Cast Down; Masked



One more benefit to this recent "Great Pause" we've all been going through is that I've had some time to get back to writing.  A little here, a little there as my brain-fog has been clearing from my bout with elevated blood sugars. One of the projects I've gotten back to is the long overdue sequel to Cast Down; A New England Haunting. The new book will be titled Cast Down; Masked and is the story of one of the characters we meet in the first novel - Carrie. Here is a brief excerpt from the current work in process.

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Carrie sat in the front passenger seat of the minivan and watched as the other members of her team went up onto the front porch of the old house and spoke at length with the young woman who’d answered the door.  She assumed that was the person who’d made contact with Mike and arranged for them to come out.  She glanced at her watch and noted their time of arrival on the small notepad she carried with her.  It was 7:35, and the sunlight was already fading from the sky. 
            She saw Mike making notes in his own notebook and knew that he wouldn’t share any of them with her until after her part in the investigation was over.  It was important to her and to her team that she go in “blind”.  It didn’t matter what information they kept from her, she could already feel the oppressive energy coming from the house.  Whatever was inside already knew she was there.
She could see Tim standing next to Mike on the porch, listening intently to what the young woman was saying.  She could tell from his expression that he was in critical mode, as always.  Tim was hardly a skeptic, but he was the team member who always looked for the logical, secular explanations first. 
            Carrie could hear the whispers starting already.  The whispers were jumbled and confusing, like a room full of people all talking to her at once, making it impossible to hear single message at first.  She closed her eyes and focused.  The mental picture she conjured was that of Christmas tree lights, multiple strands, all tangled together.  She started to filter through the whispers like untangling strands of lights until she could discern intelligible voices.  A man’s whispered voice caught her attention.  She could see him in her mind.  He was perhaps sixty years old.  He appeared to be a working class man, wearing worn jeans and a black t-shirt with a comfortable old plaid flannel shirt over it.  His face was care-worn and creased, his eyes warm and blue.  His formerly dark brown hair was primarily steely gray, and the haircut gave Carrie the impression that he seldom saw a barber, but trimmed it on his own.  His smile revealed a kind heart, and inexpensive dentures.
            Help Gabby.          
            The whisper came through clearly in his voice.  It was a simple plea that tugged at her heart.  She knew that this man was intimately connected to the house she was sitting in front of, and suspected that Gabby might be the name of the woman her team was talking to on the porch.  She wrote the description of the man down on her notepad, and the words Help Gabby below it. 
            Carrie’s eyes were drawn to the second floor of the house as the daylight waned quickly.  The house was old, probably built in the 1920’s, and it was big.  The houses in the neighborhood were crammed together, with narrow driveways dividing the properties, but the homes were large enough for most of them to have been converted into two and three family dwellings.  So far as she could see this was the only one of the large houses on the street that remained unconverted.
            The setting sun took the warmth of the autumn day with it.  Carrie felt the chill of night coming and wished that her team would hurry with their preliminary interview so they could enter the house together.  The woman on the porch was speaking animatedly to Mike while Tim and Grace stood by listening and taking more notes and the occasional photograph.  Finally she saw Tim waving to her, giving her the all clear to come join them.
            Carrie gave him a wave as she opened the car door and slid out.  She pulled her light sweater more tightly around herself and shivered with a chill that didn’t come from the weather.  She put a friendly smile on her face and walked up onto the porch, extending her hand to the young woman who lived there.  “Hi, I’m Carrie.”
            “Gabby,” the other woman replied softly, shaking her hand.  “Thank you for coming.”
            “We’re glad to help,” she said sincerely. “May I go in now?”
            Gabby stood back from the door with a nervous smile.  “Yes.  Yes, of course.”
            Carrie opened the door and entered the home with her team and the homeowner following silently.  Mike had already instructed Gabby not to say anything at all that might influence her.  Carrie froze in the foyer and without turning around requested, “I’d like to walk through the house by myself.”
            She paused only briefly to see if there would be an objection before walking to the staircase.  Normally she was methodical in her investigations and started with the ground floor or basement.  In this case she felt the pull to the upper floors too strongly to wait.  The house itself was a mess.  Carrie had to navigate an obstacle course of books, shoes, boxes and stacks of clothing on her way up the stairs.  The smells of the house fought for her attention; stale body odor, old books, damp cardboard and something more unappealing that she could not quite identify.  None of the odors were overpowering but they combined in a distinctly unpleasant way. 
            She reached the second floor and briefly glanced around at the open doors to several bedrooms and a bathroom that was dark and very narrow.  She felt the pull again and continued on to the third floor.  The uppermost level of the habitation contained one bedroom with an attached sitting room, a half bath and a large storage room, the true ‘attic’ of the house.  The musty smell of the house was more prevalent on the top floor.  The large pile of unwashed clothes tossed into the corner was her prime suspect.  It seemed to be a common thread; the paranormal activity and the decreased interest in cleanliness.  She doubted highly that the occupants of the house had always been sloppy but spiritual oppression weighed heavily upon the victims.
            Carrie walked slowly through the rooms of the upper floor, letting the waves of impressions wash over her.  A bedroom was supposed to be a place of rest, but this one was distinctly unrestful.  The darkness of the room shifted unnaturally.  There were blankets nailed up in front of the windows to block out natural light during the day and streetlight illumination by night. 
            Something moved boldly through the room, bringing with it a draft as cold as an open window in winter. 



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