As part of my family’s trip to the United Kingdom, we had the opportunity to travel by the Eurostar line in a high-speed train to Paris. In a little over two hours, we’d traveled from Paddington Station (which brought to mind memories of Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddington) to Gare du Nord, in Paris, France.
Once there, we traded one mode of transportation for another and boarded an open-air bus to see the sights. We had the opportunity to stop off at Notre Dame and relive a little of Quasimodo’s story, and to also stand under the awe-inspiring Eiffel Tower (once viewed by Parisians to be little more than an eyesore, can you believe that?).
We had crepes on the Seine, bought croissants at a local patisserie, and sipped lovely French wines while sampling some delightfully delicious French cuisine (the littles loved le pommes frites).
Sadly, my most vivid memory of Paris is the atrociously dirty public bathrooms, illustrating the fact that even under the most beautiful exteriors, there is sometimes something more disturbing lurking just below the surface.
It was just a house.
From the outside, the residence looked like any of the other recently built tract homes in the development. The only difference was the bright blue trim. Inside, tasteful furnishings decorated the rooms and attractive artwork hung on the walls. Everything smelled new, the chemical scents of the rug and paint vied in the air. By appearance, the house was typical; however, something set this house apart from the others on the block. Their job was to find out what.
Malcolm McFee felt as if he’d been waiting for this moment all his life. In reality, it had only been two long years of standing in Ben Yamamoto’s shadow on the set of Happily Ever Afterlife.
Oh, Malcolm had his fair share of fame, people knew his face, greeted him by name in the grocery store. But, and this was a big one, if he proved capable of running an entire investigation by himself, he wouldn’t just be consulting for the show anymore. Ben had promised him a regular spot, which would give him what he’d always wanted, legitimacy and recognition as a true medium.
Upstairs, a baby wailed.
Malcolm’s gaze shot over to the home owner, Fiona Sinclair. Pretty and petite with a bulging midsection, she had to be at least eight months pregnant. He raised his eyebrows in an unspoken question aimed at no one in particular. He hadn’t been told details of the haunting. His twin sister, Monica, the co-hostess of Happily Ever Afterlife, had done the intake form and all of the preliminary research. Her carefully schooled expression told him nothing.
He glanced over at Fiona again. Her baby hadn’t been born yet. Was there an older child in the home? He studied her face and demeanor. She wore a frightened expression, however, her body language spoke not of fear, but of watchfulness. He didn’t sense the energy force of a spirit, yet something about her raised his suspicion. From her posture, he deduced she was watching and waiting for something. Not unexpected, as subjects experiencing a haunting often wore anticipation like a second skin.
Monica offered a chair to Fiona. “Would you like to sit down?”
“No. I want you to make it stop,” Fiona whispered. “I mean, that’s what you do. You make ghosts go into the light or something, right?”
Unwilling to give her any assurances before he knew the true circumstances of the case, Malcolm didn’t answer Fiona’s question, but instead, hazarded a guess. “Did the phenomenon start when you got pregnant?” In many cases, hearing a baby crying started the minute the pregnancy was discovered and continued to feed off maternal doubts and worries until the baby was born.
“No, all the odd occurrences began about a month ago,” Fiona replied. To Malcolm’s dismay, she looked straight up into the lens and smiled.
Even as Malcolm opened his mouth to speak, he noticed Ramon take his finger off the record button. Man, for an old geezer, he was quick on the uptake. He’d anticipated her interaction with the camera, known the footage would have to be edited out, and had stopped the recording instinctively. Although Ramon seldom spoke during any of the investigations and most people didn’t even notice him, he was an important part of the team. He documented eyewitness interviews and the walk-through of haunted areas and was also responsible for shooting still photos of each room, and setting up and taking down the sound equipment they used to document EVP, electronic voice phenomena.
Fighting a feeling of frustration, Malcolm tried to be pleasant and failed. “Please don’t speak to the camera.”
When Fiona’s smile faltered, he added, “If you do, don’t worry. We’ll edit that section out for the show.”
“Oh, okay.” Fiona twisted her hands in her lap.
“So, this started one month ago.” Monica shot an irritated glance over at Malcolm. The smile she bestowed on Fiona was a sympathetic one. “Have you made any structural changes to the house?”
“No, but that’s when we decorated the baby’s room.”
“Is the furniture new or antique?” Monica asked. Her dark brown hair fell into her face and she pushed it back with an impatient movement before scribbling notes onto a yellow legal pad.
“Everything’s new.” Fiona craned her neck to see what Monica was writing in her notebook.
Good luck. Monica’s script, combined with the use of a modified version of shorthand, defied interpretation by even the most efficient secretary. He should know; they’d gone through four harried women since the show debuted two years ago. Now, as they prepared to start filming for the third season, Monica had been told she’d have to type up her own transcripts or risk the wrath of the network owner, Mr. Patterson. Malcolm wasn’t sure if the threat would induce her to write more legibly or not.
“So you correlate the phenomena with decorating the nursery?” Monica asked.
“Yes.” The words were affirmative, but Malcolm sensed Fiona was lying. Why?
Malcolm endeavored to read the atmosphere of the house. Perhaps something traumatic had occurred and the negative energy imprinted the events. Like a recording, the activity would play over and over again. The entities involved in a residual haunting activity were unaware of their actions, and did not react to the environment. Much like tire tracks on a dirt road, the imprints faded with time. He inhaled the clean scent of sawdust. Then, he got a whiff of fresh paint along with the assertion that something tragic had happened during the construction of the house.
He screwed up his face in concentration. Deaths sometimes occurred on job sites, but none of those potential occurrences explained the crying baby. Speaking of babies…
Malcolm found himself staring at Fiona. His psychic abilities were limited to interactions with the dead, although he occasionally got intuitive flashes. In his experience, spirits congregated around pregnant women. Mothers or other women who had been important in the expectant woman’s life gathered to support and celebrate the birth. There was no trace of any spiritual energy clinging to Fiona.
“I’m going to start walking around and see what I can pick up,” Monica said, interrupting his thoughts.
“Good idea.” While he watched, Monica laid aside her pen and opened her capacious black shoulder bag. The first piece of equipment she extracted was an EMF meter. A popular ghost hunting tool used to detect unexplained electromagnetic fields often indicative of the presence of ghosts and spirits. With the meter in her hand, his sister began walking around the foyer. As she approached the staircase, he heard her gasp.
Surprised his usually unemotional sister would be taken aback by anything, Malcolm shot a glance at Monica as she studied the readout. She paced the perimeter of the room, approaching the same spot from different aspects as a dubious expression marred her pretty face. “I’m getting a huge EMF spike here at the bottom of the stairs. Malcolm, do you detect any spirits? Perhaps someone who might have had an accident or fallen here.”
He didn’t, but the absence of any visual confirmation didn’t mean no spirit lurked out of sight. The dead were often shy and only seen as flitting shadows. He’d not detected anyone so far, but refused to draw any conclusions from that. While Ramon snapped several photos of the area with a digital camera, Malcolm approached the staircase. If there had been a death here, the photos might pick up orbs, a vortex apparition, or some other anomaly indicative of a ghost or spirit.
The hair on his neck and arms stood on end. Feelings of dread washed over him. Such a strong physical reaction typically indicated a spirit’s presence.
Fiona’s gaze shot from Malcolm to Monica and then back. She scrambled to her feet, hand over her heart and chest heaving. “Did someone die at the bottom of the stairs?”
Malcolm hoped she wouldn’t run screaming out of the front door. He’d only had that happen once or twice before.
“Oh, I don’t think anyone died,” Monica said.
Monica had a fixed smile on her face. She’d picked up on something he had missed. Dismay and disappointment vied inside him, and he tamped down a surge of anger. Damn it all. Why now? Why when he had so much riding on this. All he needed was one legitimate haunting to use for substantive proof of his abilities.
“May I examine the closet?” Monica asked.
“Why?” Fiona’s voice sounded sharp with suspicion. “There’s nothing in there but coats and some old equipment.”
“Equipment?” Before Fiona could protest further, Monica strode to the door and jerked it open.
Malcolm followed his sister and peered in over her shoulder. Surprise, surprise. Inside sat an electrostatic generator. Malcolm wasn’t sure what use it performed on a construction site. Typically used in classrooms to demonstrate the effects of static electricity—cold chills, hair standing on end, and even the feeling of being touched—the machine had often been used by fake spiritualists to imitate a spirit’s presence.
“The contractor must have left that awful machine behind,” Fiona informed him. “My husband called the company yesterday. They said they would pick it up sometime today or tomorrow.”
“Did you know the generator was operating?” Malcolm inquired.
“No. Do you think the ghost switched it on?” Fiona’s eyes widened.
What poor acting. Malcolm coughed to avoid the derisive words threatening to spill out.
“This accounts for the EMF spike.” Malcolm reached around his sister and turned off the switch. “What sort of reading do you get now, Monica?”
“Nothing, only baseline.”
Shit, the haunting was a hoax.
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