The first chapter is free for everybody. Subsequent chapters are for patrons only (and you can become a patron right now for just a dollar!). I'm posting the first three chapters to start off, and subsequent chapters will be posted at the rate of one or two chapters a week.
© 2016 by Jean Marie Bauhaus. This is for Patreon eyes only. Please don't copy, print or share (I mean, you can share links to this page--just don't, like, paste this to your blog or Facebook or anything. You know what I mean. You're smart like that).
Expect the final version to be released sometime in 2017 by Vinspire Publishing (Yay!).
“I hate this guy,” said Veronica Wilson. “I want to go haunt him.”
Christine Wilson punched the “off” button on the TV remote and tossed it on the sofa with a disgusted sigh. A queasy feeling started to come over her. “What just happened?”
Ron moved to stand over her, hands on hips in her patented “Big Sis Knows Best” pose. “I’m serious,” she said. “Let me go haunt him. I’ll scare the smug skepticism right out of him.”
“I’m not sure how that would help,” said Chris.
“How wouldn’t it? The guy just painted you as a fraud on live TV! Once I get through with him he won’t be able to deny the existence of ghosts and he’ll have to recant.” She looked over at her partner, who sat on the other end of the sofa, pointedly focusing all his attention on the semi-transparent Jack Russell Terrier curled up in his lap. “Joe, tell her I’m right.”
Joe looked for a second like he’d been caught in a trap before smoothing his face into the picture of diplomacy. “The man does seem like he could use a comeuppance,” he said to Chris, before turning his attention to Ron. “But your sister can fight her own battles.”
“That’s right, I can,” said Chris, although she really didn’t want to do battle with this guy. Part of her loved the idea of Ronnie going over there and putting the fear of all things paranormal into him. It would be sweet revenge. But she wasn’t a vengeful person, and she had a feeling that would only make things worse. “No haunting.”
“Oh, come on!” Ron flung her hands up in frustration. “This guy just shredded your reputation. You can’t do nothing.”
“I didn’t say I’d do nothing. I said I don’t want you to do anything. See the difference?”
“Fine.” Ron plopped down in the middle of the couch, right on top of the remote. Chris still wasn’t sure how she did that without going right through the cushions. “So what are you going to do?” she asked.
Good question. Chris wasn’t sure what she could do. The guy was a respected crime reporter. He’d won awards for consumer advocacy. Her Aunt Judy had e-mailed her dozens of clips from the Channel 24 website citing Douglas Batey’s warnings about products to avoid and mechanics who would rip you off and how to keep from getting mugged in the parking lot. People took him seriously.
She, on the other hand, was someone who talked to dead people and investigated haunted houses for a living. Her most recent claim to fame was publishing a novel that was ghost-written--literally--by her dead sister. The pool of people who took her seriously was already pretty shallow. This would likely shrink it down to a kiddie pool.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I think I should sleep on it.” If I can sleep after all this, she mentally amended. “Look, guys, I need to just think. Would you mind giving me some space?”
Ron opened her mouth, probably to argue, but Joe got to his feet and talked over her. “Not at all,” he said, tucking the dog under his arm. “I’m beat anyway. Ron, how ‘bout we turn in?”
Ron glared at him a moment, then softened as she imitated someone who could sigh heavily. “Fine,” she said, getting to her feet. “But my offer’s still on the table. Just say the word.”
Chris couldn’t help smiling as she shook her head. “You don’t even know where he lives.”
She shrugged. “I have my ways,” she said as she faded out of sight along with Joe and Buster.
Chris sat staring at the spot where they’d been standing, taking a moment to relish the silence. She didn’t get a lot of it since moving into the house her sister haunted. As much as she loved still having Ronnie around, sometimes she regretted giving up her own apartment. But although the selling price of the (formerly) most haunted house in town had been a steal, the renovations had been another story. Keeping an apartment when she owned a perfectly good house with so many vacant bedrooms had seemed like an extravagance she couldn’t justify, even with the income Ron’s book brought in.
She imagined that Ron was up in the attic giving Joe an earful, and felt slightly sorry for him, but also grateful. She wanted to watch the news report again without her sister’s running commentary and angry outbursts. With another sigh, she picked up the remote and rewound the DVR.
Douglas Batey was handsome, that much was undeniable; and as she’d seen for herself that morning, he was even better looking in person. As irritated as she’d been when he’d interrupted her investigation, she couldn’t help being impressed and, if she was being honest, a little turned on by his command of the situation as he confidently gave instructions to the camera man and deftly handled Ron’s client, Mrs. Wood.
When he’d turned his attention on Ron, his manner had been polite, even charming. His questions, on the other hand, were smug and condescending when they weren’t downright hostile. It wasn’t as if she’d expected to come out of his segment smelling like a rose.
Chris took a deep breath, then pressed Play.
“Tonight we look at Christine Wilson,” Batey’s voice said over a shot of Christine trying to duck the camera, “self-described paranormal investigator and founder of W.I.G.G.I.N.S.--” He pronounced each letter rather than just saying the acronym, and Chris couldn’t help but smile at the thought of him trying to say it with a straight face--”which stands for Wilson Investigations: Ghosts, Goblins, Imps and Nasty Spirits.” The name had been Ron’s contribution to the agency, and even now it made her giggle. Chris had actually shortened it since her passing, dropping everything after the colon. It figured Batey had dug up and used the longer and less professional-sounding version--it tied better into the narrative that she was a ridiculous, attention-seeking crazy lady. “Some would call her a psychic medium, as she claims to be able to communicate with the spirits of those no longer living.”
Chris sighed and pressed pause, then got up and went to the kitchen, where she took a bottle of wine down from the cupboard. She stared at it a moment, then put it back and instead took out the bottle of Maker’s Mark she kept for mixers and emergencies. She poured two fingers into a jelly glass, added a splash of tap water from the kitchen faucet, then took it back into the living room. Seated again, she took a sip and managed to suppress the urge to cough as fire ran down her throat and warmth spread through her chest. Feeling sufficiently fortified, she grabbed the remote and resumed the story.
The camera focused on Mrs. Wood standing in her garage next to her late husband’s classic MG convertible. Mr. Wood had restored that car himself, pouring most of his free time for the past fifteen years into fixing it up and then keeping it in cherry condition. He’d apparently spent more time in the latter years of their marriage leading up to his death working on that car than he’d spent with his wife. She had called Chris earlier that week claiming that she was sure her husband was haunting the car, and Chris had gone out there this morning to check it out, along with her tech guy, Gus.
Chris had known right away that the car wasn’t haunted. Though it was possible that the ghost was simply dormant while she was there, she could usually at least sense a presence. More often they came right out and introduced themselves, once they realized she could see them. She got no sense of anything inhabiting that car. She was in the middle of explaining that to Mrs. Wood when Douglas Batey’s news crew crashed their little party.
“Evelyn Wood called the Channel 24 consumer hotline about her various attempts to find the cause behind several electrical malfunctions on this convertable,” said Douglas Batey’s voiceover. “Mechanics from four different garages have been unable to identify what is causing the headlights to blink on and off, the horn to blare at random intervals, and the radio to unexpectedly turn itself on and cycle through stations. Fed up and desperate for answers, Mrs. Wood turned to Christine Wilson for an alternative explanation.”
“Well, I thought it had to be my husband,” Mrs. Wood said into the microphone pointed at her face. “Vic poured his heart and soul into that car when he was alive. It made sense to me that he stayed there after he passed away.”
A jump cut focused on Gus, in the middle of a standard EVP session. Sitting in the driver’s seat with a high-powered mic and digital recording equipment, he called out a series of questions. In a real haunting, the recorder would usually pick up answers, or at least a word or two of a message the spirit wanted to convey. Chris didn’t need it done for her own benefit, but she found that things usually went more smoothly if she could provide her clients with physical evidence instead of simply taking her at her word.
Of course, this time the recorder didn’t pick up anything, as she’d known it wouldn’t. But that part didn’t make it into the story.
“As you can see, Ms. Wilson and her team--”
(“Team?!” Ron had snorted at this point. “Can’t he see it’s just Gus?” In the here and now, Chris quietly sipped her drink.)
“--investigated the car for signs that would support Mrs. Wood’s suspicions. We asked if we could review the evidence from the investigation, but Ms. Wilson declined. She also declined to be interviewed for this story.” This last part was spoken over a shot of Chris’s back as she helped Gus lug his equipment back to his van.
Maybe it had been a mistake not to speak on the record. Chris could tell from Batey’s attitude that he had no intention of painting her in a positive light, so she’d though it prudent not to play along. She simply did her job and told Mrs. Wood that she thought the car’s behavior probably had more to do with wiring than anything paranormal, and then she and Gus called it a day and tried to get out of everyone’s way. It didn’t occur to her that their leaving would be painted as running away because they had something to hide.
And of course Batey left out the part about Chris suggesting a non-supernatural cause Instead, this happened. “To satisfy my own curiosity--and to get to the bottom of this car’s strange behavior once and for all--we brought along Mike Henson, who regular Channel 24 viewers will recognize as The Honest Mechanic, to check out the car.”
The camera cut to a muscular man in blue coveralls with the name “Mike” embroidered on the chest. “A lot of today’s mechanics aren’t really trained to deal with these classic cars. If there’s not a computer system that can be hooked up to a diagnostic machine, they don’t know how to diagnose something like this, so it’s not really surprising none of them could provide an answer.” Cut to a shot of him looking under the hood, which revealed a logo on the back of his coveralls that said “The Honest Mechanic” in bright yellow. A halo sat at a jaunty angle over the H, and angel wings protruded from either side.
“Mike, on the other hand, has an extensive background in classic car repair,” said the voice over. “And his findings?”
Back to a shot of Mike speaking to the mic: “I found some crossed wires and a loose spark plug that would be the most likely explanation. I tightened the plug and fixed the wiring and now the car’s electrical appliances should stop going off like they had been.”
“I’m so glad,” Mrs. Wood said after she received the mechanic’s verdict. “I’d hate to think my Vic had to spend his afterlife with that car, although it would’ve been nice to speak to him again. But I’m glad to know he’s at rest. And I’m glad that now I’ll finally be able to get some rest without that car blaring its horn at two in the morning!”
A shot of Batey, with his jacket off and shirt sleeves rolled up, looking like Joe Everyman Hero as he walked up the sidewalk in front of Mrs. Wood’s house. “So there you have it. The Mystery of the Crying Car turned out to be nothing more than a loose spark plug. When asked what psychic Christine Wilson had to say to that, she unfortunately declined to comment.”
Actually, she had commented. When Batey had chased her down at the van to tell her what the mechanic had found, she’d said, “Great. Mystery solved,” before shutting herself inside. Guess that wasn’t quite the sound bite he’d been looking for.
“The moral of this story?” Batey smugged at the camera. “The next time you run into unexplained phenomena, don’t be taken in by so-called psychics pushing their paranormal agenda. It’s likely that the truth is a little more down to earth.”
Chris aggressively turned off the TV and downed the rest of her drink. This time she did cough, and leaned forward to set the glass on the coffee table and breathe. She was slightly grateful to the bourbon for choking off all of the names flitting through her head that she wanted to call Batey out loud.
By the time she composed herself, she was no less certain of what to do than she’d been before, but at least she had a pleasant buzz that made her care a little less.
How much damage could his story really do, anyway? His was only one of four local news channels in this city; how big could his viewership be? Besides, most of the people who called her for help were already inclined to believe in the paranormal. It’s not like one snide commentary on the subject would change their minds.
It was her other clientele that she worried about--the dead who often counted on her to deliver messages to loved ones or fulfill unfinished business so they could find peace. How likely would a skeptical loved one be to listen to her after this?
She hoped she was overestimating the story’s impact, or at least Douglas Batey’s reach. Although in the back of her mind she had a feeling he’d done more damage than either of them could possibly know.
With the warm tingle of the bourbon lulling her into a comfortable, sleepy state, she decided to go to bed and take advantage of the effect. She doubted she’d have any hope of getting any sleep that night otherwise. She’d figure out what to do about Batey in the morning. Or maybe she’d just forget that he even exists and just get on with life and the business of the afterlife.
“I still say I should haunt him.”
Up in the attic, Joe sat on the antique couch and watched Ron pace back and forth. “Your sister asked you not to,” he reminded her.
Ron scoffed at this. “That’s because she’s the good sister. She has to tell me not to. It gives her plausible deniability.”
“She’s also the one who has to live with any consequences your little haunting adventure stirs up,” he pointed out. “Christine’s a big girl. She has been for a while. You gotta let her fight her own battles.”
Ron frowned down at him, her bottom lip protruding ever so slightly in the tiniest of pouts. “I hate it when you’re all reasonable.”
“You hate it when I’m right.”
“I didn’t say you were right.”
“No, but you wouldn’t be so irritated if I wasn’t.” He got up from the couch and went over to her, taking her hands in his. “Somehow I also don’t think you’d still be here.”
Her pout grew more pronounced, inviting him to nibble on that lip. He accepted the invitation, and her lips parted in welcome. He could never get enough of the way touching her made him feel--the way every tiny molecule of whatever it was his spirit was made of seemed to dance for joy throughout his whole being. It had been more than ninety years since he’d been alive, and longer still since he’d kissed a living woman, so it was hard to remember exactly how that had felt. But he doubted it had been better than this.
“Now you’re just trying to distract me,” Ron mumbled against his mouth.
“Oh, believe me, you’re the one that’s doin’ the distractin’ here.” He pulled her into his arms, and she came along willingly, sliding her own arms up to wrap around his neck and sighing against his mouth. They stayed like that for a while, just holding and kissing each other, and gratitude welled up in Joe, powering his kisses and driving his caresses. He still couldn’t believe she’d chosen to stay with him, and he felt like luckiest man ever to haunt this limbo between life and death.
And also the least deserving.
He couldn’t bring himself to speak these things aloud. Instead he tried to show her with every touch, with the way he gazed into her eyes between kisses. He didn’t have a heart beat to show her how much it excited him just to be with her. He didn’t have the normal function of a living man. Their lovemaking was literally a spiritual act, a joining of their essences that was the most exhilarating thing he’d ever known.
Later, lying together on the sofa, wrapped in each other’s arms, they barely had enough energy left to enjoy the afterglow. It became harder to think, but even so, as oblivion overtook them, Joe knew it was damned selfish of him to let her stay here with him instead of sending her into the light.
And as his being continued to vibrate from her nearness, he also knew he didn’t care.
She awoke sooner than she’d expected. After the way she and Joe had ended their evening, she’d expected to sleep like . . . well, like exactly what she was. Joe certainly seemed to be. Ron lay still for a few minutes, just watching him in his repose. Her heart--or whatever stood in for it these days--swelled with joy, and she once again marveled at the fact that she’d had to die to find the kind of love she’d previously only written about.
When she couldn’t take it anymore, she carefully extracted herself from the couch, managing not to disturb either Joe or Buster, who had apparently joined them on the couch at some point. With no more than a thought, she was standing in her sister’s room. Chris appeared to be sleeping soundly, which Ron found surprising after what had happened. She’d expected her to be awake and wanting to talk about it. Instead, she lay curled in the middle of her bed, covers pulled up to her nose. Miss Persnikitty, her big gray hairball of a cat, lay curled on the pillow next to her head. The two of them were the picture of peace.
Ron glanced at the clock on Chris’s nightstand. It was a few minutes past three.
There was still plenty of time.
“Sorry,” she whispered to her sleeping sister, “but sometimes big sis knows best.” With that, she popped downstairs, winding up in the living room. The empty glass on the coffee table provided a clue as to why Chris was sleeping so soundly. Poor kid. Things had been going so well for her, and for the business. Ron wasn’t about to let a tool like Douglas Batey undo that and get away with it.
She stole into the office, where Chris kept a laptop booted up at all times for Ron’s late night ghost-writing sessions. Ron lowered herself into the chair behind the antique oaken desk. Instead of pulling up her work in progress, she opened a web browser and practiced a little Google-fu. She couldn’t track down Batey’s home address, but she did find directions to the station where he worked.
Thankfully, she could take a much shorter route than the one suggested by Google Maps. Looking at the building on Street View, she simply closed her eyes and formed a picture of it in her mind. When she opened them again, she was standing in the parking lot.
Ron grinned, a little amazed with herself. “That never gets old.”
Inside the building, she found a directory. She didn’t find a listing for his office, so she took a chance and went to the news room. About twenty desks filled the large room, surrounded by low cubicle walls. Ron floated up and down the aisles between them until she found one with Doug’s nameplate.
Her sense of accomplishment quickly faded once she discovered his desk was locked up tight. Locks weren’t generally a problem for her these days, but if he had an address book in there, she’d need to take it out to read it. She could easily reach in and feel around, but pulling out a solid object was another matter.
“He probably keeps all that stuff in Outlook, anyway,” she muttered. She looked at the monitor on his desk. It was attached to a docking station rather than a desktop unit, and the laptop was gone. Not that she’d had much hope of cracking his password if it had been there.
Undaunted, she scanned the objects on his desk. Her gaze landed on a framed photo of two teenage boys standing at the end of a driveway in front of a brick ranch-style house. Both boys bore a resemblance to Batey, especially the younger one. At first Ron thought they must be his younger brothers, but upon closer inspection she realized the clothing and hairstyles were way too late ‘Nineties for the picture to be current. The younger kid must be Batey himself.
Another framed photo showed the adult version next to a much older man--his dad, most likely--in front of the same house. So it was likely that his parents still lived there. It wasn’t quite what she’d hoped to find, but at least it was a lead. She’d probably have better luck tracking down his address there.
Ron focused on the house in the photo until it materialized before her--or rather, she before it. She was surprised to see a classic dark green Mustang sitting in the driveway in place of the type of sedan typically driven by retirees. It was probably maintained by “The Honest Mechanic.” Ron rolled her eyes as she remembered the big show that was made of that guy inspecting Chris’s client’s car. One thing she’d noticed in her short life was that if someone went around advertising how honest they were, they were usually pretty shady.
She moved up the front walk and passed through the front door. Inside, she found another surprise: the decor was all leather, glass and chrome, very masculine. It was tastefully done--Ron especially appreciated the vintage Eames chair set off to the side of the burgundy leather sofa; she could tell it was the real deal and not a knock-off--but it screamed “young single guy” and not “retired parents.” Could she actually be so lucky?
An entry table sat beside the front door, on top of which sat a black lacquer tray that held keys and a wallet. Ron flipped open the wallet and revealed Douglas Batey’s driver’s license inside. “Jackpot!” A giddy giggle bubbled up out of her.
And morphed into a scream when a voice behind her said, “Who are you?”
Ron spun around. A teenage boy stood in the living room, staring right at her and looking somehow familiar. Ron glanced around to make sure there was nobody else in the room with them, then pointed at herself. “Me?”
“I saw you come in through the door,” he said. “You’re like me, aren’t you?”
Confused and taken off guard, Ron squinted at the kid, trying to remember where she knew him from. He stared at her earnestly, waiting for an answer, and it dawned on her: he was in the picture on Doug’s desk. He looked the same. The shirt was different, but he hadn’t aged a day. “Who are you?” she asked him.
“I asked you first. What are you doing in my house?”
“Your . . . you mean Douglas Batey’s house, right?”
The kid blew out a sigh of frustration and flicked his eyes toward the ceiling. “Doug’s my kid brother. Although I guess he’s not exactly a kid anymore, and yeah, I guess technically he owns this house now.”’
“Wait a minute,” said Ron. “You . . . haunt this place?”
He gave a petulant shrug. “I guess you could call it that. But shouldn’t I be the one asking the questions here, lady? Who are you and what are you doing here?”
Ron folded her arms across her stomach and lifted her chin. “I’m a ghost, like you. I came to haunt your brother.”
The kid screwed up his brow. “Why?”
“Because he was a jerk to my sister and now he must pay. Sorry. I have to ask, though, why does he act like people who believe in the paranormal are either idiotic or insane when he’s got a ghost living right here in his own home?”
The expression on the kid’s face became crestfallen. “Because he has no idea I’m here. I don’t know how to get his attention.” He came over to Ron and looked past her at the entry table. “You did that?” he asked, pointing at the wallet.
“I did what?”
“You opened his wallet. How’d you do that?”
“It . . . um, well, I just--”
“Can you teach me?”
Ron pressed her lips shut and eyed the kid. “What’s your name?”
“Jimmy,” he said.
Ron smiled and held out her hand. “Hi, Jimmy. I’m Ron, and I think I’m your new fairy godmother.”
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