Halloween is close. Perfect time to share chapter one of Medium Crossing, my latest, sensual, paranormal mystery.
Another date with the dead. But not before Scarlett purified the air and sealed invisible portals from her previous channeling session. Nothing worse than a houseful of spectral squatters. She shivered at the mistake. Actually, the worst of all realms resided in the herenow.
At the kitchen counter, Scarlett dumped a few cups of Epsom salt in an iron skillet. She doused the granules in alcohol and used a wooden match to set the mix on fire. An effective energetic cleansing technique acquired from a psychic retreat she attended years ago.
A silver cloud coiled upward. She coughed, caught her breath, and then slipped on oven mitts.
The detoxification routine stirred a plethora of praises and criticisms embedded in her brain by mystified clients. She couldn’t explain her rare gifts. For the longest time, she had no idea everyone didn’t see whirling colors around people, or have informative conversations with humanlike shadows in oblique places. Privately, she intuited her unique abilities came from her mother. She also determined painful events during her youth had caused a kind of subconscious trauma that had in essence galvanized her weird inheritance.
Once, sometime in third grade, Scarlett asked a caseworker what had happened to her mother.
The caseworker, a heavyset, vanilla-scented woman said, “She lost her mind and took her own life. Selfish. Plain and simple.”
Plain and simple, two words that never meshed with Scarlett.
As a young girl, passed from one handsy foster family to the next, bawling into her pillow became her reality. Being touched inappropriately for the umpteenth time drove Scarlett so far inward, she’d penetrated an obscure dimension, a confusing place of fear and unrest she’d later describe as a wildly responsive getaway with a consciousness.
Alternating between the peculiar escape and her tangible norm took its toll, and by the time she entered high school, she thought herself insane. She’d also understood what must have happened to her mother.
Self-preservation compelled her to examine the meditative process. She relaxed and, comfortably and repeatedly, slipped away. Following a dozen telepathic conversations with what she determined was the deceased, she realized she’d tapped into the afterlife.
Eventually, her childhood wounds healed and her gifts resonated the way her organs did, as inborn functions of her totality.
Nowadays, jaunts to the other side paid the bills.
“Bless this disaster,” she said, grabbing the handle of the fry pan. She lifted the skillet above her head and aimed smoke at all corners of the ceiling. “Powers and protectors of the universe and its parallels, I ask for assistance in clearing and preventing residual ectoplasm, negativity, unwelcomed discarnate visitors, and earthly nuisances.” She walked her creaky wood floors through the hallway to the living room, observing the empty walls and naked hutch. “Including thieves.”
Back in June, while she channeled at a holistic health fair for six hours, someone had stripped her apartment. The person or people had wedged open her front door and took her life savings, jewelry, pictures, TV, and her computer. All of her valuables gone like an earring lost in an ocean tide.
Her stomach soured.
She peeked through the doorway into her bedroom. The new laptop she couldn’t afford glowed on the bed. “Dammit,” she uttered. She’d forgotten to cancel her account on Keys Best Singles Network. She planned to relocate to the Florida Keys soon and joined the site to see if Floridian men were more grounded than the letdowns in Indiana. Based on the selection, she resigned herself to singlehood.
Regretfully, she’d wasted her entire spring online, chatting with a future boring husband, several directionless boaters, a poetic alcoholic, a metaphysical junkie named Lenard, and Layla the Lesbian who promised to make Scarlett whimper between the sheets. Distressed animals whimpered, not dynamic mediums. Besides, none of them had the gumption to cope with her offbeat profession.
She sighed. A lonely child matured into a lonely woman.
The smoke cleared. Her sanitizing brew had condensed to a blackened gunk. She returned to the kitchen, set the grimy skillet on the stove, and tossed the oven mitts in a drawer. She stuck her arms under the faucet, mindful to wash up to her elbows. For unknown reasons otherworldly energy clung to forearms like cobwebs.
“Are you listening, Universe?”
The grandfather clock dinged six times.
Considering it a sign, she smiled. “Due to financial setbacks, I’ll be here longer than I’d anticipated. It’s not dire, but if by chance you happen to come across a guy unafraid of a woman who mingles with spirits, please, send him my way.”
Scarlett brushed toast crumbs off the table.
While interdimensional travel remained her most important endeavor, she secretly yearned for a partner in fearless exploits and frank conversations. She’d grown weary of glazing everything with syrup. Under the influence of pure honesty, she also longed to retire her vibrator.
Half hour and the newbie—Colt or Hoat or whatever he called himself—would arrive.
On the phone he’d asked if she could contact someone he’d never met.
In the temperate, raspy voice people claimed was her second greatest gift, she said,
“I don’t know what you’re expecting, but deceased presidents, athletes, and sex symbols won’t talk to you.”
“And forget about winning lottery numbers. Spirits claim they don’t have that ability.”
“Aw, come on, give me a break. It’s some scumbag who knew my brother. Can you do it or not?”
“For two hundred dollars, I’ll try. And, uh, no refunds.”
“Fine. You come highly recommended.”
“Of course I do. I’m the best.” She simply stated the facts. “For your convenience I accept cash and all major credit cards.”
Awaiting her new client, Scarlett entered the smaller bedroom she’d converted into a regally chic workspace. Rose red walls, same colored drapes, gold, mounted angels, a beverage trolley, a bookcase stuffed with alternative medicine paperbacks, and a four-foot high podium topped with a spiky aloe vera plant to ward off negative energy.
She’d meditated long and hard on the decor.
Because of her benevolent physical and non-physical visitors, residue from her acidic childhood hadn’t corroded her bones. Essentially, their grief, trust, and determination made her a better person. She owed them a peaceful grieving environment.
Scarlett clicked off the overhead Tiffany lamp before sparking a thick beeswax candle in the center of the round table.
Shadows slinked across the walls, and the faint scent of sulfur provoked curiosities. Such as, why the dead preferred dim lighting?
Perhaps the gentle hues soothed similar to a TV nightlight. When her foster mother Rita transitioned to the other side, her foster father Mel couldn’t fall asleep without something motioning on the tube. The fluttering screen must have given him the illusion he wasn’t alone.
That word again.
Were they lonesome?
A question for a truthful spirit. Yeah, right. For the sake of those with a pulse, spirits lied constantly. Nothing she could prove, but perceived as real as the bracelets of stars tattooed around her marred wrists.
The grandfather clock chimed again. Newcomer ran late. She filled a pitcher of water and set it next to the paper cups on the antique beverage trolley in her workroom.
Minutes ticked on. Though uncommon, he wouldn’t be her first no-show.
She prematurely resented the dent she’d have to put in her stash to cover the car insurance.
The doorbell dinged.
Scarlett flattened her hand on her forehead. “Whew.” She put aside money problems, hurried to the living room, and pressed the intercom button. “Yes?”
“We spoke the other day. I have an appointment. Holt Cavanaugh.”
“Sure.” She paused. “If you don’t mind, step out onto the sidewalk so I can see you.”
“Okay,” he said, blatantly miffed.
She understood, but couldn’t risk another robbery, or worse. From now on, she’d follow her mentor Beverly’s instructions. Phase One: Assess their aura, which always came natural. Phase Two: Visceral analysis, or the crap Scarlett used to skip.
She opened the window and popped her head out into the bold August sun.
Three floors below, looking up with one hand awning his eyes, stood a tall, broad shouldered muscleman with a golden military-haircut and a slightly crooked nose. Black T-shirt. Black jeans. An attractive, obvious tough guy packaged in a thick reddish aura.
“A hothead,” she mumbled, and then raised her voice. “Thanks. See you in a minute.”
She closed the window, rushed to the door, and buzzed him in. She’d unbolted the line of locks but left the chain fastened.
He’d flown up the mountain of stairs at record speed. Usually when a client reached her landing, they brought a few choice words with them about the unmentioned workout. But Newbie—she’d already forgotten his name—didn’t utter a single complaint.
“Hey,” he said as he strode through the hall, approaching the door. He stopped in front of the two-inch gap she’d provided for their introduction and raised an eyebrow. “I’m Holt.”
HottieHolt. She’d have to be a complete idiot not to notice his serious hazel eyes, daunting stature, and potent masculinity. She initiated the second phase, energetically slinked inside of him and felt around. He didn’t cause pinching goosebumps or flatulence. A thuggish guy, but benign.
“Can you at least bring me a chair?” he asked, shifting his weight.
“Oh, sorry.” Scarlett slid the mini barbell through the slot. The brass knocked against the doorframe. She invited him in. His gaze burned into her as she locked the row of bolts along the trim.
“Hardcore,” he said. “What are you afraid of?”
Scarlett twisted the final deadbolt. “I was robbed a couple of months ago. Even with the new security door downstairs, I’m still leery.”
“I don’t blame you. Did they catch anyone?”
“No.” Since the subject arose, she swiftly checked the crevices of her questionable memory and recalled locking the back door when she returned from the building’s trash bin.
His head tilted slightly, giving the impression he wanted her to elaborate on the home invasion.
Scarlett didn’t mind if it helped him to relax. “He, she, they, were clever,” she added. “No fingerprints. Other than the front door, they didn’t damage anything. They plucked the apartment clean as if they knew exactly what they were after and where to find it.”
He squinted. “Someone you know?”
She exhaled a slight chuckle. “I have one enemy, and he’s never been in my home. Besides, he’s way too lazy to carry a TV down three flights of stairs.”
She shook her head. “The man across the hall is hearing impaired, and most of the tenants below me were at work. No one saw anything.”
“The world is overrun with life sucking ticks.” He scanned the place.
Most people did and said strange things when they were nervous.
It took a moment for the distrust to melt from his face. When it did, he scrutinized Scarlett. “Your hair is purple. It’s red on the website.”
“Is that a problem?”
“No.” He bothered to give the rest of her a look. His shoulders tensed.
She’d seen it before, people expecting something different than blue jeans, circus hair, ink, and combat boots. What she hadn’t experienced, ever, was the peculiar magnetic pull to an absolute stranger.
His gaze scaled her body. “You don’t look like I imagined.”
She wanted to say the same. “Is that good or bad?”
He stared into her eyes as if he’d recognized her from a dream. “It’s, interesting.”
“If it makes you feel better, spirits don’t register appearance or clothing.” She stood entranced by the multitude of questions swirling around in his pupils. Most likely, he doubted her ability, and his sanity for being there. She thawed his frozen stance with her warmest smile. “I’m Scarlett Prowse, local medium and soon to be retired host of Transcendent Radio.”
“Business is that good?”
“Not exactly. I’m relocating.”
They shook. Her hand seemed to dissolve into his, causing her arm to jerk.
He released his grip, furrowed his eyebrows, and rubbed his fingers as if he had experienced the same sensation. “Holt Cavanaugh.”
HottieHoltHottieHoltHottieHolt—remember. The mysterious vibe between them couldn’t be more than an instant crush on her part. Imperfect women like Scarlett were invisible to guys with his sex appeal.
“You’ve got a nice voice.”
“Thank you. I’m told it keeps listeners from changing the station.” Grief-induced, wisps of gray in his auric field redirected her back to important matters. “Am I your first medium?”
“Yeah.” He pulled at his T-shirt collar.
“You’ve come to the right person. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m the best.” She ushered him into her dimly lit channeling room. “Have a seat.”
He walked to the table and sat cautiously, as if there might be a scorpion on the chair.
She took the spot next to him. “Forget everything you’ve heard or read about channeling. Terms like mediumship, mental and or physical mediums, séances, whatever, they don’t apply here. I’m unique and I’ve established a language that better encompasses my method.”
“Came across random snippets. Nothing you’ve mentioned sounds familiar.”
“Good. Then we’re starting with a clean slate.”
“Okay.” His knee bounced.
“Out of curiosity, how did you find me?”
“Friend of my cousin’s, Olin Gibbs, gave me your card.”
She drummed her fingernails on the wood. “I don’t recall—”
“You supposedly channeled his father. Olin’s a tall guy with a cane.”
She snapped a couple of times. “Oh, no.”
“He’s all right.”
Olin had spilled coffee, and she’d said oh no, which stuck. OlinOhNo. “Yes, I remember him.”
“He sang your praises.”
“You’re awfully confident.” He leaned forward into the champagne hue of candlelight.
“I am.” She looked at him keenly. “My accuracy record is unmatched.”
“Do you have any questions?”
He clasped his fingers. “I read your website. You what? Go into a trance and talk to ghosts?”
She slanted to the left, lifted a handbell from the floor, and set it on the table. Her last client had a cold. She’d disinfected the room and forgotten to return the bell to the tabletop. “It’ll appear as if I’m in a meditative state. Really, it’s much more complex. But if we have to label what I do, then, sure, trance works. By the way, if I cross a line or make you uncomfortable, please let me know. Let’s start with why you’re here.”
He grunted. “My younger brother was murdered and the dicksmack that put a bullet in his heart died before he got arrested.”
“Sorry for your loss,” she said, echoing what he’d probably heard a thousand times. “So, you want me to contact your brother?”
“No. I want you to contact his killer.”
Anxiety ballooned in her chest. Even though nothing topped nightmares of the herenow, wrongdoers dwelling the afterworld could possess dangerous energy.
“I’ve contacted plenty of murder victims.” She cropped her dialogue before admitting she’d never called on a killer. Even if she couldn’t she ought to get paid for her effort. “I have to ask, though. Why should I engage a murderer? We can’t change the outcome.”
“I have questions. Quinn, my brother, was one of the good guys—a teacher.” He swallowed hard. “Quinn had three hundred twenty-seven dollars cash in his wallet and eight thousand dollars in plastic. The maggot didn’t take a dime.”
“I agree, that’s bizarre. You asked me if I knew my home invaders. Are you sure your brother and his killer weren’t acquaintances? Drinking buddies? Gamblers, maybe weekend card games?”
“I’m positive. Quinn would never associate with a guy like Carl Daniels. The killer. They tracked him to a roach infested slum in Haughville. He had sheets tacked to the windows and used turned over buckets for chairs. Doesn’t make sense. Why didn’t he empty Quinn’s wallet?”
“Please don’t get offended. But was your brother involved in illegal activities?”
HottieHolt snarled and shook his head. “Like I said, Quinn was one of the good guys. His reward was helping underprivileged kids make the grades and qualify for college.”
“What happened to the killer? How’d he die?”
“Carl? Someone threw him off a twelve-story roof. He had cocaine and heroin in his blood. We’re presuming a botched drug deal.”
“I’ve got friends on the force.”
She drummed her fingernails on the table again. “You want me to contact…” She strained for the name.
“Carl?” he asked, radiating skepticism.
Scarlett fiddled with the singed matchstick. “I apologize. I can’t remember a name to save my life. Strange side effect of traversing realms.” She released a clipped chuckle. “If it weren’t for alliterations I’d be up a creek.”
“Realms, huh? We’ll see.”
Unfortunately, snarky remarks came with the territory. Especially from superficial types like Hottie. “Okay, so, contact Killer, uh, Carl, and ask him why he murdered your brother…Uh…”
“Quinn.” He winked, forgivingly. “Yeah, basically.”
The flame of the candle flickered, reminding her to cut the small talk.
“All right then. Turn off the ringer on your phone. Oh, and this is crucial, I need you to listen.”
“Okay.” He watched her lips.
“If I convulse or drool or my neck gets feeble, ring this bell as hard as you can.” She pushed the handbell toward him, slightly guilty about her exaggeration.
“No. In short, I’d be trapped in another dimension. The bell’s vibration would provide a pathway back to this realm.” Partly true, except for the convulsions, drool, and noodle neck. Normally, when clients concentrated on her well-being, their own worries minimized.
HottieHolt straightened his spine and cocked his chin upward. “Are you pulling my leg?”
“This is my primary source of income. If I pulled legs I’d go broke.”
His shoulders relaxed.
“I tune in to a place in the afterworld. I’ve named this process channel one—the sensing. I observe but from a safe distance. Like watching fish in a tank without getting wet or lightning outside a window without getting struck—”
“Or birds in a cage without getting shit on.”
She restrained her tongue. “Yes. That’s what I do—pop in on the departed and sense what they want to convey to the living.
But they’re intangible blurs. So please don’t test me with questions about how someone looks. At this time, I’m unable to tell.”
He squinted. “What happens if you beg for a bib and I don’t ring the bell?”
“Seriously?” The tough guy’s eyes widened.
“I’ve never died. Do you want to continue?”
HottieHolt grabbed the bell and set it on his lap. “Yeah. I do.”
“Give me your hands. It’s a onetime request, if you should come back. Once I attune to your energy we can skip the handholding.”
He followed orders.
Even his fingers had muscles.
Again, their palms seemed to meld. She’d known him twenty minutes and yet felt strangely secure.
“When my arms relax you can get up and stretch. There’s water if you’re thirsty, and plenty of reading material.”
“How long will it take?”
“It varies. Usually about an hour. Are you ready?”
“Great. Let’s begin.”
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Have a great week! And, happy haunting…