Only a few months have passed since the day Kester Lanner forced an angry ghost through the spirit door, but business prospects for Dr. Ribero's supernatural agency haven’t improved. Things are looking grim when the agency lands a contract which they must share with a rival agency headed by Dr Ribero’s sworn enemy, Larry Higgins. Desperate for the job, the team accepts and begins to investigate the seaside town of Lyme Regis, where elderly victims are dying.
The same mysterious clue links the horrendous deaths: the victims all see a double of themselves before dying. The teams wonder if they are dealing with a rogue doppelgänger, one that isn’t content just predicting deaths, but carrying them out as well. The victims’ connection to an ancient grave site leads to speculation that they may have disturbed a spirit more powerful than the two agencies can handle.
One thing is certain, the won’t stop unless Kester and the others can overcome their rivalry and stop this deadly spirit.
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About the Author
Regular forays into fictional realms at a young age created a desire for more, and she soon began to create alternate realities through writing. After teaching English Literature to teens, she set up her own copywriting company and turned her love for the written word into a full-time career. However, the desire to create never went away, so Lucy turned her insomnia into a useful tool—penning her novels in the wee small hours of the night and the stolen moments of the day.
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The Demise of Deirdre
Still partly pillowed in the comforting dregs of a dream, Deirdre Baxter opened her eyes. She looked up, and, to her surprise, found herself staring straight into a mirror, barely inches from her nose. She blinked in confusion. Her reflection blinked back, bemused, wrinkled around the edges and owlish with sleep.
This in itself wasn't strange. What was peculiar was that the mirror hadn't been there before. Even odder, the mirror seemed to be hovering in the air and glistened with a moist, shimmering light.
Deirdre winced. Her reflection winced in response. She held out a wondering finger, thought better of it, then burrowed her hand under the duvet.
"Errol?" she hissed. The reassuring hump of her husband grumbled in response, rolling like a minor earthquake. "Errol dear, are you awake?"
No, but I am.
Deirdre jumped. The voice was soft as a whisper in her head, though, simultaneously, it clanged as discordantly as a broken bell. She sat up as fast as her arthritis would permit, heart racing. Why didn't I hit my head on the mirror when I sat up? she wondered, eyes scanning the darkness. Where has it gone?
"Jesus Christ, Errol, wake up!" Deirdre squawked and prodded her husband as hard as possible on the rump. He drew a deep breath. She waited for him to speak. Instead, he passed wind, a low, reverberating whine under the bed-covers, before exhaling in satisfaction. Deirdre pursed her lips, wishing, not for the first time, that she had divorced him back in the nineties when she'd had the chance.
"Whadd'ya want?" he murmured, still full of sleep.
"I can see myself!" she exclaimed, unable to tear her eyes away. "Right there, in front of me!"
The mirror quivered at the base of the bed. Except it wasn't a mirror. She could see that now. There was no frame around the reflection, no shine of glass in the milky moonlight, no flatness to the figure that floated in front of her.
My god, it really is me, she realised, momentarily fascinated into silence. There I am, standing, looking at myself, by the foot of my bed.
"Go back to sleep, you daft woman," Errol mumbled, then tugged the duvet over his head. His snoring resumed with impressive ease. Deirdre fought the temptation to clobber him with the nearest heavy item to hand.
The other-Deirdre smiled, raising a hand. Her fingers were laced with a grey-blue aura, as spectral as wisps of spider web in the air. Deirdre didn't quite know what to do, so she raised her own hand in response.
I'm sure this is a dream, she thought, forcing herself to calm down. After all, things like this don't happen in real life, so it must be. She studied her mirror image and felt somewhat depressed at the size of her bosom, which was so much larger and nearer to her waist than she'd realised. The other-Deirdre smiled again before obligingly folding her arms under her chest to hoist it a little higher.
That was kind of me, Deirdre thought with a dreamy rub of the eyes. Almost like she can read my mind.
Maybe I can, the ghost-twin whispered inside her head.
What am I thinking then? she thought back as she chuckled at the sight of her own self, grinning in the half-light. It was too absurd a dream to take seriously, so she may as well enjoy it while it lasted, until the morning light brought her back to consciousness.
You're wondering when you'll wake up.
I suppose so, Deirdre acknowledged, warming to the strange experience, now she knew she was safe. Now what am I thinking?
You're wondering when this will all be over.
She frowned. That hadn't been what she'd been thinking at all. In fact, she'd been wondering what to make for breakfast, and whether there were any eggs left in the fridge or not.
Do you want to know the answer?
What, whether there are any eggs? Deirdre thought back.
No. When you'll wake up.
Deirdre glanced at the alarm clock. 5:30 a.m. It'd be at least another two hours before she got out of bed, providing Errol didn't get up to go to the toilet. These days, you could guarantee he'd get up at least once before eight to urinate noisily in the bathroom next door. She thought these thoughts as clearly as she could, then waited for her other self's response. To her surprise, other-Deirdre began to snigger.
Why are you laughing at me? Deirdre thought. A vague tinge of panic crept over her, though she wasn't sure why. After all, it wasn't real. Or is it? she wondered, feeling the first cold fingers of doubt take a grip deep within her stomach.
The strange creature laughed harder, until it started to shake. To Deirdre's alarm, the shaking didn't stop but became more urgent, until her ghost-twin was quivering uncontrollably in the shadows like a wet dog. It was a curious movement, rather unnatural, especially when it failed to stop. Deirdre stared.
"Are you alright?" she whispered aloud, quite forgetting she was dreaming.
The thing continued to convulse. In fact, the movements were speeding up, until it was vibrating as fiercely as a pneumatic drill. Deirdre felt the bed shudder with the force of it and blinked in astonishment. This may well be a dream, she thought, feeling sweat prickle her forehead, but it feels very real.
"Errol?" she whispered again and hastily patted his side of the bed. "Errol, can you wake me up? I'm having a bad dream."
It's no dream, Deirdre.
The voice rattling in her head didn't sound like her own voice anymore. It was colder, grainier, and reminded her of a rusted engine, hoarse and hostile. Her heart began to thump against her ribs.
Stop shaking like that! she thought, fear suddenly choking her. The sight was unbearable; the blur in front of her was out of control, like a boiler about to explode. I don't like this anymore. Please, someone wake me up!
"Errol, help me!" Deirdre tried to shake him awake, but her fingers were useless sticks, poking him as ineffectually as twigs in a breeze.
NO. NO HELP FOR YOU, DEIRDRE.
"My god, what are you?" Deirdre gasped. Her words faded into the early morning darkness like dissolving mist. The thing — she could see quite clearly that it was a thing now — not a Deirdre at all, was changing. Changing horribly, shifting and warping into something unspeakable, something from her worst childhood nightmares. Her heart throbbed and pulsed, and she fumbled for her angina pills on her bedside table.
I WANTED TO GO HOME.
"What? I don't understand!" Deirdre clutched at the lid of the medicine bottle, but her hands were shaking so much, she dropped it on the floor.
SHE WAS MEANT TO TAKE ME BACK I'LL HAVE TO FETCH YOU INSTEAD.
Deirdre started to cry. She felt as though cement had been poured down her throat, hardening around her heart and stopping her lungs. God help me, she thought without any real hope.
The thing changed. Its mouth stretched, wider than any human mouth reasonably should, and something crawled out. Something rank. Something vile and made of mist, which seeped into the air like a stain. Something so dreadful that her heart ceased to beat entirely. And Deirdre fell backwards, into complete darkness, a final sigh escaping her lips.
Errol rolled out of bed at eight. True to form, he stumbled to the bathroom, scooped up the toilet seat with a cough, and wondered for the thousandth time why men were expected to put the seat down for their wives but never the other way around. Sighing with satisfaction as his bladder emptied, he whistled a jaunty little tune from his favourite television programme. That'll wake her up, he thought with a nasty grin as he hauled his underpants back up. She won't thank me for that.
Task completed, Errol peered back into the bedroom. He could make out Deirdre's sizeable silhouette in the weak morning light, the twin turrets of her bosom looming large under the duvet. Her mouth hung open in a rather unflattering position, he noted with a touch of bitterness. A bit like a dog panting. He rolled his eyes before trudging down to the kitchen.
"No bloody eggs again," he muttered as he peered into the fridge, which let out its usual cheerful hum, vibrating against the aged washing machine. "Not even a scrap of bacon. What's a man supposed to have for his breakfast, eh?"
He made do with a slice of toast, and, spreading butter thickly over the surface, he ate it in exactly four large mouthfuls. Errol prided himself on his manly eating habits. No silly nibbling for him. That was for women, children, and effeminate men, in his opinion. No, he liked to do what he called "man-bites." It reflected his nature.
No-nonsense Errol, that's what they call me, he thought with vague pride, even though no one had ever called him that in his life.
It was only after he'd made himself a cup of tea and settled on the chair by the window that he realised the house was particularly quiet. Deirdre usually woke up when he did. Normally moaning about something, he added silently with a vague curl of his lip. Having a good whine about something or other that I've done, or forgotten to do, or should be doing now but am not.
But this morning, the house was completely silent apart from the insistent throng of the fridge. Normally he hardly noticed the sound, but today, everything else was so quiet that it stood out, as pronounced as a distant bee-hive.
Without knowing why, Errol swallowed. His mouth had gone dry. Something felt wrong. He couldn't say what exactly, but there was a wrongness to the air. In fact, the whole house felt completely incorrect. It wasn't a comfortable sensation.
"You up yet, Deirdre?" he called. His voice hung briefly in the air, solid as wood, before disintegrating into the unnerving quiet.
He waited. Something made him hold his breath. He wasn't sure what. It was the oddest sensation, as though time itself had been paused, but had forgotten to pause him with it. Standing up, he felt that every movement was steeped in syrup. Everything was too slow, too unnatural. And again, that feeling of serious wrongness now filled the house, making his heart beat a little faster.
"Deirdre, it's nearly half eight, time to be up," he called again, then lumbered reluctantly back up the stairs. Silly woman, she probably stayed up too late reading her sodding Mills & Boons, he thought, forcing himself to be rational. Probably had too much sherry last night too. She thinks I don't know that she steals into the kitchen to pour herself a sneaky glass every evening, but I do.
The bedroom was still dark, the curtains drawn. Deirdre's mouth was still open. Too wide. Much too wide for his liking. It looked like a cave — dark, empty, fathomless. He edged nearer. A line of drool was hanging from her lower lip, glittering in the muted morning light.
"Deirdre?" he hissed. "Deirdre, you alright, love?"
He leaned over, then reared back just as quickly. Her eyes were open, staring upwards, without seeing anything. They were the blank, empty eyes of a corpse. No doubt about it.
Errol stumbled backwards, tripping over his wife's discarded book on the floor. He looked at her face again, unable to believe what he was seeing.
The line of Deirdre's saliva, disturbed by his footfall, stretched out before falling to the floor. Errol slumped down beside her, clutching his stomach and looking at her hand hanging lifelessly over the edge of the bed.
She saw herself in the night. I'm sure that's what she said. She said she could see herself, right in front of her. With a single finger, he reached out and touched her, more gently than he ever would have bothered to had she been alive.
She's been fetched, he thought senselessly.
My wife has been fetched.
The Lyme Regis Job
Kester eyed the wastepaper bin over the top of his glasses. It was the moment of truth, and he knew it. The pressure was on. Tightening his jaw, he flicked the scrunched-up paper ball, watching it spin into the air before landing a few centimetres away from the bin with a sombre plop.
"You really are rubbish at this, aren't you, mate?" Mike smirked, following the path of the ball as it rolled to a disconsolate finish by the base of Pamela's desk. "That's 24-0, to me." He leaned back, then folded his arms across his expansive, flannel-shirted chest with obvious satisfaction.
"I think it's the angle I'm sitting at," Kester muttered as he scooped up the ball. "Or there's a breeze coming in through the window that keeps knocking it off course. There's something not quite right, anyway."
"Nah, you're just not very good," Mike concluded with a pragmatic nod. "Call it a day?"
"Yes, call it a bloody day!" Serena snapped from behind her computer. "Haven't you got work to do?" Her narrow eyes glittered, eyebrows knotted beneath her razor-sharp fringe. Most things in life irritated her to some degree, but idleness was particularly high on her list of loathing. Mike himself was also close to the top spot.
"Lunch break," Mike and Kester chimed automatically.
Serena looked at the wall clock, then rolled her eyes. "It's half-past two."
"That's absolute crap and you know it. You ate your sandwiches about an hour and a half ago."
Miss Wellbeloved, ruler-straight in her seat, nodded — a narrow totem of grey hair and steely eyes. "I quite agree," she added, looking disapprovingly at the pair of them. "You've been messing around for two hours now. Get on with your work please."
"It was his fault," Kester protested, pointing at Mike. "He set the challenge."
"Wasn't much of a challenge, to be honest," Mike replied. "Your performance was horrendous. I reckon a toddler could've done better."
Miss Wellbeloved clicked her tongue and waggled her biro in their direction. "It's worse than running a crèche in here," she complained. "Now Mike, get back to your desk, and both of you get on with something useful, rather than wasting your time. When Dr Ribero returns, he'll want to see everyone working."
Kester sighed, tugging his laptop open. He doubted that Ribero would be too cross at him, but he didn't want to risk it. Although he'd known his father for close to four months now, he still wasn't quite sure where the boundaries lay, both as a parental figure and as his boss.
He leant on his desk, which, unfortunately, happened to be a makeshift camping table. True to form, the legs instantly buckled under the weight. Kester screeched, grabbing at his laptop as it subsided rapidly into the folding middle. When will they finally buy me a proper desk? he wondered, not for the first time. It collapsed at least twice a day, and it was amazing his laptop hadn't completely broken yet, not to mention his feet, which had been crushed under the table-top on numerous occasions.
"Try not to break the office, Kester," Miss Wellbeloved ordered, not taking her eyes off her notepad.
"Doing my best," Kester wheezed, as he strained to pop the table legs back into place.
Just as he'd managed to balance the laptop back on the table-top, the office door flew open and hit the wall behind it with a thud. Kester nearly fell against the table again with shock, but managed to stop himself by pinning his elbows firmly to his sides.
"Well, that was a waste of time, right?" Dr Ribero thundered into the room, threw his overcoat at the sofa and missed completely. Pamela followed, her voluminous bulk gliding across the floor like a cumulous cloud. She caught Miss Wellbeloved's eye and shook her head.
"Oh dear," Miss Wellbeloved muttered. Reaching over, she snatched up the coat and placed it neatly on the hooks on the back of the door. "Not a success then?"
Ribero spluttered. Raising an elegant finger, he clicked at the store-cupboard. "Coffee please," he demanded of no one in particular. "I need it."
"I'll do the honours, shall I?" Pamela offered, bustling off as though blown by the wind.
"Tea and two sugars, love!" Mike called after her.
Miss Wellbeloved guided Ribero to the threadbare sofa, then eased him gently down. "What happened?" she asked as she perched on the desk next to him. "I thought this job was an easy one?"
"Ah!" Ribero exclaimed, throwing his hands theatrically upwards as though waging war against the ceiling itself. "This woman, she was a crazy old bat, yes?"
"If you say so."
"Yes, I do. A crazy bat. Turns out this spirit she kept seeing was her dressing gown."
Mike snorted, then hastily transformed it into a cough.
"How on earth can someone think their dressing gown is a spirit?" Miss Wellbeloved asked, frowning. "I mean, the two are rather different."
Excerpted from "Dr Ribero's Agency of the Supernatural: The Case of the Deadly Doppelgänger"
Copyright © 2018 Lucy Banks.
Excerpted by permission of Amberjack Publishing.
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