SPIRITS

The boy crouched and balanced precariously on the toilet seat; a beam of light swept beneath the stall door and moved on. The lanky figure struggled to keep his breath even and quiet. "Can't get caught…mustn't let 'em know…they find me…everyone will be so mad…they'll send me away…they'll send her away again," he thought. The boy swallowed as the light disappeared and he heard the restroom door click shut. He remained balanced on the seat for a few moments, his caution rewarded when the door flew open and the beam of light swept again through the restroom. The light disappeared again, and the door shut. The boy cautiously stepped down and out of the stall. For a few moments he listened intently at the restroom door; then, satisfied no one lurked outside it, he cautiously slipped out.

The boy quietly surveyed his surroundings. He had learned, often painfully, how to become invisible, how to disappear when necessary, and his life made it necessary frequently. He was ridiculously tall for a twelve year old and terribly thin for his height. His dark curls, several days beyond needing a haircut, cascaded over his brown eyes. His mother told him he was handsome, but his mother also believed that tiny monsters living in their apartment walls were plotting against her. His clothes were worn but clean and hung loosely on his frame. The boy listened intently for any sign of another human; satisfied that he was alone he moved silently to stare out the third floor window.

A few late trick or treaters crossed the street; jack-o-lanterns glowed in the windows of the apartment building directly across from him. In some of the windows the boy could see children handing sacks to their parents, offering candy for inspection or to share. In one apartment a small boy nibbling on a candy bar rested contentedly and securely in his father's arms as they both watched an unseen television. Both started suddenly, and laughed together at their fear.

The boy shivered and pressed his large palm to the window. Tears formed in his eyes; he swallowed. "No," he thought. "Not tonight…I won't." He turned away from the window and began striding past the long rows of books. The only light came from the windows and the emergency lights at the ends of the long room, but the boy knew this building. He reached the shelf without conscious thought and disappeared into the dark row. He scarcely searched for the volume; he knew exactly where it was from their many previous encounters. The boy gently pulled it from the shelf and walked back into the aisle. Carrying the book carefully, just as his mother had taught him, he moved to his secret place, a small desk hidden in a corner formed by two long shelves of over sized books and the building's stairwell. The boy pulled a small flashlight from beneath his sweatshirt and pushed it on. He opened the book and began reading; the familiar words rushed through his brain until he came to his favorite part. "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound."

"Oh, yea!" the boy thought and eagerly turned the page. He paused and let his thoughts wander. What was it like for the people who first read this story? He knew the book had appeared in magazines originally; what was it like to have to wait weeks or months for the next installment? What was it like for the author? Did he know where the story was going? Or did it surprise him? Were stories planned? Did they just come out of the air?

The boy's dark head wavered, nodded, and then fell on the book. His breathing became soft and regular, and, safe for the first time in the day, he slept.

A tall, cadaverous figure emerged from the shadows. His long, slender figures moved over the boy, who stirred slightly. A slighter figure joined the tall one.

"The boy again," the second figure said in an accent that spoke of Eastern European origins.

The tall figure nodded. Other figures emerged out of the darkness to surround the boy.

A willowy young woman dressed in silver and white smiled down at the boy. She looked at the tall figure. "He's reading yours again…it must be his favorite."

"He is," the tall figure spoke with an English accent and with some authority, "an intelligent and curious child."

The second figure, an elderly but active man with a gentle and intelligent face, leaned to study the boy. "I fear," he said as he shook his head, "that this boy has already seen terrors that even I can imagine."

A handsome young woman in hoop skirt which managed to slip between the book stacks with amazing ease moved to stand in front of the desk. "I wish," she said softly, "we could give him something…help him…"

A rotund stuffed bear pulled itself up on the desk to look at the boy with large, sad eyes.

The tall figure raised a long finger to his lips. "We all know the rules," he said firmly. "We can give only what we have been given…and we can live only in the minds…we can not break the boundaries."

"Oh, bother," said the bear.

The boy stirred and murmured.

"He may wake up soon," the tall figure said. "We must go."

The shadowy figures reluctantly slipped back into the darkness. One, roughly the same age as the boy and dressed in ragged overalls and a battered straw hat, leaned over the desk. "Don't worry, Bobby. We're here when you need us."

After the others had left, the tall figure remained. His hand slipped involuntarily into his long tweed coat. He turned the object over and over in his hand until he finally laid it gently on the desk.

"It is against the regulations, young Mister Goren…but there are rules and there is what is right…and if this helps you know the difference…" He faded into the darkness.

Bobby woke with a start; he looked around him and felt rather than saw a wisp of movement. He rubbed his eyes with his fists. "Musta been a dream," he thought. He stood up cautiously and noticed that light was starting to flow through the window. "Need to get out of here…probably safe to go home now…" A dance of light on the desk caught his attention; a small magnifying glass rested on its surface. "That," the boy thought, "wasn't there before…" The glass was well made and felt comfortable in his hand; Bobby's fingers traced the tiny letters SH engraved on the handle. "Someone must have left it here; I'll turn it in to the Lost and Found when I come back tomorrow," he thought. Bobby picked up the book and carefully placed it in its proper place. He paused for a moment and gently touched the book's spine. "Thank you," he whispered, and left.

Detective Robert Goren stared at the crime scene photos in front of him. "There's something…I'm missing something…" he muttered. He reached inside his jacket pocket to pull a small magnifying glass out; he meticulously examined each photo with it. A detail leaped from one at Bobby; he fingered the glass' handle as his mind pieced together the puzzle.

"Eames," he said across the desk. "Look at this…" Alex took the magnifying glass from him and looked at the photo.

"Well, that proves Mr. Peters is lying," she said. "And gives us our case. Nice work, partner." She handed the glass back to him.

Bobby gave her a quick smile.

"Where'd you get that glass?" Alex asked.

"Oh, that…I found it when I was a kid…I meant to turn it in at a Lost and Found and never got around to it…" Bobby was reaching for the phone to call Carver to ask for a warrant. "I guess it's become a sort of good luck charm with me."

"Initials of SH," Alex said with a grin. "Could be Sherlock Holmes."

Bobby returned the grin. "Could be…could be…"

The End