QSFer Josh Aterovis has a new queer paranormal mystery out, a Cav Crawford Mystery: A Kind of Death.
Cav Crawford has a lot going on. He’s a college student. He has a side gig as a PI. Oh yeah—and he sees ghosts.
When four teenage boys disappear while ghost hunting but only one reappears days later (covered in blood and with no memory of what happened), the police point the finger at the boy. The boy’s parents hire Cav to prove his innocence, and it doesn’t take him long to realize he’s in over his head. To complicate matters, Cav unintentionally summons the ghost of his dead boyfriend, who can’t seem to move on.
As the investigation deepens, Cav unearths disturbing similarities between his current case and a decades-old murder-suicide. By the time he realizes the power of the dark forces at work, it’s too late—he’s caught the attention of the killer, and he’ll soon learn there’s more than one kind of death….
I made my way back to the remains of the dirt road and moved to the next building. I stood in front of it for a moment. An odd sense of foreboding washed over me as I studied the house—nothing specific, just a sense that something about this place wasn’t right. There was something almost familiar about the feeling.
From a distance, it had appeared to be completely boarded up, but closer, I could see that someone had pried some of the boards away from across the front door, enough that someone relatively small could squeeze through—someone like a teenage ghost hunter. Or me.
I climbed the stairs and took in the porch. It looked fairly solid aside from a hole here and there, certainly in better shape than the first house. I took a few steps, and suddenly my foot crashed through a rotted board, throwing me forward. I caught myself before I could fall, but it startled me. I stood still a moment, trying to catch my breath, then extricated my foot and flexed my ankle, checking for damage. No harm, but I was lucky. That could have been bad.
With a healthy dose of caution, I continued forward until I reached the entrance. The door was partly ajar. Taking a deep breath, I ducked under the boards and clambered inside.
It was dark. The only light filtered in from the stairwell leading to the second floor. A small, round window about halfway up allowed a shaft of leaf-diffused light to slice through the gloom, dust particles dancing through the ray. None of that light made its way past the main entry hall. A dark hallway stretched away in front of me to the left of the staircase, and a doorway opened into a pitch-black room on my left.
I pulled out my phone, turned on the flashlight, and entered the room off to the left. The house appeared to have been abandoned mostly furnished, but it looked as if some kids had trashed the place. Glass and debris littered the floor, a recliner was flipped over onto its back, a large old-fashioned console TV had its screen shattered, and the sofa was ripped open, its stuffing strewn about, its springs left exposed.
I backed out and started down the hall, which led into a small kitchen that had also been heavily vandalized. Shards of smashed dishes covered the floor; doors had been ripped off the cabinets. A small wall calendar hung by the back door, and I made my way over to it for a closer look, the ceramic rubble crackling under foot with each step.
The calendar was open to August of 1973, compliments of Tawes Home and Life Insurance.
I slowly turned and took in the destroyed room, trying to imagine what it must have been like when people lived here. Who were they? What were their lives like? Did anyone remember them now? Were they happy?
I had a feeling that something had happened here. Something bad. Not necessarily in this room, but in this house.
A third door opened off the kitchen, and I shined my light inside. It was, I surmised from the table and chairs, the dining room. A china cabinet against the far wall had also received the vandalization treatment.
I made my way back down the hall and stared up the staircase. Whatever had happened in this house, it happened up there. I couldn’t say why I was so sure, but I was. I was equal parts drawn and repelled.
I steeled myself, squared my shoulders, and started slowly up the stairs. I tested each step before placing my full weight on it, but things seemed solid inside. As I became more confident in the structural integrity, I picked up speed, ready to be out of this unsettling house.
When I reached the top step, I ran into a wall that stopped me fully in my tracks. Not a physical wall, though just as effective. It was almost like a wave of ill intent crashed into me. Immediately an overwhelming sense of panic hit me, closing my throat and making every hair on my body stand at attention.
I tried to control my emotions, separate the external stimuli from my thoughts, but I could barely think through the primal sense of fear.
There was something—someone?—there, something with a sense of malice.
Evil was a word I tried not to use much. It had been overused to the point of losing its meaning. But that was the only word I could think of to describe what I felt.
I tried to fight through it, but the feeling only grew until the intensity was too much. I spun around and half fell, half ran back down the stairs. I didn’t stop when I reached the bottom, I just threw myself through the door, leaped across the porch and down the steps—where I collided full force with a solid body.
Josh Aterovis has been writing award-winning queer fiction for twenty years. He fell in love with mystery novels in the fourth grade when he discovered the Nancy Drew series in his school library. He soon moved on to Agatha Christie and other titans of the genre, which led to a lifelong love affair with whodunits. His books have won multiple awards from the StoneWall Society, and he is a former Lambda Literary Award finalist for Gay Mystery.
Aterovis lives in one of the quirkiest cities in America — Baltimore, Maryland — with his two birds, Edgar and Virginia Poe (Eddy and Ginny for short), where, besides writing, he is also a visual artist and immersive theater maker.