School Spirits, Chapter 15 (Ghost Hunters fan fiction)

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.

“Here you go,” the bartender said, handing Spook and me our drinks.

We thanked him, and I was about to ask about the picture, but Spook seemed to anticipate that move, so he laid a hand on my arm to stop me. When the bartender walked away, I turned to Spook and asked, low, “What? He might be able to tell us something about the McKnights.”

“Maybe,” Spook replied quietly, casually taking a swig of his beer as he leaned against the bar. “But my gut says that one’s not much for conversation.” His eyes rested on the picture again. “Especially conversation about small-town secrets.”

I glanced up at the picture again and then over at the bartender. Taking in his hard eyes and sullen expression as he wiped up a spill on the bar, I realized that Spook was probably right. Leaning against the bar and watching the increasing number of people coming in to the bar for karaoke night, I picked up my wine cooler and looked around for my glass. The bartender must have taken it, I thought with an irritated roll of my eyes. Neat freak. I lifted the bottle to my lips and took a sip. My eyes met Spook’s, and he watched me with a curious expression. As he caught my eye, his lips widened into a mischievous grin before he turned away and chuckled. “What?” I asked self-consciously, setting my drink down on the bar.

“Nothing,” he replied with a gleam in his eye, taking another swig of beer. I looked at him, trying to figure out what he was up to. Just as I opened my mouth to say something, his expression turned serious and he nudged me and said, low, “Why don’t you ask your friend there? Maybe he can tell us something.”

Turning my head quickly, I saw Jared close by. “You mean Jared?” I whispered, looking questioningly at Spook. “What could he tell us?”

Spook shrugged. “Maybe something, maybe nothing. But he’s definitely more talkative than the old sourpuss over there.” He gave me a nudge before taking a step back and winking at me. “Turn up the charm, Kyr.”

“Hey, Kyr, you back again?” Jared’s voice made me turn towards him. “Can I get you something?”

I hesitated for a moment. Spook was right; Jared was a lot friendlier and a lot more talkative than Lou, who I assumed was his boss. But what could he possibly know about the McKnights? He was my age, or almost, so I doubted he’d be familiar with the history we were interested in. Casting a quick glance over my shoulder at Spook, I finally said, “Kind of a strange question, I guess, but we were wondering about that picture behind the bar.” Jared turned to look where I was pointing. Fishing around for a plausible reason for asking, I blurted out, “The name sounds familiar, and I’m just trying to remember where I’ve heard it before.”

“Oh yeah, the McKnights,” Jared replied coolly, wiping down the bar and handing me a glass of ice so Lou wouldn’t bark at him again. “They were one of the wealthier families, from way back. J. W. graduated from the college and taught there for a while. Eventually he made a fortune somehow and donated a crapload of money to them.” He looked quickly over his shoulder before leaning closer to tell me, “There was some scandal with his son that the college was all hush-hush about because of the money he donated.”

I feigned ignorance and responded, “Really?  Any idea what the scandal was about?” I glanced around surreptitiously to see if anyone was eavesdropping, as did Jared.

He shook his head and answered, “Depends who you talk to. The guys at Phi Mu Delta used to say he got the Dean’s daughter pregnant. I’ve also heard he was caught stealing from the college, and one of my friends even said he dropped out of school against his father’s wishes and became an actor.” He looked at me with the same cautious expression I had seen on Officer Daly’s face. “No one seems to know the real story, and no one seems to want to talk about it.”

I thought to myself, you got that right. Trying to act disinterested, I poured my wine cooler into my glass and said, “I wonder why people are so secretive. That was years ago, right?”

Jared stood up and replied, shaking his head, “I don’t know, Kyr. Nothing short of murder could be that big a deal, and I doubt even Willow Lake could keep a murder secret.” A customer waved to Jared, and he excused himself again.

His last words sent a chill down my spine. Spook raised an eyebrow at me as I turned back to him. “So, the elder Mr. McKnight was a moneybags, then, eh?” he said softly, resting his hand on my back as we wound our way through the growing crowd. “And the college was the recipient of a lot of it.”

I knitted my brows as I thought about what Jared had said. While he hadn’t really given us a lot of information, what he had to say certainly had potential. If Mr. McKnight had given so much money to the college, then why weren’t there any scholarships in his name, or any buildings or even classrooms named after him? A sudden suspicion gave me a sick feeling, and I turned to look at Spook before muttering, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Spook’s eyes met mine, and his eyebrows came together in confusion. “What do you mean?”

I glanced quickly around me before leaning in close—maybe closer than I needed to—to whisper, “I mean, did the college keep quiet because he’d donated a lot of money to them…”

Spook’s eyes lit up in realization as he finished, “Or did McKnight give them money to keep the college higher-ups quiet?” He shook his head and pulled me closer for a moment, resting his head against mine. “This investigation is nowhere near over,” he whispered into my hair.

We headed back towards our table as quickly as the crowd would allow us, eager to share the tidbit we’d just discovered. However, as we approached, we realized that our group had gotten larger in our absence. “Here they are,” Jason said, looking up with a gleam in his eye. “We thought you two had deserted us.” Grant and JoEllyn shared their usual conspiratorial smile, and to my chagrin, I noticed Ed and Phil nudging each other and laughing as well.

The two newcomers turned to face us, and I stopped short as Eric rose from his seat to greet us. “Kyr, Spook, it’s good to see you again.”

Spook reached around me to shake Eric’s hand, and as I glanced up at him, I noticed there was not even a trace of jealousy in his eyes this time.

Eric laid his hand on my shoulder and looked closely at me. “Well, it looks like you survived your tumble on Baby Bear,” he said with a smile. “That bruise is hardly noticeable.” I glanced over at JoEllyn, who winked and smiled at me. Her makeup job had served two purposes, then. Eric took a step back and motioned to his friend, “Kyr, I’d like you to meet Ron.”

Ron was a bit taller than Eric, also blond, but with darker eyes. He wore a single diamond stud in his nose and had a snake tattoo on his arm. He extended his hand to me and began jovially, “So you’re the one who did the flip-over on Baby Bear.” I elbowed Spook as he choked a laugh into a cough. Ron gave me a friendly smile and continued, “Girl, you have more guts than I do! I can’t even stand to watch Eric climb, it makes me so nervous.” He reached past me to shake Spook’s hand, his eyes widening as they swept over Spook. “And you going up after her like it was nothing…mmm-mmm!” It was my turn to snicker as Spook’s mouth moved wordlessly and a blush crept into his cheeks. Obviously he wasn’t comfortable with that kind of praise.

JoEllyn jumped in and said to Ron, “Oh, I can relate to that! Kyr and I were roommates in college, and I used to literally pace the floor with worry till she came back from climbing.” She looked sharply at me and raised an eyebrow as high as it would go. “Apparently this time I had reason to worry.”

As we all sat down, Ron nudged Eric and laughed, “See? I’m not the only one who worries.” He looked back at me kindly. “Eric is usually pretty easygoing, but he said you gave everyone quite a scare. I’m glad you’re okay.”

Grant leaned forward and interjected, “We all are, Ron.” With a wink at Spook, he continued, “Kyr does attract more than her share of trouble.”

As I glared at Grant, Spook caught my eye and mouthed with a wicked grin, “Kyr-tastrophe.” I futilely willed my face not to turn red as I tried to glare at him too, but only ended up losing both that battle and the fight to hide a smile.

Phil laughed and leaned forward to catch Spook’s eye. “Good thing we had Spook there to come to the rescue, right Spook?” she sing-songed at him. Spook tried to give her a dirty look, but only succeeded in shaking his head with a chuckle.

Irritated, I thought, are we going to start that again? Aloud, I blurted out, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, my knight in shining armor.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I smacked my forehead as Grant laughed loudly. Now why did I say that in front of everyone.

“Oh honey,” Ron replied, eyeing Spook appreciatively. “I’d deliberately get myself in trouble if I knew I had such a fine-looking knight to come rescue me.” Ron elbowed me jovially and teased, low, “I hope you thanked him properly, lucky girl.”

“Hey!” Eric laughed, reaching over and putting Ron in a headlock. I glanced over at Spook, who had obviously heard what Ron had said. To my satisfaction, I saw that for the second time that evening, he was blushing and had nothing to say. That satisfaction was short-lived, however, as his eyes met mine and he looked away guiltily. I knew immediately what he was thinking, because the same thought had just crossed my mind—he had been reminded of our little mistake from the previous night and was obviously regretting it anew. My heart sank even further into my stomach as he refused to meet my gaze.

A loud screech of feedback cut through the noise in the bar, and everyone turned their attention to the platform in front. A tall, slim woman with a short platinum-blond haircut addressed the crowd. “Good evening everyone. We’re glad to see so many people out here on a summer night. We’ll be starting karaoke in just a few minutes, so grab a seat, grab some refreshments, and get ready for a good time.”  As the woman explained how karaoke night worked, we continued to chat.

I glanced over at Spook, trying to forget about Ron’s embarrassing comment and wondering when we should share our new piece of information. Before I could catch Spook’s eye, Ed leaned over and said to Eric, “So, Professor Baransky, will you and Ron be staying for karaoke?” His grin suggested that he knew Eric enjoyed karaoke about as much as I enjoyed getting a makeover.

Eric wrinkled his nose and joked, “As much as I’d love to, I think I have some papers to grade.”  He took Ron’s hand, and they stood up to leave.

“Nice try, Professor Baransky,” Phil laughed, leaning back against Ed. “The semester is over. You don’t have any papers to grade.”

“Well, I do have one to write,” he responded, reaching under his chair and picking up a six-pack of beer. “A doctoral student’s work is never done,” he added with an exaggerated sigh.

Jason leaned back in his chair and joked, “So, what’s the beer for, Doc? Inspiration or sustenance?”

Eric shot him a wicked grin and laughed in reply, “Uh, both.”

Ron stood with his arms crossed and a pouty expression on his face. “All work and no play makes Eric a dull boy. And Ron a grumpy boy.” He cast another appreciative glance at Spook and teased Eric with a crooked grin, “Don’t make me go looking for my own fun, baby.”

Spook looked as though he wanted to crawl under his chair and hide, his face almost the same shade as his maroon T-shirt. I laughed along with everyone else at Spook’s reaction to Ron’s admiration, yet a part of me had to fight a twinge of jealousy over Ron flirting so shamelessly with Spook. Of course I knew Spook wasn’t interested in Ron, that wasn’t it; I was jealous because he had the ability and the confidence to be so open about his attraction. If I’d try to flirt like that, I’d just look ridiculous.

I looked up quickly as Eric and Ron waved and started making their way through the crowds. As they walked away, we heard Eric scold playfully, “Ronnie, you are such a flirt.”

Ron cast one last look over his shoulder at Spook and replied, “What? Admit it, Eric. That man is fine.” Thinking about how sweet and gentle Eric was made me think to myself, Ron, you’re the lucky one. Spook might be “fine,” but he’s also moody, unpredictable and doesn’t seem to know what he wants. I glanced over at Grant with a sigh, once again remembering all the things I admired about him and wishing I could find someone just like him.

Spook groaned and covered his face with his hand, obviously not enjoying being the center of attention. Jason reached over and clapped him on the shoulder. “Spook, you’re soon going to need a stick to fight them off.” He caught my eye and laughed, “Kyr, you better make a move before Ron does.”

I felt the color rising in my cheeks again as I glared at him. I glanced over at Spook, who wouldn’t even meet my gaze. Lucky girl, my foot, I thought bitterly, lowering my eyes. Giving Spook a glare that he didn’t even see, I muttered acidly, “Ron can have him.” Standing up so quickly I almost toppled my chair, I headed for the bar again. As I left the table, I saw Grant reach across to shove Jason and shake his head at him. Jason shrugged guiltily and said something to Spook, who just shook his head and laughed, seeming to recover quickly.

When I was just about to the bar, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Thinking it was Spook, I whirled around, ready to snap at him. Just in time, I saw it was JoEllyn, who quickly took her hand off my shoulder and smiled sheepishly at me. “It’s just me, Kyr.” I sighed and started to apologize, but she stopped me. “You don’t need to say a word. That was a bit…awkward.”

Shaking my head, I replied, “You’re telling me. Ron’s a nice enough guy, but he sure doesn’t have any filters, does he?”

JoEllyn laughed out loud; she enjoyed an off-color sense of humor, so Ron’s behavior obviously didn’t bother her. Then again, she wasn’t the butt of the joke either. Becoming serious again, she asked, low, “Jason and Grant don’t know about what almost happened last night, do they?”

“No!” I exclaimed loudly, causing a few people close by to turn to look at us for a second. “At least, not that I know of,” I said more softly. “Not unless…someone else told them.”

Understanding what I was hinting at, JoEllyn slipped her arm through mine and consoled, “Well, as skittish as Spook is acting over the suggestive comments, I don’t think he said anything to anyone. He definitely doesn’t seem to be the type to brag about his conquests.” She looked at me knowingly. “You know, Kyr, I don’t know exactly what’s going on in his head, but I don’t think he’s sorry he made a move on you.” I looked at her doubtfully, ready to argue, but she continued, “He may regret the timing, but Kyr, he’s got it bad for you. And you for him. We can all see it. You both need to quit fighting the inevitable.”

I sighed, not wanting to discuss it anymore. If Spook did have feelings for me–other than as his buddy or his stand-in little sister–then he was obviously reluctant to show it. The last thing I needed was another man who hid his feelings from me.

By the time we reached the bar, karaoke was in full swing, and the sounds of singing, laughing and cheering filled the room. While JoEllyn and I waited to place our orders, we glanced over at the stage where a middle-aged woman with long blond hair and more tattoos than I had ever seen on one person was singing an old gospel song I vaguely recognized. JoEllyn looked at me in disbelief and giggled, “I guess they have a little bit of everything on the playlist.”

Still marveling at the woman’s tattoos, I added, “And a little bit of everyone, apparently.” I had a feeling this could be a very entertaining evening, if the person currently onstage was any indication. I just hoped it would take my mind off of Spook and away from the investigation.

We turned our attention back to the bar. Lou and Jared had been hopping for awhile, taking drink orders, refilling bowls of nuts and pretzels on the bar and directing  first-timers to the karaoke stage. Things at the bar seemed to be slowing down a bit, at least for the moment. Finally, Jared stepped up. Smiling at me, he asked breathlessly, “Another wine cooler, Kyr?”

Trying to keep my irritation with Spook out of my voice, I responded, “No, thanks, Jared. I’ll have an Alabama Slammer this time.”

“Got it,” he said, turning to JoEllyn. “And you, miss?”

“I’ll have a red wine spritzer,” JoEllyn responded absently, digging around in her purse.

Jared was about to turn around to make our drinks when he stopped short and looked sharply at JoEllyn. A wide grin spread across his face, and he exclaimed, “JoEllyn?”

JoEllyn’s head snapped up, and she stared at him for a second before her eyes flew open wide and she squealed, “Jared Ellis! Oh my goodness!” She flung herself across the bar to hug him and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re still here in Willow Lake?”

“Yeah,” he replied, reaching up to grab two glasses off the overhead racks and turning to mix our drinks before Lou could growl at him. “I work in research over at the hospital, and I tend bar here a couple nights a week just for some extra cash.” He suddenly remembered that I was standing there. Looking back and forth between us, he asked, “How do you two know each other?”

Before I could answer, JoEllyn jumped in, “We were roommates in college.”

Shaking his head in disbelief, Jared laughed as he mixed up first my drink and then JoEllyn’s. “I never would have imagined you two as friends, let alone as roomies.” That wasn’t the first time we had heard that observation. Jared obviously knew JoEllyn well enough to know she was a social butterfly, and I’m sure he had gathered from our conversation that I was more the quiet intellectual. Still, I wondered how a chemistry major and a history major had become such good friends.

JoEllyn and I turned to each other and asked simultaneously, “How do you know Jared?” We both laughed, and Jared joined in as JoEllyn told me, “I hung out with Jared at all those Phi Mu Delta parties that you so diligently avoided, Miss Bookworm.” That made sense. JoEllyn’s name seemed to be on all the party lists, and I often wondered when she studied. “So how do you know him?”

Jared snickered, then turned away to take another drink order, leaving me to fill JoEllyn in. I really didn’t want to bring up my spelunking mishap for a second time that night, so I simply said, “Geology Club,” hoping Jared wouldn’t give any incriminating details later. I had had enough of being lectured over my climbing accident and didn’t want to invite any more. I added with a crooked smile, “Turns out he hung out with Bret.”

JoEllyn took a sip of her drink and teased, “Bret, huh? He’s certainly coming up in conversation a lot today.” JoEllyn had been my sole confidante the night he had kissed me. We had spent hours that night trying to analyze his kiss and wondering how long it would take him to ask me out. Neither of us had even considered it might be a once and done deal.

I laughed shortly, not wanting to think about yet another failed romance. As JoEllyn turned to watch the next karaoke performance, I turned my attention once more to the picture behind the bar. Despite my desire to forget about the investigation for the next few hours, my mind kept coming back to it. I thought about the nagging suspicion I had shared with Spook, wondering if someone at the college had known what really happened in the bell tower and had threatened to spill the beans unless J. W. put out money to keep them quiet. As I gazed at his steely eyes and downturned mouth, a sudden wave of sadness washed over me, and I couldn’t help wondering when the photo had been taken. Was that the elder McKnight’s typical expression, or was the sternness in his face a result of whatever had occurred between Warren and Mary Sarah Bollinger? I sighed and propped my chin on my fist, wondering if we’d ever know the truth.

A nudge from JoEllyn’s elbow gave me a start, and I noticed that Jared was standing in front of us, looking at me with a curious smile on his face. JoEllyn was looking at me curiously too. “What on earth were you staring at?” she asked. “You were a million miles away.”

Remembering that Spook and I hadn’t told the others what we had found out from Jared, I gaped at her for a second before Jared turned to the photo and joked, “Are you still hung up on old McKnight, Kyr? Even if he were still alive, he’d be a bit old for you, don’t you think?”

Jared’s eyes danced as JoEllyn laughed at his joke. Suddenly her eyes turned serious as she turned to me. “Wait, McKnight?” A light bulb seemed to go off in her mind. “Warren McKnight? Kyr, are you and Spook holding out on us?” I could see she had put together why Spook and I had been so long at the bar, and I hoped she wasn’t upset.

Finding my tongue, I explained, “No, that’s Warren’s father in the picture. Spook and I didn’t get a chance to tell you all what Jared just told us about J. W. We haven’t figured out how it all fits together yet.” I looked guiltily at Jared, feeling as though I had deceived him to get information from him.

Jared looked back and forth between us, obviously intrigued by our interest in the McKnights. Suddenly, his face brightened, and he pointed at us. “Wait a minute, are you two involved in that ghost hunt on campus?” He laughed and winked at me. “I knew JoEllyn was into all that things-that-go-bump-in-the-night stuff, but I didn’t know you were too, Kyr. And here I thought you were a sensible girl.”

JoEllyn put a hand on her hip and gave him a dirty look. It was obvious they had had this discussion a number of times. She reached across the bar to adjust his collar. “Like I’ve told you before, Jared, you’ll change your tune when you experience something you can’t explain away.” She shook her head at him and took a long sip of her drink. “And I’ll bet I know the first person you’d call as soon as your hands stopped shaking long enough to pull out your cell phone,” she purred, fluttering her eyelashes at him.

I watched in fascination as Jared’s eyes widened and he leaned against the bar to gaze at her. How does she do that, I wondered enviously. All JoEllyn had to do was flutter her lashes like that, and guys just fell at her feet. I had attempted that once with Trevor, and he just gave me an annoyed look and asked if I had something in my eye.

JoEllyn gave Jared a final pout before looking away. Seeming to recover his composure quickly, Jared turned to me, smiling. “Come on, Kyr. ‘Fess up. Are you two with the ghost hunting group on campus?” Obviously he wasn’t at all affected by my presence.

I glanced at JoEllyn, who shrugged and gazed at Jared with a self-satisfied smile. Finally, I nodded reluctantly and admitted, “Yes, that’s why we’re back at Willow Lake. We’d heard all the stories and…” I glanced at JoEllyn. “…had our own experiences on campus, so we thought it would be fun.” Some fun it had turned out to be, I thought to myself, shuddering. I glanced admiringly at JoEllyn, adding, “Besides, you know Jo helped get the Paranormal Club off the ground.”

“I know, I know,” he laughed, shaking his head. “Find anything interesting?” he asked, drying some glasses and stacking them on the overhead racks.

JoEllyn shrugged noncommittally. “We caught a few voices and some shadows that we can’t explain.” She smiled cryptically at him. “There are some things we need to do research on to, you know, separate the myths from the real history.”

“So what does old J. W. have to do with the campus ghosts?” Jared asked, seemingly more interested now. Still, he couldn’t resist joking, “I know he was a professor; does he haunt his old office or his classroom, scaring students who are partying instead of studying?”

I rolled my eyes at him and tried to look as disinterested as JoEllyn as I responded, “Well, that’s something we need to figure out.” How much could I safely tell him? Was he one of the townspeople who didn’t want people meddling in Willow Lake’s dark past, or could we trust him?

JoEllyn didn’t seem to share my concern as she leaned against the bar and added, “J. W.’s son Warren may have a tie to the spirit that haunts Appleton Hall.”

Jared wrinkled his nose at her. “Oh, Appleton bell tower. That old story. The guys at the Phi Mu Delta house had their own stories about that place.” Sneaking a look at Lou to make sure he wasn’t watching, he quickly mixed up refills for us and mouthed, “No charge,” putting a finger to his lips. JoEllyn’s slow smile suggested she was used to getting free drinks; it was a first for me. Suddenly, Jared’ eyes lit up, and he slapped the bar. “Speaking of Appleton, did you guys see the news about the fire there last night?”

His words made me choke on my drink. Real smooth, Kyr, I thought to myself as I had a coughing fit. Jared reached over and laid a hand on my shoulder. “You okay, Kyr?” he asked, getting a glass of water and setting it in front of me.

With my eyes streaming, I took a sip of water and nodded, unable to talk at the moment. JoEllyn had her arm around my shoulders; she jumped in apologetically, “Kyr and Spook saw it firsthand. They’re both still a bit shook up.” Her face had lost its flirtatious playfulness, and there was deep concern in her eyes.

Jared winced understandingly, obviously regretting bringing it up. Suddenly, he drew back, a strange expression on his face. My eyes met his, and I asked in a raspy voice, “What’s wrong?”

He looked back and forth between us and said strangely, “The news said no one was in the building when the fire occurred. Did you two get out before the fire department got there?”

I glanced at JoEllyn, unable to speak. JoEllyn answered seriously, “Kyr did, but Spook had to be rescued. He was trapped when he fell through the floor of the tower.” Her eyes hardened as she thought about how the truth had been covered up.

Jared sat down on a bar stool, suddenly looking sick. “So they knew someone had to be rescued, and they lied about it? Why would they lie about it?” He stood up and scanned the room as though he were looking for someone. “He—Spook—wasn’t hurt, was he?”

“No, not really,” I replied, glancing over my shoulder to look for Spook, even though I knew I couldn’t see him through the crowd. “Just some minor scrapes and burns.”

Jared let out a low whistle. “That’s good. But how could they lie about something like that? What did the Dean have to say to you about it?”

JoEllyn and I looked uneasily at each other. “He didn’t say a thing,” I responded. “No one from the university, except campus police, has talked to us about it. The only other person who spoke to us was the fire chief.”

Jared stared in disbelief, unable to say anything. JoEllyn looked over her shoulder and leaned in close to whisper, “We have reason to believe this isn’t the first time a fire in Appleton has been covered up.”

“Another fire…” Jared muttered, the color draining from his face. He was about to say something else when a laughing young couple approached the bar. “I got them, Lou,” Jared called, then took their drink orders. He came back to where we sat and stood there for a moment, drumming his fingers on the bar and thinking. Leaning forward, he began to tell us a story. “One afternoon just before spring finals my sophomore year, a bunch of us were hanging out in the courtyard in front of the library. One of the guys from my biochemistry class, Kevin–Jo, you remember Kevin, right? Big guy, wrestler?” JoEllyn nodded, leaning in closer. “Well, he told us that his girlfriend Jenna had seen something up on the third floor of Appleton. She told one of her English professors, a Dr. DiPaolo.” I shook my head; I had never heard of this person. Jared looked at me. “He left before you started here, Kyr–just wait.” He went on to tell us that Dr. DiPaolo told Jenna who he believed the apparition was and why she haunted Appleton. The professor told Jenna there was an article in the Willow Lake paper that mentioned a fatal fire in Appleton back in the 1950s. “Kevin and Jenna went to the library to look up this article.” Jared paused, an agitated look on his face.

“Did they tell you what the article said?” I asked, feeling the hairs on my neck beginning to stand up.

Jared looked up at me and answered, “They didn’t get the chance to tell us.” JoEllyn and I looked at each other for a moment before he continued, “One of the other English professors–I can’t remember his name–walked by with someone from the Dean’s office. They overheard what Kevin and Jenna were talking about and came over to tell us our time would be better spent studying for finals than wasting time on campus legends.” He looked up at us, his eyebrows furrowed. “Both Kevin and Jenna transferred out the following year, and Dr. DiPaolo was let go. You can’t tell me all that had nothing to do with whatever they found out about that fire.”

The neon lights over the bar, the sounds of laughter and conversation, and the loud music coming from the karaoke stage contrasted sharply with the weight of the discussion we’d had, giving me a growing sense of uneasiness. Everyone seemed to be engaged in their own conversations, but I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder repeatedly, feeling as though we were being watched. Given what we had found out about tight-lipped townspeople covering up decades-old secrets, I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if one of the hundreds of people there tonight was eavesdropping. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and goosebumps rose on my skin as it felt like the room was closing in on me. Unexpectedly, a hand grasped my shoulder, making me yelp and spin around.

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