetly glanced at the ladies to see how they were holding up. Kim’s jaw clenched, in an effort to keep from interrupting, while Angela chewed on her lower lip. Gillian’s eyes had a glazed, distant appearance. It wasn’t until he noticed her hands—balled into fists so tight that her knuckles had turned white and Bill feared her fingernails would dig into her palms and draw blood. It was time for him to intervene.
            “Since time is of the essences here, Phillip, what can we do to aid in determining which symbols are correct?” Bill asked. “You know I’m willing to do anything I can to assist. I’m sure these lovely ladies would too.”
Angela and Gillian nodded in agreement. The ringing of Dr. Tynesdale’s phone cut off Kim’s verbal acknowledgement. From the doctor’s end, he uttered “ah, yes” and “I see” multiple times before the call ended. Again, the four friends waited for answers that seemed to never come.
            “It seems we were wrong in assuming your friend Seth created these symbols. Apparently, they are part of the teachings for a group called Seekers of the Astral Beyond, also known as The Seekers. There is an acknowledgement to The Seekers on the last page of Runeation.” Dr. Tynesdale explained. “My assistant informed me that The Seekers have; what I believe they refer to as … an inner sanctum, on the other side of town.”
            “I’ll go!” Gillian blurted out before the doctor could finish his sentence.
Worry creased Angela’s forehead and knitted her eyebrows together. Both Kim and Bill wore matching expressions.
            “Now, dear,” Dr. Tynesdale answered. “Please don’t take offense but I think this might be a better job for our mutual friend, Bill. I might be old fashioned but sending a beautiful, young woman into a hive of fanatics just doesn’t sound chivalrous … or safe! They could snatch you up and we’d never see you again. Cults like The Seekers have a terrible reputation.”
            “I can take care of myself,” Gillian objected. She hated being brushed aside simply for being a woman and her scowl showed it.
            “Jilly, we know you can,” Kim said as she placed a comforting hand on Gillian’s arm. “But, we have no idea who these people are. For all we know, they might be responsible for Seth’s murder. I think I speak for everyone when I say we can’t bear losing another friend. Maybe it would be best if we found another way for you to help.”
            “So, why is okay for Bill to go alone? If they killed Seth they can kill any of us,” argued Gillian.

            “You’re right, no one should go alone,” said Angela. “That’s why I am going with Bill. If it wasn’t for that shadow spirit thing following you, I’d be behind you going, Jilly, but until we know who or what that thing is … I think you should lay low.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Specter of Death- Part 21

Dr. Tynesdale flipped through his handwritten notebook until he found the information he needed. In reality it only took a few minutes but it felt like an eternity. The tension in the room was palpable. Wide, eager eyes all focused on the doctor.
            “Ah, yes,” he muttered. “It says here the coding is found in your friend Seth’s book Runeation. Ha! That’s quite clever. It sounds like ruination but spelled R-U-N-E, like ancient runes. See?”
Holding up his page, Dr. Tynesdale pointed to the book’s title and chuckled. The others stared back him with veiled agitation.   
            “Ahem … yes, I supposed this isn’t the appropriate time for an amusing play on words. What I’m sure you’ll find fascinating is—”
            “Okay,” Detective McDonald interrupted. “I’m going to pick up a bunch of those books and get my department scouring them now. Thanks.”
She had already bolted down the hall before Dr. Tynesdale could respond.
            “Oh my!” Tynesdale exclaimed. “I didn’t get to tell her the rest. Anyway, these symbols have a most dire meaning. Now, on the first photo here … this victim was found several days after the murder. Our dear Kim did not have this one but look here at the brand on his chest, just above the heart. It’s not the same as the one on your friend, Seth, because they were in progression.”
The group leaned in to get a better view of the forensic and autopsy photographs. The shape burned into the victim’s chest resembled a stylized infinity symbol. Bill accessed the e-reader app on his phone to pull up Seth’s Runeation.
            “According to Seth’s book,” Bill added. “That symbol means ‘key to unlocking the beyond’ but it doesn’t say what the beyond actually is.”
            “That’s creepy!” Kim, Angela, and Gillian replied in unison.
Gillian’s skin rippled with goose bumps; she had a feeling about what ‘the beyond’ meant and it made her stomach churn. The shadowy figure that followed me back from the morgue, she thought, that thing is from the beyond. She felt a hand touch her back, just below her shoulder blade but knew none of her friends were standing behind her. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Specter of Death- Part 20

            “Okay, it’s worse than crazy but I shouldn’t freak out?” Gillian gave a nervous chuckle and rolled her eyes.
            “It might be nothing.” Billy answered. “But I’ll explain it all when we get together with Kim and the detective. One of my colleagues from the university came with me and he can help so try not to worry, Jilly.”
As if on cue, Bill’s cell phone rang. On the other end, Kim relayed a message from Detective McDonald. They were all going to meet at the morgue around noon, assuming another body wasn’t discovered.
            “We’ll be there!” said Bill.
While they waited for noon, Gillian paced. Finally, Billy caught her arm and pulled her onto the sofa.
            “Okay, maybe you can’t wait until we’re all together. The truth is, I think you made contact with a spirit and when you didn’t say ‘goodbye’ it crossed over into our realm. Now, I don’t believe it can actually hurt you but what you believe makes all the difference.”
Stern-faced and resolved, Gillian raked a trembling hand through her hair. Outwardly, she appeared to wave it off without a care but inside, she could feel the presence of a dark spirit watching her every move.  
At noon, everyone assembled in Kim’s morgue. Dr. Tynesdale, still giddy with the extensive data he’d received, expounded on earlier theories and hypotheses on the symbolism of the ancient runes carved/branded into the corpses after their demise. Not in the mood for chit-chat, Angela interrupted his pondering. Too many of her friends were directly impacted; there was no time to waste.
            “No offense, Doctor, but we need real answers not hypotheticals. Can you decode whatever the symbol is, or not?”
            “Why, of course, my dear.” Tynesdale replied. “I was just explaining the progression, that’s all. The fascinating part is yet to come.”
Detective McDonald rolled her eyes. A voice in the back of her mind said, this bumbling idiot wouldn’t know a rune from graffiti. The thought both delighted and angered her thought she didn’t understand why.
            “You see, we were so focused on whether the symbols were Old Norse or Anglo Saxon that we almost missed the cipher in your friend Seth’s books. It wasn’t either … it was a mark of his own design in a book prior to Specter of Death. Thank heavens one of my grad students is a complete and utter suck up. Once she found out I needed some research she picked up every one of Seth’s books and has been scouring them ever since. Now, let me see … I had it right here.”
Kim choked back the urge to scream, “Get on with it!” After spending the entire morning with Dr. Tynesdale, she knew if anyone tried to rush him, he’d get flustered. Then it would take twice as long to extract the information. It’s like pulling teeth. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Specter of Death- Part 19

Bill and Angela raced up the stairs taking them two or three at a time. Without bothering to knock, he threw his shoulder into the door jamb and crashed through. Gillian’s screaming stopped when she saw her friends. Her bloody hands trembled as she rinsed them under the tap. At her feet, a bottle of White Diamonds perfume had shattered to pieces.
            “Are you okay? What happened?” Bill asked.
            “Let me see,” Angela ordered. “Hmm, I don’t think you’ll need stitches but I’ll grab the first aid kit and get you bandaged up.”
Gillian pulled her towel tighter against her body as goose bumps prickled her flesh. Bill removed a bathrobe from the hooks behind the door and draped it around Gillian’s shoulders. She offered him a weak smile and muttered, “thank you.” Angela returned a moment later with the first aid kit and proceeded to bandage up her friend’s hands.
            “So, are you going to tell us what happened?” she asked.
Gillian scowled. “It was my own fault. I slipped as I was trying to—”
            “How ‘bout the truth, instead,” interrupted Bill.
Angela nodded her agreement and placed a reassuring hand on Gillian’s shoulder. “C’mon, Jilly, we’re your friends and we’re worried about you. We can’t help if you’re not honest with us.”
            “I—I know. I just don’t want you to think I’ve gone off my rocker. As it is, I’m starting to wonder myself… ever since the morgue.”
            “That’s probably a good place to start then,” said Bill. “Why don’t you get into some warm clothes and dry your hair first? We’ll wait just outside the door in case you need us, okay?”
Gillian nodded. The instant the bathroom door closed, she raced to dress in record time. While the thought of telling her friends what was going on was less appealing than a four-hour root canal, she hurried to not be alone.  True to their word, when she opened the door, Bill and Angela were waiting for her.
     Downstairs, the three friends flopped onto Kim’s cozy sofa and settled in for Gillian’s story. Angela carried in a tray with coffee and cookies; she had a feeling they’d be talking for a while. Gillian’s first instinct was to chug the coffee.
            “It’s decaf,” Angela said, smiling. “So drink as much as you want.”
Gillian set the mug down, grumbling that decaf coffee was sacrilege.
            “It is but you do not need another drop of caffeine coursing through your system, Jilly.” Bill answered. “So, let’s get to the bottom of whatever is going on here. What happened in the bathroom?”
            I should probably start before then,” Gillian admitted with a sigh. “It all started the night we used the Ouija board at the morgue. Someone or … something, touched me when the lights were out. I felt a hand rest on my shoulder and then it gave a squeeze. It wasn’t Marie or Kenj and it wasn’t the firemen either. Believe me, I wish it was. Then, as I was driving home I kept seeing a shadowy figure following me. It crossed the road in front of me, it was lurking behind bushes; it was in my rearview mirror. Then, when I came inside, and we were all on the phone … I saw it in the yard. That night, it was in my room. At first, I thought it was Angela, playing a prank. Or, I should say I hoped it was Angela. It wasn’t. That brings us to the shower. Everything was fine. I had just turned off the water because I got a chill. Sorry, Angela, I think I used up all the hot water again. When I pulled back the curtain, it was there. I grabbed the first thing I could reach to throw at it but before I could release it, the thing’s hand enveloped mine and the bottle shattered. So, go ahead. Tell me I’m crazy.”
Gillian looked down at her bandaged hand and sighed. When she looked up, both Angela and Bill wore matching expressions of concern.
            “Listen, I don’t want to freak you out,” said Billy. “But you’re not crazy. It’s something worse.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Specter of Death- Part 18

Bill draped his arm around Kim and gave her a friendly squeeze.
            “You looked like you could use a hug, my friend.” He said. “And for what it’s worth, I’m here to help. You don’t have to do this all on your own, okay?”
            “Thank you,” she whispered.
            “Don’t give it another thought. Look, I know you and Phillip have a lot of work to do so … I’m going to head over to your place to check on Angela and Gillian. Cool?”
Kim hugged him again and repeated her thanks but in typical Bill style, he gave her a playful poke in the ribs and laughed.
            “Don’t thank me yet; Phillip is going to talk your ears off. I’m simply saving myself.” he murmured before announcing his departure for Dr. Tynesdale’s benefit. “I’ll be back around lunchtime.” 
With a wink to Kim and wave to Phillip, he was out the door.
On the other side of town, Gillian and Angela huddled over a pot of coffee and nibbled at honeyed toast. Though Angela had made no mention of it, Gillian’s awkward behavior the night before left her apprehensive. Puffy, red eyes proved what her friends expected; Gillian did not sleep again that night. Instead, she downed another cup of coffee in three gulps and poured some more.
     Golden sunlight streamed through the windows sending a stab through Gillian’s retinas and into her brain. She raised a hand to shield her raw orbs and from her peripheral vision caught sight of it again. Someone was lurking in the shadows, watching and waiting. When she glanced back again, the shadowy form was gone; much like it had done the night before. You’re losing, girl. Have more coffee. She reached for the pot again only hear a voice behind her say, “Hey, save some of that for me.” With a squeal, Gillian jumped back, sending her coffee mug and Angela’s crashing to the ground. Shattered stoneware and coffee dregs swirled on the floor like a Jackson Pollock in brown.
            “Geez, Billy! You scared the crap out of me!” She exclaimed. “What are you trying to do; give me heart attack?”
            “You’re the second person to say that to me this morning.” Bill laughed, hoping a little levity would soothe her ragged nerves. “Here, I thought I was rather dashing but I seem to be traumatizing beautiful women. Hmm, I’m starting to develop a complex.”
Gillian threw a playful punch at his shoulder before pulling him into a bear hug. Angela finished cleaning up the spill before throwing her arms around her friends and giving them both a squeeze. She was relieved to see Bill, more than he would ever know.
     After a few more mugs of coffee, Gillian finally shuffled off to shower. Bill waited until he heard the water running to ply Angela with questions.
            “Kim said something happened last night and our Jilly was afraid ... like too afraid to turn off the lights. I found that hard to believe until I saw her for myself. Did she tell you what happened? There has to be more that she’s not telling us.”  
            “So far, she hasn’t told me anything. Maybe with you here, she’ll feel safer. I think she really believed I was trying to mess with her last night. She was talking as if I was in the room with her. I’ve never seen her like this and it’s freaking me out!”
Upstairs, steamy water from the showerhead caressed Gillian’s aching muscles. The heat soothed physically but inside, her nerves were raw and jagged. She allowed the water to pound into her flesh until a chill settled over her. Damn! I used all the hot water. Angela is going to kill me, she thought. A chuckle escaped her lips, just like old times. Still smiling she threw back the shower curtain and let loose a blood-curdling scream. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Specter of Death- Part 17

            “You’re kidding, right?” Bill gasped. “Please tell me you only said that to get back at me for scaring you.”
            “I wish.” Kim muttered.
            “No wonder you’re jumpy.”
            “That’s not all,” she whispered. “Gillian, of all people, was afraid of the dark last night. Angela and I ran to her room because she was screaming. She tried to say she’d had a bad dream but I don’t think that was it. When I reached for the light switch she nearly had a fit. And then, Marie bit my head off earlier. She’s definitely acting weird. God, what did Seth get himself into?”
Bill’s brow furrowed as he absorbed the shock from Kim’s bombshell. He had wanted to think it was all a coincidence but the planchette in Kenj’s abdomen was creepy enough without learning that the other two at the séance were behaving abnormally. Before he could say anything, a shout from Kim’s office sent them running to check on Dr. Tynesdale. In unison, Bill and Kim asked what was wrong.
            “Wrong? No, nothing is wrong. This is extraordinary!” Phillip replied. “These photos confirm a hypothesis that I’ve held for many years but, alas, without anything concrete to back it up, I was reticent to share my theory. This, this could be a breakthrough!”
Dead silence hung in the air. Confused, Dr. Tynesdale turned to see why the other two weren’t sharing in his jubilation. Their solemn expressions reminded him of the string of deaths and the real reason he was there.
            “My apologies. I just … well, I got a little carried away. Sometimes, I get so focused on the enormity of the spiritual realm that I forget how fragile the mortal world is. The vessels, so to speak, that have the runes adorned to them were people you knew. Forgive my insensitivity.”
            “Can you tell us what they mean and why the killer is using them, Doctor?” Kim pleaded. “Is there any way to use this information to stop the murders?”  
            “Perhaps,” he sighed. “I’ll need a little more time to research and to compare the carvings between the victims. Now, did you say there were others that had no markings in the beginning?”
            “Well, that’s the thing. Prior to the police determining there was a serial killer on the loose, the first few bodies could have had markings show up after the initial autopsy. Or, if the bodies had been sitting for a while, instead of a fresh wound, the carvings would look like a tattoo or a brand. Given that some of the victims were heavily tattooed, it could have been assumed to be ink. I didn’t personally handle every victim so I can’t be certain what happened in other autopsies but I can pull the records and review the forensic photos if you think that would be useful for comparison.”
            “Yes, I think that would be an excellent idea.” Dr. Tynesdale replied. “The more data I have, the more accurate I can be.”
            “Okay, I’m just going to contact the detective in charge of the investigation and let her know we have a consultant reviewing the files first.”
Kim wondered which version of Detective McDonald would be on the other line as she dialed. The detached voice on the other end was groggy but kind. Marie sounded relieved that they had an expert for consulting.
            “Give me just a few minutes to finish up here and I’ll be over to meet your Doctor Tynesdale. Okay, Kim?”
            “Sure, take your time. He just got here and has loads of files to review.”
Bill watched as his friend hung up her phone and shook her head in puzzlement. More than anything, he wanted to grant her reassurance that everything would be okay but if even half of what Dr. Tynesdale told him on the ride from the university was true, he would be telling the biggest lie of his life. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Specter of Death- Part 16

            Trembling, Kim placed the planchette into a container to be analyzed. Her mind reeled, wondering why the killer would place something so peculiar into Kenj’s abdomen unless he/she knew about the Ouija attempt in the morgue. That means Marie or Gillian could be next! The realization that her friends were in grave danger sent an icy chill through Kim’s core. She ripped off her gloves and reached for her phone only to have it ring a millisecond before her fingers touched the smooth plastic. She jumped back, sending her phone flying to the floor.
            “Damn it!” Kim growled.
            “Something wrong?”
Kim yelped and spun around to see Bill standing in her doorway, eyes alight and a lopsided grin stretching across his face.
            “What the— are you trying to give me a heart attack, Billy? Who let you in here, anyway? You’re supposed to be signed in and announced,” said Kim, panting.
            “Sorry about that.” He said, laughing and clearly not sorry. “There was no one at the desk so I just came back. For someone who works with dead bodies, you’re awfully jumpy.”
            “Ha-ha, very funny. If you’d been working this case you’d be jumpy too, Bill. It’s getting creepier by the minute. Anyway …” Kim crossed the room and gave her friend a hug. “I’m glad you’re here. You said you uncovered some information about those symbols. I really hope it give us something. Things have gone from bad to worse since we talked.”
            “I would have been here sooner but one of my colleagues wanted to join me. Kim, this is Doctor Phillip Tynesdale. Phillip has a PhD in Religious Studies with a background in Comparative Philosophy, Theology, World Religions, and Humanities. He’s the one who realized the symbols were ancient runes,” Bill said.
A rotund man with a balding crown and wire rimmed glasses poked his head out from behind Bill and smiled.
            “It’s a pleasure to meet you Doctor Tynesdale,” said Kim. “I can’t thank you enough for taking some time out of your schedule to lend us a hand.”
            “Please, call me Phillip. Any friend of Billy’s is a friend of mine. I have to admit, the idea of runes being carved into bodies isn’t something one encounters on an everyday basis so I just had to come see what’s been going on for myself. Is it true that the carvings themselves change in appearance or was Bill pulling my leg? He does like to goad me at times.”
            “Oh no, that part is real. Very real,” Kim answered. “I have images on my computer if you’d like to take a look.”
Once Kim got Dr. Tynesdale settled in with the images, she pulled Bill off toward cold storage to talk privately.
             “Look, I need you to tell me everything you found out about Ouija Boards and not saying goodbye. I haven’t told anyone else about this yet but my assistant, Kenj, was found dead in her apartment last night. She’s got the runes carved in her and everything but this time there was something else. She had a planchette stuffed into her abdomen. What if Gillian and Marie are next?” 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Specter of Death- Part 15

            “When you dropped her off, did you notice anything unusual or out of place, Detective,” Captain Hanson asked.
Once Kim had identified the victim as the mayor’s niece, the officers on site called their captain immediately. Since Hanson arrived before his detective, he had been double and triple checking everything in Kenj’s apartment. He wanted answers immediately—not next week, not tomorrow, now. The captain’s tone combined with too little sleep set Detective Marie McDonald’s teeth on edge. Before she could hold her tongue, angry words dripping with sarcasm hissed through her teeth.
            “Don’t you think if I’d noticed anything unusual I would have stuck around, Captain? I’m not in the habit of abandoning injured, defenseless, women in a dangerous situation. And I certainly wouldn’t serve up the mayor’s niece to a serial killer.”
            “I’m going to assume it’s grief over losing a colleague that has you shooting off your mouth like that,” Captain Hanson growled. “Consider this your one and only pass because you are this close to being written up for insubordination.”
Hanson held his hand up to Detective McDonald’s face and pinched together his thumb and forefinger until they were nearly touching. It took every ounce of self control not to tell the captain where he could stick those fingers but she managed. What I wouldn’t give to knock that smug smile off his face, permanently, her inner voice ranted. Rage boiled from the depths of her core and bubbled until Detective McDonald had to walk outside to get some air. She heard the door behind her open and seconds later a warm hand rested on her shoulder.
            “Are you okay,” Kim asked. “In all the years we’ve worked together, I’ve never seen you so furious. I seriously thought you were going to take a swing at Hanson.”
            “To tell you the truth,” Marie answered. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. The rational side of my brain keeps telling me Captain Hanson didn’t mean anything by his question but I could feel myself seething in anger. No, not even anger … it was rage. I felt like I could have ripped him to shreds with my bare hands so I came out here to cool down.”
            “That’s not like you at all,” said Kim. “Listen, if you need to talk or—”
            “No! I don’t need to talk. I need you to do your job. Find me something so we can catch the bastard already. In case you forgot, we’ve got a flipping serial killer on the loose,” Marie interrupted.
Puzzled, Kim walked away leaving the detective to her thoughts. Something’s not right with her. We’ve worked together for a long time and she’s never acted like this, she thought. I think I’ll wait for a better time to tell her what Billy said about their Ouija séance. She’s ready to snap as it is. I’ll just get the body and take it back to the morgue.
   Though Kim was used to working on her own, she’d grown fond of Kenj and enjoyed having the company. The morgue felt cold and lonely minus Kenj’s cheerful chatter. Unzipping the body bag, Kim looked down at her colleague and friend.
            “I can’t believe you’re gone,” Kim whispered. “Please, let there be something here, some sort of hint where to look for this psycho.”
After the victim’s clothing was bagged and tagged, Kim searched the body for anything that might give them a clue. Skin cells and blood under Kenj fingernails had been collected and sent to the lab for analysis. Next, Kim checked a swollen eight inch wound located on the patient’s abdomen. Something different from the other bodies, maybe it’ll help. With gloved fingers she pressed on the swelling; something hard and pointed poked back. She reached inside with a pair of forceps, and pulled out a piece of triangular shaped wood.
            “Oh my God! It’s a planchette!” 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Specter of Death- Part 14

     Kim’s head had no sooner hit the pillow when her cell phone went off, playing the ominous ringtone she’d selected for her ‘on call’ number. Gotta change that music until the killer is caught. It’s too creepy, she thought while blindly reaching for her phone. Exhausted and achy, Kim muttered into the phone that she was on her way. She pulled on some clothes, bid goodnight to her friends, and drove to the latest crime scene. She knew the killer struck again even without seeing the body though her heart had wanted to believe otherwise. One look at the scene confirmed their nemesis was back in action, taunting them.
            “Guess it was wishful thinking to hope our killer had given up, huh?” one of the officers muttered by way of a greeting. “Hasn’t there been even the slightest clue on the bodies? If only we had something to do go on we could catch this monster!”
            “So far, nothing,” Kim replied. “But I’m still looking. One little slip-up ... that’s all we need and we’ll get ‘em. Hey, where’s Detective McDonald? I need a few words with her.”
            “Dunno, I haven’t seen her. We left a message on her cell but no one’s seen her since the fire at the morgue.”
Kim shrugged. Assuming her friend had finally taken a night off, she pulled on her gloves and knelt beside the body. Unlike the other victim’s, the female body sprawled face down in her own blood lived in a tiny, one-bedroom apartment. Also different, the victim dialed 911 from her cell phone. Clearly there had been a struggle but this time, the victim knew her attacker. She’d let the killer inside of her own accord; there were no signs of break-in or forced entry. Puzzled by the change in M.O., Kim wondered if they’d stumbled upon a copycat or if the killer decided to strike a familiar face.
            “Hmm, this is different,” one of the officers muttered. “The whole place was wiped down. Usually, we find prints but they’re from the victim. This time, everything has been cleaned. We lifted a half smudged print of the victim on the TV remote … that’s it.”
Sighing, Kim scribbled every detail onto her clipboard then reached to roll the victim onto a gurney.
            “Oh shit! No, it can’t be!”
            “What’s wrong? Do you know the … oh damn! This is bad.”
            “Call Detective McDonald and get her down here ASAP,” Kim demanded. “I’m not doing anything else until she gets here.”
Twenty minutes later, Detective Marie McDonald sprinted through the door, hair disheveled and clothing rumpled. Her bloodshot eyes were shrouded by heavy eyelids that hung at half-mast.
            "This can’t be possible. I’d just dropped her off several hours ago. As if the mayor wasn’t already breathing down our necks as it is; now his niece is a victim.” Marie knelt down next to the victim’s body and rested a gloved hand on the corpse’s head. “Why did it have to be you? Please, Kenj, please tell me you left us a clue somewhere.”  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Specter of Death- Part 13

        “No way!” Marie screamed. “There’s no freaking way! That board was inside my bag, zippered up, and behind the closed door of my closet.”
Across the room, her closet door remained closed. Panic seized her heart as she padded across the room in her bare feet. Gasping for air, she reached out for the door handle, almost expecting something to reach back. The inside of her closet looked much like it had when she’d thrown her bag in there— except the bag was open. The board and planchette were gone.
            “Okay, there has to be a reasonable explanation for this,” Marie rationalized. “I must have been sleep-walking. That’s gotta be it!”
     Her words held more confidence in the sentiment than her heart. She cleaned her wound and applied a bandage with antibacterial cream, baffled by the depth of the laceration by a blunted object. Unnerved, she shuffled to her kitchen in search of coffee. Gone were the ‘Narnia Cabinets’, this time she could reach in, touch, and feel the wood at the back of the wall. She grabbed the box of K-Cups and popped one into her coffee maker. Ninety seconds later she was inhaling the steamy, slightly-bitter aroma and feeling a sense of normalcy despite of being fully awake at 3am. After her second cup of coffee, she dressed quickly and headed over to the station to get an early start. 
Kim, Angela, and Gillian had stayed up only for a short while after Bill’s call. They sipped warm mugs of ‘sleepy-time tea’ laced with honey and talked. Unsettled by what Bill had said after she’d turned off speaker-phone, Kim steered the conversation far away from what had happened at the morgue. Instead, they talked about old times, the crappy apartment they’d shared in college, and their insanely hot English Lit professor. When they finally trudged off to their rooms, each hoped—rather than believed—that they’d have better luck finding clues to Seth’s killer in the morning.
     Gillian flopped onto the bed in Kim’s second guest room and sighed. I should have listened and stayed far away from that stupid Ouija board. Me and my bright ideas are always getting us into trouble. Drowsy, she flicked off the light and curled up under the covers. Hovering on the delicious plane between sleep and consciousness, Gillian’s troubles melted. Her body relaxed until she floated in weightless slumber, warm and safe. In a distant memory, she heard the singing of a lullaby and she drifted deeper. Just then, an icy cold claw wrapped its talons around her foot and pulled. Bolting upright, Gillian reached for the light switch but it was too far away.
            “Shit! Who’s in here?” she barked into the darkness. “Angela, if that’s you, it isn’t funny!” A shadowy form skulked across the room making Gillian fume. “You’re such a jerk! I can see you; now get out and go to bed before I kick your bony butt all the way down the hall.”
Gillian’s eyes laser-beamed at the silhouette and she wished she has something to throw at Angela. Preferably something hard … like an anvil. I’ll go all Bugs Bunny on you and see how funny that is, Gillian scoffed silently. Some friend! She could hear footfalls coming down the hall. You’re busted now. Kim’s gonna see what you’ve been up to and she’ll be pissed too. The door opened and light from the hallway filled the room.
            “Did you call me?” Angela asked from the hallway.
Kim’s head poked over Angela’s shoulder making Gillian’s jaw dropped. Across the room, there was nothing, no one stood in the spot where the shadowy figure had been. Angela flipped on the lights chasing away every hint of shadow.
            “Sorry, I-I, um …” Gillian paused to think up a reasonable explanation. “I sometimes talk in my sleep. I’m sorry I woke you. Man, that was one weird dream though.”
Laughing, Gillian tried to smooth over her lie. Her friends chuckled along to show they weren’t angry—also to hide their concern.
            “You’re sure you’re okay?” Kim asked. “Do you need anything? Wanna talk about it?”
            “No,” Gillian insisted. “No, I’m fine, really. I’m going right back to bed; you should too.”
Worry creased lines between Kim’s eyebrows and around her mouth. She shrugged and offered up a weak smile to her friend.
            “Okay, if you’re sure. Good night then,” Kim murmured as she reached out for the light switch.
            “NO!” Gillian cried out, sending a burning red flush across her cheeks. “Um, I mean, you don’t have to turn off the light right now. I think I’m going to read a little and try to make myself sleepy again.”
Kim nodded and pulled the door closed behind her. As much as she wanted to comfort her friend, she needed to sleep. In a few hours she would have to go to the morgue and sort out whatever mess remained.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Specter of Death-Part 12

           “Billy, what’s going on,” Kim whispered into the phone. “You told Gillian she’d be fine.”
            “Well, there’s a couple things she said that could be … well, it could be a concern. One, she said the planchette was erratic and made repetitive figure eights. That can be a sign of a malevolent spirit. Two, she took her hands off the planchette and they never said goodbye. Some people believe those things can open the gate for the spirit to cross over into our world. I’m not sure I believe all that but Gillian is pretty freaked out right now. If she decides to search the internet, her fears could manifest … even if they aren’t real, if you know what I mean. For example, if you break a mirror, you’ll be looking for signs of bad luck. When we look for bad omens, we usually find them or create them.”
            “Yeah, you’re right.” Kim murmured. “People who believe Friday the thirteenth is bad luck usually have a really bad day. I’ll keep an eye on her just to be sure.”
     Across town, Kenj sat in the emergency room. She waited for two hours before a doctor came to remove the Hagadorn Needle from her palm. With the help of morphine, not only did she not care how long it took, Kenj did feel a thing when the instrument was removed. When she finally staggered out to the waiting room, she found Marie waiting for her.
            “Hey, can you give me a ride home?” Kenj slurred. “The doc said I shouldn’t drive.”
            “Of course,” the detective answered through a yawn. “I’ve been waiting for you the whole time.”
     Once Kenj was settled into her apartment, Marie drove home. She was anxious to get out of her damp, mildew-smelling clothes and into a hot shower. The stink of stagnant sprinkler water had made her queasy. After hauling in the bag with the Ouija board into her room, she kicked it into her closet and slammed the door.
     The warmth of a steamy shower beckoned her aching muscles and Marie hurried to heed the call. Enveloped in the heat of its embrace, she let the shower-spray massage her chilled, stiff neck and shoulders. Only when the warmth seeped into her core did Marie turn off the water, towel herself dry, and pull on a pair of warm pajamas. Exhausted and achy, she shuffled to her bed and crawled under the covers. Sleep came moments later.
     A dull thud forced Marie to pry open her bleary eyes. Seemingly of their own accord, her legs swung off the bed, plunging her feet onto the cool, wood floor. The shock of cold pulsated through her nerve endings like a thousand needle-pricks stabbing into her brain. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and found herself in her kitchen. Damn, I must really be tired. I don’t remember walking in here. Too weary to retrace her steps, every cell in Marie’s body screamed for coffee. Even with an IV drip, I wouldn’t be able to get enough caffeine into my body, she thought while rooting through her cabinets for the magic beans that made her feel human. The shelves stretched out into oblivion but not even a measly ground remained.
     Caffeine withdrawal jackhammered through the concrete-like shell protecting her brain, shattered fragments scattered deep inside never ending shelves and cabinets. She stretched her arm until her shoulder threatened to separate and still she couldn’t reach the back.
            “Lucky me, I’ve got the cabinets to Narnia,” she scoffed. “Where’s the freaking coffee?”
Behind her, a garbled voice repeated her words. When Marie turned around, she was no longer in her kitchen but inside the morgue. Her Ouija board sat on a table surrounded by flickering candles. Am I dreaming? The words never passed her lips but the shadowy figures seated across from her at the table cackled as if she’d said it aloud.  
     Pulled by a force stronger than her, Marie’s fingertips settled onto the planchette. Rapid, jittery figure-eights pulled her arms along with the rhythm until the tiny plastic triangle slipped from her hands. In mid-air, the planchette froze, spun in the opposite direction, and embedded itself into Marie’s eye.
     Screaming, she sat up, clutching her face. Warm, salty tears trickled down her cheeks but there was no blood. Her eye was fine and when the cries of terror ended. Marie was sitting in her bed, clutching her blankets. It was just a dream, her inner voice soothed. Laughing at her own silliness, her toes reached out for the coolness of her hardwood floors and stood. Her foot slipped, sending her sprawling head-first into the bed frame. Blackness overtook her before she hit the floor. Seconds later, she blinked hard to stop the room from spinning. Stabbing pain ripped through her left shoulder. Still face down on the floor, she reached over to feel for damages.
            “That lump on my head is going to throb later,” she muttered to herself. “And damn, it feels like I’ve got an ice pick stabbing through my shoulder.”
Warm, sticky blood smeared the tips of her fingers but still Marie’s fingers probed the source of pain  
            “What the hell is this?” She muttered.
She plucked the offending piece from just below her collar bone and stood. In one hand she clung to the sharp piece that had pierced her and with the other she reached for the lamp on her nightstand. With one click, the room was bathed in a soft glow. She held the planchette in her hand. Blood dripped from the plastic triangle onto the floor. When Marie looked down, she was standing on top of the Ouija Board. A blood-curdling scream of profanities bubbled out from her core and she threw the planchette across the room. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Specter of Death- Part 11

            “Bill, are you sure it’ll be okay with the university if you head straight here?” Kim asked. “I don’t want you to lose your job.”
            “No, it’s fine. I worked it all out. Right now, let’s just focus on finding the killer before anyone else is hurt. Anyway, I’m dying to find out what happened at the morgue so let’s have it, Jilly. How did it go?”
Gillian groaned. Her evening had been complete chaos and she hated the thought of rehashing it, especially since the feelings of dread hadn’t dissipated since she left the morgue. Knowing Kim would hear all about it anyway, Gillian told her friends everything. She had expected laughing or even a few good natured jokes at her expense but Kim, Angela, and Bill remained silent until she ended her story with sloshing to her car and cranking up the heat. For a few seconds, the silence hung heavy in the air, each waiting for someone else to speak. Then they all spoke at once, words jumbling together in confusion.
            “Oh my God! Is Kenj okay?” Kim gasped.
            “Wait, you took your hands off the planchette before saying goodbye?” Bill asked.
            “So who touched your shoulder if it wasn’t Marie or Kenj?” Angela wondered.
Nervous giggles rippled through the group when they all blurted their questions out at the same time. Gillian wasted no time allaying Kim’s fears. Kenj would be fine after a few stitches. It was the other questions that made her squirm.
            “Honestly,” Gillian said, “I have no clue who touched me. I was nowhere near the door so it wasn’t one of the firemen, either. I’ve been trying to convince myself that it was just stress and I imagined it but …”
Gillian paused as she stared out the window. A shadowy figure had caught her eye and the feeling of being watched made her skin crawl. It wasn’t until Kim and Angela turned to look out the window that she redirected.
            “Bill, what were you asking me about the planchette?” She said, trying to cover up her concerns.
            “You said you pulled your hands off but you said goodbye first, right?” Bill’s voice was thick with concern. “You didn’t just pull away, did you?”
            “Um, yeah … I was a little thrown off when he said the devil and my hands came up. That’s when the planchette flew out and hit Detective McDonald. What do you mean say goodbye? What’s that all about?”
            “There’s a spot at the bottom of the board that says goodbye. It’s just good manners to say goodbye to the spirit,” he replied but Bill’s voice changed pitch as he attempted to lighten his tone. “Don’t worry, Jilly. We both know Seth was never the type to stand on ceremony. Look, I need to get a few things then I’ll be on the road so I’ll see you all soon.”
Kim took her phone off speaker to say goodbye but Bill urged her to go into another room before hanging up the phone.
            “Kim, listen, you need to keep an eye on Gillian. Make sure she stays close. She might not be safe.” 
           “Oh my God! Why?”