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 moonlight brings enough light for my sleepy eyes to make out the outlines of my room. Thankfully, I am alone. And then I hear it again, closer this time. Something is coming for me.

My feet slide from the covers and I 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 up. I feel my heart rate increase as my fight or flight response kicks in. My body should know by now that I won’t be going anywhere. This 14 year old girl is a fighter.

I step into the hallway and it’s right there. I’m not given time to react as the large figure envelops me and breathing quickly becomes difficult. There is a howling roar that must be what people caught up in a tornado experience. The noise is so powerful that it disorients me, and 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 this thing at bay. I resist, but the large figure has little in the way of actual mass. I’m able to see right through it. 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 thing 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.

My focused energy is in my right hand and gives me the strength to push this thing back. The howling subsides to a 70 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.

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 and concern about waking my parents—having them here would not be a good thing—causes my concentration to slip and the death knocker gains some advantage. The roar is back and a foul odor has joined it.

I honestly don’t know if it’s me or if something fundamental has shifted within the spiritual dimension, but the death knockers have more power in our world than ever before. 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 dark thing, I search for something recognizable, a face perhaps. Its features are shrouded, like its partially here, partially somewhere else. It needs to be completely somewhere else. Using my one syllable word as a mantra of defiance, I utter the word again. “No.” The swirling mass begins to take shape. “No,” my voice growing louder. The eyes become reality first. Dark pools of hate. “No.” I’m getting angry now. The thing has a mouth, rows of sharp teeth, a tongue slithering behind 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 as I send 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 is piercing and cuts deep into my soul as the scream echoes and fades. The walls on either side are cut deep as unseen talons fight for purchase as the thing leaves our world. Not a moment too soon as my reserves are depleted and I slide to the floor, exhausted.

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.

My name is Abbey. Like most 14 year old girls getting ready to start high school, I’m a mess. A new school in a new district means starting over, not knowing anyone. Not that I had a lot of friends in my previous school.

Unlike most 14 year old girls, however, I’ve had the ability to see things since I was little. These things are dead people—ghosts, if you will. They have been coming to me for some reason 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.

“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, while I study my phone. My mom lowers her copy of Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 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 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 you’re not a morning person, so 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 magazine. “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. 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. “Clowns International is the oldest clown society in the world. Dating back to the mid 1940s, they’ve managed to keep the clowning tradition alive, while hiding some of their unsavory aspects. I’m writing a feature on their origins, as well as the bizarre history of clowns.” 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 lowers her journal and studies me 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.