Go to: Table of Contents
It was night. Silas was in one of the outer boroughs of New York City. Squad cars were parked outside an apartment complex, their red and blue lights splashing against the facade. Police were everywhere, talking into radios or ignoring the noise that came out of them. Bystanders were, of course, watching from a safe distance. Walking over to the nearest uniform, Silas prepared to introduce himself. The cop nodded, motioning for him to enter the building.
“I didn’t know the police knew me on sight,” Silas said.
“We don’t. Detective McClelland gave me your description,” the cop said.
The officer directed Silas to the fourth floor. He assumed the apartment with the smashed-in door was his destination. Silas inspected the door, which had been propped up against the wall. It was almost bent in half. He examined the point of impact. Something had pummeled it like a piston. What could have done that to a metal-reinforced apartment door?
A sharp whistle brought him to the apartment doorway. Standing on the other side of police tape was a heavy-set man in a cliché of a trench coat. He had a nose like a turnip, adorned with a thick mustache. His eyes had dark bags beneath them, but they were bright and alert, nonetheless. The detective lifted the tape to let Silas through.
“Took you long enough,” McClelland said.
“I was in Long Island,” Silas said. “And you said six o’clock.”
The man jerked his head back and Silas followed him inside.
“Detective Rick McClelland. What are you doing in the Bronx?”
“They send me all over, these days,” McClelland said. “Why, you don’t like the Bronx?”
“Prefer my borough,” Silas said.
McClelland snorted. “The greatest city in the world and you’ve resigned yourself to Brooklyn.”
“We’ve all got our boundaries,” Silas said. “So, what do you have for me?”
“Missing Person,” he said. “Emily Lisbon. Twenty-seven years old. Single. Lived alone. New York native. 911 got a call from her at around eleven thirty last night. All they got was her screaming before the line cut out. That’s it. By the time our people arrived, she was gone.”
“And I’m sure none of her neighbors saw anything?” Silas said.
The detective handed Silas a plastic bag. Inside was a pink wallet and a few pictures. A New York State driver’s license showed a young woman with shoulder-length blonde hair. Silas noted blue eyes, aquiline features, and a sad look on her face.
“Obviously, she was abducted,” Silas said. “Aside from the battering ram the kidnapper used to open the door, doesn’t seem too odd. Why’d you call me?”
“I think you’ll figure it out quickly enough.”
Silas figured it out as soon as they entered the kitchen. He grabbed the wall to steady himself. He felt as if he was in the hull of a ship. The room seemed to swell and compress with a heavy rhythm. Silas tasted the air. What was the flavor… copper? The overhead lamp was on, but the room still felt dark.
“This is worse than most New York apartments,” Silas said. He turned around to face McClelland. “You feel it?”
The police detective nodded. “The boys think I’m crazy. But the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I walk through this place. So, what is it? Ghosts? Demons? Goblins?”
“I dunno, give me something.”
“Not sure, yet. I see Crime Scene’s been here.” Silas noticed an evidence marker on the floor–a yellow piece of plastic with a number one–besides a cell phone.
“They checked the kitchen,” McClelland said. “I sent them away when I realized how eerie this place felt. Wanted you to take a look before they touched too much of it.”
“Smart call.” Silas crouched over the phone but didn’t touch it. “I assume they grabbed her here.”
The phone was lying about a foot away from the kitchen window. “Did you catch the nail marks on the sill?”
“Nail marks? What was she doing?”
“She was trying to open the window,” Silas said. “That’s a fire escape. Why didn’t she make it out?” He tried the finger holds on the window and pulled. It wouldn’t budge.
“Painted shut,” McClelland said.
“Son of a–.”
The cop shook his head. “The landlord will be getting an earful from us.”
“The kidnapper leave any traces?” he asked.
“No prints, no marks,” McClelland said. “We’ll comb for DNA, but I’m not optimistic.”
“Been through the rest of the house?” Silas asked, a look of concern in his eyes.
“Like I said, I’m holding off Crime Scene for the moment,” McClelland said. “But you gotta be quick. Her bedroom’s through there. That way’s the living room.”
Silas made a mock salute. “I’ll be two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”
“Any guesses at what’s going on?” McClelland asked. “Why this place feels so… off?”
“Leftover energy from the intruder,” Silas said. “It happens after intense, paranormal encounters. Like puddles left behind after a downpour. But it’s stronger than normal in here.”
“None of this is normal,” McClelland said.
“Leftover energy?” came the voice of a woman “What the hell does that mean?”
Silas and the police detective turned around. Standing in the entryway was a young, mousy-haired woman. She was bundled up in a knee-length coat, jeans tucked into her boots. A bright, red flannel shirt poked out from her coat collar. A notepad was in one hand, a smartphone in the other. Silas noticed a dusting of freckles on her face, brought out by the October cold.
McClelland let out a groan when he saw her. “Rhodes, how did you get up here?”
The woman named Rhodes gave him a cocky, half-smile. “One of your boys looked the other way. I’ll let you guess which.”
The police officer put his hands on his hips. “This crime scene is not open to the press. Beat it.”
“Oh, just give me a quick statement,” she said, tapping the screen of her phone. “This is the fifth woman to disappear in the last three months. When are you gonna admit a serial kidnapper is on the loose?”
“There were others, Rick?” Silas asked. “Why haven’t you called me sooner?”
The cop turned to Silas, his mouth open. He looked back at the woman. Then back at Silas. “Let’s not go over that now, Black.”
The woman pushed past the cop into the kitchen. She slipped her notebook into a pocket and stuck her phone into Silas’s face. “Hannah Rhodes, investigative reporter. And who might you be?”
Silas stared at the phone. He didn’t speak.
“This is Silas Black,” McClelland said. “He’s a consultant for the NYPD.”
“Really?” Hannah said. “What kind of consultant?”
“Where’s your press pass?” Silas asked.
“Don’t you all have, like, a thing that says ‘Press’ stuck in your hat?” he said.
“I’m not wearing a hat,” Hannah said.
“Who do you write for?” Silas asked.
“I’m freelance,” she said. “What do you do?”
“Silas is a private detective,” McClelland said. “Specializing in paranormal phenomena.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Hannah looked like she was about to laugh. “What does that mean, you hunt ghosts?”
Silas looked at McClelland. “I’ll start in the bedroom.”
He sidled passed Hannah, ignoring her phone. The reporter finally lowered it.
“You know the rules,” McClelland said to Silas. “You were never in there.”
“What’s he doing here, Rick?” Hannah asked as Silas entered the bedroom.
“I called him,” McClelland said. “Wanted his expertise on the case.”
“You think a ghost took this woman?” Hannah asked.
“I dunno,” he said. “That’s why I wanted Black.”
She walked up to McClelland and spoke in a low tone. “You’re serious? He’s a for-real paranormal investigator?”
“He likes to be called an occult tsar,” McClelland said, “but yeah.”
“This is amazing.” She pulled out her notepad and marched to the bedroom. McClelland hooked her arm and pulled her back.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked.
“This is a great angle for my story,” she said. “The NYPD hires a nut to help on the case. I can’t pass that up.”
“Leave Silas alone,” McClelland said.
“Just a few questions,” Hannah said.
“I don’t want you bothering him. If you’ve forgotten, a woman’s life is at stake. Every second counts.”
“I just want to see what he’s doing,” the reporter said. “He’s a grown man, he can work and talk at the same time.”
Hannah spun around and walked through the bedroom door, McClelland grunting under his breath. It was a tight room, made even tighter by too much furniture. A queen-size bed was against the wall to the right, bordered by a nightstand and shelf. Emily owned very few books but had many knick-knacks. A lava lamp was on a dresser, beside Mardi Gras beads and a silver wig.
Silas was under the bed, his feet sticking out like the Wicked Witch of the East. He was knocking.
“What are you doing?” Hannah asked.
The man slid out from beneath the bed. He looked at her, irritation etched across his face.
“Looking for loose boards,” he said. “Make good hiding spots.”
He stood up and walked over to her. “Bodies, for a start. You’re a freelancer. Why?”
Silas walked over to the wall.
“What’s wrong with freelancing?”
“Nothing,” he said. “But if I was a reporter, I’d want the security of being on staff at a newspaper. Why aren’t you working for the Ledger or something?”
“The Ledger?” Hannah said. “There is no Ledger.”
“Is that right? Gotta cancel my subscription.”
“I like the flexibility of being a freelancer,” she added. “I can write about whatever I want and sell it to the highest bidder. What are you doing, now?”
Silas was rubbing his hands over the walls. “Looking for cold spots. Tell-tale sign that a ghost passed through something. Warm spots too, but those aren’t as common.”
“Don’t you use gadgets?” she asked.
“You know, gadgets,” Hannah said. “Ghost hunters on TV use all sorts of crap.”
“You mean Electromagnetic Field Meters,” Silas said. “They don’t work.”
“Everything generates an electromagnetic field,” he said. “Toasters, computers, humans. Those meters pick up all of it.”
“Is that right?”
“Frauds use gadgets to impress stupid people. The human senses are far more accurate.”
“So, are there ghosts in here?” Hannah asked.
“No, but there’s something strange about this apartment,” he said.
“You think so?”
He looked at her “Don’t you feel it?”
She shook her head.
“Not very attentive,” he said. “For a reporter.”
“You really believe a ghost kidnapped this woman?” Hannah said.
“Of course, not,” Silas said. “You ever heard of a ghost kidnapping someone, Ms. Rhodes?”
“No. Ghosts aren’t real.”
“Ghosts are very real,” Silas said. “You just rarely see them. They are incorporeal entities. They got no bodies. They can’t kick in a door or drag someone away. Let’s hope they never learn how.”
“What took her then, a vampire?” Hannah said. “How ’bout a werewolf?”
“Vampires can’t enter a house uninvited,” Silas said. “I thought everyone knew that. And werewolves don’t kidnap people, they just eat them. Though, was it a full moon last night?” He fumbled with the curtains to look out the window.
“This is priceless,” Hannah said as she took down notes. “So, how long have you been doing this?”
Silas narrowed his eyes at her. “What are you doing?”
“I’m writing this down.”
“For my story,” she said.
“I don’t want to be in your story,” Silas said.
“You don’t have a choice.”
“What about that ‘off the record’ thing? All this is off the record.”
“That doesn’t mean what you think it means,” Hannah said.
He sniffed in contempt and walked back to the window. Prying it open, he leaned out, trying to get a look at the night sky.
“Don’t clam up on me now,” Hannah said. “There’s a lot I need to know.”
She walked over to the dresser. There was a framed picture of a young woman, her arm around a Saint Bernard. They were sitting on the porch of what looked like a large, country house.
“Looks like she had a dog,” Hannah said. “Big one. I hope it didn’t live here.”
He didn’t respond. Beside the photo was a row of porcelain figurines, a leather-bound diary, and a jewelry box. The figurines were those pale-faced cherub characters, the kind only grandmas buy. Hannah pushed open the diary with her pencil. The first few pages were filled with large, bubbly handwriting. The rest were blank. She picked up the jewelry box. Bright music began to play and she quickly snapped it shut.
“What was that?” Silas pulled himself inside, banging his head on the window.
“I was just looking at her music box,” Hannah said.
“Don’t touch anything,” he said. “Clues can be everywhere and you’re just getting in the way.”
“This isn’t my first crime scene,” she said.
“Good for you.”
“I was going to tell you she had a diary,” Hannah said. “Might be helpful. That is if you’re done rubbing the walls.”
Silas picked up the book and flipped through it. He looked at it for no more than a second.
“There’re only three entries in here,” he said.
“Don’t get upset at me,” she said. “It’s not my diary.”
“Nothing helpful.” Silas threw the book down. “Just complaining about her job. She was a waitress.”
“You read it that fast?” she asked.
“Just a few pages.”
Hannah looked back at her notepad. “Okay, so you ruled out ghosts, vampires, and I’m assuming there wasn’t a full moon?”
“Too cloudy, but I don’t think so,” Silas said.
“Looks like you’re coming up short, ghost man.”
“I never said it was any of those,” he said. “There’s much worse out there than ghosts.”
“Ever meet the Grendel at the 34th Street Subway stop?” he asked.
Hannah rolled her eyes. “But you haven’t figured out what’s going on here,” she said.
“No, and you’re slowing me down.” Rummaging through his coat, Silas pulled out his compass. He turned away from the reporter to study it.
Silas slowly moved toward the door. He stopped, tapped the little plastic toy, and rushed out of the room.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Hannah asked.
Silas ran into the hall and stopped between the bedroom and kitchen. McClelland was talking into a cell phone.
“Okay, shut up.” He hung up and looked at Silas. “Whaddaya got?”
He waved a hand to shush the police detective. A murmur escaped his lips. Shaking the compass, he stretched it out from his body.
“It’s in the living room.”
Hannah stood in the doorway. “What’s in the living room?”
Again, Silas ignored her and ran into the next room. Hannah followed but was cut off by McClelland.
“Get what you wanted?” he asked.
“I still have a few more questions,” she said.
McClelland shook his head. “No, you’re done.”
He stepped towards her, forcing the reporter to move backward up the hall.
“I just want to observe him.”
“You shouldn’t even be here,” the cop said. “I cut you some slack, but you’re done.”
“You don’t understand. If I can get a jump on this story, I can sell it to anyone.”
He shook his head. “No.”
Hannah looked up into the grizzled detective’s face. Her eyes were tinged with desperation. “Rick, please. I got nothing else.”
She sensed the man soften, but he didn’t move. They both turned as Silas shouted from the other room.
McClelland and Hannah marched into the living room. It was the largest space in the apartment, furnished unimaginatively with a brown couch, coffee table, and television. There was another bookshelf, stuffed with more gewgaws. Silas stood over the coffee table, a knitted purse in his hand. He had upended its contents onto the table.
“Criminently, Black. Why did you do that?” McClelland asked.
“The compass brought me directly to this bag,” he said. “The disturbance is coming from that.”
For the fortieth time, McClelland was about to explain to Silas the stringent rules of crime scene investigation. Rummaging through belongings without gloves was stomping all over them. The speech died in his mouth as he looked down at the coffee table.
“Eh… what in the holy hell?”
“I know,” Silas said.
Hannah, who had been stuck behind the police detective, finally made it into the room. The coffee table was cluttered with the usual contents of a purse. Checkbook, used tissues, smudged sunglasses, and so on. What she did not expect was the little wooden man. He was crouching down, hugging his knees. His mouth was open in a large, grotesque smile, revealing jagged teeth. He stared at them with small, beady eyes that looked like black gems.
“That’s the ugliest American Girl Doll I’ve ever seen,” Silas said.
“What the hell is that?” Hannah asked.
Silas bent down to give the object a closer look. “Definitely the source of what we’re feeling,” he said. He checked his compass. The closer he moved it to the figurine, the wilder the needle went.
“Why would Emily Lisbon be carrying a doll like that in her purse?” McClelland asked.
“Don’t be ridiculous, it’s not a doll,” Silas said. “It’s a fetish.”
“What’s a fetish?” Hannah asked.
“A doll,” he said. “More specifically, any object that is imbued with magical potency.”
“Imbued?” she said in a mocking tone. “Do people really say that?”
“I do.” He turned back to McClelland. “This has to be the source of what we’re feeling.”
“No kidding,” the cop said. “But what does this have to do with her kidnapping?”
Hannah looked at Detective McClelland. “You’re buying this?”
“Do you see that ugly thing on the table?”
“I doubt it’s a coincidence,” Silas said. “But I can’t say how it’s connected.”
The cop sighed. “Can you find out?”
“I’m going to need to study this,” Silas said.
He went to pick up the fetish, then suddenly paused, his fingers inches from the wood.
“Are you afraid to touch it?” Hannah asked.
“No. But… you never know.”
McClelland stepped in. “Whoa now, boy. That’s evidence. Let’s mitigate our contamination and handle it properly.”
He gestured for Silas to follow. McClelland unclipped his radio and ordered an officer to bring up a box of crime scene gloves. Hannah watched as they disappeared through the front door. She went to the coffee table to take a better look at the fetish. It was ugly, all right, and more than a little creepy. But so was the man running around with a toy compass. The apartment felt normal to her, other than the obvious signs of a kidnapping.
Taking out her phone, she snapped a few pictures of the fetish and the living room, making sure the cops were nowhere in sight. Her phone slipped from her hand, landing on the coffee table. Cursing, she reached down to quickly pick it up, grazing the fetish with her palm.
A shock, like static electricity, bit her hand. She pulled it back quickly, rubbing it. Her palm was burning. Hannah shook it out, waving it in the air. The room looked different. Small, but bigger at the same time. The walls creaked as if a silent wind was pressing against them. She realized she was struggling to take a breath.
Someone was whispering. It was the apartment. The voice was joined by another, then another. They swarmed around her like bees. She was hot and cold. Sharp fingers were pinching her body. The voices were thundering in her ears. Pressure was building up inside her, like a boiling pot. She took a deep breath and tried to scream.
She was in the kitchen. McClelland was next to her. Silas was wearing blue crime scene gloves. He stared at the women in annoyance.
“You were staring into space,” McClelland said. “You okay?”
She tried to collect herself and think of a lie. “Yeah, my mind was just on other things.”
Her eyes darted to Silas as returned to the living room. She followed him as he stood over the coffee table. He reached out for the fetish. She opened her mouth but said nothing. Deftly, the detective scooped it up into his hands. He looked back up at them, apparently unaffected.
“Aw,” Silas said, looking back down at the figurine, “a bit disappointed.”
“Were you expecting a giant rolling ball?” McClelland said.
“Wouldn’t have been the first time.”
He weighed the fetish in his hand.
“Heavy bastard. Must be filled with metal, or something.”
He held it up to the light, running a finger over the grooves.
“I wanna say acacia wood,” Silas said. “Probably six pounds. Newly-made.”
“New?” the cop said.
“No more than a year old,” he said, sniffing the doll.
There was a snapping sound as McClelland whipped open a plastic evidence bag. He reached over. “All right, hand it here.”
Silas stepped back, a protective hand on the fetish. “I need time with it, Rick.”
“It’s evidence, Black. It comes with me.”
“But I’ve got books,” the private eye said. “With pictures. I can find out where it came from. Plus, I need to observe it on my own turf and see what it can do. If anything.”
“I can’t release evidence to you,” McClelland said.
“Give me a few days,” Silas said. “You know I can get more from it than your lab monkeys.”
The cop gave Silas a hard look. But he sighed in defeat. “You have one day. Don’t make me regret it.”
Silas took the evidence bag from him and dropped the fetish inside. He looked over at Hannah and smiled. She snapped out of the daze she had slipped back into.
“I assume you have more questions,” Silas asked.
“No, I’m done.” Hannah stuffed her phone into her bag and turned away. Before either Silas or McClelland could say anything, she marched down the hall and disappeared from the apartment.
Silas stood beside the cop as they looked after her, the evidence bag swinging from his hand.