Okay. So I caught up on my prompts. This is my response for Week 44 at More Odds Than Ends. I’m still feeling a bit out of sorts, but better than the last week or so. Writing or editing every day is helping. I’m also starting to plot out a new short story today and I’m going to start working on putting this Cursebreaker thing into some sort of coherent order. When I first started it with the prompts, I used the prompts as sort of scene set-ups. Then I started putting them into a serial format. So, I need to figure out a story arc and fill in the gaps between the pieces I do have. It feels like a series, or at least a series of books within this universe. I’ll have to see where it goes.Continue reading “Cursebreaker Part 23”
This is a very late response to Week 43 of More Odds Than Ends. It’s been a strange couple weeks. Not really anything I can put my finger on, but I’m out of sorts. If pushed, yes, the election is having an effect. The continued restrictions on activities, and normal life continues to grate. That’s getting tiring. Also, our moving plans are not going according to plan. I believe that I am dealing with that one pretty well. Finding a job – a job that you want no less – is difficult in the best of times. And these are most certainly not the best of times. You’d think that retreating into story-telling would get easier under such circumstances. Surprisingly, no, it isn’t. At least so far. I think that if I simply start writing, I will find myself back in the groove.Continue reading “Cursebreaker #22”
I missed sending in a prompt for Week 42 at More Odds Than Ends, so I picked up one of the spares. The prompt I chose was: The architect who specialized in designing hidden rooms. I was looking for one that would allow me to easily insert it into the Cursebreaker story. I think I know where this story is going now and I’m going to be working on finishing it up. That is…I will after I wrap up Book 2 in the Academic Magic series (at least get draft one finished), and finish and submit two short stories. I am busier than I was as an academic and I don’t even have any grading or prep to do! At the same time, I am extremely grateful to be this busy and to have avenues opening up in front of me. It has been amazing to discover this creative streak in myself that I never knew existed before. So much fun!Continue reading “Cursebreaker Part 21”
Week 41 for the Odd Prompts and once again, I got a prompt from Leigh Kimmel. These prompts are making me think! And that’s not a bad thing…but, brain hurt. Anyway, this was Leigh’s prompt: Under Pressure” is the title of a song by Queen and a novel by Frank Herbert — connection? For extra credit, also tie in Billy Joel’s “Pressure” and ZZ Top’s “She’s Got Me Under Pressure.Continue reading “Cursebreaker Part 20”
Right now, I haven’t been doing much writing besides the prompts from More Odds Than Ends. But, that’s still a good thing as I’m making progress on Cursebreaker (of a sort). Since today is Monday I am (once again) setting out a daily schedule for myself, and doing my damnedest to stick to it. I am a professional procrastinator and that gets in the way of a lot of productive work. I have noticed that I have to keep reminding myself that this is not the same as writing research articles. I really LIKE writing fiction. I honestly do. But I think there’s something about sitting down to write that pulls me back to the mind-set of my academic career. And that mind-set disliked the research and required article-producing end of things.Continue reading “Cursebreaker Part 19”
Her prompt to me was: My hands felt sweaty on the steering wheel as I went hard into the turn. There was a sheer drop to one side, an unforgiving cliff on the other. My mind raced to think of some way to get out of this mess, but it came up blank as I saw my pursuer yet again in the rearview mirror, maintaining the pace seemingly without effort. It fit beautifully into Cursebreaker although I tweaked it to Jack’s point of view.
Once Nikolas was settled in the guest room telling his story to the recorder, Jack went back to his office to begin contacting all the magic workers he’d freed from dolls over the last couple of months. Greg and Monica sat in the kitchen working through the information they had so far, trying to find a pattern. Greg’s training as an astronaut had given him the ability to simultaneously look at the big picture, while maintaining a necessary focus on the small details and Monica, as far as Jack could tell, was very intuitive with a strong ability to see patterns in events.
Jack’s first call was to Monica’s brother. “Hey, Rob. We’re working on putting together our information on this whole doll curse thing and I was hoping you could come over. I’m trying to get as many of you together as possible that were put into dolls so we can pool information. Monica thinks she has the edges of a pattern.”
“Sure, but I don’t want to drag Julia or especially Sophie back into this,” Rob’s voice was adamant.
“I absolutely understand and agree. Besides, I think that since you are the primary magic-worker in your family, or at least the most public about it, you were the target.”
“Okay. When do you want to do this?”
“Probably this evening. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can talk to the others. But, I’m thinking about eight o’clock tonight,” Jack said. “Oh, and bring the dogs. We’re not sure if the dogs are directly involved, but all of you have dogs and the dogs brought everybody to my house.”
Jack could picture Rob’s face on the other end of the line.
“Ooo0-kaay. I’ll bring them. Anything else?” Rob’s voice took on a cautious note.
“No. I’ll see you tonight. And, thanks,” Jack ended the call.
Jack worked his way through the rest of what he thought of as his doll-curse clients. Everybody agreed to come over that evening although some, like Renee Detweiler, were very fearful. She flat out refused to come unless Jack came out to her house and picked her up. Since he knew he really needed to have everybody present, he agreed to pick up her and Max and bring them to the house.
Phone calls finished, he walked back into the living room to find Greg, Nikolas, and Monica still working their way through the information puzzle.
Nikolas looked up with a smile. “Your recording device is very clever. I checked it as you showed me, and I believe it has captured my entire story. It is odd to hear one’s own voice coming out of an object.”
Jack laughed. “I’m one of those people who don’t like how they sound on recordings. Probably why my rock and roll career never took off. I couldn’t stand to hear myself sing.”
Nikolas looked puzzled as Greg and Monica laughed.
“It’s a type of singing career…but that’s not why Jack wouldn’t be any good at it,” Monica laughed up at her husband. “He can’t sing on key if his life depends on it!”
Nikolas nodded and laughed. “Oh! Now, I understand. Yes, I am the same as far as singing goes. You don’t want to hear me.”
Jack sobered up and looked at the three of them. “Everybody has agreed to come over here this evening at eight. There’s only one small problem…Renee Detweiler, she’s the first magic-worker to hire me, and basically started all of this,” he explained for Greg and Nikolas’ benefit. “She’s extremely frightened. I don’t know if something else has happened or what but the only way she agreed to come tonight was if I drive up to her place and pick her up.”
“Jack…that could be dangerous,” Monica’s voice was hesitant. “Getting up to her house is bad enough on a good day. It’ll be dark, and the weather report says it might rain…and what if there’s somebody or something else up there?” She scowled worriedly.
“I know. I’ll take Captain with me,” he put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
Nikolas frowned. “I will come with you. I am pretty good in a fight,” he smiled slightly. “And, even as a living man today, I retain the ability to sense things from other planes. I do not know if the…kinder? entity from the house will be able to help, but perhaps my being with you will enable it to reach us if necessary.”
Jack and Greg stared at Nikolas. “You think it can follow? If it can, what about the other one? The evil force that holds all of you to the house? Could it follow us?” This was a development Jack hadn’t anticipated.
“I’ll go too,” Greg started. Jack held up one hand. “No, I think two people should stay at the house and two go. I have to go…Renee made it clear she wouldn’t go with anybody else. I’ll take Captain, and you’ll have Jake and Scout. All the dogs seem to be able to sense when something is off. It was Scout that alerted to Nikolas’ presence in your house the other day.” He held his friend’s gaze and gave a small nod in Monica’s direction. Greg’s eyes shifted over and back and he returned the nod.
“Okay,” Greg gave in. “Monica, we should probably double or triple up the wards around the house. Especially since Jack is bringing all these magic-workers in. Might as well send up a homing beacon,” he groused.
“Thanks, buddy,” Jack smiled. “Nikolas let’s get going. The sooner we get back here with Renee, the better I’ll feel.”
“I agree,” Nikolas stood. He brushed his hands against the pair of jeans he had borrowed from Jack.
“Let me get you a sweatshirt,” Jack offered. From behind, Monica handed him two sweatshirts.
“You need one too, it’s getting colder out,” was all she said. Jack put his arm around her shoulders and squeezed. He dropped a kiss on top of her head, grabbed his car keys and reached for Captain’s leash. The German shepherd moved to Jack’s side without a command, and Jack click the leash on to his collar.
“Okay, let’s go,” he took a deep breath. He wasn’t sure why he felt so nervous, but something about this a simple trip up the hill to pick up a client felt ominous.
Jack opened the back door of the SUV for Captain, and then belted him into the car harness. Nikolas watched with a small smile on his face.
“Why do you need to secure the dog?”
“Well, you’ve only been in a car once…but if we have to go at any high rate of speed, or make a sudden turn, I don’t want him loose back there where he could get thrown around and seriously injured or even killed,” Jack scratched Captain’s ears. Captain’s tongue lolled out of the side of his mouth in a dog grin.
“Oh, I didn’t realize that…how fast can we go?” there was a gleam in Nikolas’ eyes.
Jack laughed. “I’ll give you a taste. We have to get on the interstate for a couple of miles, so I’ll see what I can do.”
Nikolas almost jumped into the front seat. He did remember how to secure his seatbelt and gave Jack an ear-to-ear grin as Jack backed the SUV out of the driveway. Five minutes later, Jack merged onto the interstate. Checking for traffic, he quickly made his way over to the fast lane. Nikolas was still grinning. Once in the fast lane, Jack could see he had open road ahead. A brief check of the mirrors did not show any police or highway patrol officers…at least any that he could see. This was not one of their spots for hiding a speed trap so he was fairly confident he could give Nikolas the speed demonstration without also giving him the speeding ticket demonstration. He pushed the accelerator to the floor and the engine roared.
Nikolas’ grin became an expression of wide-eyed delight as the force of the acceleration pushed him back into his seat. Jack pushed the speedometer to ninety and then held it there for a couple of minutes. At this speed, the exit he needed came up fast. He eased off and started shifting lanes to the right.
As they slowed down to take the exit, Nikolas turned his head toward Jack. His face-splitting grin still in place.
“That was amazing! I never dreamed of traveling that fast! Thank you!” He laughed in delight.
Jack laughed with him. It was fun to test the limits of the SUV. He often forgot how big its engine really was.
The road up to Renee Detweiler’s house wound around the edge of the small range of hills that formed a semi-circle around the town. The hills were not high, but they were steep in places, and concealed deep canyons. While not treacherous, the road did require a driver’s complete attention and a sedate speed. About fifteen minutes after leaving the interstate, Jack and Nikolas pulled up in front of Renee Detweiler’s A-frame house. The lights were on, and she was standing outside on the small deck in the front of the house, Max at her side.
She hurried down the steps and opened the back door of the car before Jack could even turn off the engine. Captain huffed in surprise as she pushed him over and slid into the back seat. Max jumped in behind her and settled on the floor below Captain. The two dogs briefly touched noses.
“Hurry! Please! They’re here! We have to leave now!” she gasped, fumbling with the seat belt.
Jack didn’t think twice. The panic in Renee’s voice was enough to send his adrenaline soaring and he slammed the car into reverse, sending gravel flying. He managed to turn around and throwing more gravel behind him, spun the car out of the drive.
After he was certain he had complete control of the car, he caught Renee’s eyes in the rearview mirror.
“Renee…what’s going on? What happened?”
She took a deep breath and slowly released it. “I’m not sure. But, for the last week or so, something has been…around…in the air…sort of making its presence known. Max won’t go out of the house except to quickly do his business and then straight back in. I haven’t been comfortable leaving the house either. I went down to get groceries a couple of days ago and it was so unsettling I haven’t left since. When you called, I figured the only way I was going to get out of here alive was if you came and picked me up.” Max whined and she leaned down to give his ears a scratch.
Pulling his eyes back to the road, Jack increased his speed slightly. He didn’t want to run them off the road, but at the same time, he didn’t want to get caught up here on the hill road. A flash of light in the rearview mirror caught his attention. Headlights.
“Renee, don’t turn around. If you can, slouch lower in your seat. Nikolas, look in the side mirror and tell me what you see,” Jack sped up again and kept his eyes on the road. Just a few more miles to the interstate.
Nikolas tilted his head to get a complete view in the side mirror. “It is a smaller vehicle, not like this one. It does not appear to be closing the distance between us,” he kept staring into the mirror.
“Okay. There’s a metal plate on the front with numbers and letters. If you get a look at it, tell me those numbers. We can track the owner if we know what the plate is,” Jack was thinking fast. There were no street lights on this road, just the reflective guard rail on his right, and the rock face along the opposite lane. Not fun. He increased his speed again.
“I cannot get a good view of the plate you described, but he is still the same distance behind us,” Nikolas reported. “I cannot feel anybody in the vehicle. That is strange…I think.”
Jack’s hands grew sweaty on the steering wheel as he went hard into the turn. There was a sheer drop to one side, an unforgiving cliff on the other. His mind raced to think of some way to get out of this mess, but it came up blank as he saw the pursuer yet again in the rearview mirror, maintaining the pace seemingly without effort.
He had to maintain his speed and control until they could hit the interstate. He had a strong feeling that their tail would not follow them onto the freeway. At least he hoped not. Regardless, he’d be taking a very different route home.
Jack looked over at Nikolas. “Can you grab my phone…it’s in the cupholder in the middle here, and give it to Renee, please?” As Nikolas complied, Jack briefly caught Renee’s frightened eyes in the rearview mirror.
“If you hit the icon with Monica’s picture on it, that will call her. Put the phone on speaker and hold it for me?” he asked. She gave a small nod and took the phone from Nikolas.
These prompts have been a lot of fun. They give me things to think about, lead me into stories I never imagined (like Cursebreaker) and provide the light bit of structure I know I need to keep me on track with other writing. I’m very grateful to Cedar Sanderson for starting this creative corner of the Internet.
I almost forgot to write this! Phew! For the second week in a row, I got my More Odds than Ends Week 38 prompt from Leigh Kimmel. Her prompts are sometimes difficult to weave into an ongoing story, but they always provide a great mind-stretching exercise. Leigh’s prompt to me was: Appearance of an ancient god in a lonely and archaic place—prob. temple ruin. Atmosphere of beauty rather than horror. Subtle handling—presence revealed by faint sound or shadow. Landscape changes? Seen by child? Impossible to reach or identify locale again? I added it into the ongoing Cursebreaker story.
The drive back to Jack and Monica’s house was quick. Nikolas seemed disappointed that it had ended so soon. He obviously enjoyed riding in the car.
“We’ll have to go back to the haunted house anyway. We need to figure out what exactly is going on there before we can come up with a way to deal with it,” Jack commented, pulling into the driveway and seeing Nikolas’ disappointed expression. Nikolas’ face immediately brightened.
“That was quite…exhilarating,” the Viking said with a wide smile. “I look forward to doing it again.”
Greg laughed. “Too bad we don’t have time to take you to a go-kart track!”
They all climbed out of the car and Monica led the way up to the front porch. When she opened the door, the three dogs shoved past her and headed into the kitchen.
“Guys, it’s only been a couple of hours. You’ll get more food later,” she called after them.
The humans settled into the living room and were eventually joined by the dogs, who managed to look resigned to the lack of mid-morning treats.
Jack turned to Nikolas. “Okay. What can you tell us about the entity that is controlling the house and the spirits in it? And, is it controlling Armina Grove and Camilia Sharpe, the witches who are putting people in dolls?”
Nikolas rubbed his hands on his thighs. “I am not sure. It is only recently…since the land was first built on, that I started to really pay attention to what was happening there. Before that I was simply existing. I was angry at being sacrificed and that anger was my focus.”
“Well, yeah. That would make me angry too,” Greg sympathized. Nikolas glanced up and gave him a small nod.
“At first I feel like the entity just…existed. Like us…the spirits, I mean. It wasn’t evil, but it wasn’t good. It just was. Then, for a little while, I felt…something else. Very brief. Something good. The house had not yet been built. That place was still very isolated. None of the living in that area ever came through. But I felt it. Like a small breeze on a warm day. Just a passing touch of beauty. I never felt it again…” Nikolas stopped talking.
Jack let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. Based on sounds, he knew that Greg and Monica did the same. Nikolas looked up at the three of them, took a breath and continued with his story.
“It was then that I emerged from my anger and…I suppose you could call it stasis. I began to take notice of the entity that held me in thrall. I think that at first, I believed I could simply drift off, but I shortly realized that the entity was holding me there. It was holding all the spirits in that place. When the first house was built, the entity began to get angry. I guess it thought that its territory was being invaded. It started doing things that were evil. It caused some of the spirits to attack those living in the house, and thus the living, in a frenzy of fear, killed each other. When the second family built a new house and moved in, the entity did the same thing. This time, I was able to blunt the force of the spirit attack and the family managed to escape with their lives,” Nikolas paused again and rubbed his hands across his face.
“This is difficult. I feel a sort of compulsion to remain silent…to keep the secrets of the house…” he trailed off.
Monica stood up. “We all need a drink. Nikolas, since you are among the living today, I am assuming that you can eat and drink?”
“Yes, I can,” the Viking nodded.
Monica went into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with tea, her go-to comfort drink. Everybody accepted a mug gratefully. The atmosphere in the living room seemed to be colder than normal.
Wrapping both hands around his mug, Nikolas resumed his story. “After that, the entity became even more active, but at the same time, more subtle. I believe that is when it managed to gain control of the two witches. They were using the back area to grow their herbs. It was open, unused, and provided a lot of space.”
“And, it was free land,” Jack muttered.
“Yes,” Nikolas smiled. “It was free in that sense, but it did come at a cost. The entity managed to get two of the spirits to possess the witches. That is when they came back under the pretense of buying the house. Once they went inside the house, the entity itself was able to exert complete control. I believe that is when they started attacking their customers and cursing them into dolls.”
“But, what does it gain by having two witches put magic-workers into dolls?” Greg was puzzled.
“Dead magic-workers and no way to counter whatever it wants to do,” Monica replied bluntly. “It just didn’t count on Jack’s ability to break curses, and it didn’t realize that the magic-workers would still be able to think in doll form.”
“You’re probably right,” Jack said slowly. “But why only magic-workers with dogs? And, why the mafia-like hit on Caitlin Blackwell?” He reached down to give Captain a pat on the head. Hearing his late owner’s name, the German shepherd gave a small whine and rested his chin on Jack’s leg.
Monica was staring into the depths of her mug of tea.
“Nikolas…do you think that the good you felt…whatever that may be…is still around? You said you won the day’s lottery…the chance to spend the day among the living. What is that? It’s awfully convenient that you won on the day we most needed to find answers,” Monica stared at the Viking.
Nikolas’ eyes widened. “I did win the lottery…I didn’t think about that. I’ve never felt that…beauty…peace…again. Are you suggesting it, whatever it was, is still around and might have fixed the lottery in my favor? To help you?”
“I’m suggesting we have way more information than we know what to do with,” Monica glanced over at Jack. “I think you need to call those magic-workers who were in dolls back and get them all over here, including my brother. Some of them aren’t telling everything. I don’t blame them, look at what happened to Caitlin Blackwell. But we all, them included, need all the information they have,” she frowned at Jack.
Jack was reminded once again of one of the many reasons he loved his wife. She had an amazing ability to put information together and immediately see the heart of a problem.
“You’re right, sweetheart. Very right.” He looked over at Greg. “I think you should stay here for a couple more days just to be safe. Nikolas,” he turned to the Viking, “I’m going to get a device that will let you record your story, all of it. I should have done that from the beginning. Hopefully the recording will last after your day here.”
Greg clapped his hands together once. “Let’s get going!”
My prompt was: The metal rose sculpture on the end table turned into a real rose. It went to ‘nother Mike.
Please join us over at More Odds Than Ends for our weekly fun with prompts. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it stretches your creative muscles!
Another week, another set of odd prompts. This is Week 37 for Odd Prompts and as always they are giving me the creative kick in the butt that I seem to need and a great way to stretch my writing muscles. I am having a lot of fun with this and the responses have been encouraging and supportive. Again, lots of fun here. This week’s prompt was gifted to me by Leigh Kimmel and it was a photo. The best way I can describe it is she is dressed in a mish-mash Darth Vader outfit that is clearly her own unique creation. You can see the photo over at More Odds Than Ends if you click on the link to Week 37 above.
In the spirit of continuing to see what happens with Jack and his curse-breaking mystery, I managed to get this prompt into the Cursebreaker saga. So, our story so far: Jack, Greg, and Monica are meeting with Nikolas Jonnson a dead Viking who was sacrificed to the entity that is controlling the haunted house. The entity is also controlling the two witches who have been cursing other magic-workers into dolls. The previous installments can be found at the link on the main page.
“Very good,” Nikolas smiled as he took Jack’s hand. He shook hands with Greg and Monica in turn. He glanced down at the dogs who were still crouched against Jack and Greg.
“I do like dogs and would not hurt them, but I am afraid that they recognize me for what I am…I believe I could say…dead man walking?” He gave a surprisingly boyish grin.
Jack burst into startled laughter. “Yeah, you could say that. Where did you hear that?”
“The most recent…living…occupants of the house frequently watched what you call movies. The mechanism fascinates me and the stories are usually good. So, I watched as well. It was something to do,” Nikolas gave a small shrug.
He gazed around at the neighborhood, his eyes avoiding the house across the street. “It has been several hundred years since I was able to feel the warmth of the sun on my face. I do miss it.” He touched the hood of Jack’s SUV. “Would it be possible to ride in this?”
“Well, yeah. Depending on what we need to do today, we’ll most likely be driving somewhere,” Jack answered.
“Oh, that would be nice,” Nikolas smiled.
“Okay. We’ve only got until sunrise tomorrow and I don’t think any of us really want to be around this house in the dead of night. So, what do we need to do, Nikolas?” Greg brought them all back to the main problem.
“Nikolas, did you see the truck with the racoon on it the other day?” Monica spoke for the first time.
“You mean the red truck? Yes. There was a dragon’s spirit around then too…over the house. I believe the entity compelled it to be here.”
“That explains why I didn’t see the dragon. I think we need to start trying to put all these dolls, sightings, and witches together,” Monica stated. “Right now we’re just running around like headless chickens.”
“You’re right. But then you usually are,” Jack winked at his wife.
Nikolas gave a startled jump. “What is that?” he pointed across the street.
Jack and Greg spun around. Jack didn’t know what to expect but the vision strolling down the sidewalk was not it.
The heavy-set woman wearing a Darth Vader outfit with what looked like mouse ears on the helmet, a black and pink tutu, red tights, and black boots gave a cheery wave and pointed at Nikolas. “You’re cute! I hope I see you at the con!”
Nikolas simple stared, his mouth hanging open. “Um…what was that?”
Jack, Monica, and Greg were laughing too hard to answer him right away. Finally, Monica took pity on the ancient Viking.
“I…I’m sorry,” she gasped. “She’s…she’s going to a convention, um…meeting, where people dress up like…um…story characters.” Monica started laughing again. “She’s kinda combined a couple into her own unique look.”
Nikolas still looked very puzzled. “But why did she point to me? I’m not dressed as a character.”
“Well, if you hadn’t noticed, you’re still wearing…well…um…whatever it is that I suppose you would have normally worn…um…when you were…um…alive,” Greg finally caught his breath.
Nikolas looked down at his tunic with its simple leather belt, woolen trousers, and rough boots. “These are the clothes I was wearing when I was killed. I cannot change them. Is that a problem?” He glanced at Monica, perhaps sensing that she was more sympathetic to his plight than the other two.
“No, it’s not a problem. You can borrow some of my clothes. I think we’re about the same size,” Jack answered him.
“Yes, that works. Let’s go back to the house, get Nikolas some more suitable clothes and then start working on this puzzle,” Monica moved to the passenger door of the SUV and opened it. “Nikolas, I think you should ride up front for your first ever car ride.”
An excited gleam showed in Nikolas’s eyes as he moved around the front of the vehicle and climbed in. The others got in and Jack explained the seat belt to Nikolas before starting the engine and heading back home.
Week 36 of Odd prompts gave me more fodder for the ongoing Cursebreaker story. Taking my cue from Cedar Sanderson, for the last few weeks I’ve been trying to work each prompt into the story no matter what. I’m still planning on turning this into a book, and I expect to do a great deal of adding and editing. But I do like the direction it’s heading. This week my prompt came from ‘nother Mike: The newly dead spirits held a lottery, and he/she won a day to return and walk among the living. Tell us about that day… I modified it slightly to fit the story, but I think I stayed true to the prompt. My prompt went to Leigh Kimmel and I’m very much looking forward to what she does with a fairy-hunting cat. Previous installments of the Cursebreaker story can be found at the link above.
Greg and Jack exchanged a long look. “I didn’t think of that,” Greg said. “Camilia too?”
“I dunno,” Jack admitted. “But, if we assume that they are both possessed, or at least controlled by whatever is in that house, it does make some kind of sense. I mean…getting rid of good magic-workers…people who could fight something like that,” he trailed off.
Monica nodded slowly. “Yeah. And getting rid of them leaves the demon or evil spirit or whatever in control of most of the magic in the city.”
All three stared at the ground. Jack suddenly lifted his head up. “Greg, who else has keys to your house?”
“Nobody. I put my only spare set on Jake’s collar. Why?” the astronaut turned magic worker frowned.
“Because somebody was in your house when I got there. Captain sensed it and I found the patio door open. The dogs chased somebody or something out because I heard the front door slam. But I didn’t catch anybody running off down the street.” Jack thought hard.
Greg’s frown deepened and Monica’s eyes narrowed. She was the first to speculate out loud.
“Jack…didn’t you say that you found a phone on your car seat when you left Greg’s house? What did you do with that?”
Greg picked up the phone from where it sat next to him on the sofa. “Here. What are you thinking?” He tossed the phone to Monica. She turned it over and peeled off the puzzle piece from the back. She darted into the kitchen and came back carrying her laptop.
“The troll-doll guy, Geoffrey, he gave you the address to that house. That house is famous in town and somewhat famous for people who like to find haunted houses. It just occurred to me…somebody in town made a jigsaw puzzle out of a photo of the house before it got as rundown as it is. Lemme see…” she tapped rapidly at the keyboard of her computer, biting her lower lip in concentration.
“Ha! Yep, here it is,” she exclaimed after about a minute of searching. She turned the laptop around so that Jack and Greg could see the page she was viewing. It was an online retail site for artists, photographers, and crafty types. The page displayed the cover of a puzzle box showing a picture of the abandoned house. It was titled “Marysville Haunted House” and the box proclaimed it to be an 800-piece puzzle suitable for ages ten and up.
Monica enlarged the photo of the puzzle box and picked up the puzzle piece from the phone. She held it up against the bottom edge of the photo and moved it along until…“There! It matches!” she exclaimed.
Jack gazed at the laptop screen. He glanced over at Greg. “Hand me the camera, would you?” Greg picked up the camera, still staring at the computer screen and the puzzle piece Monica held up.
Jack scrolled back through the pictures on the camera until he found the one he had taken of the house from across the street. He gazed intently at the photo and then held the camera screen up next to the laptop.
“I think that puzzle piece is directly under where the shade of Nikolas Jonnson is standing,” he stated quietly. His gaze shifted to Greg. “Do you think Nikolas is trying to help me…us?”
“I…I don’t know. It’s possible,” Greg answered softly. “Maybe…he can’t do anything directly? So he’s trying this way? I really don’t know,” his voice expressed his bafflement.
Jack glanced between the laptop screen and the camera screen. “I think all three of us, plus the dogs, need to go back out to that house. You know about Nikolas, Monica saw the racoon and the flatbed truck, and I took this photo. Something’s telling me that we all need to be there.”
Captain gave a small whine and Jake and Scout shifted against Greg. The looks exchanged by the humans were just as unhappy.
“Yeah,” Greg sighed finally. “You’re right. I don’t really like it, but you’re right.”
Monica nodded her agreement but didn’t say anything.
Jack took a deep breath. “Okay. Tomorrow morning, we go over there,” he paused. “Greg, do you want to stay here, or do you want me to give you a ride home?”
Greg glanced between Monica and Jack. “If it’s okay, I think I’d rather stay here. I’m tired and I’m not sure about the state of the wards at my house. I’d rather not risk a midnight attack when my defenses are down.”
Jack nodded. “Absolutely understandable. That’s why I asked. The guest room is all yours. Well, whichever bits Jake and Scout are willing to share that is,” he grinned at the dogs pushing their way ever closer to Greg.
Greg laughed. “They’ll probably be generous and allow me to have at least a corner of the bed!” He rubbed the top of each canine head resting on his lap and was rewarded with vigorous tail wags.
Early the next morning Jack let Captain out into the back yard and meandered into the kitchen intent on making coffee before he attempted to engage his brain in anything remotely resembling complex thought. Coffee started he let Captain back in and gave the big German shepherd breakfast. He was sitting at the table waiting for the coffee and absently scratching Captain’s ears when Greg found his way in.
“I smelled the coffee,” Greg commented on his way to the back door to let Jake and Scout out in their turn.
“It should be ready in a minute or two,” Jack got up to find the extra dog bowls and food for Jake and Scout. The coffee maker beeped, and he filled two mugs with the life-giving liquid.
“Thanks, appreciate it,” Greg indicated the dog food and the coffee with a nod of his head as he let his dogs back in.
Monica wandered in then and grabbed her own cup of coffee. She joined the two men at the kitchen table and gazed at them both over her mug. “When were you guys thinking of making this trip over to the haunted house?”
“As soon as we all eat, I think,” Jack answered. “I know I want bright daylight when we go over there.”
“Good idea. You make the bacon and toast, I’ll make eggs,” Monica stood up and headed for the fridge.
After they finished breakfast, Jack led the way to his SUV. The dogs came along as sort of spirit detectors as Jack liked to think of them. Besides, Jake and Scout are not going to let Greg out of their sight. He remembered Captain’s reaction at the house and figured that it wouldn’t hurt to have a warning system of sorts.
The short drive to the abandoned house was silent. Even the dogs sat quietly in the back of the SUV. Jack told himself there was no need to be nervous. Monica and Greg were strong magic workers and while his magic was limited to curse-breaking, that was a talent in and of itself. Worse case scenario, the truck was warded and they could use it as a last-ditch refuge if necessary.
This time, Jack parked directly across the street from the house. He wanted them to be able to get back to the truck quickly if things turned ugly. He turned off the engine and the three humans and three canines gazed at the house. The dogs whined quietly.
“I know, guys. We don’t like it either,” Monica said softly.
“Okay, let’s do this,” Jack grabbed his camera and stepped out of the SUV. The others joined him in front of the truck. Jack took a step toward the house. A soft voice behind him stopped him cold.
“No, it is not safe for you to go there,” the voice had an accent that Jack couldn’t place. He turned around to see who had spoken. Greg and Monica were staring at a tall, blond man wearing an outfit that looked like something from a Renaissance Faire. It was the man from the photo…Nikolas Jonnson.
“What? How? Um…” Jack was unable to form a coherent thought. Captain whined, his tail wrapped under his legs, and pressed against Jack’s knees. Jake and Scout were crouched at Greg’s feet.
“My name is Nikolas Jonnson. I was killed here. But I won this year’s lottery and I’ve been granted a day to walk among the living as a living man myself. I believe you need my help. I have until sunrise tomorrow,” the blond man gave a small bow. His light blue eyes held Jack’s.
Jack pulled his jaw back up from the sidewalk and gave a short nod. “Yes. You were in Greg’s house?” he waved his hand at his friend. “And, you left that phone in my car?”
“I did. While I am dead, I have been a spirit for several hundred years and I have the ability to have some small influence on the real world. I used that to provide you with the artifacts you found. I apologize I was unable to be more direct, but the entity that controls this house is strong and would have ripped my soul apart if I had done more.” Jack found that the spirit did not talk as he expected an ancient Viking to speak. He wasn’t sure what that would be, but still felt a sense of oddness at the precise vocabulary. And he’s speaking English, not Old Norse or something.
As if anticipating the comment, Nikolas smiled. “I’ve also had several centuries to learn your language.”
Jack glanced at Greg who shrugged.
“Okay, then. What is going on and what do you need or want us to do? And, I am assuming that all of this,” Jack waved a hand vaguely at the house and Greg, “is somehow connected to this…entity as you called it, that’s controlling the house. It’s controlling Armina and Camilia too, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. And, it is long past time for it’s control in this area to be broken. I, and the other shades, will be able to pass on finally, and your magic community will rid itself of this evil,” Nikolas’ face was grim.
“I could feel myself…I dunno…freezing? while I was in that bobble-head,” Greg said. “That was probably going to be a slow death if you hadn’t gotten me out, buddy,” he gazed at Jack.
“Okay. I guess we’re all in,” Jack held his hand out to Nikolas who shook it gravely.
Tune in next week! Same curse-time, same curse-channel! To get your own prompt and join in the fun, simply head over to More Odds Than Ends. If you submit one, you get assigned one, but if you don’t have time to submit, simply grab one of the spare prompts and have at!
Got some good writing done this week, including for the More Odds than Ends Week 35 prompt. My prompt this week came from Anne and Jim: She kept trying to send in her application, but they wouldn’t accept it. They kept saying her address was invalid. My prompt, The dragon floated on the inflatable raft in the middle of my pool went to Fiona Grey.
I worked my prompt into the Cursebreaker series. Jack is getting a massive headache from this one!
“I would really love it if you could help me out,” Jack said. “I’ve got about ten mages, including my brother-in-law’s family, and yes, their kid, and you, all of whom have been cursed into dolls by the same two witches. What the hell did all of you do to piss them off so badly? And why did Caitlin Blackwell get killed when she wrote down who had cursed her into the doll? And what about that house?” He realized all his frustration was coming out at once and it sounded like he was blaming Greg. Monica left her place in the doorway and came to stand next to Jack putting a calming hand on his shoulder. Greg looked taken aback by the vehemence of Jack’s response.
“I’m sorry,” Jack continued softly. “I’m just frustrated and tired and getting more stressed by the day. It’s like somebody is doling out clues but, in the meantime, more mages are getting caught. I don’t want another one to die.” Monica squeezed his shoulder and kissed the top of his head.
Greg nodded. “Don’t worry about it. I understand. And, I think somebody is doling out clues to you. But I don’t think they’re teasing you. I think that they can only do so much.”
“What do you mean?” Jack asked.
“This picture you took at the front of the abandoned house? That one spirit that’s looking right at the camera? I’ve seen him before. Or at least a picture of him. He’s one of the first mages to live here, in town. Or, rather, in this area,” Greg said slowly.
Monica interrupted. “Before you dive into what seems like is going to be a long story, let’s have some dinner. We all need to catch our breath, and I know the dogs need to eat too.”
Jack and Greg shared a look. “She’s right,” Greg smiled.
“She usually is,” Jack grinned at his wife.
“Usually? Try always,” she laughed.
“I’m not arguing,” Greg held up his hands in mock defense.
Jack and Greg concentrated on giving the dogs their dinner while Monica pulled a roasted chicken and potatoes out of the oven and put sautéed green beans on the table. While they were eating, the conversation was kept purposefully light. Jack once again reminded himself that he’d won the lottery when he’d met Monica. Not only did her personality complement his, but her magical talents complemented his as well. And, most importantly, in Jack’s view, she didn’t care that his magic was limited to breaking curses or pulling apart spells, instead of creating them. She’d told him early on that their combined talents meant that they could both create and break spells which made them a well-rounded team.
After dinner, humans and dogs moved back into the living room. Monica and Jack settled on the sofa, while Greg took the comfy chair facing them. The three dogs spread themselves out across the floor.
“Okay. So. Let’s hear your theory about the house,” Jack said, pouring everybody a couple fingers of the good Scotch. He figured they were going to need it.
Greg took a sip of his Scotch and rolled the glass back and forth between his hands.
“Okay. Well, you know the main part of the story…the original owners were found dead, presumed murdered, but nobody was ever caught. Then, that developer bought the land a few years ago and built a house. But they only lasted about a year before they ran away as fast as they could. At the time, I was doing some research on spirits, ghosts…what have you, and possession. The pictures you showed me before dinner confirmed some of the theories I had. Where did you get that camera anyway?”
Jack shrugged. “Found it on Amazon…on the mage side of the site. I didn’t know what it did until I happened to take a picture of the troll doll that showed up. There was nothing in the product description. But I figured I should start documenting things. Since then…the troll doll was my third case…I’ve taken a picture of every doll that’s showed up and every time I’ve seen the person inside the doll. The guy in the troll doll, Geoffrey, told me to check out the house. I took the camera with me to the house just on a whim. Glad I did.”
“Yeah, I am too. The guy in the front, looking right at you is Nikolas Jonnson. He’s a for real Viking. His ancestors were some of those Vikings that made it all the way here to North America. Them and the Knights Templar. I ran across his history when I was looking up the story of that piece of land. It seems that he was killed there, but he was killed as part of a ritual summoning. Something went wrong and fortunately the summoning didn’t work. But the evil intent is still there and I think it’s baked into the ground. I think that the summoning did bring something to this plane, or at least partially to this plane. And, I think it’s still here. That’s why that first family was killed, and that’s why there are so many shades hanging around that house. It attracts them.
It kinda looks like Nikolas wants your help. I know he didn’t sacrifice himself willingly. From what I’ve been able to dig out, there was a bit of um…a political fight, I guess you’d call it, in the group of Vikings that made it this far. Some of them wanted to go back and bring back more people to colonize and others wanted nothing to do with this area and thought they should leave. My working theory is that there was already something evil here, or it had been the site of some sort of evil action and that’s why they split. Whatever was in the area was controlling the Vikings and pitting them against each other. That led to Nikolas being sacrificed in some attempt to appease whatever it was. In the end, I think they freaked themselves out and they all left. No Vikings returned.”
“Okay. A dead Viking is dropping me clues. But how did Armina Grove and Camilia Sharpe get involved? They are the common thread among all of the cursed dolls,” Jack ran his hands through his hair.
Monica cocked her head to one side. “You know…Armina tried to buy that house before the developer did. The bank wouldn’t give her a mortgage. She kept applying but they wouldn’t accept it. They said her address was invalid. Maybe she’s trying to get back at somebody? And Camilia’s helping?”
Jack stared at his wife. “If Armina tried to buy the house…she might have walked through it…” he trailed off and turned to Greg. “You said the Viking…Nikolas…was sacrificed to stop some demon. And that it might still be connected to this plane…what if Armina got possessed when she went through the house?”
Thanks for reading! I’m working on turning this into a full-length novel, probably first in a series. If you like my writing, my very first book (!) is linked at the top of the page. It’s free on Kindle Unlimited!