Disclaimer: I do not own, nor am I affiliated in any way with TAPS, Ghost Hunters, or any of the people involved. The only things that are truly mine are my imagination and the ideas that come from it.
After a few hours sleep, I met up with JoEllyn and Phil. We grabbed a quick lunch at the Pizzaverse just up the street and then headed back to campus. I had told JoEllyn and Phil that I wanted to see some of the changes I had heard about, and I hoped to see some of my former professors if they were on campus during break.
Phil took us to the Arthur-Ambrose Student Center and gave us a tour of the new facility. The lower level, which had been just offices and a lot of empty space when JoEllyn and I were there, was now a campus-run fast food court with pizza, burgers and a deli, and a small convenience store at the lower end. The second floor was still the dining hall, although it looked nothing like the dining hall I remembered. There was new, brightly-colored tile on the floor, big screen TVs on two of the walls, and an ATM right by the entrance. The recently-constructed third floor was a coffeehouse equipped with computers and multi-media equipment so it could be used for staff or club meetings. JoEllyn and I just gaped like tourists at the new facility. I couldn’t imagine students complaining about “cafeteria food” the way we had.
After that, we headed over to Hoberman Hall, the science building. My earlier hunch about Phil had been right; she was an earth science major. I was thrilled when she told me that Dr. Keane still taught there, and that he was probably in his office. I had taken quite a few earth science classes with Dr. Keane, and I had done some office work for him, organizing slides from his many years of field work and typing up class syllabi. He had always treated me, a Library Science/English major, with as much respect as he did his science students, something I couldn’t say about some of the science students themselves, or even about some other professors.
The three of us went through the front doors and up to the second floor. I wrinkled my nose at the musty, chemically smell wafting through the hallway from the labs. We came to room 204 and saw the door slightly ajar. Phil knocked softly on the door and stuck her head inside. “Dr. Keane?” she asked. “Are you busy?”
“Phil!” a voice exclaimed happily. “Come in, come in. Never too busy for a student.” I smiled at his words; Dr. Keane was one of my favorite professors because of his high regard for his students.
Phil stepped inside and motioned for me. “I brought someone who wants to say hello.”
I poked my head around the door and chirped, “Hi, Dr. Keane!”
His eyes flew open in surprise, and he leaped up from his chair and came around the desk to hug me. “Kyrie Carter, how are you? What brings you back to campus?”
I gave Phil a quick sideways glance, not sure how a science professor would take to the idea of a ghost hunt. Phil just grinned back at me and said, “It’s okay, Kyr. Dr. Keane knows all about the Paranormal Club and about the investigation.”
Dr. Keane gave me a quirky look and teased, “Don’t tell me my favorite pseudo-geologist is into ghosts now.”
I shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “I guess I always have been; I’m just more open about it in my old age.”
He laughed, and we all sat down in his office. I introduced him to JoEllyn, who was happy to finally meet him since I had talked so much about him while we were in school. Dr. Keane and I reminisced about my days with the Geology Club and all the adventures we’d had. Phil jumped into the conversation, excited about going rock climbing in the Quarry the next afternoon. “Oh my gosh, Kyr, you should come along; you all should!” she said excitedly.
I chewed my lip, half excited and half nervous at her invitation. I hadn’t been rock climbing since I graduated, and now that she had invited us, I was chomping at the bit to accept. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about Jason, Grant, and Steele–especially Steele–being there watching me. I had never been the most accomplished rock climber.
My attention snapped back to the conversation when I heard Dr. Keane asking JoEllyn about our investigation. She told him briefly about our paranormal group and about our investigation with TAPS on campus. Realizing that Dr. Keane might not know what TAPS was, JoEllyn asked, “Have you ever heard of the show Ghost Hunters?”
Dr. Keane removed his glasses and nodded. “I’ve seen it a couple times. Interesting, but not my cup of tea.” He told us that he was intrigued by the idea of ghosts but was a little on the fence about what he believed, never having experienced anything paranormal himself.
“Have you heard any of the campus ghost stories, Dr. Keane?” Phil asked, leaning forward in her chair.
Dr. Keane shook his head and laughed. “How could you NOT hear them?” he asked. “Freshmen come into my classes the first week back, and they’re talking about this ghost or that spook. I almost believe that the ghost stories are part of the campus tours.”
JoEllyn and I laughed as Phil raised an eyebrow and commented, “I’ll have to ask Amber about that, for sure.” Part of her job with the Admissions Office was giving tours to prospective students.
We talked with Dr. Keane for a while about the stories he’d heard in his twenty-and-some-odd years teaching at Willow Lake. For the most part, his stories matched the ones we had heard about and were investigating. He did laugh at our question about a suicide by hanging in the Appleton bell tower. “That tale has been circulating since the 1960s when it happened.” His eyes rested on me as he said, “If you go into the library and pull the microfiche for the Willow Lake Express from mid-1964, I can’t remember the month, you’ll find the origin of that story.” Apparently it hadn’t been a suicide, or even a fatality, but an accident during some renovations of the bell tower that year, when one of the construction workers fell through a rotted part of the floor and broke his leg. Over time, the story had taken on a life of its own and the unfortunate construction worker with serious but non-life-threatening injuries had become a pregnant student who had hanged herself because her boyfriend refused to marry her, and now her ghost haunted the bell tower and the third floor.
“That’s good to know,” JoEllyn said, looking at me and smiling wryly. I smiled wryly back at her; we had both heard that story and believed it ourselves. I felt a bit foolish that I, a librarian, had never thought to check into the story to see if it was true. Still, I had had my own experiences on the third floor of Appleton and wondered what the real story was.
Suddenly, Dr. Keane looked at his watch and apologized. “Ladies, I have to run to a meeting, but I am so happy you all stopped by.” He turned to JoEllyn and me. “JoEllyn, it was a pleasure to meet you. Kyr, I hope you won’t be a stranger to the campus. Let me know how the investigation turns out.”
Phil jumped in and asked, “Dr. Keane, will you be joining us at the Quarry tomorrow?”
He laughed ruefully and replied, disappointed, “No, Phil, I’m afraid not. I’ll be at my granddaughter’s birthday party. But have fun, and be safe.”
I was a bit taken aback at the mention of a grandchild, and I noticed for the first time how white Dr. Keane’s hair had grown in ten years, as well as the deepening lines around his eyes. A wave of nostalgia swept over me, and I had a sudden realization that a part of me had wanted to return to Willow Lake to relive one of the happiest periods of my life. What I hadn’t been prepared to face was the reality that Willow Lake had changed drastically since I’d been a student here. And so had I. As we said good-bye to Dr. Keane and left Hoberman Hall, I felt a hollowness deep inside me that I hadn’t known was there. Where was this coming from, I wondered miserably. I felt as though a cloud had suddenly moved in front of the sun, but when I looked up, the sky was the same crystal clear blue it had been when we went inside.
“Hey, Kyr, what are you daydreaming about?” JoEllyn’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “It’s almost time to meet the others for dinner.”
“Coming,” I answered, stuffing my moodiness back inside where I hoped it would stay till I could find time to sort out the strange musings I had just been having. If I ever could find the time, that is.
We all went back to our rooms to get ready. Ed, Phil and Amber had suggested we have dinner at the Mustang Grill before the investigation, so we could give the TAPS team a taste of Willow Lake.
The Mustang was almost empty when we got there; the crowds wouldn’t show up till later on. We seated ourselves at a back booth so we could discuss the investigation without too much attention. Ed, Grant, Jason, Amber and Phil sat on one side of the table, and Amy, JoEllyn, Steele and I sat on the other side. I was slightly irritated to find myself sitting beside Steele, and one glance at JoEllyn told me she had planned it that way. Was she ever going to give up, I wondered.
The waitress came to our table to get our drink orders. Phil and Amber seemed to know her, so I figured she was probably a Willow Lake student as well. After she had written everything down, JoEllyn asked, “Does Pete still work back in the kitchen?”
“Sure does,” she replied, brushing her long brown hair behind her ear. “Pete will probably be here till the day he dies.”
JoEllyn and I laughed at the truth of that statement, and she said, “Well, tell him Jo and Kyr say hello.”
The waitress tucked her order pad into her apron pocket and winked. “I’ll do that.” We watched her go back behind the counter, stick her head into the kitchen and say something.
About a minute later, a heavy-set, disheveled man in a grease-stained apron burst out of the kitchen, cigarette dangling from his mouth and a spatula in his hand. “Jo! Kyr! How the hell are ya?” he called out.
We both burst out laughing and waved to him. “Hey, Pete, long time, no see,” I called back. “You still making your killer chili?”
“You bet!” He slapped the spatula on the counter and punched the air with his fist. “Best damn chili you’ll ever eat,” he bragged with a grin.
“Excellent!” I responded, giving him a thumbs up. He gave us another wave and went back into the kitchen.
Grant was comically looking over his shoulder, under the table and around the room. Jason watched him, chuckling. He asked, “G., what the hell are you doing?”
“I’m looking for the hidden cameras,” he replied, laughing. “That guy was too much a stereotypical greasy spoon cook to be real.”
JoEllyn and I exchanged a look, grinning. “Oh, he’s real, all right,” JoEllyn responded, nudging me with her elbow.
I nodded, “He sure is. And he’s right about the chili; it IS the best damn chili you’ll ever eat.”
“Does he always smoke while he cooks?” Steele asked, looking concerned and a bit disgusted. I noticed he was leaning forward to direct his question to JoEllyn. Why did that bother me?
JoEllyn winked at Steele. “Yes, he does, actually. We used to joke that cigarette ashes were the secret ingredient in his chili.”
Steele curled his lip, shook his head and looked back at his menu. “Remind me not to get the chili.”
I looked sideways at him and then rolled my eyes. Really? It was okay for him to smoke, but now he was looking down his nose at Pete? I noticed Jason was watching me over the top of his menu and trying not to smile. I knew he was thinking about catching us outside the residence hall last night, and I wondered if he’d told anyone. I glanced across the table at Grant, who was smirking and looking back and forth between Steele and me. I shifted uncomfortably and glanced sideways at JoEllyn, who was intently concentrating on her menu and seemed not to notice.
Thankfully the waitress came back just at that moment, “Is everyone ready to order?” she asked cheerfully.
We all looked at each other for a moment; then I shot Steele a smirk and said, “I’m having the chili.” The look he gave me in return was priceless.
“You want that topped with cheese?” the waitress asked.
“Sure,” I replied, then whispered to Steele, “And ashes too.”
Ed and Jason also ordered chili, Grant and JoEllyn ordered New England clam chowder, Amy ordered a grilled chicken sandwich, and Phil, Amber and Steele ordered burgers.
While we waited for our food, we all chatted. I said to Ed, “I can’t believe they tore down Doc’s Bar and Sandwich Shop to put up a parking garage.”
“I know,” Ed responded, taking a sip of soda. “I am so bummed the Paranormal Club didn’t get a chance to investigate there before they demolished it.”
I slapped my hands down on the table in surprise. “What? I didn’t know Doc’s was haunted!”
“You didn’t know that?” JoEllyn laughed, equally surprised. “All the time we spent in that place, and you never heard it was haunted?”
I shook my head, then looked across the table at Ed, then at Phil and Amber, who all nodded. Steele chuckled and drawled, “Really, Carter, you didn’t know that? I thought you knew all the downtown…haunts”
My eyes met his; he was grinning wickedly at me. Feeling my face growing hot, I pleaded at him with my eyes to drop the conversation. Jason tried unsuccessfully to turn a laugh into a cough. I glared at him and tried to kick him hard under the table.
“Ow!” Grant yelled, jumping back. “What was that for?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Grant,” I exclaimed, reaching across the table to touch his hand. “I was aiming for him,” I said, motioning towards Jason, who now had his head on the table, shaking with laughter. Steele was also hysterical now and didn’t even notice me glaring at him. JoEllyn was watching me curiously, a half smile on her face, and the others just looked confused.
“Are we missing something?” Amy asked Steele, leaning forward to look down the table at Steele and me.
“No!” I said emphatically, hoping Jason and Steele wouldn’t say any more.
“You had to be there,” Jason answered, sitting up and glancing conspiratorially at Steele, who had quieted but was now smirking at me.
Once again, the waitress saved me by arriving with our food. I made a mental note to leave her an extra big tip. As everyone began to eat, the conversation was forgotten; at least I was hoping it was.
We ate in silence for a few minutes; then Amber spoke up. “Hey guys, I wanted to mention that Dr. Anderson, the new Alumni Relations Director, wondered if we could check out the Annex building back behind Lawrence.” She grabbed the ketchup and squirted it liberally over her French fries. “He said he was talking to Professor McClure, the ceramics professor, and she claims that she goes into her classroom a few times a week and finds her supplies rearranged. It’s starting to freak her out.”
“Professor McClure is a bit batty,” Ed muttered disdainfully, taking a large spoonful of chili. “She’d probably lose her arse if it wasn’t attached to her.”
Jason glanced at him and chuckled, then asked, “That’s a fairly small building, isn’t it? The one,” he cleared his throat meaningfully, “right beside the cemetery?”
“Right,” Amber said. “I know she’s most likely just afraid of the cemetery, and we weren’t planning on investigating there, but would we at least be able to stick a camera or two in there?”
Jason looked at Grant, who shrugged, and then at Amy, who replied, “Why not? Spook and I can set something up in there fairly quickly.” She looked down the table at Steele, who nodded at her.
We finished eating, and Jason flagged down the waitress. She stopped at our table and asked, “Dessert for anyone? The special today is shoo-fly pie.”
I couldn’t resist. I turned to Steele, smiled sweetly and teased, “Made with real shoes and real flies.”
He curled his lip at me again, but he couldn’t hide the gleam in his eye as he replied, “That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.” He gave me a playful punch on the shoulder, and I suddenly had the strongest urge to lean against him. Thankfully I stopped myself in time, hoping no one noticed.
We all passed on dessert so we could get back to campus and get started on the investigation.
Out in the parking lot, I noticed Grant and JoEllyn with their heads together, laughing over something, and I wondered what they were up to. I stood beside her car, waiting for her to unlock it so I could get in. I looked around for Steele, but he was already in the TAPS van with Amy and Jason. Ed, Phil, and Amber were in Ed’s car, ready to pull out of the parking lot. Jason tooted the horn and gestured wildly for Grant to get in the van. He and JoEllyn laughed and bumped fists before Grant got into the van.
JoEllyn unlocked the doors, and we got in. “What was that all about?” I asked suspiciously.
“Oh nothing,” JoEllyn replied casually. “Just talking about our experiences in Borland last night.”
“Mmm-hmm,” I answered skeptically. “What experiences were they?”
She looked at me and laughed. “Don’t look at me like that.” She started the car, put it into gear, and followed Ed out of the parking lot. “Did I tell you that Grant debunked the haunted faucets in the ground floor bathroom?”
I rolled my eyes and smirked. “Plumbing problems?”
“Exactly,” she laughed. “They didn’t need TAPS to come in to figure that one out.”
I laughed too, then turned serious. I had to comment, “You and Steele seemed to be pretty friendly last night. How did you get him to put his spines away?”
JoEllyn tried to give me a stern look. “Kyr, I don’t know why you think he’s such a nasty. He’s been sweet to me from the start.” She smiled mischievously and said, “If I didn’t have a boyfriend, I’d be tempted to go after him.”
My chest tightened at the thought of my best friend–or anyone–making a move on him, but I said shortly, “I’m sure you’d regret it.”
JoEllyn didn’t respond to that. Instead she changed directions. “Well, things didn’t seem so bad at dinner. You both seemed to be having a good time, even if you did have to sit next to each other.”
I crossed my arms and shifted in my seat, wondering if I should confront her about setting us up. We were just passing the place where Doc’s used to stand, and I changed the subject. “How could I not have known Doc’s was haunted? What was the story there?”
“I can’t believe you never heard that either,” JoEllyn said, turning onto Belle Vista Avenue. “The original owner of the place supposedly committed suicide during the Great Depression. His spirit was said to be seen on the stairs leading up to the apartments, the lights flickered for no reason, and glasses flew off the racks above the bar.”
“Oh,” I replied simply. The usual bar ghost activity. I had noticed the flickering lights a few times, but had always attributed that to an electrical problem.
JoEllyn looked sideways at me and smirked, “So what was the joke between you, Spook and Jason? Did you give Spook a private moonlight ghost tour of downtown Willow Lake?”
So much for changing the subject, I thought, feeling my face grow hot again. “No,” I lied, wondering if Jason had said something to her. “I just told him…that the campus isn’t the only thing in Willow Lake that’s haunted.”
It was JoEllyn’s turn to be skeptical, “Okay, if you say so,” she chuckled, pulling into the parking lot behind Borland Hall. She put the car into park, turned the ignition off and looked at me pointedly. “Really, Kyr, you should cut Spook a break. He really is a sweet, down-to-earth guy.”
I opened my mouth to argue, then decided against it. I was never going to make her see Steele the way I saw him, so why bother?
We got out of the car and each stopped by our rooms before heading over to Center Command. As I left the residence hall, I glanced across the street and saw Amy and Steele heading into the Annex building to set up a camera. I stood and watched for a moment as Steele effortlessly picked up the heavy equipment cases and carried them up the hill to the Annex. As the breeze blew his dark hair into his eyes, everything seemed to move in slow motion, and I felt my mouth go dry. I was such a sucker for long hair on a man, even a man like Steele. Damn, why did he have to be so good-looking?
“Kyr, you coming?” JoEllyn called. I turned and saw her standing in front of Borland, so I hurried down the sidewalk, pushing thoughts of Steele and his hair out of my mind.
“I wonder why they built the Annex so close to the cemetery,” I said quickly, to deflect any comments about why I was looking in Steele’s direction.
JoEllyn followed my gaze to the Annex and replied, “I don’t know. Maybe they ran out of other available property.” She looked at me with furrowed brows. “Do you think there really is activity there, or do you think the professor is just batty and forgetful like Ed says?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “Although if any graves were disturbed when they built the Annex, I guess it would be possible to have activity there.”