Read Spirit Online

Authors: J. P. Hightman

Spirit

Spirit
J. P. Hightman

As always, to Kim and to my family.

 

With deep thanks to my talented,

skillful, patient editor,

Ruth Katcher

Contents

Preface

These are not the Salem witches you know.

Prologue

Winter breathed upon her.

Chapter One

Here we are again, Tess was thinking.

Chapter Two

They had come on a mission to aid the dead,…

Chapter Three

Those who seek the truth in the blood of Salem…

Chapter Four

Lore. How Tess and Tobias loved it.

Chapter Five

Not a day later, they took the quickest, most direct…

Chapter Six

The Goodravens spent the night in Salem, awaiting the next…

Chapter Seven

Other travelers arrived, in a wave of perfumes and coffee…

Chapter Eight

While the tall foreigner eased back into the shadows, everyone's…

Chapter Nine

Mr. Josiah Jurey's tale of living, breathing witches feeding off some…

Chapter Ten

Tobias pulled himself out of a gaping hole in the…

Chapter Eleven

Inside the first ruined train car, Tobias was trying to…

Chapter Twelve

Tess just stood there, feeling abandoned, the first time she'd…

Chapter Thirteen

The room was empty. Tess called out but no one…

Chapter Fourteen

Mr. Wilder moved so quickly it was as if he disappeared…

Chapter Fifteen

It all passed in a heartbeat.

Chapter Sixteen

For Tess and Tobias, closed off inside the caboose, the…

Chapter Seventeen

He was leaving, that was the end of it. Tess…

Chapter Eighteen

As the day drifted uneasily into early afternoon, Tobias and…

Chapter Nineteen

Snow floated down gently, but tranquility was nowhere else in…

Chapter Twenty

Something was hunting Tobias. The tremors he'd felt in the…

Chapter Twenty-One

Tobias stayed ahead of the two college men. Wilder was…

Chapter Twenty-Two

From inside the train, Tess could see Annette outside, giving…

Chapter Twenty-Three

The blue mist reached into Tess. She stared horror-struck as…

Chapter Twenty-Four

Michael and Sattler tried to keep pace with Tobias as…

Chapter Twenty-Five

And then he was somewhere else. Tobias stood before a…

Chapter Twenty-Six

Tess and Annette were looking for the missing blind boy…

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Outside, still terribly shaken, Tess and the young boy were…

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Tess tried to regain her strength, hearing the screams of…

Chapter Twenty-Nine

A moment later Tobias and Sattler were outside. Tobias motioned…

Chapter Thirty

A twisting snake of smoky blue mist had hold of…

Chapter Thirty-One

Tess watched as the indefinite form of the Puritan girl…

Chapter Thirty-Two

Malgore's face contorted, fangs springing forth, a screeching let loose…

Chapter Thirty-Three

Tess brought the children back to the train tracks, where…

Chapter Thirty-Four

He had questions but no answers.

Epilogue

Tess and Tobias Goodraven settled in Salem, their new home,…

 

T
hese are not the Salem witches you know.

The objects under consideration in these pages are not the innocent men and women caught up in the Salem trials—born of hysteria and hate—but rather, the real and true thing.

Much has been written of the witch trials. But there were other trials, later and less famous, in the Massachusetts township. It was left to secret judges and tribunals to deal with the real forces of darkness in that terrible age.

This story reaches back many centuries, and no doubt will reach forward many more, but the first serious investigation into the true Salem magicians began in the Victorian period.

PROLOGUE

The Salem Woods
1892

W
inter breathed upon her.

The morning was cold, as it had been yesterday, and the day before that. The girl's coat was not thick enough, but she said nothing to her father. His job was to inspect the rails before the train from Salem to Blackthorne went through for the first time in ages. He had taken her along, because his wife had passed on, and there was no one to watch over the honor of a fifteen-year-old girl, and he disliked the rough young men eyeing her at the bakery, where she'd bought a meager breakfast.

She was unhappy, but did not complain. She could ensure he finished the task, for he was known to be lax, a wanderer, fond of whiskey, who could not hold employment. They were lucky to have any money in their pockets. Eighteen ninety-two had been a hard year, with little to look forward to. Truth be told, the two of them could wander off into the landscape and never return, and no one would be surprised.

They were completely alone on the railbed that ran along the snowy forest, joined only by the sound of his long metal cane tapping at the tracks.

She wandered a few feet into the woods after an animal,
perhaps a deer, though it seemed larger, some dark thing moving among the snowdrifts in this bitter patch of wilderness not far from Blackthorne. It was low to the ground, like a shadow, and slipped with terrible, silent grace beyond view, the feathery snow and the trees conspiring to create a veil.

It was then she noticed the tapping had ceased.

When she turned, she saw her father had stopped. His gaze seemed to fix upon her, and even at this distance she could see his face carried no expression whatsoever. For a very long moment, unsure of his meaning, she simply returned his look, drawn mysteriously into a sense of growing fear. She glanced behind her and saw no threat that could have taken his attention. He had about him a completely alien intensity, a predatorial aspect, as when a dog stiffens before moving into attack. He carried the metal cane in one hand and he remained motionless, even his eyes, still, unblinking.

What have I done,
she thought desperately. But she could think of nothing. She called to him, but he gave no reaction at all.

He stayed unmoving for so long that finally she began plodding toward him, her feet stinging with the cold in worn-down boots. Stopping not a foot in front of him, she saw a foreign presence in his eyes. A blue smoke drifted across his pupils as if he were somehow burning within.

Then something changed in the air. His head turned to the forest, as if recognizing some new arrival she could not see in the snow flurries. A crackling sound cut across the woods, and for just an instant her father was overcome with white vines of electricity, as if he were covered by a luminous ivy that had grown up from
the ground, but was gone again in a blink, leaving only a charred smell.

His hand slowly came forward and took hers into an iron grip. She was suddenly aware of a thick azure mist rising from the snow around the tracks. Again she spoke urgently to her father, and again he said nothing.

The mist dissipated around him. She wanted to scream, but could not. And then, still saying nothing, he walked her calmly but firmly onto a great sheet of ice, a frozen lake that lay beside the tracks.

They stood on the frozen waters together, and she asked him what was wrong, begging for an answer. He did not reply, but instead raised his metal cane above his head with a heavy grunt, and then brutally brought it down onto the ice. She tried to run, but he held her to the spot.

He cracked open the frozen lake and pulled her down with him into the black water.

The Home of the Ghosthunters,

A Drawing Room, New York City, 1892

CHAPTER ONE

H
ere we are again,
Tess was thinking.

Tess and Tobias Goodraven, in their mahogany chairs, facing each other near the bay windows, cellos at the ready, and now beginning to play. The petite young lady, dressed in white, dark hair in a perfect coil behind her head, and the light-haired young man, dashing but unkempt, were again building a musical wall between themselves and the world.

The room was large and its two occupants might have looked fragile beneath the high ceiling, but to Tess this was the safest and friendliest of places, even in the midst of an argument.

Neither spoke. They let their cellos do the talking. The low throbbing of the strings, like a prisoner humming a dirge, reverberated off the portraits, the antiquities, the dark emerald wallpaper and the black wood of the floor, and wrapped the couple in a cocoon of their own making.

Such gloomy noises fit perfectly in the Goodraven mansion.

The room was lined with dusty books, overflowing from the library, volumes filled with the sinister ramblings of forgotten men, accounts of travels made in the worst of times to places never meant to be visited—all stories Tobias had paged through,
but never finished, each time driven to a new one, or to his maps, or into his own investigations.

His restlessness was exciting to Tess, and wearying, and often she couldn't decide which she felt more.

The music moved through her entire body as she held the cello between her knees, the instrument's long swanlike neck rising beside her head, its strings digging pleasantly into her fingers.

She was never going to admit she'd been wrong.

To look at her, you would never have known she had such a rebellious spirit. She seemed much the same as any pretty, upper-class woman in the city, but spend two minutes in conversation with her, and her devilish playfulness and desire to shock the prim sensibilities around her would be obvious.

She was more than matched in this by Tobias, who forever relished in playing the scoundrel.

They had been married less than a year.

This was their first real disagreement, though his silence was not unusual; he seemed to crave it at times. But the music often healed him, brought him back to her.

Her playing had become a mere scraping of the strings. She regained her concentration, but too late. Tobias furrowed his brow, noting her distraction, answering her trills with his own. He was a tall, slim gentleman, Tobias was, with a handsome, rounded face that softened the impression made by his shockingly white hair. Those snowy, fine angelic strands often fell forward over bored, faded green eyes that lit up whenever something morbid or novel presented itself.

Because as a rule he was so humorous, Tess half expected him
to smile at any moment, but he was altogether different when he was immersed in playing. He'd make no exception today.

It was a quiet, ancient piece, moody in the extreme, the kind Tobias usually favored, full of contemplation, never quite giving in to the melody. The music conjured up images of reverberant chambers in a decaying castle, in a time of plagues and sorrows, with the dead piling up in the streets, while behind the high gates of a fortress, the approval of a lovelorn nobleman was all that concerned the court musicians. (At least, this is what floated into Tess's mind.)

Tobias played the more difficult, lower bass line, investigating a rich darkness Tess would never dare to reach, exploring a cold emptiness she would fear. His eyes fell closed.

Now the couple departed from the written notes, and instead joined each other in finding new ground. Tobias had a genius for this. His improvisations perfectly matched her higher wanderings, the two streaming lines of music separating and harmonizing. Though Tess was not always certain of
his
next moves, he knew exactly where she was going, and met her there with a chivalrous echo, playfully teasing out her adventurousness, drawing from her new pleadings. He continually surprised her, and pleasantly so.

He dominated her now, taking over the slight melody and moving the music into a territory more bleak than any Gothic landscape, and she accompanied him with a plain bowing.

She had a tendency to follow him wherever he went, in music, as in life.

The Goodravens were unique, and they knew it, and they enjoyed it. Not many seventeen-year-olds were so rich, or lived
on their own in a mansion, with a butler and house staff to do whatever they wanted; not many people their age were married; and very few hunted ghosts just for the thrill of it. Their lives were magical. And dangerous beyond measure.

Tess had a small but growing awareness of this danger.

She had begun to worry about where this witches' trail was going to take them.

“Are you ready to talk about it yet?” she inquired, somewhat playful. Lately their music had often preceded deep and wide-ranging discussions.

But he didn't look up. He made his bow strikes a bit angrier, slicing out a quicker tempo. No, he was not ready to talk.

The “incident” in the Salem graveyard several nights ago had been something more than the quiet séances they'd joined in New England, more than the gentle sensing of spirits they'd observed in their journeys in Europe, or even in distant India, where they had witnessed the moving of furniture all on its own in a British ambassador's residence.

This Salem business was considerably more aggressive.

Tess moved her eyes past Tobias to the bay windows and a solemn brownstone building adorned with grim, overfed gargoyles. She could dimly hear the ragged clatter of hooves, and coachmen sniping at each other and their horses, trying to steer a clear path. The second-floor parlor did not allow a view of the Manhattan street below, but Tess had imprinted the avenue in her mind's eye: darkly dressed men, in top hats and bowlers, high collars smudged with ink by the end of the day, and the light, at the dinner hour, drifting lazily down through
billows of smoke. The windows were thick, but she was faintly aware of them, could
feel
their bitter mélange of tired-out resentment.

The muffled sensation, a low-burning plaintive anger, of men wanting something better, drifted upward, pressing on Tess, as if a weight had been laid upon her back. She'd have blocked it out if it were possible. But the feelings of others radiated, floated, and permeated the air immediately around them inescapably. Tobias shared her odd ability to pick up on these stirrings, but the effects seemed to toughen him, causing him to view them as entertainments, while she tended to take on ever more sympathy, more pain, more worry, for others, for the unfortunates of the world.

Now his long, agile fingers bent the strings to a demanding rise in melody, as her hand fell, finishing with a descending elegance.

His voice intruded on the silence.

“So what exactly is it you want to talk about, Tess? Is there something I need to set right?” he asked, lightening his brooding expression, as if ready to grin.

She paused. Keeping a straight face, knowing he could read her every emotion, she said, “Tobias, I'm not asking for an apology for your sharp remarks, which I am overlooking with characteristic grace and a heroic lack of self-pity. But I'd like you to admit the situation in the Salem graveyard was more frightening than you had expected.”

“Of course it was. And it was fantastic.”

Tess refused to smile. “Something awful could have happened to us.”

“That's the general idea of adventuring, my dear.”

“That thing was monstrous.”

He made himself look appalled. “Dearest Tess, are you and I remembering the same night?”

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