Brian Belden had had a very long day. The morning had been spent making his rounds at Sleepyside General Hospital, and the afternoon had consisted of seeing patients in his office in the building that had housed the Ferris & Associates Medical Practice for longer than he had been alive. He had just finished entering the last of the day’s charts into his computer when his employer walked into the small office and leaned against the door.
“Brian? Do you have a minute?”
“Of course.” He grinned. “I’m not in trouble, am I?”
Dr. Ferris’s eyes twinkled momentarily, but then he shook his head and sat down in the extra chair. “Not exactly. At least, well, no.”
Concerned, he raised his eyebrows. “If I’ve done something wrong….”
“No, no. Not at all,” his boss sighed. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you. It’s not even work related. I promised my brother last night that I’d ask you for a favor, but now I almost wish I hadn’t.”
“Just name it. You know I’ll do anything I can.”
“That’s just it. I know you will, and I don’t want to take advantage of you and your wife. Look, I’ll stop beating around the bush. I don’t know if you remember, but you briefly my brother Cliff at the benefit for the hospital last spring. He just bought an old house up on Ferris Lake. Said it had his name on it, so he couldn’t pass it up.”
Brian chuckled. “I’ll have to keep that in mind. Maybe see if there’s a Belden Lake anywhere.”
“There is. It’s about eighty miles northeast of Ferris Lake. Quite a ways up in the Adirondacks. Very remote. You can’t even get in or out in the winter. So unless you like really roughing it….”
He shook his head. “In that case, I’ll pass. I do enjoy camping, but not to that extreme!”
“Me, too. I do like an occasional getaway, though, and Cliff’s isn’t that far up. He talked me into taking Mildred up there last weekend so we could check it out. We got there expecting a nice, quiet weekend at the lake, but what we actually had was unexplained lights out in the yard, noises in the shed that seemed to come from nowhere, and a rocking chair that wouldn’t stop rocking on its own no matter where we moved it. Now, my brother, and I admit even my wife, is convinced the house is haunted, but there’s no such thing as ghosts.”
Brian swallowed hard. He still hadn’t fully come to terms with seeing Rachel and Emily Martin after their deaths, nor could he explain his wife’s account of seeing James Frayne or her experiences at the abandoned motel upstate. Yet, he couldn’t doubt them, either. “Where do I come in, though?” he asked, hoping to stave off an explanation of his own muddled views.
“Cliff never married, and now that he’s retired, he spends a lot of his time hunting and fishing. The house is honestly ideal for him, and he got it already furnished at a really good price. I don’t want to stand by and let someone run him out of it. Your wife is very level-headed, and well, I’d like to hire her to look into it. I’m sure she can find out what’s going on up there. I was actually hoping the two of you could go up there this weekend. I know it’s sudden, and I’m sure she has a lot on her plate with your sister so far into her pregnancy, but admittedly time is of the essence. He has to decide pretty soon if he’s going to close it up for the winter or put it back on the market.” He hesitated. “Look. I do know she’s busy, and if she can’t take this on, just say so. There’s no way I’d ask Trixie right now, but maybe they could recommend someone who would have time.”
“I can’t promise,” Brian admitted. “Trixie is trying to ease out of her caseload, so Honey’s been busier than usual, but I’ll ask her and see what she says.”
“That’s all I ask,” Dr. Ferris assured him. “Trust me. I’ll understand if she says no….”
“Of course we’ll go,” Honey declared that evening. “But it doesn’t leave a lot of time. Isn’t that about a four-hour drive from here?”
“I think so. Maybe a little more if we figure in a stop or two for gas and snacks.”
“So we’d really need to leave Friday afternoon so we could have all day Saturday and most of Sunday to investigate. I’ll have to be back in the office on Monday, and but I’m pretty sure we can make it work. At least it won’t interfere with your birthday later in the week.” She grinned ruefully. “But do you realize we’re going to be in a remote house in the middle of October tracking down strange lights and unexplained noises? This has horror movie written all over it.”
Brian shuddered. “I really suspect it’s just a raccoon that built a nest in the shed and some swamp gas out on the lake. Maybe some drafts to explain the rocking chair.”
“I hope that’s all it is,” she admitted softly. “I don’t like the haunted angle, especially since your boss is involved. Does he know about our involvement with Wilhelmina?”
“I don’t think so,” Brian told her. He wrapped his arms around her. “Honey, that doesn’t matter. He trusts you to get to the bottom of this. If there’s someone purposely trying to set up a haunting, you’ll find out. If it’s supernatural in origin, you’ll know, and knowing you, you’ll figure out how to send the ghost to the other side that Miss Martin told Emily about. If that’s the case, even Dr. Ferris will have to believe.”
Honey relaxed into his embrace. “I really hope I live up to your confidence in me,” she told him. “But thank you for believing in me, and thank you for keeping an open mind. I know it hasn’t all been easy to accept.”
“No, but it’s hard to refute my own eyes,” he said slowly. “It helped that we were all there at the seance at Trixie’s. That we all saw the same thing.”
“There was no way Wilhelmina could have somehow staged it and gotten Miss Rachel’s appearance, let alone her voice, that accurately.”
“No.” He had thought about it, though, and he had wondered if somehow the entire thing had been staged for Trixie’s benefit. In the end, he had decided that the details were too perfect for a stranger to Sleepyside to recreate, especially in the absence of any evidence of a hidden projector or other props. Unbeknownst to either his wife or his sister, he had checked.
“Brian?” Honey said hesitantly. “You know I really want a weekend away with you, but this is going to be a working trip, and I’m assuming that if Dr. Ferris’s brother is there, we wouldn’t exactly be alone, anyway.”
“Probably not,” he admitted. “Are you thinking of calling Wilhelmina in?”
She shook her head. “No. Last time we talked to her, she said she almost has more work than she can handle right now. Asked if we’d be on standby if something came in in this region, but thankfully nothing has so far. I was actually thinking about Bobby.”
“He is officially an intern, so I think we could justify it to the Ferrises by saying we wanted him to get the experience,” she explained. “But here’s the thing. Every time I’ve seen a ghost, I’ve been with Trixie, and we both know she can’t come. Her doctor has pretty much limited her to desk duty for the duration, and well, even if she hadn’t, I’m not about to let her near anything remotely dangerous right now. But according to Wilhelmina, certain people seem to attract manifestations, and Trixie’s one of them. I don’t think that I am, but I’m pretty sure Bobby is.”
Brian’s eyes widened and he repeated, “Bobby? Why?”
“Emily,” she sighed. “Apparently Brom used to take him with him to visit Miss Rachel when he was little, and he had several run-ins with her. She tried to lure him into the marsh, just like she did with Erica. I know kids can sometimes see ghosts more easily than adults can, but I think he might be an asset to have along.”
Brian nodded automatically, trying to process what he had just learned. “Why did I not know this? How long have you known?”
“As long as Bobby has,” she told him, gently squeezing his hand. “So just a few weeks. Remember how he got the sanitized version of what happened to Erica?”
He nodded again. “The same one everyone else got. She wandered off into the marsh.”
“Well, he didn’t believe it and asked us point blank for the real story over the summer. He put two and two together and realized that the little girl who had befriended him when he was that age wasn’t actually a little girl….”
He shuddered for several minutes as the full import of her statement sank in, then said weakly, “That’s it. I’m not sleeping ever again.”
His prediction came somewhat true as sleep did become elusive for him as the week passed. The sleep he did manage was plagued with nightmares of Emily coming back for both Erica and Bobby, who was once again six in the dreams. His waking hours were filled with a steady stream of patients, and by Friday afternoon, he was ready for the weekend to be over.
He left the hospital at one o’clock and drove straight home. By the time he got there, Honey had already loaded their luggage into the back of her Explorer and he found her sitting in the living room staring at a New York State road map. She put it down when she saw him and gave him a quick hug. “Bobby just called. His class ran late, so he’s just now leaving White Plains. I told him to let me know when he gets home, and we’ll swing by the Farm to pick him up.”
“Sounds good.” He smiled tiredly at his wife. “That gives me time to take a quick shower, and maybe grab a sandwich before we leave. Otherwise, we’ll need to go through a drive-through somewhere. I haven’t eaten since I inhaled a granola bar around ten.”
She grinned. “That’s what I thought. There’s a Wimpy’s Deluxe in the refrigerator waiting for you. I’ll reheat it while you’re in the shower.”
“I knew there was a reason I married you…,” he trailed off as she swatted him before roaming off to the kitchen.
The strong, stinging spray of the shower went a long way towards reviving him, and he was gratified to find not only the promised cheeseburger, but also an order of chili cheese fries and a chocolate shake awaiting him when he was once again dressed. “Seriously, remind me what I did to deserve you.”
“I knew you’d be hungry,” she reminded him. “I debated the shake or a large Mountain Dew, but I figured you might want to nap on the way up there.”
“Maybe,” he admitted. “I doubt any of us will get much sleep this weekend.” He sighed. “I really need to cut back on the Mountain Dew, too. I mean, I know that we occasionally have meals like this, but we do try to eat healthy as much as we can given our schedules. I still go through as much Mountain Dew as I did in med school, though, and I’m starting to feel hypocritical about it.”
Honey reached out and patted his hand. “You’re barely out of residency, sweetie, and most weeks you’re still just about as busy as you were then. I’ve read of doctors who are addicted to amphetamines and who knows what else. Caffeine really isn’t that bad in the big picture.”
“I know, but I should still try to set a good example.”
“You are a good example. I don’t mind if you want to cut back, but don’t do it because you’ve guilted yourself into it. And please don’t worry about it this weekend. I need you to be in top form on this case. No caffeine headaches!”
“There’ll never be a good time for those,” he sighed. “But I agree. I don’t like this case at all, and I’m not even a detective. I haven’t helped with one of your mysteries since high school.”
“Oh, please. You may not be actively involved with our cases, but I bounce ideas off of you all the time. Besides, in case you haven’t noticed, we make a pretty good team.”
“That we do,” he agreed. He put down his cheeseburger and kissed her soundly.
He did manage to nap most of the way, and after a gas stop and a quick dinner in the last town before Ferris Lake, he felt almost human again. However, the curvy, narrow road that his wife was slowly navigating did little to ease his nerves, and as darkness had closed in quickly once the sun had set, he was thankful that he was alert enough to help her watch the road.
“This almost reminds me of the road to Mead’s Mountain,” she declared. “At least it’s not snowing.”
“Very glad for that,” he said. “I’ll be glad to drive if you want to pull over.”
“No, I’m fine,” she assured him. “I’m going slowly so I can watch out for deer. No telling how long it would take to get help out here if we hit one. I barely had a cell signal back at the restaurant, so I suspect we’re on our own out here.”
Bobby shivered in the back seat. “We will not hit a deer. There will be no incidents until we get to the house, and I’m really hoping for a quiet night. I kind of wish I’d napped like Brian instead of reading until it got too dark to see.”
“What were you reading?” Brian asked. He teased, “Peter Rabbit?”
“I wish,” Bobby sighed. “Studying for my world civilizations class. It’s really too bad. It could be a very interesting class, but the professor’s voice is just so monotonous, it makes it hard to pay attention. There’s a group of us getting together every couple of weeks or so to compare notes to make sure we’re keeping up with each other.”
“Ugh,” Honey grimaced. “Don’t tell me you have Professor Pittman. Trixie and I wound up in several of his classes.”
“Yep,” he confirmed. “No way to avoid it and still take Intro to Criminal Justice this semester.”
“He can’t be that bad, can he?” Brian asked.
Not taking her eyes off the road, Honey snorted. “He’s worse. A good professor can make a boring subject come alive, but he makes history even drier. Think Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, only more so.”
“Glad I didn’t have him for med school,” he chuckled. “Bobby, that reminds me that I’ve been meaning to ask you how school is going. Is it working out driving back and forth, or do you ever wish you were living on campus?”
“Not really. I like commuting, I mean. I’d probably feel differently if I didn’t have a girlfriend in Sleepyside or if I wasn’t at the agency most afternoons, but as it is, it’s not too bad.” He thought for a moment, then added, “You know, I think it helps having Knut living with us now, too. If it was just me, I’d probably feel like I was still in high school, but he treats me like I’m another adult. Moms and Dad, not so much, but I can’t really complain.”
“They’ll eventually get used to it and lighten up,” Brian assured him. “I get the feeling Moms isn’t ready for an empty nest.”
“She’s not,” Bobby agreed. “It’s not so bad, though, when she fusses over Knut the same way. Then again, I think he needs someone to. I don’t know Uncle Harold and Aunt Eleanor that well, but they really weren’t around that much when Knut was growing up, were they?”
“Not like Moms and Dad were for us,” he confirmed. “But they had to travel a lot for their business. They did what they felt they had to do.”
“It’s hard on the kids, though,” Honey spoke up. “But it’s not always easy for parents to realize that. If we hadn’t moved to Sleepyside when we did, I’m sure I’d barely even know my own parents today. They meant well, but there are certain expectations they felt they had to meet. It helped when they adopted Jim. He wasn’t used to parents who were seldom home and flat-out told them that we needed their presence as well as their presents.” She smiled into the rear view mirror. “I’m glad he did. It was the kick in the pants that they needed.”
She turned the SUV off of the main road onto an even narrower street that was barely more than a graveled trail. “I really hope we don’t meet another car,” she muttered.
“You’re not kidding,” Brian said. “But I suspect there’s not that much traffic along here.”
“Not this time of year, anyway. There’s probably more in the summer when people are heading further up into the Adirondacks. Of course, deer season draws a crowd, too, but that’s not for another month, and we missed peak foliage by a week or so.”
“Are there many houses around Ferris Lake?”
“Not that I know of. A few. Ferris Lake really isn’t that big compared to most of the other lakes in the area. When I talked to him, Mr. Ferris said the others are already closed up for the winter.”
“It really does look like we’re heading to the middle of nowhere. This makes the Preserve look empty,” Bobby said.
Brian grinned as he looked at the forest that came within two feet of the road and seemed to be growing ever thicker. “Oh, I don’t know. Honey, wouldn’t you say this is how the game preserve looked before Mr. Maypenny gave Dan an axe?”
She reached out one hand and smacked his shoulder, but she laughed. “Bobby, ignore your brother. I know they chopped a lot of wood, but it was never this much.”
“Remind me to add a modern heating system if I ever live in Brom’s cabin,” he replied. “I’ve cut more than my fair share over the years, too. Between helping Brom with his, and picking up the slack you and Mart left when you left home….”
Brian reached back to swat him, and grinned when the younger man ducked just in time. “Hey. It seems to me that it couldn’t have been that bad. I happen to know Moms got rid of the chickens after Trixie started college, and you always had time for both wrestling and a girlfriend.”
“True,” Bobby chuckled. “I really can’t complain.”
“Hon, are you sure this is the right road?” Brian asked a few minutes later. “I’m not even sure this is a road.”
“I’m sure this is the one Mr. Ferris described,” she answered. “We’ll find out for sure soon enough. We should only be about half a mile from his driveway.”
Brian blinked as the gravel abruptly ended and the forest seemed to grow even thicker. It wasn’t long before a light appeared through the trees, and a small turnoff appeared. “That can’t be it. There’s no way we’re getting this SUV through there.”
“You’re right,” Honey admitted with a sigh. She pulled the Explorer off the road as far as she could and put it in park before turning on the dome light. “Bobby, there should be a topographic atlas in the pocket behind Brian’s seat. Would you hand it to me, please?”
He silently handed it to her, looking with wide eyes at something outside the window.
Brian turned to follow his gaze, stunned to see a man on a palamino horse galloping towards them. Dressed in a black coat and pants, the horseman was visible only in the light of the lantern he held in one hand while holding tightly to the reins with the other. The clip clop of the horse’s hooves grew louder, and without even a glance in their direction, he turned the horse onto the narrow path. He stared at the place the horseman had been for a long moment, unable to believe his eyes.
“Did we really just see that?” Bobby asked.
He nodded. “Why would someone be out here on horseback? Regan would have our hides if he ever caught us riding like that.”
“There’s no way we’d be riding like that,” Honey shook her head. “Not unless someone or something was after us, anyway. Hand me my purse, Brian. I don’t like this, and I want to be prepared.”
He reached down and picked up the large handbag she had stashed under his seat, carefully handing it to her. He shook his head slightly, feeling nonplussed as he watched her slide her pistol into a holster hidden inside the waistband of her pants.
“What’s wrong?” she asked him.
He shook his head again. “Just remembering when I used to be the one protecting you.”
“You still do,” she gave him a soft smile and reached over to squeeze his hand.
“I’d say get a room, you two,” Bobby interrupted, “but I think we may have more company.”
He looked up the road and saw that his brother was right. Another horse was approaching, albeit at a slower pace than the first one. As it drew closer, he could see what appeared to be a slim boy, also holding a lantern, riding bareback astride a chestnut nag. Although they were moving at a slower pace, the boy and horse made the same turn into the woods the previous horse and rider had made.
“Have they never heard of flashlights?” Bobby asked. “Those lanterns look like they could start a forest fire.”
“There’s a house back there,” Honey murmured. “There has to be.”
“Let’s go make sure,” Brian said. “That boy can’t be older than twelve. I don’t like the thought of anyone that age riding around like this with no supervision.”
Sliding on their jackets, the trio reluctantly got out of the warm SUV. Honey handed each of them a flashlight, then locked the vehicle before they started into the woods. A few minutes walk down the narrow path led them to a clearing where the palomino was tethered to a young sapling that would one day provide shade to the clapboard house off to the side. A similarly constructed barn stood on the other side of the clearing. Smoke wafted out of the house’s chimney, and a lamp in the window created a soft glow.
“Should we go to the door?” Bobby whispered.
Honey shook her head. “Not yet. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
An almost primal scream came from the house, and Brian automatically started forward. He looked at his wife in confusion as she grabbed his hand to stop him.
Her hazel eyes were wide and filling with tears. “Please, no. Trust me. I can’t explain it, but….”
Before he could answer, the boy they had seen on the second horse ran out of the barn and towards the house, where the other horseman came out to meet him on the porch.
“I’m sorry, David,” the older man said, shaking his head. “There was nothing else that I could do.”
“Papa’s gone, then,” the boy said. He lowered his head and slumped his shoulders. He allowed himself a moment of grief, but then straighted up and squared his shoulders. “I need to get to Mama, but how much do we owe you? If we don’t have it, I can work it off somehow.”
Another scream rent the night, and the older man urged the boy inside. “Don’t worry about it tonight. Go see to your mother. Do you want me to fetch Reverend Aldridge?”
With the single word, David turned and walked in the house. The older man quickly untied and mounted his horse, and Brian instinctively pulled Honey and Bobby farther off the path.
Honey turned to him with a look he had never before seen in her eyes and gripped his hand hard enough that he reluctantly had to disengage from her grasp.
“SUV. Now!” she choked out.
“Shouldn’t we see if we can help?” he protested in surprise.
“It won’t do any good,” she told him softly. “This just isn’t right. Don’t you see?” Her voice quavered, but she managed to add, “Trust me. I’ll explain once we’re back in the SUV and back on the road.”
“A man may have just died in there!” Every ounce of medical training he had ever had urged him to check on the inhabitants of the house.
“No, Brian,” she managed. “A man died in there over a hundred years ago. Not tonight.”
“She’s right,” Bobby interjected, his own blue eyes pleading with his brother. “I don’t know if we’re seeing ghosts or how this is happening, but there’s nothing we can do but get out of here.”
“Please!” Honey entreated.
It was her soft whimper that convinced him, and he quickly led them back through the woods to the SUV.
“Oh, thank God,” she breathed as she unlocked the car. “I was so scared….”
Brian gently led her to the passenger seat, where she carefully put her pistol back in her purse. “I’m driving, Hon. You’re in no condition to drive right now.”
The fact that she didn’t protest worried him even more as he slid into the driver’s seat and started the engine. “Okay. What happened back there?”
“As strange as this will sound, I’m really praying it was just ghosts,” Honey answered softly. She took a deep breath, then another. “I’m sorry. I just want to get back to that town and get a motel room for the night.”
“Something well lit and modern,” Bobby added with a sigh. “A reminder we’re in the twenty-first century.”
Brian was startled to see tears start streaming down his wife’s face. “Hon? Are you okay?”
“I never told you what happened in Minnesota,” she whispered. “Not everything.” She closed her eyes and shrank back in her seat. “We had just met Wilhelmina, and we thought we were helping her investigate the so-called galloping ghost. Trixie and I ran across a cabin in the woods, and like idiots, we went inside. There was hot food on the table, even a cup of hot coffee. We could even see the steam from the coffee. It was just like someone was living there.”
Brian nodded, not understanding what that had to do with their current situation. “Was there?”
She shook her head. “No. It was someone playing a prank on us, but at first, Wilhelmina thought we had managed to go back in time to when someone was living there.”
“Postcognition,” Bobby murmured.
Honey nodded reluctantly, slowing recovering as the road widened back out and the gravel reappeared as suddenly as it had vanished. “She called it retrocognition. Both terms mean the same thing. I’ve never been so scared, Brian. Until we knew it was a prank, I was convinced that I’d spend the rest of my life popping in and out of different eras of time.”
“I don’t understand,” Brian admitted. “Time travel isn’t possible.”
She wordlessly shook her head.
“It’s not necessarily time travel,” Bobby added. “Since the agency has been working with Wilhelmina, I’ve been doing some reading on the supernatural and I ran across a book that discussed it. One theory is that you don’t actually go back through time, but that the energy manifested in an event actually imprints itself on the area and replays the event. As an example, two women were in a hotel in France a few years after World War Two when they woke up to gunfire. They basically heard a battle raging near them for two hours, but no one else in the hotel heard anything. Turned out that a raid had happened there during the war, and they were hearing the sounds of the battle.”
“Dieppe,” Honey said faintly. “Wilhelmina mentioned that one. Then there were two women touring Versailles who believed they actually did go back in time and explore the grounds of the castle on an afternoon when Marie Antoinette was there, but they were never able to prove it. That’s the trouble with retrocognition. It can’t be either proven or disproven.”
“Neither can ghosts,” Bobby pointed out softly. “But we know they exist. Don’t worry about trying to prove what happened, or even whether or not we went back in time or just saw the replay. We learned something from this. We learned a boy named David’s father died and that he was worried about paying someone, who I’m assuming was the doctor.”
Brian nodded. “Most likely, since he was going to go for a minister.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Wait a minute. I’m still not convinced there weren’t real, living people out there.”
Honey groaned. “Brian, no one today dresses that way, and there’s no way in you know where that any parent is going to let a boy that age ride around on a horse with an actual old-fashioned lantern.”
“Logically, I know that, but look. I’ve given in on ghosts, but this is too much for me to comprehend.”
“It’s a good thing I love you,” she sighed. “Look. We’re almost back to town. Stop at the first convenience store we get to. I need to go inside and freshen up. Then we’ll go back out there. Either we’ll find no one there, or Bobby and I are wrong, and we can go offer our help.”
He nodded reluctantly. “I do love you, too, Honey, but I think we’re all struggling with this.”
“I know,” she said, taking his hand. “This isn’t exactly what I envisioned when Trixie and I were planning our agency, but it’s the hand we’ve been dealt. I’m slowly getting used to it, but tonight may be more than I bargained for.”
After the quick stop in town, Brian again turned the car back towards Ferris Lake. The drive was much quieter this time, and by the time he reached the road Honey had originally turned down, he wasn’t sure just what he hoped to find. He realized Honey’s offer had been made of courage she didn’t really feel, and as he saw her shrink even farther into her seat, he began to regret accepting it.
He wasn’t quite sure if being in the driver’s seat gave him a different perspective, but the forest didn’t seem as overwhelming as it had on their first trip down the road. When he drew near to the turnoff, however, he realized that the roadbed was still covered in gravel and that the driveway was more than wide enough for their SUV.
“I did take the right road, didn’t I?” he asked, his stomach sinking as he already knew the answer.
“Yes,” Honey said softly. “If my hunch is correct, we’ll find Mr. Ferris waiting for us at the end of that driveway.”
“I’m sorry,” he told her, his mind whirling. “I was just so sure….”
“If I’d been you, I wouldn’t have believed me, either,” she told him. She cleared her throat. “With that said, I’m not ready to let our client know what happened. So for now, that part of our evening remains between the three of us.”
Brian nodded. “Of course. Should I pull over to the side of the road for a few minutes before we go in?”
She shook her head. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, and he’s probably starting to get concerned about us. The sooner we get there, the fewer questions he’ll ask.”
Realizing she had a point, he slowed the car and made the turn into the driveway. He parked the SUV next to a late model pickup, then took a look around the clearing. While the barn they had seen earlier had been replaced with a modern two-car garage, the house looked much as it had previously. The wooden clapboard siding had been replaced with white vinyl, but there was no doubt in Brian’s mind that it was the same house. Every window in the house was brilliantly lit, as was an electric fixture on the outside wall that brightly illuminated the porch.
Clifford Ferris, a tall, solidly-built man in his early sixties, soon came out to greet them and lead them inside. Once inside, the layout of the house was much as Brian expected. The front door led into a large living room, complete with fireplace. Beyond the living room, he could see the kitchen through an open doorway. Cliff, as he asked to be called, opened a door to the right and led them down a small hallway where two bedrooms were located. He directed Brian to put his and Honey’s luggage in the first bedroom.
“You two should be pretty comfortable in here. Just make yourselves at home, and let me know if you need anything. Lawrence said Mildred complained that it was cold in here last weekend, so I put an extra quilt on the bed and brought in a space heater. I’m not sure how much heat it will put out, but there are more in the wardrobe over there if you need them.” He turned to Bobby. “I know there’s not as much privacy, but the couch in the living room pulls out into a full size bed. Is that okay? I have a rollaway bed if you’d prefer that, but it’s only a twin.”
“The couch is fine,” Bobby assured him, following him back into the living room.
Once alone, Brian took a minute to pull Honey to him. “How are you doing?” he asked in a low voice.
“Petrified?” Her answer was more of a question than a statement, and she took a deep breath. “It’s not just the retrocognition, Brian. There’s something here. I can feel it, just like I did at the old Manning motel. That scares me. Trixie and Bobby see ghosts. I’m not supposed to feel them!”
“Are you sure you’re up to this? We don’t have to stay. We can make our excuses and go home.”
He felt her stiffen, and she shook her head.
“Even ignoring any professional repercussions for either of us, I have to do this for me. I spent too many years running from my fears, and trust me. I was afraid of almost everything before I met you!” She looked down at the carpet. “When we were on the way home from Minnesota, Trixie told me I was so scared by the retrocognition prank that she had been worried I was going to turn back into the timid girl I was when I first came to Sleepyside. I can’t let that happen, Brian.”
“You’re one of the bravest people I know,” he told her, kissing her softly. “And don’t forget that we’re in this together. You have both me and Bobby here to help. But listen to me, Honey. I love you and I need you, and I’m not going to stand by and let anything happen to you. I’m assuming for now that whatever it is that you’re feeling here can’t hurt us directly, but if I think we’re ever in any immediate danger, we’re leaving.”
She nodded. “I hope it doesn’t get to that, but fair enough.”
“I know you said you would stop for dinner, but feel free to help yourselves to anything in the kitchen if you’re hungry. I went shopping today, and there’s plenty to snack on in there,” Cliff told them as they sat around a roaring fire in the stone fireplace a few moments later. They each had mugs of hot cocoa poured from a thermos that rested on a wooden coffee table. He picked up a manila file folder from beside the thermos and handed it to Honey. “I’m sorry I never faxed this to you, but I didn’t get it until this morning.”
She placed her mug on a coaster and opened the folder. “Title search and property records,” she told Brian while she took a quick glance through the pages. “It was easier for Mr. Ferris to obtain it from the title company than it would have been for me. And I really do appreciate it.”
“No problem. It was for the best, anyway. I could just hear the tongues wagging in town if word got out you were looking into the history of the property.”
“Somehow I have a feeling that it’s important,” she said, putting it back on the coffee table. “I’ll take a closer look at it before I go to sleep tonight, but for now, tell me how things have been going. Has it been quiet since we last talked?”
He nodded. “Yes, and part of me feels like a fool for even pursuing this. If Lawrence and Mildred hadn’t been here and witnessed everything, I’d almost wonder if I’d imagined it.”
“Well, your brother is certainly convinced something is going on,” Honey told him. “It’s too dark tonight, but I’d like to thoroughly investigate the shed in the morning. Make sure that no one has gotten in. Are there any other outbuildings, or even a crawlspace under the house?”
“Yes. I checked out the crawlspace on Monday and there was nothing in there other than a few spiders. I keep the garage locked, but of course you’re welcome to check that, too.”
“I can check out the crawlspace,” Bobby volunteered.
“Thanks,” she replied. “I want all three of us to go over the shed together first, then we can decide who checks what after that. Cliff, what is in the shed?”
“Junk, mostly,” he told her. “Some old tools, an old kitchen table, old car parts. A hundred years or so of things that no one wanted to throw out.”
“Could there be something valuable in there that someone’s after?” Bobby asked.
Cliff shook his head. “Not likely. Besides, the last owner was really only here on weekends and an occasional week during the summer. Anyone after something in there would have had plenty of time while the property was deserted.”
True to her word, Honey opened the folder almost as soon as she and Brian got into their room some time later, and it was almost midnight before she finally put it down on the dresser and turned out the lamp. Despite the tension that almost palpably radiated from her, it didn’t take her long to fall into a restless sleep.
Her tossing and turning, however, combined with his lengthy nap that afternoon, made it hard from Brian to fall asleep, and he eventually gave up. He quietly slipped out of the antique four-poster bed and pulled his clothes back on. After a moment of indecision, he put on his shoes and threw on his jacket.
Taking care not to wake Bobby as he slipped through the living room and kitchen, he went out onto the deck that Cliff had briefly shown them earlier. A security light dimly lit the deck and back yard and he could see the shed near the tree line. All was still except for the waves on the lapping onto the deck, and after situating himself in one of the wooden deck chairs, he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He had almost drifted off to sleep when a soft, feminine voice spoke to him.
“She’s right, you know. There really wasn’t anything you could have done.”
His eyes flew open as he jolted to attention. An unhealthily thin woman sat beside him, dressed in a solid black dress. Unlike the little black dresses Honey often wore on their nights out, this woman’s dress covered her from her chin to the floor. Her thick brown hair was severely pulled back and pinned into a large bun at the nape of her neck, and she looked as though she had stepped out of one of the portraits on display at the Sleepyside Historical Society.
“What do you mean?” he finally managed to ask.
“You weren’t there,” she told him. “You couldn’t have saved my husband.” She sighed sadly. “He contracted malaria down south in the war. He never fully recovered, and it came back a few years after he got home. Dr. Nash claimed he did what he could, but it wasn’t enough. Quinine had helped the first time. This time, he just grew sicker with every dose he took.”
A multitude of replies went through his mind, but before he could formulate one to verbalize, she reached over and patted his hand. The gesture, meant to be comforting, was exactly the opposite as her touch produced only an ice-cold feeling that chilled him to his core. He pulled away.
“Why are you here?” he asked once he found his voice again. “Are you behind the rocking chair and the lights?”
“I had a rocking chair like that once,” she said wistfully. “I rocked David in it. I read to Lewis while he was sick in that chair. I couldn’t resist it. ”
“What about the lights out here, and the noises in the shed?”
“The lights were meant to keep him away from the house. He made the noises.”
“Who is he?”
She ignored his question and continued as though she hadn’t heard him. “He tried to take the house from me after Lewis died and I had trouble paying what we owed him. When I managed to come up with the money to pay him, he offered to buy it outright. After I refused, David caught him skulking around the barn one night after I had gone to bed. We realized he was looking for something. He’s still here looking for it.”
“What is he looking for?”
“Find it,” she urged him. “Please.” As if convinced she had told him everything he needed to know, she vanished.
He remained on the porch until his trembling had subsided and his heart rate had returned to some semblance of normal, then went back inside. He knew that going back to bed would be futile, but the deck had lost its appeal. He poured himself a glass of water from the pitcher in the refrigerator and sat down at the kitchen table.
Bobby wandered in a few minutes later, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. “Brian? What are you doing up?”
“Couldn’t sleep.” He grimaced. “May never sleep again.”
“Do I even want to know why?” Bobby’s gaze lost its sleepiness, and he flipped the switch to turn on the light.
“No, but you probably should. The question now is do I wake Honey, or let her sleep as long as she can?”
“If it relates to our case, go wake her up,” he suggested. “You’ll remember more while it’s fresh on your mind than if you wait until morning.”
Bobby’s suggestion had merit, and he reluctantly went to rouse his wife. She quickly threw on a robe over her pajamas and joined them in the kitchen.
“I think I have more questions than I did before,” Honey sighed after he recounted his experience. She took a moment to retrieve the file Cliff had given her and a notepad from her purse, then rejoined them at the table.
“I don’t even know where to start,” Bobby complained. “Obviously we need to know who she means by ‘he’, but who is she?”
Honey flipped open the folder. “Okay. Here’s the chain of title to the property. The earliest listed is a Lewis Adams who owned it from 1855 to 1878, when it passed to Doris Adams, then David Adams in 1903. I suspect Doris was our visitor tonight.”
Brian put his head in his hands. The tiny hope he had held onto that he might have dreamed the entire encounter vanished as the names the woman had so casually mentioned matched names listed in the property record. He soon felt his wife slip her arms around him, and he mustered a small smile. “I’m sorry. I should have been more understanding earlier.”
She kissed the top of his head, then sat down. “It’s okay. We’re all out of our element here. I’m still rattled from earlier, and somehow, to me at least, a ghost seems almost reassuring after that. At least they’re familiar. Everything about this is new to you.” She grinned ruefully. “I’d hoped Bobby would somehow manage to draw her out if I couldn’t. It never crossed my mind she’d pick you – the most skeptical of us all.”
“Maybe I needed this. I get so caught up in medicine and science. Maybe I need to remember there are things out there I can’t explain.” He sighed. “Maybe I just need a good stiff drink.”
“Can’t help you with that one,” Honey said sympathetically. “The strongest thing that we brought with us is your Mountain Dew, and the strongest thing I’ve seen in this kitchen is either the Coke in the refrigerator or the coffee on the counter. The last thing you need right now is more caffeine.”
“I know,” he admitted. “Not like I’ll ever sleep again, but I’m too wired as it is. Anyway, we’ve pretty much figured out who I talked to. We still don’t know why, or who she was talking about.”
“I think we can make some guesses, though,” she said. “Based on what she told you, we can pretty much rule out her husband or her son. I think we can also work on the assumption that she thinks we have enough information to go on, so it’s not likely to be a random person.”
“But aside from the family, we’ve only seen the doctor, who also mentioned a minister,” Bobby said. “What do we know about either of them?”
Honey sighed. “I really hope a minister isn’t out there haunting the shed. However, until we have more to go on, we can’t rule him out.”
“We can’t rule the doctor out either,” Bobby pointed out. “Whoever it is seemed pretty desperate to get a hold of this land. Is it possible that the doctor kind of nudged her husband along to his death?”
“Possibly,” Brian said darkly, remembering how the ghost had told him each dose of medicine only made her husband sicker. Despite the primitive medicine available in the late eighteen hundreds, he remembered reading that quinine had been effective against malaria. “And given what she told me about owing him money that she eventually paid, it makes more sense that it would be the doctor. Even the boy we saw earlier was worried about paying him.”
Honey nodded. “So for the sake of argument, let’s assume we’re on the right track. What is he looking for? What could possibly be important enough to keep him here this long?”
“What’s keeping us from checking the shed now?” Bobby asked. “It’s not like we’re going to be able to go back to sleep, and we have flashlights we can use.”
“Flashlights that may or may not illuminate spiders and snakes hidden in dark corners or under piles of junk,” Brian pointed out. “We have no way of knowing what’s in there.”
“It’s the who that’s in there we really need to know. If we can see him, we’ll know if he looks like the doctor we saw earlier.”
Honey frowned. “You have a point, but remember we don’t have a way to make him appear. I’m not Wilhelmina, and even then, she can’t always contact the ghosts she’s trying to reach.”
“How does that work anyway?” Brian asked.
She shrugged. “I wish I knew. Wilhelmina’s usually able to coax manifestations into either appearing or speaking to her, but not always. Plus, some are stronger than others. Some can appear, others can only speak. I suspect there are some who can’t do either. The one tonight was able to do both at once.”
“Any chance she’s behind the postcognition?” Bobby asked. “Would that be possible?”
“I have no idea,” Honey answered. “I hope so, but I also hope not. It’d be nice to know that it really was an illusion, but I can’t even imagine how strong she’d have to be to pull it off.”
A slight creaking from the living room caught their attention, and Brian saw that the rocking chair that Cliff had pushed into a corner and covered with a blanket before their arrival was rocking. He took a deep breath and motioned for the others to stay put before walking towards it.
“You’ve heard us talking,” he said quietly. “Can you at least tell us if we’re on the right track?”
“Yes.” Her response was soft, and she did not reappear as she kept rocking. “I showed you what you needed to see, Brian. That’s all I can do.”
“Brian! There’s a light in the yard!” Honey hissed from the kitchen.
“He mustn’t get in the house!” she insisted.
The rocking ceased, and Brian could have sworn he felt a change in the atmosphere. He realized she had once again disappeared. “I think she’s gone. Probably to focus on the light outside.”
Bobby hesitated, then looked at his sister-in-law. “I think we may be going about this all wrong.”
“What do you mean?” Honey asked.
“It’s just she’s so focused on not letting him get in the house, but she isn’t asking us to get him out of the shed. Just saying we can’t let him in here. Is it possible that he doesn’t know where whatever it is is, but she knows it’s hidden somewhere in the house?”
Her eyes widened. “That would make sense. I was so caught up in thinking about all of the junk Cliff mentioned is out there I didn’t even think about that. But where? It would have to be somewhere that no one who lived here has found it, or we wouldn’t be in this situation right now. ”
“You know furniture, Honey. Is it possible any of it is original? Maybe hidden in something?”
She shook her head. “Nothing in here is that old. The rocking chair would make sense, but there’s nowhere to hide anything in it, and we know the Ferrises examined it last weekend.”
“Plus, Doris said she had one like it, not that it was hers,” Brian reminded them. “What about the bedrooms? The furniture in ours certainly looks old. Otherwise, we’re down to tearing up floorboards or looking for a secret safe or something.”
“Or digging up the crawlspace,” Bobby added darkly.
“I hope it won’t come to that,” she replied. “Let’s check the furniture in our room first. I didn’t really look too closely earlier, but I suspect it could be old enough. If we don’t find anything there, we’ll have to wake Cliff and decide whether it’s worthwhile checking his furniture or what our next step will be.”
She led the way to the bedroom and shivered as she turned on the light. “Let’s try to keep our voices down, but Brian, why don’t you and Bobby check the wardrobe? I can’t say for certain, but both it and the bed just may be old enough.” She sat down on the bed and wrapped her arms around herself.
Bobby obediently started towards the wardrobe. “I’m assuming whatever we’re looking for wouldn’t be in plain sight. Maybe a hidden compartment? Brian? What do you think?”
Brian ignored his brother, concentrating on his wife’s strained face. The radiant space heater near the bed was on and putting out enough heat that he knew her shivers weren’t caused by the temperature in the room. “Honey? Are you okay?”
“Not really, but I will be. That feeling I mentioned earlier is stronger in here, which makes me think we’re on to something.”
“Do you want to go wait somewhere else? The other room, or even outside? It might be easier for you.”
She nodded and sighed softly. “I really want to be back in Sleepyside right now. Preferably at home with every single light in the house on, but that’s not happening. Just give me a minute, then I’ll start checking the bed. I read a book once where schoolgirls hid a notebook in a hollowed out bedpost.” She shuddered again. “I really didn’t need to think of that book right now. It may be a part of why I’m so scared of retrocognition.”
Bobby looked up from where he was moving bed linens and quilts from the wardrobe to a stack on the floor. “I think Bethany may have told me about that one when we were talking about my reading. This one wasn’t really retrocognition, though, but more time travel. The two girls were actually trading places with each other, living several decades apart. They left notes to each other in the notebook hidden in the bedpost.”
“That’s the one. Charlotte Sometimes. Books set in boarding schools were really popular at Briar Hall when I was there.” She sighed and stood to her feet. “I may as well check, although these posts look pretty solid.”
Brian watched her for a moment, then went to help his brother with the wardrobe. Together, they emptied the two drawers at the bottom, then removed them.It was sometime later before the three of them all conceded defeat, after checking the bed, wardrobe, dresser, and even the nightstand that Honey told them could only have been a few years old.
“So, do we wake Cliff up now or wait until morning?” Bobby asked.
Honey wearily glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand. “It is morning. But let’s try to give him another couple of hours or so anyway. I want to try to get in a short nap myself.”
“If you don’t want to be in here, you can take my bed,” Bobby offered. “I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep anymore tonight, anyway.”
“I’m never sleeping again,” Brian reiterated, then smiled softly at his wife. “I will, however, lie down with you if you want me to.”
She shook her head. “On second thought, I can either nap in a room where you’ve seen a ghost or a room where I feel one. I’m just going to get dressed and then put on a pot of coffee. There are still about three hours until sunrise.”
Thirty minutes later, Cliff found them sitting around the kitchen table, all with large mugs of coffee. “I thought I smelled coffee,” he said blearily. “Trouble sleeping?”
“You could say that,” Honey admitted. “It’s been a long night, but we were trying not to wake you up yet.”
“You didn’t,” he assured her. “I had to get up anyway, so I thought I’d see what was going on before heading back to bed. However, if there’s something going on…”
“We have an answer to one question for you, but that only gives us more questions,” she said.
All traces of sleep were gone as he listened wide-eyed while she gave him a synopsis of the events of the night. He poured himself a cup of coffee and joined them at the table. “Well, you know I bought the house furnished, so it’s entirely possible something is hidden in the furniture somewhere. The bedroom suite in my room is just as old as the one in yours, so we should probably check there first. And don’t worry. I want this resolved, and I’ll help you do what we need to do to find it, whatever it takes.” He set his mug down on the table. “Give me five minutes to get dressed and put my dirty laundry in the hamper, then I’ll be ready whenever you all are.”
When he was ready, they followed him into the master bedroom. It was furnished similarly to the guest bedroom, with a double bed, dresser, night stand, and a matching wardrobe.
“Is there anywhere you’d prefer to check yourself?” Honey asked. “We need to search until we find something, but it’s not like we’re looking for anything you brought with you. I don’t want to invade your privacy any more than we have to.”
He started to shake his head, then hesitated. “I don’t really have anything to hide, but why don’t I empty the dresser for you. I have a few shirts and some pants hanging in the wardrobe, but that’s okay.”
“Bobby and I can start emptying the wardrobe,” Brian interjected. He had noticed the wince his wife had tried to disguise when they entered the room and knew that she could use a minute to acclimate.
Unlike the other wardrobe that had built-in shelves that held bed linens and covers for both bedrooms, this one had shelves on only one side, while the other had a rod that held the clothes Cliff had mentioned. Two drawers at the bottom, one over the other, served as additional storage space. They were currently empty, and once the rest of the wardrobe had been emptied, Brian removed them.
The bottom drawer seemed both shallower and heavier than the top drawer, and he lifted it onto the bed for a closer look. As he did, he felt something shift. “I think we’ve found something.”
With Bobby and Cliff watching, Brian and Honey went over the drawer, soon confirming that it had a false bottom. A screwdriver from Cliff’s toolbox helped them pry it open. They were just about to reveal the contents when Cliff gasped.
Brian looked up from his work, only mildly surprised to see that Doris had materialized next to him. “I suppose you know what’s in here.”
She shook her head. “Lewis built this not long after he got home from the war. I never knew there was a hidden compartment, let alone anything in it.”
“Then is this what we’re looking for?” he asked, suddenly concerned.
She shrugged, but nodded. “I think so. Don’t you see? I only know that he’s looking for something.”
“I don’t understand. Why now? Has he been looking all this time?”
“Whenever he got a chance while he was still among the living. Right now, he’s stronger. The anniversary of Lewis’s death is approaching. I believe that was a turning point for him.”
“So will us finding this let you both rest or go to the other side?” Honey asked.
“I hope so,” she sighed. “I’m ready to see Lewis again, and David. Even his son has already passed on.”
Brian finished removing the false bottom. He carefully removed an envelope that covered a gold wedding ring, a cameo, and a ruby necklace. There was also a small daguerreotype in a case that opened to reveal a portrait of a young couple, and a drawstring purse that held a stack of folded Confederate bills as well as an assortment of both gold and silver coins bearing Union imprints and in varying denominations. A scrap of an old quilt had served to muffle any noise the contents had made when the drawer was opened and closed.
Doris stared at the items for a long moment. “I’ve never seen any of this before.”
“Do you recognize the couple in the photograph?” he asked her.
“No. Open the envelope, please.” She sighed when he obeyed. “Lewis’s handwriting. Read it aloud.”
“Old Uncle Billy was right when he declared that war is hell. There’s no other way to say it. For four long years I served with the infantry, battling against men who had been fellow Americans not that long ago. We were fighting to preserve the union, but in the process, we destroyed a large part of it.
“The actual battles were bad enough, but at least we were fighting men who chose to fight. The women and children left behind in towns and on farms had no choice. It made no difference as we looted their homes, took their livestock, destroyed their crops. The war was almost over, and we were near Morris, Virginia. A young girl, no more than twelve, made her way to our camp during a lull in the fighting. Her mother was desperately sick and needed a doctor.
“She would have been better off if she hadn’t approached us, as we had not yet noticed her home. Silas took two men with him, and when they returned, they brought with them a hog and two chickens. He said the woman was dead before they got there, and I never heard what became of the girl. Later on, I overheard him speaking of the money and jewelry he had stashed in his knapsack.
“I understand living off the country. After all, we had to eat somehow, and rations were often scarce. I never liked the outright thievery from women and children, and taking a wedding ring from a woman’s barely cold hand was beyond the pale. The next time I saw him sleeping, I managed to take these items from his knapsack. I wanted to return them to the girl.
“I tried, but I was unable to find her before we had to move on. I didn’t want to leave them in the now empty house for another regiment – or someone else from my own – to take again. Silas was livid when he discovered that they were missing, but he never figured out that I had them.
“If you’re reading this, it means I was never able to go back to Morris as I intended. Please, if she’s still living, please explain to Doris that my intentions were good. I never meant to steal this for myself, but I wanted to return it to the rightful owner.
Brian carefully refolded the letter and put it back in the drawer. Doris was silent for a long moment, then said, “Lewis was delirious at the end. I suspect Dr. Nash heard something that made him realize the truth.”
“So instead of healing him, he sought revenge and gave him too much of the quinine,” Brian theorized. “Then started looking for what he saw as his rightful property.”
Cliff looked at Honey. “How hard would it be to find out if the girl has any descendants living?”
“I have no idea,” she admitted. “He gave us the town name, so at least we have a place to start. The picture may be of some help, too.”
“The case is yours if you’ll take it. I think we need to at least try. If not, I’m sure there’s a historical society or museum somewhere down there that would love to have them donated for exhibit.”
“Not the letter,” Doris interjected. “Please. If you can’t find any family, destroy the letter. No one else needs to know how my husband or Dr. Nash obtained the items. Rebel currency was worthless even when it was first printed, but are the coins of any value today?”
Brian took a closer look. While they were not in mint condition, the years they had spent hidden in the drawer had preserved them and they were in good condition for their age. “I’m no expert, but yes, they would definitely be of value to a collector. We would need to have them appraised to know exactly what they’re worth.”
“I see.” She turned to face Cliff. “If no one with a valid claim can be found, do with the daguerreotype and jewelry as you like. I don’t know how much the money is worth in today’s world. It could be just pennies, but use it towards your expenses. This was our problem, and it isn’t right for you to shoulder the entire burden alone.”
“Let’s wait and see what happens first,” he said after a moment’s hesitation. “But thank you. And you have my word that the letter will be destroyed if we can’t find the family.”
“Then I’m entrusting it to you. Thank you.” Peace stole over her face, and she gradually faded from view.
“No way,” Honey snapped, glowering at the place where Doris had been.
Brian looked at her in surprise, as the tone of voice was very uncharacteristic for her. “What?”
“She’s gone. I can feel the change in here. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad she’s at rest, but now it’s up to us to protect this and somehow keep the doctor’s ghost away.”
The lights flickered and a cold gust of wind blew through the room. A sinister laugh filled the air.
Honey quickly folded the piece of quilt into a bag and handed it to Brian. “Whatever you do, don’t let him get this.”
He nodded. He didn’t trust the aged fabric, so he grabbed a pillow from the bed and stripped it of its case, then stuffed the quilt and its contents into it.
Honey squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. “Silas Nash? Is that you?”
The lights flickered again, then went out entirely.
“What do you want?”
A gravelly voice filled the room. “I want what’s rightfully mine.”
“If Lewis was telling the truth, this was never yours to begin with,” Honey retorted.
“To the victor belong the spoils. It’s been that way since the beginning of time.”
“They will do you no good now,” she pointed out. “You know what happened to them, and you took revenge on the person who took them from you. Why do you linger here? Why don’t you go to the other side and rest?”
“You innocent little fool. Even Doris knew that there is no rest for me now!”
The temperature in the room dropped ten degrees, and Brian felt Honey shiver as she backed up against him. He shifted his burden into one hand and lightly rubbed her arm with the other.
“You can’t stay here, and we have the items you were looking for. There is nothing here for you.”
“Nor for you. You have no authority to make me leave, nor do you have the ability. As Doris is no longer here to protect you, I suggest you flee, while you still can.”
After a moment of silence, Honey sighed. “He’s momentarily gone. I still feel him, but it’s not as intense. It’s like it was before he came in here.” She left Brian’s side long enough to flip the light switch off and back on, but it was futile. “Power’s out in here. I suspect he’s interfering with it somehow.”
“What do we do now?” Bobby asked.
Cliff took a deep breath. “Look. I hired you to find out what was going on here, and you’ve done that. I’m also serious about wanting you to look for the rightful owner of this cache, even though I suppose we still need to sign a contract for that. But right now, I think you should head back to town. I know it’s almost dawn, but it’s off season, so you could probably find a room and sleep for a few hours before going back to Sleepyside. Obviously, you’d bill it to me.”
“I don’t want to leave you here to deal with this,” Honey protested.
“You’re not. I’m going to throw a few things in my suitcase and leave right behind you. As it is, we’re already without power, which means we have no heat or running water. There’s no telling what else he’s capable of, and I’m taking the warning to get out while we can as a threat. Frankly, I don’t want to wait around and see what he has in store for us.”
“I’ll go pack our things,” Brian interjected before she could protest further. “Cliff, what do you want us to do with the things from the drawer for now?”
“Hang on to them if you will,” he said promptly. “I trust you with them, and it will be easier for Honey to do the research if she has them at hand.”
“Yes, it will,” she agreed.
He slowly made his way to the door and down the hallway back to the guest room. He shivered involuntarily as he crossed the threshold. With the radiant heater no longer working, this room seemed even colder than Cliff’s bedroom had been.
“Leaving so soon?” a voice taunted. “I must say I’m a little disappointed.”
Brian jumped, and in the darkness, his shoulder hit the solid bedpost. “Why? You wanted us to leave.”
“You, yes. The treasure, no. Do you really think I would just let you walk out of here with it?”
“Tell me something,” he said with more courage than he really felt. “You spent your life chasing after an admittedly modest treasure that slipped through your fingers, murdered Lewis, and now you’re spending your afterlife still chasing it. Has all of this been worth it?”
“Once it’s mine, yes.”
“What then? You can’t use any of it.”
“I can see her face,” he whispered.
“Who was she?” Brian asked, surprised at the sudden wistfulness in the ghost’s tone.
“I don’t understand.”
“Lewis was wrong. Yes, the money and most of the jewelry came from the Virginia plantation. The wedding ring and daguerreotype were mine. I had them with me from the day I joined the unit, up until the day Lewis took them. All I had left of my wife, and he stole them from me!”
“Did Doris know?”
“She would believe no wrong of her husband, and Lewis had no idea.”
Compassion warred with his fear, and he said softly, “Why not?”
“Amelia was everything to me. I had a good practice in Philadelphia, and we had been married a year when we realized she was with child. It was a difficult birth, and both she and our son died. I read about the need for doctors here and came to get away from my memories as soon as snow started to melt. The war broke out just a month later.”
“And you didn’t want to confide in people you barely knew, and as time went on, it became even harder to talk about it,” Brian guessed.
“Sorrow turned to rage, and well, I still can’t be sorry for killing him. He stole the only things I still had of her, and I won’t see her on the other side. I know that. I just want to see her face one more time before I face my eternity.”
The pillowcase was still tightly clutched in his grip, and he loosened his hold enough to reach in a hand to fish out both the daguerreotype and wedding band. “We want to return all of this to the rightful owners,” he said. “That would mean these should come back to you. What do you want us to do with them?”
A dim light appeared next to him, and he watched as an amorphous black shape coalesced into the form of the man they had first seen during Doris’s retrocognition simulation. Brian opened the daguerreotype and held it out. Even in the dimness, he could now see the resemblance between the ghost beside him and the man in the portrait.
Silas Nash’s hands solidified and he took it, reverently touching the woman’s face with a gnarled finger. “Just as beautiful as I remembered.” He gazed longingly at it for a long moment, then he pushed it back to Brian with tears glistening in his eyes. “I want you to have this and the ring. Cherish every day you have with your wife. Don’t ever take her for granted.”
He accepted it with a nod. “I promise.”
Unlike Doris’s slow fade, Silas vanished the moment the daguerreotype was out of his hands. The electricity came back on, and the room was flood with light as the radiant heater began its hum. Almost immediately, Brian noticed Honey’s calling to him through the door, crying and knocking as she begged to be let in. He hurried to open it, blinking as she jumped into his arms.
“I was so scared….”
Bobby reached out and wrapped both of them in a hug. “Please, Brian, don’t ever do that to us again.”
“Do what? What do you mean?”
Honey looked up at him with wide eyes. “The door was locked, and we were calling you for ages. You never answered.”
“I never heard you,” he said. “Nor did I realize the door was locked. I never meant to scare you.”
She took a deep breath, then another. “What did happen in here? He’s gone. I don’t feel any ghostly presence now.”
He handed the daguerreotype to her, pointing out the man in the image. “This is Silas and Amelia Nash. Lewis inadvertently took the only mementos the doctor had left of his wife. This is what he’s been after for all of these years. All I did was let him see it one last time.”
“I can’t believe that’s all it took,” Bobby said, looking at the portrait in Honey’s hands. “Why couldn’t he just explain it all to Doris? Surely she would have let him have it.”
Brian shook his head. “He was convinced she’d never believe him, but that was only part of it. He never mentioned his wife to anyone after she died. He only told me because it was his last chance before we took the daguerreotype away from here.” He shuddered. “Let’s just say I’m glad he told me. Otherwise, if he’d tried to interfere some other way, I’m not sure I could have stopped him.”
“Well, regardless, I’m glad the ghosts are gone,” Cliff said.
“I believe they are,” Honey said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “I can’t promise they won’t come back, but I’d be surprised if they do.”
“At least I know that I can call the three of you to come back if they reappear.” He smiled softly. “What do you want to do now? I’m still willing to pay for a room in town if you want to go rest for a few hours away from here, or you’re welcome to stay here. I know I’m just a client, but I’d really prefer if you slept for a few hours before you do anything else.”
Images of Doris and Silas floated through his mind, and Brian sighed. “It’s up to you two, Honey. I mean it this time. I’m never sleeping again.”
Bobby reached out to pat his shoulder. “I have an idea. The sun’s about to come up, so why don’t we get some coffee and head outside to watch the sunrise over the lake? Then maybe decide our next steps over breakfast?”
“You three go ahead,” Cliff said. “I’ll start getting breakfast ready.”
Honey smiled the most genuine smile she had given since they had first arrived in Ferris Lake. “Why don’t you come with us? I’ll grab a blanket for me and Brian, so there should be plenty of room. Then we can help you with breakfast when we come back inside.”
It wasn’t long before Brian found himself stretched out on a blanket beside the lake. The nighttime noises that he had earlier hoped would help him sleep had given way to birds chirping as the darkness began to fade and the sky turned to pink and then blue. Stretched out beside his wife and using his arms for a pillow, he was soon sound asleep.
The following Monday morning, Dr. Ferris frowned as he sat down in Brian’s office. “So I heard you had a rough weekend, and I think I owe you an apology. I honestly thought you’d go in and Honey would find evidence that someone was trying to scare Cliff away from the property. I had no idea what you were really getting in to.”
“I suppose he told you what happened.” It was a statement more than a question, but Brian sat nervously as he awaited his employer’s response.
He nodded. “While I can’t say that it was easy for me to believe, Cliff’s story of how you found the money went a long way to convincing me. I don’t see how I can discount what all four of you experienced. A mass hallucination wouldn’t have turned up the money.”
“No, it wouldn’t have,” Brian agreed. “I almost wish you could explain it away, though. Life was a lot simpler back when everything I needed to know could be found in a medical textbook or journal.”
“And unless I miss my guess, that illusion was shattered your first day of seeing patients.”
“True.” He took a deep breath. “I hope this doesn’t affect your confidence in me.”
“Not at all,” Dr. Ferris assured him. “My confidence in the universe and the natural order of things, maybe, but not you. Look. Even if this didn’t turn out like I’d thought it would, you and Honey were doing me a favor. Cliff is happy with the work you did, and right now, he’s planning to hang on to the house. He’s also very impressed with the three of you. You’ve done nothing at all to make me lessen my opinion of you. I’m just grateful the whole thing is resolved.”
“Well, mostly,” Brian admitted. “Honey thinks it may take her awhile to track down the original owners of the money and jewelry, but Cliff was fine with that.”
Green eyes twinkled. “That’s just what I call the clean-up work. The house itself is back to normal, and Cliff’s comfortable staying there. Mildred may never go back, but I think I might enjoy a guy’s weekend up there fishing with him at some point next summer.” He glanced at his watch and stood up. “In the meantime, we have patients to see.”
Brian stood as well and slipped on his lab coat. Dr. Ferris clasped his shoulder. “One more thing. I told you Cliff was very impressed, but I don’t tell you often enough that I am, too.”
“Thank you. I really appreciate that.”
Alone again, he picked up his pen and clipboard and walked out to let the receptionist know he was ready for his first patient of the day. Relieved that the revelation of the haunting hadn’t affected his relationship with his employer, he was glad to be able to turn his attentions once again to the realm of the living.
Author’s Note: While Ferris Lake and Belden Lake are real lakes in the Adirondacks, they have been fictionalized for this story. The memories that Honey shares from her trip to Minnesota refer to events that occur in Trixie Belden #39: Mystery of the Galloping Ghost.