Black River: The Bell Witch Series Book 6
Black River: The Bell Witch Series Book 6
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The Bell Witch has returned. But this time, they’re ready…
The cursed families of Black River are about to make their final stand. On one side are the survivors of the ancient curse, a nightmare that has plagued their bloodlines for centuries. And standing against them is the sinister and twisted Bell Witch, an evil spirit who lives on in a new host…
Powered by the souls of her victims, the witch’s malignance infests the woods surrounding Black River. If the survivors are to have any chance of stopping her, they must infiltrate the darkest depths of the forest, and destroy her blasphemous collection of souls, before it’s too late…
But as the survivors search the gnarled trees and misty woods, they quickly learn that their enemy has been expecting them. A legion of monsters and demons awaits, hungry for blood. And they are led by the Bell Witch herself.
Now is the chance they have been waiting for… the chance to finally banish the evil witch and end her curse once and for all.
If they fail, they’ll pay with their own blood.
And a dark power greater than anything they have ever faced will be unleashed…
Lightning lashed the turbulent sky, staining the driving rain silver and filling the empty streets with writhing shadows. The windshield wipers struggled against the deluge, and the rippling water only made the illusions worse. Mina eyed the phantoms as the lightning faded, and they once more disappeared into the night. The rural tourist town’s nightlife consisted of a few bars, a pizza place that stayed open to serve the drunken horde, and a late-night coffee shop. They were closed now, their darkened windows shielded by the rising mist. Mina drew in a slow, deep breath to try and settle her nerves but didn’t try to convince herself that she was merely being paranoid. That wasn’t a luxury she had anymore. In her life, it was very rarely “just” a shadow.
Gusting winds rolled off of the surrounding snow-capped mountains, howling like a living beast and battering the side of the minibus. The sporadic rocking kept Mina off-balance as she stood by the driver, bracing against the dashboard and trying to find a way to position her prosthetic leg. Mason’s quick reflexes and upper body strength kept her from falling more than once. Glancing over her shoulder, she eyed one of the many empty seats, debating if she should give her leg a rest. It would be safer. Dread wormed deep into her bones and squashed the thought. Blindly trusting her instincts hadn’t come naturally to her, but she had learned. If something was coming for them, she was going to be the first to see it, and she’d have Mason close by when it arrived.
“We’re almost there.” Mason didn’t take his eyes off of the road. “How are you holding up?”
“I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me.”
The rain battering the metal roof almost drowned out his response. “Storms clearly freak you out.”
Denial wasn’t an option anymore. They had spent far too many months traveling together, gathering up family members willing to fight Claudia, and smuggling them to the resort. They knew each other too well by this point.
“It was raining like this the night the Leviathan fell.” She shrugged. “It conjures up bad memories.”
Mason arched an eyebrow. “The night you managed to straight-up murder a demon is a ‘bad’ memory?”
“I’m happy with the results,” she said, the gentle teasing making her grin. “But everything we had to endure to get to that point left a few scars.”
Mason nodded. “Yeah, I can understand that.”
Mina steadied herself as they turned the last corner and headed up the lone road that curled up the mountainside.
“Basheba’s kraken needs water to travel, and I think it creates these storms to expand its reach,” Mina continued. “I don’t know. When it rains like this, I just feel… watched.”
Now that it was voiced, the sensation she had been fighting back became overwhelming. Her skin prickled and what limited hair she had stood on end. The extensive scar tissue that covered the majority of her body prevented much hair from growing on her. It was a near miracle that she had managed to grow enough for her shoulder-length bob.
Mason gave an understanding grunt. “Why are horrific monsters from unknown origins always so voyeuristic?”
She giggled. Sometimes, she couldn’t understand how he and Cadwyn had built such a close bond. The two nurses were fundamentally different. Cadwyn was a warm and measured man, while Mason was essentially a hyperactive husky given human form. One thing they had in common, however, was that they were impressively unflappable.
“Shouldn’t you be a little more disturbed by the idea that a kraken is watching your every move?”
“I was born into a cult that trained children to murder people in order to prevent the Hellmouth from opening, so—” Mason ended the sentence with a lazy shrug.
The silence that followed would have allowed monsters to creep out from the shadows, and a distant crack of lightning put her further on edge. She grappled for another topic of conversation.
“Edith said that Dad—” She cut herself off. He doesn’t deserve that title anymore. “Edith said that Barnaby has been hovering around the homestead.”
It was hard to tell what Barnaby Crane truly believed. Either Claudia had convinced him that she spoke with the Bell Witch, or he knew that she had claimed the position of power for herself and the rest was a lie. Doesn’t matter either way, Mina reasoned. Whatever he believed, he had chosen to side with Claudia, and there was no coming back from that.
“Edith can handle Barnaby,” Mason chuckled. “Although, she did mention that the packages she sends us will have to be smaller. She won’t be able to put everything we ask for in only one or two packages anymore. Better stick with the necessities from now on.”
“You don’t worry at all?”
“Edith’s told me some of the things she got up to during the second World War. I won’t go into detail, but no, I’m not worried that Barnaby of all people will figure out what she’s up to.” Repositioning his hands on the steering wheel, he carefully worked the minibus around a tight curve in the road. “I’m more worried about all the gold diggers. Right now, people are scrambling for resources, and she’s one of the few people who kept their money out of the family trusts. Physically, she’s an easy target.”
Mina hated to think it could ever come to that. “We might end up killing each other for our freedom, but not for money.”
“People have done a lot more for a lot less.”
“But there’s always a limit,” Mina argued.
Mason cocked his head to the side, making the tips of his dark hair sweep over the broad expanse of his muscular shoulders. “I distinctly remember you telling me that, for your first Harvest, your mother waved you off with a backpack full of poison and instructions to kill everyone.”
“It wasn’t full of poison,” Mina stammered, caught off-guard, and not sure how to continue. “It was just a baggie and—” She huffed. “Why do I tell you things?”
“My point is, we’ve all got a wee little Basheba in us. Just waiting for permission to come out.”
“Now there’s a terrifying thought.”
Towering pines rose up on their left while the raw stone of the mountainside pushed in from the right. The natural barriers blotted out what little moonlight managed to penetrate the storm clouds, allowing the darkness to thicken around them and turn the windows into black mirrors. Mason turned the high beams on, slowed the minibus to a crawl, and tried his best to keep on the narrowing, flooded road. By now, he had the road to Ha-Yun’s resort memorized, but they needed to take extra care tonight. They had precious cargo. Mina glanced over her shoulder, needing to reassure herself that Abe Claymont was still there.
The physical medium was in his twenties, although a rough life and personal choice had left him looking much older. Between seeing photographs of him and spending so much time around Mason—a living mountain of muscle—she had thought she wouldn’t find the man imposing. She had been wrong. It wasn’t simply his appearance, although his penetrating gaze and engorged canine teeth didn’t help. There was just something undefinable about him that made her insides cold.
Jetlag had hit Abe hard. He had been snoring before they had even pulled out of the airport parking lot. Upon waking, he had started a Skype call, and Mina hadn’t had the courage to interrupt him. With the darkening windows acting as a mirror, she was able to finally get a glance at his phone screen. She wasn’t the only one to see it.
“Is he laughing at an empty room?” Mason whispered. “Do you think he’s nuts?”
Mina snapped her gaze away, worried she had been staring. “Of course not. The Claymonts are renowned in paranormal circles.”
“There’s no one on the other end of that Skype call. Look, he’s talking to nothing.” His eyebrows crept up his forehead as he realized something else. “In Russian.”
Mina watched the huge medium perform a sleight of hand trick with a coin, pause, and then chuckle.
“Go talk to him before you climb out of your skin,” Mason said.
If she hadn’t been waiting for over a year to get an actual medium alone, she might have protested. Gripping the pole as best she could, she staggered a few feet to the seats positioned against the wall. It was the only place big enough to comfortably accommodate the colossal man. An ill-timed gust would have put her into his lap if he hadn’t blindly caught her. Like Mason, he only needed one hand to drag her down onto the bench seat beside him. Mina had no delusion about being short, but she had never felt this tiny in her life.
His wiry copper beard was longer than his short-cropped hair, but it still didn’t hide his huge grin as he kept his eyes on the screen. A lot of Russian spilled from his mouth, with her name speckled in amongst the harsh syllables. Sparing her a glance from the corner of his eyes, he gave her a quick smile.
“Sorry. They were curious.”
“About me?” she asked before craning her neck to better see the screen. An antique loveseat was positioned several feet back from the camera and, beyond it, snow drifted lazily across iron-framed windows.
His amusement seemed to thicken his Scottish accent. “They’re not strong enough to present as visual apparitions.”
She twisted around to face him. “You’ve been Skyping with ghosts this whole time?”
“Restless spirits,” he corrected.
After racking her brain for what the difference was, she came up empty and had to ask.
“Ghosts are shackled to a location, person, or item. Restless spirits are free to roam.” His attention was recaptured by the screen, and he continued his conversation with the spirits.
It took her a second to realize that he was switching between Russian, Hindi, and something else she couldn’t pinpoint.
“How many languages do you know?”
Abe held a finger up to the camera as if requesting a pause in the conversation before responding. “Several. All mediums do.”
“I never knew that.”
He looked a little annoyed at the interruption but answered anyway. “Some folks can’t move on until they feel they’ve been heard. Their whole life story from start to finish. So, we tend to get a vast education.” A heartbeat later, he turned to her fully. “If ya ever meet a medium that ain’t a polyglot, ya lookin’ at a fraud.”
“You know, I’ve never considered that,” Mina said, thoughtful. “Do you have a wide range of people coming to you for help?”
“Both living and dead.”
Mindlessly, he flipped a gold coin over his scarred knuckles, making it disappear at random moments with a flick of his wrist and bringing it back with a flourish. It struck her that he was keeping his invisible audience entertained.
“So, what if a high-ranking government official comes to you as a restless spirit?”
“Then I’m learnin’ some launch codes again,” Abe dismissed.
Her jaw dropped. “Nuclear launch codes? You know—”
“I’m sure North Korea has changed them by now.”
Unable to wrap her head around that and all of its possible ramifications, Mina was stunned into silence. A new voice snapped her back to reality. The man that came onto the screen was beautiful; lean and graceful, with big eyes and a halo of dark curls.
“Lunch is almost ready,” the stranger said. “That means it’s time for all good dead children to go outside to play for a while.”
Mina threw Abe a questioning look.
“Kids need routine and established boundaries,” he shrugged, as if that answered every question she could possibly have. “Hey, Mihail. This is Mina.”
Mihail offered the standard polite greetings as he held the phone aloft and got comfortable on the couch.
“You look atrocious.”
Mina winced before she realized that he wasn’t referring to her melted skin. Abe groaned and scratched at his wiry copper beard.
“I could barely get in the seat.”
“I did offer to upgrade you,” Mihail noted with a small smile.
Abe absently waved it off, somehow still maintaining perfect control of the flipping coin. “That wasn’t the worst of it. It was the couple in the back of the plane. They got together while the guy’s wife was in the hospital dyin’.” Abe paused to release a jaw-cracking yawn. “Said wife took offense to that and now follows them around, shriekin’ bloody murder in their faces. Of course, they can’t hear her, but it doesn’t stop the old girl from givin’ it her all.” He stilled the coin long enough to wipe a hand over his face. “Eleven and a half hours of that.”
“You’d think she’d get bored.” Mihail’s smile broadened the more Abe glared at him.
“Remember when you were shy and insecure?” the medium asked.
“Being master of Castle Vaduva and all the dead residing within it has led to a lot of personal growth.”
A proud smile tipped one corner of Abe’s face.
Mihail’s eyes softened, and his tone became almost beseeching, “When will you be coming home?”
“I haven’t even got there yet,” Abe chuckled.
Mina cut in. “We’re about fifteen minutes away from the resort now.”
“Right.” Mihail looked at her long enough to be polite before studying his friend closely.
“I’m going to be okay,” Abe promised.
“You’re exhausted and have no protection. Forgive me if I don’t feel reassured.”
Mina looked between the two men. “I’m sorry, what am I missing?”
A deep, frustrated growl rumbled in Abe’s chest. “Mediums are more susceptible to possession. Generally, I have my parents with me to run interference. That wasn’t possible this time.”
“It could have been if you had waited,” Mihail interrupted.
Abe groaned. “How many times do we have to go over this? Between Dad’s leg and Mom’s bout of vertigo, it’ll take months for them to get in any condition to be of help. These guys can’t wait that long. How are my parents?”
“You didn’t try very hard to think of any other solution.”
“Mihail, these folks were talkin’ about krakens.”
Mina’s stomach dropped. “The kraken is your greatest concern? I would have thought the Bell Witch or her benefactor would be—”
Abe cut her off. “Ya do know krakens aren’t real, right?”
Before Mina could find a response, something slammed into the side of the minibus, careening them across the road. Abe snapped his arm out, locking Mina against the seat as the second wheel slipped off the road and they sped backward down the slope. Tree branches snapped, the broken stumps screeching along the metal casing and scraping across the windows. With a final deafening crack and a hailstorm of glass, they jerked to a stop.
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