Despite the health issues, I'm still struggling thru writing my Hardy Boys fanfic. I've gotten three full tales written, the first "Voodoo Doll" (based on the episode of the same name from the '70s show), "House on Possessed Hill" (a prequel, also based on another episode), and "In Excelsis Deo" (a full original 'Christmas' tale & prequel to the other two). In between all these, I've been getting the sequel to Voodoo Doll done, "The San Francisco Vampire". Soo……here's a teaser:
Late March 1979: New Orleans
“Ready when you are, partner.” Joshua Thomas settled into a cross-legged sit.
They’d cleared this spot as best they could, a small spot of grass just near the collapsed wall of the wrecked warehouse. Kris Mountainhawk wasn’t about to try this on pavement; the thought made her legs hurt.
It had surprised Kris that Joshua’s aunt, Alma Duprè, had police contacts — though, thinking about it, it shouldn’t have. Alma had spoken, Alma had gotten sharp, and Alma had obtained clearance to the crime scene. The police investigators and recovery crew mostly ignored the little group of Center folk, save for nervous glances, quickly averted. They didn’t know who Joshua and Kris were, but they knew Alma, that was certain.
Never mind that Joshua and Kris were both a part of the reason for the crime scene — them and Frank and Joe Hardy. Joshua was lean, Black and Creole, his short dreads threaded with carefully-chosen silver and obsidian beads carved with voodoo vévés. He stood out in all the ways Kris didn’t: his tie-dyed dashiki to her faded gray, his black to her blonde, his flamboyance to her background shadow. She herself was small and plain, easily overlooked, easily ignored.
Joshua and Kris had waited as long as they dared for Kris to recover and for them both to get strength back. They didn’t dare wait longer. NOLA Center had stronger spirit-talkers, Voodoo-trained and not, but all of them had refused — with hysterics — to deal with the aftermath of Orrin Thatcher and Claire. The NOLA police had been reporting incidents: sightings, sickness, nausea, and not from dealing with the bodies — these men were used to dealing with gang and drug violence.
Two of the spirit-talkers in question were battle-hardened and not prone to hysteria: a Jewish-German survivor of the camps and a Vietnam vet, a former Army nurse who’d worked with the MASH unit at Tay Ninh.
Full formal casting of protections this time, a careful mix of Joshua’s Voodoo Catholicism and Kris’s Wicca: angels, guardians, and elements all invoked at the quarter points, the circle delineated with holy water, braided green and red cord, blessed salt, and a combination of sage and fresh tobacco. The quarters were further marked by thick pillar candles blessed by both Catholic priest and Wiccan priestess, and inscribed with the vévés of the archangels and elemental symbols, the Hebrew lettering of the names of God and the Theban of Goddess.
Outside the circle, Alma stood watching, along with one of the Bay Area Blades: a street-tough Hispanic man named Angel who had a .45 in hand…and certain orders.
They weren’t taking any chances, not after what had happened.
That ‘no chances’ had included waiting for the Hardys to go home. With Frank and Joe having been dead-center of the killers’ downfall — and the instigators — neither Kris nor Joshua wanted backlash hitting the brothers, not with Joe still mostly untrained and vulnerable from his injuries. Hopefully, sheer distance, Lake Ponchetrain, and any amount of other water and boundaries between New Orleans and Bayport would confuse that potential trail.
Kris shifted until she found a position that she could hold while in trance. ‘Comfortable’ wasn’t possible, not with the heavy plaster cast on her right arm and shoulder — now decorated with yellow smiley faces and cartoony fantasy monsters over every last inch, thanks to Joe and Frank ambushing her with Crayola markers during her visits to Joe’s hospital room. She hadn’t minded. It’d been worth it to get Joe grinning like that, more so when she and Joshua turned the tables and did the same to Joe’s casts on his last day in the hospital, especially when Joshua had recruited two young — and pretty — nurses’ aides to join in.
It’d been hysterical to watch Joe attempt to play smooth and suave around the aides despite his casts, but Kris had taken the markers away from Joshua after one particular design had Joe blushing deep scarlet and the aides giggling. Though Frank’s gleeful, wicked laughter had been doubly worth it — and Fenton’s shocked face, triply worth it.
Because of that, Joe got stubborn, Joe had insisted, and the picture had remained, unchanged.
Too bad Kris couldn’t have gone with them back to Bayport, just to see their Aunt Gertrude’s reaction.
Kris gripped the cast with her good hand. Happy, real memories, grounded in that solid, real cast marked by her ‘big brothers’. At this point, she needed all the help she could get.
No painkillers for the last 48 hours. Nothing to eat save orange juice and a small bowl of Cheerios this morning. Nothing to interrupt her concentration. At her nod, Joshua pressed ‘play’ on the small boom-box; the tape was a gift from one of her adoptive aunts on the Navajo reservation: a recording of a drum circle, and the rhythm resonated through Kris’s chest and made it easy to slip into trance. Since she was adopted, Kris made no claim on that heritage, but the spirit and heart behind the gift meant more protection.
Kris met Joshua’s gaze. “Let’s hunt.”
She pulled her knife, planted it deep in the earth in front of her, watched as Joshua did the same, then closed her eyes. Slowly she breathed in and out, matching rhythm and beat, loosening her hold on her body…
…then stepped out.
She was a jack, a mix of many minor Gifts save one — this one. Stepping out had always been easy for her, too scarily easy, but now she was adding something to it, something she’d never dared before, something that Joshua had thought might be possible, given what she and Vão had already been able to do.
The warehouse and grounds were skewed, wavering, as if seen through glass blocks. The thick energy of their spell-cast circle surrounded her and Joshua, a comforting blanket of protection — but the protection wasn’t for their spirit-selves, only for the bodies left behind.
Bodies, plural. This time, Joshua was coming with her.
She watched as the vibrant halo of energy around Joshua eased from fiery gold down into the deep blue-black between alpha and theta states. Then she reached, grasped his hand, pulled him up and out. Joshua stood shuddering, swaying as if he wanted to just lay back down and sleep.
“Don’t look back,” she whispered. More felt than heard, any speech in this state, as if the sound had been cut from the air, leaving only the after-echo of words. “Focus on your hands if you start having trouble.”
He nodded, his gaze firm on her.
With an inner clench, she stepped through the protections and out into the open, pulling Joshua with her. The world solidified, though faded and gray, muted and silent, closed-in as if she’d been encased in thick foam. No subtle movement of air, no birds, no traffic, no breeze despite the nearness of the river, everything muted and dim — the physical world needed physical bodies to truly live in it. Ghosts caught here after death were almost always desperate, trapped in a pathetic, stagnant mockery of life.
This was the In-Between, the underpinnings of the physical realm where matter and spirit intertwined. Not the true Afterworld, not even the Otherworld of shamanic and ritual trance, more akin to the skeletal structure of buildings under the drywall and siding.
“Chè,” Joshua murmured, “I will never, ever, call this ‘easy’ for you again. You have my full and fervent permission to slap me straight if I ever forget.”
“You would say that when there’s no witnesses,” Kris said.
At the walls of the warehouse, they both halted. Joe had seen these clearly; Kris had only caught glimpses before. Now, faced with them full-on…
Too many. All young, none older than early twenties, as far as she could tell. They wavered in and out, blending with the air and back, insubstantial and faint even for here. All bore the marks of their tortured deaths. Their torment poisoned the air, screamed itself out to the In-Between.
Next to her, Joshua murmured in prayer, his phantom touch firm on her shoulders. Power flowed, and the area around them brightened as if she and Joshua stood in full, vibrant sunlight, not this gray half-world.
It had worked. They hadn’t been sure it would. If Joshua was still able to channel his mage-Gift here, they might survive the worst.
So. Part one of what they’d come here for: to free the trapped spirits to the Afterworld. Already the shades had noticed the golden light, were reaching yearning hands towards it, though, strangely, none moved nearer. Kris moved to the closest — a young girl with cornrows and a torn pink dress — and grasped the girl’s hand —
Her hand went straight through.
That shouldn’t happen!
As Kris stood shocked, the shade of the young girl sank to the ground, spread out as oil on water…and melted away.
Frozen in fear, Kris couldn’t move, until pain echoed, pulling her back to now. The cast on her arm, a solid weight bright with color and happy memory: Frank and Joe had taught her, back when, how to stand up to fear…
“Dear God,” Joshua whispered.
Steeling herself, Kris went to the spot. Nothing, not even an after-image, not even an echo.
As if the person never existed.
Kris clenched her fear down. She and Frank had broken the circle. Thatcher and Claire were dead. The explosion had destroyed whatever spell-work was going down. It had to have. It had to!
“Expedite, guard them, give them peace.” Joshua knelt beside her, touched the spot, was silent for a moment. “Drained. Full burn-out. There’s nothing left. Jesus God.”
He met her gaze, then nodded towards the center of the space.
Together Kris and Joshua moved towards it. The multitude of shades around them melted from their path, fading back into the thick air. Voices surrounded them, whispers just at the edge of hearing. They were being watched, Kris could feel it, a slimy electric presence that permeated the space…
When Joe had been in the hospital, Kris had taught him a little magic to keep him distracted from the relentless boredom and pain of hospital routine — small things, to avoid overtaxing a body over-burdened with healing and pain meds. She’d gotten Joshua and Angel to spell-infuse small crystals so she could show Joe about signature — “magic fingerprints”, she’d called it, hoping it’d catch his interest. Joe had picked it up fast…then, slow and halting, had told her about what he’d felt here. Joe had used those exact words, describing how Thatcher’s magic had felt — slimy electricity.
Oh gods. No.
“It’s still active.” Joshua knelt beside the shadowy circle and triangle, but then he twisted around, his gaze traveling over the space. “Take over. You’re the ritual expert. Figure out what that’s really for. I’ll guard.”
The light around Joshua intensified, a suggestion of fiery wings, as he kept watch. Kris knelt, reaching to the circle. She had to do this quickly; stepping out was torturous on the physical body. Already she could feel her body pulling her back, exhaustion beating at her as she focused, studied, untangled thread by thread, trying to see…
“Hawk,” Joshua said suddenly, “we’re leaving. Now.”
He pulled her up —
— it attacked.
Raging, hungering anger swept over them — it wanted them, it wanted vengeance. Joshua’s light wavered as a fire in strong wind, but he raised his hand, shouted pure defiance and strength. His light flared, then burned, wings mantled, a sword upraised —
With a hard shock of breath and cold, Kris jolted, opened her physical eyes to see Joshua staring back at her, then they both collapsed forward onto each other.
“Never again,” Joshua murmured. “Never, ever, again. We got lucky. We got damn lucky. God, god, god…”
“Oye, plumacita bonita,” Angel drawled, startling them both, “our date still on for tonight?”
“Come la mierda y muere, Angel,” Kris croaked. Her head was pounding, thick and nauseating, her vision haloed and blurred.
“Ours is,” Joshua said to Angel, with a bare grin, “and you’re buying.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Kris saw Angel relax and ease the gun back into his holster. Then he tossed a couple bottles of Gatorade into the circle. “Drink. I’m not dragging your ugly butt back to the car, Sarge.” Then Angel stopped, considered. “Hawk’s pretty little one, though…”
Despite the pain, Kris rolled her eyes. Yeah, back in the physical, definitely.
Joshua uncapped the Gatorade, downed most of it in one gulp. “Those spirits — they were being drained. To whatever that thing was.”
“Collection,” Kris whispered, shivering. Alma handed her a blanket; Kris wrapped it around herself, then gasped when Alma laid her warm hands on Kris’s shoulders. Under Alma’s Healing, the migraine ebbed enough for Kris to speak. “It was a channel. Collecting them. That thing in the center, not just for summoning. Containment.“
“Collection for what?” Joshua stopped, closed his eyes. “Oh no. He wasn’t summoning Samedi — dammit. God dammit. That’s why. That’s why.”
Cold, Kris was so cold. She couldn’t warm up. It all clicked horribly, terrifying; they’d given the Hardys’ dad, Fenton, a bit of work while he was here, to call his contacts in the British government and run down information on Orrin Thatcher. Something plausible: to find a possible motive for why a respected scholar had done such things. It’d given Fenton an outlet for his well-justified anger — shouting at bureaucrats for information on the SOB who’d almost killed his sons — and kept Fenton busy and out of the way, giving Joe needed space and time for both brothers to talk to Kris, Joshua, and Mar.
What Fenton had found: Thatcher had terminal cancer. When he’d left England, Thatcher had been given less than a year to live.
That’d been three years ago.
Joshua handed Kris the other bottle of Gatorade and two Demerol, glared until she downed both.
“Orders, Sarge?” Angel said.
Joshua breathed out, long, tired. “The police have had long enough to mess around. Grab Evangeline. Both of you go over that mess in there. Don’t leave a single tile uncrushed. Salt, holy water, smudge-bomb with asafetida, cayenne and garlic, the full drill. Then sweep it all out and dump it in the Gulf.”
“You would assign me Eva,” Angel groaned. “You and Mar, I swear. C’mon, Sarge, assign me a good-lookin’ woman, for a change.”
“That bad?” Alma said.
“Worse.” Joshua rubbed at his temples. “Nainaine, after they’re done, get Father Louis. Both of you do full exorcism and full funeral rites.” Joshua’s mouth quirked. “The stuff we don’t tell the pope about, I mean. See if the Baptists have anyone to do the same.”
“Josh…” Kris couldn’t catch her breath. “That couldn’t have been Thatcher. It couldn’t have been.”
“We can’t take the chance.” Joshua sighed again. “So much for giving Frank and Joe a good long time at home to recover.”
Oh gods. If it was Thatcher, if he’d been using blood magic to prolong his own life, bad enough that she and Joshua had interfered. But Joe, Gifted and mostly untrained, on whom Thatcher had been working blood magic and who’d nearly become one of those trapped shades…
…and through Joe, Thatcher would now have ties to Frank.
“We’re hauling them out to Bay Area ASAP,” Joshua said grimly, “no matter what excuse we have to use to do it.”