Spirits From Beyond
THE NEW GHOST FINDER NOVEL from the bestselling author of the Nightside and Secret Histories series...
Meet the operatives of the Carnacki Institute—JC Chance: the team leader, brave, charming, and almost unbearably arrogant; Melody Chambers: the science geek who keeps the antisupernatural equipment running; and Happy Jack Palmer: the terminally gloomy telepath. Their mission: Do Something About Ghosts. Lay them to rest, send them packing, or just kick their nasty ectoplasmic arses…
Their latest assignment takes JC and the team to a small country village, site of a famously haunted inn. At first, JC thinks that the spirits in the King’s Arms are more the stuff of urban legend than anything that needs the Ghost Finders’ expertise. Then one story rings true: the tale of a traveler trapped by an unusual thunderstorm who retired to her room for the night—and vanished.
Trapped by an unusual thunderstorm—like the one that begins raging outside shortly after they arrive…
As the team investigates, they are forced, one by one, to face some hard truths about themselves, their relationships, and the haunting itself—truths that may push Happy Jack over the edge into the madness that he has always feared...
Sometimes he slept right through. Sometimes he got into bed and fell asleep and didn’t wake up again until the alarm bell rang. But mostly JC couldn’t sleep. He did all the right things, went to bed at the right time, but no matter how hard he tried, something wouldn’t let him sleep.
There are few things worse than lying in bed, in the dark, waiting for the endless hours of the night to pass. Dozing off and waking up repeatedly, convinced that after so many wakings, it must be four, five o’clock in the morning . . . and then looking at the bedside clock and seeing it’s barely 2:00 A.M. The night barely begun, and all those long hours still stretching away . . . JC Chance hadn’t slept properly since his ghostly girlfriend Kim disappeared. In all the months she’d been missing, JC couldn’t remember a single good night’s sleep.
He still got tired at the end of the day, still went through all his usual routines before retiring . . . but mostly he lay flat on his back in his bed, in his marvellous new apartment in London’s West End, dogtired and bonedeep weary . . . and prayed for sleep that never came. Too tired to sit up and read, or even watch television, too tired to do anything but stare into the dark and wait for the night to end.
Sometimes he would get up and sit on the edge of the bed, head hanging down . . . and sometimes he would get up and walk around the room in the dark, trying to convince his body how tired it was, and how late it was . . . hoping against hope that just this once his body would give up and let him sleep. But mostly he lay there, legs crossed and hands folded neatly across his chest, as though wanting to be ready for the undertaker if he should happen to die in the night. Opening and closing his eyes though it didn’t really make much difference. Because in the end, it was another night without Kim.
Until one night a scattered aetherial glow appeared at the foot of his bed, slowly concentrating into the form of the ghost girl, Kim. She hovered at the foot of his bed, looking just as she had the first time he had seen her in the London Underground. A beautiful preRaphaelite dream of a woman, forever in her twenties, the age she was when she was murdered. A great mane of glorious red hair tumbled down past her shoulders, framing a highboned, sharply defined face, with vivid green eyes and a wide, smiling mouth. She wore a long white dress that clung tightly here and there to show off her magnificent figure; and she shone and shimmered in the gloom of the bedroom like a star fallen to Earth.
How nice, thought JC. I’m finally asleep and dreaming of Kim.
“You’re not dreaming, darling,” said Kim. “I’m here. I’m back.”
JC sat bolt upright in bed. A fierce golden glow blazed from his wideopen eyes, the only outward sign of how deeply he’d been touched by forces from Outside. JC froze where he was, afraid to do anything that might disturb the vision or frighten her away.
“Hello, JC,” said Kim. “Have you missed me?”
“More than life itself,” JC said hoarsely. “Because it isn’t living if you’re not with me. Are you really back now? Tell me this isn’t only another brief encounter because I don’t think I could bear to lose you again.”
“I’m back,” said Kim. “But if you want to keep me, you’re going to have to fight for me. You have to come and get me, right now.”
“Where are you?” said JC.
“Where you lost me,” said Kim. “Outside Chimera House. I’m there now, waiting for you.”
Then she was gone; and the only light in the darkened room came from JC’s eyes as he glared desperately around him.
He grabbed up his phone from the table beside his bed and called his teammates, Happy and Melody. He had their number on speed dial, right next to a twentyfourhour exorcist and dentist. He was shuddering all over, clinging to every detail of what he’d just seen, fighting to convince himself it had been real and not a dream. He’d only got through to Melody and Happy’s apartment and heard Melody’s voice at the other end, when the phone went dead in his hand and the television set at the other end of his bedroom suddenly turned itself on, blasting light into the darkened room. And there on the screen were Happy and Melody, staring out at him from their bedroom all the way across the city, in North London. They were sitting together on the end of their bed, shoulder to shoulder, wearing matching towelling dressing gowns and matching furry Sasquatch slippers. JC slowly put his phone down.
“I can see you!” he said to the faces on his television. “And you can see me, can’t you . . . ?”
JC became suddenly selfconscious and pulled his bedclothes securely about him. Because he slept in the raw.
“Yes, we can see you,” said Melody. “And will you please put on your sunglasses, because you’re blinding us with the glare.”
JC picked up the very dark sunglasses from his bedside table and slipped them on. The golden glare cut off immediately though a little light still spilled around the edges. JC gathered his dignity about him and glared at his television set.
“All right,” he said steadily. “How are you doing this?”
Melody smiled briefly. “You’re not the only one who liberates useful items from the Carnacki Institute warehouse. Now and again. When noone’s looking. After everything that’s happened to us, I thought it important we have a method of communication that noone else could intercept and listen in on.”
“And you didn’t tell me about this before because . . . ?” said JC.
“Didn’t want to worry you,” said Happy.
“And we weren’t entirely sure it would work,” said Melody.
“So we thought we’d better save it for a real emergency,” said Happy.
“Hold everything,” said JC. “All our phones have industrialstrength security scramblers already built in! The Institute installed them personally, once we were officially designated an A team. So they could discuss important mission details in confidence.”
Happy looked at him pityingly. “Don’t be naïve, JC. The people who installed the scramblers for the Institute are the very people who make sure to leave a back door open so they can eavesdrop if they want to. Given our current circumstances, with The Flesh Undying on our backs and at our throats, and God knows how many traitors inside the Institute, raging paranoia is a survival instinct. Of course, with me that comes naturally.”
“Look!” said JC. “This is important! Kim was just herein the room, with me.”
“We know!” said Melody. “She was right here in the room with us, too.”
“She was speaking to both of us at the same time?” said JC.
“And giving us the same message,” said Happy. “The dead aren’t as limited as the living. They love to multitask. Showoffs.” He stopped, to snigger briefly. “Good timing, too. If she’d turned up ten minutes earlier . . . someone would have blushed, and it wouldn’t have been me or Melody.”
“She said we have to fight for her, back at Chimera House,” said Melody, giving Happy a fierce dig in the ribs with her elbow. “And I have to wonder. How was she able to manifest in our apartments? Given that both our places are positively lousy with aetheric defences, specially designed to keep out spooky apparitions? One of the few real perks you get working for the Carnacki Institute is that majorleague protections come as standard, in case something from the Other Side should take a fancy to one of us and follow us home.”
“Right!” said Happy. “But I still check under the bed every night. How was Kim able to appear to us?”
“Because Kim isn’t any old ghost,” said JC. “Something from the Outside touched her, down in the London Underground, just as it touched me. It changed us both.”
“I can confirm,” said Happy, a bit diffidently, “that what we all saw wasn’t any kind of trick, or illusion. It really was her. Though of course really might not be the best choice of word, given that we’re dealing with a ghost here . . .”
“Shut up, dear,” said Melody.
“Yes, dear, shutting up right now,” said Happy.
“Should we contact our revered Boss, at the Institute?” Melody said carefully. “Tell her what’s going on?”
“Best not bother her,” JC said immediately. “Given that we don’t know what’s going on, as yet. Catherine Latimer has always been big on questions. Besides, she might order us not to go, and I’d have to defy her to her face. Instead of behind her back, which is quite definitely safer for all concerned.”
“I thought the Boss was supposed to be on our side?” said Melody. “Are you saying we can’t even trust the person who runs the whole damned Institute?”
“Noone is on our side but us,” said JC.
“Now you’re taking!” said Happy. “I know; shut up, Happy.”
“Get yourselves ready,” said JC. “I’ll fire up the company car and come get you.”
“We’re really going back to Chimera House?” said Melody. “On the word of a ghost, and a pretty vague word, at that?”
“It’s Kim,” said JC.
There must have been something in his voice because Happy and Melody both looked away for a moment. Happy sighed loudly.
“Have I got time to update my will?”
“You’re always updating your will,” said Melody.
“I find it calming,” said Happy.
The television set turned itself off. JC waited a moment to make sure the screen stayed blank, then he threw back his bedclothes and swung out of bed. The earlymorning air was pleasantly cool against his bare skin. He stretched easily. He didn’t feel tired at all.
He dressed quickly, then prowled through his apartment, snatching up things he thought might prove useful. Finally, he stopped before the fulllength mirror in his hall and looked himself over. He wanted to be sure he was looking his best, for Kim.
His reflection smiled cheerfully back at him: a tall, lean, and only slightly sinisterlooking fellow, perhaps a little too handsome for his own good. JC had just hit thirty and was putting a brave face on it. He had pale, striking features, dominated by the very dark sunglasses he had to wear in public and a huge mane of dark rockstar hair. He wore a rich, icecream white threepiece suit of quite staggering style and elegance, along with an Old School tie he wasn’t in any way entitled to but which he wore anyway because it opened doors.
JC ChanceGhost Finder Extraordinaire.
“I’m on my way, Kim,” he said. “And God help anyone who gets in my way.”
He left his apartment block, quietly and surreptitiously, and strode down the street to where he’d parked his car. He’d commandeered it from the Carnacki Institute car pool sometime back because it was the brightest shade of red he could find. He certainly intended to return it someday. He was entitled to a company car now he’d been officially upgraded to Ateam status, and he really didn’t see why he should go through all the hassle of filling out paperwork every time he wanted a car, like ordinary mortals. So he took one, and kept it. No doubt someone had noticed by now, but they couldn’t come and reclaim it until they’d filled out all the necessary paperwork. By which time he would probably have crashed it or lost it in some other dimension.
JC always left his car parked outside in the street because the rents the local garages charged were nothing short of extortionate. He never worried about anything happening to the car because it was, after all, a Carnacki Institute official vehicle and could look after itself.
It wasn’t particularly flashy or interesting because the Institute didn’t want its field agents driving anything that might get them noticed, but it got the job done. JC drove his car swiftly through the deserted streets of earlymorning London, by the straightest if not necessarily most legal route to Happy and Melody’s apartment. There was hardly any other traffic on the roads anyway at this hour of the morning, and JC found that what there was usually got out of his way quickly enough if he hit the horn and drove straight at them. He kept his foot hard down on the accelerator, confident the traffic police wouldn’t bother him because all Carnacki Institute cars carried Corps Diplomatique plates. It saved time and helped avoid awkward conversations that weren’t going to go anywhere useful.
JC had a definite feeling there was something odd about the streets he was driving through. Not only the quiet and the lack of other traffic, which meant he could drive on whichever side of the road he felt like . . . It took him a while to realise it was all the empty parking spaces. During the day, you didn’t see a parking space unoccupied anywhere in London. Unless it was a trap.
JC turned on his music, and the gently rasping melancholia of The Smiths filled the car. JC always played The Smiths when he was feeling reflective and in the mood to kick the crap out of someone deserving. Someone had been keeping his Kim from him, all this time, and JC was quietly determined that when he found out who, he was going to make that Someone very unhappy.
Melody looked exactly as she always did. Pretty enough in a conventional way, short and gamine thin, and burning with enough nervous energy to scare off anyone with working survival instincts. In her thirties now, and quite openly resentful about it, Melody wore her auburn hair scraped back in a tight bun, never bothered with makeup, and wore severe glasses with oldfashioned granny frames. Along with clothes so anonymous they wouldn’t have recognised style or fashion if they’d tripped over it in the gutter. Melody was all business, all the time.
Happy Jack Palmer lurked slouching beside her, wearing his usual putupon look. Well past thirty but resigned to that as the least of his troubles, Happy was short and stocky, prematurely balding, and might have been handsome if he ever stopped scowling. He wore grubby old jeans and knockoff sneakers, along with a Tshirt bearing the message ASK ME ABOUT MY DAY. GO ON. I DARE YOU. under a battered old black leather jacket whose occasional rip and tear had been repaired with black duct tape. Happy made a point of telling everyone that he Saw the world more clearly than anyone else and was therefore entitled to feel clinically depressed.
On their own, they both made a strong impression. Together, they looked like they could kick arse for the Olympics. And take a bronze in fighting dirty.
Happy was first off the mark and into the car, grabbing shotgun. Melody threw a bulging knapsack into the back seat, and dropped heavily in after it.
“Just a few things,” she said loudly. “Useful items. Because you never know.”
“Girls and their toys,” Happy said vaguely.
The car doors slammed shut, JC stomped hard on the accelerator, and the car jumped forward like a goosed dowager aunt. Off through the empty streets of London, on their way to rescue a ghost.
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