The Case of the Haunted House--Prologue
by HA

The sheriff looked at the spot where he summoned in the middle of the night. It was an area on the edge of the forest located on the outskirts of town. Nothing moved except for some nearby owls in a tree; they hooted occasionally.

The sheriff grumbled and looked at his wristwatch. It was around three in the morning. He yawned and scratched his side. "Can't believe I'm up here at this hour," he said to himself. He thought how he would be still sleeping if he had not decided to answer the mysterious phone call. If he had not, he would have been fortunate to have Cindy Crawford as his dream wife.

The unidentified caller had an electronically disguised voice. At first, he wanted to hang up, conclude it was a prank, and return to the moment when the reverend was about to ask Cindy if she wanted him as her husband. Then, he heard the voice, the very familiar voice he thought he would never hear again.

The sheriff continued to stare into the forest. He was glad that he decided to wear his heavy jacket and gloves, for it was rather cold. He breathed a little and watched a puff of warm air form in front of him. The anonymous caller had told him to wait, and the sheriff was willing to wait. For two weeks, he had been waiting.

The sheriff heard someone coming behind him. He could tell by the breaking of dry twigs underfoot. He reached into his holster and grabbed his gun. He spun around, shouting "Freeze!" while pointing the gun at the newcomer.

"Hey, it's me, Abe!" the newcomer shouted.

Recognizing the voice, the sheriff reached for his flashlight and turned it on to get a better look at the newcomer. The light beam revealed a familiar face. "Geez, Emmett, what are you doing out here at this time of night?" he asked.

"I was going to ask you the same thing, little brother," the other man replied.

"Someone called me a while ago. Woke me up from a pleasant dream," the sheriff explained. "Told me to come out her immediately."

Emmett looked at his brother. "Was the voice disguised?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"I got the same call."

"Did you hear...?"

Emmett nodded. "I did. It's her."

"It definitely was," the sheriff said in agreement. "I recognized her voice."

Emmett looked at the forest. "So we're supposed to wait here?"

The sheriff nodded. "That's what the voice said."

"So what are we looking for?"

The sheriff was about to answer when he heard movement from the forest. He turned his flashlight towards there to get a better look. Both men fixed their eyes at the source.

They watched as a procession of deer marched out of the forest. They came out in two lines and walked toward the men.

"What the...?" the sheriff said wide-eyed.

The two lines of deer stopped, then parted and formed a corridor. They looked at the forest and nodded. Soon, a deer with something in its mouth walked out, leading a group of people through the corridor of deer.

The two men watched as the deer lead the people out, then stepped aside. The people walked towards the sheriff and Emmett. They noticed that some of them were wearing outdated clothing, usually ragged.

Emmett spotted a little girl in the small crowd of people. "Tiffany!" he cried out.

The girl saw Emmett and started running towards him. She ran into him and threw her arms around his waist. "Daddy!" she cried out happily.

Emmett bent down and hugged his daughter back. "Oh, honey, I missed you so much. I thought I'd lost you forever." Tears fell from his eyes, and for the first time in a week, they were of joy.

"I felt the same way about you, Daddy," Tiffany said.

The sheriff watched the happy reunion, then turned his attention to the other people. He recognized two boys. "Derek Havisham? Albie Tulone?" The boys nodded. "I thought you two ran away after school. You've been missing for five weeks."

One of the boys shook his head. "Nope. The deer took us when we went for a walk in the forest after school."

"It's true," the other boy said.

"They did the same to us," a young man clad in a military jacket and bellbottoms said. "They got tired of us humans ruining the forest, so they started catching us on orders from the forest spirit. The spirit then put us into the trees to teach us a lesson."

The sheriff tried to take this all in. "Deer capturing people? Forest spirit putting people into trees?" He looked at the young man and wondered if he was a frequent pot smoker. "Who are you?" he asked suspiciously.

"Eddie Wilcox," the young man answered.

The sheriff stared at the young man, knowing the name from local legend. "B-but according to the town records, you disappeared in the forest thirty years ago."

"We were all captured by the deer over the years," a young woman said. "We were all kept in the trees. Only good thing about it is that we didn't age."

Emmett looked at the people, then at Tiffany. "Is this true?"

"Yeah, Daddy. The spirit said that people kept destroying nature, especially you and your plan to turn this forest into a shopping mall. If it wasn't for those kids, we'd still be stuck there."

Emmett looked at his daughter. "Kids? What kids?"

"The kids who made the spirit promise to never trap people in the trees again, Daddy," Tiffany told her father.

Emmett looked at her brother. "Abe, those kids who were snooping around..." He was about to say more when he heard a ringing in his pants pocket. He pulled out his cell phone and turned it on. "Hello?" he spoke into the phone.

"You found everyone, including your daughter?" an electronically-disguised voice asked.

"I did," Emmett answered without hesitation.

"Good. We cut a deal. You sponsor a forest cleanup and stop the mall project, no more people will disappear. Got it?"

"Got it. Thanks for your help, whoever you are," Emmett said, sincerely thankful.

"Oh, tell your brother that all evidence of our presence has been eliminated. Don't bother telling anyone about us. Bye now."

Before Emmett could respond, the other person hung up on him. The deer that led the people out of the forest walked up to the sheriff. The sheriff noticed the little card in its mouth. The deer lifted its head and opened its mouth. The sheriff took out the card and looked at it, trying to figure out what it was.

Emmett, with Tiffany in tow, walked up to the sheriff. "Abe, what's wrong?"

The sheriff showed the card to his brother. It was a white card with the deer's teeth marks and saliva on it. On the card was a white head with a question mark covering its face wearing a white-banded black bowler and a black bowtie.

* * * * *

"Does he check out?" the police chief asked the arresting officer outside the interrogation room.

"Yes, ma'am," the officer, a relative newcomer to the force, replied. "He confessed everything."

Both looked through the one-way mirror at the young man in the interrogation room. He was wearing mainly blue denim. His blue jeans had holes in the knees.

"What did he say?" the police chief asked.

"He admitted that he and his friends kidnapped Carol Kersey, raped her, and then he shot her in the head as she was trying to escape," the officer reported.

The police chief watched the prisoner. He was trembling a little. He kept looking left to right rapidly.

"I guess Mr. Kersey will be happy when we tell him we found who killed his daughter," the officer said. "We haven't had a lead on this case until now."

The police chief nodded. "What's wrong with him?"

"Oh, he was pretty spooked when we found him. The person who called us told us that he would." The officer recalled what had happened hours ago. "He was sitting in the corner of that old abandoned building on Pine and Elm, curled up like a ball and shaking like crazy." He paused briefly as he looked at the prisoner. "Kept saying 'I did it. I killed her. I did it' over and over. He also kept babbling about Carol's ghost killing his friends."

"Looks like we'll need to get a shrink to check him out. See if he can stand trial." The police chief cupped her chin in her hand. "You said he was a gang leader?"

"That's right, Chief," the officer replied. "Until the members started dying on him."

"You mean these recent accidental deaths?"

"Yep. All the victims belonged to his gang."

"Looks like he got lucky."

"Not from where I'm standing, Chief."

Suddenly, the prisoner stood up, knocking his chair down. He backed into the wall behind him, then started screaming. The police chief and the officer went for the door and burst in.

"What's going on here?" the police chief demanded.

His eyes wide open with fear, the prisoner trembled and pointed next to the policepersons. "She's over there! She's over there! She said she'd let me live if I confessed, but she's here! She's here to kill me!"

The police chief and the officer looked around. "What are you talking about? Who's going to kill you?"

"C-C-Carol Kersey," the prisoner managed to say. "She killed my friends, and now she's here to get me."

Both the police chief and the officer stared at the prisoner in disbelief. "Calm down, buddy. There's no one in here but us," the officer said, trying to reassure the prisoner.

The prisoner kept pointing next to the police chief and the office. "You can't see her? She's right there next to you! She's looking at me! She...she's waving?"

The prisoner kept staring past the police chief and the officer. He was gradually calming down with deep breaths. Finally, he said, "Oh, she was just waving goodbye. Kinda appropriate considering where I'm going."

* * * * *

After the prisoner was put in lockup, the police chief and the officer went to the chief's office.

"Talk about guilt," the police chief said. "It just built up, and poof! He finally snapped."

"I take it you don't believe in ghosts?"

"No. Ghosts don't exist. Just figments created by frightened minds."

"Well, something happened to him. We looked around carefully, yet we found no sign that anyone else was there. No distinct footprints, no other clues."

"Doesn't mean that ghosts were involved."

The officer reached into his pocket. "Can you explain this then, Chief?" He took out a small evidence bag and handed it to his superior. "I found this taped on him when we found him. No sign of fingerprints."

The police chief looked at the bag. In it was a card with a black-and-white drawing of a face with a question mark wearing a bowler and a bowtie.