Stephen King has said that the short story is a lost art. King is the master of the short story; in fact, my favorite King movies originally came from his short stories. (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION was originally “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption; there was also ‘1408’ and ‘The Langoliers’, both of which translated well to film, and others.) But as the magazine market has collapsed and fewer anthologies are published, the short story has become rare. My mom says she doesn’t like short stories and novellas because she doesn’t feel like there is a completely story; other people enjoy them because they can read a complete story quickly, without having to invest hours of time.
I have a 4,000 words story in the upcoming BLOOD LITE II, the Horror Writers Association anthology. I originally wrote it as the prologue for CARNAL SIN, but it didn’t fit the tone of the book. In fact, it really didn’t “sound” like me. So I added an ending to the prologue and revised it to be a complete story of the anthology: “Her Lucky Day” is the story of a prostitute who thinks she killed her john, until an unlikely savior walks in. She believes she’s been saved . . . but has she?
I received permission this week to release the exclusive short story that was printed in the special Walmart printing of ORIGINAL SIN. “Ghostly Vengeance” takes place a week after the events in ORIGINAL SIN, and a week before the events in CARNAL SIN which will be released two months from today. It will be available at sevendeadlysinsbooks.com next week, but you can read it here first! (Note: this is my copy, which doesn’t have all the nice copyeditors fixes!)
If you haven’t read ORIGINAL SIN, the short story doesn’t give much away, but it does take place after the events in OS and there are a few spoilers. It’s up to you! If you don’t want to read the short, please comment anyway for a chance to win OS, because–honestly–I’m getting a complex here. Rocki and Lori have over 100 comments each this week. Somehow, I don’t think that’s fair, do you? (I love you girls, you know it, but hey, I’m competitive!) So comment for a chance to win a signed copy of the special Walmart ORIGINAL SIN, with “Ghostly Vengeance” printed in the back. I only have a couple copies of this version, so I thought it would be an enticement! 🙂
Tell me what you think of my first ghost story, or talk about your favorite short story and why. One of my all-time favorites is “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. Brilliant in its simplicity, and thought-provoking as well as horrific. You remember it from school, right? The woman who gets stoned . . . and I’m not talking about pot here.
(c) Allison Brennan
Why should he be alive
Breathing still while others died
–Blue Oyster Cult, “Sole Survivor”
Three nights after Moira and Rafe were nearly killed during an occult ritual at Rittenhouse Furniture Warehouse, they watched the property from a car she’d borrowed—without permission–from Skye’s neighbor down the street. Emergencies required drastic measures, and she figured if she saved the sheriff’s ass, Skye’d get Moira out of any potentially sticky situations.
Rafe shut his cell phone. “Anthony is on his way.”
“I didn’t think you’d be able to talk him out of coming. I hope I’m not over-reacting.”
“You? Overreact?” Rafe smiled. “I highly doubt that.”
Moira’s sense of foreboding had been growing all evening, and now that they’d arrived at the store, she knew she’d been right to worry. Skye was in trouble. She didn’t know how she knew—it wasn’t a vision, it was more a feeling, like a dream she couldn’t quite remember. Besides, she’d never had a vision of the future, only the present. But twenty minutes ago she’d run from Skye’s house, Rafe on her heels. She knew Skye was at Rittenhouse and something was very wrong.
Staring at the dark, empty building, Moira bit her lip and considered their options. She’d already tried Skye’s cell phone, but it went directly to voice mail. They couldn’t wait for Anthony, because if something happened to Skye while they sat around twiddling their thumbs she’d never forgive herself.
Their borrowed car was concealed on the far side of the lot under a broken streetlight. In fact, all the lights were out, which was also odd. It was the middle of the night, with a thick fog. She could barely make out the large display windows in the front of the store, but she didn’t see any flickering of flashlights or the overhead fluorescent lights. They’d been here for nearly five minutes and nothing: no movement, no light, no sound.
Skye’s truck was parked near the back entrance next to a black Jeep. They had no idea who owned the Jeep, but it could be a witch tapping into the dark energy that still permeated the area after Friday night’s disastrous ritual. Or it could belong to a couple of kids bent on making out or looting the place.
“I say we go in through the front,” Moira said to Rafe. “I don’t see any movement in the front windows.”
“Anthony said to stay put and wait for him.”
She bristled as she opened the door. “I don’t take orders from Anthony.”
Rafe opened his door. “Neither do I.”
She shivered as the damp salt air wrapped its foggy mitts around her. She wasn’t dressed for the cold, she was dressed for action: jeans, thin black turtleneck, and her special leather jacket. She pulled her long, dark hair out of her way.
“Maybe we should separate,” she whispered as they quickly shut their car doors. “I’ll take the front, you the back.”
“Hell no, we’re staying together. No way am I letting you out of my sight.”
She glanced at him, bemused. “I think I’ve proven to you that I can take care of myself.”
He smiled. “Sure you have. Maybe I need you to take care of me.”
He was teasing her, but before she could come up with a retort, his smile disappeared and he scrutinized the building, palpable tension rolling off him. “Rafe?”
Odd. Yeah, that was an appropriate word for the creepy crawlies that kept the hair standing straight up on the back of her neck. A darkly nagging sensation, like an itch you couldn’t scratch that worsened with each heartbeat.
They skirted the edge of the lot, where bushes and trees were dead or dying. The concrete had been pristine on Friday; the earthquake caused by the demon Envy when he roared into the building had broken the perfect slab, making the property look long-abandoned.
If someone were planning a ritual sacrifice, Moira thought, this would be the place to go. Murder, violence, and magical energy was still coating the building like a glove. Ripe for one of the dark magicians to seize the power.
Taking her hand, Rafe pulled her to his side. He assessed her critically. “You sure you’re okay? You’re still limping.”
“Am not.” Her thigh had been bruised when a demon at Good Shepherd had stepped on it with his hoof, but she wasn’t going to let a sore spot keep her from her job. She didn’t like Rafe noticing her limp. If his attention was not fully on the job, it could get him hurt or worse. “Don’t worry about me, okay? If we’re going to do this, we’re a team. Equal partners, no lone wolves.”
“Partners,” he said.
Rafe brought her left hand to his lips and lightly kissed it. The only injury she had that was still bandaged; in the heat of battle, Rafe had cut her palm to weaken the demon Envy.
Not that she was expecting a fight here.
Not that she wasn’t.
They continued to the front of the building, stooping under the large display windows in case anyone inside was looking for movement in the dark shadows.
She squatted in front of the lock. There was still a police seal on this door. No one had entered this way since the seal was put on early Saturday morning. If she broke it —well, chalk up another crime on her rap sheet.
She eyed the combination lock. “Great.” She pulled out small hand-held sheers. “This might take a minute.” Especially one handed, she didn’t have full-use of her left hand yet.
“I’ll do it,” Rafe said, taking the sheers. Twenty seconds later he’d cut through.
Rafe reached for the door handle. “Wait,” she whispered.
There was something tingly in the air. While it felt similar to magic—like a few too many electrons in the air—there was no magical undercurrent. No witchcraft, except for the residual spells cast three nights ago. No demons, but there was something—
From deep in the interior of the warehouse, a blood-curdling scream pierced the night, followed immediately by three gunshots.
Moira grabbed the knob, and rushed in, Rafe on her heels. He grabbed her roughly and pulled her back.
“Be smart!” he growled in her ear. He was right, of course. She willed her racing heart to slow down.
They were in the main showroom. Their eyes had adjusted to the absence of light, and she could see the outlines of the furniture against the edges of the vast room. Remnants of the occult ritual remained, but much of it had been boxed and put into evidence. Moira glanced over to the center of the room where Father Philip had died . . . she averted her eyes, still unable to come to terms with his death. She pushed her grief to the back of her mind. Skye needed her undivided attention.
At first the voices in the back of the warehouse were indistinct, male and female, then Moira clearly heard Skye.
“David—we have to leave right now,” Skye said.
Moira exchanged glances with Rafe. “David Collins,” Rafe whispered. “The SWAT team leader.”
On Thursday, the night before all hell broke loose at Rittenhouse, a disgruntled employee had killed two of his co-workers and a customer before he was taken out by SWAT. Skye had been here that night, and Moira suspected that the sheriff’s presence tonight had more to do with the human murders than the demonic activity the following night.
“It’s my fault,” the male voice—David—pleaded. He sounded on edge, his voice rough and emotional.
“You did your job right, David. You saved three lives. It could have been so much worse!”
“But we lost three innocent people!”
“You can’t think that way,” Skye said.
“Don’t lecture me!”
“We have to go. We’ve seen her die three times, we have to get out of here. I’ll call Anthony, he’ll understand this better than us.”
Rafe whispered in Moira’s ear, “Ghost.”
“How do you know?” she asked.
“They’re in the bathroom, right? That’s where the manager died, right?”
“Yeah, but if she’s repeatedly dying, it might just be an imprint of her death, not a real spirit.” Sometimes during sudden or violent deaths, sensitive people could see the victim die. The death loops fade away over time.
“Maybe.” Rafe sounded skeptical.
“Or a manifestation from David’s mind. Maybe he’s imagining it.”
“It sounds like Skye saw the same thing.” He glanced at her. “You haven’t seen a ghost before?”
“No,” she admitted. “You?”
He didn’t answer, and Moira wasn’t sure if it was because he didn’t want to or because Skye and David were arguing, their voices echoing in the partially empty warehouse.
“Don’t look!” Skye shouted. “David, close your eyes!”
Rafe and Moira ran toward the open bathroom. David had his flashlight aimed toward a stall with no door. Dried blood was spattered on the three walls, trails of blood winding down to the floor where it was pooled. A flicker of energy manifested itself into a ghost.
It was Grace Chin, the last victim of Ned Nichols, the Rittenhouse shooter. She was squatting on the toilet, talking on a cell phone though they couldn’t hear her speak, her face frozen in terror as her eyes kept darting to the doorway. She couldn’t see them. She was waiting for something else.
The ghost screamed and the sound of the bathroom stall door being kicked in echoed, then the bullets, three of them, hitting Grace in the chest, the head, and again in the chest, blood spraying everywhere in the small stall, the ghostly replay hitting the walls in the same places that the dried blood now remained.
“It’s my fault!” David screamed. Just as Moira realized David had a gun in his hand, Skye saw her and Rafe in the doorway. The sheriff managed to look both relieved and pissed off.
“Why should I live? She didn’t deserve to die, I could have saved her! I should have saved her!”
“It was Nichols who shot her, David. Get your head on straight! It was all Nichols, not you.”
“You should have let me go in sooner!”
The accusation stunned Skye into silence, and Moira took the opportunity to step into the room. Rafe’s hand was on her arm, whether to support her or hold her back, she wasn’t sure.
“David,” Moira said, “we have to get out of here right now. This isn’t real, it’s probably an imprint of Grace’s murder. Death can imprint itself anywhere, but sudden death is more likely to stick around for awhile. But if this is really Grace’s ghost, she might not know she’s dead, which makes her dangerous. You’ve got to let this go.”
Skye said quietly, “David, we’ve been friends for my entire career. You don’t want to do anything you can’t take back, and dammit, I don’t want to knock on your parents’ door tomorrow morning and tell them that their son killed himself.”
Skye’s comment seemed to shake David from his daze. He stared at his gun in horror. “I wouldn’t—” he stopped, and said quietly. “I’ve been here every day. I walked away. But then I saw her, and I couldn’t leave. I feel so helpless, Skye.”
“I know you do. We’ll get through this, I promise.” She held her hand out for his gun.
The apparition began again, a psychic rewind of Grace Chin’s last minute alive.
Rafe said, “Moira, get them out. I’ll take care of the ghost.”
“Go!” he ordered. “I don’t have a lot of time.”
He had that look, like he was listening to someone else. Moira pushed aside her fear for Rafe and who he was listening to, and motioned Skye to grab David’s gun.
David holstered it instead. “I can’t—”
“Don’t look!” Moira told him, pushing Skye out the door when she hesitated. “Go, Skye—now!”
Skye went, glancing over her shoulder. Moira pulled David from the room. He neither helped nor hindered her, his eyes on the ghost of Grace Chin huddled in the bathroom stall talking on the phone.
Rafe began speaking the ancient language Aramaic. Moira needed to get David and Skye away. Break the fear and grief that was keeping the two cops rooted in that room reliving the death of the one victim they couldn’t save.
They ran into the break room, which was in complete disarray—the table overturned, papers everywhere, coffee mugs shattered on the floor. Moira figured the ghost had less to do with the mess than the demon Envy who’d been drawn into the warehouse by Fiona’s coven. But either way, Santa Louisa had one more weak spot where the line between Hell and Earth was thin. Moira could feel it.
Skye opened the back door. “David, we’ll go to my house and talk about this, as long as you want.”
“I’m sorry Skye. I don’t know what got into me, I didn’t mean—” He jumped at the ghost’s scream and three gunshots.
The back door slammed shut, pulling right out of Skye’s hand.
Moira looked at Skye, who said, “I didn’t—the wind.” She reached over to open it again, but it didn’t budge.
Skye kept pulling on the door, but Moira knew they were trapped.
Rafe walked into the back room. “We have a problem.”
“I know, your exorcism didn’t work.”
He shook his head. “She wasn’t a ghost.”
“What do you mean that wasn’t a ghost? You saw it.”
“It wasn’t even a death imprint. It was a projection—”
“You mean fake?” Skye exclaimed. “Someone recorded Grace’s murder?”
“No, I mean a . . .” Rafe was at a loss for words, but Moira finally understood what he meant.
“Another poltergeist is playing games.”
“Would you explain how whatever it is locked us in here?”
Rafe said, “There is definitely a ghost here, and not a simple apparition—it’s a vengeful spirit. He put a supernatural force on the door. Essentially, his will is keeping it shut tight. The ghostly image we saw of Grace Chin was from his memory.”
David shook his head. “That makes no sense. Skye, you can’t be buying this!”
“Did what you see and heard make sense?” Moira asked.
Skye paled. “The ghost is Ned Nichols?”
“Most likely,” Rafe said.
David shook his head. “But I saw Grace. We all saw her. I’m not crazy.”
“The delay between the imprints,” Moira said, “was about three to four minutes. It’s been at least ten minutes since the last gunshot. The show stopped when Nichols no longer had a captive audience.”
“But why?” Skye asked.
Before Moira could tell her the why didn’t matter, the temperature plummeted in the break room. “He’s locked us in.”
“We have to get out of here,” Rafe said. “Did you feel that?”
“Yes,” she said.
“What?” Skye asked.
The small refrigerator fell over, the crashing suddenly loud in the silence. Padlocks spun on a row of lockers along the far wall, then one by one the metal doors opened and closed, banging in a caustic cacophony.
“The front,” Rafe said. “We’ll break the windows if we have to. But this guy Nichols has it out for someone, and I think it’s you, David.”
“Why? Because I killed the fucking bastard?”
The locker doors crashed faster and faster.
“Don’t piss him off,” Moira said.
“Too late,” Rafe said. “I don’t think he ever intended to let David leave.”
The door into the hall slammed shut at the same time as the lockers stopped making their agonizing racket. Skye pulled out her phone. “It’s dead.”
“It’s the electromagnetic field the ghost is creating,” Moira said.
“What do we do? Can you exorcise it or something?” Skye asked. The cop hated feeling useless. Moira understood exactly how she felt.
She reached into her pocket and took out a one-pound bag of salt. “This isn’t going to be enough for all of us,” she said. She glanced at Rafe.
He said, “I’ll need your help. I don’t think I can take him down on my own.”
“I’ve never dealt with a ghost.”
“I have, follow my lead.” He frowned and rubbed his temples.
“Rafe?” she whispered.
“It’s okay, just a memory. I can do this.”
Moira ordered Skye and David to sit on two chairs. She poured a circle of salt around them. “This should keep you safe for awhile. This poltergeist is still learning his parlor tricks, he still doesn’t have a lot of control.”
“Salt?” David looked skeptically at the ground.
“It deters spirits. It’s not foolproof, but it definitely will buy you time.”
“What about you?” Skye asked.
“Years of memorizing exorcisms will come in handy,” Rafe said with a half-smile, taking out his dagger.
“You can’t use a knife on a ghost,” David said. He still looked skeptical, and Moira hoped he stayed put.
“It’s iron,” Rafe explained. “If he manifests himself, it’ll disrupt his energy for awhile.”
“How long is awhile?” asked David.
“A minute or so. Long enough.”
The iron shavings they both had in their jackets helped detour ghosts and demons from possessing them as well. Again, not foolproof—a small amount of iron wouldn’t repel more powerful spirits. But Nichols was new at this game, and it would offer them some protection.
Rafe turned to Moira. “Ready?”
She had her knife out. “Right behind you.” The door into the hall opened easily enough. “Divide and conquer,” she muttered.
“You’re being the pessimist tonight,” Rafe said, his eyes focused on the dark in front of him. “Flashlight?”
Moira handed her light to Rafe.
They walked down the short hall, past the offices, and stood along the wall looking into the main showroom. During the ritual to summon the Seven Deadly Sins, the coven had moved all the furniture to the sides. During the battle that ensued, much of it had been tossed or broken, but the police and emergency crews had cleaned up enough to get through the maze.
“There’s more energy here,” Moira said. “I feel the electromagnetic increase.”
“You’re a regular human EMF detector,” Rafe teased.
Rafe tensed beside her. “Do you—”
“—see that? Hell yes.”
The ghost manifested itself into a pale, transparent image of his human body. He wore dark slacks, a light colored, button-down shirt and had a small red hole in the middle of his forehead.
“Nichols,” Rafe whispered.
The showroom was so cold they could see their breath.
“He knows we’re here,” Moira said. “Ready?”
Rafe launched into an exorcism Moira hadn’t heard before. Though not always effective on ghosts, a traditional exorcism could interrupt malevolent activity long enough to find a more permanent way to get rid of the spirit. Destroying their human remains was still the single most effective way of banishing a ghost.
But since cell phones weren’t working, Moira couldn’t very well call the coroner and ask him to torch Nichols’s body.
Moira kept her eyes on the ghost. The exorcism impacted him only slightly—he wavered in form, then took shape again.
Rafe paused, and Moira said, “Let me try—”
Before she could start an alternative exorcism, a chair flew across the showroom and hit the wall right next to her head.
Nichols disappeared, but the cold remained.
“Moira—” Rafe took her hand and they started to move slowly back toward the break room.
A small table flew at them and they ducked.
“There!” Moira pointed to Nichols who was partially visible only feet from Rafe.
Rafe lunged toward the apparition with his dagger to disperse the energy. The ghost flickered and disappeared.
A coat rack hit Moira in the head.
“Are you okay?” Rafe sounded both in control and panicked at the same time, if that were possible.
“I’m okay.” Damn, that hurt. She rubbed the side of her neck. She’d been beaten up during her training at Olivet, but nothing like this. “I swear, I wish it was a demon. They are more predictable than that damn ghost.”
“Demons aren’t invisible,” Rafe said. “They can’t waver in and out of sight like ghosts. But ghosts can’t drag you to hell.”
“Oh, joy, that’s looking on the bright side.”
Rafe rubbed the back of her neck. “You have your gun?”
“See if you can crack the window, weaken it then we might be able to push out the glass.”
“What about the exorcism?”
“I don’t know that it’s going to work fast enough. I wish we could get a message to Anthony to burn Nichols’ body, but we’ll just have to find a way to get out of here then deal with the spirit after. I don’t like leaving Skye alone with that guy—I don’t think he’s a hundred percent stable right now.”
“Skye said she’s known David her entire life or close to it. She would have let us know if she felt threatened.”
“It was his reaction to the reenactment. He’s angry and depressed. Not a good combination.”
“Okay, escape is always good.”
“And,” Rafe continued, “I think the ghost hates you. He threw those things at you, not me.”
“Just lucky I guess.”
“It’s because you’re a woman. Do you remember Skye said after Nichols went postal last week that he blamed his boss—Grace Chin—for sleeping her way to the top.”
“That puts Skye in danger too,” Moira said, pocketing her dagger and taking out her gun.
She shot at the window.
Teeny crack. She fired again, but this time the bullet was diverted and nearly hit Rafe. Her heart quickened and she pocketed her gun.
“I don’t have a Plan B.”
“Maybe a Plan C?”
Nichols manifested in the corner of the room. Heavier pieces of furniture moved toward them. Slower than the smaller pieces, which gave them the edge.
“If I can make him retreat, it might loosen his hold on the doors,” Rafe said.
“Go for it. I’ll be bait, since he seems to really hate me.” She moved away from a buffet that looked like it was about to crush her. “And I’ve never met the guy.”
“Just don’t get yourself killed, okay?”
“I’ll do my best.”
Rafe ran along the perimeter of the showroom, toward the apparition, and Moira waved her arms to distract the ghost. “Hey, Nichols! You’re dead! It’s time to move on. I know, you’re probably freaked out because after killing three people in cold blood you didn’t get much chance to say I’m sorry before wham, bam, thank you SWAT.”
The ghost moved toward her, and Rafe lunged for it, slicing the apparition with the iron handle of his dagger. It disappeared.
“Let’s go,” he said, working his way back over to Moira. “Did you have to antagonize the ghost?”
“I don’t know whether to kiss you or lecture you.”
“If you haven’t guessed, I really hate lectures.”
He kissed her so hard and so fast she would have wondered if he’d kissed her at all, except for the heat that moved through her body.
“Lecture later,” he mumbled as they ran back down the hall to the break room.
The door in front of them splintered when a bullet blasted through.
“Shit!” Moira exclaimed, pulling Rafe back toward her. “That almost hit you.” Her heart raced. They were going to kill themselves if they weren’t careful. Maybe that’s exactly what the ghost wanted.
“Hold your fire!” Rafe shouted. “It’s us!”
Moira opened the door. “Why were you shooting?”
“I saw the ghost,” Skye said, stunned. “You’re not—”
“You didn’t hit anything human,” Moira said, entering the room. Rafe was right behind her, but the door slammed shut in his face, separating them.
She pushed and pulled at the door. “It’s not budging!” Moira called back to him.
“I’m going to find a way out. Be careful in there.”
Moira heard furniture slamming against the walls. The ghost was dividing them to make it easier to take them out. She had to distract the ghost away from Rafe.
She remembered that the ghost had gone after her. “Skye, I have an idea.”
“Great, because I have none.”
“Just play along, okay?” She turned to David who looked shell-shocked. “David, you’re SWAT, you’ve got to get it together.”
“I’m okay.” He shook his head as if to clear cobwebs. “I’ve never seen a ghost before.”
“Guess what, neither have I. You have to be the bully, he won’t believe it coming from a woman. Skye said something the other night about Nichols blaming the manager for sleeping her way to the top, or something like that.”
David nodded. “He was furious. And at Skye because she was a woman. Said she slept her way into becoming Sheriff.”
“Play that. We have to get him in here and away from Rafe.”
Another crash from the showroom and Moira tried not to picture Rafe lying injured—or worse—under an armoire.
“Oh—oh! I get it.”
Moira backed into a corner with her dagger ready, watching the entire room, an exorcism on her lips. David turned to Skye and said, “I should congratulate you, Skye—you became sheriff the old fashioned way. On your back.”
Skye was a little slower on the uptake. She turned and stared at him, shocked.
“Speak up, or are you going to lie about it?”
Moira pushed the scenario along. “You prick, don’t talk to my girlfriend like that!” She looked pointedly at Skye, willing her to get into the role.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Skye said, catching on. “So what? I’m a good Sheriff. It doesn’t matter who I had to screw to get there.”
The temperature in the room plummeted again.
“You set Ned up because you hate men,” David said. “You made me kill him because you hate men.”
“That’s right,” Skye said, less forcefully.
Nichols manifested himself right next to Moira. That, she wasn’t expecting. He reached out, waves of energy coming off of his spiritual aura, and she was flying across the room, hitting the wall.
Fuck, that hurts!
She was pinned against the wall, scarcely able to breathe let alone fight the ghost.
Nichols rushed at Skye and David, then bounced off the invisible shield the salt circle gave them. All three of them looked stunned.
“Skye!” Moira called, using the last of her breath. Skye turned and Moira tossed her dagger toward her.
Skye leapt from the circle to catch it. Nichols went for her, fast.
“Handle,” Moira said, and Skye flipped the blade around and slashed the ghost with the iron handle.
Nichols disappeared and Moira fell to the floor.
Skye rushed over to her. “Are you okay?”
“He’s no Casper.” Moira slowly rose to her feet. She took her dagger back. “I don’t think I like ghosts.”
The back door opened and Anthony rushed in. Skye practically flew into his arms. “It’s Nichols ghost,” Skye said in a rush. “He lured David here, locked us in, I don’t know what he wants—”
Anthony touched Skye everywhere, as if to make sure she was in one piece, then kissed her, holding her close.
Moira told David, “Go out, as far as you need to get reception, and call the coroner. Tell him he has to destroy Nichols’s body. Pour salt all over it then burn it.”
David looked at her like she was insane. What, he was questioning her now after everything he’d seen tonight?
“Rafe is trapped in the showroom!” Moira exclaimed. “Do it!”
Skye said to David, “Please, David, trust them. Tell Rod I’m ordering him to do it. I’ll take any fall-out.”
“All right. But Skye, in June—”
“It’s okay,” she said, “The election isn’t as important as our lives.”
“You still have my vote,” David said, and left.
Moira had already run over to the door and fought to open it. “Dammit! It’s not moving!”
Anthony and Skye came over to assist. “You’re bleeding,” Skye said.
“It’s just a little cut.” She put her hand on the back of her head. It hurt, it was damp and sticky with blood, but it would heal.
Three loud crashes from the storeroom made Moira jump.
“Stand back,” Skye said. She fired three bullets into the lock. The door sprang open.
Moira told Anthony, “You do the exorcism, I’ll find Rafe.”
Anthony didn’t like taking orders from anyone, especially her, but she didn’t give him time to argue before she rushed down the hall ahead of him.
“Rafe!” she called. “Raphael!”
A grunt from near the front told her Rafe was down. She felt the energy building again, and suddenly she had an idea on how to defeat the ghost.
She ran back toward Anthony and Skye and hit the rock-solid demonologist head on. “What are you doing?” he demanded.
She ignored him and asked Skye, “Do you have your Taser with you?”
“Of course, but—”
“I need it.”
Skye handed it to her. “I took off the safety. Be careful.”
Careful. Like they weren’t in imminent danger of being crushed by flying furniture.
Movement near the front drew her eye. Nichols was faintly shimmering, barely visible, whether because he was weakening or had learned to control his physical presence better, she didn’t know. But he was moving away from them . . .
. . . and toward Rafe.
Moira maneuvered among the toppled furniture and shouted, “Hey, Ned!”
The ghost turned to face her.
She didn’t realize how fast ghosts could move. Suddenly it was right in front of her, touching her, its icy cold aura burning her flesh.
Her feet weren’t on the ground.
It was Rafe’s voice, but she couldn’t let herself be distracted. She fought the levitation, but Nichols was strong. Her arms felt like lead weights and she had to use every ounce of strength to move her hand into firing position.
She couldn’t breathe, as if the ghost was sucking every ounce of air out of her.
In the back of her mind, she heard Anthony shouting a Latin exorcism. The ghost wavered, but didn’t let go.
She pressed the Taser’s trigger.
Two darts flew from the Taser and went right through the apparition.
Moira fell to the ground, the wind knocked out of her. She couldn’t move or feel anything and wondered if she broke all her bones. She hadn’t realized how high he’d held her.
But she wasn’t dead, and slowly the pain spread.
She felt her body gathered up. “Moira, Moira!”
It was Rafe. She tried to say his name, but nothing came out.
“It’s gone,” Anthony said.
“Let get out of here,” Skye said.
Moira tried to talk, but it came out a moan. Rafe was carrying her from the building. The damp fog revived her. She hurt everywhere, but nothing felt broken. “Rafe.”
“It worked.” She relaxed and leaned against Rafe’s chest, breathed the fresh outside air.
“How did you know the Taser would work?” Anthony demanded.
“Leave her alone,” Rafe said. “Can’t it wait?”
“It’s okay,” she said, feeling better. “Ghosts are made from electromagnetic energy—at least, that’s where they get their strength. I thought a jolt of electricity might disrupt him long enough for us to get out.” And since ghosts were either attached to a person, object or building, if she didn’t destroy it, most likely he’d be trapped in Rittenhouse until they could exorcise the building.
“Smart,” Skye said.
“You scared me,” Rafe whispered in Moira’s ear.
“You scared me. We’re even.” She sighed. “I think I can walk now.”
He set her on her feet. Skye was on her phone, and Anthony was holding her close to his side. Moira saw the love, and the fear, on Anthony’s face. Though she and Anthony had their differences— substantial differences—her feelings about him were changing because of how much he loved Skye. A man who could love so deeply couldn’t be a total asshole.
She looked at Rafe. “I’m okay.”
He was scrutinizing her. She didn’t want a lecture, so she hugged him, relaxing in his warmth.
She took a final look at Rittenhouse Furniture Warehouse.
Four ghostly images flickered in the windows, then disappeared.
Maybe it wasn’t completely over.