ghosts from the past by patrick g moloney.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
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instalment 9 of the jack Burke crime mysteries..

Submitted: March 07, 2017

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Submitted: March 07, 2017

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She had not said a single word since they had left the interstate highway over two hours before; he wondered just what she was thinking as she gazed out the side window at the rural landscape. Was it any different that there was no actual blood relationship; she had only recently learned of the faith of her brothers and now this? It seemed that anytime things began to settle down, something would rear its ugly head to throw a spanner in the works. He knew by her expression that morning in the office that something was wrong, she held the letter in front of her face but there was a vacant expression in her eyes. Mabel had assured him that she was okay but yet he was not convinced, even after she told him that there was no special relationship between her foster mother and herself. Still it was never easy travelling back to what once was your home for a funeral, he had pressed her to see if she had been happy in the place they now travelled to. Her answer had left him none the wiser; she had merely told him that these foster parents had treated her well. It had been a very non-committal statement to make, regarding people who had reared her for a period of her life, when he enquired after her foster father she had just shrugged her shoulders. This was a different side to Mabel he was seeing, she was usually a caring and thoughtful person in her interactions with people.

The small diner could have been straight out of a picture book depicting Middle America, down to the red checker table clothes and home-made apple pie on the menu. Jack watched her as she pushed her food around the plate, then she gave up any pretence of interest in the food and stared into his face. “It is not about the death of my foster mother Jack, it’s the fact that I have had no contact from them since I left their home. So how did someone track me down to tell me the news?” He suddenly realised it was not grief that weighed on her, but another emotion altogether. The letter had not been signed and now that he thought about it, it was little wonder that she had been pensive on the journey. He was suddenly finding himself having to look at this situation from a whole new perspective, now it was Jack’s turn find his thoughts preoccupied by this journey. They left the little country diner with both plates of food hardly touched, the waitress who had served them watched them suspiciously as they left. Apparently she thought there was something sinister about people who did not finish their food in this diner, Jack had an urge to stop and explain that there was nothing wrong with the food but instead opted for a larger than normal tip. Back on the road again the terrain began to gradually change, the flat agricultural land gave way to rolling hills and the small homesteads became fewer and further apart. Jack had given up trying to make conversation, he was now lost deep in his own thoughts as his mind was filled with questions neither of them could answer at this time.

The town of Silver Bluff had grown up around the mining industry that had flourished in these hills at the turn of the last century, now it was dependent on the hardy folk who attempted to make a living from the meagre agricultural industry that struggled to survive in this harsh terrain. The only industry other than farming was a fledgling tourist operation centred around the historic mine workings; the whole town had an air of hopelessness hanging over it. It was little wonder Jack thought, that Mabel had packed her bags and headed out of town as soon as she was old enough. The sign on the outskirts of the town read Welcome to Silver Bluff and stated the population of just over ten thousand, driving down the main street he had a feeling that the population had greatly declined since that sign had gone up. The down town area consisted of a main street of about a mile in length and it was bisected by four lesser streets. They were passing the old cinema and she asked him to stop, the building was as good as derelict now. A sign above the door advertised a new release; however the movie had been a new release a number of years ago. Jack watched her staring at the old cinema and wondered what memories it brought back for her; perhaps it took her back to a time of young love he thought. Mabel turned to him after a while and smiling sadly she nodded for him to drive on, she had seen enough old ghosts for a while. The house she had lived in was in a quiet residential area on the northern end of the town, it was a quaint little two story but it was in need of some maintenance.

They sat in silence outside the house for quite a while; he could feel her hesitation to leave the safety of the car. In the end Mabel took a deep breath and got out of the car, the sound of the doorbell echoed inside the house. There was a feeling of emptiness about the whole place and when he rang the doorbell again without any answer they started back towards the car. He had not even put the key in the ignition when the tap on the driver’s side window startled them both, the large ruddy face man that stood on the side walk smiled at him. Jack rolled down the window and the man leaned in, his breathing sounded wheezy and his breath smelled of onions. “Are you here for the funeral?” he asked in a strange high pitched voice, when Mabel confirmed they were he introduced himself. His name was Jeff White and he was the legal representative of Mabel’s late foster mother, Mr White confirmed that her foster father had predeceased his wife some four years since. He let them into the house and handed Mabel a set of keys, White stayed for a short while making small talk, he appeared to be a jovial enough type but something in his eyes made Jack a bit wary of him. The house was neatly kept but a thin layer of dust had begun to settle on the polished table and sideboards, Mabel wandered around looking at old photographs, Jack could see that she was wondering down memory lane so he left her at it. He went out back to see if there was any firewood for the old stove, out in the yard he looked back at the house and an involuntary shiver ran down his spine. He had a funny feeling they were going to meet more than a few ghosts from Mabel’s past, something about this whole situation seemed strange.

The funeral was a small and dismal affair, apart from Mabel and him there was Jeff White and three others, Mabel told him she did not know who these people were. As the casket was carried to the graveside, Jack caught a brief glimpse of another figure watching from a distance. The minister that performed the service looked bored and disinterested; he had to refer to notes to remind him of the deceased woman’s name. This told Jack that if she was a member of his congregation then she was a very infrequent one, walking back to the car Jack once again spied the watching figure in the distance. When Jack stood to stare in the direction of the mystery figure, the person moved quickly and was lost to view behind a small stand of yew trees. Maybe it was only one of the cemetery caretakers but recent events had made Jack over cautious, however when the figure failed to reappear he continued to the car. Later that night Jack lay sleepless on the bed in the little box room, he could hear Mabel pacing the floor in the room next to him. This whole thing was making her very uneasy but she did not seem to be ready to talk about it, they were to meet Jeff White at his offices in the morning and then hopefully they could get the hell out of this town. There was an oppressive feel about this whole place, maybe it was the fact that the little town was in its final death throes. On the drive through the town he had not spotted one person under the age of forty, it was as if everyone who could leave had done so. Now the small place was left with an ageing population, people caught in time waiting to die, just like the town itself.

Jeff Whites offices were in a narrow building sandwiched between a closed down bar and a coffee shop that also looked destined to go out of business. They sat opposite the large figure squeezed behind the desk, he was all smiles like the day they first met but something in his eyes reasserted Jack’s distrust for the man. Mabel turned out to be the sole beneficiary of her foster mothers will, not that there was much to leave her. There was a small sum of money but this was just enough to cover the funeral costs, other than that there was just the house. The house itself would be worth very little in this location, it was not as if people were queueing up, to move to Silver Bluff. A curious stipulation in the will stated that Mabel was to look after the flower garden, but the grounds of the house were just weeds and scrub grass. Jack watched the big man’s expression as he read the will; he would pause between sentences to gauge Mabel’s reactions. When he had finished he asked if Mabel wished to put the small property on the market, adding that he would be willing to look after her interests for a nominal fee. When Mabel told him she would have to consider what she would do. Jeff White nodded and bared his teeth in a smile, but Jack caught the brief flash of anger and frustration in his eyes. When they were getting into the car Jack glimpsed over his shoulder, the slight movement of the blinds on the office window told him that White was watching their departure. They decided they would spend one more night in Silver Bluff, Mabel had already decided to sell the house and she wanted to go through some of her foster mothers personal things. They drove to a small diner on the outskirts of town to eat before returning to the house, during the meal Jack asked the question that had been bugging him. It turned out that neither of her foster parents had been much for gardening, and Mabel could not ever remember a flower garden.

All the private correspondence and important papers were kept in a couple of cookie tins in her foster parents room, now the contents of these tins lay on the coffee table in front of them. The whole thing seemed a sad reflection on their lives, old receipts and faded photographs. It was as if their lives had amounted to very little, Jack wondered if his personal papers would reflect any differently. Then it dawned on him, there was far too little in these boxes. No birth certs, no death certificate for her foster father, it was as if any scrap of paper that could identify their past had been removed. They searched the rest of the house and it turned up nothing, there was no record of Mabel having ever been fostered out to these people. It was then that Mabel told him what had been on her mind, the thing that had been bothering her since they had started their journey here. It had taken her all this time to figure out her feelings on this whole thing and now she understood, they had treated her well but it had always been as if they were acting at being parents. It was as if they had been placed in this house with one sole purpose and that was to act as kind of jailers for Mabel. Her life in Silver Bluff had been almost artificial; it was as if her time here had been an episode in a soap opera. That was why she had left here as soon as she could and that is why there had been no further correspondence until the letter a few days ago informing her of the funeral. Jack listened to Mabel explaining her emotions and a strange feeling came over him. It was as if he was been drawn to the shadows to stare once again into the abyss, he felt the sooner they were on the road out of here the better.

Later both of them sat in front of the stove sipping wine they had found in a kitchen cupboard, neither one talking as they sunk into their own thoughts. Jack had a growing suspicion lately that there was a reason Mabel had a very fractured memory of her childhood, it was as if unseen forces were conspiring to keep the past from being revealed. When she suddenly spoke it startled him, “I have it Jack, I know what she meant by the flower garden”. Mabel jumped up from her chair and grabbed his hand pulling him along with her; she started up the stairs with Jack in tow. On the upstairs hall she stopped and pointed at the wall, Jack glanced in the direction of her pointing finger and the back at her in puzzlement. “The painting Jack, she meant the painting”. He moved forward and starred at the dust covered print, it depicted a small girl in a white dress. She was in a walled garden and surrounded by brightly coloured flowers, the title on a little brass plate on the frame said “The Flower Garden”. Mabel brought a cloth from the kitchen and cleaned the framed print, it was a nice print but just that and was surly not worth much, then why go to the bother to mention it specifically in a legal document. Jack turned the print face down on the coffee table; he opened the switch blade and began to remove the back. He had just revealed the folded documents inside when he heard her sigh; he turned to find Jeff white standing behind him with a revolver pointing at him. Mabel lay in a crumpled heap on the carpet, a growing patch of blood spread from her blond hair in a circle on the carpet.

The rage and cold hatred spread through Jack when he saw her, he made to move towards White. But the gun bucked in the fat man’s hand and Jack was lifted off his feet and slammed against the wall and darkness descended. The smell of petrol fumes filled his nostrils and he opened his eyes, White was dousing the room in gasoline, when jack tried to get up he was too weak. White caught the movement from the corner of his eye and stopped what he was doing; he turned to Jack with a bored expression on his face. “You should have told the stupid tart to leave it to me Jack, and then you should have taken her away from here. You see Jack there are people out there who want the past to remain just that, little goldilocks here was about to uncover things she should have left alone. Anyway they would have come for her sooner or later and now I am saving them a job”. Jack rolled over on his side and a wave of searing hot pain tipped him back into the darkness, his last view was of White backing out of the room leaving a trail of gasoline behind him. Somewhere in the distance of the dark place he heard someone call his name and wondered if it was Mabel, he called back repeatedly but he got no answer. He woke in the back seat of a moving car with her name on his lips; he was burning up with fever. He passed out again wondering if she was still alive, or had she gone to her special garden.

The room was dark except for the small pool of moonlight that illuminated the centre of the wooden floor, he knew immediately when he woke that he was not alone. He could feel the eyes watching him intently from the shadows; he ran his tongue along his dry cracked lips and cleared his throat. His mouth felt as dry as a salt box, he tried to speak but the only sound that came out was a hoarse croak. The voice from the shadows was soft and strangely accented, “Relax Mr Burke you have been quite ill, we thought we had lost you to the shadows a number of times. However you are nothing if not resilient and you are out of danger now, however the bullet that entered your body splintered and damaged the lower vertebrae in your back and I am afraid rendered one of your kidneys almost useless. You will recover but I am sorry to tell you that the surgeon has told us you will have a permanent limp”. Jack once again tried to speak but his throat was too dry, a sound from the shadows and a small thin man appeared from the darkness. He picked a glass of water from the bedside locker and held it to Jacks cracked lips, “Easy now just take small sips or you will make yourself sick”. Jack watched the man’s features; he was hatched faced with dark cold eyes. “You have seen me before but I did not get the chance to introduce myself, you stared at me in the cemetery”. Jack remembered the half seen figure watching the burial from a distance; the man replaced the glass on the locker and once again stepped into the shadows.

Jack cleared his throat once again and managed to get a word out, “Mabel”, there was so much he wanted to ask but his voice failed him. “Mabel is safe, she took quite a blow to the head but we have her in a safe place. She is still a little confused but she is recuperating well, she asks after you constantly. She will stay with us until we have found and dealt with Mr Jeff White, when he is no longer with us she will return to your employ”. The man with the strange accent fell silent as countless questions ran amok in Jack’s head, and then as if reading his mind he began to answer some of Jack’s unasked questions. “What took place at White Peak is part of a much bigger picture Jack; the world we find ourselves is constantly under siege by agents of darkness. These people are woven into the very fabric of our society; they inhabit all walks of life even up to the very halls of power. The man, who sent me to watch over you both, in Silver Bluff, is the same man that keeps you in employment. He and a few others are the only sentinels that attempt to keep the shadows from engulfing mankind. Whether you like it or not Jack, both you and Mabel have been drawn into those shadows. When we locate Mr White we will ascertain what information is on the papers he took from the house, some day Jack information will be given to you that will make some sense of all this”. Jack heard the door being opened and a narrow beam of diffused light silhouetted the small man, the man hesitated for a moment and spoke. “I have left you a little gift; it is a walking cane with more than one use. You may find it useful in the years ahead”. Then he was gone closing the door behind him, leaving the room once again in semi darkness and Jack to his own thoughts.

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