The Harvest: The Bell Witch Series Book 1
The Harvest: The Bell Witch Series Book 1
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Amid the sweet sounds of a music box, their darkest fears will haunt them…
In Black River, Tennessee, everyone knows the legend of the Bell Witch… and the alleged curse that hangs like a dark shroud over the town. To some, it is just a local tall tale. But to others, it is terrifyingly real.
For centuries, four families have been forced into the ritualistic tradition of sacrifice and terror. Every year, a member of each family stumbles upon an antique music box they need to lock before the time is up. And a horrible fate awaits them once the boxes open.
Trapped in the witch’s sadistic game, the families’ young offspring are forced to journey into the dark and twisted woods of Black River in search for the keys to their salvation. But as they search for a way to end the curse, a haunting melody echoes through the trees. And each lost soul must wonder…
Will they survive the night? Or will the Bell Witch’s bloody harvest claim more victims?
The Winthrop Family
Nightshift at the Stonebridge State Hospital for the Criminally Insane always carried an expectant silence. Having done his training at a private mental hospital, Cadwyn had grown used to a constant white noise of rambling whispers, broken sobs, and an endless shuffle of restless bodies. It was different here. After a certain hour, the commotion faded into silence, leaving Cadwyn’s footsteps to echo down the seemingly endless hallways. No one was deluded enough to think this calm meant anything good. There was always lingering anticipation. The staff could only wait with bated breath to see what the inmates would present them with next.
Rounding a corner, he braced one shoulder on the heavy iron door and waved lazily at the camera mounted near the ceiling. The deadbolt gave a heavy thunk and the magnetic locks disengaged with a droning buzz.
“You’re supposed to check my identification card,” Cadwyn reminded the head nurse as he pushed his way into the room.
From the outside, Stonebridge’s floorplan seemed pretty straight forward; just a long rectangle of red brick. Inside, however, it was a nightmare. All four floors were divided up by a maze of hallways. Windows were scarce, making it hard for someone to orientate themselves and near impossible to hold onto any sense of time. Mercifully, the unbreakable plastic shielding the rows of fluorescent lights muffled their constant hum. Numerous nurses’ stations speckled the building. They, more than anything else, marked the transition from one level of security to the next.
“I know who you are, Cad. And I could see from the numerous cameras that you were all alone,” Michelle’s voice drifted out from behind the sheet of bulletproof glass. “Of course, I’ll make sure to check your credentials before you head into high security.”
Cadwyn braced one forearm on the little ledge outside the glass. “Why would I be doing that? I’m on low-risk tonight, remember? First time in months.”
A smile slowly stretched Michelle’s freckled face. Cadwyn groaned.
“Can’t I just have one shift where no one tries to spit on me?”
“Wrong profession, love.” Michelle slipped a hand through the small gap in the window and proceeded to wiggle a specimen cup around. “It’s time for Peter the Human Eater to have his checkup.”
“How many times can one human being have a urinary tract infection?” Cadwyn asked.
“Maybe it’s karma,” Michelle mused.
“I think the punishment for consuming human flesh would be a bit more than a sore crotch.” He snatched the cup away as his friend started to hit him with it. “And why do I have to get the sample?”
“You’re on shift.”
“So are you. And, according to that wonderfully useful board behind you, there are actually several people here tonight who are assigned to high security.”
Michelle shrugged. “None of us are six foot.”
“He can’t do that scary thing you do with your eyes.”
Cadwyn chuckled, “What thing?”
“Yeah. Not buying it. Stop looking at me and go intimidate the serial killer into pissing himself, please.”
As Cadwyn turned, he noticed an amendment made to the whiteboard. It stopped him in an instant.
“You put Gould back on my rotation?”
Michelle sighed. “Come on, don’t make this difficult.”
“I told you I wouldn’t deal with him.”
“Look, I know he rubs you the wrong way. But this place isn’t exactly filled with nice people. Besides, you’re a nurse. You don’t get to pick your patients.”
“Michelle, I’m telling you this knowing full well you can have me fired, ruin my reputation, and possibly have my license revoked.” He waited for a heartbeat longer than necessary to make sure he had the head nurse’s full attention. “If you keep Gould in my rotation, I will kill him.”
“Don’t even joke like that.”
He stared at her until she met his gaze again. “I will do everything in my power to ensure his wound festers. I’ll help the infection spread to his bloodstream. I’ll watch him die a slow and painful death without ever intervening. Do you understand me?”
At first, Michelle tried to stare him down. She soon gave up. Growling through clenched teeth and snatching a clipboard off its hook with more force than necessary did little to dispel her resentment.
“Fine. I’ll take him off. But we never had this conversation. Do you understand me?”
“Of course, I do. You’re very articulate.”
She sneered at him, halfway between amused and enraged, and shoved the clipboard through the narrow gap. A pen followed later for Cadwyn to begin filling it all out. The fact that every pen in the building had to be accounted for at all times really slowed down the paperwork side of things.
She swiped angrily at the board. “Okay, this time you’re going to give me a dang answer.”
“When have I not?”
“What is it with you and Gould?” she continued, her glare the only sign she had heard his comment. “It’s not like he’s the worst we’ve got around here.”
Without looking up from his paperwork, Cadwyn replied, “My uncle once told me everyone has pressure points. Some you’ll grow out of. Some you’ll learn how to deal with. But there will always be something that cuts you right down to your soul.”
Michelle scoffed. It was only once Cadwyn looked at her from under his lashes that she shrugged.
“I don’t have any.”
“My uncle would say you just haven’t been tested.”
Michelle looked somewhat offended by that but, instead of arguing the point, went back to her whiteboard.
“A wise man knows his weaknesses as well as his strengths,” Cadwyn mumbled.
“Oh? Your uncle gave you that pearl of wisdom as well?”
“My grandmother,” he answered.
“Right.” She rolled her eyes. Scribbling on the whiteboard, she absently asked, “So, your point is that Gould pushes on one of your pressure points?”
Cadwyn cringed. “Cruelty to dogs and pulling teeth.”
Michelle’s marker left a streak of bright blue across the board as she whirled on him. “Are you kidding me? Teeth? Really? We’ve got three other patients in this wing alone who did unspeakable things with corpses, and teeth is where you draw the line?”
“There’s no shame in having pressure points, only in denying them,” Cadwyn said under his breath.
She stared at him. “Kimberly fed radioactive material to children.”
“Which is horrific and disgusting,” he replied. “This isn’t a moralistic issue, Michelle. I’m not trying to say my personal pressure points are the epitome of evil. Think of it more like phobias. It’s simply something you don’t have any control over.”
“Pulling teeth. Or breaking them. Anything along those lines.” He let the conversation drop as his stomach began to churn.
Her frustration was starting to show. Shaking her head, she left her task and returned to the little window that separated them.
“What’s any of this got to do with Gould? He’s in here because he declared everyone at the IRS to be lizard people and tried to blow up the headquarters.”
“Look up what he did to his pet boxer.”
“Oh, it was the cruelty to animals button he pushed.”
Cadwyn slid the paperwork back to his friend.
“It’s cruelty to dogs in particular,” he corrected. “And Gould hit both buttons.”
Deciding that prolonging the conversation ran the risk of making him physically ill, Cadwyn held up the specimen cup in farewell and stalked down to the next door. With a sweet smile, Michelle refused to open the door until she had personally checked his identification card.
When at last he was through the first door, he quickly ran into the next. Several checkpoints turned the relatively short walk into a string of capsules. Some had a living guard to usher him on his way. At others, he had to flash his credentials to the mounted cameras and wait for someone in a distant room to hit the lock release. Having never worked at the general prison, he sometimes wondered how different their security was. They had hardened criminal psychopaths as well, after all. Although, he supposed the ones who called Stonebridge home were of a different breed.
Two burly guards met him at the last checkpoint. While Cadwyn was slightly taller than both Ted and Steve, each guard easily surpassed him in sheer muscle mass. Ted combined his impressive bulk with a standard issue military hair cut to look more imposing. Steve, on the other hand, achieved the same effect with the array of tattoos that seemingly covered everything but his face. Together, they were an intimidating sight, and that was the whole point.
“A urine sample? Didn’t we just do this?” Ted asked, reviewing the notes on the monitor enclosed in the wall.
“It’s a follow-up,” Cadwyn said.
Steve scratched at the monotone skull tattoo that covered the right side of his neck. “If he throws it at me again, you owe me a beer.”
“How is it my fault?” Cadwyn asked, positioning himself between the two men as they started down the long stretch of hallway.
“It ain’t. I just want free beer.”
“Stay classy,” Ted mumbled.
Peter was one of the patients that had to be kept in permanent isolation. Unless absolutely necessary, he wasn’t brought out of his cell and no one went in. All the guards hated the few occasions that made it unavoidable. Peter was an opportunistic predator and fond of blitz attacks. It made him unpredictable, volatile, and inclined to keep fighting until he was either sedated or unconscious. The paperwork those encounters created took hours to complete. Everyone hated dealing with Peter.
The final door opened with a loud buzz. Ted pushed the door open. Terrified screams rolled down upon them like a tsunami. Steve pushed Cadwyn behind him before they sprinted forward, silently instructing the nurse on exactly how far away he was allowed to venture. Ted used the radio from his belt to call in the disturbance. A protocol that guaranteed backup would be on the way while also ensuring the wing would go into lockdown. The large slabs of unbreakable glass set in each door allowed Cadwyn to see into each cell as they passed. Some cursed at them. Or spat. A few fed off Peter’s panic, using it to fuel their own frenzies. Others hid. A flash of color streaked across his peripheral vision. The passing illusion of a child. A little girl dressed in green. Cadwyn lurched to a stop. It’s too soon. The thought shattered as Steven bellowed at him. Breaking into a run again, Cadwyn soon caught up, repeating to himself all the while, it’s not midnight. I still have time. I didn’t bring her here.
Peter pressed himself against the door, his voice cracking as he shrieked, his hands smearing blood across everything he touched. The guards increased their speed, effortlessly falling into formation. Ted positioned himself between the door and Cadwyn while Steve moved to the door. Cadwyn was forced to stretch his neck to see over the rounded muscles that lined Ted’s shoulders. Peter hadn’t left his position but the quickly thickening layer of blood made it harder to see him.
“Back away!” Steve growled, one hand clasping the hilt of his baton. “Back away from the door, now!”
“Let me out!” The words clashed together as Peter repeated them, becoming gibberish and mangling the few others he shoved in at random.
Dread burned behind Cadwyn’s ribs. “Did he just say there’s a girl in his cell?”
The guards shared a glance before they shifted into breach position. Going in with only two of them wasn’t something either wanted to do. But they were quickly passing the point where what they wanted held any weight. Peter was working the whole ward into a frenzy and, judging by the amount of blood painting the door, was in danger of bleeding out. Ted rose up onto his toes, shifting slightly, seeking out a way to see through the few gaps still unstained by crimson. A visible jolt ran through his body. His broad shoulders tensed and, in a flash of movement, he had his baton at the ready and was snarling into his radio.
“Get here, now!”
“ETA in five minutes,” came the crackling response.
“Inmate 364 has a civilian in his cell,” Ted bellowed over the rising chaos around them. “Repeat. Inmate 364 has a child in his cell!”
“How is that possible?” Steve asked, pushing closer to the glass. The color drained from his face.
“Help me!” Peter’s screams broke each time he threw his whole body against the door. “You can’t leave me in here with her! Help me!”
The guards ignored the flood of questions that came across the radio to share a shocked glance. At the pause, Peter became more frantic, his actions feeding the confusion. Cadwyn’s skin turned to ice when Peter shifted. It was just for a second, but he saw her. A little girl in green.
“Get him out of there,” Cadwyn breathed.
The order, while softly spoken, was enough to snap the guards out of their daze. Neither of their extensive training had prepared them for this scenario.
“Let me out! Keep her away from me!”
Cadwyn stepped forward before he could stop himself, his hands balled into fists at his side. Guilt bubbled within his veins. I didn’t pay attention to the time. It’s past midnight. I brought her here. The guards shared a single nod. Steve grabbed the handle, swiped his key card over the sensor, and paused with his hand poised over the keypad.
“Opening in three, two, one.”
The door was yanked open with enough force to spray the walls with blood. The sight of the bright red flecks whipped the trapped inmates into a frenzy, spiraling the situation further beyond their captor’s control. The noise was deafening. Animalistic screams mingled with demented threats and the constant pounding against the walls. Caught in the middle of it all, Cadwyn was forced to remember just how dangerous the men around him were. He prayed the doors would hold as his muscle memory took over, making him back away, putting the solid wall to his back, and giving the guards room to grapple Peter to the ground.
“You’re not listening to me,” Peter wailed, thrashing against Ted’s hold. “Get me away from her! You can’t leave me with her!”
Ted pressed his knee between Peter’s shoulder blades, pinning the man to the ground by weight alone.
“Hands above your head, now!” Ted snarled.
Peter’s response was to throw his weight to the side, blindly throwing out blood-soaked fists. The noise around them grew impossibly louder.
“Cad!” Steve snapped from where he lay upon Peter’s legs, trying to stop the madman from injuring himself. “We’ve got him! Check on the kid!”
A wall of guards powered down the hallway toward them. Go now, before they see. The internal command pushed him into motion. Cadwyn slipped around the three men, careful not to touch the bloody walls as he crossed the threshold. All the while, he prayed to find the child inexplicably inside.
“Cad? What’s going on?” Steve asked.
Cadwyn swallowed thickly. “The room’s empty.”
“What? How? I saw her,” Ted demanded in the same instant Steve latched onto one of Peter’s arms and pulled it back, stopping only when the joint lingered on the brink of shattering.
“Where did she go?” Steve growled. “What did you do to her?”
The other guards finally joined them, allowing Ted the luxury of turning to catch Cadwyn’s eyes.
“She has to be in there. Go and check.”
Before Cadwyn could respond, the new arrivals began a chorus of reasons why a child could never get into the cell.
“I know what I saw!” Steve puffed out his barreled chest, challenging anyone to correct him again.
A constant clatter erupted amongst them. The inmates raged, the guards sniped at each other, and all the while, Peter pleaded not to be put back in the cell. ‘Not with her.’ The repeated demand was the only proof the two guards could point to that they weren’t delusional. Until that moment, Cadwyn had held tight to the hope it wasn’t her. But hearing the fear in the cannibal’s voice, seeing the way he had shredded his fingers to the bone in desperation to get away from her; there was only one person he knew who could strike that depth of fear into someone like Peter Wallas.
“What did she look like?” Steve asked Peter, using the response as another shred of proof.
“Dark hair,” Peter gasped. “Green dress. Her smile.”
The description ended there. Becoming nothing more than broken sobs and endless begging to be taken away.
“That’s her,” Steve said.
Ted nodded, “That’s who I saw.”
Cadwyn noticed no one asked him. For the moment, he had been forgotten. It wouldn’t last. Soon, they would calm down enough to need someone to tend to Peter’s wounds. Move now. He had barely taken a single step into the room when he heard it. The arguments drifted away, replaced by the soft, metallic ting of an old music box. The tune was repetitive and simple. A lullaby he knew well. It had taunted his family line for generations. Find it! The cell was small and bare. There was nowhere in the blood-stained room for it to hide.
“Cad, get out here. We need you.”
He didn’t instantly recognize the speaker, but he turned toward the voice. Something solid knocked against his foot. A box about the size of his palm slid over the blood-slicked floor. Constructed from polished wood and glistening metal, it gave the impression of being a solid whole. But, as he watched, the variety of slates squirmed slowly around each other. A steady slide and clack. The timer had already begun its countdown. Cadwyn swooped down and snatched it up, palming it as best he could to keep it out of the guards’ sight.
“I need the medic bay.” I can hide the box there.
Steve and Ted grabbed Peter’s arms. Together, they practically dragged him down the hallway, following close behind the lead guards. Two remained, impatient for Cadwyn to move. Before he could leave the room, a disembodied voice drifted to him. An aged whisper. Old and crackling and horrifically recognizable. Come home, Winthrop. Come home.
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