UPDATE: My publisher returned my rights for The High Bridge, so I refreshed the editing, reworked the formatting and had a new cover created. Also the next in the series The Long Bridge is almost complete, but here’s a sneak peek of The High Bridge to whet your appetite!
Seasons Park, Colorado
Sandra Yorken adjusted the elastic band of the headlamp to stop it digging into her forehead. Moving slightly, she cast its bluish beam onto the electromagnetic field detector in her hand. She watched the numbers display as she moved the device along the headboard. It irritated her that she had to do this in the dark.
“This wall is absolutely hot with EMF,” she said.
Wade Conrad, amateur ghost hunter, looked up from the camcorder he was setting in the corner. “Hot? Really?”
“I’m spiking the scale,” she muttered, climbing off the bed. “There must be unshielded wires in the wall behind the bed here. We’d better warn the hotel not to allow any guests with pacemakers to sleep in this room.”
“You sure it’s wires? I mean… there have been so many sightings in this room…”
Sandra sighed. That was the problem with investigating haunt-sites with the Believers. Sometimes the hard evidence upset the Dream. She knew better than to stomp on them. It was a hard lesson learned after the article about that Ohio group. Boy, did she take the heat for that one.
“Listen, can we turn a light on for a little bit?” she asked. “I’d like to see what I’m dealing with here.”
“No, ’cause Mark says it messes with the night vision cameras.”
Sandra rolled her eyes. “Okay, okay, can’t go against my host.” She continued to trace the outline of the bed, checked the output of the bedside lamps and swept the television on the credenza. She bit her lower lip and flicked the EMF detector into a different mode and back again. “Everything in this room is hot.”
“Well, what did you expect? It’s a haunted room,” Wade said. After a moment, his white grin gleamed against his dark face. “It’s THE haunted room.”
Sandra shook her head, forgetting that the headlamp betrayed her movements. “There must be another explanation for this. I haven’t seen such high readings since the Boston Museum of Industrial Arts. They had this storage room that was right next to an electrical room. The fear cage it generated would have blown your mind.”
“You investigated a museum?”
The awe in his voice was unmistakable, and Sandra blushed. “Well, the Board wanted to clear up why the maintenance personnel kept quitting because of the headless man in the basement. It was a simple fix; just add lead shielding around the electrical room.”
In the dark, Wade let out a sigh, telling her it wasn’t the answer he wanted.
“Anyway, either my EMF detector was damaged during the flight from Boston to Denver, or there’s something seriously wrong with this room.”
Sandra stifled a scream as suddenly both their headlights went out. In the dark, she heard Wade move, followed by a crash and clatter.
“Oh crap, I’m dead,” Wade muttered.
“That was Mark’s camera,” he answered, dread weighting his voice.
Sandra groaned and pulled the lamp off her head, clicking the switch repeatedly. What else could possibly go wrong with this investigation? First the flight delay, then the shuttle van from the airport to the mountain resort broke down, now malfunctioning equipment.
“I swear,” she grumbled under her breath. “This event is jinxed.”
“Do you really think so?” Wade asked seriously.
“No,” she sniped back. “Everyone blames the supernatural when things go wrong. I think it’s more that I’ve come from sea-level to 8,000 feet and I’m just screwing up because I’m oxygen-deprived.” She gave up on the headlamp and felt her way towards the bedside light. “I have to turn this light on, Wade. I can’t see a thing.”
The young man agreed reluctantly, so she turned the switch. Nothing happened. She turned it again and it lit up. Must be a standard bulb in a three way lamp. She looked at Wade who was straightening from a crouch with several pieces of camera in his large hands. A tear gently streaked down his black cheek.
“Mark’s gonna kill me.”
Sandra stepped closer and winced at the broken plastic cradled in his pale palms. “Ouch! Did you step on it?”
“No! I swear that it just fell off the tripod. The attachment went from tight to disconnected in seconds.”
Another tear escaped his eye as Sandra stared at him. She didn’t understand all this emotion. She’d engaged in many conversations with Wade, trying to arrange this investigation with his amateur ghost hunting group. In every conversation, he was happy-go-lucky, friendly and cheerful, even during her butting heads with Mark after her late arrival threw off the group’s schedule.
It must be the elevated EMF she detected. It was known to have that effect.
Reluctantly she glanced around the elegant hotel room. “Okay, you win this round,” she murmured. “We’ll leave you alone now.”
Wade gasped. Both headlamps were on again. Sandra growled and turned hers off.
Coincidence. It had to be.
Rawling Pass Road Two miles north of Seasons Park, 3:20 a.m.
Seth “Monty” Montclair was not a happy man. Apart from being awakened by the urgent message over his ham radio, he was being forced to drive down that road in complete darkness.
During the day, it was a harmless mountain road, converted from an abandoned railroad right-of-way, long ago stripped of its rails and ties. Mighty Ponderosa pines lined the gentle grade, a recovered forest after decades of timbering and locomotive travel. One or two unused vacation homes and a few lonely camping sites nestled a short way off the road. The reputation of the place insured there were rarely overnight visitors, which suited him just fine. It was like having a watchdog he didn’t have to feed or a moat that required no water. Just so long as he was off the road and in his cabin by sundown…
But now here he was in the middle of the night, driving his old jeep into town for a fire call. “All available units including area volunteer personnel to the Price-Wellington. Extent of blaze as yet unknown.”
The irritating thing was there had been no previous calls. Full Turnout for an unknown emergency? Usually these things started with the local units, and additional calls made if things grew out of control. This was a rarity. In his four years as a volunteer, Monty was never called off the mountain.
Then again, Morseby was in charge. Patrick Morseby, the king of the Thomas Valley corruption ring. Everyone knew he was on the take, especially when the Price-Wellington passed all its safety inspections. The city council – half of them named Morseby – stopped talking about revoking the hotel’s business license. Mrs. Morseby was showing off some very nice jewelry around town and talking about an exclusive vacation in Acapulco. The town of Seasons Park Colorado and its black sheep sister town of Thomas were very small communities. Word traveled fast and far.
Monty had stayed at the Price once, back when he permanently moved to the region. Personally, he had better accommodations as a homeless wanderer sleeping in a viaduct in East L.A.The Price was almost empty at the time and looked like it should have been condemned. In recent years, there was a suspiciously timed punch of cash from an unknown source, followed by a “lipstick on a pig” facelift to the lobby area. Then word got around about the haunted room and more people stayed there, despite a lack of upgrades to the building. Maybe it was no wonder that Morseby called for Full Turnout. A firetrap like the Price could turn into a disaster in no time.
Although, why should Monty be called from his bed just to bail out Morseby? That swine deserved to get caught. He needed to go to jail. Let the damned hotel burn to the ground. Maybe the web of lies and bribery would come to light. Monty was tempted to turn around so the greedy fat bastard and his nepotistic so-called fire brigade got caught red-handed.
Bloody, red hands, stained with the life force of an innocent child.
A shiver ran down Monty’s back as he remembered when the specter of Greed had last reared its ugly head. Boston’s St Cedric Hospital. A poor Hispanic girl coughing blood onto his arm as he supported her in the last moments of her young life. She could have been saved. She should have been saved. If only she’d arrived sooner, instead of being shuffled from more influential facilities under the guise of “backup overflow”. The mighty dollar was so much more important than a child of the working poor without insurance.
Monty glanced down, expecting to see a red stain on his sleeve. No more blood on his hands. He still may be hiding from his past by holing up in a cabin on the side of a mountain, but he was tired of running from his responsibilities. Whether he wanted it or not, the training was there and he had learned it well. He needed to keep using it or everything he had overcome would be for nothing. Yet…
Weary from his interrupted sleep, he pushed the clutch of the 1947 Jeep and reached for the gear shift lever.
It was ice cold.
“Shit!” he mumbled, glancing over his shoulder. Off in the distance, on the other side of the ravine he’d just rounded, a faint white glow flickered in the trees. He shoved the vehicle back into second gear and let out the clutch. It clunked like it was trying to toss its transmission out of the vehicle. The engine screamed.
“Sorry, old gal,” he murmured as he scanned the road ahead. There was a wide spot soon, wasn’t there? Where was it? He gripped the steering wheel tighter despite the chill spreading through it. Dammit, he hated this road at night. Everything seemed so different. The friendly pine canopy now looked like jagged evil hands reaching for him, trying to stop him so the train could run him down. Again.
The transmission whine increased as Monty depressed the gas pedal. The usual pine aroma disappeared beneath the smell of scorched fluid as the clutch plates slipped with old age. Reluctantly he clutched again and reached to shift into third. He yelped with pain and released it. The lever was so cold; it burned his skin.
The scent of hot transmission oil vanished as the stench of sulfur and brimstone filled his nostrils. Monty glanced at his rearview mirror. Thin frost coated it, obscuring the view. No help for it. You do what you have to do and then it’s done. He clenched his teeth and grabbed the shift lever to slam it into third. He dropped the clutch, rocking with the jerking motion it produced. No choice. Glancing over his shoulder, his view was a study in contrasts. The forested road behind him was half-filled with what he dreaded most – The Ghost Train of Unholy Hill.
He floored it through a straightaway. Where was the Bullet turnoff? It had to be right there! Wasn’t he close? Between the frost caused by the specter and the sweat on his palms, it was hard to grip the wheel. Plus it was so damned cold. His hands hurt with frostbite.
“Shit!” he yelled as he rounded the curve near Grandville Creek. The suspension on the jeep groaned in agony until the vehicle leveled again on another straightaway.
Why the hell was he trying to outrun the damned thing? He didn’t believe the legend that it was a harbinger of death, the Banshee of the Rockies, but still there was something awful about it. He’d gotten run over by it for the first time a long time ago, and it was like being splashed on a street corner, leaving a filthy feeling. The second time was on his way home not long after he first moved to his cabin. It made him nauseous till dawn. Recently, even seeing it on its regular path down the right-of-way was a detriment. It brought on a headache that no amount of Advil would relieve.
Right now, Monty felt like he was running for his life.
There! The siding for the old railroad town of Bullet! Despite the scream from the Jeep, he stepped on it through the turn, certainly tipping on two wheels. The vehicle skidded to a stop and bounced back onto all tires. A cold wind blew up from behind, pushing Monty’s ball cap over his eyes. He lifted it off and turned to see the gossamer white mass churning and seething silently as it raced down the rail bed past his escape route. A band of smoke broke off in a long strand over the top, the only indicator of a locomotive.
Still panting, Monty climbed out of the ice cold Jeep and bent over to catch his breath. At least he was safe for a while. The Ghost Train never appeared more than once a month, as far as he knew. His trip back home should be worry-free.
But dammit, Morseby, there better be a damned good reason you brought me down here.