Book 3: The Spirits of Sleepy Meadows
Kasey Menze finds himself displaced from his life in the mortal realm. His body has been possessed and life stolen by the vile spirit of Jeremy Wickcliff. Awakening in the spirit realm, a place of purgatory for those who have died, he encounters the spirit of Shelly Wickcliff, whose suicide was the result of Jeremy’s machinations to use her body as a vessel to return his sister Rachel from the grave.
Together, with the help of Damon Shields, a mortal man with the shamanic ability to transcend his life force between the two realms, and Shelly’s husband Rory, also a spirit, they must formulate a plan to exorcise Jeremy from the mortal realm so that Kasey may reclaim his life, and Jeremy can be stopped from fulfilling his prophecy to return his ancestors from the dead.
“Midnight’s Edge, or ME as the witches call it, a time of the night when the veil between the living and dead disappears...”
At first, Kasey Menze saw nothing but darkness. Slowly his eyes adjusted to his surroundings in the Wickcliff mausoleum. A shiver coursed through him from the dampness of the cold, stone floor on which he found himself.
He rubbed the top of his head, feeling dizzy, and confused. He tried to get up, but his legs didn’t hold him. At first, he thought he was dead, yet as his mind cleared, he quickly pushed those thoughts aside and was convinced that Jeremy hadn’t inhabited his body.
He tried to stand up again, this time, more carefully. He felt weak and wasn’t sure he could depend on his legs to support his weight. He stumbled forward a few feet and reached out in front of him, hoping to find something in the darkness to hold on to as he attempted to steady himself.
“Graham, are you there?”
His voice echoed within the room. He expected Graham to answer him, remembering that he’d been in the mausoleum with him and Jeremy before he lost consciousness.
“Careful,” a man’s voice said, coming out of the darkness. “You don’t want to hurt yourself.”
The voice startled Kasey, and he scanned the room. “Who’s there?”
“Guess,” the man said, with a sarcastic laugh.
“I don’t have time for games. Just answer me. Graham, is it you?”
“I’m not Graham, but close.”
He stood in silence for a moment and then gasped. “Reed, is that you?”
“That’s right. Give the man a prize.”
Reed opened the inside shutters of a cracked window and stepped to the side. The face Kasey saw in the moonlight that shone through stunned him. Reed appeared beyond his years. At 30, Kasey was five years his senior. That wasn’t evident now. The usually slender and attractive young man breathed heavily and appeared bloated. His once shiny reddish-brown hair was dull and straw-like; dark circles appeared under his once sparkling eyes, now cloudy, dull and lifeless, like those of an old teddy bear dumped to the bottom of a child’s toy box.
He wasn’t positive because it could’ve been the moonlight’s reflection, but Reed’s skin appeared gray, as though it were decaying and falling off the bone. Kasey hadn’t realized how accurate that was. The smell of death filled the air as Reed got closer, and Kasey covered his nose.
Reed gave him a peculiar stare. “You okay, Kase?”
“I am now... I think.” He ran his hands over his forehead and through his hair. “I’d ask you the same thing, but I think I know what you’re going to say. Forgive me for saying so, but you look like hell, and you smell even worse.”
Reed grinned. “I guess my appearance fits our environment then, doesn’t it?”
He wasn’t sure what that meant, but Reed’s tone gave him cause for concern.
“I can’t believe it’s finally over. For a minute there, I thought Jeremy had succeeded. I guess that since you’re back, it means Jeremy’s gone. He failed to take over my body.” He moved closer to Reed. “Where’s your dad?”
Reed shrugged. “He’s not here now.”
He scanned the room. “Graham was here when I blacked out. He wouldn’t just leave me here unconscious unless he's gone to get help.” He narrowed his eyes and studied Reed’s emotionless expression. “We need to get out of here, and you need a doctor.”
Reed snickered. “A doctor can’t do anything for me, or for you for that matter.”
“I have to find Ethan. He’s going to be so relieved when he hears it’s all over.” He looked past Reed and focused on the door before starting toward it.
Reed stepped in front of him. “Kase, we need to talk.”
“Later. First, we find Ethan and then we need to find your dad. He’s going to be so relieved that you’re back.”
Reed didn’t move.
“Come on,” he said, waving his arm. “What are we waiting for? Let’s get the hell outta here.”
“Kase, you don’t understand, we—”
“Whatever it is, you can explain it to me on the way. I just want to get to Ethan.”
He tried to pass Reed, but Reed put his hands on his shoulders. His touch was unusually cold.
“You can’t get to him.”
“What do you mean? Why not?” His face went ashen. “Oh, God, Jeremy didn’t…”
Reed shook his head. “No. You’re right. Jeremy’s gone.”
He drew in a deep breath of relief and exhaled. “Reed, you scared the hell outta me. I thought Ethan could be dead.”
“Ethan’s not dead. We are.”
He paused for a long moment and swallowed. “That isn’t funny. I’m not in the mood for one of your jokes right now.”
“It isn’t a joke, Kase. We’re in the spirit realm, a parallel realm to the mortal realm where spirits dwell. We’re spirits now, and we’re trapped here. This may look like home, but it’s not.”
Reed’s appearance wasn’t the only thing that had changed, his whole demeanor had. Kasey was so relieved when he thought everything was back to normal that he hadn’t given credence to Reed’s behavior. Normally, Reed was an anxious person; now his whole manner seemed complacent. He was accepting his position, acting almost nonchalant about it. There was no life in his voice, and, in fact, there was no emotion at all. It had a cold, hollow ring to it.
“Did you hear me, Kase? We’re dead.”
“That’s not possible,” he said, shaking his head defiantly. “I’m breathing, walking, talking. I’m alive.”
“Jeremy inhabited your body just as he did mine. That’s why he’s not here. He’s taken your place in the mortal realm. My mortal body’s dying because he misplaced my spirit when he inhabited my body. Soon the same thing will happen to yours, and it’ll be too late for you to get back.”
“I don’t know why you’re saying these things. They can’t be true.”
“Look at your arm, Kase.”
He glanced down and noticed that the skin on his arm had turned black and blue. Reed was right. The same thing that had happened to Reed’s body was happening to Kasey’s.
Kasey’s face had gone as pale as his arm.
“What’s happening to me?”
A morbid smile appeared on Reed’s face. “It’s starting already.”
“Your mortal body’s dying, and right now you see a reflection of that. That’s what you see when you look at me. You see my body dying in the mortal realm.”
His eyes widened. “How’s that possible?”
“Jeremy doesn’t belong in your body. Your body is rejecting his spirit. Eventually, his presence in your body will cause it to shut down.”
He rubbed his arm frantically as if he were trying to remove the bruises. Reed grabbed his arm and stared into his eyes intensely.
“It’s our destiny, Kase. This was all meant to be.”
He yanked his arm away. “How can you say that? Doesn’t this bother you even a little bit? You almost sound like you wanted to die. That’s not the Reed that I know.”
“I’ve accepted my destiny, just as you will in time.”
The vacant tone in Reed’s voice frightened Kasey. Fear of the unknown engulfed him. He wasn’t about to show that to Reed, though.
“If we’re both dying, what are we doing here? Shouldn’t we be in heaven, hell, somewhere else but here?”
“The afterlife’s much more complicated than any of us realized in life. There are many other realms, ones we don’t know about in our mortal lives. I would’ve never believed that the things that I’ve seen in this realm were possible.”
He cocked his head. “Like what?”
“I met your father recently.”
His expression perked with interest. “My father?”
“His name’s Damon Shields.”
“My mother told me that much. That’s all I know about him. How can he be here if this is the spirit realm? I was under the impression that my father’s alive.”
“He is, for now, but he won’t be for long if he attempts to take on Jeremy. He exists in this realm in spirit form only.”
He scanned the dark room. “I’m not sure if I believe that. It’s too fantastic of a story.”
Reed chuckled. “The longer you’re here, the less you know what to believe. The world we come from melts away, and soon you don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. I should know.”
Exasperated, Kasey threw his hands up and started for the door. “To hell with this! I don’t know what’s wrong with you and at this point, I don’t care. I’m getting out of here.”
Reed grabbed his arm from behind and turned Kasey around.
“You can’t leave. Don’t you get it? We’re stuck here. There’s no escape.”
Reed’s devilish grin made Kasey step back. “You’re so different. I don’t understand what’s happening here. If we’re not in our world, why does it look the same?”
Reed stood there silently, his grin faded.
“I asked you a question, Reed. Answer me.”
“Just as you can see what’s happening to your body in the mortal realm, the same concept applies to our surroundings. This is nothing but a reflection, a mirrored image of what once was. You’re dying, and your spirit is clinging onto the life that it once knew.”
“You may be dying, but I refuse to believe I am.”
“I used to say the same thing. In time, you’ll accept it as I have. You must realize that you don’t have a choice.”
He groaned, exasperated by Reed’s ambiguity. “There’s more to it than that. I don’t feel any different than I did before. I feel like the same person I always was. You, on the other hand, you don’t seem like yourself at all. What’s made you so different?”
Reed narrowed his eyes and sneered. “How do you know what I’m like? You never really got a chance to know me, did you? You were too preoccupied with the memories of your precious Ethan to even give us a chance.”
“There was a time when I tried to get over my love for Ethan by starting up a new relationship with you. The only reason I became involved with you was that I believed Ethan was never coming back to Sleepy Meadows. I wanted to start over for the wrong reasons. It was an attempt to fill a void and combat my loneliness, yet as hard as I tried, I couldn’t reciprocate your feelings. That’s why I ended it with you. I hurt you, and I’m sorry for that. I never meant to. I thought you understood that.”
Reed didn’t show any emotion. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not hurting anymore. I don’t feel anything, ever. I’m as dead inside as I am on the outside.”
He moved towards Reed. “For God’s sake, tell me what’s happened to you. I want to help you if I can.”
“I’m beyond help now. It’s you who needs help. I can give that to you if you let go of your fear and open your mind.”
His eyes narrowed. “Open my mind to what?”
Reed’s voice lowered, and his eyes focused on him more intensely.
“Giving in to your fate, as I have. It’s so much easier.”
“My fate is to get back to my life with Ethan. That’s what I believe.”
Reed clenched his fists. “Enough! I don’t want to hear anything more about Ethan. Your destiny is to remain here with me. We’re alike the two of us. Nobody else could ever understand. We can be together, just you and I. You just have to let go of the fear and embrace your new existence, your new life.”
He let out a sharp laugh. “Life? This isn’t any life being trapped here. We’re completely alone and separated from the people we love. Our bodies are dying in our world as we speak. How can you be okay with that?”
Reed shrugged. “I don’t have a choice. My life is no longer mine.”
“I don’t know what that means or why you’re talking in all these riddles, but that doesn’t matter. It’s not right what’s happened to us, and it’s not fair. I’m going to get my life back.”
Reed gave him a blank stare. “You’re hurting. I felt the same way when I came here, but the pain’s stopped. There’s a way to make all the pain go away.”
Kasey put his hand up and stepped back. “It’ll never stop until I’m able to go back.” He looked around the room. “There has to be some way out of here.”
“There may be one, but it’s going to require you to do something you’re not going to like.”
His face brightened. “I’d do anything to get back to Ethan. Just tell me what I have to do.”
Reed cocked his head to one side. “I’ve made a deal with the Wickcliff ancestors who are bound to this mausoleum and the cemetery surrounding it. They aren’t strong enough to escape the cemetery yet. With your help, they could be. If you assist them, they may be able to get you home.”
Reed fed Kasey the same lie that the ancestors told him to gain possession of his soul. Kasey wasn’t buying that. His intuition told him that the ancestors were the reason for the change in Reed’s demeanor.
“What did you do, Reed?”
“I did what I had to do to survive, to get the everlasting life they promised me.”
“There’s no such thing.”
Reed shook his head. “They promised me that I’d live forever, long after my body dies, and now I will.”
“I don’t know much about the ancestors, but I know what Jeremy’s done to us. If the rest of the Wickcliffs are as ruthless, they can’t be trusted. They’ll do anything to get what they want. You have to know that.”
Reed grinned, revealing that his teeth had now turned black, green, and gray. Several of them were missing.
“You’re wrong. All it took to have immortal life is a soul.”
Kasey’s eyes widened. “What are you saying?”
“What’s a soul, Kase? We can’t see it. We can’t feel it. We don’t even know that it’s there. It’s inconsequential, wouldn’t you agree? I think it was a small price to pay.”
He backed up towards the door. “God, it’s already too late, isn’t it? You’re one of them.”
Reed’s sinister grin grew wider and eyes blazed with intensity.
“It’s bliss, Kasey. You don’t feel anything. No pain, no anger, nothing.”
Kasey’s eyes expressed compassion. “And, you also don’t feel love or happiness. I’m so sorry, Reed.”
His heart sank knowing that his friend was gone, and it devastated him to see what Jeremy’s actions had done to him. Reed had once been a kind, caring, and compassionate young man adored by everyone in Sleepy Meadows. Now he was soulless, devoid of any genuine feeling. Kasey felt the same despair I did when I looked into Reed’s face.
The mausoleum began to shake with such great force that they both lost their footing. The walls cracked, and corpses stirred in their tombs. Kasey fell, stood back up, struggling to regain his footing.
“What’s happening, Reed?”
Reed’s eyes broadened. “They’ve awakened.”
The shutters on the windows closed with a sharp bang and the mausoleum went dark again. Wailing filled the air, and the sounds of the dead surrounded them. The same three skeletons that had surrounded Reed to take his soul stepped out of the darkness. They had been the Wickcliff ancestors, Pierre and Marguerite Wickcliff, Jeremy’s grandparents, and Harold Wickcliff, his father. After their deaths and their entrapment in the cenotaph of the mausoleum, they had shortened their names to Err, Mag, and Har.
“Welcome, Mr. Menze,” Har said. “We’ve been expecting you.”
Kasey pressed his back to the wall. “Let me out of here right now.”
Har raised his bony hand to his chest, which was only a rib cage.
“In due course. First, you give us what we want.”
Kasey shifted his attention to the other two before facing Har again.
Har’s teeth chattered. “Your soul.”