Disclaimer: I do not own TAPS, Ghost Hunters, or any of the people involved. The only things that are my own are my imagination and the ideas that come from it.
I could hardly contain my excitement as we closed the distance between us and the last mountain that separated us from Willow Lake. Not only was I excited about doing an investigation with my still-new-to-me paranormal group, but I was also thrilled to be investigating the campus of Willow Lake College, where I had been roommates with JoEllyn McFadden, a fellow team member. JoEllyn and I shared many interests, and throughout college we had been like sisters. The only differences between us were that she was outgoing and quite “girly,” while I tended to be a quiet, bookish tomboy. She and I also shared an interest in the paranormal and had each had our own experiences, both separately and together. JoEllyn had gotten a job at the college’s tutorial center after graduation, so she had kept up to date on many of the changes on campus. Me, I hadn’t been able to get back to Willow Lake. I had made plans to visit so many times, but then something always got in the way. I was excited to finally be going back, and I hoped to be able to get some answers to the questions that had been gnawing at me since college.
As if reading my thoughts, JoEllyn turned to me and remarked, “So, your first time back since graduation. Excited?”
I grinned back at her and replied, “You know it! But from what you’ve been telling me, I may not even recognize the place.”
JoEllyn slowed down to turn onto the road that would take us over Bald Eagle Mountain. “It looks like a different campus, all right, with all the renovations and new buildings going up, but I think you’ll still be able to find your way around.”
“I can’t believe the tore down the old paper mill,” I lamented. “Remember how creepy that building was, especially at night? I always expected a hand to reach out of one of those broken windows and grab me when I walked by.” I shivered at the memory despite the bright, sunny day.
JoEllyn reached over and thumped me on the shoulder. “You’re lucky someone or something DIDN’T grab you,” she scolded. “Always walking around alone at night. I hope you don’t still do that.”
“No, not where I live,” I replied, glancing out the window at the new housing developments springing up where farmland used to be. I was afraid she’d be able to read my face and discover that I was planning to do just that when we got to Willow Lake.
“Good,” she said simply. I glanced over at her, feeling a bit guilty for keeping something from her. As I looked at her, something in her expression told me she was keeping something from me. JoEllyn was terrible at keeping secrets.
“Jo?” I began suspiciously. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”
JoEllyn looked over at me, her green eyes wide with feigned innocence. “Why no, Kyr. What makes you say that?”
“Because you look guilty,” I said, crossing my arms and raising an eyebrow at her.
“Oh, psh,” she laughed, waving a well-manicured hand at me. “I’m not guilty of anything.”
“Okay, if you say so,” I shrugged, turning back to the window as if I didn’t care. We were about halfway up the mountain now, so I pretended to look for deer or bears in the woods. I smiled to myself, mentally counting to ten.
Before I got to eight, JoEllyn squealed and admitted, “All right, all right. It’s supposed to be a surprise, so don’t tell anyone I told you, but GUESS who will be joining us on this investigation?” She looked like a firecracker trying not to explode.
I stared at her for a second before it hit me. “No way,” I exclaimed. “You got TAPS to come on the investigation, didn’t you? How did you arrange that?”
JoEllyn squealed again and then laughed, her cheeks pink with excitement. I had nothing to do with it,” she claimed. “Ed and Phil from the campus Paranormal Club set it up. They told TAPS how much activity there has been since all the renovations began. And Jason and Grant thought it would be fun to do an investigation with a college group.” JoEllyn had been an advisor for the Willow Lake Paranormal Club, which was just starting out when she worked at the tutorial center. I knew she was excited to finally meet Jason and Grant. While she had been happy for me winning the radio contest that allowed me to do my very first investigation with them, I know she had been crushed that I couldn’t bring a friend.
I smiled to myself, remembering that investigation. I had been crushing on Grant since the first time I saw Ghost Hunters. I never thought I’d meet him, let alone get to investigate with him and Jason, and the whole experience was like a dream come true. That is, until things started getting out of hand. I shuddered as I recalled how quickly the activity at the Berkeley mansion had gone from being a little frightening for a newbie to downright dangerous. And then there was the discovery that I had a family tie to the mansion’s original owners, a tie that had put me in a scary situation as we dealt with a vengeful ghost, a hundred-year-old double murder, and secrets hidden away in the house. I still bore a couple scars from the fire that landed me in the hospital.
JoEllyn interrupted my thoughts. “Are you okay? I thought you’d be excited to see Jay and Grant again.”
“Oh, I am,” I responded quickly. I’m just hoping this investigation isn’t as wild as the last one.”
“Oh, Kyr, I’m sure it won’t be,” JoEllyn assured me. She was quiet for a moment, then turned to me with a mischievous glint in her eye. “So, do you ever hear from that Steele fellow your Aunt Julia told me about?”
I slapped my forehead. “Oh Jo! I’d like to forget I ever met him!” He had sprung to my mind the minute she mentioned the Berkeley mansion. I was trying unsuccessfully to push him out of my mind, hoping JoEllyn couldn’t read my thoughts.
JoEllyn laughed again. “Honestly, between your rants about him and the way Julia goes on about him, I seriously want to meet this guy. Julia did say he’s easy on the eyes.”
I rolled my eyes, hoping I wasn’t blushing as I lied, “I couldn’t see past his arrogance to notice.”
We cruised to a stop at a red light, and JoEllyn looked over at me, bemused. He left some impression on you, didn’t he?”
I gave her a wry smile and replied, “I guess so. Of course, I left one on him too.” I still cringed inside thinking of the hurtful things I had said to him. Without thinking, I muttered, “If only he were like Grant.”
JoEllyn gave me a stern look. “Kyr, I know Grant seems like the perfect man, but he IS married. Quite happily. You need to stop wishing it otherwise. And you need to stop comparing every guy to an ideal that may not even be true. I’m sure he has faults like everyone else.”
Knowing she was right, I said nothing. We stopped at the next red light, and she continued, more kindly., “Look, I know that what happened with Trevor really hurt you, but if you keep shutting out every available man who comes along and wishing he were ‘like Grant,’ you’re likely to end up alone.”
“But how do I know the same thing won’t happen the next time?” I really didn’t want to dredge up this conversation again, especially not when I was so looking forward to this investigation.
“You don’t,” JoEllyn answered softly. “But is protecting yourself from every little hurt really worth being alone and missing out on being loved?”
I sighed heavily. I knew she was right, but the thought of opening myself up again to that kind of hurt scared me more than meeting another angry ghost on an investigation. It was easier to dream about someone I couldn’t have.
We fell silent again, both lost inour own thoughts. My mood didn’t stay dark for long, however. As JoEllyn took the ramp that led into Willow Lake, I sat up straighter in my seat, looking around at the town where I had spent my college years. We stopped at a red light coming into town, and I pointed to a small restaurant on the corner. “Look, Jo,” I exclaimed. “There’s the Mustang Grill. I wonder if old Pete still works in the kitchen.”
JoEllyn snorted and replied, “No doubt! Remember how he always had that cigarette hanging out of his mouth? I swear ashes were the secret recipe in his chili.”
The car behind us honked its horn, and JoEllyn realized the light had turned green. We turned left onto Market Street, and I looked around, amazed at how much had changed in ten years. “There’s the music store and Greenberg’s Drug Store,” I said. “Wait, there’s a Subway. Didn’t that used to be that smelly old pet store?”
JoEllyn chuckled and raised an eyebrow. “I told you things have changed. Wait till we get up further.”
I continued to marvel at how different the downtown area looked. Suddenly the corner hair salon caught my eye. “Oh, Rita Rae’s is still here.” I had shared a studio apartment above that hair salon with another student one summer when I worked at the library. My roommate usually spent the night over at her boyfriend’s, so I was often alone. One night, I had witnessed a dish towel fly across the room, which scared the daylights out of me. Oddly enough, I had never mentioned it to my roommate, but I had called JoEllyn and confided in her what had happened. She assured me that there was likely nothing there that would harm me. Still, I slept with the lights on after that. “Do you remember my crazy experience there?”
JoEllyn grinned over at me. “I sure do! I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so scared. I wonder if anyonre else has had experiences there.”
I shook my head. “No idea.” I smiled sheepishly and admitted, “I did mention it to Jason and Grant, but we never got around to discussing it.”
“You didn’t tell me that!” JoEllyn exclaimed. “Oh, I wish we could get into that apartment and check it out.”
I agreed and suggested we run it by the campus Paranormal Club. Maybe they could find out if students still lived there and find out if anyone else had experienced anything.
We had turned onto Bella Vista Avenue and were nearing campus when my eyes flew open in surprise. There where the crumbling, sprawling brick paper mill building had stood, a brand new student housing building was going up. While some people had called the paper mill an eyesore, I had always thought it had character and was a reminder of the town’s history. The street just didn’t look the same, and it felt as though something important was missing. “Wow,” was all I could say. As we passed the site, I turned in my seat and craned my neck, still in disbelief over the transformation.
JoEllyn nudged my side, and I turned around. There before us lay the Willow Lake campus. I stifled a squeal, forgetting for the moment the now-gone paper mill. She slowed down as we passed the Graham E. B. Lawrence Fine Arts Building and a couple residence halls. My jaw dropped as I saw what used to be the dining hall. “Arthur-Ambrose Campus Center?” I exclaimed, confused. “When did the dining hall become a campus center?
JoEllyn laughed and reminded me, “About three years ago, when Dorothy Arthur passed away and left her entire fortune to the college. I know you had to have seen the Alumni Newsletters.” She told me the story of Mrs. Arthur, who had never herself attended Willow Lake, but had been “adopted” by one of the clubs on campus as a service project. The members helped her maintain her modest yet comfortable home after her husband passed away suddenly. Everyone had assumed she was a widow struggling to make ends meet, so it was a shock to everyone when the college was named the sole beneficiary of her estate, which was worth several million dollars. “I guess it pays to be nice to everyone,” JoEllyn finished.
“That’s what my grandma always said,” I added, as we turned onto the side street that would take us around to the back of Douglas Hall, where we were meeting Ed, Phil, and Amber from the Paranormal Club.
JoEllyn pulled into a parking space at the back of the residence hall, and we got out of the car. Two people were standing just inside the back door, and they came out to meet us. JoEllyn stepped forward confidently and shook hands with a tall, blond-haired man wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a red Willow Lake sweatshirt. She introduced herself and me, and the man said, “It’s so nice to finally meet you, JoEllyn; we’ve heard so much about you and how you got this club off the ground. We’re so glad you could come. I’m Ed, and this is Phil.”
I stepped forward and shook Ed’s hand, and as I reached for Phil’s hand I was a bit taken aback. I expected Phil to be a man, but Phil was a tall, willowy raven-haired woman. She seemed to pick up on my momentary confusion and laughed, “It’s short for Philesia. I get a lot of strange looks when people first meet me.”
I smiled back at her and responded, “Well, with a name like Kyrie, I can say that I share your pain.”
Smiling over at Phil, Ed said, “Amber will join us later this evening. She works at the Admissions Office and won’t get off till 5. She already met with Jason and Grant, and they’re setting up over at Palmer Hall.”
“Not a problem,” JoEllyn responded. “So what’s on the agenda?”
Phil motioned towards Palmer Hall, a classroom building that also housed the student computer labs and the campus radio/TV station. “We’ll go over and touch base with TAPS. We’re going to set up Center Command at Palmer and take advantage of the computers and all the other media equipment.” I gathered that Phil was the Paranormal Club’s tech expert.
The four of us headed over towards Palmer Hall. As we walked the narrow sidewalk around to the back of the building, I could sense the others’ excitement as they anticipated meeting Jason and Grant, and whoever else they may have brought along. I smiled, recalling how I’d felt the first time I met them too, and I had to admit, I was just as excited to be seeing them again. As we came around the side of the building and caught sight of the TAPS vans, JoEllyn suddenly grabbed my arm and stifled a squeal. Ed and Phil turned around to look at us, and I could tell that Phil was trying not to squeal too. JoEllyn giggled like a schoolgirl and asked, “So what do you think Jason and Grant will say when they see you?”
Before I could answer, Ed interrupted, “Oh that’s right! You’ve already investigated with them! AWESOME!!!”
I smiled nervously. I didn’t like being the center of attention. “They might think, oh lord, there’s that crazy Kyr. I hope she doesn’t bring another wild and crazy ride…”
“Oh, stop!” JoEllyn exclaimed. “I’ll bet they;ll be happy to see you again. Maybe you should hold back so they don’t see you right away. Then jump out and surprise them.”
Ed and Phil agreed, then started towards the TAPS vans. While they went around to the back to meet Jason and Grant, I quickly dashed to the side of the van so they wouldn’t see me. I heard Ed and Phil introducing themselves to Jason and Grant, and Grant asked, “Is the other group here yet?”
Ed introduced JoEllyn first to Jason and then to Grant. I had to stifle a laugh as the usually confident JoEllyn was stuttering and stammering like a starstruck teen.
Jason asked, “Are you the only one from your group who could make it?”
JoEllyn suddenly recovered her composure as she laughed and answered, “No, I actually brought one other member.” She stuck her head around to the side of the van and motiioned to me. “I think you may know this person.”
Unable to keep a wide grin off my face, I stepped around behind the van. Jason and Grant’s jaws dropped, and they looked at each other and laughed. Grant came forward and caught me up in a hug. “What a surpise! It’s great to see you!”
Jason was next, giving me a bear hug and picking me up off the ground. “This is awesome! So you did find yourself a group; good for you!”
I stepped back and laughed, “JoEllyn sprung it on me on the way up here that you guys would be here. I just hope this time doesn’t turn out as crazy as the last one.”
Grant cocked his head and joked, “Well, if you’re involved, how could it be anything else?”
Jason stepped forward and nudged Grant. “Speaking of the last investigation, this is kind of unexpected. How do you think this will go over with…” He motioned with his eyes towards the other TAPS van. Amy had just peeked around the side of the van and said something to someone else inside, then started towards us.
I was just about to ask Jason what he meant when out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move. I glanced toward the van, and felt my stomach drop sickeningly. I felt the color drain out of my face as I saw none other than Spook Steele.