Devil's Cove (Tortured Souls)(6)

By: R.C. Matthews

Smoothing her hands over her dress, Grace turned and called over her shoulder. “Brother Anselm, please come. Mrs. Evans will recover soon, I daresay, but there is a child lost in the forest that requires our help.”

“Oh, goodness,” Brother Anselm said, rushing to her side. “Lead on.”

Grace concentrated on the ghost’s voice as they ventured outside. Thankfully, the rain had stopped, but she strained to hear anything over the howling wind. The ghost wept constantly, drawing them farther and farther into the forest. Grace stumbled over fallen branches and large rocks, all the while trying to soothe the distraught ghost and steady her own growing unease. Devil’s Cove was a small town, and she could not recall having heard of a missing woman and child of late. Hadn’t the ghost said she had been trying to speak with Mr. Evans for days?

Brother Anselm puffed out deep breaths of exertion and paused, grabbing hold of Grace’s arm and pulling her to a stop. “Perhaps we should alert the constable first. Is this really a good idea, my child? It’s rather dark in the forest. What if we are set upon by wolves or bandits? We can’t help a child if we fall victim ourselves.”

No! You’re almost there … seven more steps or so.

Patting him on the arm, Grace shook her head and then trudged onward. “She’s up ahead, Brother. We mustn’t stop now.”

Brother Anselm emitted a resigned sigh behind her, and the gentle shuffle of his feet resumed. She counted steps: one, two, three, four, five …

Her foot collided with something solid, and she gasped, falling to her knees.

“Stop!” Brother Anselm said, horror evident in his tone. He gagged, and the sounds of his retching filled Grace’s ears just as a putrid stench filled her nostrils. Her heartbeat ticked faster, and she swallowed past the lump forming in her throat. The child must’ve been dead for quite some time already.

Isabelle, my poor, sweet Isabelle. She’s dead. My sweet baby is dead. You must ensure she receives a proper burial, Grace.

After scooching back a pace or two, Grace stood and turned away to drag in a lungful of fresh air. “Are you all right, Brother?”

He braced her by the shoulders and sighed. “Yes, and you?”

“Fine,” she whispered, willing her heart to steady once more. Her work was not done, but she wished for it to be over soon. At times like these, she would gladly accept the horrors of exorcising demons to the gut-wrenching pain of helping lost souls, especially that of a young child. “Jacqueline, you have my word that Isabelle’s body will be properly buried, but now you must go to her in Heaven. Allow me to help you reunite with your daughter.”

Chapter Three

Three days later …

A gust of wind blew through Grace’s hair, sending gooseflesh racing down her arms and reminding her why she despised sitting close to the tavern entrance. Only this time it was different as a hush settled over the boisterous room. Grace cocked her head to one side and listened closely. Nothing but the hiss of the gas lanterns could be heard. Not even the telltale squeak of the wooden floorboards as Mercy Seymour made her rounds, racing from table to table in a never-ending attempt to keep the tankards full. This was odd, indeed.

But even odder was the sense of foreboding that crept into Grace’s veins. She inhaled a deep breath, and her nostrils itched. Fear had a distinctive scent, and the air was rife with it. She shivered.

Mercy shuffled past Grace’s table, mumbling under her breath, and just like that, the muted voices resumed and the unsettling moment passed. As the clanking of forks against plates grew louder, Grace exhaled and tuned out every last speck of noise, homing in on the conversation taking place at the entrance. Ever since she had gone blind at the age of seven, her cochlear and olfactory nerves had sharpened to an astonishing level, almost as if God mourned the loss of her sight as much as she had and gifted her with heightened sense of sound, taste, and smell.

“Evening, sir,” Mercy said with the tiniest of tremors lilting on her words. “I’ve a fine table for you this way. Please follow me.”

The floorboards groaned under a heavy set of boots, and a mixture of fresh sea air and sandalwood assaulted Grace’s senses. She bit down on her lip when the footsteps paused, and her fingers tensed around the fork and knife she held steady over her plate. His heavenly scent enveloped her; he must be a fine fellow to smell so good. Her heartbeat thumped painfully against her ribs, and she hated herself in that moment for falling victim to vanity. However, she couldn’t help but wonder if the man stared at her in disgust, drawn with a morbid curiosity to gawk at the sightless spheres that rested in her eye sockets.

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