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  • The Parliament House

READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Alex McKenna & the Geranium Deaths by Vicki-Ann Bush


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CHAPTER ONE

Alex held Margaret, his firm hand pressing her head to his shoulder. His breath brushed across her ear. “Don’t look, no matter what you hear. That’s how it gets you.”

All the other victims had turned to ice. Alex couldn’t understand why, but the rules didn’t apply to him. None of the deceased were family, so maybe that was his armor. His family history protected him somehow.

They were huddled behind the furnace in the basement while they attempted to construct an escape plan. Although in a frenzy, Alex knew the level of heat from the unit should be enough to throw the beast temporarily off their trail. The foul spirit followed the warmth from the living, which made hiding from its ghostly grips difficult. The tighter he held Margaret, the more he worried about Wilby. His little brother had bolted in the other direction.

Alex was careful not to touch the hot, metal tank as he peered around it. He made the mistake a few years back of carelessly brushing against it while moving some boxes. The scar on his right arm left a permanent reminder. Alex crinkled his nose—the damp walls and seventy-year-old pipes needed more than a little fresh air.

It was dark in every corner except for a sliver of light emanating from the single ground-level window. He hated the basement, and especially the furnace room. It was the part of the below-ground space that wasn’t finished, and he felt like he stepped into a portal to hell every time he was there. He could sense the darkened soul still lurking in the shadows, but couldn’t hone in on it. Only the goosebumps standing to attention on his arms confirmed his suspicions. He eased back behind the tank. His plan worked for the moment, but it also limited their options. Now he needed a solid way to find Wilby and escape.

“I think I know how we can get out of the house.” Alex spoke softly. “But you’re gonna have to trust me.”

She nodded her head, her eyes widened with fear. Neither were normally the type to rattle easily, this one had them both off-balance.

“I know you’re really scared right now. So am I. But I also know you can do this. I’m going to lead the creature toward the attic.”

“Alex. No.” Margaret grabbed his t-shirt and gripped tightly.

He softly smiled.

“It will follow me. Then you get the hell out of here and find Wilby. Try my mom’s room first; he used to hide under her bed when he was little. It made him feel safe.

“Luckily, that thing stayed on our heels. I know the darkness is down here with us. My bumps are strong. After I get its attention, I’ll run for the stairs. You give it a minute or two before following. Get Wilby, and then head back down here and out that window.” Alex pointed to the ground window. It was big enough for Wilby and Margaret to fit through. “See the large wrench on the bench? Use it to break the window. My mom has rags over there, too. Line the ledge so you guys don’t get cut.”

“Why don’t we just break one of the windows in the den? They’re larger.”

“No. It would be harder to break through one of the double panes, and it would attract a lot more attention. This way you’ll barely be heard.”

Margaret shook her head. “I can’t leave you.” A tear streamed down her cheek.

“I need you to do this for Wilby.” Alex hesitated. He yearned to kiss her, but settled for a pal hug. “Text me when both of you are out.”

“How are you going to get the hell out of the house?”

“Don’t worry, I got a plan.” There was no plan, but he had to tell her something so she would agree. Margaret’s fierce when it comes to protecting the ones she loves.

He pulled away and eased out into the open. A chill ran up his spine—it was close. Alex squinted, trying to distinguish the difference in the shadows. He took a step forward; a blast of cold air startled him, raising the hair on his arms and roiling the butterflies in his stomach. He was headed straight toward the evil spirit.

A low, gravelly hum tainted his ears. Could Margaret hear it? He shook his head. No, he was not about to call out and give up her location. He shifted his eyes toward the right, his heart pounding. The beast lunged forward and reached out with a translucent, icy hand. Alex ducked and swerved. Spinning around, he ran straight for the door, and crossed the threshold before it could stop him. He scrambled up the stairs and made the mistake of turning back. It was a costly move. He tripped, and his body hit the floor boards, scraping his knees. He could feel stinging cuts, but chose to ignore it.

A frozen grip seized his leg and a layer of ice spread across the denim like a fungus. Furiously, Alex kicked free and scrambled back to his feet, running for the staircase to the second level. The entrance to the attic was in the hallway. Once he got the spirit there, he could buy Margaret the time she needed.

He reached the top of the staircase, rounded the corner, and reached for the knob. There was no need. The door flew open, slamming it into the wall. Chips of plaster exploded and nicked Alex near his left eye. He didn’t stop. Taking the steep steps two at a time, he ran to the center of the room. He heard the door slam and knew his plan had worked.

He was alone with the dark soul and nowhere to go.

* * *

Days Earlier

October was by far the most vibrant month in Floral Park. Alex preferred the crisp, cold air over the heat of the summer, and would patiently wait each September for it to escort out the ninety-degree temperatures to make way for the aromatic Autumn nights and warm covers piled on the bed.

He’d worked over the summer at the community pool, saving nearly everything he’d earned. Now, with winter and the holidays coming, he was hoping to get a job after school; the means to his goal of buying a car. If he could save up three grand, his mom would match it. Only eighteen hundred and forty-eight bucks to go.

Jumping in the shower, he barely had time for the water to get hot. The alarm beeped, but the flashing numbers indicated another power outage during the night. He only realized how late it was after he checked his phone for messages from Margaret. He briskly dried off and stepped into the confines of his second skin, pulling it up inch by inch. It seemed to help when he wiggled and twisted a little. He slowly wriggled it past his hips and waist, then yanked it up to his chest. He adjusted it, straightening and smoothing, before slipping on his t-shirt, jeans, and a hoodie, and he was out the door.

He had missed the bus, so he pulled out his current mode of transportation. At sixteen, it wasn’t the coolest to show up at school riding a bike, but it was a lot quicker than walking. Alex didn’t spend much time worrying what others thought. Live and let live was his motto.

Alex pedaled past Mrs. Carricchio’s house—the elderly woman was raking leaves from her front lawn. Her only son had been killed in the Vietnam War, and she’d lost her husband to a heart attack two years ago. Sometimes he and Margaret brought her pasta, a care package from his mom.

Alex waved, but she didn’t see him.

Pulling up to the bike rack, he saw Margaret pacing in front of the school, her brows furrowed. He latched the front frame securely to the rack, adjusted his backpack, and hustled over.

“Hey. Why are you waiting out here? You’re missing first period.” He grabbed her arm and pulled her through the academic cave.

“I was getting worried. I texted you like three times.”

“I’m sorry. The power went off and I overslept. Did you lose power at your house, too?”

Margaret’s eyes narrowed. “Lose power? No. Alex, you could have at least texted me back. With all the weird crap that’s been going on around here, that wasn’t fair.”

Alex sighed to himself. She was his person. The one that he could confide anything to and know his words would be safe. They took care of each other.

“Speaking of weird, did you hear what happen last night outside the church?” Alex grabbed a science book out of his backpack. “I’d better get this out now. I’m already late, and Mr. Klein is going to be pissed enough.”

“You are so frustrating sometimes. What happened at the church?” Margaret crossed her arms.

“They found Craig Earley dead on the back path to the rectory. His body was frozen.”

“What the hell? Frozen? Did they say how?”

“No. They don’t know yet. It was all over the late-night news. I can’t believe you didn’t hear anything.”

“I went to bed around ten o’clock. I was exhausted from studying for that pointless calculus test today. I swear, I will never understand why we have to take some of these bullshit classes. I want to go to art school, not become some damn engineer.” Margaret’s disdain faded into concern. “Your eyes look sunken in. How late did you stay up last night?”

“About one o’clock. My head was killing me. I’ve had so many headaches lately. So has my mom. It’s a pain in the ass.” Alex dropped his chin toward his chest.

“How you doing now?” Margret reached for him, but quickly pulled back.

“Better. They only seem to come at night. Poor Mr. Earley. His family… I know his son Oliver.”

“I know. He was a really nice man. He and my dad would golf together.”

They agreed to meet on the football field at lunch. He watched her rush down the opposite end of the hallway. He had that feeling again—the one that told him things were about to get stranger. At times, he hated the spidey sense—the superhero terminology that Margaret used to describe his abilities.

The morning lulled on with little excitement. Mr. Klein went easy on him for being late, and Alex was sure it was because of the news about Mr. Earley. His strange death was just the latest oddity that had been plaguing the town for the last two weeks. The bodies were starting to pile up, and in every case, the victim’s head was frozen solid.

Alex wasn’t sure what was responsible for this latest string of occurrences, but he did know he needed to call his great grandmother, or Gram as he always referred to her. She was the go-to for weirdness in the family, and he knew his mom wasn’t going to do it. She tried to ignore all the strangeness that surrounded their family, hoping it would protect them. The problem was, you couldn’t deny it. It was always there, and it wasn’t denying you, so you learned how to work with it. Gram had been teaching him, showing him how to cope with his gifts and how to use them.

He watched the hands of the large clock hanging above Mr. Klein’s desk. Three more classes until lunch. Ugh.

Thankfully, he was seated by the window in his next two classes, which was a welcome distraction. The puzzle pieces of the murders floated around in his mind, frustrating him. Multiple deaths by the hand of what? He had never seen a case like this, and it frightened him.

After the lunch bell rang, he headed to the field. He got there early, so he whipped out his phone and Googled how long does it take to freeze to death. Alex turned his head just as Margaret was rounding the corner of the bleachers. She jumped up to the second level and sat beside him. He quickly turned his phone screen off, giving her his full attention.

A natural beauty, her chestnut hair flowed in a curtain down her back, falling freely unless they were on a case. Then, it was pulled back in a loose ponytail for some serious research. Her eyes melted him every time. Light brown with flecks of gold, he could lose his soul in those eyes. Best friends forever. He repeated the phrase in his mind.

“What are you doing?” Margaret lightly punched his shoulder.

Alex squirmed. “I was checking how long it would take to freeze to death. You’d think one of them might have gotten away.”

“The whole thing is disturbing. It’s like there’s a serial Mr. Freeze in Floral Park.”

“How was your morning?” Alex put his phone back in his pocket.

“Long and boring. I swear, I can’t wait until we graduate. College has to be better than this.”

Alex furrowed his brow. “I don’t know, but at least it will be our choice to go. I hate the confines of being told it’s required.”

“I know, me too. What’s our next move?”

“I’m calling my gram later. She might be able to give us some insight.”

“Sounds good. How’s Wilby doing with training? You haven’t mentioned it lately.”

Wilby—real name William—was Alex’s younger brother and the newest member of the family to start his ghostly training.

“He’s training fine. I’m worried he doesn’t have the know. I remember going to preschool and seeing things others didn’t. Wilby hasn’t experienced that yet. He knows strange things happen, but it’s because he’s told, not that he senses them. I’m hoping he’s just a late starter. I know others in the family that didn’t have their abilities show up until they were eight or nine. So, I keep waiting. Not that it’s easy having this thing, but at least I’d know he’d have a better chance of dealing with something if he could see it. And since it seems to circle my family wherever we are, he’d be better equipped.”

“Do you ever think that maybe it’s easier for Wilby not to see things? I mean, if he doesn’t see it, he doesn’t deal with it.”

“No. I know what you mean, but it’s all around him anyway. As long as he’s near me, Mom, or almost anyone on that side of the family, he’s susceptible. I think my dad would have learned to deal with it, but my mom turning a blind eye made it harder. Things would happen, and she didn’t want to talk about it. He was left with one foot in the strange and the other in everyday life. I think, for a lot of years, it frustrated him.”

“You think that’s why he left?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. He seems better now that they’re apart. Divorce turned him into a real father of the year. New wife, new kids, new outlook.”

Margaret smirked. She clasped Alex’s arm and weaved it with hers, and lay her head on his shoulder, allowing her hair to fall across his chest.

“I’m glad we’re best friends, Alex McKenna.”

A whiff of mint tickled his nostrils, and he turned his cheek toward her silky locks. “Uh-huh, me too.”