Ian and Roderick Vendeleer don’t believe in ghosts, but this case in Pinnacle Gulch has them questioning everything. With people disappearing and ghost girls wreaking havoc, the brother enlist the help of a grumpy detective, a tech guy from ghost shows, and spiritual expert. Will they be able to solve the mystery and save the residents of Pinnacle Gulch before it is too late?
Age Rating: 16+ (Content Warning: Child Abuse, Violent Death, Racism)
The Vendeleer Brothers by Lexi Melton is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.
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Silver moonlight shone through the warped colored glass, casting dark multicolored shadows. The figure of an angel stood with its arms open wide.
The stained glass was meant to be a figure of hope, but at the moment, the people in the church simply huddled together in the darkness fearfully.
An eerie moaning echoed through the chapel, sending a shiver through the crowd.
Near the front, an overweight man in a suit sat in a pew, his meaty hands clasped together so tightly that his knuckles had turned white.
A black man in preacher’s robes sat next to him and tapped his foot rather nervously, his eyes glancing every few seconds at the large wooden door at the entrance.
The larger man caught him looking and wrung his hands a little more.
“So, do you think the church will… deter them?” the fat man asked.
“I hope so. We’re running out of options,” the preacher replied, worry lines running all over his face.
“At times like these I need a cigar.”
“Not in my church you don’t.”
The larger man chuckled a little and sighed. “You’re always so particular about your facilities…”
“Well… I have to be. After all… not many of my flock like to come anymore after…”
The Reverend trailed off awkwardly, staring down at the floor. The balding man sitting next to him sighed.
“Everyone makes mistakes John. It’s up to us whether or not we are going to move forward. Wasn’t that in one of your own sermons?”
“Well… yes… but often it is hardest to take your own advice…”
The two of them grew silent, and the tension became almost unbearable, listening as the desert wind and sand pelted the outside walls of the old church. It almost sounded like a faraway scream.
“Mr. Mayor I-”
“Reverend. I’ve told you before, call me Bill.”
“Bill, when do you think this will all end? Don’t they have enough people already? I mean-what is their purpose?”
The Reverend turned to the mayor, hoping he would have some kind of answer for him. However, Mayor Bill Cottam simply pursed his lips.
“I don’t think they will stop until they have everyone,” he said quietly, clasping his hands even tighter. “Killers will never be satisfied with simply a few victims. It’s an endless cycle of wanting.”
Reverend Johnathon Passey swallowed, his stomach twisting itself into knots.
“So, you really think we’re all… going to…”
“Well I think that all depends…”
Instead of answering, the mayor looked up to the large wooden angel on the wall over the pulpit.
“Do you think I’m a horrible person, John?” he asked flatly. The Reverend regarded him with surprise.
“Mr. May-I mean-Bill-you’re not a horrible person. You might not follow all of… God’s teachings, but that doesn’t mean you are not loved. You can still be saved.”
Bill laughed softly.
“I’m past saving Reverend. Maybe before I go to Hell, I can at least do one last thing for this town. After all, someone has to when the Sheriff won’t.”
Reverend Passey sighed.
“No judgement here Bill. Remember that. The Sheriff has had his fair share of troubles… No thanks to me…”
Bill cast a look at the man sitting a few pews behind them on the opposite side.
The Sheriff was scowling as usual with his gaunt face and unkempt light brown hair as he stared absentmindedly at the bench in front of him, lost in his own thoughts.
There began to be a little bit of panic when mist began to fill the room, and the families taking refuge held on tighter to each other and scooted in closer.
“But-we’re inside!” a woman shuddered.
“We’re in a church of all places!!” a man exclaimed.
The Mayor cursed and stood up, much to the cringing of the Reverend beside him.
“Everyone stay calm!” he said, raising his voice, trying to calm the panic. “If no one wanders off, we should be fine. Stick together!”
The fog became thicker and thicker, a cold blanket of precipitation layering itself on the frightened shivering people huddling together.
The Reverend stood up and watched as the world around him seemed to disappear. The Mayor became enveloped in the fog, and the icy cloud ate everything in sight.
The Reverend could feel goosebumps rise up on his arm, and his breath came out in its own icy little cloud. The cold gripped him tightly, and he suddenly felt that there was something watching him.
He whirled around, but could see nothing through the thick haze.
The Reverend swallowed. The Mayor’s words had filled him with a sense of foreboding that had settled itself in his stomach.
He knew he ought to be having faith, perhaps even saying a prayer or two for safety or forgiveness for his own sins, but at the moment, he felt like he could only deal with the crippling cold that was surrounding him.
“Cindy?!? Cindy, where are you?? CINDY!!” a woman lamented.
At that moment, there was a combination of ear splitting screams, and he covered his ears to try to block out the sound.
He had heard that cry too many times and knew exactly what it meant.
No one was safe.
They had struck again…
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Tickety tick tap tap tap.
Tickety tick tap tap tap.
The room was filled with the clicking sound of fingers on keyboards, typing away, their bored faces illuminated by the blue glow of their computer screens.
The men and women on the floor were crammed into cubicles tighter than sardines in a can.
The smell of burnt popcorn and cigarettes was enough to make anyone feel sick in this already horrible environment, but there was one person who didn’t seem to mind.
Ian Vendeleer adjusted the tie under his green sweater vest and continued typing orders for staplers away happily.
He could have gone on like this for hours, if it hadn’t been for an aggravating phone call.
“Hello! Welcome to Staples and Pencils Incorporated, how can I help you?” he recited as he answered the phone.
“Hey bro!! How’re things going down in the office?”
Ian scowled, hunching his shoulders up and pushing his rectangular glasses farther up his nose.
“…Roderick. What do you want this time?” He exasperated. He just wanted to get back to his spreadsheets, and his brother always seemed to call at the worst time.
“Weeeell… I’m kind of in a bind…”
“Don’t tell me. You tried to infiltrate some high-level drug trade so you could get another reward at the station?
“Or-no-this time there is a bomb that’s going to kill some political leader and you were hired to find it.
“No wait- it’s another missing person, and you’re having trouble figuring out how to get them out of the lair of the bad guys or something.”
“Am I right?” Ian asked, his eyebrow raised.
“Well… It’s… kind of a combination of the first and last one…” Roderick mumbled. “My client’s husband was taken by some people in a drug trade because-.”
“Roderick. I’m not interested in why the guy was taken. Why can’t you just let the police handle this type of stuff?” Ian asked, rubbing his eye from underneath his glasses.
“Can we talk about this stuff later?” his younger brother asked, sounding a little annoyed. “I’m kind of surrounded by some people who will probably kill me if they find me.”
Ian groaned. “Fiiiine. What do you need me to do?”
“Great! Thanks bro! I’m down by the docks between sections C and D by Mayflower street. I need some of our usual supplies and-.”
Suddenly, there was a yell from the other side of the phone, and the call was lost after the sound of a struggle.
Ian smacked himself in the forehead, knowing what this meant. Looks like the older brother would have to come and save the day. Again.
He stood up and prepared to leave, when a round man in a blue work polo and scruffy red beard stopped him.
“Ian-you’re not leaving are you?” his superior said in a voice that obviously belonged to a smoker.
“Sorry sir, it’s my idiot brother. He got himself into trouble again.”
“You can’t keep doing this. You’re a good worker, but if you go, you’re going to have to clean out your desk.”
Ian could feel the anger at his brother boiling up from his stomach. Another job. Gone. Just because Roderick Vendeleer couldn’t-.
He was going to kill him!
“Fine, sir. I’ll do it when I get back.” he mumbled.
As much as he liked his desk job and the quietness of it, family was still more important.
However aggravating they could be.
Roderick’s head was throbbing as he slowly started to come to. He was greeted with the pleasant smells of an old rusting warehouse that probably was used to bring in fish from the bay.
He scrunched up his nose in disgust, and then blinked a few times so he could see through the dizziness he was experiencing.
The first thing he realized was that his wrists were duct taped to a chair. He was also in a small room with a couple of windows, and he was not alone.
“I was wondering when you were going to wake up. You weren’t out very long,” a man with short blonde hair and large glasses said softly, also tied to a chair a few feet away.
His haggard clothes were soiled and torn, and his lip was swollen and bleeding.
“Are you Justin Bates?” Roderick whispered. The man slowly nodded.
“Sweet! Well I’m here to get you out of here.”
The man scoffed.
“Well, good job so far…”
Roderick stopped talking when the door to the little room opened and a few interesting characters stepped in.
Roderick did his best to give a smile at the large shirtless man covered in tattoos standing before him.
“Uh… Hello.” He said feebly as the man cracked his knuckles. “Could you possibly tell me why I was knocked out and dragged back here? I was just going to go fishing off the dock,” he lied.
The man narrowed his eyes and threw a punch without warning, catching Roderick by surprise. He opened his mouth a little, trying to move it through the soreness.
“How much do you know?” the shirtless man growled.
Roderick’s surroundings of the damp, leaky warehouse room spun in front of him as the beefy man’s fist made contact with his face. The cold moldy smell was also making him feel a bit nauseous.
All he had to do was stall until his brother got there…
“I told you man-I just wanted to go fishing off the dock!”
Roderick could feel the blood trickle out of his nose and down into the brown scruff on his chin. The man in front of him narrowed his eyes and cracked his knuckles again.
“Are you alone? Who else is with you?”
“Nope. My brother was going to come meet me. Want me to let him know I found us some fishing buddies?”
The force of the punch sent the chair he was tied in tumbling to the ground. Tasting dirt, he spit and pulled a bit uncomfortably on the duct tape confining him.
Why couldn’t anyone use good old fashioned rope anymore?
“I don’t trust this guy. He’s too chill with everything,” a small stringy woman with pink hair commented, looking at Roderick suspiciously.
“Wait a second-I think I recognize him! Isn’t he that guy who turned in the Gillikan group?” a younger man with a shaved head and gold teeth asked.
“What? That’s preposterous!” Roderick laughed a little nervously, his cheek feeling sore from when he bit the dust. “I don’t even know what a Gillikan is!”
The drug traders in front of him took a moment to look at him, trying to decide his fate.
“Well, he’s already seen all our faces. We can’t let him live,” the woman said, folding her arms. “Shall we do the usual and dump him into the bay?”
“What! Come on guys! You don’t seem like cold blooded killers to me-.”
Roderick’s death sentence was postponed with the sudden explosion that seemed to rock the entire warehouse. The room filled with curses as they looked here and there to see what was going on.
“Go see what that was!” the shirtless man barked. The others nodded, and ran out the door. The man gave another glare at Roderick.
“We’re not done here.” He growled. And then, he slammed the door behind him.
Roderick felt relief flood through him.
He was pretty sure what the explosion had been.
“What do you think that was?” Justin asked, looking around with a worried look on his face. Roderick squirmed a little from his spot on the ground, and then gave him a smile.
“That should be our ticket out of here.” He winked. No sooner had he said that, then one of the windows up near the ceiling swung open.
“Ah there you are,” Ian grumbled with a roll of his eyes, crawling through.
“What took you so long?” Roderick asked curiously as his older brother pulled out a pocket knife and started cutting through his bonds.
“Oh, I purposely took my sweet time getting here. Figured you would be able to handle them for a few more minutes.”
“What?! Dude-they were just about to come up with a way to kill me!”
“I’m going to kill you. You cost me another job!”
Ian helped pick him up off the ground, and then he handed him the knife so he could free the other captive in the room.
“I swear, Roderick. You need to get a real job.” his older brother muttered as Roderick wiped the blood off his face and cut through Justin Bates’ bonds.
“Why can’t you let the police handle these things again?”
“They take too long. Besides-the situation with Justin and his wife is a little too delicate to take to the police-isn’t that right Justin?”
Justin rubbed at his raw wrists as Ian opened the window for him.
“Well… yeah. My-my wife used to be a part of this group back when she was a teenager-and now that she’s out they won’t leave her alone…”
“They were trying to use him as leverage and were going to blackmail her if she went to the police.”
Ian sighed and crawled back through the window, muttering ‘whatever’ under his breath. After Justin got through, Roderick finally started to climb through the window.
“Hey!!” a voice yelled. Roderick looked back to see the pink haired lady was back, standing there in shock. He smiled and waved.
“Well, see ya!” he laughed as she drew out her gun. He pulled himself out the window just as the bullet hit the side, and then the three of them took off running across the docks.
“You’re lucky I keep those little explosives for you!” Ian gasped as they raced past some large storage bins. “Are you sure those things are legal?”
“Less talking, more running!” Roderick exclaimed.
The three of them ducked behind a large wooden crate as several large men ran out of the building.
“Roderick! You really don’t expect us to get in another fight do you?! I promised my girlfriend we wouldn’t,” Ian asked furiously under his breath.
“Speaking of which, I need to talk to you later about her…”
“FOCUS!” Ian whispered in frustration.
“Well, do you have any other ideas?”
Ian scowled and pulled a little detonator out of his pocket.
“You really think I would only prep one little bomb?” he asked, pressing the button.
Justin Bates ducked in fear as the two brothers seemed unfazed by the explosion.
“Who are you guys?!” the man asked incredulously. Roderick gave him a smile.
“The Vendeleer Brothers! Private investigators for hire! At your service!”
Ian shot his younger brother a death glare as he pressed the button again.
“Uh-excuse me-I think you mean just Roderick Vendeleer-private investigator. I’m not a part of your little detective business.”
“Then why do you tag along on all of my cases?”
“That’s besides the point.”
The drug traders went into another panicked frenzy as part of their warehouse exploded, allowing the three men to run by unnoticed.
Roderick smiled when he saw Ian’s light blue Chevy Cruze not too far away.
“I knew you’d come through bro!”
“Just get in the car, you dimwit.”
Finally, Roderick felt like he could breathe as they drove away from the chaos. He sat back in the seat and gave a nice long sigh of relief as Ian hunched over the steering wheel, grumbling to himself.
He looked back when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Thank you.” Justin told him sincerely. “I don’t think I would have gotten out of there without you two.”
“No problem. It’s all a part of what we do.”
Ian gave a sour look at the burger in front of him, feeling like this was the last straw.
Another girlfriend had just dumped him for his lack of job and for the dangerous escapades with his brother that he often found himself in. But what could he do?
Sighing, he picked up a fry and popped it in his mouth.
“Cheer up bro! Dinner’s on me tonight! Brought in some dough with that last one!” his brother laughed, tossing his wild brown hair and biting into his burger.
“You need a shave and a haircut. That’s what you need.”
“What? I do shave! I just like to leave a bit on my chin. And my hair’s not even that long.”
“It’s touching the top of your ears. That’s too long.”
Roderick rolled his eyes.
“Geez. Calm down. Stephanie was a total B anyway. You’re better off without her.”
Ian responded by chucking one of his fries at his brother’s bruised face.
Ian smirked and was about to make a snide comment about the money private investigators make when the tune of Eye of the Tiger started ringing from Roderick’s pocket.
“My work phone!! Looks like someone wants to hire a couple of detectives!” his younger brother said happily.
“Oh no. You are not dragging me into another one of your-.” Roderick put up a finger to silence him.
“Hello? Yes, this is he…. Yes. Definitely! What information do you have for me, good sir?”
Ian sat back in his chair and waited, folding his arms. All he wanted in life was to find a nice, solid, quiet job with no adventures or danger, and settle down with a wife and family.
He had never really been keen on anything to do with fists or catching bad guys. The way he saw things, telemarketers didn’t really make dangerous enemies.
But when you put someone behind bars; now that was a different story. After a few minutes, his brother hung up, a huge smile on his face.
“I’ve got us a case!!”
“Oh joy. Yay. My dreams have been fulfilled,” Ian said sarcastically, rolling his eyes.
“Come on… It sounds like a good one. The guy said a lot of other detectives don’t last very long.”
“Well that’s reassuring,” Ian mumbled. “Where is this case?”
“Pinnacle Gulch? Where the heck is Pinnacle Gulch??”
“It’s about half an hour from Ridgecrest.”
“Ridgecrest?!” Ian exploded, earning a couple of looks from other people in the burger joint. “You mean that place where we chased those guys to when they stole your truck?”
“That would be the one!”
“That’s all the way out in the desert! Sounds awfully suspicious to me…”
“Hey-you know I can’t do any big mystery without you!” Roderick begged.
“I mean-think back to the good old days when you actually were more a part of things. Remember the whole thing with the mailman back when we were kids?”
Ian sighed. Darn Roderick and his sentiment.
“Just-don’t say mystery. Whenever you say ‘mystery’ it makes me feel like we’re on some kind of kid’s show.”
Roderick looked at him expectantly. Ian gave a small irritated noise from the back of his throat.
“Who is this guy and what details did he give you?”
Roderick gave him a big grin.
“It’s the mayor of the town. Mayor Bill Cottam. He said it’s regarding some missing persons.”
“Shouldn’t they just let the police handle that?”
“He said the police aren’t doing anything. But it’s not just that. He said that there have also been some strange occurrences…”
Ian looked at his brother suspiciously as he finished munching on his fries.
“He wouldn’t say. He said he’d rather us just see for ourselves.”
Ian scoffed. “Nope. Not suspicious at all.”
“You’re coming with me right?”
“No. No and no. Definitely not. I have to go job hunting now.”
“There is no way in a September blue moon that you are going to get me to come with you to work on this case!”
A few hours later, Ian and Roderick Vendeleer were driving through Lancaster on their way up to Ridgecrest, California.
Ian couldn’t believe he was doing this. Where in his sane mind had he given into his younger brother’s requests?
And then he remembered that saying “yes” would’ve been the only way to get him to shut up.
Not to mention that Ridgecrest was too far away from LA to help out his little brother if he ended up getting in trouble again. He slouched in the passenger seat as they started into open desert.
Gone were the tall beautiful palm trees of what he was used to, and in their place were the grotesque twisted figures of the Joshua trees, their spiky leaves black against the setting sun and rose red sky.
Ravens the size of small household pets rested on the gnarled branches, ruffling their feathers and adding to the silhouettes around them.
“How much longer?” he said irritably, too carsick to read a book.
“I believe when we hit Red Rock Canyon we’ll know we are getting close.”
“Close to Pinnacle Gulch? Or close to Ridgecrest?”
“Close to Ridgecrest.”
Miles away in the desert town of Pinnacle Gulch, unbeknownst to the two brothers, there was a panic in a little neighborhood with dirt roads and faded signs.
A wind beaten blue house stood behind a family going back and forth from the door to the driveway. Several of their neighbors were standing outside, simply watching them.
“You can’t just pick up and move! You don’t know what they might do to you if you try to escape!!” an older woman in pink slippers protested.
“Or what they might do to the rest of us…” a bearded man commented.
“Besides Henry-haven’t you heard the rumors? No one has been able to leave. At least-not without planning to come back.” A woman holding her dog cautioned.
The Jones family ignored their neighbors as they continued to pile boxes into the car. The father wiped the sweat off his brow and glared at the neighbors trying to convince them to stay.
“I’m not going to just sit around and wait for my family to be taken!” he spat. “You all can just sit here twiddling your thumbs in fear twenty four seven, but I’m actually going to do something.”
The neighbors shuffled nervously.
“Daddy, I think we’ve got everything,” a little boy in Pokemon sneakers called out.
“Ok. We’re out-.”
Henry Jones stopped very suddenly and hunched over.
“Daddy?” his little daughter asked, holding tightly to her stuffed unicorn.
The man closed his eyes and clenched the car door in his hand as he started to shake. He wretched and then started to vomit black goop.
The man collapsed on the ground, gasping for breath as the air around them dropped several degrees very quickly, causing them all to shiver.
The neighbors started to back away instead of helping the man.
“No one is allowed to leave…” a sinister voice hissed from nowhere in particular.
The temperature rose back up to what it was supposed to be, and the man coughed up the last of the black goop on the ground. He shuddered as his wife threw her arms around him and started to cry.
“Told you.” The woman with the dog muttered as she and the other neighbors started to leave.
Mr. Jones wiped the black goop from his face and held on a little tighter to his wife and two children, as if they would suddenly be whisked away from him at any moment.
The Jones family slept together in the living room that night, too scared to be in separate rooms.
Or at least, they tried to sleep, but instead the four of them found themselves listening to the sand blow against their house in the wind, unsure if they were hearing faraway screams, or if it was simply their own paranoia.
No one was leaving Pinnacle Gulch.
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