Scene Nine I shut the door. The hallway and second story landing on the stairs comes into focus after rubbing the crud from my eyes. Pale sunlight falls across the floor from towering windows in the hallway. Patty greets me at the top of the steps. “Hey, Sean.” The bags under her eyes tell me her smile is fake. “Sleep well?” “I’ve had better,” I say, yawning. She laughs a little. “I feel ya there, buddy.” She extends an open hand down the stairs and I oblige her. “Oh?” I ask. “What happened last night?” An exasperated sigh pursues my descent. “Oh. It wasn’t so much me as it was Jerry – er, Dr. Benson – flopping around in his sleep.” A genuine laugh. Feels good for a change. “No ghosts, then?” “Heavens, no,” she says, landing on the bottom step. “Jerry wouldn’t have any of that.” “How about you?” We stroll toward the breakfast room side by side. Patty shrugs her narrow shoulders. “I guess I’m more open to the possibility after what I’ve seen around here.” The doc and Donna both study the laptop screen on the table. Bloodshot, sagging eyes. Colorless faces. “You two have been up all night, haven’t you?” Patty sounds a trifle pissed. “We’ve poured over these recordings for their authenticity,” he says. His voice cracks and shutters under the strain of his exhaustion. Patty: “And, you found what?” Doc sighs: “Nothing to refute the occurrences.” Donna: “No tampering, photo editing, nothing.” Patty scoops some scrambled eggs from the foil container onto a paper plate. “It took you two most of the night to do this?” Wait a minute. “Patty.” She turns a narrow eye toward me. “I thought that you said Doc was tossing and turning all night.” Her plate hits the floor with a slap. A waste of some perfectly good eggs. “Oh, God. Jerry.” Benson: “I don’t know who you thought was in bed with you dear, but I assure that I’ve been down here the whole time.” Patty stumbles back into the countertop. She raises a shaking finger toward the ceiling. “Someone was in that bed next to me last night.” Doug looks up from his notes. “What else happened?” Patty: “Nothing. It tossed and turned next to me all night.” Jake: “Were you lucid when this was going on, Mrs. B?” Her arms cross and lock. “I wasn’t dreaming. I know what I felt.” Jake’s hands fly up as he leans back in his seat. “Just puttin’ it out there.” Dylan fills his mug and hobbles over behind Jake at the table. “Who would want to just flop in a bed all night long? What kind of message is that supposed to be?” He takes a nip of his coffee, which also smells a little like my dad’s liquor stash under our kitchen sink. Doug: “It may have felt like tossing and turning, but the activity may have been something entirely different.” Patty: (picks up her plate) “Such as?” Dougie tilts his sleek black locks to one side. “Dunno. Someone could have been strangled in that bed at one time.” Patty’s plate hits the bottom of the black trash bag. “I’ve lost my appetite.” Emily strides in from the kitchen and takes up a seat next to Doug. “So, what are we getting into after breakfast, boys?” Jake points to the notebook in his hands. “We’re checkin’ out the Servant’s Quarters out back. You comin’?” Em: “I’m down.” She glances up to me. Smiling eyes. “Care to join me?” I jam the last bite of my pastry into my mouth and nod. Doug: “The train departs in ten, buckos.” The grass has been worn down into a flat green carpet among the high weeds. Far off to my right sits an old two story stable house. Farther back beyond all of this, the old orchard marches off in clean rows of decaying trees. Jake: “This must have been some place in its heyday.” A squat single level house approaches from our left. I round the turn in the weeds behind Emily. Dew drenches the cuffs on my jeans. Em: “A mansion, stables, and servant’s quarters? What did this guy do for a living?” “Railroads and a shipping company,” I say. Her keen gaze surveys the backyard. “Why would someone with all of that money choose this place to build a mansion?” Damn good question. “Beats me.” I trail after her up the two front steps to the dilapidated servant’s house. Jake: “Rumor has it that McAllister came way out here because he was a wanted man.” Doug scoffs. “Don’t listen to him, man.” He forces the half-rotten front door open with his shoulder. He brushes the dust off his denim jacket and examines its interior. “Henry was forced out of the city by a malpractice lawsuit.” Jake shuffles past Doug on his right. “Yeah, probably because he chopped the dude to pieces and boxed them up for Europe.” Em (nervous): “Shut up, Jake.” It has a stale odor about it. It’s hard to describe, exactly. Like that warm lived-in smell has been sucked out. Slow paces around the main gathering area. A layer of brown dust covers everything. I scan the inside from left to right: three small bedrooms, a large hearth and cast iron pot on an arm, and a little kitchen to the far right with a basin sink. My stomach drops. We all look to one another for affirmation. Doug: “You hear it?” Jake nods, his face mashed up in terror. Once more, a woman’s soft voice hums a familiar lullaby. Em: “I think s-she’s over next to the fireplace.” She shuffles around behind me and latches onto my waist. “Shit!” Her arms pull her face into the small of my back. Jake (gagging): “How could --?” My eyes follow his up above the doorways of the main living area. Tiny skeletons hung in a broken row around the room. Evelyn’s sleeping babies. The woman’s lullaby gets louder. I want to look away, to run, but I can’t. Some, their miniature limbs – severed and missing. Others hang on rusty meat hooks, their barbs jutting between busted white ribs. Doug: “Sick bastard.” Jake’s doubled over on the floor dry heaving. Em: “Get me out, get me out. Please, God, get me out.” Their high-pitched cries intertwine with that of a bone saw. More little corpses with clean incisions around their skulls. The baby’s tortured cries drown out all else. Dozens of them. The saw grinds through its unseen barrier and then whines to a stop. A wet pop. “I need some fresh…” The world spins. Walls closing in. Jake staggers out the front door and falls to the ground with a dull thud. Doug’s on the verge of a breakdown. “Why?” Screaming. Their tormented tantrums split my mind and push the knot of nausea into my throat. Emily’s hysterics chase me out the door and down the bowed steps. My left knee buckles to the ground. Burning gashes in my kneecap. I crawl into a cluster of high weeds and puke. Scene Ten Lunch came and went. I still don’t have much of an appetite. Patty and Donna drove out into town to restock our supplies at the local grocery store. “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” blares from my right hip pocket. I slide my cell out and swipe the screen. “Hello? Mom?” Mom: “Sean? Why haven’t you called? We had a deal.” “I know. I--” Mom: “Your sister’s not getting any better.” Jackie. Poor kid. “Listen. I’m sorry, mom. I just forgot.” Emily giggles. Mom: “Is anyone?” “Yeah.” I glance around. “One is a hardliner, but not questioning anything.” Mom: “Where’s everyone else? It sounds really quiet.” I stride off into the front foyer for some privacy. How do moms know the precise way to publicly humiliate their sons when cute girls are nearby? “Uh, they went into town to get more food and drinks.” How am I gonna wiggle out of this shit storm? “That’s what I wanted to tell you.” Mom: “Is Dr. Benson looking out for you? He’s supposed to be providing everything for you. All expenses --” “God, ma.” I lower the cell into my bicep. “He is.” Mom: “The money.” A scoff. “Should be there.” Mom: “Good. I’ll check on it later. Jackie really needs the procedure, Sean.” “I know, mom!” Why else would I be out here? “Look. I’ve gotta go. The others will be back soon. Love ya.” I hit the red icon and set the phone to vibrate. I know she means well, but damn. “One of these days, I’m gonna --” A bizarre scent clouds my senses. I haven’t smelled it since we dissected frogs in middle school, but I’d recognize it anywhere: formaldehyde. The odor trails off in the direction of the office. A search for a logical source of the misplaced smell comes up empty. I trail the stench down the hall to the ornate wooden doors to McAllister’s office. It’s fashioned from one solid piece. Oak maybe. Intricate curling forms cover its surface in spaced rectangles. In the center sits a perfect square; the head of some bizarre bearded figure serves as the focal point for the swirling engravings. My hand reaches for the tarnished brass doorknob. Cold and smooth. Something warm and fluid coats my palm and fingers. “What the?” Blood. Darker streams of it in some places. It also coats the knob and its housing. I wipe my hand on a pant leg and bring it back up for an injury inspection. Gone. The knob, me, clean. Just like that. I turn the knob and push the office door open. A cloud of the chemical’s stench stifles my breathing. My lungs spaz out as my body attempts to right itself. Bright rays of sunlight filter in through the tall window in the room’s right-hand wall. An executive desk stands watch to my left in front of yet another fancy fireplace. How many does this place need? I walk to the window and let the sun warm my clammy skin. It hasn’t hit me how much I missed the stuff until now. A tall ancient oak tree leans to one side in the front yard. Judging by its girth and deformed bark, I’d say it’s been around about as long as the house has. To the right of this and farther out, a long covered bridge spans the lulling creek. One way in, one way out. Another whiff of the formaldehyde draws me away from my musings. Heavy sorrow and oppression clamp down. Soon, I can see my breaths in front of me. So cold. My teeth chatter. “Wh-who’s there?” The leather chair behind the desk creaks and groans. “I kn-know you’re there.” My face is freezing. Goosebumps shoot up all over me as I near the desk. The chair teeters back and forth in slow deliberate motions. I round the corner of the desk to get a better look. Back and forth. My right hand stretches out for the armrest closest to me. A fleeting dark form flutters past the window, startling me. I trip over my own big feet and land on my ass. “Evelyn?” Back on my feet in a flash. The odor pulls me toward the wall then dissolves without a trace. “Come on.” My fist thumps against the wallpaper. “What the hell?” Scene Eleven Tagging along with Doug and Jake into town. I figured that some fresh air couldn’t hurt. Jake pulls the side door to their van open and motions to the front seat. “You can ride shotgun, dude. No worries.” “Thanks.” I climb into the cab and buckle up. It reeks of stale cigarettes and cheap fast food. Doug swings in beside me and drops his notebook and pen on the floorboard between us. Me: “Where are we off to?” Doug: “I got a tip from a local on someone that grew up with McAllister’s granddaughter.” “Yeah,” Jake says from the back. “This guy’s supposed to be a little out there in the deep end, you know.” The van rattles over the planks in the covered bridge. Jealousy and anger tug at my soul. He doesn’t want us to go. Doug: “Crazy or not, we’ve gotta follow every lead that we can on this story.” I shift in my seat as the van pulls onto the main two-lane road into town. “Crazy how?” Jake laughs. “Rumors of buried treasures, underground catacombs, you name it.” Doug: “Meh. I might buy into the mass murders and stuff, but the buried treasure idea sounds a little too far off base.” I rub my right hand on my jeans. “I had a crazy experience earlier.” Doug: “Oh?” Jake: “Spill it.” Will they think I’m just as looney? “I followed the smell of formaldehyde into McAllister’s office.” Jake’s rump slides forward. I feel his hands grab onto my headrest. “When I went for the doorknob, my hand got covered in blood.” Jake: “Whoa.” Doug slows the van to a halt at an intersection. “Then what?” “I tried to wipe it off on my pants, but it disappeared.” Jake: “Psychometry.” I turn my confused face toward him. Jake: “You get imprints of the object’s previous owners on contact. Pretty cool, actually.” Doug shrugs. “Could be that.” He accelerates through the stop sign and makes another turn. “I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that it was just a run-of-the-mill haunting yet.” Jake eases back into his seat. “We could always test it.” Doug: “True. Maybe we can hook up with the doc later and delve deeper into the matter then.” He turns onto a gravel driveway that disappears down over a steep hillside to our left. Jake: “Holy shit, man! You didn’t tell me we’d be going off-roading.” A battered double-wide trailer grows in the windshield. Tan siding. Missing shutters. Cinder block stairs lead to a dented white front door. A rusted-out Dodge flatbed sits on four blocks in the side yard. Rotten wooden bed. I didn’t know you could squeeze that many shades of blue onto one truck. Doug stops the van and stomps on the e-brake’s clutch. “We’re here.” He grabs his notebook and pen and scurries out of the vehicle in an excited flurry. “Listen, guys. I need you to keep cool and don’t piss him off.” Jake: “Who is this guy again?” Doug: “Mike Simmons. He could be a complete waste of our time, or a goldmine of unrecorded information.” I ascent the wobbly stairs behind the pros. Doug: “Either way, let me do the talking.” Jake: “Screw the ghosts. I want the loot, man.” Doug raps on the door. “Shut it, freckles.” I inch up beside Doug on the top step as he knocks once more. He shifts his things to his left hand and goes for the doorknob. “Maybe he’s out back or something.” My arms cross and my muscles clamp up. “I don’t think --” Too late. The white metal door whines open on weathered hinges. The black and brown muzzle of a huge dog pounces through the torn lower right corner in the screen door. It’s snapping jaws force me off the step and sprawling onto my back in the damp grass. “Damn it.” Jake’s laughing so hard he’s snorting. Moron. Jake: “You gonna make it, Sean?” I heave my soiled body off the lawn and file in behind him. “Yeah. Fine.” “You the investigators?” The old-timer’s smoke-ridden voice spooks even Doug. Doug: “Y-yes, sir. Summit Paranormal… The old man cracks the door and swats his Rottweiler on the snout with something. “Git back, Mitzy!” The overgrown pup whimpers and trots off into a sunlit corner. “I’m Mike,” he says, prying the door open. “Come on in and make yerselves at home.” He waddles off toward a small round table at the back of the home. “Mi casa, es tu casa.” Doug and Jake follow Mike’s hunched form into the dank hollow of the trailer. Mike: “Don’t mind her. All bark and little bite.” Our host cracks the door to his scarred fridge. Its pale light illuminates swaths of crumb-littered countertops. “You fellas want a beer?” Doug: “No, thanks.” Jake: “I could use a--” Doug’s glare makes him rethink the offer. Jake: “Eh, I’m fine.” Mike fumbles around with the contents in his fridge. “How about you, short timer? Old Milwaukee. None o’ that fancy shit in here, I’m afraid.” “I’m good.” Mike: “Suit yourselves. I can’t get into this story without one.” (He drops two cans on the round table.) “I need one to wash the other down.” Doug flips his Steno to a fresh page and clicks open his pen. “About that, Mike. What can you tell us about the McAllister estate?” The dingy old man plops in a faux wooden chair and scratches the stubble on his neck. “The House in the Hollow? Oh, I could tell ya plenty. Don’t wanna keep ya here all day.” Doug: “You’d mentioned that you had been in that house growing up. Can you tell us more?” Mike’s first can pops with a long hiss. “Well, when I was a youngster, I was friends with Abagail Martin.” Jake: “The granddaughter of Henry McAllister.” Mike: “Yup.” (He takes a swig of his beer.) “Abby was a sweetheart. I always loved going to her place to play ‘cause it was so humongous.” Doug: “That hasn’t changed.” Mike chuckles. “No, I’d bet it hasn’t.” His worn brown stare falls into his mind’s dusty memories. “At any rate, Abby and me were pretty close as kids. One of our favorite games to play in that old house was hide and seek.” I pull my wandering eyes from the Marine Corps memorabilia hanging on the wall behind him. “I bet that was fun.” Mike downs another long gulp. “The best! I have to admit it, though. There was always an eerie feeling I got in that place. A kind of dark, heavy sadness.” His eyes lock with mine. He’s seen it, too. Mike: “Well, one day, Abby and me was playin’ our game and we wandered down into the basement.” (He belches and taps a cigarette out of the crumpled pack on the sill of the bay window.) “All right if I light up?” Doug: “It’s your house.” Mike strikes the end of his tobacco with a lighter and draws in a deep chest full of his smoldering death. Jake: “What happened in the basement?” Mike: “I went looking for Abby down there. I heard her giggles trail off down the steps. I’d almost made it to the bottom stair when her old man shouted down behind me: “Get out of there! You don’t ever go down there – ever!” Doug looks up from his frantic scribbling. “And, why do you think that was? The pool?” Mike releases a cloud of smoke into the light over the table. “Sure, the pool was dangerous for an unattended kid, but I think he was hiding more.” Jake: “The catacombs.” Mike nods. “Yup. I’ve always been of the mind that Old Man Martin was hiding something down there someplace.” Doug: “Do you believe that the entrance to these catacombs is in the basement of the mansion?” Mike: “I’ve never seen them or any doorway to ‘em, but if there was an entrance, it’d be down there.” Jake props his head on his hand. “Hold on. You’ve never seen them? How do you know they even exist?” Mike exhales another calm puff of spent cigarette. “Abby.” A wave of sobering realization crashes into me. Oh, damn. Mike: “She told me detailed stories about how she went into them. She told me that they were in the basement. (Exhales more smoke.) Said that it was cold and dark in there. No lights. By the dripping water, she figured that they went back a ways.” Jake: “Did she mention where the door was to them?” Mike: “Never did. Her best guess is that her Pap used them to hide a part of his fortune.” Doug: “That’s where the buried treasure theory comes in.” Jake’s on the edge of his seat now. “What kind of treasure?” Mike: “McAllister was said to have inherited a small fortune from royalty or something.” Doug: “What makes you think that’s true?” Grumbles give away the old man’s agitation. “You ever been in the attic of that place?” The three of us exchange empty stares. Doug: “Not as of yet, no.” Mike: “When you do, take a look around. You’ll see all of the proof that you’ll need.” Scene Twelve I am summoned for yet another experiment. Familiar faces sit across from my lone chair in the Dining Hall: Dr. Benson, Emily, Donna, and Doug. Doug: “I mentioned your doorknob incident to the doc.” Benson pulls his little recorder out of a satchel on the floor. “Most peculiar, I must admit, Sean.” A silk napkin, a silver spoon, and an old letter rest on the polished oaken surface. Benson: “This experiment will see if you possess psychometry talents and to what extent they exist.” My eyes scan the objects again. “Who’s to say that I want to do this for you?” Donna scoffs. “The money setting in your account speaks for itself, Sean.” She’s got me there. It wasn’t too hard to say no to the money for just watching me do what I do, maybe even help me to understand it better. Doug leans in over the table. “Money aside. You and I both know that you’re gifted. You know you wanna at least try.” I blow the frustration out of my chest. “Fine. What do you want from me?” Benson pokes his pen in the general direction of the three objects. “Pick one. Study it. Tell us if you pick up on anything – anything at all.” My unsteady hand hovers over each item. The spoon. Light sensations of warmth and home, but little else. The old letter. Faded and stained like the inside of my dad’s favorite coffee mug. Deep lines. The silk napkin. Younger and more vibrant. Something strong clenches around my wrist and holds it in place. All three watch with puzzled curiosity. Benson mutters into his device. “Subject has stopped cold over the napkin.” It’s soft and smooth to the touch. It doesn’t feel that old to me. An ethereal fog clouds my vision. Images and sensations barrage my body. “This belonged to an older man. Late forties.” The smell of fresh dry cleaning fills my nose. The warmth of a light coat settles over my shoulders. “It belonged to an expensive suit that he wore. He didn’t really like wearing it, though. Thought it was too stuffy.” Donna’s chair creaks back across the floor from the table. Her breathing speeds up. Still images of leger books and business checks. “He ran his own business.” Crowds cheering. Sneakers squeak across polished wooden flooring. Somewhere, a ball bounces and flies through a net. “He loved basketball, didn’t he?” Donna attempts to conceal her sniffles in the cuff of her shirt. Oranges. “He was from Syracuse.” Donna: “That’s enough. Please stop.” Too late, sugar. The car’s over the hill and someone else is driving. “A name. Give me a--” Letters drift into view one by one. “Paul.” Donna whimpers. “I said that’s far enough.” “Toothman?” The imprint of the gentle giant in his work clothes with Donna by his side comes into focus. I shake off the trance. My attention turns up to the sobbing girl on the opposite side. “Your dad?” Donna: “This can’t be. You’re lying. You’re fucking lying! This is sick. How could you?” Doug’s awestruck gaze turns to Benson for answers. “What just happened?” Benson shakes his head and goes to speak, but I’ve already got it. “You duped me. Why?” Benson: “It was the only way that we could know for sure if your gift was legitimate. Please, (he points to the remaining objects) try another one.” I lean back and cross my arms. Benson: “A real reading this time. I promise.” “Fine.” I pick up the old letter. Old and frail. Very delicate. I close my eyes and drift back into the trance. Weightlessness. I’m floating over the French countryside. Rows and rows of grapes as far as I can see. The scenery shifts. London streets. Constables on their rounds. Light footsteps echo off the narrow strips of cobblestone. It shifts again. Now, a steamship. Its loud foghorn rattles my gut. Pain. Sorrow. Surprise. The stench of death and decaying flesh turns my stomach. I drop the letter and slide back from the table’s edge. McAllister’s darkest corners now exposed for only my eyes to see. Emily: “Sean? What’s the matter?” Benson: “What is it? What did you uncover?” Scene Thirteen The tunnel is long and dark. Good thing I’m not claustrophobic. The glowing halo from my extended lantern reveals little in here. The occasional thin root juts from between the crooked bricks in it ceiling. Somewhere in the darkness, a thin water source drips into a puddle. A baby coos. Its playful attempts at talking bounce around in the shadows. I move closer, following her giggles and ga-ga’s. Uneven earth beneath me. Where the hell am I? The shuffling of heavy feet slows my advance. They’re still at a safe distance, but remain hidden. My right hand reaches or the near wall. Cool, soft, and slimy. Ancient and enormous stones. Not much farther ahead, a soft orange light ripples on the next wall. A small bone saw whirs. The infant’s lost his sense of humor. Those heavy feet scuttle some more around the other corner. I approach the bend in the tunnel. Snaps and crackles reveal that the unseen light source is a torch. Must be around the far corner. Something long and sinewy slithers over the top of my left sneaker and speeds off between my feet. Fuck! The baby whimpers and babbles as I creep toward the next turn in the tunnel. My eyes burn in the intensifying light. The bone saw grinds through something. Agonizing wails of pain. She’s screaming so hard that her little voice sounds nearly silent. I collapse to my knees in the dampness. Why, Henry? Tearing tissue. Splattering. Her crying dies off and the instrument slows. It clangs onto something metallic. I crawl forward through the cold muck. Easy. One leg, then the other. Not a peep, Sean. Not one. A light sucking sound followed by a pop. Like when you pull your boot from a deep wet mud. Scene Fourteen Sunrise once more. What a night. The remnants of the nightmare linger in my groggy mind. 9:43 AM I scramble into my clothes and make for the kitchen. I’ve gotta tell Doug before I forget the details. It felt so real. “No,” I mutter, bounding down the staircase. “It was more than just a dream.” Smoky, bacon-scented tendrils drag me into the kitchen. Jake: “Morning, sunshine!” I eye up the huge aluminum tins: eggs, bacon, hash browns, and biscuits. “Hey.” Doug’s scouring over his notes. “You okay? You look a little green around the gills.” I take a paper plate and fill it up. “We should talk.” Doug: “’Bout what?” I set my breakfast on the small table in the nook and slide in opposite of Dougie. “I had a vision – nightmare, whatever.” Jake: “Dreams and visions are slightly different, amigo.” I fork in some eggs. “Then, this was a vision.” Doug: “Go on.” The dynamic duo hangs on my every word as I recount the horrors of my mind’s eye. Jake rubs the rust-colored patch of hair around his mouth. “Christ, Sean.” Doug: “You’re sure it was a child?” I nod. Doug: “It wasn’t in some cave somewhere?” I take a hit from my glass of O.J. “It was definitely underground catacombs and manmade. Bricks, Doug. You won’t find those in a cave will you?” Doug: “I suppose not.” Jake rests his head on both hands. “What’s our move?” Dougie downs the last of his bean juice and goes for his jacket draped over a nearby stool. “I think we should explore the grounds a lot more.” Jake slides into his fleece vest. “Stables?” Doug: “I’m thinking the same thing. If nothing comes from that, then we should go back into--” Jake: “Oh, no. Hell, no.” Doug: “We have to, man.” The big cameraman shutters. “No way am I goin’ back into that little house of horrors, dude.” Doug: “What if a way into the catacombs is in the basement of the Servant’s Quarters?” Jake: “You go in, then.” I look around for the others. “Where are the Bensons and Emily?” Jake stuffs a flashlight into his hip pocket. “Doc went into town for some things. Em’s out doing some research.” “Oh.” I pull on my jacket and follow them out the back door. Jake: “Disappointed, stud?” Doug chuckles as he bounds down off the back stoop. Jake: “I think she’s got the hots for you, Sean.” “Whatever, Jake.” I wade down the trail through the high grass. Jake: “No, man. I’ve heard how she and that other chick talk. The things she says when you’re not around. (He whistles) Doug stops short of the main double doors to the two-level stables. “All right. Let’s focus, fellas.” He and Jake pull the tall doors apart. A wave of acrid decay. Jake: “Ah, man! That’s foul.” Doug buries his nose in the crook of his elbow. “Who knows when the last time this place was opened.” Along the back wall, a row of hooks shimmers in the daylight. Several of them have old leather whips coiled around them. Others rust in solitude. Jake: “Check that out.” He wanders over into the shadows to my right. A light click and then his cone of light washed over his find. Jake: “How old do you think they are?” I walk up to the tattered carriages and their strewn wheel assemblies. “Dunno.” Jake kneels down next to the footrest on the carriage and shines his light on a small plate. “Ferd F. French & Company. Boston, Massachusetts. 1896.” Doug: “Wow. That’s unreal.” His camera flashes capture the living history in its current state of disarray. Jake rises and strides around the structure. “Em would love this stuff. She’s really into Victorian era shit.” Dougie’s feet pad off into the shadows in the corner on the opposite wall. “No kidding? Hey, guys. Come check this out.” Jake and I scramble to his bent form in the front corner. The beam of his light sweeps over the cracks in the floorboards. Doug: “See that?” (His light shines down a deep hole) Jake and I exchange glances. Jake: “Think we should break out the spelunking gear?” Doug’s black beanie shakes back and forth. “Not yet. It could be from wildlife.” He snaps a few photos. “It’s worth noting for now, though.” Jake looks up the rotten ladder as we head back out. “Think we should investigate upstairs?” Doug rests his left foot on the bottom rung, which immediately snaps. “Uh, guess we’d better not.” I help Jake roll the doors closed and he lowers the long piece of wood to lock it. We follow Doug around the front corner of the whitewashed structure. Jake: “Well, I guess that’s – uhgh!” We both crumple over either of Doug’s outstretched arms. Jake: “What the hell, Doug?” Doug shushes us. He lifts an index finger in a slow swath toward the rows of decaying trees in the orchard. “See her?” Jake squints into the rising sun. I cover my eyes with a hand. As plain as day, she appears among the trunks. A woman drifts behind one tree and through another. Jake: “I got her, I got her.” Doug: “Keep quiet and follow me.” Scene Fifteen With the stealth of bumbling idiots, we creep across the field behind the stable house. My vision transfixed on the woman in the black dress. Doug whips his phone out of his hip pocket and holds in in front of his chest. “This is Doug Patterson. McAllister estate investigation. We’re in pursuit of a woman – probably a full-form apparition – into the orchards behind the estate.” Jake (labored): “Th-this is intense.” The choking weeds and underbrush give way to a shallow soft pad of dead grass, leading up the row of decaying fruit trees. Doug: “The figure’s now moving to the west across the rows.” The woman looks back and makes eye contact with me. They say that your eyes are the windows into your soul. Emptiness. If that’s the case, then she has no soul. “I think she’s--” Doug stumbles over a bent root. “Damn it.” His phone tumbles into the grass ahead of us. Dougie reaches down, never taking his gaze off the mysterious figure. “Go! Don’t lose her whatever you do. I’ll catch up.” Jake and I jog onward in chase. We make a left turn up another row and follow her deeper into the rising hills. Doug logs the events several paces behind. “Sorry. I dropped the phone. Still in pursuit. Subject made a left turn to the south. Appears to be slowing down.” She stops beside a tree and crosses her thin hands in front of her. Doug jogs to a halt beside me, panting. Doug: “What’s she doing? Did she stop?” Jake: “Yup.” She looks to me and then to the ground at the tree. Screw common sense. I’m going. Doug: “Sean. Wait.” I shake my head. “Come on. I think she’s trying to show us something.” Goosebumps all over. A sense of doubt, but my feet press on. Jake: “I doubt that there’ll be anything good to come outa this, guys.” We’re maybe ten yards away at the most. The dry blades crunch under my sneakers. Trunks of the other trees become visible through her fazing form. Doug (whispering): “Subject has stopped and knelt down next to a tree. Definitely a ghost.” Jake turns a concerned stare to me. “What does she want?” As I approach her, the woman vaporizes into the passing breeze. Doug: “Shit. What happened?” I sprint to the tree and search the leaves and dirt for her clue. Nada. Jake and Dougie file in, flanking me on both sides. Jake (snaps): “Just like that. Poof. Fuckin’ strange.” Doug hunches over closer to the earth and brushes the ground. “You think something’s here?” His brown eyes rise up to mine. I’m drawn to the ground by an invisible magnetic force. “It’s here. Something’s here.” My cupped hands plunge into the dirt, burrowing down deeper. What is it? What are you trying to tell me? Small stones. Thin roots. Another larger stone. “Wait.” I dust off my hands on my lap. “I think I found something.” Doug: “A locket? A ring?” It felt like another large stone at first, but as my fingers pry the object’s edges free, I discover it’s not. Jake’s lower jaw drops as I lift the small axe head from the ground. Doug: “Whoa.” Jake: “Let’s not jump to conclusions. It could be something that the workers left out here in--” Her bloody severed head appears at the base of the tree where I unearthed the murder weapon. Howls of pain. Faintly feminine, but interlaced with something catlike. Her face, a frozen sinister smile. I roll back away from the horror. Jake and Doug slam their heads against low-lying branches. Jake: “Jesus Christ!” A sudden stinging sensation hits the nape of my neck. Doubled over on the cool grass. Her maniacal laughter. What did she know? The phantom cold steel passes through my spinal column and windpipe. Can’t breathe! Darkness consumes everything. Doug: “Sean? Sean, stay with us, buddy!” His words glide along the lengthening corridor of nothingness. Fading. Converging into nonexistence. Scene Sixteen The good doctor wants another interview with me. So, I oblige. It’s all in his contract. Benson: “Glad to see that you’re feeling better, Sean.” I take a seat next to him in the drinking room. So many bottles of booze. “Thanks.” Benson tosses his right leg over the other. “I’d like to take this opportunity to gather more information about you.” My shoulders slouch down the back of my chair. “Oh? Like what?” He jots some notes on a page in his three-ring binder. “Typically, a traumatic event triggers the onset of gifts such as yours.” Those eyes, usually calming, now bore holes into me. Benson: “Do you recall anything that might coincide with the arrival of (he glances down at his binder) Norm?” Grumbles of frustration. My eyes glide across the rows of crystal bottles on the back wall, and then back to him. Doc sits in silence, awaiting my answer. What? Do you want to hear that I was abused as a kid? Locked in closets at school for being different? Do you really want to hear about me being molested? Go to hell, doc. I’ll be damned if I’m telling anyone that stuff. I shove my clammy hands into my pockets. “Nope. Nothing like that.” Benson: “No?” He knows better. He still won’t have the pleasure. “Nope.” He shifts legs and scribbles notes. “Are you religious, Sean?” His prodding has pissed me off. “Are you?” Benson: “I’m not at the center of this case study. You are.” I shift my attention out the window to the swaying limbs of the huge tree in the front yard. He strikes me as the hypocritical sort. It’s all right, doc. You don’t have to say a word. I can hear everything that you and Patty say every night on the other side of the walls. Benson: “Back to the question. Are you religious?” “Sort of, I guess. I believe in God and stuff.” Benson: “Do you go to church?” “Not any more. I used to as a kid.” Benson: “Which type?” “Baptist, I think.” His pen pokes the page. “Okay. How about your parents? Where are they from?” “My dad’s from upstate New York, and my mom’s from West Virginia. They met in school there.” Benson: “Where’s the Douglas family from, originally?” My gaze drifts to the crown molding. “Let’s see. Ireland, I think.” Benson: “You said that you believe in God. Do you also believe in Satan, Sean?” That look! What a messed up question to ask with that expression all over you. “Sure.” Benson: “Do you think Satan’s in this house?” I ease up in my chair. “What’s in this place is far worse.”