Dr. Lasker held out his card. “I spoke to you this afternoon. I am Professor Lasker and these are my associates. We were here almost a year ago and—“
Shelly gasped. A very tall man had appeared behind the woman. His eyes were blood shot and circled in the same smoky ash rings as his wife, and like her, he wasn’t smiling. Shelly noticed something else, his hands, which were hanging down at his sides were horribly bruised, skin black and blue with angry red splotches in the inside of his palms. He was staring at them, his face covered by a long beard and unkempt brown hair.
“I remember you now,” the woman said, a worried look on her face. “It’s okay John.
They’re here to help us.”
The man glared at Dr. Lasker and Shelly heard him say, “We don’t need no help. Tell them to leave and close the door.”
His sheer size and icy tone spooked Shelly. The only thing worse was the stony look in his eyes.
“He doesn’t want our help,” Allen broke the silence. “Let’s get out of here? He looks like the Frankenstein monster…that Karloff character. I used to like that movie. Now, I don’t know why?”
“We can’t leave,” Shelly said, refusing to break eye contact with the man. “One more puzzle piece?”
“Me, liking Frankenstein? I hardly think so,” Allen muttered. “Unless you think I was some kind of mad scientist like Dr. Loco here.”
Shelly didn’t reply. She was keeping a close eye on the woman’s giant husband, his eyes never wavering.
“I’ve work to do,” the man said slowly and lumbered back into the living room.
The woman watched as her husband moved back into the dark, looking more like a giant bear than a human being.
Through the still swinging kitchen door Shelly saw him cross the kitchen and pull open the side door. She lost sight of him when the kitchen door swung shut.
Suddenly the woman was animated, her arms waving and her words gushing out as if they had been corked in a bottle, but were now free. “Thank God you came at last,” the woman whispered urgently. “Of course, I know who you are. He was furious I let you come here. He keeps saying there’s nothing to worry about.” She looked furtively toward the kitchen door. “After last time, I didn’t think anyone would ever come back. Lord knows I kept calling.” She glanced at the kitchen door again and whispered, “It is worse this time. Much worse. He’s going to kill us.”
Just then the little girl came bouncing into the room. The mother got quiet. “Is everything okay, Momma,” the little girl asked.
“Yes, sweetheart. Go ahead and play in the kitchen.”
“What’s your name,” the little girl asked Shelly. “I’m Caroline Elizabeth Ross. I’m four years old. How old are you?”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Shelly. I’m twenty one.” “Can you play with me?”
Shelly looked at Dr. Lasker who was frowning. “I’m sorry, Sweetie. Maybe after I get my work done?”
The girl eyed Shelly curiously and suddenly bounced back into the kitchen.
Once he had seen the girl leave Dr. Lasker whispered. “Mrs. Ross, I did not want to give up on your case, but until now…” He glanced at Shelly. “I didn’t think we could help…not after last time. I did tell you that someday we’d be back--”
Chan frowned, contemplating Shelly and wondering what her secret was. She didn’t seem to be sensitive, not even as much as he was, and certainly less than Dodd… or even Swan.
Ah Swan, full name White Swan. Chan missed her a lot, but had understood when she wanted to return to her tribe. He had thought at first she was African American, Black, when he first met her. Her skin was black and glossy so he thought she was joking when she claimed she was one hundred percent Native American. The granddaughter of a Navajo shaman, called a ‘medicine man’ by the white man, Swan had suffered visions ever since she was a little girl. The most horrifying vision, the one that like Chan’s nightmare, repeated every night, was the one where her grandfather was hanging between two tall stakes while a pair of white eagles were pulling off his flesh with their talons. Swan had taken it to be representative of what the white
people had done to her ancestors, slowly but irrevocably stripping them of their weapons, land and ultimately their heritage. She had always said she would someday go back to help her people, but this house had persuaded her to do it early.
Chan and Swan had worked well together even after she had proven to be more sensitive than he was, but not nearly as sensitive as Dodd. In those days, Dodd seemed like someone who had it all together and Chan had resigned himself to his two associates being together. He really didn’t mind their fooling around…not at first, but then things began to change. Dodd seemed to become darker and more distant, even cruel. Chan could still hear them going at it like rabbits some nights, but the following mornings, instead of Swan looking happy, she seemed sad and began to isolate herself. One time, Chan noticed a bruise on her cheek. Another time, he thought he saw a welt on her shoulder. She never talked about Dodd, but Chan suspected Dodd was changing.
It was shortly after the incident in this house that Swan decided to leave the university. “It is time to go back and help my people, so many of them haunted by spirits. They no longer have the closeness to the Earth to see the ancestors and the sacred ones. I must return to help
them.” Chan suspected that the night in this cursed house had been the straw that broke her back. The night Dodd had gone after her with an axe.
It had seemed like a routine case, as if any of their cases could be called routine. The three of them working while Dr. Lasker tried to distract the family, when without warning, Dodd had sprung at Swan with an axe, an axe whose blade was coated with blood. Swan had said earlier there was a demon taking possession of a soul in the house…After Dodd attacked, Chan
had assumed the demon had possessed him, hitting at their most vulnerable member whose instability was already showing.
“What the hell are you doing,” Chan had yelled as he grabbed onto the axe just before Dodd could swing it at Swan who had barely ducked the first attempted blow.
Dodd held onto the axe with surprising strength as Chan and Swan tried to wrest it from his grip. His eyes were staring upward and his mouth was spewing thin droplets of white foam.
The calls for help brought Dr. Lasker who barked, “Dodd! Stop now!”
That seemed to enrage Dodd even more, his hands refusing to release the axe. “He’s going to try again,” Chan yelled.
And then, as suddenly as the attack had started, Dodd seemed to go slack, his hands dropping from the axe handle and his eyes refocusing on Swan. He wiped the foam from his lips with his sleeve. He shook his head and tears fell from his eyes.
“Wait in the car, Thomas,” Lasker said firmly. “Go rest.”
Dodd nodded his head and slowly walked toward the car. Suddenly he broke into a run and was gone before Chan could catch him.
As far as Lasker was concerned, it was the end of the road for his unpredictable assistant who seemed unable to cope with the horrors he had faced for five years. The misery of ghosts, the haunted and the haunters, had been gradually wearing him out until he could no longer function. Nightmares and paranoid delusions made him far too dangerous to continue this kind of work, but Lasker would have kept him on. There was no one who could replace him.
Chan had witnessed this irrevocable deterioration and remembered too well the axe incident. He had always believed a demon had taken possession of Thomas in his weakened state, that Dodd had not had the strength to fight against it anymore. As he had studied Mr. Ross, he sensed a hollowness and hostility that made Chan wonder if the demon was claiming another soul? He felt afraid, not only for himself, but surprisingly for Shelly too. If Shelly was truly as sensitive as Dodd had been, she would make a wonderful target for a malevolent spirit. And she did not have Dodd’s experience and expertise to fend off such a demonic foe.