Alexandra Yorke is one of a few trusted clairvoyants working with police on murder cases, but she has a secret. She isn’t a clairvoyant, she’s a witch unlike any other she has ever met. For years she has struggled to control her gifts and the very real ghosts of her past, but years living inside one serial killer’s head after another has taken its toll. She has reached the end of the road.
Barely able to control her gifts any longer, Alex retreats from the world to live at her grandparents farm where she grew up. Seclusion is her answer, but the world will not leave her alone.
A few months of peace is all she has before a friend calls her in need of help and Alex can’t say no. A body has been found, and evidence points to a connection with witches. Who is it that everyone just knows is a witch? Why, that strange woman who just moved back from the big city of course.
What a coincidence!
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I love all kinds of fiction, and I hadn’t written a book like this before. I stumbled upon The Psychic Eye series by Victoria Laurie and found myself intrigued by the whole clairvoyant thing. I wanted to write something as good, but it had to be different, so I wrote Rune Gate and its sequel Chosen.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I never like this question because the answer just sounds so lame. I don’t base any of my characters on real people as readers seem to expect. For example, all of my soldiers in the Merkiaari Wars series are completely made up. The only real soldiers I know are fans of the series who contact me via email. I had a submariner get in touch once!
So the answer is… I just make them up. I usually have a beginning scene and an ending in my head. The middle just springs from these as I write. I put people into really sticky situations and let them stumble around in my head for a while, and from that characters and books are born. I’m a pantser. I rarely write outlines. They come into play only when (or if) I get stuck, but not otherwise.
1 ~ Murder Most Foul
Alexandra Yorke peered pensively through the windscreen into the night beyond. The radio played something cheerful, but Alex hardly noticed. She glanced at the slip of paper on the passenger seat beside her, but the directions were simple and she remembered them well enough.
Drive southwest on Horse Lake Road to the junction, turn south toward Susanville and keep going for five or six miles to Blake’s Ranch.
She knew the roads and didn’t need a map; she had grown up in Lassen County. Old man Blake’s place was something of a landmark, just as hers was. She rounded another curve in the road and the strobing lights of a half dozen police cruisers came into view. The cars all pointed roughly the same way—up a steep embankment. Alex couldn’t see anyone to direct her in the dark, but the cruisers’ headlights provided a clue. Most of them pointed into the sky where frustrated drivers, unable to mount the embankment, had abandoned the vehicles. Others shone into the wood that Alex assumed was her destination.
Alex pulled her truck, rattling and groaning, off the highway and onto the hard shoulder. She downshifted, gunned the old engine, and with a roar the truck eased up the slope. The rear tyres fought for traction on wet ground and she feared her truck might join the forlorn looking police cruisers, but it was made of sterner stuff. It gained the height of the embankment, wheels spinning all the way, and eased onto the level ground beyond. She grinned and patted the dash affectionately. Her grin died when she remembered why there were so many police vehicles with their strobing lights still whirling atop their roofs like some kind of funfair ride.
There would be no fun here tonight.
Deputy Jennifer Hale had awoken her in the night and asked her to come out here. That had been less than an hour ago. Jenn wouldn’t answer her questions, but that hardly mattered. She knew what it meant being called out like this.
“I should have said no. Why can’t I ever say no?”
She knew why. No matter how it scared her, no matter how unwanted this… this thing inside her was, it was inside her. She couldn’t ignore it; she had tried. The result had been far worse than she could possibly have imagined, and she had a very good imagination—unfortunately. No, nightmares or not, Sheriff bloody Edwards or not, she couldn’t refuse Jenn the help she needed.
Alex parked her truck as close to the scene as she could. Cops stood all round, staring into the trees in silence, and that wasn’t good in her experience. Whatever the trees contained must be bad. No murder was ever good, but there were degrees of bad on the Yorke Scale of Badness. From what she could see, this was going to be about a nine-point-oh on the YSB.
“Shit,” she muttered and tried to calm herself in readiness for what she was going to see, and go on seeing for the next few nights in her dreams.
She opened the door and stepped into a muddy puddle. Perfect. She ignored the cold water flooding into her shoes, and slammed the door of her truck. She always had to slam it to make it stay shut, but this time she wished she’d let Harry take a shot at fixing it the other day. The noise drew everyone’s attention. She frantically tried to shut out the voices bombarding her from every side. The hush was unbroken—no one spoke—yet everyone did. In her mind.
She had known what to expect. Their wants, their needs, their dreams and emotions, battered her defences in an unceasing flood. Like a wave at the beach, it crashed down upon her, drowning her, but she was still there. Like a pillar of rock she endured, ever there, ever strong. It came again but with less power this time. She was stone, hard and unyielding. The third time was almost gentle like a brief surge in the tide welcoming her back. She wasn’t fooled. She didn’t let it touch the real her. She gave it stone. It withdrew into that ocean of background noise that she had lived with since a child of nine had awoken screaming in the night about the bad man. She closed her eyes, took a shuddering breath, and shored up her weakened defences. She was the rock, ever there, ever strong.
She would endure.
Alex opened her eyes to find a baby-faced police officer in a smokey-bear hat watching her. His badge gleamed, and the reflected light flashing in time with the whirling police lights almost mesmerised her. Above his pocket a shiny brass bar tag displayed his name: Meeks.
“No civilians allowed on the scene, ma’am.”
Sheriff bloody Edwards and his stupid games. Her hands fisted deep in her coat pockets. “Jenn… I mean Deputy Hale called me. She asked me to come.”
Meeks frowned. “Hale called you? Why would she… you’re Alex Yorke?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I was told not to let you pass. Didn’t you get her message?”
She shook her head. “Tomas told you not to let me pass?”
Meeks nodded. “Sheriff Edwards’ orders, ma’am.”
“Would you let Jenn know I’m here at least, just in case?”
Meeks pursed his lips doubtfully and Alex feared he was about to refuse. That was the excuse she offered herself for what she did next. Even then, she knew it wasn’t much of one, and would berate herself later for giving in to temptation. She opened herself to the web and pushed. His life thread hummed gently in her mind. Meeks froze for a timeless moment.
“He…” Meeks blinked rapidly as her influence hit him. “I can do that, ma’am. Sure. But I don’t think he will let you over there.”
Alex’s polite smile was barely there. “Thank you, Deputy.”
Meeks nodded and with a puzzled frown, he walked away into the trees.
Alex watched him leave, feeling more in control of things and better able to begin what she came here to do. Her eyes surveyed the area, seeing men and women in uniform, but her Sight—the ability that let her perceive things outside most people’s awareness—was a different matter. It showed her multi-coloured threads of light connected to the web of life that was the Earth. If she had been interested, she could have followed it into the trees, across the landscape all the way back to the farm where Katy, her cat, lay in attentive silence before the front door awaiting her return. She paused briefly, letting herself sample the threads of those standing nearby, and the thoughts that inevitably came with her tinkering washed over her.
I hate this god damned waiting…
Edwards couldn’t find his butt with both hands. I could’ve been sheriff if I wanted…
She looks mighty fine…
Alex smiled at the officer when she realised it was her he was thinking of. Compliments were nice even if never voiced aloud.
…for a witch that is. With those eyes and that face, she could have been a model. I’ve seen worse…
Alex scowled. She didn’t like people calling her a witch. Wicca was her religion, not witchcraft, but it was her own fault for being nosy. If she hadn’t wanted to hear what he thought of her, she shouldn’t have been listening. It wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t shield his public mind—few people could—that’s why she had to shield herself from everyone. Murder was an emotive thing. It brought all kinds of thoughts, dreams, and fears out into the open.
All kinds of things.
It’s time to tell her I know she’s pregnant. I’m going to marry her and I ain’t taking no for an answer this time. Oh god, what if she says no? What will I do without her?
Alex moved on, trying to listen only to those thoughts pertaining to the crime. There wasn’t much and that surprised her, but it shouldn’t have. She already knew that whatever lay among the trees was bad. They were all trying their best not to think about it.
Jenn and Tomas were approaching her through the trees. She had known them too long to mistake their life threads. Jenn was upset. Alex could feel it even from here. Tomas felt cold as he always did these days. He was upset too, but in a different way; he was so cold, he burned. Alex flinched when her probe touched him. She pulled back, trying not to let her shock show on her face, but still hearing his thoughts despite her effort to shut him out.
Stone. A stone wall like the one at the old mill. Thick and strong and unbreakable. What if she can still hear me? The wall. Think about the wall dammit! Stone… stone… stone… stone… stone!
She turned to face Tomas, catching him by surprise, and he crashed to a halt before her. Despite his attempt at shutting her out, she had felt him approaching. His thread snagged those around him, trying to draw them in. Wherever he went, he drew eyes. Call it charisma, call it good looks, it didn’t matter. His thread simply attracted others. She could have picked him out of a crowd thousands strong. Out here, it was as easy as breathing.
Alex exchanged a nod with Jenn. “I came as soon as you called, Jenn.”
Jenn grimaced and glanced at Tomas. “Yeah, thanks. I’m sorry to bring you out like this. I thought you might be able to help us, but…”
Tomas glared at Jenn, but shared it with Alex. “But you’re going home right now. Jenn called you in without my permission. No civilians allowed, and that goes double and triple for you.”
“Tom, she can help!” Jenn protested. It sounded like something she had said more than once tonight. “You know what she can do.”
“I don’t believe in that shit!” Tomas snarled.
Alex laughed. “Then why are you showing me that wall? I’ve seen it before, you know. We used to play there as kids.”
He paled. “Keep out of my mind!”
Alex shrugged. “I’m not in it. I don’t peek, you know that, but if you insist on shouting at me, I can’t help hearing it.”
“I’m not shouting.”
“In your head you are,” she said and sighed. She shouldn’t have to explain this again. He knew about her abilities as much as anyone did. “If you want to hide from me, just don’t think about it. I can’t see what you don’t want me to see.”
Tomas scowled, but he stopped shouting about his damned wall.
It wasn’t strictly true that she couldn’t see what people didn’t want her to see, but it was close enough to the truth to cause her only a twinge of guilt. She never deep scanned, so she could honestly say she only heard what people broadcast publicly to her.
“Fine,” Tomas snapped. “You don’t peek, but you’re still going.”
“Okay?” he said suspiciously. “Just okay?”
“Sure. You don’t want me here. I don’t want me here. Believe me when I say I don’t need more nightmares. When the next body turns up, you can call me. Better yet, don’t call me. I really don’t need another corpse in my head.”
Alex turned away, not listening as Jenn tried to reason with him. She climbed into the truck and started the engine then looked over her shoulder, preparing to reverse back to the highway.
Tomas knocked on her window.
Alex revved the engine and started backing. He slapped her window, hard enough to make it rattle in the frame. Damn, she should have moved faster. She rolled the window down still revving the engine in annoyance.
“Alex, I don’t want you here—”
She revved the engine again.
“—you don’t want to see it, believe me!” Tomas shouted over the noise.
“I can’t hear you!” she yelled, revving the engine again.
“Turn the damn motor off!”
Tomas reached through the window for the keys and the motor died. “I said turn that damn thing off and listen to me! You haven’t changed at all have you? All this time in the big city and you’re still the arrogant little bitch you always were. You still think the world can’t touch you. Well you’re wrong, dammit!”
“You finished?” Alex said coldly and reached for the keys.
Tomas grabbed her hand.
She flinched, trying to block him out, but the contact created a bridge between them. She saw a face crying tears of blood, a huge tree looming over her in the shadows, and blood… so much blood on the ground. Worse than those grisly and disjointed images, she saw again the night she told him what she was, what she could do. She saw again his fear and felt her despair when he rejected her. Tomas’ face paled as he relived that night with her.
Alex wrenched her hand free. “Don’t touch me!” she screamed. “Don’t ever touch me!” She panted, her senses reeling. Tomas had breached her defences so easily it left her dizzy and sick. She forced her thoughts back to the pillar of rock. Tomas’ thoughts slammed against it, but she was stone—hard and unyielding. Ever there, ever strong. “Don’t ever touch me again,” she whispered.
“My god. That was… you were…” Tomas took a deep breath and stilled his shaking. “What’s happened to you? It’s gotten worse, hasn’t it?”
“What would you know about it?” she said, spitting the words in his face.
Tomas’ face darkened. “Nothing. Only that never happened when we… when we made love.”
“Didn’t it? I can’t remember.”
His lips tightened and he looked away, unable to meet her eyes.
She felt warmed and savagely pleased by his reaction. She wanted him hurt. If there were any justice in the world, her lie would have hurt him as much as he had hurt her. He broke her heart all those years ago, broke it so badly she had been celibate ever since, not daring to risk herself again.
Tomas sighed and muttered something under his breath. “I didn’t want you here, Alex. I still don’t, but Jenn’s right. I do need you. I hate it, but I need what you can do.”
Alex squeezed her eyes shut. She should leave. She was unsettled and his touch had weakened her defences. She should leave, but she knew she wouldn’t. The next one to die would be her fault if she didn’t do all she could here. She reached to open the door, but Tomas opened it for her. She stepped out of the truck and found herself being watched again, all eyes were turned her way. They had heard her scream at their sheriff, and although they didn’t know what it was about, they were speculating freely. She shook her head tiredly when she realised that most of them thought it was a lover’s quarrel. Sometimes it felt like everyone in the county knew they had once been an item.
“It’s this way,” Tomas said, reaching for her arm.
Alex flinched back and nearly fell in her haste to get away.
Tomas lowered his hand slowly to his side. She sidestepped him and made for the tree line. There was a short silence and then two pairs of feet following—Jenn and Tomas.
Alex walked into the trees a short way, then turned to her friend. “You know, Jenn, I was surprised when you told me where to meet you.”
Jenn cocked her head to one side. “Why?”
“Aren’t we out of your jurisdiction?”
Jenn shook her head.
“We have joint jurisdiction with State,” Tomas said. “Have done for two years now. Alice… the Mayor helped push it through.”
Tomas nodded. “A lot’s happened since you’ve been gone, Alex. Anyway, Blake called us so this one’s all ours. I have to keep the staties informed, but that’s no hardship. I just fax a report once a week and they do the same for me about their cases. It works. If I need their help on something or vice-versa there’s always the phone.”
“Sounds refreshing,” Alex said mockingly.
Tomas frowned. “Refreshing?”
“No pissing contests.”
Jenn chuckled, but sobered quickly. “We got the call a couple of hours ago. Old man Blake said he saw a light through the trees. Thought it might be a trespasser. You know how he is.”
Alex nodded. “A couple of hours and you’re still out here?”
Jenn shrugged. “I couldn’t find anything at first.”
“You were the first on scene?”
“Yeah. I talked to Blake to see what he knew, and then came out here to check his fences. It was so dark that I didn’t expect to find anything. Blake said he saw a light in the trees, but it was gone when I got here. I scouted around and found… it.”
“Man or woman?” Alex asked, stepping carefully over tree roots.
“Woman,” Jenn said using a tree to steady herself as she navigated the same roots.
“Anyone missing from town?”
“Thank god, no,” Tomas said like a prayer. “She’s not local, just passing through would be my guess. I have someone checking the motels and guest houses. We won’t know much until tomorrow or the next day.”
Alex pursed her lips. Nothing they had said told her why she was here. “I don’t usually get called in unless something is seriously weird…” She stopped when she saw it. “Oh.”
“Yeah,” they said together.
Alex had been wrong. This went way beyond nine-point-oh on the YSB. It might be time to raise the upper limit again because this was a ten on anyone’s scale. The woman had been bound naked to a tree. That was bad enough, but what had been done to her was nothing short of weird; sick as well, but weird.
Alex clamped a fist of iron around her emotions and clinically studied the scene. She noted the body bag and stretcher waiting to receive the victim. Two EMTs waited nearby. Their eyes wandered toward the tree then drifted guiltily away. They made Alex angry just being here, witness to the woman’s degradation. It wasn’t their fault that they were here. Alex was sure they didn’t want to be, but still it made her angry. No one had cut the poor thing down, and that was her fault for taking so long in coming.
“Has anyone touched her?” she asked, the pity she tried to hide was evident in her hushed voice.
Jenn shook her head. “I kept everyone away, Alex. I didn’t need to check for a pulse.”
“No, I don’t suppose so,” Alex agreed.
A photographer stood with the EMTs. No doubt he had already performed his job by recording everything in all its gory detail. A little to one side two women stood with a man all wearing white coveralls. She knew who they were—CSI. They glared at Alex, looking really pissed. Jenn or Tomas—she was betting on Jenn—had kept them off the scene. Their equipment remained unused at their feet. The team leader was a man she knew only slightly. Eric Radford; he didn’t like her much, but that was okay. She didn’t like him either.
“Sheriff!” Radford stomped angrily toward them, but Tomas raised a hand and Radford halted at a distance, scowling. “You’re risking this entire investigation! Evidence is being destroyed while my team cools its heels waiting for this… charlatan to do her mumbo jumbo!”
“Charlatan?” Alex said with a sweet smile. “I thought I was a witch.”
“Alex, shut up,” Tomas said in a tired voice. “This won’t take five minutes, Eric. You can bear with me for that long, can’t you?”
Radford’s face reddened. “Have I got a choice?”
“No actually.” Tomas turned away and ushered Alex along.
“I’ll be watching!” Radford yelled at their backs. “It’s all going in my report!”
Tomas sighed. “I guess I’ll have another visit from the mayor to look forward to then.”
Jenn laughed quietly.
Alex stopped about ten feet from the tree. “Where are her eyes?”
“Can’t find ‘em. Probably won’t until we catch the sick bastard,” Tomas grated.
Tomas nodded. “That would be my guess. It happens more than you would think. A lot of killers take something from the victim. Not like this, but something; jewellery maybe, or a piece of clothing.”
Alex had a degree in criminal psychology, but Tomas had never taken her studies seriously, not even when they were together. She’d had some police training too while living in L.A. On the job training, you might say, but that didn’t make her cop enough for him. All serial murders had things in common, like trophy taking. It was premature calling this case part of a serial murder because it was the first one…
Alex frowned. Tomas hadn’t wanted to call her in. “This is the first one I take it?”
Jenn nodded. “This is the first. Things have been quiet until now.”
“Why?” Tomas asked suspiciously. “You know something. What?”
“Whoever did this has killed before,” Alex said. It was obvious the moment she saw the victim. “You know the pattern, Tom. A first time murderer almost always kills in the heat of the moment. The murder is unplanned, often triggered by a family argument. The victim is usually the wife or husband of the killer. But this, this was planned. She wasn’t killed and dumped here. She was brought here alive then mutilated in a ritualistic way. He’s done this before; I guarantee it. He’s too good; he knew exactly what he was doing. He had the rope already prepared for tying her to the tree, and her clothes aren’t here. He took them with him to hide evidence. That would be my guess.”
Alex circled the tree, noting the ropes had been cut neatly and tied in the same way using a complicated knot that she didn’t recognise. The woman had been tortured, but she hadn’t bled to death. Alex doubted the killer was merely interested in inflicting pain; he had been working some kind of ritual. He took his victim’s heart; probably last of all.
“The heart?” Alex said, searching the ground nearby.
“Not here,” Jenn said. “You’re thinking, what, some kind of pagan ritual?”
“Witches?” Tomas said eagerly, snatching at any lead that might help.
She flinched. “Not the kind you’re thinking of. A practicing Wiccan would be just as horrified by this as we are, probably more so. Wicca is a religion, Tom. It has very little to do with the myths of evil witches casting spells on people.”
Tomas scowled at his boots, not arguing but obviously not going to agree either. “Not witches. Satanic then?”
Alex completed her circuit of the tree and stopped to examine some of the cuts on the body. “No, I don’t think so. These signs, I haven’t seen anything quite like them before, but I feel as if I should know them.”
She closed her eyes and reached out with her senses as she circled the tree again. The first thing she noticed was the complete lack of life in the tree. It was dead, yet if she opened her eyes, she would still see green leaves on its branches. It was summer and the forest was green, yet she knew if she came back here in a few days the tree would have bare branches. What could kill a three hundred year old tree overnight? Its roots went deep. She followed its dull and lifeless thread into the ground and gasped at what she found. Its thread had been severed from the web! How? She hadn’t known that was possible. Nothing could snap a thread like this, not even death. Death was part of the never-ending cycle of life and therefore part of nature and the web. She stopped in front of the woman and slowly reached out to touch her.
Alex stiffened as the woman’s essence flowed into her, bringing with it a numbing cold and the scent of vanilla. Fragmentary memories flashed before her eyes, and ghostly voices whispered in her ears. Most of all, she felt a terrible sense of loss.
“Alex, are you all right?” Jenn asked.
Her name was Sharon Brydon and she had lived in Leavitt her entire life. She worked behind the counter of the local bar and grill. She was saving her college tuition and planned to major in psychiatry. Her parents were so proud of her and Tony said…
Alex flinched away from Sharon’s memories of her boyfriend and family. She needed to come forward to just before her death. She willed herself not to feel anything. She must only be a witness, not a participant. How many times had she drummed that into herself? A hundred, two hundred? No, not that many surely?
She left work later than usual; Bert had asked her to help him cash up. It was well after ten when she pulled her coat on and stepped into the night. Tony would be waiting up for her. She smiled and turned down the alley. She didn’t have time to flinch when something struck her in the face.
“My eyes! Oh my eyes!” Alex cried, covering them with her hands. “He threw something in my face. It burns!”
“That’s enough!” Tomas yelled. “I said that’s enough!”
Her eyes were stinging and burning. Tears poured over her cheeks and her screams turned to muffled whimpers as one of those gloved hands clamped itself over her mouth. A blow to her face stunned her and a moment later, she was forced into a car. A second, much harder blow sent her into oblivion.
Alex tried to move forward. She pushed through Sharon’s pain and found the tree. The tree…
She cried out as the men ripped her clothes off and threw her against the tree. She fought against them, trying to keep her hands free but…
“Too tight…” Alex panted and groaned at the pain of Sharon’s bruises. “He tied the ropes too tight to pull free.”
“Can you see his face?” Tomas asked eagerly. “Can you describe him?”
Radford cursed and shouted something, but Alex ignored him. Sharon’s fear filled her until there was nothing but despair. Sharon knew, had known, she would die. She had fought hard against that knowledge in the beginning, but deep down she knew that she would never see her Tony again.
“Tony, oh Tony,” Alex sobbed. Tears burned her eyes and ran over her cheeks as if they would never stop.
“Tony?” Jenn asked, her pen hovering over a notebook. “Is that his name, Alex?”
She swallowed her sobs and shook her head. “Boyfriend. My boyfriend, I mean Sharon’s boyfriend. I love him so much. She loves him, we love him, I…”
A shadow-cloaked figure moved toward her. It was a man, she thought it was a man, but no matter how hard she tried, she could not penetrate the shadows that hid his face from her. A second man watched the Shadowman fearfully. She stilled like a fox in the headlights of an approaching car and willed herself not there. Hopelessness filled her. Oh Tony, will you remember me? Will you remember why you loved me?
Shadowman’s lackey backed fearfully away. He turned and bolted into the trees.
She sobbed uncontrollably. Sharon’s despair was like the end of the world and Alex’s hatred of Shadowman knew no bounds. If she had known where he was right now, she would have stopped at nothing to see him brought down. She clutched her arms, shivering uncontrollably. Her breath smoked as the temperature plummeted around the tree. There were curses and shouts from the CSI team watching from the wings with frightened eyes.
Her eyes widened in fear as they fixed on something only she could see. “He has a…”
…knife in his left hand and something round like a little wagon wheel in his right. He chants something, making passes over the wheel with the knife. The air thickened all about and she whimpered. The breeze suddenly died. Something slimy and evil poured over her. There was nothing there! Nothing! She could feel it caress her body intimately like ghostly hands made of air.
“Please no, God make him stop. Please let me go… our father, who art in heaven…”
“Foul,” Alex choked out thickly. “Unclean thing!” She hissed as if the Shadowman could hear her. She wanted to retch at the taste of his foul magic. “A spell… evil.”
“I knew it!” Radford shouted. “Devil worshippers and she’s one of them!”
“Shut the fuck up!” Tomas snarled. “Or so help me God, I’ll put you away.”
“How dare you—”
“Meeks!” Tomas roared at the top of his lungs and Meeks came running with his gun drawn looking for trouble. Tomas pointed at Radford. “Get him out of here until I call for him.”
“But… yes sir, Sheriff.” Meeks turned to Radford. “Sir, please don’t make me force you.”
“You haven’t heard the last of this, Sheriff,” Radford said. “The mayor will have something to say about this!”
“Yeah, whatever,” Tomas said tiredly. “She usually does rag on my arse on Mondays.”
Meeks lead Radford away while the rest of his team watched. Jenn hovered near Alex, and Tomas joined her. Alex saw it all as if dreaming. Sharon and the Shadowman were more real to her right now.
“Evil,” Alex whispered and wrung her hands. The air on her skin felt thick and greasy—evil made manifest. “I’m going to be…”
…sick. Sharon’s stomach rebelled and she swallowed, gulping air. Shadowman stopped and pointed the knife at her eyes. She screamed at the tearing agony. She screamed and screamed her throat raw. The last thing she saw was the glint of polished steel plunging toward her face before she entered eternal darkness.
Alex howled silently as a vale of blackness descended over her sight. Surely Sharon would die of the shock, but no, Alex was still with her. Warm sticky fluid flowed from her hollow eye sockets. Evil flowed all around and frost began to form over Sharon’s dead body and the tree she was tied against.
Tomas’ teeth chattered.
Alex struggled to voice what Sharon was… had gone through. “I’m blind and I’m going to die. He killed me, will kill me, did kill me. I beg him not to hurt me, but he just laughs.” Alex grunted and doubled over, trying to hold back more screams. “He cuts me—he’s left handed. He’s murmuring words like a prayer as he cuts. I can’t understand what he’s saying. He has a very thick accent.” She fell to her knees. “He’s drawing something on me with the knife, like words but not words, like pictures that mean something. I’m screaming, but no one comes. I’m dying… I’m dead.”
Alex’s eyes bulged and her breath stopped in her throat as Shadowman thrust the dagger into her chest and began sawing. Her heart stuttered and she took a ragged breath as Sharon rushed away from her. Alex tried desperately to follow. She knew it was foolish to hang on, she would die, but she tried anyway. Sharon raced ahead, out of reach—pulled violently away by an irresistible force. Alex tried to reach her, but Sharon’s thread was in tatters. It tore in her grasp and Sharon’s sense of self dissolved into a meaningless chaos of broken memories.
Tony… her parents celebrating… Bert smiling at her from behind his counter… a birthday party… I’m five mummy, isn’t that great?! Tony… Tony… Tony…
“Wrong,” Alex moaned, her throat clogged with grief for the little girl who would be… was murdered. “It’s wrong. Something’s not right. It’s not supposed to happen like that.”
Jenn stared into her eyes. “Is it something we can use?”
Alex blinked at Jenn vaguely. “I’m dead, but Shadowman still cuts me—I mean Sharon—and mumbles words. I’m dead, she’s dead, we’re dead… a light, a door opening… Shadowman steps through without looking back. I’m dead…”
Jenn grabbed Alex and shook her. “Come on, Alex. That’s enough. Snap out of it.”
Alex looked into her friend’s face blankly. “I’m dead.”
“Come back, Alex!” Jenn’s voice rang with fear. “You’re not dead, do you hear me? You’re not dead!”
“I’m dead,” Alex said one last time and fell into Jenn’s arms.
* * *
“Jesus,” Tomas whispered under his breath as he watched one of his men drive Alex home. Another followed in her truck.
“Yeah,” Jenn said, shaken. “I didn’t know it would be like that.”
“It never was before. She’s getting worse.”
Jenn shook her head gently. “Sharon Brydon from Leavitt, she said. Do you believe it?”
“I’ll have someone check her out. See if she’s listed as missing. What about that stuff at the end?”
“I don’t know, but we didn’t find a car. Where the hell is it?”
“You think Alex is right about there being two of them?”
Tomas nodded, still seeing Alex’s pale and haunted face. He shivered. “If you believe all of what Alex saw, and I’m not saying I do, then the perp didn’t leave by car. That means someone else drove them out here. I want him.”
“Maybe Alex will remember more after she’s had a rest.”
* * *
Mark E. Cooper lives in a small town in the south of England, where he writes most mornings and evenings. His background is in mechanical engineering where he spent over thirty years working for Ford. He loves reading and writing about strong female characters and can often be found listening to a book on his iPod, while he types like a madman.
His hobbies include Shelby Cobras–he built a V12 version of the classic car with with his best friend back in the early 90s. It still has pride of place in his garage. He reads science fiction and fantasy when he can, and likes urban fantasy too. He maintains a website and blog at http://www.markecooper.com and a fan page for the Merkiaari Wars series at http://www.impulsebooks.co.uk/facebook.html
He is now the author of more than ten titles in the genres he loves to read.
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