Blogoween Day 30 – True Terror Tuesday: The House That Mom Built

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Most ghost stories take place in houses that have histories, have been well-lived in, that have seen tragedy and death. So imagine my surprise when I moved into a brand new house that my mother built and had my most paranormal experience ever.

I think a lot of pre-teen and teen-aged girls have paranormal experiences because their worlds are changing so drastically in a very short time. That is to say, either the supernatural is drawn to people whose lives are in turmoil, or people who are experiencing turmoil cloak those experiences as supernatural. And turmoil is relative: what seems like no big deal to you could be life-shattering to someone else.

(Side rant: I’m always amazed at adult-aged people who think teenagers are over-dramatic and hyper-emotional. Yes, of course they are, their hormones are a mess, and this is the first time they’re experiencing heartbreak and betrayal and stress. Do you not remember having these experiences? If you lost a finger, you’d freak out, but to someone who’s lost two limbs, your experience is nothing–that doesn’t actually diminish your experience, it’s just relative. Fuck off, olds, and be nice to children for goodness sake!)

Anyway, I think the dichotomy of something monstrously supernatural vs monstrously human happening to a teenager is very interesting, and I’d love to find some research that looks at the psychology behind that with views from skeptics and believers alike. That is all to say, Dear Reader, that I recognize at this point in my life shit was capital F Fucked Up, and there could be a real life explanation, like my god damned brain just breaking, for what I’m about to tell you here, but this will be long enough without my telling you about all the horror that was my real life at this time, so I won’t bore you with that. Disclaimer out of the way, let’s get into the sPoOpInEsS…

Without getting too into the nitty gritty, my mom and her boyfriend at the time built a house on about seven acres in Bumfuck, Ohio, a village we’d moved to from a much more populated Florida a couple years prior. When I was little, one of the things I swore I would be when I grew up was a “farmer.” I didn’t know back then that farming actually meant raising animals to slaughter, I thought it just meant I would get to take care of a bunch of cows and sheep and cats, but when faced with a lot of open land, I realized “farming” was not all it was cracked up to be.

On the back of this swath of land was a few acres of forested area. Then-me was simultaneously more cowardly and braver than current-me, and I sometimes went on walks in the woods alone. This is where the weirdness started. The woods are isolating, even when you know home is a short sprint away, but then-me was very interested in nature and finding my, let’s say, tribal roots? I wanted very badly to belong in the new place that I lived, but I knew that I didn’t, so I searched for that inclusion in the earth itself, and in some ways I found it. I wasn’t afraid of snapping twigs and sudden rustling, of freakish silence and breezes that sounded like whispers. I was home.

But the house itself instilled a very different feeling. There was nothing creepy about it, and I was very happy to live there as opposed to the cramped, one-bedroom apartment we’d just been in, but it was…off. We had a landline then, but I don’t think many people had the number. I was home alone a lot and at a distance from the couple friends I had, so I was quick to answer the phone any time it rang. I got some prank calls from time to time, or I thought they were pranks, but there was a series of them that made me feel much stranger than any others.

I’d answer and there would be only breathing on the other end. Okay, fine, a creeper, just hang up. This went on for a couple weeks, a few times a week, then it escalated to a voice, a sort of strangled, breathy static voice. They’d only say one word, “I” or “eye”, and repeat it. Sometimes I’d say “Hello?” repeatedly before hanging up, but I was always quiet and calm. My mom would sometimes answer the phone but never got these calls, just me.

Simultaneously, I started having these odd experiences at night. Only my mom and I lived in the house. There were three bedrooms, but my mom opted to sleep on the couch in the living room at one end of the house, and my bedroom was at the exact opposite end of the house. There was a bathroom in the hall before you’d get to my room at the very end, so if my mom were to use the bathroom at night, that’s the one she’d go to.

For most of my life I fell asleep with the TV on. I was and am afraid of the dark, and the buzz of a tube TV and its dull, blue light were a great comfort, but I always kept the volume as close to being muted as possible. I also slept a bit strangely. I had my bed in the corner of the room with the headboard against the same wall the doorway was on. Between the doorway and my bed, I had a pretty big desk with built-in shelves, so when lying down, if I looked to the side, I’d just see the side of this shelving unit, and not the open doorway, and anyone looking in couldn’t see me. This was optimal to my emu-like brain.

One night after hanging up on the “I” caller earlier in the evening, I was laying in bed, staring at a silent TV, when I heard something from the hall. I knew exactly what the sound was: footsteps on carpet. It’s a very specific, soft padding sound and had the cadence of someone carefully and quietly making their way down the hall. My first suspicion was, of course, my mom headed to the bathroom, but she never went in, opened or closed a door, turned on a light, flushed a toilet, or ran any water. Instead, the footsteps just sort of stopped round about the bathroom. I still thought it was her, and she was just being expertly quiet, and I fell asleep.

The following night, the same thing happened. Quiet footsteps, no bathroom sounds, stopping randomly in the hall, then nothing. This went on for a few nights, and even in all my paranormal paranoia, I always thought it was just Mom taking a silent nighttime whiz, as improbable as that was. Then I noticed the steps getting closer to my room until they were stopping right at the threshold to my door. Now, remember, I couldn’t see the doorway from where I lay, so this was all on hearing alone, but I think we’re all familiar with that “someone’s in here with me” feeling, and it was pretty strong.

This went on a few more nights, and teen-aged me was like “enough!” because I was convinced it was my mother coming to check on me in the middle of the night, every night, and there was no need. So I confronted her, asked her why she was doing it. She had no idea what I was talking about. I didn’t believe her, and told her so, asking her to not do it anymore because it was waking me up. At this point, I was waking up every single night to the quiet padding of feet on the carpet, and my brain was assigning it to my mother checking on me, despite her insistence that she wasn’t. I figured, even if she denied it, if I told her it was waking me she would stop. It didn’t stop.

I confronted her again, that this had to stop, and again she told me she wasn’t even gong to the bathroom at night, let alone going to my door. Her conviction was pretty intense then, and I started to entertain believing her. That night when I heard the footsteps and I felt the presence, I started to get genuinely creeped out. I don’t know the span of time this went on for. It could have just been a few weeks or a few months, but it feels very out-of-time to me now looking back on it, like a perpetual autumn into winter.

The phone calls had been going on this whole time intermittently. I’d accepted that the footsteps were not related to my mother, and when I’d wake to them, I’d lay frozen in bed until I just fell back to sleep, but I didn’t connect them with the calls until I got the last one. My mom and her boyfriend were out in the barn which you could see from the house, about a football field away, and I was alone inside. This time when I answered and that familiar static buzz and staggered breathing sounded, I felt enraged. I shouted “Hello?” a few times to be answered with a long, drawn out “I” in a scratchy voice, and I finally responded, “Fuck off!” and hung up, incredibly unsatisfactorily with the click of a button on the portable phone. My heart was pounding–I’d never told the caller off before–and I was just staring daggers down at the phone as I stomped down the long hall to my bedroom. I wanted to reach through it and strangle whoever it was, and my sleep deprivation wasn’t helping my mood, and I flopped down on my bed with the phone in hand. Then something happened that hadn’t before: the phone rang again.

I answered immediately because I knew: even though the mystery caller had never tried multiple times or even days in a row before, I knew this was them. I was feeling angry, but also at a loss–no one else ever got these calls or was even around when they happened–and I shouted into the receiver, “What do you want?!” In return, over the static and the breath, a raspy but clear whisper-shout answered: “I WANT YOU!”

I screamed, the anger terrified out of me immediately. All my bravery drained away, and I suddenly felt very alone and totally panicked. I was probably having an anxiety attack, but didn’t know the name for it. The walls seemed to bow in on me, my vision tunneled, and I started to see things flitting in the corner of my eyes. I fled from my room, down the hall, the feeling of something on my heels the whole time. I passed by a sliding glass door, the forested area on its other side, and I swear I saw figures there amongst the trees. I flew out the front door, barefoot, and raced my own fear across the yard to the barn, bursting through the opening hyperventilating and on the verge of tears. My mom and her boyfriend just sort of stared at me, and I shoved the phone at my mom. “No one’s there,” she told me, and I didn’t bother explaining. I just sat on the ground and refused to go back inside by myself.

That night when the footsteps happened again I’m not sure exactly what happened. It was a bit like my mental state had deteriorated, and I just left my own body because I got up out of bed, under just the glow of the TV at 3am, and walked stoically toward my bedroom door. I don’t think I wanted to do it, but my body just did it, so I turned my mind off. I didn’t let myself be afraid–I didn’t let myself be anything–I just did it because I had to know, to confirm if I was crazy. When I got to the door, there was nothing there, so I went out into the hallway.

Standing at the hall’s end, my eyes could make out in the darkness all the way up the hallway, through the kitchen and dining room, and into the living room. My mom wasn’t there, presumable she was lying on the couch beyond the wall and asleep, but there was something. Something I could see through, but was definitely there in a sort of white sheen. It was bigger than a person and without features, but it was person-shaped, and it filled up the hallway, standing just by the bathroom door. I was still in my brain-broken state, and my feet took me toward it, absent of fear or dread or anything at all. Then I sort of just fell through the apparition, and in that moment I snapped back into myself, wholly aware of what I’d just done.

I stumbled, I grabbed the edge of the bathroom doorway, and I fumbled for the bathroom light. Fear came rushing into me, but it was that feeling you get when you’ve been frightened by a friend–your heart’s pounding but you know you’re not in danger because it was a joke. I wasn’t anxious. I was, in fact, feeling strangely warm and almost happy, but I was scared that I’d just not been myself at all in the moment prior. I didn’t think about what I’d seen while I stood in the bathroom, I didn’t even look to see if it was still there because I knew it wouldn’t be, and after a minute or so, I returned to bed and fell asleep.

I never got another creepy call or experienced the disembodied footsteps or strange presence in the hall or my room after that. We only lived in that house for a year or so, and when we left it I was both distressed and relieved. I have my theories about what it was, both purely psychological and human as well as supernatural, but without being able to confirm anything or to go back to that place, I feel like they’re all sort of useless. All I know is what happened, Dear Reader, and this is just that.

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Blogoween Day 23 – True Terror Tuesday: A Haunting in St. Pete

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I’ve always been leery of public restrooms. There are plenty of reasons to be: they’re a room full of doors with typically only one way in and out, and when inside you’re at your most vulnerable. But I’ve also always had a tiny bladder, so more often than I wish, I’ve found myself in dimly-lit, dirty, defecatoriums of doom.

A few years ago, I was out with Husband and some in-laws. I’m protecting their identities here, mostly because I’m sure they don’t want to publicly be associated with this brand of crazy, but they could corroborate at least part of this experience, provided they remember.

We had spent the day in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, and were returning to the car which was parked by the pier. The ride from St. Pete to Tampa was always long, stuck on a bridge, so I knew I had to pee before we got going, and as luck would have it, there were restrooms right there: Comfort Station One, to be exact. Dear Reader, when I tell you this was one of the strangest, most off-putting public bathrooms I’ve ever been in, I’m not exaggerating. They felt absolutely horrible inside.

The men’s and women’s were in separate buildings, octagonal shaped, and to enter the bathroom, you had to walk around the building and up a ramp, so that trapped feeling one might have in a bathroom with one way in and out was amplified by the hall of sorts that you could never see the end of since it spiraled around to the entrance door. Inside, the space was dark with tile walls and a concrete floor, so your movements echoed, but even though there are windows that are open and you can hear a bit of the ocean through them, most outside world sounds were shut off. Mirrors and sinks lined the left side of the room with a stall at their end, and stalls lined the right side completely.

I did a quick visual pat-down of the bathroom, and saw I was alone. This is always both better and worse than what I anticipate: I don’t want to be murdered, so an empty bathroom means no murderers, but if someone new comes in to murder me, there’s no one around to go get help. Ya dig? The farthest end of the bathroom was a bit more shadowed, so I opted for the second stall from the entrance, which is my typical go to anyway. I popped in and sat down quickly. I needed to pee pretty badly, but I was also anxious: what if the moment I started peeing someone tried to break down the stall door? This fear is exceptionally stupid, I have to admit, because if this did happen, I’d probably piss myself (and what better place than on the toilet?), but if I felt like I needed to run, I’d probably just stop peeing very suddenly, or if I was in genuine danger I would probably not care if I ran out half naked trailing urine. In fact, this might be tactically advantageous since my attacker could slip in the pee trail. Ultimately, I’m very unlikely to be murdered in a public toilet (though that’s probably the most likely place, it’s just unlikely overall), but I still had that momentary jolt of realization: I’m at my most vulnerable right now.

So now that we have my irrational fear covered, let’s get back to it: I was pissing. As I’m relieving myself, willing it to get the heck out so I too can get the heck out, I hear someone else come into the bathroom. Now, this bathroom, as I mentioned, already gave me that sense of dread that only very few places do, so when I heard footsteps outside the stall, my whole body seized for a second. Everything stopped up, and I just held my breath as they walked across the concrete just outside my stall. But then I realized, this is a public restroom after all, people come in and go out all the time, it was evening, it had been busy outside, this was completely normal. That and my family was waiting outside for me, so if I didn’t come out, they’d at least recover my corpse later.

So I hear this other person, and I see their shadow on the ground due to the windows in the room. They walk past my stall and enter the stall directly to my right. I was immediately annoyed–I don’t know why people do this, just leave a space between us! But then I remembered the dimness of the rest of the end of the bathroom, and I forgave them. But only a little. I heard them close the door and shuffle in the stall for a minute, then I’m finally finished, and I wrench my shorts on as fast as possible and throw myself out of the stall.

There was probably only 20 seconds between hearing my pee-partner close their stall and me exiting my own, 20 seconds that I got dressed, flushed the toilet, and left. Yes, I made a significant amount of noise, but it was incredibly fast, and I know for certain that no one else had entered or exited the bathroom in that time, but when I walked up to the sinks to wash my hands and peered into the mirror, I could see the reflection of all the stalls behind me, and they were all open. I was still alone.

My heart started racing. I was sure I’d heard and even seen someone (their shadow at least) come in and close the stall beside me. The world around me had most certainly been manipulated–light had been distorted by a figure passing by, the stalls had made a sound, they’d even rattled physically a tiny bit with the movement of the door. Everything that had just transpired screamed “there’s someone in here with you!” but I was definitively, in that moment, the only person inside that restroom.

I ran my hands under the water for a second, staring daggers at the reflection of the stall beside my own. There was no figure inside, the door didn’t even sway, but I had a terrible feeling, like I shouldn’t turn around and see it in actuality. Then I booked it out of the bathroom, and I think I actually ran down the ramp and away, and up to my family. I told them immediately, out of breath, “We have to go, that place is haunted.”

Now, I never expect people to believe me when I say this kind of thing, but this time, someone looked at me and asked me if I was joking. I shook my head and told them what happened. They pried a little harder, asking me if I was making it up or joking. Of course not, I told them, why would I do that?

Apparently, while I was in the bathroom, someone had come up to them and started talking. Since they were standing outside the Comfort Station, it looked like they were admiring it, so this person started telling them about the building. He told them that the man who’d built the octagonal bathrooms had first built an octagonal church in the area in the 30s, but had been stiffed on the payment for the church, so when he built the bathrooms, he modeled them after the church as a sort of middle finger to those that had done him wrong. Because of that, the bathrooms were cursed, or maybe haunted, or just had bad juju in general. In any case, it was best to just stay out of them. He walked away, and then I came out all flustered and upset because I’d peed next to a ghost.

I’ve since done research on Comfort Station One (meaning, I Googled it a couple times), and it turns out the legend isn’t 100% true (though it’s a pretty good one), but lots of people do report unease and ghostly sightings in that very bathroom, none of which I knew ahead of time. So that’s the story: a ghost hung out in the stall beside mine in a weird, octagonal bathroom in St. Pete once, and I managed to not pee myself or get murdered.

Vacancy – 1.23 – Everything Comes With Its Cost

Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

v 1.23

Lorelei’s concern that Conrad had forgotten completely–unintentionally or otherwise–about the letter from Ms. Pennycress had been erased when she found him waiting at the reception desk that morning before her shift even started. It had been two weeks since he’d suggested they visit his parent’s home, but he raised a hand to her even before she reached the bottom of the steps as if the conversation had just been moments earlier, “Avail!”

That night, after she wrangled up exactly seventeen extra pillows for a family of kumiho for fort building, and he diagnosed a banshee with RSV, respiratory supernatural virus as he’d enthusiastically explained, they took the hidden road that Lorelei drove in on the night she first came to Moonlit Shore’s Manor. With the brooch in her pocket, she held tightly to the back of Conrad’s jacket as he steered his motorbike off the main gravel drive and down a slightly narrower one into the woods.

A short drive later, they emerged in a raised clearing. The house loomed above them, cutting into the darkening, grey-blue sky as it reached upward. At its attic peak, it stood four stories, tall windows bordered with dark green shutters freckling its face. The siding had been yellow at one time, but to call it yellow now would have been an insult to the color. Detailed framework lined every edge and roof, but the patterns were obscured by thick vines, and the long shadows of the preemptively dark fall evening. A freezing gust of wind blew across them as they stared up at it, and they both pulled their coats tight, the smell of rain heavy in the air.

“This place is definitely haunted,” Lorelei found herself saying before she could stop. The memory that Conrad’s family had all perished hit her hard then, and she snapped her head toward him to apologize.

“They didn’t die here,” he told her matter-of-factly, “I mean, I’m sure someone did at some point, the house is just a few decades younger than the manor, but I don’t remember any ghosts hanging around when I was growing up.”

Lorelei began to wonder about the implication of a world where ghosts existed and people you loved had died, when she realized Conrad was already headed up the discolored steps leaving her in the increasingly dark yard. She scurried up behind him, the front porch creaking under their feet. Lorelei instantly felt uneasy, as if she were going somewhere she weren’t allowed, somewhere no one was allowed. “When was the last time you said you were here?” She wasn’t entirely sure he actually had said.

Conrad pushed the key, an ancient, rusted looking thing, into the lock then wiggled it around until it finally unlatched, “Oh, just a little while.” Inside, it was dark, and Conrad reached for a switch. He flipped on the lights, they flickered, and unceremoniously went back out. “Maybe a long while.”

From his satchel, he handed her a flashlight and flicked on his own. “What, no magic?” Lorelei feigned disappointment, lighting up her own face to show him that she was pouting exaggeratedly as he pulled the front door shut against the intensifying wind, plunging them into an even deeper darkness.

“It’s not free,” he chuckled, “Everything comes with its cost, and you never know when you’re going to really need it.”

She wasn’t exactly sure what he meant, but hoped she wouldn’t find out.

The foyer was small with a single staircase headed upward and a narrow hall beside it, and under different circumstances, it would have been inviting. It was not unkempt, but it was obvious no one was maintaining the place, a layer of dust over the once reflective surface of an accent table, and the landscape painting hanging above at a slight angle.

Lorelei shined her light over the archways that lead further into the house, casting long shadows across the strips of the rooms she could make out. They moved eerily in the steady wake of her light, as if the entire space were waving back at her, then there was a flutter of movement just at the edge of her beam, and she yelped, dropping the light and jumping behind Conrad.

He turned, quickly panning over the area “What? What is it?”

“I thought I saw,” she squinted back into the room, peering out from behind him. “Nothing,” she took a big breath, “I’m sorry, guess I’m just jumpy.”

He glanced over his shoulder at her. She was gripping his arm. “That’s all right.”

She groaned at herself and let him go, picking up the flashlight and taking a step further into the house. “It’s okay, I’m tough,” she snorted, turning her back on the darkness of the hall to face him, “I’ve dealt with ghosts, trow, werewolves: this is nothing!”

A crack of thunder ripped through the house, and the place lit up so bright they were blinded. Lorelei threw herself at Conrad again, this time into his chest. Her heart was beating a mile a minute, and she didn’t dare move until she got her breath under control. When she finally pulled back, she looked up at him. This time there was a hint of panic on his face, and he stood stockstill.

“Sorry!” she took another step back, her heart still racing. Rain began to plunk against the front windows in thick drops. There would be no going back now.

Conrad cleared his throat and stood a bit straighter, “No, no, it’s fine.” He took a couple steps forward then stopped, “Did you say werewolves?”

Lorelei shook her head quickly, “Nope, I don’t think so.”

Shrugging, Conrad stuck his head through to the dining room directly off the foyer. A table that sat eight, surrounded with high-backed chairs took up the space, with a bar at the back of the room, and a glass-doored hutch. “Yup, just like I remember.”

“So you live full-time at the manor just like us? You don’t come back here?”

“I moved into the cottage with Arista and Seamus right after my parents died,” he crossed the foyer and peeked into what looked to be a receiving parlor with stiff-backed furniture and an ashy fireplace, “I was only eleven, so it made sense. I moved into the manor proper at about sixteen just to get some space. I used to come back here sometimes, but eventually stopped.”

“Eleven?” Lorelei followed him, “I didn’t know you were so young.”

He flipped through a stack of books on the small table in the room’s center, “It didn’t feel like it. Not afterward anyway.”

Lorelei ran her light over the outer rim of the space. An upright piano sat in the corner, painted teal and pink, beside it mismatched but fancifully upholstered chairs, and across the room shelving filled with knick-knacks. There was a feeling here, faint, but pulsing. Something felt alive, even joyful.

“It’s probably been two, maybe three years since I’ve been inside. I’ve ridden up here, but didn’t have the guts to come back in.”

Lorelei watched him pass through another archway. His flashlight illuminated just enough of his face for her to confirm the sadness she’d heard in his voice. She went up to him and hesitated, wanting to put a hand on his shoulder.

“But look, we’re here!” he smiled and flicked the flashlight all over the space, illuminating a mirror on the opposite wall so that shadows looked like they moved across every surface.

She smiled uneasily back, the skittering shadows making her pull into herself as another clap of thunder roared above them. “Right, so what exactly should we be looking for?”

“Well, my parents had a lot of stuff–old stuff, weird stuff–passed down through the family, and I’m hoping that something will give us a clue about the brooch, the letter, maybe even the society.”

“So just rifle through your heirlooms?”

“Basically.”

Where they stood appeared to be a library, bookshelves lining every wall and comfy seating in its center. Amongst the barely legible spines sat what she assumed were some of the heirlooms, an elephant carved from wood, a jade dragon, a taxidermied crow. The shelves themselves were almost as beautiful as the artifacts, stained dark with ornate corners and built into the wall with intricate floral details that complimented the wallpaper. “This place is really beautiful,” she called over her shoulder as she ran a finger along a thin piece of notched wood atop a stand, “I know you’re not comfortable here, but it’d be a shame to let the house just sort of…die, ya know? Maybe if you did some upgrades to it or restored it you’d feel more at home?”

“You really think it’s nice?” he came in and looked around, grabbing a book off the shelf, “Britney says I should demolish it.”

“What?” Lorelei stomped, and lightning flashed into the room. Conrad jumped, but she wasn’t sure from what. “That’s insane!” she crossed her arms and frowned at the idea, then she grit her teeth and sighed, “Well, unless she thinks you’d be happier for it. Maybe that’s not totally insane.”

Conrad rolled his eyes, “No, I’m pretty sure she just thinks it’s old and gross.”

She watched him thoughtlessly leaf though the book with one hand wanting to ask how he really felt about that, but instead chewed her lip and pulled a book down herself. The pages were in a language she didn’t know, and the drawing she came upon, a black and white etching of a group of people standing in a circle around a shining orb, had her even more confused. She peeked up at Conrad again. He was staring at the shelves, but not really looking at anything.

“So what did you parents do?” she asked, forcing a lilt into her voice.

“Mom was a midwife, actually, and my dad was just wealthy, I guess.” He chuckled, gesturing to the objects on the case, “He traveled a lot, collected things, and managed the manor along with Arista.”

“I’m assuming that was passed down through your family too?”

“Yup,” he shone his flashlight in the upper corners of the room’s vaulted ceilings, “Arista and my father grew up here, but she had the cottage built shortly after my mom came into the picture. Didn’t get along, big surprise.”

“Shocking,” Lorelei flicked her light through the doorway into a massive kitchen. The room was also filled with shelves holding curios. “Man, there’s a lot of stuff here,” she mused, taking a few careful steps onto the tile. When she glanced back at Conrad, he was carefully opening a drawer, sweeping his eyes over its contents, and closing it again. “And you don’t seem to be looking very hard for anything.”

“Um, well,” he scratched the back of his neck, “that’s probably because I have a good feeling where we ought to look, and I’m just avoiding it.”

“Oh?” she turned her light onto him with a half smile, “and where might that be?”

“My father’s study. If there’s something here, that’s where we’ll find it.”

“Where the sword came from?” she both dreaded and delighted at his pending answer, “Upstairs?”

“Yup,” he was eyeing the entry hall, “I just wasn’t really allowed in there as a kid, so…”

She turned abruptly and headed for the stairs at the front of the house, passing him with a smirk, “You have issues.”

Conrad scoffed after her, “Says the woman who left someone at the altar.”

“We’re not talking about that right now,” she flicked her light over her shoulder so that he had to shield his eyes from it. Her biggest, well, second biggest secret had been brought to light the week prior, but no one had spoken of it since, and she’d hoped it had been forgotten.

“Oh, but I think I am,” his voice floated up the stairs behind her as she tried to escape it. She took the stairs a little faster than she would have otherwise in the dark, but stopped at the landing. “How does one manage to get so close to saying ‘I do’ and then change their mind? I’ve been meaning to ask.”

She glared at him as he came to stand next to her. He was grinning, and though annoyed, she had to fight back her own smile, “It’s complicated.”

The rain was louder here, echoing from the top of the stairwell at the attic. The second floor’s landing had four doorways off of it and another set of ascending stairs. With the doors open, Lorelei glanced into them and saw one had a single bed and the trappings of a young boy’s room. “Yours?”

Conrad lingered in the doorway before stepping in, “Yeah. Well, when I was a kid.”

“You liked dinosaurs?” She stood on the threshold, shining her light over three stick figures on the dresser, well loved. Something about a warlock being interested in the prehistoric amused her.

“Still do,” he picked up the triceratops and inspected it, then pointed it at her, “I mean, how can you not?” The room appeared complete and untouched as if he brought nothing with him when he left to live with his aunt and uncle. “I didn’t make them fight though, I used to pretend they were trying to figure out how to not go extinct. Ya know, I think this one and this one were even married.”

When he raised an eyebrow at her she grunted and turned out of the room, “Which of these is the study?”

Conrad groaned loudly, “None of them,” and motioned up the next staircase.

Thunder rattled the house. Lorelei sighed, “Of course.”

The third floor was more open, with a larger landing and a small seating area by a window. Outside, rain pelted the glass and a flash of lightning illuminated a doorway on either side, one open onto a bedroom with an over-sized four poster bed and downy bedding. Across the landing another door was closed, but only just.

Conrad stopped, slowly panning his light around the frame.

She could feel his hesitation, “What’s wrong?”

“I was almost certain we’d have to pop the lock off. I don’t remember this door ever being open.”

She tried to sound confident, but her voice hitched, “How, uh–how else would Arista have gotten the sword?”

Conrad took a few careful steps up to the door, and Lorelei stayed on his heels. Pushing it open with the head of his light, he illuminated the room. Unlike the rest of the house, still neat even if dusty and aged, this space stood in stark contrast. The floor and desk were covered in tattered papers. Drawers had been scattered from their homes, contents spilt on the floor and left wherever they landed, and shelves had been cleared, pieces of what once lined them unidentifiable now.

“Dad was a little messy, I guess?”

“This can’t be right,” he strode in amongst the papers, looking around frantically, “There’s no way it was left like this.”

Lorelei took a few steps into the room, and though she was careful, managed to crunch something underfoot. Shining her light on the floor, she found a framed photo of a woman and two boys, one a toddler, and the other a pre-teen, the glass of the frame shattered long before she’d gotten there.

“Finally broke into daddy’s study, huh?”

Lorelei spun, shocked to see a man leaning haphazardly against the door frame in her light’s beam. He wore a large, dark coat, but she could see he was slim beneath, tall, and with dark hair and light eyes that were strangely familiar. Stumbling backward, she shot a look at Conrad. That was it–he wore his hair cropped short with a clean-shaven face and a look like he knew something that could ruin you, but he looked enough like Conrad to be related. Even brothers.

 

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Blogmas: A Haunted Holiday Pt 1

“I’ll not have it this year,” Lady Allerton stood stiffly in the entrance to the parlor, hands folded, chin raised just so. Her tone was light, almost pleasant, but her clenched jaw told them that she meant business. The sack of gold on the tea table didn’t hurt either. “This thing,” the word seemed to burn her tongue on its way out, “ruins the festivities every year.”

“You want it gone because it wrecks your parties?” Reggie squinted at her. To be fair, it was one of the more novel reasons they’d ever heard.

“The Allerton name has thrown the most exalted holiday festivities for over three hundred years. His and Her Majesty have even been in attendance. This is our mark on the Empire, Mr. Kirt, so yes, I want it gone because it wrecks my parties.”

Reggie took a step back as if her words had physically assaulted him.

“I assure you, Your Ladyship, we will identify the source of the disturbance.” Hugh was, of course, unphased by the royal, even bored by her, and he turned away, already inspecting the room.

With a few graceful steps, Lady Allerton came to stand just before Bianca. She dipped her head down, “You must understand, I am uninterested in identifying the problem.” Her eyes flashing from harsh and cold to sad and pleading, and if she didn’t know better, she could have sworn she felt the woman’s hand on her own. Bianca studied her face, its severe angles, the tautness of her hair, the perfect shape of her lips, frightening in all its perfect glory from across from room, appeared only desperate so close up. She listened in the quiet of the parlor for something more, shutting out Reggie’s anxiety and Hugh’s constant hum, but only the faint sound of Lady Allerton’s soprano spoke in her mind, Please.

Hugh’s sigh broke her concentration as he announced to the room as if everyone in it should have already known, “It is almost impossible to remove a specter without first determining what, exactly, it is.”

“It is a ghost,” she snapped her head toward the man, her tone icy enough to make even him shiver, “And you will rid this place of it by Christmas.”

***

More Writing

Bianca, Hugh, and Reggie are some of my forgotten ghost hunting characters from an attempt at a pseudo steam-punky, Victorian England type world. I kind of want to write a Christmas ghost story with them? But do I have the time? I’m not even sure where this is going right now except, obviously, right here.