Read A Strange There After Online

Authors: Missy Fleming

Tags: #ghosts, #paranormal, #savannah, #haunted house, #series, #ga, #body swap, #desperation, #paranormal investigator, #ancestor, #alliances, #happily never after, #missy fleming, #savannah shadows, #a strange there after, #dangerous entity, #dark presence, #talk to ghosts

A Strange There After (21 page)

The shocking truth of her statement hung in
the air, an ugly misshapen thing.

“I am no one’s servant.” Catherine’s shout
caused the lights to dim and a few of the vases to vibrate.

We all startled at her outburst. She stared
us down, red-faced. “It was never meant to turn into this.” She
gestured wildly at the backyard. “I never knew what he was until
later. I accepted a deal in a moment of weakness. Am I to be
punished for that?”

“Absolutely,” Jason growled.

No sooner were the words out of his mouth
than the house shuddered, groaning and creaking, like it was caught
in a windstorm. A large, swirling gray mass appeared in the foyer,
filling the space from floor to vaulted ceiling. The air around it
gave way to darkness, and everyone in the living room shrunk away
from it. Thanks to whatever Meena used, the mass never crossed the
threshold. It ran up against an invisible force, spreading out like
smoke against glass.

Meena walked up to the barrier and called out
in a strong voice, “You cannot harm any in this room, Kalfu.”

Wrong.

An ear-shattering scream exploded. I spun,
only to find Catherine suspended in the air, arms stretched out to
her sides. Her pain swirled through the room with a life of its
own. She tried to form words, probably a plea to make it stop, but
they were lost in the noise. Only anguish escaped from her mouth.
Our connection woke, bombarded by the intensity of her torture.
Intense stabbing pain erupted behind my eyes, so blinding I dropped
to my knees. It grew, a white hot agony that threatened to rip me
in two.

Jason rushed to her side, trying to pull her
down, Boone to mine, both asking what was wrong and trying anything
they could to help us. Abby watched on in horror, her casted arm
clutched to her stomach. I could not form a coherent word.

Only you can make this stop, Quinn
Roberts.

No one else seemed to react to Kalfu’s words,
so I assumed they were directed to me. Slowly, I twisted, facing
the wall of blackness dead on. Catherine’s cries escalated, if it
was possible, and the crescendo throbbed through my head, making it
impossible to form any rational thoughts. Nausea swelled, but I
managed to finally speak.

“What do you want from me?” I shouted above
the din.

Merely for you to come with me...for
now.

“Don’t believe him,” Meena warned, moving
close to where I stood.

“What are you talking about?” Jason asked,
abandoning Catherine to stalk toward us.

I ignored both of them. Even with everything
Catherine had done to me, I still had compassion. I hated seeing
anyone tortured, including my enemy, especially in my body. In a
way, witnessing it only intensified my pain. Many times I wished
this exact torment on her, but being in the same room, watching it
happen, made me sick.

“Where?” I gasped.

You will see. And you have my word, if you
cooperate, no harm will come to you...or any of them.

I let my gaze fall on Jason’s face, heartened
by the fierce protectiveness on it. As badly as he wanted to aid
me, he couldn’t. Not in this strange world I found myself in.
Pushing to my feet and through the pain, I concentrated on making
my hand solid enough to touch his cheek. Understanding flashed in
his eyes and I turned from him. Still fighting the fog of pain, I
did the same to Abby, meeting her damp eyes, laying my hand briefly
on her forearm. As I passed Boone, I could only offer him a
fleeting look of apology. My shoulder tingled, and I glanced down
to see his hand, as if he’d reached out to stop me.

“Don’t,” he choked out.

I shook my head once, side to side, and
returned my attention to the dark presence. “Let’s go.”

Suddenly, the screaming and the agony
stopped, but as I stepped out of the living room into the foyer,
everyone else disappeared except for an angry, violent wind. It
buffeted me, giving me the sensation it picked me up and carried me
far, far away. Fear pounded in my chest in place of my absent
heart.

The last thing I heard was Abby’s cry,
“Quinn!”

 

 

Chapter
Twenty-Three

 

The swirling black vortex built, assaulting
me inside and out, clouding my senses and twisting my body. It
raged, pushing and pulling. As violent as it was, I didn’t sense a
threat, just a really obnoxious method of traveling. At least, I
assumed I was traveling. I had the sensation of moving, but soon it
died off. I dropped the final couple of feet and slammed into a
rough wooden floor. The pain made me feel deceptively human and
solid. On wobbly arms, I pushed myself into a seated position.

Once I gathered my wits, I stood and took
stock of my surroundings. The floor was riddled with holes. Boards
blocked the windows and shut out the light. Thick timbers lay
toppled on one another, pieces of the ceiling above. In the corner,
I spotted a narrow set of stairs, leading up to a second level.
Something about the space was familiar to me, and it wasn’t until I
made a complete circle that it hit me.

The carriage house in my own yard.

I furrowed my brows in confusion. Why send me
here? I didn’t know much about the building, other than Boone’s
observations about the EMF fields, and we couldn’t find a way in.
It once housed carriages and horses, equipment used to keep the
grounds looking perfect. The place sat on the edge of our property,
a silent relic no one took the time to renovate. Was there a reason
behind it? If this was where Kalfu lived or whatever, it made sense
now.

“Do you approve?”

The sudden appearance of another person made
me jump. I spun, only to come face-to-face with a stranger. He was
tall, with shiny black skin, a pointed goatee and a faded top hat.
His clothes were old-fashioned, the fitted velvet vest and ruffled
shirt showing wear.

“Who a-are you?” I asked, even though I had a
sneaking suspicion I already knew.

He swept off his hat and bowed low. “Call me
Kalfu.”

The exotic name fit him. He flashed me the
gold-toothed grin I recalled from Catherine’s room, accenting the
hollows in his cheeks.

“Why here?”

“We can speak in private. Do you think I
spend my days in the yard like Cora? Living in a hole in the
ground?”

I watched as he tipped his head back, braying
in laughter. My thoughts and emotions were all over the place,
impossible to corral. The dapper, albeit run-down, man in front of
me emitted a sense of danger, but I couldn’t connect him with the
terrible things he’d been rumored to do. He seemed so carefree.

“How can you have a body?”

“How does our dear Catherine?” he
counter-proposed.

I so wasn’t in the mood for riddles and
frowned. “You stole someone’s body?”

“Not recently.” He straightened the vest.
“Lurking about as nothing more than a wisp of air can be quite
tiresome. This shell is merely an illusion. I figured you’d be more
comfortable if I looked like this.”

He had a point. I also sensed he was willing
to have an actual conversation. Would this be the last time he
offered to help me? If he did, I truly did not know what my answer
would be. Maybe I could sneak in a few questions first.

“Are you trapped in our world as Meena
suggested?”

Kalfu leaned against a huge wooden pillar in
the middle of the vast room, crossing his arms against his
chest.

“The explanation isn’t always so black and
white, Miss Roberts.” He sighed. “When I first found myself here,
after the dreadful incident with the slave woman, I fought to
return to where I belonged. See, I enjoyed my job. I had power. I
decided who came and went through the crossroads. I controlled the
spirits. It gave me satisfaction.”

“Why not go back?”

“Oh, I tried, for quite a while.
Unfortunately, I was linked to this swath of land because I took
pity on a poor mother. Couldn’t leave. Cora has become a thorn in
my side, keeping my powers in check. See, she didn’t know her son
had come into this very building and witnessed the events unfold.
She reached out for the nearest living creature, and in her
desperation to destroy the man raping and murdering her, she ended
up taking the boy’s life. He died so that she might,” he spread his
hands searching for a word, “carry on and torment the Roberts. If
you look, I’m sure you will find many ancestors who died
mysteriously, all courtesy of Cora.”

I gasped, nausea sweeping over me. No wonder
Cora was angry. Killing her own son as she desperately tried to
fight back. A mistake she could never fix. Shudders enveloped me,
and I couldn’t stop shaking. I knew George died in this very
building, but not because of his mama. How terrible.

Kalfu continued. “I’d about given up when a
desperate soul returned to the house, lost, hungry for
revenge.”

“Catherine.” Finally, I was hearing parts of
the story she seemed too ashamed to tell. I shoved aside my
sickness and concentrated instead on getting answers.

“Lovely Catherine, so tragic. By the time she
arrived, her family had either died or left or gone crazy. You’ll
be happy to discover the night Margaret Roberts snapped and
bludgeoned her daughter’s husband, William Jennings, to death,
well, she did it all on her own. It was your average,
run-of-the-mill insanity.

“Anyway, I found myself drawn to Catherine,
sensing she’d be willing to do anything to exact her vengeance. I
proposed a deal. Help me, and I’d help her. Same as I’ve offered
you. Since blood brought me here, I hoped blood would release me.
All Catherine had to do was give me a sacrifice, bring me the same
offering Cora did—willingly this time.”

I gasped as the meaning sunk in. Holy crap,
I’d underestimated her all along.

“She brought you someone to kill?”

“Not quite. I discovered that if I latched
onto her spirit, took it over, so to speak, I was able to leave
this god-forsaken house. So, I piggy-backed on her as she set out
with two souls in mind. Her mother, who Catherine believed betrayed
her, and her former lover, the soldier, who didn’t show up in time
to save Catherine. One we couldn’t quite reach, the other came to
us on his own, searching for the woman he lost

Dread grabbed me around the neck, choking off
the oxygen I didn’t need. That night in Catherine’s room Kalfu had
mentioned a life for a life. I didn’t want to believe it until now.
Shaking my head from side-to-side, I said, “She wouldn’t.”

Then, I thought of my mama and recognized the
lie. She would. Catherine didn’t care about anyone but herself,
about the life she felt entitled to.

Kalfu cocked his head. “Ah, I see you realize
how wrong you are, don’t you? Death has a profound effect on
certain people. I’ve seen it since the beginning of time. Some go
quietly into the dark. Others battle it with everything they have.
Some vital part of Catherine snapped the night she was murdered.
She buried the goodness so far down I don’t think it’ll ever be
reachable. A part of her was broken long before she died. She chose
this path.”

“And you took advantage of it,” I
finished.

“Turns out I can control spirits here, too.
Only on earth I don’t have as many constraints. And I don’t have to
let them go after I come in contact with them. In many ways, I have
more power here than I ever did being a watchman for the
crossroads. At least, I would if Cora were gone.” His face
hardened. “Part of her curse was to limit my abilities, and her
continuing presence hampers it. I found a way around it, by
starting a collection of poor souls who should have passed on, but
it’s not nearly enough. Imagine what I could do if she were
gone?”

I chewed my lips as his words settled in. Now
I realized how strongly he and Catherine and Cora were connected,
one could not be beaten while the others roamed freely, giving him
more options. Simply booting Catherine from my body wasn’t going to
work. They were a package deal, some kind of agreement. And this
collection of his? I was afraid to ask what that meant.

“What does any of this have to do with me?” I
stuck to easier things.

“You, my dear, are the last of your line.
It’s sad enough you’re a female. If you marry, the name dies with
you. It’s what Cora summoned me for. For decades, there have been
male children. Your poor mother’s early death ended that.”

Rage lit inside me. “Catherine killed her!
She,” I stumbled over the grief, “she only managed to do it because
of your presence!”

He gave me a mocking expression of sadness,
completely devoid of sympathy. “Nasty business, that, but death is
a part of life. Catherine gets carried away. She should have been a
little more subtle.”

Anger licked at me, a sensation I’d become so
familiar with, enough to acknowledge it was him trying to taunt me.
I swallowed thickly, letting it fade.

“Catherine won, Kalfu,” I said wearily. “So
why won’t you let her leave?”

He placed his fingers together in a steeple.
“Without someone to aid me, I lose my power. Cora is relentless,
refuses to undo her curse. Twisted and scarred by years of hate.
Catherine, though, she has life inside her. Life I can use. But she
ended up being weak, and you are strong. So much stronger than
Catherine.”

His simple admission immediately made me
suspicious. I hadn’t trusted he would give me so much, so easily.
It showed a high level of confidence, and I wondered if there was a
way to use it to my advantage. Suddenly it hit me.

“What? You think I’m going to be your next
Catherine?”

“No, no, no. I want you to be happy, little
one. I want to be happy, too. You help me, and I’ll help you. Quite
simple.”

The possibility filled me with fright, more
than I’d ever felt before. “I have a life, people I love. Why would
I give it up? Catherine had nothing when she gave in to you.”

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