|We Were the Dead
Author: sailorhathor PM
A crew member on the reality TV show 'Ghost Chasers' returns to the site of the latest shoot only to find that his fellow crew and the contestants have vanished. Can SQ and an old friend of Alva's figure out how the haunted house swallowed them all up?Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Supernatural/Drama - Words: 14,455 - Follows: 1 - Published: 07-19-05 - Status: Complete - id: 2492371
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Were the Dead
A Miracles Fanfic
by Laurel (Sailorhathor)
Rated Parental Supervision
Suggested for light language.Author's Notes:
"Ghost Chasers" is based on the real life show "MTV's
Fear." The contestants were inspired by some of my favorite
people from that show; if you're familiar with it, see if you can
guess who they are. Brent is a conglomerate of several different
contestants who basically ran around screaming in terror and
amused the heck out of me. Oh, and also, if you're familiar with
the show, you'll find my backbiting commentary on certain aspects
of it in this story, muhahahaha. For the record, the fictional
show was originally called "Ghost Hunters," but it was
pointed out to me that the Sci-Fi Channel now has a show with
that same name, so I changed it. I didn't want anyone to get
confused. Lassiter McNeal and his wife, Diane McNeal, were
inspired by real-life demonologist Ed Warren and his wife,
psychic Lorraine Warren. The similarities end there, though,
because they never experienced anything like what happens in this
story, and are both still alive. Remember that although
this is its own story, it is also a tale in a series, and
therefore refers to past stories I have written. If you ever get
lost, please read those stories for clarification. :) Special
thanks go out to Deejay (AlvaFan) for typing huge chunks of this
story for me, and to her sister Candy for reading some of it to
her to make typing easier.
Lassiter McNeal and his wife, Diane McNeal, were inspired by real-life demonologist Ed Warren and his wife, psychic Lorraine Warren. The similarities end there, though, because they never experienced anything like what happens in this story, and are both still alive.
Remember that although this is its own story, it is also a tale in a series, and therefore refers to past stories I have written. If you ever get lost, please read those stories for clarification. :)
Special thanks go out to Deejay (AlvaFan) for typing huge chunks of this story for me, and to her sister Candy for reading some of it to her to make typing easier.
cringed at the TV monitor when he saw one of the contestants trip
over the same cord for the third time. Was this Brent guy just
clumsy, or did they need to tape that cord down better? "Lindsay,
where's the duct tape?"
"Are you kidding?"
The two men sat in the remote location across the street from 7115 Windsong Avenue, where the latest episode of "Ghost Chasers" was being filmed. It was their job to monitor what went on there as the contestants went through the purportedly haunted house completing a series of scary dares, which was the standard on the "reality" shows these days. The three players, two male and one female, had already been in the house for sixteen hours with little activity that could really be called "ghostly," besides the scares that had been caused by their own overactive, suggestive imaginations. No one had quit yet. They wanted the $1,000 prize too much to quit.
"I think we should go in there and tape this cord down," Sam said, tapping the monitor.
"With what? I told you - "
"You're going back to the studio and get some more," Sam told him.
Lindsay replied, "Thanks for letting me know," and laughed.
"Before you go, let's look at some of this raw footage," the director, Manny, said, coming out of the kitchen. "I'm a little worried about this static."
"Sure. We'll let the contestants take a short break." Sam and Lindsay rolled their desk chairs over to the portable editing equipment where Manny had been viewing the raw footage.
He cued up the footage he was concerned about. "See, here, the kids are introducing themselves."
A young African-American man started out the introductions. The three contestants sat in a circle with canvas bags over their heads just to make the experience more mysterious and scary. They now removed them. "Hi, everybody, I guess I'll start. I'm Dakota, I'm a choreographer. Uh, I'm 21. And you are?"
A girl with bleached blonde hair, done up in many braids, giggled, and said, "I'm Serena, 19, from Glendale, California. I'm a waitress and I really want to win that thousand dollars."
The screen went staticy for several seconds, the interference appearing to pulsate, before the picture came back. "See, see there?" Manny remarked.
"Yeah... that's some awfully weird static. It was almost as if there was some sort of power surge."
The other contestant introduced himself as Brent, 20. Another bout of interference cut him off as he told them what college he attended.
"Ooh, that's bad," Sam said with a cringe. "It's cutting into footage we need."
"Maybe there's something wrong with the surveillance cameras."
"All of them? And the handheld cameras, too?" commented Manny helplessly. "I can't explain it."
Lindsay threw in, "There's gotta be a tower or an antenna in the area. Did we check to make sure there weren't any radio stations too close by before we chose this site?"
"You know I did; I always check those things out." Manny fast-forwarded to some of the kids reading over the history of the 'haunted' house in which they were spending the night. Brief bursts of static continued throughout the segment.
The material on 7115 Windsong had been prepared for the contestants and put on the computer; Brent read off the monitor: "This house was once owned by Lassiter McNeal and his wife, Diane, where they lived with their two kids, Tracy and Adrianna. The McNeals seemed like a normal American family from all appearances until one delved into what the parents did in their spare time. Lassiter McNeal is known in occult circles as one of the country's leading demonologists. A demonologist is a person who studies demons. His wife was a famous psychic who helped police all over the country solve over 150 cases, ranging from missing persons to the apprehension of fugitives to murder cases that had gone cold. Together, they investigated over thirty houses that were believed to be demon-possessed, performing exorcisms on many of them. They wrote nine books on their experiences before Diane's death in 2001." Brent looked at the others. "I'm already not liking the sound of this, guys."
Serena continued reading the file: "Diane McNeal was the victim of an assassination carried out by the demons her husband combated in the homes of others. Except that this time, the exorcism became necessary in his own home. The McNeals' son, Tracy, was possessed by a particularly powerful demon; Lassiter and Diane performed the exorcism themselves, but that turned out to be a mistake. During the exorcism, Tracy broke through the bonds his father had put on him to keep him from leaving his bed and hurting someone, and attacked his parents. During the scuffle, Diane took an accidental tumble down the stairs and broke her neck and her back in two places. His father was able to successfully exorcise Tracy after Diane's death. Lassiter and his children moved from the house, tormented by the memory of Diane, but it seems that she hasn't left yet. Diane McNeal has been seen in the house many times since her death as a ghostly spectre. Why does she stay in the house where she died? It is your objective over the weekend to determine if the house truly is haunted by the spirit of Diane McNeal, or if the demons have claimed the home as their own."
"I don't wanna come across no demons, y'all - I think I'd rather run into the ghost of Diane McNeal," Brent said, and the others laughed. This was followed by more static.
"We have got to decide what to do about this interference before we go much further," Sam sighed. He turned his attention back to the current camera view of the contestants just in time to see Brent trip over the same cord again. "You'd think he'd learn to just stop going over there."
"Okay, first things first. We need to tape down that cord." Manny turned to Lindsay. "Go back to the studio and get some duct tape. While you're gone, Sam and I will see if we can figure out the static."
was gone for only twenty minutes; when he arrived back at the
house, Sam and Manny weren't there. He glanced at the camera
monitors to see if they were in the haunted house across the
street, but it appeared that no one was there, not even the
contestants. Confused, Lindsay watched the TV screens for a
minute for any sign of activity.
One of the contestants, the bleach-blonde from California, walked into the frame of Camera 47. "Hello? Where are you guys?"
Serena suddenly spun around, and then something unexplainable happened. "Where did you come from?" she exclaimed, and then disappeared.
Lindsay blinked in amazement, before running the tape back so he could watch it happen again. Serena was wiped off the monitor like she had never been there. When he watched the tape in slow-motion, Lindsay saw that the girl seemed to vanish, from the right side to the left, as if she'd been swallowed up. He dumbfoundedly rewinded and watched all of the tapes from the twenty minutes he'd been gone, and observed as each contestant, then Manny and Sam, all disappeared one by one. Each vanishing was accompanied by that pulsating, inexplicable static.
"Oh, my God... the house ate them up..."
book in his hand, Alva walked among and between the large,
overhanging willow trees that made up this forest in which he'd
found himself. They were all around him, looming, brooding, as if
threatening to collapse under their own weight as he looked up at
them. Alva wasn't really surprised when he spotted the teenage
girl, Paige, sitting on a large, thick tree stump, a ways up the
path. She had a blue-steel sword in her hands that was like no
weapon he had ever seen, with long spikes sticking out of the
shaft on the front and back and blue jewels in a line down the
blade. Paige ran a rag up and down the sword, polishing
"I thought you'd be back," Alva said.
Paige looked up at him. "Well, hello there. I was really surprised to see you squirm out of that one with Paul. He finally found out what really happened with Tommy, but he's still talking to you. I was afraid it would go differently."
"So was I..." He showed her the book. "This is about sacred spaces. Is it going to tell me anything useful?"
Paige shook her head. "Some of the nodes are in that book, but it won't tell you what you need to know."
Paige nodded vigorously. "Places where they intersect. It forms a node." She crossed her index fingers in an 'X' formation. "This is another of the sacred places. Haunted Hollow."
"Haunted Hollow? There are several places in the United States known by that name, usually deep forests like this or areas with caves. Most are just spooky and not actually haunted. Where is this one?" asked Alva.
"Georgia. You can look it up."
Alva, nodding, continued his questions: "You said they intersect here. What intersects here?"
"I don't need to tell you that. You'll find out." A breeze blew through the trees; the sunlight filtering down danced across their hair. "There's more you need to do to prepare Paul. What you've begun, it will help, but he needs to gain some control. So much depends on his will."
Alva took a seat next to her on the large stump. "I understand. I'm easing him into it, but..." He laughed lightly. "He's so skeptical of his abilities. Each time we discover some new level to what he can do, you should see how flustered and uncomfortable he gets." Smiling a little, Alva finished, "If Paul thinks it's for the best, he will do what I ask of him."
"Meditation," she stated simply, adding, "It's a good way for him to look within to speak with the powers inside him. Paul will lose himself in his abilities if he doesn't start gaining some control."
"I fully understand that, but getting Paul to meditate..." Alva let out another small laugh. "Meditation isn't that much different from deep prayer, though... perhaps I can approach it from that angle."
Paige patted his shoulder. "You'll figure it out." She continued her polishing of the sword.
Alva looked at it, then asked, "Who are you? I know these aren't normal dreams. Are you some sort of guide? An extension of my subconscious? Or, are you a real person?"
"I'm a real person." Paige grinned. "But I came to you in disguise, because I am the force within Paige. If you saw her in her current persona... Well, I am her potential, what she will one day be."
Of course, that couldn't make complete sense to Alva at this point, though he thought he got the gist of it. "How do you know so much about us?"
Before Paige could answer, the ground shook below their feet; the jolt caused her to drop her sword. Alva started to bend to pick it up, but she simply stomped down on the blade's tip and grabbed it by the hilt when it popped up.
Alva scolded, "Be careful! That's a very wicked-looking weapon. You could hurt yourself, being so reckless with it."
"Don't worry," Paige said with an impudent smile. "The Destiny Blade and I have a special relationship."
The ground shook again. "Are these earthquakes?!" Alva wondered aloud, shouting to be heard over the rumbling.
Paul's voice boomed through the willow forest. "Keel, wake up. Come on, get up!"
Alva came awake with a groan, sensing Paul leaning over him. He must've dozed off on the couch again. Paul had been shaking him - well, that explained the "earthquake." Opening one eye to glare at the man hovering over him, Alva rasped, "What is it?"
"We got a call; a bunch of people disappeared in Somerville. They were all inside a supposedly haunted house and the disappearances were caught on film."
Alva opened his other eye. "You're kidding. How many disappeared?"
"No." Paul picked through the clutter on a nearby chair to find Alva's coat. "They disappeared separately, at different times."
"Who called?" Alva sat up, rubbing his eyes.
"A guy who works for the TV show they were filming."
"That reality show about the investigation of haunted places, you know, 'Ghost Chasers.' The one where they wear the camera packs on their chests so you can watch them run around the house screaming while they perform all those dares."
Alva smirked in recognition. "Ohhh yes." Nodding and almost laughing, he clapped his hands together and put steepled fingers close to his lips. "The show where a door slams in a 'haunted' house, supposedly by the hand of a ghost, but you only see it from one angle. What has happened to America's TV-viewing public that they don't even question that, that they accept it so easily as proof of the paranormal? A ghost must've closed the door, even if they didn't show me the view from the outside so I wouldn't see the stagehand shutting it."
Paul had seen Alva go off on many tangents about various paranormal subjects; he tried to distract his employer from this one while Alva was just shaking his head and making idle talk. "Yeah, that show we studied so we could field all those questions we were getting about it."
Alva let out a breath that sounded like "heh" before commenting, "Open a business dealing with the paranormal and suddenly everyone thinks you're in on every TV show and website on the subject. Anyway, so this reality show about ghosts may have experienced some real ghostly reality for a change. Sounds fascinating." While finger-combing his hair, Alva added, "What place were the kids investigating when they disappeared?"
Paul, after digging in his pocket, produced a small sheet of paper torn from the pad by the office phone. "A house. 7115 Windsong."
Alva sharply cut a look at him. "Lassiter McNeal's old home?"
"You know it?"
"I've been in it. He's an associate of mine. His wife too. You could have considered them my friends." He appeared to be marveling over all the memories this revelation brought back. "His wife, Diane - she died in that house. How did they ever get permission to perform their reality show hijinx there? Lassiter never would have allowed that."
"Because you don't let a bunch of amateurs go into a house like that and have them run wild, stirring things up. Like letting a bunch of lambs loose in a forest full of wolves, that is."
"Are you saying there's really something going on in that house?"
With a nod, Alva replied, "After all that's happened there, it's very likely that it's demon-possessed."
Paul's first reaction was to laugh at how matter-of-factly the other man had said this, as if houses became possessed by demons all the time, or at all. He let out a light, incredulous chuckle, and received a look so dark in return that he fell silent immediately.
"Don't laugh," Alva said. "Houses like that exist."
"Okay." Paul treaded water carefully. He laid Alva's coat next to him as if it was a peace offering. "Then we should get going."
"One second." Recalling his dream, he cautioned, "Be careful in this house. Your abilities will be very useful, but it could also be dangerous for you. I want you to try very hard to maintain control while you're in there; don't lose yourself in what you feel. If the house is demon-possessed, losing yourself there could be very bad, as you can most likely imagine. Remember what happened in Saugerties."
Paul cringed to have the incident with Rebecca brought up, but at the same time, understood what Alva meant. "Alright, I get it."
"Good. Go on downstairs and wait with Evie. I need to freshen up."
Once Paul had headed down to the office, Alva picked up the tablet he kept his dream notes on and jotted down a few things. Haunted Hollow, Georgia. Places where they intersect form a node. Destiny Blade. Then he added, Meditation.
hand that pumped Alva's up and down in greeting still slightly
trembled. "I'm so glad you came. I'm Lindsay Nelson, the one
"Hello Mr. Nelson, I'm Alva Keel. This is Paul Callan, and Evelyn Santos." Paul and Evie shook the man's hand and said hello. "How did you hear about Sodalitas Quaerito?"
"We keep a few numbers on file of ghost chasers in case we want some interviews with them about the haunted location of the week. Gives the show a little color, a little authenticity, to have an 'expert' talk about the locations."
Alva heard a certain disdain in Lindsay's voice when he said particular words. "You don't believe in ghosts, Mr. Nelson?"
"But you produce a show about haunted houses..." Paul commented in disbelief.
Lindsay shrugged. "It's a living. Just a TV show. A good concept to spook the demographic. But it really adds to the program to have guys like you on it. Manny had your number in the Rolodex. He told me he was going to call you soon to see if you'd tape a segment for the episode, being in the area and all." He smiled and chuckled, and looked at Alva. "You would have been real convincing with that English accent."
"Scottish. Well..." Now Alva smiled, although a bit more smugly. "I guess you will have to rethink your opinion of the paranormal after tonight, won't you, Mr. Nelson?"
In response, Lindsay just smiled thinly, resigned to the idea that all of this was real. "You want to see the tapes now?"
Paul and Evie exchanged amused glances. Their boss could be such a jerk, especially when he was right.
Shortly after, Lindsay had one of the tapes ready, and played for them the segment where Brent disappeared. "See? Gone."
"Who's the woman who was with him?" Paul asked.
"What woman?" Lindsay said, perplexed. The only person he'd seen on the monitor had been Brent.
Alva requested, "Roll it back," his eyes on Paul.
Lindsay rewound the tape and played the segment again. Paul said, "Pause it," and then tapped the monitor. "That woman right there."
They all looked at him in either confusion or interest, depending on who they were. Where Paul had indicated, they saw no woman. Just open air. Brent had turned to this spot just before he vanished.
"There's no one there," Lindsay informed him in a tone that said he thought Paul was seeing things.
Leaning back, Paul rolled his eyes and muttered, "Oh." He realized he was seeing ghosts again.
"What does she look like?" Alva asked. This earned him a look from Lindsay now.
"Long black hair, pulled back into a braid. Glasses. Streak of grey hair here." He pointed to his left temple. "Quite pretty. Dressed in a dark blue denim dress that buttons up the front. No shoes. She seems to be in for the night." That last part made him smile; it was a funny thought, someone being in for the night in a house that was no longer occupied.
Alva was looking at him like he thought they were getting somewhere on this case, and it pleased him. "Paul, you just described Diane McNeal."
"Are you sure?"
"I saw her in that dress a million times. It was her favorite."
Lindsay seemed to think he was watching a mental tennis match between two Bellevue patients. "What are you talking about?"
"You caught the ghost of Diane McNeal on tape. Only, we can't see her. He can," Alva said, as if this was sufficient explanation.
Lindsay turned to Paul. "How come you can see her?"
Sheepishly, Paul looked at the others; while Alva gave him a Well? Just say it! look, Evie patted his arm encouragingly. He finally replied, "Uhh... 'cause I'm a medium. A psychic."
As could be expected, Lindsay scoffed. "Sure you are."
Evie, becoming flustered, said, "You have a psychic practically narrating your show - Barbara Carlan. You don't believe in her abilities?"
"She's an actress, babe," Lindsay informed her.
Alva added, "I was just about to say that."
"How'd you know?"
Giving Paul a meaningful look, Alva answered the question by saying, "You do this kind of work long enough and you develop a knack for telling the real ones from the fakes." He turned to Lindsay. "I can assure you, Mr. Callan is the real thing."
Paul shifted uncomfortably.
Lindsay, with a shrug, asked, "What do you make of the tapes?"
"We can't be sure just yet, but I do think the disappearances of the contestants and your fellow crew members are all connected to Diane McNeal. She died in this house, and it doesn't seem she ever left it." Alva motioned for Paul and Evie to come with him. "We'll investigate the house. You can stay here and - "
"Wait, you're going in there?!" exclaimed Lindsay. "Five people just vanished in that house."
Blinking in bewilderment, Alva said, "How else do you expect us to find them, Mr. Nelson?"
put his first two fingers over the earpiece. "Can you hear
me, Mr. Nelson?"
From the safety of the house across the street, Lindsay spoke to the members of SQ through the two-way radio equipment they each had planted in one ear. "Loud and clear. I see you too." He waved at the TV monitor, which broadcasted any camera view he wanted to call up from inside the house.
Alva looked at Paul. "Are you experiencing anything?"
"Well, first I have to ask if you hear that... that rhythmic thumping."
Both Alva and Evie shook their heads. "Describe it."
"It's almost like a heartbeat, or a drum, but not quite." Paul squinted, listening intently. "It's causing interference on my earpiece."
"I do hear a little static," Evie confirmed.
Paul added, "On my end, I don't just hear it a little. There's quite a bit of static."
"Like the static on the tapes," said Lindsay through their radio receivers. "It pulsated."
"Sort of like a heartbeat." It was beginning to make sense to Alva. "Alright, there's some sort of pulsating energy here, which interferes with radio and camera equipment. The interference is quite common in hauntings, but why does it pulsate...?"
"It's coming up through the floor," Paul suddenly added. "It's like a pulse."
Alva instantly flashed back to the first dream he'd had about the girl, Paige. He's alright. Just feeling the pulse of the Earth, she'd said of Paul. ...the pulse of the Earth. It's like a pulse.
"We're dealing with a type of Earth energy," Alva declared to the others. "That's the pulsating interference. Many cultures and religions have theories about the Earth being a living thing, possessing its own energy. Somehow, I think a fissure opened up from that wellspring of power and its coming up from the ground underneath this house. The energy is feeding whatever's making people disappear here. It's all connected to Diane McNeal, I'm sure of it."
Paul had read of these theories in more than one Theology class; he wasn't sure he bought the idea that the Earth was more than a rock moving through space, but wasn't Keel simply referring to a type of overactive magnetic field? He definitely believed the planet had one of those, and certainly a field such as that could cause static interference. "To find everyone who's disappeared..."
"...we have to make contact with Diane McNeal," Evie finished. She stood behind and to the left of Alva, near a door that hung halfway off its hinges.
Lindsay cut in, "Guys, I'm picking up something through the microphone in the hallway." He paused to listen. "Faint noises, coming toward you."
"I hear footsteps," Paul said.
"I can't tell what it is."
Paul, listening more intently with his fingers to his earpiece, asked, "Did you hear her?"
Alva suddenly felt, and heard, Evie move behind him, turning quickly as if she'd been surprised, and then a rush of wind. He looked, but Evie was already gone.
"Ms. Santos, she disappeared!" exclaimed Lindsay as he stared at the TV monitor in amazement. "I saw it happen! Just like all the others... she was swept away."
Concerned, Alva was determined to get to the heart of this, for it wasn't just strangers who had vanished now. The house had just claimed Evie. "Paul, just before she disappeared, you asked if we had heard her. But you weren't referring to Evie, were you?"
"No," Paul replied. "I was talking about Diane McNeal. I heard her say something just before Evie vanished." He looked over the spot where Evie had been standing.
"What did she say?"
"She said, 'What are you doing in my house?'"
Lindsay asked, "Diane saw you, but you didn't see her?"
Paul and Alva both, again, looked at the empty place where Evie had been standing. "Diane wasn't talking to me."
they continued, Paul insisted they search the downstairs for Evie
so they could eliminate every mundane explanation, such as her
simply stepping out of the room for a moment, but Alva and
Lindsay quickly convinced him such a simple explanation would not
suffice. Not only had Alva felt Evie vanish behind him,
but Lindsay had caught it on tape - Evie had been taken in the
exact same manner as the others. Paul reluctantly admitted that
his friend was now in danger, something he had not wanted to
happen, but seemed to come with the territory of working for
"You're the only one here who can make extensive contact with Diane," Alva said to Paul. "That may be our only shot at bringing Evie and the others back."
Paul leveled a sardonic look at Alva. "You sure don't put on any pressure, Keel." He asked, "What about a seance, or a Ouija board?"
"I think we need more hands-on contact than that to break whatever hold the house has on our missing persons. We've got to do more than just talk to Diane McNeal. We've got to communicate with her."
"Alright then. But if I vanish too, you may have to get out that homemade board and the wine glass again to talk to me." Not wasting any time, Paul turned toward the room with the broken door, as if he sensed something there, and called, "Diane? Diane McNeal?"
At first, there was only quiet in response to his calls. But then, Paul heard a faint, faraway voice say, ".....Lassiter?"
He moved toward the room and stepped inside. "No ma'am, it's not your husband. My name is Paul Callan. I'm an associate of Alva Keel's. I mean you no harm. We just need to talk."
Again, the reply was much delayed, and tentative. "Lassiter? ... Kids? That you?"
Alva stood not that far behind Paul, following him, hearing nothing of Diane's side of what was currently passing for a conversation. He marveled to himself over the psychic instincts the other man had been given - he had never even known Diane, and still, Paul had walked right into the room that had once been her office, where she spent so much of her time that Lassiter had often joked that he was going to have a bed put in there for her.
The empty room was covered with cobwebs, dust, and trash, but Paul could see something more. In the middle of the room was a point of light that suddenly moved outward in all directions. Now Paul could see the room as it had once looked, decked out in lovely oak furniture, red velvet curtains over the single large window, a case full of books, and three sets of windchimes hung in the open sash to jingle together softly, creating light music on the breeze. This wave that brought the room to life for Paul finally enveloped him, and suddenly he was standing nose to nose with Diane McNeal. She had a bewildered look upon her face, her eyes not focusing on him; instead, Diane moved through Paul, a cold wind passing through the very core of him as she did.
"Uhhh!" Paul cried out in surprise, and shuddered all over. Turning around, he watched her as she surveyed the room, possibly looking for him, if she had indeed heard his voice.
Static came through over the earpiece Paul still had in his ear, followed by Alva's voice, very faint. "Paul, did... contac..."
"Keel?" For the first time, he realized that Alva had not joined him, wherever he had gone. "I'm here with Diane McNeal."
"I ...an barely... you." There was a long pause, filled with static, before Alva's voice came through again. "Pa... you disappeared. Like the ...ers."
That was easy enough to grasp. Paul had disappeared, like the others. Like Evie. When you vanished in this house, you went into Diane's world.
Evie knew was that she had heard a woman say, "What are you
doing in my house?" and had glimpsed her standing close by,
looking angry and a little frightened. The woman appeared as Alva
and Paul had described Diane, wearing several crystal and pewter
necklaces that tinked together when she moved. The next second,
Evie found herself standing in another room. The way it was
decorated, it was probably the room of a teenage girl, with rock
posters on the walls and an overall decorating theme of hot pink
- pink comforter on the bed, pink lampshade, pink curtains,
though the girl was nowhere to be seen.
Evie quickly became aware of noises coming from the closed closet door; it sounded like someone sobbing. Going on a hunch that it might be one of the missing contestants, she opened the door without fear.
The youth inside recoiled, startled at first. He was sitting with his knees pulled as close to his chest as he could get them with the miniature camera equipment vest strapped to his front. It was Brent. He looked quite frightened, but he tried to stop crying at the sight of Evie. "Are you another ghost?"
She shook her head. "Take my hand, you can feel it's solid."
Brent tentatively took her hand, and she helped him up. "Who are you? How did we get here? When I came to this house, it was dark and abandoned. Then I saw Diane McNeal, I swear to God it was her, and suddenly the house was alive, like people still live here. What the heck is going on?"
"I'm Evelyn Santos. I work for a group called Sodalitas Quaerito, SQ for short. We investigate things like haunted houses and strange disappearances. Your case appears to have both." She handed him a wrinkled, but unused, tissue from her purse. "My partners and I came here to find all of you. I, uh, came in here to get you." It was a lie, but the boy needed to feel he was in good hands - he was scared enough already. "My colleagues will be pulling us all out as soon as we find everyone." I hope.
"But where are we?"
Evie had been involved in enough cases to form her own educated hypothesis. "I think that Diane McNeal is in limbo. Maybe she doesn't know that she's dead, or... either way, we've been pulled into her limbo world. We're seeing the house as she sees it, when she was alive."
"How do we get out?"
Evie opened her mouth to answer, but was interrupted when one of the other contestants walked by the open door. He stopped, doing a double-take at Evie and Brent. "Oh my God, are you a sight for sore eyes! Brent!" Dakota acted like he was going to give Brent a big, relieved hug, but saw Evie and eyed her curiously. "Who are you? You're not another ghost, are you?"
"Usually, that would be a strange question to be asked twice, but in my line of work..."
After Evie explained who she was a second time, she headed for the door. "We should find the others. We all need to stay together until my colleagues get us out."
"Lady, nothing would please me more than sticking together," Dakota said. "Before I got trapped in here, they had me doing this dare where I was supposed to sit at the top of the stairs... the stairs Diane McNeal fell down, to her death. I had to sit with my back to them. I wasn't allowed to turn around and look, even if I heard something. I heard plenty of noises. You know when you've been to see a horror movie, and you're all spooked, and you come home and you're afraid to look behind the shower curtain? That's what this was like. I was scared out of my mind! Then suddenly, there's Mrs. McNeal, in front of me, asking me what I'm doing in her house. And here I am. I've had about all the alone time I want in this creepy place."
Evie had to grin at his story, although she thought the dare Dakota had described was beyond disrespectful to Diane's memory. "That's understandable."
They walked together into the hall. Brent leaned over and whispered to Evie, "You won't tell nobody I cried, will you?"
Evie pretended to lock up her mouth and throw away the key.
Diane took a seat at her desk, Paul realized it was suddenly
storming outside. Reality changed quickly here. Was Diane moving
through pockets of time, unaware of the missing hours, unaware
that she was dead? Rain pattered against the open window
and thunder boomed through the sky. Looking at her, Paul wondered
what it must be like to be caught in limbo like that, and
instantly, the sum of Diane's feelings flooded into him. What did
Keel call it? The empathic link? Then, he knew what it felt like
to be unaware of the need to move on to the other side, adrift in
a world of denial. From moment to moment, Diane experienced what
every live person felt, but mostly casual boredom with an
undercurrent of turmoil and sadness. And the loneliness... the
sense of abandonment... the uncertainty. Of course. She had no
idea where her family had gone, or when they would come home. All
Diane was now aware of was the separation.
She appeared to be writing her husband a note, as the paper she wrote on began, 'Dear Lassiter...' Paul didn't like invading her privacy, but he had to get to the heart of this matter to find all the missing people. He read over Diane's shoulder.
'...I believe there are spirits in the house trying to make contact. It's the strangest thing, but some of them appeared to be wearing miniature camera equipment! I can't imagine what this means. But I wish you were here to help me make sense of it.'
Paul almost laughed at the implications. He spoke into his tiny mic, hoping Alva could hear him. "Keel, I'm here with Diane. She doesn't know she's dead. She thinks any living person who comes into her home is a ghost. Keel, Diane thinks we are the ones who are dead."
Lindsay listened to what they received through Alva's headset. "I didn't get all that, but... did he just say what I think he said? The ghost thinks we're dead?"
Alva nodded at one of the cameras.
Looking up from her note, Diane gazed around the room as if she'd heard something. "Hello? Are you trying to make contact with me?" She waited for a response, but she didn't seem to be able to clearly hear Paul. "If you can hear me, rap on the wall twice."
Paul did as she asked. Knock, knock.
Diane jumped a little in reaction; she hadn't fully expected to get a response. Alva and Lindsay heard it too, a ghostly echoing pair of knocks. "What was that, Paul?"
"I'm making contact with Diane." He had to laugh. "Like a good little ghost."
"Where are you?" Diane continued to look around the room. "Reach out and touch my hand." She held it out.
Paul obliged. When their fingers touched, Diane suddenly saw him standing before her, really saw him, and gasped softly in surprise. "Oh, there you are. What's your name?"
Sighing with relief, glad to have finally made contact, Paul explained, "Mrs. McNeal, we don't have much time. Contact with you seems to be fleeting. My name is Paul Callan. I'm a colleague of Alva Keel's. We - "
"You're Paul Callan?" Diane looked him up and down. "But he's been looking for you for years. You can't be dead."
"Mrs. McNeal..." Paul chewed on his lower lip. "I'm not dead."
"Then how else could you be here? Are you not aware...?" She looked on him with pity, feeling sorrow for her friend Alva, whom she thought had suffered a great loss.
This was not going to be easy. "Mrs. McNeal..."
"Call me Diane."
"Diane... do you recall what happened the night of the exorcism of your son?"
Furrowing her brow, Diane visibly pulled back from him, closing herself off. She stood and moved away from her desk a few steps. Diane appeared frightened of Paul for a moment before putting up a brave front. "Of course I remember it. How do you know?"
"Because I read the newspaper articles. Diane... God, how do you tell someone something like this...?" Putting a hand over his mouth, Paul paced the room briefly before asking, "Are you aware that it's been nearly three years since the night of the exorcism?" It was as good a place to start as any.
Diane reacted with expected confusion and disbelief. "Three years?! Are you suffering from a head injury or something? The exorcism happened four days ago." She became very openly angry. "Your death has left you confused about the time. My husband Lassiter took our son to a hospice that specializes in these types of cases, and our daughter is staying at a friend's house. They should come home any day now. I would call my husband, but the phone lines seem to be down." Diane picked up the phone receiver. "It must be the storm. All I get is silence, and a little static." She held the receiver out to Paul so he could listen.
He took the phone and did as she wanted. When his eyes registered surprise, Diane asked, "What?"
What Paul heard was silence, with an occasional pop and crackle of static. Behind those noises came soft whispers, which he eventually recognized to be a woman's voice barely on the line. The woman said, "Diane? It's Mummy. Come home, darling. Stop pretending. Come home."
Paul held the receiver out. "Can't you hear her?" he asked quietly, his eyes big and startled.
She blinked at him, bewildered. "Who?"
He paused to brace himself to ask his next question. "Has your mother passed on?"
The question seemed to offend her. "I don't know what kind of game you're playing, but I think you better leave."
"Diane - "
"And you better call me Mrs. McNeal."
Paul sighed. "Mrs. McNeal, I know this is hard to accept, but the night of the exorcism... you fell down the stairs. You were killed, Mrs. McNeal. You broke your neck, and your back in two places."
After taking a moment to comprehend what Paul wanted her to believe, Diane began to laugh as if she was talking to a colossal fool. "You are not Paul Callan. You are a liar in league with that demon who possessed my son! You're helping him get revenge by playing this cruel trick on me. But I won't fall for it. I'm not dead, damn you! When my husband comes home, he'll teach you what happens to nasty demons who play tricks on his wife. You know that I'm alone and vulnerable. You get out! Or I'll hurt you myself!"
This wasn't going so well. "Mrs. McNeal - "
Diane picked up a book from her desk, a heavy, thick one. "Get OUT of my HOUSE!" She hurled the book at Paul.
Before he could even flinch or duck from the flying object, the scene of Diane and her office dissolved while the book was still in midair. Diane's world seeped into the walls and Paul once again found himself standing in a dusty, dim, abandoned room.
He heard Alva's voice behind him. "Paul!"
Paul turned to respond, but instead of seeing Alva and the abandoned room, he saw Diane's office again. He was astonished by the sudden change. A storm raged outside the window; it was black, and pouring rain, with crashing thunder. The storm seemed to reflect Diane's emotions at the time, as the scene had changed. She now sat at her desk in her nightgown, furiously writing a letter, crying hysterically. Her handwriting had gone from elegant script to anguished chicken scratch.
The last few lines were written much larger than the rest of the letter, making it easy for Paul to lean over just a little and read what she had written. 'Lass please come home I'm terrified without you I can't even call you. I tried to reach you at your office but you never came in, you must teach some time?!?! The demon came back, he tried to convince me I was dead, and I'm here all alone! I'm not dead, Lassiter, but I fear I will be if you don't come home soon. Please please please I see strangers here, many dead strangers, and now more demons! They're trying to claim me and I only feel safe when you are here please please come'
With that, Diane gave up on trying to compose a coherent letter and tossed the pen down, then placed her head on the desk, where she cried into her folded arms. "Darling, please, please, come home." She lifted her head and wailed at the ceiling. "Where aaaare yoooou?!"
Her overwhelming emotions hit Paul like a fist to the gut, causing tears to spring to his eyes. He repressed them; they were just a reflexive reaction. The rawness of Diane's anguish shocked him, because she held onto the material plane so hard, only to suffer in isolation. Paul let out an involuntary, brief sob.
Diane heard the sound; she looked up at him and gasped. It was a shrill noise that startled Paul, then they were both startled even worse by a burst of static from his headset. "We lost him again," Lindsay's voice said.
The static crackled and faded out as a faint female voice cried, "Hello? Hello!"
Diane put a hand over her eyes. "Why did you come back?" she asked Paul. "I told you to leave." She started to cry again out of fear. "Why won't you leave me alone?"
Pulling up a nearby chair, Paul sat close to the desk and tried further to convince her of the truth. If he didn't, she would go on suffering here. "Mrs. McNeal, I'm not trying to scare you. I'm sorry that this is so hard. But I need to get you to understand what's happening, for your sake as well as the sake of others. Your presence here has pulled some innocent people into this space, this limbo you're in, and they can't find their way out."
She seemed to take notice of what he'd said; Diane gazed ahead at the wall as if an epiphany struggled to find her, just beyond her reach. "Pulled them in..."
"Yes." This was encouraging, the idea that he may be finally reaching her. "One of them is my coworker and friend, Evelyn Santos."
"Evelyn?" Diane finally looked at him. "She works with Alva. I never met her, but Alva talked about her once or twice."
"I work with her too."
Diane, confused, leaned forward and gave Paul's shoulder a light shove, to test if he felt solid. "You're telling the truth? You really are alive?"
"Then how did you get in my house?"
"The TV crew that rented the house had a key."
Paul let out a sigh. "It's a long story."
"So you really are Paul Callan, and you're working with Alva? My God, that's amazing. This happened recently?" Diane asked.
"Within the last year."
"Wow... why didn't Alva call us?"
"I don't know... why would Keel call you to tell you that?" Paul replied with a shrug.
She squinted at him. "Why do you call him Keel?"
That caught Paul off guard. Flustered, he simultaneously shrugged and shook his head. "I don't know, it's just... what I call him." He smiled awkwardly.
Diane looked at him for a long time in silence. "You don't know, do you?"
There was another drawn-out pause between them. "Know what?"
She stared at Paul for a few moments longer before standing up, pacing toward the window. "Oh wow... I need a drink." Diane carefully changed the subject. "According to you, I'm dead, right?" Her tone was sarcastic.
"Unfortunately, yes." Paul stood to move closer to her. "I'm sorry. But, that's why your husband won't 'come home.' He's still alive." He got within her line of sight, so she could at least see him out of the corner of her eye. "How do you prove something like that to someone?"
After thinking about it, Diane turned to Paul, and challenged, "If they fit your little scenario, about not knowing they were dead? I'd bring them undeniable proof."
With that, Diane's world dissolved from his view.
Paul was left to ponder that for several seconds before Alva placed a hand on his shoulder, scaring him nearly out of his wits. "I'm sorry, Paul. But you're back! What did you find out?"
Paul, getting his breath back, motioned for the two of them to sit down. "I know what we have to do."
show is whacked, I'm tellin' you," declared the
bleach-blonde they'd found in the bathroom. Serena. She shook her
head emphatically at Evelyn. "Did they tell you they had me
bury Brent alive in the backyard?!"
"What?" Evie looked at Brent, then back at Serena. "Impossible. They wouldn't put a contestant in real physical danger; it's too much of an insurance risk."
"But they did!"
Brent shrugged. "I did have to lie down in a pine box in a trench in the backyard, and close the lid..."
"Then in my dare, they sent me to bury the box! Crazy, huh?"
Evie was highly skeptical. "Wait, wait, wait... Serena, was it dark outside when you were sent out there to bury the box?"
"Brent, how did they tell you to find the box you got in?"
"The computer screen told me to go out the back door and take the path to the left. No one else was allowed to read that but me," he replied.
"What about you, Serena?"
She seemed surprised at what Brent had said; the truth appeared to be dawning on her as she recalled, "I was given a letter in an envelope that I wasn't supposed to show to anyone else. The letter told me to take the right path, find the box, and bury it without communicating with Brent in any way."
"You're shitting me!" Dakota exclaimed. "You guys took different paths?"
"I think I figured it out! There were two coffins, weren't there?" Brent asked excitedly.
Dakota added, "Brent laid in one and Serena buried the other?"
"You got it," said Evie with a smile.
"Ohhh! What an evil trick."
"It's ingeniously simple, isn't it? Most tricks are," Evie said with a grin.
Brent slapped his forehead. "No wonder there wasn't any dirt on the coffin lid when I lifted it to get out!"
Giving him an exasperated look, as if to say, 'Why didn't you tell us that sooner?', Evie wondered, "Exactly what does burying someone have to do with the McNeals anyway?"
"The story on the website said Mr. McNeal exorcised people with an ancient method of sensory deprivation - by burying them alive."
"And we were supposed to recreate it," Serena added.
Evie shook her head. "What a load of crap. Someone was begging to get sued."
"So, this house is, like, really haunted?" Dakota asked, looked on Evie as a real expert on the subject. "Like the Amityville Horror house?"
Sighing, she answered, "Yeah, I think this place really is haunted by the spirit of Diane McNeal. But no, it's nothing like the Amityville Horror. That was a hoax."
The three young people were fascinated with all the knowledge Evie had of their predicament. She had learned a thing or two during her years with Alva. "Seriously?!"
"Yes. The haunting was a story concocted by George and Kathy Lutz and Ronald DeFeo's attorney to make money off a book and movie deal." If Evie had to be honest, she was enjoying this talk with the three youths; they hung on her every word. "Playing Alva" was kind of fun. "The attorney said - "
A sudden ghostly wail startled them all, making them jump and grab each other, gasping. "Where aaaare yoooou?!" the female voice cried.
"What was that?!" Dakota exclaimed.
"I think that was Diane McNeal."
Evie's headset crackled with loud static. "We lost him again," a male voice said.
"Hello? Hello!" Evie cried into her microphone. Only static and crackles answered her.
"Are we ever going to get out of here?" Brent asked her, a tremor in his voice.
Evie was SQ's only representative here; she had to be the strong one, the one in charge, to dispel all their fears. "Of course. If there's a way in, there has to be a way out. My colleagues are looking for it right now."
"Yes, I'm sure." Why had Brent agreed to come on this show anyway? He was so easily shaken...
Serena pointed at someone coming toward them down the long hallway. "Who's tha- hey, it's two of the show guys."
Manny and Sam approached them quickly, the smile on Manny's face getting bigger. "I'm so glad to see you all! We've been lost in this house for hours." He looked Evie up and down and practically leered at her. "Well hello, pretty senorita. Who might you be?"
Squinting critically at him, Evie held out a hand. "Evelyn Santos, Assistant Manager of Sodalitas Quaerito. My colleagues and I investigate paranormal phenomena. Lindsay Nelson called us in when you disappeared."
"Ahhh." Manny took up her hand and kissed the back of it. "My hero."
Dakota, seeing that, rolled his eyes at the others. They stifled grins.
Putting on a polite, fake smile, Evie continued, "We're working on making contact with Diane McNeal to get us out of here. She seems to be stuck in some sort of limbo, in this house."
"Uhh, yeah. You really believe in all this stuff, sexy senorita?" said Manny.
Evie glanced at him with a look that said she was losing her patience. "You came into an abandoned house, saw a dead woman, then found yourself trapped in a home that suddenly appeared inhabited, and you ask me that?"
The contestants giggled and snickered.
Embarrassed, Manny chuckled self-consciously. "I, uh, guess you got a good point."
Sam grinned. "We just came in the house to find these guys, once they started disappearing. And we got caught up in the phenomena ourselves!"
"Listen to him, he uses the big ghost chaser words. Phenomena," Manny teased. "You and Sam should hook up. He's probably the only one among our crew who actually believes in this shit."
Evie rolled her eyes at Manny before suggesting, "Let's find the staircase. I left my coworkers downstairs."
They followed her down the hall. Serena walked next to her, asking, "How did you know it was me in the bathroom, anyway, and not another ghost?"
With a wry grin, Evie replied, "Because ghosts rarely flush."
kept watch over the house while Paul and Alva got into Alva's
Jeep Grand Wagoneer and drove to the new residence of Lassiter
McNeal. Alva had not seen his old friend since a few weeks after
Diane's funeral. Lassiter greeted him with a hearty hug and clap
on the back.
"Alva, Alva, how are you doing?" he said with a big grin.
"I'm well. Lassiter, this is Paul Callan."
"Ah, so this is Paul." He looked at Paul as if he was the Holy Grail. "You finally found him. Why didn't you tell me?"
Paul shifted uncomfortably. "Just how many people did you tell about me?"
"Only a few close friends who would understand that sort of thing." Alva turned back to Lassiter. "I'm sorry I've been so out of touch. You know me."
"Yeah, I do," Lassiter teased. "Always traveling."
"Yes. Well, may we come in and talk?"
Lassiter welcomed them into the house. They sat in the living room drinking iced tea while Alva related the story of what had happened at his old house. "Why did you allow this, Lassiter? Why is a reality show shooting a TV episode there?"
Lassiter had grown broody and solemn at the idea that his wife's spirit was still in that house. "We couldn't stay there after Diane died. You can understand..."
"I sold it to a real estate company. They've had trouble selling it because of its history, but apparently they've found a way to make money off it by renting it out to this television company." Lassiter rubbed his chin, thinking. "You really think Diane is responsible for these disappearances?"
"Unfortunately, I know so, Mr. McNeal," Paul replied.
"Call me Lassiter."
"Lassiter, I met your wife. I spoke with her in her office."
Before Paul could say any more, Lassiter said to Alva, "He's a medium, too?"
"He'd have to be to make such a claim."
It made Paul a little uncomfortable to have them talk about him as if he wasn't in the room. But he continued, "When I entered the same space as your wife, I disappeared just like the others. She's responsible for the vanishings. Diane couldn't really see me until I touched her hand, then we talked - "
Lassiter put his hands over his face and leaned forward, uttering, "Ohhh... that's it, that's it..."
"What is it, Lassiter?"
"I think I know what's happening." He uncovered his face, but kept a hand to his temple to rub it tiredly. "Diane's psychic abilities were very projective. She could show you the things she saw by just touching you with her hands. If she wanted someone else to see the dead person she was talking to, or the vision she was having, she'd just touch them, and they saw. That's why she had Paul touch her hand so she could see him and speak to him for an extended period, to be in full contact with him."
"But, Diane didn't touch the others to make them disappear, to bring them into her space," Alva pointed out.
"In that house, she wouldn't have to," Lassiter explained. "There's something I never told you, Alva. Diane and I chose the spot where we built our house very carefully. My wife scouted out the perfect place with her abilities - we were looking for a spot where two ley lines intersected."
Alva flashed back on his dreams of Paige. 'They intersect here, you see. This is one of the sacred places.' "Ohhh, ley lines! Of course! Lines of Earth energy that crisscross through the entire planet."
"Yes, and the spots where they intersect are thought to be sacred places of great psychic and supernatural power," Lassiter added. "We built the house on top of one of these intersections to heighten Diane's abilities. The energy made her powers stronger, more sensitive, more acute."
Alva shook his head. "Lassiter, how could you play with such power for personal gain? You of all people should know how strong a ley node is!"
"Don't scold me, Alva. I've already seen the error of my ways. I lost my wife because of my egotism." He winced as he admitted that. "We thought we were skilled enough to harness and handle the power, but it was, unfortunately, used against us. Energy does not distinguish between intention; it merely gives power to those who know how to use it. The demon that possessed my son was made stronger by the ley node under the house. His hold on Tracy was so powerful..." The man's face grew quite stricken at the memory. "And his strength... it was beyond human. Tracy broke out of the straps that we'd used to restrain him, and rampaged through the house, terrifying his sister. Diane and I tried to restrain him, and during the struggle, she tripped and fell down the stairs."
His expression sympathetic, Paul said, "I'm sorry."
Lassiter gave him a brief smile. "Thank you. I was able to drive the demon out after that. I think that it was satisfied with the revenge it had wrought against my family when it caused Diane's death, which made the exorcism easier. We moved after that. I think that the node is strengthening Diane's abilities in death to the point that she can pull people into limbo with her, without even realizing it. As you said, my wife doesn't even know she's dead."
"No, she wouldn't believe me." Paul filled in the details of his conversation with Diane. "You see, she thinks it's only been four days, and she's waiting for her family to come home."
"Where are your children, Lassiter?" Alva asked.
Lassiter replied, "Tracy is in his room."
"What about Adrianna?"
"I guess you wouldn't have heard. My daughter ran away with her boyfriend about a year ago."
"Oh, Lass, I'm so sorry."
He brooded over it as if Adrianna had run away only yesterday. "She never could accept her mother's death. And after the possession... well, she was terrified of her brother. Adrianna just couldn't handle being here anymore."
"You'll find her," Paul assured him. "She'll come home one day."
"I hope... I know that you're right."
Alva sighed. "Lass, I know this will be hard, but I believe the only way we can get those people out of limbo, and Evie, is for you to prove to your wife that she's really dead."
"She won't believe it, coming from us, but if you told her..."
Lassiter, sitting silently, mulled that over a moment as he stared off into space. "I know that you're right. I don't want her to stay there forever, suffering in isolation. Diane deserves to go on to her final rest. But how can we do it? How will she see me, speak to me?"
"I believe we can use the power of the leys, and Diane's own abilities, to put you in contact with her." Alva leaned toward his old friend. "Are you ready to do this, Lassiter? Can you tell your wife that she died?"
After thinking about it, his eyes closed, Lassiter finally took a deep breath and looked back at Alva. "Yes, I have to do this, for her sake."
"Do you still have that book she wrote about her experiences with the psychic world? It could be helpful."
Lassiter and Alva stood up. "Paul, we won't be long."
Paul watched them leave the room. Within a minute, he felt that familiar pull of instinct that Alva would call his psychic abilities, the same pull that had told him who Travis Prescott was before he even knew his name, the same pull that made him look up to see "Little Miss Lost" staring back at him through the bus window, the same pull that assured him that Tommy had the answer to Matty's whereabouts when the child had been kidnapped. The instinctual gravity said, 'Go to the hallway. Look in the first room to the right.' Paul did, because he knew he would encounter something important.
He walked to the open doorway and peered inside. A teenage boy looked back at him, sitting there as if he knew Paul was coming, or at least someone was. He sat in a chair near his desk, hands enfolded together, and slowly met Paul's gaze. The boy had shoulder-length, straight black hair and black eyeliner around his eyes, like he'd spent too much time listening to Marilyn Manson.
"Hi," Paul said.
"You're Tracy McNeal."
"Who else would be in my dad's house."
"Were you listening to..."
The boy winced a little. "Yeah."
"So you know..."
"Yeah. My mom's still in that house. She doesn't know... what happened." Tracy looked down at the floor. The expression in his eyes showed Paul that the boy was holding something back; in fact, he was nearly ready to explode.
"You wanna talk about it?"
Tracy looked up at him sharply, his eyes intense. Then he glanced away. "I feel guilty."
"It wasn't your fault. You were possessed." Paul knew all about possession, how it robbed you of your control.
"It doesn't make you feel any better to know that, does it? I get that. Trust me, I do."
Looking up at him again, the boy asked, "Did someone die in your presence?"
"Yeah." Paul nodded. "There was nothing I could do."
Tracy nodded, too. They brooded in silence for several seconds over their private grief.
The teen finally broke the silence. "My sister ran away because she was afraid of me. I feel like I destroyed my family."
Swallowing hard, Paul tried to think of what to say. He finally said, "I'm sorry. I know it hurts. I wish I knew what to say." That sounded so lame, so inadequate.
"I know that my life was never normal, what with what my parents did for a career, but we had a family life, and... it's all been torn apart since my mom's death. Sometimes... I just can't take it... and I can't talk to my dad about what happened. After how it all turned out... how can I look him in the face?"
Paul, sitting on the edge of the youth's bed, reached out and touched one of his hands, squeezing it briefly. "I know your dad doesn't blame you."
"But... he lies."
Taken aback, Paul said, "What?"
Tracy paused for a long time. He swallowed down his emotions, the repressed tears clicking in his throat. "I pushed her."
Paul blinked and looked at the teen with shock; what he meant slowly dawned on the dark-haired psychic. "You... she... she didn't trip and fall down the stairs?"
Tracy looked him fully in the face. He repeated, "I pushed her."
"Does your father know that?"
"He was there. He couldn't stop me."
Amazed and stricken by this news, Paul's eyes grew wide, and he fell silent until he could find his voice again. "Your father lies about what really happened to protect you. He knows you didn't want to do it. It was the demon."
He wasn't sure if Tracy heard him or not; the boy shook his head back and forth as tears began to run down his face. "I pushed her."
Paul squeezed Tracy's hand again. "We're going to go back to the house and talk to your mom. Put her at rest. You should come. I'm sure if you spoke to her, she would forgive you. Although you did nothing wrong, that's what you need to hear."
Tracy vigorously shook his head. "No, no, I can't, I can't face her. No..."
Alva came to the doorway. "Paul?"
The boy, embarrassed, sniffled loudly and wiped his eyes with his palms, looking from Alva to Paul to the floor awkwardly. Paul patted Tracy's shoulder as he stood. He ushered Alva out into the hall.
"The boy thinks he killed his mother, that it's all his fault."
Something about this seemed to touch Alva on a private level; his eyes shifted about and he swallowed down a lump in his throat. "He needs to talk to Diane."
"He said he won't go."
Lassiter, unaware of their conversation, entered the hall. "Are we ready to go?"
Alva stood silent for a moment before he declared with conviction, "The boy needs to talk to his mother." Turning to Lassiter, he said, "Let me speak to him. I can convince him to come."
Lassiter, as well as Paul, was a bit surprised to hear Alva say this. He usually didn't get so involved. "Be my guest." Not only did he want to see if Alva could do it, but he had to admit that he and his sullen son had not been relating all that well since Diane's death.
Alva gave a nod and went into Tracy's room, alone.
Tracy looked up again. "Hey, Mr. Keel. Are you going?"
"In a minute." He leaned on the back of a chair. "I hear you don't want to go with us to your old house."
Tracy visibly winced. "That's right, sir."
"You think you were responsible for your mother's death."
Silent and withdrawn, the teen just nodded.
"Well, I know how you feel."
"You do?" He looked up, clearly curious.
"Yes. I was partially responsible for my mother's death." Alva spoke about this in a matter-of-fact, almost dispassionate tone, as if to allow himself to think too deeply about what he was saying would destroy him. "I did not cause her sickness, but I tried to help her with her pain, and..." He trailed off, thinking deeply, his crystal blue eyes haunted and pained, and finally sighed. "...it didn't work out."
Tracy was deeply intrigued now. "What happened?"
"It's an involved story... for another day. But I know from my own experience that you have to go talk with your mother, Tracy. If I had the chance to speak to mine... well, sometimes I think I would do anything just to tell her I'm sorry for what I put her through." Alva sat down and addressed Tracy directly. "You have a chance most people will never have - to talk to a deceased loved one once again. Do you have any idea what the rest of us would do for that chance?"
standing in the dim, dusty room that had once been Diane's
office, Paul called to her. "Diane? Diane, I've brought your
She responded quickly; a wave of color enveloped him and he was back in Diane's office, alive, warm, home. "Well, hello, Paul. You're back?"
"Yeah. I brought some people with me who you need to see." He held out his hand. "I know how your power works now."
Diane glanced at his outstretched hand uneasily. "You read my book?"
"No." Paul urged her to take his hand. "Your husband told me."
After a moment of awkward hesitation, as if she thought Paul was playing with her, Diane took his hand.
Paul put his other hand against what seemed to be open air. The psychic waves passed through him like a current, and within seconds, Lassiter faded into view.
Husband and wife gazed at each other in amazement and longing until Diane threw her arms around his neck and hugged him hard. "Lassiter, Lassiter, where have you been?! I've been trying to reach you... I've missed you so much."
Lassiter held her like he'd never be able to let her go, the tears starting immediately. "Oh God, oh my God, oh my God... Diane..." the man sobbed. They shared a few minutes of kisses, welcoming each other home, just holding each other, stroking each other's hair. Finally, Lassiter held her at arm's length, steeling himself to tell her what he had to. "Diane, I'm sorry I've been away."
"Where did you go?"
"Honey... me and the kids moved away. To a new house."
Just looking at him, unbelieving, Diane uttered, "What are you talking about?"
"Hon... the night I exorcised Tracy... you fell down the stairs. You died, baby." Lassiter's voice broke with the emotion of this truth. "Your back... and your neck..."
Diane's face stricken, she stared back at her husband in shock. The tears began again. "No... no... it can't be. I've been here waiting. This is my office..." As she looked around, she saw the desk was gone, curtains, bookshelves, chairs, all gone. Just a dusty, empty room. Her husband would not lie about such a thing. He'd never do that. "Oh, holy God, Lass... I died?"
He simply nodded. "This has been your limbo. You should move on now, honey."
"But... how are the kids? How are they taking it?"
What did he tell her about Adrianna? "They've done about as well as can be expected. They love you. Adrianna... is away, on a school trip, but someone else is here to see you." Lassiter put a hand on Tracy's shoulder, giving Diane the ability to see him. The boy gasped when he saw his mother looking alive, with love in her eyes.
"Oh, honey. Come 'ere."
As Diane hugged her son, he began to cry, too. Hard, regretful, remorseful tears. "I'm sorry, Mom. I didn't mean to. I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."
She just held him for a while. "You have nothing to be sorry for, baby." Diane laughed as if she had no clue why he was apologizing.
Tracy sobbed hard in reaction, like a child.
Lassiter soon joined them in the embrace. He heard his wife say, "I love you."
"I love you, too."
"I love you, too, Mom."
Sucking in a deep breath, Diane added, "Good-bye." And then, she was gone.
Lassiter found himself hugging only his son. But he did not let go. Tracy sobbed against him.
Feeling like he was invading their privacy, Paul turned away. He saw Alva in the office doorway, grinning and embracing Evie as she stepped into view. Behind her, the TV show contestants and the two men who worked for the show filed in, a bit bewildered.
"Hey... the house is a dump again. Does this mean we're back?" Dakota asked.
Alva nodded at him.
Surveying the scene, Evie said, "How'd you get it done?"
Alva started to explain to her, but Paul did not hear him. He saw movement to his left, turned, and there was Diane.
"I guess you weren't lying."
No one else seemed to be able to see her. "No, I wasn't."
"Thank you for the moments you gave me, with them." Diane raised one of her hands. "You're an amazing psychic, Paul. But abilities like mine shouldn't be put to waste in the grave." She touched a finger to the space between his eyes. "I pass it on to you."
Next thing Paul knew, he had been knocked back by a bolt surging through his brain, and he heard Alva cry his name in concern before he saw the ceiling directly above him, and then blackness.
feeling better, Paul?" Evie asked, while she adjusted the
folded, damp rag on his forehead.
He looked up at her from where he was resting on the couch in Alva's living room. "A bit, yeah."
With the rag, Evie rubbed at the spot on Paul's forehead where Diane had touched him. He winced slightly. "Sorry... it's just, she left a mark. It doesn't appear to rub off."
Paul, frowning, said, "Give me that hand mirror."
She picked up a mirror that Alva had left on the coffee table and handed it to Paul. He examined the mark Diane had made on his face with the touch of her finger. "All her power was in her hands... it looks like a burn."
Patting his shoulder, Evie tried to reassure him. "I bet it will heal and disappear."
"Probably." Still, Paul had to wonder just what Diane's touch had really done to him. Diane... he suddenly remembered something strange that she had said. 'You don't know, do you?' Why had she reacted that way to the fact that Paul called him Keel? Keel, and not Alva? "Evie... um, does Keel have any other secrets he hasn't told me?"
She blinked with surprise. "What's with this question?" she laughed.
"Please, Evie, just tell me."
Growing serious, she shrugged. "As far as I know, there are no more big secrets."
He sighed. "As far as you know..."
Downstairs, Alva said his good-byes to his friend. "I think things will look up for you and Tracy from now on. You'll find your daughter, Lassiter. I know you will. Adrianna will come home."
"I think you're right. It's what I feel inside. That she's still alive somewhere." Lassiter tried to smile. "Thank you for what you did here tonight, for helping me put Diane to rest. You don't usually get this involved in cases..."
"Well, this wasn't my usual case," Alva said with a grin. "It was the least I could do for old friends."
"Thank Paul for me, too, okay?" Lassiter looked at the stairs that led up to Alva's apartment. "What of Paul? Will he be alright?"
"Seems so. He's suffered several head injuries in the last year with no lingering effects. This is a cakewalk compared to that."
Still looking up at the stairs, Lassiter requested, "If it is true, that Diane was able to pass her abilities on to him, would you let me know? Paul might be able to use those powers to find Adrianna."
Alva nodded. "Of course."
Lassiter turned to go. "We should get home now. Don't be such a stranger, okay?"
Chuckling, Alva walked with him toward the door. "I'll try." He held his hand out to Tracy, who had been waiting for his dad, absently looking at the items on the walls. "Good to see you, Tracy."
"Good-bye, Mr. Keel," he said, and shook Alva's hand.
Alva walked them out to their car.
Upstairs, Evie had gone into the bathroom to rewet the rag for Paul. He laid silently on the couch with an arm over his eyes, still feeling headachy.
He uncovered his eyes to see who had called his name. It was Audrey, the freckle-face high schooler who had been shot at her school by a fellow student on a rampage. "Hey, you're Audrey. You came back."
"You haven't gone to talk to Kellen yet, Paul. You said you'd save him."
Paul propped himself up on his elbows. "I'm sorry, we've just been overrun with cases lately. We're going to get to it, I promise. I've been trying to contact you through the psychomantium, but you haven't shown up. Why won't you come?"
"My mom says that any device used to contact the dead is evil. Your little room is no better than a Ouija board," Audrey replied.
Paul sighed. "Great."
Reentering the room, Evie asked, "Who are you talking to?"
He pointed to a place in the room that seemed empty to Evie. "Audrey came back."
"Oh, good. Finally. What's she saying?"
"She's mad at me for not talking to Kellen yet."
Audrey took her chance to continue. "I told you before, Kellen's in trouble. He hasn't been himself since they released him from the hospital. I've been watching him. He acts like Kellen when his family is around, but when they leave, he turns into a totally different person. Often, he goes catatonic again, usually when he's supposed to be sleeping, when no one else is around. There's someone else inside him."
"Whoa, that sounds very peculiar."
Evie sat down by the couch. "What does?"
"Just a second. Who else is inside him, Audrey?"
Evie gently got him to lie back down again. She put the rag back on Paul's forehead. "You can still talk while you rest."
Audrey just shook her head. "I wish I knew who it was, but I don't know. I just know he isn't good." Suddenly, she looked to her left and her expression grew horrified. "James! James is coming!"
Paul tensely reached out and grabbed Evie's wrist. "The shooter is coming! Get Keel, he might have some ideas - "
Audrey interrupted him by shouting, "I'll contact you again!" and ran through the wall. She simply vanished through it, a trick only a ghost could accomplish.
Still tense, Paul looked around the room, waiting for James Heckert to appear. He did not. Paul finally relaxed and let Evie go. "I'm glad I didn't have to see... Evie?"
Evie stared at the wall through which Audrey had run, an amazed expression in her eyes. "I saw her."
"I saw Audrey. She ran through the wall."
Paul was bewildered. "How could you have seen her?"
She looked down at his hands. "It's because you touched me. I couldn't see her until you grabbed my arm." Evie, her eyes widening in astonishment, proclaimed, "Diane really did pass her powers on to you."
I'm sorry, Mrs. Murtaugh. It was never my intention to... I
understand." Paul glanced at Alva, the telephone to his ear.
"I'm sorry to have bothered you. Goodbye." He hung
Sighing, Alva said, "Didn't go well?"
"No." Paul shook his head and looked down at the floor. "Mrs. Murtaugh won't let us speak to Kellen. She doesn't think it'd be good for him."
"Well, you shouldn't have told her we were newspaper reporters."
Paul gave a shrug and said, "What was I supposed to tell her, we're paranormal investigators and we want to talk to your son so we can figure out if he's been possessed?"
Now Alva shrugged.
"We'll just have to figure something else out." Resting his elbow on his knee, Alva put a finger to his lips while he mulled it over. "Perhaps we could speak to Kellen when he goes back to school, when his mother's not around. Or we could start watching the house. Kellen - "
Evie came out of Alva's kitchen with a bowl of popcorn, smiling good-naturedly. She interrupted, "Work, work, work, that's all you two think of. Would you put a sock in it for one night? The show's about to come on." The bowl was plopped into Alva's lap.
His hand full of popcorn, Alva gestured toward the television. "It's our episode of 'Ghost Chasers.' This isn't work?"
The three of them sat through the episode together, sometimes laughing as Brent ran through the house screaming, other times growing solemn and thoughtful as the more dramatic footage was shown. Interviews with the contestants were tacked onto the end where they declared whether or not they thought the McNeal house was really haunted.
Brent still looked just as shaken as he had been when Evelyn found him. "Oh, you have no idea how haunted this place was. No one believes me about us getting trapped in the house, but I'm telling you, it really happened. My camera footage proves it. I couldn't fake whole rooms full of furniture where there were cobwebs and dust before. Yeah, the McNeal house is totally haunted. Or at least it was until Paul Callan cleansed it."
Serena's interview came next. "Yes, the McNeal house is haunted. That poor woman didn't know she was dead for years, and was rotting there, waiting for her family to come home. She was in such denial that she trapped us all there, too. I'm not sure that we ever would have gotten out if it hadn't been for SQ, especially Evelyn Santos. She took total charge and found us all, and led us out of Diane's limbo dimension. If she doesn't run the business, she should, because she was amazing. A real paranormal expert. Did you know the Amityville Horror was a hoax?"
When Alva heard that, he stared at Evelyn while Paul snickered. "You did an excellent job wrangling all those people, Evelyn, but you cannot run the business. That's my job."
She saluted Alva in return.
The next interview featured Dakota. "I've had many people call me a liar and a drama queen concerning this whole thing, but our experiences were not faked by the TV crew or anyone else. You can say whatever you want about it, but that house was haunted. You weren't there. Anyone who has never been inside the McNeal house just needs to keep their mouth shut, because you don't know. You just don't know."
The last interview was with Paul. Alva did not protest him appearing on the show because not only was it a good commercial for SQ, but he appreciated what Paul said. Text on the bottom of the screen identified him as 'Paul Callan, Paranormal Investigator, Sodalitas Quaerito.' "The McNeal home was definitely haunted, but not so much by a ghost. The house was overcome with loneliness, anguish, isolation, longing, and sadness, all centered on one woman who died tragically there. Her desperate clinging to life pulled all who entered into her private torment, so she wasn't so alone. But the problem was, she saw all who were trapped there as spectres and demons trying to take advantage of a woman home by herself, and saw no end to that threat. To her, we were the dead. It took the love of her husband to free her from the denial that kept Diane McNeal trapped on this plane.
"As for myself, I learned a very important lesson in that house. I've had my own strange experiences in the last year that have caused a few people to label me a psychic, a medium, labels that I am not always comfortable with. But Diane taught me that a psychic can lead a fairly normal life, with family, friends, and other loved ones. That is definitely encouraging. The most important thing, though, that Diane did for me was to give me a gift I never saw coming - the ability to share my visions with others when its needed. They say all of Diane's power was in her hands; the power to caress, love, and help those around her. We all possess a bit of that power." Paul held his palms out to the camera. "Pass it on."
(Thanks to Deejay and Jill for their impressions.)
We Were the
Dead (c) 2005 Demented Stuff
Miracles (c) 2003 Spyglass Entertainment & Touchstone Television
Comment on this story by e-mail
Back to The Stories