Title: Three Times the Supernatural Found Garth and One Time He Went Looking for It
Summary: Exactly what the title says
Genre/pairing: Gen, no pairing
Beta: sandymg, as wonderfully helpful as always!
Disclaimer: Not even close to being mine.
A/N: I was prepared to dislike Garth for being a buffoonish parody of a hunter when he showed up…but by the end of his second appearance I was totally intrigued by the completely un-angsty approach he had to the job, and the smarts hiding behind the clownish exterior. And I wanted to know how he got started hunting since it didn't seem he was traumatized into it. So I waited for someone to write a story about it…but I finally got tired of waiting and wrote it myself. Hope you enjoy!
His nose itched like crazy.
The more he tried not to think about it, of course, the more he couldn't think of anything else. But he was not going to be the loser. He didn't even have to hold still the longest, just not be the first to move. When Charles and Richard were looking away, he squeezed his eyes tight and scrunched his nose, but that just magnified the miserable sensation.
He sniffed intensely and that proved his undoing.
Immediate razzing erupted around him, which Garth ignored as he rubbed the traitorous body part.
"…out at sunrise." Garth didn't need to have completely heard what Charles was saying to know his sentence was being pronounced. The consequences for the high school freshmen had been spelled out in advance—first one to move spends the night in the haunted Lilburn House.
It could be worse, he figured, as he was awkwardly herded by the group through the trees in the isolated corner of Washington Prep campus. They weren't making him eat bugs or dumping him in the center of town stark naked…So they would probably have booby-trapped the 'haunted house' and he would have to live down screaming like a girl when they scared him…but the embarrassment wouldn't kill him…
It was all a trick, Garth knew it, though he had no idea how they were making the chandelier spin in increasingly violent circles, or where the icy air filling the dining room was coming from, but the moaning noise had to be a recording hidden in the room. They were just trying to scare him, the upperclassmen wouldn't risk actually hurting a classmate, right?
Glass fragments exploded from a row of pictures hanging on the wall across from him, and Garth ducked down behind the elaborate sofa. This was going to be a heckuva mess to clean up, just to initiate one freshman.
Then he saw it—a glowing female figure in a high-necked, old-fashioned, long dress walking toward him. That was some high-tech setup, to have a holographic projector hidden on the premises. Garth backed up as the illusion advanced, then turned his back to it to see if he could spot a pinhole on the wall where the projection must be coming from.
He couldn't find the opening and suddenly a burning cold shock ratcheted through the back of his neck. Garth screamed and tried to slap it away but his hands touched nothing even as the freezing sensation increased.
Garth wanted to obey the commanding voice but his body didn't move like he told it to until there was a whuff! by his head and the grip on his neck vanished. Then he crumpled in a tangle of his arms and legs and inadvertently moaned.
Garth opened his eyes to see a stocky man silhouetted in the dim light from the windows, holding what looked like a spear.
"Uh, n-no, I don't think so…"
"You need to get the hell out of here."
Garth's hard-to-manage gangly arms and legs seemed even more uncooperative than usual, even though his brain was in agreement with the sensible order. He was halfway upright when he saw the flicker of the not-holograph behind his rescuer.
"Behind you!" Garth screeched, and the man turned and swung his weapon horizontally through the thing which dissolved in a trail of golden sparks.
"Out!" the man yelled, and Garth stumbled to the door.
It wouldn't open.
"Move it, kid!"
"The door's stuck, it won't open!"
"Shit. Let me there." The spear was shoved in Garth's direction and he realized it was a poker from a fireplace. "If the ghost shows up, hit her with this, the iron will dematerialize her temporarily."
A burst of cold made him turn as the man worked on the jammed door, and Garth bisected the apparition like he'd seen the stranger do.
"Holy cow!" Garth exclaimed as it vanished. "Hey, is this a real ghost? Like, really real?"
"Ghosts are real," the man muttered. "More like vengeful spirits than Casper though." He ran a hand through his black hair. "Goddammit. Gimme the poker and be ready to jump, I'm gonna have to bust the window."
This was like being in an Indiana Jones movie flashed through Garth's mind as glass shattered even as the ghost appeared again.
"It's back!" Garth squawked even as he hurled himself out the first-floor window and landed in the spikey bushes underneath.
"Ow! Ow!" The bushes gave as he pushed against them and he couldn't get enough leverage to right himself.
"Move, I'm coming down!"
Garth flung himself sideways, expecting to be crushed, but the big man's grace carried him past the bushes to land on his feet, and he turned and pulled Garth out of the demolished shrubbery.
"Geez, kid, what idiot idea did you have to spend the night in a haunted house?"
"I'm Garth, Garth Fitzgerald the Fourth, not 'kid.' And it wasn't my idea, the upperclassmen made me do it because I'm a freshman. Was that a real ghost?"
The man slipped the poker into a sling on his back.
"Yes, kid, that was a real ghost. Now go home."
"I can't yet, I can't leave until they come back for me at sunrise."
The man looked like he'd swallowed something disagreeable. "I don't believe it," he growled. "I have to go dig up a grave and do a salt-n-burn now that I know which Hazelhurst it is. Jesus, kid, just stay the hell away from the building, okay? Go back there by the trees," he waved, "and here, it should be stuck in the house but just in case, this will work against it, too." He handed Garth a canister."
"This is just…salt?"
"Ghosts don't like it." The man stared at Garth for a moment, then shook his head and jogged away, muttering, "Kids…"
Garth was seventeen when his cousin Brandon was killed in a motorcycle accident. He came home from school for the funeral, cried openly with his mother and aunt, and went back to classes after the weekend.
His first day home for the summer he overheard his mom on the phone with Aunt Margaret.
"You're just dreaming he's there, Margaret…okay, a nightmare…Well, then, you need something stronger…Yes…No, I don't think you're crazy, just…there's no such thing…Of course I believe you think he's there…No, dear…I promise it will get better…I'll see you tomorrow…Bye now."
Curious, he asked, "What's going on with Aunt Margaret, Mom?"
His mom took a sip from her coffee cup. "Oh, sweetheart, it's been so hard for her since Brandon…you know…" His mom looked at him sadly. "She…she thinks Brandon's haunting her. I told her it's completely understandable that she's having nightmares, but she swears his ghost is in the house. She needs to get her doctor to write a prescription for sleeping pills."
A chill went down Garth's spine.
"I think I'll go visit her today, Mom."
His aunt looked dreadful, and the hug she gave Garth felt like she was using him to keep her standing.
Once they were both sitting down, however, Aunt Margaret began to pelt him with questions about his plans for his senior year at school and cut Garth short every time he tried to ask how she was. Finally in frustration he blurted out, "Aunt Margaret, is Brandon's ghost here?"
He thought she was going to faint, she turned so pale.
"No, no," she shook her head agitatedly.
"You can tell me…"
The three-note chime of the doorbell interrupted Garth, and he jumped to answer it, knowing his aunt was too distressed to try to get up. A dark-haired woman in a blue suit looked intensely at him before asking, "Is Mrs. Marshall in?"
"Who are you?"
"My name is Olivia Lowry, I'm with the insurance company to talk to her about her son's accident."
"The accident was five months ago, shouldn't you have come before? Besides, my aunt isn't feeling very well right now…"
The woman pushed inside. "This is very important and won't take long." Practical flat shoes clicking on the hallway tile, Ms. Lowry went directly to Aunt Margaret's side, introduced herself briskly and opened a notebook.
"Mrs. Marshall, I know your son's death was very tragic, and I'm sorry but I have to ask you a few questions."
"Was anyone else involved in the crash that killed Brandon?"
"And was Brandon buried or cremated?"
"Buried…In Mount Carmel Cemetery, next to his father…"
Garth looked at his aunt's distraught expression and interjected, "My aunt really isn't up to more questions right now."
Ms. Lowry glared at him. "This is important, I'm almost done." She turned back to his aunt. "Mrs. Marshall, since your son's death, have you been…seeing visions of him?"
His aunt reached out and grasped the woman's arm. "He's here," she whispered. "Every night, he's here and he wants me to go with him."
"What does he say, Mrs. Marshall?"
"He…he's sorry and he's lonely and he…wants…me…to…to…"
Garth crouched down next to his aunt and put his hand on her knee. "It's okay, Aunt Margaret." He looked pointedly at the 'insurance agent.' He'd almost convinced himself that the experience in Lilburn House three years ago was something he'd imagined, but something was happening…to his family. "Could we talk privately?"
A bothered expression crossed the woman's face but after a moment she nodded and followed Garth to the kitchen.
"You're one of those ghost-hunting dudes…dudette…aren't you." Garth didn't make it a question.
The woman frowned, but Garth didn't give her a chance to respond.
"So, if my cousin's a ghost, what do we do to get rid of it? The other guy used salt."
Garth watched her face as she tried to decide whether to deflect or answer him straight and he decided to push her in the right direction. "I know where his grave is in the cemetery. I could save you time."
It was the right incentive. "You do exactly what I say and if I tell you to scram, you do it. Got that?"
Garth met the ghosthunter in front of Aunt Margaret's house at ten o'clock. He'd gotten there early and spent a half hour bouncing up and down, not sure if he was nervous or excited. But then he thought about Brandon being a ghost and sobered up. That shouldn't have happened, Brandon wasn't the vengeful spirit type.
"How come my cousin turned into a ghost?" he asked as he led the way to the grave.
"Usually a spirit hangs around because it has unfinished business."
"So what do you do to it?"
She shrugged. "I dig 'em up, salt and burn the body, and the ghost is gone."
"Where do they go?"
"Don't know, don't care. My job is just to get rid of 'em."
"How did you learn how to do that?"
"From another hunter…now you stay back here. If you see anything, shout out and I'll deal with it."
It was pretty anticlimactic…Olivia shoveled out a rectangle over Brandon's coffin with efficient rhythm while Garth stood watch from twenty feet away. He heard the thump when she made contact, saw her grab a crowbar, and heard the squawk of the lid being pried open. Garth wanted to walk over, to see what five months in the ground had done to the body…but he also didn't.
Standing at the edge of the hole, Olivia liberally poured salt and lighter fluid into it, then dropped in a lit match and the orange flicker of flames illuminated the area. When the light petered out, she began the reverse process of piling the dirt back and Garth figured he'd be okay moving closer now.
"I can, um, can I help?" he offered, wanting to contribute something to the ending of his cousin's ghost. Unfortunately, as he neared the grave a nasty burnt smell filled his nose and when Garth realized what it was he almost puked.
Olivia's glance said she saw exactly how he was feeling. "Go back to the car, I'll be done in a few minutes."
"Uh, yeah, that's a good idea…"
It was just after midnight when Olivia stopped her car in front of Aunt Margaret's, right behind where Garth had parked his mother's car, borrowed to 'go out with some friends.'
"I, um guess, thanks for taking care of Bran—what the heck?!"
Aunt Margaret was screaming.
Garth was unbuckled and up the steps faster than the hunter. The front door was locked so Garth began to pound on it, calling for his aunt to let him in.
Olivia smashed the glass panel next to the door with her crowbar, then reached in to unlock the door. Garth pushed past her.
"I thought you got rid of him!"
The battered, bloody form menacing the woman cowering on the sofa bore little resemblance to his cousin—until it turned at Garth's cry of "Leave her alone!" Then the full horror of Brandon's accident made Garth's stomach heave—the entire left side of his cousin's body was shredded, strips of skin and ribbons of clothing fused together, the side of his face raw hamburger with shards of his skull protruding…while Brandon's right eye stared coldly…Garth was going to throw up…
Olivia's crowbar hurtled into the figure and it vanished as the tool jangled on the floor. She didn't waste a moment scooping it up again and positioning herself like a sentry in front of his aunt.
"There must be something in the house that he's attached to, something that was like a part of him!"
Garth was too busy trying not to puke to respond so Olivia threw the question at Aunt Margaret.
"What belonged to your son that is keeping him here?"
Unfortunately, she was rocking and moaning on the couch, unable to say anything coherently.
The ghost reappeared next to Garth and his screech was enough for Olivia to swing through it again.
"There's got to be something that was like a part of him," she shouted at Garth. "You've got to think what it is!"
Part of Brandon…"To your right!" he yelled at the hunter. Shredded skin swirled as the ghost was vanquished again…skin…Brandon's arm…
"He's not wearing his motorcycle jacket!" Garth yelled.
"Find it!" Garth started up the stairs to Brandon's bedroom.
"Wait! Take this!" Olivia thrust the crowbar at him.
"What—what about you?" Garth stuttered.
Tripping in his haste, Garth stumbled up the stairs and barreled into Brandon's old room. He was rifling through the contents of the closet when an icy hand touched his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," he muttered as he turned quickly and stabbed his cousin's ghost with the crowbar, "but you don't belong here anymore."
He resumed pawing at the hangers until his hand touched the smooth leather and he ripped it loose.
"Got it!" The ghost reappeared as Garth reached the living room and he watched Olivia fling a fine dust into its face. "Now what do I do?"
"Salt and burn it like the grave! Here!" She tossed a plastic bag at him which landed at his feet. "Salt—here's matches!"
She tossed a small matchbox but with his hands holding the crowbar and the jacket, Garth didn't have a prayer of catching it, and as it hit the floor matches flew in all directions.
Olivia was practically in Aunt Margaret's lap as Brandon's ghost made another run at her. Garth thought he should hit it with the iron again but when he started to move toward it Olivia yelled again.
"Outside and burn it! Now!"
Any neighbors watching would be talking about this for a while, but Garth figured it was more important to just burn the jacket than to worry about people seeing, so he dropped it on the sidewalk and dumped the bag of salt over it.
"Shoot!" He hadn't grabbed a match. This time when he felt the chill he swung without even looking when he heard a shout.
"What the hell you doing, boy?"
Mr. Williams from next door was staring at him from the sidewalk—with a cigarette in his hand.
"Gimme your lighter!" Garth screeched in a voice an octave higher than normal. "Now!"
Miraculously the man responded, pulling it from his pocket, and Garth snatched it from his hand.
"Come on, come on, come on," he chanted as he struggled to flick it one-handed, the other holding his weapon ready.
It lit and he dropped it on the lining which immediately started to flame. And then Brandon was there once more, his mangled face inches from Garth's…Suddenly his cousin exploded in fire as well and Garth fell on his knees and lost everything in his stomach.
"But what do I do if something like this happens again?" Garth leaned in the driver's window to ask Olivia for a phone number one more time.
"It won't, most people go their whole life without encountering the supernatural. In a month you'll think you imagined the entire thing."
"No, I won't. Please, I need to have some way to contact you if it happens again."
Olivia pursed her lips, then grabbed a scrap of paper from the passenger seat. Writing a number on it, she put it in Garth's hand.
"This is Bobby Singer's number. He's one of the smartest hunters there is, and sometimes he answers questions for people who accidentally get involved. But I wouldn't call him unless it's really something life-threatening, he doesn't like to be bothered by idiots."
She pulled away from the curb before Garth could think of anything more to say.
He'd had nothing more interesting to do, so when Melody asked him with that "Please?" in her voice, Garth shrugged and said sure. It would be worth going just to get that smile out of his girl.
He was completely surprised when he walked past the jewelry table at the estate sale and his eyes were riveted by the ring.
The sharply angled black stone was surrounded on all four sides by tiny red chips. "Those are genuine rubies around the onyx," the woman at the table began, unprompted, when Garth had it in his hand. The ring is estimated to be about two hundred years old and the jeweler's mark is a famous metalsmith from England."
"Huh." Garth's motion to set the ring back in its velvet box was waylaid by the impulse to try it on.
"What do you think, Melody? Kind of bling a Fitzgerald the Fourth should own?"
She giggled. "Now you need a red brocade smoking jacket and a cigarette holder!"
"No, smoking's not healthy for you." He started to pull the ring off, but stopped to admire it instead. "How much?" he surprised himself by asking, and the three hundred dollar price seemed entirely reasonable for a piece of jewelry that seemed to have been made just for him.
"You're such a dork," Melody teased as he stopped repeatedly to admire how the ring graced his hand. "You're not really going to wear that, are you?"
He struck a stern pose with his ring hand gripping the zipper on his jacket, attempting to project the gravitas it made him feel. "You're seeing the new Garth, my dear. One who could give etiquette lessons to English noblemen. And who sweeps unsuspecting females off their feet!"
He scooped Melody up and carried her all the way back to the car.
It was the craziest thing how attached he was to that ring by the end of the day. It made him physically anxious to remove it just to wash up for bed, and he kept checking the corner of the sink where it waited for him. And so, even if it was a little odd, he was wearing it when he crawled into bed.
Garth was drowning. He flailed his arms and legs, trying to propel himself upwards, but his waterlogged clothes acted like an anchor, pulling him down. The light reaching him from the surface of the water dimmed as he stopped resisting. Taking a breath would only fill his lungs with water, but he had to inhale…
He jerked awake in panic, gasping for oxygen, then realizing it was air, not liquid surrounding him, put a hand to his chest and tried to calm himself.
That had been one heckuva nightmare.
He shuffled to the bathroom, still panting in the aftermath of the terror of the dream. As he lifted a glass of water to his mouth, Garth was caught by the reflection of his new ring in the mirror. He'd been wearing it as he drowned, he realized. Snippets of the nightmare flared through his mind…the heavy cloth coat and tall leather boots that had weighed him down…weird.
Maybe he should lay off pepperoni right before bedtime.
Garth's hand shook as he raised the pistol, knowing even as he did he was too late. A brutal blow slammed his chest, he could feel the burn as the bullet pierced muscle and bone and his gun slipped from his hand as he collapsed…
Mesmerized by the wrongness of a smile with only three teeth, it took a moment for Garth to register he was bound to the chair so tightly his hands were numb. The mouth with its gap-toothed leer surrounded by black facial hair was coming closer…a shiny blade whipped in front of Garth's eyes as the mouth mumbled, "Now you pay…" and he felt the excruciating slice through his neck, his larynx, his windpipe…
Eyes wide, Garth reached a hand to his neck without thinking, then shuddered in relief that his skin was intact. His pajamas, his sheets, his pillow were sweat-soaked.
"Okay, Garth, figure this out." It always helped when he thought out loud. "You never have nightmares. Or at least not ones where you keep dying…showing up at school naked, not being prepared for a test, normal bad dreams, okay, but these are too real."
Bad dreams represent fears. Yeah, he'd been shook up when Brandon died, but that was five years ago and he'd never dreamed about dying then…Fear of change? But he'd been working for his dad for two years, had his own place for almost that long…been dating Melody for several months…Nothing he could think of merited such realistic deaths night after night…
As he ran a still-shaking hand through his hair, several strands tangled with his ring and he winced as he pulled his finger loose…then froze.
It couldn't be…He was letting his overactive imagination take over.
Garth tugged the ring from his right hand and dropped it on the bed…and started shivering with the physical need to put it back on. For two weeks he'd had shattering nightmares every night.
And two weeks ago he'd bought that ring.
The implication of the brusque greeting was I-have-better-things-to-do-why-are-you-bothering-m e. And Garth wasn't exactly sure of the answer…except he didn't know where else to go.
"Mr. S-Singer? My name is Garth, um, Garth Fitzgerald the Fourth and um, I think I need your help?"
"Where'd you get this number?"
"O-Olivia Lowry gave it to me, uh, five years ago and I think I'm in trouble…like maybe 'only you can help me' kind of trouble?"
It wasn't the most inviting response but the man hadn't hung up…
"I, uh, bought a ring…a black ring, I think she said it was onyx…two weeks ago, it was at an estate sale, I just went because my girlfriend thought it would be fun and I wasn't planning on buying anything but this ring was just…there, and it looked awesomely cool and so I bought it, it was three hundred dollars and I never spent that kind of money on jewelry for myself and I don't really know why I did it and now—"
"Get to the point, kid."
He wasn't a kid but Garth knew he shouldn't waste time arguing the point.
"Now I can't take it off…well, I can for a minute but it's like it kind of hurts when I do—not like physically hurts but mentally, if you know what I mean, and I have to put it back on right away and ever since I bought it I've been having horrible nightmares that feel like they're not nightmares, it's like I'm really dying in them and it's in all kinds of horrible ways and…"
"You bought it at an estate sale?"
"Do you know whose estate?"
"No…It was just something Melody saw in the paper…"
"You need to find out who owned that ring. Where are you?"
"You askin' me or tellin' me?"
"Um, yeah, I'm in Baltimore."
"Gimme your address. I'm about ten hours away. Take the ring off for as long as you can, try locking it up. And don't go to sleep."
A complicated mix of fear and relief flooded Garth. "What is it?"
"I'm guessing it's cursed. So just sit tight till I get there."
Garth was able to keep it off for fifteen minutes until he got too jittery. Lock it up, Singer had suggested, but every place Garth could think of he had a key to, so he didn't see how that would help.
The metal was warm when he slid it back on and suddenly he had an idea. He hurried to the kitchen and turned the oven on, then grabbed an aluminum baking dish. Waiting until he could feel the heat radiating from the oven door, he jerked the ring off his finger, dropped it in the pan, and shut it in the oven. In a few minutes it would be too hot for him to touch no matter how much he wanted to.
The fourth time he found himself opening the oven door, Garth realized he needed to do something more to distract himself, or the option of putting a piece of red-hot metal back on his finger was going to seem preferable to the anxiety pulsing through him.
"Find the name," he muttered. He forced himself out of the kitchen and started a web search for details on the estate sale.
He was engrossed in the historical records in front of him when the doorbell rang, and Garth realized with a start that several hours had passed. And as soon as his concentration was broken the pressure of the ring returned. He turned toward the kitchen but the doorbell chimed again, and Garth made himself answer it.
Garth had read the word 'grizzled' in novels to describe a sketchy-looking character; now he opened the door to a man who could be described by no other word.
"So where's the ring?"
Garth led the way to the oven. "In there."
Deliberately not looking at the ring, Garth saw the surprise and then approval cross the man's face.
"Made it too hot to handle. Good thinking there. Got some tongs?"
Mr. Singer set his duffel on the table and pulled out a two-inch square wooden box with elaborate carving. Garth reached out without thinking.
"Just let me do this, kid. All you gotta do is hand me the tongs and step outta the kitchen, okay?"
He wanted to listen to the orders, but Garth could only retreat as far as the doorway now that the ring was pulling on him again. When the pincer grip settled around the ring, Garth stepped halfway into the kitchen again.
"Just stay back. Only gonna be a minute more."
Mr. Singer had opened the wooden box before opening the oven, and he smoothly dropped the ring inside and snapped the lid closed.
It was like someone had severed the DSL link to a computer, how 'off' Garth's body went—he hung on to the door frame to keep from collapsing.
"Whoa!" burst out of him.
"Yep, cursed," his rescuer said, noting Garth's reaction. "You'll be okay now. This is the equivalent to a lead-lined box."
"I found some of its history on-line," Garth blurted as the man began packing to leave. "The ring's been owned by several different people, but the thing is, about half of them died very violently…usually about a month after they got the ring."
Garth fancied a flash of respect on the bearded face.
"Well, then, good thing you didn't wait longer to call."
"There's one other thing…all the previous owners who died so fast were Irish or Irish descent."
A slow nod. "Well, then, Garth Fitzgerald the Fifth will be safe."
He was halfway through his bowl of oatmeal, skimming the headlines and leisurely turning pages, when his eyes and brain connected.
Family Claims Poltergeist Attacking Them
Garth read the article quickly. In the Baltimore suburb of Pikesville, the Ambroise family reported objects being thrown, foul odors, and inexplicable electrical problems in the home they had recently purchased. Both a police investigation and a home inspection had not been able to account for the bizarre occurrences; meanwhile the family had moved to a motel while trying to figure out what to do.
It was none of his business.
Surely one of the 'professionals' would see this and take care of it.
There was a picture of the family: mom, dad, a twelve-year-old boy, and a little girl. They all looked so scared.
He really wasn't going to do this, was he?
Garth sucked on his lower lip as he reread the story.
He still had Bobby Singer's number—had put it in his phone contacts on crazy impulse.
"Mr. Singer? This is Garth, Garth Fitzgerald the Fourth…you helped me last year with a cursed ring."
The dismissive tone made Garth sit up straight.
"There's a report of a poltergeist in Pikesville near me, and I thought…I'd take care of it. I wondered if you had any advice besides salting and burning the corpse?"
"No, boy, just stay out of it. You don't want to start mixing up with this stuff, trust me."
"Is there anyone else near here who can do the job?"
"I don't know, 's not like I'm dispatch central here!"
"There's a family, with kids, and they're getting hurt. I'd just like to know if there's anything different about getting rid of a poltergeist than a ghost."
Another phone rang faintly in the background.
Garth could hear Bobby's second conversation. How should I know?...So no hex bags or EMF…Acting weird how?...From the corpse? I gotta look something up, hold on, I gotta deal with this this kid…Garth could hear the exasperation when Mr. Singer spoke to him again.
"So what's this thing doing?"
"Bad smells, flickering lights, but the big problem is it's hitting people with stuff it's throwing around. The six-year-old got clobbered by a candlestick."
"Balls! I'm tied up here and don't know anyone down there. Okay, listen careful. Poltergeist's a bit different than a run-of-the-mill ghost. Poltergeist is attached to the house and only way to get rid of it is with gris-gris bags. Write this down…"
A list of peculiar items in hand, Garth began an on-line search for angelica root and whatever van-van oil was. Crossroad dirt…that he could get from any dirt road intersection, right?
Seven hours later Garth tied the cord on the fourth cotton bag and debated whether it mattered if he went to Pikesville tonight or in the morning. It would be late when he got there, and he really didn't want to do this in the dark. The family wasn't in the house right now, no one would be in danger, at least not until he went in there, so he'd take the time to eat and get a good night's sleep. And it would give him time to think of how to approach the family so they'd listen to him.
A dark-skinned couple answered Garth's knock on door one-fifteen of the Holiday Inn.
"Mr. Ambroise, Mrs. Ambroise, my name is Garth and I'm here to help you with the trouble with your house."
He saw the guarded look the tired couple exchanged. "We've had three different home inspectors and the cops say there's nothing wrong with our house," the husband stated tersely.
"Right, they couldn't find anything, which is why I'm here."
"And how can you help when no one else can?" Mrs. Ambroise had a subtle Jamaican lilt to her speech, and her wide eyes were fastened on him suspiciously.
"Okay, this is going to sound a little strange, but don't shut the door in my face," Garth spoke quickly. He'd decided he was just going to be direct and go with the truth even if it sounded outrageous, because he didn't want to worry about keeping a story straight. And because he really believed honesty was the best policy. "Your house has a spirit haunting it, a poltergeist." He tried to subtly edge his foot across the doorway so they couldn't slam the door in his face. "For whatever reason, it has decided it doesn't want you living there, so it causes things to happen to make you afraid and think you're going crazy until it gets you to leave. I know how to banish it and I can do that if you'll allow me."
As he expected, Mr. Ambroise moved to shut the door. "Before you make me leave, just think for a minute. What harm would it do to let me try? I believe what you say has been happening is real, why don't you believe I can help?"
"Donat." Mrs. Ambroise's quiet voice stopped the door more effectively than Garth's foot. "Something is wrong in that house. Maybe we should listen to what he has to say."
Garth knew how to take advantage of an opening. "I just want to help, I don't want any money or anything, but I need your permission to do this."
"Why do you want to help strangers?" Mrs. Ambroise asked quietly.
"Because…you need it and I think I can do it."
Mr. Ambroise frowned. "Have you done anything like this before?"
Garth evaded a direct answer on that one. "I've had experiences with ghosts and haunted objects. They all turned out well."
"Excuse us a moment." The couple stepped back into the room and pushed the door closed, but Garth noticed they didn't lock it. Their voices were a low murmur, but after a brief conversation they came back.
"What do you want us to do?" Mr. Ambroise was still on the fence, but he was going along with his wife for the moment.
"I need the key to the house, and your permission to make four holes in the walls, one on each of the north, south, east, and west corners. Then I put pouches with the banishing ingredients in the holes and, poof! Your troubles are over."
"We will give you the keys…and permission. I trust you, Mr. Garth." Both pairs of eyes looked at him soberly.
Suddenly feeling uncomfortably responsible, Garth held out his hand for the keys.
Garth changed in a Citgo station washroom. He'd thought about how he was going to do the four corners, he was pretty certain the poltergeist wouldn't just sit around while he tried to get rid of it, so he'd come up with the plan to tackle the job in two parts.
First, he was going in undercover, so to speak, as electrician. He would make the four holes and then in step two he would place the gris gris bags in them. Wearing Wal-Mart issue workshirt and pants, he opened the door to the Ambroise's haunted house and set about convincing the spirit he was harmless by carrying on a running monologue.
"So, the family thinks they need some new outlets to fix the electrical problems…I'll just make the holes for the outlets right now…hmmm…" Garth discretely checked the compass he'd pulled from the duffel bag he was carrying. "Let's see, that looks like a good spot…"
He shoved the armchair away from the wall and crouched down with the keyhole saw he'd brought. The tip of the blade poked through the drywall easily and Garth quickly made a small rectangular opening. He was tempted to put the banishing bag in immediately, but he was pretty sure the poltergeist would object to more holes in the walls if Garth did that, so he casually stood and stretched.
"Okay, they wanted four outlets…where to put the next one?" He meandered toward the east wall and realized he would have to make a hole in the ceramic tile of the bathroom.
"Darn!" He would just have to smash a hole with the hammer, he guessed. And he'd do that one last.
He was almost done with the hole in the bedroom on the south side of the house when he smelled it—a putrid reek that combined the worst of vomit, excrement, and spoiled meat. "Ewww!" He covered his nose and tried to breathe through his mouth, but the odor even made the taste of the air sickening.
Trying to keep his real purpose hidden, Garth mumbled, "They seriously have something wrong with the sewer pipes," while he consulted his compass again to find the west corner of the house. Just as he bent over, all the light bulbs in the ceiling fixture shattered. Garth felt the prick of the shards on his unprotected neck. He was running out of time and this time his hole was a ragged mess. Shaking glass out of his hair, he pondered the best way to finish now that the poltergeist was aware of him.
He still had to make the opening in the bathroom tile. He would just have to smash through it with a hammer. "Sorry, Ambroises," he muttered, "but easier to patch the wall than you." He could get the bag in that wall as soon as he opened it, but how would he manage to get to the other three walls with a pissed spirit after him?
This just wasn't a job for one person. He would get the first bag in place, then bug out to get reinforcements. He set his duffel at the front door, grabbed the hammer and hid one of the gris gris in his hand. As he headed to the bathroom, all the doors in the house slammed shut, the force causing several pictures to fall off the walls. More broken glass.
"I just have to use the bathroom, then I'm out of here," Garth announced loudly. He tucked his hammer under his arm to open the bathroom door, it had slammed with the rest. He didn't want it to close behind him…Garth pulled several towels from the hooks and wedged the door open with them.
"Here goes nothing!"
Three bashes and there was a big enough gap in the splintered tile for him to stuff the pouch in…and the house roared.
There was no other way to describe the noise that sucked the air from the room as the bathroom door heaved back and forth trying to close. Garth flung himself out, running for the front door through a hail of papers, books, and knick-knacks. A large hardcover caught his chin, briefly stunning him, and he flailed wildly to keep from getting hit again.
He grabbed the duffel and the doorknob simultaneously…and the door was stuck shut.
Garth tried to avoid profanity, he really did, but as a crystal paperweight, a wooden candlestick, and several paperbacks thumped painfully on his back, he allowed that an expletive was appropriate.
He still had the hammer in his hand and he flashed back to standing on the porch with Olivia trying to get to Aunt Margaret, and the grumpy stranger getting them out of the Lilburn House…and he threw the hammer through the picture window, used the duffel to push the glass slivers out, and jumped headfirst into a rosebush.
"Ow! Ow! Ow!"
Unfortunately, there was no way to disentangle from the thorns without using his hands to push away. Finally on his feet, Garth looked at the myriad tiny bleeding punctures in his hands and didn't want to think what his face looked like based on how much it stung.
And he still had to get three more bags in the walls.
"What happened?!" Mrs. Ambroise was suitably horrified when she opened the motel door.
"May I wash up in your bathroom?" Garth asked calmly.
The Ambroise children looked up from the game they were playing as Garth passed by and he heard them gasp. "Henry, that man, he's bleeding!"
Regretfully ruining the nice white washcloth, Garth checked in the mirror when he'd sopped up the blood. The tiny red pinpricks looked like he had a nasty case of acne.
"Do you have some antibiotic I could use?" he asked when he opened the door to see Mrs. Ambroise standing right there.
"Sit down," she ordered instead, and Garth perched the edge of the tub as she dabbed ointment across his cheeks and forehead.
"I need to talk to you and your husband," he said when she finished.
"It's a logistical problem," Garth explained to the two of them. "The walls are too far apart for one person to get the banishing bags in all the holes before the poltergeist attacks." He looked at them unflinchingly. "The only way you're going to get your house back is if you help me. It will be a little dangerous, no question. But I think if three of us go in together the spirit won't know who to go after first, and we only need minutes to get the job done. So will you take the risk to get your lives back?"
"What about Henry and Marie? We can't just leave them here alone, and we don't know anyone else in the area."
Garth thought a minute. "I know. I can ask my Aunt Margaret to stay with them for the afternoon."
He just said he was doing a special consulting job and needed to ask a favor on behalf of his clients. His aunt fussed when she saw his face, but he explained he'd had a close encounter with a rosebush, and she told him to be more careful before Mrs. Ambroise introduced her to Henry and Marie-Frances.
"My window!" Mrs. Ambroise exclaimed when Garth parked in front of the house. "You should file an insurance claim for vandalism," Garth said as he got out of the car. "I'm afraid it's even worse on the inside. But once the poltergeist is gone, you'll be able to put it back to rights and have a safe, happy home."
On the porch he handed out the tied pouches and explained exactly which hole each of them would tackle. He turned the key in the lock.
"Oh my lord!"
"Go! Go! Look around later! Bedroom, now!"
Garth didn't think there was any glass left to break, but the shatter and Mrs. Ambroise's scream corrected his mistake.
"Keep going!" he shouted as he headed for the farthest hole. He was almost there when a lamp cord suddenly slithered around his ankles and he smacked full-length on the floor.
"You're. Not. Stopping. Me." Garth shoved himself forward on his elbows, stretched as far as he could reach, and just managed to tip his bag into the opening.
"Yahoo! We did it! Take that, you nasty!"
"Just make sure when you get the repairs done that those bags stay in the walls."
The couple stood together, shaking slightly. Mr. Ambroise hugged his wife around the shoulders. She was holding a tissue to the lightly bleeding scratch on her cheek. "What if…is there a way to reach you?"
Garth started to reach for his wallet to retrieve his business card but stopped. They couldn't call his father's company for something like this…He rummaged in his pants pocket until he found the receipt from the gas station, and scribbled his cell phone number on it.
"If you ever have any more trouble, you call me, okay?"
The couple's shaky smiles stayed with him as they drove off to retrieve their kids.
Shifting around behind the wheel, his bruises making it a challenge to get comfortable, Garth thought he just might get some special business cards made up.