Author's Note: I read this series and fell in love. This is set after the last book, Girl of Nightmares, and is intended to be my take on what I'd love to see happen next. Hope you like!
i. a wishbone that you haven't pulled
The hardwood creaks across the workroom floor in the old machine shop and he knows it's not him. Too far away. But people will fall for stuff like that, he's seen it enough times to know. They'll tell themselves things like oh, it's just the house moving. Or oh, it must be the wind. Or the pipes. Or, hell, why not the water boiler or maybe even bats in the attic. Surely there's a completely rational reason for why bumps and creaks are coming from places where nothing is moving, and most people would say that that reason has nothing, zip, zilch, and nada to do with ghosts.
And that, Cas Lowood knows, is where most people are wrong.
Marquette Machine Co. sits on the edge of a factory town long since fallen into decay when the economy in the area shifted towards high-tech products and away from manual labor. From what he's read up on the place, it sounded alright. Typical patron-system for the employees, decent pay, people making handmade stuff. He's kind of nostalgic. Then, he remembers that the ghost is probably nostalgic, too.
Maybe it's something about the way the walls are angled that give him this sense of deja vu. He can't quite place it, even as he winds through the mills, lathes, band and circular saws that form the shop floor. Another odd rattle in the floor echoes through the large room, bounces around like it's caught in the high ceilings, and then abruptly stops.
The fact that the machines are here bothers him. Too many hiding places. Too many things that could go wrong. But he's researched it. It's not wrong or unexpected, it's just the way this ghost operates.
The original owner tried to sell the machines and even found a buyer, but when the hired help came to move them out, one of them met with an unfortunate accident. A few months before, Sam Erkhardt, one of the company's most skilled machinists had messed up on a part and, distracted as he went to throw it out, had forgotten to turn off the lathe he was working on. Maybe someone called out, maybe he was too caught up in his world to notice what happened next. When Erkhardt started to yell for help, it was too late. The lathe didn't have an emergency stop switch at the time thanks to the lax work standards, and none of the senior machinists were able to get to him fast enough.
It was sad, sure, but enough's enough already. The machines sit, corroding and dusty, while anyone who tried to move them from their places met with a gruesome accident.
Cas takes a breath, his fingers already curled around the athame, and steps into the next row of milling machines. Something snaps and sings high-pitched like a rubber band, then silence.
You'd think that after all these years this guy would just want an out, right? Wouldn't he be sick of this crap, being stuck around these hulking, steel and iron behemoths in a warehouse that no one dared to move things in? It seemed like a pretty crappy and equally OCD way to spend your eternity, but then again, ghosts have a tendency not to be all that rational, either.
Especially when you consider that most of the really terrible ones, the ones who you think you feel watching, hovering just over your shoulder when it's midnight and you're all alone, the ones you hide under couch pillows or into a friend's shirt when they rise out of a lake or from behind a corner or just out of nowhere during a scary movie?
Yeah. Those guys are usually the victims.
He leans in towards one of the lathe's chucks and inspects it. It's still got a cutting tool attached and angled in, like it could be used for work. In fact, he's pretty willing to bet that it has been and recently. Someone is definitely at home.
"Knock knock." Cas whispers, touching it gently with a his index finger.
And with that, the saw behind him starts up.
Wait, behind him?
"Oh shit!" Cas ducks as Erkhardt materializes barely a foot from his face. It's pretty bad. Cas has seen a lot, but Erkhardt's right arm looks like someone took a human-sized pair of dull scissors to it, and his half-chewed face and chest chronicle the path that the machine blade must have taken before his death. His arms, not quite whole, are thrust forward in some kind of grotesque half-zombie pose, no doubt intending to push Cas backwards onto the circular saw.
Fuckers like these gave you one chance to dodge. Cas kinda got the logic. They'd only had one chance.
The difference was that they'd, you know, missed it.
The machinist's ghost disappears again. Farther along the floor, another lathe churns into motion, its chuck gently spinning, grinding nothing into shape. On the opposite end of the shop, a mill starts up. Cas grits his teeth. No, of course not, why would it be easy? His mother had nearly pitched a fit about this one when he'd told her that he was going, and already it was turning into one of those trips that he'd have to give her a severely edited version of, let alone explain to her why he was coming back three hours later into the morning than he said he would.
A mutilated arm sweeps across his field of vision, but this time Cas isn't quick enough to dodge. Erkhardt's sweep sends him sidelong into the head of a mill, winding him and knocking him on the head. Hell, he's out of practice. Maybe he should have let his mom sign him up for judo like she's mentioned. Cas shakes the ringing out of his head fast enough to see that his hand carrying the athame is lying in the path of one of a rapidly descending drill on the belt. He jerks it out of the way.
Too close. He's got to do better than that.
Then the lights above flicker.
"You just don't know when to quit." Cas knows his voice sounds pissed off, because that's the way he intends it to, but his lips are still curled into a wry grin. After a two hour drive to this ramshackle rustbelt town on a lead that didn't pan out, he's ready for something to test him, something he can go all out on. And Sam Erkhardt is looking like he wants the same thing.
The lathes whirl into high-speed, shrieking out long, high notes like a mechanical chorus, and the dance begins in earnest.
Metal sounds and reverberates against the tin roofing, keeping the beat, letting him know where Erkhardt is. Cas moves through the machines like he's almost a ghost himself, his feet light against the wood, never committing to one location for long so that the quick-to-start machines can't keep up, and moving in time to the grind and whine of gears. Hunting ghosts is all subjective, he's come to realize. Some people do it because they see it as a black and white, ghosts-shouldn't-be-in-this-world kind of deal, but he takes a different view.
For a moment he imagines that this is a different place, a smaller one, and that it's not a mechanic driven crazy by a horrific death he's dancing with, but a girl in a white dress whose long, black hair whips around her like a stray quarter-note or question mark. They make their way through the movements of their deadly waltz, a romance of metal and machinery, chains and locks clanking into darkness and in some of the turns and dips, he can almost swear he can feel her warmth.
The feeling comes to him sometimes when he's like this, bridging the worlds of the living and the dead with the door of his athame readying itself to swing open and carry off another soul. Sometimes it's when he needs to lose himself in battle so that he can sleep later. Other times it's when he craves the memory of her touch on his skin, the way she smelled, and this is way to bring it back the strongest.
It doesn't last long. A long blade comes at his face and Erkhardt screams and, God, Cas can see how the bits of the man's throat where the lathe cut in growl and shake with his effort to make sound. The athame sings against the saw, sending a shower of bright yellow sparks into Cas' face. He bites back a swear as a few of them connect with his skin, then dislodges the athame from the lock, avoids the ghost's saw, and strikes his own weapon home.
Sam Erkhardt looks confused for a single second and then collapses. And just like that, all the fight's gone out of this place. Even the lathes slowly turn themselves to a stop, their voices lilting back into lower tones and then a dull hum, like they're just walking out their final steps at the end of a marathon jog.
At least someone gets to rest tonight. Cas laughs, pulls the athame out of the floorboard where it's gotten stuck after Erkhardt rapidly decomposed around it. It sticks, but on the second pull he gets it. Rest. God, didn't he wish.
When he gets back to the car, the windows are all fogged up.
Cas is honestly not all that surprised. This is sort of what he'd expected to happen when he'd told Thomas and Carmel (maybe falsely) that Erkhardt's ghost only came out for people intending to commit suicide, so he'd have to go it alone. They'd still insisted on making the drive out to Marquette with him, but Cas suspected that Carmel had been grateful to sit this one out. He wouldn't have felt comfortable anyway with either of them in that warehouse with him, especially given Erkhardt's tendency to manipulate machinery remotely.
He knocks on the window as discreetly as he can, eyes purposefully looking at the strand of trees in the opposite direction. "Hey, let's go. We're all done here."
Thomas rolls down the passenger window of the Audi, face flushed but sporting a goofy grin. Carmel is pretending to be frantically texting someone about some party tomorrow night, but she's fooling no one. Hell, Cas doesn't even need psychic powers to know that neither of them would have minded if he'd taken his time with that ghost, really dragged it out. He opens the door to the back and lies down across the seats. Still, he's happy that things seem to be working out.
"Long fight?" Thomas asks as Carmel shifts the Audi into Reverse and backs them out of the factory's driveway and onto the road that will lead them to the highway. Sometimes Cas doesn't know why Thomas even bothers asking him these questions when the answers must be coming through loud and clear, but as though in reply the psychic just smiles and shrugs. "Carmel's good to drive for an hour if you want to zone out in back. If you're feeling really out of it, I can do the rest of the way home."
"Thanks." Cas replies. He's more tired than he thought. "I might take you up on that one."
"Hey, how about we stop for fast food when we get somewhere that actually resembles civilization?" Carmel adds. "I could dig that plan. I bet that place we passed on the way down is open late."
Sleepily, Cas agrees to some restaurant that he's forgotten the name of as soon as it leaves his mouth. He doesn't remember much about the drive home beyond a string of streetlights cutting into the darkness streaked with dawn, the metronome sound of machinery clinking, and the feel of her in his arms as they move over a dark wood floor, their footsteps light and fluid as glass. Sometimes he thinks he remembers Carmel and Thomas leaning close in the front seat, but in the semi-dark their features get obscured and they just look like two shadows coming together, forehead-to-forehead.
Or maybe he just imagines it. He just knows that, when Carmel shakes him awake in the driveway to his own house, there's a fast food bag containing two orders of french fries and a chicken sandwich that he's somehow curled his body around and that it's still pleasantly warm. In his half-waking state, he finally remembers what the warehouse reminded him of. It's the dimensions, the angles.
The walls were shaped like Anna's Victorian. How did he ever know that? He didn't even like architecture much and would never have noticed this before she came along.
"God, I am one sorry sucker." Cas rubs his face. This is getting to be too much. He said that he would get over her, let her rest. She'd done enough for him and she deserved it. Yeah, good job, self. Real excellent work happening on the moving on front.
Carmel shrugs. "It's almost four in the morning, Cas. Pretty much everyone awake at this time of night on a Friday will be feeling like crap, either now or later. Thomas said he'll text when he's awake, so let's talk tomorrow about what we found. See ya!"
More like what they didn't find, but whatever. He waves as the Audi pulls out and races off into the night. Sleep, that sounds good. Sleep means dreams and, at least if he dreams of Anna, he'll feel less guilty than thinking about how she's doing when he's awake. The spark burns on his cheeks twinge a little bit as he winces at the sound the front door makes, but soon enough he's inside and, as soon as his body hits his bed, it suddenly seems okay to not think about anything.