Ezra Standish had been in bad situations before. He recounted several mentally as he trudged along the slick path, fighting wind, ice and flying debris. He kept his face down, only lifting it to ensure J.D. was still ahead of him. He'd been kidnapped several times, been held at gunpoint, faced down drug dealers and been nearly blown up by arsonists, but his gut tightened with an uneasy apprehension that he almost never felt.
"Awesome..." J.D. yelled eyeing the Gothic Mansion as they fought their way up the driveway.
"Indeed," Ezra replied, "One can only hope that Mrs. Bates is at this very moment, sharpening her knives."
"Aw, Come on Ezra," J.D. shouted over the wind. "Where's your sense of adventure?"
"At this moment all of my senses are numb..." He eyed the front of the house. "Where are our compatriots?"
"Dunno..." J.D. answered, coming abreast of Ezra, "BUCK! CHRIS!..."
"Thank you for that," Ezra sassed, "A punctured ear drum is something I've never entertained before."
"Sorry..." J.D. offered loudly pulling the struggling Southerner. "Door's open...let's go."
"After you," Ezra offered, eyeing the dark doorway with a little tension.
+ + + + + + +
"Josiah, next time Chris suggests a retreat," Nathan shouted, "Let's vote for Cancun."
"I hear you, Brother." Josiah grunted, shifting one of the two large bags he carried. They'd packed provisions and extra clothing in four bags and now were approaching the gate.
"Damn..." Nate stopped, eyeing the dragon perched atop the Iron Gate.
"I couldn't have voiced it any better."
They made their way up the path and eyed the large, medieval fortress. A flash of lightning and a rolling boom of thunder quickened their pace.
"Josiah, you wanna check with our boss and make sure he got an eye on us?" Nathan called, eyeing the gargoyles.
"Can't see him..." Josiah replied scanning the area.
"I meant the Big Guy..." Nathan clarified.
"He's always watching." Josiah called, approaching the door and hearing several familiar voices arguing. "Looks like we're the Old Maids." he tossed, referring to their late entry.
+ + + + + + +
"Would you quit hollering at me Buck!" J.D. angered, "It's not my fault you were lying in the middle of the doorway."
"Remove your elbow from my midsection, Mr. Dunne, or I shall be forced to place my own elbow strategically." Ezra groped blindly, trying to rise.
"Well Hell, Kid," Buck replied to the dark-haired youth, "I wouldn't have leaned on the damn door if Chris hadn't said it was locked."
"It was locked," Chris hollered, finally rising from the tangle of limbs.
"Problems with the flock..." Josiah muttered, fishing for his flashlight.
"How about shedding a little light on the subject?" Nathan suggested, setting his two bags down, just as Josiah turned on a large flashlight.
"Y'all doin' a tag team match?" Nathan teased, pulling Ezra to his feet.
"Thank you Mr. Jackson," Ezra offered following the beam of Nathan's light, eyeing the cathedral ceilings, a Waterford Chandelier and dramatic marble floor of the ornate foyer. "My Lord..."
"Josiah's got that covered already." Nathan replied, "Everybody okay?" He asked, as the beam of light fell on each face. It paused on Chris, whose eyes were locked in pain. "What's wrong?" He asked, moving closer.
"Vin's missing." Chris tossed and filled them in, then flashed his own light into a large parlor. "Let's move inside. We split into teams and start looking for him."
"I realize the desperate situation and appreciate the apprehension in your voice," Ezra raked a hand through his soaked brown hair. "But what do you expect us to accomplish groping blindly on unfamiliar terrain in the midst of that unearthly storm?"
"I EXPECT you'll move your lazy ass outside and hunt for Vin." Chris seethed, placing his face inches from the Conman's "I EXPECT we'll keep looking until we find him. I EXPECT that if the situation was reversed, Vin wouldn't have even come inside. He'd have stayed out there until he found you. I EXPECT that should clear it up!" He raged, fighting Buck's restraining arm.
"Take it easy, Chris." Buck soothed, realizing none of them were as wounded as Chris, "Ezra didn't mean that the way it came out. We all want to find Vin, but he's got a good point. It's dangerous out there. There's no visibility, ice all over the place and we would be working blind."
Buck saw something else lurking behind the fear in Chris's green eyes. "It ain't your fault." he tried to conquer the guilty clouds. His initial response was an angry glare. "Well?" He asked.
"He was shook up before we even opened the gate. He didn't want to come up the drive. He damn near passed out on the front porch." Chris berated, his flexing palms seeking an opponent, "...and my solution was to send him prowling around the side of this damn monstrosity, and now he's gone."
There was an uncomfortable silence as the others shifted their feet. "Speaking of visibility, we should try to find some lamps." Nathan said, "A place as old as this might have some kerosene lamps in the kitchen. Come on Chris..." He offered, and got a grateful nod from Ezra when Chris relented and went with him.
They headed back through the foyer and towards the back of the house. Chris was a few feet in front of Nathan as they entered the dark kitchen. The leader flashed his light left, and gazed distastefully at the rats skittering around the countertops. He spotted a lamp across the room. But before he could advise his partner, a large crash and a forceful blow sent him flying.
+ + + + + + +
"What the hell was that?" Buck asked to nobody in particular.
"Shall we investigate?" Ezra replied, already following Josiah out the door.
It took Chris a few seconds to regain his breath. He was on his stomach, sprawled on the kitchen floor. As he eased himself onto his elbows, he realized someone was straddling him. He yelped as his head was pulled up forcefully by the hair and he blanched as the familiar feel of a blade was laid across his exposed throat.
"Vin, What are you doing?" Nate screamed, unable to believe what he eyes saw. His flashlight wavered at the shocking sight.
He eased himself slowly around the perimeter until he was parallel to the two figures on the floor, but several feet away. Vin was kneeling over Chris's back, holding his best friend's hair in one hand and a knife pressed against Chris's throat. The normally staid face of the tracker was a mask of hate and his lips curled in disgust. The first few words were mumbled, but then the voice became a little clearer.
"VIN! That's Chris...what are you doing?" J.D. hollered before Josiah clamped a hand over his mouth.
"Don't rattle him J.D." Buck hissed, eyeing the nightmarish scene.
"Vin?" Chris gasped, seeking Nate's eyes for affirmation. His mind whirled seeking an answer. The one thing he did know was that the knife and the intent were very real. He frowned at the unnatural deep tone and infliction in Vin's voice. It sounded nothing like the Texan and if Nate hadn't confirmed it, he'd never have believed it. "It's Chris. Put the knife down." He whispered, and winced as the blade's point nicked him.
"Do something Buck..." J.D. whispered.
Vin's head turned at the new voice and his eyes narrowed. He unleashed a string of unrecognizable dialect. He tightened his grip on Chris and moved his elbow, not hiding his intent.
"Jesus...he's going to do it." Buck appraised, not hiding the fear in his voice.
Nate used the distraction to ease closer. Chris managed to turn his head sideways and look up at the stranger above him. "Look at me, Cowboy..." He grunted and felt Vin's hand twitch. Vin cocked his head and blinked as if disoriented. His eyes narrowed and his grasp weakened slightly. Chris saw Vin's gaze go past him. His eyes widened and his face paled. He felt the trembling start.
Little Hawk gazed around the camp at the white faces of his enemies. They leered at him, their unfamiliar words teasing and taunting in tone. Vengeance was driving him and his fingers burned to slit the throat of the pale-faced dog. Then just beyond the clearing he saw them. Two red eyes, burning a hole in his brain, causing a searing pain in his head. He dropped the knife and clutched his head and screamed.
"Jesus," Chris swore, twisting to catch Vin and ease him onto the floor. "What the hell was that?"
"Vin...Vin..." Nate tapped the pale face without response. He picked up the limp wrist of the ex-bounty hunter and frowned. "He's freezing...his hands are like ice. We gotta get him warmed up."
"Look at this." Chris motioned to the team's EMT, "He's got a knot the size of Texas on his head."
"That might explain a few things." J.D. offered, kneeling by his fallen friend's side.
"It might explain his irrational behavior." Ezra agreed, spotting the lamp that Chris originally saw and heading for it. "But not that dialect. His injury wouldn't account for that."
"He sounded like an Indian." Buck said, helping Ezra light the lamp.
The room was bathed in light and the flashlights snapped off. It was an old kitchen, barely post World War I. An ancient white porcelain sink, stove and metal cabinets graced the room. Vin was lying on a black and white tile floor with Chris supporting his head. Nathan was doing an examination and clearly not happy. Josiah frowned and eyed the cellar door.
"What?" Buck asked, reading the ex-minister's eyes.
"I'm not sure, Buck." Josiah replied, "But something down there scared the hell out of Vin. Did you see his face before he screamed?"
"Did you ever hear a scream like that?" J.D. shuddered.
"Nate?" Chris took his eyes off Vin's pale face long enough to meet the healer's brown ones.
"He'll be fine once we get him warmed up." He picked up Vin's legs and Chris lifted his upper body.
Ezra led the way with the lamp. The parlor was large and ornate. A jade green and cream Oriental rug covered the floor. Three cream sofa's with fine pink roses and green leaves were set in a 'U' shaped pattern around the large fireplace. Several green wing chairs and a large piano completed the room. Several accent tables were scattered about.
Chris and Nate placed Vin on the floor. Nate unbuttoned Vin's soaking wet coat and Chris got his soggy boots and socks off. He grabbed Nate's wrist as they unbuttoned the soggy shirt. J.D. and Ezra were the only ones in the room with them. Josiah was retrieving additional lamps and Buck was with him.
"You two go upstairs and get some blankets and pillows." Chris ordered, giving Vin some privacy.
By the time Josiah and Buck returned, Vin was in clean black sweat pants, a blue plaid flannel shirt and blue sweater and thick socks. He was resting on one of the sofas. Chris was pulling on a sweater over his clean, dry pants. Nathan had already changed.
"You two get in some dry clothes." Nate ordered.
"Did you find anything?" Chris asked.
"Two more lamps." Josiah answered, placing them on the piano.
"And a few answers." Buck supplied, holding up Vin's discarded poncho.
"Where'd you find that?" The blond asked, crossing the room.
"On the stairwell, by a busted step." Buck said unsteadily. "Look at this..."
Chris eyed the ripped portions of the slicker and frowned. "Looks like he tangled with somebody."
"Yeah..." Buck sighed, "What if we got company?"
"Then we'll handle it." Chris said tersely, checking his gun and sliding it in his holster attached to his belt.
"But..." Buck asked, shrugging out of his clothes and pulling on dry jeans and a Red sweatshirt.
"It didn't sound like him." Chris said, moving closer to his still friend, who was moaning in his sleep. He laid a hand on Vin's shoulder. "Easy Vin..." he hushed, quieting the restless man.
"Josiah, wasn't that some kind of Indian dialect?" Buck asked, pulling dry socks on. He was sitting next to Vin on a small table.
"I recognized some of it." He looked at Chris. "He said you were a dog and blamed you for the unrest of his brother's spirits." He finished getting dressed and eyed the foyer.
"It wasn't the words I was talking about." Chris said, leaning on the fireplace "It wasn't his voice..."
"Yeah, I noticed that too." Nate agreed. "Guess Vin's the only one that can answer what happened down that cellar."
"Hey Nate, what do you make of this?" Buck asked, moving the damp hair off Vin's neck.
Chris looked over at the concerned sound of Buck's voice and moved closer when he saw Nate's eyes widen. "What?" the team leader asked, bending over the back of the sofa. "Shit..." He hissed, his fingers tracing the unmistakable imprints of bruises that fingers left on Vin's throat.
"Shhh!" Nate eye the floor above as the distinct sound of creaking boards and footsteps could be heard. "Sounds like we got company."
"It's J.D. or Ezra." Chris sighed; his troubled eyes still studied the garish bruises on Vin's neck.
"You call me, Chris?" The youth said entering the room and frowning at the blank stares he got. Clearly it wasn't either of the pair who had been walking above them. "What? Who's that guy?" J.D. broke the tense silence as he crossed the room carrying two large quilts. He placed the quilts on the floor beside the group around Vin and moved toward the large portrait over the fireplace. "Angus Robert Stewart." He answered his own question.
"Good Lord." Ezra gasped, dropping the pillows he held. "I should have recognized the house."
"What?" Buck inquired, pulling a quilt over Vin, while Nathan eased a pillow under his head.
"Stewart..." Josiah rubbed his chin. "As in the asylum?"
"The very same." Ezra sighed. "I'd heard rumors about Stewart Hall and the reasons it closed. Murder...experimental surgery...and ghoulish apparitions."
"You mean we're stranded in a storm on Halloween in a Haunted House?" J.D. squeaked eyes like saucers.
"Asylum?" Nathan frowned, "This place don't look like no nut house I ever seen."
"It was for the very wealthy." Ezra supplied. "Those who were willing to pay a steep price for silence. This was at the turn of the century, after Mr. Stewart passed away." His jade eyes rested uneasily on Vin. "How is Mr. Tanner?"
"Fine, I hope." Nate answered, seeing Ezra scowling at the marks on Vin's neck. "Get them wet clothes off, both of y'all." He ordered as Ezra disappeared behind a large oriental fan.
"It would appear Mr. Tanner's fears were merited." Ezra noted. "I suggest we remain in pairs at all times." He turned to Chris. "We managed to light two lamps on the wall upstairs."
"That's a good idea." Chris said, lighting the two remaining lamps.
"What about Stewart?" Buck asked. "Is he the ghost?"
"One of them." Ezra answered, taking a nip from his flask.
"How many are there?" J.D. asked, drying his hair.
"Some say there are a half dozen." Ezra paused. "Some fear a lot more. Mr. Stewart built this monstrosity over the arguments of his investors and the protests of the locals. It so happens that this ground was once a burial ground for a tribe of Native Americans a few hundred years ago. The surviving members warned him that to desecrate the resting grounds would incur the wrath of the spirits. He scoffed at them and built it anyway. He lived here with his wife, their son and his family." Ezra paused, taking another swig.
"He went mad and killed them all one stormy night about a hundred years ago." Josiah answered. "As a matter of fact, it was on Halloween."
"You're making that up." J.D. challenged.
"I'm afraid our spiritual friend is correct," Ezra supplied. "The house was closed for a few years, only to reopen as Stewart Hall. In his will, Mr. Stewart dictated his vast holdings be used to help those with mental ills. A great deal of money was spent to convert parts of the house. The staff began complaining almost immediately of unaccountable sounds and visions. The chief of staff began acting bizarre and conducting strange experiments with the residents. There were tales of covered up deaths and strange, unexplained voices and roaming, evil spirits. It closed shortly after World War I."
"Seems I recall a professor from Berkley moving in here with a bunch of graduate students a few years back." Josiah recalled. "They were supposed to stay for several weeks and left in less that one. Didn't even pack all their things."
"That would account for the quilts and pillows being in the condition that they are." J.D. said, pulling a large gym bag apart.
"J.D., what are you looking for?" Buck asked of the rummaging youth.
"Dinner?" Buck repeated, "How can you eat at a time like this?"
"'cause I'm hungry," J.D shrugged.
"Might not be a bad idea," Nathan agreed, helping J.D. get some food onto the piano. "Just leave the Turkey Breast for Vin, his stomach's likely to be rocky."
"Ezra, where you going?" Chris demanded, taking a plate of food from Nathan.
"To the lavatory."
"Are you crazy?" J.D.'s eyes widened, "You shouldn't be messin' around in the laboratory of a haunted asylum."
"He's going to the bathroom, J.D." Buck corrected; smacking the youth's back as he passed by. "I'll go with you Ez."
"Unlike your many female companions who find it necessary to seek out the lavatory in groups," Ezra drolled, giving Buck a nasty look, "I have been taking care of myself in this capacity since I was three. I don't need you to hold my hand."
"I don't intend to get anywhere near your hand." Buck laughed, "I'm just the hired help."
"I don't need a bodyguard," Ezra protested as Buck gripped the back of his neck, "Kindly unhand me."
"Hey you know, you're kinda cute when you get riled up." Buck teased, but the face only got angrier. "Aw, lighten up Ez...pretend you're a rock star."
"Another nightmare I do not need." He pulled himself free and headed for the stairs, Buck behind him.
Vin heard voices and realized he wasn't cold anymore. He peeled his eyes open and looked around the strange room. He frowned and rubbed a hand over his aching eyes, trying to recall what happened. His groping fingers encountered a large lump and he hissed in pain.
"Vin..." Chris wheeled from his place at the piano. He wiped his mouth and grabbed a bottle of water. He sat on the small table next to Vin, who was now sitting up. "Welcome back..." He eased, watching the confused set of eyes darting around the room.
"What happened?" Vin croaked, gingerly rubbing the lump and taking the water gratefully.
"We were hoping you could tell us that." Nathan answered, sitting beside Vin and turning his face. "Let me see your pupils."
"I'm fine." Vin shifted, as the dark eyes studied him.
"Dizziness...doublevision...black spots..." Nathan asked.
"No...No and No." Vin answered, taking a long sip of water. "No to that too." He saw J.D. approaching with a turkey sandwich. "Stomach's not up fer any food."
"What do you remember Vin?" Chris asked.
Vin closed his eyes and laid the back of the sofa. He rested his hand over his eyes and concentrated. Bits and pieces of images came into his troubled head. Flashes of lightning...a face in the window...falling.
"I's around the side of the house and I fell." He started, leaving out the spectacle he saw. "My foot got stuck in some grating and when I tried to pull the bars apart, I fell down some kinda hole into the cellar."
"Ugh..." J.D. groaned.
"Anyhow," Vin sighed, rubbing his eyes and looking at Nathan. "It was pitch black down there and I stumbled around a bit before I found the stairs. The wood was rotted and my foot went through. I was trying to put it free when I saw..." He bit off the sentence and stopped.
"Saw what?" Chris prodded, reading Vin's eyes.
"Y'all better not laugh..." Vin warned, scratching his chin. But the somber faces told him they wouldn't "I felt somethin' on my hand..." He absentmindedly rubbed the spot. "and when I turned and looked up..." he swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing fitfully.
"Go on Vin," Chris said slowly, watching the blue eyes widened in fear.
Vin took a deep breath, "They was somethin' lookin' at me with red eyes...then I heard a growl behind me. The eyes got closer and I bent down to pull my foot out." He stopped and rubbed his neck. "I started chokin'...I recall bein' pulled around a bit."
"That's putting it mildly." Josiah answered, holding up the torn poncho. "Looks like you got caught in the middle of a catfight."
"I musta passed out and then y'all found me." Vin supplied, eyeing the somber faces of his friends. J.D.'s head dropped and Vin squinted. Of the seven, J.D.'s expression could never lie. "J.D...ain't that what happened?" He asked suspiciously as the dark head came up. One look answered his question. "I want to know..."
"You busted through the door, talking like an Indian and attacked Chris with a knife." He blurted.
"Aw hell..." Vin slumped back and looked at Chris. He noticed the bloody cut near the team leaders jaw. His jaw tightened and he ran a hand through his damp hair. He dropped his head and shook it.
"It's okay Vin. Nobody got hurt." Chris supported, resting a hand on Vin's shoulder.
"I could'da killed ya." He whispered, throwing off the hand that attempted comfort.
"A Tanner take out a Larabee?" Chris quizzed, "Never happen." He waited until the head finally rose. Those damned blue eyes cut him worse than the knife. "Look Vin, it's gonna be a long night, I don't need you sulking. It's done, let's move on."
Vin nodded and stood, brushing off both Nathan and Chris. "I'm fine. I need some space." He walked around the room, eyeing the antiques.
"Did you know this place was haunted?" J.D. asked, like a terrier at Vin's heels.
"Yeah." Vin rasped, shivering as he noticed the portrait. Stewart's eyes seem to follow him around the room. He couldn't forget the image in the window.
"Is that why you were so shook up outside?" Chris asked and saw Vin nod.
"This was a holy place, sacred to the Indians." Vin said softly, fingering the Navajo bolo tie he wore around his neck. "He had no right buildin' this place," He spat in disgust at the picture. "We outta go."
"We've been over that, Vin." Chris answered, resuming his meal. "We can't leave until the storm breaks."
"Where's Ezra and Bucklin?" Vin asked, noticing the missing pair for the first time.
"Upstairs going to the bathroom." J.D. answered.
Buck's eyes roamed the long hallway as he waited outside the door of the Victorian water closet. A long mirror stood at the end of the hall. Buck glanced at it before turning back to the door and was about to knock and hurry Ezra, when he saw movement behind him. The temperature dropped suddenly and Buck felt like he was standing in a freezer. He felt a chill and his heart began to beat a little faster. The unmistakable form of a beautiful woman was right behind him. Her face was like alabaster and her hair was flame red. Her full figure spilled out over her nightgown. He wanted to tear his gaze from the gilt mirror, but could not. His limbs were frozen in place and his mouth dry. He felt her cold fingers on his neck and felt her icy breath as it caressed his cheek. He saw the lips form a smile and as the teeth bared, blood ran from them and she opened her jaw and appeared to be intent on a spot at his jugular.
"Noooo!" he screamed and ran forward, stumbling into the wall. He grabbed at the candelabra on the wall and broke his fall. He fell down hard on the floor, his chest hammering. It took awhile for his breathing to regulate. When he looked up, the dark hall was empty and he was alone again. He saw his flashlight a few feet away and crawled over to retrieve it. He managed to pull himself up and didn't bother knocking. He opened the door and stared at the room in stunned silence.
"That sounded like Buck," Josiah said, racing towards the ornate staircase.
"Buck...Where are you?" Chris asked, at Josiah's heels.
The five found themselves at the top of the stairs and eyed the long corridor.
"There..." J.D. pointed at an open door with a beam of light protruding.
"Buck...Ezra..." Nathan called, reaching the doorway first. "What happened?"
"I...I...uh..." Buck shrugged, sitting on the toilet, was cradling his flashlight.
"Where's Ezra?" Chris demanded, squatting in front of Buck. "Come on, Buck. Where is he?"
"I...He...She...her teeth...bloody..." Buck dazedly replied.
"Huh?" Chris tapped Buck's face. "You with us, Buck?"
Buck took a deep breath and expelled it. He ran a shaky hand through his hair and finally looked up. "Vin..." He mumbled and saw the younger man nod.
"Bucklin..." the reply came.
"Buck...about Ezra..." Nathan prodded, not liking how pale and shaken the normally outgoing man was.
"I don't know..." He stammered, "I was outside the door the whole time. One minute I was alone, the next she was right behind me. Jesus her teeth were dripping blood...her breath was like ice. I fell and then threw the door open and he was gone."
"No windows..." J.D. eyed the bathroom, "Where'd he go? Down the drain?"
"It's what happened J.D." Buck barked, standing and pushing his way out into the hall.
"Whoa!" Josiah halted him. "Take it easy, Brother."
"There's got to be another explanation." Chris determined as he and Vin felt along the walls and behind the large tub, looking for a trap door.
"Great...we find one and lose another." J.D. replied.
"Okay, let's recreate what happened." Chris suggested. "You two stay in here." He nodded to Nate and Josiah. We'll go outside where Buck was."
Chris closed the door and looked at Buck.
"I was about here." Buck stood facing the mirror with J.D. and Chris in front of him, while Vin stood behind him. Buck closed his eyes and tried to remember. Vin recalled Buck's story and eased forward, lightly touching the tall man's neck. Buck gasped and jumped forward, landing on his hands and knees.
"Goddammit Vin." He swore, glaring angrily at the Texan.
"Is that how it went down?" Vin asked, standing next to Buck with his hands on his hips.
"No...I landed over there." Buck pointed to the wall.
"Go on..." Vin prodded and Buck moved. They watched as he cocked his head. "Well..."
"I grabbed onto something to break my fall."
"Like this?" J.D. asked, pulling on the candelabra.
Chris opened the door and found his two friends looking back at him. "Damn..." He swore, fisting the doorway.
"Sorry to disappoint you." Nate grunted, edging past.
"We're missing something." Vin guessed, "Buck are you sure that was everything?"
"I lost my flashlight. It was dark. I guess maybe I didn't get up real quick."
"What if Ezra was outside the bathroom by then?" Josiah asked, "Buck did you scream before you fell down?"
"Uh...yeah...I think." Buck nodded.
"Could be Ezra heard you and ran outside. If it was dark, maybe he didn't see where you fell." Chris supplied.
"So he could be anywhere up here." Nate nodded, "No telling how rickety these rooms are. He could have taken a fall. We better go huntin'"
"Yeah...in pairs." Chris added, as they naturally formed into units. "It's almost seven thirty. We'll fan out." Chris eyed the square hallway, which surrounded the stair and let in four different directions. He motioned for Buck and J.D. to head east, Nathan and Josiah west. "It's a big floor, we'll meet back here at the base of the staircase in an hour. Sing out if you find something."
"Okay..." Buck agreed, slapping J.D. "Let's go Kid."
Buck and J.D. approached a door with a lion's head for a knob. The golden mane was in the middle of the door. J.D. opened the door after a slight pause and flashed a light into the large room. It appeared to be an examination room of some kind. Several metal tables with arm and leg cuffs and a horrendous dental chair with clamps, and a cabinet with instruments filled the room. There were two doors that let into smaller side rooms. J.D. got an unnerving chill and felt rooted to the spot where he stood.
"J.D., you look around out here but don't leave this room," Buck ordered, "I'm gonna check those two smaller rooms."
J.D. nodded mutely and moved his leaden legs forward. "EZRA!" he called, peeking under the tables. He had his head under the table in the back of the large room, when he saw a pair of legs sticking out from under a surgical gown. He swallowed hard and slammed his eyes shut, only to feel a rush of cold air. He felt dizzy and stood up, only to find himself pushed harshly. He stumbled and grabbed the table for support, landing on top of it. He opened his eyes and found himself strapped onto the table. The room was bathed in light and bustling with activity. Moans of the others strapped to tables around him filled the air. He felt bile rising quickly as he watched a blood-splattered surgeon cut a distended abdomen of a woman and pull out a deformed child. The thumping noise to his left was a young man strapped to the tortured chair. His head was bound to the back, leaving him completely at their mercy. His mouth was opened fully and clamped in place. A doctor used his foot to work a pump for a manual drill, which he forced into the victim's mouth. The man's terrified eyes burned into J.D.'s mind.
"Oh God...Oh God... B...B...Bu..." His mind screamed, but his mouth was gagged. He saw the doctor bending over him, and recognized the maniacal gleam in his eye. Another doctor stood across the table, holding a large needle. J.D. realized his eyes were burning and found he couldn't blink, as they were taped open.
"Now...now...my good friend...soon it will be over..." The heavy European accent soothed. The physician turned to the needle bearing assistant, "Mark my words, cornea transplants will be commonplace in the future. My experiments will make me world renown. Administer the injection."
J.D. fought unsuccessfully against the binding restraints as the needle got closer and closer to his eye. He screamed against the gag and used his remaining strength to throw his weight to the other side. He found himself freed and swung a punch at the arms restraining him.
"J.D....what the hell..." Buck got out before being decked by a right hook. He sat down hard on the floor and rubbed his jaw. Shaking his head clear, he took off after the terrified youth.
"Ezra!" Vin called out, sticking his head in the first door across the square hallway. The tracker's light illuminated sections of the large bedroom. He coughed and waved his hand as a cloud of dust met his face. Cobwebs and a thick coat of dust covered the large ornate bed and heavy furniture.
"Go low." Chris directed, using his own flashlight to illuminate the upper half of the room. "Ezra!"
Vin walked around the room, his light searching along the dirty molding and under the legs of the furniture. He studied the corners and paneling for any signs of stress. His placed his flashlight on the tall chest of drawers and pressed his fingers along the paneling.
"You got something?" Chris added his light to the spot where Vin was feeling.
"Dunno." Vin shrugged, "Places this old are full of secret passages. Thought I felt somethin'..."
Chris gave Vin's shoulder a pat and flashed his light around the room. He spotted closet door open. "Vin..."
The younger man turned at Chris's soft call and followed him across the room. Both beams played tag as they ran along the wall. Vin went low and searched the floor around the base of the closet. Chris opened the door and stuck his head in, only to encounter the flapping of wings against his face.
"Shit!" He stumbled back into Vin, sending them both to the floor. "Goddamn bat..." He seethed reaching for his gun.
"Whoa!" Vin grabbed the gun. "He's gone...and I don't need to get hit in the ass by a ricochet."
"I would have hit him." Chris used his friend's available backside and pushed himself up. "Your ass could lose a inch or two..."
"Aw, hell..." Vin laid flat on his stomach, attempting to reach his flashlight, which rolled under the bed. He inched his way half under the bed as the youngest's scream erupted. The unholy bellow caused Vin to jump and whack his head against the underside of the bed.
"J.D.!" Chris hollered, smacking Vin's leg with his foot. "Come on, Vin..."
Nathan and Josiah went into the room right next to the bathroom. It was full of dust and mildew covered chairs around a long table. Tablets of paper and pencils, paints and books littered the table. There were shelves on one side of the room with books and puzzles. A fireplace and some wing chairs were at the far end of the room. A desk and chair were by the door.
"Looks like some kind of therapy room?" Nathan guessed, flashing on the discarded items. He went left and Josiah went right.
Each man used his flashlight to seek out any possible trap door. Josiah returned to the desk by the door and eyed the ancient work schedule on top, dating back over eighty years. He saw a curious light fixture on the wall and turned it, just as J.D.'s scream filled the air.
Nathan reached the end of the room and cast his light around the tiles by the hearth of the fireplace. He was about to turn back to rejoin his partner, when something metallic glinted. He knelt on the hearth and picked it up. He was about to call for Josiah, when he heard the scream.
"J.D!" Josiah heard Nathan scream as his hand twisted the light fixture. He ran in the hall and spotted the fleeing youth, headed for the stairs.
"J.D...." Josiah and Chris yelled at the same time. Buck stumbled behind them. Chris finally caught up to the panicked youth in the foyer. He locked him a bearhug from behind.
"Settle down!" Chris growled, "What happened? Are you alright?"
"Let me go!" J.D. wheezed, "I'm gettin' the hell outta here now! That bastard ain't gonna put no fuckin' needle in my eye."
"J.D., look at me," Buck was dodging in front of the pale faced youth who was fighting Chris's restraint. "You're safe now. Nobody's gonna hurt you." He gripped the youth's chin in order for the hazel eyes to focus on him.
"Buck..." J.D. blinked.
"Yeah, Kid." Buck nodded to Chris who released the trembling youth. The tall agent wrapped an arm around him.
"He wanted my corneas..." J.D. stammered, running a trembling hand through his hair. "I was strapped to one of them damn tables, I couldn't move, they even had my eyes taped open...the needle Buck...it was nearly in my damn eye...Shit!" He staggered and Buck led him to a chair by the entry to a large library on the east side of the foyer.
"You okay now?" Chris squatted, catching the wide hazel eyes.
"Yeah...It was so real..." J.D. gasped, then looked around. "Hey, where's Vin and Nate?"
"Shit..." Chris stood and wheeled, eyeing the empty staircase. "Vin! Nate!"
"Stay together." Josiah ordered, as they took the stairs two at a time.
Vin cursed and grimaced as his head hit the bed. He tried to pull himself back out, but was stuck.
"Aw, hell..." he swore as he wiggled. Finally free, he realized his light was now on the other side of the bed. He crawled around in the darkness until he reached the other side. He pulled the light out and froze as the beam of the light illuminated a pair of tiny feet. His eyes drifted north and saw the tiny child, a little girl about four years old in a long white nightgown.
"Mama..." The tiny voice wavered, her large blue eyes were full of tears and the reddish hair was tousled. "Mama..." She pleaded, drilling Vin with her eyes. One small hand reached out. "Mama..."
"Uh...Uh..." Vin stammered, sitting down on the floor. His back rested against the bed, facing a large set of French windows. "Ya lost?" He whispered, realizing how foolish he felt talking to her. He saw the small head nod. "I lost my Mama when I was about yer size. She went to heaven. I reckon that's where yer Mama is. Yer a little angel now." Vin winced and shook his head, realizing how dumb he sounded.
He wasn't frightened of her; rather he felt a pain inside when he looked at her. She was so little and helpless. She moved closer and he saw the deep scarlet lines around her throat. Tears formed in his eyes and rage grew inside of him as he recognized the garroting marks.
"She was only a baby..." He whispered, thinking of the mad man's portrait in the parlor below. "Ya shouldn't have touched her." He seethed, his left hand made a fist and he smacked the side of the bed. He felt a tear slip out and then a soft caress on his cheek. He looked up as she stared at her hand, at his discarded tear. "I'm sorry..." He hushed. Hypnotized by the large, luminous blue eyes and silent appeal, he reached for her.
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