Forces From Beyond by Simon R. GreenForces From Beyond by Simon R. Green

Forces From Beyond

bySimon R. Green

Mass Market Paperback | August 25, 2015

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From the New York Times bestselling author of Voices from Beyond comes the next haunted horror case featuring the Ghost Finders.

Meet the operatives of the Carnacki Institute—JC Chance: the team leader, brave, charming, and almost unbearably arrogant; Melody Chambers: the science geek who keeps the antisupernatural equipment running; and Happy Jack Palmer: the terminally gloomy telepath. Their mission: Do Something About Ghosts. Lay them to rest, send them packing, or just kick their nasty ectoplasmic arses…

A threat to Humanity rests on the bottom of the North Sea: the interdimensional entity known as the Flesh Undying. It is a monstrous being of unimaginable power, way out of the Ghost Finders’ league, so the team has no choice but to accept an alliance with their evil counterpart, Project Crowley.

Only the creature has already turned its eye upon the Ghost Finders—and dispatched an assassin with a deadly vendetta against them…
Simon R. Green is also the author of the Nightside series (Tales from the Nightside) and The Secret Histories (Property of a Lady Faire). His previous Ghost Finders novels include Spirits from Beyond, Ghost of a Chance, Ghost of a Smile, Ghost of a Dream, and Voices from Beyond. He has also written the Adventures of Hawk and Fisher and...
Title:Forces From BeyondFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 6.79 × 4.19 × 0.83 inPublished:August 25, 2015Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0425259951

ISBN - 13:9780425259955

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 What are ghosts, really?The unquiet dead or merely images imprinted on Time? The world’s dreaming or nightmares from the past? Those heart-rending screams in the long reaches of the night . . . are they cries for help or desperate warnings? What are ghosts for, really? If anyone knows, the living or the dead, they’re not talking.There have always been ghosts, and there always will be. Because living takes its toll, and dying even more so. PREVIOUSLY, IN THE GHOST FINDERSThat very secret organisation, the Carnacki Institute, exists to Do Something about ghosts. Along with anything else that won’t lie down when it should, or play nicely with the living. The Ghost Finders are the Institute’s field agents, tasked with tracking down supernatural trouble-makers and kicking their arses with existential prejudice. Because the living have enough problems of their own without being troubled by the dead.The Institute’s current top-ranking field team is led by JC Chance. Forces from Outside once intervened to save his life, altering him subtly in the process, and now his eyes glow golden. Though whether that’s a sign of grace or a mark of ownership has yet to be determined. The team’s hard-headed science geek is Melody Chambers, and Happy Jack Palmer is the team telepath and self-medicating headcase. Kim Sterling is dead, the only actual ghost in the Ghost Finders.JC and Kim are in love even though there are many good reasons why the living and the dead are never supposed to get together.Sometime back, an opening appeared in the walls that separate the worlds, and something from a higher reality fell through, into our dimension. A fearsome living god: the Flesh Undying. It has plans for our world, none of them good, and agents everywhere, very definitely including inside the Carnacki Institute. JC and his team don’t just deal with ghosts any more; they’re fighting to save the world.And now, it’s all about to hit the fan.ONE| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |THE PAST ISN’T OVER; SOMETIMES, IT ISN’T EVEN PASTIt isn’t ghosts that make places bad; it’s the bad places that make ghosts. And, sometimes, other things.| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |Ghosts hang around hotels like moths drawn to a light. All those empty rooms aren’t nearly as empty as people like to think. Managers understandably don’t like to mention the unfortunate fact that not every guest who checks in will check out alive. People die in lonely, characterless rooms all the time, so when entering a hotel room, the question shouldn’t be: Has anybody died in that bed? Try instead: How many? Bodies are carried out on stretchers and smuggled down the back stairs in the early hours of the morning, out of sight of paying customers, more often than you’d think. Death from causes natural and unnatural . . . heart attack, erotic misadventure, suicide, and murder . . . Hotels have seen it all. Ghosts linger on in some rooms like a bad smell or a stain that won’t wash out. And then it’s time to call in the professionals.| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |The Ghost Finders came to the Acropolis Majoris Hotel in the early hours of the evening, in the dying days of autumn. The lowering sky had a bruised, sullen look, the gusting wind muttered bad things under its breath, and the air had a bitter chill. Not a good time to be out and about, even in the bright and cheerful seaside city of Brighton. The Acropolis Hotel was nowhere near the beach, or the famous pier, or any of the things tourists like to see. Instead, it was tucked away in a labyrinth of shadowy back streets, well off the main drag. A spillover hotel, where people reluctantly ended up when there were no rooms left in bigger, better establishments.The Ghost Finders took their time, standing on the opposite side of the street to study the hotel’s grubby facade and less-than-inviting ambience. Not a big building, but more than old enough to be steeped in bad incidents and sad memories. Something had happened here, something was waiting . . . like a troll under a bridge or a land mine under a welcome mat. Ghosts mostly prefer to lie in wait and make the living come to them. After all, they have all the time in the world.JC Chance stood proud and poised in his exquisitely cut white suit, his head held high and his shoulders squared, hands thrust deep into his pockets. Tall and lean, and perhaps just a little more handsome than was good for him, JC had pale, striking features and a rock star’s mane of long jet-black hair. He also had the smile of a man who knew things, and not particularly nice things, at that. As head of this particular field team, he could always be relied on to rush in where angels feared to show their faces, looking eagerly around for some trouble to get into. He wore extremely dark sunglasses at all times, for a very good reason.Melody Chambers stood slouched at his side, scowling and tapping her foot impatiently. Wherever she was, she always gave the impression she didn’t want to be there. Conventionally good-looking in a stern sort of way, Melody wore her auburn hair scraped back in a tight bun and glowered at the world through heavy glasses with very sober frames. Gamine thin, she burned with fierce, nervous energy and wore her bad temper openly as a badge of pride. She tended to look like she was only moments away from attacking people at random, just on general principle. She dressed for comfort rather than style—jacket and jersey, jeans and work boots. Melody had heard of fashion and wanted nothing to do with it. Her scientific equipment lay piled up on a motorised trolley that hummed busily at her side like an eager dog.Happy Jack Palmer, who’d embraced self-medication as a marginally preferable alternative to self-harming, stood a little to one side. Short and stocky and prematurely balding, he wore scuffed jeans and shoes, a grubby T-shirt, and a battered, black leather jacket held together by heavy staples and patches of duct tape. Normally, he would have been the first to say something cutting and inappropriate about their current location; but not this time. He stood quietly, looking at the world with eyes that had seen too much, for far too long.“I can’t believe the Boss sent us here,” JC said finally. “We’re only supposed to get the most important and significant cases.”“You mean the most dangerous,” said Melody.“Same thing,” JC said easily. “Give me action and excitement, death and glory, every time!”“I’ll settle for the glory,” said Melody.JC ignored her with the ease of long practice. “I mean, look at this place! It’s a dump. In fact, it would need a serious upgrade and a major face-lift before it could properly qualify as a dump! You couldn’t expect any self-respecting ghost to show up here.” He paused, to look down his nose at the various pieces of high tech on Melody’s trolley. “Odds are you won’t need half of that.”“Hush, babies,” Melody said fondly to her equipment. “Nasty man doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”JC sniffed loudly. “Given the general ambience, you could fend off any ghosts you found here with a balloon on a stick and some harsh language. Oh well: onwards! Wait a minute, hold everything. Where’s Happy?”They both looked around quickly as they realised the telepath wasn’t with them any longer.“Oh bugger, he’s wandered off again,” said Melody.She spotted him half-way down the street, ambling aimlessly through pools of street-light and deep, dark shadows with equal disinterest. Melody hurried off after him, took a firm hold on his arm, and hustled him back to the Acropolis Hotel. He didn’t seem to care where he was. JC studied him expressionlessly.“Happy, are you with us?” he said finally. “Ready to go to work and kick some ectoplasmic arse?”Happy didn’t answer. There was nothing in his face to indicate he’d even heard the question. JC looked at Melody.“I saw him last week, and he wasn’t this bad. When did he stop talking?”“He’s been saying less and less for some time now,” Melody said reluctantly. “Withdrawing inside himself, away from the pressures of the world. It’s not easy being a Class Eleven telepath.”“I thought the pills helped with that,” said JC.“He’s been taking them too long,” said Melody. “Built up too much of a tolerance. The doses he has to take now would kill anyone else.”“What use is he like this?”“He knows who he is and who I am,” said Melody. “He can still function, still do his job when he has to.”“Dear God . . .” said JC.“It’s not going to be a problem!” Melody said fiercely. “He’s still in there!”“I suppose I shouldn’t complain,” said JC. “His not speaking might actually be an improvement when it comes to dealing with members of the general public.”He was trying for a lightness of touch but couldn’t quite bring it off.“Where’s Kim?” said Melody, just a bit pointedly.“Around,” said JC. “She’ll turn up, when she’s needed. Come on, let’s go talk to the hotel manager and get this show on the road. Shouldn’t take us long to deal with whatever’s bothering them here; and then we can go for a play on the Pier! I love the Pier.”“Of course you do,” said Melody. “It’s cheap and tacky, just like you.”JC strode determinedly through the front door. Melody fired up her trolley, and it putt-putted importantly along at her side as she followed JC in, still gripping Happy firmly by the arm. The lobby of the Acropolis turned out to be surprisingly large and airy, and only a bit shabby. JC had no trouble identifying the manager, pacing impatiently up and down with a face so full of troubles there wasn’t room for anything else. Stocky and middle-aged, with neatly arranged hair, he wore a suit that had once been too good for him but now looked distinctly hard-worn. The only other staff was a faded, middle-aged woman, at Reception. She took one look at the Ghost Finders and busied herself with some vital paper-work.The manager rushed forward to grab JC’s outstretched hand with both of his, smiling weakly, fixing JC with desperate eyes. The manager looked like he was carrying all the cares of the world and getting really tired of it. He went to shake Melody’s hand, then quickly gave that up as a bad idea once he took in her expression. Melody did have people skills; she just mostly couldn’t be bothered. The manager looked doubtfully at Happy and turned quickly back to JC.“You are them? The Ghost Finders?”“That’s us!” said JC. “If it moves and it shouldn’t, we have the answer.”“I’m Stefan Garth, owner and manager of the Acropolis. Thank you so much for coming! I’m at my wits’ end, trying to cope . . . Excuse me for asking; but is this all of you? I was expecting a more substantial response . . .”“Trust me,” said JC. “We’re all you need.”Garth took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh of qualified relief. Some of the weight seemed to come off his shoulders. “I’ve been trying to get help for ages,” he said tiredly. “No-one would listen when I tried to tell them about the Bad Room. No-one would believe me when I told them one of my rooms was killing people. The authorities didn’t want to know; friends and family were sympathetic but unhelpful; and when I went to the media, they just made fun of me. Luckily, only the local news ran the story, or it could have been very bad for business. But, finally, I told someone who knew someone at the Carnacki Institute. I was so happy, so relieved, when they assured me they’d send their very best people to deal with the situation . . . You’re sure you can help?”“Of course!” JC said cheerfully. “We are the Pros from Dover; the A team, only with less guns. We know what we’re doing, and when we don’t, we fake it.”The manager didn’t seem particularly reassured. He looked doubtfully at Melody, who scowled right back at him, and dubiously at Happy, who was smiling serenely at nothing in particular. The manager turned back to JC.“Don’t you need a priest? For an exorcism?”“That’s a more specialised procedure,” said JC. “Unless you’ve got hot and cold blood running down your walls, voices speaking in tongues on your internal phones, and a whole bunch of levitating beds . . . it’s unlikely to be a demonic presence. We are more your general practitioners. We make the bad things go away.”“I’ll show you the room,” said Garth. “While it’s still light.”“Let me guess,” said JC. “No-one goes there after dark.”“I keep the door locked at all times,” said the manager. “So whatever’s in there can’t get out.”| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |He led the way to the single elevator, on the far side of the lobby. Melody sulked at having to leave her precious equipment behind, but it clearly wasn’t going to fit in the elevator with them. Garth promised no-one would touch anything and even elicited a quick nod of agreement from the silent presence at Reception. So Melody just stuffed a few useful items into her pockets, said Stay! to the trolley, and hauled an unresisting Happy over to the elevator with her. Everyone waited for a while, then waited some more. The manager smiled weakly.“Sorry . . . We’ve only the four floors here at the Acropolis, so there’s only the one elevator. It’s getting old and just a bit unreliable. But perfectly safe! Oh yes! Perfectly . . .”“Speaking of safe,” JC said quietly, “Did you arm the defences on your trolley, Mel?”“Of course! No-one touches my stuff.”“Tell me you set them to non-lethal.”“More or less.”The manager appeared even more unhappy. Especially when he looked at Happy.“Is he all right?”“Sometimes,” said Melody.“He’s a specialist,” JC said solemnly. “Best not to distract him while he’s thinking. About things.”Perhaps fortunately, the elevator doors opened at that moment, and they all filed inside. The ascent to the fourth floor was quiet and uneventful, and the doors finally opened onto a perfectly-ordinary-looking corridor. Garth led the way, occasionally glancing back over his shoulder to reassure himself the others were still with him. All the doors on both sides of the corridor remained firmly closed. There was no-one about, not a sound to be heard. Even their footsteps on the faded carpet sounded flat and dull, oddly muffled.“Are all the other rooms on this floor occupied?” said JC.“Of course,” said Garth. “We do good business on the whole. Brighton is always very popular with the tourists, even at the end of the Season. It’s only the one room that’s gone bad.”“Have any of your guests reported seeing or hearing anything unusual?” said JC.“No,” said the manager, firmly. “Everything that’s happened has been limited to just this one room. No matter how bad it gets inside the room, whatever it is stays inside.”“How bad does it get?” said Melody.The manager shuddered, briefly. For a moment, it seemed like he might actually turn around and go back; but he squared his weary shoulders and kept going. He had the look of a man on his way to the dentist, or possibly the hangman. JC looked thoughtfully around him. There was no dread atmosphere in the corridor, no sense of unease, nothing in the least menacing. The carpet was a bit threadbare in places, and the whole place could have used a lick of paint and a touch-up; but that was it. Nothing to indicate a dangerous setting, nothing to warn about bad things waiting in the room ahead.The manager finally stopped before Room 418. JC noticed immediately that the numbers added up to thirteen but decided it probably wasn’t a good time to point that out.They all stood together, looking at the blank, coffee-coloured door. It stared right back at them, giving nothing away. JC listened carefully but couldn’t hear anything. Melody produced a hand-held scanner and ran it quickly over the door. A few lights flickered on the device, but that was all. Melody scowled and put the scanner away. Happy didn’t react to any of it. JC looked at Garth. The manager’s face was wet with sweat, and his hand actually shook as he produced a magcard and unlocked the door.“The room is empty, right now?” said JC.“Of course,” said Garth. He pulled his hand back from the handle, as though glad of an excuse to put off actually opening the door.“How long since anyone’s been in it?” said JC.“I haven’t dared let this room for almost seven months now,” said Garth. “None of the staff will go anywhere near it. I have to do the turn-down and clean myself. When I can work up the nerve. I don’t like to just leave it . . . that would feel like giving up. Giving in. But I always make sure my wife comes with me, to hold the door open. So it can’t close on its own. So I won’t get . . . trapped. In there.”“What happened, seven months ago?” said Melody. “What brought this to a head?”“There were screams,” Garth said, reluctantly. “Out here, in the corridor. When guests came running out of their rooms to investigate, they found Mr. Harding staggering out of Room 418. He’d torn his eyes out. When they finally got him to stop screaming, he said the room showed him things.”“Any idea what?” said Melody.“That was all he had to say,” said Garth. “He was still saying it when they strapped him into the strait jacket and took him away.” He looked suddenly at JC. “Why are you wearing sunglasses indoors?”“Style,” said JC.The manager clearly wanted to say a great many things but didn’t. He braced himself and opened the door to Room 418. And then he turned and ran, bolting down the corridor as the last of his courage evaporated. He didn’t look back once, and he didn’t wait for the elevator. He was in such a hurry to get away, he plunged straight through the door marked Stairs. JC and Melody looked at each other, then at the door standing open before them. JC reached carefully inside, felt around till he found the light-switch, and turned it on. Dull, flat light revealed an empty, quiet, and completely unremarkable hotel room.“I hate the sneaky ones,” said Melody. “Where they try to pretend nothing’s wrong . . .”“Let us run through the briefing before we venture in,” said JC.“You actually read the briefing file, for once?” said Melody. “I am seriously impressed. What brought that on?”“A long train journey down,” said JC. “And I’d already read this month’s FHM. I’ll hit the high lights, and you can chime in on anything you feel is significant.”“Because you don’t want to go into that room just yet,” said Melody.“Got it in one,” said JC. “Something in there is sharpening its teeth. I can feel it. Anyway, what we have here . . . is a room where bad things happen. And the bad things are getting worse. No ghosts as such. No poltergeists, no dark shapes walking through walls, no menacing figure standing at the foot of the bed smiling at the occupant . . . Not even a door opening on its own in the middle of the night, or a strange face looking back out of the mirror. None of the usual give-aways. Just a room that really messes up the people who stay in it. Not merely suicides though 418 has racked up far more than its fair share. We’re talking really nasty cases of self-harming, screams in the night, and people who had such bad dreams, they wouldn’t even wait till morning to check out. And a hell of a lot of heart attacks, strokes, and other less-easily-identifiable medical problems.”“Eighty-seven natural deaths in the past three years,” said Melody. “And over a hundred people who needed hospital treatment, for physical or mental distress.” She frowned. “That is so off the chart, I can’t believe no-one alerted us until now.”“The manager hushed it up for as long as he could,” said JC. “Happy, are you with us? Are you sensing anything?”The telepath gave him a vague, child-like smile. His gaze was far away.“He’s only half-awake, most of the time,” said Melody. “Though he has moments of lucidity. He’s only fully himself, and properly operational, when he’s taking his pills.”“And you keep on dosing him,” said JC. “Even though you know those things are killing him.”“Yes,” said Melody.JC shoved the door to Room 418 all the way open, slamming it back against the inside wall. The sudden sound was deafeningly loud, but it didn’t carry, and it didn’t echo. It was as though there was something wrong with sound itself inside Room 418. Happy’s head came up slowly, and he looked into the room.“Bad place,” he said in a perfectly normal voice. “Genius loci. There’s someone in there.”“I can’t see anyone,” said JC. “And I am looking really hard.”“It can see us,” said Happy.“What is it?” said Melody.But Happy’s moment had passed.“I have to look after him,” Melody said bitterly. “Like a carer, for someone with Alzheimer’s. He’s only thirty-two!”Even as she said that, she tugged absently at Happy’s clothes, smartening him up like a mother with a child. Happy didn’t seem to notice.“Be straight with me,” said JC. “How bad is he really? I need the truth, Mel.”“Only the pills make him the man I remember,” said Melody. “Pump enough chemicals into him, and he can still do his job.”“For how long?” said JC. “You must know that the Boss is pressing me to stand Happy down, replace him with another telepath. For the good of the team.”“Is that what you want?” Melody said sharply.“Of course it’s not what I want!” said JC. “But he’s damaged, now. Broken.”“Whose fault is that?” said Melody. “You were always pushing him to take the damned pills, to make him a better telepath.”“So he could do the job,” said JC.“You must have known what they were doing to him!”“Yes, I knew. So did Happy. He could have walked away from the team anytime. And maybe he should have. The way he looks now, it might be kinder if we did stand him down.”“No,” said Melody. “It wouldn’t. At least this way, he still has some purpose in his life. Something to keep him going.”“Is that the real reason?” said JC. “Or do you just want him to take his pills, so he can be the man you remember? The man you love?”“You bastard . . .”“I need the truth, Mel. Are the pills killing him?”“Yes,” said Melody. She suddenly sounded very tired. “He’s taken them for so long, his tolerance is . . . inhuman. Only the most powerful concoctions have any effect at all.”“What happens when the pills stop working?” JC asked.Melody didn’t have an answer for that. She made a meaningless gesture with one hand. “We were supposed to have a life together. I was so sure I could help him, fix him . . . This wasn’t the life I saw for us. I hate this! But the only way I could have my old life back, have my freedom back, would be to let them put Happy in a hospital, or an institution. So they could look after him, for whatever remains of his life. I can’t do that. Can’t just walk away . . . They wouldn’t understand what he’s done to himself, or why it was necessary. They wouldn’t know what pills to give him when he has one of his crying jags. Or an attack of the horrors from something only he can see. I swore I’d hold him while he was dying. I just didn’t know it would take so long.”“First thing you learn in this job,” said JC, “is that you can’t save everyone.”“Even when it matters?”“Especially then. All we can do is all we can do. Did you bring his pills?”“Of course,” said Melody.“Then give him some,” said JC. “Give him a whole bunch. Bring him back to us. Because he’s no use to anyone like this.”Melody nodded stiffly. She already had the silver pill box in her hand. She flipped open the lid, carefully selected three colour-coded pills, and popped them into Happy’s slack mouth one at time. Like a mother feeding sweets to a small child. Her mouth pursed in a tight moue of pain; but her hand was perfectly steady.Happy dry-swallowed with the ease of long practice. Beads of sweat popped out all over his face, he twitched several times like a dreaming dog . . . and then his eyes snapped back into focus with almost vicious force.“I feel great!” he said loudly. “Great! Where am I?” He looked at Melody and JC. “Oh yes. I remember. This is the haunted-hotel case, right? Even when I’m not here I’m still listening. Apparently. No, Mel, let it go. I’d rather just get to work.” He peered through the open doorway, into Room 418. “That room is quite definitely inhabited.”“What’s in there?” said JC.“Not so much a what . . .” said Happy. “It feels more like a mood piece.” He looked around him disdainfully. “If you had to bring me back, did it have to be in such a dump? Next time, choose a really nice restaurant. You’re paying.”“Not back five minutes and already complaining,” said JC.He strode into the waiting room, rubbing his hands happily together in anticipation.Happy slouched in after him, shoulders hunched in anticipation of an ambush. Melody brought up the rear, sticking close to Happy, in case he might need her. JC took up a commanding position in the middle of the room and looked carefully at everything. The bedclothes appeared to have been changed recently; but there was a thin layer of dust over everything else. It would seem there was a limit to how long the manager was prepared to stay in the room. The single window was closed, curtains drawn back to reveal a frankly depressing view. And the light in the room was oddly flat, lifeless.The room had no character, no warmth, and nothing in the least threatening about it. Just an empty room where a great many people had stayed and left no trace of themselves behind. There wasn’t even a shadow worth the mentioning. But there was still something about the room . . . as though the Ghost Finders were only seeing, only being allowed to see, the mask on the face of the monster. JC pushed his sunglasses down his nose, and the golden glow in his eyes leapt out into the room, like a breath of fresh air in a killing ground. But he still couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.“So,” said JC, pushing his sunglasses back into place. “Not exactly welcoming; but not actually worrying, either. Hello, ghosts! Come out, come out, whatever you are!”Kim appeared out of nowhere, snapping into existence like a jump cut in a film. Tall and shapely, carelessly elegant, with a pretty face and masses of bright red hair, the ghost girl looked like a pre-Raphaelite angel. Because she wasn’t real any more, she could make her ectoplasm look like anything, so for now she wore a charming white pant suit, to complement JC’s outfit. None of the group jumped at her sudden arrival; they were used to Kim. She blew JC a kiss and smiled dazzlingly.“Hi, JC! How’s my sweetie? Miss me? I’ve been having a quick look around the other rooms on this floor. You wouldn’t believe what that sweet old couple in 402 are getting up to. But . . . I haven’t seen a ghost anywhere.”“Odd,” said JC. “You’d expect there to be a few. Just bog-standard local spirits, same as in any hotel.”“It could be that whatever’s in here is so powerful, it actually suppresses everything else,” said Melody. “I need to go back down and fetch my equipment, so I can run proper scans on the environment.”“Not just yet,” said JC. “Let’s get a feel for the place first.”“It feels depressing,” said Happy.“Yes . . .” Melody nodded slowly. “I’m getting something. Dark, brooding . . .”“Lonely,” said Kim.“Are you picking up anything useful yet, Happy?” said JC. He was concerned about how long Happy’s current frame of mind would last but didn’t like to say anything.“Nothing specific . . .” said Happy. “Just . . . really dark feelings. The whole room is saturated with them.” He looked slowly around him. He seemed calm and centred, but his face was an unhealthy colour, with sweat still running down and dripping off his chin. As though the pills he’d taken had lit a fire inside him, and not in a good way. “I thought at first I was just picking up old emotional echoes . . . but it feels more like whatever happened here is still happening. I’m talking real long, dark night of the soul stuff. Deep angst and melancholy; despair on an industrial scale. Nasty! But, I have to say, not linked to any particular person, living or dead.”“Given the sheer number of people who died in this room, we should be seeing some ghosts,” said JC. “Even if they’re just intense emotions imprinted on the surroundings.”“I don’t like it here,” said Kim, wrinkling her nose. “I mean, I’m dead, and this room is still spooking the crap out of me.”“Could be an extreme case of Sick Building Syndrome,” said Melody.“No,” Kim said immediately. “It’s more than that.”“Okay, this is getting seriously weird,” said Happy. “And I know from weird. I’m getting abstract, almost conceptual psychic pressure. A spiritual undertow, dragging us down.”“Haunted Building Syndrome?” said Melody.They were all standing close together now, as though they’d been driven into a defensive circle by unseen forces. JC looked quickly back and forth, his skin crawling. It felt like something was sneaking up on him, from every direction at once. As though the walls were closing in, and the ceiling and floor might slam together at any moment. There was a threat in the room, close and real, but he couldn’t seem to pin it down. Part of him wanted to just get the hell out while he still could. Because something was coming straight at him, like a runaway ghost train. To run him down and grind him under its wheels. JC held his head high, and snarled around him. Ghost Finders don’t run; they make everything else run.Kim glanced at a mirror on the wall beside her and made a sudden noise. JC’s head snapped around.“What?” he said.“I always forget I can’t see myself in a mirror,” said Kim. “Ghosts don’t have a reflection because we’re not really here. It’s been so long since I could see my face that I’m beginning to forget what I look like.”JC smiled at her. “You look great.”But Kim turned her head away, refusing to be comforted.“So!” said JC, determined to lighten the mood. “Did I ever tell you I once stayed in a hotel room where there was this long, jagged crack in the ceiling, right over my bed? Every night I had to pull the bed out into the middle of the room because I couldn’t sleep with the crack hanging over me. And every morning I had to push the bed back into place again, so the chambermaid wouldn’t think I was chicken!”He looked around; but the story didn’t get a response from anyone. JC sighed and nodded to Kim.“All right, girl, you’re up. Give us one of your theatrical anecdotes, about the appalling digs you’ve stayed in. I want this atmosphere broken.”Kim smiled gamely. “Okay . . . I remember touring a play, and the producers booked us into this really low-rent hotel in Birmingham’s Chinatown. I didn’t even know Birmingham had a Chinatown . . . My room was a fire exit. Really! A big sign on the outside of my door said Fire Exit, along with a hammer attached to the door by a length of chain. The idea was that in the event of a fire, you ran to my door, smashed in the lock with the hammer, then ran through my room to get to the actual fire exit. I never told anyone, but every night before I went to sleep I jammed a chair up against that door. No-one was getting into my room without my knowing about it . . .”She looked hopefully around, but there was no response to her story, either. JC looked like he wanted to smile but couldn’t remember how.“Tough crowd,” said Kim.“Tough room,” said Happy.“I can’t do anything without my equipment,” said Melody. “I can’t even tell you how much of this atmosphere is real and how much is just in our heads.”“All right,” said JC. “Go get your precious toys and hit this room with the science stick until it tells us everything we need to know.”Melody hesitated, not wanting to leave Happy, but he shot her a reassuring smile.“Go,” he said. “I’ll still be here when you get back.”“Will you be all right?” said Melody.“Hard to tell,” said Happy. “But I’ve got JC and Kim. All jolly companions together. Go.”Melody headed for the door, then stopped abruptly. Without taking her eyes off it, she said, “JC, did you shut this door?”They all turned to look. The door to Room 418 was very definitely closed.“I never touched that door,” said JC.“Me neither,” said Happy.“And I can’t,” said Kim.“A door that closes on its own, when no-one is looking,” said JC. “Now that’s more what I expect from a haunted room.”He strode past Melody, took a firm hold on the door-handle, and yanked the door open. It didn’t resist him, but when JC looked through the open doorway, there was no sign of the corridor outside. Instead, he was looking into Room 418. With Melody and Happy and Kim facing him. JC turned slowly, to look over his shoulder; and they were all standing behind him. In Room 418. He braced himself, and strode through the open door. Only to find himself walking back into Room 418, towards Melody and Happy and Kim. There was no sense of being turned around. It all felt perfectly normal until he thought about it, then his head hurt. JC walked back and forth through the open doorway several times, and still couldn’t feel anything.“Will you please stop doing that!” said Melody. “You are seriously messing with my head.”“I like it!” said Happy.“You would,” said Melody. “How the hell are we going to get out of here?”“Could be an illusion,” said JC.“No,” said Kim. “Because I’m seeing it, too, and you can’t fool ghost eyes. That . . . is real, in its own twisted way.”“Okay,” said Happy. “Not panicking even a little bit here.”“Nobody is to panic,” said JC. “We aren’t necessarily trapped.”He went over to the window, only to stop and consider it thoughtfully. The curtains were closed. JC was sure they’d been open when he entered the room. He took a firm hold on the curtains, yanked them apart, and looked out. And then made a low sound of pain, in spite of himself. There was no view; instead, the window held a complete absence of everything. A terrifying blankness that hurt the eyes, hurt the mind, just to look at. JC averted his gaze. Look at nothing for too long, and the human mind starts to unravel. He carefully pulled the curtains together again and didn’t look back until he was sure the window was completely covered. He turned his back on the window and looked at the others.“All right, it appears we might be trapped in here after all. Any suggestions that don’t involve loud noises of distress and involuntary bowel movements?”Kim tried to disappear and found she couldn’t. She frowned prettily, concentrating, and headed determinedly for the nearest wall, to walk through it. Only to find she couldn’t do that, either. She didn’t actually bump off the wall; she just couldn’t seem to get anywhere near it. She looked back at JC.“Something very odd is happening here. I mean, I’m not in any way material, but I’m still being affected by whatever’s in this room.”“It’s all in the mind,” said Happy.“What is?” said JC.“This room . . .” said Happy. “We won’t be allowed to leave until the room is finished with us. Finished its business . . .”“What business?” said JC, just a bit harshly.“Life and death,” said Happy. “The soul in balance. Truth will out . . .”JC looked at Melody. “Do you know what he’s talking about?”“I’m just telling you what I’m picking up,” Happy said patiently. “What the room is saying to me. Or rather, whatever it is that’s in this room with us.”JC grabbed up the telephone on the bedside table, but there was no dial tone.“Nothing,” he said.“Not even the sea?” said Happy.JC frowned and pressed the phone to his ear. “Wait a minute . . . I just heard someone crying. Hello? Is anyone there? Can we help you? What’s wrong?”The crying stopped. JC put the phone down. “We’re on our own . . .”“If only that were true,” said Happy.“Really not helping, Happy,” said Melody.She got out her cell phone, but it was just as dead. Melody glared at the phone before putting it away, as though it had let her down. She looked at JC.“I suppose screaming for help is out of the question?”“Please,” said JC. “I have my pride.”“What makes you think anyone would be allowed to hear us?” said Happy.“Okay!” said Kim. “You are seriously creeping me out now. And I’m dead! I’m supposed to be above such things.”“The room can’t hold us here for long,” said JC. “The manager is bound to come up, to check why we haven’t reported back. We just have to . . . outwait the room.”“And if we can’t?” said Happy.“Then we use your head as a battering ram to break down the door!” said JC. “It’s not as if there’s anything left in there to damage.”“I’ve got a few explosive devices about me, somewhere,” Melody said demurely.Happy smiled. “Never knew you when you didn’t, dear.”“I think we’ll save the scorched-earth policy for a last resort,” said JC. “We came here to help the manager, not destroy his livelihood. We need to be more . . . receptive. Work out what this is, what it wants.”“Or needs,” said Happy. “I am getting a strong feeling this has all happened before. We’re not the first to be held in this room. I am getting a definite sense of history repeating.”“Ghosts are history,” said JC. “The Past refusing to go away, imposing itself on the Present.”“Then where is the ghost?” said Kim. “Why isn’t it showing itself, making itself known? Why doesn’t it just tell us what it wants?”“I don’t think it’s that kind of haunting,” said Happy.“I should have hauled my equipment up the stairs,” said Melody. “I’d have had this ghost pinned to a wall by now, interrogating it to within an inch of its death.”She stopped because Happy was shaking his head slowly.“Ghosts are mostly what remains of people,” said Happy. “Tortured individuals, with unfinished business. This . . . is nothing like that.”“Come on, Happy,” said JC. “Give me something I can use. What kind of haunting is this?”“The dangerous kind,” said Happy. “We could die here. Many have.”“Then where are their ghosts?” said Kim.The four Ghost Finders came together in the middle of the room, standing shoulder to shoulder, staring quickly about them. Ready for any attack. But the light remained steady, there were no deep dark menacing shadows anywhere at all, and nothing came out of the woodwork. The room looked entirely empty even though they could all tell it wasn’t. JC’s hands clenched into fists. He hated not knowing what was going on, not knowing who or what to strike out at.“Hold it,” said Happy. His eyes were huge, unblinking, almost fey. “The spiritual weather in this room just changed.”“What?” said Melody. “What does that even mean?”“Something is heading our way,” said Happy. “Closing in on us.”“Where’s it coming from?” said JC.“It’s already here. It’s always been here. It’s just coming into focus. Concentrating on us.”“Who is it?” said Kim.“It’s not a who,” said Happy.They could all feel a growing force in the room, like an approaching storm pressing in from every direction at once. And then they all cried out and rocked on their feet, as harsh emotions sleeted through their minds, unsettling their thoughts in favour of disturbed instincts. They backed quickly away from each other, glaring suspiciously from side to side, at each of their fellow team-mates in turn. Just like that, they knew they couldn’t trust anyone. A terrible psychic pressure built up in all of them, a need to speak out. To say things that had been left unsaid for far too long. A desperate need to say awful, truthful, unforgiveable things to each other. Secret things, which once brought out into the light could never be unsaid or taken back. Kim looked abruptly at JC.“I have to leave you,” she said, unreal tears forming in her unreal eyes. “I have to go because that’s the only way you can have a normal life. I love you, JC, so I have to give you up. You deserve a real life, a real love, with a woman who has a future.”“I don’t want anyone else,” said JC. “I only want you. Don’t you want me?”“You know I do!” said Kim. “But I can’t touch you!”“You’re all I’ve ever wanted,” said JC. “Please. Don’t go.”“I have to,” said Kim. “I want you to be happy; and you can’t . . . until you’ve forgotten me and moved on.”“Kim . . . No . . .”“I want to hold you. I want to be held. This, what we have, it’s isn’t love, not really. At least you can still touch the world you walk through! At least you can still touch yourself . . . I don’t even have that. I’m not real, JC . . . I’m just something that remembers being human and misses it so much . . .”She sobbed wildly and lurched forward to beat on his chest with her small fists. Her ghostly hands sank into JC and out again, appearing and disappearing. He didn’t even feel a chill. He started to reach out to her, to put his arms around her, and then stopped. He just couldn’t pretend any longer. Kim snatched her hands away from him and hugged herself tightly.“Let me go,” she said. “Let me die. Better for me, better for you . . .”“I haven’t felt this lucid in a long time,” Happy said suddenly. “Everything’s so clear . . . I didn’t know how far I’d fallen till you woke me up again. Kim’s right, Mel. Half a life . . . is no life. I don’t want to go back to the way I was, but I will the moment my system burns through the chemicals. Don’t keep me around just because you’re used to me. Find me a pill to put an end to this.”“I won’t give up on you,” said Melody. “I won’t give up hope.”“There is no hope,” said Happy. “No way back. I’m tired, Mel, so tired . . . worn down and burned-out. And the worst part of it is knowing I did this to myself.”“Happy, you have to hold on,” said Melody. “I know how hard this must be for you . . .”“No you don’t!” Happy fixed her with his huge-pupiled, unblinking stare. “You have no idea what it’s like inside my head. You never did. I’m just one voice, drowned out by all the other voices that keep intruding. Only the pills give me any peace, and they’re killing me by inches.”“Then I’ll make myself understand,” said Melody. She held up one hand, and showed him the silver pill box.“No,” said Happy. “Don’t . . . Mel, you couldn’t cope.”“I can handle anything you can,” said Melody.She selected three fat pills, and swallowed them down, grimacing at the effort. The others watched, but none of them moved to stop her.“That is a really bad idea,” said JC.“I know what I’m doing,” said Melody.“Really don’t think so,” said JC.He broke off as something new emerged in Melody’s face. She looked startled, then shocked, then terrified. She was seeing the world through Happy’s eyes, through Happy’s chemical consciousness; and it was destroying her. JC started forward, but Happy got to her first. He stood before Melody and took both her trembling hands in his. She didn’t even know he was there.Chemicals rushed through her mind like a storm of razor blades; slicing up her thoughts and sweeping them away. Melody had always prided herself on her methodical, scientific thinking, but that wasn’t enough to cope with the bigger, stranger, more-than-human world she’d been plunged into. She could see Space and Time and other dimensions she didn’t even have concepts for—the living and the dead and so many other things that were both and neither, all of them screaming . . . as she experienced first-hand all the horror and despair Happy lived with every day. As he died a little more, every day. The only thing that kept him sane, kept him going, was an almost inhuman act of iron will and self-control. And now he was losing even that, day by day and pill by pill. Happy was going under for the third time, feeling the water fill his throat inch by inch.Melody had finally found a way to see inside Happy’s head; and what she’d found there was killing her, too. Happy saw it happening, saw it eating her alive, so he reached out to her in the only way left to him.He embraced her telepathically, joined with her on every level there was. He calmed her racing thoughts, taught her how to keep the bad things at bay. How to survive when you’re hanging on by your fingernails. He loved her; and that made him strong enough to carry the heavy burden of his life for as long as he had to. Melody held him, and he held her, and they were together. For whatever time they had left.Happy broke the mental link, and they both fell back into their own heads. They stood facing each other, looking into each other’s eyes. Melody was back in control again; and, surprisingly, so was he.“You’re back!” said Melody. “I can feel it. You burned up all your pills helping me; but you’re still stable.”“Yes,” said Happy. “In saving you, it seems I’ve saved myself. How about that? Your sanity jump-started mine. It won’t last, of course. There’s no miracle cure for what I’ve done to myself. But at least I can be me again, for a while.”“You’re still dying,” said Melody.“Everyone needs something to look forward to,” said Happy.“You can’t die,” said JC. “I can’t lose you. You’re my team. You’re all I’ve got.”“You’ve got me,” said Kim.He looked at her with calm, unflinching despair. “I gave up my life to do this job; and what has it got me? What good is it, to be a Ghost Finder solving other people’s problems, if I can’t solve my own? If I can’t help you? If I can’t save the one woman who means more to me than anything else. Please don’t go, Kim. You’re all that keeps me going.”“You’re all that keeps me . . . me,” said Kim. “When I had to leave you for a time, on the Boss’s orders, it almost destroyed me. Being a ghost is like enduring endless sensory deprivation. You’re all that keeps me focused. Away from you I became vague, uncertain. You’re my anchor, JC, my reason for being. You’re the only thing that holds me to this world. But . . . you can’t move on as long as I’m still here, holding you back. So because I love you, I have to give you up . . .”She was already starting to fade.“No!” said JC. “Don’t go, Kim! Don’t you dare give up on us!”“If you love them, let them go,” said Kim. Her voice sounded far away. “You deserve better than this, JC.”“Please . . . Kim . . .”“I’m scared to stay,” said the ghost girl. “And scared to go . . .”“You don’t have to be frightened,” JC said steadily. “And you don’t have to go alone. If you’re going, I’m going with you. I’d rather die than live on without you.”And, just like that, Kim snapped back into sharp focus again; smiling tremulously at him.“There is still hope,” said JC. “We give each other hope. That’s what love is.”All four of them stopped and looked around the room. Something had changed. They could feel it.“Okay . . .” said Melody. “Let me be the first to say, What the hell was that? What just happened here?”“I feel like I’ve just been through a spiritual purge,” said Happy. “I feel good. I feel good about myself. I’m not used to that.”“It feels like someone cut me open and let all the poison out,” said JC.“Not someone,” said Kim. “The room. The room did it . . .”The door to Room 418 swung slowly open on its own; and beyond it lay a perfectly ordinary corridor. The room . . . felt like just a room. Nothing more.“Whatever just hit us, I think it’s over,” said JC. “The room is finished with us. But you know what . . . I’m not finished with this room.”“Normally, I would be the first to say, let us get the hell out of here while the getting’s still good,” said Happy. “But I have to admit I’m curious. It feels like we all just passed some kind of test.”“A haunted room as personal therapy?” said Melody. “Weird . . .”“Something made this room a Bad Place, originally,” said Happy. “But it doesn’t feel like the work of any individual person. So what’s powering this phenomenon? There was a definite sense of direction, of purpose, to everything we were put through.”“Don’t say purpose,” said Melody. “Say rather programming. This room now exists to perform a specific task . . .”“I don’t think this is a Bad Place,” said JC. “I think . . . it’s a testing ground.”He walked around the room, looking at everything, his nerve endings almost painfully raw and receptive after everything he’d been through.“Think of all the people who’ve stayed here, down the years,” he said finally. “So many people, in this room, passing long, dark nights of the soul . . . Lying awake in the early hours of the morning, asking themselves the kind of questions that people only ask themselves in the long reaches of the night. All the things we don’t dare think about in daylight but can’t hide from in the dark. Is this it? Is this all there is? Is this what my life has come to? What happened to the life I was going to live? What happened to the person I planned on being? When did I lose all my ideals, give up on my dreams?“And somehow . . . all that soul-searching and personal despair rubbed off on the room.”“Imprinted it,” said Melody. “Soaked into the surroundings and programmed Room 418 to search for the truth in all of us. No wonder so many people died, or went mad, or hurt themselves . . .”“Why didn’t it affect everyone the same way?” said Happy.“Not everyone can be honest with themselves,” said JC.“But then . . . why aren’t all hotel rooms like this?” said Kim. “People must ask questions like that in every hotel room. What’s so special about this one?”“Something about the location, perhaps?” said JC. “Or perhaps some psychically gifted traveller passed through, and supercharged the room . . . Who knows? The result is a room that tests everyone who stays here. Tests to destruction, if necessary. Forces people to confront their own personal demons . . . who sometimes turn on their owner. I suppose we never hear about the ones who pass the test—just the ones who fail dramatically.”“Did we pass?” said Melody.“Hard to tell, with us,” said Happy. “But I think so. We’re all still here and as sane as we ever were.”“We can’t leave the room like this,” said JC. “It’s like an unexploded bomb, waiting to go off over and over again. It plays too roughly with people and breaks too many of them. We have to defuse this room.”“How the hell are we supposed to do that?” said Happy.“I’m open to suggestions,” said JC.“I could bring my equipment up here, hit the room with a small, localised EMP,” said Melody. “That might be enough to wipe the slate clean.”“Bit too scientific and real-world, for a spiritual experience,” said Kim. “Didn’t you once have an exorcist grenade, JC?”“The energies that have accumulated in this room have become so powerful, they’re probably resistant to open attack,” said JC. “No; we need something less direct. Lateral thinking caps on, everyone.”He walked around the room, looking at everything, thinking hard. The others looked at him, then at each other, and shrugged pretty much simultaneously.“This room is haunted,” JC said firmly. “By all the lost hopes and broken dreams of everyone who ever stayed here.”“So what are we supposed to do?” said Happy. “Call them all up and give them a big comforting hug?”JC turned abruptly to look at him, then smiled slowly. “Well, if you put it that way . . .”“Why do I give him ideas?” said Happy.“We can’t bring back all the people who stayed in this room,” said Kim. “The living and the dead . . .”“But we might be able to call forth the genius loci, the spirit of this place,” said JC. “What all the previous guests left behind, that’s still powering the testing ground. A . . . representation, of all those people. And then we comfort them.”“So the manager was right,” said Melody. “This is an exorcism, after all. Do we need to bring in a priest? I hate that. They’re always so smug about it . . .”“No,” said JC. “This isn’t about good and evil, Heaven and Hell. Just people. We know how to deal with people. Come on. We’ve melded our minds together before, to help others. And isn’t that why we got into this job in the first place? To help people?”“Speak for yourself,” said Melody. “I got into it for access to technology I couldn’t find anywhere else.”“I got into it for access to arcane and unnatural chemicals,” said Happy.“And I got into it for the glory,” said JC. “But that’s not how it is now, is it?”“Not always,” said Melody.“Go team,” said Happy.“Let’s do it,” said Kim.She stepped forward, slipping effortlessly inside JC, her ghostly form superimposing itself on his body and disappearing inside it as they joined together. The golden glow from JC’s eyes sprang up all around his body, like an all-over halo. A sane, healthy light, it pushed back the flat, ugly illumination of the room. JC reached out to Happy and Melody, and they each took one of his hands. The golden light leapt out to surround them, too. Four good friends; a team joined together on every level there was.They all concentrated on the same shared thought; and the golden light blasted out from them to fill the whole room. Slowly, a presence stirred. Room 418 was waking up from a long, deep sleep. Another figure was suddenly standing in the room, a basic human shape with no details, no identity . . . It walked slowly forward, and the group opened up to accept and encompass it.You’re not alone, they said. Someone knows, and understands. Someone gives a damn. And isn’t that all any of us really needs to hear?Comforted at last, the figure faded away slowly.The Ghost Finders let go of each other and stepped back. The golden light snapped off. Melody and Happy were still holding hands. Kim stepped out of JC.“Damn,” said Happy. “What were we mainlining there? It felt like . . . raw spiritual power. There isn’t a pill in the world that could match that.”“Are you ready to swear off the mother’s little helpers now?” said JC.“No,” said Happy. “Sorry, JC. I’m still going to need a chemical crutch to lean on. For what little time I’ve got left.”JC nodded. He’d been doing this job long enough to know some problems don’t have answers. Or at least not one you can easily live with.“Feel the difference in the room,” he said. “Like the calm after a storm has passed. It’s over. It’s gone.”“I am really not comfortable with all this touchie-feelie hippy crap,” said Happy. “You’ll be wanting me to hug some trees next.”“I think I preferred it when you weren’t talking,” said JC. “So much more peaceful.”Happy looked at Melody and grinned. “Go on. You know you want to say it.”Melody struck a pose. “This room . . . is clean.”TWO

Editorial Reviews

Praise for the Ghost Finders Novels

“Thoroughly entertaining.”—Jim Butcher, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Dresden Files

“A roller-coaster ride with mounting stakes until an all-or-nothing climax.”—SFRevu

“[This series] is as good as the Nightside and the Secret Histories sagas.”—Alternative Worlds