“What do you make of it?” Kell Winston gestured to the partially furnished bedroom. The four-poster bed was swagged with tattered cloth curtains, and the formerly white linens were splashed and soaked with crimson. A partially dismembered body lay among the tangled bedclothes, and every five minutes, the ‘corpse’ sat up and screamed.
“I’d be able to tell you better if you can get that thing to shut up,” I replied.
Kell grinned and flicked a hidden switch on the side of the bed. The screaming corpse flopped back onto the pillows.
“Tell me again – why, when Charleston is bursting with real haunted houses, someone needs to create a fake one?” I looked over to Kell. He was tall and lean, with light brown hair and blue eyes, and a perpetual tan that made me think he spent all his spare time out on a boat.
“Because most of those real haunted houses are historic mansions, and they don’t take kindly to having a few thousand screaming teenagers tramping over their carpets and past their antiques,” he replied. He shot me a grin. “Not to mention what they’d say if we tried to spread some fake blood and plastic body parts around, just for atmosphere.”
The house was an old two-story white clapboard from before World War II. The neighborhood around the house was now commercial, and it didn’t look like anyone had lived in the place for a long time. Maybe that was part of its spooky charm. A big sign out in front read, ‘Are you ready for… The Evil Neighbors? Coming this Halloween. A Thrill Night Production.’ The lettering was designed to look like it had been painted in blood.
“So what makes you think there’s something here that requires… my attention?” I asked. I had been scanning the house since the moment we parked in the driveway, trying to sense any hint of a supernatural threat. I had spotted plenty of theatrical menaces, from looming monster figures to ghosts that dropped from trap doors in the ceiling, but so far I hadn’t picked up any strong indication that real magic or dark energies were in play.
I made a slow circle of the room. Kell had brought me right upstairs, past the rooms that were decked out with terrifying tableaus on the first floor, so I figured there was a reason he wanted me to focus here.
“I don’t want to prejudice you,” he replied. “But we’ve had some creepy situations, and I immediately thought of you.”
Some people might take that the wrong way, but I knew what Kell meant. I’m Cassidy Kincaide, and I own Trifles and Folly, an antique and curio shop in historic, haunted Charleston, SC. Sure, Trifles and Folly is a great place to pick up the perfect one-of-a-kind item to decorate your home or a unique piece of estate jewelry for a gift, but we have some big secrets. I’m a psychometric—I can read the history, emotions, and sometimes, magic—of an item by touching it. Teag Logan, my assistant store manager, has Weaver magic, meaning he can weave power into fabric and weave data strands together—making him one hell of a hacker.
My business partner, Sorren, is the biggest secret. He’s a nearly six hundred year-old vampire and for over three hundred years, he and my family have watched over Charleston—and the world—getting dangerous magical items off the market and out of the wrong hands. When we succeed, no one notices. When we miss something, it gets chalked up as a ‘natural disaster’. Kell knows a little bit about my magic, but nothing about the store, Teag’s magic, or Sorren.
“The problems have all been here on the second floor,” Kell said. “Several of the crew have reported seeing shadows or hearing noises they couldn’t trace back to our equipment. These folks have been doing haunted attractions for years, so they didn’t just let their imaginations get the best of them.”
I glanced around at the fake blood, realistic-looking plastic body parts, and the wires that I could see with the lights on, but that would be invisible in the dark. “Someone playing a prank?” I asked. “I mean, there are so many props and gadgets someone could rig up the mother of all pranks.”
Kell shook his head. “Rennie—the guy who owns Thrill Night—doesn’t think so. You’re right about them having all the cool toys. But these folks are professionals, and the equipment is expensive. Putting on a rubber mask and jumping out of a closet? Yes. Rigging some elaborate gadget and cutting into productivity?” He shook his head. “I don’t think so. The people who work on these attractions like what they do. That kind of thing could get someone hurt and get the perpetrator fired.”
“How did you get involved?” I asked. “You usually have enough to do, dealing with the real thing.” Kell was the head of Southern Paranormal Observation and Outreach Klub (SPOOK), a well-equipped group of ghost hunters who specialized in Charleston-area hauntings. There were enough of those to keep them busy for a lifetime. Teag and I have helped out a few times when Kell’s group ran into something really strange, and I think he’s figuring out there’s more to both of us than meets the eye. That didn’t stop him from asking me out, and so we’re seeing each other, but taking things slow.
“The guy running the haunted house, Rennie Montague, is an old college friend of mine,” Kell replied. The last name struck a bell. If he was part of those Montagues, they were an old, wealthy, and influential Charleston family. “So when he asked for some ‘technical assistance’, I said yes.” He raised an eyebrow. “And when he offered to donate a portion of the house’s proceeds to SPOOK, I was totally in.”
“Did anyone get hurt—or anything get damaged—when the strange things happened?” As I walked, I held my right hand a few inches over the bed, side table, and armoire. There wasn’t much furniture in the room, but then again, it wasn’t a real bedroom, just a set for the live-action spook show. I was careful not to touch anything until I knew more about what I was getting into.
“No—at least, not yet,” Kell said.