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Bloodlines – Part 9 December 12, 2012

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Virgil wrapped his arms tight around Linda, shielding her with his own body as the haunt loomed over them. “Don’t look at it!” he said. Linda was still screaming, her head buried against his chest.  He yelled in her ear, “The eyes are the windows to the soul! Don’t look, Linda!”

“Get rid of him,” the entity rasped.

Spheres of brilliant amethyst light flew out of Honora’s necklace, taking on the ghostly silhouettes of a dozen old women. Their withered, claw-like hands gripped his arms and a biting cold sunk in all the way down to the marrow of his bones. Virgil tried to pull away, but his limbs had gone numb. “Sophie, need some help here!”

“My niece will not be able to oblige,” one of the women hissed.

Virgil caught a glimpse of Honora’s ghost and had just enough time to think, “Oh, shit.” The ghosts ripped him away from Linda and threw him out of the room.  He landed badly, banging his head against the wall hard enough to see spots.

The ghosts surrounded him, shrieking with laughter as they grabbed him by the hair and dragged him down the hall. Then they flung him down the stairs, and it was only thanks to a bit of training in stunt work that he managed to avoid breaking his neck. Even so, he landed at the bottom of the stairs in a heap and was picked up again by the cadre of hags. They swung him around wildly, smashing him into every chair and coffee table that lined the foyer. The front door flew open, and he was pitched head first onto the porch.

He lay there, stunned, looking up at the heavy pile of snow and ice that coated the eaves. The snow creaked and started to slide.

“Woah!” Impending doom gave Virgil the jolt of adrenaline he needed to finally get his limbs moving. He kicked off with his feet and rolled down the front steps just in time to avoid getting impaled by the icicles that smashed down. A ton of snow followed like a miniature avalanche, blocking the entire entryway.

More screams came from inside. Virgil scrambled to his feet and yelled, “SOPHIE!” He looked around, but the storm windows were all nailed shut. “Dammit, dammit… Wait, the side porch. Hang on, I’m coming!” He sprinted around back, remembering at the last second to jump over the ice-coated porch steps. He skidded across the wet boards, slamming his aching body into the door. He yanked it open and ran inside before the house could drop anything else on him.

The room was peaceful, a small bubble of calm amidst the psychic turmoil in the house. Whatever Sophie had done earlier to clear the room was still holding. Virgil didn’t have time to enjoy it though. He dumped Sophie’s bags across her bed, and let out a short, borderline hysterical laugh as a small bell rolled out. “Of course she packed a traveling kit. She even put color coded labels on everything. Bless her anal retentive little heart.”  He shoved the bell and a few other items into his pockets, and took a deep breath to steady his nerves. “Show time.”

He ran out into the foyer and up the stairs, taking them two at a time, the bell jangling with every step. Alex, Desi, Bryant, and the boys were waiting for him in the upstairs hallway, each of them controlled by a ghost that hovered just behind them. The hag’s shadowy fingers were buried deep in their descendants’ skulls, and they leaned forward to whisper in their ears. The family lurched forward as one, with a collection of blunt objects raised in their hands as weapons.

Virgil crossed his arms and shook his head. “Bad move, ladies. I may not be much good with ghosts, but the living? They’re my specialty.”

For the first time since setting foot in the house, Virgil let his full powers cut loose. Normally he’d be more careful with a civilian’s mind but he could hardly do more damage than the hags. He slipped his thoughts between the ghosts and the living, making his attack as razor sharp as a scalpel. He cut the entities out with brute force and wrapped his will around the living minds, frog-marching everyone into Desiree’s room. “Sleep,” he commanded, and they slumped into a pile at the foot of the bed.

The ghosts were thrown into confusion by being suddenly cut off from their energy source, and Virgil took full advantage of it. He reached into a pocket and flung a handful of tiny poppy seeds at them. “Have fun, ladies,” he said.

The ghosts hesitated, casting their empty eye sockets back and forth between him and scattered seeds. But in the end, they couldn’t resist the bait. They were old world ghosts, from an era where everyone believed that the dead could not resist counting something left out for them. That belief stayed with them after they died, burned into their faded psyches. They wouldn’t be able to leave off counting till the sun rose.

Virgil threaded carefully past them, taking care not to touch them again. The door to Linda’s room was jammed shut, and he knew better than to waste time trying to force it open. The haunt would just laugh and let him wear himself out. Instead, Virgil lit up a cigarette and blew the smoke all around the door jamb. The missing occupants of his first pack of smokes had ended up in Sophie’ kit. He didn’t care how. All that mattered was that tobacco was a prime ingredient used in cleansing ceremonies for centuries by cultures around the world. Virgil was betting that the haunt was from one of them, and had given Honora a phobia about smoking to protect itself.

Virgil immediately sensed when the tension broke, and he kicked the door open. The haunt had Sophie pinned, her back arched across the bed, and she was fighting to keep its hand from her throat.

Virgil rang the bell. The sound sent ripples through the air, and the entity jerked its head around to look at him.

That was all the break that Sophie needed. She plunged her hand deep inside its chest, and started the words of a banishing rite. It howled, and Virgil rang the bell again. It tried to pull away from Sophie, but she gritted her teeth and held on.

The necklace slipped from its fingers. Virgil raised the bell one last time, and smashed it down into the purple gem. The bell rang, and the whole house shuddered in sympathy. The entity let out a rising shriek that must have set dogs howling for miles around. Virgil wrapped his will around every mind in the house to keep the haunt from possessing them, and Sophie ripped her hand out of it, removing its anchor to the living world.

“I will come back,” it snarled, and vanished.

“No, you won’t,” Sophie said, and finished the last words of the rite.

The whole house seemed to let out a collective sigh. The ordinary sounds of pre-dawn crept back in, birds chirping and the distant sounds of the highway. Sophie held Linda like a child, rocking her and letting her sob all over her shoulder.

Virgil sat down heavily on the hope chest at the foot of the bed and sucked the last bit of life out of his cigarette, his hands shaking so hard he could barely hold it. “This makes us even now, right?” he said, giving Sophie a lopsided smile.

“Maybe. I’ll have to check my notes, you’ve run up quite a tab,” she said, and they both started laughing.

Later…

Virgil and Sophie stood together in the parlor where Honora’s body lay, forgotten in all of the madness. Sophie placed the pieces of the necklace in the coffin by her Aunt’s side. She had made sure to pulverize the stone, and broken every link on the chain.

“The crystalline matrix of the stone was like a primitive silicon chip.” Sophie said, her face pale and drawn. “The haunt broke their minds, arranged things so that they worshipped it, and when they died it stored them in the crystal just like we do in computers.”  She brushed the last bits off her hands and looked away from the body. “I would have been next, if the Agency hadn’t recruited me. I always thought my mother ran away to marry my father. Turns out she was just running away.”

Virgil gave her shoulder a squeeze. “Lucky for us the precognitives saw a better place for your Talents.”

“Lucky for me, maybe, but not my relatives,” Sophie said, looking out at the stairway in the hall. The rest of the family was still sleeping upstairs. It was better for them to do that, until the case workers from the Agency arrived.  “When I left, she moved onto them”

Virgil nodded, but didn’t say anything. Their outrageous behavior made perfect sense now.  Desi’s nymphomania, Alex’s belligerent paranoia, Bryant’s thirst for the power he would never possess—even the boys’ bullying was a symptom—and poor Linda, who almost got what she thought she wanted. The mind does not react well to being tampered with, and Honora had not gone easy on her relatives. It was going to take a lot of work to give them back anything like a normal life.

Sophie shook herself and squared her shoulders, putting on her business face. “Well, I had best start clearing the whole house, from the bottom up. I intend to make sure that haunt doesn’t come back.”

“Did you ever find out who it was?” Virgil asked.

“It was so old it had forgotten everything, except the need for more power,” Sophie said. “I’ll have to do some digging through our family tree to figure it out.”

“Well, if you need any help, I’ll be here,” he said.

Sophie gave him a weary smile of thanks, and headed down the hall to the root cellar to get to work.

Virgil waited till she left, then lit up a cigarette and blew the smoke down toward Honora’s face. There was no reaction. He gave a satisfied nod and looked more closely at her pinched, pallid visage. There was no sign of the bruises around her neck. It had all been an illusion to manipulate him into retrieving the necklace. Honora’s ghost had shown no sign of her psyche being broken, either. The other ghosts had been a pack of shrieking lunatics, while Honora’s every move was planned and rational. She must have worked willingly with the haunt. But Sophie didn’t need to know that.

Virgil leaned over and whispered in her ear. “I hope they have a nice, hot corner of Hell waiting for you, lady,” he said. “You messed up a lot of lives.”

Then he shut the coffin lid and walked outside to wait for case workers.

~Finis~

<-Bloodlines, Part 8

Bloodlines – Part 8 December 5, 2012

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Virgil took the lead and checked the hallway before heading up to the second floor. A moth-eaten runner carpeted the stairs, its faded flowers muffling their steps. He glanced back down to where the door to the root cellar should have been. It was still veiled, but he could hear the poltergeist’s guttural growl coming from somewhere inside. It was restless, pacing; it wanted to be let out.

“Are you hearing that?” he whispered to Sophie.

Sophie nodded and raised a trembling hand to her neck. The bruises from where the haunt had tried to strangle her stood out, livid against her skin.  “I still can’t hear any of the other ghosts, but that one is loud and clear now.” She let her hand drop, visibly pulling herself together. “Where is everyone else?”

Virgil let his senses sweep through the house. Fear hung thick in the air, like a cloying fog. “They’re in their rooms. No one is sleeping though,” he said, “It’s like they’re all just lying there, waiting for something to happen. Except for Linda. She’s having a nightmare.”

“Night terrors, emotional outbursts, that’s what’s been fueling the ghost! The attacks were involuntary!” Sophie said. “If so, that changes everything. No premeditation means she gets therapy instead of jail time.”

“Maybe,” Virgil replied doubtfully. Something about this still didn’t seem right. He ran a hand across the door to Linda’s bedroom. “She may come up swinging. Keep an eye on that poltergeist.”

The door wasn’t locked. The room inside could have belonged to a child; there were piles of stuffed animals on the bed, glittery stickers on the ceiling and photos stuck in the frame of a mirror. Dirty clothes were strewn about the floor and spilling out of a closet, the piles dotted liberally with candy wrappers. Virgil had seen teenagers with cleaner rooms.

An even bigger shock was Linda herself. She lay on her bed, still fully clothed, and curled up in the same fetal position Virgil had gone into to defend himself from the poltergeist. She even had her arms up to protect her head and neck. She was talking in her sleep, a pitiful, desperate litany. “I don’t want it. I don’t want it anymore. Please don’t do this. I don’t want it anymore.”

Virgil eased quietly into the room, not wanting to wake her yet. He took a deep breath and let it out, preparing himself for the unpleasant task of going into an unbalanced mind. Sophie closed the door behind them and stood on guard.

Linda started to thrash about, as if wrestling an opponent who was trying to pin her down. The similarities to his own attack were too many to ignore. Virgil took another deep breath and slipped into her nightmare.

They were back in the hallway that led to the root cellar. Honora beckoned to them, and they walked eagerly to the trap door. This was what Linda had waited thirty long years for: the day her mother would finally show her the secret to her family’s power over ghosts.

Honora walked slowly down the stairs and took off her amethyst necklace. “It is time for you to meet your ancestors, my dear.”

Linda hesitated at the top of the stairs, a vague fear settling into the pit of her stomach. She had never liked the root cellar; it had an ugly feel to it. A sour smell of rot wafted up at her, but her mother was still calling to her.

“Come down, Linda.” Honora held out the necklace. ”You wanted power, and I can give it to you.”

Linda ran down the stairs before she could think better of it. She reached out and took the necklace.

A cold smile touched Honora’s withered lips. “Hold it up to your eye, dear. Tell me what you see.”

Linda looked through it, and ghosts appeared all around, bathed in amethyst light. Generations of women, all with a strong family resemblance: brown hair, a motherly physique like Linda’s though some were a little taller, and all of them had the gift for working with ghosts. Whoever held this necklace would have a wellspring of knowledge to draw on that ran back centuries.

Then she looked closer, and saw what lived in the dark.

Virgil recognized it. Anyone who worked with ghosts knew there were malevolent spirits, old ghosts that wanted nothing more than to keep a hold on the world of the living. They could bend other, lesser ghosts to their will and use that gathered power to torment anyone unfortunate enough to enter their domain. The necklace worked just like the specially insulated microchips the Agency used to transport ghosts. The crystal must have had a similar structure to silicon, storing all of the ‘data’ of a person’s psyche. Who knew how long the old haunt had lurked in its depths?

Linda only knew that it terrified her, and she kept reliving that first, traumatic contact.

She ran up the stairs with her mother close on her heels.

“You must seal yourself to the well of souls, Linda!” Honora shouted. “Look through the gem, and let the spirit consume you! Our bloodline made a deal, and the pact must be kept!”

Linda ran, but the entity flew out of the cellar and landed on her back. It clawed at her, trying to reach the necklace she held clenched in her hand, and force her to look through it.

Honora hadn’t counted on her daughter fighting back. Desperation gave Linda the strength to send a telekinetic blast down the hall, and her mother fell backwards, down the stairs, and hit her head. The entity shrieked and retreated after her.

Linda threw the necklace down the stairs and locked the trap door. Then she ran out of the house… Later, after her mother’s body had been removed, she did everything in her power to trap the evil presence in the cellar, even veiling the doorway so no one could wander down there and get caught by it. But it kept getting out, and every time she failed, her fear made it a little stronger…

She woke up, sat bolt upright in her bed, and screamed.

Virgil was physically thrown back, but he managed to keep his hold on her mind.  He scrambled back onto the bed and grabbed her hands, forcing her to look him in the eye. “Linda, listen to me. It’s over. We know it was self-defense. I need you to calm down.”

Outside the room, the entity howled and battered against the bedroom door, setting Linda into a fresh bout of screaming.

Sophie had her shoulder braced against the door, and Virgil could feel her straining to shield the room against it. She yelled out, “It’s gotten too strong! I think it’s feeding off the rest of my relatives. I’m going to need some ghosts to combat it.” She pulled the necklace out of her pocket and held it up.

Virgil and Linda screamed in unison, “NO!”

The entity’s howl turned triumphant. It burst through the door and knocked Sophie into the wall. A stench of rot filled the room, and the entity stalked over to the bed. “Time for you to join your ancestors, Linda…”

<–Bloodlines, Part 7  ~~~|||~~~  Bloodlines, Part 9 ->

Bloodlines – Part 7 November 27, 2012

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Virgil found Sophie curled up on her bed with a book. She glanced up as he shut the door behind him.

“I still can’t get through to HQ… Oh my god, what happened?” she asked, jumping to her feet.

“Time to put your game face on, babe. This just turned into an official case,” Virgil said, and eased himself gingerly onto the cot. He ached everywhere from the mauling the ghost had given him, and the scratches on his arms were throbbing.

Sophie grabbed the blanket off her bed and wrapped it around him. “I think you’re right. Something has cut me off from the ghosts here.”

“Not something. Someone. I just don’t know who yet.” He rolled his head from side to side to work out the knots in his neck and back. “I did a little poking around, to see if I could stir something up. And boy-howdy did I. Our strangler is a class four malevolent haunt, and I’m pretty damned sure it’s being controlled,” he said, giving his partner a cautious look. She looked as composed as she was going to get, considering the circumstances. “I don’t know of any good way to say this, so I’m just going to say it. Your aunt was its first victim.”

She sat down slowly, her face a mask of grief. “She was a skilled Medium, Virgil. Better than I am. How did it get to her?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe it caught her nodding off, like it did with you.”

She brushed away the tears gathering in her eyes. “Who are the suspects.”

“Everyone in the house, excluding you and me. Your entire family has the gift. Although I may be able to rule out most of them.”

Sophie took a deep breath and let it out, visibly trying to push aside her grief. “Fine then, let’s work the case. If we shut down the k…killer, and the haunt goes away. Give me your impressions.”

Virgil took a moment to think back over every contact he’d had with her family—handshakes, unintentional bumping of hands or feet at the table, or, in Desi’s case, completely intentional contact. He started with the least likely candidates.

“I think we can safely count out Alex’s three thug-lings,” he said. “I give them a year before they move on from tormenting neighborhood pets to bullying their school mates, but they don’t have a scrap of brains between them; certainly not enough to control a malign spirit, even if they worked together on it.”

“Desiree wants whatever she can get away with, and she has the Talent. But both attacks were too calculated and controlled for someone with impulse issues. That, and she’s terrified of ghosts.”

Sophie nodded in agreement. “You can’t control what you fear.”

“Mmm-hmm. Alex is already redecorating the house in his mind. So much for a son’s love,” Virgil said, making a face. “But he’s a minor talent, and as subtle as a wrecking ball. Whoever is setting up all the veils around the house has skill and a light touch. Which rules out Bryant. He has some power and wants more, but he’s clumsy, a poser.”

Sophie’ eyes widened. “Linda.”

“Only one left, though I almost ruled her out,” Virgil said. “She must be good enough to veil any talent from me, and keep you from connecting with any ghosts.”

“She never moved out. That would give her close ties to the spirits here,” Sophie said. “She’s been nearby and gotten upset every time the poltergeist acted up: the lights going out in the entry hall, the china breaking. And she would have felt it when I tried to talk with my Aunt’s ghost. The attack there came almost immediately. The only one that doesn’t add up is the attack on you.”

Virgil held up the necklace, and Sophie gasped. “That’s my Aunt’s! She used it to commune with the spirits in the house.”

Virgil gave it to her. “Linda was veiling that hallway to the root cellar where I found it, so she must be afraid or ashamed of what happened there. Her mother’s ghost went straight back there. I got to feel the re-enactment of her murder first hand.”

“They said she fell down the stairs,” Sophie said, cradling the gaudy gem in her hands.

“Nope. I ended up out by the front door when I was caught in that memory loop. Honora fought it, and tried to get away,” Virgil said. He rubbed at his sopping wet hair with a corner of the blanket.  “The thing I want to know is, why go after her?

Sophie wrapped her arms around herself. “Power doesn’t make sense with Linda. She already has access to all the energy in the house, and she could have simply stolen the necklace. Unless my Aunt locked her away from the ghosts for some reason?”

“Or wrote her out of the will,” Virgil pointed out. “She was pretty testy with Alex, and people have done worse to get their inheritance.”

Sophie stared at her Aunt’s necklace, which dangled from her fingers. “We’re going to have to question Linda to find out for sure. All of this is still circumstantial. There might be someone else we’re not aware of.”

Virgil doubted it, but he wasn’t going to argue with her. People weren’t always rational about family. “All we have to do is get past her killer poltergeist, top-notch veils, and anything else she can do that we don’t know about. Piece of cake.” He tossed off the blanket and dug through his suitcase for the the pistol he always kept in a hidden compartment. “I know she’s family, but we have to go in assuming she’s armed and dangerous. If you can’t stay detached enough to handle that, we’ll have to run into town to send word to HQ, and get someone else run the investigation.”

“No,” she said quickly, “I can do this.”

Virgil gave her an encouraging nod. “If we move fast we can shut her down before anyone else gets hurt. I’ll lock down her mind; you keep the haunt off my back while I question her. If we’re lucky, we’ll catch her sleeping and have our answers before she wakes up.”

Virgil tried not to get twitchy while he waited for Sophie to get dressed again, with limited success. Something about this whole situation still didn’t feel right, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. That was the problem with being the canary in the coal mine; no one figures out what’s wrong till the bird keels over…

<-Bloodlines #6     ~~~|||~~~   Bloodlines #8 ->

Bloodlines – Part 6 November 20, 2012

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Honora’s ghost floated next to Virgil, still wringing her hands. She looked harmless enough, but he wouldn’t be the first Agent to think that about a spirit, only to end up getting shoved down a flight of stairs. He eyed up the rickety wooden slats that descended into the root cellar. The dim glow cast by his zippo gave him just barely enough light to make out a packed dirt floor at their base, but not much else. A sour, rotting smell wafted up at him.

He stood up and backed away from the opening. “Chivalry be damned. No more games, Auntie. Either you tell me what you want down there, or I go back to bed and call it a night.”

Honora floated closer, and pointed down the stairs.

“You’ll have to do better than that,” Virgil said. He pulled his cell phone out of his jeans pocket. “Here. Drain the battery and speak through it.” He tapped the screen with his thumb to turn the volume up, and held it between them.

She reached out to touch it, and a dry, papery voice whispered out of the speaker, “Seal the well.”

A breeze made the flame of his lighter flutter, sending light and shadows dancing around the stairs. Something glittered on the bottom step. The ghost floated over to the stairs and beckoned again, pointing to the object.

It wasn’t that far, but the stairs were steep enough that falling down them would hurt. Still, if it got the old biddy to leave him (and his cigarettes) alone, it might, maybe be worth it. “Virgil, you’re an idiot,” he muttered to himself, and dashed down to pick it up. It was a necklace, and the clasp was snagged on a nail.

He held up the lighter and took a quick look into the darkened room. The darkness looked back into him. And then it started crawling towards him.

Virgil yanked the necklace free and ran like hell back up the stairs. He kicked the trap door shut and slammed the bolt home.  Then he leaned against the wall, his heart pounding and a prickle of sweat all over him. “What were you messing with here, woman?” he said, holding up the necklace to get a better look at it. As far as he could tell, it was just costume jewelry—a dark purple stone surrounded by smaller white ones, all set in a gaudy gold filigree. “This is it? All this fuss for a piece of junk?” he said.

Honora floated closer and placed a hand on his arm.  A chill, splintered glass sensation ran through him as the ghost drew more energy from him. “Seal the well,” she whispered.

He narrowed his eyes in annoyance at the apparition. “Could you be any more cryptic?”

“Seal the well.”

“And Sophie wonders why I hate working with ghosts,” Virgil grumbled. He stuffed the cheap necklace in his pocket and glared back at the trap door, just in time to see the bolt slide open.

“Oh, crap.”

He took off down the hall at a run. Virgil hadn’t survived working for the Agency this long by ignoring his instincts. Whatever was down there would play for keeps. The hallway stretched out endlessly in front of him, and nothing looked familiar. “Crapcrapcrap spatial distortions…” He sent out a quick, psychic blast to try and stun whatever rudimentary mind remained in the haunt. It growled, low and guttural, and something slammed into his back. He went sprawling to the floor and tucked into a roll, using his arms to cover his neck and head to avoid getting strangled. Fingernails raked at his forearms, and a weight pushed down on him.

It growled again, right in his ear, and started shoving his face into the floor. Virgil let out a muffled yell as he tried to wrestle free. Something cold slipped into his hand, and he yelled again until he realized it was the necklace.

As soon as it pressed against his palm, he knew exactly what Sophie had done to tear apart the ghost that had attacked her. He reached up into the haunt and tried to grasp the core of energy it used to manifest itself, but it shrieked and pulled away. The shadowy figure retreated down the hallway and collapsed in on itself, and Virgil heard it slam the trap door shut behind it.

He sat up, shaking from head to foot. Somehow, he had ended up halfway out the front door of the house with a dusting of snow covering him. He dragged himself back inside and shut the door, leaning back against it while he brushed the snow off and inspected the scratches on his arms.

That was when the next attack came, swift and silent. It was textbook one-two punch – soften up your target with a ghost, then hammer their defenses with a psychic probe while they’re down.

Virgil was hurt after the mauling the ghost had given him, but they didn’t call the Agency a Tactical Unit for nothing. There was no way in Hell he was going to get taken down by a goddamned civilian. He held onto that anger, built it up into rage, and turned it into a white hot, mirrored surface. The attack was reflected back, and he magnified it into a needle-like lance that blew past his assailant’s attempt to hide behind a veil. The house shuddered around him, and Virgil turned the heat up even higher to burn through the dark so that he could see who was behind the attacks.

They wrestled back and forth; an invisible struggle between two minds, all of it happening in the space between eye blinks…

…and it was abruptly cut off as someone opened the door behind him.  He fell backwards, tripping up the person coming in, causing them to land on top of Virgil.

The new comer scrambled to his feet, and Virgil found himself looking up at an older man. He was tall, his brown hair peppered with silver, and he wore an expensive tailored suit that he brushed off and set to rights. Everything about him proclaimed “successful family patriarch.”

“Good god man, are you all right?” the man asked.

Virgil ignored him for a moment and tried to reconnect with his assailant, but the presence was gone. He wanted to howl up at him, “You let it get away!” but thought better of it. For all he knew, this guy was the killer. Better to play it smart. “Yeah, fine, I just slipped on the ice. You’re Uncle Bryant, right?” he said, trying to look nonchalant as he lay there shivering and dripping melted snow onto the carpet.

Bryant gave him a paternal smile. “And you must be Sophie’s co-worker. Desi was all aflutter about you,” he said. “What were you doing outside at this hour?”

Virgil held up one of the knotted cigarettes, “Your dear departed sister does not approve of smoking.”

Bryant laughed. “My apologies. Virgil, was it? I was in the same pickle myself. Went to light up a cigar, and every one of my matches had the head cut off. Spent the last half-hour scouring the house for another pack, until I remembered I had one in the car.”

Virgil watched him as he talked but didn’t get much off of him, except that he was actively veiling his Talents. If he was the murderer, he was one cool customer. Virgil felt as wrung out as a dishrag, and this guy didn’t have a hair out of place. He had even given himself an alibi for not being on watch over his sister’s coffin. Damn. There was only one good way to find out for sure.

Virgil held out his hand and braced himself for another assault. “Give me a hand up?”

Contact. Virgil was skilled enough not to give anything away other than annoyance, but to his surprise, Bryant was an open book. No sharp, controlled probes; just the usual babble of thoughts and emotions he got from everyone.

::POWERhes’gotpowerWILLheSharetheSecret?Bitch/sisterNeverSHAREDdamnedWOManGoingONaboutfemaleBLOODLINESandITSherHOUSEnotMineMaybethisGUYcanMakeLindaGIVEmeHOUSE::

Virgil broke the contact as soon as he was on his feet. Bryant had talent, but it wasn’t enough to even make the bottom rung of what the Agency would find useful. It was no wonder they hadn’t recruited him along with Sophie; he didn’t have the chops for it. He certainly didn’t have the skill to power that haunt.

Which meant the culprit was still somewhere in the house.

Virgil brushed the last of the snow off his shirt. “Thanks, Bryant. I think I’m going to call it a night before your sister decides to tie me into a knot as well.”

Bryant chuckled, but looked a bit disappointed. “Maybe we can talk in the morning? I’d be interested in getting your professional opinion on a few things.”

“Yeah, sure,” Virgil mumbled, and hurried back to his room before Bryant could start digging for the “secret” to psychic powers. There wasn’t any, but he doubted anyone so obsessed with power would believe him.

Virgil paused outside the room, his hand hovering over the door knob. He was not looking forward to telling his partner that her Aunt had been murdered. This night kept getting better and better…

<-Bloodlines, Part 5  ~~~|||~~~  Bloodlines, Part 7 ->

Bloodlines – Part 5 November 13, 2012

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Virgil walked Sophie back to their room, keeping a close eye out for any shadow people.  The house was unusually quiet. The ghost must have used up too much energy in its attempt to kill Sophie for it to manifest again.

When they got to the room Sophie stopped so abruptly that Virgil nearly ran into her. “What is that smell?” she said, making a face.

Virgil took a sniff, and sighed. “Desiree stopped by. That lady has more issues than just being rude.”

Sophie sat down on her bed and groaned in dismay. “I’m so sorry, Virgil. I thought this would be a simple matter of soothing a few ruffled feathers.”

“Considering what just happened to you, I’m glad I came along,” Virgil said. He snagged the fresh pack of cigarette from his coat pocket. “Will you be okay for a few minutes? I need some fresh air, the perfume is killing me.”

“And the cigarettes won’t kill you?” Sophie said, her one eyebrow arched.

“I like to pick my poisons, thank you very much. You keep your eyes open.”

“I’ll be fine,” she said. “I’m on my guard now. Don’t stay out too long, it’s a cold one tonight.”

“Yeah, no kidding.”

He scooped up the offending linens on the way out and tossed them onto a porch swing. Then he brushed the snow off the railing and leaned on it, breathing deeply to clear the smell of Bargain-Bin-Not-Quite-Chanel-Number 5 from his head. Then, having gotten his quota of fresh air for the day he tore open the pack of cigarettes and tapped on the bottom to slide one out. He got nothing. The brand-new pack was empty. “Son of a bitch!” he cursed, and stomped back inside.

He found all of the cigarettes lined up across the end of his bed, each one tied in a knot.

Sophie was oblivious to any foul play. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor in a meditative stance, her eyes closed. A small hand bell lay next to her knee. It was a standard tool that operatives used for working with ghosts—the sound of it ringing disrupted the energy wavelengths a ghost moved in, which gave a trained Medium a hold to control them with.

She opened her eyes as the door slammed shut behind Virgil. “I can’t get through to the switchboard ghosts at HQ, and the locals won’t talk to me,” she said. “It’s like I’m running into a wall. I’ll have to drive into town tomorrow to find some cell reception, so I can report the attack to HQ.”

“Can you pick me up some smokes while you’re there?” Virgil said, jabbing his thumb in the direction of his abused Lucky Strikes.

Sophie had to cover her mouth to stifle a laugh. “Oh dear. Hee. Ahem. I’m really am sorry, Virgil. Aunt Honora had some very definite ideas about smoking.”

“She’s here? You’ve talked with her ghost?” Virgil said.

Sophie’s smile faded. “No. I’m guessing she doesn’t want to speak with me. Desiree was right about that, we didn’t part on the best of terms.”

“That may not be the issue,” Virgil said, heading out into the hall. “Sit tight, and keep trying to get a hold of HQ.”

Virgil was finally starting to see the pattern in the paranormal incidents. The mischievous nature of the pranks with the cigarettes did not match up with the violence of the attack on Sophie. He was fairly certain that those lesser events were simply Honora trying to get his attention. Whoever attacked Sophie was probably also cutting her off from the local spirits, which meant that her Auntie couldn’t talk to her. The question was, did Honora know who was behind the disturbances? And if so, did Sophie get attacked for fear that Honora would tell her? There was only one way to find out.

Virgil went back to the parlor where Aunt Honora’s body lay, lit softly by candle light. No one was on watch, which was odd, considering this was a wake. Uncle Bryant was supposed to have taken over for Sophie, but there was no sign of him. No one-had come running to see what the commotion was earlier, either. He took a quick look around, and even stuck his head into each room along the hallway, but there was no one downstairs.

“No love lost anywhere with this family,” he muttered. He poked around the parlor, but Honora’s ghost made no attempt to contact him. He finally decided to settle for another of the Agency’s standard techniques. When an Agent needed to speak with a spirit, but didn’t’ have a Talent for working with them, the easiest way to get them to talk was to provoke them. Which basically meant pissing them off enough to manifest.

Virgil plunked down on the edge of the table that held Honora’s coffin, hard enough to make it rock. He crossed his arms and glared at the corpse. “All right, you old bat. Listen up.” He held up a knotted Lucky Strike. “Nicotine is the only thing keeping me from turning the brains of your pig-ignorant relatives into pudding. Now, I get it, you want to talk. But if you want me to cooperate, you had better leave my smokes alone. Do we have a deal?”

Virgil looked around again, but the room remained quiet. He reached down and gave the corpse a condescending pat on the cheek. “That’s a girl. I knew you could be reasonable.”

A bit of lace around her high collar caught on his watch as he pulled his hand away.  The heavy makeup the embalmer applied had rubbed off in one spot, revealing a purple bruise.

“Hello, what’s this?” Virgil said, and leaned forward to take a closer look. He pulled a tissue out of the box that had been placed by the coffin for the mourners, and wiped away more of the makeup. Honora had two hand-shaped bruises around her throat that matched the ones Sophie had just gotten. “Damn. I hate it when my hunches are right. You didn’t die of natural causes, did you?”

The candles flickered once in reply.

He leaned back and crossed his arms again. “All right, Auntie. Now that I’ve got your attention let’s play twenty questions. Blow the candle flame once for yes, twice for no.”

A filmy mist rose up from the corpse and formed into a younger version of the woman who was laid to rest. It floated out into the hallway and beckoned to him, in a classic example of a ‘White Lady’ haunting.

Virgil snorted in amusement. “Drama queen. Fine, we’ll do it your way.”

He followed her out into the hallway, and through a door that he could have sworn wasn’t there before. It led down a short, narrow passage that ran between the kitchen and the dining room. The only light came through the open door behind him. At the hallway’s end was a small trap door set into the floorboards.

“Oh, hell no. I am not going down into the root cellar alone. I saw Evil Dead, lady. This stuff never ends well.”

The ghost waited by the trap door, the very image of a damsel in distress complete with wringing hands. Virgil could feel the sense of pleading urgency from her. He blew out his cheeks. “Chivalry sucks,” he said. He pulled out his zippo and flicked the striker, holding the tab down to keep it lit. He crouched down to open the trap door. “This had better not be some trick…”

<- Bloodlines #4  ~~~|||~~~  Bloodlines #6 ->

Bloodlines – Part 4 November 7, 2012

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Virgil walked back to the bedroom, weighing the need for a cigarette against the brutal cold outside. It ended up being a moot point. His pack of cigarettes was empty, the package turned inside out and left on the middle of his bed. He spat out a curse, wondering if one of Alex’s little thugs-in-training had been through his luggage. Everything else was where he had left it though, so he decided to just dash out to the car to grab another pack of smokes. Things were tense enough in the house without him raising a fuss over something so trivial. He immediately regretted the impulse however, having forgotten to wear a coat. By the time he got back inside his teeth were doing their best impression of castanets, and his temper had worn down to a thread.

The shadows nipping at his heels did not help matters any, and when he got back to the room he had no patience left for what awaited him there. Desiree, draped across his bed, in a negligee that was so transparent that she might as well not have been wearing it. Virgil looked away and held the door open.  “Get out.”

“But you look so cold! I could –“

“Get. Out.”

Desiree dropped her voice. “I’m frightened. I just thought you could, well, you know…” her voice faded off.

Virgil rolled his eyes at her. “Play the big strong man to protect you? Sorry, honey. I spent a lot of time out in Hollywood and trust me; you can’t pull off the sweet ingénue.”

Desiree slithered out of the bed and posed. “If not that, then what do you want me to be?”

“About two floors away from me,” Virgil grumbled, and backed the message up with a telepathic suggestion to leave.

Desiree recoiled, all out of proportion to the mild contact. This time the fear in her eyes was not feigned. “I should have known you weren’t normal. No one in this house is normal!”

The brief contact with her mind gave Virgil an unpleasant picture of her past. Someone had abused her, very possibly using a psychic Talent. That explained a lot about her behavior, and completely changed the nature of her unexpected visit. She really did need his help. “Look, I won’t hurt you,” Virgil said, “and if you ever truly feel threatened by something in the house, let me know. I won’t turn away an honest request.”

Desiree gathered the tattered threads of her dignity around her, along with the gauzy negligee. She swept past him into the hall.  “Why should you care? It doesn’t want you.”

“What do you mean by “it?” Virgil asked, but she ran up the stairs out of sight, and he was not about to chase a nearly naked woman through the house.

He shut the door to the room and stripped the covers off his bed. They reeked of the cheap eau-de-toilet Desiree had doused herself with. Sadly the replacements he found were nowhere near as warm, but he wasn’t going to sleep anyway. He had too much to think about.

If he was right, and someone in the house was using their Talents to harm others he was going to have to call this in to HQ and make it an official case. His partner was not going to be happy about that. Sophie wanted a nice, dignified funeral for her aunt.  But if there were civilians in danger from the paranormal, he couldn’t turn a blind eye. All he had were guesses though. He needed to find out what exactly happened to Sophie’s aunt, and track down who was riling up the ghosts. One thing was for certain, it wasn’t Desiree. There had been no reaction at all from the family poltergeist when he used his Talents on her.

Virgil wandered out to the parlor to find Sophie. If he could rule out foul play with Auntie Honora he could chalk the rest of his concerns up to paranoia and get some sleep.

There were no shadows waiting for him in the hall, and the parlor was dark. He stopped just inside the door and felt around for the light switch. “Sophie? You in there?”

A strange, hoarse sound came from somewhere inside, followed by scratching and thumps.

Virgil found the light switch and slapped it on, blinking in the sudden glow. Sophie was lying on the floor with one of the shadow people crouched on top of her chest. Her hands were clawing frantically at its wrists as it strangled her. Her feet thumped on the wooden floorboards as she struggled.

Virgil launched himself at it, hoping it had materialized enough to grab onto but his hands passed straight through it. “Damn it! Hang in there, Sophie!”

He looked around the room for anything that could be used as a bell to disrupt the ghost, but the only things nearby were the coffin, and a rocking chair knocked over beside Sophie . The ghost must have caught her nodding off while she sat vigil with her aunt’s body, and then kept her locked in sleep. Her struggles became more frantic, and Virgil cursed again. His Talents ran toward the living – he was going to have to go into her mind to wake her up, so that she could banish the spirit herself.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounded. She was already on the defensive, and any break in her concentration could give the ghost a hook into her psyche. He had seen enough cases of possession to know how bad that could be. The victim was never quite right afterwards. He knelt by her head, his hands resting on her temples. Every instinct screamed at him to hurry, that she was running out of time, but he had to go slowly. He let his thoughts slip in through the landscape of her dreams, dodging blocking walls and carefully avoiding getting sucked into memory pools. He took every punch she threw at him without trying to stop them. Any defense he put up could hurt her, so he took the blows and hoped she didn’t break anything important. After what seemed like an eternity, he got past the last barrier and found the image she had of herself standing in an empty space, eyes closed. He called out her name, sending the thought ringing through her consciousness like a bell. “Lares. Lares. SOPHIE.”

Her eyes snapped open, and she tossed him and the ghost out with a violent blast of psychic energy. Virgil’s consciousness arced back into his body, sending him flying backwards into the rocking chair. Lares plunged her hand into the ghost and tore something out of it. The thing let out a wail that set every hair on Virgil’s body on end, and it exploded in a shower of ectoplasm.

He slipped and staggered through the mess to her side. “Are you okay? What happened?”

She coughed and held a hand to her throat. Her neck was purpling with hand-shaped bruises. “I tried to talk with the ghost, to get it to calm down, but it attacked me,” she said, her voice wheezing. “I should have paid more attention to you, Virgil. I saw that something was wrong at dinner, and you never get twitchy without good reason.”

“Well, you know me, the canary in the psychic coal mine,” Virgil said, with a wry smile. “You hit like a girl, by the way.”

She let out a hoarse chuckle. “I recognized it was you. But the ghost kept trying to look like you, so I wasn’t always sure who to hit.”

“Are you sure it was the family ghost?” Virgil asked. “You did say this place was a psychic locus. Maybe without your Auntie to regulate it, some less-than-savory entities are getting pulled in.”

A frown put small lines of worry across her brow. “That is possible. I may have to cleanse the house before we go.”

“I think you had better plan on it,” he said. The shadows were gone but the silent rage still prowled the hallways. Virgil had a nasty feeling that his intervention here had just painted a large target on his back…

—-

<–Bloodlines #3  ~~~|||~~~  Bloodlines #5 ->

Bloodlines – Part 3 October 23, 2012

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Dinner was an awkward affair. Between Virgil’s presence as an outsider to the family and the corpse laid out in the parlor for the wake, the conversation was stilted and centered mostly on the weather. Silverware clinked on china, and the fragile old wooden chairs creaked as their occupants leaned to pass a serving platter. The formless rage that Virgil sensed around them had abated somewhat, but he still kept seeing dark silhouettes hovering out of the corner of his eye. The experts back at HQ officially classified shadow people as harmless, but that didn’t keep him from looking over his shoulder every so often to make sure there weren’t any behind him.

Cousin Alex, who had been giving Virgil jaundiced looks the entire time must have decided that the arrival of dessert was his cue to start prying. “So, you’re from California?” he asked, making the question sound like an indictment.

Virgil kept his reply cautiously bland. “Yes, I’ve lived there for most of my life.”

“Are you a liberal?” Alex said, all but spitting out the word.

“I prefer to live and let live, if that’s what you mean,” Virgil said, dividing his attention between his verbal sparring partner and the room around them. The shadows were starting to crowd in.

Alex sneered at him. “You got a girlfriend? Or a boyfriend?”

Linda slammed her hand on the table. “Alex, that is enough! He’s our guest.”

“A man has a right to know what kind of person is staying under his roof,” he said, and glowered at his sister.

Linda gave him a scathing look. “It is not your house, Alex. And we won’t know who inherits until the will is read, so quit acting like you own the place already.”

Virgil’s empathic sense was buzzing like hornets. It was no wonder the spirits were unsettled, what with all the negative energy in the house. This was the reason Lares had brought him here. There was no way he could calm the ghosts directly, but he could use his Talents to clear away the ugly emotions that were feeding them. Enter the leading man, stage left, to take the spotlight

Virgil stood and held up his hands as if surrendering to a gunman. “We might as well tell them about us, Sophie,” he said to Lares, remembering again at the last second not to use her codename.

She froze with a fork halfway to her mouth, her eyes wide as saucers.

Virgil smiled and paused a little longer, until everyone else leaned forward in anticipation.  “We work for the Defense Department,” he said, which wasn’t entirely a lie. He smiled at their chagrined laughter and sat back down. “We can’t tell you much about our work; it’s classified. We were en route to our next assignment when Sophie got the call about her aunt. This wasn’t too far out of the way, so here we are. Any more questions?” He was careful to keep his tone clipped and short, imitating some of the Marines he had worked with recently.

Alex still looked suspicious, but some of the belligerence had gone out of him. “Why didn’t you drop her off and keep going?”

“You know the government; they’ll waste four thousand dollars on a high tech toilet seat, but they won’t spring for a hundred bucks to rent a second car. Go fig,” Virgil said, with an amused shrug.

Alex grunted, which Virgil took as a sign that he was off the hook, for the moment.

Unfortunately, Desiree took that as an opening to start needling Lares again. “That explains why you stopped coming to visit. I’m sure your top secret work keeps you busy,” she said, her voice dripping sweet acid. “Honora never did understand though, and after all she did for you when your mother passed on. She always felt your leaving was a betrayal. It’s a shame now that you’ll never get to patch it up with her.”

Virgil felt the knot of anguish build in Lares, and he reached out with his Telepathic sense to still Desiree’s venomous tongue. The second he projected his will however, every piece of china on the table floated up two feet in the air, and smashed back down. Desiree screamed and jumped up from her seat, knocking the chair over as she hurried to get away from the table.

“You stop that, Sophie! You stop it right now!” she yelled, pointing an accusing finger at Lares. “Don’t try to blame it on the ghosts. I know what that feels like!”

“I didn’t do anything Desi. Not this time, nor any other that you’ve accused me of,” Lares said, her voice shaking with anger.

Alex’s boys started chanting, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

Linda pushed her chair back, her face livid. “There will be no fighting in this house!  Alex, it’s late, and time you got those boys to bed. Desi, go get your father’s room ready.”

Desi’s eyes narrowed. “Just because you cleaned up after a decrepit old woman all these years doesn’t make you the boss around here,” she said.

The last few glasses still standing on the table started to rattle.

Lares’ cool, calm voice cut through the tension. “Do you still think it’s me doing this, Desi?”

Desi went pale and started to tremble. “It’s not me. It can’t be me!”  She turned and fled from the room, and the seething rage that filled the room followed her out.

Linda was gripping the edge of the table so hard her knuckles were white. “I am very sorry you had to see that Virgil. Desi has…a lot of control problems.  I’m going to go clean up in the kitchen,” she said, and retreated without looking at either of them. Alex shooed the boys out with a few well-placed cuffs to their heads.

Virgil let out a low whistle. “Are you sure you’re related to these people?”

“I’m beginning to wonder about that,” Lares said. She opened a small cabinet built into the wall and pulled out a dustpan and brush to clean up the broken china.

Virgil took them from her.  “Here, let me get that. I can’t do much else right now. Your family ghosts seem to object to my efforts to calm things down.”

Lares’ brows knit together in a deep frown. “They’ve never reacted to psychic Talents before. Almost everyone in the family has a touch of them.”

“Yes, but your Auntie Honora was here then to keep the spirits in line,” Virgil said. “I somehow doubt anyone has had a talk with them since she passed on.”

“You may be right,” Lares mused, pulling out a small wastebasket.  Down the hall, a clock chimed and she let out a sigh. “It’s almost time for me to sit with Honora anyway. I’ll see what I can do to calm them down.”

“Go on ahead, I’ll finish up here,” Virgil said, and watched the doorway to the hall for a long time after she had gone. As far as he could tell, she was the only person actually mourning Honora’s loss. Alex and Linda were too concerned with getting their hands on the house to care about losing their own mother, and Desi was out to get whatever she thought she could get away with. He wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of the more valuable items in the house somehow ended up in her suitcase.  Alex’s boys weren’t any better – they would probably burn the house down just for the fun of it.

Greed, violent tendencies, untrained Talents… as Virgil finished clearing up the table, he realized that he had never asked how Honora had died. He had a nasty feeling that it might not have been from natural causes…

—–

<-Bloodlines #2   ~~~|||~~~  Bloodlines #4 ->

Bloodlines #2 October 16, 2012

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Shadows moved through the darkened hallway without any light source to cast them. Virgil let his senses brush through the house, and a chill that had nothing to do with the cold air outside sent needles of fear running down his spine. Something in here was pissed, and he had just gotten its undivided attention. The truly unsettling part was that Lares didn’t seem to notice anything amiss. She was one of top mediums working for the Tactical Paranormal Response Unit; she should have sensed the wave of rage rolling through the halls. But there she was, chatting with her cousin Linda as if nothing had happened.

The lights clicked back on and Lares took one of the smaller bags from him. “This way. We used to have sleepovers in this room with our friends from down the hill. There’s a private bathroom, and a side porch if you need to go out for a smoke.” She said that last part with a frown. Lares did not approve of his habit. He didn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone thought about it. It kept his nerves calm when things got weird, which, in their line of work, was pretty much every day.

The room looked like it had once been an office – a roll-top desk sat to one side, and a wire for a phone hung out of the wall next to it. An ancient, dust covered dot-matrix printer sat on the floor, and a pile of old bills and paperwork were stacked on top. There was no sign of a network cable, and a quick check of his cell phone told Virgil there was no wifi within range. Virgil sighed inwardly. So much for contacting one of his pals in HQ to whip up a program to contain the ghost.  He hadn’t thought to pack a portable spirit jar, and he’d never gotten the knack of working directly with entities. That was Lares’ job, and she was too upset right now to even try it.He’d just have put up with the poltergeist till morning when he could drive into town and borrow some bandwidth.

Fortunately he still had one of the company’s special chips in his cell phone. The Agency had brought the art of dealing with spirits into the high tech era – the electrical impulses that once ran through the body could now live inside of machines. Once he downloaded the right snippet of code he could simply lure the ghost inside it and keep the specter busy chasing algorithms for awhile. He’d have to recharge it every few hours, but that was better than the alternative.

The ghost, however, was not content to wait till morning to introduce itself. As Virgil tossed their bags onto a small daybed that sat against the far wall, a feeling of rage started seeping into the room. It circled around the edges, probing and shuffling along as if it were a blind creature hunting by sense of smell.  Virgil strengthened the shields on his empathic sense, but the feeling would not go away.

“You know, I think I’ll take you up on that offer to have a smoke,” he said to Lares, suddenly desperate for a breath of air.  He swung out onto the porch, lighting up one of his unfiltered Lucky Strikes before the door shut behind him. The sensation of being stalked pooled around the door jamb and started crawling out. Virgil moved further down the porch.

It wasn’t until his teeth started to chatter that he shook off his unease. “What the hell are you doing freezing your cojones off out here?” he said to himself. “It’s a haunted house, dumbass. Feelings of dread, a sudden urge to leave?  It’s a textbook haunting and you’re letting it push you around.”

Virgil lit up a second cigarette off the butt of the first and collected his thoughts. First step was to talk to the ghost, set the ground rules. He blew out a cloud of nicotine and squared his shoulders. “All right great-granny, grandpa or whoever the hell you are. I get it. You don’t want me messing with your relatives. But Lares asked me to give her auntie a peaceful wake, and I intend to make that happen. I’m not going to hurt anyone, but I am going to make them behave. Are you cool with that?”

The house made an ominous settling noise, almost like a growl.

Virgil blew some more smoke at it. “Grumble all you like, but stay out of it. You’ve been warned.” He tossed both cigarette butts into a trash can that sat to one side, and headed back into the house.

Lares had already unpacked her bags and was wrestling a cot out of a closet. He hurried to give her a hand.

“Feeling better now?” she asked, her thoughts radiating disapproval.

“Not really. I’m getting the distinct impression I’m not welcome here.”

“Oh, don’t let Alex rattle you; he’s always been over-protective,” Lares said. “I think he chased off every boyfriend I ever had.”

She thought Alex was the problem? Virgil glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. She really didn’t sense anything from the house. Then again, she was of the bloodline. It probably wouldn’t bother her at all.

He started to unpack his own bags, using some of the desk shelves to hold his clothes. “Alex is a real peach. On behalf of Caucasian males everywhere, I’d like apologize for everything you had to put up with from him.”

“Thanks,” she said, with a wry smile. “I really do appreciate your coming here, Virgil. I know it’s an awful imposition.”

Virgil waved her off. “Nothing I can’t handle, Lar…Sophie,” he said, remembering at the last second not to use her code-name.

He was glad he did, because a moment later a young, curvy brunette sauntered in without so much as knocking. She wore painted-on jeans, a tight sweater, and a look that would have been sultry if he hadn’t been able to read how petty her thoughts were.

“Hello, Soph. I just wanted to let you know you’ll be on the ten o’clock shift to sit with Auntie. Daddy will take over at midnight, if he gets here by then.”

“Thanks. We’ll be out as soon as we finish unpacking,” Lares said, the dismissal obvious in her voice.

Supertramp ignored it and gave Virgil a coy look. “Aren’t you going to introduce me?”

“I’m Virgil,” he said, stepping between the two of them, “and you must be Desiree.”

“That’s right. Dinner will be ready soon.” She looked Virgil up and down, and all but licked her chops before sauntering back out.

Virgil shut the door behind her. “Dare I ask what’s on the menu?”

Lares made a sour face. “I’d watch yourself. She has the fastest hands in the county.”

Virgil shrugged. “I’ve handled worse out in LA. She’d get eaten alive at some of the parties I’ve been to.”

They headed out to the dining room, their footsteps dogged by the angry presence. The words “eaten alive” seemed to hang in Virgil’s mind. He shoved the thought away, along with the dread that came with it. If his co-workers ever got wind of him getting spooked by an old school haunt he’d never live it down…

—–

<–Bloodlines #1   ~~~|||~~~  Bloodlines #3 ->

Bloodlines #1 October 9, 2012

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Virgil wanted to spend the weekend with a grieving family about as much as he wanted his skin flayed off in one inch strips. He glanced over at the woman driving their car, sunglasses hiding the tears welling in her dark brown eyes. If anyone but Lares had asked him to attend a funeral he would have told them how far up their ass they could shove the idea. Forget all those actors playing psychics on TV; real psychics avoided the bereaved like the plague. He had already locked down his empathic sense to the point where it was giving him a headache.

He owed her, though. Their job at the Tactical Paranormal Response Unit was damned dangerous, and she had saved his bacon on more than one occasion. He just wished she had picked some other reason—any other reason—to call in the debt.

Lares guided the car off the highway onto a snow covered exit ramp. The sedan held gamely to the road despite a few icy patches, and they cruised along tree lined streets into a picturesque downtown.

“Aunt Honora’s house was always so pretty in winter time,” she said. “The wake will be held there instead of at a funeral home. She would have wanted it that way.”

Virgil hardened his psy-shields against the flood of emotions that those words had brought out in her. “Didn’t you say her place was haunted?” he said, trying to steer the conversation to a safer topic.

“Yes, but it’s nothing serious. Those ghosts are lightweights compared to the ones we work with.”

Virgil snorted in disbelief. “I’m sure they’re tame as kittens.”

Lares gave him a wan smile. “Ghosts I can handle. I’m more worried about the living. Normally I’d be the one who keeps things civil, but I may be a little distracted.”

“Don’t worry your pretty little head about it. The living I can deal with,” Virgil said, smiling to hide his dismay. Distracted didn’t cover what he was sensing from her. It was more like Issues, with a capital I. And that meant the rest of the family was going to be a disaster waiting to happen. But it was too late to back out now.

As they headed into the hills outside of town the trees leaned over the road, blocking the grey sky from view. Lares made a turn onto a steep, slushy road, and the tires spun as they worked to find traction. She turned into the skid, keeping the car from fishtailing too badly, and Virgil clamped down on his nervous thoughts to keep from projecting anything that might distract her. A few hairy minutes later they made another turn down a long driveway that only had one pair of tire tracks cut into the white blanket of snow.

The first thing Virgil noticed as they pulled up to the house was how oppressively quiet it was. Even with his psy-shields up he always heard the ever-present rush of people’s thoughts around him—thousands of them in a low, endless roar like an ocean tide. Not here. There were only a few faint whispers of thought from deep within the house. He popped open the car door, and the icy cold air hit his lungs in a frozen sucker punch. He wheezed and his breath came out in a white plume. The silence weighed down on everything—the snow laden branches of the pine trees bowed beneath it, and a thick layer of snow and ice sagged down over the eaves of the faded old Victorian, making the house seem to frown at him.

Lares took a deep breath and smiled. “Isn’t it lovely? It’s just like I remembered it.”

Virgil moved to get the bags from the trunk, firmly telling himself that the icicles over the porch did not look like teeth. “Sure, it’s a Hallmark moment waiting to happen.”

He wasn’t sure if Lares had missed the sarcasm or was ignoring it. “Wait till you see the inside,” she said, slinging her purse over her shoulder and heading up the stairs to the porch. “It’s an authentic painted lady, on the register of historic houses. It’s been in our family since the mid-1800s.” She rang the doorbell, and a set of chimes bonged slightly out of key.

“Are the original owners still here?” he asked, giving the brooding façade a wary look.

The door opened before she could answer him. The light that spilled out was cheerful enough, as was the motherly brunette who answered the door. She held it open and simultaneously pulled Lares into a one-armed hug. “Sophie, it’s so good to see you again! I only wish it was under better circumstances.”

Sophie? Virgil filed away that bit of info as he shuffled in after her. He knew that Lares wasn’t her real name, any more than Virgil was his. The Agency always used Greco-Roman code names for their operatives. He just hadn’t realized how little he knew about her, despite all the years they had worked together. He certainly hadn’t known she had any family besides her father, until the call came about her aunt’s death.

He looked over the group waiting for them in the hallway – the deceased’s side of the family was white. Lares took after her father, a soft-spoken southerner who taught foreign languages at a university in Georgia. The guarded looks Virgil got as he lugged their bags inside spoke volumes for how the family felt about Lares’ mixed heritage. He was beginning to see why she didn’t talk about them.

A burly man with a buzz-cut, dressed in fatigue pants and a white t-shirt pushed past a gaggle of kids. “You goin’ to introduce us to your ‘friend’, Soph?”

Virgil caught a quick burst of thoughts from him. ::scruffy blond boy-toy probably slacker/loser Sophie slumming again::

Oh yeah, Virgil thought. This was going to be a fun weekend.

Lares pasted on a false, bright smile. “I’m sorry, Alex, everyone, this is Virgil. He’s my business partner.”

Alex gave Virgil a handshake that was more of a vice-grip than a welcome. “You never did tell us what kind of business you were in.”

The motherly woman let out an exasperated sound. “Alex, we are all upset enough without your macho nonsense. Mother would be ashamed of you, acting like this toward a guest.” She gave Virgil a more polite handshake. “You are very welcome here, Virgil. I’m Linda, Sophie’s cousin. Honora was my and Alex’s mother. Desiree is in the kitchen. She’s Uncle Bryant’s daughter, and he’ll be here later tonight. The three boys there are Alex’s brood, Alex Jr., Danny, and Tommy.”

Virgil quickly memorized the family tree, a trick he had learned in his first career as an actor. He was always amused at how often that early PR training came in handy while working for the government. “Thank you, Linda,” he said, giving her his best Hollywood smile. “I appreciate you letting me stay here for the night, but I don’t want to intrude on your grief. Just show me where to put the bags and I’ll stay out from underfoot. You won’t even know I’m here.” Which was the literal truth. He planned on putting up a psychic no-fly zone around his room to keep the nosy relatives out.

Lares gave him a grateful look as he smoothed things over. “You said I’d have the ground floor bedroom, right, Linda? There’s room for a cot in there, and it won’t be the first time Virgil and I have had to bunk in the same room.”

Virgil sighed inwardly at the dirty look buzz-cut Alex gave him. He was tired, cold, and all he wanted was a freaking cigarette. He had no patience left for a prejudiced rube, and he sent out a telepathic suggestion to make Alex find something else to do.

The reaction was immediate, and not exactly what he had planned. The front door banged open and shut behind him, and shadows danced along the hallway just before the lights flickered and died. Alex cussed about the crappy fuse box and stomped off to find it. His boys whooped and ran into the depths of the house, crashing into things that sounded expensive.

Then again, maybe it wasn’t the boys smashing things. The shadows had not matched the people standing next to them…

A Bit of Paranormal Fun – and a New Serial! October 9, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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Hey everyone!  Halloween is coming soon and, being a huge fan of all things ghostly, I have decided to celebrate my favorite time of year with a brand new serial! Woohoo!  Don’t worry, Nox and Grimm is not going anywhere, that will still post friday nights. 🙂  The new series will post on tuesdays as part of #tuesdayserial,  and will feature the characters from the paranormal espionage novel I’m working on. (Yes, more Virgil!)

So watch this space – Bloodlines #1 premiers tomorrow 🙂

-Angie

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