The Disappearance of Karen Ward

by Cloud Buchholz

  • During a cloudy October afternoon, Karen Ward fell from the seventh story window of her small, two room apartment.

  • During any other afternoon, Karen would have been diligently working at the University Library, but on this particular October day she felt so unwell she returned home early.

    She immediately ran to the bathroom and vomited into the toilet. Her sickness, though unpleasant, was not particularly painful. It was more of an annoyance than anything, and she remained on the couch waiting for the sudden and unpleasant urge to return to the bathroom.

    When Emma saw that Karen was feeling unwell, she offered to make some chicken noodle soup and a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

  • The landlord of the apartment complex was a middle-aged, potbelly man by the name of Jim Long, who went by James. He made every effort to remind young Karen Ward that he was single.

    He didn't care that she was into witchcraft or whatever it was because, as he often shouted from his doorway, she had a great rack and an even better ass.

    The other tenants of the apartment complex had grown accustom to his rude, though harmless, outbursts and had given up filing complaints. For despite his vulgar demeanor, he was a diligent and caring landlord.

    The apartment complex was in perfect condition, and he addressed complaints or requests almost immediately.

    The other tenants got along well with Karen Ward and her roommate, but they felt the two girl's interest in witchcraft and magic was a foolish endeavor, though they never made their feelings known.

    After hearing sounds of a struggle, the occupants below and beside Karen's apartment immediately contacted Jim Long. They did not hear shouting per se, but the loud commotion was unusual and very disturbing.

    Ever since Karen had conducted her strange experiment, the neighbors had grown suspicious of her behavior and began to question the safety of their home. It was as if a discomforting presence or some unseen entity had settled within their well cared for apartment complex.

  • The spirit realm is not unlike the tangible world, and in fact, exists in the exact same space. In her thesis, Karen described it as a layer of dust that had lingered on an object for too long and is only noticeable when a gust of wind scatters it into the air.

    Because of this, the spirit realm has a fluid and unstable construction. Once an object has been touched, it can no longer be the object it once was. Objects are not intrinsically one thing, but instead many things.

    The architecture of the spirit realm is a constantly shifting, unmappable blueprint, much like a person's palette of emotions on a single day.

    Not even the entities that reside in the spirit realm are capable of navigating its ever shifting design. This is one of the reasons it is so difficult to cross between the spirit realm and the tangible world.

  • Karen had purchased ten candles, a box of salt, lavender, cinnamon, goat's hair, herbs, sheep's blood, and as many other summoning ingredients as she could afford.

    She had tried three different spells so far, but the only result was a foul smell lingering in the apartment and a mess to clean up.

    She had read several more books at the University Library about witchcraft and consulted with a Spirit Eater and two shamans about accessing the spirit realm.

    Following their advice, she put the summoning ingredients in the closet and waited for her spirit to grow stronger in preparation for a proper summoning. Her only mistake was neglecting to tell her roommate to leave the summoning ingredients untouched.

  • Father Isaac Cooper had ministered to the Ward family for many years, starting with Elly Mae Marshal, moving on to Ethan Ward, her son, later Zoe, his daughter, and finally Karen.

    By the time Father Cooper was introduced to Karen Ward, he was a very old man. He had survived two bouts of cancer and a painful knee surgery that had left him with a permanent limp.

    Though he had passed on many of his official duties to his younger replacement, he still attempted to aid his congregation in whatever capacity he could.

    When Karen Ward approached him with questions about the spirit realm, he did his best to answer her honestly and, more importantly, instill in her a sense of caution.

    There were forces, he explained, that could only gain satisfaction by harming the innocent and, despite God's protection; it would be unwise to provoke such malicious entities.

    Karen agreed with him whole-heartedly, but he feared that she would not heed his warnings. He prayed for her nightly, asking that God's Grace keep her safe.

  • More accurately, Karen Ward was pushed from her seventh story window, though pushed is an unusual word to describe it as Detective Phillip Michaels soon discovered. Detective Michaels was the officer in charge of investigating the fall and presumed homicide of young Karen Ward.

    The apartment was in a state of disorder, which looked like the result of a struggle. Bookshelves, couches, and chairs had been thrown on their sides and other valuables had been broken.

    The window had shattered outward and, given the splintering of the wood, it was unlikely a person had gone through it willing.

    There were, however, two peculiarities. The door to the apartment was locked from the inside and, despite the amount of blood on the pavement, a body was not found at or near the scene.

  • Karen's grandfather, Ethan Ward, was a stern man, raised in a Christian home. He was known to have a kind heart and stubborn spirit. Though he would never have admitted it, he was an extremely superstitious person.

    At the age of seventeen, he saw his youngest brother thrown from a horse. The fall broke his neck, and he died soon afterward.

    In the years that followed, often times a horse would be found outside the stables equipped with a saddle as if it had been ridden. And, though he could not explain it, Ethan thought he saw the apparition of his departed brother feeding the horses and restocking the stables.

    Ethan did not speak of these events until many years later and only to his favorite granddaughter, Karen Ward.

  • Karen's interest in supernatural phenomenon began at the young age of five when she imagined her grandfather singing her to sleep. This would not have been a particularly odd thing to have imagined except for the fact that her grandfather had died the night before only moments before she had seen him in her bedroom.

    The next day, Karen's mother, Zoe, told her young daughter that this vision was merely a dream and not worth thinking about a second time. When Karen insisted it was more, her mother took her to see Father Cooper in the hopes that her impressionable daughter would not remain so gullible.

    From that day forward Karen took a keen interest in the paranormal, but made certain her mother never found out.

  • Jim Long saw Karen fall through the sky on that October afternoon, though at the time he thought she was an animal.

    Ever since Karen had performed her experiment, animals had been jumping from the window ledges, and not just cats, which sometimes happened, dogs, birds, even hamsters and goldfish. It was as if the animals were trying to escape something, and for whatever reason, death was a better alternative.

    In any case, it was creepy and more than one resident had complained. Jim was going to spend the weekend investigating the problem and possibly replace some of the windows, but when Karen fell, Detective Phillip Michaels asked him to hold off until a proper amount of evidence could be gathered.

  • During the five years Detective Phillip Michaels had been working homicide, he had never worked a case as bewildering as the disappearance and presumed death of Karen Ward.

    Though he was hard-working, he was in no way hard-boiled. The sight of blood made him dizzy, the thought of violence made him nervous, and, for three of his five years, he had deliberately left his pistol locked in a safe at the floor of his closet.

    The only reason he had remained in homicide and continued to receive commendations was due to a strange ability he had developed in high school.

    While driving home from a football game, his car slid across a patch of black ice and collided with a tree. His body was not discovered until the following morning.

    The paramedics, with a sudden jolt of terror, were surprised to find him alive for his wounds and the severe cold should have proven fatal.

    The truth was, young Phillip Michaels had died for a very brief amount of time and his spirit had, in fact, left his body to traverse the surreal spirit realm where he conversed with a multitude of extraordinary and terrifying entities.

    When he was revived, it was as if a part of that world had returned with him and he was able to see and sense where the two overlapped.

    The violent scene at Karen Ward's apartment was speckled with evidence of the spirit realm. On the pavement, where her body should have been, he sensed a second set of grotesque footprints that appeared to have carried young Karen Ward away from the scene. He followed them for three blocks until they slowly dissipated.

    Karen's roommate, Emma Fisher, and her boyfriend, Quentin Weaver, had nothing to say about the incident and seemed almost suspiciously quiet.

    The two shamans Karen had consulted for her thesis said her unfortunate demise was her own doing and refused to comment further.

    Detective Michaels had a sick feeling they were telling the truth.

  • Karen's mother, Zoe Ward, was a cynical and sometimes cruel woman. She had not always been so spiteful, but at the age of seventeen, when her high school sweetheart abandoned her at the hospital during labor and never returned, she decided that no person was worth trusting completely and, despite the immense love she felt at the first sight of her daughter, her heart quickly became cold and bitter.

    She swore an oath that her daughter would never experience that same kind of vulnerability. She never embellished young Karen with impossible dreams or fanciful stories and discouraged the use of imagination whenever possible.

    She instructed Karen to be rational in all facets of her life, most specifically with love.

    When Karen began to acquire a large collection of imaginary friends, Zoe felt her motherly commands had not gone far enough, and so she severely scolded her young daughter whenever she spoke of, or appeared to glimpse these imaginary acquaintances.

    Given her pragmatic nature, Zoe did not notice that the imaginary friends Karen described resembled people who had recently died within the area. And at times, Zoe found it peculiar that Karen could articulate violent events before the newspaper and television reported them.

    Shortly after Karen left for college, Zoe felt an unexplainable discomfort in the small and empty house. She would return home to find drawers, cabinets, and desks opened and rummaged through.

    Nothing was ever stolen, though each time it occurred; the house was searched with a greater frenzy. The only room that remained untouched was Karen's old bedroom which, oddly enough, never collected dust.

    Exactly seven months after Karen left home, her mother's dead body was discovered on the floor of the kitchen by a worried neighbor. There were a set of handprints around Zoe's neck which the police were able to identify.

    The fingerprints belonged to a man by the name of John Shaw, a disturbed inmate of the Heartly Asylum. Sadly and strangely, the man could not be brought to justice for two weeks prior to Zoe's death; his lifeless body was found in the Harken River after he drowned during a failed escape attempt.

    The authorities could not explain how his fingerprints appeared on Zoe's neck, nor could they explain the river water that appeared in her lungs. Despite their best attempts, they were unable to resolve the case and informed young Karen Ward that there were forces in this life that were often unfair and unexplainable.

  • October was, as Karen's research indicated, a very spiritual month and given her theories about the spirit realm, she decided it would be the perfect time to carry out some of her experiments.

  • Quentin Weaver was an exceptional athlete, earning a full scholarship for his skills in Track & Field. He was attractive enough and funny when the moment required. He made friendships easily and without reservation for he was a kind and mostly good person.

    His only flaw, if it could be called a flaw, was his 3.4 GPA. His father would tolerate nothing less than an 'A' and made every effort to chastise and encourage his son to do better.

    When Quentin was not in class or on the field, he was busy studying at the University Library. On many occasions he worked late into the night reviewing notes and memorizing formulas which, despite his hard work, provided little improvement to his test scores.

    When he received his final grade in Calculus, a B-, he cried and feared the moment when the news would reach his father. He returned to the Library to study, but found it impossible to open a single book.

    Instead, he stared intently at the librarian, Karen Ward. He had fantasized about her for months, but had been too busy to introduce himself. On this particular evening, since nothing was holding him back, he started a conversation which led from the library to her apartment.

    They kissed and cuddled and slowly drifted to sleep.

    At 3 AM, Quentin was jostled awake by a shadowy figure that resembled his departed mother. She stood at the foot of the bed and stared affectionately at him. Her lips moved, but her voice came from the mouth of Karen Ward who was still asleep.

    She spoke lovingly to him and encouraged him to enjoy his hardships as much as his victories then she slowly faded into the darkness.

    Quentin felt a sense of joy at seeing his mother, but he also felt perplexed and a slight discomfort. He could only explain the event as some sort of Freudian dream in which he linked Karen to his mother.

    He quickly left her bed to pace unnervingly in the living room where he met Emma Fisher, Karen's roommate.

    He told Emma of the strange dream and how he could not bear to look at Karen again without envisioning his deceased mother.

  • Though its small size, Karen was particularly proud of her sparse and somewhat Zen decorations. Her roommate, Emma, had added a bookshelf, two lamps, and a coffee table, though she seldom, if ever, used them.

    Despite its size, the bookshelf held only thirteen books and the coffee table held three candles spaced exactly seven millimeters apart.

    Emma had only purchased the items so that each room in the apartment would contain seven large objects. The amount and placement of the objects acted as means of discharging the spiritual energy that built up from the spells and experiments they tried.

  • Seven being her lucky number, Karen felt the seventh floor would bring her good fortune, particularly given the recent bad luck she had endured.

    The death of her mother and the loss of her job had taken their toll, and despite her upbeat outlook, Karen knew unfortunate events occurred in threes.

    She also knew this unforeseeable and unfortunate event could not be stopped, so, instead of worrying about it, she turned her energy toward her main passion: the supernatural.

    She returned to the University in the hope of studying unexplainable phenomenon involving ghosts, spirits, and demons.

    To lessen her inevitable third misfortune, she enrolled in seven classes. She worked at the University Library three hours a day, four days a week which, using numerology, added to seven. And she carried seven pennies in her pocket that she had found facing up.

    Oddly enough, she fell from the seventh story window of her apartment on the seventh of October and, based on Jim Long's call to the police, she was seen hitting the ground around seven pm.

  • The two shamans Karen consulted were brothers. They lived in a rundown camper in a sparse part of the desert many miles outside of town. They had chosen this deserted location because it provided a more suitable environment to communicate with the spirit realm.

    On occasion, when they were desperate for money, they would hold séances, perform exorcisms, and, though they despised it, read palms and tarot cards.

    Karen was willing to pay them a large sum of money to help her travel to the spirit realm, but they refused her for two reasons. First, Karen did not yet have enough spiritual fortitude to spirit walk.

    And secondly, travel in the spirit realm had become dangerous, and the entities there were growing restless.

    The two shamans could not explain this strange turmoil, but they warned Karen to stay away from the spirit realm until tensions settled.

  • Karen had read many books describing the odd architecture of the spirit realm, and to her surprise; the spirit realm was not exclusively populated by simple spirits or, as they're more commonly known, ghosts.

    The spirit realm contained entities far more powerful and stranger than she could ever have imagined.

  • The forces that resided in the spirit realm obey a certain kind of hierarchy. The more complex and capable of reasoning an entity was, the more dangerous it became both to the other spirits in the realm, but also to the beings in the tangible world - or so Karen had read in The Gates of Brutavius.

    The companion work, The Song of the Myst Martyrs, stated that simple spirits were a kind of life-force that permeated the spirit realm. The simple spirits were harmless, having a similar quality to an echo, but sometimes, when the conditions were suitable, the spirits were able to congeal into a different, more complex entity.

    The characteristics of this entity depended on the nature of the spirits that formed it.

    Some have described these entities as spirit guides, demons, or djinn. The most malicious of these beings have one desire - more power. They eat as many of the lesser spirits as their form will allow.

    Some have even been known to gather enough influence to cross between the two realms where they've attempted to steal and devour young children or beings near death, as Karen had read in The Stolen Ones.

    During her experiment, she had hoped to communicate with a simple spirit, but without proper training, as the two shamans told her, it would be the equivalent of calling a payphone and waiting for anyone to answer.

  • Spirit walking is a meditative act in which the spirit temporarily leaves the body to traverse the spirit realm. While spirit walking, a person's fortitude and field of vision is determined by the vitality of their soul.

    A spirit walk should not be confused with a spirit gaze. A spirit gaze can be preformed by novice shaman or an adept person, but only the most powerful of souls can spirit walk.

    During a spirit gaze, the spirit remains within the body, but the gazer is able to see not only the tangible objects around them, but also the emotional scars that have been inflicted on those objects - in a sense, allowing them to glimpse elements of the past and the future.

    During a spirit walk, the soul journeys outside the body and, depending on the skill of the walker, accesses a certain depth of the spirit realm. During a spirit walk, the walker's body becomes a doorway that other spirits can pass through allowing them entry into the tangible realm.

    For this reason, spirit walking becomes extremely dangerous for anyone but the most fortified of souls.

    Karen was adept at sensing the spirit realm, but had never actually entered it. She had hoped her experiment would be the first step in eventually spirit walking unencumbered, but, as the two shamans had feared, she had underestimated the influence and power she evoked.

  • The Gates of Brutavius was an incomplete compendium found at a dig site just outside of Rome. The archeology team that discovered the book was specifically interested in architecture and building materials used between 40 and 50 BC.

    At first, and full of exhilaration, they believed the book contained detailed diagrams and measurements of the city, but after closer examination the information proved to be complete nonsense.

    The book detailed objects and landmarks that never existed, or would not exist for many years, referencing names and figures that were absent from every other record.

    After three months of intense study, the team decided the book was a fiction and must have been modified by future generations. Disappointedly, the only value they believed the book possessed was as a historical artifact for its construction and materials were incredibly well preserved.

    The book traveled with the exhibit across Europe and America, until it was eventually left to the University Library.

    Karen had taken a particular interest in the book after a pair of shamans referenced it during a heated discussion about the spirit realm.

    After careful inspection, Karen noticed that the book used specific locations interchangeably with people as if the place and the person were the same. When she connected that logic with The Song of the Myst Martyrs, she saw a pattern of hierarchy. The placement of landmarks determined the power or value of the name associated with them.

    Using the two books, Karen was able to create, what she believed to be, an accurate map of the spirit realm.

  • Logan Miller, the professor overseeing Karin's thesis, had told her, on more than one occasion, that her theories belonged in a creative fiction class, and despite the research she had done at the University Library and the large sum of first hand experiences she had collected, he simply could not except her theories as fact and was forced to drop her from the class.

    Her thesis had attempted to prove that a spirit realm did, in fact, exist and could be accessed given the right conditions.

    Since she had lost the support of her teacher, she decided to conduct an experiment on her own that would prove, beyond a doubt, that her thesis contained more substance than speculation.

  • The Song of the Myst Martyrs is a heroic epic poem about a village on the precipice of hell. In the tale, a red mist rises out of the earth and hangs heavy in the air like a thick fog.

    The villagers become so disoriented by the haze that, one by one, they fall off the edge of the world into the mouth of a demon who waits patiently to devour them.

    After many months and missing people, the village elders summon a hero to find the origin of the red mist and put an end to it.

    The hero and his band of warriors follow the red mist to a hole that leads to the spirit realm. Once there, they battle three entities: Azor the Eye-eater, his brother Orza the Sinew Swine, and their mother Roza the Wronged.

    When they finally reach the demon, they discover their manmade blades are unable to strike a fatal blow for the beast heals quicker than their blades can kill.

    Out of desperation, they cut the monster to pieces and devour it so that nothing remains.

    The red mist recedes and the village becomes safe once again. The hero and his warriors, however, are unable to return to the natural world for the demon, now trapped in their bellies, binds them to the spirit realm where they can never escape.

    Karen applied this notion of devouring a being to gain power and control to her experiment; however, the second volume of the work was missing and Karen never learned what came of the hero and his band of warriors.

  • The Stolen Ones was an old fairy tale Karen discovered by accident while searching for The Gates of Brutavius. The tale was hidden among several others in a relatively decrepit and worn-down manuscript.

    The story would have gone almost completely unnoticed if Karen had not recognized an emblem that was identical to the one worn by the hero in The Song of the Myst Martyrs. She set the manuscript aside with the intention of studying it further, but difficulties with her boyfriend, Quentin Weaver, kept her from returning to it.

    The story was about a Shade that crept through the gaps in windows to steal children from their beds and rip babies from their mothers breast.

    The following morning, the distraught mothers discovered a large boulder in their children's bed or crib. They could not explain the appearance of the stone and put it at the center of town. Soon, the boulders piled higher than the roofs of their homes.

    A wandering shaman, moved by the tears of the women, swore to ascertain the source of their sorrow. Late that night, he steadied his soul and began a spirit walk, following the children's souls as they traveled out of the village.

    They lead him to a cavern where the Shade resided. The Shade was a horribly twisted being with several heads that bit and fought against one another. It had several arms and legs that were knotted together and shook with anger.

    The shaman battled the Shade all through the night. As the sun rose the following day, he waved his staff and chanted a curse sending the Shade back to the spirit realm. Exhausted, the shaman slept in the cavern for three days and nights before he returned to the village.

    He struck the boulders with his staff and the children came tumbling out, unharmed.

    If Karen had inspected the story more closely, she would have seen that the Shade's heads equaled the same number of warriors in The Song of the Myst Martyrs and the necklace the Shade wore was identical to the one worn by the hero of that story.

  • Time was the most significant difference between the spirit realm and the tangible world for though the two shared the exact same space; the spirit realm existed in a disjointed time - at least that was the claim of the two shamans that Karen had questioned.

    They explained that, on certain occasions, the two disjointed times would tic in a similar resonance causing the barrier of time to become permeable; more specifically, giving common entities and spirits the ability to appear in both realms.

  • Karen shared the small apartment with another girl by the name of Emma Fisher. Emma and Karen first crossed paths at the University Library, immediately becoming the best of friends.

    Emma had just received her degree in Business and was working toward her reality license when she accepted an internship at a small reality firm near the University. She gave notice to the Library and spent the next two weeks training her replacement, Karen Ward.

    Having so much in common, Karen and Emma began renting an apartment together, sharing clothes, cookery, and, often times, boys.

    During the strange afternoon in which Karen fell from the seventh story window of their apartment, Emma had been hiding in her bedroom with Quentin Weaver.

    The two were hiding because their romantic and secret relationship was a delicate subject since only three days before Quentin and Karen were involved in a serious, though crumbling, fling.

    When Quentin and Emma heard the loud commotion in the living room, they refused to investigate, fearing that Karen would discover their secret. Instead, they turned up the stereo, locked the door, and continued to fool around under the sheets.

    When Detective Phillip Michaels interviewed them, neither one could explain what had happened or why.

  • With the moderate inheritance Karen had received after her mother's untimely death, she decided to return to college for another degree. She began working at the University Library because of its proximity to her classes, but also because it allowed her to do research unencumbered.

    The books she sought were old and particularly difficult to come by. The University had three of the seven tomes Karen had been searching for: The Stolen Ones, The Song of the Myst Martyrs, and The Gates of Brutavius.

    Over time, the tomes had been damaged to a degree that forced the University to keep them in a protective enclosure in a temperature regulated room.

    Only a select group of people were allowed to examine the books and only for a brief period of time during the day. Given her position, Karen had access to the books afterhours for as long as she desired.

    She spent many months studying the old manuscripts, particularly The Stolen Ones, which proved useful in forming her theories about the spirit realm and her later experiments.

  • Karen had been feeling unwell for several days, particularly since she had attempted to open a pathway to the spirit realm. The experiment had been a failure and left the apartment smelling awful, which her roommate quickly and angrily pointed out.

    Karen assumed it was the rancid smell that had been making her stomach ache, but after the smell had dissipated, the pain in her belly only got worse.

    Her stomach had begun to swell slightly and she found herself particularly hungry, eating almost twice what she normally would have.

  • Karen did not make a habit of leaving the window open, but after a tray of cookies caught fire in the oven, she thought it necessary to air out her tiny lodgings.

    Karen was not the one who had put the cookies in the oven, and she was particularly surprised to find them there for her roommate, who was obviously responsible, was nowhere to be found in the tiny two room apartment.

    Reluctantly, Karen scrapped the burnt cookies into the garbage.

    The sick and strange smell made her cough and cover her mouth and nose with a towel. She did not know the cookies had been made using some of the excess ingredients she had used in her experiments, nor did she realize the bizarre effect the mixture of smells was having on her body.

    She had already been feeling unwell, but suddenly her arms and legs seemed to move of their own volition. She did not mean to propel herself through the window, but it was as if an invisible force or entity had taken dominion of her.