The release of Bound Spirits is still three months away, but for those of you who are hungry for the next Restless Spirits installment, here’s a look at the cover to wet your whistle. And for an appetizer (…I’m carrying this metaphor too far, aren’t I?) scroll down to read the first chapter!
“What are we doing here?” Chris Wilson looked at her boyfriend and waited for an explanation, unable to make his face out in the darkness. Even if the street light behind him didn’t make him impossible to see clearly from this angle, his face would have been partially hidden by the video camera he had trained on her.
“What do you think?” Derek Brandt fiddled with the camera settings as he spoke. “This is a notoriously haunted location. Allegedly.”
“Yeah, a little too notorious,” Gus, the team’s tech guru, called from the edge of the parking lot as he walked the perimeter, taking readings of the temperature and electromagnetic field activity. “The Hex House is one of the first stops for every teenager wanting to scare his girlfriend and every amateur ghost hunter in the tri-state area. This isn’t exactly new to us.”
“Well, it is to me, and to my channel.” Derek stepped toward Chris. The whine of the zoom lens warned her it was time for her closeup. “Now say hello to the YouTubers, beautiful.”
She gave him a wary look. He lowered the camera, but it didn’t make his face easier to see. Still, she could hear the exasperation in his voice. “Chris, come on.”
“Gus is right, you know. This place might have been haunted once, but I think the spirits have moved on. I’ve never run into anything here. It’s just an empty parking lot.”
“Yeah, an empty parking lot on top of a basement where women were enslaved with some kind of voodoo magic. You’re telling me there’s nothing?”
“Sorry, babe. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
“What about you, Gus? Are you getting anything?”
“Nada,” he called from across the lot.
Derek sighed. But rather than calling it quits, he raised the camera. “Well, we’re here. We might as well make the most of it.”
Chris suppressed the urge to suggest they pack it in and go get pancakes. She knew this was important to him and wanted to be supportive. After all, the man had tanked a promising career in TV journalism for her. She owed it to him to help him salvage his career through his YouTube channel. Besides, that dogged determination of his was one of the things she loved about him. “Fine. What do you want me to do?”
“Talk about this place. Tell the viewers what happened here.”
“All right.” She chewed her bottom lip, thinking of what to say before putting on her best announcer voice. “This parking lot was once the site of an old mansion-turned-duplex known affectionately as the ‘Hex House.’ In the 1940s, it was the center of a local scandal when Carolann Smith, the middle-aged woman who lived here with two younger women, was discovered to be keeping the two of them prisoner in her basement.
“Bizarrely, the women would leave and go to their jobs every day, but always return to their basement prison as though the mistress of the house had some kind of Svengali-like hold over them. They even signed all their paychecks over to her. They lived on rations and slept on orange crates while she lived in luxury. When the police finally raided her home, they found furs, expensive clothing, and cosmetics—even a new car.
“After her scheme was discovered and the women were rescued, they claimed that Smith had also beaten them regularly for ‘religious purification.’ Along with a house full of luxury items, authorities also found books on mesmerism, magic, and the occult.
“The house stood vacant until it was demolished in the seventies. The basement still exists underneath this parking lot. It doesn’t get a lot of use now, but back when it was used regularly, people reported car lights turning on and off on their own, horns going off at random, and just a general spooky vibe.”
“What about now?” asked Derek.
“Now?” Chris looked around. “If anyone—or anything—was ever trapped here, I’m pretty sure they’ve moved on.” She shrugged. “It’s just a parking lot.”
“I’d say it’s more than that.”
“Really? What would you say, then?”
“I’d say it’s a local legend.”
Chris smiled. “Guess I can’t argue with that.”
“All right.” Derek lowered the camera. “Let’s call that a wrap.” He let the camera hang from the strap around his shoulder and moved in closer. Chris turned, making him turn with her until the street light illuminated that handsome face she loved so much. “Have I told you that you’re a natural at this?”
“Pfft. I’m a total dork. I don’t know why you insist on pointing that thing at me.”
“Stop it. The camera loves you.” He grinned. “And so do I.”
She couldn’t help grinning back at him as he leaned in to steal a kiss. Although it couldn’t exactly be called stolen when she gave so freely.
Chris and Derek both groaned as they reluctantly broke apart. Chris looked over at Gus. “What?”
“Sorry. You know how much I hate to interrupt when you’re having smoochies. But I’m actually getting something over here.”
“Really?” Chris hurried over. Derek followed, turning the camera back on. “What have you got?”
“Electromagnetic field’s off the charts in this spot.” He held the meter out so she could watch the needle dance. “And does it feel colder to you?”
“Yeah, now that you mention it.” She hugged herself and rubbed her arms.
Gus pocketed the EMF reader and pulled out a thermometer. He walked back a few paces, waving the wand in the air. “A balmy sixty-eight degrees.” He returned to where Chris stood and held out the wand next to her. “Only forty-two.”
“Do you see anything?” Derek asked her.
She squinted around at the darkened lot. “Nope. But I’m starting to get a sense of…” She trailed off, too busy concentrating on the sensation to find a word for it.
“A general spooky vibe?” Derek supplied.
“Gus, get the audio recorder. Let’s get some EVP.”
Gus hurried back to the van. Chris continued to scan her surroundings. “Hello? Is anyone here?”
“Wait for Gus.”
She shook her head. “I don’t have a great feeling about this.”
Derek lowered the camera. “Do you want to quit?”
“No. I want to know what’s here. Nobody actually died here, as far as we know. So if it’s haunted, who’s haunting it?” She refrained from vocalizing the rest of her question. Or what?
“Wasn’t this lady also suspected of killing some people for the life insurance money?”
“Yeah, but nothing was proven. And they didn’t die here, even if she did murder them.”
Derek looked reluctant to share whatever he was thinking.
“Come on, what is it?”
“Maybe we’re dealing with whatever helped that woman control her prisoners.”
A chill ran up Chris’s spine as she let that sink in. “That’s not a very pleasant thought.”
“No, it’s not. Maybe we should get out of here.”
“And have your channel subscribers miss all the action?”
“Right now, I don’t care about my subscribers. I care about seeing you safe.”
“I can handle myself, Brandt. Here comes Gus. Start the camera.”
“Come on!” She gave him a look that brooked no argument as Gus returned with a digital voice recorder and a parabolic microphone. At Derek’s nod, she tried again. “Is anyone here?” She waited a moment. Nothing happened. “If you’re here, all you have to do is speak up. I can hear you. I can see you, too, if you’d like to show yourself to me. I might be able to help you move on from this place.”
Still nothing. Chris sighed and shook her head. She took out her phone and turned on the flashlight. “There are a lot of power lines running through here.” She shined her light on them. “Those could be throwing Gus’s readings off.”
“What about your spooky feeling?” asked Derek.
“That too, actually. High electromagnetic activity can cause feelings of wariness and paranoia. Not to mention headaches and nausea.” She shrugged. “Mystery solved.”
“But what about the temperature change?”
Before she could think of an answer, the lights on their van suddenly turned on. The three of them turned toward it as one. The lights began to blink.
Derek aimed the camera at the van. “Are the power lines doing that, too?”
Chris ignored him. “Why don’t you come here and talk to me?” she called to the entity. As if in response, the horn blared. Shouting to be heard over the racket, she asked, “Do you want us to leave?”
The horn fell silent. The blinking stopped.
“Okay. We can take a hint. Let’s get out of here, guys.”
“Wait. That’s it? We’re just leaving?”
“Do you want to stick around and see what happens if that thing gets angry?”
“No,” he said. Then, “Well, kinda.” At her look, he lowered the camera and turned it off. “No, you’re right. Let’s go.”
The three of them filed into the Village Inn. They didn’t have to wait to be seated. At a quarter past one in the morning, the place was well past the dinner rush and not yet inundated with the post-bar and club crowd. They barely had time to slide into a booth next to the front window before a waitress handed them each a menu.
Chris handed hers right back. “I know what I want.”
“All righty.” The waitress, whose name tag identified her as Vanessa, tucked the menu under her arm and whipped out her pad and pen. “What’ll it be?”
“I’ll have the Ultimate Breakfast.”
Derek also handed back his menu. “I think I’m more in the mood for a cheeseburger.”
“Fries or coleslaw?”
Everyone looked at Gus, who sat bent over his open menu. He glanced up at the waitress. “I’m gonna need a few minutes.”
“Gus!” Chris didn’t even try to hide her exasperation. “You always do this, and you always end up getting the patty melt.”
“Something else might look good to me this time.”
She reached over and grabbed his menu, eliciting a “Hey!” from him as she handed it to the waitress. “He’ll have the patty melt.”
Vanessa quirked an eyebrow at him. “You sure, sugar?”
“Yeah.” Defeat weighted his voice and made it come out sulky. “It’s fine.”
“All righty, then. One patty melt, one cheeseburger with fries, and one ultimate breakfast, coming right up.”
“What’s got you so cranky?” he asked Chris after she left.
“I’m not cranky. I’m just not in the mood for your usual nonsense.”
He pointed at her. “See, that’s cranky.”
“You do seem a little on edge,” said Derek.
Chris rolled her eyes. “I’m not cranky. I’m hungry and I don’t want to wait an extra five minutes so Gus can read the entire menu before he decides to get another frickin’ patty melt!”
“Okay, you’re right,” said Gus. “That’s not cranky. That’s actually called ‘hangry.’”
Chris took the paper tube off of her straw, crumpled it up, and threw it at him. It smacked him right between the eyes.
“Guys.” Derek’s tone was that of a parent calling down a pair of unruly kids. He turned to Chris. “Are you sure that’s all that’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong.” She met his stern gaze and sighed. “Fine. I just hate to lose, is all.”
“What are you talking about? Tonight went great! The footage we got—”
“It’s not about getting great footage.” As his brow furrowed, she hurried to add, “Look, I know the footage is important. Your channel’s important. I’m not saying it’s not. But you know that’s not why I do this. I do it to help people.”
“I know that. But not everybody wants to be helped.”
Chris thought about it a moment, then sighed. “Whatever we were dealing with back there, I doubt it was even human.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because human spirits are usually glad to show themselves. They’re grateful for someone to talk to, and they do want my help.”
“Maybe. Scottie Tucker sure didn’t.”
Chris drummed her fingers on the table while she considered this. “Scottie Tucker was terrified for his mom. As soon as he knew she’d be safe, though, he was happy to have us pass on a message to her.”
“There’s another explanation,” said Gus. “One that you guys never seem to think of.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
Gus turned his gaze from Derek to Chris. “Your sister’s messing with us.”
“What?” Christine grabbed Derek’s empty straw wrapper and launched it at Gus. “Shut up. Ron wouldn’t do that.”
“Sure she would. She used to play practical jokes on me all the time back before she kicked the bucket.”
“Come on, man,” said Derek. “That’s not—”
“Ron wouldn’t do that,” Chris repeated, enunciating carefully. “Besides, she can do a lot of things, but she can’t hide from me.”
“You sure about that?”
“Yes. Anyway, she had plans tonight or she would have tagged along.”
“What kind of plans does a ghost have on a Friday night? Other than interfering with our investigation for kicks and giggles?”
“I don’t know. I don’t pry into her afterlife. Whatever it was, I’m sure it included Joe.”
“All right, look,” said Derek. “Let’s just listen to sound recordings to see if we picked up any EVP. You brought it in, right?”
Gus nodded and patted the duffel back on the bench next to him.
“Okay, then. Maybe we got something that can help shed some light on whatever it was we encountered tonight.”
While they pulled out devices and headphones and searched for an outlet for Gus’s laptop, Chris let her gaze drift to the window. A homeless man caught her attention as he shuffled along in the parking lot. Tall and skinny with a long salt-and-pepper beard, he reminded her of an even more grizzled and tattered version of Phil Robertson. She watched him, wondering if she should leave him some of her leftovers in a take home box or whether it would be better to pay for a meal and have a waiter take it out to him.
Suddenly, she realized he was looking back at her, the intensity of his gaze startling her. She turned back to her companions, who were arguing over the settings on Gus’s audio program. Looking back at the window, she screamed as she came face to face with the man pressed up against the glass.
Derek ripped off his headphones. “What is it? Are you okay?”
“It’s nothing. This guy just startled me.”
Derek glanced at the window, then back at her. “What guy?”
“Ah. Of course.” As she spoke, the man in question started to melt through the window. “Oh, come on. Please don’t do that.”
“Do what?” asked Derek.
“He—” Before she could finish, the ghost straightened up abruptly, turned, and shuffled away from the window in the opposite direction. “Never mind. He’s leaving. I should probably go talk to him.”
“This is a ghost thing, right?”
“Right. I…” She trailed off as she spotted what had gotten Dead Phil’s attention. He had stopped to talk to a petite young woman with short, blonde curls. Very familiar curls. “What the…”
“What is it?”
“I’ll be right back.” Chris got up from the table and headed out to the parking lot. Making her way across the lot, she kept her eyes on the ghostly pair. The blonde spoke animatedly to the transient.
Chris had almost reached them when the homeless ghost shuffled away, fading from sight as he went. The blonde watched him go with a grin on her face. Her smile grew brighter as she finally noticed Chris approaching. “Hey, sis! What are you doing here?”
“You just stole my line. Ron, did you follow us here?”
“What? No. It’s a total coincidence.”
“You know I don’t believe in coincidences. Why are you here?”
Her sister’s spirit let out an exasperated huff of non-breath. “I had some news for Burt. He asked me to check up on his estranged daughter.”
Ron jerked her chin in the direction Dead Phil had disappeared. “I saw him approaching you the other night when I tagged along on that taco run and I headed him off at the pass.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Why would I? It was nothing I couldn’t handle. Anyway, he agreed to meet me here tonight to find out what I learned.”
Chris felt a little ashamed of her suspicion. Ron could sometimes be a meddler, but her heart was always in the right place. And ever since Chris’s abduction last spring, Ron and her partner Joe were more protective than ever. They’d been running interference with the spirits who came to Chris for help so she could recover and focus on her new relationship with Derek. Chris appreciated the help.
“Is there anything I can help with?” she asked.
“Nope, it’s handled. You should go back to Derek. He’s probably wondering why you’re out here talking to yourself.”
“Derek can wait a minute. I just need to ask…” She bit her lip. Ron was out here doing something nice for her. Still, Gus made her wonder… “You weren’t out at the Hex House lot tonight, were you?”
“No. Why would I be?”
“No reason.” She waved away the notion. “It’s just… something was out there—”
“Really? I thought that place was all tapped out.”
“I did too, but something showed up. It wouldn’t show itself, but Derek got some good footage for his next video, so that’s something. Anyway, Gus is convinced that you were there messing with us.”
“Yeah, well, Gus can go ahead and—”
Chris’s back pocket rang before Ron could finish her instructions for Gus, which Chris doubted she’d want to deliver anyway. She held up a finger and pulled out her phone, expecting Derek to be calling to see what was taking her so long. Her surprise at the caller ID filled her voice as she said, “It’s Dad.”
Ron’s eyes widened. “This late? I hope everything’s okay.”
Chris answered. “Hey, Dad. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” Drew Wilson’s voice crackled with static. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, I thought you’d be in bed. I was going to leave a voice mail.”
“Well, I’m up, so I guess you can just tell me why you called.”
“Marsha and I were wondering if you had any plans tomorrow night. We’re heading up there in the morning and were hoping we could all have dinner. Derek too, if he’s available.”
Chris winced. She’d love to see her dad, but dinner with his girlfriend was always a torturous affair. Still, she couldn’t think of a good excuse. “Sure. I mean, I’ll have to check with him, but I can do dinner. Just tell me when and where.”
“What about your place?”
Chris paused and looked at Ron, who looked back at her questioningly. “My place? Really?”
“Sure. You’ve been bugging me to come see that house of yours.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s just…you’ve never…”
“I think it’s time. Besides, Marsha and I have some news, and it’s not really something I want to announce in a crowded restaurant.”
“News? What kind of news?”
“Nothing bad. You’ll find out tomorrow night. Listen, I’ve got to get off and wrap some things up so I can turn in. We’ve got to get an early start tomorrow. We should be to your place by seven, if that works for you.”
“Um, okay. Yeah. I’ll see you then.”
“Great. Now get to bed, kiddo. Love you.” He hung up without waiting for a reply. Chris stared at her phone, feeling slightly ambushed.
“What’s going on?”
Chris looked from the phone to her sister. “Dad’s coming over for dinner tomorrow night.”
“He’s coming to the house? Really?”
“Yeah. He said it’s time.”
Ron’s eyebrows crawled up into her bangs. “What does that mean? Time for what?”
“Time to face where you died, maybe?”
“I doubt that.” As usual, Ron was dismissive of the idea that their father grieved her passing in any way. “He probably just means it’s time to get over himself and come see where his only daughter lives. And he’s right about that.”
“Anyway, he’s bringing Marsha, so you’ll finally get to see what she’s like.”
“Not unless she comes up to the attic, I won’t. I think Joe and I will just keep out of the way.”
“That’s not necessary.” Chris glanced at the phone. “He said they have news.”
“Good news or bad news?”
“He said it’s not bad, but that could be subjective.”
“You don’t think… I mean, they’ve been together a while now. Do you think—”
Chris held up a hand to cut her off. “Don’t say it.”
“But you’re thinking it.”
“I’m trying not to think about it.”
“What else could it be?”
“I don’t know. Lots of things. Maybe Dad won the lottery, or got a new job. Or maybe they got a new puppy.”
Ron smiled. “You’re cute when you’re in denial.”
“Yeah, well.” Chris pocketed her phone. “I’m going back in to tell Derek. If you won’t be there for moral support, at least he will.”
“And you can tell me all about our new step-mommy-to-be in the morning,” Ron called after her as she went back inside.
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