by Mary W.
The ride back to the family estate was tense. Gwen couldn't remember when she had been so angry. Damn you Ian, you dragged me out here, away from my work, just to mediate a turf war between Aunt Josette and her daughter-in-law. There's nothing going on here that a good day in family court wouldn't clear up. Yet in the back of her mind, she couldn't shake the feeling that there was something going on, just under the surface that she should be looking out for. What that something was, she wasn't sure, yet it felt wrong. Why else would her cousin's ghost have tried to warn her off? Why did his spirit walk the halls at night, visible to his young daughter if there wasn't something he needed done by his living family?
"Penny for your thoughts." Philip offered, trying to break the tension.
"They're not worth that much." Gwen countered, tapping her fingers on the door frame. "Well, this explains Aunt Josette's reluctance to have me investigate what was going on around here. When I get my hands on that woman "
"Your cousin's family is not fond of his wife?" Derek interjected, remembering the rumors he had heard.
"No. I'm not sure why, except that her family was part of the working poor and Charlie's mother was from old money. I've always had a hunch that it was more to do with neither wanting to share Charlie's affections with the other. Things really got bad when Laurel was born. Charlie doted on his daughter but I think he finally got a little sick of both his wife and mother bickering all the time. I know I would have been." Gwen leaned forward in her seat to look into Derek's eyes. "But none of this explains the vision we both saw, does it?"
"No, it doesn't." he agreed, watching her through the rear view mirror. "Perhaps you should not return to the house."
"I have to." She sighed, her anger draining from her. "I can't leave Laurel alone. Having the Gift of the Sight isn't easy, especially when you're young. It can be even worse when you're trying to deal with it by yourself. Charlie was trying to help Laurel deal with being able to see what wasn't there but I got the distinct impression that his mother wasn't making it any easier. She never did believe in the any of it, the ghosts and the premonitions. She's a terribly unimaginative woman." Gwen smiled grimly at the thought of confronting her aunt with what they had discovered. "Even if there is nothing going on here that the Legacy should deal with, I can't in good conscience leave a ten year old stuck between two warring factions without at least letting her know she has a friend."
Derek smiled one of his rare smiles. "She has quite an ally in you." He leaned forward in his seat as Philip pulled up in front of the house, searching the darkened grounds with a wary eye. His smile was replaced with a grim frown. "Let us go with you when you speak to your aunt. You'll need support if something happens."
"That's an offer I won't refuse." The trio left the Rover parked in front of the manor and started inside the silent house. Gwen shivered as a cold breeze swept past them, slamming the front door behind them. "Something's happening, Derek. Do you feel it?"
"Yes." He agreed, his senses tingling with the feeling of danger all around him. Outside the sun had begun to set, leaving blood red shadows to cover the estate. "Where would your aunt be at this hour?"
"Upstairs, in her room. I think I can find it. Follow me." She bolted up the stairs before either man could stop here, only to stop before she reached the top. "Derek, Philip, don't move. There's something happening on the landing."
"What?" Philip asked, starting up the stairs. Derek's hand grasped his arm, keeping him from following his friend.
"Wait, Philip." Derek looked up at Gwen, who was still frozen in place at the top of the stairs. He could see now what she was looking at, a whitish cloud which was forming on the landing, coalescing into the shape of a man. He watched in fascinated horror as the figure took on the form of the man in the picture from Gwen's apartment, Charles Llewellyn.
"Hello, Cousin." The figure's voice had a hollow ring to it, as though the speaker was at the end of a very large and empty chamber. Though the figure was almost translucent, some parts of the body were disturbingly solid. It bore the injuries that Charles had sustained in the crash, including a nasty gash where his face had hit the steering wheel. It gave Gwen a ghastly smile then looked back down the hall towards the bedrooms. "Shouldn't have come, you know."
"Well, I'm here." Gwen replied, trying to hide her dismay. "Why are you here, Charlie? Silas said that terrible sad, things have gone here since your death. Was it you causing them? Why? Is it because your wife has moved your body?"
"Has she?" the ghost asked, sounding amused. "Well, that sounds like her. Always wanting to put one over on Mother." The phantom looked back over Gwen's shoulder, lifting one ruined eyebrow in mock surprise. "I see you brought a priest with you. Is he going to exorcise me?"
"Let us help you move on, cousin." Gwen replied, trying to sound soothing. "Tell me what binds you to this house."
The ghost's face suddenly lost its amused expression. "Nothing here is as it seems, Cousin, and I died because of it. Trust no one. " It reached almost longingly for her, then disappeared before their eyes.
"Well, that cleared up a lot of mysteries, didn't it?" Gwen asked sarcastically, looking back at her companions. "Trust no one, indeed! I knew Charlie had been watching too much X-Files. He's carried it over to the other side with him."
"It was a sincere warning," Philip protested, bounding up the stairs to stand at her side.
"But a warning of what?" Derek asked, moving past the pair into the main hallway. Somewhere in the darkness, they could hear a door slowly opening, as though its occupant was reluctant to leave their hiding place. Derek's eyes, accustomed finally to the dim lighting, could just make out a small figure moving at the end of the hall. "Someone's moving about, just there, past that table. Do you see?"
Gwen peered down the hall, then bit her lip as a wave of apprehension swept over her. "No, but that's the way to Laurel's room. I think I'd better go check on her. My aunt's room is just to the left here, two doors down. If she's talked to Ian then she's probably expecting one of us to come calling. I'll meet you there in a few minutes." She started off down the corridor, leaving the two men in her wake.
Derek watched her leave with a frown. "Come, Philip, let's get this introduction over with. I don't want to leave Gwen by herself for too long." He walked off in the opposite direction, with the young priest trailing behind him, trying not to look too worriedly after his other friend.
At the end of the corridor, Gwen stopped and held her breath, willing herself to hear all the little sounds that came out of the darkness. The sound of the wind blowing through the eaves. The sound of a mouse scurrying across the polished wooden floor. To her left, behind a slightly open doorway, she could hear the clink of a glass and the sloshing of liquid as it was being poured. She tiptoed over to the door and looked inside. Ann, Charlie's wife, was upending a glass of some brown liquid, getting a good portion of it on her expensive nightdress. An empty bottle of Chivas was laying on the bed along with what appeared to be a family photo album. To Gwen's dismay, she could see Laurel huddled in the corner, trying to avoid being noticed by her very drunk parent.
"We were so happy before that witch of a mother of yours lured you back to this mausoleum." Ann lifted a large, framed photo from the bed and unsteadily began to dance with it. "We used to go out every night, see all the show, meet all the beautiful people. We could have been so happy But No! You had to come running back to Mamma." She suddenly threw the fame across the room and crumpled to the ground, sobbing.
"Don't cry, Momma!" Laurel begged, creeping out of her corner. "Daddy's not gone. He's still here. I can make him come anytime I want. Look, I'll show you." The little girl closed her eyes and clenched her fists in intense concentration. But nothing happened and the child soon gave up with a sigh. "Well, most times I can make him appear."
"Laurel, I think we should put your mother to bed." Gwen opened the door and stepped inside, avoiding several empty bottles that rolled from behind the door.
"I don't need your help." Ann snarled, trying to rise from the floor. However, her knees betrayed her and she sank once again to the ground.
"Yeah, I'll just bet you don't." Gwen replied, shoving everything off the bed. She caught the drunk woman by the scruff of the neck and hoisted her up onto the bed, ignoring Ann's struggles. She threw a light blanked over the woman's legs and pulled the extra pillows out from behind her patient's head. Then she turned away, leading the child out of the room before she flipped the light off. "Time for you to be in bed too, Laurel."
Laurel skipped over to her room then turned and sat with her back to the door. "Aunt Gwen, did you like my daddy?"
"That's a silly question. He was my cousin. I loved him, just like I love you."
"Then why can't I stay with you instead of my mother?" the child asked, her solemn eyes resting on her aunt's face. "I heard Daddy say once that he was going to send me to school in San Francisco so that you could look out for me. He told Mommy he couldn't trust her with me."
"Why on Earth would your Daddy say a thing like that?" Gwen asked, kneeling to look into Laurel's eyes.
"Oh, she got drunk once and accidentally set fire to her bed. I told her she shouldn't smoke in bed but she just got mad." Laurel shrugged, then looked off down the hall. "Sometimes Mommy does some really dumb things. Like taking Daddy's body from the cemetery without telling Granny."
"Now how did you find out about that?" Gwen followed her look down the corridor, hoping Derek and Philip had already gone into her aunt's room. She had a distinct feeling that Laurel would cease to confide in her if she saw strangers in her house.
"Mommy and Granny were arguing, right after you left. I could hear everything they said. Mommy told Granny she wouldn't give Daddy's body back to her unless she gave her control of Daddy's money. She wants to move out of here. I don't, though. This is our family home. This is where all Llewellyns should live. You used to live here, when you were little, didn't you Aunt Gwen?"
"Yes, but that was a long time ago. You shouldn't listen at doors, Laurel, it's not polite."
"I know, but no one tells me anything. They all think I'm just a little kid. Anyway, they stopped arguing when the chair caught fire."
"The chair caught fire?" Gwen asked, a cold feeling starting to creep through her veins.
"Yes, the one Mommy was sitting in. She was smoking again. I really hate it when she smokes and I especially hate it when she argues with Granny." The somber child looked up at her aunt with a frown. "Did you bring those men back with you?'
"Yes, I did. One of them is a friend to your Uncle Ian and the other is Father Callaghan, one of my dear friends from when I was a girl. I think you should talk to them later, about seeing your Daddy's ghost. They understand about things like that."
"I don't want to!" Laurel scrambled to her feet and dashed into her room. "They're not family, they won't understand about our Gifts. Just like Mommy never understands! She didn't understand with Daddy and she doesn't understand with me!"
"All right, calm down." Gwen soothed, following her into the nursery. "There's no need to get upset."
"Yes there is! Mommy's going to take me away from here, I know she will!"
Gwen walked purposefully across the room and reached out to embraced the distraught little girl. As the child wept, neither noticed a curl of smoke and a tendril of flame start in the room's darkened corner.
Derek and Philip paused before the door to what Gwen had indicated was her aunt's room. The dark oak panel was polished to a high shine, as though dust motes would never dare settle on its occupant's property. The older man threw his companion a look then tapped gently on the portal.
"Come in," an aristocratic voice from within the chamber called out.
The two men entered the room and stopped, looking about them curiously. Derek had always believed that studying a person's private sanctuary would reveal a truthful image of that person. Most people lived in spaces designed to please other people's tastes. Only in their own rooms could they allow their own personality to take hold. His own bedroom in the Luna mansion was elegant yet functional, with no frills to distract him from his thoughts. Josette Llewellyn seemed to favor the same type of decor. The old woman sat behind a large antique roll-top desk, its top partially closed to prying eyes. A very modern phone and answering machine sat close to her hand. She looked at the two men speculatively, her eyes cold.
"You must be Dr. Rayne," She said, holding her hand out to Derek. "My nephew has told me why he asked you to come. By now, of course, you must have realized that your trip was wasted. There is nothing here that your organization could possibly find interesting."
"Perhaps." Derek replied, holding the woman's wrinkled hand in his own. "But both your niece Gwen and I have the feeling that this quarrel between you and your daughter-in-law is not the only thing happening in this house." Derek's pager chose that moment to ring, breaking the mood. He fished it out of his pocket impatiently and took note of the message. "My associates in town are trying to reach me. May I use your phone?"
"Certainly," Josette replied coolly, rising to stand beside Philip.
Derek dialed the Nick's cell phone number quickly. "Yes, Nick. What is it?"
"Derek, we just found the doctor who performed the initial autopsy on Charles Llewellyn. Your friend made arrangements for us to view his notes. Derek, there's something weird here. Charles Llewellyn died from a combination of burns and smoke inhalation."
"Why is that strange? I thought he wrapped his car around a tree. It must have caught fire."
"No it didn't. That's what's so strange. The interior of the car was charred, but the exterior wasn't damaged except from a banged up bumper where he drove into the tree. The fire was inside the car, nowhere else. And according to the wrecker driver who towed it, there wasn't any reason why that fire started. The crash wasn't that severe. The gas line wasn't ruptured. There was no reason for him to burn."
Derek looked back at the old woman at Philip's side. "Nick, you and Alex get to the Llewellyn estate. I have a feeling we're going to need some backup." He hung up the phone and looked his hostess straight in the eyes. "You know how your son died, don't you Mrs. Llewellyn? His death was no accident."
"I don't know " she began, then stopped, determined to say no more.
"Yes, you do. The car was on fire but there was no reason for the blaze. You know how it started, don't you? That's why you didn't want your niece to come back here. You didn't want her to discover the truth about her cousin's death." Derek reached out and laid his hands on the elderly woman's arms. "You must tell us what happened. We are here to help you."
Josette Llewellyn had spent her entire life controlling the world around her. She wasn't going to stop now. "Your concern is kind, Dr. Rayne, but unnecessary. Now, I would appreciate it if you and your companion took my niece and left the house. I would not want my granddaughter exposed to these absurd ideas you have about her father's death." She shrugged free of his hands and motioned to the door.
Philip looked back through the open doorway and took a deep breath. "Derek, I smell smoke! Something's burning!"
Derek dashed out into the corridor with the others in tow. Down at the end of the hall, he could just make out the frightened screams of a child. "NO!" he exclaimed, running down the darkened path towards the source of the smoke.
Philip started to follow his friend when a soft moan from behind him stopped him in his tracks. The mistress of the house had sagged against the door to her chamber, her face ashen. "Not again! Oh dear Lord, not again!"
"Call the fire department." Philip demanded, catching her before she could fall. "You must call for help."
"No one can help this family." She replied dully, her eyes glazed with grief. The older Mrs. Llewellyn straightened suddenly in his arms and shook free of his hands and ran down the stairs, calling for Silas. Philip raced off after his friend, praying the elderly woman would find help before it was too late.
Gwen wasn't sure just exactly when she noticed the smoke. It just suddenly seemed to be everywhere. She stared in horror as flames suddenly leapt out of nowhere and set the child's bed on fire. Beside her, Laurel began to scream wildly, panicking at the sight of the flames. All around them, little tongues of fire seemed to be igniting every flammable object available. Gwen snatched up a quilt which had fallen to the floor and swiftly wrapped the terrified child in it. She hoisted the child up in her arms and looked for a path out of the flames. In her vision, she had seen the path to freedom, right in front of her. But now, the smoke and flames obscured her sight and dulled her confidence. She hesitated, unsure in the darkness.
"Gwen!" Derek's voice snapped her from her indecision. She glanced up and saw him in the doorway, just as she had in their shared vision. She ran swiftly towards him, handing him the child as she neared the door. Behind her the drapes disappeared in a wall of flames, hungrily devouring everything in their path.
"We must get everyone out of the house," Derek insisted, pushing her towards the stairs.
"I can't leave Ann. She's just in here. Philip, help me get her down the stairs." Gwen threw open the opposite door then stopped, horrified. Ann's bed was already fully engulfed in flames. For a moment she feared they were too late to save the woman. Then a whimpering sound by the side of the bed attracted her attention. "Philip, there, beside the bed!"
Philip dashed past her and lifted the not quite sober woman in his arms. He moved quickly out of the bedroom and down the stairs, with Gwen and Derek behind him. Once outside, Derek set the child on the ground, letting her run to her aunt for comfort. Philip laid Ann on a garden bench, draping his jacket around her shivering form.
"I've called the fire department." Silas called, loping across the garden towards them. Behind him, Josette Llewellyn stood in the shadow of a weeping willow, watching her home burn to the ground. Her face was composed yet everyone could see the tears that streamed down her wrinkled cheeks.
"I doubt it will do much good." Gwen replied, looking somberly across at her aunt. "The house is pretty much gone." She looked down at her young niece speculatively. "Laurel, I think Granny could use a hug. Why don't you go stand with her while we make your Mommy more comfortable until the firemen come, okay? Would you do that for me?"
"Okay, Aunt Gwen." The child responded, throwing herself tearfully into her grandmother's arms.
Derek laid a hand on Gwen's shoulder. "You know what caused this?" he asked gently.
"Oh yes. I can make a pretty good guess." She took a deep breath and turned to face her fellow Legacy members. "Laurel caused it. She manifests the fire in response to situations which frighten her. It's similar to other poltergeist activity I've witnessed, but with the potential to be far more destructive."
"Then this may happen again." Derek replied, looking briefly at the child.
"Maybe. Maybe not. She might grow out of it. Charlie did."
"Your cousin had this same talent!" Philip exclaimed in surprise.
"Yes. He and I both had a "gift" which ran in the family. Mine was my visions. His was the fire. When we were kids, whenever his mother would do something to make him so mad he couldn't see straight, things would burst into flames. Luckily, Charlie was a pretty even-tempered sort. It took a lot to make him mad so not a whole lot was burned. She never believed in his power, though. She always accused us of playing with matches whenever something went up. But we knew different, Ian, Charlie and I. I guess that's why Ian asked me to come. Charlie must have mentioned something to him."
"Yes," A whispery voice agreed. Turning swiftly, Gwen saw her cousin's apparition form in the driveway, the flames of the house visible through his transparent shape. "I was afraid for her. And of her. Afraid of my own child."
"That's why you didn't want me here." Gwen looked sadly at her cousin's shade. "You were afraid of what I would find."
"Afraid your daughter would do to your cousin what she had done to you." Derek moved to stand at Gwen's side. "She caused the fire in your car that night, didn't she?"
"She didn't mean to hurt me. She was angry because I was going to let her mother take her to a doctor, someone who could help her control her anger. She thought I was sending her away from our home. I didn't see the flames until it was too late. The car crashed into the tree and I was knocked out. If I hadn't crashed, I could have escaped. It wasn't her fault." The ghost looked sadly at his mother and daughter, who were staring in amazement at him. "What will become of her now?"
"Ian and I will work something out Charlie." Gwen reached out her hand to the ghost, her fingers brushing the cold ectoplasm which formed him. "It's time for you to go on. Time for you to rest. Go to the light, Charlie. It's time."
"Yes, it is, isn't it. I'm so tired. So very tired." The ghostly figure began to waver and the form became more and more indistinct. "Take care, cousin. I'll be waiting for you when its your time." The last remnants of the ghostly apparition disappeared, leaving nothing behind in it's wake. In the distance, the sound of the fire engine horn echoed sadly in the silence, crying for another home lost to the beast which was fire.
It had been almost a week since Gwen had watched the flames claim her family home. Much had changed in those seven days, yet much had stayed the same. Derek had offered her and her family sanctuary in the Luna foundation mansion which was his home, at least until other arrangements could be made for them. Gwen had accepted his offer with relief, as she had not particularly looked forward to crowding three more people into her small apartment. It had not, in the end, been necessary for the rest of the family had chosen to move back to Wales. Ann and her mother-in-law had not become fast friends but, to Gwen's relief, they had ceased to try to make each other's life miserable. They were united in their efforts to help Laurel, who still suffered from the emotional trauma of seeing her house destroyed and hearing her father's ghost tell of her unintentional involvement in his death. The child was under the care of a therapist that Rachel Corrigan, the only member of the San Francisco house who had not been there that night, had recommended. Laurel was young and her doctor held out much hope for a completely normal life for the child. But Gwen had her doubts.
"She's only ten. What's going to happen when she hits her teens?" Gwen asked, perching on the edge of Derek's desk. "What happens if she can't learn to control her responses to stress before her hormones kick in?"
"Your aunt and Laurel's mother know what they're dealing with now. If they work together, they can make things right for the child and not add to her already precarious emotional state." Derek leaned back in his chair and looked up at the petite red-head. "At least now they've put aside their personal agendas for Laurel's sake."
"Have you talked to your precept in London?" Philip asked, walking in from the library. He sat on the desk beside his friend with a smile.
"No. I haven't really decided whether I'll go back yet."
"You belong with the Legacy." Derek replied solemnly.
"I used to believe that. I'm not so sure now," Gwen responded, mildly depressed. "For all my gift of the Sight, for all my training and experience with unusual phenomena, I still couldn't stop the destruction of my family's home. Or see that my cousin and his child needed help before it was too late. What good are my gifts if I can't even take care of my own?"
Derek didn't respond, his mind flashing back to his father's death in South America. He knew exactly how she felt. Though he had seen in a vision the demon which ultimately killed his father, he had been too late to stop the attack. It had taken him years to convince himself that Winston Rayne's death had not been his fault. Even now, there were times when the guilt colored his outlook on the world. He glanced away from the pair on his desk, willing himself to regain his composure.
"Why don't you stay here, with us? I'm sure this house could use another member, couldn't we Derek?" Philip looked anxiously at his precept, hoping the other man would agree. He was not surprised at the pain he could see in the depths of his old friend's eyes. Gwen's heartache was so similar to Derek's own.
"Yes, I think that would be best." Derek agreed, rising to stand before the young woman. He gently lifted her chin, looking deeply into her eyes. "A fresh start with a new house will help you get back on track. That is, if you want to return to the battle against the darkness?"
Gwen found herself unable to tear her eyes away from his. He has the most beautiful eyes, she thought, her spirits beginning to lift. But so much pain! I wonder why? She brushed his hand away gently then straightened her back with a sigh. "If you wouldn't mind having me, I would like to be part of a house again." She rose and started out the door, then turned and flashed Philip a grim smile. "I guess once a Legacy member, always a Legacy member." She turned and left, leaving the two men with their thoughts and at least one with his ghosts..