Wyrd House is a paranormal mystery with a bit of romance. It’s 77,000 words, one of the longest books I’ve written. Most of my novels end up high 60k or low 70k.
Magic doesn’t make life easy.
Wyrd House is a haven for anyone with magical gifts living in a mundane world and Myra fits right in. All she needs now is a job. A man offers her a dream position, but she is wary. Myra senses Carter’s dark magic and sees its effect on his weak and ailing employees. Investigating further in an effort to aid them, she draws Carter’s attention, and then his retaliation. With the help of the handsome man next door, she will persevere. If Carter wants a fight, he’s chosen the wrong witch.
Three chapter excerpt:
As Myra walked down the sidewalk, she was jolted out of her reverie by a gigantic dog bounding up to the nearby fence. A sudden giggle slipped from her lips. Myra’s foul mood was abruptly ended by two hundred pounds of wiggling body and licking tongue. It’s impossible to be depressed when a gigantic dog is doing its best to lick your entire face.
“Hi, Tadashi,” she managed between licks. “Yes, hi, hi, hi! You’re right. It’s all very exciting.”
Laughing again, Myra reached over the sturdy picket fence to pet the grinning dog and scratch his ears. Tadashi stopped his frantic licking to enjoy the caress. With his giant paws on the top of the fence, the short-haired, russet dog stood taller than Myra’s five foot eight inches. If Myra wasn’t who she was, Tadashi might have frightened her with his giant head and powerful jaws. Tadashi was a Japanese mastiff whose owner had acquired him both for a companion and as a guard dog. Towards strangers, Tadashi was normally aggressive and protective of his yard. Myra, however, was a stranger to no animal.
“Did hims have a good day? Yes, is hims a good boy?” Myra asked, in the sing-song tone known by mothers and puppy owners everywhere.
Behind Tadashi, the front door of the two-story, Victorian house opened as the dog’s owner appeared. The man was tall. Myra thought he was over six feet, though she’d never been close enough to him to be certain. He was black-haired and fit, which Myra might have found attractive. That is, if he wasn’t such an ass.
“Uh oh,” Myra whispered to the dog. “Cheese it, Dashi. It’s the cops.”
“Braf,” Dashi replied. Looking over his shoulder, the dog wagged his whole lower body as he caught sight of his owner. “Braf,” Dashi said again, and then returned to trying to lick Myra’s face.
“Miss,” Dashi’s owner said, his tone of voice already sounding curt and annoyed, “as I have told you repeatedly, my dog is a guard dog and it just isn’t safe to treat him as you do. I put those signs up for a reason.”
Rolling her eyes at the nearest “Beware of Dog” sign, Myra returned her attention to Dashi. “Yes, hims is just the fiercest beastie. Yes, hims is. Is the bad old doggie gonna eat me up?”
“Miss,” the man continued, sounding even more irritated, “I’m very serious about this. Tadashi has been a one-person dog since I bought him. He barely tolerated my ex-girlfriend. I don’t know why he acts like this with you, and for all I know, he could stop being friendly at any moment. So, I’ll have to ask you again to stop molesting my dog.”
“Oh! Did you hear him, Dashi? Now I’m a dog molester. Nice daddy you got there.”
“Tadashi, inside,” the man ordered, his words coming out hard and clipped.
Myra got in one last pat before Tadashi looked at her almost apologetically and dashed to where his owner held the front door open.
“You’re being ridiculous,” she shouted to the man’s back as he went inside with Tadashi. “I hope you realize that.”
Her miserable mood was entrenched again; all joy of the dog ruined by the rudeness and idiocy of his owner. Turning back to the sidewalk, Myra plodded to the house next door.
The “Pink Palace” is a large, three-story, Victorian house at one end of St. James Court in a neighborhood called Old Louisville. Built in 1891, the house has a steep roof with many gables and a turret on one side. Even in the fading sunlight, Myra could see the pink gleam of its walls and the sparkle of the sunset on its many windows. She loved this house. It was as beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside, with parquet floors, original woodwork, and old fashioned charm. Never in her life had she thought she would live in a house with a grand staircase made of elegantly carved wood, but live in it she did.
The Palace was owned by her landlady, Erin Jones. Erin lived in the house as well and had the master bedroom on the main floor. A seventy-two-year-old widow, she was an animated and engaging woman, often mistaken for being at least a decade younger than she was. A mid-level psychic, Erin rented the other four bedrooms in the large house to a variety of people who had special gifts themselves. The city of Louisville might call the place Myra lived in “The Pink Palace,” but to the odd group of people in residence it was affectionately named “Wyrd House.”
Unlocking the front door, Myra walked into her home of the last three months and felt her spirits lift as soon as she stepped through the doorway. Wyrd House was a peaceful place, not only because of the people who lived there, but because the house itself seemed infused with an atmosphere of content. Myra was sensitive to places, and she had never before lived anywhere with such a calm and happy aura. She assumed it was because of Erin’s long residence. Erin was the calmest and most cheerful person of Myra’s acquaintance. Setting her things in the hall closet, she followed her nose into the kitchen, where the other denizens of Wyrd House were just sitting down to dinner.
“Something smells delicious,” Myra said in lieu of a greeting.
“Myra! We thought you were going to miss dinner, you’re so late,” Nancy said.
Nancy was the youngest resident of Wyrd House by far. At nineteen, she was a gentle young woman who was content to remain in the house. A high-level empath, Nancy was unable to turn off or ignore the ability which caused her to experience the emotions of others. She found it difficult to be around too many people. Having visited Erin as often as possible since she was sixteen, Nancy waited only until she was legally able to leave her alcoholic parents before moving into Wyrd House. Inside the pink walls of the Palace, amongst a handful of people she knew and trusted, she was flourishing for the first time in her life.
“The interview took longer than I thought,” Myra said, sitting down at a table laden with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans. As she filled her plate, she continued, “Then the ignoramus next door ruined my Tadashi time.”
“You had better stop calling him names, young lady, seeing how you’re going to marry him,” Erin chimed in, grinning.
“Stop it.” Myra blurted around a mouth full of chicken. “There is nothing that could possibly convince me to marry such an insufferable grump.”
“I see what I see,” Erin said, eyes twinkling with mirth, as her roommates laughed.
“You always tell me the future isn’t set in stone.”
“True. And you could decide to jilt him at the altar just to spite me.”
“Don’t worry, darling,” Dean chimed in. “If you can’t get Tadashi’s daddy shaped up by the time you’re forty, you can marry me.”
“Somehow,” Myra said, “I don’t think your boyfriend would approve.”
The group laughed again as Myra grinned at her best friend at the house, Dean Teeter. Dean was in his early forties, tall, skinny, and always dressed with style. Though meals at Wyrd House were casual, he was wearing vintage slacks from the 1950’s and a short-sleeved, Hugo Boss dress shirt.
“Speaking of your boyfriend,” Myra said, “Where is Chris?”
“Winging his way to Vancouver. He said he would bring you some more maple syrup, Erin.”
“Bless his heart. That boy is such a dear.” Erin said with obvious affection.
Chris was a flight attendant in his mid-thirties and dedicated to Dean. When their dating had become serious, Chris had asked Dean to move in with him. Dean had been torn. Having lived at Wyrd House for over a decade, he adored Erin, and did most of the manual labor involved with keeping up such a large home. Though he loved Chris, he couldn’t imagine leaving Erin to fend for herself. When Dean had mentioned his worries to the two people he loved the most, Erin had offered a simple solution by inviting Chris to move into the Palace. Chris had readily accepted. Due to his flight schedule, Chris was only in residence a couple of nights a week. Erin would accept no rent from him, so Chris helped the household by bringing in food and treats from his many trips.
“He has a flight to Portland next week,” Dean said. “He’s already talking to a fish house about packing some lobsters on dry ice for us.”
“Oh, I love lobster.” Paige chimed in. The bubbly, red-haired young woman was twenty-eight years old and had lived with Erin for the past five years. “If you marry Myra,” Paige said to Dean, “then can I marry Chris?”
“He’d never have you,” Dean said drolly. “He knows you only want him for his seafood procuring abilities.”
As the table dissolved into laughter again, Myra realized she could feel the remnants of her foul mood fading away. After the disaster in Indianapolis forced her to move to Louisville, these kind people were exactly what she needed. Now, if she could just find a job.
As if reading her mind, Paige brought up the very subject Myra most wanted to avoid.
“So, Myra. How did the job interview go? Did you get it?”
“Well,” Myra said, embarrassed. “I guess maybe it wasn’t the right job for me.”
“Not right?” Dean asked, the tone of his voice raised an octave in surprise. “You said taking pictures for the Preservation Society and cataloging them online was your dream job. You said it beat the pants off of dealing with whiny kids for J. C. Penny.”
“Maybe we’re just hearing a little sour grapes here,” Paige added. “Maybe the interview went terribly.”
“Maybe she got nervous and spilled coffee on his lap or something,” Nancy chimed in.
“No, Nancy, I did not spill coffee in his lap.” This was it. Myra dreaded the confession she was about to make, but she couldn’t lie to the new family she had found when she most needed it. “Actually, the interview went very well. Max Carter was very impressed with my portfolio and offered me the job. I told him I’d think about it, but I plan to turn it down.”
Her comment caused a quite a ruckus, and Myra waited for it to fade before she continued. While her housemates asked an array of questions, Erin regarded her, her face passive, and seemed unsurprised by her news.
“I’m so sorry, Erin. I know I owe you for the rent and I shouldn’t be turning anything down, but—“
“Never you mind about the rent, sweetheart. I told you when you moved in not to worry about it until you were on your feet. Besides, I had three long shots come in at the track today. Believe you me, we are not hurting for money.”
While Erin’s gift did her no good when it came to the lottery, she did quite well at the horse track, not to mention the poker rooms in the area. A wise person did not play cards with Erin.
“I’m far more interested in why you turned it down,” Erin continued. “It did seem like it was just what you were looking for.”
“I don’t know,” Myra said. “To start with, the office is in what used to be an old church. There’s something wrong with it. The building is very angry. I felt it as soon as I walked into the yard. I don’t have your talents, Paige, but I think it’s haunted.”
“What did you feel?” Paige, the resident clairvoyant, said.
“Watched. Constantly watched. And there were odd places where it was colder than it should be. I felt an all-encompassing anger which seemed to seep from the very walls. I don’t know what happened there, but the church is seriously pissed off.”
“Maybe we could take a walk by there tomorrow,” Paige offered. “I could look around and see if I see anything.”
“I was hoping you would,” Myra said with relief. “I can tell if a place is positive or negative, but I can’t always tell why.”
“Leave it to me,” Paige said. “If the problem is ghosts, I’ll get to the bottom of it.”
“That’s all well and good, darling,” Dean drawled, “but it doesn’t explain why you turned down the gig. You’re a photographer. You wouldn’t even be working in the building.”
“The one thing creepier than the building was Max Carter himself. I can’t put my finger on it. He was well spoken and had impeccable manners, but I felt like he was sucking the life out of me. Literally. I yawned three times during the interview. When I left, all I wanted to do was lie down and take a nap. I walked home instead of taking the bus, and it seemed to help.”
Nancy had perked up during this description. She sat on the edge of her seat and her eyes were wide with shock. Small and fragile, Nancy was a cheerful young woman who always had a tentative smile on her face. To see her so affected was unusual.
“Myra,” Nancy said softly, “how did the other people in the office seem to you?”
“Fine. Friendly. Tired, really. I assumed they were busting their butts to get something done, but now you mention it, they didn’t look like they were especially busy.”
“You said the man made you feel tired, like he was sucking the life out of you?” Nancy asked.
“Maybe he was. I’ve met a couple of people in my life who fed on the life force of others. I call them psychic vampires. They draw energy from those around them, making them tired and sick. If you spend too much time with one, they can drain the life from you all together.”
“Hold on a minute,” Dean interjected. “Are you saying these psychic vampires can kill people?”
“Yes,” Nancy said. “People get sicker and sicker, the doctors can’t quite figure out what is wrong with them and blame it on some unknown virus, and then they die.”
“If this man is one of Nancy’s psychic vampires, then we should do something to stop him. Someone like Carter shouldn’t be allowed to run rampant,” Erin said.
“Agreed,” Dean said. “We need to find out if he is indeed dangerous, or if he’s only a run of the mill creep. How do we do it?”
“Well, there’s someone’s opinion I would like to get right now,” Myra said. “Max Carter gave me one of his business cards when I told him I’d have to think about the job.”
Taking the card from the pocket of the stylish black slacks she had worn to her interview, Myra stood up and stomped three times on the floor. After a moment, she repeated the three stomps. Soon, there was a skittering of claws on hardwood as a low, pale form came bounding out of the hallway and into the kitchen. Running up to the table, the animal stopped at Myra’s chair and stood on its hind legs, politely waiting to be picked up.
Scooping the ferret up, Myra turned him on his back in her arms and lowered her mouth to his stomach to “talk” to him.
“Is Xander the cutest boy?” she murmured into the warm fur of his tummy. “Yes, he is! Xander is the cutest boy.”
For his part, Xander nuzzled at Myra’s face and licked her eyelids with his tiny, sandpaper tongue. Xander loved when Myra “talked” to him. A large, male ferret, Xander was white with gray tips on most of his fur. His head was white, and the gene which caused the coloring was the same one that had left him completely deaf. Xander didn’t seem to miss his hearing. He was a happy little fellow with a fat tummy and a penchant for stealing socks. He was also an excellent judge of character and had been Myra’s first clue something had been very wrong when she lived in Indianapolis.
Placing the affectionate ferret back on the kitchen floor, Myra presented him with the business card Max Carter had given her. After the briefest of sniffs, Xander snatched the card from her fingers and then shook his head, as if he was trying to break a small rodent’s neck. As the people at the table watched, Xander carried the card in his mouth over to a corner of the kitchen. Placing the card on the floor, the normally fastidious ferret turned around and urinated on it.
“Xander!” Myra yelped. She hurried to the cabinet under the kitchen sink to grab paper towels and cleaner to clean up the mess. “I’m so sorry, you guys. He never has accidents.”
Her friends laughed at her, and Xander weasel-danced around her feet as she cleaned the corner of the kitchen. Back at her seat at the table with Xander curled up on her lap, Myra regarded her friends with a serious expression on her face.
“Xander is the best judge of character I know,” she said. “He didn’t react so strongly to my ex-fiancé up in Indy. I think Max Carter is going to be a problem.”
“I agree,” Erin said. “The real question is, what are we going to do about it?”
“I don’t know,” Myra said.
“Well, my dear, you’re the witch. Why don’t you take a day or two to think about it?”
Still tired from the draining effect of being in a room with Max Carter, Myra went to bed early. As Xander’s short legs made the trip up the stairs difficult, she had taken to carrying him up to her third-floor bedroom every night, and back down to the main floor every morning. She was lucky her housemates all enjoyed Xander’s antics. Ferrets are sociable creatures, and if Xander had to stay in her bedroom all of the time, he would be very unhappy. So the chubby ferret had a bed and several small litter boxes in secluded nooks on the main floor and spent his days where he would find the most company.
Her pet also had made a new friend at the house. Nancy’s cat, Mystra, was as shy as Nancy was when it came to people. When it came to ferrets, however, the cat was like a different creature. Xander and Mystra had become fast friends and spent their days playing chase and hide and seek together. It cheered Myra to see the two furry friends playing together. Back in Indianapolis, she had a second ferret, Faith, who was Xander’s best buddy. Faith had gotten adrenal disease, a condition common in ferrets born in the large ferret mill which bred most of the North American pets. Faith had died during the surgery to remove one of her adrenal glands, and Xander had been grieving ever since. Having a new animal friend to play with had helped cheer the sad little guy. While Myra intended to get Xander another ferret friend, she did not feel she could manage it until she had a new job to supplement her dwindling savings account.
As Myra made the journey up the two flights of stairs to get to her bedroom, she realized how tired she was. If this was the effect of spending less than an hour in Carter’s company, then Erin was right. Something would have to be done to keep the man from harming others. She considered this as she climbed the stairs with Xander riding over her shoulder, bobbing his head to look at everything they passed.
By the time they reached the bedroom, Myra had decided some sort of protection spell was the answer she was looking for, but she was too tired to consider the matter further. After undressing and getting into bed, it was moments after her head hit the pillow Myra fell into a dreamless, exhausted sleep.
The next morning dawned bright and beautiful. Looking out of her bedroom window, Myra enjoyed the glory of a spring day in Old Louisville. May was a pretty time in the city. Everywhere one looked, there were daffodils and forsythia in bloom. The ornamental pear trees with which Louisville had lined the city streets were also in bloom, making each street bordered in blossoms. Petals fell to the ground in drifts like snow on the dingy gray pavement. Though Indianapolis was beautiful, the grace of this southern city perched on the riverfront was like a balm to Myra’s soul. After the sorrow she had found in Indy, this place and the people she had found here reminded Myra there was still joy in the world.
Taking out her expensive and massive digital camera, she took a few moments to choose the settings she needed, opened the window to the warm air of early May, and took some shots of the local architecture. Old Louisville was originally a suburb of the city and named The Southern Extension. It had once housed some of the wealthiest residents of the city. It is the largest preservation district in the country and has the highest concentration of homes with stained glass windows as well. The homes themselves were cut up into apartments, though a few of the giants continue to be single family houses. Unlike similar homes on nearby Third Street, these homes are residential and have not become fancy office spaces. For a photographer like Myra, living in this neighborhood was like a dream come true. She had once gotten a picture book of Indiana nature published. Myra was certain she could do the same with a book of historic Louisville architecture.
Pictures taken before she was even dressed, she then went into the attached bathroom to shower and prepare for the day. The vibration of the water on the metal, claw-foot tub woke Xander, and the cheerful ferret danced around her feet as she got dressed. After a brief tug-of-war battle over her socks, she finished dressing and carried Xander downstairs in search of breakfast. Her meal consisted of toast and tea, while her ferret shared high-priced kibble with his cat friend.
While she had plans with Paige to take a look at the old church which now housed several offices, including Max Carter’s, she knew it would be early afternoon before Paige woke up. Paige made her living writing ghost stories for an online publication and stayed up late writing most nights. A night owl by nature as well as habit, Paige had found the perfect job for herself. In fact, the only resident of Wyrd House who worked outside the home at the moment was Dean’s flight attendant boyfriend, Chris. Nancy, a reclusive young woman who loved to read, edited books for a small literary firm. Dean had no obvious paranormal gifts, but had a knack for seeing patterns which translated well into stock market investments. Even in the current unstable market, Dean was doing quite well. Erin herself came from family money, which she supplemented with her gambling, more because she enjoyed the game than because she needed the money. Perhaps Myra should take the plunge and work on selling her photographs herself rather than looking for a more traditional job. Until now, she had been to drawn to the stability of a regular paycheck and the limited benefits most employment offered these days. If her housemates could manage without that sort of crutch, perhaps she could as well.
A good start would be to compile enough photographs of the architecture in Old Louisville to send a proposal to the literary agent who handled her last photobook. With that thought in mind and breakfast finished, she went back upstairs to fetch her camera and Xander’s leash. Her ferret loved going outside to play in the grass, but the leash was imperative. Domestic ferrets are comical and charming, but they are not often bright enough to find their way home if they become lost, nor are they able to take care of themselves outside. A lost ferret wanders until it is found, or dies from starvation and exposure. Taking no such chances with her furry friend, Myra snapped the harness firmly in place before taking Xander outside.
With a ferret in her arms and a camera hung over one shoulder, Myra headed into the sunshine. The disappointment of the day before was quashed by the excitement of a new project. A polite bark from the yard next door demanded a short delay in her plans. Despite the fact Tadashi could swallow Xander in one bite without chewing, the giant dog and the diminutive ferret were best buddies. Myra held Xander up on her chest so the friends could greet each other with a flurry of sniffing. Giving Tadashi a quick pet, she left the fence before the dog’s ridiculous owner could appear to chastise her.
St. James Court is a divided drive with a well-manicured lawn between the two streets. There are majestic old trees and a large fountain on the lawn as well. The court includes working, old-fashioned gas lights on a timer so they come on only at night. Myra found the idea of having timed gaslights as ridiculous as Tadashi’s grumpy owner was, but there is no arguing the street is charming, no matter how well-planned that charm is.
Walking to a section of the central lawn which had a good view of the houses around her, Myra set Xander on the grass to play. With the end of his leash clipped to her belt buckle, she could take pictures without worrying about him getting too far away. Enchanted with the fancy pink house she lived in, she took several shots of it first. A passing cloud put half of the house in shadow, which made it look both stately and mysterious at the same time. After she took several pictures of the entire house, Myra used the considerable zoom on her camera to take some detail shots of the architecture. The third story turret room with its tall, pointed roof, a blooming branch of a sugar magnolia hanging over a stained glass window, and the reflection of the blue sky amidst the purple and yellow gingerbread around an upstairs window were all images she captured in her camera.
When she had taken all the pictures of her home she wanted, Myra turned her camera on the other houses, and then on the strip of green park itself. Xander enjoyed when she laid down on the ground to get a close up of a gigantic daffodil bloom with no background but the sky above. Climbing up on her, the ferret danced on her chest for a moment, and then licked under her chin with his rough tongue.
“Xander, stop. That tickles.” Myra said, and then laughed.
The ferret declined to comment and continued his assault on her chin.
Standing, Myra gathered up Xander and took him over to the large fountain. The curious ferret seemed to enjoy watching the splashing water, which gave her a chance to take more pictures. She took several pictures of the fountain with a large, light-colored brick house in the background. It was odd. Most of the Victorian houses she had seen in her life had been made of wood, but there were few wooden houses on St. James. The homes were built with the style and grace of the Victorian era, but were almost all made of brick and stone. Wondering why this was the case, Myra was interrupted by the growling of her stomach. When she looked at her watch, she was shocked to see she had been taking pictures for more than three hours.
Returning to the house, she unclipped Xander’s harness and the ferret ran off to find Mystra. Perhaps he wanted to tell his cat friend of his recent adventures, Myra mused. After she grabbed a sandwich for lunch, she collected her portfolio and laptop and went to the dining room. The enormous room held a long table where over twenty people could sit down to a meal together. The residents of Wyrd House rarely used it, preferring to eat at the more normal sized table in the eat-in kitchen. Erin had offered the dining room with its gigantic table as a workspace for Myra to work on her portfolio. Even now, it held her large, photo quality printer and an array of photographs which she had arranged in neat rows in order to choose the prints she would take to her interview with the Preservation Society. Hooking the laptop up to the printer, she sorted through the shots from her morning in the court, cropped them, and printed a few of the most promising.
It astonished her how many people in this modern age still preferred a traditional portfolio. She had sold digital photos to magazines and such, but the jobs she interviewed for locally still preferred hard copy prints to her website or digital portfolio. While many individuals were welcoming a less paper-dependent world with open arms, corporations were slow to change and non-profit organizations seemed the slowest of all.
By the time she had her new photos in order, Paige was awake and ready for their adventure. The old church which housed the preservation society offices was just over a mile away, and the young women took advantage of the warm spring day to walk to their destination. Myra brought her camera along, and the women paused often so she could take a picture. While they walked, they chatted about the beautiful day, Louisville, and Myra’s plan for a book of photographs of Louisville’s architecture.
“It’s a good idea,” Paige said. “It wouldn’t just appeal to the locals, but it would be great for the crowds who come to town for the Kentucky Derby. Not to mention the St. James Art Fair. More people come to town for the fair than the Derby itself.”
“Really? I’ve heard you and the others talking about the art fair, but by the way you spoke about it, I assumed it was kind of awful.”
“It’s annoying is what it is. This whole neighborhood is shut down for an entire weekend. The roads are blocked off, what seems like a thousand booths and food stands appear overnight, and so many people flock to it you can’t walk down the street without fighting your way through the crowds.”
“It sounds popular.”
“It is,” Paige agreed. “They get artists, crafters, and photographers from all over the country to come in with their work. But it’s hard for the residents of Old Louisville. There’s no parking for miles around due to the crowds, so if you leave during the day, you can’t get back home.”
“How do all of you stand it?”
“Well, Erin and Dean almost always go away for the weekend and avoid it all together. Nancy and I hole up in the house for the weekend. I venture out into the crowds and buy us tons of carnival food, and we watch movies and pig out all weekend.”
“That sounds kind of fun,” Myra admitted.
“You are welcome to join us, but it might not be too late for you to try to get a booth. It’s hard for locals to get in, but if you did, you could make a mint off of the tourists.”
“Why is it hard for locals to get in?”
“It’s a juried show, and they pride themselves on being international. So they only allow so many locals, no matter how talented the locals are. I think they take it way too far. We have some very good artists in Louisville. Last year, I saw this one booth where an old lady had pillows for sale. Pillows she had hand painted with giant Technicolor flamingos. Most god-awful things you ever saw. But she was up from Florida, so she got in.”
“Were they truly awful?” Myra asked, laughing. “Or did you just not care for them?”
“They really were. I was standing in line to get funnel cakes. I watched the woman’s booth for twenty minutes. No one even paused to look at those hideous pillows; they just rolled their eyes and kept walking.”
“It sounds like I wouldn’t have much chance getting in then, if they’d rather have horrible artists from elsewhere in the country than talented people here at home.”
“Nonsense,” Paige said. “Your work is good. Sure, you might not get in, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Nearing the old church that had been converted into office spaces a year ago, the women paused their chat to observe it. While Paige looked it over, Myra took the time to take some pictures of it. It was a handsome building made of gray stone and wooden shingles. There was a castle-like quality to the roof of the building, and large, ornate stained glass windows. The heavy, wood double doors leading to what had once been the entrance to the sanctuary were painted a deep red, and ivy crept up the stone to one side. It was an easy structure to take pictures of, and Myra took many as she waited for Paige to examine the place.
“Yeah,” Paige said and then sighed. “We got trouble.”
“Ghost?” Myra asked.
“Oh, yeah. Looks like an old priest. He’s wearing vestments anyway. He’s standing on the roof, leaning over the little stone wall looking thing, and shaking his fist at us… and he looks like he’s shouting. That is one angry priest.”
“What’s he saying?”
“How should I know?” Paige asked. “I see them, I don’t hear them.”
“Sorry, I forgot.”
Paige was clairvoyant, which meant she could see ghosts and spirits. She was not, however, clairaudient, and could not hear them at all.
“Maybe he’s angry his church isn’t a church anymore?” Myra suggested.
“I doubt it,” Paige said. “A church getting decommissioned is not particularly rare these days. A priest comes and deconsecrates the land and church, and then it’s just another building. It shouldn’t upset anyone if it’s done correctly.”
“Then maybe it wasn’t done correctly. If this Max Carter guy is one of those psychic vampires Nancy was talking about, maybe the church never got cleansed. Maybe he’s feeding off of it somehow.”
“Now that would piss off a dead priest,” Paige agreed.
“How do we find out if a church got deconsecrated?”
“I’m sure the church keeps records. Nancy and I can look into it.”
“Damn,” Myra said, almost interrupting Paige.
“What is it?” Paige asked.
“The man coming out of the side door…it’s Carter. He must have seen me out here taking pictures.”
“Damn,” Paige echoed. “Well, it’s too late to sneak off, he’s seen us. Just act like nothing’s wrong. We don’t want to tip him off we are on to him.”
As Max Carter approached the women, Myra swung her camera over her shoulder and plastered a fake smile on her face. She could feel the energy being sucked out of the day as the short, blond man approached. Knowing she had to play it coolly, Myra wanted nothing more at that moment than to turn and run away from the grinning man approaching her.
“Hello, Myra.” Max Carter greeted her with warmth, walking up and shaking her right hand in both of his. “I wasn’t expecting to see you so soon.”
“Hello, Mr. Carter,” Myra said, as she tried in vain to shake off the sudden chill his seemingly warm greeting evoked. “This is my friend, Paige.”
Myra paused as they exchanged polite greetings. Paige did her best, but Myra saw her friend found the man as distasteful as she did.
“So, have you decided about coming to work with me?” Carter asked. “I am very impressed with your work, Myra. Say the word, and you can start on Monday.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Carter–”
“Please, call me Max.” The statement was accompanied by a warm smile which sent a chill down Myra’s spine, and she fought the urge to yawn.
“Well, Max,” she continued, “I’m afraid I won’t be able to join your team at this time. I’ve sent a proposal for a new book to my agent, and she wants it as soon as I can get it together. I’ve put my job search on hold for the moment.”
Myra didn’t bat an eye as she lied to the man who sent a chill through her very soul. She did think her agent would be interested in the book, but it wasn’t a done deal yet, and there was no need to rush the project. As an excuse, it was rather flimsy at best. In a normal situation, Myra would not even explain why she was turning down a job but tell the employer she was declining while expressing gratitude for the offer. This was no ordinary situation. The guy was a creep, and Myra wanted to give him a rational explanation so he wouldn’t think twice about her declining the job. If he wasn’t suspicious of her, then she would have the time to think about how to keep him from hurting the people around him.
“Well, it’s a shame, Myra,” Carter said, his smile morphing from friendly to predatory. “If you change your mind, all you have to do is give me a call.”
Max Carter took his leave and then walked back to the side door of the old church. As he turned to give the young women a wave, Myra rushed to snap his picture, then covered it by taking more pictures of the beautiful church.
“Well, I can tell you what the old priest is mad about,” Paige said, her voice soft.
“Let me take a guess. Max Carter.”
“Got it in one. When Carter came into sight, the priest was more than angry, he looked furious. He looked like he was shouting, and he was waving his arms and literally jumping up and down.”
“I don’t know if he is one of Nancy’s psychic vampires or not, but the man is dangerous.”
“I think Nancy is right,” Paige said. “I wasn’t with him more than a minute before I had to fight the urge to yawn. And now, all I want is to go home and take a nap. And I haven’t even been up very long.”
“I can’t imagine what it would be like working in an office every day with him.”
“Why would they stay? I couldn’t stand working there more than a day.”
“His employees don’t know what we know, and they wouldn’t believe us if we told them. Can you imagine what they would say if we told them their boss was a psychic vampire?” Myra asked. “We’d be lucky if they didn’t get us an appointment at a nice psych ward.”
“I still don’t understand why they stay. Even if they don’t know their boss is a spook, they have to realize the place makes them feel like crap.”
“He’s probably fed them some story to explain it. When I was interviewing yesterday, I thought I was having an allergy attack at first. Then I realized something metaphysical was going on.”
“Good point. For all we know, he could be telling them there’s mold in the walls and he’s working on getting it fixed.”
“In the meantime, jobs are hard to come by right now. Believe me, I know. If I had a job, and the office had a problem of some sort that the boss said he was getting fixed, I’d try to stick it out.”
“And I bet Carter is generous with sick days while he pretends to work on the problem,” Paige speculated.
“If we stop Carter from doing whatever it is he’s doing, are those people going to lose their jobs?” Myra asked, worried.
“I doubt it,” Paige replied. “The Preservation Society is a pretty big deal in Louisville. If something happens to Carter, I’m sure someone else will be hired to take his place.”
“Good. Those people are suffering enough.”
As the women turned their steps towards home, they discussed what they should do next.
“The priest upsets me,” Paige admitted. “He dedicated his life to serving others…he’s passed on…he should be at peace. He shouldn’t be ranting on the roof of his church because of one sick bastard.”
“Well, Nancy is researching Carter today on the computer. Why don’t you do some research on the church and see if you can confirm whether or not it was deconsecrated.”
“Sounds like a plan. What will you do?”
“Hit the books. See if I can find a reference for this psychic vampire thing and see if I can develop a spell to negate what he’s doing.”
When they reached the sidewalk in front of Wyrd House, a voice from the neighboring yard made the women pause.
“Miss. Could I talk to you for a minute?”
“Damn,” Myra muttered under her breath. “What does he want now?”
“Didn’t you hear Erin?” Paige asked, and then continued in a soft, sing-song voice. “He wants to marry you. He wants to kiss you. He thinks you’re gorgeous.”
“Paige, stop it.” Myra hissed. “He might hear you.”
“Good. Then you two might stop dancing around each other and start making with the smoochies.”
“Great plan, except I can’t stand the man.”
“Miss?” Myra’s next-door neighbor called again.
“Have fun,” Paige said, her voice annoyingly cheerful as she started up the front walkway of the pink house.
“No, don’t leave.” Myra hissed. “Traitor,” she muttered under her breath as she turned towards where Tadashi and his owner were waiting by the fence in their front yard.
“What can I do for you, Mr.—”
“Andrews, Jeff Andrews,” the tall man said. Myra couldn’t help but notice she was right. The dark haired man was far taller than her ex-fiancé, at least six foot two. Her photographer’s eye also noted the blue of his eyes was an exact match of the sunny sky above her. Chastising herself for finding the boorish man attractive, Myra mentally shook herself and resolved to stick to the problem at hand.
“I’m Myra Erickson. What can I do for you, Mr. Andrews?”
At this point, Tadashi decided he’d had enough of being ignored. Putting his giant paws on the top of the fence, the dog gave a soft bark and then grinned at Myra. Unable to ignore her furry friend, Myra stepped up to the fence to scratch Dashi behind the ears.
“Look, Ms. Erickson,” Andrews said with a sigh, “This is what I need to talk to you about. I know you like my dog, but Tadashi is a guard dog. He’s a Japanese mastiff, a breed purposely bred to be territorial. I can see he likes you, but it doesn’t mean you are safe to approach his yard all of the time and it doesn’t mean you can trust him with that pet rat of yours.”
“Rat!” Myra exclaimed, her voice getting louder with anger. “Xander is not a rat, you idiot. He’s a ferret.”
“What’s the difference?” Andrews replied, sounding more and more exasperated. “A rodent is a rodent.”
“Xander is not a rodent, Mister Andrews,” Myra said, making the word sound more like an insult than a title. “Xander is from the same group of animals as badgers and wolverines, not hamsters and rats.”
“What’s the difference where my dog is concerned? He looks like a big rat and Dashi kills rats. He could eat your pet in one bite.”
“The difference is Xander is a carnivore and smells like a carnivore, not like a prey animal. Ferrets are hunters, Mister Andrews, and they smell like it. Wild ferrets in America eat rabbits and rats. Mongooses in India kill and eat cobras. There is nothing at all mouse-like about Xander, which Dashi is smart enough to know, even if his ignorant owner is not.”
By the time Myra had finished her speech, she realized while she was not quite shouting, she had raised her voice in her frustration. When Jeff Andrews replied, he was almost shouting as well.
“Now you listen to me, you stupid girl,” Andrews growled. “Dashi is my companion, and I love him, but I am well aware of the idiosyncrasies of the breed. He is territorial and protective of me, and his home. All it takes is one accidental bite, and the city could take him away from me and have him put down. It’s why the yard is posted, and why there’s a big fence. And that’s why I only let Tadashi interact with people I know and trust, so if there is an accident, I have some reason to believe those people won’t call the cops on him and get him put down.”
“Dashi is my friend,” Myra growled back. “I would never do such a thing.”
“How the hell can I know you wouldn’t?” Andrews shouted. “You won’t even listen to me when I ask you not to bring your ferret-rat-thing up to the fence.”
“He’s not a rat!” Myra shouted back.
“This conversation is over.” Calling to Tadashi, Andrews stomped towards his front door. “Keep your rat away from my dog.”
“He’s not a rat,” Myra shouted again.
By the time Myra entered the front door of Wyrd House, she was muttering to herself and stomping as well.
“I can’t believe a man can look so nice and be such an ass,” she grumbled.
Her stomping drew the attention of a small furry form, and Xander scampered into the hallway to greet her. Picking her pet up, she held him on his back so she could put her face against his soft belly to “talk” to her deaf friend.
“Xander is not a rat,” she murmured. “Xander is a good boy. Yes, hims is. Xander is the best boy.”
Her stomping had drawn more of the house’s residents. Nancy and Paige came into the hall, expressions of concern on their faces.
“What happened?” Paige asked. “I take it the conversation did not go well.”
“He called Xander a rat,” Myra said, the outrage still apparent in her voice.
“Well, that’s it then,” Nancy added. Taking Xander from Myra, Nancy also took a moment to tell him what a good boy he was. “You can’t marry a man who calls cute little Xander a rat.”
“For the last time, I’m not marrying that asshole.”
“Of course you aren’t, sweetie,” Paige said. “Come on, there’s a pitcher of iced tea in the fridge and Nancy made cookies this morning. Let’s go in the kitchen and you can tell us all about it.
After her ordeal next door, the cold tea felt good to her dry throat and the chocolate in the cookies smelled like heaven. Myra was a little taken aback by how out of hand the discussion with her next-door neighbor had gotten. As a rule, she was an even-tempered person, yet something about the man had her shouting in the street.
After a little prompting by her friends, Myra related the details of the conversation with their neighbor. Nancy and Paige gave her their undivided attention and were suitably outraged by the rodent insults to their ferret housemate. Xander sprawled in Nancy’s lap, unconcerned about any insults to his honor and nibbling bits of chocolate chip cookie with the chocolate removed. Chocolate is as dangerous to ferrets as it is to dogs, so Nancy was careful Xander didn’t get even a tiny morsel of it in his bites.
“Look, Myra,” Paige said at last. “There’s no doubt the guy’s a jerk, but he does have a point.”
“How can you say that?” Myra said, shocked.
“Wasn’t it you yourself who told me you have to be careful who plays with Xander? You showed me a website where some nut-job got a little girl’s ferret put down because it nipped him.”
“But I would never do something so heinous to Tadashi.”
“We know,” Nancy said, her voice soft, slipping another tiny bit of chocolate-free cookie to the ferret lounging on her lap. “We know you wouldn’t do anything to hurt Dashi, but the guy next door doesn’t. He doesn’t know you like we do.”
“You’d be worried yourself if someone wasn’t listening to you about Xander,” Paige added.
“Yeah,” Myra admitted weakly. “But Dashi is a sweetheart. He’d never bite anyone, so why is jerk-man so worried about it in the first place?”
“To you, he’s a sweetheart,” Paige said. “Before you moved in, I didn’t dare go too close to Dashi’s fence. With other people, he is very protective of his yard. I imagine it’s why his owner keeps such a close eye on things when Dashi is outside.”
“It would explain how he caught me letting Xander and Dashi greet each other this morning,” Myra said, her anger deflated.
“He shouldn’t have acted like a jerk,” Nancy said, “but I can’t blame him for wanting to protect his dog.”
“I guess not,” Myra admitted. “But I’m still not marrying him.”
“Well, of course not.” Nancy agreed. “He called Xander a rat.”
For the next few moments, Xander’s friends fussed over him, told him he was a good boy, and gave him lots of cuddles so as to repair his injured feelings. It was impossible to tell if Xander had ever felt insulted, but he enjoyed the attention nonetheless. Then the three women separated to continue with their projects. Nancy went back to her computer to research Max Carter, Paige began calling the Archdioceses of Louisville to see whether the old church had been deconsecrated, and Myra went up to her room to hit the books.
Myra’s books were not books you can find for sale on Amazon. All of them were very old. Handwritten, on heavy paper, and bound by thick leather covers, the books had little in the way of indexes, or tables of contents. Over the years, she had studied the books and made her own system of cataloging the contents of each. When she was young, she had kept the information in a file of index cards. Now, she had it stored in a database on her laptop where she could search with keywords. At first, she had great difficulty refining her search. “Psychic Vampire” was Nancy’s term for the phenomenon, and had no hits when she searched for it. She got lucky when she tried the phrase “wasting.” A group of references popped up, and several were located in a book her great-grandmother had written.
While Myra was a witch, it had little to do with the group of neo-pagan Wiccans who had become more and more popular in modern society. Her ancestors came from Norway and had brought their beliefs with them to the new world. In her family, the gift was passed through genes rather than books and tradition. The gift had skipped a generation with her mother, but Myra had unique powers just as her grandmother and great-grandmother had possessed. It had made Myra’s upbringing difficult, as her mother had no such experiences and referred to the whole thing as “Grandma’s mumbo jumbo.” To Myra’s mother, such things had no worth in the modern world, but Myra had learned she could not ignore what she was. Now she lived at Wyrd House with others who possessed special gifts, Myra was content for the first time in her life. A few years ago, she could never have imagined a group of people helping her work out a metaphysical problem. It was a heady feeling, knowing she was not alone anymore.
Taking out the heavy tome in the faded, red leather cover her great grandmother had written, Myra began her research.
Birgit Espeseth had been a witch of great power and greater wisdom. In the early days of the New World, when harmless women were being slaughtered as witches, the local magistrate of the small town where Birgit lived had made the mistake of accusing her of witchcraft. Having never accused an actual witch before, instead of the old woman going quietly to her death so the magistrate could steal her farm, Birgit fought back. In her fury, she called up a storm which formed a tornado, leveling the entire village. Though the villagers themselves were left unharmed, their village was reduced to rubble. Birgit and her family had then packed up their belongings in peace and moved to the wilds of Pennsylvania.
Myra herself did not have the gift to call such a storm, though she could manage a passable fog when she had good reason to. While she was powerful in her own right, her gift had taken a different turn.