Run, Clark, Run
Clark turned a corner and broke into a large grin. Ten feet ahead of him was a young maid dusting the hallway portraits leading toward the Courtyard that designated the wing to Miss Wingham’s side of the mansion.
By a mere ten feet of technicality, this maid was on his turf. No rule breaking. It was after dark, which meant that where she stood, she was all his.
The blond-haired woman startled upon seeing Clark. Her blue eyes widened and the thrilling emotion of fear shone through her dilating pupils. God, he loved this moment.
Inhaling with a long, slow breath, Clark released it slowly. “I’m so glad you stretched the boundary rules tonight, darling. I’m dying to bring a fresh soul over here.”
With that, Clark lunged forward. The woman shrieked and backed away. In her haste, she tripped over her own feet and fell. Her screams bounced around the hallway.
This was going to be too easy! It was his lucky night. An easy possession, and now fresh meat to ring the life out of…
Clark lunged and threw himself on top of the girl, reaching for her throat. A firey current zipped down his arms, paralyzing the movement. Confused, Clark tried to ignore the sensation and apply pressure on the girl’s throat, but found nothing happened.
I don’t want to do this.
Oh no. Not now. He did want to do this. He had to keep control of the body. This was the perfect moment.
He tried to squeeze again, and pain exploded in his mind.
Noooooooo! I don’t want to do this!
Launching backward and off the girl, Clark stumbled on his backside. His eyesight went blurry and his chest—which had felt so tight and heavy—was now feather light.
Looking up, his blurry eyes focused on a transparent figure hovering above the frightened girl. His focus sharpened, and details came into place.
The transparent figure was Levi.
Levi, who was looking back at Clark with an expression of utmost loathing.
Levi was Levi, and Clark was Clark.
Whatever had just happened, Clark had enough wits about him to realize there was now a distinction. He, Clark, was the man who had no desire to kill anybody or cause any harm. He was himself, and no one else was inside making decisions he didn’t want to make.
“Run,” Clark whispered, turning his gaze on the frightened maid. “RUN!” he screamed.
The woman scrambled to her feet and took off down the hallway, half-sobbing and half-screaming until she bolted through the Courtyard door and slammed it shut behind her, locking it with trembling fingers and disappearing into the dark night.
Relief, sharp and fierce, swept through Clark. That woman was going to live to see another day. He’d been able to gather enough sense inside to fight off Levi just in time.
“You lost me a victim tonight,” Levi growled, his transparent form rising until it stood in mid-air.
Anger seered Clark’s blood. “You will never use my body to kill anybody. Not ever.”
An evil grin spread across Levi’s face, contorting his features into an ugly mask. “The night is still young. I can always try again.”
“Over my dead body,” Clark ground out.
Levi’s grin remained. “Oh, it won’t have to come to that.” He advanced toward Clark.
The reporter scrambled to his feet and, while he hated the idea of fleeing, gaining distance from Levi seemed the only logical solution.
Without looking back, Clark powered his legs and ran. Levi’s presence followed directly behind, and an image of this massive, dark cloud rushing after him filled Clark’s mind.
How on earth was he going to fight off a ghost?
More like a mean, violent poltergeist, he amended.
No time to think just now.
Run. Keep running and gain whatever distance you can.
Rounding several corners until he reached an entry stretching only left and right, Clark quickly chose left. From the darkness, a staircase loomed before him and up the steps. Promptly, a sharp thump on the head made him stop and hunch down. Clark gingerly rubbed his head, and the top of his hand brushed against rough wood. Squinting, the reporter looked up and noticed a ceiling only an inch above him. Resting his gaze at the top of the stairs, he realized now why the thick darkness hadn’t eased as he ran—the staircase led directly up to the ceiling. A dead end.
Clark was never one to swear, but an expletive bubbled to the surface of his tongue. “Oh sh—”
The words never made it out of his mouth before Levi’s dark essence barreled into him.
Clark gasped and, for the third time that evening, he felt an intense pressure drive into his body like an invisible hurricane permeating a too-small space. He collapsed and fell down the stairs, his focus entirely on fighting off Levi’s invisible force. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind he felt the pain of the tumble, but it was far, far away and of little importance to the bigger fight over his body—and the control of it.
“Get. . . out!” Clark gasped.
Levi’s growling voice filled his mind.
Clark stood up on trembling legs. They pushed in one direction, and he fought against it. That wasn’t him; that was Levi. Clark threw his torso back with enough force to smack into a wall behind him, his legs following.
The force of the blow against the wall eased the pressure from inside his mind, and Clark once again saw the shapeless, dark mass he knew was Levi.
Taking in a ragged gulp of air, Clark pushed off from the wall and ran. Levi’s dark essence was hot in pursuit.
Where he was going, he had no idea. If he survived the night, he needed to make a promise to memorize the insane labrynth of this place. Already he was coming to another dead end. Two doors were on his right, and one on his left. He had no idea which one to pick, so he chose the lone door on the left and quickly slammed it shut behind him.
Clark continued to run blindly, but by the time an image of the room caught up to him, he had to stop short and throw his hands back behind him for balance.
Perched precariously on the corner edge of a rectangular swimming pool were Clark’s feet, straining to correct his inertia before he took a head dive into the water’s depths.
There were no lights in the room save for the soft green light from along the pool’s walls under the water—the lights gave the pool an eery, almost ethereal glow.
Clark’s attempt to correct his overbalance proved ineffective, and he fell face first into the water.
Coughing and gasping, he came up for air and looked around for the black shape of Levi’s essence, but surprisingly, it was nowhere to be seen. He could sense the spirit’s absence.
It was a blessed relief.
Did water have something to do with it? He’d expected the temperature to be a blast of cold, but it was pleasantly warm and comforting. Perhaps he should wade here in the pool all night long. . .
Clark swam to the pool’s edge and reached out a hand to steady himself and rest against the ledge. He desperately needed to catch his breath. He was exhausted, and this was the perfect reprieve he needed.
Taking in several deep breaths, it was a minute or two before he felt his breathing begin to slow down and get back under control. He wanted to close his eyes, but instinct told him not to trust his surroundings in this freakshow mansion he was trapped in. Besides, he’d watched one too many scary movies with Lois. Pools and the dark were a favorite combination for something bad to happen.
Clark’s heart gave a painful twitch.
God, he missed her. Was she okay?
Rose said there was some kind of magic they performed on her so she would believe he had died. Clark hadn’t been able to question Rose more about that, and although it concerned him—because Lois and her safety were always a concern—Clark had to own that in this situation, he was the target, and not Lois.
For instance, she likely wasn’t being chased by a poltergeist who wanted to possess his body. And she wasn’t swimming in a pool in a dark room with eery glowing pool lights.
The thought pulled Clark’s mind to the present. Warm and relaxing as the water was, he had rested enough by this point that it was probably wise to get out.
A gurgling noise from across the pool alerted his ears. Curiosity pulled at him to scan for the source of the noise, and without much trouble, he spotted it.
From the pool’s adjacent corner to where he rested was a large green head of. . . something. It had luminescent green eyes, several layers of wrinkled skin and olive green spots over its flesh. If there was a nose, it was flat and indistinguishable amid the wrinkled layers of skin.
It looked like something from the black lagoon, which gave him a distinct sense it was time to go.
The horror movies weren’t wrong. It’s bad to stay in a pool at night.
He didn’t need any more time to look at the creepy swamp/pool creature or wait for it to move. He turned around and reached out his other hand to grab the lip of the pool’s ledge. He heard a splash of water and knew he needed to get his body out of the water fast. He pushed up on his arms, but to his surprise, they gave out on him and he fell back in the water.
He was weak!
This was impossible. Yet here he was, making a second attempt—more frantic this time—to lift himself from the water. His fight with Levi and the posession over his body had taken more of a toll than he had time to process.
The sound of a torpedo in water became dangerously close to him, but thankfully this time, his arms held sure and Clark lifted himself out of the pool. He swung his feet, and—
Clark was hardly aware he was back under the water, his left ankle held captive by Swamp Thing. The reporter twisted and writhed in an attempt to break free from the creature’s grip, but it was steadily hauling him deeper under water until he hit the pool’s bottom.
He kicked the creature’s head, but his foot went through as if nothing were there.
Was this another damnable spirit with the unnatural ability to touch him but he couldn’t touch back? How on earth was he going to fight? It wasn’t in him to flee and run away. He wasn’t a coward.
Futilely, Clark kicked again, mostly out of frustration, but it was at that point Swamp Thing vanished. Its grip on Clark’s ankle released, and he thrashed his way to the water’s surface, his throat burning with the need for air. He hadn’t been able to get a proper breath before being pulled under.
The instant his face broke the liquid barrier, Clark sucked in a lungful of air.
Glorious, golden oxygen flowed through his blood and powered his limbs.
Swimming with as much gusto as he could muster, Clark made a bee line for the pool’s edge. When his hands were a mere foot from reaching the concrete surface, he heard the sound of churning water behind him and knew the creature was coming for him again.
He gritted his teeth and pushed forward. He felt a swipe for his ankle and he kicked wildly, reaching up and—
His face dipped below the surface, his ankle once again held captive by Swamp Thing. His arms flayed wildly before him, desperately trying to reach up for that surface he had been so close to reaching.
Something cold wrapped around his wrists and pulled.
Clark’s head lifted back out of the water, and he was yanked from Swamp Thing’s grasp. He felt himself flying through the air, but he landed gently on concrete.
Gasping and coughing, Clark looked up.
A young, transparent man Clark didn’t recognize stood before him. However, those dark eyes weren’t looking at him; they were focused on something behind.
“Gripeer, stay,” the young man commanded, holding up a hand. “Chase and catch are over. You chased him once and caught him. It is enough.”
Surprise filled Clark. Wait a second, this had been a game?
An odd, gurgling whimper sounded from Swamp Thing—or Gripeer, apparently.
“You heard me,” the young man replied in a firm tone as if talking to a child. “Stay.” Those dark eyes then settled on Clark. “Can you stand?”
In answer, Clark rose to his feet. His vision swam before him and he stumbled forward a few steps before regaining his balance. He could not recall a time in his life where he felt so drained and exhausted as he did now.
“You angered Rose,” the young man said with a frown.
Clark’s eyebrows rose. Of all things for another ghost to start a conversation with, those words seemed far away from the present circumstances and unrelated. “Excuse me?”
“She would have told you your bedroom is sanctuary at night and is the only safe place to reside, but you angered her. You should not anger the Lady of the House.”
Clark blinked in surprise. Oh. So, not as unrelated as he thought. Still, “I wasn’t trying to.”
The spirit splayed his hands. “And yet you did. Because you are here.”
Clark sighed. He wasn’t in the mood to argue. “Duly noted. You pulled me out of some cat and mouse game, though. Does that mean you’re here to help me?”
The spirit regarded him. “So Levi does not have his way, yes.”
It was perhaps the most friendliest thing Clark had heard since coming here. It wasn’t much, but if this spirit could get him to safety—“Where do I go?”
“You do not know the way to your bedroom?”
“There are a million bedrooms here. You’ll have to be more specific.”
“The one you woke up in. The one we all woke up in. It is the room of Sanctuary.”
Realization hit Clark in the face. “You’re one of Rose’s victims. One of the men she lured here.”
Sadness filled those dark eyes. “I am the first,” he murmured. “But I am not a victim.”
Clark’s mouth dropped open.
“Follow me,” the spirit said, and floated past Clark.
“Wait. . . what’s your name?” Clark asked, taking a stumbling step and catching himself.
While following Simon, the reporter kept a vigilant eye on Gripeer, who had floated to the pool’s edge and stared back at him, those green eyes glimmering with too much interest. But the creature did not climb out and follow.
A blast of cold air filled Clark, and he realized that he had walked through Simon, who had stopped. The reporter clutched at his arms for warmth and doubled back so he stood face-to-face with the spirit.
“Levi will be waiting for you once you exit this room. He expects Gripeer to have worn you down so he can easily possess you.”
An uneasy feeling crawled beneath Clark’s skin as the reporter understood the silent question. “You need to enter my body.”
“Yes,” Simon answered in a straightforward manner.
“How do I know you’re really going to help me? That this isn’t some ploy from Levi?”
Simon’s shoulders rose and fell. “You don’t. But I will. Your only alternative is to face Levi, and he will win.” The spirit’s unblinking gaze did nothing to reassure Clark.
“And if I refuse your help, will you possess me anyway?”
The spirit shook his head. “I do not have that kind of power. I may only enter with your permission.”
Clark stood there in contemplation. He wasn’t accustomed to relying on someone else for help, let alone someone who had already died. He was Superman! Yet those powers seemed to have vanished, and the house was testing the true strength of what lay inside.
His gut told him he could trust Simon, but his gut had also told him to help Rose, and look how well that was shaping up to be. He didn’t want to say yes, because as a general rule, he didn’t want anybody but himself to occupy and have control over his body. Yet between Simon or Levi, it was an easy answer for which one Clark wanted to spend the energy to deal with—precious energy that felt drained to the breaking point.
“Levi draws near,” Simon said, interrupting Clark’s thoughts. “Your time to choose is now. On behalf of the Lady, I urge you to allow my assistance.”
Clark let out a heavy sigh. “Just this once. I give you permission to enter my body just this once.
Simon didn’t nod, but he drifted instantly toward Clark. The sensation of being stuffed inside an overfilled closet of linen overcame him, but quickly it dimmed to the feeling of having a big, fluffy overcoat on the inside.
Clark’s vision shifted, and his feet began to walk by themselves. He could sense Simon’s thoughts, but they felt seperate and independant from his own. Unlike Levi and the other spirit, Simon had not invaded Clark’s mind.
He was grateful.
<You must continue to trust me,> Simon’s voiced echoed from within the recesses of his mind. <Levi will fight my hold on your body. You must not struggle against the things I do.>
<I’ll do my best,> Clark replied dryly.
His hand reached for the knob and twisted it, and he walked into a wide corrider filled with large glass windows looking into a pavilion-like greenhouse structure. In the daylight it was probably a stunning view with gorgeous greenery and plants and vegetables growing, but the moonlight streaming through the windows cast dark shadows, and Simon was already steering Clark’s body down the corridor and rounding a corner.
Clark couldn’t tell if the angered roar came from a physical location or if it was only resounding within his mind, but it was deafening. Simon straightened Clark’s shoulders just as Levi’s essence slammed into him from behind. His feet stumbled forward, and for a brief moment Clark was back in that overstuffed linen closet. Anger from Simon flooded his system, and with a distinct pop, the overstuffed linen closet disappeared from within.
Levi growled, this time the sound booming from a physical space behind Clark, whose body powered forward by Simon.
“DAMN YOU, SIMON!” Levi roared.
Simon did not use Clark’s mouth to reply, nor did he give any telepathic response. He merely continued at a brisk walk. Levi’s growls slowly became softer as more distance closed between them, which, to Clark’s surprise, indicated the spirit was no longer following.
<How can we stop him?> Clark asked, emboldened by the failed attempt for Levi’s essence to push Simon out.
<Stop him?> Simon sounded surprised, as if the thought had never ocurred before. <We don’t. I take you to Sanctuary where it’s safe.>
<Haven’t you ever tried?> Clark persisted.
<Yes,> Simon replied with a downward tone. <It is why I am here.>
<I don’t understand.>
Sadness flooded Clark’s system. For a split second he was confused, because in no way was Clark feeling sad. Then realization dawned—these were Simon’s emotions, and Simon was openly sharing them with him.
<I sacrificed myself so that Levi could be taken down. So that Rose would be safe.>
<When they were alive, you mean?> Clark wanted to clarify.
<Yes,> Simon answered.
<How did you—> Clark stopped his question, a thought occurring to him. <The curse. These red bands. That has something to do with you, doesn’t it?>
Simon didn’t respond.
<Is that how sacrificed yourself? By willingly putting on the ring?> Clark persisted.
Simon was silent a moment longer. Then, finally, <You are very inquisitive.>
Clark took the avoidance of answering his question as a yes. <I’m a reporter. It’s my job to collect information. I like to know what’s going on.>
<That is not your life anymore.>
<Oh, it is,> Clark promised. <Whether or not I’m out there in the world or in here, I’m a curious person by nature. That won’t change. I will always be a reporter at heart.>
<Becoming too inquisitive with the Lady is not wise.>
<She should have thought about that before she locked me up in her fun house.>
Exasperation filtered through, followed by a frustrated sigh from Simon. <The Lady views an inquisitive mind as a challenge to her authority. It is disrespectful.>
<Why?> Clark challenged. <If I’m going to be stuck here for a long time, why can’t I know more about this place? Know more about her? About—>
<You have been warned,> Simon said, cutting off Clark. <What you do or ask is your choice, but there will be consequences. Remember tonight, and remember Levi’s power without my assistance. She can lock you out of Sanctuary, and I will not be here a second time to rescue you from your stupidity. Respect the Lady of the house. That is the first and most important rule you must learn.>
<What are the other rules?>
A flare of anger. <Less questions. We are here.>
Before he knew it, Simon was using Clark’s hand to open the brass doorknob and walk into the bedroom. Clark had been so engrossed in the conversation, he hadn’t paid attention to where Simon had been directing his body. He could smack himself for that.
<That is why less questions are wiser,> Simon said smugly, having read Clark’s thoughts he hadn’t been aware of advertising.
A shift in vision, a moment of being thrown in the overstuffed closet, and then the pressure was gone, and Clark was as light as a feather. He felt himself falling in an odd, slow-motion kind of way. Simon had directed his body to the foot of the large victorian bed he recognized waking up in. Now, he was falling sideways onto it, a surprising weakness in his limbs preventing him from lifting even a finger. He plopped onto the bed, sinking into the soft, embroidered comforter.
He was hardly aware that Simon was somehow lifting him further onto the bed so that his rested on the pillow before overwhelming exhaustion settled over him, and the weakened superhero succumbed to a deep, dreamless slumber.