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Voices from Beyond [Format Kindle]

Simon R. Green

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Ghosts exist for a purpose. Unfinished business, delayed revenge, or to carry a message. Sometimes the dead can go to a lot of trouble to bring a desperate warning of some terrible thing that’s coming.

Whatever the reason, don’t blame the messenger for the message.

ONE

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From the outside, it looked like any other house. An everyday, semi-detached property, half-way down a side street, on a perfectly ordinary South London estate. On a perfectly ordinary evening in late autumn. Except, lights were blazing in every window. As though whoever was inside this particular house was afraid of the dark. Or something in the dark.

A Land Rover came screeching down the street at speed, sometimes on one side of the road and sometimes on the other, before finally slamming to a halt outside the house. The car rocked back and forth a few times, as though getting used to being suddenly at rest, then the engine shut down. No-one got out. The three people inside sat where they were, so they could take a good look at the house and its surroundings from a safe distance. The last of the light was going out of the evening, and the house stood half-silhouetted against a dark and lowering sky. The windows all blazed very brightly, but there was no sign of movement inside the house. The street-lamps burned orange and amber, illuminating an empty scene. It was all very quiet; nobody about. The house had the feeling of a brightly lit stage, with the action yet to begin. After a while, the Land Rover’s driver turned around in her seat to address her two companions.

“It all looks normal enough to me,” said Melody Chambers.

“I never trust normal,” said JC Chance. “It usually means the universe is trying to hide something from me. And rarely in a good way.”

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this place,” said Happy Jack Palmer.

“You’ve always got a bad feeling,” said Melody, crushingly.

“And I’m always right!”

“That’s as may be,” said JC. “I still want to know what in God’s name made you choose a Land Rover as our team transport? Were they all out of tractors and combine harvesters?”

Melody heaved a deep, put-upon sigh. She was very good at it. She’d had a lot of practice. “I chose this marvellous example of reliable engineering because I got fed up with my scientific equipment always being left behind, or turning up too late to be of any use. How can I be the Ghost Finder girl science geek if I don’t have any investigative equipment to work with? So I went down to the Carnacki Institute car pool and chose this. Because it’s a real work-horse of a vehicle; and because it was the only thing they had big enough to hold all my marvellous machines.”

JC nodded slowly. “Not exactly the most inconspicuous thing to turn up in, though, is it?” he murmured. “We are supposed to do our good deeds on the quiet, with no-one’s ever knowing. On the grounds that if the general public ever finds out why the Ghost Finders exist, and what we have to do, there will be a mass panic and general pants-wetting of biblical proportions.”

Melody sniffed loudly. “I get the job done. I put ghosts in their place and kick supernatural arse, in a strictly scientific way. And look good doing it. You can worry about public perception.”

“Oh, I do,” said JC. “Really. You have no idea.”

Melody kicked open the driver’s door and got out. She glared at the semi-detached house waiting for them, as though daring it to give her any problems. The lights in every window stared unflinchingly back; with not a trace of anyone’s moving behind them. JC pushed open his door and got out of the back seat, slowly and carefully, then took his time stretching his long limbs. They made clear cracking and creaking sounds on the quiet of the empty street. When he was ready, he moved in beside Melody and studied the house dubiously.

JC was tall and lean and too handsome for his own good, or anyone else’s. Thirty years old now, and loudly protesting he didn’t give a damn, JC Chance had pale, striking features under a rock star’s mane of long, wavy, black hair. He had a prominent nose, an easy smile, and wore dark sunglasses all the time for a very good reason. He also wore a rich, ice-cream white three-piece suit of quite devastating style and elegance, along with an old school tie he stole. JC was team leader because he was the only one brave and arrogant enough to always lead from the front, striding into danger with a careless smile and far more confidence than was safe for him or his companions.

Melody Chambers was advancing into her thirties, and fighting it every step of the way. Conventionally good-looking, in a threatening sort of way, she was short and gamine thin, forever burning with raw nervous energy. She wore her auburn hair scraped back in a severe bow, couldn’t be bothered with even the most basic make-up, and scowled at the world through serious glasses with dull, functional frames. Her clothes had never even heard of style or fashion; and Melody had once shocked and scandalised an entire roomful of women by loudly declaring she didn’t give a damn about shoes. Or any kind of accessory you couldn’t use as a weapon.

“Odd . . .” JC said finally. “I know it’s evening, but there ought to be someone out and about. Hurrying home late from work, or out jogging, or simply walking the dog . . . It’s as though all the people here have sensed it’s not safe to be outside at the moment.”

“Good,” said Melody. “I hate innocent bystanders. Always getting in the way, and underfoot, and dying horribly from collateral damage.”

“Except for when you use them to hide behind,” said JC.

“Except for then,” Melody agreed. She shot the house one last warning glance then marched round to the back of the Land Rover to unload her precious equipment.

“Don’t anyone feel obliged to help me with all the hard work and heavy lifting!” she said loudly.

“Don’t worry,” said JC. “We won’t.”

He banged ruthlessly on the door to the Land Rover’s passenger seat until it finally swung open, and Happy Jack Palmer half fell out. He got his feet under him with something of an effort and pushed the car door shut with an irritated scowl. He then leaned back against the door until he recovered his balance and his thoughts. He looked vaguely up and down the street, as though hoping it might provide him with some idea as to why he was there; and then he produced a small silver pill box from inside his jacket. He popped open the lid and stirred the multi-coloured contents with a finger before selecting two dark green pills decorated with muddy yellow lightning bolts. He knocked them back, dry-swallowing with the ease of long practice, then hiccoughed loudly a few times. He straightened up, pushing himself away from the car door, and made the pill box disappear about his person. His eyes were suddenly a lot brighter, and he smiled a smile with far too many teeth in it. JC looked at him expressionlessly.

“Are you still on the mother’s little helpers? The mental medication? We haven’t even started the investigation yet.”

“It’s the only way I can cope with Melody’s driving,” said Happy.

“I heard that!” said a loud voice from the rear of the Land Rover.

“You were meant to!” Happy said coldly. He slumped a little. “God, I’m tired, JC. I’m always tired. I need something to wake me up and get me moving. Is that the house? I don’t like it. It looks like it’s staring back at me.”

He studied the house in a sullen, antagonistic way, as though daring it to come out fighting. JC left him to it and went to join Melody at the back of the Land Rover as she piled up boxes full of scientific equipment at the side of the road. She didn’t even look at him but kept on working.

“He didn’t sleep well last night,” she said roughly. “He doesn’t like to sleep. Says it makes him feel . . . vulnerable. That things might try and get inside his head while his defences are down. And with a telepath as sensitive as him, who’s to say he’s wrong?”

“Surely he can find a pill to help him sleep?” said JC.

“He can; but his system’s already so compromised with industrial-strength chemicals, some of them only suspected by modern science, that it takes something pretty damned powerful to affect him. He’s afraid to take that kind of pill too often in case he builds up a tolerance. Then he wouldn’t have anything to turn to when he really needed it. He needs more and more pills, JC! Bigger, stronger doses, all the time. Just to function. I don’t like where this is going; but I don’t see what else I can do to help. Sex isn’t enough to distract him any more, and love isn’t enough to make him strong. Sometimes I think it’s only the job that keeps him going.”

“He hates the job,” said JC.

“I know!”

They both looked down the street, to where Happy was bouncing slowly up and down on his toes, studying the waiting semi-detached like a boxer about to enter the ring for a fight he strongly suspects is fixed.

Happy Jack Palmer was the Ghost Finder team telepath and full-time gloomy bugger. As he often said, If you could see the world as clearly as I do, you’d be clinically depressed, too. Well into his thirties now, and openly fed up with it, Happy was short and stocky and prematurely balding. He might have been attractive if he ever stopped scowling and sulking long enough. He wore grubby jeans and a T-shirt bearing the message JUST BECAUSE I’M PARANOID, IT DOESN’T MEAN I’M NOT OUT TO GET YOU, along with a battered black leather jacket whose most recent tears had been roughly stapled back together. He took so many pills he rattled when he coughed. Just enough, he said, to keep the world and all the awful things in it safely outside his head.

Melody finally finished loading the more important pieces of her machinery onto a trolley and dragged it down the street to join Happy in front of the house. JC strolled along behind her. He knew better than to offer any assistance because no-one touched Melody’s toys except her. The three Ghost Finders stood together, looking the semi-detached over carefully.

“Are you picking up anything, Happy?” said JC, after a while.

“Something bad happened here,” said Happy. “Quite recently.”

“Obviously,” Melody said crushingly. “Or we wouldn’t be here, would we? What kind of bad?”

Happy thought about it. “Really bad.”

“Good!” JC said cheerfully. “The only interesting kind. Let us all go rushing in there and poke it with sticks.”

“After you,” said Happy.

JC grinned easily and strode up the paved path to the front door. Happy slouched after him, while Melody trundled along in the rear with her trolley. The path cut straight through a neatly trimmed lawn, decorated with a scattered handful of morose-looking garden gnomes. Happy gave each of them a dark, suspicious glare as he passed. The three sets of footsteps sounded very loud on the quiet street, counterpointed with loud creakings from Melody’s heavy-laden trolley. JC frowned slightly as he realised he couldn’t hear anything else. The evening was almost totally silent, as though it were holding its breath and listening. The footsteps sounded so clearly on the quiet path that whoever was inside the house had to know they were there; but no-one appeared at any of the brightly lit windows to look out.

“Does anyone in the house know we’re coming?” said Melody.

“Someone does,” said JC. “A Professor Volke put in a panic call to the Institute, about an hour ago, from this address. Apparently he’s someone’s cousin. Knew enough about us, and what we do, to scream to us for help when whatever it was went horribly wrong.”

“What did he say the problem was?” said Happy.

“I don’t know,” said JC. “This was all arranged in a rush. There’s no file, no case notes. We got the call because we were the closest team, and could get here the fastest. The professor is supposed to supply us with all the grisly and entertaining details.”

“No case file, no details, no warnings,” said Happy. “Oh, this can only go well.”

JC crashed to a halt before the front door. Happy stopped a comfortable distance behind him. Melody leaned on her trolley, breathing heavily. JC rang the bell, knocked briskly on the door, and kicked it a few times for good measure. He raised quite a din; but there was no response from inside. JC tried the door handle, but the door was locked.

“Now what do we do, oh wise and learned team leader?” said Happy.

“I suppose we could break a window . . .” said JC.

“Get out of the way,” said Melody.

She pushed past Happy and JC and produced a slender spikey object from a hidden pocket. She eased it into the lock and wiggled it about; and the lock threw up its hands and surrendered. Melody pushed the front door open with a flourish. JC considered the thing in her hand thoughtfully.

“How long have you been able to open locks, Melody?”

She shrugged and smiled, and made the picklock disappear about her person. “Girl’s entitled to a hobby . . .”

“I am changing all my locks, the moment I get back,” said JC.

“Go right ahead,” said Melody. “See what good it does you.”

They went inside, closing the door carefully behind them.

The three Ghost Finders moved slowly and cautiously down the long, narrow hallway, looking about them, careful to touch nothing. All the lights were on, every bulb glowing brightly, but there was no-one present to greet them. A terrible, oppressive silence lay over everything, seeming to stifle even the smallest noise. Happy winced and rubbed at his forehead.

“Bad atmosphere,” he complained.

“What kind of bad?” JC said patiently.

“Malignant,” said Happy. “Toxic.”

“As in actually, immediately life-threatening?” said JC.

“What do you think?” said Happy.

“Why do cheerful, friendly people never come back as ghosts?” said Melody, plaintively. “Why do we never meet happy smiley people from the vasty deeps, who are actually pleased to see us?”

“The answer is almost certainly implicit in the question,” said JC. “People at peace and at rest don’t need to come back. It’s the ones who have a complaint to make who end up disturbing the living. Let’s try the lounge.”

He moved quickly down the hall, throwing open each door as he came to it and peering into the room beyond. Until he found the lounge and went inside. Happy skulked along behind him, while Melody struggled fiercely with her trolley as the wheels caught and spun on the rucked-up carpet. The lounge turned out to be a pleasantly spacious room, with comfortable chairs and a huge red leather settee, along with all the usual comforts and luxuries, including a really big wide-screen television. Set a little to one side was a long, narrow coffee table, with four young men and women sitting on the floor around it. They were all wearing assorted jeans and sweaters, and had that indefinable but unmistakable look of students. None of them looked up as the Ghost Finders entered the room. None of them made a sound, or moved a muscle. They sat in place, staring straight ahead of them, with blank faces and empty eyes.

JC started to address them, then stopped as he realised how very still they all were, and how completely empty their faces seemed. He moved slowly forward, one step at a time, until he could lean over and study their faces close-up. They didn’t react, but they were all still breathing, very gently. JC relaxed a little. Where there’s even a little life, there’s hope. He gestured for Happy and Melody to stay back, and moved cautiously around the four seated figures, looking them over, with his hands clasped behind his back so he could be sure he wouldn’t touch anything. He leaned in past the students to look at the coffee table. An old-fashioned wooden Ouija board had been set out on the tabletop in front of the four students. All the usual markings, in old-fashioned lettering, so a message could be spelled out. There was no sign of the usual upturned glass, but there were fragments of broken glass all across the table and on the carpeted floor around it.

“A Ouija board?” said Happy, coming forward very cautiously for a better look. “Oh, that’s never good. Those things should be banned. They open doors, and never to anywhere good. Giving one of those things to a bunch of amateurs is like giving a hand-grenade to a group of toddlers. There are bound to be tears before bedtime.”

JC snapped his fingers fiercely in front of each empty student face in turn, but there was no reaction. He straightened up and turned to look consideringly at a camera on a tripod, set up not far away, aimed at the coffee table. JC gestured to Melody, and she came forward to look the camera over.

“Expensive,” she said briskly. “State-of-the-art, all the latest bells and whistles. The kind of camera that does most of the work for you. Some really nifty filters, and extra options . . . for when you need to be sure you won’t miss anything. What was going on here? What were these four doing . . . that someone needed to record every detail of it for posterity?”

“Is the camera still working?” said JC. “Still recording?”

“No. Someone’s put it on stand-by.”

“And it isn’t transmitting to anywhere else?”

“No. It’s set to record.”

They all looked up sharply as they heard quiet but definite sounds from someone’s moving about, upstairs. The slow, furtive footsteps of someone hoping not to be noticed. JC’s head moved slowly as he followed the footsteps from one side of the ceiling to the other. The sounds stopped, abruptly. JC hurried out of the lounge, with Happy and Melody right behind him.

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Back in the hallway, it was still and quiet again. JC led the way up the stairs. He made no sound at all as he ascended the carpeted steps; and neither did Happy and Melody. Learning to walk unseen and undetected was one of the first things you learned when working cases like this. Sneaking up on ghosts took special skill. They reached the landing at the top of the stairs, and JC gestured for the others to split up, so they could each take one of the three doors leading off the hall. The silence was so complete now, so heavy, it had an almost solid presence. Melody moved in close beside JC, so she could murmur in his ear.

“How many people are there supposed to be in this house?”

“Beats me,” said JC, quietly. “No case file, remember? But we haven’t found Professor Volke yet. Or his body . . .”

Happy pointed an only slightly unsteady finger at the door nearest him, and JC and Melody padded over to stand beside him.

“Someone’s in there,” said Happy.

“Can’t you tell who it is?” said JC.

Happy sniffed. “The atmosphere in this house is really messed up. There’s so much information present, the aether is saturated. It’s like trying to see through thick fog.”

JC looked at Melody. “He makes this shit up, doesn’t he?”

“Probably,” said Melody.

“All right,” said JC. “Plan B it is. Brute force and ignorance; everything forward and trust in the Lord.”

“After you,” said Melody.

“Why would the professor be hiding from us?” said Happy.

“Let’s ask him,” said JC.

He stepped smartly forward and kicked the door in. It slammed back against the inner wall, making a hell of a racket. JC launched himself into the room, with Happy and Melody reasonably close behind him. The bedroom was empty except for the usual bed, fittings and furnishings, and one very large wall closet. Happy did the pointing thing again, and JC walked right up to the closed closet door. He coughed loudly, then knocked on the door, very politely.

“Hello, Professor Volke! We know you’re in there; please come out and talk to us. Or I will be forced to rescue you from this closet, with extreme violence and no concern at all for your personal dignity.”

There was a pause, and the door opened a crack. A wide eye peered out, studying JC with open trepidation. JC gave the eye his most charming smile.

“Please come out, Professor. There’s a good chap. Nothing at all to worry about, now. The cavalry has arrived.”

The door opened, and Professor Volke stepped slowly out. He stood half crouching before JC, twitching and trembling, as though expecting to be attacked at any moment. He looked quickly at Happy and Melody and must have seen something in the way they were looking at him because he straightened up and tried to pull what remained of his dignity about him. He looked to be in his late forties, fashionably dressed in a sloppy way. His greying hair was ragged and tousled, in contrast to his neatly trimmed goatee beard. His face was unhealthily pale, and his eyes were worryingly wide and unblinking. His hands shook. Something had thrown a hell of a scare into him. He looked like he was ready to dive right back into the wall closet at the slightest provocation—or even if anyone spoke harshly to him. JC kept the charming smile going.

“Hello, Professor Volke,” he said carefully. “You’re perfectly safe now. We’re here! We are Ghost Finders, from the Carnacki Institute. You called us for help, remember? It’s our job to Do Something about ghosts and ghoulies and long-leggity beasties, and make them play nice with others. Can you tell us what it is that’s happened here?”

“You’ve got to get me out of here!” said the professor. He clearly wanted to shout, but his voice was so strained by stress and shock, he could only manage a rough whisper. “We have to leave. We can’t stay here. It’s too dangerous!”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” said Happy.

“Hush now, Happy, grown-ups talking,” said JC, not taking his gaze off the professor. “We can’t leave just yet, Professor Volke. We need to determine exactly what’s happened, and what the nature of the threat is, so we can do something extreme and final about it. Please come downstairs with us and fill us in on all the appalling details.”

The professor tried to get back in the wall closet. JC grabbed him by one ear and hauled him out again. The professor made loud signs of distress but had no choice but to go along when JC led him firmly out of the bedroom and back down the stairs, not releasing his hold on the professor’s ear for one moment. Happy and Melody brought up the rear. The professor protested loudly and bitterly all the way down the stairs and into the hall but shut up the moment he saw the door to the lounge standing open ahead of him. He seemed to shrink in on himself, and all the fight went out of him. JC let go of the man’s ear and ushered him politely into the lounge. The professor took one look at the four young students sitting unnaturally still around the coffee table and made a high, whining noise. He got away from JC and made a dash for the door, but Happy and Melody were there to block it. The professor turned back reluctantly, looking everywhere round the room except at the four young people.

“Tell us what happened here, Professor,” said JC, in his most encouraging manner. “You can start by telling us what kind of professor you are and what you and these four were doing here.”

“I am Adrian Volke,” the professor said haltingly. “Head of the Psychology Department at Thames University. They . . . are four of my students. Angie and Elspeth, Dominic and Martin. First-class minds, all of them.”

“Very good, Professor Volke,” said JC. “Now, what were you trying to do here? And why were you recording everything?”

“I set up suitable conditions for a séance, using a Ouija board,” said the professor. His voice grew in confidence as he moved onto familiar ground. “It was a psychological experiment. I wanted to see what would happen, or could be made to happen, under the right conditions.”

“But something went wrong, didn’t it?” said JC.

The professor nodded miserably. “You have to help me! I never intended for any of this to happen. I didn’t know what to do . . .” He seemed to realise how pathetic he sounded because his head came up abruptly, and he glared defiantly at JC. “You have to help me understand what happened here. Help me put this right again. A scandal of this nature could ruin my professional reputation!”

“Relax, Prof,” said JC. “We are the big guns from the Carnacki Institute. Ghosts and ghoulies cringe at our approach. We’ll sort this out for you and help restore your poor students.”

If the professor noticed the dig at his apparent lack of concern for his students, he didn’t seem to care. The distraught academic wrung his shaking hands together and shook his head miserably.

“I shouldn’t have called the Institute. I don’t believe in . . . that sort of thing. But after what happened in this room, right in front of me, I couldn’t think what else to do.”

“It’s all right, Prof,” said JC. “We understand. No atheists in haunted houses . . .”

“I don’t believe in ghosts!” said the professor.

“Tough,” said Melody. “They believe in you.”

The professor looked at her uneasily. “There’s no supernatural element to the use of a Ouija board. Everyone knows that, these days. Impulses in the unconscious mind move the fingers that move the glass, causing it to spell out hidden thoughts and desires. I was simply interested in setting up the right conditions for an experiment in suggestibility. If I could make my students believe enough in what they were doing, reinforce their natural desire to get results, would they make things happen? Or believe they had? I was looking to create a situation of controlled hysteria, to provoke a reaction. But . . . look at them!”

He still couldn’t bring himself to look directly at the four unmoving students. He gestured in their direction, then clasped his hands tightly together, to stop them shaking. He was trying hard to hang on to his professorial dignity and failing. He looked more like a child expecting to be punished for doing something he knew he shouldn’t have. JC considered the man thoughtfully. The professor had clearly seen or experienced something very much outside his scientific comfort zone. The professor straightened up again under the pressure of JC’s regard. He made himself look at his students.

“I suppose it could be . . . some kind of extreme shock? A fugue state? Some kind of psychic transmission, even, from them to me, drawing me into their hysteric state and making me see things . . .”

“Don’t strain yourself, Professor,” said Melody. “Your brand of science doesn’t have the answers to cover something like this. It’s not big enough.”

The professor bristled immediately and glared at her. “My science covers the known world! What else is there?”

“Don’t get me started,” said Melody.

“Everything casts a shadow, Professor Volke,” said JC. “And we operate in the shadows. Come along, Prof; it’s time to tell the tale. What did you do here, exactly; and what did you see?”

But the professor turned away, stubbornly shaking his head. He wasn’t ready to talk, to commit himself to accepting that what he had seen was really real. JC turned to Melody.

“Can you access what the camera recorded earlier? Maybe plug its output into that really big-ass television?”

“Piece of cake,” said Melody.

She performed a quick and brutal fix with a series of cables, and the television screen was suddenly full of heavy buzzing static. The professor saw what was happening, and made another dash for the door, but Happy was still there, blocking it. The professor raised a hand, as though to push Happy out of the way. Happy gave him a hard look; and the professor lowered his hand and turned away. He looked reluctantly at what was happening on the television screen, and everyone came forward to stand before the screen. To watch what had happened, earlier.

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On the screen, four graduate students sat happily around the coffee table, drinking wine from plastic cups, chatting easily together, and making caustic comments about the Ouija board set out before them. Except . . . now and again, one or other of the students would glance at the wooden board, in a wary and suspicious way, as though it was another person in the room. One that couldn’t be trusted to behave. But still, they all seemed relaxed enough, laughing and teasing each other and not taking any of it too seriously.

Angie was a heavily freckled redhead, going out of her way to make it clear she was convinced nothing would happen. “I mean, really; come on! The whole Ouija-board thing has been thoroughly discredited by modern thinking! We’re only here because Professor Volke bribed and bullied us into turning up. Isn’t that right, Professor?”

“Don’t look at the camera, Angie,” said the professor’s voice, from off screen. “Concentrate on the board, please. We need to get this started.”

“Exactly!” said Angie. “The sooner we get started, the sooner we can call it a day and go to the pub!”

Elspeth was tall and slender and very blonde. “I would like to believe,” she said artlessly. “Really, I would! But I’ve been to graveyards, and old houses and haunted pubs, and never experienced anything. It would be terribly thrilling, though, wouldn’t it? If something really did happen here?”

“You’d run a mile,” said Angie. “You can’t even cope with spiders in the bath.”

“Probably,” Elspeth conceded. “But! I would still like to see . . . something . . .”

Dominic was a large, rugby-playing type, who turned out to be surprisingly quiet and thoughtful. He was broad and wide, with skin so black it had blue highlights. “I am determined to keep an open mind,” he said firmly. “We can’t expect to get anything out of this if we go into it with our minds closed to new experiences. We have to hold ourselves open to . . . possibilities. Isn’t that right, Professor?”

“This is your experiment,” said the professor, off-camera. “I’m only here to record what happens.”

“Yeah; right.” That was the final student, Martin. Tall and lean and openly sardonic. “How can it be our experiment when you’ve arranged everything? None of us are here because we want to be. You pressured us into this. What did he promise the rest of you, guaranteed better grades? Oh, you don’t have to say anything. I freely admit I’m here because my grades are in the toilet, and my only hope to stay on the course is with the professor’s help and support. So if he wants us to play parlour games, while he films it, I can live with that. As long as I get to keep my clothes on . . . But you had better hold up your end of the bargain, Professor.”

“I am sure we’ll all get something useful out of this,” said the professor’s voice. “Please place the glass provided on the Ouija board, upside down, then each of you should place a forefinger on the glass.”

With a certain amount of giggling, and embarrassed glances at each other, the four students did as they were told. A glass was ceremoniously turned upside down and placed in the centre of the board, inside the circle of letters, in easy reach of the Yes and No positions. One by one, they all placed a finger on the upturned glass, doing their best to keep their faces suitably solemn.

“All right,” said Martin. “What do we do now?”

“I think we’re supposed to ask it things, aren’t we?” said Elspeth. “I saw this film once . . .”

“I am not saying, Is there anybody there?” said Dominic. “There are limits.”

“Now relax, and let our unconscious minds take over,” said Angie. “No doubt we’ll find ourselves spelling out all kinds of revealing thoughts and wishes . . .”

“Why isn’t the glass moving?” said Elspeth.

“Because you’re not taking it seriously,” said the professor’s voice. “Stop talking. Concentrate your thoughts on the glass. Feel the atmosphere. Just . . . let things happen.”

All four students settled themselves as comfortably as they could and stared fixedly at the upturned glass. And slowly, almost without realising it, their bodies relaxed. Their breathing became synchronised. They were all concentrating on the same thing, not even thinking about the professor and his camera any more. For a long moment, nothing happened. And then Angie snatched her finger back from the glass. The tension of the moment was immediately broken, and everyone let out their breath in a rush. They sat back from the board, taking their fingers off the glass, breathing heavily. Elspeth glared at Angie.

“What did you do that for? I really felt we were achieving . . . something!”

Angie looked apologetically off screen. “Sorry, Professor. I had this . . . feeling, that something bad was about to happen.”

“Please take this seriously, everyone,” said the professor’s voice. “Fingers back on the glass, and concentrate.”

Four arms stretched across the coffee table, and four fingers pressed down on the upturned glass. Martin was looking openly contemptuous now. Elspeth shuddered suddenly.

“Hey! Did everyone else feel that?”

“Feel what?” asked Dominic.

“Like . . . a sudden cold breeze,” said Elspeth, looking around uncertainly.

“Rubbish,” said Martin.

“I did feel it!” said Elspeth. “Look; I’ve got goose pimples!”

“I didn’t feel anything,” said Angie. “And I’m right next to you.”

“What are you all feeling?” said the professor’s voice. “I need you to articulate your feelings, for the record. What is going through your minds, right now?”

“I’m feeling completely ridiculous,” said Martin. “And I’m starting to wonder if any grade is enough to justify this.”

“It feels like . . . someone’s watching us,” said Elspeth. “And no, I don’t mean the camera. It feels like there’s someone else here, in the room with us . . .”

All four students looked round the room, not taking their fingertips off the glass. Elspeth looked spooked. Angie and Dominic looked impatient. Martin seemed increasingly angry.

“There’s no-one here but us idiots,” he said firmly. “I don’t feel any dread presence, and I didn’t feel any breeze. Can we please get on with this, and get it over and done with, before I die of terminal shame?”

“I guess we do have to start with the traditional question, after all,” said Dominic. “Come on; I’ll start the ball rolling. Is there anybody there . . . ?”

And all of them were shocked silent as the upturned glass immediately began racing round and round the wooden board, moving so fast the students had to struggle to keep their fingers on it. The glass was moving so quickly, they couldn’t even make out what it was trying to spell. It shot back and forth, all over the board, then went round and round in circles, dragging the students’ arms after it.

“Martin!” said Dominic, so angry he could hardly speak. “This is you, isn’t it?”

“How could I be doing this?” Martin protested. His face was very pale. “Look at how fast the bloody thing’s moving!”

“No-one is to take their fingers off the glass,” the professor said urgently.

“I can’t!” said Elspeth, her voice rising. “I’m trying to let go, and I can’t! It’s stuck!”

The glass jerked viciously this way and that across the wooden board, in swift, angry movements. Angie was crying quietly. Dominic was struggling to get his feet under him, so he could get up from the table, but the glass jerked his hand back and forth so rapidly he couldn’t get his balance. Elspeth looked quickly around her, as though catching sight of something out of the corner of her eye. Martin looked shocked. All four students were open-mouthed and wide-eyed at what was happening right in front of them.

“Professor?” said Martin. “Are you getting this? I’m not doing this; I swear I’m not doing any of this!”

“What’s the glass doing?” said Angie. “Why isn’t it spelling anything? How are we supposed to . . . communicate, like this?”

“Something’s here in the room with us!” Elspeth said loudly. “I can feel it, staring over my shoulder!”

“There’s no-one here but us!” said Dominic. “Everyone, take your finger off the glass!”

The glass exploded—shattered, and blew apart. All four students cried out in shock and pain as they were hit by flying glass splinters. They recoiled from the board and the table, snatching their freed hands back. No-one was badly hurt, only a few scratches; but there were bits of broken glass all over the table and all over their clothes. The students brushed the glass fragments away with almost hysterical speed. They looked at each other, breathing hard. All the good humour and scepticism were gone, slapped right out of them. Something had definitely happened even if they weren’t sure what.

Strange lights flared suddenly, all around them. Great blasts of vivid colour, come and gone in a moment. The air shimmered, like a heat haze. Ripples moved slowly across the carpet, spreading out from the coffee table like waves on the surface of a disturbed pond. The students cried out and huddled together. Loud, knocking noises sounded in the walls and the ceiling, moving round and round the room as though chasing each other. As though something were banging on the outside of the world, trying to get in. The wooden Ouija board suddenly rose from the table, shooting up through the air till it slammed flat against the ceiling overhead. It clung there, entirely unsupported. The coffee table jumped and shuddered, rocking back and forth on its spindly legs. Elspeth pulled away from the others, and looked wildly about her.

“There’s someone else in this room! Someone else is here with us!”

Angie burst into tears. She turned to Dominic, who put a protective arm around her and glared defiantly about the room. Martin was on his feet, his hands clenched into fists, ready to lash out at anything. Elspeth looked fiercely off-camera, at the professor.

“We’ve got to get out of here! We can’t stay here!”

“No-one is to leave!” said the professor’s voice. He was trying hard to sound like someone still in control.

“Go to Hell!” snarled Martin. “This isn’t what we signed up for!”

“If anyone leaves, they can forget about any help with their course work, or their grades,” said the professor’s voice. “This is important work we’re doing . . .”

“Stuff your help!” said Dominic. “Get out from behind that camera and do something! This isn’t your experiment any more!”

The coffee table stopped moving. The flaring lights disappeared, and the loud, knocking noises broke off. Everything was still and quiet in the lounge. The four students fell silent, looking around them with wide, shocked eyes. The Ouija board, pressed against the ceiling, dropped back down, hitting the coffee table with a dull, flat sound. Everyone jumped. And then, all four students slowly relaxed, bit by bit, as the room remained still and peaceful, the accumulated tensions seeping slowly out of them.

“Is that it?” Angie said tremulously. “Is it over now?”

She realised Dominic still had his arm around her and moved away from him. He quickly lowered his arm and stepped back. Martin unclenched his fists, scowling about him for any sign the phenomena might be about to start up again. The professor started to say something; and then his voice broke off as all four students suddenly sat down hard, their bodies slumping bonelessly, until they were all sitting on the carpet around the coffee table. Their faces were horribly slack: empty of all expression, or awareness. Their mouths dropped open, and their unblinking eyes saw nothing at all. They sat still, barely breathing, completely silent, all trace of personality gone from their faces. The professor called out to them, saying their names increasingly urgently; but none of them responded. He came out from behind the camera at last, appearing on the screen for the first time. He shook the students by the shoulder and shouted into their empty faces, his voice rising hysterically as he realised there was no-one left to hear him.

| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |

Professor Volke buried his face in his hands. Melody stopped the recording, and the television screen went blank. Volke breathed deeply a few times, then raised his head to look desperately at JC.

“Do you understand what happened here? Nothing like that was supposed to happen! It was a stupid séance, a parlour game! You’ve got to help me wake them up!”

“They’re not asleep,” said Happy. “They’re gone.”

“Are you sure?” said JC.

“Their heads are empty,” said Happy. “I’m not picking up a single thought or impulse, on the conscious or unconscious level. Everything they were has been ripped right out of them. Nobody’s home.”

Melody looked up from her equipment. She’d finished setting up her equipment in its usual semi-circular formation, while everyone else was concentrating on the television. Her fingers darted from one keyboard to the next, bringing everything on-line. Monitor screens glowed brightly, information flowing in endless rows across her various displays.

“This room is a good twenty degrees colder than it should be,” she said calmly. “And I’m getting some really weird electromagnetic readings.”

“What sort of weird?” said JC.

“Like you’d understand even if I did explain it to you,” said Melody. “All you need to know is, they are way off the scale. Happy was right; this room is soaked with information, old and new. And . . . I’m getting signs of something that might be an interdimensional doorway.”

“What?” said the professor. “What are you talking about?”

“There are places in the world where the hard and certain can become soft and malleable,” JC said carefully. “Places where different worlds, or dimensions, can rub up against each other; and the walls of reality get worn thin. Sometimes, local operating conditions . . . break down, overwhelmed and replaced by the natural laws of other dimensions. And then you get an opening, a door between realities. Between here, and Somewhere Else. And then . . . Something Else can break through, from There into Here. This is rarely a good thing.”

“You really expect me to believe such unscientific nonsense?” the professor said angrily. “This isn’t what I called you people for! I need practical help, not . . . pseudo-scientific bullshit!”

“If the doorway opens again, it will make a believer out of you in one hell of a hurry,” said JC. “Happy, take another look at what’s going on inside the students’ heads. Dig deep. See if there’s any trace of them left that we can use to call them home.”

“Sorry, JC,” said Happy. “When I said their heads were empty, I meant completely cleaned out. Nothing left but the autonomous nervous system, to keep the body going. We’re not only talking about their minds; their souls have been snatched, too.”

“What can you tell us about the room, Happy?” said Melody, her gaze darting from one monitor screen to another. “I’m picking up all kinds of readings, but none of them make any sense.”

Happy frowned, concentrating; and then he winced. “This room is supersaturated with information. Layer upon layer, from recent events to the far past. Going back . . . decades. This isn’t the first time something bad has happened here.”

JC looked thoughtfully at the professor, who suddenly didn’t want to meet his gaze. JC walked right up to him, and the professor started to back away, only to find Happy suddenly standing behind him, blocking his way.

“Tell me, Professor Volke,” said JC. “Why choose this particular location for your little psychological experiment? Is this your home? Or perhaps the home of one of your students?”

“Martin leased this house, a few months back,” said the professor, reluctantly. “And when he told me about it, I remembered I’d heard of this address before. I remembered a story . . . of a haunting, or some kind of supernatural disturbance, from years ago. Back in the early eighties, when I was a child. There was a report on the local news about it. Scared the crap out of me at the time. That’s what gave me the idea to hold my séance here. But I checked! I did my research! This house has been quiet for years. Decades . . . No reports of anything out of the ordinary. Nothing since that original story from the eighties.”

“Did you tell your students about any of this?” said JC.

“No,” said the professor. “I didn’t think it necessary. They didn’t need to know. It might have affected their responses and reactions, compromised the experiment. Look! We have to get the students back! Something like this could lay me open to all kinds of lawsuits! Ruin my career!”

“I’m more concerned about helping your students,” said JC.

“What? Oh, yes, of course.” The professor nodded quickly. “Can they be helped?”

“We’ll give it our best shot,” said JC.

He deliberately turned his back on the professor and walked slowly round the lounge, looking at everything. Happy and Melody watched him patiently.

“Okay!” JC said finally. “I think the best thing to do . . . is restart the séance. Recreate the conditions that affected the students. They clearly made contact with Something. Let’s see if it’s still hanging around.”

“That is like jumping in the deep end when you’ve already been told it’s full of sharks,” said Happy. “Rabid sharks, with really big teeth. Séances are always dangerous. It’s like kicking open a door when you’ve no idea who or what might be waiting on the other side.”

Revue de presse

Praise for the Ghost Finders novels
 
“Green keeps the action and laughs flowing in equal measure. Here’s hoping for many more adventures of this terrific quartet.”—SFRevu
 
“The newest series…is as good as the Nightside and the Secret Histories sagas.”—Alternative Worlds

“It continually amazes me how Green can pump out such original stories.”—Crooked Reviews

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  • Format : Format Kindle
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  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 304 pages
  • Editeur : Ace (26 août 2014)
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  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B00IOE4KQY
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Amazon.com: 4.1 étoiles sur 5  29 commentaires
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Green with the difference being that these protagonists have slightly less super powers than his other books 23 septembre 2014
Par Kristina - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Poche
Review courtesy of All Things Urban Fantasy

Simon R. Green’s stories tend to have a dark twisted humor to them that makes the at times graphic horror of what is happening more manageable. VOICES FROM BEYOND definitely is classic Simon R. Green with the difference being that these protagonists have slightly less super powers than his other books. I liked that as it made the story feel more intense and their victory even more earned.

Now that isn’t to say there are no paranormal abilities in the motley crew that makes up the Ghost Finders. We have Happy, the pill addicted telepath who I adored as he was the source of most of the wit and cheekiness of this story. JC and his ghost girlfriend Kim are probably the most serious of the group and Melody is the science/tech girl of the team.

The main mystery in VOICES FROM BEYOND is set in a radio station called Radio Free Albion where voices are being heard over the broadcast. The Ghost Finders come in to help and they find out what their future holds for them in the aftermath of this case through a series of ghastly warnings and images of their future selves. There is a very heavy horror element here as much of the imagery and descriptions of the evil the characters face is really, really disturbing and gory.

VOICES FROM BEYOND is a fun mystery, heavy on the horror element and kept me entertained throughout. If you enjoy Simon R. Green’s other series you’ll find the Ghost Finder series right up your alley.
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Rational Public 5 mai 2015
Par Arthur W. Jordin - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Poche
Voices from Beyond (2014) is the fifth Fantasy novel in the Ghost Finders series, following Spirits from Beyond. The initial volume in this sequence is Ghost of a Chance.

In the previous volume, JC was trying to sleep, but he hadn't done much of that since Kim vanished. He is lying in bed when Kim reappeared at the foot. She told him to meet her outside the Chimera House.

JC was dialing Happy and Melody when his television turned on. His team members were on the screen. They told him that Kim had also appeared to them and he should pick them up on his way.

JC took the red Institute car that he had borrowed and soon meet the rest of the team. As he was driving vigorously through the city, JC noticed that traffic has disappeared. They reached Chimera House very quickly and then had to wait for Kim.

After Kim reappeared, the square in front of the building cracked open to reveal a large hole and a stone stairway leading downward. Kim led the way for the team. They went down into the London Undertown.

In this novel, Josiah Charles Chance is a team leader within the Institute. JC is usually heavily armed with weapons that would not be approved by the Boss. His group is now an A team.

Happy Jack Palmer is a class eleven telepath. He has returned to using pharmaceuticals to keep him sane. Happy is the doomsayer of the team, mainly because he is fully aware of the things that exist alongside humanity.

Melody Chambers is a technogeek. The Institute buys her the latest available equipment for monitoring ghosts. She and Happy have a very active sex life between jobs.

Kim Sterling is a ghost. She was murdered in the first novel and has since developed a relationship with JC.

Catherine Latimer is the head of the Carnacki Institute. She is JC's pentultimate boss. Only the Crown outranks her.

Adrian Volke is a Professor of Psychology. He is teaching a graduate class consisting of Angie, Elspeth, Dominic and Martin.

Jonathan Brady is the general manager of Radio Free Albion. He had founded the radio station, but gradually lost his control of the business.

The Flesh Undying is a creature from the Outside. He fell -- or was pushed -- from his dimension into ours. He has infiltrated the Carnacki Institute.

In this story, JC and his team arrive outside a house with all the lights on. Nobody is visible within or outside the house. Everything is quiet in the neighborhood.

A Range Rover comes rushing down the street and stops in front of the house. Melody is driving the vehicle. JC and Happy are not happy with her driving, but she needed a larger car to carry her gear.

The team had been sent without any briefing. JC only knew that that Volke has called the Institute with an urgent request for assistance. They had no file nor any case notes on the case.

JC rings the doorbell, knocks vigorously and even kicked it a few times, but no one answers. The door is locked, but Melody picks the lock. They find the bodies of four students in the lounge.

None of the students are conscious. Their minds and souls have been sucked out of their bodies. A video camera is aimed at the students, but it is now shutdown.

The team finds the professor upstairs in a closet. He doesn't want to go back downstairs. JC has to pull him out by his ear.

Melody plays the recording of the experiment. The four students are using a Ouija board to get the answer to a question. Yet the glass pulls their arms around and then breaks. The students all sit down on the pillows and become nonresponsive.

JC decides to recreate the incident. He has the professor and his team sit among the students. The substitute a plastic cup for the broken glass tumbler and all four touch the bottom with a finger. The cup pulls all their arms around and suddenly they find themselves in another reality.

Later, Catherine summons JC for a walk in Hyde Park. She tells him that Kim has been working for her to find the agents of the Undying Flesh within the Institute. Now he knew why Kim had disappeared recently. Catherine also says that she trusts him because of the eyes hidden behind dark glasses.

This tale takes JC and his team to Radio Free Albion. It is located in an old and somewhat run down house. Again, JC has no information on the case. He is told to sort out the incident.

He arrives first at the station. While he is waiting for the others, JC meets another JC covered in blood. The second JC dies and his body disappears, but leaves a handprint in blood on JC's white jacket.

Happy later meets a monster who reminds him of Melody. The next installment in this sequence is Forces from Beyond.

Highly recommended for Green fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of ghost warnings, solid manifestations, and a bit of romance. Read and enjoy!

-Arthur W. Jordin
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Voices Out of Time 16 septembre 2014
Par Teresa Pietersen - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle
The latest Ghost Finders is a good, spooky ride with the usual characters showing some development and growth in this latest book.
You really need to have read the series to understand the secondary plot that has been developing within the series, other wise you'll just not get it.
Simon R.Green writes several series of differing paranormal stories but although I like them all this is my favorite. I like the characters and so few writers today can write a satisfying ghost story, but Green does it time and again, without using the same old tried and tired plots.
These books are ghost stories with a twist, never the same and always good fun.
Looking forward to the next.
2 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Readable But Left Me Flat 7 octobre 2014
Par Fred Rayworth - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Poche
I picked this up because I thought it might be a hoot and the premise looked interesting. It was written in third-person and was supposed to be full of humor. Well…

The story was written by a Brit and is riddled with that dry British humor that I actually like. It was one thing that I really appreciated. It wasn’t out loud laughing funny, but it was wry and sometimes corny wit that kept me entertained. However, the story itself as well as the writing had some issues that let me flat.

First off, though it was written in solid third-person, it was omniscient with no point of view whatsoever. This was one solid mass of head-hopping with no specific character driving any scene. That was quite annoying because it left me feeling flat and rather uncaring for the characters. I wasn’t invested much in any of them. They were just “the people” there, rather than the characters.

Second, it was set with very long chapters. There were hardly any scene breaks and the chapters were thirty to forty pages long (or seemed like it). Though the narrative was fairly brisk with plenty of dialogue to keep things moving, the scenes were extremely long and there wasn’t much breathing space. It was hard to read a bit, stop then come back and find my place again.

Third was a major conspiracy thread that’s left hanging and never fully addressed by the end of the novel. It was introduced and we’re reminded of it multiple times, almost to the end, but then nothing. Whaaa?

Fourth was that after an initial scene and then the main activity at the beginning at the radio station, a good half of the book is spent just talking and arguing about almost nothing before they ever get around to actually doing something. The heroes spend a lot of real estate going over the same stuff over and over again without ever accomplishing anything until almost the end of the book, when there’s finally a flurry of activity and they figure out what to do. A good third of the book could’ve been cut without impacting the plot.

Overall, because of the omniscient point of view, the story left me flat. What saved it was the humor and the ending, which wasn’t bad, but left one big chunk of plot thread dangling without a mention. I’ve certainly read worse though.
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Ghost Finder series 1 mai 2015
Par C. Bonham - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Poche|Achat vérifié
Simon R. Green is a great author and his Ghost Finder series is a hoot.
Meet the operatives of the Carnacki Institute—JC Chance: the team leader, brave, charming, and almost unbearably arrogant; Melody Chambers: the science geek who keeps the antisupernatural equipment running; and Happy Jack Palmer: the terminally gloomy telepath. Their mission: Do Something About Ghosts. Lay them to rest, send them packing, or just kick their nasty ectoplasmic arses. In a quiet London suburb, four university students participating in an experiment inside a reputed haunted house hold a séance that goes terribly wrong. What—or who—ever they summoned has taken their minds away, leaving them empty shells.Enter the Ghost Finders, ready to confront an enraged poltergeist for the students? very souls. All in a day's work except the team doesn't know that in another part of the city, a different entity has also breached the threshold between worlds. And this time what is at stake is not four lives but the very existence of all humanity.
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