Read The Curse of Jacob Tracy: A Novel Online

Authors: Holly Messinger

Tags: #Fantasy, #Western, #Historical

The Curse of Jacob Tracy: A Novel (31 page)

BOOK: The Curse of Jacob Tracy: A Novel
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“May I get you anything?” Miss Fairweather asked. “Brandy, or some tea?”

“Thank you, I will take nothing before the séance.” Kieler shot a glance at Trace. “Er—were you wanting me to lead this session, or will Mr. Tracy—?”

“Oh, he merely works for me.” She waved a hand airily. “I only agreed to let him sit in on this session because he likes to dabble, himself.” She threw Trace a smile that would have been dazzling if it were the least bit sincere. “Min Chan, would you dim the lamps for us? What marvelous atmosphere we will have tonight! I could not have predicted a rainstorm for my first séance. Tell me, Herr Kieler, do you still perform for salons and house parties? I have not been very sociable since I came to America, but I think the better members of St. Louis society would be greatly amused by a Spiritualist dinner party, for all they are supposed to be

“Indeed, you may be right, dear lady. Shall we begin, then?” There was sweat on Kieler’s upper lip, despite the cool in the room.

Miss Fairweather, on the other hand, seemed flush with health and then some; the color in her cheeks was high and excited, her pale eyes and diamond earrings reflected gold from the candle flames.

“Herr Kieler, I want to look directly into your face.” Her hand pressed down on Trace’s sleeve as she brushed past:
Obediently, he pulled out the chair and sat. “Mr. Bosley, that leaves you the seat across from Mr. Tracy … Now, have I arranged this correctly? We are all aligned to the compass directions, although I suppose it would be better if I had invited another lady…”

“We will manage quite well, I think,” Kieler said, smiling at Trace. Some small signal of humor was in his eyes, perhaps amusement at the flightiness of his patroness. Trace wished he could share it, but the poor bastard was
pigeon, not the other way around, and Trace couldn’t see how it would go well for him.

Miss Fairweather settled herself at Trace’s right and flounced like an excited child, her fingertips pressed to the table. “Oh! Would you like a planchette? Or perhaps pen and ink? Do you practice automatic writing? Min Chan, will you—?”

The Chinese stepped forward from his attentive position behind Boz, but Kieler waved him away. “We will begin simply, I think. If you please to join hands?”

Trace met Boz’s eyes across the table and tried to look reassuring, as Miss Fairweather’s small, cool hand slid into his. He felt a faint tingle between their palms, an echo of whatever it was in her that complemented his power, but none of the hungry pulling of their last contact.

Until Kieler’s right hand clasped over his left.



Years ago, a much younger Jacob Tracy had attended a party hosted by a fellow who ran the local telegraph office. Late in the evening, after the obligatory rounds of Charades and Blind Man’s Bluff, the telegraph operator had suggested a new game. He’d crowded all the young people into his office and made them hold hands, and then sent a jolt of electricity through their clasped palms.

The shock Trace had felt then was minor compared to the one he got now, as if two opposing waves had collided around his heart. His power reacted to it, unfurling down the back of his neck, into his teeth, and down to the tips of his fingers, commingling and clashing with the foreign energies flowing into his hands. They pushed at him, Miss Fairweather and Kieler, testing each other through him, neither willing to relinquish an inch. Kieler’s grip was cold and drawing, tasting of that same bottomless hunger Trace had felt in Miss Fairweather the day before.

He almost pulled away, but her hand tightened on his. “This is all so exciting!” Her voice was giddy but her gaze, locked on Trace’s, was dead calm. “I confess I would be quite terrified if I were not in my own home, surrounded by the safe and familiar.”

Trace relaxed, but not much. He looked across the table at Boz, wondering if he felt anything strange, but Boz was watching Kieler.

The German’s eyes were half-shut, his chin high, his posture aristocratic. He looked suddenly older, and at the same time more substantial, his fine bones made bold by the shadows. “We vill focus on ze flames,” he said, his accent thickening as his concentration turned to other purposes, “und we will clear our minds of all thoughts…”

Boz’s eyes met Trace’s across the table. Trace gave him a nod, as much reassurance as he could offer without words, and then lowered his gaze to the flickering candles.

Their pull was immediate, drawing his attention downward and filling in the outer edges of his vision with black. At the same time, he felt a slacking in his mind, a letting-go of awareness. The edge of the table against his forearms, the crackle of the fireplace in his ears, Miss Fairweather’s grip on his hand—all became faint and far away, as his focus narrowed to the tiny heart of a candle flame.

“And we are very relaxed, at peace, and feeling ever-so-slightly drowsy. We haff the sensation of being wrapped in cotton wool, and it is very cozy…”

Kieler’s voice was slowing and lowering in pitch, as if Trace was hearing him through a fever. The candlelight splintered in his vision and his head rocked back but he caught himself, teetering on the edge of sleep. He struggled to blink, to pull his vision into focus.

“And we are still focusing on the candles … They are the only things we see, now…”

The table was seesawing gently as a raft on the Mississippi, and Kieler was dragging him toward the edge; the fine cool grip on his right hand was the only thing keeping him afloat. He tried to pull away but she clung to him and he saw, as if through a telescope, the long hard road that lay that way, the depth of her need and the toll it was going to take on him if he didn’t get free soon—

“And we give ourselves with perfect trust … and bid
to those who come … We are bidding dem welcome…”

The table was tilting, the candles sliding, the faces around him drawing out long, mouths and eyes hollow, limbs stretching, reaching, grasping—

“So gently we slide into darkness…”

“Boz,” he managed, “don’t let me—”

” said Kieler, and Trace did.

It was like going underwater, or stepping off the edge of awake into the first floating stages of sleep. Nothingness poured into his senses and closed over him without a ripple. He went down and down and then up and then there was no direction anymore, all directions were one and he was in all of them.

From a dreamlike distance he felt his body crumple like an empty rucksack, but it was impossible to care. He didn’t have time to struggle, and anyway there was nothing to struggle against. No sound, no color, no sensation. That great void was where the beating of his heart had gone unnoticed for thirty-eight years, that vacuum where air had swirled through his ears and lungs.

He was still in the room. But he was also
the room and
the room and
a part of
the room. All the normal directions and distinctions no longer applied. He was in the table and the flame, the velvet of Miss Fairweather’s skirt and the sweat on Boz’s brow.

“Trace?” Boz said, alarmed, as Trace’s body crumpled. He rocked forward to stand, but a band of leather lassoed around his chest and cinched him tight against the chair back. The flat, hard hand of Min Chan encircled his throat, pulling his head back taut. “What the

move, Mr. Bosley.” Miss Fairweather was out of her chair as well but she had not let go of Trace’s hand. She seized the tablecloth with her free hand and yanked it to the floor, revealing an elaborate design painted on the table’s polished face. From the velvet folds of her skirt she drew a slim, shining scalpel. Keeping her fingers laced with Trace’s, she unfolded her hand enough to made a short, precise cut across her palm.

“What are you
woman?” Boz heaved in the Chinese’s grip, but Miss Fairweather was undeterred. She dipped her ring finger in the pooling blood and touched it to various points on the tabletop diagram, murmuring as she did so:
“Sanguis hic meus hominen hunc mortalem mihi ligat; ei panacea, protegeum, defensio impenetrabilis est…”

This my blood binds this mortal man to me; for him it is panacea, protection, impenetrable defense …
It wasn’t Church Latin, but Trace had no trouble grasping the meaning.

The lady is more than she reveals, ja?
Kieler said, and Trace turned his attention toward the German. The little man’s body was likewise slumped over the table, but his spirit was standing there next to Trace—insofar as either of them was standing, or in relative proximity.

Lot of that goin around.
The speaking didn’t involve using his mouth. Nor was it using words, exactly, but Kieler seemed to understand him well enough.

I must apologize for the deception. I feared I would not have another opportunity. This is your first time in the spirit realm?

Yeah, actually.

And how are you finding it?

It ain’t bad.

It was as Agatha had said—there was no color, and little light, but he could see quite clearly. Most of the room was illuminated, but dull and flat, like contours in a fog. Kieler put out a little of his own light, but Trace outshone him like the sun did the moon. He could both see and feel the power emanating off himself and stealing toward Kieler. There was a sensation of cold, like a draft, the only thing he could really feel except for the anchoring tug of Miss Fairweather’s grip.

“Sanguis hic meus hostem quisque ab nobis repellat; Isti intrusori venenum fatalis, contagii, clades inevitabilis est…”

This my blood repels the hostile foe; to any intruder it is poison, pestilence, inevitable ruin …

So I take it the two of you weren’t in this together?
Trace said.

Goodness, no. Her deception is a surprise to both of us. I only hope my Master arrives before she can complete her spell.

If you’re tryin to recruit me for Mereck’s sideshow I coulda saved you the trouble.

The Master only initiates the very best, dear boy,
Kieler said, with gracious condescension.
You are far too crude to be chosen for his family, but your power should win me great favor with him.

Miss Fairweather dabbed Trace’s brows and mouth with her blood, while Boz watched in riveted horror.

Now what’s she doin?

I do not know … sorcery is not my forte. Ah … here is one who can tell us.

Cold rushed into the nothing, making it a brittle and hostile place: one of the upper layers of hell. And suddenly Trace was afraid. His body in the chair jerked in reaction; he felt it but had no control.

Kieler said.
Mein meister. I have brought you a gift.

Malignancy swirled around them, curious, aloof, ravenous. Trace tried to retreat from it, but when distance was immaterial, there was no place to escape to. It piled around him like a thundercloud.

He is young and strong as I was,
Kieler said.
He will provide you better sustenance than I.

Icy claws sank into Trace’s soul. He screamed, but his agony made no sound, only rippled the nothingness around him.

“What are you doin to him?” Boz demanded, as Trace’s body again jerked in the chair.

“It’s not I,” Miss Fairweather snapped. “He must have been watching already.”



The claws withdrew, leaving Trace scattered and numb, shuddering with revulsion. The hungry swirling paused, to listen.
it said.

“Yes,” Miss Fairweather said, her voice a vicious purr. “It is I,
—but no longer the student.” She drew the knife across Trace’s palm and ground her own hand into the raw wound.

A shock of power snaked through him like a whip, reaming out his veins like acid. The coldness spasmed, stretching and ripping through Trace’s soul in its effort to withdraw from him. Trace jerked away, collected the scattered parts of himself and pulled. For a moment he was free, but then Kieler seized hold of him, made strong by desperation.

Nein! Nein! He will have you! He will have you and let me go!

The black thing lunged. Trace dodged, and then Mereck and Kieler were tangled up and the German was screaming,
I did not know! I did not know her! She does not bear your mark!

Miss Fairweather was shouting something he couldn’t understand through the psychic din, but he felt her tether go taut on him, and Boz was calling his name. Slaps landed on his face, faint echoes out here in the fog. For a heartbeat he felt warmth and air on his skin, but then he was pulled down again—Kieler’s soul was being consumed and its death created a vortex that threatened to drag him in.

“Trace! Wake up, dammit!”

“Fight him, Mr. Tracy! You are as strong as he!”

I know your name,
he said to the swirling black appetite.
She calls you Mereck, but I name you Deceiver.

It roared at him, and Trace kicked for the surface.

He breached with a great sucking of air, pushed through a tingling of sensation and a pop as his ears opened. He flailed, muscles spasming at the shock of connection, found himself on the floor beside the table, with Boz kneeling over him and Miss Fairweather still clinging to his hand. His ears rang, he tasted blood in his throat, and his skin seemed too tight and heavy, but he could feel Boz’s arm about his shoulders and was grateful for it.

Miss Fairweather took Trace’s face in both her hands. “Look at me, Mr. Tracy. What’s my name?”

“Fairweather,” he croaked.
that other voice had called her.

“And who is this man here?”


“Good. Very good,” she muttered. “Better than I expected. Rest here a moment; the disorientation will pass.”

BOOK: The Curse of Jacob Tracy: A Novel
4.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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