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Dead Endings: Chapter 5

A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #008 back issue.

Christopher Markle’s apartment was every bit as impressive inside as it was outside. The cherry-red door opened to a generous foyer piled high with coats and boots. Benches lay against the wood paneling that covered both sides of the entrance, to facilitate the easy removal of shoes. An antique miniature chandelier hung high over their heads, and when Gabriella flipped the switch the yellowed crystals beamed fractals of light across the sweeping, eleven-foot-high ceilings.

Cailen paused amidst the chaotic piles of footwear and braced for a reaction. A faint clicking sounded from somewhere deep inside the building, but nothing materialized. Gabriella and Cailen exchanged looks and moved farther in.

Past the foyer, the apartment’s open floor plan held a generous kitchen with a marble island and a square dining area that dominated the far left. They stepped into a palatial sitting area the size of the kitchen and dining area combined. Hallways ran left and right of the entryway, but in the dimly lit passages, Cailen could only make out the faint outlines of doors. She and Gabriella avoided them and moved cautiously into the kitchen, their dress shoes tapping softly against the polished wood flooring.

“The cabinets are shut…” Cailen whispered as she peered around the marble-dominated food space.

“That looks like a broken candle holder to me, though,” Gabriella said softly. She pointed to two portions of a cylindrical object at the center of a long table.

Cailen picked up one of the pieces and studied the spider web of cracks marring the ivory-hued glass. “Neat as you please,” she said, mimicking Alex’s account.

Gabriella frowned at the pieces; her head swiveled back and forth like a dog trying to catch a scent. Cailen set the candle holder back on the table and performed the same scan with her eyes and senses, seeking out anything amiss. Unfortunately, unless a spirit felt like showing itself, Cailen knew they would have difficulty pinning down its exact location. She couldn’t detect much in the tense atmosphere, but she knew something was there and it knew they were there, too.

A stale silence had settled over the apartment in the wake of their entrance, and Cailen shuffled uneasily. The waning day still channeled some light across Gabriella’s tense, focused face. Cailen shaded her eyes against the orange beams. The glow from the windows only heightened the shadows between the grooves of the cabinets, the long, lonely table, and the yawning maw of the hallways.

A faint clicking noise sounded again, this time from the second floor. They both looked up at the ceiling, straining to make out any other noises.

“Maybe we should’ve brought Alex,” Cailen said. “The mood is ugly. It definitely thinks we’re intruding.”

Gabriella’s eyes stayed fixed on the ceiling. “It’s no guarantee. It didn’t chuck anything at his head last time, but spirits can escalate. And judging by the feeling in the air…I’m not sure if family would mean anything to the spirit at this point.”

Indeed, the atmosphere grew heavier and Gabriella took a deep breath.

“Remember what I said about ducking, okay?”

Lights flickered to life in both hallways. Cailen became very still. Then, illumination bathed a long staircase at the far end of the floor.

“That must be where Alex said he was getting the boxes,” Gabriella murmured.

“I can’t tell if it’s inviting us or trying to spook us.”

“We’re not taking the bait, either way. I want to see if we can get anything from where he died first.”

Cailen made a face. “Last time we did it this way, I did not enjoy myself. At all.”

“Well, then keep your guard up.”

“Easier said than done,” Cailen groused.

She followed Gabriella to the closest hallway on the right, where the hardwood floors were replaced by plush, cream-colored carpet. Deep caramel wood paneling bordered the lush flooring, and vintage moiré wallpaper covered the walls from top to bottom. Cailen ran a hand over it as they moved down the hallway. The slightly textured rise and fall of the metallic ridges from the wallpaper made her fingers tingle pleasantly.

Open doors lined the hallway, but Gabriella ignored them and moved unerringly down the corridor.

“How the heck do you know where you’re going?” Cailen whispered. “We don’t even know where he bit it.”

Gabriella stopped and glanced back at her, surprised.

“You’re not looking right. He’s already shown us which way to go.”

Cailen frowned and looked around. Nothing stood out to her, but Gabriella stared pointedly at her hand, which lingered over the embossed patterns of the wallpaper. Gabriella raised an eyebrow expectantly, her expression both bemused and strangely repulsed.

Cailen looked down at her hand and suddenly ripped it away from the wall as if a wild animal had snapped at her.

Smears of red painted the wall where she had unconsciously been dragging her fingers. It wasn’t real blood, but she wiped her hand vigorously on her dress and moved as far from the spot as she could in such a narrow space.

Gabriella stepped back as well and gestured down the length of the hallway. Here and there, grim stripes of blood streaked the wallpaper as though Christopher Markle had just preceded them, marking the hallway with remnants of his lost life.

“That’s just…” Cailen began. “That’s just wrong.”

Cailen recognized this as a familiar trick–a dirty trick–that some spirits had a knack for, and it never failed to chill her to the core. Gabriella seemed less than charmed, but untroubled. Her easy acceptance of the macabre had come from years of willing exposure. Cailen envied her tolerance, but not how she’d reached it.

“Their deaths often constrict the way they can communicate, but yeah… Anybody else who saw bloody walls would just hightail it out of here.”

“And they’d be smarter than us.”

“Probably,” Gabriella admitted.

They resumed walking, though Cailen repositioned herself towards the non-gory side of the passageway.

The room at the end of the hall looked like some kind of storage area. As Gabriella pushed the door completely open, an expanse of glass and layers upon layers of oak shelving greeted them. A lick of crisp air caressed Cailen’s cheek as they stood and marveled at the miniature wine cellar.

“Wow,” she said.

Gabriella whistled appreciatively. “No wonder Alex was worried we might be thieves or scammers. This is definitely something worth stealing.”

It was hard not to be distracted by the beautiful way the light rippled off of the multitude of red, brown, and gold bottles. Together they moved around the room, touching a vintage here and there, which momentarily transported Cailen from their morbid task. In one corner, however, a different shade of red marred the cool wood floor–and reflected no light.

“Ah,” Cailen said sadly. She recognized it as the last unburied remnants of Christopher Markle. It reminded her of Jacob Warner, and a bit of familiar anger probed delicately at the corner of her mind.

Gabriella crouched by the stain and reached out her hand.

A noise rumbled briefly in the confined space. Gabriella pulled her hand back. They looked around.

“Did you do that?” Gabriella asked quickly.

“You know I can’t–not like that. I don’t think Markle likes you touching his bits.”

Gabriella passed her hand over the stain again and the rumbling resumed, louder this time. The bottles vibrated restlessly in their racks–gently at first, and then faster. Gabriella pulled back and stood up. She presented both of her hands, open and palms-up.

“Peace,” she said. “We’re just here to help.”

The bottles stilled in their grooves, but a sticky, polluted anger lingered in the room.

“What happened here? Give us something to work with.”

Silence. Cailen felt a sense of reticence.

“Anything would help,” Gabriella tried again. “Show yourself. Tell me what you need to say.”

More silence.

Cailen glanced uneasily at the oak shelving and curled her fingers into the deep pockets of her dress, trying to get her blood moving again. The muted fury around her was hot in the spiritual sense, but it was the nature of all ghosts to physically pull warmth from the air. She wished she had gloves with her.

Her fingers found a small tear in her left pocket liner and worried at it like an itch.

Gabriella waited patiently by the stain, curly head upturned as if she expected Markle to appear hovering by the uppermost racks. No ghostly figure materialized. Her breath began to mist in the dropping temperature.

More silence sucked at the air around them, and the multi-hued luster of the bottles seemed dimmer, dirtier than when they’d come in.

Minutes ticked away. A faint creaking punctuated the quiet. Gabriella’s eyes were closed, attention focused on some plane or sensory field that Cailen couldn’t detect. The hole in Cailen’s pocket was wide enough to fit a finger through now. She found a stray thread and pulled at it.

The walls creaked again, ever so faintly, and Cailen heard the slightest scratching sound.

Gabriella’s eyes remained closed, but a line creased her brow.

A plink caught Cailen’s attention. Something small and hard rolled against her shoe. She knelt down and picked it up, turning it over in her long fingers.

It was a screw. Bits of freshly crumbled plaster were caught in the grooves.

More faint, scratching noises rustled overhead. She heard another plink as a second screw landed behind them and rolled under the shelving. The rack to their rear groaned ominously.

Cailen looked up and gave her friend a sickly smile.

“Shit,” Gabriella said softly. She grabbed Cailen by the arm and dragged her up towards the hallway. “Leaving. We are leaving. Now.”

Proceed to Chapter 5, page 2–>