Spring Slaughter: The Bell Witch Series Book 4
Spring Slaughter: The Bell Witch Series Book 4
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They thought the harvest was over. But a darker evil is about to be revealed…
It has been more than a year since the offspring of Black River’s oldest families made their final stand against the evil Bell Witch. Their victory took a heavy toll, and left the survivors scarred and estranged from their blood lines. But now, as they return home to their small, quiet town, they are shocked to discover a new evil, festering among the shadowy trees…
Without the threat of the Witch’s bloody harvest, the family elders have fallen into chaos. Internal squabbling has left them blind to this new enemy in their midst. Local legends have barely begun to fade, when a group of tourists go missing. Some say the Witch has returned. But Basheba, Mina, and the others believe it could be something even worse.
As the survivors dig deeper, they discover that one of their own may have been corrupted by an ancient evil—a power greater than anything they have faced before. But is the Bell Witch behind all this? Has she returned once again, to wreck vengeance on the families she cursed centuries ago?
Or does someone else lurk in the shadows, plotting to seize power for themselves?
The rhythmic thud and click of the grandfather clock echoed throughout the darkened mansion. It struck the hour, releasing a clatter of bells that made Mina jump. She twisted around, the tires of her wheelchair squeaking as they pushed against the polished floor, and fixed her eyes on her open bedroom door. The combination of her desk lamp and glowing laptop screen worked to weaken the shadows that had crept into her room. Everything beyond her threshold, however, was thick ebony.
With her concentration shattered, fatigue hit her hard. She slumped slightly against her chair’s backing and rubbed her face with both hands. The contrast of scar tissue still unnerved her somewhat. She doubted that she’d ever fully get used to the damage the witch fire had left behind. Hardened ridges and smooth puddles that turned her into a patchwork of textures. Absently, her hands lowered to knead at the stub of her right leg. Surgical scars squished under her fingertips, but the phantom pain lingered. A dull ache she felt in her missing shin.
Heaving a weary sigh, she studied how little progress she had made on her thesis since the last time she had taken a break, and decided it was time to accept defeat, at least for the evening. The rug caught her wheel and, too tired to be patient, Mina yanked harder on the wheels. Swinging around, the footrest of her wheelchair smacked against her mahogany desk. The prosthetic leg she had left propped against it rattled. She eyed it for a while.
After what her family had named “the accident,” living on her own wasn’t an option. Her parents had clearly expected her to come stay with them and, if Ozzie hadn’t made a counteroffer, she would have been forced to do so. While she loved her family more than life itself, she wasn’t ready to leave behind her independence to make them happy. She had seen too much, done too much, to go back to being the girl she had been before. The Harvest changed us all.
The guest rooms of the Davis family mansion looked like hotel suites she could never afford to set foot in. All of her things looked out of place amongst the beautiful furniture and white marble. While her room was on the smaller side by their luxurious standards, it had provided her more than enough space to practice walking on her artificial leg. By this point, it was almost a tradition to take a turn around her attached sitting room before bed. Scooping up the lining she had discarded on the edge of the desk, she worked the stretchy material over her stump. It fit snugly against her skin to provide the same protection as a bandage wrap without the inconvenience. She took her time, making sure it was perfectly in place before pulling the leg on over it. Suction and friction were far more painful than she had ever anticipated. Once it was all in place, she shut down her laptop and began to wander, the bare plastic foot clacking loudly against the stone floor.
Spring had come early to Dallas, allowing her to work with the balcony doors open again. A gentle breeze brought the scents of the extensive grounds into her room, dredging up memories of last year. Back then, already six months into her recovery, her life had been a cycle of painful surgeries and grueling rehab. It had all been worth it. She was past her need for constant at-home care and looked human enough that she didn’t scare children anymore.
Sometimes, she worried that she and her brother were taking advantage of Ozzie’s hospitality. She watched for any sign that they had outstayed their welcome but, like their son, Ethan and Ha-Yun Davis seemed perfectly fine for the Crane siblings to stay there forever.
Drifting out onto the balcony, she leaned against the thick stone railing and looked out over the backyard. Moonlight played over the horse stables that sat on the distant edge of the property. Between her and the stables, a lake glistened like liquid silver. Out of habit, she leaned forward to get a better view of the pool house where her brother now stayed. She smiled to find the windows dark. Ever since they had left the Witch Caves, her brother had desperately wanted to be useful. The problem was, there wasn’t much he could do.
Ozzie had ensured that she had the best possible care and, between Basheba and Cadwyn, her parents had been forced to take a step back. So, Jeremiah had taken to keeping her company. For months, he had slept on her sitting-room couch, until Ha-Yun had convinced him to move across the hall. If it weren’t for Ozzie, he’d probably still be there, she thought with a smile. It didn’t matter that Ozzie was a few years younger than Jeremiah. Her big brother looked up to the teenager. And, after all that had happened in the caves and out, she suspected Ozzie could talk him into anything.
A warm breeze pushed around her, teasing her nose with floral scents and playing with her short hair. It had struck her as strange that it was her hair she had mourned for the most. Lifting one hand, she weaved a small tuft between her fingers and drew in a deep breath of the clear night air.
Her stomach cramped painfully, leaving her breathless. For a second, she couldn’t pinpoint what had changed. Then it clicked. Somewhere within the bouquet of floral scents was a flower she had smelled before. Not here, but in the Witch Woods, as they crossed the sea of wildflowers Katrina had grown as a symbolic taunt. The moment she realized it, the smell drifted away, and she was left unsure if it had been there at all. I need some sleep.
A sharp thud rumbled through the stone beneath her feet. Gripping the balcony rail with both hands to stabilize herself, she twisted around. The gloomy, still expanse of her room stretched out before her. The next boom came, felt more than heard as the shockwave coursed through the railing. From where she stood, she could see through her open bedroom door and out into the darkened hallway. The vibrations faded away, allowing the serene calm to reclaim the house. But something was different now. A charge filled the air, perceived more by the twist in her gut than any outside force, and she slowly turned to face the door fully.
A loud crash shattered the silence, its aftershocks coursed down the hallway like rolling thunder. The time between each boom diminished. Footsteps. The thought froze her in place as the unseen force stalked closer. A shadow swept across the threshold, black upon black, an impossible feat given that there was nothing beyond her lamp to cast any light. The abyss grew and took shape before her wide eyes, growing up from the ground even though the sound approached from the side. The torso of a man below a wide, distorted head. Twin horns arching up from its head. A minotaur.
Fear crushed her lungs like a vise. Katrina’s dead, it shouldn’t exist anymore! At least, that’s the theory she had clung to. There was every chance that destroying the Bell Witch had eradicated all the horrors she had filled the woods with. Or it could have unleashed them. The thought had haunted her. The minotaur’s shadow deepened as it approached her door. She staggered back. The edge of the balcony dug hard against her spine, forcing her to acknowledge just how trapped she was. There was only one way on and off the balcony, one way out of the room itself, and the bull-headed wall of muscle blocked it. It’s a trick, she thought wildly. Black River, Tennessee, is more than six-hundred miles from Dallas. It couldn’t make it all the way here unseen. The floor shook hard enough to make the door creak on its hinges.
Weapon. You need a weapon. At the command, she rushed back into her room. Limping to her table, Mina searched the scattered items that covered her desk. The only thing that held any promise was her letter opener. Clutched in her scarred fingers, the slip of metal looked pitiful and small. She glared at it with resentment. This kind of stuff wouldn’t happen to Basheba. Basheba Bell was never without a knife or two on hand. It occurred to Mina now that it would have been wise to pay more attention to that life lesson.
The shadow was fully formed in the threshold by the time the last reverberating footstep caught up with it. A hush fell over the house. Mina struggled to quiet her heaving breaths, straining to hear its movements, her fingers relentlessly trying to tighten her grip on the letter opener.
A deep bovine snort pushed a cloud of steam around the edge of the door. Mina shrunk back as, with a raspy growl, the creature bled out of the darkness. Its horns came first. Twin, ivory points that caught the light from her desk lamp. The immense bull head followed, its thick neck giving way to human flesh.
It moved through the doorway in a rolling stride—a play of muscle and deadly intent. Its thin torso caught Mina off guard. Each time she had seen the bull-headed creatures before, they had been mountainous figures of bulging muscle. This one was lithe. Slightly on the softer side of fit. Broad chest, narrow hips, long limbs, and oddly familiar. It snorted again, its lowered head pushing the cloud of steam toward the floor.
The creature studied her, its shoulders heaving with every breath. Blood seeped from the severed flesh around its horns, trickling through its thin fur to drip down upon its bare human chest. The droplets welled against a white scar that crossed its body. I know that scar.
Shock punched the air out of Mina’s lungs.
The question died between them, unacknowledged by the monster before her. It can’t be him. It can’t. All of her protests couldn’t fight back the single ‘what if’ that lingered in the forefront of her mind. Her fingers spasmed around the letter opener. A guttural noise rumbled from its throat as its head twitched toward the movement.
“Cadwyn?” Mina tried again.
At first, Mina had dismissed the bunch and swell of its skin as a trick of the dim light. But it didn’t take long for the illusion to grow. Something writhed beneath its flesh. Slithering tendrils that rapidly consumed him. With a slick rip, the right side of its face burst open. Blood splattered the floor as thrashing vines spilled from its bovine cheek. They twisted and coiled like snakes, entwining themselves with the others that tore free from his neck. Mina’s hand trembled as the minotaur shook. It entered the light and, for the first time, she saw the creature’s eyes. They weren’t the obsidian orbs of a bull. But human. And painfully familiar.
The vines slithered down his arm and arched up to wrap around his horns. His human eyes flashed with wild panic, but the creature didn’t move to stop it from rapidly encasing half of his body. His bones snapped under the constricting vines. Then, with an audible gasp, flowers erupted from the foliage, their vibrant petals stained with his blood. Mina choked on the combined scents of wildflowers and viscera. The combination sent her mind reeling back to the Witch Woods, to the meadow Katrina had laid before them, its beauty designed as both mockery and threat.
Oh, God. The tainted air seemed to rip Mina apart from the inside. Before her, the foul hybrid of Cadwyn and beast reared, straining its ravaged neck to release an earth-trembling bellow. She’s back.
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