They ran into the room next to the bathroom, and found it deserted. "Nathan...Nathan..." Josiah bellowed, his long legs covering the room in seconds. "I heard him call to J.D. when he screamed. He was right behind me, I thought." The ex-minister rubbed a hand over his weary face.
"Come on, let's check on Vin." Chris directed, racing back to the bedroom. "VIN! VIN!" He hollered, with Buck echoing him. They raced towards the open doorway.
She was inches from Vin when she stiffened and her head looked towards the door. She quickly turned and ran towards the French Doors. "Mama..." she cried softly and disappeared.
"I don't see him..." Buck said flashing his light around the bedroom.
"There he is..." J.D.'s light hit the back of the wavy brown hair.
Chris ran around the bed and dropped to his knees, his face a mask of anger. "Why didn't you answer us? You had to hear us. We were screaming for God's sake. Dammit Vin, I'm talking to you."
"Chris, take it easy." Buck warned, seeing Vin's unblinking gaze. "He ain't heard a word you said."
"Vin..." Chris lowered his voice and gripped the dazed man's shoulder. "Vin, can you hear me?"
"She was only a baby..." He mumbled, sighing deeply.
"Let's get him downstairs. We need a new plan." Buck stated, gripping the underside of Vin's left arm, while Chris got the right one. They hauled the shaken man to his feet and J.D. grabbed the light.
Vin blinked as they stumbled into the dimly lit hall. "She was lookin' for her Mama...She was so little and sad..." He bent forward as Buck and Chris released him. He braced both hands on his knees and took a good breath. He felt Buck's hand on his back and nodded, indicating he was fine.
"Who Vin?" J.D. asked.
"I don't know...but that bastard in the picture strangled her..." He seethed, swallowing hard. "her neck was marked."
"I'm checking that room again." Josiah decided of the therapy room.
"Not alone." Chris warned. "We'll all go. You okay now?" He asked Vin who took a deep breath and nodded. "Good." They left for the abandoned dayroom and fanned out.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan sat up and immediately began coughing.
"Ow...damn that smarts..." He muttered, blinking into the inky blackness.
He rubbed his elbow, which had struck something hard upon his arrival. The damp floors and chilly air made him shiver. He felt around for his flashlight and encountered something much softer, a muscular thigh.
"I require dinner or at least an expensive, imported bottle of wine, before I allow liberties of that nature, Mr. Jackson."
"Ezra?" Nathan croaked in disbelief. "Where the hell are we?"
"Your presence rules out Hell." the Southerner decided, "I had thought that is where I landed originally. So I would assume we are somewhere deep within the bowels of this unholy abode."
"How'd you get here?"
"I honestly don't know. I heard Buck scream and ran into the hall. It was dark and I went towards where I thought he was. I stumbled into a room and suddenly there was no floor beneath me. The next thing I knew, I woke up down here, transported through some secret passage." Ezra gasped and hissed, alerting the healer of a problem.
"Where are you hurt?" Nathan inched closer, sitting up and feeling a stone wall behind Standish. His gentle hands found the soft cashmere clad shoulder and eased down to the chest.
"My ribs..." Ezra hissed, as Nathan gently prodded them. "Just how did you come to join me in this Dungeon?"
"Lookin' for your sorry ass." Nate gruffed, "Cracked at least two, maybe three." He then began groping around the floor for his flashlight. "I found your watch." He added, feeling along until he came to Ezra's hand and placed the expensive timepiece in it. "Josiah was with me...I was about to tell him when J.D. screamed. The floor opened up, I guess...It was dark and so fast I didn't really see." He found the flashlight, but clicking it on produced only sound. "Shit...must have broken in the fall. Sorry Ez."
"That's quite alright Mr. Jackson. I am somewhat comforted by your presense. I have grown accustomed to traveling with my own personal medical professional."
"This could be our last stop, Ez." Nathan tossed, reading the meaning between Ezra's words. "It wouldn't hurt you to talk plain English." He felt a hand nudge and shook it. No further words were needed. They settled back into the inky blackness and waited for a miracle.
+ + + + + + +
"Maybe we should start at the beginning." Buck theorized from the hallway. Twenty minutes of prodding, pulling and twisting every fixture in the game room netted no results. Clearly frustrated, the group had begun snapping at each other.
"How ya mean?" Vin asked, slumped in a chair.
"Josiah, you knew a little about this place. Maybe there are records or a map or blueprints of the house?" Buck reasoned.
"It's a start." Chris agreed, rubbing the tension from his throbbing temples.
"I saw a room with lots of books in it, when we were bringing Vin from the kitchen." J.D. supplied, "Might be a library."
"Let's go." Chris expelled, as Josiah eyed the empty room and shook his head. Chris clapped his back in support and they exited. "We'll find him, Josiah."
+ + + + + + +
"Nathan." The Southener drolled.
"Did you try to find a door or a way out?"
"Twice." Ezra hissed as the pain flared through his chest, "I believe I cracked a rib each time. There are holes in the floor, some very deep. I fell in one and managed to grab the edge. Fortunately, I was able to pull myself back up."
"Guess we'll have to wait on the boys."
"Mr. Tanner will prevail." Ezra noted of the sharp tracker. "If he is not possessed again."
"Thanks Ezra," Nate grumbled, "I was trying to forget about that."
Ezra felt an icy hand grip his left calf and squeeze hard. "Mr. Jackson, please tell me that's your hand."
"What about my hand?"
"Are both currently with you?"
"Where else would they be?"
"Sweet Jesus..." Ezra kicked at the force, which only grew stronger. A second hand hand slapped his face forcefully. A low, gutteral growl emerged, sending an icy dagger through the Gambler's chest.
"Shit..." Nathan hissed, hearing the loud crack. He moved his arms through the darkness over Ezra and felt the nearly icy patch of air . "We got company." He said as he was forced back against the wall and the icy hands gripped his throat. He kicked and tried to move the iron grip without success.
"Nathan...Nathan..." Ezra knelt up and leaned over, despite the intense pain in his chest. Hearing the gurgling sounds from Nathan infuriated him. "Leave him alone you vile creature. In the name of God, go back to the gates of Hell where you belong!"
There was loud shriek that led into a series of shrill screams. The whole room shuddered as if gripped in an earthquake. Finally it was quiet again, the only sounds were the dual gasping of the prisoners.
"I'm still breathing, partner." He answered, rubbing his throat. "My heart stopped and I'd bet my hair's turned all white."
"It could be worse."
"Other than being dead, I don't see how." Nate growled.
"Mr. Tanner could be with us."
"Yeah..." Nate smiled grimly in the dark thinking of the Texan who was claustrophobic. "But he might get so riled up, he'd bust clean through the wall." The healer shivered in the darkness. "Next year, Cancun. The hell with Chris's back to nature bullshit."
"Amen, Brother." Ezra sighed, tapping Nate's knee and laying his aching head against the cold stone.
+ + + + + + +
The library was large and full of cobwebs, dust and mildew. The longest wall held a large fireplace with Italian ceramic tile on the generous hearth. Over the marble mantle was a large painting of the Battle of Bannockburn, a fourteenth century Scottish victory over the English. The other three walls housed tall shelves full of books. Three wing chairs and marble coffee tables flanked the left and right. A large desk sat to the immediate left of the entryway. Books spilled over the top, covering the documents scattered there.
Chris placed one of the lamps on the large desk, as Josiah slid into the chair behind it. Vin took the other lamp to the far end of the room, placing it on the marble table. J.D. and Buck roamed around eyeing the hundreds of volumes of books.
"Where do we start?" J.D. asked, blowing the dust off the cover of a book lying on the floor at his feet.
"With what we know." Josiah sighed. "Stewart built this house on Sacred Indian Grounds. We've already experienced the vengeful Indian spirit through Vin in the kitchen. It could be that same spirit who possessed Stewart the night he went mad and killed his family. What J.D. witnessed is a different thing altogether. He went through a portal in time, somehow, back to that disgusting surgical room."
"What about the girl I saw?" Buck asked, eyeing the wise, ex-preacher.
"Most likely a relative of Stewart." Josiah frowned, "So's the little girl Vin saw. That piece of the story I do remember. They never found her body."
" s'why she's still lookin' for her Ma..." Vin said softly, still seeing those limpid eyes.
"It's been a while since I read on this place. Seems to me, the legend has it whoever sees the ghost of the Old Man is doomed to die." Josiah said, eyeing the contents on the desk.
Vin's face drained of all color and he turned away, so the others couldn't see. He gripped the back of the blue wing chair and swallowed his fear, recalling the spectre he saw in the window. "That's a just a bunch of stories...to keep folks buzzin' about the place."
"Maybe..." Josiah sighed, "But I'm glad Old Angus hasn't shown up."
"Me too!" J.D. exclaimed.
"Look for a family Bible or a ledger," Josiah suggested, "Anything the would have a record of the family or a history of the house."
While the other four set out searching the large room, Josiah began cleaning up the desk. The books were of no consequence and he placed them in a stack on the floor. He blew the dust off the paperwork and began to carefully separate them into sections. He was gentle with the delicate paper, some of which crumbled in his hands. They were bills of lading for deliveries dated Nineteen Twenty One. He tried the drawers and came up empty, until he reached the large cabinet to the right of the desk. It was locked. He squinted and cocked his head. He rummaged through the top drawer and found a letter opener. He jiggled the lock with no result. He looked around for a key, but there was none.
A low moan filled the air, causing their hair to stand on end. They froze in place, each eyeing the others and the room. A series of moans following, increasing in intensity. A loud pounding ensued, reminicent of a heartbeat. J.D. shuffled closer to Buck and eyed the doorway.
"Expectin' company, J.D.?" Buck asked the nervous youth.
"Don't even try it, Buck," J.D. returned, smacking Buck's arm, "Tell me that didn't give you the willies?"
Chris turned back to the cabinet. "Move back." He said, taking out his gun.
The resounding shot sent the lock flying. As Chris squatted to open the cabinet, a large oriental vase that was by the front door, flew through the air and shattered against the fireplace. The five occupants of the room were speechless. Josiah and Chris exchanged a wary glance and Chris reached his hand inside the cabinet.
"There's a large black leather book in here." Chris took the book halfway out, only to have a stronger force pull it back. The blond was slammed hard into the cabinet, putting his tooth through his lip and sending blood down his chin. "Shit..." He seethed, trying to free his hand. "Ahhh..." The leader cried, clenching his teeth in pain and pulling his wrist. "Something bit me..."
"Chris?" Josiah jumped from the chair and gripped the arm that Larabee was trying to free.
"It's got...Christ that hurts..." He swore, biting his lip. "I can't get free."
A fierce cry, followed by a bitter cold wind blew through the room. The lamps flickered out, shrouding the room in blackness. The temperature dropped, leaving the occupants shivering and chilled to the bone. Buck grabbed J.D. and fought to keep them from being pulled away. Josiah knelt behind Chris and wrapped one strong arm around the smaller man's waist and the other on the trapped arm. He pulled with all his might. The wind intensified, as did the shrieking sound. Finally as quickly as he came, the outer world turbulence left. The room was once again silent.
"Everybody okay?" Buck asked, hauling J.D. to his feet.
"Most of me's still here." Vin's shaky voice replied. "I got m'flashlight...hold on."
"Chris? Josiah?" J.D. asked, as he and Buck stumbled in the dark to where they left the pair.
"I'm okay." Josiah said, "I got Chris."
Vin flicked his flashlight on and quickly relit the lamp that was on the table in front of him. The light allowed Buck and J.D. to move towards Josiah, who was still sitting up, gripping a limp Chris.
"Chris..." Vin cried, covering the distance in seconds and dropping to his knees beside his fallen friend. J.D. lit the other lamp on the desk. "What the hell happened to his hand?" Vin grimaced at the bloody right hand.
"Hell, it looks like something tried to chew it off." Buck winced, "I'll get some bandages. Josiah, what bag did Nathan pack 'em in?"
"That Royal Blue gym bag with the Bronco's logo on it. J.D. go with him." Josiah ordered, cradling Chris. "He's okay Vin." Josiah answered the concern in the young Texan's pale face. "Just passed out is all."
Buck and J.D. returned, bearing the bag. Buck had the bandages and antibacterial wash out in a flash. He handed the bandages to Vin, while he cleaned the jagged wounds and wiped Chris's bloody mouth. "Jesus, that's nasty lookin'" Buck grimaced, eyeing puncture razor-like wounds on Chris's hand. "Okay Vin, wrap it up good."
"J.D., Gimme some tape." Vin said, gently binding the wounded hand, "J.D..." Vin turned and looked back at the youngest, who was staring, wide-eyed and mouth agape at the mirror on the
wall by the door. Condensation covered the antique glass, but an unseen hand was writing a gripping message. Vin ripped the end of the bandage and tied it in place. He placed the injured hand on Chris's chest and rose to stand by J.D. Buck joined them and they stared in stunned silence, until the message was done.
You cannot escape your fate....you will die as the souls rise on the Eve of All Hallows...By his hand you will die...your brother no more...then so will your friends.
"Jesus..." Buck hissed, running a hand through his hair. "I hope the hell this is a bad dream and I wake up soon."
"It's a fuckin' nightmare." J.D. added, "Josiah, what do you think that means?"
The ex-preacher eased Chris's head onto the carpet and walked over to the mirror. Vin backed away unnoticed and found his legs shaking badly. He staggered over to the fireplace and gripped the marble edge. He didn't need Josiah's transcription. He understood the message. He glanced at his watch. Nine p.m. He had three hours to find Ezra and Nathan and get out. He'd rather risk the storm outside the house than the one inside.
"Well?" J.D. asked, shivering in the cold air.
"It don't figure..." Josiah cocked his head. "It's a warning to someone who's seen Old Angus. But he hasn't made an appearance."
"Maybe Ezra or Nathan saw him." J.D. said.
"Could be..." Buck squinted at Vin, who instead of being by Chris's side, had distanced himself from the group. "Vin...why you tryin' to disappear?" He inquired, and saw the slight movement dipping the back of the shaggy head lower and causing the younger man's shoulders to slump.
"You saw him...didn't you!" J.D. choked, "Ah shit...We gotta get Vin outta her before..."
"I ain't leavin' without Ez and Nate." Vin said quietly, finally turning. His tortured gaze fell on Chris, who was starting to stir. Josiah saw the haunted look in Vin's eyes and suddenly understood what was causing Vin's fear. The message on the mirror suddenly became alarmingly clear. The grisly prophet was predicting that as the hour of midnight tolled, Chris Larabee would kill his best friend in cold blood.
It was the burning pain in his hand that drew his eyes open. He rolled to one side, protecting it and winced as he sat up. He felt Buck pulling him up and nodded. "I'm okay, Buck. Hurts like hell, though" He flinched, wiggling his fingers, "Don't feel like anything's broke. What?" He eyed the quiet group.
"Take a look..." Buck said, motioning to the mirror. The cryptic message was starting to fade as the rising room temperature took the condensation away.
Chris read it and frowned. He then turned back to the cabinet, finding the book was gone. "Shit..." He eyed Josiah's somber gaze and followed it across the room. Vin was still facing the fireplace, his arms wrapped around his chest. He was shivering and his eyes darted fervently. Chris furrowed his brow and made his way over to solitary figure. He thought on the message and looked right through Vin's eyes. He felt the apprehension.
"Ya know, I always thought it would be in a hail of bullets..."
"I ain't gonna let it happen. No fuckin' psycho ghost is gonna get near you."
"Yer a cocky son-of-a-bitch." Vin grinned. "Y'all must got a real set...takin' on the undead."
"Come on, we got work to do." Chris said, squeezing the downcast shoulder. "Let's check that wall between the bathroom and that therapy room. We're missing something."
Twenty minutes of precious time was spent without luck. Chris and Buck were in the bathroom, Josiah and J.D. in the therapy room. Vin was in the hall, pushing and pulling at the candelabra, trying to find the spring that would open a panel or trapdoor.
Vin's eyes widened and he turned towards the tiny cry. He saw her standing in the center of the hall. Her large eyes went right through him. He felt numb all over and watched the small girl turn and disappear into a room. He followed her, not able to stop his legs from moving. He heard a buzzing in his ears and walked into the chilly room.
"Vin, go ahead and pull...Vin?" Josiah hollered. J.D. dropped the shelf he was lifting and moved toward the door.
"Vin!" Chris called out as the four met in the empty hall. "Goddammit!" He punched the wall and looked left and right. "VIN!"
"Which way?" J.D. asked.
"We stay together." Chris ordered, his instincts led him along the same path Vin traveled. "This way."
Vin eyed the Victorian playroom, flashing his light on the desolate remains of the once loved toys. Several dolls, an antique dollhouse, tops, puzzles, cotton-sewn stuffed animals, a wooden Noah's ark with carved animals and other toys sat idle, as if awaiting their mistress to return. His heavy breathing in the frigid air caused his breath to form small white clouds.
"Hey..." Vin said timidly, the beam searching the room.
He flashed to the immediate left and saw her hiding behind a large rocking horse. He moved forward and she looked up at him. She waited until he saw her and she moved again. He kept following, realizing she was trying to show him something. She was holding a tiny ballerina doll, and standing by a table and chairs. Vin noticed the leather bound scrapbook on the table.
"Ya want I should look at that?" He asked and saw the small head nod. "Okay..."
He set the light down on the table and flipped the book open.
"Shit!" Vin jumped as a hand clapped on his shoulder. He gave Chris an angry glare.
"Why didn't you answer?" The irate blond demanded. "You shouldn't have wandered off. It's bad enough Ezra and Nate are missing."
"I didn't mean to." Vin defended. "She wanted me to follow her. I couldn't stop myself. I couldn't talk. I...I'm sorry. She wanted me to read this." He opened the large book.
"It's like a fuckin' freezer in here." Buck shivered, feeling as if unseen eyes were looking at him.
"Hey, that's the book that disappeared from the safe." Josiah stated. "How the hell did it get up here?"
"I think the key word there is 'Hell' Old Buddy," Buck thought out loud clapping a hand on Josiah's back. "Hey, that's the lady I saw in the hall." Buck pointed to a sepia photo of a woman with a small child.
"That's her..." Vin rasped, "The little one I been seein' "
"Let's see." Chris squinted, trying to read the faded script. "Mrs. Robert Stewart and daughter Grace."
"That must be her husband." J.D. said as they turned the page. The photo was of a young man in a wheelchair. His head hung to one side and his right arm was crippled. She was standing behind him; the little girl was beside the chair. "It says...Josephine and Grace with Robert, August 1900."
"Be careful with that, it's old." Josiah said as Buck lifted out a newspaper article.
"It's about the murder." Buck said, scanning the article dated November 1900. "It says Angus killed his son and daughter-in-law in their bedroom, before taking his own life on Halloween just after midnight. He butchered them with a knife. Doesn't mention the little girl. They never found her."
"Damn..." Vin sighed. "She's all mixed up. She's still tryin' to find her Ma."
"She trusts you." Josiah said. "She led you here."
"It says that the son was found one night at the bottom of the cellar steps. That's how he got hurt. He never spoke a word again." Chris shuddered, folding the paper up.
"Hey, look at this." J.D. said, unfolding a diagram. "It's the renovation plans for the Asylum, from 1907. Wonder what that is?" J.D. pointed to a faded red 'X' on a spot in the diagram in the basement. The dotted red line went upwards from the 'X' to the second and third floor.
"Only one way to find out." Josiah squinted, tracing the pattern. "Could be this is the key we've been looking for."
"Let's go." Chris said, turning to lead the others out of the room. Josiah took the scrapbook.
"Uh...guys..." J.D. pointed with his light. Two toy soldiers wearing identical uniforms were floating in midair, one turned and raised his weapon and fired. A tiny ping sent the other to the floor. Buck bent over and picked it up.
"Christ, it's bleedin'" He held out his hand, the tiny soldier's chest was covered in blood. "Aw, shit..." He frowned, when he placed the soldier back on the shelf. A group of building blocks had formed the words 'U die'. They hurled across the room, seeking their mark. They hit Vin square in the chest. Buck tried to grab the startled tracker, who's fearful gaze tore through him.
Vin brushed past Buck, needing to get away. Chris followed and caught up to him by the staircase. He gripped both of Vin's shoulders and stared hard, letting his green eyes penetrate the troubled blue ones. As their eyes locked, Vin felt his hammering heart slow down and he read the silent message.
You ain't going anywhere, Cowboy.
He felt the tight grip on his shoulders and relaxed. He nodded and took a deep breath. The other three joined them as they made their way to the basement.
"It should be over that way." Chris said, recalling the diagram. The basement was cluttered with boxes, trunks, and debris of all kinds. Rats skittered about, chasing bugs and fleeing from the intruders. It was a huge room and the stairs came down in the center.
Josiah was in the back of the group who were several yards ahead. He started forward and heard something behind him. He flashed his light and saw a door open. "Hey...I got something." He called out, making his way over. "What the hell..." He spotted a monogrammed leather wallet, the E.P.S. identifying its owner. He bent and picked it up and found himself shoved forcefully forward. He was slammed hard into a wall and slid down, unconscious.
"'siah?" Vin being last, turned back, flashing his light towards where the oldest of the group had been standing. "Shit...Josiah, where are ya? Chris...."
Chris heard the urgency in Vin's voice and motioned for J.D. and Buck to turn back. Vin was standing by the wall beyond the staircase. The tracker turned, holding Josiah's flashlight.
"He's gone..." He thumped the solid wall in frustration. "Why don't ya show yerself ya yellow bellied coward." He screamed. The room filled with a deep, bellowing laughter. It was sinister in tone and dripping with evil. It got louder and louder, causing the quartet to cover their ears. The wooden crates near them begin to open, sending tools airborne. J.D. dropped to his knees as a hammer hit him in the back. A saw narrowly missed severing Buck's arm as he reached to grab J.D.
"Upstairs...Now!" Chris screamed, shoving Vin hard. They staggered into the kitchen and kept going until they were back in the parlor. The four separated each seeking solace in a different part of the room. The only sound was their labored breathing. Chris's digital watch alarm sounded, counting the hours. Vin Tanner had two more hours to live.
Buck finally broke the silence. He'd been watching the tension building in Vin for the last few minutes. The pacing had picked up in intensity; the eyes were wide and darting in frustration. He didn't miss the brief flash of hopelessness in Chris's eyes as the blond watched Vin pacing.
"I'm going for help." The mustached-agent stated, searching the pile of garments at the end of the room for his coat.
"Talk sense, Buck." Chris moved across the room and over to the heavy curtains. He pulled them back, coughing as decades of dust assaulted him. "Temperatures dropped, snow's falling covering the ice..Gale force winds. You wouldn't last ten minutes."
"Well I'll take my chances," Buck snapped, eyes hot, "It's better than sittin' around this place waitin' to be picked off."
"No." Chris denied, folding his arms across his black sweater and staring Buck down.
"All right, Chris," Buck shot back, "I'm all ears. What's your brilliant idea? We got two hours until midnight to find three missing men and get the hell out of this shithole." Buck spat. "I don't hear you..." Buck zipped his coat and pulled the hood up. "If I can get to the interstate, I can flag down a car." He turned towards the foyer, only to find a hand on his shoulder.
"That's suicide." Chris turned Buck and shouted. "That coat's not lined, you got no gloves or hat. You'll freeze to death if you don't fall and break your goddamn neck first."
"I ain't askin' your permission." Buck hollered back, shoving Chris.
Both turned to spot Vin approaching, his face taut in anger. "Get yer coat off, Buck. Chris's right. It's too dangerous. I'll go. I know this area and the shortcuts."
"The hell you will." Chris turned. "You're as crazy as him." Chris moved quickly to the front door and pulled it open. A harsh wind ripped through the foyer, bringing snow and frigid temperatures with. "Well, go on Columbus, Navigate your way through that." He hollered over the wind before slamming door.
For several seconds nobody moved. Vin laid a cautious hand on Buck's downcast shoulder. "Thanks anyway, Bucklin."
Buck threw the jacket off in disgust and kicked a footstool over. "I hate this." He hissed. "I feel like a fuckin' P.O.W."
"The storm should pass during the night. We'll try and head out in the morning." Chris suggested as the ghoulish laughter echoed in the halls on the floor above.
Vin clutched both fists in frustration and ran towards the stairwell. "Shut up!" He screamed, eyeing the dark hall above. "Yer an animal, Stewart. Yer murdered yer own kin. She was only a baby...Ya had no right."
"Don't Vin." J.D. tried to pull him back, worried about the vengeful forces above. The laughter only got louder and Vin dropped to his knees, covering his ears. "Come on..." J.D. pulled him up and led him back into the parlor. "We gotta try Chris. " The youngest thought on their missing mates. "They're in this house somewhere." He released Vin who moved over and stood by the piano, away from the others.
"That room with the puzzles and stuff upstairs." Buck nodded. "That's where Nate and Ezra got lost. There's a spring or trigger we're missing. Josiah...that I can't figure. That wall was concrete."
"Where's that blueprint?" Chris's voice was quiet but decisive.
"Uh...it was in that black book. I think Josiah left it upstairs, in that nursery." J.D. recalled.
"Okay, we'll take another look. It seems to me that where Josiah disappeared is in a line with that therapy room."
The upstairs hall was eerie and quiet as the quartet moved warily towards the frigid nursery. Four hearts thumped wildly against chest walls and four sets of eyes were guarded and fearful. The nursery was like a deep freeze; frost hung on every breath as they entered. Chris spotted the book and wasted no time retrieving it. "Let's get the hell outta here." He tossed, feeling the thick scent of evil that filled the room. He retreated, making his way to the stairs. J.D was on his heels, with Buck behind. He waited until Vin caught up and proceeded down the stairs.
When he entered the parlor, Chris had the blueprint open on the piano. He was bent over it, using his good hand to trace a path from the spot where Josiah disappeared. Buck noticed the blood soaking through Chris's bandage and the flinch of pain.
"Chris, let me change that for you." He said, grabbing the blue bag and looking for more gauze bandages.
"It's fine." Chris dismissed, "Leave it." He continued to study the map. "They're definitely connected. Damn, why can't we find it?"
Vin got a prickly feeling up his spine. He was leaning in the doorway, half out of the room. He turned slowly and eased his way through the foyer towards the stairs. He saw her waiting for him and then she glided towards the bathroom door. Vin tore up the stairs.
"Hey, Vin..." J.D. spotted the movement. "Where you going? Chris..." He turned, as the other two looked up. Chris dropped the book into his black bag on the floor and took off after Buck.
"Vin...What is it?" The blond leader called, seeing the Texan turn into the hallway.
Vin turned into the hallway and slid to a halt. The darkness peeled away and the faded carpets and wallpaper were new again. Gaslights flickered in the hall, bathing it in light. He swallowed hard and realized he was no longer in the present. He heard the bloodcurdling screams and saw Angus appear in the hall, covered in blood. His eyes were glowing read and it was almost and he was headed right for the Texan. In his hand was a large knife, dripping blood.
Vin wanted to cry out a warning and choke the life out of Angus Stewart, but he was a silent witness to the murdering rampage, which had taken place already. He couldn't move or speak. His limbs were frozen in place. She came right by him and turned to flee from the madman. She ran into the therapy room.
Vin watched as she fought, the knife clattered to the ground. She clawed at his waistcoat and the watch and fob was pulled out. He was laughing ghoulishly as he wrapped the chain around her throat. The silent scream finally erupted from Vin's throat.
"Where'd he go?" Chris wheeled, staring aghast at the empty hall. "He was right there. I saw him."
J.D. moved past Chris and into the bathroom. He turned and saw Buck's mouth drop open behind Chris. "Chris..." The tall agent gasped, pulling at Chris's sleeve. Chris turned and his mouth went dry. His green eyes gazed in disbelief. The sense of order and control he prided himself on maintaining had just evaporated. His heart clenched and his stomach dropped. He had to force himself to breathe.
"What?" J.D. shrugged as he left the bathroom. "Hey, the he is." J.D. watched the same image his friends did. Vin's image was clearly displayed in the mirror, standing behind them, staring into the therapy room.
"Hey, Vin." J.D. turned around. "Bu...Buck...Where is he?" He asked, whipping his head between Vin's image in the mirror and the empty spot behind him where the tracker should be standing.
Buck wiped a hand over his eyes and down his face. His mouth opened to answer J.D. but no words came out. Like Chris, he hated the sense of helplessness that now overtook him. He spun around and waved a hand over the spot where Vin should be and felt the icy air. The scream seemed to come from deep within the house and yet it was all around them. A terrifying crash sent the glass shards from the mirror flying down the hall at them. Chris shoved J.D. hard, sending him out of harms way as the deadly shards and jagged pieces flew by, like glass missiles.
"Chris..." Buck screamed, scrambling forward to where Vin lay motionless in the hall. He dropped to the tracker's side and was relieved to find no blood. "Vin...Vin...talk to me Son. Come on, Junior, open them eyes. You're scarin' me..." His shaking hands held Vin's face and felt his throat.
"VIN!" Chris slid to a halt and dropped by the pale man's side. He knew by the frightened look on Buck's face before a word was uttered.
"He ain't breathing..." Buck cursed, laying his hand over Vin's nose and mouth. Chris nodded to Buck and the two began CPR. J.D. watched for several terrifying moments, not sure if what he was seeing was real. How could it be? Vin couldn't be dead. Where did Vin go? Buck's shaking voice drew him back.
"Thank God..." The tall agent said, dropping his head between his arm, which rested on his thighs. The shuddering gasp from the Texan had resulted in the resuming of his breathing. Buck felt like he'd aged ten years in these last terrifying moments. He rested a hand on Chris's shoulder. He'd never seen Chris so shaken. The leader's hands were trembling and he was almost as pale as Vin. "He's freezing Chris." Buck lifted one of the limp hands. "Just like he was in the kitchen earlier. Let's get him downstairs." He pulled Vin's motionless body upright, cradling the sharpshooter against his chest. "Chris, snap out of it." He barked, "J.D. get Vin's legs."
Chris didn't say a word until Vin was settled on the sofa, covered in a quilt. J.D. winced as he gripped one of Vin's hands. "Why's he so cold? He hands are like ice."
"He's in shock." Buck said. "Damn, I give a month's pay to hear Nate cussin' at him."
"He was dead..." Chris whispered from table next to Vin . He'd yet to touch the still figure. "Hell, he still don't look good." He eyed the pale face and let one shaking hand rest on Vin's shoulder. How could he explain to them? How to you put that feeling into words? That when Vin's 'lifeless' body was splayed in front of him, he nearly died himself. He'd never been shaken, not since Sarah and Adam.
"Hey, Chris." Buck called from the piano, where the blueprint was still open. "That line you followed. It goes along the wall near the fireplace up in that therapy room. Maybe the trigger isn't just a spring. Maybe it's weighted." He heard movement and saw Chris's hand brush against the top of Vin's head as he approached.
"It's worth a try..." He nodded. "J.D, you stay with Vin. Don't leave him, no matter what. You got it?"
"You hold on to this." He gave J.D. his gun. "Use it if you have to."
"Use it?" J.D.'s face puzzled. "Against who? You can't shoot a ghost."
"Against..." Chris paused. "Just keep it handy." He bent over and took one of Vin's hands. "Hang in there, Cowboy. Come on, Buck. Let's give it a try."
+ + + + + + +
Josiah woke up with such a pain in his head; he'd wondered how much booze he'd consumed at the poker game. He glanced around the stone room and frowned as the memories flew back. There were no doors. He eased himself up and waited for the room to stop spinning. He saw something in the darkened corner of the room. Retrieving his flashlight, he pulled his aching body and investigated. The crumbling steps led upwards. He flashed the light above and followed the steps.
+ + + + + + +
The jarring ringing noise caused him to sit up too fast. He grabbed for the offensive object and fumbled for a light.
"I'm sorry to bother you so late. I woke you up, didn't I?"
"That's okay, Mary." Orrin Travis sat up and turned the light on. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and squinted at the clock. "Is Billy okay?"
"He's fine. He finally went to sleep. He was so upset that Chris didn't show up. He was supposed to take Billy trick or treating. I'm worried, Orrin. Chris would never break a promise, especially to Billy. You know that." She pleaded, not masking the fright in her voice. Her hands played with the tiny gold heart suspended on a delicate chain. Chris had given it to her for her birthday. "He's almost six hours overdue."
"You know they were up in the mountains. If they forgot about the time and caught the storm warnings, it's possible they stayed."
"No... Chris wouldn't be that careless. Those mountain roads are dangerous. If they stayed, they'd be stuck up there. I'm worried and so is Rain. She hasn't heard from Nathan. You know he'd never upset her like this. Orrin, what if they had an accident and they're laying hurt in a wreck off the side of the road?"
"I appreciate your concern Mary." The ATF Division Directorate sympathized. "But what exactly would you have me do? It's still coming down pretty hard outside."
"Call in one of your chips with Del Kramer." She asked of the Air Force Colonel who was one of Orrin's best friends for over forty years. "He'd be able to get a chopper up that way."
"I'll call him." Orrin agreed, knowing Mary was right. Chris Larabee was far too cautious to allow for such a mistake. "He won't be able to send a unit out until it stops, but at least they can be on alert. I'll call you back. Try not to worry."
She hung the phone up and took a long hot bath. She closed her eyes and let the hot water penetrate her skin. Her body was so used to his touch, she could almost feel his hands on her. She missed those demanding lips, those penetrating eyes and the gifted hands. The water was chilling when she finally got out. She dried herself off and eased into one of Chris's shirts. He spent so much time at her place; he kept clothes there. She slid under the thick quilt and hugged the pillow to her chest. She inhaled deeply, cherishing his scent, which clung to the fabric. "Where are you, Chris?" She fretted, eyeing the snow falling out the window.
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