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Sentinel


A Surrogate Novel


By A.H. Shelton


Published Internationally


By


OneTrueDestiny Press, LLC


All Rights Reserved



Terms of Service Agreement


The purchaser of this book shall in no way alter, reproduce, or redistribute this Title without express permission from the Author

Special Thanks To


The fans of Surrogate - who love the characters as much as I do…


To Cindy, my sister-friend. Thanks for 46 years of friendship (and here’s to many more), and for being my “person!”


And to the amazing Destiny – I love you more!


Other Titles by A.H. Shelton


Surrogate

For Keeps: A Surrogate Novel


Contents


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Epilogue

About the Author




Prologue



“Stop it, Robbie! I’m telling Mommy!”

Five-year-old Stephanie Mason tries to shove her brother Robbie away, while he determinedly tries to pull her down her shorts. Ten-year-old Robbie abruptly stops what he’s doing and eyes his sister with disgust and anger.

“Go ahead and tell her. I’ll slit her throat in her sleep. Then it’ll be all your fault,” Robbie says through clenched teeth. “Is that what you want?”

“No! Please don’t hurt Mommy!” Stephanie wails. “I’ll let you do it, just please don’t hurt her!”

“That’s my girl,” he says with a wicked grin. “Besides, you’re gonna like it. It feels good.”

As they sit upon the grassy area behind their home, just at the edge of the backyard, Robbie shoves his hand down the front of his little sister’s shorts.

“Ow, that hurts!” Stephanie says irritably.

“Hush! Be still!” As Robbie works his greedy hand beneath the little girl’s panties, he hits pay dirt.

“I don’t like it, please stop,” Stephanie whines, but Robbie is too far gone to even hear her pleas.

Breathing coming in ragged bursts, Robbie becomes more aggressive, digging further into Stephanie’s innocence.

“Robbie, stop! You’re hurting me!” Little Stephanie begins to sob and cry out in pain.

Robbie’s eyes glaze over, mouth turns dry, and he can hear his own heart pounding in his ears, as even at the tender age of ten, gratification wracks his small body and he is lost in its bliss. This is the reason he does not hear their mother approaching.

Robbie!” Esther Mason shrieks at her son, her mouth agape at what she has just stumbled upon. “Oh my God, Robbie! What have you done?” she screams at him as Stephanie throws her arms around her mother’s legs, sobbing hysterically.

Eyes narrowing, calm, yet still breathing heavily, Robbie glares at his mother with not an ounce of remorse.

“Nothing,” he says flatly, yet the stain forming on the front of his shorts tells its disturbing tale.

Shaking with outrage and sick with shock, Esther slaps Robbie across the face hard, her palm stinging from the force. Robbie does not cry, but stares at Esther with such hatred that it sends a shudder through her. Not for the first time since giving birth to him, Esther is afraid of her son.

“Your father will deal with this when he gets home – then we’re gonna get you some help,” she says, trembling uncontrollably. She could not let her child see her being weak, though. “Now get upstairs to your room and don’t let me see you again the rest of the day.”

As Robbie throws himself across his bed, hot, angry tears finally begin to fall. He feels a blackness start to overtake him. He closes his eyes and tries to push the anger away by thinking back on what he did to his sister, and how good it made him feel. It works, and soon he is repeating what he did to Stephanie, but with himself this time – hand shoved roughly down the front of his shorts. Once finished, he falls asleep – exhausted from anger and release.

He awakens to his father’s voice, yelling at him with disgust. “What the hell is wrong with you? After what your mother told me you’ve done, and now this?” Robert Mason cannot wrap his head around what could make a ten-year-old child even think of such things.

It takes Robbie a moment for his head to clear, and realizes the ‘this’ his father is referring to, is his hand still inside of his shorts.

“That’s it! The whippings aren’t working, so I’m calling somebody first thing in the morning. We’re gonna get this sickness taken care of once and for all!” Shaking his head in defeat, he says, “And you can do without dinner tonight!” as he slams the door to his son’s room.

As Robbie lays there, he knows that he is expected to be ashamed of what he’d done to Stephanie, as well as for what his father had caught him doing after the fact. This wasn’t the first time that his parents have screamed at him for his unsettling behavior. A few months back, a neighbor, Mrs. Ellison, had called Robbie’s mother and related to her what her six-year-old daughter Allison had told her – that Robbie had held her on his lap, but something was ‘poking her bottom,’ and it hurt her. She said that no matter how hard she tried to climb down from his lap, Robbie held her firm. It hadn’t taken the grown-ups long to decipher what little Allison was talking about. There was much drama - yelling, accusations, but Robbie had just sat stoic, staring at them blankly. Yes, he should be ashamed… they’d told him many times.

But the truth is, all he feels is rage. Robbie has been feeling this for quite some time now, but has been able to keep it in check – until tonight.

As he goes down to the kitchen, he isn’t sad. He isn’t afraid of being caught, and he is not about to change his mind about what must be done.

Turning the stove burners on, he waits, watching the pilot lights flicker high, and then blows out the flames. He then takes two matches from the box on the shelf over the stove.

He goes up to his room and waits. It takes about five minutes for the gas to rise to the upper level of the house – Robbie can tell, because he begins to feel very sleepy.

Walking over and opening his window, Robbie climbs out onto the porch overhang, strikes the matches on the siding of the house, and tosses them inside. A sudden ‘BOOM’ – the power of which propels Robbie backward and off the roof. He lands in his mother’s azalea bushes just as planned, his hands and face burnt somewhat, but still alive.

As expected, the authorities come and take him to the hospital. They ask him questions that a typical ten-year-old wouldn’t be expected to answer. They tell him with great regret that his family did not make it out of the house, and most likely, blessedly were already gone from the carbon-monoxide before the explosion even occurred. They tell him that had he not had his window open that night, he would have most surely suffered the same fate.

And then they tell him what he really awaits to hear – that he will be placed with his new family in a few weeks, after his injuries have healed.

It just so happened that a couple who had been visiting the hospital after donating a large amount of money to the Children’s Burn Unit, visited some of the patients, and Robbie’s story stuck with them. They contacted authorities and got the adoption process underway.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



The day that he is to be released, Jamison and Kathleen Knight walk into the hospital and tell Robbie he will be coming home with them; Robbie’s face softens. He dons a sweet, innocent smile that reaches his eyes, and that belies the malicious capabilities behind them.

These people are aristocratic. They have wealth. These people can give him opportunity he never dreamt possible. These people have no idea what sort of monster they are bringing into their home – and if they are truly fortunate, they never will.

Chapter one



As the little girl sleeps, a figure stands over her, watching her chest as it rises and falls. Dark tendrils of hair lie feathery across her face, as her tiny body lay spread-eagle across her crib, with its fairy-princess comforter kicked to the far end.

All is as it should be, as the lone figure stands vigil, listening and watching for the Other – the dark one who frequents the house. Although there are others of his own kind who dwell here, the Other is like none who have made their way to this abode.

Taking a forefinger and lightly brushing the stray hair from the child’s face, the figure – a self-appointed protector of the family who now lives in this house, smiles down at the little one, so lovely and innocent. She brings such joy to all who dwell here, both the living and those who have passed through the veil, yet not quite crossed over. Everyone, that is, except the Other.

His malevolence is so dense that its thickness can be felt throughout the house. The adults in the family can be heard speaking of how it is hard to breath on occasion when the dark one is present. Thankfully, the young one isn’t as affected by the force of ‘the Beast,’ as Miss Mary calls him.

Miss Mary has been in this house far longer than himself, and she has seen many a wayfaring spirit pass through in all her years as caretaker of this home. But never, she says, has she encountered anything pure evil as is the Beast.

That man has no soul,” she whispered to him on more than one occasion. “And with no soul, he can enter neither heaven nor hell. He is more demon than man, yet here he is – a human spirit, same as us. The only difference is that his spirit is filled with lust and venom.”

The lust of the Beast is what endangers the precious little girl-child who lies so sweetly before the gentle figure. And this is the very reason he will never stop holding vigil over her while she sleeps.

Her parents aren’t alarmed, although her mother can see himself and the others. She is also aware of the Beast – just not what he is capable of…not yet.

As a matter of fact, it was the very day that the newly-married couple moved into this house that the Beast arrived. It’s as if he knows her, and she him - yet she does not acknowledge him. She certainly doesn’t know his full potential. But he, Scott Jeffries, knows all about this despicable man’s intentions.

He has followed him on his nightly hunts, and has seen him kill – murdering just as easily as any living man. He knows that the only thing that excites the Beast more than the sight and touch of tender young flesh, is the blood lust of taking the life of a female – any female.

The news is filled with horror stories of young women, home alone, viciously murdered. Yet there is no sign of break-in, and no murder-weapon found at the scene. All that’s discovered are the nude and mutilated bodies of single women, helpless and frightened beyond imagination…their last moments filled with horror, that their attacker is a villain not of this world.

Scott will not let the females of this family – his family, succumb to the same fate. He will protect them at all costs. His arsenal is goodness, and, as simple as that may sound, Scott still believes in Good vs Evil – its evidence going all the way back to the dawn of time…and that is proof enough for him.


Chapter two


“Hey there pretty girl,” Elise coos to her six- month-old daughter, Gia. The raven-haired, dark-eyed infant begins kicking with excitement as her mother appears, seemingly from nowhere, and is about to pick her up for a cuddle before the morning diaper-change, as is their routine. “Mama missed you, yes she did,” Elise says in a sing-song voice, bringing trills of baby noises from her beloved child.

As she picks Gia up from the changing table, clean and dry, Elise sees her husband Rylan peep his head around the open doorway. “I see both of my beauties are up and about already. I reached for you, but you weren’t there,” he says with a sleepy smile.

As Elise carries the baby over to where her father stands by the door, the child squeals with delight. “She’s awfully happy to see her daddy,” Elise laughs, as Rylan scoops the tiny person out of her mother’s arms and into his own.

“That’s because she knows her ol’ dad is super-cool and handsome,” he grins.

“I’ll give you the ‘handsome’ part,” Elise laughs, mussing up her hubby’s already bed-weary hair.

“Your dad and Uncle Paul have really gotta stop it with the hair-mussing,” he groans. “It’s like a rite of passage,” he says, shaking his head in feigned frustration. Deep down though, he secretly loves it. Family traditions run deep, especially in his extended family.

Laughing, Elise shrugs. “Ya know, it’s just their…thing – like their bro-hug. It is funny though, cause they’re both still such goof-balls after all these years,” she grins fondly.

“I think Princess Gia is ready to go back to her mother, the Queen,” Rylan says with a yawn. “She told me she would really like blueberry pancakes for breakfast, just so you know…and coffee – lots of coffee” he says with a wink as he heads off to the master bath to grab a shower.

“Well if His Royal Highness wants those pancakes, he’d better not use all the hot water again!” Elise calls after him, shaking her head in amusement.

“Daddy’s so silly,” she says to Gia. “He knows babies can’t drink coffee,” she laughs. With a sigh, she says, “But he sure is one of the good guys,” she says as she nuzzles her nose into her daughter’s sweet-smelling neck. “Now let’s go make Daddy some pancakes!”



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



When Rylan comes down to the kitchen, Gia is in her bouncy seat, Elise is on the phone, and one stack of blueberry pancakes is on a plate, as Elise flips more on the griddle.

“Yeah Mom, everything’s going great. I just noticed yesterday that Gia has her first tooth coming in, isn’t that great?” She notices Rylan and motions for him to go ahead and dig in to his breakfast before it gets cold.

“Yep, he’s actually off work today, so we’re gonna do some family time.” To Rylan, she says, “Mom says ‘Hi.’ ”

“Hi Mama Jai!” a grinning Rylan says loudly enough to be heard over the phone.

Back to her conversation with her mother, Elise says, “Yeah, a Saturday off is a rare thing with his job lately, but Gia and I manage. We girls love to shop, you know,” she grins over at Rylan, who’s nodding as he chews a forkful of pancake. “Dinner? Sure, we can come over,” she says as Rylan gives a thumbs-up. As if he would ever not agree – she knows he loves her family as much as she does.

“We’ll be there by five-thirty…can I bring anything? Yeah, we certainly will be bringing her…she misses her Noni and Poppy. Love you too, Mom. Give Dad our love.”

Elise hangs up and plops the last of her pancakes onto the stack on her plate. She then searches the cupboard. “What’ll it be this morning, Gia-girl – oh, how about blueberry oatmeal? Blueberries all around!” she says with a grin.

“Hey honey, let me feed her so you can enjoy your food while it’s still hot,” Rylan offers helpfully.

“Are you sure?” Elise asks, raising an eyebrow. Although her husband is amazing at helping with diaper changes and bottle-feeding, Elise is just starting Gia on baby food, and she hopes he knows what he’s getting into.

“Absolutely! Now gimme that spoon,” he grins, snatching the baby spoon and opening the jar of yummy-smelling goo. To Gia, he says, “Tell Mommy we’ve got this!” Gia makes a ‘huh?’ sound, which seems to imply that she’s as unsure about this idea as her mother is.

Elise, sporting a smug smile, pours syrup over her pancakes, taking a bite and savoring the warm food – something that motherhood does not afford most times. Usually, by the time Gia is fed, her food has long gone cold, so this is a pleasant change of pace. She sips her coffee leisurely, watching as the show is about to begin.

“Here we go,” Rylan says in an animated tone, directing the spoonful of mush toward Gia’s mouth, trying to entice her with a ‘beeping’ sound as the spoon heads towards it’s mark. His aim is true, as his daughter opens up just in time for the food to be scooped into her mouth – and immediately back out again, as Gia gives a sudden, “pbbbt,” sound, spraying the oatmeal all over her daddy’s face and shirt.

Elise barely misses spitting her coffee at him as well, as she bursts into hysterical giggles at the sight of her daughter’s and her husband’s formerly smiling faces, now both grimacing in disgust.

As Elise tries to contain her laughter, and Rylan tries to contain his breakfast, Gia’s little lip begins to quiver, and tears pool in her eyes.

“Aww, it’s okay baby. Daddy didn’t like this shirt anyway,” he says as he kisses his daughter’s forehead and tries to soothe her, while wiping first her face, then his own. To his wife, he says, “Yeah, thanks a lot for the help,” shaking his head in over-dramatized frustration.

“Gia, didn’t Daddy say, ‘we’ve got this?’ Yes, that’s right, he did,” Elise grins at her daughter. “Well, he’s got it alright!” she says with a dry smile.

Throwing the oatmeal-covered dish towel at Elise, nearly nailing her in the face before she ducks out of the way, shrieking with giggles, Rylan can’t hold his laughter back any longer. Elise loves the playfulness in their marriage – so much like her parents’…and the throwing of the dish towel is a time-honored tradition in her family, as a token of affection.


Chapter three


With Rylan and Gia in the den watching cartoons, Elise starts cleaning up the breakfast mess. From the corner of her eye, she sees him watching her – the dark figure that she recognized as her mother’s dad the day she and Rylan moved into the house. She can’t bring herself to even think the word ‘grandfather,’ because she has never known him, or anything about him for that matter. And apparently that’s just the way her mother wanted it to be.

Elise can only image what could bring a woman to despise her own father – and what she imagines is pretty awful. Little does she know that even the worst scenarios that her mind can come up with are far less horrific than the childhood her mother had endured.

This is only one of the many times that he’s watched her going about her everyday chores, and taking care of Gia. She is certain that he doesn’t realize that she’s aware of his presence, and she makes sure to never let him learn of her gift. Elise has no desire to make contact with her long-dead maternal ancestor – that’s really all he is to her. There were no stories that she could relate to him, or even photos of him that she could look at during her childhood. In all honesty, if it hadn’t been for accidental discovery of his obituary, Elise would have never even recognized the man’s spirit when she saw him for the first time.

Seeing spirits is now something that Elise has come to terms with, and she sees them everywhere she goes, especially in her own home. There are several friendly-looking souls that are still either confined or visiting this house. She’s not sure if they’re drawn there because of her, like the children were, or if they feel truly trapped within the confines of the place in which they died.

Thoughts of the children bring a pang of sadness to Elise’s heart. Soon after the traumatic experience of being kidnapped by an insane Camden, Elise, with her Aunt Sofie’s help, decided to encourage the little-ones cross over, where God and angels and beauty beyond imagination lay waiting for them – and, Elise prayed, loved ones from their past.

Ana had assured Elise that she was right, and that there were parents and grandparents of the tiny spirits – most, if not all of whom were orphaned years before they lost their own lives. Orphanages in those days were a very unhappy place to be, and many of the children had probably died from either abuse or neglect.

As Elise looks on, tears streaming down her cheeks, her friend Savannah comes running over to her. Smiling up at her, the golden-haired child takes Elise’s hand for the last time, a wistful look on her face. “I’ll always love you, my Elise!” the girl says. “Always and for keeps!”

“And I love you, sweet Savannah. Thank you for trying to warn me of the danger I was headed for, although I wasn’t wise enough to listen,” Elise says, smiling through her tears. This was such a bittersweet goodbye, for she knows what joy awaits the child, and that joy is something she has not had very much of – neither in her short lifetime, nor her spiritual one, but she is going to miss her dear friend immensely.

Savannah smiles, turning to run back to where Ana and the other children wait for her, before journeying on to their new life in paradise.

Suddenly a glorious beam of light envelops the group of wayward souls, and Elise can see that the kids’ faces are in awe of the breath-taking beauty of it all - and so is her own. She knows that this is where the good go, and she knows how good these little friends of hers truly are. They were her salvation from a danger far worse than her fear of seeing spirits. They were her angels.

And then they were gone. Elise, sobbing in her aunt’s arms, knew she would never forget them, and that she was a better person for having had them in her life.

Her thoughts turn back to the present, as Elise wipes a stray tear while she dries the last breakfast plate. She smiles as she hears her silly husband talking to their daughter in his funny little baby-talk, as Gia coos and gurgles her approval. Yes, these are the ones who are supposed to be here in her life. They are her destiny, her God-send.

Poking her head around the kitchen door and glancing into the den, Elise sees all the ‘house spirits’ gathered around her daughter, beaming with delight. Their smiles seem so out of place on the faces of ones who are no longer able to enjoy life – yet here they are, reveling in her child. This tugs at Elise’s heartstrings. She quickly makes a mental correction – all the house spirits but one…and Elise is more than happy to not see this sinister-looking presence anywhere near her child.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



“So, have we decided where we’re gonna go for Family Day?” Rylan asks his wife curiously.

He loves the time he gets to spend with his girls. His dream job as a Software Applications Director for Microsoft is very demanding, and Rylan is required to spend many hours at the office and out of town, so any opportunity for a weekend excursion with his gorgeous ladies is always a treat.

The fact that he has worked his way to his job-level in just five short years is due to his long hours and dedication, but sometimes it’s bittersweet. He’s now able to shower his family with whatever they need or desire, but is rarely able to join them on their adventures. Today will be a fantastic day indeed.

“I’m thinking the Aquarium” Elise says. “Last time was the zoo, and she didn’t seem very interested in the animals yet.”

“Although she did wanna give the koala a hug,” Rylan grinned. “I wouldn’t have let her, of course, but that would’ve been the cutest pic ever!” he laughs.

Elise laughs and feels her heartbeat quicken, looking at her handsome husband – once, and forevermore her best friend. She loves how animated and giddy he gets when talking about their daughter. Elise knows that he loves her, but Gia is the true love of his life, and this makes her an incredibly happy woman.

“Earth to Elise,” Rylan laughs. “You kinda zoned out there for a minute. Whatcha thinkin’ about?”

Wrapping her arms around his neck and smiling adoringly, Elise kisses him gently. “I was just thinking about how truly blessed I am,” she says.

Rylan smiles, beaming down at his beautiful wife - not so long ago his best friend, but he has loved her since they were toddlers. “Yes, you are blessed, but I must’ve really done something right for God to give me you and Gia,” his eyes welling with happy tears.

“Baby, you saved my life. But you’ve gotta know that’s not what made me fall in love with you. If I’d been honest with myself, I would’ve told you long ago, but I didn’t wanna wreck what we had. What we have now is still that and so much more. I love you, babe.”

“And I love you, always have and always will,” Rylan says as he pulls her close. Both wiping away tears, he says, “Now look at us, bawling like a couple of babies.” Elise nudges him with her elbow, laughing.

“Can you get Gia’s stuff loaded up in the car while you look for the tissues?” she grins sassily.

“Some things never change,” Rylan sighs, shaking his head. “And you being bossy is one of them.”

Laughing, Elise scoops Gia from her bouncy seat. “Aww, Daddy’s pouting. Well, he’s just gonna have to learn who’s the boss around here,” she says jokingly, bouncing her daughter on her hip. “Girls rule, huh?” she grins at Gia, who emits a stream of baby babble, apparently in agreement with her mommy. “Now let’s go find your shoes so we can be off on our adventure!”



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



Robert Knight paces about the house, now void of the family which he despises. All their love, affection and happiness disgusts him, and he’s certain he won’t stand for much more of it before taking matters into his own hands.

But the little girl intrigues him. He is fully aware that this child and her mother are the spawn of his daughter, Jaiden, whom he also despises, but for very different reasons. After all he’d given her throughout her life, and she attacks him in his own home and cuts him completely out of her life? How dare she – he is Robert Knight, and he is a force to be reckoned with, both in life and the afterlife.

This is what has kept him at bay from his disturbing plans thus far. That, and the fact that his foolish nemesis, the cocky younger male spirit who lurks here in the house, always seems to be nearby, watching his every move. He supposes that the young man thinks himself a worthy adversary, but Knight vehemently believes that there is nothing that this weaker entity can do to stop the demise of this family if he becomes intent on destroying it…just look at what the small, weaker Robbie had done to his birth family, after all. This is not even considering the scores of people who have felt the wrath of the adult Robert Knight while alive and now that he’s dead…as will many more, for all of eternity.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


“What do you think he’s planning down there?” Scott Jeffries and Miss Mary sit upon the old furniture that’s stored in the attic.

“I’m not sure, Scott. But whatever it is, it’s nothing good,” Mary Keaton says, rocking in the chair as she did for so many years before it was placed up here for storage. It had been her grandmother’s chair, and had belonged to her grandmother before her. It was one thing from Mary’s past that she still could physically touch, and it brought her great comfort, especially on days like today. The Beast was on edge, and it was a very ominous thing when he got this way. It was like having a tiger that’s gotten loose and is growing anxious as to which person he’s going to devour first.

“Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s all the affection that the husband and wife display. Not that he would be the kind to care whether he was missing out on romance now that he’s dead, but something sure did set him off today,” says Scott. “Something about this family has him bristling. Did you happen to notice that he arrived here the same day that the couple did? I don’t think that’s coincidence.”

“Nothing about this monster is mere chance,” says Mary, throwing a sideways glance at Scott. “And yes, I noticed it right away. The way he glares at the lady of the house gives me the chills, much as I can still get them anymore, that is.

They know one another, that much is obvious. But what I’m not understanding is why he’s constantly watching her, and she is determinedly ignoring him. She can see him – can see all of us. Do you think she was involved in his death somehow?” Mary asks Scott, puzzled.

“Doubtful…because if she had any reason to believe he wanted revenge, wouldn’t she pack up her family – especially that precious little one – and get out of here?”

“You have a point there,” Mary says, rocking, looking off into the distance. “But there is a connection here…we’re just missing it.”

Scott and Mary spend quite a bit of time in the attic, and for good reason – this is the only room in the house that the Beast seems to be unwilling to venture into…in fact, he seems to stay as far away as possible. This is the reason they chose the attic as their conference room. It’s the only way they can talk about the Beast without him hearing every word, so it is a great escape from the vicious killer without fear of retaliation.

The other spirits that live here don’t seem to be concerned with him, which is a curious fact to Scott and Mary. His presence does not affect them either way, although they certainly don’t go out of their way to be near him. As a matter of fact, when the Beast walks through, he is given a wide berth by the others here, maybe out of respect, or perhaps out of fear, but there has been no chatter about the malevolent spirit by anyone but Scott and Mary since his arrival.

“Well, whatever it is, it will come to light eventually. And all we can do is watch and wait, hoping that he will decide not to harm them, especially the child, precious as she is,” says Mary wistfully.

“No, that’s not all we can do,” says Scott defiantly. “We can protect them. They need us – we’re the only ones who can do anything to intervene with him trying to hurt them. The police can’t help, so what choice do we have?”

“Scott, my dear friend, let me ask you this – when you follow him on his night-time murder jaunts, are you able to save those women he hurts? Of course not, and I know it eats you up inside that you can’t. You have to face the facts - we are not strong enough to even attempt to stop him in any way…we can’t hurt him, but he most certainly can hurt them, and we’re too weak to do anything about it.”

“We’ll see about that,” Scott says gravely, before turning and walking away.

Mary fears for the boy, Scott, so young and naïve. She knows that he feels a sense of obligation to this family that they grow more fondly of each day. Why, she herself would love to be able to stand up to this devil spirit to keep him from harming the innocent, but she knows that would be as futile as trying to fight a fire with thimblefuls of water.


Chapter four



The aquarium was a huge hit with Gia. The colorful fish and anemone seemed to dazzle her, and the sea otters enchanted and delighted her. Her squeals of excitement when they came near were an immense source of amusement for not only her parents, but spectators alike.

Exhausted and ready to head home, the Garretts pack up all the baby-gear back into their vehicle and make the half-hour journey home. Gia is sleeping soundly before they hit the first exit.

“Well that was fun,” Elise says pleasantly as they drive. “I think you enjoyed it more than Gia did,” she grins.

“Hey, the otters were insanely cute, okay…and I’m a sucker for cuteness,” Rylan counters. “The fish were amazing as well. All those colors! It’s like an undersea rainbow.”

“The seahorses are my favorite,” Elise says. “But there are so many freaky-looking fish species there, it’s crazy!”

“I don’t think that those fish would appreciate being called, ‘freaky-looking,’ Rylan says. “You should say things like, ‘unusual-looking,’ or ‘out of the ordinary,’ instead,” he lectures Elise sarcastically.

“You’re right, babe,” Elise says amicably. “I mean, you never minded being called, ‘unusual-looking’ back in high school,” she grins, nudging him in the side with her elbow affectionately.

“You just love getting one up on me, don’t ya?” Rylan says, shaking his head and laughing. “I guess if I haven’t learned my lesson on teasing you after all these years – our whole lifetime – I never will.”

“But it’s just so easy,” says Elise with a sweet smile. “Just like loving you,” she says sincerely, leaning over to kiss his cheek while he’s driving.

“Aww, thanks babe – I think.”







`~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



When they arrive home, the house is extremely cold, almost to the point of breath hanging in the air.

“Omigosh, why is it so cold in here?” Rylan asks, shivering and pulling his jacket around him tighter. Suddenly he remembers saying these exact words on a day that now seems so long ago – the day that he and Elise left for college, and the day that she freaked out in her room. Déjà vu hits hard.

Glancing at her face, he watches her reaction. They’ve been through enough in the years since becoming a couple and getting married to know what this kind of chill means. Either there are many entities here, or there is one very strong one. Rylan knows how common it is now for Elise to see spirits all around her. Judging from her worried expression, he would say that this is something she is unfamiliar with, and that scares him.

Taking their daughter from Elise’s arms and out of the room, he makes a pit-stop by the thermostat to turn up the heat. Rylan stops for a moment and watches his wife intently.

She still hasn’t moved or said anything, so he leaves her to deal with this presence in whatever way she feels is best. This is her gift, or in his mind, her cross to bear, and no matter how much he wishes he could protect her from it, he knows he has no power over whomever or whatever it is she is seeing in the room. He learned this the hard way by watching what Camden went though.

Aside from it being well-deserved, Rylan knows that the injuries that Camden was being dealt by unseen hands were real. He also knows that there was no stopping it – not by a mere mortal such as himself.

Rylan takes Gia into her room and grabs a blanket from the crib, wrapping her tightly as they sit down in the rocking chair. As he gently rocks his daughter to sleep, he can’t help but feel a pang of sadness in his heart, for he knows that what his wife is at this moment dealing with will soon enough be his Gia’s cross to bear as well. Rylan wishes with all his heart that he could spare her this anguish, but wishing will not make it so. She is a Ramirez by blood, and Ramirez women must live with the hand that they are dealt.




~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


Elise walks quietly into the nursery and gives Rylan a weak smile. Gia is asleep in his arms, but he hasn’t put her down for her nap just yet. He prefers to hold her and keep her safe, considering what may or may not be going on inside their home.

“Everything okay?” Rylan asks gently. He knows that after an episode with “them,” it’s best not to push too hard for information. His wife will talk to him about it when and if she’s ready.

“Things are – intense,” she says with a sigh. “You know I don’t normally like to talk about it, but since you live here as well, I think you should know that there’s a dark presence here.”

“I see,” Rylan says, waiting for her to elaborate.

“Now, dark doesn’t necessarily mean dangerous,” she says emphatically. “But it does mean brooding and unpredictable. That’s all I’m saying.”

“I think we should move then,” Rylan says, staring down at his feet, deep in thought. “For Gia’s sake,” he says.

“Babe, ordinarily I would agree with you one hundred percent,” Elise says, holding up her palm to interject. “But in this case, I don’t think it’s gonna matter,” she says wearily.

“And why is that?”

“Because I know who this visitor is, and I think I know why he’s here,” she says.

“Who is it?” Rylan asks nervously, not certain he even wants to know.

“He’s my mom’s father,” Elise says. “It’s my grandfather,” she says, cringing at the word. “And I think he’s here because of me and Gia.”


Chapter five



So, she knows who I am, thinks Robert Knight to himself. While he isn’t sure how she knows, because he can’t imagine that her mother has ever spoken of him in her entire life, this is a good thing.

He knows she’ll run to her mother and tell her of his presence, which will in turn infuriate Jaiden, the fact that she thinks she’s rid of him and she most certainly is not.

This makes Knight smile – something he has not done in many years, before death nor after. When he is finally finished observing and learning from the girl and her child, he will destroy them, along with her insipid husband.

Then and only then will Jaiden know that vengeance is indeed his, and she will bear the burden of guilt along with her grief. Guilt that if she had accepted his offer of reconciliation none of this would have happened – they would have been a family again.

But no, she had to humiliate him, remind him of what he’d done in the past. He had been trying to change – to become a new man, and she ripped that from him. He’d had no choice but to let his fury guide him away from God, and back to the one who’d been his master for so long…and now she will pay.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


“Remember, don’t mention anything about what I told you in front of Mom and Dad,” Elise says in a low tone as they approach her parents’ front door.

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” Rylan says nervously. “I’m freaked out enough about it without spooking them as well.”

“We’ll talk more about it later,” Elise promised as she opens the door and her father stands smiling at the three of them.

“I thought I heard you guys pull up,” Xavier says cheerfully as he bear-hugs his daughter and bro-hugs his son-in-law in traditional Zave-fashion.

“Mama Mia, there’s my Gia!” he says in a silly voice, making Gia giggle and grin as he anxiously takes her from her mother’s arms and smooches her fat little cheeks.

“Dad, could you be anymore corny?” Elise laughs, shaking her head at her crazy father.

“Ohh, this coming from the girl who nicknamed her brother, “Gabey-baby?” Xavier counters, eyebrow raised.

“Touché, you’ve got me on that one,” she laughs, defeated.

“Yeah, and she’d better not call me that anymore,” comes a voice from behind Xavier. “’Cause I am not a baby!” grins six-year-old Gabriel, peeping at his older sister with playful contempt.

“Hey! Gabey…I mean, Gabe! C’mere and gimme my hug!” Elise beams as her brother comes running and hugs her mid-section tightly. “I’ve missed you, lil dude!” Elise says, hugging him back and kissing him on top of his dark mop of hair. He, like Elise, inherited their father’s dark features. “Pretty soon, Mom and Dad are gonna have to beat the girls off you with a broom!” she says, playfully mussing up Gabriel’s hair.

“Girls? Yuck!” comes the typical first-grade boy reply, and they all laugh at the grimace on little Gabe’s face.

“What’s this I hear about you and girls?” Jaiden asks as she comes into the den. “So, you’re gonna start dating and leave me and your old dad all alone here?” she asks, feigning shock.

“You guys!” Gabriel demands, annoyed.

“Okay, enough messing with my boy,” Xavier says, hiding his grin. “Why don’t you go get the pictures you drew for Leesie and Ry?”

As Gabriel runs upstairs to get his artwork, Jaiden hugs her daughter and son-in-law.

“Ohh, it’s so good to see you guys! I’ve missed you!” she says, squeezing Elise tightly.

“Mom, we live down the street,” Elise laughs. “You literally can’t miss us.”

“Well, you’ve got me there, but can’t a mother still miss her child no matter where she is?”

“I’ll give you that,” Elise grins, kissing Jaiden on the cheek.

“Knock, knock!” Rylan’s mother Jessica pops her head around from the foyer and into the den, smiling.

“Mom, I was hoping you’d stop in,” Rylan says as Jessica comes into the room, first hugging he and Elise, then scooping Gia from Jaiden’s arms, who has just scooped her up from Xavier’s.

“Gia might get motion-sickness from all the traveling she’s doing since she got here,” Rylan says with a laugh.

“You know it, dude! That’s our girl, and she’s got lots and lots of arms always ready to hold her tight,” Xavier says lovingly.

“Hey Leesie, look what I made for you,” Gabriel says as he comes running up to his sister, beaming.

“Oh, wow! A rocket-ship? That’s fantastic, lil man!” Elise says, gazing at the drawing, which is quite remarkable for a six-year-old. “So how are you liking first grade?”

“It’s pretty cool,” Gabe says enthusiastically. “My teacher, Mrs. Burke, says we’re going on a field trip to the reptile exhibit at the Science Center on Monday. That’s gonna be sweet!” he grins, excited, as he and his big sister share a high-five.

“Reptiles at the Science Center? I so wanna go!” Rylan exclaims.

“Yeah, me too,” says Xavier. “I even tried to get Gabe to talk his teacher into letting me chaperone, but apparently my son doesn’t think I’m responsible enough!” he says, bringing a laugh from everyone.

“No way, Dad! You’re like a big kid!” Gabriel says, teasing his father. There are confirmations all around the room on that note. Everyone agrees that Zave is the life of the party, but maybe not a great idea to let him loose with a bunch of six-year-olds.

“Okay guys, dinner’s ready!” Jaiden announces, heading back to the kitchen to grab food for her hungry, noisy family.

Then again, House of Ramirez has never had a reputation of being a quiet one.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



As Robert Knight, or his spirit as it were, awaits the family’s return, he paces the floors of every room in the house – all except the attic. He is growing anxious to exact his revenge, but he doesn’t want to do it yet. He wants to terrorize them first.

To satisfy his yearning to maim and torture this innocent family, he decides to go out – it has been a while, weeks after all. As he passes through the dining room wall and out into the night, he doesn’t realize that he’s not alone…and Scott makes sure it stays that way for now.

It never ceases to amaze Scott at how rapidly one can travel when not tied down to a physical body. Not that he doesn’t miss having one – on the contrary, not a day goes by in which he doesn’t yearn to be among the land of the living as one of them again.

But a stupid mistake put him where he is right now, a vigilante spirit stalking a savage specter as he goes about searching for his next victim. “Mistake” is probably the wrong word, thinks Scott. It is true, he did mean to take his own life – the mistake was getting involved with the wrong woman.

But Scott doesn’t have time to dwell on his past right now, as Knight has stopped outside a nice-looking home in a well-lit suburban neighborhood. Scott watches him standing in front of a bedroom window, gazing lecherously at a teenage girl who forgot to close the blinds before changing into her pajamas.

Scott follows Knight as he glides completely unnoticed into the room, and as he walks throughout the home, searching for other occupants. Finding the girl to be home alone, Knight returns to her bedroom to make his kill.

As he hovers next to the lovely young lady, he nuzzles his nose into her hair, causing her to shudder and run her fingers through it, glancing behind her to see what caused the sensation.

Suddenly, Knight shoves the girl hard, flinging her onto the bed, too caught off guard to even scream.

“Knight,” Scott says, stepping from the shadows. “Leave the girl alone. She’s done nothing to you,” he says. Robert Knight whips around to glare at the younger entity. Then, unexpectedly, he begins to laugh…a dark, sinister sound.


“You think that I don’t know you’ve been following me all these times? You stood by and watched all the others being murdered, so what makes this one any different?” he sneers at Scott. Turning back toward the girl, he picks up where he left off.

But as he leaps upon her, raking his nails down the front of her silk nightgown, shredding it, Scott jumps him, knocking Knight off balance, as much as a spirit can be knocked.

With a wicked grin, the elder entity’s amusement doesn’t show in his eyes, as he looks Scott up and down, sizing him up and finding him lacking.

“Boy,” Robert Knight says, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “Please don’t make the mistake of thinking you are the stronger of us. You may be the younger, but I am without question the stronger of we two.”

To emphasize this, Knight shoves Scott’s spirit manifest with such force, that Scott finds himself on the lawn outside of the house. Shaking his head to clear his mind, Scott plunges back into the interior, just in time to see Knight assaulting the young girl – bruising and clawing the delicate skin of her inner thighs, as well as long, deep scratches on her abdomen. He was playing with her - biding his time with the terrified teen until he was ready to make his kill.

Hoping that the girl would scream and alert the neighbors, Scott once again shoves Knight off the girl. “Boy, I know you’re already dead, but I’m about to make you wish you were never even born!”

Knight uses all his might to push Scott off him. So much force that this time Scott finds himself back inside the home that he and Knight dwell in. At the speed of light, Scott is back to try and protect the innocent girl, but sadly, he finds that it’s too late.

What lays before him is an awful sight to behold. The girl’s throat is slit from ear to ear, and blood pools along the sides of her body in a grotesque chalk outline of crimson.

Knight is nowhere to be found, but Scott finds that the girl’s screams did indeed alert neighbors – albeit too late to save her. The scene is filled with police and paramedics whose service won’t be of any value on this dark evening. How did all this occur when it felt to Scott that he was only gone for an instant?

The neighbors must have called the girl’s parents, because a down-trodden looking man and hysterical woman arrive at the home, screaming out the girl’s name. “Nevaeh! Oh my God, Nevaeh! This can’t be happening, oh please God let this be a mistake…” the woman says as she collapses into a ball and weeps.

Scott feels an anger burning that he’s never felt before. Somehow, some way, he will learn how to become stronger, so he can stop Knight from carrying out any more of his cruel and vicious plans.


Chapter six



“Okay, so what’ve we got?” Paul Jacobs asks his lead detective. Paul has been in homicide for seven years now, and was recently promoted to the head of the Homicide Division, Seattle.

“Boss, what we’ve got is a mess – both literally and figuratively. Sixteen-year-old found in her bedroom, ripped to shreds. Cause of death, laceration to the throat. No murder weapon, no sign of forced entry. We’ve interviewed some neighbors already. Brightly-lit cul-de-sac, people walking their dogs, taking out the trash. Nobody saw nothin’. They did hear a scream, though. That’s when the neighbors next door called 911, and the girl’s parents. We arrived before the parents, thank God. Poor people, ya know? Only child…”

As Paul enters the crime scene, he goes over to the bed where the body lay. He immediately notices two interesting things – one, the body looks staged. Spread out on the bed, almost as if she were just lying there listening to iTunes, staring up at the ceiling, her hair cascading across her pillow, Neveah Jackson looked almost serene. But the injuries to her body told their tale.

From the injuries, Paul could immediately tell this was no crime of passion. There was no anger, no resentment whatsoever. On the contrary, it’s as if the person was just toying with her – from the shredding of her abdomen through her shirt, to the bruising on her inner thighs. There was a pattern there, almost cheetah-like, and Paul knew this could simply not be random.

The second thing he notices is that although they would presume the deep laceration to Neveah’s throat to be the cause of death, there’s something very strange going on here.

Paul’s study of Forensic Science tells him that with this type of laceration, there should be blood spatter everywhere, especially the front of her pajama top. Yet this is not the case.

As a matter of fact, the cut was made in such a way as to allow the blood to freely flow down the sides of Nevaeh’s body like a macabre chalk outline.

The action of cutting into the jugular, the artery that runs along the side of the neck would cause blood to begin spurting as the heart continued to pump. That is assuming that the girl was still alive when the cut was made. But what if she wasn’t? There are no other wounds that look remotely fatal to Paul. He checks Nevaeh’s hands and arms and finds no defensive wounds, which means either she didn’t see the knife coming, or the murderer somehow held her arms down as she struggled. The neatly made bed denies this probability. Or perhaps there were two assailants.

As he stands there lost in thought, he scratches his chin. He is finding far too many questions and not enough answers. He’ll want to talk to the Medical Examiner as quickly as possible if he wants to find the missing pieces of this puzzle.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


“Smile for the camera, Gia!” Xavier can’t help taking pictures of his beautiful granddaughter, and neither can his wife Jaiden. Jessica, Gia’s other grandparent swoops in for a great shot of the adorable little girl. It’s enough to make Gia’s parents feel like the Paparazzi have descended upon them.

“You guys do know she’ll be back, right?” Elise says, raising an eyebrow.

“And that we still live just down the street?” Rylan says, shaking his head at his crazy mother and in-laws.

But Rylan is grateful that Gia has so many people in her life that love her, and knows how blessed she is to have three grandparents to spoil her. His mother’s mom and dad both died soon after Rylan was born, and his father’s parents lived out East, and never bothered to visit, not even once.

But for Rylan, Gia only has three grandparents because he has never and has no intention to ever let his father be a part of Gia’s life…not that he’s really shown any interest anyway. While Rylan can accept Tom Garrett leaving him, he will never subject his daughter to growing close to a man who will stick around for a while, then eventually disappear once she’s good and attached to him. No, she has Poppy Zave, and that’s the best grandfather a girl could ever ask for. He’s more man than Tom Garrett could ever hope to be.

“Hey there, gorgeous,” he says, picking up his daughter and cuddling her close. Gia’s face blossoms into a huge grin, drooling from the teeth that she’s cutting. She leans in and plants a big baby kiss on his chin, pulling back and smiling adoringly at him while clapping her hands happily. Yeah, this is so his loss.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



Elise stares out the window of her parents’ kitchen as she washes the dishes, an excuse to be alone with her thoughts for a few minutes. How she longs to tell her mother about her grandfather’s presence in her own home, and ask her what was so terrible about him that she had not once ever mentioned him to her own daughter. But she knows that rushing someone into discussing something they’ve kept that hidden for so many years can lead them to never wanting to confide in you at all. So, she decides to take a slower approach. She doesn’t have long to wait.

“Hey, you okay?” Jaiden asks gently as she grabs a towel and begins drying the dishes. “Looks like you have something on your mind.”

“I’m good,” Elise pastes on a smile and bright attitude, trying her hardest to convince her mother that she’s not worried about anything at all – never mind a sinister entity that could cause harm to her child. “Been a long day,” she smiles.

Giving her a skeptical side-glance, Jaiden decides to drop the subject for now, and begins to chatter away about the baby.

“Hey Mom?” Elise begins hesitantly. “How come you never talk about your parents? I mean, I don’t know anything about them at all,” Elise says, testing the waters.

“Well, your grandmother died when I was young,” Jaiden says, choosing her words carefully. This fact is not lost on Elise, who presses further.

“What about your dad? When did he die?” she asks, knowing full well what the answer should be, and not expecting the one she receives.

“He died not long after. There was a trust fund, and I was raised by the hired help. My grandparents were all gone and there were no other family members to be found with Hunter gone,” Jaiden lies. She lies to protect her daughter from the disgusting truth about her childhood.

“But you said that you and Ana grew up together…” Elise pushes, trying to get answers after her mother’s deliberate and confusing lie.

“Leesie, I really don’t feel like talking about all that,” Jaiden says irritably, shocking Elise, who’s not used to her mother speaking to her in such a manner. Jaiden heaves a sigh and rubs her forehead wearily.

“Look, it was so long ago, and I’ve got so many blessings in my life right now, I’d just rather talk about you all,” she says more gently, feeling guilty for snapping at her daughter.

On the drive home, Elise shakes her head as she talks to Rylan about her conversation with her mother.

“She blatantly lied to me!” she says incredulously. “I honestly don’t think Mom has ever lied to me in my life – or has she? Maybe there’ve been lots of lies and I’ve just trusted her blindly all these years!” she says, rubbing her forehead, agitated.

“If she’s lying, then I’m certain it’s to protect you from something she’s sure you can’t handle,” Rylan says gently, taking her hand as he keeps his eyes on the road ahead. “Don’t forget all the years she had to lie to your dad about your gift – she did it because she knew he couldn’t handle it. At least not when you were so young.”

“I know you’re right,” Elise says with a deep, shaking sigh. “But that’s what I’m so afraid of. There was something about this man in life that was so bad that my mom can’t even speak about it to me in order to protect me from her memories – then how is anyone going to protect us from his spirit? And you’re right again – I don’t think I can handle this.”


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