Disclaimer: I do not own, nor am I affiliated in any way with TAPS, Ghost Hunters, or anyone involved. The only things that are truly my own are my imagination and the ideas that come from it.
As Dr. Anderson looked around at all of us, I realized that he was genuinely in the dark about this part of Willow Lake’s history, which really wasn’t surprising given that he was new to the college. I also now realized that he could not be part of the group who wanted to “let 1954 die;” the skepticism he had shown when he came in was just that–pure skepticism about the paranormal.
Dr. Harris, on the other hand, was definitely one of those who wanted to ensure that the truth about Mary Bollinger–whatever that truth might be–stayed hidden. That was obviously why he had shown up, uninvited and unannounced, to the reveal today. He wanted to know how much we had found out and wanted to control how much of it we shared. That was also why he had covered up the fact that Spook had been trapped in the bell tower during the fire. No one would talk much about a fire caused by lightning if no one had been in the building, but if news had gotten out that someone had been “ghost hunting” when lightning struck and had gotten trapped, then interest in the bell tower ghost might have been piqued again, especially among those who remembered the first fire.
Jason and Grant exchanged a look, and I knew they were wrestling with how much of our research we should share. I knew they weren’t worried about any consequences for their sake; if this had been any other investigation, they would have just shared everything they had found. However, they knew their might be consequences for Amber, Ed, Phil, and even Dr. Cuomo if Dr. Harris found out we had uncovered part of a long-buried secret.
Much to our surprise, it was Dr. Cuomo who finally broke the silence. “Mary Sarah Bollinger was a student who perished in a fire in the bell tower in 1954. There were, and still are, many unanswered questions and rumors surrounding the fire and her death. For some reason, instead of launching a full investigation to find out the truth about what had happened, there was a huge cover-up. No one even knows for certain who initiated the cover-up. The whole affair has been taboo for longer than I’ve been here at Willow Lake.” She looked at Dr. Anderson and shook her head. “I don’t think anyone knows the truth about what happened that night.”
I had been watching Dr. Harris’ face as Dr. Cuomo related what she knew about Mary Bollinger. At first, he had been quite tense, as though he might explode at any moment. He had clenched his jaw, and a vein in his forehead pulsed until I thought it might burst. As she got further into her story, he seemed to relax, satisfied that she didn’t know whatever it was that was supposed to remain a secret.
“So all these stories I’ve heard about a jilted, pregnant young woman hanging herself in the bell tower may actually have some basis in fact?” Dr. Anderson asked. I felt sorry for him as he took in all this information; he had the same expression my father often had when he was trying to understand my opinion about something.
“Well,” Dr. Cuomo replied, adjusting her glasses. “No one really knows the exact circumstances surrounding her death, but that is indeed the story most people here have heard.”
I had to stifle a laugh as I recalled Dr. Keane’s remark about freshmen hearing and retelling campus ghost stories within a week of starting classes. Apparently the same was true for new faculty and staff as well. Without thinking, I blurted out, “The only thing was, Mary’s body wasn’t actually found in the bell tower. She fell through the floor during the fire, and her body was found in one of the third floor rooms. That may be why there are claims of activity on the third floor.”
“Really?” Dr. Cuomo exclaimed, her eyes alight with excitement. “I hadn’t heard that part of the story. How did you find that information?”
Dr. Harris once again tensed up, and as I glanced at his face, my breath caught at the pure malice I saw in his eyes. It seemed I had said too much for his comfort level. He wouldn’t dare speak a threat out loud, but he wasn’t above intimidating me with a threatening look. As much as I had vowed not to let that happen, he was successful, and I didn’t respond to Dr. Cuomo’s question.
Spook, on the other hand, was not so easily intimidated. He answered for me, “We did some research in the library and found the original newspaper articles about the fire.” His eyes flashed defiance as he stared Dr. Harris down. It was obvious that he knew the articles in the archives had been blacked out, but he wasn’t about to say anything. I could tell he burned to know where we had found the article, but there was no way he would ask. I caught Spook’s eye and silently begged him not to reveal our source. I didn’t want Mrs. Rutter to lose her job. Thankfully, he read the meaning in my expression and said no more.
“I’m going to have to look into that myself,” Dr. Cuomo said, jotting something down on her notepad.
Spook muttered under his breath, “Good luck with that.” Dr. Cuomo didn’t hear him, but Dr. Harris did. He narrowed his eyes at Spook and balled his hands into fists. Spook tensed up as well, shifting in his seat as if getting ready to spring.
Dr. Anderson turned to Dr. Cuomo, seemingly oblivious to the silent exchange between Spook and Dr. Harris, and said, “Jean, didn’t one of the maintenance workers have something happen in one of the third floor rooms? I believe that was just last week.”
Dr. Cuomo chewed her pen for a moment, thinking. “I believe you’re right. If I remember correctly, he thought he heard someone in one of the empty rooms. When he tried to open the door to see who it was…”
“It was locked,” I finished. They both looked at me curiously, obviously wondering how I knew that. I felt Dr. Harris’ eyes on me again, but I refused to look at him; if I couldn’t see his face, he couldn’t intimidate me. “Spook and I had a similar experience the second night we investigated together.” I looked towards Grant. “Grant, could you go forward on the tape to where Spook and I are together in the middle of the hallway?”
“Sure can,” he replied, turning to the computer. He started the video at the spot where Spook and I were discussing my fear of the storm. I cringed again at having everyone see me being afraid of something silly.
Spook leaned forward to watch the clip. “It’s coming up right…here,” he said as the video showed the reflection of a flash of lightning, followed by Spook scrambling across the hall to try to see under the door. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any video of what I saw, and the stationary camera doesn’t show anything but us trying to see under the door.” He leaned over to pause the video. “When the lightning flashed, I saw what looked like the shadows of someone’s feet under the door. When the lightning flashed again, they were gone.”
I jumped in, “We tried to open the door, but it was locked.” Spook restarted the video to show me checking the doors. “What seemed strange to us was that all the other doors were unlocked.”
“That was exactly the report we got from the maintenance worker,” Dr. Anderson said excitedly. “So you two experienced the same thing.”
“Alex, for Pete’s sake, a locked door is hardly proof of a ghost, or anything else for that matter,” Dr. Harris chided. “I’ve left my office and come back to find a locked door. It doesn’t mean my office is haunted; it just means I accidentally locked the damn door when I left. It happens. Let’s grow up and think rationally.”
Dr. Cuomo interjected, “But what about what he saw under the door? Certainly that proves something.”
“We don’t know what he saw if he saw anything at all,” Dr. Harris argued. “They don’t have any proof there was anything in that room; they just expect us to take their word for it.”
Spook’s eyes darkened dangerously, and I knew he was on the verge of giving Dr. Harris a piece of his mind. I reached over and took his hand in mine to try to calm him.
Dr. Cuomo raised her voice. “Roland, really, it’s bad enough that you’ve been belligerent and skeptical over everything they’ve presented, but now you’re accusing them of making things up?”
Jason looked at Dr. Cuomo and said, “It’s all right, Dr. Cuomo; he does have a point.” Spook pulled his hand away and lunged forward, obviously angry that Jason seemed to be taking Dr. Harris’ side. Jason held up a hand to silence Spook for a moment. “What Spook and Kyr saw is what we call a personal experience, something that a person sees or hears, but were unable to capture on audio or video. What makes it more credible is that they experienced the same thing as someone else did, without knowing of the other person’s experience.”
Grant added, It also seems significant that the student’s body was found in one of the third floor rooms, and now there is unexplained activity in one of the third floor rooms, especially if it’s the same room.” He looked over at Amber. “It’s obviously a scenario that needs more investigation in the future.”
Not surprisingly, Grant’s suggestion didn’t sit well with Dr. Harris. He made a show of looking at his watch impatiently. “Look, could we get this wrapped up? We are all…” He gave Dr. Cuomo and Dr. Anderson meaningful looks. “…busy and have more important things to do than to sit around telling ghost stories.” After glancing importantly around at the rest of us, he turned his eyes back to Dr. Cuomo. “What exactly did you hope to accomplish by bringing these people here?”
Dr. Cuomo returned his look defiantly, obviously wishing she had the courage to say what she was thinking. She turned her eyes back to Jason and Grant, who were both watching Dr. Harris uncomfortably. Jason nodded towards Amber and said, “Amber here and Ed McPherson from the Willow Lake Paranormal Club contacted TAPS for assistance in investigating the campus. Obviously, they have done their own campus investigations in the past. Of course, being a student-run organization, they don’t have the experience or the equipment that a group like TAPS has, nor do they have the objectivity that an outside group would have. As much as they try not to be influenced by the stories they’ve heard, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in campus lore when you hear it all the time.” He looked at Amber and then at Dr. Harris. “Basically, I think the group is just looking for validation of the activity they have experienced and the evidence they have captured.” He glanced at Amber for confirmation; she nodded.
Grant continued, “As we showed you, there were some claims we were able to debunk, and there were some claims and some evidence that we were able to validate. All in all, I think Jay and I agree that the Paranormal Club has done a fine job of investigating the stories that naturally circulate through a college campus.” He smiled at Amber, and her cheeks flushed with pleasure as she mumbled her thanks.
Jason gave her a look of approval as well before turning to Dr. Cuomo. “Judging by the evidence we were able to collect during our investigation, I would say it’s quite obvious that there is paranormal activity here at Willow Lake. For the most part, I don’t think the spirits here are malicious or want to harm anyone. Now, that being said,” He glanced first at Dr. Harris and then at Dr. Anderson and Dr. Cuomo. “Over the course of an investigation, we usually do some research on the location, just to separate the facts from the fiction about the claims or about the possible explanations for the activity. Now, this case was no exception. The only thing was that this time, we got a lot more than we bargained for.” His expression turned grim as his eyes met mine. “I think we can all say that the information we found about Mary Bollinger and the events in Appleton Hall ultimately left us with more questions than answers. What that means is that Grant and I cannot say with absolute confidence that Mary’s spirit falls under the harmless category.”
Everyone was silent for a moment after Jason finished speaking. The only sounds we heard were the phones ringing out in the Admissions Office and the clock ticking away on the wall above the door. Finally, Dr. Cuomo extended her hand first to Jason and then to Grant and said warmly, “Well, Jason, Grant, we certainly do appreciate your coming such a long way to lend your assistance to the Paranormal Club.” She smiled at Amber and continued, “I’m sure that Ms. Feldmann and the other members would join me in saying that I hope you would be willing to return sometime to investigate our mystery further.”
Jason was about to respond when Dr. Harris brought a fist down onto the table and exploded, “Dr. Cuomo, I think we have had quite enough of this. It’s bad enough that we’re encouraging this garbage by allowing a Paranormal Club on campus.” He glared at Amber, who looked down at her hands, which were folded nervously in her lap. “Now you’re suggesting that for the second time we open ourselves up to ridicule by bringing in a bunch of grown men and women who have nothing better to do than run around in the dark talking to themselves. This is nonsense, and it has no place in a reputable educational institution.” He turned blazing eyes on me. “Ms. Carter, if I remember correctly, you were a brilliant student, one who made this college proud with your academic achievements.” My eyes snapped up to meet his. I was genuinely surprised that Dr. Harris was aware of any Willow Lake student, let alone one like me who wasn’t an athletic star or involved with one of the more prominent campus organizations. I wasn’t fooled for a minute, however; I knew he was building me up just to tear me down again. His next words proved me right. “I am frankly shocked that someone as intelligent as you would get yourself mixed up in such a worthless pursuit as chasing ghosts.” He leaned forward to fix his cold gaze on me. “I am likewise disappointed that you would so willingly choose to malign your alma mater by suggesting a cover up in the unfortunate death of a student. No one at Willow Lake is guilty of wrong-doing, a conspiracy, or anything else, and you should be ashamed of yourself for even entertaining those thoughts. ” He looked around at the others and continued, “The reason there was no big revelatory news story about the investigation into Ms. Bollinger’s death was that nothing was found, save a student’s carelessness, irresponsibility and disregard for rules that led to her death. Judging by your own experiences in that tower, maybe you should learn a lesson from her misfortune.”
By the time Dr. Harris finished his tirade, I felt about six inches tall and was on the verge of tears. One glance in Amber’s direction showed that she was even closer to breaking down. Dr. Cuomo silently glared at him, angered and embarrassed for us, but unwilling–or afraid–to say what she was thinking. Even Dr. Anderson was stunned into silence; he sat with his head down, staring at the pen he gripped with both hands. Jason, and even Grant, both looked angry, unable to believe that anyone could be so ungracious and disrespectful.
Suddenly, Spook spoke into the silence in a low voice that demanded attention. “You are the most narrow-minded, head-up-your-ass buffoon I have ever met.” I gasped and stared at Spook. His eyes flashed furiously, and his face contorted with ill-concealed comtempt. “How dare you sit there and misuse your authority to intimidate and belittle Kyr and Amber? You know, I have no problem with the fact that you don’t put a single ounce of belief in the paranormal; that’s a perfectly understandable position for someone who has never had a paranormal experience of his own. I can even stomach the fact that you think it’s a waste having a Paranormal Club on campus; better people than you have scoffed at TAPS and other groups like them.” He leaned towards Dr. Harris with a fire in his eyes that I had never seen before. “What makes me sick is the fact that you–a supposed educator–sit there shoving your beliefs down everyone else’s throats when we have shown you hard evidence of something unexplained happening on campus.”
Dr. Harris drew himself up as tall as he could in his seat, puffing with importance, and sputtered, “Young man, I will not stand for this…”
Then sit down, shut your big mouth and listen!” Spook blazed. “I will not stand for you accusing my girlfriend of maligning this college because she strives to discover the truth about an incident that was covered up because someone was afraid of the truth coming out.” My jaw dropped at his words. Had he just referred to me as his girlfriend? Grant raised a questioning eyebrow at me, smiling slightly, and Jason shot me a curious glance before he tried unsuccessfully to reign Spook in.
Spook turned to Dr. Cuomo and said, “Just for the record, good luck finding the newspaper articles about the original fire, at least here in Willow Lake’s library. Every mention of this incident that ‘hasn’t been covered up…'” He glared meaningfully at Dr. Harris. “…Has been blacked out in the library’s archives. We had to find it elsewhere.” Dr. Harris’ face darkened, and it was quite evident that he was aware of the information Spook had just given Dr. Cuomo. Spook turned back to him and finished, “You have the gall to say that investigating the paranormal is a ‘worthless pursuit’ and that an educational institution is no place for ‘this nonsense.’ Well, let me tell you, Dr. Harris, the real joke here is someone like you being associated with anything educational. Education is supposed to be about learning and discovering the truth, but you and your ‘let 1954 die’ cronies want to keep the truth hidden. You’re the ones who should be ashamed.”
Dr. Harris stood up so quickly and forcefully that his chair fell over. I flinched and brought my hands up, afraid he and Spook would start throwing punches. He turned to Dr. Cuomo and roared, “Jean, I want these people out of this office and off of my campus within the hour.” With a final glare at Spook, he stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him. After a moment, Dr. Anderson, looking helpless, and Amber, close to tears, also exited the room.
Grant hastily began packing up the equipment while Jason glared angrily at Spook. I had a feeling they would come to blows as soon as we left the Admissions Office. Dr. Cuomo stood up rather uncertainly and turned to Jason and Grant. Jason spoke first, trying to speak lightly. “Our reveals don’t usually get this intense.” He glared at Spook again. “Or end so badly.”
Dr. Cuomo waved away his comments. “I knew it wouldn’t go well the moment Roland informed me he would be sitting in on the reveal.” She looked at Spook with a glimmer in her eyes. “You don’t know how many times I have wished I could say those very words to him. He can be very overbearing and does throw his weight around, both on campus and in town.” She pursed her lips for a moment and continued, “I am even more intrigued than before about Mary Bollinger. Kyr, where did you find the articles about the fire if they weren’t available in the archives?”
I should have been expecting that question, but it took me by surprise. Looking helplessly at Spook, I stammered for a moment. He crossed his arms and gave me an irritated look, shaking his head. I finally responded, “With all due respect, Dr. Cuomo, I think it’s best that I not say who provided the information.” Looking at Grant, I quickly asked, “Do you still have the extra copy of that article?”
“Sure do,” Grant responded, pulling out his briefcase and shuffling through the papers inside. He found it and handed it to Dr. Cuomo. “There’s really not much more in the article than what we already shared, but there it is.”
She thanked him and glanced at the copy. “Despite what Dr. Harris says, this is far from over. Almost sixty years is far too long for secrets to be kept. It’s high time the truth came out.”
Mrs. Rutter had said the same thing. While I fully agreed with both of them, I shivered at Dr. Cuomo’s words, wondering what else might happen to prevent that truth from coming out and who might pay the price when it finally did come out.
Just as I had feared, as soon as we stepped out of Stegman Hall, Jason turned to Spook and blazed, “What the hell were you thinking, going off on Dr. Harris like that?”
Obviously, he had been expecting Jason’s wrath, because without missing a beat, he turned around and shouted back, “What did I say that everyone in that office wasn’t already thinking? There was a lot more I could have said to the old blowhard if he hadn’t left the room with his tail between his legs.”
“Whether or not what you said was true…” Jason began.
“Which it was,” Spook interrupted.
Jason glowered at Spook and started again, this time in a low, dangerous voice, “Whether or not what you said was true, you had no business speaking so disrespectfully to a client. You know how important professionalism is to TAPS, and what you did in there was anything but professional. The last thing I want is TAPS’ name being dragged through the mud because you lost your temper and shot your mouth off.”
Spook got right up in Jason’s face and roared, “So I guess in the name of professionalism, you think it’s all right that Dr. Blowhard put down and all but threatened Kyr and Amber and mocked everything TAPS does.”
Jason closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose as though he were trying not to lose his temper. “No, Spook, I don’t think what he did was all right, and I agree that something needed to be said,” he conceded. “But use your head, Spook; you heard what Jared said about people losing their jobs and having to transfer out of Willow Lake over this whole Mary Bollinger cover-up affair. We don’t know how involved Dr. Harris might be in all that, so you might have thought about the consequences of your little tirade for Amber, Phil, Ed, and maybe even for Dr. Cuomo.”
Spook crossed his arms and looked away, his eyes dark and his jaw set stubbornly. I had a feeling he knew he had overstepped his bounds, but he was too angry and too proud to admit it. Jason finally turned away and began helping Grant load equipment into the van. After a moment, Spook did too, but without looking at Jason.
Amber and I stood by, somewhat unsure of what to do and feeling as though we were in the way. I could tell Amber was still shaken by Dr. Harris’ words, and likely also by her uncertainty over her status as a student, if Jared’s story was true. A sudden thought made my breath catch–Jared had never said which college administrator had overheard his friends talking that day. For a brief moment, I wondered if it had been Dr. Harris.
Grant laid a hand on my arm, startling me out of my thoughts. “You ladies okay?” he asked gently. “That got pretty wild in there, and Dr. Harris went off on you two with both barrels.”
Amber looked up at Grant with red-rimmed eyes, and I found myself sympathizing with her. She tried to smile as she replied, “Dr. Harris isn’t easy for anyone to get along with. He has been against the Paranormal Club from the start, but this was the first time he got that vocal about it.” A shadow passed over her face, and she muttered, “I wonder if I should start looking into other colleges.”
“Well,” Grant said, putting his arm around her. “I hope it doesn’t come to that for any of you.” He glanced up at the second floor window and continued, “It’s a good thing Spook didn’t get a chance to tell him what we heard from Jared about students possibly being forced to leave over discovering some secret, although I wonder if Dr. Harris knowing that we know about that might offer you some protection.”
That thought had crossed my mind as well. I frowned as I glanced over to where Spook and Jason were still loading up the van without speaking or even looking at each other. Grant followed my gaze and asked, “You look troubled, Kyr. What’s on your mind?”
I nodded and looked at Grant before asking, low, “Are they going to be all right?”
Grant laughed and nudged me with his elbow. “Leave it to you to be concerned about everyone else. THey’ll be fine, Kyr. You know they’re both hard-headed; they blow up at each other all the time. It helps them clear the air. They’ll be on good terms again before we leave.”
I was happy to hear those words, although I was somewhat doubtful. This had been more than a difference of opinion; Spook had overstepped his bounds, stepped on Jason’s toes and had possibly given TAPS a bad name in the eyes of someone who’d already had a low opinion of everything TAPS stood for.
Jason slid a final piece of equipment into place and jumped out. A moment later, Spook jumped out as well and slammed the doors shut. Jason clapped Spook on the shoulder and smiled. “”Ready to meet up with the others and hit the road, bro?”
Grant turned to me with a grin that said, “I told you so.” I shook my head in amazement; how could they simply put behind them a blazing argument like they just had and act like nothing had happened? Amber caught my eye, equally baffled, and shrugged.
Spook gave Jason a friendly shove. “It’ll be nice to get home again. I don’t know how you guys handle travelling all the time like you do. A few days away is enough for me.” His words took me aback. Home. Spook would go to his home, and I would go to mine. We had just become friends–more than friends?–and now we were going our separate ways.
Amber climbed into the back seat of the van, and Jason and Grant got in the front. Spook caught my eye as I stood there pondering our relationship. Apparently still feeling guilty over what he’d said to Dr. Harris, he misread my expression. “What’s that look for, Kyr-tastrophe? Are you going to tell me I was out of line too?”
Not expecting that question, I gaped at him, unsure of what to say. Uncertain of where he and I stood personally, I didn’t want to upset him again by telling him I agreed with Jason, so I said nothing.
Spook leaned u against the van, crossed his arms, and gave me the same irritated look he’d given me in the Admissions Office. “You know, Kyr, I wish you’d stop being such a wuss and just stand up for yourself. I was really impressed in there when you actually grew a pair and stood up to Dr. Harris, but then you turned right around and let him intimidate you again. You need to stop worrying so much about upsetting people and just say what’s on your mind. Having to guess what you’re thinking really gets old.”
I shook my head in disbelief; what was with the chip on his shoulder? Even Jason and Grant had turned around to stare open-mouthed, wondering what had gotten into him, and Amber was leaning forward in her seat, watching our argument unfold. I hadn’t even said anything, and he was jumping down my throat. Jason had read him the riot act, they had a shouting match, and now they were all buddy-buddy again. Okay, I thought; if that’s how the game is played, then let’s play. As I stood up as tall as I could to look him in the eye, I saw Jason lean his forehead on the steering wheel and shake his head. “All right, you want me to stop being a wuss and tell you what I think? Fine,” I hissed. “Yes, Dr. Harris is a blowhard, and I’m sure everyone agreed with everything you said, but you were way out of line to go off on him like that. Even if you don’t like the guy, he is the President of this college, and we are on his turf, so to speak, so you should have been the bigger person and shown him some respect.”
The anger drained out of his face and was replaced by…I couldn’t tell what. Still, now that I’d started, I couldn’t stop. “You could have also shown a little respect for Jason and Grant. Dr. Harris already had a low opinion of TAPS and the Paranormal Club, and your little hissy fit did nothing but drop them all lower in his eyes.” The hard look was in his eyes again, but even I could see it was only a facade; he knew I was right, and that fact hurt his pride. I should have left it there, but I had one more thing that was bothering me. I couldn’t stop the tears that had sprung to my eyes as I glared at him and finished, “I thought we had ironed out our differences, but I guess I was wrong. Well, I’m sorry you think I’m such an annoying little wuss.” I got into the van, trying to ignore Spook still standing outside, now looking like a whipped puppy, and Jason and Grant staring at me in shock for the second time that day.
Spook stuck his head in the van and said through gritted teeth, “I’ll meet you in the Student Center parking lot. I’d rather walk.” He slammed the door shut and started walking briskly, his hair blowing behind him as he went. I wrestled with whether I should go after him and apologize, or just let him cool off.
Grant turned and caught my eye, then joked, “Kyr, you two have got to stop blowing up at each other every time we end a case.”
I closed my eyes and lowered my head miserably as silent sobs shook my body. Jason sighed as Grant reached back and laid his hand on my knee. Even Amber reached over and put a reassuring hand on my back.