Ward drove home, watching the sky anxiously. He felt betrayed by his environment. It isn’t supposed to rain up here, dammit! Alternating between clouds and road, he drove somewhat erratically, his car often swerving, almost fishtailing on the wet streets. Deciding that he hadn’t moved here to escape tornados, only to die in a car crash, he concentrated on the road more diligently.
Somewhere behind him, Celeste Boudreau, the psychic, followed him in her 1968, chartreuse VW Beetle. The vehicle was covered in flower stickers, Save the Earth and a Love a Witch bumper stickers. Her car tag read PSYCH 1.
Ward still wasn’t sure about her, after meeting the day before, although she’d certainly taken to him right away. Apparently, Dr. Prescott must have called her to tell her about Ward. She already knew all about him. While she gave her palm readings and talked to people, Ward had browsed her book. It was chock-full of useless, new age, mumbo-jumbo, some of it completely contradictory. Bored with that, he’d watched the woman instead.
That was yesterday afternoon. A few hours ago, Celeste had called him, insisting that they meet for coffee. Ward couldn’t think of a good way to put her off, so he agreed. It hadn’t been as bad a conversation as he’d anticipated.
Celeste was warm, friendly and outgoing. Her appearance befitted her position as psychic advisor and mystic. Swathed in colorful scarves, every color of the rainbow, she gave the impression of a diaphanous spring flower. Once one peeled back the layers, her true figure appeared. Slightly over five feet tall, she was rotund. Multiple rings bespangled every finger. Pendulous earrings hung from her ears and strings of stones hung around her thick neck. Her arms were covered in bracelets from wrist to elbow. She’d never be able to sneak up on someone because she rattled, jittered and clattered with each sweeping movement.
The most striking thing about Celeste, was her hair. She had on a wig that was a shocking shade of purple inexpertly highlighted with streaks of magenta and indigo. She claimed to wear a different one every day, to match her aura.
Despite her odd appearance and poorly written book, she seemed knowledgeable. She insisted upon accompanying Ward to his space. She, very pointedly, did not call it a house or a home. Celeste’s personality was quite commanding and Ward hadn’t had the energy to protest, so he told her to follow him.
“I’ve got my GPS if I get lost,” she cooed, patting his cheek. “Lead on, MacDuff!”
So, now they were headed to Ward’s space, battling bad weather and a flash flood. With a huge sigh of relief, Ward pulled into his driveway, leaving the side closest to the door for Celeste. Moments later, she zipped in beside him, slamming to a halt. In a sweep of flowery fabric, she leaped from the car and dashed to the porch. Ward followed at a more sedate pace, knowing that running in this weather wasn’t going to make much of a difference. Wet was wet.
Celeste stood under the awning over his front door, dripping on the stones. She looked like a regal peacock who’d been caught in a tsunami. Her gauzy skirts and scarves hung limp with rain. Her makeup ran in rivulets from her chubby face, pooling in the folds of her multiple chins. She pulled off her wig, tossing her head with abandon. Her own hair was clipped short, dark brown and very curly.
“Shall we enter?” She seemed completely unperturbed by her disheveled state.
“Sure.” Ward unlocked the door, flicking on the lights in the foyer.
Celeste hesitated at the threshold. Ward invited her in with a bow, surprising himself with such a grand gesture of welcome.
Beaming, Celeste entered like the Queen Mary docking at port. She took command of Ward’s space, turning in circles as she inhaled deeply.
“You haven’t lived here long,” she stated.
Ward couldn’t remember if he’d told her that or not. Celeste didn’t wait for an answer, merely took a few steps into the foyer, arms extended, eyes closed.
“Would you like a towel?” Ward asked quietly.
“Thank you, darling. That would be divine.” She turned in place, eyes closed, glittering fingers flickering as she moved.
Ward trotted upstairs, dried and changed quickly, before taking a fluffy towel to Celeste. She had moved a few steps from where he’d left her, still turning with her eyes closed. Now, she was humming, her voice high and breathy, but not unpleasant. She stopped long enough to take the towel and dried herself as best she could.
“I’m sorry I don’t have anything dry to offer you,” Ward said. “I don’t have any women’s clothing.”
“Of course you don’t, dear.” She touched his cheek, smiling. Her violet eyes fixed on his for a moment. “Something has happened to you,” she murmured. “Something horrible.”
Ward watched as her eyes lost their sharp focus. Her mouth drooped open slightly and she exhaled slow and deep. Her hand stayed on his cheek, chilly from the rain. Suddenly, she blinked and came back to herself. Her smile seemed forced.
“I see green,” she said absently. “Green lightning all around. And clouds. No wonder you’re so afraid of the storm.”
Celeste moved into the living room. It was sparsely furnished and not a room where Ward spent much time. She did her circles, but soon moved on to the dining room area beyond. Again, she spent very little time. She seemed to be following something, a trail of breadcrumbs only she could see. Her quest brought her to the kitchen. When she arrived, she stood in the middle of the well lit, comfortable space, smiling.
“You love this room,” she said with confidence. “This is why you bought this house. This, and the view.”
Ward grunted agreement. Celeste didn’t really wait for a response. She moved gracefully about the kitchen and breakfast nook, fingers trailing over counters and table top. She stopped at the end of the counter where Ward usually left his wallet and keys.
“Someone else was here not long ago.” Her eyes clouded again and her voice took on a dreamy, singsong quality. “Beautiful. Long, dark hair. Exotic.” She reached out as if trying to touch someone. “You like her,” she smiled knowingly. “She has a secret—she isn’t who she says.”
“Is she dangerous?” Ward couldn’t stop himself from asking.
Celeste cocked an ear as if listening. “It’s—I don’t—” Her face clouded as she continued to listen to something that only she could hear. “Oh, child. Such darkness surrounds this place. Hatred, evil, death…. It lingers in the air, stagnating, tarnishing the soul.” She moved away from Ward, no longer smiling.
Ward followed Celeste as she walked toward the backdoor that faced the desert. She touched the doorknob and screamed. Jumping back, she held her hand as if the metal had burned her. She scurried from the room, throwing open the front door. Wind driven rain littered the floor with debris. Celeste surged toward the doorway, pulled along the same trail she had sensed before. Wisely, she stopped at the door, but the rain still spattered her face. A shiver coursed through her body making her gasp.
“Something black! Evil!” Her eyes focused on Ward’s once more. “Who are you? What are you? Why did you come to this place? Corruption oozes from its heart, seethes within like a festering wound. Malignant hatred drips ichor on you—on everyone it encounters. Your spiteful heart consumes itself with revenge. Toward who?” She paused, listening. “Your—father? Could it be? The most vile, repugnant, disingenuous creature ever to walk the earth.”
She spun away from him, stalking the house, her voice rising in anger. “He killed her! Cut her throat. No, strangled her.” She clutched her head, steadying herself against the wall. “More than one—so many, but she was the first. She wanted to leave him, take his children, so he killed her and made them watch. But you weren’t there. That was later.”
Celeste touched Ward’s face, taking his cheeks in her pudgy hands. He felt the biting metal of her many rings as she held him, gazing deeply into his eyes. Her own had taken on a wild aspect, her hair sprung from the clips that held it. For a moment, Ward was afraid she was going to rip his throat out with his teeth, but her aspect changed as soon as she touched him and she burst into tears.
“You poor child. He killed her too, cut the child from her womb—his child. It wasn’t enough that the baby die, he let her die too. You watched her bleed to death. Poor babe.”
Ward felt the bile rise in his throat. He tried to free himself from Celeste’s grasp, but all his strength had left him. Her words continued, hammering at him, laying all his deepest secrets bare. The face of the demon surged upward, clouding his vision. Roaring, he clawed at it until it screamed with Celeste’s voice.
His vision cleared and Ward saw his hands wrapped around one of Celeste’s scarves. Her face was red, her eyes watering. He let go, his hands limp.
“I’m so sorry. I never meant—I’m so, terribly—”
“It’s not you,” she replied huskily. “It’s him. Even now, he tries to control you from the grave. Even hacked to pieces, his blackened soul seeks to overwhelm you. You must fight him, Ward. You can’t let him control you anymore.”
“Who? Celeste, who do you mean? I don’t understand anything you’ve said.”
“Why, who else, of course,” she replied as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “Morris Sinclair—your father.”