Home > Ghost Walk (Haunted Souls #9)

Ghost Walk (Haunted Souls #9)
Author: Pandora Pine



September 1895…

Twelve slow gongs from a nearby church tower ushered in the witching hour. Heavy fog gave the bell peals an odd warbling effect. Clunking bootheels against cobblestones lent an eerie vibe, while the ringing footfalls could be heard, their owner could not be seen. At least not right away. The morning atmosphere was the horror of gothic novels come to life.

Maximillian Gamble asked himself for the hundredth time what he was doing here. From where he stood, in the dim circle of light cast off from his torch, he could make out the faces of his father, Richard Gamble, Doc Gleeson, and several deacons and members of Saint Ignatius Parish, including Father O’Leary. The rest of the group were mere shadows cloaked in fog.

The echoing footsteps belonged to Jack Stout, Salem’s resident grave digger. He’d been a last-minute addition to the party when Max’s father realized the party numbered thirteen. The deed was dark enough without adding the curse of thirteen into the mix.

Max asked himself for the one hundred first time what he was doing here on this cold, dank summer night. The breeze was off the ocean, making it feel as if autumn had wrapped her fist around Salem. A warm bed and a hot cup of tea awaited him at home. This errand was madness.

After the deaths of his mother, May, sisters Hannah, Naomi, and Ruth, and brother Kingston, the Gamble house no longer felt like a home. The halls were empty and far too quiet. If Max concentrated hard enough, he would swear he could feel his twin brother’s presence in the dark corridors of the house on Federal Street.

Hence the reason Max and the others were marching to the Broad Street Cemetery in the dead of night. Kingston had been the first member of the family to die. Consumption had been Doc Gleeson’s original diagnosis, but now, Max was not so sure it was correct. In the five years since Kingston had breathed his last labored breath, four members of their family had followed. Max had sat by helplessly as one loved one after the other tired, sickened, and died.

Similar cases were popping up all over New England. The Salem Gazette ran weekly stories about the atrocities. The first case was in Connecticut, and soon others were reported in Rhode Island. Rumors of similar happenings from New Hampshire and Vermont were spreading like wildfire.

Salem’s rocky relationship with mass hysteria and panic were well-chronicled. Eager to avoid a second brush with the paranormal, Mayor Wells Bradford had insisted this deed be done by the light of the next full moon. Word from Providence reported the gruesome ritual had been successful. Who was Max to argue with stone-cold facts?

With the last member of the party joining the group, Richard gave the command to move out. Flickering torches and swaying lanterns cast dim circles of light as the small party made their way to the graveyard near Gallows Hill, so named for the hangings which took place there during the Salem Witch Trials. Jack Stout led his horse cart by hand. Metal shovel heads clanked against pickaxes giving the march a macabre musical accompaniment.

Max felt the remains of his supper toss and turn in his gut. He should not be here. He should not be leading the charge. Unfortunately, he had no choice. If he were not the head of this nocturnal parade, the shadow of suspicion might fall upon him. Additionally, someone who loved Kingston, who remembered him from better days, needed to attend the grave.

From his spot at the head of the line, Max could hear whispers behind him. The word vampire floated up through the fog, making him shiver.

Hearing the epithet spoken aloud chilled Max to his bones. He quickly crossed himself. His father did likewise. To say the name of a thing out loud gave it power. As far as Max was concerned, the word had enough power as it was.

First had been Kingston. Max could never have imagined anything hurting more than losing his twin brother and best friend, but then his sister, Ruth, began coughing. It had gone on this way for the last five years with one member of the Gamble family becoming sick and succumbing. Max and his father were the only two left. Unless Max missed his guess, half of the reason Richard had agreed to this midnight madness was out of fear either he or Max would be next.

Vampire… Max shivered in the damp night as the word echoed in his brain. Was it possible Kingston was undead? Was his beloved brother the reason their mother and sisters had followed King into early graves? The mere thought was beyond comprehension.

The swaying lantern on Jack Stout’s horse cart threw light forward in jittery bursts, making Max’s shadow dance in a grotesque manner. His trudging left foot caught on a cobblestone, pitching him forward. Richard’s hand shot out to grab his arm.

“Steady, boy,” the elder Gamble cautioned.

Regaining his balance, Max straightened to his full height. “Every step forward is another closer to an appointment I do not want to keep.”

“No one wants to make this trip. Foot-dragging will not stop the task. It will only prolong our agony.” Richard’s voice was filled with sorrow. Trekking to the cemetery was the last place the grieving father and husband wanted to be.

Max thought over his father’s words. Their lives had been an agony from King’s first cough. At first, it had been a bother. A tickle in his throat soothed with dozens of cups of tea. No one had been particularly alarmed until his cough became a nuisance, producing blood, which was an undeniable sign of tuberculosis. The condition was also known as consumption, as the disease consumed a body until there was nothing left. In short, the diagnosis was a long, slow, painful death sentence.

The hoot of a great horned owl brought Max back to the present. He’d somehow fallen to the back of the pack as the others trudged up the short rise to the cemetery. Heavy chains clanked and were followed by the soul-piecing squeal of the rusty gates being pushed open. Max crossed himself again.

After losing first his brother, then four other members of his family, Max knew God had abandoned not only him, but the entire Gamble family. Neither God, nor the saints in heaven, could save him from what was about to happen.

The crowd stopped at the Gamble family plot. From where Max was standing, he could hear Father O’Leary praying for the souls of his family, above and below ground. Max listened along, saying “amen” dutifully and crossing himself again.

Next came the shovels and pickaxes. Jack Stout passed shovels to Max and Richard, while he kept the axes for himself and Brigham St. Pierre, the brawniest member of Saint Ignatius.

A feeling of numbness stole over Max as the two men began hacking away at Kingston’s grave. King had been Max’s best friend and partner in crime. With a house full of sisters, they’d always gone adventuring together. A backswing of the pickaxe clanked off King’s headstone setting off a rush of sparks.

Max took a step forward, intending to give Brigham a piece of his mind. This was his brother’s place of rest, not a plot of land to pull apart and abuse. Richard grabbed his harm, keeping Max back from the blades of the swinging axes.

“Your turn,” Jack said, panting. He grabbed a jug from the back of his wagon and took a long sip from it before passing it to Brigham.

“We dig up Kingston’s grave and they drink?” Max muttered under his breath.

“Listen to me, son. You know what is at stake here. Kingston’s immortal soul and maybe ours as well. Keep your mouth shut and dig. It is all we can do.” With those words, Richard buried the head of his shovel into the loosened ground and pulled out a shovelful.

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