Originally published in Psychic Investigations 1 in 1985 (and later in Back to Back 3).
By Lizabeth S. Tucker
"Scary, isn't it?" Mark McCormick yawned into the back of his hand, as his date for the night ohhed and ahhed the Haunted House. Run by a bunch of teenagers and their adult chaperones, it was a dark building with a lot of phony cobwebs, strobe lights, and creatures of the dark. Cynthia, Mark's date, was suitably impressed. That didn't take much effort, since she was long on looks, but very short on brains.
"Ohhh, I love it! It's the total max!" Cynthia popped her huge wad of bubble gum and pulled a long thin piece of the pink goo from her lips. Not seeing Mark's wince of disgust, she opened her mouth wide and twirled the gum inside.
"I don't believe that I am actually missing the Judge tonight," Mark muttered to himself. When he had met the redhead at the track, McCormick was sure that she was just his type. Wrong again!
"Can we go outside and, like, get some more cotton candy, Marksie?" Cynthia asked, her lipstick the same color as the gum she chewed.
"Don't call me that. I told you, call me Skid or Mark, but not, under any circumstances, Marksie." He shook his head. "Yeah, sure, let's get out of here."
Mark led the way toward the last exit sign that he had seen, weaving in and amongst the other patrons giggling at the horror show. He walked past a crypt in a lit corner of the building and tried to find the glowing red sign that said, "Exit," but didn't seem to be able to find it. Cynthia felt through the darkness, reaching for Mark's arm.
"Yahhh!" Her scream tore a hole in Mark's eardrum, or so he thought.
"What the hell is the matter now?" he snapped.
"Your arm. It's like, icky. Yuk!"
Mark felt both his arms but didn't find anything. "You're crazy, Cyn, I don't feel anything here but cloth." He grabbed her hand, placing it on the long sleeve of his dark blue shirt. "See?"
For a moment, Cynthia forgot her Valley demeanor, shuddering as her fingers seemed to brush something evil, then the rough cotton scratched at her newly manicured nails and she regained her "cool" attitude. "I could've sworn that it was…like, well, slimy…really."
Mark rolled his eyes as he saw the red sign up ahead. "Let's go."
The rest of the evening was as boring as the beginning, a total loss for Mark. He was glad when the carnival began to close for the evening and he could take his overage teenybopper home. Cynthia and Mark walked toward the parking lot where the Coyote was parked, her blue and white sundress brushing up against his dark brown cords. She had one arm around Mark's waist and the other hand firmly attached to her fourth snow cone of the evening. Mark couldn't understand how any adult could consume all that junk and not get sick.
They walked past the darkened house, situated on the grounds of an old estate from the late 1800s. Mark's eyes were riveted on the building; although he couldn't understand why, the place fascinated him. He shook his head, breaking the unnatural contact. He helped his date into the Coyote, catching a glimpse of her thighs as she slid in.
Mark slowly drove out of the lot, again finding his eyes drawn to the deserted building. He felt an urge to visit the exhibit once more. Smiling to himself, Mark thought that maybe he would drag the Judge down to the carnival. Wouldn't ol' Hardcase love that!
Judge Hardcastle walked alongside Mark McCormick, amused at the younger man's fascination with the carnival. The two men had gone on the rides, even the small, rickety roller coaster. Then Mark had run up quite a bill with Hardcastle trying to win a stuffed bear at one of the side booths. A girl dressed like a clown snapped their picture with an Instamatic near the Drunken Barrels, costing the Judge two bucks for a copy. Yet Mark had seemed determined to avoid one particular section of the park, and the Judge was intrigued.
"Are you afraid of it?" Hardcastle cracked, then frowned as he saw the furtive, haunted look that passed over Mark's face.
"Nah, of course not."
Hardcastle was reminded once again of a small boy, afraid to go into a scary place alone. But, unwilling to admit a fear of the dark, he invents an excuse to bring someone along with him.
Finally they stood in front of the moldy old building, Hardcastle staring at the nervous tapping of McCormick's foot on the pavement. His deceased son had once mentioned the reputation of the place as being haunted. The Judge realized that every child finds one special place that holds ghosts and goblins. But since Mark wasn't a native of Los Angeles, or even a long time Californian resident, how would he know of the place's reputation?
"Are we going inside, kid, or are you planning to admire the place from outside for the rest of the evening?" Hardcastle stood next to McCormick, waiting for him to go buy tickets.
"Yeah, yeah, okay. Wait here." Mark went to the booth and got the tickets, dragging out a crumpled five dollar bill to pay for them.
The ticket seller at the main door laughed. "Back again, buddy? Glad you enjoy our little show. Maybe you won't want to leave this time."
The doorway was filled with people and Mark and the Judge had to wait until they went farther ahead, not wanting to tag along with a larger group. A young vampire greeted Mark, kissing him on the cheek.
"I though you people, excuse me, creatures, were supposed to kiss people on the neck," the Judge said, smiling as Mark blushed.
"Only when we need a drink, sir. I'm hoping that this victim will ask me out for that later. Think I have a ghost of a chance, sir?" Her blood red teeth glinted as the front door opened and closed, letting in the garish light from the midway.
"Hard to say. The kid usually obliges."
"Hardcase, come on!" Mark grabbed the Judge's arm and pulled.
Hardcastle shivered. "Are you feeling all right? Your hand is like ice."
"Great, first slimy arms, now cold hands. Well, you know what they say, Hardcase, cold hands, warm heart." Mark smiled weakly, only partly looking at the Judge.
"Let's go and see this place." Hardcastle and McCormick walked down the hall, unaware of the man watching them from the doorway.
"Debbie, you can go home now. I've decided to close down for the night. The others have already been notified."
The vampiress shrugged. "Sure, Mr. Milligan, but what about the last group of customers? Won't they be disappointed when they don't see us in the doorways?"
"They won't leave until that last big group goes by. Go on home."
"Okay, sir." Debbie cringed when Milligan took her arm. They guy was a creep. As they stepped outside into the artificial light of the parking lot, she peered at him closely. "Hey, was that your son who just went inside? He kinda looks like you."
Milligan stiffened. "No, no relation." He turned on his heel and walked away from her, taking the decayed air with him.
Mark and Hardcastle viewed the efforts of the teenagers in redecorating the house without damaging the existing furniture. Hardcastle was perplexed by McCormick's withdrawal. The father they walked into the building, the quieter he became. They could hear the group ahead of them giggling and shouting at the exhibit, but so far, neither Hardcastle nor Mark had seen a single solitary soul.
Mark's eyes were constantly roving, watching the room with almost visible apprehension.
"Think something's gonna jump out at you, kiddo?" Hardcastle asked, a sliver of concern behind the words.
"Huh?" Mark didn't seem to react the way that the Judge would have expected.
"McCormick, are you there?" Hardcastle reached out and rapped his knuckles on the ex-con's head.
Mark turned his head and gazed vacantly at the Judge. As they continued to walk through the deserted house, the Judge began to get annoyed. There weren't any kids in sight, McCormick was acting weirder than usual, and Hardcastle was getting chills up and down his spine. Mark began to snipe at the furniture, the décor, everything in the place, his voice low and snarling. Hardcastle had to look at the younger man's lips to reassure himself that it was McCormick speaking, the voice wasn't familiar. It was not only not Mark's voice, but not his type of comments. It was getting on the Judge's nerves.
Hardcastle looked behind them once more, to see if anyone was following. He had had the feeling of being watched ever since they had entered the place. When he turned back, he saw McCormick staring up a gently curving staircase, gazing with rapt attention at the second floor. The Judge looked up also, but didn't see anything unusual, or worthy of attention, except for a stream of light coming from the first room at the top of the stairs. The silence in the house was eerie.
"Hey, hotshot -" the Judge called out. McCormick whirled around, an unsettled look in his normally guileless blue eyes. When Hardcastle gripped the ex-con's shoulder in concern, he felt an odd tingling sensation that quickly faded. Glancing back up at McCormick, the Judge found himself looking into a mischievous grin and twinkling eyes.
"You know, Hardcase, these kids must be working with sonics or something. The house feels different than it did last night. Kinda creepier, but dull."
Hardcastle looked at him sideways. "Yeah, it sure seems to disturb you. Well, are you going upstairs or can we blow this joint and get a burger at the Burger Barn?" Hardcastle found himself hoping that McCormick would say they could leave. He did not like this place and he especially didn't like the effect it was having on the kid.
"Yeah, let's go up and see if they have any gruesome bodies up there."
McCormick started up the stairs, with the Judge a few steps behind him, cautious for no discernable reason. The Judge shook his head at his own foolishness. What was the matter with him? He was acting like a child, or a senile old man. Hardcastle smiled. He could imagine McCormick's reaction to that. He shook his head in annoyance, catching up to McCormick who had paused on the top step. Hardcastle, still annoyed at himself, gave Mark a slight shove. "Move it, kid."
"Judge, don't! I can't…" Mark's voice was shaky, strained. He could feel something pulling at him, willing him up the stairs, and yet, he didn't really want to go there. Alarmed, he pulled back, and the reverse momentum threw him off-balance.
At the same moment, there was a flash of blue flame around Mark's wrist and neck, causing the Judge to blink at the brightness. He heard McCormick cry out and saw him stumble back farther, falling off the stair and tumbling past the Judge, his out-thrown hand slipping like grease through Hardcastle's frantic grab.
Coming to rest at the foot of the stairs, his shoulder slammed against the wall, Mark lay half-on and half-off the last two steps.
"McCORMICK!" Hardcastle raced down the stairs.
Mark's eyes were closed and he didn't seem to be breathing when the Judge kneeled beside him. Hardcastle tried to find a pulse on McCormick's wrist, fumbling for a moment or two before he realized that the unconscious man really wasn't breathing. The Judge called out for help, then began to apply artificial respiration. Gasping, Hardcastle finally heard the raspy sound of Mark's breath passing through his mouth. The Judge leaned back against the wall, waiting for the red spots to fade from before his eyes, frightened and very worried. There had been no earthly reason for McCormick to have collapsed like that. It was a bad fall, of course, but not that bad.
"J-judge? Wha…what happened?" Mark pushed himself up on his elbow, chills racing through his body.
"You fell down the damn stairs."
"I know that, but what happened after that. I can't seem to remember anything past the fall."
Hardcastle hesitated, turning away from McCormick when he answered. "You blacked out for a little while."
Mark looked at the Judge, feeling like he was being shined on, but decided to drop it for the moment. "Oh."
"How do you feel, kid?"
"Okay, I guess…" Mark felt his chest constrict, the pain taking his breath away. "Shall we go on up?"
"No, we're leaving and taking you to a doctor. And don't argue with me!" the Judge snapped, seeing Mark about to issue his usual protest. "No arguments, okay?"
Hardcastle held his hand out, and Mark took it without thinking. Their eyes locked momentarily, then Mark smiled in mock resignation, weaving for a second after Hardcastle assisted him up from the floor.
"Stay close. If you feel like you're about to pass out, call me. Right?" Hardcastle instructed.
Mark nodded, too tired and hurt to protest any further.
With Hardcastle leading the way, they started toward the back of the house. Mark began to stumble over chairs and tables that he didn't seem to see until the last minute. The Judge was getting more worried, and quickened his pace.
"Hey, Hardcase, don't walk so fast." The plaintive plea caused the Judge to turn around and he saw that McCormick was enveloped in a haze of red and blue. The ex-con was reaching for him, trying to touch him.
Hardcastle blinked his eyes rapidly. McCormick seemed to be fading from sight. Seeing the younger man reaching out, the Judge grabbed for his hand. It was like grasping ether, insubstantial and rather cold. Hardcastle began to see others standing around McCormick, pulling at him, sparks flying when they actually touched him.
The voice was faint, a hollow echo of long ago. "Help me! Make them go away, please."
"McCormick, come back! Mark!"
Mark could barely see the Judge now. He felt another burning sensation on his chest and looked down. He could see his St. Christopher's medallion glowing, burning his chest. He grabbed it in his hand, then dropped it when the pain got to be too much. He could feel tears streaming down his cold cheeks, the only warm spots were where the young vampire had pressed her lips to his cheek and another warm spot on his lips, a pressure on them like that of someone else's. He was scared and he didn't care if the Judge saw it.
Hardcastle swept the air around McCormick with his arms, trying to push the other faint images away from the ex-con, but there was no solid feeling. McCormick faded completely from sight, the Judge's last view that of his friend's bright blue eyes filling with tears, and the total panic-stricken look on his face.
"McCormick, wait!" Hardcastle was now standing in the exact spot where McCormick had been when he disappeared from sight. The Judge felt a lump under his feet and reached down, pulling the medallion from the rough carpet. It had black singes on it, as if it had been in a fire and was still warm.
Hardcastle clenched his fist around it, swearing out loud. "I'll get you for this, if it's a joke, McCormick!" But it wasn't a joke. There was no punch line, no gamin face peeking from behind a curtain. There was just an empty space with a slight chill, and the feeling of evil that Hardcastle had experienced since coming into the building.
"What now, kid?" The Judge realized that if he went to the police, they would think that ol' Hardcase had finally flipped his lid. Somehow, Hardcastle had to find someone to help him, someone acquainted with the paranormal. Dial a Psychic!
Hardcastle ran from the Haunted House, only partially noticing the lack of people in the front of the house or outside the building. The arcade was in full swing, but no one was near the biggest exhibit on the midway. Once outside the building, Hardcastle looked back at the house.
"Hang on, kid, I'll be back to get you."
McCormick watched as the Judge faded from sight. He could feel hands and fingers grasping at his clothes, and shrugged away, uncomfortable. There was no Judge in the room. Mark realized he was in deep trouble. How could he get back to…to where and from where?
The tall New Jersey native took a deep breath and looked around. Crying wouldn't solve anything. It was the same room as far as he could tell, but newer. The wall paper was white with red flowers and leaves made out of some sort of fuzzy material. Mark tentatively reached out with his left hand and brushed his fingers against the paper. It was solid. McCormick saw people in various costumes milling around him, watching him, again trying to grab him, touch him. Every time someone actually made contact, Mark would feel a slight shock and would see a blue light surround the other person's hand. Soon, they gave up touching him and were content with watching his every move.
Mark spun around, seeking the owner of the voice. He saw a beautiful woman to one side of the crowd, dressed in a long white dress that swam around her feet in a gauzy cloud. She smiled when she saw that Mark was looking at her, and walked over to him.
"That's one word for it. Where am I?" Mark asked.
"Hell." Her red hair was upswept, entwined with pearls. The green eyes surveyed Mark frankly, from his dirty blue sneakers to the slightly mussed, curly brown hair. Seeing Mark's look of disbelief and fear, she smiled. "Well, perhaps just the next best thing. You were marked, my friend."
"I'm lost here."
"Good choice of words. You may really be lost here, forever. There is a man who resides in this plane who wishes to leave it. But he can't do that unless he can find a live body to inhabit. You're the chosen one."
Mark shook his head. Things were moving too fast for him, and he was dizzy both from the transfer and the fall down the stairs. "I don't plan to just let him take me over. Not without one hell…oops, bad choice of words, without a fight."
"Oh, he knows that. But you don't really belong here and gradually you will become weaker and weaker. He has infinite patience, this man. If you fall asleep in this world, you will never leave here. How long do you thing that you can stay awake? Sooner or later, he'll have you."
"Has he tried this before?"
"Yes, at least three times that I am aware of. Why?" The woman swept her hand toward the others in the room and they left.
Mark watched how the others deferred to his companion. "Who are you?"
"A friend. Someone who would rather see you safe, and not a victim of this evil man."
"What happened to the other people that he grabbed before me? How come he didn't get out with them?"
"The first two were unsuitable. One's life force wasn't very strong, or perhaps the basic goodness was flawed. No sooner than Spencer tried to take the body over, then it aged at an alarming rate and died. The second was evil of heart and was executed when he returned to his own world."
"And the third?"
"That one was very good at heart, like you. He committed suicide here to prevent the transfer. He was a noble man, a rare man."
"What's to prevent me from doing the same thing?" Mark wondered, if it came down to it, could he actually kill himself?
"He has learned. There is nothing here with which to commit suicide. You have no belt on, there are no items to use. No drugs, no guns, no knives, no ropes with which to hang yourself. He was very careful this time. No, you won't have that chance. You must either submit, or find a way to fight him and return to your plane."
"What about leaving? Is it possible?" Mark found a chair and sat down, incredibly weak.
"Leave? Without dying and without assistance from the other side? I don't know, I've never heard of it being done. It takes someone on the outside helping with the opening of the gate. Spencer's son opened the gate from your side, to allow you to be pulled through. I don't think that one person could handle it alone."
This time Mark grinned, so happy was he that he momentarily forgot the seriousness of his position. "I have someone on the outside! I'm home free! All I have to do is hang on until the Judge figures this whole thing out. So, while I'm waiting, how about a walk, pretty lady?" Mark's irrepressible grin charmed the woman, and she acquiesced, giving her arm to Mark.
They spoke of many things, what life was like on the other side, and what it was like in that unholy waiting area. It was a pleasant tour of the lower part of the house. Her interest was genuine and her questions and conversation were lively.
"Get me the plans for that building, and any history you can find on the owner and the builder."
Hardcastle had called in some favors with the various building department heads to chase down some clue as to McCormick's present whereabouts. Sarah had asked about Mark, but all the Judge would say was that he was away for the weekend at a friend's house. That earned him a dubious look, but no comment. Sarah was too used to the Judge and his peculiar ways to question him.
"Judge Hardcastle? These are the books you wanted." A young man handed Hardcastle a stack of history books and a tube containing the blueprints. "Not much is known about the present owner of the house. He appears to be a recluse. The original owner was Spencer Milligan, a shady character who was extremely interested in the occult and devil worship, that sort of thing."
"What happened to him?" Hardcastle asked, taking the books from the former law clerk, now assistant to the building inspector.
"No one really knows, Judge. He disappeared about 1928, after a series of murders in the area. It's all here in these books. How come you're so interested in a long ago case? Don't tell me that this one got away from you, too?"
Hardcastle's look would have melted titanium, causing the man to cringe. Something was definitely driving the Judge, and the man wished that he had never made that crack.
"Uh, if you don't need anything else, Your Honor, I'll get back to my office."
Hardcastle locked himself in his den and prepared to read up on the house and its various owners. He hoped that McCormick was still safe. The first book that the Judge picked up dealt with famous people in the occult that resided in Southern California. It was a dray, scholarly tome.
Seven hours later, and two pots of coffee gone, the Judge was finished. Most of the books mentioned the interest in reincarnation and soul possession that the mysterious Spencer Milligan had entertained. The house was supposed to be situated on a particularly potent piece of psychic land. One of the more obscure books mentioned that Milligan was investigating a method of returning from the dead.
The Judge took the books with him to the Milligan house. It was deserted, the carnival having closed and moved on. There were only scraps of refuse blowing across the parking area, the mausoleum glaring down at Hardcastle. It was an awesome mix of styles, Victorian, Byzantine, early art deco, even Moorish bits. Everything was wrong about it, and yet, the overall effect was right. Overwhelmingly ugly, but right. And intensely evil. Hardcastle let himself into the house, making his way to the foyer where he had last seen McCormick. According to the one handbook in the pile of history books, if McCormick was present in the room at midnight, the Judge would be able to see him, possibly even talk to him. It was worth a try.
Hardcastle waited patiently for the time to pass. Only an hour to go and then he would know whether the book was accurate. The creepy feeling was coming back, stronger than the night before. The Judge could feel the hairs on the back of his neck tingling.
At three minutes to twelve, the room became colder. Hardcastle shivered with nervousness, worried at what he would do if McCormick didn't show up at the bewitching hour, and even more concerned if he did.
"This is ridiculous! I'm waiting here for a phantom to appear." Hardcastle corrected himself. McCormick wasn't a phantom, not yet.
"McCormick! Can you hear me?" The Judge could feel something pass through his body, a bit of warmth in an otherwise cold room. "McCormick?"
The shape appeared slowly, at first indefinite. Hardcastle wondered what was coming. Could the kid really hear him?
"Look, there he is, just like you said!"
Mark raced across the room toward the outline of the older man. On a whim, he walked through the figure, then smiled. It was Hardcase, and the feeling that Mark got from the crossing through was that of love and concern. And strength.
His female companion followed him across the room, carefully avoiding the spot where this man was appearing. "He's trying to contact you. Maybe he can take you back, I sense…"
"What?" Mark was somewhat distracted, but still could hear the peculiar note in Lavinia's voice.
"I'm not sure. There's a…power in him." She felt the strength in Mark grow as he moved closer to the Judge's now solidifying figure.
"Judge, can you hear me?" Mark tried to reach for the Judge, but his arm passed right through.
Mark felt someone trying to prevent him from speaking to the Judge. He looked up, toward the stairs. McCormick saw him then, the man behind this nightmare.
He was older than time itself. Wrinkles upon wrinkles were on his face and hands, the only parts of the man Mark could see. The rest of the body was wrapped in various colors of cloth. Mark tried to ignore him, yet, he could feel the other's eyes on him.
Without thinking, McCormick made a cross, using a pen from his pocket and a piece of wood that he pried from the table next to him. The room grew colder and Mark could feel a hand gripping his heart, squeezing it. His chest felt like it had the night before when he passed over. With an effort, he laughed at the man.
"I'm leaving this place, you bastard! You can't keep me here. Hardcase will get me out, you just wait."
The constriction became stronger and Mark had to make an effort to keep the cross before him, thinking that this was the only way to stay alive. He felt the pain lessen and saw a shadowy hand reach down and help hold the cross. Or at least it appeared to be actually touching it, except that Mark could see the wood through the hand.
"Thanks a lot, Judge. 'preciate the help."
"McCormick, hang on just a little while longer. I think I can get you back, but I need some more time to work the details out. Do you think that you can manage for a little while longer?"
Mark laughed again, a bitter, choked laugh. "Yeah, but don't be too long. This guy can take me over if I fall asleep, or, I imagine, if I pass out. So, hurry, Judge."
The image was fading again. Mark and the Judge made final contact by standing in the same spot in the room. It seemed to strengthen the ex-con. As the Judge faded completely from sight, Mark could feel a lessening of the sustainment and he wavered in his defiance. The pain returned.
Lavinia took Mark's arm, wiling him her feeble strength. "Don't, Spencer! You could damage the body, then you would once again be a cripple on the other side. Do you want that?" She locked eyes with the man on the stairs until he nodded, releasing McCormick to Lavinia's waiting arms.
McCormick slumped to the floor, Lavinia keeping him from collapsing completely. He concentrated on staying alert. "Thanks, honey. I don't know how long I can hold out. Any help will be gratefully received."
Lavinia knelt next to McCormick, her cool hands resting on his fevered brow. "Warmth is something that we don't have here. I miss the warmth of the sunshine, the inviting heat of a fire, the passion of two people kissing and loving each other." Lavinia blushed, but even that was cold. "Don't let him win, darling."
"I'll try not to, but I'm so tired, so very tired."
"I know, but you must fight the need to sleep. The moment that you give in, he wins. I like you very much, Mark, and I wish you would stay, but that is impossible. You don't belong here, and the longer you stay, the more dangerous it becomes."
"I wonder if I'll ever belong anywhere," Mark muttered to himself. He laid his head on her shoulder, smelling the faint scent of violets. "I have to rest a bit - don't worry, I'll stay awake."
His head snuggled into the soft curve of her neck. He was silent for a while, enjoying the companionship. As he gazed up at the woman supporting him, helping him, Mark leaned up and kissed her on her pink lips.
While it was at first gentle and loving, it soon deepened into passion, the kind that Lavinia had dreamt of since coming to this otherworld. Mark realized what he was doing and pulled back, the coolness on his lips reminding him of what she was. He was silent for a while, feeling the weariness weighing him down. Lavinia resumed their conversation, seemingly unaffected by the sudden burst of romance.
"Lavinia, why are you here?"
"I was…a friend of Spencer's. Oh, I forgot, you don't know him. His name is Spencer Milligan and I killed him in 1928."
"Yes. I was his guide to the nether world. He wanted life everlasting. He read the old books on the occult, ones that were shunned even by those of us who practiced the ancient religions. Spencer tried to use the blood of young girls to protect his life and health. He murdered hundreds of women across the country, before I discovered his heinous crimes and…shot him."
"Why didn't you just turn him over to the police? I understand that they were tougher in those days."
"I have no excuse. Even if I went to the police, I'm not certain they would've believed me. And, I admit, I thought it would have looked bad for the old ways. We were in vogue at that time, and I had hoped that we would once again be accepted as a major religion. Can you imagine the reaction if one of our top members was caught killing innocent women? So I buried him where no one would ever find him. And from what has happened since then, I guess no one ever has. I almost wish they had."
Mark's head lifted and he looked seriously into her dark green eyes. "Do you think that if Hardcase could find the body, that I could get out of here?"
Lavinia regarded him, as if reluctant to answer. "Yes. Yes, I think so. But he would have to do two things first. One, burn the body beyond any recognition. Then, bury it in consecrated ground, blessed by a priest. How do you expect to tell him all this?"
"He managed to contact me once. If I know the Judge, he'll come again." He paused. "Can we leave the house, or will we fall off the edge or something?"
Lavinia laughed, the sparkling tone causing heads to turn in the room. "I really don't know if you could go anywhere beyond the grounds. I wouldn't chance it if I were you." Lavinia rubbed her hand against her side.
"Are you okay?" Mark asked in concern.
"Yes, just an old pain. I have to see Spencer right now. Wait for your friend here, Mark." She rose gracefully to her feet, and Mark followed her to the staircase.
"I'm coming with you. I want to meet this guy." Mark started up the stairs, but Lavinia's hand pulled him back.
"No! He could hurt you."
Mark took the young/old woman by the shoulders. "Like you said, he doesn't want this body injured. I'm only planning on talking with him."
"And if the Judge returns while you're gone? You must tell him what to do as soon as you can. You can't stay awake forever, Mark."
"Well…" Mark gazed up the stairs and then back to where the Judge had appeared. "Okay, okay. I'll wait here like a good little boy. But be careful, Lavinia."
"Mark, darling, I'm already dead. What more could happen to me?"
"Lavinia, I am very disappointed in you." Spencer waved his hand and the woman convulsed on the floor, the pain in her side overwhelming. "Don't you want me to go back to life and all its glory? I am even willing to take you with me, perhaps the young woman that this McCormick was with? Her body was nice."
"Never!" Lavinia gasped. "He's kind, and I won't have him exiled here forever."
"Kind? Kind! What does that have to do with anything? You're as silly now as you were when you killed me." Milligan nodded, as if he wasn't surprised at Lavinia's weakness for the handsome man, his unwilling victim. "It doesn't matter. He can't survive much longer. I'll get him soon, and nothing he or his friend does will help him leave this damnable place."
"What about Hardcastle's power?" Lavinia asked, seeing the look of fear on her husband's face. "Yes, I thought so. He's the real reason why Mark is still alive and you're still here. He has the power and could destroy you merely with his mind, if he knew how to control the gift."
Milligan composed himself, giving a feeble laugh. "But, my darling wife, he doesn't even know that he has it, does he?"
Hardcastle decided to stay the night, or what was left of it, in the old house. He rationalized his thoughts, but really, he just wanted to be near the spot where McCormick had disappeared.
It was a restless night. When the Judge did almost doze off, he would hear the younger man's voice crying out for him. Hardcastle felt that the boy was trying to tell him something important, but couldn't quite reach him. There would be no more contact until the following midnight. It was urgent that the Judge speak with Mark once more, he could feel it.
The following morning, Hardcastle explored the house. The downstairs area was cool, but when the Judge went to the second floor, the air became decidedly chillier. He felt his way through the rooms, each one cold but not unbearable. Then the Judge walked into what seemed to be the master bedroom, next to the stairs. Everything in the place was clean, as if recently used, but deserted. This room was as cold as a freezer unit. This was where the change could come. But only if the Judge could figure out how.
Hardcastle rummaged through the closets and came up with some old clothes, but no solutions. Behind a curtain, the Judge found a drawing of the younger Spencer Milligan. Although the hair was blonder and straight, with a handsome face that was prematurely aged by overindulgence and vice, it was remarkably like McCormick. There were no laugh and wind lines on the face like the racer, and the eyes weren't filled with mischief and delight, only cruelty and hatred. The mouth had a hard edge to it, an evil smile ready to come out, not the impish grin that McCormick frequently displayed.
"So, you want to come back here and, preferably, look the same, huh? Guess again."
Hardcastle had done some more reading after Mark had disappeared again. There was a diary in the main library that detailed Milligan's plans for resurrection after his death. And there was a woman mentioned, a Lavinia Milligan, Spencer's wife and guide. The description in the published works matched that of the figure standing near McCormick during the temporary reappearance. Hardcastle hoped that the diary was correct, that Lavinia Milligan was different than her husband. According to the diary that Milligan had kept, Lavinia disapproved of his studies and had threatened her husband with exposure for the killings.
"Leave this room! How dare you come into this house!"
Hardcastle turned to see an old woman watching him from the doorway. "I'm sorry, ma'am. I tried to find the owner, but there was no phone number listed for him."
"I want you to leave immediately. You heard me, get out of here before I call the police!"
"That might be a very good idea. And then, you can explain where my friend is and how he disappeared into thin air."
The old woman started, her face paling. "I…I don't know what you're talking about. How could someone disappear like that? You're mad!"
"I don't think so. You see, the police should believe me as they know me fairly well. My name is Judge Milton Hardcastle, late of the Los Angeles Superior Court."
The woman's eyes softened. "So, you're Hardcase."
"What? Where did you hear me called that?"
"I am Melissa Milligan, Lavinia's daughter. She mentioned that someday you would come. Mother was never wrong. Never." She paused and with a wry grimace said, "Well, just once." The old woman moved out of the room, beckoning the Judge to follow her. "Come with me downstairs. I hate this room."
"Mrs. Milligan, Miss Milligan, how did you know? How could she have known?"
Reaching the ground floor once again, Melissa Milligan sat on the brocade couch in the living room, smoothing her soft blue print dress over her legs.
"My mother was a psychic, Judge Hardcastle, not just a student of the arts. She felt that she would meet you and another man one day, the man that she truly loved. I was only six years old when she first had dreams of that future time. I suppose you're here for a specific reason, something caused by my late father? He was an evil man, Judge."
"He grabbed my friend and took him…somewhere that's here and yet isn't." Hardcastle wondered if Miss Milligan would believe him. His threats to bring in the police had been idle words. There was no way he would or could do that.
"Even while I was a child, Father was making plans to return from the dead. Mother was forced to end his life, before he could hurt anyone else. He killed so many women in those days. Later, after he died, he lured men to this house and tried to take their bodies from them. My brother, the owner of this house, would set up the proper ritual to open the doorway, and the individual would be pulled into the other world. I'm rather surprised, though," Melissa murmured, her bright green eyes on the Judge.
"At what?" Hardcastle asked, nervously watching as the old lady came neared to him.
"How long ago did my father grab your friend?"
"It'll be two days ago this midnight."
"It has never taken him this long to get the body before. May I touch you, Your Honor?"
"Uh, yeah, sure. But why?" Hardcastle self-consciously scooted down in the chair so that the smaller woman could reach the top of his head.
Melissa removed his ever-present baseball cap and ran her fingers over his cranium and down to his eyes. "Ahhh, so you're the cause of the delay. Wonderful."
"I don't quite get this."
Melissa withdrew back to the chair by the couch, settling herself down carefully. The Judge put his cap back on. She smiled reassuringly at the disturbed man. "You have psychic power of your own, Judge. It's very strong and has been the reason that my father can't defeat your friend. I wonder if it is sympathetic power."
"Close, Your Honor. Occasionally, an individual will have some latent psychic ability that never shows itself, until that person meets up with another person with similar ability. It is like two halves of a whole meeting. Together, their power can be mild, hunches and glimmers of the other in trouble, or strong enough to lead to actual paranormal powers, including telepathy. I would like to meet your friend."
"As soon as I can get him back, I'll be glad to introduce you to McCormick."
Melissa half-rose from her chair. "McCormick! Oh, Mother, he came!" She laughed, the music of a young woman. "Do you have a picture of him?"
The Judge at first shook his head, then pulled the snapshot taken at the fair from his jacket pocket. He handed it to the woman. She carefully traced her finger over the face, smiling.
"Mother had dreamed when she was just a child of the man whom she was destined to love for eternity. When she met my father, she thought he was the one. Only later, when his inherent evil was revealed, did she realize her mistake. Then the dreams returned and she knew that it would be far into the future before she would meet that special man. I think it was your McCormick whom she saw with her gift. Unfortunately, that is a love that cannot be. Mother will never follow your friend to this plane, and father isn't about to allow him to stay with Mother on that side."
"If your father should succeed in getting Mark's body from him, what happens to McCormick?"
"His soul would die, slowly and horribly. In fact, if he isn't rescued from that side soon, he will begin to feel hot, and pains will begin to appear in various parts of his body. A living human being was never meant to be on that side. He has only three more days to live, Judge. We must find a solution before then. In fact, the pains should be starting already."
Mark began to doze off, he was so tired. Lavinia shook him by the arm to wake him.
"Mark, you mustn't. I can't stay with you. My…Spencer has called me to him and I cannot disobey. I cannot help you any longer, Mark. Please, don't let him win. I know you can do it. Stay awake for just a little while longer. One way or another, it will be over soon."
Mark was too groggy to question her, and got to his feet to pace the room. "I'll try, but I didn't get any sleep the night before I came here, so I'm working on just a few cylinders. Damn, I hope Hardcastle contacts me soon."
"You can win, you can! I have faith in you, my beloved." Lavinia leaned over and kissed Mark on the forehead.
McCormick was still smiling at the faint touch of the kiss when the first of the convulsions hit him. His side was on fire, and someone had jabbed a sword in the other side. He screamed in agony. Nothing he had ever felt before had been as bad as this pain. He could barely get his breath, and felt the room spinning. He stumbled toward the chair, falling into it as he felt the pain increase. He gritted his teeth and refused to submit. He could feel Milligan waiting for him to give up, and Mark raised his head, staring blindly toward the upstairs room.
"No way, you bastard! I'll kill myself before I let you use my body. Do you hear me? I'll find a way to kill myself first." Mark threw his head back and gasped, gulping in air, trying to calm and placate his tortured lungs.
"I gotta hang on," he muttered to himself. "I gotta hold on."
The air began to fill with the haze that usually preceded the appearance of the other plane, but Mark was too busy trying to stay conscious to see it. Neither did he see the look of shock on Hardcastle's face when the air cleared enough for the Judge to see him.
"McCormick? Are you all right?"
Mark tried to clear his face, not wanting to worry the Judge any more than he already was. He tried to smile, not realizing that it looked more like a grimace.
"I'm okay, Hardcase. Listen, you gotta find Milligan's body and burn it. Then, find a priest and bury him. Judge, did you hear me? Burn him!" His voice was hoarse, shaking with the intensity of his anger.
"McCormick, calm down. Kid, do you know where the body is buried?"
Mark looked up, the Judge doing the same. Both mensaw the upstairs bedroom door open slowly, an evil laugh filtering down to them.
"Lavinia knows, but he's preventing her from helping. I don't know. I'll try to find out, but you've gotta start looking for it now. It can't be far away. Lavinia killed and buried him herself. She isn't that strong. Judge, hurry. I don't know how much longer I can hold out."
Mark dropped his head in his hands. "I'm out of my element. But I won't let him win, Hardcase, no matter what I have to do." McCormick's haggard face looked at the Judge with determination, his decision made. "If he does get me somehow, I want you to promise to kill the body. Promise me!"
"Kid, I can't promise that."
"Judge, he's evil. I don't want him to win, but he might. If I cross over and don't seem the same, take that shotgun of yours and blow me away. I won't let him win." Mark reached his hand out to the Judge, leaning forward in the chair, ignoring the pain in his body. "Milt, promise me this. Please."
"I…okay, kid, I promise. I won't let him win." Hardcastle nodded, aware of the pain in McCormick's dull eyes, the blue offset by the blood red lines. The skin was deathly pale from the stress of staying awake and the agony he was experiencing.
Mark sank back in the deep cushions, trembling with the effort of trying to hold himself together. "Find the body, and I can return in one piece. Can you come again, Judge?"
"I don't know, kiddo, but I'll try. I'll find that body, I promise that to you." The image was fading, so the Judge waved goodbye, seeing McCormick doing the same. Just before the younger man faded completely from sight, the Judge saw him clutch his sides and scream.
"How much is he supposed to take?" Hardcastle asked Melissa, who had assisted him in contacting McCormick.
"From what I saw, my father is adding more than normal agony to that which he would be experiencing at this point in time. We must find my father's body very soon. Your friend is right. If my father wins, McCormick's body must be killed. He would begin again with his evil, the killings will start again. Can you do it? With the face that you know so well looking at you? Do you have that sort of courage, Your Honor?"
There was deep pain and torment in Hardcastle's icy blue eyes. "I won't let it come to that. We have to find that body. Do you have any idea where your mother may have buried him?" Hardcastle found it difficult to forget the haunted look on McCormick's face, but he knew that he would have to concentrate on the mission at hand or say goodbye forever to the ex-con.
Melissa reached for a can lying behind the couch. "Possibly. If I were my mother, I would have taken the body to the old pagan cemetery. Antoher body wouldn't be noticed there."
"Pagan cemetery? What's that?"
"The locals' term for the slave graveyard. Many of the Orientals that worked in this area on the railroad and the buildings here were buried in it. They would hold their own services, deemed heathen by the organized religions of the time. Come with me, we'll get a shovel from the garage in back." Melissa leaned heavily on her cane, her age more apparent than ever. "It used to be the carriage house."
The Judge got the shovel and some serviceable gloves from the old, musty garage, seeing a fine Model A gathering dust in the back. He would have to remember to tell McCormick. The kid might want to see it. They traveled through a bit of the old South in the back of the California estate. There were weeping willows, magnolias, and great oaks dripping with imported Spanish moss. The path was filled with years of dead leaves and rotten twigs and branches. Melissa seemed to become younger as they strode through the woods. For a second, the Judge thought that he could see the beautiful young woman that she once had been. Had she lived here for all these years, waiting to save McCormick's life?
They passed by a spiked metal gate that tipped drunkenly in one direction. The ancient headstones were lying on the ground in disarray, some chipped by souvenir hunters, others overgrown with moss and lichens. Melissa stood in the middle of the cemetery and looked around her, then closed her eyes in concentration.
"There. In that corner of the graveyard. There's a grave with no headstone." Melissa pointed to a faint mound in the back.
"Maybe it was taken by someone."
"Nooo, I feel that it is out of place. Dig there."
Hardcastle shrugged and moved to the site to begin digging, pulling the gloves on first. He had very little trouble to begin with. The ground was packed in by age, but was relatively free of rocks and tree roots. As the hole got deeper, there were roots to get by. The Judge had to chop at them with the edge of the shovel to cut them off. Hardcastle kept expecting to hit a box or coffin, but all the shovel caught was a large piece of ragged cloth.
"I think I've found it!" Hardcastle threw the shovel up alongside the grave and began to pull at the cloth with his fingers, the cold and dampness penetrating the thick gloves. Yanking hard, the yellow rotted material ripped free, revealing bones dressed in moldy material.
"Melissa, is this your father?"
The woman peered over the edge of the hole, looking at the rotted clothes on the bones. "Is there a ruby ring on his left hand?"
Hardcastle steeled himself and grabbed the hand of the skeleton. It came of in his hand. Glinting in the sunlight that was beginning to filter through the trees, the ruby and gold ring hung loosely on the bony finger.
"Then it's my father. Hurry, the time is going fast! We must save your friend soon."
She unfolded the bed sheet she had brought along, settling it on the ground next to the grave.
"How are we going to burn him? An ordinary fire won't get hot enough to destroy the bones." Hardcastle propped the bones up alongside the open grave, then pulled himself out of the hole.
"There's an old kiln in the servants' quarters. I don't know if Mother was planning on this, or if it is merely a coincidence. It should get hot enough to melt the bones down." Melissa helped the Judge carry the body parts to the sheet.
"Don't you feel a little strange doing this to your father's remains? I know I would."
"He was…is an evil man. Just remember what he is doing to your young friend, Your Honor. That will make it easier."
"We still need a priest, and hallowed ground."
"After we finish burning the body, I will take the ashes to a priest. You will stay here. Father will not wish to let McCormick return without a fight, and you must be here to assist him, in case there is difficulty in the transfer from the other side. Besides, no one will even blink if an old lady brings her father's ashes to be buried before dies." Melissa laughed, the lilting tones of a much younger woman.
"I just hope McCormick can hang on just a little while longer."
Hardcastle glanced back at the house as they walked to the rear of the building, carrying the sheet full of bones.
"Damn you! Just wait till the Judge gets done with you."
McCormick panted, his face and body bathed in sweat, his heart hammering in his aching chest. The pains were coming harder than ever, with little rest for the ex-con. The attack had come as McCormick started up the stairs, determined to meet his elusive adversary face to face. The first shock of pain was so intense as to cause him to falter, stumbling back down the stairs and collapsing on the bottom steps.
"Mark!" Lavinia ran down the stairs, tears falling from her emerald green eyes. "I wish I could stop him." She knelt on the second step, cradling Mark's head in her lap.
"Hardcase must've found the body. That's the real reason for this attack. He's more afraid of losing this body than damaging it." Mark tried to smile up at Lavinia, to reassure her. "All I've got to do is wait a bit longer, that's all."
"That may be harder to do than you think. He nearly claimed you here when you fell down the stairs in your own world. Only your Judge's presence saved you. Spencer is furious, he can sense the body being moved and…"
The rest of her sentence was cut off by the sudden chorus of screams from both her husband and Mark. She looked up at the bedroom and saw flames licking around the door.
"Ahhh!" Mark's eyes showed only white, and a trail of blood began to seep from the corner of his mouth.
"Stop it! Spencer, please, if you ever loved me, stop it!" Lavinia held Mark's convulsing body tightly in her arms. "Mark, don't pass out! MARK!"
Mark's head rolled back and forth, trying to escape the agony of his mind and body. He could feel Milligan grabbing at him, rending his soul from his body. So close to salvation, Mark wasn't about to let Milligan win.
"Hit me, Lavinia," he gasped hoarsely.
"What?" She pulled back, staring at McCormick in shock.
Reluctantly, she complied, slapping him on the face.
"HARDER!" Mark cried.
Lavinia struck him with her open palm, putting more force into the blows. Then she used both hands, making red welts appear on his cheeks. Hitting him accidentally in the nose once, it began to bleed. Soon, from the inner agony inflicted by Milligan and the pain from the blows to his face from Lavinia, Mark's face was a contorted, bloody mass.
The pain was excruciating and McCormick was beginning to fear that he would return a dead man. He pulled away from Lavinia's grasp, signaling her to stop. There was a look of defeat in his eyes as he gazed at her.
"I'm awake. And I'm losing. He has me. I can feel him inside."
"No, Mark." Lavinia kissed him on his cheeks, the mouth, the forehead.
"He's with me. Oh, God, I've lost." Mark's head bowed in submission.
Lavinia pulled his head back up with her hands on either side of his face. "No! Not if you're still in there with him. Only one of you can go to the other side. He must push you out before the transfer is complete. Keep fighting!"
"How can I?"
"Look deep inside yourself - into your very soul."
Mark turned into himself, trying to find and cast out his opponent.
Are you there, Milligan?
Yes, and I don't plan to leave. Give up, McCormick, we both know that you have no more options. Stay here with Lavinia. She loves you and you love her. Stay with her. Be happy for the first time in your feeble life.
For how long? She's told me that someone who isn't dead can't live here forever. And I can't let you loose on my world to kill and debauch again.
How will you stop me, friend?
Hardcase is waiting for you. He'll kill this body if I'm not in it. Don't underestimate him. He'll be able to tell the difference immediately.
My power will be even stronger on that side. I'll kill him first.
No, you can't.That possibility hadn't occurred to McCormick.
I can and I will. One mind blast and he will be a mental case. Perhaps you should watch and see that. You might enjoy it.
No! I'll see us both dead before I let you hurt that man.
Mark struggled inwardly with the spirit. He was so intent on the fight that he didn't notice the pulling as the mist came once again into the room.
Lavinia saw the Judge begin to appear, his hands reaching for McCormick. She tried to push Mark to him, but Milligan was becoming stronger the longer he ws in Mark's body.
"Kid, it's time. Come over. The last rites are being given. You have to pass over now." Hardcastle grabbed at the solidity of Mccormick's hand, but it faded out again.
McCormick looked up, another's face superimposed onto his own. Two pairs of eyes stared at the Judge, two pairs of hands reached for the other man's. Lavinia cried out.
"Only one can travel back through the veil. If two try at the same time, both could die!"
"Judge! He had me, I can't get loose. Get ready with your gun."
Mark pushed himself forward, feeling an inward wrenching in his soul as the body began to tear apart.
Milligan felt the determination inside the body he desired, and knew that this one would be willing to risk destroying them both to prevent Milligan winning. He cleared free - there would always be another victim, one not so foolhardy and courageous. He pulled back and McCormick fell back into his own world, tumbling into the Judge's waiting arms. Perhaps this one would die anyway. The transfer and the attempts to break the potential candidate's resistance had taken a large toll. Milligan was still watching when he felt the first sharp pangs of mortality.
"Lavinia, what is happening to me? I gave him up, why do I feel this way?"
Judge Hardcastle heard the question. "Your ashes are, at this moment, being laid to rest in sacred ground. Your daughter has a priest saying last rites over you. You've lost, Milligan! Never again will you be able to victimize another human being."
Lavinia smiled, her hand running gently over the now solidifying body of Mark McCormick. "Watch over him, Your Honor."
Hardcastle nodded in reply, as Lavinia and Milligan faded from sight.
Mark convulsed in the Judge's arms, drawing Hardcastle's attention back to the exhausted ex-con. "McCormick, can you hear me?"
Mark was still fighting his unseen foe, not yet aware that the fight was finally over. He began to bleed once more from the mouth and now a thin stream trickled from his ears.
Hardcastle, alarmed, picked up the twitching body and carried McCormick to the Coyote outside. There wasn't enough time to wait for an ambulance. The Judge would have to drive McCormick to the hospital himself, and quickly.
"Hey, kid, can you hear me?"
Mark heard a voice calling him. Was there another rift in the planes? He struggled to open his eyes.
"I mustn't sleep. Milligan will take over. Mustn't sleep," he muttered.
"It's over. You're safe, Mark. Open your eyes and see for yourself."
Mark's bleary sight saw a haggard face, one that now had a warm smile of welcome on it. Mark smiled back weakly. "Over? What…what happened to Milligan? I could feel him in me when the…the transfer started." He was silent for a moment, trying to feel inside himself. "I don't think he's with me now. Is he?"
"No, I saw him leave your body at the last possible moment. Lavinia said it was over."
At the mention of Lavinia's name, McCormick turned his head away. He realized that he would never see that beautiful face again, never feel her delicate touch on his skin, never hear her gentle voice once more.
The Judge waited patiently for Mark to speak.
"Where am I now?" he asked, his voice hoarse.
"In County General. According to the doctors, you had a severe case of the bends. It was too close. We almost lost you," Hardcastle replied roughly.
"I feel terrible. Like they blew up a giant balloon in my stomach. Is that part of it?" McCormick grimaced, leaning back into bed. He didn't comment on Hardcastle's last statement.
"That'll go away soon. Other than that, how do you feel?"
"Scared. Very scared. I never believed in anything like that in my life. How am I supposed to continue with a normal life, knowing about that other side, knowing she's still there, for eternity?" Mark shook his head, his eyes shadowed. "I don't know what to think, what to do."
"Don't do anything. It's over and done with."
"Yeah, yeah, done with. Let's just forget that Mark McCormick almost spent what little time he had left in hell. Don't talk about how much he wanted to stay there." Mark bit his tongue. He hadn't meant to mention that to Hardcastle.
"What are you talking about? You were thinking of staying there?"
"Forget it, Judge."
"No, I won't. I want to know why."
"Because I loved her and I didn't want to leave her alone for another half century with that madman."
Hardcastle sat in the chair next to the bed, his hands gripped in front of him, only the white on his knuckles letting Mark know how upset he was.
"Hey, Hardcase, forget it. There was no way to stay anyhow."
"I wondered if I could go there, too," Hardcastle said, his eyes on the blue sky outside the hospital window.
McCormick started. "Why?"
"Why do you think? To see if I could find my wife and…son. But I realized that they were dead and gone. Trying to change things wouldn't work. It took me a long time to deal with their deaths. I don't know if I could survive meeting them again and losing them. Nancy wouldn't be thrilled with such a stupid act anyway. She was a compassionate, but sensible woman."
This hadn't crossed McCormick's mind before, and he felt ashamed for thinking of just himself. They didn't speak to each other. There was little to say. Hardcastle laid a package on McCormick's bed and left. Mark wanted to call him back, but couldn't say what he felt in his heart out loud. Not this early in their relationship. He played with the brown paper on the package, finally opening it to reveal one of Hardcastle's typical t-shirts.
Somehow, McCormick already knew what would be written on the front. Unfolding it, he found that his guess was correct. In script was written:
"Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law"
He grimaced at first, then started to giggle with increasing hysteria.
A knock on the hospital room door caused him to choke down his laughter. Gasping slightly, he said, "Come in."
He saw an elderly woman peek around the corner of the door. "May I come in and speak with you, Mr. McCormick. I'm Lavinia's daughter."
Mark sobered immediately. "Yes, of course. Please take a seat."
"I won't be here that long. I brought you something that I thought you might like to have." She handed him a miniature portrait of Lavinia Milligan. "I wanted to warn you and the Judge of a danger that I am not sure you are aware of. Don't try to contact that world again. Remember my mother as she loved you, but go on with your life. I know you are tempted to open the doorway again, perhaps to try and bring her back, but that could destroy your world. It could destroy you."
"I don't think I understand."
"I'm certain that Mother told you how someone from this side has to begin the ceremony to open the passageway."
"Yeah, your brother did it this time."
"But he died for his efforts."
Mark sat up in the bed, absently laying the t-shirt on the table next to him, clutching the portrait in his hand. "How?"
"It backfired. He was so connected with Father that when the body was destroyed and Father with it, Royal died also. If you, or the Judge, tried to bring someone back from that side and it failed…"
"We would die also? But Royal didn't die the other times that the transfer failed."
"He wasn't the one who performed the ceremony those other three times. There were others who did it."
"And they all died when the possession failed?"
Melissa nodded, her bright green eyes reminding Mark of Lavinia. "The Judge has the power. It would be very easy for him. Stop him, Mark, at all costs."
McCormick closed his eyes in pain. He had been toying with the idea, but knew that if he did try, Hardcastle would also be there trying to help. It was one thing to risk his own life with such a stunt. But he could never risk the Judge's life, too.
"Okay, I won't pursue this."
He opened his eyes and saw that Melissa was gone. He stared at the door and murmured to himself, "if our time frames had been different, you would have been my daughter."
He rolled over in the bed and heard a clinking noise as something fell from his lap. Mark looked on the floor and saw his medallion lying there. He laid the portrait on the table and leaned over the bed, picking the medallion up. He could see that it had been cleaned. He gripped the shiny circle in his hand and smiled fondly. Hardcastle had found it and taken care of it. Just as he found and taken care of Mark.