The Knight and the Not-Quite Lady, part 3, Merlin fanfiction

Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin or its characters.

Alas, that was not to be for Wynne. She didn’t even make it to the main course before she was in trouble once more. The servants had brought in trays of fruits and vegetables, platters of freshly-baked breads and tureens of soup. Everything was delicious, but Wynne, being more tired than hungry, only picked at the offerings. This seemed to please Lady Magdalen, who tried to impress upon her charges that a proper lady had a dainty appetite and ate little in the presence of others, especially eligible gentlemen. Although she didn’t say so aloud, Wynne thought that was silly, and she always ate her fill, much to Lady Magdalen’s displeasure.

After sampling a few strawberries and a handful of grapes and spooning up a few bites of her soup, Wynne sat half-heartedly listening to the conversations of the other young ladies around her. She wasn’t seated near Anora, her one friend among the ladies, so she had no one to talk to. As usual, Lavinia and Bronwyn, who sat closest to Wynne, discussed  the dresses the various ladies were wearing this evening, and Lady Magdalen sat at the head of the table chatting with Lady Gertrude, who was visiting her daughter Caitlyn at Camelot.

After listening to Lavinia and Bronwyn go on for twenty minutes about the queen’s newest gown, Wynne rolled her eyes and turned her attention across the room to the knights’ tables. As always, they seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. Gwaine was in his usual form, having recovered from his surprise at seeing Wynne dressed so beautifully with her hair in an attractive feminine style. He was animatedly telling a story while the squires listened with rapt expressions. Percival and Elyan exchanged occasional smirks behind Gwaine’s back, and Wynne fervently wished she were there listening to him instead of at the ladies’ table. Unable to hide her boredom, Wynne entertained herself by watching Gwaine’s lips and trying to make out what he said.

The Great Hall was quite warm, and Wynne soon found her eyelids growing heavier and heavier. Glancing over quickly to be sure Lady Magdalen was still engrossed in conversation, she laid her napkin aside, leaned her elbow on the table, and propped her chin on her hand to close her eyes for just a moment before the main course came in. Before Wynne knew it, she was lulled to sleep by the pleasant sounds around her. She slumped forward heavily on her arm, and her long hair toppled off her shoulder and landed with a plop into her unfinished soup. Her mouth drooped open slightly, and soft snores could be heard.

Anora, at the other end of the table, noticed Wynne’s predicament, but was too far away to do anything without calling unwanted attention to her friend. To Wynne’s misfortune, Bronwyn’s sister Bernice noticed the direction of Anora’s gaze and saw what had happened. She began giggling and nudged Rosalynde. Rosalynde looked and then clapped her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud and leaned over to whisper to Caitlyn, “Look at Wynifrog.”

Caitlyn’s eyes drifted across the table to Wynne, and she quickly covered her mouth with her napkin. After making sure her mother wasn’t looking, she motioned to Lavinia and Bronwyn, who also began laughing at Wynne’s predicament. Lavinia began stuffing blueberries in Wynne’s mouth to see how many would fit. Soon all the young ladies, save Anora, were either giggling at Wynne or urging Lavinia to balance another blueberry in Wynne’s mouth.

Suddenly, Lady Gertrude noticed Wynne asleep with her hair in her soup and blueberries drooling out of her mouth. She gasped aloud, a scandalized expression on her face, and Lady Magdalen followed her gaze across the table to Wynne. Her jaw dropped, and her eyes bugged at the scene just a few seats away. Of course, all the other ladies feigned innocence, acting as though they hadn’t noticed. Lady Magdalen brought her hand down hard on the table, rattling all the dishes, and snapped, “Wynifred!”

Startled awake, Wynne jumped, and her arm came down on the table, upending her soup bowl and knocking over her goblet. She spat countless blueberries out of her mouth, wondering how they got there, since she despised them. Lavinia and Priscilla, on either side of Wynne, squealed and tried, too late, to shove their chairs out of the way; the three of them ended up covered in wine and soup.

“Oh dear!” Lady Gertrude exclaimed, getting up quickly and motioning to a servant. As she and Lady Magdalen began dabbing at the spills with their napkins, she asked, “My goodness, Magdalen, are feasts at Camelot always so…eventful?”

“When young Wynifred is present,” Lady Magdalen said icily, “anything is….oh my!” Lady Magdalen’s comment was interrupted as she looked across at the knights’ table and saw Gwaine and Percival scuffling angrily. Lucky for Wynne, at that moment every eye in the Great Hall was on the two knights who seemed to be engaged in a fight to the death.

Suddenly, Arthur crossed the room and with the help of Leon and Elyan forcibly separated them. “Enough!” he shouted, causing silence to descend on the hall. “Both of you into the Council Chamber, now!”

As Gwaine and Percival left the Great Hall, still glaring at each other, Wynne stood holding a sopping wet napkin, her mouth agape as she watched the two knights leave the room, followed by a furious Arthur.

“Wynifred!” Lady Magdalen snapped for the second time. “Attend to your mishap and stop gawking at those ruffians!” A servant gave her an apologetic smile as she took the wet napkin from her and handed her a dry cloth. Wynne and the servant wiped up the rest of the spill as Lavinia and Priscilla stood by looking devastated at the stains on their favorite gowns. As Lady Gertrude dabbed and fussed a over their gowns, Lady Magdalen gave them a look of sympathy before turning to Wynne again. “Wynifred, you are the most exasperating, disaster-prone young lady I have ever had under my tutelage. I won’t even ask what you thought you were doing.” Wynne was glad of that, because she had no idea what had happened. “Before you go to bed tonight, you will launder not only your gown, but also the tablecloths and Lavinia and Priscilla’s gowns as well. Now go to your chamber and wait till I send for you.”

By the devious look Lavinia and Priscilla exchanged, she knew they were behind whatever had just occurred. She said nothing, but glowered at them, wishing she could slap their faces. At that moment thought the satisfaction she would feel from doing so would almost be worth the extra trouble she would be in, but she restrained herself.

Meanwhile, in the Council Chamber, Gwaine and Percival stood at attention, casting angry sidelong glances at one another, as Arthur paced back and forth in front of them trying to reel in his temper before he addressed them. Finally he stopped and turned to face them. Two defiant splotches of red high on Gwaine’s cheeks and the bemused hurt on Percival’s face told Arthur that Gwaine was likely the one who had started the scuffle, but being a fair ruler, he would not pass judgment till he heard what each had to say. Holding his voice steady with some difficulty, he asked, “Would you two care to tell me what that display was all about?”

“Gwaine started it,” Percival blamed sulkily, turning to glare at his friend.

Gwaine shot him a guilt-laden scowl, and Arthur looked pointedly at him and asked, “Would you care to respond to that?”

Pursing his lips and looking down at the floor for a moment, Gwaine glanced apologetically at Percival. He hated apologizing, even when he was wrong, as he knew he was now. “Percival is correct. I started it. I…apologize, Percival.”

Percival gave the smaller knight an irritated shove that Gwaine knew was an acceptance of his apology. Still, he wanted an explanation. “What were you thinking, you clot-pole?”

Gwaine raised his chin proudly, although the deepening red patches on his cheeks told the other two men that he was embarrassed at his reason. Trying to smirk unabashedly, he replied, “I was protecting a lady’s honor.”

Arthur crossed his arms in front of him, and his lips twitched with amusement as he glanced at Percival, who had recovered from his hurt and was also trying not to laugh. “Were you protecting her from Percival?” Arthur joked. That was too much; he and Percival burst out laughing.

The smirk disappeared from Gwaine’s face, and he clenched and unclenched his fists. He didn’t want to tell them what he had witnessed at the ladies’ table, although he was certain all of Camelot would hear of it by morning. The muscle in his jaw tightened, and he ground out simply, “No.”

Some of Arthur’s amusement faded; he wanted an answer. “Then would you mind telling us…” Understanding dawned on his face, and he looked at Percival and chuckled, “What did Wynifred do this time? It must have been quite the mishap for you to create a diversion to draw attention away from her.”

Percival laughed good-naturedly and joked, “You can dress her up, but you can’t take her out.” He wasn’t saying that to be mean. He was fond of her, as were all the knights, but he couldn’t help being amused by her misadventures and by the way Gwaine always seemed to be the one who came to her rescue. Gwaine raised a fist and made a lunge at Percival, who stepped back and held up his hands in surrender. “I’m only kidding, Gwaine! Take it easy.”

Arthur took a step towards Gwaine and laid a hand on his shoulder to calm him. Looking at Percival, he said softly, “Percival, you are dismissed. You may return to the feast.” Percival gave Arthur a hasty bow before he clapped Gwaine on the back and headed towards the Great Hall, still chuckling. Despite Percival’s obvious amusement, Gwaine knew that he would say nothing about Wynne’s predicament to the others. Arthur watched the other knight leave before turning to Gwaine and joking, “Gwaine, Gwaine, Gwaine. What am I going to do with you?” When Gwaine’s eyes met his, he continued, “You don’t have to tell me what happened with Wynne, but you do know I cannot have one of my most trusted knights starting a rumble during a feast, especially when we have guests present. Couldn’t you have broken out in song instead?”

Gwaine’s mouth twitched; at least he knew Arthur wasn’t angry. Still, he knew he would face consequences for his actions. He swallowed hard and apologized for the second time that evening. “Forgive me, Sire. It was the first thing that came to mind, and I knew I didn’t have much time to react before everyone’s attention was drawn to her. Again.”

Arthur chuckled at the hot-headed impulsiveness that often got his friend in as much trouble as Wynne’s clumsy impulsiveness did her. “As much as I admire your chivalry, Gwaine, your judgment leaves something to be desired. You can help Merlin polish boots and armor after the feast tonight.”

Gwaine’s lip curled distastefully. This wasn’t the first time he had been relegated to that task. Still, he knew he was getting off easy, so he bowed curtly and replied, “Yes, Sire. Thank you.”

“You may return to the feast if you choose. I’m sure the main course has arrived by now,” Arthur said, starting back towards the Great Hall.

Returning to the feast was the last thing Gwaine felt like doing, but he wanted to see if Wynne was still there and if she was all right. He turned on his heel and followed Arthur out of the Council Chamber, putting on his typical carefree, self-assured expression just before they went through the door. However, he didn’t wear that expression for long when he noticed that the rest of the young ladies were seated at their table as though nothing had happened, but Wynne was nowhere to be seen.

Late that night, the rest of the castle was quiet, but Wynne was in the kitchen hunched over a tub of hot water and strong soap, scrubbing the stains out of the gowns and tablecoths. In what Wynne felt was an act of pure unfairness, Lady Magdalen had decided that because Wynne had made her look bad in front of Lady Gertrude, she would launder not only the cloth from the ladies’ table, but all the tablecloths from the feast. She had at least heard from Anora what had happened, and loyal Anora had stood at Wynne’s side to protest the unfairness of her punishment, until Lady Magdalen had warned her of the consequences for insolence. Not wanting her friend to suffer too, Wynne had meekly accepted her punishment. Now, as her arms and back ached not only from her afternoon sword fight but also from scrubbing and her hands burned from the harsh soap, the memory of her friend’s loyalty was all that kept her from crying.

It was past midnight when she finished scrubbing the last tablecloth and hung it to dry. The last task she had to do was to get the heavy washtub out the back door and empty the dirty water. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to carry it out the door, she went to one side, grabbed the handle and tried to drag the tub across the floor. Even though she was strong for her size, she could barely budge it. Just as she decided to begin the task of emptying the tub bucket by bucket, she heard footsteps coming down the passageway towards the kitchen. Thinking it might be Lady Magdalen coming to check on her progress, she squared her shoulders and prepared for whatever she might have to say. When she heard Merlin’s cheerful voice, she relaxed. He wasn’t likely to be walking the halls with Lady Magdalen.

The door to the kitchen swung open, and there in the lamplight, three sets of eyes exchanged surprised looks as Merlin entered the kitchen followed by Gwaine. Wynne’s mouth formed an “O,” and her face reddened as she realized what a sight she was in her oldest, shabbiest dress which was all but soaked down the front, her straggling hair tied back with a kerchief, and her hands wrinkly and red from being in the water for the past couple hours.

Gwaine’s sharp eyes took in the scene, and his eyebrows came together severely as he asked, “What are you doing? Why aren’t you in bed?”

Ashamed to tell him what had happened, Wynne bit her lip for a moment before countering, “I might ask you the same thing.”

Merlin laughed out loud and glanced sideways at Gwaine, saying jovially, “Yes, Gwaine. Tell Wynne why you aren’t in bed.”

Gwaine tried to glare at his friend, but ended up laughing too. With a gleam in his eye, he replied, “The princess sentenced me to polishing duty for livening up a boring feast.”

He and Merlin laughed merrily, but Wynne didn’t find it funny. To her,  it had looked as though he and Percival had really wanted to hurt each other. Tired and upset that what had promised to be a wonderful day had ended so badly, Wynne stamped her foot and snapped, “It’s not funny, Gwaine! Obviously you deserved your punishment, not like…” She stopped suddenly, realizing she had said more than she intended.

Both men ceased laughing abruptly and stared at her. “Oh, Wynne. This was a punishment?” Merlin asked in his soft, sweet voice. The kindness and sympathy she saw in his eyes brought tears to hers, and she hung her head so they wouldn’t see them fall. First Merlin and then Gwaine crossed the room; Merlin gathered her into his arms and looked helplessly at Gwaine, whose expression suggested he’d like to go upstairs, haul Lady Magdalen down to the kitchen, and soak her head in Wynne’s wash water.

Gwaine laid a hand on Wynne’s back, and she drew back from Merlin to look up at the knight. His dark eyes softened, and he smiled sweetly at her as he joked, “And here I thought my plan had succeeded.”

Wynne sniffled and looked up at him curiously. “What plan?”

He laughed and replied, “I noticed you were about to be the center of unwanted attention again, so I…” He glanced at Merlin, and his face broke into a wide grin. “…I created a diversion.”

Wynne simultaneously felt a rush of gratitude at Gwaine’s actions and a flood of mortification that he had seen her sitting with her blueberry-filled mouth hanging open and her hair floating in her soup. “Oh…” she muttered, lowering her head in shame.

Gwaine laughed indulgently and gathered her into a warm hug. He laid his head against hers and planted a brief, brotherly kiss into her hair before teasing, “You’re the only lass I know who can get into trouble while you’re fast asleep.”

Merlin crossed his arms and watched the two friends, laughing both at Wynne’s penchant for getting herself into trouble and at Gwaine’s easygoing acceptance of Wynne’s unladylike behavior. When Wynne drew back and gazed up at Gwaine, Merlin raised an eyebrow, noticing for the first time the way her eyes sparkled and her cheeks blushed pink when she looked at him. Wynne was smitten with Gwaine, if not more. He raised his eyes to Gwaine’s to see if his friend felt the same way about her. There was certainly fondness in his eyes, although all the knights felt so about Wynne. Gwaine’s eyes didn’t betray anything resembling blossoming love, but his actions tonight certainly suggested the possibility.

Gwaine suddenly noticed Merlin staring at him with that strange expression that he often got. Thinking he was still concerned over Wynne’s punishment, he said, “Well, I think this young lady has been punished more than enough, don’t you?” When Merlin started and then nodded his agreement, Gwaine looked down at Wynne and said, “You go on up to bed, lass. Merlin and I will take care of this heavy tub.” He smiled and winked, before bending down to pick up the tub with a grunt.

Wynne gazed after him as he stumbled to the back door with the heavy washtub. A small sigh involuntarily escaped her, and she heard Merlin chuckle. Her head snapped over to look at him, and she saw in his eyes that he knew her secret. Her eyes glassed over with panic as she tried to think of something to say. Merlin glanced up at Gwaine before he whispered, “How long have you felt this way about Gwaine?”

Wynne’s eyes looked at her feet. She knew it was no use denying it. “Since I first laid eyes on him,” she admitted in a whisper. Glancing up at him desperately, she whispered urgently, “You won’t tell him, will you? Please, Merlin, say you won’t tell him.”

Merlin looked down at her kindly and replied, “Your secret is safe with me, Wynne. Besides, I know how Lady Magdalen disapproves of him, so I don’t want to cause either of you any trouble.”

Hearing Gwaine dumping the tub out just outside the door, Wynne hurriedly asked, “Do you think…is there even a chance that he’ll ever…see me as a lady and maybe…feel the same?”

Merlin sighed and considered. He was certain she knew Gwaine’s reputation with the ladies, so it was possible that someday he would see her as more than a clumsy young girl. Still, he didn’t want to give her false hopes that he might fall in love with her as he knew she desired. He just laughed and replied, “He is definitely fond of you, Wynne, but who knows with him? I think any woman would come third to ale and apple pie.”

Wynne just giggled. She knew what Gwaine was like, but she was certain, as all young girls are, that if he would just look her way and see how she loved him, then he would change. She just hoped another young lady didn’t come along and capture his heart before she had her chance.


School Spirits, Chapter 30, Ghost Hunters fan fiction

When Spook and I arrived at Mrs. Rutter’s house, she was outside awkwardly attempting to trim the hedges along the side of her property while an elderly woman who I assumed was her mother watered flowerbeds along the front of the house. As we came up the walk, she greeted us and shook her head in frustration. “My son-in-law usually trims these for me when he visits, but he hasn’t visited since early Spring. I thought I could do it myself, but I’m just making a mess of it, I’m afraid.”

Spook reached for the hedge clippers and said kindly, “I work with my dad in landscaping. Why don’t I have a go at it?” Mrs. Rutter tried to protest that he hadn’t come here to do her yard work, but he insisted. “Really, it won’t take long at all. Besides, you’re helping us out with something, so consider it an even exchange.”

Mrs. Rutter and I sat on the front porch swing making small talk while Spook made quick work of the hedges. He had peeled off his black T-shirt, and the view kept distracting me from our conversation. Her mother finished watering the flowers and came up onto the porch. Setting down the watering can and plopping down on a chair, she also turned to gaze at Spook’s sweaty, muscular form before peering at us over her glasses. “Patricia, I think you should replace Todd with that one. That is a view I could get used to.”

Mrs. Rutter’s laugh rang out as she chastised, “Oh, Mother! Behave yourself!” To me she said, “Ever since she had a hot young physical therapist after her stroke, she’s been incorrigible.”

“Just because I’m pushing eighty doesn’t mean I’m dead,” she crowed. She wagged a gnarled finger at me and joked, “You’d better keep an eye on him; I might just decide to keep him for myself..”

I laughed and joked back, “Maybe I’ll send him to you when he gets out of line.”

“I think he’d come back more out of line than when you sent him,” Mrs. Rutter warned.

Her mother nudged me with her elbow and teased, “Of course, that might be fun for you, dear.” After another long glance at Spook, she leaned over conspiratorially and whispered, “Although I have a feeling he keeps you plenty happy already.”

“Mother, really!” Mrs. Rutter hissed, laughing again.

I felt my cheeks flushing pink as I tried to come up with a response. I didn’t notice Spook approaching till he leaned against the railing, out of breath, and asked, “What’s so funny?”

My face burned as I glanced helplessly at Mrs. Rutter. With a glint in her eye, she patted Spook’s hand and responded, “Nothing, dear. Just girl talk.” Spook raised an eyebrow at me, knowing from my expression that he had missed an obvious joke. He was about to make a comment when Mrs. Rutter went on, “Spook, Kyr, you haven’t officially met my mother, Rosalie Patton. Mother, I’ve told you about Kyr; she used to work with me at the campus library. Now she’s a librarian herself.” She smiled proudly at me as I shook her mother’s hand.

“I’m pleased to finally make your acquaintance,” Mrs. Patton said, now all prim and proper. She turned to Spook and took his hand. “And you’re…Spook?” When he nodded and smiled, she chortled, “A professional landscaper who chases ghosts in his spare time. How delightful! Have you ever encountered a ghost in your work or found any hidden treasures in someone’s yard?”

Spook laughed and answered apologetically, “No, I’m afraid my job tends to be pretty mundane. The scariest things I’ve encountered on the job were a hornet’s nest and an unleashed Doberman.”

Mrs. Patton’s eyes widened as she exclaimed, “Good heavens! Not on the same day, I hope.” When Spook shook his head and laughed, she added, “In any case, I think I’d rather meet up with a ghost than a Doberman.”

Mrs. Rutter chuckled and patted her mother’s hand. “Mother loves a good ghost story.” Becoming serious again, she looked at me. “But you two are trying to get to the bottom of a ghost story, aren’t you?”

I stole a quick glance at Spook before answering, “Yes, we’re still trying to figure out what happened in the Appleton bell tower back in 1954, to see how that ties into the haunting there. Our friends from the Paranormal Club…”

“The former Paranormal Club,” Spook interrupted almost bitterly.

I returned his look and amended, “Yes, the former Paranormal Club. Our friends managed to track down Warren McKnight, and we paid him a visit.”

Mrs. Patton looked at her daughter in surprise. “I didn’t realize Warren was still alive. I didn’t really know him, but of course we all heard about him after the fire.” She leaned closer to me and asked, “Did he tell you what happened?

I shrugged. “He told us part of the story, but there seems to be quite a bit he’s still keeping to himself.” I hesitated, unsure of how much of Warren’s story I should reveal. Although I was sure that neither Mrs. Rutter nor her mother would repeat the story, I didn’t feel comfortable betraying his confidence.

Spook sensed my hesitation and offered, “The main piece of information we discovered was that Warren and Mary weren’t the only ones in the bell tower that night.”

Both older women gasped and exchanged a shocked glance. Mrs. Patton exclaimed, “Then the rumors we’d always heard were true! Did he say who it was?”

I shook my head. “At first he said he didn’t recognize the person, but then later he let part of a name slip.” I looked at Mrs. Patton and said, “That’s why we wanted to look at your yearbook again; maybe we can get an idea who he was talking about.” I didn’t mention my suspicion that the person in question was the reason Warren had kept his secret for so many years.

Spook put his shirt back on (which I thought disappointed Mrs. Patton), and the four of us went inside. As Spook and I sat on the couch in Mrs. Rutter’s small but cozy sitting room, a small gray cat that Mrs. Rutter called Gwendolyn blinked lazily at us from the windowsill. While Mrs. Patton went back to her bedroom to retrieve her yearbook, Mrs. Rutter brought a pitcher of iced tea from the kitchen. “Gardening always puts me in the mood for a nice glass of iced mint tea.”

Mrs. Patton emerged from her bedroom with the same yearbook we’d seen a few months earlier. She sat down in the striaght-backed chair next to the coffee table and laid the book down in front of us, asking, “Was the person a student or a professor?”

When I didn’t respond right away, Spook turned to me with a crooked smile and said, “You’re usually the one with the hunches. What do you think?”

I closed my eyes as I hesitated. I was still unable to shake the idea that the third person in the bell tower that night was someone older than Warren and Mary, but I didn’t want to voice that suspicion to Mrs. Rutter and her mother. At last, returning Spook’s look, I ventured, “I’m not sure; Warren didn’t really give any indication one way or the other.”

Leaning back and clasping his hands behind his head, Spook eyed me knowingly and reasoned, “You said he gave part of a name, right? Chill or Shill?” When I nodded, he continued, “Well, that sounds like part of a last name to me. I have a hunch of my own that Warren would be more likely to refer to a classmate by a first name, don’t you think?” The corners of his mouth twitched, and I realized that he had been aware of where my thoughts were headed all along.

“That certainly sounds logical,” Mrs. Patton agreed. She flipped a few pages till she came to the faculty and staff section and then turned the book towards me. “Why don’t we start here and see if anything jumps out at you?”

I swallowed hard and slid the book closer so I could scan the names and photos. I read each name under my breath as I drew my finger across the pages. “Abbott, Ambrose, Baldwin, Bartol, Bingamin, Bricker, Calder, Chilcote…” I paused. Chill…Chilcote. That was certainly a possibility. I looked more closely at the photo, a white-haired man who appeared to be in his late 50s. No, I decided. That couldn’t be him. I firmly believed that the man in question was still alive, and there was no way this man could still be alive sixty years later.

My finger continued down the page. “Childress.” It felt as though an electric shock traveled from the page to my finger and all the way up to my scalp. I gasped and snatched my hand back, startling both Mrs. Rutter and Mrs. Patton.

“Childress?” Spook asked, leaning forward to study the photo.

“You think Professor Childress was in the tower that night?” Mrs. Patton asked incredulously.

With some trepidation, I brought my eyes back to the photo of Professor Childress. He was a young man, seemingly not much older than the students, with neatly-combed, slicked-back dark hair and wild, light-colored eyes. Something in those eyes held my gaze, and I almost felt the room beginning to fade around me. I had the overwhelming feeling that this man was both charismatic and…evil. “That’s him,” I managed to choke out, unable to tear my eyes from the photo.

Spook picked up the book to look more closely at the photo. “Richard Childress, Professor of History. You’re that sure?” He wasn’t doubting me; he had seen my intense reaction, and he was genuinely concerned.

I nodded, and without thinking blurted out, “Spook, he was evil. He still is.”

“How could you know that from seeing a picture?” Mrs. Patton exclaimed. Her shrill voice jarred me out of whatever strange mind set I had found myself in. I was about to apologize, thinking that I might have offended her by making such an accusation about a favorite professor, but she continued, “Professor Childress was a brilliant man, very well-liked and higly respected by most of the other faculty, but he was very…strange.”

Mrs. Rutter, Spook and I all stared at her as she tapped her chin, deep in thought. Finally, Mrs, Rutter asked, “What do you mean by strange, Mother?”

Mrs. Patton shook her head as she searched for words. “I’m not really sure, dear. There was just something about him that made many of us students uncomfortable. His eyes always frightened me, especially when he’d look at me in class.” I shuddered as I silently agreed with her. “And then there were those ‘special projects’ of his.”

An eerie energy suddenly filled the room, and I sat up straight, fighting the urge to bolt out of the house. Spook’s eyes reflected his own anxiety as he stared at Mrs. Patton. I reached over to take his hand and saw the hairs on his arms standing straight up. At my touch, he glanced at me before looking back at Mrs. Patton and asking, “What ‘special projects’?”

“No one really knew what he was up to,” she replied cryptically, “except those he chose to work with. And they never said a word, even after they were dismissed.”

Spook’s eyebrows came together as he cocked his head at her words. “Dismissed?” he asked. “Why do I get the feeling that these ‘projects’ weren’t academic?”

Mrs. Patton shifted uneasily in her seat, glancing first at her daughter and then at Spook and me. “I’m sure you’re correct in your suspicion, and I can’t help but wonder if Mary’s involvement with Professor Childress is the reason why her spirit remains in Appleton.” Mrs. Patton told us what she could recall about the mysterious Professor Childress. Because he was a history professor, no one thought it strange that he spent countless hours poring over local hisory books and interviewing older residents, focusing on Willow Lake’s early days and the origins of the town’s first settlers, nor did it seem odd that he often enlisted students to aid him in his work.

Mrs. Rutter leaned towards her mother and asked, “Do you know anything at all about what in particular he was researching? Was there something specific he was looking for?”

Mrs. Patton shrugged. “All we were ever told was that he was doing history research. The odd thing, to me, was that he never seemed to share anything he may have discovered.”

“What about the people he chose to assist him?” I asked, beginning to calm down somewhat and regaining the ability to focus. “Did they share certain characteristics? How many were there? Why were they dismissed?”

Spook laid a hand on my arm, laughing. “Slow down, Kyr. Let the poor woman get a word in edgewise.”

I apologized to Mrs. Patton, but she just smiled and patted my knee. “Think nothing of it, dear.” She pursed her lips for a moment before continuing, “Professor Childress had been at Willow Lake for only five years before the fire occurred. I only knew of three or four students and one local historian–I can’t recall his name–who had worked with him on his project.” She gave us a strange look. “He didn’t choose people with the qualities you’d expect in a research assistant–someone with good grades or an interest in history. It’s hard to say what he looked for; it seemed to be something only he could see.”

Spook interjected, “And Mary had that certain something.” I could see the wheels turning in his head, and I wondered what conclusions he was drawing.

Mrs. Patton nodded grimly. “It would seem so. As I recall, it didn’t sit very well with some of the history majors.” She looked at me with a raised eyebrow. “You may have heard there were rumors of Mary’s unfaithfulness to Warren?”

My jaw dropped, and I got a sick feeling in my stomach. “You mean that’s where those rumors started?” I knew that petty jealously could drive people to do some awful things, but this seemed extreme. “Did they actually name Professor Childress, or was it just a general rumor?”

“As I told you, he was well liked and highly respected among the faculty, so even if someone would have accused him, no one would have believed it. Still, there were some who assumed he was the one she was being unfaithful with.”

Mrs. Patton was quiet for a moment, which gave me time to process what she had told us so far. Her story clicked with another piece of information we’d heard. I mused out loud, “I wonder if Warren’s father heard at least some of those rumors, and that’s why he forbid his son to marry her.”

“What?” both older women exclaimed at once. Mrs. Patton went on, “I knew that things had cooled off between them, but I’d never heard that his parents got involved. Did Warren tell you that?”

I was a bit surprised that they hadn’t heard that part of the story. I glanced over at Spook, who seemed to be deep in thought, before replying, “Well, yes, Warren did mention that briefly. I had read something about his parents’ disapproval in Biddlesbacher’s book, but Warren gave us a few more details.”

“Biddlesbacher!” Mrs. Patton exclaimed, bringing her hands down hard on the arms of her chair. “That was the name of the historian who collaborated with Professor Childress for a time. Shortly before the fire, they had some kind of a falling out and parted company. Biddlesbacher’s book was published ten years after the fire, and it seems that he knew what happened in the bell tower that night. He included more information than some folks were comfortable with; I suppose he thought that it was safe to do so since Childress had moved on.”

Spook suddenly sat up and narrowed his eyes suspiciously as he took in Mrs. Patton’s words. Giving me a shrewd sidelong glance, he ventured, “But apparently it wasn’t safe, and Biddlesbacher was pressured to pull the book and edit out any incriminating information.”

“Threatened was more like it,” Mrs. Patton spat. “From what I heard, he only crumbled because threats were made to his family. The book hadn’t been out long enough to sell many copies, so there are very few in existence anymore, but if you could find one, I understand you’d have almost the whole story at your fingertips.”

Mrs. Rutter interjected, “Even the second edition is hard to come by these days. At one time the library had two or three copies, but they have long since gone missing.” I thought about the copy I had come across at the book sale, and I found myself wishing it had been a first edition, or even that I knew who had donated the copy I now possessed.

Spook and I exchanged a glance, but said nothing. We were both thinking of the information Lou had given me, but I said nothing to betray his confidence. Suddenly, I recalled part of the story Jared had told JoEllyn, and I ventured hesitantly, “We had heard rumors of…satanic worship in the bell tower. You don’t think that Mary and Professor Childress…”

“No, certainly not!” Mrs. Patton interrupted. She and Mrs. Rutter exchanged a meaningful glance before she admitted, “To be honest, I believe he was doing more than simple local history research.” My eyebrows came together in a silent question, which she answered, “If you read Biddlesbacher’s book, then you know he was interested in ghost stories and things of that nature.” I nodded, and she continued, “Do you recall the story about the Willow Lake witch?”

I gasped and shook my head. “To be honest myself, I only read the chapter called, ‘School Spirits.’ That was the only chapter I thought would be relevant.”

“You’re falling down on the job, Ms. Researcher,” Spook teased, giving my ponytail a quick tug.

I stuck my tongue out at him and gave him a quick poke in the ribs before asking, “There was a witch in Willow Lake?”

“A rumored witch,” Mrs. Rutter said contemptuously. “I for one don’t believe it. Kyr, you’ve heard about the Salem witch trials, what nonsense was behind them. I’m sure that’s all it was in this case too, just pure nonsense.”

As her words sank in, I looked back at her in horror. “Was there a witch trial here?” I had never heard of any such thing in Willow Lake, but then I hadn’t known there was a supposed witch here either. I quickly did the math and realized that Willow Lake wasn’t settled till the mid-1750s; it seemed to me that witch fever would have died down by then.

“Thankfully, no,” Mrs. Rutter replied. “But like a lot of other folks in those days, the townsfolk had their superstitions and fears. Do you recall the archaeological excavation north of town a decade or so ago?” I searched my memory but came up with nothing. I shook my head and shrugged, and Mrs. Rutter continued, “Well, that was likely before your time at Willow Lake.” She went on to explain that when a local construction company broke ground for a new housing development, they had discovered evidence of a small settlement that spanned about a mile radius. A group of archaeologists from a larger university came in to investigate the site and found the stone foundations of ten houses that were eventually dated back to around 1740, almost fifteen years before Willow Lake was officially settled. “The odd thing was that they found witch bottles next to seven of the foundations.”

Spook looked questioningly at me, and I shrugged. He asked, “What the devil is a witch bottle?”

Mrs. Rutter answered, “One of the archaeologists spoke here at the college after the discovery. He told us it was some kind of a charm or amulet against witches. If someone believed a witch was casting spells to bring harm to them, they would fill a bottle with urine and pins that had been boiled together, seal it and bury it upside down outside their house to deflect the negative magic and possibly identify the witch.”

I couldn’t help curling my lip as I exclaimed, “How disgusting! And they really believed that worked?”

Mrs. Rutter shrugged, “As I said, they were a superstitious people back then.”

Spook shook his head too before asking, “Okay, so how does Professor Childress fit in to this, if this discovery wasn’t made until recently?”

Mrs. Patton laughed and reasoned, “Well, those witch bottles may have been a recent discovery, but the witch rumors had obviously been circulating since the area was first settled.”

“There wasn’t much to the entry in Biddlesbacher’s book,” Mrs. Rutter added. “Just that the settlers began suffering misfortunes after a newcomer arrived, and they naturally surmised that the newcomer was a witch.”

“What kind of misfortunes?” I asked.

Mrs. Rutter shrugged and replied, “Crop failures, animals dying, illnesses.”

“In other words, things that might have had a logical explanation,” Spook interjected, shaking his head in disgust. I could tell that while he was a firm believer in ghosts and demons, he drew the line at witchcraft.

Mrs. Rutter chuckled and agreed. “My point exactly. A lot of superstitious nonsense.”

Something still didn’t add up for me. I began, “But Professor Childress…What does he…I mean, there was…is…something evil about him.”

Mrs. Rutter and Mrs. Patton looked at each other uncertainly. Mrs. Patton finally ventured, “Kyr, I really don’t know. It seems that we have many of the pieces, but we don’t know how they fit together.”

Mrs. Rutter added, “It would appear that Professor Childress knew something about the witch that Biddlesbacher didn’t. Maybe that piece of information is what caused the two to sever their working relationship.”

I thought about that for a moment and then mused out loud, “And maybe that piece of information had something to do with his ‘special projects’ and ultimately with why Mary ended up in the bell tower to meet him.”

We tossed around theories for a little while longer, but with so many pieces still missing, we were unable to reach any definite conclusions, either about the nature of Professor Childress’ ‘special projects’ or about the reason Mary’s angry spirit lingered in Appleton’s bell tower. After a time, we ran out of ideas and sat silently sipping our tea. Finally, Spook stretched and looked at me, smiling. “Well, we certainly found some interesting information,” he began. “But I’m still not sure how it all fits together or gets us closer to an answer.”

I laughed shortly and replied, “That seems to be the trend, doesn’t it?” I looked first at Mrs. Rutter and then at her mother. Both wore the same bemused expression that I knew was on my face. “You don’t know how much we appreciate you sharing what you could.”

“I just wish we could have been more help to you, dear,” Mrs. Patton said, grasping my hand. “Patricia and I have both said how much we’d like to see this whole mystery solved and the rumors put to rest.” I could sense how much she had been drawn into our research and how her recollections had taken her back to her college days.

Spook reached over to lazily scratch my back. “Well, I think we just need to let this new information sink in and digest before we go any further.” Knowing he was referring to telling Ed and Phil, I nodded my agreement, and we decided to take our leave.

As we walked towards the door, Mrs. Patton, with a gleam in her eye, addressed Spook. “There is another mystery I know you can solve, young man.” Mrs. Rutter’s eyebrows went up anxiousiy, and I eyed her curiously. She said saucily, “Your name isn’t really Spook, is it?”

For a split second, I caught Spook’s gaze, and I saw a strange look in his eyes. He smiled sheepishly, and I could have sworn he was blushing. Turning his eyes to Mrs. Patton, he gave a slight shake of his head and answered, “No, it isn’t.”

I realized that I didn’t even know Spook’s given name; it had never occurred to me to ask him. I crossed my arms, smirked at him, and waited expectantly for him to answer. Mrs. Patton sensed his hesitation and found it amusing. She cackled, “Oh, come now, honey. It can’t be that bad, can it?”

There was no question; Spook was definitely blushing. I couldn’t suppress a giggle as I teased, “Yeah, honey. It can’t be that bad.” I was mentally going through every man’s name I could think of, trying to figure out what name his parents could have given him that was so embarrassing.

Spook made a face at me and leaned down to whisper in Mrs. Patton’s ear. When he straightened up, she chuckled and reached up to pinch his cheek in a grandmotherly way. “I don’t know what you’re ashamed of. I think it’s a handsome name for a very handsome young man.”

Recalling what she had said about him earlier, I laughed out loud. He responded by putting me into a headlock while he thanked Mrs. Patton for her kindness. Mrs. Rutter just shook her head indulgently at us “kids” and thanked Spook for fixing her hedges.

After we left, we strolled hand in hand down the sidewalk headed back to the hotel, just enjoying the warm September day and each other’s company. After we had gone a couple blocks, Spook looked down at me with a crooked smile and asked, “So, what were you ladies cackling about on the front porch while I was trimming the hedges?” I giggled and looked down at the ground, trying to pull away from him; he pulled me closer and said, “Oh, no you don’t. You’re not getting away. What were you talking about? I have a feeling it was about me.”

I leaned into him and gazed playfully up at him. “Why haven’t you ever told me your real name?”

He groaned and looked away, a blush spreading across his cheeks once more. I giggled, enjoying making him squirm for once. He looked back at me and countered, “I asked you first. Besides, you never asked about my name.”

“True,” I responded, grabbing his hand and kissing it before offering, “I’ll swap you secret for secret.”

“What if I don’t want to tell you?” he joked, avoiding my gaze.

“I’m sure I could find out from someone. I’ll bet Jason and Grant know, don’t they?” The look he gave me was priceless, and I knew I was right. “I figure Grant owes me for the times he’s spilled my secrets to you.” I was still a bit peeved with them for telling him about my “dude run” moment, so I guessed it wouldn’t take too much to get one of them to tell me Spook’s real name.

He gave me what I supposed was an attempt at a withering glance before conceding, “All right, but you have to go first, since I asked first.”

“All right,” I responded, giggling as I imagined his reaction. I stopped walking to look him square in the eye. “Mrs. Patton had plans to make you her personal gardener.” When he looked at me curiously, I put my hands on my hips, surprised that he didn’t catch on. “She said she could get used to seeing you working outside with your shirt off. I’m going to need to keep you under wraps; first Ron makes eyes at you, and now Mrs. Rutter’s eighty-year old mother.”

Spook covered his face with his hand, shaking his head and laughing. “I suppose I should have kept my shirt on, hmm?”

I ran my hand over his chest and whispered, “Oh, I don’t know. I kind of enjoyed it myself. I’d like to get a closer look at the tattoo on your back.”

Spook’s arms suddenly went around me, and he teased, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think there was something in Mrs. Rutter’s iced tea.” Now that he said that, I was wondering that myself. I couldn’t believe I had just said that to him.

Suddenly embarrassed at my boldness, I cleared my throat and changed the subject. “So, what’s your real name, Spook?” He grabbed my hand and started walking again, not answering. I giggled and teased him, “I’ll bet it’s something really awful, isn’t it? Bernard? Herbert? Clyde? Enos?” After each name, he laughed and shook his head. “Ichabod? Aloysius? Snidely Whiplash?”

At the last name, Spook doubled over laughing. “Now you’re just being silly,” he accused when he could talk again.

“Then tell me,” I whined, sticking out my lower lip.

He sighed and held my gaze for a moment before saying, “Promise not to laugh?” I hesitated a second before nodding, trying not to smirk at him. “Well, I was named after both my grandfathers. My full given name is…” He looked at me pleadingly. “Spencer Sheldon Steele.” He narrowed his eyes as though he thought I would throw something at him.

My jaw dropped, and I gave him a disbelieving stare before I laughed out loud. When he gave me a hurt look, I explained, “Oh, Spook, I’m not laughing at your name. I’m laughing because you made such a big deal out of it. What on earth is wrong with Spencer?”

He grabbed my hand and we started walking again. “I guess the name itself isn’t so bad; it’s just that…” I saw the blush creeping into his cheeks again, and I wondered if it had been a bad idea to make him tell me. “In school, I wasn’t the only Spencer. The only thing was, the other two were girls. Spencyr Meck and Spenser Robinson. I’ve told you that I was bullied, right?” I nodded, and he continued, “Well, the guys who bullied me always said there were three girls named Spencer. I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when I was a teenager, it was. I hated my name. I was so glad when I saw that ghost and got the nickname Spook. It just seemed more masculine, you know?”

I leaned against him and stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. “Well, I agree with Mrs. Patton. I think it’s a wonderful name.” I laughed ruefully and reminded him, “With a name like Kyrie Skye, who am I to poke fun at someone else’s name?” He laughed along with me and pulled me close again.

TAPS Meets the Dorocha, Ghost Hunters/Merlin Crossover Fanfiction, Part 2

Disclaimer: I do not own TAPS, Ghost Hunters, Merlin, or any of the people or characters involved. The only things that are mine are my imagination and the ideas that come from it. (The last part of this is from Merlin episode “The Darkest Hour,Part 2”)

Jason and Grant slowly opened their eyes to find themselves deep in an unfamiliar forest. How had they gotten here? the last either of them remembered, they had been inside the Mayweather Armory, dodging a shrieking, flying apparition. Turning his head slightly, Jason spied two men in chainmail standing close by. The taller of the two, a young man with close-cut, light brown hair, held the clamshell of the thermal imaging camera in his hands. He and a dark-skinned second man stood staring at it as though they had never seen such equipment. “It’s a thermal imaging camera,” Jason croaked, rubbing his head and trying to sit up. “It allows us to measure temperature fluctuations in our surroundings that might indicate paranormal activity.”

The two men holding the clamshell turned to Jason, looking at him as though he had just spoken Chinese. The taller man asked, “What?”

Grant sat up slowly, also rubbing his head, and clarified, “It’s a device that helps us see hot or cold spots in our surroundings. We use it to capture evidence of spirits.” He glanced over at Jason and joked, “Jay likes to throw around technical terms; it makes people think he’s intelligent.”

Neither Jason’s explanation nor Grant’s seemed to help the men understand what they were looking at. The ghost hunters looked at each other, wondering if these men didn’t speak English or if they were just simple. Jason motioned to the camera Grant still clutched in his hand and cautiously reached out to take the clamshell. “Let us show you how it works,” he said slowly and calmly, as though talking to a child.

The young man regarded him suspiciously for a moment before glancing briefly at his companion, who shrugged and nodded, also watching Jason and Grant suspiciously. The man handed the clamshell to Jason, and both men put their hands to the swords at their belts, which made Jason and Grant nervous. A third man with dark shoulder-length hair edged warily over to stand between the other two, regarding the ghost hunters with piercing brown eyes.

Jason turned on the clamshell, and Grant turned on the camera. Spying two men in chainmail kneeling by a campfire about a stone’s throw away, he pointed the camera at them and said, low, “This is what your friends look like on the thermal.” He zoomed in on the two men while Jason turned the clamshell so the men could see it.

As Grant brought the camera into focus, the two men’s images glowed white against the background of yellow, green and blue. The three men crowded close around Jason, seemingly in awe of what they saw on the screen. The long-haired man’s eyes shifted between the image on the screen and the men in the distance. With a swiftness neither Jason nor Grant expected, he drew his sword, shouting, “What sorcery is this?” The tall man snatched the clamshell from Jason, and the dark-skinned man wrenched the camera from Grant, and they both drew their swords and pointed them at the ghost hunters.

The two men in the distance, alerted by the long-haired man’s shout, jumped up, drew their swords and ran towards them. The shorter of the two, a man with short, straight, blond hair, reached them first. “What is the meaning of this? Who are these men?” he barked with authority, and Jason surmised this man was in charge of the group.

The dark-skinned man spoke first. “We don’t know who they are, Arthur. We found them unconscious just beyond those trees.”

The long-haired man eyed Jason and Grant suspiciously and growled, “These men have this…thing…that captures spirits, and unless I am mistaken, they were attempting to capture yours.”

The blond-haired man–Arthur–turned to Jason and Grant indignantly and exploded, “Is this true?” Jason and Grant exchanged an incredulous look; what kind of lunatics were they dealing with, anyway? They held up their hands in surrender as the man brought his sword up and pointed it at Grant’s throat. “We’re already dealing with the Dorocha; we don’t need any spirit-stealing sorcerers to add to our troubles.”

Arthur’s companion, a tall man with curly, reddish-blond hair, pointed his sword at Jason’s throat, and said, “Sire, they may be in league with Morgana. We know she’s the one who released the Dorocha.”

“With all due respect,” Jason began, looking uncertainly from one man to the other, “Who is Morgana, and what the hell is a Do-rock-a?”

“And where exactly are we?” Grant added, staring at the golden dragon crest on the men’s red cloaks.

The long-haired man took a step towards Jason and Grant, his sword drawn, and warned, “We’ll ask the questions; you’re the ones who have some explaining to do.”

“Gwaine, let’s hear what they have to say,” Arthur said sternly, yet not letting his guard down. “Although he is correct; we do have some questions for you gentlemen.”

Before anyone could say anything else, a distant shriek sounded through the forest. Jason and Grant tensed up and began looking wildly around them, searching for the source of the voice. The other men grabbed the ghost hunters and dashed towards the campfire, where they snatched up torches and stood in a circle, their backs to each other’s backs. The man called Gwaine lit two torches and thrust them at Jason and Grant. “Fire is the only way to ward them off. It doesn’t destroy them, but it stops them from attacking.”

The man with reddish-blond hair leaned towards Arthur and said, “We can’t stay out here all night, Arthur.” He looked around fearfully as another wail cut through the dusk. “There is an abandoned castle just over the ridge from here. If we move quickly, maybe we can make it.”

Arthur looked around uncertainly at the others. Jason and Grant could see that he was torn between staying within the relative safety of the campfire and getting to a more substantial shelter which might or might not offer better protection. They remembered that they had been inside the armory when the spirits had attacked them. “Arthur, he’s right,” the dark-skinned man said. “We stand a better chance if we were at least within some sturdy walls.”

Arthur returned his gaze, his eyes troubled and his demeanor suggesting that he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. Finally he nodded his agreement, and he and his men took swords and torches and reluctantly began heading quickly through the trees. Jason and Grant, too, took torches and their equipment and followed them, casting anxious glances over their shoulders into the deepening twilight.

Suddenly, a loud shriek sounded close by, and the tall man shouted, “Look out!” before shoving Grant aside and waving his torch at a quickly-approaching skull-faced apparition, which dissipated in a puff of mist as it encountered the torch.

“Thanks,” Grant muttered shakily, looking up at the man, who gave him a tight-lipped smile and nodded his acknowledgement.

The group hastily made it out of the woods and up a steep ridge from which they could see the remains of what must have once been a grand castle. Jason turned to Grant with questioning eyes. Grant returned his look with a curious expression of his own. In all their years of paranormal investigating, they had never experienced anything like this. It wasn’t just the nature of these…Dorocha…although they had never encountered a such a spirit before; it was also the fact that they seemed to have been transported back in time. Neither of them had missed the significance of the fact that one me these men was called Arthur. Was it possible that they were in the presence of the King Arthur, and were the men with him truly Knights of the Round Table?

Night had fallen by the time the exhausted group made it to the abandoned castle. Everyone rushed inside, and Gwaine and the tall man hurriedly shut the large iron gate while the others hastily built a fire with what little timber they could find. Jason caught Gwaine’s eye and gave him a look as though to ask if he were crazy; they both knew that neither an iron gate nor a stone structure would keep the Dorocha out. Gwaine returned his look with a shrug and a crooked smile before he and the other knight headed over to join the others.

Once the fire was built, they did the only thing they could do; they sat down around the fire to rest, keep warm and pass the time till morning. When everyone was seated, Arthur turned to Jason and Grant with an expression that was both somber and hospitable. “Now that we’re settled for the time being, I suppose it’s time to get the introductions out of the way.” He drew himself up as regally as could a man seated on a log and continued, “I am Arthur Pendragon, Prince of Camelot, and these are my most trusted knights.”

Jason and Grant sized up each of the knights as they introduced themselves. Gwaine was brave and reckless, with a playful, light-hearted streak that resonated with fun-loving Grant. Leon, the man with reddish-blond hair, was quiet, serious and wise, and seemed to be Arthur’s right-hand man. The tall man was Percival. Jason grinned as he shook hands with the gentle giant; he was himself quite tall and muscular, but next to this knight, even Jason felt a bit small. Elyan stepped forward last; like Leon, he seemed to be serious and steady as a rock.

Arthur turned to Jason and Grant, eyeing their equipment once more, and said, “Now you know who we are; please tell us about yourselves.”

Gwaine leaned forward quickly and added, “And tell us about…” He motioned towards the thermal camera and the digital voice recorder. “…Those…whatever you called them.”

Jason glanced at Grant and began, “Well, my name is Jason Hawes, and this is Grant Wilson. We’re from Rhode Island…” His eyes met Grant’s uncertainly before he glanced at Arthur. “But I guess you don’t know where that is, since America hasn’t been discovered yet…”

The knights exchanged confused glances with each other and with Arthur. Grant thought they were still suspecting magic, so he jumped in to try to explain. “We’re really not sure how to explain this, because we don’t really know what happened ourselves, but we come from several hundred years in the future.” Arthur and Leon exchanged a serious, almost fearful look that almost confirmed they were thinking he and Jason were sorcerers. Grant continued, his dark eyes staring into the fire, “We were investigating the Mayweather Armory. The owner had recently acquired armor and weaponry that he claimed was from…Camelot.” At this, Arthur met Grant’s eyes indignantly; Grant looked back at him apologetically and went on, “Soon after the armor was brought in, the staff began experiencing paranormal activity.”

“I beg your pardon?” Leon asked, a quizzical expression on his face.

“They believed they were being haunted,” Jason replied. “They heard screams, felt icy drafts and saw…apparently whatever those things are that are flying around out there. One man claims he was attacked by one of the spirits and had to be hospitalized for frostbite-like symptoms.”

Percival asked incredulously, “But he didn’t die?”

Jason and Grant both shook their heads, and Arthur said gravely, “Many here have died from the Dorocha. Our court physician Gaius told us that the Dorocha are spirits of the dead, and they were released when the veil between the worlds was torn through sorcery.” He looked around at his knights and continued, “We are on our way to the Isle of the Blessed to close the veil and get rid of the Dorocha.”

Gwaine continued, “Arthur’s servant Merlin was attacked just last night. He and Lancelot are headed back to Camelot to see if Gaius can help him.”

Jason and Grant looked curiously at each other. Merlin was a servant and not the wizard of the legends? Neither of them had heard this take on the Arthurian legend. They said nothing about this, but Grant asked, “How is…Merlin?”

“He was still alive when they left,” Arthur responded, tossing a twig into the fire. “But we haven’t heard of anyone surviving an attack yet.” As Jason looked at Grant and shook his head in disbelief, the prince asked, “Do you doubt me, Jason?”

Jason sat up quickly and apologized. “No, your highness, of course not. It’s just that…” He looked at Grant uncertainly. “…In all the years we have investigated the paranormal, we have never encountered a human spirit that could physically harm a person to the point of killing them.” Not wanting to offend Arthur or the knights, he quickly amended, “I mean, I suppose it could happen, but it would be rare…” His voice trailed off under the withering glances of the other men seated around the campfire.

“Maybe you would like to come back to Camelot with us and see all the dead for yourselves,” Elyan responded angrily.

Grant jumped in to smooth things over. “No, Elyan, we believe you; honest we do. This is simply…something we have never seen, and we’re not sure what to think.” He fidgeted with the digital voice recorder for a moment before glancing at Gwaine. “I believe you asked about our equipment?”

Gwaine’s eyes lit up, and he leaned forward to ask, “What is that you’re holding?”

Jason and Grant spent the next few minutes demonstrating their equipment for the knights, showing them how they looked on the thermal imaging camera and letting them listen to their voices on the voice recorder. Gwaine set everyone laughing when he heard his voice and joked, “No wonder the ladies come running when they hear me call.”

When the knights were satisfied that the ghost hunters’ equipment was not something magical, they all gathered around the fire once more. Gwaine sat down between Leon and Elyan and removed his boots and his heavy woolen socks. Leon and Elyan grimaced as the putrid odor of unwashed feet drifted through the air. Elyan fanned the air and asked, “Has something died?”

Gwaine pulled off a sock and shook it out, replying irritably, “Why am I always the butt?”

“I can’t think,” Leon quipped, as he and Elyan got up and moved across to sit with Arthur and Percival.

Jason and Grant looked at each other and laughed, thinking that these men sounded a lot like the TAPS team when they were on the road. Gwaine looked at Leon and Elyan and said, “Pick on Percival.”

“Why me?” Percival asked, glaring across the fire at Gwaine, who was holding his sock close to the fire with a stick..

“At least he washes,” Elyan responded.

Gwaine glared over at Elyan, offended, till Leon warned, “I think you’ve caught your socks on fire.”

Gwaine cried out in frustration as he jerked his sock out of the fire and began beating it on the ground to extinguish the flames. Everyone laughed, and Grant nudged Jason and asked, “Remind you of anyone?”

Before Jason could respond, Arthur threw up a hand and hushed everyone. Out of the darkness, they all heard the large iron gate slam shut. The knights grabbed their swords and quickly got to their feet; they knew that whoever was approaching was flesh and blood, and not Dorocha.

School Spirits, Chapter 29, Ghost Hunters fan fiction

After a stunned silence, Elaine asked haltingly, “What do you mean ‘all hell broke loose’?”

Warren didn’t answer right away, instead reaching for his mug with a shaky hand. For several minutes he sipped his coffee, his unfocused eyes staring straight ahead. I got the distinct impression that he was deciding how much of the story he could safely reveal. At last, he began, “One night I managed to sneak out of my parents’ house and get in to Appleton–never mind how I did it.” Elaine and I exchanged amused smirks before he continued, “I let myself into the bell tower and hid behind one of the beams close to the stairs to see if Mary would come up. Sure enough, just before midnight, the door opened, and Mary came sneaking up the stairs carrying a big book and a handful of candles. I got a little riled up when I saw that that part of the rumor was true. I was tempted to confront her right then, but I decided to wait and see what happened.” He went on to tell us that Mary knelt down on the floor between the clock face and the bell mechanism, arranged the candles in a circle and lit them, and opened the book. Then she waited, and so did Warren.

There was another pause as Warren gathered his thoughts; again I sensed that he was mentally sifting through which details he would share and which details he would keep to himself. “Mary sat there real quiet for a few minutes. Just as I was about to show myself and ask what she was doing…” Warren pursed his lips and looked down at his clenched fists. Elaine and I sat motionless, knowing that if we pushed him at this crucial point in his story, he would likely retreat into himself once more, and we would never hear what happened. Suddenly, he continued as though in a rush to get the words out, “The door opened again, and someone else came running up the stairs.” His steely eyes stared hard at his mug, and I noticed his white-knuckled grip ont he handle. “It was a man dressed in a long black overcoat with the collar turned up. I had to fight the urge to jump out then and there and beat the pulp out of him, but I waited. He crossed the room to Mary and pulled her to her feet and said…” Again a hesitation.

Elaine reached over to place a hand on his shoulder. I could see the sympathy in her eyes as she heard her uncle’s story for the first time.

Warren drew a shaky breath and went on, “He said, ‘Mary, my dear, I’m glad you agreed to meet me here tonight.’ That was enough for me; I figured the rumors were true. I stepped out and confronted them both.”

“Oh, Uncle Warren!” Elaine exclaimed tearfully. “How awful for you! Who was he?”

A strange look passed over Warren’s face, but was gone in an instant, and I knew his next words would be less than truthful. “I…I really don’t know who he was. I had never seen him before. Didn’t matter anyway.” The hard, closed look was back in his eyes as he finished his story in halting sentences, “He and I began fighting. Mary tried to break us up. One of us accidentally pushed her. She fell into the circle of candles and started the fire. Chil…the other man ran away while I tried to help Mary. Her clothes had caught fire, and she screamed for me to stay with her. Somehow she fell through the floor. I couldn’t help her myself, so I ran to call the fire company. By the time they got there, it was too late; Mary was gone.”

Two pieces of his story jumped out at me, and I wondered if Elaine had noticed. Warren had said he didn’t know the other man, but I could have sworn he almost gave a name when he said the other man ran away. The second thing that stood out was Mary pleading for him to stay with her. I wondered if her frightened, tearful “Stay with me” had somehow become the chilling “Die with me” that we’d captured the night of the fire.

Warren seemed to calm down somewhat after he’d told his story. Elaine’s expression was puzzled, as though she couldn’t understand why his story had remained a secret for so long. Finally she ventured, “Uncle Warren, that must have been so hard seeing Mary suffer like that and to not be able to help her…”

Elaine seemed unsure of what to say next, so I asked hesitantly, “The newspaper reports we saw only mentioned that you were in the bell tower with her. Didn’t they know…didn’t you tell them that there was someone else?”

Warren’s eyes were hard as he responded bitterly, “I was in all kinds of trouble that night, being in the women’s dorm after curfew, a fire, the death of a student. I told my parents about…the other man, but since no one had seen him, no one believed me. They tried to say I’d killed her. Of course, my father being a professor there, he didn’t want the scandal following him, so he smoothed things over, got me off the hook as best he could. But the whole damn story became a blight on the school and on the town. Dad soon resigned his position at the college and left academics altogether.” His eyes filled with sorrow and shame, and I felt sorry for the burden this man had carried for so many years. I wondered if it had been wise to urge him to dredge it all up again now.

Elaine slid her chair closer to Warren’s and put her arm around her elderly uncle. “I’m so sorry, Uncle Warren,” she began. “To have to go through so much at such a young age, and then no one believed your story. Is that why you and Dad really didn’t get along?”

My eyes flew open at the mention of a brother. Of course, I realized, if Warren was her uncle, then he’d have to have had at least one sibling. Warren nodded sadly and replied, “Well, Lainey, we’d never really gotten along that well. Lex was the perfect son, successful, smart, married a nice girl and had a beautiful family. I was the spoiled brat slacker, and it always bothered him that I was named after Dad. When this whole scandal broke, he accused me of bringing shame to Dad’s good name. We didn’t talk much after that.”

Our conversation turned once more to other things, and before long, I thought it best to take my leave. I thanked them both for speaking with me, although I wasn’t sure how the new information could get us any closer to putting Mary’s spirit to rest. Elaine hugged me once more and offered to exchange phone numbers; her eyes suggested that she shared my suspicion that Warren hadn’t told us everything just yet.

I leaned over to embrace Warren, and he held tightly to me for a moment. “Kyr, you’re such a sweet girl. Hold on to your Spooky fella; he’s a good man, even if his hair is too long.” Elaine and I laughed, and he drew back to look sharply at me. “Believe in each other, Kyr. Through all the doubts, through all the hard times. That’s what love is.” A cloud seemed to pass over us at that moment, although I could see the sky was still clear and the sun shone brightly. I sensed once more that there was much more to the story that he hadn’t told us.

During the short drive back to Willow Lake, I turned Warren’s story over and over in my mind, trying to read into his words whatever he wasn’t telling us, and I was certain there was something significant he wasn’t telling us. What happened to Mary was unquestionably tragic, and I could understand Warren’s–and even his father’s–desire to keep the details of that night from the public, but why would the college, the community and so many others want to keep the secret for so long? Something just didn’t add up, and I wondered if we’d ever know the truth.

By the time I got back to Willow Lake, it was late morning–too late for breakfast, but too early for lunch. Still, I felt guilty for running out on Spook, so I wanted to bring back something to eat. Spying a coffee shop, I decided to pick up coffee and sticky buns.

When I got back to the room, I put my ear to the door for a moment. It sounded like Spook was talking to someone, and I wondered if Ed and Phil had stopped by. I hoped not. I’d have enough explaining to do to Spook; I doubted Phil would take it well that I’d gone to see Warren alone.

Taking a deep breath, I unlocked the door and went inside. Thankfully, I saw that Spook was alone. He was sitting up in bed talking to someone on his cell phone. Our eyes met, and he raised an eyebrow at me as I bit my lip guiltily. “Hey, Grant,” he said, giving me a lopsided smile. “I’ll call you later. My little wanderer just came in.”

Spook tossed his cell phone on the nightstand and beckoned to me with his finger. His expression was stern, but there was a playful gleam in his eyes. As I walked hesitantly towards him, he eyed the coffee shop bag like a curious puppy. A slow smile spread across his lips, and he asked, “What’s in the bag?”

I sat down on the bed, set the coffees on the nightstand and handed him the bag. “Sticky buns,” I replied apologetically as he opened it and peeked inside. “I hope you like them.”

He pulled one of the gooey pastries out of the bag and regarded it. “I’ve never had one,” he said with a funny expression. I watched as he took a big bite, dripping carmelized sugar down his chin. I giggled and handed him a napkin. “You think it’s funny?” he asked, quickly setting the sticky bun on the napkin and planting a gooey kiss on my lips. I protested, laughing, and he kept kissing me till he had kissed off all the sugar.

We settled in and made short work of the sticky buns and coffee. After I popped the last bite of sticky bun into my mouth, I reached across Spook to grab a napkin to wipe my sticky fingers. He reached out quickly to grasp my wrist. “Where are your manners, young lady?” he asked, giving me a reproachful look. My eyes widened in surprise at his unexpected sternness, and I was about to apologize when he brought my hand to his mouth and continued huskily, “Allow me.” His dark eyes held mine as he slowly licked the sugar off my fingers; I stared wordlessly at him as chills raced down my spine at the intimate touch.

When all the sugar was gone, he kissed his way up my arm, pulling me closer as he did so. I giggled and snuggled closer to him as he wrapped his arms around me and nuzzled my neck. He raised his head to look down at me before whispering into my hair, “I was disappointed when I woke up alone this morning. I was looking forward to waking up with my beautiful girlfriend.” He kissed my temple and continued, “I was afraid you’d changed your mind about us.”

I couldn’t tell if he was serious or just teasing me. As I slipped my arms around his waist and started to assure him I hadn’t changed my mind, my eyes drifted down to his lap and lingered there as I recalled details from our night together. Blushing, I realized I was staring and forced myself to look away as I answered, “No, Spook, I didn’t change my mind.” I met his eyes tentatively and explained, “I just had something I had to do. Alone.”

Spook let out a long breath and regarded me seriously. After a long moment, the corners of his mouth twitched, and he asked, “So what did you find out from Warren?”

I gaped at him for a second and countered, “How did you…?”

“Elementary, my dear Watson,” he interrupted, laughing at my expression. Narrowing his eyes and leaning his forehead against mine, he continued, “I saw the wheels turning in your head last night when we were all talking in the parking lot, and I had a hunch you might pull something like this.”

Lowering my head guiltily, I gave him a crooked smile and said, “Then I guess my hunch was right; I had a feeling you knew what I was planning to do, and I was afraid you’d either try to stop me or want to come along.”

Spook crossed his arms behind his head and laid back on his pillow, laughing. “I did consider busting you out and coming along with you, but I know Warren doesn’t particularly like me. I didn’t want to mess up your chance to get some real information.”

I stretched out next to him and traced my finger across his chest for a moment before telling him, “Well, Warren still doesn’t like your long hair, but he admitted that you’re a nice guy.” When Spook gave me a questioning glance, I responded, “He said if I liked you, then you must not be so bad.”

“I think you could charm the scales off a snake, Kyr,” he joked, shaking his head. “Now how about you tell me what you found out. I’m sure there had to be something, as long as you were gone.”

Something in the way he said that told me that he’d heard me leave this morning and chose  to let me go, but I said nothing. “Well,” I began, not knowing where to start. “We were right in thinking there was more to the story than what he told us last night.” My eyes met his anxiously. “And I can almost guarantee we still don’t have the whole story.”

Spook stared up at the ceiling and listened intently as I related the details Warren had given us about his relationship with Mary and what happened that night in the bell tower. When I told him about the other man who showed up that night, he sat up with a spark of interest in his eyes and asked, “Did he say who it was?”

“No,” I responded dejectedly. “The strange thing was that at first he claimed to not know who the man was, but when he told us about the fire, I could swear he almost let a name slip.” I paused, pondering the story Warren had told Elaine and me.

“Kyr,” Spook said excitedly, grasping my shoulder. “Last night in the parking lot, your ‘slip of the tongue.’ You said you sensed that Warren was hiding from someone…”

My eyes snapped up to meet his. I was certain I knew where his thoughts were headed because the same thing had crossed my mind. “You’re wondering if Warren might be hiding from whoever it was that met Mary in the bell tower.” A nod of his head confirmed that we were on the same track. I looked at him curiously. “But that hardly makes sense. Warren has to be close to 80, so if the mystery man in the bell tower was a fellow college student, he’d be about the same age. If he was someone older…” A sudden chill raced down my spine, and I got up to pace around, shaking my head.

Spook finished my thought for me. “Would someone older still be alive?”

i stopped pacing and turned to look at Spook. My voice sounded strange as I ventured, “Whoever that person was, I have a feeling he is still alive.” I didn’t voice my feeling that the person was someone older, but I sensed Spook watching me as though he thought I was withholding something. With more certainty than I should have felt, I continued, “Spook, that man is still alive, and Warren knows it. And whoever he is, he’s got some kind of hold over him. He’s the reason Warren won’t talk about what happened. But what could an 80- or 90-year-old man do to another 80-year-old man?”

Spook and I gazed at each other silently for a long moment before he replied mysteriously, “Well, I guess that depends on who the other man is. You said Warren slipped up and almost gave a name; what did he say?”

I knit my brows in concentration as I tried to recall what Warren had said. “He stopped before he gave the whole name, and he said it so fast I almost missed it. It sounded like Chill or Shill…something like that.”

“That’s not very much to go on,” Spook responded, the wheels in his head also turning. “Even if we’d scour the local phone books looking for similar names, that wouldn’t guarantee we’d find anything.”

I shrugged and added, “That was sixty years ago anyway. There’s no guarantee that this mystery man even lives in the area anymore.”

Spook regarded me for a moment before his eyes lit up. “We may not be able to find the mystery man’s name in a phone book, but we might find it in an old yearbook.” I looked back at him curiously, not following him at first. Then the light bulb went off, and I knew what he was suggesting. “Are you up for a visit to the campus library?”

My shoulders slumped as I realized that wouldn’t work. “It’s a holiday weekend, and classes have only just started, so the library won’t be open till Tuesday,” I replied dejectedly. Then a second light bulb went off. “But we might be able to get a hold of Mrs. Rutter and see if we can look at her mother’s yearbook again.”

We quickly decided that that was a plan, so while Spook hopped in the shower, I tracked down Mrs. Rutter’s home phone number and gave her a call. She seemed only slightly surprised to hear that we were back in Willow Lake still trying to get to the bottom of the Appleton bell tower mystery, but when I explained the situation and what we needed, she was more than willing to oblige.

It turned out that Mrs. Rutter lived with her mother only a few blocks from the hotel, so Spook and I took advangtage of the warm, sunny day and walked there. I sighed contentedly as we strolled down the tree-lined street. The leaves on the maple trees were just beginning to turn yellow, and I fondly recalled going for long walks in the fall simply to enjoy the beauty of the autumn foliage. As I glanced around, noting some of the changes to the neighborhoods, I caught Spook gazing tenderly at me. I returned his smile and asked, “What’s that look for?”

He took my hand and brought it to his lips before responding, “You really do love this place, don’t you?”

I rested my head against his shoulder and said, “I do. I don’t know what it is, but I feel so at home here.” Even after all that had happened with the investigation, Dr. Harris’ belligerent attitude over the findings, and the secrecy surrounding whatever had occurred in the bell tower, my love for Willow Lake was still strong. I glanced at Spook sheepishly; certain that he was thinking I was a sentimental fool.

Chuckling, he put his arm around my shoulders and drew me close. “That’s one of the things I love about you, Kyr. When you love something…” He kissed the top of my head. “…or someone, you love deeply, and it’s obvious to everyone.”

I lowered my gaze to the sidewalk and muttered, “Unfortunately, it also means I get hurt deeply.”

A shadow passed briefly over Spook’s face as he replied almost bitterly, “Been there, done that; believe me.” He didn’t meet my eyes, but instead stared intently at the ground as we walked. He laughed shortly, and when I looked up at him, he was giving me a sheepish, lopsided smile. “And then I put up walls to keep people from getting close to me.”

I slipped my arm around his waist and added, “I know what you mean. I threw myself into my work so I didn’t have time to go out and meet people.” I thought about how many times JoEllyn and Aunt Julia had accused me of that after Trevor and I broke up. I had vehemently denied it, and in fact even believed it until Spook came barreling into my life.

Spook was quiet for a moment before he gave my hair a playful tug and half chuckled. When I gave him a questioning glance, I saw mischief in his eyes as he teased, “Of course, some people I know just develop crushes on married celebrity paranormal investigators they know they have no chance with.”

My face flushed as I stopped dead in my tracks and gaped at him; he had never let on that he knew about my one-time crush on Grant, and I suddenly felt silly knowing that he had known all along. Looking away guiltily, I defended, “Not anymore, I don’t.”

He laughed out loud and pulled me into a hug. I buried my face in his chest, remembering his first impression of me as a TAPS groupie and had a sudden picture of how bad I must have appeared in his eyes. He pulled back and leaned his forehead against mine, growling, “I certainly hope not. Although I know I don’t measure up to him by a longshot.”

I forgot my discomfort as my eyes darted up to his face. He wasn’t quick enough to hide the briefest flash of insecurity in his eyes. When he turned to me, I could see uncharacteristic vulnerability in his expression. My voice was thick as I teased, “True, you’re no Grant Wilson.” I smirked at his raised eyebrow and finished, “You’re so much more.”

“You don’t wish I were more like Grant?” he asked skeptically, flipping his long, chestnut- brown hair out fo his face.

My stomach flip-flopped, and my knees weakened as I shook my head. “I thought I really wanted someone like Grant. But I guess I needed someone like you. Sometimes I can’t even remember why I was so crazy over him” I stood on tiptoe to wrap my arms around his neck and kiss his lips gently.

Spook wrapped his arms tightly around me as he returned my kiss. Then he tenderly stroked my cheek and teased, “And I never saw myself falling for a timid, klutzy, red-headed librarian, but I couldn’t be happier.”

As we stood gazing at each other with puppy-dog eyes, a leaf suddenly fell from one of the trees, dropping unceremoniously on Spook’s shoulder. We both snapped out of our reverie and remembered where we were headed. Spook gave me one final peck on the cheek, and we continued walking.

TAPS Meets the Dorocha, Ghost Hunters/Merlin Crossover Fanfiction, Part 1

Jason and Grant made their way slowly back the hallway, their sneakers barely making a sound on the hardwood floor. On the walls hung various shields  and swords crossed as if in battle, and at various places along the hallway stood suits of armor representing many Medieval houses and battles. Even the darkness could not hide the grandeur of the small yet majestic building. As Jason swept his K-II meter back and forth, watching for EMF spikes, he turned to Grant and said excitedly, “This place is awesome, isn’t it, G?”

Grant turned and grinned at Jason, looking like a kid in a candy store. “Oh, man, this is great!” he responded, laughing. “I don’t know how I’m going to stay focused on the investigation with all this incredible stuff!”

TAPS was investigating paranormal claims at the Mayweather Armory, a building on the Mayweather Estate that housed a private collection of armor and Medieval weaponry. The owner, Lord Duncan McLeod Mayweather IV, was a rather eccentric man in his late 70s whose family had emigrated from England in the mid-18th century. Like his father and grandfather before him, he was very superstitious and claimed to be sensitive to the spirit world. For that reason, it was no surprise that he had always claimed to feel the tortured souls of those who had worn the armor or had fallen victim to the weapons he now displayed in the armory. At first he had welcomed the spirits, feeling a sort of comraderie with those who had lived and died during a time period that so greatly interested him.

However, after his most recent acquisition–chain mail, swords, and shields rumored to have been used by the Knights of the Round Table–activity at the armory had increased and had become unfriendly and even frightening. Staff at the Mayweather Estate had reported hearing blood-curdling screams followed by blasts of icy air that left their skin almost frostbitten. One security guard had had to be hospitalized after reportedly hearing the screams and then seeing a wispy, skeleton-faced apparition that passed through his body. The day he was released from the hospital, he had called the Mayweathers to tender his resignation, refusing to even set foot on the property again. This incident had finally convinced Lord Duncan to call in TAPS to either debunk the activity or to discover what was behind it.

“So what do you think, G?” Jason asked as they ascended a spiral staircase to the second floor where the newly-acquisitioned Camelot Collection was displayed. “Do you think this armor is really from Camelot?”

Grant chuckled and rolled his eyes as he scanned the area with the thermal camera, looking for fluctuations in temperature that might suggest the presence of an entity. “Sure, Jay. Just like that gingerbread you ate at lunch came from Hansel and Gretel’s cottage.”

Jason laughed, pulling out his digital voice recorder. Before turning it on, he said low to Grant, “Either Lord Duncan is easily duped, or he lives in a fantasy world.” He shook his head and snorted, “Camelot. King Arthur.” He turned on the voice recorder and began an EVP session. “Jay and Grant, Mayweather Estate at the Camelot display in the armory.” He paused for a moment, looking around. “Hello? Is there anyone here with us? My name is Jason, and this is Grant.”

“Hello,” Grant interjected with a wave, focusing the thermal on the chain mail.

“We mean you no harm,” Jason continued, shining a flashlight around the room. “We just want to know why you’re here.”

After a moment of silence, Grant asked, “Did you wear this chain mail or use these shields in battle? Did you die in battle?”

Several minutes passed, with the silence being broken only by Jason and Grant’s questions and their fidgeting as they watched the darkness for any light anomalies or shadow play. Grant leaned forward to peer at Jason around a suit of armor and asked, “What do you make of the claims that these entities are capable of giving people frostbite?”

Jason let out a long breath before responding, “You know as well as I do that human spirits usually can’t harm the living.” He shook his head skeptically and continued, “We’ve both seen what inhuman entities can do–scratches, bruising–but frostbite? I have a hard time buying that claim, and I really wish that security guard would have agreed to talk to us.”

Grant was quiet for a moment, processing Jason’s comment. Finally, he looked up, not focusing on anything in particular, and said, “Still, it’s kind of hard to argue with a man being hospitalized with frostbite-like symptoms, especially when those symptoms were confirmed and documented by doctors. Especially when it happens in the middle of July. Something happened here.”

“True,” Jason conceded, getting to his feet. Something had to cause those symptoms, but I guaran-damn-tee you they weren’t caused by a human spirit.”

Grant was about to respond when a distant, chilling howl echoed through the building. “What the frig was that?” he cried, getting quickly to his feet.

“It almost sounded like a really strong wind blowing down a chimney,” Jason replied uneasily, shining his flashlight around the room.

“Two problems with that theory, Jay,” Grant muttered, trying to figure out which direction the sound had come from. “One, it’s not windy tonight, and two, there are no chimneys here.”

Another wail, this time closer and with a definite human intonation, sounded from somewhere in the building. “That…wasn’t…wind,” Jason quavered, trying to see Grant’s face in the dark. He fumbled at his belt for his walkie, then spoke into it. “Jay for Steve.”

Steve’s voice crackled over the walkie, “Go for Steve.”

“Are you guys picking up these sounds over the equipment?” Jason asked as another voice wailed.

After a moment, Steve replied, “Affirmative, but I can’t figure out where they’re coming from. They seem to be everywhere.”

Adam’s voice came over the walkie next. “Amy and I are in the basement, Jay. We hear them too, but they aren’t very loud down here.”

Grant took a step and bumped into one of the displays of chain mail. “Holy crap, Jay,” he exclaimed. “Feel this chain mail. It’s ice cold!”

Jason reached out and laid his hand on the chain mail, and immediately drew it back. “What the hell is up with that? Get the thermal on it.”

Grant fumbled with the thermal and pointed it at the chain mail. “What the frig? What the frig?” he cried. “How is that even possible? This chain mail is thirty degrees colder than the air around it.” He walked quickly over to another set of chain mail and pointed the thermal at it. “This one is normal, but this one…” He walked back to the first display. “…Is still cold.”

“Well, I think we’ve found the source of the haunting,” Jason mused. “Whatever is haunting this place is likely attached to this particular piece.” He turned on his voice recorder again and asked, “Are you attached to this chain mail? Is that why you’re here?”

Both Jason and Grant reached out to touch the chain mail just as a blood-curdling shriek filled the room. Jason’s eyes flew open in horror as a glowing white entity with a skeletal face suddenly came through the wall and flew directly at the two ghost hunters. “G, look out!” Jason yelled, grabbing Grant and pushing him out of the way. Jason, Grant, and the chain mail display crashed to the ground as an icy wind enveloped them. Both men lost consciousness as everything began whirling and falling.

Back at Center Command, Steve and Tango both cried out as they saw an apparition attack Jason and Grant. They weren’t prepared for what their cameras captured next–as Jason and Grant crashed to the floor with the chain mail on top of them, the entity whirled around them before it vanished, along with Jason and Grant. “How can that happen?” Steve yelled, getting to his feet. “They just vanished!”

Tango whipped out his walkie and called for Adam and Amy; then he and Steve ran for the second floor of the armory.

School Spirits, Chapter 27, Ghost Hunters fan fiction

We spoke little on the drive back to Willow Lake, each of us consumed by our own thoughts about what had transpired. I wasn’t sure what was going through anyone else’s mind, but the image I couldn’t shake was the depth of sorrow and loss I had seen in Warren’s eyes. I was certain there was more to his grief than simply losing the love of his life in a tragic accident; there had been something else reflected in his eyes too–guilt? Fear?

Suddenly I felt Spook’s hand on mine. I looked up at him and then out the windshield and saw that we were just coming in to Willow Lake. I let out a long breath and realized I had been sitting rigidly for most of the ride back. I shifted in my seat and flexed my neck to relieve some of the tension there.

Spook pulled into the parking lot behind the Mustang Grill and shut off the engine. Turning to face Ed and Phil, he said, “Well, here we are. Too bad this evening wasn’t more successful.”

Phil laughed shortly, and Ed pulled her close to kiss her forehead before replying, “It wasn’t a total bust. We did hear about some other experiences in the bell tower, so at least we know we weren’t the only ones who encountered Mary, right?”

Phil smiled as Ed looked down at her and grinned. “I guess you’re right,” she admitted. “Although I’m really bummed that Warren wouldn’t open up to us.”

I had a feeling that part of the reason for his unwillingness had to do with having four people he’d never met interrogating him about a traumatic experience that happened decades ago, but I said nothing. I sat quietly as the others discussed Warren’s refusal to share his experiences and what it would take to get him to open up. Phil mused over whether or not it was possible to get to the bottom of this mystery without discovering what happened that night. I stared out the window at nothing in particular and pondered that myself. In my thinking, Warren was tied so closely to Mary and her reason for being there, and ultimately to whatever happened that I doubted we could solve anything without hearing Warren’s part in the events of that night. Our attempts at reaching out to Mary had been met with nothing but anger and malice. If we could just find out what had happened between Warren and Mary that night and how they both came to be in the tower, then maybe we could find a way to put her spirit to rest.

Spook’s hand on the back of my neck made me turn to face him. I noticed that Phil had leaned forward to rest her arms on the front seat so she could look at me. “You’re pretty quiet, Kyr. What do you think about all this?”

I could see curious concern in Spook’s eyes as I glanced at hiim, and I was sure he knew that I hadn’t even been listening to their conversation. Turning my eyes to Phil, I shrugged and replied noncommittally, “I’m not sure what to think.” I said nothing about the look that had passed between Warren and me, a look I was certain was significant. I offered, “I do know there’s something he’s hiding, or someone he’s hiding from.” A prickly feeling raced across my scalp.  Someone? Why had I said that?

Ed picked up on my words right away. “What do you mean someone he’s hiding from?”

“I meant something he’s hiding from,” I covered quickly, shaking my head and rubbing my temples. “Sorry. It’s been a long day. I’m just really tired and a little overwhelmed, I guess.”

Spook’s eyes bored into me as he gazed suspiciously at me, but he said nothing. Phil gave him a nudge and a smirk before commenting, “I can’t imagine what has you so worn out.”

I turned away, blushing, as Spook gave me a suggestive grin and laid his hand on my knee. Actually, I was glad Phil had changed the subject. I needed time to ponder alone the words that had tumbled from my mouth.

“Well, I know what has me worn out,” Ed remarked, yawning. “The first week of classes, plus thirty hours of work this week. I’m definitely looking forward to the long weekend, but right now my bed is calling me.”

Phil wrinkled her nose at him; obviously she had been hoping to do something more fun than going home and going to sleep. Spook turned to him and joked, “You’re showing your age, old man. I think your woman was hoping for something a little more fun than an early bedtime.”

“Anyway,” Phil pouted, crossing her arms and sticking out her lower lip at Ed.

Ed laughed and pulled her close. “I didn’t say I’d be going right to sleep,” he joked suggestively. “Or going to bed alone.”

“Okay, that’s a little too much information,” Spook laughed, winking at me. I knew he was thinking about the same thing.

After Ed and Phil had gotten into their car and headed home, Spook turned to me and took my hand. I hoped my palm didn’t feel as clammy to him as I thought it did. He gazed at me without speaking for a moment, as though he were trying to decipher my expression. Finally he asked quietly, “So, did you really misspeak when you said Warren was hiding from someone, or was it another hunch?”

I avoided his eyes while I tried to find the words to answer him; I couldn’t give him an excuse because I knew he’d be able to tell if I wasn’t being honest with him.When I didn’t answer him, he reached over to place a finger under my chin and turn my face towards him. When I met his eyes, he smiled gently down at me, waiting patiently for an answer. “I…I don’t…” I stammered helplessly.

He closed the distance between us and swallowed my words with a kiss. His hands encircled my waist, and I could feel the heat of his body as he held me as close as the center console would allow. Suddenly ending the kiss, he murmured against my cheek, “Kyr, you know you can tell me anything. I can see the wheels turning in your head; what are you thinking?”

I leaned my head against his shoulder and took a deep breath, relaxing as he held me and caressed my back. I gazed up at him and smiled; his eyes shone with acceptance and understanding, and I knew that no matter what I told him, he wouldn’t think I was crazy. I sat back and laid my hand against his cheek, tracing his beard with my thumb. “I don’t know why I said that, Spook,” I began. “It really was just a slip of the tongue, but after I said it, I felt…weird…uneasy, like I was about to find something signficant.”

Spook captured my hand in his and gazed back at me through narrowed eyes. I bit my lip and looked away, knowing it sounded crazy. He brought my hand to his lips and kissed it, and then trailed kisses up my arm as he pulled me close again, making me giggle. “Kyr,” he said, kissing me gently. “Your guess is as good as mine what it means. But knowing your track record, I’m sure you’re onto something that will reveal itself in time.”

I was certain he was correct, but my question was who could Warren possibly be hiding from? Warren himself was 80, or close to it. Was there someone else who was still alive who had either been in the bell tower that night, or who knew what happened, someone who had some kind of power or influence over him? I shook my head, not wanting to think about it anymore. “I just feel like we’re running out of time,” I said hopelessly.

Spook chuckled and tugged my ponytail playfully. “I have to agree with you, Kyr m’dear.” I giggled, and he looked over his shoulder towards the river. “But right now, I think you need to get your mind off of Mary and Warren. What do you say we take a stroll through the street fair?”

“I thought you hated street fairs,” I teased, pressing myself against him.

He grinned down at me and yanked my scrunchie out of my hair. As he ran his fingers lazily through my curls, he conceded tenderly, “Well, maybe it won’t be so bad if I’m with someone I love spending time with.” I sighed contentedly and snuggled against him as he continued to play with my hair. He chuckled and teased, “Are you sure you’re not too worn out for the street fair? We could just take a page from Ed’s book and call it a night.”

I giggled and pushed away from him, although his words did make my body tingle with anticipation over what would likely happen when we got back to the hotel. “Oh no, you don’t,” I teased back. “You’re not getting off that easy.” Spook raised an eyebrow and grinned lecherously at my comment, and my cheeks grew hot as I realized how suggestive that sounded.

I threw open the door and quickly exited the car, then started walking towards the river. Almost immediately, Spook caught up to me and grabbed my hand. Barely looking up at him, I mumbled, “I can’t believe I just said that.”

Mischief gleamed in his eyes as he replied, “I was kind of looking forward to getting off, easy or not.” He burst out laughing as I pulled my hand away and gave him a playful shove. He caught me in a hug and kissed me soundly before turning me to face him. “Relax, Kyr,” he said softly. “As much as I want to, I’m not going to ravish you the first chance I get. Unless you want me to, of course.” He chuckled at my expression and continued, “I just want to enjoy spending time with you and getting to know you better, face to face instead of just over the phone. Anything else that might happen is just a bonus.” As I gazed up at him, my heart hammered so hard I was sure he could hear it, and I was sure he could see the longing mixed with nervousness in my eyes. Taking my face in his hands, he kissed me gently and whispered, “If you want to go to the street fair, we’d better go now, before I change my mind.”

Thankfully the street fair wasn’t as hot as it had been earlier, but there was still quite a crowd. We maneuvered our way around the knots of people, pets, and babies in strollers who were either standing around chatting or waiting in lines at the various craft booths and food stands. It seemed as though no matter which side of the street we tried to walk on, we had to push against throngs headed in the other direction. WIth all the noise and activity going on around us, it was difficult to talk or to do much more than try to avoid bumping into people. And now that it was beginning to get dark and the strings of lights were coming on along the street, we also had to contend with moths, mayflies and other bugs. I laughed to myself as I realized how fortunate I was to not have Steve’s fear of insects right now.

Before long, Spook turned to me with a strained smile and asked, “What do you say we get some ice cream and head up onto the levee?”

I beamed back at him, thinking I could really go for something sweet. “That actually sounds pretty good,” I responded.

We managed to find an ice cream stand with relatively few people waiting, so we got in line. Even though we had a short wait, Spook kept fidgeting and glancing around nervously. I began to feel on edge myself as I wondered if he was picking up on something paranormal. Once we got to the front of the line, I got a plain vanilla cone, and Spook got a chocolate milkshake, and we headed up on top of the levee where it wasn’t nearly as crowded. We strolled to the amphitheater and sat down close to the water to watch the boats drifting lazily on the river while we enjoyed our ice cream.

As I licked my cone, I observed Spook out of the corner of my eye. The tension I had seen on his face was gone, and he seemed much more relaxed. He must have felt me watching him because he turned to me and caught me looking at him. He sighed and set his cup down, looking a bit sheepish. “I’m not a fan of being in crowds,” he explained as he played with his straw. “When I was just a kid, my parents took Katie and me to a concert or something at the high school. Whatever it was, the place was packed. Anyway, there was a pretty bad storm that night, and there was a power outage.” The tension lines were around his eyes again as he continued, “For some reason, people started panicking; I got separated from my parents and Katie. So many people were pushing and shoving and screaming, trying to get out of the building. I got knocked down, and people kept stepping on me and falling on top of me so that I couldn’t get up. I wasn’t hurt badly, although I suppose I could have been.” He shook his head and looked at me. “Since then, I can’t stand being in crowded places.”

Just watching his face as he told his story, I could sense the trauma he had felt. Suddenly I felt horrible for making him walk through the street fair crowd. “Oh, Spook, I wish you’d told me before; I never would have…”

“Hey, it’s okay,” he interrupted kindly, smiling wryly. “You’re not the only one who faces up to their fears. Besides,” he added, pleading silently with his eyes. “I don’t tell a lot of people that.”

I smiled, understanding that he didn’t want everyone to know about his fear. As I looked at him, a light bulb went on, and I asked, “Is that why you put up such a fuss over staying for Karaoke Night at the Drop in the Bucket?”

He laughed and picked up his cup again. “Well, not really. I really do hate karaoke. But that was why I kept sneaking off to the bar and to the restroom, to get away from the crowds for a bit.” He winked at me. “I was also glad that someone needed to make a hasty exit.” He suddenly looked down at my hand and chuckled, “Hey, don’t forget about your ice cream.”

I looked down at my hand and realized I had been so wrapped up in his story that my ice cream was dripping down the cone and onto my hand. Letting out a frustrated yelp, I began quickly licking the rapidly-melting ice cream. When I had gotten the worst of it, I glanced up at Spook to find him watching me with a wicked gleam in his eye. “What?” I asked, grabbing a napkin to dab at my mouth. “Do I have ice cream all over my face?”

He shook his head and tried not to laugh. “I’m sorry,” he said, as usual not sounding very sorry. “I was just watching you attack that ice cream and wishing…” He leaned in close to whisper, “…That you were doing that to me.”

The image that came into my head made my face go scarlet, and I almost forgot about my ice cream again. I hurried to finish my cone, aware of his eyes on me the whole time. When I finished, I stepped carefully down to the edge of the water to rinse the stickiness off my hands.

Spook was still chuckling at my discomfort when I came back up to sit next to him, so I flicked water from my still dripping hands into his face. “Hey,” he laughed, wiping the drops out of his eyes before he scooped me up into his arms. “You better behave yourself, or I’ll carry you down there and dunk you in the river.” He looked down at me, grinning wickedly. “I’d love to see what you’re wearing under that T-shirt,” he teased.

I glanced down, realizing I was wearing the same T-shirt I’d been wearing the night we got caught in the rain. Thankfully I wasn’t wearing the same hot pink bra, but I still didn’t want the street fair crowds getting an eyeful of what I was wearing. “Spook, stop; you wouldn’t,” I pleaded, trying to get away from him.

He grinned devilishly and teased, “Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t.” I squirmed and struggled even harder to escape, but he held me even tigher against him so I could hardly move. His breath was hot on my face, and I could feel his muscles beneath my hands. As I breathed in his manly scent, I fought the urge to kiss and caress his chest. I slowly raised my eyes to find him smiling down at me. He relaxed his hold on me and kissed my forehead before asking, “Shall we go for a walk so we can be alone?”

I stared at him blankly for a moment, wondering if he hadn’t felt the same rush of desire I had just experienced; if he had, he certainly wasn’t showing it. I nodded wordlessly in answer to his question, and we got up and slowly climbed the steps of the amphitheater. Spook dropped his empty cup into a trash can, and we headed away from the crowds.

We were both silent as we walked. As we got further away from the noise of the street fair and crossed the bridge to the unlit side of the levee, the peacefulness of the river surrounded me, and I sighed contentedly. Fireflies winked in the yards of the houses along the street. I listened to the quiet sounds of the water lapping against the rocks and the steady croaking of bullfrogs calling to each other on the islands.  I was so lost in the beauty of the river that I forgot Spook was walking next to me till he gently took my hand and brought it to his lips. When I glanced up at him, he smiled and asked, “Do you remember the first time we went for a walk up here?”

I laughed and leaned against him. “How could I forget? I was so mad at you for tagging along, and then for telling Jason that I needed you to protect me from the boogeyman.” I looked up at him through my lashes and continued, “But it ended up not being so bad.”

Spook chuckled and responded, “I wasn’t sure if I was impressed that you were gutsy enough to want to go walking alone or if I thought you were just plain crazy.” He dropped my hand so he could pull me close. “I think I started to like you the minute you crept down beside the residence hall and out the back way so we wouldn’t get caught. I was intrigued to find that you had a sneaky side.”

I giggled and admitted, “I think I started falling for you when you were picking on me about being in the Geology Club. I kind of thought you might be fun to be around.” I shook my head, blushing and added, “I can’t believe the things I told you that night, when I hardly even knew you.”

“So why did you?” he asked, smiling curiously down at me.

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess a part of me sensed that I could trust you. When we weren’t at each other’s throats during the investigation…I really liked being with you.”

Spook stopped walking and turned to face me, taking my hands in his. With mock seriousness, he said, “I guess we owe a debt of gratitude to Grant and JoEllyn for faking food poisoning so we’d have to investigate together that night.”

I giggled and joked, “Maybe we should send them each a can of clam chowder as a thank you gift.”

Spook burst out laughing, and I joined in as I imagined the expression on JoEllyn’s face when she pulled a can of soup out of a fancy gift bag. I was still giggling when I realized Spook had stopped laughing and was gazing at me tenderly. “Even though this investigation took kind of a nasty turn, I’m glad you were the one I was with in the bell tower when all hell broke loose.” A cloud passed over his face, and he continued, “Although if anything would have happened to you…”

“Spook, don’t.” I really didn’t want to think about that possibility, although I had the distinct feeling that we weren’t completely out of danger yet. The question was, was that danger from a paranormal source, or was it from someone flesh and blood? I began glancing around, feeling the same uneasiness I had experienced the night Spook and I walked back to campus. I was certain it was just my imagination, but I just wanted to get off the levee.

Spook must have sensed my change in mood, because he pulled me close and asked, “Would you like to head back to the hotel?” Casting one last glance over my shoulder, I nodded, and we started walking back towards the Mustang Grill. By the time we got there, the parking lot was mostly empty, and one of the lights had burned out, making the shadows seem darker. As much as I always insisted I was okay walking around town alone, this was one time I was glad to be with Spook.

As we headed back to the hotel, we talked about the events of that evening. Spook gave me a sidelong glance and asked, “So, give me your honest opinion. Do you think it was a good idea to go talk to Warren?”

I sighed and looked back at him. “I think it was a good idea in theory,” I began. “I’m not so sure having four of us interrogating the poor man was all that smart. What do you think?”

He smiled wryly and replied, “I have to agree with you, Kyr, although like I said before, I didn’t want those two–especially Phil–talking to him alone. I thought you did a nice job of connecting with Warren and jumping in when Phil got a little too rambunctious.” He gave me a tender look and took my hand. “Things might have gone better if you’d done all the talking; you seem to have a way with people.”

I couldn’t help smiling, even as I looked away, wondering if he had his own hunch about what I was planning to do tomorrow. I avoided his eyes, not wanting him to read my intentions and attempt to interfere.


School Spirits, Chapter 26, Ghost Hunters fan fiction

Spook pulled up in front of a small, cozy-looking Cape Cod house with cream-colored siding and maroon shutters. Electric candles glowing warmly in the windows and the autumn-themed “Welcome” flag blowing in the breeze gave the home a friendly appearance, and I hoped that was a good omen. The feeling of trepidation that had begun as soon as we’d pulled out of the parking lot behind the Mustang Grill started to wane. I glanced back at Ed and Phil, and I could see that they had relaxed a bit as well. I turned to Spook and saw him regarding the house with a serious expression. He looked over at me, smiled grimly, and asked, “Are we ready to do this?”

I nodded wordlessly, and Ed looked at Phil and replied, “As ready as we’ll ever be, I guess.” As excited as Phil had been a few weeks ago to meet with Warren, now she seemed almost apprehensive. I really couldn’t blame her after what Spook and I had just told her and Ed,  and the amount of convincing it had taken to get Warren’s niece to agree to allow us come and talk to him. I was sure that Phil was just as worried about upsetting the elderly man as of what information we might discover.

Swallowing hard, I grasped the door handle and said in a quavering voice, “Let’s get this over with.” Spook grabbed my other hand for a moment and smiled encouragingly at me before we got out of the car.

The four of us walked slowly up the front walk and climbed the stairs to the front porch. A TV inside blared Wheel of Fortune, and a man’s gruff voice suddenly called out, “You already called an R, you fool!” Phil and I glanced at each other and laughed, our tension melting away for a moment.

Spook slipped his arm around me and gently kissed my forehead as Ed rang the doorbell. We heard a woman’s voice, followed by the sound of footsteps approaching quickly. The porch light came on, although it wasn’t really dark yet, and someone pulled the curtain aside to peep out. We heard the click of a dead bolt, and the door opened. A short, heavyset woman of around fifty with curly brown hair greeted us nervously but amicably, “You must be Ed McPherson; I’m Elaine Gross.” She stepped aside and motioned for us to enter. “Please come into the living room on your right.”

The four of us stepped uncomfortably into the living room where a man about the same age as Elaine sat doing a crossword puzzle in the newspaper. He finished penciling in a word before looking at us over his glasses. Elaine followed us into the living room. “Bobby, this is Ed McPherson from the college group. Ed, this is my husband Bobby.”

Bobby stuck his pencil behind his ear and laid the newspaper aside before rising to shake Ed’s hand. “Ed, good to know you.”

“Nice to meet you, sir.” He motioned to the rest of us. “Mr. and Mrs. Gross, these are my friends Phil, Kyr, and Spook.”

Bobby extended his hand to each of us. “No need to be so formal; you can call us Bobby and Elaine.” His mouth twitched as he shook Spook’s hand. “Spook, is it?” When Spook nodded, Bobby joked, “Which came first, the name or the interest in ghosts?”

Spook smiled sheepishly; obviously this wasn’t the first time he’d been asked that. “The school bully actually gave me the nickname after I saw a ghost on a 6th grade field trip. It burned him up that the name stuck and everyone thought it was cool.” I glanced up at Spook and smiled; he’d never told me that story. I made a mental note to pick on him about it later.

Bobby let out a guffaw and clapped Spook on the back. “Attaboy! Don’t let them get to you!”

Elaine interrupted, laughing daintily, “Now, Bobby, let the kids sit down.” Turning to us, she offered, “Would anyone care for some refreshments? I have a fresh pot of coffee, or I can heat water for tea or cocoa.”

We all accepted the offer for coffee, and she hurried to the kitchen while we took a seat. Ed and Phil sat on the couch, so Spook and I sat on the loveseat. I smiled slightly as Ed and Phil nudged each other and exchanged a look. Bobby obviously saw the exchange and teased, “Do I detect a little matchmaking?”

Feeling my cheeks redden, I hid my face in my hand. Spook laughed and put his arm around me. “Their matchmaking already worked,” Spook said. “But they seem to enjoy the game so much that we keep playing along.”

“Well, as long as it took you two to stop fighting the attraction, we just want to make sure you stay together,” Phil retorted. Her nerves had obviously settled down, and she was back to herself again.

Bobby asked with a gleam in his eye, “You mean it wasn’t love at first sight? Did you two meet at Willow Lake?”

I shook my head. “No, we actually met on another investigation,” I answered, glancing sideways at Spook. “And our meeting was the furthest thing from love.”

Spook returned my sideways glance and teased back, “She kind of flipped over me on a rock climb at the quarry, and the rest is history.” Phil laughed out loud as I smacked Spook’s shoulder for bringing that up.

Bobby eyed us jovially as Elaine returned carrying a tray laden with coffee cups, a coffee pot and a tray of cookies. “Now that sounds like quite a story! So when did you know it was love?”

Suddenly remembering why we were there and what their connection was to Mary, Spook and I stared at each other uncertainly, unsure of what to say. Elaine set the tray down on the coffee table and waved her hand at Bobby before chastising him. “Bobby, for heaven’s sake! You just met them, and you’re asking about their love life?” She turned to us and apologized for him. “Don’t mind him; he’s incorrigible! My goodness, Kyr, are you all right? You’re as white as a sheet.”

“I…I’m fine, Elaine,” I stammered. “It’s just that…” I looked helplessly at Spook.

Spook tightened his hold on me and explained, “We had quite a harrowing experience in Appleton’s bell tower that actually drew us together.”

Elaine had picked up the coffeepot and was pouring a cup, but Spook’s words made her set the pot down heavily, splashing coffee onto the tray. “Excuse me. Oh dear,” she exclaimed shakily. “I didn’t realize…oh, Bobby, it’s happening again, isn’t it?”

Bobby and Phil had both jumped up to wipe up the spilled coffee. Bobby looked shaken as well, but he tried to hide it as he responded, “Now Lainey, let’s not jump to conclusions before we hear what the kids have to say.” He helped her serve the coffee and pass the cookies, and then led her to her chair as the rest of us exchanged significant looks. He laid a hand on her knee for a moment before he addressed us. “I’m sure it will come as no surprise that we have reason to believe that Appleton’s ghost is more than just a typical restless spirit.”

Spook’s expression hardened as he replied, “That would be an understatement. Of course, our esteemed Dr. Harris would beg to differ.”

Bobby’s eyes snapped as he spat, “Roland Harris is a worthless son of a…”

“Bobby!” Elaine gasped. “Mind your tongue; we have company!”

“I’m sorry, Lainey, but you know I have no time for that pompous baboon,” he growled back. Ed and Phil tried unsuccessfully to suppress their laughter. Bobby spoke again. “Dr. Harris was a lowly T.A. when Lainey and I attended Willow Lake. I always thought it was fishy how quickly he rose through the ranks to become College President.”

Elaine jumped in. “Bobby, that’s not important; that’s not what Ed and his friends came here for.”

Bobby swore at no one in particular and continued, “Lainey, usually I love the way you try to see the best in folks, but this is one instance where I flat out think you’re wrong. Harris’ attempt to squash every mention of Mary or 1954 is more than wanting to protect the college’s good name. He’s got some other agenda, and I have a sneaking suspicion that his rapid rise at Willow Lake has something to do with that agenda.”

At the mention of Mary’s name, I gasped and reached for Spook’s hand. I quickly agreed, “I have to say I think you’re right, Bobby. Just in the short time since we started investigating, we’ve seen his hand—or someone’s hand—in too many things. He rules with an iron fist, and too many people are afraid to speak against him or his decisions.”

Elaine spoke again, obviously wanting to get to the point. “Ed, I was a bit surprised to get your call, although I suppose I shouldn’t have been. When we saw the news about the fire in the bell tower…” Her voice shook, and she covered her mouth as if fighting tears.

Bobby finished for her. “Uncle Warren was quite upset when he saw it on TV. His first words when they showed the pictures were, ‘Who did she go after this time?’ He was so agitated, I thought Lainey would have to give him a sedative.”

When Bobby told us about Warren’s reaction, I turned and buried my face in Spook’s shoulder. The sense that something ominous was about to happen overwhelmed me. Spook held me and whispered into my hair for a moment.

Both Bobby and Elaine saw our exchange, and Bobby asked directly, “Which one of you was in the tower during the fire?”

Spook and I stared at Bobby in disbelief that he had put two and two together so quickly. Spook responded, “We were both there when lightning struck the tower and started the fire. I told Kyr to get out, and as I tried to run across the tower to follow her, I fell partway through the floor.” He gave me a tender smile before continuing. “Then I had a close call with a burning beam right after Kyr got out.” He gave Bobby a hard look. “Of course, whoever handled the news reports didn’t want it known that anyone had been trapped or injured.”

Bobby returned Spook’s look and then wagged his finger at Elaine. “Didn’t I tell you there was more to the story than what was reported?” He shook his head and muttered, “There always is.”

The hair on the back of my neck stood up, and the others tensed up as well. Phil asked hesitantly, “What do you mean, ‘there always is?’ How many times has this happened since Mary…?”

“Well,” Elaine responded shakily. “The first accident I remember hearing about happened in 1964.”

“Jimmy Cochran,” I interjected. “The construction worker who fell through the floor while they were repairing the tower. We found that article in the library archives.” A strange look in Elaine’s eyes made me shudder.

Ed saw her expression too, and asked, “Why do I get the feeling that there’s also more to that story?”

“Most of that story does check out,” Bobby replied. “The only thing was, they weren’t actually working when the accident occurred. The crew had finished for the day and were ready to leave campus when Jimmy realized he had left something on the third floor. He ran back upstairs and found the bell tower door hanging wide open.” I gasped, recalling my own experience that summer. Spook raised an eyebrow at me, and Bobby ventured, “I take it you had a similar experience?” When I nodded, he continued, “Well, Jimmy knew they had closed and locked that door, so he ran up into the bell tower to see if some kids had gotten in.”

Elaine jumped in, “The story I’ve heard from folks at Fleming Construction—Bobby’s brother works there—says that Jimmy thought he saw someone sneaking around the far end of the tower.” Another familiar story, I thought. “He started across the tower to see who it was. Just as he got past the bell mechanism…” She seemed reluctant to continue.

Bobby jumped in, “He claimed to have seen this wild-haired, demon-faced woman hovering a few feet off the floor. She came at him, screaming, and naturally, he turned tail and ran, not watching much where he was going.” I shuddered, recalling Mary’s appearance in my dream.

“And down he went through the floor,” Spook finished.

“Exactly,” Bobby said. “He was lucky to have nothing more than a broken leg. Of course, the rest of the crew wondered what was taking so long, and they realized that something must have happened. A couple guys went looking for him. They got to the third floor and started calling for him. They heard him yelling from one of the rooms, but when they got to the room, the door was locked.”

“The door was locked,” I repeated faintly, looking at Spook.

Elaine nodded, wringing her hands. “They had to break down the door, and they found him in a pile of rubble, all wild-eyed and babbling about a banshee in the bell tower.”

“Of course, his coworkers didn’t believe him,” Bobby added, shaking his head. “Thought he had just imagined it or was delirious from his injury. The college officials blamed his accident on carelessness, and even suggested he had whiskey in his thermos. No one put any confidence in the idea of a ghost in the bell tower” He looked at us over his glasses. “Till the next time.”

We all looked at each other, not missing the significance of Bobby’s remark. Ed spoke up first. “Elaine, you said the first accident you heard about happened in 1964. I assume there were other accidents after that?” I had been wondering the same thing.

“Well,” she began, sounding hesitant. “I don’t know if you’d call them accidents.” We all looked at her curiously for a moment before she continued, “It seemed that every so often there were…mishaps…that went along with seeing Mary’s ghost…” I shuddered again as I recalled Lou’s account of Biddlesbacher’s family experiencing “mishaps;” how many more times would that word come up?

“Now, mind you,” Bobby interrupted, holding out his hand as if to caution us. “Not everyone who saw her had these mishaps, and not everyone who had mishaps necessarily saw her. But the mishaps always seemed to occur in the bell tower.”

Spook’s brows were knitted in thought, and he finally looked over at Bobby to ask, “What kind of mishaps are we talking about?”

Bobby waved his hand dismissively. “Usually nothing serious. You know how college kids are; someone would go into the bell tower either on a dare or just looking for a little excitement, or someone living on the third floor had heard footsteps above them, and they’d go up to investigate. Some of them would get spooked and try to run out of the tower. Mostly turned ankles or scrapes and bruises from falling down the stairs or tripping on the floor.” He looked pointedly at Spook and me over his glasses. “You’ve seen what the floor is like, and the lighting was never good.” I smiled doubtfully at his comment about the injuries not often being serious. I wondered if they knew about the fire chief’s accident.

Elaine laughed shortly and added, “Of course, that alone made it easy for the college to turn things around on anyone who got hurt up there–if they hadn’t been poking around where they weren’t supposed to be, they wouldn’t have gotten hurt.”

Spook met my gaze for a moment, muttering, “That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?”

Elaine leaned forward to set her coffee cup on the table. “I’ve heard that for a time there were disciplinary measures taken on those who were injured in the bell tower. They justified that by saying it was a matter of the unfinished bell tower being unsafe, and they refused to be held liable for students’ foolishness. There were a lot fewer injury reports after that, although I’m not sure if it was because people stopped going up there or because people stopped reporting their injuries.”

“Why didn’t they just lock the door?” Phil asked sensibly. I was sure I knew the answer to that one.

“They tried,” Elaine responded, confirming my suspicion. “For some reason, that door just refused to stay locked. The lock had been replaced a number of times, but the maintenance staff still kept finding the door hanging open. Of course, that was always explained away as saying one of the students must have picked the lock.”

I shook my head, unable to believe that they could use that excuse for decades. Suddenly recalling a question I’d had for months, I asked, “Why have the renovations on the bell tower never been completed?”

Bobby rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “That’s a good question, Kyr. The subject often comes up with the Board of Trustees, and the reason they give usually has to do with money being better spent elsewhere.” He looked meaningfully over at Elaine and continued, “From what my brother tells me, they can’t get anyone up there to finish the work. While no one has had an experience as frightening as young Cochran’s, it seems that every crew that goes up there has their share of bad luck and strange occurrences–hammers go missing, electronics quit working, they can’t concentrate because they feel uneasy, that kind of thing.”

Everyone fell silent for a moment, and I gathered the courage to ask what I knew we were all thinking. “The burning question, and the reason we’re here, is what happened to Mary in that bell tower? What was she doing up there? How did the fire start?” I looked around at the others. “And why all the secrecy?”

Elaine sighed heavily and glanced helplessly at Bobby, who shrugged in resignation. She finally replied in a quavering voice, “Uncle Warren is really the only one who knows the full story. I’ve asked him many times, but he never told me, just said I’d find out when the time was right.” She looked at Bobby again, and then at each of us. “Let me bring him over here so you can talk to him.”

As she stood up, Phil suddenly stopped her. “Elaine, wait…” Elaine turned to face her. “Does he know we’re here…and why?” None of us wanted to spring an unexpected interrogation on an elderly man.

Elaine smiled gently. “Yes, he does. Bobby and I spoke to him after you’d called, and he said he’d be willing to talk to you.”

Bobby grunted and then laughed. “Fair warning, we have no idea what he’ll tell you, if he tells you anything at all. Every time we brought the topic up, he’d go dead silent and wouldn’t speak again till we changed the subject.”

We all laughed along with him, accepting that possibility. Elaine went into the other room, and we heard her speaking to someone. I realized that the TV that had been playing quite loudly when we arrived was off, and I had the sense that it had been off for the majority of our conversation. He knew why we were there, and he had obviously been listening in on everything we’d talked about. I glanced at Spook and then at Ed and Phil; they seemed to be aware of the same thing and were as much on edge as I was.

A couple minutes later, we heard the sound of shuffling feet punctuated by the metallic clunk of a walker. Just outside the room, the sounds stopped, and we heard Elaine whisper, “It’s all right, Uncle Warren. Just talk to them. You don’t have to tell them anything you don’t want to.”

There was a heavy sigh and the rumbling sound of a man clearing his throat, and then Elaine came in guiding a hunched-over man with neatly-combed white hair and a full moustache. If he were to stand up straight, I knew he would be as tall as Spook. His gray eyes were alert but wary as he looked around the room at all of us. We all stood up respectfully and waited for a cue either from Elaine or Bobby..

As Elaine led him across the room, Bobby turned the light up a notch so that Warren could see better as he made his way slowly across the room to Bobby’s chair. In the middle of the room, he paused to look around at us. Taking a shaky hand off his walker, he waved at us dismissively and said hoarsely, “Sit down, sit down.”

Bobby nodded at us, so we all sat down slowly and waited till he had reached the armchair, got himself turned around and dropped arthritically into the seat. Bobby moved the walker off to the side and went over to sit on the couch next to Ed.

“Uncle Warren, these are the young folks from the college that we told you about,” Elaine began. As she introduced each of us, he nodded politely and raised a hand in greeting.

When she got to Spook and me, he eyed us sharply and commented, “You folks look a bit old to be in college.” So much for thinking I looked young for my age.

Spook and I exchanged a brief smile, and I responded, “I graduated from Willow Lake seven years ago.”

“I…never went to college,” Spook admitted, glancing at me guiltily.

Warren narrowed his eyes at Spook and growled, “You should cut your hair, young man.”

“Uncle Warren!” Elaine exclaimed, then quickly apologized to Spook, who looked a bit uncomfortable but a bit amused, as though he had heard that admonition before.

Warren grunted at her and then pointed at Spook as if to say he had his eye on him. He turned to Ed and Phil and addressed them. “You young folks are part of a…what do you call it?”

Ed cleared his throat and tried to sound professional. “Phil and I lead the Willow Lake Paranormal Club. We investigate reports of hauntings on campus and in the community, using computers and electronic equipment to try to communicate with and capture evidence of spirits.”

Warren laughed shortly and shook his head. “Paranormal Club,” he muttered. “In my day we had Chess Club and Debate Team. Now they have a Paranormal Club.” Phil was biting her lip and watching Ed nervously. i was torn between being amused by his opinion of contemporary extra-curricular activities and being nervous that he wouldn’t take us seriously enough to give us the information we needed. Warren fixed his gaze on Ed and asked, “What do you want with me?”

Ed looked as though he had been expecting this resistance, but he still seemed unsure of how to handle it. “Well,” he began uncertainly, glancing over at Spook and me for help. I gave him a slight shrug, as unsure as he was of how to proceed. Spook also remained silent, not sure how Warren would react if he stepped in; he obviously had taken a dislike to Spook and his long hair. I found myself wishing Jason and Grant were there; they would have known what to say, especially Grant.

Phil jumped in to try to help. “Our most recent investigation was a bit more…involved than other investigations we’ve done. We encountered an angry, malicious spirit in Appleton Hall’s bell tower, and we’ve been trying to find out some background information about what happened in the tower to cause the haunting.” She looked at Ed and then at Spook and me. “We know about the fire in 1954, and that…your friend…died. Beyond that, we’re finding that either no one knows what happened or no one wants to talk about it. We were hoping that you might be able to tell us what happened that night.”

When Warren remained steely-eyed and silent, Phil bit her lip and glanced around at the rest of us. Ed jumped in to help. “We have reason to believe the spirit we encountered may be Mary’s.”

“Nonsense!” Warren barked, grasping the arms of his chair, and making me jump. “My Mary wasn’t mean or malicious. She was a sweet girl, a kind girl. Your ghost has to be someone else.”

Ed sat back uncertainly for a moment, then cleared his throat and insisted, “Mr. McKnight, we know the Mary you loved was sweet and kind, but we think there’s a reason she became angry, and a reason that she stays in that tower. If we could just find the missing pieces of the puzzle…” Warren had turned his face away with the same steely-eyed expression, and he pursed his lips together tightly as though unwilling to speak. Ed looked over at Bobby and Elaine, who both shrugged sympathetically as if to say I told you so.

Spook’s brows knitted together in frustration, and he leaned forward to interject, “Mr. McKnight, it’s very possible that we’re wrong in our theory; our ghost may indeed be someone else.” Ed and Phil looked at him as though he had lost his mind, and even Bobby and Elaine gave him a curious glance. I smiled slightly, knowing what he was doing. “The reason we wanted to talk to you is you’re the only one who knows what happened that night. If we can find out more details, it might help us figure out who’s haunting the tower.” He glanced at Phil. “And maybe how we can put her–or him–to rest.”

Warren glared at Spook, and I could see tears standing in his eyes. “There was a fire. My Mary died in that fire. I lost the only love I ever had.”

His sorrow was so great that it seemed to reach out and wrap itself around me; even after sixty years, his love and sense of loss was still strong enough to cause him pain. Tears filled my eyes as I thought about how I’d feel if I had lost Spook in that summer’s fire. Warren seemed to sense my thoughts, because he looked my way. As his eyes met mine, I had the sense that we understood each other; I wondered if he had overheard us telling Bobby and Elaine about Spook’s ordeal. With some difficulty, I said, “I’m so sorry for your loss, Mr. McKnight. I can’t even imagine how you must have felt.” I had to take a deep breath to steady my voice, and I felt Spook’s hand on my back as I continued, “Is there anything you can remember about that night, about what happened before the fire?”

Warren’s expression hardened again, and he didn’t seem to even try to remember. “It was a long time ago. I don’t remember.”

Phil, obviously frustrated, urged, “Please, Mr. McKnight. Try to remember. Who was in the bell tower that night? Was it just you and Mary, or was there someone else?”

I could see Warren struggling to stay in control. Tears stood ready to fall again, and he had begun trembling. Phil leaned forward and was about to begin another onslaught of questions, but I stopped her. “Phil, I think it’s enough.” I pleaded with my eyes for her to back down. “It’s too much all at once; we need to back off,” I said softly.

Elaine stood and crossed the room. “Uncle Warren,” she soothed. “Would you like to go back to your room?”

Warren glared in Phil’s direction and then nodded. Elaine helped him to his feet, and slid his walker over to him. He took a few shaky steps and then looked at each of us. His expression seemed to soften as he met my eyes, and he mumbled, “Nice meeting you all. Sorry I couldn’t be of any help.”

After he had left the room, Bobby smiled grimly at Ed and said apologetically, “Well, he talked more to you folks about what happened than he ever did to us.” He took his glasses off and laid them on the table next to him. “I honestly wonder if he really can’t recall what happened; maybe it was so traumatic that he mentally blocked the events of that night.”

“It certainly is a possibility,” Spook ventured uncertainly. I said nothing, but I firmly believed they were wrong. Warren recalled what happened that night, every horrific detail. There was something that was keeping him from talking about it. As I glanced over at Phil, who had the same hard, determined look in her eyes as she had earlier, I shook my head, thinking it had been a mistake for so many of us to come here tonight. The poor man probably felt as though he were facing a judge and jury.

Elaine returned a couple minutes later, her eyes glassy with worry. She attempted a smile and said, “Uncle Warren is watching Matlock reruns now; I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Her expression seemed to say otherwise, but none of us suggested anything to the contrary. “Would anyone like more coffee?” she offered hospitablly.

Ed started and replied, “Oh, no thank you, Elaine. You’ve been so much more than kind to us already.” He reached out to shake her hand. “We greatly appreciate you letting us come tonight to speak to your uncle, even if we really didn’t gain any information.”

Phil reached out her hand next. I could still hear the disappointment in her voice as she smiled and added, “Yes, thank you so much. I hope Mr. McKnight wasn’t too upset.”

Bobby chuckled as Elaine responded, “He’ll be fine, Phil. He’s a tough old bird.” Elaine turned to Spook and held out her hand to him. “I hope you weren’t offended by his remarks about your hair.”

Spook laughed easily and said, “It’s nothing I haven’t heard before, Elaine. And he put it a lot more kindly than some people have.” He met my eyes and smiled mischievously.

Elaine turned to me, and her eyes shone with unshed tears. “Oh, Kyr. I could see the wheels turning in your head when Uncle Warren talked about losing Mary. I’m so happy your story has a happier ending. Thank you for being so compassionate.”

Tears filled my eyes too as I looked up at Spook and attempted to smile. “Me too,” I replied thickly. “That’s the main reason I hoped to get to the bottom of this so that the same thing doesn’t happen to others.”

“You’re such a good person.” Elaine’s smile was genuine as she embraced me. She looked up at Spook and whispered, “You two take care of each other. A love like yours is a precious thing.”

Bobby rose and said his good-byes to us, adding his apology that we didn’t accomplish what we had hoped. As we headed out the door, my mind was already working on a plan. I was certain we could get to the bottom of this mystery, but there was something I needed to do. Alone.

School Spirits, Chapter 25, Ghost Hunters fan fiction

We were silent as we rode the elevator to the fourth floor. Spook kept glancing in my direction, his expression bemused. I stared uncomfortably at the display above the doors, watching the numbers change as the elevator rose. I wanted to say something, anything, to break the silence, but I didn’t know what. Ever since we had left Willow Lake three months ago, I had been longing to see him again, so why was I suddenly apprehensive about sharing a room with him?

The elevator doors opened, and Spook picked up our bags. A family with three young children stepped aside to let us out, and we walked up the hallway to room 418. He pulled out the keycard to unlock the door, and we went inside. The room was bright and spacious, and it smelled of clean linens. Abstract prints painted in greens and browns hung above the two double beds, and a large flatscreen TV stood on the dresser opposite the beds.

As Spook set our bags on the bed closer to the door, I went to the window and stood gazing out at the traffic on the highway. Spook walked over to stand behind me and remarked, “Not the best view in the world, is it?”

I leaned back against him and responded nervously, “It’s too bad the hotel isn’t by the river. I wouldn’t mind looking out at that view for the weekend.”

Spook grasped my shoulders and chuckled, “You and your river. Were you a fish in a past life?”

I giggled and said, “No, but I am a Pisces in this life. Not that I put much stock in astrology.”

He chuckled again and kneaded my tense shoulders for a moment. I closed my eyes and let my head fall back against his shoulder, sighing contentedly. Oh, he was so good with his hands. He leaned down to nuzzle my neck playfully, making me giggle and squirm away. He caught me in a hug and smiled down at me. “You’re not getting away that easily.” His eyes turned serious, and he continued, “Talk to me, Kyr. Why don’t you want to share a room with me for the weekend?”

I bit my lip and tried to get away, but he refused to loosen his hold. Glancing shyly up at him, I tried to find words for my jumbled emotions. “It’s not that I don’t want to…I’ve missed you so much. I guess I’m just…nervous. I’ve never shared a room with a man.”

Spook released me and took my hands in his. When I chanced a look at his face, I saw that he was giving me a crooked, curious smile. “Never? Not even with…?”

“No,” I responded, pulling my hands away and crossing my arms in front of me. “Pretty pathetic at my age, isn’t it?”

Spook laughed and grabbed my hand again, leading me over to the bed, where we sat down. Taking my face in his hands, he kissed me gently and said softly, “You. Are. Not. Pathetic. Stop putting yourself down, Kyr.” When I didn’t respond, he asked, “Are you afraid something is going to happen?”

I raised my hands and let them fall in frustration. “Part of me wants something to happen, but I’m afraid. What if I change my mind and…?” I didn’t finish my thought, but just looked helplessly at him.

After a moment, he seemed to understand what I didn’t want to say. “You’re afraid if you change your mind and don’t make love to me, that I’ll change my mind about you and dump you.” I nodded miserably and looked away. Somehow I knew Spook wasn’t that type, but I’d had too many bad experiences in the past. “Kyr,” he said, and waited for me to look at him. “I told you before, I’m not going to ditch you.”

I knew we had already discussed this, but I couldn’t stop the bubble of hurt and fear that rose inside me. I accused, “You already did, once. How do I know it won’t happen again?”

Spook let out a frustrated sigh and ran his hand over his face. I knew he was irritated, if not angry, and I knew he was trying to understand. Why couldn’t I just let it go and move forward with him? He leaned his elbows on his knees and let his head fall forward in frustration. After a moment of silence, he raised his head to look at me, his expression softer. “We’ve talked about what happened that night, Kyr. Things went faster than they should have, and your…confession…took me by surprise. That’s not going to happen again.”

I opened my mouth to protest, but he swept me into his arms, laid me across his lap, and brought his lips roughly to mine. As our tongues intertwined, he ran his hands across my back and down my sides. My fears melted away, and I gave myself up to his kiss, relishing the way his coarse beard felt against my sunburned skin. I moaned as I drew my fingers down the rippling muscles in his arms and back.

Spook suddenly pulled back, leaving me gasping for breath. His eyes were dark with desire as he grinned wickedly down at me. “Was that enough to convince you that I’m not going to run?”

My head was still spinning from the intensity of his kiss, and I realized that I was tightly grasping his shirt. I let go and smoothed the material as I licked my still-throbbing lips and raised my eyes to his. My voice shook as I responded playfully, “I’m not so sure I believe you; I think I need more convincing.”

Spook laughed triumphantly and laid me back on the bed. “Then allow me to make a better argument,” he growled as his lips claimed mine once more, gently at first, and then more urgently. Our noses bumped several times as our kisses became more passionate. He drew his tongue across my lower lip, teasing me till my lips parted so our tongues could dance together again. Suddenly he rolled on top of me and buried his face in my neck. Waves of desire flowed through my body as he kissed and nibbled my neck, and I entwined my legs with his. A maddening ache had started growing deep inside me, and I began moving my hips against his, moaning. He grabbed my hands and pinned them above my head, grinning wickedly down at me for a moment. “Would you like a taste of what I’m dying to do with you?”

The scent of his cologne filled my nostrils, and I could feel the heat from his body through my thin T-shirt. I wanted him so badly I could hardly think, let alone speak, so I simply nodded. He leaned in closer, and I could feel his arousal as he rubbed against me and whispered, “I want to hear you say it.” I felt my face reddening; what did he want me to say? I shook my head shyly, biting my lip. He laughed wickedly and rolled off me. “I guess you don’t want to play as much as i thought.”

I struggled to free my hands so I could pull him back down to me, but he wouldn’t release me. I gasped, “Spook, please…” I squirmed against him, needing his touch, pleading with my eyes for him to continue the wonderful things he was doing to me.

“Please what?” he chuckled, leaning down to kiss me quickly.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I moaned, “Spook, please, I want you to…” I couldn’t bring myself to say the words.

“Close enough,” he growled, lowering himself on top of me again, rubbing his body rhythmically against mine and nuzzling my neck. I turned my head to nibble below his ear, making him groan and release my arms. My hands wandered down his back till I grasped his buttocks. Oh, lord, even his butt was firm and muscled. He growled and slipped his hands beneath my shirt, tracing around the outside of my bra. My breasts tingled and ached for his touch; I arched my back, willing his fingers to stroke inside my bra. Suddenly he reached around and unhooked it, then ran his hands over my breasts. My nipples hardened immediately as he teased and stroked them with his palms. I thought I was turned on before, but as he gently kneaded my breasts, the ache between my legs increased. The entire universe seemed to condense into the things he was doing to my body. I began moaning and begging for release as I rubbed against him more urgently, my hips rising to meet his rhythmic stroking. Before I knew what was happening, my desire exploded, and waves of pleasure washed over my body again and again, making me cry out. Spook suddenly tensed and cried out too before collapsing on top of me.

After a minute, Spook rose up on one elbow to gaze down at me tenderly. “Was that your first?” he asked softly, brushing my hair out of my face with his other hand.

“You know it was,” I replied softly, blushing and hiding my face in his chest.

He chuckled and rolled over so that I lay beside him. “Kyr,” he said. When I looked up at him, he continued, “Look, I can’t promise you I’ll never hurt you again, and I can’t promise I’ll never fail you.” He laughed self-consciously and joked, “I can promise you that I’ll probably screw up again, but I will never, ever hurt you intentionally.” He seemed to struggle to find the right words. “I told you before, I never thought I could feel this way about someone again, but here I am falling helplessly in love with you.” He kissed me again. “I want to be your first and your last; I want to be with you, Kyr. Only you. Isn’t that enough for you to at least give us a chance?”

Oddly enough, his clumsy honesty was just what I needed to hear. I’d heard enough false promises of forever that left me broken-hearted when I believed them. Spook wasn’t promising anything unrealistic, and despite his profession of love, which I knew was real, I could sense that he was fighting the fears of his own demons from the past. Knowing that neither of us had starry-eyed expectations calmed my nerves and made me willing to close my eyes and take that leap with him. I took his face in my hands and kissed him gently before replying softly, “I love you too, Spook. Who’d have thought I’d fall so hard for that cold, arrogant dork who showed up at the Berkeley mansion and accused me of being an over-imaginative, attention-seeking groupie?”

Spook’s eyes widened in shock for a moment before he laughed, “I made a horrible first impression, didn’t I?”

I traced his mouth with my finger and teased, “Lucky for you I give second chances.”

As I leaned forward to kiss him again, Copa Cabana suddenly blasted from across the room. Great, my cell phone. “That’s probably Phil,” I groaned, rolling off the bed to grab my purse and dig through it till I found my phone. I answered it just before it went to voicemail.

“Hey, Kyr, I did catch you,” Phil said cheerily. “Are you in Willow Lake yet?”

“Yeah, I’m here,” I replied, going back over to sit next to Spook on the bed. “I got in around lunchtime, grabbed something to eat and walked through the street fair.” Spook had moved closer to me and was walking his fingers up my sides. I stifled a giggle and pushed his hands away.

“I’m surprised I didn’t run into you; I took a late lunch and ran down there for one of Krabby Kate’s fish sandwiches,” she responded. “So, are you ready to meet with Warren?”

Spook had begun poking my ribs so that I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. I turned and attempted to give him a dirty look, which didn’t deter him at all; in fact, his mischievous grin told me he was even more determined to get me to giggle. I looked away and tried to focus on Phil’s question. “Um…yeah. As ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.” Spook kept poking and grabbing my ribs, and when I attempted to move to the other bed, he hooked his finger in my belt loop and wrapped his other arm around my waist so I couldn’t get away.

“Cool,” Phil replied, oblivious to the battle taking place on my end. “Ed gets off work at 5:00; we can meet at the Mustang Grill at 5:30. Then we’re just waiting for Spook, right?”

Just then, Spook slipped his hand beneath my shirt and scrabbled his fingers across my stomach. Before I could stop it, a giggle escaped from my throat. Barely able to keep my voice steady, I answered, “No, Spook is here.”

“Oh,” Phil said, surprised. “I thought he wouldn’t be here till early this evening.”

“He started work early this morning so he could come down sooner.” Spook doubled his efforts, slipping both hands under my shirt, making me squirm and giggle uncontrollably. I held the phone away from my mouth and hissed, “Stop it!”

Phil was quiet for a moment, and when she spoke, I could hear the smile in her voice. “He’s there with you, isn’t he?” She laughed as Spook grabbed my knee and made me squeal.

“Yes,” I responded, trying to escape his teasing fingers. I clenched my teeth to keep from laughing. “He’s being a royal pest.”

“Well, it sounds like you’re enjoying it,” Phil teased. “I’ll let you two lovebirds alone, and we’ll see you at 5:30.”

Spook scooted closer to nuzzle my neck while he tickled my stomach. I laughed out loud and tried to smack him with my free hand. “Okay, 5:30,” I confirmed through my laughter.

“If we’re late, don’t call,” Spook called out, laughing triumphantly as I reached behind me to slap him clumsily.

Phil giggled and called back, “Got it, Spook. Have fu-un!”

I disconnected and tossed my phone aside, giggling hysterically and trying to wrestle free. I managed to roll over so I was facing him, and I grabbed his hands to make him stop. “You’re such a dork,” I accused.

He laughed mischievously and apologized insincerely. “I guess someone needs to get used to having a boyfriend who can’t keep his hands off her.” He leaned down to kiss me, his tickles turning into caresses. My desire ignited immediately as he changed direction, and I moaned, wrapping my arms around his neck. He began stroking my breasts again, expertly flicking my nipples with his thumbs. He groaned as he drew his tongue up and down my neck. “So, what do we have, an hour and a half till we have to meet Ed and Phil?”

“Mmm,” I responded absentmindedly. “An hour and a half, yes.” Somehow I remembered that I hadn’t told Spook about meeting up with Lou. I wanted to tell him before we met the others. “Spook…” I began; then a wave of pleasure washed over me as he ran his hands up my thighs and across my stomach. “I need…to tell you…something.”

His hands moved back to caress my breasts, and he chuckled, “Are you going to tell me where you want me to touch you?” He planted a kiss just below my ear before sucking on my earlobe. “I think I can figure that out by myself,” he teased.

“Oh yeah, you can,” I mumbled breathlessly. Was it getting hotter in here, or was it just me? Or him? He scooted down and lifted my shirt enough to kiss my stomach. I tangled my fingers in his hair as my skin turned to gooseflesh and a tingling ache began between my legs once more. He was just as good with his lips as he was with his hands. Should I just forget about Lou and let him continue this sweet torture? No, I couldn’t; I really needed to tell him before we met the others. “Spook, I saw…” I gasped aloud as he swirled his tongue inside my belly button.

Spook quickly scooted back up to claim my lips again. I held him tightly, trying to stop my trembling. He pulled back and teased, “You saw what? Stars? Fireworks?”

“No, Spook, I…” He interrupted me with another kiss and more breast caresses. I arched my back and tossed my head from side to side; he was going to make me crazy.

“Well, then, I’m not doing my job, am I?” he chuckled, reaching down to stroke slowly between my legs. Oh, he was making this so hard. I really didn’t want him to stop.

I made a great effort and said in a rush, “Spook, I saw Lou.”

Spook paused for a moment, nuzzling my neck. “Who’s Lou?” He sounded as though he were having trouble focusing too.

I gasped again as another wave of pleasure washed over me. With a lot more difficulty, I replied, “The bartender. From A Drop in the Bucket.”

Suddenly he rolled off me and looked down at me, all seriousness. How in the world did he do that? “You saw Lou?” he repeated. When I nodded, my senses still reeling from his touch, he continued, “Did he talk to you?”

I cleared my throat and tried to sit up. “Yeah, yeah he did.” I tried to ignore the way my skin still tingled with desire. “He came into the deli while I was there. As I was leaving, he asked me to sit down with him.” As I related the details of my conversation with Lou, Spook listened intently, his unfocused eyes locked on a spot on the bedspread.  He laughed humorlessly when I told him about Lou’s observation that Phil had a lot of nerve to approach both him and the fire chief, and he nodded in agreement when I told him that I shared Lou’s concern that Phil–and the rest of us–might be in over our heads. His brows knitted together with concern when I mentioned Biddlesbacher’s book and the trouble his family had endured as a result of what he had written about Mary. “He admitted that he can’t see the point of keeping a sixty year old secret, but he wanted to impress upon us that those who want to keep that secret will go to any lengths to make sure it remains a secret. He’s really not afraid of the secret coming out; he’s just afraid for our safety.”

Spook raised his eyes to mine, his own concern reflecting in his expression. “That’s why I thought at least one of us needed to be here for this little meeting with Warren, to keep Phil reined in. I was really hoping Jason and Grant could make an appearance, but they’re out filming for the next few weeks.”

“Although maybe Warren would have been less willing to talk if confronted by a couple celebrity ghost hunters, even if there were no cameras present,” I mused. I did share Spook’s desire to have their expertise in interviewing clients, but a part of me was glad they weren’t along for the ride this time.

Spook chuckled, “I doubt Warren McKnight would be a card-carrying member of the Ghost Hunters fan club. It’s more likely he wouldn’t know them from Adam.”

I shrugged. “You’re probably right. Still, I’m sure when Phil set this up, she told his niece that she and Ed are from the Willow Lake Paranormal Club; Jason and Grant don’t exactly come across as being college age, and their presence might put Warren on edge.”

“Well, I’m sure you and I don’t look like college students either,” he laughed, rubbing a hand across his beard. “Unless we could pass as club advisors.”

“Speak for yourself, old man,” I teased, giving him a shove. I liked to think I still looked young enough to pass for a college girl, and most of the time when I went into a bar, I still got carded.

Spook suddenly grabbed me and tossed me down on the bed again. “Who are you calling ‘old man,’ Kyr-tastrophe?” he laughed, giving me a wicked look. “I’m young enough to carry you out of a burning building, young enough to climb up a quarry wall to untangle you from your belay ropes…” He nuzzled my neck and traced my earlobe with his tongue. “…And I’m young and skillful enough to bring you to your first climax without even removing your clothes.” He drew back to look at me, his eyes black with passion. His voice was gravelly as he said, “An hour isn’t time enough to do what I’d like to do with you right now, but it’s more than enough time to have a bit more fun, don’t you think?”

He didn’t give me a chance to respond, but lowered himself on top of me to begin kissing and caressing once more.

Spook and I arrived at the Mustang Grill exactly at 5:30. Even though Phil and Ed gave us knowing smirks, I thought Phil looked a bit disappointed that we arrived on time. I felt the color crawl up my neck and into my cheeks as Spook gave me a sideways glance and smiled mischievously at me before we all headed inside.

As the four of us perused the menu, a cloud seemed to loom over our table. Ed’s eyes were glassy and hard, and uncharacteristic lines of tension were visible on his forehead and around his mouth. Phil’s eyes, too, stared unseeingly at her menu, and she seemed less enthusiastic than before about the task we would undertake in a couple hours. My eyes drifted over to Spook, whose expression as he looked across the table at Ed and Phil told me that he sensed their uneasiness. He turned his head almost imperceptibly, and our eyes met for a brief second before he smirked and broke the silence. “So, who’s in the mood for tongue-torching chili?”

As I laughed at his joke, the knot of tension in my chest released, and I relaxed. I raised my chin and grinned wickedly at him as I teased back, “Only if it comes with a side of cigarette ashes.”

First Ed and then Phil burst out laughing as Spook’s lip curled and he shuddered involuntarily. I smirked up at him, knowing I had just gotten the best of him. Of course, I could tell by the way he raised his eyebrow at me that he intended to get me back later.

After we got our food, we chatted for awhile about general topics like our summer activities, our jobs, the street fair, and entertained ourselves by watching the people who came into the restaurant. Ed, Phil and I marveled at how easy it was to tell the locals from the folks who were only in town for the holiday.

Finally, Spook glanced at me and then across at Ed and Phil before saying in a low voice, “Before we head out to speak to Warren, I’d just like to be clear what it is you hope to accomplish tonight.”

Ed and Phil exchanged a confused look, and Phil ventured, “I thought that was pretty obvious. We’re hoping to get to the bottom of what happened with Mary in Appleton bell tower that night.”

Spook leaned his elbows on the table and rested his chin on his hands. He fixed his gaze on Phil, and I could see in his eyes that same steely, calculated coldness I’d seen the night I first met him at the Berkeley mansion. “That part is obvious,” he said. “What I…” He motioned to me. “What we want to know is what you intend to do with that information, if we’re even able to get it.”

“Well,” Phil looked at Ed and then back to Spook. “I guess…I’m hoping to…” She seemed a lot less sure of herself under Spook’s hard gaze, and I wondered if she had even considered her next step.

Ed jumped in, although he didn’t sound any more sure of himself than Phil did. “I guess we were thinking that if we find out what happened that night, we can somehow put Mary’s spirit to rest.”

Spook drained his coffee and set the cup down with a thump. “And how do you plan to do that?” he asked bluntly. “Dr. Harris made it abundantly clear that any more ‘ghost hunting nonsense’ is not going to be tolerated on campus. You do realize that in order to put Mary’s spirit to rest you’d have to get into the bell tower right?”

“Well, right, but…” Ed began.

“But what?” Spook interrupted. “Even in the unlikely event that Warren spills the whole story and gives us even a clue about what would let Mary rest, if you think for one moment that Dr. Harris will change his mind and let us back up there to do it, you’re either crazy or naive.”

Phil looked sharply at Spook, her eyes suddenly flashing defiance. “So who says we need his approval?” she asked, twisting her napkin angrily. “There are ways of getting around him.”

Ed and I exchanged a glance; her stubborn persistance was making even him nervous. I glanced up at Spook, thinking again of Lou’s observation that Phil tended to act without thinking things through. Spook leaned forward and struggled to kep his voice low. “Phil, think about what you’re saying. One of the cardinal rules of paranormal investigating is that you only investigate places where you have permission to be.” He gave me a grim look and continued, “Kyr and I have already gotten on Dr. Harris’ shit list for being in that bell tower without his express written consent, and we don’t intend to do it again. Besides, I have no desire to add a conviction for criminal trespass to my resume for the sake of a ghost hunt.”

Phil seemed to relax a bit as she replied, “I didn’t mean we should break in. I simply meant we could get permission from someone else.” She smirked smugly. “Like maybe Dr. Cuomo.”

Spook let out his breath in a loud huff and sat back hard in his seat. I could see the color rising in his neck, and I knew he was struggling to hold his temper. He glanced helplessly at me, and I leaned forward to try to reason with Phil. “Is it really fair to her to bring her into this? I know she supports what we were doing, and I know she’d like to find answers too, but I’m honestly surprised she stil has her job after the way Dr. Harris went off the last time.” I pleaded with my eyes for her to understand. “I respect Dr. Cuomo very much, and I know you do too; I really don’t want to cause her any kind of trouble by using her to go over Dr. Harris’ head.”

Phil’s jaw was still tightly clenched, and she continued to twist her napkin, but her eyes had lost some of their hardness. I knew she held Dr. Cuomo in too high a regard to put her job in jeopardy. Ed put his arm around her and pulled her close. Glancing briefly at Spook, he said, “I think we should slow down and think this through a little more, take it one step at a time. Let’s see what Warren tells us tonight and then go from there.”

Phil tossed her napkin onto her plate and crossed her arms. After a moment, she gave Ed a look of defeat, sighed and whispered, “Okay.” He leaned over to kiss her temple, and she looked sheepishly at Spook before conitinuing. “I guess I just got caught up in the idea of discovering something that’s been hidden for decades. I kind of wanted people to see our paranormal group as something more than a bunch of nuts walking around in the dark talking to themselves.”

Now that the situation had been diffused, Spook relaxed. He leaned forward and looked at Phil with kinder eyes. “I get that, Phil; we all feel that way about what we do.” He gave me a meaningful look. “It’s just that in this case, we need to be aware that not everyone wants the truth to come out.” He looked at me again and gave me a nudge.

I caught his drift. “Phil, Ed, when I was at Raymond’s Deli this afternoon, Lou came in for lunch. He recognized me and asked to talk to me.” They both looked interested, and I continued. “He really didn’t give me any new information about what happened in the bell tower.” I decided to keep Lou’s confidence about the fire chief’s experience. “He said as far as he’s concerned, keeping a sixty year-old secret was foolish, but there are still people who will go to any lengths to make sure that secret stays hidden.”

Phil narrowed her eyes at my words, and Ed laughed shortly before joking, “He makes it sound as though Willow Lake has its own mafia or something.”

I met Spook’s eyes before saying, “It may not be the mafia, but that idea isn’t far from the truth.” I went on to tell them what Lou had told me about the troubles Biddlesbacher’s family had experienced before he pulled his book off the shelves and reprinted them with a modified account of what happened to Mary Bollinger. I could see the wheels turning in Phil’s mind as she came to the same realization I had, that they might be opening themselves up to the same kind of consequences if we went public with anything we discovered. “Lou’s main concern was to make sure we knew what we’re getting into. He said he doesn’t want to see anyone getting hurt over this.”

Judging by the look Ed and Phil exchanged, I was certain they understood the seriousness of the task we were about to undertake. At least I hoped they did.

School Spirits, Chapter 24, Ghost Hunters fan fiction

By the time Labor Day weekend rolled around, I was more than ready for a break. The book sale fundraiser had gone fairly well, and we sold more books than expected, although definitely not as many as Maureen would have liked. The beginning of the following week, Michelle and I had hosted the Back to School program for more than fifty children. We’d had a puppet show, a magic act, crafts, snacks, and a safety presentation by the local police with fingerprinting and ID photos.

Thankfully, the library was closed the Friday before Labor Day, so that morning, I threw some clothes and other necessities in a duffel bag and loaded them into the trunk of my car. Just as I was ready to head out, on a whim, I dashed back inside and grabbed my digital voice recorder and the K-II meter I had recently purchased online. I wasn’t actually planning on using them, but I thought it was best to be prepared.

I groaned in frustration as I headed north towards Willow Lake. Traffic was much heavier than I thought it would be that early in the morning, so it was a slow go for almost an hour. By the time I got within a few miles of the exit for the interstate, traffic had slowed to a crawl.With everything almost at a standstill, my mind kept turning over and over all that had happened during the investigation so far, the new information we’d discovered since the investigation, and what, if anything, we’d be able to learn from Warren. With a sigh, I began flipping through the radio stations, trying to find some good music to pass the time and to take my mind off of everything. About the time I had found a station doing a Flashback Weekend with music from the 80s and 90s, I had reached the interstate exit. I breathed a sigh of relief as most of the traffic exited, and the rest of the vehicles began moving at a normal pace. Usually the interstate was a much quicker way than the scenic route I preferred, but I smiled to myself thinking that I was likely traveling the faster route today.

A little less than half an hour later, I relaxed as I turned onto Route 44. The mountains up ahead were still shrouded by haze, and as warm and sticky as it was already, I had a feeling that the view wouldn’t change much as the day progressed. The sky, too, was obscured by humidity, and it was hard to tell if it was clear or cloudy. As I wiped my sweaty forehead with my hand, I let out a huff of resignation, rolled up the windows and flipped on the air conditioning. The blast of chilly air was a welcome relief from the hot, stagnant air in the car, and I directed the vents to blow on my hot face.

By the time I passed the large, yellow “Welcome to Willow Lake” sign, it was getting close to lunchtime. The trip had seemed much longer than usual, partly because of the traffic and partly because JoEllyn hadn’t been along to keep me company with her cheerful chatter. My stomach growled loudly to remind me I hadn’t eaten much for breakfast, so I decided to stop in the downtown area to grab some lunch. I passed the Mustang Grill, but I didn’t feel like stopping there by myself. I recalled from earlier in the summer that there was a Subway in town now, but then my eyes were drawn to Raymond’s Deli. I used to love their food and the atmosphere, so I gave in to nostalgia and decided to have lunch there.

Seeing no available parking spaces along the street, I turned down one of the alleys and parked in the public parking lot behind the shopping area. Even this lot was almost full, which was unusual for a weekday. As I got out of my car, I heard the sounds of speedboats, live music, and the occasional cheer. Of course, the Labor Day Street Fair. After lunch I could sit along the levee to watch the boat races and listen to the live bands while I waited for Spook.

I walked back through the alley and around to the deli’s Market Street entrance. I pulled open the door and inhaled deeply as the aroma of fresh-baked bread, toasting cheese, and various condiments greeted me. The deli looked the same as it had almost ten years ago, with its black and white tile floor and dark green walls. I looked quickly around at the few people having lunch, half expecting to see some of the regulars from my Willow Lake days; I was almost disappointed that I didn’t recognize anyone.

Glancing up at the menu posted above the counter, I was pleased to see that it was largely unchanged, save for the addition of newer items such as wraps and flatbread sandwiches. My favorite sub was still on the menu, so I stepped forward to the counter. A woman of about forty came to the cash register. “Are you ready to order?”

“Yes, I believe so,” I replied, studying her face. She had Raymond’s dark hair and eyes, and the same long, straight nose, so I guessed this was his daughter. “I’ll have the ham and cheese cosmo, no onions and extra mayo, and a small Coke.”

She quickly wrote down my order, and then asked, “Oil and oregano on that?”

“Yes, please,” I responded, my mouth already watering.

Tearing the paper from the pad, she smiled wanly and said, “I’ll bring it out to you in about five minutes.”

I thanked her and took a seat at one of the tables, glancing around at the other customers. At one table sat three elderly women who all wore purple blouses and red hats. As they ate, they chatted and laughed. Every so often, one of them, a thin woman with obviously-dyed blonde hair and a wide-brimmed hat with purple feathers, would cackle loudly at something the others said. I smiled wistfully, recalling that my mother used to belong to the Red Hat Society. Her simple red hat still sat in a box at the top of my bedroom closet; I doubted I’d ever be a Red Hatter, but I couldn’t bear to get rid of it.

Sighing, I propped my chin on my hand and gazed at the only other customer, an older, heavyset man wearing stained sweatpants and a faded T-shirt. He sat alone by the window, keeping his head down as he spooned soup mechanically into his mouth, barely stopping to chew each bite. A figure passed by the window and walked through the door, breaking the man’s concentration and making him look up momentarily.

Before I could get a look at the person who had walked in, the woman from behind the counter appeared at my side and set my sub and my drink in front of me. “Here you go, miss. Can I get you anything else?”

“No, thanks,” I replied. “I’m all set for now.” On a whim, I quickly asked, “Does Raymond still own this place?”

The woman looked a bit taken aback, and then her expression turned sad. “No, I’m sorry. Raymond was my father; he passed away last year, and my sister and I took over.” She looked at me more closely and asked, “Did you know my father?”

“I’m sorry to hear that he passed,” I responded uncomfortably, with another twinge of wistfulness. “No, I didn’t really know him. I went to college here, and I’d come in for lunch when I got tired of cafeteria food–which was about once a week,” I joked. “Raymond–your dad–always knew what I wanted as soon as he saw me walk through the door.”

The woman laughed and nodded. “Yeah, Dad was good at that.” She turned her head to look at the man standing at the counter and excused herself.

I tucked into my sub. With the first bite, I sighed in satisfaction; no one else had ever made ham and cheese cosmos like Raymond, but this was pretty close. After the edge had been taken off my hunger, I raised my eyes to look around once more. The man by the window had finished his soup and left, and the Red Hatters were sharing a large slab of cheesecake. My eyes drifted over to the back corner where the man who had just come in sat. I almost choked on a sip of soda when I realized it was Lou. I looked away quickly, hoping he wouldn’t look my way and recognize me.

The woman from behind the counter hurried over and set a plate in front of him. “Anything else for you, Lou?” she asked sweetly. Obviously, Lou was one of her regulars.

“Nah, I’m good, Nance,” he replied with a smile, tucking his napkin into his shirt and picking up his sandwich.

I quickly finished my sub and drank the rest of my soda. The woman–Nance–stopped at my table. “Any dessert for you, miss?”

Glancing surreptitiously towards the Red Hatters, who were just finishing their cheesecake, I considered for a second, and then declined regretfully. I thought to myself that I’d have to make it a point to stop just for cheesecake before I left town. Nance smiled at me genuinely and handed me my check, saying, “You can just bring that to the register when you’re ready.”

I looked at my check and dug my wallet out. After laying down a tip, I went to the counter to pay. Nance took my money and handed me my change. “Don’t be a stranger,” she said.

“Oh, I won’t,” I replied, smiling.

As I turned to go, a male voice stopped me. “You’re Jared’s friend, aren’t you?”

I had forgotten about Lou sitting right there. “Yes…yes, I am,” I stammered.

A lock of white hair hung down over his forehead, and his blue eys fixed on me. “You have a minute?” he asked; when I nodded, he motioned for me to sit. When I did, he wiped his hands and his mouth and extended his hand to me. “Name’s Lou.”

I shook his hand and replied, “I remember you from the Rusty…I mean A Drop in the Bucket. I’m Kyr.”

He chuckled. “You remember the old place. Owners were good friends of mine. All the snow a few years back scared them off.” I laughed uncomfortably, knowing he hadn’t asked me to stay just to reminisce about a bar. Sensing my discomfort, he got to the point. “You friends with the folks from the college ghost group?”

I cleared my throat. “You might say that. We actually just met a few months ago, during…an investigation.” I met his eyes and offered, “I hear they paid you a visit. You and the fire chief.”

He laughed shortly. “I have to admire the young lady’s moxy. Not so sure she knows what she’s getting into digging into the whole Mary mystery, though.” He took another bite of his sandwich.

I weighed his words, but I didn’t get the sense he meant what he said in a threatening way. “I don’t think any of us knew what we were getting into with this investigation,” I said carefully.

“Well,” he responded. “Like I told your friends, there’s only a few left who know what happened. Most of those folks want to keep it hid.”

“What about you?” I asked. “Do you think it should stay hidden?” I clasped my hands so he wouldn’t see them shaking.

He folded his hands and looked at me sharply. “Like I told your friends,” he repeated. “I don’t know what happened up in that bell tower. Skip has some idea, but he won’t even tell me what he knows. Personally, I can’t understand what the purpose is of keeping secrets. But that’s just me. Knowing the general feeling around here, I just think it’s best to keep my mouth shut and stay out of it.”

I thought for a moment. There was something I wanted to know. I studied his face as he ate a pickle slice. Finally, I ventured, “The night of the fire, Skip gave us the impression that he thought ghosts were all childish nonsense, but it seemed as though he was bluffing. Did Skip…have some kind of run in with Mary?”

Lou’s eyes shot up to meet mine. His expression suggested he was wondering what had prompted that question, but he didn’t ask. After a long moment, he glanced around to make sure that Nance was occupied and the Red Hatters weren’t listening. In a low voice, he began, “You didn’t hear this from me.” When I nodded and leaned in close, he continued, “Probably ten, twelve years ago, before Skip was the chief, there was an automatic fire alarm went off in Appleton. Fire comapny responded, and they searched the building, trying to find what had set off the alarms. Skip ran to the third floor and found the bell tower door hanging open, so he went up to check it out.” I shuddered, recalling my own experience. “He won’t say what he saw, but something scared the hell out of him up there. He came flying down the steps, white as a sheet, the others said, and managed to blow out his knee when he lost his footing near the bottom.”

“His bum knee,” I murmured, recalling the conversation I had overheard outside A Drop in the Bucket.

“What’s that?” Lou said, his eyes snapping up to meet mine.

Realizing I had possibly just let on that I knew about something I probably shouldn’t, I covered, “Oh, nothing. I…thought I heard someone mention his bum knee the night of the fire.”

Lou’s expression was skeptical, but then I saw a spark of realization in his eyes. He pointed at me with a potato chip and said, “So that was you and your fella that got caught in the bell tower that night, not the two that came talking to me and Skip.”

I wasn’t sure why it mattered, but I nodded to confirm that he was correct. Not wanting to get sidetracked, I asked, “So what’s with the false bravado and skepticism?”

“Young lady,” he answered, finishing off his chips. “He puts up a front partly because he wants to keep hidden whatever happened in that bell tower, and partly because he wants to pretend he didn’t see whatever he saw up there. Anyone starts prying into those secrets or tries to get him to talk about what happened to him, well…” He laughed shortly and glanced up sternly, but with eyes full of mirth. “Your friends saw what happens. They tell you about that?”

I tried unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh. “Phil mentioned their…encounter.” I became serious and hinted, “She didn’t say what they asked him. Did he say anything to you?”

Lou fixed his eyes on me for a long moment and then drained his coffee. Setting his cup down with a thump, he answered, “Apparently, your friends think they’re going to get to the bottom of what’s going on in Appleton.”

I nodded hesitantly, suddenly wondering if Ed and Phil had been keeping to themselves about what they were up to, or if they had been discussing their plans openly. Things could get more difficult, if not downright dangerous for us if they were telling everyone about the investigation.

“What about you?” Lou asked, his eyes still fixed on me. “I have a hunch that has something to do with why you’re here.”

“Well,” I hedged, not wanting to give out too much information. “Phil did ask me to come, mostly for moral support. I’m honestly not sure what she has up her sleeve.” That wasn’t entirely untrue. I knew we were meeting with Warren, but I had no idea what she planned to ask, or what we would do with the information if he gave it to us.

Lou grunted, then glanced up quickly as Nance appeared at the table, holding a coffeepot. “More coffee, Lou?” she asked.

“Just a half, Nance,” he replied. After she had poured the coffee and laid down his check, he handed her his empty plate. He waited till she had gone back behind the counter before he warned, “Kyr, you seem to be an intelligent, level-headed young lady. Your friends have a lot of guts, but I have an idea they don’t think things through before they go diving in.” He pulled out his wallet and laid down a tip, and then lowered his voice. “Bottom line, like I told Skip, I don’t see why it’s so important to keep hiding something that happened sixty years ago, but the truth is, there’s still those that’ll go to any length to keep that secret. If you young folks decide to pursue this thing, you’d best tread lightly and keep a low profile.”

He picked up his wallet and the check and stood up. I stood too, and hoisted my purse onto my shoulder. I wasn’t sure if he was dismissing me or not, so I lingered while he paid Nance. He said good-bye to her, then raised a hand to someone in the kitchen and headed towards the door.

We walked out the door together, and I squinted in the bright sunshine. It was definitely not as hazy here as it was on the south side of the mountains. Lou turned to me again, and something in his expression told me there was something else he wanted to say. He glanced around quickly and said, low, “Kyr, something I want to caution you about before you and your friends get too involved. Some years after the fire that killed Mary Bollinger, there was a local history buff that wrote a book about ghost stories and such from Willow Lake.”

“Biddlesbacher!” I exclaimed. “Yes, I found his book at a used book sale. There really wasn’t much to the story about Mary and her boyfriend.”

Lou looked a bit surprised that I knew of the book, but then he smiled grinly and nodded. “Well, then, you found a later edition of the book.” I raised my eyebrows questioningly, and he continued. “Biddlesbacher published a first edition in the mid-1960s, and he supposedly included most of the details about what led up to the fire. Of course, that didn’t go over too well with some folks. He and his family began experiencing…mishaps. Just things like finding their car tires flat, or coming home to messages stuffed in their mailbox or written on their windows with soap. The scariest thing that happened was when the kids’ treehouse caught fire in the middle of the night.” I gasped loudly, and Lou nodded in agreement. “The cops couldn’t–or wouldn’t–find out who was behind it, and things didn’t settle down till Biddlesbacher had all the copies of his book pulled from the shelves. He released a revised edition later the next year. He refused to completely remove the story about Mary’s ghost, but he took out anything that would point people to the story of what happened that night.”

I swallowed hard and met his concerned eyes. “That certainly is…good to know,” I stammered uncomfortably. Do you think folks would still take things that far?” I was more concerned for Ed and Phil than for myself or Spook, since they both lived here in Willow Lake.

Lou shook his head. “It’s hard to say what some folks might do. I just think it’s best for you to be warned; you and your friends seem like good kids, and I don’t want to see anyone hurt.” He held out his hand to me. As I took it, he said, “I wish you folks the best. Be careful, and try to keep your friends reined in.”

“Thank you, Lou. I’ll do my best,” I replied with a crooked smile. Knowing Phil, I thought that that might be easier said than done, but I didn’t tell him that.

I watched as Lou got into an ancient-looking Buick, and then I turned and headed back the alley to the rear parking lot. Even though I had managed to park in the shade of a small tree, I decided to crack the windows so it wouldn’t get too hot inside. I began walking towards the street fair the next block over, my mind spinning with all that Lou had told me. I couldn’t help being a bit suspicious; why was he so willing to talk to me, and why would he let me in on Skip’s secret the way he had? I told myself that not everyone was as secretive and combative as Dr. Harris, but nonetheless, I couldn’t help thinking that it was odd. I knew I had to be careful–we all did. As Lou had said, there were those who would do almost anything to keep hidden whatever had happened in Appleton in 1954.

When I saw how crowded River Street was, I knew why there had been no available parking over on Market Street. It looked as though all of Willow Lake and half the surrounding communities were here. I decided to take a stroll through the stands before heading up to the levee. Because I had just had lunch, I skipped all the food stands, although I was tempted as always by the milkshakes, the deep-fried Oreos, and some of the more unusual offerings. When I reached the craft booths, I slowed my pace and browsed attentively through the handmade jewelry, the sequined shirts and dresses, and all the crocheted toys, hats and oven mitts. I didn’t buy anything, but I made a few mental notes of stands I wanted to return to if I got back here later in the weekend.

Tired of the heat and the crowds, I decided to head up onto the levee. Although the sun was still hot, the air on top of the levee was a bit cooler, and a refreshing breeze blew in from the river. I strolled down the walkway, heading towards the amphitheater, pausing to watch as several speedboats raced past on the water below, rounded Miller Island and sped back towards the bridge. An announcer excitedly gave a play by play of the action. I didn’t find the races half as exciting as he made them sound, but I enjoyed watching the boats bounce along as they cut through the water, leaving an expanding trail of white foam in their wake.

Even the amphitheater was crowded, so I had to walk almost the whole way to the bridge before I found an empty spot. Shortly after I sat down, the current round of boat races ended. Soon the river was filled with jet skis, smaller boats, and a few swimmers close to the island. The lazy summer activities were relaxing to watch, and I let the sound of people talking and laughing wash over me. The breeze had stopped, and as the sun beat down on me, I found myself wishing I’d brought a hat along. I glanced over my shoulder, contemplating whether or not I should go back down to the street fair and buy a baseball cap from one of the T-shirt vendors. Another wave of laziness hit me, and I decided to stay put.

I rested my elbows against the step above me and leaned my head back, lulled by the peaceful sounds all around me. I was so relaxed that I began to doze off. Suddenly, a pair of hands pressed tightly over my eyes, and someone’s mouth whispered close to my ear, “Guess who?”

I pulled away and turned quickly to see Spook grinning broadly at me. “Spook!” I exclaimed, throwing my arms around him. He wrapped his arms around me and drew me into a tight hug, laughing. I pulled back to cup his face and kiss him deeply.

We kissed for at least a full minute before someone close by growled, “Get a room already.”

I pulled away, and Spook laughed in response, “Good idea. We might just do that.” Lowering my head, I playfully shoved his knee. He put his arm around me and pulled me close again, whispering into my hair, “Kyr, you don’t know how much I’ve missed you.”

Slipping my arms around his waist, I gazed up at him and whispered back, “As much as I’ve missed you?” I could hardly take my eyes off him; was it possible that he had become even more handsome, or was I just happy to see him? His skin was more tanned than it had been a few months ago, making his smile stand out even more. His hair seemed a bit lighter as well. It was obvious he had been spending long hours out in the sun. I glanced down at my pale, freckled skin and marveled at the contrast.

His eyes gleamed wickedly as he gazed down at me, as though he were trying to memorize every detail of my face. He reached up and trailed a finger across my cheek and down my neck, making me shiver with delight. His eyes still locked with mine, he said, low, “I must have forgotten how beautiful you are. I feel like I’m seeing you for the first time.”

I giggled and hid my face in his chest, still unable to believe that he thought I was beautiful. I just wasn’t used to hearing those words from a man, and I didn’t know how to respond.

Spook slipped his finger under my chin and tipped my face up to look at him. He planted a gentle kiss on my nose and chuckled, before looking at me sharply and stroking my cheek. “I can’t tell if you’re blushing or sunburned.”

While his touch was gentle, I could feel the slight sting beginning on my cheeks that told me I should have brought a hat and sunscreen. I smiled grimly and replied, “Maybe a little of both.”

He tried and failed to give me a stern look. “What am I going to do witih you?” Taking my hand in his, he stood up and pulled me to my feet. “Come on; let’s go find some shade before you burn to a crisp.”

We walked along the levee past the bridge and away from the street fair till we found an empty bench beneath a tree. It was much quieter here, although we could still hear the noise of all the festivities. Spook gazed down at me and smiled. “It’s much nicer here away from the crowds.” Just as he leaned in to kiss me, a couple bicyclers rode past.

I laughed at his expression, then gave him a quick kiss. Picking up on his not-so-subtle hint, I asked playfully, “Not a fan of street fairs?”

Wrinkling his nose, he shook his head. “You could have warned me, you know,” he growled, putting me in a playful headlock.

I squealed and giggled, struggling to get away from him. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled into the crook of his arm. “I forgot about it myself till I got here.”

“A likely story,” he chuckled, pulling me tighter against him so I couldn’t get away. Determined to free myself, I snaked my hand under his shirt and poked his belly button, making him laugh and jump. He released his grip so suddenly that I toppled off the bench onto the sidewalk. Even though I landed hard on my hip, I burst out laughing at his panicked expression as he reached for me and apologized. “Kyr, are you all right? I didn’t mean to let you fall.”

Still giggling, I pulled myself back onto the bench, rubbing my brusied hip. “I’m all right,” I assured him. Suddenly realizing that I hadn’t been expecting him for a few hours yet, I asked, “How did you find me anyway? I wasn’t expecting you till after 4:00.”

Slipping his arm around me and rubbing my hip, he teased, “I started work early so I could leave early. As for finding you, it wasn’t hard to guess where you might be. You seem to be drawn to this river. Besides…” He playfully yanked the scrunchie out of my hair and laughed, “That hair is impossible to hide.”

My long, red hair tumbled down over my shoulders and into my face. Spook laughed and held the scrunchie up out of my reach as I protested, “Come on, Spook. Give it back.” I climbed across his lap and wrestled it from his hand.

His arms went around me and pulled me down so that I was sitting in his lap. I tried to scrape my hair back into a ponytail, but he stopped me. “Leave your hair down, Kyr. Please?” His eyes had softened, and he gazed at me adoringly as he ran his fingers through my hair, gently working the tangles out of my curls. “You have such beautiful hair, Kyr. I could do this for hours. Why do you always hide it in a ponytail?”

I was so entranced by his touch and his closeness that I couldn’t answer him. My eyes drifted to his lips, which he curled into a smile as I leaned close and pressed my lips to his. He tangled his fingers roughly in my hair and returned my kiss hungrily. My hands roamed across his cheeks and down his neck.

He suddenly broke the kiss and groaned as he let his head fall back. I shyly slid off his lap, running my fingers across my mouth and glancing around to see if anyone close by had been watching. Spook raised his head and gave me a crooked smile. I giggled and said, “I guess we’d better quit before someone else tells us to get a room.”

Spook sat up quickly, raising his eyebrows as though he had just remembered something. “Speaking of getting a room,” he chuckled. “Since I’m sure we won’t be welcome to stay on campus this weekend, we should probably be getting a hotel. Is there one in town?”

I stared at him wide-eyed for a second; I hadn’t even thought about a place to stay for the weekend. “There is one across town,” I replied. “But who knows if they have any rooms left with the holiday weekend?”

Spook shook his head and laughed helplessly. “Don’t tell my dad about this.” When I looked at him curiously, he continued, “He made the observation this morning that I was acting like a lovestruck teenager the way I kept dropping things and forgetting things. If he finds out i didn’t even book a room, I’ll never hear the end of it.” I laughed too. I often got flustered and forgetful when I was nervous or excited, but it was unusual to see Spook acting that way; he usually had it all together. He got up quickly and grabbed my hand, pulling me to my feet. “Shall we go find a hotel?”

We decided to take just one vehicle over to the hotel for the time being, so we stopped in the shopping area parking lot and threw my things into Spook’s car, and he drove us over to the Days Inn across town. As I had feared, the parking lot was pretty full when we pulled in, but luckily the vacancy sign was still lit.

Spook led the way to the front desk, where we inquired about rooms. The front desk attendant looked up and asked, “Just one room, or two?”

Spook replied, “One.”

At the same time, I replied, “Two.” We both looked at each other, his expression curious, and mine hesitant and nervous.

Spook rested one elbow on the desk and asked, “Maybe we should ask what you have available for the weekend.”

The attendant turned to her computer and clicked on the mouse a few times, looking at the screen and shaking her head. Finally she replied, still looking at the screen, “We do have two rooms available for tonight, but for the rest of the weekend, we only have the one room.” She glanced at me and offered, “I can give you the two rooms tonight, and wait to see if there’s a cancellation for Saturday and Sunday…?”

Spook was still looking at me curiously. He said, “Kyr, why don’t we just book one room for the weekend? It doesn’t make sense to have two rooms tonight and then have to make other arrangements for the other two nights.” I bit my lip; I knew he had a point, but I was suddenly nervous about sharing a room for the weekend. As if to further convince me, he leaned in close and continued, low, “Besides, I’d rather have you close by for the weekend, if you know what I mean.”

Seeing the concern in his eyes and realizing he was right, I hesitantly agreed, and we booked one room with two double beds. After Spook paid and we got our keys, we went to the car and brought our things in.

School Spirits, Chapter 23, Ghost Hunters fan fiction

Spook and I talked till after midnight, which made getting up the next morning more difficult than usual. Maureen noticed the dark circles under my eyes and asked with concern, “Kyr, for heaven’s sake, how late were you here last night? You look as though you were here all night.”

“No, sorry, Maureen,” I joked as I checked in a stack of children’s books. “I’m not that dedicated. But I was here till around 11:00.”

“What?” Dan exclaimed, looking up from the computer where he was updating the library’s website. “That’s just crazy, chief.”

Maureen laughed the way she always did when Dan called me “chief” and agreed. “I have to admit, I’m with Dan on this one, Kyr. I admire your dedication, but you didn’t need to stay that late.”

“Well, I didn’t plan to,” I said. “But I got on a roll and lost track of time.” I didn’t mention to her that I found a book and a newspaper clipping that held my interest for awhile, nor did I mention Spook’s phone call.

Maureen shook her head and chuckled. “How much did you manage to get done?” she asked, leaving the circulation desk and heading back towards the storage room.

I put the checked-in books on a cart to be shelved and followed her to the back of the library. As she opened the door and looked in, she shook her head again at the sheer volume of books that had been donated. The room appeared to be a bit less chaotic than it had been yesterday, but it was obvious we still had a lot to accomplish. I showed her the tentative organization that Dan had come up with, and she nodded approvingly. “One thing we need to be careful of,” I began, pointing to the back door. “There was a whole stack of boxes blocking that door. Most of what I accomplished last night was clearing those boxes out of the way and sorting those books.”

Maureen wove her way around the boxes to the back door, stopping every so often to glance into the boxes and peruse the titles. “I’m hoping that once we get the books separated between fiction and non-fiction, it won’t be difficult to get them into some kind of order.”

I walked over to the non-fiction shelves and said, “Dan pointed out yesterday that these non-fiction books are already separated into history, biography and science, so we at least have that to start with.”

Maureen nodded, bringing a hand to her chin and looking over towards the back corner. “And I assume that is the recycle pile?” she asked. When I acknowledged that it was, she continued gloomily, “I had sincerely hoped we’d have more than that.” She raised her eyes to the ceiling as if silently praying, and added, “Oh, to have a slow day so at least one of us can be back here sorting.”

Naturally, that wasn’t to be. About mid-morning, we suddenly found ourselves swamped with patrons who all seemed to need assistance of one kind or another. I helped a number of parents sign their children up for the Back to School program and organized a library tour for the local Cub Scouts. Maureen and Michelle were kept busy by a bunch of high school and college students who had waited for the last minute to begin working on their summer reading lists; after the fifth student requesting To Kill a Mockingbird gave Michelle a snotty attitude because all copies were signed out, Maureen and I exchanged a disgusted look, wondering if they’d ever learn. Dan was busier than usual as well, with a steady flow of patrons all wanting to use computers, copiers or the fax machine.

We were so busy throughout the day that the hours flew past. All of us had hardly enough to time to grab a bit of lunch before we got back into it. While I always preferred being busy to not having enough to do, the combination of not getting enough sleep, not eating a decent lunch and running around like a crazy person all day took its toll, and I was flat-out exhausted by closing time. I half-heartedly offered to stay with Maureen and Michelle to sort more books, but Maureen wouldn’t hear of it. “Kyr,” she argued in a motherly voice. “You’re all but dead on your feet already. You did more than your share last night; go home and get some rest and let us take tonight’s shift.”

The drive home was a blur, and by the time I walked through the door at home, I was so worn out that even the thought of preparing something to eat was overwhelming. I dropped my purse by the door and headed straight for the couch, thinking I would just rest for a few minutes and then make something for dinner.

I didn’t know I had fallen asleep till my phone rang and woke me up. I sat up quickly, fumbling on my belt for my cell phone before realizing my home phone was the one that was ringing. Getting groggily to my feet, I stumbled to the kitchen and grabbed the phone just before the answering machine picked up. “Hello?” I answered sleepily, not even bothering to check the caller ID.

“I take it you’re not at the library sorting books tonight,” Spook greeted me.

“No, not tonight,” I replied through a yawn.  I squinted at the clock on the stove and asked, “What time is it anyway?” I saw that it was already 7:30.

“It sounds like it’s bedtime for bookworms,” he chuckled. “And I thought I was tired today. I suppose I shouldn’t have kept you awake talking so late.”

I smiled as I recalled our conversation from last night, imagining his mischievous grin and the playful glint in his eyes. “Don’t be silly, Spook. I enjoyed our conversation last night. I just didn’t enjoy morning coming so soon, or the day being so crazy.” I plopped back down on the couch and yanked the ponytail holder out of my hair.

“I’m with you there, Kyr, m’dear,” he replied, sounding as tired as I felt. I wondered if he was lying on his couch too, and I sighed as I wished yet again that we weren’t so far apart. His voice changed as he switched topics. “If you were so busy today, I assume you haven’t checked your emails yet.”

Not picking up on his hint, I responded, “No, I hardly had time for a break at lunch, and I crashed on the couch as soon as I walked in the door.” My stomach growled loudly at that moment, reminding me that I hadn’t had supper yet.

Spook picked up on that right away. “You mean to tell me you haven’t even had dinner yet? Do I need to come down there and take you out to eat?”

I smiled, thinking that if he showed up at my door right now, we would likely end up right back on the couch, but I didn’t say that. “That would certainly be nice,” I conceded. “But by the time you got here, it would be more of a midnight snack.”

“True,” he replied, sounding naughty again. “And at that time of night, I’d rather nibble on something other than food.” I giggled and was about to protest, when he cleared his throat and became serious again. “Before we get…distracted, I think you might want to bring up your email.”

Finally picking up on his tone, and somewhat unnerved by his cryptic comment, I quickly turned on my computer and brought up my emails.As I scanned through the unread messages, I saw one from Aunt Julia, but I was sure that wasn’t the one he was referring to. I came across one from an unfamiliar sender–Philesia Diaz; when I glanced at the subject line and saw “Willow Lake news,” I realized it was from Phil. I clicked on it and saw that she had copied Spook, Jason and Grant, and JoEllyn. I clicked on it and read the first sentence: The wrath of Dr. Harris has descended. “Oh, this can’t be good,” I muttered.

“You can say that again,” Spook replied grimly. “Keep reading.”

The message went on to say that Dr. Harris had shut down the Paranormal Club, effective the beginning of Fall Semester, saying that such an organization was not compatible with the values and goals of their educational institution. “Well, that’s not surprising. Disappointing, but not surprising,” I mused, saddened on JoEllyn’s behalf. I gasped as I read that Amber had indeed transferred to another school. “So was she forced to leave, or did she do so of her own choosing?” I asked, recalling our brief conversation with Grant after the reveal. I really wished I could talk to him to get his thoughts on what happened.

“Phil doesn’t say, and she doesn’t seem to indicate that Amber gave a reason,” Spook said. “But it does seem like more than a coincidence that she would just suddenly up and transfer to another school now, when she had no intention of doing so before the investigation.”

I rested my chin on my hand and stared unseeing at the computer screen. “It’s not just the question of academic programs or even extracurriculars,” I added suspiciously. “Someone who works in the Admissions Office and deals so closely with Alumni Affairs just doesn’t seem like a candidate for a sudden departure.” I continued reading. “She doesn’t say anything about Ed, so I assume he hasn’t left. Yet.”

“Exactly. Yet,” Spook echoed. His thoughts seemed to be headed in a certain direction, but if he had any suspicions, he didn’t share them. “What do you think about the Appleton news?”

I read further down to where Phil said that the third floor of Appleton was completely off limits to all but the maintenance crew working in the bell tower. The staff who had offices on the third floor had been relocared indefinitely. “Well, that’s easily explained away by citing safety concerns while the bell tower is being repaired,” I said.

Spook finished my thought. “True, and rightfully so. No one without any knowledge of what’s going on in that bell tower would ever think there’s any more to it.” I could almost see him leaning forward with his chin on his hand. “I would be interested to see what happens after they get the repairs done. Will they go back to business as usual and reopen the third floor offices, or will they find some excuse to keep the third floor closed off?”

I went quickly to the kitchen to grab a cup of yogurt and a handful of nuts, then headed back to the computer. “You would think they’d go back to business as usual; otherwise, wouldn’t they be forced to admit there’s something going on there, paranormal or otherwise?” I reasoned, tapping my spoon against my teeth. “Dr. Harris and company probably figure that shutting down the Paranormal Club and keeping people out of the area in question for awhile will make interest die down.”

Spook laughed contemptuously and sputtered, “As if it worked that way. Sixty years of trying to silence the reports hasn’t worked; do they really think canning a club and locking a damn door is going to put a stop to them?”

“The most telling part about this whole story, to me, is the fact that they’re only getting bent out of shape over this one particular claim,” I said, stalking back to the kitchen to throw away my yogurt cup and rinse off my spoon. “Dr. Harris may have been all huffy and skeptical over anything we declared to be paranormal, but he didn’t blow a gasket over us saying the room in Borland was haunted or the Fine Arts Building is haunted. The only place he had a problem with us labeling as haunted was the bell tower.”

“Well, that’s just it,” Spook agreed, frustrated, and I could tell he was pacing around as he spoke. “How long has the Paranormal Club been operating at Willow Lake? Six, seven years? Obviously they’ve found evidence to support claims before now. What is it about this one claim that sets the old blowhard off?” I heard him light a cigarette; I grimaced and fought the urge to say something. He seemed to have a sudden thought and continued, “Kyr, you said you and Jo were at Willow Lake when that suicide occurred in Borland. How did the school react to that situation? Did they cover that up?”

I shook my head, then realized he couldn’t see me through the phone. “No,” I said. “Of course, they weren’t happy about the incident, and it wasn’t good press for the school that his body wasn’t discovered right away, but they were up front about the incident and the investigation. Nothing was hidden; no one got upset over questions being asked.” I wondered where his line of thinking was headed.

Spook went on, “Okay, so there have been rumors floating around that Mary committed suicide, supposedly because she was pregnant.” I was beginning to follow his train of thought. He took another drag from his cigarette and blew out the smoke as he mused, “I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that we are not dealing with a suicide victim; what reason would they have to hide that, even in the 1950s?”

“Even if they had hidden it back then, what would they gain by keeping it hidden?” I asked, sitting down at my computer and spinning slowly in the chair. “I could see where an out-of-wedlock pregnancy would be seen as scandalous back then, but no one would even blink an eye at it these days. So if that truly was the case and Mary did commit suicide, why not just get it out in the open? I would think that the truth coming out would stop all the rumors and the speculation more than keeping it covered up.”

Spook laughed and teased, “Captain Obvious to the rescue.” I made a face at him, which of course he couldn’t see. He turned serious again. “Apparently the obvious escapes them, Kyr, m’dear.”

I scrolled up and down through Phil’s message, thinking. “I keep coming back to what I overheard the fire chief tell Lou the bartender–that Mary won’t rest as long as Warren is alive. What could he have meant by that?”

“I have a hunch,” Spook said strangely. “That we’re going to reurn to Willow Lake in the near future. I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but something is about to break.”

As it turned out, Spook’s hunch was correct. Just a couple days later, Phil sent out another email saying that she and Ed had done some sleuthing around town to see if they could find even the slightest tidbit of new information. I choked on a mouthful of iced tea when I saw that they had managed to track down both Lou and the fire chief. I was impressed by their courage and resourcefulness, if not their common sense. Not surprisingly, the fire chief was less than willing to discuss anything related to Mary or Appleton Hall; he blew up at them and chased them out of the fire station like a rabid junkyard dog, warning them not to meddle in things that were bigger than they were. Just imagining that scenario made me laugh till I cried, and I half wished I could have been there to see it.  Phil’s next words made me sit up and take notice; she said that as the chief stomped back inside, he had muttered something about Mary learning the hard way. I knew that would be significant, but I didn’t know at the time how much so.

Fortunately, Lou was a bit friendlier, after some understandable initial hesitation. He seemed to be quite nervous and kept looking over his shoulder as though afraid someone would overhear their conversation. Unfortunately, he really didn’t offer any new information. “The only thing he told us,” her message said, “was that there was a lot more to the story than most folks know about, but the folks that know the truth are the ones that aren’t talking.” Suddenly recalling Biddlesbacher’s book, I hammered out a quick reply telling her the details we hadn’t known, specifically the speculation that there had been others in the bell tower that night, as well as the brief background about Warren and Mary’s relationship and Warren’s parents’ disapproval of Mary.

No sooner had I hit send than a message popped up from JoEllyn. She had finally spoken to Jared, apparently after Ed and Phil met with Lou. I breathed a sigh of relief to see that he was safe and still had both jobs. She did mention that Lou had pulled him aside and given him a stern warning against talking too much to outsiders about the goings on at the college, that “ill winds were beginning to blow since the fire in Appleton, and it would be best to hunker down, stay out of the way, and just let them blow over.” Jared had recalled what we told him over the summer about our experiences, but he had feigned ignorance about the “ill winds” and agreed to remain tight-lipped about all things Appleton. JoEllyn had typed, “Jared never was one for keeping secrets, so it didn’t take much convincing to get him to share what he knows.” It turned out that an elderly woman had lived next door to the fraternity house when he attended Willow Lake, and she had told them that someone other than Warren and Mary had been in the tower that night. A chill ran down my spine as my eyes landed on the word “sacrifice.” Apparently a rumor  had circulated at one time that Mary had gotten mixed up with a group of Satanic worshippers, and they had been performing a sacrifice in the bell tower. Warren had found out about it and had gone up to stop it. Somehow the candles got overturned and the fire started. Jared had asked the neighbor if she believed that story, to which she responded that it was a bit far-fetched for her to believe, although she was certain there was at least a grain of truth to it.

“Satanic worship…” I murmured, shaking my head. And to think I hadn’t voiced my suspicion of witchcraft because I thought Spook would think I was being melodramatic by bringing up some kind of involvement in the occult. Maybe I hadn’t been so far off base after all.

A knock at my office door made me almost jump out of my skin. “You okay, chief?” Dan asked, looking at me curiously. When I assured him that he had just startled me, he informed me that a couple mothers had come in to register their children for the Back to School program.

“Tell them I’ll be right there,” I replied. I took one last glance at the email before stashing my lunchbox, logging off my computer and heading back to work.

The rest of the day seemed to drag, and when I got home, the first thing I did was turn on the computer and bring up the email. As I suspected there would be, there was a reply from Phil. Thinking it would just be her thoughts about the information I had relayed from Biddlesbacher’s book, I brought up the message and quickly scanned it, not expecting the news she had: “I managed to track down Warren McKnight!” Reading those words, I cried out in surprise and dropped into my chair to read the message more closely. FInding Warren hadn’t been easy; understandably, his name was not in the phone book. Phil had taken a page from my book and talked to Mrs. Rutter, whose mother once more provided the information we needed. As it turned out, Warren lived with his niece, Elaine Gross, and her husband Bobby about ten minutes from Willow Lake. She had spoken at length with Elaine and told her about the events of the past couple months, with our investigation, the fire, and the resulting fallout with Dr. Harris. Of course, Elaine had heard about the fire, and while she said nothing, her tone had suggested that she suspected there was more to the fire story than had been reported.

As if the news about finding Warren wasn’t surprising enough, Phil announced that Elaine had convinced him to talk to us, and she wanted to know if we could make it to Willow Lake over Labor Day weekend. Once again, I found myself impressed with her nerve, although I was less than thrilled about bringing up such an inflammatory subject with an elderly man I didn’t even know. I was even more hesitant when I read that she wanted as many of us there as possible, and she was hoping that Jason and Grant could make it too. I didn’t want the poor man to feel as though a group of vultures was descending on him.

I decided not to respond immediately, not till I could speak with Spook and JoEllyn. Glancing at the clock, I groaned as I realized that neither would be home for at least an hour. As I went to the kitchen and began preparing a quick chicken stir-fry, I felt like a child waiting to open Christmas presents. While I chopped vegetables, I kept glancing up at the clock. While I cooked the chicken, I speculated where Spook and JoEllyn might be on their respective routes home. While I waited for the rice to boil, I ran back to the computer to reread Phil’s message.

I was almost too unsettled to eat, although my stir fry was scrumptious as always. After eating and washing up the dishes, I decided to try calling JoEllyn. She answered on the second ring. “I’ll bet you were just counting the minutes till you knew I’d be home so you could call,” she laughed. Obviously she had seen the email from Phil. “I take it you’ve been following Phil’s news?”

“Every word,” I replied, going into the living room to sit cross-legged on the couch. “It looks as though some of the pieces are falling into place.”

“Slowly but surely,” she responded. I heard her rattling pots and pans, so I guessed she was cooking dinner as we spoke. “That was some news she had about finding Warren, wasn’t it? If they can just get him to open up, maybe the whole Appleton bell tower/Mary Bollinger mystery can finally be put to rest.”

They. I figured that answered my next question, but I decided to ask anyway, just to be sure. “Are you planning to accompany Ed and Phil when they go talk to Warren?”

“No,” she responded, sounding a bit sad and disappointed. “Brad and I already made plans for the holiday weekend, and he doesn’t want to change them.” I heard Brad’s voice in the background, so I knew he had just gotten home from work. JoEllyn put a hand over the mouthpiece and said something to him; then she continued, “He was more than a little concerned over how intense things got during the last investigation and really doesn’t want me getting any more involved. Could you get the milk out of the fridge for me, Sweetie? Thanks.” She was quiet for a moment as she stirred something, and I wrestled with whether or not I should ask the question that was gnawing at me. Thankfully, her next words answered without my having to ask. “I don’t know if I can stomach going back there right now anyway. I guess I’m still kind of mad about the Paranormal Club; that was my baby, you know?”

“I know, Jo,” I said softly. “You were so proud of that club and what they accomplished. I can’t believe Dr. Harris could single-handedly make the decision to shut it down.”

“Well, I don’t think he could do that single-handedly, Kyr,” JoEllyn reasoned. “That had to go through Student Government, the Student Life Office, the Board of Trustees, and who knows who else. Apparently someone had to have agreed with him.”

I snorted and muttered, “Or someone was forced to agree with him.” I was still very suspicious over how much weight that man could throw around, even if he had been there forever. “Maybe when this blows over the club can be reinstated,” I consoled.

“Maybe,” she replied doubtfully. “But even if it is reinstated, I won’t be a part of it. The whole experience kind of soured me, I guess.” She laughed ruefully and changed direction. “How did your aunt respond when you told her about the investigation? Or didn’t you tell her?”

I shook my head and laughed. “You know how Aunt Julia is,” I said. “She doesn’t want to meddle, but her mother hen side came out when I told her what happened in the bell tower. Although I’m not sure if she was more worried about me or about Spook.”

JoEllyn laughed out loud and then launched into her favorite subject. “So, is she making any wedding plans for you two yet?”

I groaned and bounced my head off the back of the couch a few times. “Jo, you missed your calling; you should be running a dating service or a wedding planning business or something.” Knowing she wouldn’t let it rest till I gave her an answer, I continued, “She has been badgering me to invite Spook down here so she can have us over for dinner and get to know him a bit.”

I had a hunch what her next question would be, and I began thinking about how I would answer her. “Kyr, have you two even seen each other since the investigation?”

“Well, no,” I admitted, pulling at a thread on my sock. I heard her groan in frustration, and I cut her off before she could scold me. “You know how busy I am at the library between the end of summer and Halloween, and you know this is a peak time for Spook and his dad for their landscaping business. We’re four hours apart; it’s not easy to just hop in the car and go see each other.” I smiled in hopeful anticipation. “I was going to have him visit over Labor Day, but maybe we’ll end up getting together at Willow Lake.”

JoEllyn was quiet for a moment, and I hoped she wasn’t upset that I was planning to go back, even if she wasn’t. “How romantic,” she drawled. “Really, Kyr, you two should get together and do something that’s not ghost-hunting related.”

“Says the woman who started a paranormal group with her boyfriend,” I teased back. I knew she was right, and I suddenly found myself worrying that we might discover we had nothing in common outside of investigating.

JoEllyn laughed, “Touche. But Brad and I have a lot in common besides ghost hunting. You need to get away with Spook on a romantic weekend where you can be alone together, with no interruptions, where he can take you dancing and for long sunset walks on the beach, and then take you back to your hotel room, throw you on the bed and…”

“Jo!” I exclaimed, blushing. Honestly, if I’d let her, she’d orchestrate our entire first time, and probably stand beside the bed giving pointers. I tried to laugh it off. “Besides, can you really imagine Spook dancing?” I erupted in giggles as I recalled his silly John Travolta impression outside A Drop in the Bucket. At the same time, I found myself daydreaming about walking hand in hand with him on the beach, along the river…or anywhere.

“Oh, don’t try to tell me you haven’t thought about that,” JoEllyn pressed. “Especially after what happened–or what almost happened–in your room that night.”

She would have to bring that up. “I’m not saying I haven’t thought about it,” I said softly. “I just don’t…talk about it.”

“Well, I hope you talk about it with him,” she teased, giggling. “Communication is important, you know.”

Just then, my phone beeped; I glanced at the screen and apologized, “Hey, Jo, that’s Spook on the other line. Can I call you back?” I wasn’t sure how I was going to have a conversation with him after the things JoEllyn had been suggesting, but I really wanted to talk to Spook about Phil’s emails.

I said a quick good-bye to JoEllyn and picked up Spook’s call. “I was going to call you next,” I greeted him breathlessly.

There was a moment of silence before he spoke. “Oh, I see how it is,” he replied, sounding hurt. “I play second fiddle to JoEllyn, do I?”

Taken aback not only by his tone but by his knowledge of who I was talking to, I asked, “How did you know I was talking to JoEllyn?”

He laughed out loud. “Kyr, you’re such a goof. Who else would you be talking to after the emails Phil sent out today?” I felt silly; of course, he would have seen those emails too. “So, what’s the verdict? Are you two planning on going back?”

“Well,” I explained. “JoEllyn and Brad already have plans for over Labor Day. Besides,” I said, drawing my leg up to my chest to rest my chin on my knee. “She’s more than a little put off over Dr. Harris pulling the plug on the Paranormal Club and doesn’t want to go back right now.”

“I guess that’s understandable,” he replied, though not sounding very understanding. His voice hardened as he continued, “Although she shouldn’t let anything Dr. Blowhard does keep her away.”

Why didn’t that comment surprise me? “Well, I guess you just have thicker skin than she does,” I responded irritably.

“Hey, hey,” he said quickly, his voice softening. “I’m not putting her down. I know the Paranormal Club meant a lot to her. I just think that her letting it bother her that much means that Dr. Harris scores another win.”

I knew he had a point, but I also wished he could be more senstivie. I sighed, “I know, Spook, but haven’t you ever avoided a place or a situation, even for a little while, because of something hurtful that you associate with it?”

After a moment of silence, he chuckled and answered apologetically, “Okay, Kyr, you’re right. You win.” I wondered what memory had made him concede, and if he’d ever tell me about it. He changed direction. “How about you?” he asked. “Are you going to stay away too?”

Something in his voice hinted that he had already decided he was going back and that he was hoping I would too. Trying to keep the anticipation out of my voice, I responded, “Well, I’d hate for Ed and Phil to have to face Warren alone.” Although based on Phil’s resourcefulness and eagerness to pursue all avenues, I was sure they could handle it. “But since JoEllyn won’t be there to keep me company…”

He laughed and replied, “Well, then, it looks like I’ll be spending Labor Day in WIllow Lake.” His voice deepened as he continued, “I hadn’t planned to spend the weekend solving mysteries and chasing ghosts, but at least I’ll enjoy the company.”

My anticipation over seeing Spook again turned to apprehension as I recalled JoEllyn’s earlier warning and as I worried about what might come of our meeting with Warren.