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.
As Grant and I headed out of Borland, Jason’s voice came over the walkie telling everyone it was time to wrap. As much as I wanted to just head back to my room and avoid everyone else, especially Steele, I went with Grant back to Center Command. When we got there, Jason, Ed and Phil were already there talking to Amy and Amber. “That bell tower is all kinds of crazy,” Jason said. “Spook and Kyr said the door was locked when they got to the third floor; then it opened by itself. The same thing happened to us.”
Amber jumped in. “I wish I could get some of the staff to spend a night up there.” She paused long enough to redo her ponytail. “A lot of them insist the reports of activity are just the results of overactive imaginations.”
“I’d like to hear more about that construction worker who fell through the floor,” Ed added as he put his arm around Phil. “Something there just doesn’t add up.”
Jason stroked his goatee for a moment, then shook his head. “I have to agree with you, Ed. Either the staff knows the real story and they’re hiding it, or they don’t know and don’t want to know. Either way, we’ll definitely be doing some research during analysis.” He turned to Grant and was about to say something when Steele and JoEllyn walked in. “Oh good,” Jason said. “We’re all here now. How was the Fine Arts Building?”
“Quite a bit of activity on the third floor and in the ground floor offices,” Steele replied with an excited glint in his eye. “Nothing at all on the second floor stage area.”
“No visits from campus police?” Grant joked.
Everyone laughed, and Steele answered, “No. No Officer Friendly tonight.” I glanced up at him just as he looked my way. As our eyes met, I saw a flash of curious concern on his face. Oh great, I thought. There he goes reading my mind again. I looked away quickly, hoping he wouldn’t ask any questions.
Unfortunately, even though Steele didn’t ask any questions, Jason did. “Grant, where were you and Kyr investigating just now?”
I groaned inwardly and cast a guilty glance at Steele as Grant replied, “We were over in Borland, mostly in room 110.” Steele crossed his arms and regarded me through narrowed eyes. Grant looked down at me and then over at Steele. He gave me an apologetic look before he said, “We spent a little time in the all-purpose room—Kyr saw a shadow figure by the pool tables.” He glanced at Steele again, then back to Jason. “We had quite a run in room 110.” Amy, Amber, Steele, and JoEllyn all looked at him in surprise; no one else had experienced much of anything in that room. “The spirit seems to hang out in the closet; I suspect that’s where the suicide occurred,” Grant concluded.
Amy spoke up. “That’s odd. Amber and I did an EVP session in the closet, and we also tried using my flashlight to make contact. What did you do differently?”
Grant put a hand on my shoulder and smiled encouragingly before responding, “Well, Kyr seemed to…make a connection with the spirit.” Jason gave Grant a grim look, and they both looked over at Steele, who was in turn giving me a stern look. Both Jason and Steele seemed to make the deduction that something had happened to me in that room. I supposed that either Jason or Steele would be giving me a lecture at the first opportunity. Luckily, they decided to wait till later for that discussion.
A bit later, we all headed back to Borland and McKenzie to call it a night. As Amy and I headed into McKenzie, I noticed Jason, Grant, and Steele standing on the sidewalk between the two residence halls, talking. I assumed that Grant was filling them in on the specifics of what had occurred in room 110. Amy and I also spoke briefly about our experiences there, although I didn’t tell her everything. We went to our rooms and got ready for bed.
A while later, I had just gotten settled in bed when I heard footsteps coming down the hall. Assuming it was just Amy making her way to the bathroom, I ignored the sound at first. However, when the footsteps passed the bathrooms and continued towards my room, I sat up and listened more closely. They slowed and came to a stop in front of my door. In the light shining beneath my door, I could see the shadows of someone’s feet. I was just getting up to look out the peephole when there was a soft knock at the door.
I tiptoed over and looked out the peephole. To my chagrin, Steele stood outside, still fully dressed. I sighed, not wanting to deal with him at this late hour. I put my hand on the doorknob, then stopped. No, I wasn’t going to deal with this tonight, I decided. I tiptoed back to my bed and sat down. A part of me wanted to rush to the door, open it and tell Steele everything that had happened, but I willed myself to stay where I was till I heard his footsteps go back up the hallway and disappear. I found myself feeling disappointed that he didn’t try harder to get me to answer the door, then shook my head to rid myself of that crazy thought. After he had gone, I stood up and tiptoed over to the door again, this time opening it to peer out. I was surprised to find a hastily-scrawled note taped to the door; I pulled it off and read, “Carter, Grant told me what happened in Borland tonight. Are you all right? We need to talk about this! Steele.”
Part of me was irritated that he felt we needed to have a discussion about something that was over and done, but another part of me was touched that he was concerned enough to leave me a note. I stood in the doorway reading and rereading Steele’s large, scrawling handwriting. I bit my lip and traced his signature with my finger, wondering why this note was so important to me. I fought the urge to run up to his room to see what he had to say, but then told myself it was just going to be a lecture about not following his orders. Finally, I sighed, shut the door and went to bed, still clutching Steele’s note.
I woke up fairly early the next morning. After a quick shower, I dashed to the corner convenience store for a coffee and a blueberry muffin, then headed for the library to do some research on the incident in Appleton. On my way in, I spoke briefly to Mrs. Rutter, who had been the research librarian a decade ago when I first started working there. Now she was the head librarian. When I told her why I was there, she gave me a curious look and then responded, “That’s quite a popular theme this early on a Saturday morning. There’s a young man downstairs in the archives looking for information on the same thing. He must be part of your group.”
As I headed downstairs to the archive room, I wondered if Jason had decided not to wait for analysis to do research and had sent Ed down here to check into Dr. Keane’s story. I stopped in surprise when I came around the corner and saw Steele trying to figure out the microfilm machine. He glanced up and gave me a half smile. “Fancy meeting you here, bookworm,” he began, struggling to figure out how to load the microfilm onto the mount reel. His brows furrowed in frustration, and he finally threw up his hands in defeat. “How do you operate this infernal thing?”
I laughed out loud, amused by his inability to figure out what I thought was a fairly easy piece of equipment. When he gave me an irritated glare, I took pity on him and loaded the film for him, then showed him how to scan through the articles. “Do you know what you’re looking for?” I asked, assuming JoEllyn had told him everything Dr. Keane had said.
“Not really,” he admitted. “JoEllyn said something about 1964, but that was about it.”
He was scanning slowly through the Willow Lake Record, and I noticed he was searching issues from January 1964. I picked up the microfilm box and read the label, then rewound the film and removed it from the reader. “It’s not going to be on this reel,” I said in response to his questioning expression. “This one only goes up to the end of April. Dr. Keane said it occurred in mid-1964.”
I returned that microfilm reel to its drawer and picked up the correct one. Steele watched me load up the next reel and start scrolling through. When I got to mid-May, I pulled a chair over next to Steele so I could sit as I began to slow down to scan headlines. It was hard to stay focused on what I was looking for, as headline after headline caught my attention and begged to be read, everything from reports of flood damage after spring storms to a train derailment just outside of town to a local historian publishing a book about local legends (If Steele hadn’t been sitting right next to me, I might have made note of that to look up at a later date. As it turns out, I should have taken the time to jot down the name then and there.). Finally, in an issue from mid-July, a small article almost buried in the Community News section caught my eye. “Here it is,” I exclaimed excitedly. “ ‘Local Man Injured in Fall From Bell Tower.’”
Steele and I both leaned in close as we tried to read the blurry print. “On July 12th, 23-year-old Jimmy Cochran of Willow Lake suffered a fractured leg in a construction accident on the campus of Willow Lake College. Cochran reportedly fell through the floor of the bell tower of Appleton Hall, the women’s dormitory, and landed on the third floor. According to J. R. Fleming, owner of Fleming Construction, Cochran was part of a team that was doing restoration work on the bell tower, which had been damaged by fire almost a decade before.”
Steele and I looked at each other. “A fire?” he said, raising an eyebrow. “Did your Dr. Keane mention a fire?”
“No,” I responded, biting my lip thoughtfully. “I never heard anything about a fire on campus.”
Steele gave me a hard look before saying, “There may be something more going on here than anyone knows about. Or more than they’re willing to say.” I was only half listening to Steele at that point. All kinds of questions were bouncing around in my mind. Why hadn’t I ever heard about a fire before? Had anyone been injured, or worse? And why after almost a decade hadn’t any repairs or restoration been done? A sudden thought came to me, and I leapt from my chair and headed for the stairs.
“Carter, where are you going?” Steel called after me, half rising from his chair.
Glancing distractedly over my shoulder, I called back, “I have a hunch. Just wait there.” I thought I saw him roll his eyes and laugh, but I couldn’t worry about what he thought right now.
When I got to the first floor, I went straight to the Reference Desk, where Mrs. Rutter was sorting through a stack of papers. She looked up in surprise when I leaned over the desk and asked breathlessly, “Excuse me, Mrs., Rutter, do you know anything about a fire in Appleton Hall back in the 1950s?”
She laughed and removed her glasses, setting aside the paperwork she was doing to look at me. “My goodness, Kyr, you’re full of historical questions this morning. Of course, you always were in here looking up one thing or another.”
I smiled and apologized, realizing I must have looked like a crazy person. “We found a reference to a fire in the article about the construction worker’s accident. I thought maybe you’d have a rough idea when it happened.”
“I didn’t know you ghost hunters did so much research,” Mrs. Rutter chuckled. She chewed on her pen thoughtfully for a moment. “You know, I believe that fire happened in my mother’s junior year here at Willow Lake, when it was still the teachers’ college. It was in November or December, because my mother said everyone was getting ready for the Christmas social. She lived in Appleton, of course.” She looked up at me sadly. “Mother said a young woman died in that fire, although no one was sure why she was in the bell tower. They did know the fire was deliberately set, so many folks said it was a suicide. Mother said that some folks believed someone else killed her, likely her boyfriend. There were rumors that she was pregnant. That would have been quite a scandal back then.”
I stared at Mrs. Rutter in shock. I hadn’t realized there would be such a story surrounding the fire. “There must have been quite a write-up in the Record,” I managed.
Mrs. Rutter raised her eyes to mine. “Not as much as you might think,” she responded mysteriously. “Mother said there was very little said in the papers. Much of the investigation was kept quiet. In mother’s yearbook, there was a page showing the fire damage to the bell tower, and there was a small memorial picture of the young woman who died.” She jotted something down on a Post-It Note and promised, “I can bring in mother’s yearbook for you tomorrow if you think it may help your investigation.”
The investigation would be finished after tonight, I told her, but I was sure the team would be interested in seeing whatever information we could find. I thanked her and hurried downstairs to find Steele.
When I got to the Archive Room, Steele had his feet propped up on my chair and had his hands cupped behind his head. His eyes were closed, and he appeared to be asleep. I crept closer to him and stood gazing at his face. His features were softer, and he looked almost vulnerable. His long, brown hair had fallen down over one eye, and the urge to brush it back was too strong to resist. I slowly brought my hand up and was inches from his face when his eyes flew open, and he jumped and cried out, almost falling out of his chair. I jumped also, gasping loudly.
“What the blue blazes are you doing?” he exclaimed.
Clutching my chest, I quickly made excuse, “I thought you were asleep; I was going to wake you up.”
He rubbed his hands over his face and growled, “Well, you about gave me a heart attack.” He looked at me with sleepy eyes. Even though he was now grumpy, he looked so sweet and boyish that I couldn’t help smiling at him. “Does your goofy grin mean you found something, or do you find it funny that you scared me half to death?”
His comment made me recall my conversation with Mrs. Rutter.
I quickly told him what she had said about the fire. He, too, thought it was odd that not much would be said in the local newspaper about a fire that took the life of a college student. We decided to look up the article anyway, just in case Mrs. Rutter’s—or her mother’s—recollection was incorrect.
I went back to the microfilm drawers and searched for the rolls for the 1954 Record. After some searching, I found the roll we needed tucked way in the back of a drawer, out of its place. Thinking nothing of that fact, I took the microfilm back to the reader and loaded it. As I began scrolling quickly through the film, I glanced over and noticed Steele sitting with his chair tipped back and his hands in his pockets as he watched me with a half smile on his face. “What?” I asked, suddenly feeling self-conscious. Was I doing something wrong? Was he irritated that I had taken over his research?
“Nothing,” he said, still smiling. He set his chair down on all four legs and continued to watch me as I scrolled. I tried to keep my mind on finding the article, but I was increasingly aware of Steele’s presence right next to me. I kept catching whiffs of his cologne—why did he have to wear that today?—and having to refocus on the task at hand.
Thankfully, I came to November’s issues, and we both turned our full attention to scanning the headlines. Halfway through the Thanksgiving edition, Steele sat back and rubbed his eyes. “It’s a good thing The Record isn’t a big newspaper,” he yawned. “This blurry print is killing me.”
It was my turn to smile at him. Obviously this kind of research wasn’t his thing. I was going to tease him, but I thought better of it. He always seemed to turn things around on me. “Microfilm isn’t the easiest thing to read,” I conceded. “Unfortunately, it’s the best we have to go on.”
He gave me another cryptic smile, and I quickly looked away and began scrolling again. I soon came to the first week of December. Knowing that classes typically didn’t run too far into December, I wondered if we’d missed the article. Suddenly, Steele pointed to the screen and asked, “What’s up with that?”
I looked where he was pointing; there was a large black rectangle, about the size of a small article. A prickly feeling raced up my spine as I got the sickening feeling that the black rectangle was the article we were looking for. I bit my lip in consternation and looked over at Steele, who was staring at the screen through narrowed eyes. Obviously, he had the same suspicion. Just on a whim, I hit the print key and noted the newspaper’s date on the copy before I continued scrolling.
We got the whole way through December without finding any other mention of the fire. Apparently, Mrs. Rutter’s recollection had been correct. I sat silently thinking till Steele sat back and stretched. “So not only was there not a lot written about what happened, but someone also made sure that no one could even read what little was recorded.” He moved to stand up, saying, “So much for that idea.”
I looked up at him, bemused. I wasn’t ready to give up yet. I rewound the microfilm and took it off the reader, then got up to go back to the storage drawers. “Maybe not,” I muttered.
Steele turned to me and chuckled, “Not another hunch,” he said in mock dismay, then laughed and ducked away as I pretended I was going to smack him. He sat down shaking his head.
I could still hear him chuckling as I went to other drawers to find microfilm from The Times and the Daily Bulletin, two of the main newspapers for the surrounding area. I was on a mission; I was determined to find a reference—any reference—to this fire.
As I returned to the reader, Steele raised his eyebrows, impressed. “Wow, Carter, you really take your research seriously, don’t you?”
I responded with a hasty smile as I loaded the microfilm from The Times. Rechecking the date from the blacked out article I had printed from the Record, I scrolled quickly through to that date before slowing down to scan the articles. As I came to the section that usually contained articles from surrounding counties, I began to get a sinking feeling of what I would find; I hoped I was wrong. As I scrolled to the next page, there it was, a small black rectangle the same size as the one in the Record. “Dammit!” I cried, bringing my hand down on the table with a loud smack. “Son of a….” I tangled my fingers in my hair and leaned forward on my elbows.
Steele laid a hand on my shoulder and said with ill-concealed amusement, “Take it easy, Carter. It wouldn’t look good for a librarian to get kicked out of the library for being disruptive.”
I glared at him. How could he joke around? Didn’t he get it? “What do you mean, ‘take it easy?’” I sputtered. “How are we supposed to find out what’s going on in Appleton if we can’t even find documented proof of this fire?” I was really determined to prove myself by finding the back story for the activity.
“Relax, Carter,” he repeated. “Stop being so hard on yourself. You did get some of the story from Mrs. Rutter. And these blacked out articles are proof that someone covered up the story.” He looked at me grimly. “Even if we could find the story, that doesn’t tell us who blacked the articles out, or why.”
I sighed. I supposed he was right, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I printed this page as well, then rewound the microfilm and loaded the spool from the Daily Bulletin, knowing even as I did so that we would find the same scenario. I swore silently as I proved myself right. I printed the blacked-out article and rewound that spool and sat staring at the empty reader.
“Come on, bookworm. “Let’s go,” Steele said quietly, putting his hand on my shoulder again. “I think we’ve done all we can do here.” He smiled at me as I gave him a defeated look.
I returned the microfilm to their drawers, gathered up the printouts, for what they were worth, and we headed upstairs. We stopped at the Reference Desk to thank Mrs. Rutter for her help. She seemed just as dismayed as I was to find the articles blacked out in three different newspapers. Flashing me a determined look, she promised again that she would bring her mother’s yearbook tomorrow.
Steele and I walked out into the warm, sunlit morning, but the brightness did nothing to lift my spirits. Steele turned to look at me. Gauging my mood, he gave me a pouty, puppy dog face to try to make me laugh. Even though his action irritated me, I couldn’t help smiling. He chuckled triumphantly and gave me a playful shove. “Look, Carter, I know you’re disappointed that we didn’t find what we were looking for,” he began, sitting down on one of the benches and squinting up at me. “It wasn’t for lack of trying. You’re quite the researcher. I’m impressed.”
I sat down next to him, wondering if he was just teasing me or if he was serious. When he didn’t follow up with a smart comment, I replied, “I’m not much of a ghost hunter, but I can usually hold my own when it comes to research.”
Steele turned to me in surprise. “What do you mean you’re not much of a ghost hunter? Where did you get that idea?” Now I was sure he was teasing me.
I was quiet for a moment, deciding whether or not I should tell him where I had gotten the idea. When I glanced over at him, he seemed to be waiting for an answer, so after a long, weighty sigh, I replied, “Well, I’m not a level-headed, professional, great investigator like JoEllyn. I freak out, I pass out, I’m obviously scared of my own shadow.” I looked at him again and finished in a small, defeated voice, “I’m not much of a ghost hunter.”
Steele dropped his face into his hands and groaned, then laid a hand on my shoulder, shaking his head. “Carter, I never meant any of those things as a cut on you. I was just picking on you when I said you were scared of your own shadow.” He laughed good-naturedly. “It does seem that way sometimes, though. Right?” he teased, nudging me. “Riiiiight?”
I grudgingly smiled at him, not sure I trusted this nicer side of him.
His expression turned serious. “And just because I said JoEllyn is all those things doesn’t mean I think you’re a bad investigator. You and JoEllyn are just different.”
I chuckled at his words and blurted out, “You sound like my dad when I thought he was disappointed in me because I wasn’t all mechanically-gifted like my brothers.”
“Oh, come on, Carter,” he groaned, acting offended. “I sound like your dad? I’m not that much older than you are.” I laughed at his comment, suddenly wondering how much older he was. Before I could ask, he continued, “When Jay and Grant first told me about you, Jay mentioned he thought you might be a sensitive. I think he may be right; you seem to let your feelings guide you more than logic. I could see that when we investigated together.” At the mention of the word “sensitive,” I tensed, turning towards him with a worried glance. He smiled, and I could have sworn he winked at me. “Haven’t you noticed I’m the same way?”
“I never thought about it,” I responded uncertainly, still not sure if he was being serious. “But you never lose your head the way I seem to be so good at.”
“Carter, you’re still inexperienced, for one thing,” he responded. “And like I know Grant keeps reminding you, you got in way over your head on your first investigation.” He looked at me, all serious again. “You had a run-in with an angry, bitter, guilt-ridden spirit, and you’re having a hard time putting that behind you, plus, you were quite emotionally-involved with that case.” I bit my lip and looked at him. I knew what was coming next. “Which brings me to something we need to talk about.” He looked around, noticing that more students were going in and out of the library now; even though it was summer break, the library was still a busy place. “Why don’t we find a place to talk that’s a little less traveled?” he suggested, so we went across the street to sit at a table under some trees outside of Hoberman Hall.
Steele sat down across from me and looked at me seriously, so I began, “I suppose Grant told you what happened in Borland.” To my irritation, I felt myself beginning to tremble; I felt as though I were about to be scolded.
“I heard his side of it,” he replied. “Why don’t you tell me your side?” He looked more closely at me, then reached over and laid a hand on my shoulder and reassured me, “Come on, Carter. I’m not going to bite your head off. Just tell me what happened.”
I turned sideways on the bench and pulled my knees up to my chest. Letting out a heavy sigh, I told Steele about our session in room 110, the temperature change, the uncomfortable feeling in the room, Grant hearing a voice when I was in the room next door. When I got to the part where I made the connection with the spirit, I paused. “I don’t know what happened,” I finally said. “We were asking the spirit about breaking up with his girlfriend, and I…” I glanced over at him uncertainly. “…I said I understood how he felt because I had a bad break up too.”
Steele leaned forward, waiting for me to continue. I thought he was going to say something, but he didn’t.
I tried to put words to what happened next during our EVP session. “After I said that, this intense feeling of sadness came over me. When Grant asked the spirit if he though taking his life was his only option, the sadness turned into…I don’t know, despair, hopelessness, something. All I wanted to do was lie down on the bed and just cry or sleep forever or something.”
Steele reached over and laid his hand over mine, a gesture that both touched me and made me uncomfortable. I pulled my hand away and avoided looking at him till he spoke. “That’s when Grant got you out of there?” he asked. I glanced up at him for a second, then nodded. “It’s a good thing he did,” Steele replied grimly. “You could have been setting yourself up for an attachment.”
I shivered thinking about that. “I guess I shouldn’t have tried to relate to the spirit by sharing my experience,” I said, feeling as though I should have known that.
Steele remained silent, and I glanced over at him. There was a hard look in his eyes that suggested he was thinking the same thing, and I felt really stupid. He opened his mouth to say something, but then changed his mind. He picked up a leaf that had fallen on the table and twirled it between his fingers for a moment. “It’s not wrong to try to draw an entity out by relating to a shared experience,” he began. “But you have to be careful that you don’t let yourself get too emotionally involved. If you’re still feeling strong emotions over what you’re sharing, you run the risk of the entity drawing on those emotions and attaching to you.”
I sighed heavily, looking away from him and watching people jogging and biking on the levee. “I guess I really screwed up,” I managed, wondering if he still thought I wasn’t a bad ghost hunter.
Steele let out a sigh, then got up and walked around the table to sit down on the bench facing me. I could tell a part of him wanted to tease me, but he didn’t. He cleared his throat and said, “Like I said earlier,” he began. “You’re inexperienced. You’re going to make mistakes. When you’re a sensitive, you have to be especially careful about letting an entity draw on any strong emotions you may be feeling. You also have to guard against internalizing the entity’s energy. Either way, you let the entity get control over you, and you put yourself at risk.”
Although I had never really thought about it before, what Steele was telling me made sense. It more than made sense to me; it downright scared me, and I hugged my legs to keep from trembling. I was also confused. Jason and Grant had both told me not to let the Hollywood images get the best of me; they told me that in most cases entities were just people without bodies who wouldn’t hurt me. Steele’s warnings seemed to contradict that.
I glanced up to find Steele watching me intently. “Tell me what you’re thinking,” he said quietly. “I can’t read your mind.”
I almost laughed aloud at that statement, as many times as he had seemed to do just that the past couple days. But I sobered quickly, trying to sort out what exactly I was thinking. I had so many questions at that point that I didn’t even know where to begin. I looked away, then back at him, struggling to find words for all that was going through my mind. “I really don’t know what I’m thinking,” I tried, shaking my head. “Except that I’m…” I hesitated; if I told him what I was feeling, he was just going to scoff at me again.
As if to prove me right, Steele laughed and finished for me, joking, “Afraid of your shadow?”
A flash of anger lit up my eyes. He couldn’t read my mind? Then what had he just done? I knew he couldn’t be nice for long before he was back to being a jerk. I decided this conversation was over; I got up abruptly and dashed down the sidewalk towards the residence hall. I heard Steele calling my name, and looked over my shoulder to see if he was following me. He had gotten up off the bench and was standing with one arm propped up on a branch of the tree we had been sitting under, a look of irritated frustration on his face. Good, I thought. I hope he feels like the jerk he is. When would I learn not to trust him? When?