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Authors: Kat Richardson

Vanished (9 page)

BOOK: Vanished
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Paul thought and then shrugged. “Nothing. That’s the whole thing. Just the hot spot, the noises, and the things falling down.”

“Has anyone seen any shapes, unexplained shadows? Heard voices or other sounds in the area? Seen or thought they saw something move? Maybe in the dressing room mirror?”

He shook his head. “None of that. Just what I described.”

He didn’t take the prompt. A lot of people will say yes to such a list to make the investigator happy. It’s a trick of frauds and true believers to suggest phenomena and then claim the description came spontaneously from the witness. Some people don’t even realize they do it, so compelling is their desire for confirmation or justification. But it was strange that no one had observed any such manifestations; what Paul described and what I’d seen were more like half a haunting. It’s unusual for such strong phenomena to have no accompanying features like corner-of-the-eye visions or voices. The falling objects was classic, but it was pretty small beer compared to the sound and its increasing frequency.

“I’d like to see the room for myself,” I said.

Paul put down his drink and glanced at his father. Then he looked back at me. “We can go now, if you want. I can get back to the game later—the guild can do without me for a while.”

I thought Sandros’s jaw would detach and thump to the carpeted floor from shock along with his eyeballs, like something from a Depression-era Warner Brothers cartoon. “You want to go out? Now?”

Paul’s shoulders hunched a little and his eyes widened, as if he were much younger. “Yeah . . . Is that OK, Dad? It’s not that late, but I don’t want to leave you all by yourself if you don’t want—”

“No, no! I’m all right on my own. Go on, take the lady to the office.” Then he caught himself and added, “But no hanky-panky, right?” He shot a look at me and nodded with his brows raised.

“Right, Dad,” Paul replied, laughing.

I nodded, a little surprised myself. “It’s fine with me if you two don’t mind.”

We left our drinks on the table and headed outside again within moments. Sandros stayed behind, but he did watch us from the doorway, like a protective father.

Paul looked a little embarrassed but said nothing as we headed for his haunted office.

The real office was creepy at night, more so than its Grey counterpart. There were no windows except on the back wall that faced an alley, and the dance studio had closed for the day, leaving a hollow sound in the shadow-drenched space. The Grey was still uncharacteristically silent.
Paul Arkmanian unlocked the front door and we walked into his reception area. Ghostly walls made a mist maze in the current space. We walked deeper into the chiropractic office and I searched both the Grey and the normal for any helpful signs. I’d have to be alone in the treatment room long enough to slip into the right bit of the past. I began looking for opportunities to send Paul in another direction the moment we were past the front desk.

We passed through a spectral wall—the memory of the wall that had once divided my father’s office from his neighbor’s. I felt cold sweep over me as we stepped through and then a blast of heat as we stopped at the current door marked “2.” Paul glanced at me and then at the door.

“This is it. Are you sure you want to go in at night like this?” He glanced around and hunched his shoulders as if he were cold. “I never thought this was a spooky place before, but now it does seem haunted. I guess it’s just the light. . . .”

I shivered, feeling something tremble at the edge of the Grey, sending ripples through the thin, silvery world. I hoped that wasn’t what I thought. I looked at Paul and he seemed very far away, as if the mist of the Grey was a concave lens. Sweat formed in the small of my back from the strange heat coming out of the room.

“You might not want to go in with me. It might mess up the feel of the room to have two of us in there at once.”

“I’d feel funny about that. Can you leave the door open?”

What a pain. “Sure.” I’d have to maneuver into a place he couldn’t observe from the doorway before I tried to get into the layers of history. I took my phone out of my pocket and started into the room.

“What’s that for?”

“The cell phone antenna sometimes picks up electrical anomalies caused by ghosts. If I have the phone in the right mode, it will make noise when I’m near one.” Not entirely untrue but generally useless. Ditto using the tiny camera to catch the lingering Grey impressions of ghosts passing through the glass; the rice-grain-sized lens was too low-quality to capture any images worth the effort. I didn’t have any other props for my role as ghost hunter, but the phone would do if my line of fast talk was good enough.

Apparently it was, since Arkmanian nodded and stood back from the door to let me into the room. I stepped into my father’s old office and halted with a jerk as the heat hit in earnest—it was like being swatted with a flaming bat. Then I heard the noise, like a runaway train rushing toward me. The layers of time heaved and rippled, a storm-racked sea of history battering the walls of the room as the screeching sound of something huge bearing down grew louder and closer.

“That’s it! That’s the sound!” Paul cried out, twitching back a couple of steps.

I bolted sideways into the blind side of the doorway, putting out my hand for the cold, slicing edges of the temporaclines. One of them stabbed at my fingers with fiery knives. I was shocked: Usually temporaclines feel cold as sheets of ice to me. I reached for it and shoved the layers open, sliding into the slice of history.

The room—Dad’s personal office—hit me hard. It was a disaster of splattered blood and frenzy. Papers were thrown on the desk and strewn on the floor. Books, houseplants, furniture were all tossed about as if the room had been shaken by a giant hand and then drizzled with gore. The center of the room was nothing: a black void surrounded by a fence of flaming energy. Stars and lightning bolts of power shot through the space around the hole in history. Queasy and frightened, I walked toward it.

Hot knots of energy battered me back and the roaring noise rose to a hurricane shriek that ripped open the writhing mist of the Grey. A snarling monstrosity of spiderweb and bone poured out of the hole, snapping its dripping jaws at me and at the black void, flinching back as its fangs bit into the blazing energy around the nothingness. Bone spines rattled in the uncanny world as the creature shook its head in fury and screamed again.

I flinched away from its impossible mouthful of teeth. I’d run into the guardian beast before and still had the bite scars two years later. It turned its attention away from me as soon as I backed from the hole where the rest of the room’s past should have been. Every time I moved toward it, trying to see any glimpse of my father, the beast snapped at me and drove me back. The beast’s job was to keep non-Grey things out and protect the Grey from threats. It didn’t like the thing that had blotted out or cordoned off this chunk of Grey. There would be no getting past the monster to get to my father, even if I could have gotten into the infernal void that seemed to have swallowed up all Grey trace of him.

I tried circling the hole in time, but there was nothing to see and nothing to touch when I beat the guardian’s snapping jaws to the edge of the darkness where my father should have been. He was simply not there. Or not accessible even from the Grey. Whatever was causing that infuriated the beast.

Defeated, I fell back, sliding back into the normal, and sidling along the walls of the treatment room to the door. I checked the phone’s clock and saw I’d been missing from the normal world for only a few minutes. Paul Arkmanian was peering into the room with his eyes wide.

“Did you hear it?” he demanded. “Where did you go?”

“I was right there, behind the door. And, yeah, I heard that noise. Is that the way it always sounds?”

“It was louder than usual this time.”

“Huh,” I grunted, closing my phone and putting it back into my pocket. There was a message icon on the screen, but I’d get to that later. “I guess I’ve upset your ghost.”

“So . . . do you think the place is really haunted?”

“Yes. You have a ghost all right.”

“Yeah?” He looked wary.

I nodded. “Yeah.” The ghost of a ghost, I thought.

I excused myself from Paul Arkmanian as soon as I could without being suspiciously rude. He didn’t say anything about my trip sideways. He might not have allowed himself to notice it—most people didn’t. I told him I’d be back in touch with him, though I privately doubted it would be soon and I felt a bit bad about the deception. He and his dad were friendly and deserved better than what I was serving them. I would be back, but not where normal people could see me. My dad’s ghost seemed to be missing, but I wanted another shot at Christelle and what she might tell me about that hole and what had happened to her.

I parted company from Paul Arkmanian outside and pretended to go on my way, waiting until he was out of sight before I ducked back into the building with the help of a pencil stub I’d jammed in the lock earlier. I made my way back up to the office and settled in to wait for another chance to talk to Christelle. I only hoped the security guard wouldn’t come along while I was skulking in the corridor.
About ten o’clock I saw the slim shade of Christelle walking down the hall again, and I slipped deeper into the Grey to talk to her. She wasn’t as friendly this time.

As I drew closer, she muttered something under her breath that I couldn’t catch. Then she pasted on a fake smile and opened the phantom door to the waiting room. “Hi. Are you here for an appointment? You know Dr. Blaine isn’t in, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I replied, following her into the ghost of the old office. “I wanted to talk to you.”

She looked surprised as she sat behind her desk. “Me? Why?”

I stared at her, trying to catch her skittish gaze with mine. I knew she was capable of responding, of disengaging from the endless loop of memory in however fractured a fashion, and I needed her to speak outside the moment of history. “Do you know who I am?” I asked.

She peered back at me, pushing her glasses higher on her nose, her face pinched with suspicion. “No.”

“I’m Harper. I’m Rob’s daughter. Look close.” I hoped the resemblance would be strong enough.

Christelle’s ghost gazed hard at my face, her eyes flicking back and forth in restless study. Then she drew back. “Oh. Oh. It is Harper. I—But . . .”

“It’s been more than twenty years since I last saw you.”

“But it can’t be. It’s still Thursday!” she protested.

That made no sense to me at all. “Which Thursday? What’s the date?” I demanded.

“September eighteenth.”

“What year?”

“It’s 1986. Why are you asking me such a crazy question?”

“Because it’s not 1986 for me, Christelle. It’s 2009.”

Her expression puckered into confused fear. “I don’t understand how that can be. . . .” she whispered. “That can’t be right. . . .”

“I don’t know, either. Christelle, is this the last date you can remember?”

“I don’t know!” the spectral woman cried.

“Try to think. Just think about the appointment book. Think of each day you sat down and looked at the book. . . .”

She screwed her face up as she tried to force some kind of memory to come to her remnant mind. I wasn’t sure a ghost could “remember” the way a living person did, but I hoped there was some way for her to fish up some information and give it to me. Finally she shook her head, upset and unhappy. “I can’t remember anything after today. Today is all I remember!” She sounded a little panicked.

I felt like a therapist trying to coax a memory from an amnesia sufferer. “What happened today? What happened to you or to Rob? What can you remember?”

Christelle tried, but the memory was fragmented and she could only bring it back in shards. “I got up, I came to the office. Rob was already here. I don’t think he went home. There was something wrong with the office. There was a man here—no, two men. I’d seen them with the albino man before. They left when I came in, but Rob wouldn’t talk about them. He was angry at me. He said I should stay away from them. He said I should stay away from the office. He . . . he fired me. He told me to go home. He was angry. But he was scared. He had your picture! I remember! He had your picture in his hand, like he was trying to hide it. I went home. But I didn’t go home. I don’t know! I think I went home, but I don’t remember being home. I only remember being here. But I remember walking. I remember walking toward home and the men came to talk to me. I ran away from them. I think I did. I—I don’t know! I can’t remember! I remember Rob. . . . I don’t know what he was doing. He—No! It’s just a big jumble! No! This isn’t right! Keep him away! Keep him away!” she screamed.

Her screech turned into the roar of the guardian as it rushed into the room and pounced past us toward the source of its agitation in the back room. I couldn’t hear Christelle screaming over the shriek of the beast, but I saw her thrashing at the air as if she were being attacked by unseen things. Then she sat down in a heap, landing in her chair as if broken.

I tried to grab her, shake her, but she had no more substance than a cloud, not even the electrical tingling of an entangled soul. There was no Christelle there, just a shape.

Then she looked up, her face composed and blank. “Do you have an appointment?” she asked.

“Christelle. Listen. Concentrate. Do you know what happened to you?”

“I couldn’t say. Do you have an appointment?”

“No, Christelle. It’s Harper. I want to talk to my dad. Do you know what happened to him? Do you know what happened to

The bland, blank expression didn’t flicker. “The doctor isn’t in right now. Would you like to make an appointment?”

“No, Christelle. I want to know what happened to you.”

“The doctor isn’t in right now,” she repeated. “Would you like—”

“No!” I shouted at her, but she didn’t change her expression or her words; she just continued to ask her mindless question. I gave up, not sure if I’d destroyed whatever was left of Christelle’s lingering memory or not, but quite sure she wasn’t coming back for a while. Whatever intelligence had occupied the space that had been my father’s office had fled, at least for now, and there was nothing I could do.

I left the building, taking care to restore the lock so it clicked closed behind me. A troubling weight of emotion dragged at me as I went: confusion, frustration, grief, and horror. I didn’t know much more than I had when I arrived about what had befallen any of us: my father, Christelle, or me. I wasn’t any closer to knowing why I was the way I was, either.

I tried to shake my mind clear and think hard as I headed back to my car and then onward to my hotel. Christelle’s disconnection from events and her panic might mean she had ceased to exist—at least as a human—after that Thursday in 1986, but what had happened beyond that and who was responsible, I didn’t know. The weird encapsulation of time in the office might account for the incomplete haunting phenomena and the odd silence in the Grey surrounding the time and place of my father’s death. The anomalies—Christelle’s shattered memory and Dad’s lack of presence—had to be related, but what the relation was and how it might be connected to me and my being a Greywalker was still a mystery. Much as it might clear a few things up, it appeared that I wouldn’t be talking to my dad anytime soon. The presence of the guardian beast and the way it had come rushing in each time I got close through the layers of history and connection was not good. I’d have to find another route to the information I wanted and I’d have to tread with care. I might be a Grey creature as far as the beast was concerned, but I’d seen it eat Grey things that misbehaved. I didn’t want to be the next meal or a mindless loop like what remained of Christelle LaJeunesse.

My thoughts left me disturbed and I, childishly, couldn’t face sleep with the chill of them in my mind. Even a long, hot shower couldn’t dispel them after I returned to my hotel room. I paged Quinton and left a code on his pager. Quinton had an excusable paranoia about certain bits of technology, and though I’d upgraded to a cell phone, he never would. We’d worked out a set of codes that communicated volumes in only a few digits—the shorter the burst, the harder it was to trace or crack. I left a code that required a reply. He called back within minutes.

“Hi, it’s me,” he said.

I recognized the voice, of course, and drawled a pleased and tired, “Hey,” feeling a small warmth kindle in my chest.

“How’s the dead boyfriend?”

I bit my lip for a second before answering, “He’s a jerk. And things are becoming stranger than I’d expected.”

“Do you have any answers yet?”

“Not many. My dad—” I choked on the words.

“Honey? Harper? Are you all right?”

His endearment melted the ice block in my throat. “I’m . . . still confused by a lot of things. I don’t want to discuss them now. I just wanted to hear your voice.”

“I like hearing yours, too. I’ve been working on a ghost detector. I’m not sure I’ve got it right, but I’ll show it to you when you get home.”

“I’d rather not talk about ghosts right now.”

“All right. Chaos has been chasing things around that I can’t see and she runs over and tries to steal your shoes. But she only wants your shoes. I think she misses you.”

“She just loves shoes,” I said, imagining the crazy little ferret running manically around the condo or Quinton’s bunker, chasing ghosts and giving her wicked chuckle of glee as they fled before her. She’d dived fearlessly into the Grey when we’d first encountered it and taken on the guardian beast single-handed. I’d had a little trouble getting her back. She was fearless, but she’d learned to pick her fights better after that. You can’t win against an invincible force of the Grey, even if the battle is epic, at least to a fuzz-butt who weighed less than two pounds.

A pleasant silence fell between us and I closed my eyes, thinking I could almost see him.

“She’s not the only one who misses you,” Quinton said.

I smiled. “I miss you, too, and I’ll be home soon.” The conversation wandered and drew to a soft close as I dwindled toward sleep.

“I’ll see you soon,” he whispered before I reluctantly hung up and turned to roll into the covers, falling asleep with the comfort of his thoughts wrapped around me.

BOOK: Vanished
2.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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