Chapter 1


“Monsters will always exist. There’s one inside each of us. But an angel lives there, too. There is no more important agenda than figuring out how to slay one and nurture the other.” ~Jacqueline Novogratz

A creak. Sitting up in my bed, I listen for it again. The moon brings enough light for my sleepy eyes to make out the shapes of my room. Thankfully, I am alone. And then I hear it again, closer this time. Something is coming for me.

I slide from the covers and move to the doorway. Whatever’s coming will best be met at the threshold. I don’t want it in here; this is my sanctuary. Another creak, just feet away and my goose bumps rise. My heart rate shoots up as my fight or flight response kicks in. My body should know by now that I won’t be going anywhere. This fourteen year old girl is a fighter.

I step into the hallway and it’s right there. The towering figure of a man envelops me. Immediately, it’s difficult to breathe. A howling roar surrounds me like a tornado. Experience has taught me the noise is for me alone. My parents will not be pulled from their slumber by any sound this thing makes. For me, the noise is so powerful and disorienting, I know I must fight back or be consumed. I focus everything on my right hand, as I need to make enough contact to keep it at bay. I resist, but the large figure has little in the way of actual mass—I’m able to see right through him. The soft glow of the August moon illuminates the window at the end of the hall. The transparency of this thing tells me what I’m dealing with.

This is a death knocker. That’s what I call them anyway. Others may refer to them as ghosts, poltergeists or spirits. These spirits are knocking on death’s door—they just don’t get the fact they’re already on the wrong side of the door. Yeah, I see dead people. Some may see this ability to interact with spirits to be a gift. Not me. I hate dead people.

The focused concentration on my right hand gives me the strength to push the a death knocker back. The howling subsides to a seventy-miles-per-hour-motorcycle-ride-without-a-helmet experience. Not perfect, but a step in the right direction. But then, things change for the worse as the figure begins to melt into something else, something dark and indistinct.

My t-shirt is sliced open across my stomach. The attack sudden and vicious, I call out in pain. My belly looks to have a deep gash running about four inches across. The pain mixes with concern about waking my parents—having them here would make the situation worse than it already is. My concentration slips and the death knocker gains some advantage. The roar is back and a foul odor has joined it. I can no longer recognize this thing as once being human.

I honestly don’t know if it’s me or if something fundamental has shifted within the spiritual dimension. Gone are the days of fleeting glimpses of pale figures and cold spots. My belly burns as my new reality sinks in. Contact with these things is dangerous and I could find myself on the wrong side of death’s door as well.

“No.” My voice carries over the howling. I will fight this thing. I say it again. “No. No.” Each word is punctuated with renewed focus as my right hand makes physical contact with this thing and I push it back. Soon, my left hand joins in and I take a step toward it, feeling it retreat. “No.”

Summoning everything I have, looking into the depths of this new dark thing, I search for something recognizable, a face perhaps. Its features are shrouded, like it’s partially here, partially somewhere else. It needs to be completely somewhere else. Using my mantra of defiance, I utter the word again. “No.” The swirling mass begins to take shape. “No,” my voice growing louder. The eyes form first. Dark pools of hate. “No.” I’m getting angry now. The thing has a mouth, rows of sharp teeth, a tongue slithering over them as it grimaces at me. I can almost taste the hatred emanating from this thing. “No,” my voice is loud and commanding. I need to send a message and get this thing back to where it came from.

“Get out!” I shout and shove the thing back down the hall. Its scream is one born of hate, pain and death. The sound cuts deep into my soul as the scream echoes and fades. The walls on either side are sliced deep as unseen talons fight for purchase as the thing leaves our world. Not a moment too soon. Reserves depleted, I slide to the floor.

A door opens down the hall, my father’s sleepy face peering out. “Abbey?” I can see his eyes tracking along the ruined walls, ultimately finding me on the floor. Worry colors his face, as he takes in my appearance. “Abbey,” he says and comes to me, bringing me the comfort only a father can.

*******

“Ready for school tomorrow?” my mother asks. We’re sitting at the breakfast table, my mother reading some medical journal, my father engrossed in the New York Times. My father and I have an unspoken agreement not to discuss my unusual experiences in front of my mother. After he found me last night in the hallway, my father expressed his fear for my safety. I told him there’s nothing I can do to stop the death knockers from coming and there’s nothing he can do to help. For the hundredth time I promised I would be as careful as I could. This is a conversation we’ve had many times as dead people—ghosts, if you will—have been coming to me all my life. I can see and interact with them, even communicate with them in a primal way, though words are rarely used.

As a spook magnet, I’ve faced down a lot of scary things over the years, but recently things have been escalating. These interactions are getting more dangerous, I think, looking at the fading scratches on my belly.

My mom lowers her medical journal and says, “I’ve packed your school supplies with an extra set of pens, so you’ll be ready for anything.” A doctor, my mother is very clinical in how she looks at things. Never mind my anxiety with facing a new school full of new faces.

My dad gets me though. He looks over the top of his paper, gives me a wink and says, “I know it’s not easy starting over at a new school and you’re not a morning person. Let’s stop for a mocha on the way in to school tomorrow. If a little caffeine is a good thing, a large coffee will be just what the doctor ordered.” He smiled at my mom. “It’ll take the edge off of your first day nervousness.”

My mom spoke up from behind her journal. “I’m not convinced that a stimulant is the best response to nerves, but it’ll be nice for you two to spend some quality time together.” She lowers her journal again, giving me a smile. “Which reminds me, your dad has a surprise for you.”

I look over at him. “What is it?” I like surprises.

“We’re going to the circus today.” I don’t like this surprise though. Do I look like I’m ten years old?

“Have fun,” I reply. “Let me know how many clowns they fit into that little car.”

“You don’t want to join us?” My father asks, a wounded expression coloring his face. Guilt begins its familiar trip to join the always-present anxiety and sarcasm in my frontal lobe. “I thought it would be fun to go as a family. With school starting, we won’t have many opportunities to hang out together. And, it would look more natural if all three of us went.” Aha.

“So Dad, there wouldn’t be more to the story here, would there?” I feel he isn’t being completely forthright with me, so I fix my unyielding gaze on him. Believe me. I can be quite a force of nature when I put my mind to it.

“Constantine,” my mom murmurs behind her journal.

My father sighs. “It’s the clowns.”

“Isn’t it always the clowns?” I give him a smile.

Ignoring my cleverness, my father continues. “I’m writing a feature on the origins of clowns, as well as their bizarre history.”

My father is a magazine writer who writes investigative pieces on the mysteries of our times. He’s written articles on UFOs and the Roswell crash, Bigfoot, Stonehenge, the Bermuda Triangle and my father’s favorite, the Mackenzie Poltergeist. A number of people exploring the Black Mausoleum—where Sir George Mackenzie lies—on the City of the Dead tour in Edinburgh experienced bruises, scratches and faint. My father came back with scratches across the back of his neck.

“So we’re your cover while you explore the circus?” I ask. “Clowns, really?”

“Are you afraid of clowns?” my father asks. “Many people are.”

I can’t tell if he’s being serious.

My mother studies me over her journal as she waits for my response.

“Hardly,” I reply. “I never liked clowns, but I’m not scared of them. When you’ve seen what I’ve seen…” I let my words hang there as both parents nod in understanding. They know some—but by no means, all—of the paranormal freak show I’ve had to face.

“So, you’ll join us?” My father’s face is almost childlike in his eagerness. How can I refuse him?

“I’m in,” I answer, not realizing the chain of events that those words will instigate.