Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ghost Hunters, Pt. 44

(Just joining us? You may want to start at the beginning.)

JD started for the mass of junk, a intimidating wall of littered items densely packed over the ancient concrete slab of the garage floor. He set his hands on his hips, and sighed. He had no idea where to start.

It occurred to him then that there really was no starting point. Everything had to come out until they found what they were looking for.

He grabbed a box from the top of the loosely assembled stack, and lifted it to look inside. Immediately the bottom of the box disintegrated under the weight of its contents and they scattered and rolled everywhere, into the garage to be lost among the other sundries, and outside, to scuttle away across the crumbling driveway. He tried to watch everything at once, to see if the pipe was among the falling rubbish, but couldn't keep up. He sighed heavily again.

"Dude," Dillon said heavily from behind him, "this is gonna take a while."

"Yep," he intoned, and Wendy giggled.

"It'll go faster than you think, guys. C'mon, let's get going."

She waded in as well, picking items up one by one and checking them to see if they could house anything inside. When she was convinced it couldn't, she'd set it aside on the driveway. When she checked those items that held others, she also set those aside. Bit by bit they moved down the first of the large layers in front of them, chatting to keep the time moving. It was only when they started stepping on and over things they'd removed that they paused.

"You know what?" she said, stopping and inspecting the debris around them, "this is not only going to take a long time, it's going to need some planning. Organization. We have to do better than this or we'll break our necks trying to empty the garage."

JD looked around him, his hands covered with dust from untold years of collection over everything.

"Hmm. You're right."

"So whattaya wanna do, Wen?" Dillon seemed intensely interested for someone so easily bored.

"Well," she said, looking around. "I wonder if we should take everything out and then look it over. Get everything out here in the driveway first. Check all the stuff one at a time and then figure out how we can put it back so no one gets hurt. Now OR later."

"I didn't know bein' a ghost guy meant cleanin' out garages, dudes," Dillon chuckled. "Hell, I don't even do this for my mom 'n dad."

"I didn't either," JD grumbled, staring at the palling array still in front of them. "We're not even an eighth of the way through this crap."

"Who keeps all this shit anyway? I mean, c'MON, people -- toss somethin', y'know?"

Wendy giggled again. "I know. It's not like any of this is precious or anything. Look at the shape it's in."

JD shook his head. "Well, the garage IS the storage place of last resort, usually. I guess, since they obviously don't keep their cars in it, they just dump everything they don't know what to do with out here."

"So, how about that idea, crew? We empty the garage first, and look through all the stuff after that."

"That actually doesn't sound like a bad idea," JD agreed. "Maybe Dillon and I can bring the stuff out here and you can sort through it all, Wen?"

"Dude," Dillon said, "what 'bout the stuff we can't move?"

"Like what?"

Dillon dipped his chin to gesture to the riding mower.

"Oh," JD said, realizing there were probably other things like that inside. "Uh ... well, we can worry about those things when we have everything else sorted through."

"Yeah, okay," she said, "I'll go through the stuff you bring out here. Then we can all work together when you're finished."

"IF we finish," Dillon spat. "There's only so much daylight during fall-time, y'all. And it ain't gettin' any lighter." He squinted up at the heavy, black clouds rolling in from the west.

"Good point," JD nodded at him. "We're going to have to get all this stuff inside before dark, so we'll have to work quick."

Wendy sighed. "I forgot about that. We'll have to work fast."

"Awwwww," Dillon groaned, "this SUCKS."

JD nodded. "Yes."

"Why're we doin' this again?"

"Because the ghost wants us to."

"Oh. Well, why the hell ain't HE helpin'?"

JD shrugged. "Considering all the trouble we've been through, it's the LEAST he could do."

"Complaining won't get it done, gang," Wendy reminded them gently. "Let's get what we can out and I'll start going through it."

The task actually seemed a bit easier with some sort of plan decided. They all three carried things out, as much as they could gather, and set it farther down the driveway to one side. When there was enough of a pile, Wendy began to sift through it all, checking everything. Dillon and JD continued to work inward, moving things to carry them out as bit by bit the front of the garage cleared. Wendy was working quickly, but tried to be thorough as well. She was able to keep pace with the two of them for a bit, but the items started piling up.

JD set another few things down and looked at her as she dug about in a box. "You okay, hon?" he asked.

She looked up, and blew a lock of her hair out of her eyes. That simple gesture was so incredibly sexy to him that he actually froze, eyes glossed over as he watched her. She smiled, seeming to read his mind, and traced her lips with the tip of her tongue.

"You like it dirty, lover?" she teased. He blushed. "I'm doing okay. I'm falling behind, though."

"It's okay, we can stop and let you catch up if you want."

"No, better keep going. We need the bulk of the time to go through it all and put it back. I guess it really won't matter if we're neat in putting it all away, but it'd be nice for the homeowners if we could clean things up a little."

He nodded. "If you want one of us to help you instead of unloading, just say the word."

She grimaced and shuddered, brushing away the dried carcass of a spider from a dusty, withered web. "UGH. Okay, I will. Thanks, baby."

He returned to his work. Dillon was remarkably quiet, just shuffling along with arms full of junk. They were dusty, dirty and occasionally sneezed as billowing clouds of grayish brown powder puffed from the debris as they shifted it. Fanning the air in front of their faces and blowing through tightly puckered lips to get it away from them, they both finally stepped out into the open air for a moment. Dillon froze, posing with hands held out from his body, eyes partially closed, then convulsed wildly and sneezed, all four limbs doing something different during the seizure. JD laughed, and rubbed his nostrils quickly, violently as a sudden itch attacked him.

Finally, there was nothing left but a few larger boxes against the walls, a duet of locked metal cabinets, and the riding mower, layered heavily with the dust it collected over the years and the fallout of what they'd disturbed.

"Well," JD said, "that's pretty much it. There's really not a lot else we can take out."

"Wendy came up behind him, wrapping her arms around his middle. "Good job, guys. And I've gone through a good chunk of the crap already. So far nothing, but we've only got about a third more of it to check."

"Dudes," Dillon said, making his voice that of a man dying of thirst in the desert, "need ... fluids ... too ... much ... duuuuuuuuuuuusssttt --- ack! ack!"

"Oh, stop it," JD said, rolling his eyes.

"Actually, I'm thirsty too," Wendy said, squeezing JD's waist. "Should we make a drink run?"

"Yes," Dillon croaked, "for the love of God, yes."

"Drama queen," JD teased.

"Okay, I'll go get something at a gas station or whatever. You guys want to keep working here?"

"No," Dillon shot quickly.

"Yes," JD corrected, glaring at him.

"No, I don't," Dillon adjusted.

"Why don't you come with me, then, Dilly. You want a break, sweetie? We can all go. It'll only be a minute."

"No, it's okay," he said, staring into the garage. "There's only a little left. I'll just keep working here while you go. You and wimpy there."

"All right," she said and pecked him on the lips. "Miss me while I'm gone."

"I will."

"Good boy."

Dillon made a whip-cracking sound behind them, and Wendy laughed her lilting, jovial, viral laugh that made JD lose focus. He had a silly smile on his face as the two of them walked away. In a moment, her car raced past the low, pad-locked gate across the driveway entrance and Wendy beeped the horn, waving and smiling at him. Dillon stuck his tongue out and wiggled his fingers with his thumbs in his ears.

Shaking his head and still grinning, JD turned back to the work at hand. Sighing heavily again, he looked over everything around him. The love-struck expression faded quickly from his face. In front of him, the driveway was cluttered with materials. Behind him, the nearly empty garage had only a few things to look through. It didn't matter; both would have to be addressed. He knelt down to go through the piles where Wendy left off.

He was turning things over in his hands, putting them back in the containers and checking everything when a shadow fell dimly over him in the quickly-softening light.

"You guys back already? Sheesh, THAT was quick."

There was no answer.

"Wen?" JD grabbed another box and fished through it. "Dillon?"

No answer.

He froze. He looked more carefully at the faint shadow over him.

A man.

He turned quickly. He saw the black, wet eyes set in the sunken sockets, the ashen, blue-veined skin writhing with worms and maggots, the pus-encrusted mouth and matted hair, the yellowish-green teeth and purple-black tongue ...

He opened his mouth to scream but it was far too late. The ghost seized him by the jacket at the chest and near the waist, hefting him in one swift smooth motion and pulling his face within inches of that decomposed visage, the clammy breath on his skin. He reached up to push the phantom away, but the vice-like grip held him fast.


JD wailed in terror, turning his face away, his body flying into the garage, the toes of his shoes dragging roughly along the pebbly, cracked concrete. He pushed with all his might uselessly against the apparition, but was propelled quickly toward the back of the garage. He saw it coming from the corner of his eye, and tried to brace, grabbing the ghostly arms with his hands and trying to break the iron grip. The ghost backed full-speed into one of the cabinets and slammed JD's body against it, the loud BANG! of the sheet metal drowning out the sound of his grunt as the sudden impact jarred him violently.

The two hands still held him, and he tried again to grab them, to break their unearthly grasp on his jacket, but it was like trying to bend solid metal rods. JD was pushed back a few inches then yanked forward hard, slamming him into the cabinet again, the door crumpling and his face spreading softly over the hard metal surface. Back again, and forward fast -- BANG! BLAM! CLANG! Again and again JD was smashed against the doors of the rattling cabinet, trying to turn his head so that his nose wouldn't be crushed, one hand on each of the specter's arms as it tossed him about like a dog with a chew toy.

He tried to put his leg up to stop himself but the force was too great and the distance too small for him to raise his knee.


Each blow made him grunt in pain as the wind was pushed from his lungs.

He turned away again, tossing his head back in resistance, and saw someone at the gate of the driveway.

A woman, a dog on a leash in tow, was watching with wide eyes, hand over her mouth as if in shock.

He reached toward her, his body jactitated again and again.

"Help *ugh!* me! Please! I *hhnnh!* need *unnhh!* --"

He couldn't finish the sentence, his hand still wrapped around the wrist at his waist, the other reaching back in plea for the woman to help him. He realized in horror that his grunts sounded almost carnal, and with him convulsing spasmodically against the cabinet it must look like he was --

She turned quickly and dragged the dog away, muttering something, the last word of which he could hear: "... disgusting!"

BAM! “Ugh!”
BLAM! “Hnngh!!”
CLANG!! “Hnnfff!!”

He collapsed suddenly as the hands clutching him disappeared. He tried to catch himself as he fell back and his shoulder scraped hard against the old riding mower, knocking him onto his side as he landed.

Dazed and panting, he tried to brace and scramble away, but what he saw froze him in his tracks.

The doors to the cabinet, under the beating, had been so badly mangled the cheap catch holding them closed had bent. They’d fallen open, sagging and creaking, twisted on their hinges, contents exposed.

He took another moment to quickly look around, making sure the shade was gone. He fumbled to his feet and dusted himself off, stepping gingerly toward the cabinet.

Cans of paint, old rags, paint brushes, roller trays, insecticides and gardening chemicals, hoses and nozzles, tent spikes, an old and mangled set of barbeque utensils and other things all stared back from the shelves. On the top shelf, near the rear of the cabinet, was a rusty, corroded old metal coffee can.

From its top stuck a single, capped piece of age-yellowed PVC pipe.

The note.

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Ready to go on to Part 45?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ghost Hunters, Pt. 43

(Just joining us? You may want to start at the beginning.)

The morning was the characteristically crisp, hazy autumn morning. It was his favorite time of year, and when he opened his eyes, the sight of the empty pillow beside him gave him a brief, hardly perceptible pang of loneliness. He sighed, thought about closing his eyes and going back to sleep, and decided against it. With a tremendous effort, he tossed the bedclothes from his warm body and sat up. He glanced at the clock: 8:45. He had a bit more than an hour before Wendy would come and pick them up. He wondered what the day would hold for them. The last two were strange, and left him full of odd dreams and goose bumps. He pondered only a moment what the others were feeling before realizing only one of them would have something different in the heart than he did. How different, he didn't know -- especially in light of everything they'd seen and heard.

With those thoughts still ringing through his head, Dillon pulled himself up from the bed, belched loudly, and stretched like an overweight cat in a beam of sunlight. A straining sound of pleasure extruded from him, and he stumbled off, scratching and blinking to his dresser, then to the bathroom. He was showered and dressed in 25 minutes, and raked the brush through his wet hair. Scratching at the underside of his chin, he considered shaving the characteristic stubble on his jaw. He hated shaving, though, and it didn't take long for him to decide against it.

After he showered and was dressed, he went downstairs, and froze in his tracks when he found JD on the couch, a grimace on his sleeping face, still clothed.

For a moment, he considered scaring JD awake the same way he'd frightened Dillon in the car just a few days before. Noting the expression on his anguished face, Dillon changed his mind and he gently laid his hand on his friend's shoulder.

"JD? Wake up, dude."

JD started anyway, and Dillon jumped even though he knew it was going to happen. Dillon chuckled, but JD's eyes shot open, and he tried to press deeper into the couch, abject terror stamped on his face, gasping so sharply it washed the grin from Dillon's face. A split second later JD sat bolt upright, then clutched his neck and groaned.

"Uuuugghh ... where ... what time is it?"

"Living room. About 9:15. Dude, what're ya doing down here?"

"I ... I came down to get something to drink last night. I saw -- I think I saw Jenkins in the kitchen. Scared the hell out of me. I couldn't go back upstairs."

"You saw a ghost? Here?"

"Yeah," JD said, and tried to work the kink out of his neck. "His face -- it was ... rotted, worm-infested, maggot-eaten. Horrible."

"Aw, gross dude! I'd blow chunks on ya if I had any!"

"He had ... stuff in his mouth. Like ... like mucus or something."

"Come on, dude! I'm gonna puke!"

"Sorry. Anyway, I couldn't go back upstairs. I was ... I was just too scared to. So I fell asleep here with the lights on."

"They're off now, dude. Ghost tryin' t'save us money on the 'lectric bill too?"

"I shut them off at first light. I got some sleep, but not much. No dreams, thank God."

"Word on that, bro. How d'ya feel?"


"I bet. Sucks t'be haunted. Or maybe it just sucks t'be you. Heh."


"Don'tcha think? I mean, you see 'em, you hear 'em, and now they're followin' you around. Sounds like haunted to me, dude."

JD thought about that. He didn't think he could argue it. "I guess. I don't know. I just know I couldn't get my nerves back together last night. It was awful."

"Sounds that way. But ... you better get ready. Wen's gonna be here, like, soon, dude."

"Yeah," JD moaned, laying his head back on the sofa. "I know. I gotta get showered and stuff." He slowly hefted himself off the sofa, and tried to stretch as much as his stiff body would allow. "I'd better get a move on."

"Dude -- what's goin' on an' stuff ... it's pretty heavy crap. You gonna be able ta handle it? You been through a lot."

JD stopped at Dillon's tone. It was genuine concern, and he knew that Dillon was legitimately worried about him. He was touched, but didn't know how to answer his friend. He smiled instead.

"I'll manage, bud. Thanks."

Dillon nodded, and went for the kitchen. As he did, JD rubbed his tired eyes and dragged himself up the stairs. He was moving much slower than normal, and it took him nearly an hour to finish getting ready. When he came downstairs again, Wendy was sitting beside Dillon at the counter, and she smiled at him. His spirits brightened immediately when she did, and he couldn't help smiling back. She'd worn an old sweatshirt and had a bandana holding her hair back from her forehead, her ratty, paint-stained jeans and dusty old work boots still managing to be sexy on her. At least, he thought she was sexy.

"Good morning," he said happily.

"Hi sexy," she cooed. "Dilly told me what happened last night. Are you okay?"

He nodded and leaned on the counter beside her. "Yeah, I think so. I was scared half to death last night, but I'm ... better now."

"I'm worried, baby," she said softly. "This has to be hard for you. And what are we going to do with ghosts following you home like stray dogs? How long is THAT going to go on?"

Dillon stopped with the spoon full of cereal in front of his face, his mouth wide open to accept the bite. "You mean ... you mean this could happen AGAIN?"

She shrugged. "I don't know, Dilly. I didn't know it could happen at all."

"I didn't either," JD added. "But I doubt we're going to have trouble beyond today. Provided we find that note."

"The note on the recordings? The suicide note?"

"I guess it's a suicide note. The ... visitor ... last night reiterated it's importance to me."

"It spoke to you too?"

He nodded. "Loudly. 'Find the note in the garage', I was ordered." He shuddered again. "At least this time it wasn't that unearthly scream."

"Oh, babe," Wendy said, stroking his face sympathetically. "Oh, you must be having the worst time with all this. You didn't even believe in ghosts before this."

He covered her hand with his and turned his face to kiss her palm lightly. "I'm okay."

"Did ghosty-boy say anything else?" Dillon shoved another scoop of cereal and milk in his mouth and munched it.

"No, it was gone after that. Just -- 'Find the note in the garage'. Then he was gone."

"Are you sure it was Jenkins, baby?"

"No, but ... I don't know who else would be telling me to find the note in the garage. He's the only one that would know that. Isn't he?"

"Dunno, dude," Dillon spoke just before slurping the milk out of his bowl, tipping it in front of his face to drain it. He set it down, and looked at JD. "If there's rules for this crap, nobody's tellin'."

"No kidding. I have no idea what to do except go find the note and hope this ends the apparitions. If it doesn't ... well, I guess we'll have to let them tell us what WILL, then."

"Well, THAT sucks." Dillon deposited the bowl and spoon in the sink and turned to JD and Wendy. "So ... now what?"

"Well," JD said slowly, "I guess we'd better head over to the house. The garage is a mess and we have to find that note somehow."

"Didn't you want to go to the library, love?"

"No, it's not necessary anymore. I found some stuff online last night that I think will dispense with the necessity of doing that. I'll tell you about it on the way."

"Am I gonna get bored, dude?"

"If you do, you can sleep instead of listen. But don't ask me what's going on later. I won't tell you."

"Fine. Whatever."

They piled into Wendy's car and before very long they were driving the now-familiar route toward the stately and somewhat ominous old Victorian on the corner in that sleepy little village. Once they'd gotten onto the highway, JD explained what he'd found. He outlined the deaths of Migo, Stanton and eventually Jenkins, and noted that all of them occurred on October 29. Hearing it, Wendy was stunned to silence. Dillon knit his brows.

"Maybe that's why ol' ghosty-boy was so grumpy," he said. "Today's the big day for 'im."

"Yeah, maybe," JD said. "I don't know. I just know that somehow this date seems significant. We've been given all the story parts already. I'd have thought THAT would occur today. Instead, we have the instructions to find the note. Well, I do anyway. I would think it'd be the other way around somehow. If I were a ghost, that's how I'D tell it."

"I guess they don't see it your way on this."

"Evidently not."

"So, whatta we do? Take all the crap outta the garage? Then what?"

"Look through it. All of it. I'm hopeful that it's not buried under the concrete floor or embedded in a wall or anything. I'm not sure what to expect."

"Yeah. We thought it was in the yard where Jenkins buried it originally. But he's been telling us to look in the garage. I'm sure if it weren't there, that wouldn't be the case."

JD nodded. "Maybe. I hope so. I just ... want this to be OVER."

"I bet, love. I bet. It's been a tough ordeal for you."

"I'm tellin' ya, dude ... they're like CATS. They sense ya don' like 'em and BAM! They're all over ya."

"Not comforting."

"You gotta believe in 'em now, though ... right?"

JD sighed. He stared through the windshield, silently stewing.

"Oh, come ON, man! You gotta NOW! After all this crap?? You GOTTA!"

"JD?" Wendy said softly, eyeing him carefully. "You DO believe now, don't you?"

He lowered his chin and set his jaw. "I'm not sure WHAT I believe anymore. I ... I just don't know."

"Wow, love," she said, shaking her head slowly. "You really ARE stubborn, aren't you? Even more than I realized." She blew him a kiss. "My mysterious lover, still revealing himself to me. Like an onion."

"Onions make ya cry, Wen," Dillon said from the back. "Jaded's more like an artichoke. Lots t'peel away, but it's bitter an' not very tasty. Unless ya dip it in ranch dressing or mebbe some hollandaise or whatnot."

"I'm not bitter. I'm just not convinced."

"You gonna try the Bible thing again, dude?"

"What Bible thing?"

"Sayin' the Bible says there ain't no ghosts. You goin' there again?"

"Why not? The Bible doesn't really allow for the idea of ghosts."

"Yeah it does."

"No it doesn't."

"Does too."

"Does not."


"Not, infinity. Where, if you're so sure of yourself?"

"How 'bout Luke 24?"

"Luke 24? What about it?"

"It says the Jesus dudes thought he was a ghost when they seen 'im for the first time after the resurrection. Verses 36 through 40, dude. And how 'bout when Jesus walked on the water that night, and all his posse freaked? It was 'cause they thought he was a GHOST, dawg. And what about Saul and that witch-chick? You know, the one that made the old guy get up an' stuff. All ghosts, dude. Want more?"

"Uh ... no. No thanks. That's ... that's ..."

"Wow, Dilly, that's great! You know lots!"

"Heh. Thanks. I studied it in school," he said, and glowered at JD.

"The word used there is 'spirit', Dillon. Not necessarily 'ghost'."

"The word can also be 'ghost', Poindexter. An' you know it."

"As fun as this is, we're going to be there in a few minutes. Should we stop and eat first? We have a lot of work to do."

"Yes," Dillon said quickly.

JD chuckled. "Sure. Let's get a bite and then get started. We'll lose daylight soon and there is a LOT of stuff to get out."

They ate quickly, and within an hour were standing at the garage door of the ancient old Victorian. The little shack-like structure seemed out of place with its majestic counterpart, despite the matching paint. The two barn-doors on the front added to the sense of disunity. They stared, wondering what secrets were hidden in it.

JD fumbled with the keys and found the one that opened the padlock swinging on the shackle. Unlocking it, he tugged the creaking, dust-spewing doors aside, the hinges crying out against the sudden use after being shut for so long.

Part of the pile of debris inside tumbled out, and they danced quickly back to avoid being hit with it.

"See? I told you."

"Holy CRAP, dude," Dillon said, surveying the veritable landfill inside the tiny building. "Holy CRAP."

"Exactly. A daunting task, isn't it?"

"I'll say," Wendy whispered, and she hugged JD's arm. He kissed the top of her head.

"Well," he said finally, "there's no sense putting it off. We may as well get started."

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Ready to go on to Part 44?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ghost Hunters, Pt. 42

(Just joining us? You may want to start at the beginning.)

He stared at the monitor, unable to process the information. It wasn't that he saw anything necessarily strange. It was just too coincidental to be ... coincidental.

JD couldn't do anything but stare at it.

The newspaper from October 29, 1982 stared back at him, unblinking, unflinching. The headline blazed, burning itself onto his mind.


He read the brief article. It spoke of Rick Stanton, a local police officer, whose car went off the road just after 2 a.m. on the morning of October 29, 1982. It outlined how the car was found just south of the quarry, effectively wrapped around a tree trunk. Skid marks determined the car swerved at some point, and apparently left the paved surface. When it did, Stanton lost control of the otherwise mechanically sound vehicle and hit a tree at high speed. It seemed, the report speculated, that Stanton tried to avoid something in the road. He wore the seat belt, but died in the crash anyway. It also announced his service record, his accomplishments, and the decorations he'd received. He was survived by a brother in New Mexico and his family. No one else. But JD couldn't help noting the date, then flipping back to the other search results he'd found.

The next headline was from October 29, 1987.


The article was about Stanley Migo. He was found dead in his home while his wife was away visiting relatives downstate with their two children. The house was a wreck, as though an attempted burglary had been interrupted. Migo was shot at point-blank range in the heart ... with his own weapon. It seemed that the officer had been overpowered and the weapon he himself held was turned back on him and fired. It hit him straight through the heart and he perished, the bullet from his .45 caliber automatic lodging in a wall behind him.

JD clicked another open window.


October 29, 1992, the date shouted at him.

He didn't bother to read the article. He knew what really happened anyway.

He sat back, trying to digest what he was seeing. He glanced at the clock ... it was nearly one a.m.

It was October 29, he remembered. He'd first gone to the house on October 26. The weekend was a blur of activity, none of which he could explain.

And now this.

He shuddered involuntarily.

The events weren't given any significance in the articles he could find. There was nothing mentioned of Robin Brown's disappearance. He would have to try and find the information again to confirm the date he was killed. But he already knew the answer, without ever having to ask.

He was certain Robin Brown died on October 29.

He book-marked the pages, and closed them, standing up to move to his bed. He realized he didn't order a drink from the drive-through before, and the salty taco meat and cheese dried his throat. Or perhaps what he'd read robbed his mouth of moisture. He stood up and stretched, then opened his bedroom door.

The house was deathly silent and as black as a tomb.

He hesitated, staring into the inky hallway that lead to the stairs. The shadows seemed to move, to shift, to whisper quietly, just out of his audible range, moving along the walls toward him.

He shook his head, trying to clear his mind. He needed to get hold of himself. He chided himself for being spooked like a child by ghost stories.

Except, something in the back of his mind whispered, this ghost story spoke to them.

He shuddered again. The light from his room seemed to be swallowed up and die before it reached down the hall. He didn't remember the house seeming so dark before, even in deep winter and in the wee hours. He shrank back just inside the door jamb, and listened.


Under that, the tiniest whisper. Just beneath the silence he would have sworn he heard a voice.



He shuddered again. He was sure there was no sound. He was straining his eyes into the blackness at the end of the hall, trying to discern familiar structures, shapes, walls ... anything. Only the depths of the dark, like a squid's ink cloud, looked back at him.

He listened. He stared.

The shadows taunted him, the silence teased him.

He shrank back again. This time he drew himself to full height and retreated into the room, fishing in his desk drawer until he found the mini-flashlight, designed for a key ring. He twisted the body barrel and the tiny beam lit up red, and he cursed himself for making filters for every light he owned. He strode confidently back to the hallway, and shone the beam down the hall.

Only the hall was revealed. There was a picture on the wall where the stairs turned left and went down to the first floor. Beneath it, a half-round table with a picture frame and a vase, silk flower propped in it carefully, leaned against the wall. Dillon's door was shut, and there was no sound from his room. The wall adjacent to JD's door was his own bathroom. Behind him, the end of the hall, and two guest rooms directly across from one another. Another picture frame hung there, a larger one, a print of an oil painting matted within it.

He saw only his house, and nothing more.

He shone the light toward the stairs again. He fully expected to see something, a figure, a form, a shadow or silhouette -- something.

But the hall was empty.

He strained his ears, trying to will them to hear above, below and beyond the range of human sensory perception, to detect the sound of a voice, a whisper, a footfall ... anything.

The silence was deafening to him.

He stepped out into the hall and began to move to the stairs.

He felt -- not really heard, or saw, but felt -- something behind him, moving in stealth, moving with him as one, trying to close the distance between them. He wheeled around sharply, heart racing, body tensed and half-crouched, expecting anything, brandishing his tiny flashlight like a sword in front of him.

Only the hall was there, the walls illuminated red by his little crimson beam. He took a long, slow breath, trying to calm himself. He wasn't sure what was wrong with him. He was halfway between his bedroom and the stairs. Not a great distance, he reminded himself. He stood up, and let his breath out slowly, trying to soothe his nerves.

And again he felt there was something just outside the circle of light he cast, hiding, evading, circling.

He whipped around fast, nearly dropping off balance and teetering in the hall, one hand groping for the wall, the other whirling the flashlight around.

Only the walls and sundries were there.

He was concerned now. His imagination was running away with him, and this was not characteristic of him. He again drew a breath, trying to force himself to relax. He walked normally, ignoring the sensation that something was about to touch his neck, to grab at his heels, to seize his shoulders, and walked down the stairs. He plodded as he always did, refusing to speed up or slow his pace, denying internally that something was there, something was right there, just within reach, just about to clutch at him ...

He turned the light on in the living room from the wall switch and the stab of light hurt his eyes with its suddenness. The red filter on the flashlight kept his eyes from adjusting while it glowed. The white light of the end table lamps flanking the sofa poked his brain mercilessly. He stopped for a moment and let his vision finally assimilate, and turned slowly to look back up the stairs.


He strained his ears into the dark, listening.


Shaking his head, still disappointed with himself, he went into the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator, he noted the drink options. He took a container of cranberry juice out, and set it on the counter. He reached into the cabinet above the jug and got a tall water glass, filling it nearly to the brim. He drank long and fast, the juice crashing into the back of his parched throat and soaking it all the way to his gullet as the cold liquid slid down his insides. When he'd drained the glass, he set it down, and as he raised the jug to fill it again, the lights blinked out.

It was pitch black.

"Dillon, cut it out," he snapped into the dark. "I can't see anything and I've got a glass. Turn the lights on."


He strained, listening in the black. There was a patch of strangely pale illumination cascading in from the large picture window in the living room, but he couldn't see anything else. Dillon would normally be giggling uncontrollably at this point, as he did when he was a child. He was never able to stay hidden in hide-and-seek, and could never startle anyone because he couldn't control his laughter.

JD didn't hear anything. Nothing. Not even the house settling, or the ticking of a clock, or the sounds of the world outside.

He felt for the refrigerator, and pulled the door open. The bright whiteness of its interior blazed out. He squinted against it.

It darted out of the darkness at him, lit from below by the refrigerator light, stopping suddenly just inches from JD's wide eyes.

A face, the eyes two black, wet orbs behind the lids, the skin writhing with worms and maggots wriggling beneath, pushing through the minute holes torn through the surface. The mouth, yellow- and green- stains over the teeth, lips pulled back from them, the black-blue tongue strung with thick, ropey strands of pus and mucus.


JD screamed and threw himself back, falling onto his hind quarters, skittering back until he struck against the cabinets behind him. He shut his eyes, turning his face, and suddenly the lights blazed back on.

He opened his eyes, hands out in front of him.

The kitchen was completely empty.

His felt his heart pounding, racing, his pulse thready and his body covered in sweat. He heard a sound, and only a moment later he realized he was panting, gasping for breath. He looked around, checking his surroundings.

Just the kitchen.

Slowly, slowly -- as if he'd been injured, or might be -- he stood. Listening.

Only the sound of his raking breath in the kitchen. Beneath it, the throbbing of his jittering heart thumped in his eardrums.

He walked forward, cautiously, as if looking for a dangerous animal. He approached the border between the kitchen and family room, the large picture window now a black patch beneath the wispy sheer panels covering it. He padded softly, trying not to make a sound, and then darted quickly around the corner as if to surprise whatever he saw there.

Which was nothing.

He backed into the kitchen, and pulled a stool out from beneath the counter, and lowered his weight on it. He leaned on one elbow propped on the counter, and tried to catch his breath.

It was quite some time before he did.

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Ready to go on to Part 43?

Ladies and Gentlemen ...

... I did it!

I just put the last installment together of my very first (okay, not very first, but you know what I mean) novel!

Yes, it's finally finished!  Well ... the rough draft, anyway.

It topped out at just over 94K words (yikes!), and it started life as an innocent little exercise in dialog.  I was just practicing dialog.  My Beloved fell in love with the story, asked me (repeatedly) to keep it going, and before I knew it, it was a full-on novel.  I didn't realize it would be so easy, and please so many (all three of you who've been reading it).

I'm so happy I could just puke.  It's amazing.

Next year, maybe I'll NaNo with the rest of you, provided my work situation is stable.  Which it hasn't ever been in November since Lord only knows when.  2001, I think.

But it's in the hopper.  Now I can step back and take a look at it and just ... refine.

It's nice.

Thanks, babe.  I couldn't have -- and wouldn't have -- done it without you.  It was really your novel.  I sure hope you liked it end-to-end as much as you did in the beginning.



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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ghost Hunters, Pt. 41

(Just joining us? You may want to start at the beginning.)

JD watched the image fade. He turned and silently went for the stairs. A second later, the others followed behind. He pulled the chain at the top of the stairs so they could see and wouldn't stumble, and the sudden stab of light on their retinas made them squint and shield their eyes.

In a moment, they were in the house. JD went unerringly through the kitchen, foyer and directly to the parlor. He dropped into a seat in front of the computer, his face set and serious. As Wendy and Dillon came in behind him, he played back the horrible, soul-chilling wail of the Jenkins shade, recording it onto the PC at the same time. Then he launched the sound program Dillon had used to accelerate the sound before. He tweaked it, with the speakers turned very low, adjusting until he was satisfied with what he heard.

He sat back then and looked at them seriously.

"What?" Wendy asked, concerned. "What is it?"

He shrugged, shaking his head. "It's nothing new. The same general message, just more of it."

"What message, dude?"

"Listen for yourselves," he said, and positioned the mouse on the screen and clicked the playback button.

The voice was higher-pitched from the acceleration, but came through clearly, once again reminiscent of the Alvin and The Chipmunks sound.

"The note ... in the garage."

Wendy wrapped her arms around herself and shivered sharply. "God, I hate that sound."

"Dude, I'm so gonna have nightmares if you keep playin' that."

"Sorry. But we had to know what it said."

"Now we know. We can't do anything about it until tomorrow, though."

"The significance is that the note is in the garage, definitively. According to this ..."

"Ghost, home-boy. It's a GHOST, okay?"

"... whatever. The message indicates that I never needed to go hunting in the ground to find that note Jenkins buried the day he committed suicide. It's been in the garage the whole time. I think."

"You think?" Wendy said, incredulous. "Come on, Jaded -- you hear what the ghost is saying! How can you still wonder?"

"Remember, Wendy," JD slowly, patiently spoke to her, "the events we're seeing are 35 years old in most cases. I don't know how long ago Jenkins committed suicide, but that didn't happen recently either. That note was underground. Who found it? How? When? And why is it in the garage now? What happened?"

She sighed. "You're right. You've got a point. How do we know when it came up? Is it still in the garage? How many people have owned this house in that time period? Any one of them could have found it. And why wouldn't you throw something like that away? What value would it be to anyone else?"

"Maybe it was one o' them time-pill thingies," Dillon said, dropping into a chair on the other end of the table.

"A what?" JD said, trying to decipher Dillon-ese.

"You know, one o' them things where they put a bunch o' crap inside an' bury it so they can dig it up later an' shit. See what's changed, what thing were like back then, that kinda crap."

"A time capsule?"

"That's what I said, a time-pill."

JD chuckled. "If someone thought it was a time capsule, wouldn't they have opened it to see what's inside?"

"How d'ya know they didn't, brainiac?"

JD froze. "What?"

"How d'ya know they didn't open it already? They coulda; whoever found it pro'ly was interested, right? Curious an' whatnot, right? So mebbe they DID open it."

"JD, if someone opened that pipe, how're we going to find the note?"

JD shook his head slowly, processing. "Let's hope that didn't happen. Because if it did, there's no way to know what became of the contents."

"Ghost's sayin' the note's inna garage, pencil-neck. So it's there."

"How would you know that?"

"Ghosts ain't dumb. Why tell us t'look there if it ain't there?"

"Because the message was part of a 35-year-old --"

"Nope. No it ain't."


"Sheesh, you goin' deaf over there, Helen Keller? Think about it, genius -- if the stuff we seen where Robbie gets whacked an' all that stuff is stolen an' his bod's moved an' buried an' crap -- if all that's 35 years ago, why's a ghost back then talkin' 'bout a note that ain't been written yet?"

JD dropped his head backwards and groaned.

"God. God, I'm an idiot."

"I been tryin' t'tell ya that for years, dude."

"Wow, Dilly ... you're like Rainman, you know that?"

"Oh, thanks, Wen, I -- hey! Is that a slam?" Dillon knit his brows thinking about it, staring at his shoes. "I ... that mighta been a slam. Once I'm sure it was, I'm so not talkin' to you no more."

Wendy giggled and kissed his cheek playfully.

"That's good news, then, lover. The ghost is showing us the playback AND giving us hints about where to find the stuff we need to blow this case wide open."

"'Blow this case wide open'? Wendy, what on earth ...? How did you come to that?"

"Oh, c'mon -- the man killed himself. You don't think he told the whole story in the note?"

"How could he? His sister would be in no less danger than before."

"'Less ol' Migs is dead by then. Or dyin'."

JD shook his head. "Well ... for the second time in a couple of minutes, I'm ... amazed by you."

"Yeah, but ... you can be amazed by shiny things too. It's no biggie."

"Let's get someplace where we can find out for sure, baby. Someplace with the Internet. We can search."

"Uh-uh," Dillon said firmly, "no frickin' way. Nobody does NOTHIN' 'til I get some damned FOOD, y'all."

"Oh, that's right!" Wendy exclaimed. "Poor Dilly -- you were hungry a while ago weren't you? Okay, let's stop and get something on the way and after we eat, we can start trying to find out if Migo is still alive."

"What about Stanton? He was the one that actually killed Brown. He's just as much a threat as Migo is ... or was."

"I don't know," Wendy contemplated, staring off. "I didn't get the impression that Jenkins was as concerned with him. He was more like ... a lackey, I guess. Kind of a henchman."

"Yeah. He didn't seem long on brains, y'know?"

"And who would know better about that than you?"

"Besides, it's no harder to look them both up. We can do all of that when we get home."

"Or tomorrow," JD said, yawning. "We've had a lot of stuff thrown at us without very much sleep over the weekend."

"Dude, did you slam me? Was that a slam?"

"See? We're all very tired."

"But we have to find that pipe tomorrow JD ... or at least the note." Wendy was firm. "We can't spend all day goofing off and not get out here to look for it."

"I guess we could stay --"

"Don't say it, bean-breath," Dillon cut him off gravely. "We are NOT sleepin' in THIS house. No frickin' WAY."

JD sighed. "All right, all right ... let's get home. We can do a bit of research tonight and finish up tomorrow, but we really need to get some sleep. We'll need to have sharp eyes and minds tomorrow."

They gathered their things and headed out, JD making sure the house was locked up behind him. They decided to take a single car rather than two. Wendy would drop JD and Dillon off at home and then pick them up at 10 a.m. the following morning. From there they would come back to the brooding old mansion to search the depths of the leaning, shoddy garage for the note the apparition stressed was there.

The exhaustion of the day began to set in as the quiet car rolled easily over the blacktop ribbon lacing through the woods. JD kept expecting the night to be swallowed in fog at each bend, every curve, but only the blackness and still embraced them. At long last they reached the edges of their own town, more alive and awake than the sleepy little hamlet they'd left behind. They went through a drive-through and got Dillon as many tacos as he had cash for and a drink that seemed to be the size of a trash barrel. When Wendy finally pulled to the curb in front of their house, he realized none of them had spoken except to order food.

"Well," she said, turning in her seat to face JD as Dillon clambered out of the back, "I guess this is good-night."

"Yes," he said shyly. He wondered if he was supposed to invite her in, but was embarrassed to handle the situation insensitively. "Unless ... unless you're too sleepy to drive ..."

"I'm fine, baby-doll," she said, flashing her heart-stopping smile at him. "It's just a couple of minutes away. Besides, I need fresh clothes for tomorrow. I can't keep borrowing yours."

"Oh, I don't mind --"

"I know, sweetie," she giggled, "but I do. I want to look my best for you. And wearing your clothes ain't it."

JD blushed. "Are you sure?"

"Yep. I'll be fine."

"I ... I'm going to miss you. It was ... it was really special to wake up with you -- you know. There. Feeling you. Hearing you. Smelling you ..."

"Smelling me?? Lord, did I stink?"

"No! No, that's not ... I like your scent. It's intoxicating. And ... comforting somehow. I don't know how to explain it. I'm -- I'm not very good at this, I'm afraid."

She laughed then, earnestly and from her soul, and he smiled with her, blushing deeply.

"Baby, you're doing just fine. I'm going to miss you too. Dream of me?"

"I always do. Well ... I'd like to think that, anyway. I don't always remember my dreams, of course, but when I do I usually --"

"Just an expression, lover," she interjected, then quickly leaned forward and kissed him deeply, warming him to his core. He entwined his fingers in her hair and tried to return the kiss, uncertain, but wanting more of the sensation that came with it. When they finally parted, Dillon was approaching from behind JD.

"Dude. I can't get in."

"What do you mean, you can't get in?"

"Which word didn't you understand, rocket-scientist? I can't get in. Unlock the door."

Wendy giggled wildly. "Good night, Dilly. See you tomorrow."

"'Night, sexy-lady. See ya." He winked at her and strode off toward the door again.

"How can he be so insightful one moment and dumb enough to be unable to get in a locked house -- that he's got the KEYS FOR -- the next?"

"That's the paradox of our Dilly-boy," she grinned.

"I ... I love you, Wendy."

"I love you too, JD. I'll see you tomorrow."

"I'll be on bated breath."

She winked at him, and he reluctantly climbed out and shut the door behind him. He stood at the curb while she drove away, until she turned a corner and was gone. Sighing, he turned back toward the door, where Dillon was tapping his foot impatiently.

"Today, dude. I'm starvin'."

"That's news?"

"The news is gonna be your body, which they'll find when I kills yer ass. Unlock the door so I can eat."

"Why didn't YOU unlock the door?"

Dillon held his hands up, one filled with a large, bulging plastic bag of tacos, the other clutching an enormous drink cup.

"Some of those are mine, you know," JD gestured to the bag as he pulled the keys out of his pocket to open the door.

"I had to eat yours to survive while you were gettin' laid in the car, dude."

"You're just jealous."

"Hellz yeh I'm jealous. Wendy's too hot for you."

"But not for you?"

They stepped inside, and Dillon made a B-line for the kitchen table. "Well, DUH. She's too hot for anybody but, like, Brad Pitt an' shit. Still -- I'm better 'n you."

JD laughed. "Yeah. Right. Keep telling yourself that -- eventually you'll start to believe it. Like any good lie."

"Hmph." Dillon couldn't respond as he pounded down a taco, picking the fragments dropping from it from the paper wrapper spread on the table as a place mat.

JD took one from the stack and folded the paper partially back, nibbling delicately at it as his brain began to wander. "I really should do some research tonight before going to bed. I should have some background before too much time passes."

"Hmm, mm-hmm," Dillon hummed, never breaking his chewing motion. He slurped a huge swallow of soda pop from the enormous cup and went back to his food. He opened a second taco before the first was gone so that the eating process would be uninterrupted. JD watched in wonder.

"You're going to choke on that if you don't slow down."

"Mm-mm," Dillon shook his head.

"How'd you come up with that stuff back at the house, Dill? You spend a lot of time thinking about this without saying anything to us?"

Dillon seemed to pause. His mouth continued to chew, but at a slower pace, and he sat back and stared off into the kitchen wall, thinking.

"Y'know," he said, swallowing the last of his taco and sipping his drink to clear his throat, "I don't know, really. I just ... it just came t'me, I guess. Weird, huh? I don't really ... THINK about it. It just sorta ... pops clear, I guess."

JD leaned forward, resting his chin on his palm. "Just 'pops clear'? Like clairvoyance? Or a sense of communication?"


"Do you feel you're getting messages from the ghosts, maybe?"

"Dude, if anybody's gettin' messages from dead people, it's you, bro."

"True. I can't argue that ... unfortunately."

"Why's that bug you?"

JD shook his head. "I don't know. I really didn't want this to be supernatural, and I don't know how to rationalize it away. I really don't."

"Yeah, I figgered."

"So -- are the ghosts telling you things?"

"Nah. I guess I just sorta see it clear for some reason in my head. But nobody's givin' me nothing."

JD sat back, and Dillon leaned forward, both of them eating at their respective paces. JD had one more taco and left the remainder of the sack for Dillon to mash through. He went upstairs and closed his bedroom door behind him, dropping heavily into his comfortable high-back chair, and launched his web-browser to search.

What he found frightened him.

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Ready to go on to Part 42?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ghost Hunters, Pt. 40

(Just joining us? You may want to start at the beginning.)

The car bounced over the edge of the pavement, keeping perfect track with the red glowing lights in front of it. Wendy edged easily over the rough transition at the end of the road, and watched carefully until the brakes lights of the truck beamed powerfully at them and the vehicle stopped. She pulled the parking brake lever and quickly shut the car down as she pushed her door open, her free hand fumbling with the buckle of her seat belt to release it. JD noted the swiftness of her movements and hurried to get out with her. He wasn't sure why.

Dillon unfolded himself from the back seat and they stood beside the car, watching the lights of the truck in front of them. They heard the hollow metallic sound of the truck door closing as they approached, and Wendy froze, Dillon bumping into her as he quick-stepped around the back of the car to catch up to her.

JD noticed their sudden halt.

"It's okay," he said softly, "he won't notice us. He never has, and probably never will. I don't think Migo and Stanton will either. We can follow safely."

They hesitated a moment more, staring into the dark, and JD smiled as he proceeded toward the fence he'd hoped the night before. He realized he didn't have a flashlight when the terrain became dim and obscured by the dark and the fog. They passed the truck, and there was the car that JD followed the night before, parked nearer the fence, a few yards ahead.

He treaded lightly, hearing their footsteps behind him, and a wisp of the fog washed aside to show Jenkins' figure, silhouetted against the diffused and ethereal light, moving up the path on the far side of the fence. JD hopped over the fence, then reached for Wendy to help her over, his head turned to face Jenkins.

He clutched at the body than leaned into his hands and the weight, the texture, the feel was all wrong. He recoiled slightly, and looked back.

He stared into Dillon's grinning visage. "Heya, stud-muffin," he sneered.

JD nearly dropped him, and moved aside. "Will you quit fooling around? Come on, Wen."

"Dude! You're gonna let me fall??"

"Yes, now move," JD snarled.

She moved gracefully over the fence giggling, and JD and Dillon helped her down the other side. Once she was steady on her feet, they started up the access road after Jenkins.

"He's going to hide in the woods next to a clearing at the top of the road," JD said, rushing to catch up to the shade that wove in and out of misty clumps of cloud as it drifted up the road. "He'll leave before they do. I don't know what happens after that. I want to stay with him. The other two will be burying Brown's body."

They didn't answer, and he had to look back to make sure they hadn't been separated. The outline of the trees against the soft, gray dimness seemed ominous and threatening. They moved as quickly as they dared, trying to stay near the middle of the road. The crunch of the gravel under their shoes seemed too loud to JD, and he reminded himself forcefully that these events were 35 years past, and he was not intervening in them. No one could see him. No one could hear him.

No one but Brown and Bea. He pondered that momentarily before forcibly pushing it out of his mind.

They kept the figure ahead of them in sight, still not closing the gap. When the shifting waves of mist cleared, they found their distance and bearings and kept plodding forward when it vanished as the holes closed.

JD knew that the figure would stand at the top of the road for a moment before going into the trees across the clearing, careful to be out of sight. When they reached the top of the road the fog thinned for a split second just as that shadowy form stepped silently through the trees and disappeared for a moment. JD went on to the clearing and heard the muffled, laboring voices of Migo and Stanton working to hide their filthy secret, but didn't get close enough to make out their words. Wendy was wide-eyed with horror as she saw them shifting material to cover the crumpled, lifeless form in a canvas bag somewhere in the carved section of the mountain.

A few seconds later, with the images and sounds of what he'd seen earlier echoing through JD's mind, that figure from the trees snuck quietly to the edge of the boulders, tossed like a child's play blocks across the quarry's opening, and hid. They watched from the edge of the access road as he listened for a few minutes, then moved back into the trees. A moment later he emerged much closer to them than they expected, making them jump, jerking back in fright.

The specter was wordless as it quietly went down the hill, then the head hung as it stomped to a sagging stop. The soft sounds of weeping could be heard. After a few seconds, it seemed to stand to full stature again and went down the road toward the vehicles.

"What's going on up here?" Wendy whispered in the stillness. "Are those the two murderers?"

"Yes," JD said, not bothering to match her tone. "I don't think you have to whisper, Wen. He can't hear us. I don't think."

"Dude, what 'bout the killers, man? Can they hear us?"

"I doubt it, Dill. It seems that only Brown could interact with us. And Bea, the librarian."

"Yeah, she can inneract like nobody's bidness," Dillon agreed.

JD nodded though Dillon couldn't see him. "They're burying Brown just like they did last night. But the fog lifted and the events quit playing out while I was up there. I never saw any of this."

"He seems sad. I mean, for someone that was a bad cop, he ... I think he cared about his partner. His friend."

"Yes," JD said, and he felt it too. Jenkins did seem sad about Brown's death.

They followed down the road, the pace more quick this time. There were occasions when JD let gravity pull him more quickly to ensure he kept pace with what he now realized he was inwardly calling a ghost, and not lag too far behind. Wendy and Dillon followed him closely, trying to stay single file to be away from the treacherous edge of the access way.

Jenkins was piling into the truck when they got to the bottom of the hill. JD stopped for a moment, listening and staring back up the hill.

Wendy noticed his gaze. "What?"

"I don't know. I got the impression he was ... I don't know. It's just that, he's leaving. And I don't hear Migo or Stanton. They're still at the quarry clearing. What's going on?"

"I sort of assumed they were going to meet here. Maybe they weren't?"

"Dudes, if we're followin' Jenky, we better move it."

The truck was backing away from the cars ... passing right through Wendy's to do it. In a moment, it completed the three-point turn and headed for the highway.

"Let's hurry up," Wendy said. "We'll see where he goes."

They moved quicker, going for the fence. The high weeds made them slow down, and Wendy stepped carefully, taking JD's hand as he held it out to steady her while she stepped up the fence face.

"Thanks, handsome," she said, kissing him lightly and quickly before hopping over the top and landing soundly on the other side.

JD blushed, smiling stupidly, watching her as she turned around to flash that melting smile at him again over the fence.

"Uh, dude? Couldja move yer ass? He's gettin' away."

"Oh!" JD said, snapping out of his trance, and clambered over the fence. Dillon was a beat behind, and they bolted for the car.

They fell into it as one, the engine firing a moment later. Wendy left room for the truck in front of her, so she could do a fast, gravel-spitting U-turn to head down the access road to the highway, slowing to check for oncoming traffic before accelerating onto the highway.

In a moment, they caught sight of the red tail lights of a truck ahead of them in the thinning fog.

"Is that him?"

"I-I don't know," JD stammered. "It could be, I guess ... or it could be an actual truck."

"Dudes, you guys dumb or somethin'? There ain't nobody on this road at night. This dump's a ghost town after dark. I mean ... well, yeah, it is. Heh. So yeah -- it's him."

"How can you be so sure?" JD turned around. "I've seen other traffic on this road. It does serve as a state highway, you know."

"Pff. It's for ghosts, man. Besides, if it ain't Jenky, he ain't gonna notice us followin' him anyway, right?"

"But we could be led on a wild goose chase following some poor trucker just trying to transport his goods somewhere."

"I have most of a tank of gas," Wendy said. "I'll follow until ... wait a minute, I know how we can tell."


She pressed the brakes, slowing the car quickly.

The lights ahead slowed at exactly the same pace.

"Yeah," she said, picking up speed again, "it's him."

"You're hawt, Wen. Every time you do somethin' like that, you're even hotter."

She chuckled. "Sorry, Dilly, none for you."

"I know, but ... damn, chicka! That's rockin'. I love me some women drivin' tricks, dudes."

"Uh ... thanks for ... sharing, I guess," JD said. "Why don't you contact Danica Patrick or someone like that? You're making me uncomfortable."

"'Cause Danica Patrick don' make you squirm, little-willy," Dillon teased.

They followed along the highway, the slight downward grade of the road winding them toward town. With unerring accuracy, the truck wove its way through the town, leading them back to the stately old Victorian standing silent and dark behind its dagger hedges and sentinel trees. It turned at the corner adjacent to the house and pulled the truck to the left-side curb.

Jenkins was out of the vehicle and heading for the gate when Wendy pulled up in front of the house. Her headlights cast briefly over the shadowy form and did not illuminate it.

"It's like he's made of shadows," she whispered as they parked.

"Maybe he is now," JD mused aloud, and opened his door. The apparition was going toward the parlor window again, moving quickly now, the head turning as if looking up the street for someone.

"He's watching for them," JD muttered. "He knows they're coming back here."

"How'd he know? How d'ya know he knows?"

JD shook his head. "Look how nervous and in a hurry he seems. What else would he be nervous about?"

"The people that live here seein' him?"

"Maybe. He didn't have a problem just going through the gate, though, and he's watching up the street. Like he's looking for a c--"

JD's words caught in his throat as a pair of headlights appeared, two yellowish disks emerging from the fog, and moved to park behind the truck.

The car stopped and the lights extinguished. Two doors slammed in the gloom, and a moment later, two figures emerged from the misty night to cross through the gate and headed for the back of the house.

JD moved to follow them and the others trailed him quickly. He followed a few feet behind, unwilling to let them get too far ahead in the dark and fog. An orange flame shot out of the mist and a tiny ember glowed a second later, followed by the sound of a cigarette drag being exhaled into the cool wetness.

"That you, Migo?" a voice said.

"Yeah, and Stanton too," Migo called back softly. "Where the fuck you been?"

"Where I been?" Jenkins snapped back. "I've been here, asshole. Where the fuck you been? You were supposed to get here at ten. You know how to tell time, shit head?"

"No, you fuck," Migo growled nastily, "we were supposed to meet at 9:30, NOT ten. Shit head."

"Who said 9:30?"

"You did, dick head. What the fuck's your problem? Huh? You think this is a joke??"

"No, I don't think it's a joke, Migo," Jenkins said, "I coulda sworn I said ten."

"You didn't."

"Well, fuck. Sorry then."

"Yeah. Where's our shit, asshole?"

"The bag's in the truck, right there." He gestured toward the truck parked just beyond the dense barren hedges at the edge of the yard.

"Go get it, Stanton. Make sure it's not fuckin' Lincoln Logs or somethin'. I ain't likin' what's goin' on here."

"What's not to like, Migo? We got the times screwed up. Where'd you go after that?"

"We went and got somethin' ta eat. You gotta problem with that?"

"No, I don't got a problem ... why don't you just fuckin' relax, okay?"

Stanton was plodding toward the truck across the yard.

"Ya can't go that way, dumb-ass," Migo softly called after him. "Go through the gate like everybody else." He shook his head. "What an asshole."

"You're in a mood," Jenkins said. "What's wrong with you?"

"What makes you say somethin's wrong with me?"

"You're just bitchy as all hell. Somethin' up?"

"No," Migo said too quickly, "nothin'."

They stood in silence and listened as Stanton opened the back of the truck, climbed in and sorted through the bag, which echoed slightly through the quiet neighborhood.

"Christ, that guy's an idiot," Migo spat, dragging hard on his cigarette again. "Listen ta all that racket."

Jenkins said nothing, just waiting. They couldn't see his face to tell what his expression was.

The truck door rolled down noisily and they heard it bang and lock. Migo jumped slightly when it did. "You got the fuckin' bag, jackass?"

A second later, Stanton poked his head over the top of the hedge. "Yeah, I got it. Let's go."

"Pipe down, moron!" Migo snapped, whispering harshly. "You wanna use a bullhorn next time? Jeezuz!"

Stanton shook his head and walked away, toward the front of the house.

"You're jumpy," Jenkins said smoothly. "You sure everything's okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fuckin' fine I toldya," Migo hissed. "Get lost, willya?"

"Tell Bea ta call me tomorrow," Jenkins called softly after Migo, who was walking fast away from him. "Been a while since we talked."

"Yeah, whatever," Migo said over his shoulder.

They listened to the bang of the car doors, and heard the engine roar to life. The car sped away much faster than they expected.

Jenkins listened to the silence for a moment, then walked to the parlor window and plied it open, emitting that horrible screech again. It wasn't as loud this time, though, and when he could fit, he wiggled through the opening.

"Come on," JD said quietly. "Let's get back to the basement and see ..."

"No, dude, let's just watch through the window," Dillon countered, stepping forward and pointing at the tiny window at the foundation under the parlor.

"No, Dillon, we won't be able to hear him."

"We won't make it in time," Wendy said.

"Yes we will," JD said, smiling at her. "This is our show. It's for us. Come on."

They followed him as he went around the house and up the porch stairs, and waited while he unlocked the front door. They filed in after him and went straight through the foyer, into the kitchen and to the staircase down to the basement.

He didn't bother to turn on lights as he went, and with Wendy clutching his shoulder they felt their way through the initial debris to the spot between the windows.

Jenkins' shade emerged through the concrete wall, slightly lit by the dim amount of lit falling through the basement foundation windows. He stopped for a moment, and they heard the sound of his sobs in the dark, the form of his body wracked by the heaving emotion. In a few moments, he recomposed, then picked up his bag and shouldered it.

"I'm so sorry, Robbie," he said quietly. "I'll think of somethin'. I'll think of somethin'. They ain't gonna get away with killin' you."

As the words faded in the stony room, the apparition vanished.

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Ready to go on to Part 41?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Home of the Brave

What does bravery mean?

If you'd asked me that 20 years ago, I would have had some goofy answer regarding facing things that frighten most other people without fearing it yourself.  This is not bravery, however.  That defines stupidity, or at least a very poor understanding of mortality.

Granted, not all of us are afraid of the same things.  My wife is deathly afraid of spiders.  I don't like them either, and can relate to her phobia.  It's an irrational fear of something.  It's not rational for us to be so afraid of tiny creatures that don't really do much to bother humans.  Nevertheless, we are afraid of them and avoid and/or kill them whenever our paths cross.  But her fear is far greater than mine.

I'm an acrophobe.  I don't like heights; never have.  Roller coasters?  Forget it.  I can't even do Ferris Wheels, because my disdain for high places is so strong.  I freeze up if the ladder to get to the top of a house is too tall.  I could never hang Christmas lights on a house that was two-stories.  Heck, I may not be able to do it at all now, because as I get older, I'm even more cowardly.

But if being brave doesn't mean being unafraid when others might be, what does being brave mean?  I mean, most of us would never rush headlong into a blazing fire, but firefighters do it for a living.  They clearly seem unafraid of something that would make most of us soil our underwear, if we wear it.  So what is bravery, then?

I think, now, that bravery is doing what you have to do despite being afraid.

Each of us has our own private fears, things that make us cower and whimper and weak-kneed.  For some, it's some thing -- like spiders, for instance.  For others, it's some event or catalyst -- like public speaking.  For others, it's situational -- like being unemployed.  When we can face and understand our fears, they're easier to name and to label, box and package and maybe even address.  Some will say we "conquer" our fears.  I disagree ... I don't believe you can conquer all the fears welling up inside the human psyche.  I don't buy into the notion that exposure to something makes it less frightening, either.  I've had some pretty awful situations thrust upon me and my tiny little family, and while we managed to survive them and come out on the other side, we never "conquered" them.  If anything, I'm more afraid of them now, having been exposed to them, than I was before I had to face them.  That certainly wouldn't have gotten a passing grade in a college psychology class, but it's the truth, flat, bald, plain and simple.  I'm more afraid of something because I had to face them than I ever would have been without having experienced them.

And yet, in the face of our fears, we have to do things sometimes.  We have jobs that have to get done, whether that's a literal job, or place of employment, or tasks that face us, or something that has to be addressed during a time of great fear.  If you're in the middle of that blazing inferno and your child is screaming for help in the other room, you're going to find a way to overcome your fear(s) and get to the child or die trying.  If the spider can be dealt with no other way, you will find a way to squash/eliminate him somehow.  You have to do what you have to do, and doing that while you're afraid is the very definition of being brave.  At least I think so.

First responders rush up a building that's been hit by a jet plane.  That's bravery.  They didn't necessarily know the building would collapse on them, but they did know the jet fuel was burning like a crematorium and they went up anyway.  They did what they had to do even if they were afraid.  And I bet they were.

Bravery.  It comes in a lot of forms, in a lot of different acts and events every single day.  We may not always get to see it, because sometimes it's internal, but bravery is the heart of so many actions every day.

True enough, we aren't all "heroes" and go rushing into fiery infernos to save the lives of others.  Sometimes we just squash a spider.  Other times it's bigger, still others even smaller.  We do what we have to do even when we're afraid of the situation, the person, the circumstances or the thing.  Then we are brave, then we are courageous.

With those things in mind, I would like to tell you that I live in the Home of the Brave.  No, not the United States, though I live there as well.  The Home of the Brave, in this case, is the home that my wife has made for me and my children.

She is, without a doubt, the bravest person I've ever met.  She has faced more hardship and tragedy than any one person deserves, just in the last five years of our marriage.  It wasn't at my hands, but it wasn't anything I could prevent, either.  Time and again we were pummeled with situations beyond our controls, circumstances we could not escape, events unfolding around us we could not influence.  And in the middle of all of that, in the midst of a heart broken beyond reckoning, when it seemed even the least of our prayers would go unanswered, she moved forward.  She stayed at my side when she could have done something easier, something different, something less noble.  She chose to cling to me with every precious thing she had slipping away, being ripped from her fingers with no way to stop it.  She stood and faced the ugliness unfolding in front, behind and around her and she never once faltered, failed, slipped or collapsed.

She is the bravest person I've ever met.

I don't think that would have been my answer five years ago.  I don't know that I recognized her strength, her unwavering, unblinking courage, until very recently.  I don't know how many silent tears were shed under starry skies in solitude, how many times she gnashed her teeth and spat resentful curses at everyone and everything.  I don't know how much she wept alone in dark places away from prying eyes, where she would never have to explain.  But I never saw it even once.

I don't know what comfort, if any, she ever received from me during her hardest times.  I think I'm too shallow, self-centered and self-pitying to have noticed she needed it.  I was "dealing" with my own issues and feelings at the time, and God help me, I don't remember offering her a shoulder to cry on for her own solace.  I failed in every aspect as a husband in that time, and she never spoke a word against me.  She never once held a mirror to my weakness, to my pathetic whining and crying.  She did nothing but shoulder her burden without complaining and go on as best she could.  She never asked me for a single thing during that time, never asked me for a listening ear, never sought my understanding and caring.  She never did anything but be the supportive, loving spouse she's always been, the loving, caring, nurturing mother she's always been, and she was always the loyal, trusted, empathetic friend she's always been.

She is the bravest person I've ever met.

Now, the hideous head of our mottled, tumultuous past has reared again, and there she is, silent and stoic, facing her fears again.  She's doing what she has to do in the face of something that would probably reduce me to a quivering blob of nerves and worry.  Actually, it has done that.  She uttered not a sound, made not one groan of weary anguish.  All she did was sigh, and move on.  All she ever does is move on, and do the best she can.

She is the bravest person I've ever met.  The bravest person I've ever known.

The Home of the Brave?

Yes, I live there.


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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ghost Hunters, Pt. 39

(Just joining us? You may want to start at the beginning.)

"JD, wait!" Wendy stopped him. "We know what happens outside already. Maybe there's more that's going to happen in here."

"Dude," Dillon's voice softly carried, "she's right. Robbie's gonna get whacked out there. But Jenky might come back down here. 'Member, those guys didn't see 'im, so they didn't do nothin' 'bout him."

"And I saw them bury Robin Brown at the quarry," JD agreed. "But ... we should try and follow along, see what happens."

"We will," Wendy said. "We can watch through the window."

"He couldn't see what was going on through this --"

He was cut off by the mournful wail that froze them in their tracks. It carried through the open basement window, chilling their blood, rattling their bones. The sound seemed different somehow, changing in pitch and tone, and Wendy quickly put her hands over her ears and pressed her face into JD's chest. JD reached into his pocket fast and started the recorder again as Dillon covered his ears too, shutting his eyes tightly against the soul-stealing cry.

It faded into the night, and JD shuddered before turning off the recorder. He held Wendy with both arms and felt her trembling against him.

"God ... God in heaven I hate that sound."

"It's like bein' in hell, man."

JD nodded. "It is scary. But it was ... different somehow. I tried to record it."

"Y'already know what he's sayin', don'tcha?"

JD nodded. "I'll just check it later to see if it's the same message. I'm sure it is, but ... there was something different about it, that's all."

"Shh!" Wendy said, staring at the window. "I think he's coming!"

They stepped forward a bit when the shade of Jenkins raced into view at the window's frame, ducking and suddenly scooting back in the way he'd gone out, skittering through the low, open window, and dropping back onto the basement floor. He pulled the sash down quickly, and it squeaked like a mouse as it fell back in place. A moment later, there was another flashlight beam panned over the window frame, and the two voices from earlier carried through the stillness, hushed and conspiratorial.

"... gotta get it outta here now," one of them said, "before Jenkins shows up."

"What do we care if he does?"

"You think I want my wife ta find out about this, moron?"

"How's she gonna find out?"

"She's his sister, dip-shit! You don't think he's gonna tell her??"

"What if he does? She gonna believe him or you?"

"Fuckin' idiot. You killed 'im, not me. But it ain't gonna look good. And I don't want her t'know. I got kids too, asshole."

The voices faded around the corner of the house, and Jenkins opened the window again enough to allow the sound to drift in.

"... gonna hurt her?"

"Someone might. They ain't gonna wanna have this gettin' out. In case you ain't realized, this shit's illegal. You're fuckin' stupid."

"So whatta we gonna do, asshole?"

"'We'? 'We' ain't gonna do nothin', jack-ass. You are gonna bag that body and we'll get it in the truck and get up to the quarry. Jenkins is late. He musta got tied up or somethin'. We get up there, get rid o' the body, an' get back here an' wait for 'im. But he's gonna come here t'get the stuff. When he does, if he finds Brown dead in the yard, he's gonna be pissed."

"So what? You just said he can't talk or his sister'll be next."

"NEXT?? Dick-head, no one was supposta die!"

"I couldn't just do nothin'!"

The other voice snorted. There were sounds of laboring, grunting, a harsh whisper for some help if he didn't want to get caught, and after a time, the sound of a large canvas bag being dredged over the lawn. The three observers moved closer to the window and watched as Migo and Stanton dragged the heavily-laden bag out toward the front of the house past them. Just as JD saw them doing at the quarry the night before.

"They were planning to meet Jenkins here, but they thought he was late," JD whispered. "I guess plan B was to meet up at the quarry. It sounds as if there was a standing plan in place to keep things ... organized."

"Guess that makes this organized crime, eh?" Dillon chuckled.

JD nodded. "I guess so. The stolen goods were probably divided and fenced separately out of town somewhere. Someplace where no one heard about what was happening here, in this little hamlet."

"Like any good idea, it had a contingency for risk mitigation," Wendy breathed.

Jenkins ignored them. He listened, and a few moments later the distant sound of a car trunk being slammed, and the car starting and pulling away, could faintly be heard.

Jenkins shut and locked the window. He gathered the canvas bag in his hand and slung it over his shoulder, then wiped viciously at his eyes with his sleeve, sniffling quietly in the basement. The sound was sorrowful. The sound of a man who'd lost a friend.

JD watched as the shadow moved back toward the concrete block and vanished into it, disappearing from view.

"Okay," JD said. "Now we have to follow. He's going to go up to the quarry a little after they did. He was about five minutes behind them when I was there last night."

"Dillon and I saw him pull up in the truck when we were waiting for you last night."

Dillon nodded in agreement. "But ... we was too chicken t'check it out."

"I don't blame you," JD said. "Come on. We'll need to be ready to follow them to the quarry."

"I'm ... still hungry, though," Dillon said weakly.

"We'll eat soon, Dill, I promise," JD said. "Just let us see the rest of this, okay?"

He nodded. "But, dude ... all this crap goin' on ... what're we gonna do 'bout it? I mean, we ain't got the note, we ain't got nothin' we can show the cops t'prove Robbie ain't the crook here, and we ain't got nothin' t'show that those two dudes whacked 'im insteada Jenky. An' is the house still gonna be haunted?"

JD shrugged helplessly. "I wish I could answer any of those questions for you, Dill. I can't. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do with all this information, and I have no idea what, if any, impact this is going to have on the homeowners and their experiences here. It's just ... a waiting game, I guess."

"I have a feeling that this is just someone's way of getting the truth out," Wendy said, and she stared up at JD. "I think when this plays out, and we've seen the whole thing, it'll stop. I think someone just wants ... just wants the truth out, that's all."

JD smiled weakly. "We can only hope. But right now, we need to go."

"An' you promise we eat after this crap?"

"I promise."

"Ugh. Fine. Let's go."

They headed up the stairs, Wendy holding JD's hand, Dillon scooting along behind. They went through the door into the servants' pantry, and wove through the kitchen to the foyer, JD depositing the camera on the stairs as they went to the door. They stood on the porch, JD pulling it closed and checking to make sure it locked behind him, and then moved quickly toward the gate.

There was a thick fog over the neighborhood. Not the dense, unearthly clouds they'd seen before, but a heavy, diffused mist that left visibility low. Peering down the street, JD saw a silhouette trudging up the street ... toward where the truck was hidden.

JD headed for his car, but Dillon caught his arm.

"Dude ... let Wen drive, man."

"Well ... uh ... why?"

"'Cause, when she gets all race-car-y it's hawt, dude. Really hawt."

"Do I ... do I want you thinking she's hot?"

"I already do," he smiled. Wendy giggled.

"Come on! Get in, quick! Let's go!" she called, and unlocked her car doors as she spilled herself inside.

They piled in after her, snapping seat belt buckles and yanking doors closed, but the specter disappeared around the corner in the fog, headed up the grade toward where they'd encountered the truck. She fired the engine and whipped the car around the narrow street in a sharp U-turn, toppling Dillon and making JD clutch again at the hinged handle over his door.

"Easy!" he chided nervously as she roared up the street.

"Don't wanna lose him, lover," she smiled.

"Not ... not a problem," he said, eyes wide as she rounded the corner quickly, his body pulling left hard. Dillon chuckled in the back seat.

"Nice," he grinned. "Real nice."

There was no one in the street when they began to ascend the grade, though. She slowed the car rapidly, pulling as far to the right as possible without going off the pavement. She was just creeping along now, staring intently out the windshield, leaning forward in her seat slightly.

"Where'd he go?" she mused.

"I ... I don't know."

"Who cares? Drive fast again, Wen!"

"I will, hang on ..." she said absently, edging forward. The headlights spread and died against the heavy mist, illuminating just a few yards ahead of them.

The eruption of light made her gasp, and JD cried "Look out!" as the headlights burst out of the fog. Wendy yanked the wheel right ferociously and laid on the brakes, slamming Dillon's head against the back of the passenger's seat and snapping the safety belts taut over them. Soundlessly the two disks passed through the mist and vanished down the street, the red tail lights disappearing behind them into the gloomy night.

JD was panting slightly, trying to extract himself from the binding belt over his chest. Wendy exhaled sharply and her body went lax while Dillon groaned and rubbed his forehead.

"Good thing we ... weren't going fast after all," JD muttered.

"Yeah. Yeah." Wendy's knuckles were still white over the steering wheel where she clutched it.

Silence as the seconds ticked away. Wendy finally backed up and turned the car around to head back down the street.

"Still ... still want to go after it?" JD seemed timid.

"I'll be more careful," Wendy said, slightly irked. "If you could handle it, I can too."

"I need a crash helmet, dudes," Dillon moaned. "My head hurts."

"Sorry, Dilly," she said more gently. "I know it's off the main highway, but I don't know exactly where the quarry is, JD."

"Um ... well, it's about halfway up toward home, I guess," JD said. "I'm ... not entirely certain either. Hopefully we can find the -- truck again and ... well, follow. It's not a marked entrance that I can tell, and by then we were immersed in the fog."

She nodded absently, and headed for the highway. It only took a few minutes to find it, and even on a Saturday night, the road was empty and dark. Wendy kept her speed reasonable, trying to watch for indications along the side of the road of the quarry entrance. All she saw was the dried, brittle underbrush and the stark, bare bones of the trees standing like soldiers in the woods. They drove for long, long minutes in complete silence, each with eyes trained out the windshield.

"There!" JD whispered, sitting forward a bit. "There it is! The truck!"

The tail light configuration was right, but they had no way of knowing whether they were seeing a vision from the past or an actual truck traversing the highway. Wendy drew to it rapidly as it rounded a bend, and applied the brakes aggressively to keep from ramming the vehicle in front of her.

It was stopped.

She watched, checking her mirror nervously. In a moment, it proceeded forward.

"There's ... there's not a stop sign here, is there?"

"No," JD said flatly. "The one I followed last night stopped like that too. I thought it might be a real car at first, but then it matched and mimicked my movements."

Wendy slowed the car down, seeing she was within a few meters of the tail lights in front of her. They slowed to match. She stopped, and they stopped. She accelerated quickly, watching her speed climb toward 30, then 40 miles per hour, and always the lights stayed the fixed distance away from her.

"Just like last night," she reiterated. "This is the truck.'

"Dudes, you sure we need t'do this?"

"Yes," they intoned together.

"Okay, Olsen twins, okay," Dillon conceded, sitting back on his seat and staring out the window at the fog.

She followed at what she felt was a safe speed, and then the truck brake lights blazed on as it slowed nearly to a stop before turning right.

"The quarry," JD said.

"Thanks, Captain Obvious," Dillon said flatly. "Where would we be withoutcha?"

"Cut the crap," Wendy ordered sternly. "Let's get ready to see this through."

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Ready to go on to Part 40?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ghost Hunters, Pt. 38

(Just joining us? You may want to start at the beginning.)

Wendy reacted quickly, deciding before JD had his wits about him what she was going to do. She turned hard left, did a quick three-point turn that left Dillon tossed like a sock in a Laundromat dryer and JD clinging to the hanging handle over his door with both hands to keep from being jerked around the car. She went swiftly down the street, and noted the layout of the houses around them as she did.

"Look, JD! Look ... the houses -- they're all kinda set back or obscured by trees. In this neighborhood, he could've parked a truck and not even been noticed!"

"Uh -- y-yes, I see," JD stammered, nervous at how fast she was going. They rounded the gentle curve and he felt the pressure of the G-forces on him. She braked slightly and took the curve fast.

Panicking only slightly, JD checked quickly over his shoulder to make sure there wasn't any oncoming traffic immediately behind them. She roared the short distance to the house and pulled up so close to the curb, JD thought the car would skip its rims along the miniature concrete wall. Instead she brought them to a smooth and swift stop that left them pressed against their seat belts.

"Duuuuude," Dillon whispered. "If JD don't wanna marry you, Wen, I sure as hell do! That was hawt!"

She giggled and opened her door. "C'mon -- we can see this thing from the beginning. He parked the truck up the hill so they wouldn't see him when they got here. Why? Why would he do that? Come on, you guys, hurry up!"

"Uh ... o-okay," JD got out of the car, fighting with the buckle on the taut safety belt. Dillon slowly slid out of the car, and quickly checked himself.

"All the parts're still here ... guess I'm okay ... damn, that was hawt. I never knew driving like a maniac was so sexy 'til a chick did it. Heh."

"Try to focus, Dillon," JD said patiently. "Where are you going, Wen??"

"Come on! Hurry! I want to see him come in! What's he doing here, and why's he hiding!" She raced child-like through the gate and toward the parlor window, then changed direction and headed back toward the porch.

"Wendy, wait! You don't know where ..."

"It doesn't matter, lover! Come on, inside! We'll see him come in the window just like we did before!"

She was exuberant and wild, and JD found himself smiling despite the situation. He ran after her, trying to catch her, and she bounced eagerly on the porch, her hair springing from her shoulders as she waited for JD to come with the keys.

"Hurry, baby, hurry!"

"We still have more than an hour!" JD giggled, unable to stop himself from catching her enthusiasm.

"I don't think so! I think this is it! This is the whole story! Everything the house has to say, we're about to hear!"

"The house?"

"Sure. Don't you think it's the house?"

"Does this mean we ain't gonna eat? I'm friggin' hungry."

"We ate less than three hours ago, Dillon, give me a break."

"I'll give you somethin', all right. Dude."

He finally fumbled the keys into the lock and opened the door. Wendy raced in past him while he disengaged them from the lock, and Dillon pouted.

"Don't worry, Dilly ... we'll get you something. Just not right now. Come on, let's wait by the window!" She darted for the parlor, peeling her coat from her shoulders.

JD chuckled again, and noticed he was trotting after her, wanting to keep pace with her unbridled excitement. Dillon shuffled after them, grumbling.

JD came alongside her as she dropped into one of the chairs in front of the tables, behind the monitors, and watched the windows. The dark outside stared back at them coldly, as blank and unrevealing as a shark's eyes. She took JD's hand and held it between both of hers, and sat at the edge of her seat like a young girl at the movie theater without her parents for the first time.

JD watched the window, and tried to check his watch, but Wendy held the hand on which he wore it. He still thought there was too much time left for the replay to start. He didn't want her to be disappointed. Dillon leaned against the parlor's door jamb, his hands tucked casually into his pants pockets.

"Ain't gonna happen, people," he said. "Not time yet. Big-brain-small-balls said it was all time-triggered or whatever."

JD shot him a glare. "What'd you call me?"

"Have I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?"

JD shook his head and looked away. "That could be considered blasphemy."

"Shh! Shh! I think it's going to happen! I think it will! Just ... wait. Just wait."

"Wendy, we're really early, and it does appear to be time-dependent ..."

"Give it chance, baby, just wait ... okay?"

He looked down on her flashing eyes, her broad, amazing smile, and gently nodded. He looked back at Dillon, who simply shook his head and looked down. JD shrugged.

They all jumped harshly and Dillon squeaked when the window sash screamed open, rising slowly, the screeching wail of the ancient window protesting the movement.

JD quickly took a step, feeling at the table top desperately, finally wrapping his fingers around the tiny digital recorder, and pressed the record button quickly, catching the last several seconds of the loudly crying window movement.

Dillon whimpered behind him, and Wendy was squeezing his hand so tightly he thought she might crush it.

JD shut the recorder off a half-second after the sound died away, and tucked it into his pocket. He was straining for the hand-held video camera, and Wendy finally noticed what he was doing. She handed it to him quickly and released his hand. He felt guiltily relieved and worked it opened and closed to get the blood flowing through his digits, while he powered the camera on with his other hand. He popped open the LCD display and made sure the lens cover was off. Pointing it at the window, he watched as the shadowy figure appeared at the window, just outside.

Wendy covered her mouth and he heard her soft cry die in her hands as she smothered it. He felt the floor vibrate simultaneously and knew Dillon had jumped. Whether at the sound or the image, he didn't know. Steadily pointing the camera, he watched the figure come into the room, crouching just beneath the window, just out of sight from the exterior.

"Darren Jenkins?" JD called softly. The figure ignored him.

"Who're you, Jennifer Love Hewitt?" Dillon mocked. "This ain't TV, dude!"

"Hey, the other one spoke to us. I thought it was worth a try."

"Good try, baby," Wendy patted his arm. "What's he doing now?"

"He's looking to make sure he wasn't seen or followed. In a couple of seconds he'll ..."

The figure rose and moved to their left one more window, brushing invisible curtains aside to look out on the yard from another perspective. Then he moved toward the wall again, and JD knew this would be where it got tricky.

"He's going to open that door again," Wendy said. "Should we follow him?"

"No! I know where that door used to go! Come on!"

The figure opened the door that seemed to simply morph out of the wall, and vanished inside, pulling it closed behind him.

JD raced across the large space behind the stairs, across the foyer to the kitchen, and turned on a light quickly as he ducked into the pantry. At the back, he turned on another light, and then yanked open the door to the servant's staircase. He felt Wendy right behind her and heard Dillon's distinctive shuffle stumbling after as he pulled on the chain to engage the light at the top of the basement stairs.

He flew down the steps as fast as he could, and felt Wendy trying to keep pace. Before he could worry she was grasping his shoulders, keeping herself from falling as she stumbled down the last few steps. JD came forward, but the basement was pitch black now. No exterior light assisted with the navigation. He knew the space was largely open, now ... but wasn't sure if he could trip on objects that were there 35 years ago.

He fumbled in his pocket, but didn't have his red-lens flashlight.

"Damn," he swore softly, and fumbled with the camera. He finally made the tiny camera light turn on, and it pierced the black as far ahead of them as the camera's night-ability would allow. It was all of about six feet, but showed that the floor was still clear. He began to edge to his left, moving forward slowly, cautiously.

"This way ... there's a concrete wall up there that sits right between the parlor and the den or living room, whatever it is. There was a staircase between those two rooms 35 years ago. I think they expanded the room next to the parlor and took it out to create the space."

Wendy clutched JD tightly, and he was sure Dillon was clutching her just as tightly.

"I'm scared, dude," Dillon whispered softly.

"Don't be. This is the easy part. Just watch."

JD crept forward until the tiny light finally found the first traces of the large concrete barricade in front of them. He stopped then, and felt the others press tightly to his back. He heard Wendy breathing, anxious, quivering, and felt her gentle but rhythmic trembling on his arm as she entwined hers over it like ivy. He squeezed one hand with his free one, and let the camera run.

In a moment, the concrete seemed to be liquid and soft again, and a shadowy, indistinct form seemed to emerge from the gray monolith as if coming out of a wall of oatmeal. Wendy clutched JD tightly, and he felt his heart racing, his body tense, ready to spring.

The shadow moved toward the window, next to where he'd seen the pipe plunge through the wall into the earth under the parlor window. With a last furtive look through the dirty panes spattered with mud, he turned toward the middle of the basement. He bent and seemed to be working on -- or in -- something. The distinct sound of metal clinking and glass bumping filled the damp enclosure.

"What ... what's he doing?" Wendy's whisper was so soft, JD had to strain to hear it.

He shook his head, indicating he didn't know either. He gingerly took another step forward, Wendy moving in unison with him. The tiny camera light seemed to be powerless to illuminate the shadowy figure bent over the floor, but it showed the folds and wrinkles of a large canvas bag, gray with age and frayed with use, lying in front of him.

And suddenly, a diamond necklace appeared as he dropped it beside the bag in the weak ring of light. A golden statuette, a jewelry box, a silver candlestick, a jade figurine ... one by one the shadow placed expensive and rare objects d'art and jewelry beside him, trinkets that, JD was sure, had been taken in the burglaries of the time.

In a moment, the collection seemed to be complete. The figure took the items he'd set aside, and stood up, stretching and moving his legs to allow the circulation to flow freely again. He pulled something white and flimsy from behind his back, and they all jumped, stifling yelps of start, when he snapped the pillow case open. One by one he dropped the tiny treasures into the cotton make-shift carrier, and they clinked and clunked as they fell in. In another few minutes, he hefted the case over his shoulder, the items rattling against his back, the figure grunting with the effort.

JD shone the light on the canvas bag on the floor, but couldn't tell how much had been removed.

"Dude took all the good stuff, I bet," Dillon whispered, and JD was impressed that he could barely hear the statement.

"Is that what he's doing? Taking stuff? Stealing from thieves?"

JD shrugged. "I ... don't know. Sure looks like it." He whispered so softly, he bent low to make sure she heard him. He wasn't sure why he was whispering, though.

The shadowy figure seemed to vanish into the depths of the basement, and when he re-emerged into the dim light, he no longer had his treasure with him. He checked what JD assumed was a watch on his left wrist, and walked back to the basement window beneath the parlor, looking out into the night. Turning slowly, he started for the concrete barrier again.

All of them froze when they heard voices outside.

JD felt himself sweating. He knew what was coming.

They could hear the sounds, but not make out the words. Rushing, the shadowy figure raced back to his position at the window and peered out, and suddenly a flash of white light traced past the panes and the figure ducked, pressing himself against the wall beneath the window. The voices seemed to fade as the light moved away, and the silhouette slowly stood and looked out the window again.


The sound startled them all sharply, making them jump and their skin burn with the sudden, hot flush of adrenaline that pounded through them.

"What the fuck are they doin' here already??"

The voice was whispered but harsh, gravelly, gruff. The figure sank to the floor, and went motionless.

They continued to hear the voices outside, so softly now they couldn't be distinguished from one another.

Quickly, another light cut across the panes of the window, and Jenkins jerked his head up, then scrabbled to his feet. He strained to look out, but couldn't see, and then darted across the basement to the window opposite. He strained again, but still couldn't see.

"Aw, Christ!" he groaned softly. "Damn it, is that you, Robbie?? You sonuvabitch, you told me you weren't doin' this!"

He bolted back to the opposite window, then scrambled forward, the three observers nearly leaping to get out of the way as he raced past, trying to find another window at the back of the basement. There was none.

He panted heavily as he went back to the window beneath the parlor, then held his breath, listening. The voices were joined by a third. There was an exchange. The voices grew a bit louder, but were still too indistinct to be understood. The figure bolted to the other window again, and suddenly there was a strange, indecipherable sound, and a voice strained and panicked. Then footfalls, clear, racing and pounding past the window where Jenkins stood, and he ducked quickly, watching them go by.

He waited, watching for a moment, and listened. No sound. Silence.

He tore at the old, rickety latch of the window, and pulled the sash harshly. Paint cracked and splintered away, and the decrepit hinges screamed in protesting agony as the sash was opened for the first time in many, many decades. He scooted up, onto the ledge formed by the basement foundation wall, and wedged his form tightly through the window, and into the yard.

"Come on," JD said softly, "let's go back upstairs. The rest of this will be in the yard."

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