Chapter 1

Eden Malone knocked back her fourth scotch of the day, savouring the smoky flavour. It was barely noon, but so what? She was a woman who could hold her liquor, and she’d held it in many different shapes, forms, and sizes over the years. It wasn’t as though she had the slightest buzz going anyway. That was a privilege typically reserved for mid to late afternoon, but not today. The comforting burn down the back of her throat was like a lover’s caress, but she’d seen enough lives destroyed by one too many stupid decisions. She didn’t particularly care for endangering others or, more importantly, herself. Besides, she wanted to enjoy this afternoon’s drive and she’d already decided the only way she could do it was with a clear head.

If asked, she would probably say that her attempt at sobriety was damn near heroic. Unfortunately, heroics aside, it didn’t seem to be a cure for the melancholy that was presently afflicting her. She capped the decanter and restored it to its rightful place in her amply stocked bar. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it but for some reason the apartment that had become her sanctuary over the years seemed to be closing in on her. It could be her recent reintroduction to fresh air and wide open spaces, or it could just as easily be the book that lay carelessly opened on the bar counter.

She didn’t know why she kept the scrapbook in the first place. She certainly didn’t know why she cared. It wasn’t like the freaks that foamed at the mouth over her books were the most intelligent of the lot, although she would never let her ‘loyal fans’ know how she truly felt about them. Not as long as they still had money in their pockets. Nonetheless, she felt compelled to collect as many of the reviews as she could get her hands on. It was a habit she was almost certain would lead to an ulcer one day, especially since her popularity of late had been steadily heading down the toilet. She recalled, with a cringe and in vivid detail, the last conversation she’d had with Marge.

*****

Beecher Publishing was as cutthroat as they came and Marge Beecher was the head pirate. When her husband had, quite inconveniently, keeled over from a heart attack ten years ago, many speculated that control of the company would have been handed over to one of their three sons. Instead, Marge herself had taken the reins and transformed an average printing press into one of the most successful publishing houses in the country. The woman seemed to have an uncanny ability to ferret out the next big market and, while many similar companies had gone under with the advent of the digital age, Beecher Publishing had flourished. Marge, at the ripe old age of 65, had mastered the art of altering her persona to suit her needs so well that Eden had long ago given up trying to figure out what was real and what wasn’t.

All that mattered was the woman had a bloodhound’s nose for the market, and the teeth to stand her ground; a fact that had afforded Eden a ritzy penthouse apartment with a view of the adjoining park that many would kill for…well not literally. Still, you never knew which side of Marge was likely to make an appearance on any given day and Eden felt a bit like a kid on her way to see the Principal as Marge’s secretary, who bore a striking resemblance to a Rottweiler, buzzed her in.

Marge Beecher’s office was designed to intimidate, as were the power suits she insisted on wearing. Today’s was a dark brown number that blended in with the toffee coated walls and the rich mahogany furniture. The ornate desk lamp and wall sconces lent the room an air of a bygone era and Eden wished she had thought to bring her laptop so she could scribble down some choice phrases for her next book. Marge was perched in her favourite leather chair and if her expression was meant to convey any pleasure or warmth then it failed miserably.

“Hi Marge. How are you doing?” Eden knew her voice sounded a little too cheery for her liking but she couldn’t help it.

“Sit down Eden. We need to have a little chat.”

Marge Beecher was never one for pleasantries, not when you could just get down to the business at hand. She opened a desk drawer and took out a copy of Eden latest manuscript, which she’d tentatively named Scarlet Lullaby.

“What, pray tell, is this Eden?”

“You know very well what it is Marge.” That earned her a raised eyebrow but she decided to plough on anyway. “Look, I know it’s a little rough around the edges, but that’s what editorial teams are for right?”

“It’s not rough around the edges as you so nicely put it Ms. Malone. It’s utter and complete bullshit. I couldn’t convince my dog to buy this book even if I put the money in her mouth and pointed her ass to the bookstore.”

“It’s not that bad.” It was that bad, and Eden knew it, but she certainly wasn’t going to admit it.

“You’re right. It’s not that bad. It’s much, much worse. What’s going on with you Eden? I work with writers. I built my business off of writers. I know everyone goes through a rough patch now and then, but your work has just been going downhill. You know it. I know it. Every damn critic out there knows it.” Marge let out an exasperated sigh and leaned forward, propping her arms on the desk. “I’ve been giving you chances because you’ve made this company a lot of money and I was hoping this was temporary but, at the rate you’re going, I’ll barely be breaking even if I keep you on.”

“So you want me to find another publisher? Is that it?”

 “No.” Marge pinched the bridge of her nose, as if hoping to fend off an impending headache. “Against my better judgement, I’m going to give you one more chance to get your act together. You don’t believe in what you’re writing any more Eden, and your fans are beginning to pick up on it.”

“Why would I?” Eden was dumbfounded. Surely Marge wasn’t going crazy on her. “No one in their right mind would. Sure there’s some sick shit out there, but come on, this is make believe.”

“I know that Eden, and most of your readers do too, although some of the kooks are really into it. Don’t you read your fan mail?”

“I never touch the stuff.” She’d stopped right after a fan started sending her love letters supposedly written in his own blood. At least she hoped it was his. She’d turned the letters over to the police and washed her hands of the whole experience, literally.

“Hmm, you might have something there.” Marge leaned back and looked Eden straight in the eyes. “Anyway, that was your gift Eden…scaring the pants off people who know better. Take My Dearest Killer for example. My house is a miniature Fort Knox and by the end even I squealed like a little girl when Roscoe jumped up on the bed.”

“I’m still giving people thrills.” Eden sincerely hoped that Roscoe was Marge’s dog and not her boy toy of the month.

“No, you’re giving them clichés. You’re giving them everything they’ve read before. There may not be many new ideas floating around but there are still tons of ways to disguise them and make them your own. That’s what’s special about you Eden. You’re not one of those fanatics. You’re not convinced there’s a serial killer around every corner, or a ghost in every attic. You’re not crazy enough to believe everything you write, but you used to at least believe in the writing. I’m not getting that any more. And neither are the readers. If you don’t trust me you can take a look at the numbers.”

“I trust you Marge.” Eden sighed. “Maybe I am burnt out. To be honest, there’s so much horror in the real world, I’m not sure I can do make believe any more.”

“That’s a steaming pile of horse shit and you know it. I know burnt out writers. I’ve seen them sitting in that very chair, right before I tear them a new one. You’re not burnt out, not yet. You’ve gotten lazy and you’ve let the success go to your head. You can’t afford to do that Eden. There’s a bunch of young writers who would happily send me their pinkie finger all wrapped up in a bow if they could take your place.”

“That’s disgusting. Alright, I hear you.” Eden might have lost her faith in the writing but not in the money it brought in. “I’ll work on finding my inspiration. Don’t worry.”

“It’s my job to worry, but I might be able to help you with that.” Marge drummed her fingers against the dark wood, her brows furrowing in thought. Maybe you just need a change of scenery. I’m not saying you have to go hang out in morgues but…you know…..”

“I already hang out in morgues; that’s where I get some of my best ideas.”

“You are one sick puppy Eden, but you’re my sick puppy and I want you cured. You need to get away from the city for a while, and no, I’m not suggesting you partake in one those booze cruises you call a vacation. You may not like my idea but just hear me out. I grew up in a small town called Black Grove, back when there was still such a thing as small towns. There was a house in my old neighbourhood that was supposed to be haunted.” Marge held up a hand to forestall whatever utterances were sure to come from Eden’s mouth. “Some guy killed himself there and you know how that gets the rumours flying. I’ve been there myself and it’s a perfectly nice, comfortable home, but people with nothing to do usually get to talking. Anyway, I called the real estate agent and it’s available for leasing. Maybe you should take a look. At the very least some local gossip might spark an idea and hopefully get you back on track.”

“A haunted house? I thought I was supposed to be the heavy drinker here Marge?”

“I never said it was haunted. I said that people think it’s haunted. You and I both know that’s totally ridiculous, but what do you have to lose? Take some time off to recharge yourself and concentrate on your writing, not that blonde bimbo you’ve been photographed with recently.”

“Blondes aren’t my thing anymore. I’m thinking of taking up brunettes.” That earned another raised eyebrow from Marge, a natural brunette herself. “And a couple weeks away from the city couldn’t hurt. But I don’t really feel like being cut off from civilization. I don’t know about you but I like technology.”

“I didn’t grow up in a swamp Eden. Besides, Black Grove doesn’t really qualify as back woods anymore. It’s more like one of those resort towns that are popping up all over the place. I hear it’s got some pretty good spas.” Marge had the barest hint of a smile on her face. “Here, I’ve got the number of the real estate agent. The place is dirt cheap and it really does have all the modern amenities that you like to bitch about.”

 “Okay Marge, I’ll look into it.” Eden knew when to throw in the towel. “And if I actually see a ghost you have my word that I’ll personally perform the dance of the sugarplum fairy for you in a pink tutu.”

“As much as I’d like to see that Eden, I’d rather you come back with something equally spectacular for me to read. Now get out of here, and take this travesty with you before I buy a bird just so I can line its cage.” Marge tossed the manuscript across the table. “You have a lot of work to do.”

*****

Eden Malone wasn’t the type to give in easily, especially when she didn’t want to do something. It just so happened she actually wanted to do this. Not spend time in a reputed haunted house, but rather just get away from everything for a while. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had anything close to a vacation. She’d never had the time, not with deadlines looming over her. Sure there had been a few days here and there of drunken debauchery, but she could barely remember those, so they didn’t count as far as she was concerned. The irony of it all was that she had made a reputation for herself as one of the rising stars of horror writing, and she didn’t even like the genre. She could count on one hand the number of books she’d been able to read cover to cover, and on one finger the number she’d actually liked.

There was always a market for her particular brand of scary though, and those damned crime novels. She just didn’t love cold, hard facts enough to go the latter route. As sick and twisted as her mind could be, she still preferred to let her imagination run wild. And how her fans loved it so. How the loonies lapped up all her perverted imaginings of ghosts, goblins and other evils that walked the earth. She wasn’t considered the best, yet, but she had her foot in the door of the big leagues. Enough to keep her in all the expensive cigars, fine scotch and fine women she could ever want. She supposed some would say that her desires had a distinctly masculine edge. She would say that she was simply a woman who thoroughly enjoyed the finer things in life and knew how to get them. Not bad for a shy kid from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks. Maybe that’s why she kept those stupid reviews. It was her way of thumbing her nose at the world.

But now they wanted more. What more was there? Hadn’t she been giving them the same old thrills she always did? Even as she asked herself the question, she knew the answer. It was all blood and guts and gore now. Eden hated that. Why read in a novel what you could get on the front page of your local newspaper. Take the unfortunately named Mr. Cook, who had done just that to his wife of 15 years and who had only been caught when bone fragments had been found in his stool sample after he sought treatment for a stomach ache at the local hospital. What horrors could she think up that would be worse than the real world?

She would have to do some serious thinking though if she wanted to get back into Marge’s good graces. It wasn’t that she cared so much about whether she was well liked or not. Eden wasn’t that kind of woman. But low sales meant less money in her pocket and that was unacceptable. If taking off for a while so she could find her inner literary guru was in order, well she’d just make that sacrifice, and have one hell of a time doing it. Marge was right. Black Grove was, like her, on its way up and resembled the suburbs more than some backwater town. She’d even come across a couple of nightclubs along its main street during the course of her research. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Eden looked at the time. She should go if she wanted to get there before dark. She closed the book, rinsed her glass and picked up her briefcase. She paused to look at herself in the full length mirror on the side of the door, knowing and accepting that vanity and lust were her biggest vices. The woman looking back at her was just shy of forty, but could pass for thirty five. Luckily, good genes allowed her to remain lean in spite of her love for rich food and drink, not to mention her loathing for exercise of the non-sexual variety. She wasn’t what anyone would call beautiful but she was striking, thanks to her thick black curls and piercing grey eyes. All in all she liked what she saw, and she set her jaw in determination. She was going to be a success and she was going to come back with a story her readers would never forget.

Chapter 2:

Black Grove was so called because of its long standing association with olive plantations, before the industry had moved further west. Nowadays, the only olive trees to be found were ornamentals, and tourism had taken over as one of the economic staples. The area was home to a number of natural attractions, including a fairly large lake and a network of gorgeous bike trails. This had led to an influx of nature lovers over the years and the small town had been transformed into three almost distinct sections: residential, business and resort. There were two main routes into Black Grove and, although the mountain path was a bit longer, Eden much preferred the solitude it afforded her. It gave her time to think of her first visit.

*****

The house itself had turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Without meaning to, she’d gone to the viewing with a preconceived notion of what it would look like, thanks to an ex’s penchant for horror movies. She wouldn’t have been taken aback if a black cat had run across her path and a witch had flown from the crumbling chimney, cackling to the high heavens. Nor would it have shocked her if said ex had been the witch in question.

Instead, she’d been greeted by a long driveway crowned by an expanse of well maintained lawn, and a smaller fenced in yard at the back. She could see herself and a barbeque grill spending a lot of time out there. The house itself was a toffee-coloured two storey with large windows and bright, airy rooms. She’d been tickled pink to find that a great deal of remodelling had been done. All the amenities actually existed and were in working order, including a wireless connection and a modern security system. There was no basement, or attic for that matter, and the atmosphere was so far from oppressive that she briefly wondered if she was being shown the right building. The uneasiness of the real estate agent had convinced her though, and she’d had to refrain from jumping out and yelling ‘Boo!’ at the hapless young woman for fear that she either ran away screaming, wet herself, or attempted to do both simultaneously.

In the end she’d decided to take out a six month lease, with the option to renew. She’d tried to pry as much information as she could out of the delectable, but sadly straight, Ms. Saunders regarding the house’s history, but the real estate agent didn’t have much to say on that point. Maybe she genuinely didn’t know or, more likely, she wasn’t about to admit that no one wanted to go near the property because they were scared of things that went bump in the night.

Eden was far from disappointed. She’d only been mildly curious about the house’s history anyway. She didn’t really care for the past. She was more concerned about getting all her stuff moved in and indulging in some vacation time. She’d get around to writing when she was bored. Maybe she’d even talk to some folks and take a shot at a haunted house tale. What could be easier? Just throw in a few whispered voices, some footsteps on the stairs in the dead of night, and flickering lights, courtesy of faulty wiring of course. That should appease Marge.

*****

Eden chuckled a little, amused that she was actually enjoying the drive up to town; another shocker given that she’d developed a severe case of road rage years ago. It was nice to just drive without being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, and the fall scenery was beautiful. She wasn’t generally a woman given to admiring nature but, with the top down on her convertible and a cool breeze blowing through her hair, how could she not? Thankfully, there was never much of a chill in Black Grove. It would make quite a change from the biting cold she was used to up north.

She’d sent most of her stuff ahead, not that there was much, but she hadn’t gotten around to unpacking just yet, or stocking the refrigerator for that matter. She’d need supplies to last at least tonight, and maybe for breakfast the next morning. That could easily be fixed by turning into the nearest convenience store. It was only a couple blocks from the house anyway and it didn’t look like there were too many cars in the parking lot. The store itself wasn’t as big as the one where she lived, but it was well put together and she was pleasantly surprised to find that it carried more or less everything she needed. She was also pleased to register the look of recognition on the pretty cashier’s face. She put on her best smile and headed to the counter.

“Hi there.”

“Hi…uh…”

“Nice evening we’re having, isn’t it?” Eden never liked small talk but it had its uses, especially when her mind was more focused on taking in every feature of the young woman in front of her. She was almost as tall as her, which put her at least at 5’ 7”, and her frame was thin and wiry, almost athletic. She had a scruffy, tomboyish charm about her.

“Yeah, sure…uh…I’m sorry for staring but…uh…aren’t you…?”

“Eden Malone? That’s what everyone keeps telling me so I guess they must be right.”

“Wow. Uh…I’m sorry. My name’s Kendall.” She blushed as Eden shook her hand.

Eden felt a bit of that familiar flutter in her stomach at the young woman’s obvious admiration. She was used to fans coming up to her for autographs, occasionally trying to bed her and often succeeding, but very rarely ever being so endearingly shy. 

“I love your books. I’ve read all of them except the last one.” She looked around at the well-stocked magazine and book rack. “We haven’t gotten that one in as yet.”

Eden smiled. “Well then, today must be your lucky day.”

Eden knew she had a copy of her latest title in her glove compartment but she couldn’t say what it was exactly that made her run out to the car to get it. It wasn’t like she was trying to impress this girl. She looked pretty young…younger than Eden was usually interested in. She didn’t like being burdened with expectations she knew she wasn’t going to be able to fulfil. Give her an older woman who knew where things stood any day. Maybe her ego was just in need of a boost. By the time she had gotten back to the store, the girl had already rung up her purchases and gave what Eden rightly considered to be a very uncharacteristic squeal when she saw what she was carrying.

“Oh my God! I don’t know how to thank you for this. This is so amazing. Any chance I could convince you to sign this for me?”

“I’m sure you could convince me to do many things.” Oh what the hell. A little flirting never hurt anybody, and that blush was very attractive. It wasn’t like she was jailbait or anything.

“I don’t know about that.” Kendall looked as though she was trying to decide something. “I doubt that my convincing skills are as good as you’re used to. Are you just passing through?”

“No, I’ll be around for a while. Just a couple of months though. Maybe more if I see something I like.” Eden pretty much just gave up on being a good girl. Naughty was much better anyway.

“Hopefully you’ll see something you like soon then.”

 “I just might.” Eden raised an eyebrow and responded with a short laugh. Turning to other things, she inquired whether there was anywhere she could pick up a good dinner since the urge to make her own meal was rapidly dissipating. She was actually a fairly decent cook but maybe tonight might be better spent killing some brain cells in front of the television. She briefly toyed with the idea of asking the young woman over, but decided that neither she nor the house was fit for company…yet.

“I guess you’ll be staying at the Traveller’s Inn then? It’s no Four Seasons but it’s pretty nice. A friend of mine is the head chef there and he’s really good.”

“I don’t think so. I’ve had my fill of hotels. I just leased the two-storey in the middle of Taylor Street for a while. I heard no one else was willing to go near it and I got a great deal on it.”

Eden wasn’t exactly a people person, but she knew how to get what she wanted. And right now she figured that a little information might not be a bad thing at all. She’d meant it when she said that she planned to do some writing, whenever she felt like taking a break from the rigors of relaxation, and a little local folklore might be just the thing to get the creative juices flowing. And a little local scenery might just get some other juices flowing too. She felt a laugh making its way out, and then abruptly stopped as she got a good look at the face of the girl in front of her.

She’d been expecting many things, but the look of confusion and fear on the young woman’s face was not one of them.

*****

Eden was still thinking about the girl at the convenience store as she unlocked her front door. There was no denying that Kendall had been shaken when Eden mentioned where she’d be staying, but she had offered no useful information other than a few snippets Eden had already come across. Eden got the feeling that she was holding something back though. Oh well. Black Grove might be well on its way to becoming a bustling metropolis but she was sure there was enough of a small town mentality left that someone would be more than willing to share what they knew.

She pushed on the door, one hand full of her purchases, and found that it wouldn’t budge. For a second she thought she hadn’t actually turned the key but quickly determined that wasn’t the case. She tried again and was rewarded by a minute movement before the door shut again. It was almost as if someone was pushing from the other side. She paused. Now what on earth made her think that? She shook her head to clear her thoughts. That was enough of that. She leaned against the door, putting all of her weight into it, and it finally opened. She almost released a sigh of relief and made a mental note to call the real estate company in the morning. Undoubtedly the hinges needed to be lubricated and the only things Eden Malone ever used her hands on were her computer and her women.

It wasn’t quite dark enough to need the lights but she flicked them on anyway. She supposed it was a force of habit, as was throwing her keys on the small table in the hallway. Except that there was no hallway, and there was no table, so her keys naturally ended up on the floor. Eden muttered a curse and decided that was as good a place as any for them. She armed the alarm system and headed straight for the kitchen, having realized about 20 minutes ago that she was famished. It was a good thing she’d decided against cooking since she wasn’t sure her stomach wouldn’t have staged a revolt. As it was she’d been able to find an Italian place and she was soon ensconced on the plush sofa enjoying an unexpectedly good Chicken Alfredo and a delectable glass of Chianti. Life was just grand. Unfortunately the programming wasn’t, and it wasn’t surprising that, drowsy with good food and drink, Eden fell asleep…and dreamt.

She was running. She didn’t know from what, just that she was running for her very life. She could feel her heart beating in her chest. She could hear the breath exploding from her mouth. She could feel the sharp edges of the ground as it cut into her feet. Why was she without shoes? She didn’t know. Why was she in what looked to be a forest? She didn’t know that either. What she knew was that the sound of breaking branches behind her was getting closer. She tried to speed up, even though every muscle in her body protested. She had to get away from the thing that was following her. She instinctively knew it wasn’t human. An animal perhaps? No, that felt wrong. There was an intelligence there that was almost human. She didn’t have much time to think about it. Right at that point, her foot caught on a root and the ground was yanked from under her. Her head hit the dirt with a sickening thud and her vision wavered. She tried to move but could manage only the barest of motions. She felt exhaustion threatening to overcome her and became aware of movement above her. A face. At least she thought it was a face. Everything was blurred except for a pair of black eyes, like shining coal, burning with malice.

Eden jerked awake with a muted shriek. What the hell? Her head was pounding and, while small details of her nightmare were already beginning to fade, enough remained to leave her unnerved. She downed the rest of the wine from the open bottle and turned off the TV, where some buxom blonde was being chased by what looked like an escapee from a lunatic asylum. Undoubtedly she’d subconsciously picked up on that and dreamt what she had. Feeling a little better, she dumped her wares into the kitchen sink and decided it was high time that she went up to bed. She didn’t even realize that she left the lights on.

She was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow, her body registering her exhaustion better than her mind did. Eden slept the way she did everything else…completely. She did not see the shimmering darkness that materialised at the foot of her bed. She did not see the pair of coal black eyes looking at her with undisguised interest. Eden Malone slept and, this time, did not dream.

Chapter 3:

The week had been rather uneventful thus far, consisting mostly of unpacking, a bit of exploring, and trying to convince Sophie, her flavour of the month, that she didn’t want company and she’d call her when she got back. She was already tired of the buxom blonde; even though she showed a remarkable willingness to go along with whatever sexual adventures Eden could dream up. The truth was she had a short attention span when it came to relationships, or what typically qualified as relationships for her. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe in the whole ‘love’ ideal. She simply had neither the time nor the desire to deal with the complications that arose. She had very rarely been with the same woman for more than six months, and that was the way she liked it…great sex and no strings to tie her down. Handcuffs were another matter.

Her sightseeing had taken her to the shopping district which, she was pleased to discover, was quite healthy. The prices weren’t so bad considering they’d undoubtedly been jacked up for the tourist crowd. Said crowd hadn’t shown up in full force as yet but, as the bookstore clerk had so gleefully explained, the next few weeks would bring an influx of northerners eager to get away from the snow. Thank goodness she’d thought to make her reservations at the best spa in the area way in advance. It would be great to have those pesky kinks in her shoulder worked out.

Unfortunately she’d have to wait a while for that so she’d figured she might as well occupy her time with getting some background information together for her story. She already had a rough outline thrown together. It wasn’t rocket science after all, and the idea had pretty much landed in her lap so to speak. After all, she was staying in a supposedly ghost infested abode, a fact for which she had yet to have any confirmation. She didn’t need to think up a location, just jot down a description of her current dwellings, although she’d certainly age it a bit. And if the history of the house was sufficiently interesting, then half of her book was already written. She just needed to create a character.

Perhaps a sceptical writer? Now that had tickled her funny bone. Readers just lapped up that sort of thing. She guessed it made them feel better about their own gullibility by seeing a non-believer get what they supposedly deserved. Well she’d have some research to do on hauntings because she hadn’t even heard as much as an out of place creak on the stairs since she’d moved in. It was funny how she’d felt those cobwebs on her face when she first entered the bedroom. She hadn’t been able to find any trace of spiders though, but then she wasn’t particularly fond of the little critters so she may not have been looking that hard. Maybe if she could get some real information on the sorts of things that allegedly went on in the house she could incorporate them into her novel.

She’d tried to find as much as she could over the internet but what little there was had been so cut and dry, she’d damn near fallen asleep. In the end she had driven over to the convenience store, never mind the fact that she could have just called, and scored the name of one Mr. Boyd Donahue. She also happened to score a dinner date for that weekend from the delectable Kendall Winters, the auburn haired beauty who had captured her attention from her very first visit. Mr. Donahue had been the local librarian for some years and, although retired, still lent a helping hand now and then. He was also one of the few people who apparently relished the opportunity to discuss local legends. Eden had been lucky enough to find him at home when she called and he’d agreed to meet her at the library that same evening.

She pulled in to the vacant parking spot outside a very modern looking building. Had she not been given impeccable directions, she would have been likely to keep right on driving. It didn’t look like any library she remembered from her youth. A quick inquiry from the bored looking teenager at the desk revealed that Mr. Donahue was waiting for her in the reading room just up the first set of stairs. Did people still read actual books these days? There was only one person there, but that wasn’t surprising for this time of the day. Kids were at school, or playing truant, and most adults were off doing grown up things.

For the second time today, she found herself wondering why she was walking around with so many preconceived notions. She’d had a half formed idea of an older gentleman, in slacks and tweed, with a shy, unassuming manner. Mr. Donahue’s peppered grey hair was evidence of his age, but that was where the similarities ended. He had quite a formidable build, was dressed in jeans and a Polo shirt, and looked like he’d spent his life coaching a football team. He stood to meet her and a spark of mischief lit up in his cat-like green eyes. She found herself warming up to him immediately.

“Not quite what you were expecting, huh?”

“Not really.” Eden shook his hand and returned his smile. “If you don’t mind me saying so, you look a little out of place Mr. Donahue.”

He laughed heartily at that. “Call me Boyd. Everyone else does. I played my fair share of sports in high school. Still do actually. I just didn’t feel like making a career out of it. My dad wanted me to be a pro football player. I wanted to spend my life surrounded by books. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about finding work when I eventually blew out a knee.”

“You have a point there. Books aren’t a bad way to spend your life.” Eden refrained from mentioning that most ‘books’ resided online now.

“Said like a true writer. Come, sit.” He looked at her curiously. “Now what can I do for you? I understand that you’re looking for information on the Foley house?”

“If you mean the two-storey out on Taylor Street, then yes. That’s exactly what I’m after. I’m actually staying there right now.” If she was expecting a look of dread from him, she was sorely disappointed.

“Oh? Seen any ghosts yet?” He asked, with a twinkle of amusement.

“Not a one. I think they must be scared of me.” That earned her another laugh.

“Can’t be scared of you if they aren’t there. I’ve been there myself once or twice and never saw a thing out of the ordinary. It depends on who you talk to though. Some people will swear they’ve felt a boatload of demons tramping over their grave.”

“I take it you don’t believe in the paranormal?”

“Depends on what kind of things you’re talking about.” Boyd leaned back in his car and laced his fingers behind his head. “There are a lot of people who’ll say they’ve seen or heard something strange in that house. Sure, not all of them are reliable but I know a few of those guys really well. They’re not the imaginative types and I’ve never known them to make up stories about anything else. You can imagine that, being in a library all day, I’ve done my fair share of reading. I can’t say that everything I’ve read is a bunch of baloney and I’m open minded enough to admit that there might be more things on this here earth than the average person can explain. Just because I personally haven’t seen anything doesn’t mean I don’t believe there’s anything there. I just don’t believe that there’s some ghost running around rapping on doors and running down stairs in the dead of night. That’s just a little too clichéd for my liking.”

“So what do you think?” Eden was genuinely curious.

“It might just be something in the walls, something physical I mean, affecting people’s minds. I honestly don’t know. Do you know anything at all about the house?”

“Just what I’ve been able to find out online. It was built a little over fifty years ago by Jackson Foley, one of the olive investors who was looking to settle down in the area. He got involved with a local woman and they got married. About five years later he killed her and then shot himself. Since then there’ve been rumours that the house is haunted. The last tenants were a couple with two children. I haven’t gotten a lot of details about them, just that both parents died and one of the kids ended up in some sort of institution. It’s changed hands a few times but no one has stayed very long.”

Boyd put down his hands and nodded. “That’s about the gist of it. Well, the public details anyway.”

“What about the not so public details?” Eden prodded. “There’s got to be some juicy titbits you can share.”

“Juicy? I don’t know about that. I was a very young boy when Jackson Foley moved into the area so I don’t remember those first few years too well. I do know that most of the working folks ‘round here thought that he was a mean spirited son of a bitch. Not to his friends mind you, although he didn’t have too many of those. He was one of those people who had to get what he wanted when he wanted it, no matter who he had to climb over in the process. He took a shine to the area and decided to build a sort of holiday home for when he wanted to get away from his businesses up north. He ended up getting himself involved with a woman twenty years his junior.” Boyd chuckled.

“It caused quite a scandal at the time, but it wasn’t the first time a rich older man bagged himself a younger woman and it certainly won’t be the last. As far as anyone could tell, they seemed happy together. I saw them around town a few times and they looked pleased enough with each other. Now that marriage thing, I don’t know if Foley ever planned to actually marry her but she did move in with him.  I do know that they were never legally married. That’s what got the local women into an uproar, calling her a slut and, well, worse.”

“So there wasn’t anything to hint at what happened after?” Maybe there was a story here after all.

“Not that anyone could see. No arguments in public. No reports of abuse. Not even a suspicious black eye. The only thing a bit off was Maria’s dabbling in what some of the old timers called the Black Arts.”

“Black Arts? You mean wings of a bat, blood of a toad, and that sort of thing? There was a note of disbelief in her voice, even though she knew how vicious small town rumours could be now, much less decades ago. “You’re not going to tell me that people thought she was a witch?”

Boyd smiled. “Nothing like that. She didn’t have anyone to raise her except a mother who had to work two jobs to keep them fed, and she was always a curious girl. Did alright in school too, but she did have a particular fondness for Ouija boards. She used to get some friends together and they’d have sessions where they’d ask all sorts of questions. Claimed that the spirits answered them.”

Eden felt a chill running through her. She didn’t consider herself to be the least bit superstitious, and she knew it was nothing more than a silly board game, but she could never bring herself to get near a Ouija board, not even as a kid. There was just something about them that didn’t feel quite right to her. “Even when she was with Foley? From what I’ve read, he didn’t seem to be the kind of man who’d tolerate that sort of thing.”

“He wasn’t. He was about the most no nonsense person you could run into, but you underestimate the effect a pretty young thing can have on an old man.” He snickered, as if he understood that effect quite well. “I think he only knowingly allowed it at the house one time, but that might have been one time too many. I don’t know the details of what happened but folks at the time said it was the damn board that let something evil into the house. A friend of mine said it was like an old time telephone switchboard. You could make a call and no one would pick up or you’d get someone pretty decent 99% of the time. But that 100th time you might just pick up a pervert or an axe murderer.”

“People think that’s what happened?”

“They do, because it was right after that things started to go wrong in the house. My own mother used to do laundry for them and she just up and stopped. She swore to her dying day that she felt something looking at her every time she was alone. Her friend Gladys was one of their housekeepers and she quit too. Said she saw shadows in rooms where there wasn’t anything to cause those shadows. Folks might have put it down to female hysteria if Elroy the gardener didn’t faint dead away. When they got him up again he crossed himself and claimed he saw some kind of face, not human of course, looking down at him from one of the upstairs windows as he was leaving for the day.”

“What about the Foleys? Did they ever mention anything?”

“Jackson Foley wouldn’t have opened his mouth even if a poltergeist snuck up on him and took a chunk out of his ass. He wasn’t the type to appreciate people thinking he was going soft in the head. A few folks did say they thought he seemed out of it though, like he had a lot on his mind. Maria didn’t really come around much after that. You could try getting Nora Michaels, over on Sutton Street, to talk to you. She doesn’t like running her mouth about the whole thing but she was one of Maria’s closest friends. My mom saw Maria the evening the incident happened and she had bruises on her arms. Tried to hide them real quick and hustled back to the house. That night Foley strangled her and shot himself clear through the head.”

“That’s horrible.” She knew that there’s been a murder/suicide but had been too lazy to go hunting through old newspapers. If she couldn’t pull it up with a few keystrokes then she just wasn’t interested.

“Foley never made a will. If I remember correctly, he had a brother who sold the house as soon as he could get it off his hands. It was bought and sold a couple of times but it was always the same thing every time. There weren’t any more deaths or anything but the occupants always ended up hightailing it out of there. Some talked. Some didn’t. The ones that did talk swore up and down something wasn’t right in there. And then the Landales moved in. They stayed quite a while, almost 10 years I think.”

“Anything I should look into there?” At this rate, Eden might get a whole series out of this.

Boyd shrugged. “I’m not sure. Both of the parents drank like fish and I don’t think either of them was averse to trading punches. Even if they said they’d seen anything, you couldn’t be sure if it was the booze talking. They both died in a car crash a couple of years back. The son was always a little strange and he ended up in a nuthouse, although he’s out now, but that could just as easily have been from growing up with those two assholes, pardon my language. The daughter left town a little while before the accident. Last I heard she was back and staying somewhere nearby with her girlfriend, but I’m not sure exactly where.”

Eden’s ears perked up. Interesting. “Girlfriend?”

Boyd shrugged. “We’re a tourist town now. It doesn’t make sense antagonizing your biggest customers. Besides, live and let live I always say.”

Eden couldn’t argue with that. “So you don’t think there was anything weird going on?”

“I don’t know. The son, Jared, used to come in here sometimes and stay until we closed. He was scared stiff of going home. I always figured he was afraid of his dad but…” Boyd looked troubled for the first time since the start of the conversation, “…he always said that the shadows were out to get him.”

*****

Her interview with Boyd Donahue had taken place three days ago and Eden hadn’t made much progress since then. The truth was she didn’t really want to think about it. Little by little she was beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed, and she couldn’t really say why. Maybe it was just a matter of having too much information to work with. Her brain seemed to be bursting with ideas but none of them was coming to fruition. Should she base her tale on the unfortunate Jackson Foley? Maybe create a fictional family? And then there were the Landales. She’d been able to access the online articles about the accident that had taken the lives of the two older Landales but hadn’t yet been able to locate Alyssa Landale or her brother.

She’d become so concerned about putting her ideas together that she was even more absent minded than usual, having misplaced her keys at least three times, and just last night she could have sworn she’d turned her computer off before going to bed. At least the screen hadn’t been blinking “Get out or die”. She needed to get out of the house and thankfully tonight she was going to do just that. Kendall had agreed to meet her at the lovely little Italian place she’d found and she was looking forward to good food and good company. But first she needed to shower. Eden didn’t believe in warm showers. Warm baths were a different matter entirely but she firmly believed that showers should be bracing and so she didn’t even bother turning on the hot water. She revelled in the shock to her system as the first droplets fell. Somehow it always had the ability to clear her head. Then she gave a startled gasp.

There was cold and then there was this. It felt as though tiny shards of ice were hitting her skin. She turned off the shower, looking at it as though it had betrayed her, and gingerly turned it back on. There was a slight chill in the temperature but nothing more. She finished her shower with record speed, convinced more than ever that being away from her fast paced city life was not good for her mental state. She had already laid out her clothes on the bed and looked at them with approval. The brown slacks were immaculately cut and the matching silk blouse held her curves in all the right places. She briefly thought about foregoing underwear altogether but decided she’d just see where things went tonight instead of trying to lead them. Kendall seemed like a nice girl, and Eden didn’t mind finding out what she looked like underneath her clothes, but she needed to make sure they were on the same page first.

She brushed her hair quickly and headed downstairs. She had volunteered to pick up Kendall and Eden was never one of those people who believed in being fashionably late. As she glanced into the rear view mirror, she could have sworn that one of the bedroom curtains shifted slightly. She had a fleeting thought of going back into the house since she must have left one of the windows open, and then dispelled it. The weather looked like it would hold and it wasn’t as if someone could break in through the upper floors without the use of a conspicuous ladder. She hummed a little as she turned the car stereo up. Had she kept looking, she might have noticed that the drapes weren’t fluttering in the wind in she first thought but rather seemed to be held drawn.

Chapter 4:

Eden was definitely in a good mood. The night had gone exceptionally well thus far, better than she’d expected. She knew Kendall was a fan of hers, and had been half afraid that she’d have to spend the majority of the night discussing her books. It wasn’t that she didn’t like talking about her work but there were just so many times you could ask an author where they got their inspiration before they felt the urge to brain you with their latest tome. Kendall hadn’t been like that at all. In fact, she was the polar opposite. Sure, they’d spent some time on literary topics, but the girl was quite well read and an easy conversationalist. She was also older than Eden had first thought. She looked to be barely out of her teens but she was actually twenty five and a talented web designer. Both of her parents had passed away several years ago and, even though her own work brought in ample income, she couldn’t bring herself to close down the family business.

It didn’t hurt that she cleaned up quite nicely as well. An all-black slacks and shirt ensemble and just the right amount of makeup had added a much needed bit of maturity to her look and Eden felt significantly less uncomfortable about the age gap. She’d been so engrossed in figuring out exactly how many shades could be found in Kendall’s auburn locks that she almost missed her next question.

“How do you like where you’re staying?”

“Hmm? Oh, it’s not bad. I would’ve thrown one hell of a hissy fit if I didn’t have internet access and satellite TV.”

“So you haven’t seen anything strange?” She said it with a smile but Eden could see that her eyes were serious.

“Believe me, unless your unfriendly neighbourhood ghost has a thing for hiding my keys, I have yet to make contact with anything supernatural.” She brushed off the memory of her freezing shower, convinced that the decades old plumbing was to blame.

“Why’d you want to stay there anyway? There are so many other places. Was it the history that drew you?”

“More like my battle-axe of a publisher. She grew up around here and suggested that I take a break to soak up some of the local ambiance. I saw a chance of finally taking a much needed vacation so I jumped at it. And I figured that a place like that must have some good stories floating around. One of them might spark a great manuscript.”

“And has it?” The sexy smirk finally made an appearance.

“A little.” Something was sparking in Eden, and it had nothing to do with writing. “Right now I’m more wool-gathering than anything else…trying to get my thoughts and all my information together. I saw Boyd Donahue by the way. Thanks for the tip. I’m going to try to see Nora Michaels tomorrow and maybe get some information on the last family that lived there.”

“The Landales? I know the daughter, Alyssa. And Jared too, though not as well. He was still in high school when I started college but it’s not that big a town so our paths crossed a few times.”

“Really? What was he like? I heard that he was sent off for therapy?” Now this was a lucky break.

“He was. His parents were both alcoholics and they used to fight all the time. A couple of times we saw Jared with a black eye or other bruises. Alyssa had moved out as soon as she could and was working up over the ridge. I think she was taking night classes too. Jared was always quiet but he eventually started to withdraw even more. He got this strange habit of always trying to walk in the light. He was terrified of any kind of shadow and eventually he wouldn’t set foot out of his room. He started acting out, doing things to get detention so he wouldn’t have to go home. He said they were out to get him. Almost everyone assumed he was talking about his parents, but a few folks were convinced that something weird was going on at the house. When the police showed up at the house after the accident, they found that he’d tried to slit his wrists. He was committed after that. Alyssa moved back a few years ago and he’s living with her now.”

“Did she ever move back into the house?” Clearly she wasn’t there now.

“Not as far as I know. She rented a room for a couple weeks, and then she sold the house and bought some land on the outskirts of town.”

“She had her own home. She didn’t need to rent. Why didn’t she just move back?”

I wouldn’t.”

 “Why not?” Eden was fairly certain she hadn’t imagined the light shudder that had gone through Kendall’s body. “From the first day I came here, I could tell you were afraid of that house. What happened?”

“I…I’d rather not talk about it?”

“Come on, I promise I won’t laugh, although I can’t guarantee it won’t make it into the book.” Eden smiled reassuringly. “You don’t strike me as the type that’s prone to flights of fancy anyway.”

“I’m not and, if not for my own experiences there, I’d be just as likely as you are to dismiss the whole thing as silly, small town superstitions. I don’t know why I’m telling you this” Kendall sighed. “It was back when Jared first started talking about the shadows being out to get him. A group of us snuck out one night and were on our way to the lake to, well, smoke weed. One of the guys suggested we see if Alyssa wanted to come along. Not to smoke mind you. Alyssa never smoked. We just wanted to get her out of the house for a while. We could see the parents passed out in the living room through the window. I never understood why they bothered drinking together if they hated each other so much.

Anyway, they never locked the door so we just popped in and went upstairs. Alyssa had told us that Jared barely slept anymore so we figured his room would be the one with the lights on. We were just passing it when we heard two voices coming from inside the room. At first we thought that maybe it was Alyssa. Maybe he’d had a bad dream or something and she was comforting him. But I knew what Alyssa sounded like and the other voice wasn’t her. It was raspy and sort of hollow, almost inhuman. We listened at the door for a while. I think we were just too scared to move. We couldn’t make out any words…just voices.

All of a sudden, the voices stopped. It was almost as though whatever was in there knew we were outside. There was this eerie silence that seemed to go on forever, and then something ran to the door, something heavier than any human had a right to be. We thought it was going to crash right through. By the time the knob began to turn, we were thoroughly spooked and high-tailed it out of there. We never told anyone, and Alyssa never mentioned anything, although she had to have heard us. We weren’t even supposed to be there in the first place.”

Kendall took a sip of her wine and Eden could see the slight tremor in her hands. True or not, Kendall clearly believed it. She was willing to bet that her research would uncover a diagnosis of schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder for Jared. And the rest? Well, if they were on their way to smoke pot, they’d probably partaken already. Whatever her personal views were though, she wasn’t about to ridicule Kendall’s story, not when she could see the effect it had on her. The waiter interrupted with the check before she could say anything and, by the time she had been successful in her insistence on paying, the other woman had composed herself.

Kendall carefully steered the subject away from the Foley house on the drive home and Eden didn’t push. She was sure that she could work the scene into her book and was content with small talk for the moment. By the time she pulled up to Kendall’s home, the lights were out in most of the other houses lining the street. They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes before Kendall spoke.

“I had a great time tonight.”

“That’s only because you were salivating over my talents.” Eden smiled and she was rewarded with a blush.

“I…er…I do think you’re an amazing writer.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

“But I am wondering if you have any other talents I should be salivating over?” Kendall’s voice had dropped considerably. Even in the dim light, Eden could see that Kendall’s eyes had darkened, and she couldn’t resist the pull of her slightly parted lips. It was a slow, soft kiss, but it held the promise of a deeper passion.

“Invite me in and find out.”

She felt a pang of disappointment when Kendall left the car without a word, and a jolt of arousal when she realized that she was waiting at the door. She got out and followed her up to the house, smiling as Kendall fumbled with the keys. Eden allowed her only enough time to close the door and flick on the lights before she was on her. Truth be told, she had been fantasizing about this most of the night. Consequently she was already extremely worked up and in no mood for foreplay. Her kisses were passionate, demanding, and left no room for interpretation. Luckily, she felt no resistance from Kendall.

Kendall’s body was firm where it needed to be and soft in all the right places, and Eden moaned her approval. Her fingers lightly brushed against a taut stomach as she launched an attack on Kendall’s neck, nipping and then lathering with loving attention. Kendall’s hands were clutching at her blouse and a particularly insistent raking of nails had her arching her back. Somehow they managed to navigate the short distance to the couch and Eden found herself straddled by a breathless Kendall.

She had long thought that nothing quite compared to the look of a woman in the throes of passion. One gaze into the flushed face above her convinced her that she was right, and that she wanted more. She wanted skin and a piece of black silk was keeping her from it. Resisting the urge to simply rip the offending garment off, she undid the buttons as quickly as shaking fingers could and was rewarded with the sight of pert breasts, their nipples pebbled by desire. She couldn’t resist touching the raised flesh, kneading them with her hands. Kendall showed her appreciation by uttering a low moan and rocking her hips against her.

Eden took one breast into her mouth, allowing her tongue to caress the raised nipple, revelling in the taste of the other woman. She hoped to have a deeper taste later, but this would suffice for now. She trailed one hand down Kendall’s stomach, loving the further tightening of already tensed muscles, and allowed her touch to drift lower. She could feel the heat emanating from the juncture between Kendall’s thighs. Her fingers dove under the waistband of Kendall’s slacks and into her warm wetness, fully satisfied with the sharp keening that her touch elicited. Ordinarily she would take the time to tease, but Kendall’s need was an almost tangible thing and Eden wasn’t about to be the woman to disappoint her. She plunged two fingers into her with one swift motion and Kendall’s teeth bit down on her neck, hard enough to leave a mark. She revelled in the pain.

She pulled her fingers almost out and then thrust back hard, almost brutally. The flow of Kendall’s hips matched her thrusts, never letting up their frenzied rhythm. This is what Eden lived for; raw, primal sex. She was a versatile woman and could thoroughly enjoy a slow, all night lovemaking session, but it was this almost feral passion that made her quiver. She could feel that Kendall was very close to the edge and sped up her pace, even though the muscles in her hand screamed in protest. It was a different kind of scream she was after, and she was soon rewarded as Kendall was rocked by a powerful orgasm that left her limp and panting.

“You…I…that was…..”

Eden smirked. “So I take it that you’re fully satisfied with my talents?”

“I…I’m not sure yet. Give me a minute…to catch my breath.”

“Really now?” Eden loved a woman with stamina.

“Uh huh. I haven’t seen enough. I think you need to show me again, and maybe I’ll show you some of my talents.”

“So…?”

“You…me…bed…now.”

Short and to the point, just the way Eden liked it. She allowed Kendall to stand and lead the way. This was turning out to be a very good night indeed.

*****

Eden had been pleasantly surprised that Kendall hadn’t kicked a fuss when she decided to leave. It was about three in the morning and, as far as she could tell, hers was the only vehicle on the road. Her body was still tingling from their night together but Eden had a strong aversion to waking up in another woman’s bed. She very rarely ever did, but then she was very rarely in a relationship. She thought briefly about Susan and then put that particular bitch out of her mind. So what if she had a brief fling with her masseuse while they were together? She still didn’t think that justified spray painting her convertible.

She pulled into her driveway, thankful that she’d decided to leave the light on in the porch. She was about to put her key into the lock when she thought she saw something move out of the corner of her eyes. Feeling a little nervous, after all it wasn’t unheard of that a burglar could be prowling around; she turned in that direction and was relieved to see what appeared to be a stray dog. It seemed friendly enough, with a slight wag to its tail and huge, wet eyes just begging to be fed. She wasn’t that big an animal lover but there were some leftovers in the fridge and it seemed a shame to just toss it in the garbage. She went in to get it, shutting the door behind her. She might not mind sharing her food, but fleas were an entirely different matter. The mutt was still there and enthusiastically yipped when he realized that a meal was on the way. Eden was almost amused to see how quickly he was wolfing down the broccoli and chicken mix when he abruptly stopped eating and started to growl.

Eden barely took notice of it at first. She’d had a friend whose Doberman would enthusiastically protect his food from his non-existent tail, so she figured it was just one of those things that dogs did. She paid attention though when his hackles rose and he started to back away from the rest of the food still in the container. She could see no reason for his actions and a vague sense of unease washed over her. It was then that she realized he was looking straight at her. Well, not at her as much as behind her. Crap.

She spun around, expecting to find someone standing behind her and ready to defend herself.  There was nothing. At that same moment, the dog uttered a bark, followed by a high yelp, and bolted out of the yard. He seemed terrified and Eden wondered if he might be suffering from some sort of canine madness. It might be better to stay away from him if he came back.

She scooped up the food container, went back inside and locked the door behind her, making sure that it was bolted. The dog had left her feeling a little on edge and she decided that it might be best to just get some sleep. She warily climbed the stairs, unconsciously leaving the lights on again, and went to the bathroom. She wanted to wash off some of her makeup and brush her teeth, knowing that her normal routine would make her sleep better. It wasn’t until the cool water splashed on her face that she realized how tired she was. Hours of mind blowing sex will do that to a person, she reflected ruefully, trying not to remember a time when her bones didn’t ache as much. She was almost certain that she’d look in the mirror and see a ghastly figure. After all, that’s what happened in the movies. When no such thing occurred, she chuckled at her susceptibility to ghost stories and a half crazed mutt.

As she sank into her bed she had time to reflect that things were normal and things were good, and then she was asleep.

She was running. She knew that something was behind her. She knew that something was after more than her body. But that was all she knew. She could put no face to the thing that snarled and broke branches almost at her heel. She couldn’t remember if she’d even seen it…if that had caused her to run. It had come to her first in her dreams. It had a face then, a stolen face, the face of an angel with golden hair and laughing eyes. Together they had traversed those slumbering landscapes and descended into a carnality that both repulsed her and drew her in. This was no dream though. This was the real face of her fantasy lover, and it was evil.

Her chest hurt, and she couldn’t tell whether it was because she could barely breathe or because of her heart’s frenzied beating. It was closing in now and she wasn’t sure she would be allowed to survive the encounter. If she could figure out a way, she would gladly choose to die by her own hands than what she was sure to be the creature’s talons. It was that point she tripped and fell. Instinctively she knew that there wouldn’t be enough time to get up and she raised her hands to ward off the first blows, surprised when they did not fall.

She risked a look through shaking fingers and immediately saw it. It was taller than her, taller than any human being she knew. If she ever doubted its humanity, the sight of leathery black wings wrapped around its body like a cloak dispelled that notion. Its fingers did in fact end in claws, cruel looking crescents that could both caress and tear if so desired. She feared that her flesh was its next target but, although its dark eyes shone with an unholy fire, it seemed to be content to regard her; a fact which seemed at odds with its frenzied chase.

It took a step towards her and she cringed. So this was how she would die. It raised one hand but, instead of bringing it down in a blow, the creature simply held it out, as if offering assistance. It had to be a trick, but what choice did she have? Die on the ground or die on her feet? She chose to meet her death and accepted the outstretched hand. In a blur of movement, the creature had pulled her up, unfurled its wings and pressed her close against its body. There was no mistaking then that it was female, with skin as soft as silk even though it was as black as night. She was horrified to feel a tendril of arousal working its way to her groin. What sort of being had she become? She felt more than saw the creature tilt its head towards her and then…………

Eden awoke with a start, not sure what had pulled her out of her…nightmare? She looked around the room to check if anything was out of place and then she heard it. The dog was back and he was howling.

Chapter 5:

Eden popped two pills and fervently hoped it would do something to quell the pounding behind her eyes. She’d ended up getting very little sleep last night, as she had for the past few nights, and was still haunted by the remaining tendrils of yet another dream. In the end, she’d just gotten up and decided to work on a draft of her story, an act which her body was vividly protesting. She would have liked to stay in and get some rest but she was determined to meet with Nora Michaels today. The impression she got was that Mrs. Michaels wasn’t particularly sociable so she dispensed with her usual courtesy of calling ahead. In situations like this she relied on her abilities to charm, or bully, the information she needed out of reluctant interviewees.

If it was true that every city had a slum, then Sutton Row would be the closest thing in Black Grove. It wasn’t so much that it was run down or plagued by poverty and crime. The houses themselves showed some degree of care, but the neighbourhood looked as though it clung stubbornly to the past, refusing to set foot in the progress of the area except for the barest of necessities. Nora Michaels lived almost to the end of the street, in a small flat with a lawn that resembled a miniature jungle of Gardenias, Begonias and assorted relatives. The walkway itself was well kept though and the woman who answered the door clearly valued neatness. Her blue housedress was impeccable tailored and not a strand of grey hair was out of place. She was a small woman, and her plain brown glasses gave her an air of a retired schoolteacher.

“If you’re selling anything, I’m not interested.”

“Mrs. Michaels, my name’s Eden Malone. I can assure you that I’m not selling anything, but I would like to talk to you for a few minutes.”

“I’m not looking to be saved either.”

“Saved?” Eden was momentarily confused. “Um…no. I don’t think I’m the type to be saving anyone. Boyd Donahue mentioned that you might be able to help me with some information.”

“Boyd sent you? I can’t imagine what for.”

“I’m trying to find out about what happened in the Foley house.”

“I have nothing to say.”

 “Please Mrs. Michaels. This is important.” If Mrs. Michaels had been as quick to close the door as she did the expression on her face, Eden probably wouldn’t have stood a chance. As it was, she managed to quite literally get a foot in.

“Why do you want to go raking all of that up? It’s best left right where it is.”

“I’m writing a book about the house, about what happened there, and I want to make sure that I get things right. You know there’s a demand for that sort of thing. I’m sure there have been a lot of nasty rumours circulating and I’d like to be able to separate fact from fiction; to make sure I get the characters right.” Eden knew that wasn’t completely true, but she had an idea it was the best way to deal with the woman. “I’m staying there now actually.”

“You shouldn’t stay there. It’s not a good place.” Mrs. Michaels still looked reluctant but she opened the door and let Eden in. The house was sparsely furnished, but in a good way. There weren’t the bits of clutter that many would expect of an elderly lady living on her own. It simply looked comfortably lived in. Nora led her into the living room and motioned her to one of the old fashioned, but cosy, chairs.

“Can I get you anything to drink? Some tea?”

“No thanks.” Eden was eager to get down to business as it were. “What did you mean when you said that it wasn’t a good place?”

“Exactly that.” Mrs. Michaels gave her a look one might reserve for a troublesome student. “I assume, if you’ve spoken to Boyd already, that he’s given you some of the details?”

Eden nodded. “Mainly that Jackson Foley was a hard ass looking for a summer home and he eventually turned into a psycho.”

“Well that certainly sounds like Boyd’s version of the events.” Mrs. Michaels laughed. “Jackson wasn’t that bad, but he came from money and he didn’t really fit in with what was mainly a working class population in those days. Even some of the other plantation owners, not that there were many, thought he rode around on a bit of a high horse. He had a head for business though and he did well enough that he could afford to build that house. He was very proud of it. It might not look like that much nowadays, but it was a big deal in back then. He was a confirmed bachelor in those days but that didn’t stop every single woman in town, and a few married ones, from trying to catch his eye. He wasn’t much to look at, with that frowning face and clipped beard, but he was a man of the world and that meant something.”

“Was Maria one of the women trying to catch his eye too?”

“Goodness, no. If anything she was one of the few who weren’t. Maria was very much a child in some respects. She certainly derived childish pleasure from such simple things.” Mrs. Michaels’ face reflected sadness for a moment. “Maria and I were great friends from the start. We were almost the same age so we more or less grew up together. Her father wasn’t in the picture and her mother worked two jobs so she spent a lot of time over at my house. They never had much money. I guess that’s why she eventually fell for Jackson. He doted on her, gave her anything she wanted. It was hard to believe that such a man would be smitten by a little slip of a girl, but Maria had grown into a beautiful, if not a little naive, woman by then.”

“Boyd said that she dabbled in the…er…Black Arts?”

“Black Arts my foot. Boyd’s a good man, but he’s hopelessly deluded about some things. Maria and I snuck into a picture show once, some inane horror that I forget the title of, but I do remember that they used something like an Ouija board. It stuck in Maria’s head. It was silly but Maria was the naturally curious sort. It was all good fun to her though. I always said that if Maria ever met a ghost, she’d talk it to death. I might have been wrong about that.”

“What happened? I heard talk that there was some kind of séance?”

“Oh it wasn’t quite as organized at that. Did Boyd tell you I was there that night? No? I’ve spent many years wishing that I wasn’t. Jackson didn’t have any patience for such things. Maria begged him for the longest while to let her have some of us over. Oh she’d sneak us in every now and again, but this time she wanted everyone there I guess. She usually got her way but he always put his foot down about this; said he didn’t want any of that Devil nonsense in his house. I don’t know why he changed his mind. Maybe because he wasn’t going to be home anyway.

To this day I don’t know where Maria got that damn Ouija board. Things started off well enough… just a group of people in high spirits asking nonsensical questions. I’ve no doubt that someone was moving the planchette around in the beginning, but what was moving it in the end, I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I see that you’re sceptical. I can only tell you what I saw with my own eyes.”

“And what was that?” Eden was so engrossed she almost forgot to take notes.

“Maria started asking more serious questions, and getting answers. Some of them were quite frightening, and prophetic as it turns out. By then none of us were actually touching the board. I know because we’d scattered around the room. The damn thing was moving for itself. Maria got excited, too excited, that we were actually seeing the real deal. She summoned it. She issued an invitation to whatever was listening to show itself, to prove that it existed as it were. She should never have done that. I believe that’s exactly what it wanted.”

“You think something answered her call?” In spite of herself, Eden felt her hairs stand on end. Perhaps it was Mrs. Michael’s matter-of-fact delivery. She might as well have been talking about the weather.

“I don’t think so. I know so. It was the middle of summer and it was a clear night. There wasn’t anything sinister or stormy about it. Maria had made sure that the only lights in the room were from candles. I suppose she wanted to create an atmosphere. I don’t know how to describe it but all at once there were just too many…shadows.” Her brows furrowed. “They were everywhere, in places that they shouldn’t have been, and they were moving even though there was no wind. Nothing touched us. Nothing attacked us. But every one of us could tell that something wasn’t right and we were afraid. All at once the mirror in the room just shattered and then everything stopped as quickly as it started. We left right after that. I don’t think anyone wanted to be in that house a second longer. I asked Maria if she wanted me to stay, even though I couldn’t get out fast enough, but she laughed it off and shooed me away. She tried to make out that she was amused by everything but I knew her too well. She was just as unnerved as the rest of us.”

“It was after that people started claiming they saw things in the house?”

“Everything from faces at the window to writing on the walls that would disappear as soon as it was written. Very few took it seriously. But those of us who knew them could tell that Maria and Jackson were different people after that. Jackson had just been strict before. Now he was downright mean. And Maria just withdrew from everybody, spending her days with her Ouija board and her tarot cards. It was as though she was obsessed. I only saw her a few times after that, maybe more than anyone else though. She told me that she’d started to have dreams.”

“Dreams?” Eden started. “What kind of dreams?”

“She never went into details, just that something was chasing her through the woods but she managed to fight it off. She said it was getting stronger though. I don’t know what happened the night she died, but I think whatever was in that house fed off of what was already there. Jackson was well aware of Maria’s beauty and the attention it got her. And she in turn was a wild creature not meant to be put in a cage. I think deep down they might have already resented each other, even though I doubt they recognized it themselves. Something used that, amplified it, and ended up killing them in the process.”

“Like with the Landales?”

“Oh there was already enough hatred and resentment in that family. It wouldn’t have had to delve too deeply to find the ugliness. But I’ve told you my story already young lady. I won’t tell you anyone else’s. If you want that, you’ll have to speak to the Landale girl.”

“Why did you tell me? I’m not complaining but I expected to have to do a lot more work. To be honest, I got the impression from Boyd that you don’t like talking about it.”

“I don’t, but I have a feeling you need to know. Everyone who’s ever stayed in that house has left. Some were lucky and were confronted by nothing more than a feeling of dread. Some lost their lives, although I don’t think that was intended. Sometimes I think Maria opened a door and what comes through depends on who’s on the other side.” Mrs. Michaels stood, and looked her straight in the eyes. “You can fool they others. You can even fool yourself. But you can’t fool me. Not after what I’ve seen. If I were you, I’d move out of that house. It’s just testing the waters for now. There’s a bad time coming if you don’t. What lived in the shadows lives there still.”

Chapter 6:

Eden didn’t want to admit it but her visit with Mrs. Michaels had unnerved her, quite badly if she were honest with herself. Boyd had been sceptical, but willing to concede that maybe things existed which he could not explain. Eden could understand that. She could respect it. But Nora Michaels believed. She could dismiss Kendall’s experiences as drug-fuelled fantasies, but she was having a harder time dismissing Mrs. Michaels. Was it some sort of mass hysteria? Or was the woman just plain lying?

Eden rubbed her eyes and wondered idly if it were possible for them to fall out of their sockets. She had spent the better part of the last two hours perusing every snippet she could find on Ouija boards. Up to that point, she regarded them strictly as a plot device used by moviemakers who had run out of ideas. The patent was owned by Hasbro for crying out loud, the same company known for making a mint off of box office related merchandise. She always imagined they had been invented by some sort of maniacal Santa Claus want-to-be, but it seemed there was more to the whole ‘spirit board’ concept than that.

Apparently people had been using automatic writing as a way to contact the dead for over a thousand years. The ancient Chinese had dubbed this practice ‘planchette writing’ and built a series of special rituals around it. Similar methods were used in much of medieval Europe, but it wasn’t until the rise of Spiritualism in 19th century North America that spirit boards enjoyed the peak of their popularity. It didn’t take long for some shrewd businessman to come along and patent the idea, namely one Mr. Elijah Bond.

He may have held the patent, but where did the idea itself come from? Could it be there was actually something to this? Something she had dismissed because she was unaware of its ancient origins? Something real? Still, all that she had heard seemed so fantastical. How could anyone believe in such things in this day and age…the age of science?

Eden…

Eden started. She could have sworn she heard someone whisper her name which, unless they had broken in without her knowledge, was impossible. She must be more tired than she thought.

Eden…

Eden’s heart raced a little. She didn’t imagine it that time. No, someone had definitely called her name, which meant there was someone in her house. Why anyone would choose such a manner to make themself known was quickly surpassed by a quick assessment of what weapons were available to her. She thought briefly of calling the police but decided against it. She would look like a nutcase if it turned out to be a prank, which it probably was. Some local teens undoubtedly thought it would be the highlight of their night to scare the pants off the stupid writer in the boogeyman’s house. They wouldn’t be laughing with a face full of pepper spray. Eden was never one to back down from a fight, especially one on her territory and, while she did not own the house, she was its current occupant. Right now, it was hers. She didn’t take kindly to trespassers.

Spray in hand, she quickly flicked off the lights switch in the room and stepped outside. She had already turned off the lights downstairs so she wanted her eyes to acclimatize to the dark. Finally satisfied, she crept quietly down the stairs, alert to any movement. She saw none. Perhaps the prankster was hiding. She would know soon enough. She felt for the switch at the bottom of the stairs, wincing a bit at the brightness. Nothing.

She repeated this ritual in the kitchen and the downstairs bathroom, all to no avail. No-one was there. All of the doors and windows were securely locked from the inside. She was well and truly alone. A feeling of unease gnawed at her. A part of her brain tried to convince her that her imagination was running wild, but she knew what she had heard. She looked around one last time, then headed back up to the bedroom. This time, she left the lights on.

*****

Eden had been longing for this moment since she arrived in town. Actually, she’d been anticipating it long before then. Now that the time was here, she could barely contain the nervous energy that exuded from her near naked body. She only hoped that her masseuse wasn’t in a talkative mood. Eden had always viewed the act of getting a massage as an intimate one, especially when an attractive woman was involved, but right now the only muscles craving manipulation were her sore shoulders and back. She opened her eyes when she heard the slight squeak of the door hinge and was greeted by the sight of a good looking blonde. She liked a bit of an edge in her women though, not the girl next door type.

“Hey, you’re Kendall’s friend right? The author? You’re really staying out at the old Foley place?”

“That’s right.” Oh please let this be the end of the conversation.

“I’m Mikki. Kendall and I went school together. We still hang out now and then. Maybe I could join you guys sometime at the house? I always wanted to see a ghost.”

The way she said it made Eden think she was interested in joining them for more than just dinner. Ordinarily Eden wouldn’t mind. She would have welcomed the opportunity in fact. Strangely though, she didn’t feel like sharing Kendall. They’d met again for dinner, at Kendall’s place, and had a few comfortable conversations since then. She was warming quite nicely to the younger woman. Plus, even though Eden had to admit that Mikki had great hands, her voice was about as attractive as the screech of chalk on a blackboard. Still, it might be worth a few minutes more of torture if she could get some information.

“Uh…sure. I’ll mention it.” As if. “So you went to school with Kendall? Did you happen to know Alyssa Landale, or her brother Jared?”

“Oh nobody ever really knew Jared. He was one weird kid. Always going off by himself and talking about a bunch of strange shit. Sometimes he’d be talking to himself too, like actually having a conversation. You don’t know crazy until you see someone ask themselves a question and then answer it, like it was a whole other person there.”

“I heard that he thought things were out to get him?” So there might be a rational explanation after all.

“His shadow people? Yeah, the big bad shadows were going to come gobble him up in the night.” Mikki laughed. “If you ask me, those parents of his messed him up good and proper. They kept to themselves but enough people saw them around town to know that they were a few cards short of a full deck if you know what I mean.”

“What about the sister?”

“Alyssa? I didn’t know her really well. She was nice and all, but I think that she was just biding her time until she could get out of there. She came back after the parents died and took Jared, sent him somewhere upstate. Last I heard he was out and they’d bought a house or something a little way from town.”

“They? Jared and Alyssa?”

“No silly. Jared doesn’t work. Alyssa and her partner, Melissa. Now that is what I call one fine piece of work. Too much of an ice princess for me though. And possessive too. Saw them in the convenience store once and she caught me ogling her woman. Thought she was going to walk over and slap me for a minute.”

“You wouldn’t happen to know exactly where they live, would you?” Eden wanted to slap her right now.

“Oh sure. You just hang a left on Watson Avenue and keep going past the woods. You’ll come to a fork in the road and you keep right. You can’t miss it. Want me to come with you? Make sure you don’t get lost?”

Eden had no intention of taking anyone along with her on an interview. Even if she did, Mikki would have been at the bottom two of the list, right after her rather flatulent 80 year old aunt Betsy. Mikki had done a great job of loosening up her muscles, but she could almost feel them start to seize up again as the conversation progressed. Thankfully time was almost up and she’d be able to move on to her next treatment, all the while fervently praying that Mikki wouldn’t be her attendant for the day.

Chapter 7:

To say that the day was beautiful would have been one of the biggest understatements of Eden’s life but, strangely enough, she was at a loss for any other words that could offer an adequate description. The sun was high in the sky but there was enough of a chill in the air to counterbalance any uncomfortable heat. The woods, as Mikki described it, turned out to be a very picturesque area slice of nature. Eden could see squirrels rushing about their business in the trees lining the road and hear the songs of birds she would hard pressed to name. She would never have thought of herself as a nature lover but it was almost as though a sense of peace enveloped her for the first time since she came to Black Grove.

After about ten minutes she pulled up to an immaculately kept home built in a style reminiscent of old-time farmhouses. She had no trouble picturing a tractor out front and bales of hay in the barn, only the barn was a garage and she couldn’t find a trace of cows, chickens, or any other farm animals. She did notice a rather intimidating German Shepherd run up to the low fence as she got out of her car and fervently hoped that it had already eaten. The yard was well kept and she spied a young woman in a straw hat tending to a thriving herb garden. The woman looked up as Eden approached and she was greeted by a pair of startlingly blue eyes coolly appraising her.

“I was wondering when you’d show up.”

“You knew that I was coming to see you?” Eden was momentarily taken aback. She hadn’t mentioned to anyone other than Kendall that she was planning this trip

“I knew that you would eventually.” Alyssa’s smile was sad. She got up,  removing her gardening gloves and dusting herself off. “We don’t get much visitors and word travels fast around here Ms. Malone. Why don’t we go inside? While I do love a sunny day, I don’t relish long chats in it.”

“Lead the way…um…right after you take care of that beast?” Eden motioned towards the dog.

“Brimstone? He’s perfectly safe. He won’t bite unless I give him the command.”

 “Are you here by yourself?” Knowing that the dog only responded to vocal commands didn’t make Eden feel any better. Still, she supposed that the woman needed some sort of protection. She wasn’t sure she could live in such isolation. Even though she knew she was only a short distance away from town, she might as well be in another world.

“Are you hoping that I am?” Her tone was more amused than anything else. “Mel took my brother to do some shopping. She had an idea you’d be by today and I thought it would be better if she wasn’t here when you came.”

“And why is that?”

“She’s very protective. She wouldn’t appreciate you dragging up unpleasant memories. Please, have a seat. I’ll be with you shortly. Can I get you anything?”

Eden shook her head and took the time to peruse the room while Alyssa freshened up. There were few ways Eden could describe the inside of Alyssa’s home other than warm and cosy. Her hostess had led her into the living room, where she could imagine the fireplace roared on cooler nights. The plush couches had an elegant look about them, even though she had a feeling they were chosen more for comfort than aesthetics. The caramel coloured walls were dressed with landscape paintings that were clearly done by a gifted artist. She was admiring a particular appealing piece when Alyssa returned.

“Mel did those. It’s a hobby of hers.”

“She’s very good.” Eden meant it. She was impressed. “I’ve seen worse in some of the bigger galleries back in New York.”

“I don’t doubt it, but that’s not what you came here to talk about is it?”

“No, it’s not.” She didn’t beat around the bush. Eden liked that. “You know that I’m staying in your old home?”

“Of course. You really should have chosen somewhere else.” Her eyes took on a faraway look. “It’s not a good house.”

“You’re not the first person to tell me that but I honestly haven’t seen anything there.” It wasn’t a lie. She hadn’t actually seen anything.

“And you haven’t felt anything either?” Alyssa looked at her curiously. “There hasn’t been anything the least bit out of the ordinary?”

“No.” Eden was a bit more hesitant about that.

“I have no doubt you’re a good liar in normal circumstances Ms. Malone, but you can’t lie to me. Not about this. I’ve seen that look before, usually on my own face.”

“Please, call me Eden.” Eden felt a bit like a child who had just been scolded by their mom, but she wasn’t ready to accept her own experiences as yet, much less talk about them. “I know a little about the history of the house but no one’s told me the details of your family. Kendall mentioned that Jared used to talk to someone in his room at nights?”

“Kendall? Ah yes, you two are becoming quite the little item. You could do much worse. Don’t look so surprised. I told you news travels fast around here.” Alyssa laughed, and then quickly sobered. “Jared was always very quiet. He never really took an interest in what other boys his age did. I suppose you could say he was obsessed with death. It was all he could talk about sometimes. Maybe that’s why whatever it was got to him. It saw something there that called to it. He started talking about seeing things in his room. Our parents were too involved in drinking themselves to death to take much notice and, even when they did, they thought he was making it up. I loved him but I have to admit that I thought so too. I thought that all those scary things he kept in his head had finally knocked some screws loose.”

“I can understand that.”

“No, I don’t think you can. There are things in that house which prey on your emotions Ms…..Eden. The one that came after my brother looks for the darkest parts of you and brings them out. For my parents, it was their hatred for one another. For Jared, it was his love of the occult. It showed him things. It promised him things. All the while it was feeding off of him…preying off his mind. It comforted him in a way, but I think it scared him too. He was becoming increasingly unstable. He didn’t want to leave his room. He said the shadows were out to get him and it was the only place that was safe. He said he had a friend in there.

There was no way anyone was in there with him…not anyone human anyway. But I still heard him talking to someone, and I heard someone talking back. It wasn’t just him making two voices Eden. I know that’s what most people would think. I barged in on him once and there was something there…something undefined. It was like a shadow itself. One second it was there and then it was gone. And then the dreams started.”

Eden looked up sharply. “What dreams?” Her voice was a little higher pitched than she would have liked and Alyssa clearly noticed.

“You’ve started having them, haven’t you? Then you may have a chance.” Alyssa paused. “You’re running through a forest and something’s chasing you. Eventually it catches you and then the dreams become increasingly sexual, violent…but you’re not being forced because you want it. You want to give yourself over to this creature. One night I dreamt it had scratched me, and I woke up with those same scratches on my back.”

“Is that why you left?”

“I left because I had to. I couldn’t protect my brother. He was too far gone by then.”

“I don’t understand. You mean he was already suicidal?”

“That topic is not up for discussion.”

Eden could hear the note of finality in her statement and decided not to press her luck. She could always make an excuse for another interview and try again. “You came back after your parents died? I’m sorry about that by the way.”

“I’m not. The reports say my father was drunk at the wheel. My parents drank, they fought, they made up, and they drank some more. My father wouldn’t have thought anything of getting in the car if he ran out of alcohol at the house. But they never ran out of alcohol and I doubt he would have taken my mother with him. No, I believe they were really fleeing for their lives. I believe they were attacked by something and my brother saw it. By the time the police got to the house he had already tried to slit his left wrist and he was almost catatonic. They eventually sent him to a mental institution upstate. By then everyone in town knew about his ranting. I left because I had to and I came back because I had to. Someone needed to take care of him, and Mel came with me. I wouldn’t have set foot in that house if she didn’t.”

“Why didn’t you get attacked too?”

“Who said I didn’t?” There was an edge to her voice. “Something was protecting me. I could feel it. It was warning me to leave.”

“A guardian angel perhaps?” Eden couldn’t help smiling at the notion.

Alyssa uttered a harsh laugh. “This was no angel, although perhaps the line between good and evil isn’t as clear cut as we think. Maybe…”

She was interrupted by the sound of a car coming up the driveway. Eden assumed that this was the notorious Melissa and wondered if she would have a chance to talk to Jared. Given what she’d heard so far, she highly doubted it. A key jingled in the lock and the woman who entered would have made Eden’s jaw drop if she were currently starring in a cartoon. She had to be very close to six feet tall and her worn jeans and white t-shirt hugged her lean body in all the right places. Jet black hair was pulled back into a ponytail, allowing icy grey eyes and high cheekbones equal prominence.

“Ms. Malone I presume? I’m Melissa.” Eden shook her hand and got the distinct impression she was attempting to be polite just for Alyssa’s sake.

The young man who entered after her was about Eden’s height. He should be in his twenties by now, but the guarded look in his eyes made him appear older. He started when he realized there was someone else in the room, but calmed down when Melissa placed a hand on his shoulder. There was something forlorn about him, something empty…and yet. Why did she feel a shiver going down her spine when he’d looked at her?

“It’s okay Jared. Ms. Malone’s a friend of your sister’s. Why don’t you go upstairs and we’ll come up in a little while. You can show Alyssa all the things you bought.”

“Your brother doesn’t talk much,” Eden said after he’d left without so much as a backward glance.

“No, he doesn’t. Not anymore.”

“Any chance I could try to have a few words with him?” Eden knew the answer even before she asked the question, but she wouldn’t be herself if she didn’t try.

“I don’t think so. It’s almost lunchtime Ms. Malone. Maybe we should cut this short?”

Eden had known the second Melissa came home that the interview was over. Eden didn’t believe in ghosts, although she wasn’t as much of a sceptic as she was a few weeks ago, but clearly Alyssa did. She had a feeling that, if she could get her to really open up, her book would more or less write itself. There was no chance of that with Melissa standing guard though. Perhaps she should just happen to drop in some other time. She said her goodbyes and headed back to the car, formulating a plan in her mind.

Eden did a double take as she saw Melissa leaning against the hood of her car. She must have really been off in her own little world because she couldn’t remember seeing her pass by. What did it matter? Unless she had some information that she wanted to share with her, Eden couldn’t be bothered with pleasantries. She had bigger things on her mind. She made to get into the car, all the while ignoring the other woman, when her voice stopped her cold.

“Don’t ever come back here.”

She spun to look at her, her features already hardening. Even though she already had intentions of returning, she was not the type who appreciated being told what to do. Some might call it a weakness but Eden knew she hadn’t gotten where she was by being pushed around. A little voice in the back of her head piped up that where she was right now was quite possibly stuck in a house that inflicted its inhabitants with mass hysteria, but she was quick to silence it.

“I’ll come back if I want to for as long as it takes to get the information I need.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. I won’t allow it.”

“Who the hell are you to tell me what I can and cannot do?” Eden was on the verge of losing her temper. Who did this woman think she was? Stunning or not, she was about to get a piece of Eden’s mind.

“I am her protector. I will think nothing of stopping you.”

And that’s when Eden knew she was indeed losing her mind because she could have sworn that Melissa’s grey eyes flashed silver for a fraction of a second. It was over so fast that she could almost convince herself she had imagined it, except there was now something about the other woman’s presence that made her take a step back.

“I care not about what is after you. It is the other that I care about. What lives in that house is strongest there. There it can do the most damage if it chooses to. She has already been through so much…through hell. She is safe here, as long as I am with her, but I can no longer protect her if she goes back. And she will. She’ll try to help your sorry soul because that’s just the way she is. That’s why I fell in love with her. That’s why I begged for permission to be with her, and that’s why I will not stand for anything more happening to her.”

“What are you?” In a moment of clarity, Eden understood that this was no mere hysterics. This was belief.

“Something stronger than you. Something stronger than what lives in the shadows.”

“Then why don’t you destroy it?”

“Why? It is the natural order of things and the woman I love is safe. I see no reason to care for others…for you. You will have your own test and your tormentor will take your soul if you’re weak. That is your fight, not mine.”

“You’re all crazy.”

“Perhaps, but soon you might find yourself wondering if you are as well.”

Chapter 8:

“Is he sleeping?”

Alyssa stretched languidly and regarded the woman who had just come into the room. She smiled. Melissa was her friend, her lover, and so much more. She didn’t think she could ever find a way to show how truly grateful she was for all she had done, and all that she continued to do. They had met in night classes and even though circumstances meant the person who stood before her wasn’t quite the same insecure girl she had known, she loved her even more.

“Yeah, he’s completely out. He was a little fidgety though, but I calmed him down. You know how he likes strangers. I don’t know why you insisted on talking to that woman.”

“She needed to be warned.”

“And she’s not going to believe you. She’s going to have to go through things on her own. It’s not our place to interfere.”

“You didn’t let me go through it on my own.”

“That was different and you know it. You had more to deal with than she ever will.”

“So you sacrificed yourself.”

Melissa shrugged and Alyssa didn’t push the issue. Instead, she patted the bed beside her and wrapped her arms around the taller woman. It was amazing how much strength her body seemed to radiate. It made her feel protected and, after the memories the day had brought, she needed to feel sheltered.

“Did you tell her the real reason why you ran out and left Jared behind?”

“No. I didn’t see the point. I know what people think, that I ran away because I just cared about myself or that my father beat the crap out of me and I had to get out. Let them keep believing that. They’d turn on Jared in an instant if they knew he was the one who attacked me.”

“It’s not his fault he was born the way he was. He was a child when evil came upon him. He’s safe now. You both are.”

“I know, thanks to you. Mel?”

“Yes baby?”

“Let her out.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am. She needs me tonight, and I think I need her.”

“I’d protect you if I could you know.”

“I know darling.” And she did know. Had Melissa not shown her just how much on the one night they had spent in that accursed house? “ I know you love me, just as I know that she loves me. I’m lucky to have the both of you in my life.”

“No, we’re lucky to have you. I’ll let her out to play tonight, but tomorrow you’re all mine.”

“I know you can both feel everything, but you’ve got yourself a deal.” Alyssa smiled and planted a soft kiss on her lover’s lips as Melissa’s eyes shaded to silver. “My love.”

“I am here.” The voice was a little deeper, a little huskier, but only the most attentive would notice it. Alyssa was very attentive.

“I need you tonight.”

“Then take what you need.”

“Undress for me.”

Alyssa swallowed hard as Melissa complied, slowly drawing off each garment in a way that made the other woman long to rip them off. She made a lazy circle, allowing her audience of one to fully take in every peak and dip. The woman was gorgeous, the only imperfection being the ragged scarring on her left shoulder. Alyssa cringed at the pain it must have caused. Melissa noticed her stare.

“It no longer hurts her. I am sorry that I could not prevent it but it had to be done.”

“I know. Let’s not think about that now. Come here. I want to feel you.”

Alyssa rose to sit on the side of the bed as Melissa stood bared before her. Hungry eyes took in every inch of toned flesh. Trembling fingers caressed every highway that eyes traversed. Her skin was so soft, and so hot, especially at that juncture of neatly trimmed hairs where Alyssa could already see moisture pooling. She longed to touch. She longed to taste.

“Lie down.”

She reached over into the nightstand drawer as Melissa complied, the latter smirking as she saw what was withdrawn. She was often amazed by the inventiveness of her lover which, given what she was, was amazing in itself. Alyssa was insatiable, giving much more than she took, but never demanding more than she knew Melissa’s body could handle. Tonight though, she had opted for a simple strap-on, medium sized and designed to tease.

“You want gentle tonight love? You know you can’t hurt me, and I will heal anything done to her.”

“I know, but I just want to feel you. I just need to be close to you.”

Alyssa knew many in her own circle of friends who eschewed the use of any kind of sex toy whatsoever, not to mention ones that they saw as embodying maleness. Alyssa did not care for men, did not wonder what it would be like to be with a man. Neither did Melissa. They were both drawn to the curves of a woman’s body and the comfort of being with someone who understood. To them, the moulded plastic that Alyssa held in her hand was a tool for pleasure, nothing more, and it was that purpose she fully intended…but not right now.

Right now she wanted nothing more than to explore the vistas of her lover’s body. She lowered her head to Melissa’s throat and licked at the salty sweetness there. Busy fingers went to work unbuttoning her own top and she took a precious few seconds to undress and return to her task. She could feel her wetness coating Melissa’s stomach as she bent to take one pert breast into her mouth. She could feel fingers making their way between them as she pulled on a nipple, grazing her tongue over it. And then all she could feel were two fingers sliding into her, hard enough to bruise if she wasn’t already so aroused. She braced her hands on Melissa’s shoulders as the older woman thrust into her, setting the pace as she was overtaken by a crushing orgasm all too soon. Spent, she rested her head in the crook of Melissa’s neck and tried to catch her breath.

“You…you weren’t supposed to do that.”

“I couldn’t help myself.” An attempt at looking contrite failed miserably.

“Uh huh.”

“Are you going to punish me?”

“Hmm…maybe later. But right now I’m going to fuck you.”

Melissa didn’t think it was possible but the throbbing between her legs got even stronger and she felt the soft caress of silk binding her hands to the bed. She loved this side of Alyssa. She didn’t know what it said about her, that she needed someone who could dominate her, and she didn’t care. She watched as Alyssa adjusted the strap-on and advanced on her. Her legs opened without thought and allowed her lover to settle between them.

“Are you ready?”

She managed a nod. She was so very ready. She nearly yelped when Alyssa dipped one digit inside of her, checking for herself, then moved into position. Melissa felt herself slowly filled and moaned with contentment. Alyssa gave her time to adjust to the feeling and then started to move in deliberate strokes. Soon they had set up a rhythm, with Melissa’s hips arching to meet her lover. Alyssa braced on her elbows and kissed her tenderly, as she felt hands running along her back. Gradually her thrusts became more fevered and moans turned into gasps and pleadings to not stop. Melissa was straining against the binds and biting down on her shoulder hard enough to draw blood. This always gave her such a rush…such a feeling of power. How many people could say that they held sway over a demon, and a powerful one at that? She sped up, her pace almost brutal and was rewarded by Melissa’s body tightening underneath her and a scream that was one of pure pleasure. She didn’t stop yet though. She needed to drive the memories away, and Melissa’s body was the only thing that had ever been able to do that.

*****

Eden was still more than a little pissed off, not to mention out of sorts. It had been a surreal day and, now that she was away from Alyssa’s house, she was becoming more and more convinced that certain people in this town were quite far from sane. At least that was what her head was trying to convince her. Some primal part of her brain though was urging her otherwise. But what was she supposed to think? That a board had somehow opened up a doorway to…what? Hell? And something, or somethings, had come through? It was laughable. If anyone who knew her caught even a whiff of what she was thinking, they’d march her off to the loony bin.

Sure, she’d had some odd stuff happen to her, but there was always a rational explanation. She knew the house was supposed to be haunted. There had to have been some preconceived notions swimming around in her head. It was her damn subconscious, making tiny occurrences seem like something more than they were. Thus reassured, she set about going through her nightly routine and trying to get some work done. She took the laptop up to her room, planning to do some writing and maybe take in a late night talk show until she fell asleep. She was barely aware that her thoughts had drifted off again when, out of the corner of her eyes, she thought she caught a hint of movement.

Her back was to the bedroom door, but the blank screen of the TV allowed her to see what her mind couldn’t process at first. The reflection showed that the door was open, but instead of the carpeted corridor, all that showed was darkness…although that wasn’t quite true. It seemed as though a shape hovered there, inky against the surrounding black. Eden didn’t think her heart actually skipped a beat, but she could feel it pounding in her chest. She swallowed, and produced a dry click, as her mouth was devoid of all moisture. She spun around, afraid of what she would find, and saw only a closed door. She turned back to the screen and creased her brow as she saw the same thing reflected. What the…? She damn near wet herself when her cell phone rang at that exact moment. She picked it up without bothering to look at it.

“Hello?”

“Hey babe.” Kendall instantly picked up on the odd tone in her voice. “Everything okay?”

“Oh yeah, everything’s fine.” It was a relief to hear Kendall’s voice. “I’m just a little tired I guess.”

“How’d it go today?”

“As well as could be expected, I suppose. I got some information but I get the feeling that I just scratched the surface. I might be able to wring some more from Alyssa, but not with the Amazon woman around.”

“Melissa?” Kendall laughed. “She can be a handful. I’ve never seen anyone so protective, but Alyssa seems to like it though, and she’s always been nothing but polite when she comes into the store.”

“Hmm. I was really hoping to talk to the brother though. If I could get him to open up that would be great.”

“I don’t know how good an idea that would be. To be quite honest, Jared used to scare me a little. Be careful Eden. I know nothing I say is going to stop you. I doubt anything is, but if any of this is real, you’re playing with something you don’t understand.” There was a pause. “There are some things that it’s better not to know.”

They talked for a few minutes more, but a feeling of lethargy was beginning to envelop her and she desperately needed sleep. Kendall could tell from the increasingly long silences and finally shooed her off the phone, with a promise to check in first thing in the morning. Truth be told, the younger woman was worried, although there was nothing definite she could put her finger on.

Eden decided to call it a night. Talking to Kendall had cleared her mind somewhat but, now that she was off the phone, strange thoughts started to assail her again. Clearly there was no point to staying awake. Hopefully her dreams would be better, although, given what had gone before, she was far from certain. She suppressed a shiver, and briefly thought about sleeping with the lights on, something she hadn’t done since she was a child. Ultimately she decided against it, still trying to convince herself that everything she had seen and heard up to this point was the result of frayed nerves and planted suggestions. The morning would be better. The morning would bring clarity…she hoped. She was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.

She remembered running, but she couldn’t recall exactly what she’d been fleeing from. It was a blur, seeming to morph from a lover’s face to something that made her shudder. Whatever it was, she’d found refuge in the old house and prayed that she would be safe. It was clearly abandoned after all. The full moon cast enough light that she could make out all but the smallest of details. It seemed familiar somehow, even though she was sure that she had never been there. Although…something played at the edges of her memory. A blonde, naked and wanton. Beckoning to her from beneath sweat stained sheets. She could feel her nipples tightening in response. She shook her head, hoping it would shake the image away as well. Why was she here?

“You’re here because I brought you.”

She spun around, certain that there had been no one in the house. A shape detached itself and made its way towards her. The same golden hair, cascading over bare shoulders. The same look of hunger, of need, clothed in the barest of lace. It was cold, but she seemed not to notice it.

“Don’t you remember me? After all we’ve been through?”

All at once it came back. The longing. The lust. The stolen nights that no one guessed, bringing each other to the heights of pleasure, again and again. Her deepest, darkest fantasies brought to life.

“You.” She took a shaky breath. “What are you?”

“Exactly what you summoned. You wanted someone who wouldn’t be repelled by your desires, didn’t you? You wanted someone who wouldn’t make you feel ashamed, as others have done. I came for you.” An amused smile at the double entendre. “Why have you been running from me? Is this body not pleasing to you anymore?”

“I saw you…I saw…”

“My true form? Yes, that was unfortunate. I hadn’t meant for that to happen so soon. And yet, do you really find me that repulsive?”

A change came over her. Her body seemed to be in motion, growing taller, yet she stood still. Her face elongated as her fingers sharpened to talons. Her skin, pale in the moonlight, now darkened so that it was difficult to distinguish from the shadows. A smile became fanged and she thought she would faint when cruel looking wings emerged from a flawless back. Shreds of the torn shift hung on its muscled body, but there was no mistaking its femininity. Dark eyes regarded her thoughtfully, and she couldn’t tell if the creature standing before her was simply thinking of the best way to kill her.

It took a step towards her and she fell back. It raised a hand and she prepared for the blow, but it never came. Instead she felt a sharp caress against her cheek. She opened her eyes and took in the sight. She was surprised to find that she wasn’t as revolted as she thought she’d be. True, it wasn’t what most would regard as pleasant to look at, but there was power radiating off of it…power that attracted her…power that promised her everything her heart had ever desired if she would only surrender. Could she? It came for her. That’s what it had said. It was her summoning…her ritual…her offering of blood that had drawn it. What experiences could it show her? What depths of lust could it take her to? She didn’t know, but she wanted to find out. She realized that she was desperate to find out.

She reached out, and in the blink of an eye, felt her body pressed against the cold stone wall. The uneven surface dug into her back, and the pain brought a fresh burst of arousal. Sharp teeth nipped at her lips, hard enough that she could taste blood, but thankfully not a lot of it. Talons raked her back, just hard enough to break the skin. She had no doubt that the creature could cause her great harm if it so desired, but it was holding back, giving only as much as she could take…understanding her need to mix pleasure and pain.

“Will you be mine? Will you allow me into your body and your soul? I will grant you pleasures you never knew existed.”

“Yes.” Given the pleasure it was already granting her, she had no choice.

It roared in triumph, there was really no other way to describe it, and pulled her even closer. She wrapped her arms around it; feeling enveloped in its bulk, and felt its fanged mouth exploring her throat. It bit down, piercing the skin, and she yelped at the unexpected intrusion. Sharp claws made short work of her flimsy dress, until she stood naked and unashamed. She had a moment of fear at the thought of having those claws inside her, but the creature seemed to have other ideas, as it descended her body, nipping as it went. She spread her legs as widely as she could, lifting one to strong shoulders, as a tongue lapped at her growing wetness. Before long she was rocking her hips in a frenzy of need as the creature licked and probed between her legs. All too soon she could feel a massive orgasm building and the force of it must have caused her to faint because the next thing she knew she was in its arms again.

“Mine.”

There was something both sinister and comforting in that one statement, for that was what it was…a claim. Her mind had yet to clear fully when she first felt it, a searing pain in her shoulder. She thought at first that it was the creature’s claws, but she could feel its arms around her waist, holding her in place. It was though her skin was on fire…as though a white hot brand was being burned against her. She screamed, helpless against the pain…

Eden was still screaming when she awoke. She tried to jerk upright, but something was keeping her down…something strong. She couldn’t move. She fought with everything she had in her, and finally managed to overcome her captor, although her frantic eyes could find no sign of anyone in the room.

“Eden.”

It was a whisper and at first she wasn’t sure that she heard anything, until it came again. She turned to the side, convinced that she would see someone, or something, next to her and winced. Reaching up, her hand found blood and a growing certainty that her back was now sporting scratches assailed her. That was when Eden Malone, hard boiled writer and self-professed sceptic fled from her own home, not caring who might see her fleeing through the night or what they might think. Kendall. She had to get to Kendall.

She barely remembered her panicked journey to Kendall’s house. She was alive and, given the still clean state of her car, she had no reason to believe she’d run over anyone. She grabbed the few things she’d had the presence of mind to take with her and fairly ran up to the front door, pounding on it before remembering the doorbell. She was just beginning to fear that Kendall wasn’t home when the door opened.

“Eden?” Kendall voice carried that faint huskiness and confusion of the abruptly awakened, but she quickly came alert as she took in Eden’s dishevelled appearance. “What happened? My God, you’re trembling. Get in here.”

“You were right. There is something in that house. I had to get out of there.”

“You saw something? Wait, sit here and let me get you some tea.”

Eden thought about protesting. She was never much of a tea drinker anyway, but she realized that the thought of someone taking care of her was quite appealing at that particular point in time. She sunk into the plush sofa and tried to compose herself. No matter how much she attempted to convince herself that she had imagined everything, she just couldn’t. The stinging on her back was evidence enough. Kendall came back and set a steaming cup of what appeared to be chamomile tea in front of her. The younger woman sat next to her and put her arm around her, brows creasing with concern when Eden flinched.

“Apart from the obvious, are you alright?”

Wordlessly, Eden turned her back on her and pulled off her top, not the least bit self-conscious. After all, they had seen each other naked on a number of very pleasant occasions. She heard the gasp and her fears were confirmed.

“You’re seeing that right? I didn’t do that to myself. I couldn’t.”

“I know. Something hurt you. What was it?”

“I…I don’t know.” Kendall’s touch on her back was soothing her somewhat. The arousal from her dream was still upon her and she could feel her body stirring. Lust had always been her biggest vice. But she didn’t want this now, not while she felt dirty. “It was a dream. I dreamt it happened and it did.”

Kendall didn’t push, and yet Eden felt the compulsion to tell her everything, not only about tonight but also all the little things she had managed to put out of her mind that still troubled her on some level. In the end, Kendall had cleaned her wounds and taken her to bed, to sleep and be held, nothing more. She was quite alright with that. She was also quite alright with Kendall’s insistence that she leave the house. How far she’d come from when she’d first pulled into Black Grove. She intended to, stopping only to collect the most treasured of her things, but not before she got to the bottom of whatever was going on in that house. And she knew where she had to start.

Chapter 9:

The next morning saw her on her way back to Alyssa’s house. While she didn’t necessarily want to ignite Melissa’s ire, there were answers she needed to get and something inside her told her she’d find them there. Kendall had insisted on going with her but she’d rather do this alone; not that she hadn’t appreciated the offer. She’d arrived at Kendall’s home by some miracle of the road Gods, trembling and frightened. Kendall had encouraged her to leave the house immediately, and Eden was in total agreement.  She would spend the rest of her ‘vacation’ time with Kendall. She wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea, having never lived with a lover before, but she wasn’t staying another night in that place.

She didn’t see a car in the driveway, but the windows were open. She hoped that meant Melissa wasn’t home. The woman rubbed her the wrong way. She went up the front door, rang the doorbell, and came face to face with the person she most didn’t want to see.

“I told you not to come back here.”

It only took a fraction of a second for Eden to weigh her options, even though it seemed like hours to her. Instinctively she knew that she couldn’t bully the other woman. She needed help and she decided to just be honest for once.

“I need to see her. Please. She was right…about everything. There’s something in that house. I had the dream too, and the scratches. I couldn’t have done that to myself. I just want to know what’s going on.”

Melissa sighed and looked torn. Finally she moved aside and beckoned Eden to enter.

“There’s nothing Alyssa can do for you.”

“Maybe, maybe not, but I just want to understand this. I came here not believing in this sort of thing. Now I’m not sure what to believe.”

“Believe that the house is haunted, in its own way. I assume you know enough of its history by now?”

“I’ve heard all about Jackson Foley and Maria, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m acquainted with the rumours that Maria summoned something with an Ouija board as well. Is that what happened? How can something that’s essentially a piece of cardboard do that?”

“Because of the intention behind it.” Melissa paused. “It’s all good fun. A few knocks here. A rap on the table there. But Maria was a foolish woman. She wanted more. She wanted to see more. So she extended an invitation. She held open the door.”

“The door to what? Hell?”

“You could call it that. You could call it a lot of things.”

“Are you trying to tell me that Maria called up some sort of…what? Demon?” Eden couldn’t keep the incredulity out of her voice. She was prepared to admit that something was going on, but this was a bit much. She started to think that Melissa was pulling her leg, except she seemed deadly serious.

“I’m not trying to tell you anything. I am telling you that a portal was opened. Have you ever heard of a succubus?”

Eden smiled wryly. “I’m a horror writer. Of course I have. That’s the she-demon who feeds off men’s sexual energy, isn’t it? But that’s not right. That can’t be what’s in there.”

“It is, one of the things anyway. Did you know that every emotion has its own unique flavour? Think of it like ice cream. Some people prefer chocolate, others favour vanilla. It’s the same sort of thing. Different demons feed off different emotions. Some feed off of fear, or hatred. This one has a taste for lust.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“Do I look like I’m kidding?”

“No.” Eden was pretty much convinced that the other woman never smiled.

“Good, because I’m not. She can gauge a person, use their own fears against them, or their own needs as the case may be. That’s what she wanted from Alyssa, and she was an easy target. Alyssa likes to play rough now and then, and she was always afraid of those desires…afraid that something was wrong with her. I never understood why people think you’re a deviant if you like a little pain now and then, but that’s beside the point. The dreams are her method of seduction, of getting to you while you’re most vulnerable.”

“That’s it? She just feeds a little?”

“Are the scratches on your back not proof enough that she can do more than that? Don’t get me wrong. She’s not inherently evil. She simply feeds; that’s just her nature. If there wasn’t anything for her to work on in the first place, she would be powerless, just as the others would have been powerless. Jackson Foley was always afraid that his precious Maria would make a fool of him some day, and Maria craved attention, especially from attractive young men.”

“What about Alyssa’s parents. I guess I can see the fear, but lust? From what I’ve heard they were more likely to have hated each other. And Jared? I’m not seeing the connection.”

“That’s because there isn’t one. Alyssa was her only target. Yes, Jared sensed her and he was afraid of her, but he had nothing to fear. She would never have touched him, as tainted as he was.”

“But Jared’s voices? And….” So much didn’t make sense.

Melissa cut her off. “There are many kinds of evil in this world Eden. It’s easy to look for something else to blame but you’d be surprised how much of it springs from the human mind. Jared’s mind is not a place you’d ever like to see. He was born with darkness in him and he drew darkness to him.”

“So Jared?”

“Is no longer a problem, and nothing you need to concern yourself with. You have bigger worries. If you’re having the dreams and it’s gone this far, I’m guessing that she’s picked you as her next conquest.”

“I’m not sure I know what that means.”

“A demon can be summoned but most times it’s stuck in that place, unless it’s very powerful or it can find a human host. But there are rules. There are always rules. In the case of what you’re dealing with, the host must consent to the possession.”

“Why on earth would anyone do that?” Eden certainly wasn’t about to.

“Many reasons…power…greed…to protect someone they love.” Melissa shrugged. “It can be quite a tempting offer, especially after it has worked on you a while and pierced your defences. Imagine being shown what you want most and given a chance to get it. It’s a false promise though. Except in very rare cases, you end up losing yourself. You’re trapped in a body you have no control over.”

“How do you know so much?” Eden wasn’t sure she really wanted an answer.

“You’re a smart woman, on occasion. I think you know already, but if you don’t I have no intention of telling you.”

“What can I do?”

“Nothing. Leave, or she will get to you, in one way or the other.”

“I am leaving.” She didn’t care if it made her look like a whipped puppy. She was more than ready to put her tail between her legs and run.

“Today?”

“Yes. I’m going back now to get my stuff.”

“I wouldn’t go alone if I were you. She’ll be there. She won’t let you leave without a fight.”

“Nothing’s going to stop me.”

“We’ll see.” Melissa’s eyes flashed silver and her smile was predatory. “We don’t like to lose what we’ve claimed as ours.”

There was nothing Eden could say to that.

Chapter 10:

Eden stood before the door to the Foley house, the house she had tenanted for the past month or so, and almost couldn’t bring herself to fit the key into the lock. She might be able to discount everything else, but no amount of logic could shake her certainly that last night wasn’t the imaginings of a bone weary mind, not when her back was crossed by jagged lines that Kendall certainly hadn’t put there. No, something had happened and, whether or not Melissa was right, she was petrified of anything happening again. Luckily she always travelled light and there were precious few items that she needed to pack. She might have said to hell with it anyway, if her laptop wasn’t there…up in the bedroom.

She made quick work of gathering her belongings, half expecting to see a figure in the mirror or hear footsteps on the stairs, but all was quiet. ‘A little too quiet’ her traitorous mind insisted. Reluctantly, she went upstairs, her nerves still on edge from the night before. She was glad that she decided to make this trip in daylight. The shadows were beginning to get to her. Perhaps she really should have gotten Kendall to come with her. Oh well, she was almost done anyway. Finally, she had everything packed and ready to go, and was saying a little prayer of thanks when she turned and saw her in the doorway. The figure from her dreams…the blonde anyway. Anything else and Eden might have fainted then and there.

“You didn’t think I’d let you leave without saying goodbye, did you?” An amused smile played about her lips.

Eden recalled Melissa’s words that she wouldn’t be allowed to leave without a fight. Right now, Eden didn’t think there was much fight left in her, although there was a great desire to throw up, so great was her fear. The woman standing before her didn’t seem threatening. In fact, she was downright gorgeous, with green eyes a person could drown in and a figure that would make many a model the same shade of green with envy. Weren’t demons supposed to be hideous? Then she remembered the other form from her dream; the talons, and the fangs, and skin as black as night. She also remembered her arousal and willed her body to not betray her.

“Who are you?”

“You may call me Rebecca.” She tilted her head, much as a puppy would. “I like the name.”

“What do you want from me?” Her voice didn’t seem to be her own.

“You know what I want.”

“To leave this place? To be unleashed on the world? I won’t do it.”

“Unleashed?” The laughter that followed was low and throaty. “Do you really think I am any worse than the things that already exist in your world? We see it all you know. It’s a lovely game really, watching you scurry about thinking that there’s some great war between good and evil. It amuses us, angels and demons alike. You kill each other for sport and I’m the evil one? Your only innocents are your children, my dear, and I would never harm a child. I am a demon, not a monster.”

“You’ve killed.”

“When? I have killed no one. That was another, or do you really think I am the only one here? You should count your blessings that there is no hatred in your heart. Things would have been truly unpleasant for you.”

 “What about the Landales?”

“Tainted blood.” Her face contorted in disgust. “I had nothing to do with that, or did your precious Alyssa not tell you? The real evil in this house was the brother. There was always something wrong with him. I could tell that from the beginning. Do you know why they moved to Black Grove? Why the father was so quick with his fists when it came to his son? No? What would you do with a little boy who liked to kill? A pet rabbit here. The neighbour’s cat there.”

“I don’t believe you.” Except that Eden did. She’d seen something wrong in his eyes.

“Hmm, not even if I told you the real reason Alyssa left was because her little brother came into her room one night with a knife? She’s got a scar right here.” She traced an outline along her stomach. “It got hushed up alright, and she wasn’t badly hurt, but she left right after that. You want evil? Look no further than that little brat. The darkness in him called to the darkness around him. It had to manifest itself, even if it consumed him in the process. That’s what drove his parents out into the night, and I’m what put those thoughts of suicide into his head…my little revenge for driving my Alyssa away.”

“If he’s so dangerous then why do they have him around?”

 “Alyssa loves her brother for some reason.” A cynical smile. “And a little dog can’t bite when there’s a bigger dog there to keep it in check. He’s harmless now.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You’re not meant to understand. You’re meant for me, so I can finally get out of here. There’s so much I want to experience, and you’re going to help me do it.”

“I’ve been told that I have to give consent, and I have no intentions of ever doing that, so what are you going to do? Just going to take over my body?”

“Force you? That’s not our way. You will agree willingly enough.”

“I don’t think so.” Eden tried to sound adamant, but she wasn’t so sure inside.

“Oh you will, because of who you are Eden. I could sense it the second you stepped into the house…the lust hidden within you. Your own body will betray you. Already it longs for my touch.”

“It does not.” It was a lie.

“No? You imagine you’re strong enough to resist me? You who have never said no to a beautiful woman? You’re not the first. You believe there aren’t those of us walking amongst you today? Why do you think Jared’s evil has been neutered?”

“I don’t know.” But she had an idea, as preposterous as it was.

“You do. You’ve already sensed Alyssa’s protector. Yes, Melissa is one of our kind, or rather she allowed her body to be inhabited by one of our kind in a bid to shield Alyssa from what Jared called to himself. Alyssa thought it was over, you see. She thought that, with Jared gone to that institution, there was no longer any threat to her. Did you know that they stayed in the house the first night they got back? She should have stayed away. Without Jared to focus on, it went after her. I suppose I should be happy she had caught the eye of another, a very powerful demon actually, but she was supposed to be mine. So innocent, so sweet, but such a little…devil in bed. I worked on her…sent her the dreams. I almost had her, but even I wouldn’t take the chance of making such a dangerous enemy. I thought I’d lost my chance but then you came along.”

Eden listened to her, and the more she did, the more she found her voice entrancing…musical. She felt as though she was falling asleep…and then her phone rang, breaking the spell. Rebecca cursed as Eden hit redial and Marge’s voice filled the room.

“Hello? Eden?”

“Marge! Marge, get me out of here. She’s here.” She sounded frantic and she didn’t care.

“What? Who’s there? Eden?”

“She’s going to…” But that was all she was able to get out as Rebecca sat next to her and gently plucked the phone from her hand.

“No, no. No interruptions. I don’t know why you’re fighting this. All I want is to be out there…to explore. To feed. That’s all. And I need your body to do it. Will you give it to me?”

“No.”

“You will.”

She pushed Eden back down into the bed and straddled her, bringing her lips to hers. Eden knew she was lost at the first touch. She could never remember feeling so aroused by a simple kiss, no matter how talented the tongue…and the demon’s tongue was oh so gifted. It caressed and demanded until she had no choice but to allow it entrance. Rebecca shifted her weight so that she was lying on her fully, and a firm thigh worked its way between her legs. She sighed at the pressure and her hips moved of their own volition, seeking more contact. She was rewarded with that which she sought and she could feel her wetness grow as hungry lips fastened onto a needing breast. She didn’t notice when the weight above got heavier or when she was wrapped in black wings. She didn’t notice anything but the pleasure building inside her. And when the question came, she was too far gone to remember giving a response.

“Mine?”

“Yes.”

*****

The phone on the side of the bed rang shrilly but failed to rouse the slumbering occupant. It fell silent in reproach, but started up again almost immediately. Finally a hand reached out to silence it.

“Hello?” The voice was low and husky…a sleeper’s voice.

“Eden, what the hell? Do you know how long I’ve been trying to reach you?”

“What’s up?”

“What’s up?!” Marge was fairly screeching. “Do you not remember calling me, rambling on about something being out to get you? What the hell’s going on out there?”

“Nothing Marge. Everything’s fine. Better than fine actually. Things are finally looking up.”

“So what the fuck was that all about.” Marge was calming down a bit but she was still clearly confused.

“I must have had a little too much to drink while I was working on the book. Imagined things.”

“God, you had me wondering if you were finally on your way to the nuthouse. We need to talk about your drinking when we get back. Thank God you didn’t call anyone else. You didn’t, did you?”

“No, no. Don’t worry about it Marge. Things are great and the book’s really coming along. I’ve got a few more chapters to go, but I don’t think I’ll be coming back in just yet. I’ve got a couple of things to take care of here, and I intend to make the most of my down time.”

“There’s a woman, isn’t there? No, don’t answer that. Just email the manuscript to me when you’re done. And take of yourself Eden. You’re too young to be going off the deep end just yet.

“Will do. And Marge?”

“Yes?”

“I want to thank you for sending me here. I can’t remember the last time that I’ve been quite so…inspired.”

Eden hung up the phone, got out of bed and went to the bathroom to freshen up a bit. She wanted to look her best for Kendall. They were going to be spending a lot of time together after all. She smiled, and there was no amusement in it, only avid sensuality. Finally, a lover who could potentially match her. As she turned away from the mirror, black eyes shaded to grey. She had one more thing to do.

*****

She had a clear view of them from her vantage point; the one who had been scathed but who had broken free of the bonds the house had tried to cast on her, and the one she loved.  How delicious it would have been had she been able to claim Alyssa as her own. Unfortunately, as strong as she was, she couldn’t protect Alyssa from the years of pain and hatred that her brother had built up inside. A more deadly demon could. She stifled a laugh. Poor Eden, convinced that she was some sort of fiend. If only she knew what kind of havoc Melissa was capable of now, should she so desire it. She had destroyed nations in her time.

She took a step forward almost in spite of herself, but stopped abruptly as she saw her. She should be hidden where she was, yet she had the strangest feeling that Melissa was looking straight at her as she passed through the doorway. She felt a twinge of jealousy, although the only sign was a raised eyebrow. Even though the proof was right there in front of her eyes, she couldn’t understand how a mortal could love a demon. Perhaps…Kendall. She seemed to be something special, if the memories were accurate and she had no reason to believe they weren’t. But that was for later, after she’d had her fill of what this world had to offer.

Without another thought, she turned and walked back to the car. There was nothing here for her; nothing she would be allowed to take. Oh well, there would be others. So much to feed off of…there would be no need to kill, not when there was so unrequited lust in the air. There was a spring in her step and a whistle on her lips. The world was a wide open place…and she was free.

The End

%d bloggers like this: