The continuing adventures of Lizzie Bell, semi-retired ghost hunter and reluctant exorcist. (Part Five)
Corinna was right — even in a sundress and blazer I was severely under-dressed for the neighborhood. I passed children better dressed than I was on my way to the address Father O’Leary gave me. Children wearing Chanel.
New York is crazy.
I found the building. An impeccably uniformed doorman called up to the twelfth floor to announce my arrival (there wasn’t even an apartment number, which means their apartment is the entire floor), and escorted me to the elevator which was manually operated by a human being, also in a smart uniform. By the time I stepped onto the landing on twelve, I was pretty convinced I had entered some strange alternate universe.
Yeah, the girl who sees ghosts is weirded out by a doorman and a bellhop. Go figure.
I knocked on the door.
Immediately the door opened, revealing a well-dressed woman in her late forties. She was wearing a khaki pencil skirt and white blouse, her only concession to being at home her bare feet.
“Hi,” she said, sounding slightly out of breath. “I’m Caroline Lawlor. You must be Elizabeth.” She offered her hand to shake.
“Lizzie,” I replied, taking it. “Nice to meet you.”
“Please, come in. Would you like something to drink before –”
Caroline was interrupted by a piercing scream, a shriek that echoed through the apartment and made my hair stand on end. I breathed in sharply, surprised. Caroline flinched, and in that tiny movement I read weeks of worry and genuine fear.
“I think I’d better get started right away,” I said.
“Yes.” Caroline stepped aside, allowing me to enter. “This way,” she said. Father O’Leary is already here.”
She led me down a lushly appointed hallway, stopping at a door papered with art: butterflies and flowers illustrated by inexpert hands, collages made from magazine cutouts, and in the center a marker drawing that proclaimed the space “Emily’s Room”. I braced myself.
Possessions are never pretty.
As Caroline opened the door, the first thing that struck me was the scent. A musty mix of stale urine, sweat, and the bright copper overtone of blood assaulted my nose. I sneezed.
Father O’Leary sat in the corner, his head in his hands. He looked up as we came in. I gestured to him to wait; I wanted to see what I was up against with my own eyes, free of outside interpretations.
A little girl was tied to the bed. Her blonde hair was matted, and her clothes stained. I suspected most of the dark patches were either spit or vomit, though the lingering smell of urine told me she’d wet the bed at some point too. They had somehow acquired leather restraints, the kinds used in prisons and mental health wards. The girl was straining against them so hard, I worried she would hurt herself.
I walked closer. “Why is she restrained?” I asked. It wasn’t an accusation — possessions take hold of different people different ways. Some get violent. Some go catatonic. Some think they can fly. “Was she attacking you?”
“She- she was attacking herself.” Caroline hiccuped as she answered, a suppressed sob.
As I stepped closer, I saw that it was true – the girl’s arms were covered in scratches, some nearly healed, others still fresh and pink. I examined her hands, noticing her broken and jagged nails. She flexed them ineffectually – with her wrists in the restraints, she couldn’t reach any skin. Still, she tried.
Self mutilation was unusual for a possession – usually ghosts are anxious to protect their vessels. I wondered suddenly if the scratching was Emily – perhaps she was fighting to get the spirit out?
I leaned over the bed. The girl looked up at me, her eyes wild, and hissed like a cat. “I see you, Hex-eye,” she said, spitting out the words as if they burned her tongue. “I see you, Elizabeth Bell.”
My blood turned to ice in my veins.