What Goes Bump in the Night
“So,” Clark began, speaking slow. “You’re Rose’s husband.”
Levi’s eyes darkened. “I was.”
The man scoffed. “I believe they use the phrase ‘until death do we part’ in wedding vows, do they not?” He spread his hands. “Well . . .”
“You may be dead, but you aren’t exactly apart,” Clark reasoned. “You’re stuck here because of the curse.”
Levi chuckled, though there was bitterness in the sound. “So I am. It felt that way at first, ‘stuck’ as you put it. However, death has broken the sanctity of our marriage, among other things. But Amelia and I found an amicable arrangement.”
“She has her fun during the day,” he explained, an eerie smile sweeping across his face. “And I have mine at night.”
A cold chill snaked down Clark’s spine. “What do you mean?”
“Amelia has no doubt informed you of my infidelity already,” he stated.
Clark nodded silently, waiting for more explanation that could help him make more sense out of this strange situation.
Levi began pacing, his torso passing back and forth through the pool table while his legs remained unnervingly transparent. “She fails to mention her fondness for promiscuity. Her mind lives forever in a world where I am the sole perpetrator of disloyalty and she is the Virgin Mary.”
The information surprised Clark. “She cheated on you as well?”
With a dramatic sigh, Levi stopped and faced him. “There are multiple forms of promiscuity. Sexual advances were not Amelia’s form of entertainment.”
“So . . . what did she do?”
Levi stared at Clark. “She’s a witch,” he said, as if that should explain everything. When Clark didn’t reply, he rolled his eyes. “In death, as in life, you are far from the first man who has found himself coerced into this house through magic. Amelia enjoys a submissive toy with whom she can use to strengthen her powers.”
“I’m not submissive.”Clark argued, prickling at the idea he’d been brought to this place as a plaything. Unfortunately, Levi’s words made sense, lending credence to Rose’s manipulative behavior.
“Neither am I,” Levi said with a smirk.
“And I haven’t cheated on anybody,” Clark emphasized.
Levi inhaled deeply, his chest rising with air he didn’t need. “No,” he agreed, exhaling in one long breath. His brown eyes were alight with a hunger that hadn’t been there before. “You are something else. I believe Amelia chose her next victim well.”
Clark narrowed his eyes, not liking the sound of that one bit. “I don’t have to be,” he proposed. “With your help, we could figure out how to break the curse.”
There had been no hesitation from Levi to dismiss the idea, which surprised Clark. “Don’t you want—”
“You’ve given the house strength it hasnever known,” Levi interrupted.“Tonight will be quite a thrill.”
“I don’t understand,” Clark frowned. “Rose, er. . . I mean, Amelia, is keeping you trapped here because of the curse. Don’t you want to leave?”
Levi shook his head. “As I said, Amelia and I reached an amicable agreement.”
Clark raised a suspicious brow. “So. . . what is your agreement? You mentioned an arrangement with day and night, but—”
From directly up above, loud thuds of several feet started as if jumping around. Both Clark and Levi looked toward the ceiling.
“Ohhhh . . . I think it would be impolite to spoil things.”
Irritation flared within Clark. “I think I’m done with surprises.”
Can anyone just be straightforward in this house?
“Get used to it. You live here, now.” Levi let out a harsh laugh while the loud stomping above grew faint, moving toward another room from above. “Amelia married a warlock, Clark. We enjoy the power hustle. She may be queen of the house, but I am king of the darkness.” He made a shooing gesture. “You’d better run to safety before the others get here. Once they catch up, it’s very difficult to lose them.”
“What do you mean? Where’s safety? WAIT!” Clark demanded, but Levi’s laughing smile along with his upper torso faded into nothingness.
The reporter sensed Levi’s eyes on him and knew the spirit hadn’t truly gone, so he tried once more to engage a response. “Sounds like you and Amelia make a perfect match for each other. Why should I worry about a safe place since both of you are so eager to keep the living caged in your special hell? If you wanted me dead, it would have happened already.”
Clark waited. For the space of several heartbeats, all was silent. Then, from a few rooms away, a resounding boom echoed of what sounded like a door slamming against a wall. Clark guessed it was his answering response from the great beyond. He hid a laugh. Scare tactics didn’t exactly work on the man of steel. He shoved away the repetitious reminder of his current state of normalcy, however, squaring his shoulders and raising his head to the unseen gaze he still sensed in the room.
“Whatever you want from me, Levi, I’m not running away. I’ve handled worse than loud theatric noises before. I know you’re still here, so why can’t we just talk? Have a conversation?”
“Let’s not,” Levi whispered directly into Clark’s ear.
Instinctively, Clark jerked and turned around, his body reacting to the unanticipated noise so close to him. Immediately he regretted it, knowing the reaction had made him look like he’d been spooked.
Levi didn’t disappoint to capitalize on the moment. “Not afraid of theatric noises, hmm?” his body-less voice whispered, still close to his ear.
Clark made a point of remaining still to show Levi not to expect the same reaction a second time.
Happy to have engaged a response, the reporter ignored Levi’s barb and instead tested the boundaries of conversation. “So, if I understand right, you’re telling me I’m here because you, a warlock, and Amelia, a witch, are playing power hustle with each other?”
“Tsk, tsk,” Levi chided. “Your reason for being here is much more exciting than that.”
“I’m interested in hearing about it.” Clark felt a spark of hope with the spirit’s apparent willingness to speak again.
Unfortunately, at that moment, several pairs of feet grew in volume, running into the room on the other side of the wall facing Clark. They stopped right behind a large, wooden bookcase that had begun sliding open. With wariness, Clark gazed fixedly on the spot, unsure if he would see what lay on the other side or if the visitors would choose Levi’s preference of invisibility.
Three massive, shadowy figures with indistinguishable features appeared as the wooden bookcase slid open entirely.
Without warning, one of them rushed toward Clark. Reflexively, he widened his stance and raised his arms in preparation to fight, unsure if this shadowy figure would feel as solid as Rose did but acting on the defensive anyway.
A blast of cold air hit him in the face as the figure made contact, disproving his theory of the shadow creature’s solidity. The cold mass continued to push against him, the shadow proving itself as more than mere air, but a corpus of freezing pressure drivinginto Clark rather than against.
The sensation was staggering and not at all what Clark had expected to fight. His breath caught in his throat and his body seized with paralysis as the pressure continued to pour into him. The reporter’s head felt as if it were about to burst as another something crowded into the tight space.
The length of time felt endless as the pressure seized hold of Clark, but slowly, the feeling began to ease. The shadowy figure was nowhere in sight. The reporter found that he could move again, and breathing became possible.
He sucked in a lungful of air and exhaled slowly. The sensation was exhilarating. It had been so long since he had been able to perform such a simple, extraordinary act. He found he could move his arms and legs. They felt heavy; something he wasn’t used to. Clark lifted his leg, bending the knee so his thigh came up to his waist, his calf extending down at a right angle. He kept it there, glorying in the feel of his muscles working against the pull of gravity. His leg was such a small thing, but it weighed something. His whole body did. He was once again a collection of dense mass and material, so dense he could lift a hand and press it into his raised leg. He applied pressure and enjoyed the dual sensation of his fingers yielding to the mass of flesh and bone while his leg fought against gravity and pressure to remain in its suspended position.
This was invigorating!
Breaking into a large grin—he reveled in the feel of his flesh pulling with the group of muscles to create the appearance—Clark looked at the two shadowy figures still standing in the bookshelf doorway. They looked so different through human eyes.
“I’m in,” he said to them.
His human eyes couldn’t see it, but he felt their returning smiles and enthusiasm.
“Pity. I expected him to put up more of a fight.”
Turning his head, Clark found Levi staring at him with a grin. He manipulated his mouth to match his master’s expression. “He thought I was going to fight him, not invade. He wasn’t prepared.”
Levi laughed. “If I had known it was going to be that easy, I’d have gone first. I thought we’d have to wear down his barriers.”
Clark’s matching grin faded. “You want me to leave?”
Levi waved his hand in dismissal. “No. Have your fun, Xanthiev. He’ll put up a fight afterwards, but I get him next before the night’s over. Put down his leg, will you? You look ridiculous.”
Obeying, Clark lowered his leg. He felt the sole of his shoe connect with the billiard’s hardwood floor. Such a small thing to feel dense mass, but oh, how he missed it! For the sake of sheer enjoyment, Clark stomped on the floor. The amount of energy it took to cause the noise was far less than in his original form.
“Good God, if you’re going to spend your entire time playing with physics and gravity, then I recant my generosity of letting you have fun with the man, first,” Levi castigated.
Clark scowled. “Just getting used to things again. It’s been a while.”
Levi gestured impatiently toward the bookcase opening. “Get used to it while we get a move on, hmm?”
With a few running steps, Clark progressed through the entryway and into a dining hall, throwing his arms to the ground and performing what felt like a spectacular cartwheel. He landed upright with arms extended above his head and grinned at the wave of dizziness.
He wanted to do it again.
Another few running steps and Clark whirled into a second cartwheel and performed a third, reveling in the profound rush of blood circling his head and throwing his equilibrium completely off-balance. He staggered as the dining room spun around him, but he threw his arms up, throwing himself into a fourth cartwheel and crashed his body straight into a wall.
Crumpling to the floor, Clark lay there in a daze. His body throbbed with smacking into a hard, solid surface. He could hear the howling laughter from his master, Dimitrov and Baygreer. A flare of anger spiked at their reaction, but it quickly fled. Instead, a flurry of bubbles rose from his stomach and, unable to contain himself, Clark let loose a rolling peel of laughter. It was euphoric to experience the multitude of sensations a physical body could produce, pain included.
Several moments passed as their laughter continued, so much that Clark began to wheeze, a stitch in his sides forming from the lack of oxygen.
“All right, enough,” Levi admonished, having been the first to regain control. “Don’t break the body, Xanthiev. Unlike you, it needs air.”
“I know that,” Clark growled, wiping tears from his eyes. He took several deep breaths and slowly stood, oxygen now flowing through him allowing his eyes to come back into proper focus. In front of him was a large cabinet, which happened to be the object he’d crashed into. Multiple sets of china plates had fallen and crashed to the floor with him. A quick mental assessment told Clark that many of them had landed and broken on him. His hands were bleeding, and when he lifted them to his head, he felt sticky warm liquid matt against his hair at the crown with needle-like pinpricks stabbing into his skull from the pressure of his fingers.
“You idiot!”Dimitrov scolded. “He’s bleeding!”
Clark examined his hand and saw the red liquid on his fingers, in addition to the bleeding cuts on his palm and forearm. The plates must have torn at his flesh when they broke.
“Huh. Yeah, blood looks different from this view,” Clark agreed.
“All right.Enough. Get out,” Levi demanded.
“What? No. I haven’t had a chance to do anything yet.”
“Yes, you have,” Levi argued. “You saw fit to play with physics and gravity. You thought it would be more fun, and now the body is injured. Get. Out!” he growled.
Clark narrowed his eyes. “I’ll be more careful, but I’m not leaving. Not yet.”
Levi glided closer, his face darkening. “Yes. You will.”
Clark knew he had stepped over the line with angering his master. All the same, he didn’t want to give up the body. He’d only just gotten started.
“Very well,” Levi said tightly. “If you won’t leave, I will force you.”
With that, Levi rushed at him. Pressure instantly filled Clark, his inner cavity ballooning like an oversized blimp within a small, plastic case. There simply wasn’t enough room for everything, and the frame wasn’t strong enough to hold it all in. He felt like he was going to tip over and explode. Clark reached out a hand to steady himself, but the limb extending out was his hand, not Clark’s.
That wasn’t right.
He was Clark. Of course he was. But the arm reaching for an object to rest against was dark and massive and shadowy. . .
Clark was staring at Xanthiev’s hand, and that hand most certainly didn’t belong to him.
What had gone on?
No time to think about. Clark blinked, and everything in the room went fuzzy and dark. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t move, and he couldn’t see. The pressure inside continued to increase until he felt his body would burst open. A tug of war seemed to rage inside, both sides belonging to something other than Clark. A fight for ownership ensued and, try as he might, he was an innocent bystander watching helplessly inside his own body. He wanted to scream, but no sound emitted.
Just as Clark thought he wouldshatter, a burst of pressure shot out of his mouth. A black, shadowy mass flew from his lips and joined the other two figures hovering feet away. His insides eased considerably, and Clark knew that Xanthiev had lost the tug of war. He gulped in a great, shuddering breath and fell to the floor landing on shards of broken china. He winced, but didn’t move. The tug of war had now landed between him and the other occupant inside—Levi.
“Get . . . out,” Clark gasped.
There was no reply; however, a swell of defiant anger not belonging to him rose in waves. His mind began to fuzz and lose focus.
“No!” he tried to yell, but his voice came out a mere whisper.
The shards of china continued to slice into his palms. Clark used the pain as a clutch to focus his mind and lend him strength. His body jerked, then stood up on its own without his authority and backed away from the cupboard and the broken pieces of china.
He had no idea if he’d screamed aloud or not, but Clark forced all of his willpower to make his body stop moving. Never had he had to expend as much energy to do so, but eventually, his body froze in place.
The defiant anger from inside escalated, sending bile rising up Clark’s throat. He gagged and vomited onto the floor. He’d never vomited before.
Clark clenched his hands and swore as the broken china embedded deeper into his palms. He looked at Xanthiev with glaring hatred.
“Look what you’ve done you guttering infidel!” he yelled. “This body is more important than the others, and you’ve gone and cut it up before anything could begin! Now I’ve got to perform medical assistance as my first physical action.” Clark strode toward a high-backed chair and kicked it over, roaring his disapproval. “I grant you first possession, and you repay my kindness with mucking up the body. Go. GO!”
Xanthiev let loose a string of guttering snarls, but knew enough sense to stalk away and fade through the wall.
Clark resisted the urge to ball his hands into fists, not wanting to imbed further damage. It was several minutes before Clark pushed forward, taking deep breaths to restore the body’s breath and to cement utter control. His legs and feet obeyed with alacrity, although due to Xanthiev’s brilliant acrobatic stunt, his stride resembled something of a hobbled beggar.
With Dimitriv and Baygreer silently following, Clark limped his way through the tangling passages and multitude of rooms until he came to his own. Carefully opening a drawer from his cedar chest, he lifted an old, dusty box with his fingers, keeping his injured hand in mind. He carried it into his private bathroom and set it on the sink’s counter.
“Baygreer, light, please,” Clark said, cursing the human eyes he had to work with.
Lights switched on in the bathroom, and Clark opened the lid. Several shelves sprang open. The first shelf held several bottles of different liquids and bags of powder. The second shelf had candles, incense, and other random items, but the bottom of the box held the object Clark needed first—tweezers and bandages.
For the next while, Clark set to work on removing all the broken shards of glass from his palms, forearms, and head. He had to own, the pain singing to his nerves as the tweezers poked and removed broken china fragments made Clark feel positively alive. Pain was a treasured companion and far underused.
Unfortunately, the wounds inflicted tonight needed patching up. Not that he really cared, but Amelia would, and infection could set in, which was something neither of them wanted for this body.
So, Clark set about playing nurse maid. He had to own, he hadn’t tinkered with his medicinal kit in a while, and making concoctions was something of a thrill he’d forgotten about. That didn’t mean Xanthiev wouldn’t pay for his clumsiness, but at least the injuries were minor and easy enough to fix. They would be tender for the next little while, but he had all the ingredients needed so they would fade without causing a scar.
The night was still young, and the sight of blood set his thirst quenching for more. Perhaps he could stroll to Miss Wingham’s side of the estate and find a lovely butler or maid to wring the life out of. It was forbidden territory to him, but he felt strong and powerful in this body.
It’s time to test the limits . . .