March 19, 2010

Artwork by April Slaughter

Find April on Facebook and at The Paranormal Source

Lizzie, wake up." Iona pulled her by the hand yanking her upright.

Elizabeth groaned, fully expecting to be in pain after her excursion from the night before, but not only did she feel better than expected, she felt well rested, refreshed and alert.

Iona yanked at Elizabeth's clothes, pulling her blouse up over her head, and then tossing it on top of a sheet that already held her shoes and the rope ladder. "Iona what are you doing?"

"Destroying evidence." Iona hissed, "Now get up and help."

Elizabeth jumped to her feet, for the first time noticing just how filthy she was. She pulled off the rest of her clothes while Iona, who had her color back, but still looked too thin, hurried to her closet and retrieved a clean dress for Elizabeth.

Unconsciously, Elizabeth licked her lips, remembering the kiss of an angel, a shudder of excitement rippled through her; she smiled at its memory.

Is that why she felt better? Is that why he had kissed her?

"You smell just awful, Lizzie." Iona said, piling the rest of Elizabeth's things in the center of the sheet then pulling its corners in. "You go get cleaned up while I take care of this."

"I'm glad you're feeling better." Elizabeth said.

Iona stopped at the door and smiled at her. "I've always thought that I would be the last in the Line of Lineage, but I know now that I must never give up, just as you have never given up on me. You've saved me Lizzie. Thank you."

Elizabeth smiled, and Iona hurried off down the hall, the sheet full of 'evidence' in tow.

It felt like a dream.

It was as she was dressing that Elizabeth realized the gaudy cross her father had given her was missing. A thought came back to her of the night before, of Randall desperately grabbing at her, what had felt like the snap of a chain but at the time she had only been concerned with the blue stone medallion.

Mrs. Dearing gave her a similar chain to wear, but with a heart shaped pendant, instead of a cross. It was a family heirloom, Mrs. Dearing told her. And she wanted her to have it, as a thank you for saving Iona.

Iona was well right as rain by the time Arthur Greiling sent a car to summon Elizabeth home from the Dearings. Elizabeth had not been allowed to see her since then, and at her fathers insistence had been sequestered in the house. In fact no one but the staff had left the house in over a week, nor had any visitors been admitted.

Not that she could blame her father for his paranoia. In the aftermath of the fire at Sheriff Whitackers, it was found that seven men had perished that night. As the fire raged, speeding quickly from the basement to the floors above, it was initially thought that everyone but Randall Quigley had escaped. Then two other men, Branson, the youngest of the Farrolli boys, and Otto Heath, were found heaped and burning near the side alleyway. Four others, Walter Amblin, Herman Shultz, John Mayweather and his son Dewey were found throughout the night and the following day strewn about the immediate area. Their necks broken, their cause of death was attributed to involuntary spasms due to an inhalation of poisonous gases created by the unknown substance that was used to start the fire - the same substance that caused the fire to burn so hot.

Three other men died in the week that followed. Harry Mackey and his son, Paul, died in their sleep of the same neck-breaking spasms that had killed the others. And Fred Newtson's wife found him on their front porch early one morning bleeding to death from several wounds - so the local gossip among the domestic help told. But Dr. Stanley's findings reported his cause of death as weak veins and hemorrhage due to heart attack.

In her imaginings Elizabeth envisioned these men sitting about Sheriff Whitacker's living room, plotting against the man they had tortured and held captive in the basement and using Iona as bait. Their numbers grew in her head with each new death.

It had been near two weeks since anyone but the house staff had left the house when there was a thunderous banging on the front door. It was Sheriff Whitacker. He was the first visitor her father had agreed to see. Not that he'd had much choice. Sheriff Whitacker had simply pushed himself past poor Maddy and demanded that Arthur come out and speak with him.

Mr. Greiling ordered Maddy back to the kitchen while he and Sheriff Whitacker talked in the den.

"It's important to keep up appearances Arthur." Sheriff Whitacker's booming voice could be heard with ease, despite Elizabeth's intentional eavesdropping as she hid behind the hutch in the hallway. "We can't let this... this thing think it's gotten the best of us."

"Better to parade around out in the open until it kills all of us then?" Arthur grunted.

"Its never laid eyes on you, Arthur, nor myself and a handful of the others. And it didn't harm your Elizabeth, might I remind you, though it had to have come within feet of her while she slept. For all it knows your involvement is merely that your daughter is a friend of its kin. You have the upper hand here Arthur, it would be unwise to confess your true associations with an appearance of fear or guilt."

It bothered Elizabeth that they referred to Iona's angel - to the man they'd held and tortured as 'it' as though he were some thing rather than some one.

"There's a group funeral service scheduled for this Thursday." Sheriff Whitacker informed. "It's important that you be there Arthur. That you stand with us. Can I expect to see you there?"

"You have a plan then do you?" Arthur grunted.

"I'll see you Thursday then." Sheriff Whitacker said as if in response then quickly left. His sudden appearance in the hall startled Elizabeth, who held her breath as she pressed back against the wall, despite the unlikely event of being seen from behind the large hutch, but better safe than sorry.

What were they planning, she wondered, and what had been there plan to begin with? The plan that had involved poisoning Iona, the plan that she had foiled by helping the man escape from their torturous clutches. While she still couldn't bring herself to believe that the man was some kind of angelic being, whatever he was, she felt without a doubt that he was good and that he might still be in danger. She remembered the cut of his jaw, his reflective eyes her mind couldn't quite accept as having been real, the feel of his hand in hers and the touch of his lips. His soft sweet lips gently coaxing hers apart and the sweet taste of his him. And then she thought of what her father might do to her if he had even the slightest suspicion.

Oddly enough, this thought made her smile. What better spy than one believed to have a mind too simple for such intrigues? She smiled as she turned and headed up the stairs to her room.

"What is this?" Arthur Greiling grunted at Elizabeth when he found her in the entryway dressed for a funeral that Thursday.

"I'm coming with you." Elizabeth said.

"Was this gossip or eavesdropping then?" Arthur growled his disapproval.

"Please father, as loudly as that man talks?"

"You're not going!" he grunted.

"If I don't stand with you then where do I stand?" she pleaded. "Am I to stand alone in all this? Or with Iona perhaps?"

"Where is your mother?"

"She's lying down. She has another headache."

Arthur eyed her for a long moment. "You'll speak not a word about this to anyone. Especially Iona." He grunted. "That girl is not to be trusted. Do you understand?"

"I understand father." Elizabeth nodded.

The service was long and boring as funerals go. Elizabeth had hoped to find intrigue amidst the sullen, down-turned faces at the funeral but other than its ungodly length it was just a funeral. More than a few took their leave before it was over, including Sheriff Whitacker, but he was only one among dozens. Even the recently widowed and most bereaved were eager to depart once the long-winded conductor said his final amen. Though a few lingered to offer customary consoling handshakes. She wondered if her father would want to stop by her brother's grave, but he simply turned and started for the car, grumbling at her not to doddle.

"Afternoon Arthur." Ernest Stanton leaned against the passenger side door of Arthur's Studebaker as if he had been waiting for him. "Whitacker asked me to give you this," he said as he slipped Arthur a twice folded piece of paper."

Arthur grumbled as he unfolded and surveyed the note. Elizabeth tried to look inconspicuous as she glanced over at. She saw only that there was words and a drawing - perhaps a map - in her quick glance.

"I hope you're feeling better, Elizabeth." Mr. Stanton said, interrupting her curiosity. "I heard that you had taken ill." He eyed her.

"I thank you for your concern, Mr. Stanton. But I assure you I am well. You must have been hearing rumors."

Mr. Stanton nodded once. "See you around Arthur," he said then took his leave.

"We have to make a stop." Arthur informed once they were on their way.

Elizabeth was intrigued until she realized that the road they were on was taking them out of town. "Where are we going?" she asked.

"Never you mind." Arthur grunted.

Elizabeth sighed and sat back in her seat, resigned in her quandary. They drove until there was nothing but pasture, farmland and forest. Several miles outside of town they came to a large signpost near a turn-off that read: Blaylocke. Here the road narrowed, and wound around trees as it weaved through the hillside until the land abruptly cleared revealing a stately manor home nestled amidst lush green gardens.

Mr. Stanton had arrived only a moment or two before them and waved to them from the front entrance as they arrived.

"You'll mind your manners here." Arthur grunted.

"Yes of course father." Elizabeth smiled, and slipped her arm around his elbow.

"Good Afternoon, Sir. Miss." A pale and reedy looking man said as he held the door open.

Arthur eyed the man for a brief moment. Grunted, and then entered the house.

"There you see, Ernest." Boomed Sheriff Whitacker from a room off the main foyer. "I told you there was nothing to worry about either of them. Isn't that right Mr. DelaCrosse?"

Elizabeth turned toward the small gathering of men, Sheriff Whitacker of course, Ernest Stanton, Dr. Allen Stanley, and -- she froze when she saw him, unable to shift her gaze or to see anyone other than him. Her heart raced and her temperature rose. She could not convince her mind to believe what her eyes were seeing. How was this possible? How was he - Iona's Angel -standing before her, cavorting jovially amidst his captors? And why? Perhaps she had fallen asleep and this was all a dream.

"Quite right Leon," the angel said as he started toward her offering a nod and a slight smile. "Dain DelaCrosse," he introduced as he offered his hand to Arthur. Arthur grunted his name in return, as he shook hands with Mr. DelaCrosse. "Miss?" Dain met her eyes, as he held his hand out to her.

"This is my daughter, Elizabeth." Arthur grunted as Elizabeth took his hand.

"It's nice to meet you Mr. DelaCrosse." Elizabeth said. "You have a very lovely home."

"Thank you. It's been in the family for years, it's used more as a vacation home than anything else. Honestly it's a bit large for my taste. After all, how much room does one man need?"

Elizabeth smiled.

Dain took her hand and pressed his lips lightly against her fingers. "It's a pleasure to have you with us Miss Greiling, but I'm afraid the matters that we have met to discuss are not meant for those with delicate sensibilities. Perhaps you would be good enough to wait in my study while we meet?"

"Yes," Elizabeth nodded, deflated. "Of course."

Dain snapped his fingers in the air and two young girls appeared wearing black dresses with white aprons and collars. "My staff will take care of anything you need. Tea and scones perhaps?"

"Thank you, sir," she added for formality. "That's very kind of you." Elizabeth said, becoming acutely aware of the fact that their eyes had not left each other's and that all other eyes had settled on them and their interaction. She smiled, as she blushed, forcing herself to look away, she set her sights firmly on the ground.

"Mary, will show you the way and see to your needs," he said. "Gabby? Drinks and refreshments for the rest of our guests in the Library."

"Right away, sir," answered one of the girls, Gabby, who hurried quickly away.

Elizabeth followed the other girl, Mary, obediently, if not reluctantly, down the hall. Away from the mystery and intrigues of men and angels.

 

Chapter 12 - In The Aftermath

(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart