Today we begin with Coalescence from Gary Starta. Coalescence is book 1 of the Camden Investigation series.
Iris is angered by the claims of a ghost who warns of an outer-space threat. She turns to a UFO chasing scientist for answers, and Mitchell becomes convinced an alien plague in the form of light will cause a rapid evolution making humans susceptible to enemy suggestion. He is also certain her father may be part of a huge conspiracy and should not be made aware of the artifact.
The dark secrets of her family’s past begin to unravel, and Iris will be forced to consider fantasy as reality and take the ultimate risk to save those she loves.
Please enjoy this sample chapter from the book . . .
IRIS CAMDEN, LEAD investigator of Colorado Ghost Hunters, resisted the urge to shield herself with her hands. It would only serve to spook her team. Besides, it was only a paperback book that had been hurled down the stairway. Nothing too heavy, it splayed open, careening harmlessly against a wall before sliding down a banister. Missed her by a paranormal mile—this time—but what if the next projectile was less scholarly and a whole lot pointier?
In her gut, Iris felt the book had not been merely levitating despite the poor aim of the poltergeist. The book came from the upstairs of the client’s home. The intent was clear. Someone wanted the investigators out of the house. But who? She was certain her team was in danger. The thudding of the book on wood flooring did nothing to alleviate the pounding of her heart, which she imagined expanding in size and revealing her fear to the team. Iris felt her heart knocking against her ribcage, paralyzing her with fear, and cutting the tether that kept the ghost hunters glued to reality. She was in charge, but she felt just barely.
Reality was debatable. But Iris liked to think reality divided the partition between the living and the spirit world. Iris existed only in the alive, real world. Her mentor, Ron, had drilled this notion into her ad nauseam for not only her safety but also the investigators of her future team. Now in charge of that future team, three years after leaving Ron and the paranormal society that educated her, she believed maintaining a grip on that tether was paramount. It was the imaginary rope that kept her sided with reality, joined with rationality. It was also her responsibility. Her team depended on her. Yet, as if she were an astronaut floating precariously close to a cold, undefined abyss of space, Iris struggled, imagining the invisible tether becoming more and slippery and her hold of it weakening by the second.
The question screamed. What should we do? Her team did not verbalize this. Yet Iris knew they were asking it. The team remained a step behind Iris, as if awaiting her instructions. She half turned to view them. Kassidy, at twenty-six, one year Iris’s junior, who continued to aim her camera up the stairway, ready to record. Her curly blonde locks bounced, tension and excitement conspiring to keep a shaky hold of her recorder. Iris believed the digital equipment had the ability to compensate for Kassidy’s gyrations. She wasn’t about to reprimand her. Not when her team had never experienced a poltergeist scenario prior, and especially not when she had only one—count that one—firsthand experience with an unruly spirit.
A glint of sun fading in late afternoon twilight illuminated Rachel’s face briefly. Enough so Iris could recognize Rachel’s expression as one she might have worn three years prior. The young woman, thin as a bone, who wore her hair in a simple bob, struggled to maintain a brave face in the wake of body consuming emotion—feelings unruly as the misbehaving spirit, feelings tugging from within, forcing themselves to the exterior, until the corners of Rachel’s mouth twitched, as Iris imagined her own face had once done. At twenty-three, she was the same age as when Iris encountered her first poltergeist. The gleam of youth kept Rachel baby-faced, invoking an image of innocence. Guilt pangs competed with Iris’s other unwanted emotions. It was a cacophony of internal chatter bound to force Iris to make a mistake. In this situation, one mistake could cost a life. She already felt guilty enough about her younger sister, the absent fourth member of the Colorado Ghost Hunters. She couldn’t allow self-doubt to hurt her team because she was lost in a guilt fog.
Iris willed the poltergeist to keep the projectiles aimed at her. Foolishly, she’d opted to wear glasses today instead of contacts. Glasses with frames so damned big they might have been fashioned in the 80s. No matter. She would let the next object smack her in the face, smashing her lenses, impairing her eyesight, if it meant keeping Kassidy and Rachel from harm. Okay. Now she felt as if she were a leader. Leaders made sacrifices. Besides, Iris never imagined herself to be a beauty. She had the kind of eyes boys would love to drown in, Kassidy often joked. She liked to think boys, at least one boy, might want to know her for her mind.
Ron, her mentor, and a man she once had a crush on, had led her and a team of inexperienced investigators into the Stanley Hotel, the Estes Park haunt that inspired the infamous Stephen King novel. Ron epitomized leadership never letting his voice waver or doubt nag his confidence. Not even when the team confronted child-sized apparitions who lobbed spheres of red glowing light their way. Ron allowed one of those translucent red objects to penetrate his body, keeping his team shielded in the process. The Society never quite figured out what the red ball of light contained, but it changed Ron, a once confident investigator who soon fell into a stupor, too inhibited to make a mark in either the conventional world and most definitely not as a paranormal investigator. It forever altered people’s conceptions of him. His refusal to ever talk about the encounter led Iris and many others to conclude Ron was mad at himself for allowing the translucent orb to shatter his confidence. He not only sequestered himself away from ghost hunting but from Iris. Iris wished he had opened up. Maybe he couldn’t. Maybe he had been demonized. Just what could a ball of light do to a person? It seemed insane to even ask this question. But the event forced Iris to bury her feelings for Ron and move on.
Iris couldn’t blame anyone for the predicament she was in. She came into it voluntarily. If some other object or projectile would strike her, violate her, she would allow it.
But was this sacrifice forged from bravery or nagging waves of guilt?
“WE’RE NOT here to harm you. The owners of this home do not want to harm you.” The words rang oddly in Iris’s head. Sure, they weren’t here to harm, especially since they were the ones on the receiving side of the spirit’s angst. A break in its restlessness allowed Iris time to say those words for her team’s benefit. Reinforcement to keep the team believing they could reckon with the force that set things in flight one floor above them. They had a chance to negotiate with it because it was intelligent. It had maneuvered the Morses out of the home, and it was doing a pretty good job at keeping the ghost hunters at bay. All were crouched low in the small foyer located between the front door and the upstairs staircase.
Their proximity to safety tempted Iris to give Kassidy and Rachel her permission to escape through the front door. That door, Iris reminded herself, was their path to reality. The staircase, eerily swathed in shadow and light, led to what the ghost falsely perceived to be its reality. The ghost had no business trying to live in the upstairs of a three-bedroom, two-bath, single family home. It was supposed to live in the confines of a dimension reserved for souls who crossed over. It was all pretty simple, really. Iris just had to convince it to leave—to crossover. Things would be a whole lot easier if they could establish a dialogue, but they didn’t have the means any more.
Iris’s younger sister DJ, a medium, had left the team some months ago. She had a valid reason. Iris could not dismiss her sister’s profound sadness because it affected her almost just as much. The very fact it didn’t quite affect Iris as much as it did DJ was the whole problem in itself. Guilt washed over her each time she replayed the events leading up to the tragedy. As a psychic she should have been given a warning, but possessing supernatural abilities didn’t mean you always had an unfair advantage. This realization hovered over Iris as if a shadow from the forthcoming night. It blanketed her with continuous doubt. She could only sense a presence in the client’s home. Knowledge veiled just like it was prior to DJ’s accident.
Who was this ghost? She had no clue. No advantage. The homeowners were the original occupants. No one had ever died here. She had no idea what the spirit wanted. There was one straw to grasp at, however.
The teen boy of the home had purportedly found an object on the roadside. Curiosity and inexperience conspired to leave the boy no choice but to claim it as a bedroom trophy. It could very well be the reason the ghost had appeared simultaneously with the advent of the unidentified object. “Is the object the reason for your presence?” Iris asked. She would have to wait for technology to bring her an answer. If the ghost did answer, its voice would be recorded on the team’s digital recorder as an EVP, electronic voice phenomena. Iris balled her fist in frustration. She needed real-time answers. She needed her sister’s ability. She needed DJ back on her team.
The arrival of this unknown dial-like thing and the ghost were too coincidental to dismiss. Iris wouldn’t wait for answers. She believed finding out what the dial-like thing was—something she could only label as The Object—would give pretty good clues. She would ascend the stairs and take it from the home for the safety of her clients. As if the ghost was reading her mind, the dial-like object appeared, paranormally, hovering. It swooped and rose, left and to the right, in the hall just above the stairs. It swooped like it had intelligence. Was this an illusion? Possibly the ghost was simply moving the dial with its intent. And maybe this was all about intimidation. Okay, so you know what we came for? Question is: are you going to let us take it peacefully, or will we have to battle you? Iris wondered if the ghost was in her head. She had just presented one very unfavorable option. Would the poltergeist choose war over peace? The likelihood was probable. Why else would it have terrified the Morses? It might be protecting the object as if it owned it. It might perceive the teen as a thief. But if so, why just scare the family? Why not bloody them? For that matter, why not do the same to the ghost hunters? There had to be a missing piece to this puzzle. Iris resolved she would confiscate the dial-like object for study.
Iris raised a hand to signal Rachel. Screw trepidation. “Rachel, please retrieve a blanket, duffel bag, and lacrosse stick from my trunk.” She fumbled keys from her pocket and handed them to her wide-eyed colleague. “We’re going to take the dial forcibly. I suspect we’ll have to do it unconventionally.” Rachel nodded as if a child lost in a snowstorm. Iris concluded the young ghost hunter comprehended her instructions but was failing to register them as reality. Iris had to admit chasing a flying object with a lacrosse stick smacked of desperation, but it was a plan. Iris wondered many times if she had taken action three years ago, could she have spared Ron?
Iris had failed to save Ron, her sister, or her stepmother for that matter. She had two women at her side at the moment. Women she valued more than just mere colleagues. She had to give them an option.
“Guys, I wouldn’t think any less of you for leaving right now. We’ve possibly bitten off a lot more than we can chew.” The crunch of splintered wood from above interrupted. “You can leave the supplies at the door for me . . .”
Kassidy mouthed the word “no” from behind her camera. Rachel placed her hand on Kassidy’s shoulder, conveying a gesture of solidarity.
The dial had left their scope of vision. They would have to hunt for it—as a unit.
“Okay, then we march those stairs as one. Rachel, we’ll wait right here for you. Please hurry.” Rachel nodded and skidded herself backwards, knees as skis on the wooden flooring. In a second, she was out the door. Now came the waiting. Seconds dripped by as slow as coffee seems to drip from the brewer when you need a caffeine hit. And Iris needed time to move quicker. She needed to make a move before she let the same fear that now engulfed her sister take charge of her as well. She couldn’t let her reality be taken from her. But up above, away from the terror in the home, a glowering orange ball of light escaped her notice. She was lost in a time fog.
A SLAM OF the door from behind signaled Rachel’s return. But things had changed in those slow-moving minutes. Items were still being hurled; books were replaced by a hair dryer, a soccer ball, and a box of Kleenex. But it was the temperature changes and the way Iris perceived time moving differently that forced her to think outside of the paranormal box. The conditions were not the norm for any kind of a haunting, even one that involved a poltergeist.
Kassidy scratched at her neck with a free hand, the other still filming. “You feel it too, don’t you?” Iris asked Kassidy in slow monosyllables.
“Feel what?” Rachel asked. She paused. “Oh, this is weird. I’m sweating. We should be feeling cold right now.”
“This is weird,” Iris answered. As soon as she moved her eyes from a handheld device back up the stairs, the situation intensified from weird to weirder.
“What’s going on?” Kassidy asked, almost as if she were pleading with her camera to tell her what was transpiring. A bottle slipped through a wall. A back scrubber danced in mid-air. Weird became weirder as Kassidy continued to record what a realist might dub the impossible.
“Are you getting this?” Iris asked. Jaw dropped. Salon products continued dancing through one wall and into another, and Iris wondered how much longer one of them wouldn’t be injured by this activity.
Iris felt her brows scrunch closer together. As far as Iris Camden knew, no ghost hunter had ever reported such an event. Sure, apparitions seemingly shifted through walls and doors. But these objects were not apparitions. They were bottles of Pantene and VO5, simple concoctions of botanicals and chemicals. Not ever considered alive. Especially not in their present state, bottled in plastic . . .
“Watch yourself!” Iris screamed. A stray bottle decided not to follow the crowd, adhering to the laws of gravity instead and bouncing down the stairs as if a beach ball. Spinning end over end, the bottle missed Rachel’s head by an inch. It careened off the door behind her; its lid compromised, white conditioner spewed onto the floor.
The women all stared at it for a nanosecond. Iris was sure they were thinking the same thought. What if this is somehow alive? But they didn’t have time to analyze. Next, another shower friendly product joined the flotation parade. Who would have thought a shower bar would ever become a threat? But it had. The steel, spring action, rod came as easily through the walls as the bottles.
It clanked off one wall, then the other. Maybe this time the poltergeist believed it to be more fun to keep walls on the solid side. Iris had had enough of the poltergeist’s fun. She sprang from her crouch to take action. Hurtling herself up the stairs, she was determined to catch the rod before it became a harmful projectile to her colleagues. She cast her right hand forward, the other occupied with equipment. It wasn’t her natural catching hand. She was a lefty. This often gave her advantages and disadvantages on the lacrosse field back in school. Right now, it was a clear disadvantage. She missed the rod, which continued bounding down the stairs, hitting her foot, causing her boot to slip ever so slightly. Enough to make her lose balance and come crashing toward her team as the rod had threatened. She rolled backward into Kassidy, who lost the grip on her camcorder upon impact. All the women bore the same expressions of shock. “The camera, check the camera,” Iris demanded, sprawled across Rachel’s lap in the resemblance of a scarecrow.
“I’m trying,” Rachel said through clenched teeth. It was as if she were willing her arm to grow, the cam mere inches from her grasp. The weight of Iris on her wasn’t helping matters. She had no flexibility to reach over Iris. As if mocking them, the shower rod lay resting on the bottom stair, lifeless and now harmless. Its mission of destruction completed.
“Oh sh—” Iris didn’t have to finish her thought. The question was answered by the camera. Its view screen was a mesh of static.
Iris scrambled to her knees, retrieved the device, and handed it to Rachel. “Bag it in the duffel. We’ll see if we can salvage it later.”
Rachel was busy inspecting the EMF meter and the digital recorder Iris had dropped during her tumble. “They’re not working either.”
The team traded glances. Evidence of the paranormal activity, the extreme paranormal activity they just witnessed, might be eviscerated. They had seen it. But who would believe the passing of objects through walls? And besides the loss of visual documentation, the failure of the recording device might very well spell an end to any thought of communication between them and the poltergeist. Furthermore, it would be impossible to get any electromagnetic readings from the strange object—if they should still be able to confiscate it.
The setback angered Iris. Her team seemed to feed on it.
Rachel and Kassidy chimed in unison, “Let’s take that dial.”
“But guys,” Iris warned, “there’s no need for you to come with. Without the equipment, you don’t need . . .”
Kassidy interrupted. “Excuse us, but you still need us to bag the dial. You didn’t exactly fare so great with the shower rod.”
Iris would have smiled if the situation weren’t so serious. She couldn’t. “Okay. I admit I could use a hand.”
“Besides,” Rachel added, “this is the shit. I’m not leaving.” This time Rachel’s innocence and determination forced a grin from Iris.
“Yeah, Rachel, this is the shit.”
A stray glance up the stairs caught the dial again hovering before them at the top of the stairs, as if sent there by an intelligence that could read their minds and was toying with them. Iris had to infer this was indeed a game, maybe one with no more intent than to humiliate.
“Give me that stick, Rachel.” Iris retrieved the shower rod the ghost had thrown at them and headed up the stairs, the team in tow. She grumbled, “No more games.”
DESPITE THE team’s determination, the ghost opted for nothing less than mischief.
After ascending the stairs in calculated chess-like maneuvers to avoid some more objects being hurled their way—among them a fan, a wig, and a jar of makeup remover, the ghost hunters found the teen’s bedroom to their right.
The object, some strange, round obsidian dial with protruding points reminiscent of hands on a clock—but with arrows—seemed too foreign to be mistaken for a toy. Iris wondered what grasping onto any one of the protruding arrows might produce. Toys were technical marvels in this day and age, but this thing was something else. Any fleeting thought that this was all a hoax evaporated upon brief inspection because as soon as she maneuvered her stick, it hopped. Bug like. It gave the women fits as each time Iris laid the stick’s wicket over it, it rolled and bounded away. The cat and mouse game continued bringing the women up and down the hallway from the teen’s bedroom to the master bed several times. Finally, Iris managed to catch the dial in mid air, but in the process the butt end of her stick caught Rachel in the stomach, knocking both the wind and final bout of energy from the young investigator.
Scooping it from blanket into bag was less remarkable. The dial put up no fight. It seemed as if the ghost wanted the dial taken from the premises. Yet it all made little sense. The poltergeist appeared in tandem with the artifact as if it were pursuing it. So what was the point of allowing it to be taken, especially after behaving so badly?
Iris allowed the team no time to ponder, practically shoving each woman out the door. They contained the dial in the trunk where they waited for several minutes in observation. They had no means to record electromagnetic activity. Iris cautioned it could be emitting radiation and they should resist any further urges to inspect it. That was easier said than done. There were so many questions. They entered the car without further incident from their trunk’s cargo. Pulling away, Iris’s mind ever occupied in thought, she and her team failed to notice yet another anomaly. An orange-white light danced directly above the client’s home.
TO QUIET the voices in their heads, the team pursued less otherworldly undertakings, namely alcoholic drinks at their favorite tavern.
Rachel frowned after downing a shot.
“Ah, a little too much whiskey for you, Rache?” Kassidy teased.
“It’s my watch. It’s not synched with the bar clock.”
“So,” Kassidy said, “we all know bar time is fast. They want to get the patrons out before the actual closing time.”
“No,” Iris said. “It’s not that. My watch is off too. Wait a minute.” Iris asked a patron what time was on his Smartphone. When he flashed it to her, she grimaced. “We’ve lost time.”
Kassidy grunted. “You mean like in those alien shows?”
Iris didn’t answer. She couldn’t. She didn’t believe in beings that could change the reality of her world. Science was science. There was no time bending. No time halting.
Yet the other unexplained events of the night competed against her obstinacy.
Most haunts left a house chilled. Yet the team sweated as if it weren’t early spring but summer. Objects levitated through walls. A complete breach of gravity, or whatever, kept walls from dematerializing. Clocks had somehow stopped and restarted, despite being dropped to the floor. And what about that damned dial? It appeared so alien. Iris flashed back to Kassidy’s face, which had reflected on the dial as they bagged it. It remained obsidian despite its reflecting capability. What need would a ghost have for such an object? And it did seem, without too much conjecture from her team, the entire haunting generated from its existence. Drinks quieted Iris’s mind a bit, until the ever-inquisitive Kassidy began demanding an explanation.
Kassidy probed Iris, perhaps a little too doggedly—thanks to two mixed drinks—for answers to this unexplained phenomena.
“Guys, I really don’t know what we just dealt with. I think we have to consider this might not be a haunting in the strict sense of the word.”
“What does that exactly mean?” Kassidy said. An alcohol-induced smile plastered on her lips.
“It means we still have a ghost in a home who can explain the purpose of this dial. What is it for? How did a child come to find it? The mechanical breakdowns, the heated temperature inside the home . . . I hate to say it, but our artifact appears to have come from outer space.”
Kassidy poked her arm. “You never believed in the little green men theory.” Kassidy broke her gaze with Iris after a staring contest. “You’re not kidding are you?”
“You’re sloshed, Kassidy,” Rachel reprimanded. “And Iris quit shitting us. I know we’ve had a few, but it’s no time to be playing with us.”
“No, Rachel, I’m not playing. I’m just realizing this investigation is beyond our capabilities. Maybe this thing is just space debris, maybe it isn’t. But either way we’re going to need to consult someone who is familiar with UFOs.”
The slim bartender, who earlier had been towel-drying glasses behind the bar, startled them as he suddenly appeared at the women’s table.
“Talk about unidentified,” Kassidy squawked.
Rachel tugged Kassidy’s sleeve and mouthed, “Be quiet.”
“It’s okay, guys,” Iris said. “We have nothing to hide.”
“Hey, I’m Jim,” the bartender announced. “That’s what I’m here for, bar psychologist for the tipsy. So having ‘nothing to hide’ isn’t really new for me. But I will admit I did eavesdrop . . . a little.”
Kassidy barked more than laughed. “So, you double as the bar’s soccer mom?”
Jim rolled his eyes at Kassidy, then stared straight at Iris. “Now, what can I help you with?”
“Oh, probably nothing,” Iris answered. “We’re ghost hunters, and we came across some unusual circumstances this evening. It seems we need the opinion of someone who fancies UFOs. But I suppose you wouldn’t know anyone . . .”
“You’re in luck.” Jim fished a cell from his pocket and scrolled his contact list. “Yeah, this is the guy, Mitchell. He was in here a few months back asking everybody about a report of lights in the sky. Nobody here knew anything, but he left his number with me just in case. Anyway, he says all reports are confidential. I guess most of his informants fear they’re going to be taken away in nets or something.”
The vision of the lacrosse stick corralling the dial, or whatever this artifact might be, flashed in Iris’s mind. Just how long could she contain this thing? In desperation, she scrawled Mitchell’s number onto a napkin. Although she was perplexed and probably dealing with something harmful, a small part of Iris felt as if she had come alive again. For so long she had lived as a ghost, in the past, wallowing in regret about DJ and Ron. For the first time, in a long time, Iris Camden felt as if she was living in the here and now.
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