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related characters and retains complete rights to
said characters. These concepts are used WITHOUT
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acknowledges that original concepts presented here
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Issue One - "First Blood"
Written By: Paul McNally
"Switching to local news, tomorrow marks the much anticipated arrival date of Michael McCoy. McCoy will be in town for two days, promoting his newest book, 'Ghost Hunter', which contains a detailed account of his years with the paranormal investigation agency Night Force. Night Force made headlines in '07 when one member of the trio, Jessica Martin, was killed. McCoy and fellow Night Force member Peter Willis were found innocent of her murder in the so-called 'Trial of the Century'. The book reveals the details behind the fatal final case of Night Force, hidden for the last four years. McCoy will be appearing at the Book--"
Ellen Farnam switched the radio off, giving the interior of the Cornerstone Library one last glance. Her eyes roamed the aisles as she donned her jacket. She plucked her purse from the desk, slipping the strap over her shoulder before tucking her copy of 'Ghost Hunter' under her arm. The book's dust cover crinkled as she removed her key ring from the pocket of her coat.
The chilly October air washed over Ellen when she stepped outside. The streets of Cornerstone were empty of both pedestrians and cars, not surprising in a town that practically closed down at dusk. Ellen pulled the door closed behind her and slid the key in. The lock engaged with an audible snap in the silence. She checked the door once more before taking the three steps down to the sidewalk.
Ellen's heels clicked on the concrete as she passed the cemetery on the way to her apartment building. The street lamps cast round pools of light on the sidewalk. As she walked, Ellen found herself counting her steps. Three in the light. Seven in the dark. Three in the--.
She didn't see the man until she bumped into him. She jumped back in fright, gasping as his hands grasped her shoulders to steady her. She felt the book slip from beneath her arm and fall at her feet.
His black slacks were partially obscured by the long tan overcoat he wore, belted tightly at the waist. The sleeves of the coat had pulled back slightly, exposing the cuffs of his black shirt. The black turtleneck was visible over the collar of the coat. On his head he wore a fedora. The streetlight overhead and the brim of the hat combined to form a mask of shadows that obscured the man's face.
The man released her shoulders and bent to retrieve the book, which had landed face down on the sidewalk. His olive hand closed around the volume, listing it to his face. He studied the photograph of the author on the back cover.
The man laughed. "Delicious," he muttered.
Ellen smiled nervously. "I don't mean to be rude," she apologized, but I've really got to be going."
Ellen reached out, feeling her fingertips brush the glossy dust cover a moment before the man let go of the book. His slim fingers wrapped around her wrist like an icy bracelet. With a yank, he pulled Ellen to him.
Ellen opened her mouth to scream, but found herself frozen with fear as twin pinpoints of red light sprang to life in the shadows beneath the brim of the hat. The light flared bright enough to illuminate the pointed, metallic teeth filling the man's mouth. His hand's jumped to her ears, holding her head in place as a gout of roared from his mouth into hers.
The moisture in Ellen's throat turned to steam, singeing her lungs. Her vocal chords crisped as the flame licked across her tongue and lips, pouring around the sides of her face to ignite her hair and blouse.
The man held her erect as her struggling grew weak. It wasn't until her convulsing ceased that he dropped her lifeless body to the sidewalk. He pulled back one black shod foot and kicked the copy of 'Ghost Hunter' into the gutter.
With that he crouched beside the smoldering body and began his work.
I leaned forward in my seat, watching Norma fill my coffee cup. Her shoulder length hair was pulled back in a ponytail. The thick makeup she wore did little to hide the dark bags beneath her bloodshot eyes. I watched as she topped off her own mug, scooping four teaspoons of sugar into the black liquid.
She covered a yawn with the back of her hand. "Excuse me," she apologized. "I haven't been sleeping lately."
I smiled, pouring some cream into my coffee. "Don't worry about it. I understand completely."
Norma took a seat beside her husband, across the table from me. "Now where was I," she asked.
She nodded. "That's right. Most of the time I hear it in our bedroom, but occasionally I'll hear it in the other rooms of the house."
She shrugged. "About three weeks ago."
He snorted. "No," he said with a sneer. "I think it's just her imagination. She's been pretty moody lately. Maybe she's going through 'The Change'."
I smiled politely. "Studies have concluded that woman experiencing menopause are highly receptive to paranormal occurrences, Fred. If your wife is going through 'The Change', as you put it, it could be that she is more in tune with the source of the noises than you are."
Fred looked to his wife and put his hand over hers.
I tipped my head slightly, gazing between Fred and Norma's shoulder at my father, standing at the other side of the kitchen. I raised my eyebrows and he gestured to the doorway.
A young girl, seven or eight years old at most, entered the kitchen, humming softly to herself. She looked up at my father and smiled broadly. He returned the grin as she continued into the room, her pink skirt billowing slightly as she passed us.
I watched the Carneys as the girl moved by. Fred was spooning sugar into his mug, watching me. Norma was sitting straight up in her chair, wide-eyed and ashen faced.
I signaled my father and he approached the little girl, who was now sitting on the kitchen floor. He sat down beside her, watching her hands move as she played with a toy only she could see.
The child ignored him.
Justin laughed. "That's very good," he said. "You shouldn't talk to strangers. You don't have to talk to me if you don't want to, okay? I'm going to help you."
The little girl looked up at him. "Can you take me to them?"
Justin shook his head. "No honey, I'm afraid I can't. But I'm going to show you how to get there. Can you show me where you are?"
She nodded her head vigorously as she got to her feet.
Fred coughed, spraying the table with coffee. "Pregnant," he gasped, brown liquid trickling from the corners of his mouth. "Really?"
Norma nodded. "We've been trying for years," she explained. "I'd just about given up on the idea of children."
I couldn't keep myself from grinning. "Congratulations. The spirit may have sensed your pregnancy. She may have been drawn to the child growing inside you."
Fred Carney got to his feet, gulping down the remains of his coffee. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Let's get this over with," he said.
Rose led the way out of the kitchen, followed by Justin, myself, and Fred. She entered the hallway, passing two doors before walking through a third.
Fred reached over my shoulder and flipped the light switch on the wall, illuminating the dirt floor of the cellar. The stairs creaked as we descended into the room. The damp, musty air filled my mouth and nose like wet cotton.
The little girl walked to the back wall of the basement and pointed down at the dark dirt.
I sighed, throwing up my hands. "Maybe you're right, Fred. Maybe this has gone far enough. Maybe I should leave."
A wide grin split Fred's face. "You're damned right!"
Fred's grin was beginning to falter.
Fred stepped back, looking me up and down. "You'd better damn well fill in that hole!"
Fred turned away, stomping his way up the stairs to the first floor. He slammed the cellar door when he reached the top.
Justin faced the little girl, who was staring up at him expectantly. "Rose," he said. "In a few minutes you're going to see a bright light. When you do I want you to walk into it. It will be very bright and it might even hurt your eyes to look at it, but you've got to keep them open. Don't close your eyes. Just walk into the light."
The door at the top of the stairs opened, banging against the wall of the hallway.
Rose bowed her head sadly. "Thank you," she said.
Fred Carney reached the bottom of the stairs and threw one of the shovels in my direction. I picked it up, turned, and buried the tip of the blade in the dirt between my father and Rose.
It took seven minutes of digging before we uncovered the first bone. When he saw it, Fred screamed like a woman, dropping his shovel and scrambling out of the hole.
Rose took a step toward the back wall of the house, but stopped in her tracks. She turned quickly and wrapped her arms around Dad's legs. He kissed her lightly on the top of the head before pushing her away gently.
With one last squeeze Rose broke away from Justin, disappearing into the cinder block wall of the foundation. Her voice carried on for a few more seconds as she joyfully called out to her mother.
Dad faced me, brushing imaginary lint from his sport coat. "Another job well done," he said.
I leaned against the wall, taking a good look at him and the sadness in his eyes. "You can go with her, you know," I told him.
Dad laughed. "If you don't need me anymore
He smiled and faded away.
A loud clatter filled the cellar as Fred slipped and slid down the stairway, his rump coming to rest in the dirt. He sat, momentarily stunned, before stating that the police were on their way.
I pushed open the door to 'White Investigations', wincing at the scent of melting metal that filled my nose. I stepped inside and took off my jacket, looking across the dark office at Megan O'Neill's workbench.
I switched on the interior lights on the way to my desk. The flashing message light on the vid instantly reminded me that I'd forgotten to call the ex. I took a seat and played them back.
I shrugged, even though I knew she wouldn't see me. "Alright. Dad did most of the work."
She smiled, adding another piece of circuitry to the board. "You'll see when he gets here."
I went back to playing the messages. Three of the four were job offers for us. I filed them away. As expected, the last message was from Renee, my ex-wife.
I rubbed a hand across my eyes. I'd forgotten all about it.
The screen went black, waiting for a command.
I nodded. "Just thinking."
Megan slid the completed board to the edge of her desk before turning off the work light. "You know, sometimes I envy you."
I laughed. "That's a whole 'nother story, sister," I said.
Megan turned off the light and stared at the darkened bench, shaking her head. "You don't understand," she said.
I took a look at the bourbon bottle and sighed again, pulling two shot glasses from my drawer. "Megan, I understand a lot better than you think."
I cracked the seal on the bottle and poured two shots. "Let me tell you a little story about relationships--"
The bell above the front door rang. Megan and I turned out gaze toward the man that entered the office, sunlight reflecting off the bronze star on his shirt.
Bernie returned the smile, his eyes lingering on Megan for a moment before coming to rest on me. "I'm sorry to bother you again, Jay, but it looks like Robbie forgot to get a little information from you at the Carney place. Damned rookies."
I nodded. "Rough night," I asked, making my way to the coffeepot.
Come on, Bernie. How many times have we worked together? Maybe I can help with this one."
Bernie nodded. "That's her. Somebody torched her. Burned her alive according to the Medical Examiner. He says it happened late last night or early this morning. He also says that there's no trace of anything flammable on the body. No gas. Nothing."
I nodded slowly, feeling a bead of cold sweat run down my spine. "Jack's probably been hunting us for years. Now that idiot McCoy has led him right to me."
Michael McCoy stepped out of the jet way into the terminal amid the staccato of flashbulbs. He stepped to his left, blocking the camera's view of his press agent. He cleared his throat and paused, waiting for the noise of die down. The multitude of microphones and recorders before him waited for his first words.
Jack stood before the vid screen, watching the live feed from the airport terminal. He wrapped his olive fingertips around the throat of McCoy's holographic image as a chuckle escaped his mouth.
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This DC Futures story is © July, 1998 by .
All artwork is © July, 1998 by their respective artists.