TITLE--------The Haunting of Judson Cross!AUTHOR----Winnie CHARACTER---Judson Cross
DISCLAIMERS---Adventure Inc and the characters belong to Tribune Entertainment. I make no claim of ownership and no money was made from this story.
COMMENTS----This Story was written in response to Tarlan's Halloween Challenge on the MBfic list. And I hope you enjoy it. Major thanks to Marti for reading along and for planting several seeds that led to this story. Thanks also go to my beta Antoinette who keeps threatening to dig a hole, but is never to far when I need her. As always, thanks to Julie, just because she's Julie. This is for entertainment only and any medical mistakes are mine and I apologize to the medical community in advance for any glaring mistakes.THE HAUNTING OF JUDSON CROSS!
"Judson, are you sure this was a good idea?" Gabriel Patterson asked as they turned down the tree-lined road. The trio of explorers had been driving for six hours with only a short break for lunch and they were all irritable.
"Gabe, I know it's been a long drive, but you usually love to travel," Cross said as he turned the headlights to high beams.
"I do, but Judson usually we travel on The Vast Explorer. Never did like driving for long distances."
Judson smiled as he looked into the back seat of the Jeep Cherokee and smiled at the woman stretched out on the seat. An emergency blanket was pulled tightly around her and soft snoring accompanied the barely audible strains of Chopin from the CD player.
"Maybe you should do what Mac's doing and try to sleep?" the explorer suggested.
"I never could sleep sitting up, Judson. Besides you need someone to keep you awake. Are you sure this is the right road?" Patterson asked as the first fat droplets of rain hit the windshield.
"Yes, I'm sure. Take the highway north out of Beau Harbor until you hit the first exit east. Follow the road east until you hit Mill Creek road and turn left. That's what I did, so this must be the right road."
"Okay, so it's the right road, but can you explain why we're doing this again?" Patterson asked wearily.
Judson kept his eyes on the road as he hit the button to start the windshield wipers. The blades squeaked for several seconds before they picked up a rhythm of their own. He loved stormy nights, especially when he had to drive in the outskirts of the city. He smiled as he realized this road was on the outskirt of the outskirts.
"Judson, want some coffee?" Patterson asked, reaching for the thermos they'd filled at the last Krispy Kremes donut shop.
"Sounds good, and Gabe?"
"We're doing this because Regina Newcomb asked us to check out the property she inherited."
"Oh, yes, I remember. I just don't see what the rush is. I mean she's what - 85?"
"Right and she inherited this place when?" Patterson asked, knowing his friend had a tendency to feel sorry for his distant relative.
"In 1928. Her uncle Ambrose left it to her before he was killed in a boating accident."
"So why is it so important to get out there today?"
"Thought you were sleeping, Mac?"
"I was, but that coffee smells great. Any left, Gabe?"
"Sure," Patterson answered, pouring a third cup and handing it back to the young woman.
"So, Judson, are you going to answer my question?" Mac asked, sipping the strong black coffee.
"What question?" Cross asked, rolling the window down slightly.
"Why is it so important that we go out there tonight?"
"Hell if I know, but aunt Regina is not easy to say no to," Cross answered as a streak of lightning shot across the narrow road in front of the car.
"Whew, careful, Judson!" Gabe told him.
"Tell me about it. Didn't you say the weather was supposed to be sunny skies and clear sailing?" Cross asked as he wiped the inside of the window.
"Don't you mean clear driving, Judson?" Previn quipped.
"Ah hell, Mac," the explorer said, but laughed at the look on the woman's face.
"It is strange though, Judson. There wasn't supposed to be any storms in the area," Gabe explained as he placed the empty thermos on the floor.
"I thought that's what you said. I hope we get to the house before this gets any worse."
"Another thing, Judson. This house. How long has it been empty?" Mac asked.
"It's been empty for thirteen years. My uncle Frank Cross stayed here less than a week and left under strange circumstances. He hasn't come back to Beau Harbor since."
"Why?" Previn asked, intrigued by the possibility of an interesting story.
"I'm not sure, but from what aunt Regina told me uncle Frank complained about seeing ghosts."
"What kind of ghosts?" Patterson asked, a hint of tension in his voice. In the three years since he'd worked with Judson Cross he'd seen many unexplainable things, ghosts being one of those things.
"He said he heard banshee like wailing and a man's voice promising him death by a thousand cuts," Cross said, smiling as he saw the young man swallow painfully. "Gabe, uncle Frank was a drunk and well he saw a lot of things including the proverbial pink elephants. The house is just so far out of town that most people find it an inconvenience. That's why it's stayed empty so long."
"So, what do we do for electricity and hot water?" Previn asked.
"There's supposed to be a generator and there's an old timer who lives about thirty miles south who makes sure it's filled with gasoline and still working. He also makes sure there's wood for the fireplace and according to aunt Regina he also keeps the place well stocked with dry goods."
"So that's why we only needed to bring steaks and burgers?" Patterson asked.
"Exactly," Cross said, sipping at the coffee as he steered the car down the road. Several thick branches struck the windshield and he was about to pull over when the car broke through into a clearing. Lightning flashed across the midnight black backdrop as the Cherokee's headlights illuminated the 200-year-old structure.
"You have now entered the twilight zone," Patterson said as lightning flashed and thunder rolled across the heavens.
"Twilight Zone? I was thinking more of The Outer Limits," Previn told them as the trio sat back and studied the ancient structure.
The two-story building had definitely seen better days, but Judson knew it was structurally sound, unlike a lot of the old homes around Beau Harbor. The lights illuminated a front porch that looked like it would fall down in a strong wind. Several large pillars ran along the entire front, supporting a wide terrace and the overhanging canopy that shielded gusts from the sun and rain. A trellis was filled with ivy, which had also spread to encompass most of the front of the house, leaving the windows surrounded in a sea of green. There seemed to be a small attic with round windows that were shuttered against the storm. They seemed out of place, but the trio did not question the reasons.
Judson reached for the handle and shoved open his door. Pulling his jacket up over his head he ran to the back and grabbed several bags before running towards the house and up the three steps onto the porch. He turned back in time to see Gabe and Mac hurrying towards him.
"Judson, open the door!" Previn shouted above the howling wind.
"Sure sounds like banshees to me!" Patterson said as he watched Cross patting down the pockets of his blue jeans.
"I left the damn keys in the glove box."
"Want me to get them?" Gabe asked.
"No, I forgot them. Wait here!" Cross said, pulling the coat up over his head and shoulders before braving the hellacious tempest once more. He fumbled with the door handle until it finally opened and was wrenched from his hand by a sudden gust of wind.
"Damn!" he cursed as it swung back once more. He tried to stop it from striking his hip and cried out as he felt and heard a sharp crack from his left wrist.
"Judson, are you all right?" Previn called.
"I'm fine. Hang on," Cross called as he used his right hand to open the glove box and search for the key. He smiled in spite of the pain as he found the block of wood with the key attached to it. Lifting his head he frowned as he glanced out the window at the round window set high above him. For an instant he thought he saw a ghostly white light, but it disappeared too fast for him to be sure. Standing up, he shoved the key in his pocket and drew the coat around him once more before hurrying back to his friends.
"Did you find it?" Patterson asked.
"Right here," Cross said, holding up the four inch block of wood with the ancient brass key attached to it by a length of rope. He used his right hand to put the key in the rusted lock and smiled as it opened easily. The trio grabbed the bags and hurried inside. Dropping her bag, Mac pulled out a flashlight and turned it on. Dust and cobwebs covered the immediate area and she coughed as they moved deeper into the old building.
"This place is certainly not The Ritz," Patterson said as they looked around the main room. Plastic covered the ancient furniture and a musty smell permeated the air as Mac panned the flashlight around them.
"It looks like the maid didn't show up," Previn said with a grin as she ran her finger along the dust covered, marble topped end table.
"Damn, I called him last week to make sure it would be ready for us. Guess I should have called again," Cross said as he moved deeper into the room.
"Well, I guess we're going to have to become maids ourselves," Patterson said, picking up an old broom and tossing it towards Cross. "Heads up!"
Judson turned just in time to see the broom coming towards him and reach for it with both hands, crying out as pain ran up and down his arm.
"Judson, what's wrong?" Previn asked, instantly on alert and hurrying to her boss who was now cradling his left wrist in his right hand.
"Damn," the explorer cursed.
"What happened?" Patterson asked, watching as Previn shone the light on Cross' wrist.
"The wind blew the door open and back. I tried to stop it from jamming me, but it caught my wrist the wrong way."
"Gabe, hold the flashlight. Judson, let me see," the woman ordered as she handed Patterson the flashlight.
Judson pulled his arm out of the sleeve and held it out for Mac's perusal. He gritted his teeth as she probed the bones and knew instantly something was broken. He held his breath as the bones shifted and saw the sympathy on Patterson's face.
"Looks like you've broken the bone in here," Previn explained pointing to the swollen area of his wrist.
"I know, believe me I know," Cross told her.
"Gabe, did you pack the first aid kit?"
"It's in my bag. Hang on," he said and opened his pack.
"We can take care of this after we get a fire going," Cross said, shivering as he felt a chill run down his spine.
"We take care of this first, then we start a fire," Previn ordered when Patterson returned. She smiled at the explorer as she took the ready-made wrist splint from the kit. "Did you do this just to get out of sweeping?"
"Will it work?" Cross asked.
"It might, unless we can figure out a way to attach it to your butt. I always wanted to work your butt off," Previn joked.
"Funny, Mac, Ow!" he gasped as she wrapped the splint around his wrist.
"Sorry, Judson. Look we're going to need to get that X-rayed."
"Not tonight. If this storm doesn't let up we'll be stuck here through Halloween," Cross said, and the trio jumped as a loud crash sounded from outside the window and lightning flashed brightening the room in an eerie glow. Judson gasped as he caught sight of something at the top of the spiral staircase on the right. The same ghostly white light he thought he'd glimpsed outside the door.
"Judson, are you all right?" Patterson asked as Cross' face blanched in the after images of the electrical storm. He grew worried as the man continued to stare at something behind them. He turned, but the lightning stopped and there was nothing for him to see but darkness.
"Judson, what's wrong?" Previn asked, worried about the blank look on his face. "Judson, what's going on? Come on, you're scaring me!"
"Huh? What?" Cross asked, blinking rapidly as he tried to focus his vision.
"Where did you go just now?" Previn asked.
"Go? What are you talking about, Mac? I've been here the whole time."
"I don't mean literally, Judson. You just sort of pulled a Jim Ellison on us," she said with a smile.
"A what?" Cross asked, searching the dark area above them.
"Jim Ellison. You know the good-looking guy from that show Gabe makes us watch.
"She's talking about The Sentinel, Judson. Jim sort of zones and his guide has to talk him back," Patterson explained.
"Damn, did I really do one of those?"
"Well you were staring at something only you could see and didn't answer when Mac and I called you. What did you see?"
"I don't know. Nothing really, it's more like I caught a glimpse of something. A light of some kind."
"Judson, Halloween is still two days away and we're out in the middle of no where in an ancient house full of dust and spiders and who knows what else. So please, let's not start seeing things, okay?"
"I didn't know you were afraid of ghosts, Mac." Patterson smiled as he teased the woman.
"Who said anything about ghosts?" Judson asked. "Look, I don't know about you guys, but I'm beat. What do you say to finding something remotely resembling bedrooms and getting some shuteye? We can clean this place up in the morning."
"Sounds like a plan to me, Judson," the younger man answered.
"Any idea about the generator?" Previn asked.
"I have no idea where it is and I'm not in the mood to brave this weather to find it. You guys packed your sleeping bags right?" He saw them both nod and took a deep breath. "Then I guess we grab our gear and get some rest. Mac?"
"Did you bring any of those power bars of yours?"
"I thought you didn't like them," Previn said as they reached the bottom of the spiral staircase.
"I don't, but right now I'm so hungry my belly is taking a bite out of my backbone," Cross quipped as he watched her open her bag and remove three of the bars.
"At least it's chocolate," Patterson said as he grabbed Judson's bag.
"Gabe, I can carry it myself," Cross told him.
"I know, but for now humor me and eat your bar. Here, you take the flashlight," the younger man told him as Mac started up the rickety staircase.
"Think this is safe?" Previn asked after three steps.
"I don't know, maybe we should spend the night down here," Cross said as a groan of creaking metal met their ears.
"I think you may be right, Judson," Patterson readily agreed as Mac came back down.
"Okay, so we sleep on the main floor," Previn said as the trio moved back into the main room. She watched as Cross moved to the fireplace and shone the light inside.
Judson placed the light just inside the opening and looked up the chimney. He searched for the lever that would open the flue and smiled as the well-oiled item opened easily. He reached for the kindling beside him and made a teepee of the small pieces of wood. Looking around he frowned as no matches were in the area.
"Here, Judson," Previn said as she handed him a gold lighter with the initials MP engraved on it.
"Is there something you want to tell us, Mac?" Patterson asked.
"A lighter with your initials on it?" Cross answered.
"Oh, that. A gift from an old boyfriend who thought I should always be prepared. He said I had no fire."
"He didn't know you very well," the explorer said as he placed a few pieces of yellowed newspaper under the kindling.
"No, he didn't," Previn said with a grin as the paper caught and the hungry flames reached for the kindling, igniting the dry wood and illuminating the area around Judson Cross.
"Well, at least we'll have heat," Patterson said as he moved closer to the fire.
"Yes, and food," Cross said as he bit the top of the wrapper off the bar.
"Judson, you're supposed to eat what's inside the wrapper," Mac said with a smile.
"I don't know about that, Mac, probably tastes the same anyway," Cross said and held the bar in his lips as he reached for several larger pieces of wood. Once the fire was going he pulled the grate across and stood up.
"Well, Gabe, how about you and I setting up the sleeping arrangements?" Previn asked.
"I can help," Cross said.
"You did your job for the night, Judson. Now why don't you get out of those wet clothes and by the time you're done the beds will be ready," Mac told him as she tossed his bag at his feet.
"Thanks," the explorer said.
"Don't worry, I won't look," Previn told him, smiling as she turned away and grabbed for the broom.
Judson heard the two of them talking as he removed the remainder of his wet clothes and pulled on a pair of warm sweat pants. He didn't understand why he felt so cold as he grabbed for the bulky sweatshirt and hauled it down over his head. By the time he was finished changing the sleeping bags were laid out and ready for them. He moved to his bawdy orange one and smiled as he remembered when Penny gave it to him. She said it would always remind him of orange skittles and more often than not it did just that.
"Judson, are you all right? Previn asked, watching as the explorer trembled before getting into the sleeping bag and pulling it up around him.
"I'm fine, Mac, just a little cold," Cross explained. Truth was he just couldn't get warm and his wrist was throbbing. He closed his eyes, but snapped them open as a cold hand touched against his forehead. "Mac!"
"Judson, why didn't you tell us you weren't feeling well?" Previn asked of the heat emanating from his forehead.
"I'm just cold…"
"And running a fever. Low grade, but with you being soaked like that it could get worse real fast. Gabe, see if we have anything in the first aid kit for fever."
"Sure, Mac," Patterson hurriedly opened the kit and pulled out a bottle of extra strength Tylenol. He handed them to Previn and reached for the bottle of water in his bag.
"Judson, take these."
Cross eased up, shivering as the sleeping bag fell off his shoulders and accepted the two pills before chasing them down with water. He lay back down and smiled sheepishly at his two companions before closing his eyes once more.
Cold…so cold…have to run…can't breathe…can't see anything…need help…water…can't breathe water…need to breath. No! No…can't breathe….drown…swim…must swim…can't…can't go any further…drowning…drowning…drowning…so c…cold….can't breathe…
He came to, gasping for air, his body bathed in sweat, his head pounding and close to exploding as he screamed. He felt hands touching him, but didn't know whom they belonged to. He couldn't breath, couldn't get any air to enter his oxygen-starved lungs. No matter how hard he tried nothing gain access to his body and he tried to get away from the hands holding him under the water.
"Judson, breathe. Damn you!" Previn cursed as she helped Gabe sit the explorer forward. The flickering flames from the fireplace illuminated Cross' face and she swore his lips were blue. Desperate to make him breathe she struck him on the back and was finally rewarded by the gasping sound of air whistling through clenched teeth.
"That's it, Judson, Breathe!" Patterson said, relief evident in his voice as they held the shivering man.
Judson could not remember why it was so important to breathe, but it took a monumental effort to finally feel the air enter his lungs. If anyone asked he would swear he could feel his cells sighing as the oxygen renewed them.
"What happened?" Patterson asked worriedly.
"I don't know, just felt like I couldn't breathe. Felt like I was drowning," Cross told them, rubbing his eyes in and effort to clear his vision.
"Are you okay now?" Previn asked, concern evident in the way her hand unconsciously massaged his shoulder.
"Think so. Not sure I want to sleep anymore. What time is it anyway?"
"A little after four. Are you sure you're okay? You look kind of pale." the young woman said.
"Have you warmed up yet?" Patterson asked.
"Not really," the explorer said and watched as Mac stoked the fire and added two more chunks of wood.
"Why don't you try and go back to sleep, Judson," Previn suggested.
"I will, you two should do the same," the explorer said as rain clamored off the roof and the wind gusted through the trees, rattling the windows in the ancient framework. Lightning flashed as Cross settled down and tried to sleep. He soon heard the soft breathing that bespoke of the other two sleeping and knew he'd soon be joining them. He listened to the storm and felt it lull him towards the waiting arms of Morpheous. He heard someone calling to him, but was not sure if it was real or imaginary as he finally slipped over the edge.
A thick branch scraped against the window as the tempest raged around the 200 year old house. A figure, totally dressed in white stood silhouetted against the dark pane. Soft blue eyes looked into the warm light and long fingers tapped against the pane of glass. A voice as soft as quicksilver, called to the man she longed to hold and she watched as the figure turned on his side and faced her. She knew he was still asleep, and soft tendrils of a white aura penetrated the glass and touched against his forehead. Words were hard to form, but she called upon every ounce of energy she had and voiced a name.
The touch was feather light against his skin, but she knew he was hers. One hundred years of waiting was finally at an end. Judson Cross had come home and she would soon feel his warmth once more.
The old house settled during the storm as a second ethereal presence began to exude its influence on the air within the four walls. Something invaded his domain and he could not allow whomever it was to take what belonged to him. This house, the furnishings, the very walls and windows belonged to him, and he would not see anyone within it. The woman belonged to him and he felt her presence once more. She could not leave the house and her spectral aura was chained within the walls much as her body was chained within the mortar and brick room. She could not escape. He would not allow it, because they were destined to live out their existence here. She was at the window again, calling a name. At first he didn't know the name, but he understood that she cared for whoever the invader was.
"Angelina, do not attempt to speak to him!" he ordered, but no sound escaped the ruined lips of the ghostly figure standing at the top of the stairs. He knew she heard him and smiled as he caught sight of her beyond the pane of glass. Heavy rains continued to fall yet he knew she could not feel it because her body was not real. It was as much smoke as the wisps of white that escaped through the chimney. He felt her fighting him and laughed as he influenced her mine and twisted her heart in knots. She belonged to him, and he would see that she understood just how strong he was. Pulling back from her he gazed upon the trio of sleeping figures and was surprised to see a familiar face.
"Judson Cross, it cannot be," he whispered, smiling as he sent out icy tendrils to infiltrate the man's dreams. He reached deep, searching for this man's soul and seeking some weakness he could exploit. Finding what he sought he sent out a cold breath of air.
The sleeping man shivered as if the room was bathed in the icy breath of an arctic wind. The air around him seemed heavy and his breath was easily visible in the warm glow of the fire. Something touched against his right cheek and seemed to burn his sensitized skin. As he looked around the semi-darkness, he heard his name being called, but the voice was unfamiliar and he tried to ignore it as he gazed at the two other occupants of the room.
Mac lay on her side, her hair covering most of her face as she slept soundly, oblivious of Judson's perusal. Next he spotted Gabe sleeping on the other side of Previn and he couldn't help but think about how young Patterson was. There was an air of innocence about him that was seldom seen when he was awake and working to fix some problem or another with The Vast Explorer. Judson lay back as the first tendrils of a predawn sky lightened the view beyond the window. He closed his eyes, but felt someone watching him. Opening his eyes once more Cross looked beyond his sleeping companions, his gaze drawn to the top of the spiral staircase as a dark figure stood rooted to the spot.
The figure was tall, perhaps six and a half feet and dressed totally in black. The hair was as dark as a midnight sky totally devoid of the stars and the moon, but it was the eyes that made Judson's blood run cold. The pupils were black and rimmed in a crimson tide of bloodied veins. He watched as the figures mouth opened and heard the words spoken inside his mind.
"Come to me, Judson, she will not be yours."
"Who?" Cross frowned, as no sound escaped his throat, yet he knew whatever he was watching heard him.
"Angelina is and always will be mine. Come to me, Judson," the ghostly figure whispered, yet the voice thundered inside his skull and he knew he had no choice.
Judson stood on shaky legs and slowly made his way towards the spiral staircase. He remembered Mac's attempt to climb it and renewed his efforts to ignore the specter, but his will was not his own anymore. He heard someone calling his name and wished he could answer, but whoever this was would not allow him to speak. As if controlled by something unseen his right foot found purchase on the first step, his left quickly followed and the creaking of the old staircase quickly drowned out the voices that were calling to him. One step at a time his feet moved, taking him upwards as his eyes locked with the crimson ones of the ghostly figure standing at the top of the staircase. The higher he went the colder the air around him became and goose bumps formed on his arms. He wanted to turn away, but there was something hypnotic about the image that drew him on.
"Help him…please…help him!"
Mac turned on her back as a soft voice sounded near her. She moaned as she pulled the blanket tightly around her and tried to ignore the unwanted wake up call, but the persistent voice continued and she grumbled without opening her eyes.
"Help him before it's too late."
"Mac, something wrong?" Gabe mumbled as he forced his eyes open. He frowned as he looked towards Cross' sleeping bag. 'Where's Judson?"
"Sleeping…wish I was," Previn groused.
"No, Mac, he's not!" Patterson pushed back his sleeping blanket and stood up, searching the immediate area for their friend.
"What?" Previn was on her feet in an instant and the duo searched the room, but found nothing as they rubbed the chill from their bodies. "Where the hell is he?"
Judson heard someone calling him, but could not tear his gaze from the dark haired specter as he took another step towards the horror standing slightly above him. The hairs on the nape of his neck stood on end and he knew he should turn around, race down the stairs, and get out of the house, but he couldn't. The air grew heavy, his limbs leaden, his vision blurred as he climbed the unstable structure.
"Come to me, Judson, for she is mine and you should never have touched her!"
Patterson and Previn turned at the sound of creaking metal and wood high above them and gasped at what they saw.
"Judson! Don't move!" Previn called as she raced forward. The explorer stood at the top of the staircase holding tightly to the rail. The upper level was still in shadowy darkness, untouched by the dim light cast by the glow of the fire behind them.
Gabe watched, horrified as Cross took another step, seemingly oblivious to the danger he was in. Another sound had them both calling his name as the bolts, long ago rusted and untended gave way and the spiral casing tore away from the mezzanine floor. It seemed to hang suspended in midair for several long minutes, but was less than a second as the entire structure dropped towards the lower level.
Judson felt his stomach lurch as hollow, evil laughter reached his ears seconds before the staircase deteriorated and gave in to the laws of gravity. A loud shriek permeated the air and he suddenly realized it came from him as the bottom dropped out of his world and he hit the floor before his mind registered the fall. He laid in a tangle of wood and metal, a bloodied heap filled with pain and fear as the phantom presence hovered over him.
"You will not die so easily, Judson! Angelina will see you suffer and know to whom she truly belongs, but come Halloween you will pay for touching her! Pay with your life!"
Cross heard Previn and Patterson talking to him, but the pain radiating from his left arm and chest left him breathless and he closed his eyes to ward off the nauseating sensations racing through his stomach. He tried to sit up, but two sets of hands held him on the floor. The aura of darkness above him faded and the air began to warm, but he trembled uncontrollably as his eyes locked on the angelic presence hovering near the window.
Long blond hair framed a sensual face, high cheekbones surrounding a perfect nose and cerulean blue eyes. The softness of her face left him breathless and he trembled as the darker aura enveloped her in a demonic embrace.
"No!" he cried as he tried to stand, but the images faded as pain radiated from various areas of his body. He moaned as someone touched him and his vision focused on the two people kneeling beside him.
"Judson, don't try to move!" Patterson warned.
"H…have to help her!" Cross said as something ran down his left cheek.
"Help who? Mac's okay, Judson, she's right here!"
"N…not Mac. Angelina!" the explorer tried as consciousness left him.
"Who?" Previn asked as she looked at the now unconscious man.
"I don't know. Damn it, Mac, what was he doing up there?"
"I don't know, Gabe, but we need to get him away from this mess." She looked towards the window, grateful that the storm seemed to have ended. She turned back to the injured man and shook her head at the newly formed bruises and the wound over his left eye.
"I'm no doctor, but I'd say he needs a hospital. Go out and start the Cherokee while I finish checking him over," Previn ordered, knowing Gabe would not question her authority on this. Ever since she'd removed the bullet Ana put into Cross, Patterson turned to her when they needed medical advice. Mac didn't ask for it, but she was now their medical authority, and she wished Judson's life wasn't on her shoulders once more.
"On it," Patterson said and hurried towards the door as a loud crash sounded from outside. He pulled open the door and cursed as the wind howled through the 100-foot trees and several branches from high above cracked, as a streak of lightening seemed to bounce off the trunk and shatter the ancient pine. The tree seemed to drop in slow motion until it obliterated the road leading away from the house.
"Gabe, what's wrong?" Previn asked, not looking up from where she continued to tend Cross' head injury.
"I thought the storm was over, but it must be like a hurricane at sea."
"What are you talking about?" the woman asked as the house shook to its very foundations. The storm was once more overhead, thunder and lightning warring for attention as the sky darkened once more and hail pelted the ground and rooftop.
"The storm's worse and lightning just took out one of the damn trees. It's blocking the road, Mac. There's no way we're going to be able to move it until this stops."
"Shit! Okay, shut the door and get back here. We need to get Judson in his sleeping bag. He's freezing here and I don't even want to think about the possibility of internal injuries, Gabe."
"Alright, Mac, just tell me what you want me to do."
"Put more wood on the fire and then help me move Judson. Then we're going to see if we can't find the generator he talked about!" She quickly cleaned the two- inch laceration and placed a square of gauze over it as Patterson added more fuel to the fire. She glanced at the wall and was relieved to see they had an ample supply of wood to last several days.
As this thought struck her another more morbid one hit, 'Does Judson have several days?' she thought as her hand gently probed a dark bruise on the left side of his chest.
"Sorry," she apologized as her fingers touched several broken ribs, causing the explorer to cry out and pull away from her.
"Mac, are you okay?" Patterson asked from the fireplace.
"I'm fine, Gabe, but Judson's not. He has at least two broken ribs here. I don't think there's anything else broken, but again I'm not a doctor."
"You're doing the best you can, Mac…"
"God, I wish there was more I could do!"
"Easy, Judson, lie still, okay?"
"W…what happened?" Cross asked, his tongue licking at dry lips.
"You took a fall," she answered, smiling thinly at him.
"Is that why my whole body hurts," the injured man asked as his vision cleared and he looked into her worried face.
"Well, no, the fall didn't do that. Think that had more to do with the landing!" She joked and heard his soft laughter, before he curled into a ball and moaned as pain intensified and threatened to send him back into the darkness.
"Don't make m…me l…laugh, okay?"
"Okay. We're going to get you back into your sleeping bag."
"S…sounds g…good. Ccccold!"
"Gabe has the fire going again, so it should warm up soon," Previn explained as the other man returned.
"All right, Judson, let's get you back to bed." Patterson said and eased his arm under Cross' shoulders and helped him into a sitting position. He watched as Previn offered support on the opposite side and they soon had their friend standing, but he sagged heavily between them.
Judson held his breath and tried hard to ignore the fire raging in his chest as he hung suspended between the man and woman he thought of as family. He knew his ribs were broken and understood if he moved too much he could end up with a punctured lung and if that happened there was no way he would live until they made it to a hospital.
"Judson, are you ready to move?" Patterson asked worried about the fine sheen of sweat covering the explorer's forehead.
Cross couldn't find the energy or the air required to answer and simply nodded once as he forced one foot in front of the other. He kept his eyes closed, feeling the nausea rising as his tumultuous stomach churned violently. He felt his aching body being lowered to the floor and grunted as his ribs protested this new torment. Something was tucked under his head and a glass held to his mouth as he tried to ignore the continuing discomfort he felt. He drank the cool water and smiled reassuringly at his worried friends as Mac pulled the sleeping bag up over him.
"Judson, I want you to take these, and then I want you to stay put while Gabe and I check for the generator," Previn explained, placing two tablets in his mouth and helping him drink more water.
"Thanks…both o…of you. T…think I'll p…pass out n…now," Cross said as his eyelids closed.
"Mac, you stay with Judson. I'll check for the generator," Patterson suggested.
"There's nothing I can do for him right now, Gabe. It's going to take both of us to get the generator going and then we need to check the supplies we brought with us," Previn said, reaching for the flashlight as she stood up.
"Are you sure he'll be all right by himself?"
"He'll be fine. There's nothing here to hurt him…unless there are ghosts around we haven't seen," the young woman joked in an effort to reassure her friend.
"Ghosts? No, I think that's tomorrow night and I hope we're back home by then!"
"Me too, Gabe," Previn said as they made their way to the door. The duo grabbed their jackets and pulled them on before opening the door and fighting against the wind and rain. The high beam of the flashlight revealed very little as the tempest kept the light of day close to the darkness of night.
"I haven't seen anything like this since….since I don't know when!" Patterson shouted above the howling wind.
"It does seem a little weird!" Previn said as she pulled the door closed and moved down the three steps. She led the way around the corner of the house, her hair whipping across her face as the wind shifted and the violence of nature seemed to be holding them back. Pulling her coat closer she turned to see Gabe doing the same as they fought their way around the corner of the house. She had no doubt that if they found the generator Gabe would get the damn thing working. The beam of the flashlight illuminated the storm- ravaged landscape and she ducked as an overhanging branch of a tree bucked and bowed, driving her to her knees.
"Mac! Are you all right?" Patterson asked, helping her to her feet.
"F…fine! Just watch out for the damn trees!"
"I will!" He smiled as he spotted something tucked under an eve at the far corner of the house. "I think that's it, but it looks like it's older than Judson's aunt Regina!"
"Think you can get it up and running?" Mac shouted above the screeching tree branches.
"I haven't found one that beat me yet," Patterson smiled confidently as the wind reeked havoc with his hair and the combination of rain and hale stung his face.
Mac knew it wasn't a worthless boast. Gabe was a natural with engines, generators, and cars and right now there was no one she'd rather have working on this one. She held the flashlight so that he would be able to work and wondered how Cross was doing at that moment.
She moved through the house once more, a wispy presence of white smoke un-seeable to the naked eye, until her ghostly essence formed into the beautiful figure of the woman she once was. She knew he would be after her once he discovered she'd managed to slip past him once more, and she would pay the price when he found her. She remembered the beatings she'd endured for this man, and knew she would go through hell's fires to be with him. To feel his strong, warm body pressed up against hers, his breath against her ear as he whispered of his love. How she wanted to hold him, to kiss him, to run her fingers through his sandy blond hair, but that would not be. Not until the horror of the past was redeemed could she ever feel warm again.
Judson opened his eyes as cold surrounded him once more. A smoky essence hovered above him, but there was none of the fear and horror he felt from the first encounter. He blinked rapidly until the angelic face came into focus and pushed back the blankets in an effort to reach for her.
"Angelina," he called and the face lit up with a rare softness he'd never seen before.
"Oh, Judson, you have returned to me."
The voice sounded inside his head and he frowned as he tried to make sense of what was happening. Who was this woman and why did she know his name? How did he know her name when he'd never laid eyes on her before? There was something about her that cried out for him to trust her, yet he could not give his trust so easily.
"Who are you?"
"My name is…was Angelina Riverton and this was to be my home, but he would not have it…would not let us be together." Her eyes darted left and right as fear overwhelmed her and her form began to dematerialize before his eyes.
"He who?" Cross asked weakly as he shoved back the sleeping bag and began to rise to his feet.
"Lucas! He's here, Judson. Be careful I don't want to lose you again," she whispered as her vaporous body disappeared.
"Angelina, come back! You don't have to be afraid!" Cross called and held his hand to his head as he felt his head begin to pound with newfound intensity.
"She will not come back, Judson! She will not be yours!"
Cross lifted his head as he recognized the voice from earlier. Ignoring the pain stemming from his ribs he moved towards the ghostly figure and glared into the dark face. He knew he was facing something not of this world and yet he could not make himself believe he was seeing a ghost.
"Do you doubt your own sanity, Judson?"
"Most people p…probably do, Lucas, but I don't. Why don't you let her go?"
"Let her go where? In case you haven't noticed she's dead and since you're decidedly amongst the living she means nothing to you! Leave here now while I am in a generous mood or you and your friends will never be able to leave! Do I make myself clear? Angelina is mine and no longer your concern!"
Judson watched through slitted eyes as the man twisted his hands and a scream of pain erupted from deeper in the house. He turned to see the ethereal aura of the young woman writhing as if in agony. He tore his gaze away and cursed the wraithlike creature shimmering in delight before him.
"Leave her alone!" he shouted as the figure turned back to him and the hands were pointed at his chest.
"You will leave her alone or die!"
Judson screamed as an unnatural force struck his chest. Invisible hands propelled him backwards as the air seemed displaced and he slammed up against the wall. He hung there for several long seconds before his body slowly slid down the wall and the light above him glowed with a brightness that burned his eyes.
"Wish me luck, Mac!" Paterson shouted above the hellacious cacophony caused by an angered mother nature. His hand hovered over the switch and he sent his own silent prayer that the out dated equipment had not seen its last day. He pressed down, holding his breath as the grinding sounds of gears shifting and suction sounder in his ears. He shouted and smiled as the glow of light shone from several windows.
"Luck had nothing to do with it, Gabe!" Mac said as the sound of a painful scream rent the air. The duo raced as one through the muddied ground until they reached the front door. Gabe grabbed the handle and shoved inwards, but nothing happened. Again and again they pounded on the heavy wood, but to no avail.
"JUDSON!" Previn called as she threw her weight up against the barrier. The only sound was that of the angry wind whipping the trees into a frenzied dance with the added sound of shrieking branches accompanying them, a freakish twist to the normal twisting dance performed at parties all around the world.
"Mac, let's do it together!" Patterson shouted. "On three! ONE, TWO, THREE!"
They rammed the door and felt something give. Again and again they pounded their bodies against the unmovable obstacle until the locking mechanism gave and the door creaked open. They rushed inside and looked towards the sleeping bags, cursing as they noted they were all empty once more.
"Judson!" Mac called and was rewarded by a soft moan from the darker shadows near the fireplace.
"We're here, Judson," Patterson told the semi-conscious man
"M…my head h…hurts…"
"I bet it does. I thought I told you to stay put!"
"I w…was. Was sleeping, but she woke me," Cross moaned as they helped him stand. He turned his head to the side as he lost the contents of his stomach.
"Who woke you, Judson?" Previn asked.
"Angelina…she's a g…ghost," Cross answered, his voice filled with pain as once more they settled him into his sleeping bag. He mumbled a few unintelligible words as they tucked the blanket around his trembling body and watched as he drifted towards sleep once more.
"Mac, is he going to be all right?"
"I don't know, Gabe. Whatever's happening is probably a result of the blow he took to the head. He's showing all the signs of a concussion including the nausea and dizziness."
"But seeing ghosts?" Patterson said in disbelief.
"We've all seen ghosts, Gabe, and with the concussion Judson has it's probably easy for him to imagine he's seen someone."
"Not just someone. He gave a name, Mac. He called her Angelina. Isn't that strange to you?"
"Probably, but again it could be the concussion making him do that. I don't think we should leave him alone either. You stay with him while I check out the kitchen. Maybe I can get something made that'll warm Judson up."
"The cooler is still in the Cherokee!" Patterson observed.
"I know. I'll get it and see what I can make," Previn said, knowing the cooler would have kept everything from going bad. She prayed there was a refrigerator and a kettle or pot to boil water in. She needed coffee and somehow she would make a good strong pot.
"Just be careful, Mac."
"I will, you just make sure Judson stays where he is this time." Previn smiled as she hurried away, leaving a worried Gabe Patterson to watch over the explorer.
Mac moved into the kitchen and was surprised by what she saw there. The equipment looked outdated, but it was so much cleaner than the rest of the house. Frowning she moved to check the fridge and found it humming loudly, a good indication that it was working. She opened the door and found the inside growing cold. Next she checked the stove and again smiled as the burner came to life, glowing as it radiated heat from the single coils.
'Looks like we'll be eating something hot for lunch!'
"Who's there?" she asked, whipping around and searching the shadows for movement. Nothing moved in the kitchen and she shrugged her shoulders as she went back to searching the cupboards. There were plenty of dry goods on hand and several well used, but clean pots. Finished she walked back into the outer room and checked on her two companions.
"How is he, Gabe?"
"Restless, Mac. He's warm!"
"His temperature seems to be up a little and that's probably from the cold and being wet yesterday. Hopefully it's nothing serious," Previn explained.
"I sure hope so," Patterson told her as Cross shifted under the sleeping bag. "What did you find in there?"
"Believe it or not, the kitchen is spotless and Judson was right about it being well stocked. I'm going to grab the cooler from the Cherokee and see if I can't get something going for lunch."
"Sounds good, Mac," Patterson said and moved to add more wood to the fire. He heard Previn leave and stoked the fire until the heat filled the area surrounding him. He heard a soft moan and turned to find green eyes staring at him.
"Right here, Judson. How are you feeling?"
"Sore. Chest h…hurts."
"You've broken a couple of ribs and should try not to move around much."
"G…good advice. Where's Mac?"
"She just went out to get the cooler and should be back any minute."
"Yes, we're still stuck in the storm. As soon as it stops we'll get you out of here and to a hospital."
"Ship…back to the ship."
"Yes, that too, but I have a feeling you'll be spending a few days in Saint Lukes before we do any traveling."
"N…not if I can help i…it," Cross said, and held his ribs as several deep coughs erupted from his chest. He felt Gabe lift him forward and tried to speak, but the air was cold and his throat seemed to be frozen. He heard the door open and felt the colder air sap what little warmth his body had managed to hang on to.
"What's wrong?" Previn said, slamming the door with her foot and dropping the cooler beside the door.
"H…hi, M…Mac," the explorer finally managed as oxygen entered his lungs and his constricted throat opened once more.
"Hi yourself, Judson. Do you realize you've managed to make Gabe even paler than he usually is? What happened?"
"Chest hurt, c…couldn't breathe."
"How is it now?" Previn asked, concern evident in her voice.
"Better. Could use s…something to d…drink," Cross told her.
"I'll get it, Mac," Patterson said as Previn supported their friend. Mac held the explorer and was gripped with fear as she felt him struggling to breathe. She lost track of how many times he coughed and how often she and Gabe forced water into him until he finally seemed to relax and take in enough air to satisfy his oxygen starved lungs
"Right here, Judson," Previn said, clinging tightly to the trembling man in an effort to keep him warm.
"I know, but Gabe has the fire going and we have the generator working so hopefully it'll warm up pretty fast now. I'm going to see about warming up some soup for you."
"I know you are. Think you can sleep?"
"No. Can't, she's there, in my dreams," Cross told her as he leaned against her for added support.
"Hmm," the explorer mumbled.
"Who is she, Judson?" Patterson asked.
"A g…ghost, s…stuck here. D…don't know w…why," the injured man explained.
"Judson, it's just a dream. She can't hurt you," Previn assured him.
"N…not her…him! He's going t…to k…kill me."
"Who?" Gabe asked looking worriedly at Previn.
"Lucas…says I c…can't have her! S…so cold." Judson looked at the upper floor once more and his eyes grew wide as two figures stood there. He recognized both and knew the man was not going to let the woman get away with speaking to him. Somehow he had to help her, but right now the call of sleep was too much and his lids dropped over glassy eyes.
"Mac, you don't suppose there are really ghosts here?" Patterson asked as they settled Cross on the floor once more.
"I don't know, Gabe, but something's had Judson acting strange since we got here. First his wrist gets broken, then his being so cold and that bad fall. There's something going on here and I think we need to find out what it is before something else happens."
"Mac, I'm going to see if I can maybe cut away part of the tree. Maybe we can get out of here today!"
"I took a look at it, Gabe. Nothing short of a miracle or a chain saw will move that thing. We're stuck here until this storm dies down and then maybe we'll be able to pull it out using the Cherokee and the chains. I'd try it now, but I think we'd just end up stuck in the mud and if that happens one of us will have to walk out for help. Why don't you stay with him and I'll start lunch?"
"All right," Patterson said, nodding as he stood and walked to the window. He heard Previn leave as he gazed out at the windswept landscape. There was no way they could leave, even with Cross' life depending on medical help. He'd tried his cell phone, but for some reason there was no service in this area. Something told him Judson and Mac's would have the same problem. Although it was almost noon the day was dark as the night and the tempest created a macabre dance of trees, rain, hail, and brush. Something moved to his right and he frowned as he caught site of something white, but it vanished as quickly as it appeared and he shrugged it off as he rubbed the chill from his arms.
Lucas stared at the unconscious man below him and smiled at the thought of what would happen the next night. There would be no way Judson could escape this time. He would once more find himself in a watery grave, but unlike the other times he would be alone. At midnight, the blackest hour, Judson Cross, as he called himself now would drown in his own blood.
"Lucas, please don't do this. I will stay with you!"
"It is too late, Angelina, you should have thought of that when I first met you. I told you then I would kill anyone who even looked at you in such a way. You were promised to me, Angelina and I will keep you until I tire of killing your paramour!"
"No, please, Lucas, no more. I can't stand to watch him die again. Please I will go with you!" Ghostly tears slid from cerulean eyes as she knelt before the hated figure dressed in the black tuxedo.
"It will be over tomorrow night, Angelina! You and I will be together forever and he will exist only as a fleeting memory."
"You can't take away my memory, Lucas. You may take my body and use it as you will, but the love I share with Judson will stay with me forever."
"NO! I will not allow that! You will forget him and love me as it was supposed to be!"
"I despise you, Lucas!" she ground out, her voice cold with hate as she watched him.
"He will pay for your insolence, Angelina, and pay dearly!"
"NO! Please, don't!"
"You should have thought of that before speaking to me of your lover! Watch!" Lucas said, raising his hand and pointing it towards Judson Cross.
Gabe turned from the window as a startled cry of pain issued from the injured explorer. He watched as Judson's body arched up off the floor and seemed to do a macabre dance before being thrown across the room.
"Judson!" Patterson cried and rushed forward only to be stopped as an invisible force shoved him backwards. He landed hard against the wall, the air escaping through clenched teeth as he watched Judson being manipulated by invisible hands. He tried to get up, but again a force held him down and he watched, horrified as Mackenzie Previn entered the room and dove towards the now screaming explorer.
"Leave him alone!" Previn cried, and swore she heard her words echo from the floor above. She reached for Cross, but pulled her hand back as if burned. She saw Gabe trying to get to the writhing man from the opposite side, but he was stopped in the same way she was.
"Lucas, please leave him alone! You're killing him!"
"Who is that?" Patterson asked, shocked at the banshee like wail echoing off the rafters.
"He is going to die anyway!" an angry male voice answered.
"You promised he would live until tomorrow night!"
"No, I said that he would die tomorrow night…I will allow him to live, but he may wish he was dead!"
The voices came from everywhere and Mac knew they were in the presence of Judson's ghosts. She heard him scream as his body bent backwards and she swore she heard bones crack. Using brute force she managed to get through the barrier and caught the injured man as he dropped towards the floor.
"M…Mac, help! God i…it hurts!"
"Easy, Judson, I got you. Gabe get over here and help me!" The invisible force disappeared as quickly as it started and Gabe knelt beside his friends once more.
"What the hell was that?" Patterson said as he helped ease Cross back to the sleeping bag.
"I don't know!"
"I…it w…was Lucas. N…need to g…get out of h…here!"
"Yes, we do. Gabe, stay with him and get some clothes on him while I see if I can start the Cherokee!"
"What about the tree blocking the road?"
"I'll make my own road if I have to!" Previn said relinquishing her hold once more. She felt him grab her arm and watched as he struggled to speak once more.
"Mac, be c…careful."
"I always am, Judson. Just relax while Gabe gets you dressed and we'll be out of here before you know it!"
"O…okay," Cross said, as his abused muscles protested the slightest movement.
Gabe grabbed his friend's bag and searched through it until he found a warm sweater and sweat pants. He returned his attention to the explorer and saw that the green eyes were closed. There was a vulnerability about Cross now, one that Gabe had only seen once before. It was the aftermath of the shooting on The Vast Explorer and his friend's fever raged during the trip to the hospital. Cross had lain in the bed, his chest glistening with sweat, his eyes closed, his body racked with chills, and both him and Mac had been helpless to do anything about it. When the fever finally broke in the hospital he'd walked in to find Judson on his right side, his eyes closed and his facial features relaxed as if the pain was finally over.
"Judson, we need to get you dressed."
"O…okay," Cross agreed, opening glazed eyes and staring up at his friend. "Is Mac back yet?"
"She only just left, Judson. I'm going to sit you up a little and get this on you," Patterson explained as he lifted the injured man forward. Knowing he was doing what had to be done, Gabe ignored the painful sounds that escaped from Cross as he helped the man out of one shirt and into the warmer sweater.
Mac pulled her jacket over her head as she raced the short distance to the Cherokee. The violence of the storm made her frown and for a moment she wondered if it was natural or something brought on by whatever had invaded the two hundred year old house they were staying in. She grabbed the door handle and pulled, grateful they'd left them unlocked as she slipped into the driver's seat. She closed the door and shoved the key into the ignition, turning it again and again when nothing happened.
"Not now, Damn it!" she cursed and tried again, only to meet with failure once more. She slammed her fist onto the steering wheel and let her head drop onto it for several seconds. Opening the door she hurried to the front of the car and found the latch that would open it. Blinking back the rain that slid into her eyes she examined the battery connection and the wiring.
Judson tried not to show just how much pain he was dealing with as his friend helped him into his clothes. Gabe was gentle, yet any touch against his ribs sent shockwaves of pain through his chest. They'd stopped several times when he began to cough, and he knew his lungs were weak and filled with congestion. Finally the torturous duty ended and Gabe eased him back on the sleeping bag.
"N…no, I need t…to s…sit up. Breathe e…easier."
"Hold on," Gabe said as he reached for Mackenzie's rolled up bag. He tucked it behind his friend's back and leaned him against it. "How's that?"
"Anytime, Judson," Patterson said glancing towards the door, unaware of the other man watching him.
"Gabe, go c…check on Mac."
"I'm not leaving you alone, Judson."
"W…what if something happened to her, Gabe. She c…could b…be h…hurt!" Cross moaned as he tried to get up.
"Don't try it, Judson," Patterson warned, placing a firm hand on the other man's shoulder.
"Then go check on her! Just open the door and see where she is!"
"All right, but you just stay where you are!"
"N…not going a…anywhere," the explorer told him, smiling weakly as the younger man hurried to the door. His own gaze swept upwards until he saw the broken wood and railing from the fall he'd taken. Something caught his eye and he frowned as he realized there was something tucked into one of the hollow struts left hanging from the floor above. He shifted his body until he could see what it was and realized he was looking at a book of some kind. Something about the ancient leather binding called to him and ignoring Patterson's warning he stood and stumbled towards it.
Mac knew there was nothing else she could do. Whatever was wrong with the car was not something she could see. Between the wind and rain she was cold and soaked to the skin as she slammed the door closed and hurried towards the house. The sky was lit with jagged streaks of lightning while sheet lightning continuously flashed across the horizon. There was no way they were getting out of there until the storm let up, and even then only one of them could leave, the other would have to stay with Judson until help arrived. Shoulders slumping in resignation, Mackenzie Previn headed back to the house. She heard the door open just as she reached the steps and looked into the worried face of her friend.
"Thank God, Mac. We were getting worried. We're ready to go."
"Yeah, well, we're not going anywhere right now," Previn told him.
"Why? What's wrong?" Patterson asked closing the door behind her.
"Judson!" the young woman called as she spotted the injured man reaching for something amidst the jumble of the destroyed staircase.
Oblivious of the cries of alarm from his companions, Judson reached for the object, teetering wobbly on his feet. "C…can't r…reach it!"
"Can't reach what?" Previn asked, moving to support the injured man as his legs threatened to give out.
"B…book, stuck in t…there!"
"Hold on, I see it," Patterson said, stretching to his full height as he reached for the book. He knew Previn was taking care of Cross and he reached for a piece of the broken staircase. Using the makeshift extension he reached up once more and struck it against the object until it loosened and dropped to the floor at his feet. By the time he picked it up and turned around, Previn had the injured man propped up against the wall and was using the sleeping bags to make him comfortable. He hurried to Judson's opposite side and showed him the book.
"T…thanks, Gabe," the explorer said, taking the book in his hand. He frowned as the item seemed warm to the touch and he looked at his friends.
"What's wrong, Judson?" the woman asked.
"Not sure. Gabe, did this feel warm to you?"
"No, it didn't," Patterson said, reaching out and touching the item once more and shook his head. "Feels fine."
"Strange, it feels warm to m…me," Cross said as he opened the first page and began to read the faded lettering.
June 1st 1803- I made my decision today to leave the city and return to the life I have always loved. The ground is ready for me to begin building the house of our dreams and I believe we will be happy here. Angelina Riverton has agreed to be my wife, thus making me the happiest man in the Beau Harbor area. We will be wed as soon as the house is finished.
Judson began reading aloud, but closed the book after only the first few sentences. He ached from head to foot and his stomach was churning once more as he looked from Gabe to Mac and remembered they were supposed to be leaving.
"We can read this when we get home," Cross said as the air around him grew cold once more and he shivered as he held tightly to the journal. He saw a look flash across Previn's face and wondered why her shoulders slumped as she looked at him.
"The damn Cherokee won't start. I tried everything, but couldn't even get the damn thing to turn over. We're stuck here until the storm dies down and I can walk out to the main road," the woman explained.
"Maybe if I took a look at it," Patterson suggested.
"I know car engines, Gabe, and there's no way you can work on the engine in this weather. Judson, why don't you try and get some sleep while I fix lunch," Previn told him as she settled the blanket over his body once more.
"Guess so, but Mac, be careful."
"Whatever is in this house doesn't seem to be after me or Mackenzie, Judson. It's been after you specifically, and we're going to make sure you're safe," Gabe said as Previn left them alone. He watched as Cross opened the journal and began to read aloud once more.
August 1st 1803- Angelina came to see the progress I've made on the house today. I hired a man who rode by earlier in the week and we've been making wonderful progress. Lucas Strong is an excellent craftsman and is genuinely enthused with the idea of putting a second floor on the house. The only damper on the whole day was that Angelina seemed a little disturbed about Lucas. She can't explain the problem, but agrees that he is doing a great job.
August 21st 1803 -Angelina is coming out again today and I believe she will be both shocked and delighted at the rate with which our home is going up. I owe a debt of gratitude to Lucas Strong. The man seems to work with the energy of a man possessed, yet the work is wonderful and I believe I shall be wed before long. I'm watching Lucas putting on the finishing touches of the spiral staircase and again I'm taken aback by how quickly it went up. I wish I had Lucas' strength and stamina, but my energy level lately seems depleted. Will check with the new physician in Beau Harbor when I return to town. Angelina is here. I must show her our home.
September 15th 1803 -Things have gone well since I saw Dr. Hastings, and he can find no reason for my lack of energy. I dined with Angelina and her maiden aunt tonight and we are so happy that our plans are going perfectly. She does not want me doing too much, but she knows I want everything perfect for our wedding day. She will come out later to plant the flowers aunt Lillian gifted her with. We kissed goodbye and I held her longer than was proper, but I believe I did nothing wrong since we have promised to love one another.
October 15th1803 -I grow more nervous about Lucas Strong, yet I have no explanation for how I feel, but of late I have seen him staring at Angelina when she visits. He has not tried anything, but there is something in his eyes that I do not trust anymore. I found a small tablet of stone almost like an altar near our house today. There were several small animals nearby. They had been gutted and their bones left to dry. There was also a lot of blood covering the stone and surrounding area. I asked Lucas if he'd seen anything or anyone in the area and he denied any knowledge of it. Yet there is something to the old saying about "I think thou dost protest too much." I will watch him more closely.
October 24th1803- I believe Lucas is behind the killings, but I have no way of proving it. There is something decidedly evil in the man and I find myself falling under his spell. Angelina asked me if there was something wrong, and I fear if I tell her of my suspicions I will lose her. I have become paranoid and am trying to hold onto my sanity and I am hoping if something happens to me this journal will find its way into the proper hands. I am afraid for my life now, yet I cannot leave. I am drawn to this house. It is part of me and I still believe in my dream. I only hope I live to see it happen.
October 29th 1803- He saw me writing today and I tried to tell him it was just something I was doing for Angelina. I know he did not believe me and is becoming increasingly evil in the way he stares at my beloved. She came by today and will return on November 18th for our wedding. I am hopeful this will be the start of our life together and our love will rid us of his evil presence.
October 31th1803- The house is finished. I cannot believe that we have completed our home in four months. Our wedding date is set and my excitement is making me nervous. Lucas was to stay on to help me get the fields ready for next year, but I am no longer sure it is a good idea. Angelina does not want to be around him, and to be honest, neither can I. He is working on something in the house and I am in fear of my life now. I must speak with him tonight and tell him he has to leave my home.
"Judson! Judson, wake up!" Patterson called as he noted the way the blond head dipped forward as the book slid from his hands. He had no idea how long Cross had been reading and blinked his eyes in an effort to clear them of the last dregs of sleep.
Judson opened his eyes and moaned as his battered body protested his movement. He smiled weakly at the other man and held his arms against his chest as he started coughing. He felt Gabe's arms holding him forward and lost track of how long the hacking lasted. When it subsided he leaned back and watched as Previn came into the room carrying a tray.
"Are you okay, Judson?" she asked, setting the tray on the floor beside him.
"F…fine," he mumbled, forcing a smile to his face.
"Sure you are. Gabe, I left our lunch in the kitchen, would you get it?"
"Sure, Mac, be right back."
"Anything interesting in the book?" Previn asked as she settled a towel on Cross' chest.
"It's a journal…"
"I thought so. Does it give you any idea on what's happening here?"
"I'm not sure, Mac. From what I've read the man who originally built this house was engaged to Angelina Riverton."
"The ghost?" Previn asked incredulously.
"I think so. She was to marry him on November 18th, 1803."
"Did they get married?"
"I don't know. I never got that far, but there was another man there and the journal keeper talks about him. He says there was an evil presence and he found an altar of some kind."
"It's just a book, Judson."
"I know it is, Mac, but I think the answer to what's happening here is in these pages. I think we were meant to find it…Angelina is stuck here and I think the Lucas in this book is the same one her…GOD!" he cried out as something unseen grabbed him by the throat.
"JUDSON!" Mac screamed as Cross was picked up and shaken by an unseen force. Harsh breathing could be heard echoing off the walls as the shaking intensified and the explorer cried out in pain.
Judson tried to breathe past the vice like grip around his throat. The room around him faded and blurred as his oxygen-starved body began to shut down under the vicious onslaught. He could hear Mac and Gabe screaming at whatever was in the house with them. He tried to draw in enough air to satisfy his lungs, but the grip tightened until there was nothing left. Just as he was about to black out the force released him and he crumbled to the floor once more. He lifted his head as his two companions made it to him and tried to stay conscious. The voice grew to a deafening crescendo as the windowpanes shook.
"Angelina is mine, Judson! You may have loved her, but she was never yours! She was my reward for serving the black arts and I will not allow you to take her from here. Tomorrow will mark the 200th anniversary of your first death and this time I will make sure you do not escape again. You will die, horribly, painfully, and pleading for me to kill you while Angelina looks on. Once you die she will be forever mine! Your friends will not be harmed, but they can do nothing to stop what was meant to be!"
"Who the hell are you?" Previn screamed as the house shook to its rafters.
"I am Lucas Strong and this is my home, built by my hands and it will always be mine!" Several panes of glass shattered, allowing the gale force winds to scream through the openings. They protected Judson with their bodies until the very air seemed to calm and the house stood as it was before.
"We need to get out of here, Mac!" Patterson said as he looked at the bruises forming on his friend's neck.
"Don't you think I know that, Gabe? The only way out is to walk and I don't think Judson can stand let alone walk out of here!"
"M…Mac, don't…don't f…fight. T…try to w…walk…"
"We're not fighting, Judson," Previn said, hoping to reassure the injured man.
"S…sounded like f…fighting," Cross forced through the swelling in his throat. He felt them sit him up and a glass of cold water was placed against his lips. He swallowed, painfully aware of the two people watching him closely. He drank his fill and knew he wouldn't be awake much longer as pain and exhaustion sapped what little strength he had left. Forcing his eyes open he looked from one worried face to the other and whispered.
"You s…should l…leave."
"Not without you," Patterson vowed as the green eyes closed. He watched to make sure the chest rose and fell for several long seconds, worried about the raspy wheeze he now heard. "Mac, what are we going to do?"
"I don't know, Gabe, but there's no way that thing is going to kill Judson!" Previn vowed.
No air…drowning…so cold. So dark…can't breathe…Angelina…Please not my beloved…Angelina…I am sorry I did not listen to you before. I have let a monster into our lives and have lost you forever.
Judson knew he was dreaming, but there was something familiar about the figure tied to the stone altar. The rain continued unabated and a darker figure moved in behind the bound man. He could only watch, horrified as the captive's mouth was pried open and the heavy rain grew worse. He knew there was something ominous about the storm, something unnatural and he cried out as he felt the tightness in his own chest even as the sound of a drowning man's struggles met his ears. He could hear the man's thoughts and knew he was seeing his final moments as he drowned in the torrential downpour.
The dream continued and he began to wonder whether he really was asleep or if this was a waking nightmare that would not end.
The house was quiet as darkness fell and the night dragged on until the sky outside lightened a little once more. The storm continued to rage outside, but the explorers had covered the windows with boards broken from the furniture and the ruined stairs. Judson was propped up with the sleeping bags, while Previn and Patterson watched over him. The wind whistled through the narrow slats against the glass, but it managed to keep out the worst of the deluge.
Mac glanced down at the sleeping explorer once more and touched his forehead. The heat she felt scared her, especially in light of the shivering that shook the man's body. She looked at the man seated on the opposite side and knew he was feeling the same sense of helplessness that chilled her to the bone. She looked at the journal once more and opened it to the final entries once more.
October 31st, 1803 - I talked to Lucas tonight and he will be leaving before our wedding tomorrow. I wanted him gone before Angelina came, but he pleaded for me to let him stay one more night, and I relented. What harm could there be in one final night. Angelina and her aunt are here, checking the house and making sure all is in readiness. Lucas is keeping his distance, but his very presence is putting a damper on the excitement we should be feeling. Angelina is pleased that he will be gone tomorrow morning and her aunt has gone for a walk. We are alone in the house, and yet, I can't help feeling that he is nearby. Angelina and I kissed, her lips are so soft and I can hardly wait until tomorrow night. We shall have many nights to share our love. I must get back to her………God, I am so afraid. I found Angelina's aunt at the stone altar. She was gutted like the other animals and now Angelina is missing. I know Lucas is behind this, but I cannot find him either. I saw him staring at my Angelina after dinner and told him he must leave tonight. I thought he was gone…I hear something outside…a woman's scream. My Angelina!
It is Midnight. Halloween-all hallows eve-I had forgotten what night this is and am now paying for that mistake. Angelina is dead. Her body savaged by that animal and I know I will be joining her soon. I have watched the pool of blood forming around me, but there is nothing I can do to stop it. I need to finish this and hide it before Lucas returns for I shall be dead soon. I will be with my beloved! I see a place that is not far from me and I hear Lucas returning. I am in Hell----Judson Cross.
"Mac, there has to be something in there that'll help us fight Lucas!"
"There's nothing, Gabe. Unless…"
"What are you thinking?"
"I'm not sure, but I have a feeling things revolve around that stone altar. If we could find it and destroy it maybe it would break Lucas' hold on this house and Angelina and Judson."
"How do we know where to look?" Patterson asked and frowned as he heard his name whispered close to his ear.
"Gabe, what's wrong?"
"I thought I heard someone call me."
"I had the same experience earlier in the kitchen." Previn explained and began to look around. "Who's there?"
They watched, transfixed as a glowing white light formed and solidified into the spirit of a woman. The long blond tresses and sad blue eyes were the dominant features.
"Angelina?" Previn asked and saw tears form in the ghostly eyes.
"Please, you have to stop him before he kills Judson."
"Lucas?" Patterson asked.
"Yes, he is preparing the altar now and will take Judson there when all is in readiness. You must stop him!"
"How?" Mac asked.
"You know how and you must do it quickly before he takes Judson."
"Can you help us?" Gabe asked hopefully.
"I have tried everything, but he is going to make Judson suffer for loving me and I can no longer fight him. I grow weak with each death and he will not let me go. I want this to end and it will be up to you both to do it. You must go to the altar."
"We won't leave Judson alone!" Patterson spat.
"Then he will become part of this house and be unable to leave."
"We'll just take him with us!" Previn said.
"Taking him out in this weather will kill him. I will do what I can to keep him safe, but you must hurry and finish this before tonight. For if Lucas succeeds in his plans to kill Judson this time he will be too strong for anyone to stop him. He is tied to the altar and it is what holds him here. You have to finish it before your friend dies!"
"Mac," Cross' voice was weak as he tugged at the sleeping bag, his fingers gripping the edge in a vice like grip.
"Judson, how do you feel?"
"Sick, Mac. H…hard t…to breathe, f…feel like I'm d…drowning. I n…need you to l…listen to Angelina. She's r…right a…about t…the altar."
"What about it?" Previn asked.
"I'll go. Gabe you stay here!"
"N…no…too big. N…need both o…of y…you to b…break it, M…Mac."
"Judson, you'd be helpless here by yourself. What if Lucas comes back?" Patterson asked.
"C…can't s…stop him if y…you're here. D…destroy it…only way."
"All right Judson," Previn acquiesced as she watched his face. They'd been through a lot together and she knew he was right. Destroying the altar was the only way to stop Lucas. They had to find it and make sure it could no longer be used.
"Mac, we don't even know where to look!" Gabe asked, amazed that the woman was actually considering leaving Judson in the house alone.
"It's just north of h…here…small c…clearing," Judson explained as the vision in his dreams clarified.
"How do you know?" Mac asked.
"S…saw it i…in my d…dreams," the injured man answered.
"Alright, but we're not leaving you in here. Gabe grab his jacket and get it on him."
"Where are we taking him?" Angelina asked.
"I figure we put him in the Cherokee and lock the door until we get back. It'll be cold, Judson, but at least it should keep Lucas from getting to you while we're gone," Previn explained and watched as the spectral presence slowly faded until it was gone.
"O…okay," the explorer agreed, tucking the journal into his shirt, wincing as it struck against his broken ribs. He knew the car would be no safer for him than the house, but he would do anything to relieve the guilt he knew they'd feel at leaving him. It took several long, agonizing minutes to get him on his feet and over to the door. He leaned heavily on his two friends before Mac leaned him against the wall.
"Gabe, I'm going to open the door and I'll be right back to help you with him!" She hurried back into the house, grabbing the sleeping bags and a canteen of water before racing out of the house. Mac no longer cared about the heavy rain that soaked her within seconds of stepping outside. She grabbed the door handle and cursed as the wind jerked it from her hands and kept it open. Taking a deep breath of the damp air she ran back to the house and grabbed her friend once more.
Judson held his breath as they helped him down the steps and across to the Cherokee. By the time they slid him into the passenger seat he was cold, wet, and in pain, but he didn't complain as Mackenzie draped a sleeping bag over him.
"Yes, M…Mac," his voice sounded weary and disjointed even to his own ears.
"Stay here, okay? No matter what happens, you stay in the Cherokee and hit that horn if you need us!"
"O…okay…" the explorer agreed, closing his eyes even as the door was shut. He felt his mind drifting and soon found himself in the nightmare once more. The man on the altar was no longer screaming, his eyes staring accusingly at him, as water and sludge mingled with the blood covering the ground around the stone once more.
"All right, Mac, which way?" Patterson shouted above the howling wind. The woman had run into the house and grabbed the flashlight and now shone it ahead of them.
"Judson said it's north of the house. Guess that's as good as any place else to start looking!" Previn answered. She turned and took one last look at the man in the vehicle and prayed he'd be there when they got back. Knowing there was nothing else they could do for Judson until the altar was destroyed she tore her gaze away and pointed towards the back of the house.
The storm battered them from all angles, but the determined man and woman fought their way towards the darker outline of trees along the property line. Several times they stumbled and were buffeted by the wind whipping around the structure behind them, but they continued along their path. Mac ducked as an overhanging branch threatened to knock her off her feet and rolled along the muddied ground when she lost her balance and fell.
"Mac!" Patterson screamed, racing forward and pulling her out of the way as a thick trunk of wood nearly toppled her once more.
"Thanks," Previn said, smiling sheepishly as she stood on shaky legs and continued to sight her way through the storm. She felt Gabe beside her and wondered how much time had elapsed since they left Judson alone in the Cherokee. The weather continued to worsen, as did her mood.
Gabe watched as Previn pulled out everything that made her who she was. He knew a lot about her past, but there were so many things that remained a mystery and he wondered if they would ever know the real Mackenzie Previn. This was one time where he was glad she knew more than he did and he was willing to acquiesce to her skills. The air grew heavy and cold as they moved further into the trees and he wondered if leaving Judson alone was really such a good idea.
Something moved along the edge of the property, but Judson was oblivious to the ghostly specter in the hooded cape as his dreams continued to hold him enthralled. He knew his ancestor had built this house and of the love he shared with Angelina Riverton. He moaned as his mind began to surface into the painful world that was now his reality. He licked dry lips and realized something had awakened him, but he couldn't see past the windows. His breathing had fogged them and the rain outside seemed to be a translucent window that would not allow light to enter. Turning his body, Judson checked to make sure the doors were locked even as the Cherokee began to shake.
"Damn!" he cursed, grabbing the dashboard and crying out as the movement set his jagged nerves on fire. His wrist throbbed against the splint and his head pounded out its own rhythmic beat. He had no idea how long it was since Mac and Gabe left and he knew whatever was battering the Cherokee, it was not his friends. The rocking became more violent and he reached for his seatbelt in an effort to keep from being thrown from one side to the other. As suddenly as the rocking began it stopped and Judson held tightly to his ribs as his chest felt ready to explode.
"You cannot hide from me, Judson. I will have what is rightfully mine and you will cease to exist."
"Go to h…hell, Lucas!" Cross cried out as a wispy tendril of light seeped though the door and snaked its way towards him.
"I'm afraid it is you who is going to hell, Judson, and I am the vessel that will put you there. The altar has been prepared and awaits its newest offering. Come, I grow tired of this!"
"G…go…" His words were caught in his throat as the familiar feeling of fingers around his neck cut off his oxygen supply once more. The door beside him opened and he was pulled from the Cherokee and dropped unceremoniously to the ground where he fought to breathe as the fingers loosened. A hand clamped on his shoulder and pulled him to his feet.
"We must get to the altar!"
There was a finality to the apparition's words and Judson found himself being propelled along as the unseen hands continued to push him towards the tree line. He stumbled several times, blinded by the pricking rain. He was forced to try and protect his face, but to no avail. He fell and rolled onto his back, his eyes widening in panic at what he saw hovering above him. If this creature was Lucas Strong then he changed over the years since he first killed Angelina Riverton and her fiancé.
The ghostly figure floated several inches above him and Judson felt colder than he ever thought possible. The eyes were completely crimson, the face no longer human, baring the marks of a hideous wraith with skin ravaged by years in a grave.
"You cannot stop what will happen to you, Judson, and I will no longer let you delay the inevitable."
Judson cried out as he was picked up and once more thrown forward. Cold and alone, he knew this would be the last trip of his life as tree branches scraped his arms and face. He hoped and prayed that Mac and Gabe could finish what they were sent to do, before Lucas Strong killed them as well.
Gabe followed the beam of Mac's flashlight and took a deep breath as his gaze fell on the object they'd been searching for.
"How do we destroy it?" Gabe asked, unable to hide the trembling fear in his voice.
"How the hell should I know?" Mac spat, apologizing immediately for her sarcastic retort. She moved into the small clearing and circled the altar of stone. Impossible as it seemed, a lit candle sat in each corner. The altar was not big enough for a grown man, but they could see rusted chains where a victim could be bound to the side and splayed open.
"Maybe if we started taking the stones apart and throwing them into the trees," Patterson suggested.
"Wouldn't work. Lucas could just gather them up again. We need to find a way to destroy it completely."
"Do you have any dynamite on you?" Gabe asked, a hint of a smile on his face.
"Afraid not, no grenades either."
"Thought you were a Boy Scout…I mean Girl Scout and there's some kind of motto about always being prepared," Patterson said, kneeling in front of the altar and working one of the stones loose.
"Gabe, a girl is always prepared, but no one ever said anything about ghosts and altars," Previn declared as she reached for several bones scattered around the Stone table. " These are human."
"Some of the bones here are human. I think we may have found what happened to Angelina's Judson."
Gabe looked at the long bone she held in her hands and realized she was right. The bones were human and according to the ancient journal, that Judson was dying when he made the last entry. He stared for several long moments until he began searching the area.
"I think I know how to stop Lucas!"
"How?" Previn asked hopefully.
"We need to take these bones out of here. Bury them somewhere and say some prayers over them."
"No, Mac, think about it. We bury him, say some prayers over him and it's hallowed ground."
"We're not priests or ministers, Gabe!"
"Maybe not, but all it takes is for us to believe in what we're doing. I think this will help, Mac. It might even release this Judson and his Angelina!" Before Mac had a chance to answer a blood curdling scream rent the air and they knew instinctively who it was.
"Judson!" Previn cried.
"Mac, we don't have any other options!" He saw her nod and quickly began picking up the bones as lightning flashed and thunder roared. Hell had come to earth and somehow they would have to send it back where it belonged.
The hands clasped on his arms and lifted him until he stared into the cold fire filled eyes. The creature's breath burned with an icy touch that left his skin crawling with insect like piercings. A long talon dug into his right side, impaling him until blood began to run freely from the wound there. Judson knew he could not fight as a scream left his throat and darkness began to descend.
"You will not escape me that easily, Judson!"
Another scream ripped from his throat as the talon was removed and again entered his body to the left of his navel. Again it was removed and his body thrown to the muddied ground.
"Get up and walk or I…" The voice stopped as the head lifted and looked to the north and Lucas Strong screamed in outrage. "NO!"
Judson found it hard to breathe as the apparition floated upwards and began to move away from him. He knew something had happened at the altar and prayed that whatever Mac and Gabe had planned would be finished before Strong found them. Forcing his body upwards he was surprised to find he could not only stand, but he could move as well. He missed the white glow behind him and didn't feel the ghostly hands that were giving him the strength he needed to move.
They worked quickly, ignoring the growing tempest as they used their hands to dig through the grass and mud. They'd found the bones and a broken skull in the immediate area of the altar and were burying them as Mac began to pray over the makeshift grave.
"Dear Lord, please accept this man's soul and grant him entry into heaven!" Previn hoped the words she was using would do, but she wasn't as convinced as her friend. They put the bones into the shallow grave and began covering them as an unholy voice reached them from the area of the altar.
"Bring him back or die a most unholy death!"
Mac picked up a handful of mud and let it drop into the grave as she continued to speak. "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…"
"NO! He belongs to me!"
"I am!" She finished the last of the words she remembered from several funerals she'd attended over the years and finally stood up to face the altar.
"You fools!" the wraith cackled as he looked at the two friends. "Do you really think that's all it would take? I will kill Judson tonight and then I will show you both what Hell really is!"
Mac screamed as she felt something lift her from the ground and deposit her in front of the altar. The breath was driven from her lungs and she turned to see Gabe land next to her as a familiar voice rose from behind them.
"Get away from them!" Judson called, his voice weak, but his eyes filled with deadly intensity.
"Ah, all the players are finally here. Come, Judson, let's finish this now."
"It is finished, Lucas, you will not kill him!" The new voice came from the vicinity of the newly dug grave.
"Ah, Judson, it is good to see you again. Perhaps you will enjoy seeing your descendant take your place. Angelina and I will have a long time to watch you all squirm!"
"You're wrong, Lucas, They have released my Judson and, therefore, have released me as well. I am no longer tied to you or the house. Go back to hell where you belong! There is nothing left for you here!"
"It is not so easy, Angelina! I will make you both suffer!"
"No, you won't!" Judson said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out the journal. The item burned in his hand and he realized the words written within would damn the apparition to hell forever.
"What is that?"
"My journal! It is the truth behind your actions and as such it will send you back to hell. Goodbye, Lucas!"
Angelina smiled as she held tight to her Judson and watched as his descendent stepped towards the altar and shoved the journal into the ghost's wispy tendrils.
Judson held it there, screaming as the body solidified and bucked against the intrusion. He heard Mac and Gabe screaming his name, but all his attention was on getting his hand free before the skin was burnt from his arm.
"Don't touch him!" Angelina warned as the two friends made to grab for the explorer.
"We need to get him away from Strong!" Patterson told her.
"Wait! It's almost over!" the ghostly Judson said as he watched the macabre dance between his descendent and his murderer.
Judson felt the apparition weakening as a green fire seemed to engulf it. Dark shadows formed and elongated as the figure slowly faded before his eyes. The air was heavy with the stench of decay as Lucas Strong glowed an unearthly green before screaming one last time and disappearing. Judson and the journal slumped to the ground as the others looked on.
Mac was the first to reach him and she knelt down and turned him towards her. She watched the eyelids flicker and finally open, and smiled in relief.
"You had me scared there, Judson. That was one hell of a trick you just performed. How did you know it would work?"
"I…I didn't. T…took a c…chance. Are y…you and G…Gabe okay?"
"We're fine, Judson. It's you we're worried about."
"I'm a l…little dirty r…right now."
"No kidding," Previn said with a smile as she eased him into a sitting position.
"Judson, we owe you and your friends a debt we can never repay."
Cross looked up at the ghostly couple standing beside the altar. He saw the likeness between himself and his ancestor and forced a weak smile to his face.
"You don't owe us anything," the explorer said as the duo dismantled the altar.
"We have one more request for you once you are home. Angelina and I wish to be buried on this property. Preferably under the apple tree that sits to the west of the house. You will find Angelina's remains in the room at the top of the stairs. Please do this for us."
"I'll s…see to i…it," Judson told them as he felt the constriction in his chest once more. He felt Mac and Gabe holding him through the torturous attack and tried to reassure them that he was okay, yet he knew they did not believe him. He lost track of how long it lasted, and finally slumped forward as the assault finally ended.
"We need to get him back to the house," Gabe said, not realizing the rain had finally let up and the hellacious wind was dying down.
"I know, but which way?" Previn asked as she relinquished the explorer to Patterson and stood up to look around. "Angelina, could you tell us where the house is?"
"Just go through those two trees and follow the path. It will take you to the house. The storm is over and Lucas has been banished. Your phones should work now as well and you will be able to get him the help he needs. Again, we are indebted to you and will always watch over our descendants. Judson, tell Regina we are finally together."
"I w…will," Judson said and watched as the figures were bathed in a white light and finally disappeared. He held his chest and looked at his two companions, smiling as they reached down to help him to his feet.
Mac and Gabe grabbed his arms and wrapped them around their necks, supporting him as they headed back to the house. The going was slow as several times they were forced to stop and let the injured man rest. His chest was heavy with congestion and there was evidence that he was not taking in enough oxygen. The landscape had changed tremendously since they'd left the house, but the sky overhead was no longer the ominous blackness it was when they first arrived.
"Mac, over there!" Patterson said, spotting the high turret that rose above the trees.
"Hear that, Judson, we're almost there," Previn assured him.
"O…okay," Cross muttered under his breath. He forced his body to continue forward and was relieved when they finally settled him into the passenger seat of the Cherokee. He leaned his head back and tried to breathe normally, but his throat seemed to have closed over.
"Gabe, where's your phone?"
"In the house. I'll get it and call for a medivac. Where will we meet them?"
"Tell them there's a farmer's field just south of here and we should be there within the hour!" Previn said as she grabbed several lengths of chain from the back of the rig. She heard Patterson hurry into the house while she hooked the chains to the Cherokee and then wrapped it around the trunk of the tree blocking the road. She climbed in behind the wheel and prayed the vehicle would start this time as she glanced at the man in the next seat. She knew he needed help and started the vehicle, before pressing down on the gas pedal. The Cherokee moved forward easily until the slack in the chains was taken up. She continued to press on the gas, inching forward as the massive tree slowly began to move. She saw Gabe standing in the doorway of the house and knew he was talking to someone at the Beau Harbor 911 office.
Judson heard the woman curse in frustration as the car stopped, but he heard her try again and this time the rig moved a little further. He lost track of the stop and go motions and knew he would not be able to stay conscious much longer. He heard her whoop and turned a small smile in her direction as she turned to him.
"We can get out of here, Judson!"
"G…good, I…I wasn't i…impressed with the hotel's policies and the facilities," Cross said as Patterson climbed into the back seat.
"Medivac will be there by the time we reach the field," Patterson explained as Previn turned the car and drove away from the house. The Cherokee barely made it past the tree and they could hear the branches scraping the outer door panels.
"Just a little longer, Judson," Previn assured her friend.
"O…okay, j…just w…watch out for the r…ruts," Cross warned softly as it became increasingly difficult to breath.
"I am, Gabe!" Previn spat as she floored the gas and took each turn at a dangerous angle. By the time they made it to the field, Cross was unconscious and barely breathing. The chopper was already there and she pulled up as close as possible to the doors. She saw two men race towards them and open the door before the Cherokee had completely stopped.
"Judson, The paramedics are going to help you," Patterson assured his friend as one man placed a C–collar around his neck and then placed a backboard behind him. It didn't take long for them to transfer him to the stokes and place him in the chopper.
"Not that we know of," Patterson answered.
"We're taking him to Saint Lukes. The trauma team has already been notified!"
"Thanks, Greg," Previn said, having recognized a man she'd dated several times. They remained good friends and she knew he would take good care of Judson Cross.
The flight to Beau harbor passed quickly as the paramedic team of Greg Thompson and Cyril Lewis hooked up an IV line and placed an oxygen mask over the unconscious patient. They cut away as much of the man's clothing as they could and cleaned some of the encrusted dirt from his body. There were several finger shaped bruises on his throat and both men worried about the possibility of the man's breathing being compromised.
"Greg, his blood pressure's dropping."
"I know, Cy. Look, see if you can't get another IV started. I'm going to check his airway again!"
"Easy, Judson, you're safe."
"I know it does and we're doing everything we can to make you more comfortable. Do you have any allergies?"
"N…no…d…don't think s…so."
"Good, try to concentrate on breathing. We'll be at Saint Lukes before you know it. Dr. Newman is waiting for you."
"O…okay. I f…feel like h…hell!"
"I bet you do. Easy, now," Thompson said as he watched the patient's face twist in agony.
"What's our ETA?" Lewis asked.
"ETA two minutes. Dr. Newman is at the base!" the pilot called.
"Good," Thompson said as he continued to monitor his patient's vital signs.
As soon as the chopper lifted off, Previn and Patterson were back in the Cherokee and headed down the road towards the main harbor. They knew by the time they arrived at Saint Lukes Judson would have already been treated and they prayed the news would be good.
Phillip Newman watched as the chopper dropped towards the Helopad on the roof of the hospital. He looked at the two nurses with him and knew they were amongst the best in the state. He moved back and ducked as the chopper touched down and Greg Thompson stepped out.
"How is he?" Newman asked as the stokes was pulled out and the patient was placed on a stretcher and raced towards the doors of the hospital.
"Blood Pressure is 90/65! Temperature is registering at 95.3! Oxygen saturation is at 93 and dropping! Patient is conscious and is beginning to have trouble breathing! Multiple bruises and lacerations and possible broken wrist!" Thompson explained as they made it into the elevator and Newman began examining his patient.
"Well, Judson, I didn't really want to see you this bad. It could've waited until I saw you at the office next week!" Newman teased as he looked into the pain glazed green eyes.
"D…damn, t…thought it w…was a…an e…emergency."
"Well, that wasn't, but this is. What happened?"
"A…angry g…ghost," Cross rasped, as he tried to take in enough oxygen.
"So, there's not enough living people for you to anger? Now you have to go causing dissension amongst the otherworldly people. Was it a man or woman?"
"Two men, one w…woman, b…but o…only one a…angry."
"Well, that's a plus. Let's get him in Trauma One!" Newman ordered as they reached the ER.
Judson closed his eyes as the stretcher was wheeled into the trauma room. He held his breath as they lifted him from the stokes and placed him on the hospital bed. He felt his clothes being cut from his body and trembled with the cold air in the room. A thin sheet was placed over him, but did little to ease the chill racing through his body. Someone touched him in the groin area and he felt something enter his body and realized they were inserting a Foley catheter. He wanted to fight this intrusion, but there wasn't enough air left in the room. Bright lights swam behind his lids and he opened his eyes as Newman looked at him.
"Judson, I know you're having trouble breathing right now and there's a lot of congestion in your lungs. I believe you have pneumonia and I'm going to get you on a ventilator for a day or two to help you breathe," the physician explained as two nurses set up for the procedure.
"N…no n…need. D…don't want…"
"I know you don't want it, but it has to be done or things are going to get worse for you, Judson. This is only going to be for a few days, but I really believe you need it right now."
"Doctor, Oxygen sat is down to 90," Wendy Miller warned as she watched the patient's struggles.
"This won't take long, Judson, and we'll give you something for pain."
"O…okay," Cross acquiesced as he realized the doctor was right and he was having more trouble breathing than before. He closed his eyes and felt the mask being removed from his face and his head was repositioned for easy access to his throat. It didn't take long for the procedure to be finished, but by the time it was over, Judson had given in to his body's demand to rest.
"All right, people, he's out. Let's see just what we're dealing with here! Wendy, we can't afford to have his temperature drop any lower! Make sure all fluids are run through a warmer and see if you can find a Bair Hugger and get it here ASAP! Janet, call down to CT and tell them we'll be sending down a patient who gets top priority! Rachel, get portable X-ray up here on the double and make sure they do a full series!"
Newman heard the flurry of activity and knew his orders were being carried out without question. He'd heard the medics leave, and knew they would be back for information on the patient before their shift ended. These two men cared about their job and did everything they could to ensure their patient's got the best possible care. He lifted his head and watched as Wendy hooked up a pint of O-negative blood and ran it through the monitor and into Cross' right arm.
"X-ray is on the way, Dr. Newman."
"Thanks, Rachel. Clean up that gash on his leg!" Newman ordered and watched as she did as he asked without question.
"Dr. Newman, the Bair Hugger is being brought over from Pediatrics."
"They're finished with it?"
"Yes, their patient's temperature is up and he's fully conscious."
"Good, I hope we have the same outcome here."
"We all do Doctor," Wendy said, as they continued to work on the patient.
The drive back was exhausting and both Mac and Gabe were irritable and dirty as they stepped through the main doors of Saint Lukes hospital. They ignored the stares and whispers from the people around them as they stepped up to the information desk and waited for the nurse to finish with the one person ahead of them.
"Can I help you?"
Mac stepped up and smiled in spite of her own impatience. "A friend of ours was brought in by Medivac last night or early this morning…"
"Name," the woman said disinterestedly.
"Judson Cross," Patterson answered.
"Cross," she repeated as she typed in the name. "Here he is. He's in the SICU on the third floor. Take elevator C and speak to the nurse at the desk."
"Thank you!" Previn said as they moved away from the desk. It didn't take them long to find the elevator and Mac hit the button hard as if it was the enemy. Once the door open she again slammed her hand against the button inside and leaned wearily against the wall.
"Mac, are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Gabe, just tired."
"Judson's going to be all right."
"Don't say that unless you can guarantee it, Gabe. I don't want to lose him!"
"I don't either, Mac," he said, hugging her and releasing her before she had time to react. For a minute he thought she might deck him, but a thin smile formed on her face as she spoke.
"Thanks, I needed that."
"Me too," Patterson agreed as the door opened and they exited the elevator. The desk was straight across from them and they hurried over to find a nurse sitting at the desk working on several documents. "Excuse me."
"Can I help…oh my, what happened to you two?"
"It's a long story," Gabe answered.
"We're here to see Judson Cross," Previn told her.
"I'm afraid you can't go in there looking like that."
"Look, we just drove over six hours to get here and I'm not letting someone tell me I can't see my friend who could be dying!" Mac spat, jumping as a hand clamped down on her shoulder. "What?"
"AH, Mac, Gabe, I was wondering when you two would show up."
"How is he, Dr. Newman?" Patterson asked, relieved at seeing the familiar figure. He knew Mac's temper sometimes got the better of her and in this situation it would only grow worse until she had some answers.
"Why don't you two follow me and we'll get you something to eat and drink?"
"Not until I see Judson," Mac warned.
"You won't be able to see him for at least another hour. He's just come down from surgery and the nurses need time to adjust his IV and hook up the monitors. That gives us enough time to go to the doctor's lounge and grab you guys something to eat. I think we might even be able to scrounge up a couple of scrubs and you two can take advantage of the showers. Otherwise I'm not letting you anywhere near Judson. So, it's up to you. Go home, shower and eat or grab something here, shower and I'll allow you to see your friend."
"Mac, we don't have much choice," Gabe said, sure Previn was about to protest either choice. He saw the resignation in her eyes and faced Newman. "We're staying."
"Follow me," Newman ordered and was pleased when the two moved into step behind him. They reached the doctor's lounge and soon found themselves drinking hot coffee and munching on digestive cookies as the physician explained what was happening to their friend.
"Judson had surgery to repair several internal injuries. Nothing serious and he should make a full recovery if he does as he's told."
"Doc, you do know you're talking about Judson Cross? This is the same man who got out of bed after Mac removed a bullet and then he went after the Crucible again."
"I know, and you were both there when I gave him hell about that."
"Yes, I don't think I've ever seen anyone who was able to kowtow Judson like that. You have his number, Doctor."
"Thank you, Mac. Judson and I have been friends a long time and he knows when I'm angry about something."
"What else is wrong with him, Dr. Newman? I mean he was having a lot of trouble breathing," Patterson said.
"Where would you like me to start?" Newman asked, but continued before they had a chance to answer. "His blood pressure is low, temperature is high, he has pneumonia and we have him on a ventilator. I'm going to keep him sedated until tomorrow and then we'll see how he does without the ventilator. His left wrist was badly broken and there was a hairline fracture to his right ankle. He has several broken ribs and will be a little uncomfortable for a few weeks. The wound to his head required ten stitches and he'll probably be suffering the effects of a concussion when he wakes up. There are two puncture wounds to his abdomen and we managed to clean them up. He's covered in bruises and scratches, but we cleaned those up and have him on strong IV antibiotics."
"He is going to be all right though, isn't he Doc?" Patterson asked worriedly.
"Right now I can't give you a definitive answer on that, Gabe, but rest assured I will do everything in my power to see that he does. Now, I want to check on Judson before I leave for the day, but you two eat and shower and by then you should be able to see him. Then I want you both to go home and get some sleep because I don't have any extra beds to put you in when you pass out!"
"We will, Dr. Newman. Thanks," Gabe assured him and watched Mac's face closely as the older man left the room. "Mac, are you okay?"
"Gabe, I'm fine, but you look like hell."
"Thanks, goes with the territory. So, any idea where they keep the towels?"
"In the cabinet next to the showers," Previn answered, finished her coffee and stood up. She smiled as Gabe did the same and led the way towards the back of the lounge.
Mac and Gabe hurried towards the SICU and stood in front of the small cubical that held their friend. The drapes were drawn and they couldn't see what was being done. A nurse walked towards them and smiled as she looked at the two worried people.
"Hi, are you his family?"
"Close enough, just not blood related," Patterson answered.
"Well, you'll have to give us another ten or fifteen minutes before you can see him," Melanie Sanderson explained.
"How is he doing?"
"He's still listed as critical, but we're doing everything possible to give him the best chance we can. I'm afraid I have to help Pamela, but I'll come get you as soon as we're finished."
"We'll be here," Patterson said as the nurse hurried into the cubical. He turned towards his companion and frowned as he recognized the man hurrying towards them.
"Mackenzie, Gabe, would you two mind telling me what happened?" Lieutenant K.C. Costa asked as he looked at the exhausted explorers.
"Judson was hurt while we were at his aunt's house," Previn answered simply. She knew the man was just doing his job, but there was something about him she didn't like.
"Hurt? I'd say he was more than hurt, Mackenzie. From what I hear it's more like he was put through a wood chipper. What happened up there?"
"You wouldn't believe us if we told you, Lieutenant," Patterson answered.
"Oh, I don't know about that. Given Judson's penchant for mystery and intrigue I'd believe almost anything and since last night was Halloween I'm sure you're going to give me some cockamamie story about ghosts or werewolves or some shit like that. So what was it?" Costa asked sarcastically. He didn't dislike Cross and his team, but sometimes the mystery surrounding their capers was more than he cared to know.
"A ghost…or should I say a trio of ghosts."
"Oh," Costa said, smiling as he looked at their faces. "Are we talking the Ghostly Trio from Casper?"
"Lieutenant, I don't expect you to believe us, but it is the truth. There were three unexplained spirits out there and one of them had a hatred for Judson. There was a storm…"
"Not likely, Mackenzie. There were no storms in the state yesterday and certainly nothing within a hundred miles of Beau Harbor," Costa told her.
"It doesn't matter, Lieutenant, because the storm happened and we were caught in it and couldn't get out," Patterson spat, anger and exhaustion making him irritable.
"So we have ghosts and storms and what else?"
"There were two bodies…"
"Two bodies?" Costa asked, suddenly all business. "Why didn't you report this immediately?"
"We did. I called it in while Mac was driving. We buried the bones…"
"You did what? That's tampering with police business and I could haul your ass downtown and keep you there…"
"Lieutenant, we had no choice," Mac spat, her own anger and impatience growing.
"You could have called it in when you discovered the bodies!"
"Phones wouldn't work in the storm. Look, we'll take you up there and show you exactly where we buried the one body. The other one is supposed to be still in the house," Patterson told him.
"If the phones weren't working, how did you call for medivac?"
"When the storm ended we could use the phones," Previn told him.
"Why didn't you just leave in the car?"
"Road was blocked by a fallen tree and the storm was too bad for us to do anything about it!" Patterson explained.
"You have a pat answer for everything, don't you?"
"We're telling you the truth, Lieutenant and when Judson wakes up he'll tell you the same thing we did," Previn told him and watched as the man's face relaxed a little.
"All right, look you two. I don't mean to come down on you so heavy, but there are so many questions in this and I wanted to make sure I got to you before the press did. I know all about the ghosts that haunt that old house," Costa said, leaning against the wall.
"What?" Mac asked, angry at being duped.
"Judson's aunt, Regina Newcomb, told me what happened. She's known the place was haunted since inheriting it, but for some reason she waited until now to see what was happening out there. I think she hoped Judson could finally give Angelina and Judson some peace. Oh, don't laugh, the legend of their murder and love is part of Beau Harbor's history and a lot of people have visited there on Halloween. I find it strange no one went out there this year, but maybe they knew something was going to happen. Look, come down to the station after you've had some rest and you can give us the directions to the bodies. You don't have to go back up there!"
"Actually we will, but not until Judson is well enough to make the trip and you guys release the bodies. There's a final request from Angelina and Judson that needs to be taken care of," Previn explained.
"All right, tell Judson I'll drop by to see him when he's up to it," Costa said, turning to go.
"We will," Patterson assured him as the door to the cubical opened and the nurse motioned for them to come forward. The drapes were drawn back revealing a sight they were expecting, but weren't really prepared for.
Judson Cross lay on the bed amongst a jumble of monitoring equipment, IV lines and other leads, all of which were designed to keep him alive. The tube running into his mouth and down into his lungs was the worst for the two friends to see because it was life support and seeing this strong man in such a position cut them to the core. The explorer's face was paler than the pillow his head rested against, and the bandages covering his chest and forehead were a stark contrast to the mottled collection of bruises they unsuccessfully tried to hide.
"Damn it, Judson," Mac whispered as she reached for the man's right hand. She knew the blanket was hooked to a Bair Hugger and was being used to help raise his temperature and she automatically lifted her gaze to the monitors. She knew what most of them meant and knew that his blood pressure was still a little low, as was his temperature.
"Mac, he's going to make it. I know he will!"
"Thanks, Gabe, it's just that he looks so…"
"So helpless?" Patterson asked and saw her nod.
"Helpless, hurt, beaten and I hate seeing the damn tubes and IV lines."
"Me too, Mac, but right now he needs them and so do the nurses," Gabe finished seriously.
"Why would we need to see them in him?" Melanie asked.
"Ah, because once he wakes up and they take the tube out of his throat you won't have a moment's peace. Judson is not known for his love of hospitals and will want out as soon as possible," Previn explained.
"Let's just say his name is in the dictionary as a meaning for the word," Patterson quipped.
"We know how to deal with stubborn patients," Melanie assured them and left the two friends alone with her patient for a few minutes. When she returned she told them they had to leave and could come back later.
Resigned to their exhaustion, Mac and Gabe said their goodbyes and left the room. Both were worried about Judson Cross, but they also realized there was nothing more they could do for him at the moment. Instead of driving home, Mac drove to The Vast Explorer. The duo headed for their cabins and soon fell into an exhausted sleep.
Judson didn't understand why he felt so weak and lethargic, but he forced his eyelids to open and tried to focus his vision. Something intruded down his throat and for a moment he thought Lucas Strong had come back, but a soft voice began speaking to him.
"Judson, you're in Saint Lukes Hospital and you have a tube down your throat to help you breathe. It has to stay in place a little longer, but Dr. Newman will be here shortly and he'll make the decision about whether to take it out or not. Squeeze my finger if you understand," Carla explained, smiling as the green eyes finally focused and she felt some pressure on her fingers. "Very good. Now, do you feel up to some visitors? Blink once if you'd like to see them."
Judson blinked his eyes and turned towards the door as Carla Meyers signaled for two people to come in. 'Mac, Gabe, thank God,' he thought as the nurse washed a soft cloth over his face.
"Hey, Judson, you had us worried for a while there, but the doctor says you're doing better," Patterson said as he stood on the left side of the bed.
"Everything's going to be all right now, Judson, as long as you do what they tell you too. We just saw Dr. Newman and he'll be in to take that tube out in a couple of minutes," Previn explained.
"Bet you can't wait to get rid of that thing," Gabe said, smiling in an effort to relieve his friend's worries.
"Well, why don't you two move back a little and I'll do just that," Newman said, entering the room and smiling at the trio of explorers.
"We'll be right back, Judson," Mac said, moving out of the way so the physician and nurse could do what was needed to make the man more comfortable.
"Okay, Judson, I don't remember if you've had one of these before, but all you have to do is breathe out when I tell you two. Understand?" He watched as the green eyes blinked once and the fingers of Cross' right hand clenched tightly in the blanket. "I take that as a yes."
Carla gently eased the tape from around her patient's mouth and watched as Newman grasped the tubing. She'd seen this done plenty of times, and yet it never got any easier to watch as the patient's panic grew with the extraction of the tube.
"Alright, Judson, breathe out now!" Newman ordered as he pulled on the tube.
Judson gasped as Newman finished the procedure and held tightly to his ribs as he felt the pain intensify. He moaned and tried to curl into a ball, but was held in place by the physician.
"Carla, when did he last have something for pain?"
"He's due for another dose in fifteen minutes," the nurse answered.
"Give it to him now," Newman ordered as he watched the pain flash across the injured man's face.
"Yes, Doctor," Meyers said and hurried from the room.
"Easy, Judson," the physician said, as he continued to hold the injured man in place. He signaled for Previn and Patterson to come back to the bed in hopes they could talk his patient through the worst of the pain.
"Hey, Judson," Previn said and reached for the explorer's right hand as Gabe moved to the opposite side of the bed.
"M…Mac…" Cross ground out through clenched teeth as the nurse returned with a syringe of the prescribed pain medication.
"Right here, Judson," Previn assured him as she watched the nurse insert the syringe and deliver the meds.
"Judson, that won't take long to work and it's going to make you sleepy. Don't fight it!" Newman warned as he made several notations on the chart.
"Carla, I'll be in the hospital until six this evening. If there are any problems at all page me!"
"Yes, Dr. Newman," the nurse agreed as she reached for a soft face cloth and gently washed away the sticky residue left by the tape. She watched as his features began to relax as the strong medication helped manage the pain. Once she was done she quickly began setting up the medications that would help his breathing.
"Y…you guys o…okay?"
"We're fine, Judson," Patterson assured him.
"G…good. How l…long?" Cross asked, as he straightened his body out on the bed. He knew they'd driven back from the house, but had no idea how long he'd been in the hospital.
"Two days. You had surgery and they kept you sedated while you were on the ventilator," Previn answered as the nurse finished setting up the mask.
"Judson, this is a bronchodilator and should help you breathe easier. I want you to keep this on until I tell you, okay?" Carla asked.
"O…okay," Cross answered, as she placed the mask over his mouth and nose. He looked at his friends as his eyes began to close. "You g…guys d…don't need t…to hang a…around."
"We know, but we will," Patterson told him.
"T…thanks," Cross said before giving in to the effects of the medication.
When he opened his eyes later the same afternoon, he smiled at the elderly woman sitting in a wheelchair beside his bed. He thought she was sleeping and watched her closely. Regina had married early in her life, but her husband died during WW2 and she'd never remarried. There were no children from the marriage, but Regina had helped raise so many children and she'd been a surrogate mother to him.
"I know I taught you it was rude to stare, Judson, and I hope you haven't forgotten that lesson yet."
"I thought you were sleeping, aunt Reggie," Judson rasped, his voice muffled by the oxygen mask.
"Me? Sleep? Not in this old chair of mine. How are you feeling and don't lie to me young man!"
"Never c…could," the explorer said with a smile as fond memories washed over him. "I'm doing better, aunt Reggie."
"I'm glad." She gazed into his eyes that were so much like her own and felt tears forming as she looked at her favorite nephew.
Judson reached out and touched her cheek, smiling as he gazed into the soft eyes of his aunt. "Why the tears?"
"I nearly got you killed, Judson."
"What are you talking about?" Cross asked.
"I sent you out to that house without warning you of the stories about it being haunted. I nearly got you killed."
"No, aunt Reggie, you didn't…"
"Don't you try to absolve my guilt, Judson, because I knew what I was doing and I knew what could happen to you out there. I knew about my great, great uncle and what happened to him and his betrothed and I knew of the haunting every Halloween and still I kept it to myself. You could have been killed. I could have lost you!" She sobbed as she reached for the box of tissues and wiped at aged eyes.
"But you didn't. I'm going to be fine. I'll be moved to a regular room tomorrow and hopefully I'll be discharged in a couple of days…"
"Judson, don't start! You won't be released for at least a week!" Newman warned, hearing the patient's comment as he entered the room. "Hello, Mrs. Newcomb."
"Hello, Doctor, I'm glad you're not influenced by his stubborn need to say 'I'm fine'," the elderly woman smiled as a chagrinned look formed on her nephew's face.
"I have several patients who try the 'I'm fine' routine with me. Most of the time I just nod and say hmm-hmm and chalk it up to stubbornness, but there have been times when I've resorted to a good flushing…"
"Doc!" Cross exclaimed.
"There's one nurse who's really becoming an expert on enemas for obnoxious patients…"
"All right, Doc, you made your point!"
"Good, now tell me how you're really feeling," he said as he listened to the injured man's lungs.
"Sore. My chest and stomach hurt."
"That's probably because of the broken ribs and the fact that you have two holes in your abdomen. Are the pain meds helping at all?"
"Y…yes, they are," Cross answered, knowing it would soon be time for another shot as the pain made itself known once more. He tried to hide the discomfort, but his aunt and physician saw right through it.
"Sounds like it's time for a shot right now," Newman said and nodded as the nurse readied the medication.
"Judson, I'm going to let you get some rest, but I'll be back tomorrow."
"Okay, t…thanks, aunt Reggie."
"Will you ever stop calling me Reggie?"
"No…suits you," he answered as the warmth of the medication spread through him.
"Well, I'm glad you think so. Sleep well, Judson, and do as they tell you."
"I will," Cross told her, feeling the pull of the meds once more.
It was two weeks later before Judson was discharged from the hospital and found himself back on The Vast Explorer. He sat on the deck, his leg elevated as the sun shone down on him. He basked in the freedom and smiled as Gabe and Mac joined him on deck.
"How are you doing, Judson?"
"Better. Working on my tan right now."
"Just don't soak up to much. I'd rather see you pale than looking like a lobster," Previn warned, smiling as she stretched out on the lounge chair.
"Hmm, I'd say with those bandages he'd look more like a sunburned zebra," Patterson quipped as he placed a fresh glass of Lemonade on the table beside the explorer.
"Thanks, Gabe," Cross said, leaning back and closing his eyes. He felt the other two watching him and smiled as he spoke. "I'm okay, Guys, a little sore, but at least I'm out of the hospital."
"Thank God, I was getting tired of the hospital food," Previn said.
"Think about how I felt. Jell-O and broth the first few days and then mystery meat and lumpy mashed vegetable of some kind."
"Now, Judson, it wasn't as bad as that!"
"Well, Gabe, if I end up in there again I'll be sure and let you sample the goods," Cross said.
"That's okay, Judson, those gourmet meals were prepared especially for you."
"Watery broth and rubbery jell-O are not my idea of gourmet meals," Cross said and grew silent as he gazed out over the water.
"Judson, are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Mac, just thinking about Angelina and Judson and the hell they went through because of that madman."
"At least they're not suffering anymore, Judson. At least it's over for them," Patterson told him.
"Not quite. There's still one more thing we have to do. Costa came to see me yesterday and he's released the bodies. We need to grant them their final wish," Cross said.
"When do you want to do it?" Previn asked softly.
"I called aunt Regina and told her I wanted to do it this weekend…"
"Judson, you only just got out of the hospital. I don't think it's a good idea to go back there until you've had more rest."
"Mac, it needs to be done this weekend. Don't ask me why, but it's something I feel in my heart. If we don't put closure on the past it gives Lucas Strong a chance to return. We need to finish it now. Aunt Reggie is coming along as well and she's spoken to Father Micah. He's agreed to come with us as well."
"I know you're both worried, but I am feeling better and as long as I take it easy everything will be okay. I've already cleared it with Dr. Newman and he's agreed as long as I come right back and go to see him at the hospital."
"We can't change your mind about this?"
"No, Gabe, once it's done I'll do everything I'm supposed to, but right now this is important."
"Not as important as your health," Previn warned, yet she understood what he was feeling.
"We don't want to lose you, Judson," Patterson told him.
"You won't, I know my limitations," he said, smiling as he looked from one worried face to the other. "That's why I've rented an RV and you guys are doing the driving."
"An RV as in recreational vehicle or…"
"Forget it, Gabe, I rented the best they had and it has all the amenities."
"So we don't need to search for a Johnny on the…"
"Mac, keep it up and I'll make this trip a living hell for both of you." Cross laughed at the lighthearted teasing and settled back in the chair. He felt a blanket draped over his legs and mumbled thanks as he drifted off to sleep.
Judson leaned on the cane as he stood next to his aunt's wheelchair and watched as the remains of Angelina and Judson were lowered into their final resting place. Four men stood behind the group ready to fill the graves back in once the small, solemn service was over.
"Judson, are you sure you're ready to do this?" Father Micah asked as Mac and Gabe moved to stand behind them.
"I'm ready," Cross said and leaned down to place a gentle kiss on his aunt's cheek. He saw her tears and moved closer to the graves, using the cane for support as he looked down at the small identical white coffins. He felt sorry for the couple, as they had never been given the chance to see their love blossom and grow. Lifting his head he looked at the small group of people and began to speak.
"Two hundred years ago Judson Cross had a dream. That dream was to build a home for the woman he loved. They planned to wed on this day, but a man, a demon named Lucas Strong entered their lives and wished to take Angelina Riverton as his own. Judson would not allow that and this demon killed both of them and somehow made sure they were trapped in this house in limbo. He would not allow either of them any peace and worked to ruin the love they shared. Lucas Strong is no longer able to exert his will on this earth and therefore is unable to interfere with Angelina and Judson. They too are free and can be together without worrying about a monster coming after them. Angelina and Judson, may you both be happy and may your love grow stronger under God's roof. Amen."
"Amen," the others said as tears slipped from their eyes.
"That was beautiful, Judson."
"Thank you, aunt Reggie," Cross said as he joined her once more. He listened as Father Micah said the prayers and dropped dirt into the grave. When the service was over he reached for the two perfect red roses and dropped one on each of the caskets before turning away from the final resting place of Angelina Riverton and Judson Cross. It felt strange to think about his name being that of his ancestor, but he felt proud that he carried the name.
Judson watched as Gabe took the handles of the wheelchair and turned away from the grave. The four men waiting behind them uttered words of condolence as they walked past and he thanked them. They reached the RV parked in the driveway and he turned towards the house. A smile formed on his face as he caught a glimpse of white light in the doorway. The wispy tendrils solidified into two forms and he knew he was looking at Judson and Angelina. They smiled at him as they wrapped their arms around each other and slowly faded into the darker shadows around the house.
"Judson, are you ready to go?" Previn asked from beside him. She saw their other partner move to Cross' other side and smiled as they looked at the house.
"It doesn't seem as cold as it did the last time we were here," Patterson observed.
Cross looked at her and at the man standing next to her and smiled. "No, and it never will again. They are at peace now and their love has put a new light on the house."
"It belongs to you now, Judson," Regina Newcomb said from the doorway of the RV.
"Aunt Reggie, I can't…"
"Yes, you can, Judson, because it was meant to be from the moment Lucas Strong tried to kill uncle Judson's dream…his love. It is of no use to me and you are the only one of my relatives worthy of the home and the land and I know you will keep it in our family."
"I…I don't know what to say."
"Now there's a first!" Previn said as they walked to the RV.
"I think we need to mark this down. Judson Cross, explorer extraordinaire left speechless by a…"
"You call me a little old lady, Gabriel and I'll knock you into the middle of next week!"
Judson began to laugh as he watched the chagrinned look on Patterson's face. He remembered hearing those words from his aunt and knew she would carry through on the threat. Smiling he bent down, ignoring the pain it caused his healing ribs and placed a kiss on her cheek.
"I love you, aunt Reggie."
"I love you too, Judson, and I know our ancestor is at peace knowing you carry his name and now his home."
Judson smiled and turned to look at the house a final time and knew the evil that once resided here was well and truly gone forever. Taking a deep breath of the clean air he entered the RV and smiled at his friends as they began the drive back to Beau Harbor and their next adventure.THE END!