Mystic Witch

 

Excerpt

Chapter One


My dearest granddaughter,

If you are reading this, I am dead. I can no longer hold back the darkness . . .


Bailey Campbell dropped Gram’s creepy letter onto her desk, beside a stack of Employee Action Notices, and turned to the window. Beyond the glass wall of her fifth floor corporate office, the nighttime Atlanta skyline sparkled, a jagged urban landscape under a pale dome of ambient light.

If she was going to be at work at nine o’clock on a Friday night, she should probably get something done. But Gram’s eccentric will and the disturbing epistle appended to it had been eating at her since the funeral a week ago.

Bailey had last seen her grandmother alive when she was eight years old. After The Incident, Mom had shut Gram out of their lives, and over the twenty years since, Bailey had created a normal existence for herself. Well, normal-ish. Her nasty temper remained an issue.

The crash of shattering glass, like a dozen coffee carafes dropped on stone, startled her.

“Holy crap!” she blurted, jumping.

The sound had come from the direction of the breakroom. The last time Bailey had gone for coffee, Juan had been wiring up the new high-density cubicles near there. Better make sure he hadn’t injured himself. The night shift Facilities guy was her only friend at the office—she stayed late so often, plus Juan didn’t have to actually work with her—but he was her bud. She just hoped he wasn’t bleeding because the sight of blood distressed her big time. Hemophobia, she always reassured her BFF Bob, not homophobia, ha, ha.

But of course there would be bleeding. That’s how it worked for her. Bailey Campbell was a textbook case study in Murphy’s Law. If she pictured something bad happening, even for an instant, it came to pass as surely as the attendance of ants at a picnic. Put that and her fear of blood together, and it meant she’d better get her ass to the breakroom to see about Juan.

She left her office and hurried between rows of cubicles to the end of the aisle. A tall figure emerged from the breakroom twenty feet away and Bailey caught her breath.

It looked like a man—but it had no face. The front of its putty-gray, hairless head was a contoured blank. Like an unpainted mannequin.

Bailey flipped a strand of long blond hair out of her eyes and stared, transfixed. Its facial bone structure was well-proportioned but bore no features: brow and sockets but no eyes; a nose but no nostrils; cheekbones and chin but no mouth.

She’d never seen anything like this nightmare creature before, but she knew with certainty it was linked to her father’s death. That horrific night had been Bailey’s sole experience in the shadowy world of magic, except for recurring tortured dreams. Yet she’d been haunted by a fear that the supernatural lurked behind a thin veil of reality, that eventually the veneer of normalcy would wear thin and the dark forces of the universe would come for her. And now it seemed the evil she thought she’d vanquished as a child had returned.

As she stood gaping, the faceless thing started toward her.

Despite the lifelong martial arts training she’d undertaken to learn discipline and gain control over her anger issues, Bailey was a deer in the headlights, too stunned to react. He was almost on her, but she couldn’t make her legs move.

As he reached out for her, she heard a rustle from the cubes to her left. Juan emerged from the nearest aisle, a crescent wrench in hand, his eyes widening as he got a look at the thing striding past him.

The faceless man was almost on Bailey when Juan lunged at it from behind and hammered its head with the wrench.

The creature spun, the back of its head unmarked, and Juan tackled it, slamming it into the wall. Faceless Guy embraced the burly Facilities worker in a bear hug. Bailey heard something crack—ribs?

That did it. The Bailey Temper ignited.

She stepped toward the thing as it tossed Juan aside and came at her again, its calm silence and determination chilling. Groaning, Juan wrapped his arms around its legs, holding it back. “Run, Bailey! It’s after you.”

Seeing a trickle of blood from the side of his mouth, she hesitated, torn between fear of the magic embodied in this creature and her rage against it. The indescribable horror of seeing her father brutally murdered, and the awesome power she herself had unleashed on his killer, had been too much for an eight-year-old. She’d learned to shut away her emotions to avoid the pain of losing her father, the fear of other witches’ power, and more terrifying, her own. The psychic energy of her repressed feelings often resurfaced as an anger she could not easily rein in. But even her rage faltered in the presence of this formidable evil.

“Bailey,” Juan shouted, his face red with exertion. “Run!”

The thing kicked back at him, causing Bailey to cringe. Unable to shake Juan loose, it turned on him.

Her concern for Juan tipped the balance. She would not sacrifice him to save herself.

In a move practiced to the point of being automatic, she stepped forward and punched, twisting her upper body to add force to the blow. When her fist connected with the thing’s lower back, blue sparks flew from the impact. Confirmation, if she’d needed it, that this was no man in a mask, but a supernatural being.

The bastard ignored the blow, pried Juan’s fingers from its legs, and came for her again.

“Oh, man.” The overwhelming imperative to flee returned. At least the thing had left Juan alone and refocused on her. Whirling, Bailey nearly turned her ankle.

“Freakin’ heels!”

She kicked off her pumps and sprinted toward the stairs at the end of the wing. Damn little black skirt was tight and slowed her down, but at least it was short, and her long legs gave her speed.

Footsteps thumped on the tight-napped carpet behind her, grew faster, closer.

A hand raked down Bailey’s back as she neared the door to the stairwell. Swearing, she leaped through the doorway, managed to catch the handrail and jerked to a halt before her momentum could carry her over the top step.

She spun and slammed the metal fire door just as her pursuer came through.

It struck him hard, knocking him back, and she pushed the door closed and headed down, jumping the steps two at a time.

As she rounded the landing halfway between floors, the door on the level below banged open, and the creature came through it.

Bailey stopped on the landing. “No friggin’ way.”

There must be two of them.

Identical.

The thing began to ascend the stairs.

Pulse pounding, Bailey scrambled back up the steps.

At the fifth floor, the first creature shoved open the door and lunged at her. She ducked past, pulling herself up by clutching the handrails on either side of the stairs.

Only two more floors above.

Thanks to her obsessive exercise regimen and Tae Kwon Do classes, she maintained her lead. But if that thing had one clone, it might have more—another could be waiting on either floor. Better to opt for the closest and still have the seventh as an alternative. At the next level, she shot through the door into a deserted sixth floor.

She headed for the elevators at the end of the wing. The aisle between the expanse of empty cubicles and the wall seemed to elongate as she ran, two sets of footfalls relentless behind her.

Bailey had lived under a cloud since The Incident and finally the storm had broken on her, as she’d known some day it would. That traumatic event had shaped her personality, toughened her; but along with these supernatural manifestations, her terror had returned, stark as the night of her father’s bloody death.

She pushed off with her toes, each step a leap.

Past the cube farm.

Past the break room.

Through the hallway with conference rooms on either side.

Bailey slid through double-doors into a small lobby, burning her feet, and skidded into the wall beside the bank of elevators.

She slapped the Down button.

Waited.

Eyed the stairway door.

Listened to approaching footsteps, coming fast.

Did she dare try this stairwell? Or would another of the faceless things wait for her there?

The nearest elevator opened.

Bailey jumped in and hit the button for the first floor.

Three figures came through the double-doors to the wide area before the bank of elevators.

She scanned the control panel. Except for floor numbers, the buttons weren’t labeled in English, only in Braille and symbols that looked like Klingon. Which one closed the doors?

“Triangles in, triangles out . . . Shit!” She stabbed one and the panels slid shut at a maddeningly casual pace. She repeatedly pushed the One button and the elevator finally started down.

Bailey leaned against the burnished metal walls and swiped her damp forehead with her sleeve. For the first time, she had a moment to wonder exactly what the hell those things were.

“Gram’s friggin’ ‘darkness,’ that’s what.”

Witch dies, warns grandchild, faceless zombies show up. No way was this not connected.

But what was the connection? Could some dark force want revenge on her for what she’d done to her father’s killer?

Bern Emmerich.

Blood . . . and fire . . .

A vision of The Incident assaulted her, lasting only a second, but as real as if it were happening now.

Along with the memory, an icy wave of panic washed over Bailey. She couldn’t get enough air, the confined space became a claustrophobic prison, and she felt dissociated from reality.

Anxiety attack.

“Bastards! I haven’t had one of these in years!”

Her outburst having broken the rhythm of her ragged panting, Bailey dragged in a lungful of air. Okay, better; pissed she could deal with. Lots of practice. She had to get herself under control to handle the situation. Bottle that crap right back up, Missy.

Bailey forced her taut muscles to relax, evened out her breathing. Imagined she was in the dojo, calmed her mind. No anger, just feel the flow of chi.

And think. Quick.

Gram was dead, and now everything Bailey had put behind her had come back to bite her in the ass. Two decades ago, with Gram’s help, Bailey had put Bern Emmerich where he couldn’t do further harm. She’d long ago buried her memories of The Incident in the basement of her mind and moved on. And over the years the sweat-slick nightmares terrorized her with decreasing frequency. But the certainty grew within her that The Incident was not over. With Gram gone . . . had Emmerich somehow returned?

On the elevator control panel’s LED, the numerals counting down the floors appeared to slow as she descended, like a hypnotist inducing a trance. The red four became a three so gradually it left ghost images.

In the wake of her vivid recollection of the night her father was murdered and her intuition that somehow Bern Emmerich was the source of these unnatural beings, something shifted inside her.

Bailey shuddered as a barrier within her psyche ruptured. Heat emanated from low in her abdomen, and a fearsome power gushed up and spread throughout her body, to the cells in the tips of her fingers and the follicles of her hair.

She’d felt this way only once before. Then, she’d been a child. But this time it hit her full force, stronger than she could’ve imagined. She willed the process to end, but it was as inexorable as the onset of puberty or the birth of a child.

The flow increased until she thought she would burst from the sheer, raw energy she was drawing from the universe around her. She felt like an overcharged battery.

The elevator settled to a stop at the first floor and the doors opened.

Before her stood another of the faceless creatures, its blank countenance cold, impassive.

With trained reflexes, she pummeled its solar plexus with rapid, alternating blows, showering hissing sparks again, this time brighter. And this time, her attack had an effect.

She brought her right leg up and delivered a swift front kick to the thing’s gut. He doubled over soundlessly, and she punched again, unbalancing him. In quick succession, she hit the Close button on the control panel and pressed Basement.

The door shut; the car started down.

“Come on, come on.” Her pulse thrummed in her temples and she consciously willed it to slow. The doors opened on the elevator room in the lowest level, ghostly quiet. Flush with energy, Bailey stepped out and looked at the closed door to the stairwell and two empty corridors. The basement was a maze. The few times she ventured down here, she had to follow the signs to the mailroom, the printing department, and the loading dock.

The loading dock—a way out!

Bailey started down one hall, remembered to check the signage, then veered into the other. Her stockinged feet slapped the cold linoleum as she jogged around seemingly random turns in the white-paneled hallway.

A door slammed somewhere behind her. Heavy heels rapped and echoed and became a stampede to her ears, individual steps indistinguishable among the many.

Bailey increased her speed and finally reached the end of the corridor. Glancing over her shoulder, she pushed her security badge against the keypad beside the loading dock’s door. When it beeped, she twisted the handle and rammed through and into the cavernous space.

Slamming the door behind her, she leaned against it, breathless. Her face flat against the cold metal, she found herself staring at the Fire Alarm. She thought of Juan again. He was hardly a match for even one of these Faceless Guys, there seemed to be an army of them, and he was probably wounded. He needed help. Like the Fire Department. And cops that might show up.

Bailey fumbled with the little red bar, which didn’t want to budge. Shouldn’t this be easy to do? “Piece of junk!” Impatient, she jerked and was rewarded with a deafening ringing that reverberated off the concrete walls and floor in the large empty room.

Hands over her ears, she looked around. To the left of the delivery bays was an exit to the back parking lot.

As she headed for it, fists thudded on the locked door behind her, audible even over the mind-numbingly loud fire alarm. That thing was starting to piss her off.

She reached the back exit and banged into the push-bar with her hip.

The door hit an obstacle and stopped, sending a bolt of pain up to her neck.

“Damnit!”

Bailey leaned back and hit the door again, putting her full weight into it. Whatever was on the other side gave way and the door swung open and clanged against the metal handrail surrounding the steps down to the parking lot.

A faceless figure waited at the top of the stairs.

She threw her fists up, guarded her face with a forearm, and punched its head.

No sparks, no nothing.

“Uh-oh.”

The creature grabbed her by the upper arms, its grip viselike and deathly cold, and shook her, oblivious to her flailing kicks.

Bailey’s fury verged on critical mass. She’d kicked the other one’s ass! She’d been full of power! What was different?

She was freaking out again, blocking the energy flow. Calm down, take a deep breath and hold it.

The thing hauled her toward the edge of the platform. Bailey managed to visualize a beach; though tall, choppy waves pounded it, the surface of the rough sea concealed murky depths brimming with terrible power.

Pressure built in her belly.

She felt the gentle breeze, the warmth of the sun, smelled the salty air. Saw the waves come into alignment.

Energy surged from her pelvis, up through her body. A rush, a sensation of heat, then a jolt.

The creature exploded with the sound of plate glass being demolished, disintegrating into a smoky cloud.

As a fine dust settled onto the concrete and her feet, Bailey staggered back, staring at empty space where the man with no mouth or eyes had stood a second before. She shuddered with ecstasy and disgust and brushed the top of each foot off with the sole of the other.

She’d sworn she would never do this again. No more magic. Ever. But she’d had no choice.

And it felt good. That was troubling.

Her hands trembling, Bailey steadied herself with the handrail and cautiously descended the steps to the parking lot.



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