Excerpts from Psychomanteum

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Excerpt 1

The auction room was packed and Harlon’s heart sank when he read the brochure and saw that both of Patricia’s paintings had reserves that were way beyond his means. Knowing he had no chance of securing them; he glanced through what else was on offer. It had taken him over two hours to get there, and he did not fancy leaving empty-handed. Nothing piqued his interest until the last page, when his gaze fell upon lot 851, a huge ornate ebony mirror and locked box of various books and documents. The mirror was ugly, so ugly it was beautiful, and Harlon knew it would fit right in with the decor and furnishings in his apartment, so he decided to bid for it. The box of books and documents was an unknown quantity and Harlon hoped that something within would prove interesting reading. There was no key for the solid metallic box, so what was contained within it was unknown. Its previous owner, Thomas Lorne, never got around to forcing it open due to his marital difficulties, and it remained unopened in his storage unit.

There was competition for lot 851, and Harlon found himself in a bidding war with an overweight woman whose gaze gave him the creeps. Another bidder, a thin elderly man lost his nerve at four thousand eight hundred dollars, and it was not until six thousand that the creepy woman gave in and shook her head as the auctioneer fixed her with his questioning gaze. Harlon was delighted at having won, but knew there was always the possibility that he had wasted his money on a turkey. He hoped the fact that the creepy woman bid so furiously against him, meant that lot 851 was worth having. The mirror was an outstanding piece and would look fantastic in his apartment, but was it worth six thousand? He did not think so but it saved him going home empty handed. He had a romantic notion that looking into the same mirror that Patricia might have looked into might form a connection between them.

Harlon’s apartment occupied a corner position on the twelfth floor of Gainsford House, his sitting room enjoying a dual aspect that looked out over the city. The large expanse of window gave the room plenty of light and a sense of space that went beyond its physical dimensions. The space between a matching pair of eighteenth century mahogany tallboys provided the perfect position for Harlon’s new purchase, which reflected the already substantial light and lifted the slight heaviness it gave to the room. Standing over seven feet, the mirror was an imposing piece of furniture and it made Harlon a little uneasy when he caught his own reflection out of the corner of his eye. One night, three weeks after installing it, he came home late after a night out with some friends, and found the unlit sitting room looking decidedly spooky reflected in that mirror. Harlon laughed and thought it fitting that such a spooky piece should reside within this building, given the rumours.

During his research into the history of the building in which he had made his home, Harlon discovered many tales of paranormal activity, dating back to the time of the building’s construction. A stonemason had been terrified out of his wits by a ghostly apparition, and had refused to return to his job, even preferring to leave his tools behind on the site than return there to collect them. Several other workers told of seeing the spectre of a fat man lumbering along the ground floor corridor, which disappeared right through a wall. Harlon found these tales fascinating, given that he was something of a believer in ghosts, and did some more research into these tales. He found that several murders occurred during the time the Rink-Standens occupied Gainsford Hall, one of which was his own ancestor Patricia. Not long after Patricia’s murder, the killing spree stopped and there were rumours and talk of ghosts and several reports of people apparently being possessed by spirits and made to do unspeakable acts. The police at the time had not taken it at all seriously, and put the rumours down to too much hard liquor and not enough hard work. Harlon laughed as he read the reports. What ‘unspeakable acts’ might they be?

A few of the building’s current residents accepted that Gainsford House was haunted, and Harlon could not bring himself to dismiss this belief. He had experienced some weird things himself since moving in, and although he had not seen a solid manifestation of anything otherworldly, there had been moments when he would swear blind he was not alone in his home. The most frightening experience was when he was watching the television late one evening seven months after moving in. The talk show had finished when the door to the sitting room swung slowly and silently open. Harlon noticed the movement out of the corner of his eye, and his heart leapt in his breast as he watched the door open right back to the wall, where it sat for a few seconds before suddenly slamming shut with a bang that shook the pictures that hung upon the wall. The next time he met old Mrs Hanny in the corridor, he mentioned it and she told him that she had experienced something odd that same night.

Although not a religious man, Harlon decided to get the apartment blessed after that, and nothing similar had happened since. Mrs Hanny had sniffed at his decision to have a priest “with all his mutterings” visit, and declared that “there be evil around ‘ere, Mr Drake, and no amount of Latin ramblings and wafting smoke is gonna change it. Something ain’t right here, you mark my words, lad.” Harlon thought Mrs Hanny was a little too firm in her belief of all things otherworldly, and decided that she had far too strong a conviction in the existence of evil. He laughed to himself as he thought of her, muttering her prayers and wafting her hands to ‘feel the energies’ whenever the subject came up between them.

“What a kook,” he grinned as he washed the dishes after his evening meal.

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Excerpt 2

Angelo and Ray exchanged a glance. They had spent several hours interviewing many of Gainsford House’s residents, and had learned that Harlon Drake was a thoroughly nice person who always helped when he was able, had never offended anyone, was always friendly and talkative, and was the kind of person everyone would be happy to introduce to their mother.

“This doesn’t sound like the way I would describe the guy we saw earlier today,” Angelo said.

“I know. It’s like they’re talking about a different guy.”

“Well either everyone is lying, or there’s another Harlon Drake living here, or his demeanour is a recent development.”

“We know he’s the only Harlon Drake, so that’s out and I doubt the whole building would lie about him. A few maybe could be persuaded to lie, but a whole building of people? No way.”

“Then he’s changed recently.”

“And that begs the question why has he changed.”

“A black curse from hell perhaps” Angelo offered and Ray grinned.

“Shame Mrs Hanny wasn’t at home. We have to come back and interview her again. I’d be interested in what she has to say about what’s going on here.”

Angelo nodded. “Yeah. The concierge said she’ll be,” he began but shouts cut him off. Both detectives looked towards the entrance door of Gainsford House, and the busy street outside where a crowd was gathered, the screams of several women reaching their ears. As one, they rushed for the door and out into the warm evening.

The crowd parted at their yells, glad to know that a police officer would now take care of this horror. The remains lay on the sidewalk, a large pool of blood rapidly heading towards the gutter. The head had cracked like an egg. The contents spilled onto the sidewalk, a macabre version of the artworks displayed in city centres by talented artists with nothing more than chalk and imagination. As Angelo looked at it, he noticed the legs and arms lying in positions so strange that the body appeared less human and more like some kind of nightmarish creation dreamed up by a horror movie director. He was surprised at the lack of obvious gore; he would expect there to be gallons of blood and lumps of brain matter scattered for metres around, but the remains held on to their contents surprisingly well. Bystanders stood with hands over their mouths, shocked into silence and unable to tear their gaze away. A father tried to shield his young child from the sight, despite the child trying its best to get a better look. His youthful curiosity was thankfully blocking him from a lifetime of mental harm from having witnessed it. Women cried, and one still screamed as she looked fearfully at the spatters of blood that tainted her ankles, too afraid to wipe them off.

“Come on with me precious,” a female voice from Angelo’s left said. “Come with me and let’s clean you up huh?” He saw the female concierge from Gainsford House who was on the twilight shift. He nodded his thanks to her and allowed her to steer the still crying woman away.

Ray pointed up and Angelo craned his neck. “We’ll need the numbers of all apartments with windows on this side of the building. I reckon that’s two per floor. That makes forty four doors to knock.”

“I think we can safely rule out everything on the first five or six floors,” Angelo replied. “Those kind of injuries need quite a height.”

Ray nodded. “Okay, let’s see if she has any ID on her.”

The body was dressed in a floral cotton nightdress, and appeared middle aged to the detectives.

Angelo pointed to the arms. “See the elbows? They show a person’s age quicker than anything else. See these are a little wrinkled? I reckon she’s in her forties at least.”

“She’s someone’s mom.” Ray indicated a necklace around the neck, resting in the pool of blood. Angelo saw a gold heart with something engraved upon it. Ray wiped the blood away with a gloved finger. ‘I love my mom’ was emblazoned across it.

“It could mean her mom,” Angelo said suddenly.

Ray nodded and stood as the sound of sirens came to his ears. “The team has arrived. They stood, both looking towards the sound.

Twenty minutes later, the two detectives stood at the concierge’s desk, the woman having now returned to her duty after handing over care of the woman to another police officer.

Angelo smiled at the dumpy redhead with the friendly face. “Thank you. You did good.”

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Excerpt 3

Ray raced along the corridor away from Angelo and Nessy, trying to stem the rising tide of fear that grew within his breast. Mr Mitchell was some way ahead; he heard his thudding footsteps in the distance. Rounding a ninety-degree turn, he shone his flashlight ahead in time to see Mitchell disappearing into one of the apartments. In his mind, Mitchell was no longer the man from the twenty-second floor who loved to play dungeons and dragons. Within Ray’s troubled mind, he was his estranged older brother Chris, who stole the only woman he ever loved, just because he could. Ray knew he had to do this, for his own self respect. After all the years since he stood behind him on that rooftop and prepared to push him off, not once had he challenged him about stealing Christy Merle from him. He cried alone, hiding under the bed covers in the middle of the night and many times contemplated running away. Seeing Chris’s face every day was a constant reminder of the pain, of his loss, and his own inadequacy.

The day Chris left home to join the marines was the first happy day Ray experienced in the four years since the rooftop incident, and from that day onwards, he never set eyes on his brother again. His parents questioned him about his repeated refusal to attend family events when Chris was in attendance, but Ray never told anyone the real reason why he would not acknowledge his existence. Chris wrote a couple of letters asking Ray what was wrong, but they went unanswered and after half a dozen phone calls were also ignored, he gave up trying and left Ray alone with his anger and grief.

Over the years, Ray’s anger towards Chris changed and evolved. As he grew older, he realised with considerable anguish that his brother could only take Christy Merle from him if she wished to be taken away. The sudden understanding that she was complicit in the event was both painful and life changing. Women became objects to Ray. They were there only to satisfy his needs, he used them as and when he wished, after which he forgot them and moved on. He owed them no love, respect or honour, and there was no remorse as he threw them out at two in the morning in the pouring rain without so much as a cab fare home. Ray only had true compassion for women until they reached the age of sixteen, the age at which Christy Merle had allowed his brother to take her away from him.

To Ray, girl children were a different species to grown women, and the former were not related to the latter in his mind. Having no sisters with whom to have a healthy relationship, his troubled heart and angry mind survived only by dividing girls from women. He was loving and kind to girl children, as any good man should be. Once they passed sixteen though, they ceased to exist in his eyes. He loved kids, was trustworthy and honourable with them, and wanted a son of his own one day. The only problem was that Ray knew this would entail a relationship with a woman, the source of his disdain. He also knew there was no way to ensure a son would be the result of such a relationship. Ray knew that if he had a daughter, there would be problems when she reached sixteen. A child of his own, even a girl child, would be loved beyond measure. Ray was aware enough to know that if his feelings for her were to change, it would be too painful for him to bear. He thought back to the early days of his childhood love for Christy Merle as hot tears pricked at his eyes. He still loved her, but what he loved was the child Christy Merle had been, not the woman she became who betrayed him.

The front door to apartment eighty-one stood ajar and Ray approached with caution. Holding his gun with both hands, flashlight balanced along the barrel, he kicked the door open and swung the light from side to side. Seeing no one within, he entered and shut the door behind him. The layout was already familiar; every apartment in Gainsford House was laid out in exactly the same way, apart from the penthouse. The closet door to the left was closed and held no nasty surprises. He knew the door to his right led into a small bathroom, and remembered his shock at being attacked by the ninja guy on the twenty-second floor. That seemed like days ago, he thought as he approached the door and pressed his ear to the wood. For several seconds he listened but heard nothing, so yanked open the door and went in. Moments later, he shut the door behind him and approached the second door on the left, which he remembered as being a bedroom and en suite bathroom. Like the others so far, it was empty.

Only two more doors remained, and Ray approached the turn in the hallway. The one he saw in front of him led to the sitting room and kitchen beyond, whilst the one he knew lay at the end of the hall around the ninety-degree turn, was another bedroom with en suite bath. Leaping around from the safety of the turn in the hallway, Ray saw the door to the farthest bedroom standing wide open. Throwing caution to the wind, he ran up the short hallway and kicked the door so it banged against the wall within. His flashlight revealed an untidy but empty room, the bed rumpled and unmade. The en suite bath was empty but smelled strongly of the black oozing liquid that his flashlight revealed puddled in the bottom of the shower cubicle. Running back along the short hall, he glanced his flashlight back towards the front door in case anyone was waiting to catch him unawares, and stood before the door to the sitting room.

Mr Mitchell stood staring out the middle of the three large windows at the city that never sleeps. Neon signs flashed, car horns blared, and sirens wailed in the distance. Out there was normality, Ray thought, and he wished with all his heart that he could be there and leave all this crazy horror behind. He wanted to be sitting at his desk back at the precinct, laughing with Angelo. He wanted to be at the doughnut shop across the road complaining about the job, as they usually did at this early hour of the morning. Anywhere in the world would be preferable to where he was, stuck inside some hellish nightmare, separated from Angelo and trying to save the world. At the thought of Angelo, Ray’s mind snapped back into focus.

“Mr Mitchell?”

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