The fire left little of Galaxy Farm.
Only the old barn still stood. The glass in the central cupola reflected the moonlight like some low-output lighthouse. Three deaths had occurred in there: the sheriff, the crazy writer and Vern Pugh. Stories of barn hauntings already circulated throughout the nearby small town of Moultrie, Tennessee. Even before the fire took the main house, the triple homicide had sparked stories of the barn being haunted. Everyone in the nearby small town of Moultrie, Tennessee, accepted the tales as fact.
Later, the foreboding barn would no doubt be where the kids would go. Middle school boys on a dare. High school teens on a date. The only structure left on the fifteen acres would draw them all.
But the willowy woman who moved through the night didn’t give the barn a thought. She trudged up the long gravel drive to the ruins of the once-proud home. Three of the walls on the first floor still stood. Their ragged, burned edges were all that hinted an upper story had existed. That second story, and all that had been above it, now lay in a charred heap in the house’s open interior. Twenty-four hours after the blaze, the remains were cool, but the humid air was still redolent with the conflagration’s acrid smell.
The woman crossed the remnants of the front porch. The boards creaked with each hesitant step. There was no telling how badly the fire had damaged the joists below. Her research confirmed that the house had no basement, but even a short fall through to the foundation could break a bone.
Her long, open black duster flicked the edge of the gaping front doorway as she entered the house’s dead shell. Mounds of shadowy remains covered the floor. Jagged, broken rafters jutted from the pile like limbs of the dead in rigor mortis. Now shielded from the prying eyes driving along nearby US 41, she flicked on a penlight.
She played the bright, narrow beam across the wreckage. The legacy of the long-dead previous owner, Mabron Hutchington, would still be here somewhere. None of his supernatural works ever left the house after his death, not when his brother owned it afterwards, not when his nephew Vern inherited it and certainly not when Doug and Laura Locke had moved in last year. A tiny rural-Tennessee town like Moultrie would know.
Mabron had practiced his brand of dark magic here for years. It was Egyptian-tinged, but parallel to her own, tapping the same great sources of natural power.
She pulled aside a blackened board. Yellow eyes and a set of bared white canines flashed in the penlight’s beam. Her heart skipped a beat and she stumbled backwards against a wall.
The teeth did not move. She panned the light around them and lit a wolf’s head, long dead, taxidermied for eternal preservation. But the fire had seared away its hide and left just a blackened, clay-infused skull, two marble eyes and the menacing teeth.
She smiled at the welcome sign, a part of Mabron’s extensive collection of magic-infused taxidermy. When the house went up in flames the night before, Mabron’s possessed possessions had indeed still been here.
She moved the penlight to her mouth to free up her hands. Tossing aside some boards, she uncovered a collapsed wooden chest. She pried open the warped lid. A stack of charred papers, perhaps once books, filled one side. They disintegrated at her touch, as if whatever magic they once relayed wanted to stay out of her reach.
On the other side sat a collection of glass eyes, all sizes and colors. Each gazed off in a different direction, like a cyclopean swarm in search of an escape.
These tempted her, but they were unused. A proper talisman had to have already been infused with magic, already begun on that difficult path between the world of reality and the one that pulsed just under reality’s surface. The wolf’s glass eyes perhaps would do, but they carried a low residual charge. The optimal piece would be a personal item, something Mabron had kept close to him while he cast the spells he’d used to keep souls barred from the hereafter. Perhaps a ring, a watch, a pair of glasses.
She pawed through the rest of the cinders in the box and found nothing. She turned and shined her light into what had been the living room. A flash of silver winked at her from within a recess in the debris. She picked her way across the unstable wreckage and knelt at the location.
She pulled off her glove and reached blindly into the small space. Her fingertips tingled. Her pulse skipped a beat. She sensed that this object that called to her from across the ruined house was rich with magic. It had not been an object of it, but instead continually exposed to it, like iron magnetized by passing through an electric field. The house fire’s residual heat rose and enveloped her arm as she reached deeper into the debris. Her fingers touched cold metal and she snatched it.
She opened her fist in her flashlight’s bright glow and revealed a silver locket. Its delicate, detailed turn-of-the-century engraving implied it had been a woman’s, but the aura it exuded left no doubt that Mabron wore it during his most intense magic spells.
She popped it open. Ashes were all that remained of the pictures inside, as if whoever the locket had immortalized had fully passed from this world. But that did not matter. The magic mattered. And with its previous prolonged exposure, this talisman would be powerful indeed.
She snapped off her light and buried her treasure in her front pocket. She thought better of that and placed the chain around her neck. She flipped her long hair outside the chain and tucked the locket into her shirt. It nestled between her breasts.
From atop the barn, an owl puffed out two shrill hoots, as if warning that it was time to depart.
She hopped across the house’s remains and through the missing front door. Her open coat flew behind her like a cape as she broke into a run back to her car. With each stride, the locket bounced against her chest, little taps timed like a countdown clock on the greatest spell her coven would ever cast.
About The AuthorRussell R. James was raised on Long Island, New York and spent too much time watching Chiller, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and The Twilight Zone, despite his parents' warnings. Bookshelves full of Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe didn't make things better. He graduated from Cornell University and the University of Central Florida.
After a tour flying helicopters with the U.S. Army, he now spins twisted tales best read in daylight. He has written the paranormal thrillers Dark Inspiration, Sacrifice, Black Magic and Dark Vengeance. He has two short story collections, Tales from Beyond and Deeper into Darkness. His next novel, Dreamwalker, releases in 2015.
His wife reads what he writes, rolls her eyes, and says "There is something seriously wrong with you." Visit his website and read some free short stories, follow on Twitter @RRJames14 or drop a line complaining about his writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About The BookLaura and Theresa, the heroines of DARK INSPIRATION, are back fighting the supernatural again in the small town of Moultrie, Tennessee.
Three witches have summoned the longarex, a creature of Mayan myth, to sow vengeance in town and beyond. Each feeding strengthens the beast and soon the full coven will release it with a final dark ritual. Only Laura and Theresa have the combined skill and insight to stop the plan.
But Laura’s depression in the wake of the Galaxy Farm incidents has strained the women’s friendship past the breaking point. Two men enter their lives, one to help and one to hinder their uncovering of the coven’s plot. Hundreds of souls hang in the balance, including those of the ones the women hold most dear. Will they be able to heal their rift in time to save the town from the wrath of the longarex?