Disclaimer: I do not own, nor am I in any way affiliated 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.
Jason and Grant made it to the rear of Appleton Hall about the same time as the fire trucks did, and the rest of the teams straggled in soon afterwards. Jason took one look at the flames rising from the tower and swore loudly, grasping Grant’s shoulder. JoEllyn found me and pulled me into her arms, crying almost as much as I was. As the firefighters sent a rescue team to the bell tower, others were raised up on the cherry picker to fight the fire from outside. Thankfully the storm had died down, so they didn’t have to contend with the rain, wind and lightning.
The fire chief approached Officer Daly to find out what had happened. He began, “I was just doing my campus rounds when a damn big lightning bolt hit the top of the tower. There was a big bang and a bright flash, and next thing I saw was the tower on fire.” He motioned towards me. “A few minutes later, the young lady came out the back door saying her boyfriend was trapped up there, fell through the floor.”
“What the hell were they doing in the bell tower?” he exploded, looking between Officer Daly and me.
Officer Daly gave the chief a look as though the answer was obvious. “They were ghost hunting.”
The chief looked grimly over at all of us and then back to Officer Daly. I heard him growl, “Can’t we let 1954 rest already?” before he and Officer Daly went around the side of the fire truck, arguing in low voices about something.
Still shaking and crying over what had happened, I glanced over towards Jason and Grant, who had also witnessed the exchange. I knew the conversation was significant, but at that moment I had more pressing things on my mind. Jason and Grant took me aside, and Jason asked, “So what the hell happened up there, Kyr?”
I buried my face in my hands for a minute, not wanting to relive that scene again. “We were up in the bell tower trying to communicate with Mary…” Jason shook his head at the mention of the name, and I realized he didn’t know that piece of information. “As we started investigating, Spook out of the blue had a hunch the entity’s name was Mary,” I explained.
“Spook had a hunch?” Grant asked, chuckling and crossing his arms.
I nodded and told them quickly about everything that had happened on the third floor with the locked room and the shadows under the door to me being shoved and hearing the voice in the bell tower, and finally what had occurred when Spook went over to the far end of the tower. “I told him something bad would happen just like in my dream, but he told me it would be all right,” I finished, leaning against Grant and putting my head on his shoulder.
I sensed Jason and Grant looking at each other over my shoulder before Jason asked, “What dream, Kyr?”
“The one I had this afternoon,” I replied. I told them the same parts of the dream I had told Spook.
Jason laid a hand on my shoulder and gave me a good-natured shake before replying thickly, “You’ve got to stop having those dreams, Kyr.”
I glanced back at him, saying nothing. What I wouldn’t give to be able to do that, I thought. Jason chuckled grimly before heading over to where the others stood anxiously watching the fire. I heard him tell them to go ahead and tear down in the other buildings; we’d wrap as soon as they got Spook out.
Spook. Fear rose up inside again as I recalled how helpless he’d been when I fled the tower. Tears began falling again, and Grant wrapped his arms around me, whispering words of comfort. “Grant,” I sobbed. “What if something happens to him? It’s all my fault; I shouldn’t have let him go over there.”
“Kyr,” Grant replied sternly, grasping my shoulders and looking into my eyes. “It’s not your fault! You ought to know by now, you can’t control Spook, and the last time I checked, you couldn’t control the weather either. It was a lightning strike, Kyr; you couldn’t have predicted that or stopped it.” He pulled me close again and said, “Spook will be okay. He’s come out of worse scrapes.”
I wondered what could possibly be worse than the one I had gotten him into. Just as I was about to respond to Grant, the back door burst open, and two firefighters came out with a coughing, stumbling, smoke-and-dirt-covered Spook between them. My eyes flew open, and my tears of anguish were replaced by tears of relief. I pushed away from Grant and ran to throw my arms around Spook. He grimaced slightly, but smiled and put an arm around me before saying in a raspy voice, “I’m okay, Kyr. I told you I would be.”
“He’s fine, miss,” a young, stocky firefighter told me. “We just need to get him some oxygen and patch up a few lacerations, and he’ll be good to go.”
I followed them to the waiting ambulance, where they strapped on an oxygen mask and had Spook lie on a stretcher while they pulled some nasty-looking splinters out of his legs and sides and applied medicine and bandages. He jokingly pretended they were hurting him to make me laugh.
After the EMTs were satisfied that Spook was okay to go, Spook and I spoke to Officer Daly and the fire chief to give them our statement of what happened. We told them about the investigation without giving any specific details of our EVP session and related the events of the lightning strike and the subsequent fire. Both Officer Daly and the fire chief took notes as we spoke. “I can’t believe how fast that fire spread,” I finished, looking anxiously at Spook.
“There’s a lot of old wood in that tower,” Officer Daly explained. “I’m sure you saw that. I don’t know why they don’t finish fixing that up, keep something like this from happening again.”
The chief glared at Officer Daly as though he had said something he shouldn’t have; Officer Daly looked away uncomfortably. The fire chief turned towards us and said rather condescendingly, “Look, kids, I know this is a small town, not much to do, but aren’t you a bit old for believing in,” he wiggled his fingers in the air, “ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night?”
Spook and I glanced at each other while the chief spoke. I was irritated by his superior attitude but couldn’t help feeling guilty, as though I had just been caught doing something I shouldn’t. Spook wasn’t intimidated at all, and I could tell as I watched his face that he was trying to remain respectful as he responded, “Well, chief, from what I’ve seen, I think I’m too old to not believe in something beyond what we can see. That’s what we do, is try to understand what’s out there beyond the physical world.”
The chief stared back at Spook through narrowed eyes and a firmly-set jaw. “Just stay out of trouble, okay?” He shook his head at us and gave Officer Daly another meaningful glance before getting into the tanker truck and preparing to leave.
Officer Daly shrugged at us before saying apologetically, “Hard core skeptic, that one, more than some people around here.” He gave us a hard look, as though he was trying to warn us about something. “He’s right about Willow Lake being a small town. Very tight-knit, if you know what I mean.” He zipped up his coat and climbed into his truck. Before he pulled the door shut, he finished with a friendly smile, “You folks take care now. I mean it.”
We waved at him and watched his taillights disappear around the curve as he continued on his campus rounds. The parking lot behind Appleton seemed dark and eerily quiet now that the fire was out and the emergency vehicles had left. I glanced up at the bell tower. The storm had passed, and some of the clouds had parted to reveal an almost-full moon, which illuminated the stray wisps of smoke still rising from the charred tower roof. I shuddered, realizing there was still equipment inside that we needed to retrieve.
Spook once again accurately read my thoughts as he said to Jason, “Hey, Jay, I guess we should get the equipment out of Appleton and call it a night.”
He started towards Appleton, but Jason grabbed him roughly by the collar. “You’re not going back in there, especially not to the third floor,” he growled through gritted teeth. “Grant and I can get it.”
I glanced tensely between Jason and Spook, who were glowering at each other in some kind of battle of wills. I looked helplessly at Grant, who had obviously dealt with these standoffs and didn’t seem phased at all. “Jay’s right, Spook,” he soothed. “We’ll take care of the equipment; you take care of Kyr. She’s looking a little shaky.” He winked at me as I let out my breath in a huff and glared at him. He finished, “Why don’t you two go back to McKenzie and wait for us in the first floor study lounge?”
Spook’s eyes softened as he looked at me and teased, “Yeah, she is looking a little worse for the wear.” First Grant, then Jason laughed at his joke; I was glad it was dark because I could feel my face turning red as I narrowed my eyes at Spook.
They went inside Appleton, and Spook and I headed back towards McKenzie. After the way I had acted with Spook just before I fled the bell tower, I was uncomfortable being alone with him. What the hell was I thinking, kissing him? Had he even kissed me back? I didn’t think so. As I glanced at him, a sudden tearful hiccough escaped me as I recalled thinking that was the last time I’d ever see him alive. Now that he was beside me and for the most part unhurt, I just felt foolish and wondered for the millionth time what he thought of me.
Spook’s arm suddenly went around me and pulled me close as we walked slowly. “You okay, kiddo?” he asked gently yet playfully.
Trying to brush it off, I replied, “I should be asking you that.”
He laughed and rumpled my hair before answering, “Well, I can think of better ways to spend an evening than being chest-deep in the floor of a bell tower,” he joked. The look he gave me made me wonder if he was suggesting something he’d rather be doing. My eyes met his awkwardly, and I felt myself blushing again. He laughed triumphantly as he realized his baiting had worked again. Part of me wanted to wallop him, but a bigger part of me was so glad he was okay that I almost enjoyed his teasing.
A sudden rumble of thunder and the sound of raindrops hitting the pavement made me look up. Clouds covered the moon again, and rain began falling faster as I realized another storm was moving in. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I muttered, pulling away from Spook and trying to make a run for McKenzie.
Spook caught hold of me and said, “Relax, Kyr. Relax and walk with me.” He laughed, “After what we just went through in the bell tower, walking in a little storm shouldn’t seem like so much.”
I swear he deliberately slowed his pace just to mess with me. Luckily, this storm was nothing like the last one, and there was only a flash or two of lightning that made me wince and bury my head in his shoulder. He seemed to enjoy the stroll, and I relaxed and began to enjoy it too. Without warning, the sky suddenly opened up and the gentle rain turned into a cloudburst that made us both yelp and begin sprinting towards the residence hall. We were both drenched by the time we got to the front door. We stood under the small overhang, laughing and trying to wring out our drenched hoodies before going into the lobby.
Once inside, we squelched down the hall to the study lounge to wait for Jason and Grant. Spook sat down on one of the couches while I plopped down across from him in a chair. The first thing Spook did was to peel off his soaked hoodie and toss it onto the windowsill. Noticing that his T-shirt was just as wet, he peeled that off as well. My mouth went dry at the sight of his muscled arms, well-defined abs and sculpted chest. Seeming to forget I was there, he stretched and yawned before closing his eyes and reclining with his arms crossed behind his head.
I gazed at him as he lay just a few feet from me, my eyes drawn to the patch of dark hair on his chest that trailed down past his belly button and disappeared into his jeans. The sudden thought of running my fingers through that hair made a shiver run down my spine, and I looked away and stood up quickly to gaze out the window at the river.
When I glanced back at him, he was looking at me lazily with a strange smile on his face. He propped himself up on one elbow and said, “You should probably get that shirt off.”
“What!” I exclaimed, feeling my face flushing.
He sat up and reached over to pluck at my still-dripping hoodie. “Your sweatshirt,” he chuckled, but with concern in his voice. “You’re obviously cold; I just saw you shivering.” With a gleam in his eye, he asked, “What did you think I meant?”
I let out my breath in a huff and turned away from him, hoping he hadn’t seen me staring at him. I peeled off my own wet hoodie, trying to keep it from sticking to the T-shirt I wore underneath it. I tossed my hoodie aside and reached down to adjust my T-shirt, which was also wet and sticking uncomfortably to my skin. As I glanced down at my thin shirt, I gasped as I realized how transparent the wet material was. I also realized that wearing a hot pink bra under a light-colored T-shirt was not my most brilliant idea.
I stole a look at Spook and saw that he had his head turned away from me but was sneaking sideways glances at me. He gave me a guilty smile before clearing his throat uncomfortably and turning away, chuckling. I grabbed my wet hoodie and wrapped it around me, heading for the door. “I’m…going to…get some dry clothes…”
By the time I got back to the study lounge, Jason and Grant were already there chatting with Spook, who was still shirtless. I took a deep breath and walked in, trying not to stare at Spook. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him glance at me and suppress a smile before looking away.
Thankfully, neither Jason nor Grant noticed. Jason grasped my shoulder and asked, “How are you holding up, hon? Okay?”
As all the events of the evening seemed to crowd to the front of my mind at that moment, I had to swallow hard before I nodded.
“Have a seat,” Jason said, motioning to the couch next to Spook. He sat down in the chair across from me, and Grant pushed another chair over to join us. I glanced awkwardly at Spook, who was still trying to hide his amusement, and sat down as far from him as I could.
When we were all seated, Grant looked back and forth between Spook and me and joked, “I’m not sure we should pair you two up for investigations anymore. You seem to get into trouble together.”
I glanced uncomfortably at Spook, who gave me a smirk, and joked back hesitantly, “I told you I was a jinx…”
Spook let out a breath and reached over to grasp my shoulder. “Kyr, I told you, you’re not a jinx.”
Jason jumped in to agree with him. “You two weren’t the only ones who got knocked around up there,” he said grimly. When Ed and Phil were up there together, Phil got shoved too, and she had an intense feeling that she wasn’t wanted in the bell tower. Neither Ed nor I got that feeling.”
Spook leaned forward, his eyes flashing excitedly. “Did you go over to the far side of the bell tower?” he asked. “The entity seemed to hang out over there, and I got the distinct impression she wanted me over there, even though she wouldn’t let Kyr come along.”
Jason shook his head. “We tried to get over there where Phil thought she saw shadows moving, but one step on that floor convinced us not to try it.” He gave Spook a smirk and continued, “You’re either a hell of a lot braver or a hell of a lot crazier than I am.”
Jason, Grant and Spook all laughed at his comment; at the moment I failed to see the humor in the situation. “Well, it wasn’t a walk in the park getting over there,” he said, raising his eyebrows at me. He ran his hand across his beard and looked at me apologetically before continuing, “That’s how I ended up going through the floor. I forgot about the weakened part of the floor when I made a run for it after the fire started.” Looking pointedly at me again, he finished, “I put myself and Kyr in danger by losing my head.”
I returned his look gratefully. I knew that he knew what it meant to me to hear him admit to losing his head as I had so many times, even if he did have a better excuse than I usually did.
“Another reason why we tell you guys not to pull a dude run on an investigation,” Jason said, giving Spook a stern look, “although under the circumstances I can understand why you made a run for it.”
I could tell Spook was chafing at being chastised, even though his guilty expression said he knew he’d screwed up. I tentatively reached over and touched his shoulder; he covered my hand with his and smiled appreciatively.
Grant reached across and clapped Spook on the shoulder. “We’re just glad you’re okay, man. You too, Kyr.” He sat back and rolled up his sleeves before asking, “So tell us again what happened up there tonight.”
Since I had already given them my version of the night’s events in the tower, I let Spook do the talking, only interjecting when one of them specifically asked me a question. Jason spent a few minutes asking me about my experience with being told to get out followed by being shoved. He seemed especially interested in the fact that the ear I’d heard the voice in had been so much colder than the other one. He expressed disappointment that we hadn’t had a thermal camera with us.
“So what are your impressions on this entity?” Jason asked. “Do you get the sense it’s an unfriendly spirit that wants to hurt someone, or does it want help and just doesn’t know how to ask for it?”
Spook leaned forward with his hands on his knees, then turned to look at me. “Well, she sure wasn’t interested in talking to us,” he replied. “And she didn’t respond one way or another to our offers to help.”
“You said yourself you felt a presence over in the far end of the tower, and it didn’t feel friendly,” I reminded him as I shuddered, recalling the entity’s evil face in my dream. I was quite certain that the entity I had seen in my dream and the one we’d encountered tonight were one and the same.
Spook shrugged noncommittally and looked grimly at Jason, who returned his look and asked, “But you had no physical contact with the entity? No touches, no shoves, nothing?”
“Not a thing,” Spook replied. “Just a feeling there was something unfriendly there.” He raised his eyebrows and glanced at me. “And yes, I would go so far as to say it felt downright malicious.”
I smiled at him, feeling validated that he had admitted that. I knew Spook would never make a false claim just to back someone else up. Jason ran his hand over his head and looked at us. Letting his breath out in a long whistle, he said, “I don’t even know where to go from here. Our investigation is done, and we seem to have more questions than answers.” He gave Grant a hard look and continued, “That fire chief sure had a chip on his shoulder.”
“You got that right,” Grant replied, leaning forward with his hand on his chin. “What was that remark about letting 1954 rest? What did that mean?”
Spook and I exchanged a look, realizing that Jason and Grant knew nothing about our attempt at researching the history of the bell tower. Suddenly recalling the articles—or rather the missing articles—I’d copied at the library, I asked Spook, “What happened to those microfilm copies from this morning? Do you have them?”
I saw a gleam in his eye as he responded, “They’re upstairs in my room. Why don’t I run up and get them?” He reached across where I sat to grab his wet hoodie and T-shirt, brushing against my arm, before dashing out the door.
Jason and Grant stared curiously after him, giving me a moment to catch my breath after having Spook practically in my lap. They turned to me, and Grant said with raised eyebrows, “Apparently Amy has some competition in the research department.”
I returned his smile hesitantly, hoping I hadn’t stepped on anyone’s toes with my actions this morning. “Well, I wouldn’t say that. We didn’t find a whole lot of actual information.” As I told then about our discovery concerning the fire in 1954 and Mrs., Rutter’s mother’s recollection that not much had been written in the newspapers about the fire, I saw a look of suspicion growing on Jason’s face. Grant’s expression was pensive as well.
Just then Spook came through the door with the printouts. I noticed with some disappointment that he had put a dry T-shirt on. He caught my eye and gave me a mischievous smile. I looked away quickly, wondering if he’d just managed to read my thoughts again. “I take it Kyr filled you in on our session at the library,” he said, his face completely serious as he shuffled through the printouts for a moment.
Jason acknowledged that I had and added, “It seems we have a bit of a cover up going on here.
Spook’s expression was dark as he nodded and handed Jason the article about the construction worker’s fall. “This is the story Kyr’s professor friend filled her in on. Like he said, there’s not much to that story. But it does mention the fire a decade before that—in 1954.” Grant leaned in close, and he and Jason quickly scanned the article.
“I had never heard anything about a fire on campus,” I told them, “which wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that Mrs. Rutter said a student died in that fire.” Both their heads snapped up to look at me before they gave each other a grim look. “Apparently there was some speculation about what she was doing in the bell tower and whether it was a suicide…or even a homicide.”
Spook jumped in and handed Jason the rest of the printouts. “I’m sure Kyr told you there wasn’t much in the papers about the fire. This is what we found when we tried to find the articles.” He glanced at me and continued, “Someone didn’t want anyone to read even the little bit that was printed.”
Jason sat up straight and rubbed his temples as he took in this information. “So no one seems to know the truth,” he finished, “or at least those who do know it don’t want anyone else to know it.” He sighed heavily, looking at me. “Any ideas how we can find out?”
Frustrated, I shrugged, unable to come up with anything off the top of my head. Spook nudged me and asked, “What was Mrs. Rutter saying about a yearbook?”
I slapped my hands on my knees. How could I have forgotten that? “Mrs. Rutter said the fire happened while her mother attended college here. There was a picture of the fire damage and a photo of the student who died in the fire. She said she’ll bring it for us tomorrow. I just need to stop at the library before analysis.”
Grant looked back and forth between Jason and me. “I doubt a yearbook will shed much light on the situation, but it’s the best we have to go on right now.”
Spook looked at me proudly and added, “Kyr’s quite the little researcher. I would have given up after finding the first blacked out article, but she kept digging.”
I felt myself blushing at his unexpected praise, and blushed even more when Grant jumped in and added, laughing, “I told you Amy had some competition in the research department. Must be the red hair.”
Jason, Grant and Spook spent the next half hour tossing around ideas about the mystery surrounding Appleton Hall and speculating about who wanted the fire covered up and why. At first I shared some of my own ideas, but soon my thoughts turned inward. I wondered to myself if Ed, Phil, and Amber had ever heard about the fire. Discovering this dark part of Willow Lake history cast a shadow over my love for my alma mater and for the town itself. I soon grew tired of thinking and leaned on the arm of the couch with my chin in my hand, listening to the sound of their conversations. The events of the day caught up with me, and I found myself stifling yawns more and more frequently.
Spook’s voice next to my ear and his hand on my shoulder brought me out of a doze. I forced my eyes open and saw Spook’s face close to mine as he gently shook me awake. A smile came to my lips and a delicious warmth washed over me as his eyes softened and he smiled back at me. I stretched out my legs and was just about to change positions so I could lean against him when I noticed that Jason and Grant still sat across from us. Suddenly awake, I rubbed my hands over my face and apologized.
“Research, rock climbing, and investigating a little too much for one day?” Grant joked reaching across to give me a nudge.
I smiled sheepishly and responded, “I guess so.”
Jason clapped Grant on the shoulder and said, “I think we should all call it a night. We’ve done all we can do with this mystery for now, and we’ve got analysis in the morning. Maybe something will turn up then.”
We all stood up and left the study lounge. Spook said he’d walk me to my room, even though it was just down the hall, and Jason headed the other direction to walk Grant out to the front door. They both said good night to us, and Jason winked before giving Spook a stern look as though telling him to behave. Spook laughed, and I looked away, blushing. Great, even Jason was getting in on the act.