The darkness morphed into a motley panoply of colors, vividly radiant, yet swirling about them in a type of fog. When the fog lifted the colors had settled into their new surroundings which greatly resembled their old surroundings except the building interior had grown even more broken and decrepit. Part of the ceiling had collapsed in the corner where the shadow had first been seen, and the wooden floor had grown spongy underfoot.
Elise was dazed and baffled, “What the hell was that?”
“Shhh!” Chase’s eyes flitted about. “This isn’t where we were supposed to end up.”
“I told you, ‘Shhh!’ Keep hold of my hand.”
A deep groan reverberated throughout the core of the structure, shaking crumbling plaster from the walls and buckling the floorboards beneath them. The door behind Elise blew open just as her world went dark once again.
This time when the color settled they emerged in some sort of archaic den. Dusty wooden bookshelves bulging with tattered tomes lined the walls flanking a solitary oak desk upon which stood mountains of yellowed papers and a single burning oil lamp. The must in the air hung on them like an old wool blanket, heavy and thick, but not mildewy like the room they had just left. Or was this the room they had just left?
Elise spun about and absorbed the design of the structure. It was roughly the same size and shape — the window on the far wall of the room in which she had met Chase Michael DeBarlo also sat in roughly the same spot, gazing out upon the backyard of the property, and the floorboards were eerily reminiscent of those that she had just witnessed buckling. The door behind her which had just blown open stood there still ajar, although far less weathered.
Elise wrested free from Chase’s grip. “What the hell is going on and where are we?”
Chase smirked. “From the look on your face I think you’ve already worked that out, but don’t want to admit it.”
“Look around and tell me.”
Elise opened her mouth to speak, but a scratchy male voice called out from beyond the door, “You there! Stop dawdling about and come into the parlor!”
“Who was that?”
“Do you want to ask questions all day or do you want some answers?” Chase gestured toward the door. “Let’s venture in so you can meet Cornelius Bones.”
Elise passed through the doorway first, followed by Chase whose eyes scanned their surroundings. The parlor seemed to be a cozier version of the den; bookshelves stood against the far wall to their left and small tables were scattered about stacked with either books or papers. Moth-eaten drapery fell down over two windows that otherwise stared out upon the front yard of the house, and blackened paintings of long lost country sides adorned the walls. Seated in one of two worn brown armchairs before a lit hearth was a short, plump elderly gentleman in a tattered blue waistcoast bulging at the midriff, frayed black trousers, and black leather boots, cracked and fading. His wispy white hair fell down nearly to his shoulders and he donned a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles. On the floor near his feet were the dark brown red remnants of a bloodied handprint.
He stood when they entered and addressed the pair. “Oh, hello, Elise. Chase… always a pleasure, of course.”
Elise looked to the old man, to Chase, then back to the old man. “I don’t understand. How do you know me?”
From behind his spectacles the man sighed, “You’ve been here before, of course,” then turned to Chase, “Where are we in the conventional timeline?”
“I’ve just met Elise tonight, and this is the first time she’s been here.” The old man laughed and shook his head, prompting Chase to frown. “What?”
“You have to understand what this must be like for me. I just saw you yesterday with Michelle, off together on one of your crusades, no less. But to you, in this very moment, how long has it been since you’ve last seen her?” Chase said nothing. “Four years, perhaps? You still haven’t mastered control.”
Elise was baffled. “Who’s Michelle?”
The old gentleman turned to the young woman and eyed her over the top of his spectacles. “And you… I am Cornelius Bones. It’s a pleasure to meet you for the real first time, apparently. You see, Chase is living with his guilt right now, but you haven’t developed yours yet. In time.”
Elise folded her arms and scoffed, “You don’t know anything about me.”
“Oh, yes, I do. You are Elise Hypatia, the only child of Theodore and Alexandra who died in an automobile accident on their way home from dropping you off at your first semester at college. You tried to go back, but it didn’t last as you kept seeing visions of them whether you were waking or sleeping. You spent the next two years intoxicated, but that didn’t stop the visions, and no amount of therapy could help you. But then you noticed that it wasn’t just your parents that were visiting you. Other beings were visiting you as well, and that frightened you more than the visions of your parents. There’s a quality about yourself, however, that trumps your fear, something innate within you that has ultimately brought you to us. That is your curiosity. You’ve been searching for years, and my friend here, Chase Michael DeBarlo, is the last in a long line of people from which you’ve sought answers.”
Elise stepped back, mouth agape. “How did you know all of that?”
“I know it from a conversation that you and I have already had, but for you, we’ve not yet had it. Funny… I wonder if there’s any point to us having that conversation now. It’s so hard to keep up with paradoxes, you know.”
“And if you know that about my parents, then why would you think I have no guilt. Of course I have guilt over that. Anyone can plainly see –”
Cornelius stepped forward, invading the invisible box around Elise that she had cordoned off as her personal space. He’d done it so quickly that she hadn’t had time to step back, and within inches of her with a cold, blue ice-piercing stare he whispered through gritted teeth, “You haven’t harbored any real guilt until you’re holding the bloodied corpse of the one you’ve loved as no other in your arms knowing that cause of their death is your fault, and your fault alone. Your parents’ deaths were the fault of a drunk driver, not your choice of university, but I’m telling you now that you will be back in this parlor one day with blood on your hands.” He sighed and pointed across the room. “That dark hand print on the floor near my chair is yours, my dear.”
Elise pulled away, tears welling in her eyes from the memory of her parents, eyes that darted to the spot on the floor where the remnants of the dark handprint lay. She pushed passed the old man, dropped her knees, and hesitantly pressed out her left hand across the print. It was a perfect match.
“The blood from your other hand ruined a shirt that I’ve since thrown out. Now, would you like some tea?”
Elise stood and collected herself, then spun away from the print of her hand on the floor. “This is supposed to be 1876, right? How could you possibly know what an automobile is? And, Chase, what the hell do you keep looking for?”
Chase’s eyes had continued to flit about the room since they’d first entered, and he’d since wandered over to the door near the bookcase to peer into the entrance hall.
Cornelius sighed, “I’ve assured you before that I’ve put up the necessary safeguards.”
Chase spied the entrance hall one last time then meandered back to the hearth. “You can never be too sure, and we can’t lose you.”
“One day, you’re going to lose me, my friend, but you will always find a way back.”
Elise’s head was swirling, but she had picked up on the implied connotation. “Are we in some sort of danger?”
Cornelius explained, “They’re drawn to the energy we emit. The dark shadows you see are any number of different entities, some worse than others, some not even terrible at all, truth be known. But there are some that are extremely malevolent, evil beings that wish to do you harm and drain you of your life’s energy. Chase can see them, too, although not quite as well as you. Has he told you?”
“He told me about when this really began for him, about being tied in a chair, and then about his friend Marcus and the balls of light.”
“Then he has only just begun.” Cornelius sat back down. “Do tell her the next part of your tale. It will help her begin to understand your vigilance.”
Chase scoffed, “My vigilance… as if I’m Batman. I wear a fedora, Cornelius, not a mask. Very well, then.” He gestured to the second armchair in the room, but Elise did not take it. “I followed the balls of that had raced away from Marcus’s body through the entrance hall and into the dining room where I found the bodies of Hal and Andrea Holden, the husband and wife founders of Society of the Haunted. I tried to call the police with my cell phone, but it was no use. It was dead. I was contemplating multiple homicide, maybe some sort of recompense for the case which originally brought us together, when I heard a commotion outside…”
Sirens and screams filled the air and Chase raced outside just in time to catch a glimpse of two police squad cars hurtling down the street. Front doors of the neighboring houses blew open and people poured out to the road running off after them. Something seemed to be chasing them, but Chase could not tell what.
“What the hell?”
From behind the short hedgerow that lined the sidewalk in front of the house across the street from where Chase stood he recognized a familiar tuft of blond hair peering out.
He raced across the street and crouched down beside the young woman who trembled at his touch when he placed a hand upon her shoulder. She didn’t meet his gaze and, instead, continued to peer out from the top of the short hedge.
Her whole body suddenly began shaking as if she just grabbed a live electrical wire. “I’ve never felt this kind of energy before!”
Claire Waterhouse was a 24 year old budding psychic medium still coming into her own. With long, wavy blonde hair, sparkling green eyes, and a fair, innocent complexion of the girl-next-door, she could have been quite popular when she’d gone to school. However, the other children didn’t understand her abilities, believing she was some sort of freak, and relentlessly teased her by calling her “The Claire Witch Project.” Now, she was experiencing something truly freakish, and very, very real.
Chase wrapped an arm around her to try to calm her down, “What are you talking about?”
Claire pointed a nervous finger over the hedge toward the intersection just another house away. “It’s trying to drain her.”
There at the street corner underneath the yellow glow of the streetlamp, Michelle Wu, Society of the Haunted’s case manager, was wrestling something dark and large upon her back. Chase squinted in a vain attempt to make out any detail, but the darkness twisted and contorted as the Chinese American woman writhed about, clutching at her neck. She shrilled out in agony, adding to the cacophony of cries and screams of the scene. Another squad car scorched by, but did not stop to help the woman, and, instead careened into a mailbox three houses past the intersection then sped off into the chaotic night.
Chase leaped over the bushes and raced to help her without a second thought. There was no making sense of the situation, the bodies he had found, the orbs of light he had seen speeding through the air, the chaos in the streets, and, of course, that vision of being tied in a chair. What had that voice told him? The words didn’t matter at this moment as he was about to throw his body at the mass of black and swirling smoke, but in the last step before he reached the two he finally saw what had a hold of Michelle.
From underneath the hood of its long, black cloak he glimpsed a set of eyes blacker than death, save for the small bands of red that encircled their irises, and the palest skin he had ever seen, milkier than the whitest ivory. Protruding forth from thin purple-blue lips were a set of razor sharp fangs that he could have sworn he had seen buried into Michelle just a split second earlier, but he saw no blood. Instead, what he saw of Michelle were dull, sunken eyes encircled by grey ash growing darker by the heartbeat. She was still writhing about, but her knees buckled as her breathing became more labored.
Shocked beyond disbelief, Chase was paralyzed to the sidewalk beside Michelle and gazed up into fiery eyes from hell as the creature rose up and loomed over both of them.
Watch and listen to The Time Channeler Chronicles “Fiery Eyes From Hell”: