Authors: Michael Richan
By Michael Richan
By the author:
The Dark River series:
All three series are part of
and there is crossover of some characters and plots. For a
suggested reading order, see the
Copyright 2014 by Michael Richan
All Rights Reserved.
characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This book is available in print at
most online retailers.
Published by Dantull (148215127A)
“This is bullshit!”
As Steven was unpacking things, his father Roy was
complaining. He’d complained most of the drive from Seattle, and he wasn’t
“And why do we have to share a room? This dump can’t cost
more than twenty bucks a night. Eliza’s friends must be cheap. I’d advise
against taking your shoes off, they’ve carpeted the place with tar paper.”
Steven ignored him and kept unpacking. It would do little good
to argue with Roy or to try and get him to see the bright side of things. Roy
was in a mood, and Steven had seen the mood before. Best to just let it play
out. He wished Eliza would come over to their room; at least when she was
around, Roy kept the bitching under control. During the two hour drive from
Seattle, Roy had let a handful of negative comments slip, but Steven could tell
he was censoring himself for Eliza’s sake. Now that Eliza was off unpacking in
her own room, Roy was letting all the pent-up complaining out like a balloon
releasing its air.
“Of course there’s no coffee maker, the roaches have carried
it off,” Roy said.
“Dad, enough,” Steven said. “This is the only motel in town.
I don’t think it was a deliberate choice just to upset you.”
“Why couldn’t we stay in Olympia?” he asked. “Or Aberdeen? At
least I wouldn’t feel like I need an immunization.”
“They’re an hour away. I’m guessing our hosts would have
thought it impolite to put us that far out and make us drive it every day when
there was a place right here in town.”
“You’re calling that shit hole we just drove through a town?”
Roy asked. “I’ve had bigger pimples on my ass.”
“Dad, please,” Steven said, setting a shirt down on his bed
in frustration. “It’s been non-stop bitching since we left Seattle.”
“Well, I don’t like it.”
“That much is obvious,” Steven said, picking the shirt back
up and putting it in a small dresser in the corner of the motel room. A knock
came at the door.
“Now what?!” Roy said, exasperated, as though any little
thing was likely to piss him off even more.
Steven walked to the door and opened it. There was Eliza
smiling at him, her chaotic hair swirling around her head. Immediately Steven
felt better. Something about Eliza calmed him; he hoped she would calm Roy back
“Come in,” Steven said.
“Everyone decent?” she asked, stepping in.
“I thought you’d still be unpacking,” Roy growled. “Don’t
women take longer to unpack than us guys?”
“I never unpack in motels or hotels,” Eliza said. “Everything
stays in the suitcase, ready to go in a moment’s notice. Can’t see the sense in
repacking it all a few days later.” She walked into their room and sat in the
single padded chair in the corner. “Cozy!” she said.
“Yes, tiny,” Roy said, grumbling under his breath.
“Roy, what’s wrong?” Eliza asked. “You’ve seemed unhappy the
Steven winced, hoping Eliza hadn’t just stirred things back
up. She didn’t know Roy well enough to realize how moody he could get
sometimes, and Roy was currently on a whopper. They’d met Eliza the previous
year, and had only been around each other a few times since then. They both
enjoyed her company. She was an imposing presence in any room, very put-together
and in-charge. She had a son who was ten, staying with friends back at her home
in California. She had flown up to Seattle and the three of them had taken
Steven’s car out to Montessa.
“He’s just grumpy,” Steven said. “It’ll pass.”
“Tell me again why we’re out here?” Roy asked. “The guy’s
“Jonathan Winstead,” she answered. “I’ve known him for years.
He called and asked for my help. He was looking for a team of people. I volunteered
you two, thinking you’d enjoy it. He said he needed good people for this, and
that made me immediately think of you.” She shot Roy a big smile. He turned
away when he saw it.
“And if I recall correctly,” Steven said, “we both agreed to
“That was before I smelled the odor in this room,” Roy said.
“It’s like someone puked and they couldn’t get it cleaned up.”
“Funny,” Eliza said, “I’m normally very sensitive to bad
smells, but I don’t notice anything in here. The accommodations are pretty low
end, that’s for sure. But my room seems fine enough.”
Roy uttered a muffled “humphf!” and Steven was grateful
Eliza’s presence was modulating Roy. He’d always had a turbulent relationship
with his father, and had found it easier to keep his distance from him, until
last year when he needed his father’s help. Steven found himself living in a
haunted house, and it was Roy who convinced him that he wasn’t crazy – there
really were ghosts in the world, and Roy knew how to deal with them. Roy had
“the gift” and he turned Steven on to the fact that he had the gift too. For
the past year, Steven had been learning how to use it, with Roy’s help.
It had been “the gift” that caused them to meet Eliza. They’d
been helping friends in Oregon sort out a haunting in their bed and breakfast,
and the task was bigger than either of them expected. They wound up meeting
Eliza and the three became friends. Eliza was also gifted, and she was active
in protecting buried artifacts in northern California. With Eliza’s help they
managed to eradicate the problem at the bed and breakfast. Now Eliza had wrapped
them up in a task to help her friend Jonathan. Last week she called them both
to see if they’d be willing to invest a few days to help her friend deal with a
situation on the peninsula. They both agreed to do it, and had driven out from
Seattle that morning.
“Jonathan said a van would pick us up at three,” Eliza said,
checking her watch. “That’s ten minutes from now.”
“And take us where?” Roy asked.
“He said he’d fill us in once we’re there,” she replied.
“Seems a little mysterious,” Steven said. “Don’t you want to
know more about this before you get involved?”
“We all help each other in times of crisis,” Eliza said. “I’ve
helped him before, and he’s done a few things for me. All I know at this point
is that it involves a group of us.”
“Do you know who is in the group?” Steven asked.
“Besides you two, myself, and Jonathan, no. I believe there
are three or four others, all gifted.”
“But you don’t know who they are?” Steven asked. He’d never
been comfortable meeting new people.
Eliza rose from the chair and walked over to Steven. She
placed her hand on his arm. “Think of it as networking,” she said. “You’ll meet
more friends with the gift, and that’s more people that can help you when you
Steven smiled at her. Eliza’s calming influence had worked
They heard a car horn honking outside the room. “He’s a
little early,” Roy said. They grabbed coats and their room keys, and left the
The motel consisted of fifteen rooms and an office, all
ground level, all running in a straight line. Parking was immediately in front
of each room. A few doors down, a brown van was parked. There were two men in
the front seats. The man in the passenger seat waved at them.
“That’s Jonathan,” Eliza said, walking towards the van.
Steven noticed a couple of doors opening to the motel rooms, and people
emerging. They were all slowly convening at the van.
Jonathan hopped out of the passenger’s side and slid the door
of the van open. He was tall and thin, wearing a suit and tie, a matching
handkerchief emerging from his suit pocket. He had dark hair that was perfectly
cut, and a wide smile exposing brilliant white teeth.
That’s one of the
biggest smiles I’ve ever seen,
Eliza probably considers
Eliza gave Jonathan a hug and then introduced Roy and Steven.
They all shook hands. Steven felt Jonathan held the handshake a second too
long. “Please, get in,” Jonathan said, motioning with his hand. They piled into
the van, the three of them taking the seat in the back, Eliza in the middle.
One by one the others appeared at the van’s entrance and they
greeted Jonathan, then situated themselves in the remaining seats. Jonathan
introduced each person as they arrived. First was Marilyn Mackinerny, who was
short and thin, and a little high strung. Steven noticed that every movement
she made seemed to involve more movement than necessary. She wore a small hat
that was pinned to her head, and she carried a small dog that looked no bigger
than a pot roast. The dog’s eyes bulged from the sides of its head, as though
there wasn’t enough room in the animal’s body to contain them.
“Are you sure you want to bring the dog?” Jonathan asked
after greeting her.
She turned to enter the van. “Wherever I go, Mister S. goes!”
She slid into the seat in front of Steven, Eliza and Roy, saying a cheery “Hello!”
as she did so, then turned to face forward. Roy leaned forward to look around
Eliza at Steven. He looked ready to pop. Steven looked back at him, shaking his
head with a warning to Roy to not say anything. Eliza stifled a snicker.
Next to arrive at the van was a man at least a foot shorter
than Jonathan. He was dressed in a bright suit with a vest. He had blond, wavy
hair and a goatee that was manicured to perfection. As he stuck his hand out to
shake Jonathan’s, Steven could see three rings on it that glistened in the sun.
He turned to enter the van.
“Everyone, this is Russell Powers, you probably already know
him from television,” Jonathan said.
“Oh!” Steven heard Eliza say under her breath. Steven didn’t
know who this man was, but Eliza clearly did. He noticed her sitting up a
little more in the seat as Russell entered the van.
“Pleased to meet you all,” Russell said, sitting on the seat
next to Marilyn. Steven could see Marilyn’s dog turn to eye Russell. Its small
lips were rising up over its small white teeth, exposing its pink gums.
“We have one more coming,” Jonathan said, “so I’m afraid it
will be a little tight.”
“We’ll make it work,” Russell said, but didn’t slide over.
After a few moments, the final passenger arrived at the van
door and greeted Jonathan. She was a solid, stocky woman who appeared to be
rapidly marching to the van as opposed to walking. She wore a tightly fitting skirt
and jacket that gave the impression of a moving refrigerator. Her hair was firmly
formed into two large curls on the sides of her head. She didn’t smile as she
shook Jonathan’s hand, and she didn’t stop as she entered the van and pushed
her way into the seat next to Russell. He had no choice but to slide over next
to Marilyn. Jonathan was introducing the woman by name to the rest of the van,
but the dog yapped and snapped at Russell, stealing Steven’s attention.
“You’ll keep that thing muzzled, will you?” Russell said.
“That’s his natural reaction to fraud,” Marilyn said.
“He’ll get my natural reaction if you don’t clamp his mouth
shut,” Russell replied.
Roy laughed out loud. Marilyn glanced behind to Roy, giving
him a disapproving look. Then she pursed her lips and returned her gaze
Jonathan hopped into the passenger seat and turned to address
the group as the van began to back up and leave the parking area. Steven
noticed that a toothpick had appeared in Jonathan’s mouth, which hung from the
side of his mouth as he talked. The van’s muffler was making a lot of noise,
and Jonathan had to raise his voice in order to be heard. “Thank you all for
coming. We have only a couple minutes’ ride to the estate. Driving the van is Kent
Percival. He’s the owner of Percival Realty in town, and he’s our host. Once we
get there, we’ll have an early dinner and I’ll be able to answer all your
questions – it’ll be a lot easier than trying to shout the answers here in the
van. Then after dinner, we’ll start our first session.”
Steven leaned over to Eliza. “Feels like we have to jump in
with both feet first, before we find out what we’re jumping into.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I know Jonathan. He’s a good guy.
Whatever is up, it’ll be on the level.”
Steven sat back and wondered how well she knew Jonathan. He
looked at the back of Jonathan’s head, admiring how perfect the hair was from
this angle. Then he turned and watched the scenery drift by. It took only a
minute to leave the tiny town and enter a two lane road that snaked north
through dense forest. The conifers grew right up to the side of the road here,
making it appear as though the road was a slot track. Occasionally a break in
the trees would whiz by, exposing a small dirt side road that twisted deeper
into the trees. This was the kind of forest that really unnerved Steven. It was
so dense that if you found yourself in it, it was difficult to move around
because tree branches meshed with other tree branches, all the way down to the
ground. It made him claustrophobic to look into it as it slid by.
It wasn’t long before the van slowed and turned onto a nicely
paved road. An elegant and tasteful sign at the side of the road said “Unser
Estate – Tours Daily” but a hand-painted sign had been nailed over the “Tours
Daily” part that read “Closed.”