The Barrier: Case Four- Chapter Two

Riley could feel herself coming to but wanted to fight it. The spirits were still connecting and reconnecting. She groaned and desperately tried to push against them, but she couldn’t. She was stuck as she felt them try over and over. It was as though she could feel each one of them, digging their way until they were under her skin. Her mind was racing, trying to find a solution before it overwhelmed her, and she passed out again.

“STOP!” Riley finally screamed. She forced herself up, she could vaguely feel an old couch underneath her fingers. Her eyes felt glued closed, so worrying about where she was would have to come later. “I have connected with all of you, but every time you try to re-establish a connection, it just confuses and is painful,” she snapped. “And it will just keep making me pass out. I can’t help you if I am passed out,” she finished her rant a little breathless.

The group was focused on watching Riley, they had been a little shocked when she first woke up and yelled. Ethan took a step towards her, but Miller stopped him.

“I need you all to settle. I understand you are confused and scared, but we have connected, and that connection will not pass until you do.” Riley paused and took a few deep breaths. Finally, she felt like her skin and had settled, and they were no longer pushing her. She finally opened her eyes.

She took in her surroundings; the building was dusty and beyond simple disrepair. It would take the owners years to compensate for the neglect if they ever hoped to open the lodge again. They were in the main room at the front of the lodge, which included a little check-in desk and a large living room. Behind her were stairs that looked fragile at best. She hoped they wouldn’t need to go upstairs much, if at all. On either side of the large room were doors leading to hallways. She assumed they were rooms and that there weren’t too many, given how the outside looked. It was daylight out still, but the level of dust almost acted like drapes and gave the appearance of early evening. She was surprised the group hadn’t turned on any lights.

“Seven?” Miller asked.

“That have connected with me, there is one more though I am fairly certain, but it is trying to hide from me. I am afraid to push, given the depth of the current connections and how hard I might have to, to connect with the missing one. I might have to though, I have a feeling it is really important.”

“And the other presence?” Miller pushed.

“Yeah, I feel it. It’s different though, I’ve never felt something like this.”

“I am not sure what it is, but it’s not a normal spirit no,” Miller replied, leaning back.

The group stiffened a bit. They had dealt with things that did not classify as spirits before, but it was rare, and it was always a problem. Ethan was especially concerned, he had hoped that Riley would have more training and experience under her belt before dealing with something like this. He was mad that he had not considered the possibility. Everything about the haunting from what the people had told him seemed so normal, though.

“Can you tell me anything about the spirits?” Emily asked, desperate to get more research done.

“All girls, all fairly young. Late teens, early twenties. I am having issues getting anything direct from them as far as details beyond that. They are scared, and I am fairly confident they don’t want to be here.”

“The eighth, or whatever the other thing is, could be influencing them to stay,” Miller said.

“Or forcing,” Josh said gravely. If that were the case, then it meant that not only whatever it was was different and therefore more dangerous, but powerful as well.

Riley noticed that Emily was still watching her and seemed anxious. “I am letting them settle, then I can try to get more,” Riley tried to assure Emily. Her heart was still beating quickly, and the weight of the spirits was heavy. Riley had never imagined that this invisible connection would have such a physical feeling attached to it.

“Are you sure the one hiding is not the one causing it? Maybe the other thing you think you sense is not actually there,” Ethan asked, sitting next to Riley while avoiding physical contact.

“I can’t say I know anything for sure, but I don’t think the reason she is hiding is guilt or anything like that. It seems more like fear or distrust. I also don’t think Miller and I could both be tricked into thinking something else is here.”

“She?” Emily said a little, hopefully.

“I don’t know that the answers are with them,” Riley said sadly. “I mean, we do need to figure out how they got here, but I get the distinct impression that whatever is causing the hauntings now was already here when it claimed the girls.”

“Damn it,” Emily huffed.

Riley gave a deep sigh and tried anyway. “Do any of you know who brought you here?” Riley called out, then closed her eyes tightly as panic overtook the spirits again.

“They start to back off when you ask them direct questions. This is going to be very difficult,” Miller commented.

“More like impossible,” Riley said. “They are too scared to tell me anything, and I won’t push them. We need another plan,” Riley stated firmly. She could feel the spirits seeming to grab her and thanking her.

“Riley, I need something to go on,” Emily pleaded. She didn’t want to be angry with her friend, but not having any information was driving her to the edge. Seeing Riley pass out and then hearing them talk about something worse than a spirit was uncoiling what little control she had. “Maybe they are hiding information because they know you are going to coddle them.”

“I know that Emily and I want to help us, of course, I do. I also want to help them. Pushing them won’t get us answers, so I refuse to traumatize them. We need to focus on the other spirit or whatever it is that is holding them here.”

“How do you know that?!” Emily snapped. Even she was a bit surprised with herself, she normally had problems controlling herself but not to this extent.

“You just watched me try, you heard what Miller said. Besides, knowing is kind of what I do.”

“Yes, because you’ve been doing this for so long,” Emily huffed, walking out of the room.

Riley sighed and cradled her head in her hands. Ethan watched her, he ached seeing how hurt she was and was a little confused by Emily’s reaction. She was always a bit emotional, but this felt like a bit much and too fast.

“Riley,” he said softly.

“I know what I am talking about Ethan,” Riley replied in a whisper. She didn’t want to fight him too. “I know that empaths can be tricked, but I have more training now, and this is different. Miller even backs me up.”

“I do,” Caroline said but then moved away so that Ethan could talk with her privately. She could sense that Ethan wasn’t about to fight with Riley on this one.

“I believe you, Emily is just stressed. We need something, but if you believe demanding answers from the spirits that have connected will get us nowhere, I will trust you on that,” Ethan assured her.

“I need them to trust me and to know I won’t push them. Then maybe they will help me talk to the other one.” Riley looked up, meeting his eyes. “I am not giving up or refusing, I just can’t do what Emily wants.”

“It is not even what Emily wants, she just wants something to start with.” Ethan could see that she was about to fight, so he held up a hand and continued. “And I am not saying she is right, just giving you an idea of her motivation. You and I are the ones that decide how we move forward. Emily will come around.”

Miller, meanwhile, had been moving around the main area of the lodge. “Wherever this other spirit is, they are very good at hiding.”

“She doesn’t trust us,” Riley said, looking up at Miller.

“Typically, that is the reason spirits hide, yes,” Miller replied, annoyed. Riley was almost relieved the old Miller was back and smiled a bit before answering.

“But it’s specific in this case. It’s us, not the living in general but our group. That is the sense I am getting. Or at the very least that our group has come along after they’ve given up on the living, so they are suspicious of us and our intention.”

“Both equally likely,” Gabrielle jumped in. “Spirits often question the motivations of groups like ours. They realize our attempts to help are more pragmatic than the simple desire to help. Not only that but we also generally show up when things are at their worst or at least getting there.”

“So we know nothing, but we know that we know nothing. Great,” Riley said, leaning back.

“Questions are better than nothing,” Josh said.

“In most cases,” Riley replied.

Everybody remained quiet and thoughtful for a few beats while Miller still tried to see if she could find the hiding spirit. She eventually went to Riley.

“You need to convince them to let you talk to the other spirit.”

“Why me?”

“Because Miller is smart enough to know your intentions are the purist,” Gabrielle replied. “Even Emily wants more than to just help them. You may fear and doubt yourself, but part of what makes you a good empath is that you have actual empathy. You don’t just feel their pain because it’s literal for you, you feel it because you actually care. You truly want to help them with their pain, and it’s impossible to hide that.”

Riley didn’t reply, instead looked down at her hands. They were shaking, and she was having issues steadying her breathing. “I need some time alone,” she said, standing and walking out on the porch surrounding the lodge.

She realized it must have been a while because the sun was starting to set. The oppressive feeling she was hit with when they first arrived in the area remained. It was as though a heavy fog had set over the whole area. Quickly Riley started settling her breathing and tried to ignore her reaction to the location itself. Yes, it was a bit unsettling, but she was letting it get to her more than she needed when her focus should be on the spirits.

She found a comfortable place to sit and closed her eyes, letting her mind drift and empty as much as possible. When she had relaxed, at least as much as she was able, she opened her eyes and found herself taking comfort in the woods instead of feeling overwhelmed by them. It reminded her of Jack and of home. She settled even more and reached out.

“I need your help,” she whispered. When the spirits started to flutter again, she spoke quickly. “I won’t ask you any questions, I know you can’t answer. I want to help you, and they do too. They might have other reasons for wanting to, but at the end of the day, we all truly want to help you be safe and at peace.”

Riley relaxed and let the spirits test her for a moment, feeling them pushing once again. This time she remained calm, though. They were testing, processing, deciding. Instinct took over where doubts had once been, and she knew she needed to let them do this. When the fluttering settled, Riley smiled a bit.

“Just tell the one that is hiding that I need to speak to them. They don’t need to connect to me, I just want to talk.” Riley exhaled in relief as the fluttering spirits all moved off in various directions. They were still connected, but they were no longer attempting to maintain a close ‘physical’ connection as it were. Her hands were still a little shaky, but she was beginning to feel a lot better and allowed herself a moment to enjoy it.

“Well, hello there, empath,” a voice entered her mind. Riley jumped up quickly. “You have been talking to my pets, I see.” The malice in the voice hit her like a wave. This was the other thing that she could not identify. Its voice was gravely and hoarse, as though it had been overused. Underneath was almost an echo, a tone not of this world. It sent chills all over her body, and she suddenly longed for the uncomfortable feeling the spirits gave her over this.

She gathered her courage, though, and responded. “They are spirits and were once living beings; they are no one’s pets,” Riley snapped. She felt a quick jerk on her arm that tugged her slightly.

“Look at that, it’s not just emotions I can connect with, it seems. This will be fun,” it replied, and even though she couldn’t see Riley could feel its cruel smile.

“If you want to play games, at least give me a chance. Who are you?”

“That’s more than a chance, I would think. I can give you a hint though.”

“Okay,” Riley said slowly and hesitantly.

“I am a lord, and I am not one to trifle with,” his voice sneering.

Suddenly Riley felt something circle around her neck and tighten. It wasn’t enough to kill her, but it did make it difficult to breathe. She instinctively started to try to pull it off, but there was nothing there. A few of the spirits came back, fluttering and panicked.

“Get help,” Riley choked out, tears coming to her eyes from the pressure.

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