Dead Endings: Chapter 6
A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #010 back issue.
Cold wafts of air snuck through the artfully placed rips in Everett Jung’s jeans. While he appreciated their overall stylistic appeal, the chilly autumn air caused him to second-guess his fashion decisions. He rearranged his scarf to better dissuade drafts from finding other opportunities to steal his heat, and glanced at Alex from under his lashes. The other man fidgeted nervously with the collar of his coat.
About fifteen minutes after Cailen and Gabriella had left them outside of Markle’s apartment, Everett and Alex waited together uneasily. Everett had explained things as simply as he could. Alex looked a bit lost, but then again, people didn’t seem particularly able to follow along when the discussion turned toward supernatural activity.
Everett’s eyes trailed up to the open window on the second floor. They lingered on the cloudy glass, hopeful for movement of some kind. It had been disappointingly quiet. After Cailen and Gabriella’s climactic departure, he expected something more…more…
A small, wooden box crashed through the upper pane of the second-story window. It arced majestically in a cloud of sparkling glass before succumbing to gravity. Everett watched in awe as it exploded spectacularly against the stone parapet below.
Everett reflexively shielded his face from the debris shower the same moment Alex did. Alex cried out in surprise. Everett’s gaze immediately shot back up to the window.
He couldn’t make out any figures, but he could make out the unmistakable sounds of furious activity inside. College had not prepared him for poltergeists, but he knew an opportunity when he saw one.
“C’mon!” he yelled, and seized Alex by the arm. He tossed the girls’ jackets onto the stone railing and charged up the steps. Eyes still locked on the remains of the box, Alex allowed himself to be dragged inside.
They burst into the entryway with such gusto that Everett nearly took them both down as he stumbled over a pair of shoes. He caught himself on an oak bench just before he ate a pair of Margiela replica sneakers.
“Oh my Go–” Alex began.
A small item flew out of a hallway on the right-hand side of the floor above them. It clattered down the stairs, end over end, and disappeared behind a dark leather sofa. Everett could hear objects hurtling around in an upstairs room as lights flicked on and off.
“Gabriella!” Everett shouted, scrambling to his feet.
He heard sharp bangs, and then the sound of impacting wood punctuating the air.
“Delaney!” he tried next.
Again, no answer. An acidic wave of vinegar and lemons rolled over him; his eyes burned and started watering.
“Goddamn,” he gagged.
Alex looked at him wildly. Everett didn’t bother to explain–Alex seemed like he’d hit information overload a while ago, and Everett didn’t want to risk overwhelming him any further. He swallowed down as much of the horrible smell as he could and tried to sniff out the subtler spirit lurking within the apartment.
A crash sounded from down the hallway to their left. Everett started toward it, but he could only catch a sour, lemony odor–not quite the scent he was looking for. He stopped and breathed in deeply. A faint whiff of burnt wood, which usually accompanied cinnamon, finally gave him the confirmation he needed to keep following the smell to the noise upstairs.
“We’re going up!” he declared.
Alex remained rooted to the spot.
Everett tugged on his arm, but Alex’s pale blue eyes were fixed to the sofa where the object had disappeared before.
“C’mon! They’re up there, and they need our help!” Everett shouted.
Everett was only guessing that last part, but it seemed to do the trick. That and a little more dragging, anyway.
He and Alex cautiously picked their way across the living room, wary of flying objects. As the commotion above them grew, items around the apartment seemed to vibrate with pent-up force. Everett led as fast as he dared, eyes everywhere, senses strained.
As they ascended the stairs, Everett thought he could make out voices. The heavy sound of dragging furniture obscured the exact words, but he picked up on the urgency of their tone.
“Wait…ot like–!” he thought he heard.
And then it went silent. Everything went silent.
A hush settled over the building, as if all energy had fled the space. Even the rolling, acrid smell of vinegar and citrus vanished in its muted wake.
Everett paused mid-step and gaped at the spiritual vacuum. Alex ran into him and asked a tense, muffled question at his back.
“I don’t know,” Everett replied. “I don’t know what’s happening.”
They waited there on the landing, uncertain and unwilling to break the silence first.
A crunch of breaking glass did it for them. And then a deep, weirdly pitched shout rent the air.
Galvanized by the cry, Everett leapt for the next stair. However, Alex’s hand on his belt halted his mighty charge forward and his hands collided with the hard wood of the steps above.
“What the hell are you–”
“Chri-Christopher!” Alex said in horrified tones.
“Christopher,” Alex repeated, his blue eyes the only color in his white, frightened face. “That was Christopher!”
Everett thought furiously. If they actually could hear Markle, then it meant things had probably gone south. A small part of his mind buzzed with excitement at the idea of ‘seeing’ a ghost again. He hadn’t had time to really appreciate the experience back at Warner’s place, and encountering something this powerful was a first for him. The rest of him felt relieved because now, Gabriella wouldn’t kill him for coming in…probably.
He peeled himself off the stairs, palms throbbing.
“If that’s him, then good!”
Alex looked dumfounded. “Good?”
“Yes!” Everett asserted, against all evidence to the contrary. “Now let’s go–” He pried Alex’s fingers loose from his belt one by one. “–see him!”
Alex couldn’t articulate his distress well enough to keep arguing, so Everett dragged him up the remaining stairs. The bedroom door seemed to be the source of the cry. Everett and Alex crept toward it. More voices came from within.
Markle and Gabriella now? The smell of cinnamon overpowered Everett’s senses.
With a thrill of anticipation, he put his hand on the door and pushed.
A thundering boom and a flash of white light blinded him as he entered the room.
Everett instinctively threw himself back on his ass with his arms raised. Alex stayed on his feet, but covered his face with his hands. Looking at the scene before him, Everett thought Alex would be best served by keeping them there.
Clothes, glass, and mangled bits of the room’s furnishings littered the floor. Punctures and long gashes marred the white walls. Brightly colored ties and socks spilled over the half-open drawers of an upturned dresser. Then Everett saw the two women. And the blood.
Cailen stood stock-still in a cleared space, her gray eyes unblinking. The blood trailing from her nose and mouth seemed too bright to be real against the colorless skin of her pale face. It dripped slowly into a widening red stain on the cream carpet.
Gabriella lay crumpled at her feet. Beside her was a short-barreled rifle. The smell of gunpowder filled the air.
Everett cried out and scrambled over to Gabriella on his hands and knees. He turned her on her back and felt deeply relieved to see her both conscious and seemingly uninjured.
She shuddered and blinked rapidly. Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes. With a start, she seemed to notice Everett, but struggled free from his arms and shot up.
She seized Cailen’s shoulder with one hand and stared into her face with an intensity that frightened him. They stood like that for a moment before Gabriella released her with a sigh and sagged to her knees.
Gabriella rocked forward until her head butted gently against the front of Cailen’s dress. The smaller woman swayed slightly with the movement, but made no other sign of awareness.
“Alive…” he thought he heard Gabriella murmur into the fabric.
“Are you…” He hesitated, noticing her right arm. It was dark with bruising and turned awkwardly.
She looked at him. “Can you get a wet cloth, please?”
Her simple question quieted all of the others piling up behind his lips. He stood without comment and gingerly navigated his way around the chaos to reach the bathroom. She must have finally noticed Alex, as Everett heard her command him to grab their coats.
Everett returned with a damp washcloth, but not before a long, sideways look at the fist-sized impact in the mirror.
“See if you can find some tweezers, too,” Gabriella said with a sigh as she followed his gaze.
Alex returned with the jackets. He hugged them to his body as he glanced around the room. Everett noticed a look of comprehension in Alex’s face that he hadn’t seen before.
“Is it…over?” he asked quietly.
Gabriella paused in wiping the blood from Cailen’s face. She looked beyond tired to Everett, but her eyes were fever-bright when she answered.
“Yes,” she said, with absolute certainty. “It’s over.”
Alex stared back at her for a few seconds, then nodded and sat with the coats. After locating some tweezers, Everett joined him.
They sat there in silence–and uncertainty, in Everett’s case–and watched Gabriella clean Cailen’s wounds and pluck the larger pieces of glass from her knuckles. Eventually she ordered Alex outside to hail a taxi.
Alex obeyed. Everett stayed behind to walk Cailen carefully out of the house. Gabriella followed slowly behind, cradling her arm.
Outside, the cold air seemed to spur Everett’s brain back to normal speed. He installed Cailen into one side of the cab and started to help Gabriella, but she was speaking with Alex.
“I’m sorry for the mess,” she said softly.
Alex gave her an unsteady smile. “I have no idea what just happened. I don’t give a damn about the mess. I just have to know…have to be sure… Is he…?”
She closed her eyes. “He’s at peace. You won’t have to worry about him anymore.”
Alex took a long, deep breath and then exhaled slowly.
Gabriella got into the cab. Everett shook Alex’s hand and remembered at the very last second to collect their wallets.
As they pulled away, he watched Christopher Markle’s cousin through the cab’s finger-smudged glass. He shrank in the distance until he disappeared from sight.
Proceed to Chapter 6, page 2–>