Excerpts from Book 3
Slam. The glass doors to Dad’s office clattered. My heart stammered. The heavy foreboding I’d felt before when I’d been near Albert seeped at me from the living room, Mom’s pristinely clean sanctuary because no one but guests were allowed inside. Albert sat stretched out on the ivory couch, one arm along the back, legs crossed, his black-suited form like ink spilled on the unadulterated fabric.
His grin sparked fear and anger inside of me. I came to a halt. Krissy stopped by my side.
“Zoe.” His creamy voice—the familial tone—always reminded me of Matthias, and was hard to hear. “Did you think I was done here?”
If I spoke to him, Krissy would think I was insane. Compelled to defend my home, my family and everything I held dear, I glared, retorts bursting like fireworks in my brain, needing my voice.
“What?” Krissy whispered. Out of my peripheral vision, she followed my gaze to the couch, which I was certain to her was empty.
Albert waited, grinning. “I liked her party girl look better,” he finally said, though his eyes never left mine. A shudder rambled along my spine.
I took a deep breath, shoved Luke’s keys at Krissy and kept Albert in my locked vision. “Take Luke’s keys and get in the car,” I said. “I’ll be right there.”
She hesitated, but took the keys, her gaze darting from me to the living room couch I was so intensely focused on. Quietly, she went out the front door, shutting it behind her.
Dad sat inside his office, on my left. I didn’t verify with a look, too afraid and wanting to keep Albert in my sights, but I wondered if he saw me staring into the living room. He’d think I was nuts.
“Get out,” I hissed.
“Zoe, that’s hardly the way to treat a guest.” Albert gestured around the room, but his steely green eyes never left mine.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t invite you.”
“Ah, yes. But I enjoyed a fruitful visit with your parents.”
“You can’t stay.” I inched closer, so my voice wouldn’t carry and rouse Dad. I glanced over my shoulder at him; he was glued to the computer, the icy blue light of the monitor reflecting on his stressed face. My mind scrambled with my options.
“What are you going to do, go get your sister every time I show up?” Albert sat forward and clasped his hands. My body started to tremble.
“If I have to.”
“You can’t wear her around your neck like a cross or a clove of garlic, Zoe.” He chuckled. “As if something so puny could actually repel me. No one—not even Abria—can protect you from me.”
His words sent fear rumbling through my soul. He was wrong, he had to be. Matthias said evil couldn’t stay in the presence of an innocent, like Abria. And I had Matthias. Where was he?
“Looking for Matthias?” he asked.
My heart thrashed inside my chest. Albert couldn’t read my thoughts, could he? “I can get rid of you myself, loser.” Anger pulsed in my blood stream.
I crossed to him, body shaking, fury rising like a tornado inside of me. I stared down at him, at the wretched noose tie. The twisted pale remnants of souls locked in a hellish prison—on display for the world to witness was utterly humiliating. But the faint screeching and howling that trickled into the air from their bondage sent me into a comfortless round of shudders. “Get out.”
Albert rose from the couch to tower over me. His angled face turned rock hard, his eyes leveled me. I shrunk. I realized my anger and frustration were products of his influence. I had to resist the overwhelming urge to leap on him and tear his head off.
I can do this, I can do this, I can do this. I closed my eyes for a second, searching for calm, remembering Matthias’ words: evil can’t have a place inside unless it’s invited. Albert may have come into the house with my parents’ argument, but I was kicking him out.
“You can’t dismiss me, you’re too weak.” Albert’s voice slithered into my head. My eyes snapped open. His face was inches from mine.
“I’m not weak.” I tried to tamp out the anger smoldering inside of me. Why was it so hard? I’d always had a short wick, and standing this close to a flame wasn’t helping.
I stepped back, hoping distance would help. I didn’t even see Albert move. With my next breath, he was chest-to-chest with me, his submerging evil so dense my knees knocked. I thought I was going to crumble to the floor and lie helpless at his feet.
“You see?” Albert whispered.
“Zoe?” Dad. I hadn’t heard the office doors open, hadn’t sensed him in the living room but here he was. His brows creased. “What’s going on?”
Albert never took his eyes off me, an eerie, stripped-naked feeling I couldn’t be rid of.
“Someone’s here.” Dad’s tone was irritated, and he tipped his head in the direction of the front door.
I glanced through the front room windows. Two headlights beamed at the house from the driveway. Luke’s car remained dark and parked at the curb. I didn’t see Krissy’s silhouette inside. Where was she? I hoped she hadn’t split.
The doorbell rang, followed by an angry pound. Albert’s grin spread wide.
Dad crossed to the front door and swung it open. Krissy’s dad filled the frame. Covering his body, a pack of wild black spirits crawled and writhed in their usual silent but frightening frenzy of malevolence.
* * *
“I’m looking for my daughter, Krissy.” He peered past Dad, saw me and his eyes slit. Six black spirits leapt from his torso to his shoulders and jumped in a horrific dance.
“I’m Joe,” Dad stuck out his hand but Krissy’s Dad ignored the gesture.
“Peter. Is she here?”
“Do you know where she is?” Dad asked me.
Krissy’s father glared past Dad, scanning the house. Dad stiffened.“If Zoe says she’s not here, she’s not.”
“We’ve looked everywhere for her,” Peter barked, spitting a black spirit out of his mouth. The creature joined the revelers on the top of his head.
“Amateurs,” Albert whispered in my ear. Goosebumps rippled my skin.
Albert nodded in the direction of the wicked spirits. He lifted his hands in the air and suddenly, the beings infesting Krissy’s dad came to a halt, their soulless eyes shifting to Albert.
What’s he going to do? I had the fleeting hope Albert would dismiss the hideous creatures, but he wasn’t Matthias. He encouraged trouble, not disseminated it.
Albert glided toward the door. Peter’s chest rose and fell beneath his shirt and long, black coat. His face pinked. As Albert drew closer, the wild spirits became crazed, their mouths opened in silent screams, their wiry shapes jumped and skittered, translucent eyes hollowing.
Albert lifted his right hand and sliced the air. The pack swirled upward in a whirling black effluence that shot out the front door and into the dark night.
A shudder raked my skin. Albert sent a dazzling grin at me over his shoulder and then slid into Peter. He stepped over the threshold, his ferocious glare locked on Dad. “I want my daughter.”
Dad stepped forward, shoulders erect. “Hold on—”
“She’s here, dammit!” Peter’s arms shot out. I gasped. He tried to grab Dad’s forearms, but Dad’s fists fastened to the man’s shirt and he shoved him against the sidelight.
My heart raced. Krissy’s dad let out a muscle-ripping growl, his eyes blackening with hate. Albert’s ghosted image lifted in and out of the enraged man, Albert himself caught up in the attack. Peter’s arms reached, flailed, but could not adhere to Dad’s flesh and bone. My hand covered my mouth, stifling a scream.
With surprising ease and total control, Dad held him against the sidelight.
Upstairs, Mom appeared, staring with wide eyes from the balcony.
“I think you should go,” Dad said between clenched teeth. He released the man and his hands slowly dropped to his sides.
Krissy’s dad panted. “If I find that your daughter has lied, you’ll both answer to me,” he boomed.
“Is that a threat?” Dad’s voice rose. His hands fisted.
I joined him, and touched his stiff arm. “Dad, he’s not worth it.” I’m talking to you, Albert. What did it matter? Albert couldn’t hear my thoughts.
“I’ve got half the Pleasant Grove police force out searching for her! You’d better not be lying to me.”
“Don’t come to my home and threaten my family,” Dad snapped, stepping closer to Krissy’s dad.
My hand tightened around his arm. “Don’t. He’s dangerous.”
“You damned well better believe I’m dangerous,” Peter seethed. “If it wasn’t for you and your partying friends, she’d be at home. Now, I’ve got social services breathing down my neck!”
“I had nothing to do with Krissy’s party,” I shouted. “I tried to talk her out of it!” What was I doing, arguing with this whack-case?
I pulled Dad’s sleeve, but he resisted. “Go. Now,” he said, reaching for the door. He started to close it, but Peter slapped a palm against the wood with a thunk.
“If you see her, you tell her to call me immediately.”
Dad slammed the door. “For a minute I thought there would be blood.”
“What in the world?” Mom’s voice was breathless coming between her fingers poised over her mouth.
“The weirdo,” I muttered, glad he and Albert were gone.
Dad dragged his fingers down his face, leaving white stripes over taut skin. “What a day.”
“Yeah.” Between the funeral, Krissy, her dad and Albert, my body and brain overflowed with stimulation. I needed sleep, and the urgency sunk into my being with the weight of lead.
Dad glanced upstairs. His tight features softened when he saw Mom. Then his green eyes met mine. “Have you seen Krissy tonight?”
I swallowed a lump, nodded.
“You must have a good reason for not mentioning that to her father.”
“Yeah. She came here upset, said she couldn’t go home. Something’s up but she won’t say what it is.”
“Where is she?” Dad glanced around.
“Not sure. She left right before her dad came.”
“Well,” Dad sighed. “At least we weren’t lying to the man then. We didn’t know where she was. If you do see or hear from her though, Zoe, tell her to call her dad. Let’s avoid any complications. That guy is dangerous.”